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Max Boot on a subtly strategic game..

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — by thinking of soccer as strategy I see how to make it relevant here ]
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That time when Germany and Argentina faced off in the final of the World Cup 2014 —

— Germany’s Mario Götze scored the match-winning goal in the 113th minute. That’s drama for you. That was last time..

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France will face off against Croatia Sunday for the World Cup, soccer’s peak and pinnacle — but that’s not to say all the excitement this year is yet to come. Strategist — well, military historian — Max Boot has been unexpectedly riveted by the lead-in to the Cup Final, and explains why:

I have thrilled to every dramatic turn:

The 70th-ranked Russian side getting to the quarterfinals by beating Spain on penalty kicks, only, in a bit of poetic justice, to lose on penalty kicks to tiny Croatia. South Korea, another underdog, defeating top-seeded Germany, thereby allowing Mexico to advance. (Delirious Mexicans showed their gratitude by buying drinks for every Korean they could find.) Lowly Japan leading mighty Belgium by 2-0, only to have the brilliant Belgians storm back and win on a last-second goal. (The well-mannered Japanese players were heartbroken but still meticulously cleaned out their locker room and left a classy “thank-you” note.) Powerhouse Brazil, the favorite after Germany’s defeat and the winningest team in World Cup history, losing its quarterfinal match in part because of an improbable own goal. England, a perennial disappointment that won its only World Cup in 1966, exceeding expectations by advancing to the semifinals — only to lose to Croatia (population 4.1 million ), which became the second-smallest nation to reach the final.

This, of course, only hints at the drama that has enthralled much of the world’s population

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Boot backends his power paragraph, as you see, with the word “drama” — and goes on to speak of poetic justice, an undergog, delirium, gratitude, lowly Japan, mighty and then brilliant Belgians, a last-second goal, powerhouse Brazil the winningest team, an improbable own goal, a perennial disappointment — that would be England — and Croatia, the second-smallest nation..

Drama, which is emotion.

Underdog is the key word here, indicating that which we instinctively support as decent humans. And decent humanity is the inner nature of the game here, as subtle strategy is its outer formalism.

With all your elbow pads and helmets, America, you failed to make the true “World” Series, the World Cup — oh yes, Boot is suitably humble about that:

I assumed that, as the greatest country in the world, we must have the greatest sports. It never occurred to me there was anything commands my attention, sympathy and praise. about using the term “World Series” for a contest in which only U.S. competitors (plus one token Canadian team) take part, while disdaining the true World Cup.

Me? I’ve probably never written about sports since I was forced into produce an essay on “goalposts” in my painful youth. But Boot’s conversion touches me. Amen, or its secular soccer equivalent!

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I mean, there’s something in the tone here, an emphasis on emotion, with ecstasy even at least hinted at..

And then you see the New York Times today commenting on body language in Brussels, again an emphasis on irrepressible emotion. Right at the heart of the NATO fault line..

President Trump kicked off his trip to Europe with a biting critique of the United States’ longtime allies, declaring at a breakfast meeting that Germany “is captive to Russia.” Next to him, three of his senior officials seemed uncomfortable at times, pursing their lips and glancing away from the table.

I mean, at breakfast.. pursing their tell-tale lips.

We really need to focus our attention on the factor sometimes called “morale”. Call it esprit, spirit: it’s the better half of the battle, or of any contest.

And then, here we go with the “underdog” again, in today’s WaPo:

The Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, inhabited by 173 people, may seem unassuming, with homes made of wood and tarpaulin and surrounded by animal pens. But its strategic location puts it at the heart of the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

What taste does that paragraph leave in the mind, the heart, decision-making?

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And Boot didn’t even mention the small artificial earthquake detected in Mexico City “possibly due to mass jumping” when Mexico scored against Germany..

Happy Fourth of July to all ZP readers

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — from all of us at Zenpundit ]
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From President Woodrow Wilson‘s Independence Day speech, July 4th, 1914:

Mr. Chairman and Fellow-Citizens:

We are assembled to celebrate the one hundred and thirty-eighth anniversary of the birth of the United States. I suppose that we can more vividly realize the circumstances of that birth standing on this historic spot than it would be possible to realize them anywhere else. The Declaration of Independence was written in Philadelphia; it was adopted in this historic building by which we stand. I have just had the privilege of sitting in the chair of the great man who presided over the deliberations of those who gave the declaration to the world. My hand rests at this moment upon the table upon which the declaration was signed. We can feel that we are almost in the visible and tangible presence of a great historic transaction.

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence or attended with close comprehension to the real character of it when you have heard it read? If you have, you will know that it is not a Fourth of July oration. The Declaration of Independence was a document preliminary to war. It was a vital piece of practical business, not a piece of rhetoric; and if you will pass beyond those preliminary passages which we are accustomed to quote about the rights of men and read into the heart of the document you will see that it is very express and detailed, that it consists of a series of definite specifications concerning actual public business of the day. Not the business of our day, for the matter with which it deals is past, but the business of that first revolution by which the Nation was set up, the business of 1776. Its general statements, its general declarations cannot mean anything to us unless we append to it a similar specific body of particulars as to what we consider the essential business of our own day.

