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By the Eternal

Friday, January 9th, 2015

[recalled by Lynn C. Rees]

January 8, 1815, 200 years ago today, the British Empire was sentenced to oblivion.

As Andrew Jackson killed the infernal Bank of the United States, a frustrated Congressman, opposed to Jackson, jotted down his thoughts. The first jot was draft of a resolution of impeachment against Jackson, throwing him under the BUS. The second jot characterized an incident from Jackson’s youth as a politically expedient fiction.

The paper, left accidentally on the floor of the House, fell into the hands of the editor of the Globe, who described it to General Jackson. On this occasion the General was betrayed, by his ungovernable wrath, into the use of language that had seldom fallen from his lips since the death of his wife. “The d—ed, infernal scoundrel!” roared the President. “Put your finger here, Mr. Blair,” he added, pointing to the long dent in his head…

Mr. Blair found that the wound had been far more serious than was supposed. He could lay a whole finger in the scar.

Jackson earned the wound at age thirteen.

The activity and zeal of the Waxhaw whigs coming to the ears of Lord Rawdon, whom Cornwallis had left in command, he dispatched a small body of dragoons to aid the tories of that infected neighborhood. The Waxhaw people hearing of the approach of this hostile force, resolved upon resisting it in open fight and named the Waxhaw meeting house as the rendezvous. Forty whigs assembled on the appointed day, mounted and armed; and among them were Robert and Andrew Jackson. In the grove about the old church, these forty were waiting for the arrival—hourly expected—of another company of whigs from a neighboring settlement. The British officer in command of the dragoons, apprised of the rendezvous by a tory of the neighborhood, determined to surprise the patriot party before the two companies had united. Before coming in sight of the church, he placed a body of tories, wearing the dress of the country, far in advance of his soldiers, and so marched upon the devoted band. The Waxhaw party saw a company of armed men approaching, but concluding them to be their expected friends, made no preparations for defense. Too late the error was discovered. Eleven of the forty were taken prisoners, and the rest sought safety in flight, fiercely pursued by the dragoons. The brothers…took refuge in a thicket, in which they passed a hungry and anxious night.

The next morning the pangs of hunger compelled them to leave their safe retreat and go in quest of food. The nearest house was that of [their cousin, United States Army] Lieutenant [Thomas] Crawford. Leaving their horses and arms in the thicket, the lads crept toward the house, which they reached in safety. Meanwhile, a tory traitor of the neighborhood had scented out their lurking place, found their horses and weapons, and set a party of dragoons upon their track. Before the family had a suspicion of danger, the house was surrounded, the doors were secured, and the boys were prisoners.

A scene ensued which left an impression upon the mind of one of the boys which time never effaced…the dragoons, brutalized by this mean partisan warfare, began to destroy with wild riot and noise the contents of the house. Crockery, glass, and furniture were dashed to pieces; beds emptied; the clothing of the family torn to rags…While this destruction was going on, the officer in command of the party ordered Andrew to clean his high jackboots, which were well splashed and crusted with mud. The boy replied, not angrily, though with a certain firmness and decision, in something like these words:

“Sir. I am a prisoner of war, and claim to be treated as such.”

The officer glared at him like a wild beast, and aimed a desperate blow at the boy’s head with his sword. Andrew broke the force of the blow with his left hand, and thus received two wounds—one deep gash on his head, and another on his hand, the marks of both of which he carried to his grave. The officer, after achieving this gallant feat, turned to Robert Jackson, and ordered him to clean the boots. Robert also refused. The valiant Briton struck the young man so violent a sword-blow upon the head as to prostrate and disable him

Jackson’s oldest brother Hugh had died a year earlier while fighting in the Battle of Stono Ferry. After their capture, Jackson and his older brother Robert caught smallpox. Their mother got them released but Robert died after only a few days. Jackson’s mother volunteered to nurse captured American soldiers imprisoned by the British in prison ships. She died of the cholera and was buried in an unmarked grave. At age 14, Jackson was an orphan.

Jackson was a champion hater. He was good at hating and he knew it. He was remorseless in what he chose to hate. When revelations of past transgressions drove his beloved wife to her death (as Jackson saw it), he swore, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers. I never can.” He mourned at the end of his presidency that, he’d “been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun.” But he would forgive who he would forgive. Senator Thomas Hart “”I never quarrel, sir, but I do fight, sir, and when I fight, sir, a funeral follows, sir.” Benton (D-MO), who’d seriously wounded Jackson in an 1813 street brawl, later became a close political ally. Hart summed up Jackson’s bright side: “Yes, sir, I knew him, sir; General Jackson was a very great man, sir. I shot him, sir. Afterward he was of great use to me, sir, in my battle with the United States Bank.” Equally, Hart summed up the fate of those who Jackson chose to hate: “When Andrew Jackson starts talking about hanging, men begin looking for ropes.”

Understand this: Jackson hated the British. Hated. When he received word that the British had landed before New Orleans 34 years later, whatever else happened, Jackson’s thirsting heart must have leapt in his chest (carefully, for there was a bullet lodged next to it).

Vengeance was his. He would repay. “By the Eternal!”, Jackson thundered, “They shall not sleep on our soil.”

New Orleans was the gateway of the North American continent. 15 years before, the importance of the City Under the Sea drove even President Thomas Jefferson, whose hatred of Britain, though carefully veiled behind multiple layers of hypocrisy, challenged even Jackson’s, to write to his minister to France:

There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants. France placing herself in that door assumes to us the attitude of defiance. Spain might have retained it quietly for years. Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state, would induce her to increase our facilities there, so that her possession of the place would be hardly felt by us, and it would not perhaps be very long before some circumstance might arise which might make the cession of it to us the price of something of more worth to her. Not so can it ever be in the hands of France. The impetuosity of her temper, the energy and restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us, and our character, which though quiet, and loving peace and the pursuit of wealth, is high-minded, despising wealth in competition with insult or injury, enterprising and energetic as any nation on earth, these circumstances render it impossible that France and the U.S. can continue long friends when they meet in so irritable a position. They as well as we must be blind if they do not see this; and we must be very improvident if we do not begin to make arrangements on that hypothesis. The day that France takes possession of N[ew] Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low water mark. It seals the union of two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation. We must turn all our attentions to a maritime force, for which our resources place us on very high grounds: and having formed and cemented together a power which may render reinforcement of her settlements here impossible to France, make the first cannon, which shall be fired in Europe the signal for tearing up any settlement she may have made, and for holding the two continents of America in sequestration for the common purposes of the united British and American nations.

