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Monday, January 25, 2010

Al-Qa'ida terrorizes Muslims

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which consistently produces fantastic research on terrorist threats, has done a great service with its new report. Deadly Vanguards: A Study of Al-Qai'da's Violence Against Muslims uses exclusively Arabic-language news sources to estimate how many Westerners vs. non-Westerners have died at the hands of al-Qa'ida. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is the key chart:


The report's conclusion says, "Al-Qa'ida represents itself as the vanguard of the Muslim community, committed to upholding Islamic values and defending Muslim people against Western forces, but its behavior represents a callous attitude toward the lives of those the group claims to protect."

This is a message that needs to get out in the Muslim world as frequently and loudly as possible. None of my friends or colleagues here in Jordan like al-Qai'da (my Muslim friends tell me that al-Qa'ida members are not true Muslims, and my secular friends just dismiss them with an angry "f**k al-Qai'da"), but I'm still going to throw a copy of this report in my backpack. I'm looking forward to the day I can pull it out in a classroom discussion.

Zenpundit on the Post-COIN Era

Looks like SWJ has already picked this up, but zenpundit has a great post about the status of the COIN debate, set in the broader context of domestic American politics. It's short and well worth the read.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Things I've Learned #2: All worldchanging is local

I've always cared about making the world a better place. I joined the military partly out of a strong, idealistic belief that US power could be a force for good. I care deeply about global ills like poverty, war, genocide, child soldiering, and sex trafficking. I'm not particularly interested in my career; I'm more interested in where I can go to "make a difference." I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can use my unique experience and abilities in the service of greater good.

My idealism didn't last long on active duty, but even as a committed realist, I still care deeply about making the world a better place. That's why my blog is titled "Building Peace" and that's why I'm living in the Middle East. After a couple years on active duty, watching our country make preventable mistakes because key leaders so deeply misunderstood the region, obtaining an Olmsted scholarship became my new life goal: I would learn the Arabic language, learn the culture, and learn everything I could about the region, so that someday, when I was the guy sitting in a position of authority somewhere, I would know how to make a better decision than my predecessors. My dad once asked me why I was constantly reading "The Economist" or "Foreign Affairs" on Christmas vacations instead of anything fun. I told him that I wasn't studying for the job I'm in now; I was preparing for the job I want to hold in twenty years. I was moved by a visit to Churchill's underground war rooms in London where, at the end of the tour, I saw this quote: "I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial." When would my hour or my trial come? When would my moment come to change the world?

I got the scholarship I desired. I'm learning Arabic. I'm living in the Middle East. But it didn't take me very long at all to realize something crucial: I'm not that important. I speak Arabic pretty well, but 250 million Arabs speak it far better (and a lot of them also speak English). The military produces a lot of people who are way smarter than I am. I'll have a good career ahead of me in sha' allah, but there is never going to be a job where I can say, "Ah, this is my moment to bring positive change to the world." At what point do you start making a difference? When you're a colonel? A general? An undersecretary? The head of a think tank? The President? Look at how little President Obama has been able to steer the ship of American foreign policy, despite his firm intentions to change course. I've realized that no one person or office is equipped to change the world.

So what is a would-be worldchanger supposed to do? I've learned to get realistic. I've realized that all worldchanging is local. It's like the old saying: life is a journey, not a destination. If we wait for a life situation that will let us change the world, most of us will be disappointed (or will cause tremendous damage). The real worldchangers are the ones who routinely leave small imprints at every step of the journey. They bring positive change wherever they are planted. The best thing we can do is live actively and selflessly within our sphere of influence, however big or small that might be.

My predecessor in Jordan, a good friend and fantastic officer who also flies C-17s, had a good philosophy about this. He was moved by a Biblical passage about an occupying Roman centurion that helps the local Jews build a synagogue. My friend wanted to offer these sorts of small blessings wherever he could, one person at a time. He helped his Arabic tutor get a job at DLI. He helped a friend from university fill out visa paperwork and apply for a work-study program in the US (it was a life-changing experience for this friend). He helped his professor's son apply for an exchange program at West Point (he got in and is studying there now). He did a fantastic job using his unique situation, experience, and knowledge to serve and help others. I'm trying to adopt the same philosophy.

