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Archive for December, 2005

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005


In the comments section of Richards Brief post, Dan of tdaxp asked, in reference to my crticism of the assertion by Dr. Chet Richards that Afghanistan represented a ” proximate cause” of the Soviet Union’s collapse, that I explain further my contention that:

“Thirdly, Dr. Richards vastly overestimates the role of Afghanistan in provoking the Soviet collapse. While the war in Afghanistan certainly did not help matters for the Soviets, the cost of battling mujahedin was fractional compared to the vast sums the Soviets were spending as a percentage of GDP on military and state security services. Morally, the regime had crippled itself in the mod-1960’s when Brezhnev-Kosygin-Suslov reversed Khrushchev’s attempts to morally reconnect the regime with the Russian people and imposed a creeping ” neo-Stalinist” orthodoxy that became more sterile as the Politburo grew grayer. Afghanistan was a product of the Soviet leadership’s total moral isolation and the regime’s economic implosion, not the cause.”

In 4GW theory, a school of thought that draws deeply from the ideas of the late Colonel John Boyd, moral conflict is a more important (i.e. decisive) domain in which to orient strategy than the physical or mental. As DNI puts it on their website:

“The focus (Schwerpunkt) of the non-state player’s operations is to collapse the state morally, that is, to rob it of its will to continue the fight. What is new is that one of the states in question may be a distant superpower and the non-state participant a transnational, ideological group”

Now for some background in Soviet history to provide the context that explains why I think Dr. Richards has Afghanistan ” backwards” as a cause when it is really an effect of a preexisting moral collapse of Soviet power.

Nikita Sergeievitch Khrushchev is generally misunderstood by the Western public and not a few scholars. Most people recall Khrushchev as a dangerous buffoon who banged his shoe at the UN and blinked during the Cuban Missile Crisis that he recklessly provoked. This is, in my view, a serious misreading of a very ruthless Soviet politician; one who rose under Josef Stalin and succeeded him as ruler of the Soviet Union while supposedly better men like Kosior and Voznesensky went to unmarked graves.

Khrushchev came to power after Stalin had throroughly terrorized Soviet society for nearly thirty years, slaughtering some 20 to 61 million citizens along the way, the final figure depending on what kind of yardstick of moral responsibility one cares to use. After orchestrating the 1954 coup against Beria, Khrushchev was always more than simply primus inter pares but he never enjoyed Stalin’s undisputed power, instead checking his Presidium rivals through his dominance of the Central Committee of the CPSU and his support in the early years from the marshals of the Red Army. To understand Soviet foreign policy in the Khrushchev era one must realize that he was also manuvering against internal rivals – first Beria and Malenkvov, then Molotov and Kaganovich and finally Suslov, Kosygin and Brezhnev.

Stalinism had thoroughly demoralized Soviet society as evidenced by the near total collapse of Soviet armies during the initial phase Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Were it not for the politically obtuse racial barbarism of the Nazis that provoked a desperate resistance and the placement of SMERSH and NKVD machine gun units to prevent Red Army units from retreating, it is doubtful the USSR would have survived WWII. After the war, Stalin and Beria set about reimposing the terror system and many historians believe that Stalin was at the point of initiating a new, mammoth, antisemitic, purge when he suddenly died in March 1953.

Khrushchev, who was of the generation that experienced both the Bolshevik Revolution and the savage Russian Civil War, sought to revive the status of the CPSU, rehabilitate its reputation and secure his own position by restoring the Soviet Union to the true ” Leninist” path, relegating Stalin’s crimes to an aberration. He did so through a contradictory program of:

De-Stalinization – via the “Secret Speech“, the Khrushchev thaw and emptying the camps

Peaceful Coexistence with the West – competing through space and economic development

Support for ” Wars of National Liberation – and leaders like Nasser, Castro, Nehru.

Consumerism, Soviet style – de-emphasizing heavy industry, slashing conventional military budgets, investing in light industry for consumer goods and agrarian development of ” virgin lands” to raise Soviet living standards.

