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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.

Cricket news — the Pakistani Taliban umpire speaks out

Friday, December 6th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — terror and games — an odd couple methinks, but one that’s not infrequently encountered ]
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Pakistan Taliban umpire Shahidullah Shahid, left, speaks on Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, right

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As you may know, I’m not too keen on sports — far too physical for sedentary me, even at a young age — but if there ever was a sport I could enjoy, it would be cricket. In fact I used to spend hours as a boy “playing cricket” in the outfield, singing quietly to myself and spotting caterpillars in the hawthorn hedges that edged my side of the field.

Imagine my delight, then, to find the Pakistani Taliban has also developed a love for the game. From the Friday Times, today:

Taliban have threatened media organizations for “quoting out of context” their spokesman’s video statement in which he had likened those who praise the US and criticize the Taliban to those who praise Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and criticise Pakistan’s cricket captain Misbahul Haq.

The 17-minute video recording was released to present the Taliban’s outlook on the future of talks with the government, Pakistan and its politics, and the role of the armed forces. But what grabbed media attention was a two minute portion in which their spokesman used a cricket analogy to defend the controversial statement of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Munawar Hassan that Pakistani soldiers who died fighting the Taliban were not martyrs.

“There is this Indian player called Tendulkar. He is being exceedingly praised by the Pakistani media and people. At the same time the media showed disapproval of Misbahul Haq. Even though Tendulkar is a great sportsman, you should not praise him because that is unpatriotic. Instead, you should praise Misbah despite the fact that he is a bad player, because he is ultimately a Pakistani,” said Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “Those who praise the soldiers fighting for America, secularism, democracy and British-made laws are like those who lauded Tendulkar instead of Misbah.”

All in all, I suppose it was an inevitable development — Imran Khan had supported a position that the TTP favored, and it’s hard to “like” Imran Khan without also “liking” cricket. The report continues:

In the same video, he praised Tehrik-e-Insaaf leader Imran Khan for blocking NATO supplies to Afghanistan because the move was hurting US interests, adding that the Taliban had developed a soft corner for Khan because of the move.

Of course, the Indians like cricket quite a bit, too.

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What matters to me about caterpillars, aside for the intriguing “looping” movement some of them have down to a fine art, is the fact that they turn into butterflies — and if I may transcend the material world into pure metaphor for a moment, that butterflies in turn symbolize psyche.

Me? I’m still in the outfield, still on the lookout for caterpillars, still playing my own highly contemplative form of cricket.

Serpent logics: the marathon

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]
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I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

Matrioshka pattern:


That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.

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This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

Have at it!

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Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:

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Enantiodromia:

You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
I wish I’d said
“Please forgive me. Please help me.
I know I have no right to behave this way?”

Here are a few examples…

Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

That’s impressive!

That one’s run of the media mill…

And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:

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A friend sent me this:

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Let’s just plough ahead…

Nominalism:

Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

And here’s one final nominalist example:

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The spiral:

Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:

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Straight parallelism:

This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

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Simple Opposition:

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Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

Arms crossed:

From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

A great “values” juxtaposition:

And hey, nice phrasing:

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Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

Tit for Tat:

[ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed — hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet… ]

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And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

Serpents biting their tails:

[ … and that last one of Nein‘s appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

This one is also a DoubleQuote:

when closely followed by:

And this one really bites:

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To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:

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.

One-eyed: or suspecting Ali Gharib might just be the Dajjal…

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

[ Charles Cameron — always on the lookout for signs of the dajjal — even in the New York Times ]
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Seriously, WTF?

Are you Presbyterian?

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I probably wouldn’t have take much notice of Ali Gharib’s tweet (upper panel, above) if I hadn’t just wandered off after reading a tweet from Habib Zahori:

to find out who he was, and run across his NYT piece, The Insidious Language of War, which looked interesting enough that I read it — leading me to the headlights quote (lower panel, above).

Okay, two one-eyed remarks in five minutes got me thinking…

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But as you may know, by now my mind is fully stocked with what Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria calls the “hooks and eyes of memory” — so a broken headlight in Kabul and mention of the Mullah’s missing eye brought me naturally to the celebrated image of Mullah Omar (below, upper panel)

and thence (lower panel) to the Dajjal — Islam’s version of the Antichrist.

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Thus, a sort of Six degrees of Kevin Bacon game brought me from a Daily Beast blogger via broken headlights to the Dajjal in three quick hops — and the result is what one might term a false positive

It was fun while it lasted — I just wonder how many times NYPD officers ask drivers “Are you Amish?” Maybe a horse and buggy on Fifth Avenue would somewhat justify so inquisitive an inquiry.

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Sources:

  • Ali Gharib
  • Habib Zahori

  • Mullah Omar
  • Dajjal

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