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A Quick 1: DoubleTweet

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a quick one while I'm toiling away at something longer on Ebola & cultures, and I don't mean the kind in Petrie dishes ]
.

This, today wrt Holland:

more or less echoes this, wrt LA in March:

**

I suspect these two tweets, taken as indicators, support the idea that some at least of those who travel to foreign lands for purposes of fighting do so because adventure is a potent lure. I further suspect that biker and gang codes of honor / shame fit well with the codes of honor / shame prominent in the ME — but I’d need anthropological backup for such a claim, and currently lack the resources to pursue it.

And I suspect there’s a lateral tie in here with the work of Dr Bunker and others on Mexican narcocultura.

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A glass darkly for princes…

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

[pre-acknowledged by Lynn C. Rees]

Meet Edward Mandell House:

Edward House
 

Mr. House has a reputation for being wise and inscrutable.

He was also nicknamed “Colonel” House.

We need not refer to him by that nickname here. While Mr. House did have a name, he never had a serial number. So he doesn’t deserve the rank: his nickname cheapens the rank of the real Wise and Inscrutable Colonels of history:

The Wise and Inscrutable Colonel
Mr. House does have one distinction: my Dad lives in mortal terror of Mr. House. Many are the times when my father has paused mid-sentence, looked to one side and then the other for treacherous eavesdroppers, and whispered the nickname and name of He Who Cannot Be Nicknamed or Named. And why does Dad fear the unnicknamed shadow of Mr. House when he should fear the Curse of the [actual] Colonel?

You see, Mr. House was…

an anonymous novelist.

Like the tragic geopolitical nerd of yore, fierce ambition to be not only a playa but to be THE PLAYA raced through Mr. House’s bloodless veins. Deep in his black, barely beating heart, Mr. House knew he was a Colonel in Nickname Only, not what future adversary Cousin Theodore (that’s Colonel Roosevelt to you) called “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood”. So, to fill that non-Colonel abyss in his soul, Mr. House wrote a novel. Being a rich banker, he was able to “persuade”” avant-garde publisher B.W. Huebsh to publish it anonymously in 1912.

It begins with an ominous title:

Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!

No word strikes more fear into the hearts of those who still have hearts than ADMINISTRATOR!!!. Its like impartial technocratic professionalism…MADE FLESH!!!

Mr. House reminds us of THE TERROR THAT IS THE POLITICAL CENTER!!! by quoting zombie radical centrist [now, at least] Giuseppi Mazzini:

“No war of classes, no hostility to existing wealth, no wanton or unjust violation of the rights of property, but a constant disposition to ameliorate the condition of the classes least favored by fortune.”

Fear the DREAD VOICE OF MODERATION!!!

The book’s actual action opens with a door to the MILQUETOAST OF HORROR:

In the year 1920, the student and the statesman saw many indications that the social, financial and industrial troubles that had vexed the United States of America for so long a time were about to culminate in civil war.

Wealth had grown so strong, that the few were about to strangle the many, and among the great masses of the people, there was sullen and rebellious discontent.

The laborer in the cities, the producer on the farm, the merchant, the professional man and all save organized capital and its satellites, saw a gloomy and hopeless future.

With these conditions prevailing, the graduation exercises of the class of 1920 of the National Military Academy at West Point, held for many a foreboding promise of momentous changes, but the 12th of June found the usual gay scene at the great institution overlooking the Hudson. The President of the Republic, his Secretary of War and many other distinguished guests were there to do honor to the occasion, together with friends, relatives and admirers of the young men who were being sent out to the ultimate leadership of the Nation’s Army. The scene had all the usual charm of West Point graduations, and the usual intoxicating atmosphere of military display.

The vortex of terror only spirals downward from there. With great bravery, Wikipedia stiff-lipped summarizes the dread plot of Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!:

His book’s hero leads the democratic western United States in a civil war against the plutocratic East, and becomes the acclaimed leader of the country until he steps down, having restored justice and democracy.

