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Arrow of mass

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

[by master-archer, Lynn C. Rees]

The Strategikon, a Byzantine Roman military manual attributed to the Emperor Maurice Flavius Mauricius Tiberius, summarized Roman calvary training towards the end of the sixth century:

He should be trained to shoot rapidly on foot, either in the Roman or the Persian manner. Speed is important in shaking the arrow loose and discharging it with force. This is essential and should also be practiced when mounted. In fact, even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless. He should practice shooting rapidly on foot a certain distance from a spear, or some other target. He should also shoot rapidly mounted on his horse at a run, to the front, the rear, the right, the left. He should practice leaping onto the horse. On horseback at a run he should fire one or two arrows rapidly and put the strung bow in its case, if it is wide enough, or in a half-case designed for this purpose, and then he should grab the spear which he has been carrying on his back. With the strung bow in its case, he should hold the spear in his hand, then quickly replace it on his back, and grab the bow. It is a good idea for the soldiers to practice all this while mounted, on the march in their own country. For such exercises do not interfere with marching and do not wear out the horses.

Dane Lars Andersen may have gotten in touch with his inner Mauricius with his contemporary elaboration of ancient archery techniques (props Isegoria):

As the Strategikon explains, and Robo-voice-over emphasizes, archery proficiency required years of drill. For tribesmen native to the Eurasian steppe stretching from Hungary to the Pacific, constant archery practice was a logical extension of daily life: bow work was essential to routine tasks like hunting or raiding the neighbors. For a hybrid settled/nomadic state like Parthia and its Sassanid successor, balancing the interests of your nomads out east with your farmers out west produced sharp tensions but often found a way to field archers without breaking the farmers or the treasury. For an wholly agricultural state like Rome in the sixth century, raising and training archers was an expensive strain.

Rome’s traditional strategy, crushing enemies under the weight of infantry mass, was hampered by population decline in the empire, bruising face-offs with new horse riding archers like the Huns, and an inability or disinclination to raise many soldiers from its own peasants. Rome turned toward smaller armies composed of horsemen, some drawn from native Romans, some mercenaries drawn from nomadic tribes like the Heruli. These armies were, man for man, better trained than prior Roman armies. They could check and even defeat opposing cavalry armies like the Persians.

But they were expensive. Roman finances groaned under the costs of supporting its armies. Their cost made it hard to maintain enough forces to cover all of the Roman’s territory. The Balkans were frequently abandoned to non-stop nomad raids because most forces were needed against the Persians in Armenia and Syria. Roman armies of the sixth century were politically fickle, prone to rebel if payment didn’t show up on time and sometimes prone to rebel even when pay arrived on time.

And they were brittle: like World War I-era dreadnoughts, they were too expensive to use. They couldn’t be replaced overnight like Rome replaced armies during the Second Punic War. Equivalent forces required time and capital to raise and train to proficiency. Native Romans had to be taught how to fight like steppe nomads at state expense. Nomadic mercenaries who had the needed skills from childhood were often unreliable. This made sixth-century Roman leaders as unwilling to risk battle as earlier Romans were eager to force battle.

Caution was justified. Destruction of just one of these armies, capital intensive transplants from their natural habitat on the steppes to the more foreign but pricey fleshpots of Thrace, Anatolia, Syria, Carthage, or Egypt, were not only catastrophic but world-changing. The military bench was left so thin that there was little left to resist a victor who succeeded in annihilating a sixth century Roman army.

Defeats by the Persians and civil war after the fussy Balkan army mutinied and overthrew Mauricius over discontent with their employment benefits and uncomfortable winter accommodations reduced Rome to precisely one army. If the Persians destroyed that one army, led in person by the Emperor Flavius Heraclius, that was the end of Rome. Heraclius came back from far behind, skillfully using that one army to defeat the Persians, though it meant leaving his capital reliant on only the Theodosian Walls and the remnants of the Roman navy to fight off an Avar-Persian siege. Turns out those were good odds against the Avars and Persians, though it left the Balkans open to permanent Slavic occupation.

