Sunday, April 30, 2006

As regular readers know, I am a big fan of Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett's work as expressed in The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action and believe that he has produced a vision and a set of concepts with great potential for redefining American grand strategy. This is no small achievement. Much of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment spent the decade between the fall of the USSR and September 11, pretending that economic policy was a substitute for strategy and rationalizing the status quo. Many would-be "wise-men" continued to do so even after 9/11, having nothing else to cling to for support in the face of neoconservatives promoting the Bush Doctrine.

As a result much of the foreign policy establishment has rendered itself irrelevant in the eyes of the voting public. Bush's sinking poll numbers and have not created a rising tide to lift the boats of the Realists much less the dovish Liberal internationalists. The voters can see the limitations of Bush's policy and errors of execution in carrying it out, but the administration has a coherent policy and its critics do not. Criticism unfortunately is not a strategy nor is whistling through a graveyard and pretending that this is 1996 instead of 2006. Barnett's PNM/BFA grand strategy is the primary pro-active alternative to preemption and is a robust one because its orientation toward other great powers is nonzero sum and collaborative rather than adversarial.

As Tom has offered up answers, his books and ideas have received an unusual amount of attention inside the Pentagon, in the media and in the blogosphere. The reviews have been many including the tough, the fair, unfair, laudatory, irrelevant and the insane. There have also been some very praiseworthy attempts at reinterpretation of Dr. Barnett's PNM theory, some showing flashes of brilliance that Barnett himself said required a Corona to digest. One recurring question by readers and bloggers had to do with metrics, or the lack of them, in defining how states fell into the Core-Gap dichotomy ( or the more nuanced Core-New Core-Seam-Gap continuum) and have even gone so far as to offer new ways of mapping " the Pentagon's New Map". Some are doing formal, scholarly, research.

Another proposal for understanding Dr. Barnett's Core-Gap concept made recently that did not receive the attention or commentary that it deserved was the "The Wave Theory of Core and Gap by Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye. What I liked about Dave's " Wave Theory" is not his Zen-like assertion that there is " no Core and no Gap" ( I disagree. I think the case can be easily made that as fuzzy and debatable that the exact border between Barnett's two zones might be, Burkina Faso is clearly inhabiting a very different world from Switzerland or Japan) but his nod toward modern physics:

"I believe that I have an answer to all of these questions. There is no Core. There is no Gap. And it’s not connectivity or globalization: Pakistan and Afghanistan are tremendously connected to each other and to other Islamic countries. It is Influence. Primarily Western influence.

I influence you. You influence me. Americans influence Frenchmen, Germans, Saudis and every other people on the face of the earth. Saudis influence Americans, Emiratis, and lots of other people. A Russian diplomat influences Iranian government officials. A Mexican migrant worker works a construction job in the United States and sends his earnings home to his parents in Mexico. A German company starts buying its products from a Chinese company which employs more Chinese workers who used to be farmers while throwing Guatemalan workers out of work.

Influence is not discrete like the lines or dots in some of the graphics above. It proceeds outwards from its broadcasting sources in waves. The waves are transmitted, repeated, interact with one another, and are blocked.

The waves of influence of different cultures can interfere with one another—like the squawk when you put your telephone receiver too close to your radio. When it’s severe enough these interfering waves of influence can lead to war.

The waves of the influence of Americans and American institutions are enormously powerful—so much so that they threaten to drown out even the other, less powerful but still compatible wave forms of the EU and its nations. Other countries and cultures are resisting that influence by erecting barriers to it and broadcasting influence of their own. The interaction of these conflicting influences creates instability."

There is a lot of value in this alinear conceptualization offered by Dave. First, it emphasizes the interactivity of competing, overlapping waves of influence emanating from centers of civilization and of decay. Secondly, the " Wave Theory" is very accomodating of Joseph Nye's " Soft Power" in terms of expressing a real but difficult to quantify set of variables ( Nye was himself an early intellectual influence on Dr. Barnett, at least to some degree). Thirdly, as we begin to understand the nature of complex systems we should give greater attention to analogies from physics that help explain develpments that emerge in human systems. Tom himself moved that ball forward by borrowing system perturbations from chaos theory and applying it to geopolitical strategy and Dave is following that same path.

Dave has promised follow-ups to this important post which I look forward to reading and reviewing here.


Chacago Boyz's Lexington Green's thoughtful essays on PNM - PART I. and PART II.


Chirol at Coming Anarchy has posted "Mapping the Gap IV: Canada, Germany, UK" and Curtis at Phatic Communion has an essay "Ideas Requiring Attention" responding to points raised here.

Dr. Von commented on a post by John Robb that dealt with a network theory research paper by Alexander Franks on the evolution of rule-sets in noisy environments (i.e. environments with many competing distractions or a high level of disorder). John's evaluation of the paper:

"This is an interesting topic since it is not at all obvious how open source networks develop cohesive rules sets -- this in contrast to hierarchical systems that can propagate rules through central direction. In sum, his work suggests that one or two widely held rules (greater than 50% adoption) provide the basis for the evolution of an entire set. All rules that have affinity to those founding rules evolve until they are widely adopted. All minority rules that do not have much affinity are flushed. This has interesting applicability to open source warfare.

It suggests that the plausible promise (the idea that starts the open source warfare community) provides a center of gravity that attracts rules that advance it and repels those that don't. Any additional work on this topic is welcome. "

Von has expanded on this beginning and brought up several noteworthy observations:

"What research has shown, though, is that in a perfect, noise-free environment, the majority rule will fail to reach global consensus, even if there is some amount of longer-range crosslinks within the network (meaning that some small number of individual agents not only see some number of nearest neighbors, but an occasional link to another agent outside the local boundary defined in the initial conditions). However, the boundaries between local pockets of differing viewpoints does breakdown when noise is introduced into the environment. This is, of course, a better simulation of what the real world is like anyhow. Noise, in the context of simulation work, means that there can be miscommunication between neighbors. This allows for incorrect information to be passed along and will influence agents to switch their state."

The greater the systemic disorder of the environment the more likely the distortion within a network attempting to forge a consensus on rule-sets. Dr. Von offers some practical caveats for policy makers who must deal with non-state, decentralized, opponents like al Qaida:

"Lesson 1: Network formation takes time. Time can be an enemy or an ally, depending on circumstances.

Lesson 2: In social networks, law and order and security reduce environmental noise. If you do not maintain low noise levels, the local boundaries between those in the network who agree with you and those who disagree with you break down."

and concludes:

"The key is that the noise in the main network as well as the loose ties to other networks has broken down boundaries and allowed widespread consensus to be reached, leading to an insurgency that apparently has surprised most military personnel and war planners. It is time that traditional war games, planning and training need to move on and research into areas like network theory must become much more prominent. Perhaps the results coming out of network and organizational theory research would have changed some minds and resulted in a more prepared occupancy of Iraq."

The point here by Von has widespread implications for policy makers and military planners.

