Friday, September 30, 2011

Have fun in Russia, American journalists!

Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Ann Stock Travels to Moscow October 2-4 for Media Meeting of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission - Media Note, Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State: "Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Ann Stock will lead the United States’ delegation to a Media Sub-Working Group meeting of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) October 2-4 in Moscow. Assistant Secretary Stock and Russian Ambassador Mikhail Shvydkoy will open the meeting and deliver opening remarks on ways in which the United States and Russia may partner together to strengthen people-to-people exchanges

through education, culture, media, and sports.  During her visit, Assistant Secretary Stock also will meet with other Russian counterparts to advance the vital business of the Education, Culture, Sports, and Media Working Group, which she and Shvydkoy co-chair. Assistant Secretary Stock has assumed the authorities of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and will co-chair in this capacity. Dawn McCall, Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), and Mikhail Gusman, First Deputy Director General of the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, will host the second meeting of the BPC Media Sub-Working Group. Coordinator McCall and 11 media leaders from the United States, representing such institutions as the San Francisco Chronicle, Yahoo!News, the Newspaper Association of America, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the International Center for Journalists, and leaders of several U.S. schools of journalism, will continue the dialogue on the changing nature of the media arena

they started with their colleagues from Russia in Boston last March. They will hold sessions on the Business of Media, the Evolving Practice and Profession of Journalism, New Media Technologies, meet with journalism students from the Russian State Humanities University, and conduct a roundtable discussion on Ethics in Journalism. An agreement will be signed during the meeting for an exchange of 24 young journalists from each country in 2012 and 2013, funded and administered by the Knight Foundation, the International Center for Journalists, and the Union of Journalists of Moscow."  Above image from; below Image from

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chinese retro-public diplomacy

How I wish a bright graduate student with a background in Chinese culture/Chinese language would consider writing a paper on China's public diplomacy as an anachronistic "imitation" of US Cold War public diplomacy. The censorship-obsessed mainland authorities are following the USA Cold-War script, as they see it: "ideologically safe" international TV propaganda programs not offensive (above all) to the homeland leadership; "educational," i.e, "indoctrinating" cultural centers overseas; well-controlled people-to-people exchanges.

I'm simply amazed by how even intelligent commentators in the U.S. see Chinese PD as a "threat" to America -- it's more like an aged dinosaur, moaning and groaning, about to die because the social-media comet (pardon the bad metaphor) has crashed on Mother Earth.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Indonesia: why Facebook?

Indonesia: why Facebook? - Sarah Logan, Circuit: International Relations and Information Technology

(JB note: Good point about the impact of local conditions/traditions on the use of social media)

What drives Indonesia’s massive growth in social media use, especially Facebook? Indonesia has driven Facebook’s growth rates in the region and is one of Facebook’s top markets worldwide. This isn’t necessarily only a function of Indonesia’s size: Internet penetration as a whole remains relatively low and broadband speeds are still comparatively slow. Despite this, Indonesians have been amongst the fastest adopters of Facebook in the world, and the fastest in South East Asia. Whilst a small part of the overall Facebook growth story, Indonesia’s spectacular growth rate of 645% in 2008, beat India, Malaysia, China and Singapore, put the country at the very forefront of Facebook’s expansion into the region. The question is why. Some commentators suggest the rise of Facebook in Indonesia is due to its early introduction of more accessible mobile media platforms in a country where the fastest growing user base accesses the net by phone. However, most users in Indonesia still access the net from internet cafes – so this alone cannot explain such rapid growth.

Sociocultural factors emphasising network building could be an interesting factor. Indonesia has been at the forefront of social networking in South-East Asia since the mid-2000s. Some anthropologists argue Indonesian society exhibits cultural traits emphasising extensive network building and de-emphasising deep interpersonal relationships in small numbers. Facebook allows users to friend others they may only ‘know’ in the most abstract way, or even strangers, whereas Friendster restricted users to only friending people within four degrees of separation. Does this have anything to do with Facebook’s rise – at least over Friendster? Scholars suggest these network building practices are uniquely Indonesian – distinguished from other so-called collectivist societies by an emphasis on building networks with limited intimacy. Other cultures – such as South Korea’s – emphasise strong but less extensive networks. Indonesia also has the third highest number of Twitter users in the world, and Indonesians reportedly retweet more than they tweet. Does this say something about cultural proclivities for shallower but wider network building? Or is it just due to Indonesia’s Blackberry obsession? It is worth reiterating that it is probably not due to Indonesia’s size or comparative Internet access – indeed, despite Indonesia’s reputation as a social media hub and its increasingly vibrant startup culture, Google recently opened its first regional office in Malaysia, reportedly because of concerns about Indonesia’s digital infrastructure.

Interestingly, Facebook has yet to claim top spot in South Korea or Japan, where locally generated social networking sites dominate. Although Facebook is rising quickly in these markets, we can speculate that in these highly net-literate societies local cultural features influence user preferences for social networking sites. In Japan, for example, top locally generated sites allow users to anonymously interact with strangers online. Cyworld dominates in South Korea – it has a hometown advantage, having been introduced in 1999, before Facebook’s arrival in 2004. But some commentators suggest that South Korean’s preference for Cyworld is due to local aesthetic tastes and its privacy-heavy format, which prioritises the formation of closed groups, where Facebook favours a more open format.

Regardless of their accuracy, these musings may be relevant to IR theories of public diplomacy, given they suggest that digital diplomacy ought to be conducted with reference to local social networking preferences. They may also be relevant to scholars who debate the transnational impact of the Internet – implying that local cultural considerations influence Internet use.

More interestingly, Indonesia’s Facebook fascination may also have an impact on local politics, although this is understudied. Quite how – or whether – it interacts with the rules of political debate, political information sharing and calls to political action is as yet unknown. But surely the intense connectedness of a particular demographic – Indonesian Internet users are young, relatively educated, and proactively connected – must have some impact. What little research there is only raises more questions. If we admit the relativistic nature of Indonesian consumption of social media, it is not necessarily wise to transfer assumptions from other contexts.

For example, some scholars have found interesting links suggesting a high level of trust in internet-based news in some Sunni societies where state control of media is high. How does this work in a society such as Indonesia, where the press is now relatively free, after many years of suppression? Interestingly, some studies of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia have suggested that although the internet plays a strong role in reinforcing jihadi narratives, it is not enough to sway individual opinion—ie trust may exist, but is not enough to induce political action (although see recent events reported here).

