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Recommended Reading

Have not done one of these in a while. Fortunately, that means there’s lots of good material. 

Top Billing! Steven PressfieldAn Interview with an Afghan Tribal Chief, Part #1 and Interview with a Tribal Chief, Part 2: Warlords

Ah, I am a sucker for posts on warlords.

“Chief Zazai: A tribal leader is elected by the tribes. A warlord is a self-imposed body on the tribes and the people. A tribal leader does not get elected if he has blood on his hands. A warlord cannot survive unless he has killed many innocent people, looted people’s livelihoods and been involved in the opium and drug trade. A tribal leader only gets elected when he, his father and grandfather have been servants of the community. A warlord does not need these recommendations. A warlord gains his position by force of arms and is only interested in personal gain. A warlord has no problem with reelection as this summer’s so-called election has shown. In this case the gun is mightier than the pen.”

Steve has an amazing set of interviews with Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai, an elected tribal leader in Paktia province Afghanistan who was educated partly in Canada and fought in the Soviet War.

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett10 Reasons Why Sanctions on Iran Won’t Work

Tom weighs in with an Esquire column on all the serious countervailing trends against a hardline policy squeezing Iran sufficiently to make the regime cave on nuclear programs, short of war. Dr. Barnett is right here; if there was an easy or cheap policy solution on Iran, we’d have done it already.

…Used to be that hardcore sanctions focused on weapons of mass destruction. But post-Bush, 21st-century sanctions offer “a pretty rich list to pick from,” as Robert Gates put it – Iran’s energy sector with bans on foreign investment and travel, the elimination of shipping insurance, and possibly the prohibition of oil-and-gas exports. But expect Tehran to activate workarounds wherein it reduces profit margins while muddling through with these wonderfully fungible assets. For example, Iran is vulnerable because it imports one-third of its gasoline, but ravenous Chinese oil companies are already filling the kinds of voids that sanctions could create, meaning that Europe’s temporary market loss will be China’s permanent strategic gain.

The wild card though, is the Mahdist Hojjatiyeh strand within the Pasdaran clique that seized power from the clergy in the wake of the stolen election. Are these IRGC powerbrokers more secular, corrupt, neofascist thugs or are they millenialist true believers?

Frank HoffmanAFJHybrid vs. compound war

“I would like the Pentagon and the defense community to use the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review to debate the range of threats we face and their potential combination. We need to assess today’s likely irregular threat and potential for high-end asymmetric threats. But this raises a critical issue in our evaluation of the emerging character of conflict: Is the character of conflict diverging into lower and higher forms, or converging, as the hybrid threat suggests? Defense Secretary Robert Gates appears to embrace the convergence of threats and assesses this as likely and dangerous”

David Ronfeldt –  TIMN: some implications for thinking about political philosophy and ideology

Rand emeritus David Ronfeldt applies his post-political spectrum TIMN Model to analyze capitalism, democracy and radical ideologies.

Dr. David KilcullenNYT – 10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan ( Hat tip DNI )

Col. Kilcullen is very brief here, focusing on legitimacy and good governance.

Joshua FoustNYT – “Maladies of Interpreters

Major kudos to Josh for snagging a high-profile op-ed on an important and generally mishandled problem of the USG giving due diligence to helping those who help us, usually at great risk to themselves. From the Montagnards and Hmong to Afghans and Iraqis, we need to institutionalize our response. If we can lard money on contractors who move toilet papers and MRE’s, a compensatory package for locals should be a no-brainer.

Strategic Studies InstituteDr. Max G. Manwaring  – A “New” Dynamic in the Western Hemisphere Security Environment: The Mexican Zetas and Other Private Armies

This is good. Why Mexico and the war next door gets less media coverage than Iraq amounts to a case of national denial. Things are getting worse south of the border and we are not prepared.

Dr. Sebastian L. v. GorkaHow to Win in Afghanistan

A back to basics approach on historical COIN examples; an Afghan war strategy the fits well with Steve Pressfield’s posts above.

Jamais CascioFast Company – “The Singularity and Society

“….And that’s a problem, as the core of the Singularity argument is actually pretty interesting, and worth thinking about. Increasing functional intelligence–whether through smarter machines or smarter people–will almost certainly disrupt how we live in pretty substantial ways, for better and for worse. And there have been periods in our history where the combination of technological change and social change has resulted in quite radical shifts in how we live our lives–so radical that the expectations, norms, and behaviors of pre-transformation societies soon become out of place in the post-transformation world”

Fabius Maximus –  Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics

….The value of these kinds of insights was well expressed by a post Opposed Systems Design (4 March 2008):

A deeper understanding of these dynamics deserves an organized research program. The first concept – an artificially binary distinction between “foreign COIN” and “native COIN” – has served its purpose by highlighting the need for further work on the subject.

One reason for our difficulty grappling with 4GW is the lack of organized study.  We could learn much from a matrix of all insurgencies over along period (e.g., since 1900), described in a standardized fashion, analyzed for trends.  This has been done by several analysts on the equivalent of “scratch pads” (see IWCKI for details), but not with by a properly funded multi-disciplinary team (esp. to borrow or build computer models).

