Friday, March 31, 2006

Link Preface:

"American foreign policy in an age of proximity" by Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite: Part I" by Zenpundit

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite: Part II" by Zenpundit

Parts I. and II. of this essay discussed the disconnect that exiss between the bipartisan elite and the American people and the history of the old ruling Eastern Establishment. Part III. is about their successors, a bipartisan, bicoastal and increasingly transnationalist elite.

As in any evolutionary political situation, the new elite is partly an amalgamation with the old, thus we see scions of Eastern Establishment families like George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al Gore, Jay Rockefeller and so on firmly ensconced in the new American elite. It is tempting to assume that little therefore has changed but what these individuals have benefitted from is simply enjoying comparative advantage vs. other individual members of the new elite. They are still playing by a different set of rules and hold a different worldview from their fathers and grandfathers whose mores were formed at Groton and Andover and finished at Harvard or Yale.

Today's elite differs from the old Eastern Establishment in two very important aspects:

1. Demographically.

2. Ideologically.

Of the two the former change has been, in my view, mostly positive. The second unfortunately, while not wholly negative, has already had serious consequences in foreign policy and will, if not remediated, cause domestic political upheavals as well as the rulers become progressively more isolated from the ruled.

As mentioned previously, unlike the elite of today, the leaders of the Eastern Establishment took the long view. As early as the 1920's, it was becoming apparent to them that an increasingly diverse nation 120 million being ruled forever by a numerically tiny Episcopalian ecclesia of Ivy League bankers was not sustainable forever. So, a two-track policy was initiated. Immigration was sharply curtailled while assimilationist policies were pursued in the public schools to inculcate basically Anglo-Protestant " American values" in immigrant children while social mobility for the most able American citizens would be increased.

Pursuant to this, the number of top tier university " gateway" schools were increased, some of them, like Stanford and Chicago, had been built by the noveau riche of the previous generation. Harvard University president Charles Conant promoted the SAT test to turn the Ivy League from an aristocracy to a meritocracy. Gradually - very gradually it must be stressed - the Eastern Establishment opened the doors to middle-class Protestants, followed by Catholics, Jews and finally African-Americans and women. Policies such as the GI BIll and support for Civil Rights legislation had intrinsic merits but they were also a safety valve in the eyes of Establishment leaders. Access to the system's commanding heights - or even the promise of a fair chance at access for one's children - does a great deal to defuse social frustration.

The SAT and other measures to sift the best from increasingly larger pools of prospective students also had the effect of dramatically raising the mean ability level of the students in top tier and even second tier universities. Harvard students in 2006 would wipe the floor with those who went there in 1946 or even 1966 on any standardized test of IQ. You don't get a remarkably better engineering or physics education today at MIT than you do at the University of Illinois but you are likely to have far smarter classmates, if not professors, if you go to MIT. As Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Chicago and similar schools produce a disproportionate number of future leaders in government, science, law, business and even the arts, the elite today should be qualitatively better than the Eastern Establishment.

But they aren't. At least in terms of results it would be hard to argue that politicians who are wholly products of the new elite - basically the Boomers - have been more statesmanlike or wiser than their predecessors. The reason for this disparity between talent and results I think is reflected partly in the ideological differences between the bipartisan elite and the Eastern Establishment. Circumstances create opportunities and dangers but worldviews frame how those dangers or opportunities are perceived. Or if they are perceived at all.

There is not a simple partisan explanation for this either; though in a sense, the academic Left was, many decades ago, a prime mover in starting the change of worldviews among the elite, the outcome was probably very far from what they intended. An intent that was not geared to a specific policy result any more than Leo Strauss interpreting classic texts in the 1960's was intended to influence neoconservatives to favor an invasion of Iraq in the 21st century. Unintended consequences ruled.

In Part IV. we will examine the ideology of the bipartisan elite and the growing disconnection with the American people, that if left uncorrected, threatens its political legitimacy.

Busy morning - and I am now headed out the door to get the Firstborn and the Son of Zenpundit their very first library cards. I'm also going to put in an interlibrary loan request for Martin van Creveld's The Rise and Decline of the State and The Transformation of War so I can write that review of 4GW theory, not having any copies of either in my personal library on hand ( not even in the much feared, overstuffed, packing boxes in the garage).

Part III of Foreign Policy And The American Elite will be posted tonight and possibly a few other things as well.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dr. Chet Richards of DNI and author of Neither shall The Sword did not have long to wait to see the start of his predicted trend toward greater availability of PMC combat services.
J. Cofer Black has announced that Blackwater is now able to provide "Brigade-sized force" on short notice for peacekeeping or counterinsugency operations.

Mr. Black's extensive record at the CIA and State Department in fighting Islamist terrorism was featured in the bestselling book Ghost Wars by Steve Coll.

Link Preface:

"American foreign policy in an age of proximity by Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite: Part I" by Zenpundit

In Part I. and on previous occasions I have suggested that there is a disconnect between America's bipartisan elite and other Americans and that this disconnect is currently being acutely felt on the issue of immigration reform where members of Congress of both parties hold views approximately inverse to those of their constitutents. Put to a referendum, it would be all but certain that the American people would vote for very tough penalties on illegal immigrants and those who employ them. In contrast, the average U.S. Senator is aghast at the thought of any bill that might have real teeth because that would stem the flow of cheap, illegal, labor somewhat and aggravate Mexican nationalist and LaRaza ethnic activis back home.

Now, as I have said, immigration is generally positive, particularly in the long run but the current immigration policy is not, neither economically or in terms of national security. Nor are the costs of immigration, legal and illegal, equitably shared. Tellingly though, the status quo, which is generally unfavorable to America, does benefit our bipartisan elite while imposing real costs on average Americans in the form of depressed wages, higher taxes, higher crime rates and strains on educational, health and welfare systems. When the elite consistently puts its own interests ahead of national interests in so obvious a way, their stewardship of the state loses legitimacy. Part of the reason for this disconnect is that our bipartisan elite has changed significantly in the last forty or so years.

For those old enough to remember, there was once something in this country called " The Eastern Establishment", the one hated by Richard Nixon and denounced by the anti-war demonstrators of the New Left. The term has mostly fallen out of use for a number of reasons but it really did exist at one time. It dominated Wall Street, our universities, the legal profession, the media and the most important departments of the Federal government including State, Treasury and Defense as well as the CIA. The Establishment ran the United States for almost a century until it foundered the ship of state on the rocks of Vietnam.

The Eastern Establishment came about as a fusion after the Civil War as the old money elite like the Roosevelts, Livingstons and Lodges sought to co-opt and "civilize" the children of the noveau-riche robber barons like the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Stanfords and so on. Sociologically, the Establishment was wealthy, white, well-educated and irrevocably Protestant, preferably Episcopalian though the Presbyterians put in a good showing. Despite the moniker " Eastern", Southerners of a genteel ancestry and paternal influence were counted among their numbers as were, more rarely, a few Westerners with sizable interests in banking or railroads.

It was a decidedly exclusionary group. Aside from elitist and fairly deep-seated prejudices against Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, Italians and Women, Irish Catholics rated no higher as readers familiar with the saga of the Kennedy family are no doubt aware. Nor did fellow WASPs who came from humble origins and went to the wrong schools, like Richard Nixon or LBJ, fare much better in their eyes. Members of the Establishment were largely investment bankers and lawyers with Anglophile tastes and an Atlanticist worldview who carried both a sense of entitlement as well as that of noblesse oblige.

