Sunday, July 29, 2012

Winning "softly". Lebanon edition.

Books can be (and I'm sure, have been) written on this subject, but here I just wanted to highlight two very interesting - and more or less, recent - examples of the fight for popularity in Lebanon.

The first is a "Beer Fest" put together earlier this month by the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. The embassy (!!). The event was put out on Facebook and the initial invitees were welcome to extend the invitations further. Here's the text:
Join the Beirut Brewers Guild at 7:00pm on Friday, 13 July 2012, to celebrate the greatness that is beer. Please extend this invitation to your friends (2 degrees of separation only, please) and we can all have a jolly good time. Casual dress, adults only. There will likely be dancing.
If you plan to attend, please write your name on the wall so we can put in the paperwork to get folks through the gate.

Do note that most of the names on the invite list are not foreign, so this was not some exclusive private expat party. And that in Beirut, while there is a full-scale civil war raging some 80 km away. Certainly, that involved risk and the attendees probably had to go through some background checks. But, this seems to have been a great public - and cultural - diplomacy initiative (I'm not quite sure the organizer himself realized it can be presented as such). What else would bring people closer together than food, drink, and dancing?

If only there were more of these around the world.

The second example is from Hizballah, who are feeling the increasing pressure of the events in the region. In a speech during a recent "graduation ceremony", Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has apparently talked about "soft war" that he suggests is waged by the West against him, his organization, and (by implication) their sponsors.

Image from From what I could gather, all the media featured here represent foreign  (including, foreign-based and foreign-funded) organizations. Is that supposed to imply that Hizballah does not see itself as fighting a "soft war"?

The subject was further explored in a recent post - in English - on the organizations official website. In that piece, Amine Hoteit, identified a retired Brigadier General, explains that "War against an enemy is either hard or soft, hence military or cultural." He then says that the "soft war" involves the following elements:
1- Intellectual, psychological and Media thrust to convince the target society it has to abandon its intellectual system.
2- Preparing the ground for reviving historical conflicts and differences which constitute the "flammable" material; the spark to start a conflict or war.
3- Strife is sown on the basis of historical findings, internal conflict begins.
4- It is the phase of self-erosion. Leaders of Soft War have one major mission, prevent any easing of tension, sow more sedition and division among the parties; hence allowing self-destruction.
5- Now the target society is eroded and worn, the soft war administrator prevents this weakened society from possessing arms and tools of defense, and turns it into a lackey society with imported creeds and thoughts.

Sounds familiar?

The piece closes with an "outstanding" paragraph, which - I'm sure - must have reassured many supporters of the movement and attracted new ones:
"Sayyed Nasrallah noted the presence of war against the Resistance society which decays the state just like cancer does to the body. He also enlisted some of the major Soft war tools. He finally launched an indirect call for all to get involved in a defense-strategic battle in face of Soft War, as it is even more dangerous than military war."
Sayyed Nasrallah has won the war already, as the school of resistance keeps graduating mujahideen and martyrs that refuse to subjugate to foreign interference or meddling, have steely belief and know they will only achieve victories [sic].
It is amusing that while demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of psychological operations and effective perception management at a theoretical level, the organization's actual approach to those is much more simplistic and direct, especially in terms of foreign audiences.

You can read more about Hizaballah's information operations here: Hizballah’s Media Strategy: Creating a “Theater of Terror”.

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