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Analysis of the Hasan Slide Presentation: Cameron at SWJ

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Charles Cameron has been guest blogging here on radical Islamism and his last post was a preliminary look at the powerpoint presentation of Major. Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter in the Ft. Hood massacre.  Charles promised a follow-up here but his next “post” that he submitted was a scholarly, 10,000 word, magnum opus!  We quickly decided that SWJ was a better venue for a doc of such a magnitude and Dave Dilegge took care of the rest.

I’ve read the paper twice. It’s a tour de force.

The Hasan Slide Presentation

Download the full article: The Hasan Slide Presentation (PDF)

There is no place as private as the interior of a human skull: the mind remains inviolate.

Words can reveal some of what goes on inside us, actions can speak some of our intents and passions forcefully, at times explosively. And yet there is no place more secret — and what a hint, a phrase, a gesture, a speech or an explosion cannot reveal, what even the best forensic examination can only label a probability, is the complex interweaving of thoughts half thought, doubts entertained, emotions pushing on through, and clashing, building at times to a perfect storm perhaps, with all doubts and constraints cast aside and the emotions unleashed in a blind and defining moment.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan MD MPH, a psychiatrist in the U.S. Army, has now been charged with multiple specifications of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Fort Hood, under Article 188 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Assuming that Major Hasan was in fact the shooter at Fort Hood and that, as alleged, he shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the event, the main question of fact and interpretation now would be whether Hasan was more an introvert under pressure whose “break” took the jihadist cry “Allahu Akbar” as its outlet, or a patient and long-standing lone wolf jihadist of the sort abu Musab al-Suri calls for (Jim Lacey, A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad, p. 19), or a wannabe with failed or actual al Qaeda connections, or an al Qaeda or related “soldier” under orders.

This analysis attempts to provide some leads in that inquiry, by a careful reading of the only substantial documentation we have from Major Hasan himself, which may throw light on his trajectory.

On Afghanistan and Strategy

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Most of you have followed the series on the Afghanistan strategy debate at Abu Muqawama that was prompted by the Andrew Bacevich article or read the exchange I had with Dr. Bernard Finel or at the many other defense blogs talking Afghanistan. So many at once, that Dave Dilegge of SWJ asked everyone to chill out and lower the “noise”. Dilegge later explained on Dr. James Joyner’s OTB Radio program that he wasn’t trying to stifle debate so much as point out that the staff working for Gen. McChrystal that are trying to put together a strategic plan were feeling overwhelmed by the blizzard of contradictory expert and not-so-expert advice that was suddenly flying furiously in the blogosphere.

When we consider that a lot of the recent debate was of a “should we be there?” character rather than “what should we do now?”, Dave had a reasonable point. The military leadership in Afghanistan doesn’t have the luxury of asking the former question or any control over regional or national policy as it should be designed at the level of the NSC – they have to answer the second question. 

In that spirit, I’ll try to offer a few concise thoughts on relating strategy to what should come next in Afghanistan.

1. Is there a strategic American interest in Afghanistan?:

Many anti-war and anti-COIN writers have pointed out that the U.S. does not have any intrinsic interests in Afghanistan. In a narrow sense, this is correct. Afghanistan has nothing we need and no economy to speak of. We abandoned Afghanistan after the end of the Soviet War and are there now only because al Qaida happened to be based there at the time of 9/11. Why not just leave again?

Afghanistan could properly be fitted into national strategy from two angles. A regional strategy for Central Asia and the Subcontinent or as part of a global strategy in the war against al Qaida. As the former task would be too complicated and slow to finesse from an interagency perspective, we should view Afghanistan in the context as a part of a global war against al Qaida. We need Afghanistan’s proximity to al Qaida in Pakistan’s border provinces in order to attack al Qaida effectively and to put continuous pressure on Pakistan’s government, elements of which which still sponsors the Taliban and, at least indirectly, al Qaida.

Can we do the same things from aircraft carriers? No? Then we need to be in Afghanistan, at least for a time.