I've never read the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but someone told me about one of its models, which I've always found helpful. All of us have a large "sphere of concern" that includes those issues we care about--everything from faith, family, friends, and hobbies on up to the big issues like war, health care policy, and the economic crisis. Within that circle we have a much smaller "sphere of influence", which encompasses all the things we can actually affect in our lives. It might include things like our personal relationships, our local community, our job, our volunteer activities, how we vote, or where we give our money. The best any of us can do is live well within our sphere of influence. We can also try to expand our sphere of influence, which will allow us to work more effectively for the things we care about. My current scholarship is a perfect example. These same rules apply whether you're sixteen years old or the President of the United States.

If we all took this advice to heart, the world would be a better place. Globalization has shrunk our world and made our spheres of concern larger than ever; it's easy to feel crushed by the weight of the war in Afghanistan or the earthquake in Haiti. The sense of helplessness leads to a lot of fear and anger. Recognizing the difference between the sphere of concern and the sphere of influence is liberating; it teaches humility, helps us admit we can't change all these problems by ourselves, and gives us freedom to live peacefully within our own local domain. At the same time, most of us never really explore our full circle of influence (how many Americans vote?). If we really believe that all worldchanging is local, there is a lot we can do.

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Thing I've Learned #1: Don't get angry unless you mean to

A Cross-Cultural Story

Here's a cross-cultural story about the international incident I almost caused. It just goes to show that you never know where cross-cultural misunderstandings can flare up.

A few months ago my family and I went on a brief vacation to the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba. On the way we stopped at a gas station/rest stop in the middle of the desert. I stocked up on junk food, then asked some of the locals if there was a bathroom. They directed me to an adjacent building, which was apparently part of the rest stop. The men's room was clearly marked. I went inside and saw a sight familiar to any American: a long trough against one wall, with a few spigots for rinsing/flushing. Ah yes, the trough urinal. I stood looking at it. Something didn't seem quite right; I'd never seen a trough urinal in the country before. I decided to explore a little more. Deeper in the bathroom I found ordinary urinals, took care of business, and left.

I didn't think about it again until I stopped at the same rest stop recently. The parking lot was packed. Men were pouring into the building. This was a mosque, I realized; the nondescript building must house a prayer room for travelers. I went inside to use the bathroom, and saw a crowd of men standing in what I'd mistaken for a trough urinal--washing their feet to cleanse themselves before prayers.

I have no idea what the consequence is for peeing in the ceremonial foot-washing trough, but I'm happy I didn't find out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

C-17 Airdrops in Haiti

I saw this mentioned briefly on BBC. I can't imagine what kind of DZ the military opened up in Haiti, but these must be some pretty hair-raising missions. Good job, guys.

The Wargame I Want

I've seen a few articles floating around the blogosphere about the red vs. blue wargames we play at our Professional Military Education schools. No one thinks they have much relevance to the wars we actually fight. I tend to agree. I've thought a lot about how to improve the wargames I've played in the Air Force. Is it possible to make an game relevant to small wars? If Air Force wargames mostly consist of assigning aircraft to missions, how can we do that it in a way that teaches young officers to think critically about the human terrain of a counterinsurgency environment?

I read an article at Air & Space Power Journal a couple years ago about the way that the Air Force generally does bomb damage analysis (I can't search for it now, because Air University's site is firewalled here in Jordan). The author explained that BDA was usually treated as little more than a percentage of destruction. You kept sending sorties until a target was destroyed. That's certainly how the wargames tend to work. The author argued that we need a richer, multifaceted system for bomb damage analysis. We wouldn't just measure enemy killed or infrastructure destroyed; we would measure the political effects of each attack among key population groups. I have no insider knowledge, but I suspect this kind of analysis is happening much more regularly now. If we could work this mentality into our wargames, I think they'd be far more applicable to the real world.

This is the wargame I want: a simple, elegant game designed to teach new lieutenants how to think about the strategic effects of airpower. A game demonstrating that airpower is about more than destroying targets; it's about creating effects in a complex human landscape. A game where overwhelming firepower might achieve your political objectives in some scenarios, but limited strikes against the right targets is more effective in others. A game where you can destroy every target on the board and still lose.

Here's how it would work. You'd have some kind of basic map with various elements of civilization scattered around it: towns, villages, etc. You'd also have potential targets, like enemy strongholds, water and electrical infrastructure, government offices, communications facilities, etc. You would also have a political/human map that is largely invisible to the player when the game begins: a web of relationships between all the factions that have a stake in the country. These are your ethnic groups, your tribes, your government parties, your insurgents, your criminals. These are also your outside actors, like neighboring countries. Every mission you fly would have effects in this human landscape. Intelligence missions might identify which factions are present in which locations. Airstrikes against one faction might cripple them, win you support among their arch-enemies, and appall everybody else. Or let's say you're trying to root out criminals in one town. Too little firepower will allow some to escape to neighboring villages, complicating your problem. Too much firepower will kill civilians and alienate the broader population.