Faint hearts, stay away. FAR AWAY!!! MuahahaHaHaHa!!!

While Mr. House had romantic Playa envy he (anonymously) shared with the tragic geopolitical nerd, unlike the that poor creature, doomed to die comic pratfall by comic pratfall, Mr. House had an actual superpower: he could become someone else. House lacked the self-destructive instinct of the self-appointed strategist for Playaing the prima donna. He was willing to venture where few ventured, to go where few dared go. He went inside.

If the most primal species of strategist is the Little Father, the Great Captain at War, a Thutmoses III, an Ashurbanipal, a Heraclius, where politics, strategy, and tactics form are joined to form one sharp cutting blade in the arsenal of the Genius Mind, Mr. House stolidly belongs to the next oldest class of strategist: the favorite.

It is a mistake to mistake the favorite, as my Dad does, for Philip Dru….ADMINISTRATOR!!! The gift of ADMINISTRATION!!! is bestowed on few, and then only on the Little Father. The role of the favorite is, in Mr. House’s own words, “to serve wherever and whenever possible”. And the favorite’s greatest service, wherever and whenever possible? To be disposable at pleasure, the pleasure of his keeper. Next to the graves of the indispensable men are the mass graves heaped with their very dispensable favorites. While the Little Father quickly absorbs all credit for any favorite successes, his favorites are there to accept blame for any ill-favored failures. When the public mood shifts from “This evil comes from the Little Father’s favorites. If only the Little Father knew!” to “This evil comes from the Little Father. Down with the Little Father!”, the Bastille is at the door.

If the Little Father wins his role and its power by his intrinsic Little Fatherliness, the favorite gains his role and its power by his ability to cater to the whims of Little Fatherliness. The favorite’s talent is heroic submission, signing his will with all its mind, might, and strength over to his master without limit. Any ambitions he has manifests itself only in how he ever so carefully he contorts himself to ever so carefully refract his masters reflection back onto the Little Father. It is by such subtle bending of white light into brown light, tinged with the Little Father’s favorite colors, that the best of favorites stays the most favored of favorites. If the favorite flashes any light of his own, light that may outshine, however briefly, his master’s rays, the favorite risks becoming less favorite and even not favorite. And a favorite without favor is -ite. And who needs more -ite?

The man who would draw near to Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!, even if one step removed from real ADMINISTRATION!!!, must be one with his masters peripheral vision. He should be seen but unseen, felt but unfelt, brown-nosed without visible brown stains. His inner geopolitical nerd must remain leashed, unseen, and unsuspected.

Such leash. Such unseen. Much unsuspect.

The greatest threat to favor remains intoxication by proximity, so close to power, the ultimate intoxicant. If the favorite forgets his power is that of another, drawn from that of another, he’s doomed. In the Hall of Fame of Great Obsequious Americans, Mr. House holds no candle to the sinister Dr. Kissinger, Epic Suck Up to ten presidents, but he did well, for a time, with his one president.

Unfortunately for Mr. House, he was no Cousin Tom. And that doomed him. He too was no mirror for princes.

[Dad, you can come out from underneath the bed now.]

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The prime directive

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

[cut and pasted by Lynn C. Rees]


It has been the uniform policy of this Government, from its foundation to the present day, to abstain from all interference in the domestic affairs of other nations. The consequence has been that while the nations of Europe have been engaged in desolating wars our country has pursued its peaceful course to unexampled prosperity and happiness. The wars in which we have been compelled to engage in defense of the rights and honor of the country have been, fortunately, of short duration. During the terrific contest of nation against nation which succeeded the French Revolution we were enabled by the wisdom and firmness of President Washington to maintain our neutrality. While other nations were drawn into this wide-sweeping whirlpool, we sat quiet and unmoved upon our own shores. While the flower of their numerous armies was wasted by disease or perished by hundreds of thousands upon the battlefield, the youth of this favored land were permitted to enjoy the blessings of peace beneath the paternal roof. While the States of Europe incurred enormous debts, under the burden of which their subjects still groan, and which must absorb no small part of the product of the honest industry of those countries for generations to come, the United States have once been enabled to exhibit the proud spectacle of a nation free from public debt, and if permitted to pursue our prosperous way for a few years longer in peace we may do the same again.

