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Recommended Reading & Viewing

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

I am behind sched on posts for a variety of reasons, but here is an effort to catch up:

Top Billing! Fred Leland – The Anatomy of Victory: What Does It Take To “Win”at Low Cost? 

Winning on the street comes in many forms and means different things to different people. Winning in law enforcement encounters can be gaining voluntary compliance through communication and negotiation or it can ebb and flow back and forth through a vast array of outcomes up to and including deadly force. Winning to the cop means one thing while to an adversary winning on his terms is quite another. What about winning in the eyes of the public? How important is public support or decent when we cops use force? What outcomes can we expect during a dynamic encounter, what about in the aftermath, with public support, without it? Does winning at low cost effect our safety and effectiveness in a positive or negative way? Is winning at any cost verses winning at low cost something we should consider more frequently?

We cops know that the use of force is always an option taken as a last resort when we have exhausted all other means and our decision is forced by the actions of the person we are dealing with. Reasonable and necessary force is not something we cops take lightly. Winning in the arena, the places where interaction and efforts are made to resolve dangerous and dynamic encounters, in real time requires a certain breed of person, a person capable of remaining mentally calm. A person who can think both critically and creatively, by critically thinking I mean, the ability to focus and to achieve understanding (real-time situation awareness), evaluates viewpoints, and solves problems; creative thinking is equally important, called fingerspitzenfuhl or the feeling in the tip of one’s fingers or feel for the situation (Napoleon called it a “gut” feeling), we cops call this ability our sixth sense. A person who deals with conflict and violence must also be Intuitive; this enables rapid decision-making without conscious awareness or effort, which is basked in training and experience, a lot of it. Self-awareness, an understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses and social skills-the ability, to assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, the use of communication skills, and the art of listening are also part of the strategic game of interaction and weigh heavily in their effects to isolate an adversary and help us to shape and reshape the events in favorable terms…. 

Logic & Emotion – Thoughts On Altimeter’s Digital Influence Report

Abu Muquwama (Elkus)- Mackinlay On The Domestication of the European National Interest 

….The difference, primarily, is that counterinsurgency and counterterrorism thinking have powerfully shaped the way security policymakers look at domestic complex operations challenges. Such a shift goes beyond the simplistic idea of police militarization, as European public security has traditionally featured the expansive use of domestic intelligence and expansive police powers for maintaining order. Though European counterinsurgency and counterterrorism thought has conceptual roots in colonial experiences, the guiding logic behind it can be seen as a liberal response to the same kind of threats that motivated the conservative reaction of the 19th century.

Fast Transients –Patterns: More pieces and parts 

So you can see that at its core, Patterns of Conflict is a concrete example of the  process that Boyd described in highly theoretical terms—invoking such arcana as Gödel, Heisenberg, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics—in “Destruction and Creation.” In the starkest of terms, Boyd is telling us that “this stuff works.” By implication here, and explicitly in the Abstract to the Discourse, he’s insisting that you can use it, too.

One word of advice: If you and I shatter the same domain, it is unlikely and in fact undesirable that we would end up with the same set of constituent parts. In other words, shattering a conceptual domain is not analogous to disassembling, say, a car. It follows, then, that we would create different syntheses / snowmobiles. This is good; otherwise we’re just applying some type of formulaic dogma, and one of us is superfluous. Plus, if there’s only one school solution, it doesn’t take a Sun Tzu-class opponent to figure it out. So in Boyd’s framework, there can be no single correct answer, and this includes Boyd’s own example that constitutes Patterns of Conflict

Rethinking Security (Tang) – Guest Post: Essence of Decision (Part II of III) and  Guest Post: Essence of Decision (Part III of III)

Highly recommended series for the natsec/diplo history fans.

Global Guerrillas-The Automation of Government Coercion 

Steven Pressfield Online –The Hero’s Journey in Myth 

Much in the vein of Charles Hill’s thinking about grand strategy and mythic narrative.