Despite a profoundly narrow outlook, the Establishment produced a truly remarkable number of first class statesmen - Charles Francis Adams, John Hay, Elihu Root, Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Stimson, George Marshall, George Kennan, Paul Nitze, Dean Acheson, Charles Bohlen, Averrell Harriman, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, John J. McCloy, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. - outside of the conquering founders of great empires, there are few examples in history that are comparable to their collective achievment of steering an outlier republic through grave dangers to world hegemony.

The men of the Eastern Establishment were successful not merely because of their often considerable education and social cohesiveness but from their general acceptance of the long view in preference to the short and a serious attention to the underlying economic fundamentals governing world affairs. That they were " Present at the Creation" was no idle boast - they had a hand in the creating and understood how the institutions that they proposed were going to work in the real world. They married American national interest to the global greater good in a way that most foreign leaders could find attractive or at least, tolerable.

The Establishment is dead and gone. It has been replaced by a new American elite whose values have shifted as a result of the Eastern Establishment's grand failure in Vietnam but that will be discussed in Part III.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Former Reagan administration Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, the architect of the post-Vietnam era military build-up that was a critical element in Reagan administration Cold War strategy, died this morning after a battle with pneumonia. He was 88.

Weinberger, who had served in the Nixon administration and where he was known as " Cap the knife" for severe budget cutting, oversaw one of the largest defense transformations in the history of the world. One of the few top advisers with unlimited access to the president, Weinberger was famous for his acrimonious battles with Secretary of State George Schultz, his longtime former colleague at Bechtel Corporation.

Ironically, Shultz and Weinberger were allies in opposing the Iran-Contra covert operations engineered by DCI William Casey, NSC Adviser John Poindexter, former NSC adviser Robert McFarlane and Colonel Oliver North. Despite his opposition to the Iran-Contra affair, Weinberger was prosecuted by Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh - a legal move regarded by most Republicans as vindictive and groundless - and ultimately was pardoned by the first President Bush.

Weinberger, despite his advocacy of robust American defense budgets, was exceptionally cautious about the use of military force and promoted the " Weinberger Doctrine" now better known as the " Powell Doctrine" that put fairly strict and clear tests for potential American intervention. He initially opposed both the multinational intervention in Lebanon as well as the invasion of Grenada before joining the administration consensus.

Rest in peace, Mr. Secretary.

Andrew Card, longtime Bush Chief of Staff, has been forced to resign and is being replaced by OMB Director Joshua B. Bolten. If conservatives, Republicans and the nation at large are lucky, this move will only be the first of an injection of new blood for the Bush administration.

The resignation was hailed at the big pro- Bush blog RedState, which gets things completely wrong because everything there is viewed through the prism of short-term movement and partisan politics ( Hat Tip: Memeorandum)

"Andy Card has served the President well for more than five years. We cannot, however, say that he has served conservatives or the Republican party well. He is, among other things, fingered as the man behind the Harriet Miers nomination that caused a fracture in the base and emboldened conservatives to fight the President. He also deserves some blame for the mishandling of the Dubai Ports Deal. "

Well, yes. By the same token Card has been part of everything that has gone right with the Bush administration as well. He has been not only Bush's Chief of Staff and doorkeeper but virtually his shadow since taking office. Card's involvement in the White House decision-making process was integral even by the historical standards of chiefs of staff, so his legacy cannot be relegated to the outcome of one or two issues.

Andrew Card had to go because when an administration hits the skids - as nearly all of them do in the second term - in our system the president cannot resign but his designated " prime minister" must and usually this is all to the good. Sherman Adams, H.R. Haldeman, Don Regan, John Sununu and Mack McLarty all had to leave at a time when their president was under fire. Card has served longer than any of them except Sherman Adams and the effects of the grueling treadmill of a White House schedule take their toll. Creativity, energy and political judgment are sapped as crisis management stress, groupthink and isolation desensitizes and distorst the perceptions of even extraordinairly adept politicians.

Bolten does not need to do a purge or a complete housecleaning but new blood, new ideas and new perspectives are badly needed in the White House. Relationships need to be strategically rebuilt with Congress, the press and the American people so the Bush administration can catch a second wind.

The nation is at war. We cannot afford years of drift.
Monday, March 27, 2006

My blogfriend Dave Schuler had a post today entitled "American foreign policy in an age of proximity" which spurred me to think on many levels. A thoughtful, well-crafted, essay it is definitely worth the full read but here is a significant excerpt:

"My own view was (and is) that America has a foreign policy and, using the diction I’d use today rather than the way I’d have put it back then, the policy is an emergent phenomenon of the major forces in American foreign policy thought: mercantilism, missionary internationalism, populism, and libertarian isolationism (AKA Hamiltonianism, Wilsonianism, Jacksonianism, and Jeffersonianism).

This emergent policy has a number of components but included among them are open borders facilitated by ensuring that our neighbors are weak. This is a policy that has been pretty successful for the last two hundred years or so. I’ve argued against it for the last forty and IMO the policy is beginning to look a little shopworn at his point.

Consider the case of Cuba in the light of this policy. We don’t really care whether Cuba is communist or dominated by a dictator or spreads instability in other countries in the hemisphere (that’s actually something of a feature rather than a bug) or outside of the hemisphere or makes its people miserable. We’ll avoid trading with Cuba (a few cavils from Hamiltonians notwithstanding) but we won’t stop others from doing so nor will we overthrow the tyrant (a few sporadic actions from Jacksonians and complaints from Wilsonians notwithstanding). We’ll even encourage emigration from Cuba (which provides a safety valve for the Castro tyranny). We’ll accept it as long as Cuba is weak.

But if Cuba shows signs of becoming strong (as it did during the Cuban missile crisis almost 45 years ago) then it’s a threat and we’ll act forcefully to correct the situation.

Things have changed quite a bit since the first quarter of the 19th century. They’ve changed quite a bit in the last 45 years. China and Iran are closer to us today than Mexico was in 1850 and little farther away than Cuba was in 1962. We’re pursuing the same policies although our notions of where our borders lie and who our neighbors are has changed to include the entire globe."

I have many comments.

First, I very much like Dave's elastic use of " proximity" as a relative cognitive perception. He's right. As the world has globalized and moved into the information age, what constitutes "distance" has changed irrevocably for people in advanced " Core" societies. Only a little more than a half-century ago a British Prime Minister justified appeasement because the costs were being borne by a " far-away people, of whom we know nothing". What was that, of course, compared to " peace in our time"?

That excuse is much harder to make these days, at least in terms of Western statesmen avoiding obloquy. Just ask former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, whose new first name might actually be " Feckless".

Secondly, (and at least to me, interestingly) revisionist historians like William Appleman Williams, Walter Lefeber, Thomas J. McCormick, Gabriel Kolko and Lloyd Gardner
would agree with Dave that "We’re pursuing the same policies although our notions of where our borders lie and who our neighbors are has changed to include the entire globe", albeit for very different ideological motivations.

Thirdly, I sense in the immigration debate to which Dave refers a growing and serious disconnect in terms of values betwen our leaders and the American people. I generally consider that immigrantion has been helpful to this country. Unlike, say, Pat Buchanan, I am not alarmed by Mexican immigration per se, brown skin can be good kin, as it were.

