Marcus Aurelius: Time for US to Get Serious About Setting Everyone Else “Ablaze”? — Sun Tzu Comment

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Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius

Two articles follow:  one posits a seemingly global anti-US opposition, an Anti-American Network (AAN), and the other posits that political warfare is the answer to the Middle East portion of the problem.  IMHO, both are worth considering.  Further believe that, with respect to Boot & Doran’s approach, (a) coverage needs expansion to cover all the opponents Hirsch posits and (b) political warfare is a necessary but not sufficient component of our response and an NCTC-centric structure is probably not the way to go.  We already have policy in place to deal with these kinds of things but it probably needs revision in light of international and domestic politics.  In my view, what we need is national leadership (read:  POTUS and Congress) with the guts and principles of Britain’s WWII leader Winston Churchill supported by an Executive Branch organizational structure combining the best features of their Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Political Warfare Executive (PWE), one authorized, directed, and capable of covertly, surgically and virtually “setting our adversaries ablaze.”   Neither the currently tasked organization nor U.S Special Operations Command, or even the two together, is presently that structure.)

The Anti-American Underground

There is a thriving axis of resentment out there, full of nations only too happy to thumb Americans in the eye by sheltering the NSA leaker.

By Michael Hirsh, Chief Correspondent

National Journal, June 29, 2013

Judging from polls, Edward Snowden hasn’t enjoyed much success in rousing the American public to share his anger over Washington’s “architecture of oppression,” as he called it. But by becoming an international fugitive, the National Security Agency leaker may well have succeeded at rallying a good part of the rest of the world around his cause.

Call his protectors the Anti-American Network. They are a kind of geopolitical underground of informally aligned nations that has been growing since the end of the Cold War, and they are united by a mistrust of America as the “lone superpower.” Snowden is riding this network like a fugitive slave helped by the Underground Railroad of the 19th century. He has hopped from Hong Kong, where the quasi-independent government issued a blunt snub to Washington (apparently with Beijing’s say-so), to Moscow, which refuses to extradite him. And Snowden has asked for asylum in Ecuador, which is already harboring WikiLeaks fugitive Julian Assange, and where he would arrive by way of Cuba.

There are other actual and potential members of the Anti-American Network, of course: Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, a number of fence-sitting Asian and European nations, and more. The network was galvanized by President Bush’s 2003 Iraq invasion, and although it appeared to fade a bit with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 (who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, recall, mostly for not being Bush), it has gained new life with Obama’s perceived overuse of drone warfare and with revelations that the U.S. government is spying on … apparently everybody—Americans, allies, and enemies alike.

Recently, Snowden placed his fate in the hands of the informal leader of the Anti-American Network, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That meant the country’s president controlled the ultimate instrument of payback to Washington. As a former KGB colonel who’s no slouch at cracking down on dissent himself, Putin must be at least somewhat sympathetic to Washington’s desire to bring in America’s most prominent dissident. On Tuesday, Putin indicated that he didn’t want Snowden to remain in a transit zone at a Russian airport, arguing, “The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it is for him and Russia.”

But from all the evidence, Putin also loves to “stick his thumb in [America’s] eye,” as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN, calling the Russian president an “old KGB colonel apparatchik that dreams of the days of the Russian empire.” Whatever Putin may be saying now about “the businesslike character of our relations with the U.S.,” it is evident that Russia’s foreign policy is largely shaped by its leader’s desire to meddle with America and its global designs. He backs President Bashar al-Assad in Syria against the U.S.-aided rebels; Moscow opposes stringent sanctions on Iran, where it is building a nuclear reactor; and Putin pressured Obama to retreat from a European missile-defense system, angering the Poles and the Czechs who would have hosted it. Above all, Putin was incensed by the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law, named after a slain Russian lawyer, under which Washington can penalize Russian human-rights abuses.

Still, there is more to this Anti-American Network—and to Russian foreign policy—than simple resentment of Washington. “The Russian leadership is increasingly frustrated with the United States and American foreign policy that, from their point of view, is built around interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” says Paul Saunders of the Center for the National Interest. “They believe it should be fundamentally up to people who live inside a particular country to decide how they are ruled.” He points out that Washington and Moscow weren’t that far apart on Syria until last year, when Obama bluntly called for Assad’s ouster. This has continued to be the sticking point.

There is an element of hypocrisy to this, of course, because Moscow cavalierly interferes in the affairs of nations it considers to be part of its “sphere,” such as Georgia and Ukraine, just as China does with nations in East Asia. Nonetheless, there are enough nations that, like Russia and China, want to reanimate the concept of noninterference (which, after all, was a founding principle of the United Nations) against the perception of U.S. meddling that the Anti-American Network may well grow—and become a powerful countervailing force to U.S. influence.

Exhibit A: the summit in March between Putin and China’s new president, Xi Jinping. In a new article in The National Interest journal, two of America’s leading foreign policy pundits, Leslie Gelb and Dimitri Simes, noted Xi’s comment at the meeting that Beijing and Moscow should “resolutely support each other in efforts to protect national sovereignty, security, and development interests.” Putin agreed, declaring that “the strategic partnership between us is of great importance on both a bilateral and global scale.”

Gelb and Simes play down the idea that Russia and China might adopt a formal alliance against the United States; both countries, they write, in the long run “need more from the United States and the European Union than from each other.” But they do suggest that Moscow and Beijing might well “play a game of triangular diplomacy similar to the Nixon/Kissinger strategy of the 1970s. In this scenario, Moscow and Beijing could dangle the prospect of a potential alliance or ad hoc cooperative arrangement with the other to gain leverage over Washington and put the United States at a bargaining and power disadvantage.” Precisely the disadvantage that Edward Snowden has helped to place Washington in today.

Department Of Dirty Tricks

Why the United States needs to sabotage, undermine, and expose its enemies in the Middle East.

By Max Boot and Michael Doran, June 28, 2013

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” So said Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part III. He was complaining about the impossibility of leaving the mafia behind, but the quote undoubtedly expresses the feelings of President Barack Obama as he contemplates the difficulty of extricating the United States from the Middle East. He is eager to pivot to Asia and sees bringing soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan as one of his most important legacies. Like the mafia, however, the Middle East has a way of pulling the United States back in. First in Afghanistan, then in Libya, and now in Syria, events on the ground and pressure from allies convinced a reluctant president to make new military commitments.

But if the United States wants to exert influence over events in this turbulent region, it will have to do more than provide military assistance. Even if the arms the United States will supply to the Syrian rebels were to topple President Bashar al-Assad — which at the moment seems an unlikely outcome, barring the employment of American air power — the bloodletting will almost certainly continue. Rival factions will compete for power, and American-backed forces under Gen. Salim Idriss and allied figures could easily lose out to the al-Nusrah Front and other Islamist extremists. Look at what’s happened in Libya, where in the aftermath of Qaddafi’s ouster, militias and militants exercise more authority than the central government. Or consider Egypt, where the downfall of a dictator has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist organization hostile to the United States and Israel, to consolidate authority in an increasingly authoritarian manner.

Clearly, the president needs options between military intervention and complete nonintervention — ways to influence developments in the Middle East without deploying Reaper drones or sending U.S. ground forces. To give Obama the tools he needs, the U.S. government should reinvigorate its capacity to wage “political warfare,” defined in 1948 by George Kennan,then the State Department’s director of policy planning, as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives.” Such measures, Kennan noted, were “both overt and covert” and ranged from “political alliances, economic measures (as ERP — the Marshall Plan), and ‘white’ propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of ‘friendly’ foreign elements, ‘black’ psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.”

During the Cold War, the United States waged political warfare through a variety of mechanisms. It covertly funded noncommunist political parties in Europe and Japan; backed intellectual magazines like Encounter, an Anglo-American journal of opinion that flourished in the 1950s, as well as groups such as the Congress of Cultural Freedom, which organized artists and intellectuals against communism; and provided financial and logistical support to anti-Soviet dissidents like Lech Walesa and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. At their worst, such policies propped up strongmen with scant legitimacy — think Cuban president Fulgencio Batista and the shah of Iran — and invited anti-American “blowback.” But at their best, they enabled the United States to aid freedom fighters behind the Iron Curtain and beyond. They were policies that helped to outflank communism in Europe and Asia, where free societies stood up to help the United States win the Cold War.

What distinguished political warfare from the amorphous and open-ended development and assistance programs that the United States currently runs was its emphasis on winning a global competition against the Soviet Union. In the era of the Marshall plan, for example, the United States did not simply develop, in a general sense, the economy of Europe. It did so with an eye to strengthening specific groups that were dedicated to weakening the enemy of the United States. More often than not, political warfare involves the application of “soft power.” But it requires organizing ourselves so as to apply it against specific targets in order to achieve clearly defined goals. Influencing the flow of information was, therefore, a key component of Cold War political warfare.

