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Manea interviews H.R. McMaster at SWJ

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Octavian  Manea sits down with historian, military futurist and veteran of 73 Easting and Tal Afar,  LTG H.R. McMaster at Small Wars Journal.

Future Missions Through the Lens of the US Army Operating Concept

Q: Let’s revisit your Tal Afar experience with an eye to the future operational environment where (mega)cities, urban slums and operating among populations is becoming the new normal. What are some of the personal lessons that you see relevant for this not very distant future?

A: Most importantly, we need to generate, develop and maintain understanding in these very complex environments. We need to understand our enemies and we also need to understand the populations among whom these wars are fought. We need to understand the political, tribal, religious, ethnic dynamics that often affect the missions and the security situation. The cultural, social, economic, religious, and historical considerations that comprise the human aspects of war must inform wartime planning as well as our preparation for future armed conflict. In Iraq in particular and across the Middle East if we look at Daesh; they are able to use violence and propaganda to excite historical grievances, magnify sectarian identities, and pit communities against each other and then portray themselves as patrons and protectors of an aggrieved party. Once they are in those communities they establish control mainly through intimidation and coercion, and also through a broad range of other incentives and disincentives they apply among the populations. They use that control of territory to mobilize resources in order to perpetuate and accelerate the conflict usually by committing mass murder and mass rape and mass child abuse.  Daesh directs violence against the other community in order to incite retribution which then fuels the cycle of violence. The cycle of violence creates chaos and Daesh use that chaos to establish control over territory, populations and resources. We need to understand the fear, the sense of honor, and the interests of communities that are party to that conflict.  What Daesh does is they essentially use ignorance to perpetuate hatred, hatred to justify violence, and violence prevents education and perpetuates ignorance, and it becomes a cycle. This is perfect for them. They will have a population that is undereducated, largely illiterate, and susceptible to demagoguery. The cycle has to be broken by defeating the enemy physically and then by consolidating gains to protect populations and territory. What it is equally important is to consolidate gains psychologically by addressing the fear, sense of honor and interests of the communities that are in conflict. This was what was critical in Iraq especially between 2007 and 2010 where we were able, along with Iraqi leaders, to forge what turned out to be a very fragile political accommodation between the parties in the sectarian civil war. I think it is clear in retrospect that we didn’t do enough to sustain that fragile political accommodation and as a result there was a return of large scale communal violence that set the conditions for the ISIL/Daesh to establish control over territory in Iraq and create this horrible situation. The lesson is that we have to understand these complex environments and we have to address what is driving the conflict.  And ultimately what is necessary is mediation between the parties that were in conflict to remove support among the population for murderers and extremists on all sides of the conflict.

 [Emphasis in the original]
Read the rest here.

Njdeh Asisian on Iranian eschatology at SWJ

Monday, May 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — one selection from a much longer piece, followed by a CAVEAT LECTOR in red and a note about the Houthis ]

Imam Mahdi will capture minds
Mahdist image from a Haroun Yaha fansite in Pakistan — representing a Sunni variant eschatology in the school of Bediüzzaman Said Nursî, see Yahya’s official website, also an academic analysis of Yahya’s work at The Mahdi wears Armani — a distant cousin to the Shia and Sunni doctrines below


Okay, I posted the image above for its delightful AE Van Vogt science-fictionality. Now to the serious topic at hand.

Here’s the “Globalization and Eschatological-Apocalyptical Approach” section of Njdeh Asisian, Shia Iran and Effects of Globalization on State and Religion: The Beginning of Post-Islamism Era:

Eschatological-Apocalyptical analysts, without paying attention to what is going on within their own backyard, believe that the globalization provides tremendous opportunities for the expansion of the global reach of Shia Islam. The other side of this statement is also true when you read carefully between lines. The same Eschatological-Apocalyptical analysts believe that globalization negatively impacts the Islamic Republic because of its influence on Iranian civic society and the continuous weakening of the religious component of the Republic (Shia Islam). In other words, the Islamic Republic’s dilemma cannot be solved unless there is a global Islamic state where secularization and liberal-democratic forces have been defeated by the universal Islamization of the international political system. Consequently, the Islamization of global political system will also put an end to the liberal tendencies of Iranian people. The best possible model for such a scenario is the Soviet Union. With collapse of the Soviet Union, the Marxist-Leninist parties and even countries have collapsed, one after another, due to the failure of ideological legitimacy.

