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US Foreign Policy, Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

The Obama administration, though they would not characterize it as such nor have much desire to acknowledge it at all, have attempted  a strategic detente with the “moderate” elements of political Islam.

This policy has not been entirely consistent; Syria, for example, is a quagmire the administration has wisely refrained from wading directly into despite the best efforts of R2P advocates to drag us there.  But more importantly, under President Obama the US supported the broad-based Arab Spring popular revolt against US ally, dictator Hosni Mubarak, and pushed the subsequent ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Libyan revolution against the entirely mad Colonel Gaddafi. These appear to be geopolitical “moves” upon which the Obama administration hopes to build.

I would like to emphasize that there is one legitimate and valid strategic pro to this sub rosa policy; namely, if everything went well, it would provide the United States with powerful triangulation against revolutionary, apocalyptic, radical Islamism as expressed by al Qaida and various Salafi extremist movements. There are reasons, rooted in takfirism, strategy and the politics of lunacy that our terrorist enemies frequently hate and revile the Brotherhood as traitors, apostates or whatever. Isolating the most actively dangerous and violent revolutionary enemies from a large mass of potential allies is, at least, a good strategic goal.

It is also my view, that this “outreach” is as politically sensitive  to the Obama administration as was the China Opening was to Nixon and about which they have been equally opaque and misleading for fear of a domestic backlash. The weird, foot-dragging, dissembling, embittered, kabuki drama inside the Beltway about public statements and intelligence on whether Benghazi was caused by obscure crackpot Islamophobic film makers or a well-orchestrated terrorist attack  is in my view due to a major foreign policy strategy never having been framed in public for what it is. I’m sure people will differ strongly with me on this (which is fine), but I would characterize detente with Islamists as a strategic shift on par with the “Pivot to Asia”.

The downside here is that first, things are not likely to come out well at all, as unfinished revolutions tend to give birth to monsters; and secondly, any detente with “moderate” political Islam is an uncertain gamble based on certain exceptionally optimistic conceptions of not only what the Brotherhood might do, but about it’s very nature.

While the removal of Arab dictators resonated with American values , it was questionable realpolitik while the administration’s de facto support of  Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faction over poorly organized secular liberal modernists was an act of realpolitik that required a compromise of the democratic values so recently invoked to justify abandoning Mubarak. This was cynical diplomatic flexibility worthy of Talleyrand.

Unfortunately, the most democratic thing – perhaps the only thing – about Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood supporters was his election.

The Egyptian people who are subjected now to thuggery from both Morsi’s Islamist stormtroopers and from the security forces of the Egyptian military are less sanguine than are the Brotherhood’s cheerleaders inside the administration. The Egyptian people, in fact, seem to be in revolt against domination by the Muslim Brotherhood’s shadow government.

The first question to ask in assessing if the Obama administration policy here is wise would be “What is the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood?” Americans love to personalize foreign policy, but if  Morsi were to be toppled or die, the Brotherhood will remain what it currently is, the best organized political force in Egypt and one widely influential throughout the Arab world and the West itself.

I am not an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, nor am I an Arabist by education. Most of us aren’t – a group that I fear includes most of the Obama administration officials involved in shaping this policy. Almost fifty years after King Faisal determined to export Wahhabism, more than thirty years since Khomeini’s Revolution and more than ten years since 9/11 the USG still has less in-house expertise related to Islam than it did about the Soviet Union and Communism a decade after the Berlin Blockade.

Perhaps we all should begin learning more?

Here is an analysis from FPRI; it is extremely critical but it touches on organizational aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood that I have not seen elsewhere (hat tip to David Ronfeldt). Feel free to suggest others, both for and against. The Brotherhood is a very large group with a long history that includes violence , terrorism and subversion on one hand and peacefully representing expressions of pious, middle-class, social conservatism in other places and times:

Lecture Transcript: What Every American Should Know about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Delivered by Eric Trager 

….Two years ago when I was doing my dissertation fieldwork in Cairo, I sought out interviews with leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, and I was referred to a man named Muhammad Morsi, now the President of Egypt. At the time, President Mubarak was ill and had gone off to Europe for operations amid a lot of mystery surrounding his health. I asked Muhammad Morsi whether the Muslim Brotherhood would run a presidential candidate if Mubarak died tomorrow. Here is what he said:

[From an audio file played by Trager]

Eric Trager: You don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood nominating a presidential candidate [if Mubarak dies tomorrow]?