But the sheer magnitude of illegal immigration coupled the deliberate attempt by Mexico's Vicente Fox government to cultivate and retain the immigrant's primary loyalties is worrisome. The inability of our current security procedures to exercise even minimal control our own borders is worrisome. These things are basic challenges to American sovereignty. A policy encouraging a high degree of mobility across the border does not have to be implemented with a high degree of stupidity.

Most worrisome of all is that our bipartisan elite is content to tur a blind eye to the problem and pursue an uncontrolled borders policy to which nearly 60 % of the Americans are strongly opposed - opposed even by a majority of Hispanic immigrants. A policy contrary to American national interests but very much conducive to the political and economic interests of this insular bipartisan elite.

End Part I.

Ahem. A rare address on the state of Zenpundit. First, the blogroll.

I have added some newcomers to the blogroll - many thanks to Dave Schuler of the Glittering Eye and Tom Scudder of 'Aqoul for their suggestions - more changes will soon be forthcoming but for now you can welcome:

Ann Althouse

Bliss Street Journal

Chicago Boyz

History Unfolding


Window on the Arab World, and More !

A fine group of blogs worth your online time to peruse. The next batch of additions will remediate some topical or domain gaps on my blogroll that I believe need plugging. There will be a few deletions of dead or dying blogs or people whom I do not read that often and who, in the interim, appear to have gone insane or joined a sect of unreconstructed wingnuts.

Secondly, after some reflection, I have decided to accept some degree of paid advertising from a reputable company which can be seen in the form of unobtrusive text ads in the margin. I have had inquiries in this regard in the past but have never accepted until now. Why alter my policy ?

While I do not need the money per se I do incur some costs from subscriptions to periodicals, online data bases and ( an exceedingly large number of) books that support my blogging that I might not otherwise have purchased. Moreover, I have plans for upgrading Zenpundit in the near term that involve additional expenditures and it would be nice if the blog can self-finance at least some of these things.

Therefore, I will accept some sponsors who offer products or services that have nothing to do with the topics on which I usually write. If it could be reasonably construed as a conflict of interest I simply won't take the ad. Completely off-limits would be ads from partisan political campaigns or websites of an adult nature ( call it the "no politicians or whores" rule). Also rejected a priori are gaudy, bandwith sucking, banner ads or pop-ups because I find such things very annoying myself and do not wish to inconvenience my readers.

Other than that, let capitalism reign.
Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hey everybody, Geitner's back ! Even the heavy responsibilities of being an editor and author cannot forever hold the siren call of the blogosphere at bay ! :o)

Regions of Mind was one of the first blogs I ever read and the quality of Geitner's blogging, visually as well as his prose, remain an example to follow for the rest of the blogosphere.

Cruising my archives reveals I've done some thinking...about thinking. Some of you, like Dan of tdaxp , are very familiar with these but newer readers might not have caught these posts on the nature of cognition when they first appeared.

Understanding Cognition Part I.
Understanding Cognition Part II.
Understanding Cognition PartIII.

Creativity as the Key to escape Self-Referential Paradigms


Complexity, leadership, ideology and perception

Enjoy ( Or not, either way, here they are) !

Art Hutchinson of Mapping Strategy has a bone to pick with Bruce Schneier's assessment of cost to benefit ratios in counterrorism security practices:

"Terrorism is fundamentally not a forecastable thing. That's especially true during a period of innovation and expansion in that sad, sick "industry". The fact that the peak death number changed so suddenly makes a conservative rational calculation based on past history just as tenuous as any radical emotional guess based on fear. Given that the trend is clearly up however, and that the last jump was by 10X, it is only prudent that we err to the side of assuming high and being wrong than assuming low and waving bye-bye to New York or Los Angeles.

...The larger point? What's tough about predicting terrorism is also tough about predicting discontinuous change in business. Applying the same forecasting methodology to discontinuous possible 'left-field' problems as to well-understood, clearly bounded problems with deep actuarial data-sets is like trying to eat soup with a knife. A tool that's extremely precise and powerful for some jobs is utterly misguided for that one."

[emphasis in the original]

Much of what Art is discussing relates to "creative uncertainty", a factor that I believe will become relevant rather than less as terror risk downshifts from highly centralized hierarchical networks to scale free networks to superempowered individuals seeking to pull off one -man 9/11's. The incentive for terror groups is that the loss of control and the magnitude of effect acheivable in operational parameters caused by downshifting is partially compensated by the much greater difficulty security agencies have in detecting and preventing attacks coming from the decentralized end of the spectrum.


Younghusband -"Leaderless Resistance" at Coming Anarchy

John Robb - "Louis Beam"

Rob at Businesspundit gets pride of place today as he launches a volley against the wisdom of crowds and emerging long tails with "The Wisdom of Niches: Why Experts Still Matter".

I take issue with Rob's generalization of the relative value of depth and breadth but this contrarian post is one that deserves wider play in the blogosphere. It was excellent.

Peter Lavelle of Untimely Thoughts has his weekly round-up of expert opinion in " Is there a post-Soviet teleology? ". Closely related, at America-Russia.net, is "Putin's China visit shifts power" on Putin's summit with Hu that emphasized a " strategic partneship" revolving around energy market access and develpment as peer to peer military cooperation.

This is New Core integration and the United States should play a more active part in it - for that matter, it would be good to actually develop an engaged relationship with Russia rather than playing reactive, ad hoc, diplomacy.

Paul D. Kretkowski at Beacon posts on "Public Diplomacy and the Video Gamer ". Hmmm, perhaps Everquest and World of Warcraft can win the war on terror.

Former DIA analyst, Rick Francona at Middle East Perspectives deciphers the DoD's"Iraq Perspectives Project".

That's it.
Saturday, March 25, 2006

Vacation time ! Staying in town but enjoying the time off from work to catch up on various tasks, read, relax and -of course - blog ! Something I have been very hard pressed to find time for lately.

But first tonight Mrs. Zenpundit has me hosting a small party this evening so the blogfest will have to wait at least a few more hours.
Thursday, March 23, 2006

Josh over at the Adventures of Chester is promoting an idea to break the natural tendency toward self-referential group-think that emerges at the highest levels of military command - give the President of the United States his own Sergeant-Major.

Technically, of course, to paraphrase LBJ, they're all the president's seargent-majors but it could hardly hurt President Bush to receive the unvarnished perspective of a senior career NCO, fresh from combat in Iraq. This was the very reason that the position of Sergeant-Major of the Army was created, to give the brass the perspective of the NCO and enlisted ranks and this proposal would merely extend the feedback up to the Commander-in-Chief.

As Josh wrote:

"Now tie it all together. You can see it, yes? What the President needs is his own Sergeant Major - a directed telescope on the battlefield reporting directly to him. Not his staff, not the White House Spokesman or the Press Pool. The chain goes straight to The Man himself.

This is not hard to envision. Grab any of a number of Sergeants Major out there who are now retired. They have made careers of making gut calls in all manner of odd situations. Grab a guy who used to be in Delta Force, or the 1st Marine Division SgtMaj. You could grab an officer if you preferred (ahem: my email address is in the sidebar), but if it was me, I'd have a senior enlisted man, the type who's harder than woodpecker lips. Whoever he is, he must be able to communicate very very very well. Then give him an armored four door humvee, a translator, and a couple of shooters to be a mini-brute squad. That's all he'll want if he's the kind I have in mind. He can always hop on a bird if needs to. Get him some nice equipment too -- a camera, a sat phone, etc.

