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The Black Banners of Blackwater

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — minor, curious post on apocalyptic, conspiracism, jihad, graphics ]



There’s a long, conspiracist post on the “wake up project” that (among other things) declares that President Ahmadinejad is the “flag bearer of Imam Madhi’s army, insha’allah” andquotes a hadith of Imam Ali (with present-day comment in parens):

He that meets with Al Hashimi (i.e Hasan Nasrullah of Hezbollah)
with the Black Banners at his front is Shuayb, the son of Salih
who will engage As-Sufyani at the Gate of Istakhr —

and with a footnote that declares, “President Ahmadinejad is also the Tamimi Youth, al Mansur and the disputed Abdullah of the hadiths.”

So there’s something of a Shi’a perspective here, no?

What caught my eye, however, focused as I am on this black banner business, is the distinction the writer makes between two sets of black banners, the first of which apparently feature Blackwater:

“Before your treasure, three will kill each other —
all of them are sons of a different caliph but none will be the recipient.
Then the Black Banners will appear from the East
and they will kill you in a way that has never before been done by a nation.”


And in case we’re in any doubt, there’s a helpful link to the Blackwater/Xe banner (see at top of this post).

Thus more or less confirming the link between the Dajjal / Antichrist and Blackwater / Xe made in the Urdu book, Dajjal ka Lashkar – Blackwater / The Army of Antichrist: Blackwater to which Ibn Siqilli pointed us in 2009:


R2P is the New COIN: Slaughter’s Premises

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Part I. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I will be analyzing Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ideas about “Responsibility to Protect“doctrine, based on her Stanford Journal of International Law article, “Sovereignty and Power in a Networked World Order” in a series of posts order to better understand and critique the assumptions on which R2P rests. Before I begin, some caveats:

Reading these posts is no substitute for reading the article yourself and drawing your own conclusions. A truly remarkable paper of some 44 pages of academic prose, a blog review of Dr. Slaughter’s thesis, even in a series, will only be able to focus on her operative premises and not delve into every shade or nuance. Limitation of the medium, but readers are free to disagree or agree in the comments.

Dr. Slaughter is an IR theorist and international lawyer of eminent stature and her style of argumentation reflects both the strengths and the weaknesses of those fields.

On the empirical issue of general, trends in international affairs and conflict, I do not take issue with Dr. Slaughter’s assumptions about the rise of networked non-state actors, greater degrees of uncertainty, complexity and multipolarity among and within states and the systemic erosion of state legitimacy. Indeed, in a broad and fundamental sense, I share them as I think do most people studying irregular conflict, counterinsurgency, 4GW and hybrid wars. I take exception though to the truly radical legal and policy conclusions Slaughter draws from these trends, as well as her normative delight in their trajectory. It as if we both agree that the Westphalian house is on fire, but she is reaching for a jerrycan of gasoline in order to speed the process along.

Finally, in this series I intend to tackle her argument from a thematic perspective, addressing how Slaughter views core philosophical questions of authority, international law, sovereignty, legitimacy and power in inventing a “responsibility to protect” doctrine and what the logical extrapolation of her ideas entails. Slaughter structured her article differently, with these concepts interwoven as she made her case in five sections, with sovereignty being a dominant concept.

The first post will concentrate on Slaughter’s premises regarding the problem facing the international community and her proposed solution:

An excerpt from Dr. Slaughter summarizing her thesis in her introduction:

….Westphalian sovereignty faces two fundamental challenges in contemporary international relations….First, the ineffectiveness challenge….A State’s ability to control its own territory without external interference is no longer sufficient to allow it to govern its people effectively – to provide security, economic stability and a measure of prosperity, clean air and water, and even minimum health standards.

Second, is the interference challenge. The letter of Article 2(7) remain; the spirit is violated repeatedly and increasingly routinely. All of human rights law deliberately infringes on the domestic jurisdiction of every state, denying governments the freedom to torture, murder, “disappear”, or systematically discriminate against their own citizens. Moreover, throughout the the 1990’s the Security Council repeatedly found that the conditions prevailing within a state, from starvation in Somalia to political intimidation and massacre in East Timor, constituted a threat to international peace and security sufficient to require collective armed intervention, and should have made such a determination regarding the genocide in Rwanda. States can no longer assume that if they refrain from interfering in the affairs of other states they will remain free from interference themselves.