In short, Khrushchev’s program which he brought about by tactical shifts and improvisation, ran against many key tenets of Stalinist thought. As erratic as Khrushchev may have seemed at the time, his policy was ” Re-Legitimization” of the regime; to try and bring real benefits to the Soviet citizen either materially by raising living standards, culturally by relaxing censorship or in terms of prestige and national pride by achievements like Sputnik and ICBMs. He tried to portray the Communist Party as a another victim of Stalin’s homicidal paranoia by stressing the events of the terrible 1937 “Yezhovschina ” – ignoring of course Stalin’s Ukranian genocide or Collectivization, both of which had left Khrushchev’s own hands dripping with blood.

All of Khrushchev’s rivals except (ironically) Beria and Kosygin were either die-hard Stalinists like Molotov and Suslov or nostalgic neo-Stalinists like Brezhnev who wanted a velvet glove, ” soft” version of the dead dictator’s U.S.S.R. While Khrushchev’s program in terms of its parts were incompatible, he was popular outside of the Nomenklatura and secret police ranks whose prerogatives and status were made insecure by his quixotic reforms. Some of Khrushchev’s ideas, at least in the Soviet central planning context, made a good deal of sense and ideologically at least, his foreign policy, however provocative, was far closer to Lenin’s than Stalin’s imperial realpolitik ever was.

Brezhnev, prompted by Mikhail Suslov, eventually reversed all of Khrushchev’s reforms, he tightened up censorship, broadened the powers of the KGB, poured 25 % of Soviet GDP into military industry ( even Stalin would have balked at that figure !). The Nomenklatura that Stalin once terrorized into robotic obedience, Brezhnev bought off with an indulgence of widespread corruption. The Soviet populace, as Hedrick Smith recorded at the time, were left deeply alienated, cynical and in despair.

Then in December 1979, an ailing Leonid Brezhnev, who was then only capable of working 2-3 hours per week, met with Stalin’s last Politburo appointee, Mikhail Suslov and his fellow septuagenarians, Andropov, Gromyko, Ustinov and Chernenko and gave his feeble assent as General Secretary of The Communist Party of The Soviet Union to the invasion of Afghanistan.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005


Quick and dirty…yet still good.

The No Free Lunch Theorem and Resilience” at Opposed System Design

Civil War in Iraq” by Bruce Kesler at The Democracy Project

What Extremists Are Saying” at CENTCOM.mil has a synopsis of the latest al Qaida tape by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. CENTCOM does not do archived posts in this section so what you get when you click on the link will reflect what CENTCOM has up on the day you click it.

The Best Machine Wins” by the semi-ubiquitous praktike.

Global Swarm: Explaining GWOT through Thomas Barnett, Huntington, Global Guerillas” by Strategy Unit

That’s it.

Monday, December 19th, 2005


Kobayashi Maru tagged me with the 7X7 Meme which I am now answering and passing along to unfortunate blogging victims. The Meme goes like so:

1. Seven things to do before I die
2. Seven things I cannot do
3. Seven things that attract me to (…)
4. Seven things I say most often
5. Seven books (or series) that I love
6. Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would if I had time)
7. Seven people I want to join in, too.

Here I go:

Seven Things To Do Before I Die:

Publish a great book ( or two)
Explore Australia and New Zealand
Learn Kendo
Finish the doctorate
Visit Tibet and Bhutan
Test myself to the physical limit and prevail
Raise my children to be more than their father

Seven Things I Cannot Do:

Feign the slightest interest in major league baseball
Refrain from mocking my co-workers
Stay organized
Watch most television programs
Pretend that evil and small-minded people are not what they are
Enjoy casserole
Ask for help

Seven Things That Attract Me to…Conversing With Other Smart People

The chance to learn something new
I seldom need to explain my jokes
Chances are, given enough time, they will reveal something wacky about themselves
To measure myself against them
Comfort Zone
They actually read books
It energizes me

Seven Things I Say Most Often

” Dude”
” counterintuitive”
” Perhaps”
” Before it breaks bad…”
” Domain”
” Time to post up”
” Quite an icebreaker”

Seven Books That I Love

The Prince
The Lord of The Rings
The Gulag Archipelago

One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich
Atlas Shrugged
The Art of War

Seven Movies That I Watch Over and Over Again:

The Matrix
12 Angry Men
Lord of The Rings
Rebel Without a Cause

Seven People I Want To Join In Too

Dr. Von
Dave Schuler
TM Lutas
Seven Inches of Sense

Monday, December 19th, 2005


“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. “

– Sun Tzu

Dr. Chet Richards, the editor of Defense & The National Interest, former collaborator with military theorist Colonel John Boyd and author of A Swift Elusve Sword, has posted a brief based on his forthcoming book, Neither Shall The Sword . It’s a breathtaking piece of work that argues not for a mere “revolution in military affairs” but that the nature of warfare is undergoing an epochal shift.

