“Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive”

…I am sure everyone remembers this 2012 Obama/Biden re-election battle cry.

If you were a Democrat at the time, you saw it as a succinct way to articulate all the good and glory that the pair had brought to our country – the cry represented their ability to resuscitate a fading United States economy and a unilaterally misguided and fruitless military effort in the Middle East.

If you were a Republican at the time, you saw it as a cheap and tawdry exploitation, beguiling our military of due honor for political gain, not to mention it purposefully diverted our attention from the fact that the US taxpayers were just forced to sink billions of dollars into a failing business.

So, why bring this 2012 battle cry to light again? Because it was a pivotal piece of the Democratic agenda during that election cycle and the American people fell for it: hook, line and sinker. In 2016 we will have an opportunity to swing the pendulum and, with a little bit of luck, a lot of sacrifice and some incredibly hard work, bring the US back to its hard-working, benefits-reaping roots.

With that in mind, let’s think about what’s happened in the two years since the “Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” line became the summation of the administration’s achievements:
1) General Motors is in deep:
2) Afghanistan, now nearly abandoned by the US, has returned to its old, familiar ways:

Trust, but verify.

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Every other word: A case for the honesty of America’s politicians

Last time I wrote to you I presented you with a challenge – a challenge to match the two most recent American Presidents with a basic analysis of their first inaugural addresses.

When George W. Bush ran for President in 2000, he campaigned on his economic accumen, focusing on domestic policy (1), (2). He had, afterall, received his MBA from Harvard – he possessed know-how and, more importantly, expierence, which he gained by running the Texas Rangers and state of Texas. During his tenure as Governor of the Lone Star State he’d even received accolades from Democrats and Republicans alike for his successes.

Unfortunately, less than nine months into Bush’s first term as President, on September 11, 2001, the country was struck by a disaster that would usher in an age of war and multilateral pre-emption. Owing to hyper-speed media cycles, shortened public attention and, to some extent, growing public fatigue regarding progress in the Middle East, the administration’s decisive response to 9/11 became a bone of contention in American politics. The once singularly supported measures in the Middle East morphed into a sharply derisive public concern that would quickly chisel away at bipartisan progress.

However, what is important to recognise in this story is, when the world was attacked on America’s soil, the knock on the door of Western freedom was answered by America’s might and President George W. Bush’s ever enduring promise to keep America safe from terrorists, from extremists and from fear. A President who ran on an economic platform steared the country safely through the fires of war and still greatly improved the landscape for domestic policy in the United States – unemployment was kept low, between 4% and 6%, and he facilitated an environment where technology could prosper.

So, what does George W. Bush’s assumptions about the type of agenda he would face as President have to do with the clarity of message in his first inaugural address compared to that of Barack H. Obama’s?

Obama ran on a campaign of change, bipartisanship and transparency. However, many an important White House meeting – particularly those regarding healthcare – excluded Republicans and, in fact, neglected the campaign promise he made to provide American citizens access to debate via C-SPAN. At least we can say that President Obama was transparent about one thing – his hope for a ‘Common New Nation’.

George W. Bush, whether you agree with his policies and tactics or not, was also transparent about the aspirations of his administration – ‘America’s Freedom’.

So there we have it. The wordle for ‘Inaugural Address 1‘ belongs to George W. Bush and ‘Inaugural Address 2‘ belongs to Barack H. Obama. Their policies and tactics are not so hard to see when you reject your better insticts and choose to believe what the politician has actually said.

Trust, but verify.

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You had me at ‘my fellow citizens’

Today’s blog entry proposes a challenge. As a public relations consultant I often wonder if we, as consumers of crafted communications, understand what is being communicated to us. Do we listen, interpret, accept, and then claim we’ve been blind-sided by decisions to which we’ve not been made privy? Or are we duped by skilled linguists? 

I bring this up because the integrity of American politics, foreign policy and diplomacy have come under fire with the recent serge in the WikiLeaks ‘War on America’s Character’. Julian Assange releases classified information to the great detriment of the American image, and all the while the Republicans are scouring their talent-base for the next leader of the free world, the Tea Party Movement has just earned a reputation as being a more credible backing force in politics than the Barack Obama, and the Democrats are on aggressive defence. America appears to be in great disarray to the outside world. Is it?

Although we have strong orators in the ranks of the political parties involved, I sometimes wonder if what America could really do with right now is just one great, nostalgic and motivating speech. One speech to shake us at our core. Another ‘The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave; a ‘Fourscore and seven years ago‘; an ‘I have a dream‘. It’s a good and honest speech that can set passions afire.