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If you’re a strategist or historian, these sentences may be of particular interest:

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence or attended with close comprehension to the real character of it when you have heard it read? If you have, you will know that it is not a Fourth of July oration. The Declaration of Independence was a document preliminary to war.

Ahem, and if you’ll permit me my own reading, the key sentence here for my purposes is:

We can feel that we are almost in the visible and tangible presence of a great historic transaction.

WHile for factual purposes, 1776 and 1914 are separated by the intervening history, for the purposes of myth, dream, and psychological impact, that “almost” evaporates and the two moments merge, synchronous in a diachronic world.

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Take whichever meaning you will, and accept it with our best wishes here at Zenpundit for a fireworked and festive Fourth!

h/t War on the Rocks.

Luttwak on Steve Coll’s Book and War in Afghanistan

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen”]

I’m a fan of strategist Ed Luttwak who, like Ralph Peters, is known for his bombastic and shibboleth-breaking analysis. I saw this book review by Luttwak in the Times Literary Supplement posted on a listserv to which I subscribe.

War of error

On April 14, 2011, at a meeting in The Hague, I was much impressed by the impassioned speech of Amrullah Saleh, a former Head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and a future government minister. His chief message was that Afghanistan, being poorer, deserved Europe’s help not by way of charity but out of solidarity, because both faced the same struggle against jihadi violence. As it happened, I was sitting immediately to his left on the speakers’ stage, and when it was my turn to speak I reached for his left hand to hold up his gold Rolex watch, declaring my readiness to swap it for my steel Timex, in the name of solidarity. He declined the offer.That is one important thing that readers will encounter in Steve Coll’s Directorate S; money, and lots of it; a torrent from the arrival of the first CIA team in the Panjshir Valley on September 26, 2001 carrying $10 million in cash, which was handed out in bundles “like candy on Halloween”. That 10 million was followed by hundreds of millions and then tens of billions and then hundreds of billions – cash that made a millionaire of every Afghan official you have ever heard of, and often of his brothers, sons and nephews too, in a country where the official minimum wage reserved for those with coveted public sector jobs is $72 – per month. So assuming that Saleh’s gold Rolex was the very cheapest model, he was wearing five or six years of wages on his left wrist.

As it happens, Coll’s book starts in the summer of 2001 with Saleh, not as a symbol of the all-contaminating corruption that appears to doom any American undertaking in Afghanistan but the opposite, as a selflessly dedicated intelligence aide of Ahmed Shah Massoud, whose stalwart resistance in the Panjshir river valley that runs in a north-easterly direction from Kabul was all that prevented the complete domination of Afghanistan by the Taliban, with their highly visible al-Qaeda subordinates, on behalf of their thinly disguised masters, the Pakistani army.

….The diplomatic price the Pakistani army exacted for allowing truck convoys via Quetta or Peshawar was and is immense: the toleration of its nuclear weapons programme and – until Trump came along – the flourishing of its terrorist networks that operate in Afghanistan as well as India. Thus to defend the Afghan government, the US has been funding its deadly enemies via the money given to Pakistan and its army, thereby incidentally solving Pakistan’s religious dilemma, because its conversion to Islamic extremism (in a country that celebrated Ahmadi war heroes in 1965, and as late as 1993 promoted a Catholic to major-general), only prohibits a sincere alliance with non-Muslims. As for the Central Asian routes, across Turkmenistan to Herat, or across Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif, or via Tajikistan to Kunduz, they require Russian consent in practice, even if in theory containers could bypass Russia via the Black Sea to Georgia’s ports and then from Baku to Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan via Caspian ferries.

That is why the United States should never have stayed to fight for Afghanistan after quickly breaking up the al-Qaeda infrastructure in the country very soon after September 11; and that is why it is a very great pity that Trump frittered away his authority before he could order the full and immediate withdrawal he had wanted.

Read the rest here.

In fairness, there are more reasons than mere geography, Afghan corruption and Pakistani perfidy for our lost war in Afghanistan continuing into it’s second generation and nearly all of them are of our own making. If the Taliban went away and Pakistan turned into Switzerland we might continue the war anyway given the degree to which victory and defeat there have become politically irrelevant to our prosecution of the war.

Duel and duet? I dunno.

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — includes a rationale for my recurring arts orbits on Zenpundit, a strategy site ]
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Conflict:

Stop, Do Not Go On, from The Gospel At Colonus.

Oedipus — played here by Clarence Fountain and the Blind Boys from Alabama — although accursed, has been promised an eventual resting place to which he will bring blessings, and is accordingly attempting to enter Colonus — resisted by the good people there — represented by Sam Butler and the Soul Stirrers — on the grounds that he is Oedipus, who killed his father and slept with his mother, a man accursed..