Even if you have read The Sling and The Stone or are generally familiar with the ideas of John Boyd or other theorists like William Lind, Thomas P.M. Barnett or Philip Bobbitt this one by Dr. Richards is a fall out of your chair brief.

Drawing on Martin van Creveld, William Lind, John Boyd and Thomas P.M. Barnett, Richards illustrates the general theory of 4GW and takes that premise to their most radical logical conclusions regarding the appropriate military structure and geopolitical strategy for the United States. Conceding that we still do not know the final shape that 4GW will take, Richards points to the known aspects or tendencies of 4GW movements to be:

Frequently anti-State and not just anti-regime

Ideologically motivated

Emphasize conflict at the ” Moral” level

Uses the modality of guerilla warfare

The strategic posture the United States should adopt in the view of Dr. Richards is containment of problem regions and privatization of military and security functions. His rationale is that nuclear weapons makes State vs. State warfare among Core nuclear powers exceptionally unlikely and the massively expensive” Leviathan” conventional military cannot be employed effectively against 4GW insurgencies, is ponderous and too slow to adapt. We do not know how to ” rollback” nor do we reconstruct adequately or without fostering corruption. PMC’s on the other hand, being creatures of the market rather than the State, are creative and adaptive; moreover the history of pre-Westphalian era private warfare stretches back to the ancient world, so PMC’s moving to the forefront represents a return to the historical norm. Problem states will be integrated the way we absorbed the old Soviet bloc, with soft power and incentives and contained until they are ready to join the civilized world.

My Commentary:

Dr. Richards deserves great praise for his willingness to challenge not merely conventional thinking but the validity of the paradigm in which most discussions of military strategy and policy take place. It would be hard to imagine any government entity – even forums like the National Intelligence Council and the Defense Science Board, where unorthodox viewpoints are supposedly encouraged – creating so highly original a brief that challenges so many fundamental assumptions of U.S. military doctrine.

Secondly, in regard to the collapse of the Westphalian state system and the rise of PMC’s as increasingly significant evolutionary trendlines, Dr. Richards is, in my view, quite correct in emphasizing their strategic importance. They represent major changes in the global balance of power and the parameters by which that power may be exercised. PMC’s have become a necessary adjunct even to the mighty U.S. military but for small to medium sized but wealthy states, PMC’s represent power-multiplying leverage that can be hired far more cheaply than could be developed internally. If we are entering, as Philip Bobbitt argues, the era of the “Market-State”, then military power represents a commodity and not merely a public good for the State.

Critically speaking, I have a number of problems with the proposed strategy of Dr. Richards:

Foremost, is the problem of State power calculus. Currently, all the world’s actors, State and non-State, begin with the premise of American military preeminence and the substantial ” gap” between the United States and any potential first rank peer competitor. Even in our currently strained condition, national leaders are well aware that America is still capable of dealing out tremendous damage by air and sea on very short notice with a fraction of our total forces. Removing that power by a dramatic downsizing to expeditionary PMCs will badly destabilize the global system of states by lowering the risks for interstate warfare. Globally, military agression will be given newfound incentives from which unforseeable ripple effects will follow. Moreover, the PMCs themselves will make warfare more likely between minor states or lesser powers by creating a highly mobile, global labor market for advanced military skills.

Secondly, the oft-cited maxim from Mao ZeDong that ” power flows from the barrel of a gun” is in my view a good reason why PMC’s, as efficient, creative and useful as they might be, should not become completely untethered from the supervision of Core states. Nor Core states too dependent on PMC’s for their national security. The Pre-Westphalian era was not just the age of the warrior-prince but also of the freebooter amd mercenary usurper. The Free Companies that once ravaged France, Spain and Asia Minor are not a model for growth we want PMC’s to adopt. The 21st century does not need its own version of “Catalonian Revenge” playing out in Africa or Central Asia, much less in Europe and North America.

