I Wrote About Something Pertinent To The Situation In Syria Last Year

Last year I wrote about a French article that was talking about how foreign intervention goes wrong.

The article was called “Les trois fautes de l’occident” (The 3 Errors Of The West) and was written by a former French ambassador to Senegal.

Incarner le mal – personalising the bad

Bashar al-Assad is the bad in Syria. He used chemical weapons. He was not elected by popular vote.

Idéaliser les « rebelles » – idolising the “rebels”

Rebelling against a dictatorship makes you pure and good in the eyes of the Western Media. You might be an al-Queda franchise and Gulf State backed militia but you’re rebelling and that’s cool man.

Croire qu’au nom du bien tout est permis – believing that in the name of doing good, anything is permissible

Tomahawk Cruise Missile Alert! Without double checking to see that Libya is now a complete failed state that has seen oil production plummet to almost nothing as violence rises and Libya becomes the narco-transhipment hub of choice into Europe, Syria is about to get its own violation of international law.

My conclusion in November last year:

Reports that the United States has been funnelling arms to Syrian rebels are not good at all. Already the violence in Syria has spilled over into Lebanon with the assassination of a senior intelligence official and street level violence. The risk of further tension between Turkey and Syria is an aggravating factor. The influence that Iran has over Hezbollah and Shi’ite factions in Syria do not bode well for a prompt resolution to the Syrian civil war.

Referring back to Jean Christophe-Rufin he concludes that if we are going to intervene in other countries, we need a far more responsible doctrine that realises building a peaceful society “post dictatorships” takes a lot of work.

Now that we know that Saudi Arabia tried to buy off the Russian Federation in exchange for Assad’s collapse, we can more clearly identify the cui bono (who benefits?) from the collapse of the Syrian regime.

This situation is even more complicated because Barack Obama has just been completely tooled by General al-Sisi and the Egyptian Military – his preferred Muslim Brotherhood man Morsi was rolled and Mubarak released from prison.

This also shows how incompetent National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been and why the Benghazi scandal actually mattered at the time despite all of the spin and obfuscation. The Arab Spring was a projection of Western ideals onto an area of the world still sorting itself out from British and French arbitrary borders after the end of World War One.

I am extremely concerned at how some genocides are more equal than others. Does anyone in the New Zealand media know how important Syria’s gas transhipment infrastructure is? Bueller? Bueller?

Aussie Rules And The Australian Defence White Paper 2013

Two weeks ago ANZAC day was remembered in Wellington with an Aussie Rules  game at Westpac Stadium. The Sydney Swans beat the St Kilda Saints 79-63. Although Kiwis are unfamiliar with the AFL code, there was a solid turnout of more than 22,000 including many who crossed the Tasman for the game.

Few New Zealanders give any thought to the composition of AFL teams because it is not a code as popular as union or league in New Zealand. Similarly, few New Zealanders give any thought to the strategic interests of Australia in terms of regional and global security. We are not a country that engages in much realistic discussion of security issues. The military is an afterthought and certainly not a priority for any government because there are no votes in it.

Nonetheless, the release of the Australian Defence White Paper 2013 provides an interesting insight into how the Australian defence establishment views the risks to Australian national interests in the region. It also outlines how Australia invests considerable effort in developing military capability that enables it to back up diplomatic and economic credibility with strategic credibility.

One of the notable changes from the 2009 white paper is that the language around China has been toned down. That reflects the reality that Australian prosperity over the past few years has essentially been a transfer of wealth from rapid growth in China to commodity producers in Australia. In turn, capital investment and employment growth in Australia is linked to continued Chinese prosperity.

The importance of the Indian Ocean and shipping channels through Singapore and Indonesia are emphasised. The importance of Indonesia as a regional partner is stressed. They say that New Zealand will remain a key contributor to regional security in the South Pacific. However, there is little discussion of whether the engagement in Afghanistan provided good value for money in terms of Australia’s strategic interests and partnership with the United States.

The launch of the Australian Cyber Security Centre will be something to watch because it is clear that China is engaging in cyber war and it enables a country to deliver crippling blows from afar. Just think about how control of the electricity distribution network or bank ATM network could bring any country to a standstill. In New Zealand and Australia, imagine the EFTPOS network being down for longer than a few days!