First, we see that slow devolution toward state failure or a catastrophic system perturbation attack creates an environment favorable to the emergence of entirely new organizations and what Dr. Barnett calls a " rule-set reset". However, while the shock of a perturbation preps the system for a rule-set reset by overcoming the system's level of resiliency, Iraq would appear to demonstrate that the window of opportunity to control this process in the moment where system's adherents would be accepting of change is extremely brief. Given any lag time between the perturbation and the introduction of new, systemically enforced rule-sets , the system will naturally begins to evolve its own solutions in an open-source manner. Once that genie is out of the bottle, the system will have competing rule-sets engaged in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy.

Secondly, on the smaller scale, understanding the formation of rule-sets by networks will make the behavior of decentralized, scale-free networked actors more predictable and subject to influence. To avoid that kind of evolutionary " shaping" by state enemies, network leaders will have to retreat to older, more hierarchical forms of organization that we understand, can track and can counter very well, thus losing some critical advantages.


Network Theory with an emphasis on al Qaida

Emergent intelligence in open source warfare

Uncloaking Terrorist Networks

Rule set resets in the Global War on Terrorism

State Resilience


Scale Free Networks
Friday, April 28, 2006

From the Small Wars Council today, a link to an NPR interview and partial transcript:

"Hashim lists about 20 groups of insurgents, including nationalists, former Baathists, tribal-based insurgents and religious extremists. The groups say they want the United States out of Iraq, and they reject the U.S.-backed government, but they don't agree on what they do want.

"If we were out of the picture, some of the insurgent groups could engage in bloodshed against one another because they have such different and disparate political views of the future of Iraq," Hashim says.

Hashim, who teaches at the Naval War College, says he was surprised by how little the U.S. military understands about the culture, or "human terrain," of Iraq. That includes "societal networks, relations between tribes and within tribes, kinship ties... what is it people are fighting for?"... "

Exactly. Not only is communication of the most basic intentions rendered more difficult but observation is profoundly altered by ignorance of cultural norms. How can you "peel off" the rationally aggreived from the intransigent power-seeker and or religious fanatic if you are unable to tell one from the other ?

Of course, some of it is common sense. " Would you like it if someone did that in your mother's house? " as a recent top counterinsurgency expert put it, is a good first question to ask in terms of the message being communicatd.

Bruce Kesler's article in Editor& Publisher can properly be found here.

My apologies to Mr. Kesler. Mea Culpa.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

And so am I. The good Colonel is rather pithy.

"As we have been discussing here, the subject of "Counterinsurgency" is the flavor of the month in the Army and Marine Corps. People who could not spell "Counterinsurgency" three years ago are now busy reading TE Lawrence, Mao Tse-Tung and even more obscure texts from the corpus of "Counterinsurgency" literature. A political appointee in the DoD recently asked me with great and serious solicitude if I had ever seen "The Battle of Algiers." The implication was that seeing this movie would make all clear.

It often happens that desperation leads to a willingness to listen to people who would, in other circumstances, never get an official hearing. As General (Retired) Keane said on the Newshour a while back, the army that he ran went into Iraq without a clue on "Counterinsurgency." It is now playing "catch-up" in its own ponderous, committee-bound, acronym, and general officer burdened way. The US Marines seem better at such problems of intellectual introspection, somehow."

I can see an original edition copy of Lawrence on the shelf from my desk ( but it is Revolt in the Desert, not "pillars" so I'm out of step)

Read the rest.

Lots to see..lots to see.....

Chirol at Coming Anarchy produced an intriguing three-part series applying PNM theory to the domestic sphere. PART I, PART II, PART III. And Chirol caught Dr. Barnett's attention on other matters too.

Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project has advice for all of you blogging, aspiring, pundits who hope to have an op-ed someday in The New York Times. ( also check out Mr. Kesler's article in Editor & Publisher )

Sean Meade, having some Chinese at Interact.

Marc at American Future has an excellent online Iran Bibliography

John Robb
at Global Guerillas has a thoughtful op-ed piece on Iran - he has identified the position of the Bush administration very concisely - and offers a brainy paper on how networks evolve Rule-sets ( one that may look familiar to one Dr. Von).

Which brings us of course to Dr. Barnett's recent posts on Iran. I think Tom had the ideal strategic dynamic nailed but this scenario is simply not going to happen ( No offense, Tom - though I'd rather you be right and me be wrong, I think the reverse will shake out, barring some Iranian Lee Harvey Oswald finding a convenient Teheran Book Depository window).

OTOH, I warmly endorse that you check out Dr. Barnett's "Development in a Box" post - big things are happening there with Tom and Steve. Congratulations, guys !

Eddie at Live From the FDNF continues to prod our collective conscience on Dar Fur. Don't stop Eddie, a tipping point will come.

That's it !
Monday, April 24, 2006

"One final caution -fourth generation war is more than seventy years old and is reaching maturity. While we are only beginning to understand it clearly, history tells us the fifth generation has already begun to evolve."

- Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and The Stone

"The State, which since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) has been the most important and most characteristic of all modern institutions, is dying. Wherever we look, existing states are either combining into larger communities or falling apart; wherever we look, organizations that are not states are taking their place. On the international level, we are moving away from a system of separate, sovereign, states toward less distinct, more hierarchical, and in many ways more complex structures. Inside their borders, it seems that many states will soon no longer be able to protect the political, military, economic, social, and cultural life of their citizens. "

- Martin van Creveld, The Fate of the State

If we wish to understand fourth generation warfare - and many in government, the intelligence community and the media seek to do so - we make a mistake to look first at al Qaida or the hydra-like Iraqi insurgency. These organizations certainly manifest many of the adaptible and decentralized, morally-oriented, characteristics of a 4GW opponent but we are looking at a process of evolution in midstream ( Hammes would say we are late in the process). Instead, we should go to the roots of the 4GW phenomena, an anti-state phenomena. Namely, the early totalitarian movements of the twentieth century, in particular, the Nazi Party and its driving force and articulator, Adolf Hitler.

The totalitarian movements -Communism, Fascism and National Socialism - all share a common utopian objective of remolding society, not merely taking over the state. They sought to shape worldviews and make " new men". They were militant, militarized, political movements - "non-state actors" - that went beyond the borders of the nation-state and sought to erase the distinction between the state and society.

Fascism remained the most primitive and least ambitious; it failed because Mussolini's orientation ultimately adulated the state itself. Literally " statist", the Duce feared to disturb it overmuch with ideological innovations. Fascism left no deeper impression on Italy than it did in Spain, where Franco's Falange resembled little more than a brutish form of Spanish reactionary traditionalism.

Communism as envisioned by Lenin and Trotsky was a truly international and anti-state revolutionary force. Anyone who believes Lenin put much emphasis on the interests of the Russian state need only read the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Lenin grasped the reins of the state as head of Sovnarkom out of necessity; without a strong Soviet state, the revolution was doomed so Lenin laid the foundations of a Communist dictatorship that Stalin completed. In doing so, Joseph Stalin shifted course dramatically. While remaining a committed builder of utopia through terror inside the Soviet Union - making a "revolution from above" in the words of one eminent historian - in foreign policy, Stalin eschewed world revolution and gravitated to classic great power realpolitik, Russian chauvinism with a Bolshevik face, and the building of empire. Stalin, like Mussolini, was a true statist - only on a scale beyond the Italian dictator's dreams.

Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Worker's Party were another matter entirely.

