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Let’s just hope history doesn’t try rhyming Tampa with Iraq

Friday, May 27th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — applause is nice, premature self-congratulation can be deceptive ]
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Tablet DQ 600 tampa cheney 80

The Colossal Rhodes

Friday, May 6th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / a.k.a. “zen“]

This is absolutely amazing.

Quite possibly the most damning thing I have ever read about the Obama national security inner circle. This NYT profile far exceeds any wild polemic by an overventilating right-wing pundit. Ben Rhodes, whose complete lack of any FP/Defense/Mil/IC qualifications would have relegated him to getting coffee for bigwigs in any other NSC in history, is a Deputy National Security Adviser with Oval Office walk-in access. He gloats about his yes-man relationship with the POTUS, disparages Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, boasts of lying to reporters and mocks the servility of Beltway celebrity journalists who faithfully retweet the administration talking points he gives them. It reminds me of the tone of that Rolling Stone article that sank Stanley McChrystal.

The Aspiring Novelist who Became Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru

….He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press. His ability to navigate and shape this new environment makes him a more effective and powerful extension of the president’s will than any number of policy advisers or diplomats or spies. His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.

Part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his “mind meld” with the president. Nearly everyone I spoke to about Rhodes used the phrase “mind meld” verbatim, some with casual assurance and others in the hushed tones that are usually reserved for special insights. He doesn’t think for the president, but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power. One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”

I think we know where we can find your head, Ben.

….One result of this experience was that when Rhodes joined the Obama campaign in 2007, he arguably knew more about the Iraq war than the candidate himself, or any of his advisers. He had also developed a healthy contempt for the American foreign-policy establishment, including editors and reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, who at first applauded the Iraq war and then sought to pin all the blame on Bush and his merry band of neocons when it quickly turned sour. If anything, that anger has grown fiercer during Rhodes’s time in the White House. He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East.

Boost thinks very highly of me. My notes are so impressive that they have taken on the form of ideas, he feels. I capture other people’s words in a manner that not only organizes them, but inserts a clarity and purpose that was not present in the original idea. Connections are made between two opposing ideas that were not apparent in the meeting. I have gotten at not only the representation of things, but the way that the mind actually works.

Is this for real? Who thinks of themselves like this?

….Obama relies on Rhodes for “an unvarnished take,” in part, she says, because “Ben just has no poker face,” and so it’s easy to see when he is feeling uncomfortable. “The president will be like, ‘Ben, something on your mind?’ And then Ben will have this incredibly precise lay-down of why the previous half-hour has been an utter waste of time, because there’s a structural flaw to the entire direction of the conversation.”

The literary character that Rhodes most closely resembles, Power volunteers, is Holden Caulfield. “He hates the idea of being phony, and he’s impetuous, and he has very strong views.”

Somewhere, someplace, J.D. Salinger is throwing up next to a dry-heaving George Kennan.

There are White Houses in the past where an article of this kind would have gotten the staffer in question fired on the spot. That however was a more serious time.

Fresh faces on bills of denomination 20

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a DoubleTweet — US $20 > Harriet Tubman, UK £20 > JMW Turner ]
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On the right aside of the Atlantic:

Meanwhile, on the right side of the Pacific:

Palmyra, the delirium

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — any sufficiently advanced Stargate is indistinguishable from magic ]
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ronfeldt var

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I spoke too soon. In a post yesterday, I wrote of Palmyra, the grief and the joy. I should have known better — there’s always an end-times element to the news, particularly when it touches on the history of the Middle East.

In my tablet-format DoubleQuote above, you will find dire prognostications of one group of the apocalyptically aroused [upper panel, above] believing that the installation of a replica of the destroyed arch of Palmyra’s Temple of Baal in New York’s Times Square will unleash who knows what forces of evil upon the city — — a city which has in any case earned the sobriquet “Babylon” [lower panel] from others similarly apocalyptically aroused —

In ancient times, child sacrifice and bisexual orgies were common practices at the altars of Baal, and now we are putting up a monument of worship to this false god in the heart of our most important city.

April 2016: The Temple Of Baal Will Be Erected In Times Square In New York City

A tip-of-the-hat, here, to Richard Bartholomew of the Batholomew’s Notes on Relighion blog, who pointed me in this direction.

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But there is yet time to take comfort, if you will, in the Dispensationalist theology supported by yet other end-timers discussed in this article, Are you ready for the counter-apocalypse? to which David Ronfeldt kindoy pointed me, proposing that things must inm any case “get worse before they can get better, theologically speaking —

Scofield, following Darby, taught that God governs and manages the world according to a sequence of distinct ages, or dispensations, each with distinct sets of rules and expectations. Each meets some kind of catastrophic end. In the Bible, as in Scofield’s life, things always got worse before they could get better—for instance, by Noah’s flood, or the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple, or whatever social degeneracy we observe around us. Fear not, for God is in control. The job of believers is to accept whatever dispensation they’re in and await, like eager spectators, the next catastrophe.

Understanding sacred history like this has consequences for the present. Justice and peace need not be strived for now; we’re not in the right dispensation yet. Dispensationalists have held that even the beloved commands of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount can be neglected—love your enemies, give what you have to those in need, do for others what you’d have them do for you.

As one of Scofield’s later followers reasoned, “Every businessman would go bankrupt giving to those who ask of him.” Dispensationalism permits a dose of pecuniary sense to some of the Bible’s more demanding social teachings.

This theology spread in tandem with modern corporate capitalism, aided by Gilded Age benefactors like California oilman Lyman Stewart. A later follower of Scofield’s imagined that Christians who persevere through the present tumult will get to serve as a “ruling aristocracy, the official administrative staff” of Christ’s corporate kingdom to come. The bureaucrat, thus, is the model believer: Play by the rules you’re given, as excellently as you can, and even as the planet is engulfed in flames rest assured that all is well.

