Wednesday, 03 June 2020
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New Statesman

Obama is wrong: this is his Vietnam

"Vietnam is getting worse every day," President Lyndon B Johnson once confessed to his wife. "I have the choice to go in with great casualty lists or to get out with disgrace. It's like being in an airplane and I have to choose between crashing with the plane or jumping out. I do not have a parachute." Lady Bird Johnson recorded these words in her diary on 8 July 1965. Three weeks later, her husband committed a further 50,000 troops to fight in Vietnam. It was the first marked escalation of a war that was to cost 58,000 US lives over the next eight years.

The New York Times

START and Beyond

President Obama had hoped to announce a deal with Russia this week to extend the 1991 nuclear arms treaty known as Start and make some modest additional cuts in both sides' arsenals. On Friday, negotiators were still stuck on how to verify the agreement, and American officials are now saying it won't be done at least until January.

Iraq, the Kurds and the Americans

Four months ago, with little fanfare, the State Department sent a full-time senior diplomat, Alan Misenheimer, to live in Iraq's disputed oil-rich city Kirkuk. For the Obama administration, which had been hoping to back out of its day-to-day involvement in Iraq's fractious politics, it was a smart, if belated, call.

An Officer and a Creative Man

Aa President Obama and his advisers planned their new approach to the Afghan war, the quality of Afghanistan's security forces received unprecedented scrutiny, and rightly so. Far less attention, however, has been paid to the quality of American troops there. Of course, American forces don't demand bribes from civilians at gunpoint or go absent for days, as Afghans have often done. But they face serious issues of their own, demanding prompt action.

Washington Post

In Iraq, an opening for successful diplomacy

Remember Iraq? For months our attention has been focused on Afghanistan, and you can be sure that the surge will be covered exhaustively as it unfolds in 2010. But next year could be even more pivotal in Iraq.The country will hold elections in March to determine its political future. Months of parliamentary horse-trading are likely to ensue, which could provoke a return to violence.

How partnering with the U.S. could strengthen Pakistan's sovereignty

he United States and Pakistan, always prone to bickering, need a big idea to unite and sustain them through the testing battle in Afghanistan. So here's a strategic concept I've been trying out with officials in both countries: By partnering with America, Pakistan can gain sovereignty over all its tribal territory for the first time in its history -- and thereby finally complete the task of building its own nation.

The Guardian

Gaza must be rebuilt now

It is generally recognised that the Middle East peace process is in the doldrums, almost moribund. Israeli settlement expansion within Palestine continues, and PLO leaders refuse to join in renewed peace talks without a settlement freeze, knowing that no Arab or Islamic nation will accept any comprehensive agreement while Israel retains control of East Jerusalem.

Defence: the cost of Afghanistan

The statement in parliament by Bob Ainsworth, secretary of state for defence, focuses on enhancements to military capability in Afghanistan and the penalties elsewhere in defence: 22 new Chinooks there, one less RAF base here. While no money is to be cut from the 2010-11 defence budget, it is not being increased as necessary to maintain levels of capability. Most important, the 900m of enhancements for Afghanistan are to be funded from the defence budget, and not from the central reserve a major change, with serious implications for the longer term.

The Times

Britain needs the Bomb? That was the last war

Trident survives. The most severe defence spending review in history searching for savings of almost 40 billion ignored the 20 billion that is to be spent on a nuclear weapon that will be redundant before it comes into service. The generals, as has so often been the case, are planning to fight the last war. And the politicians, who must have noticed that the world has changed during the past ten years, endorse the military judgment for reasons that have nothing to do with national security.


By Raoul Sherrard

Recently an American military video has been leaked on the website Wiki leaks. The event may be deeply damaging to public opinion and can even have ramifications for national security and the armed forces, even if it does not lead to further investigation by American authorities. It highlights important issues in public opinion, freedom of information in conflict and the complexities of the internet in attempts to control information.

The video shows a US apache gunship engaging an indiscriminate group of potential combatants through the lens of its targeting system almost a kilometre away. As they circle they call in their command and are given permission to engage. The "hostiles" are quickly dispatched with several bursts from its cannon. As one man survives and crawls away the crew urge him to pick up a weapon to allow them to open fire. A van stops and several other unidentified individuals try to carry him away. The gun operator clamours to stop them before they get away as they wait for permission. He is given the all clear they and they duly dispatch them.

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By Chris Newton

In order to prevail over Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, democratic countries need to win the support of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moderate Islamic community, and its own electorates. This is the crucial battleground in the 'War on Terror'. However, many academics and commentators have concluded that the Islamists currently have the advantage in this area. Just as the situation in Iraq in 2006 demanded a review into US military strategy, the situation today requires just as important a review into the west's approach to strategic communication. This article examines the flaws in the current approach and provides suggestions as to how the west can establish a better 'strategic narrative'. It predominantly takes a UK perspective.

Losing the war of words?

Scholars and analysts have not rated the west's efforts so far on this front. Indeed, the various opinions polls suggest that British public support for the war in Afghanistan is waning. Why? As David Betz suggested in an article on propaganda in 2008, there Islamist strategic narrative is more coherent than the west's. The Islamists tell a story of victimhood which its audience can relate to. It combines elements of truth, such as the Abu Ghraib incident, with fiction into an emotive narrative of western persecution and aggression. It disseminates its message across the world, using the internet and the media effectively. And as a result, regardless of how preposterous their claims are, the coherence of their argument makes it compelling to its target audience.

The western narrative, as David Betz showed, lacks coherence and is rather confused. The different objectives for the Afghan mission, ranging from getting rid of Al Qaeda to the elimination of poppy crops has confused people as to why we are really there. And given that the main military part of the 'War on Terror' is taking place in a distant land, the audience finds it difficult to relate Afghanistan to security in the UK and the west. What makes it even harder for a western narrative to gain currency is that so many of the public are cynical towards politicians and are consequently susceptible to anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, and anti-war narratives. This is because of the disintegration of unity and a lack of self confidence within western countries, especially the UK. Moreover, Islamist ideology is only one narrative that the west has to tackle in addition to the established narratives of Marxism and emerging narratives put forward by authoritarian rulers.

But is the west really doomed to fail here? David Betz contrasts the west's performance in the war on terror with western societies' marketing and public relations activities in business, fashion, and popular culture. Why can't we translate this success to the area where we need it most war? In domestic politics, politicians hire public relations professionals to develop its own narratives about the state of the country and how they will change things. Political party offices hire people to monitor the words and actions of their opposition and they develop material that highlights inconsistencies and hypocritical actions. But for some reason, governments and news organisation are extremely poor at communicating to the public the inconsistencies of the Al Qaeda narrative.

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