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Recommended Reading

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Top billing! Adam Elkus - Is Failure an Option? (I),  Is Failure an Option? (II),  Is Failure an Option? (III) 

….The idea of implementing a massive and complex venture rapidly and decisively (with little room for error) is essentially just a rephrasing of the familiar the pre-World War I fear of losing a mobilization race. Under some circumstances, a nuclear balance could also degenerate into a “use them or lose them” dilemma in which a state risks the entire annihilation of its strategic forces and decision nodes in one murderous enemy salvo. There also seems to be — from Niccolo Machiavelli to Nathan Bedford Forrest – a general competitive heuristic that if you are to crush your enemies, you must strike as powerfully as you can and as quickly as you can. The heuristic is even repeated in the animal kingdom: queen bees famously kill their rivals upon emergence. But as the Germans discovered after the Schlieffen Plan and The Wire‘s Omar taunted, rapid execution and massive risk only pays off when it pays off. Fail and you run the risk of embroiling yourself in a quagmire that might have been avoided with more gradual and less rigidly planned execution

SWJ El Centro – Sullivan, Bunker & Bunker Film Review: Narco Cultura – A Tale of Three Cities 

Narcocultura is on the ascendency. Narcocorridos are not new.  This genre of music has its roots in folk music and norteño ballads.  Like Pancho Villa, who was venerated in song during the revolution, these ballads extol the virtues of those who rebel against the corrupt state.  The poor and powerless look for symbols of power and rebellion.  Yet the narcocorrido is more than Hip Hop or gangster rap south of the border.  It is not only a form of cross-border musical social commentary; it is a means of cartel information operations and a vehicle of social-environmental modification. In this film, we see bands and singers in the orbit of Sinaloa (El Komander and the BuKnas de Culicán). Their songs are a form of information operations for the Sinaloa Federation. The Movimiento Alterado (altered movement) is the business name of the narcocorrido or corridos alterados movement in Los Angeles.  The movement and songs are sanctioned by the Sinaloa Cartel.  The narcocorridos are banned in parts of Mexico so they are produced in Los Angeles, home to a large immigrant community and numerous gangs.

John Hagel – The Dark side of Technology 

….But here’s the kicker.  This digital technology infrastructure is not stabilizing.  We’ve had plenty of technology disruptions throughout history – the steam engine, electricity, the telephone, just to name some.  But, asCarlotta Perez has shown, all of these disruptions followed a common pattern.  They began with a burst of innovation at the technology level, but then quickly stabilized with only incremental performance improvements afterwards.  That in turn led to a burst of innovation at the infrastructure level, figuring out how to most effectively organize and deliver the value of this technology to business and society. But then that too rapidly stabilized so we could then figure out how to most effectively harness this technology.

Our digital technology infrastructure is unprecedented in human history.  It’s not stabilizing.  The core technology components – computing, storage and bandwidth – are continuing to improve in price/performance at accelerating rates and the best scientists and technologists suggest that this exponential pace will not slow down in the foreseeable future.

RUSI – Afghanistan after 2014: What Roles for China and India? 

The Scholar’s Stage - Things those Chinese Think ( + What we think Back)

War on the Rocks – Japan’s New Defense Strategy

Dan Drezner has left the building

Slightly East of New -Vandergriff: Selfless vs. Selfish Service 

CORRECTION Fred Leland’s LESC blog  ( by Louis Hayes The Doctor in SWAT School (and What His Performance Says About Police Culture)

AeonEndless Fun and Creepypasta 

DemocracyJournalPaine and Burke Now 

That’s it

Furnish: the Dome of the Rock or the Iron Dome?

Monday, December 16th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — introducing a significant post by Tim Furnish re Israel’s safety, Iran and more ]
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The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (Picturesque Palestine, 1881, left) and the Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (contemporary, right)

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Our occasional guest-blogger and friend Dr Timothy Furnish has a new post up at his MahdiWatch blog that I’d like to bring to your attention.

