Blogfriend Cheryl Rofer, an expert in nuclear issues with field experience, had an exceptionally intriguing post up the other day at Whirledviewentitled " A Rough Nuclear Threat Assessment for the United States". While I encourage you to read her post in full first here are her assessments (bold text) along with my responses(normal text):
"Finding 1. No serious immediate threat.There is no country in the world that seriously threatens a nuclear attack on the United States. Further, the probability that a terrorist organization has usable nuclear weapons is extremely low. The most serious current threat of a nuclear explosion in the United States arises from accidents resulting from the continuing alert status of US and Russian nuclear-tipped missiles."
I would tend to agree with the following caveats:
Radiological bomb attacks or terrorist attacks on American nuclear facilities such as power plants in the hopes of sparking an " American Chernobyl" are respectively more and marginally more likely than "extremely low". Add in the possible downstream negative effects of terrorists liberating nuclear materials from poorly guarded Russian installations as well. We are also at risk for secondary environmental effects of nuclear weapons uses by third parties ( ex. India-Pakistan).
All of these are of far lower significance though than a state-based nuclear first strike against the United States or its forces overseas.
"Finding 2. Threats in the 2-5 year range are extremely low. Most can be managed by US actions.Relations with Russia are deteriorating. Relations with China are good, except for some friction in the area of trade. An agreement has been reached with North Korea on denuclearization. Iran is unlikely to have nuclear weapons within this time frame. Pakistan’s current instability presents a concern that action against the government might put nuclear weapons in the hands of radical Islamic groups. Russia continues to improve its nuclear weapons security.
There are a number of ways to improve relations with Russia, including delaying construction of antimissile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Because Iran is unlikely to have nuclear weapons within this time frame, there is time for negotiation. The instability in Pakistan is the most unpredictable and uncontrollable of the threats in this time frame. We have to hope that rumors are true that the United States has been helping Pakistan to “safe” its nuclear weapons with permissive action links that keep unauthorized people from using them."
I agree here as well, also seeing Pakistan as the potentially most dangerous wild card. State stability in Iran should not, however, be overestimated, given the decentralization of Iran's nuclear weapons and power programs. Too many items ripe for the picking by prospective factions, terrorists or transnational criminal syndicates if Iran's state falters.
"Finding 3. Threats in the 5-20 year range are much less predictable, but remain low.With intelligent diplomacy and some steps back from the more warlike policies of the Bush administration, such as preventive warfare (which step may have already been taken), good relations can be maintained with other nuclear powers. In a similar vein, progress should be possible with North Korea and Iran toward non nuclear weapon status. Instability in Pakistan and friction between Pakistan and India are probably the biggest threats of nuclear war or nuclear weapons becoming available to subnational groups. Regional conflicts could encourage other states (say Brazil and Argentina) to consider a path to nuclear weapons, but the probability of such conflicts seems likely to remain low.
Let’s just stop here for a moment and take a breath. This is a very different threat assessment from anything that might have been done during the Cold War. In fact, it surprised me when I saw it all written down this way. But if we stick to verifiable threats with reasonable probability, I think this is the way it has to come out." I depart here from Cheryl. In my view, the degree of uncertainty is too high given the length of the time frame and the systemic instability (current and potential) of a number of nuclear armed states. Moreover, proliferation ( and sequence/timing of proliferation) changes the dynamic by altering the nuclear postures of interested states. A nuclear Iran changes Saudi Arabia's attitude toward non-proliferation while a nuclear armed Japan does not. Each additional new nuclear weapons state increases the probability of accident, loss, covert sale or use. I would rate the danger as rising toward "moderate" the further you go in terms of out-years.
When I was a teen-ager and in my early twenties I was an avid partisan. In the pre-internet and pre-Talk radio era, I devoured newspapers, TIME, US News, Newsweek and the slick political magazines ( National Review, TNR). I followed all the nuances of issues like Contra aid or the 1986 tax reform. While I was thoroughly Reaganite in my convictions and found liberal hacks like Senator Pat Leahy to be odious fools, I could also look across the aisle to find figures of decency, civility and conviction like Senator Paul Simon and see people whom I could respect.
And now ?
I find it incredibly disillusioning that in what passes for political "debate" these days that a majority of the Republican presidential candidates, Senator McCain excepted, are endorsing torture (!) while most of their Democratic counterparts are enthusiasists for surrender. Except for Senator Edwards who, while being strongly in favor of retreat has one-upped the rest and declared that the war on terror does not even exist ( he's a fantasist).
This is not the country I grew up in. The nation deserves better.
This is one reason why I very seldom venture into discussing political news here. I find it difficult to believe that much of what scripted sound bites are being uttered represent core beliefs of the candidate rather than artificial nonsense lines designed to pander to splinter special interests divined through exhaustive focus grouping. My fear is that the American political class have reached the point of degeneration that these noxious superficialities do indeed reflect what some of the candidates think.
First rate minds have always been rare in politics, historically speaking, but America has always mustered enough for the tasks at hand. Our revolution benefitted from an unusual abundance of great men precisely because the British imperial system of the Hanoverian monarchs so completely shut out American talent from their system. The early Republic saw giants like John Marshall, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, to say nothing of Abraham Lincoln who strides across American history like a titan.
