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Rant day at 15 years, 2 days

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

[set in stone by Lynn C. Rees]

The Internet told me Ahmed Shah Masood was dead.

I was annoyed.

I hated the Taliban. They were the enemy of all mankind. My hate didn’t single them out just for Third World thuggishness, seventh century fanboy oppression, or giving aid and comfort to a declared enemy of my country. No, my hate singled them out for blowing up some 1,500 year old pieces of rock.

For 1,000 of those 1,500 years, Islam lived alongside the twin Buddhas of Bamiyan. A millennium of entropy, nature, and sporadic fits of vandalism had ravaged the two Buddhas. But there they stood, as they’d stood for a millennium and a half.

History is fragile: we inherit only suggestive rubble from the past. From that rubble, we summon imagined pasts without number and without foundation. A particularly insistent ghost of conjured history drove Taliban iconoclasm: the shadow of the umma, the idolized but idol-free community of believers supposedly created by Muhammad before his death c. AD 632. From its antiseptic remove, far from the compromised Islam of March 2001, this stern shade loomed down from the heights of 15 centuries and commanded the Taliban to erase those two idolatrous Buddhas of Bamiyan from history. The phantom of the umma promised that, piece by piece of shattered idol, the sanctified community of the Prophet would draw nearer and nearer. The ends of March 622 came calling, now armed with the means of March 2001. Dynamite, artillery, and rocketry let the Taliban do in three weeks what history failed to do in fifteen centuries. And so the Buddhas of Bamiyan fell.

Meddling in what survives and what doesn’t is unnecessary. History eats itself: time, accident, and negligence will devour more history than intention ever aspire to. The Taliban insisted on moving history along. Moreover, they thought they could not only speed it up but make it flip 180 degrees and run backwards. And so the Taliban declared war on history.

To me, this made the Taliban barbarians. To me, they too deserved to be erased from history. The only man who seemed to be actively helping the Taliban exit history was Massood. Massood created an island of sanity in a dark hole of crazy. And now Massood was gone, sped to Allah by those same barbarians.

Downstairs I went. I ranted about the shame of Ahmed Shah Massood’s death to my Mom. She had no idea who Ahmed Shah Massood was. She didn’t know where Afghanistan was. To her, it was a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom she knew nothing. The Massood in Afghanistan might as well have been the Massood in the Moon, fighting to keep one small grubby corner of the lunar surface Taliban-free.

Mom patiently listened as dinner was set. She’d grown used to my ranting on and on and on and on and on and on and on about this or that distant obscurity. She knew I’d fulminate my way out of my idée fixe of the moment, then return to quietly tending my trivia. The world would go on. Normalcy would again flow unvexed into the future.

She was right. Rant mode ran out of steam. I ate dinner. I went back to my lair, where my books and my computers would protect me. I went to sleep. And so the clock set on September 9th, 2001.

With murder in its heart, unseen in the gathering night, history, thought dead since 1989, was creeping up the East Coast to be reborn. And twin towering Buddhas and the Lion of Panjshir were but the first to fall.

A rock feels no pain.
And an island never cries.

Review: The Rule of the Clan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

Strongest recommendation.

COIN may be Dead but 4GW has a New Lease on Life

Monday, December 12th, 2011

As I had predicted, a global recession, budgetary chicken in Congress and national weariness after a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have forced a public rethink of the prominence of counterinsurgency doctrine in America’s military kit.  Colonel Gian Gentile, long the intellectual archenemy of FM 3-24 and the “Surge narrative” has pronounced COIN “dead” and even CNAS, spiritual home of COIN theory inside the Beltway, is now advocating COIN-lite FID (Foreign Internal Defense). As this entire process is being driven by a global economic crisis, there is another aspect to this American inside-baseball policy story.

