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A Foreign Policy Conducted so Stupidly that it Burns

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
Karl Marx once said history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. The United States, on the other hand, has in a short quarter-century moved from parody to farce:


SNL Desert Storm Press Conf (3 34) from Wendy Hall on Vimeo.

Only the outcomes are likely to be tragic.

Barring a Bugs Bunny-level reverse-psychology Information Operation in progress, we have a highly centralized White House whose micromanagement of military campaigns by amateur staffers includes briefing the enemy:

An Iraqi military operation to retake the country’s second largest city from Islamic State is likely to begin in April or May, according to a US official.

A force of 20,000-25,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces will aim to seize back Mosul from an estimated 1,000-2,000 IS fighters, who took it last June after government forces melted away in the onslaught.

The planned spring assault on the city, with a population of over a million, will involve about 12 brigades, five of whom will soon have coalition training, the official at US Central Command added.

No decision has been made on whether small numbers of US military advisers might need to be on the ground close to Mosul to direct close air support.

The main attack force would include five Iraqi army brigades, the official said.

Three smaller brigades would act as a reserve force, and three brigades of Kurdish Peshmerga troops would contain the city from the north and isolate it from Islamic State forces further west.

A so-called Mosul fighting force consisting mainly of former Mosul police officers and tribal fighters also is being assembled for the assault, the official said.

A brigade of counter-terrorism troops would also be employed in the fight, he said, adding if Iraqi forces were not ready by April or May the operation could be delayed.

Hey, good to know! No word yet as to whether the dime store “caliph” of Daesh, Abu Big Daddy or whatever he’s calling himself, will be sharing defensive  battle plans with Wolf Blitzer.

The story continues:

It is very unusual for the US military to openly discuss the timing of an upcoming offensive, especially to a large group of reporters.

I’ll say. It pretty much only happens when the military is ordered to do so by some gaggle of clueless civilian officials without military experience who are consistently too goddamned arrogant to listen to those who do.

Predictably, this Einstein play by our generation’s best and brightest immediately stirred guarded criticism from the hired help and bombast from the evil Republicans (TM); So Operation Countersplainin’ was immediately launched, using one of the administration’s faithful scribes, with full twitter battalions supporting:

….So why did a senior military official spill the details of the war plan to rout the Islamic State from Mosul?

The answer: The Pentagon and Iraqi military commanders are hoping to avoid a massive, bloody battle in Iraq’s second largest city. “We want Mosul to look a lot more like the liberation of Paris than Stalingrad or Fallujah,” said a senior military official familiar with the planning. In other words, U.S. and Iraqi commanders are hoping that they can convince most of the Islamic State fighters to leave the city before the big battle…..So far it remains unclear whether the strategy will work.

SPOILER ALERT!: Uh…no….no it won’t. And if it did, so what?

This non-strategy “strategy” is akin to squeezing a semi-filled balloon – and that’s assuming ISIS chooses to go along with the script provided by the White House apparachiki and not, say, pull off a bold  counter-move to embarrass the administration while it is taking a Mosul victory lap.  This is war and diplomacy being carried out by bluster and posturing as if it were subject to the same dynamics as social dominance contests in the cafeteria of an elite college prep school.

Telegraphing an unwillingness to get into a real fight is probably a lot more unhelpful than silence in dealing with ISIS. The Daesh leadership may be extreme Islamist-Mahdist fanatics, sociopathic degenerates, rapists, slavers and war criminals of the worst description since the Khmer Rouge began seeding killing fields with bones, but stupid they sure as hell are not. And even the inbred, half-retarded,  bearded Orcs from Europe’s finest ghettos who increasingly fill ISIS rank and file understand the smell of fear and appeasement.

….White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday that he didn’t know that U.S. Central Command officials would be briefing reporters. But the news of the disclosures didn’t seem to bother him too much.

“I guess if I did sign off on these background briefings, then I’d be accused of …micro-managing the Department of Defense, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be accused of doing that,” Earnest said. “Right?”

I wonder what clever bon mot this smarmy, smirking, asshole will say if and when an American adviser dies in the administration’s Mosul goat rodeo?

Finally, as a kind of capstone to this sad enterprise, the cannon fodder in the pay of Teheran also weighed in, possibly for comic relief:

(Reuters) – Iraq’s defense minister criticized the United States on Sunday for declaring a time frame for an offensive to recapture the Islamic State’s northern stronghold of Mosul, saying military commanders should not show their hand to the enemy.

Hire the man. He’s already more qualified than Susan Rice.

Definitely my “Best Book” of 2014

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I’m posting this not just to recommend Brown’s book, but also to make a significant excerpt from it readily available on the net ]

Misquoting Muhammad cover


One book I received this year has given me a greater depth of understanding than any other by a wide margin. That book is Professor Jonathan AC Brown‘s book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy.

Brown is a Muslim, a professor at Georgetown, and author of Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. His book Misquoting Muhammad — not his choice of title, btw — lays open the varieties of interpretive possibility in dealing with the Qur’an and ahadith with comprehensive scholarship and clarity. In light of the upsurge in interest in Islamic and Islamist religious teachings occasioned by Graeme Wood‘s recent Atlantic article, I asked Prof. Brown’s permission to reproduce here the section of his book dealing with abrogation and the rules of war.

