Mar 24

Every so often a famous foreign policy wonk will declare globalization to be dead. Or claim that the world was more globalized back in the 1900s. We could accept these pronouncements...

Or we could look at the Winter Olympics.

If you don’t believe the world is flat, check out the field in Vancouver. The Cayman Islands, Ghana and Senegal--all countries with no snow or ice--sent athletes to Vancouver to try to win gold. Eighty years ago, when 16 nations all from North America or Europe competed in the Winter Olympics, this could not have happend. Something changed our world; that something is globalization.

In 1988, Jamaica shocked the world by fielding a bobsled team at Calgary. ("We are Jamaica..we are a bobsled team.") The bobsled didn’t compete this year, instead Errol Kerr represented Jamaica in the equally snow-dependent Ski Cross. Jamaica doesn't hold the monopoly on tropical island winter Olympians though. Dow Travers, from the Cayman Islands, competed in the slalom after training in England.

The most famous non-winter Winter Olympian of 2010 was the "Snow Leopard" Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong. Raised in Ghana, studying in London, skiing on indoor slopes, raising money on facebook and myspace, and becoming a international media sensation, he went through every stage of globalization. He even accomplished his goal of not placing last in the Super G.

But that wasn’t the only African skier to compete this year. Leyti Seck, a computer studies student living in Austria, decided to compete for Senegal instead of competing for his adopted home Austria. He too earned press all over Europe to help pay his way to the games.

Blame (or thank) this crazy phenomenon on globalization. The ability to fly to London, compete on the slopes, then fly home, compete on indoor ski ranges, raise funds through facebook and myspace, then still get the sponsorship of your home country. Sure all the Winter Olympians spent plenty of time away from their homelands, but in a globalized world, that is what we should expect. Countries can now afford to send someone abroad, publicize their events, and have them compete in a previously geographically static competition.

And remember I didn’t mention Ethiopia, Bermuda, Colombia, or Morocco or the countries that competed four years ago: Costa Rica, Kenya, Madagascar, Thailand, and the Virgin Islands.

(A final note, in Cool Runnings Yul Brynner says, "I see pride..I see power... I see a bad ass mother who don't take no crap from no buddy." It's pretty good description of American foreign policy the last ten years.)

Feb 15

In my mind, we need two things in Afghanistan. The first is better COIN techniques, and the military is slowly but surely on its way there. The second is troops. If we need thousands upon thousands of additional troops, why don't we ask China for help in Afghanistan? In a long term view, it is in China's interest to create a secure Afghanistan, and by extension Pakistan, a region vital to the stability of central Asia.

There is already a precedence for deploying non-Nato troops to Afghanistan--America’s coalition in Afghanistan includes the Republic of Korea and Poland. Could we bring in the largest military in the world, the People's Liberation Army of China, to occupy some ground?

Before I get into why this won't work, let's think about China's amazing capabilities.

China could easily send as many troops as the US currently has deployed (the US has about 100,000 Soldiers deployed including both combat and support troops). This would be a fraction of China's 1.6 million men in uniform. In comparison, the US Army has around half a million men in uniform.

Imagine the possibilities with that many additional troops. The People's Liberation Army could take over Helmand and Kandahar provinces, basically the whole of Regional Command South. That would free the US to control Regional Command East, that includes the capital of Kabul, Bagram Air Field, and the closest areas to the Pakistan tribal areas. Or the US could take the South and the Chinese could take the East. Or the Chinese could secure the West and North areas while the Germans, Italians, and Canadians help the US double down on the South and East. With the thousands of troops China has, we could execute a true population-centric counter-insurgency in a variety of ways.

Of course, we could just take the additional 100,000 troops and line them up on the border. This would make the Pakistan FATA sanctuary a non-factor. The point is, with another 100,000 troops, the options are almost limitless.

In casual conversation with other Soldiers, this idea always gets massacred, and I can see why. Realistically, it is in China's interest to allow the US to devote thousands of troops and billions of dollars in Afghanistan while they invest soft power in Africa, South America and other parts of Asia. Being intellectually honest, they have more to gain flexing their influence while America remains mired in expensive military quagmires.

Getting China to sign off on this plan, or getting domestic support is a long shot. We could ask, but would risk diplomatic capital if the Chinese refused. Also, too many American leaders view the Chinese as the enemy--or our future enemy--to allow them to come in and save the day.

