Category All Things DC

Ever thought of working overseas? Read on

Bored? Need a job? A better job? A more interesting job? Tired of your cubicle, your daily rut, your relaxed and easy life?

How about working overseas? The Washington Post had a great article on working abroad a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to highlight it here.

First, according to the article, the number of Americans (and plenty of folks from other countries) working overseas has hit an all-time high, now standing at 6.3 million. A whole bunch more people are soon to be included in those figures – the percentage of Americans ages 25 to 34 who are planning to move overseas has quintupled in two years, from less than 1 percent to 5.1 percent. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 40 percent are interested in moving abroad, up from 12 percent in 2007.

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“Now that the election’s over” … U.S. policy options on North Korea

With the election fading, I’m seeing lots of articles on what to do with X now that the U.S. political scene is settled, with U.S. policy on North Korea having several turns as X. Already, I’ve read everything from ideological chest thumping in the Washington Times, to calls for more diplomatic make-work programs “a new diplomatic approach,” in Foreign Policy.

Reading most of these articles, my main takeaway is that anyone with a pulse and a keyboard, including yours truly, can get published. More diplomacy is the way forward with North Korea? Really? North Korea’s nukes and missiles are Obama’s fault? Seriously? This is the kind of nonsense that passes for informed discussion on U.S. policy toward North Korea?

First, short of an outright invasion (and with apologies to my former political science professors), what the U.S. government does or does not do has minimal affect on North Korea. Newsflash – North Korea’s ruling family does what is best for it, period. It is not blowing in the weak breeze of U.S. policy pronouncements. Just flip it around – no matter what diplomatic approach the Russians or Chinese pursue, the U.S. is not going to give up its nuclear weapons. Why people, “experts” even, think North Korea is any different, any more susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and asking really, really nicely, is beyond me. If the North’s rulers decide they need atom bombs and nuclear missiles, they’re going to have atom bombs and nuclear missiles, and, short of military action, there’s nothing the U.S. can do to change that, no matter who is president nor how cleverly it is argued.

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The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

[Book Review] Surprisingly readable – I’d half-expected dense academia or right-wing politicizing (the author is a former Bush administration official), but instead found The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future engrossing, with a great overview of North Korea, new insights into the diplomatic make-work program 6-party talks, and solid policy takeaways on the importance of increasing outside information flow into the North.

The author pushes a theory, neojuche revivalism (“juche,” itself commonly translated as “self-reliance,” is North Korea’s governing ideology, pg. 410), which seems to have lost some saliency with the death of Kim Jong-il and the changes in personnel and governing structure taking place under his son. According to Cha, the new/updated ideology is a “return to a conservative and hard-line juche ideology of the 1950s and 1960s,” when the North was ahead of the South technologically and economically (pg. 410).

Though the theory sounds mildly interesting, North Korea’s opaqueness means it can’t really be tested, nor does it provide much policy-level utility, especially given the ongoing leadership changes.

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North Korea Entering Information Age with Cellphones, Domestic-only ‘Intranet’

Interesting article on cellphone and ‘Internet’ usage in North Korea – yes, there are both cellphones (now up to a million 3G subscribers, if the numbers are to be believed) and ‘Internet’ users in the North, though access to the outside Internet is limited to a very select few. Instead, North Korea has established a nationwide (mostly Pyongyang, but some connections in outlying areas), domestic-only, intranet for universities, research centers, and a few private homes/apartments.

The article, from The Diplomat, a leading provider of news and commentary on the Asia-Pacific, attributes the North’s acceptance of information age technology to a desire to attract and please international investors. While the concerns of international investors may play a role, I hardly agree that this is the driving force. Rather, the North, like any other country or group of people, wants to use the technology to communicate and share information, though, in the North’s case, with a heavy dollop of state control (none of the cellphones on the domestic network can access numbers outside the country) and propaganda messages from state authorities (taking spam texts to a whole new level).

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Iran and North Korea cooperating on cyber-defense, ‘domestic Internets’?

UPDATE (28 Mar): Article today from the Times on how hackers from both North Korea and Iran have launched cyber attacks over the past week. No information on a connection between the two, other than their “erratic decision making,” but their skills appear to be growing, with Iran taking down American Express for two hours today.