The twentieth century boasted no shortage of sage statesmen either, starting with Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to FDR and his successors who were " present at the creation" to the peaceful closing of the Cold War with Ronald Reagan and the father of the current president. America was rich in leadership. We had severe trials but seldom were we to be found wanting because our leaders, at least some of them, were authentic. You could disagree with Ronald Reagan or Hubert Humphrey but you were disagreeing with a person who thoroughly represented important and substantive values. Values worth debating.
While I have no empirical basis for this to stand upon I suspect that the last few decades have seen fewer and fewer individuals of this caliber enter politics. The nastiness of the political process, the invasiveness, obtuse stupidity and lack of respect by the media coupled by the greater rewards of private life have kept them away. It reminds me of the climate, if not the form, of the later 19th century which was dominated by corrupt machines and party bosses like Mark Hanna, William Marcy Tweed and George Washington Plunkitt. As a result, we get people running for office or currying favor for appointment who see their opportunities and take them.
The good news is that the raw talent and creativity is out there. There are 21st century equivalents to George Marshall or Henry Kissinger or John F. Kennedy. She may be an Asian-American CFO at a software company or a midwestern entrepreneur in Kansas City or a 21 year old infantryman, a child of immigrants, on patrol right now in Iraq. You may know someone who would make a great city councilman or school board member, state legislator or simply a voice for the community, if only someone will encourage them to speak.
"...It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." - Abraham Lincoln
Special thanks on this day to the men and women in the armed forces of the United States and to all veterans who have served, often at great hardship, on foreign battlefields far from home.
THIS TELEVISED BEHEADING OF THE AMERICAN AMBASSADOR HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO YOU BY PRESIDENT BILL RICHARDSON
Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson just suggested to Tim Russertthat all American troops should be withdrawn from Iraq in 2007 and that security for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad be placed in Iraqi hands. Right. The embassy would be overrun in about five minutes if that happened. Does the Democratic Party really ache to relive the hostage crisis of their youth ?
I realize that the worst of the delusional screamers now dominate the Democratic primary process but an experienced international diplomat like Richardson should really try to preserve his intellectual credibility. Richardson isn't going to win the nomination but he just might be a Secretary of State or Defense, and, as such, he shouldn't be saying really dumb things like this on television.
I disagree with PHK that we "backed the wrong side" in Vietnam ( what were we going to do, help consolidate a Stalinist regime in the late 1940's even as we were trying like hell to keep Communism out of Italy, France, West Berlin and Greece? How would have Acheson and Truman made that work?) though we certainly did back the politically inept side. Nevertheless, a well-written essay about one of the fathers of COIN whose ideas need greater circulation today.
"During the cold war, much of the job of U.S. intelligence was puzzle-solving—seeking answers to questions that had answers, even if we didn't know them. How many missiles did the Soviet Union have? Where were they located? How far could they travel? How accurate were they? It made sense to approach the military strength of the Soviet Union as a puzzle—the sum of its units and weapons, and their quality. But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of terrorism changed all that. Those events upended U.S. intelligence, to the point that its major challenge now is to frame mysteries....
....Puzzle-solving is frustrated by a lack of information. Given Washington's need to find out how many warheads Moscow's missiles carried, the United States spent billions of dollars on satellites and other data-collection systems. But puzzles are relatively stable. If a critical piece is missing one day, it usually remains valuable the next.
By contrast, mysteries often grow out of too much information. Until the 9/11 hijackers actually boarded their airplanes, their plan was a mystery, the clues to which were buried in too much "noise"—too many threat scenarios. So warnings from FBI agents in Minneapolis and Phoenix went unexplored. The hijackers were able to hide in plain sight. After the attacks, they became a puzzle: it was easy to pick up their trail. Solving puzzles is useful for detection. But framing mysteries is necessary for prevention. "
This article, though written for a general audience, struck a number of chords with me. Specifically:
* "Noise" is an important consideration in an era of attention scarcity economies. Eliciting a surge in " white noise" by unrelated third parties ( say disinformation that sends pro-lifers off on a media campaign and in turn, energizers their pro-choice enemies to respond, diverting the attention of the general public to "X" degree) is useful camoflague. Purplesloghad a deservedly well-received post at Dreaming 5GWon " the Puppetmaster" as a "5GW Archetype". Such a mentality would cultivate media noise the way the KGB once set up and subsidized endless Communist front groups in the West.
* Uncertainty is relative. Some "mysteries" are more decipherable with a change of perspective, scale or temporal framework; others represent questions of deep uncertainty. Imaginative scenario planning exercises can help pattern recognizers familiarize themselves with latent possibilities ( Neo-Eurasianism ? Pan-Turanism ? A derivatives-driven implosion of globalization? Eco-extremist bioterrorists longing for planetary genocide?). We need radical thought experimentation.
IT security expert Gunnar Petersonhas already covered this base well but from a different angle:
"Risk differs from uncertainty in that risk may be measured and managed whereas uncertainty may not. Risk management efforts hinge on this important distinction because it highlights differences where a team may be more proactive. For instance, many vulnerabilities are known, hence they may be measured and managed whereas the threats to a systems contain a greater degree of uncertainty in that the threat environment contains numerous elements such as threat actors that one’s organization can not directly control."
