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On Political Warfare

On Political Warfare




Many ask why we encounter endless and chameleon-like campaigns against Tigrai. When I say “why”, I am not talking about the strategic goal. Their strategic goal is obvious for all Tigreans. The goal of Derg 2.0 (2018-Present) is no different than its predecessor, Derg 1.0 (1975-1991). Simply put, Derg 2.0 is an upgraded Derg 1.0. Rather, I am talking about the endless and ever-changing aspect of the campaigns. What is the link between the displacements, the road-blockage, the imprisonments, the documentaries, the constitutional erosion, and the fake news we witnessed over the past two years? These endless and ever-changing tactics are elements of political warfare. George Kennan coined “political warfare” in 1948. He defined it as follows:

Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz’s doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition, political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives, to further its influence and authority and to weaken those of its adversaries.

If political warfare is the deployment of “all means at a nation’s command, short of war”, then what do “all means” incorporate? RAND claims nations have diplomatic/political, economic, military/intelligence, and information/cyber powers. Political warfare extracts economic subversion, assisting resistance groups and political parties, propaganda, psychological warfare, and conditional military aid to state (see diagram below).

It is not difficult to identify many aspects of political warfare Derg 2.0 is waging against Tigrai. The blocking of the road and investors going to Tigrai, for instance, is intended to subvert Tigrai’s economy. The broadcasting of prosperity gospel day in and day out are a manifestation of propaganda. The fabrication of the Tigrean prosperity branch, the coalition with assimilationist political parties, and the protection of anti-Tigrean foul-mouths (or “activists” as they call them) are elements of “aid to political parties and resistance groups”. The cooperation with shabia and arming of local bandits, and militia may be classified under “conventional military aid”.

One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand the application of political warfare against Tigrai. But there is one element that merits conceptual elaboration and another that is not included in the diagram. Psychological warfare is one dimension of political warfare that deserves further exploration. It is necessary to make a preliminary (not conclusive) dissection of the psyops gearbox to raise awareness. This sheds a brighter light on their rationale for their notorious documentaries, the death of Mr. X news, the Tigrai civil unrest project, etc. The other element pertains to the legal tools of political warfare not depicted on the graph. This might shed some light on the rationale for border commission, unsolicited declarations by electoral board and supreme court, and the latest election postponement debacle.

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RAND defined psychological warfare as the “planned use of propaganda and other psychological operations to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of opposition groups”.CIA’s 2004 definition is more detailed. It defines psychological operation as:

The planned use, by a nation, of propaganda and related informational measures designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes and behavior of enemy, neutral or friendly foreign groups in such as a way as to support the accomplishment of national policy and aims

The above definition is pregnant with multiple concepts calling for further elaborations. For example, what is propaganda? Webster dictionary defines it as: “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause”. There are three types of propaganda. White propaganda is a biased report derived from a credible source. For example, the tragic death of a young man in Mekelle from police altercation was framed as a lack of freedom in Tigrai. Black propaganda lacks a credible source. But it is disseminated to disinform its target. For example, disturbing photos were taken in other parts of the country and the continent is posted as having taken in Tigrai. Grey propaganda is information whose credibility or source cannot be confirmed or traced. The countless fake accounts and their anti-Tigrai content fall under this category.

Psychological operation is the coordination of three ingredients. These include an audience (enemy, neutral, self), a media (news outlets, movies, music, art, flag, leaflets, etc.), and intelligence (favorable, unfavorable, doubtful). The psy-operator considers the response of his target before, after, and without these ingredients take effect. The ingredients (audience, media, and intelligence) of psy-op can be combined to launch different types of psychological campaigns like raising false hopes (like medemer), dividing and conquering (Awraja), inducing desperation (Federalist forces drama), deceiving (Dam project), challenging (we are ready to fight speech), etc. Different psychological campaigns combine different ingredients.

Psychological warfare is not novel. It is a phenomenon that has been universally studied and applied worldwide since Genghis Khan. The only reservation is this: psychological warfare is considered opprobrium in Tigrai’s culture. Perhaps that is why enemies of Tigrai chose this modus operandi as a tool. For this reason, Tigreans should think about the state of political warfare (particularly its psychological warfare dimension) against Tigrai in a scientific manner. Apart from that, psychological warfare can only be effective only if it carries a potent idea. Germany had a strong propaganda machine during WWII. But it disseminated zero-sum solutions that promised to eliminate other races, soldiers, countries, and ideologies. By contrast, the allies’ propaganda offered the German soldiers and its people mercy, democracy, and a better life (later translated into the Marshall Plan). So, the victors of psychological warfare are those who offer a better solution.

A legal mechanism is the fifth dimension of political warfare besides economic, political/diplomatic, military/intelligence, and information/cyber dimensions. This mechanism is the most common method modern dictators employ throughout the world. Cold War dictators like Mengistu, Mobutu, etc. used brute force to take and keep power. They employed coup d’état, assassination, assault, etc. as their preferred methods. The Cold War environment permitted them to act this way because the rival superpowers needed them to stand on their respective blocs. The end of the Cold War introduced a new wave of democratization worldwide. The only way to secure international legitimacy is for modern dictators to wear democratic cosmetics. They fabricate a political party named “democratic party of x”, organized fake elections, draft constitutions they don’t mean to respect and sell out the national asset in the name of liberalization. That is why naïve institutions call them hybrid-regimes. We have a proliferation of “hybrid-regimes” (disguised dictatorships) world-wide. Absolute dictatorships like Eritrea and royal families in the petro-deserts are rare species.

Countries Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela, and other countries in Africa stage elections. Their electoral boards also register opposition political parties. These countries have also formed the judiciary branch. However, all of these structures serve as a façade. The modern dictators don’t kill democracy with one shot as their predecessors did. Rather, they kill democracy using a thousand cuts. They don’t dismantle the constitution using proclamation like the Derg 1.0. Rather, Derg 2.0 and its likes, erode the constitutional order gradually. They transgress one procedure at a time and follow up in intervals. It is impossible to notice a major blowback when one inspects each transgression in isolation. One transgression may seem immaterial. But when one aggregates the series of transgressions modern dictators make, one realizes they are more dangerous than their predecessors. One border commission, one press law, one fall of the regional government, or one constitutional interpretation may seem small in absolute value. It is the overall effect that matters per the boiling frogs metaphor (see cartoon below-esp., the dead frog). A power consolidating executive, a servile legislative, a partial judiciary, a persecuted media, and a series of failed regional governments are effective recipes for killing democracy in a country.Red-Terror path to dictatorship has become obsolete.

Let me wrap up. The assault against Tigrai are continuous and ever changing. They continue to this day because Derg 2.0 is deploying all its resources to bring down Tigrai. Kennan termed this act of mobilizing the economic, political, legal, economic, military/intelligence, and information/cyber resources of a country against an adversary, short of war: political warfare. It is high time to connect the dots and consider future offensives (short of war) as a continuation and elements of political warfare against Tigrai. It is also necessary for Tigrean scholars to unveil seemingly abstract concepts like psy-ops, propaganda, and constitutional erosion under the rubric of political warfare. Political warfare, like conventional warfare, is defeated scientifically. Finally, let me address a moral question: why is this constant assault happening against Tigrai? Derg 2.0 knows Tigrai is more united, stable, progressive, and stronger than the fragile command-posts it is running. If Tigrai stands, itgets eclipsed. That is why they are vainly waging political warfare against Tigrai.As the saying goes: “whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you”.


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