Muhammad Morsi: No… because society is not ready… Our society is not ready yet to really defend its worth. We want a society to carry on its responsibilities, and we are part of this society. Another thing, if we are rushing things, then I don’t think that leads to a real stable position.

When he made that statement, I don’t think he was lying, and I don’t think he was being coy. I think that he didn’t expect that he would be faced with this reality in a mere six months. He did not expect that Mubarak would step down six months later and, to be completely honest with you, neither did I. My dissertation was entitled “Egypt: Durable Authoritarianism”—until the revolution.

What did Morsi mean when he said that the Brotherhood was trying to build a society? Let me give you some background on the Muslim Brotherhood. It was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, who was a schoolteacher in Ismailia. The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal was then—and remains now—to establish an Islamic state in Egypt. The way it pursues this goal is by trying to Islamize Egyptian society. Through social services, education, and the mosque, it sought to make Egyptians more religious and more Islamic as a grassroots strategy for building an Islamic state. That’s very, very different from a strategy that says, “We’re going to run for president, run for the Parliament, and use that power to transform society.” Rather, the Brotherhood says, in effect, “We’re going to Islamize society to build towards power.” It was a long-term strategy; it took them 84 years before they ran for and won the presidency. So Morsi told me in 2010 that the Muslim Brotherhood was not going to run for the presidency because it was not done Islamizing Egyptian society….

Read the rest here.

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Boyd and Beyond Local DC Event

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Jim Hasik’s White Board Outline

 

At the suggestion of Adam Elkus, we were privileged to host our first “local” Boyd and Beyond event on 15 December. We had 14 attend, and five speakers. Logistically, we turned our family room in to a fairly comfortable briefing area, using a wall with Smart Sheets as a temporary white board. In keeping with our October events, we took up a collection and had pizza delivered for lunch. Coffee, soft drinks light snacks were provided. Each speaker was allotted 50 minutes, but given the participation of the audience, most talks lasted about 90 minutes. I should emphasize to those planning one of these events, to keep a lean speaker’s list, as the Q&A and discussion can easily double the time of a presentation—-and I believe all who attended would agree the comments/discussion made already great presentations even better.

My sincere thanks go out to my wife and partner, Kristen, for making this event look easy! She was the one who made sure everything was moving along and that folks felt at home. I would encourage others around the country to schedule and hold events through the year. We’re looking to do another in March 2013.

Our speakers were:

Jim Hasik, Beyond Hagiography: Problems of Logic and Evidence in the Strategic Theories of John Boyd

Francis Park, The Path to Maneuver Warfare in the U.S. Marine Corps

Robert Cantrell,  Which Card Will You Play?

Terry Barnhart, Designing and Implementing Maneuver Strategy in Transforming Major Organizations

Marshall Wallace, Theories of Change and Models of Prediction

I led off with a few comments on the military professional and intellectual rigor. I recommended the best book I’ve read this year: Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, by Jon Tetsuro Sumida, and the challenges he suggests in the realm of intellectual rigor. He writes:

“It remains to be seen whether readers exist with the mind and will to accept his guidance on what necessarily is an arduous intellectual and moral voyage into the realm of war and politics.” (emphasis added)

I followed with the example from An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941, by Charles E. Kirkpatrick. Mr. Kirkpatrick’s little book provides an excellent primer to the formulation of the United States’ WWII strategy and a refreshing insight into the education of an master strategist, then Major Albert C. Wedemeyer, attached to the War Plans Division, the Army chief of staff’s strategic planners, who wrote the Army strategy for WWII in 90 days. (read the review here) I suggested that military professionals should start something akin to a book club, where they can discuss and debate strategic issues and concept.

Following my comments, Jim Hasik offered his critique of John Boyd’s work. Adam tweeted that we were a “tough crowd,” but Jim was able to discuss his misgivings with respect to Boyd’s work and a lively discussion got us started. For those unfamiliar, Jim is the author of a paper called, Beyond Hagiography, which generated controversy in the Boydian community following this year’s October event at Quantico. (reviewed here and at zenpundit.comHere is a link to the paper. (see Hasik’s white board outline above).

