Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Soccer Dad

Soccer Dad

21st Century Statecraft In The Obama Administration--Same Ploys, Different Toys?

Posted: 28 Jul 2010 08:44 AM PDT

Twitter cannot stop a bullet.

That's the lesson of what happened last year. There was a lot of romantic outpouring here thinking that Facebook is going to stop the Revolutionary Guards. It doesn't. Thuggery, a determined regime that is oppressive, that will shoot, almost always wins.A hard but simple truth--especially when the Internet actually can be controlled.

Charles Krauthammer on the one-year anniversary of the election that spawned the Green Movement in Iran

Back in June the State Department's Special Advisor on Innovation Alec J. Ross and Policy Planning staffer Jared Cohen led a delegation of tech companies to Syria. But Ross and Cohen are not mere wonks, as they demonstrated while in Syria:

But it's not all work and no play for Ross and Cohen, who have been finding some time to take in the sights and tell us about it, 140 characters at a time. For example, according to Ross, on Tuesday Cohen challenged the Syrian Minister of Telecom to a cake-eating contest and called it "Creative Diplomacy." Match that, Tehran!

Ross and Cohen both tweeted about their trip to the Tonino Lamborghini Caffe Lounge in Damascus, but while Ross was "amused" by the place, Cohen wants his 300,000-plus tweeps to know that "I'm not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus."

So this is supposed to be the wave of the future, though not necessarily the future of social networking. After all, we already know all about that. Instead, Ross and Cohen are supposed to be the harbingers of the future of statecraft.

On Twitter, Cohen, who is 28, and Ross, who is 38, are among the most followed of anyone working for the U.S. government, coming in third and fourth after Barack Obama and John McCain. This didn't happen by chance. Their Twitter posts have become an integral part of a new State Department effort to bring diplomacy into the digital age, by using widely available technologies to reach out to citizens, companies and other nonstate actors. Ross and Cohen's style of engagement -- perhaps best described as a cross between social-networking culture and foreign-policy arcana -- reflects the hybrid nature of this approach. Two of Cohen's recent posts were, in order: "Guinea holds first free election since 1958" and "Yes, the season premier [sic] of Entourage is tonight, soooo excited!" This offhand mix of pop and politics has on occasion raised eyebrows and a few hackles (writing about a frappucino during a rare diplomatic mission to Syria; a trip with Ashton Kutcher to Russia in February), yet, together, Ross and Cohen have formed an unlikely and unprecedented team in the State Department. They are the public face of a cause with an important-sounding name: 21st-century statecraft.

And they credit Hillary being its godmother! Be that as it may, this 21st century statecraft is supposed to be more than just different packaging, one more way to communicate and get your message across:

It represents a shift in form and in strategy -- a way to amplify traditional diplomatic efforts, develop tech-based policy solutions and encourage cyberactivism. Diplomacy may now include such open-ended efforts as the short-message-service (S.M.S.) social-networking program the State Department set up in Pakistan last fall. "A lot of the 21st-century dynamics are less about, Do you comport politically along traditional liberal-conservative ideological lines?" Ross says. "Today it is -- at least in the spaces we engage in -- Is it open or is it closed?"

I don't know what spaces Ross and Cohen are talking about, but in that same space called Twitter where they are talking about frappucinos on the one hand and Guinea elections, people are talking about anything and everything that concerns them--and they bring along their ideologies. If anything, what Facebook and Twitter bring to the table is the ability to disseminate a message more broadly and coordinate groups for action more effectively.

The Skeptical Bureaucrat is...well, skeptical. He quotes the technology columnist from The Economist who has seen all this before:

I can't define it, even though I've listened to Alec Ross speak about it twice. (Mr Ross is the senior advisor for innovation at America's Department of State.) Is it a new kind of state-run broadcaster, a digital Radio Free Europe? Is it a new kind of public diplomacy? Is it a new kind of foreign aid, a digital USAID? Is it a quicker, less centralised way of determining America's public response to an international event? Does it signal a focus on the role the internet plays in human rights and international trade?

I've now encountered it for a third time, in a profile of Mr Ross and a colleague, Jared Cohen, in the New York Times Magazine. And I've decided that "21st-century statecraft" is just a grab-bag; it means all of those things. Some of them are good ideas. Some of them are not. And all they have in common is that the internet exists.

He goes on to note that defending this new technology with a dismissive "you don't get it, old man" just does not cut it. A response like that by itself just does not differentiate between the good and the bad in any idea.

Narrowing the goal of statecraft down a bit, Ross has been working on using Twitter in the field of digital public diplomacy--

The world just doesn't seem to understand how great America is. This is the central problem of public diplomacy, which is expected to fill in the gaps between America's policies and its self-image. I'm not sure how Twitter is going to help.

Like most tools, it works great when spreading you message to people who think the same as you and organizing them. However, there is nothing in such a tool that inherently makes a message more impacting.