UPDATE (24 Mar): Good article in PC World today about the threats posed by Iranian and North Korean hackers. The article covers some of what’s been discussed here, but also highlights testimony in the House last week about the unpredictability of Iran and North Korea making them harder to deter than China and Russia. The article points out that while the Iranians and North Koreans lack the cyber skills of the Chinese and Russians, their greater sense of “intent” may make them the more dangerous threats.

UPDATE (18 Jan): U.S. banks have officially sought help from the National Security Agency in dealing with the months-long cyberattacks, according to the Washington Post.

UPDATE (8 Jan): The Times has a story today with U.S. officials blaming Iran for attacks the past few months on “Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, PNC, Capital One, Fifth Third Bank, BB&T and HSBC.” The attacks are on a scale available to nation-states, not kids in a basement, “transforming the online equivalent of a few yapping Chihuahuas into a pack of fire-breathing Godzillas.” According to the story, the attacks are expected to continue.

UPDATE (3 Dec): Reuters carried a story from Kyodo yesterday about Iran stationing defense staff at a North Korean military facility, “apparently to strengthen cooperation in missile and nuclear development.” The “staff” reportedly consists of four people from Iran’s Ministry of Defense and “firms close to it.” The group may be in country for longterm collaboration, or to observe North Korea’s upcoming rocket launch.

UPDATE (24 Oct): The Times has an article today on an Iranian cyberattack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil firm in August that is now believed to be, “among the most destructive acts of computer sabotage on a company to date.” The attack is thought to be retaliation for previous cyberattacks on Iranian oil facilities – and may have even used some of the same code. This is shaping up to be an interesting battle, clearly visible even in the open source world.

UPDATE (18 Oct): The cyberattacks on U.S. banks are continuing into their fifth week, with the Wall Street Journal now publicly blaming Iran as the source of the attacks.

UPDATE (1 Oct): The Times has a story this morning about the effects the bank attacks are having on U.S. customers, plus additional speculation on who is behind them, with Iran and the general ‘Middle East’ as the most mentioned sources.

UPDATE (28 Sep): Bloomberg (among others), is reporting an escalating, ongoing cyberattack on U.S. banks that some, including Senator Lieberman (head of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee), are blaming on Iran. It may or may not be Iran, part of the ‘beauty’ of cyberattacks is being able to disguise their origin, but the attack points to the growing sophistication of state-level actors (the North Koreans took down a major South Korean bank last year) and the dangers posed to the U.S. private sector by cooperation of the type highlighted below.

A couple of interesting stories on Iran and North Korea so far this week: the Washington Post reports Iran is preparing an internal version of the Internet designed to limit Iranian’s access to the outside Net, plus block foreign cyberattacks. The article stresses the difficulties the mullahs will have establishing the system, while acknowledging the security advantages afforded by such a project.

Nowhere however, does the article mention a connection with North Korea, which has long had a ‘domestic Internet’ of the type described in the article. NK’s internal network offers the exact advantages – security and training for cyber-operatives, mentioned in the Post article.

The second article, from The Christian Science Monitor, on a new Iran-NK pact designed to enhance research cooperation in the fields of “information technology, engineering, [etc.],” makes a connection between the two countries on ‘domestic Internet’ development seem both possible and natural. The focus of the article, and other media attention to the pact, is on shared nuclear weapon and missile development efforts. However, the juxtaposition of the two events highlighted in the stories, the shared interest in walled-off internal networks, and the recent pact formalizing ongoing joint research and development efforts begs the question of whether the North Koreans are also aiding the Iranians in establishing a more cyberattack-resistant internal network – thereby removing a tool outsiders use to influence and track Iranian nuclear weapons development.

While this development would be good for the Iranians, it would not be a positive for security and stability in the region. If Israel and the U.S. lose their cyber option for derailing and delaying Iran’s nuclear efforts, kinetic options become more likely – to no one’s benefit. Stay tuned.

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Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy

[Book Review] Wonky, but surprisingly readable – Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy traces the history of U.S. “nation building,” or “stand back and let the Koreans do their thing – ing” in South Korea.

For a book in English, it contains a surprisingly large amount of the Korean perspective in building their nation into the success that it is today. Still, it seems too heavily focused on the U.S. role, while underplaying the role of the South Koreans. Perhaps a more reflective title would be The U.S. Role in South Korean Nation Building.

Either way, the book is an informative, readable history on U.S. – Korea relations and Korean development.

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Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train – slow and utilitarian, but beats the hell out of I95

UPDATE (13 MAY 2015): My thoughts are with the victims and families of last night’s Northeast Regional 188 that derailed in Philadelphia.