I will examine two types of “eschatological- apocalyptical” approaches to globalization. The first type is the realist approach in which adherents sought to prepare the ground for the political manipulation of the world order. The second type is to consider the globalization process through the Shia Eschatology.

The realist approach searches to find ways and means to establish a structure and thought process which will eventually bring into power an Islamic political and legal system as a dominant power on the world stage. In the realist opinion, the Iranian revolution of 1979 should serve as a serious basis of a new beginning for globalization of Islam as a major power broker in the international political system. They mentioned that, “From the beginning, the nature of revolution and the Islamic movement was based on the culture and return back to our original identity which was based on the religious doctrine. Therefore, we witnessed a fact that the Iranian Islamic Republic’s constitution highly praised the goal of having a global government which governs by Monotheism and hoists the banner of ‘There is no God but Allah’ in all over the world.”

At the same time, the realists promote the nature of global mission of the Iranian Revolution through the Iranian Constitution of 1979. In the constitution, religious identity and values are held in the highest possible place with the promise, made in the constitution, to assist all oppressed people around the world. They have envisioned the Iranian political system as the model for the future global Islamic order. At the same time, these Muslim intellectuals believe that they can offer something more important for human society, without rejecting the very essence of the globalization and technological advancements of our era.

The first step of the realists is to establish the legal framework for the future world order. They consider Islam as the engine of change on the global level and they mentioned that “now days the world turns to religion to fill the spiritual and emotional gaps; further, the world came to acknowledge that liberal-democracy is not useful and it tries to improve the situation through spirituality. This new trend produces a significant opportunity for different religions, and especially for Islam, in order to provide the masses with true teachings.” Further, Shia Jurisprudence is one that can bring serious and positive changes in human life because it has a global nature and it can implement it all over the word; therefore, “One of the distinguished features of Islam that makes it more applicable to the phenomenon of globalization is the existence of political Shia Jurisprudence. The special trait of political Shia Jurisprudence is that it turned Islam [automatically global]; Islam is a pro-active religion that is capable of answering all challenges that human beings can face.”

Besides the applicability of Islamic Jurisprudence at the global level which is theorized by religious scholars, Islamic Jurisprudence must be supported by sets of values that could be easily understandable and approachable by the masses. Therefore, the “Global Quranic Order is a desired system that had been promised to human beings. This system has structure and traits that is far different from the others. Creation of this Islamic Utopia is not possible unless [you] understand and recognize its peculiarities.” The most important pillars of this Islamic Utopia are “Global Quranic Order,” such as “Sovereignty belongs to God, Jurisprudence and Leadership, Unified Muslim Nation [Ummah], Unified Law [Fiqh], Justice, Rationality, Spirituality, Peace and Security, Good Life, Unified Language (Arabic as a Quranic language).”

The theory of Islamic globalization, as described above, is a world that its advocates want to create. They compare and contrast the current globalization with their own Quranic Order. “They do not reject the current technological advancement nor do they reject urbanization, industrialization, development, capitalism, science, and technology, and all that these imply for the organization of society. In this sense they are not anti-modern. They accept modernization, and the inevitability of science and technology and the changes in life-style they bring. However, and most importantly, they are unreceptive to the ideas that they say are Westernized.” They argued that the current Western-style globalization is based on false teachings. Therefore, globalization is taking the wrong route. “In the Alavi culture, technology is used for better living and the perfection of human beings and whatever improves the technological advancement is acceptable. In contrast, in the Western culture the technological advancements are used for profit and the capitalist culture is based on liberalism, individualism and hedonism which concluded in plunder of 99 percent of the population in favor of the 1 percent.”

The above mentioned Muslim scholars are providing theoretical grounds for an Islamic global government or empire. Naturally, these Muslim scholars resent the ideological part of globalization, where the liberal-democratic values have a dominant position in the global system. In other words, they want the technological advancements of the West without the ideology that is attached to it. A question arises here concerning what type of socio-economic system or platform they propose in order to keep up with the technological and economic creativity at the global level. It is obvious that no one can govern the world with just good wishes and ideology.