Eide Neurolearning Blog –Overthinking and Creativity – Think Like Child 

SWJ Blog (Stan Coerr) –Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam 


Thomas PM Barnett –China: some genuine stake-holding behavior 

ScienceDaily –Inequality dates back to Stone Age 

Recommended Viewing:


That’s it!

We do our job, He does His.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — today’s NYT, just war, Brennan, Obama ]


Today’s New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, refers to just war theory while comparing John Brennan, counterterrorism advisor to the President, not once but twice to a priest:

Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.

As regular readers here know, I can’t resist a hint of theology…


The President does in fact speak of “just war” in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of “just war” was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations — total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred.

That quote about “our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God” seems particularly poignant.


But let’s return to the priestcraft of John Brennan, as Harold Koh offers it to the NYT:

“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

That’s (arguably) good.


But then consider this observation from the same article:

… Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

On the face of it, John Brennan doesn’t seem to be guiding his pupil into the ways of “genuine moral rectitude” with great success, particularly regarding that bit about the just war requiring that “whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence”.


Perhaps, though, that’s okay. After all, Arnaud-Amaury, the Abbot of Cîteaux who led the siege of Béziers in which 20,000 heretics — heretics, mind you — were slaughtered, is reported to have said:

Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius

In plain English, that’s “Kill them! The Lord knows his own”.


A similar sentiment may be found in other theologies:

According to an old, old, so old it’s Archived piece in the Wall Street Journal written by Amir Taheri — whose reputation for accuracy in quotation has been questioned — the late Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali wrote a fatwa in which he said:

Among those we seize hostage or kill, some may be innocent. In that case, Allah will take them to his paradise. We do our job, He does His.

Which in turn gives me the title for this post.


But this isn’t only a Shi’ite opinion: in the same article, Taheri quotes the distinctly Sunni Abu Anas al-Shami, “the self-styled ‘mufti’ of al Qaeda”:

“There are times when Mujahedeen cannot waste time finding out who is who in the battlefield,” he wrote. “There are times when we have to assume that whoever is not on our side is the enemy.”

… which reminds me of another remark made by a recent US President …


… which in turn reminds me of the apparent paradox presented by Luke 11:23, “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth” — when set beside Luke 9:50, “And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us”.

In memoriam: a tipi and a garden, II

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Memorial Day, USA ]

2. The garden:


The Chelsea Flower Show is one of the minor Great British Occasions — a stroll in the park with some of the Kingdom’s finest horticulturalists displaying their best, and not usually the place you’d go to be reminded of war, though the show itself does take place in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the home of the Chelsea Pensioners



It is only appropriate, then, to find this picture of Skippy, a Pensioner from the Korean War, with Korean designer Hwang Ji-hae, whose garden this year won a gold medal for its representation of the DMZ between North and South Korea…



with its abandoned watchtowers and partially overgrown barbed-wire fences…



its bottles, carrying messages from those on one side of the line to friends and family unreachable on the other…



its benches made of wood and dog-tags, its memories…



and the wildflowers that have been taking over the DMZ, reasserting nature’s primacy where men’s wars were fought.


Hwang Ji-hae named her garden Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden Garden:

This year’s “DMZ Forbidden” garden is “going to be a symbolic place honoring everyone who suffered because of the war,” Hwang said in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily in December in her studio in Gwangju.

The garden is a recreation of the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, which has been kept nearly untouched for six decades since the 1953 Armistice Agreement. The zone has become a diverse habitat for various kinds of rare plants and animals.

To Hwang, the DMZ has become the “most beautiful garden on the planet,” though it symbolizes the legacies of the war and the tragic division of the Korean Peninsula at the same time, the artist said in the interview.

“The DMZ was formed organically after a major upheaval. It was created because of the war but is now a symbol of peace.”

