April 21, 2018

10 Takeaways from the Fight against the Islamic State

23/03/2018 Michael Dempsey Conflict

Image courtesy of DMA Army -Soldiers/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 12 March 2018.

Nearly three years on from the Islamic State’s high water mark in the summer of 2015, there are several lessons that the United States and its allies can discern from the terrorist group’s meteoric rise to control large parts of Iraq and Syria to the loss of its physical caliphate late last year. The steady decline in ISIL’s fortunes is striking given the palpable fear its rise in the summer of 2014 sparked across Washington, when a common question circulating within the policy community was whether Baghdad itself might fall. Many of these takeaways will be relevant to U.S. policymakers as they attempt to prevent the group from reconstituting itself in the coming months.

ISIL is Hurting Without a Safe Haven

Since the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, ISIL’s external operations have been sharply curtailed, and its communications have been greatly reduced (almost three quarters of the group’s media outlets have fallen silent since late last year). Absent its control of territory in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is now focusing primarily on trying to grow its eight overseas branches and inspire lone wolf operations abroad. It’s clear that denying the Islamic State its physical caliphate has been deleterious to the group’s operations. As such, denying the Islamic State control of physical terrain anywhere in the world should be job number one for those who want to see this group defeated decisively.  

The Islamic State Still Gravitates Toward Chaos

The Islamic State loves a vacuum. After rising again to prominence in the wake of the Syrian civil war and the political dysfunction of Iraq under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, today the group is making its greatest inroads in troubled areas from the Sinai and Libya to Yemen and parts of Southeast Asia. In Yemen alone, the Pentagon estimates that the Islamic State’s presence has doubled over the past year. Across the globe, the Islamic State has proven itself skilled at exploiting the erosion or collapse of local government authority and legitimacy, and at appealing to Sunni populations that feel threatened by growing Shia political power. The movement is also continuing to gain energy (and recruits) from the turmoil caused by the ongoing Iranian-Saudi conflict, which today shows no sign of abating and which is instead fueling the destructive war in Yemen.

The Islamic State is Hard to Oust from Cities

For most of the past two years, the bulk of U.S. and coalition military efforts against ISIL have been focused on ousting the group from cities under its control. This has frequently required block-to-block fighting by U.S. coalition allies backed by American airpower in scenes reminiscent of World War II combat. For example, in Sirte, Libya, progress in ousting the Islamic State was, for months, measured by the number of city blocks seized by the Misratan militia each day. Similar scenes played out in both Mosul and Raqqa.

In these cities, ISIL adopted a common tactical playbook, which included trapping and using civilians as human shields, cleverly using smoke to mask movements and obscure coalition airpower, destroying key transportation arteries into the cities, using tunnels to move personal and equipment, deploying suicide car bombs, and concentrating its forces in heavily booby-trapped buildings. Taken together, these tactics contributed to fights that devastated local infrastructure and triggered a wave of refugees—many of whom have yet to return home. It’s clear the Islamic State recognizes the utility of operating in cities, so U.S. policymakers and their coalition allies should expect more of that in the future.

The Islamic State is Adapting its Battlefield Tactics

In light of recent setbacks, ISIL fighters are increasingly focusing on suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations, and are avoiding large-scale battles with coalition forces. On 19 February, ISIL fighters ambushed a Shia militia group near Hawija, Iraq, the deadliest such attack since Hawija was wrested from ISIL control last October. In recent months, ISIL has used drones to target U.S. and coalition forces operating near both Raqqa and Mosul, reflecting the group’s intent to inflict as much harm as possible on its enemies while minimizing its own casualties. And in January, the group’s media wing announced that the group last year had conducted nearly 800 suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria, strongly suggesting that its leaders view this tactic as their best battlefield option for the foreseeable future.

