So yesterday I (Eric C) laid out a problem: we (by “we”, I mean anyone who speaks) mis-pronounce other country names. For Americans specifically, we anglicize European country names, but force (possibly racist, definitely orientalist) pronunciations on Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries.
Let’s get rid of this shortsighted and needless linguistic quirk. I’d like to create a smarter, more universal system with consistent pronunciations. Our modern world, flat and cosmopolitan, doesn’t need out-dated and inaccurate pronunciations of city and country names.
The On V proposal? We’d replace Germany with Deutschland, Italy with Italia, Rome with Roma, and so on. We propose a universal naming system, based on as close an approximation to the native tongue’s pronunciation of the name as pronunciation allows--also known as an endonym. (Endonyms are what countries call themselves country; exonyms are the names countries give other countries.) If I became the king of the world, I’d make this decree on the first day. (The second day? America adopts on the metric system. Third day? The 24 hours clock.)
But the world can make this happen without a global monarchy. The question is how. My five proposals on how to change the system:
1. Wikipedia changes to a universal naming system. If the world’s most comprehensive knowledge source adopted this system, then its inter-linking articles could teach confused newcomers--who, possibly reading an article on Hofbrauhaus, don’t know where/what Munchen is--the native pronunciation of every country and city in the world; every reader will be one link click away from learning the (new? proper? native?) name. If Wikipedia adopted this system, we could make it a reality.
For example, Wikipedia already has this wonderful article, “List of countries and capitals in native languages”. Let’s use and adopt that list.
2. Next, Google Maps (and Mapquest, and so on.) makes native pronunciations the default setting. And just like Wikipedia, they can include links to the old name, helping people to learn the new name. (Maps in general should convert to this system.) Currently, Google Maps has the worst of both worlds, combining English exonyms with country names written in the native language. But since I can only read Roman letters, we recommend that Google Maps makes English-based endonyms the default setting.
3. Change high school curriculum to teach the universal pronunciations. Though it usually isn’t, we should require high school students to take a geography course. And in that geography course, teachers should teach the native country names/endonyms. This will also help Americans compete in the globalized world.
4. The media should adopt the universal naming system. Pretty straightforward. If every news outlet uses the universal system, we’d all catch on pretty quickly.
5. Finally, don’t be an jerk about it. As I wrote yesterday, if you’re going to correct people, be consistent. Correct both Asian and European country names. Or don’t correct at all.
This process won’t be simple; smarter people than us have already recommended it--apparently the UN has a commission on exonyms--and there will be disputed pronunciations. That said, this system, in the end, is a smarter system.
Which brings it around to us...will On Violence adopt a universal naming system? Probably not. We want to, but it would be trendsetting in a way that would confuse our readers. If a handful of our suggestions were ever adopted--especially the Wikipedia one--then we would do it in a heartbeat. And if we had more time, we’d probably try to lobby Wikipedia to make the change.
Until then...the mispronunciations remain. But at least we know about it.
So yesterday I (Eric C) laid out a problem: we (by “we”, I mean anyone who speaks) mis-pronounce other country names. For Americans specifically, we anglicize European country names, but force (possibly racist, definitely orientalist) pronunciations on Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries.
During one of many late night discussions about the coming invasion of Iraq in the winter of 2003, a fellow anti-war activist and college friend turned to me (Eric C) and said, “It’s ‘ee-rack’, not ‘eye-rack’. If you pronounce it ‘eye-rack’, you’ll sound ignorant.”
This was a common technique used--mostly by liberals, I’ll admit--in the run up to Iraq war to discount those who disagreed with you: make your pro-Iraq war opponent sound ignorant. Dismissively shake your head and say, “These people can’t even pronounce the name of the country we’re about to invade.” Or, “The President can’t even pronounce ‘nuclear’ correctly, how would he know if they had nuclear weapons?”