But it is now said by some that this policy must be changed. Europe is no longer separated from us by a voyage of months, but steam navigation has brought her within a few days’ sail of our shores. We see more of her movements and take a deeper interest in her controversies. Although no one proposes that we should join the fraternity of potentates who have for ages lavished the blood and treasure of their subjects in maintaining “the balance of power,” yet it is said that we ought to interfere between contending sovereigns and their subjects for the purpose of overthrowing the monarchies of Europe and establishing in their place republican institutions. It is alleged that we have heretofore pursued a different course from a sense of our weakness, but that now our conscious strength dictates a change of policy, and that it is consequently our duty to mingle in these contests and aid those who are struggling for liberty.

(more…)

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The Creepy-State attracts Creeps

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Big Brother’s little brothers are listening in on your calls, tapping your data

When the government and ruling elites fashion a Creepy-State, it inevitably spawns a surveillance arms race. If your private data is valuable to the Feds, it is valuable to others….and if the Feds are violating the Constitution they aren’t too likely to energetically enforce the law against imitators.

Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Are Intercepting Calls All Over The US 

Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week, according to a report in Popular Science.

Rather than offering you cellphone service, the towers appear to be connecting to nearby phones, bypassing their encryption, and either tapping calls or reading texts. 

Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, used ESD’s CryptoPhone 500 to detect 17 bogus cellphone towers. ESD is a leading American defense and law enforcement technology provider based in Las Vegas. 

With most phones, these fake communication towers are undetectable. But not for the CryptoPhone 500,  a customized Android device that is disguised as a Samsung Galaxy S III but has highly advanced encryption.

Goldsmith told Popular Science: ” Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated. One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found eight different interceptors on that trip. We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.”

The towers were found in July, but the report implied that there may have been more out there.

Although it is unclear who owns the towers, ESD found that several of them were located near U.S. military bases. 

“Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases? Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it? The point is: we don’t really know whose they are,” Goldsmith said to Popular Science.

It’s probably not the NSA — that agency can tap all it wants without the need for bogus towers, VentureBeat reported:

Not the NSA, cloud security firm SilverSky CTO/SVP Andrew Jaquith told us. “The NSA doesn’t need a fake tower,” he said. “They can just go to the carrier” to tap your line.

Indeed. Subterfuge is required only by those who cannot slap you with a national security letter.

My first comment is that the journalists did not engage in any serious kind of investigation here.

Every one of these towers, unless it was thrown up in the dead of night (unlikely), went through the usual local zoning or planning approval process, which means that there is a paper trail involving land sales, applications, permits and hearings before a local municipal or county board. I know. I sat on one of these commissions for a number of years and jack does not get built in most of the United States until they approve and (usually hefty) fees are paid. These towers aren’t some fat trucker’s CB antennae or ham radio set-up next to a double-wide. A construction crew and heavy equipment were required

My second comment is that since these devices are engaged in ongoing, infinite count, felony eavesdropping, wiretapping, hacking etc. violations, the chances are excellent that corruption of local officials was in play to get these fake towers approved. At least in some of the cases and it is likely that the local officials had some idea of what the tower builders were up to ( or at least their professional engineering staff did). All these towers and no one said “no” or asked tough questions. Think of the odds. You can’t get rubber-stamp approval to build a dog house in most jurisdictions.

My third comment is to wonder who would show up if motivated citizens decided to disable the towers – either by vigilantee action or pressuring public officials to remove these illegal towers.

My fourth comment is that when our public officials are co-conspirators with criminals against the people and their Constitution, the Republic as we knew it is fading away.

