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Gaming the Islamic State three ways from Sunday

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — what hipbone thinking / gaming could and should bring to the natsec table ]
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I have just been browsing the Institute for the Study of War‘s report on its ISIS wargame, and thought I’d wargame ISIS a bit myself, using my DoubleQuotes game.

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The ISW report, in its 32 pages, barely mentions religious drivers, features one use of the word “apocalyptic” in a pretty non-specific sentence that implies nothing about what that word implies in terms of religious instensity — “ISIS intends to expand its Caliphate and eventually incite a global apocalyptic war” — and generally focuses on everything but “knowing” the enemy..

If they’d invited me and added a round or three of DoubleQuotes during a coffee break, I’d have been grateful for the coffee and the visit to DC, and very quickly played these two double-moves:

For wide context:

SPEC DQ Taiping IS

Upper panel: the Taiping Rebellion, an apocalyptic (in the true sense) movement in China, 1850 to 1864, with between 20 million and 30 million dead — as a reminder that apocalyptic movements can have, ahem, far-reaching consequences.

Lower panel: Refugees fleeing the Islamic State, a movement whose apocalyptic (in the true sense) strategy includes a focus on great end-times battle to be fought at Dabiq in Syria, Dabiq being the name of their English lnaguage magazine.

Read into the record in support of these two visuals:

  • Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
  • William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
  • And with narrower focus:

    here, on the brutality levels permitted in two rival jihadist groups in Syria:

    SPEC DQ IS vs Jabhat

    Upper panel: the Islamic State brutally executes British aid worker Alan Hemming

    Lower panel: AQ affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra points out that he was under an offer of protection binding on all Muslims.

    There would be background reading to explore and expand that DoubleQuote too. But the main point is: the contest of ideas, not simply that of troop movements and materiel, would have been part of the picture.

    **

    The Atlantic Council has also held two wargaming sessions on IS [1, 2], but again the insights to be gained into the Islamic State’s end-times motivations and their implications are almost nonexistent:

    ISIS carries the seeds of its own destruction primarily because it has an extremely small constituency within Islamist populations around the world, an apocalyptic vision, an unsustainable strategy of us-against-theworld, and a failed governance project.

    And that’s about it.

    **

    McCants’ presentation at the Boston conference, and his forthcoming book (above), both make it clear that the apocalyptic stress of today’s “caliphate” has morphed significantly from the more immediate apocaypticism in IS’ Zarqawi-era predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    And for a nuanced understanding of time-urgency in apocalyptic rhetoric, Stephen O’Leary‘s Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric is the definitive work.

    So when do we start introducing ideational war (and/or peace) games alongside our games of brute force?

    And how do you factor esprit, morale, and “angels, rank on rank” (Quran 8.9, 89.22) into troop movements and so forth?

    Hint: they’re force-multipliers.

    Iran: the deal does this, but what will others do?

    Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — requesting suggestions re “second order nuclear effects” from Israel & the Saudis ]
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    I’ve been watching one aspect of developing current events closely — Islamic apocalyptic jihad, for short — and claim no special expertise in many other realms, but on the contrary, consider myself too inexpert even to hazard much in the way of commentary. Knowing what I know about what I know, and having seen how often the media and punditry get it wrong, I am deeply suspicious of anything I might tend to think on the basis of media readings in other areas.

    So: I am ignorant about the Iranian nuclear deal.

    I tend to read Cheryl Rofer for insight into the tecnhical nuclear issues, and Tim Furnish on Iranian Mahdism as it might or might not intersect with the desire for nukes. But that’s about the limit for me.

    So: here’s what nags away at me, in the words of a commenter at ChicagoBoyz:

    the end result might not be nuclear weapons [for Iran] .. It might be a nuclear preemptive strike by Israel and Saudi Arabia

    I’m ignorant. Does the deal, or any other diplomatic venture, address the issue of consequences other than those the deal itself provides for Iran and for her co-signers? What will the Israelis, what will the Saudis in fact do?

    With Putin already rattling implicitly nuclear sabres, do we now have a second potential nuclear front, a threat coming not “from” Iran but “at” it?

    Please set me straight, from left, from right, from military and intelligence perspectives, any which way you can.

    **

    Second order effects are always important and often overlooked. When they’re nuclear, that could be highly problematic, not to say volcanic.

    Lucky?

    Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — where two negatives (OPM and Secret Service) may make an ironic positive — a DoubleTweet ]
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    On the one hand…

    — while on the other…

    Taken separatedly, they’re both on the sinister side — but together, almost dextrous?