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Love in union and separation:

So very different from the battle of the bands above, yet such a close twin..

Etta James & Dr.John (Dr John the Night Tripper) sing and enact I’d Rather Go Blind — a love song of great beauty and cruelty.. (he’ll never leave, he’s walking away)..

There, that’s the music.

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Now, strategy and conflict:

Strategy has to do with the navigation of conflict, and since this blog is concerned with strategy, and our lives for that matter with the navigation of conflict, I try to remember strategy and conflict even during my flights (or fugues) into glass bead games, music and poetry — so that I may stray far from our central theme, but as with certain comets, always return on an elliptical orbit, no matter how extended.

My sense that forms such as parallelism (rhyme, fugue or canon) and the ouroboros serpent (infinity symbol, paradox) are markers (when found in analytic materials) of likely analytical significance is also tied in with OSINT work — although the patterns themselves extend across the cultural, anthropological, psychological, historical, religious and artistic realms. It is in this spirit, which I seldom spell out, but which guides my writings here, that I offer the above pairing of musical events, each of them theatrical, dealing with human relations in conflict and in love respectively, one with an overt clash over territory, the other with love in its two phases of union and separation.

It seems, in any case, that some at least of Zenpundit‘s original hard core strategists, as well as those whose interest was equally or more in creativity, which we at ZP “minor” in — and which is relevant as per Adm. Stavridis, Safranski and others to keeping strategic thinking cutting edge — have been kind enough to follow along with some or all of my eccentric orbiting, and I thank them / you.

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Enjoy, Fcamer, but also ponder.. Or should I say, Ponder, then –but hey, also enjoy!

T. Greer on the Geopolitics of Rising India

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Friend of zenpundit.com, T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage had an outstanding post on the implications of Indian power relative to an increasingly aggressive China. It’s one of the better pieces I have read on the topic in some time.

Leveraging Indian Power The Right Way

Now that the affair in Doklam has come to a close, analysts of various stripes are trying to make sense of what happened and what lessons can be learned from the episode. One of the smartest of these write ups was written by Oriana Skylar Mastro and Arzan Tarapore for War on the Rocks. They’ve titled their piece “Countering Chinese Coercion: The Case of Doklam,” and as their title suggests, Dr. Mastro and Mr. Tarapore believe the strategy employed by the Indians in Dolkam can be generalized and should be deployed to defend against Chinese coercion in other domains. They make this case well. I agree with their central arguments, and urge you to read the entire thing without regret.

However, there is one paragraph in their analysis that I take issue with. It is really quite peripheral to their main point, but as it is a concise statement of beliefs widely held, it is a good starting point for this discussion:

Over the longer term, India should be wary of learning the wrong lessons from the crisis. As one of us has recently written, India has long been preoccupied with the threat of Chinese (and Pakistani) aggression on their common land border. The Doklam standoff may be remembered as even more reason for India to pour more resources into defending its land borders, at the expense of building capabilities and influence in the wider Indian Ocean region. That would only play into China’s hands. Renewed Indian concerns about its land borders will only retard its emergence as an assertive and influential regional power. [1]

From the perspective of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and the other redoubts of freedom that string the edges of the Pacific rim, the rise of the Indian republic is a positive good. We should do all we can to aid this rise. Here both the demands of moral duty and the exacting claims of realpolitik align.

I’ve phrased these ideas with more strength and moral clarity than the dry and jargon laden language of professional policy normally allows, but the sentiment expressed hits close to how most D.C. politicos think about the matter. The rightness of a rising India is a bipartisan consensus. Far less thought is given to what shape that rise should take. This is not something we should be neutral on. The contours of India’s rise matter a lot—not only for them, but for us, and ultimately, for all who will inherit the world we will together build. It might seem a bit grandiose to claim that the future of Asian liberty depends on the procurement policies of India’s Ministry of Defence… but this is exactly what I am going to try and convince you of.   

Read the rest here.

Greer gives very pragmatic advice to American policymakers courting India as to reasonable expectations and to the Indian defense establishment as to where Indian defense dollars would give PLA generals the greatest fits. This is sensible as both groups are likely to overreach: America too quickly pressing India for defense commitments it can neither afford nor politically digest and India seeking a naval contest with China for nationalist prestige at the expense of other critical defense needs.

China will build its own cordon sanitaire against itself by the relentless bullying and interference in the internal affairs of all its major neighbors in the Pacific Rim, friendless other than for two rogue state clients, Pakistan and North Korea and impoverished Cambodia. Our job is to assist China’s neighbors, including great powers India and Japan, in accelerating their acquisition of the military capacity to resist Beijing’s coercion; if it is less than an East Asian NATO, that’s fine. What matters is a robust counterbalance that has to be reckoned with in Beijing’s calculus.


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