According to a press release issued by Hwang’s agency on Tuesday night after winning the prize, 60 percent of the plants in the “DMZ Forbidden” garden are from Korea and some of them are indigenous to the DMZ area.

Hwang said that some of the British veterans of the Korean War she met last year talked about plants they saw in Korea, and they asked her to find them.

“There are six plants that are indigenous to the area near the DMZ, including Geumgang chorong [a type of bellflower], and they will all be part of the garden I’m creating,” she said during the interview in December.

“This is my way of thanking the veterans.”

In memoriam: a tipi and a garden, I

Monday, May 28th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Memorial Day, USA ]

1. The tipi:


Inside the night, Afghanistan; in Arghandab, Afghanistan, a small American army base; inside the base beside the chapel a tipi; within the tipi photos of the fallen, cigarettes, an open bible, strong bonds, strong memories.



If you look closely, you will see cigarettes offered in front of the photos of the 21 members of 1-17th Infantry Battalion, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division who had died here at the time Michael Yon, himself a former Green Beret turned warzone photojournalist, took the series of photos from which these two are taken – and which I urge you to visit this Memorial Day:

Soldiers put cigarettes in front of each photo, though they say that many of the fallen did not smoke.

Kanani Fong, friend of this blog, quotes a Blackfoot warrior’s poem in her comment on Michael Yon’s post:

What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across
the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

I don’t think a church bureaucracy has the insight yet, in these non-smoker times, to call a cigarette a sacrament – yet there’s something sacramental about the friendship that comes with the giving of a cigarette to a fellow soldier, wounded and dying. And to my Lakota friends tobacco is a sacrament: a tobacco offering, ground pushing upward into sky, a prayer.

The buffalo too are sacred to the Lakota: it was White Buffalo Calf Woman who brought them the sacred Pipe.

I ask that you visit Michael Yon’s site, and make a small donation to help him keep up the work he’s doing. Just this month he was in Burma.

The bible is open to Psalm 31, verse 5:

Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

All the President’s NSCs

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Rei Tang, who I had the pleasure of meeting and breaking bread with at the last Boyd & Beyond Conference, is guest-posting at Rethinking Security on a topic dear to my heart, presidential national security decision making. Mr. Tang nailed it here and I give his post a very strong endorsement as a “must-read”:

Guest Post: Essence of Decision (Part I of III)

“Maximize the President’s optionality.” Spoken in bureaucratese, this is what Thomas Donilon wanted to do as he took over the role of President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. Like most bland things in national security, this phrase is loaded. Graham Allison compares Donilon to Robert F. Kennedy who protected President John F. Kennedy’s options during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It speaks to how the president sees his relationship to the executive branch, his inclinations and limits. It speaks to how the president chooses and trusts his advisers and officers.

For a confident new president who respected national security pragmatists like Jim Jones, Joe Biden, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, and Dennis Blair, making national security policy should have been straightforward. Obama and, former NATO supreme allied commander and marine commandant, General Jones created an open and orderly national security policy process—layers of interagency committees teeing up options to the National Security Council. Every department and agency would have a chance to say something. This would lead to good policy. But it ran into problems. In the NSC staff, now the “national security staff,” those who had been through the campaign with Obama had their access to the president downgraded. In the Afghanistan surge decision, the Department of the Defense and the military had boxed in the president. The more open the process, the more policy became stuck in the bureaucracy. In crisis decision-making, which takes up an extraordinary amount of bandwidth and which is politically delicate, bureaucracy can’t be allowed. 

The president came to find out this is not what he wanted. As the president gained experience, what he did want shows in the people who survived and thrived in the administration. They understand politics. Donilon, Panetta, Biden, and McDonough have worked on campaigns and understand the imperative of mitigating Obama’s political problems on national security. They’ve not only put in place the national security policy structure, but they control it—the information, the direction. They’ve expanded the president’s space to make careful, deliberate decisions. And to have “no leaks.”

Read the rest here.