Here’s his closing paragraph, containing (a) an observation comparing the “end times” significance of Syria and Jerusalem vs Mecca and Medina, (b) a corresponding hint to security analysts, and (c) the implication that Iranian nukes would likely not be used against Jerusalem, since the Noble Sanctuary / Temple Mount with its two great mosques is altogether too important in Islamic eschatological terms to be put at risk…

Muslim eschatological fervor is boiling over in nearby Syria, as I analyzed on this site in September, 2013. The extent to which Muslims in Israel are aware of, and inflamed by, this is unknown; what is known is that Damascus and Jersualem are much more prominent in Islamic traditions (both Sunni and Shi`i) about the coming of the Mahdi and the subsequent eschatological events than are Mecca and Medina. Therefore, it would behoove Western geopolitical and intelligence analysts—both in and out of government—to put some effort into studying this topic, rather than relegating it to the theater of the absurd or myopically obsessing over what Evangelical Christians think about the end of the world. I would also add that the historical eschatological significance of Jersualem to Muslims is a major argument against the thesis that the Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel (I have already argued at length elsewhere that this charge little accords with Twelver Shi`i doctrines): Islam’s third-holiest site is that religion’s most important eschatological locale, and no one is more respectful of such traditions than the ayatollahs in Qom and Tehran. Thus, if al-Quds is nuked or even contaminated with fall-out from a bomb on Tel Aviv, the Mahdi and Allah will not only be displeased but unable to stage the eschatological denouement. The presence of the Domes of the Rock and Chain in Jerusalem is thus, in my studied opinion, an even greater deterrent to Islamic nuclear attack on that city than is Israel’s more prosaic Iron Dome anti-missile system.

To read the whole thing, go to Domes of the Rock and Chain v. A Dome of Iron: Which Best Protects Israel from Islamic Attack?

Clever title, that — and a must-read post.

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As a mild reinforcement to Tim Furnish’s point, I’m going to drop in here a part of an earlier ZP post of mine, including two quotes on the close kinship between the Kaaba in Mecca and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as constituting in some sense the book-ends both of world history and of the history of Islam considered as the final revelation.

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As I’ve noted before, al-Aqsa isn’t just the focal point of the Palestinian / Israeli question, nor it is only the place at which the Prophet alighted from his steed, Buraq, and ascended to receive the divine instructions for prayer in the Miraj — it is also the destination of the Mahdi‘s victorious army in the Khorasan strand of ahadith.

Indeed, it has been suggested that the Pierced Rock of the Dome of the Rock in al-Aqsa is closely related to the Black Stone of the Kaaba. Kanan Makiya, in his part-fictional part-documentary book, The Rock, quotes Charles Matthews‘ translation of Burhan al-Din ibn Firka al-Fazari‘s Kitab Ba’ith al-Nufus ila Ziyarat al-Quds al-Mahrus (The Book of Arousing Souls to Visit Jerusalem’s Holy Walls) from Matthews’ Palestine: Mohammedan Holy Land:

Verily, the Kaaba is in an equivalent position to the Frequented House in the Seventh Heaven, to which the angels of Allah make pilgrimage. And if rocks fell from it, they would have fallen on the place of the Rock of the Temple of Mecca [i.e. the Black Stone]. And indeed, Paradise is in the Seventh Heaven in an equivalent position to the Holy Temple (in Jerusalem) and the Rock; and if a rock had fallen from it, it would have fallen upon the place of the Rock there. And for this case the city is called Urushalim, and Paradise is called Dar al-Salam, the House of Peace.

Indeed, David Roxburgh mentions all these matters, writing in Salma Khadra Jayyusi et al., The city in the Islamic world, vol. 1. p 756:

This movement corresponded to other efforts — before, during, and after the Crusades — to establish “geo-theological” connections between Jerusalem and Mecca, whose preeminent sanctity was inviolable up until the end of days. Examples linking Mecca to Jerusalem include the Prophet Muhammad’s nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem (isra) and his ascension from Jerusalem to the throne of God (miraj); the underground joining of the waters of Zamzam to Silwan (var. Siloam) during the “feast of the sacrifice” (id al-adha); and the transfer of the Kaba and its black stone from Mecca to Jerusalem during the last days. these various traditions linked Jerusalem to Mecca, sometimes by sets of doubled features, in a near symmetry and in a calendar that will culminate during the end of days.