Circumstances and mosquitoes soon made Buonaparte’s designs for the Americas an unaffordable luxury. The sale of Louisiana to the United States the following year spared Jefferson from having to resort to something as distasteful as a British-American alliance. Yet that nation of shopkeepers had a heart always filled with avarice for shiny things that belonged to others. John Bull cast his covetous eyes on New Orleans and decided to take it. Britain wanted to deny freedom access to sea.

As Buonaparte had been blown apart in 1814, Britain decided to double down on the pesky Americans and their contemptible little war to win the freedom of the seas by holding Canada and its trees, vital to keep Britain’s navy afloat, hostage. So it was that Edward Pakenham, brother-in-law of noted British general Arthur Wellesley, found himself at the head of a British army, many of them veterans of Britain’s war against Buonaparte in Portugal and Spain, facing an American fortification five miles south of New Orleans.

Opposing them was the fury of Andrew Jackson and a core part of America’s future ethos. Though the British outnumbered the Americans numerically, Jackson’s rage and destiny outnumbered the British spiritually. Here, in its primeval form, was one of the storied American tropes: Slobs vs Snobs:

They are well groomed, clean, stylishly dressed, and treat those around as inferior, be it at a Renaissance court or a slum. They are scruffy, dirty, dressed entirely from the used clothes discount pile, and act like boorish rabble.

They will usually be in close proximity, at least in the same neighborhood, city, or space sector. And of course they fight. The scale of the conflict can be any size, be it a clique vs. clique social power struggle in a school, a street brawl between rival gangs, or two species or even Planet of Hats at war. When cranked Up to Eleven, it can cross into armed revolution, or either Kill the Poor or Eat the Rich.

Beyond the superficial dichotomy this conflict is one of lifestyle and worldview. The Snobs are epicurean, refined, and educatedbut classist and vain, while Slobs are honest, revelrous and dionysianbut violent and dangerous. As a narrative device, Slobs Versus Snobs is notable in that it rarely presents both sides equally. More often than not, the Slobs are presented in a far more sympathetic light than the Snobs.On the Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty, Snobs would be shiny and Slobs would be gritty.

Jackson’s Vengeance Posse was the original Ragtag Bunch of Misfits:

This mission is important. The fate of the battle, nay, the war, nay, the entire world rests on the outcome. Who has the capability to stick it out, to give the good guys the victory they desperately need? This calls for a special team. The group of experienced, highly skilled, professional, team-oriented experts? Not them. The assorted group of ex-con lowlife inexperienced jerk–es who are trying to off their commander when they aren’t going at each other? Yeah, them.

Jackson’s force of 4,732 was made up of “968 US Army regulars, 58 US Marines, 106 seamen, 1,060 Louisiana Militia and volunteers (including 462 free people of color), 1,352 Tennessee Militia, 986 Kentucky Militia, 150 Mississippi Militia, and 52 Choctaw warriors”.

And pirates. Real pirates. Real pirates led by a real pirate. Pirates of the Caribbean (or, at least, Barataria Bay).

Preparation is un-American. Jackson’s force was thrown together at the last millisecond. It was made up of frontiersmen, pirates, civilians, and random passersby. Some were Anglos, some were French, some were black, some were Indians. Somehow they were going to hold off a veteran army led by veteran officers (or their relatives). It should have been a walkover. Instead, the Americans were treated to a parade of military ineptitude that rivals the comical defeat of a “legion” of the Galactic Empire’s “best troops” by a Wookie and some spear-wielding teddy bears on the Moon of Endor 4 years after the Battle of Yavin.

Jackson himself might have described the American fortifications thus:

It is impossible to conceive a situation more eligible for defence than the one they had chosen and the skill which they manifested in their breastwork was really astonishing. It extended across the point in such a direction as that a force approaching would be exposed to a double fire, while they lay entirely safe behind it. It would have been impossible to have raked it with cannon to any advantage even if we had had possession of one extremity.

Jackson did once describe an enemy fortification thus. But it was the Red Sticks’ fort at Horsehoe Bend he was describing and the British were on their way to being the stooge in another Andrew Jackson special: uncertain and tense beginning of a battle followed by walkover and then massacre of the enemy. The Red Sticks started well but eventually Jackson’s forces, attacking instead of defending a line, overwhelmed the Red Sticks. The Red Sticks lost 857 killed and 206 wounded out of a force of about 1,000 warriors. For the British, it wouldn’t quite be Flanders Fields but the shade of Passchendaele overshadowed the battlefield. Prophecy soaked the mud and bogs of the Dead Marshes of Louisiana.

The British attempted a frontal assault on the American fortifications. Scaling ladders were misplaced. Fascines were left behind. Men got stuck crossing canals or bogged down in the swampy ground. Formations became confused. Veteran soldiers milled around like clueless n00bs. American regulars joined with the pirates to man the artillery and pour grapeshot into confused masses of redcoats. British officers, from Pakenham down, were shot and killed by American grapeshot and marksmen as they tried to bring order out of black comedy. While other men stood behind the breastwork and loaded their rifles, American riflemen would aim, fire, and hand the empty rifle behind them in exchange for a loaded rifle, achieving rapid fire. The few British solders who made it on top of the American breastworks were killed easily.

