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Archive for February, 2014

New Article at Pragati: Review of Strategy: A History

Friday, February 28th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Strategy: A History by Sir Lawrence Freedman

I have a new article up at Pragati – The Indian National Interest Review, a review of Sir Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History:

Always present, ever elusive


Strategy is a fascinating subject. Seemingly always useful, sometimes vital, strategy is attempted by many, done poorly by most and understood well by remarkably few. One of those few is Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman of King’s College War Studies Department, who has authored one of the most comprehensive books on the historical context of strategy-making ever written. Not content at explaining strategy in warfare or western civilisation from ancient times to modernity, the simply titled Strategy: A History aims to reveal strategy in life in its broadest terms without losing its elusive essence.

It is customary for works on strategic history to have canonical references – Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Napoleon, Clausewitz, Jomini– and Freedman of course does have these, but he has created a massive and protean 629 page richly detailed codex in which also appear such unlikely figures as Eldridge Cleaver, Mutaqda a-Sadr, Satan, Vilfredo Pareto, Edward Bernays, Sumantra Ghoshal, Quakers, the cartoon strip Dilbert and troops of chimpanzees.  Strategy: A History displays an intellectual range of astonishing breadth and texture in clear prose that merits comparison as much with Jacques Barzun’s magnum opus From Dawn to Decadence as it does with famous classic Makers of Modern Strategy edited by Peter Paret.

Read the rest here.

Good karma, or paying it forward — piggy-back

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — a frog, a snail, a praying mantis, yes — but not a piggy in sight! ]

See also: At a snail’s pace

Hat-tip: Faizah.



  • Snail rides frog, photocredit: Lessy Sebastian / Solent News
  • Mantis rides snail, photocredit: Nordin Seruyan / Barcroft Media
  • Even Mountain Dew has its Mellow Yellow

    Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

    [summoned from the far regions of the deep bench by Lynn C. Rees]

    Jozef Pilsudski was a minor Polish noble born in the Lithuanian countryside in Poland’s historic periphery. Roman Dmowski was an impoverished commoner born in the city of Warsaw, deep in Poland’s historic core.

    Pilsudski was a revolutionary, dedicated to a policy of violent confrontation. Dmowski was a politician, dedicated to creating change from within the system.

    Pilsudski became a soldier. Dmowski became a diplomat.

    They both wanted an independent Poland. Their strategies for achieving that independence and their vision of what an independent Poland would be were wildly divergent.

    Josef Pilsudski

    Josef Pilsudski

    Pilsudski saw Russia as the true enemy of Polish independence. He was subjected to “Russification” as a student, leading him to observe later that, “With the Germans, we lose our land. With the Russians, we lose our soul”. In this spirit, Pilsudski soon involved himself in pro-independence agitation. This bought him the usual one-way ticket to a Siberian prison.

    After his release, Pilsudski became a revolutionary. He became notorious for leading the only Polish party willing to use violence to win independence. To pursue his policy of violent resistance, from the safety of Austrian Poland, with a few nods and winks from Austro-Hungarian officials, Pilsudski created a Polish army complete with professional officer, NCO, and military training under the cover of setting up a network of Polish “sporting” and rifleman clubs.

    Dmowski saw Germany as the true enemy of Polish independence. Russian backwardness was repellent to civilized Poles, he argued. They’d naturally resist Russification. Germany’s advanced culture was more dangerous: it could seduce wavering Poles into voluntarily Germanizing so they could hitch a ride on Germany’s meteoric ascent. Dmowski’s fear of Germanization led him to turn to Russia as a counterweight against German influence. Working with Russia, he believed,  offered the best path to eventual Polish autonomy.

    Roman Dmowski

    Roman Dmowski

    Pilsudski was a romantic. He harked back to the glory days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Old Republic ruled over diverse ethnic minorities while tolerating may different religions. Pilsudski wanted to create a similar ethnically and culturally diverse citizenry, unified by a stronger republic within the Old Republic’s ancient borders.

    While Polish culture in its heartlands would be protected from foreign suppression, it wouldn’t be imposed on Poland’s minorities. They could become “Polish” just by being loyal to the Polish state.