The Islamic State is Also Shifting its Narrative

In recent monthsthe group’s public messaging campaign has, for obvious reasons, abandoned its emphasis on the physical caliphate and the religious obligation of Muslims to support it, Instead, it focuses almost exclusively on military conflict. As Charlie Winter wrote late last year in Wired UK, “92 percent of the group’s propaganda now revolves around war, and war alone.” The Islamic State’s desire to inspire as many lone wolf attacks around the world as possible dramatically increases the burden on governments and the private sector to identify ways to monitor those susceptible to the jihadist group’s new pitch, stay ahead of the Islamic State’s shifting online messaging efforts (which are not bound by the cyber norms followed by state actors), and develop effective counter-radicalization strategies.

Don’t Overlook the Islamic State’s Deep-Rooted Vulnerabilities

Because of the Islamic State’s notoriety, it’s easy to focus only on the group’s strengths. But, in reality, the group continues to suffer from many of the same shortcomings that have plagued the group since its creation in Iraq more than a decade ago. On the battlefield, the Islamic State has never found an effective way to counter U.S. and coalition air power, which has undercut its ability to mass forces and concentrate resources. In terms of governance, the Islamic State has demonstrated administrative skill when in control of territory, but it’s primarily adept at extracting natural resources and exploiting existing businesses and has proven far less capable of actually creating anything. In its branding, the Islamic State’s reliance on extreme violence, including in its propaganda videos showing bloody footage from attacks claimed by ISIL, continues to alienate virtually the entire Muslim community. And in its leadership approach, the Islamic State’s practice of entrusting only high-level foreign fighters with key leadership positions (a pattern practiced by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq more than a decade ago) continues to alienate local communities. A common complaint expressed by disillusioned recruits is that the Islamic State goes to great lengths to protect its leaders while allowing local residents and ill-trained, low-level foreign volunteers to bear the brunt of the fighting.

Don’t Underestimate Local Security Forces

As ISIL seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq three years ago, it became commonplace in the West to bemoan a lack of reliable military partners on the ground. Indeed, I participated in numerous White House meetings and congressional hearings at the time in which the level of frustration with America’s lack of credible military partners was unmistakable. It’s certainly true that in the summer of 2014, the Iraqi military largely melted away in the face of ISIL’s offensive, largely owing to the dysfunctional leadership it had experienced in the preceding years under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it’s also true that with intensive U.S. military training, including by forward based U.S. special operations forces, increased U.S. close air support, and vastly improved political and military leadership in Baghdad, the Iraqi armed forces (particularly its special operations forces) performed admirably and played a critical role in driving ISIL from the territory it once held in Iraq.

Similarly, in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (the U.S. backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters) deserve great credit for driving ISIL out of thousands of square miles of territory it once claimed. The Syrian Democratic Forces also played a lead role in assaulting the capital of ISIL’s caliphate, Raqqa. While there is no doubt that the U.S. military’s assistance, especially through close air support, in both Iraq and Syria underpinned the success of both the Iraqi military and the Syrian Democratic Forces, it’s clear that local forces did a lot of the fighting and dying, and that they proved up to the challenge when properly led and supported.

Competing Interests Abound

While the U.S.-led counter-ISIL coalition is more than 70 nations strong, it’s also true that from the beginning of the conflict several major countries have pursued divergent agendas. For example, Ankara’s ongoing military operations against the Kurdish enclave in Afrin, in northwestern Syria, is threatening to derailKurdish support for the broader counter-ISIL campaign. And while Russia purportedly entered the Syrian conflict in 2015 to target ISIL, it has spent most of its energy in Syria in combatting other groups who oppose Bashar al-Assad’s regime. So, while many of the countries fighting in Syria and Iraq, including Iran, are genuinely worried about the danger ISIL poses and the broader extremist threat, it’s also apparent that they are pursuing their own self-interests in such a way that has often trumped cooperation against ISIL when necessary.