Here then, with his permission, is an extract from Misquoting Muhammad. I hope it will prove of use both here and to others beyond the circle of Zenpundit readers. Spread the word!

The whole book is worth reading, the whole of this extract is worth reading — but the section within the extract that I particularly recommend is the passage which begins with “Abrogation brought into sharp contrast” (p.100) and ends with “but were those who died not also my servants?” (p. 103).


By way of a bonus, here’s a related DoubleQuote:

SPEC DQ hadith & midrash

Midrash Source:

  • Rabbi David Levi, JTS Torah Commentary
  • Sunday surprise: Penguins, Turkey

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a little quiet, serious fun here ]

    Ken aka @chumulu suggested a DoubleTweet to me, and I’m delighted to post it here, Turkey, penguins and all:



    Plus I’m a big admirer of Zeynep.

    David Brooks gets his Islamic eschatology wrong on NewsHour

    Saturday, February 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — why scholarship should inform punditry ]


    I am a bit surprised, I have to say, that I haven’t seen — and Google doesn’t seem to have found, either — a clear rebuttal to one highly significant detail in David Brooks‘ discussion with Mark Shields and Judy Woodruff on Islamic eschatology.

    In the PBS NewsHour segment labeled Shields and Brooks on fighting Islamic extremism (above), Brooks makes the statement:

    I do think you have to take the religion seriously, that these people are — it’s not like they can’t get what we want. They want something they think is higher than what we want. Their souls are involved. And I’m saying you have to conceive of them as moving, as acting in a religious way.

    And you have to have religious alternatives. And they are driven by an end times ideology. They think there’s going to be some cataclysm battle and Mohammed will come down. And if you ignore that part of it, write it off as sort of marginal, that they are being produced by economic dysfunction, I just think you’re missing the main deal.

    I’m largely in agreement with this, but the phrase “and Mohammed will come down” is just plain wrong. In Islamic eschatology, it is claimed that Jesus (‘Isa ibn Maryam) — not Muhammad — will “come down” from heaven at the ‘Umayyad mosque in Damascus:

    God will send the Messiah, son of Mary, and he will descend to the white minaret in the east of Damascus, wearing two garments dyed with saffron, placing his hands on the wings of two angels. When he lowers his head, beads of perspiration will fall from it, and when he raises his head, beads like pearls will scatter from it.

    The return of Jesus and his “breaking the cross” and preaching the one faith of Submission (Islam) may be what Brooks should have mentioned — or perhaps he meant the arrival and recognition of the Mahdi, who does not “come down” to us but is already among us by the time his end times role begins.

    I can see how this may seem a slight slip-of-the-tongue to David Brooks, who is after all not solely preoccupied with IS, Islam, and / or apocalyptic — but it’s not something that should go unchallenged if we are to “take the religion seriously”.

    Ukraine, The, unh?

    Friday, February 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — when the definite article is simply too definitive — and how about The Levant? ]

    In my ongoing, if pretty much one-sided, convo with Marc Andreessen [1, 2, 3], I’ve been arguing for Twitter to offer a format for DoubleTweeting. People do it anyway, because it’s a neat way of raising questions or making points — but it would be nice to have a format that made it both easy and elegant, and thus expand the practice. Today gave us another example of what I’ll call, for want of a better term, DoubleTweeting in the Wild:

    That was tweeted on February 18, 2015.


    I’d actually like to suggest that Vox isn’t dumb, at least as far as these two tweets are concerned — it’s learning.

    Jimmy Princeton had to dig back to April 2014 to find Ezra Klein‘s use of “the Ukraine”

    and he then compares it unfavorably with Max Fisher ten months later, ie two days ago, on February 18, 2015 — the same day on which he posted his own DoubleTweet:

    Even more to the point, Fisher’s post on the importance of the distinction between “The Ukraine” and “Ukraine” was posted on Vox on September 3rd, 2014, so they hadn’t even issued their own warning at the time Klain tweeted his needless “The”.


    Cheryl Rofer had to teach me the distinction, and language being language, I still can’t promise I’ll get it right every time — old habits die hard. But for the record, here are the first paras of Fisher’s Vox “card” giving the reason for the change in name

    It used to be “the Ukraine,” but after breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991 the name changed to just “Ukraine.” That distinction actually turns out to be pretty important for understanding the current crisis.

    Ukraine has a very long history of being subjugated by outside powers, and a very short history of national independence. That may actually be why the country became known as “the Ukraine,” which many historians think meant “the borderland” in the language of ancient Slavs (it may also mean “the homeland,” a theory that Ukrainian nationalists understandably prefer). In other words, it may have been called “the” because it was considered more of a geographic region than an independent country, and one defined by its in-between-ness.


    Having said all that, I’m still grateful to Jimmy Princeton for illustrating the sort of use a DoubleTweet can be put to. And I’ll try to get my own wording right in future, now I’m reminded I haven’t always done so in the past.

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