• OK State Department, Now You Gotta Mess with Michael Moore

    April 14, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Ah, the power of social media. My thanks to Michael Moore, who Tweeted the article from Salon describing my First Amendment fight against the State Department to his over 1,000,000 followers, and reposted it on his Facebook page.



    A very large number of those people then went on to read the full story of the denial of my First Amendment rights by the Department, and jumped over to this blog to read about my latest ham-fisted interrogation by the goons at Diplomatic Security.

    You know Alec Ross, there just might something to this social media thing you always talk about.

    #SmartPower uber alles!



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    Posted in Iraq

    Great Moments in Social Media: Self-Congratulatory Propaganda

    April 13, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    We are all aware of the power of social media– to bend autocratic governments to the will of the people, to inform, to entertain, to allow the Department of State to speak directly to individuals instead of governments. Powerful, 21st century stuff. Indeed, social media is so important to the Department of State that over 150 people work on just that, Tweeting and Facebooking 24/7 like high school freshman on their third Red Bull. The State Department even has a full-time person with the humble title “Innovator,” Alec Ross, to embiggen this amazing set of tools which Hillary Clinton has dubbed “Smart Power” and “eDiplomacy.”

    The Australian government actually sent someone all the way over here to study the Department of State’s social media. That guy wrote “US policymakers have put great stock in the transformative power of Internet freedom. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, these tools will be used “to advance democracy and human rights, to fight climate change and epidemics, to build global support for President Obama’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons, [and] to encourage sustainable economic development that lifts the people at the bottom up.”

    So with that all in mind, let’s have a peek at what the Department of State felt compelled to pass into the Twitter stream on April 10:





    Wow. I wept. That is innovative, 21st century stuff, all on the tax payers dime. Jeez, at least when you “friend” Pepto Bismal on Facebook you get a coupon or something.

    How many of those 150 people working on social media at the State Department do you think it takes to crank out a couple of Tweets like that?



    (Of course not everyone has drunk the Kool Aid. Philip Seib, Huffington Post: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the existence of an ongoing ‘information war’ that the United States is losing… Clinton’s remarks were particularly welcome as a note of realism from a State Department that often is primarily interested in self-congratulation.”

    Oops. No wonder Hillary looks so tired in that picture.




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    Posted in Iraq

    Public Diplomacy: Propaganda for Who?

    April 2, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    Or is it “whom,” I never can remember.

    There has been some web chatter about public diplomacy in general, and social media in the particular. Of course, since it involves technology invented since the wireless, the State Department has to call it something slick, so eDiplomacy.

    The idea is actually not eNew. Throughout the Cold War the US used the social media of the day, eRadio, TV and musical tours to spread a message into the exSoviet Bloc. Not sure what the effect there was (though lots of older Russians do like jazz) but the ideas presented as revolutionary are not so new. And neither is the debate over their effectiveness.

    As propaganda. Really bad propaganda.

    Really, do we think that spending American tax dollars on creating YouTube videos that supposedly show American Citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (assasinated by drone along with his 16 year old son) solicited prostitutes are going to win any war?

    Or this one, which essentially calls bin Laden a poopy head, are somehow seen as anything but a first semester film school project gone wrong? Better work in Jarret’s Room.

    But with all the distractions lately about my own struggles getting fired from State, it is useful to return to what the hub-bub is all about: the waste and mismanagement by the State Department in the reconstruction of Iraq. It was that failure which indeed lost the war. Not that you’d know by watching some of the State Department’s own public diplomacy drech about the “success” of their efforts:

    (If the video fails to load, you can see it here)

    Though no one actually takes credit for that pile, the people in the video are mostly Embassy folk. The ones without the neat button downs are contractors, their love of the program no doubt inspired by the $250,000 a year State paid them. The others are real-live State Department types: Interestingly, Aaron Snipes appears in the video and, coincidentally, Snipes also is one of the most prominent names in the State Department investigative report on this blog, helping defend the mistakes in Iraq even to the point of smearing a colleague with whispered emails to Diplomatic Security years later back in Washington. Anyone who thinks this is about anything but defending bureaucratic failures is a big believer in coincidences.

