Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press

The Challenges of Nation-Building

From MIT World, a lecture by Jose Ramos-Horta, the former President of East Timor, on the Challenges of Nation-Building:  



You can also download it from iTunes.



Two Milestones in Iraq

Today is notable for two reasons.  First, December 2009 is officially the only month during the entire Iraq war in which no American soldiers or civilians have died as a result of hostile fire.  Second,  we are now officially going at this Iraq business alone.  Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) is gone.  United States Forces-I (USF-I) has replaced it.  The article is interesting for another reason: evidently, USF-I has a twitter account.


And just in case you’re confused about it, WE ARE NOT IN A NEW DECADE.  The new decade officially begins on January 1, 2011.  So much for the decade’s “top ten” lists.  There’s still another year!


Give a Goat for Christmas

Paul Newnham at the Give a Damn about Poverty blog has a great idea for a X-mas gift:



World Vision Australia is advertising its Smiles campaign to help raise money for disadvantaged folks in developing countries.  Go ahead and take a look at the catalog.  You can send a duck for $20, a goat for $40, and a piglet for $50.  If you're really feeling generous, you can donate a stable full of animals to a needy family or village for $1200.  Other items include immunizations, school supplies, and even a community water network. 




USG to Hire Up to 1000 New Aid Experts & Foreign Service Officers

From Ivy Mungal at DEVEX:


The U.S. government may hire as many as 1,000 aid experts and foreign service officers in the coming year, after Congress finally passed a broad 2010 budget bill that includes funding for the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and Millennium Challenge Corp.


This breaks down to about 300 new USAID personnel and 700 new foreign service officers.  The Peace Corps and Millennium Challenge Corporation are each getting a funding increase too, but no word on what that will mean in terms of staff.  It's worth noting that the 300 new USAID personnel are going to be brought on under the Development Leadership Initiative, essentially, an attempt to rebuild USAID's permanent foreign service workforce.  That means they'll be technical experts working overseas and not managing contracts from the RRB.


Click here for a copy of the Senate Committee on Appropriations Foreign Operations Summary with all the details.



Africans and Middle Easterners Want to Emigrate the Most

Check out this map from the Gallup Organization about the geographic locations of individuals who, if given the chance, would permanently leave the countries they now inhabit. (h/t: Roving Bandit)


Sub-Saharan Africa, as should be expected, fairs the worst.  Those in the Americas and Asia are pretty happy.  The number of people in Europe wishing to emigrate surprise me, though I wonder if Russia skews the results. 



Quote . . . 

"It's a classic American dilemma: How does a superpower fix problems in a faraway country without dictating policies in a way that ultimately enfeebles the very people we are trying to help?" ~ David Ignatius



Question . . . 

"Is (soft) aid a substitute or a complement to (hard) security interventions?"   ~Nancy Birdsall


Dr. Rajiv Shah, the New USAID Administrator 

 A key part of the President’s national security strategy is the projection of smart power, of which “development” is (supposedly) an important pillar.


Yesterday President Obama nominated Dr. Rajiv Shah to be the new USAID Administrator, filling an essential position that has been vacant since the beginning of his term.


The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry, seems to have no issue with it


Some quick thoughts . . .

  • According to the press announcement, Shah never worked for USAID or in a post-conflict country, and there is only a brief mention of some time spent in India working on a development project, which doesn't look like it included significant development experience.  Yet he’s taking charge of the primary U.S. agency responsible for overseas development and humanitarian aid work.


  • He’s not a political heavyweight.  And at only 36 years of age, one shouldn’t expect him to be.  This matters if development is going to be given sufficient heft in future foreign policy and national security initiatives.  State has Hillary Clinton, while Defense has Bob Gates.  Both of these individuals have decades of experience in politics and in Washington.  I recognize that Development will always be the little brother to Diplomacy and Defense, but development, humanitarian aid, post-conflict stabilization, and peace-building activities play a key role in preventing and managing conflict, and USAID is uniquely suited when it comes to addressing these issues.  For this reason, any Administrator needs not just relevant experience, but also sufficient pull with Congress and the Administration in order to secure appropriate staffing and funding levels, in addition to playing a meaningful role in helping shape foreign policy.


  • None of this is to say Shah won't be a good Administrator.  His youth, energy, and familiarity with food security issues in the developing world may help lead to a stronger USAID, especially if he remains in the position for a long period of time. 

Laura Rozen has more here, here, and here.



Smart Power & Afghanistan on The Daily Show


Life in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

In addition to U.S. based television programs being delayed, the mail takes about ten days to make it from America to Iraq (sometimes longer), so I don’t usually read articles from magazines I subscribe to when they happen to be heavily commented on in the blogosphere the day or week they’re released.  I source most of my news from the internet and don’t like reading long think-pieces online, especially when I’ve already paid for a paper copy.  Since a friend in college turned me on to it, I have been a subscriber of the New Yorker and have consistently found it among the most interesting and well-written periodicals in the English language, one that provides some of the best coverage of foreign policy and national security issues too.   October was a particularly good month for those following the issues related to this blog . . .


Particularly important is this piece by Jon Lee Anderson on life in the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro.  It’s a chronicle of how “traficantes” have created “TAZs” (Territorial Autonomous Zones) and hollowed out the authority of the Brazilian state.  These guys even have community relations assistants who dispense aid and other services to the poor, (financed through drug sales and other illicit activities, in addition to legitimate businesses), who live under the control of the drug lords and their private armies.  What is more, says Anderson:


“The drug gangs impose their own systems of justice, law and order, and taxation—all by force of arms.”


