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Archive for December, 2011

New Books…..

Saturday, December 31st, 2011


George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

Zero History by William Gibson 

Just picked these up.

Zero History will have to wait until I read Spook Country, which sits on my shelf. Gibson is good; along with Steven Pressfield he is one of the few living writers of fiction that I will take the time to read.

The Kennan bio is a long awaited and much talked about book about the prickly and difficult father of Containment.  Gaddis, an eminent diplomatic historian and a conservative in a field that still tilts leftward and where many of his peers count opposition to the Vietnam War as the formative political experience of their lives, has probably written the most important book of his career as Kennan’s official biographer.

Will review in the future.


A poignant week or so in DoubleQuotes

Friday, December 30th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — fictitious peoples (Israelis, Palestinians), approved and disapproved scriptures (Hindu, Falun Gong), religious violence (Afghanistan, Nigeria, Bethlehem) ]

So, is there some sort of contest going on between Iranian and American ex-Speakers? Perhaps Elliott Abrams‘s response to Gingrich, quoted in the Washington Post piece, applies equally well to Haddad-Adel?

There was no Jordan or Syria or Iraq, either, so perhaps he would say they are all invented people as well and also have no right to statehood.

Next up…

And okay, what’s the point here? Is it that the Russians want to please both the Chinese and Indian governments — or that they don’t like new scriptures but are okay with old ones? Or is the problem that they haven’t decided yet on a “one size fits all” approach to unOrthodox religions?

Sigh. Next…

This is brutal — and apparently intercontinental.

You might think it’s obvious what the wrong answer is, and who’s doing the killing, in Nigeria. But these things can cut both ways:

Even here, it’s not clear who threw the bomb into the madrasa, although one could hazard a guess…

And even the site of the Nativity is infected. The Guardian’s account of events there this Christmas season is harsh in tone — but consider whose Nativity is supposedly being celebrated…

I’d say the Qur’an offers a better image of Christian monks than that experienced by those Palestinian riot police… who, in the event, although they themselves were also assailed with broom-sticks, declined to arrest anyone because, as Palestinian police lieutenant-colonel Khaled al-Tamimi put it:

Everything is all right and things have returned to normal. No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God.

Still, things could be worse. It was a squabble along similar lines in which nine several Orthodox monks were killed that triggered the Crimean War: details in Raymond Cohen, Conflict and Neglect: Between Ruin and Preservation at the Church of the Nativity — h/t Juan Cole, who also has video of this year’s brouhaha.


Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

Book Review: A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto by Jim Lacey (Ed.)

Previously, I read and reviewed Brynjar Lia’s Architect of Global Jihad, about Islamist terrorist and strategist Abu Musab al-Suri. A sometime collaborator with Osama bin Laden and the AQ inner circle, a trainer of terrorists in military tactics in Afghanistan and an advocate of jihadi IO, al-Suri was one of the few minds produced by the radical Islamist movement who thought and wrote about conflict with the West on a strategic level. Before falling into the hands of Pakistani security and eventually, Syria, where al-Suri was wanted by the Assad regime, al-Suri produced a massive 1600 page tome on conducting a terror insurgency,  The Global Islamic Resistance Call, which al-Suri released on to the jihadi darknet.

Jim Lacey has produced an English digest version of al-Suri’s influential magnum opus comprising approximately 10 % of the original  Arabic version, by focusing on the tactical and strategic subjects and excising the rhetorical/ritualistic redundancies common to Islamist discourse and the interminable theological disputation. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.

First, Lacey has produced a concise and readable book from a large mass of sometimes convoluted and repetitive theorizing that al-Suri strung together piecemeal, sometimes on the run or in hiding. For those interested in getting to the heart of al-Suri’s nizam la tanzim strategic philosophy, A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad is an invaluable resource for strategists, counter-terrorism specialists, tactical operators,  law enforcement and laymen. Secondly, it is also a useful reference for policy people to see through al-Suri’s eyes the internal political and philosophical divisions within the radical jihadi community. al-Suri himself writes very ambivalently about 9/11 as a great blow against America and yet a complete calamity in it’s effects for the “jihadi current” that destroyed everything the Islamist revolutionaries had so painstakingly built, including the Taliban Emirate. Thus a climate was created by the American counter-attack where old methods of struggle were no longer useful and jihadis must adopt radically decentralized operations ( what John Robb terms Open-Source Warfare; indeed it is clear to an informed reader that al-Suri, a wide-ranging intellectual rather than a narrow religious ideologue, was influenced by Western literature on asymmetric warfare, 4GW, Three Block War  and COIN).

The drawback to this approach is more for scholars looking at the deeper psychological and ideological drivers of jihadi policies, strategy and movement politics. The religious questions and obscure Quranic justifications cited by Islamist extremists that are so tedious and repetitive to the Western mind are to the jihadis themselves, of paramount importance in establishing both the credentials of the person making an argument but also the moral certainty of the course of action proposed. al-Suri himself had some exasperation with the degree to which primarily armchair ideologues, by virtue of clever religious rhetoric, could have more influence over the operational decisions of fighting jihadis than men with field experience like himself. By removing these citations, an important piece of the puzzle is missing.