    Cold War and Political Fire: Speculation on the State of Sinology

    Monday, June 8th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    China HandJohn Paton Davies 

    Our newest ZP team member, T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage blog has reposted two very thoughtful essays on the Chinese strategic tradition and its interpretation that can be found in modern Sinology. They are excellent and I encourage you to read them in full.
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    In his second post, T. Greer raises many questions regarding the state of Sinology, as well as topics for future investigation yet unexplored that would represent in equivalent fields, the fundamentals. Given that China represents not just a nation-state and a potential near-peer competitor of the U.S. but thousands of years of a great civilization, it is remarkable that the professional community of Western Sinologists is so small. The number of USG employees with the highest level of conversational fluency in Chinese who are neither native speakers nor children of immigrants would probably not fill a greyhound bus.
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    Why is the state of Sinology relatively parlous?

    I think the poor state of Sinology is traceable primarily, albeit far from exclusively, to the Cold War for two reasons:

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    First, Mao’s tumultuous, totalitarian rule cut off access to Chinese sources and China to Western scholars for roughly a generation and a half. This in itself, coming on the heels of almost forty years of revolution, warlordism, foreign invasion and civil war, was enough to cripple the field. Without access to in-country experience, archival sources and foreign counterparts, an academic field begins to die.  Furthermore, Mao’s tyrannical isolation of mainland China was  far more severe than the limited access for Western scholars of Russian history and journalists imposed by the Soviet Union. Josef Stalin, in contrast to Mao, was partially a great Russian chauvinist and the Soviet dictator demanded  certain aspects of Russian history, culture and the reigns of particular Tsars be celebrated alongside the Marxist pantheon . Mao’s feelings towards traditional Chinese culture were much more hostile and ideologically extreme.  Stalin’s worst abuses of Russian history in demolishing a historic Tsarist cathedral for a never-built, gigantic Soviet labyrinthe pale next to the mad vandalism of the Cultural Revolution .

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    Secondly, the fate of “the China hands” like John Paton Davies and the “Who Lost China” debate during McCarthyism rendered Sinology politically radioactive in America. It is true that many of the China hands like Davies combined a realistic strategic assessment of Kuomintang/Chiang Kai-shek shortcomings with politically naive or wishful thinking about Mao and the Communists, but the field was dealt a blow from which it never recovered in American universities. Davies was not a Communist or even a leftist (though some China Hands were fellow travelers) but that nuance was lost on the public  in a period that saw in swift succession Alger Hiss, the Berlin blockade, the the Fall of China, the Soviet A-Bomb, Klaus Fuchs, the Rosenbergs and the Korean War. It seemed at the time that the Roosevelt administration had been infiltrated with Soviet spies and fellow travelers (largely because it had been) and in that atmosphere of Red-baiting, Davies was subsequently scapegoated, smeared and fired.  This McCarthyite political cloud over Sinology was curiously juxtaposed with the simultaneous robust funding of studies of the USSR, Russian culture and the training of Slavic linguists in the 1950’s to 1991 by the USG. For academics, going into Sinology could become a professional dead end and carried (at least in the early fifties) an odor of disloyalty.

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    There are certainly other and more contemporary reasons for American  Sinology being more of an esoteric field than it deserves, to which someone else with expertise can address but all fields need to attract talent and funding and until Nixon’s “China opening”, American Sinologists struggled against the political current.

    WARLORDS, INC BOOK LAUNCH!!!

    Saturday, May 9th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    This important and terrifying book should be read by everyone who cares about the future of human civilization.” Anatol Lieven

    Warlords, inc. ; Black Markets, Broken States and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, Edited by Noah Raford and Andrew Trabulsi

    Warlords, inc. a book to which I have contributed a chapter, is being launched today at The Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. Published by Penguin-Random House, Warlords, inc. was the brainchild of Dr. Noah Raford, who recruited an impressive group of experts, journalists, scholars and futurists to analyze and anticipate emergent security trends and irregular warfare among non-state actors, including terrorists, hackers, insurgents, sectarians and corporations.  With a foreword by Dr. Robert J. Bunker, the list of authors include:

    William Barnes
    Daniel Biro
    James Bosworth
    Nils Gilman
    Jesse Goldhammer
    Daniel S. Gressang
    Vinay Gupta
    Paul Hilder
    Graham Leicester
    Sam Logan
    Noah Raford
    Tuesday Reitano
    Mark Safranski
    John P. Sullivan
    Peter Taylor
    Hardin Tibbs
    Andrew Trabulsi
    Shlok Vaidya
    Steven Weber

    As editor, Andrew Trabulsi did a heroic job herding cats in editing this substantial volume and keeping all of the authors and project on track and on time. Warlords, inc. is available May 12 on Amazon and will be at Barnes & Noble and Target as well. Excited and proud to be part of this endeavor!


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