Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye had an interesting post today "Understanding the problem" regarding an op-ed by former Reagan administration Secretary of the Navy John Lehman. As is usual, I find myself in agreement with Dave on the majority of his points, however, on one part of Dave's post I must register a dissent:

"I have always found the idea that you can reform a bureaucracy farfetched. You can eliminate a bureacracy, navigate around it, or put another layer in; you can’t reform a bureaucracy.

I’d also like to point out what the “MI” in MI-5 stands for: military intelligence. I don’t believe that the CIA has the attitude, culture, or, frankly, the ability to execute its nominal mission. Consequently, I think that the CIA should be abolished and its functions placed completely under the Pentagon (as it used to be"

While Dave's criticisms regarding the recent performance of the CIA and the difficulty of reforming a bureaucracy may be on target, the suggestion of dropping the CIA's statutory functions into the lap of the Pentagon is a really, really, bad idea. That the CIA has failed to carry out a number of its major functions with effiiency does not mean that the military is well suited to execute them in Langely's stead. In actuality, the reverse may be true; the historical record of military intelligence is a narrow and parochial one. And not just in the case of the United States either.

Intelligence activities have a number of facets, including:

Clandestine espionage

"Overt" espionage under diplomatic cover

Open source intelligence collection

Covert operations (sabotage, assassination, coups)

Strategic Influence



The military, for demographic reasons as well as those of institutional culture or focus, is not the ideal candidate for all of these missions. A few of them might be bettter placed in the hands of State Department personnel than in those of, say, the Marines. Even in the case of covert operations of a paramilitary nature that the military is better equipped to handle than is the CIA, it is useful in certain situations for diplomatic and legal reasons for these actions to be carried out under the aegis of the CIA instead of the United States military. Aside from issues of the UCMJ, what might otherwise be an act of war under international law, if performed by a member of SOCOM or the DIA, becomes plausibly deniable if done by a deep cover member of the CIA's Special Activities Staff. Or better yet, a contract employee.

Nor am I, for reasons of bureaucratic checks and balance, eager to place all of America's foreign intelligence in the hands of a single member of the Cabinet. That is simply asking for trouble down the road. Bureaucratic competition is an inefficient way to allocate resources but it provides at least minimal incentives not to screw up too badly. And it functions as a comparative check on the productivity and reliability of an intelligence agency as well.

The CIA may well be resistant to reform but I'm not ready to junk the idea of a civilian intelligence agency just yet.

It is becoming a bit of a windy historical essay -which usually means too long for a blog format. I'm either going to do some ruthless excising of paragraphs or write some more, edit and break it into two coherent parts and try to post them by Sunday.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Third Reich in Power by Richard J. Evans.

A masterpiece by a historian at the top of his game.
Monday, August 28, 2006

Dr. Barnett offers a helpful critique of John Robb's recent analysis "PLAYING WITH WAR"

While Robb's post was excellent, I disagree with Robb's certainty of "It is not possible to reverse the clock" on the scenario he describes. Of course it is. The " clock" is a metaphor for a political dynamic, in this case, a global one, which is why it is going to be very difficult to change, hence the resonance of Robb's reasoning. However, if you create a provocation of a sufficient magnitude then you enter a revolutionary moment where the previously impossible or unthinkable suddenly has become all too present or real. That's the nature of revolutions, system perturbations and paradigm shifts; they represent creative destruction unfolding.


John disagrees.

To an extent, I think there's a tendency to talk past one another in the short blog post format. It would be rather cool to put together a symposium with Tom and John and invite some other " big names" like Martin van Creveld, William Lind, Chet Richards, Ralph Peters, Antulio J. Echevarria, Robert Kaplan, John Arquilla -perhaps a senior general officer or two like Abizaid and Petraeus or a military historian like John Keegan. Let them hash out the future of globalization and war at a high profile location - say, West Point in front of an audience of cadets -and televise it on C-Span.

The discussion could only do the country some good.
Sunday, August 27, 2006

For whatever reason - being trendy is my guess, though control-freakishness or co-worker stupidity with spam and viruses is not to be excluded - my place of work has blocked all the mainstream, major, email sites. So if you send something to zenpundit@hotmail.com during normal business hours I am now unlikely to see it until late evening. Thus, email responses from me ( and I try to respond to everyone in a timely fashion, though, admittedly, I do not always succeed) are now subject to a minimum 24 hour delay.

If anyone knows of a reliable but obscure email service that flies under most IT department radar (I know they have blocked only specific sites) I'm open to suggestion for an alternative.

Due to an aggravating surfeit of mundane but absolutely necessary tasks, the third part of the Nixon series will have to wait a day or two.

Some minor recommendations:

Secrecy News put out by Dr. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is a high quality, almost unbelievably good, blog deserving of much wider notice. I say this as someone who thinks that while Dr. Aftergood is sometimes too cavalier in his attitude toward what I would regard as vital (i.e. things that actually should be classfied) secrets, he shines a much needed, expert, light on the counterproductive secrecy empire of the security bureaucracy.

Shloky.com is also, IMHO, vastly underrated. A blog that punches well above its weight class.

John Robb highlighted ISN Blog recently. Worth checking out.

Vibrant and edgy discussion about Iran's latest nuclear technology provocation at The Glittering Eye. Jeff Medcalf and Collounsbury are going head to head.

Two gentlemen I respect: Colonel Austin Bay features a guest post by Naval War College professor Dr. Tom Nichols.

Two important military theory related posts by Dr. Barnett and John Robb that I probably would have critiqued at length had I not spent the last hour trying to fix the F-ing dresser that the Son of Zenpundit somehow damaged ( I strongly suspect there was some kind of "ladder" scenario going on with the drawers to get the "Buried Treasure" hotwheel type toy that was out of reach).

An article: " A Decisive weapon: A Brigade Commander's Perspective on Information Operations" (PDF). Hat tip to PHK of Whirledview.

I'm going to get another glass of vino now....
Saturday, August 26, 2006

One quality Richard Nixon possessed that seemed to be acknowledged by friend and foe alike was a capacity to think deeply and long on difficult questions. From his days as a young man at Duke Law student with " an iron butt" to his old age, a widower, staying up underlining passages in texts on classical philosophy, Nixon appears most at ease with himself when he was wrestling with problems alone.

Even on the famous Nixon tapes, which are slowly being released and transcribed by the National Archives ( and are mostly being ignored, except perhaps by historian Stanley Kutler , Chicago Tribune reporter James Warren and the odd grad student), Nixon is at his most revealing when he is engaged in a monologue with a trusted aide or one of his few personal confidant. If Nixon was equal to his predecessor LBJ in deviousness and casual profainity, he had none of Johnson's garrulous extroversion and manic need to make a human connection. Nixon viewed small talk with distate and emotional scenes with dread. Relentlessly, Nixon pressed H.R. Haldeman to reduce his level of contact with Congressmen, Cabinet appointees and even his own White House Staff.

Nixon's preference for self-imposed isolation and his analytical bent paid dividends in terms of insight. I offer a sampling of Richard Nixon, drawn from many sources, in his own words:

"...our diplomats have a pervasive tendency to negotiate with themselves on behalf of the Soviets. Every hardline negotiation option discussed within the U.S. government encounters a chorus of derision on the grounds that ' the Russians will never accept it' ".

