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Oh, the Trumpian DoubleQuotes I’ve missed!

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — praise of Bruce Hoffman’s review of The Exile (ie Osama bin Laden) — interrupted by Trumpist verbal pyrotechnics ]
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Saif al-Adel, key AQ operative

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War on the Rocks has a tremendous review by Bruce Hoffman of Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight, a must-read.

Never mind that, I’ve been missing tremendous DoubleQuote opportunities, as I discover now I’ve seen Kathryn and Ross PetrasTrump’s Elements of Style in McSweeney’s. Consider some of my options:

I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.
— interview, Sean Hannity, 4/13/16

I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world. Nobody knows more about taxes.
— interview, AP 5/13/16

I know more about ISIS [the Islamic State militant group] than the generals do. Believe me.
— speech, 11/12/15

There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.
— speech, 6/15/16

And then:

I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.
— TALK1300 radio interview, 4/14/11

I have a great relationship the Mexican people. I love them, they love me!
— MSBNC interview, 7/8/15

I have a great relationship with the people of Scotland and an unbelievably good relationship with the people of Aberdeen.
— press conference 6/8/15

And, for good measure, assuming you can stretch this far:

What I like is build a safe zone in Syria. Build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is so people can live…
— campaign rally, 2/13/17

We’re going to have beautiful clean coal.
— CPAC address, 2/24/16

And then again:

I have had tremendous success.
— interview, ABC News, 7/30/16

I am worth a tremendous amount of money
— interview, CNN 6/26/15

I have a tremendous income.
— presidential debate, 9/26/16

I pay tremendous numbers of taxes
— presidential debate, 10/9/16

I have to admit, those last four — besides being a tremendous source of potential DoubleQuotes — is and are beautifully consistent. But do yourself a favor, unless I’ve displeased you, and go read the whole of the McSweeney piece.

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I believe I mentioned Bruce Hoffman’s review of The Exile for War on the Rocks? One among many items of interest in that book would appear to be the significant role played by Saif al-Adel (see illustration above). Hamid Gul and Qassem Suleimani likewise. A key para:

This tale of Iranian connivance provides additional evidence debunking the popular misconception that extremists do not cooperate across sectarian lines. Rather, it demonstrates how when interests overlap, they have repeatedly shown a remarkable ability to cast aside their otherwise rigid differences to work together. The ancient proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has long characterized the shifting and sometimes inexplicable alliances formed across the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia since the war on terrorism commenced 16 years ago. In this instance, the intensity of the shared enmity between Salafi-Jihadi Sunnis and Shia militants against the United States can never be prudently forgotten.

A tie strong enough to bind Sunni and Shia together — their joint hatred of America? For those of us who take a keen interest in religion and love America, that’s a notion that may take quite some time to digest.

Mattis and Kim: mirrors have consequences

Friday, April 21st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — the current nuclear standoff, with a coda on silver beech and copper birch ]
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I spend a fair amount of time suggesting that formal characteristics found in events are frequently worth special note, and mirroring is a good example. Here, in Why Mattis versus Kim Jong-Un Will End Badly for Us All, War on tnhe Rocks indicates the potential (and potent) peril of mirroring in the context of our latest Korean adventure:

Inadvertent war in Korea is more likely now than at any point in recent history. Whereas a second Korean war has always been possible, clashing U.S. and North Korean “theories of victory” — beliefs about what it takes to successfully coerce and control escalation — now make it plausible, even probable.

Patterns of bluster and brinkmanship have of course long characterized affairs on the Korean Peninsula. For “Korea watchers,” there’s a perverse comfort in the predictability of a situation that, to the uninitiated, sometimes looks anything but stable.

