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Islamic State — hanging by a chad?

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — light-hearted, almost science-fictional “butterfly-hurricane” question in geopolitics, with an Elkus follow-up ]
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chad bolton
A scene from the 2000 Florida recount: Palm Beach County’s canvassing board chairman eyes a questionable ballot as Republican attorney John Bolton looks on. Image: Greg Lovett/AP

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Is the Islamic State an “unanticipated consequence” of Bush v Gore?

Donald Trump, as quoted in Vox’s America’s unlearned lesson: the forgotten truth about why we invaded Iraq:

You do whatever you want. You call it whatever you want. I want to tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

Without getting too far into the weeds, my question is this:

Is it fair to say that the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL) was born in 2006 in response to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, which in turn was initiated by President George W Bush, who became Commander in Chief in 2000 in a disputed election only resolved by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000)? And if so, looking back at the branching possibilities and eventualities that led to the creation of IS, might I plausibly suggest the Islamic State owes its very existence to a “hanging chad”?

If the Florida electoral votes hadn’t been disputed on account of flaws in the mechanical method by which they were registered, in other words, might there have been no invasion of Iraq, and hence no IS as such?

I know: this is hugely simplistic, both in terms of the election and of the drives behind Zarqawi and company — but I’m looking for an illustration of a very small digfference in “initial conditions” giving rise to a notable difference in a “later state” of a related aspect of the world system, Lorenz’s butterfly effect.

I understand that “dimpled chads” were also part of the “initial conditions” in question, but “hanging by a chad” works better as a phrase than “dimpled by a chad” — although “hanging by a dimple” has a certain charm.

Srsly, though — to what extent is our current timeline, in which IS may reasonably be viewed as a notable threat, causally connected to the resolution of a mechanical flaw in voting machine design?

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And more seriously:

I very much appreciated Adam Elkus‘ post, Trump: The Explanation of No Explanation, and the great quote from Charles Kurzman on the Iranian Revolution from which Adam kicks off:

All of [the Iran] analyses are wrong, even if events unfold the way they predict. After all, if you make enough predictions, some are bound to look accurate. They are wrong because the outcome of this week’s events is simply unpredictable. Unpredictable means that no matter how well-informed you may be, it is impossible to know what will happen next. Moments of turmoil make a mockery of accumulated knowledge. Routine behavior, on the other hand, can be predicted. It is likely to occur tomorrow the way it occurred yesterday, with adjustments for shifts over time. But breaks from routine are a different beast altogether. The more that people feel that normal rules of behavior no longer hold, the more they search around for new rules, surveying their neighbors, collecting rumors, checking their text messages in a frantic attempt to figure out what everyone else is planning to do. Very few people are willing to be the only ones out in the street when the security forces start to advance. If people expect millions of their compatriots to demonstrate, many will want to help make history…. Such moments of mass confusion are unsettling and rare. They usually fade back into routine. Occasionally, however, they create their own new routines, even new regimes, as they did in 1978-1979. In later retelling of these episodes, especially by experts, confusion is often downplayed, as though the outcomes might have been known in advance. But that is not how Iranians are experiencing current events. Their experience, and their response to their experience, will determine the outcome.

Point counter point: Aaron Zelin & Phillip Smyth

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a simple jeu d’esprit ]
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It’s actually rather sweet, and possibly a matter of GMTA, but Aaron Zelin and Dan Byman both favor a word I’m fond of myself: archipelago.

SPEC DQ Zelin Byman

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Aaron noted the commonalities of topic and phrasing, and tweeted:

to which Phillip Smyth responded:

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Phillip’s example of imitation / flattery involves a pun on the name of the Prophet’s first battle, that of Badr:

SPEC DQ Smyth George

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Please note that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from these juxtapositions but sheer delight — there’s no “actionable intelligence” therein — yet two extremely sharp analysts nevertheless find them of sufficient interest to exchange tweets about them.