2. Why is al Qaida so important and how will we know if we”win”?:

What makes al Qaida distinctive from all other Islamist terrorist-insurgencies is their transnational, strategic, analysis and commitment to struggle against the “far enemy” ( i.e. the US) and for the unification of the “ummah”. That’s really unique. Every other violent actor in the jihadisphere is really dedicated to their own particularist Islamist project of struggle – nationalist or secessionist – against the “near enemy” of their home country regimes.  Like Lenin and Trotsky working for world revolution, Bin Laden and Zawahiri try to plan and make AQ an independent player on an international level, unlike HAMAS, Hezbollah, Salafist Call to Combat and various other Islamist armed groups. They have also, from time to time, managed to operationalize these ambitions and “project power” through major acts of terrorism around the world.

We “win” when Bin Laden, Zawahiri and their small cohort of “global revolutionary” jihadists are dead and their paradigm discredited in favor of “localist”, “near enemy” jihadists – who have always composed the vast majority of violent Islamist extremists. The latter are no threat to us, it is the commitment of Bin Laden and co. to their vision that represents a threat. When they are gone al Qaida is likely to be seen among Islamic radicals as a grand failed experiment.

3. What are America’s objectives in Afghanistan?:

Our goal should be that Afghanistan’s government and populace are hostile towards the return of al Qaida to their territory. That’s it.

4. How should we accomplish this objective?:

My perception is that we have tried three interrelated, interdependent but also competing policies in the last eight years in Afghanistan.

1. Counterterrorism


3. State Building

Counterterrorism has been the policy that we have been most effective at – disrupting al Qaida organizationally, keeping its leadership on the move and in flux, squeezing it financially and grinding away at it’s primary local ally, the Taliban. We should keep doing this and even become more aggressive as this is the policy closest to American national interest.

COIN is vital in Afghanistan – but not as an end in itself. If the US embarks upon some kind of 25 year Roman Legionary version of COIN on steroids, then we have gone badly astray. We need intelligence. We need cooperation and support from Afghans. We need Afghans to see the U.S. as a benefactor and al Qaida and the Taliban as bringers of woe and misery. That requires COIN with local U.S. and NATO commanders being given great flexibility – including with discretionary expenditure of funds and alteration of policy, without a mountain of red tape and second guessing in far distant capitals by bespectacled lawyers wearing silk ties and gold cuff links.

COIN is – like Afghanistan – a means to an end.

State Building is a cardinal part of COIN doctrine. I suggest that in terms of Afghanistan, we throw that premise out the window and just accept dealing with provincial and local elites who have real power (i.e. – armed men with guns, respect of local population, a clientela network of officials and notables). Afghanistan has rarely ever had a strong, centralized, state in its history and Afghans do not have high expectations of what Kabul can do for them. Trying to swim against that current, the sheer cultural and historical inertia it represents, is a waste of our time and money.  While state building as an objective fascinates diplomats and the academic-NGO set, it is actually the least of our priorities and if we ever did build a strong state in Afghanistan, it’s first order of business would be to interfere in our making war on al Qaida and second, to kick us the hell out of their country.

If we have to build a state apparatus, let’s build them locally with a heavy emphasis on their stimulating economic activity and financing local, private, production of goods and establishing security forces composed of residents. That way, someday, if Afghanistan ever has a functioning national government, it will at least have a stream of revenue from levying taxes in relatively orderly provinces.

5. These seem like “minimalist” goals:

Yes. But in practice, quite large enough.

The problem with the asymmetric mismatch between the U.S. and it’s foes is that we bring so astronomical a flow of resources in our wake that we end up “growing” our enemies. Like parasites, they manage to feed off of our war effort against them. Afghanistan is so miserably poor that nearly everything we bring in to the country has relative market value. If you remember CNN clips of the U.S. retreat from Somalia, the last scene was the local warlord permitting  impoverished Somalis to swarm over our abandoned base, the mob was gleefully seizing scraps of what most Americans would consider to be worthless crap. 

That market differential inevitably breeds corruption when it comes to US. aid. It cannot be waved away any more than we can pretend supply and demand does not exist. While it is counterintuitive, less is more. Keeping our clients on bare sufficiency is more functional for our purposes then generosity. 

