zenpundit.com » 2012 » November » 20

Archive for November 20th, 2012

The Sufism of Zen

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron -- double-quoting a remark taken from Zen's most recent post with a Sufi teaching tale out of Idries Shah ]
.


.

Zen Zenpundit, Mark Safranski (above) that is — had a powerful comment about “the emaciated Somali followers of a two-bit warlord, Mohammed Farah Aidid, gleefully swarming over and looting our military’s former…. garbage dump” tucked away in his recent post on Strategy, Power and Diffusion:

When the enemy has a land so poor that he treasures and makes use of the crap you throw away, the economic spillover of your logistical supply lines will fund his war against you.

That’s a pretty profound statement about different levels of disparity, if you ponder it a bit. And worth pondering.

*

And it reminds me of Idries Shah‘s lovely story The Food of Paradise, in which a fellow named Yunus, son of Adam sets out to find the source, the original source, of food.

Sitting by a riverbank to consider the matter, he spies a package floating downstream, rescues it, and find that it contains a delicious halwa “composed of almond paste, rosewater, honey and nuts and other precious elements” – surely a gift of providence — which he then eats. The next day, at the same time, a second package appears – and each day thereafter he wades further upstream, in search of the miraculous giver, each day receiving and appreciating the gift.

In time he comes to an island with a high tower, from a high window of which a maiden is casting out, each day, the packaged halwa which is to him the food of paradise. After considerable efforts involving a mirror stone and an army of jinn, he manages to present himself to this princess, and asks her:

How, and by what order, is the Food of Paradise, the wonderful halwa which you throw down every day for me, ordained to be deposited thus?

to which she replies:

Yunus, son of Adam, the halwa, as you call it, I throw down each day because it is in fact the residue of the cosmetic materials with which I rub myself every day after my bath of asses’ milk.

**

You can read the whole tale with many others in Idries Shah’s Tales of the Dervishes, or here on the alhaddad blog.

Share

An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941 — a review-lite and a few questions

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941, by Charles E. Kirkpatrick

Mr. Kirkpatrick’s little book provides an excellent primer to the formulation of the United States’ WWII strategy and a refreshing insight into the education of an master strategist, the focus of this post. At 138 pages (plus bibliography/index), Kirkpatrick provides an overview of the enormous contribution of Major Albert C. Wedemeyer, then attached to the War Plans Division, the Army chief of staff’s strategic planners. In the spring of 1941, General George C. Marshall wanted a “more clear-cut strategic estimate of our situation”. Wedemeyer placed his work in the context of four questions:

1. What is the national objective of the United States?
2. What military strategy will be devised to accommodate the national objective?
3. What military forces must be raised in order to execute that military strategy?
4. How will those forces be constituted, equipped, and trained?

Wedemeyer understood that number 4 was not possible without a clear understanding of 1 through 3. Number 1 did not exist (probably still does not), so Wedemeyer made his best guess. Wedemeyer placed his task in context and produced a plan in the prescribed 90 days (!).

No Ordinary Major

Wedemeyer was no ordinary major. He was a voracious reader and student of history; familiar with Clauzewitz, von der Glotz, Fuller and Sun Tzu. He was fortunate to have a mentor (who happened also to become his father-in-law), MG Stanley Embick. Embick encouraged Wedemeyer to “organize discussion groups of officers during the years on Corregidor. Professional reading served as the context for such social gatherings of Wedemeyer’s peers intelligent and articulate men who met periodically to discuss current events, the books they had been reading, and professional interests.”

Wedemeyer was an honor graduate of the Command and General Staff College, and his performance earned him the opportunity to attended the Kriegsakademie, the German staff college. However, coupled with impressive academic preparations, Kirkpatrick writes that Wedemeyer’s curiosity exposed him to a “kaleidoscope” of ideas and methods. Kirkpatrick summed-up Wedemeyer: “Competence as a planner thus emerged as much from conscientious professional study as from formal military education…” Going on to say:

In common with many of his peers, much of Wedemeyer’s professional and intellectual education was less the product of military schooling than of personal initiative and experience in the interwar Army.

Wedemeyer’s intellectual development was purposeful and paid off. In Wedemeyer’s deep study of his profession he used the prescribed paths, but also explored on his own. How common is that today? What is the real intellectual foundation supporting our professional warriors? Is it the minimum one will glean from the service schools, or we encouraging our people to go a step further.  In an earlier post I wondered aloud, and echoed a remark posed by Jon Sumida with respect to Alfred Thayer Mahan:

“It remains to be seen whether readers exist with the mind and will to accept his guidance on what necessarily is an arduous intellectual and moral voyage into the realm of war and politics.” (emphasis added)

Against this backdrop, Tom Ricks in an interview at the Washington Post said:

The U.S. Army is a great institution. The rebuilding of the U.S. Army after the Vietnam War was an epic struggle and was enormously successful. Today we have great frontline soldiers. They are well equipped, they are well trained and they are in cohesive units.

