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Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not to mention crushing Khomeini, lubing your M16, and that Afghan powerpoint ]
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Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

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In my previous post, Of morale, angels and Spartans, I raised the question of how our increasingly visual and graphical age could visually represent morale. I noted that the Muslims outfought a larger force at the Battle of Badr, and that the Qur’an suggests that this was because thousands of “angels, ranks on ranks” fought alongside them.

Dave Schuler suggested the Archangel Michael — which sent me all over in search of a suitable representation. The icon above, by Andrei Rublev, is the most profound and beautiful work I was able to find, but hardly serves our purpose.

I ran across a politically explicit comntemporary image in which the Archangel wears Airborne insignia:

Archangel-Michael--airborne

— but it was this image from the Maidan in Kiev that came closes to the sense of military power in angelic form —

Archangel Michael Kiev Maidan

— although I’m not sure that military power or prowess is necessarily the same as morale or esprit de corps…

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Synchronistically — or coinidentally, as sceptics would say — Justin Erik Halldór Smith headed his blog post Ragnarök on the Seine today with an image of Peter Nicolai Arbo‘s Wild Hunt, or Aasgaardreien. Here’s a detail:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt detail

And here’s “the big picture”:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt 602

That’s probably closer to “amok” than to “esprit de corps” — although the relationship between them is worth pondering.

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I’m still not convinced that contemporary minds will “get” morale from any graphic image yet devised.. I can’t help remembering the M-16 manual I picked up one day at a library sale or flea market, titled The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance:

Treat your rifle like a lady

My guess, however, is that we’ll wind up with something closer to this:

Powerpoint for McChrystal

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Image sources:

  • Andrei Rublev, icon of Archangel Michael
  • Archangel Michael, Especial Forces graphic
  • Sculpture, Archangel Michael, Kiev
  • Peter Nicolai Arbo, Aasgaardreien
  • M16 manual, DA Pam 750-30
  • Powerpoint, Afghanistan Stability
  • The photo of the Kiev St Michael is by Mstyslav Chernov, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license
  • New Article at Pragati: Diplomatic Warfare?

    Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen”]

    I have a new article up at Pragati: The Indian National Interest. A review of Warrior Diplomat by Michael G. Waltz

    Diplomatic Warfare? 

    ….Waltz, now the president of Metis Solutions, brings to the table a powerful juxtaposition of perspectives on the Afghan war. As a Department of Defense civilian official, he served variously as an Interagency Counter narcotics Coordinator in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) developing strategies to combat opium trafficking in Pashtun regions, as the Pentagon’s Afghanistan Country Director, as the Special Adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney on South Asia and Counterterrorism and finally, as an adviser on negotiations with the Taliban to the deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

    This is “making policy at 50,000 feet”, briefing and advising senior administration officials on national policy formulation and implementation. No contrast could be more dramatic with Waltz’s alternate role as a Green Beret company commander living among Pashtun tribal villagers, drinking tea with tribal elders, working with village police chiefs, engaging in brutal firefights with Haqqani network insurgents, disarming IEDs and delivering medical care to remote Afghan districts. Like few other officers, Waltz could see the life or death impact of policy he had helped craft on his own soldiers, Afghan farmers, and the Taliban enemy; but at other times, the blindness of policy or its complete irrelevance to the often ugly ground truth of counterinsurgency warfare.

    Though the story of Waltz’s gritty experience in combat looms large in Warrior Diplomat, he also lays out a hard analysis regarding the self-created problems that impaired the American war in Afghanistan, including a paucity of resources, the incapacity of NATO partners, a muddled strategy, bureaucratic and political risk aversion and micromanagement of military operations down to the smallest units, a stubborn refusal to confront Pakistan over Taliban sanctuaries and announcing an early withdrawal date from Afghanistan. There is an additional subtext to Waltz’s story; the transformation of the legendary Green Beret Special Forces, intended to work autonomously in small groups training and fighting with indigenous forces, to ‘conventionalised’ units of ‘door-kickers’ who spend enormous amounts of time on powerpoint slides, making fruitless requests for helicopters or artillery support and fighting the timidity and capriciousness of Waltz’s own chain of command.