While COIN as the hyperexpensive, nation-building, FM 3-24 pop-centric version of counterinsurgency is fading away, irregular warfare and terrorism are  here to stay as long as there is human conflict. Moreover, as economic systems are to nation-states as vascular systems are to living beings, we can expect an acceleration of state failure as weak but functional states are forced by decreased revenues to reduce services and diminish their ability to provide security or enforce their laws. The global “habitat” for non-state, transanational and corporate actors is going to grow larger and the zones of civilized order will shrink and come under internal stress in the medium term even in the region that Thomas P.M. Barnett defined as the “Core” of globalization.

The theory of Fourth Generation Warfare is helpful here. Many people in the defense community object to 4GW thinking, arguing that it is a poor historical model because it is overly simplified, the strategic ideas typified by each generation are cherrypicked and are usually present in many historical eras (albeit with much different technology). For example, eminent Clausewitzian strategist Colin Gray writes of 4GW in Another Bloody Century:

….The theory of Fourth Generation Warfare or 4GW merits extended critical attention here for several reasons. It appears to be a very big idea indeed. It’s author [ William S. Lind] and his followers profess to be able to explain how and why warfare has evolved over the past 350 years and onto the future….

….Talented and intellectually brave strategic theorists are in such short supply that I hesitate before drawing a bead on Lind and his grand narrative of succeeding generations of warfare. Nonetheless, there is no avoiding the judgment that 4GW is the rediscovery of the obvious and the familiar. 

4GW theory is not something that can be defended as having sound historical methodology. However, it works well enough as a strategic taxonomy of mindsets and political environments in which war is waged; particularly with the inclusion of the van Creveldian assumptions of state decline, it is a useful tool for looking at warfare in regions of weak, failing and failed states. The same global region Dr. Barnett has termed “the Gap” in his first book, The Pentagon’s New Map.

Tom predicated his geostrategy on the power of globalization being harnessed with judicious use of Core military power to “shrink the Gap” and provide connectivity as an extremely powerful lever to raise up billions of the world’s poor into a more stable, freer and middle-class existence. While that still holds, the flipside is that times of  sharp economic contraction limit the ability of the Core, led by the United States, to intervene robustly, permitting the “bad guys” to make use of connectivity and black globalization for their own purposes. Where the great powers are disunited, disinterested or increasingly in the case of European power projection, disarmed, the Gap could potentially grow.

A new Iraq or Afghanistan sized campaign is not in the American defense budget for at least a decade. Or NATO’s. Hence the newfound interest in cheaper alternatives to massive intervention on the ground, for which the Libyan campaign might charitably be classed as an “experiment” ( where it was not simply bad strategy and negotiated operations) or as a multilateral reprise of Rumsfeldian ideas of transformative, light and fast military force mashed up with Reagan Doctrine proxy warfare, justified under a new ideological theory of R2P.

These are rational policy responses to conditions of parsimony, but it also indicates a coming era of strategic triage rather than grand crusades in using military force to stabilize parts of the global system.  The US and other great power  are going to be more likely to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have” than they are to heed JFK’s call “to pay any price, bear any burden”. The politics of hard times means that we will be minimizing our burdens by replacing, where we can, boots with bots, bullets with bytes and Marines with mercs. Not everywhere, but certainly on the margins of American interests.

Beyond those margins? We will aid and trade with whatever clients can maintain a vestige of civilized order without too much regard to the niceties of  formal state legitimacy. Too many states will be ceding autonomy to subnational and transnational entities on their territory in the next few decades and we will have to abide by that reality if regions of the world become Somalia writ large. What to do? A number of recommendations come to mind:

  • Get our own economic house in order with greater degrees of transparency and adherence to rule of law in our financial sector. Legitimacy and stability, like charity, begins at home.
  • Adopt policies that strengthen the principle of national sovereignty and enhance legitimacy rather than weaken or erode it. This does not mean respecting hollow shells of fake states that are centers of disorder, but respecting legitimate ones that effectively govern their territory
  • Foreign policies that reject oligarchical economic arrangements in favor of encouraging liberalization of authoritarian-autarkic state economies prior to enacting political reforms ( democracy works better the first time on a full stomach).
  • Create a grand strategy board to advise senior policy makers and improve the currently abysmal level of strategic calculation and assessment prior to the US assuming open-ended commitments to intervention
  • Accept that the Laws of War require a realistic updating to deal with the international equivalent of outlaws, an updating that contradicts and rejects the 1970’s era diplomatic effort to privilege irregular combatants over conventional forces.
  • Fighting foreign insurgencies is something best done by primarily by locals, if willing, with our aid and advice. If those with the most to lose are not willing to stand, fight and die then they deserve to lose and the US should either eschew getting involved at all or resolve to secure whatever vital interest that exists there by brute force and make certain that reality is clearly communicated to the world (i.e. Carter Doctrine).  Truly vital interests are rare.