Wikipedia summarizes what Jackson and his ragtag bunch of misfits saw as the smoke cleared and the British limped away:

At the end of the day, the British had 2,042 casualties: 291 killed (including Generals Pakenham and Gibbs), 1,267 wounded (including General Keane) and 484 captured or missing. The Americans had 71 casualties: 13 dead; 39 wounded, and 19 missing.

As Jackson surveyed the battlefield, even his 13 year old self might have been satisfied with driving the English back into the sea with their forked tongues and their tails between their legs. As James Parton, an early biographer of Jackson wrote later:

Those who were intimately acquainted with Andrew Jackson, and they alone, can know something of the feelings of the youth while the events of this morning were transpiring; what paroxysms of contemptuous rage shook his slender frame when he saw his cousin’s wife insulted, her house profaned, his brother gashed, himself as powerless to avenge as to protect. “I’ll warrant Andy thought of it at New Orleans.“, said an aged relative of all the parties to me in an old farm house not far from the scene of [that] morning’s dastardly work.

And Poodle Nation learned, forever as it turned out, to never fight the plucky underdog. Underdogs never lose. Especially with the pirates of Andrew Jackson at the guns.

Grass Hoppers and Frost

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

[from Ellen Greer Rees, compiled by Helen Thackeray Rees Berger, modern day arrangement by Lynn C. Rees]

On September 22, 1859, Edmund Rees, wife Margaret, and their five children ages 12-18 months (the 12-year old was my great-great grandfather) arrived in Great Salt Lake City, twelve-year old capital of the nine-year old Utah Territory. Edmund and Margaret were natives of Monmouthshire, located in the southeastern corner of Wales. While they’d joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1850s, they didn’t gather to Zion until Edmund developed asthma after years spent cutting coal in the Monmouthshire mines that fueled the early Industrial Revolution.

The Rees family started their journey with $500, the results of selling their home. $100 got them from Wales to Iowa: they left the old country on April 11, 1859, sailed across the Atlantic on the William Tabscott, landed at New Orleans, and sailed up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to Council Bluffs, Iowa by steam boat. Another $100 got them two oxen, a covered wagon, a milk cow, and safely across the Great Plains to Utah.

Edmund was unfamiliar with handling livestock: the first time he put the yoke on the oxen, he put it on upside down.

Margaret took over.

(more…)

Red lines and the credibility arms race

Friday, April 26th, 2013

[The views and opinions expressed here are solely the responsibility of Lynn C. Rees. They may not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Zenpundit] 

To deter, Barack Obama has publicly drawn a red line between tolerable and intolerable. We now watch to see and (perhaps) learn if open signaling of red lines has deterrent effect.

Open red lines intended to stave off the intolerable without ending in blows are as ancient as territorial instinct. Red frequents coloration of animals who’ve evolved warning signals embedded in their anatomy. Lines, though marked more by scent or suggested by signal, are also abundant among Man and nature.

“Bear”, my brother’s late Shar-Pei, vociferously defended my brother’s chain-linked fence line. All his toing and froing facing down suspicious pedestrians even wore a second line into the front lawn that paralleled the fence. His vigorous bark emerged from wolven ancestors to draw lines red in tooth and claw in wolven mind so it didn’t come to lines red in tooth and claw in wolven reality. 

But, if bluffs are called and barks prove to have more volume than bite, a red line will prove only as substantial as the bite and fight beyond it. If warning is not credibly conveyed and things fall apart, nothing may remain except bite and fight.

Bear’s bark proved a poor red line. While it sounded loud and formidable, when you opened the front gate and entered the yard, Bear would casually mosey up, sniff you, and promptly return to the barking line. Shar Peis are renowned for even-tempers. Bred as guard dogs in China, they often had to be brutalized or drugged into fight and bite. Bear was neither brutalized nor drugged so he lacked credible fierceness.

There is no certain calculus in drawing red lines. My calculus teacher wisely taught that variables have only one invariable certainty: they tend to vary. Man is not only variable, he is contrary. His contrariness not only votes present, it votes with real impact. If it were otherwise, you’d have a sort of Clausewitzian “red line by algebra: tally up one side of a red line in one column and tally the other side in another column. Then, when clearly displayed in public, those on either side would be forced to agree on how substantial the red line was and openly acknowledge its deterrent psychology.

Politics, the division of power, varies most in the intensity in which its division of power escalates confrontation toward violence. Some political contestants’ escalation is too hot. Others’ escalation is too cold. For others, their escalation will be just right. Some draw red lines and aggressively escalate political intensity based on broken red line theory: one small crack in your red line, like someone publicly urinating on it, means the entire red line will be stripped down to its bare chassis overnight if small infractions aren’t predictably and promptly punished. Others use them to draw folks along, perhaps as bait, perhaps as stalling tactics, while they do something else somewhere else. Some red lines are implicitly understood by all as being for entertainment purposes only.

Unfortunately, we’re armed with only a few rules of thumb to guide us in drawing and escalating red lining, most centered on creating intrinsic credibility:

  • …every power ought to be commensurate with its object…
  • …the means ought to be proportioned to the end…
  • …there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose, which is itself incapable of limitation…
  • A government ought to contain in itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, and to the complete execution of the trusts for which it is responsible, free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.
  • As the duties of superintending the national defense and of securing the public peace against foreign or domestic violence involve a provision for casualties and dangers to which no possible limits can be assigned, the power of making that provision ought to know no other bounds than the exigencies of the nation and the resources of the community.
  • As revenue is the essential engine by which the means of answering the national exigencies must be procured, the power of procuring that article in its full extent must necessarily be comprehended in that of providing for those exigencies.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of converting intrinsic credibility into fully mobilizable and then field-deployable credibility. Angelo M. Codevilla writes:

John Quincy Adams, a student as well as a practitioner of statesmanship, believed that governments understand their own and others’ interests quite well. His involvement in diplomacy, which lasted from 1778 to the end of his presidency in 1829, convinced him not that negotiations are superfluous, but rather that they ratify the several parties’ recognition of existing realities regardless of agreements or lack thereof. Diplomacy can make it more comfortable to live with reality by clarifying mutual understanding of it. On the other hand, Adams’ magisterial notes on his 1823 recommendation that America spurn the invitation to join Britain in a declaration disapproving any attempt to recover Spain’s American colonies—that jointness would have added nothing to the reality of parallel British and U.S. opposition to such a venture—underlines the central fact about diplomacy: though it conveys reality, it does not amend it.