The interview is excellent. Tanji gets beyond the usual superficial questions into the meat of Robb's analytical worldview. A sample:
" TANJI: In The Long Tale of Warfare Emerges you take an Occam's razor through the fundamentals about the size and capability of the insurgency. We can kill with precision and to any scale, but apparently cannot get the basic math right. Is dogma driving us to perform data-free analysis or are we just not preparing our strategists and planners to address complex or asymmetric problems?
ROBB: The problem may be whether or not we operate on best case data or worst case. If you always select the best case data in order to bolster the moral cohesion at home, then you are really lying to yourself -- essentially, breathing your own exhaust. Another reason may be that that our intelligence system can't handle the level of complexity involved within a closed environment (locked down by artificial barriers of secrecy). It's not tapping into the vast pools of talent outside the organization effectively.
TANJI: Let me ask you a question that I get asked a lot: Why no major attack in the US since 9/11? Is it a question of difficulty in setting off systemic cascading failures? If major attacks suffer from diminishing returns and small attacks ratchet up the "tax" on targeted cities, why haven't we seen IEDs on Wall St. or Main St.?
ROBB: Here are a couple of reasons. First is the diminishing returns of symbolic terrorism A big attack like 9/11 is hard to top. Anything less would hurt the al Qaeda brand and fail to return fear to anything near the levels of 9/11. Second, al Qaeda was severely damaged when we invaded Afghanistan. Those resources it had left were spent on staying alive and helping launch the operation in Iraq. Remember, a major reason for 9/11 was to get the US into a guerrilla war in Asia and repeat the experience of Russia's Afghanistan. In terms of systems disruptions, this method has only recently emerged from the experience in Iraq. Not everyone gets it yet, but the insight is spreading quickly in an organic fashion. You could conclude that the attack on Abqaiq and the Golden Mosque were examples of systems disruption (the latter being social systems disruption) that al Qaeda didn't have to project power to the US to accomplish. "
I found the section in BNW on Urban Takedowns problematic as well. I liked Robb's concept of a " terrorism tax" on targeted cities because that jives with a systematic understanding of applying market forces to societal analysis. I think, on the margin for certain important, narrow, questions, this idea works very well. OTOH, historically, all cities were essentially death traps that could only be sustained by a daily influx of migrants ( usually peasants fleeing rural poverty) that exceeded those dying from disease, violence, fire and malnutrition at a rate that vastly exceeded the toll taken by today's terrorism. Only in advanced states, with the creation of modern sanitation and water systems, public health, police and fire services has this dynamic changed for the better. Many cities in the Gap and a few in the New Core are still in this " feral" state. The point being that as a complex social and economic networks, cities may have greater resilience than we realize, which makes estimating terror effects problematic.
There's a number of provocative arguments in FM's latest piece but I wanted to highlight this one in particular:
"The events surrounding the fall of Iraq’s capital are difficult to imagine, even after four years have passed. US forces again proved invincible on the field of battle. They rolled up to Baghdad, occupied it and waited for orders. Then the capitol fell into disorder, with looting and burning of key infrastructure.
Apparently the Pentagon’s senior generals – the best-educated generals ever to lead an Army – failed to prepare for one of history’s most common scenarios. As a result they read reports from their field commanders and watched as victory tipped over to what might become a crushing defeat. Perhaps for the next war our top generals’ briefing books should include DVD’s of War and Peace and Gone with the Wind. Watching the burning of Moscow and Atlanta might remind them to plan for this contingency.
It’s not yet clear why and how this occurred, except in one respect. Our military is a full member of 21st Century American society – no separate military culture here – and its top leaders produce excuses suitable for a Superpower, featuring the new American mantra: “It’s not our fault.” An expert at RAND said it well:
While it can be argued that U.S. military planners could not have been expected to anticipate the emergence of an insurgency any more than they could have foreseen the widespread disorders, looting, and random violence that followed the fall of Baghdad, that is precisely the nub of the problem. The fact that military planners apparently didn’t consider the possibility that sustained and organized resistance could gather momentum and transform itself into an insurgency reflects a pathology that has long affected governments and militaries everywhere…
Bruce Hoffman, “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq”, RAND (2004)
RAND’s sponsors likely appreciated the diplomatic phrasing “while it can be argued”. Much nicer than suggesting that our generals should have foreseen the scenario that has dominated post-WW-II wars, guerrilla warfare against foreign occupiers."
In the article, FM refers to American generals as being akin to corporate CEO's. The personnel system of the U.S. military, in which zero defects and lavish ( bordering upon ludicrous) praise from your immediate superior is necessary for promotion under an "up or out" system, weeds out creative and divergent thinkers, candid speakers, risk-takers and even mild non-conformists. What is left is a finely honed and homogenous administrative class attuned to institutional norms and a received professional culture. A system that creates a surplus of first-rate political generals like Al Haig and Colin Powell but not Pattons, Grants or Lees. A few slip through, but how many ? And of these few, how many will have a chance at field command ?
Incentives must be geared to promote those who exhibit behaviors that tend to win wars on the battlefield rather than bureaucratic skirmishes in Washington.
"Let's return to 1990, just before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The U.S. Army had around 750,000 soldiers on active duty; the U.S. Marine Corps had 197,000 Marines. That same year, the U.S. population broke 250 million. Today, the U.S. population is slightly over 300 million.