"Our first task is to distinguish between vital interests, critical interests and peripheral interests....strategy means means making choices, and making choices means enforcing a set of strategic priorities"

" What we do outside our negotiating sessions is as important as what we do inside them "

" Democratic government is an art that requires vision"
"Public opinion polls are useful if a politician uses them to them only to to learn approximately what the people are thinking, so he can talk to them more intelligently"

"Public opinion responds to threats, not oportunities. It is easy to mobilize support to meet a clear threat but difficult to rally to seize a fleeting opportunity. If our leaders put foreign policy on the backburner until world events produce a new threat, our moment of opportunity will have vanished"

"...reaction and response to a crisis are uniquely personal in the sense that it depends on what an individual brings to bear on the situation"
"Reading can be particularly useful in times of crisis. It is then that a leader most needs perspective. If he is to keep his mind focused on his long-range goals, he must step back from the problems of the present. Reading helps him do that. He may not find the answer to his problem in what he reads, but new thoughts will refrsh his mind and permit him to tackle problems with renewed energy"

"Small states love to play a role - that's why we used Ceaucescu with North Vietnam. He was a good channel."
[ Ed. Note: Ceaucescu was also used by Nixon to contact China before using Yayah Khan of Pakistan. Khan received few rewards for his troubles but Ceaucescu was richly rewarded by Nixon with access to trade, diplomatic honors and Western credits]

"This is what the Chinese have done. They have scrapped the economic side [ of Communism] in order to hang on to the political side. This is why the hardliners in China, like Li Peng, want to isolate China and the reason why they want the United States to isolate them. Then their political power is ensured. They won't have to worry about all this corrupting Western influence"

" The Chinese will watch what the United States does elsewhere in the world just as carefully as they watch what we do in China."

"The toughest personnel choice he [ the President] has to make is between a friend who is loyal but not competent and someone else who is competent but not necessarily a friend"

" In the last forty years, the upper crust of America in terms of education, money
and power has lost its sense of direction in the world."

Coming soon, Part III: Nixon's Long Shadow.
Friday, August 25, 2006

A few comments from me as well:

William Lind at DNI - "Beginning to Learn". Whenever I read Lind's On War column, I pretty much have only three possible reactions: He's dead right; He's dead wrong; He's had too much German lager today. Lind was dead right in this one.

Purpleslog - who adds a valuable twist on to considerations of resilience and 4GW conflict with
" 5GW Thought: Would a Goal of a 5GW Organization Be To Reduce the Resiliency of the Target State?". It's cool to find someone else seeing something I clearly missed.

Dan of tdaxp - continues a long dormant but much praised series of applying 4GW theory to the history of Christianity's rise, with "Jesusism-Paulism, Part IV: The Fall of Rome". It might be helpful to read Part I, Part II. and Part III. first however.

That's it.
Thursday, August 24, 2006

When we write or discuss the 19th century in terms of broad American history, it usually comes down to a handful of names. Abraham Lincoln, of course, enjoys pride of place but in his vanguard march Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson and John Calhoun. They march there not because everything they did was great or good but because, unlike lesser figures, even formidible ones like Mark Hanna or Thomas Hart Benton, these men and their battles defined the age. For the twentieth century, among the very few figures that historians will select to stand alongside Franklin Roosevelt will be Richard Milhous Nixon.

Nixon ran for national office no less than five times, winning four out of those five times and losing to John F. Kennedy only by one of the slenderest of margins in American history and winning reelection as President, in the midst of an unpopular war, by one of the largest landslides. Nixon served in both houses of the legislative branch where he established himself as a force to be reckoned with despite his lack of seniority. His exposure of Alger Hiss as a Communist spy earned Nixon the undying hatred of the left-liberal wing of the Establishment in a way that Nixon's bareknuckle red-baiting against Jerry Voorhees and Helen Gahagan Douglas did not. Nixon's comeback in 1968, after his crushing defeat (and subsequent televised self-destruction) in California's gubernatorial election, was a skillfully executed rise from the political dead.

Space in a mere blog post does not permit detailing the heights of Nixon's accomplishments in foreign policy or his ignominious fall in his criminal conspiracy of Watergate. For that, books are required:

If you are and remain a devoted Nixon-hater, your best bet in terms of scholarship would be historian Stanley I. Kutler's Wars of Watergate and Abuse of Power. If you are an admirer of Richard Nixon, he wrote a slew of books of which his memoirs, RN, may be the most interesting from any American president other than those of Ulysses S. Grant. I would also recommend Six Crises. For a more balanced (though hardly favorable) view than Kutler's, of this analytically brilliant, at times visionary and deeply flawed man, I like Richard Reeves' biography, Richard Nixon:Alone in the White House. Nixon's role in the Hiss case is illuminated by Sam Tanenhaus in his biography Whittaker Chambers.

Alongside Nixon and his critics are a few books by Nixon's collaborators and aides. The postumously published The Haldeman Diaries are an indispensible resource for historians that far eclipses Haldeman's The Ends of Power. Less meticulous, but a still interesting sampling of Nixon administration mentality, was From: The President, edited by Bruce Oudes. Henry Kissinger's ponderously large, three volume memoirs have numerous valuable commentaries about Richard Nixon and especially, his foreign policy, must be included in any serious study of Nixon.

Most of the books produced by the Watergate conspirators tend to be at least as self-serving as Nixon's account without the benefit of Nixon's selectively incisive intellect. Dean's Blind Ambition is probably among the worst of the lot but none of them, often written hastily in the face of mounting legal bills and fines, add much substance to that covered by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. John Ehrlichman's cynicism is occasionally amusing as is G. Gordon Liddy, though often unintentionally. Of lesser figures, little need be said.

Next, Part II. Nixon in his own words:
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I'm working on another decent sized post that I'm simply not going to finish this evening. Too much research involved. But as I was taking periodic breaks by surfing my blogroll, I came across the following at Purpleslog that gave me a good laugh.

"Elmo and the Decline of the American Nation"
Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I've been pondering the relationship between complexity and connectivity ever since I was prompted by a post and an email from Dave at Thoughts Illustrated. Due to time constraints, I was not able to give the insights Dave offered in his email the proper attention they deserved then but I'm returning to the subject today.

The background here is a short paper on civilizational complexity, " Complexity Rising:From Human Beings to Human Civilization, A Complexity Profile" by Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam that I forwarded to a number of thoughtful people, some of whom also were bloggers. My take on Bar-Yam's paper at the time had to do with " The Resilience of Civilizations"; Steve DeAngelis at ERMB responded with "Networked Civilization Revisited"; Curtis Gale Weeks at Phatic Communion put these ideas in the context of the theories of John Boyd with "Rule Sets and the Revised OODA" and Dan of tdaxp followed Curtis with "Comments on Verticalization and Progress". Dr. Von, who introduced me to the ideas of Dr. Bar-Yam in the first place, offered some verbal commentary in person but helpfully pointed to an older post of his, "Our Universe:Continual Emergence"as well.