The problem is at the very top. This magnificent rebuilding of the U.S. military after Vietnam really did recreate the force, but they kept the old head. The one thing they didn’t really change after Vietnam was how they shaped their generals. What we got was a generation of officers who thought tactically and not strategically. It’s the difference between being trained and being educated. You train people for known attacks. You educate people for the unknown, the complex, the ambiguous, the difficult situation. (emphasis added)

No intention of singling out the Army, I would cast the net of this question to include the other services, and ask whether we have Major Wedemeyer Majors/Lieutenant Commanders in the pipeline. If we do, are we nurturing and encouraging them? How many of our professional warriors study independently, and like Wedemeyer host/encourage frequent independent fellowship/discussions around books and ideas independent of the academy? As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is no app for intellectual development. We should at least expose our officers to the Wedemeyer method, if you will, and go deeper than service schools, blogs, and the constant chatter in our information laden world. Colleagues gathering to discuss and debate; educating and enlightening each other.

On strategy, Kirkpatrick quotes Wedemeyer:

…strategy, properly conceived, thus seemed to me to require transcendence of the narrowly military perspectives that the term traditionally implied. Strategy required systematic consideration and use of all the so-called instruments of policy–political, economic, psychological, et cetera, as well as military–in pursuing national objectives. Indeed, the nonmilitary factors deserved unequivocal priority over the military, the latter to be employed only as a last resort.

Wedemeyer’s net was wide and comprehensive and worthy of emulation. While his accomplishment(s) are impressive, so was his preparation.

Wedemeyer went on to a successful Army career, retiring as a 4-star. In 1985, he was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan. (See the New York Times obituary.)

This is an important and accessible introduction to the nuts-and-bolts of strategic planning and has my strongest recommendation.

A free electronic copy can be found here (pdf).

Share

Describing Ahmed al-Jabari, with a side of traffic patterns

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron -- this began with two quotes about the killing of Ahmed al-Jabari and ended up reminding me of traffic flows ]
.

So very much depends on nuance, doesn’t it? There are, after all, one-way streets and two-way streets:

Surely there’s more nuance in describing al-Jabari as “the man responsible both for the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his release a year ago” than as “directly responsible for the deaths of many Israelis and for the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit”.

**

Does that mean that abducting Gilad Shalit and releasing Gilad Shalit cancel each other out?

In my opinion, not.

But if in this case, (x) plus (-x) does not equal 0, it’s because that “plus” doesn’t represent an addition, it represents an incarceration — one in which Shalit himself was “cared for” under Jabari’s instructions, according to Gershon Baskin in his own NYT piece, Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination

No, Mr. Jabari was not a man of peace; he didn’t believe in peace with Israel and refused to have any direct contact with Israeli leaders and even nonofficials like me. My indirect dealings with Mr. Jabari were handled through my Hamas counterpart, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, who had received Mr. Jabari’s authorization to deal directly with me. Since Mr. Jabari took over the military wing of Hamas, the only Israeli who spoke with him directly was Mr. Shalit, who was escorted out of Gaza by Mr. Jabari himself. (It is important to recall that Mr. Jabari not only abducted Mr. Shalit, but he also kept him alive and ensured that he was cared for during his captivity.)

Cared for, maybe — but still incarcerated.

In street terms, there are times when a multi-lane two-way street gets divided so that perhaps three lanes go one way and only one the other — when, in moral terms, there’s no moral equivalency, but still some truth, some justice on both sides. That’s the sort of situation that calls for even more nuance… some of which, to my mind, Baskin provides with what is essentially a “no, but” formulation — no, Jabari was not a man of peace, but, it is important to recall…

**

Look, I think the ability to envision flow patterns is one of the keys to understanding complicated and complex situations — and graphics does a better job of it than linear thinking. Contraflow lane reversal is an interesting example:

Credit: Matthew Hausknecht et al., Dynamic Lane Reversal in Traffic Management

Neither General Gordon nor the Mahdi lived to see this one:

The White Nile Bridge connecting Khartoum, Sudan and Omdurman, with 4 lanes total. Traffic is generally directed equally, 2 lanes to Khartoum and to lanes from except in the morning, where it’s 3 lanes towards Khartoum, and in the evening, 3 lanes towards Omdurman.

**

Of course, you don’t want your efforts to make an unexpected Dynamic Lane Reversal and blow back on you.

Credit: Blowback contraflow by Charles Cameron, h/t Matthew Hausknecht et al

But that at least seemed to be James Zogby‘s concern, when he wrote:

One can only wonder whether when the Israelis made the decision to assassinate Ahmed al Jabari they were foolish enough to assume that their attack would be the end of it. Having been down this same road before, where assassinations only led to escalation and then full-scale hostilities, one might have hoped that someone in the Israeli high command would have recalled 2008 or 2006 (and so many other tragic, bloody episodes in the past) and cautioned that “no good will come of this.” When I heard an Israeli Ambassador tonight saying that “we must finish them off, so we can sit with moderates and talk peace,” it became all too clear that no lesson had been learned.

**

I sometimes wonder whether maybe outcomes are above the human pay grade.

Share

Switch to our mobile site