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On sovereignty by motorbike

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — so if they ride through Zürich, do they get to keep all the banks? ]
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Matthew Burton asked an intriguing question on Twitter today [upper panel, below] — while 5,000 Russians pose a similar question [lower panel]:

When was the last time sovereignty depended on bike club membership?

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Addendum:

Matthew Burton kindly pointed me to this WaPo piece, Obama speaks with Putin by phone, calls on Russia to pull forces back to Crimea bases, which includes the following wording:

“In the case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” a statement issued by Putin’s office said, “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”

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Narco-cartels as MBAs Doing 4GW

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

 

Yale organizational behaviorist Rodrigo Canales has an interesting talk on the Narco-insurgency in Mexico ( which he correctly sees as having been as lethal as Syria’s civil war). While this won’t be news to close students of Mexico’s cartel wars, Canales explains how Los Zeta, La Familia, Knights Templar and Sinaloa cartel violence is neither random nor strictly criminal on criminal  violence but is used as part of organizational strategies to create distinctive “franchise brands”, amplify political messaging,  reinforce effects of social service investment in the communities they control and maximize market efficiency of narcotics sales and other contraband. COIN, 4GW and irregular warfare folks will all see familiar elements in Canales management theory driven perspective.

A useful short tutorial considering the cartels are operating inside the United States and their hyper-violent tactics are eventually going to follow.

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Moral Degeneration in the Crucible of War

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

 

The recent post on Is 4GW Dead? stirred a great deal of interest, so I would like to extend the discussion on a point that that is critical not only for those who have responsibility for conducting military campaigns, but for statecraft and policy as well.

One of more important tenets of 4GW was the importance of “the moral level of war”, drawn from Colonel John Boyd’s thinking on the strategic impact of a combatant’s behavior, immoral  or exemplary, on all observers – belligerents, civilian noncombatants, neutral third parties, the media, the combatant’s own soldiers and citizens back home. Here is Boyd:

Morally our adversaries isolate themselves when they visibly improve their well being to the detriment of others (allies, the uncommitted), by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.

· Morally we interact with others by avoiding mismatches between what we say we are what we are and the world we have to deal with, as well as by abiding by those other cultural codes or standards we are expected to uphold.

In a Reader’s Digest version of Boyd,  heroic, noble and magnanimous  behavior is admirable and attractive while hypocrisy, cruelty and cowardice are repulsive and antagonizing characteristics. While the former won’t guarantee your victory and the latter, unfortunately, won’t ensure your defeat, they will be a significant factor in ameliorating or generating friction.  The impression given by an army impacts the will of the enemy to fight, the morale and discipline of the soldiers, the restiveness of the civilians, the loyalty of allies and the goodwill of neighbors.

Boyd developed his thinking about the moral level of war in Patterns of Conflict  all the way up to grand strategy and above. The rub about the moral level  is that war is a crucible that puts every “cultural code” or “standard” to the test, as well as the character of the men fighting it and their leaders upon whom great responsibility rests.  Even with the best of intentions in policy and careful generalship in the field, the horrors of war can erode moral fiber and military discipline in an army, in a company or in the heart of one man. Nor does every army begin with good intentions and effective discipline – some fighting forces are scarcely to be regarded as “armies” at all while others embrace the darkness as a matter of policy.

In terms of warfare, let us define “moral degeneration” as a degraded state of moral decline where a belligerent has effectively abandoned the operational and tactical restraints on conduct mandated by the Laws of War (i.e. war crimes are SOP) and in some instances, the vestiges of civilization.

A textbook example of this kind of moral degeneration came to light a few weeks ago when a jihadi lunatic in Syria, a rebel commander Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the name of “Abu Sakkar”, cut out the heart of a (presumably) dead government soldier and ate it on video. Charles Cameron expounded at length upon this minor atrocity here. I am not, to say the least, a fan of radical, revolutionary, transnational Sunni Islamism but I cannot honestly say that its proponents like Abul Mawdudi , Sayid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden and their ilk ever openly advocated cannibalism. It is much more likely that Mr. al-Hamad’s behavior is explained by the ferocity of the civil war in Syria eroding customary norms of the combatants than  it is by Islamist ideology.

Moral degeneration in war seems to spring from two directions:

a) As a calculated act of Policy, from the top down, enforced by the leadership by military discipline and bureaucratic control.

b) As a spontaneous reaction by soldiers or fighters, appearing from the bottom up, without orders and frequently, in spite of them, possibly due to a breakdown in the chain of command, an erosion of discipline or sheer mutiny for the age-old purpose of reprisal, pillage and rapine.

The first category often occur with war as a convenient cover rather than a cause of grave crimes against humanity that leaders and  ideologues had long wished to carry out. The Armenian Genocide, as John Keegan wrote, belongs properly to the history of Ottoman imperial policy than it did WWI; in truth, the Genocide was the greatest and worst in a long succession of vicious pogroms that the Ottomans had launched against their Armenian Christian subjects during the reign of Abdul Hamid and the Young Turks. The Holocaust (which had some inspiration in Hitler’s mind, from the fate of the Armenians) was more closely tied to the evolution of  Nazi war policy but once Operation Barbarossa opened up the vast spaces of Soviet Eurasia, “the East” in Nazi parlance, the war itself increasingly took a backseat to expediting Hitler and Himmler’s ghastly and murderous racial priorities. This is a pattern of a priori planning, an escalating ideological radicalization of society that tends to be present with most of the large scale democides and genocides. It is the organizational powers of  coercion utilized by the state, or a mobilized faction of , it that makes the enormous scale of death possible, not the war.

What is different and also dangerous about moral degeneration from the bottom-up, is that it is cultural evolution driven by the psychological effects of extreme violence at work and, unlike an act of policy, more likely to be diffused widely across society as a permanent change for the worse. Too many German soldiers in WWI, former peasants and artisans and boys from middle-class families, returned from the Western Front morally coarsened and addicted to the adrenalin rush of combat and became in succession Freikorps paramilitaries, Communist streetfighters, Nazi Stormtroopers and SS men. The World War also gave Russia the men of the Cheka, the Red terror and the first Gulags on the Bolshevik Left and brutal and mad warlords on the White Right.

In more recent two decades, the break-up of Yugoslavia unleashed atavistic passions of ethnic hatred and atrocity, while organized society in Western African states and central Africa broke down entirely in transnational regional civil wars with unrestrained massacres and mass rape. As a result, there is little that is political but much that is primeval, at this juncture, to explain Joseph Kony’s motivations; he resembles nothing so much as a 21st century Kurtz. Mexico too is degenerating from the escalating violence of cartel insurgency and narco-cultas – there is not much tactical or strategic value in pagan death cults or human sacrifice but it is spreading:

…Our impression is that what is now taking place in Mexico has for some time gone way beyond secular and criminal (economic) activities as defined by traditional organized crime studies.3 In fact, the intensity of change may indeed be increasing. Not only have de facto politicalelements come to the fore-i.e., when a cartel takes over an entire city or town, they have no choice but to take over political functions formerly administered by the local government- but social (narcocultura) and religious/spiritual (narcocultos) characteristics are now making themselves more pronounced. What we are likely witnessing is Mexican society starting to not only unravel but to go to war with itself. The bonds and relationships that hold that society together are fraying, unraveling, and, in some instances, the polarity is reversing itself with trust being replaced by mistrust and suspicion. Traditional Mexican values and competing criminal value systems are engaged in a brutal contest over the ?hearts, minds, and souls‘ of its citizens in a street-by-street, block-by-block, and city-by-city war over the future social and political organization of Mexico. Environmental modification is taking place in some urban centers and rural outposts as deviant norms replace traditional ones and the younger generation fully accepts a criminal value system as their baseline of behavior because they have known no other. The continuing incidents of ever increasing barbarism-some would call this a manifestation of evil even if secularly motivated-and the growing popularity of a death cult are but two examples of this clash of values. Additionally, the early rise of what appears to be cartel holy warriors may now also be taking place. While extreme barbarism, death cults, and possibly now holy warriors found in the Mexican cartel wars are still somewhat the exception rather than the rule, each of these trends is extremely alarming, and will be touched upon in turn.

The crucible of war either tempers a people or it breaks them.

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The Controversial CTC Report

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point released a report on domestic terrorism that raised hackles for a number of reasons. Despite the dismissals of liberal political pundits, the reasons for objections to the CTC report are legitimate but they did not need to arise in the first place and might have been avoided with a slightly different editorial approach or appropriate caveats (I just finished reading the report, which is primarily focused on the usual suspects). Here’s why I think the normally well-regarded CTC stumbled into a hornet’s nest:

First, in this foray into domestic terrorism analysis, the center chose to concentrate only on the threat of violence of the Far Right while ignoring other threats coming from the Far Left, infiltration by criminal insurgent networks from Mexico, notably the ultraviolent Zetas whose reach has stirred gang violence in Chicago and Islamist terrorism, either homegrown “lone wolves” or from foreign infiltration or subversion. In itself, this is understandable if the CTC plans a series of reports with a separate focus on different domestic threats; but without that context, it is a myopic analytic perspective, particularly given the demonstrated capabilities of various AQ affiliates or just south of the border, the criminal-insurgency of  the narco-cartels. Had all of these been addressed in one omnibus report, any complaints from conservatives were likely to have been muted or nonexistent. This is not to say that the radical American Far Right does not have a violent threat potential of it’s own worth studying; it does and it is real. But available evidence indicates it to be the least organized, least operationally active and least professionally competent in terms of terrorist “tradecraft” of the three.

The second and most problematic aspect of the report is an intellectually sloppy definition of a dangerous “antifederalist movement”  where noxious concepts like “white supremacy” and wacko conspiracy theories are casually associated with very mainstream conservative (or even traditionally bipartisan !) political ideas – coincidentally, some of the same ideas that contemporary “big government” liberal elites tend to find irritating, objectionable or critical of their preferred policies. Part of the equation here is that American politics are evolvng into a very bitterly partisan, “low trust” environment, but even on the merits of critical analysis,  these two passages are ill-considered and are largely responsible for most of the recent public criticism of the CTC:

….The antifederalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government.  They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights.  Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government

….In contrast to the relatively long tradition of the white supremacy racist movement, the anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s, with the emergence of groups such as the  Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia. Antifederalism is normally identified in the literature as the “Militia” or “Patriot” movement. Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist  practices,and libertarian ideas 

This is taxonomic incoherence, or at least could have used some bright-line specifics ( like “Posse Commitatus” qualifying what was meant by “anti-taxation” activists) though in some cases, such as “libertarian ideas” and “civil activism”, I’m at a loss to know who or what violent actors they were implying, despite being fairly well informed on such matters.

By the standard used in the first paragraph, Glenn Greenwald, Ralph Nader and the ACLU would also be considered “far right antifederalists”. By the standards of the second, we might be in physical danger from Grover Norquist,  Congressman John Dingell and Penn Jillette. No one who opposed the recent increases in income tax rates, dislikes gun-control or thought the DOJ may have abused it’s power in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz or in their stubborn refusal to prosecute Bankster racketeering is likely to welcome a report under the auspices of West Point that juxtaposes such normal and perfectly valid American political beliefs with neo-Nazism. A move that is simply going to – and quite frankly, did – gratuitously irritate a large number of people, including many in the defense and national security communities who are a natural “customer base” for CTC reports.

As I said previously, this could easily have been completely avoided with more careful use of language, given that 99% the report has nothing to do with mainstream politics and is concerned with actors and orgs with often extensive track records of violence. As the CTC, despite it’s independence, is associated so strongly with an official U.S. Army institution, it needs to go the extra mile in explaining it’s analysis when examining domestic terrorism subjects that are or, appear to be, connected to perfectly legitimate participation in the political process. This is the case whether the subject is on the Left or Right – few activists on the Left, for example, have forgotten the days of COINTELPRO and are currently aggrieved by the activities of Project Vigilant.

I might make a few other criticisms of the report, such as the need for a better informed historical perspective, but that is hardly what the recent uproar was about.

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An Insurgency Coming to a Place Near You?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken criticism for Chicago’s skyrocketing homicide rate which stands this year at a shocking 19.4 per 100,000 residents. This is roughly triple the murder rate in New York City, is worse than in perennially crime-ridden Oakland and is within shouting distance of  war-torn Afghanistan and Mexico, which are fighting vicious insurgencies. Even for Chicago, the current level of street violence is unusually brazen.

Chicago has always taken an ambivalent attitude toward it’s enormous, 100,000 strong, network of rival street gangs. Traditionally, part of the social fabric of Chicago’s ethnically divided wards, Chicago’s street gangs were far better organized and more ruthlessly disciplined than street gangs elsewhere, which allowed them a limited entree into participation in local politics. The Chicago Outfit from Al Capone’s day on controlled the votes in the old 1st Ward, ran several near suburbs like Cicero and recruited especially brutal sociopaths from the Forty-Two gang; the legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley in his youth had been a thug for the Hamburg Athletic Club, the Democratic Party’s election-time enforcers in the 11th Ward. In more recent decades, the Black P. Stone Nation/El Rukns were Federal grantees and a number of powerful street gangs today use the Black United Voters of Chicago as a front group and cut-out to make deals with local politicians and swing aldermanic races.