Then set him loose. Tell him to go to whatever is interesting and report whatever he thinks necessary. Give him no format whatsoever. No timeframes whatsoever. Or, if you know of a particular operation that needs checking up on, send him there.

One more thing he needs: a little letter signed by POTUS that says, "This man may go wherever he wishes. Do not impede him." He can laminate that and put it in his vest and that's all he'll need for access. "

A bit romantic. Commanders will always, in time-honored fashion, pull out the stops to impress any fact-finding VIP but one reporting directly to the President of the United States is going to have to be careful he does not get lost in the maze of Potemkin villages that will be built for him.

But overall, a good idea. One that may give senior officers and Pentagon civilian apppointees a few heart attacks
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Brezhnevian mediocrity posing as Iran's Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khameini ( or Grand Ayatollah, as he claims, without much evidence by Shiite scholarly standards) has ruled in favor of talks with the United States over the fate of Iraq. This move, was in my view, rather interesting on a number of levels.

The problem with dissecting Iranian politics - aside from the dearth of American scholars and USG analysts with a reasonable command of Farsi and real "in-country" experience - is that we have a faction-ridden elite whose convoluted machinations are mostly opaque. In terms of depth, our sources for Iran are quite poor , a condition that long preceded the revolution in 1979 due to the bipartisan acquiescence of multiple American administrations to the paranoid wishes of that man of straw, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to hobble CIA activity in his country. As such we are left groping in the dark to understand the latest turn of events. Here is my view:

First, it is useful to recall as we ponder Iraq, regardless of the mistakes that the Bush administration has made since the fall of Saddam, we do not have to live next door to Iraq but the Iranians do. Moreover, their oil-rich provinces are home to an Arab minority just as their northwestern borderland houses Kurdish tribes. A nightmare scenario in Iraq has unavoidable spillover costs for an Iranian regime that is most likely better at formenting chaos than trying to suppress it on their own turf.

Secondly, Iran's ruling clerical elite have been badly divided by the rise of ultra-hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has his supporters among a minority of the senior ayatollahs who previously blocked any bold moves on Supreme Guide Khameini's part. The Clinton administration had previously reached out to Iran, offering a truckling apology for the CIA toppling of the erratic Mossadegh in 1953, only to be sharply rebuffed by Khameini who lacked much freedom to buck the clerical consensus on " The Great Satan".

Beyond that, I'm not sure we know any more about Iran's internal politics than we did in the days of the Soviet Union where analysts poured over pictures of the Politburo reviewing parades from Lenin's tomb for clues to the inner workings of elite Soviet decision making. An approach I never gave much credence - after all, didn't these old guys need to use the restroom ? Run behind schedule because of infirmities ? Yet great import was placed on the body language and proximity of septuagenarian Communist bureaucrats trying to weather a public appearance for hours in the bitter Moscow cold. A ritual that killed more than one elderly Politburo member, including Leonid Brezhnev.

Trying to decipher Iran's mullocracy reminds me a lot of Sovietology. We may be looking at all the wrong things.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I recently learned that David Kaiser, a professor at the Naval War College and a person with whom I have often sparred on H-Diplo ,has a blog, History Unfolding.

Dr. Kaiser is the author of American Tragedy, a history of the Vietnam War as well as other works on diplomatic, economic and social history. I am frequently, though hardly always, in general disagreement with Dr. Kaiser but I seldom fail to read his posts and suspect that you may enjoy them as well. He's a fine writer, which is rare enough in academia, and argues his points well.

As an introduction to the world according to Kaiser, here is "Gambling on War", where the arguments regarding von Clausewitz and defensive strategy will resonate with the followers of the 4GW school. An excerpt:

"Clausewitz’s classic On War is long and difficult, and it truly requires many years of study to assimilate, but the reader gradually realizes that certain fundamental principles, as well as a few specific questions, pervade it. Many people know his concept of “friction” and the “fog of war,” which makes battles so devilishly hard to understand and requires extraordinary qualities of mind and spirit for generals on the scene to unravel. This is an insight that has survived modern technology, as the repeated attempts to kill Saddam Hussein with air strikes—none of which, we now know, actually aimed at one of his many real hiding places—recently proved. A battle is like a football game, and just as difficult to predict. Generations of military historians—most notably those unhappy partisans of the Confederate States of America—have tried to stand this principle on its head by rewriting the outcome of every critical battle of the civil war to show how it could (or should) have turned out differently.

...To wise leaders, the inescapable uncertainty of war should militate against embarking upon it unless it is absolutely necessary—which neither Vietnam nor Iraq in 2003 was. Reinforcing this point, Clausewitz also argued repeatedly that defense was the stronger form of warfare, both tactically (since the defender need not move and fire at the same time), and strategically, since the attacked party was more likely to secure the help of allies who recognized a common interest in the survival of sovereign states. The United States implicitly recognized that principle after defeating Axis aggression in the Second World War and wrote it into the UN Charter, which authorized war only in self-defense. It enjoyed considerable allied assistance in the Korean War—another clear case of enemy aggression. But Vietnam never seemed like such a clear-cut case of aggression because South Vietnam was always so fragile, and most of the world rejected the “preventive war” argument over Iraq—in large part because other nations understood that the idea of national sovereignty simply cannot be reconciled with the concept of preventive war. By going on the offense, the United States forfeited a huge strategic advantage. It should not be too late to regain it, but the genie is out of the bottle in Iraq, and more damage, apparently, will be done."

Shades of William Lind.

Bruce Kesler, my intrepid friend at The Democracy Project, has just recommended a writer, Richard Louv, in glowing terms:

"Louv is one of the most thought-provoking, original, common-sense columnists among the hundreds I see regularly. Louv is a true “moderate” but that is too bland a term for someone who ranges so widely over the landscape of ideas, culture, family, politics and reaches sometimes into our souls. Louv is not a moderate by seeking the medium or avoiding controversial positions, but by eschewing ideologies and rigidities and instead seeking promise across the spectrum of portents."

Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune and an author, has an intriguing essay entitled “A Treatment For Cultural Depression”. Some key excerpts, some of which were already highlighted by Bruce:

"Blaming our malaise on our malaise is an old tradition. Cultural depression, an anthropological term, is the accumulation of societal ills, such as chronic substance abuse, that typically follows a major, widespread tragedy: an epidemic, a war, a terrorist attack. But when is cultural depression a matter of choice?

On every channel we hear the droning, Gothic whine. How special we are. We, the Information Overloaded and Equity Unstable. We, the people of the iPod Nation, worried about our hearing loss. If you listen too long to the bleating lawyer-commentators on the cable channels, or to the hyped-up TV shows about the perfect storm to come, or to the Rapture-ites who, as John Prine would put it, are “wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood,” then you would surely believe that the end is near.

...Well, buck up, Bucky, life isn't half bad – and it could get better, with a little faith and effort. Yup, we've got problems that may yet do us in, but despair is unlikely to increase our odds. So far, no one has suggested a practical alternative to hope. By this, I am not recommending the “What? Me worry?” brand of optimism that assumes that invaders will be welcomed or that global warming does not exist.