One Brazilian politician theorizes these groups are not unlike past Marxist revolutionary movements, sans ideology.  And if the gangs ever acquired one, they could threaten the state.  But they seem to be too preoccupied by consumer culture to care.


“ . . . nobody wants to make revolution anymore.  What these people with the guns want today is their immediate share of the consumption culture . . . for now, they are a totally entropic and anarchic group of young people who have figured out how to get what they want, which is, basically, clothing, cars, and respect.”


According to the article, Rio is the top-ranked city in the world for “violent intentional deaths,” though these numbers don’t include “rape resulting in death” or “riots resulting in death.”  About one person is killed or wounded each day by stray bullets, and police killed 1188 people last year, a number three times the amount of people killed by police in the entire United States during the same time period.  Rio is also where the 2016 Summer Olympics are going to be held.


Check out the trailer of this movie set in the favelas, which along with City of God, is one of the only two Brazilian films I've ever seen (both of them great).



In 2004 I read Anderson’s book The Fall of Baghdad and was incredibly impressed by his ability to capture the zeitgeist of the city in the immediate pre- & post-invasion periods while remaining a non-partisan observer.  He’s one of the best war reporters out there, having filed from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Uganda, Israel, El Salvador, and Lebanon.  Check it out.



Imagine a Life Without Electricity or Other Essential Public Services

For the last few years I have found only two news programs worth watching: John Stewart’s Daily Show and 60 Minutes.  Monday nights in Iraq is when AFN airs the latter and yesterday’s episode featured one of the most important segments I’ve seen in a long time, a twenty minute investigation into vulnerabilities internet connectivity poses to America’s infrastructure, that will likely result someday in a tactic being used that can be best explained via the concept of systempunkt.


It’s nothing new to say hackers employed by foreign governments or working on their own can access networks and disrupt critical infrastructure by manipulating key system components to create equipment meltdowns or service disruptions.  What is surprising is the degree to which they have been doing this already . . .


"Several prominent intelligence sources confirmed that there were a series of cyber attacks in Brazil: one north of Rio de Janeiro in January 2005 that affected three cities and tens of thousands of people, and another, much larger event beginning on Sept. 26, 2007.   That one in the state of Espirito Santo affected more than three million people in dozens of cities over a two-day period, causing major disruptions. In Vitoria, the world's largest iron ore producer had seven plants knocked offline, costing the company $7 million. It is not clear who did it or what the motive was."


For the first time, 60 Minutes also revealed the penetration of key USG systems:


"In 2007 we probably had our electronic Pearl Harbor. It was an espionage Pearl Harbor . . . Some unknown foreign power, and honestly, we don't know who it is, broke into the Department of Defense, to the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, probably the Department of Energy, probably NASA. They broke into all of the high tech agencies, all of the military agencies, and downloaded terabytes of information.”

How much is a terabyte?

"The Library of Congress, which has millions of volumes, is about 12 terabytes. So, we probably lost the equivalent of a Library of Congress worth of government information in 2007."


Even worse:


“Last November someone was able to get past the firewalls and encryption devices of one of the most sensitive U.S. military computer systems and stay inside for several days.

This was the CENTCOM network . . . The command that's fighting our two wars. And some foreign power was able to get into their networks. And sit there and see everything they did. That was a major problem. And that's really had a big effect on D.O.D."

What does it mean to “sit there?”


 "They could see what the traffic was. They could read documents. They could interfere with things. It was like they were part of the American military command."


The logical next step here, which wasn't mentioned, was that "they" can BECOME the American military command, at least until the attack is defeated or the network is shut down.  And with that power comes the ability to hijack of the controls of a weapons delivery system or communications platform to reroute ordnance or units.    


Attacks of this sort aren’t meant to simply disrupt your power service or steal information.  They’re strategic and meant to cause a cascade of failures involving other interconnected networks and impact the psychology of the citizenry, whether civilians on the homefront or soldiers in the field. 


Imagine for a minute if hackers or a foreign government at war with the U.S. broke in and shut down power plants so that during the winter there are month-long electrical/natural gas disruptions in the municipality you live in . . . if this happens, how do you survive?  City-wide, are there enough back-up generators to provide sufficient power/heat for the people, or does some segment of the population freeze?  What happens to the economy when industry is paralyzed and residents can’t get to work or use ATMs to access their bank accounts?  How do you protect yourself from criminals/looters/gangs that fill the power vacuum when the security structure collapses?  Perhaps the solution is to become an internally displaced person in your own country and move in with out-of-state relatives for awhile. 


About three years ago while completing CAQC at the JFK SWC an instructor told me about a book called “Unrestricted Warfare,” written by two Chinese colonels who argued, in a very Eastern and Sun Tzu fashion, that China could go to war with the U.S. and win without firing a shot (you can access a free PDF copy of the book here).  The secret was that by attacking networks, waging economic war, and mobilizing/manipulating international opinion, the Chinese could exceed the cost/tolerance ratio of the American people, thereby causing capitulation.  Military action (or force) isn’t the only way to win a fight.  Just ask Bruce Lee.


How to prevent?  Subscribe to Red Queen Theory on a national level and never stop running.  Also, Be Prepared.



First Post: Soft Launch/Beta Testing

This isn’t going totally live yet . . . I’m going to spend about a month working the kinks out of the system while at the same time studying for GMAT.  Consider this a soft opening/beta testing.  I appreciate the few of you I’ve told about it taking a look at things and letting me know when you find spelling/grammar/programming errors so I can fix them.  Special thanks to those who helped and the musical artists Brett Dennen and Imogen Heap for keeping the mind sane during the start-up. 


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