So there’s an eschatological dimension to all these parallelisms, too…

On Islam 1: Reuel Mark Gerecht

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — on an impressive video, featuring Matt Levitt and Reuel Gerecht on Hezbollah ]
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Matthew Levitt‘s contribution to a recent panel at the International Soy Museum was a tour de force. Levitt, whose work as a CT analyst has included stints with both the FBI and Treasury, was discussing his most recent book, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God — both the book and his talk are strongly recommended.

It is, however, his colleague Reuel Marc Gerecht‘s contribution to that session that I wish to highlight here, because [starting at 44.40] he made a point about Hezbollah from his own CT experience that he still finds it necessary to make in 2013, some two decades after his service with the CIA commenced in the 1990s:

One of the things I was struck by when I came into the Agency, and I was struck by it on the day that I left the Agency, which was: you almost never had officers either on the clandestine side or in the directorate of analysis, the Directorate of Intelligence, talk about God. You just didn’t have that many people sort of put it together and talk about what actually motivated people.

You know, there was almost an assumption out there, Oh, the Iranians were upset with us because of our dealing with the Shah etcetera, but the actual analysis of the Iranian complaint against the United States was distinctly secular. Even the analysis of the Hezbollah was distinctly secular. And it never made any sense, particularly if you started to have some exposure to these individuals, and you suddenly realized that no, their motivations aren’t secular usually, their motivations are actually deeply spiritual, they’re religious, they’re about God.

— and [starting 53.04]:

There is a profound reflex in the West to look at a group like Hezbollah, and to look at their Iranian sponsors, and to take God out of the equation. Don’t do that. We wouldn’t do it with al-Qaida. Don’t do it with these groups either. If you do that, if you neuter them of their religious belief, if you look at it as just an ethnic movement, if you look at it as just a sectarian movement, if you look at it as just the Shi’a getting even in Lebanon, then you’re making an atrocious analytical mistake, which will bushwhack you, I guarantee you, over and over again. You have to keep God in this equation…

The one bright spot in this dismal account of the secular mindset blinding itself to religious passion is Gerecht’s statement: “We wouldn’t do it with al-Qaida”.

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For more on the way our own worldviews can blind us to the worldviews of others, see my post on Gaidi Mtaani, together with the two follow ups to that post which I shall be posting here shortly.

Recommended Reading & Viewing

Monday, November 25th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Top Billing! TechCrunch – Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries 

I found this one fascinating and entertaining on several level: an orthodox PC liberal doing a sort of anthropological drive by on an obscure ideological sect where the Far Right intersected with Silicon Valley, but rejected the libertarian adherence to classical liberalism for a mystical-mythologizing ethos ( they seem to admire the mid 20th C. mummery of Julius Evola).

….Perhaps the one thing uniting all neoreactionaries is a critique of modernity that centers on opposition to democracy in all its forms. Many are former libertarians who decided that freedom and democracy were incompatible.

“Demotist systems, that is, systems ruled by the ‘People,’ such as Democracy and Communism, are predictably less financially stable than aristocratic systems,”Anissimov writes. “On average, they undergo more recessions and hold more debt. They are more susceptible to market crashes. They waste more resources. Each dollar goes further towards improving standard of living for the average person in an aristocratic system than in a Democratic one.”

Exactly what sort of monarchy they’d prefer varies. Some want something closer to theocracy, while Yarvin proposes turning nation states into corporations with the king as chief executive officer and the aristocracy as shareholders.

For Yarvin, stability and order trump all. But critics like Scott Alexander think neoreactionaries overestimate the stability of monarchies — to put it mildly. Alexander recently published an anti-reactionary FAQ, a massive document examining and refuting the claims of neoreactionaries.

“To an observer from the medieval or Renaissance world of monarchies and empires, the stability of democracies would seem utterly supernatural,” he wrote. “Imagine telling Queen Elizabeth I – whom as we saw above suffered six rebellions just in her family’s two generations of rule up to that point – that Britain has been three hundred years without a non-colonial-related civil war. She would think either that you were putting her on, or that God Himself had sent a host of angels to personally maintain order.”

