Monday, November 19, 2007

"Public Diplomacy" Finally Gets a Clue

Tigerhawk says better late than never. He notices this effort by the State Department as reported by the Washington Post

The State Department, departing from traditional public diplomacy techniques, has what it calls a three-person, "digital outreach team" posting entries in Arabic on "influential" Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of the United States and promote moderate views among Islamic youths in the hopes of steering them from terrorism.

Tigerhawk says even John Robb is impressed by recent efforts by the military to organize publics in Iraq and Afghanistan. He concludes:

The wider war, and even parts of the theater battles going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, is primarily an insurgency within Islam. We are the declared enemy of one side in the insurgency because we are perceived as the patron of the hated "apostate regimes" that govern most of the Muslim oil states, but in the end the real fight is intramural. It has always been the case that we needed Muslims to win the war against al Qaeda, not to love us but to hate them. The clash between jihadi brutality and American intransigence, wittingly or otherwise, motivated many Muslims who were on the sidelines during the rise of al Qaeda and its cognates to throw in their lot with one side or the other. The evidence is mounting that whatever Muslims may think of the United States, many more are fighting against the jihad than fighting for it, and that is the key to victory in the long run.

It might be worth remembering that the necessary (but not the sufficient) condition for waging effective information warfare is to possess the correct information in the first place. Deep knowledge is a prerequisite for any information operation, though the knowledge is often implicit. For example, the State Department blogging team must implicitly possess not only a fluency in Arabic but a familiarity with Muslim culture, Islamic theology, strategy, policy and so forth.

If knowledge is vital to support argumentation it is doubly important in operations. Just a few hours ago, UPI reported the US is studying plans to arm the tribes in Pakistan against al-Qaeda. It is an obvious outgrowth of the successful application of this tactic in Iraq.

U.S. military officials say a plan to arm Pakistani tribes against al-Qaida may be accelerated because of concern about instability in Pakistan. The plan would finance a separate tribal paramilitary force and, if adopted, would likely increase the U.S. military presence in Pakistan, The New York Times reported Monday. Dozens of military trainers could be added to the estimated 50 troops the U.S. has there now, the newspaper said.

But it should never be forgotten that US efforts to arm the Anbar Sheiks was built on knowledge accumulated over several tours. It was not the concept of arming the Sheiks nor the arms themselves that was the foundation of the revolution. The keystone was knowing who to arm and how to deal with them; that was the crucial piece.

Those who point out all the "mistakes" America committed early in the campaign might ask themselves if the Coalition could have successfully armed the Anbar tribes in 2004. My guess is that the effort would have been less successful because a lot of the groundwork -- language familiarity, experience, institutional Iraqi development, intel networks, etc -- would not have been available in 2004. The "secret" or unrecognized factors of success are as important as finished product. And the greatest secret factor is specific knowledge.

The US has been active in Afghanistan for several years now. It may well possess the knowledge to arm the tribes against the al-Qaeda and Taliban. But in my opinion it is useful to explicitly recognize that success is often built on the exact knowledge of local conditions. Arming the tribes might work in Pakistan -- even if the US must work through Pakistanis -- but the key will be tailoring the approach to the exact conditions on the ground.


Blogger NahnCee said...

My Saudi friend cheerfully informs me that people in Saudi Arabia are currently much more smitten with Americans than with Europeans because of our happy-go-lucky practicality.

We've been bombing the hell out of their neighborhood for several years now, and they see us as "happy go lucky"? And what does that say about Yurpizoids?

11/19/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

Maybe and maybe not.

It all depends on what definition of “Muslim” you use. The State Department has not been the most trustworthy part of the Government and my use the term liberally.

Certainly there is huge amount of jihad web sites teaching “youths” now make bombs and kill.

There are so many of them that it’s hard for the government to keep track of them. But, a guy named Chen is developing a program to ID the dangerous ones.

[Philadelphia Inquirer]

Former FBI counterterror chief Dale Watson, who noted that terrorist Web sites and communications were now analyzed manually, said the ability to sort through so much data electronically "would be a great asset in the fight against terrorism." "It would greatly enhance the speed and capability to sort through a large amount of data," Watson said. "That would be the key here. The issue will be where is the Web site originating and where are the tentacles going? Tens of thousands of Web pages are now devoted to terrorist propaganda. On the surface, the messages and videos reveal little about their creators. But programmers and writers leave clues: the words they choose, their punctuation and syntax, and the way they code attachments and Web links. Researchers at the University of Arizona are developing a tool that uses these clues to automate the analysis of online jihadism. The Dark Web project aims to scour Web sites, forums and chat rooms to find the Internet's most prolific and influential jihadists.
Dark Web's software, which Chen calls Writeprint, samples 480 factors to identify whether the same people are posting to multiple radical forums. It can analyze everything from a fragment of an e-mail to videos depicting U.S. soldiers blown up in Humvees and fuel tankers.

