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Archive for November, 2010

Tom Barnett’s Communique to the Barbarians

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

” A communication: magnificently our great Emperor soothes and pacifies China and the foreign countries, regarding all with the same kindness. If there is profit, then he shares it with the peoples of the world; if there is harm, then he removes it on behalf of the world. This is because he takes the mind of heaven and earth as his mind.”                                      – Lin Zixu

I am no Sinologist, so I am interested in how professional China-watchers interpret this signal. Here’s my two cents:

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett teamed up with two highly-regarded (inside Chinese elite circles) pundits John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min to offer a “grand strategic rebalancing” of the Sino-American relationship for the 21st century, which ran in The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Agree or disagree with the particulars, an impressive and timely move on Tom’s part.

An excerpt – but you should really read the whole thing:

….When agreed upon by the presidents of both nations through an “executive agreement” not subject to U.S. Senate ratification, it will promote U.S. economic recovery, increase U.S. exports to China, create 12 million US jobs, balance China-US trade as well as reduce U.S. government deficits and debt. Furthermore, it will stabilize the U.S. dollar, global currency and bond markets. It will also enable reform of international institutions, cooperative climate change remediation, international trade, global security breakthroughs as well as facilitate the economic progress of developed and developing economies, the stabilization and rebuilding of failed states and security of sea transport. The essence of the grand strategy is that the United States and China will balance their bilateral trade and never go to war with each other, and the US will refrain from seeking regime change and interference in China’s internal affairs with regard to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, the Internet, human rights etc. and China will continue its political, legal, economic and human rights reforms.The Taiwan situation will be demilitarized by an informal U.S. presidential moratorium on arms transfers to Taiwan, China’s reduction of strike forces arrayed against it, a reduction of U.S. strike forces arrayed against China and ongoing joint peacekeeping exercises by U.S., Chinese and Taiwan militaries.The strategic uncertainty surrounding nuclear program in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be de-escalated by the U.S. eschewing DPRK regime change goals and China ensuring that DPRK adopt policies along the lines of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms and terminate its nuclear weapons program. China, U.S., South Korean and other military forces will together ensure maritime safety in the Yellow Sea….

Read more: Thomas P.M. Barnett’s Globlogization – Thomas P.M. Barnett’s Globlogization – New China-U.S. grand strategy proposal, as published in People’s Daily Online

Publication in The People’s Daily does not imply that this blue sky missive is Chinese policy, but it would never have appeared without the sanction of some important figures in China’s government and Communist Party. I am not up to speed on elite Chinese politics, but historically, the Central Committee of the CCP was a much more integrated body of elite decision makers in the sense of mixing PLA generals, state bureaucrats and Party bigwigs than was the Soviet Cenntral Committee, which served in the post-Stalin era to cement CPSU dominance over the military and KGB. 

Set aside the merits of this “rebalancing” for later, as some points have not a hope in hell of seeing the light of day,and focus on what it means that the article has appeared at all.

First, I read this as a Mongolfier kind of trial balloon, a plausibly deniable rough draft of a Shanghai Communique 2.0 where Chinese rulers lay out their internal consensus “red line” vital interests and what they will put on the table in return, without any risk of “losing face”.

Secondly, while most of the critical noise will be over the security-military relationship, Taiwan and the total omission of Japan (!), I find the economics the most interesting section. Never before in history have two great powers with so little in common, who were not allies, so deeply entangled themselves in each others economies, basically to the point of no return. This piece tells me China’s leaders realize that a path of confrontation with America or pursuing beggar-thy-neighbor trade policy indefinitely, will mean the destruction of a generation of painfully accumulated surplus wealth, held largely in dollars and treasury securities. China’s elite would rather “double-down” on their bet on America instead of attempting to painfully wrench themselves free and cut their losses by cashing in devalued chips.

That concern is the apex of realism – a good variable to see at a time when nationalistic hubris and hypersensitivity have increasingly been on display in China’s foreign relations with great powers and weak neighbors alike. That kind of realism, other countries can do business with.

What are your thoughts?


