January 31, 2006
"The War Within": Within what?
The War Within
Directed by Joseph Castelo
Distributed by Magnolia Home Entertainment
The most striking aspect of the film "The War Within" is, well, its distinct lack of a portrayal of the kind of internal war that the title evokes. Instead, it takes the easy way out. Here's an excerpt from the back cover of the film:
A Pakistani engineering student is imprisoned and interrogated by Western intelligence services for suspected terrorist activities. Formerly only an intellectual supporter of jihad, Hassan undergoes a radical transformation and embarks upon a terrorist mission, covertly entering the United States to join a cell based in New York City. After meticulous planning for an event of maximum devastation, all the members of the cell are arrested, except for Hassan and one other. With nowhere else to turn, Hassan must rely on the hospitality of his friend Sayeed, who is living the American dream with his family in New Jersey. What unfolds is a profound human and political drama as we tensely observe the state of mind of a suicide bomber as he tries to decide whether or not to carry out his deadly mission.This film does not fulfill the expectations it proposes in the above description. Rather than showing us the inner workings of the mind of a man who makes rational choices to choose jihad and martyrdom, nearly every single thing that happens to Hassan is an outside influence that forces decision upon him. He never really has to choose his paths, for the circumstances align such that they are usually chosen for him, and he takes the path of least resistance.
We are not given a glimpse of his life before his imprisonment; at no point are we shown that he was an "intellectual supporter of jihad." Instead, he is walking along the street when some American thugs throw him in a van. The next we know, he's on a military cargo jet to Pakistan. So, did he choose to be a terrorist? No, it's the Americans' fault. That at least is the implicit assumption.
In prison, he shares a cell with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Do they have lengthy and detailed conversations about jihad, Muslim philosophy, geopolitics, religion in general? No. We are left to assume that such discussions took place. We're left to assume that becoming a jihadist is just what happens to someone who is imprisoned. That may be the case. But the film doesn't portray any sort of transformation, epiphany, religious conversion, or other sort of mental strife.
The next we see Hassan, he is smuggling himself into the US in a cargo container, meeting handlers who set him up temporarily until he can contact with the rest of his cell. The film misses another huge chance here to explore the mindset of jihad: what role did he have in planning the act he has sworn to commit? Is he a worker bee or an operational planner? How committed is he to the cause? In short, despite the outrage of his unjustified imprisonment, how has he convinced himself that the taking of innocent life is warranted?
Maybe the film seeks to make the point that once a Muslim has been wronged by the West -- and really, they all have -- that they are justified in the most extreme forms of retaliation. I don't think that's the point here. But it might as well be, since we just aren't exposed to the inner workings of Hassan's mind. Instead, we are left with an image of Muslims as a sort of robot: wrong them and by Allah, they'll be blowing themselves up. They can't think you know; they only have one switch with two settings: "resentment" and "jihad". Do anything whatsoever to flip the switch and it's curtains for you! I think that this line of thinking wrongs Islam, and casts terrorists as something other than what they are, and by mischaracterizing them, makes it more likely that we'll choose poorly in how we opt to defeat them.
Back to Hassan: he didn't choose to be imprisoned; he therefore didn't choose to be a jihadist, but became one anyway; then his fellow schemers are foiled by the FBI. So he has to choose, with the other surviving cell member, whether to go on or not. Even here, Hassan only jokingly recommends that the two of them press on alone -- and probably wouldn't have done so if his co-conspirator had said no.
Without giving away too many plot details: at every turn, the film could have given Hassan clear choices, but instead all of his actions are reactive in nature, not proactive. This is the work's key failing. I submit that as a culture we are in dire need of a psychological study of suicide bombers, and the making of jihadists. Other films have tried: Syriana's suicide bomber is an unemployed Pakistani living in Saudi Arabia, laid off by a multi-national oil company, and radicalized in a madrassah. The direct causality from oil to jihad is a bit of whimsy, but at least we see that he is instructed in extreme Islam by one of its teachers. That film too though, failed to show us his inner workings. Perhaps we need something in the first person, a book, or film, that will fill this gap. What we lack is insight into what Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism, terms "mental war":
A mental war was visible in Afghanistan too -- a clash of ideologies, sometimes on the most sophisticated level, doctrines in massed formations, chasing each other back and forth across the landscape . . . The Terror War was fated to be fought on that same plane -- on the plane of theories, arguments, books, magazines, conferences, and lectures. It was going to be a war about the "cultural influences" that penetrate the Islamic mind, about the deepest concepts of modern life, about philosophies and theologies, about ideas that draw upon the most brilliant of writers and the most moving of texts. It was going to be, in the end, a war of persuasion -- a war that was going to be decided in large part by writers and thinkers whose ideas were going to take root, or fail to take root, among the general public.Yes, that's the "war within" that I wanted to see.
To be fair, the film is at its best when it doesn't try to draw attention to Hassan's plight (whether it is of his own making or not) and instead when it involves the nice Muslim family in Jersey that houses him. This is where the film shines. Here we have a typical American family, but Muslim: the father a doctor, the mother a housewife, the son a regular boy, the sister a professional and independent woman, all of them living in the Jersey suburbs. Here is where the war within is fought. As Sayeed, the doctor, begins to wonder about Hassan, he must decide how to handle him. Is he as extreme as he seems? Is he a danger to the family? Should he trust his old bonds to his childhood friend and overlook his mysterious and newfound piety? Here are where the choices are made that show conviction. Unlike the story of Hassan, whose entre into jihad is contrived, Sayeed's own choices are solely his alone, and how he handles them rings true. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of Muslim families in the US who deal with similar issues of loyalty to faith, kin, blood, or adopted nation on a daily basis, and must remain true to their convictions at all times. Here is where the real "war within" is taking place. If only this movie had focused its energies there.
