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Pete Turner on “Collecting Instability”

Friday, June 12th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Collection Center Collects Instability

Pete Turner of The Break it Down Show had a powerful post that encapsulated what is wrong with the American approach to intervention in foreign societies, both in terms of our aid and development programs as well as COIN and military assistance of various kinds.

Collection Center Collects Instability 

….A good example of what we did involves things called Collection Centers, which our government built to afford Afghan farmers a place to showcase products to vendors. The Center is supposed to create greater revenue for farmers. Despite the best of intent, and a lot of hard work, the program was and remains an utter disaster.

Why has the program been such a flop?

We, the US, came in and established these centers without ever considering how the existing system worked. We never bothered to determine how changing the system might be accepted or rejected, or cause harm to those we intended to help. We didn’t consider if the Afghans even had a system (which, of course, they did).

Instead of defining the existing system and assessing whether or how our tool might address a need, we just came in and started changing things It didn’t work, and we barely cared that it didn’t; and we reported the opposite.-

An aside–the if you read the report, look for mentions of Afghan involvement in the process. You won’t find it.  

I spoke with an Army Major in charge of the program and asked him about the existing local market chain from grower to consumer. He admitted that he didn’t know about it. When I asked why he was trying to change it, I was met with silence.

We also never considered if we were creating a harmful situation for farmers, and that ignorance caused unexpected and undesirable outcomes. At the most basic level, Taliban fighters notice “western” influence. A farmer who uses (though they never actually did) the collection center is exposing his allegiance with the US and therefore putting his family and himself in jeopardy. Further, the farmer buyer relationship is established relationship. Changing the nature of their transaction is reckless in such a conservative, Taliban influenced place. What we can’t do is create a situation that is perceived to increase uncertainty for farmers.

We built these centers throughout Afghanistan. At every instance, covering multiple units, I observed the same poor US decision-making. We never bothered to involve our Afghan partners in the decisions and never allowed them to guide us on how to work within their system. We forced these centers upon the people of Afghanistan, and wasted more than money and resources in the process. We wasted opportunities to actually improve the lot of the farmer, which makes de-legitimizing the Taliban fighters more challenging.

Read the whole post here.

Turner wore many different hats in Iraq and Afghanistan but in one extended tour in Zabul, Pete worked closely with political science Professor Richard Ledet, who in addition to his scholarly expertise, was uncannily good at donning local attire and blending in with Afghan villagers.

Dr. Richard Ledet

Turner and his partner Jon, interviewed Ledet recently on their program:

What happens when an institution attempts to make changes intending to improve the lot of others? What if they ignore culture and fail to communicate with the people designed to receive a benefit from the change? We address these questions in ourepisode with Dr. Richard Ledet.

We are fans of Rich. He’s a warrior, professor, surfer, hunter, all-around brilliant, rugged dude. His current gig is working as a Poli Sci professor at Troy University in Troy Alabama. Rich and I worked together in Afghanistan studying how effective or “affective” our work was as US assets helping Afghans. It’s not common for Poli Sci professors to get so close to the ground truth, and then to be able to test our policy and strategic programs as they implemented at the lowest level. This experience, we believe, is fascinating and applies directly to the real world.

Listen to the interview here on The Break it Down Show.

Aircraft Carriers and Maritime Strategy – a debate

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Last Friday night at the U.S. Naval Academy, retired Navy Captain Henry “Jerry” Hendrix and Commander Bryan McGrath debated the future of the aircraft carrier. My wife and I were fortunate to attend. Given the pressure placed on the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, the debate could not have been more timely. Commander McGrath argued the “nuclear aircraft carriers with air wings are the most cost effective and efficient platform to project power in the maritime and littoral realm to support U.S. national security interests in current and future security environments.” Captain Hendrix argued against this resolution. While both arguments hold much merit, I tend to side with Captain Hendrix.

Lots of numbers and statistics were thrown around, but one issue did not enter the debate: it has been 70 years since an aircraft carrier was shot at. The lesson of the Falklands War underscores the potential power of modern precision munitions, and carriers are big targets.

This video is highly recommended. C-SPAN also recorded the debate with a transcript here.

