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Archive for December, 2015

Book Bonanza

Monday, December 28th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

My usual yuletide haul of books received and purchased….





The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward
Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum
Avoiding Armageddon: From the Great War to the Fall of France 1918-1940 by Jeremy Black
Roots of Strategy Book 3
Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner
Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes
Democracy in Retreat by Joshua Kurlantzick
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
The Middle-East: A Brief History of the Last 2000 Years by Bernard Lewis
Patton: A Genius for War by Carlo D’Este
Beetle: The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith by D.K.R. Crosswell
The Libertarian Mind by David Boaz
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
A Dance of Dragons by George R.R. Martin 

If anyone has read these titles and wishes to fire away about them, or their authors in the comment section, feel free. Not sure how many will be featured in future reviews.

The Nixon books were first brought to my attention on, if I recall, the Facebook page of historian Maarja Krusten of NixonNARA, the expert’s expert in matters relating to the presidential records, documents, court cases and tapes of Richard Nixon. When Maarja opines on Nixon topics, I listen with care. I look forward to reading these, even though my opinion of  Bob Woodward is that he often has to be treated cautiously, Alexander Butterfield’s cooperation and contribution was obviously central to the book (not unlike the far longer cooperation between George Kennan and his biographer,  historian John Lewis Gaddis). Evan Thomas’ theme just offhand strongly reminds me of Richard Reeves’ excellent President Nixon: Alone in the White House; I’m curious if this will be a rehashing or if Thomas can bring something new to the table about America’s 37th President.

I am also excited about Rule of the Clan, which should be of interest to anyone thinking about insurgency, irregular warfare, unconventional warfare and terrorism intersecting with tribal or quasi-tribal societies. My friends Michael Lotus and James Bennett who wrote the excellent America 3.0 and drew on the family structure ideas of British anthropologist Alan Macfarlane and French scholar Emanuel Todd, would also be interested.

The fiction was picked up for a simpler reason. I need a change of pace and never read the last, most recent book in the Game of Thrones series.

What are you reading these days?

Think and think again

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the world is not always built to our expectations, eh? ]

Here are a couple of “unexpected consequences” — unexpected in this case because the local context in which they arose isn’t the context that the wider-angle, borader-brush view to which we are habituated might suggest. The first shows Israeli Jews rejoicing at the death by burning of a Palestinian baby:

At a wedding, Right-Wing West Bank Jewish settler yeshiva students celebrate the arson-murder, allegedly carried out by right-wing Jewish settler youths, of an 18-month-old Palestinian baby and his parents in the West Bank Palestinian village of Douma (Duma) in July 2015. Aired by Israel’s Channel 10 News on 12-23-2015

The seond shows Moroccan Jews celebrating national unity with cries of Allahu Akbar:

Jews saying Allahu Akbar while they sing Sawt al Hassan Ynadi. They also sing Layouune 3iniya. This is Morocco, where unity and patriotism brings all people together as one! This is the face of coexistence and peace. This is the face of Morocco from Tangier to Lagouira!


And for a touch of authentic Christmas spirit..

A group of Muslims are being hailed for a heroic act in Kenya. After Al-Shabaab militants ambushed their bus, they shielded the Christian passengers and kept them from being singled out. CNN’s David McKenzie reports.

Charles Lister & Daveed Gartenstein-Ross on the Blair Foundation report

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — opinions differ — with respect for informed disagreement ]

Charles Lister & Daveed Gartenstein-Ross both know a great deal more than I do about the factions within the Syrian opposition, so I’m putting their two tweets on the topic, posted only fifteen moniutes apart. up here as an invitation to eacxh of them to express the angle from which they find the report, respectively, to lack knowledge and have high value.


  • Tony Blair Faith Foundation, If the Castle Falls, Ideology and Objectives of the Syrian Rebellion
  • **

    I’m posting this on Boxing Day as we’d say back in the UK, hoping both parties will have an opportunity to discuss the report at some future point, but also aware that both are more than busy, and may not find the time to do so.

    Either way, I wish them both, and all Zenpundit readers, the very best this festive season.


    Sunday, December 27th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — on juxtaposition as a force-multiplier in the war of ideas ]

    Two potent examples of what I term DoubleQuotes in the Wild:

    DefenseOne‘s ‘Call of Jihad’: ISIS Turns to Video Games, Hollywood to Reach Recruits is worth reading as a side-bar to Thomas Hegghammer‘s highly significant (and contested) Wilkinson Memorial Lecture, Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants.