That "old future" occurred during the final phases of the Cold War. Department of Defense budgeteers had already begun paring Cold War force structure. Though the Soviet Union hadn't officially dissolved, cost-cutters identified Cold War air wings and armored divisions as expensive legacies.
Desert Storm briefly delayed the planned decline in strength. Based on "the near-term future" the Defense and Congress envisioned, the United States didn't need Cold War troop levels. However, by 1995, peacekeeping commitments began stressing the personnel system. Then, the United States entered the Balkans, and hasn't quite left yet.
The Army asked for a 30,000 troop "plus up" in the fiscal year 1997 budget request to meet those personnel requirements. It was denied.The Clinton administration began using the reserves as an operational force rather than as a strategic, war-winning reserve.The Bush administration continued to do this after 9/11, nudging Army end strength from around 480,000 in 2001 to approximately 515,000 today.
While that's arguably close to the 30,000 "missing" since 1996, it's a far cry from the forces on hand on Aug. 2, 1990, when Saddam Hussein's tanks were on the move. It's also proved to be inadequate to support Iraq, Afghanistan, peacekeeping operations and emergency contingencies"
Read the rest here. I recall when we had 300,000 soldiers in West Germany alone. It wasn't all that long ago.
I'm inclined to agree that DoD and USG resources can be much better allocated to permit a significant increase on boots on the ground; the tasks assigned to the new boots though, is the critical variable. Not the boots themselves.
Steve DeAngelis of ERMB has been posting from (and about) Kurdistan in Iraq the past week while on a visit for Enterra Solutions. Collectively, Steve's posts provide in- depth, on-site, analysis of Kurdistan's present and future prospects with an emphasis on regional and global economic integration, security and systemic resilience; here they are in chronological order:
It would be difficult for me to briefly summarize in a mere paragraph what DeAngelis has impressively written about Kurdistan being on the " Edge of Globalization" in roughly 6000 words. Therefore, I'm going to pick out a number of select excerpts that give the feel of the sum of Steve's observations, followed by my commentary:
"We then headed further west to the border crossing checkpoint with Turkey. We entered a small U.S. military post on the border and saw how this border is managed. Completely full trucks, stretching for miles into Turkey loaded with any product you can imagine are seeking to deliver their products to buyers in Iraq. However, on the opposite side of the border another story unfolds. There is a two week wait (yes, I said two weeks!) for trucks coming from Iraq to cross into Turkey. Along the road are makeshift housing facilities equipped with satellite dishes that drivers can use during their two-week wait along a dusty and dirty road that moves trucks from one holding pen to another as they creep up to the border inspection stations in Iraq and then to their equivalent inspection stations in Turkey....
I'd be curious to know how much of this Turkish inefficiency is explicable due to legitimate security issues with the PKK, how much is due to local corruption, understaffing and incompetence and how much is calculated policy on the part of Ankara to choke Kurdish economic growth.
....Virtually all of the trucks crossing back into Turkey from Iraq are completely empty. If there were robust manufacturing and other commercial business operations in Iraq, these trucks would be full of products to be sold in Turkey and to the rest of the world as they transit through Turkey’s ports. The only kind of trucks that do cross fully loaded are 3,000 gallon tankers filled with Iraqi oil destined for a Turkish power generation facility just over the border. The electricity produced by the plant is sold back to the Iraqi’s at western market rates. What this obviously says is that Iraq has the raw materials but does not possess the production capability to turn oil into electricity and as such pays a tremendous financial and strategic price for this lack of capacity. The net result of this border crossing reality is a Current Account trade imbalance of almost 100% between Turkey and Iraq"
Steve is correct that this ad hoc mercantilist trade scenario is problematic for Kurdistan. Historically, nations that are raw commodity exporters, regardless whether it was cotton, rubber, oil, strategic minerals or foodstuffs end up in a unfavorable position vis-a-vis value-added production trading partners or merchant capital states. This applies whether we are discussing Ptolemaic Egypt and ancient Rome or the Gulf states today and the Core.
One caveat on the negative trade balance issue for Kurdistan would be the financial flows of Black Globalization. Lacking orderly markets and effective governance, ordinary Iraqis rely upon the black market for access to desired luxuries as well as necessities such as medicines or spare parts for machinery. Controlling a long border with Turkey, Iran ans Syria gives Kurdish actors the ability to become middlemen in the flow of goods and money which does not show up on the legal balance sheet. Ultimately, Barzani and Talabani's regional Kurdish government must bring this trade above ground and normalize the economic relationships ( include taxes and customs duties).
"The Peshmerga welcomed U.S. forces and fought side-by-side with them in the effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It is estimated that there are between 80,000 and 100,000 active Peshmerga in Kurdistan. As the attached picture of a Peshmerga soldier taken near Dohuk shows (click to enlarge), the Peshmerga are a modern and well-equipped fighting force. The Peshmerga also allow women to serve. This tradition began when the Peshmerga were a guerilla force fighting to make the Kurdish area of Iraq a safe haven. Women also fought alongside coalition forces at the beginning of the current conflict. The attached picture shows female Peshmerga celebrating the fall of Kirkuk. "
The Peshmerga have been a coherent military force(s) far longer than I have been alive. Or Steve Deangelis for that matter. Or probably any of my readers. (The ferocious and mercurial Mustafa Barzani, sire of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish president and KPD chieftain, was once the darling of American conservatives who hated Henry Kissinger. And long before that, tribal lord Barzani was the protege of... Joseph Stalin ! History has made the Kurds the ultimate realists). Former CIA field operative in Kurdistan Robert Baer put the Peshmerga fighting credibly toe to toe with Saddam Hussein's best Republican Guard divisions during the 1990's. That ain't hay folks. Even in the 1990's decline the Republican Guard was heavily armed and well-trained, despite being hamstrung by Saddam's increasing paranoia.