….In short, states can no longer govern effectively by being left alone. The converse proposition is equally true, although perhaps more startling: States can only govern effectively by actively cooperating with other states and by collectively reserving their power to intervene in other states’ affairs. The world has indeed turned upside down: small wonder that the concept of sovereignty needs to be redefined!

Startling, is a good description.

Slaughter’s first “fundamental challenge” pivots on an odd usage of the word “effective”. “Effective governance” here is defined by Slaughter as something other than a state’s actual physical control over the territory and population over which it asserts sovereignty. Explicitly, “effective governance” is then defined as the provision of modern public goods, presumably without resort to autarkic policies, as interdependence is one of her themes. 

To be fair to , there’s some merit to Slaughter’s consideration of the provision of public goods. States that face non-state actor challengers like Hezbollah who do fill social needs are thwarting their state opponents at the moral as well as the material level of conflict, winning over their loyalty and eroding the legitimacy of the state. So, if Dr. Slaughter was writing a manual on, say, psychological warfare or insurgency, she would have me on board here.

But, unfortunately, she isn’t. Slaughter is writing an article, ostensibly on international law, and a vague laundry list of economic items, a transient de facto state of public policy, strikes me as a poor foundation for a universal principle of law. By Slaughter’s standard, Mexico which provides public services, is democratically governed and economically  interdependent despite being strangled by a narco-insurgency of atavistic brutality, is “effectively governed”. Lebanon, whose government in is under the hegemony of Hezbollah is “effectively governed”. There’s a subsumed “correct” political economy embedded in the argument here by Slaughter; if a first world state decides to reject carbon footprint taxes, nationalized health care or privatizes it’s mail delivery, is it “ineffectively governed”?

At least the first challenge is relatively straightforward. Slaughter’s second “fundamental challenge” is an exercise in logical acrobatics.

Slaughter is correct that the spirit and at times the letter of international law (actual, real world, international law that has a chance of being followed, not R2P theory) is stretched to justify military intervention. She is also right that Rwanda’s genocide by the then radical Hutu regime constituted a threat to international peace and cried out for intervention, and the failure to do so resulted in not just genocide of the Tutsi people but ultimately an African WWI in the Congo basin. These two factually accurate examples are diametrically opposed to one another, yet somehow, they combine to arrive at the solution of institutionalizing military intervention in international law as a rule and not an exception. They are juxtaposed with the cases of Somalia, where no state, legitimate or otherwise, existed and East Timor, which was a case of de jure military aggression and annexation by Indonesia. The only thread tying all of these disparate examples together is a large pile of dead bodies.

Charnel house examples make for bad law, unless you have to govern a society of cannibals.

Finally, while boldly rejecting international law’s long established definition of sovereignty, Slaughter offers two easily falsifiable assertions, that states can no longer govern effectively by governing alone and that the ever present danger of arbitrary meddling by foreigners is a prerequisite for good governance. If so, Switzerland would be a Hobbesian hellhole today and Central America and the Caribbean islands would resemble tropical Singapores . The omnipresent threat of foreign meddling on religious grounds is what states ran away from screaming after the Thirty Year’s War, which may have killed up to a third of all the people in the Germanies.

Anne-Marie Slaughter proposes to restore that state of affairs on more secular grounds.

Next post – Slaughter on Authority and International Law.

ADDENDUM – Related posts:

Inkspots –R2P is NOT the new COIN, but Ulfelder is just as wrong as Safranski about why*

Fear, Honor and Interest –Geopolitics, Networks, and Complex Friction

R2P is the New COIN

Monday, September 19th, 2011


The weirdly astrategic NATO campaign in Libya intervening on the side of ill-defined rebels against the tyrannical rule of Libyan strongman Colonel Moammar Gaddafi brought to general public attention the idea of “Responsibility to Protect” as a putative doctrine for US foreign policy and an alleged aspect of international law. The most vocal public face of R2P, an idea that has floated among liberal internationalist IL academics and NGO activists since the 90’s, was Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Policy Planning Director of the US State Department and an advisor to the Obama administration. Slaughter, writing in The Atlantic, was a passionate advocate of R2P as a “redefinition of sovereignty” and debated her position and underlying IR theory assumptions with critics such as Dan Drezner, Joshua Foust, and Dan Trombly.

