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Recommended Reading & Viewing

Friday, October 17th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Top Billing! The Bridge Series on #Operating  - #Operating, The Army #Operating Concept, The Army #Operating Concept ‘s Global Landpower Network, The Army #Operating Concept and Allies,  Operationalizing the Army #Operating Concept  and Undue Emphasis on the Army #Operating Concept 

The new Army Operating Concept (AOC) posted earlier this week received a lot of feedback on social media and in the halls of military installations – which ultimately led to this series, titled “#Operating: A Personal Reflection on the Army Operating Concept,” on The Bridge. This post will kick things off by taking a holistic look at the document; later posts will focus on personal reactions to the document – what it says, what it fails to say, or even particular elements from it that resonate.

To begin, the framing of this future-oriented document is solidly rooted in the past…something we should all expect given that the overseer of its publication is the noted Warrior-Historian, LTG H.R. McMaster. A military document that not only references in the endnotes historical analysis and theory found in texts like those by Thucydides, Clausewitz, and even past military doctrine, but also conceptually intertwines their wisdom throughout, is likely to be more valuable than a document typified by “buzzword bingo.” While professional vernacular is a tool to accurately and quickly convey terms among members of the profession, it can also be used to gloss over or even replace deep thought and vital understanding, even among the “initiated.” So, while the AOC certainly reduces its use of typical military language from previous versions, it does still contain its fair share of jargon.

For the uninitiated, the AOC is supposed to “describe how the Army…employs forces and capabilities…to accomplish campaign objectives and protect U.S. national interests” (Page 8). It takes a little digging to find that in this document. To make things a little easier (at least for me), I’m going to break out some key elements and translate its contents into my language, hopefully increasing the accessibility of the concepts.

War on the Rocks – Sir Lawrence Freedman - THE MASTER STRATEGIST IS STILL A MYTH 

This problem of functional separation, a feature of the specialization of contemporary life, is relevant to the problem of strategy-making. It might be much easier to propose a bold and imaginative strategy when you are not going to be held accountable if it all goes wrong. There are other forms of functional separation. Steed takes seriously the problem of the regular disconnect between the political from the military, which I highlight. I was citing this as a problem with the classical tradition, associated with Jomini and Clausewitz, which focuses on decisive battle as the source of political victory. I dealt with this in a recent War on the Rocks article. This divide between generals and politicians has become a matter for concern among a number of contemporary writers, including Hew Strachan. But the problem goes wider, as can be seen in laments about the separation of planners from doers in large businesses. Steed and I can agree that there is a real challenge when it comes to translating the language and concerns of the military into terms that the politician will grasp. Conversely, it is equally difficult to give the military an appreciation for the real, and often contradictory, pressures that a politician faces. But even if structures are improved, there will always be distinctive interests and perspectives. A succession of rounded strategic people is unlikely to develop.

….We may do better, therefore, looking for good strategy rather than worrying about great strategists. What fascinates me about good strategy is not that it comes from people who are uniquely qualified, but that it can be generated by fallible human beings working through imperfect organizations operating in conditions of great uncertainty. People can be propelled into challenging roles (Harry Truman and Clement Attlee in 1945) and then do surprisingly well. Neither of them would have been identified as putative Alexanders. In general I would encourage those preparing for some major strategic decisions to think about how to diagnose situations and focus on the problem at hand, and manage a degree of empathy with their opponents as well as with their partners. The will need to think ahead, forge coalitions and hold on to long-term objectives. As they appreciate the importance of chance and unintended consequences, they should stay pragmatic, changing course when one does not work and shifting goals as new opportunities arise and others are closed off. But in practice it may turn out that an actual situation will really suit somebody who is stubborn and bloody-minded, autocratic rather than consultative, narrowly focused and ruthless, and so able to act as a force of nature and push aside all obstacles.

Scholar’s Stage – Bargaining with the Dragon 

Lets start with the protestors.

What are the protestor’s demands?

    1. When the protests began the protestors rallied around two demands:
      Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying (hereafter CY Leung) will step down.


  1. Hong Kong will institute a democratic system where candidates for popular election are  chosen by voters, not a committee selected by the Communist Party of China.

