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Rant Day, twelve years and two days on

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

[defrosted by Lynn C. Rees]

Eleven years ago, on September 9, 2001, the Web rudely informed me that Ahmed Shah Masood had been assassinated.

I was annoyed.

I hated the Taliban. To me, they were the enemy of all mankind. My hate didn’t single them out just for their Third World thuggishness, their seventh century flavored oppression, or their harboring of a declared enemy of my country. No, my hate singled them out for blowing up a few statues that had stood for 1,500 years.

For 1,000 of those years, Islam lived alongside the Buddhas of Bamiyan. During that time, weather, entropy, and sporadic iconoclastic enthusiasm had heavily damaged the Buddhas. But, until March 2001, they still stood, as they had stood for one millennium and a half.

Then the Taliban came. They were different. They had the iconoclast ends of March 622 and the means of March 2001 to carry them out. Dynamite, artillery, and rocketry let the Taliban do in three weeks what history had failed to do in fifteen centuries.

History is fragile. What survives down to us is idiosyncratic. We inherit only a few suggestive piles of rubble from the past. From this debris, numberless castles of the imagination have been conjured. One very insistent ghost of conjured history drove the Taliban to destroy the statues: an idealized vision of the community created by Muhammad in Medina and then Mecca from the hegira in 622 to his death in 632. From an antiseptic remove far from the compromised Islam of March 2001, this phantom umma looked down on the Taliban from the heights of 15 centuries and commanded them to erase the Buddhas of Bamiyan from history. The phantom umma promised that, as each piece of shattered idol fell away, the sacralized community of the Prophet would draw nearer and nearer.

And so the Buddhas of Bamiyan fell.

Since history consumes itself anyway, I oppose those who feel that history needs help swallowing. Human meddling in what survives and what doesn’t is unneeded: accident and negligence will always chew up more history than intention can aspire to. But the Taliban insisted on speeding the work of history along. Furthermore, they figured that they could not only speed it up but make it flip 180° and make it run backwards. And so they declared war on history.

To me, this made the Taliban barbarians. To me, they deserved to be removed from history themselves. The only man who seemed to be actively helping the Taliban out of history was Massood. And now Massood had gone to Allah, assisted by these same barbarians.

Downstairs I went. I ranted in the kitchen about the tragedy of Ahmed Shah Massood and his death to Mom and the occasional passing sibling. They didn’t know who Ahmed Shah Massood was. They didn’t know where Afghanistan was. To them, it was a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom they knew nothing. Massood of Afghanistan might as well have been the Massood in the Moon, fighting to keep one small grubby corner of the lunar surface Space Taliban-free.

Mom patiently listened as dinner was set. Over the years, she’d grown used to my ranting on and on about this or that distant obscurity. She knew that, with time, I’d fulminate my way out of my momentary idée fixe and go back to quietly tending my garden of trivia. The world would go on. Normalcy would flow unvexed to the future.

She was right. Rant mode ran out of steam. I ate dinner. I went back to my lair where my books and my computers would protect me. The sun set on September 9th, 2001. I went to sleep.

Two Buddha statues and the Lion of Panjshir would be only be the first to fall. Unseen in the gathering dark, history, with brutal intent, blatantly ignoring its own death in 1989, crept up the East Coast to be reborn.


Saturday, August 31st, 2013

[by Lynn C. Rees]

If, right this second, you could push that tempting Easy Button over there and launch our top secret stash of ophthalmologist-seeking cruise missiles to kill every man, woman, child, and goat related by blood, association, or unlucky proximity to Boy Asad, it would have zero political impact on the war over Syria.

Beheading strikes have marginal persuasive value unless you can reliably find and kill uncooperatives who fail to become cooperatives. American military history from Arnold to Tecumseh to Santa Anna to Jeff Davis to Cochise to Geronimo to Aguinaldo to Villa to Sandino to Castro to Noriega to Saddam to Kaddafy to Bin Laden shows our ability to behead reliably is wildly unreliable. Even if we could reliably kill enemy leaders on demand, there’s no guarantee that killing will have favorable political effects. As Clemenceau may have observed and multitudes of al-Kyyda Number Threes can attest, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men” (many of them headless). This war already has one ready example of a beheading strike. Enduring political impact: zero.