Instead, we need an activist hope, the kind that comes by decision and without warranty – the realistic optimism that put men on the moon and fueled the civil rights movement. As has been said, Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech was not called “I Have a Nightmare.” In fact, we're well positioned to build a better civilization, to create a new peace, to make life gentler for those who really do have something to worry about, to avoid the storm of storms. "

Where fear and pessimism are commonplace in our national dialogue Mr. Louv is expressing America's potential resilience. Not only resilience but the fact that the world is decidedly not going to hell in a handbasket ( Louv echoes the arguments of national security expert H.H. Gaffney who has pointed to the across the board improvements in the security environment since 1991). Islamism, which in my view represents a serious and real threat in the near and medium term, is not on a historical par with Communism or Fascism. Al Qaida is an enemy engaged in deadly war with the United States but it isn't the Soviet Union. Not yet at any rate.

Fear is a useful tonic for mobilizing society for action. Certainly, in the 1930's, Great Britain was dangerously complacent and the Parliament jeered at those like Winston Churchill who sought to raise the alarm. Only when disaster was upon the British in 1940 did they truly heed Churchill's advice. Likewise, when the Soviets made clear their intent to dominate Western Europe without firing a shot in the aftermath of WWII, Truman and Acheson decided to " scare the hell out of the country" rather than let America relapse into isolationism and watch Britain and France be Findlandized.

The long haul and a long war requires hope. Churchill and FDR had an Atlantic Charter and a United Nations to hold out as a vision. Truman presented the world the Marshall Plan, NATO and midwifed the seed that became the EU. Today the Bush administration champions democracy promotion which realist and partisan critics already are declaring to be dead on arrival. The critics are wrong.

Democracy however is a longitudinal game, a long-term bet and not a quick fix. Importantly, it is an option that plays on the moral level of conflict. What else is there to offer on the other side as an equivalent ? Dictatorship ? A Caliphate ? Who is going to buy that except at the point of a gun ? Our Islamist opponents are left with little more to offer their people than nihilism and martyrdom, poverty and war.

HAMAS, a terrorist organization, has been elected to govern the Palestinian territories because there was no other realistic option for Palestinian voters except Fatah corruption and thuggery. The Israelis are now sorely tempted to preemptively destroy the PA rather than let it fall under HAMAS control. This is an error. Let HAMAS first fail at governing through economic incompetence and weary the Palestinian people with religious zealotry. Liberal alternatives will emerge if the Islamists are given time to discredit themselves and if HAMAS initiates terrorism anew, then they have provided Israel with a casus belli for their own destruction.

We should look with a keen eye at our own faults without flinching but our faults and mistakes are not the whole story. We have tremendous strengths as well and we should begin to use them.
Monday, March 20, 2006

Art Hutchinson, the strategic thinking guru of Mapping Strategy had a burst of fine posts last week including "Executives, Prediction Markets, and Wall Street" and "The International Intelligence Summit - Rehearsing Divergent Futures".

Dr. Nexon at Duck of Minerva tackles the recent article on " Fact vs. Faith" and draws a response from Marc at American Future.

Scott Adams, the creator of the "Dilbert" comic strip, posts an ode to Mob Rule.

Jeff Medcalf at Caerdroia quite sensibly points out the differences between " Warfighting and Defense Secretarying "

Sean Meade at Interact wants to clean house for steroid useat the MLB Hall of Fame ( I'm not sure how many players after 1972 will be left, but hey... )

That's it.
Sunday, March 19, 2006

Scanning my blogroll, which kind of evolves in a meandering fashion, here is one of the informal topical groups that comes to mind:

Middle East/Islamic World/Islamism:

Abu Aardvark
Counterterrorism Blog
Crossroads Arabia
Iraq the Model
Juan Cole's Informed Comment
Martin Kramer
Middle East Perspectives <-- NEW !
Sic Semper Tyrannis

I'm opening up the floor for nominations for high quality, informative blogs that deal with the Middle East, particularly if they add balance or provide a completely different perspective from what I already have on my blogroll. No conspiracy theorists, please.

Ideally I'm looking to add 1-3 new ones. You can email me or leave a rec in the comments section. Zenpundit doesn't have a huge traffic ranking but it does get read occasionally in select quarters by some smart people so the bloggers will at least get that out of the link ( I grant you that I will probably get far more out of reading the new blogs but when situations mostly benefit me I tend to believe that all is right with the world).


Dr. Von helpfully points us to this easy to grasp University of Texas tutorial on understanding Chaos Theory and its implications.
Friday, March 17, 2006

General John Abizaid, CENTCOM commander, on Iran in his testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee. Full text here:

"The situation with Iran is tense, and the possibility for miscalculation with U.S. forces remains high. CENTCOM forces in the region continue to watch Iran carefully to prevent any destabilizing activities that contribute to internal Iraqi or Afghan frictions, or threaten regional stability. Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability is particularly troubling. Iran seeks “creeping normalcy” that will permit international acceptance of its nuclear fuel cycle, while buying time for potential covert nuclear activities. We believe that Iran's declared objective of self-sufficient nuclear fuel production is coupled with the ulterior goal of weapons production. Iran’s withdrawal from the IAEA’s Additional Protocol or the NPT could decrease the timeline necessary to produce a weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase instability in the region and could pressure other countries in the CENTCOM AOR to consider acquiring such weapons.

Iranian-sponsored activities in Iraq continue to be unhelpful. Iran is pursuing a multi-track policy in Iraq, consisting of overtly supporting the formation of a stable, Shia Islamist-led central government while covertly working to diminish popular and military support for U.S. and Coalition operations there. Additionally, sophisticated bomb making material from Iran has been found in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq.

While generally thought to be for defense, Iran continues to build a credible military capable of regional power projection. It has the largest military capability in the region and a record of aggressive military action in and around the Arabian Gulf. Its power projection capabilities stem primarily from its navy and ballistic missiles. Iran’s military consists of over 350,000 personnel with an additional 300,000 trained reserve/Basij Forces that could be mobilized in times of crisis. The Iranian Armed Forces include two distinct, parallel military organizations – the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Regular military forces. Each controls its own ground, naval, air, and air defense forces and equipment.

In addition to defending against external threats, the IRGC also focuses on an internal security mission and is the lead Iranian agency for supporting terrorism. Competition between the IRGC and Regular forces for limited resources and competing chains of command make Iranian military intentions difficult to decipher. This heightens our concern for the potential for miscalculation with U.S. forces in the region.

Iran’s ground forces are arrayed across the country with the majority of combat power along the Iran-Iraq border. The Iranian navies continue their rapid growth. The IRGC Navy has been developed primarily for the Strait of Hormuz scenario in which Iran would attempt to "internationalize" a conflict by choking off oil exports through the Strait. To disperse large quantities of recently purchased small boats, high speed missile boats, torpedo fast attack craft, and midget submarines, Iran has embarked upon an expansion project for naval bases throughout its littoral. Asymmetric military strategies and naval force modernization, a key national priority, enhance Iran’s capability for power projection in the region.

The IRGC Air Force maintains control over most of Iran’s ballistic missiles and rockets. The accuracy and reliability of its rocket systems vary, but Iran is capable of targeting all Gulf States, the Arabian peninsula, Israel, and U.S. and Coalition forces in the region with little warning.