Ultimately, and given the temptation to fetishise the impact of social media, are we assuming too much about the political impact of Indonesian values around connectedness and their expression in social media? As always, the simple fact of digital connection does not necessarily imply political action. Comments pointing readers to useful analyses of Indonesian’s media consumption habits, including the nature of Indonesian political debate online, are most welcome!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why are there no men in the below picture?

Leading D.C. Art Foundation Celebrates 25th Anniversary with Smithsonian's Archives of American Art Medal - The Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE): "The Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE), the leading non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the United States' image abroad through American art, announced today that the leaders of FAPE – Ann L. Gund, Jo Carole Lauder, Wendy W. Luers, Carol Price and Eden Rafshoon – will receive the Smithsonian Archives of American Art Medal on behalf of the organization at the Archives' Annual Benefit in New York City on October 25, 2011.

The award comes during FAPE's 25th Anniversary, and celebrates a quarter-century of FAPE's contributions of American art to the U.S. Department of State for display in U.S. embassies around the world. ... Ellen Phelan, artist and event chair, noted that, 'The Archives of American Art is very proud to honor the history and contributions of FAPE, a remarkable organization that steadfastly pursues a course of quiet cultural diplomacy for our country. This award could not have gone to a more distinguished organization working to support the American arts.'" Image of FAPE founders from

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Passé Public Diplomacy?

Allow me to repeat what I have been saying for years: That, as "public diplomacy" is increasingly becoming an instrument of, throughout the world, countries' foreign policy, especially among "emerging" powers, the United States, which coined the term/activity in the Cold-War mid-1960s is, gradually abandoning it. It is no wonder that there currently is only an "acting" Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department, at a time that India and China (among other countries) are pushing PD as an essential part of their international outreach.

I recall a British Embassy-sponsored dinner at a Georgetown restaurant, some years ago, to which I was kindly invited, with the topic of conversation "strategic communications." I sat next to an Obama administration official, a not-so-young social-media guru, proud to say that he was on the "seventh-floor" of the State Department. We chatted politely about foreign policy; but "public diplomacy" was Greek to him. It was all about "the new social media," his expertise. And why not? (I should note that when asked, by the British official who was the honored guest at the dinner, what I thought of strategic communications, I answered, perhaps too honestly, "an offense against the English language." And I had only drunk one glass of red wine).

As I follow China's "public diplomacy," I am convinced that its bureaucrats have read, as a blueprint of what they should do, Nicholas Cull's magisterial "The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989" word for word -- while being unaware of how much our world has changed in this new century. Or more accurately put, they are afraid to venture into the uncharted information territories created by our new century as there are no "instructions" for it. So, we have Confucius Institutes overseas and worldwide Chinese-government TV programs - while, at the same time, Internet "firewalls" on the Mainland.

The economic crisis in the U.S. has made Americans worried about their bills, not whether "they hate us" overseas, especially now that Osama Ben Laden is gone. Engagement, "smart power" are the Obama/Clinton buzzwords for overseas outreach, not "public diplomacy," which sounds oh-so-20th-century and is still incomprehensible/totally irrelevant to many economically struggling Americans. To left-leaning PD "experts" the term  also smacks of the Bush II-era, when "W" discovered, at a rather late date, that "hearts and minds" abroad could be an important factor in the so-called "war on terror."

Moreover, with PD now part of the State Department bureaucracy (The United States Information Agency, created at the height of the Cold War in 1953, was consolidated into the State Department in 1999; it was was supposedly "in charge" of public diplomacy until its elimination), PD is just another bureaucratic "function" (like issuing visas). Nothing special requiring a separate agency.

So, while PD is becoming increasingly passé, as a term and activity in the U.S., it is -- ironically -- fashionable among "emerging powers."  Advice for young people interested in international affairs: when you get, if you wish (rather than reading classics or studying foreign languages seriously) your M.A. in "Public Diplomacy" from an American learnery of "higher education" at tremendous cost, be sure to apply for an overseas job. You might even earn a decent salary, given the state of the dollar. I suggest your try North Korea.

Noteworthy Interview on Public Diplomacy with the Diplomatic Academy of Chile

Saturday, 24 September 2011
Interview with the Diplomatic Academy of Chile - Grassroot Diplomat

Diplomacy in Chile is perceived by the public as an eldery dignified gentleman who is engaged in dark backroom negotiations with others like him. Diplomacy is much more than negotiations and has certainly moved away from this stereotype, but very little is known about the conduct of diplomacy to ordinary citizens in Latin America.

As part of their public diplomacy agenda, the Chilean government has authorised the Diplomatic Academy of Chile to engage in dialogue with leaders of public diplomacy, and it was a great honour for Grassroot Diplomat to be invited for an interview.

On 2nd September 2011, Director of Grassroot Diplomat Talyn Rahman-Figueroa was invited to a podcast interview to learn more about the conducts of public diplomacy in the Western world. The interview was conducted by journalist Raimundo Gregoire based in Morocco. Here is the transcript of the interview.

Diplomatic Academy of Chile: What do you think about Public Diplomacy 2.0? Do you think that the government should put more emphasis in this new type of diplomacy?

Talyn Rahman-Figueroa: By public diplomacy 2.0, I believe you mean the use of diplomacy in the internet and social media age. Well, in the traditional sense, diplomacy has actively engaged one government with another. In traditional diplomacy, embassy officials will represent their government in a host country by maintaining relations and conducting business with the officials of the host government.

Public diplomacy, from my point of view, engages many diverse non-government elements of society, which brings the concept of diplomacy to a wider arena that is transparent and has better reach to the wider public.

I know diplomacy has a stereotype of being clandestine and highly elite, but public diplomacy will help to change the image of diplomacy in being more open about its engagements to the wider public and actually liaising with ordinary citizens. I do think governments need to try harder in engaging actively with the citizens they represent – but how much public diplomacy can do in reaching that objective, hmmmm - that’s questionable, but a good start nonetheless!

DAC: Are diplomats and governments well prepared in order to work in Public Diplomacy 2.0? Do you think that diplomats, politicians and governments really know what Public Diplomacy 2.0 is?

TRF: I’ll answer the second question first. A colleague of mine from the Diplomatic Academy of London did a study on the image of public diplomacy in Germany, and I remember her telling me that the diplomats in her country seemed unaware of what public diplomacy was. If diplomats don’t know what public diplomacy is, then how are embassies supposed to drive the concept of public diplomacy without guidance? It’s not going to work. There is a possibility that the term ‘public diplomacy’ will remain a buzz word unless diplomats and governments define exactly what public diplomacy is and how to utilise it.

