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Jabhat and IS “caliphate” by the numbers

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- large numbers don't fit well into small skulls, but we do what we can ]
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Charles Lister tweeted today:

The numbers are, for my humble self, staggering.

And you can’t lose $1.5 billion if you didn’t have $1.5 billion at some point to lose.

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How about the “caliphate”?

Here’s the Jabhat vs ISIS — now IS, aka the “caliphate” — comparison:

Among other things, ISIS “made off with £256 million in cash and a large amount of gold bullion from Mosul’s central bank during its takeover of the city” as the Telegraph reported. That’s a half billion dollars, give or take.

And now IS is presumably “worth” 2 billion. Give or take.

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To put those figures in perspective, let’s compare IS today with AQ in 2001:

Business Insider calculated bin Laden‘s ROI at the time of his death at 2,514,000 to 1:

Al-Qaida pulled off the Sept. 11 attacks for approximately $500,000, according to the 9/11 Commission report. By the end of fiscal 2011 the U.S. will have spent $1.3 trillion, or 9% of the national debt, fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq according to the Center for Defense Information. But when it’s all said and done the total cost of the wars will make Bin Laden’s 2,514,000:1 return at the time of his death multiply dramatically. It has been projected by Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and others that the lifetime cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will run to approximately $3 trillion, or over 20% of current federal public debt, when long-term medical care for the wounded and other costs are factored.

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And here’s the current cost comparison with Iraqi losses:

Okay?

I have to confess my mind is a little bit numb with the numbers at this point.

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If I had time and talent, I suppose I’d make theis whole thing more comprehensible, at least to people like myself, by treating dollar amounts the way XKCD treats radiation — but I don’t, so here’s my attempt to give a wider overview, sorted in ascending order of magnitude to make it easier for me to notice how $millions become $billions become $trillions.

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Sources:

  • Lister, leaked audio [edited to add: but see comment #1 below]
  • Lister, Golani admits
  • Guardian, $2bn network
  • Telegraph, ISIS’ half-a-billion-dollar heist
  • Business Insider, Bin Laden’s ROI
  • Exec Summary, 9/11 Commission Report [see under "financing"]
  • BasNews, Iraqi costs
  • CIA, GDP Iraq (2013 est)
  • CIA, GDP Syria (2011 est)
  • CIA, GDP USA (2013 est)
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    War on the Rocks: A New Nixon Doctrine – Strategy for a Polycentric World

    Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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

    I have a new piece up at the excellent War on the Rocks site that is oriented towards both history and contemporary policy Some Excerpts:

    A New Nixon Doctrine: Strategy for a Polycentric World

    ….Asia was only the starting point; the Nixon doctrine continued to evolve in subsequent years into a paradigm for the administration to globally leverage American power, one that, as Chad Pillai explained in his recent War on the Rocks article, still remains very relevant today. Avoiding future Vietnams remained the first priority when President Nixon elaborated on the Nixon Doctrine to the American public in a televised address about the war the following October, but the Nixon Doctrine was rooted in Nixon’s assumptions about larger, fundamental, geopolitical shifts underway that he had begun to explore in print and private talks before running for president. In a secret speech at Bohemian Grove in 1967 that greatly bolstered his presidential prospects, Nixon warned America’s political and business elite that the postwar world as they knew it was irrevocably coming to an end [....]

    ….China was a strategic lodestone for Richard Nixon’s vision of a reordered world under American leadership, which culminated in Nixon’s historic visit to Peking and toasts with Mao ZeDong and Zhou En-lai. In the aftermath of this diplomatic triumph, a town hall meeting on national security policy was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute that featured the Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird squaring off with future Nobel-laureate, strategist and administration critic Thomas Schelling over the Nixon Doctrine and the meaning of “polycentrism” in American foreign policy. Laird was concerned with enunciating the implications of the Nixon doctrine as an operative principle for American foreign policy, taking advantage of the glow of a major success for the administration. Schelling, by contrast, was eager to turn the discussion away from China to the unresolved problem of the Vietnam war, even when he elucidated on the Nixon doctrine’s strategic importance. [....]