Tom has added his briefing slides

Recommended Reading

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Top Billing! Robert MackeyWhen Cowards Speak

Dr. Mackey is a professor of military history and is a retired US. Army Lieutenant Colonel, and he unloads here on a couple of lunatic wingnuts:

….The Medal of Honor is, other than its value in precious metals, not actually worth that much, at least from a physical view. It is a piece of starry ribbon, a piece of gold, some words. No, its real worth is that it is recognition of bravery and courage under fire, from the fellow citizens of a grateful nation. The history of the Medal is filled with men who did things that few others can imagine, from young black men seizing a Confederate flag from an enemy’s hands in the Civil War, to leading soldiers up San Juan Hill (and to the White House), across No-Man’s Land in the Great War, to World War II submarine captains, bomber pilots and a little known Texan who was rejected by every service except the Army and would become the most decorated soldier in U.S. history, to young Marines in the frozen retreat in the winter of 1950 in Korea, to medics saving their dying comrades in the jungles and paddies of Vietnam, through Somalia, to today. The history of the Medal is the history of our Republic, and its winners are the best of our nation–courageous, honorable, common men, who, almost as a man, would repeat what Audie Murphy said, “I never like being called the ‘most decorated’ soldier. There were so many guys who should have gotten medals and never did – guys who were killed.”

Then you have men–and I use that word in this case to only describe the male of the human species–who have never served a day in uniform, much less a moment in combat. Who have never sacrificed for their fellow countrymen, who have never given a moment’s thought to anything but their own self-centered and selfish pursuits, men to whom the idea of running forward when others run away is anathema.

Eide Neurolearning BlogOur Metaphorical Minds

The Drs. Eide kindly respond to the discussion of metaphorical thinking that Charles and I and our commenters have had recently:

….In other research, scientists found that metaphoric ‘priming’ could change social and political attitudes. Little creepy, huh? Subliminal effects. If one looks at Marcel Just’s work involving literal and metaphorical meanings though, it’s not surprising that cross-talk occurs. What is so surprising is how common it is and how significant the effect. It’s an interesting thought that we are journeying through life constantly triggering metaphorical and literal meanings of which we are dimly aware.

John Arquilla U.S. not prepared for Mumbai-like terror attacks

Dr. Arquilla points out that the national security-homeland security establishment remain tribally wedded to the hierarchical model of counterterror response that amounts to an iron rice bowl for bureaucracies and deeply hostile to local or private citizen response to an attack.

Our military’s Northern Command, responsible for dealing swiftly with major terrorist attacks on American cities, remains largely wedded to the notion of responding by being able to move a brigade-size force – about 3,000 troops – where it’s needed in a day or so. This is too much, too late when it comes to trying to counter small teams attacking a city at several points simultaneously.

Instead of this big, bulky approach, planners should aim at being able to deploy many small teams within minutes. This means giving a lot of attention, training and resources to local law enforcement and other first responders. It means doing simple things like providing more small-arms practice for all police. They don’t have to become SWAT-like master snipers to take down terrorists – incremental improvements in a patrolman’s already strong weapons-handling skills will pay huge dividends.

Global Guerrrillas- OPEN SOURCE JIHAD

John says “I told you so” 🙂

That’s it.


Book Review: Magic and Mayhem by Derek Leebaert

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy From Korea to Afghanistan by Derek Leebaert

As I mentioned previously, I enjoyed Derek Leebaert’s earlier Cold War history, The Fifty Year Wound, so I was pleased to be sent a courtesy review copy of his latest work, Magic and Mayhem:The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan. Leebaert, a professor of government who teaches foreign policy at Georgetown university, does not disapoint; Magic and Mayhem is a lively and highly provocative excoriation of of the dysfunctional political culture of making foreign and national security policy in America.  While I found many fine points of disagreement with Leebaert in Magic and Mayhem, his broad themes constitute a healthy challenge to a dolorous status quo in Washington.

In Leebaert’s view, American foreign policy suffers from being crafted under two related evils: a culture of “magical thinking” and a cadre of professional alarmists, the “Emergency Men” who constitute a kind of self-appointed, adrenalin-addicted, national security ecclesia who exploit the magical thinking of the public and labor under its delusions themselves. It is this dual embrace of ends without a priori examination of means or ways and a lust for action that leads our foreign policy elite to embrace all manner of costumed charlatans with polished English language skills who are allegedly willing and able to be America’s “partner” in dangerous neignorhoods. From South Korean autocrats to African kleptocrats to figures of a more recent vintage. Leebaert writes:

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, with his Western-style technocrats and talk of democracy, was immensely appealing to Washington after the Taliban was ousted.  For more than seven years, reports the Times Dexter Filkins, Karzai was a “White House favorite – a celebrity in a flowing cape and dark grey fez” a dramatic outfit that he had designed himself but that had no origin in Afghani dress…..