Of course technology has helped to shape the modern world and in order for diplomats to be effective in a society where information is opulent, the practice of diplomacy must also embrace new media for the purpose of public diplomacy. However, I have noticed that governments are very awkwardly moving into the public diplomacy realm, sometimes unsure of how to use technology to support objectives of national interest for many reasons. Perhaps one way is for government officials to be fully informed of technological change and know-how so that they are prepared to work in public diplomacy. If governments are the last group to pick up Twitter and social media, then they won’t be very effective in influencing policy and shaping our future.

DAC: What about the mass audience, do they really know about Public Diplomacy 2.0? Is it important that they can know what it means or it's just an issue for diplomats, politicians and governments?

TRF: I think it’s fair to say that the general audience don’t even know what diplomacy is, which is why the very concept of ‘public diplomacy’ should be considered important. If embassies and governments are more open with what diplomats are doing for the good of the nation, people will become more aware of how our countries are being represented abroad and how ordinary citizens can rely on embassy officials when they are in a foreign country.

The only time a citizen will ever consider going to an embassy is if they are in some sort of legal trouble in a foreign country. Personally, I would go to a foreign embassy in London to learn more about another country that I have never visited before simply because I view these diplomats as experts of their country and it is important to acknowledge that. We need to ensure that diplomacy is much more than just national representation – it is about sharing culture, languages, cuisines, history – every country in the world have these things in common. Public diplomacy is that key to exploring the world of diplomacy from an accessible medium for everyone to enjoy.

DAC: Would you like to talk about good and bad examples about the use of Public Diplomacy 2.0 in governments and diplomatic bodies?

TRF: I think that public diplomacy is a new concept that many governments and diplomatic bodies are struggling to define, so it would be difficult to provide a solid example, good or bad. To accommodate the popular shift of social media, governments are now trying to shift their outreach campaigns to Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, but I’m unsure as to how much this is changing the image of diplomacy. I guess it’s too early to tell. But I’ve noticed that the British government is becoming much more open about exemplifying how the UK is operating in countries like Afghanistan, Libya, and other parts of the Middle East through Twitter feeds and interactive web features such as YouTube, often posting comments from our Foreign Secretary on current political issues that everyone seems to be talking about. Constant Tweets from the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office shows that the UK is active in hot spot areas and are actively working with other countries to reduce tension. This is a good first step because public diplomacy opens up to non-governmental organisations and individuals that have traditionally been left out of the conversation.

I guess a bad example of public diplomacy would be the Wikileaks fiasco in November 2010, where many official and private diplomatic cables were unofficially published online. This was a major breach of trust and caused many problems and unnecessary embarrassment between nations. I don’t think it is necessary for everything to be made open to the public domain. We’re currently suffering from information overload, so I do think it is wise to be strategic on what information is shared to the public and leave other information private and between officials only.

DAC: What do you think about concepts such as e-government and open-government?

TRF: I’m finding it very hard not to say that they aren’t just buzz words.

E-government is short for electronic government which is a form of digital interaction I guess between a government and its citizens through the use of the internet and the World Wide Web. Open government, in my opinion, is exactly what the title says – the government being open and breaking down the culture of secrecy by sharing information online with the public. These are necessary steps and of course such openness can help analysts, NGOs and academics do their job.

In the UK we have something called the Freedom of Information Act which means that the public can request any official information from the government to be released to them. This is certainly a form of open-government that the British government had introduced back in the year 2000 and it is something that other governments should perhaps consider.

DAC: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using social media in diplomacy, policies and governments?

TRF: I think social media is a demon and a blessing for diplomacy. It is a demon because ordinary citizens now have the power to post real time to a worldwide audience even before local or national authorities know about it.

The London riot is a good example of this. Using social media, disgruntled young people planned areas in which they would start a riot and called upon other young people to join them. Unfortunately local authorities in the UK were slow to pick up on this ‘open’ information and failed to deal with the riots as effectively as those who follow social media.

Even though social media has opened up dialogue, tracking this vast amount of information has become difficult and many wonder whether diplomats are becoming redundant in their field, considering that diplomats are traditionally relied upon for collecting information and forwarding this to the elite. I don’t think that social media makes diplomacy redundant because diplomacy, and governance for that matter, still operates within an elite garden where ordinary citizens have no access to, and I doubt that Heads of States and royal figures will spend their time Tweeting and reading information from this social media avenue before speaking to their own designated representatives first.

On the other hand, social media has become an effective tool for officials to use to engage with audiences from around the world. During his president candidacy, Barack Obama used social media to tap into the hidden market to engage voters with his policies and personality. This method of public interaction was truly innovative, particularly in politics and people felt as though Mr Obama was speaking to individuals directly. People who were using social media were – for the first time- able to personally connect with an elite figure and no longer felt alienated from the political discussion. I think that is quite revolutionary.

DAC: How do you see Public Diplomacy in the next 10 or 20 years? How do you imagine world diplomacy in the future?

TRF: One of two things will happen. Either Public Diplomacy will change the face of diplomacy, or nothing will change at all. If people cared about something, they will get involved, but if they cannot make the connection between issues and how it affects their personal life, people will take no interest in the issue at all.

I think Public Diplomacy is an area where people take very little interest in because authorities have failed to make a personal connection between the lives of ordinary citizens, and the way in which diplomats operate. You may say that diplomats are essential in driving the economy of our country because they secure international policies and trading agreements with countries who buy goods from our country, but as an ordinary citizen, people cannot see how a diplomat negotiating a treaty helps them bring food to their table. For Public Diplomacy to make an impact on ordinary citizens, there must be a common link between the two, and non-government organisations and charities, such as the Red Cross and Save the Children, are good at doing that because they compare the lives of ordinary citizens, who have clean running water and strong laws, against a country who still does not have a water irrigation system that produces clean water and has weak laws that ensure basic human rights of its citizens.

In reference to your second question, I imagine world diplomacy to take into consideration the work of grassroots organisations and individuals who dedicate all of their free time to make a world a better place. There isn’t enough knowledge sharing between political leaders and civil society, and as a Grassroot Diplomat, I have made it my mission to close that gap. I believe that NGOs have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in areas that governments are craving for. If there was better communication and interaction between the two, I think the government can save themselves a lot of time and taxpayers money spent on research and development in policy and strategy planning. Great work is being done already by people who have a passion in the area they have dedicated their lives to and I think more needs to be done to acknowledge that.

DAC: What can you say about United Kingdom policies in Public Diplomacy, e-government, etc?

