The 'Change' Campaign

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Published January 08, 2008

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"The biggest argument against democracy is a five minute discussion with the average voter," Winston Churchill

Welcome to the new year. Apparently 2008 is the year of Change. Change and Hope. Change, Hope and New Direction. Change, Hope, New Direction and Fixin’ Up Washington.

How? Well shame on you for asking. Isn’t it enough that we’re hearing speech after flowery speech promising these things? Why, I get all misty just thinking about all the change that’s on its way. Confound it man, don’t be asking how these fabulous Agents of Change intend to do it all. Let’s just spend some time feeling good and excited about the bright and shiny changed future.

Get out the vote…rock the vote…pander the vote…whatever it takes. And apparently, right now, all it takes is a boatload of jack, loads of promises and the ability to use the word “change” at least 250 times per day. Everybody’s flocking to change…the young, the independents, the undecideds…change is the hot new club that’s just opened up downtown.

It’s a tidal wave of feel good blather. For the past week I’ve been watching campaign rallies for a handful of the candidates that are looking increasingly like revival meetings. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for positive speeches full of sunshine and rainbows. I’d just like to hear the candidates explain in concise detail what they intend to change and how they intend to do it.

Promising a brand spankin’ new way of doing things, hope for the future and lots and lots of national unity is what we might call big picture stuff. Unfortunately, foreign policy, government spending, energy, taxes, immigration and other important issues of our day exist in the details.

I understand that jumping up onto the stage and grabbing the microphone, then launching into a fifteen minute explanation as to how you plan on specifically dealing with critical issues is far less tantalizing and media friendly than raining promises of hope down on the audience from 30,000 feet. But every time I watch one of these events I’m secretly praying for that little kid from the fable to raise his hand and mention that the candidate (doesn’t matter which one) isn’t wearing any clothes.

In all honesty, many people probably aren’t going to the rallies in order to hear specifics. Many of them simply want a show…let’s take a gander at the celebrity campaigners and size up who seems more earnest, approachable and likeable. This of course would be no different than in past elections. I suspect George Washington probably felt obligated to promise change and a better future during a handful of his reluctant inaugural year speeches. No wonder he couldn’t wait to get back to Mount Vernon.

To think that somehow this year is markedly different than campaigns past would be a bit self-centered and egotistical. Certainly, and finally, we’ve got more diversity in the ranks of candidates. But voters have been listening to politicians promise change, hope and a fixed up Washington D.C. since L’Enfant first laid down the blueprints for the nation’s capitol.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Two years from now, a large percentage of the population will be carping about the new administration and dreaming about change. It’s inevitable. We send Mr. Smith to Washington with a suitcase full of promises and then get all fussy when they don’t immediately deliver.

Damn it, we voters (young, old, left, right, center, whatever) want our change right now. And my dreams of change probably don’t look anything like yours. Unless of course you want to see Hooters girls serving drinks to both sides of the aisle during a State of the Union speech. Now that’s change.

And how frustrating is it that our elected Change Agent has to actually work within the existing two party system and deal with a complex state and federal government structure that may at times be resistant to change. Not too mention the pesky activities, interests and conflicting concerns of the rest of the world.

One last thought before we take a spin around the Middle East. It could be argued that the role of experience has become less of an issue over the past few elections. I think the trend really took hold when Jimmy Carter snuck in under the wire. Prior to that, we kind of liked our presidents to have some experience behind them…military, government, business…it was considered a plus.

Is it just me, or does it seem like this time around, not only is experience not considered necessary, it’s almost considered a burden. A badge of shame. Clearly, if you’ve got experience then you’re “one of them”. I’m not sure who “them” are, but I suspect they’re from Washington. Or corporate America. Or maybe they (being on the other side of the fence from “them”) are referring to Freemasons. I don’t know.

Here’s what I think. Experience is a good thing when it comes to being a president. Being tested is a good thing. Knowing how Washington works is a good thing. I know all you purveyors of change will disagree, but all the happy thoughts and desire to change the world won’t make Washington a different place. Our next president will work within the system. Reality bites.

And now, strap on your goggles and let’s play the PWB’s favorite parlor game, “Look at all the garbage out there.”

Item One: What? Another dead Lebanese leader who didn’t like Syria?

Faithful readers of the Brief will know that I’ve got a jones about Syria’s possible meddling in Lebanon. And by meddling, I mean involvement in the murder of numerous Lebanese politicians, dignitaries and officials. How many? Honestly, I’ve misplaced my abacus but we’ve almost hit double digits during the past couple of years.

For those not keeping score, the most recent killing took place on Dec. 12 when a car bomb packed with almost 80 pounds of explosive took the life of General Francois Hajj, the Lebanese Army’s Chief of Operations. He was likely to end up as the head of the military if the current army chief, Gen. Michel Suleiman, receives the nod as the compromise candidate for President. The election has been postponed (for an 11th time) to Jan. 12.

