Philippine Defense Cooperation with Russia: A Wake-up Call for the United States?


October 25, 2018

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Asia Pacific Bulletin No. 444

Philippine Defense Cooperation with Russia: A Wake-up Call for the United States?

By Anna Patricia L. Saberon

Since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, the Philippines has pursued an independent foreign policy aimed at gaining distance from the United States. President Duterte has called upon China and Russia for assistance in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), much to the dislike of Washington. It must not be forgotten that the Philippines and the United States have a long-standing military alliance, established in various agreements: the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Military Assistance Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement, Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, to name a few. Despite these US-Philippines agreements, and the perceived warm connection between President Duterte and US President Donald Trump, the Philippines is undeniably turning to its northern neighbors for defense cooperation.

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In May 2017, President Duterte went to Russia for an official visit and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Later in October, the Philippines signed an agreement with Russia on Defense and Technical Cooperation. The document contained provisions on various areas of military and technical cooperation such as research, production support, as well as possible exchange of experts and training of personnel for joint programs. Manila and Moscow also signed a contract for the Philippines’ procurement of defense articles from Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-owned company. Additionally, Russia supplied small arms and army trucks to the Philippines.<

Presidents Duterte and Putin also met at the sidelines of the APEC Summit held in Vietnam in November 2017. The two leaders discussed possible cooperation on military and economic concerns including Russian counter-terrorism training for Filipino soldiers, construction of a ship repair facility for Russian vessels passing through the Philippines, and the Russian donation of weapons in Marawi City.It seems that things are going well between the two governments as evidenced by the increased number of visits by high-level officials. In September, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visited Russia and inspected various military equipment showcased in the International Military-Technical Forum ARMY 2018 show in Moscow.

In the words of Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta, “Russia is willing to provide brand new equipment customized to the specific needs of the Philippines, at favorable financial terms, with reasonable delivery times, full after sales service, necessary training and without political conditionalities or limitations.” The Philippines is in dire need of modern military equipment and has been struggling to procure new equipment for many years now. Russia’s recognition of the Philippines’ military needs, including battle plans and tactics, allows the AFP to maximize their use.

Amidst these new developments, we hear US officials voicing statements that the Philippines’ military purchase deals with Russia will not be helpful to the US-Philippines alliance. According to US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver, “choosing another supplier like Russia will be an opportunity cost that will affect interoperability.” He added that the United States can be a better partner than the Russians can be to the Philippines. To summarize his sentiments, the Philippines ultimately will not benefit from greater defense ties with Russia.

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President Duterte subsequently revealed that he received a letter from three top US officials: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The letter insists on the significance of Philippine procurement of US military equipment, “exemplifying our continuing commitment to the breadth and the strength of our alliance.”

Perhaps without publicly admitting it, the US leadership is bothered by how the Philippines is no longer a ‘follower’ of US Foreign Policy. For decades, the Philippines sourced military equipment from the United States and now the Duterte Administration has been turning away from Washington. This is largely because previous sales from the United States were of used arms and equipment and following certain conditionalities that frustrated many Philippine authorities including military personnel.

In the new US National Security Strategy, mention was made that “in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Thailand remain important allies and markets for Americans.” The Trump Administration is pushing for the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, with the aim of including India in regional cooperation and a larger leadership role of Japan. It is important to mention here that Diego Garcia, an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, has been operating as a military base with American and British forces since the 1970s.

Analyzing the statements and policies of US officials over the years, one comes to the conclusion that the United States wants to be the major, if not the sole, supplier of military equipment to the Philippines. The Philippines became a receiver of used/decommissioned equipment from the United States (e.g. BRP Gregorio del Pilar, BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Andres Bonifacio – all naval vessels currently under the roster of the Philippine Navy). This equipment was made available as an Excess Defense Article under the US Defense Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. While the United States has its own reasons for doing so, the outcome is Philippine military dependence on the United States. Instead of actually contributing to the strength and modernization of the Philippine military, Washington had a role in the decades-long weakness of the AFP. That is not to say that the Philippines is blameless for its own neglect of defense modernization, but the Philippine-US alliance is supposed to help strengthen the AFP, not weaken it. While previous Philippine Presidents were complacent and were hesitant to display defiance against the United States, President Duterte is not. He stands firm in his belief that the United States failed to give the Philippines what it needed and consequently he has deepened defense relations with Russia.

The new defense cooperation between the Philippines and Russia represents a wake-up call for the United States. No longer the ‘little brother’ of the US, no longer dependent on US foreign policy decisions, no longer pleased with leftovers, spare/used equipment from the United States, and no longer naïve; the Philippines is out to pursue an independent foreign policy. Washington should bear in mind that neglecting the Philippines has repercussions. If indeed it is true that the United States is a strong ally of the Philippines, then it seems that a few mistakes have been made: a) refusing to give priority to the Philippines and b) failure in preparation as they did not anticipate that the Philippines would turn to its neighbors, in particular China and Russia.

For the Philippines, the future is not with the United States alone, but with multiple partner countries — most notably its neighbors. The Philippines-Russia defense cooperation will bring to the Philippines modernized military equipment, military training, and the pronounced assurance that defense partners make each other stronger.

Anna Saberon teaches Philosophy and International Relations at Ateneo de Naga University in the Philippines. She can be contacted at asaberon@gbox.adnu.edu.ph.

Book Review: The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam


October 14, 2108

By: John Berthelsen

https://www.asiasentinel.com/book-review/the-road-not-taken-edward-lansdale-and-the-american-tragedy-in-vietnam/

There was a time when Edward Lansdale was arguably the most famous American in Asia, ostensibly the model for the hero of the novel “The Ugly American” by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer and widely thought of – erroneously – as the protagonist of Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American,” both books about a US aid official in a war-torn Southeast Asian country, in Greene’s case Vietnam.

Today, Lansdale, who died in 1987, is largely forgotten. But during the 1950s and 1960s, he was a legend, a man who literally single-handedly turned around the Philippines, ending the Communist Hukbalahap revolution and installing as president Ramon Magsaysay, an incorruptible and effective leader in a shambolic country.  Purportedly an officer with the US Air Force, he was actually on a kind of permanent loan to the Central Intelligence Agency.

As Max Boot writes in this impressive, extremely well-researched biography, the decisions  by generations of American planners stretching from the Kennedys to Richard Nixon to ignore Lansdale’s advice on how to handle wars of rebellion and insurrection were beyond tragedy. Lansdale’s advice, which worked in the Philippines, was to combine clever propaganda with a dedication to democracy, of making sure that all levels of society had a stake in its success, and finding credible local political figures to work with.

It wasn’t just the Road Not Taken, the title of Boot’s 713-page history. Refusal to heed Lansdale resulted in what would arguably be the loss of Vietnam and the death of 2.5 million Vietnamese along with 56,000 Americans who should never have been there in the first place and who, once there,  did absolutely everything wrong.

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After his triumph in the Philippines, Lansdale was posted to Vietnam, where he took on the task of shepherding a truncated country in chaos after partition following the departure of the French, as a million Catholics fled the north. He became mentor to Ngo Dinh Diem, wreaking order out of the disarray and putting South Vietnam, as it was known, on what appeared to be a solid footing before he returned to the US in 1956

That was pretty much the end of Edward Lansdale’s effectiveness. He was posted back to the United States as the Kennedys and the hawks took over.  A long procession of Americans who knew little of the country’s history and cared less decided that Diem was a liability, saddled as he was with his autocratic brother and the brother’s harridan wife Madam Nhu. On Oct 31, 1963, with the Kennedys’ acquiescence, Diem and his brother were murdered in an armored personnel carrier.

On that same day, ironically, Lansdale was officially retiring at the Pentagon. As Blow writes, “While colleagues were delivering flowery toasts and speeches in honor of Lansdale, (Defense Secretary) Robert McNamara walked in. And he kept on walking, striding purposefully forward, one polished wingtip after another, never looking at what was going on through his polished spectacles, much less stopping to join in the tributes to a man who had left behind a successful advertising career to devote the last 21 years of his life to his country’s service.”