In addition to Iran's conventional and ballistic missile capabilities, another lethal aspect of Iran's power projection is its ties to regional and global terrorism. Iran remains on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism and provides extensive support to the Lebanese Hezbollah and several Palestinian rejectionist groups. Along with this support comes influence. Additionally, Iran's own intelligence elements are stationed throughout the CENTCOM AOR and beyond and are trained and prepared to execute terrorist attacks at the direction of Tehran.

As the diplomacy surrounding Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons plays out, CENTCOM will continue to vigilantly monitor Iran’s conventional force posture and maintain a strong naval, air, and ground capability to deter Iran from attempts at further destabilizing the region. "

Hat tip: SGT. Garth Gehlen, U.S. Army.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Marc Shulman at American Future posted on an essay by French philosopher André Glucksmann in Democratiya entitled "Separating Truth and Belief". An excerpt:

"Civilised discourse analyses and defines scientific truths, historic truths and matters of fact relating to knowledge, not to faith. And it does this irrespective of race or confession. We may believe these facts are profane or undignified, yet they remain distinct from religious truths. Our planet is not in the grips of a clash of civilisations or cultures. It is the battleground of a decisive struggle between two ways of thinking. There are those who declare that there are no facts, but only interpretations - so many acts of faith. These either tend toward fanaticism ('I am the truth') or they fall into nihilism ('nothing is true, nothing is false'). Opposing them are those who advocate free discussion with a view to distinguishing between true and false, those for whom political and scientific matters – or simple judgement – can be settled on the basis of worldly facts, independently of arbitrary pre-established opinions."

This is no trite point.

Modes of thinking are not merely individual matters. They are also organizational and cultural patterns for categorizing information, precluding or favoring particular perspectives, selecting rule-sets for the sequencing and prioritizing data points. Mass acceptance of a particular epistemogical method has deep implications for the evolution of a society. Fatalism, irrationality and mysticism do not leave legacies comparable to that of empircism, logic and the scientific method. The former are a cognitive narcotic, the latter is a tool kit.

Irrational schools of thought, regardless of whether their origin is secular or religious are profoundly seductive because they offer the mind a " free lunch". They permit or even enshrine common logical fallacies such as special pleading, begging the question or appeal to authority as virtues. They are also, by their rarefied narrowness and lack of identifiable, quantifiable and reliable " yardstick" to self-critically evaluate, tailor made to create the kind of individual who Eric Hoffer called The True Believer:

"Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know. One often obtains a clue to a person's nature by discovering the reasons for his or her imperviousness to certain impressions.

...A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self."

The epistemological method that becomes the dominant mode of thought in a given society determines its attitude on all great questions - from peace and war to prosperity and what it considers to be "good". Political conflicts over intellectual shams like " intelligent design" matter because they are questions of the legitimacy or falsehood of a particular cognitive method.

Opting for the good feeling of deus ex machina today is apt to bring ruin tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Following up on the vibrant discussion on Iran a few days ago is a brief on Iran's President discovered by Pat Lang of Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Colonel Lang's commentary is here.


Dr. Barnett on Iranian youth , Iranian elite unrest and U.S. policy.

CKR of Whirledview on the "Upcoming Iranian Revolution"

Has long been one of my favorite blogs to read and a part of my koinon along with tdaxp, The Glittering Eye and American Future. A significant overlap of topical interests exists between myself and Curzon, Younghusband and Chirol, the pseudonymous and linguistically able proprietors of Coming Anarchy, yet with enough differences to make for many a productive and interesting exchange.

For newer readers, I thought I'd highlight Coming Anarchy's beautifully designed travelogue section. Take a look for yourself:


Turkey (Curzon)

Turkey (Chirol)


The Balkans

An interesting contextual reading of On War in Parameters. An excerpt:

"Not only was Clausewitz not the Prussian aggressor or proponent of total war as he is sometimes caricatured, but he was a genuine voice of moderation among Prussian military leaders. An example of his moderation can be found in his discussion of the balance of power in Book 6, Chapter 6. His analysis suggests that common effort and common interest ultimately maintained the balance of power rather than sheer military might—a view that in contemporary social science places his ideas closer to liberal international relations theory than to realism.11 After Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, many of Clausewitz’s contemporaries were urging revenge against France while Clausewitz resisted this temptation. Ultimately, Clausewitz’s moderation meant that he had a better grasp of the requisite conditions for a lasting peace agreement. He expressed his views in a candid letter to his wife:

My dearest wish now is that this aftermath should soon be finished. I dislike this position of having my foot upon someone’s neck, and the endless conflicts of interests and parties are something I do not understand. Historically, the English will play a better role in this catastrophe, because they do not seem to have come here with a passion for revenge and for settling old scores, but rather like a master who wishes to discipline with proud coldness and immaculate purity; in brief, with greater distinction than ourselves.12

In fact, Clausewitz’s moderation proved detrimental toward the end of his career because of his commitment to one of his cherished reforms—the creation of a popular militia. Clausewitz failed to appreciate the domestic political implications of a militia for Prussia, although the authorities did not. Thus, Frederick William III denied Clausewitz an appointment to a diplomatic post at the Court of St. James because he assumed that such a vocal champion of the militia would hardly be expected to be politically reliable. "

My understanding of modern German history is that Clausewitz's classic was seldom read by the leaders of either the Kaiser's Grossgeneralstab or Hitler's Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. Of course, the same can probably said of the senior leaders of the U.S. Army today.

Or any army for that matter,
Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett reviews Dr. Chet Richards' tightly written tome Neither Shall The Sword. Like Chet's book, a must read for the Mil theory addict.


Dan's review at tdaxp

Zenpundit review of the PPT Neither Shall the Sword Brief
Monday, March 13, 2006

A short burst:

Marc at American Future has zeroed in on censorship in Britain where the MSM there is increasingly reluctant to publish criticism of Islamist extremism. Creeping dhimmitude of the postmodern, urban, intellectual.

And now for an interesting juxtaposition....

Collounsbury on "moderate Muslims" - quite accurately pointing out that what most Westerners think of as "moderate" Muslims are actually secularized " liberals" who are a tiny minority, without much influence and who are often at odds with actual moderate Muslims who are what Gilles Kepel called " the devout middle-class". Non-violent but pious, orderly, socially conservative, believers.

that's it.

John Robb of Global Guerillas has an article at Fast Company entitled " Security: Power to the People". An excerpt:

"Warren Buffett's NetJets--will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next. Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security--as they do now with education--and shore up delivery of critical services. These "armored suburbs" will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links; they will be patrolled by civilian police auxiliaries that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency-response systems. As for those without the means to build their own defense, they will have to make do with the remains of the national system. They will gravitate to America's cities, where they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge.

Until, that is, the next wave of adaptive innovation takes hold. For all of these changes may prove to be exactly the kind of creative destruction we need to move beyond the current, failed state of affairs. By 2016 and beyond, real long-term solutions will emerge. Cities, most acutely affected by the new disruptions, will move fastest to become self-reliant, drawing from a wellspring of new ideas the market will put forward. These will range from building-based solar systems from firms such as Energy Innovations to privatized disaster and counterterrorist responses. We will also see the emergence of packaged software that combines real-time information (the status of first-responder units and facilities) with interactive content (information from citizens) and rich sources of data (satellite maps). Corporate communications monopolies will crumble as cities build their own emergency wireless networks using simple products from companies such as Proxim."