The Relationship of Complexity and Connectivity in Civilization:

Civilizations are long enduring, complex adaptive social systems that remain distinctive from their neighbors. Differences between civilizatons are visible even to casual observers in the form of culture, language, religious belief, social customs and economic productivity. The origin or causation of civilizational differences have been hotly debated for dozens of centuries and at various times, climate, geography, divine favor, chance or superiority in terms of culture, genetics, martial prowess, political, economic or moral systems have all been offered up as explanations and all have met with fierce criticism.

However, my purpose here is not to weigh in on the merits of Baron de Montesquieu, Jared Diamond, Karl Marx, Victor Davis Hanson or Robert Wright but to point out, first, that the superficial manifestations of civilizations, that make them unlike others, all represent underlying patterns of complexity and of connectivity. Secondly, that while complexity and connectivity in a "superorganism" sized social system have a high degree of interaction and are often mutually reinforcing, they are not one and the same. On some levels, complexity can increase or sharply limit connectivity. Connectivity in turn, may simplify or complicate the workings of a system, increasing or decreasing " friction" as well as numerous other effects.

Take for example, late medieval to early modern central Europe. The Holy Roman Empire, at one point, had something on the order of 300 independent, overlapping, interdependent polities. That's more sovereigns than exist today on the entire planet, some ruling nothing bigger than a knightly estate, crammed into an area slightly larger than Germany.

Obviously, in the case of the Holy Roman Empire, the degree of political and social complexity were very high relative to the population of the time or to monarchical states like England . This complexity came at the expense of connectivity, particularly economic connectivity given the number of sovereign and semi-sovereign entities ( most with their hand out) that could and did interfere with trade in a myriad of irrational ways. Unsurprisingly, even after Napoleon consolidated this Germanic crazyquilt into a more manageable 35 state Confederation of the Rhine, the first serious exploration of German unification involved a proposal for a customs union, the Zollervein, that would have simplified, and rationalized trade, increasing the level of connectivity.

Dr. Barnett has made a similar argument regarding the connectivity effect of the Federal union of the United States in Blueprint for Action as well as elsewhere. If you look at the lowest panel of the Bar-Yam Historical Complexity diagram above, you will note the "hierarchy" line levelling off and falling while the "specialization/diversity" and "lateral connection" lines rising in parallel along a timeline. This is a nice visualization of changing the political or legal complexity of rule-sets ( reducing the number of competing rule-sets) intersecting with improvements in technology to permit higher levels of emergent connectivity.

Granted, the higher levels (and faster velocity of transaction) of connectivity are also, in themselves a form of complexity that will generate unanticipated spillover effects that will give rise to demands for regulation or control in the form of new rule-sets. As will the resistance of vested interests to emerging forms of connectivity or technology that endanger rentier arrangements, oligopolistic markets or the authority of corrupt tyrannies. As the relationship between complexity and connectivity is dynamic, these reactionary political responses to creative destruction are unavoidable.

Their success though, is far from inevitable. We have choices if we care to exercise them.
Monday, August 21, 2006

Fast and furious.

Eddie from Live from the FDNF gets top billing for " Tom Odom's "Journey Into Darkness", a review of Journey into Darkness: Genocide in Rwanda by Small Wars Council member Dr. Thomas Odom.

Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz - "The Collapse of Liberal Orders"

Edge Perspectives with John Hagel - "Langlois and the Vanishing Hand"

Paul B. Hartzog - " The Age of Distraction"

Dan of tdaxp - "Purposeful Practice and Expertise"

Marc Schulman at American Future - " The Iranian Missile Threat "

Howard Rheingold at The Cooperation Blog - " Jamie Boyle on the cognitive bias against open systems "

Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project - "Prescience, Conspiracy, and Intelligence"

Sonny at FX-Based - "In Defense of EBO - Part 4"

Curtis at Phatic Communion - " Godwinism? "

Nusapiens - " Climate hange and History"

That's it.

Mmmmmm... good !
Sunday, August 20, 2006

A great example of attempting to make a systemic imapact by strategically targeting one variable in a complex system that will have very broad, very positive, downstream effects:

Guest posted at Critt's Conversation Base Blog by Dr. Timothy Foresman:

"Watering Hope with Action and Technology (W.H.A.T)"

" A Proposal

Challenges facing the poorest and most disenfranchised peoples of the planet may seem insurmountable as scarcities of food and income are compounded by disease, ignorance, conflicts, and losses of ecological goods and services to support their survival. These conditions become further compounded as negative impacts from land cover change and climate variability reverberate and exacerbate local conditions. These serious conditions facing humanity will require unprecedented cooperation among all nations and businesses to affect shifts in the current trajectories. Provision of safe drinking water is the one arena for immediate action, above all others that will provide critical relief and ameliorate some of the compounding impacts of poverty and poor sanitation for billions of people. Safe drinking water can mean the difference between life or death, between health and sickness, and between hope and hopelessness.

The United Nations community, and recently the United States of America, have raised the banner of water needs, but underemphasized the catalytic effect that water brings to individuals, families, villages, and regions. With water comes hope. With hope comes focus on the proper direction to follow to seek improvement in ones’ own conditions. When seeking further actions for improvement, behavior changes may be necessary in taking the proper steps towards self improvement and sustainability. And people do need to create the conditions for health, education, employment, and the betterment of the environs within their villages and regions as a necessary prerequisite to sustain their existence. This proposal defines the concept of watering hope for people around the globe by applying a recipe containing the best of design experiences, the best in applied technologies, and the best in community-based financing models but with a significant difference. This proposal puts the call for action into the hands of those in need by empowering villages to broadcast their requests for assistance directly to those that can provide philanthropic, financial, and technical support. All of these are prescribed as scalable ingredients for a global paradigm shift away from our current set of unsustainable practices and programs. Watering Hope with Action and Technology (W.H.A.T.) is the first step for empowerment and uplift of people and villages located around the world in order to equip them with coping mechanisms in preparation for the coming decades of major climatic changes.

In the aggregate, the dimensions of the challenge are impressive if not daunting. Best estimates indicate the requirement for 5 to 10 billion dollars (US) per year to address the provision of safe water and sanitation to approximately two-billion people in most need (ref). A total of 50 to 100 billion dollars (US) will probably be required each decade in the near future to initially guarantee that a human safety net can be established and then maintained during the coming turbulent decades. While this may seem a vast amount of money, perspective can be gained by viewing what the US currently provides at this level of funding to supply military weapons to countries around the world during each decade, using American tax dollars, more often with counter intuitive results when temporary allies transform into enemies. It has been well documented that the civil discontent from the poorest segments of society is breeding ground for conflicts and wars (reference Thomas P.M. Barnett’s Non-Integrating Gap). Therefore, with international cooperation, these financial requirements are not viewed as insurmountable and indeed, economically sound according to leading economists, from a cost-benefit perspective. The peace dividend from these investments represents a fertile area for thoughtful analysis. What has been missing are the political will and a proven blueprint or pathway for success. Watering Hope with Action and Technology provides just such a blueprint.