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It was McNamara, of course, who was the architect of America’s descent into the folly of the Vietnam War.

Lansdale didn’t leave the service of his country. He was instead put in charge by the Kennedy brothers of attempting to oust Fidel Castro from Cuba, something Lansdale from the start said would be folly. He argued against the disastrous attempt by the Kennedys to invade Cuba, using CIA operatives and anti-Cuban exiles, which ended up one of the administration’s worst embarrassments.  Dubbed Operation Mongoose, the campaign against Castro was characterized by loony attempts to poison El Jefe, to lay dynamite charges in seashells near where Castro swam and other stupidities

Lansdale would be rehabilitated somewhat by Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson and would return to Vietnam to head pacification efforts in a country that already was too far gone to be saved. US troop levels climbed and continued to climb. Lansdale was looked upon as a woolly-headed liberal by most of the establishment in the country – and by the press establishment as well, with the disdain particularly full-throated by David Halberstam of the New York Times and other establishment press figures.  I was there at the time as a correspondent for Newsweek Magazine, and Lansdale was pretty much a shadow. Few ever went to see him. We all were too busy covering the war by that time although a few still believed in his attempts to mold the country into something other than sadly what it became – a killing ground.

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Of course, the folly of the war was never in doubt. And the bigger problem was how American foreign policy followed Vietnam down the rabbit hole.

”The key American shortcoming, in the early twenty-first century, as in the 1960s, was the inability to constructively guide the leaders of allied states in the direction desired by Washington. The Kennedy administration had seen a downward spiral into a hostile relationship with Ngo Dinh Diem after Lansdale’s return home at the end of 1956. Something similar happened with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki under the Bush and Obama administrations. What was missing was a high-level American official who could influence those allies to take difficult steps such as fighting corruption without risking a blowup or backlash. Lansdale believed such tricky tasks could be accomplished by a ‘person who was selflessly dedicated to the ideal of man’s liberty, was sustained by spiritual principles of his own faith, was demonstrably sensitive to the felt needs of the people of a foreign culture and had earned their trust.’”

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Lansdale pulled it off twice. But reading Boot’s account, particularly of Vietnam, as official after official came and went, knowing nothing of the country and willfully refusing to learn while piling on the ammunition, is heartbreaking.

Boot was one of George Bush’s Vulcans, a right-wing neocon. But this book, written while he was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a remarkably level-headed and astute  account of how US foreign policy went wrong and how it remains tragically wrong today. The US remains tied up in Afghanistan 17 years after it entered, with no idea how to extricate itself. Nor is the country’s foreign policy any more nuanced or intelligent anywhere else.  With the current administration, which has emptied out the State Department, it is unlikely to get any better any time soon.

In defence of Mat Sabu’s ‘18-wheeler’ diplomacy


October 1, 2018

In defence of Mat Sabu’s ‘18-wheeler’ diplomacy

Opinion
by Phar Kim Beng

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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COMMENT |

Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu has reached a small milestone. He was in New York City between September 23-29, one of the longest trips ever by a Malaysian Defense Minister, and among the few to attend the United Nations General Assembly so soon after his appointment to cabinet.

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The length and the early trip to the United States are key, even if it is his 10th visit in the last four months, from the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore – during which he emphasised the centrality of ASEAN and the importance of the ‘Mahathir doctrine’ – to his visit to Lebanon in June.

To those not in the know, southern Lebanon is one of those delicate areas where conflicts could erupt at any given time. Malaysian peacekeepers are there to help maintain some semblance of order as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

Malaysians blue helmets have always been deeply respected. Be it in Congo in 1962 or Somalia in 1989, Malaysian soldiers have always been at the forefront of peacekeeping efforts.

Infamously, the book and movie Black Hawk Down got its details wrong. It wasn’t just the Pakistani blue helmets who retrieved the American rangers trapped in the fire fights in the centre of Mogadishu, Malaysians also saved the day.

Tariq Chaudhry, a UN diplomat, has always tipped his hat to the bravery of the Malaysian soldiers.

His doctorate thesis on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at Cambridge went as far as accrediting the Malaysian armed forces in maintaining the peace in Bosnia after the Dayton Agreement in 1995.

Mat Sabu is aware of this glowing legacy. He celebrates them, and is able to hit it off with Dr Mahathir Mohamed precisely because both agree peace is something which Malaysia can do and has done the world over.

Mohamad also believes that wars are a blight on humanity. One should avoid such aggressive behaviors. This is again a position not unlike the view of Mahathir, who also hates wars.

 

Just yesterday, Mahathir hinted that Malaysia is looking into following Japan’s constitution which prevents the country from entering armed conflicts.

Thus Malaysia has pulled out of the conflict in Yemen – which has now degenerated into a complex humanitarian emergency, where tens of thousands of people have died from dysentery, lack of clean water and medical services. The numbers are greater than the combatants who actually perished armed conflict between the Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition.

Preventive diplomacy

Since Malaysia has always had a policy of “active” neutrality starting from the 1960s – a concept enshrined by Malaysia’s participation in Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), further reinforced by the late Tun Ghazali Shafie’s concept of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan) – our foreign policy has always focused on maintaining peace.

In the same month that Mohamad participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue, he hosted the Malaysia-Australia High Level Committee on Defence Cooperation in Butterworth. Australia is one of the members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) which Malaysian navy and armed forces still treasure deeply.

The next month(in July), Mohamad visited the Farnborough Airshow in the UK, an event which typically hosts the amazing acrobatic Red Arrows. The UK is also a member of the FPDA.

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https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/uk-south-china-sea-royal-navy-warship-beijing-hms-sutherland-gavin-williamson-trump-us-australia-a8208016.html

Given the insistence of the UK of remaining a vital and active player in maintaining freedom of navigation in South China Sea, Mohamad’s trip reassured them that their role in FPDA is deeply cherished.

In July 2018, the minister also made it a point to visit Bangladesh in light of the country’s growing tensions with Myanmar over the influx and mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims, which neither side seems to acknowledge is facing one of the worst humanitarian disasters.

With his trip to Cox’s Bazar, Mohamad is engaging in preventive diplomacy. He is trying to prevent the issue from further enlarging into an explosive issue that can drag ASEAN and South Asia into a structural conflict over the millions of Rohingya facing near-certain death.

Indeed, having strengthened all the necessary pillars in FPDA – by visiting Singapore, hosting the Australia and later the New Zealand delegation, in addition his UK trip – it seems Mohamad is emphasising the backbone of Malaysian defence diplomacy through FDPA.

 

This is why the trip to Bangladesh happened in August. In that month, Mohamad strengthened the confidence of the Malaysian peacekeepers in Lebanon, and sent a powerful signal to Myanmar that peace and freedom to all must be of paramount importance.

The following month, Mohamad went one step further: he visited the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus with Japan. Japan is critical precisely because the country in 1994, under then Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, created the ASEAN Regional Forum from the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference.

In this particular trip to Nagoya, Mohamad signed an MOU with Japan to enhance mutual humanitarian assistance, civil military cooperation, in addition to strengthening the Malaysian peacekeeping operations in Port Dickson, which has been ongoing since 2005.

It should be added Japan immediately pledged a donation of USD1 million to reinforce peacekeeping facilities. These are all major achievements, as they reflect a strategic continuation of the dialogue and method of cooperation with Japan. How? It was Nakayama who suggested a multilateral forum where all countries in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia could hold annual defence dialogues.

By 2005, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus took place in Kuala Lumpur, with a goal of consolidating the defence diplomacy of ASEAN member states and expanding the ambit of ASEAN’s defence collaboration with external dialogue partners, including China, Japan, South Korea, the United States.