Like his fellow totalitarian rulers, Hitler captured the state and made it his own, the dread Third Reich. But the Fuhrer was not beguiled by it, was never satisfied with his Reich - and looked beyond it, even at the end in his bunker. Hitler's eye was always elsewhere and he was contempuous of the limited resiliency possessed by states:

" For us the idea of the Volk is higher than the idea of the state... it is no accident that religions are more stable than forms of states...In the beginning was the Volk, and only then came the Reich...The state is only an enforced framework" (1)

And so on. It was a great consistency in Hitler's speeches, table-talk and writings.

Hitler subordinated the German state to the Nazi Party whenever possible - giving vast powers to party formations like the SS, SD and his local Nazi plenipotentiaries, the Gauleiters. He permitted state and party authorities to work at cross-purposes, remarking on the positive effects of " friction" and further personalized Nazi rule ( thus degrading the prestige of state officials) by the use of the Fuhrer Order.

Of greater import, was Hitler's radical vision that wrecked so much death and destruction but would have wrought still greater evils had Germany won the war. Hitler, as imprecisely as he framed it, was an apostle of the Racial State and genocide. Foremost, the genocide of the Jews. Later, when they were gone, others.

A sinister compound of mythic racism, anti-semitism, geopolitics and Social Darwinism, Hitler spoke of a transnational "Aryan" superstate that incorporated Scandinavia, the Low Countries, Finland, much of Poland and Belarus (at times, Great Britain) into a new Greater German empire. On occasion, Hitler seemed to speak of a European confederation, at others, annexation. That the Fuhrer aimed at superceding not only the borders but the form of the old Reich is difficult to doubt. Albert Speer's final chapter of Infiltration, his last book, was as chilling as anything one could imagine:

" This eastern territory was to have a colonial character and reach all the way to the Urals, the Volga and Baku on the caspian Sea...the Baltic States would be settled ' with consideration for the Germaification abilities of the Estonians...Ukraine was to be Germanized...the area he [Hitler] said..must lose the character of the Asiatic steppe; it must be Europeanized! "

Where would the settlers come from ?

"The two or three million people we need....Hitler continued in these nocturnal contemplations...we will have them faster than we think. We'll take them from Germany, the Scandinavian countries, the West European countries, and America.'' (2)

And the original inhabitants ?

Speer estimated that Himmler's "peacetime" program of building and construction in the East was predicated upon a continuous level of over 4 million slave laborers for the territory of the Old Reich alone. And in twenty years approximately 14 million of these slaves would have to be " replaced"having expired from maltreatment and exhaustion. Speer estimated a total human cost for the building program alone, approximately 29 million human beings. This does not count Hitler's intent to drive away or absorb " 100 million Slavs ".

Some 4GW theorists have expressed equanimity at the decline of the state that they argue is happening. It could not possibly be worse than what has recently gone before. I am not so certain. What if Hitler and the Nazis represented not the triumph of the total state but the first harbinger of the nation-state's passing ?

Hitler, fortunately, is dead and his genocidal Racial State died with him. Today though,we have Takfiri jihadis today who dream of Caliphates and the destruction of the nation-state, the hated form of the alien, infidel , West that was imposed on the glorious Ummah, splintering its unity and defying the will of Allah. They want it to go - and the infidels and apostates along with it.

4GW movements have apocalyptic dreams. Can we really be sanguine about the decline of the state ?

1. Lukacs, John. The Hitler of History. Page 117.

2. Speer, Albert. Infiltration: how Heinrich Himmler Schemed to Build an SS Industrial Empire.
Pages 294-305.
Sunday, April 23, 2006

A new feature.

I have decided to leave " Recommended Reading" in the future strictly for blog posts that catch my attention but do not require extended deconstruction from me. You are all however free to chime in if you wish and I'll respond, time permitting.

" Commentaries " will feature non-blog content from journals or media sources to which I append a few observations or remarks. Short and sweet. Why ? To give the blog a little bit more coherence for the reader as well as for myself when I'm planning things out. Now, without further ado..."Commentaries":

Private Military Companies and the Future of War by Deborah Avant at FPRI

An attempt at an evenhanded overview of the current state of the PMC market and their attendent risks and benefits. Van Creveld is cited, demonstrating the penetration that 4GW theory is making in the ranks of think tank punditry.

Rehabilitating a Rogue: Libya’s WMD Reversal and Lessons for US Policy by Dana Hochman in PARAMETERS

Examines the actual dynamics of the " Libya Model" of WMD disarmament and the role of international norms, self-interest, threat of force, interest groups and diplomacy in yielding a positive result. To be pushed as a policy option in its own right however requires a greater distilliation of the " reproducible" aspects that can be sold to policy makers and allies.

The World's Marked Men by Daniel Byman at Foreign Policy

Hey ! It's the geopolitical version of playing " The Dead Pool" !

Workers' Paradise Is Rebranded as Kremlin Inc. by Andrew E Kramer and Steven Lee Myers in The New York Times

State Capitalism in Russia under Putin. A puzzle piece to a very large and too often unreported story involving Putin's attempt to bring the oligarchs and local mafiya-political networks under state control - and to the political benefit of Vladimir Putin's siloviki "clan".

Soft-kill option best choice for Iran by Thomas P.M. Barnett in Knoxville News Sentinel

Ok, ok - Tom is a blogger too but this is his new incarnation as a newspaper columnist [ Hey Sean - is Tom syndicated ?]. Dr. Barnett is looking for a Nixon to go to Teheran. Or at least a Kissinger. Long-term, Tom is correct on the economic connectivity strategy and his characerization of Iran as a " failed revolution". Short term, I think Iran's internal elite politics are very, very dicey. Who is the Iranian Zhou Enlai ?

I took most of the weekend off from blogging and feel the better for it. Particularly, today where Mrs. Zenpundit and I enjoyed a leisurely time perusing a bookstore and eating outdoors in the plesant spring weather.

It was also quite productive. I embarked upon a major project and began some essays that will appear as posts later this week. The email flowing in was top notch as well. In short, my batteries have been recharged !
Friday, April 21, 2006

I saw this a while back when I was too pressed for time but it is excellent - so here it is:

Dr. Tom Odom put together a reading list on counterinsurgency entitled " A Former FAO Bookshelf" at The Small Wars Council. I have to endorse this insightful blend of books political, tactical, cultural and historical -it's a great start on a syllabus for new college courses on war in a globalized world. Check it out.
Thursday, April 20, 2006

Great stuff today !

Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project - " Cisco Follows IBM Infamy Of Oppression "

Lexington Green at Chicago Boyz - "April 19, 1775"

Dr. Thomas Bender at HNN -" No Borders: Beyond the Nation-State" and the Cliopatria Symposium on Transnational Histories of America and Bender's response.

That's it !

Nicholas Carr at Rough Type has two posts on the cognitive effect the internet may be having on thinking. In his first post " A beautiful mindlessness " Carr observes:

"Like me, you've probably sensed the same thing, in yourself and in others - the way the constant collection of information becomes an easy substitute for trying to achieve any kind of true understanding. It seems a form of laziness as much as anything else, a laziness that the internet both encourages and justifies. The web is "a hall of mirrors" that provides the illusion of thinking, Michael Gorman, the president of the American Library Association, tells Orlowski. "No one would tell you a student using Google today is producing work as good as they were 20 years ago using printed sources. Despite these amazing technical breakthroughs, these technologies haven't added to human wellbeing."