This is unfortunate, we really could use 100,000 additional troops in Afghanistan.

Feb 05

I love America--if I'm being honest, I love California more, but that's just splitting hairs. Though I loved living in Europe, I'll take my home town any day.

The thing is, I don’t hold much stock in this affection. I know how capricious and random my love for my home country is. Though I love my country, other people don't. And this is okay, because America isn't objectively any better than any other country.

The most accurate analogy is sports teams. I love the Los Angeles Lakers and Michael C loves his Bruins. We both love the Anaheim Angels if they make the playoffs. I hate Notre Dame, the Yankees, and every Boston area sports team. But I also realize no sports team is objectively "better" in terms of character or intrinsic quality, no one is wrong for lovng their team.
An example. My brother and his fiance went to UCLA. A good friend of our family went to USC. During a car ride, both got into argument (I may have started it) over which team had worse fans. My brother's Bruin-ite fiance claimed USC fans were the rudest she had ever seen. The Trojan claimed to have seen UCLA students make a lewd gesture towards his USC parents. Both claimed the other sides fans were vulgar and rude; both had virtually the same anecdotes.

Anyone on the outside can see the truth: neither school has better fans. They are all just fans.

Why do we love our sports teams? Most of the time it's because that team is the closest to you, or your parents rooted for them, or you went there for college. If you live in Southern California, then you probably love the team from the area you grew up in. Or you root for whoever is winning. In New York, you instinctively hate on your local teams if they don't win a championship.

In other words, the reason you love your sports team is completely random. Just like your love for your home country.

I love America because I grew up in America. It is familiar to me, and my pleasant memories of it from my youth make me love it. But I didn't choose the country I was born in. It’s one thing to say America is the country for which you have the most affection, but it is another thing altogether to realize it isn’t objectively the best.

CS Lewis made this point once, and I’ll paraphrase it: do you think it is an accident, or divine providence that 99.9999% of people love the country they grew up in?
Like I said, think sports teams. I love the Lakers and hate the Celtics, but I realize this love is irrational. Neither team is actually better or worse than another. Sure Kevin Garnett is over the hill, but I shouldn't hate him for that. I hate Florida, but I felt bad when Urban Meyer had heart trouble. We care about our sports teams, but not in any meaningful way.
In the end, I wouldn’t kill over the Lakers, and that's really the main difference between sports teams and nations.

Jan 20

Within the last year, the media--and its customers--stopped caring about Iraq. As Violence increased in Central Asia and decreased in Iraq, our nation's focus returned to Afghanistan. Since it seems like an afterthought that US forces leave Iraq at the rate of a Brigade a month, I thought I would send out an update on the region, and fall just short of making a prediction on Iraq's future.

The most immediate news is that Iraq's government has delayed upcoming elections. Originally scheduled for January, they won't be held until March. Security is still the primary concern, but Iraqi military forces are making strides. A recent bomb plot locked down all of Baghdad and the result was quite a bit of gossip well described by the LA Times.

Thomas Ricks has an ongoing series on the "unraveling" in Iraq. His posts are informative, pointing attention back to the forgotten war. His pieces are more predictive than actual reporting, but I generally think that a Kurdistan state of some sort will emerge in the near future.

This is a sobering reminder that despite the progress, we have quite a way to go in Iraq. The situation could sour at any time. This NPR article describes the slow economic progress due to continuing corruption. At the same time, their oil production increases.

How could I not include a story on fashion in a link dump? Here NPR describes one of the odd ways Iraqis are expressing their growing freedoms compared to the post-invasion chaos.

It also seems like I can't do a link dump without mentioning Blackwater nee Xe (until they change their name again). In this case, Iraqis were forced to settle lawsuits company, and now want just compensation.

Whether or not Iraq unravels, the length of time between deaths for US Soldiers is increasing. (Remember, in 2003 and 2004 violence was very low as well.)

Finally, quite a bit has been made of the movie The Hurt Locker; look at the award it's won. I still haven't seen this--I blame living in Italy--but as soon as Eric C emails in a Netflix DVD, I'll have a chance to see it. Eric C predicts it will be nominated for Best Picture next month (and he isn't the only one).

(Side link: on TR's blog he describes the six things on General Casey's mind. General Casey didn't use an Army-Level AAR to develop them but it kind of relates to what we said.)