The original body of protestors who demanded these things were organized by two groups, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (????????, abbrv. ????, or just ??), composed of Hong Kong university students, and Scholarism (????), headed by 17 year old Joshua Wong and mostly composed of youth about his age. The famous photos of umbrella clad youth being pepper sprayed as they charged government lines were of these folks. 

They were joined by a third group, known as Occupy Central with Peace and Love, or Occupy Central for short (?????????, abr.??), on the second day of the protest. Occupy is a different sort of beast than the other two organizations; it is run by seasoned political activists and university professors who have been planning a civil disobedience campaign to protest the 2017 election reforms since early 2013. They had planned to start the protest on October 1st (the PRC’s National Day, the closest equivalent China has to the 4th of July), but when the clashes between students and police escalated on Friday (Sept 26th) they decided to abandon their original plan and join the protestors. Had they been in charge of the show from the beginning I am not sure they would have made the same demands—at least in the beginning—that the students did. But they came late to the party and have to deal with what the students’ demands hath wrought. 

There are two important things about these groups we must remember when assessing the protestors’ strategy and the government’s response to it….


Haft of the Spear -We’re Not Breaking Up Anything

Dart Throwing Chimp – Thoughts on the Power of Civil Resistance

Global Guerrillas -Blockchain Companies and The Internet of Chains

Sam Harris -Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself? 

War Council -Clear Strategic Thinking About Drones 

Michigan War Studies Review -Exposing the Third Reich: Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler’s Germany

Technology ReviewThe Contrarian’s Guide to Changing the World and Revolution in Progress: The Networked Economy

InformationWeek - Internet Of Things Intrigues Intelligence Community

The Chicago Progressive Issue #4

The GuardianAre the Robots about to Rise?

Politico – The Congressman who Spied for Russia

The AtlanticThe Lies of Adolf Eichmann  and How Gangs took over Prisons

The National InterestMachiavelli: Still Shocking after Five Centuries 

The New York Times –  The ancestors of ISIS



Some very welcome news: JM Berger & Jessica Stern

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- forthcoming book announced ]

JM Berger at Intelwire frames it like this:


Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, “ISIS: The State of Terror,” from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents.

Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of Intelwire.com.


JM also tweeted:


For another angle on Berger & Stern’s thinking, see their recent joint contribution to a round table at Politico:

A counterterrorism mission—and then some.
By J.M. Berger and Jessica Stern

When the Obama administration sends mixed messages about whether its campaign against the Islamic State insurgent group is war or counterterrorism, there is a reason, if not a good one. As explained by President Obama last week, the United States plans to employ counterterrorism tactics against a standing army currently preoccupied with waging war.

In many ways, our confrontation with the Islamic State is the culmination of 13 years of degraded definitions. Our enemies have evolved considerably since Sept. 11, 2001, and none more than ISIL, which has shed both the name and the sympathies of al Qaeda. The Islamic State excels at communication, and it has succeeded in establishing itself as a uniquely visible avatar of evil that demands a response. But on 9/11, we began a “war on terrorism” that has proven every bit as expansive and ambiguous as the phrase itself implies. It is a symptom of our broken political system that we require the frame of terrorism and the tone of apocalyptic crisis to take even limited action as a government.

Ultimately, it’s hard to escape the feeling that our policies still come from the gut, rather than the head. And ISIL knows exactly how to deliver a punch to the gut, as evidenced by its gruesome hostage beheadings and countless other atrocities. Its brutality and open taunts represent an invitation to war, and many sober strategists now speak of “destroying” the organization.

Bin Laden once said, “All that we have to do is to send two mujahideen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there.” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of ISIL, may be counting on just that response, and for the same reason—to draw the United States into a war of supreme costs, political, economic and human.

A limited counterterrorism campaign may insulate us from those costs, but it is not likely to be sufficient to accomplish the goals laid out by the president. ISIL is a different enemy from al Qaeda. It has not earned statehood, but it is an army and a culture, and more than a traditional terrorist organization. Limited measures are unlikely to destroy it and might not be enough to end its genocidal ambitions. Our stated goals do not match our intended methods. Something has to give — and it’s probably the goals.