TRF: The UK government is quite advanced in its Public Diplomacy policies compared to many other countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has its own Digital Diplomacy department as part of its Public Diplomacy initiative and is actively involved in using social media to influence and engage the general public in policy affairs and providing useful travel information as well.

The FCO understands the 24 hour news culture that our generation has become used to and utilises social media to ensure that there is a constant flow of information and dialogue from audiences around the world. Actually I think the UK is stepping up its game now in its public diplomacy strategy because of the recent Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, the 2012 Olympic Games which will be held in London next year, and the bid to back England’s World Cup tournament for 2018. As you can imagine, sports and culture is a huge part of public diplomacy as it helps to transcend cultural differences and brings people together, and considering Britain’s diverse society, the government recognises Public Diplomacy as an important element of engaging like-minded audiences and bringing people closer together. I think South Africa was very quick to pick up its pace on its Public Diplomacy initiative having hosted the African Cup of Nations in 1996, the Cricket World Cup in 2003, the Rugby World Cup in 2007, and more recently the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Sports diplomacy is a powerful element of Public Diplomacy and diplomats, governments and embassies work very hard to ensure that security is heightened to reduce tension and trouble during such large events.

DAC: In few words, could you describe how has been the diplomacy of: EU, EE.UU. Israel, Palestina, Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America?

TRF: That’s a lot of countries to describe in a few words and in this short time, I will only mention a few that I am aware of.

Even though diplomacy is about representing ones country and interest abroad, what exactly that national interest is can define the way in which diplomacy is practiced by different countries. In countries like China, India and Japan, trade and economics is the most influential diplomatic route for them to build relationships with other countries. For example, countries like the US and the UK will want remain good allies with Japan and China because of export and trading links developed between them.

In regards to Latin America, I think there is now a high level of consciousness and awareness of how important the issue of environmental diplomacy is, both nationally and internationally for Latin America, especially after the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and more recently the Climate Change COP16 summit held in Mexico last year. Such events has served as a benchmark for great climate diplomacy between Latin America and global partners like South Africa, the US and Japan in conveying the urgency of the environmental issue.

I know that the African Union as a continental diplomatic body is very vocal in issues that directly affects African nations and has strong solidarity in international summits and meetings which make them a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, I have not seen the same for groups like ASEAN, which is the Association of Southeast Asian Networks. They have been quiet during climate change negotiations, have not been vocal to protect neighbours like Burma and need to work harder in implementing human rights policies.

DAC: And what about the diplomacy in the actual changes in the Arab countries?

TRF: I don’t have much knowledge about the diplomacy in Arab countries but I know that the US and the UK have actively been trying very hard to use Public Diplomacy as a means to win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim World through 2.0 medium, particularly after the war on Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan. Western powers believe that public diplomacy has the potential to win over the war on terror and is necessary to breakdown stereotypes often created and spiralled out of control by the media. So, public diplomacy is good for both Western and Arab nations. Open communication can show that Americans are tolerant to the governance of Arab nations and are willing to listen and co-operate with non-Israeli allies, just as Arab nations can demystify the ugly view that Muslims are terrorists and believe in the Holy War.

DAC: What about the issue with Turkey?

TRF: Well, when I think of Turkey, I think of its membership candidacy with the European Union. As you may know, the European Union is an influential diplomatic body which has great authority in influencing international policies of its member states. Turkey has been a candidate to the join the EU for quite some time now, but the membership bid has been a controversial issue for them. A criterion that all member states must satisfy in order to be admitted into the EU is that the country must be in a position to implement all of the EU’s laws and regulations. This includes opening up trading routes such as air and naval passages to other EU members.

The problem with Turkey is that it refuses to officially recognise Cyprus as a nation and I would like to remind you that Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004. Turkey's non-recognition of Cyprus has led to complications within the Customs Union because under this agreement which Turkey has already signed, Turkey is obliged to open its ports to Cypriot planes and vessels. I think the European Union will certainly benefit from Turkey as a member especially in light of the economic crisis - Turkey has an accelerated rate of economic development and can drive economic growth for the EU in whole, particularly after the financial crash of Ireland and Greece, but the EU cannot and will not accept Turkey if it continues to ignore Cyprus.

DAC: Finally, I would like that you explain what is Grassroot?

TRF: Grassroot is a movement and solidarity of people joined for political causes. This movement exists because there is a wide gap between ordinary citizens and political leaders which is the result of many demonstrations, revolts and unrest in countries across the world. The lack of understanding of the needs of citizens from government is a root cause of several key social problems that are current in the UK. The government insist that they are listening to its people, but as the London riots have proven, young people feel marginalised and invisible in British society and felt they had no other way to divulge their frustration to a lack of job, education and poverty alleviation other than to violently revolt and participate in appalling criminal acts.

My company, Grassroot Diplomat, recognises and understands the gap between civil society and political leaders, and as a political consultation group, we provide recommendations to diplomats, governments, non-government organisations and individuals on how to strengthen their mission, better reach their target audience and build partnerships in closing the communication gap. We help groups and individuals who are looking to reach high level decision makers and institutions like the United Nations to develop their project, particularly with those working in policy and grassroots projects. Political systems urgently requires deep transformation and Grassroot Diplomat aims to deliver solutions in partnering non-government groups with official government bodies and be open to public diplomacy avenues.

DAC: Which are the main goals and risks of your project?

TRF: Not all of the projects that Grassroot Diplomat takes on can be taken seriously by leading multilateral organisations, not because the project isn’t important but it is a matter of prioritisation. One day climate change may be the most important political agenda, which will be great for an organisation looking to grow its project on algae biodiversity for example, but if the political agenda should suddenly shift to the economic crisis this will threaten the relevance of the biodiversity project. The way I like to tackle such risks is to find direct links to current political agendas to ensure that the projects we work on for clients are as close to being relevant to the current political agenda as possible so that our clients are moving forward with their project and are able to find at least one influential decision-maker who will consider looking at their project in more detail.

I understand that there is always going to be conflicts of interests in what we do, and I am not going to pretend that it is easy to bridge the gap between civil society and political leaders but as long as we try hard in making this a reality for our clients, we will continue to achieve our mission in bridging that communication gap.
Posted by Talyn Rahman at 13:13

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Serfs and Slaves

September 16, 2011, 9:30 pm
‘No Language Like Song’

Frederick Douglass spent much of his life speaking about the hardships of slavery — but even he, at times, realized that words were not enough. Instead, he turned to music: “The mere hearing of [slave] songs,” he said, revealed the “physical cruelties of the slave system; for the heart has no language like song.” Today, spirituals like “Go Down, Moses” and “God’s Going to Trouble the Water” continue to convey American slaves’ anguish, frustration and hope.