Dr. Timothy W. Foresman is President of Global Water, a 501(c)(3) Corporation. He has a distinguished career leading technology advances (remote sensing, geographic information systems, water, energy) for international environmental protection and management and has been a pioneer for the global expansion of the Digital Earth vision. "


Joseph S. Nye, Jr. has an evaluation of the Israel-Hezbollah War in the Boston Globe in terms of how " soft power" was a crucial variable in the outcome of the war ( Hat Tip to Dave Dilegge of the Small Wars Council). An excerpt:

"Lebanon provides larger lessons for the United States about how to conduct a war against jihadist terrorism. The current struggle is not a clash of Islam vs. the West, but a civil war within Islam between a minority of terrorists and a larger mainstream of more moderate believers. America cannot win unless the mainstream wins, and needs to use hard power against the hard core like Al Qaeda because soft power will never attract them. But soft power is essential to attract the mainstream and dry up support for the extremists."

Read the whole thing.
Friday, August 18, 2006

"A Holistic Vision for the Analytic Unit" by Richard Kerr, Thomas Wolfe, Rebecca Donegan, Aris Pappas

There's a lot to like here from my perspective. An excerpt with some highlighting by yours truly:

"The Holistic Analytic Unit

The advent of a Director of National Intelligence and changes mandated by commission reports on the performance of the Intelligence Community present unique opportunities to apply a new framework for intelligence analysis. Herewith is a vision for an approach that creates analytic units with a holistic view of their mission, responsibility, and capability. They will comprise physical units at their core and virtual units with presence throughout their areas of responsibility.

Implementation should begin with a single country and then expand region-wide. Once decided upon, changes should be made quickly, and high-level attention and enhanced resources will be key. The individual steps of the process should be undertaken simultaneously rather than serially.

Identify six to 12 countries or areas of particular importance to the US. Pick one or two, perhaps Iran and North Korea, as test cases. Create analytic units for the test case countries with the following characteristics:

Internal expertise, mixed with strong abilities to identify and use knowledge not resident in the unit. Avoid the myth of “total resident knowledge”

Very senior leadership, with rich resources in personnel and funding, to include significant amounts of external contract money, with contracts developed and approved within the unit

Creativity the key

Responsibility for the “whole.” Units should:

Perform research

Produce current intelligence and long-term estimates

Identify intelligence requirements

Establish collection priorities

Manage IC funding directed against the target

Non-traditional staffing. Units should include or have close relationships, including formal contracts and informal contacts, with:

Experts without security clearances, including non-US citizens

Private sector firms and Federally Funded Research and Development Corporations for administration and substance

Universities and other seats of knowledge

Inclusive structure

Self-contained assets for research assistance, contract management, conference organization, administration, and security

Embedded representatives from key organizations and customers

Strong external presence to ensure that the unit is regarded as a central player in the preparation of dynamic assessments and the application of existing knowledge

Assign personnel to other principal organizations in the area of responsibility, including Defense, State, pertinent Federal and NGOs, academic and private entities

Institute regular conference calls, videoconferences, visits, and other interactions with country teams, chiefs of station, national laboratories, military commands, State desk officers, and collection agencies

Preside over programs sponsoring in-country research, academic exchanges, student programs, conferences, and other efforts

New products and state-of-the-art dissemination systems should produce intelligence on a near-real-time basis keyed to customer interests and designed to provide reference material to support current issues

Intelligence estimates should be short, validated outside the IC, and focused not on single-point outcomes but on the implications of change

Strong, high-level review, accountability, and measurement of performance to ensure against backsliding "

Obviously constructed by those with extensive familiarity with bureaucratic resistance to positive change.

My only significant concern is the accent on "real-time" adds momentum to an existing IC bias for warp speed "reporting" over "depth" - both in terms of predictive analysis as well as an emphasis on clandestine collection of hard to acquire information, something that requires investment, imagination, persistence and time. The wide dissemination aspect though was really great; an attempt to leverage the advantages of possessing critical information ( Art Cebrowski would have applauded) and get the IC out of the need-to-know-basis/ Cold War mindset.

Read the whole thing.


I'm a huge fan of books and despite the excessive amount of time I spend online, the computer does not replace for me the experience of reading the printed word. Non-literate peoples or adults in literate societies who never become comfortable with reading are akin to those born deaf or blind. A formative experience is missing from their worldview.

This interest of mine includes old as well as new books, some of which I pick up and read if they represent worthwhile historiography. I read something the other day which I found interesting because it so strongly clashed with conventional wisdom regarding world history. The book in question was A History of Europe: From the Invasions to the XVI Century by Henre Pirenne. Here is the passage:

"Raised to the rank of kingdom for the benefit of Roger II by Pope Innocent II, in 1130, the Norman State of Sicily was incontestably the wealthiest, and, in the pint of economic development, the most advanced of all the Western States. Byzantine as to its continental portion, Musulman as regards the island, favored by the enormous extent of its coastline, and by the active navigation which it maintained with the Mohammedans of the coast of Africa, the island Greeks of the Agean Sea, the Greeks of the Bosphorous, and the Crusader settlements in Syria, it was remarkable for its absence of national characteristics as for the diversity of its civilization, in which the culture of Byzantium was mingled and confounded with that of Islam.

...Despite their devotion to the Papacy, these Norman princes, in their political lucidity of thought, allowed both their Musulman and their Orthodox subjects to practice their respective religions."

The popular view of the middle-ages in the media, influenced as it is by current events and P.C. attitudes, is one of simple civilizational-religious warfare and European-Christian intolerance vs. Muslim-Arab enlightenment. History in reality was far more complex and accuracy is forsaken when you resort to compressing a vast period of time and geographic space into a few jaunty assumptions .

Medieval warfare was always far more savage and frequent in terms of intra-religious conflict than in wars between Christian principalities and Muslim potentates ( and Christians and Muslims alike were dwarfed in ferocity by the pagan Mongols). The crusades, from the Muslim perspective of the time, were a small affair compared with their long march toward the conquest of Constantinople, a city that had already been brutally sacked by fellow Christians in 1204. The crusades themselves were, we must remember, partly an attempt by the Church to put a brake on European slaughter by directing aristocratic bloodthirst outward.

Tolerance also varied tremendously. As a rule, it is historically accurate to say that Muslim rulers practiced greater tolerance toward their subjects than did their Christian counterparts but we musn't get too carried away. Tolerance here is both relative and varying given the circumstances.

The Christian Levant and North Africa was converted to a Muslim majority by the sword and that this was considered normal for the day and that even the more enlightened rulers allowed their victorious troops the traditional three days pillage after a siege, if military circumstances permitted it ( Wise rulers of small kingdoms, like the Princes of Georgia, tried to avoid this fate by pro-actively offering fealty to would-be conquerers- be they Persian, Arab, Turk, Mongol or Russian. More often than not they succeeded in their policy of appeasement). That being said, we shouldn't forget that Maimonides wrote in Cairo, not in London, and that the Jews were expelled from Spain to the Ottoman Empire and not the reverse.

Complexity rules history and undermines all stereotypes.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye had a short post on the New York Magazine series on what if 9/11 never happened ? Dave was unimpressed with what he read:

"Some of the pieces have minor insights; some are mildly interesting; most not particularly so.