According to Hasik, Boyd erred when extrapolating from physical processes/science to social processes. He reviewed Boyd’s use of science in his essay, Destruction and Creation, and suggested no literal correlation between Clausius’ Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy), Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and human behavior (on this I concur with Hasik, as analogy or metaphor these scientific principles enlighten).  Hasik asked if OODA scales from air-to-air combat to large scale events, and whether OODA was original (compared to PDCA, for example). One point that generated quite a bit of discussion was whether one could “like” Clausewitz or Sun Tzu and Boyd. Hasik questioned whether Boyd’s work should be judged as social science, history, or war studies, and suggested that further work was needed to fill in the gaps in his work. In October, someone suggested Boyd needed a “Plato,” someone to address Boyd’s work with less emphasis on science (as in Osinga’s book), thereby making Boyd’s work more accessible. The Strassler model was suggested; Strassler is an “unaffiliated scholar” who has written exhaustively referenced versions of ThucydidesHerodotus, and Arrian. [personal note: I believe a Strassler-like book on Boyd’s ideas would be a great resource] A great thought-provoking conversation.

Francis Park’s White Board

 

Francis Park’s talk on on maneuver warfare, the evidence of history began with “I’m a historian and I have a problem.” The irony wasn’t lost on the audience, as Francis is an active duty Army officer, speaking on the history of the USMC’s adoption of maneuver warfare (MW). Park called the Marine Corps “the most Darwinian of the services.” The venue for for the Corps discussion between MW advocates, and the “attritionists” was the Marine Corps Gazette. This venue was “unofficial,” otherwise the debate may have never happened. The Gazette’s forward-thinking editor made space and encouraged the debate, which was a “long, bitter, and complex fight.”

Park listed and discussed the champions of MW Michael D. Wyly, G.I. Wilson, William Woods, William Lind, and Alfred M. Gray. Park recommended Fideleon Damian’s master’s thesis, THE ROAD TO FMFM 1: THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS AND MANEUVER WARFARE DOCTRINE, 1979-1989. (Adam Elkus recommended Eric Walters essay in the Small Wars Journal, titled Fraud or Fuzziness? Dissecting William Owen’s Critique of Maneuver Warfare.)

Park called the USMC adoption of MW a “confluence of fortune” that may have never happened without the vigorous efforts of proponents.

Robert Cantrell’s Which Card Will You Play? was an instructive and interactive example of Robert’s strategy cards. Cantrell has two decks of strategy playing cards, one devoted to strategy, the other to sales strategy. The user’s guide is at www.artofwarcards.com.

Robert provided examples of how the cards are used to spark strategic thought and ideas. Volunteers pulled first one, then two cards from the decks, and read aloud and commented on how the statement(s) on the cards could be used in practice. For example, “Muddy The Water To Hide the Nets” was drawn (the 8 of clubs, a bit more on card suits from Robert below). The “strategy” is to “confuse your adversary so he cannot perceive your intentions. The “Basis” is “Confused adversaries make mistakes they would not make if they grasped your intentions.”

Longtime friend of this blog, Fred Leland at Law Enforcement Security Consulting is using the cards with success. Fred’s goal is “to get cops thinking more strategically and tactically in their work. I have been pulling a card from the deck and writing my thoughts and sharing them with cops who have been passing them along to their officers.” He is using Robert’s cards for “in-service” training, and providing a low cost entry into strategic thinking.

I followed up with Robert and asked for an explanation of the card suits. Here is his response:

Hi Scott – although they are gray delineations, the Hearts are oriented on the shaping self, the Clubs on shaping the field of contest…the diamonds are isolation strategies, and the spades are elimination strategies. This is the wolf pattern on the hunt: wolf becomes all the wolf it can be, shapes the hunt, isolates a member from the heard, brings that member down. With aces high – and again also gray – the higher cards tend to be strategies used from a greater abundance of strength and the lower numbers from comparative weakness in strength. Of course from here we can talk about gaining relative advantage if we cannot have absolute advantage to gain strength for a critical moment…and so on

Terry Barnhart spoke on Boydian organizational applications in a talk called Designing and Implementing Maneuver Strategy in Transforming Major Organizations. Terry said any organizational change had to be accomplished on the realms of the moral, mental, and the physical. With that in mind, he advised mapping the social networks of the organization and speaking in “the language of the culture” and “asking for what you need” when attempting to transformation. The end goal is “aligned autonomy,” and Terry’s recommended method of choice is taken from Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict,Slide 80:

Patterns of Conflict, Slide 80

 

Search out the “surfaces and gaps”, as reference from Slide 86, POC. In Boyd’s language:

•Present many (fast breaking) simultaneous and sequential happenings to generate confusion and disorder—thereby stretch-out time for adversary to respond in a directed fashion.