In 1968, Fred Ikle published How Nations Negotiate, which is used by diplomatic academies around the world. Too many graduates, however, forget its central teaching, which is that the diplomat’s first task is to figure out whether agreement is possible on the basis of “the available terms”—in short, whether both sides’ objectives, though different, are compatible. Only if they are can negotiations proceed according to what Ikle calls “rules of accommodation”—making sincere proposals, honoring partial agreements, etc. If the objectives are incompatible, the diplomats may choose to walk away, or to “negotiate for side effects”—to use the negotiations to undermine the other side’s government, sow dissention among its allies, deceive it, pocket partial agreements and renege on commitments, buy time, gather intelligence, etc. Disaster looms when one side follows the rules of accommodation while the other negotiates for side effects. The essence of Ikle’s teaching is that the negotiator’s primordial job is to judge correctly whether the other side is negotiating for “available terms” or is waging war through diplomatic means, and hence to choose whether to negotiate for agreement, walk away, or treat the diplomatic table as a battlefield. That choice is “perpetual,” he writes, because human motives are variable.

When the president publicly drew his red line:

Michelle and I have used a strategy when it comes to things like tattoos — what we’ve said to the girls is, ‘If you guys ever decide you’re going to get a tattoo, then Mommy and me will get the same exact tattoo in the same place,'” he said. “And we’ll go on YouTube and show it off as a family tattoo. And our thinking is that it might dissuade them from thinking that somehow that’s a good way to rebel.

He’s made his “primordial job” as a parent public. Under public scrutiny, he has to “judge correctly” whether Maliah or Sasha are negotiating for “available terms’ or “waging war” through tattooed means. He has to publicly choose whether to negotiate for agreement, walk away, or treat tattoos as a battlefield. As a parent, his choice is “perpetual”.

His credibility in deterring tattooed rebellion does have some fight and bite behind it. The Christian Science Monitor observes:

They’re still kind of young. Malia is 14 and Sasha is 11. They’re not marching into any tattoo parlor near Sidwell Friends School in upper northwest DC. First, there aren’t any – they can’t afford the rents there. Second, you’ve got to be 18 to get a tat in the city, we believe. The City Council approved that move recently.

This move may represent sufficient “provision for casualties and dangers to which no possible limits can be assigned” coupled with “the power of making that provision”. But whether tattoos escalate to where parent-child disagreement knows “no other bounds than the exigencies of the nation and the resources of the community” is the other half of Maliah and Sasha’s measure of President Obama’s credibility amd the deterrent quality of YouTubed shame over their coming teens.

The CSM doubts it. Conceding the president’s stratagem is “sort of based on assured mutual deterrence. Or preemption – you could call it that, too” and that it’s “interesting, in the sense that it’s a fairly coherent and intellectualized way to approach this common parental problem”, it observes:

…the real reason the preemption strategy probably appeals to the Obamas right now is that their daughters still listen to them. They can process cause and parental reaction and weigh options. They haven’t entered that period where common sense gets suspended, and they focus mostly on their own needs and wants, because that’s what teenagers do…

Once they are 18, they will be away from daily parental authority and tattoos might seem like a better idea. At that age, they don’t really think about long-term consequences, so they might get body art just to spite their parents. Or because they forgot their parents’ we-will-do-it-too vow. Or because they don’t care. Or just because… 

And then what happens? The president of the United States will probably feel obligated to get a tattoo of a butterfly at the base of his neck, because he vowed he would; and if he does not follow through, opponents will doubt his strength of will, or something like that.

I disagree. Rather than being “obligated”, the president retains his God-given agency. America’s greatest strategic thinker of the last fifty years will give him some advice:

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done

His choices as a parent are there “because human motives are variable”. As such, they will tend to vary, moment by moment, place by place, tattoo by tattoo. The president should carefully consider where and when he draws red lines, especially in public and especially when publicity is a key component of his red line’s hypothetical deterrent effect. Better to learn to gauge when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em now before the sarin calls of adolescence come around. Only then maybe there will be time enough for counting when the teenage years are done.

Book Review: The Hunt for KSM

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer 

I received a review copy of The Hunt for KSM from  Hachette Book Group and was pleased to see that the authors, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, are investigative journalists, one of whom, Meyer, has extensive experience reporting on terrorism, while McDermott is also the author of the 9-11 highjackers book, Perfect Soldiers. So, I was looking forward to reading this book. My observations:

