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Archive for July, 2012

Introducing Urb.Im

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — my new job, solutions-oriented thinking / writing about urban poverty in 6 cities ]


Mapping Kibera, Nairobi


Yesterday was my first day at work on my new job with Urb.Im:

The urb.im network is a global community working for just and inclusive cities. It connects practitioners in six cities and throughout the world to establish an international community of practice and learning, sharing ideas and experiences in order to innovate, replicate, and scale working solutions to the problem of urban poverty. urb.im is a project of Dallant Networks and the Ford Foundation.

The six cities we’re focusing on are Mumbai, Rio, Lagos, Mexico DF, Nairobi and Jakarta — and we are strongly solutions-oriented.


I imagine there will be considerable overlap between the diverse interests of those who follow Zenpundit and the specific cities and issues I’ll be working with at Urb.Im — so this is both a news bulletin about my new employment (suggesting I’ll now be focusing my attention on a new problem and solution set), and an invite to ZP readers to steer me towards relevant materials (eg via hipbonegamer on Twitter), and to join in the discussions at Urb.Im as appropriate.

One of my ambitions is to get some significant cross-website conversations going, so that the widest array of bright minds and good hearts gets together to spark new ideas and possibilities, and put existing resources on the map for all interested parties…


And speaking of mapping

The illustration above is of a map of schools in Kibera, Nairobi, one of the largest informal settlements in the world — mapping both problem areas and available solutions is a key element in the kind of work we’ll be doing. For more details on mapping Kibera, see this Urb.Im page, and to download and enlarge the Kibera education-map image, go here.

Wikistrat Blog

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Wikistrat, where I am a senior analyst for their North America desk, has started a blog featuring their analysts and experts. We’ll see how the Wikistrat Blog evolves, but for now here are a few sample posts:

Ask Wikistrat’s Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett 

Q: Timothy Kelly-  Dr. Barnett, how do you think nuclear proliferation will play out in the Middle East?

A: I think the Obama Administration’s oil-focused sanctions will put immense pressure on the Iranian regime to cave in on the nuke question, possibly to the point of striking out in some manner that Israel – and perhaps the U.S. – can use as a pretext for launching substantial strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  But if I had to bet, I would lay money on Israel striking first for its own reasons versus Tehran providing the excuse.  Iran has always struck me as incredibly aware of which line-crossing activities will elicit direct military responses, and, much in the vein of WS’s recent simulation on this subject, I think Tehran knows well that it needs to avoid any genuine threat to global oil markets – lest it trigger an “all-in” military response from the United States.

So I think Iran’s really stuck, as it were, and will likely have to suffer a beat-down from Israel sometime in the next 24 months.  I think it can take that “licking” and keep on “ticking” in terms of its nuclear weaponization goals, which I think are real and – in structural terms – completely justified by the region’s current correlation of forces.  So I’m still betting on Iran having the Bomb before Obama leaves office in 2017 (yes, I see him winning again in November), and when that happens, I do expect the Saudis to cash in their long-held promise from Pakistan to supply them with their own devices…. 

The 3 C’S Around The Pakistan Question (Abhijnan Rej) 

In the Spring 2012 issue of The Washington Quarterly, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad proposed a strategy for dealing with Pakistan by imaging it to be in a class of countries that are both adversaries and allies at the same time – with some vectors of interests of the elites pointing towards the United States and some others that don’t.  Ambassador Khalilzad’s analysis is macroscopic, to a large extent based on the evolution of the Pakistani nation-state at large. By way of a compliment to his analysis, I want to provide here a microscopic typology of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism in terms of a complete union of three different groups with respect to interests in jihadi extremism. Each group is distinct and yet has a significant overlap with the other and all of them originate inside the Pakistani army.

The first group, which I will term complicit, is largely backed by former and serving Inter-Services Intelligence officers, conjecturally from its Directorate S, and with ties to jihadi groups going back to the 1980s. This group wants Pakistan as a model state for the entire ummah; it will not hesitate to harbor top al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, or for that matter directly engage American forces as it did in 2007 – not because it shares Salafist ideologies (it often doesn’t) but because of a deep sense of Muslim nationalism and therefore, per their logic, anti-Americanism.  A simple fact of life in Pakistan is that even though the ISI was created as coordinating intelligence agency for the various armed services, it remains distinct from the army and to a very large extent autonomous from it.  This could be one of the reasons why there was no contradiction when Admiral Michael Mullen had “given an A” to the Pakistani army during its fight with Taliban elements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2009-2010 and the very next year, right before his retirement, described the Haqqani network as a “veritable arm of the ISI” to the Senate Armed Services Committee….. 