The Peshmerga are perfectly suited for 4GW warfare as they combine tight military discipline, clan networks and strong primary loyalties with concurrent conventional and guerilla warfare skills. They also benefit from American patronage and a leadership that has proven unusually adept at presenting an image and engaging in politics in the international arena.
"Another new friend, Subbas Sircar, who is the regional vice president of AIG for the Middle east, Mediterranean and South Asia, had an interesting morning meeting with local bankers. They are seeking to expand and strengthen local banks as I discussed earlier. This group craved exposure to current international banking best practices, core banking information technology and know-how that would allow them to connect to the global banking industry as well as the training and education that would allow staff members to raise themselves up to a minimal level of maturity so they can foster commerce in their region. This experience with bankers in Sulaimaniyah and in Erbil, along with the telecommunications companies seeking the same capability in their industry, are proof positive of the need for Development-in-a-Box™."
I think Steve is identifying a critical tipping point for Kurdistan. Leapfrogging the bazaari mentality to create a financial structure that inspires enough confidence to attract and sustain legitimate foreign investment and diversify Kurdish reliance on Turkish capital and American aid would be a milestone. This probably would not mean " best practices" in the sense of Chase Manhattan so much as " best enough practices" relative to the region. " Good enough" is what gets a healthy level of local economic growth going. " Best" can wait for the day the Republic of Kurdistan applies for admission to the WTO and the EU.
Today, Kurdistan is a nation with a virtual state shepherding its interests. More than Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, the regional government in Kurdistan is less than Taiwan. But like Taipei, the Barzani-Talabani regional government seeks to negotiate or leverage de jure status and the full sovereignty of statehood over the virulent objections of a powerful neighbor and a nervous American patron. Economic development and integration with other global power centers ( EU, China, India, Japan, Russia) will be the key for the Kurds to create a scenario where Ankara can swallow - however bitterly, even with with ironclad security guarantees - Kurdish independence, because it will be in Turkey's economic best interests to do so.
One of the most pleasant aspects of blogging for me is receiving high quality feedback from readers or other bloggers. Oddly, it's impossible to predict which post is going to produce a high volume of comments or links so it is even nicer when a post that I feel is important strikes some readers in the same way. Even moreso as the feedback came from across the political spectrum
Art is a premier strategic thinking consultant with Cartegic Groupwho specializes in scenario planning. He doesn't post all that frequently, so I was very pleased to find that he had delved deeply into the topic of "Cognitive Maps of Future History":
"What's needed to turn the seeming surprise of today's urgent corporate decision into an historically rooted, deeply contextualized choice?
Exactly the same kind of context-setting, "map-making" capability and cross-functional engagement (deciders with academics) that Mark observes to be lacking in the higher echelons of government.
Cartegic does that with modular scenarios, wherein each scenario-building component references analogous situations faced by other industries, in other markets, with other technologies, by other clients and/or at different points in time. (Side note: the dot.com era, as most now appreciate, did not "re-invent" the rules of business; it merely made some business models more viable--and some less viable--than they had been before.)
With the view of the historian (whether geopolitical, industrial or technical) seemingly open-ended, highly uncertain, "new to the world" decisions without any apparent guideposts can be brought down to earth and seen as natural (if imperfect) analogues to things that have gone before.
As the saying goes: "there's nothing new under the sun".
From Nonpartisan, the guiding spirit of the up and coming, left of center, group blog ProgressiveHistorians in the "Friday Open Thread " Nonpartisan welcomed Stewart Brand's historical call to arms:
"At ProgressiveHistorians, we've been advocating this sort of direct policy action on the part of historians since our founding, but it's nice to see the liberal icon who founded theWhole Earth Networktaking up our cause. If there's one thing that unites everyone at this site, I think, it's their agreement with some portion of Brand's thesis. It's encouraging how many of us see the meaning in this logical extension of our profession."
"Policymaking, on the other hand, is not about asserting truths -- it is about influencing action. Therefore it is an inherently social and, dare I say, "complex" phenomenon that defies linear, reductionist logic. So it is perfectly understandable (even acceptable) for the policymaker to "cherry pick" conclusions that support their objectives (e.g., yellow cake from Nigeria; hostile naval action in the Gulf of Tonkin; the fictitious "Tenth Army" in WW II). This is why I believe so few historians are apt to get involved with policymaking."
"Many thanks for posting this interesting essay on a subject that deserves more attention than it usually receives among academic historians.
There are, of course, federal historians (of which I am one) who work in civil service positions (the so-called GS 170 series). There are others who work as archivists or in other history related job classifications. (When I worked as an employee of the National Archives, screening Richard Nixon's tapes to see what could be released, most of my colleagues had graduate degrees in history.)