The country has been without a president since late November when Emile Lahoud left office and the parliament was unable to break a deadlock over naming a successor. In simple terms, and nothing is simple in Lebanon, the parliament is divided between the anti-Syrian government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the opposition, which is led by Hezbollah, and is allied with Syria and Iran.

Anti-Syrian elements in the country immediately blamed Syria for the death of Gen. Hajj. Others suspect that Al Qaeda aligned Sunni terrorists may have been responsible. Hajj was in charge of the effort last summer to crush terrorist strongholds inside Palestinian refugee camps in northern Lebanon.

As with the past killings, it’s highly unlikely the perpetrators will be identified and brought to justice. The U.N. investigation into the February 2005 killing of former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri is still ongoing. I’m hopeful the U.N. will identify who killed Hariri before anti-Syrian Lebanese officials move from the endangered species list to the extinct category.

Excuse me for snorting with doubt when I hear U.S. and European politicians crying for a U.N. sponsored investigation into the killing of Benazir Bhutto. The U.N. can’t organize panic in a doomed submarine. Why do we suppose they’ll get to the bottom of the Bhutto assassination when they’ve been so inept with the Hariri case?

Item Two: Ahmadinejad’s Navy Yucks it up in the Strait of Hormuz…

Looks like we’ll need to revamp the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Just this weekend, five armed Iranian speedboats, apparently owned and operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG), bizarrely challenged three U.S. Navy warships in the international waters of the Strait of Hormuz.

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of name is Hormuz? The IRG boats aggressively approached the U.S. ships during daylight, reportedly getting as close as 200 yards. The Iranians made threatening radio calls, reportedly saying the U.S. vessels would be blown up.

I have it on good authority that they also criticized the New York Yankees and made fun of our women. One of the IRG sailors also allegedly mooned our boys manning the forward guns on the Destroyer.

No shots were fired. By which I mean, we showed restraint and didn’t light them up like a Holiday Tree. The Pentagon, and later the White House, issued statements condemning the aggressive action by the Iranian boats.

That’ll teach them. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about dealing with hostile governments run by hardline clerics, it’s that a strongly worded statement scares the beejeebees out of them. That and a good stern talking to.

But the incident has caused a great deal of consternation among analysts and Middle East experts trying to understand the meaning behind the Iranian challenge. From the Pentagon came this; “It’s perplexing why five small Iranian boats would confront three U.S. warships operating in international waters. We see it as further evidence that Iran is unpredictable and remains a threat.”

To prove that there are always two sides to every confrontation at sea, the Iranian official statement noted that “…this is an ordinary occurrence, which happens every now and then for both sides.” Oh. Thanks for that clarification. I suggest we all keep the Strait of Hormuz on our radar screen. It’s worth remembering that upwards of 40 percent of all seabourne traded oil passes through there annually.

Item Three: There goes one fine American.

Possibly my favorite story of the week. Adam Gadahn, the California kid who ran away to join Al Qaeda, resurfaced this past week in another terror tape. How irritating is this guy? Most socially awkward kids don’t become PR flunkies for major terrorist organizations. I’m guessing he stands out at his high school reunion when it comes time to compare chosen careers.

Anyway, during this most recent terror tape, while droning on about infidels, rationalizing murder and generally getting his rocks off because he finally fits in, Adam displayed his U.S. passport, tore it in half and renounced his U.S. citizenship.

What a blow to all of us who had hoped he would one day return home and run for political office in his home state of California.

And finally, Item Four: I was wrong, the U.N does get things accomplished.

Here I was being all negative and surly about the U.N. Just to show I can be fair and balanced… back on Dec. 18 the world body managed to push through a number of resolutions before the year end. And who doesn’t love a good resolution?

Included in the mix was a resolution sponsored and heavily promoted for some time now by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which urges a prohibition on the public defamation of religion.

Now, on the surface that sounds pretty good. But the entertainment value is in the details of the resolution, which singles out Islam as the religion that needs to be particularly protected from criticism.

The statement addresses what it refers to as a “campaign” against Muslim minorities and the Islamic religion since the 9/11 attacks. The resolution stresses “…the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred against Islam and Muslims in particular.”

But wait, it gets better. The statement also “…expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations.” Who in their right mind would make that connection?

And in an entertaining bit of odd bedfellows, Human Rights Watch sided with the United States, the United Kingdom, members of the European Union and other non-Muslim countries in rallying against the resolution. Included in the OIC document was the statement that freedom of expression “may be subject to limitations as provided by law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others…or morals and respect for religions and beliefs.”

Human Rights Watch said the resolution could endanger the basic rights of individuals. You think?

Never mind. The resolution was successfully passed by the U.N. General Assembly, disproving my theory that they can’t get anything done.

Till next week, stay safe.

Respond to the Writer.

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.

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