•Multiply opportunities, to uncover, create, and penetrate gaps, exposed flanks, and vulnerable rears. [emphasis added]

Create and multiply opportunities to splinter organism and envelop disconnected remnants thereby dismember adversary thru the tactical, grand tactical, and strategic levels. [emphasis added]

In Terry’s words, “be everywhere at once” and establish relationships that result in buy-in, avoiding “no,” as Terry advised it can take a couple of years to overcome an objection. As aligned autonomy is reached, word will get around about the successes, and all of sudden what was a single agent of change becomes a movement. So Terry is recommending methods in maneuver warfare as a method in transforming organization culture.

During Terry’s talk, Dave recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie as a guide in navigating the bureaucracy and obstacles often found in large organizations.

Marshall Wallace’s White Board

 

Marshall Wallace’s Theories of Change and Models of Prediction was our final presentation. Marshall has emerged as one of the leading thinkers among Boydeans. Wallace said, “people are lazy” as he led off his discussion of change models. [personal note: I’ve come to refer to this laziness as “neurological economy”] His thinking was influence by Daniel Kaneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and the Heath brother’s Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard. When change is desired, clarity is an absolute must have. Wallace offered the four models above as example of change. He said we must ask: “What is the change we want to see?” and ” What are the pre-conditions?”—instead of this model, most people begin with the idea, which more often than not, fails.

Wallace walked our group through the models and emphasized the importance of tempo and used his wife’s efforts to establish dog parks in their city. Everything in government has a process, and Wallace said in this case “going slower than the politicians” paid off. Also, for programs of change, it is best if there is 100% transparency of goals. Both Marshall and Terry recommended a book called The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. The most powerful model for me was the one in the lower right corner—particular the use of “more people” and “key” people in any effort to affect change.

Post meeting, Wallace posted the following to our Facebook group wall, that rounds out and expands his thinking:

I was on the plane back to Boston yesterday morning, deeply engrossed in Terry’s book [Creating a Lean R&D System] when a phrase leapt into my head: “Target the whole organism”.

As the Michaels in our lives (Moore and Polanyi) remind us, “we know more than we can say”. I feel that quite clearly and I constantly struggle with language. I am never satisfied with any presentation I give because I know that, due to failures on my part to use the perfect word at the right moment, I left some understanding on the table.

Somehow the weekend, with spectacular conversation, a good night’s sleep, the enforced idleness of air travel, and Terry’s superb book, shook something loose.

Target the whole organism.

What flashed through my mind at that moment were pieces of the talks.

Jim prompted discussion of what the next set of books about/on/adding to Boyd should look like.

Francis drew a pie wedge with “firepower” on one edge of the pie and “maneuver” on the other. He was describing two schools of thought on conflict as represented by these extremes. Everybody seemed to agree that the balance lay somewhere in the middle and was definitely related to the context.

Robert’s exercises with his strategy decks shook countless examples of strategic action and insight loose in our minds. The combination of cards, taking one from each of the competition and collaboration decks, was especially exciting.

Terry laid out his plan to blitzkrieg his company, and invited us to make it better.

I ended with a 4-cell matrix demonstrating the four basic categories under which all Theories of Change operate (more on this later). Experience has shown that most people operate out of an implicit Theory that traps them in one quadrant, whereas social change only occurs if all four quadrants are affected.

Target the whole organism.

I got home and opened up “The Strategic Game of ? and ?”. Interaction and Isolation.

Firepower and maneuver – at the same time. Competition and collaboration at the same time.

Boyd side-by-side with his sources and several commentators. CEO, discouraged middle-managers, and the line at the same time. More People and Key People at both the individual level and the structural level all at the same time.

Target the whole organism.