The Musab al-Suri whose voice appears in A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad is consistent with the one seen in Lia’s book, dry, sardonic, coldly hateful toward the West and highly critical of the jihadis own mistakes, laden with overtones of pessimism and gloom. al-Suri did not envision a quick victory over the West and wrote his manifesto as a legacy for future generations of Islamist radicals because the current one was nearly spent after the American onslaught and poorly educated in comparison with predecessors like the generation of Sayid Qutb.

Strongly recommended.

The Networks of Nations

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Military theorist John Arqilla offers a provocative piece in Foreign Policy:

The (B)end of History

….How the new pattern will unfold is still unclear, but just as the first nation-states were often tempted to become empires, there may be a pattern in which nations and networks somehow seek to fuse rather than fight. Iran, in its relations with Hezbollah, provides perhaps the best example of a nation embracing and nurturing a network. So much so that, in parsing the 2006 Lebanon war between Israel and Hezbollah, most of the world — and most Israelis — counted it as a win for the network. China, too, has shown a skill and a proclivity for involving itself with networks, whether of hackers, high-sea pirates, or operatives who flow along the many tendrils of the Asian triads’ criminal enterprises. The attraction may be mutual, as nations may feel more empowered with networks in their arsenals and networks may be far more vibrant and resilient when backed by a nation. All this sets the stage for a world that may have 10 al Qaedas operating 10 years from now — many of them in dark alliances with nations — a sure sign that the Cold War–era arms race has given way to a new “organizational race” to build or align with networks.

Can’t say that I disagree with that in big picture terms. Looking long term to 2100, I wrote in Threats in the Age of Obama that the geopolitical position of nation-states would undergo a transformation:

….Nation-states in the 21st century will face a complex international ecosystem of players rather than just the society of states envisioned by traditional Realpolitik. If the predictions offered by serious thinkers such as Ray Kurzweill, Fred Ikle or John Robb prove true, then  technological breakthroughs will ensure the emergence of “Superempowered Individuals”[1] on a sizable scale in the near future.  At that moment, the reliance of the State
on its’ punitive powers as a weapon of first resort comes to an end.  Superemepowered individuals, separatist groups, insurgents and an “opting-out” citizenry will nibble recalcitrant and unpopular states to death, hollowing them out and transferring their allegiance elsewhere.

While successful states will retain punitive powers, their primary focus will become attracting followers and clients in whom they can generate intense or at least dependable, loyalty and leverage as a networked system to pursue national interests.  This represents a  shift from worldview of enforcement  to one of empowerment, coordination and collaboration. States will be forced to narrow their scope of activity from trying to supervise everything  to  flexibly providing or facilitating core services, platforms, rule-sets and opportunities – critical public goods – that the private sector or social groups cannot easily replicate or replace.  Outside of a vital core of activity, the state becomes an arbiter among the lesser, interdependent, quasi-autonomous, powers to which it is connected. 

States and their oligarchic elites seem to be attempting to counter this trend of eroding omnipotence by increasing omniscience by building panopticon societiesof 24 hour surveillence. Rulers will (theoretically) have the awareness to strike first and break up opposition movements or dissent before they can crystallize and gain the critical mass to overthrow a regime or accumulate enough countervailing power to force concessions or honest negotiation in place of stage-managed, political kabuki theater

What is on Your Desk?

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Time for a bit of lighthearted, blogging fun.

I spend a lot of time reading and writing and I do so primarily within a specific environment – my home office. The space reflects the man, to some degree.

Surveying my office space here at home, I noticed that my desk has begun, like a coral reef, to accrete various objects, oddments and curious like a layer of bric-a-brac sediment.  Some objects change, others stay forever.  Exclusive of papers, books, printers and a computer, here’s what my desk holds:

  • 1 lamp
  • 6 photographs of family and friends
  • Stapler
  • Cup of pencils and ball points
  • Two modestly priced non-disposable writing pens
  • One expensive, handmade, writing pen in case
  • A handmade, blue ceramic, pinchpot made by my Eldest in kindergarten (it holds some krazyglue and a metal skull keychain fob)
  • Two Challenge Coins from the US Army War College and Small Wars Journal
  • A Doctor Octopus figurine my son is now too old to play with (I like the mechanical arms)
  • A ceramic coaster made by aforementioned Boy in pre-school with his handprint
  • A brass dagger letter opener (Shiny!)
  • A case of CD-ROMs of a very large comic book collection (graciously sent to me by Eddie Beaver for the Boy)
  • A battered WWI French Army helmet
  • A candle holder with a picture of my Eldest when she was approximately three or four
  • A nondescript, lidless box holding post-it notes, business cards collected from various people, phone numbers on paper scraps, paper clips, spare ear buds and headsets for iPods/iPads
  • One small ceramic seal figurine (origin unknown, think it was left here years ago by my Eldest)

I am officially “tagging” the following bloggers to describe what is on their desks in the same fashion – they may, if they wish, inflict this post on a new group of victims:

Lexington Green
J. Scott Shipman
Charles Cameron
Dave Dilegge
Joseph Fouche
Adam Elkus
Shane Deichman
Lewis Shepherd
Carl Prine
Crispin Burke
Dave Schuler
Cheryl Rofer
Shlok Vaidya
Steven Pressfield
Doctrine Man
Sean Meade
The Meatballs

Readers are invited to list their strangest or most beloved desk object in the comment section. Have at it!


Hmmm…it appears that some may be doubting the authenticity of some of my claims….I never bluff 😉

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