I reviewed JM’s previous book for Zenpundit, and mentioned Jessica Stern‘s work, which I greatly admire, in my post here, Book Review: JM Berger’s Jihad Joe. Their upcoming collaboration promises us an insightful, foundational, and must-readable analysis — richly nuanced, clearly presented, and avoiding the pitfalls of panicky sensationalism to which so much current reportage is prone.


Recommended Reading

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]


Top Billing! Scholar’s Stage What Edward Luttwak Doesn’t Know About Ancient China (Or a Short History of Han-Xiongnu Relations), pt. 1 and What Edward Luttwak Doesn’t Know About Ancient China (Or a Short History of Han-Xiongnu Relations), pt. 2

A tour de force set of posts.

A few weeks ago a friend passed along one of the least correct essays I have ever had the misfortune to read. It was written by  Edward Luttwaksecret agent  author of classic titles in the field of strategic studies like Coup D’état: A Practical Handbook,  Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, and Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace. I was disappointed to find out that this particular piece, published in the Hoover Institute’s online magazine Strategika, closely mirrors a passage in Mr. Luttwak’s most recent best-seller, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy. In it Luttwak suggests contemporary Chinese foreign policy follows a pattern first seen in the foreign relations of the Han Dynasty two millennia ago [1]. To quote:

What is peculiar to China’s political culture, and of very great contemporary relevance is the centrality within it of a very specific doctrine on how to bring powerful foreigners—indeed foreigners initially more powerful than the empire—into a tributary relationship. Specialists concur that this doctrine emerged from the very protracted (3rd century BCE to 1st century CE) but ultimately successful struggle with theXiongnú (??) horse-nomad state,  just possibly remote ancestors of Attila’s Huns, but definitely the inventors of the Steppe State political system that would be replicated by all their successors, and more adapted than replaced even by the Mongols. 

Formidable mounted archers and capable of sustained campaigning (a primary objective of the Steppe State), the Xiongnú ravaged and savaged and extorted tribute from the perpetually less martial, and certainly cavalry-poor Han until the latter finally felt able to resist again. Even then, 147 years of intermittent warfare ensued until Huhanye (???), the paramount Chanyu (Qagan, Khan) of the Xiongnú, personally and formally submitted to the emperor Han Xuandi in 51 BCE, undertaking to pay homage, to leave a son at court as a hostage, and to deliver tribute, as befitted a vassal. That was a very great downfall from the familial status of earlier Chanyus of the epoch of Xiongnú predominance, who were themselves recognized as emperors, whose sons and heirs could have imperial daughters in marriage, and who from 200 BCE had received tribute from the Han, instead of the other way around. It is this successful transformation of a once superior power first into an equal (signified by imperial marriages) and then into a subservient client-state that seems to have left an indelible residue in China’s tradition of statecraft. [2]

I am a fan of the analytic approach Mr. Luttwak uses here. History is important. Ancient history is important. It might seem silly or frivolous to examine ancient polities in order to understand modern politics, but the insights this lens of analysis makes possible are hard to get through other means. Many of these insights come from seeing the world through the long view. The political and social structures civilizations are built on emerge on a timescale far longer than the lifespan of any individual human being. Many of the constraints societies face—be they physical or cultural—can only be seen clearly by examining centuries of conflict, competition, and collapse. 

Just as important as these recurring patterns of history are the perceptions today’s decision makers have of the past. China’s 3,000 recorded years of war and high politics offer many different lessons to the Chinese statesmen of the modern era. The lessons they choose to draw from this history shape the decisions they will make tomorrow.

Thus if Edward Luttwak wants to talk about how?the echoes of the Han-Xiongnu war are heard in 21st century China’s foreign policy, I am all ears.? Long term readers of The Stage know that there are few conversation starters I would find more thrilling to hear. Too many contemporary controversies cannot be understood until we step back and look at world affairs from the long view of history. 

But there is a catch in all this: the history has to be correct. It must accord to the facts. If one uses the past to interpret the present then your reading must be based on evenst that actually happened. 

This cannot be said for Mr. Luttwak’s essay. The story he tells simply did not happen. 