    Pilsudski’s policy was described as “state-assimilation”.

    Dmowski was anything but romantic. A prominent biologist, he  was cold and rational. Dmowski looked back on four Polish uprisings against Russian rule in the nineteenth century and saw nothing but romantic foolishness. All they’d accomplished was bringing down Russian wrath on Poland. Like his slightly older contemporary Booker T. Washington, Dmowski argued that Poland should concentrate on peaceful modernization. Instead of romantic and doomed rebels, Poles should become scientists and businessmen.

    Dmowski extended this refusal to romanticize to the Old Republic. Dmowski hated the Old Republic: he thought it was too tolerant and diverse. In the place of Pilsudski’s revived and wildly diverse Old Republic, Dmowski favored a homogenized Poland. Minorities ruled by the Old Republic would be excised from a more compact independent Poland. Dmowski saw the world through Social Darwinism. He saw nation fighting nation in a forever struggle for existence where strong trampled weak and only the fittest of nations survived.

    Dmowksi’s Polishness was based on language and religion. Polish ancestry was helpful but not required: but, if Poland had to incorporate minorities, the few among a compact Poland’s many had to be strongly encouraged to speak the Polish language and practice the Roman Catholic religion.

    Dmowski’s policy was described as “national-assimilation”.

    The Romantic

    The Romantic

    These stark differences led to Pilsudski’s and Dmowski’s first  clash. When the Russo-Japanese War broke out, Pilsudski went to Tokyo to ask the Japanese government to support a Polish uprising. Dmowski traveled to Tokyo with a different purpose: to talk the Japanese out of supporting Pilsudski’s rebellion. Dmowski largely succeeded: the Japanese gave Pilsudski enough money and arms to distract the Russians but not enough to do anything that would make the Russian’s unreasonable.

    When Pilsudski finally launched his uprising from Austrian Poland, Dmowski helped the Russians keep control of Russian Poland. He sent his party militia to fight Pilsudski’s party militia. The uprising failed. When the Russian Empire held elections for Russia’s parliament, Pilsudski’s party boycotted the elections. Dmowski’s party participated and won most of the open seats. Dmowski himself became a member of parliament and a political insider. Pilsudski retreated back to Austrian Poland and continued building up his forces for the general European war he presciently foresaw.

    World War I began with Dmowski supporting Russia and Pilsudski leading Polish troops under Austrian command. Later, after he failed to get firm Russian commitments for more Polish self-rule, Dmowski went lobbying among Russia’s allies. He formed what the Allies recognized as Poland’s legitimate government (Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) was not impressed, “I saw Mr. Dmowski and Mr. Paderewski in Washington, and I asked them to define Poland for me, as they understood it, and they presented me with a map in which they claimed a large part of the earth.”). Pilsudski’s opposition later in the war to using Polish soldiers as what he described as “German colonial troops” led to his imprisonment by the Germans.

    The Vulcan

    The Vulcan

    After Germany surrendered, Pilsudski had enough troops on the ground to win control of Poland. But Dmowski had the backing of the Allies and, soon enough, had his own army. In order to head off a civil war between their supporters, the two signed an agreement where Dmowski became the Polish representative to the Paris Peace Conference while Pilsudski became provisional president of Poland. At Versailles, Dmowksi followed his vision of the future Polish nation and concentrated on obtaining territory with Polish majorities while territory that lacked Polish majorities. Pilsudski, in pursuit of his vision of the future Polish state, focused on creating facts on the ground by military conquest of “unredeemed” parts of the Old Republic.

    While Pilsudski succeeded in winning large territories with non-Polish majorities for Poland, Dmowski controlled the Polish government in the early 1920s. As promised, he actively “polonized” those minorities. Pilsudski pulled a 1/2 DeGaulle, coming from self-imposed exile at his rural estate to lead a coup in 1926 that reversed Dmowski’s policy. After seizing power, Pilsudski was free to implement his own vision of a trans-ethnic New Old Republic. Ironically, after Pilsudski’s death in 1935, Pilsudki’s own followers implemented Dmowski’s policy. Dmowski himself died early in 1939, right before Nazi Germany and Communist Russia partitioned Poland for a fourth time that fall.