See: New tool automates analysis of jihad sites

11/19/2007 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger John J. Coupal said...

Even though a stopped clock is right twice a day, I'd be leery of the Department of State - The Fumble Palace - actually accomplishing something constructive for Americans and our safety.

Better the Department confine its duties to attending and throwing cocktail parties and let the adults do the heavy lifting.

11/19/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

If you were among the half in Saudi Arabia that can't drive, you might think we're all happy and lucky, too.

Sometimes in heavy traffic I think they got a hell of a good idea there.

11/19/2007 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

I agree with John J. Coupal. They tend to fumble things and their recent success record is spotty at best.

That could change if someone like John Bolton were in charge. But, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

11/19/2007 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Elijah said...

Media operations -

On the Islamist Al-Mohajroon Web site, someone with the username Al-Wathiq Billah instructs readers on how to infiltrate popular Internet forums to distribute disinformation.

"There is no doubt, my brothers, that raiding forums is among the most important means of obtaining victory in the fierce media war ... and of influencing the views of the weak-minded American who pays his taxes so they will go to the infidel American army. This American is an idiot and does not know where Iraq is ... every electronic mujahid" must engage in this raiding, Mr. Billah writes.

The writing should, he says, provoke "frustration and anger towards their government, which will ... render them hostile.. and make them feel they must vote to bring the troops back from Iraq as soon as possible."
The Afghan Islamist insurgent organizations--especially Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami and Ahmad Shah Masoud Jamiat-e-Islami--ran extensive if rudimentary media operations during their jihad against the Soviet Union. The groups employed inexpensive magazines, local radio broadcasts, newsletters, video and audiotapes and promote their cause in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Arabs who came to support the Afghan insurgents took this locally-oriented media project, translated its products into Arabic and distributed them across the Arab world.

Since 1996, al-Qaeda's media operations have grown more sophisticated, pervasive and effective. From a media world in which al-Qaeda and other Islamist leaders repeatedly and simplistically urged Muslims to wage jihad "in God's path," emerged such sophisticated and multi-topic electronic journals as al-Ansar, al-Neda and Sawt al-Jihad.
The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006:

The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict

11/19/2007 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger Rovin said...

"On the Islamist Al-Mohajroon Web site, someone with the username Al-Wathiq Billah instructs readers on how to infiltrate popular Internet forums to distribute disinformation."

MoveOn has been practicing this maneuver for years now. Factual information will be the greatest weapon in this battle for sanity.

11/20/2007 04:57:00 AM  
Blogger emjay in VA said...

Ledger & Coupal miss the point by focus on the messenger rather than the message - could they be examples of the subtle influence of Al Wattiq Billah and his cohorts, for whom personalization, generalization, and cynicism are tools of the trade? Public diplomacy is, firstly, public, thus falls in State's portfolio. Maybe unfortunate that US Information Service is now only a Bureau at State, but let's get on with the job, and build the appropriate agency when time is ripe.

11/20/2007 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger emjay in VA said...

Ref "arming the sheiks", all parties, except maybe AQI and JAM,staunchly and verifiably deny that the US "armed the sheiks". And in 2004, there were no sheiks to form an Awakening - that pie had not begun to bake,but the AQ was busily mixing the ingredients laid out by the CPA. Perhaps a more useful framework, as Robb describes, is that we had to be intransigent enough to go through what we have to get where we are, otherwise the muslim antibodies to the irhabists might not have arisen. That we did, and they have, may eventually be seen as analogous to the outcomes the "dominoes" of SEA realized from our intransigence in Vietnam - freedom's blood and treasure bought time and space for history to develop.

11/20/2007 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger JoseyWales said...

I'm also leery of State and of idiotic PR listening efforts a la Karen Hughes.

Saudis and other Arabs have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize that would put even Bill Clinton to shame.

Or just call them schizophrenic.

Anyone believing that blogging here and there, or financing a TV channel is going to undo a distorted and demented mindset is naive to say the least.

11/20/2007 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

We are not likely to reah many committed fundamentalist Jihadis, but I believe there is some value in presenting alternative interpretations of reality for people who are not already under the spell of the fanatics.

I know there must be some people in the foreign service who could do a decent job. I don't have any idea how to find the good ones and make sure they don't get screwed by the anti-Bush crazies.

11/20/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...


"...not likely to REACH..."

11/20/2007 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

Three? They need 300.

11/21/2007 05:28:00 PM  

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