The American ConservativeA Realist’s Guide to Grand Strategy   

….What the “MIT School” of grand strategy—if you will—lacked was a book-length treatment to do battle with rival approaches. Not until Posen joined the cause withRestraint did the restrainers get a defining treatise.

….Restraint begins with a chapter that lays out key facts about the strategic position of the United States: the U.S. is “enormously powerful”—though “change is coming,” geography favors the U.S. due to its “ocean barriers and relatively weak neighbors,” and our nuclear arsenal means that nuclear and conventional attacks on the U.S. are either “suicidal” or “incredibly risky.”

Posen then proceeds to explain the twin pillars of liberal hegemony. First, it is hegemonic since “it builds on the great power advantage of the United States relative to all other major powers and intends to preserve as much of that advantage as possible.” It achieves this by building overwhelming military strength that dissuades potential challengers from even trying to compete with the U.S. and managing American-dominated security relationships across the globe.

Second, liberal hegemony is liberal, Posen explains, because “it aims to defend and promote a range of values associated with Western society in general and U.S. society in particular.” Democracy looms large among these values, particularly because this approach identifies “failed states, rogue states, and illiberal peer competitors” as the primary source of threats to the U.S. and global peace. In short, these latter-day Wilsonians believe that “the United States can only be truly safe in a world full of states like us, and so long as the United States has the power to pursue this outcome, it should.”

Posen argues that this strategy has not performed very well in the post-Cold War era and will only “perform less and less well” in the changing world of the future. Liberal hegemony has been, and will continue to be, quite costly in terms of blood and treasure: the U.S. has fought four wars since 1992, spent trillions of dollars in these conflicts and on maintaining the armed forces, and has suffered great opportunity costs in the process.  Liberal hegemony provokes other states to engage in “sustained obstructionism,” if not outright balancing against the U.S., and it has incentivized our allies, such as NATO and Japan, to “cheap ride” when they could contribute more—thus making the benefits of U.S. security commitments incommensurate with the costs.  Worse, some allies, such as Israel and Iraq, are “reckless drivers” that “do the wrong things,” and the U.S. has little ability to rein them in.

Small Wars Journal (Robert Bunker) - An Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) First Strategy 

Much has changed in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya since my writing of two short essays on democractic revolution and democratic realpolitik in the Islamic world in Small Wars Journal roughly three and a half years ago. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has not only complicated this potential democratization dynamic but has qualitatively changed it as a spoiler—at least in the two states it is presently operating in. Some context is required, however, to better understand what the assumptions were for the U.S. in its international policies directed at this area of the globe.  

A simple choice model (see Figure 1) provides an overview of U.S. and allied state preferences for all of the Arab Spring and pre-Arab Spring (e.g. Iraq) countries. All of these countries began with secular autocratic states (0 value) as their baselines—exemplified by the strongmen Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. The thinking was that—with demise of these autocratic states—the power and institutional vacuums that would emerge would be filled by a U.S. created democracy in Iraq and the revolutionary forces of democracy (+ value) in the other countries.

As it turns out, the sword of democracy was a rather blunt instrument and no match—when wielded by the indigenous peoples of these countries—to that of the sharper blade held by the various Islamist forces with their deeper spiritual and ideological commitment. These armed groups are composed of warriors gladly willing to die for their cause. The same, sadly, cannot thus far be said for the local forces of democracy. As a result, as secular autocratic states lost internal control of their terrorities, an Islamist state ‘jacking’ (- value) of the expected transition to democracy has taken place.

War on the Rocks (William McCants) - Zawahiri’s Counter-Caliphate 

The other day, al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the establishment of a new al-Qaeda affiliate, “al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.” What struck me about the announcement was not so much the creation of a new al-Qaeda franchise in the subcontinent—al-Qaeda has long had ties to the region and the affiliate’s new leader Asim Umar is already a known al-Qaeda insider—but rather the way Zawahiri framed the group’s creation. In his introductory remarks, Zawahiri stressed that the new group was, like al-Qaeda, under the authority of the “Islamic Emirate” ruled by the “commander of the faithful” Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. He then proceeded to heap praise repeatedly on the “commander of the faithful.” Why would Zawahiri spend so much time hailing Mullah Omar as the commander of the faithful when introducing a new al-Qaeda franchise, something he has never done before?

