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The war on terror and the Arab Spring - Input Junkie
June 17th, 2011
06:18 am

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The war on terror and the Arab Spring
I heard a piece on the BBC [1] about the effect the Arab Spring will have on the US ability to learn about terrorism. Basically, US intelligence [2] has been depending on the dictatorships for information. [3]

It was repeated several times by Americans that Americans couldn't gather their own information because of not knowing the local languages. As I understand it, even though we have many immigrants from the relevant countries-- people who know both the language and the culture-- they don't get jobs in intelligence because they are reflexively mistrusted. If you can't manage reasonably good judgement about who should be trusted, you shouldn't be running an intelligence service. If you can't believe that people might move to your country and be loyal to it, I call it a lack of national self-esteem, though it could also be filed under bigotry.

It was mentioned once that by outsourcing information-gathering to dictatorships, the information was gathered by torture and was almost entirely useless. As described in Torture and Democracy [4], the use of torture leads to the neglect of rational methods of investigation.

It was not mentioned that such policies cause rational anger at America. There was no discussion of whether realpolitik is actually practical.

It was repeated several times that America would not be able to gather information about the region for quite a while. At this point, I doubt that it will make a difference.


[1] I can't find it on their site-- I don't know whether it's not up yet, will never be posted, is not available in the US, or I haven't figured out how to search their site. In any case, I'm working from memory.

[2] If I didn't try to avoid cliches, I'd be using quote marks.

[3] See above.

[4] A long depressing account of the evolution of "no marks" torture. I got bogged down in the section on the spread of electrical torture. I should probably decide that even if I'm not geeky enough to love that part, I should read the rest of the book.

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From:madfilkentist
Date:June 17th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
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It's been worse. During World War I, courses in German were banned from many schools. I guess the theory is that if you know what the enemy is saying, you become like the enemy. Or (Big Brother's third principle) ignorance is strength. Or something.

Another point that could be made about dictatorships: They're likely to provide intentionally false information in order to harm their political enemies.
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 17th, 2011 12:51 pm (UTC)
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I think it's closer to "If you know how to talk like the enemy, you become like the enemy". If I'm right, it's a fear of contamination as much as a fear of influence.

I've been trying to pull together examples of how pervasive "concrete bound mentality" is-- that sort of prejudice would be a good example.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:June 17th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
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Physical appearance and clothing style are near the top of the list, of course. I'm not sure whether party affiliation counts as a concrete -- it's an easily defined label, at least -- and there's been a huge jump in condemning people just for their Democratic or Republican party affiliation compared to a decade ago. Last year I received a "no Republicans" invitation to a party. I said I wasn't a Republican but still preferred not to attend such a party.
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From:agrumer
Date:June 17th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
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If you know the enemy's language, you might talk to them yourself, or read their books and newspapers, and come to discover how much we're telling you about them is propaganda.

In the State Department, people who actually know anything about Arabic culture are often dismissed by the neoconservatives as "Arabists", because they have the knowledge to point out the flaws in the arguments that the neocons use to justify our wars.
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