Less familiar to Americans, however, is the music of Russia’s serfs, who were emancipated in 1861, on the eve of President Lincoln’s inauguration. Although the slaves and serfs were separated by vast distances and significant historical experiences, each group endured years of bondage by turning to song. Likening the songs of Russian serfs to those of American slaves, early 20th-century actor and slave descendent Paul Robeson observed that both groups had “an instinctive flair for music … [a] faculty born in sorrow.” But their musical traditions have striking differences, too — differences that help us understand the contrasts between the two systems.

Common types of American slaves’ songs include work songs, sacred spirituals and social songs, a category comprised of narratives, ballads and dance songs. Pre-20th-century Russian folk songs consist of ritual songs, which relate to changing seasons or holidays, and family ceremonial songs, sung during weddings or funerals. Serfs also sang non-ritual songs, which included all other types of folk music, like historical epics, dance songs and work songs.

Both groups sang work songs as they labored in the fields; for both, such songs moderated the pace of labor. When African-American slaves hoed corn, for example, they sang songs like “Shock Along John” and “Round the Corn Sally.” These tunes, found in the 1867 volume “Slave Songs of the United States,” contain only two lines per verse and are repetitive and cadenced. In the hayfields, Russian serfs sang rhythmic pokos, or hay-making songs, to regulate the movement of their scythes.

The synchronization of action through song was crucial for physically challenging tasks. In Russia, groups of 50 to 125 serfs were harnessed to boats and forced to pull them upriver. A brutal job, barge-hauling was despised by all. Serfs endured this work by singing a song known as the “Song of the Volga Boatmen,” or “Hey, Ukhnem.” “Ukhnem” translates to the English equivalent of “heave-ho,” and comes from the “ukh” sound that serfs made with each collective tug. As the serfs pulled in unison, this song coordinated their efforts.

American slaves employed song in a parallel way as they rowed together. In early-19th-century Savannah, the observer John Lambert recorded that four slaves rowed “to a boat-song of their own composing. The words were given out by one of them, and the rest joined the chorus. … The tune of this ditty was rather monotonous, but had a pleasing effect, as they kept time with it at every stroke of their oars.”

Such songs were an integral part of the serfs’ and slaves’ daily lives. Music served both a practical and a creative purpose as it helped slaves labor in unison and entertained them during, as one serf described it, the “heavy, monotonous work [that] much dulled [the] mind.” Nineteenth-century observers noted the exceptional musical talent of both groups when they sang, danced or played musical instruments. The serfs and slaves each performed solo and group songs, employed forms of call and response, and danced as they sang.

Differences in sound were marked, however: American slaves created songs with complex overlapping rhythms that were enhanced by vocal performances of swooping, moaning and shouting, while Russian folk music was characterized by its dissonant heterophony and deep, resonant sound.

The content differed as well. Both groups drew strength from their Christian faith in times of anguish and joy. The lyrics and style of Protestant hymns were well-known to slaves, who sometimes attended church with their masters or participated in camp meetings. Blending African and Western musical traditions, however, American slaves created wholly original songs – spirituals – that are filled with religious language, symbols and ideas.

Rephrasing stories from the Old Testament in spirituals like “Go Down, Moses,” slaves linked their bondage to that of the Israelites in Egypt. Inspired by New Testament stories as well, slaves sang spirituals like “Run to Jesus,” “I am Bound for the Promised Land” and “Steal Away,” which brought slaves hope of salvation in the mortal world and the divine.

Barely concealed messages lay embedded within the lines of these songs. In “Go Down, Moses,” slaves sang: “No more shall they in bondage toil,/Let my people go;/Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil,/Let my people go.” Other spirituals like “Steal Away” functioned as direct invitations to flee. Phrases like “I hain’t got long to stay here./Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus” served as a signal for potential runaway slaves. Christianity helped American slaves create a body of music that was both spiritually elevating and powerfully subversive, offering hope of heavenly peace or earthly escape.

The serfs’ ritual songs, on the other hand, anticipated the occurrence of events or marked holidays and seasonal changes. For example, folk songs sung during Maslenitsa, or Shrovetide, the week-long period preceding Lent, contain themes of nature and fertility. In the song “We’re Waiting for Maslenitsa,” serfs sang: “We’re waiting for Maslenitsa,/We’re waiting, my dear, we’re waiting./We’ll treat ourselves with cheese and butter,/we’ll treat, my dear, we’ll treat./On the hill stands a green oak tree,/A green oak tree, my dear, a green oak tree.” During their celebration, serfs feasted on special foods as they prayed for the swift arrival of spring, with its green oaks and abundant flowers.

One fascinating difference between slaves’ spirituals and serfs’ sacred folk songs is that while American slaves often sang about escape or emancipation, Russian serfs rarely did. According to the Russian scholar V. Ja. Propp, the number of songs that addressed the travails of serfdom was almost negligible when compared to the vast array of other types of folk songs.

What accounts for this surprising difference? Surely serfs did not prefer to remain enslaved? For one thing, serfs may have been hesitant to share subversive music with transcribers, or tsarist censorship might have prevented the publication of such music.

A more convincing answer is that a “free North” did not exist for the 23 million serfs who composed 40 percent of the Russian nation in 1860. Serfdom was concentrated in Russia’s central and western provinces, but was legal throughout. Deterrents to serfs who considered flight included both the great distance from central Russia to its borderlands, where serfdom was less common, and the threat of capture once there. The Yale scholar John MacKay argues that an absence of sectionalism in Russia accounts for a general lack of an idea of a “land of liberty” in serf consciousness. Perhaps serfs viewed acts of insubordination or rebellion as more viable alternatives to escape; the existence of several Russian folk songs praising serf uprisings supports this theory.

By contrast, slaves comprised approximately 13 percent of the American population in 1860, where slavery was legal in only about half the country. Viewing the free Northern states and Canada as viable safe havens, slaves sang more frequently about escape than insurrection, revealing their abiding desire to “steal away” to a concrete destination where other blacks lived freely under the protection of law.

Each group’s musical heritage was as unique as its conditions of bondage. Although Russian serfs and American slaves employed work songs in comparable ways, American slaves were singularly inspired to sing of their desire for earthly and heavenly escape. But for both groups, music ultimately served as a shared outlet of expression. Their songs were, in the words of Douglass, “like tears … a relief to aching hearts.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Free Market Exposure (on the state of photography in Russia)

Free Market Exposure

By WILLIAM MEYERS, Wall Street Journal  Sept 14

Fine-art photography is a business: Artists need markets to sell their photographs so they can continue to make art. This is true, too, in the former Soviet Union, where markets of all sorts are a recent innovation. That there are photographers who want to establish themselves was evident last month when the Iris Foundation, a Russian nonprofit, funded a portfolio review here conducted by the Houston-based FotoFest organization.

