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A Very Short, but Sweet Recommended Reading

May 29th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

I’m still alive. Work and other commitments have been overwhelming the past month or so, but Charles Cameron has ably been holding down the fort.

A trio of highly recommended posts:

 

                                                                                                                       INTRODUCTION
Last fall I wrote a popular series of posts outlining the history of the eight decade war waged between the ChineseHan Dynasty and the Xiongnu (old style: Hsiung-nu) nomadic empire. My posts were a response to a prominent American strategic theorist who misunderstood the history of the Han-Xiongnu relations in his search for enduring patterns in China’s military and diplomatic history relevant to China’s foreign relations today. Unfortunately, this experience was not a singular event. It seems that every month some new book or article is published pushing a misleading version of Chinese history or a strained interpretation of classical Chinese political thought to shore up a new theory of what makes China tick. I could devote this blog solely to refuting these poorly sourced theories and never run out of things to write about. Despite these errors, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who pen them. They face a nearly insurmountable problem: many of the thinkers, strategists, and conflicts most important to the Chinese strategic tradition have next to nothing in English written about them. Critical works have yet to be translated, translated works have yet to be analyzed, histories of important wars and figures have yet to be written, and what has been written is often scattered in obscure books and journals accessible only to experienced Sinologists. English speakers simply do not have access to the information they need to study the Chinese strategic tradition.

This needs to change. It needs to change both for the sake of strategic theory as a discipline, which has essentially ignored the insights and observations gleaned from 3,000 years of study and experience, and for understanding the intentions of our rivals and allies in East Asia, who draw upon this tradition to decide their own political and strategic priorities. But in order to make these necessary changes we need a clear picture of where we are now. This essay attempts to provide this picture. It is not a bibliographic essay per say, for I will freely admit that I have not read all of the books and research articles I will mention below. Some titles I have only read in part; others I have not read at all. However, the goal of this post is not to review the results and conclusions of all these works, but to outline where research has been done and where more research is needed. For this purpose awareness suffices when more intimate knowledge is lacking.

Mastering 3,000 years of intellectual and military history is a gargantuan task. But in order to find the answers to some of the questions inherent in the study the Chinese strategic tradition, it must be done. I make no such claim of mastery. My expertise is uneven; I am most familiar with both the strategic thought and the actual events of the China’s classical period (Warring States through the Three Kingdoms era, c. 475 BC-280 AD), and am probably weakest when discussing the first two decades of the 20th century, a time critical to the development of the tradition but difficult to master because of the number of political actors involved, the complexity of their relations, and the great intellectual variety of the era. Despite these weaknesses I know enough to chart out the broad outlines of current scholarship, a charge most specialists in strategic theory cannot attempt and most Sinologists would not desire. These biases and proclivities have kept the two disciplines far apart; there is an urgent need for these two scholarly bodies to draw together. If this essay–which is addressed primarily to the first group but should be accessible to second–helps in some small way to bring this to pass I shall consider it a grand success.  [….]

Our wars since WWII

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought non-trinitarian (aka 4th generation) warfare to maturity. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again.

It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Only after the failure of our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq did the essential aspect of this new era become known, as described in Chapter 6.2 of Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (2006).

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed. […]

Octavian Manea – The Need to Understand and Conduct UW ( SWJ Interview with Colonel David Maxwell)

Interview with retired US Army Special Forces Colonel David S. Maxwell.

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.

SWJ: Insurgency, counterinsurgency, foreign internal defense, terrorism, counterterrorism – does this spectrum of possibilities fall within the larger framework of Unconventional Warfare (UW)?

David Maxwell: Terminology is important. But since 9/11 we have embarked on an effort to rename wars, rename conflicts and come up with new doctrinal terms trying to explain old things in new ways. As Clausewitz said before you embark on a war you first must understand the war. But in America there is this tendency to first must name the war and in order to understand the war we have to name the doctrinal terms that we are going to use. We spend more time on naming than on understanding. When it comes to counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism I subscribe to Collin Gray who said that the strategist needs to understand his subject, which is not COIN, not CT, but strategy for its particular challenge in COIN or CT. I think we spend more time on arguing about COIN and CT than we really do trying to devise effective strategies to protect our national interests some of which includes either defending against terrorism through CT or helping others to conduct counterinsurgency which I still think is a very necessary capability that our military needs. Although the way we have conducted counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan must be thoroughly examined, whether this is the right or wrong way.

At the same time, seeing everything through only the lens of terrorism really misses the point. Looking at everything as a terrorism problem has hurt our strategic thinking. 9-11 was a tragic event and there are people out there that are conducting terrorist acts, trying to harm the West, the US, and western interests. But terrorism is not the only problem. Naming Al Qaeda a terrorist organization is correct from a legal point of view, but what they are really conducting is more of a form of unconventional warfare. UW is a form of warfare that has been conducted for generations and for millennia. It is part of the nature of war. The phenomena we are really facing emanates from a fundamental aspect political-military operations and that is revolution, resistance, and insurgency.  Clausewitz described the paradoxical trinity and UW falls within it. But we have this tendency trying to put everything into a box – terrorism, insurgency, hybrid conflict, conventional war, nuclear war – when we really need to look at and understand the strategies of the organizations and nation-states conducting warfare. I fear that we don’t spend enough time understanding strategy. Do we understand the strategy of ISIL, of Boko Haram? We have to do a better job of thinking strategically. And one weakness is our inability to observe and understand the strategies of our opponents. [….]

