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Recommended Readings, hipbone version

Monday, June 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two superb pieces this week on Iraq and ISIS, deserving of a slow and grateful reading -- and a third on IS, the "caliphate" into which ISIS renamed itself just today ]
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Peter J. Munson leads off my list with a wide-angle piece titled Iraq and the City of Man at War on the Rocks. It was the first of three terrific posts to catch my eye this week. Munson begins:

Humans have been storytellers since time immemorial. Stories are how we make sense of our world. We reduce complex events to digestible, quite often self-indulgent, narratives. I heard one of those the other week when, speaking at a public change of command, Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos said, “If I were to give us a letter grade for Afghanistan… I’d say we did pretty darn good.” He paused, considering his words, and continued, “Iraq is going to turn out how it is going to turn out, but we sanctified the ground there. We sanctified the ground in Afghanistan…”

Munson is by no means so sure.

Blood and sacrifice are the key words of Munson’s piece, the blood sacrifices of so many American and allied soldiers, so many locals…

He continues:

One might imagine that with our blood, we purified the ground. There were certainly enough cases in which the cause of death was exsanguination. Disembodiment — a euphemism for death in a blast so violent that it resulted in the proverbial pink mist — must have also had a role in sanctification then, too. We are moved deeply and forever changed by the many selfless sacrifices that occurred on these grounds. In the end, though, most of these sacrifices came down to random pieces of bad luck that were never seen coming and nothing could have been done to avoid. Under the sun, especially the brutal, incessant sun of Mesopotamia

A broad-sweep evaluation of recent Iraqi history follows:

Once-routine, even cordial sectarian intermixing quickly fell apart as the extreme violence of a minority forced segregation and xenophobia. From 2004 through 2008, Iraq descended into chaos, even as over 100,000 American and coalition troops fanned out into the cities to keep the peace and kill the killers. When a fragile calm began to return, some imagined that eventually things would turn out livable.

This is what we all hoped for. Closure. Validation. Peace. Sanctity. Humans reach for the City of God, but it is not to be had here on Earth. As Augustine wrote, “the earthly city is generally divided against itself by litigation, by wars, by battles, by the pursuit of victories that bring death with them or at best are doomed to death.” The city of man:

desires an earthly peace… and it is that peace which it longs to attain by making war. For if it wins the war and no one survives to resist, then there will be peace, which the warring sections did not enjoy when they contended in their unhappy poverty for the things which they both could not possess at the same time. This peace is the aim of wars, with all their hardships; it is this peace that glorious victory (so called) achieves.

There’s something deep, even timeless, about setting contemporary conflicts in the context of Thucydides or Augustine — more so, perhaps, than by reference to Clausewitz or Sun Tzu.

Munson’s article is moving, necessary.

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Zeroing in on current trends, Aaron Zelin‘s The War Between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement is the definitive backgrounder on its topic:

Since the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) shot into the news after its takeover
of Mosul, many have been confused over how to describe the group in relation to al-Qaeda,1the global jihadist organization best known for its audacious terror attacks against the West from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s. Relations between ISIS — and its prior incarnations, to be discussed — and al-Qaeda have been fraught with distrust, open competition, and outright hostility that have grown over time. The two groups are now
in an open war for supremacy of the global jihadist movement. ISIS holds an advantage, but the battle
is not over yet.

Providing ample historical background for the events of recent weeks and days, Zelin focuses largely on the one-time street-thug al-Zarqawi, and pinpoints the fault-line early on when he writes:

The indiscriminate versus strategic use of violence and takfir, most importantly that targeting the group’s Sunni base, became an important issue taken up by al-Qaeda in the following years. The main proponent of limiting takfir and knowing when to use it properly was Libi, who emphasized the sanctity of Muslim blood. [ ... ] More recently, in September 2013, Zawahiri released a pamphlet titled “General Guidelines for the Work of a Jihadi,” which codifies rules of engagement for al-Qaeda’s branches and highlights the limits and concerns that he and Libi previously raised with Zarqawi.

Baghdadi, however, is no street-fighter — he’s a theologian-warrior. Joas Wagemakers reported a tract by the scholar Abu Hamam Bakr Bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-’Athari praising Baghdadi in Jihadica last September:

Apart from al-Baghdadi’s family background, he is also a scholar of Islam according to al-Athari, having obtained an MA-degree in Qur’anic studies and a PhD in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and having written a book on tawhid (the unity of God). This comination of Islamic knowledge and Prophetic descent makes him a special man indeed, al-Athari claims.