The United States Needs a Focal Point

From nearly a standing start in 2014, the U.S. policy community organized an integrated strategy that laid the groundwork for the successful counter-ISIL campaign of the past three years. Central to that effort was the appointment of a special envoy to help organize this effort, currently veteran diplomat Brett McGurk, who became the government’s focal point and chief interlocutor with the counter-ISIL coalition. In my view, the special envoy’s efforts have been critical in focusing the inter-agency on core military and diplomatic requirements, and in presenting a unified message to America’s coalition partners. There are rumors floating around Washington that this special envoy position may be eliminated soon, but, in my view, it’s vital that there remain one central entity and official charged with coordinating all of the U.S. government’s (and the coalition’s) disparate counter-ISIL efforts. The progress achieved in recent years in formulating a unified response to the threat of the Islamic State has been remarkable, and U.S. policymakers may want to proceed cautiously in altering an approach that has worked so well.

The Fight Isn’t Over

Given the rapid progress America and its partners have achieved in eliminating the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, it would be easy to believe that this fight is winding down. Indeed, a decision to shift America’s military focus from the Islamic State would be understandable given the North Korean standoff and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. But while ISIL is clearly on its heels, it remains a wily and determined foe capable of inflicting grievous harm if given the chance, and of reconstituting itself if the underlying conditions that fueled its rise are not addressed. If nothing else, the past three years should have taught U.S. policymakers that there is no single solution to defeating the Islamic State, and that what’s required is a multi-pronged, multi-year campaign with several key elements. First, to maintain steady military pressure on ISIL remnants in both Iraq and Syria. Second, to prioritize the fight against the Islamic State’s most important nodes, especially in the Sinai and Libya. Third, to increase financial investment and loans to help rebuild shattered communities (especially vulnerable Sunni ones) in Iraq and Syria. Fourth, to expand diplomatic efforts to help reduce Iran-Saudi tensions, especially by reaching an agreement to help resolve their proxy conflict in Yemen. And finally, to increase cooperation between the U.S. government and the private sector to counter online radicalization.

In the end, perhaps the most important lesson of the past three years of this fight is that while America and its coalition allies have made remarkable progress against ISIL, there is still considerable work left to do.

About the Author

Michael P Dempsey is the National Intelligence Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellowship sponsored by the US government. He is also the former acting US Director of National Intelligence

Russia´s Propaganda War about Syria: How Pro-Kremlin Twitter Accounts Manipulate the West

13/04/2018 Sophie Eisentraut Social Media

Image courtesy of Walkerssk/Pixabay

This article was originally published by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in March 2018.

Moscow is keen to exploit the conflict in Syria in its information war against the West. Russian messaging on Syria is meant to help expel Americans from the country. It is also aimed at discrediting the liberal ideas that have long defined the West.

Since Russia directly entered the Syrian war in 2015, the Kremlin has been keen to exploit Syria for domestic propaganda purposes. Most importantly, Moscow seeks to portray its involvement as proof that Russia’s great power status has finally been restored. By shifting Russians’ focus to Moscow’s foreign policy adventures, the Kremlin also attempts to distract its citizens from serious domestic problems, chiefly the dire economic outlook for the country.

Yet the war being waged in Syria not only chimes with the Kremlin’s domestic propaganda goals, it is also a dominant motive in the disinformation war with which Moscow is targeting the West. In this regard, most public attention has been paid to Moscow’s aggressive attempts at globally discrediting the White Helmets, the volunteer organisation engaged in rescue work in Syria.

Yet Russian messaging about the war in Syria is much more nuanced. This is apparent in data harvested by the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), a transatlantic initiative housed at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Since summer 2017, the ASD has been monitoring pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts linked to influence operations in the United States (via its Hamilton 68 dashboard) and in Germany (via its Artikel 38 dashboard). Data collected for this article from both dashboards over the past six months reveal that in contrast to other topics promoted by the pro-Kremlin networks, stories and narratives related to Syria are often Russian-produced, with RT (Deutsch) and Sputnik (Deutschland) being referenced particularly often. The data also suggest that Russian-linked Tweets intended for Western audiences rely on two primary messaging tactics.