  • In the matter of style, McDermott and Meyer have opted to craft a novel-like narrative of their research, which makes The Hunt for KSM a genuine page-turner. While counterterrorism wonks used to a steady diet of white papers may become impatient with the format, they already know a great deal about operational methods of Islamist terror groups and the general public, who are apt to be engaged by the story, do not. While enjoying the yarn about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the villain behind 9-11 and his downfall, the general reader picks up a great deal of important information.
  • McDermott and Meyer deserve kudos for their fair and balanced handling of Pakistan – and I say this as a severe critic of the Pakistanis. While pulling no punches about the perfidy of Pakistan’s elite, the ties of the ISI and their religious extremist parties to terrorist groups including al Qaida, they give credit where credit is due to Pakistanis who made the difference in assisting the United States and it’s investigators in tracking down KSM and his AQ associates . “Colonel Tariq” of the ISI, in particular stands out as a courageous and sympathetic figure.
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed emerges in the story as a master adversary, part Bond villain, part sinister clown, who confounded the efforts of the FBI and the CIA for years with his prodigious ability to organize and orchestrate geographically diverse terrorist networks, fundraising, logistical support, bombings and murder like a one-man KGB while remaining as elusive as a ghost. His abilities, daring, good fortune and defiant resilience in captivity are impressive enough in McDermott and Meyer’s telling that they unfortunately tend to overshadow the fact that KSM is an enthusiastic mass-murderer. A facet that comes out to it’s true ghastly extent only in their description of KSM personally beheading kidnapped reporter Daniel Pearl.
  • The bureaucratic bungling and stubborn infighting of the FBI and CIA, with assistance from the DoD and Bush administration on particularly stupid decisions related to the interrogation and reliance upon torture while excluding AQ experts and experienced KSM case investigators from talking to KSM, makes for a profoundly depressing read. It contrasts poorly with the dedication and sacrifice demonstrated by law enforcement agents Frank Pellegrino, Matt Besheer, Jennifer Keenan and those who aided them.

The Hunt for KSM closes with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as he is at the present time, on trial at Guantanamo Bay, a story with a climax but not yet an epilogue.

Well written, concise yet dramatic, The Hunt for KSM is warmly recommended.

Guest Post: Politics Requires People (a Response to “War, the Individual, Strategy and the State”)

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

I would like to welcome seydlitz89 who is guest-posting at ZP, for purposes of rebuttal to my previous post, War, the Individual, Strategy and the State. For many readers in this corner of the blogosphere who are interested in strategy, Seydlitz should need no introduction, but for those that do:

seydlitz89 is a former US Marine and Army intelligence officer who served in a civilian capacity in Berlin during the last decade of the Cold War. He was involved as both an intelligence operations specialist and an operations officer in strategic overt humint collection and now blogs and posts on the internet and can be contacted at seydlitz89 at web.de. He lives with his family in northern Portugal and works in education.  His writings have appeared at Clausewitz.comDefense and the National Interest, Milpub and on three Chicagoboyz Roundtables. 

Politics Requires People (a Response to “War, the Individual, Strategy and the State”)

By seydlitz89,  3 August 2011

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I would like to first off thank Zen for this opportunity to guest post on his great blog. 

I am essentially a small town Southern conservative who is dissatisfied with both US political parties.  I search in vain for a conservative politics worth the name.  So my politics are out of the way and any potential ideological influences indicated.

Strategic theory is a means to understand strategic reality (for lack of a better term).  There are times when it’s just kind of interesting and times when it can help you literally survive, say if you and your Greek family lived in Smyrna in 1919 and knew that the Greek Army had just landed to fight the Turks, and that the Turks would probably win this war and treat the Greeks in Smyrna none too kindly.  You would probably think it prudent to leave the city and go someplace safer, like Athens, Cyprus or Crete.  Strategic theory is kind of like that, it provides understanding to events and possibly a general direction those events may take, although it is primarily a tool of military historical analysis.  That is future prediction is not really part of the deal, but sometimes the relation between the stated political purpose and the military means available, not to mention the character of the enemy provide such a clear indicator of how events are going to turn out, that it becomes clear either figuratively or even literally that it is time to “get out of town”, so to speak.

Strategic theory uses a system of interlocking concepts which comprise for Clausewitzians Clausewitz’s General Theory of war.  The General Theory postulates that there exists a system of common attributes to all wars as violent social interactions and that war belongs to a larger body ofhuman relations and actions known as “politics”  (all wars belong within the realm of politics, but not all politics is war).  While all wars share these characteristics, warfare, as in how to conduct wars, is very much based on the society and level of technology existing at a specific time.  War doesn’t change whereas warfare goes through a process of constant change.  Clausewitz’s General Theory need only be flexible enough to adequately understand war and act at the same time as a basis for war planning.  It need not be perfect and is not expected to be so.  Essentially , it need only be better than the next best theory, and so far we Clausewitzians are still waiting for this second-best theory to make its appearance.

Warfare is thus the specific “art of war”  

for a particular period ofhuman history, but would have to be compatible (following Wylie) with the General Theory.  On War presents at the same time Clausewitz’s General Theory and his art of Napoleonic warfare, that is a theory of warfare for his time, which is one of the reasons readers find the book confusing.  As new methods of warfare come into practice, new theoretical concepts emerge.  It is one of these potential concepts that this particular paper and the discussion which initiated it is all about, that being the superempowered individual.

I do this by describing what is an ideal type of the superempowered individual.

To start I think it first necessary to provide the entire interaction that triggered Zen’s post and in turn this one.  The discussion was on one of Charles Cameron’s threads concerning the recent act of the Norwegian terrorist Breivik (ABB)  To save on space I won’t reproduce the entire interaction here but limit it first to four points that I made:

  • Clausewitzian strategic theory pertains to collectives, all concepts – war, political purpose, military aim, victory, defeat, strategy, operations, the various trinities – pertain to collectives, and a very particular collective at that – political communities.
  • The violent/destructive actions of an individual representing only himself (even a superempowered individual) operating against a state or other political community do not constitute war, they are rather by definition the actions of a criminal.
  • The mindset of such individuals is a pathological condition of our times, the result in part of the age of TV, alienation, “reality” without context, and endless sensuous banalities.
  • ABB and super empowered individuals do not constitute war or a political program, but could potentially be seen as a weapon of a foreign political program, one possibly at odds with the goals of the actual individual, making that individual into something along the lines of a false-flag suicide bomber.

Originally, I had included „tactics” in the mix of the first point regarding concepts.  Tactics can be both individual (although in a different sense) and collective, as in the tactics of the individual soldier and the tactics of a rifle company, although the individual soldier always acts in relationship to the group.  I have also added some addiitional concepts to indicate how universal this collective aspect in fact is. 

The last point I have expanded just a bit by including the last concept mentioned “ffsb”.