I move now from the realist theorists, who sought to establish an earthly Islamic Utopia, to the theocratic approach of Islamic globalization, where Shia Eschatology will change the world order beyond repair and establish a heavenly government on earth through the reappearance of the “12th Imam, Mehdi.”

In some Iranian writings regarding globalization and Islam, we see analysis that is a mixture of globalization theories, futurism, and the Shia Eschatology about the Mehdi. Muslims, regardless of whether they are Shia or Sunni, believe that one day the savior of the world or Lord of Ages, Mehdi, will appear in order to reestablish the justice, global governance and expanse of Islam all over the world.

In the Iranian case, we see the Shia version of Mehdi is somehow different from what Sunnis believe. The authors of these articles that call themselves “Mahdavist” have no faith in the current globalization processes. These authors are futuristic; they are analyzing international relations, geopolitics, socio-political relations, and economics of a society that does not exist, at least not yet. (Note: the other importance of this literature lies in the fact that the Iranian regime, due to its religious nature, cannot discount the religious belief system from interfering with what Kissinger called a Westphalian state that has specific commitments against the international community. However, many scholars and pundits do not look at the events in the Middle East through the lens of the religious belief system. Perhaps, this literature can assist them in understanding that the other side is preparing for an Eschatological end and even some activities may directly be connected to preparation for 12th Imams reappearance. The best example of this is Yemen. “Yemen plays a pivotal role in the Shia Eschatology”. Mahdavists have brought into Iranian globalization literature a phenomenon that is strictly religious. However, it is interesting to read and understand the religious scholars who are faithfully trying to analyze the religion through contemporary socio-political events. The other issue with these types of futuristic analysis is that there is no scientific literature or method that one can use to examine the validity of this claim. In other words, it is a religious belief system that one should accept by heart, rather than by scientific reason or methodology. The Mahdavists see the current globalization as a man-made phenomenon that has nothing to do with divine design for human beings.

They consider globalization as being empty of spirituality and human value and it is materialistic. In contrast they consider that real globalization will be achieved through the Mehdi’s revolt against the tyrannical order of the world. In the Mahdavist world, “The true definition of globalization is putting effort into building the world based on the Islamic teachings and governing the world through Islamic values. This goal is the undeniable promise of God. It is a message of the Quran, and the prophecy of prophets. On balance, wisdom of [the Islamic globalization] is doable. All man-made cultures and ideologies are condemned to total defeat and annihilation.”

Mahdavists believe that there is a close correlation between the reappearance of Mehdi and globalization. “The globalization that is based on liberalism, Omanism and secularism that propagated separation of church and state and rejected the system based on justice, is not acceptable for the global government of Mehdi. In contrast, the globalization that is acceptable is the one that does not pursue the domination of a specific culture, because all human beings are members of the global society. This type of globalization accepts multiculturalism, it accepts dialogue between civilizations, cultural understanding and access to shared values, mutual respect, international cooperation, and finally, the belief that global culture cannot swallow the other cultures, national or local”. Further, the global government of Mehdi cannot be considered as deterministic and cruel because it fulfills the prophet’s promises of global universal justice. Based on the Shia teachings, Mehdi will create a central government, a unified leadership and therefore, he will be able to end the main causes of conflict, wars and oppression.

In the final analysis, the universal Islamic government will establish the Islamic Jurisprudence that will put an end to religious and linguistic plurality where everyone is Muslim and speaks Arabic as the Quranic language. At the same time, the religious Eschatological-Apocalyptical approach does not produce a realistic analytical solution for the problems that Iran faces in the globalized world. This is because they are analyzing and looking for an unknown future and there is no set time for the reappearance of Mehdi.


I’m offering this here without much commentary, since I lack Farsi and access to the various quoted sources. This footnote, however, may be of interest:

Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end time”. The word arises from the Greek eschatos meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of”, first used in English around 1550. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as “The department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell’.



