View Full Version : Googleing COIN in Iraq

Rob Thornton
06-06-2007, 06:05 PM
Googleing COIN

Following WWII we had to conduct the Berlin Airlift in order to contest the Soviets for control of West Berlin. This was both a physical and moral demonstration of our resolve to ensure Democracy survived in Berlin. It was also a physical manifestation of an IO theme – it broadcast around the world, recorded in history books and can now be googled on the WWW. In the latter it continues to provide one of the best examples of the values the United States holds closest, the resources which the United States can employ to altruistic ends and the will of a society founded on democratic principles.

During the Cold War Voice of America continued to broadcast hope to those who were walled off from liberty. It was the consoling voice to tell listeners that “we know you are still there, and we hear you – you are not forgotten – we are working on your behalf”. It provided hope and comfort.

Now we have the Internet. It is the ultimate tool for self-expression. Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat, says it enabled the democratization of information. Think about that. It allows people to get to the truth, or truths, of the world. It allows them to evaluate the information they are being told by comparing and contrasting it. It allows them connect, cooperate, collaborate, communicate. Self empowerment – what does that sound like? How about liberty?

Friedman uses allot of examples – like the public calling BS on the CBS investigation into the President’s Air National Guard record. How do you pull the wool over the eyes of people when they can easily whisk it away with a few mouse clicks. Why did China’s agreement with Google have conditions? I think the Chinese understand the power of Google better then we do, funny since we are the ones who are supposed to promote liberal democracy (no time or place to argue party politics here)

Friedman talks about the fiber optic globe in Google HQs that lights up proportionately to where the most searches are going on. He says that the two darkest places were the Middle East and Africa (BTW – what an ISR tool!). Is there a correlation to the lack of the democratization of information and the conflict that ensues? Earlier in the book he discusses the economic development of states and peoples through the use of IT – it provides the base for self start ups. It provides access to opportunities for both ends on the conversation. For many of these states they have skipped a generation (or parts of it) and proceeded right to an economy made possible by IT. He talks about how the fiber optic cable, the micro processor and the PCs, Lap Tops, PDAs and cell phones are exponential-izing the flattening of the world (hence the title)

So amongst all the talk about the Informational aspect of the DIME, the people as the Critical Capability of the AIF CoG (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?p=17824#post17824), the need for Inter-Agency capacity, etc. and the discussions we’ve had on blogging – why are we shying away from what may allow the people of Iraq to make their own political choice and providing the lasting solution to peace? I for one am convinced that our values speak for themselves. They are good. They have been misrepresented by Osama and company, skewed, twisted, etc. to provide the foundations and justification for hate of those things which are good.

I think it is because we fear that because we can’t manipulate the WWW better the groups like AQ then our values will held to an unfair standard and people might choose poorly. Maybe we should not ask if we can be better at out manipulating AQ, but how about millions and millions of people? Imagine, millions even billions of people being able to compare ideas, being able to communicate, being able to know the true nature of people like Osama, being able to see the faces of Holocaust victims, being able to see the stricken from 9/11. Yes they will be able to see our own warts, but who comes out ahead?

I’m fairly sure we can’t avoid it anyway. There are already some ISPs in Iraq, but what if instead of dreading we encouraged it? What if we provided the means for all the good things – such as self empowerment, and the ability to thrive, to succeed, to stand own their own, to restore dignity, to explore, to learn – to choose? Isn’t that what we hold up as the ultimate prize in their struggle?

Who might help us to lay the IT foundations? I’d start with those who have the first hand benefit of how it changed them, and understand that as the world becomes flatter (hat tip to Friedman), the more everyone benefits – it increases the supply and consumer base. So maybe we ask India and China to help out with an IT investment up front. Then maybe we leverage the different communities of CoPs – since they are among the most altruistic and free – to help with the multitude of problems in business, education, law, military, etc. – as a bonus those willing to help will be able to do so in large part by being on line.

Some may argue it’s a genie – but I ask you to look at the greater world and what they have done with IT – is it a negative or positive force? Does it empower states, groups or individuals the most? Friedman points out another thing – it allows the small to act big, and the big to act small. Groups come together for like interests, but how many in a group share 100% like interests. I’d argue the strength of the Internet goes to the Individual above all others, it allows them to found, join and leave groups by giving them the freedom to do so. It exposes the true nature of groups, and allows people to make good and bad choices.

Empowering individuals is cost effective as it emphasizes the freedom of “self-empowerment”. If we know we can't create the bureacracy to meet our Informational needs, maybe we should take adavantage and extend the one that is already available - the Iraqi people through the Internet.