There are suggestions that we conspicuously target Boy Azzad-themed buildings with “symbolic importance” as a way to shock and awe someone, anyone, into surrender. If a true demonstration of ability to hit ’em where you (supposedly) ain’t, the political impact can be profound. However conspicuous, blowing up Boy Azod’s presidential palace, his Old Man’s or Big Brother’s graves, or even his presidential goat’s presidential stable, when no one doubts you could blow up any empty building or tent or camel in the world at any time, will have zero political effect unless you conspicuously miss it. These days, accidental hits get more airplay (e.g. blowing up embassies (no, they haven’t forgotten)). Accidental hit or near miss, photogenic Madam Asod will stand next to it, in front of the cameras for YouTube, and mock you. Those are the risks you run when conspicuously targeting motionless monuments of massive masonry. And the mockery is deserved, especially if you’ve just spent the last twenty years boasting about how antiseptic and networky your precision guided munitions are.

Robert D. Kaplan wrote of Old Man Azodd’s takeover of Syria:

An Alawi ruling Syria is like an untouchable becoming maharajah in India or a Jew becoming tsar in Russia—an unprecedented development shocking to the majority population which had monopolized power for so many centuries.

If Boy Asadd and minions fell victim to those ophthalmologist seeking missiles twenty minutes from now, the Alahhwyytes would quickly stand up some other mustache in his place. As long as any Alawy keeps any kind of grip on their high end warfighting brass ring, they will brutally fight to defend it down to the last Syrian. The alternative, as already demonstrated, is, as Xenophon wrote of the Spartan helots, “they would gladly eat their masters raw”. The Allahwites realize this more than anyone: they used to be the helots.

Half measures like cruise missling camels and empty tents in fit of D.C. pique by D.C. clique will do nothing good. Half measures are worse than tragedy and far worse than a mistake: they will be low and contemptible farce. The only way to break Boy Assad and friends is to break the Syrian state. This involves a relentless and unyielding intention to attrit the Syrian army down to street thug level and kill any Syrians that disagree with American political goals.

Since neither this administration in particular (nor any post-WWI United States in general) has credibly shown that they can do that, it’s best that they hold back for now. If they’re determined to intervene, that intervention will be much easier politically if the massacres start on cue and if the massacres prove to be telegenically more shocking than what you get at the local matinee.

Waiting patiently like this is unlikely: the people ruling this country aren’t any better at starting a war properly than they are at anything else.

Farewell, a long farewell to Syria, my fair province. Thou art an infidel’s (enemy’s) now. Peace be with you, O Syria – what a beautiful land you will be for the enemy hands.

— attributed to Heraclius, c. AD 637

Heavy breathing on the line: Follow the money

Friday, June 14th, 2013

[dots connected by Lynn C. Rees]



What did Lucius Aemilius Paullus know and when did he know it?

Follow the money.

The Aemilii Paulii called him “Boy“:



[Boy]…was one of the 1,000 Achaean nobles who were transported to Rome as hostages in 167 BC, and was detained there for 17 years. In Rome, by virtue of his high culture, [Boy] was admitted to the most distinguished houses, in particular to that of Aemilius Paullus, the conqueror in the Third Macedonian War, who entrusted [Boy] with the education of his sons, Fabius and Scipio Aemilianus (who had been adopted by the eldest son of Scipio Africanus). As the former tutor of Scipio Aemilianus, [Boy] remained on cordial terms with his former pupil and remained a counselor to him when he defeated the Carthaginians in the Third Punic War…When the Achaean hostages were released in 150 BC, [Boy] was granted leave to return home, but the next year he went on campaign with Scipio Aemilianus to Africa, and was present at the capture of Carthage, which he later described.

Well before Blair

Well before Blair

Follow the money.

Trailing glory

Trailing glory

Consider the primary sources of the primary source’s considerations.

Do Disturb

Do Disturb

Then there was Gaius Laelius.