Hopefully, I will be returning to a more normal blogging schedule in a couple of weeks. I have several book reviews and other posts waiting on the backburner to either finish or write as soon as time permits

Reuters + Daily Beast + Nasrallah = now I got it

May 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — piecing together an understanding – Shi’ite militia, Iraq ]
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Reuters reported today:

Pentagon slams “unhelpful” Iraqi code name for Ramadi offensive
WASHINGTON

May 26 The Pentagon on Tuesday said it was “unhelpful” for Iraq’s Shi’ite militia to have chosen an openly sectarian code name for the operation to retake the city Ramadi and added that, in the U.S. view, the full-on offensive had yet to begin.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren also emphasized that problems leading to last week’s Iraqi military withdrawal from the city of Ramadi included “both low morale amongst the troops” as well as problems within the Iraqi military command structure.

“There are many factors that caused Iraqi security forces to withdraw from Ramadi,” Warren said, noting that Iraqi forces “vastly outnumbered their enemy yet they chose to withdraw.” (Reporting by Phillip Stewart; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

That doesn’t tell us what the “unhelpful name” in question is.

**

According to The Daily Beast, the “code name” is “Labaik Ya Hussein”:

The Iraqi government said it launched a campaign Tuesday to take back Anbar province from ISIS, two weeks after it captured the provincial capital of Ramadi. The campaign features a leading role for Iran-backed Shiite militias, raising fears that such an openly Shiite-led push threatens to exacerbate sectarian tensions in majority-Sunni Anbar. A spokesman for the Iran-backed militias even said the operation’s codename will be Labaik Ya Hussein —- a nod to the Shiite saint. “The Labaik Ya Hussein operation is led by the Hashid Shaabi in cooperation and coordination with the armed forces there,” he said. “We believe that liberating Ramadi will not take long.”

So that’s “a nod to the Shiite saint” eh?

**

Nasrallah expands on the meaning of that “nod” in a fiery clip from 2009.

Ooh. Oh. Ah.

Youssef Rakha on ISIS, Hollywood, Islam

May 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — stumbling across a new writer, and taking both note and notes ]
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I recently came across the Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha. He asked me to “add him to my network” on LinkedIn, I checked his profile out and discovered he was a highly respected novelist, we exchanged a few words, his novel The Book of the Sultan’s Seal arrived from Amazon today, and sometime in the last 48 hours I ran across his LA Review of Books article, ISIS, Hollywood, Islam — which contained the phrase:

striking how similar al-Hayat Media Center’s logo is to Al Jazeera’s

Al-Hayat is the outfit that publishes the Islamic State megazine, Dabiq.

**

So I did a due-diligence DoubleQuote:

SPEC DQ logos al jazeera al hayat

And as far as one who does not read Arabic can see, I see.

Two questions arising: correlation or causation? imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

**

Also of particular interest in Youssef Rakha’s LARB piece, this fierce horror-film-critique of the IS film, A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross — the one with the beheading of Coptic Christians by the sea:

I noted that the video is so cinematic it comes across as make-believe. I noted that the Copts were historically against the Crusades. I noted that the ISIS fighters in the film are too herculean to be Middle Eastern, that their victims are the blue-collar breadwinners of indigent families in underdeveloped provinces of my country, guilty of nothing more than the religion of their birth. I noted that they ended up dying where they had gone to — economically — survive.

But I have given you a sip and a taste — read the whole thingthe man can think! the man can write!

Jabhat al-Nusra and IS: same hadith, same message

May 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — just a curiosity ]
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SPEC DQ same hadith JN IS

The hadith quoted in the upper panel is from p. 11 of the new issue of Dabiq, the magazine of the Islamic State.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi captions the hadith in the lower panel:

“When a son of Adam dies, his deeds are cut off except for three things: ongoing charity, knowledge from which one can obtain benefit, or the supplication of a righteous son for him.” [hadith on the authority of Abu Huraira]

His post attributes it, along with many other examples, to Jabhat al-Nusra.

**

Sources:

  • Islamic State, Dabiq issue 9, p 11
  • Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Archive of Jabhat al-Nusra Billboards and Murals
  • Groundhog Day in Nietzsche and Hadith

    May 22nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — food for thought, not an endorsement of film, philosopher or hadith ]
    .

    This pair of quotes came together in my recent reading:

    SPEC DQ format

    DoubleQuote!!

    **

    Sources:

  • Ferdinando Buscema, Use playing cards to remind yourself that you are going to die
  • Sahih Bukhari, Jihad in the Hadith

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