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Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — besides horror at the beheading, there’s an analytic note that needs to be heard ]
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abdullah issa 600
Abdullah Issa fighting, and wounded — soon to be savagely beheaded

The ferocity of the beheading has been blurred out in most versions of the video, though ZeroCensorship is still showing it, and YouTube has a version that stops short of the beheading but appears to record Abdullah’s final wish — to be shot, not slaughtered.

That devastating final wish goes way beyond Shakespeare‘s “to be or not to be, that is the question” — it may well be the most terrfying depiction of a choice made at death-point that I have ever heard.

**

I commented recently to a post by Ehsani2 titled The Boy Beheaded by Zinki Fighters, Abdullah Tayseer, Who Was He? on Dr. Joshus LandisSyria Comment blog, noting that the piece used the names Zanki and Zinki without commenting on the difference between them, and asking for clarification. I’d like to thank Dr Landis for a graciously email in response, and am happy to note today that my concern regarding the discrepant names used in the article is not without cause — as Kyle Orton just made clear in his own post on his Syrian Intifada blog, A Rebel Crime and Western Lessons in Syria:

One of the first complications with al-Zengi is the sheer variety of ways to transliterate the group’s name. Nooradeen can be Nooridin, Noorideen, and Noor/Nur al-Din/Deen; Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others. Harakat means “movement,” though sometimes the organization is referred to as kataib (brigade) instead. Nooradeen refers to the twelfth-century Seljuk atabeg of the Zengid dynasty, whose life’s project was the reunification of the Islamic community.

No wonder I was confused.

**

My point, as so often, cuts against the grain of the conversation on Ehsani2’s post, which is largely about the horrible event itself and the group that performed it, one time support from the US included, and not the ways in which lack of languahger skills can cause confusion where clarity would be preferable — and that’s fair enough. My point, hiwever, is the linguistic one, and I think it’s important in a way that’s perhaps better suited to discussion here than on Dr Landis’ blog.

My plea is for analysts with special knowledge of places, groups or languages to bear in mind when writing, that there will be some in their interested audiences who may not share those specialities but are still worth reaching — and in particular that non-specialists, while inherently weak in local detail, may nevertheless contribute significant insights from outside linguistic or area-specialist silos, precisely by virtue of not being in the echo-chambers that such forms of specialism themselves tend to erect.

Zen has from the beginning of this blog stressed the mutual virtues of what he terms “horizontal” and “vertical” modes of knowledge — see his series:

  • Understanding Cognition: part I: Benefits of horizontal thinking
  • Understanding Cognition: part II: Benefits of vertical thinking to horizontal thinkers
  • Understanding Cognition: part III: Horizontal and vertical thinking and the origin of insight
  • I came to my own interest in that topic by being a primarily analogical and only secondarily linear thinker, by hearing Murray Gell-Mann at CalTech speak on the importance of generalist “bridge-makers” who perceive analogical links between otherwise unrelated disciplines, and by my twenty- to thirty-year effort to devised a playable form of the great analogical game loosely described in Hermann Hesse’s brillian (nobel-winning) novel, The Glass Bead Game.

    In prepping a proposal — as yet unfinished — for DARPA or IARPA last year, I formulate my basic message as a sort of motto, thus:

    Out of the box, out of the silo, out of the discipline, out of the agency, out of the explicit known into the “unknowing” — where the future takes shape…

    I could — and in the finished proposal will, God-willing — go far further on this topic, describing the ways in which complexity is far better modeled for us humans by analogical than by linear thinking, by cross-disciplinary than by silo’d thinking, by visual rather than verbal thinking, by human scale (7, plus or minus 2 datapoints) visualization than by big-data viz, and so forth. But let’s make it simple:

    Quirky thinking has a better chance at creative insight than routine thinking, individual contrarian passion than in-group agreement.

    Okay?

    **

    Thanks again to Dr Landis, and back to business..

    Indistinguishable from magic?

    Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a primer on some undercurrents in mind ]
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    I’ve been thinking about Clarke’s Third Law:

    quote-clarke-s-third-law-any-sufficiently-advanced-technology-is-indistinguishable-from-magic-arthur-c-clarke-219641

    This may hold true if you mean by it that someone in possession of sufficiently advanced tech can generally persuade less “sophisticated” folk that the use of that tech amounts to “magic”, but no student or practitioner of an authentic magical tradition will easily credit such an idea — where’s the contagion? where’s the sympathy? — where’s the true name?