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I’d have far less to write about — and we’d all live in a safer world — if we recognized that the outrageous varieties of apocalyptic expectation just might be the multi-headed beast St John of Patmos was talking about in Revelation, ahem.

Anne Smedinghoff Didn’t Have to Die Part 2

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

[ Last week, Zen hosted Pete Turner’s guest post, PRT and State Department Ignorance Fails Us All. Here is part 2 of that article — posted by Charles Cameron for Zen ]
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pete turner header

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Last week I wrote about the tragedy of Anne Smedinghoff, who died on a patrol in Qalat Afghanistan.  This is part 2 of the story–

My intention here is to illustrate HOW? rather than “what” we (Dr. Rich Ledet and I) did regarding the proper means to improve education in rural Afghanistan.  I submit that our method is more reliable, predictable, measurable and can be replicated; yay scientific method.  

Dr. Ledet and I leveraged an unusually strong partnership with a key Afghan political-religious leader.  More than simply believing that we had a great relationship, we’d taken steps to build and validate the strength of our partnership, leveraging tools I had personally developed over years of immersion in conflict environments.  

To begin with, we avoided the common US “crutch” of dominance, never assuming that we were “in charge.”  Not only did we share many meals and tea with him, but we socialized with him and his family apart from any other American military elements. We also invited this leader to our dining facility to eat with us on numerous occasions.  We shared our relevant reports (normally made for US elements only, these reports dealt with our evaluation of his region) with him (unclassified or FOUO) so that he could better understand our role and how the US was attempting to support him–This post is long enough already. I’ll have to come back to this particular topic later.

As a side note, I thought I had a great relationship with this leader after working with him almost daily for months.  One day, he sat back, put his hand above his head and said, “I get what you are doing now.  I understand that you are truly helping me with the Americans.”  This breakthrough was surprising, as I thought we already had a good partnership.  But I had misjudged what was previously accomplished, and the lesson I learned was that not only is trust VERY hard to earn, but also that there are different forms of trust to be accounted for when attempting to partner with leaders in conflict environments.  Only after this point did I realize that I had earned an additional level of trust, and that he allowed me more latitude and access than he afforded any other American.  In fact, I could come to him for advice, as he knew that I was genuinely working to support the Afghans in a way that was within the bounds of their customs.

We brought our research problem regarding education to our partner, and asked him how to best work toward a solution.  He immediately identified the other elders with whom we needed to discuss and work, while providing us with the new Provincial Minister of Education’s (MoE) personal phone number (which we did not previously have on record) and advised us to mention his name when we talked.  He noted that he was also attempting to work with the MoE on education in his district, and although they hadn’t always agreed, he felt the MoE was an honest man.

This process of partnering, and acquiring information about other leaders and the MoE, demonstrated a measure of trust indicating that our partner indeed valued us and our efforts.  Further his validation through providing us with an introduction to other key decision-makers in the province which gave us unique access to a set of leaders that didn’t typically interact with US elements.  We had truly entered through a more culturally appropriate door, as our partner trusted that we would not expose him in a negative light to the other leaders.  

Once we were able to make contact with the recommended leaders, we were careful to explain the agenda, set up appointments, and accommodate their schedules as best as possible.  We never showed up unannounced, or uninvited.  With the safety of all involved in mind, we took time to determine their preferred place of meeting, which was critical considering that we lived on an American forward operating base, and could move in heavily protected convoys.  We were remarkably “safer” than those leaders, as they lived in constant threat.  We displayed a respect for their safety when we considered their venue preference.  While these logistical steps seem obvious, we found this level of respect nonexistent in DoS, PRT and US forces attempting to work with local leaders, again relying on domination to achieve goals; US forces prefer to show up unannounced, unscheduled and take over the Afghan leader’s schedule as we set fit.  

When we met, the recommended leaders were also accompanied by multiple religious elders.  We didn’t ask them to do this, by the way, but it was something that was required in their culture.  This was also an indicator to us that we approached the problem from the most culturally appropriate angle known to us (and recommended by our Afghan partner who originally set us up for success).  Afghan leaders, when not influenced by Americans, will have a religious leader (mullah) present as they make decisions.  

Over the course of several meetings, and after deliberation between the MoE and other family and religious leaders, we were able to ascertain what was expected in terms of US assistance.  Keep in mind that what we were also doing was helping to link family, religious, and political leaders with a valid MoE backed plan to improve education throughout all of Zabul province; a critical element of creating stability wins.  

These leaders never asked for money. They never asked us to build another school.  They recognized that we could help, and they also wanted us to help them determine if these programs were working.  They knew we had the capacity, which they knew they did not, to help them measure the success of the program.  

What is most telling is that these leaders noted a lack of security, which is a common theme throughout my time in conflicted areas.  Security concerns are superior, and every other effort is subordinate.  This is where you need to pay attention DoS–The MoE asked that he never be seen engaging with the US at his office, as US patrols could only expose him to harm, he and other leaders wanted to reduce the amount of contact between US forces and their children for the same reason.  Moreover, leaders in the district wanted us in the background, as they wanted to see the Afghan government and the MoE doing their job.  They wanted the people living in Zabul Province to see the same–This is setting the stage for believable, culturally based stability win…and there is no photo op.

Our work established the beginnings of a clear plan that meets the requirements for creating stability. It satisfies a test we developed that indicates potential success when conducting non-lethal missions or operations…Is the operation Afghan inspired, Afghan led, Afghan provisioned, and sanctioned by a Mullah?  

Is it possible that if DoS had bothered to teach Anne this test or heed our report, that she would still be alive?


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