In January 1864, some strangely dressed men with odd accents arrived in the camp of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, whose troops had been reeling from shortages of arms and supplies. They demonstrate a new weapon – an amazingly high powered accurate “repeater” rifle – and offer it to Lee.
He accepts. And the arming of his troops with AK-47s brought to him from 2014 changes the course of the Civil War. As the reports read, “With the new weapons, the South wins the war and history is changed.”
In the genres of alternative history and science fiction, there is no greater example of a “game changer” that this example in Harry Turtledove’s novel “Guns of the South.” So today, perhaps with a nod to this high benchmark, we hear again and again the term “game changer” to refer to weapons or actions in the ongoing bloody fighting in Syria.
So let us ask now, and let us be clear: What really constitutes a game changer? How many times can the game changers change the game? When do they cancel each other out? And are they really game changers, or are we once again latching onto a catchy phrase that is rapidly becoming a cliché because of ease of use and needing little thought?
Here is what we have in the last few weeks.
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U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers chairs the House of Representatives’ panel on intelligence, which this week overwhelmingly approved a new cyber security bill designed to enhance data sharing between the government and private industry to protect computer networks and intellectual property from cyber attacks.
Yet the day before it passed, Rogers had a more novel idea on how to deal with those stealing information from U.S. firms and government entities: name names.
Rogers noted that nations like China have little for the U.S. to steal back since, to paraphrase him, they stole everything of value they have from the United States. The one thing the U.S. could – and should do – is make public compromising communications and other materials, Rogers said.
“We are in a cyber war and we just don’t know it,” Rogers, R-Mich., said at an event on the cyber threat sponsored by the American Center for Democracy. “We had better do something now” or cyber terror will ruin the U.S. economy.
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The idea of arming the Syrian rebels is being chatted up once again. The debate will wander and focus in many theoretical directions. Yet essentially the decision will focus on one key pivot: is the goal a short-term or long-term victory?
The safe bet: short-term considerations will win out.
The U.N. proclamation that the one millionth Syrian refugee has crossed an international border adds to the swell of pressure for action. The drumbeat of “desperation” coming from various rebel leaders is increasing, playing on the guilt of some in the west.
So now there is some fudging in public and, no doubt, much nudging out of view.
The U.S. history of giving guns to the guys – a history that must include those times when weapons were NOT given – offers plenty of solid examples and guide points for Secretary of State John Kerry, pro-rebel members of Congress and the Obama administration.
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With the French military intervention in Mali shifting to a more sustained action, the reality of the long, hard slog in the Mali region has triggered inevitable questions by diplomats, policy planners and many others as to what defines success – and what comes next?
Most mouthed answer: “Somalia.”
That’s correct. The place where humanitarian intervention went bad in a major way, where Black Hawk Down became a symbol of how fraught Africa intervention can be that it scored America so badly that the U.S. sat back and watched Rwanda bleed and did all it could to avoid intervention, is now seen as the template solution for Mali.
This really does stop one in the tracks.
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