Tuesday, May 3, 2011

America as Perceived from Abroad

Leon Penetta and David Patraes are taking over new jobs, running the Pentagon and the CIA, respectively.

That is fine. However, I agree with Fareed Zakaria that this is a prime opportunity for those newly in charge of these agencies to rethink, to redevelop the way we think and respond to International Crisis. We should be considering how the world percieves us. Not how they have perceived us for decades, not how we want to be thought of, but how we are currently being thought of and by the people of the world, not just those rich and powerful individuals and governments.

Our National Security Bureaucracy is immense and it dictates far too much of how the majority of Americans perceive themselves and our the world perceives the US, there is too large of a discrepancy between those two ideals.

We throw immense amount of money at National Security and it's workhorses and we have been left with a peculiar, to say the least, dynamic of nearly automated response and daily repetition of reactions. It is not a system that is self corrected, nor is it tested by outside (that is to say, inside to the American Government but outside) of its own apparent self appointed and self created Universe.

We spend about $80 Billion on intelligence every year, more than the rest of the world put together. Yet, how prepared do you really think we have been for major international events? The CIA did not imagine the fall of the Soviet Union. Nor did they see the revolutions of Eastern Europe. The breakup of Yugoslavia. September 11th. Saddam Hussein's non existent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The Global financial crisis. And recently, did we see the Arab uprising coming across the Middle East recently? No.

These were things not foreseen by most agencies around the world. But that is not the point. It is obvious we are not seeing the money we put in to these agencies of ours, distributed in the right places. We have consistently used SigInt (Signals Intelligence such as "spy satellites") rather than HumInt (Human Intelligence, having agents on the ground actually seeing and hearing what is going on). To be sure, we pulled our intelligence from Iraq for years because, Saddam was our "friend" in the Middle East and we had no need for expensive HumInt, besides, we had the "Eyes in the Sky". Have we yet learned anything by those things?

I am not expecting miracles from our hard working agencies. But, shouldn't they at least be preparing our levels of government who are responsible for protecting our physical and economic well being, for sharp changes in the world dynamics at the international, regional and national patterns? At least for the more general situational changes that could be intelligently anticipated, or even expected?

They should be preparing our policymakers for the possibilities of sudden shifts in new circumstances and they should be the ones who are preparing us for expecting the unexpected. We need to know the possibilities ahead of time, to consider the scenarios (which is what the CIA is chartered after all, to do) that are possible and seek solutions ahead of time. Yes, that is time consuming, but what are we paying them for, if not to do these things?

These are the things that distinguish the private sector firms in managing crisis. Isn't that the least we should expect from our Intelligence Community? The running of a government, or a business for that matter, is a condition of "risk management". Management and consideration, scenario analysis, projection and responses.

This has been boiled down decades ago to a Game. Using gaming dynamics, the Intelligence community has been able to plan ahead. But that seems to have died out of late, either due to relying on hard intelligence without proper analysis, or leaning to the sway of saying what is expected. This has been shown to be part of the problem recently in books by those who were at the center of recent crisis management. Check out this photo analysis page for kids at the CIA. It will give you an idea of what it is like to assign appropriate intel to remote intelligence and analysis, as opposed to having feet on the ground kind of intelligence. And this is child level analysis. You may not find it that hard to do, but consider this is the lowest level of this type of intelligence.

We need to be prepared this time, for what will happen in Saudi Arabia. Is someone looking at this? Serious protests in that country, will spike oil and gas prices across the world. They may be our "friend" but they may also need to react to an unseen force, that is falling down across their necks at any moment. I get the feel, they are leading with a similar buy perhaps harsher dynamic than the US has used, and from what we have been seeing, this is reacting like hitting a tree with a stick; the impact can come back upon you and lay you out.

As Fareed asked today, how would you respond to oil at $200 a barrel?

Considering this scenario, why do we not yet have alternative energy? We started upon this road back in the early 70s, and we still do not have this situation under control. I think about people like Pres. Reagan, entering the White House and removing the solar cells from the roof of the White House. Why, when he should have been pushing for more of that, further research, more options of alternative energy than fossil fuels.

We have been living for far too long on the top ends of our credit cards. We are overextended. We need buffers for these times, fuel reserves, other forms of fuel, energy that leaves us not with a bad taste in our mouth, but with a more full pocketbook and not at the will and destiny of other countries who have strangled our wallets for long enough.

We need to get this under control, to stop struggling with debt, stop multiple military actions around the world (and Libya was a good start). We have a demographic and economic time bomb about to blow up in our faces. Are we prepared for that, yet?

One more unforeseen crisis like this, and we may fall flat on our collective faces, unable to get up. Many of us cheered at the fall of the Soviet Union. But how much laughter will ensue from us, if it is the US who falls and cannot get back up to take our seat at the head of the table? China is fast approaching on our tail coats, are we going to simply give them a ride there?

Let's get our act together. Start foreseeing these crisis, or the possible outcomes of our current and ensuing situations. Start getting some buffers set up to protect us when the unexpected happens.

We can make it through this. These are just tough times, not impossible. But sitting with our heads in the sand, isn't going to do anyone in the world, any good.

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