In all candor, I found Dr. Slaughter’s thesis to be deeply troubling but the debate itself was insightful and stimulating and Slaughter is to be commended for responding at length to the arguments of her critics. Hopefully, there will be greater and wider debate in the future because, in it’s current policy trajectory, R2P is going to become “the new COIN”.

This is not to say that R2P is a military doctrine, but like the rise of pop-centric COIN, it will be an electrifying idea that has the potential fire the imagination of foreign policy intellectuals, make careers for it’s bureaucratic enthusiasts and act as a substitute for the absence of a coherent American grand strategy. The proponents of R2P (R2Peons?) appear to be in the early stages of following a policy advocacy template set down by the COINdinistas, but their ambitions appear to be far, far greater in scope.

It must be said, that unlike R2P, an abstract theory literally going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, COIN was an adaptive operational and policy response to a very real geopolitical debacle in Iraq, in which the United States was already deeply entrenched. A bevy of military officers, academics, think tank intellectuals, journalists and bloggers – some of them genuinely brilliant – including John Nagl, Kalev Sepp, Con Crane, Jack Keane, David Petraeus, Michèle Flournoy, David Kilcullen, Fred and Kim Kagan, James Mattis, Montgomery McFate, Thomas Ricks, Andrew Exum,  the Small Wars Journal and others articulated, proselytized, reported, blogged and institutionalized a version of counterinsurgency warfare now known as “Pop-centric COIN“, selling it to a very reluctant Bush administration, the US Army and USMC, moderate Congressional Democrats and ultimately to President Barack Obama.

The COIN revival and veneration of counterinsurgent icons like Templer and Galula did not really amount a “strategy”; it was an operational methodology that would reduce friction with Iraqis by co-opting local leaders and, for the Bush administration, provide an absolutely critical political “breathing space” with the American public to reinvent an occupation of Iraq that had descended into Hell. For US commanders in Iraq, adopting COIN doctrine provided “the cover” to ally with the conservative and nationalistic Sunni tribes of the “Anbar Awakening” who had turned violently against al Qaida and foreign Salafist extremists. COIN was not even a good theoretical  model for insurgency in the 21st century, never mind a strategy, but adoption of COIN doctrine as an American political process helped, along with the operational benefits, to avert an outright defeat in Iraq. COIN salvaged the American political will to prosecute the war in Iraq to a tolerable conclusion; meaning that COIN, while imperfect, was “good enough”, which in matters of warfare, suffices.

During this period of time and afterward, a fierce COINdinista vs. COINtra debate unfolded, which I will not summarize here, except to mention that one COINtra point was that COINdinistas, especially those in uniform, were engaged in making, or at least advocating policy. For the military officers among the COINdinistas, this was a charge that stung, largely because it was true. Hurt feelings or no, key COINdinistas dispersed from Leavenworth, CENTCOM and military service to occupy important posts in Washington, to write influential books, op-eds and blogs and establish a think tank “home base” in CNAS. Incidentally, I mean this descriptively and not perjoratively; it is simply what happened in the past five years. The COINDinistas are no longer “insurgents” but are the “establishment”.

R2P is following the same COIN pattern of bureaucratic-political proselytization with the accomplished academic theorist Anne-Marie Slaughter as the “Kilcullen of R2P”. As with David Kilcullen’s theory of insurgency, Slaughter’s ideas about sovereignty and R2P, which have gained traction with the Obama administration and in Europe as premises for policy, need to be taken seriously and examined in depth lest we wake up a decade hence with buyer’s remorse. R2P is not simply a cynical fig leaf for great power intervention in the affairs of failed states and mad dictatorships like Gaddafi’s Libya, R2P is also meant to transform the internal character of great powers that invoke it into something else. That may be the most important aspect and primary purpose of the doctrine and the implications are absolutely profound.