Scenarios would be customizable, and your goals would be expressed in terms of this political, human terrain. Theoretically, such a game could bridge the conventional/COIN debate. One scenario (or an early phase of a multi-stage scenario) could simply require destroying a faction--say, the Iraqi government. A John Warden-style strategic air campaign would do the job nicely, but the amount of damage you do the country's infrastructure could have a big impact on the difficulty of the following stage: stomping out a multi-pronged insurgency while winning legitimacy for a new government. Good intelligence would become of prime importance. Airstrikes would have to be used with great care. Trying to maintain the allegiance of various factions who despise each other would take considerable skill.

That's the general outline, anyway. Now, obviously, the Air Force isn't going to go fight these kinds of wars all by itself. You really would need to include ground forces, development, and political elements to make a comprehensive game. You could possibly give the playing team control of these features, or you could let the game's AI control abstractions of them. The point isn't to create a full-scale simulation of a counterinsurgency environment; the goal is a simplified exercise that teaches new Air Force officers how to think critically across the full spectrum of conflict.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Another post about Avatar. And Afghanistan.

Why did I write a post about the "white savior" theme in Avatar? I'm not particularly interested in why Hollywood makes these movies. As a couple of my readers noted in the comments, movie producers want to make money, and a lot of formulaic plots are guaranteed sells. I'm more concerned with why these themes resonate so deeply with audiences. I'm especially concerned when we carry these deep-seated myths out into real life without even realizing it, because the stakes are so high.

Major Jim Gant, an experienced Special Forces soldier, made waves in October with his article One Tribe at a Time. According to a glowing Washington Post article that ran yesterday, "Gant believes that with the central government still weak and corrupt, the tribes are the only enduring source of local authority and security in the country." Both General Petraeus and General McChrystal widely circulate Gant's article. One official called Gant "Lawrence of Afghanistan" because of his immersion in Afghan tribal culture.

Not everybody is convinced. The blog Ghosts of Alexander ran a scathing critique today, written by an PhD student studying at the Australian National University. After citing a passage where Gant describes his love for Afghanistan, his feeling that he was born there, and his fond memories of sitting and talking with a local tribal leader, the author writes:

Gant is, well... he's on Pandora, 10 seconds from scoring with a blue skin lizard-cat girl. His avatar is a beard and some local clothing. He's obviously not of the scary Kandahari variety of SF. Unless of course you see things from the perspective of the highlanders. Then he's very scary.


I'm not qualified to evaluate the debate, but Gant's critic has an important warning for all of us. The US is trying to "save" two alien countries. We absolutely need to do the best job we can, and that means empowering locals (and often leading them) to achieve the best outcome possible. But we need to proceed with a lot of caution and humility and stay grounded in the real world. We shouldn't be seduced by our subconscious, deeply-rooted myths about integrating into and saving other cultures.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Daily Amusement

I first saw this music video playing on a TV at my local shawarma restaurant. I had no idea what on earth it was, but it was hilarious. I asked some university friends about it later, and they explained that it's from a new movie called Amir al-Behar (Prince of the Sea) starring Egyptian comedian Mohamed Henady.

Here's a plot synopsis (my translation from the Arabic wikipedia page): "The film tells about the student Prince Nour Eddin, who fails to graduate from the Naval College every year, and about his love for his neighbor Selwa (the daughter of the college dean). She doesn't feel anything for him because she considers him like her brother. When he graduates from the Naval College (in his thirteenth year) he takes his father's private ship--Prince of the Sea--out to sea with his mother and brothers and Selwa (who fled from her engagement ceremony). They run out of fuel, then pirates come and hijack the ship."

I hope this is definitive proof for any haters out there that Arab culture consists of far more than wiring explosives into suicide underwear.



P.S. I haven't seen the film yet. Getting to the theater is a challenge with a newborn, but maybe I can pull it off... although if I make it that far, I'd be tempted to just go see Avatar again!

Google's Contributions to Haiti

One of the coolest trends of our time is the rise of social entrepreneurship. According to Wikipedia, "a social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Whereas a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur assesses success in terms of the impact s/he has on society as well as in profit and return. While social entrepreneurs often work through nonprofits and citizen groups, many now are working in the private and governmental sectors and making important impacts on society."