That’s not just being pragmatic, its’ cheaper too. It makes no sense to spend a trillion (borrowed) dollars in a country whose GDP will not generate that kind of wealth in a thousand years.

6. What about “destabilizing” Pakistan?:

The primary destabilizer of Pakistan is the Pakistani government’s schizophrenic relationship with the extremist groups it creates, subsidizes, funds and trains to unleash on all its neighbors. When the Islamist hillbillies in FATA or their Punjabi and Kashmiri equivalents try to menace the interests of Pakistan’s wealthy elite, the “ineffectual” Pakistani Army and security services can move with a sudden, savage efficiency.

Anyone who thinks the Pakistani Taliban can come down from the hills and take over Islamabad has a very short historical memory of what the Pakistani Army did in Bangladesh before the latter’s independence.

7. When can the troops “go home”?:

Right now the estimates range from our needing to accomplish everything in 2 years (David Kilcullen) to 40 years (Gen. Sir David Richards).

To be blunt, we are not staying for four decades; it is not in American interests to make Afghanistan the 51st state. We stayed in Germany after WWII for 50 years only because it was Germany – the industrial and geopolitical heart of Europe. Afghanistan is not “Germany” to any country on earth except Pakistan (their “strategic depth” against an invasion by India). If we dial down our objectives to the simple obliteration of al Qaida, I suggest that our departure could take place within the few years time it would take to convince/squeeze Islamabad into seeing that path as the fastest, cheapest, way to get rid of a very large American presence in their backyard. Right now, Islamabad sees us setting up shop for generations to come and Pakistan’s generals are acting to frustrate that perceived goal as much as they dare.

Strategy involves making choices and accepting costs. What costs do you think the U.S. should be prepared to shoulder in solving the problem of Afghanistan ( either by staying or leaving)?


In the comments section, Slapout and Lexington Green have recommended some very good links that I would like to offer below.

Col. John Warden –  Strategic Options: The West and Afghanistan

Dr. Stephen BiddleIs It Worth It? The Difficult Case for War in Afghanistan

Dilegge Goes Nuclear!

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009


The genteel and usually mild mannered Editor-in-Chief of the Small Wars Journal, Dave Dilegge, momentarily steps out of the background for a quality rant that I’m reposting in toto:

Back Off Jack Keane Wannabees

Okay, everyone who’s anyone – and many who think they’re someone – inside and outside the beltway – has chimed in – did I miss anyone? Speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Afghanistan affair is quite complicated; we know that, we also can study it to death and comment until the cows come home.

How about a novel approach at this particular point in time – give the Commander in Chief, the National Command Authority, State… and most importantly, the Commanding General and his staff in Afghanistan some efing breathing room to sort this out? The guys on the ground – get it?

How much is too much?

For the all the hype about the benefits of instantaneous global communications and Web 2.0 – of which we most certainly are a part – we’ve never really examined the tipping point – the place where we become part of the problem, rather than the solution.

My two cents – and while it may come across as way, way too simplistic to many of the 2K-pound brainiacs I run into around town – you can take it to the bank that a general backing off of the noise level would be most beneficial right now.


Interesting. An unusual move by Dave.

Debate is a healthy thing – and as I stated previously, I do not think that anyone has been “shut out” of the COIN debate – but it is best if that debate is kept at a constructive level. Being far removed myself from the players in DC that Dave is familiar with, I have to wonder to what degree the temperature has risen behind the scenes? Dave’s post says to me it must be getting heated.

The defense/national security/milblogging/Intel/FP blogosphere is far larger than it was, say, five years ago but it’s still a pretty small network compared to most online communities – we’re not only dwarfed by Techcrunch types but we fall somewhere behind water polo aficianados and devotees of obscure Christian rock groups. It’s sort of a virtual village where some of the villagers also make their living at it in meatspace and the rest of us can kibbitz with less risk.  While free speech includes volume, softer words sometimes carry farther.

It’s useful for all of us to remember from time to time that most people involved in the discussion operate from the best motives and have far more ideas in common than it sometimes seems from the rhetoric being employed – and that what matters is not our rhetoric but the results.