    Read the rest here.

    Some of you may have read American Spartan or my earlier review of that book. The stories of Michael Waltz and Jim Gant are not the same but the setting, their operational environment, largely was. Some of the frankly preposterous, Catch-22 restrictions with which Waltz struggled mightily to comply while effectively circumventing may illuminate some of the unspoken reasons why Jim Gant took a different path.

    I cannot say it was the objective of the US Army and ISAF to prevent effective COIN operations in Afghanistan in writing their regulations and ROE, but it might as well have been

    New Book: American Spartan by Ann Scott Tyson

    Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant by Ann Scott Tyson 

    Was just sent a review copy of American Spartan courtesy of Callie at  Oettinger & Associates which tells the story of Major Jim Gant, the special forces officer and AfPak hand who pushed hard for a controversial strategy in Afghanistan based on arming and training loyalist paramilitaries out of Afghan tribesmen ( or whatever localist network would suffice when tribal identity was weak or absent). I am looking forward to reading this book for a number of reasons.

    Long time readers may recall Gant coming to wider attention with his paper, One Tribe at a Time with an assist from noted author Steven Pressfield, where he called for a campaign strategy against the Taliban from “the bottom up” using “the tribes” because the current top down strategy of killing insurgents while building a strong, centralized, state would never work – the war would just drag on indefinitely until the US grew tired and quit Afghanistan ( as is happening….now). Gant, who forged a tight relationship with Afghan tribal leader  Noor Azfal ,won some fans with his paper in very high places, including SECDEF Robert Gates and Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus who gave him some cover to implement his ideas but he also faced formidable resistance and criticism. Academic experts were particularly incensed by Gant’s broad-brush use of “tribes” to cover a wide array of local networks and Afghan identities and that “tribes” were a term modern anthropology held in deep disdain ( RAND’s David Ronfeldt pointed out that while these networks are not historical tribes they are certainly “tribal” in terms of behavior patterns) while the government of Mohammed Karzai and its American boosters were bitterly hostile to any strategy that might arm locals outside Kabul’s direct control.

      It was also a risky strategy. Loyalist paramilitaries are often very effective in a military sense – as happened in Colombia when the government tolerated and encouraged private militias to make war on FARC and the ELN and badly mauled the Communist insurgents – but they are inherently unreliable politically. Paramilitaries can also  “go off the reservation” – this also happened in Colombia – and commit atrocities or become criminal enterprises or engage in warlordism and have to be reined in by the government. All of these were particular risks in the context of Afghanistan where warlordism and drug trafficking had been particularly acute problems even under Taliban rule. On the other hand, warlordism and drug trafficking has hardly been unknown in the ANA regular units and national police and is hardly the province only of irregulars.

    Another reason I am interested in this book is the subtitle’s accusation of “betrayal” which I infer comes out of the long institutional cultural and chain of command clashes of bureaucratic politics between Big Army and Special Forces and Special Operations Forces communities. The long history in the big picture is that many general purpose force commanders do not know how to use these troops to best strategic effect and sometimes resent the autonomy with which they operate ( a resentment returned and repaid  at times with a lack of consultation and ignoring of local priorities in operational planning).

    The author, Ann Scott Tyson is a long-time and experienced war reporter who embedded extensively with US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. She is also married to her subject which should make for some interesting analysis when I review the book.

    Jottings 13: on matters of porcine theology

    Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a sidelong glance at anti-Imperialist cows ]
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    The pig: both trayf and halal

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    The news was in an AP post headed Pig heads in boxes sent to Jewish targets in Rome:

    Italian police say they are searching for the sender of pig heads to Rome’s main synagogue, the Israeli Embassy and a city museum hosting an exhibit on the Holocaust. Police headquarters said Saturday the anti-terrorism squad was handling the case. The pig heads arrived in three separate boxes, all sent by a delivery service unaware of the contents. The deliveries were made Friday, three days before an international memorial day for Holocaust victims.