    **

    Concerning the nature of magic:

    Sir JG Frazer, The Golden Bough:

    Thus far we have been considering chiefly that branch of sympathetic magic which may be called homoeopathic or imitative. Its leading principle, as we have seen, is that like produces like, or, in other words, that an effect resembles its cause. The other great branch of sympathetic magic, which I have called Contagious Magic, proceeds upon the notion that things which have once been conjoined must remain ever afterwards, even when quite dissevered from each other, in such a sympathetic relation that whatever is done to the one must similarly affect the other.

    Ursula LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea:

    He saw that in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of every place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well. For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.

    and furthermore:

    Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

    **

    A contemporary example, and an historical antecedent:

    Magic and Medicine from the Ozarks, 272: Nails:

    Nails have been used in Ozark folk healing and magic in a variety of ways. There’s a belief among Hillfolk that the object that hurt the individual was just as important to the healing process as the medicine put onto the wound. Knife blades, bullets, and nails were often treated with healing salves and plants alongside the puncture or cut itself. Rusty nails were added to tonics to prevent tetanus or to treat illnesses like tuberculosis. Water made from soaking new nails was seen as a sure treatment for anemia and iron deficiencies, and sometimes the sickness itself could be taken off the patient and nailed to a tree. Nails were driven into footprints to deal lethal blows to foes and witches alike. Coffin and gallows nails were carried by Hillfolk as an amulet to ward of certain venereal diseases.

    The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England, Vol. 2, ed. Montague:

    It is constantly Received, and Avouched, that the Anointing of the Weapon, that maketh the Wound, wil heale the Wound it selfe. In this Experiment, upon the Relation of Men of Credit, (though my selfe, as yet, am not fully inclined to beleeve it,) you shal note the Points following; First, the Ointment .. is made of Divers ingredients; whereof the Strangest and Hardest to come by, are the Mosse upon the Skull of a dead Man, Vnburied; And the Fats of a Boare, and a Beare, killed in the Act of Generation. These Two last I could easily suspect to be prescribed as a Starting Hole; That if the Experiment proved not, it mought be pretended, that the Beasts were not killed in due Time; For as for the Mosse, it is certain there is great Quantity of it in Ireland, upon Slain Bodies, laid on Heaps, Vnburied. The other Ingredients are, the Bloud-Stone in Powder, and some other Things, which seeme to have a Vertue to Stanch Bloud; As also the Mosse hath…. Secondly, the same kind of Ointment, applied to the Hurt it selfe, worketh not the Effect; but onely applied to the Weapon..

    **

    Implications for analysts:

    For anyone interested in the analogical and contagious workings of the human mind, I cannot recommend too highly the Mountain Man Traditional Healing blog, which is both fascinating and instructive. So-called (and so disparaged) “magical thinking” may not occupy much space in the thought of secular analysts, but it is central to many and varied cultural traditions, some of which have real consequences in national Security and other “realistic” realms..

    The Shoehorn — two into one won’t go

    Monday, July 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — these things are multi-factorial, and can’t truthfully be shoehorned to fit two categories — “terrorist” or “deranged” — as realtors might say, it’s nuance, nuance, nuance ]
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    Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt have an interesting piece in the NYT today, titled In the Age of ISIS, Who’s a Terrorist, and Who’s Simply Deranged? It hinges on a comparison of two similar events in France, two years apart, in Dijon and Nice.

    Here, I’ve presented them as a DoubleQuote. The Dijon article (upper panel, below) comes from an NYT report dated December 23, 2014:

    Tablet DQ 600 Terrorist or Deranged

    The Nice report (lower panel, above) comes from Mazzetti and Schmitt’s piece today.

    **

    Mazzetti and Schmitt point out that shortly before the Dijon attack,

    In September 2014, the spokesman for the Islamic State put out a call for the group’s followers to attack Westerners by any means possible, and to do so without awaiting further instructions from the group’s leaders.

    “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him,” the spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, said during a 42-minute recorded statement.

    The whole Mazzetti and Schmitt piece is worth your reading. Categorization, as they explain, is changing —

    “A lot of this stuff is at the fringes of what we would historically think of as terrorism,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and a professor at Dartmouth College. But, he said, “the Islamic State and jihadism has become a kind of refuge for some unstable people who are at the end of their rope and decide they can redeem their screwed-up lives” by dying in the name of a cause.

    Mr. Benjamin said this also led the news media and government officials to treat violence like the Nice attack differently from other mass attacks, like shootings at schools and churches that have been carried out by non-Muslims.

    “If there is a mass killing and there is a Muslim involved, all of a sudden it is by definition terrorism,” he said

    — and this has impacts far beyond the horrific crimes themselves.

    For instance, here’s one conclusion with significant foreign policy implications:

    But terrorism experts caution that because the Islamic State seems to have broad appeal to the mentally unbalanced, the displaced and others on the fringes of society, there are limits to how much any military campaign in Syria and Iraq can reduce violence carried out in other countries on the group’s behalf.