Dave Schuler just sent me a message that he and Dr. James Joyner will have Dave Dilegge as a guest at OTB Radio from 4:30-5:30 CST (i.e. at the moment I am typing this…)

Uses of History in the Debate Over COIN

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

As some readers may be aware, the seldom subtle military writer Ralph Peters, launched a bombastic salvo at the authors of the Army-Marine COIN doctrine in the AFJ, crediting the degree of success enjoyed in Iraq by General Petraeus to the extent to which Petraeus has ignored his own strategy: 

Dishonest doctrine A selective use of history taints the COIN manual

“….Entrusted with the mission of turning Iraq around, Petraeus turned out to be a marvelously focused and methodical killer, able to set aside the dysfunctional aspects of the doctrine he had signed off on. Given the responsibility of command, he recognized that, when all the frills are stripped away, counterinsurgency warfare is about killing those who need killing, helping those who need help – and knowing the difference between the two (we spent our first four years in Iraq striking out on all three counts). Although Petraeus has, indeed, concentrated many assets on helping those who need help, he grasped that, without providing durable security – which requires killing those who need killing – none of the reconstruction or reconciliation was going to stick. On the ground, Petraeus has supplied the missing kinetic half of the manual.

 The troubling aspect of all this for the Army’s intellectual integrity comes from the neo-Stalinist approach to history a number of the manual’s authors internalized during their pursuit of doctorates on “the best” American campuses. Instead of seeking to analyze the requirements of counterinsurgency warfare rigorously before proceeding to draw impartial conclusions based on a broad array of historical evidence, they took the academic’s path of first setting up their thesis, then citing only examples that supported it.

To wit, the most over-cited bit of nonsense from the manual is the claim that counterinsurgency warfare is only 20 percent military and 80 percent political. No analysis of this indefensible proposition occurred. It was quoted because it suited the pre-formulated argument. Well, the source of that line was Gen. Chang Ting-chen, one of Mao’s less-distinguished subordinates. Had the authors bothered to look at Mao’s writings, they would have read that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” that “whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army,” and that “only with guns can the whole world be transformed.”

The rest of the article continues in this vein, until no straw man remains standing and Peters emerges from the top of an ancient stone temple and hurls the severed head of LTC John Nagl down some steps to a savage crowd of painted milbloggers. I exaggerate here – but only slightly.

Mao ZeDong is an odd historical choice for Peters to expound upon here, on several levels. First, while Mao is oft-cited in the annals of military history and counterinsurgency theory, the United States military is not in a position in Iraq that is analogous to Mao’s guerillas. Or Mao’s totalitarian dictatorship either. Secondly, Mao never fought the kind of thoroughly decimatory campaigns in the Chinese civil war that Peters clearly envisions – at least not against a formidible military opponent; whenever possible, Mao tried to politically co-opt the toughest warlords allied with the Kuomintang into the CCP. When giving battle, Mao’s forces usually suffered a beating at the hands of first-rate Nationallist armies. If anything, Mao’s military leadership was probably a greater menace to his own Red Army troops than to their Nationalist and Japanese enemies. Thirdly, by contrast, Chiang Kai-shek and the Imperial Japanese Army both undertook truly exterminatory campaigns in China, the former with the help of German advisers, against the Communists; and the latter with their “Loot All, Kill All, Burn All” scorched earth strategy. Unlike Mao, neither the Generalissimo nor the Japanese achieved any lasting success despite employing the most brutal tactics this side of Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen.

Dave Dilegge, Editor-in-Chief of the excellent Small Wars Journal, responded to Peters, refuting his assertions point by point in his post “Peace, Love, COIN?”  at the SWJ Blog. Most of Dave’s rebuttal is beyond the scope of this post but he too takes Peters to task on the Mao citation:

“But I surmise that some of Peters’ annoyance comes from the fact that non-military professionals, in concert with their military counterparts, had a hand in the production of FM 3-24 as he takes exception to the doctrine’s use of the General Chang Ting-chen 20 / 80 percent quotation.