An eye for symmetries, similarities, parallelisms and oppositions will not always come up with useful correlations, but it’s nonetheless an aspect of mind that’s close to both creativity (see Arthur Koestler) and what bin Laden analyst Cindy Storer (in Manhunt) called “magic” —

not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic.

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Sources:

  • Aaron Zelin, The Islamic State’s Archipelago of Provinces
  • Daniel Byman, The Islamic State Archipelago

  • Phillip Smyth, Hizballah Cavalcade: Breaking Badr
  • Suzannah George, Breaking Badr
  • The useful analysis is in the sources, and the useful description of analytic magic is currently easily accessible at the 9’14” point in HBO’s Manhunt on YouTube.

    A fantastic “bribery, corruption & recursion” DoubleTweet

    Friday, February 19th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — bribery regarding bribery in Ukraine and Iraq, form & pattern recognition as analytic markers ]
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    You might think it would be difficut to cap this, from Ukraine, which I quoted recently:

    but I believe this, from Iraq, just might do the trick:

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    Let me be explicit.

    As an observer of the global scene, these two tweets are about bribery and corruption — but they are also recursive. As an analyst, I find that formal property, present in each case, compelling: these are not simply example of corruption, but of the corruption of the anti-corruption process.

    But there’s more, there’s yet another form here, a pattern which allows us to connect otherwise unrelated dots. It is found in the doubling effect of the quick succession of the Ukrainean and Iraqi tweets. This pattern is that of repetition — more fancifully put, echo or rhyme. We see here something more than a simple isolated incident no matter how interesting — an being cognizant of that, we can be on the alert for it elsewhere in the future.

    To the heuristics follow the money and cherchez la femme, I’d add take note of the form — use pattern recognition as an analytic tool to cut across disciplines and silos, and thus capture aspects of life’s complexity that the trammels of linear cause-and-effect thinking will tend to miss.

    For the DoubleQuotes aficionado, these two tweets are a rich haul indeed.

    On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 2: to spark a messianic fire

    Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — it’s what we won’t notice that can blindside us ]
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    Dabiq issue 1 graphic
    al-Malhamah al-Kubra, the great end-times battle

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    To recapitulate: in my previous post I suggested that “apocalyptic, end-of-days” movements are qualitatively different by virtue of the immediacy of their divine / transcendant mandate. Richard Landes sums the matter up nicely in his book Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience:

    For people who have entered apocalyptic time, everything quickens, enlivens, coheres. They become semiotically aroused — everything has meaning, patterns. The smallest incident can have immense importance and open the way to an entirely new vision of the world, one in which forces unseen by other mortals operate. If the warrior lives with death at his shoulder, then apocalyptic warriors live with cosmic salvation before them, just beyond their grasp.

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    Here’s my concern, having lived a while in Malibu — and once watched on a friend’s TV in Santa Monica as a fire that had leapt the Ventura Freeway and swept down towards the Malibu Colony – rerouted by the fire service to go down the sparsely inhabited Corral Canyon, where as it happened I then lived..

    Brush fires.

    The human terrain is dry tinder, not yet ablaze – but a spark will ignite it, and the blaze then spread “like wildfire”.

    The problem here is that we are far more disposed to read surfaces than undercurrents, news articles than the comments beneath them, what’s happening than what’s primed to happen, kinetic rather than potential energies. And so when potential goes kinetic, we are blindsided, caught off guard, faced with events we then characterize in retrospect as “unanticipated” — even though a little observation of what’s stirring below the surface would have allowed us to anticipate them…

    What’s the equivalent, in contemporary Islamic terms, of dry underbrush of the sort that can suddenly ignite?

