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Downward Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

Friday, October 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a thoroughly impertinent riff on that saying of von Moltke ]
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Hw many places could this sentence be applied to?

But the latest attacks, which appear to have been several months in the preparation, threaten to draw the entire population into a downward spiral of deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns by the security forces and toxic relations between local communities and the authorities.

It happens to come from an article about the Rohingya, Richard Horsey‘s Reality bites for Aung San Suu Kyi amid surging violence from the Nikkei Asian Review.

But how many other places might such a sentence apply to?

I ask this because we tend to focus on certain words in a sentence like this: attacks, preparation, threat, population, deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns, security forces, local communities, the authorities. Those are the forces in play, if you will. But their play follows the rules of a certain game, and that game is also named in the sentence.

Its name is downward spiral.

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vatican-spiralSpiral staircase, the Vatican, Rome

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What I want to suggests that we might learn a great deal if we shifted our attention from attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest, and thought about spiral.

Spiral is the form that the attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest — here and in those other places — takes, and as such it’s an archetype that underlies them, not just among the Rohingya, their Buddhist compatriots and Aung San Suu Kyi, but across the globe and through time itself.

Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

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If, as I suppose, von Moltke can be translated as saying, “no operating concept survives contact,” it would seem we may need to conceptualize contact, ie the complexity of relations, rather than operations, which are far more focused on us — how we “will prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars” — than on conflict and wars, both of which are minimally two-party affairs.

And I’m not trying to say anything so terribly new here, just to give fresh phrasing to Paul Van Riper‘s comment:

What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.

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sintra-castle-spiral-credit-joe-daniel-price-740x492Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal, credit Joe Daniel Price

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The sentence immediately preceding the one from the Nikkei Asia article I quoted above will hopefully illuminate hope in a pretty desperate situation:

The majority of this community and its religious leaders continue to eschew violence.

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Image sources:

  • Both spiral images from the Top 10 Spiral Architecture page
  • The learning is looped

    Thursday, January 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Ts learn from CTs learn from Ts learn fro.. ]
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    DQ Stealing
    btw, this is a special format doublequote, yeah?

    **

    Brachman and McCants note in the conclusion to Stealing Al-Qa’ida’s Playbook:

    Jihadi ideologues closely follow Western thought and U.S. strategic planning for insights that can be used against the United States and its allies.

    and acknowledge their own borrowing, not only in the title, but also in the earliest pages of their work:

    Although we would like to claim credit for the approach described in the introductory paragraphs, it is modeled after a similar approach used by Abu Bakr Naji, a rising star in the jihadi movement. In his 2004 work, The Management of Barbarism,* Naji urges fellow jihadis to study Western works on management, military principles, political theory, and sociology in order to borrow strategies that have worked for Western governments and to discern their weaknesses.

    **

    And here’s Naji, in The Management of Savagery (which Will McCants translated) on borrowing from non-Muslim sources of military expertise:

    Wisdom is the goal of the believer, and even if we generally follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) and his Companions (may God be pleased with them), we only accept that our policies in any jihadi action are Sharia policies, unless the Sharia permits us to use the plans and military principles of non-Muslims in which there is no sin.

    [ .. ]

    Following the time-tested principles of military combat will shorten for us the long years in which we might suffer the corrupting influences of rigidity and random behavior. Truly, abandoning random behavior and adopting intellectual, academic methods and experimental military principles and actually implementing them and applying military science will facilitate our achievement of the goals without complication and enable us to develop and improve the execution (of our plans), by the permission of God.

    **

    In practice, the loop is in fact a spiral, with each side learning, both on the battleield and on the mindfield, from the other.

    The Brachman / McCants paper was published in 2006. I only learned of the Arabic translation today. For those interested in OODA loop timing, that looks to be an almost decade-long time-lapse, eh?

    Or am I the slow one?


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