(To be fair, the last point is disturbing. Either Bush affected an intentionally ignorant pronunciation--what does that say about voters?--or he didn’t know any better. Which is worse? I thought this might be a “Fact Behaving Badly”. It isn’t. Here’s a good Daily Show clip from back in the day on it.)
So is it “eye-rack” or “ee-rack”? Or is it “ih-rahk”? Or is it “Ur-ahk” as they originally called the region thousands of years ago? Wikipedia has two pronunciations (“ee-rack” and “ur-ahk” ). Which is it? Personally, I prefer to pronounce Iraq “Ur-ahk” (and Iran “Ur-ahn”), with a nod to their ancient histories. When Michael C went to Afghanistan, he heard debates over “Konar” or “Kunar”, and “Koo-ren-gal” or “Kor-en-gal” Another friend and I debated “Beijing” or “Peking” in a bar sometime back.
None of these technicalities actually matter, because we butcher most country’s names. If I learned anything from Spanish class in high school, (and I’ll be honest: fluency in Spanish wasn’t one of them) it was that every country pronounces most every other country’s name differently. (In other words, we refer to countries by using exonyms.) Germany, to Spanish speakers, is Alemania. To Germans, it is Deutschland. America, to Spanish speakers, becomes Los Estados Unidos, and Mehico, to English, becomes Mexico.
Then I moved to Europe. What was an academic understanding became an everyday nuisance. Munich or Munchen? Firenze or Florence? Rome or Roma? Vienna or Wien? Who changed these city’s names? Why the hell did they do it? Just to confuse me on the train? Some of the changes are particularly senseless: why did Padova, Mantova and Genova have to become Padua, Mantua and Genoa? Americans barely visit these cities; who even took the time to change their names? (Michael C’s answer: the British.)
(Personally, the Firenze to Florence change pisses me off the most. I love the sound of “Firenze”; Florence is the name of a grandmother or a hipster band leader.)
More disturbingly, the linguistic game of geographical one-ups-manship is racist (or orientalist in the Edward Said-sense). “Whoa,” you may be saying. “Racist?” Yes, racist. No one has ever corrected my pronunciation of “Rome”--a white, European city--but I’ve been chastised for my pronunciation of middle Eastern countries and Chinese cities. White countries, sure we’ll goof your names. Non-white Asian, Middle Eastern or African countries, your names must remain odd and unpronounceable.
In other words, we can anglicize European city and country names to sound familiar, but we keep Asian, African and Middle Eastern country names different, foreign, furthering their otherness. Non-white countries “get” to keep their strange sounding names; Iraq has to be ee-rack, but Deutschland can be whatever. All of this enforces the separation, the non-whiteness of those regions.
In the end, the whole debate is pointless; we change country names for a very obvious reason: pronunciation. Every language emphasizes different syllables. As linguist Geoffrey Nunberg explains, no American, unless they grew up speaking Arabic, will successfully pronounce most Arabic city and country names. (The vice-versa is true as well.)
Why we keep the mis-pronunciations? That’s the real issue. Tomorrow, I offer a solution.
Let’s start with some honesty, I (Michael C) hate articles about cyber-warfare. I hate articles warning of the “next cyber attack” in the U.S. I hate articles warning about the dangers of terrorism in general, but more specifically, I hate articles warning that “cyber-terrorism” will cause the next 9/11.
Like this one or this one or this one or this one or this one. Search cyber and 9/11; that generates 26 million results. Just last night, 60 Minutes headlined their show with the Stuxnet virus. Conversely, I love articles dissecting the cyber threat, like Thomas Rid’s “Think Again: Cyberwar”. Until today, we have avoided dissecting the “cyber-war/warfare/terrorism” issue, instead settling for articles about our lack of hiring the right people to build our cyber defenses.
Still...and I cannot believe that I am about to write this...I think...I have finally been convinced...that the next 9/11 or Pearl Harbor will be...a cyber-attack.