Obviously the biggest difference between the Australian approach and the New Zealand approach to protecting national interests is that Australia puts its money where its mouth is. The continued support of the joint strike fighter program and plans for 12 submarines to replace the Collins class of submarines as they are retired is a clear indication that Australia is beefing up its capital expenditure and building the capability to defend its shipping lanes and support strategic partners.

When the Indian and Chinese navy are increasing the size of their submarine fleets, a strong Australian submarine fleet is a substantial counter to that change in the strategic balance of power. The US Submarine Force Pacific Fleet has a lot of submarines but far more territory to cover, so that’s definitely a major plus for countering any risk to shipping lanes. In the event of any conflict, New Zealand benefits as well because we are highly dependent on shipping lanes that Australian surface and submarine fleets will protect freedom of the seas on.

One interesting highlight was how Australia and Spain are working together on naval co-operation and LHDs, multi-role tanker aircraft and the Air Warfare Destroyers which will provide the capability for Australia to protect an amphibious assault group of ships in conjunction with a submarine through integrated systems.

The acquisition of 12 Boeing EA-18G “Growlers” is an exciting enhancement of Australia’s air power. When they have taken deliver of their Joint Strike Fighters they will be able to project a lot of power over their “Northern approaches”. But technology isn’t everything. The White Paper makes it perfectly clear that solid intelligence is a major force multiplier for Australia.

That makes sense – if Australia gets its intelligence assessments wrong and miscalculates what sort of “future force” requirements it needs there are clear risks in the event of any major regional instability. At this point some discussion of the GCSB being tasked to assist Police must be criticised – the proper role of the GCSB is in assisting our intelligence gathering partners to make sure there are no repeats of the intelligence failure in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

New Zealand needs to acknowledge that as the ANZAC class of frigates are retired, and the inability of the RNZN to maintain high operational tempo through “days at sea”, our ability to contribute to naval operations in support of Australia is significantly reduced. There is no need to go crazy and obtain a class of vessels like the Air Warfare Destroyers but a new class of frigates that can meet days at sea requirements in an age where NZDF employment is not that popular is a no brainer.

Because of New Zealand’s large EEZ and really long airframe life on the P-3 Orions which have been extended far beyond what they were originally intended, we should take note that the Australians are moving to the P-8A Poseidon. They can operate in conjunction with maritime surveillance drones which extends their range even further. There is merit in maritime surveillance aircraft, and Australia is taking steps to ensure that it has a firm grasp on what is happening within their EEZ.

What I think is the most important part of the white paper is the discussion around people and the labour market. When the economy of Australia gets to join the rest of the world in Great Depression 2.0 it will find that a lot of the mining and construction sector employment could find ADF life a good compromise. There is clearly a major pay and benefit differential between the New Zealand and Australian militaries, but the Australians have a completely different attitude towards protecting their national interests. This is reflected in things like retention bonuses for submariners and bonded periods of service for skilled technicians to prevent them from going to the mines without “giving back” the taxpayer’s investment in their skills.

It is disappointing to learn that a 4th Air Warfare Destroyer is unlikely, but that increases the possibility that any lighter frigate class project in 5-10 years time will be open for New Zealand to hook into as the ANZAC frigates move towards the end of their useful life.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it is likely that there will be no New Zealand media coverage of something as important as the strategic and defence ideas of our closest partner. Perhaps tellingly, we were behind the United States and South Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore in the “partners” section.

Making the effort to understand how Australia is thinking about its long-term strategic interests in what it calls the “Indo-Pacific” is something solid thinkers should do. It flows through to our trade relationships, how we should think about shipping channel risk in the event of any global or regional flareups and inform our resolve to ensure that our intelligence capabilities are not wasted on copyright violations and instead deployed in a way that enables us to maintain our free riding on other countries “hard power” investment.

Les trois fautes de l’Occident

The former French ambassador to Senegal wrote about the 3 mistakes the West has made with respect to dealing with dictators and regimes that abuse human rights. Hat tip to King’s College London strategic studies blog Kings of War for pointing me to the article in September’s Paris Match.

Jean-Christophe Rufin, who has been involved in a lot of non-profits and was one of the founders of Médecins Sans Frontières points to three key mistakes. My explanations of the points he makes are my own translation from the French. I’ve added a decent amount of my own commentary so if you want you can go to Google Translate and read the original article.