    There’s a glib phrase about a picture being worth a thousand words, which given the quality of writing these days on the web may not be saying much about pictures — my point here is that two pictures can be worth a whole lot more than (twice) one — and the same goes for appositely juxtaposed verbal quotes.

    Apposite juxtaposition, IOW, is a force-multiplier in the war of ideas.

    The ROE to Nowhere

    Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Many of you have seen the controversial NRO essay by David French on absurdly restrictive rules of engagement that enlisted men and their NCO’s and junior officers have been forced to wrestle with in Iraq, Afghanistan and miscellaneous conflict zones. This is a problem that began under the Bush II administration as the Army and Marine Corps wrestled with pop-centric COIN theory, but ROE became increasingly self-defeating under the Obama administration’s philosophy of micromanaging the world from the White House staff conference room. If you have not read the article yet, here it is with a blurb:


    ….This evening, however, our troopers believed that the car ahead wasn’t full of civilians. The driver was too skilled, his tactics too knowing for a carload of shepherds. As the car disappeared into the night, the senior officer on the scene radioed for permission to fire. His request went to the TOC, the tactical operations center, which is the beating heart of command and control in the battlefield environment. There the “battle captain,” or the senior officer in the chain of command, would decide — shoot or don’t shoot.


    But first there was a call for the battle captain to make, all the way to brigade headquarters, where a JAG officer — an Army lawyer — was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His job was to analyze the request, apply the governing rules of engagement, and make a recommendation to the chain of command. While the commander made the ultimate decision, he rarely contradicted JAG recommendations. After all, if soldiers opened fire after a lawyer had deemed the attack outside the rules, they would risk discipline — even prosecution — if the engagement went awry.


    Acting on the best available information — including a description of the suspect vehicle, a description of its tactics, analysis of relevant intelligence, and any available video feeds — the JAG officer had to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of “hostile intent” to authorize the use of deadly force. He had to make a life-or-death decision in mere minutes. In this case, the lawyer said no — insufficient evidence. No deadly force. Move to detain rather than shoot to kill. The commander deferred. No shot. Move to detain.
    So the chase continued, across roads and open desert. The suspect vehicle did its best to shake free, but at last it was cornered by converging American forces. There was no escape. Four men emerged from the car. American soldiers dismounted from their MRAPs, and with one man in the lead, weapons raised, they ordered the Iraqis to surrender. Those who were in the TOC that night initially thought someone had stepped on a land mine. Watching on video feed, they saw the screen go white, then black. For several agonizing minutes, no one knew what had happened. Then the call came. Suicide bomber. One of the suspects had self-detonated, and Americans were hurt. One badly — very badly. Despite desperate efforts to save his life, he died just before he arrived at a functioning aid station. Another casualty of the rules of engagement.
    Such a system, where brigade headquarters must be consulted by low level patrols or checkpoints before any combat action can be taken is essentially organizational paralysis of the fighting force, an fundamental principle of the art of defeat. What to do?

    If we are to take the premises of the domestic-politics driven ROE imposed on front-line troops by the Obama administration and a pliant senior leadership because they believe that our soldiers and Marines cannot be trusted with even the smallest decisions, the solution is obvious: we could field platoons composed entirely of lawyers. At least until robot soldiery becomes fully autonomous.

    Our newly established ObamaCorps Lawyer-Infantry units would have troops all certified as JAG officers in charge of supervising themselves in decisions to fire. No officers or NCOs will be required since they are effectively expected to defer to a lawyer over the radio anyway, they no longer serve a useful purpose in modern battle.
    We will save time, save money on radios and radio operator positions ( we will have lawyer-pilots to do CAS and lawyer-artillery men to decide on when to bombard the enemy). We can also save money on general officers by drafting retired Supreme Court justices to serve as a Board of Appeal in place of a theater or combatant commander. Should work better than what we do now at least.
    [End rant]
    JAG officers are not to blame for this situation, they are inserted where commanders and politicians demand they be inserted and they must follow orders in interpreting ROE as best they can.  You could remove the lawyers entirely from this process and a SSG or LT having to call up a 24 hour “hot line” to brigade headquarters (!) to talk to staff officer colonels of infantry before letting privates fire their weapon in a normal combat situation remains equally ludicrous and ineffective.
    What the Obama administration has done by incremental steps, aided by a careerist and risk averse leadership, is put American troops under unworkable “police model” warfighting constraints without openly admitting this is their policy goal.  Moreover, the longer these constraints and procedures remain in place, the more institutionalized they become as the new “American way of war” and legal Catch-22 for low level troops is the normal way of doing business.
    Without serious pushback, the risk to troops and tactical harm becomes likely to endure long after the Obama staff apparatchiks leave office.

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