Rob Thornton
06-06-2007, 10:50 PM
The “wiring of the swamp” can be thought of as both and economic and intellectual invigoration, but it is not a silver bullet. It does not mean that the AIF will still not conduct terrorist acts, attempt to find new ways to undermine peace and the Iraqi government, or that the immediate use of ISF and CF will diminish. It is however a physical means by which ideas may proliferate and the benefits of freedom might be understood and wagered against messages of hate - it is an investment.

Our Economic and Diplomatic efforts might engage the international community to help us to lay the IT foundations. We must start with those who have the first hand benefit of how it changed them, and understand that as the world becomes "flatter" the more everyone benefits by increased opportunity. In example, India and China can help with an IT investment. We can articulate the benefits easily enough – certainly China could use both another market for the many goods it produces and would covet the relations incurred that they could use to help secure more energy resources. This could be one of those efforts where everyone benefits.

Instead of trying to lay and secure fiber optics throughout we could go with satellite based ISPs built by Japan and launched by Russia (or the French) and just hardwire the buildings. The goal would be to make this a multi-partner investment so that pluralism is a theme so that Iraqis get allot of exposure to the world.

A victory in Iraq where a stable government over peoples who are more tolerant and informed then before has lasting strategic implications for us; consider the impact of an Iraqi society with an Information based economy (and one where they have resources to boot) on Iran? Transforming Iraq into an economy and state of opportunity similar to India, but with far more natural resources will have an incredible effect on the region. It will provide a comparison for the civilian populace of Iran and Syria as the world of ideas spills over borders. It will allow investment into the Middle East and help to meet increased energy needs in a more efficient manner. The investment is not just in Iraq, but in the larger issue of world stability

It seems like a tremendous project, but so was the Berlin Airlift, the Panama Canal, the trip to the Moon, even the Invasion Normandy (today is June 6th BTW). We need to think big sometimes.

06-06-2007, 11:33 PM
Empowering individuals is cost effective as it emphasizes the freedom of “self-empowerment”. If we know we can't create the bureacracy to meet our Informational needs, maybe we should take adavantage and extend the one that is already available - the Iraqi people through the Internet.
Absolutely. Provide free Arabic blogging tools and facilitate sites, increase conversations and connectivity and awareness, and do so with a smart and public push (surge maybe?) for security so they have something positive to talk about. Do the same in Iran with Farsi tools and provide internet access.

06-07-2007, 12:37 AM
Rob, interesting idea. However I have to question it somewhat.

The problem in the Middle East is not necessarily lack of information. Iraqis are now experiencing something of a media revolution especially compared to Saddam Hussein's time. The Arab mediascape began to really change with the Gulf War in 1991, which helped give birth to satellite television (also in the United States with the 24-hour news cycle as pioneered by CNN, which really became viable during the Gulf War). First came Saudi-run MBC from London, and then al-Jazeera in 1996, which was a genuinely popular revelation. The most popular shows were those that featured genuine political debate in the Crossfire style, which were utterly unknown on Arab media before al-Jazeera.

Since then, al-Jazeera has spawned competitors like al-Arabiya, Abu Dhabi, al-Manar, LBC al-Hayat, etc. America has jumped in with al-Hurra and Radio Sawa, though there are doubts as to how effective those have been.

The problem is that debate and the free exchange of ideas on the internet, while great, are hardly requisite for genuine democracy or civil society or the spread of Western values. These were around before the Internet. Indeed, I would argue that regular users of the internet represent a relatively unrepresentative slice of American society and an even less representative one in Arab countries. The curve here is towards younger, better-off, literate members of society. As we have seen, the violent radicals have had no problem flourishing amongst this demographic. Despite this vast new universe of information flow, with exposure to political debate, radicalism has only increased since the 1990s.

Before we start working on the free exchange of info and ideas via the Internet, I think we need to get the basic services up and running first. It's hard to contribute to web forums if the neighborhood has only 3 hours of power or you're too afraid to go out because of the car bombs; impossible if you can't read because you've lost four years of education because it's not safe to go to school or leave the house.

The idea may have more merit in reforming already stabilized but decrepit societies. It might be an interesting idea for places like Egypt or Jordan. But even then I have questions. For instance, both the Egyptian and Iranian blogospheres are good examples of the relative impotence of computer-literate, politically activated groups. In both countries, the bloggers and their audience are urbanized, already Westernized elite youth with little connection to the most powerful political trends in their societies. They are more capable of gaining quick publicity and mentions in the Western media than in sparking a mass movement or cultural trend in wider society.

