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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 ]

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”.


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.


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.


USNI Press to Rerelease J.C. Wylie’s Classic

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Military Strategy, A General Theory of Power Control, J. C. Wylie

Mark your calendar; March 15, 2014, the USNI Press will rerelease J.C. Wylie‘s classic Military Strategy. A couple years ago I reviewed here.

If you have not read Wylie, I strongly recommend adding his little book to your list.

And a big “Thank You!” to the USNI Press!

POSTSCRIPT: A representative of the USNI notified me that an eBook will be forthcoming, too. 


Recommended Reading

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Been too long since I have run one of these compendiums…..

Top Billing! Goes to my amigo Michael Lotus for breaking into the big league level of MSM op-eds. Congrats Mike!:

The transformation of the USA — here comes America 3.0 

The recent political deadlock and government shutdown, and the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare, show that something is seriously wrong in Washington, D.C. 

What’s going on?

America is going through a transformation, on a scale that few people now realize. The last such fundamental change was from the rural and agrarian society of the Founding era (America 1.0) to the urban and industrial society which is now coming to an end (America 2.0).

That transition was disruptive and painful, but ultimately led to a better America

We are now making a similar transition to a post-industrial, networked, decentralized, immensely productive America, with a more individualistic, voluntarist, anti-bureaucratic culture (America 3.0). 

Congrats to John Robb on starting Home Free America ! ( also read his Is making a policy decision in the “National Interest” smart anymore? Probably not.)

SWJ – (Anderson) The End of the Peace of Westphalia: Fourth Generation Warfare and (Hoffman) Into the Cities; Dark, Dense, and Dangerous 

This question is often raised. Although traditional insurgents have adopted many of the tactics of 4GW, they differ from non-state Fourth Generational warriors in that insurgents are looking to replace the current government of a country with another fairly traditional and recognizable government, usually one with a different ideological bent. When they gain enough strength, traditional insurgents generally form fairly conventional third generation military forces rather than continue guerilla and terror operations. Some insurgencies try to oust foreign occupying forces, but still look to replace them with nation-state governmental norms. Fourth Generational actors generally have far wider regional and even global visions or look to impose entirely new social systems based on their religion or ideology. Of the three major non-state actors operating in the world today, the Taliban comes closest to acting like a traditional insurgency, but even it has transnational aspirations of uniting the Pashtun peoples of Pakistan and Afghanistan onto one political-unit. A captured Taliban once told me that if the Taliban could unite “Pashtunistan”, he didn’t care about the rest of Afghanistan.

Abu Muqawama is gone but not forgotten. A great blog – best wished to Dr. Exum and we will see Adam and Dan blogging elsewhere soon I’m sure.


Prime Minister Maliki will doubtless ask for assistance with his terrorism problem (the Iraqis have allegedly asked for—and been denied—armed drones).  The United States could agree to give assistance, but the lack of a Status of Forces Agreement makes the provision of any  military personnel problematic.  Perhaps a more feasible answer is for the United States to facilitate the Iraqi contracting of private U.S. firms that specialize in intelligence analysis, many of them formed and/or staffed by JSOC, and other military intelligence, veterans.   Once the Iraqi Security Forces know who is (and just as important, who is not) affiliated with AQI, then removing them from the population becomes much easier—and more surgical. 

New Savanna -MacArthur Fellowships: Let the Geniuses Free 

If you’re looking for the world’s fastest sprinter, you run a race and see who wins. The criterion for judging is straightforward. That is not the case in physics, poetry, community organizing, or any other pursuit for which MacArthurs have been or should be awarded. You judge a person’s accomplishment in such matters by examining their work in relation to existing relevant work. If it’s like some of that work, then they’re not a genius. Though their work might be very excellent indeed, they aren’t breaking new ground.
If, however, their work is obviously different, now we’ve got something to think about. And what we’ve got to think about is whether or not the work will prove to be solid, lasting, and seminal, or whether it will prove to be the unsubstantial contraption of a crank. How do you make THAT call?
Rumors are swirling in Washington that the Pentagon is thinking of closing its Office of Net Assessment (ONA). Alarmed by this idea, four congressmen led by Rep. Randy Forbes wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (.pdf) demanding “a commitment to the Office of Net Assessment.” The Lexington Institute’s Daniel Gourejoined the fray, opining that ONA “must be preserved and supported.” National security discussion boards and email loops quickly lit up with concern for ONA’s future.Outside Washington such passion must seem strange. ONA is a tiny organization that mostly commissions analysis and studies. Abolishing or changing a government office like this normally would pass unnoticed except by the people directly affected. But the Office of Net Assessment is not a normal organization. While most of the Pentagon’s massive bureaucracy is focused on short-term issues and immediate problems, ONA was designed to think big and long-term. Since there is nothing else exactly like it, closing it would have deep symbolic importance and raise major questions. As the Department of Defense cuts spending, what capabilities should stay and what can go? If the Office of Net Assessment is closed, does this mean that the United States no longer considers it important to think big thoughts about national security? And if its function is important, is there a better way to do it?

Having invested massively in foreclosed properties ( foreclosed in a large part because of  prior Bankster scamming) in the past two years,  Wall Street hedge fundies are piloting a future “nation of renters” – basically America as one large and miserable Pottersville with absentee landlords for the formerly middle-class. Expect a massive lobbying effort by the finance industry against the home mortgage deduction in 2014 right after the election to get a lame duck Congress  to attack private home ownership.
Aeon MagazineNinety Degree Revolution 
That’s it!

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