category archive: Politics and Policy

Let’s Celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of “A National Strategic Narrative”

This has been a tough spring for national cohesion in the United States. Automatic federal spending cuts called sequestration kicked in after Congress failed to agree on how to manage the federal budget. The Senate voted down a bill that would expand background checks for gun purchasers, despite strong support around the country.  And bombings at the Boston Marathon committed by young men hovering between foreign identity and American citizenship confused any clear idea of American identity.

This makes it a good time to mark the two year anniversary of A National Strategic Narrative, published in April 2011 by aNational Strategic Narrativeuthors Captain Wayne Porter, USN and Col Mark Mykleby, USMC under the pseudonym Mr. Y.

The document grabbed the attention of politicians and pundits here in the United States, and foreign ministers in Europe and the Middle East. Perhaps most important, it garnered attention from everyday citizens for proposing a reinvigorated American identity and role in the world. Continue reading

Posted in: Books & Films, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, National Security, Politics and Policy, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Boston: A More Effective Battle of Ideas (Part II)

Boston MarathonReprinted from The Globalist,  April 24, 2013

 Instead of getting sucked into heat-of-the-moment reactions to Boston, let’s base our responses on a more stable paradigm of contemporary global terrorism. To fight a battle of ideas successfully, one must first show what one is going up against. Amy Zalman makes the case that there are three distinct trends in terrorism — Hybrid, Multi-motivational and Narrative Terrorism.

This paradigm is evolving, but several trends are coming into view and are likely to deepen in the future:

  •    Hybrid terrorism:

In traditional categorization of terrorists, there are “lone wolves” who are unconnected to any organized group and those who are members of organizations.

Today, a hybrid type appears to be evolving: someone who works without full organizational support or direction, but who is not working in total isolation from others. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, News and Journalism, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Boston: Keep Calm and Think Clearly (Part 1)

Boston Marathon

Reprinted from The Globalist, April 23, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombings provide an opportunity for the United States to consider how to combat extremist ideas more effectively than it did a decade ago. But this is not the time to let fear and uncertainty drive us into misguided and — as importantly — ineffective forms of countering violent extremism.

Warning: Prominent policy makers are already making demands to disinter the discredited concepts of the Global War on Terror. Options presented range from designating the bombers enemy combatants to calling for sweeping surveillance of majority Muslim communities.

The motivations that led Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev to set off lethal bombs at the Boston Marathon last week may not yet be clear. But the characteristics of that event already tell us a substantial amount about the direction of 21st century terrorism — and how we might combat it with increasing effectiveness. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Resilience Narratives Key to Resilient Systems

The 2013 World Economic Forum Conference that began today in Davos is dedicated this year to resilient dynamism. As Arianna Huffington noted earlier in the day, the key concept that gives rise to the need for resilience is our global interconnectedness. Quoting Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, she cites five attributes that resilient systems characteristically share:

  •  Spare capacity
  • Flexibility — the ability to change, evolve, and adapt in the face of disaster.
  • Limited or “safe” failure, which prevents failures from rippling across systems.
  • Rapid rebound — the capacity to reestablish function and avoid long-term disruptions.
  • Constant learning, with robust feedback loops.

Huffington adds a sixth, “the will to want to be resilient.”

To that list, I feel we must add a seventh requirement for the present and future, Resilience Narratives: stories that will help disparate and potentially adversarial players see themselves as active participants in collaborative futures. Continue reading

Posted in: Conferences, Crisis Management, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Politics and Policy, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Narrative for Survival: My Grandmother’s Story

Stories can save lives. In One Thousand and One Nights, Sheherezade uses her storytelling talents to end King Shahrayr’s plot to punish his unfaithful wife by punishing all of the women of his kingdom.  Having put to death the unfaithful Queen herself, the King embarks on a plan to marry a virgin of the Kingdom each night, and to have each killed at dawn.  That is, until he marries Sheherezade, who spends her wedding night narrating to the King a most exciting and suspenseful tale. So exciting that the King puts off her death to hear how the story continues. And so their story continues for a thousand and one nights, after which the King abandons his goal to punish women, and marries Sheherezade.