….”We thought we had found a miracle man” moaned one diplomat. On closer inspection, the sorcerer proved unconvincing as the opium trade and corruption flourished.

I have always wondered where the hell that cape came from.

Leebaert takes aim at a wide variety of targets. I definitely do not agree with his assessments of everything and everyone who has caught his ire, but it is a list that is breathtaking in expanse; a parade of names and terms that includes, but is not limited to:

George Kennan
Douglas MacArthur
Paul Nitze
Robert McNamara
McGeorge Bundy
Peter Rodman
Donald Rumsfeld
Richard Holbrooke
Henry Kissinger
John McCain
Arms Control
John F. Kennedy

Richard Nixon
Curtis LeMay
Defense intellectuals
Lyndon Johnson
Maxwell Taylor
Dick Cheney
Cyrus Vance
George W. Bush
Oliver North
Revolution in military affairs
Richard Perle
Crisis management
MAD theory
Strategic/Security Studies
Walt Rostow
Wiliam Westmoreland
Robert Kennedy
Bernard Lewis
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Lawrence Summers
George Tenet
Robert Kaplan
Samuel Huntington
John Abizaid
Stan McChrystal
Barack Obama
David Ignatius
Thomas Friedman
David Brooks
US Public Diplomacy
Jimmy Carter
Michael O’Hanlon

That, by the way, was not comprehensive.

It would be a much shorter list to cite those statesmen of whom Leebaert approved – men like Henry Stimson, Dean Acheson, Matthew Ridgway, Omar Bradley, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, George Schultz and Ronald Reagan. The book is not flawless. There are minor factual errors. Not every person or doctrine in Magic and Mayhem is considered in depth.  At times, Leebaert comes across as glib or superficial in his criticism, but predominantly, as with the cases of Kissinger or Rumsfeld, his bitter jeremiads are skewering their targets.

Leebaert argues for a considered retreat from policy alarmism and the cult of emergency, and for a reduction of ambitious American policy grandiosity that would flow from recognizing and respecting the agency of other nation’s leaders and peoples. Implicitly, a call not so much for isolationism, as for restraint and a sense of proportion, coupled with a dimunition of status and power for national security “celebrities” and the cottage industry of think tank consultancy for which they stand.

Magic and Mayhem is a book that was written to demystify shibboleths and smash idols.

What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

by Charles Cameron
It’s easily missed. It’s part of the “small print” that most small-format paperbacks carry on the copyright page:

The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

Here’s the picture that AQAP took of the copy of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations they inserted into one of their bombs recently – which they then published in issue 3 of their English language magazine Inspire:


And here’s the explanation that accompanies that photo, in a piece titled “The Objectives if Operation Hemorrhage” by their “Head of the Foreign Operations Team”:

This current battle fought by the West is not an isolated battle but is a continuation of a long history of aggression by the West against the Muslim world. In order to revive and bring back this history we listed the names of Reynald Krak and Diego Diaz as the recipients of the packages. We got the former name from Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Krak des Chevaliers who was one of the worst and most treacherous of the Crusade’s leaders. He fell into captivity and Salahuddeen personally beheaded him. The name we used for the second package was derived from that of Don Diego Deza, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition after the fall of Granada who along with the Spanish monarchy supervised the extermination and expulsion of the Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula employing the most horrific methods of torture and done in the name of God and the Church. Today we are facing a coalition of Crusaders and Zionists and we in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine. How can we forget it when our motto is: “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we meet”? So we listed the address of the “Congregation Or Chadash”, a Gay and Lesbian synagogue on our one of our packages. The second package was sent to “Congregation B’nai Zion”. Both synagogues are in Chicago, Obama’s city.
We were very optimistic about the outcome of this operation. That is why we dropped into one of the boxes a novel titled, Great Expectations.

They may not have read the book or seen the movie, as Ibn Siqilli comments at the link above, but they do have long memories and/or a taste for history, and they are indeed sending signals with small details like the fictitious names of their addressees.