Have to say right off the bat that " Armored Suburbs" is a damn fine meme on its own.

John has his fingers on all the entropic pulses at work on the edges of the globalized Core and the evolving networks that may stitch societies and states back together in response to destructive forces or independently of them.
Saturday, March 11, 2006

First was Robert Kaplan's over-the-top " War with China" piece in The Atlantic that sparked Thomas P.M. Barnett's infamously caustic rebuttal ( with Curzon and I exchanging supporting fire ). Now Ralph Peters has his own " Navy" piece entitled "Waters of wealth and war " in The Armed Forces Journal. An excerpt:

"As you read these lines, nearly 20 million shipping containers are underway around the globe — carried by fewer than 4,000 hulls. The explosion of transoceanic trade simultaneously has made that commerce more vulnerable, not only in the obvious sense that economies have grown more interdependent, but also because, even as the volume of shipped goods increased, the number of significant cargo carriers plummeted — because of the increasing size of commercial vessels, from supertankers to container ships. Far fewer transports ply the seas today than a century ago; the sinking, seizure or blockading of a small portion of the international merchant fleet could bring high-end economies to a standstill. While our Navy — the most powerful and skilled in history — focuses on grand fleet actions (or their postmodern, dispersed equivalent), the strategic weak link across the globe is trade.

This is nowhere more evident than in the greater Indian Ocean (GIO), on whose shores lie great potential wealth and incomparable poverty, along with multiple immediate and potential clashes of civilizations, cultures and minorities. Here, the world’s great religions confront each other; systems of government challenge one another; social systems conflict; and the world’s two most powerful states, the United States and China, find themselves in a competition for resources and allies that Beijing, at least, views as a zero-sum game.

And no waters are so vulnerable."

I'm not questioning Peters facts or argument here, I'll leave that to others to dissect, but I'm curious if this emerging Neo-Mahanist perspective is as relevant today at the start of the twenty-first century as it was at the close of the nineteenth?

I am no opponent of a large and versatile U.S. Navy. Back in the day when the Soviets had ambitions for a global power projection, I admired the Reagan administration's plan for a 500 Ship Navy and thought that the first Bush administration's eliminating the Iowa class battleships from active duty removed a useful arrow from the American quiver ( In fact, I still do; the battleship is a " Leviathan in the Gap" ship if there ever was one). Credibility of American military deterrence, both conventional and nuclear, rests on the expectation of ally and foe alike that the U.S. Navy can show up anywhere and be the hammer of the American Leviathan, from the Arctic circle to the East African coast.

But spatially speaking, isn't much of the security problem Peters describes here highly, highly, localized to a few choke points where geography and dysfunctional governance coincide ? How will the energy lifelines that China seeks to secure today look in a quarter century when natural gas and most likely, a resurgent nuclear power industry, change the global energy market profile ? Is the security problem in this region answered by massive ( physically and and in terms of investment) naval platforms or nimble littoral/amphibious assault forces, robust HUMINT and SIGINT penetration or even - looking ahead - legions of robotic naval UAV equivalents ?

There's more here to the geostrategic picture than is dreamt of PACOM's philosophy.


Younghusband's Mahan vs. Corbett

Eddie's post on The Shipbuilding Fantasy of the Navy

Phil Jones is a frequent commenter at John Robb's Global Guerillas and having checked out some of Phil's mini-empire of wiki and blog, I think many of my regular readers will find his Thought Storms wiki useful and very stimulating. Good stuff here.

Dave Schuler at the Glittering Eye has posted his views on the Iranian bomb with "Why the Iranians aren’t deterred" and another very solidly reasoned post " Legs" on the condition of the Westphalian nation-state system.

The new issue of PARAMETERS is now online !

Fearing the Nanobiobot in Salon.

Younghusband of Coming Anarchy has an excellent post that works off of Dan of tdaxp's ( see links below) on 5GW warfare. A Nice essay that was linked to by John Robb as well. Here's is a snippet:

"Al Qaeda started off as a dense network of highly connected individuals that conducted training etc in the hills of Afghanistan. Once they were smashed by the US and ran to the hills the amount of direct control held by bin Laden diminished greatly. Direct interaction was replaced by globally distributed passive communication that outlined the group’s objectives, and an even more distributed network was left on their own to do what they can for “the cause”: we had the disappearance of Al Qaeda the “terrorist organization”, and the appearance of Al Qaeda the “movement.” There were all sorts of groups that stood up to claim membership to the greater network of AQ after committing some act. Look at “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and other regional franchises of the organization. Copycat groups like the London bombers also appeared.

Now, maybe a core organization of Al Qaeda still exists, but there seems to be a much more loose global community surrounding the AQ idea. This begs the question: could AQ 2.0, or even some future “terrorist organization”, be the result of an emergent community? Emergence is a bottom-up organization of complex systems, where a “number of agents operate in an environment, forming more complex behaviours as a collective.”

Read the whole thing.

Further 5GW Links:


Soundlessness and Formlessness

Dreaming 5th Generation War

Go Deep


Fifth Generation War in the OODA Loop

Unto the Fifth Generation Of War


5GW Tutorial

Limitations of 5GW

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Dr. Thomas P.M.Barnett has long advocated a new detente leading to a " grand bargain" with Iran over its nuclear program to acheive its political and economic reintegration into the world community. This would reestablish the strategic status quo ante that existed prior to the 1979 revolution that destroyed the Shah's modernizing regime and instituted implacable ideological hostility between Teheran and Washington.

The strategic logic and the cost-benefit analysis here has considerable attraction. So much so that, like Tom, I suspected that the Bush administration might try a " Nixon goes to China" manuver, particularly after the productive sub rosa coorperation between the the United States IC and its Iranian counterparts leading up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. However the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the seubsequent power struggle between his ultrahardline faction based primarily in the Pasdaran senior leadership and a minority of senior Ayatollahs to Supreme Guide Khameini's right and the " pragmatists" like Rafsanjani and "reformists" led by Khatami to the Left have effectively paralyzed that option.

I have to disagree with Dr. Barnett here however:

"Where is the history of states acquiring the bomb and then using it irrationally? History has consistently proven just the opposite, even with Islamist regimes like Pakistan and quasi-theocracies like Israel. This is just another example of the sad American tendency to demonize all potential foes as irrational. You take down a country on either side of Iran and they reach for the bomb: who's being irrational or naive on that one?"

The rub here is " use" and " rational".

Yes, the existence of deterrence provided by existing members of the nuclear club has an effect of inhibiting first use nuclear strikes by new nuclear powers. No argument. However there are indirect as well as direct uses for nuclear arms.

The record of serious miscalculation in non-nuclear domains by nuclear powers brought on by overconfidence provided by ownership of nuclear waepons is both serious and long -- stretching back to 1945. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes began the tradition of overestimating nuclear status when he expected to use America's nuclear monopoly to pressure the Soviets to make diplomatic concessions on a range of geopolitical issues, largely to no effect whatsoever, with the lone exception of (ironically) the evacuation of northern Iran in 1946 which the Soviets had, in principle, previously agreed to do.

Some other examples of nuclear overconfidence or hubris causing negative effects short of WWIII:

Stalin, who acquired the bomb in 1949, giving permission to Kim Il-Sung to invade South Korea in 1950.