Collection Item Of The Week: “Pentagon Report Finds Iran’s Ballistic Missiles Improving” (Lauren Mellinger, Caitlin Barthold, Steven Aiello, Zachary Keck and Zoya Sameen) 


A Pentagon study that was submitted to Congress late last month finds that Iran has improved the accuracy and lethality of its short- and long-range missiles and is in the process of developing an anti-ship ballistic missile system.

According to the Pentagon’s report, Iran’s improved missile defense affords greater survivability against United States and Gulf Cooperation Council systems deployed in the region. Additionally, Iranian forces are becoming ever more competent in using these systems because of Tehran’s regular ballistic missile training, which “continues throughout the country.”

The report further notes that Iran is developing short-range missile systems with “seekers” — allowing missiles to identify and reposition themselves in flight to hit moving targets. Trackers noted the addition of “new ships and submarines,” while indicating that Iranian short-range ballistic missiles are in the process of evolving toward an operational ability to target maritime targets and vessels….


The Pentagon report signifies that any attack on Iranian soil will carry heavy risk and significant repercussions.

The Department of Defense’s earlier reports seem to have underestimated some of Iran’s military capabilities, particularly the accuracy and effectiveness of its ballistic missiles.  This latest study more accurately highlights the threat that Iran could pose, if attacked. It cites the 2012 war simulations done by the Iranian armed forces, which illustrated their skills in offensive and defensive maneuvers….

….On the other hand, Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association who previously worked on intelligence matters for the Senate and the State Department, has noted that the report’s language implies that the Pentagon now believes that it is less likely that Iran will be capable of testing an ICBM by 2015, compared to an assessment made two years prior. Specifically, whereas the 2010 report on Iran’s military capabilities read, “With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an [ICBM] capable of reaching the United States by 2015,” the 2012 report states, “With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.” …..

Read more here.


The Olympic Truce

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — the Truce, great gospel music, and athletes in ads in slomo — a personal view ]


If there are two things about the Olympics I like, they would be the Olympic Truce, and athletes in slow motion.

Here’s what the IOC’s site has to say about the Truce:

The tradition of the “Truce” or “Ekecheiria” was established in ancient Greece in the 9th century BC by the signature of a treaty between three kings. During the Truce period, the athletes, artists and their families, as well as ordinary pilgrims, could travel in total safety to participate in or attend the Olympic Games and return afterwards to their respective countries

and it’s relevance today:

Taking into account the global context in which sport and the Olympic Games exist, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to revive the ancient concept of the Olympic Truce with the view to protecting, as far as possible, the interests of the athletes and sport in general, and to encourage searching for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts around the world.

Through this global and symbolic concept, the IOC aims to :

  • mobilise youth for the promotion of the Olympic ideals;
  • use sport to establish contacts between communities in conflict; and
  • offer humanitarian support in countries at war ; and more generally :
  • to create a window of opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation.


To be honest, I don’t care in the least what human runs fastest or jumps highest, and if I did I wouldn’t have a huge investment in what territory he or she comes from or lives in.

The Games are the Games though, they affect people’s lives, and are affected by them. I have, here in my room, a copy of the official book of the 1936 Games which I picked up in a swap meet for a dollar or two:

American Olympic Committee Report, 1936, Games of the XIth Olympiad, Berlin

Somewhere, also, I have the official English playbook for the 1934 Oberammergau Passion Play — two stark reminders of how we are sometimes suborned from the better angels of our nature by the worse…

If I have a minute of silence, then, it is for the Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Games.




Again, corporate sponsorships, banking industries and advertising are not generally among my favored interests, but slow motion is — and while I care little for the athletic record-setting and patriotic rivalrous sides of the Olympics, great athletes are often beautiful, something the Greek sculptors understood, and slomo can capture that beauty for us.

Besides, I have always been a fan of Morgan Freeman, ever since I heard him play the role of the Preacher opposite Clarence Fountain in Gospel at Colonus — undoubtedly the most joyous theatrical experience of my life…

Here to give you a taste is Freeman’s opening sermon:

and perhaps the most audacious musical moment of all, the great battle of the bands as Oedipus attempts to enter Colonus:




Here, then, are three VISA ads for the Games this year, accompanied by that unmistakable Freeman voice, and offered here for the beauty, sheer joy and creative excellence they present.