 We are spending trillions to fight a long war without marshaling or analyzing the available data.  Hundreds of billions for the F-22, but only pennies for historical research.  It is a very expensive way to wage war

Christopher AlbonThe Social-Systemic Consequences of War

Diaspora and social network effects.

TDAXPReview of “Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World” by Margaret MacMillan

Good review by Dan of an important book on the China opening by the author of 1919.

Coming Anarchy (Curzon)The Hakka People, China’s Leadership Caste

This is a remarkable ethnographic marker of which I had not been aware. Akin to the disproportionate influence of Ashkenazi Jews in science or medicine.

Critt JarvisWhy evangelize for Honduras? Energy and guts

Critt is back from Honduras and preaching the word.

John HagelA Labor Day Manifesto for a New World

A call for “passionate creatives” to organize to reform and innovate the dead hand of hierarchical, taylorist, institutions.

Major Mehar Omar KhanSmall Wars Journal – “Don’t Try to arrest the Sea: An Alternative Approach for Afghanistan” (PDF)

Major Khan is a Pakistani officer on exchange in the U.S. and he argues that COIN strategies that ignore or attempt to “reform” major cultural-historical aspects of Afghan society in top-down fashion are less likely to succeed than strategies that flow with the cultural current and start with small but acheivable “lighthouse” projects.

NewScientist.comCampaign asks for international treaty to limit war robots

Basically an incipient, NGO-ish, effort to try and preempt and limit avenues of development and field use of armed robots by state militaries. The problem is, that most of these tinkering innovations are going to be well within the realm of modestly funded private groups or well-heeled individual “hobbyist” inventors, not just governments. With some kind of draconian, ill-considered, treaty restrictions, we could end up with insurgencies or terrorist groups that have better and more lethally employed robots and robotic countermeasures, than do conventional militaries. At least for one-shot attacks.

Harper’s Magazine – “American coup d’etat: Military thinkers discuss the unthinkable

Andrew Bacevich, Charles Dunlap, Richard Kohn and Edward Luttwak discuss the possibility of a military coup in the United States. I owe someone a hat tip for this one but cannot recall who or what site or social network was involved.

That’s it!

9 Responses to “Recommended Reading”

  1. Eddie Says:

    One is left to ponder whether someone of significant stature is plotting a similar open disobedience campaign to that which Powell waged in the early days of the Clinton Admin. I have read Pat Lang really going after some of General McChrystal’s people in the media for their perceived flexing of muscles against SECDEF Gates, VP Biden and Obama. The Harper’s roundtable really gets to the heart of that once they move beyond the initial "could a coup happen and why?" discussion. It also seems Bacevich needs to look more carefully at his recruitment stats. He’s vastly inflating the number of Southern whites in the military to what the actual numbers are.  The Hagel, Harper’s roundtable, and Albon articles are all excellent links. Thank you for sharing!

  2. zen Says:

    Hi Eddie,
    If Gen. McChrystal’s comments are unwelcome and dangerous as Col. Lang described, why has SECDEF Gates not picked up a phone and simply ordered the general to cease all public comment on the matter? Or, President Obama issuing such an order to General Petraeus to rein in his subordinate?
    Instead we get National Security Adviser Gen. Jones going on network and cable TV to chide McChrystal about proper channels as if the WH and CENTCOM are rival candidates in an election. Jones has a rep for running a very tight ship with the NSC principals (!) – what are the chances that he would soft-shoe with McChrystal if the latter had really stepped out of line and engaged in insubordination? Does this make much sense?
    I suspect Obama really has not made up his mind and we are seeing some kabuki regarding policy options regarding Af/Pak, some of which are highly unpalatable to the Democratic base but one of which is likely to end up becoming the basis of our military strategy whether they like it or not.

  3. Eddie Says:

    I agree this is some sort of kabuki theater, where Status O probably feels he was handed a poisoned chalice with that fraudulent election Karzai pulled off. Sen. Graham of SC was essentially urging Republicans in the Senate yesterday to give Obama cover to put more troops on the ground since O may not have the Dem votes to support funding it.

    I think O and his staff honestly fears Gen. Petraeus and to a lesser extent Gen. McChrystal. Its quite easy for them to be framed as out of touch once the leaks get out in the media about the president not meeting often with them and "dithering" on their policy proposals. I wonder who is making these leaks and why exactly. I don’t want to seem to focus on trival aspects but these leaks have very real consequences for how Status O is perceived both in the media to Americans and to Congress. Whether I agree with his policy or not (and I don’t know what it is yet, but I probably won’t agree with it because if it entails depending on an unrepentant Karzai at this point, its suicidal), I don’t like how this essentially handcuffs his decision-making from the onset.

    What is Gates doing about all this? I have no idea. Maybe its not as big a deal as it seems.
    This all seems the logical consequence of what happened in 2007 when Gen. Petraeus was essentially empowered to do whatever it took to win in Iraq, because he was the only one besides Gates with any credibility left with Congress or the American people. They seem to have significant veto powers over presidential decision-making.