Tim Furnish at MahdiWatch compares him to both Zawahiri and bin Laden thus:

In addition, ISIS is, if anything, even more religious than AQ. Its leader, Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, holds a PhD in fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence (fatwa-issuing, in other words). By contrast, Usama bin Ladin was an engineer and Ayman al-Zawahiri is a medical doctor; and although both were/are profoundly Islamic in worldview and goals, they were/are laymen.

As you know, my own special interest is in the theological side of things — so for me, those two comments add grace-notes to Aaron’s exemplary essay.

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JM Berger’s ISIS Risks Everything to Declare a Caliphate brings us fully up to date with his account of today’s announcement of a Caliphate:

On Sunday morning, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or ISIL, if you must) pronounced the reformation of the caliphate — the historical Islamic state that once stretched over much of the modern-day Muslim world — with ISIS emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the man in charge.

It’s arguably the boldest move yet by the group, which renamed itself simply The Islamic State. But if ISIS isn’t careful, this could be the moment when all of its gains in Iraq and Syria are squandered; when would-be allies are alienated; and when the group’s critics within the jihadi community were proven right all along.

In the statement—released in Arabic, English, German, French, and Russian—ISIS claimed that it had fulfilled all the legal requirements for the caliphate and that all existing jihadi groups and indeed all Muslims around the world were religiously obligated to swear loyalty to the new Caliph Ibrahim (using the name provided by ISIS in the course of proving that Baghdadi has the required lineage for the title).

Prior to this pronouncement, my assessment was that there was almost no way ISIS could exit June in worse shape than it entered the month, and that still holds. But July is beginning to look like an open question. ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, had made a bold move to seize territory in Iraq that had resulted in tremendous gains in both equipment and money. Even if it lost all of the territory it gained in June, it would still retain many of those spoils, with new clout, status and physical assets to compete with the other jihadi groups operating in Syria and near the Iraq border.

The declaration of the caliphate is a massive gamble that puts many of these gains at risk, although the potential benefits are also substantial.

Berger then proceeds to give us “a quick rundown of the moving parts”, and notes:

The pronouncement of the caliphate is sure to be wildly controversial on religious grounds, but ultimately it could cut either way. The backlash may harden the pro-AQ segment of the global jihadist movement against ISIS, especially with the announcement’s flat out demand that all other jihadist groups are religiously obligated to pledge loyalty to ISIS. But it will also generate some enthusiasm from footsoldiers and different segments of the global movement that see ISIS as a rising star.

Like the other two posts recomended here, a must read IMO.

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For another informed view, see Yassin Musharbash‘s A few Thoughts on the ISIS-”Caliphate”. Peter Neumann has some interesting comments in this Guardian piece. And my own background on earlier mentions of Baghdadi, the Dajjal and the caliphate was posted here.

And that’s it — a week of powerful changes, and some fine reading to bring clarity out of the fog.

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Recommended Reading

Monday, June 30th, 2014

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

My greatest of amusements, reading” – Thomas Jefferson

DOUBLE-TOP BILLING!!!!! Special Iraq Edition…..

#1 Intelwire (J.M. Berger) Gambling on the Caliphate

….In the statement, ISIS claimed that it had fulfilled all the legal requirements for the caliphate and that all existing jihadi groups and indeed all Muslims around the world were religiously obligated to swear loyalty to the new Caliph Ibrahim (using the name provided by ISIS in the course of proving that Baghdadi has the required lineage for the title). 

Prior to this pronouncement, my assessment was that there was almost no way ISIS could exit June in worse shape than it entered the month, and that still holds, but July is beginning to look like an open question. ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, had made a bold move to seize territory in Iraq that had resulted in tremendous gains in both equipment and money. Even if it lost all of the territory it gained in June, it would still retain many of those spoils, with new clout, status and physical assets to compete with the other jihadi groups operating in Syria and near the Iraq border.

The declaration of the caliphate is a massive gamble that puts many of these gains at risk, although the potential benefits are also substantial. Here’s a quick rundown of the moving parts:

# 2   War on the Rocks (Peter J. Munson) – Iraq and the City of Man 

….The story, vastly simplified, is that Iraq is a cobbled-together country, like Germany, Italy, France and Spain. Despite all the discussion of Iraq’s seams, it really is not all that unique. For a time, the pieces of the country were relatively cohesive and the various peoples coexisted and even prospered in the urban centers.

