REPORT: THAILAND’S COUNTER-INSURGENCY WOES

The Counter-Terrorism Blog has a useful roundup of Thailand’s continuing failure to defeat the Muslim insurgency in the South. Bangkok’s mistakes include the deployment of troops with little ground knowledge of their respective sectors, heavy-handed usage of mass arrests, and the government’s continuing refusal to admit that the insurgents have religious and political grievances. Instead, the Thai government labels the insurgents as bandits, drug-dealers, and criminals, in spite of the ample evidence to the contrary.

One of the worst problems with the Thai government response is its dependence on poorly trained civilian militias. As the International Crisis Group notes, These militias are hardly effective at combating the insurgents–but are very good at committing war crimes against the civilian population. Reliance on these local forces may secure tactical victories but ensures strategic defeat. The civilian population will be hardly willing to lend a hand if militia "rangers" continue severing their limbs.

Thailand’s paramilitary problem once again demonstrates that local militias aren’t a panacea for governments trying to fight irregular enemies such as terrorists, guerrillas, and international criminals. If we are in fact, heading towards a future of government-backed "open source" counter-terrorism, the prognosis for the success of our political objectives isn’t good.

REPORT: RUSSIA’S SEPARATE INTERNET

David Francis of FP Passport:

In the latest issue of FP, I wrote
(subscription required) about the efforts of ICANN, the group that
gives out Internet domain names, to "internationalize" the Web.
Starting this year, ICANN will allow users to use non-Roman characters
in top level domain names. For example, Arabic-speaking users will no
longer have to end Web addresses in ".com"—they can register the last
part of their Web address in their own native language. …

Despite ICANN’s efforts to incorporate
Russian alphabet characters into Web addresses (it is one of 11 sets of
characters the group is incorporating), Moscow is pushing
for the creation of an Internet that recognizes only Cyrillic
characters. Experts [warn of]
increased international isolation and more government censorship of the
Web.

Russia is obviously trying to create an easier censorship apparatus. Given the disorganization and weakness of the political opposition, censoring their web sites will remove their last remaining strength. As I noted in a post on Burma, dictatorships have caught on to the effect of the internet as a force multiplier for dissident movements and are preparing counter-measures.

The Kremlin also derives another important benefit from this policy. The Russian people feel victimized by the West, which they believe disregarded their legitimate national interests. Putin’s strong-man measures are marketed as nationalistic self-strengthening, the 21st century equivalent of Peter the Great’s modernization. In a Russia desperate to demonstrate its strength and independence, establishing a separate Russian internet is sure to play well with the public’s patriotic mood.

REVIEW: CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR

Charlie Wilson’s War is a movie about many things. It’s a study of how interest groups, marginal congressmen, and disgruntled CIA agents can change the course of US policy. It’s a demonstration of how a small, ragtag force of guerrillas can defeat a superpower through sheer will (and a little help from powerful friends).

And most importantly, it’s a damning indictment of America’s short attention span. Congressman Charlie Wilson can get all of the attention and money he wants when he’s breathing fire about halting the Red Army. But when it comes to rebuilding Afghan civil society, Wilson gets the cold shoulder. No one’s interested in building Afghan schools, resettling Afghan refugees, and doing the leg work to transform Afghanistan back into what it was before the Russian invasion.

Reviewers misunderstand the message of the film (and the book) that inspired it when they say it is a film about the consequences of backing the Afghan insurgents. The rise of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban was not a direct consequence of the Afghan War, although many terrorists-in-training were inspired by the defeat of a superpower. The United States did not directly arm and train Al Qaeda, as all money was funneled through the Pakistanis (something we unfortunately have not ceased doing). As Michael Scheurer has noted time and time again, our abandonment of the Afghans helped fuel a civil war that eventually resulted in the rise of the Taliban. And everyone knows the story from there…