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A Brief Note on the Benghazi Hearings

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

There is legitimate room for debate if there could have been an effective military reaction to the attack in Libya by al Qaida terrorists that killed Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel.  One was apparently never seriously entertained  by senior White House, State Department and Pentagon officials. I think there ought to have been an effort to move heaven and earth and far, far greater willingness to inflict massive casualties on an attacking Libyan mob than existed, but in fairness to the Obama administration, a seat-of-the-pants, unsupported, undermanned response could also have been a replay of Blackhawk Down or Desert One. It’s a tough judgment call for any President.

That’s not why the Obama administration is in trouble today.

Poorly supported security and inept decision making by the State Department in Libya was likewise, disappointing but politically survivable and sadly, unsurprising.. We have seen similar bungling before and after 9/11 by most of our major national security departments and agencies at one time or another. It is a bipartisan phenomenon, albeit one we take far too lightly.

No, as damning testimony today made clear, the Obama administration is in trouble because their poor but not remarkably so handling of Benghazi was shielded by a ridiculous lie told entirely for partisan gain and to protect the overrated reputations and overweening egos of various administration bigwigs, most notably the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Is there anyone today – anyone at all – who still believes that Benghazi occurred because of an obscure crackpot’s video on youtube?

Had the administration manfully said “This attack is a terrible tragedy and we dropped the ball but you can believe we won’t make a similar mistake tracking down the people who did this and make them pay” most Americans would have accepted that. No, not rabid partisan Republicans, but most Americans would have wanted to back the President, any President, in the wake of such terrorism which is directed, in the last analysis, at all of us.

They did not – and much of the rest of their reaction indicates that the real concern at State and the White House was and still is with the temerity of their political opponents in daring to demand they account for their actions as if we lived in a Republic or something.

In American politics, it is the self-inflicted wounds that fester and turn gangrenous

Possible Shifts in AfPak

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011


On Pakistan policy, credit where credit is due: the Obama administration has found the stones to respond to evidence of systemic and brazen bad faith on the part of our Pakistani “allies” and show their displeasure by witholding $ 800 million dollars in aid from Islamabad. There are already squeals of Pakistani unhappiness at this modest decrease of aid that all too frequently gets diverted to preparing to make war on India or, for that matter, on American soldiers and Marines. Former dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who cannot go back home to Rawalpindi for fear his brother officers will assassinate him, told a well appointed crowd in Houston that the aid cut “will be disastrous….if Pakistan is weakened, how will it fight terrorism?“.

Cynics might note that we could replace “fight” with “fund” in the former Pakistani ruler’s question and achieve greater historical accuracy.

On Afghanistan, it might be advisable for the new American commander, Lieutenant General John Allen, in carrying out his extremely difficult mission of “Afghanization” and “punitive raiding” the Taliban, to first ponder history and  “Remember Herat“.

In 1979, before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the entire garrison of Soviet advisers in Herat was slaughtered, including the dependent women and children, by an angry mob that was aided by the local Afghan Communist Army units who, led by Ismail Khan, conveniently revolted and turned on their Russian allies. If British military history is more to Lt. General Allen’s taste, the Afghans massacred British garrisons in Kabul twice in the 19th century, Major Cavagnari’s in 1878 and that of Sir William McNaghten and Sir Alexander Burnes in 1841, though most of the British died to all but the last man on the retreat to Jalalabad in 1842.

The cape wearing, election-stealing, lotus-eater whom we thanklessly prop up, may be more incompetent than Nur Mohammed Taraki and less legitimate a client than Shah Shuja, but he has a demonstrated talent for inciting anti-western violence exceeded only by his enterprise in looting aid money. Is crazy Karzai above lighting a match to a tense situation the US military itself has already described as a “rapidly growing systemic threat“? Not in my view.