T. Greer – Another Look at ‘The Rise of the West’ – But With Better Numbers 

Why the West? I do not think there is any other historicalcontroversy that has so enthralled the publicintellectuals of our age.  The popularity of the question can probably be traced to Western unease with a rising China and the ease with which the issue can be used as proxy war for the much larger contest between Western liberals who embrace multiculturalism and conservatives who champion the West’s ‘unique’ heritage. 
A few months ago I suggested that many of these debates that surround the “Great Divergence” are based on a flawed premise–or rather, a flawed question. As I wrote:  

“Rather than focus on why Europe diverged from the rest in 1800 we should be asking why the North Sea diverged from the rest in 1000.” [1]

I made this judgement based off of data from Angus Maddison‘s Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 ADand the subsequent updates to Mr. Maddison’s data set by the scholars who contribute to the Maddison Project.

As far as 1,000 year economic projections go this data was pretty good. But it was not perfect. In many cases–especially with the Chinese data–it was simply based on estimates and extrapolations from other eras. A more accurate view of the past would require further research.

That research has now been done. 

Small Wars Journal- ( Sullivan and ElkusThe ‘New’ Playbook? Urban Siege in Nairobi 

Urban siege entails combined arms, ‘swarming’ attacks that bring multiple assault squads into play to attack a target or targets.  The goal is to draw in defenders to prolong the attack and maximize casualties and disruption.  By leveraging multiple, simultaneous assaults (known as swarming) response is complex. As a result, fog, friction, and the smog of terrorism is amplified. As the START Background Reporton the attack noted, extended hostage-barricade attacks with durations over 24 hours are nearly five times as lethal as those that end within a day.

The most notable antecedent to the Westgate siege was the Mumbai attack. In that 2008 action Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) conducted a series of assaults—including complex hostage barricade situations—on seven separate targets in Mumbai, killing 171 and wounding over 250 during their three-day siege.  We viewed that as a seminal event in contemporary urban siege.  Indeed in our paper “Postcard From Mumbai: Modern Urban Siege” we called it a ‘Back to the Future’ incident where terrorists returned to urban guerilla tactics.

War on the Rocks (Evans) -WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH CHINA’S NEW AIR DEFENSE IDENTIFICATION ZONE? 

According to a spokesman for the PLA, the zone “is an area of air space established by a coastal state beyond its territorial airspace to timely identify, monitor, control and react to aircraft entering this zone with potential air threats. It allows early-warning time and provides air security.” It has issued a set of rules for aircraft to follow, including identification of themselves and their flight path.  Ominously, the PRC states, “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions.”

China claims the zone “is not directed against any specific country or target,” but this is clearly not the case.  The zone covers territory claimed by both Japan and China – the Senkaku Islands – and there have been a series of incidents and disputes related to this territory.  China claims to be “following international practice” but it is not clear what practice they are referring to. They claim it is “a necessary measure taken by China in exercising its self-defense right. It is not directed against any specific country or target. It does not affect the freedom of over-flight in the related airspace.” 

Business Insider -US NAVY: Hackers ‘Jumping The Air Gap’ Would ‘Disrupt The World Balance Of Power’ 

Chicago Boyz -Daniel Hannan’s new book: Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World  

The National InterestInterpreting the new Iran Deal  

Shloky.com – Announcing the Origins of the Lean Start Up

The National Interest - Interpreting the new Iran Deal

Recommended Viewing:

J.M. Berger being interviewed on his book Jihad Joe:

Recommended Reading

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Grand Blog Tarkin - Ender’s Shadow and Offense-Defense Theory 

“Ender’s Shadow” is a 1997 novel by Orson Scott Card, set in the same universe and roughly same time period as his more well-known “Ender’s Game.” “Shadow” centers on a child named Bean, a minor character in “Game,” fleshing out his backstory and trajectory. The setting is a future in which Earth was devastated two centuries prior by an attack from an alien race known as Buggers. Humanity won the war, and then set up an International Fleet to keep peace between states, coordinate future anti-Bugger action, and train the best and brightest children of the world to be military commanders in an off-planet installation known as Battle School, where most of both “Game” and “Shadow” take place.