‘To wit, the most over-cited bit of nonsense from the manual is the claim that counterinsurgency warfare is only 20 percent military and 80 percent political.Anyone looking objectively at the situation in Iraq could hardly claim that it’s only 20 percent military and 80 percent diplomatic. Even the State Department doesn’t really believe that one – or they would’ve kept a tighter leash on their private security contractors.Wishful thinking doesn’t defeat insurgencies. Without the will to establish and maintain security for the population, nothing else works.’

Peters misses the mark here by misrepresenting FM 3-24’s intent of presenting the 20 / 80 “rule of thumb” as a metaphoric means of conveying that political factors are primary during COIN.

‘General Chang Ting-chen of Mao Zedong’s central committee once stated that revolutionary war was 80 percent political action and only 20 percent military. Such an assertion is arguable and certainly depends on the insurgency’s stage of development; it does, however, capture the fact that political factors have primacy in COIN. At the beginning of a COIN operation, military actions may appear predominant as security forces conduct operations to secure the populace and kill or capture insurgents; however, political objectives must guide the military’s approach. Commanders must, for example, consider how operations contribute to strengthening the HN government’s legitimacy and achieving U.S. political goals.

This means that political and diplomatic leaders must actively participate throughout the conduct (planning, preparation, execution, and assessment) of COIN operations. The political and military aspects of insurgencies are so bound together as to be inseparable. Most insurgent approaches recognize that fact.Military actions executed without properly assessing their political effects at best result in reduced effectiveness and at worst are counterproductive. Resolving most insurgencies requires a political solution; it is thus imperative that counterinsurgent actions do not hinder achieving that political solution.’

While using the current situation in Iraq as an example Peters conveniently neglects to acknowledge (or does not believe) that we paid dearly for not implementing a strategy of political primacy early in the execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Instead, we had a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) responsible for the non-military elements of national power. The CPA and its Chief Executive L. Paul Bremer were a disaster – inexperienced and political ideologues in critical jobs, disbanding the Iraqi Army, “de-Ba’athification” and the hate-hate relationship between the CPA and the military’s Combined Joint Task Force 7 (later Multi-National Force-Iraq) are but a few examples of what can be called a classic case study in how to create and fuel an insurgency due to political neglect.”

In this section Dave did a nice job demonstrating, unlike Ralph Peters, the vital importance of context, both for scholarly accuracy as well as for the construction of valid historical analogies.

Joining Dilegge in his criticism of Peters was Dr. Chet Richards of Defense & The National Interest . Richards then used that to springboard into a general historical discussion of maximalist vs. minimalist approaches to using force in a COIN scenario:

Ave Caesar!

“As delightful as it is to see anybody deflate Ralph Peters (although Peters has trumpeted his “kill them all” tough guy rhetoric for so long that he’s become a parody of himself), it’s disturbing that as astute an observer as Steve Metz has forsworn counterinsurgency and is pining away for tactics based on mass killings and genocide (… that the Roman method is more effective).

Van Creveld makes a strong case in his latest book, The Changing Face of War, that this is true where local governments are fighting local insurgencies (which also covers Peters’ case of the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya. Even there, however, the British were eventually forced out).

When it comes to suppressing insurgencies that are fighting foreign occupiers, however, nothing has worked very well since about the middle of the 20th century. The Belgians probably hold the modern record for use of the Roman method, killing by some estimates 50% of the local population in the Congo, but were still driven out. The Soviets didn’t hesitate to use it, and where is their empire? We killed several million people in Southeast Asia. Gen Hermann Balck told Boyd that shifting the Schwerpunkt towards Leningrad would probably have worked, but in the end, the excellence of the German Army couldn’t compensate for the fanatical opposition generated by Hitler’s racial policies (van C notes that forces available to Germany for long-term occupation would have amounted to less than 1% of the population of the planned Nazi empire).

As Gen Sir Rupert Smith writes in The Utility of Force, if you’re going to use coercion as your C/I tool, you can never, ever let up. The moral and financial toll this extracts eventually saps the moral foundation – in a democracy, popular support – for continuing the war. OK, it’s true that if you can kill 100% of the inhabitants, the job is easier, but somewhere along the line we have seriously degenerated into fantasy.”