    An expectation of the Mahdi’s coming – present enough in AQ some years back that AQ Central issued a caution against its people making premature claims concerning the Mahdi; present in IS but distanced by the possibility of a sequence of Caliphs preceding the Mahdist moment [cf McCants, Appendix 4]; and overall present to a considerable degree in the Islamic countries Pew polled in 2012:

    The survey also asked respondents about the imminence of two events that, according to Islamic tradition, will presage the Day of Judgment: the return of the Mahdi (the Guided One who will initiate the final period before the day of resurrection and judgment) and the return of Jesus. .. In nine of the 23 nations where the question was asked, half or more of Muslim adults say they believe the return of the Mahdi will occur in their lifetime, including at least two-thirds who express this view in Afghanistan (83%), Iraq (72%), Turkey (68%) and Tunisia (67%).

    A qualification is in order here. The British scholar Damian Thompson has shown in his remarkable study, Waiting for Antichrist, that it is possible for people to express expectation of a messianic “soon coming”– and still save for the college tuition of children who would presumably arrive at college age during the epoch of the “new heaven and new earth”. Expressing expectation, then, in a soon-coming Mahdi as much as a soon-coming Christ, does not necessarily imply “on the edge of one’s seat” expectation in real time. It is, however, suggestive…

    Given dry conditions, then, to return to our analogy, what sort of spark can start a wildfire?

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    The Zipper metaphor.

    In my simplistic way — and switching metaphors — I like to use the analogy of the zipper on a windbreaker. There are two elements that need to come together, in my view: some ancient prophetic utterance in scripture, and what appears to be a strong confirmatory event in contemporary affairs. Let me give you two examples:

    The Chernobyl zipper

    Nicolai Berdyaev, in his The Russian Idea, declared that “Russian people, in accordance with their metaphysical nature and vocation in the world, are a people of the end.”

    Revelation 8. 10-11 reads in the English of the King James Version:

    Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it was made bitter.

    Nothing especially marks this visionary verse as prophetic to Anglophone ears — but to our cousins in the Orthodox world, it suddenly attained significance on April 26, 1986, when the Chernobyl power plant blew up in a Level 7 nuclear event, showering Belarus, Ukraine and Russia with massive amounts of radiation – for as The Orthodox Study Bible notes:

    Wormwood (in Slavonic, “Chernobyl”), an extremely bitter plant that would make water undrinkable, symbolizes the bitter fruits of idolatry…

    Chernobyl had already been the site of an apocalyptic movement in the eighteenth century, when a group of Old Believers known as Chernobylites “preached the arrival of the Antichrist and the imminent end of the world.” I’m drawing here on my colleague Michael J. Christensen’s presentation, The Russian Idea Of Apocalypse: Nikolai Berdyaev’s Theory Of Russian Cultural Apocalyptic delivered at the Center for Millennial Studies conference in 1998. As you can see from his paper, the topic is a complex one, but the key comment for my purposes is this one, analogous to the Pew research referenced above:

    According to a survey of 485 Belarusian citizens I commissioned in April 1996 (during the 10th anniversary of Chernobyl), nearly one third (31.2%) considered the Chernobyl nuclear disaster a prophecy specifically predicted in the Bible.

    The Israel Zipper:

    My other and perhaps more powerful example concerns Israel, and is a clincher that isn’t only notable to eastern Europeans. Tim LaHaye, in Charting the End Times, describes Israel as “God’s Super Sign of the End Times, writing:

    The study of Bible prophecy is divided into three major areas: the nations (Gentiles), Israel, and the church. More detail is given prophetically concerning God’s future plans for His nation — Israel. When the church takes these prophecies that relate to Israel literally, as we do, then we see a great prophetic agenda that lies ahead for Israel as a people and nation. When the church spiritualizes these promises, as she has done too often in history, then Israel’s prophetic uniqueness is subsumed and merged unrealistically in the church. God has an amazing and blessed future for elect individual Jews and national Israel. Israel is God’s super sign of the end times.