Gaius Laelius (left?) with Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major

Gaius Laelius (left?) with Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major

Gaius Laelius (left?) with Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major

Gaius Laelius (left?) with Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major

Gaius Laelius was the Nick Carraway of the Second Punic War: somehow everywhere yet somehow nowhere. Consider Wikipedia’s Laelian words: “obscure”, “obscurity”,  “suggests”, “apparently”, “may have”, “largely unknown”, “not clear”. His epitaph might as well have been “Laelius appears to have died some years after 160 BC, but his year of death is mentioned by neither Livy nor Polybius.” Laelius often seems digitally inserted into the Second Punic War. You find him (maybe) at Ticinus, New New City, IlipiaZama. Laelius’ life was like a box of chocolates: you might get a tasty treat or wake up to your favorite thoroughbred’s severed head on the bed sheets.

Father's day is just around the corner

Father’s day is just around the corner

The story we have of the Second Punic War is not Boy’s. While, to a certain extent, it might be young Scipio’s or middling Fabius Maximus’, the history that rolled down through Boy and Boy groupies like Titus Livius Patavinus or Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus is Gaius Laelius’ history.

He gave Boy an offer he couldn’t refuse. Grey Narrator as Grey Eminence.

Be like Boy

Be like Boy

Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit. However, even if you’re Boy bringing gifts, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you if the hand bites back harder. And rude victors bite even as they beware.

Boy played his part in Laelius’ scheme. And what was this scheme?

Follow the money.

Photo Booth

Photo Booth

Laelius was Scipio’s Horatio. Much like Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was for Gaius Julius Caesar, his rise was due to his role as Scipio’s shadow. A rising Scipio lifts all Laelii.

Laelius was at the bridge between Scipio’s current controversy and future immortality. He had to hold it against Marcus Porcius Catos at the gates who’d casually destroy Scipio’s reputation after talking about ways to improve Roman trash collection, animal control, or even destroying those wascally Phoenicians.

Marcus Porcius Cato Major (the Censor)

Marcus Porcius Cato Major the Censor

Lealius had to protect Scipio.

And that’s why the NSA records (meta)data on all Americans.

Is 4GW Dead?: Point-Counterpoint and Commentary

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

4GW theory has always attracted overenthusiasts and  raging haters ever since the concept emerged way back in 1989, so debates about the merit of 4GW are nothing new; in fact, the arguments became so routine that they had largely gone sterile years ago.  After T.X. Hammes published his excellent  The Sling and the Stone and John Robb  went to the next level with Brave New War , it seemed that  little new was left to be said. In the late 2000’s, intellectual energies shifted to arguing the nuances and flaws of Pop-centric COINwhich proved in time to be even more bitter than those about 4GW.

Generations of War Theory Visualized by Chet Richards

What is different recently is that the person taking the affirmative on the question “Is 4GW dead?” was Dr. Chet Richards, who for years ran the premier but now defunct 4GW site, D-N-I.net, now archived here by the Project on Government Oversight.  Richards is no Clausewitzian true-believer or Big Army MBA with stars, but a former collaborator with John Boyd and a leading thinker of the 4GW school who had written several books with that strategic theme.

Therefore, not a critic to be dismissed lightly. Here’s Chet:

Is 4GW Dead? 

….The first thing to note is that 4GW is an evolution from 3GW, which they equate to maneuver warfare and the blitzkrieg as defined in MCDP 1 and Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. These are styles of warfare conducted by state armies against other state armies, although the paper does invoke the notion of transnational terrorists near the end.

At some point in the late 1990s, the theory bifurcated. Bill Lind and Martin van Creveld began to emphasize the decline of the state and focus on transnational guerrilla organizations like al-Qa’ida. Tom Barnett called this the “road warrior” model. T. X. Hammes, on the other hand, characterized 4GW as “evolved insurgency” and envisioned the techniques described in the paragraphs above as also useful for state-vs-state conflicts.

….The 9/11 attacks, by a transnational guerrilla movement, seemed to confirm 4GW in both of its forms. In the last few years, however, everything has gone quiet. Transnational insurgencies, “global guerrillas” as John Robb terms them, have not become a significant factor in geopolitics. “Continuing irritation” might best describe them, whose primary function seems to be upholding national security budgets in frightened western democracies. The state system has not noticeably weakened. So it might be fair at this point to conclude that although 4GW was a legitimate theory, well supported by logic and data, the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it proposed.

A prominent critic of 4GW, Antulio J. Echevarria, may have been correct:

What we are really seeing in the war on terror, and the campaign in Iraq and elsewhere, is that the increased “dispersion and democratization of technology, information, and finance” brought about by globalization has given terrorist groups greater mobility and access worldwide. At this point, globalization seems to aid the nonstate actor more than the state, but states still play a central role in the support or defeat of terrorist groups or insurgencies.