    Military Conquest

    Military Conquest

    Ironically, Dmowski’s vision of Poland  triumphed over Pilsudski’s, though it  came about in a sinister and twisted way. Hitler liquidated Poland’s large Jewish community. Joseph Stalin took away the territories Pilsudski had conquered at the end of World War I. Polish minorities in those territories were expelled into Poland and the minorities of eastern Poland, primarily Ukrainians, were expelled into the Soviet Ukraine. In the west, 10 million Germans were expelled from the sections of eastern Germany transferred to Poland that Dmowski had earlier coveted. As a result, post-1950 Poland became homogeneous in culture, religion, language, and ethnicity. Very Dmowski. But modern Poland reveres Pilsudski, the romantic hero, over Dmowski, the logical realist.

    Pilsudski was the proponent of the State and Dmowski was the proponent of the Nation. In David Ronfeldt’s TIMN (Tribe-Institution-Market-Network) framework, Pilsudski stood for the Institution and Dmowski stood for the Tribe. Pilsudski sought to bind people together through loyalty to a new Institution, the state. The Institution would largely replace  the Tribe in the hearts of the Polish people. If the Polish nation, as a Tribe, exercised any power over the other Tribes, it would be through the “soft power” of  Polish culture. Dmowski, in contrast, sought to bind people together through loyalty to an existing Tribe, the nation. Poland had an existing linguistic, territorial, and religious  heritage (Dmowski wasn’t big on traditional Polish culture). That was a surer foundation for a political community, enabling it to survive in the international jungle. Minorities should  be excluded  or strongly encouraged  to adopt the distinctive Tribal trappings. If not, they would be a source of weakness.

    Political Conquest

    Political Conquest

    Nations and states have existed since the dawn of history. Sometimes they overlap into a nation-state, sometimes they don’t. Many of the earliest political communities known to us were states. The first Mesopotamian empires were unified Institutionally. However, they also contained a multitude of Tribes. Egypt, on the other hand, had many features of a nation-state, having been unified politically and culturally at the literal dawn of history. While Egypt had its moments of disunity, it kept a strong sense of self well into Roman times.

    In the early twentieth century, nation-states seemed to be the hip-happening thing: France and Britain had become powerful and acquired great empires after becoming nation-states in late medieval times. This inspired nation-state-building exercises all over Europe, with Germany and Italy being the most prominent. It inspired Dmowski. He preferred the Anglican and Lutheran faiths as examples of national religions, since they were based in the nation itself. He viewed Rome with suspicion since the Catholic Church was headed by a foreign potentate. However, he later came to accept that the bond between Catholicism and Polish identity was so strong that Catholicism was the de facto Polish national church.

    The rise of nation-states elsewhere in Europe contrasted with the fate of Poland in the late eighteenth century. Dmowski’s analysis of the Old Republic was that it had become so diverse and diffuse that it easily spun itself apart. Foreigners were able to champion different factions and minorities within Poland, using the peculiar institutions of Polish republicanism to weaken what had once been the major power in Eastern Europe. The future had not belonged to this multinational federal republic but to its highly centralized, autocratic neighbors Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Dmowski sought to banish this wild frenzy of ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity in favor of a consolidated Polish nation focused on modernization.

    Pilsudski’s vision of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-denominational federated republic is more appealing to modern tastes. Pilsudski’s vision of a polity based on loyalty to a state apparatus and a set of abstract values is widely shared in contemporary elite circles, particular those overlapping with the EU, UN, and other supra-national institutions. Diversity and tolerance are now held up as core principles to build a modern political community upon. Pilsudski treated Poland’s minorities with respect during his dictatorship, only insisting that they swear loyalty to the Polish state.

    His ambitions even stretched beyond Poland: Pilsudski sought to create a federation (Intermarum) that would unite Central and Eastern Europe from the Baltic Sea across the European Peninsula to the Black Sea. This was yet another echo of the Old Republic, which at its height also stretched from the Baltic to Black. This plan made little headway when Pilsudski proposed it. The new pygmies of Eastern Europe only grudgingly clumped together into a less ambitious yet equally untenable two-front proto-Iron Curtain against revisionist/Marxist Russia and revisionist/revanchist Germany.