However disturbing the status quo may have been in Chicago, it is potentially changing for the worse. Much worse.

DEA BOSS: MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS ARE SO DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN CHICAGO, WE HAVE TO OPERATE LIKE WE‘RE ’ON THE BORDER’ 

The city may be nearly 2,000 miles from Mexico, but the country’s drug cartels are so deeply embedded in Chicago that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are “on the border,” according to Jack Riley, special agent in charge for the Chicago Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Because of Chicago’s location in the heart of the United States, its large Mexican population and its abundance of street gang activity, drug cartels have designated the city as one of its main hubs of operation in America, Riley told TheBlaze in an exclusive interview. Inevitably, the increasing presence of cartels has also contributed to the Windy City’s skyrocketing violent crime rates, the DEA boss revealed.

“My opinion is, right now, a number of the Mexican cartels are probably the most organized, well-funded, vicious criminal organizations that we’ve ever seen,” said Riley.

Right now, at least three major Mexican cartels are fighting for control of billions of dollars worth of marijuana, cocaine and heroin in Chicago. That includes the ruthless Zetas and the powerful Sinaloa cartel, run by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, arguably the most wanted man in North America, and perhaps the entire world….

….“If I pitted the Italian organized crime groups against for instance, ‘Chapo’ Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel, it wouldn’t be a fight,” he told TheBlaze. “In my opinion, Chapo Guzman is the new Al Capone or Scarface to Chicago. His ability to corrupt, his ability to enforce his sanctions and to really do with an endless supply of revenue is in my opinion far greater than older Italian organized crime.”

….The drug trafficking organizations are based in Mexico but, he explained, they have operatives in various cities across the nation. In Chicago, local gangs are used by cartels as a means to get their products onto the streets without putting their operations at risk, all the while raking in massive profits from drug sales. Cartels move every drug you can think of, including cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines.

Overall, police records indicate Chicago’s murder rate is up 31 percent from 2011. Further, Mayor Rahm Emanuel in August requested federal assistance to combat violence and drugs. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Aug. 31 that at least 82 people were injured or killed in shootings within a one week period, 10 in one night alone. Additionally, as of Aug. 23, there had been 351 shooting deaths so far in 2012….

Read the rest here.

The vast profit margin in illegal drug sales and the formidable manpower of Chicago street gangs have led the Mexican cartels to make a strategic choice to stay in the background, as hegemonic partners with local gangbanger street crews and not make the kind of flamboyantly ghoulish “narcocultas” attacks or DIY militarization typical of the Mexican criminal insurgency.  Sharing profits and letting locals run the major risks with law enforcement is a cartel strategy to avoid antagonizing the Federal government into treating their drug operations as ” international terrorism” with the draconian response that would imply, here, inside Mexico and further abroad. The same reason the cartels do not try to kill large numbers of American tourists or assassinate prominent Americans in Mexico, which they could easily do.

However, the cartels could shift from transnational organized crime activities to exporting narco-insurgency to America under a number of scenarios:

  •  Cartel vs. Cartel – a cartel losing to rivals in Mexico breaks the informal rule against high profile attacks inside the US by striking it’s enemies here, inviting a cycle of severe retaliation and drawing in local allies – Mexican Mafia, MS-13 etc.
  • Federal Squeeze – law enforcement gets really serious about systemically destroying a particular cartel, rooting out it’s illicit money stashed in the US banking system and legal investments and jailing everyone in sight under RICO and extraditing everyone else from Mexico. The narcos will employ “silver or lead” tactics to intimidate and co-opt local officials and whole communities and then escalate into symbolic terrorism.
  • US Intervention – American assistance to the government of Mexico against the cartels tips the balance in Mexico’s civil war to what the cartels see as an existential threat ( i.e. drone targeted killings) and the narcos respond with furious attacks against American soft targets intending to create high body count events.

There is nothing magical about the US-Mexican border that prevents the ghastly violence in Mexico from occurring here – it is a rational calculation by cartel leaders that such behavior is not worth the risk of a stand-up fight with the US military and intelligence agencies – the cartels are only just holding their own against the lesser capabilities of the government of Mexico However, if cornered and desperate, the cartels are capable of rapidly escalating the violence in specific American communities to 2006 -2007 Iraq insurgency levels – in places like Chicago. It could happen faster than anyone believes possible.

The political effect of this will be a riptide – and none of it to the good.

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