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Mixing the cards: A strategy of malfunctioning states

Mixing the cards: A strategy of malfunctioning states
13 Apr 2024 13:00

Sultan Majed AlAli


In moments of profound crisis, states often resort to a tactic of strategic distraction, amplifying external tensions and sowing political discord with other states or external groups. This manoeuvre is intended to divert attention from internal failings, utilising media campaigns and the propagation of conspiracy theories to tarnish adversaries and hide realities from their populations.


To sustain their grip on power or to redirect the course of events, regimes grappling with political, economic, security, and military crises may employ diversionary tactics. Shifting focus away from genuine issues and fostering a state of chaos, these regimes accuse individuals, parties, or states of fomenting instability. This policy, known as “mixing the cards,” is a calculated move within the political playbook. It can manifest in conflicts between nations, governments, or factions, depending on the nature of the conflict, whether it be internal or external.


The essence of this strategy lies in its ability to inject confusion, blurring the lines between interests and enmities. It turns clarity into ambiguity, leading to peculiar alliances, conflicting interests, and a reshuffling of hostilities. This deliberate obfuscation within state institutions, particularly within military, security, and intelligence apparatuses, often results in unforeseen developments that influence the political landscape.


The implementation of the “mixing the cards” strategy often involves media manipulation, incitement, and the issuance of provocative statements by leaders and politicians. These actions are aimed at destabilising relationships through intellectual and political interference. The resulting confusion can lead to shifts in attitudes, ideas, and stances of both the state and neighbouring countries. It runs the risk of escalating international conflicts by attacking one state while cosying up to another that opposes or harbours enmity toward the former, all as a means to escape internal political, economic, security, and military dilemmas and to block potential solutions.


The risks associated with “mixing the cards” increase when a state seeks alliances with former enemies or current allies who are unable to address regional crises. This tactic may be employed to convey messages, reject policies, or distract from core issues that the country has failed to address. Such actions further destabilise the situation, undermine confidence in the regime in crisis, and erode its legitimacy as it is unable to solve the real problems.


Leaders may perceive short-term moral and political gains from this strategy, particularly when targeting enemy states or disfavoured allies. However, the long-term implications can be severe, potentially leading to the alienation of regional partners and hindering efforts to resolve crises. “Mixing the cards” creates obstacles to dismantling current crises, as it encourages political expansion at the regional level and provides legitimacy for external engagements.


In their efforts to navigate crises, countries often resort to scapegoating, implicit accusations, and widening spheres of attack on other countries, deflecting attention from their own failures. As crises deepen, leaders may escalate tensions through insinuations and the promotion of conspiracy theories, justifying governance shortcomings and state fragility.


“Mixing the cards” shifts focus from the state’s own problems to searching for solutions to its crises elsewhere, by accusing or attacking the policies of others and waiting for any political, economic, military, or security move, whether near or far geographically, to explain that the other is conspiring due to its support for a just cause or its agreement on economic and investment deals that benefit both parties and do not hinder the interests of others.


The root cause of the state’s crises lies in the failure of political structures within the governance system. Without the ability to provide effective solutions through scientific and political means, states may resort to strategic diversion rather than addressing core issues. This approach not only fails to resolve crises but also undermines trust in the regime as the population becomes increasingly aware of and resistant to such tactics.

*The writer is a researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory

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