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We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]

chautauqua haqqani daveed


From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:

Amb. Haqqani:

None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..


If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

Daveed G-R:

In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.


The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

— down to our own times.

Amb. Haqqani:

What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.


Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

Daveed G-R:

The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.


Amb. Haqqani:

The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.


Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

Daveed G-R:

Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

— and had the final, pointed word:

We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.


Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

The Soviet gift of freedom

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

[redacted by Lynn C. Rees]

Many Rhodes

The Modern Traveller

Blood thought he knew the native mind;
He said you must be firm, but kind.
A mutiny resulted.
I shall never forget the way
That Blood stood upon this awful day
Preserved us all from death.
He stood upon a little mound
Cast his lethargic eyes around,
And said beneath his breath:
‘Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.’

Hilaire Belloc (1898)

One hundred years ago, the West had carved up the world. The carving had been done in a fit of absent mindedness by obscure men under obscure orders in obscure places. Better weaponry let small numbers of Europeans easily and cheaply massacre large numbers of spear wielding savages or traditional infantry levies. Because conquest was so easy and so cheap, more empire could be won with one twitch of miserly inertia than with all of the energy lavished on conquest in prior ages combined.

The world was freed from this New Imperialism after World War II. The West, impressed by the impact of its weapons on the non-West, turned those weapons on each other. Frustrated by the unprofitable impact of their first try, the West tried again twenty years later. Take two left them unable to pay the price of lordship so they abandoned their conquests, one by one. The United States of America, used to an anti-imperialist imperialism of indirect rule in its own half of the world, also discouraged its own clients from holding on to their empires. But the crucial contributor was the Soviet gift of freedom.

That this Soviet gift became a gift of freedom was an accident, an unforeseen consequence of the USSR’s own imperialism. The USSR mass produced cheap weapons. To further the Great Proletarian Revolution (and expand their own imperial sphere of influence), they pumped millions of these weapons to the colonial world. This incentivized casualty-averse Western colonial powers to hasten their exit and let the Soviet-backed rebels outgun the local non-communists.

Unfortunately for the USSR, greased palms undermined the inevitability of revolution. Weapons found their way out of the hands of reliable cadres and into the hands of the anything but reliable, strengthening non-communist resistance. The spread of its own weapons and the local resistance it enabled undermined Soviet imperial efforts, impaled the USSR on its own petard, and helped crumble it into the dustbin of history. The remnants of the USSR were left with a weapons surplus of weapons and little else except the capacity to manufacture more weapons. So weapons were flooded the world and further armed the peoples of the Earth.

The AK-47 assault rifle and its variants were based on a stolen Hun design. Kalashnikov reduced the complex Hun gun to a simple rugged weapon that could be repaired by the village blacksmith and convert any peasant into an instant praying and spraying Rambo. The RPG-7 was also based on a Hun design and provided simple and reliable firepower. Both weapons are well-adapted to simple tactics and simple training regimes.

Western weapons are more mechanically complex and assume greater tactical proficiency from their users than most Third World peasants can readily acquire. My youngest brother spent a lot of time in remote Nicaraguan villages. One local he met told him how the Sandinistas used to wait for the US to airdrop supplies to the contras. Then they’d pick off waiting contras and seize the supplies. They’d always discard the flaky M-16s, which they’d found unreliable for their needs. The beloved AK-47s, on the other hand, could fire until the barrel started to glow red and melt.

Add in a RPG for firepower, throw in an occasional PK machine gun, and you have the Soviet gift of freedom. This is the gift the Spartans sought to bestow in Peloponnesian War II : to “free the Greeks”. This wasn’t a gift of freedom to each individual Greek man, woman, or goat. It was a gift of freedom to each Greek polis: each polis would be freed of interference from other poleis who wanted to intervene in its affairs. This is the freedom local elites sought after World War II: the freedom to oppress their own people without fear of meddling from far off European colonial masters.

The Soviet gift of freedom ensures local oligarchic freedom by denying the option of easy intervention to the West. It allows enough resistance from local gunmen to cause serious political headaches back home. Western militaries have more military power and proficiency but operate under a more restrictive cultural, political, and strategic regime. They have less incentive to keep killing recalcitrant locals than local gunmen.

Spoilers don’t have enough power for hegemonic domination. But they may have enough power to frustrate and attrit a hegemonic power’s freedom to intervene or expand. To do this, gratuitous weapon exports can be a sensible stratagem for spoilers. Ubiquitous modern weaponry helps create heavily armed hedgehogs, turning each individual state into a potential case of hegemonic indigestion and each clump of states int a potential case of hegemonic diarrhea. If, like the USSR, a spoiler’s weapon designs are easily duplicated, others will copy them and spread them further, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of hegemonic frustration and attrition.

Hedgehogs may not directly further the spoiler’s power. Indeed, a spoiler may eventually have to deal with the hedgehogs it created. However, the proliferating effort can deny easy victories to the incumbent hegemons. A heavily armed world requires an expansive and interventionist hegemonic power to expensively and bloodily clear each corner of the globe and then expensively and bloodily patrolled to keep weapons from leaking back in. This Whack-A-Mole can accelerate hegemonic decline by bleeding them of lives, treasure, and, even more precious, attention, since they are constantly putting out fires in distant corners of their domain. While they are dispersed, the spoiler is focused. While their effort is fatally divided, the spoiler gets concentration of force. This creates opportunities for the spoiler.

Look, I’m sorry to be so blunt — II: all you need is math

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — global warming, global curriculum ]

you can turn an aircraft carrier pretty fast -- but the human population?


Bill McKibben has an article out in Rolling Stone, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, in which he says:

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math.

Well, no you don’t.

You need something closer to global understanding. Once you’ve gathered — via that “little math” — that we’re not on a sustainable track, you’ll need to understand a few other things. Like:

Look, I’m sorry to be so blunt, but… the problem isn’t understanding, it’s changing.

Psychology. Inwardness.

And I can’t speak for economy or ideology, but believe me — theology will have a role to play!

One bead for a rosary

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — one bead from NASA for the glass bead game as rosary ]

photo credit: Norman Kuring, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Consider her sacred, treat her with care.

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