In Iran, the youth-led reform movement has essentially died on the vine. In Egypt, the major political movement other than the NPD establishment is the Muslim Brotherhood, which features relatively few bloggers but many successful hospitals, mosques, clinics, and parliamentary candidates.

Rob Thornton
06-07-2007, 01:31 AM
Hey Tequilla,

Before we start working on the free exchange of info and ideas via the Internet, I think we need to get the basic services up and running first. It's hard to contribute to web forums if the neighborhood has only 3 hours of power or you're too afraid to go out because of the car bombs; impossible if you can't read because you've lost four years of education because it's not safe to go to school or leave the house.

I thought about that - but I was already seeing it up North. The Iraqis up in Mosul were working around the power issue through generators and Internet capable cell phones. There was a higher rate of litteracy in some neighborhoods then I would have thought - in many like 17 Tammoz and a couple of the others - kids as early as 5th grade were learning English - that was pretty amazing to me. We figured Dohok and places like that were probably 10 years ahead of Mosul and we saw all kinds of business coming in up there ( met some Americans, saw some Chinese and some Europeans) - we also saw it working its way down southward. It made me wonder about how long it would take. Even with the IEDs and VBIEDs there was still an awful lot of traffic and commerce coming in - this was about 4 months ago. I was impressed at how Iraqis picked up on things and made it work.

I hope I did not come across as a "hold the presses" sort of thought - there is allot of work to do in other areas - certainly securing the population and building capacity for basic human needs it front loaded. I saw allot of potential in Mosul, and I saw allot of ptoential in the Iraqis as a people. I think we can do both - but it will take some effort in the other areas (Diplomacy, Informational& Economic). We constantly say we need a robust Informational component - and we point the finger - but we don't really talk about how we'd do it, or even who is going to get the rose.

I also think we are starting to come to grips that the term GWOT is not in line with what we really are up against and that Iraq although the location where we are fighting is only part of the fight. I've heard and agree with the use of War of Ideas - it may not work for everybody, but it helps me understand that this is bigger then just a guy emplacing an IED, or even larger scale terrorist activities. Even though main stream American media may get there news from a cable source, more and more are getting it from the Internet - how much of what you did by phone, or by paper, or by TV is now done by the Internet. Even the use of a forum such as SWJ is indicative of the growing use of the Internet. Many countries have completely skipped a generation of technology - that is not just Friedman, that is from traveling around. While I think it is applicable in Iraq as we are going to be there for awhile, I also think its a matter of us coming to grips with how the world is changing and how fast its changing.

My interpreter told me before I left that Asia Cell was offering cell phone Internet acess in Mosul for about $5 a month begining probably about now. It was already in use up in Kurdistan. People would be able to send data such as photos - and they were all excited about it - I chalked it up to how social they are - but I had no doubts they'd all go out and get it - they might not eat, but they'd have a cool Internet capable cell phone.

This is more of a strategic component I think - we are looking for a means to make a big impact, to show the merit of our "ideas".

The other thing I've noticed is how many businesses are on the web. How much outsourcing and offshoring is capable because of the web. How many home businesses are capable. While I think its important to note where Non-State Organizations have made their bread and butter - we're talking about showing the value of a state. A state can pursue treaties and conduct legitmate business with other states (and non-states). That allows it to use tools in different ways - While I'm sure Non-States get fundng via the Internet that they spend on schools and hospitals - they don't want the individuals they support getting that influx of capital - it would deminish their power. Individual empowerment can benefit the state though - since it can tax and do other things, and benefits from a more educated/informed populace (particularly a democracy).

I'm still kind of working this through, but its one of those things that I see as having allot of utility in our objectives both in and beyond Iraq. I think it will happen anyway, it already is - but it could happen faster if given a push - even a little one.

06-07-2007, 02:59 PM
I saw on tv about a week ago where this guy went and spent a week with the Bedouin. He was surprised that they knew alot about him already, when he was coming, where he was coming from, why he was coming, etc. "The mobile told us" the oldest son of the family said. These Bedouin were pretty much sedentary though they still used camels and did some trekking but what stood out most in my mind was not the fact that they had a pickup in pretty good shape being a late model, but that the youngest son was alllowed to drive it around near the compound. There was young Muhammed, who could barely see over the steering wheel and was exempt from many of the adult male duties because of his age, driving like a champ, kicking up dust and having the time of his life. I remember well his words, "I'm free" he said. His older brother had taken a camel out onto the desert to look for firewood.