Joseph Fouche in that same Cameron post commented in response to me:

From Clausewitzian perspective, Breivik’s actions are the conjunction of the three poles of the Trinity, two of which have nothing to with Breivik’s rationality. If CvC can’t be applied to madmen, criminals, mass murderers of children, or men trapped in their own little world, then Van Creveld’s contention that the actions of madmen can’t be considered political (in noted Clausewitzian Christopher Bassford’s use of the word) is correct. War would be “nontrinitarian”.
The words and ideas of murderous stooges have consequences as well as their actions. CvC can shine as much light on them as he can on any other field of human conflict.  
Can Breivik’s actions can be considered war? Can an individual wage war? By his own sinister lights, Breivik considered himself at war, the Pied Piper of a host of other Breiviks born and unborn, even if that host only existed in his fevered imagination. 
Can an individual have a strategy? Or can an individual only have a strategem? Breivik had a plan that had a tactical expression and a political effect (as here we comment on the doings of an otherwise obscure Norwegian). Does the jumbled mass of tissues that connect his evil ends with his evil means rise to the level of strategy?

These are all very good questions and fundamental as Zen points out, but from my Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective I would have to answer “no” to all -except the penultimate one – of them. 

I also think these questions very tied to our particular time and place, the US in 2011 and our political context, or rather what I would refer to as our current “political dysfunction” which encompasses us, something along the lines of political determinism which is arguably Clausewitzian as well (see Echevarria’s third meaning of the term Politik).  If modernity is seen as a series of crises involving renewed conflict between the individual and the collective, and how they relate to each other, going back thousands of years, to Thucydides who first described it, then this Is perhaps the final such crisis where the individual supersedes the collective as the ultimate focus, which means essentially in my mind the end of the collective as a social action orientation at least in the US. 

This post is organized as a sequence of concepts and ideas which address the simple question as to whether the violent actions of an isolated individual acting alone can be described as “war”.  To answer this fundamental question from a Clausewitzian perspective requires clear definitions of a whole series of related concepts and descriptions of how they are all interlocked with one another, forming a whole which is socio/political relations.

Let’s start off with a simple definition of politics.  Politics is “the striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state” (Max Weber).  Hans Morgenthau’s definition is even more to the point: “interest de?ned as power”.  Harold Lasswell’s functional definition fits within this general concept as well: “who gets what, when and how”.  Essentially politics is the sphere of power/the sharing of power within and between groups.  Notions that “the purpose of warlike acts reaches beyond the state and politics” are incoherent from this strategic theory perspective since politics would involve all power relations between social groups of whatever kind, and would not be limited to the state, which is simply an apparatus of political control.  It is for this reason that Clausewitz includes war as part of the nature of political relations.  Even a purpose which reaches beyond politics, such as a believer serving God, has a political aspect, since the believer is part of a larger community and acts due to a range of motivations. 

A political community is a group who share the same political identity, defining themselves as opposed to those outside this community.  Different elements can go into this identity such as a common language, ethnicity, religion, geography, shared historical (or even mythical) experiences, a common struggle, but there are a few basic requirements according to Weber.  For instance social action oriented towards the group which goes beyond economic activity, the claim of loyalty and sacrifice (even of one’s life) which the member feels towards the group and vice versa, and a collection of “shared memories”.  It is important to note that the concept of the political, is the only secular value sphere where one’s death has meaning, “having died for one’s country”.   Political communities go back to the dawn of civilization and can be states, but not necessarily so.

So the state is simply an apparatus by which the rulers of a political community achieve material cohesion and exercise control.  A classic definition of the state is Max Weber’s an entity which has a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory.   This is very simple definition which covers a wide range of institutions going back to antiquity, that is far beyond 1648.  Two things here to consider: monopoly of force and legitimacy.  Force here is essentially violence or the threat of violence (coercion) and legitimacy is how the people of the political community perceive that potential or real violence.  A policeman motioning a car to pull over is legitimate coercion, whereas a mugger stealing someone’s wallet is illegitimate force.

What is important to consider though, is that legitimacy, force and especially coercion play a much larger role in political relations than we realize.  In Classical Realist thought which includes Clausewitz, Weber, Reinhold Niebuhr, Hans Morgenthau and many other thinkers/theorists, legitimacy and coercion are what hold political communities together   As Niebuhr wrote in his famous Moral Man and Immoral Society of 1932:

Our contemporary culture fails to realize the power, extent and persistence of group egoism in human relations. It may be possible, though it is never easy, to establish just relations between individuals within a group purely by moral and rational suasion and accommodation. In inter-group relations this is practically an impossibility.  The relations between groups must therefore always be predominantly political rather than ethical, that is, they will be determined by the proportion of power which each group possesses at least as much as by any rational and moral appraisal of the comparative needs and claims of each group. The coercive factors, in distinction to the more purely moral and rational factors, in political relations can never be sharply differentiated and defined. It is not possible to estimate exactly how much a party to a social conflict is influenced by a rational argument or by the threat of force.  It is impossible for instance, to know what proportion of a privileged class accepts higher inheritance taxes because it believes that such taxes are good social policy and what proportion submits merely because the power of the state supports the taxation policy.  Since political conflict, at least in times when controversies have not reached the point of crisis, is carried on by the threat, rather than the actual use, of force.

 xviii

With this quote we can see how the concepts fit together, including the view that power relations between groups are politics by definition. 

At this point we need to introduce two other important Weberian definitions, the first of which is power: “Power is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests”.  Notice that power for us here is a social relationship between members of the same political community, although the concept is flexible enough to apply to any social relationship  Notice too the similarity between Weber’s definition of power and Clausewitz’s definition of war , “war is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will”. (On War, Book I, Chapter 1, Section 2).

