The War on Terror: Part II

   I know!  You can’t really declare war on a process for conducting war.  Terrorism is a tactic, not a country or international entity that we need to destroy.  But for more than ten years, the “War on Terror” has been the title of our efforts to defeat a set of Islamic Radicals who declared war on us more than ten years earlier.

These crazies not only declared war on us in the 1990’s, they started to attack us.  But you have to hit the Big Guy really hard to get his attention.  They managed to bomb the World Trade Center’s basement (how many of you remember that?), a couple of our Embassies, and one of our Navy ships, without us equating these obvious acts of war with an enemy.  It was not until this new enemy used modern high-tech stuff, commercial jetliners, as weapons, and managed to kill almost 3,000 US citizens in a single day, that we realized we had an enemy we’d better take seriously.

The problem was that this new enemy was not a nation-state, so it was very hard to characterize this new enemy.  We needed to go to war, but Afghanistan, where our attackers were located, was not the enemy – just a place where the crazy radicals lived.  Somehow we justified the Iraq war, and we have been chasing terrorists around the world for over a decade.

We have actually embraced three or four national strategies for combating terrorism.  One of the first strategies the US adopted was to push these international terrorists back into their countries of origin, where the problem could be treated as a law-enforcement issue…yes, I know that makes no sense.  Over the past decade, our strategy evolved to the current one, which is focused on finding and killing everyone identified as a leader, a leader “wannabe,” a leader could-be, or even just a courier associated with the bad guys.

In the early days, we captured these guys and questioned them by various means, seeking intelligence.  The residual political fallout from doing this has discouraged most politicians from considering this today.  Now, it is just easier to kill them.  Often, this is done remotely, using very high-tech Remotely Piloted Vehicles armed with really lethal missiles.  These tactics have succeeded in killing all but a very few of these international terrorists, including one who was a US citizen.

The question I pose today is:  Will this win the war?

In an article in Policy Review in August, 2003 (during the early days of the War on Terror), Frederick Kagan wrote, “It is a fundamental mistake to see the enemy as a set of targets.  The enemy in war is a group of people.  Some of them will have to be killed.  Others will have to be captured or driven into hiding.  The overwhelming majority, however, have to be persuaded.”

We have indeed destroyed most of the targets (people who were in charge) and captured those who could or would be in charge if given a chance.  Certainly we have driven all the others into hiding.  How are we doing on the job of persuading the rest of the Arab World, the vast majority, that those we killed were wrong and not worthy of support?

I think we have much work left.  I call it The War On Terror Part II: convincing the dissatisfied that we can help, vice the current view that we are bad and must be attacked.

Difficult, but if we can’t sell free will, freedom, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, equal opportunity….maybe these things aren’t worth believing in?

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Our world, “BI” and “AI”

    There is no question that everything has changed, is changing, or will change because of the Internet.

It is hard to imagine life without the constant connectivity available today.  But there was a time, only about 20+ years ago, when communicating with someone in India either meant a discussion with an operator or it meant mailing a written letter (remember those?) with lots of postage.  I have started calling that era Before the Internet, or BI.

Today, one can dictate a text or email to an iPhone, push a virtual button, and have your thoughts delivered to the other side of the globe within seconds.  (If you want to talk to someone in India, just call customer service at your favorite company!)  Modern, instantaneous, ubiquitous communications have revolutionized international business.  Companies have had to change entire organizational structures and approaches to accommodate this technology.  Mostly, the technology has streamlined and greatly improved efficiencies and products.  It has also generated its own challenges.  This new state of human affairs I call After the Internet, or AI.

So here is my current BI/AI list (please send me your additions):

BI                                                                   AI

One carried paper maps                              My phone, iPad, or car tells me when            to turn, or “make a legal u-turn”

 Guess that song was a test of memory       Shazam is really accurate!

Movie night at home involved VHS             Movie night involves Netflix

One read the Sunday papers for sales       One checks prices on the iPhone

Weather reports followed the News          Weather reports are pushed to users

Everyone on the beach had a
paperback                                                  Everyone carries Kindles

If your pocket buzzed, you
got strange looks                                       Everyone’s pocket/purse buzzes

Tweets were sounds made by birds           Tweets occupy too much of my life!