First, the narratives promoted support Russia’s more immediate goals in Syria, most importantly the goals to undermine Western engagement in the country and to increase Russia’s (and Bashar al-Assad’s) leverage over the conflict resolution.

The stories and headlines promoted in pro-Kremlin Tweets are clearly aimed at increasing pressure on the Americans and their allies to abandon their engagement in Syria. Syria, these stories claim, is mostly restored to normality, suggesting that the only impediment to lasting peace is the continuing US military presence. One story recently pushed to the pro-Kremlin network’s US audience claims that the Syrian peace process is essentially being stymied by the Americans, who harbour radical militants in their garrison at al-Tanf, from which jihadists then launch attacks.

By amplifying reports about the military advances of Assad’s and Vladimir Putin’s troops, the Russian- linked Tweets seek to generate the impression that there is no alternative to Assad – and certainly none to talking to Moscow. Stories promoted by the networks that describe the “rhythm in which the Syrian army and Russian forces […] progress its irreversible military victory [sic]” thus buttress Putin’s desire to control any peace process and to avoid Assad’s removal at all costs.

Yet the messaging tactics deployed by pro-Kremlin accounts include a second, more long-term thread in Russia’s information war against the West: using Syria to broadly discredit Western stabilization efforts in foreign countries, sow doubt about the motives for Western foreign engagement, and subvert the very idea of humanitarian interventions and aid – all despite the fact that the West is neither officially engaged in a “stabilization mission” nor in a “humanitarian intervention” in Syria.

To this end, the narratives pushed by the networks shrewdly exploit pre-existing resentments about Western interventionism among audiences. Most importantly, the networks draw parallels with America’s war in Iraq, recycling motives that may easily arouse anti-American sentiments, including the US lust for oil and fabricated evidence used to justify foreign occupation. In sum, their messaging suggests that the war in Syria is not the result of a domestic revolution but was stoked by the West. Rather than fight terrorists, the West launched a “war of aggression” against the legitimate Syrian regime. By allying with terrorists to topple Assad, the US and its allies inflicted serious harm upon Syrians, “unleashing” a “wave of terrorism” against which the Syrian regime is now defending its people.

Pro-Kremlin Tweets suggest that in order to help the West realize its plans “to control the oilrich Middle East” Western media disguise the occupation as a “humanitarian intervention”, fabricating evidence of atrocities that the Syrian regime allegedly committed against its own people. In response to the massacre of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, one recently promoted story referred to “a disgusting, emotive propaganda game over the Syrian war” played by the West, accusing it of falsely blaming Assad and the Russians. Other headlines designed to discredit Western media reporting include “Syria: The absurdities of Western war propaganda” and “The Guardian journalist who takes ‘afternoon tea’ with ISIS and survives”.

Among the most prominent conspiracy theories fed by pro-Kremlin Tweets is the claim that Americans fund and equip Syrian terrorists, employing headlines like “US orders Al-Qaida to attack Syrian troops in Idlib” and “Bombshell report confirms US coalition struck a deal with ISIS”.

By feeding these interrelated narratives, Moscow hopes to upend patterns of Western foreign engagement (in Syria and elsewhere) that the Kremlin loathes. Just as importantly, it is intent upon undermining Western societies’ commitment to the liberal ideas that have long defined the West.

About the Author

Sophie Eisentraut is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs’ Global Security Research Programme

April 20, 2018

A two-way street: why China is not just a student departure lounge anymore


A two-way street: why China is not just a student departure lounge anymore

Posted on Apr 20, 2018 by Chris ParrPosted in Analysis, under Asia.
Tagged with China, Student mobility.
Bookmark the permalink.

Mainland China has long been known as something of a student departure lounge. Between 1978 and 2016, it is estimated that more than 4.5 million Chinese studied outside their home country, to the huge cultural and financial benefit of the universities in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and beyond.

China is seeing significant bilateral student traffic. Photo: Reisefreheit_eu/Pixabay

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About Chris Parr
Chris Parr is a freelance education journalist based in London. He was formally a reporter and digital editor at Times Higher Education, and writes regularly for a range of national education titles.

