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Break it Down Show with Zen Co-Hosting: Mazarr on Leap of Faith

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

[mark safranski / zen]

Friend of ZP, Pete Turner invited me to join him at his place The Break it Down Show to interview RAND scholar Michael J. Mazarr about his new book Leap of Faith Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy :

Mike Mazarr – Leap of Faith Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy

Mark Safranski joins Pete A Turner with author, think-tanker Dr Mike Mazarr.
Mike’s book is called, Leap of Faith Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy
Why is the invasion of Iraq viewed as a tragedy? Mike explains to us and draws conclusions to help us better understand by comparing and contrasting past conflicts to Iraq. Mark, brings his experience understanding presidential security council dynamics to push the show to even great depth and uniqueness.

Listen to the episode here.

Without giving way any spoilers, Mazarr has penned our time’s version of The Best and the Brightest. It’s a step by step reconstruction using the best evidence available and extensive interviews of principal figures or their aides and colleagues to explain how the Bush administration decided to go down the road to war in Iraq.  Like David Halberstam explaining the origins of Vietnam, Mazarr’s task was to explain how so experienced a national security team as the one that served George W. Bush could make so catastrophic a strategic error, the effects of which continue to unfold to this day.

See the source image

 

New Book from SWJ! The Plutocratic Insurgency Reader

Friday, July 26th, 2019

[Mark Safranski / zen]

Plutocratic Insurgency Reader edited by Robert J. Bunker and Pamela Ligouri-Bunker

The newest book published by Small Wars Journal contains 376 pages of essays by 15 contributors, a foreword by Nils Gilman and conclusion by longtime criminal insurgency analyst John SullivanWhat is a “plutocratic insurgency” you ask?

According to Robert Bunker:

The plutocratic insurgency concept dates back to 2011 and has been influenced by earlier work done by John Robb (Onward to a Hollow State, 2008) and Nils Gilman (Deviant Globalization, 2010). As a theoretical construct, it was further inspired by the global street protests and demonstrations of the Occupy movement taking place during that period. Research on this topical area for its U.S. national security threat potentials has been conducted related to U.S. Department of Defense and Army programs, with a number of works produced or derivative of these efforts; Op-Ed: Not Your Grandfather’s Insurgency (2014), Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies (2014), and Old and New Insurgency Forms (2016). Of these works, the “Foreword: The twin insurgency—facing plutocrats and criminals” written by Nils Gilman for the derivative 2014 edited book project—and reprinted online as The Twin Insurgency in The American Interest—is by far the best known and eloquent of these writings:

The defining feature of the plutocratic insurgency is its goal: to defund or de-provision public goods in order to defang a state that its adherents see as a threat to their prerogatives. (Note that, conceptually, plutocratic insurgencies differ from kleptocracies; the latter use the institutions of state to loot the population, whereas the former wish to neutralize those institutions in order to facilitate private-sector looting. In practice, these may overlap or co-mingle.) Practically speaking, plutocratic insurgency takes the form of efforts to lower taxes, which necessitates cutting spending on public goods; reducing regulations that restrict corporate action or protect workers; and defunding or privatizing public institutions such as schools, health care, infrastructure, and social space.

From the Bunker

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]
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Friend of ZP,  Dr. Robert Bunker had a few new publications lately with other Friend of ZP co-authors and I thought I would begin my return to semi-regular (or at least occasional) blogging by giving them a nod here. The first was run a few weeks ago at Small Wars Journal: 

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 13: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Command and Control (C2) Geographic Variations

by Robert Bunker and John Sullivan

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is a well-known and extremely violent street, and in Central America, prison gang with an estimated transnational membership of 50,000 to 70,000 individuals.[1] Essentially a transnational gang network, MS-13 maintains a relatively robust media presence due to its ongoing criminal activities within the United States, many of which have resulted in homicides and even torture killings, as the gang continues to expand into new communities in Texas and the East Coast of the United States. The gang is organized on a networked, i.e. biological (and/or software program) based model with open architecture ‘plug ins’ that utilize a cellular synapse/and open coding-like strategy that facilitates network linkages and alliances, i.e., interfaces with violent non-state actors (VNSAs). Such network interfaces and organizational schemes go by a number of terms including netwar (John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt) and open-source warfare (John Robb).[2] This note specifically looks at the C2 geographic variations of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) network in the United States, Mexico, and Central America (primarily El Salvador) and MS-13s interface with more powerful violent non-state actors (VNSAs) which result in localized hierarchical organizational expressions.

Read the rest here.