    There are many highlights in the video, but one to point out is the meme with “Little Yasser,” the orphan boy whose school was rebuilt towards the end of the program. The PRTs were working on Little Yasser three years ago, when I was there. Real good news was hard to find, so when it happened we tended to overdo it. Even worse was when we manufactured the illusion of good news and beat the hell out of that. Look at the story of Operation Little Yasser. A sister PRT singled out an orphan and built a whole phony project around him, something about bringing a green house to an orphanage so the kids could heal by growing squash. The kid, Yasser, was just a prop for the media to write stories about, describing him as a “sweet, fragile child, whose soulful eyes reveal some of the heartbreak he’s endured.” That line was written in a project grant in 2009, and they repeated it verbatim in the video. The kid did not get anything out of his exploitation, kids rarely do, but the Embassy sure got some major “social media” miles. We were like the pedophiles of PRT work.

    One feature of these propaganda videos is their crudeness, primarily in their shameless lack of objectivity and balance. It is not unexpected that the Embassy would want to put a positive spin on things, but to present the PRT program as a singular savior of Iraq seems a bit much.

    The world needed this piece of self-congratulatory crap like I need a third nipple. Who outside of the State Department is the intended audience? The video is obviously too one-sided for even the fanboys, and an Iraqi audience would pee themselves laughing. Then it dawned on me: the video’s audience was State. They made this video for themselves.

    Real development work is slow, hard and often unphotogenic. The Iraqis got some charity, handouts really, but mostly ended up as background actors for our fantasy that we were liberators not occupiers. Watch in the video as the stalwart PRT members hand out pencils to schoolkids. The flak-jacketed American has the kids take one pencil from his box of many, making each kid look him in the eye as the price of accepting the handout. The visual is clear: we have a lot, you have nothing, this process is to make me feel good at the expense of your self pride. The process– armed soldiers and disingenuous officials coming into a school and co-opting the kids while the cameras rolled– must have reminded the Iraqis of Saddam’s own clumsy attempts at buying love. Would Americans feel pride seeing Chinese troops handing out school supplies in some Detroit shithole neighborhood?

    Resorting to gifts to seem popular was quick and easy but, like most quick solutions, really didn’t help. Once you started down the path of easy answers, your methods tended to sabotage later efforts to try the harder way. In a counterinsurgency campaign, there were several ways to make friends, most of them slow and difficult, like building relationships within the local community over time based on trust earned and respect freely given. Each iteration of handouts caused you to lose respect from a proud group of people forced into an uneven relationship, no matter how many self-congratulatory Tweets you sent out.

    It does, however, seem quaint (as well as exposing the utter shallowness of this swipe at public diplomacy) to hear Americans talking about rebuilding Iraq. I’ll go report about that on Facebook now…



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    Posted in Iraq

    Why We Lost in Afghanistan

    March 14, 2012 // Comments Off on Why We Lost in Afghanistan

    From the US perspective, a soldier in uniform, representing the United States to the people he encounters in Afghanistan, murders sixteen people including nine children and it is called an unfortunate, isolated incident. When the US accidentally blows up sixteen Afghan civilians with a 500 pound bomb, to the US it is just another day at the office, “collateral damage.”

    Meanwhile, only 36 hours after the murder of those Afghan children, the US Embassy in Kabul sends out this chirpy Tweet:



    It is obvious that inside the Embassy, as witnessed by their most public of faces, that the incident is already old news.

    Speaking to her collected Ambassadors, SecState Hillary Clinton said the same day without irony “Only America has the reach, resources & relationships to anchor a more peaceful and prosperous world.”

    Each time one of these horrors occurs in Afghanistan, the US response is that it is an isolated incident. How many isolated incidents must accrue before we acknowledge we have a collective problem?

    It is obvious to everyone in Afghanistan that the US really could care less about burning Korans, pissing on Afghan dead or even the murder of children, except perhaps as a PR issue to be managed.

    That is why we lost in Afghanistan. Time, now, after twelve years of war, to call it quits.



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    Posted in Iraq

    Happy Valentine’s Day from Iraq

    February 14, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    @LubnaNaji from Twitter sends us all Valentine’s wishes from Iraq. Bonus: See if you can spot the $63 billion spent on reconstruction there in the photo!





    Also on Valentine’s Day in Iraq, gunmen assassinated an Iraqi army general in one of several incidents that left at least four people dead and 28 wounded.

    Six people were injured in an explosion in al-Mashtal. Two suffered injuries in the al-Bayaa bombing
    In addition, gunmen fired on a Health Ministry official in the al-Dora district of southern Baghdad.

    In Mosul, about 220 miles north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded outside a popular restaurant in the eastern part of the city, killing three people and wounding 19.