When the American drawdown begins in earnest, General Allen will need to watch the backs of his troops


Ahmed Wali Karzai, the notorious fixer and feared enforcer of the Afghan regime and the brother of President Hamid Karzai was assassinated today. The Taliban claimed credit, but AWK has too many enemies to be certain yet.

Egypt: prayer vs water cannons

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron cross-posted from Brainstormers on the Web ]

For location / background, see Helena Cobban, Tactical deployment of Muslim prayer in nonviolence.

The image is from the middle of this YouTube video — you can see the prayers begin around the 3.25 mark, and the ending is also worth watching, as Cobban notes.

Fiction: Tom Scott, Flash Mob Gone Wrong

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

by Charles Cameron 

A tip of the hat to John Robb, astute observer of emerging human dynamics and author of Brave New War, for the pointer on his Global Guerrillas blog today to this recent Tom Scott talk, in which a smart mob is not so smart:
Coming soon to a future near you?
[ cross-posted from SmartMobs ]

The Metacognitive Deficit is Symptomatic of an Epistemological Problem

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010


NYT Columnist David Brooks (via Metamodern):

A Case of Mental Courage

….Burney’s struggle reminds one that character is not only moral, it is also mental. Heroism exists not only on the battlefield or in public but also inside the head, in the ability to face unpleasant thoughts.

She lived at a time when people were more conscious of the fallen nature of men and women. People were held to be inherently sinful, and to be a decent person one had to struggle against one’s weakness.

In the mental sphere, this meant conquering mental laziness with arduous and sometimes numbingly boring lessons. It meant conquering frivolity by sitting through earnest sermons and speeches. It meant conquering self- approval by staring straight at what was painful.

This emphasis on mental character lasted for a time, but it has abated. There’s less talk of sin and frailty these days. Capitalism has also undermined this ethos. In the media competition for eyeballs, everyone is rewarded for producing enjoyable and affirming content. Output is measured by ratings and page views, so much of the media, and even the academy, is more geared toward pleasuring consumers, not putting them on some arduous character-building regime.

In this atmosphere, we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Occasionally you surf around the Web and find someone who takes mental limitations seriously. For example, Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” He and others list our natural weaknesses: We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.

But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse

True, and kudos to David Brooks for calling attention to the deficit in metacognition. However, I suspect that there is more to this phenomena than decadence, ADHD and a handy internet connection. There’s a problem with our epistemology. To be specific, a common epistemological standard is fading from American life, giving license to demagogues and emboldening fools.

There are many possible causes. The decline of critical thinking, logic, history and science in the curricular standards of American public schools; the disappearance of liberal education and the excesses of postmodernism, deconstructionism, constructivism and crit theory in our universities; the dumbing down of the MSM into 7 second sound bite infotainment and partisan agitprop; political correctness and its fetishes of race and gender victimization and witch-hunting; the growing legitimization of magical thinking inherent in religious fundamentalism and secular equivalents in irrationality like “deep ecology” or crackpot conspiracy theories. All of these and more have combined to erode standards of public discourse to an ever lower common denominator.

John Adams once argued before a Massachusetts jury that “facts are stubborn things”. Today it is unlikely that such an appeal would work. Not only do many people believe that they are entitled to their own set of “facts” but that they can, if they wish, dispense with facts entirely, yet self-righteously insist that their deliberate ignorance should be given the same weight as an informed argument because they “have a right to their opinion” without anyone daring to ask them why they are so morally and intellectually retarded.

Where once intellectual embarrassment prevented outright lies or inane arguments from being made in respectable forums, the popular deference to the dignity of cranks puts tin-foil hatters and their OCD political convictions about Bush orchestrating 9/11 or Obama being a secret Muslim in the center of public debate instead being confined to off-center mimeographed pamphlets passed out at airports by glassy-eyed true-believers. We feel compelled as a society to politely entertain drivel that should never have been heard past a kitchen table with a three quarters empty bottle of whiskey on it.

The country needs to regain a common intellectual ground that eschews nonsense for what it is.

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