In his follow up post, Carr argues the following:

"The more we suck in information from the blogosphere or the web in general, the more we tune our minds to brief bursts of input. It becomes harder to muster the concentration required to read books or lengthy articles - or to follow the flow of dense or complex arguments in general. Haven't you, dear blog reader, noticed that, too?"


There is probably something to Carr's second post because he is referencing the creation of a psychological habit. The Buddhist maxim " What we think we become" can also very easily be expressed as " How we think we become". Short attentions spans are also natural to human beings - intense powers of concentration are usually acquired by practicing activities that are predicated on that skill-set, like learning a musical instrument, martial arts, meditation, mathematical problem-solving, various complex athletic activities and so on. Moreover, reading on the web tends to " reward" our brains in a more stimulating way than do books not only in terms of speed but with more frequent, non-textual, imagery. And that's assuming that we don't wander away and engage in less constructive but more amusing pursuits !

A friend of mine, a serious scholar who speaks many languages and reads more, disconnected his internet at home for a time because it was too tempting a presence and was interfering with his tackling more challenging books. It was too easy to put off the intellectual heavy lifting in favor of intellectual entetainment. He's since returned to the online world, but now is more disciplined about his use of time there. As much as I enjoy the blogosphere and certain listervs and forums, they don't replace the experience of serious reading with a good book. I like marking up my books and scrawling, at times furiously, in the margins. Many great historical figures were voracious readers, from John Adams to Joseph Stalin, they revealed much of themselves in the marginalia found in the books of their private libraries.

That being said, Carr is also proffering a very old argument, one that is renewed with each new revolution in communication. Marshal McLuhan was not incorrect in his philosophy but he was correct up to a point; substantive content still retains a deeper influence than does presentation - though some forms of presentation are more equal than others. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address will resound through the ages as an epitome of prose, but it can also be reformatted and it will then be understood by some for whom the meaning may have previously been elusive. This doesn't mean the new format is better but that it has utility.

There is also, I humbly suggest, a self-referential quality at work here. Some of the people complaining about the internet distracting them from reading today were the ones who were vegging in front of the tube yesterday instead of picking up that copy of War and Peace. Tomorrow these folks may be complaining about the computer chips in their heads or some other innovation. Mediums of communication are means and not ends; they are not dictating that we make poor choices with the use of our time.

The road you take is oftentimes less important than your wilingness to get up and take it.

I'm not trying to be cryptic; Picasa has not been working right for me lately, so I am going to have to start inserting graphics directly when I want to illustrate something. Just testing my rudimentary skills. Plus, I've always liked Durer.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett recommended an article in Commentary by Dr. Edward Luttwak, noted historian and Defense intellectual, for his careful and nuanced assessment of the strategic situation in regard to Iran.

I like Luttwak as well; he's a provocative and thoughtful scholar at all with an impressive grasp of large historical issues as well as policy details. One of those details caught my eye in Luttwak's essay regarding Iran's government:

"Although the world now knows him [ Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ] for his persistent denial of the Holocaust and his rants against Israel and Zionism, at home Ahmadinejad’s hostility is directed not against Iran’s dwindling Jewish community but against the Sunnis. Lately, moreover, his ultra-extremism has antagonized even many of his fellow Shiites: he is an enthusiastic follower of both Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, for whom all current prohibitions are insufficient and who would impose an even stricter Islamic puritanism, and of a messianic, end-of-days cult centered on the Jamkaran mosque outside the theological capital of Qum. More traditional believers are alarmed by the hysterical supplications of the Jamkaran pilgrims for the return of Abul-Qassem Muhammad, the twelfth imam who occulted himself in the year 941 and is to return as the mahdi, or Shiite messiah. More urgently they fear that in trying to “force” the return of the mahdi, Ahmadinejad may deliberately try to provoke a catastrophic external attack on Iran that the mahdi himself would have to avert."

This comment is not unimportant. It represents the wild card in the strategic deck being dealt out over Iran's nuclear program. Why ? Because Mahdism is to Islamism what Islamism is to traditional Islam.

As Dr. Tim Furnish, a scholar of Islamic history, wrote regarding Mahdist movements:

"Mahdism shares many characteristics with mere jihadism, the most important of which are: a yearning (indeed demand) for Islamic law and a burning desire to restore Islamic rule to its former environs and, in fact, to engineer the creation of a global caliphate. But Mahdist movements “are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents3 but far more powerful in scope and effect.”4 Once a charismatic Muslim leader becomes convinced he is the Mahdi, all bets are off. The Mahdi (and each one is of course convinced he is THE, not simply a, Mahdi) will, according to the Islamic traditions, be directed by Allah to restore the Prophetic caliphate and, as such, is not bound by the letter of the Islamic law. For example, both Ibn Tumart and Muhammad Ahmad declared that they alone were capable of interpreting the Qur’an, so any previous opinions and commentaries were relegated to irrelevance. And of course the opposition to them by establishment religious figures—for both of these men, as do most Mahdist, led revolutions against existing Islamic governments5—only served to reinforce their Mahdist claims, since true Muslims could recognize the Mahdi. Anyone claiming to be the Mahdi, then, is largely unfettered by any norms, Islamic or otherwise. Ibn Tumart and his leadership, for example, killed tens of thousands of their own followers deemed lukewarm in their support. And Muhammad Ahmad, who had Charles Gordon decapitated and his head displayed, may have proved just as bloodthirsty had he not died of malaria some six months after taking Khartoum. "

Such considerations affect the timetable for a possible " soft kill" or illustrate the possibility of formenting or exploiting strife between Mahdist radicals and the larger Khomeinist establishment among the clergy. This is a point of possibilities. The existence of Mahdism also impacts assumptions about containment of a nuclear-armed Iran until it can mellow or crumble under its own internal contradictions. While Rafsanjani or Khameini might follow Khomeini's teachings to preserve the jurisprudent state at all costs, a convinced Mahdist leader might welcome the risk of nuclear annihilation. He might even seek to provoke that kind of apocalyptic scenario. This ideology is simply millenarianism on steroids.

All avenues need to be considered when dealing with Iran. Different values tend to imply different premises than our own.


Strongly recommend checking out Austin Bay's review of Luttwak. Colonel Bay also has a second article for your perusal as well.

Courtesy of the careful efforts of Dr. H.H. Gaffney and Mr. William D. O'Neil, we have a summative record of General Anthony Zinni's recent remarks on the state of the world, Iraq, Martin Van Creveld, the Middle East, Islamism, Bush and many other topics. An excerpt:

"Military-military relations are best, but Congress dislikes them. In the case of Turkmenistan, we had established such relations, but then we were told to break them off because of the dictatorial regime there. The same thing happened in Kenya because the U.S. didn’t like President Moi [who stayed in office too long and didn’t curb corruption]. As for Musharraf in Pakistan, Zinni was told to break off relations with him when he seized power from the civilian government. At the request of senior officials Zinni later called Musharraf asking for assistance on several important matters. He helped us, but Washington didn’t want to do anything for him. Zinni had remarked about that to Musharraf, but Musharraf said that he had done things for us without recompense because it was the right thing to do. Military-to-military relations are an avenue to better relations and positive influence. It does not make sense to cut off contacts with the military because of some governmental action that the military has no part in or influence over. As one of his foreign military contacts asked after such a rupture, “When the police commit a human rights violation in the U.S., do you penalize your own military for it?”