It is well on course to meet its self-imposed target of hosting 500,000 international students by 2020

It has not always been a two-way street. According to The New York Times, just 20 years ago there were only 3.4 million students studying in China.

Today, however, it is thought that more than 26 million people are enrolled in Chinese universities, and nearly 490,000 of them are from overseas.

“China wants to be seen as a major player internationally in terms of higher education”

Times, it seems, are changing. China wants to be seen as a premier higher education destination – and some would argue it already is.

Indeed, the country is now behind only the US and the UK in terms of the total number of international students on its campuses, and has been for several years.

It is well on course to meet its self-imposed target of hosting 500,000 international students by 2020 – a figure that, based on current numbers, would see it leapfrog the UK in that particular league table.

“Last year we had the highest number of international students we have had over the last five years,” says Iris Yuan, director of international affairs at The Sino-British College, an international university college established by the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and nine British universities.

“International student numbers have increased 45% in that time, [and] here is the rationale. China wants to be seen as a major player internationally in terms of higher education. The government wants to boost the internationalisation for our universities as part of a ‘soft power’ policy to project China internationally.”

More than 489,000 international students were studying in China between in 2017, a 10% rise compared to 2016. According to Ministry of Education data, there has been a 299% increase since 2004.

Source: Ministry of Education / Center for Strategic and International Studies

Much of this recent growth is arguably down to the One Belt One Road Initiative, one of the largest overseas investment drives ever launched.

It is, primarily, an infrastructure project. Some $900 billion has been allocated to initiatives that will boost both land (the ‘Belt’) and sea (the old ‘Silk Road’) trade routes which run West, to Europe, via Asia. China says its aim is to usher in a ‘new era of globalisation’ that will benefit not only itself, but all countries in the region.

“The One Belt, One Road strategy is aimed not only at strengthening exchanges between China and the rest of the world, but also at ensuring the development of Asia,” explains Yuan. “Education is the one of the most important aspects of this strategy.”

The number of China-based African students increased 26-fold to around 50,000 between 2003 and 2015

Wang Huiyao, founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, an influential Beijing-based think-tank, agrees. “We are still lagging behind by the US on soft power,” he said at the launch of a CCG report on international student mobility earlier this year.

“There are more than 300 world leaders including presidents, prime ministers and ministers around the globe that graduated from US universities, but only a few foreign leaders that graduated from Chinese universities, so we still need to exercise effort to boost academic exchange and educate more political elites from other countries. The Belt and Road initiative is a good chance to achieve this goal.”

It appears to be paying off. The number of students heading to China from India, Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan and Thailand – all countries affected by the initiative – has increased more than 20% on average from 2016 to 2017.

The CCG speculates that because One Belt One Road has created jobs for people in these countries, local people are more motivated – and financially more able – to study in China.

However, it is not just countries along the Silk Road that China see as fertile ground for student recruitment. The number of China-based African students increased 26-fold to around 50,000 between 2003 and 2015, according to the Unesco Institute for Statistics. This puts China second only to France in terms of the number of students it attracts from the African continent.

“The number of English taught programmes has increased by 63% in the last five years”

Numbers from countries with more established and prestigious higher education systems are on the up too. There were twice as many US origin students studying in China in 2015 (12,790) compared to 2005 (6,391), for example, while the number of UK students studying there is reported to have tripled over the same period. One of the drivers of this rise has been a proliferation in courses taught in English.

“Most of universities in China are offering a good number of English taught programmes now,” Yuan explains. “The number of English taught programmes has increased by 63% in the last five years.”

The recruitment drive in the English-speaking world was evident at this year’s Student World exhibitions in the UK – recruitment fairs profiling study abroad opportunities.

At the 2018 events in Manchester and London, 36 Chinese institutions booked exhibition space. This is a significant increase over the two previous years, when only one Chinese institution had exhibited at the events.