If one observes all of Mohamad’s frenzied activities and trips, including the current one to the US, it is clear that he knows how intricate the defence portfolio has been since the 1960s.

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This is why every single trip can be related to either ASEAN, FPDA, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, and the UN.

The ’18-wheeler’ strategy

I would term this Mohamad’s 18-wheeler defence diplomacy, the metaphorical large truck that he drives taking the previous cargo forward. The precious cargo is of course Malaysian sovereignty, regional equilibrium, and international peace.

And, this is all done in a way to further the parameters of the ‘Mahathir doctrine’, where battle ships should not linger in any parts of the South China Sea unless the goal is to jointly address the effects of piracy.

In this sense, Mohamad’s upcoming meetings with his counterparts in Manila and Malawi deserves more commendations.

Mohamad is trying to stabilise one of the world’s oldest conflicts that go all the way back to 16th century, when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived to upend the religious and racial balance of Mindanao and Manila.

One should remember that Mohamad is a humanitarian at heart. He knows that Philippines and Mindanao Autonomous Region are constantly hammered by natural disasters.

Unless Malaysia and Philippines can work together, complex humanitarian emergencies can lead to endemic poverty, and hopelessness, all of which are fuel of terrorism and kidnap for ransom groups, that can spill over into Sabah and Sarawak.

So to his critics in UMNO and PAS who said that Mohamad hasn’t been doing his homework, they must realise that it is they who have been sleeping on the job as the opposition.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

New regimes, old policies and a bumiputera reboot


September 20, 2018

New regimes, old policies and a bumiputera reboot

by Dr. Hwok-Aun Lee

http://www.newmandala.org/new-regimes-old-policies-bumiputera-reboot/

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Dr. Hwok-Aun Lee is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, with the Malaysian Studies and Regional Economic Studies programmes, Hwok- Aun has researched and published widely on affirmative action in Malaysia and South Africa. He was previously head of Development Studies, Faculty of Economics at University of Malaya.

Malaysia’s incipient Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, inheriting the country’s financial debacles and its extensive and complex ethnic policies, negotiates a three-cornered tussle.

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As a first order of business, it must clear a fiscal morass and deliver on election promises of integrity, transparency, and prudence. The government also strives to accommodate the interests of constituencies it won by a landslide, which brings various non-Malay concerns to the fore.

At the same time, PH seeks to allay anxieties of substantial segments of the Malay electorate that remain wary of the new dispensation, and perceived loss of privileges and sureties. This is a difficult balancing act, demanding delicate transitions and bold new mindsets.

Thus far, we see firm action on fiscal discipline, and familiar electoral overtures and concessions. But old mindsets endure. Their prevalence, exhibited in the open tender and ethnic reservation policies in public procurement, and in ethnic allocations in higher education, will hinder PH’s capacity to make headway in promoting Bumiputera capability and competitiveness, which are prerequisites for systematically rolling back ethnic preference.

New government, old policies?

Ten years apart, Lim Guan Eng (the Democratic Action Party chief) gave starkly similar policy assurances to Malay contractors – from vastly different positions. The first episode occurred in April 2008 when Lim was catapulted to high office following the 12th General Elections (GE12). As Penang Chief Minister, he assured Malay contractors that his administration’s open tender policy would not sideline them. While announcing the policy a few weeks prior, he justified it as a means to arrest the New Economic Policy’s (NEP) cronyism, corruption, and inefficiency. His words stoked anxiety and ire among some Malay groups. UMNO, hegemon of the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government, capitalised on these sentiments to foment fiery public protests against Lim. Over 10 years, open tenders were implemented in Penang for larger contracts, while the smallest category was reserved for Malay contractors, in line with BN-prescribed federal policy.

The second episode passed in June 2018. Freshly appointed Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng affirmed an open tender policy for federal public procurement – backed by the PH’s groundbreaking occupation of Putrajaya. And yet, swift on the heels of this pronouncement, he again declared that the government would not sideline Malay contractors. He even appended a befuddling note that “open tender” means open to all Malay contractors (with more competitive selection). Malay contractors hadn’t protested in the streets, although they had met with the Council of Eminent Persons just two weeks after GE14. Perhaps they were given enough assurances to preempt public dissent, but Lim also strenuously avoided upsetting the status quo.

Hence, we see no indication that public procurement procedures may be enhanced and invigorated. Open tenders for medium and large contracts – where non-Bumiputera companies more actively participate – satisfy some electoral constituencies; continual reservation of small contracts for Bumiputera firms satisfies others.

This is unfortunate, because Malaysia cannot fulfill the ultimate goal of rolling back ethnic preferential policies – professed by both the PH and BN coalitions for the past decade – unless the country clarifies, enhances, and broadens the ways it develops Malay capability and competitiveness.

Public procurement has distributed enormous largesse over many decades, but has fallen far short of its goal of grooming Malay enterprise. To be sure, the policy has in the past been vitiated by UMNO patronage and ‘Ali-Baba’ arrangements where a politically connected UMNO fixer secures the deal and subcontracts the work – typically to a Chinese company. These fronting practices have been tackled in recent years, and the new administration shows added resolve to cleanse and depoliticise the system. But it remains unclear about how it will leverage government contracting for broader developmental objectives.

The current state of the sector, with a handful of dynamic large-scale Malay contractors and overwhelming concentration of protected, static small-scale contractors, may well be perpetuated. Three-quarters of Bumiputera contractors are classified as G1, the smallest of seven tiers needing paid-up capital of only RM5,000-10,000 (A$1690-3380), and almost all remain there. In 2011, less than 0.2% of them graduated to G2 or G3. G1 contractors must be 100% Bumiputera owned and qualify for contracts worth RM200,000 (A$67,581) or less, which are allocated via balloting, not tendering. Given these conditions, who would want to move up? The flip side of “not sidelining Bumiputera contractors” is not doing much at all to facilitate expansion, innovation, and competitiveness.

A similar scenario has played out in the higher education sphere. Matriculation colleges offer a faster track to enter university, and since their rapid expansion from the late 1990s, have been the predominant pre-university option for Bumiputera students. Matriculation programmes were originally fully reserved for Bumiputeras, but since 2003 they have applied a 10% non-Bumiputera quota.

The quota balance, and occasional special allocations, epitomise Malaysia’s political bargain, where size of the ethnic slice preoccupies policy considerations, much more than the efficacy and equitability of the intervention. Pre-GE14, BN promised 700 places in matriculation colleges to Indian students. Post-GE14, PH announced an extra allocation of 1,000 spaces to Chinese students from B40 households (the bottom 40%, based on household income). The addition of socioeconomic criteria marks a progressive step, but simultaneously raises questions over its selective application to one ethnic group. Facilitating more entry of disadvantaged students into higher education should be high on the agenda of a government declaring priority in expanding need-based policies.

Understandably, the programme must remain accessible to Bumiputera students. PH is studiously aware that it has not won over the majority of the Malay electorate; analysis of GE14 results show the community’s vote roughly split 35-40% for BN, 25-30% for PH , 30-33% for PAS. PAS has also heightened the volume and fervour of its Malay “privileges” advocacy, alongside its Islamist raison d’etre. Education Minister Maszlee Malik reiterated that the additional 1,000 matriculation spaces for B40 Chinese would not reduce the spaces for Bumiputeras. So matriculation colleges will remain predominantly reserved for Bumiputeras, perhaps with continual allotments to particular groups.

However, allocating more quotas for other groups lowers the academic bar for more beneficiaries. It continues to set back Bumiputera capability development, due to the deficiencies of the matriculation programme. Studies have shown that matriculation graduates fare poorer than STPM (Malaysia’s A-levels equivalent) graduates upon entry to university. Education disparities are deeply rooted. Advantage and disadvantage overlap with various factors, including ethnicity and geography, and can start from the pre-school stage, setting students on diverging academic trajectories. While matriculation colleges cannot be expected to close the achievement gaps they can arguably play a more meaningful and effective role in narrowing them. To Malaysia’s ultimate detriment, the content and rigour of the matriculation programme are never brought to the table.