I'm especially intrigued by the social entrepreneurship happening in the private sector. Of course the main job of any business enterprise is to make money, but a lot of companies are interested in simultaneously using their unique capabilities for positive social change. Google is on the front lines of these efforts. They are always coming up with nifty projects, like a global flu tracker that estimates flu activity based on search activity, or software for online, global monitoring of changes in the earth's forests.

Google is providing several services in response to the Haiti earthquake. First, they've worked with the US State Department to create a "People Finder" gadget for providing information on missing persons or searching the database. It's simple, elegant, and pretty amazing--a few days after the earthquake, we have a new piece of software (available in English, French, and Creole--the languages spoken in Haiti) that is based on open standards and is embeddable in any website. Second, Google is providing free Google Voice calls to Haiti for the next two weeks. Third, Google is providing post-earthquake map data for Google Earth, which I'm sure will be critical for many responders. Fourth, Google has donated $1 million to organizations on the ground in Haiti.

Twitter and Haiti

Now that I've gone and bashed Twitter... apparently it has at least some utility, because the Red Cross used it to raise a record-breaking $8 million in less than 48 hours. They sent a Tweet to 30 celebrities, who then retweeted it to their fans. The message went viral: if you text 90999, you will donate $10 to Haiti. Donations came pouring in.

It's pretty amazing watching the American people and the American military mobilize in response to the crisis. I've met a few skeptics who think the US is just playing a cynical game of national interest, but there's one thing I'm sure of. At the end of the day, every American who texts money to the Red cross, every helo or C-130 pilot delivering food, every relief worker distributing meals or digging for survivors among the rubble, cares about just one thing: helping the people of Haiti. I'm proud of the generosity and goodwill of the American people. And I wish all the best to my brothers and sisters in the US military who are participating in the relief effort. I wish sneak on board a C-17 and join you. Godspeed, and stay safe.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Avatar, the White Race Fantasy and... er... My Novel

My wife worked for several years at a high school for at-risk youth, mostly African American. So she has some strong opinions about race relations. A lot of our early fights were about the subject, until time and firsthand experience with her school gradually changed the way I think (although we still don't agree about everything). My wife's eyes light up if you mention Paulo Freire, and she has a deadly accurate radar for racism. I suppose five years of marriage have given me the same.

We both enjoyed Avatar, but honed in on lasers on the "white man savior" theme. After seeing the film we had dinner with a friend who majored in postcolonial literature, so we had a pretty vibrant discussion about the movie. I was planning to write a post, and then I discovered this article that says it all better than I can: When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar" (link has SPOILERS). It rounds up all the same films I was thinking of: Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, and Dune. Living in Jordan, I would definitely add the classic Lawrence of Arabia to the list. In these films, "a white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member." According to the author, these films give us the opportunity to ask, "What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?" The answer is atoning for white colonial guilt by becoming colored and saving the oppressed people.

I don't usually mention the novel I'm writing, because I don't want to come across as the dreaded "novelist wannabe" (which I suppose I am), but the book has given me a lot of firsthand experience with these themes. The novel is a science fiction story loosely based on the events of the Rwandan genocide. In the story, an interstellar peacekeeping mission is ordered not to intervene in a genocide in a colony settled by African immigrants. The story follows the efforts of the Force Commander, his NGO activist daughter, and a Special Forces soldier (all white) to draw the attention of an apathetic universe and stop the genocide. The daughter, in particular, was originally a messianic character. Something terrible happens to her during the genocide and she becomes a news sensation. She leverages her fame to force an intervention, while serving as a leader and salvific symbol to the people.

Somewhere in the course of writing the novel, I realized how racist it was. The heroes were all white. The locals were cut from cardboard. It was terrible. I had to reconceive the story almost from the beginning and dig deeper into Christian theology. To be a true messiah, Claire had to be despised, rejected, and resented for her intrusion into the local culture. She would have to come to grips with her own "white race fantasy", and discover that the real leaders of these oppressed people would necessarily come from among them. The best thing she could do was give their own leaders every chance to succeed. I have no idea if the story will be any good. I'm sure that people who study postcolonial literature will find myriad ways it's still racist, but it's a better story and it really tries to turn the cliche on its head.

P.S. I just showed my wife the linked article. Her radar was on; her first question was, "What's the author's ethnicity? Newitz? I'll bet she's white." I checked. She looks white to me, but she considers herself biethnic because her father is Jewish and her mother is a white southerner. Postcolonial literature majors, I'm sure you can have fun digging into the implications my wife's question has for the author's premise about white guilt and leading minorities to salvation. I suppose you can also psychoanalyze why I am writing this post!