Having ridden the DC-NYC portion of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional twice a month for the past three years, I feel I should write something about it, but do so more out of a sense of obligation than any deep feelings for Amtrak at its most utilitarian. To quote Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express, “No good train ever goes far enough, just as no bad train ever reaches its destination soon enough.” The Northeast Regional lies squarely in the mildly pleasant middle.

Northeast Regional

 

 

 

 

 

 

First off, compared to most other routes, the Northeast Regional is expensive – which is probably why it’s the only Amtrak line that pays for itself. It can also get crowded, forcing people to roam from car to car in search of a seat or, as I did one Thanksgiving-eve, sit on the floor between cars, surrounded by fumes (the tunnel into Baltimore was especially pungent) and the occasional snowflake.

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“To Expect ‘Change’ from DPRK Is Foolish Ambition: Spokesman”

One of the best (i.e. amusing and somewhat readable) and most interesting (i.e. not solely about overfilled production quotas or the godlike exploits of the Great/Dear/Newest Leader) articles from North Korea’s official news agency I’ve come across in a while. Give it a click if you have a few minutes.

With the recent change in leadership brought on by the death of Kim Jong-il and succession of his son Kim Jong-un, has come heightened speculation on possible changes, reforms, modernization, and the like in North Korea. This article is North Korea’s forceful response. Some of the highlights, aside from the headline:

  • “Upset by this, the puppet group [i.e. South Korea] let experts in the north affairs and others interpret the stirring situation of the DPRK in a self-centered manner, vociferating about ‘signs of policy change’ and ‘attempt at reform and opening’. This ridiculous rhetoric only revealed its ignorance and sinister intention against the DPRK.”
  • “As far as ‘signs of policy change’ are concerned, there can not be any slightest change in all policies of the DPRK as they are meant to carry forward and accomplish the ideas and cause of the peerlessly great persons generation after generation [highlighting and justifying the family-based leadership successions], to all intents and purposes.”
  • “From decades of trumpeting ‘reform and opening’ to impose their corrupt system upon the DPRK, the hostile forces now seem to have been preoccupied by hallucination that such a move is taking place in the DPRK. Such idiots ignorant of the DPRK are professing experts in the north affairs. Pitiful are the U.S. and the puppet group which are resorting to foolish ambition on the basis of their sham analysis.”
  • [My favorite]: “To expect ‘policy change’ and ‘reform and opening’ from the DPRK is nothing but a foolish and silly dream just like wanting the sun to rise in the west.”

Except for a few changes around the edges, this is one of the rare times North Korea’s official line actually conflates with reality.

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The Ugly American

[Book Review] Stunning that a book written in 1958 about Vietnam and SE Asia is still so dead-on accurate. Reading it, you’d never know it wasn’t written last week about Iraq or Afghanistan.

A collection of semi-fictional vignettes about Americans working in the made-up SE Asian country of Sarkhan (read: Vietnam), anyone with a hint of overseas experience, or even time working with the U.S. government, will quickly (and in many cases, depressingly) recognize the various archetypes of Americans abroad illustrated here. The authors reportedly based many of the characters on real people they’d met while overseas. A quick bit of Googling sheds light on the origin of many of them.

A quick, enjoyable read – whether a story at a time, or the whole book. Highly recommended, especially for those heading overseas, or to DC, to work with the U.S. government and/or military.

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Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

[Book Review] I kept bumping into excerpts from this book while I was in grad school, but just recently got around to reading the whole thing.

While I know nothing about COIN aside from what I read in grad school and gleaned from working with sundry folks overseas, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife certainly seems like a helluva sensible book – and not just on Vietnam or for historians, but for anyone interested in the performance of the U.S. and British armies, past, present, and future.

The author, John A. Nagl (retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel), examines the performance of the British Army in Malaya and the U.S. Army in Vietnam to gauge how effectively each organization learned and adapted to fighting a counter insurgency. The Brits come off rather well, having won their fight against communist guerrillas in what became Malaysia. The U.S. Army comes off much worse, appearing bureaucratic, ossified, and unable to change or adapt, even when ordered to change by higher-ups or shown how to adapt by junior officers.

Not just a historical examination, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife provides guidelines for helping any organization: bureaucratic, military, or otherwise; learn, adapt, and succeed when confronted by unexpected challenges. Pity this advice wasn’t better known or heeded in DC back in the aughts.

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