University of Shanghai, library. Photo: YULIN Peng/Wikimedia Commons


“There are so many misconceptions about studying in China”

The type of course that China’s international students are studying once they arrive in China is changing too. According to the Washington-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in 2016 more than 40% of foreign students in China are studying the Chinese language.

This figure represents a 15% drop compared with 2012. Conversely, the number of students on non-language courses is on the up, and the number of international PhD and Master’s students has jumped 49% and 28% respectively (see table).

Another reason for the soaring popularity of study in China is the number of scholarships on offer. In 2017, some 58,600 international students received a government scholarship compared to just 8,500 in 2006.

“There are so many misconceptions about studying in China,” says Richard Coward, chief executive of China Admissions, which assists international students wanting to study in China. “Things are changing so fast. You’ve really got to be here to see it.”

“Foreigners are coming to get a high-quality education at an affordable price… and more and more are taking full degrees, whereas before they were mostly on more short-term programmes. It is becoming a serious study destination.”

In addition to stepping up efforts to attract international students, China is also taking steps to encourage these students to remain in the country after graduation.

In 2017, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security decreed that international students who had obtained a master’s degree or above from a Chinese institution within the last year were eligible for work permits of up to five years. There are other examples too, such as the Science Innovation Center in Shanghai, which offers a two-year residence permit for international students who work or do an internship.

Why Chinese students are staying put

Although China remains the world’s top place of origin for international students, the increase in the number of Chinese opting to study abroad has been slowing in recent years. According to China’s Ministry of Education, in 2016 a total of 544,500 Chinese went abroad to study. Although this is 4% higher than 2015, the growth rate went down by about 10% on the previous year.

Security is one of the main concerns for Chinese students considering an international higher education

Between 2016 and 2017, the number of international students admitted to US higher education institutions fell by 3.7%, year on year, according to IIE, while in the UK, there was relative stability.

Security is one of the main concerns for Chinese students considering an international higher education. Specifically, the CCG cites the case of Yingying Zhang, a female Chinese student who disappeared in June 2017 in the US, as one high profile case that may have deterred a number of would-be overseas students.

Figures from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that between 2014 and 2016, the number of Chinese students overseas making requests for consular assistance leapt from 932 to more than 6,100 – another part of the narrative that might deter would-be international students from heading overseas.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, and the relatively conservative, inward-looking nature of his administration, may have acted as a deterrent. In fact, the number of US F1 visas issued to students from mainland China in 2016 was 148,000 –  drop of 46% when compared with the previous year. This drop continued in 2017, though was less steep.

In addition, the reputation of China’s own higher education institution is steadily rising. In 2015, China announced the “Double First-Class initiative”, which aims to increase the global standing of its higher education system.

By the end of 2049 – the 100-year anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic – China intends to have 42 “world class” universities.

This agenda, combined with the sheer number of Chinese students who have studied overseas, means the competitive advantage gained by having a foreign degree may not be as highly prized.

Image: Anthonychong/Pixabay

According to government data, 45% of returnees have a starting monthly salary of below 6,000 yuan ($910), and only about 6% can boast a monthly income of over 20,000 yuan. When the expenses of studying abroad are factored in, the attractiveness of international study may be understandably dampened.

“China is the future, and to study there means you can get a good degree for cheaper than the UK or the US”

As a departure lounge, then, China’s future seems less certain. While its young people are still heading to overseas universities in record numbers, the striking growth charts may tail off.

In arrivals, though, the future seems much clearer. From the very top of government, the intention is to push China as a destination for students, and to further its reputation for quality higher education.

“China is the future, and to study there means you can get a good degree for cheaper than the UK or the US, and also learn the language,” says Kate, a 16-year-old attending the Student World exhibition in London. “I’m seriously considering it.”

According to recent trends, she is most certainly not alone.

Fun on Friday: Zucked!


Fun on Friday: Zucked!

APRIL 13, 2018  BY SCHIFFGOLD   0   1

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg experienced the big-boy version of getting called into the principal’s office this week. He spent about 10 hours testifying before Congress after news came out that a data firm accessed Facebook user information.