War on the Rocks – (Frank Hoffman) Tuppence for your COIN Thoughts 

This is not a comfortable book to read for members or friends of the British armed forces.  And it should generate equally discomforting questions for its American readers.  Counterinsurgency in Crisis is a dispassionate and objectively critical evaluation of UK strategic performance in its last two conflicts-Iraq and then Afghanistan.  Both authors have relevant scholarly credentials and prior works on civil conflicts and counterinsurgency.  Ucko (who is a colleague of mine at the National Defense University) and Egnell begin slowly, but end up with an eviscerating indictment of British preparation, strategic direction, and operational practice.  “There is no fig leaf large enough here to cover the deep flaws in the British government’s own approach and conduct in their counterinsurgency campaigns,” they conclude.

Marine Corps Gazette – (Nicholas Joiner) Battle of Belleau Wood 

On the morning of 6 June 1918, in what became the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history, Marines launched an offensive attack against a heavily fortified German position on Hill 142 across an open field to the west of Belleau Wood. Hampered by flat terrain, the Marines advanced with fixed bayonets across open wheat fields swept by German machinegun and artillery fire. Caught in the open, retreating French soldiers advised the Marines to follow suit, where Capt Lloyd Williams was famously quoted as saying, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” Despite heavy losses, Hill 142 was taken following bloody hand-to-hand combat.

Selil – Where will the NSA be in 5 to 10 years?

 

A second effect I see for NSA is splitting off the CyberCom role. There is a lot of internal feuding and “facts” leading to the perception that the new role must be status quo. There is admittedly a lot of cost associated with a split of the two entities. The cost to society and inherent fight that is sure to come is likely even more costly. Arguments that this is new and we must allow it to continue are based on individuals desires to keep the status quo. A lot of people have skin in this game. So, they argue from their personal biases. I admit I’m biased. I want to see NSA and CyberCom succeed. Currently that will not happen if they are linked at the hip. The arguments of keeping them together are specious at best.

I think CyberCom should be severed from the NSA and the 4 star billet with associated staffs sent to at least Texas. Physical distance is needed to separate this war fighting entity from the intelligence entity NSA. The structure of CyberCom should be more like SOCOM. I think that the split will happen. I think the structure as a combatant command will not change

Michael Tanji – Sam and His (not so) Crazy Ramblings 

If intelligence agencies are good at one thing its burying bodies. Is anyone going to find themselves in front of Church Committee 2.0? No. Will the people who were leaning the furthest in the foxhole on efforts that were exposed going to find themselves asked to quietly find their way out the door? Absolutely. This is how it works: the seniors thank and then shepherd those that pushed the envelope to the side, those who take their place know exactly where the line is drawn and stay weeeellll behind it. They communicate that to the generations that are coming up, and that buys us a few decades of sailing on a more even keel…

…until the next catastrophic surprise…

The National Interest – (Michael Vlahos) Why Lists of Greatest Battles Don’t Work 

The first fallacy is our unconscious enshrining of “decisive battle”—not as in, “I won big”—but “I won history and changed the fate of nations, and the course of civilization, to boot”—in one battle. Jim shows us we actually still think this way.

There are actually a very few battles that meet this test: Hülegü’s sack of Baghdad in 1258 comes to mind. But the proliferation of “decisive”—as Jim suggests—may speak more of our bipolar search for, and simultaneous diminution of, ordinary significance in life than it does the role of decisive battles in history.

But such battles are even harder to find at sea.

SWJ  (Prescott) Heeding the Heretics 

Information Dissemination (Galrahn) We Need a Balanced Fleet for Naval Supremacy

Rebane’s Ruminations -Great Divide – ‘America 3.0’  

OPFOR -America 3.0: A Future 

Studies in Intelligence -Counterintelligence in Counterguerrilla Operations :50 Years Since Early Engagement in Southeast Asia

Foreign AffairsGoogle’s Original X-Man 

Forbes -49-State Analysis: Obamacare To Increase Individual-Market Premiums By Average Of 41% 

That’s it.


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