Here’s why: though I think interested groups (politicians searching for funding, contractors also in search of funding, and media watchers in search of a good story) over-hype the threat of cyber-warfare, cyber-terrorism, and cyber-attacks, the US, for the most part, is still not prepared for it. More importantly, a cyber-attack would succeed for the same reason the terrorists succeeded on 9/11. September 11th didn’t become 9/11 because it involved planes, or because of the death toll, or even because Muslims attacked us. Forget the who, what, when, where and how.
9/11 was 9/11 because of the why. We weren’t ready for it. It was shocking. Throughout history, terrorism has shocked governments into action through surprising violence. In Munich in 1972, terrorists take members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage. Hostage situations become the go-to terror attack. As a result, from metropolitan police departments to the FBI to the Army, in every country, everyone fields a hostage rescue team. Hostage taking goes out of style.
Then come bombings. The World Trade center the first time, then the Federal building in Oklahoma City. Now most public buildings have subtle, but impenetrable anti-terrorism measures. More importantly, we beefed up security and aggressively targeted al Qaeda everywhere on the globe. Then terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into buildings. As a result, future passengers on a captured airliner would defend themselves against terrorists. Since 9/11, al Qaeda hasn’t launched a single coordinated terrorist attack in the U.S.; instead, we have lone wolves who can’t even light their own underwear on fire.
So, when experts discuss the threat of Al Qaeda, I shrug. The next 9/11 won’t come from a threat we already expect. Al Qaeda or an affiliate might still launch a terror attack in the U.S, but it won’t be on the scale of 9/11, and more importantly, it won’t shock anyone. However, if Al Qaeda hoarded away a dozen or so hackers in a compound and let them develop the world’s most dangerous computer virus...that might worry me.
As Mark Bowden--of Black Hawk Down fame--writes in Worm: The First Digital World War about the Conflicker virus, a truly coordinated and unexpected virus could do real harm. The Conflicker virus seems ten times more dangerous than any terror attack. Imagine the Stuxnet worm without any restraint hitting every (or just some) power plant in the U.S. or world. Even with the (seemingly) never ending news stories, most Americans would not expect this type of attack, so it would qualify as “surprising” and “shocking”. If you can’t get the book, this Fresh Air article is a good summary.
Worst yet, law enforcement ignores the dis-enfranchised people who could conceivably try to cause havoc with a cyber-attack. From the far political right to the far political left--libertarian to anarchist--I could see a group dedicated simply to overthrowing the system using a cyber-terror attack, and these Americans would likely have the cyber know-how. Despite some investigations into domestic terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation spend an overwhelming amount of time tracking suspected Muslim terrorists.
So two final thoughts. First, the government is not the best actor to stop cyber-terrorism. Bureaucracies move slowly, and intelligence agencies move slower than any of them. Moreover, politicians only care about Al Qaeda because of its tremendous Q score. I just don’t see the government reacting until a cyber-9/11 happens.
Second, this is a prediction. And I recognize that. So let’s say that this isn’t 100% going to happen, and I won’t put a date on it. It probably won’t happen soon. In fact, it probably won’t happen for dozens of years. But if another 9/11 happens, it won’t be planes or bombs, it will be digital.
On February 17th, al Qaeda tried, once again, to strike at America. Armed with a suicide vest and an automatic weapon, Amine El Khalifi--a sworn al Qaeda operative--planned to kills dozens of Americans in cold blooded murder, terrorism by any definition.
Worse yet, Amine El Khalifi worked for the most active and sophisticated al Qaeda franchise. The only branch of al Qaeda that can actively recruit terrorists to target America on our own soil. A branch with an active web presence that trains, supplies, and motivates its members.
It’s name? Al Qaeda, FBI.
Despite their supposedly robust web presence, most wannabe terrorists can never contact the real al Qaeda--or a real affiliate--instead, they end up contacting undercover FBI agents. What I call “al Qaeda FBI” then sends an undercover agent to “train” the wannabe, provide him with “explosives” and, in several cases, motivate him. At the extremes, this means pushing and encouraging the “terrorist” to conduct a terror attack even after he expresses doubts.