Interestingly, Maszlee has mooted the notion of a single pre-university system, which entails merging the STPM, matriculation, and a host of other university entry channels. It’s a worthwhile consideration, but it does not seem possible until the average ethnic achievement gaps are narrowed, which in turn looks improbable unless the matriculation colleges are revamped.

Basic reset

Racial quotas and reservations remain because their removal risks alienating the beneficiaries. Surveys consistently show a substantial majority of Malays favour the continuation of preferential policies.

Despite bi-partisan rhetoric since 2010, of shifting away from race-based affirmative action to need-based affirmative action, the vast bulk of Bumiputera preferential programmes have remained untouched, from matriculation and contracting quotas mentioned above, to microfinance, technical training, business loans, scholarships and asset ownership schemes. The vast programmes deliver benefits, and embed expectations of continued special treatment.

Mindful of these realities and sentiments, both PH and BN governments underscored their support for the Bumiputera agenda before and after GE14. PH typically highlights the worst abuses of the system, involving UMNO patronage and utilisation of state-disbursed opportunity for private gratification. Cleansing UMNO-linked rapacity from the system addresses one problem – undoubtedly, a big problem – but omits the much wider interventions that reach out to ordinary Bumiputeras. This mindset neglects to pay critical attention to the manifold, massive programmes that serve Bumiputera masses. The sedentary and muddled state of Bumiputera policy warrants a basic reset.

The Future of Bumiputeras and the Nation Congress of September 1,  2018, organised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, necessarily affirmed the Bumiputera agenda while sharply critiquing abuses and shortfalls of the UMNO-administered system, and exhorting Malay business to change mindset. However, the event offered few specific propositions, and omitted distinctions between higher education, enterprise development, employment, and wealth ownership policies.

How should the PH government proceed? First, by anchoring Bumiputera policies on the fundamental objective of broadly developing capability and competitiveness, and the prime missions of equipping and empowering the community to graduate out of receiving special assistance, toward rolling back the existing system of ethnic preference. Second, by recognising that Bumiputera policies operate differently in the specific sectors where they are embedded – higher education, high-level occupations, enterprise development, wealth and property ownership – which demands sector-specific reforms.

Third, by systematically integrating ways to reinforce needs-based and merit-based selection into the policy regime. Two main applications arise: the policy regime should expand the scope for needs-based selection, where appropriate, to target the disadvantaged and to impose sunset clauses and limits on those who have benefited. In some but not all policy sectors, need-based schemes can feasibly replace race-based schemes. The regime should also expand the scope for merit-based selection to select Bumiputera beneficiaries with capability and potential to showcase success and achieve competitiveness – as pathway to rolling back preferences.

The government contracting and matriculation college cases are illustrative, but of course the principles can be applied more broadly.

One of the barriers to reform seems to be the fear of introducing changes that may reduce access enjoyed by erstwhile beneficiaries. On this note, there may well be a window of opportunity to reconfigure public procurement, with contractors also expressing discontent at being marginalised by UMNO-linked “cronies”. Additionally, there is a broad acceptance of the need for the system to foster competitiveness.

In this light, some possible reforms – for small to medium scale projects – include:

  • Incentives for partnerships and consortia to bid for larger contracts (e.g. set aside some G4 contracts for G2 and G3 to jointly pursue)
  • Points for moving up a tier (e.g. award points for a G1 contractor who moves up to G2, applicable for the first 2-3 years after that move)
  • Sunset clauses that limit the number of contracts or time periods one can receive preferential treatment (e.g. 3 contracts, or 6 years)
  • Measures to address the funding constraints that Bumiputera contractors repeatedly identify as their main hurdle to growth.

None of these measures will disrupt contract availability in the near term, but in combination, apply pressures and incentives to upscale and graduate out of preferential treatment. The emphasis must be on learning and acquiring capability. An additional point on “needs-based” policies should be emphasised. In public procurement, and enterprise development programmes in general, the proper application of the principle runs counter to the popular notion of helping the poor. When it comes to delivering on government contracts or building competitive firms, one cannot give priority to the poor, which may adversely allocate opportunities to less capable firms, or perversely incentivise firms to remain low-earning and static. Rather than qualify poorer firms to receive special treatment, the “need” principle can apply conversely – that is, to disqualify firms that have received special treatment after reaching certain limits or sunset clauses.

In the matriculation system, and for promoting Bumiputera participation in higher education more generally, whether through pre-university programmes, university admissions, or scholarships and financial aid, there is broader scope to reach out to the disadvantaged. It is justifiable for youths from disadvantaged backgrounds to be granted preference based on those circumstances – which are not of their choosing. This intervention, occurring at the pre-adult stage of life, also potentially facilitates inter-generational upward mobility, providing further basis for preferential treatment based on “need” or “class”.

Opponents of racism in Malaysia need to understand that proponents of racial politics do believe in race—and only by understanding the appeal of racial thinking can racism be defeated.

Along these lines, Malaysia can explore ways to phase in more preferential entry for disadvantaged students into matriculation colleges, and concomitantly roll back the 90% Bumiputera quota. However, the ultimate goal of building Bumiputera capacity and competitiveness still applies. Hence, academic rigour and quality of training, as well as talent, are vital. Matriculation programmes, in particular, should look into revamping the syllabus, and Bumiputera academic achievement broadly must be overseen such that the system produces graduates who are capable and confident.

Will current levels of caution and placation on Bumiputera policies persist into the future, or will the PH government seize the opportunity to reform the pro-Bumiputera policy regime? Will it remain fearful of being accused of sidelining Malays, or will it venture forth to make Malays more capable and competitive?

Early in the post-election season, we do expect PH to pluck the low-hanging fruit of cleaning up their predecessor’s mess. But the government should not tarry too long before devising long-term strategies beyond electoral overtures and concessions. Time will tell whether PH embraces or squanders the opportunities presented by Malaysia’s monumental GE-14.

References:

 

“Lim’s remarks spark protest”, The Star, 15 March 2008 (https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2008/03/15/lims-remarks-spark-protest/)

“Guan Eng prepared to face any action against him on NEP statement”, The Sun, 1 April 2008 (http://www.thesundaily.my/node/167260)

‘It was Umno, not Harapan, who oppressed Malays’ Malaysiakini, 18 July 2018 https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/434840

“Open tender system will not sideline Bumiputera contractors: Guan Eng”, The Sun, 4 June 2018 (http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/06/04/open-tender-system-will-not-sideline-bumiputera-contractors-guan-eng)

“Govt guarantees help for bumiputera contractors”, Bernama, 24 May 2018 (http://www.bernama.com/en/news.php?id=1466579)

“Prepare to compete, Daim tells Malay contractors”, The Malaysian Insight, 24 May 2018 (https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/50013)

“Bumiputera contractors told to prove their worth”, New Straits Times, 8 July 2018 (https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2018/07/388774/bumiputera-contractors-told-prove-their-worth)

“Open tender system for government projects – Baru”, Bernama, 7 July 2018 (http://www.bernama.com/en/general/news.php?id=1478212)

“Bumiputera Empowerment Agenda helped contractors be more competitive: PKMM”, New Straits Times, 26 September 2017 (https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/09/284220/bumiputera-empowerment-agenda-helped-contractors-be-more-competitive-pkmm)

Lee, Hwok-Aun (2017) “Malaysia’s Bumiputera preferential regime and transformation agenda: Modified programmes, unchanged system” Trends in Southeast Asia 2017 No. 22. Singapore: ISEAS (https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/TRS22_17.pdf)

Lee, Hwok-Aun (2017) “Surveys reveal fault lines – and common ground – in Malaysia’s ethnic relations and policies” ISEAS Perspective 2017 No. 63. Singapore: ISEAS (https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2017_63.pdf)

9/11–Al Qaeda Won?