It is interesting that in coming into office, President Obama, a deliberative and elite academic lawyer by education and temperament, set up a formal, Sherman Adams-ish NSC process befitting President Eisenhower and instead gravitated to a looser, more “politicized-personalized” model favored by Presidents Kennedy and (to a lesser extent) Nixon. This evolution suited Mr. Obama’s much grubbier, bareknuckles experience from his early days as a cog in Chicago’s Democratic Daley Machine, where politics is king and the ur-Rules are “Don’t back no losers” and “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent”.

A president always gets the NSC he wants but very seldom the NSC his office deserves. A corollary to this is that a totally dysfunctional NSC is no bar to having foreign policy success. During the Nixon administration, when Henry Kissinger was National Security Adviser, the machiavellian NSC decision process with the various principals was less in need of an orderly manager than a competent psychiatrist ( and this was, at times, seriously considered!); yet the co-dependent partnership between Nixon and Kissinger yielded numerous strokes of brilliance and strategic coup d’oeil in foreign policy.

The statutory requirements of the NSC are skeletal, which permits every POTUS flesh out the system he desires by selection of personnel and the initial executive orders issued to guide the business and interagency work of the NSC.  A president who feels uncomfortable with picking qualified “outsiders” -i.e. academic stars (Kissinger, Brzezinski) will have an NSC that is going to rely heavily upon foreign service officers, military officers and IC personnel “on loan” or after retirement from their perspective departments and agencies.  This will not be an NSC that will be apt to challenge bureaucratic conventional wisdom when preparing option papers,  but at it’s best this kind of NSC can be an honest broker and competent enforcer of presidential decisions because the staff is wise to bureaucratic tricks to stymie or delay administration policy. Eisenhower and Bush I were extremely comfortable with NSCs staffed by “professionals” and demanded very close working relationships with and between principals (SECSTATE, SECDEFENSE etc.).

An NSC dominated by gifted outsiders and political loyalists offers the opportunity for more creative and effective exercise of presidential prerogatives in foreign policy.  The president will have more options and a more critically thorough vetting of policy proposals from State, Defense and the IC.  As a result, because the NSC is trying to be both policy advocate as well as referee, the interagency friction and malicious leaking against bureaucratic rivals is apt to be very high – as was seen during the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations ( the last administration saw six NSC advisers in eight years, a factor of instability that added to the friction).

In either case, presidents sometimes attempt to “operationalize” policy that is particularly important to them from the NSC, which is not really designed or budgeted for such tasks. This has had mixed results, historically, with successes like the China Opening, bringing into custody the Achille Lauro highjackers and the operation to kill Osama bin Laden as well as political debacles like Iran-Contra or the secret invasion of Cambodia. The need to work through other bureaucracies makes the NSC doing “end runs” risky and vulnerable to hostile leaks and critical Congressional reaction (particularly if oversight had been circumvented).

To understand a president’s NSC is to comprehend how the administration really works.


Brown, Cody. The National Security Council: A Legal History of the President’s Most Powerful Advisers. Project on National Security Reform/Center for the Study of the Presidency. 1020 19th Street, NW, Suite 250. Washington, DC. 2008.

Cramer, Drew & Mullins, Grant. “Lessons Learned from Prior Attempts at National Security Reform“. The Project on National Security Reform, Overarching Issues Working Group, College of William & Mary

Daalder, Ivo H. In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisers and the Presidents They Served–From JFK to George W. Bush. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY. 2009

Federation of Atomic Scientists. “History of the National Security Council 1947-1997”. http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/NSChistory.htm

Dalleck, Robert. Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. Harper Perennial. New York, NY. 2007

Gates, Robert. From the Shadows. Simon & Schuster. New York, NY. 1996.

Kissinger, Henry. White House Years. Simon & Schuster. New York, NY. 2011.

Menges, Constantine. Inside the National Security Council. Touchstone Books. 1989.

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