The second is a monograph at The Strategic Studies Institute:

Contemporary Chemical Weapons ... Cover Image

Contemporary Chemical Weapons Use in Syria and Iraq by the Assad Regime and the Islamic State 

This monograph focuses on an understudied, but yet a critically important and timely component of land warfare, related to the battlefield use of chemical weapons by contemporary threat forces. It will do so by focusing on two case studies related to chemical weapons use in Syria and Iraq by the Assad regime and the Islamic State. Initially, the monograph provides an overview of the chemical warfare capabilities of these two entities; discusses selected incidents of chemical weapons use each has perpetrated; provides analysis and lessons learned concerning these chemical weapons incidents, their programs, and the capabilities of the Assad regime and the Islamic State; and then presents U.S. Army policy and planning considerations on this topical areas of focus. Ultimately, such considerations must be considered vis-à-vis U.S. Army support of Joint Force implementation of National Command Authority guidance.

And finally, heading back to SWJ, a book – with Dave Dilegge, John Sullivan and Alma Keshavarz  :

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Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities

Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities provides a foundation for understanding urban operations and sustaining urban warfare research. This Small Wars Journal (SWJ) Anthology documents over a decade of writings on urban conflict. In addition to essays originally published at SWJ it adds new content including an introduction by the editors, a preface on “Blood and Concrete” by David Kilcullen, a foreword “Urban Warfare Studies” by John Spencer, a postscript “Cities in the Crossfire: The Rise of Urban Violence” by Margarita Konaev, and an afterword “Urban Operations: Meeting Challenges, Seizing Opportunities, Improving the Approach” by Russell W. Glenn. These essays frame the discussion found in the collection’s remaining 49 chapters. Blood and Concrete continues the legacy of Small Was Journal’s coverage of urban operations, conflict and combat.

Probably not this kind of megacity…..

See the source image

 

Human Sacrifice South of the Border?

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

John P. Sullivan and Dr. Robert Bunker at Small Wars Journal analyze a narco prison riot in Mexico that had to be put down by Mexican troops that reportedly involved prisoners sacrificed in a Santa Muerte ritual.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 23: Prison Riot and Massacre in Acapulco, Guerrero; Attack Allegedly During Santa Muerte Ritual

Analysis:
This prison riot and resulting massacre is one of the most serious disturbances in a Mexican prison since the February 2016 riot at Monterrey’s Topo Chico prison.  That incident, which involved a battle between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, left at least 52 dead and 12 injured.[4] Mexico’s prisons are volatile, plagued by corruption, and under minimal control by state authorities.[5] This lack of control leads to inmate self-governance (autogobierno).  According to one account, 60% of Mexican correctional facilities function under self-governance.[6] 

In this incident taking place at the Acapulco jail or Cereso (Centro de Readaptación Social),[7] rival gangs battling for control led to a massacre with several persons (up to five, depending upon reports) beheaded.[8] The guards reportedly did not intervene and may have participated in or facilitated the violence.[9] The massacre reportedly occurred during inmate rituals in veneration of Santa Muerte.[10] Prison officials have not confirmed those reports.[11] 

Guerrero’s governor supports the ritual aspect, noting that the majority of the dead were found in front of Santa Muerte coins which is indicative of ritual participation:

“Es difícil encontrar en los medios mexicanos más referencias concretas al aspecto ritual de la masacre. En Bajo Palabra leemos que el gobernador del estado de Guerrero, Héctor Astudillo Flores, ha descartado la riña como motivo, aunque fuera la primera línea de investigación, y ha afirmado que la mayoría de muertos fueron encontrados frente a una imagen de la Santa Muerte con monedas encima, por lo que consideran que se trataría de un ritual.”[12] 

….The actual role the veneration or worship of Santa Muerte played in this riot is unknown. The limited news imagery of the decapitated and slaughtered prisoners does not provide enough forensic evidence to suggest that any form of elaborate ritual took place.  If such a hasty sacrificial ritual had been conducted, it may have been undertaken simply for narcoterrorist purposes in order to terrify the opposing drug gang with the future threat of ‘human sacrifice’ being directed at their membership.  This explanation would be devoid of any form of an underlying spiritual basis and can simply be viewed as an extreme component of narco psychological operations (PSYOPS) being waged by one drug gang against another.  On the other hand, this incident may be eventually confirmed as an act of mass human sacrifice derived from the new information now emerging:

Read the rest here.

The juxtaposition of extreme violence and religious context is a potent combination in terms of imaginative symbolism because it harkens back to the human sacrifices of Bronze Age paganism. This action may have been secular violence meant to terrify cartel rivals but the repeated association with religious cult ritual – in this case, the Mexican folk worship of “Saint Death” – blurs the lines between criminal irregular violence and religion. This tactic is also a calling card of ISIS as well as the narc0-cartels.

For more on irregular violence and cult practices, see this post as well as for a longer treatment,  Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities edited by Robert Bunker (and featuring chapters by Charles Cameron and myself).

Infinity Journal: Can Grand Strategy be Mastered?

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

The new edition of Infinity Journal is out and they have a most interesting article by Dr. Lukas Milevski, a promising young scholar best known for his recent book The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought.

Can Grand Strategy be Mastered?