I would however note this next footnote, and particularly the phrase, “According to our numerical analysis of the Quran”:

For Sunni Muslims, the Mahdi (Mehdi) is a unique Muslim leader who will appear in the End Times and act as a Caliph, ruling the Muslim World. According to our numerical analysis of the Quran, it seems that the Mahdi will be fulfilling a divine mission and will act as a Witness, a Warner and a Carrier of Good News, so he could be considered a Messenger.

This numerical anaysis appears to come from a site I’ve mentioned before [1, 2], Discovering Islam, which predicts:

The End Times: Based on Numerical Analysis of the Quran, Hadith, Arabic Words, and Historical Events.

Imam Mahdi in 2016
Jesus Christ (p) in 2022

I’d have to say that anyone quoting that site as though it is representative of Sunni Islam isn’t to be relied on for theological acumen. And that’s a serious defect, when writing about Shia Iran and Effects of Globalization on State and Religion


Finally — and bearing that caveat in mind — this footnote too may be of interest:

Based on the Shia Eschatology, the first group of people who will come to 12th Imam’s assistance are Yemenis. Currently the “Shia Houtis” of Yermen are trying to take over the government and establish a Shia state by Iranian assistance. As far as the Iranian theocratic elite concern, the sole purpose of the current Houtis’ agenda is to prepare for 12th Imam’s occultation which will take place in one of the Mosques in Makah Saudi Arabia. 12th Imam will be under siege in Makah until Yemenis come to his assistance. The Yemeni reinforcement will be the beginning of the 12th Imam’s journey.

And a minor point — just a typo — the Twelfth Imam’s occultation (ghayba) has already taken place: what is to be expected is his eventual return from occultation.

New Book ! Global Radical Islamist Insurgency

Friday, February 19th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Torn from the pages of Small Wars Journal…..

Global Radical Islamist Insurgency: al Qaeda and Islamic State Networks Focus Vol. II 2012-2014  edited by Dave Dilegge and Robert Bunker

New and looking to be very useful. Right up the alley for our own Charles Cameron and friends of ZP blog like Tim Furnish and Leah Farrell. Another one,  Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has written the foreword.

From SWJ:

….This anthology-the second of an initial two volume set-specifically covers Small Wars Journal writings on Al Qaeda and the Islamic State spanning the years 2012-2014. This set is meant to contribute to U.S. security debates focusing on radical Islamist global insurgency by collecting diverse SWJ essays into more easily accessible formats. Small Wars Journal has long been a leader in insurgency and counterinsurgency research and scholarship with an emphasis on practical applications and policy outcomes in furtherance of U.S. global and allied nation strategic interests. The site is able to lay claim to supporting the writings of many COIN (counterinsurgency) practitioners. This includes Dr. David Kilcullen whose early work dating from late 2004 “Countering Global Insurgency” helped to lay much of the conceptual basis focusing on this threat and as a result greatly helped to facilitate the writings that were later incorporated into these Al Qaeda and Islamic State focused anthologies. This volume is composed of sixty-six chapters divided into sections on a) radical Islamist OPFORs (opposition forces) and context and b) U.S.-allied policy and counter radical Islamist strategies.

The editors are well known to many ZP readers with Dave being SWJ Editor-in-Chief while Dr. Bunker is the Futurist in Residence for the Strategic Studies Institute. Somewhere along the line though, I somehow completely missed the roll-out for Volume I.  Guess my review copy was lost in the mail….cough 🙂 I will be ordering both.

In all seriousness, I’m very glad to see the valuable work done by the editors and contributors at SWJ compiled into book form. Small Wars Journal is literally a national resource of military thinking, theory and open debate that operates on a shoestring and love of country ( consider making a tax deductible donation here).

Manea Interviews Galeotti on Hybrid War at SWJ

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

Dr. Mark Galeotti

Octavian Manea has another excellent installment of his interviews with warriors and scholars of war over at Small Wars Journal. In this case, Russian security and transnational crime expert, Professor Mark Galeotti of NYU and In Moscow’s Shadows blog.

Hybrid War as a War on Governance

 As Clausewitz emphasized, we first need to understand exactly the nature of the war/threat that we are confronted with. What are the core features of this Russian approach on hybrid warfare?