    Mark Hitchcock describes the connection between the founding of the State of Israel and prophecy in his 2003 book, The Second Coming of Babylon:

    In the 1940s, who would ever have believed that the Jewish people would have a national homeland by 1948? The Jewish people were exiled from their homeland in AD 70. It had been almost 1900 years! It was unthinkable. But the Jews endured the horror of the Nazi death camps, and within a few years thousands of them were home. Over the past fifty years, millions of Jews have returned to Israel. About 37 per cent of the Jews in the world now live there. The current and continuing stream of Jews back to Israel is setting the stage for the Antichrist’s peace covenant with Israel that will trigger the seven-year Tribulation (see Daniel 9.27).

    Once again, it’s a powerful “proof” – and once it’s accepted as validating the connection between prophecy and current affairs, it’s only too easy to fit the rest of current affairs, seductively if selectively, into the same overall pattern. The cover of Charles Dyer’s The Rise of Babylon all but screams at his 1991 readers:

    Saddam Hussein is rebuilding the lost city of Babylon. The Bible says Babylon will be rebuilt in the last days. Could ours be the last generation?

    But then we invaded Iraq, captured, tried, and executed Saddam.. and twenty-five years have passed since Dyer’s prophetic book was published..

    In sum:

    When there’s one single, strong (perceived) correlation between prophecy and news, in other words, the connection between them works like the zipper on a windbreaker – connect these two particular pieces together, and its fairly easy from then on to “see” current events in prophecy / prophecy in current events all over the place. The single strong case validates all sorts of other apparent correlations that would seem a lot less definite in its absence.

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    Next up: On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 3: Taiping and Falun Gong

    The “refugee” koan

    Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — considering both sides, while tilting one way or the other ]
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    I call it a koan because you can flip it — there are two sides to it, and very possibly a serrated edge that it can balance on, foiling your best efforts to come up with a yes-no answer:

    On the one side, Tsarnaev:

    Not a Christian, BTW..

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    Okay, before the second shoe drops…

    Consider this, from Benjamin Wittes, In Defense of Refugees today on Lawfare:

    It is worth reflecting at least briefly on the security risks of turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of helpless people fleeing some combination of ISIS and Assad. Imagine teeming refugee camps in which everyone knows that America has abandoned them. Imagine the conspiracy theories that will be rife in those camps. Imagine the terrorist groups that will recruit from them and the righteous case they will make about how, for all its talk, the United States left Syria to burn and Syrians to live in squalor in wretched camps in neighboring countries. I don’t know if this situation is more dangerous, less dangerous, or about as dangerous as the situation in which we admit a goodly number of refugees, help resettle others, and run some risk—which we endeavor to mitigate — that we might admit some bad guys. But this is not a situation in which all of the risk is stacked on the side of doing good, while turning away is the safe option. There is risk whatever we do or don’t do.

    Most profoundly, there is risk associated with saying loudly and unapologetically that we don’t care what happens to hundreds of thousands of innocent people — or that we care if they’re Christian but not if they’re Muslim, or that we care but we’ll keep them out anyway if there’s even a fraction of a percent chance they are not what they claim to be. They hear us when we say these things. And they will see what we do. And those things too have security consequences.

    And, from a very different area of the political spectrum, this:

    There’s a reason that hospitality is actually a religious virtue and not just a thing that nice people do: it is sacrificial. Real hospitality involves risk, an opening of the door to the unknown other. There is a reason it is so important in the Biblical narratives, which were an ancient people’s attempt to work out what they thought God required of them in order to be the people of God. Hospitality isn’t just vacuuming and putting out appetizers and a smile — it’s about saying, “Oh holy Lord, I hope these people don’t kill me or rape my daughters, but our human society relies on these acts of feeding and sheltering each other, so I must be brave and unlock the door.” Scary stuff. Big stuff. Ancient and timeless stuff. “You shall welcome the stranger.”

    Now: is that wisdom, or foolishness?

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    Aha, the second shoe..

    Besides Tsarnaev, who else do we know who came here as a refugee?

    albert einstein non christian refugee

    Einstein, no less.

    And Einstein was not a Christian either, FWIW.


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