But bad governance turned to disastrous governance. Saddam Hussein and his henchmen played groups against each other, using patronage, tribalism and even a re-Islamization campaign to shore up support, while brutalizing the Kurds and Shia who could not be bought. This supercharged atmosphere of terror and mistrust ignited quickly in the wake of the 2003 invasion.

Once-routine, even cordial sectarian intermixing quickly fell apart as the extreme violence of a minority forced segregation and xenophobia. From 2004 through 2008, Iraq descended into chaos, even as over 100,000 American and coalition troops fanned out into the cities to keep the peace and kill the killers. When a fragile calm began to return, some imagined that eventually things would turn out livable.

This is what we all hoped for. Closure. Validation. Peace. Sanctity. Humans reach for the City of God, but it is not to be had here on Earth. AsAugustine wrote, “the earthly city is generally divided against itself by litigation, by wars, by battles, by the pursuit of victories that bring death with them or at best are doomed to death.” The city of man

Eeben Barlow – Carving up the Continent 

As a continent, Africa remains under the constant threat of destabilisation along with numerous internal, intractable crises aimed at fuelling suspicion and exploiting differences amongst the populace. These threats are aimed at creating fractious states that will be ripe for foreign intervention and ultimately the division of countries.
As a general guideline, the development of tensions along with destabilisation and revolution follows a predictable pattern in resource-rich countries:

S. Anthony Iannarino – How to Spend Time Thinking  

….Thinking takes more time than you think.

Unless you schedule time to think, to really do nothing else but think, you won’t do it. You make time to exercise your body so that it stays strong, healthy, and so that it serves you well. You have to do the same thing for your mind.

Schedule time when you can be alone to do nothing but think. This isn’t time to plan your next week, even though you might have ideas about what you need to put on your agenda. It isn’t time to work on a project, even though you may generate ideas about those projects. Just block the time to be alone with absolutely no agenda but thinking.

If you want to make this time more powerful and more productive, do it first thing in the morning.

Chuck SpinneyManeuver Warfare: German Experiences in WWII 

….Expanding beyond the close support theme, the remainder of this series of very important historical interviews was conceived and organized by Captain Ratley and Col. Dilger, then executed by the team of Col. Richard Hallock and Pierre Sprey.  The following reports list of reports are links to the cumulative product of their efforts.  Special thanks goes to LTC Greg Wilcox (U.S. Army Ret.), also a reformer, for making these unique historical documents widely accessible in electronic format. Maneuver Warfare in WW II from a German perspective with emphasis on operational and tactical employment levels on the Eastern Front.

The Loopcast – ISIS and Iraq
Chet Richards - Is Blitzkrieg Enough? 
Foreign AffairsThe Good Germans 
That’s it.
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A Low Visibility Force Multiplier – a recommendation

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Low Visibility Force Multiplier, Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions, Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, Jingdong Yuan

Through an interesting turn of events I was able to attend an event at the Center for a New American Security today where Dennis Gormley and Andrew Erickson discussed their new book, A Low Visibility Force Multiplier. A colleague with CIMSEC posted a link to a Wendell Minnick story in Defense News which led to the National Defense University pdf. I managed to read a large chunk last night/this morning—for a document that was written using open sources, the authors make a pretty compelling case that China’s Anti-ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM), the so-called “carrier killer” isn’t the only missile in the PLAN arsenal U.S. Navy planners need to factor in.

From the Executive Summary:

Assessment

China has invested considerable resources both in acquiring foreign cruise missiles and technology and in developing its own indigenous cruise missile capabilities. These efforts are bearing fruit in the form of relatively advanced ASCMs and LACMs deployed on a wide range of older and modern air, ground, surface-ship, and sub-surface platforms.(9) To realize the full benefits, China will need additional investments in all the relevant enabling technologies and systems required to optimize cruise missile performance.(10) Shortcomings remain in intelligence support, command and control, platform stealth and survivability, and postattack damage assessment, all of which are critical to mission effectiveness.

