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Archive for August, 2011


Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Two items caught my eye.

First, the celebratory piece on General David Petraeus, retiring to take the helm of the CIA, in the Washington Post:

The impact of Gen. David Petraeus, in four takes

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the most recognized military officer of his generation, retires from the Army today after roughly four decades in uniform and a career like no other.

With that in mind, we invited four defense experts to reflect on his record. Some of them have known the general up close, others from afar. To each the question was the same: What is his legacy and how has he shaped the U.S. armed forces?

For some, Petraeus will be remembered as the model statesman-soldier – commander of two wars launched by the United States and chief intellectual author of a counterinsurgency doctrine that advances American interests. But for others, Petraeus will be remembered less for his remarkable accomplishments – which are almost universally admired – than for his association with a U.S. foreign policy that, in their view, is costly, misguided and not always effective.

In other words, the story of Gen. David Petraeus is in many ways the story of America’s wars.

The experts’ submissions – mini-essays of sorts – are below.

Celeste Ward Gventer on separating the myth from the man

Michael O’Hanlon on an overachieving superstar

Christopher A. Preble on the chief strategist for unnecessary wars

John Nagl on a soldier, teacher, mentor and commander

Hat tip to Lexington Green

Dr. Nagl compares Petraeus to Dwight Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant. O’Hanlon compares him to Michael Jordan. Preble claims Petraeus as “one of the finest officers of his generation” but Gventer remarks that Petraues is a “fine military officer” who “doubtless has virtues” sounds oddly backhanded and grudging. Who doesn’t have some virtues?

I have never written much about General Petraeus, specifically. I like him because he seems supremely competent in more than one narrow dimension, a quality sorely lacking in public life these days, as well as highly intelligent. Comparing him to Grant, Eisenhower and Michael Jordan(?) is a tad premature, however. Even Grant wasn’t Grant until after Appomattox, and as the general is going to be a very important player “in the arena” for some time, that kind of praise may not be helpful for a man who is taking over an org whose senior mandarins have become notorious for leaks and intriguing to sabotage Directors sent by the White House to curb their independence. There’s a line somewhere between hagiography for a man who still has things to accomplish and a throwaway psuedo-compliment that minimizes a legacy, which in the case of David Petraeus is significant.

Secondly, on a lighter note, Courtney Messerschmidt, the gamine of milblogging and Great Satan’s Girlfriend, has some good-natured fun at the expense of Abu Muqawama:

The Adventures Of Abu Muqawama

…When Captain Ex became exCaptain Ex and made the move into making his brain more bigger, it was easy for for funk obsessed critics to dismiss the new millennium’s wunder killer kind  as  another of CNAS cadres Das Unaussprechlichen COIN Külten‘s expert killers of killers who were sweetly turning AFPAK into a safe word.

Sev cats on the intell T ism side of the scale secretly whispered Abu was either – taking terrible risks – hanging out with creepy Hiz’B’allah cats in Leb, naming his site with a transliteration of the same name as the collective of rocket happy jerks led by their gross, overtly robust Body Part Collector General and getting all paw paw (no fun of any kind) on Drones Gone Wild!

Or was Abu playing enemies with the goal of assuring their annihilation – often in slow and painful ways? [….]

Perhaps it is indeed foolish to cross Dr. Exum, as I believe he may be of Scots-Irish stock…

Shopping and sacrifice

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — values ]


Sacrifice was high among the unifying ideals that many Americans hoped would emerge from the rubble of ground zero, where so many Good Samaritans had practiced it. But the president scuttled the notion on the first weekend after the attack, telling Americans that it was his “hope” that “they make no sacrifice whatsoever” beyond, perhaps, tolerating enhanced airline security. Few leaders in either party contradicted him. Bush would soon implore us to “get down to Disney World in Florida” and would even lend his image to a travel-industry ad promoting tourism. Our marching orders were to go shopping.

I’ve drawn this partial paragraph from Frank Rich‘s New York piece of August 27th, The 9/11 decade is now over. The terrorists lost. But who won? – it really caught my attention.

If you shake it down in the mind like someone panning for gold to get rid of the lightweight details, the heavier material that remains for you to sort through will, I think, consist of two words: “sacrifice” as representing one order of values, gleaming in contrast with the darker “shopping” representing another.