I could describe each individual case where this occurs, or I could just point you to Professor John Mueller’s excellent breakdown of terrorism cases in the US, which includes mostly wannabombers who never worked with al Qaeda, and exclusively worked for al Qaeda FBI; wannabes like Antonio Martinez, Khalid Abudl Latif, Mohamed Osman Mohamed, Farooqe Ahmed, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi and more.
I don’t want terrorists attacking America. I also appreciate the work of FBI agents intercepting terrorists. That said, I have several problems with the extensive involvement of “al Qaeda FBI” in promoting terrorism:
1. Is this entrapment? Because entrapment isn’t constitutional. Several respected journalists have shown how the FBI doesn’t just intercept plots, it helps create them. Personally, I don’t like the government creating crimes that wouldn’t have existed in the first place. Read these two articles to get a great perspective on this, particularly the Mother Jones article by Trevor Aaronson, “The Informants”.
2. We get the narrative all wrong. Though it goes mostly unsaid by reporters, pundits and politicians, al Qaeda isn’t very good at what they do. Instead of telling the public a good news story--look at silly Al Qaeda, they can’t recruit anyone--advocates for increased national security spending use these cases to frighten the public. But look again; these wanna-bombers can’t ever get to the real al Qaeda. If the supposedly super-effective jihadist websites were so super effective, how come they don’t warn followers about al Qaeda FBI? If al Qaeda has so many men ready to sacrifice themselves for Allah, why don’t they?
Nothing exemplifies this stunning impotence better than the fact that al Qaeda cannot gain a foothold on American soil. Instead of reveling in this, instead of relegating al Qaeda to an after-thought of history, the media--with the cooperation of the FBI and Justice Department--continue to stoke al Qaeda’s reputation with press releases about each of their foiled “attacks”. The executive branch especially loves this narrative. As President Obama constantly reminds the public, Al Qaeda remains ready and able to strike America.
3. Where have all the lone wolves gone? The number of lone wolf terrorists in America is tiny, microscopic, infinitesimal. You have a better chance of winning the lottery (which happens at least twice a week in almost every state) than knowing a lone wolf terrorist. Excluding all the al Qaeda FBI cases, there are less than a handful of serious attempted terror attacks (Fort Hood Shooting, Time Square Bomber and Underwear Bomber). Listen to Charles Kurzman on To The Best of Our Knowledge to hear specific numbers on this issue.
(Finally, rhetoric point: don’t wolves hunt in packs? How many actual lone wolves are there?)
4. With so few lone wolves, does al Qaeda have a single branch in the US? It is like the proverbial tree in the forest, “If al Qaeda has a branch in the United States, but it doesn’t ever launch or plan on launching a terror attack, does it have a branch in the U.S.?”
Consider that the FBI doesn’t use undercover agents to infiltrate terrorist networks in the U.S. Instead, in case after case, the FBI agents act as the senior leadership. Unlike drug cartels or organized crime, which cause way more violence in the US, the FBI has nothing to infiltrate.
So what? News coverage implies that “al Qaeda” is effective, or at least operating. Facts don’t bear this out. Which means we probably over-reacted when it comes to counter-terrorism spending. The extreme approaches to counter-terrorism--the NYPD spending binge, the super-surveillance, the vast Top Secret America--pale in usefulness to some undercover FBI guys monitoring jihadi websites.
So the next time the FBI and Justice Department make an arrest, let’s celebrate it for what it is, another successful attack planned and executed by al Qaeda FBI. Let’s celebrate Al Qaeda’s continued impotence.
I really like the core idea from last Wednesday’s post, “The Pièce de Résistance”, where I proposed a new, different International Criminal Court. Scratch that--I love that idea. It makes so much sense, and everyone I have ever told described it to agrees.
And yet...I know it will never happen.
So if you want to say, “Michael, you’re unrealistic”, go ahead. That doesn’t mean the ideas don’t make sense--they just don’t jibe with the realities of our political situation. (Then again, I would have said the exact same thing a year ago about fixing the combat pay system...and, well, just wait until Friday.)
If you’ve taken a course on international relations, then you probably read Kenneth M. Waltz’ Man, the State and War, where he analyzes the causes of war from three levels: the individual, the state and the international system. For my solution to America’s foreign policy problems (a new Obama doctrine and a new ICC), it’s that juicy middle layer that kills my ideas; domestic politics hamstring foreign policy. And not hamstring in that conservative political-correctness-keeps-us-from-killing-tons-more-bad-guys way.
No, the American people simply refuse to accept any risk.
But I don’t blame Obama. I don’t really blame Bush either. The problem, in the end, is voters. Presidents (reasonably) want a second term, and they generally don’t want to completely hamstring their party’s re-election chances. So, in the end, the president serves at the behest of the people. The American people--right now--don’t like risk.
And if a president had a terrorist attack take place during their term, they wouldn’t get re-elected. (Well, it’s possible they might get re-elected, but chances are they wouldn’t.) Because of 9/11, every president and future president will fear a terrorist attack more than any other political situation. They believe it will cost them their career and legacy.
Can you blame presidents or politicians for thinking this way? I don’t.
But I do blame the people. Yes, fellow Americans, it’s our/your fault. I blame a populace that follows anecdotes, not statistics. I blame a people--liberals and conservatives alike--who justify torture, rendition and wars, saying ”Oh, after 9/11, we were all scared.” I blame my fellow citizens who condemn a handful of nations as backwards and failing--Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and others--but don’t want want to keep them from failing. I blame Americans who refuse to sacrifice their own lives to make the lives of their own children better.
Read “The Counter-Terrorism Consensus” by Michael A. Cohen in Foreign Policy to see this bipartisanship at work. In political issue after political issue--from Guantanamo to drone strikes--democrats and republicans united behind Obama’s continued (or expanded) Bush-era policies against terrorism. Super-majorities of Americans support drone strikes and detaining people at Guantanamo Bay. The same goes for the Patriot Act; if Americans really want it gone, why won’t congress stop re-authorizing it?
If President Obama changed policy, even if it would set us on a course towards winning the long war, it would create risk. Using drone missiles to eliminate every suspected terrorist works, because it keeps killing more and more people. As long as the U.S. keeps the drone strikes going, we can keep the radical extremists off balance. But we keep creating more terrorists. So America cannot take its foot off the pedal without risking its own casualties.
As a result, “the long war”, “the war on terror” or whatever name it takes, continues on. And politicians are helpless until Americans gain the moral and emotional courage to risk their own lives. Until a generation takes political control that doesn’t have the images of two towers falling seared into their minds, though, this change.
Yesterday, I (Michael C) solved the terrorism problem. Congrats to On Violence!
I wrote that President Obama should announce a new “Obama Doctrine”; a doctrine that would eliminate practices that go against American values, like torture (which President Obama has stopped) and drone strikes (which he hasn’t). I believe President Obama should declare American values--along with the Geneva Convention and U.N. Declaration on Universal Human Rights--the guiding principles of our new foreign policy.
If he did, we could win any current or future wars against terrorism.
Except that...I ignored some huge questions. What do we do with terrorists? Do we kill them in drone strikes? Unlawfully detain them for years? Ignore them? My plan for a new “Obama doctrine” cannot work unless it deals with terrorists currently plotting against America. Fortunately, I have an answer to that conundrum. If President Obama is re-elected, (because no Republican administration will ever go along with this) he should announce a brand new, international organization:
The International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists, and Trans-national Criminals. Or ICCfPTTC.
Yep, I know what you are thinking, “That acronym is terrible.” And it is. But the more important problem is, “Hey, the U.S. hasn’t signed on to the current ICC.” I know that. The Constitution specifies that the Senate may never, under any circumstances, pass an international treaty. (I kid.) Instead Senate republicans refuse to pass any treaty which could possibly limit U.S. sovereignty--with especial concern about the actions of its leaders who, during the last ten years, could be subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. America will never cede its own sovereignty.
The new International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists and Trans-National Criminals (maybe we’ll just call it “The New ICC”) would have nothing to do with the old. Based around either Interpol, or a new “FBI Foreign Branch”, the U.S. would help nations around the world arrest and prosecute irregular/asymmetric/non-state actors that threaten the global order. Intelligence analysts/detectives would develop the cases, then JSOC (or a new, less lethal organization) would arrest the terrorists who continue to plot against the U.S.
Imagine the secondary, tertiary and quartiary effects. We could turn Guantanamo Bay into the full-time prison housing these convicted criminals from around the world. We could end military tribunals and turn the cases over to the new ICC, and we wouldn’t have to worry New Yorkers about trying terrorists in federal courts. We could finally have a place to punish the pirates caught off the coast of Somalia.
And that’s not all! In some countries, tackling organized crime is too much. Think Costa Rica or Mexico or Columbia or Somalia. In those cases, especially with narco-traffickers, the U.S. could now assist under the auspices of an internationally recognized organization. Just like the FBI frequently prosecutes corrupt local and state officials in the U.S., the ICCfPTTC would help states who cannot stop drug cartels on their own.
Finally, the U.S. would have an internationally recognized and ideologically coherent policy. No more violations of human rights and dignity. Further, America could emerge from the black, shadowy world of intelligence, and move into the sunny world of the justice system. Terrorists couldn’t rail against U.S. abuses, because in an internationally recognized system, we wouldn’t have any. Further, the U.S. intelligence system could leverage the investigative powers of every country that signed on, not just the dictatorships who torture suspects for the CIA/JSOC. (Sorry, JSOC folks, “allegedly” torture.)
And countries around the globe would line up for this. Sure, some--like North Korea--wouldn’t, but we could still arrest their narco-traffickers and counterfeiters whenever they leave the country. We could also make membership in the new ICC a requirement for defense funding. (*cough* Pakistan *cough*)
President Obama earned a Noble Peace Prize without any major foreign policy victories for peace. If he could fundamentally re-orient U.S. foreign policy in a liberal direction--classically liberal, not “progressively liberal”--it would do more for his standing in history than anything else. An International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists and Transnational Criminals would accomplish this.
(Last May, I started a series called, “Intelligence is Evidence”, about my views on intelligence, punctuated by examples of “Intelligence Gone Bad”. However, I violated my own rule: I didn’t provide any solutions. This week I correct that mistake. Click here to read the rest of the series.)
In “The Biggest Problem with American Foreign Policy”, (from our “On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Event of the 2011” series) I wrote that, when it comes to the Middle East, the U.S. often fails to have a coherent long-term vision. America supports dictatorships--which costs it respect and cooperation in the long run--to capture terrorists. As a result, a short-term objective (remain safe from terrorism) defeats, in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, our long-term goal (spreading democracy around the world).
How does this relate to “Intelligence is Evidence” and terrorism? Well, we need to change how we use intelligence to prosecute terrorists. We need to acknowledge that we won every single battle in Vietnam, then lost the war. If we kill every terrorist we find, but kill ten innocents with him, the problem of Islamic extremism will continue. We need to think in the long-term: do we kill one terrorist now, or ten terrorists later?
My solution is a brand new, long-term strategy, or dare I say, a “new Obama doctrine.” (I’m not the first person to call for a “new Obama Doctrine”. A quick Google search reveals dozens of articles on this topic, and, Wikipedia has an entire article on it too.) The problem with all previous, so-called “Obama Doctrines” is they didn’t change much. President Obama stopped “enhanced interrogations”, but that was pretty much done away with anyways. If anything, he stepped up policies from the Bush administration, most specifically drone strikes and the war in Afghanistan.
My recommendations for a new “Obama Doctrine” boil down to a simple idea: the more accurately America prosecutes the war on terror--in other words, the less innocents our forces/proxies kill--the more likely we are to win that war. In other words, treat intelligence as evidence.
Step 1: Admit this war is a long war. And I don’t mean the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the issue of inter-state terrorism, promoted by extremists (of all stripes). The current administration, and any after it, must admit this fact. They must adopt strategies that present risk for America in the short-term--the way most good plans do--so that it can benefit in the long-term. In other words, admit that we will never actually “win” the war, so we need to adopt behaviors that will have long-term benefits. (Or just admit that it isn’t a war at all, but a criminal problem.)
Step 2: Eliminate policies that keep us safe, but alienate entire populations and radicalize terrorists.
- We need to stop drone strikes that risk any civilian casualties.
- We need to limit night raids to only confirmed enemy, not suspected enemy.
- We need to close Guantanamo Bay prison.
Step 3: Win the ideological war, the most important factor in our struggle against radicalism. Before we can implement all these ideas, we must first re-align our ideology. We must grab and hold the moral high ground. We must become the shining city on a hill our forefather’s believed in--where values always hold more power than our own lives.
Our government--and I will use President Obama--must first declare that killing innocents in war and in counter-terrorism, is always unacceptable. Then, as he has before, President Obama should reiterate that the values of the U.S. constitution are universal values. The founders believed that “all men were created equal”; that includes every citizen of the world. The founders also believed that every person on the globe deserved life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This doesn’t mean we have to give them liberty, but it does mean we cannot take their lives. Finally, President Obama should reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Geneva Conventions, any treaties on the Laws of War, and, most importantly, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
Step 4: Demand that intelligence use the strictest standards possible when it comes to terrorists. Which brings us back “intelligence”. Faulty intelligence is always at fault when the U.S. kills the wrong person/people. Tragedies occur because intelligence professionals overstate their case or fail to do their homework.
Of course, to implement steps one through four, we need one final, radical change. That will come tomorrow, in my favorite idea of this concluding series. If President Obama embraced it, then he would truly have a new Obama doctrine.
(To read the entire “Intelligence is Evidence” series, click here.)
Last year, I devoted an entire month to the idea that “Intelligence is Evidence.” On the face of it, that statement seems like an “entirely uncontroversial banality”, as some would say. If it were, though, people probably wouldn’t screw up intelligence so often.
When people treat intelligence differently than evidence--primarily by relying on much less of it--human tragedies result, as I wrote about in Exhibits: Terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan. (Mistakes in using evidence lead to other human tragedies, as I wrote about here and here.)
This week, I will finish the series by providing my recommendations for how to use intelligence better. I won’t really fix how we gather or analyze intelligence, but how leaders use intelligence to conduct counter-terrorism operations. Over the next few weeks, my solutions will eventually drift into the topic, “How Michael C would win the so-called ‘long war’”.
In six words, we should value accuracy over action. As a company commander once advised me, counter-terrorists need to develop their “tactical patience”. Intelligence is never perfect, but imperfection shouldn’t excuse sloppy or imprecise action. Targeting fewer terrorists more accurately will ultimately win the “long war”. Killing civilians in Pakistan or Yemen or other countries, detaining the wrong people or supporting the wrong, corrupt regimes will simply prolong the fight to stop extremists. Intelligence is evidence, and we should hold it to that standard.
This simple idea--accuracy over action--applies to every facet counter-terrorism. Tomorrow, I will describe how we can fight counter-insurgencies more effectively by using more precise intelligence. To end this week, I will explain how we can fight the war on terror more effectively, specifically developing a real, and different, “Obama Doctrine”. After a break next week, I will expand on my favorite idea that came from this series--the crux of intelligence is evidence.
Finally, I will explain why none of this will ever happen.