So on some level, the rhythm of recent saber-rattling between the Trump administration and North Korea recalls the perverse comfort of typical Korea policy. On a recent visit to South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence cited U.S. attacks in Syria and Afghanistan as indications of U.S. resolve against North Korea. This statement followed numerous officials confirming that the administration is contemplating preventive strikes against the North, and a recent policy review on North Korea yielding one overarching imperative: “maximum pressure.” North Korea’s rhetoric and posturing has been no less confrontational and no less familiar. As Pence departed Alaska for South Korea, North Korea attempted a submarine-launched ballistic missile test that failed. Upon news that a U.S. carrier group was headed to its neighborhood, North Korea responded that “a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment” and that it’s “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

These words and deeds themselves are more heated than usual, but unremarkable in the context of all that’s come before. North Korea routinely threatens war, often summoning images of a future mushroom cloud. The United States routinely dispatches aircraft carriers, bombers, and other strategic military assets in hopes of signaling resolve while actually registering little more than displeasure with North Korean behavior. The notion of “maximum pressure,” moreover, only differs from the approach of past U.S. presidents in the ambiguous adjective “maximum.” Pressure is the historical mean of U.S. policy toward North Korea. My concern is not with these observable dynamics to date, but rather with what lies beneath them, and what may be coming soon as a consequence.

It’s getting harder to ignore that the Pentagon, under Secretary Jim Mattis, may have a coercive theory of victory that largely mirrors that of North Korea under Kim Jong-Un. The danger is in the fundamental incompatibility of these disturbingly similar sets of strategic beliefs.

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Smoke and the hall of mirrors, a digression:

An excellent place for final confrontations with heroes, the Hall Of Mirrors wins high marks for ease of use. All you have to do is lure your victim inside by dashing in yourself, and then cackle with glee as they find you reflected back not once but a thousand times… When you have had your fun, seal the exits and fill the cramped space with some kind of liquid. Plain water works as well as anything, but why not add food dye for color. Or, for a touch of whimsy, use a sickeningly sweet fruit punch.

Neil Zawacki, How to Be a Villain, in TV Tropes: Hall of Mirrors

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Mirroring sets up an echo chamber — consider the myth of Narcissus** — which is also a sort of ping-pong game and a feedback machine —

and hence a magnifier or an accelerator. It can allm too easily howl out of control, with — in this case — nuclear consequences.

** Narcissus sees his reflection, Echo echos his voice back to him, thus the myth encompasses a parallelism between visual and aural self-perceptions in a wonderful act of inter-media symmetry.

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Form is the decorative act of the creative mind, adding to meaning by the use of devices of art in the way the materials of the art are deployed — as when the poet notes (specifically) beech and birch trees in a wood, delighted by the verbal felicity between the two words, or Coppola matches helicopter rotors against the blades of a hotel room fan in the beginning of Apocalypse Now.

And then the delight triples with the addition of a metallic match:

But again, I digress..

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Double & SingleQuoting Syria

Friday, April 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — who like Ryan Evans has more questions than answers ]
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This, for the use of the DoubleQuotes format:

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Okay, undeclared warfare has clearly been declared, if it hadn’t been already: maybe someone should tell Congress —

In the meantime, consider:

together with:

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Reaction from the furthest right in two tweets:

together with:

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And just for the sheer fun of it — no DoubleQuote here!

Chet Richards on “Who Still Reads Boyd?”

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Dr. Chet Richards had an excellent blog post on the continuing relevance of Colonel John Boyd’s strategic concepts:

Who still reads Boyd?

Apparently the Russians. In “The Moscow School of hard knocks: Key pillars of Russian strategy,” 17 Jan 2017,  CNA analyst and former NDU program manager Michael Kofman
offers vivid illustrations of ideas that Boyd developed in his various papers and presentations (all available on our Articles page).  He doesn’t cite Boyd, but you’ll recognize the concepts.

I have no idea of how Kofman came across these ideas — Boyd has nine pages of sources at the end of Patterns of Conflict, so he isn’t claiming that he thought most of them up. Regardless of how Kofman discovered them, he establishes that they certainly do work, but unfortunately not for us.