And the last concept, which I have mentioned repeatedly but not defined is legitimacy, which is the willingness of the ruled within a political community to accept this rule as personally binding.  Illegitimate rule does not exist by definition, but would be simply force.  What allows a political system, which need not necessarily be a state, to exist over time is the legitimate use of power.  Still, as Niebuhr reminds us, the actual compliance can be a mixture of both acceptance (based on legitimacy) and coercion (the thread of force).  It is useful to conceive of both power and legitimacy as being similar to sliding scales of very low to very high.  The levels of both can vary over time.

Politics or simply who in a society gets what, when, and how is an art. The slow drilling through hard boards as Weber described it, hard work, talking, working out differences, long discussions into the night: in a democracy something that requires a vocation, a calling, to aspire to.  Hard decisions over a long period of time and living with the consequences, that is what politics used to be like, even In our country . . . believe it or not.

How should politics be approached?  Maybe like what the Norwegians were teaching their kids on that island, what the Norwegian terrorist wished to destroy?

If one takes just a moment to consider, what for instance the great questions were in 1917 (among people like Weber, Thomas Mann, Walter Lippmann, John Dewey and others) and approximately how far we are politically and intellectually from that standpoint, I think you start to get an idea of where I see us presently.

So, let’s consider that list of important questions from the year JFK was born.  These, one would have to add (or put at the top of such a list):

  • Given that democracy is the only permanent option for social stability, how do we set up a truly democratic system, that is where the various elite interests (traditional, economic) are not engulfed by the interests of the common folk?
  • Can a modern mass state be democratic? Are bureaucratized political parties the answer? How should they be organized/structured? How should political leaders be trained? What experiences should they have?
  • Is there an easier way?

So why bring this up?  To give a feeling for where we are now and where we were.  Also to point out the simple fact that the superempowered individual (SEI) does not act at the political level.  This individual never really interacts with anyone politically at least in terms of social action.   Since they are assumed to be isolated, alienated individualists with little traditional, affective or value-rational social contact, they will be almost by necessity radical egotists who preen constantly in their own assumed glory, emperors  of their own little world.  From their perspective, essentially every person is viewed as a tool, something to be manipulated in their search for gratification of whatever sort. 

Nor does the SEI enjoy any sense of legitimacy. The government/state or even the people themselves are the victims of what they see as a criminal act.  If the government were widely seen as corrupt and even dictatorial, such an act would probably provide them with legitimacy in how they dealt with the crisis as long as it appeared effective.  The SEI gains notoriety through the act, any excuse provided will most likely come across as incoherent (due to the lack of any preceding dialogue).

The SEI’s situation is due to the demands of simple operational security. No one must know of what the SEI Is doing, let alone their motives.  They must not call attention to themselves through any overt political behavior.

Only at a certain time will the act of mass violence occur.  As it did in Norway recently. 

So we have a (domestic) act of violence, in the Norwegian instance, terroristic violence used against the most innocent, trusting and precious of any society, lured in and massacred.  One hits a society at all sorts of levels and in all sorts of ways with an act such as this.  This act was horrible, I’ll leave it at this.

It is crucial to recall that the SEI is unknown up to the time of the act.  Their act sweeps the society like a storm and leads to shock among the people.  If the SEI is killed or arrested that ends their ability to interact independently of the state.  Once the SEI has been unmasked the operation comes to an end.  The ability of the SEI to communicate (the most important strategic capability following Svechin) strategically (and do everything else) ends.   

The SEI is by definition an individual operating outside the political community they attack, but not part of another political group, so politics does not play a role, rather simply the ego of one person.  Since the SEI’s act is by definition not political, how can it be the continuation of politics by other means, or simply war? From this perspective the SEI cannot be so described, but rather is the act of an individual acting alone against a political community/society, which makes the SEI simply an outlaw.  The scale of destruction the SEI can cause does not change this situation.

Which means that the SEI is not only not operating in the political sphere of social action, but also has no capability of exercising coercion.  The gunman on the street can force, but it takes the Mafia to coerce.  It takes an organization, a bureaucracy, something that can last past the first operation, even for criminals to achieve this.  Once it has passed into history the SEI’s act will only be seen as a tragedy caused by a sick idiot, which is the way it will be portrayed by the state.  There is no social carrier present to “spread the word”, nor could there be given the requirement for absolute isolation.  Who ever is the next SEI will follow exactly this same pattern, due to operational security, which all adds up to self-assured strategic dysfunction/failure from a Clausewitzian perspective.

Still in terms of politics and society, we are dealing with something much more basic here.  Humans are social beings, it is our interactions with other humans which provide the foundation of civilization itself.  Our identities as individuals are formed through a discourse with others.  As Richard Ned Lebow, yet another Clausewitzian writes in his The Tragic Vision of Politics:,

Social reality begins as a conversation among individuals that ultimately leads to the creation of societies, and they in turn socialize individuals into their discourses.  Individuals nevertheless retain a degree of autonomy. This is due in the first instance to the cognitive processes that mediate individual understandings of the values, rules, norms and practices of societies.  Contrary to the Enlightenment assumption of universal cognition, people perceive, represent and reason about the world in different ways.  These processes entail reflection, and this may lead individuals to some awareness of the extent to which they are products of their society.  Such recognition is greatly facilitated by the existence of alternative discourses.  In their absence, as Achilles discovered, it is difficult, if not impossible, to construct a different identity for oneself even when highly motivated to do so.  For Thucydides, alternative discourses are initially the product of other societies (e.g., other Greek poleis and non-Greek states), which may become role models for disaffected individuals or the raw material from which new individual and social identities are constructed.  Modern societies, as Shawn Rosenberg observes, are composed of many locales of social change, each with discourses that are to some degree distinct.  

According to Thucydides, the starting points of transformation are behavioral and linguistic.  Previously stable patterns of social interaction become uncertain and ill-defined, and this weakens the social norms that support them.  Discourses also become unstable when identity and practice diverge.  Language is subverted because people who reject old practices, or pioneer new ones, generally feel the need to justify them with reference to older values.