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    Posted in Iraq

    This Should Really Help Bring Tourists to the US

    January 31, 2012 // Comments Off on This Should Really Help Bring Tourists to the US

    Standing before a sun-splashed Cinderella’s castle, President Barack Obama recently called for America to become the world’s top travel destination. “America is open for business,” Obama announced at Walt Disney World near Orlando. “We want to welcome you.” Obama previously signed a long-pushed bill to establish a national tourism promotion agency that would market the United States to visitors from abroad.

    Of course, funding for a $200 million campaign slated for launch later this year comes from a $14 per person fee charged to visitors from visa-waiver countries, so the foreigns are paying for us to advertise to them, but hey, they’re on vacation, am I right?

    Anyway, this act by Homeland Security out in LA should really help:

    Two British tourists were barred from entering America after joking on Twitter that they were going to “destroy America” and “dig up Marilyn Monroe.” Leigh Van Bryan, 26, was handcuffed and kept under armed guard in a cell with Mexican drug dealers for 12 hours after landing in Los Angeles with pal Emily Bunting. The Department of Homeland Security flagged him as a potential threat when he posted an excited tweet to his pals about his forthcoming trip to Hollywood which read: “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?”

    So, to recap:

    –Homeland Security has nothing better to do than read British tourists’ Tweets.

    –Homeland Security is unaware of sarcasm, the possibility that by Tweeting “destroy America” the British guy was unlikely to do much more than drink too much crappy beer, of course spending mucho Amero$ along the way.

    –Adding $14 to the cost of a US vacation so the US can promote tourism seems– somehow– counterproductive.

    –Our country is now run by complete idiots.

    –Some kind of Mickey Mouse joke I can’t come up with just now, ’cause see Obama was at Disney World when he made the speech.

    Thanks, and we’ll return you now to your regular blog programming as a Homeland Security Predator drone swoops into my backyard. Viva!



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    Posted in Iraq

    Am I Missing Something?

    January 21, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    We all know that social media is the key to victory in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, at least according to the State Department, but a recent Tweet from the US Embassy in Kabul (slogan: “One day We’ll Be as Big as Baghdad”) has left me in a gobsmacked state:



    What?

    Correct me if I am wrong, but does it not seem that Embassy Kabul is gloating over the deaths of some of the “bad guys”? The US side repeated/reTweeted a message from the ISAF US-funded propaganda team to two pro-Taliban Tweeters appearing to gloat over the deaths of some Taliban.

    Bad enough as it is, gloating over death (though SecState Clinton also did so with Qaddafi’s death) but doing it a day after at least ten NATO soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan, when a transport helicopter carrying six US Marines crashed in Helmand province, and an Afghan army soldier killed four French soldiers at the Gwam training base in Kapisa province. Fifteen French soldiers were wounded in the attack, eight seriously? The French are considering withdrawal from the Afghan playground due to their deaths.

    C’mon US Embassy Kabul, this is just sad.



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    Posted in Iraq

    American Embassy Kabul Uses The Twitter

    January 19, 2012 // Comments Off on American Embassy Kabul Uses The Twitter

    Social media is all the rage now at the State Department (for some old timers, this is all hilariously reminiscent of the late 1990’s when State suddenly discovered that the internet existed and set out to conquer what was then called e-Diplomacy by created some new-fangled “home pages”).

    But Geocities this ain’t Tweeps. Here, as an example of how “with it” the social media boffins at the American Embassy in Kabul are, is one of today’s Tweets:



    So that’s it– we just needed to clarify that for the Taliban, with the RT from the American Embassy Finland because, well, nothing says bureaucratic safety like following someone else, courageously.

    What do you think? Maybe needs more animated gifs? 🙂





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    Posted in Iraq

    21st Century Bypasses Embassy Baghdad

    January 13, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    Crowing about how State is now the cool kids to eat lunch with, spokescoolperson Victoria Nuland held the first Twitter briefing of 2012 as part of “January is 21st Century Statecraft Month” (February will be “IBM Selectric Month.”) Ms. Nuland noted that “more than 100 of our embassies have Facebook or Twitter accounts, or sometimes both,” meaning there are still more accounts in my daughter’s high school lunch room than at State worldwide. Since the tech has been around for a century, maybe the rest of the posts can sign up soon– it’s free to join LOL 🙂 LMAO!