Twitter (Again)

In case anyone is wondering how my Twitter experiment went... I'm finished. I only lasted a couple weeks, and that took considerable intentionality. I'm still baffled by why people like Twitter. It's a time sink that added nothing of value to my life.

Several colleagues told me that Twitter is valuable for swapping links, but I think it's terribly inefficient for that purpose. I sift through so much information each day--from newspapers, blogs, think tanks, etc--that I need a rapid way to assess articles and decide which ones are worth my time. Most Tweets use short URLs so you have no idea what the link is, and there isn't enough space to include a good cleartext description. You also can't categorize or group links. News summaries like the Early Bird or link roundups on sites like SWJ or Global Guerrillas are far more useful.

Information Flows

Yesterday evening my wife was reading BBC online and said, "Did you know there was a bombing in Jordan?" Someone had targeted an Israeli convoy on its way across the border. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. A Jordanian friend who was visiting us decided to head home, in case the police decided to set up checkpoints.

About two hours later the emergency message system at the embassy finally kicked in, notifying us that there had been a bombing and warning us to stay off that highway.

I love it!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Myth of Avatar

So I finally saw Avatar yesterday. On balance, I loved it. Even though the plot was ripped right of Fern Gully and consisted of a lot of stapled-togeher cliches, the execution was fantastic. I was really mesmerized by the beauty and wonder of Cameron's world.

But back to the plot. Around halfway through the movie, I was getting pretty tired of the cheap way the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were exploited to tell a morally simplistic good vs. evil tale. We see cruel, one-dimensional corporate tyrants stopping at nothing to exploit a foreign land and obtain a precious resource. We hear about the failure of social scientists, enlisted into imperial service, to win the hearts and minds of the locals. We see racist, bloodthirsty military contractors who cheerfully unleash mass violence on innocents. We hear about "fighting terror with terror" and "shock and awe."

Enough already, I thought. I get it. James Cameron has a statement to make, either because he actually believes it or because he knows the themes will resonate with his audience. But please, I thought. Couldn't he aim for a little more nuance and moral complexity?

And then I had a terribly chilling thought: this morally simplistic tale of invading capitalist armies massacring foreign innocents is really how many Arabs view American foreign policy. They really do. Even some of my university professors, who studied in the US, really do believe America invaded Iraq to make Dick Cheney rich or give American oil companies control of Iraq's black gold. Many Arabs believe the US government orchestrated September 11th or at least let it happen. They really think Bush is cut from the same cloth as Cameron's evil corporate manager. They feel the same way about Israel. Arabs view the 2008-2009 Israeli incursion into Gaza the same way that moviegoers view the horrific crisis that occurs near the climax of Avatar.

As the movie unfolded, I realize many Arabs don't just understand understand the world this way; they feel it this way. Even though I thought the movie's themes were simplistic and even a little offensive, Cameron's magic still worked on me. By the time the movie reached its climax, I was under the spell. I had shivers running up and down my spine and felt the agony of the characters. I felt the fear, felt the desperation, felt the hate. In other words, I felt all the things you're supposed to feel when a good storyteller is weaving his magic. And it occurred to me that this, this, is what Arabs were feeling inside when they watched the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2008-2009. This is what they're still feeling every time they hold a demonstration. It was an epiphany for me. Making general contact with the "other" is extremely difficult, but for a few moments, I felt like I was experiencing the world the way many Arabs experience it. I thought their thoughts, felt their feelings.

It was a little frightening, because the Avatar worldview has little to do with reality. If Americans are really viewed through such a distorted lens, what hope is there for us to operate effectively in this part of the world?

We don't live in Avatar's world of stark black and white. We live in a morally complex world of diverse actors seeking diverse interests. We live in a world where good and evil do not neatly separate nations, but cut through the heart of each individual man. We live in a world of disastrous US invasions, but also a world where Saddam Hussein tyrannized his population and massacred his people. We live in a world where Blackwater mercenaries killed innocent people, but also a world where Iraqi insurgents tortured each other with power drills and bombed mosques. We live in a world where Israel unleashed terrible collective punishment on Gaza, but also a world where Hamas fired indiscriminate rockets at Israeli innocents and used fellow Palestinians as human shields. We live in a world where Israel is refusing to implement a real settlement freeze, but also a world where Arabs have consistently invoked anti-Semitic beliefs to attack or expel Jewish neighbors. We live in a world where extremists on both sides have sabotaged efforts at peace. We live in a world where there is a lot of badness to go around.