    Joel Richardson at Joel’s Trumpet draws our attention to a significant parallel:

    One might see echoes here of the acts of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek monarch, who in the second century B.C., sacrificed a pig on the altar in the Jewish Temple, criminalizing the very practice of Judaism.

    What troubles me here is the powerful, implicitly apocalyptic emotion such a parallel draws on.

    **

    But if Jews can be targeted with pork, so can Muslims — and I also think it is worth pondering the practice of greasing bullets with pork fat, in the hope that this will consign any Muslims killed with such bullets to hell, pork being a haram or forbidden food in Muslim theology.

    Jihawg Ammo makes a sales point of this idea. As WND put it a few months back in New Ammo cancels free ticket to Paradise:

    A company in northern Idaho has come up with a culturally sensitive approach. Jihawg Ammo has developed a proprietary system for infusing ballistic paint with pork. The special pork-infused paint is then applied to the bullets of loaded ammunition. The inclusion of pork in the paint makes the bullets haraam, or unclean. Under the strictest interpretations of Islamic law, anyone who comes in contact with any haraam item is then unclean and must engage in a cleansing ritual.

    The objective of Jihawg Ammo is not to insult Muslims, nor even to send a terrorist to Hell. The objective is to serve as a deterrent – to place the promise of instant passage to Paradise into doubt. Without the promise of Paradise, how many Muslim literalists would be willing to lay their lives – and eternal souls – on the line to engage in acts of terrorism?

    Likewise, a gun oil whose manufacturer claims his product was on the bullets used to kill bin Laden is advertised as demoralizing terrorists:

    SILVER BULLET GUN OIL, is a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE Counter-Islamic terrorist force multiplier. SILVER BULLET GUN OIL was designed specifically to put Demoralizing FEAR and TERROR into SUPPOSEDLY “Fearless” Islamo-Fascist terrorists. It was created with the “TRUE BELIEVER” in mind. According to the Koran, Allah states, “Any of my followers contaminated by swine at the time of his death will be denied entry to my paradise forever, I HATE THE STENCH OF SWINE.”

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    The Islamic theology is bad, however, and the pork coating ineffective…

    I’ve used the USC database and searched the Quran for such a sentence without success. There are by my count six references to swine in the Quran, at 2.173, 5.3, 5.60, 6.145 and 16.115, all of them refer to the eating of swine flesh, none of them talk about death, and in each case the point is made that Allah is merciful and forgiving to those who consume pork flesh “without wilful disobedience”. It thus seems unlikely that any “TRUE BELIEVER” would be terrified of dying from a contaminated bullet, especially since the jihadist martyr is forgiven all sins and feels no pain beyond a pinprick at the moment of death…

    As I posted elsewhere recently:

    Gen. Pershing, as I recall, is said to have shot Muslims with pork-fat-coated bullets and / or buried them and poured pig’s entrails on their bodies in the belief that these actions would somehow make them unfit for heaven. Snopes, the usual place I turn to fact check dubious stories, has a page on this idea called Pershing the Thought, and calls the story “undetermined”.

    I’d like to add that the idea itself, which has also been used recently to market fancy pork-coated bullets to US troops, has no basis in Islamic theology. You simply cannot get more authoritative theological guidance on things Muslim than the Qur’an itself, in which we find (Qur’an 2. 173):

    These things only has He forbidden you: carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, what has been hallowed to other than God. Yet who so is constrained, not desiring nor transgressing, no sin shall be on him; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.

    The whole story looks to be a rumor attached to a falsehood… It wouldn’t even work!

    **

    What cannot be doubted, however, is that evidence suggesting the US military might be coating bullets with pig-fat so as to deny paradise to mujahideen can be used, and is in fact used, as evidence for the notion that the Unites States is at war with Islam – an idea that is a powerful aid to jihadist recruitment.

    It is a claim that both Presidents Bush and Obama have explicitly denied — and that bin Laden himself made in his 1998 declaration:

    All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims.

    It’s the basic AQ argument: show that Islam itself is under attack by the United States, and it follows that every able-bodied Muslim has an obligation to defend it.

    And that’s not just an obligation on some Muslims — it’s an kndividual obligation, fard ayn.