Khrushchev, who acquired not only the hydrogen bomb but crude ICBMs, provoked repeated crisises over Berlin, Cuba and rattled nuclear sabers over Suez.

Charles DeGualle whose much longed for Force de Frappe led him to pull France out of NATO's military command, greatly weakening the alliance.

China, which had acquired the bomb in 1964, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war with the USSR over a few tiny islands in the Ussuri river inhabited primarily by trees and polar bears.

By my count I see the possession of nuclear weapons leading statesmen to gamble in a way that almost caused a nuclear war at least twice and a serious conventional war at least once ( without even considering the recent history of the Indian subcontinent).

My confidence in the self-restraint of the current President of Iran is several orders of magnitude below that of Nikita Khrushchev.

Fabius Maximus at DNI continues his series with " Forecasts for the American Expedition to Iraq – the Sequel.Also, Introducing the New Kingmaker in American Politics!"

I note for Dave Schuler that Fabius cites Walter Russell Mead in his essay. Overall, very intriguing though I disagree with some of it - noting for example that democracy and civil war are hardly incompatible. One may kill other or a state of juxtaposition or coexistence may pesist until the LIC civil war simply burns itself out.

Curzon at Coming Anarchy has a "threefer": two posts on his " Mapping the Gap" series -
"Mapping the Gap, Part 1: War Risk Insurance", "Mapping the Gap, Part 2: Homosexuality Laws" and "Discussion: Exxon Sued for Allowing Indonesia Troops to Torture"

"The Strength of Internet Ties" (PDF) by PEW . Examining the internet and social networks. A " must read" for bloggers and military netwar theorists alike. The survey finds evidence of real empowerment, connectivity and leveraging of resources for sustaining large networks via the internet. The net is a multiplier here and an expander of parameters of influence.

Hat tip to the Eide Neurolearning Blog.

That's it.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006

As I mentioned yesterday, Michael J. Mazaar's article in Policy Review is worth a serious review, particularly the introduction of his concept of Psychopolitik. Other pundits and bloggers have been commenting as well. For example:

Austin Bay:

"...Democracy and the rule of law are ideas –non-utopian ideas– that in substance and form address the issues of opportunity and effective governance. Given the world trends Mazaar describes, dictatorships are ultimately ineffective governance. As for psychopolitik: The “anarchist movement” in the 19th century also involved alienation, identity, and belonging issues. Wars of Identity are not a new phenomenon, either. Tribal identity is a powerful force.

...Mazarr claims the “state is back.” I think Mazarr believes –as I do– that news of its demise was more than premature. This is an argument I’ve made — “complete” states exhibit remarkable strength and resiliency; democratic states in particular exhibit extraordinary flexibility. Ths runs counter to much of the Conventional Wisdom among the “strategic gurus.” Why? Fear and catastrophe sell. I argue that one of the weaknesses in the Westphalian system is that the system has never really existed as a complete system. “Gap states” aren’t new– gaps aren’t new. (”Here be dragons.”) Tribes with flags have UN seats– and are one of the UN’s greatest weaknesses. Fake states aren’t new– consider the Congo. It’s a mark on a map. Mazarr notes that Westphalian rules, however, are increasingly accepted, though notions of what creates legitimacy have changed, to include “no genocide.” That’s why the UN is about to “invade” Sudan’s Darfur region (and based on recent statements by Sudanese leaders there’s a chance the looming UN assumption of Darfur peacekeeping mission may not be as figurative an invasion as my quotation marks around “invade” suggest). The US is not simply arguing that the nation state stands between 21st century order and 21st century anarchy; the US now argues that the quality of the nation state matters. Well, it always has, to a degree. In my own view failed states will either disintegrate (and then re-organize) or they will assimilate"


"The psychopolitik view is all about balancing all those issues and trying to move the whole in a desirable direction -- a necessarily messy, difficult and unpredictable business. We were also stuck already with many of those dilemmas ever since 1991. In psychopolitik, there isn't a lot new. The "Neocon agenda" (somewhat as the caricature has it) also took a psychological, "root causes" approach -- it just came up with different conclusions as to action. What was Mazarr's prescription for a way forward in the mid '90's? We don't know because it is by no means obvious from his essay what his choices would have been, other than a root cause, "peace, love, cash give-aways" approach. We've heard that before, though this essay would seem to argue that, "no, this time there's a lot of thought behind it," it strikes me that the end resulting prescription would be pretty well the same, though unlike most who promulgate that view, Mazarr at least has a somewhat more realistic view that the "soft approach" is not always enough."

I had a number of impressions from reading Mazarr:

First, in his review of strategic schools of thought, Mazarr's harsh critique of Network-centric Warfare probably far exceeds the claims that Admiral Cebrowski made for it - NCW simply is not and never was a grand strategy( though I will grant that Pentagon proponents of this school have been infuriatingly myopic and excessive in their desperation to corner the last DoD billion for high tech platforms) it does little to inform statesmen as opposed to operational planners and unit commanders. In fact, I'd add as an aside that Cebrowski's ideas had wide -ranging, horizontal implications beyond warfare that have yet to be adequately pursued by theorists, economists and other scholars.

Secondly, Mazarr's review of 4GW theory is at times, quite strained in his effort to put distance between his ideas and those of Martin van Creveld and William Lind. Mazarr, like Victor Davis Hanson, argues for the immutable and unchanging nature of war yet he echoes a number of the arguments of the 4GW school even as he rejects the "Decline of the State" thesis. "Psychopolitik" itself is profoundly Boydian, whether Mazarr realizes it or not he is discussing Colonel John Boyd's Moral level of warfare with perhaps an unconscious homage to Jose Ortega y Gasset.

Third, Mazarr's interpretation of war as a mere aspect of "conflict" is spot on in the vein of Sun Tzu and his acceptance of the blurring between warfare and more generalized conflict ( something certainly articulated by 4GW thinkers) is also in agreement with Unrestricted Warfare by PLA military theorists Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui.

Fourth, "Psychopolitik" is a term with some utility despite being an ugly neologism. A practical problem with the Boydian/4GW use of " Moral" as a term is that it invites those who are unwilling to comprehend the context for reasons of policy preference are free to inject irrelevant arguments based on other contexts of the word " moral". For those audiences who are not versed in Boyd's ideas, "psychopolitik" at least directs their attention toward mass psychology, perception, legitimacy and the like without inviting quotations from Saint Augustine in response.

Fifth, "Psychopolitik" leads Mazarr, correctly in my view, to grope toward what John Boyd considered "constructive" - a grand strategy to establish shared values, a theme for vitality and growth.

"Attend to identity. The top strategic priority is providing avenues to identity formation — opportunities for people to escape stagnation and despair and to strive toward secure identities. This principle has obvious economic, political and social components "

Yes ! As Dr. Barnett likes to say, " war in the context of everything else".
Tuesday, March 07, 2006

At the behest of the esteemed Colonel Austin Bay ( a request seconded by Matt at Mountainrunner) I have read and endorse for your perusal " Extremism, Terror, and the Future of Conflict " by Professor Michael J. Mazarr, which has been published in Policy Review and posted online at RealClearPolitics.

Mazarr tackles Network-Centric Warfare, Martin van Creveld and 4GW and then offers up the concept of Psychopolitik. Dig into it and feel free to offer up your own analysis; mine will be following on Wednesday.
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" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

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