Yesterday I made a post about words and culture, this one is about culture and sacrifice… what comes next will be the series on ritual and ceremonial…

Carl Prine: recommended reading

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — war, reading lists ]


Not exactly delighted by the reading list recently provided by the inbound Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Carl Prine at Line of Departure will be offering a “weekly discussion about how one might know one’s self” – Sun Tzu suggests that such knowledge is of value to the professional soldier — via texts other than the “middlebrow books of a recent vintage, pulp paperbacks” of the Army’s recommended readings.

Today he opened with an essay on the First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, and quoted the final paragraph from Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man:

And here I was, with my knobkerrie in my hand, staring across at the enemy I’d never seen. Somewhere out of sight beyond the splintered tree-tops of Hidden Wood a bird had begun to sing. Without knowing why, I remembered that it was Easter Sunday. Standing in that dismal ditch, I could find no consolation in the thought that Christ was risen. I sploshed back to the dug-out to call the others up for “stand-to.”

I could only respond with a passage that I first encountered, likewise, on a blog – Pat Lang‘s Sic Semper Tyrannis – from Sassoon’s friend and fellow poet of the Great War, Wilfred Owen:

For 14 hours yesterday, I was at work-teaching Christ to lift his cross by the numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands mute before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.

And I think to myself how much more power there is in either one of those paragraphs, than in that quip about “no atheists in foxholes”.

* * *

It’s not a matter of one of those “God or no God” debates in which some clergyman might triumph over some atheist, or vice versa, on TV or at the town or village hall. It’s a matter of cultural riches, of having a reference base of image and story that’s strong enough to express the horrors of Passchendaele or the Marne in a way that speaks to the hearts of those who were not there — and of those who will find themselves there, all too really, in other times and other lands.

It’s about narrative deep enough to go with you to Golgotha and back. It’s about the words, and about the furnace.

Prine himself puts it like this:

I care only of your soul and how it might be fired in the smithy of this blog and then hammered by your experiences in the coming years.

Our culture is the smithy.

Anonymous and Master Roger, a review

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

 by J. Scott Shipman


Anonymous and Master Roger, Anonymous, Notary of King Béla The Deeds of the Hungarians, Master Roger’s Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tartars

 Back in June Zen posted a couple of mini book reviews, and David Schuler posted this comment: 

 “For moderns inclined to romanticize war in antiquity may I recommend The Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tartars?  It became available in English translation fairly recently and constitutes a first-hand account of the Mongol invasion of Hungary.  The violence, not only against persons and property, but against the land itself is notable and eye-opening.”

The title was enough to pique my interest, and since I knew very little of this period I went to Amazon UK and purchased a copy (US versions are prohibitively expensive) . That said, I didn’t expect to get around to reading for some time, but if I don’t “buy” a book while it is still on my mind, I’ll likely forget as the pile continues, “without ceasing” (to wax Biblical) to grow. For an obscure text, the introduction drew me in and I was hooked enough to read a few pages a day.

The book has ample and informative introductions to each work. The stories are presented in Latin on one page and English on the facing page.

The narratives are very different, Anonymous was a Notary to King Béla (circa 1196), and he recounts the deeds of Hungarian royalty, and the behind the scenes machinations of the royal court. Anonymous’ account was laced with both biblical and classic texts and was quite tedious, predictably obsequious but while at the same time offering up little snippets here and there—and often in the notes. A note in the section titled 40. The Victory of Prince Árpád, Anonymous wrote: “…for thirty four days and in that place the prince and his noblemen ordered all the customary laws of the realm and all its rights.” The editors included the following footnote with respect to “rights.”

 “The translation of ius (in contrast to lex, “law”) is a problem that is not only linguistic. Translators of Roman legal texts often retain ius, as it implies law, justice, rights along with all their connotations. Modern English does not distinguish lex from ius, Gesetz from Recht, or loi from droit, which may explain the generally supine Anglo-Saxon attitude towards the law and authority in general…”

Schuler was right in his description of Master Roger’s first hand account of the Tartar invasion (1241/42); horrific comes to mind. There is no romance. The brutality and ruthlessness of the Tartars is awe-inspiring and fearful 900 years removed. The tactics of the Tartars are textbook examples of psychological warfare before the term was coined—and their ability to “get inside” their adversaries decision-making loop (OODA, anyone?) was remarkable.