I like to use the term non-linear warfare, in part because it means nearly nothing, and doesn’t come with the intellectual baggage of a term like hybrid warfare which, after all, it is a term that was designed to discuss how insurgents fight modern armies. We don’t have yet a proper vocabulary. The key thing is to realize the extent to which we all need to return to the essential – almost Clausewitzian – notion of war. In this context, war is a political instrument. War is one means of making the other side do what you want it to do, such as simply to remain part of your sphere of influence. What this approach is really about, in a way, is about placing kinetic military operations back in the toolbox. For a long time we thought them as entirely separate: diplomacy and politics on the one hand and warfare in the other. In some ways, warfare happens when the other things fail. What this doctrine is saying is no, let’s just appreciate that in fact we are talking about a whole spectrum of capabilities that can range from soft power suasion, to economic pressure, to increasingly tough diplomatic lines to a whole gradation of military operations that can range from sending 10 people into blocking a bridge, to sending a hundred people to help foment a local insurrection, to sending 10.000 people in a full-scale war. These instruments can and should be used together rather than as entirely separate pieces. In a way, the point of non-linear war is to bring war back in to the spectrum of modern statecraft, to appreciate that it is an acceptable instrument in Russian eyes and to make sure that policy-makers and policy executors realize the importance of the political impact. It is not about metrics of casualties inflicted, how many bombing raids you manage to launch, all the things that we often see replacing actual military success as an indicator. It comes back to the political effect and the use of the military as a political instrument.

Is NATO’s Eastern Flank vulnerable to non-linear warfare?

Here is the key thing: if we look at what is going on, none of the current uses of the Russian military power should be considered the standard blueprint. If they do anything direct in the Baltic States – and I don’t actually think that they will – it will not be Crimea 2.0 or Donbass 2.0, but something that will be tailored to the situation there, to their perception of the threats and to what they actually want to achieve.

Let’s look at the three current uses of the military force. In Crimea the role of the military was to create a fait accompli. The forces were there to act as symbols of Russian statehood. In Donbass, we have forces being deployed with these manufactured local insurrections to create chaos, not because for one moment the Russians are eager for the post-industrial decaying Donbass, but precisely as a way of putting pressure on Kiev. If we look at the Baltic States, the long-range bombers that Russia is flying there are not intended to actually launch a military attack, but to create a constant political as well logistical stress on NATO. Three very different uses of military forces. The military provides a series of capacities within a highly integrated military, political, economic, social media, intelligence campaign to achieve your ends.

Why this evolution towards comprehensiveness?

It reflects a variety of processes, but the most fundamental one is the extent to which traditional war, especially between the most advanced powers, is almost incomprehensible in terms of actual direct costs, in terms of economic and political costs. There is a low-intensity war between Russia and Ukraine, but at the same time I can take a plane in Moscow and I can fly to Kiev. There is trade crossing the border, both legal and very heavily illegal. We live in a world where the old notion of war, war as a binary process, where you are at war or you are at peace, means increasingly less. So on one hand, traditional warfare is much less a usable tool. On the other hand, there is the fact that all societies now are much more casualty-averse. Even today’s Russia is not Stalin’s Soviet Union, can’t treat people as ammunition. Old traditional warfare is hardly conceivable unless it is essentially civil war where rational calculations tend to go out of the window. This is less of a new way of war so much as a way of fighting a war in a new world. It is the world that it has changed rather than the tactics and the ideas.

It is in this changed context that everyone is talking about the need to interconnect government agencies and apply a whole-of-government approach. The very reason why they are doing that is that the world has become so heavily interconnected. Of course, at the same time one of the pathologies of complex bureaucracies is departmentalization. In this respect, the Russians have an advantage. Not because they don’t have huge monolithic and often deeply competitive bureaucracies – which they do – but precisely because, at the top at least, Russia remains a pretty authoritarian regime. You have a chief executive who can force coordination in a way that is much harder in a democratic society.