Elkus on Wikileaks and Sovereignty

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

Adam Elkus has a smart piece up at Rethinking Security that deserves wider readership:

WikiLeaks and Sovereignty

….WikiLeaks represents the idea that states have no inherent authority to hold onto vital national secrets. Because information is fundamentally boundless and unlimited by the “oldthink” of national borders and politics, state control over proprietary information is irrelevant. WikiLeaks and other radical transparency advocates believe that they-an unelected, transnational elite-can pick and choose which states are good and bad and whose secrets deserve exposure. And if information deserves to be free-and the only people who would keep it from being so are those with something to hide-then it is fine for non-state networks to arrogate themselves the right to receive and expose state secrets.

….While WikiLeaks is often positioned as a champion of digital democracy, it is actually wholly anti-democratic. It transfers power and security from national governments and their publics to unelected international activist organizations and bureaucrats. While this may seem like a harsh interpretation, there is no check on the likes of Julian Assange. Governments-even autocratic ones-still must contend on a day-to-day basis with the people. Even China had to face a reckoning after the Wenzhou train crash. WikiLeaks and other radical transparency organizations mean to replace one group of elites-which at least nominally can be called to court-with another who are accountable only to their own consciences.

Read the whole thing here.

Let me add a few comments to Adam’s excellent analysis.

Wikileaks and Julian Assange were not and have never been, lone wolves or information-must-be-free martyrs. They are allied with important institutions and individuals within the Western progressive elite, not least major media heavyweights like The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, but also sympathizers within Western governments. Unless you think that Pvt. Bradley Manning was a hacker wunderkind with an intuitive grasp of which files that could be swept up to further a sophisticated political agenda, the man had some inside help from further up the food chain.

Adam is correct to describe these political factions as anti-democratic because they are and while leaking has been going on as long as there have been governments, we now have the emergence of a transnational generational clique that see themselves as entitled to rule and impose policies that comport with their social prejudices, economic self-aggrandizement and ideological fetishes, whether the people support them or not. A vanguard attitude, if not an organizational vanguard.

Wikileaks and other devices operating in shadowy undercurrents are their form of liberum veto against the rest of us in the instances where they are not completely in control, thus migrating political power from responsible state institutions to the social class that currently fills most of the offices and appointments. So far, their actions have been largely cost-free because their peers in government, however irritated they may be at the effects of Wikileaks, are loath to cross the Rubicon and hammer these influential conspirators with whom they went to school, intermarry, do business, live amongst and look out for the careers of each other’s children the way they have hammered Bradley Manning.

The same oligarchical class indulgence is seen in the financial crisis where almost none of the people responsible for massive criminal fraud in the banking and investment  sectors that melted the global economy have faced prosecution, unlike previous financial scandals like the S&L crisis or BCCI where even iconic figures faced grand juries. Instead of indictments, the new class received subsidies, bonuses and sweetheart, secret deals from their alumni chums running central banks and national governments. 

Carl Prinecommenting on a much narrower and wholly American slice of this corrupt camarilla, described this new class very well:

Let me be blunt.  A late Baby Boomer generation of politicians, bankers, reporters and generals has formed into a cancer inside this democracy, and their tumorous leadership won’t be kind to your future.

Unfortunately, this cancer is not limited to our democracy, it is the root of the decline of the West.