It must be al-Qaeda’s competition with the Islamic State, which declared the reestablishment of the caliphate in June. Since that time, al-Qaeda has been promoting Mullah Omar as the counter-caliph. As Cole Bunzel documented,al-Qaeda’s media wing released an old video of Bin Laden in July explaining his decision to give his oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar as commander of the faithful, a historical title of the caliphs. A questioner asks Bin Laden if his oath implies that he considers Mullah Omar to posses the “supreme imamate,” the prerogative of the caliphs, which Bin Laden affirms. Later that same month, al-Qaeda released a newsletter that begins with a renewal of the oath of allegiance to “Commander of the Faithful Mullah Muhammad Omar” and “affirms that al-Qaeda and its branches in all locales are soldiers in his army, acting under his victorious banner.”

Tim Kelleher - Why We Have No ISIS Strategy 

Steve Coll – Why ISIS is our problem 

Paul Pillar – ISIS in Perspective 

Cicero Magazine (Clinton Hinote) -Why a War of Attrition Favors Us, Not ISIS

International Business Times -Why Do People Join ISIS? The Psychology Of A Terrorist

The National InterestWhat Homer’s Iliad Tells Us about a U.S.-China War 


Charlie’s Diary - The referendum question

Jay Ufelder -What are all these violent images doing to us?

The Glittering Eye – The Goldilocks Foreign Policy  

USNI Blog (Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício) -Expanding the Naval Canon: Fernando de Oliveira and the 1st Treatise on Maritime Strategy 

New York TimesForeign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks

John Hagel -Making a Movement: Narratives and Creation Spaces 

Brain Pickings -Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting 

Fast CompanyThe Importance of ritual to the Creative Process

Business InsiderHere Is What Coffee Actually Does To Your Brain 

Quartz -Your IQ isn’t constant: It changes over time 

That’s it.


Book Recommendation: Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

ancient religion











Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, by Michael Cook

Charles Cameron recently had a post here at Zenpundit, Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?  Frequent commenter T. Greer recommended this volume in the comment section and I ordered immediately. My copy arrived this morning and I had some quiet time and a bit of commuting time to devote to Cook’s introduction and the first few chapters. This is a very good treatment of roots of Islam and how those roots affect today’s political climate. Cook divides the book into three large parts: Identity, Values, and Fundamentalism. The comparative element is his use of Hinduism and Latin American Catholicism when compared in scope and influence to Islam.

Here are a couple of good pull quotes from the Preface:

I should add some cautions about what the book does not do. First though it has a lot to say about the pre-modern world, it does not provide an account of that world for its own sake, and anyone who read the book as if it did would be likely to come away with a seriously distorted picture. This is perhaps particularly so in the Islamic case—and for two reasons. One is that, to put it bluntly, Islamic civilization died quite some time ago, unlike Islam which is very much alive; we will thus be concerned with the wider civilization only when it is relevant to features of the enduring religious heritage. (emphasis added)

Cook’s emphasis on shared identity is one of the best and most cogent descriptions I’ve found:

“…collective identity, particularly those that really matter to people—so much so that they may be willing to die for them. Identities of this kind, like values, can and do change, but they are not, as academic rhetoric would sometimes have it, in constant flux. The reason is simple; like shared currencies, shared identities are the basis of claims that people can make on each other, and without a degree of stability such an identity would be as useless as a hyperinflated currency. So it is not surprising that in the real world collective identities, though not immutable, often prove robust and recalcitrant, at times disconcertingly so.”

In the same comment thread where T. Greer recommended this Ancient Religions, Charles called Cook’s work his opus. Based on the few hours I’ve spent with the volume and the marginalia, Charles was characteristically “spot-on.”

Published in March of this year, this is a new and important title. With any luck, I’ll complete the book and do a more proper review sometime soon.


Recommended Reading

Monday, August 18th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

TOP BILLING! Small Wars Journal (Gary Anderson) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Theory and Practice of Jihad 

….Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is not a formally trained military commander. However, he is not illiterate or a common thug such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who led al Qaeda in Iraq until his death in 2006. Al-Baghdadi holds a doctorate in theology from a theological seminary and appears to be a keen student of American tactics as they were passed on to the Iraqi Army, as well as the military practices of his Syrian Baathist opponents. Whether he is a military prodigy or merely a very talented student and practitioner of military art is irrelevant. To date, he has shown himself to be a very effective commander.