September 12, 2018

9/11–Al Qaeda Won?

Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks, the terrorists have definitively won the battle for the American mind.

“9/11 was a defining moment in the history of war and terrorism, but it was also the first attack conceived for and executed through the means of digital connection. It was to the internet what the Challenger explosion was to cable television, an event defined by the arrival of the way it was related, an act of war suited to technologically enabled mass storytelling and media saturation. The Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan once predicted that World War III would be a “guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” 9/11 was the beginning of that war.”

This year marks the 17th anniversary of 9/11, an awkward number offering an awkward amount of hindsight. The day is not quite memory, not yet history. Subsequent events during those 17 years—not only the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but also the arrival of the smartphone and social media—have transformed its significance.

9/11 was a defining moment in the history of war and terrorism, but it was also the first attack conceived for and executed through the means of digital connection. It was to the internet what the Challenger explosion was to cable television, an event defined by the arrival of the way it was related, an act of war suited to technologically enabled mass storytelling and media saturation. The Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan once predicted that World War III would be a “guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” 9/11 was the beginning of that war.

T.E. Lawrence, who turned himself into the pop culture icon Lawrence of Arabia, was the great innovator of guerrilla information war in the 20th century. His best-known platitude held that “[t]he printing press is the greatest weapon in the armoury of the modern commander.” His autobiography Seven Pillars of Wisdom provides the fine details of how he came to that understanding. Lawrence was sick, and in camp, in the sweltering heat of his fly-ridden tent, when it occurred to him that Carl von Clausewitz and the other great military theorists of earlier eras would have considered the war he was waging unwinnable. The Arab forces could not destroy the enemy, take the major strongholds, or break the courage of their opponents, which was how the great generals of the past had defined victory. The insight crept up on him: What if those definitions were all wrong? What if, instead of winning the war by the traditional definitions of victory, the definition of victory changed? “[A]s I pondered slowly, it dawned on me that we had won the Hejaz war,” Lawrence writes. “I brushed off the same flies once more from my face patiently, content to know that the Hejaz War was won and finished with: won from the day we took Wejh, if we had had wit to see it.” He didn’t need to win. He just needed to decide he had won and convince the world. The struggle was to change the definition of victory, to change the meaning of the events rather than the events themselves.

The term Lawrence gave to this kind of semantic warfare was diathetics, a phrase borrowed from the Greek philosopher Xenophon. It was a battle for the stories people tell and for the public consciousness that emerges out of the stories that people tell.

We had to arrange [our soldiers’] minds in order of battle just as carefully and as formally as other officers would arrange their bodies. And not only our own men’s minds, though naturally they came first. We must also arrange the minds of the enemy, so far as we could reach them; then those other minds of the nation supporting us behind the firing line, since more than half the battle passed there in the back; then the minds of the enemy nation waiting the verdict; and of the neutrals looking on; circle beyond circle.

Diathetics is an extension of guerrilla warfare, in the sense that it is used by the weaker force against the stronger and uses the lines of communication against those who have laid them down. The sabotage of lines of communication turns the greatest strength of the more powerful force—the ability to convey information and materiel across distance—into vulnerability everywhere along the line. Rather than sabotage the lines of communication along the periphery, diathetics sabotages the network at the center, the source of the meaning being communicated.

Osama bin Laden understood diathetics instinctively and explicitly. “It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods,” he told Mullah Mohammad Omar in a letter in June 2002. “In fact, its ratio may reach 90 percent of the total preparation for the battles.” The front is cultural, the conflict over narrative.

The power of diathetical warfare increases as the means of mass communication expand. We are in the middle of the greatest expansion of mass communication in human history. Social media and the smartphone, with cameras, were not yet ubiquitous in 2001. But cable news had long before erased the distinction between news and entertainment. Reality television as a genre had just been invented. The internet had very recently become commonplace in the American home. 9/11 was the first news event that happened to everybody at once. It did not matter how distantly removed you were from Manhattan or the Pentagon; because of the instantaneous communication network, you were at 9/11 if you were at a screen. The events of 9/11 were inseparable from their recording.

The cultural front opened by 9/11 keeps widening, and the terms of the struggles along those fronts, as each new technology opens them, are almost impossible to recognize immediately. In 2015, Jeff Giesea published his famous essay on memetic warfare in the NATO journal Defence Strategic Communications. Despite its immense influence—it predicted, and possibly shaped, Russian techniques of disinformation in Ukraine, Russia, and the United States, and Giesea went on to run significant elements of Trump’s election campaign—the essay’s key insight has not really been dealt with seriously. Russian meme factories achieved, with minimal expense and no direct violence, their country’s deepest foreign-policy aims: a sharp decline in U.S. influence in the world, the endangerment of the post-World War II alliances of the liberal order, and the humiliation of the notion of human rights. There has been no retaliation.

Memetic warfare is only the latest element of the diathetical struggle that has been ongoing since the arrival of the internet. The cultural front is along every point of the network—television, the press, movies, songs, sermons, advertising, and social media. Everything that gives meaning is a battleground. Diathetics is the rearrangement of the enemy’s mindset by spectacle and the means of its consumption. This is a new kind of war and a deeply confusing one. Confusion is its purpose. The problems of assessment are substantial. The line between what is military and what isn’t has blurred, and the cultural front seems ridiculous, beneath the dignity of the military and totally beyond the purview of soldiers anyway. Memetic wars, wars of popular culture, are ridiculous. That does not alter their effectiveness. A reality television star with the world’s most elaborate comb-over has helped achieve Russian foreign-policy aims.

Even to look at 9/11 as a work of culture, to investigate its significance, is fraught in itself. The occasion is sacred, suitable for solemn reflection. Real people really died. But as painful and grotesque and offensive as it may seem, if you want to understand America’s current vulnerability, you have to look at 9/11 as a show. It is a war show that the United States lost and continues to lose.

Image result for new york twin towers now

 

Begin with a basic question: Why the Twin Towers? Before 1993, U.S. counterterrorism agencies did not consider the World Trade Center a likely target. They worried about water systems, transportation networks, and military installations. The World Trade Center was not a beloved or culturally important structure like the Empire State Building. It featured a pair of large, banal skyscrapers.

 

Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was the first to recognize the towers’ potential as symbols within a spectacle. He would have seen them first in the company of Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind sheik who preached in a mosque in New Jersey. From his neighborhood, the towers rose up across the waters, totems without faces. They were little more than objects of substantial mass.

Mass death was always at the core of Yousef’s vision for a terrorist act. After his arrival in New York, he initially cruised through neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, looking for ways to murder Jews in significant numbers. But he simply could not find a target of the necessary scale. Originally, Yousef wanted to flood the towers with cyanide, to convert them into death camps in the sky. The bomb used in the 1993 attack was constructed of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil but Ramzi Yousef also explored lacing the bomb with poison. A judge in his case assumed he had used sodium cyanide but that it had burned off from the heat of the explosion. But there was no forensic evidence Yousef ever managed to find the poisons he desired. Generally, his craftsmanship was poor: The cyanide burned off from the heat of the explosion. (Eventually, on 9/11, the towers came to resemble nothing so much as the smoking towers of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; the attack possessed from its inception the quality of a pocket Holocaust.)

It’s easy to forget that until 1993, until the World Trade Center was a target, terrorism and assassination and guerrilla warfare stood in direct antithesis to slaughter on an industrial scale. The specificity of the target had been at the heart of political murder for nearly a millennium. The original assassins were Ismaili Muslims, who killed rulers rather than armies. The capitalists and fascists and imperialists led subservient masses into meaningless death; the terrorists knew whom they killed. The essential nature of the propaganda of the deed was that it waged war against those responsible for the system rather than those who suffered under it. Russian anarchists believed that insurrectionary acts against the ruling classes would bring about revolution, but their targets were, as a rule, individuals. (There were exceptions, such as the bombing of the Liceu Theater in Barcelona in 1893, but they were rare.) Carlos the Jackal targeted OPEC leaders and the people who ran Zionist organizations. The forces of guerrilla warfare attached a strategic as well as a symbolic value to individual life. Their smaller numbers meant they could not waste themselves except at a high price.