First, the audience speaking to the heart of the athlete — itself a remarkable insight:

Second, the way running itself runs like a thread through the life of Lopez Lomong:

And third, the difference a hundredth of a second makes — and again, the roar of the crowd:

That last clip has Morgan Freeman saying:

A hundredth of a second – it’s faster than the blink of an eye, faster than a flash of lightning – and it was the difference between Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals instead of seven – a hundredth of a second – just think of the cheers if lightning strikes twice!

I know — that’s the speed thing, not the beauty thing. And I’m an ideas man — an aesthetic man, not an athletic man.

So I take my long jumps sideways, in the mind…


Wikipedia tells us:

US National Park Ranger Roy Sullivan has the record for being struck by lightning the most times. Sullivan was struck seven times during his 35-year career. He lost the nail on one of his big toes, and suffered multiple injuries to the rest of his body

Again I think of the poet Randall Jarrell, whom I quoted here not so long ago as saying:

A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.

Only the Muse knows what damage that does to the poet’s mind.




To sum up:

If I were God — and friends, that’s not in nay way a risk we need to concern ourselves about, flat out impossible — I would be watching the Olympics in slomo from a dozen angles simultaneously, without commentators.

And I’d be praying everyone world-wide would take the Truce as seriously as the Games.

Barlow on COIN and Failure

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Some astute observations on COIN practice from the founder of Executive Outcomes, Eeben Barlow:

….Governments, despite often being the prime reason why an insurgency starts, are often only too keen to make the armed forces responsible for establishing workable governance in areas that have become positively disposed towards the insurgency.
As it is an internal problem, countering the insurgency is essentially a law enforcement responsibility. The problem is that often the law enforcement agencies do not realise that an insurgency is developing and through ignorance and denial, mislead government – and the nation – on the seriousness of the situation. This provides the insurgents with numerous advantages, most crucial being time to organise, train and escalate the insurgency.
The end goal of the insurgency is political in nature and therefore, the main effort aimed at countering it ought to be political and not militarily. This “passing the buck” approach places the armed forces in a position they can seldom if ever win as the military’s role is not to govern but to ensure an environment in which governance can take place.  
An insurgency is neither a strategy nor a war. It is a condition based on the perception(s) of a part of the populace that poor governance exists, that government only governs for its own benefit and that they – the populace – are being marginalised or politically suppressed. In reality, an insurgency is an internal emergency that, left unchecked, can develop into a civil war. The insurgency itself is a means to an end and it is an approach aimed at either weakening or collapsing a government’s control and forcing a negotiation in the favour of the insurgents.   
Read the rest here.
As a rule, countries whose citizens  are happy, prosperous and free seldom suffer an insurgency unless they are foreign proxies. Oligarchies however, are frequently the cradle of insurgency and revolution.

Recommended Reading

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

The Diplomad 2.0 – The UN Arms Treaty, AKA The Lawyer Full Employment Act 

….Articles 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 comprise the core of the treaty. These articles would provide endless employment activity for “activists’ and their lawyers. They establish obligations on the “State Parties” that would, in essence, kill the trade in small arms. The language about weapons “being diverted to the illicit market,” or “used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or violence against children” means endless lawsuits against exporting and importing states, manufacturers, and sellers.  While the ostensible purpose is international trade, that would quickly become a domestic legal issue in the US.  Say, for example, that a Glock, either one made in Austria or in a Glock factory in the US, were used for “illicit” purposes or was involved in an incident of “gender-based violence” in the US, the lawsuits would be ferocious. The threat of constant legal action effectively would halt the export and import of small arms–at least from and to those countries that take laws and treaty obligations seriously.  The treaty would provide the basis for additional US domestic legislation that would incorporate the UN language and ideas into our laws. Private firm gun manufacturing and sales would be halted by the constant threat of lawsuits.

Pundita -Upcoming ‘make or break’ meeting between CIA and ISI chiefs 

….So it seems Washington’s ball on Pakistan is now in Gen. Petraeus’s court; after consistently flubbing, it looks as if State, Defense, and the White House want to make him responsible for persuading the Pakistani military/ISI that they shouldn’t keep fighting a proxy war against NATO in Afghanistan. 

