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Archive for August, 2007

Saturday, August 25th, 2007


Lt. Colonel John Nagl, author of Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife and and the new Counterinsurgency Field Manual, had a very effective performance on a segment of The Daily Show. Colonel Nagl carried the whole effort off quite deftly.

John Stewart’s show reaches an enormous segment of the American population that only tangentially consumes news media information, More than likely, the viewers were hearing things from Nagl about warfare and Iraq for the first time that have been discussed on blogs and at The SWC for years but have been below the media radar. Certainly, host John Stewart seemed engaged in the topic and impressed.

Hat tip to Dave Dilegge of the The Small Wars Journal.

Friday, August 24th, 2007


Eric Martin who blogs at TIA and American Footprints has a guest-post at The Newshoggers entitled “Guest Post – Who’s Killing The Clerics Of Najaf? “. An excerpt:

“The situation in Najaf for Iraq’s premier Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani,
has been growing rather precarious as of late:

Four aides to Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have been killed in Al-Najaf over the past two months, raising many questions as to the safety of Iraq’s supreme Shi’ite leader and the motives of the perpetrators of the attacks.

According to media reports, aides to Iraq’s three other grand ayatollahs have also been threatened. “The assassination operations are organized and big resources are allocated [to carry them out], which makes it difficult to accuse any local side of being behind” the attacks, the assistant director of the office of Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, Muwaffaq Ali, told the London-based “Al-Hayat” this week.

This is a story that I have been attempting to track over at my other blogospheric venues, but it is an opaque tale of shifting political intrigue that defies easy analysis. For example, it is still unclear which party (or parties) has been behind this series of assassinations, and to what purpose (or purposes). The first two or three killings were thought to be the work of Moqtada al-Sadr’s forces – which is completely plausible in at least one of those cases (especially given the history between Sadr’s forces and the target in the third killing). But this is speculation, and by no means a given. Such uncertainty is quite remarkable given the stakes involved (and the fact that, generally speaking, parties seeking to send a message in such a manner want the targeted group to know who the sender was). “

Read the whole thing.

Friday, August 24th, 2007


A while back, while sitting around an alcohol -laden table with Dan of tdaxp, Shlok and Isaac and listening to an evolving debate (primarily between Dan and Isaac) over the probable nature of AI, references to William Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer were made. I then chimed in that I had never read the book – a statement that was greeted with surprise and some degree of mock horror. This had happened to me once before with Dave Schuler and Lexington Green, except that in that instance the author was Philip K. Dick and the book then was The Man in the High Castle. Evidently, something about having drinks with fellow bloggers is a spur to my reading classic science fiction.

Admittedly, I am not a great reader of fiction, at least if ” great” means ” broadly read”. As a youth, I did dive deeply into J.R.R. Tolkien, Ayn Rand and George Orwell – I’ve probably read every word ever published by the first two authors and much by the third. Russian lit figures prominently, especially Dostoyevskii and Solzhenitsyn. Of American writers, I’ve read a scattering of Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck and a few others, but none systematically or deeply.

I’ve meant to read Quo Vadis, Don Quixote and Blood Meridian for years and have yet to do so. I have only a few works of Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Koestler, Balzac and Victor Hugo under my belt. The reason being that for me, the siren call of non-fiction is all too strong. There are too many important books that ” must” be read ASAP, piled on top of others that ” should” be read; picking up good fiction under those conditions almost feels like shirking a responsibility.

I say this as a preface to acknowledging how much I enjoyed reading Neuromancer. While the book is old hat to sci-fi fans, it came as a fresh voice to me, mixed with an unfolding appreciation of how Gibson’s fictional efforts have influenced or anticipated the evolution of the culture. Movies, TV shows, references, characters all flashed through my mind as I read it and Gibson’s economy of explanation allowed my mind the freedom to engage the text and fill in the blanks. Reticence is a vital skill that few authors ever manage to master but Gibson has it. I’m sorry that I didn’t read the book back in the early 1980’s when the novelty of the book’s imaginative scenario were at peak.

Isaac has pointed me toward Pattern Recognition and I now have an itch for Spook Country as well. If you have read Gibson’s books, what do you think of them and what titles do you favor ?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007


Here’s the news story.

The SWJ Blog links to the IG Report executive summary. (PDF)

Here are a few reactions ( originally, I planned a wide spectrum of blogospheric opinion but found too much of it to be simpleminded, partisan, blather, so I stuck with the available informed commentary):

Haft of the Spear:

“They are basically saying that not only were parts of the system broken, anyone with half a wit should have been able to see that and take action (or at least raise an alarm). That no one bothered says that either leadership was not all it was cracked up to be, or that the way the system treats squeaky wheels is such that no one – witless or not – thought raising a stink was worth the risk. Stupidity and fear, fortunately, are not excuses.”

Sic Semper Tyrannis:

The CIA like the DIA failed miserably to penetrate the apparatus of the takfiri jihadi networks. Such penetrations would have enabled the US to anticipate coming jihadi actions.
Once again it will be said that penetrating these groups is “too hard to do.” Rubbish. I know better. Why were these groups not penetrated?

Timidity. Fear of Risks, Bureaucratic inertia. Poor leadership at the top in all the significant organizations. Has anything changed? I doubt it. If it had, bin Laden would be dead by now.

When a system is fundamentally broken you do not need to simply look for loose bolts or missing parts or even a new mechanic ( though firing an old one might be a useful message to send to their replacement) – what you do is find some engineers and a drawing board.

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007


Beltway based Pundita observes:

The US is fighting a war in a region where we’ve been very hostile to two countries bordering the war zone. Pundita is of the mind that the top priority is to win the war, and for that we need all the help we can get.

Right now Syria’s government is overwhelmed with looking after refugees from Iraq. So I would try offering Syria considerable help in exchange for vigilance with foreign travelers.

When it comes to asking Iran and Syria for help with Iraq, I see too much halfhearted trying from the US, then waving of hands and saying, ‘See, they won’t deal.’ Try harder.”

I agree. Iran and Syria are nasty regimes whose actions we must often oppose but where they are willing to cut some fair deals we should get down to business. Freezing Castro in the diplomatic equivalent of absolute zero has only served to help preserve his Communist- caudillo regime until the dictator’s old age while irritating most of our allies and trading partners. Do we really want a 92 year old Bashar Assad still in power someday ?

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