FotoFest co-director Fred Baldwin says 2,396 artists—from Siberia, Belarus, Ukraine and points in between—applied for the 180 available slots. The winners had the privilege of having their photographic projects critiqued by an international assortment of curators, gallery owners, teachers, and book and magazine publishers—people who could further the artists' careers if impressed by their work.

The atmosphere in the historic Garage Center for Contemporary Culture during the week of reviewing was intense, as photographers showed reviewers their desolate landscapes and wasted people, in black and white and in color, in many sizes and all different styles. But one question hung over the proceedings: How were those photographers who have their talent certified going to make their careers?

A photo book helps establish a photographer's reputation, and among the reviewers was Leonid Gusev, who gave up active participation in his successful advertising agency in 2003 to found Treemedia, the only independent publisher in Russia devoted exclusively to photography books. Mr. Gusev is proud of the 11 books he has so far managed to bring out, including World Press Photo prize-winner Sergey Maximishin's "The Last Empire: 20 Years After." But there are no printers of quality photography books in Russia, so Mr. Gusev prints his books in Germany or Turkey and imports them at great cost. And since distributors in Russia are unreliable, Mr. Gusev delivers his books to retail stores himself, and also sells them online. Press runs are small, profits elusive, and he picks new books cautiously.

Photography, like any fine art, needs a sophisticated audience. Helping to spur the development and understanding of the art is the Moscow House of Photography, which moved into its impressive new building last year. The motivating force (and "force" is the right word) at MHP is Olga Sviblova, a voluble blonde in black Prada jeans who in the late 1980s began curating Russian art exhibitions in Russia and abroad. Before that she and her poet husband had been part of Russia's clandestine bohemian underground; she sustained herself for six years by working as a street sweeper. The organization she now presides over was built with help from France's photography institutions but is maintained by the city. It has an important archive of 100,000 Russian photographs.

During the summer, the exhibitions at MHP included "From the History of Russian Photography: The Russian Photographic Society (1890-1930)—Union of Photographic Artists of Russia (since 1991)" and "More Than Fashion: Photographs From the F.C. Gundlach Collection." The first show fulfills one of the mandates Ms. Sviblova set for MHP, which is to educate her people about their own artistic heritage: One floor featured mostly soft-focus and sentimental pictorialist work from the first period, and on another floor photojournalism from the second. The museum's ambitious publication program is intended to serve this same end.

Another of Ms. Sviblova's mandates was to expose the Russian people to the best of international photography: "More Than Fashion" includes images by Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, George Hoyningen-Huene, Zoe Leonard, Leon Levinson and Wolfgang Tillmans. Ms. Sviblova also established a school and a series of exhibitions and competitions—to identify, cultivate and promote local talent. She is determined that contemporary Russian photographers will produce something more valuable than Soviet-era "mythology."

In another part of Moscow, a commercial enterprise works to the same end. The Winzavod Contemporary Art Center is a warren of galleries, boutiques and cafes carved into an old red-brick winery. Larisa Grinberg's opened there in 2007, and it serves as the office for her agency and book-publishing ventures as well. She has pale blue eyes and, like Ms. Sviblova, a deep sense of the past: the early experimental photography of Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky in the 1920s, the heroic war photography of Dmitri Baltermants and Yevgeny Khaldei during World War II, and the gray postwar decades when no foreign photo books or magazines were allowed into Russia. When some books of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs slipped in from Riga in the '70s, they created a craze for "decisive moment" photography. Now everything is permitted—nudes are no longer considered illegal "pornography"—but photographers must compete against international standards.

In October Ms. Grinberg and Schilt Publishing of Amsterdam will publish Sergey Chilikov's "Selected Works 1978-." Ms. Grinberg represents Mr. Chilikov, a nonconformist photographer approaching the age of 60, whose early photography in his native Yoshkar-Ola region emphasized the sensuality of ordinary people. As with most of Ms. Grinberg's other artists, Mr. Chilikov's works sell better abroad than at home.

To help develop knowledgeable Russian collectors, Ms. Grinberg produces a meticulous press release for each of her gallery shows, and this season she will sponsor two lectures: Gallerist Sergei Popov will talk about collecting modern photography, and Alexei Loginov, of the Russian Humanitarian State University, will explain why prints cost as much as they do. Ms. Grinberg knows that an artist like the talented landscape photographer Alexander Gronsky, to pick just one of the young people on her list, would be better appreciated and more successful financially if the native market were as sophisticated as those elsewhere.

For an art to flourish, certain necessary elements must be connected. Evgeny Berezner, the chain-smoking official in the Ministry of Culture responsible for photography, is concerned that Russia lacks the networks necessary for photographers to find their audience. Mr. Berezner is familiar with the infrastructure of museums, commercial galleries, schools, critics, magazines and Internet sites that nurture artists in New York, Paris and elsewhere. He served as Head of Project for the portfolio review in the hope that contacts made here would develop into institutions. Irina Chmyreva, a photo historian, teacher and Mr. Berezner's assistant, said that before the review most photographers knew each other only online, if at all: Now they had finally met "eyes to eyes." Mr. Baldwin, from FotoFest, said he heard that plans for several blogs were under way.

The morning after the portfolio review, I met one of the reviewers, Jim Casper, editor of the popular Paris-based magazine Lens Culture, in the lobby of our hotel. I asked him what he thought of the photographers overall. He said he thought it was interesting that their work showed so little influence of trends elsewhere in the world. Maybe it was from lack of exposure; they were working hard and finding their own ways. Now Mr. Casper's dilemma was figuring out which of those photographers he had seen would be published in Lens Culture.

Mr. Meyers writes on photography for the Journal. See his work at the website

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Americana: our 9/11-era in Elkader, Iowa

Couscous and Cultural Diplomacy - "Andrea Wenzel takes us to Elkader, Iowa — a town named after a 19th century Algerian jihadist — and home to an Algerian-American restaurant run by a gay couple. Elkader, Iowa (population 1,500) is a town with an unusual namesake — American settlers named it after the Algerian jihadist and anti-colonialism fighter Abd al-Qader in 1846. This story charts the efforts of an openly gay Algerian man and his partner

as they create an Algerian-American restaurant on Main Street—and wrestle with cultural adaptation, American identity, and small town politics." Image from, with caption: Schera's Restaurant and Bar, Elkader, Iowa

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mosque Diplomacy

Note to readers: As someone who served as a US Foreign Service officer in the Balkans in 1995-98, I find this piece of special interest. Please note the below parenthetical observation on Pristina.