But Heraclius only had that one army. When he sent it against a surprisingly persistent army of desert raiders six years after his victory over the Persians, he ended up with the equally surprising loss of that entire gold-plated army to those raiders. Destruction of that one Roman army was world changing. It’s why today’s Middle East and North Africa are Moslem instead of Christian.

Armies come and armies go but Yarmook is forever. The Romans had little in reserve. What little Rome had, Heraclius retreated with behind the Taurus Mountains. Tenuously holding that line, Rome served as an annual punching bag for Saracen raids for the next three hundred years. The Balkans, occupied successively by Slavs, Bulgars, and Magyars, also remained an open bleeding wound. Given chronic suffering from two-front-itis, Roman resurgence after 941, lasting to the death of the Bulgar-slayer, was the greatest comeback since Lazarus. It came to naught with another world-changing beating, this time permanent, as another gold-plated Roman army leading with its glass jaw was destroyed in one blow.

“Even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless”. Mass has quality all its own.

Should I whisper, should I scream? – Abu Musab al-Suri redux, Pt 2

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — typology of intelligence failures, analytic blind spot, millennial movements, prophecy as strategy, abu Musab’s end times chronology ]
.

To tie in with the first part of this double-post, let me quote Aaron Zelin again:

I’ll back that up with Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s observation that in Abu-Musab al-Suri’s reading of jihadist history, “events lead on from one another toward the appearance of the Mahdi” — and that in Abu-Musab’s own words, “We shall be alive, then, when Allah’s order comes.”

I’ll give a brief account of the chronology below. Let’s get on with this.

1.

I don’t believe that Richard Landes, my mentor at the Center for Millennial Studies, mentions Abu Musab al-Suri in his Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experiences (again as with Furnish, I could be wrong) — but if there’s a single book that will convince you of the enormity of our blind spot when it comes to taking millennial movements seriously, it’s this masterwork — simply stunning.

The thrust of his book is that millennial movements have been quite deliberately overlooked twice by the grand narratives of western civilization — first by religious writers who were embarrassed by the repeated cycle of enthusiasm followed by failure of end times prophecies and retroactively marginalized the topic, and more recently by…

secular historians, determined to push religion into the background of their story, [who] were hardly interested in highlighting religious phenomena that even the ecclesiastical historians considered ridiculous.

It is to undo the damage that this two-fold blindedness has caused us that Landes writes his remarkable book, covering in extraordinarily wide-ranging scholarly detail and with insight and wit, that current in human fear and hope he terms “the most protean belief in human history: millennialism.”

2.

In other words, the “the most protean belief in human history” has been consistently disregarded for way too long by academics, pundits and experts.

Put that in the context of this trenchant paragraph from Richards Heuer‘s Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, just recently quoted and indeed highlighted by Clint Watts and John E. Brennan in their paper Capturing the Potential of Outlier Ideas in the Intelligence Community:

Major intelligence failures are usually caused by failures of analysis, not failures of collection. Relevant information is discounted, misinterpreted, ignored, rejected, or overlooked because it fails to fit a prevailing mental model or mind-set.

3.

Rejected and overlooked?

Even the Psalmist (118.22) knows the importance of what’s rejected:

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

And just in passing, I’d argue that two of the seven “outlandish, unthinkable, and wholly anomalous” outliers that Watts & Brennan offer as bulleted examples in their paper — the Khomeini and bin Laden events — would have shown up rather more prominently had a subset of analysts been tasked to keep an eye on millenialist and / or specifically mahdist movements.

4.

Very quickly, then, here are some of the recent reports regarding al-Suri from well-informed analysts which seem to pay little mind to the Mahdist strand in his strategic thinking:

  • Raff Pantucci‘s January 26, 2012 post Whither al Suri? focuses on the implications of al-Suri’s release and quotes Brynjar Lia — insightful, but no mention of Mahdism.
  • Aaron Zelin‘s February 3 Foreign Policy post on al-Suri’s release comes closest to mentioning an apocalyptic angle when he writes:

    Additionally, his lore will grow in light of an alleged vision he had this past August, which was relayed by online jihadist Jundi Dawlat al-Islam (“Soldier of the Islamic State”), a member of the important Shamukh al-Islam Arabic Forum. “I have been informed that the Shaykh [Suri] saw in the past days a vision that he will have an important role in Bilad al-Sham (Syria), we ask Allah that it becomes true,” the jihadist wrote. Suri’s release will be seen as a vindication of that vision by his supporters, and no doubt boost his influence.