Go read the whole thing.

For those who have just sent me an email, something is up with my Hotmail account or the server today. Hopefully, it will be cleared up in a few hours. My apologies.
Monday, April 17, 2006

Recently, TCS Daily published "Development in a Box" by Stephen DeAngelis of EnterraSolutions and the companion Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, in which Steve outlined how fostering "resiliency" was a key component of postconflict stabilization efforts. The core of his "Development in a Box " approach was as follows:

"In this new convergence of people, processes and technology, there is the heart of an entirely new opportunity for post-conflict reconstruction. To realize the potential, it's necessary to create a flexible framework -- one that brings together private- and public-sector capabilities for the post-conflict task. Tom Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map and I have been at work on such a framework, which we call "Development in a Box." We see its development in four stages.

In the first stage, best practitioners -- from both government and the private sector -- set to work on the challenge of post-conflict reconstruction in a particular country or region. Best practices, standards and performance metrics are established -- determining, for example, that "this is the most effective rapid manner in which to set up a central bank." These best practices are then recorded in a catalogue for core infrastructural platforms.

In the second stage, the best practices catalogue is put into action -- local institutions are established according to its guidelines. As part of this process, the needed technology platforms are put in place -- we provide pre-configured information systems and associated technologies, such as container scanners for port security. In effect, we jump-start the systems and establish trust within the country, which is a node in a larger geo-political ecosystem of "trusted nations." These nations, in turn, make it possible to connect that node safely to the larger networks of transactions that we call the global economy.

The third stage is truly revolutionary. Here, best practices and information systems converge. The best practices, standard operating procedures and compliance rules for each institution are transformed into executable software code that governs the operation of each institution. Business logic, best practices and governance operate directly through the information systems. Additional automated rule sets are embedded that connect the institutions in a secure, compliant and efficient manner to global partners such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization. The node-state, once verified, joins the larger network under conditions of real trust and efficiency.

In stage four, the local population takes over. Locals are offered training to operate the core infrastructural platforms. Training involves the local community in the transfer of intellectual capital, and aligns the natural ambitions of local leaders with the local population on the one hand, and the global community on the other. It is in the self-interest of the local community to master best practices, best technologies, and global connectivity and integration. All of those, in turn, lead to local self-sufficiency and stability, shortening our term of providing aid."

DeAngelis was talking about the principle - encouraging a resilient, connected, system- on which state building or what Dr. Barnett refers to as System Administration intervention, should be premised. There would be an enormous range of application in practice. Somalia's problems differ from Bosnia's which are not the same as Iraq's; hence the stress by DeAngelis on flexibility and private sector entities which are more nimble and adaptive than are government bureaucracies acting alone. I agree with this philosophy but the article evoked some odd reactions from a few TCS readers, one of whom angrily wrote:

"DeAngelis' "four stages" read like a sick roadmap to that happy condition known as state corporatism, which was brought to the modern world by Mussolini, among others. I smell a rat and the rat is fasci_m pure, simple and by Mussolini's very own definition."

Most TCS readers are libertarians or conservatives with libertarian leanings who have great affection for free market economics( a position I generally share) but the response of that reader comes from libertarianism's older, darker and reactively purist traditions. Aside from missing the point of the article, being entirely wrong about Steve's motives and daft with the historical analogies, this is not a very constructive political stance for libertarians to take. One they still take all too often, rather than pragmatically influencing the political process ( or the world, in the case of Development in a Box) to move further in the direction of freedom.

I suspect that part of the problem lies with the era, basically the early to mid twentieth century, in which the foundational treatises and manifestos of libertarian philosophy and economics were written. Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, Friedrich von Hayek, Murray Rothbard and others were staking out a very lonely intellectual position on behalf of liberty, one which went against the spirit of the age. Statism was not only triumphantly dominant everywhere but in many nations it was genocidally murderous as well. As such, these writers often had an undercurrent of pessimism or bitterness in their works which are fundamentally critical of their society's direction. Not always, of course, but often enough that many readers today still imbibe this negative aspect and drink all too deeply.

This attitude is wrong. America and the world at large has serious problems. Many of them will get worse if they are left unaddressed or are approached in the wrong manner. But the world of 2006 looks a hell of a lot better than the world of 1976 when the Soviet Union's rulers felt that everything was going their way and the United States was a " pitiful, helpless giant". This is due in no small part to the power of the ideas of these authors who so stridently attacked tyranny and government monopoly and unambiguously called for the unleashing of human creativity and freedom.

When libertarians are leaping on each and every proposal and attacking when some new policies could potentially expand choices and markets, simply because the idea deviates from "Anarcho-Capitalism" or because it conflicts with something Ayn Rand once said, is idiotic. More than that, it does their legacy a disservice; the Right's equivalent of sophmoric, campus, Trotskyism.

The behavior is destructive. It marginalizes libertarians politically and leaves the field to those for whom government is the first, best and last solution.


Shawn at Asia Logistics Wrap, has also commented on the reaction to "Development in a Box":

"This is a strange leap to make from this article. The dynamic database of best practices that Mr. DeAngelis describes is not a one-way street--it is a two-way dynamic, shaped in real-time by global performance standards regularly adapted to local requirements. Although the initial database effort will rely on well-known, best practices in the "Functioning Core" and "New Core" (to use Barnett's language), these best practices through DeAngelis' concept would be highly adaptive to new challenges and before-unexperienced adversity on the ground. Thus, a country like Iraq is as likely to export best practices during its conflict/post-conflict/post-disaster phase as it is likely to import "baseline practices." Such a system would wholly exclude any "Core" best practices that were deemed/proven unsuitable for the region of concern--DeAngelis is not suggesting we force pegs into square holes. As he states, "Flexible, spontaneous, boundary-free collaboration -- as exemplified by "Development in a Box" -- is the framework that we need today."
Sunday, April 16, 2006

Cleaned up the old blogroll tonight. Long overdue deletions as some blogs had died or were not even blogs at all ( I have kept a few non-blogs on for my personal convenience). I did however add a few new blogs:

Asia Logistics Wrap


Fog of War


Enjoy !

There has been a great stir in the media and in the blogosphere about a group of retired, prominent, senior generals who have criticized Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the war and called for his resignation. Recently, other retired generals, equally senior and well known, have come to Rumsfeld's aid, offering public support and sometimes rebuking his critics. The Pentagon has isssued what amount to " talking points"on the Secretary's performance. Other politicians have weighed in and the President has given his Secretary a full vote of confidence.

My thoughts on the matter are basically twofold.