Ahmet Davutoğlu conducts ‘mosque diplomacy’ in Balkans -

A three-nation tour to Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania earlier this week has exposed a different aspect within the proactive and comprehensive foreign policy conducted by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu: mosque diplomacy.

The warm atmosphere as Davutoğlu spoke with people at the Fatih Sultan Mosque in Pristina and the Sinan Paşa Mosque in Prizren was not overshadowed by any nationalistic discourse from people of the region or local administrators.

Davutoğlu, while in Kosovo, performed terawih prayers in Pristina [where yours truly, per instructions from Washington, assisted in establishing an American  Cultural Center in the mid-90s], and Prizren as well as in Mostar, a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina famous for its Old Bridge. On top of that he performed the Eid prayer at Sarajevo’s Gazi Husrev Bey Mosque. In Constanta, Romania, he performed a noon prayer at the historic Hünkar Mosque, where he also exchanged best wishes for Eid al-Fitr with residents of the city.

Davutoğlu’s way of conducting relations with different segments of society in the countries he has been visiting marks a bold difference when compared to foreign ministers assigned to the post before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came into power in 2002. Before 2002, foreign ministers used to only meet with Turkish associations. Through contacts with local residents at mosques, Davutoğlu is able to build a closer relationship with people who are familiar with Turkish culture via the legacy of the Ottoman Empire in the region.

Davutoğlu’s visit to the region came at a time when media in the region revisited the assumptions that the Turkish government has been pursuing a “neo-Ottoman” foreign policy in the Middle East and the Balkans, former territories of the Ottoman Empire until the 20th century. The fact that Davutoğlu’s visit to the region follows separate visits by two deputy prime ministers and two ministers further strengthened these assumptions.

Nevertheless, the warm atmosphere as Davutoğlu spoke with people at the Fatih Sultan Mosque in Pristina and the Sinan Paşa Mosque in Prizren was not overshadowed by any nationalistic discourse from people of the region or local administrators.

Mosques have become places that link the region to Turkey despite prejudices against Turks. These prejudices appear to be reminiscent of the communist era in the region, during which people were indoctrinated with anti-Ottoman propaganda. Religion naturally shows itself as one of the most important common features between the region and Turkey.

In conversations with people or speeches delivered to the residents following prayers at mosques in the region, Davutoğlu went to great lengths to use a positive language which highlights the importance of integration under the roof of the European Union. The EU membership process will turn the region into a zone of stability and peace, Davutoğlu constantly underlined in these speeches. He said the region can build a common future based on its common history and heritage.

While in Pristina Davutoğlu said he believed that the emerging label of “neo-Ottoman” for Turkish efforts in the Balkans stems from the unease some felt in the face of Turkey’s influence in the region, and the label is being used as a tool to spread fear about Turkey’s motives in the country.

Davutoğlu indicated that Turkey’s increasing role in the region as an intermediary and as a policymaker have triggered reactions from some, encouraging them to dub Turkish efforts as neo-Ottoman moves. The foreign minister said he found it “only natural,” given Turkey’s increased visibility in the Balkans.

“I see mixed reactions, both good and ill-natured,” Davutoğlu said, as he clarified that he vehemently opposed claims of a neo-Ottoman mindset at every opportunity.

“Some use the term specifically to invoke fear and feelings of ‘getting even’ to minimize our increasing influence in the Balkans,” Davutoğlu suggested, elaborating that the real source of the uneasiness lay in Turkey’s role in establishing relations between countries in the region, including those between Serbia and Bosnia and Turkey, helping them address issues and open cases from the past “which people thought would never be opened again.”

Also addressing the frequency of his visits to the region in the last two years, Davutoğlu offered that “no such [frequency of] activity was seen before,” and that the fast-paced dialogue created an excuse for remarks of neo-Ottoman motives on behalf of Turkey, but that the people on the street were welcoming Turkey’s role in their region.

The restoration of mosques carried out by the Foundation of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet Vakfı) and the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) constitute solid ground for Davutoğlu’s public diplomacy in the Balkans.

The Fatih Sultan Mosque in Pristina, the Sinan Paşa Mosque in Prizren and the Hünkar Mosque in Constanta were all Ottoman-era mosques restored by Turkey.

People in the region highly appreciate the fact that a Turkish foreign minister is standing in the line with them at mosques and praying. The timing of the latest Balkan tour by Davutoğlu, which coincided with Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, was also a fortunate circumstance for conducting mosque diplomacy.

In addition to Turkish schools in the region, there are five branches of the Yunus Emre Cultural Center, two of which were personally inaugurated by Davutoğlu in Pristina and Prizren this week. With more Turkish schools and Turkish cultural centers, the number of Turkish-speakers will increase in number and constitute a significant ground for the improvement of Turkey’s communication with people in the region.


Muhabir: Celİl Sağır

A decade after the 9/11 attacks, Americans live in an era of endless war

A decade after the 9/11 attacks, Americans live in an era of endless war
By Greg Jaffe, Published: September 4 Washington Post

This is the American era of endless war.

To grasp its sweep, it helps to visit Fort Campbell, Ky., where the Army will soon open a $31 million complex for wounded troops and those whose bodies are breaking down after a decade of deployments.

The Warrior Transition Battalion complex boasts the only four-story structure on the base, which at 105,000 acres is more than twice the size of Washington, D.C. The imposing brick-and-glass building towers over architecture from earlier wars.

“This unit will be around as long as the Army is around,” said Lt. Col. Bill Howard, the battalion commander.

As the new complex rises, bulldozers are taking down the last of Fort Campbell’s World War II-era buildings. The white clapboard structures were hastily thrown up in the early 1940s as the country girded to battle Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. Each was labeled with a large letter “T.” The buildings, like the war the country was entering, were supposed to be temporary.

The two sets of buildings tell the story of America’s embrace of endless war in the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001. In previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.

Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into “a period of persistent conflict,” according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security. “No one should harbor the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future,” the document concludes.

By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive. The new view of war and peace has brought about far-reaching changes in agencies such as the CIA, which is increasingly shifting its focus from gathering intelligence to targeting and killing terrorists. Within the military the shift has reshaped Army bases, spurred the creation of new commands and changed what it means to be a warrior.

On the home front, the new thinking has altered long-held views about the effectiveness of military power and the likelihood that peace will ever prevail.