A force that uses maneuver to confuse and firepower to destroy will dominate. A force that can swing rapidly between extremes and also find balance is even more slippery than one that acknowledges the “necessary” balance. The two practices can be in separate parts of the battlespace (context matters), but because both are occurring, the confusion generated may well be more intense. It looks as though the force is two distinct armies and communication among the enemy may be unintelligible because the threats being faced are so different.

Bringing collaborative concepts into competitive spaces or vice versa while not abandoning the underlying logic of the space opens up more options, challenges notions, and expands horizons. Can we interact and isolate at the same time? What does that snowmobile look like?

If we want to effect social change, we need to target the whole system. We can sequence our efforts in time, though we can’t forget to move as quickly as the circumstances allow. At the same time, every effort must be connected to the whole organism.

The target is not the target. I do not aim at the eye of the fish. I don’t wan’t to hit the bullseye.

I want to pick up the whole madding crowd of intense archers, cynical kings, and wildly cheering spectators and move them.

This was the first “local” event, and based on the response, we’ll be doing these a few times a year. Many thanks to all who participated, and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to  you all!

UPDATE: Dave shared these with our group. Francis said, “We live and die by bumper stickers.” Here is a good example:

 

Here is Dave’s interpretation of the Sufi elephant:

 

 

 

Cross-posted at To Be or To Do.

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Reforming Intelligence vs.Intelligent Reforms

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The intense behind the scenes lobbying on behalf of prospective candidates to replace General David Petraeus as Director of the CIA and the ongoing furor over Ambassador Rice’s “talking points” on Benghazi, have spilled over into op-eds quietly urging that the vacancy be used as an opportunity for reforms of the IC and CIA. This is not unexpected – the churn of ” IC reform” tends to be cyclical, free of institutional or historical memory and useful for distracting the media from genuine problems – but it is also true that the situation could bear improvement.

One of the smarter observations was by former star analyst Nada Bakos in Foreign Policy:

…..In light of this, what should the DNI’s role be in the intelligence community, if not disseminating a coordinated intelligence product? The CEO of a company is typically the one planning strategy, interfacing with board members, stockholders, and consumers. A CEO doesn’t typically write the chief financial officer’s year-end summary or the marketing director’s strategy — instead, he views both products from 25,000 feet to ensure the company is on steady footing. The DNI should have a similar role: rather than replicating work, it should focus on reviewing the source material from the various agencies and collaborating to ensure all of the information has been reviewed. In the case of the Benghazi talking points, the intelligence community all had a role in editing the talking points once passed from the CIA. Other points of view make sense, but in the immediate aftermath of something like Benghazi, the arrival of new (and possibly conflicting information) is likely to confuse, not improve, the product. It is best to leave the dissemination, in the immediate aftermath, in the hands of the agency that owns the source of the information and is in the business of disseminating intel products — in this case the CIA.

As with the recent and somewhat ironic leaking that the Pentagon is going to overrun the Earth with hordes of DIA covert agents [i.e. 90% of new money and personnel will probably feed the CONUS based DIA bureaucracy as a budget protection strategy] when an agency or entity can get political authorities to grant them incursions into another bureaucracy’s turf, it is because that bureaucracy has ceased doing it’s job so long ago everyone has just accepted that it will never change.

The Bakos piece contrasts well with the politicized bullshittery being offered in The New York Times. Here are some of my favorite bits of harmful nonsense:

….The United States has over 280 diplomatic posts worldwide. They are working on drug interdiction, arms control negotiations, border security, counterterrorism, access to energy and trade, implementing sanctions, fair trade and the like. Intelligence helps diplomats recognize everything from cheating on agreements to social unrest and surprise attack. And it helps them make decisions that lower the risks and consequences of war.

The new director should rededicate the C.I.A. to supporting these diplomatic operations.

Right. Each ambassador should get to play amateur Station Chief and fritter away extremely scarce intel resources on pet projects because, you know, the State Department has done such an awesome job on it’s own core missions the past decade or so, and….uh…wait….

….The best way to ensure the intelligence process can both produce the best analysis possible, free from political and policy influence, and that covert operations are smart and legal is to ensure the director is an independent actor not subject to political pressure. Making the job a 10-year appointment, which will cross the lines of elections, offers a way to reduce the risk of politicization.

Shorter Bruce Reidel: The DCIA should be able to delay or refuse the President’s order to do covert ops so the US will do far fewer of them and in maximum risk-averse fashion.