If we continue down this road we will await only the coming of a Sulla.

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What to do About ISIS? Constructing Strategy, Weighing Options

Friday, August 29th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

ISIS or the Islamic StateCaliphate” is the focus  of a great deal of discussion and demands for action from the United Statesand also inactionfrom many quarters.

What is to be done?

That is a famous question.  In matters of geopolitics and strategy, it is more fitting to begin with “Should something be done?”. We need to define the problem before rushing toward solutions. What is ISIS/ISIL/IS  and does it threaten the United States and American interests?:

An evolving offshoot of al Qaida, ISIS is a more radically takfiri, more ambitious and more impatient  jihadi/irhabi offspring than it’s parent. The so-called Islamic State holds sway over considerable Sunni Arab territory in both Syria and Iraq with a makeshift capital at Ar-Raqqah, Syria. Theologically, ISIS is the most extreme Islamist movement to arise since the GIA near the tail end of their 1990′s insurgency in Algeria, regarding the Shia and less radical Sunnis as apostates, deserving of death.  They have carried out genocidal massacres of Yazidis and Shia prisoners of war, tortured and mutilated prisoners and executed noncombatants and hostages like reporter James Foley. Ominously, ISIS may also be an apocalyptic movement, not merely a radical takfiri one, making it far less risk averse, even brazen, in its offensive operations and more intransigently fanatical on defense.

ISIS has been popularly described as an unholy mixture of “al Qaida, the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis”  and also as a terrorist army” by General David Petraeus. While it is true that their ranks probably contain the cream of the world’s Salafi terrorist-jihadi current, terrorism in the form of assassinations and suicide bombings has only been adjunctive to insurgent tactics and conventional combined arms operations. ISIS has shown impressive small unit discipline, the capacity to engage in maneuver warfare with heavy arms against the Kurds, Syrian Army, the Iraqi Army and rival Syrian rebel groups and even special operations skills. ISIS has moved aggressively on the physical, mental and moral levels of war to amass territory for their “caliphate” and consolidate their power and continues to advance, despite being rebuffed from Irbil by the Kurds and US airpower. ISIS is heavily armed with large quantities of advanced modern American and Russian weapons captured from the Iraqi and Syrian armies and is equally well funded, possessing in addition to significant revenue flows, the control of numerous dams and oilfields. Finally, in addition to their manifold war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, ISIS has also made broad, if vague, threats to strike New York, Chicago and Americans generally.

ISIS in a sense is the dream of jihadi strategist Abu Musab al-Suri come to life and gone from strength to strength. If they do not have al-Suri in their ranks, they have his playbook and do not seem to shrink from employing stratagems and speed to achieve surprise.

Having assessed their capabilities, I think it is reasonable to conclude that ISIS is a threat to American interests because they are destabilizing the region, threatening the security of American allies and are regularly causing a grave humanitarian crisis far beyond the normal exigencies of war. It is less clear that they are a direct threat to the security of United States and to the extent that ISIS terrorism is a threat, it is a  modest one,  though greater to Americans and US facilities overseas. The caveat is that the strength and capabilities of ISIS have already grown faster and qualitatively improved more than any other non-state actor in the last forty years and are on a trajectory of further growth. ISIS is unlikely to be better disposed toward American interests if it grows stronger. CJCS General Dempsey, correctly attempted to convey all of these nuances in his remarks to reporters without overstepping his role into advocating a policy to shape our strategy, which is the responsibility of his civilian superiors.

This brings us to the cardinal weakness in post-Cold War American statesmen – an unwillingness to do the intellectual heavy lifting that connects policy and strategy by making the choice to articulate a realistic vision of political ends that are the desired outcome of a decisive use of military force.  The result of this aversion (which is bipartisan – I am not picking on the Obama administration here) is that a strategy is not formulated, much less executed and the military then attempts to remediate the strategic gap with the sheer awesomeness of its operational art. That does not usually work too well, at least on land, because contemporary American civilian and military leaders also do not like to inflict the kind of horrific mass casualties on the enemy that, even in the absence of a real strategy might still cripple through sheer attrition  the enemy’s will or capacity to fight.  The American elite today, in contrast to the generation of FDR, Eisenhower and Truman, have no stomach for Dresden – but defeating Nazis sometimes requires not just a Dresden, but many of them and worse.