Incarner le mal – personalising the bad

When a dictatorship is on the trajectory towards collapse we put a face to the terror – Saddam, Khaddafi, Assad. We fail to recognise the utter chaos that can occur in the transition. We actually put humn rights more at risk. He argues that it’s harder to get people to care when the terror is from a group – Salafists in Mali for example.

Last week on Radio New Zealand Kim Vinnell presented a tragic story of the rise of Islamism and struggle in Mali post the collapse of the Khaddafi regime. How many people in New Zealand will care about the plight of Mali’s people who don’t agree with having your hand chopped off for stealing?

Idéaliser les « rebelles » – idolising the “rebels”

Without thinking clearly, rebel groups are automatically imputed with some level of moral superiority. Western journalists jump to conclusions, like thinking that the Arab Spring was about democracy. As the voters have shown in Tunisia and Egypt, conservative Islam is democratically preferred by the people in those countries.

The Libyan rebels first act of government was to legalise polygamy. They’ve subsequently spent more time implementing Sharia law than getting rebuilding underway. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood very narrowly maintained the tenuous peace Mubarak had maintained with Israel.

Croire qu’au nom du bien tout est permis – believing that in the name of doing good, anything is permissible

NATO quickly went “all out” in disposing of Khaddafi. But the power vacuum in Libya is filled by different rebel groups that include the local franchise of Al-Queda. The US Consulate attack in Benghazi and death of the US Ambassador to Libya should make it patently clear that Libya has not suddenly become a paradise. The fallout from the collapse of the Khaddafi regime includes an influx of extremists into Mali and other countries in North Africa, flush with arms and hard currency.

The arrogance with which the West attempts to interfere in other countries leads to a lot of unintended consequences. Exporting “democracy” is a cruel and sick joke. Just look at public opinion surveys in the Middle East – they are overwhelmingly in favour of Sharia law, isolationism, persecution of Christians and of course the elimination of Israel.

Reports that the United States has been funnelling arms to Syrian rebels are not good at all. Already the violence in Syria has spilled over into Lebanon with the assassination of a senior intelligence official and street level violence. The risk of further tension between Turkey and Syria is an aggravating factor. The influence that Iran has over Hezbollah and Shi’ite factions in Syria do not bode well for a prompt resolution to the Syrian civil war.

Referring back to Jean Christophe-Rufin he concludes that if we are going to intervene in other countries, we need a far more responsible doctrine that realises building a peaceful society “post dictatorships” takes a lot of work.

“First, do no harm”.

Diminishing Returns And User Experience

The primary goal for a website is to obtain a successful sale.

It’s not to highlight how inspired you were in choosing an expensive web design agency to implement the complex brand strategy dreamt up by an extortionately overpriced advertising agency.

Every little gadget and obstruction between the landing page and the “place your order” button is another spanner in the works that can stop a potential sale dead in its tracks.

For some industries, showing off product capabilities with videos and diagrams is essential as part of the educational selling process.

3 Things No Potential Customer Should Experience

  1. A pop-up form asking them for email details before they’ve had a chance to see what you’re all about.
  2. Auto-playing music or video that invades a potential customer’s eardrums and concentration on matching their problem with your solution.
  3. A complex user interface they haven’t used before that they need to jump through in order to place an order or make a sales enquiry.

Diminishing returns is a concept from economics – the more workers you put on the factory floor, the more you produce up until the point where they start tripping over each other and your productivity declines.

Diminishing returns applies to user experience – the more features you have on your website will improve conversion rates up until the point that you are actually reducing your conversion rate and putting your entire web marketing strategy at risk.

Less really is more. Reduce the friction in the sales process by making it as easy as possible to get from the landing page to the successful sale.

What Is Your Big Idea?

To stand out from your competitors, you have to push a big idea.

The Apple iPod’s big idea was “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

Google Drives big idea is “all your documents everywhere you go”.

A big idea doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.

A twist on your unique selling point.

An improvement on your key value proposition.

A marketing message that clearly shows why your product or service is better than your competitor’s.

A big idea should flow through everything you do.

Design perfection is a big idea that shines through everything Apple does.

Steve Jobs was a perfectionist – he studied typefaces at college and was obsessed with writing and clear fonts on the Mac.

An obsession with perfection led to a suite of products that were perfect by themselves – independent entities that reflected amazing design and value creation.

A big idea is linked to the sort of value you are creating.

Although it’s tempting to be funny, you don’t need to be.

Every product or service has a big idea around it.

You just need to figure it out before your competition does.