Credit where credit’s due

Paul Raven @ 28-02-2011

Or maybe not; very much depends on how you see causality in action in geopolitics, really. But enough with the preamble. I can’t seem to locate where I first said it (though I’m pretty sure it was on Twitter, around the time the Egyptian revolution was really hotting up), but I remember someone joking about how a Middle Eastern country had managed to achieve regime change almost in spite of the best status quo reinforcement efforts of the West, and me responding that – if the revolutions turned out to be even remotely successful – the very meddlers who caused the whole damn mess would start claiming the revolution as the hard-won victory that they’d always been aiming for in the first place.

So, here’s Thomas Barnett on the “opportunities” of the Libyan crisis.

To me, this is an ideal sort of SysAdmin intervention opportunity: keep it small and proportional and elevate in response to events. Big point:  not pre-emptive but responsive.  You want to ride with globalization’s natural tide as much as possible, letting the “new map” tell you where to apply pressure next, thus making local demand your primary guide.

Naturally, the fearful and paranoid will see the usual Western plot to grab oilfields, but denying the bottom-up nature on this one reduces them to sheer lying.

Don’t think anyone’s denying the “bottom-up nature”, Mister Barnett, but framing a violent popular uprising in an oil-rich country as an “opportunity” is rather to invite the very criticism you claim to be paranoid, despite the historical precedents, no? Where you see an “ideal sysadmin opportunity”, a lot of other people can see a country shaking off the legacy of decades of sloppy sysadmin work… and looking at the state of the prospective sysadmin’s own hardware at the moment, I’m not sure it acts as a great curriculum vitae for someone looking to tell other people how to run a safe and secure server, do you? But wait for it…

Me? I see a beautiful, globalization-driven process at work here. Let it roll!  Because I like our longer-term odds versus those of the Iranians, al-Qaeda and the Wahhabist Saudis.  Then again, victory was never in doubt–just timing and cost.

Bingo! That didn’t take long, did it? Political shamanism: if I wait long enough, the sun will rise just like I the gods promised it would! Now, where’s my private cave and mammoth-skin blanket, eh? Plenty more insightful prolepsis where that came from, but you’re gonna need to keep me sweet if you want the benefits thereof…

(For the record, I’m on the same page as Barnett when it comes to seeing the globalisation process as an inevitability driven by a huge number of complex interacting factors, and as – over the long term, at least – a net good for the entire human species. Where we disagree is at the point where each step in the globalisation process becomes a crack into which the prybar of American influence should be poked; if the last ten years haven’t shown you that the cost of meddling with other people’s countries isn’t far too high to justify the rewards – not just for your own people, but the people whose countries you decide to reorder – then I doubt anything I can say will convince you to the contrary.)


An agency without agency

Paul Raven @ 11-02-2011

Yours truly, 28th January:

Egypt tweet, 28th January 2011 - Paul Graham Raven

Wired‘s Danger Room, 10th February (yesterday):

Twitter and the mainstream press are filled with rumors that Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak may be forced to step down as early as Thursday night. What does CIA Director Leon Panetta think? All he could tell a congressional panel on Thursday morning is that he, like them, is relying on the media for his info.

And how did that work out for you, folks?

Posted not for self-aggrandizement (well, maybe just a little bit), but to highlight the fact that professional intelligence gathering appears not to have caught up with the world it’s supposed to watch; another symptom of the declining reach of the nation-state in general, and the interventionist impulse in the US in particular.

You can’t control what you don’t understand; time to stop trying and start listening, maybe?


Tunisia, Egypt… where next?

Paul Raven @ 26-01-2011

All that talk over the last few years about the ubiquity of instability? Starting to look a lot less like cynical doomsaying, ain’t it?

Via BigThink, Le Monde Diplomatique gets all brow-furrowed and chin-strokey:

Put simply, global consumption patterns are now beginning to challenge the planet’s natural resource limits. Populations are still on the rise, and from Brazil to India, Turkey to China, new powers are rising as well. With them goes an urge for a more American-style life. Not surprisingly, the demand for basic commodities is significantly on the rise, even as supplies in many instances are shrinking. At the same time, climate change, itself a product of unbridled energy use, is adding to the pressure on supplies, and speculators are betting on a situation trending progressively worse. Add these together and the road ahead appears increasingly rocky.

Chickens coming home to roost… as the West’s privileged lifestyle begins its decline, the rest of the world finally starts demanding its cut of the cake. And this isn’t a religious backlash, or even a classic left-right political clash. It’s plebs versus politicos, the governed lashing back at the governers, and the intertubes are certainly playing their part… but they’re just the conduit, not the cause:

That protests so large in scale could be organized largely over the internet and independent of Egypt’s traditional opposition, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, should give Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak plenty of cause for concern, says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. It shows the extent to which regular Egyptians are fed up with authoritarian rule, and how quickly that frustration can spread—lending it shades of the uprising in Tunisia. “It’s not an Islamist-organized protest. This really is unprecedented. It’s just everyday Egyptians getting angry,” he says. “If I was a regime official, I’d be pacing in my room right now.”

John Robb is unsurprisingly enjoying a “told you so” moment, and suggesting routes forward for this new insurgency:

For an open source revolt to be successfully formed, it needs a plausible promise.  A meta issue around which all of the different factions etc. can form (remember, most of the groups and individuals involved in an open source revolt can’t agree on anything but some basic concepts).  A generic “day of revolt” doesn’t accomplish that. What could?

Using the multi-million scale No Mas FARC protests as an example and the critical ingredient in the Tunisian protests (extreme corruption that generated an endless wellspring of anger/frustration), a potential “plausible promise” for an Egyptian open source revolt is:

No More Corruption

Not only is a movement opposing corruption something the government will find hard to oppose, it is something every Egyptian deals with on a daily basis.  It also has the added benefit of directly harming the entrenched ruling elite, who are likely to become poster children of the very thing the movement is against.

Hey, kids – can you think of any nation closer to home where citizens have to deal with corruption on a daily basis? Places where budgets are being slashed, where the quality of life is tanking, but where the folk at the top of the pyramid are doing better than ever?

Yeah, me too. Interesting times ahead.