The ancient Sorrowful Lament story was reassuring of the power and resilience of the human spirit. The deprivations experienced by the Hungarians were not unique in human history, but serve to illustrate how resilient a people can be when things truly go to hell in a hand basket. When their leaders failed, the Hungarians found way to live in spite of their feckless unprepared leaders, and in spite of a ruthless, blood and booty thirsty enemy.

Anonymous and Master Roger is recommended to anyone wanting to understand the human condition, whether royalty, peasant, bureaucrat, or barbarian. This is an important book…for a “sorrowful lament” has much to teach us about the human condition and how little man changes. This highly eclectic little title comes highly recommended and many thanks to Dave for sharing.

Postscript: One remarkable thing about this book, printed in Hungary, is the high quality construction using good paper and string.

There are no references to share for this volume, however if this volume is indicative of their work, Central European Medieval Texts are to be commended and followed.

BTW, Joey recommended Millenium by Tom Holland and I’m about half-way through—excellent thus far!

Recommended Reading & Recommended Viewing

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Top Billing! SWJ Blog The Natural Law of Strategy (Wm. J. Olson)

…Perhaps this is because there is a disconnect between policy formulation and strategy, which is meant to bridge the gap between intention and action. If so, then the idea of incorporating „ends? into strategy seems amiss. Strategy, as such, is not about ends, which are provided by another, perhaps mysterious, process and handed off. There is no trinity of ends, ways, and means. All of this may be semantic confusion, since „strategy? is a slippery term that everyone knows the meaning of but doesn?t recognize it when they see it. Or perhaps the distinction lies in the difference between Grand Strategy and strategy, the former concerned primarily with ends the latter mostly with ways and means. In this case, strategy merely restates the ends of Grand Strategy with the intent of now adding ways and means to get the job done. This hardly seems an improvement or a clarification that clarifies.

Grand Strategy, as such, derives its ends from policy. Thus it does not-cannot–provide its own ends. It only reflects them. Perhaps the distinction and the difference lie in the level of detail expected in the respective precincts of activity. Grand Strategy, then, is closest to policy and policy formulation, an intermediate step, and while less abstract than policy it begins the process of translating intent into effort. Strategy, the next step down, then concerns itself with details once the big ideas are set. But again, including ends in strategy, except to note that they have been imported from elsewhere from a process unrelated to strategy, suggests that strategy is really about ways and means.

Thomas P.M. Barnett –  Some serious heavyweights join Wikistrat’s global lineup of strategists

I’ve spent much of August now making pitches to analysts/thinkers/strategists I deeply respect, asking them to join Wikistrat’s community of strategists.

And I’ve got to tell you, we’ve got some real stars coming our way:  Dmitri Trenin from Carnegie Moscow, Daniel Pipes from the Middle East Forum, Robert Kaplan from the Center for a New American Security, and Michael Schueur of “Imperial Hubris” fame. From the blogging world we’ve attracted Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, Mr. “Anglosphere” James Bennett, James Joyner from Outside the Beltway and this blog’s “neighbor” ZenPundit. We’re also signing up a number of World Politics Review writers like Frida Ghitis and editor-in-chief Judah Grunstein.

Always nice to get a public nod in a group of names like that!

Jamais Cascio –  About Foresight (a minor rant)

Thomas Rid – Quoting URLs in Academic Papers 

Not exactly a super exciting topic, but useful.

Global Guerrillas –JOURNAL: Open Source Education

This fills a useful niche. Breaks down where feedback is required for student mastery or growth ; a brilliant instructor cannot meaningfully respond to questions from 50,000 students (call it the “Robert Scoble on twitter” effect) but where intrisic motivation can do it, this is a great concept.

The Glittering Eye –Alter for the Defense

….Rhetorically, this is called “burden shifting”. The burden of proof is on the affirmative and in this case the affirmative position is that President Obama should be re-elected and it’s up to the president to make his case. The case against him can be observed just by looking around.

Daniel Drezner- Why Libya is not a template for future military statecraft

Drezner takes Zakaria to task.


Wilf Owen on Britain, Israel and the use of force.

I have to say, I am largely in agreement with Wilf here.

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