The iconic image from the hearing was Zuckerberg perched on a booster cushion. He looked like Dennis the Menace sitting in front of an entire room full of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson clones.

On a side-note, it was funny seeing Zuck in a suit. I wonder where he rented that? I have this image in my head of a hoodie hanging on a coat rack outside the Senate chamber.

Anyway, Congress roasted Zuckerberg and dropped some hints that they might just regulate Facebook if he’s not careful. I find it a bit ironic that the “deliberative body” that oversees and “authorizes” the most invasive, systematic and far-reaching surveillance state in the world spent 10 hours grilling the CEO of a social media site about privacy.

It also kind of amuses me because these people don’t understand the internet.

It reminds me a little of my late grandfather. He was 92 when he died, but he was extremely spry up until the end of his life. My grandfather was a retired Army colonel who enlisted just before World War II and served through the Vietnam War. I share this information just to give you an idea of his personality. He was old-school Army all the way. Before he passed away, we met for lunch about every other week. Now, my grandfather was curious about the world, but it had clearly passed him by. He used to show up to Wendy’s with a Post-It note tucked in his shirt pocket. During lunch, he would whip it out and regale me with questions he’d come up with over the last few days. “What is a tweet?” “What is Bitcoin?” “How do you save pictures on your phone?” “Why in the hell is the clock on my DVD player blinking.”

You get the idea.

The all-time best Gramps question was, “What is twerking?”

Picture for just a moment me explaining twerking to my at-the-time 91-year-old grandfather. God rest his soul.

At any rate, Gramps didn’t understand a lot about the modern world. But here’s the thing – he didn’t pretend to. That’s the difference between my grandfather and these dopes in Congress. He recognized the limits of his knowledge. The political class doesn’t possess that kind of self-awareness. Not only do these clowns fail to understand most of what goes on in the real world – they think they have the competence and divine right to control it.

This exchange between Zuckerberg and Sen. John Kennedy (courtesy of CNN) reveals the level of ignorance most of the Senate displayed.

Kennedy: “Are you willing to go back and work on giving me a greater right to erase my data?”

Zuckerberg: “Senator, you can already delete any of the data that’s there or delete all of your data.”

Kennedy: “Are you willing to expand my right to prohibit you from sharing my data?”

Zuckerberg: “Senator, again, I believe that you already have that control….”

Kennedy: “Are you willing to give me the right to take my data on Facebook and move it to another social media platform?”

Zuckerberg: “Senator, you can already do that….”

Some senators even made crap up. Sen. Deb Fischer asked “how many data categories” Facebook stores. Zuckerberg basically replied, “What in the f— is a data category you raving moron?” Of course, he didn’t put it that way. It’s hard to be belligerent when you’re sitting on a booster cushion. But I’m pretty confident that’s a reasonably accurate representation of what he was thinking.

Here’s the takeaway, these people have absolutely no clue how Facebook works, but by-golly they know how to regulate it! And millions of Americans think this is a great idea!

This is pretty much modus operandi for Congress. Politicians don’t generally know much about anything – other than how to get votes. And yet the vast majority of your fellow citizens trust these people to make them safer, richer and happier.

And then they wonder why they are not safer, richer nor happier.

Historian Kevin Gutzman summed things up beautifully in a Facebook post that was published at the Tenth Amendment Center.

The Senate committee members’ grilling of Zuckerberg put on full display what seems intuitive: that there is no way a legislative body can have adequate knowledge to manage every element of a society of 325,000,000 people (let alone the entire world).

These people are comparably ignorant of any particular issue or “policy area” that comes to mind: management of federal lands, the economy for agricultural products, the effect of illegal immigration on rural Texas towns, the Constitution’s implications concerning private firearms ownership, funding of urban schools, welfare’s effects on family formation, the consequences of easy access to capital for college funding…

So yes. Let’s put these people in charge of everything!

Or how about this. Let’s not.