    ….What lessons can we draw from the rise of the Nixon Doctrine?

    First, as in Nixon’s time, America is again painfully extricating itself from badly managed wars that neither the public nor the leaders in two administrations who are responsible for our defeat are keen to admit were lost. Nixon accepted defeat strategically, but continued to try to conceal it politically (“Vietnamization,” “Peace with Honor,” etc). What happened in Indochina in 1975 with the fall of Saigon is being repeated in Iraq right now, after a fashion. It will also be repeated in Afghanistan, and there it might be worse than present-day Iraq. [....]

    Read the article in its entirety here.

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    United States of Islam banknote art

    Monday, July 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- art, but can you bank on it? ]
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    Sacagawea is for sure my favorite of the women hijabbed to the hilt in artist Stephen Barnwell‘s renderings of Islamic banknotes, US — it’s those two feathers of hers… The other two options are Susan B Anthony and Betsy “Crescent, star and stripes” Ross.

    Unless, of course, Lady Liberty should have pride of place…

    As for the Prophet Muhammad? Not kosher to show his face…

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    There’s a lot going on here — some of the notes bear a distinctly non-Islamic 666, some are signed by Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution and Shia to the core — his counter-signer is Mullah Omar of the Taliban, a Deobandi-type Sunni. Oops. And FWIW, the United States of Islam was a Sunni concept.

    Near as I can tell, these are all Fundamentalist Reserve Notes, which presumably means you can’t get silver for them. But look below, it specifies “in oil, payable to the bearer on demand”. Which, considering the US is the world’s #1 source of oil at this point, is probably no bad thing.

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    The six dollar bills have a grim obverse featuring, if I’m not mistaken, Saladin:

    and a series of precursor images:

    And did you get that? Osama bin Laden and Abu al-Zarqawi share a note…

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    Oh my, I have a 22 dollar note myself, somewhere, though it’s not about Islam taking over the US — treaure from some minor congressional election in Florida, years ago, with the crazy candidate’s face where portraits of Presidents usually go.

    And then there’s also Boggs, who (among other things) drew a highly convincing banknote on a gallery wall and framed it — and when the cops came to take it down, they took the frame and lo! the image remained on the wall…

    Artists!

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    DoubleQuote in the wild: gun, flag, scripture

    Monday, July 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- offered as an opportunity to compare and contrast -- not an equation to swear by ]
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    Some will prefer one side of this DoubleQuote to the other, and feel it proposes an unjustified “equality” between them. Some will want to say “A pox on both your houses”.
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    I prefer to think of it as a Socratic question — an equation with a question mark, perhaps?

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    Source:

  • The Blue Street Journal
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    If there are such qualities as the words good and evil denote, I’d say with Solzhenitsyn:

    Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an uprooted small corner of evil.

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    Eric Cantor and the invisible menagerie

    Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- who is personally blind to the ultraviolet, the infrared and the classified -- and speaking of intel analysis, to a subset of elephants and gorillas, too? ]
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    Noting quickly that I don’t “do” American politics, I’d still like to point to the occasional specifically religious aspect of the matter. In today’s New York Times, for instance, under the heading Cantor’s Loss a Bad Omen for Moderates, we read:

    David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

    “Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

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    Talk about an elephant in the room — or was it a gorilla? Have you seen this brilliant remake of a classic video?
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    How helpful is Richards J. Heuer‘s Analysis of Competing Hypotheses in finding invisible gorillas — or elephants? I wouldn’t even know how to test the question using PARC’s ACH software: the evidence is there, but if we’re “blinkered” we won’t even see it.

    And just how blinkered are we?

    There may be known elephants in the room — to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld — and also unknown elephants. How will we ever know about the unknown elephants, before they tusk us?

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    Question and Answer:

    Q: When is an elephant a gorilla?
    A: When it’s in the room with you.

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