( Note to aspiring history PhD's - make friends with a professional archivist or academic librarian *before* you begin your dissertation. The cites they can pull off the top of their heads on the most obscure topics imaginable are stunning. They are to historians what historians are to the general public)
It's rather nice to see the esoteric theory topics I kick around here in conjunction with sites like The Small Wars Council, DNI,Tom Barnettand John Robb'sblogs and the circle of related bloggers, are penetrating the mainstream press. Some recent examples:
This is a good thing. While there is a healthy tendency in our online alternative defense thinking community to disagree, at times caustically, there is a shared consensus that the current structure, strategy and appropriations process for America's armed forces are ill-suited to the challenges facing the United States.
Change is required and change will only come when the ideas that we have been batting around on blogs, discussion boards and ( in a few instances ) books, penetrates the mass media and gets into the minds of the political class and the voting public. Maximizing attention on the ideas, rather than being distracted by infighting or loose cannon comments, is the route we need to go.
"Like Kagan, H.R. McMaster holds a PhD in military history, earning his from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Col. McMaster was commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in northwestern Iraq from 2005-2006 and is currently an advisor to the head of US forces, General David Petraeus. McMaster belongs to a group of "warrior intellectuals" who, according to Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, "make up one of the most selective clubs in the world: military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq."
McMaster authored the highly acclaimed book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, which charges that President Johnson misled the country into war and pressured the nation's military leaders to lie about. The book is highly influential among current military officers and is required reading at West Point.
Both Kagan and McMaster have taught history at West Point. The former was a Professor at the US Military Academy from 1995 to 2005, while the latter taught there from 1994 to 1996."
Traditionally, relatively few historians have been deeply engaged in shaping current policy or political affairs. Bernard Lewis, the eminent Mideast scholar, is frequently cited as having been a deep influence on the Bush administration policy makers who favored the invasion of Iraq. Sean Wilentzwas a vigorous defender of President Clinton during impeachment hearings and leading historians likeRichard Pipeshave sometimes quietly served tours of duty on the staff of the National Security Council. Few have ever gone so far as did the recently deceased Arthur Schlesinger, jr. and become members of a President's White House inner circle. Most historians though, keep their distance from current policy.
The acclaimed scientist, environmentalist and futurist Stewart Brand, whose ideas presaged the internet-based information revolution has called on historians to practice "Applied History"
"All historians understand that they must never, ever talk about the future. Their discipline requires that they deal in facts, and the future doesn't have any yet. A solid theory of history might be able to embrace the future, but all such theories have been discredited. Thus historians do not offer, and are seldom invited, to take part in shaping public policy. They leave that to economists.
But discussions among policy makers always invoke history anyway, usually in simplistic form. "Munich" and "Vietnam," devoid of detail or nuance, stand for certain kinds of failure. "Marshall Plan" and "Man on the Moon" stand for certain kinds of success. Such totemic invocation of history is the opposite of learning from history, and Santayana's warning continues in force, that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
A dangerous thought: What if public policy makers have an obligation to engage historians, and historians have an obligation to try to help?
And instead of just retailing advice, go generic. Historians could set about developing a rigorous sub-discipline called "Applied History."
There is only one significant book on the subject, published in 1988. Thinking In Time: The Uses of Hustory for Decision Makers was written by the late Richard Neustadt and Ernest May, who long taught a course on the subject at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. (A course called "Reasoning from History" is currently taught there by Alexander Keyssar.)
Done wrong, Applied History could paralyze public decision making and corrupt the practice of history — that's the danger. But done right, Applied History could make decision making and policy far more sophisticated and adaptive, and it could invest the study of history with the level of consequence it deserves."
Brand has a solid point. Historians have a useful skill-set to offer policy makers. As a discipline, history requires the cultivation of a very large cognitive map that serves both as a knowledge base as well as a starting point for recognizing patterns and analogies. Historians spend much time assessing the validity and reliability of data and discerning cause and effect. Like scientists ( perhaps the only time when historians are like scientists), historians attempt to isolate causation from mere correlation. When policy makers have to deal with uncertainty, historians can reduce that uncertainty at the margins by providing the context in which to make logical extrapolations or to apply the specfic skills of psychologists, economists, game theorists or other specialized analysts.
Historians, of course, are just as liable to bias as anyone else, so no pretensions to omniscience should be aired. However, all things being equal, historians at least can provide a better-informed bias than if their contribution were absent from the policy process.
"The money quotes, in our opinion, for understanding the future of the disconnect between talent and management: “Heh,” I joked. “I bet the first time my boss finds out where I am is when he sees my photo on the front page of his own website.” and But the best punch line was that … he didn’t find out when it was on the front-page of his website – he found out when I posted that fact to my blog! "
Hey Tom ! Isn't that what happened to you at NWC ???
"How did Watman know I was conducting my secret negotiations? My dean followed it obsessively on my blog after numerous professors told him they were fans of it and he became concerned I was growing beyond his control. When I was confronted by charges of this conspiracy, I replied, "Yes, we were all in it together, me and my tens of thousands of readers." Clearly, I would have made a terrible spy."