Parable of the soft-touch chiropractor

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

[raked by Lynn C. Rees]

Driving Mom around during her last years in this life, I sat in on one of her soft-touch chiropractic sessions. Her soft-touch chiropractor was out of the office so one of his disciples stood in.

As he worked, the sub-soft-touch chiropractor said, “Let me explain how this helps your mom.” As he’d done since the session started, he made a fist with his right hand and bent his arm back until the fist reached shoulder height. He flexed the muscles in his arm.

“First, I build up potential energy in my arm.”. The shake in his upper arm intensified.

“Then I concentrate the potential energy in my finger.” He whipped his arm forward and pointed. His arm and finger shook.

“Then I transfer that energy to your mom.”, he said, softly touching Mom’s shoulder. “It’s the perfect translation of potential energy to kinetic energy. Kinetic energy restores balance and balance restores health.”

“Hnn.”, I said.

Who can judge?

  1. Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.
  2. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.
  3. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
  4. And again, ye shall say unto them, Why is it that thou beholdest the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
  5. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and canst not behold a beam in thine own eye?

— Matthew 7: 1-5  (JST)

For parables,  soft-touch chiropracty’s guilt or innocence is a noop: parablizing does not imply judgement, righteous or not. For show and tell purposes, mote or beam are equally useful. As the Thomas theorem claims:

If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.

This is true, though the outer limits on its truth are set by the Graham assertion:

In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine.

If tactics is voting, strategy is weighing: strategy is the creation of asymmetry. To mangle Conrad C. Crane, there are two kinds of strategy: asymmetric and stupid: proper strategy puts a finger on the scale. It restores balance through weight of deliberate asymmetry and then balance restores health.

If the cycle of strategy is:

drive → reach → grip

Up the slope of:

certain → hazyuncertain

With the goal of summiting at:

certain → certain → certain

The parable of the soft-touch chiropractor demonstrates:

  1. There will be drive.
  2. Drive motivates a build up of strength. Fist clenching and muscle flexing, metaphoric or not, is involved.
  3. Strength creates potential reach.
  4. The ideal strength would banish uncertainty from reach and grip, making them indistinguishable from drive. This would be the perfect translation of potential reach to kinetic grip.
  5. The leap of faith is the frantic whipping between reach and grip. Pull my finger.
  6. Though potential reach will generally always fall short of translation into certain grip, sometimes the touch of its less than kinetic sway on its targets’ mind will compensate for its kinetic shortfall.

 

The sway of soft-touch chiropracty comforted as cancer spread. This is reach and soft power. Its force did nothing to hurt cancer. This is soft grip and hollow power. As reach exceeds grip, so cancer exceeds soft-touch chiropracty. Then comes the inevitable: no balance, no health.

New Book: The Violent Image by Neville Bolt

Friday, December 14th, 2012

The Violent Image by Neville Bolt 

Columbia University Press just sent me a review copy of The Violent Image, by Dr. Neville Bolt of King’s College vaunted War Studies Department.  Initially, I was amused by the colorful book jacket, but flipping through, it belies a very weighty, heavily footnoted, academic exploration of the iterative relationship between propagandistic imagery and insurgency. Even a casual perusal indicates that The Violent Image is a book many readers of ZP will  like to  get their hands on.

From the jacket:

….Neville Bolt investigates how today’s revolutionaries have rejuvenated the nineteenth century “ptopaganda of the deed” so that terrorism no longer simply goads states into overreacting, thereby losing legitimacy. Instead the deed has become a tool to highlight the underlying grievances of communities

A small sampling of some of the section titles:

Strategic Communications:the State
Strategic Communications: the Insurgent
Networks in Real and Virtual Worlds
Images as Weapons
POTD as Insurgent Concept of Operations
Anonymity and Leaderless Revolutions
The Arab Uprisings and Liberation Technology
POTD as Metaphor

Endnotes run slightly over 90 pages and the bibliography tips the scales at 50, for those interested in such things.

Looking forward to reading this and seeing how Bolt presents his case.

One bead for a rosary

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — one bead from NASA for the glass bead game as rosary ]
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photo credit: Norman Kuring, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
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Consider her sacred, treat her with care.


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