  4. zen Says:

    Gates has mildly criticized McChrystal – very mildly – for having made public comments, while essentially making the same comment himself! LOL!
    I take this two-step by Gates to mean that some of Obama’s WH advisers are representing their policy preferences on Afghanistan as if they were Obama’s via media leaks and backgrounders, when Obama may not have committed to their position at all. Or McChrystal’s. Obama may be the sphinx who sits silently as his advisers thrash things out, even if the wrangle gets in to the press, not unlike Reagan was content to do.
    I agree with you that the WH advisers are wary of Petraeus/McChrystal, particularly the more political and less national security types – and the guy they bring their complaints to is most likely Jones.

  5. toto Says:

    Re: Iran and nukes. I’d like to know what people here think about the prospect of Iran having nuclear weapons, esp. regarding long-term consequences on the dynamics of the region. Just how bad do you think it would be? Sufficiently bad to risk a military operation against it (despite apparently slim chances of long-term success of such an operation)?

  6. Ed Beakley Says:

    Interesting "intersection" created by pieces by Hoffmam, Kilcullen, Fabius Maximus if one digs a little bit which then adds Chet Richard "If We Can Keep It" and your review.

    My take (sent to Chet) which also relates to a dialogue you and I had "on war":

    In regard to Post on DNI linking Kilcullen’s point (above) and the ref’d FM post on 4GW (above) -For me this post highlights an apparent disconnect between you (Richards)- via If We Can Keep It – and FM.  To explain:  Following the links from the FM “classic” (his words???) you will find two distinct threads.  First are reviews of If We Can Keep It by Bill Lind, Zenpundit and tdaxp.  Reading these led me back to your book and particularly several pages on transnational insurgencies,4GW and COIN beginning on page 77. The second thread is a discussion begun by FM in 2006 on SWJ in regard to David Kilcullen’s Twenty-Eight Articles; Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency.In both the FM article of your post and in his “Why do we lose 4th generation wars?”  in run on sentences via FM’s use of terminology it is most apparent that he equates 4GW with insurgency.  To elaborate without great length, his Why Do We Lose 4G post is in fact a major disagreement with Kilcullen’s 28 articles, which by title and substance is very focused on counterinsurgency.  It is not about 4GW.  In the SWJ discussion thread (significant number of posts from folks who have been in the fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan) almost all, if not all, take issue with FM’s take on Kilcullen and the value of his work in regard to COIN.I submit that his recent writing is also in direct conflict with your writing (specifically pg 77- 85)In “4GW is not Thermo,” FM calls for research on the topic, and I agree completely, but while he writes "4GW," what he focuses on is data from insurgencies.  Research with such disconnect in how terms are defined won’t be very useful.I had high hopes when the FM site opened that the promised discussion on 4GW would be of significant value.  To me, far too early he reached the “insurgency equals 4GW end of story, no more dissenting views allowed” point and began a pro-war /anti-war Afghanistan thread that completely buries the context of what 4GW portends in this century.  See the war in Afghanistan as you will, there is much more to future conflict among the people/4GW that needs research and discussion.

  7. tdaxp Says:

    Thanks for the link!

  8. david ronfeldt Says:

    i had a stray thought this morning about iran’s irgc, and wanted to risk asking about it somewhere.  in doing a quick search of blogs i follow, this is the only one that has recently made passing reference to the irgc, specifically in this post.  so i’ll try first here.

    i keep re-learning what a massive operation the irgc is — tantamount to  what jane jacobs termed a “monstrous moral hybrid” perhaps.  the irgc/irg starts as an effort to consolidate various paramiltary forces following the 1979 iranian revolution.  now it has its own ground, naval, air, and special forces.  more interestingly, it has expanded economically, and acquired assets to become a multi-billions enterprise, including public construction projects, and even dentistry and travel.  it can shut out private business competition, for it can easily underbid and then overrun, while also using recruits and conscripts as labor.  in sum, it represents an hybrid of tribal, hierarchical, and market priniciples, if not network ones too. 

    now, that supports the usual way of looking at this:  just a gigantic hybrid operating inside a state, almost as a semi-autonomous state within a state.  and that’s not uncommon in many countries.  the chinese and cuban militaries are heavily involved in economic enterprises too.  and in parallel fashion, this is a growing trend  among criminal enterprises as well, like the zetas mentioned in your reading  recommendations above.  

    but then i had this stray thought:  the irgc is not so much a state within a state, as a caliphate within a state.  i am not well-informed about how to define and think about caliphates.  but the little i know leads me to think this might be a thought worth further consideration and analysis.  esp. if the irgc could be considered as a model for an emerging shia caliphate, and one that is way ahead of radical sunni aspirations. 

    so: an emerging caliphate within a state.  any comment?  advice for further thinking?   

    btw, i’d completley missed that you included a post by me in your reading recommendations above.  a happy surprise.  many thanks.

  9. sams Says:


    Thank you four your nice writing on
    Recommended Reading.


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