For example, when describing Russia’s overall approach to strategy, he notes that

Russia’s leadership is pursuing an emergent strategy common to business practice and the preferred path of startups, but not appreciated in the field of security studies. The hallmarks of this approach are fail fast, fail cheap, and adjust. It is principally Darwinian, prizing adaptation over a structured strategy.

This should leap out at anyone even casually familiar with Boyd since Patterns of Conflict cites the theory of evolution by natural selection as one of its two foundations (war is the other).

Boyd’s whole approach to strategy was emergent. This is clear not only from how he uses strategy but in how he defines the term, at the end of Strategic Game:

A mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests.

In other words, there is an overall objective — it’s not just random actions, even very rapid actions, for action’s sake — and the pattern emerges as our “efforts” interact with the “unfolding and often unforeseen world.” You see a similar philosophy in Kofman’s description of the Russian approach:

This is confusing to follow when Russia’s goals are set, and yet operational objectives change as they run through cycles of adaptation. It is also a method whereby success begets success and failure is indecisive, simply spawning a new approach.

Compare to Patterns 132: “Establish focus of main effort together with other effort and pursue directions that permit many happenings, offer many branches, and threaten alternative objectives. Move along paths of least resistance (to reinforce and exploit success).”

Why take such an approach? Right after his definition of strategy, Boyd suggests an answer:

Read the rest here

Thucydides Roundtable, Addendum: Hoffman on Reading Thucydides

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Image result for frank hoffman

Dr. Frank Hoffman

‘Tis the season for Thucydides. At War on the Rocks, military scholar and theorist Frank Hoffman argues that we give The Peloponnesian War a read, but do it with a critical eye.

THUCYDIDES: READING BETWEEN THE LINES

…His insights have proven invaluable to serious students attempting to understand the past and apply it to the present and future. But much of this reputation is based on Thucydides’ purportedly dispassionate style, attention to detail, and perceived objectivity. We often take him at his word that “those who want to understand clearly” the history he recounts. For example, Princeton’s James McPherson has stated that he relies on Thucydides “because he is a more careful, precise, and trustworthy historian who does not try to go beyond the evidence.” Williamson Murray, the strategic historian, appreciates and endorses the Greek author because he was able to examine with honesty and ruthlessness the reality of war—not glory, not colorful parades, little but desolation and tragedy, yet a fundamental and everlasting part of the human tableau.

Yet, while we can admire his realism, how ruthlessly honest was Thucydides in his analysis?

As the distinguished Yale classicist Donald Kagan shows in his impressive Thucydides: The Reinvention of History, the ancient Athenian is not simply the detached historian we have come to think he was. After he was exiled for presiding over the embarrassing loss of Amphipolis in 424 BC, Thucydides had much time to ponder the war. However, he was also biased by his close association with critical key participants, including Pericles. Murray later admitted that our good Greek admiral was capable of “loading the dice” a few times in his perceptions of what occurred. Murray himself points out the Pericles’ famous speech as recalled by Thucydides “proved more flawed in its long-range analysis of the future.” It is hard to disagree with Mark Gilchrist, who argues that Athenian strategic rationality declined, but we should also recognize it was not perfect to start with.

Read the rest here.

It is a fair point that Thucydides was a critic of his country but an admirer of the Periclean regime; in fact, he was something of an apologist for Pericles personally. The Democracy, in Thucydides view, functioned well only so long as the wise hand of Pericles was there to steer the ship of state. As Hoffman explained, eminent classicist Donald Kagan has gone further, arguing that Thucydides was the first revisionist historian. It seems at least fair to me to say that Thucydides is more concerned with the crimes and folly of the Athenian politicians who exiled him than those of their Spartan enemies. It is also arguable that Thucydides knew Athenian elite society far more intimately than he knew the leadership classes of the Spartans, Corinthians, Argives or Persians and his narrative inevitably unfolded accordingly.

A critical eye is useful indeed.


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