PRISM: Col. Bob Killebrew on Criminal Insurgency

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Criminal Insurgency” is becoming a preferred term of art to describe entities like the Narco-cartels of Mexico that have evolved from transnational criminal organizations into groups with paramilitary and intelligence capabilities or Colombia’s FARC which formerly was a model Marxist insurgency but devolved downward into a drug trafficking army. The term is used partly to placate doctrinaire purists among defense intellectuals who see insurgency definitively as armed political movements following Mao’s three stages or bust. After all, they have only had since the late 80’s and early 90’s, when Bill Lind and Martin van Creveld warned them this was coming, to get used to the idea.

Colonel Robert Killebrew, a smart fellow at CNAS, has an article in NDU‘s PRISM that puts the problem of criminal insurgency into a hemispheric context:

Criminal Insurgency in the Americas and Beyond

….Essentially, the United States faces external and internal challenges in reorienting to more effectively fight the cartels and their allies. Refocusing U.S. policy from a “war on drugs” to a more comprehensive fight against the cartels and gangs is essential if the United States and its allies are to prevail. Since the basis of the cartels’ survival lies in the control of regions where governmental control is nonexistent and populations may be impoverished and alienated, successful counter-cartel strategies are fundamentally counterinsurgency strategies developed by the concerned states themselves and supported by the United States. Counter-cartel strategies must first be political strategies, integrating military and police activity into a broader political approach that emphasizes the rule of law as an alternative to the rule of force. Four aspects of a Western Hemisphere counter-cartel strategy follow.

First, step up the direct attacks on the cartels. Over the past decades, U.S. law enforcement professionals have developed successful operational techniques that cartel leaders fear: partnerships with effective local police (often with U.S. training), expertise with judicially approved wiretaps and electronic surveillance, rewards programs that make criminal bosses vulnerable to betrayal, and, above all, when local laws permit, extradition to U.S. courts and prisons. The United States and its allies should increase the capability for multiagency field operations in all these dimensions, as well as the professionalization of host country military forces for operations requiring holding ground while the rule of law is reinstituted by other national agencies. DEA already operates throughout the region and has solid relationships with counterpart agencies; additionally, the agency has worked closely with U.S. combatant commands, notably U.S. Southern Command, where its powerful extraterritorial jurisdiction authority supplemented the military’s own programs to help U.S. allies in the region. DEA should continue to advise and assist host country police and counternarcotics forces, but the size of the agency must be greatly increased. With 5,500 agents spread over the hemisphere-including the United States-the agency that plays such a key role in the ongoing war with the cartels is spread too thin.

Second, the U.S. and its allies must continue to attack the cartels’ financial networks and money-laundering capabilities-a key strategy that requires more resourcing at Treasury. Cartel leaders fear U.S. indictments and extradition to American courts; extradition, exposure, and seizure of “dirty” money from criminal operations are all effective strategies that identify kingpins and threaten them with trials in U.S. courts and long terms in U.S. prisons. The United States has learned to use financial analysis and indictments as weapons against the cartels, even when they are beyond the immediate reach of U.S. law. Their use should be expanded.

Third, help our neighbors build more functional state institutions, particularly courts, and stimulate economic growth. In terms of the U.S. role and our assistance to allies, our understanding of security assistance must be broadened to include effective assistance to police and courts. For example, as part of Plan Colombia-a Colombian-developed counter-cartel strategy-the United States provided the Colombian National Police (CNP) with telecommunications-intercept equipment and, working through the Department of Justice, helped the CNP build a judicial process to support wiretap investigations. The result was a powerful tool that assisted indictments against cartel leadership and extraditions to the United States for prosecution. Likewise, assisting host nations to build strong, noncorrupt judicial systems is critical to assisting or restoring stable governments in areas threatened by cartel or other insurgent violence; courts, appellate courts, and efficient prisons are key pieces. Other U.S. agencies and contractors can provide other materiel assistance, training, partnership, and, when authorized, direct help in specified areas such as the collection of certain kinds of strategic intelligence. The U.S. Department of Defense can provide advisors and trainers on the Colombia model to supplement local military and law enforcement efforts, and occasionally direct aid in the form of helicopter transportation and naval support.61

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