Like the prophet Mohammed from whom he claims descent, al-Baghdadi sees himself as a soldier-Imam and recognizes no difference between fighting, governing, and religion. This allows him to flow seamlessly between mediums. If we write him off as a mere terrorist, we make the mistake of underestimating him. He is generally considered to be a crackpot by serious Islamic scholars, but he controls a tract of land that includes most of al-Anbar province, much of eastern Syria, and Iraq’s second largest city; that makes him a serious player in the region. However, we should also beware of making him out to be ten feet tall. If we are going to deal with him, we need to understand how he fights and governs as well as his strengths and weaknesses.

….PRACTICE MANEUVER WARFARE. The army of the newly proclaimed Caliphate is well versed in the theory and practice of maneuver warfare. Maneuver Warfare is not just about movement. It is about putting of all of your force’s effects where they will do the most damage to the enemy. Al-Baghdadi has proven adept at the key tenants of maneuver warfare:

Avoiding Surfaces and Exploiting Gaps. Al-Baghdadi understands the concept of striking the enemy where he is weak and avoiding his foes’ strengths; this is true of physical military capability as well as the exploitation of enemy moral weaknesses. He exploits reconnaissance and intelligence to gauge whether an operation is doable. In Mosul, al-Baghdadi judged Iraqi army leadership to be rotten to the core and was able to take the city with a main force of about 800 men routing thousands of Iraqi government security forces after their leaders fled. However, when Iraqi government commandos provided steadfast resistance at the Baji oil fields, al-Baghdadi’s commander on the scene recognized a surface and moved on to softer targets.

Attack the Enemy’s Moral Cohesion. Through the selective use of terror, al-Baghdadi has gotten inside the opponent’s decision cycle. Iraqi government commanders in Baghdad found themselves issuing orders to subordinate leaders who have left the field. Junior soldiers woke up to see their commanders boarding mini-busses and panicked fearing the fate of fellow soldiers who had previously surrendered only to be massacred. This deliberate use of terror is selective as was the case with Genghis Khan. He massacred the populations of the first cities of any region that he attacked, and the word got around that resistance was futile. The great Khan conquered many cities, but based on his reputation, he had to lay siege to very few….

A tour de force piece by Anderson.

Cheryl Rofer –  George Kennan, The Long Telegram, And Russia in 2014 – Part 1 and George Kennan, The Long Telegram, And Russia in 2014 – Part 2 

….Kennan lists in this section his reservations and qualifications on what he has described as the Soviet viewpoint. Kennan’s words in italics.

First, it does not represent natural outlook of Russian people. Although Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings are at record highs, similar highs during the Georgian crisis of 2008 quickly subsided. Russians will support their government, and this government is giving them a sense of self-respect and standing in the world through its annexation of Crimea and bold stand on Ukraine. A heavy propaganda campaign has reinforced these feelings.

Second, please note that premises on which this party line is based are for most part simply not true. This has been bothering me about Russian claims for some time. Many of them are arguable or have a couple of ways of being seen. For example, NATO expansion can be seen as a Western plot to encircle Russia and a betrayal of promises made in the 1990s. However, an examination of that expansion shows that, while there was discussion of Germany and NATO, no written guarantees were made, and that, further, the former Soviet satellites and republics that have joined NATO were eager to do so in order to escape the threat of renewed Russian expansionism. Both Russian and Western actions have led to today’s circumstances, but Russia emphasizes a narrative of its victimization rather than agency.

Russian arguments that the West is economically weak and about to fail are based on the crash of 2008 and a weak European recovery. Russia’s economic position, however, has its own problems. In the twenty-plus years since the wrenching conversion from Communist economics, Russia has failed to develop an industrial economy and relies on oil and other resource exports. When oil prices are good, its economy is good. But both the fall of the Soviet Union and the ruble crash of 1998 were associated with drops in oil prices. Russia is also vulnerable economically, more so than the West.