Why? I’ll offer this hypothesis, that the primary reason warfare did not evolve a fourth generation is that it didn’t live long enough. The opening of Sir Rupert Smith’s 2005 treatise, The Utility of Force, states the case….

Chet’s post spurred a sharp rebuttal from William Lind, “the Father of Fourth Generation Warfare”:

4GW is Alive and Well 

So “the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it (4GW) proposed”? How do you say that in Syriac?

The basic error in Chet Richards’ piece of April 19, “Is 4GW dead?” is confusing the external and internal worlds. Internally, in the U.S. military and the larger defense and foreign policy establishment, 4GW is dead, as is maneuver warfare and increasingly any connection to the external world. The foreign policy types can only perceive a world of states, in which their job is to promote the Wilsonian nee Jacobin, follies of “democracy” and “universal human rights.” They are in fact, 4GW’s allies, in that their demand for “democracy” undermines states, opening the door for more 4GW.

In most of the world, democracy is not an option. The only real options are tyranny or anarchy, and when you work against tyranny, you are working for anarchy. The ghost of bin Laden sends his heartfelt thanks.

Third Generation doctrine has been abandoned, de facto, if not de jure, by the one service that embraced it, the U.S. Marine Corps. The others never gave it a glance. The U.S. military remains and will remain second generation until it disappears from sheer irrelevance coupled with high cost. That is coming much sooner than any of them think.

….In many of these cases, including Egypt and Pakistan, the only element strong enough to hold the state together is the army. But the “democracy” crowd in Washington immediately threatens aid cut-offs, sanctions, etc., if the army acts. Again, the children now running America’s foreign policy are 4GW’s best allies.

Fourth generation war includes far more than just Islamic “terrorism,” and we see it gaining strength in areas far from the Middle East. Gangs have grown so powerful in Mexico, right on our border, that I predict the state will soon have to make deals with them, as the PRI has done in the past. Invasion by immigrants who do not acculturate is a powerful form of 4GW, more powerful than any terrorism, and that is occurring on a north-south basis (except Australia) literally around the world. Remember, most of the barbarians did not invade the Roman Empire to destroy it. They just wanted to move in. In fact, most were invited in. Sound familiar?

What should concern us most is precisely the disconnect between the internal and external worlds. Externally, 4GW is flourishing, while internally, in the US government and military, it does not exist. This is the kind of chasm into which empires can disappear….

Fabius Maximus – who is a both a pseudonymous blogger and a group blog, also responded:

Update about one of the seldom-discussed trends shaping our world: 4GW 

One of the interesting aspects of recent history is the coincidence of

  1. the collapse of discussion about 4GW in US military and geopolitical circles,
  2. victories by insurgents using 4GW methods over foreign armies in Iraq and Afghanistan, &
  3. most important, the perhaps history-making victory by Bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

The second point is important to us, but the usual outcome since WW2 (after which 4GW became the dominate form of military conflict; see section C below).  The third point is the big one. Based on the available information, one of Bin Laden’s goals was to destabilize the US political regime. Massive increase in military spending (using borrowed funds). The bill of rights being shredded (note yesterday’s House vote to tear another strip from the 4th amendment). Our Courts holding show trials of terrorists — recruited, financed, supported by our security services. Torture and concentration camps.

….We — the Second American Republic — have engaged in a war with nationalistic, Islamic forces using 4GW.  So far we are losing.  For various reasons we are unable to even perceive the nature of the threat. In DoD the hot dot is again procurement of high-tech weapons — new ships, the F-35, the hypersonic cruise missile, etc.  All useless in the wars we’ve fought for the past 50 years, and probably in those of the next 50 years….. 

A few comments.

4GW has been heavily criticized – and accurately so – for making selective use of history, for unsupported maximal claims, for an excessively and ahistorically linear argument and for shifting or vaguely defined terms. Presented rigidly, it is relatively easy for critics to poke holes in it simply by playing “gotcha” (some of the criticism of 4GW did not get beyond ad hominem level garbage, but more intellectually serious detractors made very effective critiques of 4GW’s flaws).