In terms of Rumsfeld's performance how one views the war in Iraq seems to have much to do with whether you give Rumsfeld a favorable review or believe he is a disaster. Few of Rumsfeld's blogospheric critics know or care all that much about issues like, say, defense transformation where Rumsfeld has had a huge impact ( and angered many senior officers) or will have enough integrity to give him his share of the credit where military action in Afghanistan or Iraq have gone well. That simply goes down the memory hole for them. Likewise, a knee-jerk defender of Rumsfeld skips over the Secretary's responsibility for mishandling Abu Ghraib and for the larger problem of the dysfunctional CPA itself, which should have been shelved and replaced by a proper and tough-minded military governorship after the Jay Garner debacle.

The fact is that in major wars, there are major errors. Many major errors. Tactical, operational and strategic errors are committed before the war comes to a close. And that is on the victorious side. The last Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, presided over disasters including the loss of the Philippines, Kasserine Pass and the initial reverses of the Battle of the Bulge. Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, had the misfortune to go through miserable years of defeat and retreat. The great and justly acclaimed General George C. Marshall, the architect of victory in WWII, as Truman's Secretary of Defense, had to suffer much blame during the highly unpopular Korean War. The idea that the United States can wage a war on al Qaida or in Iraq or anywhere for that matter and never suffer a reverse or make mistakes is nothing short of ahistorically surreal.

My second thought is that while it is fine for former generals to criticize Rumsfeld's performance as Secretary of Defense - I would say they have an obligation to do so in regard to matters of professional competence - orchestrating a collective call for Rumsfeld's ouster is not. The United States is not Turkey, Guatemala or Pakistan. Uniformed soldiers in this country - and these generals are eligible to be recalled to duty - do not get to pick their civilian chiefs; they do not get so much as a veto. That remains the sole perogative of the President of the United States and the upper house of the legislative branch and no other.

This media campaign sets an incredibly bad precedent for the overt politicization of the American officer corps, one that is now being fed by the generals defending Rumsfeld and both sides need to stop immediately. If a retired general has an itch for politics, then he needs to run for office or particpate openly as a partisan in the democratic process and not attempt to speak as a gray eminence of the military college of cardinals. George Marshall, Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower - men who knew something about separating the roles of military and civilian leaders and which of the two outranked the other - would be aghast.

Bloggers on Rumsfeld vs. The Generals:

QandO, Don Surber, Ranting Profs, Brad Plumer, Armchair Generalist, Caerdroia,

Dan Drezner, Intel Dump, Mountain Runner, Whirledview-PLS,

Whirledview-CKR, Penraker, Judith Klinghoffer , The Adventures of Chester

(Various hat tips to: Memeorandum )

A mixed bag.

Further intelligent dialogue and expansion of the analysis of the Lind article, by Wigguns at OSD and by Sonny at FX-Based. Their very different Defense field backgrounds makes for a good tag-team approach on issues of doctrine or theory. Very complementary.

Colonel Pat Lang of Sic Semper Tyrannis on the growing power of Iran's extremist Basiij.

Dan makes the inevitable grad student discovery..."Marxism is Useless".

Via Sean at Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett's blog, an act of synthesis by Shawn Beilfuss at Asia Logistics Wrap, a post entitled "Flows-Architectures-Resiliency Matrix"( "Professionals study logistics"). Have to add Shawn to the 'roll....

Dr. Sam Crane wishes people a Taoist Easter

Jules at Fog of War outlines Peter Singer's PMC ideas. Singer is a think tanker and the author of Corporate Warriors, a seminal study of the PMC phenomenon. For my Francophile and linguist readers, Jules also has a French blog.

The State of Nebraska, in its infinite wisdom, has officially enacted legislation to intentionally segregate children in the Omaha Public School district by race. For very different opinions from very different bloggers, here are Geitner Simmons, Prometheus 6 and Dan of tdaxp.

Stephen DeAngelis continues to explore "Modularity" - this tme with a concrete example that is causing a tumult in the business world. ( I have to get a move on in writing a solid " Meta-Principles" post).

That's it ! Happy Easter ! More blogging to come later today......
Friday, April 14, 2006

Working on a number of posts that I would like to resolve during the long holiday weekend, including the conclusion to "Foreign Policy and the American Elite" ( many thanks to those who offered criticism, comments and advice on the series, including Bruce Kesler and reader Jacob H. ) and the " Wave theory" offered by Dave.. I also will have a comment soon on the general's war over Donald Rumsfeld.

In the meantime go read the el grande post on Iran at The Adventures of Chester.
Thursday, April 13, 2006

It has been little remarked in the crisis but Iran's nuclear program is a pivotal political football in elite factional intrigue within Iran's ruling hierarchy.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and an opposing candidate to President Ahmadinejad in the las election heads the powerful Expediency Council that mediates between the elected government and the unelected clerical elite. Rafsanjani used that position Tuesday to steal some of the limelight on the nuclear issue by preempting his rival, Ahmadinejad's announcement.

The two men are bitter rivals as Ahmadinejad's campaign theme against corruption was obviously aimed at Rafsanjani whose family grew very wealthy during the former president's time in government. Both men were ardent disciples of Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini though the machiavellian Rafsanjani is a cleric and Ahmadinejad, whose power base is in the Pasdaran and among radical extremists, is not.

I just finished reading a remarkable and fluidly written distillation of counterinsurgency principles that had been recommended by Dave Dilegge of the Small Wars Journal and Dr. Tom Odom. Entitled " Twenty-Eight Articles", ( PDF) it's author is Dr. David Kilcullen, a retired colonel in the Australian Army and a special adviser to both the U.S. Department of Defense and the State Department on irregular warfare and counterterrorism.

Tom Odom has summarized the article here and interesting discussion follows but I strongly recommend reading it for yourself. A few tidbits of Kilcullen wisdom:

"..focus on the population, build your own solution, further your game plan and fight the enemy only when he gets in the way "

"How would you react if foreigners came to your neighborhood and conducted the operations you planned? What if somebody came to your mother's house and did that ?"

" 'Hearts' means means persuading people their best interests are served by your success; 'Minds' means convincing them that you can protect them and that resisting is pointless. Note that neither concept has to do whether people like you."

"..'normality' in Kandahar is not the same as in Kansas"

"...stop your people fraternizing with local children...children are sharp-eyed, lacking in empathy, and willing to commit atrocities from which their elders will shrink. "

" Exploit a single narrative "

"...there is no such thing as impartial humanitarian assistance"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

William Lind, writing at DNI about dysfunctional Pentagon culture, has an essay " The Fourth Plague" that concisely explains how institutional scenarios can encourage or discourage creative thinking. Some excerpts and my commentary:

"The plague of senior officer contractors has effectively pushed those still in the military out of the thought process. Meeting after meeting on issues of doctrine or concepts are dominated by contractors. The officers in the room know that if they wave the BS flag at the contractors, they risk angering the serving senior officers who have given their “buddies” the contract. Junior officers, who have the most direct experience with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are completely excluded. They have no chance of being heard in meetings dominated by retired generals and colonels."