I think a far more interesting question would be: what specific steps or policies could have been taken that might conceivably have precluded the likelihood of the attack occurring at all, ever?"

Dave was being kind. The series is a disappointing and starkly unimaginative waste of time to read. All the moreso that the magazine line-up included several well known historians who ought to be more practiced and fluent at counterfactual thinking.

Counterfactual thinking allows us to rexamine our premises and chains of logic by altering a critical data point. By looking for inconsistencies in the sequence of our counterfactual model compared to the factual record we test ourselves for bias and get a chance to reevaluate the variables in the historical record and our argument for causation. New points or angles appear when looking at the road not taken and the significance of the event itself may be cast in a new light.

Obviously, counterfactual models are interesting in proportion to the extent the event chosen represents a supposed "tipping point". "What if the Nazis had invaded Great Britain during WWII?" or " What if if the Greeks had lost the Persian War?" are more useful questions than "What if America won the Vietnam War ?" or " What if Columbus had not discovered America ?". The answer to the latter questions is that the history of the world would have proceeded apace without changing all that much - the Americas were due West from the Old World, they would have been discovered sooner rather than later. Somebody else would have invented the printing press if Gutenberg hadn't. On the other hand, the Turks sacking Vienna in 1683 and spreading Islam to the Rhine ( or Paris) sends the history of the world on a very different course.

"What if ?" is sometimes almost as useful a question as asking " Why not ?".
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A desultory debate on the extent of totalitarianism within Islamism has reemerged in the blogosphere due to President Bush saying " Islamic Fascist" in reference to Islamist terrorist groups. There's a lot of objections to that term on pragmatic as well as technical grounds ( some Islamists are quietists, others accept democracy, some are "moderate" authoritarians, some are takfiri extremists with scores to settle against "apostate" Muslims) or the utility of the analogy.

Twentieth century totalitarianism in its Marxist, Nazi and Fascist manifestations have some commonalities with radical Islamism, notably opposition to liberal democracy, as well as important fundamental differences, radical atheism being a noteworthy example. Juan Cole's assertion that Fascism is incompatible with Islamism because Islamists reject the nation-state ignores the fact that Nazis emphasized not the state ( that was Mussolini's version) but the "Aryan race". Hitler himself was emphatic on that point, that the German state was an inconsequential thing before the wellbeing of the German" racial community". "Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuhrer" puts the state at the bottom of the pyramid.

Quite frankly, the most radical Nazis looked forward to a postwar, de-Christianized, Judenfrei, European racialist superstate that incorporated all "teutonic" nationalities under Nazi dominion. State, race, religion - fascism is a collectivistic and exclusivist creed and religion is probably at least as durable an emotive basis for Fascism as nationalism or racism. While some radical Islamists have been " eucumenical" in their desire to build a united, Islamist, Ummah others like the psychopathic Zarqawi took a violently takfiri and exclusionary approach to Caliphate-building.

Nevertheless, "Islamic Fascism" as a term has a number of problems given the diverse, at times inchoate and dynamic nature of radical Islamist movements. At HNN, Dr. Tim Furnish, a stern critic of radical Islamists, found " Islamic Fasicism ", for his own reasons, as objectionable as did Juan Cole:

"Does this paradigm fit with the ideology of Islamic terrorists? That ideology has four major aspects: 1) a starting point of victim-hood, especially vis-à-vis the West and Christianity; 2) an intermediate goal of re-pietizing Islamic society via imposition of “true” shari`ah (Islamic law); 3) a long-term goal of re-creating the early Islamic ummah (community) under a new caliphate, which would eventually encompass the entire planet; and 4) the preferred methodology to achieve these goals of jihad. Put up against the characteristics of fascism, Islamic-based fundamentalist ideology seems obviously to share the emphasis on the group (the ummah) and a clear sense of being victimized. Also, since a caliphate, historically, has been essentially an Islamic monarchy, the dictatorial aspect should be included as common; likewise for repression of opposition, since pre-modern Islamic regimes (and, indeed, most modern ones) have not been known for their political tolerance. The other three elements of fascism—extreme nationalism or ideas of racial superiority, socioeconomic regimentation and extreme militarization—really are not prominent themes in Islamic political thought and praxis, today or in the past. So, definitionally, while “Islamic fascism” at first glance appears appropriate, upon more careful consideration its descriptive value is nominal at best.

A second point is that the term reinforces the questionable tendency of us in the West, and especially in the U.S., to see every new global threat as a reprise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Perhaps this is because World War II was the last war that all Americans agreed was truly legitimate, for every war since then—Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq both times (albeit much less so the first time)—has had its critics. Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be more useful to the conduct of, and debate about, the undeniable global problem of Islamic-based terrorism if we analyzed the issue on its own terms? The differences between Nazi Fascism and Islamic-based terrorism are myriad, starting with the fact that the former was a state ideology and the latter is not (at least not yet). And whatever one wishes to say about Usama bin Ladin and his ilk, they are not devotees of racial purity. Religious purity, to be sure—but that calls for a different response. "

In an intellectual parallel, there is a fashionable tendency to call every modern ( or historical) mass atrocity "genocide". An ahistorical error which cheapens the value of the term for the actual victims of genocide and obscures what was unique about such horrors like American Slavery or China's Cultural Revolution; rendering elusive the very characteristics that makes these terrible events worth examining in their own right.

Perhaps, we ought to accept that the crimes of Islamist terrorism and the delusions of Jihadi ideology are distinctive enough to stand on their own merits and not try to paint them over with swastikas or hammers and sickles.

Just became aware of:

Homeland Security Watch
Monday, August 14, 2006

A selection from A+ bloggers with two posts apiece.

Tom Scudder at Aqoul with "Lebanon: UN Resolution 1701" and "15 ways of looking at a ceasefire"

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett with "Honoring Art Cebrowski's legacy for what it is" and "Coming to an understanding with Jim Blaker"

John Robb with " THE COMING CONFLAGRATION " and "AL QAEDA'S ACHILLES HEAL: RESIDUAL HIERARCHY" (err... should that be " Heel" ? )

Don Surber with " Bush should visit Castro " and " How to report on spying "

Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project with "BBC Makes Joke of Itself " and "Why not nationalized health care in the United States?"

Purpleslog with "Video: Self-Portraits Photos of a Girl Taken Every Day For Three Years" and "Consequences of Open Source Espionage"

Lexington Green at Chicago Boyz with "A German Ayn-Randian Guy Talking About Patriotism" and "Quote of the Day".

The Drs. Eide at Neurolearning Blog with "What Reading Really Does for the Brain" and
" The "Dark Side" of Expertise "

That's it !

Chirol of Coming Anarchy had an incisive post on terrorism " The Terror Tree", one that has already caught the attention of Dr. Barnett. An excerpt:

"If you take any given terror plot and look at it through the chart. If it fails but gets media attention like today’s, it still wins in terms of system disruption and creating fear. It would have done the same had it succeeded. The question is one of degree.