While I am in general agreement with Dilegge and Richards in principle, I think that Chet has selected a particularly poor example to support his argument. The assumptions regarding Nazi occupation policy used by Martin van Creveld  in his counterfactual example in The Changing Face of War (pp 214-219) to criticize fellow historian John Keegan are at best, highly arguable and at worst, wrong. We all like to see the good guys win and root against the Nazis but such a hypothetical argument based on relative demographics would not be accepted as proving that 4GW forces were doomed just because states like India and China have inexhaustible manpower reserves.

Neither the Wehrmacht campaign against Tito’s Communist partisans in Yugoslavia nor SS operations in “the East” represent the whole spectrum of Nazi occupation policies or the advantages the Germans were exploiting or could have exploited. Hitler did not, as far as we are able to discern from records, intend for the Wehrmacht to permanently garrison every state in a postwar German Europe nor did he try to do so even while at war, except in extremis. Autonomous satellites under reliable military and radical right dictatorships, as in Axis Hungary and Romania, suited the Fuhrer perfectly, as did neutral regimes that were intimidated by Nazi might (Sweden, Switzerland) or with ideological affinity for National Socialism ( Spain, Portugal). A  dystopian but functional Nazi “New Order”, leveraging local fifth column fascists and appeasing Nationalists in European countries, would have been no less viable than Stalin’s postwar Soviet bloc, which took several years to crush anticommunist guerilla armies in Ukraine.

None of the above however, suggests that Peters is right; simply that most intelligent counterinsurgent powers, even Roman legions or Nazi Germans, will not entirely rely upon democidal tactics. The British assassinated the dreaded SS intel chief, Reinhard Heydrich not because he was cruel but because “the Hangman” was winning over the Czechs with astute occupation policies. Cartoonish appeals for indiscriminate general slaughter remain unhelpful and unwise for states fighting insurgencies, particular if these states profess to be liberal democracies.

Monday, July 23rd, 2007


[ed. note – entry corrected, my apologies to Colonel McCallister and thanks to Dave for the clarification]

Dave Dilegge, editor of The Small Wars Journal has an excellent post up at The SWJ Blog entitled “COIN in a Tribal Society“, relaying the contents of an email from Colonel William (Mac) McCallister (USA Ret.), currently an adivser with II MEF in Iraq. A very rich bibilographic entry, McCallister hits hard at the point of our general failure to communicate our words and deeds in a culturally relevant and comprehensible frame:

The design and execution of a counterinsurgency campaign in tribal society must reflect the opponent’s cultural realities, his social norms and conventions of war and peacemaking. The fight in Anbar province is a “clash of martial cultures” and reflects two divergent concepts of victory and defeat and “rules of play”. The conventions of war and peace for both sides are based on unique historical and social experience and are expressed in each side’s stylized way of fighting and peacemaking. The central tenet in the design and execution of counterinsurgency operations is that it must take into consideration an opponent’s cultural realities so as to effectively communicate intent.

The study of the “tribal terrain” is a challenge. The reason – comprehensive research materials on Iraqi tribal organization, tribal diplomacy, and the art of tribal war and peacemaking are sparse. The majority of reading materials therefore are general and regional in nature and require “reading between the lines” to gain an appreciation for tribal organizing principles, cultural operating codes, and the tribal art of war and peace. The material is intended to assist the student of the tribal art of war and peace in developing an analytic structure for assessing personal experiences, observations and unit after action reports. The ultimate objective is to assist the warfighter in assessing the effectiveness of counterinsurgency tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and cultural criteria to determine why certain approaches succeed or fail.”

I will go one better; the United States government has not come to grips with the need to craft our diplomatic and strategic inititives with a multi-tiered and interactively complex set of audiences in mind. Too often, our leaders are playing primarily to the domestic American audience and then secondarily – and arguably a very distant second – a narrow and westernized foreign elite.

Radical transparency created by the internet and information technologies are breaking down the ability to compartmentalize messages and signals – the amplitude is higher and “broadcasting” can now take place far down the chain with strategic corporals in dusty villages instead of UN ambassadors across polished tables. The rules of the game are changing and we must change with it.


Colonel W. Patrick Lang How to Work With Tribesmen” (PDF)

David Ronfeldt -“In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes, the First and Forever Form“(PDF)

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