ASCMs and LACMs have significantly improved PLA combat capabilities and are key components in Chinese efforts to develop A2/AD capabilities that increase the costs and risks for U.S. forces operating near China, including in a Taiwan contingency. China plans to employ cruise missiles in ways that exploit synergies with other strike systems, including using cruise missiles to degrade air defenses and command and control facilities to enable follow-on air strikes. Defenses and other responses to PRC cruise missile capabilities exist, but will require greater attention and a focused effort to develop technical countermeasures and effective operational responses.

The authors speculate that China has done the calculus and determined they can’t match us (or perhaps have no desire) in platforms, but rather are choosing a lower cost alternative: omassive missile barrages—so massive ship defense systems are overwhelmed. Numbers matter; as the great WayneP. Hughes, Jr. (CAPT, USN, Ret) points out in his seminal Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, naval warfare is attrition warfare. With that in mind, this paragraph illustrates the gravity (emphasis added):

Cruise Missile Ratios

DOD transformation assumes that by shaping the nature of military competition in U.S. favor, or “overmatch,” rivals will continually lag in a demanding security environment. What if this is a false assumption? In other words, China may be choosing to com- pete in a traditional or conventional maritime environment in which transformed U.S. forces are structured and equipped in a significantly different way. As analyst Mark Stokes has reported, some Chinese believe that, due to the low cost of developing, deploying, and maintaining LACMs, cruise missiles possess a 9:1 cost advantage over the expense of defending against them. (103) The far more important—and difficult to estimate—ratio is that of PLA ASCMs to U.S. Navy defense systems. Numbers alone will not determine effectiveness; concept of operations and ability to employ cruise missiles effectively in actual operational conditions will be the true determinants of capability. Even without precise calculations, however, it appears that China’s increasing ASCM inventory has in- creasing potential to saturate U.S. Navy defenses. This is clearly the goal of China’s much heavier emphasis on cruise missiles, and it appears to be informed by an assumption that quantity can defeat quality. Saturation is an obvious tactic for China to use based on its capabilities and emphasis on defensive systems. PLAN ASCM weapon training, production, and delivery platform modernization continues to progress rapidly. Scenarios involving hostile engagement between PLAN and U.S. CSG forces could be quite costly to the latter due to the sheer volume of potential ASCM saturation attacks.

Dr. Erickson pointed out in today’s meeting that the Mark Stokes estimate may be an overstatement, but certainly illustrative of economics involved.

This is an important contribution and the challenges facing our Navy and Allies in the South China Sea/East China Sea lead me to conclude with hope that policy makers read and heed.

Strongest recommendation.

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Still center of the burning world

Monday, May 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a bookish Brit myself, I could easily see myself in either one of these pictures ]
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One trouble with my DoubleQuotes format is that it conforms any images or texts to its own size: there are times when a larger font size in text — or a larger version of an image, allowing greater detail to be seen — would be preferable, as in the case of these two photos from the Blitz:

and:

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The first has been nicely described by Eileen A. Joy in her book-in-progress, Postcard from the Volcano: Beowulf, Memory, History:

Consider the well-known photograph taken of Holland House in London of September 1940, the morning after a German air raid had devastated the house, but had somehow left the library walls, with their shelves of neatly arranged books, mostly intact. This was the period of the Blitz, when the German Luftwaffe bombed London and other English cities continuously for months, hoping to make Britain vulnerable to a land invasion. Holland House, the remnants of which now form part of an open-air theater, was built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope. It was one of the first "great houses" of Kensington, and during England’s Civil War it was occupied by Cromwell’s army.The photograph shows three men in bowler hats who appear quite comfortable, even calm, as they browse and select books from the tidy stacks, while all around them lie the bombed-out ruins of the house, its roof smashed to pieces, its charred beams exposed, ladders and chairs and other assorted pieces of furniture crushed under the rubble. But the browsers appear oblivious to the terrors of the night before and the chaos surrounding them on all sides. They are the very image of scholarly repose, of quiet study and reflective contemplation, and the symmetry of the books and shelves are the very picture of order in the midst of disorder. Outside, but also inside, lies a world on the brink of apocalypse, what Churchill called "the abyss of a new dark age" (Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War: Their Finest Hour [Boston, 1949], 2: 225-26).