Page 371

So even (radical) social change is a discourse among members of the social/political community in question.  These discourses can be confused since those desiring change can add new and self-serving meanings to words.  Self-interest is decided in relation to the community as a whole and justice results. This is how social change takes place.

For the SEI however, the only discourses are going on inside their own heads.  No politics, no strategy, no political community, no war.  Only their “operations”.

One last point needs to be made in terms of politics.  Zen is right, the only examples we have of individuals achieving strategic effect in prior history are to a large extent, political assassinations.  Considering that since say 1860, probably before, anyone with a rifle could have killed a king.  A rifle provides that ability.  Have an independent means of monetary support, have a rifle and simply wait for your opportunity.  Kings were all notorious hunters, so how difficult would it have been?  Exactly up to JFK, how many heads of state, or even important political figures, were assassinated at long range with a rifle?  Were in fact many of these assassinations up to 1963, all very political acts, with the assailants willing to trade their lives for that of the political leader they had targeted at close quarters?  Was it considered necessary for them to do so to give their lives for the political community they claimed to represent?  Consider, for instance the attempt on President Truman in 1950.

In terms of strategy, I come from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective, and since there has been so much confusion in the past as to what exactly “strategy” is, I’ve developed my own definition which I think true to this school of strategic thought.   I use a specific definition of strategy, that being:

Focused adaptation of divergent sources of power assisted by control over time in pursuit of a political purpose through methodological theoretical construct (strategic theory) with the aim of creating strategic effect/a strategic dynamic greater than the sum of the individual power sources. For the strong political community, strategy can be an option, for the weak it is a necessity.

For the reasons stated above, it is difficult for me to see the SEI engaging in “strategy”.  The way I understand the SEI concept it uses force and little else, which is not really a strategy in terms of my definition above, but simply force and personality.  Force alone can produce strategic effect, which does not actually require a strategy.  This does not preclude using a different definition of strategy, but I feel that one that includes individuals needlessly confuses the issue.  That is one point in this regard, another is that the act of an SEI is an operation by definition.  To be strategic this operation would have to essentially end the conflict with one act, but at the same time war is started by the defender who resists, an act of aggression without resistance is not war.  Only by being able to carry out successive and connected operations towards a strategic goal would this be strategy.

In his comment, Joseph speaks of political effect that the terrorist has achieved, but that is not what it is, We are simply discussing a news story which does not add up to political effect.  Whatever strategic/political effect exists is first of all up to the victim, that is the society which has been attacked.  If the society that has suffered such an attack refuses to change their policies and educates the public as to the reason behind their stand, there is no political/strategic effect at all.  In fact the opposite effect theoretically.  From the perspective of the perpetrator, the act becomes thus meaningless, that is aside from mass murder.  There could be a reaction among outside political communities, but each case would have to be studied separately. Could not a natural disaster create the same sort of response?

Zen has been kind enough to give me his current definition of an SEI

“To qualify as a superempowered individual, the actor must be able to initiate a destructive event, fundamentally with their own resources, that cascades systemically on a national, regional or global scale. They must be able to credibly, “declare war on the world”.

From what I have provided so far, I think there are at least two problems with this definition. First, “cascades systemically”.  Does this not require the sequence of reactions of the target political community or communities?  Or is this system beyond their influence?  If not, then the target community can simply decide not to change their policies, to simply absorb the attack and treat the SEI as a criminal.  This is what most societies do in relation to crime, the criminal’s family are not taken hostage, their property seized, their lives destroyed, the act is that of an individual and the individual suffers the consequences.

Second, “credibly ‘declare war on the world'”.  What type of war?  Limited or unlimited?  How would the SEI be able to sustain operations over time?  How would such a war be resolved?  Is this not simply the technologically-driven ego of the SEI grown to monstrous proportions?    I am reminded of the diary entry by Maxim Gorky in the 1930s who noted that Stalin had become a “monstrous flea” that state propaganda and mass fear had enlarged him out of all proportion to the very crude person he actually was.  It seems that this SEI could be much the same thing, but divorced from any political community, unlike Stalin.

The true potential of the SEI is thus not as a maker of war or as a form of warfare, but as a weapon.  Since the SEI does not act politically, they lend themselves to manipulation by actual political interests.  What better way to attack a hostile state than to have them come across to their own people as impotent in dealing with the havoc spread by SEIs acting according to their own whims?  SEIs thus could be used as powerful weapons by states which desire to hide their actual involvement.  The interested state could approach likely recruits covering their actual identity relatively easily, providing support and assistance.  By linking SEIs and their actions a state sponsor could initiate and sustain very destructive campaigns at little to no cost to themselves.  This is the logical next step to what Bill Joy was talking about with KMD back in 2000.

In 1991, Martin van Creveld published his The Transformation of War, which predicted the crisis and eventual collapse of the state, but without considering what exactly would replace this apparatus of rule.  Instead of this collapse of the state we have experienced something quite different, the state waging war as before, but for unspecified goals.  Instead, propagandistic “war aims” for public consumption are concocted (as in the war in Iraq/the US intervention in Libya) or an act of war is perpetrated and never actually acknowledged (Pakistan and the Mumbai attacks).  Wars strategically lost are carried on operationally since the state lacks the political will (and necessity) to end them, the public having been conditioned through state propaganda to see war as the norm (US involvement in Iraq/Afghanistan/the Global War on Terror and Russia in her own Muslim areas).  Mercenary armies are employed at a high price (and high investor profit) to sustain what are essentially lost wars strategically, but are still economically profitable for investors.

All of this would be familiar to Clausewitz, who would see this as a collapse of not only strategic thought, but the material cohesion of the state in question. 

I don’t see this as a new era of warfare, but possibly the end if it ever comes about of society as we know it:  The end of the Hobbesian commonwealth and the emergence of a new dark age where political communities are at the mercy of psychopathic and monstrous fleas.  That the fleas enjoy no political purpose is small compensation for the destruction they could bring about.

Copyright 2011


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