However, I, as I am sure is the case with most others, can fall victim to accepting a speech as credible and moving because its words appeal to me as would prose. But how do we avoid being lyrically romanced by the intricate combinations of the latinate and anglo words of a rare, well-crafted speech? To get to the essence of what I am saying, I’ve created wordles using the first inaugural addresses of the two most recent Presidents: George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama. The challenge? Which wordle below belongs to which president’s first inaugural address? More interesting still – what do these wordles communicate? The answers will be given in early 2011. Keep an eye out.

NOTE: A wordle is a text analysis tool showing the frequency of non-common words used in a block of text by making the most used words larger

Inaugural Address 1

Inaugural Address 2

Trust, but verify.

Posted in Foreign Policy | 2 Comments

Casualties of laziness: 10 things to consider next time you read news about Afghanistan

This blog entry is written on the assumption that you read the news. That you read the news regularly and that you check out the section marked ‘world’ and fain, as I do, to comprehend the intricacies of the world theatre while also trying to consider how it is that we got to this point.

What do I mean by ‘this point’ exactly?

I mean a place where courtesy, trust, ethics and diligence no longer exist as standard; where individuals actually have to fight and argue for why they believe in their right to exist in a safe environment.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but looking at the news of the world, the articles that have really shaken me lately are those outlining the ‘Afghan War Diary’ on WikiLeaks. The reporting has been shoddy, forgetful and lazy at best. The actual leak has been irresponsible, selfish and motivated by sub-par attempts at fame and recognition. So here are 10 key facts and questions to consider while reading ‘news’ about Afghanistan:

  1. The ‘Afghan War Diary’ came out as NATO was investigating 45 civilian deaths in Helmand province occuring on Friday 23 July 2010
  2. During the nine-year campaign in Afghanistan, July has been the deadliest month yet. The second most deadly month was June 2010. Which two years have tallied up the most fatalities? 2009 and 2010
  3. Not only was July the most deadly month in Afghanistan since the start of the campaign in 2004, and more than being the month in which the truths of the conflict were released on WikiLeaks, July also saw the startling defection of a NATO-trained Afghan solider who, upon going rogue, shot and killed three British soldiers. If WikiLeaks has taught us only one thing, it’s that nothing in war is what it seems and that the defection is unlikely to be an isolated event
  4. The Obama administration gained more ‘breathing room’ after McChrystal was relieved of his position in Afghanistan following his interview with Rolling Stone magazine. However, what was worse than the public defamation of a president whose ego bruises like a peach, was the fact that the Obama administration showed the world that conflict with senior officials does not breed conversation, rather it results in elimination. His ‘executive’ decision to accept McChrystal’s resignation has deprived the war in Afghanistan  of a highly respected and iconic military leader with great relationships on both sides of the conflict
  5. The current US administration has sanctioned the deployment of Special Forces into more than 75 regions around the globe. This “reflects how aggressively the President is pursuing al-Qaeda behind his public rhetoric of global engagement and diplomacy.” The move has trumped President George W. Bush’s Special Forces deployment by a significant number
  6. Meanwhile, many US troops who have volunteered to defend their country have been disappointed and frustrated by the fact that they have been unable to support the US on tour in Afghanistan, namely because they have not been deployed to foreign territories to carry out the jobs for which they have been trained
  7. Contrary to Julian Assange’s argument that ‘good’ journalism is jarring and controversial, has he considered ethics and the protection of those who are in Afghanistan fighting on our behalf?
  8. Assange highlights that the documents cover the “entire war since 2004”, although journalists continue to play the conservative blame game. Alexandra Toppings at The Guardian suggests that the leaks only really lay bare the period in Afghanistan before the Obama administration: a comment made by – yes, you guessed it – the current administration. [“White House national security adviser General Jim Jones stressed that the documents related to a period from January 2004 to December 2009, during the administration of President George Bush and before President Obama ordered a new push in the embattled state.”]
  9. The ‘successful’ Afghan strategy, which involves a surge in troops, is not much of a far cry from the Bush administration’s ‘failed’ policies in the Middle East. The strategy has obvious links to US military activity in Iraq
  10. The WikiLeaks catastrophe has happened during the Obama administration – an administration that has been so-far recognised in its first two terms of office for hanging the clandestine services out to dry except, of course, when it suits his public image to praise their courage

So let’s think about how all the pieces of this puzzle fit together:

Situation assessment: The current administration has reprimanded the CIA for missed opportunities; accepted the resignation of an iconic, highly popular military leader; touted the surge in Afghanistan as a successful strategy, whilst decrying the Middle East policies of its predecessor; and, expanded global Special Forces presence to over 75 regions, which has in turn left volunteer soldiers on home soil longing for the opportunity to serve and protect their country on foreign territory.