...Given the results graphed above, the only total failure is a plot which elicits no reaction. What would such a plot look like? Probably like something we’ve already seen, something that’s yesterdays news, something we are already checking for. Thus, no change is necessary

...When a terrorist can invest a few thousand dollars in a plot, even tens of thousands, and cause a hundred or thousand times more damage, things don’t look good but this is where network resiliancy comes in, but that’s a job for Dan and Mark. "

Dave, Jeff and I have been discussing "wicked problems" and Chirol's graphic is an excellent visualization of the "wicked problem" represented by terrorism, which has the potential darwinian dynamic of "heads they win, tails we lose". That is not the feedback loop the United States or the West should accept, and as Chirol has already noted, attention to the principle of resiliency offers a chance to mitigate, minimize or thwart the negative effects of terrorism. Resiliency will not solve the problem of terrorism but it helps limit the potential damage.

To respond to Chirol's request, the ideal solution to counter system disruption attacks is to engineer all your physical systems, networks, grids, first and second responder plans with multiple layers of redundancy so that no particular "hub" represents a systemic "choke point" whose elimination brings the system in question to a grinding halt. In a country with, in some areas, two centuries of established infrastructure, this would be a financial nightmare to retrofit from the top down. The ideal solution ain't going to happen here, but in rapidly developing nations, they might consider building all their new systems with great attention to lavishing resources on redundancy. The initially higher costs today ( which can be amortized) represent billions saved in terms of disasters avoided.

The practical solution for the U.S. is to build, as cheaply as possible, decentralized systemic alternatives to the most critical elements existing infrastructure, gaining redundancy by overlaying duplicate systems on top of one another. For example, a national wireless broadband network in addition to the heavily land-based internet-communications network. Being neither an engineer nor a high tech guru, there are more qualified people than myself to offer concrete examples or identify the most critical systems; but economically, given the size and complexity of the diverse systems used in United States, we need to shoot for cheap and simple solutions in order to increase our resiliency.

For more on enhancing resiliency against terrorism, I suggest looking at some of the past posts by Steve DeAngelis at ERMB - in particular, this one and this one.
Sunday, August 13, 2006

For the purposes of promoting clear thinking, Dave Schuler recently had a very informative post "Theseus’s Clew: strategies, meta-strategies, and “wicked problems” "; if you wish to look at the dynamics of conflict based scenarios with a clear ( some might say " glittering") eye, then you should read Dave's post in full.

But for the more slothful of my readers, an excerpt from Dave on the nature of " wicked problems":

"Even more unfortunately there are many real-world problems that have neither engineering solutions like the first class or negotiated solutions like the second. These are the difficult problems and, in some cases, these have been called “wicked problems”.

There are many reasons that a problem may be a wicked problem:

* the problem may be ill-defined

* the stakeholders in the problem may have dramatically different world views and framewor for understanding the problem

* the problem may have no stopping rules

* the problem may be unique and previous experience may not be applicable

Or, in many cases, the very act of selecting an approach to solving the problem permanently forecloses other alternatives. It is impossible to arrive at an iterative solution to the problem.

Consider, for example, the mythological Greek hero Theseus. Theseus navigated through the Minotaur’s maze with a clew, a ball of yarn. The clew gave him the ability to trace back to his starting point. Without it he’d have wandered the maze forever.

That’s the key to any iterative solution: you’re able to return to some point of departure and try another way. But when the initial choice precludes returning to the starting point, i.e. the decision has consequences, you can’t just try another way. When you’ve chosen the second branch, the only way out of the maze was through the first branch, and the first branch is no longer accessible to you, you’re stuck. There may no longer be a solution."

Dave offered some excellent strategies for dealing with "wicked problems", all of which I find to be both useful and generally correct. But as he asked me for some feedback, I have to say that there is more to the story here and some nuances to "wicked problems" that Dave did not include in his concisely written post.

First of all, not all "wicked problems" were created equally wicked. We must differentiate between those problems that are intractable from those that are merely hard or prohibitively expensive. The latter involves a significant degree of human value choice while the former is effectively beyond any direct solution within our present power to efface. Many cutting edge scientific questions are temporarily intractable until, say for example, computing power increases by a given order of magnitude. Some philosophical or religious questions, perhaps dealing with the nature of God or the afterlife, are intractable in a permanent sense.

"Wicked problems" dealing with conflict in a complex social system are not usually intractable, though we often use that word to describe very difficult to solve conflicts in places like the Middle East or Northern Ireland. What we really mean in such cases is that the problems are exceedingly complicated as well as deeply rooted in terms of psychological and emotional investment for those involved. We often describe the second aspect as being "self-destructive" or " irrational" but in economic terms it is not irrational behavior if you place overriding value on minimizing your opponent's gains ( though it may indeed be self-destructive to execute such a strategy at all costs) even if that value-set is a product of your own skewed perception of events.

How to deal with such " wicked problems"? Here are several options to consider for non-intractable but difficult scenarios:

For "wicked problems" that are not intractable, wickedness is often in the eye of the beholder.


More to come later tonight.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Younghusband of Coming Anarchy stopped by in the comments to recommend a Conversation With History interview with social theorist Manuel Castells.

An excerpt:

"What does it discover? That, in essence, it's losing control of some of its ability to manage its own economy, to ensure its own social welfare policies, and so on?

Absolutely. It doesn't mean that the states disappear, the nation state's not going to disappear. Let me just first say that. But the degrees of freedom of nation states have shrunk to an extraordinary degree in the last ten years. In some areas of the world, it has become explicit. Let's take the example of the European Union. Governments from the continent, the entire continent, decided to get together so that together they could have some level of bargaining power and some leverage to control global flows of wealth, information, and power. And they built a series of institutions which is not a federal state. It's still based on nation states, but also on supranational institutions which share sovereignty and also decentralize sovereignty to local region governments. These European states also subcontract sovereignty to international institutions, such as NATO, in terms of the armed forces.

So what we have, for instance, in the case of Europe, is a complex system of institutional relations, which I call the network state, because, in fact, it's a network of interactions of shared sovereignty. Under different forms, you have a similar situation in most of the world. In Latin America, some states are with others, but the main thing is that the key economic conditions are governed in connection with international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, through different trade treaties, MERCOSUR or the Andean Pact or the connection to the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA]. So in other words, states operate, still exist, but operate as actors of a much more complex and interactive network."
Friday, August 11, 2006

Adrienne Redd, writing at Conversation Base Blog:

"It evokes science fiction to envision voluntary alliances networked across vast distances which challenge traditional nation-states, but it is already happening. Globalization, terrorism and events of the past five days, the past five weeks and the past five decades suggest that the nation-state may be undergoing the greatest shift since its emergence in Europe. Many of these pressures on the nation-state arise from what we could call virtual nations. The established nation-states must respond to these emergent entities or face the consequences."

Read Adrienne's post in full here.

Speaking of powerpoint presentations...

I came by this manifesto " How to be Creative" by Hugh MacLeod via Dave at Thoughts Illustrated. Some wise advice, delivered in a style reminiscient of a calmer Scott Adams.