Dec 31

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2009", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

Yesterday, I pointed out the disconnect between what happened in Iran last June, and the three week long media riot that followed it. It's not that the event wasn’t important, there were just too many people talking about too little.

The obvious counter argument is that people have a right to support regime change in Iran. We agree. Anti-semitism aside, the Iranian neoconservative Ahmadinejad is leading his country down a dangerous foreign policy path, and turning his country into a police state with rigged elections. Iran’s half-democratic and half-religious political system flies in the face of the Western understanding of democracy, so I understand why so many people--liberal and conservative--would support a democratic “revolution” in Iran.

But in all of the hype, blog posts and news coverage, we lost sight of a few things:

1. This isn’t a “revolution.” A fifty-fifty divide in a country does not a revolution make, more like a civil war. Remember, a lot of people still love Ahmadinejad. Not in the urban centers, but definitely in the rural areas.

2. If you are hoping for an Invictus-style clean transition of government like South Africa, forget it. This conflict will get uglier before it gets better. The history of revolutions, from America to the present, is one of bloody, chaotic messes.

3. An Iranian revolution will not be a Western revolution. The "Green" politicians in Iran look an awful lot like the current regime. Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran from 1981-1989. Karroubi was a chairman of the Parliament and a past presidential candidate. Khattami was a former president.

4. The twitter revolution occurred more in the Western world than in Iran. We can safely say this is the first revolution watched by the world with new media, like twitter and facebook. (There was another "Twitter Revolution" in Moldova, but who noticed?) Looking back, Twitter didn’t make much of a difference.

5. Iran's policies will not change, at least not radically. We can expect new, non-Ahmadinejad leaders to open a dialogue with America, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to strive for nuclear weapons. (To be fair, some in the media mentioned this at the time)

Why do people support revolutions? I think it is because people find them sexy, the idea of millions of people joining together to throw out the corrupt ruling powers. I saw it in college when fellow activists yearned for the revolutions and protests of the sixties; I see it now in the tea-partyers who hope to overthrow the liberal agenda in the name of John Galt.

But as we wrote earlier, revolutions are usually violent, ugly things. We can hope for changes in Iran, but we can't forget the cost of that revolution.

Dec 30

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2009", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

A few weeks after we launched On Violence, Michael C and I were confronted with the Iranian election protests. Immediately we had to answer the question: Should we respond?

We didn’t respond for what we think was a good reason: nothing really happened.

Let me clarify the above statement. A lot happened. People were killed. The foundations of Iran’s electoral system were shaken to their core, and as Michael wrote on Monday, virtually every important foreign policy trend from the last ten years was represented in the revolution. What started on June 13 will impact Iran’s political system for years to come. (Confrontations continue between the protesters and the government.)

But in another way, nothing really happened. In terms of actual events, the whole thing can be covered in a couple paragraphs. On Wikipedia, as of today, that would be exactly eight paragraphs covering a period of six months. And in terms of regime change, well, absolutely nothing changed.

Yet the protests got wall to wall media coverage.

This isn’t the first time so much has been said about so little (see Tiger Woods or Michael Jackson for that in 2009) but this event is right up there. Daily coverage, twitter revolutions, high expectations; we all expected so much and got nothing for it. Bemoaning massive media coverage of events is pretty commonplace, but unlike trite media firestorms (again, Tiger Woods or Michael Jackson) this foreign policy issue affects the lives of millions.

Of course, I expected this at the time. That’s why I don’t regret not posting on it at the time. Not to toot our own horn, but this is why On Violence doesn’t “chase the news.” Our voice would have added to a cacophony that ultimately had nothing, in the end, to say.

Tomorrow, I will explain why this was actually a very bad thing.

Dec 28

In 2009, Americans continued to die in Afghanistan, Darfur continued to win the hearts of liberals, Somali pirates--and by extension the country--got some headlines for a week or so, and Iraq became more precarious, but we think the most informative foreign policy event of last year was the almost revolution in Iran over their controversial election. If you needed to study one international event this year, it should be Iran.

Iran's election wasn't the only corrupt election this year, and the revolution that followed it didn't really change anything. But what event combined more forces--globalization, asymmetric warfare, revolution in the classical sense, and the civil war within Islam--into a larger conflict in the last year? More importantly, I consider the almost revolution a subversive example of "political war". The violence of the protesters and the government forces in the end only reinforced the status quo, but it was still a struggle of one group using violence to further its aims.