Galeotti has a nice observation about the political and military fungibility of organized crime networks in a globalized environment that I would like to highlight:

….Looking at the underworld shows what happens in voids of governance. Organized crime flourishes where governance fails and because no governmental system is perfect there always will be organized crime. But the scale, the size and the depth of criminal operations depend on the scale of the governance failure. Modern war is increasingly determined precisely by how one seeks to impact the other side’s governability (we see this trend particularly in Ukraine) and also how one can exploit the weaknesses of the other side’s governability. This is not new. One could look at WW2, at the campaign in Italy and the deals struck with the Mafia to provide intelligence and assistance in seizing Sicily. What is new is that what was seen as a disagreeable ad-hoc tactic is becoming the way the Russians are approaching full-spectrum warfare. It is just seen as another perfectly viable, legitimate opportunity. If we look at Crimea. when the “little green men” were deployed there, they were complemented by much less professional, much less uniformly uniformed, thuggish local “self-defense groups.” It has become clear that they were the gunmen of the local organized crime groups, pressed into service as auxiliaries. And when you look at the regime installed in Crimea from the premier down, it is very heavily penetrated by people from within the criminal world. The same pattern happened also in Donbass, where organized crime figures have become local warlords. My belief is also that some of the terrorist actions in the rest of Ukraine were carried out not directly by sympathizers of the rebellion or Russian government agents, but actually by organized crime figures paid by the Russians. Russia is ahead of the curve in global organized crime, where you have a political-criminal-business elite, that is not formed by Tony Soprano-like figures, but from businessmen who have a portfolio of interests that ranges from the essentially legitimate through to the grey and then wholly illegal activities. The boundaries between organized crime, intelligence operations, state-operations have become increasingly unclear.

Read the rest here.

Organized crime has as a strategic objective monopoly control over black market activities (or at least an ability to “tax” other criminals who engage in them) through coercion and force. At times, in an effort to protect these illegal monopolies from rivals or the state, organized crime networks will evolve their capabilities into terrorists, insurgents, political actors and hybrids of any of these. The reverse is also true; insurgencies like the Taliban or FARC can become increasingly “criminalized” as their political context changes or the need to raise revenues increases.

The artificial divisions between crime and war and politics is generally a taxonomic preference of the modern West and its Westphalian state myths. East Asia by contrast, have long had examples of “hybrid” criminal groups – the Green Gang, the Triads, the Dark Ocean Society, the Yakuza, the Binh Xuyen  and so on. It was more or less normal for established criminal groups to be involved in politics or military affairs, at least on the local level. Those that could not manage this were simply bandits.

Competitive Strategies Interview by Manea

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Just a quick link, but check out the SWJ interview that Octavian Manea has done with former DoD policy planning deputy Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken:

Lessons From Previous Competitive Strategies

SWJ: A key concept that Andrew Marshall and ONA developed and shaped is that of competitive strategies. To what extent did the concept of competitive strategies provide an intellectual construct for winning the Cold War and managing the great power competition during peacetime?

Thomas Mahnken: At one level, the term “competitive strategies” is a redundancy – one certainly wouldn’t want to implement uncompetitive strategies. Indeed, the very notion of competition lies at the heart of strategy.  That having been said, the logical notion that one should pay attention to one’s enduring comparative advantages and exploit a competitor’s enduring comparative weaknesses can at times be an alien way of thinking in a large bureaucracy like the Pentagon and the national security community.

One of the things that the Office of Net Assessment did from its founding in the mid 1970s was to tap into thinking in the business and management literature about how to formulate and implement a long-term strategy for competition. A competitive strategy is focused on peacetime interaction and is about the peacetime use of military power to shape a competitor’s choices in ways that favor our objectives. That is, it is concerned with the development, acquisition, deployment, and exercising of forces, as opposed to their use in combat. A competitive strategy assumes that the choices that the competitors have to make are constrained. A competitive strategy seeks to identify and exploit these constraints.

This overall concept did play a role in U.S. strategy in the 1970s and 1980s by pushing the senior Defense Department leadership to think more in these terms. That meant thinking more about areas of comparative advantage and disadvantage, about areas where we needed to be ahead and areas where we could afford not to be ahead. Over time, that approach played an important role in the U.S. strategic effectiveness, particularly in the late Cold War. First unconsciously and later consciously, the Defense Department carried out a series of competitive strategies against the Soviet Union and in the end that approach played a role in convincing the Soviet leadership that they couldn’t compete with the U.S. in a whole series of areas. 

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