Returning to the recent visit Ross and Cohen made to Syria, one of the justifications given was to make this new technology and infrastructure more widely available. While they obviously view this as an agent of change, the fact that Assad was willing to allow this for discussion implies that he is not nearly as afraid of this as Ross and Cohen might assume.

Rami G. Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut wrote When Arabs Tweet, and explains why. Even with Facebook, Twitter and blogging--not to mention more established media such as Al Jazeera satellite television--what exactly is being achieved?

Watching Arab pundits criticize Arab governments, Israel or the United States -- common fare on Arab satellite television -- is great vicarious satisfaction for ordinary men and women who live in political cultures that deny them serious opportunities for free speech.

Blogging, reading politically racy Web sites, or passing around provocative text messages by cellphone is equally satisfying for many youth. Such activities, though, essentially shift the individual from the realm of participant to the realm of spectator, and transform what would otherwise be an act of political activism -- mobilizing, demonstrating or voting -- into an act of passive, harmless personal entertainment.

We must face the fact that all the new media and hundreds of thousands of young bloggers from Morocco to Iran have not triggered a single significant or lasting change in Arab or Iranian political culture. Not a single one. Zero.

This is partly because the modern Middle Eastern security state is firmly in control of the key levers of power -- guns and money, mainly -- and has learned to live with the digital open flow of information, as long as this does not translate into actual political action that seeks to change policies or ruling elites.

Instead, he concludes, the way for the US to really make a difference is through its actions, not its words--no matter how they are packaged technologically. Sounds like an old formula, no?

One cannot take seriously the United States or any other Western government that funds political activism by young Arabs while it simultaneously provides funds and guns that help cement the power of the very same Arab governments the young social and political activists target for change.

...Like I said, the United States and other Western governments should apply more honesty and intellectual rigor to their assault of our digital world than they did in their military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It all comes down to a US foreign policy, making wise decisions with the help of knowledgeable people who can make decisions beyond their ideologies--recognizing what does not work and being willing to change accordingly.

It's hard work.

Which may explain the attraction of using Facebook and Twitter in the first place.

by Daled Amos

The evils of corporate influence on elections

Posted: 28 Jul 2010 04:29 AM PDT

In October 2002, New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Toricelli was sinking in the polls, so Democrats convinced him to drop out of the race and replace him with former Senator Frank Lautenberg. New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled that the substitution was legal.

For the editors of the New York Times were enthusiastic.

New Jersey's Supreme Court made the right call yesterday when it ruled that the State Democratic Party could substitute Frank Lautenberg for the discredited Robert Torricelli as its candidate in November's election for the United States Senate. The ruling appears to clear the way for a vigorous if necessarily abbreviated campaign, thus giving New Jersey voters the choice they deserve.

But as the late William Safire pointed out:

All summer the Senate Democratic boss, Tom Daschle, was minimizing the ethical shortcomings of Senator Robert Torricelli. Despite public airing of his lapses, Democratic primary voters chose the New Jersey fund-raiser to be their party's candidate.

Then, five weeks before Election Day and three weeks past the deadline for ballot substitution, polls indicated that Torricelli's campaign was sinking. Democrats -- with control of the Senate in the balance -- yanked him. After two politicians declined the honor, they found Frank Lautenberg, the 78-year-old retired senator, who was clean, rich and willing.

Yesterday the New Jersey Supreme Court set aside the election law and approved poll-directed, final-month pinch-hitting. This establishes a new political practice: If your candidate begins to fall behind in surveys, forget primary results and substitute a candidate whose recent activities and views cannot be thoroughly examined by media nor whose stamina can be tested on the trail.

What was going on was the last minute changing of the rules to ensure that the Senate seat would remain in Democratic hands.

Because of this (and many other reasons) I can't take the editors of the Times seriously when the argue in Keeping Politics in the Shadows, that the failure of the Disclose act hurts our democracy.

Corporations are more likely to make larger donations, they said, while union members and their smaller donations are protected from disclosure. Of course, one of the founding principles of campaign finance reform is to encourage large numbers of small donations from donors of all kinds, while reducing the influence of wealth. This is not an ideological proposition; it is fundamental to ensuring a fairer political process.

Really, I don't care what the "founding principles" of campaign finance reform are, those who wish to give, find ways to skirt the laws. And I don't fear corporations having undue influence in elections.

Well actually I do. I believe that the media, specifically newspapers have an outsize influence on our elections.

Take a newspaper endorsement. It should be the equivalent of a paid ad. The pretense is that editors of a newspaper are more informed than the general population and therefore their endorsement should somehow carry more weight. Any candidate who gets an endorsement is sure to include it in his subsequent advertising.

And of course in the last election, the Times ran a hit piece on John McCain alleging that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. Again, that is usually the province of a campaign's opposition research. Again that's worth something.

So if the Times is so concerned about corporations spending more than $600 to influence an election, perhaps then it could start by reporting fairly about a campaign. Or if they're going to trash one candidate, they should charge the other's campaign for the research they do. And declare their endosement as a contribution. That way we know how devoted the Times as a corporation is to a specific candidate and judge its credibility on reporting on the issues accordingly.

If ... you must 072810

Posted: 28 Jul 2010 04:21 AM PDT

If you haven't read The Zionist League for Preemptive Self-Defense at Freson Zionism ; you must.
You give peace a bad name.
If you haven't read Hezbollah spies on Facebook at the Terror Wonk Plus; you must.
Be very, very, careful.
If you haven't read Explaining Kerry's Yacht-Tax Dodge at the Future of Capitalism ; you must.
Powerline is not outraged though.
If you haven't read Not just Malmo at Legal Insurrection ; you must.
See also Europes war on the Jews.
If you haven't read Speeding Ticket Bleg at the Volokh Conspiracy; you must.
The comments are a lot of fun.

Beware of turks bearing glass houses

Posted: 28 Jul 2010 03:56 AM PDT

PM David Cameron of England, yesterday, gave a speech in Turkey in which he pandered to the Islamist Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan, in which he alleged, among other things, that Gaza was a "prison camp." As is typical of the New York Times's The Lede blog, Robert Mackey takes great delight in highlighting criticisms of Israel. Mackey, at least, posted an objection from the Israeli ambassador, but still the focus of the post is on the condemnation of Israel and not on how accurate it was.

In reference to a snarky article in the Independent, Elder of Ziyon writes:

The problem in Gaza has never been available goods - it has been poverty for the many unemployed people, unemployed in a large part because of Hamas policies. Remember the Erez Industrial Zone and what happened to that? Israel kept it open as long as it could until the terror attacks that Hamas performed there became too much. Thousands of employees lost their jobs as a result.

We seething conservative bloggers, as the Independent condescendingly refers to us, are pointing out that all the "aid" ships that the British newspaper fawns over were based on the same lies that the Independent itself peddled - that Gaza was a large prison camp. Now that the absurdity of that characterization has been destroyed by the Gaza Mall and other quite nice hotels, restaurants and tourist spots that we have discovered and publicized, the Independent refuses to admit its mistakes and instead reframes the discussion to minimize its lies.

The Independent is now moving the goalposts, not willing to admit that the myth of Gaza as a "prison camp" was one that it helped to push and now deriding those who proved that this very newspaper was among the worst purveyors of that very myth.

No, the Elder wasn't addressing Cameron, but the critique applies to the PM too.

And Daniel PIpes, points out a different aspect to the Turkish hypocrisy regarding Israel that Cameron validated. (Again, this was written before Cameron's remarks, but it applies to his "prison camp" comment.)

This Turkish rage prompts a question: Is Israel in Gaza really worse than Turkey in Cyprus? A comparison finds this hardly to be so. Consider some contrasts:
  • Turkey's invasion of July-August 1974 involved the use of napalm and "spread terror" among Cypriot Greek villagers, according to Minority Rights Group International. In contrast, Israel's "fierce battle" to take Gaza relied only on conventional weapons and entailed virtually no civilian casualties.
  • The subsequent occupation of 37 percent of the island amounted to a "forced ethnic cleansing" according to William Mallinson in a just-published monograph from the University of Minnesota. In contrast, if one wishes to accuse the Israeli authorities of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, it was against their own people, the Jews, in 2005.
  • The Turkish government has sponsored what Mallinson calls "a systematic policy of colonization" on formerly Greek lands in northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots in 1973 totaled about 120,000 persons; since then, more than 160,000 citizens of the Republic of Turkey have been settled in their lands. Not a single Israeli community remains in Gaza.
  • Ankara runs its occupied zone so tightly that, in the words of Bülent Akarcalı, a senior Turkey politician, "Northern Cyprus is governed like a province of Turkey." An enemy of Israel, Hamas, rules in Gaza.
  • The Turks set up a pretend-autonomous structure called the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." Gazans enjoy real autonomy.
  • A wall through the island keeps peaceable Greeks out of northern Cyprus. Israel's wall excludes Palestinian terrorists.

Contrary to Cameron's assertions, Israel was justified in stopping the flotilla and Gaza is not a prison camp. These are points that Mackey could have emphasized in opposition to Cameron's reckless charges.

But it's the New York Times, you can't really expect better.

UPDATE: To his credit, Jackson Diehl isn't impressed:

Standing alongside Cameron, Erdogan compared Israel to the "pirates of Somalia" and added that people in Gaza "are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open air prison." That was fairly mild stuff for the Turkish PM, who regularly accuses Israel of "state terrorism" and last month called it an "adolescent, rootless state."

If Cameron was troubled by such rhetoric, or by Turkey's role in the ferry incident, he gave no indication of it. Instead he proclaimed that "when I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a NATO ally... it makes me angry that your progress toward E.U. membership can be frustrated in the way it has been."

That may win the new British government some points in Ankara. But the price will be paid by Israel, which has just seen the international campaign to delegitimize it gain a little more momentum.

Crossposted on Yourish.

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