First, this is a perfect example of revolution in flat world. Other conflicts have occurred since Thomas Friedman first advanced his theory in The World is Flat, but none quite like this. In a state desperately trying to exercise control over the media--kicking out journalists, banning demonstrations--Twitter, Facebook, and cellphones broadcast the revolution to the world. Their revolution failed--we don’t doubt that--but this is the first sign of things to come.

Second, it was an asymmetric fight. Like America's current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the weak struggled against the powerful. In this case, the former were the green protesters and the latter was the state apparatus of Ayatollah Khameini.

Above all, the Green Revolution shows us that Islam is still fighting for its soul and future. Secularism, fundamental Islam, the role of Islam in society, Westernism, the Great Satans (Great Britain and America)--every issue confronting Islamic culture today was present in Iran's almost revolution. The same motivation that pushes Al Qaeda to fight the West pushed Ayatollah Khameini to prematurely declare the election over.

Before I leave, I have to address the two forgotten elephants in the room. The war in Afghanistan made the most news at the end of the year with President Obama’s announcement, but the event wasn't news. Afghanistan was going south when I was there in 2008; 2009 merely continued the trend downward. Iraq is sliding towards sustainable peace, but that occurred after the surge in 2007. Thus, while important conflicts, they are not the story of this year.

More than anything, the Iranian Election saga brought together the things that represent On Violence: the theories of the Accidental Guerrilla (the most important book of the last year), the power of Political War (my most important theory of the last year) and the power of bloggers (something we aspire to here at On Violence).

(The rest of "On V's Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2011" continues in:

- "So What Really Happened?: Hype, Foreign Policy and the Media in 2009"

- "Five Things We Lost in the Hype"

- "Fact and Fiction: Writing, Predictions and Neda")

Dec 03

Michael C here. Eric and I don't normally like to respond to news events as they happen. Other bloggers with more time and resources cover breaking news better than us. That said, President Obama's speech on Tuesday night defined the direction of American foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This strategy will effect our global standing, our military readiness, and the elections in 2010 and 2012.

With a speech this important, we must comment.

What did I think? I got the feeling that I was listening to a Presidential Operations Order (the Army term for the document commanders give to their subordinates to tell them what to do). This is both a good and bad thing. Like an OP Order, he covered all the necessary bases. But, like most OP Orders, his goals, methods and plan were vague. Saying we will repel the Taliban and Al Qaeda with more troops sounds good, but it doesn't say how we will accomplish the mission. Even worse, his solution to Afghanistan's corrupt government was almost non-existent. Fortunately, McChrystal has given clear guidance to the troops. Hopefully, the Afghanistan surge will execute this policy.

In the end, we must do something about Afghanistan. The president laid out a plan that seems like the only available option. We need to try to win, which we haven't for nearly eight years, and we need to stabilize the region. For now, this seems like the best plan available.

A few more things struck me about the speech:

First, I don't think Obama used the word "Bush" once, but it was the hole in the floor above the Rancor pit [this is a Star Wars reference]. Obama mentioned the events of 9/11, the start of the Afghanistan war, America's Iraq distraction, and finally the success of the surge--all without mentioning his predecessor. I understand why; it looks un-presidential to bash the man who came before you. However, the decisions of the Bush administration continue to haunt our foreign policy decisions more than many give him credit.

Second, he addressed the decision making process and the time it took. He said, correctly, that the earliest option to deploy troops was in 2010. I believe this because the fighting season starts in Afghanistan in March to April. He had time to ponder options and he took it. Rightfully so. It doesn't matter how soon troops get there between now and March so long as they get there by the fighting season.

Third, his rebuttals to the Vietnam criticisms, the counter-terrorist option, and setting a date for withdrawal were timely and persuasive. He won't convince everyone, but he gave himself enough room to act.

And finally, I saw several cadets nodding off during the speech. The corps of cadets at West Point almost never receives criticism, so here is some from me. When the President addresses your student body in a historic speech, don't fall asleep.

Eric C now. My main comment is that Afghanistan has become "Obama's War" even though he took it over eight years into it. Has this ever happened? Vietnam was always Johnson's war. President Obama is committing an additional 32,000 troops to Afghanistan to bring the total number to around 100,000, still smaller than Iraq before the surge.

That was Michael C, then Eric C, now here is the whole interweb (at least the global affairs portion) on Obama's Speech: