06 August, 2005

Al-Qaeda: a brand you can trust

I see interesting parallels between the "Al-Qaeda" label and the more conventional brand names and trademarks used in the global economy. Brands are valuable: they allow consumers to avoid the trouble of researching products every time they buy. Protecting a brand name can be a major priority for a multinational corporation. (Don't believe me? See what happends if you label your drink "Coka-Cola". Look at the effort by the Xerox Corporation to prevent their name from becoming a synonym for photocopier.)

Why did the group commanded by al-Zarqawi change its name from Tawhid and Jihad to Al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not because of any substantial ties to the core of the Bin Laden network, but because it was a cheap way to get brand recognition. Prior to coming to their present accomodation, there were signs that Bin Laden wasn't happy with al-Zarqawi or his strategies. But Bin Laden had to recognize the inevitable: al-Zarqawi was going to link himself to the brand name, and Bin Laden was in no position to stop it. So al-Zarqawi pledges allegiance to Bin Laden, runs his operations to suit himself, and grabs the spotlight. Coke or McDonalds would never have stood for it.

It's a pity there isn't trademark protection for criminal organizations or ideologies, isn't it?

Why won't anyone in authority admit what's going on?

According to sources cited in the New York Times, bombs used in Iraq are being designed and assembled in Iran, and closely match designs used by Hezbollah in Israel.

At the same time, "U.S. officials said they had no evidence of the Iranian government's involvement."

Anyone else sense a contradiction here?

04 August, 2005

Measures of effectiveness

Operationalize and test. A key to evaluating any policy is to (1) decide what you are trying to accomplish, and (2) figure out a way to measure your results. Number (2) is hard, and if done incorrectly the measuring device can be more misleading than helpful. (Remember body counts?) Number (1) is harder. All too often we don't know what we are trying to achieve, and/or different people are supporting the same policy in order to achieve different ends. These problems can be papered over in the politics of coalition-building, but they don't go away. Agreeing on an adequate measure of success or failure forces us to look at the problem.

Consider Iraq. What is the goal? What is the ultimate goal, and how do we know if we are getting there?

At least some people recognize the problem.

Addendum (thanks to Instapundit): You want numbers? I got numbers. Compiled by the Brookings Institution, and very interesting. A few preliminary conclusions, based on what I skimmed:

  1. Things were much worse last year than they are today.
  2. The general political and economic trends continue to be in the right direction.
  3. The native resistance is fairly large (around 20,000 and recruiting enough each month to more than cover losses), but what most of them are fighting for is an end to the shame of occupation by foreign powers.
  4. There is a small core of commited Islamists (in the low hundreds), mostly from Saudi Arabia, who see the struggle as being about creating a base for a global religious/ideological war.
  5. The vast majority of the population is focused, and rationally so, on getting clean water and reliable electricity. They are generally optimistic about the future. I suspect they'd be happy to see the ideologues kill one another and leave their families alone.

I'm still reading. Very, very interesting, and much more telling than the crap on the evening news. A major limitation to keep in mind: people taking polls in a war zone are more likely to tell the interrogator what they think he wants to hear. I don't think its a significant problem, since the poll numbers appear to reflect facts on the ground, but keep it in mind.

Goodbye to article 9

The ruling party in Japan is proposing changes to the "pacifist" constitution enacted after WWII, and China is worried.

03 August, 2005

Friends and allies

It's a truism of international relations that states don't have friends--only interests. Here's a case in point: in 1958 the British sold Israel twenty tons of heavy water, essential for the development of plutonium-based atomic weapons, without ever telling the U.S. The Americans had already announced that they wouldn't supply anything like that without solid assurances that it wouldn't be used in weapons development. The British, for "reasons of state" (including money) decided they wouldn't be so picky.

Friendship isn't trivial. But it only goes so far.