Thus, during the 1980s, the U.S. government did not limit its involvement in Afghanistan to having the CIA arm the mujahideen. The now-defunct U.S. Information Agency also spread news globally about Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan (most notoriously, the rumored use of exploding toys to maim children). Tales of human-rights violations did much to undermine the Soviet Union’s legitimacy and helped speed its collapse. Today, the president has very few tools at his disposal, other than statements from the podium, that allow him to direct the flow of information in a competitive manner. Consider, for example, the intervention by Hezbollah in Syria today. The number of fighters lost in that conflict, the brutality of their activities, and the cost to the treasury of Iran are all pieces of information — if delivered to the right audiences in the Middle East — which could help the United States to undermine the morale of rivals. But whose job is it in the United States government to collect such information and place it on a defined target?

With the end of the Cold War, America’s tradition of political warfare all but died. Covert action was revived after the 9/11 attacks, but it has been primarily kinetic — consisting of drone strikes, renditions, and commando raids. In fact, the lack of a complementary political strategy makes it impossible to undermine persistent foes, and forces us to rely more than we should on direct military action, which often does not achieve any lasting effect. A more indirect, politically focused approach is needed to exert American influence in countries like Egypt, where we have no intention of sending Reaper drones to kill Muslim Brotherhood leaders, but nevertheless need to counter the organization’s hardline policies.

Reinvigorating America’s capability to wage political warfare will not cost much — and can be paid for by redirecting parts of the foreign aid, public diplomacy, and military budgets — but it will require mobilizing autonomous bureaucracies to act in concert. The normal Balkanization of government will have to be replaced by a cooperative system in which operatives are encouraged to develop crosscutting skill sets; no longer will al Qaeda specialists be able to focus only on al Qaeda, or Iran specialists only on Iran.

Fortunately, a model already exists for this kind of organizational innovation. The counterterrorism apparatus created in the wake of 9/11 provides a good example of what must be built — or, rather, expanded. This involved creating the National Counterterrorism Center, an intelligence community organization which brings together experts from the military, the CIA, NSA, FBI, and other agencies, and which works closely with other agencies such as the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security under the general supervision of a coordinator of homeland security and counterterrorism on the White House staff. As a first step, Obama should appoint a highly respected coordinator for political warfare to the National Security Staff, where most foreign policy decisions are made. Without the personal support of the president, this initiative will fail.

Second, the president should create a strategic operational hub — an interagency coordinating body like the National Counterterrorism Center that pulls all of the government’s efforts together — housed within the State Department. Under an executive order signed by Obama in 2011, the State Department has already created a Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications that is designed to “coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism.” This is a step in the right direction, but it does not go nearly far enough.

The effort should aim, in the first instance, to counter not only terrorist groups like al Qaeda, but also malevolentorganizations such as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, even in their nonviolent manifestations. Tactically, this should involve much more than simple overt messaging directly from the U.S. government. It should comprise efforts to build up rival groups in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere and to destroying the reputation of those organizations by using the profound information-gathering capabilities of the United States in ways that have become unfamiliar to today’s generation of intelligence professionals and diplomats. Consider, for example, the effect on Hezbollah, an organization that thrives on secrecy, if the United States were to collect the names, photos, and home addresses of its unit commanders in Syria and to publish them in Lebanon, along with detailed descriptions of their activities on the battlefield. The goal should be to blend various forms of American power — some of them clandestine, some of them not — to shape the Middle East so as to make it less permissive to the rivals of the United States.

Third, the president should direct top-level government officials — especially the secretary of state, secretary of defense, CIA director, and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to create political warfare career tracks, which would result in the training and promotion of specialists in this area. Without separate career tracks, the bureaucracies will stigmatize and ostracize individuals who find political warfare rewarding and attractive.

Political warfare is an alien — even sinister-sounding — concept in 2013. But the United States will never be able to extricate itself from the Middle East until a more stable order arises — and the current pendulum swing between military involvement and military withdrawal is unlikely to prove sustainable. In places like Libya and Syria, we must build up, through steady, painstaking engagement, political forces that share the strategic interests of the United States. There is admittedly a danger of American machinations blowing up in our faces, but current trends, if left unchanged, carry even greater dangers. If we do nothing and cede the Middle East to malign actors such as Iran, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, groups which have no qualms about doing whatever it takes to seize power, we risk creating a situation that will require, at some point in the future another massive military intervention by the United States.

Michael Doran, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for support to public diplomacy, is a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Max Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Invisible Armies: an Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present. They are co-authors of a CFR policy memorandum [No. 33] on political warfare.

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SUN TZU:  “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”  ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Special Edition

Phi Beta Iota:  Before the USA ever gets into “dirty tricks” beyond what it already does rather badly and expensively, it should first create a counterintelligence service to clean its own stables, and create an intelligence capability able to inform Whole of Government across all threats and all policies and all costs.  Failing that, the USA will continue to not know itself and not know its enemies.

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