Saturday, December 16, 2017

Shielding Democracies?

A selfie of Red Baron in front of the Carl-Schurz-Haus
 perturbed by the poster announcing the lecture
On Monday, Red Baron went to the Carl-Schurz-Haus to listen to a luncheon talk by Laura Daniels, “Shielding Democracies From Hacking and Disinformation.”

The Director of the CSH, Friederike Schulte, introduced the speaker. Laura currently is the German Chancellor Fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) in Berlin.

Here is the first paragraph of her abstract: States have long tried to influence one another, at times through subversive means. Today, reports of hacking and leaking, “fake news” propagated by bots and false accounts, rumors of foreign funding to extremist parties, and other similar tactics have caused alarm in Western democracies. These methods have elicited comparisons to Soviet “active measures”—or subversive operations—which appear to be back in business and benefitting from a technological upgrade.

While Laura was reminding us about Soviet subversive activities during the Cold War, giving many examples of Russian interference in recent years, and elaborating on her research on the present situation when Russia has possibly influenced US, German, and French elections, my thoughts strayed.

Do not our own governments blur information we are entitled to? For me, Afghanistan is one of the continuing bad examples. As an ancillary of the US forces, German troops are sent to the Hindu Kush and meant to educate local forces in their fight against the Taliban. Have we seen any progress? Let's face it. Over the years the military situation in Afghanistan has not improved; it has remained stable at best.

The Obama administration slowly started withdrawing troops from the region in 2011, but this was not sufficient for Donald Trump who tweeted in January 2013: Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.

In December 2014 he became more aggressive: Now Obama is keeping our soldiers in Afghanistan for at least another year. He is losing two wars simultaneously.

One year later he tweeted: A suicide bomber has just killed U.S. troops in Afghanistan. When will our leaders get tough and smart? We are being led to slaughter!

Wikipedia reports: In the middle of June 2017 newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump gave the U.S. military decision making authority over troop numbers for U.S. military operations in Syria, Iraq. and Afghanistan. The new authority includes increasing the current troop level cap beyond the 8,400 U.S. troops authorized as of July 2017.

POTUS confirmed his about-turn in August 2017, tweeting: Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.

Germany wholeheartedly followed in the wake of the U.S. with respect to a reduction of its troops; it will now be difficult to increase the German quota again, in particular when we still have no government.

Why does nobody officially tell us that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won? Remember the British moved out a first time in 1842, came back later, and definitely left in 1919. The Soviet Union moved in in 1979 and gave up in 1989, leaving Afghanistan in turmoil. When eventually the Taliban had taken over the region the U.S., later reinforced by NATO troops, intervened in 2001 but they will not stay either. So why not regard the Education Mission "Democracy" as finished and bring our troops home?

Sorry, this was not the topic of Laura‘s talk. In the last part, she elaborated on the application of modern methods and techniques used to interfere with democratic elections (U.S.?) and political decisions (Brexit?). From experience, it seems that the „attacker“ is always one step ahead of the „defender“.

The ensuing discussion was lively, and the curry luncheon opened the way to many individual conversations.

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