As promised, a powerpoint extravaganza by Dan of tdaxp.
Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kingdaddy at Arms and Influence had an excellent post "Death by Powerpoint" that castigated the use and abuse of powerpoint presentations in war planning ( Hat Tip to J. at Armchair Generalist). Here is the main point:

"You can't blame the problems of the occupation of Iraq on some unnamed functionary who couldn't use PowerPoint effectively. The problem was using PowerPoint at all. Anyone experienced with this tool could explain the obvious deficiencies, when used as a replacement for planning documents:

*PowerPoint slides are talking points, not the conversation itself. PowerPoint slides are supposed to help organize and illustrate what the speaker is saying. They are not, however, the complete communication. Therefore…

*PowerPoint slides are not self-evident. Since slides provide the mere skeleton of an argument, not its actual content, people who have read the slides but not heard the presentation normally cannot figure out what the speaker is trying to say.

*PowerPoint slides always change. Anyone who has had to present the same information multiple times usually varies the content. William Jennings Bryan constantly revised his famous Cross of Gold speech, refining it with every iteration. Every speaker gets tired of using the same words and intonation, so for sheer novelty value, the content will change.

*PowerPoint compels the most superficial reconsideration of your own position. While PowerPoint forces you to organize your thoughts to some degree, it does not ignite a reconsideration of your own argument the way a written document does. PowerPoint provides a thumbnail sketch of what you might say; written documents make you actually say it. Not surprisingly, authors of written documents find themselves altering their opinions as they write. For example, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, in writing the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, found his position changing as he wrote his opinion. "

(Brownie points to Kingdaddy for referencing The Cross of Gold speech in a post on DoD practices in 2006)

I have to say, I'm startled at the idea that operational planning for the invasion of Iraq, as opposed to briefing civilian officials about the operational plan, was done via powerpoint slides. I can't really see D-Day commencing with Eisenhower and Bradley arguing over to whom they should delegate the awesome responsibility of using the laser pointer.

Myself, I frequently use powerpoint when I lecture, though I hasten to point out that, while on occasion, I might be lecturing about a battle, I am not conducting one. About 6-8 slides I find is appropriate for an hour's worth of talk, including a dramatic "cover" or "conclusion" slide. The visual is there to reinforce the concepts and expand upon them from another direction, not to echo them verbatim.

Though I am partial to Dr. Barnett's brief and the wild, open-source, experience of tdaxp , some of the best ppt slides -in terms of being economical and clear - can be found at DNI, posted by Dr. Chet Richards.



Conversation Base

Hmmm...the link works fine but should it be appearing as a grazr within a post ?

Dr. Barnett dives into the nonstate conflict paradigm with two posts:

"The clearest proof this is no state-on-state war in Lebanon"


"The new COIN is progress, not perfection"

"Call Nasrallah what you want, but his impact is little different from any other Arab despot. We're just watching him on the rise. In that sense, while I find Hezbollah's tactics quite 4GW, his ends are eminently predictable and familar"

An important data point - there are no 4GW warriors around fighting for greater connectivity, no Global Guerillas for an Open Society, just open-source warfare. The implications of that are longitudinal as well as normative.


John Robb was kind enough to comment on my post and on another one of Tom's as well.

From the latter:

"Unfortunately, Tom's voice/your's/and mine, will mean little. This war is going to be launched on the cheap or through mistake and will escalate quickly to regional scale from that point on. Think counter-insurgency from the Med to the Hindu Kush. "
Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Found this nice summative post about Edward Bernays at Maximum Advantage.

For those who are unfamiliar with Bernays exceptionally long career, he deeply influenced the advertising industry and developed the cardinal strategies of influence in a mass-media age.
An excerpt:

"When a person would first meet Bernays," says Cutlip, "it would not be long until Uncle Sigmund would be brought into the conversation. His relationship with Freud was always in the forefront of his thinking and his counseling." According to Irwin Ross, another writer, "Bernays liked to think of himself as a kind of psychoanalyst to troubled corporations." In the early 1920s, Bernays arranged for the US publication of an English-language translation of Freud's General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. In addition to publicizing Freud's ideas, Bernays used his association with Freud to establish his own reputation as a thinker and theorist—a reputation that was further enhanced when Bernays authored several landmark texts of his own, most notably Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923, ISBN 0871409755), Propaganda (1928, ISBN 080461511X) and "The Engineering of Consent" in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (March 1947)."

Read the whole thing here.

I usually steer clear of writing on purely domestic politics because the issues are always more complex in reality than committed partisans are willing to admit and because the difficulty of having having an intelligent dialogue about hot-button issues. Granted, it is the hyperpolitical blogs that have the big audiences but if I wanted to preach to the choir, I'd get myself a church.

Nevertheless, in the last few days a couple of figures with impeccable credentials as men of the Left awoke to the realization that the broad American Left tolerates and includes people with a very dangerous mindset. Not that this is a revelation to those of us on the Right or the Middle ( or who have been following the history of the past century) but it is a fact about which many liberals, some of whom are intelligent people for whom I have much respect, are in deep denial. To admit that their side openly welcomes -and regularly defends- the sort of unsavory hater or dedicated authoritarian that they regularly condemn on the Religious Right is viewed as an unacceptable concession to conservatives -instead of being a simple concession to the reality of human nature. I guess nobody reads Eric Hoffer these days.

Here are the pieces in question:

"Liberal McCarthyism Bigotry and hate aren't just for right-wingers anymore." by Lanny Davis in the Wall Street Journal.

"Has the Left Gone Mad?" by Dr. Mark A. LeVine at HNN.

Lanny Davis is a well known public figure, attorney, Democratic activist and former official in the Clinton administration who was, for a time, the chief attack dog against the " Vast Right-wing conspiracy". Dr. LeVine is less well-known, being a MENA scholar of the kind of far Left, anti-Israeli, academic politics that, say, David Horowitz, loves to attack. These are not moderate Democrats or centrists, Davis and LeVine are both anti-war progressives.

Yet they have, for various reasons, decided to break the unspoken rule against calling attention to the existence of the Marxoid hardliners, the wingnuts and the radical haters who pollute the otherwise liberal and democratic politics of their Party. Here are snippets of what they had to say:

First, Lanny Davis:

"I came to believe that we liberals couldn't possibly be so intolerant and hateful, because our ideology was famous for ACLU-type commitments to free speech, dissent and, especially, tolerance for those who differed with us. And in recent years--with the deadly combination of sanctimony and vitriol displayed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michael Savage--I held on to the view that the left was inherently more tolerant and less hateful than the right.

Now, in the closing days of the Lieberman primary campaign, I have reluctantly concluded that I was wrong. The far right does not have a monopoly on bigotry and hatred and sanctimony. Here are just a few examples (there are many, many more anyone with a search engine can find) of the type of thing the liberal blog sites have been posting about Joe Lieberman:

• "Ned Lamont and his supporters need to [g]et real busy. Ned needs to beat Lieberman to a pulp in the debate and define what it means to be an AMerican who is NOT beholden to the Israeli Lobby" (by "rim," posted on Huffington Post, July 6, 2006).

• "Joe's on the Senate floor now and he's growing a beard. He has about a weeks growth on his face. . . . I hope he dyes his beard Blood red. It would be so appropriate" (by "ctkeith," posted on Daily Kos, July 11 and 12, 2005).