That said, there were a number of useful elements or insights in the body of 4GW writings that retain their utility and I think are worth recalling:

  • Whatever one thinks of 4GW as a whole, the school drew attention to the threat of non-state irregular warfare, failed states and the decline of state vs. state warfare and did so long before it was Pentagon conventional wisdom or trendy Beltway talking head spiels on Sunday morning news programs.
  • While the state is not in decline everywhere in an absolute sense, it sure is failing in some places and has utterly collapsed elsewhere. Failed, failing and hollowed out states are nexus points for geopolitical problems and feature corruption, black globalization, insurgency, tribalism, terrorism, transnational criminal organizations and zones of humanitarian crisis. Whether we call these situations “irregular”, “hybrid”, “decentralized and polycentric”, “LIC”, “4GW” or everyone’s favorite, “complex” matters less than using force to achieve political aims becomes increasingly difficult as the interested parties and observers multiply. Some of the advice offered by the 4GW school regarding “the moral level of war”, de-escalation and the perils of fighting the weak in such a conflict environment are all to the good for reducing friction.
  • The emphasis of the 4GW school on the perspective of the irregular fighter and their motivations not always fitting neatly within state-centric realpolitik, Galula-ish “Maoist Model” insurgency, Clausewitzian best strategic practice or the Western intellectual tradition, were likewise ahead of their time and contrary to S.O.P. Even today, the effort to see the world through the eyes of our enemies is at best, anemic. Red teams are feared more than they are loved. Or utilized.
  • The bitter criticism the 4GW school lodged of the American political elite being allergic to strategic thinking and ignorant of strategy in general was apt; that American strategy since the end of the Cold War has been exceedingly inept in thought and execution is one of the few points on which the most rabid 4GW advocate and diehard Clausewitzian can find themselves in full agreement.

The lessons of 4GW will still be relevant wherever men fight in the rubble of broken societies, atomized communities and failed states.

Is Mammon having a “secularism” crisis?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — Robb’s analysis, capitalism as religion metaphor, irony, warning ]


image source — btw, contact jonesharris [at] btinternet.com if interested

Okay. The Church of England‘s own website, whose banner reads A Christian presence in every community, now hosts a list of, well,


which seems a rather unfortunate way to phrase things — but the point is, something called “secularism” is gnawing away at belief and church attendance, and I’m wondering if it may not be gnawing away at belief and bank attendance, too…

And since Mammon is the theological term for riches or material wealth personified, I’m asking, metaphorically speaking, whether Mammon is now facing its own “secularism” crisis…

Well, to be honest, I’m not the one doing the wondering, really — I’m borrowing the whole idea from the imperturbable John Robb, fighter pilot, entrepreneur and author of Brave New War, and spicing it up a bit with nice pictures of a church conversion to drive the irony of the whole thing home.

From two of Robb’s recent posts on his Global Guerrillas blog:


Oct 5 JOURNAL: The Pope of the Church of Capitalism

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve is part:

Religious figure. The Pope of the Church of Capitalism. The leader of the Church. Final arbiter on the meaning of scripture (arcane economic indicators and economic papers). Is trained in ancient mysteries (economics). Has a council of Cardinals (the Fed board). He also issues indulgences (bailouts and free loans) to banks that he likes.


Oct 7 OCCUPY (Insert Your City Here): Protesting Capitalism’s Crisis

What Occupy is Really About The real reason we are seeing this movement right now is because

Capitalism, the last great ideological system, is in crisis.

This isn’t merely a crisis of outcomes (economic depression, financial panic, etc.), it’s a crisis of BELIEF. While people generally believe in the idea of capitalism, a critical mass of people now think that the global capitalist system we currently have is so badly run, so corrupt, so terrible at delivering results that it needs either a) a complete overhaul or b) we need to build something new.

In short, in its tiny way, this protest may be the start of a reformation of the church of capitalism.

A splintering that may change everything…. For better or worse depending on how well you did in the old, corrupt system.


So, anyway — is it time for capitalism to rid itself of the sale of indulgences?

The religious metaphor is, of course, what fascinates me.

But there’s a warning here, too, about the dangers of radically polarized populations and mobs and their heated passions, as Robb quietly implies with his “for better or worse” — are we ready to go through another (networked, and no doubt accelerated) Thirty Years War?

That is something I devoutly hope we can avoid.

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