My grandmother may not have had a thousand stories, but she had at least one, and telling it to an American Consul in 1939 saved her life and that of her husband and baby, when it permitted her to leave warring Europe on one of the last ships to cross the Atlantic. I had the opportunity to tell it at a local TedX event earlier this year, and was delighted when TEDx organizers chose it as one of their favorites.  I’d love to hear about other stories that have saved lives, if you have one you’d like to share.

Posted in: Books & Films, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Narrative forms, Politics and Policy, Popular Culture, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A Presidential Campaign, but No Presidential or National Narrative

A presidential campaign is an exercise in storytelling. Each candidate is always seeking to tell the most compelling story of the nation, one that both reflects who we think we are and projects into the future the kind of nation we’d like to be.   The very occasion of campaign, with its promise of renewal, should be a strong backdrop for the symbols, themes, images and practices that tie past and future of a nation together.

This year, both Romney and Obama have struggled to find their foothold in a narrative that works. As the near tie in popularity makes clear, neither has a mandate, and neither has told a story with a powerful sense of forward momentum. Continue reading

Posted in: Narrative forms, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , , , , , ,

How Power Works in the 21st Century

We live in stories.  That is, we are always in the process of trying to make sense of what is happening to us and around us.  That process drives us – to vote, to go into the street and fight for a nation, to make changes in how we consume, or to do none of the above.

Political leadership that understands that stories, perceptions, values, ideas, culture are present wherever there is human activity have a powerful tool for understanding what drives both change and apathy.

There is no name more firmly associated with linking political power and values and ideas than that of Joseph Nye. He coined the term soft power, which is power that stems from the intangible sources such as “institutions, ideas, values, culture …” as he explains in The Future of Power. 

Earlier this week, The Globalist published my article, How Power Really Works in the 21st Century: Beyond Soft, Hard and Smart. In it, I explain how, in a networked, information driven age, the power of symbols and ideas is always an important part of the strategic landscape. Nye’s insight that culture, ideas, perceptions, stories has been deeply assimilated into strategic thinking—a great tribute to him. But the insight has outgrown the categories that once described them. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Decision making, International Politics, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Numbers as Narratives: Review of World Economics Website

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In popular imagination, narratives and numbers are opposites; the nebulous and imaginative versus the precise and factual. In public policy, narratives our political leaders often rest on numbers in the form of statistics, indices, averages, probabilities. Numbers are so compact, so easily legible, that it is easy to forget they are themselves stories: shorthand renderings of someone’s point of view about which facts are important and how to interpret them.

The World Economics website promises to put an end to any such complacency. The site, whose editor Brian Sturgess I met recently in Baku, has compiled a small mountain of counterintuitive and thought provoking challenges to clichéd uses of numbers to narrate what’s happening in the world.

Among a few of the site’s provocations: Continue reading

Posted in: Decision making, International Politics, Narrative forms, National Security, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , ,

Hacker Narrative: Next Chapter in History of Civil Rights?

Peter Fein, self described Hacktivist, recently revealed he is a member of the group Anonymous,  a self-organized group that targets institutions that stand in the way of their vision of Internet freedom with Distributed Denial of Service(DDOS) attacks.  DDOS attacks are a way of effectively shutting down websites by  overwhelming them with traffic.

The hacktivist group Anonymous: the next chapter in the story of American civil liberties?

For much of the U.S. security and legal community, hacktivists are criminals and security threats.  In another popular image, hacktivists are anarchists dedicated to total liberty.

Peter Fein doesn’t see it either way, for him, his activities place him at the center of a uniquely American history of ever progressing civil rights. Continue reading

Posted in: Information Systems, International Politics, Legal Issues, National Security, Politics and Policy, Popular Culture Tags: , , , , , ,

Measuring National Power

Has the Eurozone crisis led to a loss of European Union power?

Washington D.C. was even more full of diplomatic cars and dark suited men than usual this weekend, as the the World Bank and International Monetary Fund held their annual spring meetings. Historically dedicated to shoring up ‘developing’ regions, this year’s focus was on the Eurozone crisis, that ongoing ripple of effects from the near financial collapse of several EU countries.

Some policy makers think that the EU’s loss of economic power will reduce its power on other issues, as the New York Times has reported: Continue reading

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