    Pilsudski and Dmowski correlate with veteran American publicist Howard Bloom’s proposed “diversity generators” and “conformity enforcers”. Pilsudski’s federation and Institution represent diversity generation. Dmowski’s nation and Tribe represent conformity enforcement. One rapidly mutates to provide multiple ways to adapt. One imposes commonality so adaptions can be shared and applied. Both are needed in any healthy system. The right and proper balance struck between them is a constantly shifting dilemma.

    Lind on “the Navy’s Intellectual Seppuku”

    Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

    William Lind had a very important piece regarding an extraordinarily ill-considered move by the Navy brass:

    The Navy Commits Intellectual Seppuku 

    The December, 2013 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings contains an article, “Don’t Say Goodbye to Intellectual Diversity” by Lt. Alexander P. Smith, that should receive wide attention but probably won’t. It warns of a policy change in Navy officer recruiting that adds up to intellectual suicide. Lt. Smith writes, “Starting next year, the vast majority of all NROTC graduates will be STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with minimal studies in the humanities … As a result of the new policy, a high school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2 (engineering, hard sciences, and math), since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming officers will come from this restricted pool.”

    ….The engineering way of thinking and the military way of thinking are not merely different. They are opposites. Engineering, math, and other sciences depend on analysis of hard data. Before you make a decision, you are careful to gather all the facts, however long that may take. The facts are then carefully analyzed, again without much regard for the time required. Multiple actors check and re-check each others’ work. Lowest-common-denominator, committee-consensus decisions are usually the safest course. Anything that is not hard data is rejected. Hunches have no place in designing a bridge.

    Making military decisions in time of war could not be more different. Intuition, educated guessing, hunches, and the like are major players. Hard facts are few; most information is incomplete and ambiguous, and part of it is always wrong, but the decision-maker cannot know how much or which parts. Creativity is more important than analysis. So is synthesis: putting parts together in new ways. Committee-consensus, lowest-common-denominator decisions are usually the worst options. Time is precious, and a less-than-optimal decision now often produces better results than a better decision later. Decisions made by one or two people are often preferable to those with many participants. There is good reason why Clausewitz warned against councils of war.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Rarely have I seen Lind more on target than in this piece.

    Taking a rank-deferential, strongly hierarchical organization and by design making it more of a closed system intellectually and expecting good things to happen should disqualify that person from ever being an engineer because they are clearly too dumb to understand what resilience and feedback are. Or second and third order effects.

    STEM, by the way, is not the problem. No one should argue for an all-historian or philosopher Navy either. STEM is great. Engineers can bring a specific and powerful kind of problem solving framework to the table. The Navy needs a lot of smart engineers.

    It is just that no smart engineer would propose to do this because the negative downstream effects of an all-engineer institutional culture for an armed service are self-evident.

    Recommended Reading

    Friday, February 21st, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen“]


    Top Billing! Dr. Robert Bunker  Not Your Grandfather’s Insurgency: Criminal, Spiritual and Plutocratic

    Your Grandfather’s Insurgency.

    Old school insurgency or “people’s war” was typically dominated by Leninist, Trotskian, Maoist, and related revolutionary thought. Such insurgencies are ideological in nature and may also draw upon nationalistic underpinnings, as was utilized in Vietnam. Specific characteristics of this type of insurgency are: it is premeditated, driven by the political, established by a parallel (shadow) government, utilizes violence—typically targeted and instrumental in nature, with the desired end state being political control over a nation-state.


          Depending on the relative sophistication of the insurgents, a phased approach to insurgency—initially based on sequential and later on simultaneous phases—is utilized. The conditions influencing an insurgency, i.e. the popular grievances, may also be artificially accelerated. Seminal works in your grandfather’s insurgency literature include: Guerrilla Warfare (1937); People’s War, People’s Army (1962); and the Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla (1969). These revolutionary-based insurgencies include those that took place in China, Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, and El Salvador.