    The significant role of Shams — “the apocalyptic theater par excellence” — in al-Suri’s narrative is something J-P Filiu emphasized (p. 189).

  • Bill Roggio‘s February 5 piece for Long War Journal is an excellent backgrounder as befits LWJ — but no mention of eschatological strategy there, either.
  • Jarret Brachman‘s February 6 Abu Musab al-Suri Still Matters Online at Chronus Global is a brief note, just a tip-off that al-Suri is still influential…
  • MEMRI‘s February 8, 2012 The Release of Top Al-Qaeda Military Strategist/Ideologue Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri from Syrian Prison – A Looming Threat makes no mention of al-Suri’s eschatological thinking, and neither does their more extensive report on al-Suri, Al-Qaeda Military Strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri’s Teachings on Fourth-Generation Warfare (4GW), Individual Jihad and the Future of Al-Qaeda, to which their February 2012 post links.
  • And the Jamestown Foundation‘s Feb 10 piece by Murad Batal al-Shishani, Syria’s Surprising Release of Jihadi Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, in their Terrorism Monitor v 10 # 3 doesn’t mention the apocalyptic angle — and Jamestown is where I heard Ali A Allawi speak on Millenarianism, Mahdism and Terrorism: The Case of Iraq back in 2007!

    Curious…

  • Ah well, there’s always Zenpundit [vbg].

    5.

    Okay, it looks to me as though we’re still so focused on the “nizam la tanzim / system not organization” and “lone wolf / leaderless resistance” aspects of al-Suri’s work, significant as they are, that it’s easy to overlook that damned ridiculous “end times” stuff the fellow also considers important, strategically speaking.

    So for the record, here’s the chronology of future events as J-P Filiu recounts it:

    Events will unfold in the following manner: “The Arabian Peninsula will be preserved [from harm] until the destruction of Armenia, Egypt will be preserved until the destruction of the [Arabian] peninsula, Kufa will be preserved until the destruction of Egypt, the city of impiety [mad?nat al-kufr] will be conquered only after the great wars, and the Antichrist will appear only after this conquest.” The concentrically expanding path of apocalyptic devastation will then close in upon Palestine, the sanctuary of Judeo- Crusader “impiety,” where the ultimate confrontation with the Byzantines will take place in and around the city of Acre.

    Well, that’s part of it, but you should read Filiu’s pp 186-191 for a fuller account — and somebody, please send me a reliable translation of those last 100 pages of abu Musab’s Call if you have one!

    Sadly, I don’t read or speak Arabic.

    6.

    Okay, that’s it, I’ve shouted, or whispered or whatever.

    The books at the top of this post are:

    David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
    Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden
    Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
    Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience

    All four are worthy of your consideration.

    Trial of a Thousand Years, by Charles Hill—a review

    Thursday, August 11th, 2011

     trial of thousand years

    by J. Scott Shipman 

    Trial of a Thousand Years, World Order and Islamism, by Charles Hill

    Ambassador Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies, Literature, Statecraft, and World Order was the best book I read in 2010, so I had high expectations for this volume and was not disappointed. Ambassador Hill provides a 35,000-foot view of the relationships between the West and Islam in history focusing on the subtitle of his earlier work in the form of “world order.”

    Unsurprisingly, as in Grand Strategies Hill goes back to the roots of modern order in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). He provides a brief review of the world ushered in by the men who negotiated, and quotes another historian who said, “men who were laboring, each in his own way, for the termination of a terrible war. They had no idea of progress. The word “innovation” was anathema to them. The last thing on their minds was the creation of a new system of sovereign states…” Here we are 363 years later and “from the seeds sown at Westphalia” the system they set in place is has grown, but has been under siege many times from many fronts.