This is a bad set-up on a whole number of levels as Lind correctly has observed. Experienced practitioners, regardless of the field- the military, medicine, law, education,whatever - are repositories of deep insights and lessons learned born out of painful experience. To be most useful as advisers, teachers or mentors to their juniors, they must remain in regular contact with their field's emerging developments in order to make their lessons highly relevant. That means being "in the trenches" (in the case of the military, literally) periodically themselves or in direct contact with those who are. In the case of the U.S. military, that there would be an intentional disconnect of this kind between company and brigade commanders and senior advisers on doctrine is stunning. It is also a terrible signal to send in terms morale as well as ensuring that the OODA loop will be corrupted. Subordinates are not encouraged to tell the truth by this kind of set-up.

"The plague of contractors reinforces one of the military’s (and other bureaucracies’) worst habits, formalizing thinking. Concepts and doctrine are now developed through layer after layer of formal, structured meetings, invariably organized around PowerPoint briefings. Most attendees are there as representatives of one or another bureaucratic interest, and their job is to defend their turf. PowerPoint briefings not only disguise a lack of intellectual substance with glitzy gimmicks, they inherently work against the concept of Schwerpunkt. Slides usually present umpteen bulletized “points,” all co-equal in (lack of) importance. In the end, what is important is the briefing itself: the medium is the message."

Here I will agree and disagree with Lind.

He's absolutely correct about the "formalized" process being obstructive to clear thinking and negative toward new ideas that question comfortable assertions. The effect that would be derived here in such a hierarchical setting is the construction and continual affirmation of the official " box" in which all thoughts must occur - exactly the opposite of the brainstorming, horizontal thinking, informed speculation and analytical challenges to sacred cow premises required for an insight-generating, creative, debate. The likely end-product from this kind of process would be group-think and increased isolation since the social incentives would be built-in to make potential options narrower ( "safer"), rather than broader ("risky").

On the other hand, Lind is putting far too much emphasis on Powerpoint as a cause of the lack of innovative thinking. Powerpoint has its strengths and weaknesses like any other tool or format for the presentation of ideas. Plenty of mediocre, muddled, empty or damn fool ideas have been committed to paper or were presented orally and were nonetheless considered persuasive by virtue of their eloquence. Bad powerpoint briefs might still easily be translated into bad journal articles and we'd be no better off. The failure in either case stems from a failure to think effectively and an undue passivity on the part of the audience that should approach orthodox ideas of their institutional " received culture" with as much skepticism as they do new ones.

What powerpoint does well is communicate deep ideas quickly and effectively by engaging the visual centers of the brain by offering representational models. It enhances cognitive "connection" to concepts. Anyone who has taken physics or geometry, certainly fields with as much depth as military theory knows the importance of the diagram in teaching concepts -although poorly explained visuals can also mislead (recall your elementary school diagram of an atom as a miniature solar system). Powerpoint slides can make poorly conceived ideas "look" better, no argument, but they cannot change the substance.

John Robb had some important comments on Lind's essay today:

"Here's how to break this: an open source movement within the junior ranks. Put the seeds of new doctrines in wikis and build a community to flesh it out. Build blogs to share ideas. Network them. Technology can be of service here to build a knowledge network that outpaces the formal network in quality, speed and flexibility by an order of magnitude or more. Route around the gridlock by making the efforts public. Get congressional sponsors. You could even get individual and corporate sponsors to pay for the platform development (under the condition that they leave it alone) -- there are patriots out there that care."

I agree. Along those lines, check out GroupIntel Blog and The Small Wars Council.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Curzon at Coming Anarchy has drawn attention to the increasingly vicious civil war in Nepal that pits the reactionary regime of an absolute monarch, King Gyanendra against the Maoist rebels who seek the King's overthrow in order to establish a Communist dictatorship. Democratic and parliamentary parties have recently allied themselves with the rebels who make up the armed wing of Nepal's Communist party in order to pressure the King into restoring democratic rule. The Maoist rebellion, however, long predates King Gyanendra's "autogolpe" and was actually launched in 1996 by the Communist Party against Nepal's previous democratic regime.

The Royal Government, something of an international pariah for the restoration of absolute monarchy, has made little headway against the rebels and has been much criticized -accurately- for suppression of political freedoms, human rights abuses and civilian casualties. The fighting spirit of the army is uneven and they lack the resources, external support and political competence to wage an effective counterinsurgency war. Curzon also excerpted from The Atlantic, reporting from Robert Kaplan, in an earlier post:

"This was all bad news for the Royal Nepalese Army, I thought, though Colonel Cross was careful not to make explicit political statements, given his circumstances: the Maoists are in the hills nearby, and government forces are down the street. The fact is that the Maoists come from the same sturdy hill tribes that Cross recruited for decades, while many of the RNA’s forces are softer plainsmen and can’t employ artillery, because even a handful of civilian casualties would ignite protests from the international community. Moreover, the Maoists are fortified by “the mystic dimension of service and the sanctity of an oath,” whereas RNA recruits—aside from some specialized units—join for a salary and a career."

Brutal, hesitant and uncertain is a bad combination for any army. State forces in Nepal suffer a string of disadvantages and deficits whether you look at them from the perspective of Clausewitz or John Boyd. While losing the conflict to the rebels in the political and moral spheres they are not efficient or effective in the purely military operational or logistical aspects either.

The Maoist rebels have, overall, been far more astute combatants but they represent a fusion of old and new.

Despite a horrific human rights record of their own that includes atrocities, torture, use of children as soldiers and condemnation from international human rights organizations, major American news outlets continue to recycle Nepalese Communist Party propaganda about its leader Prachanda as a one-time "kind-hearted boy", concerned for " the poor of the village". Rebels have skillfully enlisted parliamentary parties as allies to press political and media campaigns against the autocratic government which has drawn favorable attention in the Western media.

Ideologically disciplined, with throwback "human-wave" tactics, and hoary " final offensive" rhetoric, the rebels have also recently tapped into " the bazaar of violence" to begin evolving tactically, making use now of IED's and swarming. The rebels are shifting from the classic three-stage Marxist insurgency of Mao and Giap toward becoming more like a modern 4GW or Global Guerilla movement.

Whether Communist Party discipline can hold the rebels together or if counterinsurgency efforts and natural battlefield evolution causes decentralization and reemergence of Maoist forces as a scale-free network structure, will effect the outcome for Nepal. In the latter case, you would have a scenario much like Iraq with military groups fracturing into competing blocs and ongoing, low intensity warfare and state failure lasting, probably, for decades.

In the former situation, if the Maoists succeed in overthrowing the King and establishing a state, then the historical track record of other Maoist movements like the Shining Path, Khmer Rouge and in China itself bodes poorly for the 27 million people of Nepal.

Iran is very much in the news after Seymour Hersh's assertion of preparations for a major American military strike, perhaps a full scale war, to destroy Iran's overt "civilian" and clandestine nuclear weapons programs. A number of experts on military affairs second the general trend toward military conflict with Teheran, which for his part, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems determined to provoke.

The conflict with Iran is a basic one the United States and the West will face again and again. Signatories to the NPT are allowed to import nuclear technology and expertise for "peaceful" uses under IAEA safeguards. Because technology and knowledge are fungible - and atomic bombs are 1945 technology and miniaturized warheads suitable for ballistic missiles are late 1950's to early 1960's technology - states can simply set up parallel programs and tear up the treaty when their clandestine programs are sufficiently advanced, having secured the means under false pretenses.