    **

    As Will McCants puts it in a Time piece titled The Difference Between ISIS and ISIS-ish:

    The pattern is tragically familiar: a troubled youth with a criminal past attacks in the name of ISIS. Charlie Hebdo, Orlando, San Bernardino and perhaps now Nice. They are not ISIS, exactly, but ISISish men and women who have no organizational ties to ISIS but murder in its name.

    And Heraclitus:

    No man ever steps in the same river twice.

    Soundbites and hasty headlines don’t chew what they bite. Each case is its own case — sui generis. Classical philosophy used to posit four types of cause: formal and material, efficient and final. In terms of acts of sudden violence, we may want to consider a variety of contextual influences, subconscious drives (James Gilligan‘s work on violnce and shame is deeply relevant here), overt signalling by perps including claims of bayat, methods employed and their history in previous actions and inspoirational or technical literature, and post-action claims by known terrorist groups

    Life does not pretend to be simple. Convenience is no substitute for careful analysis.

    Michael Wilson

    Monday, June 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — quick update on Cameron’s Recomended Reading: Michael Wilson from 2008 ]
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    Back in 2008, Zen wrote of Michael Wilson‘s papers:

    I’ve only just begun to look at these and I’m posting them here for those readers whose interests gravitate toward issues of intel analysis and futurism.

    I checked recently, and most if not all of Michael’s papers are still available via the Internet Archive:

  • 7Pillars, Papers by Michael Wilson
  • Decision Support Systems, DSSi Publications
  • **

    A quick quote that caught my eye from Al-Qaida’s Endgame? A Strategic Scenario Analysis:

    Osama bin Laden has a number of viable ‘role models’ from the history of the Middle East, including Saladin and the Assassins. For example, Saladin (the enormously successful commander during the Crusades) wrote in a letter to the Caliph in Baghdad that “European merchants supply the best weaponry, contributing to their own defeat.” This is similar to Lenin’s famous comment that “the Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

    Now there’s a DoubleQuote!

    **

    Here’s something I hadn’t seen before — a video of Michael speaking at DefCon 9, a couple of years after we met:

    **

    And here’s the .pdf vesion of the course I took with him, first online and then in person — if you read one piece of his, this should be the one:

  • Michael Wilson, Continual and Complete Intelligence: a 21st Century Approach
  • Not China’s Choice but Ours

    Sunday, June 5th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen”]

    China’s Blue Water “Coast Guard”

    T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage has an outstanding post on the strategic reality of China and American foreign policy. It is a must read:

    “China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order”

    …..McCain’s words echo those spoken by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last week to the graduating midshipman at Annapolis. Read them both. Compare what they say. Behold the quickly crystallizing American narrative on China. This is a bipartisan message. It will be the starting point of a President Clinton’s policy. Whether a President Trump will endorse it is hard to say. In either case, it is a narrative whose momentum is building.

    There is much that is good in this narrative. McCain proclaims that “no nation has done as much to contribute to what China calls its “peaceful rise” as the United States of America.” He is right to do so. No nation has done more to enable China’s rise than America has. No country’s citizens have done more for the general prosperity of the Chinese people than the Americans have. This is true in ways that are not widely known or immediately obvious. For example, the role American financiers and investment banks played in creating the architecture of modern Chinese financial markets and corporate structures is little realized, despite the size and importance of their interventions. Behind every great titan of Chinese industryChina Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator, China State Construction Engineering, whose IPO was valued at $7.3 billion, PetroChina, the most profitable company in Asia (well, before last year), to name a few of hundreds–lies an American investment banker. I do not exaggerate when I say Goldman Sachs created modern China. [2] China has much to thank America for.

    However, I cannot endorse all that is included in this emerging narrative, for part of it is deeply flawed. The flaw may be by design; if the purpose is to stir cold hearts and gain moral admiration of others, such flaws can be excused–that is how politics works. But this sort of things can only be excused if those delivering the speeches do not take the implications of their own words seriously when it is time to make policy. 

    I speak of  China’s “choice.” The thread that runs through all of these talks is that the Chinese have yet to choose whether they aim for order or disruption, the existing regime or the chaos beyond it. The truth is that the Chinese have already chosen their path and no number of speeches on our part will convince them to abandon it. They do not want our rules based order. They have rejected it. They will continue to reject it unless compelled by overwhelming crisis to sleep on sticks and swallow gall and accept the rules we force upon them. 

    China has made its choice. The real decision that will determine the contours of the 21st century will not be made in Beijing, but in Washington.

