Not a single American president before Barack Obama has faced such an overwhelming and multidimensional agenda upon his inauguration. Expectations are high. However, he will not be able to perform miracles. The unfolding crisis has been gestating over the last decade. It not only enmeshes the global financial downturn, but also a deteriorating global security outlook and the dislocation of the relationship between government and people. Lasting and effective solutions would gradually emerge. Yet it will take some time for them to be implemented, let alone start showing palpable results. Meanwhile, downgrade and reinvent yourself, because the task for 2009-2010 is simply survival.
The global economic downturn
As the world economy continues to contract in 2009, demonstrations are likely to escalate into riots and broader social disorder. Neither the West nor emerging democracies are immune. There have been so far angry demonstrations and sporadic riots in various European capitals and metropolis in the developing world. In a world with a nearly instantaneous news cycle, there is a potential for copycat events worldwide. We do not need to provide you with empirical data to corroborate the trend, as you have probably seen traces of it within your own community. It is hoped that President Obama (and other heads of state) will acknowledge the need for broader private sector input in areas of state security. For large and possibly international disturbances, police will not be enough. You should think about the Great Depression social upheavals and activism circa 1968 combined together and enhanced by digital communications. Using armies, on the other hand, would send the wrong message to people. The footprint of the private security sector already permeates large segments of society. Therefore, at least preemptive coordination between authorities and professional security industry associations already becomes mandatory.
Over the last few years, while many were writing or reading endless columns about the wrongs of the Bush administration and the Iraq conflict, the world was getting more dangerous and Private Military Companies (PMCs) were busy trying to contain the tidal wave of violence. Add to this conflict layer the criminal networks and extremist groups that would attempt to seize popular unrest in order to add momentum to their own agendas. Most people are intrinsically good until their survival instinct kicks in. Then, adverse forces can tap into the popular psyche and unleash unsuspected hate and intolerance. Please trust well-established security providers. They have the experience and personnel needed to counteract unlawful violence. This is one of the reasons governments have been increasingly employing PMCs and firms in the soft security sector. In spite of management and oversight problems, the best experience on security and law enforcement lays at the intersection between the public and the private sectors. Accepting and taking advantage of this hybrid public-private system offer the hope for us all to make it to the next decade, perhaps with empty pockets, but no scratches to show.
Sharpen your knowledge
At a time honest reporting is required to harness the community spirit needed to deal with the rough times ahead, the relentless news media focus on an apparent climate of global Armageddon here and now is not easing things at all. Moreover, some journalists have turned criminals into celebrities. For example, a BBC reporter prided herself of contacting Somali hijackers by telephone thanks to her infant daughter’s insistence to do so. They have also provided terrorists with vital operational intel. For example, people behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks were able to track the Indian forces response by simply following the gratuitous televised reports by the news media. Keep yourself informed, but develop a more critical attitude towards the news media. This year is even more important to remember that instant or reactive news do not make the best or most accurate analysis. Consider that before the crisis was upon us not a single serious media outlet sought to explain where the money was coming from to sustain the unsustainable: a financial system based on the promise of exponential returns (and bonuses) out of limited resources. Now it is a little too late and counterproductive to fill the gap. Remember too that journalists, like all of us, are desperate to keep their jobs: over-spinning news is a route to the survival of many of them. To some extent, we have empowered the media to become an intermediary between government and people by giving undue importance to numerous reports and reporters. Likewise, government seems to be more concerned about replying to the media than the people. Perhaps it is time to discontinue this distorting social construct.
January 21, 2009