In the decades after Vietnam, the U.S. military was almost entirely focused on training for a big, unthinkable war with the Soviet Union. There were small conflicts, such as Grenada, Panama and the Persian Gulf War, but the United States was largely at peace.

After the Soviet collapse and America’s swift Gulf War victory, the military bet that it would be able to use big weapons and vastly better technology to bludgeon enemies into a speedy surrender. It envisioned a future of quick, decisive and overwhelming victories.

A decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has crushed the “smug certainties” of that earlier era, said Eliot Cohen, a military historian who served in the George W. Bush administration.

When war is ‘normal’

Most soldiers and Marines in today’s military have seen their entire careers consumed by combat. During last year’s 9/11 anniversary, Lt. Col. Christopher M. Coglianese accompanied his second-grade daughter on her school’s annual Freedom Walk outside Fort Hood, Tex.

“Basically the whole student body walks around the grounds of the school wearing patriotic garb and carrying signs about freedom,” Coglianese recalled in an e-mail from Iraq, where he is on his third tour.

The children in his daughter’s Skipcha Elementary School class proudly told him how many times their fathers had deployed and where they had fought.

“To be honest there was a certain surrealism about it,” Coglianese wrote. “For this very small slice of American children this way of life is completely normal.”

Coglianese believes the separations have forced military children to develop “a strength, maturity and resilience well beyond their years.”

The long stretch of war has also isolated the U.S. military from society. Senior Army officials worry that career soldiers have forgotten how to take care of their troops outside the war zones. A 2010 Army study partially blamed the service’s unusually high suicide rate on the “lost art of leadership in garrison.”

Other top military officials fret that the troops are developing a troubling sense that they are better than the society they serve.

“Today’s Army, including its leadership, lives in a bubble separate from society,” wrote retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in an essay for the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine. “This splendid military isolation — set in the midst of a largely adoring nation — risks fostering a closed culture of superiority and aloofness. This must change if the Army is to remain in, of, and with the ever-diverse peoples of the United States.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have not had the broad cultural impact of previous conflicts such as World War II or Vietnam. The new wars have not produced war bonds, internment camps, victory gardens or large-scale counterculture protests. Movies about these fights have largely flopped.

The endless conflict, however, has triggered major changes in the way Americans view war and peace. Call of Duty, a series of video games, offers up a fun-house-mirror reflection of this new understanding of conflict. Each year more than 30 million people play the game, according
to its manufacturer, Activision Blizzard.

Early versions of the game were set in World War II and largely paralleled real-world events. As American troops hurtled toward Baghdad in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, Call of Duty players controlled virtual soldiers fighting to liberate European cities from a fascist dictator.

The popularity of the series truly soared in 2009 with the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which portrayed a very different kind of war.

Modern Warfare 2 begins in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are locked in a long, bloody struggle with the Taliban.

“We are the most powerful force in the history of the world,” an American general bellows at his soldiers. “Every fight is our fight.”

From there the game veers into the sensational. A terrorist attack at a Russian airport triggers a global war between the United States and Russian ultranationalists. Game players battle Russian soldiers in the Washington suburbs and fire missiles from Predator drones. In a Russian airport scene, the players are made to take part in a slaughter of innocent civilians, who crawl across blood-streaked floors and beg for their lives.

In the World War II games, the players are unquestionably good and the war’s ends are noble. The games end in victory and peace. The allies raise a victory banner over the Reichstag building in Berlin.

In the Modern Warfare battles, the conflicts are unending.

“You find yourself doubting why we fight,” said Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, an industry veteran and game designer. “Villains are killed, but you are left in the end with a completely devastated world.” Victory is unattainable.

Peace, of course, is not just absent from video games. It has faded from any debate in Washington surrounding the wars.

Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan

New Pentagon organizations set up for Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to persist indefinitely to deal with the era’s enduring threats. In 2006, the Defense Department created the Joint IED Defeat Organization to help in the battle with improvised explosive devices, which remain the top killer of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The command has requested $2.8 billion next year. Senior Pentagon officials said there are no plans to scale back its funding.

“Outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, there are 500 IED events each month,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, who commands the organization.

In June and July, IEDs exploded in Pakistan, India, Somalia, Yemen, Colombia, Nigeria and Norway. These days, terrorist and insurgent groups strike with increasingly sophisticated IEDs. Rich nations fight back with drones, intelligence analysts and special operations forces.

“I tell people we are in an arms race with the enemy,” Barbero said.

“Peace,” meanwhile, has become something of a dirty word in Washington foreign-policy circles. Earlier this year, the House voted to cut all funding for the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace.

Although the money was eventually restored, the institute’s leadership remains convinced that the word “peace” in its name was partially to blame for its woes. The word is too abstract and academic, said Richard Solomon, the institute’s president.

Solomon suggested one alternative: the U.S. Institute for Conflict Management.

The institute has staffers working in war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

“Peace doesn’t reflect the world we are dealing with,” he said.

In June, when President Obama laid out his plans to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he sought to assure a weary American public that the country’s longest war was drawing to an end.

“Tonight we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding,” he said. “And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.”

Obama was not promising an end to America’s wars. He was suggesting that the United States needed to find new, more cost-
effective ways of fighting them that do not involve tens of thousands of American soldiers and Marines patrolling in Iraqi and Afghan villages.

Even as the Obama administration has started to cut troop numbers in Afghanistan, it has ramped up drone strikes and the use of special operations forces in places such as Yemen and Somalia . Going forward, the administration will rely heavily on the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command, which has grown tenfold in the past decade.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Americans were willing to bear almost any price for their security. One lesson of today’s endless war seems to be that Americans will have to learn to live with a certain amount of insecurity and fear.

“In this world we will not ‘win wars,’ ” Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former Obama administration official, wrote in the British foreign-policy journal RUSI. “We will have an assortment of civilian and military tools to increase our chances of turning looming bad outcomes into good — or at least better — outcomes.”

On Friday, the children at Skipcha Elementary outside Fort Hood will take part in another Freedom Walk celebration to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The students have begun decorating posters to illustrate this year’s theme: “What freedom means to me.”

Coglianese, who has five children at the school, will miss the event because he is finishing a 12-month stint training Iraqi army forces north of Baghdad.

“This tour has been hard psychologically,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Violence where I am at is at nuisance level compared to Baghdad in 2006-2007. But the separation is more acute for [my children] and for me. . . . I have no regrets. Service is supposed to be tough, and in many ways it is.”

His wife has promised to snap pictures of their children.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.