It's not so much that Bin Laden is a dope, clearly he isn't; it's that he and his insular cohorts have no real grasp on America, beyond what they read on the internet and get from American Islamists in al Qaida ( who converted because they were alientated and rootless individuals, seeking a lodestone by which to organize their lives). Bin Laden understands the U.S. almost as poorly as Bush officials understand intra-Islamic divisions.
Carl Schmittwas one of those brilliant German intellectuals who, in the anti-democratic traditions of elite European authoritarianism and illiberalism, lent their prestige and moral authority to Fascism. Like his contemporary, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, Schmitt became an enthusiastic Nazi and an academic bully. Unlike Heidegger, who in his malice or dotage fellated the radical New Left, Schmitt never recanted his National Socialist past.
That being said, Schmitt's deep learning and insights about the state, the struggle for power and war should not be ignored lightly because of his wicked politics any more than we should eschew learning from the writings of Mao ZeDong, Franz Fanon or Sayyid Qtub. Only a fool ignores the ideas of the enemy.
They have reinvigorated my interest in a currently moribund collaborative project with Dr.Von (hmmm...his blog seems a touch moribund as well- political office must be eating up all his time LOL!) Perhaps, if I can get some serious momentum going on it this summer, he'll hop back on the bandwagon.
IT'S A RARE AUTHOR OF MIL BOOKS WHO CAN BRING THOMAS BARNETT AND WILLIAM LIND TOGETHER
John succeeded though, garnering thoughtful reviews of Brave New Warfrom Dr. Barnettand " The Father of Fourth Generation Warfare", William Lind, both of whom lauded Robb's work ( albeit from starkly different perspectives).
After surveying the evolution of 4GW, Hammes errs on the side of caution while speculating on the possible form that 5GW might take. Like John Robb, Hammes sees the potential for superempowered groups motivated by primary loyalties; as with Fred Ikle, the proliferation of potentially deadly dual-use technologies figures significantly. Like Chet Richardsand Peter Singer, Hammes is interested in the growing role of PMCs.
In terms of alternative defense thought, Hammes has put up a solid, consensus-building, article. I think however, we may be reaching the stage where we need to try and envision the unexpected, in terms of the evolution of 5GW. Extrapolating linear trajectories from current military practice has been a fertile field for 4GW theory and for visualizing 5GW . I worry however that we ("we" meaning broadly all those think and care about such matters) are unwisely crafting a box of expectations for ourselves. Narrowly framing our premises inevitably creates a lacuna of inattention to other variables.
Perhaps, we need to consider a stage of scenario exercises mixing military theorists with experts from radically different domains, perhaps alongside some horizontal thinking visionaries, futurists and science fiction writers
*ARHERRING*has extended commentary on Hammes at Dreaming 5GW ( Thank you for the correction, Curtis. Apologies to Arherring for my mistake).
I am no engineer or pilot, so I'm willing to be corrected by those with expertise, but it occurs to me that a large part of the problem is that our passenger aircraft have deliberately been designed to be unsurvivable, because this saves pennies on the dollar, rather than to be resilient. Planes are not always by nature fragile; B-24's during WWII or the more modern A-10's could take devastating hits and remain airborne.
Much like not highjacker-proofing the doors of the cabin to protect the pilots, I suspect there are many known elements that could be engineered into passenger aircraft design that corporate executives and FAA officials intentionally choose not to require. Then there measures yet undiscovered, some possibly inexpensive or cost-reducing, that we will not find until we try.
I'm not advocating flying around in Abrams tanks with wings but in putting a greater effort toward thinking in terms of resilience when we sit down at drawing boards, instead of lamenting what was not done, after the fact.
" The potential implications of this study are of interest not only to those that must manage the effective instruction and mentoring of the next generationof analysts and officers, but there are tantalizing suggestions that similar dynamics may be at work when finding a successful briefer. Given that most decision-makers tend to be more extroverted, and outcomes oriented, the tendency of these individuals to rely more heavily on rapid conclusions drawn from initial thin slice impressions weighed against their own knowledge and experiences, is likely to be even more pronounced than the average student." Educators have a concept among themselves, known as " the teachable moment" that is somewhat difficult for most outsiders to grasp (though sucessful salesmen, preachers, orators and litigators may recognize it). There is a particular place in time when a presenter of memes and the entirety of the audience to which they speak can meet and, for an instant, merge. Perhaps an accurate descriptor might be " synchronized cognition". In any event, like a wave, where there had once been darkness there is light; where ignorance had ruled, suddenly, insight reigns transcendent.
These moments are rare though accomplished instructors have a record of igniting them. Some became legendary life-influencers. Carroll Quiqley'slectures at Georgetownon the nature and historical legacy of Platonic philosophy, the classroom antics of uber-physicist Richard Feynman , Chicago philosopher Allan Bloom'smaster-mentoring of his students all were directed to a larger point and yielded ripples of effect far beyond their classrooms that have outlived these scholars themselves.
The IC is of course, not quite the same thing as an academic setting but the cognitive aspect is not unrelated and the stakes are far higher as briefers deal with top level policy maker "customers" who themselves, often, have an impressive store of experience and analytical capabilities of their own ( and very little time available to engage with the briefer). It was probably a fairly nerve-wracking experience for a CIA analyst to have to brief Secretary of State George Schultzwith unwelcome news. Or aZbigniew Brzezinskior any number the more formidible personalities of the Cold War era. Yet at times, briefs created historical tipping points such as the NIE that predicted a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, IMINT analysis of U-2's flying over Cuba and most famously,George Kennan's "Long Telegram" which was less a diplomatic cable than an analytical tour de force by the leading Soviet expert of the Foreign Service.