However, let’s assume the best, that the Obama administration will, having learned from Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, construct a strategy to use force to accomplish victory – gaining coherent, specific and realistic political objectives. The President, having refreshingly admitted that there is no strategy at present, has freed up his subordinates to create one rather than digging in and defending the current policy that lacks one. Since the administration and nearly everyone else on Earth agrees that ISIS , in addition to being moral monsters, is a threat to at least some degree. the questions then become:

  • How much of a threat is ISIS to American interests or security?
  • What do we want the political end state to be in the Mideast if/when the threat of ISIS is contained, diminished or destroyed?
  • What is it worth to us to accomplish this outcome in light of our other, competing, American interests, in the region and globally?

Once those important questions are answered, the military leadership will have the proper policy guidance to give the administration the best possible advice on how military force could secure their aims or be used in concert with other elements of national power civilian leaders might wish to employ, such as diplomacy, economic coercion or covert operations. Moving forward without answering these questions is an exercise in flailing about, hoping that using sufficient force opportunistically will cause good geopolitical things to happen.

I will not venture to say how or if administration officials will answer such questions, but there are some broad military options the Pentagon might offer to further a strategy to contend with ISIS. Some suggested possibilities and comments:

These options are not all mutually exclusive and in practice some would blend into others. No option is perfect, cost free or without trade-offs. Attempting to find the strategy with no risks and no hard choices is a policy to engage primarily in ineffectual military gesticulations insufficient to actually change the status quo in Iraq and Syria ( and the eternal default strategy of domestic political consultants and career bureaucrats playing at foreign policy).

DO NOTHING:

Doing nothing, or non-intervention is vastly underrated as a strategy because it is passive. However, most of the greatly feared, worst-case scenarios will fail to materialize as predicted because the actors about whom we harbor grave suspicions usually become bogged down by their own friction, miscalculations, internal politics and chance. This is why calling every foreign menace, great and small, the next “Hitler” has lost much of its charge. Run of the mill tyrants and corrupt dictators simply are not Adolf Hitler and their crappy, semi-developed, countries are not to be equated with turning the industrial heart of Europe into a war machine. Avoiding a needless war of choice is usually the smarter play from an economic and humanitarian standpoint.  The drawback to this option is that every once in a while, the menace really is another Hitler, a Bolshevik Revolution or a less than existential threat that nevertheless, is politically intolerable for numerous good reasons.  ISIS barbarism probably falls into the latter category and doing absolutely nothing becomes risky in the face of a fast-rising aggressor and probably politically untenable at home.

CONTAINMENT:

Containing a threat with a combination of coercion, non-military forms of pressure and  limited uses of armed force short of all-out warfare is designed to prevent further expansion until the adversary loses the will or capacity to remain a threat. This defensive posture was the successful American grand strategy of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and is frequently invoked as a less costly alternative for proposed interventions. Admittedly, the idea of keeping Islamist radicals bottled up in a “Sunnistan” composed of the Syrian desert and northern Iraqi towns until they starve or are overthrown and murdered by locals has a certain charm.