Therefore, I am going to devote a series of posts to analyzing the journal article recommended by Dr. Slaughter, “Sovereignty and Power in a Networked World Order“,  which gives a more robust and precise explanation of her ideas regarding international relations, sovereignty, legitimacy, authority and power at greater length than is possible in her op-eds or Atlantic blog. I strongly recommend that you read it and draw your own conclusions, Slaughter’s argument is, after all, about your future.

ADDENDUM – Related Posts:

Slouching Toward Columbia – Guest post: Civilian Protection Policy, R2P, and the Way Forward

Phronesisaical –Dragging History into R2P

Dart-Throwing Chimp – R2P Is Not the New COIN

Committee of Public Safety –With Outstretched Arm | The Committee of Public Safety

Idle thoughts: on wars, justice and banking

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — reality, appearance and virtuality ]



These two phrases, wars and rumors of wars and done and seen to be done have apparently been rattling around in my head for long enough that they finally dodged all the other stuff about Mahdis and Glass Bead Games and met.

Okay, I’d already thought of the first one in terms of “Cameron’s Function”:

f(x) = x + rumors of x           (i)

because it seemed to “apply” to other things than war — the instance that gave me that insight was the run-up to the Year 2000, during which it became abundantly clear that rumors of bank runs were precisely what bank runs themselves were about — which in turn became my classic instance of the need for mapping that “crossed over” between the subjective and objective realms — or morale and materiel, as I called them in a recent post.

And so here comes “Cameron’s Function #2”:

f(x) = x + seen to be x         (ii)

What I’m wondering now is whether the two of them are essentially the same “function” — any thoughts? They’re twins — but are they identical?

Ali Soufan: AQ, Khorasan and the Black Banners

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — yet more black banners, Khorasan, Jerusalem and Armageddon, with the usual strategic implications ]

It’s beginning to be embarrassing how obvious the Khorasan / black banner / Mahdism meme is getting these days.  Earlier this week I pointed it out as the basic through-line of Syed Saleem Shahzad‘s Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11. Today it’s Ali Soufan‘s turn.

In his book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al-Qaeda — which I hope to review here — Soufan too makes the apocalyptic significance of AQ’s jihad painfully apparent. Take his title, for instance

Black banners, eh?

Those would presumably be the ones mentioned to Soufan by Abu Jandal, who began to quote the hadith:

If you see the black banners coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them —

at which point Soufan broke in and completed the hadith for him:

— and they will finally read Baitul Maqdis [Jerusalem], where they will erect their flags.

And in case you missed it, that’s an explicitly end-times, Mahdist hadith, as you can see from (eg) this Hizb-ut-Tahrir-associated site:

Messenger of Allah said: “If you see the Black Banners coming from Khurasan go to them immediately, even if you must crawl over ice, because indeed amongst them is the Caliph, Al Mahdi.” [Narrated on authority of Ibn Majah, Al-Hakim, Ahmad]

Soufan goes on to say:

I was to hear that reputed hadith from many al-Qaeda members I interrogated. It was one of al-Qaeda’s favorites.

Khurasan is a term for a historical region spanning northeastern and eastern Iran and parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern Pakistan. Because of the hadith, jihadists believe that this is the region from which they will inflict a major defeat against their enemies — in the Islamic version of Armageddon. Bin Laden’s 1996 declaration of war against the United States – a main text for al-Qaeda members – ends with the dateline “Friday, August 23, 1996, in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan.” It’s not a coincidence that bin Laden made al-Qaeda’s flag black; he also regularly cited the hadith and referenced Khurasan when recruiting, motivating, and fundraising. Al-Qaeda operatives I interrogated were often convinced that, by joining al-Qaeda, they were fulfilling the words of the Prophet.

It is an indication of how imperfectly we know our enemy that to most people in the West, and even among supposed al-Qaeda experts, the image of the black banners means little…

I could go on, but that’s surely enough.


And by the way, who is that man on the cover, anyway?


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