    Here’s Abdullah Azzam on the subject, in his Defence of the Muslim Lands: the First Obligation after Iman, Chapter 3, “Fard Ayn and Fard Kifaya:

    Jihad by your person is Fard Ayn upon every Muslim in the earth. …
    .
    Neglecting the jihad is like abandoning fasting and praying, more than that, neglecting the jihad is worse in these days. We quote from Ibn Rushd: “It is agreed that when jihad becomes Fard Ayn it takes precedence over the Fard of Hajj.”

    **

    And beef?

    Allegedly the British bullets that sparked the Sepoy Rebellion / First War of Indian Independence were coated with both pig and cow fat — in hope of offending Muslim and Hindu alike.

    Me? I’m mostly vegetarian…

    Rant Day, twelve years and two days on

    Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

    [defrosted by Lynn C. Rees]

    Eleven years ago, on September 9, 2001, the Web rudely informed me that Ahmed Shah Masood had been assassinated.

    I was annoyed.

    I hated the Taliban. To me, they were the enemy of all mankind. My hate didn’t single them out just for their Third World thuggishness, their seventh century flavored oppression, or their harboring of a declared enemy of my country. No, my hate singled them out for blowing up a few statues that had stood for 1,500 years.

    For 1,000 of those years, Islam lived alongside the Buddhas of Bamiyan. During that time, weather, entropy, and sporadic iconoclastic enthusiasm had heavily damaged the Buddhas. But, until March 2001, they still stood, as they had stood for one millennium and a half.

    Then the Taliban came. They were different. They had the iconoclast ends of March 622 and the means of March 2001 to carry them out. Dynamite, artillery, and rocketry let the Taliban do in three weeks what history had failed to do in fifteen centuries.

    History is fragile. What survives down to us is idiosyncratic. We inherit only a few suggestive piles of rubble from the past. From this debris, numberless castles of the imagination have been conjured. One very insistent ghost of conjured history drove the Taliban to destroy the statues: an idealized vision of the community created by Muhammad in Medina and then Mecca from the hegira in 622 to his death in 632. From an antiseptic remove far from the compromised Islam of March 2001, this phantom umma looked down on the Taliban from the heights of 15 centuries and commanded them to erase the Buddhas of Bamiyan from history. The phantom umma promised that, as each piece of shattered idol fell away, the sacralized community of the Prophet would draw nearer and nearer.

    And so the Buddhas of Bamiyan fell.

    Since history consumes itself anyway, I oppose those who feel that history needs help swallowing. Human meddling in what survives and what doesn’t is unneeded: accident and negligence will always chew up more history than intention can aspire to. But the Taliban insisted on speeding the work of history along. Furthermore, they figured that they could not only speed it up but make it flip 180° and make it run backwards. And so they declared war on history.

    To me, this made the Taliban barbarians. To me, they deserved to be removed from history themselves. The only man who seemed to be actively helping the Taliban out of history was Massood. And now Massood had gone to Allah, assisted by these same barbarians.

    Downstairs I went. I ranted in the kitchen about the tragedy of Ahmed Shah Massood and his death to Mom and the occasional passing sibling. They didn’t know who Ahmed Shah Massood was. They didn’t know where Afghanistan was. To them, it was a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom they knew nothing. Massood of Afghanistan might as well have been the Massood in the Moon, fighting to keep one small grubby corner of the lunar surface Space Taliban-free.

    Mom patiently listened as dinner was set. Over the years, she’d grown used to my ranting on and on about this or that distant obscurity. She knew that, with time, I’d fulminate my way out of my momentary idée fixe and go back to quietly tending my garden of trivia. The world would go on. Normalcy would flow unvexed to the future.

    She was right. Rant mode ran out of steam. I ate dinner. I went back to my lair where my books and my computers would protect me. The sun set on September 9th, 2001. I went to sleep.

    Two Buddha statues and the Lion of Panjshir would be only be the first to fall. Unseen in the gathering dark, history, with brutal intent, blatantly ignoring its own death in 1989, crept up the East Coast to be reborn.


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