Iraq, Iran and North Korea were all caught red-handed but only one of the three was eventually disarmed. This situation is going to happen again regardless of the outcome with Teheran because approximately ten to twenty years ago a number of states - China, Pakistan, Russia, Germany and France elected to turn a blind eye to proliferation of nuclear weapons or in the case of Pakistan, actively encourage proliferation. This was a matter of policy or at best, corruption of policy.

There's only a number of steps that can be taken by the United States:

Unilaterally demonstrate that Iraq was no anomaly and militarily devastate unfriendly states that try to acquire nukes - i.e. impose high potential costs on regimes having clandestine programs.

Build a Core-wide consensus to rewrite the NPT as a treaty with teeth backed by a stringent, updated, version of COCOM.

Bilaterally and multilaterally negotiate with rogue states piecemeal to buy them off for disarming completely( Libya Model).

Revise military nuclear warfighting doctrine and embark upon a weapons-building program that renders nuclear missiles too dangerous to use against the United States, perhaps with an entirely new class of nuclear or high energy weapons.

The Bush administration and the EU have been pursuing options II. and III. with Iran but Iran has indicated that its leadership believes that possession of nuclear weapons are worth any price.

Option I. is a bad option for reasons laid out by John Robb, Thomas P.M. Barnett, James Fallows and numerous others but in the short term it may be the only option the Iranians decide to leave us.


Iran boasts of enrichment prowess, categorically defies UNSC.


Interesting and vigorous debate in the comment section. To clarify my position:

A grand bargain with Iran that ends the nuke program is the best outcome but that is, in my view, highly unlikely that the current regime in Teheran would accept any terms. Secondly, the regime as constituted today isn't to be trusted with nuclear weapons so, barring a diplomatic breakthrough, we are headed for a serious conflict. Third - and I'm surprised my critics are studiously ignoring the main point of my post - this scenario will be repeated with other states unless the dynamics of nuclear proliferation are changed. The technology is simply too available for misuse under the current IAEA regime.

PS -See new additions or changes in the links below.

Iranian Bomb Links:

American Future New !


Austin Bay

Coming Anarchy


The Glittering Eye

Kobayashi Maru

Winds of Change

Armchair Generalist

Kevin Drum

Ralph Peters

Whirledview New !

Arms and Influence New !

John Robb New !
Sunday, April 09, 2006

The big buzz is over the Seymour Hersh article on Iran ( hat tip John Robb)

Speaking of John, you should read his post "Dysfunctional Global Rules Sets". Of the meta-principles of the globalizing world, John looks most often at entropy in complex human systems. Frankly, the old, postwar, Cold War rule-set became obsolete in 1991 and only recently are western statesmen intellectually coming to grips with the need for the Core to hammer out some durable new ones, as Dr. Barnett advocated in Blueprint For Action.

Robb is pointing at tendency for short-term economic self-interest to mitigate against this kind of consensus building on new rule-sets( habituated by a half-century of Cold War " free riding" on the American-dominated international system. Well, the U.S. taxpayer is no longer paying for this outmoded system, so the free ride is over, but few statesmen want to deal with the political implications that this change would entail for their own countries). Here though is a recent exception.

Launching off that point, Tom asks " What Would Churchill Do?".

Launching off of Tom, Dan of tdaxp proposes "Operationalizing the Gap"

Jeff of Caerdroia .... still survives.

Stare into the grinning face of evil in "Where's the Money and Other Questions About the Charles Taylor Escapade" by Patricia Lee Sharpe at Whirledview. ( BTW, PLS is NOT the Evil One).

The always fearless Razib at Gene Expression with" Fists of the Patriarchy"

Sean Meade at Interact asks "Which Historical Lunatic am I?". I took the test and I'm Caligula.

Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye has a nice post on freedom of expression and the gnostic Gospel of Judas.

New to the blogroll !

Argghhh !

Enterprise Resilience Management Blog

Reality, One Bite at a Time

That's it.
Friday, April 07, 2006

The other day I was responding to the ideas of Steve DeAngelis and as a parenthetical aside I listed the meta-principles that have globally systemic application in the age of Globalization. One of those principles was Modularity. Meta-principles, as I conceive the term, are rules that govern the system of systems that we call the world. We see applicability on all levels and domains. I will offer the caveat that I may be overly enthusiastic here - niche experts probably can point to exceptions that I am unaware of - but at a minumum the parameters of influence of those concepts I have designated "meta-principles" are exceptionally broad even when not universalistic. I'm personally more interested in human-scale, temporal events than in the non-human, theoretical, nano- or cosmological physical extremes.

The essence of modularity in a complex network system is getting to have your cake and eat it too. As effective, flexible and adaptive as scale free networks might be compared with traditional, hierarchical, 20th century systems or randomly distributed networks, modular ones are better- at least in terms of human networks. I can't speak for non-human systems ( go ask Dr. Von)

Therefore, I was delighted to discover today that in this post by strategic thinking guru Art Hutchinson had covered Modularity in some detail last August:

"To use another analogy, scenarios are also too often vertically integrated, e.g., in the way that the computer industry was until the mid/late 1980's, or the steel and automotive industries were in the early part of the 20th century. One either buys the final product from company A or one buys the final product from company B. One does not have the option of buying and assembling smaller components from a variety of more specialized suppliers. It is difficult to see how scenario A intersects or diverges from scenario B. They are simply different.

One drawback of this monolithic approach is that strategic discussions can become more binary than insightful. As we discussed last week, comparing scenarios can be a subjective and labor-intensive chore.

What is the antidote to all this? Modularity. Lego blocks. Tinker Toys. Mad Libs. The computer industry after the mid 1990's. The automotive industry of today. Jazz.

We approach scenarios with an assumption that a library of discrete but hypothetical future milestones (aka, 'events' or ''headlines') must be separate from a set of visions or 'endstates' for how the future might turn out. The endstates provide broad guidance to anchor 'big vision' thinking in several different directions but, (and this is key), without spelling out a particular way that any of those visions might be achieved. Modular. Putting endstates together with events is the scenario-building process. It is anything but monolithic. It may happen in multiple ways depending upon who's thinking about it and what new information is brought to the table, (e.g., real newspaper headlines as the emerge over time). But like jazz, there are certain patterns and commonalities of logic that start to emerge no matter who is building them. E.g., these events tend to precede these others; these are precursors to these, which are present in multiple scenarios, and these over here are forks in the road between two particular scenarios. These are interesting but largely irrelevant to two scenarios, critical to one, and moderately important but not essential to another.

The piece parts of modular scenarios may be assembled in different ways, but with clear points for comparison (in the form of the discrete events). Points of intersection and divergence between scenarios become much clearer. Reassembly becomes possible as new visions/endstates emerge, or as the relationships between scenarios morph and change. Monolithic scenarios can be useful at a single point in time, for thinking about a particular business problem. Modular scenarios are critical to thinking about modular business architecture and its open-ended possibilities. I.e., how might the value components, business units, and functions of an industry or an enterprise be recombined - acquired, divested, re-organized, re-aligned - to better fulfill a mission, be more efficient, etc.?"

Well said Art.

I like it when smart people save me blogging time.
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" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

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