….The first conceptualization of grand strategy, broadening the concept to include all instruments of national power and not simply the military, may arguably be quite useful. Policy-makers and strategists all should understand how military power fits in with non-military power, and vice versa, to achieve desired effects. They must understand the assumptions which implicitly underpin each form of power and how they integrate and contradict among themselves. As Lawrence Freedman argued in 1992, “[t]he view that strategy is bound up with the role of force in international life must be qualified, because if force is but one form of power then strategy must address the relationship between this form and others, including authority.”[ix]

The use of non-military power against an adversary in war is clearly not simple diplomacy, but also is not encompassed within classical definitions of strategy. Grand strategy may or may not be an appropriate term for it; in recent decades the British have labeled it the comprehensive approach. Yet, given how many authors have paid lip service to the variety of forms of power inherent in this interpretation of grand strategy, the amount of attention actually dedicated to the non-military forms of power has been startlingly low. As Everett Carl Dolman suggested in a somewhat blasé manner, “[a] worthy grand strategist will consider all pertinent means individually and in concert to achieve the continuing health and advantage of the state.”[x] Yet one may reasonably ask, ‘but how?’ To make connections among categories and among distinct fields and disciplines is one of the primary purposes of theory, yet this has simply not been done in the grand strategic literature even when this task is implicit and inherent in the definition of the concept itself.[xi] Furthermore, without the achievement of this difficult scholarly work, grand strategic theory which adheres to this form of the concept will never fulfill Clausewitz’s appreciation of theory.

….In principle, grand strategy, conceived along the lines of incorporating multiple instruments beyond the military, can indeed be mastered. However, there is no theory yet which may guide those who desire to master grand strategy in this manner. Practice in the world of action may, of course, still take place without theory—or at least academic theory. Yet without proper guidance, chaos among the various military and non-military instruments is inevitable. They will not work properly together; they may even achieve contradictory effects; and so forth. The comprehensive approach, as practiced in Afghanistan and Iraq, has not been particularly successful.
The second conceptualization of grand strategy, as being placed above policy in a hierarchy of ideas and duties, along with the subsidiary characteristic of enduring over lengthy periods of time, is less transferable to the world of action. Each aspect of this second understanding of grand strategy contributes individually to limiting the transferability of the concept.

Read the whole thing here.

Milevski is a grand strategy skeptic and as such he raises fair questions in his article regarding grand strategy as an actionable thing that some enterprising official, politician or military officer could master. Though he does not raise it explicitly, Milevski’s argument reflects a longstanding debate on whether grand strategy is even a thing one can do or is merely a retrospective historical explanation. Aiding Milevski is that while there has been much learned commentary on grand strategy by eminent scholars or practitioners like Kennan and Kissinger, conceptually it is a muddle with competing definitions and lacking a coherent accepted theory. Much like obscenity, we seem to know grand strategy when we see it (Containment! Bismarck!) but can’t really explain why it happened here and not there.

The two competing definitions Milevski raises complement one another but they are not the same. The first is what is sometimes in America called a whole-of-government approach to conflict and Milevski admits this version of grand strategy is one that could potentially be mastered, albeit there is no pathway to do so. The reason for this is that is that grand strategy requires a fairly robust centralization of political power to be realized. To do grand strategy, it helps if you are Otto von Bismarck, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Pericles, Peter the Great or some similar figure. Middle level bureaucrats in democratic polities might conceive or suggest grand strategies but unless they convincingly sell their idea to the ruling elite and then the elite to the public (Dean Acheson, for example, “scaring the hell out of the country”) it won’t become actionable policies, diplomatic agreements or military operations. This is possible but rarely happens without an existential strategic threat or at least the perception of a serious one.

Milevski is less enchanted, as are Clausewitzians generally, with the second version of grand strategy that posits a great idea or theme floating above policy, guiding it over very long periods of time such as decades or centuries. Objectively, it is hard to come up with a rationale why this could not be happening more often because it doesn’t though we can point to examples where nations or empires have followed a principle consistently in peace or war for a very long period of time; for example, Britain seeking to prevent any power from dominating continental Europe or China’s tributary system for managing dangerous barbarian tribes and neighboring states. Subjectively, Clausewitzians simply don’t like “grand strategy” violating the hierarchy Clausewitz set forth to explain the relationship between politics/politik, policy and strategy in war. Milevski spends time on this objection specifically.

I’m less troubled by the contradiction than Dr. Milevski, though it’s worth considering that in theory the two different versions of grand strategy could be different phenomena instead of competing definitions of one. Much of the first version of grand strategy could also be termed “statecraft” and the second is something like John Boyd’s theme of vitality and growth or at a minimum, an aspirational security paradigm. It’s more of a vision or an opportunistic operating principle than a well honed strategy  or clearly defined end-state. It is open-ended to permit maximum political flexibility and accommodate many, at times competing, policies. The second version of grand strategy is not at all strategy in the sense applied to a theater of combat for concrete objectives; it is more political, more gestalt.


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