No.

You de-politicize the DCIA by not having new presidents fire old DCIAs because they were appointed by an administration from the other party, a practice begun not by Ronald Reagan as Bruce Reidel mistakenly believes, but by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. The idea that the DCIA who is expected to oversee the most sensitive covert missions (i.e. those intended to have strategic or political effects) should be “independent” of the President is some form of really poor Constitutional theorizing. What happens when an “independent” DCIA launches covert ops *against* the wishes of a President?

Here are a few ideas that would be useful to keep in mind, if “reform” of the IC and CIA is actually desired and isn’t merely a stalking horse for smuggling in a different set of  foreign policy preferences unsupported by the wider American public (which I suspect much of the recent noise is):

It isn’t a choice between a “Militarized” CIA and a CIA that does HUMINT collection:

The CIA is supposed to do both covert action and intel collection and always did. Period. The true anomaly is the comatose period after the Church-Pike Hearings bloodied the CIA on Capitol Hill and created a deeply risk-averse generation of CIA managers, who, it must be said, did not exactly bend over backwards in the 1990’s to unleash a legion of deep cover operatives and agents of influence. The “militarized CIA” meme is utter B.S. from folks who dislike armed drones and kinetic tactics and lost that policy argument two years ago.

Drones and nefarious celebrity generals are not what prevents the CIA from more robust intel collection effort – only CIA management prevents better HUMINT collection by not prioritizing it and increasing the number of CIA personnel in overseas postings.

The Director of the CIA, alone or in combination with the DNI, is not the solution:

What is required is an engaged and active Chief Executive willing to spend time and political capital making the IC work for his administration the way it should and the way he needs. This may mean firing the recalcitrant, the resistant and the risk-averse and taking heat from The Washington Post and The New York Times when their favorite “senior official” sources start screaming bloody murder on background to undermine their DCIA and DNI.

Top talent in the DCIA chair, one with real gravitas on the Hill if possible, will be important but that person will still need the full backing of the President and key members of Congress or nothing will change.

“Clandestinity” and Strategic intel are more important than “Reportage”:

Senior officials in any administration like to get IC  briefs that edge out the media on breaking events and bring them details they can’t find in their own, usually very extensive, personal networks or from the bureaucracies and agency experts they themselves oversee.  The CIA in particular has catered to this demand as, it must be said, they are obligated to do.

The problem is that in economic terms, the marginal value of “secret” information over what information is available in the open media in an emerging crisis is not going to be very great unless the CIA has made substantial investments in clandestine networks in the crisis area over a period of years or decades to acquire “strategic” intel, or at least a formidable position to uncover some.

Pouring ever greater resources into near real time “reportage” and being a slightly spooky version of CNN makes such long-term, clandestine investments by the CIA less likely, less deep and less influential in shaping emerging events. Much like having a .357 magnum when someone is crawling through your bedroom window at 3 am, when a crisis erupts overseas, America either has a robust clandestine network on location or it does not.

Congress has a key role and usually abdicates it in favor of grandstanding or rearranging deck chairs:

The IC will work better with consistently active oversight done with a minimum of partisan rancor and an avoidance of any new legislation that features a new (and usually more complex) org chart. It’s important -sometimes delicate operations and lives depend on our politicians behaving and speaking with discretion. If there are important objectives for national security for the IC to accomplish, nothing sends that message better than the administration and key members of the intelligence committees acting in concert to make a policy succeed.

I’m not holding my breath on that last one.

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The Deep Shadow of Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Just saw the Steven Spielberg epic Lincoln.  

The performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was titanic; all the anger and villainous darkness he channeled into his earlier memorable characters Bill “the Butcher” and Daniel Plainview are eclipsed in his Lincoln by wisdom and a transcendent, melancholic grace. The supporting cast was equally strong, with Sally Fields alluding in word and deed to the shrewish madness that troubled First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln; Tommy Lee Jones humanized – probably more than is historical – the implacable political ferocity of Radical Republican leader Representative Thaddeus Stevens; and James Spader added lighthearted realism as Secretary of State Seward’s cagey political fixer and bagman, William N. Bilboe.