As to the request for drone technology, I think that has been floated every time a ranking member of the Pak military/ISI has met with an American counterpart. The Pakistanis have their own drone technology but they want weaponized drones from the USA. What they want most of all, however, is for the U.S. to share all its intelligence on terrorist activity with the Pakistani military.

HG’s World – Battleships: America’s Symbol of Becoming a Great PowerThis week, the “Transit of the USS Iowa”, matched the “Transit of Venus”, for a once in a lifetime eventUSS Iowa: Progress Report and A Love Affair 

A naval appraisal of some of the most powerful warships in the history of Earth by ZP amigo HistoryGuy99

Walter Russell Mead– Our President the WASP 

In his own way, however, President Obama is one of the neo-Waspiest men in the country. He is not a product of Kenyan villages or third world socialism. He was educated at the Hawaiian equivalent of a New England prep school, and spent his formative years in the Ivies. He has much more in common with Harvard-educated technocrats like McGeorge Bundy than with African freedom fighters and third world socialists of the 1970s.

President Obama’s vision of a strong central government leading the people along the paths of truth and righteousness has “New England” stamped all over it. Puritan Boston believed in a powerful government whose duty was to promote moral behavior and punish the immoral; by 1800 many of the Puritan descendants were turning Unitarian and modernist, but while they lost their love of Christian doctrine they never abandoned their faith in the Godly Commonwealth and the duty of the virtuous to make the rest of the world behave.

Gene Expression – We are all Anglo-Saxons now 

Razib delivers a brutal beatdown fisking of Max Fisher of  The Atlantic (hat tip TDAXP, PhD)

Fast Transients-Positioning for the melee 

Venkatesh Rao has another thought provoking post up at his Tempo blog. Go take a look and then come back here … Play close attention to his distinction between “planning” and “positioning” near the bottom of the piece.

Rao’s concept of positioning & melee moves seems similar to the military’s concepts of operational and tactical levels of war. Even more interesting for business — where these concepts of levels apply only by analogy — they appear to be closely related toshih, Sun Tzu’s framework for employing force or energy.  For those of you not familiar with shih, it’s the title of the fifth chapter of The Art of War and encompasses a variety of concepts including zheng / qi (cheng / ch’i). For an excellent intro, see David Lai’s paper “Learning from the Stones,” available from the Federation of American Scientists.

 The concept of positioning moves is inherent in shih, in creating configurations of great potential. Or, as Gimian and Boyce (The Rules of Victory) explain:

In employing shih, each action is one step in a process that changes the ground, reorients the relationship among things, and creates different possibilities. (p. 121)

A lot of this activity is zheng — according with the opponents’ expectations in order to set them up for decisive strikes. At other times, we may just be developing the situation, trying to create ambiguity and anxiety, and probing opponents to force them to tell us something about their intentions and capabilities (As Gimian and Boyce put it, “if you can’t get destination, go for direction.” p. 126)

If these activities don’t cause the opponent to give up or panic or otherwise quit providing effective opposition (and this is Sun Tzu’s ideal, of course), then we look for opportunities to release the potential energy we have built up in as short, abrupt, “fast transient” a manner as possible, as “when strike of a hawk breaks the back of its prey.” (Griffith trans., 92)


Wise advice from uber-diplomat, Ambassador Ryan Crocker.  No one will listen.

iRevolution –Truth in the Age of Social Media: A Social Computing and Big Data Challenge 

CTOVision (Alex Olesker) –General Alexander’s Vision, the New DARPA Director, and More 

Russia blog –Congress Is Getting Ready for the Wrong MoveThe Magnitsky Act and Magnitsky Act as a Test for American Democracy 

99.9% of the American public and I wager 90% of their MoC don’t know who Sergei Magnitsky was, why there is a bill in his memory or how it’s passage into law would shape US-Russian relations or that the State Department can already deny foreign officials suspected of human rights abuses entry into the United States. That probably includes some of the bill’s sponsors.

Look, neither Russia nor Putin merit any special favors from the USG,  but there’s large factions of Beltway political activists on the Hill who are on retainer for the government of Georgia (including the Podesta Group of Democratic Party bigwig John Podesta) or from their domestic opposition, as registered foreign agents, who would like to poison relations with Moscow as much as possible in the interest of their clients with little regard to American interests.

It is only slightly less shady than the long list of  boomer generation DC VIPs lining up, hat in hand, to take money from the MeK.

That’s it.

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