How to craft a narrative

How to craft a narrative

There’s no Soviet Union anymore, but the principle is the same (from, via

If you’ve ever wondered how to go about creating a narrative to drive public perception about a story, I’m here to help. I’d like to start, if I may, with a couple of examples.

Back in January, NATO began major troop movements as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a mission begun in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which in itself was a response–an overly aggressive and disruptive response–to a Western-supported overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine. Somewhere on the order of 4000 NATO troops have been deployed to Poland and the three Baltic states–each of which borders some part of Russia (Kaliningrad counts, dammit). Here’s how the deputy commander of US European Command, Lt. General Timothy Ray, described this deployment when it began:

Lt Gen Tim Ray, deputy commander of US European Command, said: “Let me be very clear, this is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure territorial integrity of our allies and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous and at peace.”

Putting thousands of NATO troops on Russia’s border is part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression. Or, if you prefer, it’s a “demonstration [of] solidarity,” according to the US Embassy in Poland:

NATO’s eFP is a clear demonstration solidarity and determination to defend Allied territory against possible aggression.  The deployment is defensive, proportionate, and conforms to the Article V commitment of the treaty to prevent conflict, protect our Allies, and preserve peace throughout the region.

Just this week, the US deployed a couple of F-35s to the Baltic nation of Estonia, again right on Russia’s border. Why? Two words–commitment and unity:

Two of the U.S. Air Force’s newest and most advanced jets landed in the Baltic state of Estonia for the first time on Tuesday, a symbolic gesture meant to reinforce the United States’ commitment to the defence of NATO allies that border Russia.

The visit of the F-35 stealth fighters, which flew from Britain and spent several hours in Estonia, is part of broader U.S. jet pilot training across Europe as the NATO alliance seeks to deter Moscow from any possible incursion in the Baltics.

Russia denies having any such intention.

“This is a very clear message,” Estonia’s Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna told Reuters. “The United States is taking the show of unity very seriously,” he said of the jets that are designed to avoid detection by conventional radar.

All of this is fine, really. Poland and the Baltic states all joined NATO voluntarily and have welcomed these deployments. Russia might have some concerns about a potentially hostile military force primarily made of up US, Canadian, and Western European soldiers being deployed in countries it borders, but we know those concerns are unfounded and irrelevant–this NATO deployment is defensive in nature, and anyway it’s none of Russia’s business how NATO and its member states work out troop deployments, even when they’re happening in Russia’s near abroad.

Now, here’s a story I just came across this morningContinue reading “How to craft a narrative”


The state of your State of Emergency

Turkey is now officially in a state of emergency as it attempts to come out on the other side of last week’s attempted coup:

Turkey’s parliament has approved a bill declaring a state of emergency in the wake of last weekend’s coup attempt and informed the Council of Europe of a partial withdrawal from the European convention on human rights.

Turkey will be required to provide regular updates to the secretary general of the Council of Europe on the measures taken under the state of emergency, according to the terms of the treaty.

Turkey initially said it had informed the Council of Europe that it would suspend the convention entirely, a more wide-ranging measure likely to have drawn criticism from allies.

The ECHR is a wide-ranging document (as its name suggests) and it’s not clear, or at least I haven’t seen it explained anywhere, what this “partial withdrawal” entails, specifically. But the convention does things like prohibiting torture, protecting due process, maintaining freedom of movement and preventing the expulsion of citizens/nationals, and prohibiting “unlawful killing,” this is a development that should be watched carefully. It seems likely that one of the casualties of the ECHR suspension will be Turkey’s ban on capital punishment., though it’s not clear that Turkey can actually get away with briefly reinstating the death penalty and then try to readopt the ECHR (which completely bans the practice) again later.

The Turkish government has been assuring people, mainly the international community, that most Turks won’t even know the emergency measures are in place:

Mehmet Simsek, the deputy prime minister, tried to dispel fears on Thursday that the country would return to the deep repression seen the last time it was under similar measures.

“The state of emergency in Turkey won’t include restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press, etc. It isn’t martial law of 1990s,” he said. “I’m confident Turkey will come out of this with much stronger democracy, better functioning market economy and enhanced investment climate.”

Of course, this state of emergency actually does include at least one restriction on movement (academics are being barred from leaving the country for work), and Turkey didn’t have a free press even before this all happened. But I think Şimşek ought to get points for trying. Tayyip Erdoğan gave it a shot too, in an interview with Al Jazeera:

“We will remain inside a democratic parliamentary system, we will never step back from it,” he told Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, speaking through a translator, from inside the presidential palace in Ankara.

Erdoğan is, of course, obsessed with “stepping back” from Turkey’s parliamentary system and transitioning to a presidential system. But anyway, this seems encouragi-

“However, whatever is necessary for the nation’s peace and stability will be done,” Erdogan said, expressing doubts, however, that the coup attempt was entirely over.

Oh. OK then.

Meanwhile, in the latest round of updates, the number of people purged (arrested, detained, fired, and/or suspended from their jobs) in the aftermath of the failed coup has climbed over 50,000. The Middle East Institute’s Gönül Tol argues that we’re seeing a “civilian coup” in response to the attempted military coup: Continue reading “The state of your State of Emergency”

Not even trying anymore

Not even trying anymore

Whatever this is, it is not a photo of Donald Trump angrily denouncing his running mate for voting to invade Iraq

If you’re like me, and polling shows that you probably aren’t, you put a great deal of emphasis on foreign policy when deciding on a candidate for office, particularly (obviously) when that office is President of the United States. Because we live in a world that has been fundamentally changed, and not for the better, by the increasingly-batshit-in-hindsight decision to invade Iraq in 2003, how somebody approached that issue at the time is very relevant to determining how you think they’ll perform in office today. Republican presidential nominee and former reality TV star Donald Trump has made a lot of hay about Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, and, hey, I get it. It was a lousy vote that speaks to her often worryingly militaristic foreign policy instincts. It should continue to dog her as she pursues the White House.

Trump has also made a lot of hay in this campaign by claiming that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. The revelation that this was a lie has affected his support about as much as all the other revelations of lies that have come out of his mouth, which is to say hardly at all. But now he’s gone and picked himself a running mate, Cotton Hill Mike Pence,

OK, you try telling them apart, you’re so smart

who, let’s see, also voted to invade Iraq back in 2003, and then later defended the invasion only a couple of months after the generally acknowledged end of the sectarian civil war that it spawned.

Problem, no? Well, let’s just say that, had Mike Pence decided to run for president this cycle instead of waiting around in case the eventual nominee came calling, Trump would surely have used that vote, and subsequent defense, to bludgeon Pence’s electoral hopes into submission. But now that Pence returned his call agreed to run on his ticket, what’s Trump’s comment on his Iraq War-supporting past? The answer will surprise you…no, no it won’t. It’s not in any way surprising:

Let’s go to the transcript: Continue reading “Not even trying anymore”