    Westphalia was distinctive because it was “procedural, not substantive” and required a minimum number of procedures/practices to which to adhere and allowed disparate parties with different, “even mutually antagonistic, substantive doctrines and objectives” to work together. Hill points out four distinctions:

    • Religious arguments were not allowed in diplomacy.
    • The State was the fundamental entity.
    • Interstate/international norms and laws were encouraged, absent “divine sources” but based on mutually beneficial/positive agreements.
    • Use of professional military and diplomats with “its own set of protcols.” [Personal note: In another life, I was an arms control inspector enforcing the START I and INF Treaties—protocol was very serious and the true measure of the actual treaty language. There was also a strong and consistent application of reciprocity that made each party think before stretching protocol—this happened to my teams more than once.]

    For Hill a central mission of the United States is the defense of the Westphalian world order. In less than 165 pages and six chapters, he outlines the origins of modern Western order and correspondingly covers Islamic order. From the beginning to the end Hill provides ample evidence of challenges to Westphalia, often from indigenous Western sources, but focusing mostly on our trials with Islam.

    Hill sets the sources from whence the Western and Islamic world orders arose, where the West was grounded in Christianity, and the Islamic in the Caliphate. For two religions claiming Abrahamic roots, their worldviews were, and in many instances remain diametrically opposed. Central was the question of duality or unity. For the West, the State and religion were two complementary systems/powers—following the teaching of Christ ““Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (St Matthew’s Gospel 22:21) For Islam there was no distinction, and the very thought was hateful to Islamists. Islam’s “unswerving devotion to monotheism” continues to this day among those groups and states using terror to upend existing world order.

    I am sympathetic to Hill’s ideas; however recognize with globalization and the internet tweaks may be required. And I’ll take this segue to introduce an idea for consideration.

    Westphalia’s removal of religion made trade possible among former religious enemies. Unambiguous rules for contracts and dispute resolution evolved. What if we could bridge the gap between Western jurisprudence and tribal, or non-Western legal systems? What if, instead of insisting our way or the highway we design a solution that would allow both sides to keep their respective legal processes and procedures, thereby opening untapped markets?

    At least one person has already considered these alternatives. Michael Van Notten (1933-2002) was a practicing lawyer in the Netherlands and married into a Somali tribe. Van Notten used his legal training and insights gained as a member of his new family to design a method of contracting where tribal law and Western jurisprudence could peacefully and prosperously coexist. Van Notten recorded his ideas in a book called The Law of Somalis, A Stable Foundation for Economic Development in the Horn of Africa. I’ll not review this book, but wanted offer this as a teaser alternative.

    After reviewing the history of the West and Islam, Hill identifies seven Clausewitzian centers of gravity for both: legal, military, the State, women, democracy, nuclear weapons, and values. Hill makes the distinction between the use of diplomacy by Islam and the Islamist (the fundamental variety). No surprises, to the Islamist a secular State is an “apostasy,” as is international law (Sharia being the single source), democracy and the rights of women.

    Hill concludes, “Islamic civilization entered the international system under duress,” which he believes has contributed to the current situation of failing states and lagging economies that establish conditions where radicalized Islam can flourish. The radicalized elements reject the secular Westphalian world order, however Hill points out that some in Islam insist that sharia imposed by the state “cannot be the true law of Islam. It is not possible to apply sharia through the state; it can only be applied through acceptance by human beings (An-Na’im).” Another alternative is the Medina polity established by the Prophet (“later called the Pact—kitab—of Medina) “guaranteeing each tribe the right to follow its own religion and customs, imposing on all citizens rules designed to keep the overall peace, establishing a legal process by which the tribes settled purely internal matters themselves and ceded to Muhammad the authority to settle intertribal disputes…Although this document has been called the first written constitution, it was really more of a multiparty treaty” (Ansary).