We also live in a world of common humanity. President Bush was dead wrong about a lot of things, but he was not a monster. Paul Wolfowitz, despite playing a key role in the fiasco of Iraq, was at least well-intended. He sincerely believed in championing freedom and liberating oppressed peoples from tyranny. Israelis do not enjoy killing Palestinians; they are doing what they think they must to live in security and relative peace. Most Arabs, in turn, do not care about violent jihad or aspire to be suicide bombers. They want to provide for their families and live in peace.

We can't have real conversations about foreign policy, war, peace, or justice until we get these basics right. I'm deeply concerned because I don't often see that level of analysis in this part of the world. Instead of really digging into a true understanding of regional conflicts, all sides cling to simplified myths that legitimize their own side while dehumanizing their enemies. I'm familiar with our own American myths, but Avatar helped me understand the myths that define the other side.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google vs. China

Wow... when I was sifting through blog updates on Google Reader this morning, this story shocked me. I hadn't had my coffee yet, so I had to rub my bleary eyes and read it again.

Google released a blog post about four hours ago titled A New Approach to China. Google reports on a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident--albeit a significant one--was something quite different."

What was it? A far-ranging attack on more than twenty companies that appeared to target Chinese human rights activists. Google's investigation also uncovered routine attempts to access the e-mail accounts of US, European, and Chinese supporters of human rights in China. Google doesn't come out and say it directly, but the conclusion is obvious: the Chinese government is responsible. In light of these attacks and China's continuing censorship, Google has decided to reevaluate its willingness to operate in the country. It will work with the Chinese government to provide an unfiltered search engine. If negotiations fail, Google may leave China.

This story is huge for me for several reasons.

First, we're seeing low-level warfare between a state and a corporation. China launched cyberattacks on some of the most powerful corporations in the world, and Google is using legal and economic power to fight back. I'm interested to see how this will play out. I expect that corporations will become more and more involved in international relations and political conflict over time.

Second, Google is approaching this entire issue with its distinctive commitment to openness. The post says, "We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech." Google did not announce its China policy review through traditional media or a press conference (as far as I know), but through a post on its official blog. It's almost like Google is trying to set the blogosphere ablaze... to create an open-source movement among global citizens that will support its battle against Chinese repression.

Third, I'm very interested to compare Google's response to these attacks with the US government's response. China has been hacking US government networks for years. It's a serious threat. I don't know much about network security, but I do know that the DOD's response has been very unimpressive. Networks are so locked down that they are almost useless. I prefer to work on my personal computer and avoid government networks whenever possible, because it's so hard to get anything done. Maybe these networks are secure, but they can't leverage the power of much of the Internet. The slow, cumbersome DOD bureaucracy also can't keep pace with rapid technological innovation in the private sector. Google, on the other hand, was founded on a radical commitment to openness. It is also a flexible, dynamic organization. I'm very interested to see how Google will balance openness and security as it deals with these threats. Maybe the US government can learn something.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Some Links

I haven't been posting because the in-laws are in town. We spent a great week touring the magnificent tourist sites around Jordan--Petra, Aqaba, Jerash, the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo. Really, if you want to travel somewhere exciting and different, Jordan is one of the world's best kept treasures in the world. I also have finals this week and am trying to finish my registration for next semester.

Until I get back to my usual long-winded posts, here are a few links to check out.

Starbuck writes about one of my favorite subjects: how bad government is at trying to reproduce the successes of the civilian world. He hammers Army Knowledge Online (AKO) and discusses how he relied on Google Earth when responding to Hurricane Katrina because he couldn't get detailed maps for his mission planning software. He gets bonus points for citing me twice.

I always trust Marc Lynch for advice on how we should respond to terror incidents like the attempted Christmas attack by Captain Underpants. If we overreact, we are helping al-Qa'ida.

Zenpundit reflects on the moral courage of Miep Gies, who sheltered Anne Frank and her family during the Holocaust and who recently passed away. I've found studying international relations to be disturbing, because it breeds a lot of cynicism about the way the world actually works, and the basic language of morality and human decency often gets lost. In the real world, policymakers have to make hard choices between imperfect alternatives that often have a high human cost (i.e. what should we do in Afghanistan?). It's easy to get jaded. So I deeply appreciate people like Gies--not only because of their quiet acts of heroism, but because they are prophets who never let us forget the value of individual human beings and who call us to the high road of moral decency.