Yousef saw that the World Trade Center’s brute scale, its sheer bulk, expressed better than any other building the banal dominance of modernity. His letter to the New York Times after the 1993 bombing explicitly described it as an attack from “the fifth battalion in the Liberation Army,” and the political movement to which he was an inheritor belonged to the Russian anarchists, Lawrence of Arabia, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, the June 2 movement in Germany, and Carlos the Jackal. It is essential to understand the necessary framework for guerrilla informational war: To wage diathetics, you have to belong to the culture you hope to distort, and you have to hate that culture at the same time. Diathetics can only be waged both inside and outside a culture; to know what effects a spectacle will have, you have to comprehend the context into which it will be received.

Lawrence was a prime example of an inside-outside man and so was Yousef. Yousef was not a good Muslim: He drank, womanized, never prayed, and never fasted. Almost everyone involved in the 9/11 conspiracy was stuck between the West and Islam. On Sept. 10, 2001, Mohammad Atta checked out of his hotel in Boston, rented a car, and drove with one of his co-conspirators, Abdul Aziz al-Omari, to Portland, Maine, where they shopped at Walmart and ate at Pizza Hut. No one knows why. Like salesmen in town on business, the Saudis left in Boston tried to call for prostitutes but didn’t end up hiring any because the prices were too high. Al Qaeda’s ideology was Islamist, but its techniques and ideas were Western.

After the 1993 attack, the symbolism of the World Trade Center took on a significance far beyond itself. Various dreams of its explosion scattered like a billion dark seeds over the global soil. “Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade,” Biggie Smalls rapped. Because it had survived, the center became a point of pride for U.S. counterterrorism officials. After his capture, when Yousef was transferred on an FBI helicopter to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan for trial, the SWAT team took off his blindfold as they were flying down the Hudson River. “You see, it’s still standing,” one SWAT member said, indicating the World Trade Center.

“It wouldn’t be if we had had more money,” Yousef answered, shrugging.

In September 2000, New York’s Joint Terrorism Task Force had its 20th anniversary party in the Windows on the World banquet room. For al Qaeda, and for Islamist terrorism generally, Yousef’s career opened more than a possible target; it revealed the tantalizing possibilities of ambition against ambition, the scope of terrorist acts that matched the scale of the targets. This blaze of originality found fulfillment through two much duller men: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was Yousef’s maternal uncle, and bin Laden.

Mohammed had a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and had lived in the Philippines, Bosnia, and Qatar. He had traveled widely and conceived of the rejection of modernity as a calamity of the sky. Planes, like skyscrapers, were miraculous, inhuman, unnatural, and an affront to tradition itself and to the traditions of any people or creed—both tool of and symbol for the radical decentering of modern life. Originally, Mohammed imagined a version of his earlier Bojinka plot, in which he wanted to take 10 planes, one commandeered by himself, to the United States and make “a speech denouncing U.S. policies in the Middle East before releasing all of the women and children passengers.” Yousef’s strike on the World Trade Center altered his ideas.

Sometime in the middle of 1996, Mohammed met with bin Laden at Tora Bora, in eastern Afghanistan, and brought a portfolio of schemes, most of which involved a combination of planes and U.S. targets. For two years, Mohammed and bin Laden worked through the conspiracy in all its grand detail. These negotiations were similar in scope to those between a director and a producer: a compromise between the grandiosity of vision and the certainty of accomplishment. Bin Laden became the biggest celebrity after 9/11, but his prominence had little to do with his real role in the attack, being neither instigator nor creator nor performer. The audiences needed a supervillain, an evil genius. Somebody’s face had to be on the firing range targets. A face had to be on the urinal cakes.

Atta was simply an executor and had no role in the imagination of 9/11. His face suited the blankness of the act, though. His roommates in Hamburg recalled that he found the ordinary conversation of crowds unbearable: “Chaos, chaos,” he muttered at a screening of The Jungle Book as the crowd chatted before the show. For his meals, he would take whole boiled potatoes, skin them, smash the potatoes into a mound, and then for a week consume the cold potatoes, leaving the fork in the mound when he put the mess back in the refrigerator. The only trait that anyone recalled about Atta was that he was organized and punctual. Yet he left the Comfort Inn in Portland at 5:33 a.m. for a 6 o’clock flight and made it through security just 15 minutes before takeoff. He nearly missed the appointment for his own death. Stage fright.

From the moment the first plane hit the first tower, the level of recorded information about 9/11, as an event, was unprecedented. Those closest to the event itself were, in a sense, those most removed from its meaning—distance being one of the defining attributes of informational guerrilla war. In the case of 9/11, the people who knew what was going on with the most clarity were those living farthest from the event itself. Bin Laden, in the mountains of Afghanistan, wanted to watch the scenario unfolding live. Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, his chief video technician, couldn’t manage a strong enough signal. They listened on the radio instead, to the BBC’s Arabic service, with some 50 of bin Laden’s men.

 

The heroism of the first responders was that they went into the catastrophe with all that they did not understand. “I think the entire world knew more than we did,” Jules Naudet claimed in his 2002 documentary, 9/11, following New York City firemen on the day of the attack. “We didn’t have a clue what was going on outside our lobby.” The tower itself was a meaningless eye in a hurricane of meaning. The most extraordinary scene in the whole of 9/11 is the firemen arriving at the tower and opening an elevator. The people inside, escaping, look annoyed. For everyone else, the world had changed. For them, it was still an ordinary day full of ordinary bullshit, such as being stuck in elevators.

The fact that 9/11 was a media event was even clear to those in the towers at the time. Stephen Tompsett, a computer scientist attending the Risk Waters conference at the Windows on the World restaurant, emailed his wife, Dorry, from his Blackberry: “Watch CNN. Need updates.” Even to those in the towers when the planes hit, what mattered was on television. Greg Trevor, in the public relations office on the 68th floor, saw fire and glass tumbling outside the window. When his phone rang, he picked it up.

“Hi, I’m with NBC national news,” the voice said. “If you could hold on for about five minutes, we’re going to put you on for a live phone interview.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t. We’re evacuating the building.”

“But this will only take a minute.”

“I’m sorry, you don’t understand. We’re leaving the building right now.”

“But, but, this is NBC national news.” Didn’t he understand? This was no affiliate. This was network.

By 8:51 a.m., Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today show declared: “We wanna go live right now and show you a picture of the World Trade Center.” The second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03. That day, cable news achieved its fulfillment as a format, mimicking traumatic memory. The clip rolled over and over. A smoking tower. A plane flying into a tower. The clip rolled over and over, with new clips added, fantasies spiraling from fantasies, commentaries piling up, voices crashing into voices. Television lurched into collective mind, creating the event by playing and replaying, working and reworking, the moving image.

The manager of a Duane Reade drugstore just north of the World Trade Center said on the day of the attack: “The only thing I sold today was cameras. Within an hour of the first initial hit, we sold 60 to 100 cameras.” Rather than hit the location of mass media—midtown Manhattan—the 9/11 attackers chose to strike within viewing distance. A terrorist act without spectators is meaningless. Its triumph is in its recognition, and, even more, the size of its triumph is the size of its recognition. Recognition requires a slight distance.

The view was worth more than any public statement: the sweeping cords of the Brooklyn Bridge, the icon of American will and know-how, the achievement of the once impossible, a bridge more than a mile long, the beginning of American greatness, containing in its history all the strangeness of America, ending in catastrophe inveigled in desolation.