This is in line with one of the basic premises of Islamic thought: that the world we inhabit is a world of ayat or symbols (the singular is ayah, and the word is also used to refer to the verses of the Qur’an, each of which is viewed as a symbolic utterance). Here, for instance, is a passage from Fazlun Khalid’s paper, Islam and the Environment, from the website of Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought:

The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the self and as Nasr explains, “… when Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an … they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an … they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat … for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. As the Qur’an says, “there are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (Adh-Dhariat, 51:20, 21).


BTW, I don’t think Penguin (or, for that matter, Charles Dickens) got paid for that book… whatever their expectations may have been.

Metaphors as Catalyst and Scaffold

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Via John Hagel, a particularly interesting NYT article on the neroscience of metaphors. I have always considered metaphors and analogies to be a “spark” or a “catalyst” to insight but they appear to be potentially structural organizers or “signal switches” of information processing:

This Is Your Brain on Metaphors

….Symbols, metaphors, analogies, parables, synecdoche, figures of speech: we understand them. We understand that a captain wants more than just hands when he orders all of them on deck. We understand that Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” isn’t really about a cockroach. If we are of a certain theological ilk, we see bread and wine intertwined with body and blood. We grasp that the right piece of cloth can represent a nation and its values, and that setting fire to such a flag is a highly charged act. We can learn that a certain combination of sounds put together by Tchaikovsky represents Napoleon getting his butt kicked just outside Moscow. And that the name “Napoleon,” in this case, represents thousands and thousands of soldiers dying cold and hungry, far from home.

And we even understand that June isn’t literally busting out all over. It would seem that doing this would be hard enough to cause a brainstorm. So where did this facility with symbolism come from? It strikes me that the human brain has evolved a necessary shortcut for doing so, and with some major implications.

….This potential to manipulate behavior by exploiting the brain’s literal-metaphorical confusions about hygiene and health is also shown in a study by Mark Landau and Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas and Jeff Greenberg of the University of Arizona. Subjects either did or didn’t read an article about the health risks of airborne bacteria. All then read a history article that used imagery of a nation as a living organism with statements like, “Following the Civil War, the United States underwent a growth spurt.” Those who read about scary bacteria before thinking about the U.S. as an organism were then more likely to express negative views about immigration.

Another example of how the brain links the literal and the metaphorical comes from a study by Lawrence Williams of the University of Colorado and John Bargh of Yale. Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes.

From this simple associative effect are the conditions from which a “eureka” moment of insight can crystallize, as it did for Archimedes in his bath:

Effect—-> Association —-> Orientation ——> Insight ——> Extrapolation/Generalization


Curtis has commented and expanded the discussion, though his comments seem to go into my akismet spam folder. Should be fixed now:


There is the potential not only for insight but also for deception, whether the deceivers are others in our milieu or we ourselves (and our brains) may be deceivers….

True. Metaphors and analogies can crystallize insughts but they can also become powerfully attractive distorions of reality – sort of “anti-models” or  “false models”.

….As a model of what might be called metaphorization, these similarities make sense.  The OODA in all its forms, including the WOODA which includes World, represents a dynamic process of cycling (although perhaps not always uniform and unidirectional cycling) of information.  The focal point of the A-OODA, Observe above, is the abstract locus of observation:  New information received from without comes into contact (abstractly speaking!) with previously built understandings, or Mental Constructs, and relatively newer insights, or Conditional Constructs.  These diverse abstract observations have, to some extent, already prepared the mind for interpretation of new information and, these observations taken as whole create an opportunity for triangulation (of a sort.)  Using Mark Safranski’s terminology, after the information is Associated, it is Oriented through analysis and synthesis, Insights may form the basis of new hypotheses which may either be conditional (re-looped into further observation w/ outside information and previous understandings) or may be accepted as finalized understandings about what one has observed (Extrapolation/Generalization).

Hmmmm…. I have read that “insight” as a neurocognitive event tends to occur in two brain regions, the lateral inferior prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. The associative work of insight correlates with the former region but the “combinatory play” cited by Einstein and referenced , if I recall, by Charles and leading to new hypothesis correlates with the latter.  I am not a neuroscientist, so I am now wondering if insight is a distributed, parallel processing, brain function or if we are really talking about two separate cognitive effects – an “Insight 1” and “Insight 2”?

Anyone who cares to weigh in here, feel free…..

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