Results: Clandestine services have felt marred and betrayed by their Commander-in-Chief; career-ruining and bold outcries by military servicemen, in what would seem to be a last resort, have brought questions about the administration’s military competencies into the limelight; war activities are becoming bureaucratised; NATO-trained native soldiers, as well as the strategies in Afghanistan, seem to be going rouge; and, with all the information handed to them on a silver platter, basted in anti-war sentiment, contemporary journalists are still too lazy and liberally-contented to dissect the content and challenge convention.

The ‘Afghan War Diary’ is still available on WikiLeaks and is worth an independent read. To help you along:

Trust, but verify.

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One man’s act of terrorism is another’s ‘man-caused disaster’

There has recently been an assault on our civil liberties in the United States. This has not been an external attack, this has not been a covert attack and this has not been an attack of a widely suppressed underground movement within our country. The silent assault has happened right in front of our eyes and has been veiled as political correctness aimed at protecting the masses from vocal misappropriations: In other words, we are being led to dictate thoughts within a strict vocal confine in order to avoid causing offense.

The first decade of the 21st century should be recognised as the decade when the world decided that it was incapable: incapable of making sound decisions; incapable of caring for itself; incapable of understanding a means to an end; incapable of remembering; incapable of fighting for rights; and, incapable of analysing, digesting and scrutinising fact to measure it against opinion. Well, in my opinion it is more offensive to disregard the language one uses to recognise danger in order to cater to the false understandings of those who think that by dictating language we can abate danger.

Speech and activity dictated by the rigid confines of political correctness and government mandate gives way to mutable and static discontent. In prose that almost foreshadow the suggested restrictions of the Obama administration George Orwell, in his novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, wrote, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (Orwell, 1949). Orwell’s point was that with limited language there is less material with which to construct thought and therefore thoughts also become limited.

In March 2009 the Obama administration’s Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, announced the revocation of the term ‘terrorism’, offering instead the term ‘man-caused disaster’, as if to imply the possibility of unintentional or non-aggressive destruction. In an interview with der Spiegel, a German-based publication, Napolitano stated: “In my speech, although I did not use the word “terrorism,” I referred to “man-caused” disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur” (Meyer, 2009). Her arrogance and conceit to rename theses events shows a gross irresponsibility on behalf of the government to appropriately identify a movement amongst Islamic extremists of Middle Eastern descent that aims to provoke fear amongst a nation. The people of the United States will not feel less fearful when their office or subway train is blown to pieces by an enemy combatant simply because the event is referred to as a ‘man-caused’ disaster. By neglecting to refer to the event rightfully, the administration is lessening its importance and significance: No attack on American civilians or American soil should ever be viewed as anything other than with the utmost importance and significance.

There is great irony in the fact that the insurrection growing from within the White House seeks to ban a term that originally came to prominence during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror – a time when terrorism was used by opponents of the Revolution to describe organised, but unsophisticated, activities targeting the government in order to exercise the call for, and rebuke the trends of, an unpopular administration seeking to redefine the structure of that society. Well, today we have an administration in the White House whose popularity figures dropped more quickly within the first year of office than any other administration before it within at least the past 40 years (Schoen & Rasmussen 2009). This unpopularity coupled with the attempt to redefine the boundaries in which we designate our enemy activity only speaks to the administration’s attempt to control our thoughts and our actions. Terrorism has gone full circle: Crafted by a society’s activities to retaliate against a government seeking to repress its people and authoritatively impose ignorance, banning the term is now a wordsmith’s tool to steer the thought processes of a shaky administration’s unwilling constituents.

Terrorism – from the Latin terrere, which means “to frighten” – is defined by the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics as a pejorative term that identifies “life threatening actions perpetrated by politically motivated self-appointed sub-state groups” (McLean & McMillan, 2003). However, at its root, the fright imposed upon the American people by a sub-state group aiming to harm civilians, whether in post- or pre-9/11, is quite simply terrorism.  An administration within the United States cannot grant itself the authority to dictate the thoughts of a people. American citizens should not have to endure an assault on their civil liberties simply because an administration believes that the restriction of language will give way to the implication that society is safer because the pejorative ‘terrorism’ is banned, or because the effects of terrorism will be diminished by reallocating terms to describe it. Preparation, intelligence and defense of our nation will ensure the safety of our citizens – not an improvisation on the scope of lexicon. When an individual or sub-state group wreaks havoc on citizens, when an individual or sub-state group threatens the lives of the American people, when an individual or sub-state group propagates schisms within our country, it is up to the government to provide education and share knowledge, not provoke ignorance. We should broaden our arsenal of language allowing our people to be capable of communication, not remain docile as unelected members of the administration wage a war on our civil liberties.

Trust, but verify.

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