Briefing has it's teaching aspects and if briefs of unimpeachably solid intelligence are not creating the impact that the substance merits, then it might be time to study techniques of delivery instead of writing off poor results and a lack of influence to "politics" alone.
Normally, I do this on Sunday but whenever I have a "surge" at work, there seems to be ten million things to post about, none of which I have time to do. These blogfriends have great material up that I'd like to highlight in the interim.
Tech guru Ross Mayfieldhas an important post "Social Technographics and a Power Law of Participation" that would be of interest to most serious bloggers. In it, Mayfield analyzes the results of a demographic study that examined the nature and degree of interactivity of participation on the Web, displayed in the visual hierarchy below:
An excerpt: "I still contend that a more ideal community is scale free in structure. What I wonder is if you could benchmark these levels of engagement against a power law -- not just to test Forrester's findings, but to help a given company realize -- "we are under-weighted in critics!" LOL! I agree. Try to love your critics. Even when they are dead wrong they are the ( sometimes irritating) guides toward truth.
On a personal level, I am a creator and a critic foremost, followed closely by spectator. I dip my toe in being a joiner and I am not a collector at all. I'm not sure why this is. I had a bloglines account and then a blogbridge aggregator and both fell into immediate disuse. I don't subscribe to a single RSS feed and I've been told that mine malfunctions a lot. I don't do digg or that delicious thing and I understand neither. Recently, eerie, the mistress of the group blog Aqoul indicated she kept track of about 240 blogs(!). My hat is off to her, I can't muster that kind of interest.
When I was in my twenties, I studied a fair amount of economics and economic history. One concept that stuck with me was that of "Countervailing Power" which came from the book American Capitalism, by the famous liberal Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith. While Galbraith was interested in how bargaining could be leveraged by non-economic factors, "countervailing power" has great utility as a concept in terms of disciplining the mind to explore contraindicative examples. This is one reason I tend to feature a range of views here that I sometimes agree with only in part, just a little bit or even not at all. Arguments are improved only by competition and criticism, not from being sheltered from them.
In that spirit, Shane Deichman of IATGR offered a robust critique of the article by LTC Paul Yingling and my question regarding military reform in my comment section; it was too good to leave there. Deichman himself has considerable military experience with the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Joint Forces Command and I reproduce his insightful remarks below:
"Before we consider "reforming" the system, I think it is useful to first note some facts about our system. For more than 30 years (nearly an entire career for some), we've had an all-volunteer military with high standards for admission. America has probably invested more proportionally in its military (Leviathan) than any other all-volunteer military force in history (this is conjecture on my part, based on what Tom Barnett's mentor Art Cebrowski would call "Data Free Analysis" :-).
So, with an all-volunteer force in a $10T+/yr GDP nation with a low (<5%) unemployment rate, you get some interesting dynamics. "Careerism" is one of them.
I am not a Personnelist, but I know of many who have written extensively on the concept (most notably my good friend Don Vandergriff, a fine Tanker who was outspoken and revered by his troops but whose career was deep-sixed by a vindictive CO). Don has written much on personnel reform, training and the "culture wars" in the DoD; a link to one of his monographs on D-N-I is here:
Without getting too long-winded, I believe that there is a fundamental lack of accountability within the Pentagon. Not only in budgets (ask anyone in OSD if they REALLY know where all the money goes; they don't), but also in performance.
Paul's idea of implementing 360-degree profiles merits consideration (I did a couple myself as a middle manager at U.S. Joint Forces Command, and commented on several others). That might be a good place to start enhancing a culture of accountability within all ranks.
But there is no "silver bullet", especially in a system as complex as the U.S. military. I think Paul would have been more effective had he focused on the civilian leaders' roles in the "failures" he cites.
Fundamentally, I believe the system is sound. Every soldier/sailor/airman/Marine and guardsman -- enlisted, NCO, and officer alike -- as well as every civilian employee of the U.S. Government swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign AND DOMESTIC. And we all took that oath freely, without any mental reservation nor purpose of evasion.
Accountability begins inside. And sometimes we all need to be reminded of our promises.
It's a good thing that we have an all-volunteer military. And it's a good thing that we have civilian oversight of the warmaking capacity of our nation. And it's a good thing that we have a Legislative Branch that holds the purse strings. Separation of powers works.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution deliberately split the powers across the branches of the government to protect our individual freedoms. We wanted weak government in the early days of the Republic, and I submit that we still want it today.
As a final bit of "Data Free Analysis", consider the fate that befell the Roman empire after the creation of the Praetorian Guard. The "new elite" lost touch with their roots, with their sense of personal integrity and service to the republic. And that may be the direction that our own Republic goes if we continue to indulge a paucity of personal accountability within ALL ranks of leadership. "
Well said. I still believe Yingling has put his finger on a systemic problem but Shane's caveats are the proper kind of countervailing considerations in seeking a solution. ADDENDUM: