Recommended Reading

July 30th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a "zen"]

Top Billing! The Hill (Laurie Blank) Asymmetries and proportionalities 

….There is no doubt that, after an attack, the urge to simply count up the casualties and declare a war crime is powerful. However, an effects-based analysis — that is, using the numbers of casualties and extent of destruction to make legal claims — is simply incorrect. The law does not require that commanders be right all the time. The law also does not require perfect accuracy in targeting. But it does require extensive steps to protect civilians and reasonable judgments about the potential harm to civilians and the actions needed to minimize that harm.

This methodology is not designed to give militaries a free pass for causing civilian deaths. In fact, judging the legality of an attack solely on the actual effects of that attack actually does far less in the end to protect civilians from suffering during war.

First, an effects-based analysis gives commanders no way to know, at the time of the attack, how to determine the parameters of lawful conduct. Many commanders might well simply disregard the law entirely as no longer relevant — an invitation to unrestricted warfare and much greater harm to civilians. It is undoubtedly more protective to follow the law of war’s central obligations: attack only military objectives; refrain from indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks; and take precautions to minimize harm to civilians through choice of weapons, provision of warnings and other steps.

Second, a focus on effects incentivizes the enemy to simply surround itself with civilians in every conceivable location and circumstance, effectively guaranteeing greater civilian casualties and increased civilian suffering. As the United Nations Secretary General has reported, along with media around the world, Hamas does exactly that, storing weapons in schools, hospitals and mosques and locating tunnels under residential houses, mosques and other civilian property.

Importantly, Hamas’s use of the civilian population as a shield — a blatant violation of the law of war — does not in any way absolve Israel of its obligations to comply with the law’s fundamental obligations to protect civilians, including the principle of proportionality. But the effects-based analysis, or numbers game, not only minimizes Hamas’s legal responsibility for such civilian harm, but actually rewards it for exploiting the law’s protections for civilians by suggesting — wrongly — that every civilian death in Gaza is an Israeli war crime.

CICERORussell Crandall on COIN and America’s Dirty Wars 

How much of the problem is the lack of political or popular will for Vietnam-style counterinsurgencies, versus one of force posture or the mentality of our military/armed forces, which seems more enthralled and better suited to fight conventional wars?

This might sound evasive, but I think the key element in any particular case of American involvement is that “it all depends”. Political will and popular support can certainly help America prosecute these types of wars but the ongoing case of Afghanistan shows that this alone does not ensure success. It is fascinating to see how episodic the U.S. military understanding and embrace of irregular warfare has been over two centuries. The default has been that these dirty wars are aberrations that the military will fight only if it must. Following Iraq the new COIN philosophy assumed that the murky realm of irregular warfare would be the default conflict and was thereby embraced. But now a new sobriety is questioning this fidelity. What this suggests is how either knowingly or otherwise recent events weigh on our understanding of the past, present, and future. If Iraq and Afghanistan had been the cakewalks they appeared to be in their initial phases, our understanding of America’s ability to influence irregular warfare would be decidedly different. Yet the difference between cakewalk and quagmire in these two cases was remarkably thin.

CIMSEC – The Geographic limits of National Power 

….Afghanistan’s false reputation as a “graveyard of empire” comes not so much from it’s inhabitants who seem to habitually resist any attempts at outside control, but rather the problem of maintaining a large force in such a remote region. Western armies from Alexander the Great to the present U.S. and NATO force in the country have had to create a long, tortuous, and expensive supply line into or though Afghanistan in order to sustain their military operations there  or in adjacent lands. Alexander, British imperial forces in three wars, and now American and NATO forces have always crushed Afghan resistance and have been able to maintain a reasonable amount of control within the region. They have departed only when deprived of the economic support that provides the technological edge to their warfighting and logistics capabilities. A nation can maintain an army of many thousands in Afghanistan, provided that power or group of powers is willing to fly in supplies or negotiate their delivery through unfriendly states over long and difficult overland routes. Now that financial support for the technological effort necessary to sustain a large Western force in Afghanistan is failing, the limits of geography are again re-imposing themselves on the remote Central Asian region.

LAWFARE (Charlie Dunlap)- Book Review: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates 

….Curiously, Gates never seems to question in any depth a doctrine for American troops that, among other things, cites French counterinsurgency theorist David Galula’s call for each soldier to become a “social worker, a civil engineer, a school teacher, a nurse, [and] a boy scout.” Exactly why Gates or anyone else thought that mostly high-school educated infantrymen–however earnest and valorous–were supposed to be focused on soldiering and also perform a set of divergent tasks that could stymie an army of PhDs is not explained in Duty. Implementing the counter-insurgency doctrine meant that Gates gave the U.S. military the Sisyphean task of trying to fundamentally reconfigure the hostile, alien cultures in Iraq and, later, in Afghanistan into countries congenial to Western sensibilities and purged of terrorists. (Regrettably, the terrorists rather easily outflanked Gates’ strategy by metastasizing into Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere.)

The Scholar’s Stage – The Next 40 Years in Twelve Hundred Words and Quantum Libraries

The Bridge – The Role of Nuclear Weapons in National Security 

Slightly East of New - Centers of Gravity – Do they Still Matter?


Global Guerrillas – Bot Dominance 

Adam Elkus - Bad Intentions

SWJ (Gary Anderson) -Solving Iraq’s Constitutional Problems: The Hard Way

Aim of Education by Paul Yingling 

TDAXP annihilates an author before praising him

POLITICOHow the Left took over the Democratic Party 

Presentation Zen -Story structure, simplicity, & hacking away at the unessential and 7 things good communicators must not do 

That’s it.


Merch for war and peace

July 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- hint: peace comes at a far higher cost ]

No longer do you need to sit long hours in meditation or travel to Syria and borrow a gun to show your appreciation for peace or jihad. You can now buy a t-shirt for the cool Caliphate [upper panel, below]…

or a comfy chair like the one made for the supercool Dalai Lama [lower panel, above].

And that’s the power of — choose one:

  • (a) symbols in the mind
  • (b) money in the bank
  • Thing is, the t-shirt, showing your relaxed appreciation of jihad, will run you about $10 — but a similarly relaxed appreciation of meditation will cost you $10,000 — war is a thousand times cheaper than peace, give or take.



  • The Wire, Retailers Capitalize on Iraq Crisis With ISIS Merchandise
  • Chicago Tribune, Desire a Dalai Lama chair?
  • Nice irony in that Chicago Tribune headline, no?


    Dabiq #2: of pride & humility

    July 28th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in those two words, a doctrinal opposition between sin and salvation? ]


    My eye was caught by this Financial Times headline this week: Isis uses humility as tactic for conquest. The writer appears to equate humility with a mixture of humanitarian and collaborative qualities, writing:

    To soften resistance, Isis first shares control of territory with nonaligned but unthreatening local groups, like Mr Saffan’s Hamza Brigade, and the thousands of rebels who pledged their loyalty to the group as it advanced.

    “It’s like the Arabic expression, ‘be humble to conquer’. They make allies as they spread and firm their hold. After that, they can impose full control,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    That’s about all that’s said in that FT piece about humility, so we should perhaps consider it more of a journalistic or editorial flourish than a doctrinal statement from the IS caliphate.


    But then there’s the opposite of humility — pride. And that, according to the second issue of Dabiq, p 30, is precisely what deviates other groups from the caliphate’s own jihad:

    Whoever wants to know how a mujahid group fi sabilillah becomes a militant group fighting fi sabilit-taghut, then let him review history, and let him know that a man’s love for leadership, wealth, and personal opinion becomes pride. Pride becomes envy. Envy becomes arrogance. Arrogance becomes hatred. Hatred becomes enmity. Enmity becomes contradiction of the rival. The contradiction begins with hiding tawhid, displaying deviant ambiguity, avoiding the muwahhid?n, and compromising with the mushrik?n. Thereafter it becomes open kufr and war, following desires and holding on to doubts, unless Allah saves the slave with His mercy [Quoted from a ‘Abwah L?siqah article].

    Fighting fi sabilillah is fighting “in the cause of Allah” while fighting fighting fi sabili-taghut would mean fighting “in the cause of tyrants”.

    Maybe some form of humility is a prerequisite for the caliphal jihad after all?


    Dabiq #2, follow-up post — punishment by Flood and Fire

    July 28th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Dabiq issue #2 ends with a note about the Dajjal -- thus bookending the issue with apocalyptic references ]

    Hello Kitty's caliphate -- see below


    There’s not a whole lot more that’s distinctively oriented to the “end times” in the second issue of Dabiq, although as I noted in a comment on my earlier post today, there are in fact references to both flood and fire in “It’s either the Islamic State or the Flood” (p.6):

    Allah ta’ala said: {And We had certainly sent Nuh to his people, [saying], “Indeed, I am to you a clear warner. That you not worship except Allah. Indeed, I fear for you the punishment of a painful day.”} [Hud: 25-26]

    Ash-Shawkani (rahimahullah) says, “The sentence {Indeed, I fear for you the punishment of a painful day} is explanatory. It means: ‘I warned you against worshipping other than Allah because I fear for you’. This sentence contains a true warning. Furthermore, the painful day referred to is the Day of Judgment or the day of the flood.”

    The word “or” in Ash-Shawkani’s statement above undoubtedly combines both items mentioned. This is because the punishment promised by Nuh (‘alayhis-salam) includes both the punishment of Hellfire on the Day of Judgment, and the punishment of drowning in the flood in this dunya. As a result, his people were ultimately afflicted by both punishments.

    Allah ta’ala said: {Because of their sins they were drowned and put into the Fire, and they found not for themselves besides Allah [any] helpers} [Nuh: 25] .


    The apocalyptic references I noted in my previous post and above are from the first few pages of the magazine. And once again, they are book-ended with a final apocalyptic reference.

    On the back page, page 44, the magazine closes with another hadith, this one mentioning the Dajjal — the end times Muslim “antichrist”:

    Again, the eschatological nature of the caliphate and its jihad is clearly implied.


    There’s much else in the magazine, beyond my remit to comment on — a section on the PKK, photos of the destruction of various shrines and at least one hussaynia, an interesting and lengthy discussion of mubahalah specifically including early theological debates with Jews and Christians…

    … and a certain American Christian named Daniel McGivern will, I fear, be surprised to find himself mentioned on page 7, in connection with his expedition to find Noah’s Ark:

    In fact, the people’s faith in these truths – in spite of their differing creeds – reached the extent that a wealthy christian businessman named Daniel McGivern was prepared to invest $900,000 to send a team of explorers to investigate a site believed to be the location of the ark of Nuh (‘alayhis-salam). All this was only because of a decree of Allah mentioned in His book, which He brought to pass concerning the ark. He decreed that the ark would remain as a prominent sign in the lives of the people.

    He ta’ala said: {But We saved him and the companions of the ship, and We made it a sign for the worlds} [Al-‘Ankabut: 15].

    Before I go, here are a couple of other odd notes.

    On p. 11, obesity is mentioned as an extreme symptom of degenerate Islam:

    On the authority of ‘Imran Ibn Husayn (radiyallahu ‘anhuma) who stated that Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “The best of my Ummah are those of my generation, and then those who follow after them, and then those who follow after them.” ‘Imran said: “I do not remember whether he mentioned two or three generations after his generation.” Then the Prophet added, “There will come after you, people who will bear witness without being asked to do so, and will be treacherous and untrustworthy, and they will vow and never fulfill their vows, and obesity will appear among them.” [Al-Bukhar? #3693 and Muslim #6638]

    And on p. 29, they’ve posted the same photo [see above, top] that drew amused tweets and blog comments earlier this month, along the lines of @sundance’s That Awkward Moment..

    when you realize that your badass jihadi boss owns a “Hello Kitty” notebook for his military battle plans



    The Caliphate, Hamas, and the Gharqad Tree hadith

    July 28th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- The second issue of the caliphate's Dabiq magazine leads with another "end times" reference ]


    The second issue of the caliphate’s digital magazine Dabiq is now out, and once again, it contains a clear “end times” reference in the Foreword, p. 4:

    As for the massacres taking place in Gaza against the Muslim men, women, and children, then the Islamic State will do everything within its means to continue striking down every apostate who stands as an obstacle on its path towards Palestine. It is not the manner of the Islamic State to throw empty, dry, and hypocritical words of condemnation and condolences like the Arab taw?gh?t do in the UN and Arab League. Rather, its actions speak louder than its words and it is only a matter of time and patience before it reaches Palestine to fight the barbaric jews and kill those of them hiding behind the gharqad trees – the trees of the jews.

    The reference here is to the hadith of the gharqad tree, as found in context in the Charter of Hamas, Article 7:

    thereafter. Even though the episodes were few and far between, and were not continuous in Jihad due to the obstacles placed by those in the sphere of [influence of] the Zionist entity in the face of the Mujahidin. Even though the Islamic Resistance Movement looks forward to fulfill the promise of Allah no matter how long it takes because the Prophet of Allah (saas) says:

    The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, and until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say. Muslim or Servant of Allah there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree of Gharqad would not say it, for it is the tree of the Jews (Bukhari and Muslim).

    This is a clearly apocalyptic hadith, as indicated by it’s reference to “the Last Hour” or Day of judgement.


    The Federation of American Scientists site offers a different translation, and footnotes this particular passage with the words:

    The Egyptian troops who launched the assault on the Bar-Lev Line in October 1973, were equipped with “booklets of guidance” which included, inter alia, this same quotation.

    Another noteworthy use of the “Gharqad tree hadith” comes from Bin Laden:

    Doomsday shall not come until Muslims fight Jews. A Jew would be hiding behind a tree or a stone. The tree or the stone would say, O Muslim, O subject of God, there is a Jew behind me come and kill him. The only exception is [Gharqad] tree is a tree that belongs to Jews.

    with his comment [p. 244]:

    Whoever claims that there is lasting peace with the Jews is a disbeliever of what the prophet, may the peace and blessings of God upon him, said. Our conflict with the enemies of Islam will continue until Doomsday.


    The most interesting writing in English on the gharqad tree that I am aware of is to be found in Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyrs’ Square, pp 19-21.

    This issue’s title and cover illustration, as you can see above, references the Flood, which is described in Suras 11 and 71 of the Qur’an, as well as in Genesis chapters 6 through 9. Apparently the caliphate’s editors have yet to read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.

    And now to see if the rest of the magazine contains further insights.


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