Max Hastings - Barbarians, genocide and a terrifying lack of Western leadership 

….Thus the huge problem for the West is that, while attempting to repel the Islamic State, it cannot identify any other local faction to champion, except the Kurds who suffered years of persecution. Indeed, the West should urgently give the Kurds the means to defend themselves. Otherwise, the least bad option is the one Obama has chosen: hit the extremists hard and fast with air power. He says there will be no U.S. troop commitment, but let us not kid ourselves: at the very least, some presence on the ground will be indispensable to provide targeting intelligence and control U.S. aircraft. Satellites and drones cannot do this on their own.

Regardless, this will leave us – and I say ‘us’, because it’s hard to see how Britain can escape participation – in a very deep hole. The fact is that Western follies since 2001 have contributed mightily to unleashing forces we cannot control, demented hordes who are killing more people than the dictators did. These are worrying times for those fearful of a descent into a historic confrontation with militant Islam. Although the jihadis in Iraq are killing Muslims as well as Christians, multiple stress points around the world – Gaza not least among them – intensify the danger that we shall eventually find ourselves going head-to-head with a vast religious grouping.

Professor Sir Michael Howard, Britain’s most distinguished historian and strategist, now 92, lamented to me last month the tottering, if not collapse, of every pillar that has supported international order through his lifetime. By that he means the UN, Nato and a strong America. I thought that he overstated the scale of the chaos that is currently unfolding, both in the Ukraine and the Middle East. But today, his words seem dismayingly justified.

al-Arabiya (Hisham Melhem) Enough lies, the Arab body politic created the ISIS cancer  

….Ever since the 1967 Arab defeat in the war with Israel, Arab politics have been influenced and mostly shaped by various stripes of Islamists, including the radical and violent groups that constitute the antecedent of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Their emergence was in the making for decades. Today most of the politics in various Arab states from the countries of the Maghreb; Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, through Egypt and on to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen is highly influenced by Islamists who occupy a shrinking spectrum. Most of the debates are essentially “all in the family” of Islamists kinds of debates. The rise of the Islamists; such as al-Nahda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the various Salafists, the Jama’a Islamia, Hezbollah, Hamas and later al-Qaeda and ISIS has been facilitated by the depredations of the “secular” Arab regimes, the military strongmen and the one party rule, particularly the depravities of the Baath Party in both Syria and Iraq.

War on the Rocks ( Bryan McGrath) THE PARADOX OF AMERICAN NAVAL POWER 

….The U.S. Navy is to some extent, a victim of its own success. It consistently provides presidents with flexible options for response and it rarely has to say, “No, we cannot do that.” Unless a president comes into office with the idea that the nation must begin to prepare for the rigors of great power competition again, the Navy will appear sufficiently sized to meet the requirements of crisis response, for these are the requirements against which its size and capabilities are resourced. And since there is no bureaucratic incentive for anyone within the chain of command to advocate for such preparation in the absence of presidential leadership, we may unfortunately someday find ourselves with a navy we can afford, but not the one we need. 

Global Guerrillas - iWar 101: Kicking the Squirrel 

Bruce Kesler - Rand Paul’s Foreign Policy: Obaman Bluster Without Substance 

Steven Metz -The Rise of the Islamic State and the Evolution of Violent Extremism

Israel’s version of The Onion and The Duffel Blog – introducing  The Israeli Daily !

China Matters -ISIS Tentacles Reach Toward China

Scholar’s Stage – It’s time to talk Honestly about the US-Japanese Alliance

Chicago Boyz (Lexington Green) -History Friday: Oliver P. Morton, The Great War Governor 

Watch how Western Culture migrated.

Sic Semper Tyrannis - IS Diary – 7 August 2014

The Glittering Eye -In What Belief System? and The Real Fear 

USNI Blog (Alex Smith) -Cooperative Strategy in the 21st Century 

David Brin -More Science: Microbes, Pathogens & Parasites

Cicero MagazineSpymaster Jack Devine on Building a Better CIA 

Studies in Intelligence - The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warlord  

PARAMETERS –  Options for Avoiding Counterinsurgencies  

That’s it.


Broken link to The Scholar’s Stage is now fixed.  My apologies to T. Greer.


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