    Hill convincingly demonstrates that more often than not, rulers have co-opted Islam as a way to dominate the people (Iran comes to mind.). He quotes Professor L. Carl Brown of Princeton, “nothing exclusively “Islamic” about this Muslim attitude towards politics, any more than the politics of feudalism or of imperial Russia was distinctly “Christian.” It is the political legacy of Muslims, not the theology of Islam…”

    For the Islamist, secularism is the booger man, but secularism in the Westphalian order has its own set of problems. Hill writes, “A new phenomena arose: wars motivated by religious convictions were replaced by wars driven by ideologies—surrogates for religion—each aimed to oppose, undermine, destroy and replace the Westphalian system. The greatest of these was international communism, the latest is international Islamism.”

    In many respects, Trials is as good as Grand Strategies. Ambassador Hill is to be commended for his insight, courage, and conviction—this little book packs a big, enlightening punch. Strongest recommendation.

    References you may find of interest (links to quoted authors above are links to the respective reference):

    The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Abu Hamid Muhammed Al-Ghazali

    The Crisis of Islamic Civilization, Ali A. Allawi

    The Caliphate, Thomas W. Arnold

    Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism, John Calvert

    Crimea: The Last Crusade, Orlando Figes —Figes’ The Whisperers was very good.

    The Morality of Law, Lon L. Fuller

    The Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun (Translated Franz Rosenthal)

    The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making, Lydia H. Liu

    The Government of the Ottoman Empire in the time of Suleiman the Magnificent, Albert Lyber

    Byzantine Civilization and The Fall of Constantinople, both by Steven Runciman

    The First World War, Hew Strachan

    Mozart and the Enlightenment; Truth, Virtue and Beauty in Mozart’s Operas Nicholas Till

    Muslim Intellectual: A Study of Al-Ghazadi, W. Montgomery Watt

    Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno 

     

     

    I think of Cordoba

    Friday, January 21st, 2011

    [ by Charles Cameron ]

    1.

    I think of how the Mezquita, once a mosque, must have looked when its whole floor was a single, arched space of prayer:

    before Moorish Cordoba was conquered, and the conquerors built a cathedral in the very heart of the place:

    like the petals of a flower opening inside the sepals, or a cancer sprouting within the body – for so much depends on your understanding of prayer.

    2.

    And I think how lovely it still looks, cathedral nestled within mosque under the snow, to this photographer’s eye:

    3.

    And I think of Seymour Hersh, who has drawn flak for comments in a recent speech about the Bush war in Iraq, and Obama’s continuation of Bush policies – and here’s the part that caught my eye:

    “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

    “That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

    And I think then of the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, that was conquered and became a mosque:

    and is now a museum. So these things go, in times of war.

    4.

    As for the Mezquita, its history is more complex than I have suggested: it was first a pagan temple, then a Christian church, then shared between Muslims and Christians, then made into a mosque, then a church again – and the cathedral as we see it today was built during the Renaissance…

    And I think at last how much depends on lofty spaces, and on silence, and on prayer:

    Some New Additions…..

    Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

    To the ominously increasing antilibrary and the waning summer reading bookpiles:

         

    Counterinsurgency by David Kilcullen

    The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire by Edward Luttwak

    Spook Country by William Gibson

    Hope to start  a couple of these by the end of the month. A number of other books to be finished first.

    I have a new decentralized reading strategy that seems to be helping me wad through books faster. Books that I am reading are distributed to be read in different places – one in my gym bag for the treadmill; one in my car in case there’s time to kill at an appointment or at a restaurant; one or two books downstairs to read on the couch or outside on the deck; one to take to the pool with the kids and four of five on my bedstand. There are also a store of books on my iPad, “just in case”.

    The strategy allows me to concentrate on finishing several books – my “primary” reads – even as I steadily chip away at the rest and there are enough choices available to suit my mood on any given day so it doesn’t feel like I am doing a literary marathon. Books that I am focusing on, usually histories, strategic studies and social science works, I will mark up with marginalia and the others are just read without recourse to notation.

    How do you handle your reading time?


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