Facebook was another name for the          Facebook will soon go public for billions
FBI book of mug shots                                                more than they make!

Please send yours in!

Science fiction and the reality we live in

     In the 1960s and 1970s, the Star Trek TV series – and later, movies – portrayed a future where humans traveled faster than the speed of light, were transported from one place to another almost instantaneously, and carried handheld devices that allowed instant communication with anyone on a planet.  The crew members of the Enterprise also were treated in a medical facility where the entire body could be imaged, and handheld devices read vital signs to the doctors.

Twenty-five years later, we still cannot travel faster than the speed of light (of course, we have almost totally abandoned space travel research) and we cannot transport ourselves from one place to another, although physicists have demonstrated the science behind this possibility in the laboratory.

We do, however, have something like the “tricorder” from the Star Trek series.  In fact, our version of it, the iPhone, is far more capable and smaller than the one in the old TV show.  We also have body imaging and medical diagnostic technology far more advanced than that envisioned twenty-five years ago.

I know: cool, but what’s the point?  There are two points to be made.

One, we take all of these new capabilities and gadgets for granted, and act like it has always been this way.  The Current Status Quo is, “like, normal,” man.  Well, it isn’t normal.  It is far different than it was ten or twenty years ago: just ask someone over sixty!  These great changes in technological capability are happening so rapidly now that we have several generations of user expertise levels coexisting in our society at the same time.

Example:  I know people who still prefer to have just a phone:  yes, a cell phone, but without features.  They say smart phones are just too confusing.  They were really happy when cell phones came along and changed their lives, but they’re not ready for all the “bells and whistles.” Right next to them in the theater trying to watch a movie, while everyone else is buzzing or beeping, are Blackberry users who swear the ultimate in connectivity is email and phone service as represented by the 1995 technology in their pockets.  And of course, everyone else is using an iPhone or Android with the ability to watch TV or another movie while sitting with you in the theater.  There are also surely people out there who are only comfortable with a landline-touch-tone phone, but we don’t care as much about them, because there is no way they are reading this blog!

The second point is that we really should be thinking, and thinking really hard, about what will come next.  Surely it will be cooler and better than what we have now.  But it will also change our lives, society, the way we do business, etc.  Preparing for the next great technological advancement will require first a bit of vision to postulate what it will be, and them some thought as to what it will mean for us.  This type of science and technology forecasting is not in our nature, nor often practiced.  I would claim it is something worth considering.

The nation was greatly surprised in 1959 when the Soviets (remember them – before the Russians…or weren’t they Russian too?) put something in space before we could.  Scared us half to death, and spurred the ONLY commitment this country has ever had to space research and investment.

If we don’t take the time to think about what might come next and who might get there first, we are likely to be just as surprised again.

Hello and welcome to the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies CEO’s Blog!

     I will try very hard in these musings to describe some of the important science and technology policy issues that our world society is or should be dealing with.

First, what do we mean when we refer to science and technology policy?

Science and technology policy is about two things.  One is the discussion and formation of policy to help us deal with the ever-increasing spread of technology.  New technologies almost always affect society in both good and bad ways.  The best current examples are smart phones or Internet devices.  These wonderful inventions allow us to follow our children, get instant updates on events, track stocks, etc.  They can also be used to spy on us and provide unprecedented access to our children.  Clearly we need to develop, and are developing, policy and legislation to increase the good while limiting the bad.

The second type of science and technology policy is the use of science and scientific methods to analyze the options for development of public policy and legislation.  In other words, we think that good public policy should have rigorous science behind it, and that policy or law should not be based solely on the whims of one segment of the population.  This is difficult!

That is the theme, science and technology policy, and I will try to stay in that lane, but will surely run off the road from time to time.  So, here’s an invitation to join me on that ride.   I’ll spend a few minutes every other day or so discussing these issues, and as always – your feedback is more than welcome.

Mike Swetnam