Spielberg has done a magnificent storytelling of the passage of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States and he has done even better at capturing Lincoln’s towering stature as a statesman. Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is Periclean – in possession of heroic, historical vision and mastery of grand strategy along with an intimate grasp of the granular, grubby mechanics of political deal making and a humane tolerance of other’s frailties needed to make things happen.  The scene where Day-Lewis explains to his squabbling Cabinet Lincoln’s coup d’oeil –  the real Constitutional, moral, military and political exigencies of emancipation governing the imperative questions of the 13th Amendment –  is one of the most brilliant expositions of strategy in the fusion of policy, politics and war that I have ever seen on screen.

In a sense, that was the genius of Abraham Lincoln – surpassing his own humble origins to solve herculean problems without ever losing sight that lasting resolution of Civil War and slavery were going to have to occur on Earth with fallible human beings, operating in a political reality that would never be ideal. The limits of vision of Lincoln’s contemporaries, copperhead and abolitionist, is marked but the comparison between Abraham Lincoln and politicians of our own day is yet for the worse.  Our problems are so much smaller, our resources and capabilities infinitely vaster than the severe test the Republic faced in Lincoln’s time, yet our leaders are grossly inadequate even to these.

Martyrdom naturally magnified the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, but even without the assassination he would have still been reckoned our greatest president, one of the rare individuals whose leadership made an irreplaceable mark upon history. If one of Lincoln’s rivals for the Republican nomination had become president in 1860 instead, or had Lincoln not been re-elected in 1864, the Union cause would have failed.  We would not be who we are nor the world what it is without a United States in the 20th century to stem the tide of  first German domination, then Fascism and then Soviet Communism. The world would be a poorer, darker place and we would be lesser peoples of lesser nations of the former United States.

Lincoln’s shadow is not merely long, it is deep.

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The 2012 Warlord Loop Reading List at SWJ

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Small Wars Journal has published the national security reading list  composed by members of  The Warlord Loop, a private listserv run by Colonel John Collins (ret.). You will find a wide-ranging list of titles in history, IR, strategic studies, military history, political philosophy and other fields recommended by experts and operators, soldiers and scholars and even a blogfriend or two. More than enough books to help fill out the empty shelves of your antilibrary.

The 2012 Warlord Loop Reading List

The U.S. national security community contains a slew of superlative political, military, economic, sociological, technological, and other specialists, but comparably qualified generalists prepared to cherry pick their products, then produce integrated policies, plans,  programs, and conduct operations that best suit this great Nation’s needs, are exceedingly scarce. The Warlord Loop’s 2012 reading list, which features interdisciplinary topics that cover the conflict spectrum from normal peacetime competition to what Herman Kahn’s classic On Thermonuclear War called a “wargasm,” is explicitly designed to help correct that imbalance.

Contributors include active and retired officials in executive and legislative branches of the U.S. Government, news media representatives, college professors, and   military personnel from every service who range in rank from noncommissioned officers to four-star generals and admirals. Males, females, liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, nonpartisans, assorted age groups, and a few foreigners span the complete range of public opinion. The Warlord recently challenged them to identify two books apiece that would help practitioners and concerned citizens better understand increasingly complex problems and optional solutions despite mutating situational changes that now circle this globe at bewildering speed. A cross-section of responses appears below. Publishers, dates, and synopses are available on the Internet.

Brigadier General Chris Arney, USA (Retired), a professor of mathematics at West Point, focuses on information networks, modeling, intelligence processing, and artificial intelligence.

          Mario Diani and Doug McAdam, Social Movements and Networks: Relational Approaches to Collective Action

          Howard Steven Friedman Howard, The Measure of a Nation: How to Regain America’s Competitive Edge and Boost Our Global Standing               

Lieutenant General David Barno, USA, (Retired), who saw combat in Grenada and Panama, commanded all U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003-2005. He now is a Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.   

          Eliot Cohen, Supreme Command

          Colin Gray, Another Bloody Century

Captain Sean Barrett, USMC, is a Fellow for the Marine Corps Director of Intelligence, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Treasury. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Intelligence Officer.

          Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

          George Orwell, Animal Farm

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bateman, USA, formerly Office of Net Assessment, currently in International  Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan.

          Azar Gat, A History of Military Thought

          John Lynn, ed., Feeding Mars, Logistics in Western Warfare, from the Middle Age to the Present   [….]

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