    One mission that just can’t seem to get Tweeting is the World’s Largest Embassy (c), Baghdad, still without a first Tweet. Or maybe that’s a fake account, like all those “Ashton Kutcher” Twitter feeds that just want to sell you Uggs or something, or maybe they have prioritized for a robust MySpace. The Embassy has a nice Facebook page for study in the US (a lot of Iraqis would like to get on that train; almost all of the postings are asking for visas, scholarships or for someone to answer their emailed requests for visas and scholarships) and a YouTube channel, though the latter may run afoul of State’s own master of social media Alec Ross, who said recently “I just don’t think propaganda works on social media, at all.” lulz 😉 #SMH

    Anyway, I think we can help the World’s Largest Embassy (c) get started on Twitter. Here are a few Tweets they could send out to the Iraqis to get things going:

    Anyone out there can help us w/ the Twitter? Ours stops after 140 characte

    @IraqiPeeps Pls stop killing each other. #OurInvestment

    @IraqiPeeps Really, stop it.

    @Basra Can we haz the oil now pls? #OurInvestment

    @Blackwater Can you return Amb limo? Also last time trunk had empty beer bottles, so pls clean, thx.

    How many Iraqis to screw in lightbulb? Zero. No power. #PRT #Reconstruction

    @TheRealSeanPenn Rethought it, maybe you can help. #Reconstruction

    @Hashemi Sorry, apts here all full, try Erbil #Sunni #Kurd #Shia

    @USEmbassyBaghdad RT Send lawyers, guns and money #Hashemi

    All yer bases belong to us. Oh, wait, not any more. #SOFA

    @JulianAssange Can’t find Amb memo re: Mosul dated 04/01/2010 anywhere– do u have a copy? #Wikileaks

    @Sadr Bday party at Baghdaddy’s Fri, no rockets after 9pm pls, ‘k? #Democracy

    Travel Warning: Instant cappuccino maker at Sully still broken. #15% #25% #35%

    @Qods It’s not terrorism when we do it, only when you do it #Carbombsunderscientists

    @Malaki Really really apologize for last night. Meant Iran, not Iraq. #Toomuchtodrink #Girlfriendz

    Q: Five-day forecast for Baghdad? A: Two days. #Sunni

    Sorry to all for trouble, Emb cafeteria menu site now no longer auto-redirects to wemeantwell.com




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    Posted in Iraq

    Editorial Cartoon from Today’s Baghdad Newspaper

    December 21, 2011 // Comments Off on Editorial Cartoon from Today’s Baghdad Newspaper

    In the caption the American soldiers are saying “We left them in peace and harmony…”




    Cartoon courtesy of @Kassakhoon, from Twitter. Follow him on Twitter for always interesting news and comment from Baghdad, especially now that the Western media is walking away from Iraq.



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    Posted in Iraq

    Future of Iraq: Which is it?

    December 5, 2011 // Comments Off on Future of Iraq: Which is it?

    From my Twitter feed. Even the media can’t decide what will happen to Iraq in the near future. My head hurts.





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    Posted in Iraq

    Embassy Baghdad Can’t Get the Twitter

    July 14, 2011 // Comments Off on Embassy Baghdad Can’t Get the Twitter

    On its own lame ass “blog“, the State Department believes it is working hard to build networks and communicate with people around the world. Knowing the power of social media because she is a cool dude down with young people, SecState Hillary Rodham Clinton bleated out talking points that said:

    “I want to say a few words, but more than 140 characters, about the importance of social media tools, like Twitter, which are a critical part of what I at the State Department call 21st century statecraft. Thanks to these connection technologies, people can exchange ideas and information instantaneously, anywhere on the planet — from a laptop in London to a cell phone in Cairo.”


    It works in London and Cairo, but not in Baghdad. If you visit the Twitter site of the World’s Largest Embassy (c), you find, sadly, the message “@USEmbBaghdad hasn’t tweeted yet.”

    Still, they have 111 followers of nothing (a zen thing), which is more than I have on my Twitter, so I should not be rude. Many of the followers of zen are journalists, no doubt hoping for the beast to stir, as well as those trolling for jobs and visas. One follower claims to be a Pakistani web designer, so there may be hope for the site yet. A few heroic FSOs, no doubt seeing another opportunity to suck up, are listed as well.

    Maybe the World’s Largest Embassy (c) needs one more person on staff, a teenager who can do the Twitter.

    Tweet on, for freedom!



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    Posted in Iraq

    Twitter

    April 14, 2011 // Comments Off on Twitter

    For those who prefer their blog fodder in smaller bytes, I am now on Twitter. Follow me as WeMeantWell.

    Next step: I will call each of you individually every morning and tell you stuff.

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    Posted in Iraq