Then, from the top of the tower, in imperfect focus because of the range, the grainy image of a man tumbling through the air, leaping into death, discontinuous, twisted, senseless, angelic, tormented. No one could fathom him.

The towers fell, and a great white spume poured through the city, swallowing the faces, covering all the cameras in an omnivorous white fade. The screens went blank.

Image result for new york city twin towers memorial

 

Diathetical warfare is a struggle for meaning. In the case of 9/11, that struggle began instantly, and it continues to this day. The terrorists manufactured, as they intended, a spectacle of interrelated images. These were created not just by traditional media but also by individuals sharing media over the internet. In 2001, the majority of Americans didn’t have the internet, and it worked by dial-up connection. Most press organizations had just opened digital venues. Nonetheless, 9/11 revealed the new media in all its world-consuming power: instantaneous communication as a basic fact of life. The first critical reaction to 9/11 took place on United Airlines Flight 93. Its passengers were the first Americans to grasp that terrorism itself had changed, that the strategy of simply waiting quietly for others to negotiate was no longer available. “I know we’re all going to die,” one passenger, Thomas Burnett, told his wife. “There’s three of us who are going to do something about it.” Todd Beamer famously declared, “Let’s roll,” before he died living up to its meaning.

 

The misinterpretation of 9/11 began before the smoke had cleared. At Booker Elementary School, President George W. Bush, informed of the catastrophe, continued to read The Pet Goat like a boy waiting to be told what to do. His press secretary, Ari Fleischer, held up a sign in big block letters so that the press wouldn’t notice: “Don’t say anything yet.” Bush read along, the students slowly enunciating each word: “A girl got a pet goat.” His flummoxed face was defeat itself. “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while,” he told the press later, using the one word he could not afford to use. Then he turned bin Laden into an outlaw from the movies: “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” Bush and bin Laden were raised on the same shows. Bin Laden’s favorite show as a boy was Fury—the story of an orphan child who is the only one who can ride a wild stallion and who saves guest stars from trouble episode after episode. What could be better for him than to be as beautiful and free as an Old West outlaw wanted dead or alive? Did he not dream of being an untamable thing?

But it would be foolish to blame America’s diathetical defeat on Bush’s casual incompetence or bin Laden’s narrative instinct. Diathetical warfare uses the collective storytelling system against its creators. That’s what makes it so hard even to perceive. The goals of diathetics remain the goals of guerrilla warfare. The first aim is to provoke a massive overreaction. The larger goal is to reorient the behavior of the enemy, to alter the mindset to a state of despair and counterproductive reaction.

The massive overreaction was inevitable given the brute size and scope of the media and the collective unfamiliarity with its effects. Perspective becomes impossible in an environment of media saturation, or, rather, perspective is irrelevant—9/11 could not be just another act of war any more than the O.J. Simpson trial could be just another case. Distortion is at the heart of the disaster. In 2001, heart disease killed 700,142 Americans, accidents killed 101,537, and influenza killed 62,034. Sugar is vastly more dangerous to public safety than terrorism. In hindsight, 9/11 was not the most important historical event that year. In a hundred years, 2001 will be remembered for the launch of the 3G network in Japan and the entrance of China in the World Trade Organization—the advent of an instant global communications network and nascent Chinese power were both events with much more long-term consequences than what we call 9/11. Even to mention these facts seems distasteful, as if I’m missing the point. That size of meaning is the core victory of the diathetic effect. “Everything changed on 9/11” is the one thing everyone can agree on. A victory for the United States would have been for nothing to have changed.

Diathetics works. For the cost of the lives of 19 terrorists, al Qaeda sparked the global war on terrorism, with its subsequent $2.1 trillion cost and the loss of thousands of American lives. More importantly, they changed the way America thought of itself and the way the world thought of America. They made powerful people believe that the war against Islamist terrorism, a technologically incompetent fringe hiding in caves in the most remote locations in the world, presented a threat comparable to the fascist war machines of World War II. They convinced America that the only way to protect itself from this threat was to suspend civil liberties. Seventeen years later, America is stumbling back from the Middle East, believed by its own people and by the rest of the world to be a defeated occupier. The Taliban is still a force in Afghanistan. The central proposition of radical Islamist movements since Jamal al-Din al-Afghani—that Islam was anti-modernity—was proved to everyone’s satisfaction. The consequences of these changes in mindset were vast, elaborating themselves in ways that would have been inconceivable to bin Laden or to anyone else.

Why did America tell itself such a disastrous story about 9/11?

At the core of the failure was American exceptionalism, the assumption, which in my experience no American escapes entirely, that what happens in the United States matters more than what happens elsewhere. American exceptionalism is a form of political myopia, making perspective nearly impossible, even among the most educated.

The legacy of World War II was also decisive. The military narrative of the liberation of Europe was less important than the story of the reconstruction—America’s overwhelming might underpinning a liberal order. The Bush administration dreamed of a war of liberation, a war against fascism, a war to build liberal democracy, just the kind of war their fathers had waged. The neoconservative fantasies were plugged into images borrowed from documentaries of Europe from their childhoods. From that fantasy, they were able to conjure whatever arguments were needed, even though the struggle against al Qaeda was not even against a state, never mind a system of government.

The concentration of energy that drew itself around 9/11 emerged from so many more deeply rooted American narratives, too: the glorification of war in and of itself, the need for redemption from Vietnam, cop shows and blockbusters and the single-minded structure of their storytelling—good guys kill bad guys. As the former CIA agent Amaryllis Fox put it in her viral video: “You are the empire, and we are Luke and Han.” Straight racism and simple xenophobia contributed, too.

Notice that some of these narratives are shallow and ignorant and some of them are real and substantial. Some belong to the educated elite. Some are lowest common denominators. Some are fictions; some aren’t. None of those distinctions matter—diathetical warfare preys on the whole of a collective mythology, the stories we tell ourselves in order to live. When Bush said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”—a perfect statement from al Qaeda’s point of view—the phrasing emerged out of movies he had seen and books he had read and conversations he had heard.

The museum commemorating the events of 9/11 is a more durable failure: It looks like a Holocaust memorial, which is exactly what Ramzi Yousef intended. The face of Mohammad Atta is nowhere; therefore it is everywhere. A quote from Virgil’s Aeneid—“No day shall erase you from the memory of time”—has been inscribed on the wall. The dreams of the terrorists are fulfilled: Their victims have given them entry into history.

To this day, the border guards at John F. Kennedy International Airport face all day, every day, a sign that calls for them to remember 9/11. Nothing could define U.S. diathetical defeat more completely.

Walmart sold 116,000 flags on 9/11. In Iraq, key chains appeared with pictures of the Twin Towers crumbling soon after. A friend of mine returned from Iraq with a poster of bin Laden riding a unicorn with a Kalashnikov rifle in each hand. That poster, not the position U.S. forces hold in the Baluchistan hills, is the reason that victory is impossible in Afghanistan.

 

9/11 exposed, more than any other event, the fundamental vulnerability of the United States, which was not at its borders but within its culture. The vulnerability lies within the greatest glory of American life, its explosive variety of expression, its sanctity for the freedom of the press, its movies and debates and sermons and songs and advertising, its bottomless need for drama, its constant invention and reinvention of itself. The conditions that made that vulnerability possible have only intensified over the past 17 years. The fracturing of media, the expansion of the scope of information, the role of screens in our lives—these have all increased exponentially. The rise of social media and the smartphone means that the diathetical battlefield is more dominant than ever.

The biggest vulnerability the United States faces in the diathetical struggle is that it refuses to recognize its vulnerability. The effects of social media have become apparent, but the U.S. government, the media, and the tech sector have shown exactly no will to defend themselves from the consequences. Controlling social media is a matter of national security. Those in power in the United States are simply too old to see it. That control will have to be in the hands of elected officials. The creators of the vast networks along which guerrilla informational war has been waged have shown, over and over again, that they possess no loyalties beyond their financial interests. There are few patriots in Silicon Valley, at least insofar as patriotism conflicts with self-interest. Values are not scalable.

Meanwhile, it is inevitable that other countries will engage in their own cultural operations against the United States. The logic is impeccable: Why attack U.S. soldiers and diplomats if you can attack the State Department? Why attack the State Department if you can help elect a president who won’t bother to hire anyone at the State Department? Eventually countries friendly to the United States will have to participate. If they don’t, only America’s enemies will. Already, in its tariff war, Canada has targeted individual districts on the basis of their political representatives. Why not start using social media to exert the same pressure? If U.S. opinion, and hence U.S. power, is for sale and cheaply, Canada will have to buy. The behavior of the United States is simply too integral to its national interests. Why wouldn’t anyone do the same?

Diathetical warfare is the battle for hearts and minds, not other people’s but our own. The only real defense against guerrilla informational war is clarity, the rarest and most precious of victories. That struggle involves humility and self-awareness—commodities perpetually in short supply and in deteriorating condition. The campaign for clarity requires more strength of purpose, more perseverance, more intelligence than bombing. No wonder it is so rarely undertaken.

Stephen Marche is a novelist and essayist who lives in Toronto. His most recent book is The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth About Men and Women in the Twenty-First Century.

Australia-US convergence on the “Indo-Pacific”: AUSMIN 2018


August 30, 2018

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Asia Pacific Bulletin No. 438

Australia-US convergence on the “Indo-Pacific”: AUSMIN 2018

by Dr. David Scott

Dr. David Scott explains that “The Joint Declaration represents the convergence between Australia’s espousal of Indo-Pacific frameworks first seen in its 2013 Defense White Paper, and American espousal of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” frameworks in the Trump administration since autumn 2017.”

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis hosted Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and Minister for Defence Marise Payne on July 23-24 for the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, California. Holding the meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area, on the U.S. Pacific coast and near the birthplace of the ANZUS Treaty

The AUSMIN meeting held last month brought together the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis with the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and Minister for Defense Marise Payne. Its Indo-Pacific focus was unmistakable. Whereas the 2017 AUSMIN Joint Declaration mentioned the “Indo-Pacific” but once and for the first time at AUSMIN, the 2018 Joint Declaration mentioned the “Indo-Pacific” 11 times; with the “Asia-Pacific,” the previously dominant term of strategic reference, unmentioned.

Certainly other issues were noted in the 2018 AUSMIN Joint Declaration; including Russia’s role in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, ensuring ISIS defeat in Syria and Iraq, and continuing anti-Taliban support of Afghanistan. However, the main focus of the Joint Declaration was the Indo-Pacific where it “emphasized both nations’ strong and deepening engagement in the Indo-Pacific” and “the significance of the Indo-Pacific to our shared future.” As such, the Joint Declaration represents the convergence between Australia’s espousal of Indo-Pacific frameworks first seen in its 2013 Defense White Paper, and American espousal of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” frameworks in the Trump administration since autumn 2017. The Joint Declaration stressed a broad convergence, “our shared strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific, which has diplomatic, security, and economic dimensions.”

Some uncontroversial socio-economic objectives were highlighted in the Joint Declaration for application in the Indo-Pacific: “the United States and Australia decided to collaborate to reduce the threat of emerging infectious diseases in the Indo-Pacific region,” and to “reinforce objectives of Australia’s Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific.”

Alongside such uncontroversial social initiatives were expressions of economic cooperation. With regard to the Pacific basin, the Joint Declaration highlighted that they “support closer cooperation to promote the security, stability, resilience, and development of Pacific Island countries”; and “highlighted the importance of strengthening regional information sharing, maritime security, and domain awareness.” This was a tacit response to China’s greater prominence in the Southern Pacific. Further economic cooperation was pinpointed:

“The Secretaries and Ministers committed to increased bilateral and multilateral cooperation on economic development in the Indo-Pacific, recognizing that security and prosperity are mutually reinforcing. Our two governments will work together, and with partners, to support principles-based and sustainable infrastructure development in the region, which will promote growth and stability.”

Though un-stated, this represented a response to China’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR) infrastructure initiative. Such responses had also been the focus of the “Trilateral Infrastructure Working Group” which brought together Japanese, Indian, and US officials in February 2018 to foster “increased connectivity in the Indo-Pacific.”

The AUSMIN meeting in July 2018 set out broad Indo-Pacific values. This echoed the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept and strategy unveiled by Shinzo Abe in 2016 and adopted by Donald Trump at the APEC summit in November 2017, which has become the mantra in US strategic formulations. Hence the 2018 AUSMIN Joint Declaration that:

“They made clear their commitment to work together – and with partners – to shape an Indo-Pacific that is open, inclusive, prosperous, and rules-based […] The United States and Australia highlighted the priority each places on supporting an international rules-based order, alongside allies and partners. In the Indo-Pacific, that order has underpinned decades of stability, democracy, and prosperity.”

This was an implicit critique of China, with AUSMIN mention of other “allies and partners” pointing to strategic geometry and potential constraint of China.

In the Joint Declaration, the “open” refers to concerns of a closed Maritime Silk Road push by China, and to the (SCS) being closed down by China achieving its “U-shaped line” claim and thereby making it a Chinese Lake. The focus on “free/democracy” refers to China’s non-democratic authoritarianism. The “rules-based order” refers to China’s rejection of the SCS rulings made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016. The SCS was prominent elsewhere in the Joint Declaration; which stressed Australia-US concerns over Chinese “militarization of disputed features” and reiterated the importance of “freedom of navigation and overflight.” This point raised the question of joint freedom of navigation operations there by the two allies – to consolidate established US unilateral naval deployments, and Australian unilateral aerial deployments. Given that bilateral Australian-UK freedom of navigation operations in the SCS are being mooted for 2019, this would be an obvious development in US-Australian defense cooperation.

The Joint Declaration “highlighted the importance of US-Australia defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” with the strategic value of the US Marine Rotational Force at Darwin and enhanced air cooperation both restressed and enhanced; together with further naval cooperation where “the principals also decided to integrate US force elements into Australia’s annual Indo-Pacific Endeavour exercise.” Darwin’s importance continues to grow as a convenient jump point for deployment and operation further westwards to the Indian Ocean, further northwards to the SCS and further eastwards to the Pacific Ocean.

Wider defense cooperation was pinpointed in the Joint Declaration; “strengthening bilateral security partnerships with like-minded Indo-Pacific nations through joint training and exercise opportunities.” As to who these like-minded Indo-Pacific nations were, “they welcomed the recent US-Australia-India-Japan consultations on the Indo-Pacific in Singapore and reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen trilateral dialogue with Japan.”

The “trilateral dialogue with Japan” refers to the Australia-Japan-US (AJUS) strategic dialogue mechanism in operation since 2002; which has moved to increasingly significant air force and naval cooperation in the West Pacific and SCS, to China’s unease. The eighth AJUS ministerial meeting, due later in 2018, is expected to mark a formal shift to “Indo-Pacific” terms of reference, echoing the “Indo-Pacific” anchoring already seen in the fourth Australia-India-Japan (AIJ) trilateral, held on 21 July 2018.

The “US-Australia-India-Japan consultations on the Indo-Pacific” refers to the Quad mechanism revived in November 2017. The Quad meeting in June 2018 stressed their common push “for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region where all countries respect sovereignty, international law, including with respect to freedom of navigation and overflight;” based on “a common commitment, founded on shared democratic values and principles, to uphold and strengthen the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific” and to strengthen “maritime cooperation.”

The explicit message of the AUSMIN meeting was a strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific. The implicit message of much of the Joint Declaration was that, despite their stated hopes that “both nations continue to place a high priority on constructive and beneficial engagement with China,” in reality tacit counter-measures were on show.