    Criminal, Spiritual, and Plutocratic Insurgency.


    Twenty-first century insurgencies are turning out to be very different than 20th century ones. An initial projection concerning the development of such insurgencies was penned by Dr. Steven Metz in his 1993 Strategic Studies Institute monograph, The Future of Insurgency. In that prophetic work, he posited that:


    Two forms of insurgency are likely to dominate the post-cold war world. Spiritual insurgency is the descendant of the cold war-era revolutionary insurgency. It will be driven by the problems of modernization, the search for meaning, and the pursuit of justice. The other form will be commercial insurgency. This will be driven less by the desire for justice than wealth. Its psychological foundation is a warped translation of Western popular culture which equates wealth, personal meaning, and power.  

    Dr. Steve Metz – All Options Bad if  Mexico’s Drug Violence Expands to the US 

    One way that large-scale drug violence might move to the United States is if the cartels miscalculate and think they can intimidate the U.S. government or strike at American targets safely from a Mexican sanctuary. The most likely candidate would be the group known as the Zetas. They were created when elite government anti-drug commandos switched sides in the drug war, first serving as mercenaries for the Gulf Cartel and thenbecoming a powerful cartel in their own right. The Zetas used to recruit mostly ex-military and ex-law enforcement members in large part to maintain discipline and control. But the pool of soldiers and policemen willing to join the narcotraffickers was inadequate to fuel the group’s ambition. Now the Zetas are tapping a very different, much larger, but less disciplined pool of recruits in U.S. prisons and street gangs. 

    This is an ominous turn of events. Since intimidation through extreme violence is a trademark of the Zetas, its spread to the United States raises the possibility of large-scale violence on American soil. As George Grayson of the College of William and Mary put it, “The Zetas are determined to gain the reputation of being the most sadistic, cruel and beastly organization that ever existed.” And without concern for extradition, which helped break the back of the Colombian drug cartels, the Zetas show little fear of the United States government, already having ordered direct violence against American law enforcement. 

    Joel Kotkin – The  U.S. middle Class is turning Proletarian 

    Despite President Obama’s rhetorical devotion to reducing inequality, it has widened significantly under his watch. Not only did the income of the middle 60% of households drop between 2010 and 2012 while that of the top 20% rose, the income of the middle 60% declined by a greater percentage than the poorest quintile. The middle 60% of earners’ share of the national pie has fallen from 53% in 1970 to 45% in 2012.

    This group, what I call the yeoman class — the small business owners, the suburban homeowners , the family farmers or skilled construction tradespeople — is increasingly endangered. Once the dominant class in America, it is clearly shrinking: In the four decades since 1971 the percentage of Americans earning between two-thirds and twice the national median income has dropped from 61% to 51% of the population, according to Pew 

    ….Given the challenge being mounted by de Blasio and hard left Democrats, one would imagine that business and conservative leaders would try to concoct a response. But for the most part, particularly at the national level, they offer little more than bromides about low taxes, particularly for the well-heeled investor and rentier classes, while some still bank on largely irrelevant positions on key social issues to divert the middle class from their worsening economic plight. 

    Ajit Pai – The FCC Wades into the Newsroom  

    ….But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.

    Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.

    ….How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their “news philosophy” and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.

    The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.

    Participation in the Critical Information Needs study is voluntary—in theory. Unlike the opinion surveys that Americans see on a daily basis and either answer or not, as they wish, the FCC’s queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.

    Gen. Robert Scales – US Troops are Equipped with Inferior, Antiquated Weapons 

    Timothy Snyder – Fascism, Russia and Ukraine 

    Global Guerrillas – What went wrong with America?

    Peter Munson – A Reasonable Hope? Intervention in Syria Requires More than Good Intentions 

    SWJThe Process of Radicalization 

    AFJUnmanned Naval Warfare: Retrospect and Prospect 

    LESC Blog – How do we develop Adaptability?


    Slightly East of New – Another Note on Cheng/Chi 

    WIREDBrain Scans show Striking Similarities between Dogs and Humans

    The Guardian – Daniel Kahneman changed the way we think about thinking. But what do other thinkers think of him?    

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