Thirdly, Dr. Richards vastly overestimates the role of Afghanistan in provoking the Soviet collapse. While the war in Afghanistan certainly did not help matters for the Soviets, the cost of battling mujahedin was fractional compared to the vast sums the Soviets were spending as a percentage of GDP on military and state security services. Morally, the regime had crippled itself in the mod-1960’s when Brezhnev-Kosygin-Suslov reversed Khrushchev’s attempts to morally reconnect the regime with the Russian people and imposed a creeping ” neo-Stalinist” orthodoxy that became more sterile as the Politburo grew grayer. Afghanistan was a product of the Soviet leadership’s total moral isolation and the regime’s economic implosion, not the cause.

Fourth, I would like to see more of what would constitute ” containment” of Gap State problems in Dr. Richards view. I’m dubious that in the absence of economic development or connectivity inside the Gap that the Core can contain the resultant migrational pressures. William Lind has written about having to wage ” Roman, that is to say annihilatory” campaigns in response to terror emanating from these states, but Julius Caesar put uncounted Germans to the sword in Gaul; his successors launched expeditions into the Rhineland, Britain and Dacia. In the end, the empire became Germanized and fell, with Rome having been sacked by Vandals and menaced by Huns.

If the utterly ruthless Romans could not make “containment” permanent, how can we ? Without some strategy to relieve the pressure of human misery we are containing, how can we “win” ?

Nevertheless this powerful brief marks Never Shall The Sword as a ” must read”book for policy makers, military officers as well as academics and journalists interested in military affairs. Dr. Chet Richards has offered a provocative and radical vision that is likely to be as deeply influential in the long-run as it will no doubt be controversial in the short-term.


Read the first review of the Richards brief by Evan Lehmann.

Read the Introduction to Never Shall The Sword by Chet Richards.

Watch the Conflict in The Years Ahead brief by Dr. Richards ( hat tip: Jacob H.)

Sunday, December 18th, 2005


As erratic as the Bush administration execution has been in Iraq, the Republicans at least do not have this problem:

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party.

Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she sad.

“There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position,” Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors. “

A “source of strength” ? Give me a break. The antiwar wingnut, DailyKOS contingent are ready to lynch Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden and pelt Hillary with rotten eggs. That kind of fratricidal feeling is a sign of strength ? Shades of the Whigs in 1852 and 1856. And the Democratic Party itself in 1860. Can you imagine Pelosi or any other top Democrat saying that Abortion, Gun Control or Tax cuts ” were a matter of individual conscience” ?

The Democratic Party is torn on foreign policy itself, not just the war in Iraq. And they are torn because a significant part of the activist base are ideologically motivated by the New Left critique of America from the Vietnam War era that views the United States as fundamentally unjust, racist, imperialist and illegitimate. They view Bush as a war criminal, the attacks of 9/11 as just deserts or at least an understandable Muslim response to U.S. support for Israel. They hope for an American defeat and sometimes call for it openly. To them events today are to be viewed and analyzed through the prism of the politics of the long-ago 1960’s antiwar movement.

This stance puts them at odds with those Democratic activists who are ” party regulars” interested in winning elections and at least half of the rank and file Democratic voters ( to say nothing of independents, moderate Republicans and conservatives). When Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago blasted Illinois Senator and Democratic whip Richard Durbin’s ” gulag ” comments it was because Daley the political boss knew that while such remarks might please Hollywood, Manhattan liberals and readers of The Nation, they didn’t play well in Peoria. Senator Durbin, with a relatively safe seat, was playing to national party activists, not to voters back home but eventually he backed down and apologized rather than cross the powerful Daley machine.

There is however, no equivalent to the Daley machine in the national Democratic Party. The left-wing extremists can and do censor the internal party debate required to formulate innovative Democratic positions for national security and foreign policy. Hence, the situational paralysis that Pelosi was trying to spin into a positive.

A major political party that cannot bring itself to speak at all on a fundamental component of national policy because of deep internal divisions is not just a party that is going to lose elections.

It is a party that is going to split.

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