• On "Lieberman vs. Murtha": "as everybody knows, jews ONLY care about the welfare of other jews; thanks ever so much for reminding everyone of this most salient fact, so that we might better ignore all that jewish propaganda [by Lieberman] about participating in the civil rights movement of the 60s and so on" (by "tomjones," posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005)."

Unsurprisingly, DailyKos was at hand to provide examples of rancid anti-semitism for the Davis op-ed.

Now for Mark LeVine:

"Of course, I am fairly certain that this isn't the kind of support that was intended. And like myself, most progressives I know have been using “all the means at our disposal” (as the letter signers pledge to do) to help spread the word about this utterly disastrous, and yes, criminal, war. But the ill-chosen (one can hope) words by my illustrious colleagues reflects a very disturbing trend within the Left that has emerged the last few years, and which has come to a head with the latest war: Many leaders of the movement are moving away from the commitment to non-violence that defined the struggle against the Vietnam War and the vast majority of protests against corporate globalization and the invasion of Iraq, and towards embracing violent resistance (think the Red Brigade, Bader Meinhof Gang or the Weather Underground) as a viable, and even the best way to check the capitalist war machine.

I saw the first glimmers of the change right after the US invasion, when senior members of the biggest anti-war coalition in the US told me that “it's all America now” and that the movement had to shift from anti-war to anti-imperialism as its focus. It's hard to endorse violence when you're anti-war, but if you're anti-imperialist there's a long history of violent struggles to “inspire” you (although supporters of this path seem to forget the most successful anti-imperialist struggles, such as Gandhi's in India and Mandela's in South Africa, were almost entirely non-violent, while others, like Algeria or Vietnam, produced corrupt and violent regimes in their wakes).

The American Left has, since the 1920's contained its share of Stalinists, Trotskyites, Anarchists and various other totalitarian loons inclined to worship violent revolution abroad and despise American liberties at home. For a time, these fellow-travellers had access to the highest reaches of the Democratic Party but after the embarrassment of the exposure of Alger Hiss as a Communist spy, the Democratic Party did a thorough housecleaning. I'm not talking about Joe McCarthy's ranting idiocy but of Arthur Schlessinger's ADA combatting anti-democratic ideologues and the AFL-CIO leadership battling to remove CPUSA networks from key union locals. The revolutionaries were shown the door in the forties and fifties.

The emergence of the New Left in the 1960's relegitimized wingnut partcipation in the Democratic Party and its associated groups. Most former Vietnam era activists have mellowed. A few have not and the internet has allowed them to recruit and energize like-minded followers. They are a nasty bunch with an anti-American ideology and they are determined to play a pivotal role in the future of the Democratic Party. It took some bravery on the part of Davis and LeVine to criticize these people - fanatics brook no disagreement and will view the criticism they levelled as "treason" to " the movement". These articles will raise hackles in a way a piece from a conservative or Republican figure would not.

Davis and LeVine are the canaries in the mineshaft, but I'm not sure if anyone is listening.


On a directly related line of thought ( "Great minds...") , my friend Bruce Kesler contemplates "The Not-Great Divide" at Democracy Project


Marc at American Future links and expands on the post with " Hezbollah's fellow Travellers".

Must be Day of the Blogfriend ! LOL !
Monday, August 07, 2006

General Vo Nguyen Giap

Colonel W. Pat Lang , making an observation about Israel's war in Lebanon with both immediate as well as historical implications.

"The Lebanese Hizbullah "Arab Guerrilla Army" is something different. What Newsweek describes is a force in transition, a force becoming a real army. Vo Nguyen Giap wrote in "People's War, People's Army" that a national resistance movement's armed force must "evolve" from political agitprop activities to guerrilla war and eventually to the status and capability of regular armed forces if it is to succeed in defeating its enemies and seizing " a place at the table" in its country's future."

The interesting thing about this observation is that, while Giap is a military leader of the first rank, his theory of guerilla warfare has rarely been borne out by history, including that of the Vietnam War. It is exceptionally rare for irregulars or guerillas to " transition" or "evolve" into full-fledged conventional military operations against a modern, first-rate opponent. Generally, guerilla forces beat state opponents by becoming more effective at guerilla warfare and causing a psychological and moral collapse of the state's will to resist; and only after seizing power, do the new rulers transform their guerilla fighters into professional soldiers.

At Dien Bien Phu, the Viet Minh army under Giap inflicted a conventional military defeat upon the French. Conditions were ideal in the sense that the French themselves had helped Giap immeasurably by intentionally isolating their forces geographically. When Giap attempted to bring the Viet Cong into an open clash with American forces during the Tet Offensive, the political victory of the surprise attack was purchased at the cost of the physical decimation of the Viet Cong. The Southern cadres could not " evolve up" against that kind of concentrated firepower and never recovered from having tried. As a result, the costs of the war on the Communist side were increasingly carried on by North Vietnamese regulars, culminating in a conventional invasion of the South and Saigon's fall in 1975.

( Nor did the Communist side " evolve" in Vietnam under their own power. Hanoi was willing to bear enormous costs in blood but a considerable amount of the treasure for their effort was supplied by the Socialist bloc. It must be noted that all of the military aid supplied by the Soviets and China bought these powers remarkably little leverage over Hanoi's war policies. The Soviets, to their embarrassment, cound not even get North Vietnamese to agree to refrain from provoking the United States during the few days of Kosygin's state visit)

Mao's experiemce as a guerilla leader during the long Chinese civil war is probably the the closest example to " transitioning up" a guerilla army to conventional military status. Here again though, the caveats loom large. The Nationalist army was not a first or even a second rate military power and the Kuomintang regime, itself shot through with corruption, had almost destroyed Mao's Communists during the democidal 1930's extermination campaigns, carried out with the help of Wehrmacht advisers. Added to the general incompetence of the Nationalists was the stress of also fighting Imperial Japan, of which Chiang's army bore the brunt. Only under these conditions, did Mao's army manage to successfully" evolve" ( and only some units at that but that was enough to win).

Hezbollah has cetainly "evolved" in terms of its sophistication but not in moving toward open, set-piece battles with the IDF, which would result in Hezbollah getting creamed. Instead, Hezbollah appears to have acquired elite units adept in a blend of clandestine intelligence and special forces activities, capable of operating on their own in an adaptive, pro-active, manner. Advantages that depend upon the employment of stealth, secrecy and speed in order to be most useful against the Israelis.

The importance of state sponsorship in "guerilla evolution" should not be ignored. In Hezbollah's case Iran and Syria are the main patrons. Depending on your perspective such aid could be considered trivial ( no battalions of Revolutionary Guards) or large ( training, intelligence, rockets). If the aid provided is a catalyst in changing the operational parameters of Hezbollah, then in my view, the effect is significant even if it isn't buying Teheran or Damascus tactical control. Either a strategic balance is being altered or it isn't - in geopolitics there is no such thing as just being a little bit pregnant.

Evolution requires a change in the environment. Shaping the battlespace is a strategic move and Iran and Hezbollah have done that.


I have to recommend this post by Kingdaddy at Arms and Influence.
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" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

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