    T. Greer, in my opinion is correct but this is not a message Beltway insiders are wont to harken – making strategic choices is for lesser nations. America is so rich, powerful, unipolar, indispensable, exceptional that we can pursue all objectives, in every corner of the globe, without choosing between the vital and the trivial. We can do this even if our goals are contradictory and ill-considered or serve manly as a prop for domestic political disputes, the business interests of political donors or career advancement of apparatchiks and politicians. We can safely delay and indulge in fantasy.

    If this was true once, it is less so today and will be still less twenty years hence.

    Greer sharpens his argument:

    ….Last spring it finally sunk in. Chinese illiberalism not only can endure, it is enduring. The old consensus cracked apart. No new consensus on how to deal with China has yet formed to take its place.

    But old habits die hard. We see this at the highest levels of policy, as in the McCain speech, where American policy is justified in terms of giving China a chance to choose the right. The same spirit is invoked further down the line. Ash Carter, for example, recently described American tactics in the South China Sea as a “long campaign of firmness, and gentle but strong pushback… [until] The internal logic of China and its society will eventually dictate a change.” [3] In other words, American policy is a holding action until China sees the light.

    What if they never do?

    The Chinese believe that our international order is a rigged system set up by the imperial victors of the last round of bloodshed to perpetuate the power of its winners. They use the system, quite cynically, but at its base they find it and its symbols hypocritical, embarrassing, outrageous, and (according to the most strident among them), evil. In their minds it is a system of lies and half-truths. In some cases they have a point. Most of their actions in the East or South China Seas are designed to show just how large a gap exists between the grim realities of great power politics and soaring rhetoric Americans use to describe our role in the region

    ….In simpler terms, the Chinese equate “rising within a rules based order” with “halting China’s rise to power.” To live by Washington’s rules is to live under its power, and the Chinese have been telling themselves for three decades now that—after two centuries of hardship—they will not live by the dictates of outsiders ever again.

    The Chinese will never choose our rules based order. That does not necessarily mean they want to dethrone America and throw down all that she has built. The Chinese do not have global ambitions. What they want is a seat at the table—and they want this seat to be recognized, not earned. That’s the gist of it. Beijing is not willing to accept an order it did not have a hand in creating. Thus all that G-2 talk we heard a few years back. The Chinese would love to found a new order balancing their honor and their interests with the Americans. It is a flattering idea. What they do not want is for the Americans to give them a list of hoops to jump through to gain entry into some pre-determined good-boys club. They feel like their power, wealth, and heritage should be more than enough to qualify for  automatic entrance to any club.

    Read the rest here.

    Richard Nixon, who was the external strategic architect of China’s rise in order to use China as a counterweight against an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union, faced a similar situation that Greer described above with the Soviets. Nixon’s détente summits with the Russians were diplomatic triumphs where LBJ’s summit at Glassboro with Kosygin had been a failure because Nixon shrewdly understood Soviet psychological insecurity, a deep sense of paranoid inferiority and the hunger for respect as a superpower equal of the United States. Leonid Brezhnev, Kosygin’s ascendant rival was desperate for this American political recognition and Nixon and Kissinger played this card (along with the geostrategic shock of the China opening) to wrest concessions in arms control and restraint (for a time) in Soviet behavior from Brezhnev.

    Playing this card is not possible with China.

    While there seems some emergent rivalry between China’s prime minister Li Keqiang and China’s President Xi Jinping that loosely mirrors the Kosygin-Brezhnev dynamic, the analogy is otherwise a poor one. Despite sharing Marxist-Leninist DNA in their institutional structure, China is not at all like the Soviet Union in terms of culture, history or ambitions. The Chinese not only lack the national inferiority complex that drives the Russian psyche, they suffer from the opposite condition of a superiority complex that outstrips their actual capacity to project military or even economic power. This has given rise to popular frustration and manic nationalism in China, with bitter recriminations about “small countries” and “hegemonic powers”. It also has created a strategic lacunae where China has in a short span of time gone from enjoying good relations with most of the world to a state of habitually irritating almost all of its neighbors and periodically threatening two great powers – rising India and Japan – and one superpower, the United States.

    In short, China already is as T. Greer argued, a committed revisionist power.

    We cannot buy off or bribe China. Unlike Brezhnev who needed American credits for his domestic economic program to cement his place as supreme leader, Xi Jinping has carried out a ruthless purge of the party and government under the pretext of an anti-corruption drive. Xi does not need or want our help in his domestic squabbles. Nor would he or another Chinese leader be content with symbolic gestures of Beijing’s “parity” with Washington. “Parity” will not satisfy Chinese leaders unless it comes with attendant symbolic humiliations for America and an American retreat from Asia. Forever.

    If American leaders do not wake up to this reality and do so quickly then it is time for a new leadership class with less sentimentality and clearer vision.


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