Unfortunately, this option is not likely to work because the underlying analogy is extremely poor.  Containment worked in part because Soviet insistence on maintaining the USSR as a totalitarian “closed system” made them exceptionally vulnerable to Containment’s pressure which allowed them no lasting way to resolve their internal economic and political contradictions. ISIS is not the Soviets and their Caliphate is not a closed system, or even yet, a durable state.  Their jihadi cadres can melt away across borders and new recruits can make their way in, as can contraband, money and information. Physically containing ISIS would do nothing toward discrediting their ideas; more likely, their continued existence in the face of powerful Western and Arab state opposition would validate them.  In any event, sealing off ISIS would require the unstinting, sustained, cooperation of  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states, Turkey, the Assad regime, the Kurds and a large deployment of American troops. This is probably not doable except on a very short term basis as a prelude to a “final offensive” like the one that crushed the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

PROXY WARFARE:

Enlisting foreign local allies, be they loyalist paramilitaries or state military regulars of various countries offers numerous advantages as well as drawbacks. It provides boots on the ground that we can’t afford, while irregulars like Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militiamen would be highly motivated to fight. The Kurds are also (relatively speaking) well disciplined and trained compared to building units by throwing together ragtag tribesmen and down on their luck Iraqi townsmen looking for a paycheck. Adding overwhelming American airpower to the mix would greatly improve the fighting power of irregular light infantry, as was demonstrated recently when Kurdish and Iraqi forces repeled ISIS from Iraq’s largest dam. Proxy warfare offers a fairly decent chance to roll back ISIS but the downside is that proxies also have their own agendas and would range from “mostly but not entirely reliable” (Kurds) to “freebooting death squads” (Shia militias). As in Afghanistan, we would soon find our proxies were also in the pay of Iran and Saudi Arabia and attempting to play one patron off against the other. Recognizing Kurdish independence would most likely be part of the deal (not a bad thing in my view) which would require repudiating a decade of failed nation-building policy in Iraq ( also not a bad thing) and accepting partition.

LIMITED WARFARE: 

Limited warfare is often disdained because it can seldom produce a resounding victory but it is useful in playing to strengths (ex. relying on a robust air campaign) while  limiting exposure to risks and costs.  Overwhelming firepower can be applied selectively to prevent an adversary’s victory and impose punishing costs, eating up their men and material. Limited warfare works best in conjunction with simple and limited political goals and military objectives and poorly with grandiose visions ( like turning Afghanistan into a liberal democracy and haven of women’ rights). Limited warfare on land, particular grinding counterinsurgency wars that go on for years on end with no clear stopping point, are very difficult for democracies to sustain politically. The electorate grows weary and the troops come home, often short of a permanent political settlement. The likely preference of the administration, if it chose this option, would be an air campaign coupled with drones, CIA covert action and SOF, working in conjunction with local allies.

MAJOR WARFARE:

For existential threats, go heavy or go home. This is the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine in pursuit of a decisive battle that does not merely defeat but crushes the enemy and compels him to submit to our will.  It would be extraordinarily expensive in blood, treasure and opportunity costs as the United states military is ill-prepared to re-deploy the bulk of the Army and Marine Corps to Iraq, supported by carrier groups in the Gulf. It is highly questionable that ISIS, whose fighters number somewhere between 10,000 – 20,000 would stand up and try to fight such an mammoth expedition head-on. They would retreat to Syria and dare us to invade that country also or go underground. It is also dubious that American leaders have the kind of iron-hearted will to fight what Gary Anderson accurately describes as “a combined arms campaign of extermination“. ISIS by contrast, demonstrates daily that it has no such scruples restraining them.

GRAND COALITION:

This differs from the previous option only in that it would bring all or most of the aforementioned armed enemies of ISIS together to corner and annihilate the menace once and for all. It makes eminent strategic sense but the ability to bring together so many incompatible parties and weld them into a coordinated military campaign requires political-diplomatic wizardry on the order of genius to pull off. It also requires a much greater sense of fear of ISIS than even their ghoulish brutality has generated so far to bring together Saudi and Shia, Turk and Kurd, Alawite and Sunni rebel, American and Iranian, as military allies.

The Obama administration faces a difficult dilemma in pondering the problem presented by ISIS. I don’t envy them but their task will grow easier and a resultant strategy more likely successful if they are willing to make ruthless choices in pursuit of bottom-line, clearly-defined American interests.

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