The photograph provides an image of the fetishization of the text, or document, of the ways in which history attaches itself, not to the social disturbances and crises surrounding it on all sides, but to the ruins of the past, and even more so, to the orderly archive of the narratives of those ruins. In that austere repository of the bound volumes of fabula and historia — the library — the scholar seeks the world of lived human experience but encounters instead one of its chief symptoms — writing.

The second is one Zen just used as the header for his most recent Recommended Readings. The Atlanti, which appears to have done the requisite research, titles this image:

A boy sits amid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid on October 8, 1940, reading a book titled “The History of London.”

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So, question:

Is it the love of books we see illustrated in these two photos — or British aplomb?

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Recommended Reading

Monday, May 19th, 2014

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

Top BillingThe War Nerd: Nigeria’s inevitable Mess 

….Most people don’t remember Biafra now, except as the second name of that spoken-word asshole Jello Biafra. It’s a shame; the Igbo deserve to have their heroic war remembered and honored. But like I said, nobody much cares about African casualties, and when they do, it’s always Africans as helpless victims—never, ever Africans as brave and well-organized armies. I’ve noticed that, over years of doing this column. When Africans are threatening to form a strong, united country, like the Igbo, the Tutsi or the Eritreans, they come in for some weirdly intense hate, and a lot of times it comes from the bloodiest bleeding hearts around. Creeps me out, actually, and I’m not easily crept.

MarketWatch -Too-big-to-fail battle between Larry Summers, Nassim Taleb 

….Summers, who served as Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton and more recently as an adviser to Barack Obama, took exception and charged that Taleb was being unrealistic about the difficulties identifying the institutions that pose systemic risk.

Summers told Taleb that he was for more capital, more liquidity, living wills for banks and procedures to wind them down. “What are you for?” he challenged.

“I’m for punishment,” Taleb replied.

 Dean Cheng – The Odd Couple: China and North Korea 

….By contrast, one of the worst case scenarios for Beijing would be a reunified Korean peninsula that was allied with both the United States and Japan. In that situation, the PRC would see itself being contained by three of the largest economies in Asia, adjacent to its territory and capable of wielding enormous military power. Certainly, the prospect of American forces being based in close proximity to Chinese territory, even if not in the former DPRK, would be concerning, if only due to the potential for intelligence collection. Moreover, the Chinese would likely see the steady expansion of NATO as presenting a malignant model for East Asia, with an American-led coalition steadily encroaching upon Chinese territory and jeopardizing the PRC’s ability to access the seas.

Cheng is my go-to guy on Chinese policy.

Christopher Ford -Confucian Rationalizations for One-Party Dictatorship 

….Today, the development of the new quasi-Confucian political discourse of a technocratically-guided but civilizationally-grounded national unity and strength receives support and encouragement from the very highest levels of the Party-State.  The regime and its propaganda apparatus have increasingly been using Confucian key words or notions, and stressing themes of “Chineseness” in political and international relations theory by picking up on elements that began to emerge after Confucius studies received the Party-State’s ideological imprimatur and encouragement in the mid-1980s.

 David Stockman-Why China Will Implode: Its A Monumental Building Aberration, Not An Economy

 

 …Occasionally a picture is worth a thousand words, and here’s one buried in a Financial Times story on China’s rapidly deteriorating housing market. It seems that during the two-year period 2011-2012, which was the peak of China’s much praised “aggressive” stimulus response to the Great Recession in the DM world, China consumed more cement than did the United States during the entire 20th century!

Agree with Stockman that this figure is astounding. Suspect that it is also fake and also suspect, on a more ominous note, that the Chinese government may not know what the real figure is either.

FORBES -Eyes Wide Shut to North Korea’s Terror Ties

War on the Rocks - “SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL”: EL SALVADOR’S LESSONS AND NON-LESSONS FOR THE INDIRECT APPROACH 

Small Wars Journal Still Shortchanged 

WarCouncil.org -Not By Force Alone: Russian Strategic Surprise in Ukraine

Sensable Learning-Why Standards Cannot Measure Student Achievement: The Binary Bar of Proficiency 

WSJThe Closing of the Collegiate Mind 

Christianity TodayUnconventional Warfare 

SEEDEarly Warning Signs

Ultraculture -A Mexican Scientist Just Invented a ‘Telekinesis’ Helmet 

RECOMMENDED VIEWING – KORENGAL TRAILER

From Sebastian Junger, author of WAR and featured in RESTREPO

Korengal the Movie

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