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Archive for April 17th, 2012

Recommended Reading & Viewing

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Top Billing! Tempo Blog (Venkat Rao) – Hacking Grand Narratives and Trigger Narratives and the Nuclear Option 

While both of these are thought-provoking, strategic theorist types will prefer the former while the national security/historically minded will gravitate to the latter. An excerpt from “Hacking”:

….Going from narrative to Grand Narrative is a scaling problem. There are conceptual issues as well as pure scale issues.

I first encountered a good characterization of this individual-to-collective scaling problem in the philosophy of action/AI literature around intentions.

The classic Bratman Belief-Desire-Intention model is great for thinking about individual decision makers, but there are tricky problems when you jump to collectives, especially if you are trying to define things with sufficient formal rigor to support AI projects. Here is a good 1992 paper by Bratman if you want a starting point for exploration. I am sure there’s been more in the 20 years since.

Two solutions that have been pursued by the philosophy/AI community (I haven’t kept up) are the following. The first is to think in terms of the abstraction of “collective intentions.” The second is a trickier approach that relies on the distinction between “Intent To” and “Intent That.” The former refers to intentions to be pursued by the agent holding the intention, while the latter is a sort of supporting intention. I intend to make dinner tonight, I intend that X is the next President.

….The problem of scaling intention theory and notions of agency to collectives is one of the conceptual challenges for a theory of Grand Narrative as well. I am inclining towards the former strategy. I think it is safe to reify “nation” or “business” into collective constructs and apply archetype-thinking to them. So Uncle Sam might be the hero of the Manifest Destiny Grand Narrative that spanned the century between the Civil War and World War II. There are of course serious and tricky traps hidden in this process, but it is somewhat useful most of the time. 

Foreign Policy (Olivier Roy) – The New Islamists


A must read piece by one of the world’s noted scholars on Islamist politics

….The debate over Islam and democracy used to be a chicken-and-egg issue: Which came first?  Democracy has certainly not been at the core of Islamist ideology. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has historically been strictly centralized and obedient to a supreme guide, who rules for life. And Islam has certainly not been factored into promotion of secular democracy. Indeed, skeptics long argued that the two forces were even anathema to each other.

But the outside world wrongly assumed that Islam would first have to experience a religious reformation before its followers could embark on political democratization — replicating the Christian experience when the Protestant Reformation gave birth to the Enlightenment and then modern democracy. In fact, however, liberal Muslim intellectuals had little impact in either inspiring or directing the Arab uprisings. The original protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square referred to democracy as a universal concept, not to any sort of Islamic democracy.

The development of both political Islam and democracy now appears to go hand-in-hand, albeit not at the same pace. The new political scene is transforming the Islamists as much as the Islamists are transforming the political scene.

SWJ Blog– Disruptive Thinkers: More Thoughts on Disruption and National Security and Disruptive Thinkers: The PME Debate Needs More Informed Thinkers and Disruptive Thinkers and Opportunistic Leadership 

Too much here to excerpt. Just go disrupt your thinking by reading them.

AFJ – (Robert Killebrew) –A NEW KIND OF WARFARE

On Jan. 16, Gelareh Bagherzadeh, a 30-year-old Iranian medical student, was shot and killed while sitting in her car outside her parents’ home in Houston. Neighbors heard three quick shots in the night. Her purse and cellphone were found in the car, the engine still running.

No suspects have been apprehended and no motive for the murder has been established at this writing. But Bagherzadeh was politically active in the Iranian green movement and women’s causes, and the execution-style killing of a young Iranian dissident in the U.S. should ring some alarm bells 

Inkspots (Gulliver) – The real threat of hybrid conflict 

Gulliver is leveling a Clausewitzian criticism of the use of Frank Hoffman’s “Hybrid” concept (though not only his use of the term) – I have some disagreements but Gulliver also makes some solid points.

Nearly all wars are a strategic hybrid: a mix of violent action, diplomacy, and messaging, combining destruction, coercion, and persuasion. The modern hybrid war construct implies that future conflict will take on a more tactically hybrid character: that states will employ guerilla tactics in concert with heavy weapons, or that sub-state groups will use sophisticated weapons hand-in-hand with terrorism and insurgency.

You see, as Conrad Crane has said before (and as I love to repeat), there are only two kinds of war: asymmetric and stupid. Capable adversaries will always seek to capitalize on their own strengths and focus on our weaknesses. The hybrid concept simply tells us that violent actors will seek to diversify their capabilities and become less predictable by employing weapons and tactics more frequently associated with different parts of the sophistication and organization spectrum. 

Fast TransientsBoyd’s Really Real OODA Loop

Chuck Spinney -“The Afghan Disaster – Wait Till the War Really Comes Home” 

Project White Horse – Air War Vietnam: Remembrance at 40 Years – All Days Come From One Day 

Gunpowder & Lead (Diana Wueger) The Growing Threat to Saudi Intellectuals: The Case of Hamza Kashgari 

Michigan War Studies ReviewThe Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA and The Arc of War: Origins, Escalation, and Transformation

PARAMETERS(Ralph Peters) In Praise of Attrition and (Steven Metz) New Challenges and Old Concepts: Understanding 21st Century Insurgency

This issue of PARAMETERS is particularly good.


This is a must-watch video.

Dr. Charli Carpenter of Duck of Minerva has a visually stunning presentation about the impact of social media on IR as a discipline, injecting a burst of creativity and relevancy into a field that can be at times – well – a little insular and arid – and made it cool.  Dr. Charli also has commentary here. Hat tip to Dr. Drezner:


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