Despite my criticism, and the shortcomings of the film, I recommend it. First, heck, it's a lot better than much of the dreck out there. If you've got a choice between this and Tristan and Isolde, that's pretty much a no-brainer. Second, at least it gets one thinking about these issues, even though I suspect that many readers will be frustrated with the work for similar reasons. And finally, I find immigrant communities in the US to be fascinating subcultures. Probably because I'm married into one. In short, check it out for yourself and see if I'm off the mark.
Thanks to the folks at Special Ops Media for sending me a copy for review.
8:59: "Today, having come far in our historical journey, we must decide, will we turn back, or will we finish well?
8:58: Lots of mention of the US as a "hopeful" society. And what things a hopeful society does and doesn't do.
8:51: Now he's giving a pep talk to the nation. Giving shout-outs to both parties.
8:49: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity.
8:47: Wants new ethanol to be practical and competitive within six years.
8:44: One thing I don't really understand about the health care system. Why can't we train more doctors? Mrs. Chester, a fourth year med student, tells me that the supply of doctors has been steady for a couple of decades. I'm no economist, but that seems like a prescription for higher costs. We'll see if anything that he's talking about gets passed or has any effect if it does.
8:43: I think Bush is doing a great job at fostering bipartisanship so far. We'll see if it lasts. Good jibe about President Clinton and him both turning 60 this year.
8:40: Asks for a passage of the line-item veto. Mainly joking, I think.
8:36: [taxes . . . wait for it . . .] If we do nothing, American families will face a massive tax relief that they do not expect and will not welcome. I urge the Congress to act responsibly and make the tax cuts permanent.
8:36: Together let us protect our country, support the men and women who defend us, and lead this world toward freedom.
8:35: The only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous . . . world.
8:33: If there are people in our country who are talking with Al Qaeda, we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
8:32: So far, I don't think Bush has laid out a single definable platform or policy, but has merely discussed the philosophical underpinnings of his policies.
8:29: Liberty is the right and hope of all humanity. THe same is true of Iran . . . the Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.
8:27: . . . the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace.
8:25: He just laid down the gauntlet of challenge to the Dems: No matter what they've felt in the past, they much keep their word and stand behind the US military. -- not a quote.
8:23: There is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom and second-guessing is not a strategy.
8:20: We are in this fight to win and we are winning. [On that line, the Democrats didn't stand, but the Generals did.]
8:18: There is no peace in retreat and there is no honor in retreat . . . we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals or our own courage. But our friends and our enemies can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world and we will never surrender to evil.
8:17: "allowing the violent to inherit the earth. But they have miscalculated. We love our freedom and we will fight to keep it"
8:16: More than half the people of our world live in democratic nations and we do not forget the other half, in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran, because the demands for justice . . . require their freedom as well. [Note the point of emphasis for Iran.]
8:13: Pursue enemies or retreat to a comfortable life. Good contrast. Isolationism's road broad and inviting but actually dangerous . . . The United States of America will continue to lead. We seek the end of tyranny in our world. The future security of America depends on it. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and neighbors, and join the fight against terror . . . (I think)
8:11: Sets the tone for a speech extolling bipartisanship, vows to do his part.
8:10: Watching all the politicians applaud for Bush whether they'd like to or not reminds me of a line from David Mamet's movie "Spartan:" "Savages! They're all savages!"
8:08: Here goes . . .
8:06: Here come the Chief. I wonder who the devildog sitting with the First Lady is.
8:05: I think of Norman Mineta every time I go through airport security . . . usually I think, "Four years of this now and I still have to schlep in my sock feet on tile." Small sacrifice though, if it all works.
8:04: Cool to see General Hagee and General Pace down there. I met General Hagee aboard Camp Pendleton in 2001. He's really tall.
8:03: Sheehan was the guest of a Congresswoman . . .
8:02: Cindy Sheehan taken out of the gallery not long ago. I hope we get video . . . She tried to unfurl a banner . . .
8:00: Only thing I've liveblogged before are the Iraqi elections, so this should be interesting.
State of the Union and Iran
[Comments won't display automatically, but I can see to it that they are published eventually, so comment away.]
Since the State of the Union is tomorrow night, I have one piece of advice for POTUS.
Over the past few weeks, I've discussed the Iran crisis with a variety of people, very intelligent and successful folks, of varying political belief, including the very smart Mrs. Chester.
The thing that has surprised me is their uniform initial reaction to the entire crisis: "Why," they ask, "should the United States not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons? That doesn't seem fair."
It's incredibly frustrating to me to hear this line of thought, and I've tried to counter it in several ways. But it seems to be very common. So my advice to Bush is that if he's going to build support domestically for any kind of action to stop Iran's nuclear program, diplomatic, military, or otherwise, then he needs to address this fundamental question . . .
I have two responses that may be helpful.
First, please take a look at the book, The Shield of Achilles, by Philip Bobbitt.
Turn to the chapter entitled "Challenges to the New International Order," and begin the section, "Nuclear Weapons." This is really a 20-page primer on the nature of both deterrence and non-proliferation since the invention of the darn things. Here are some highlights:
. . . is the possession of whatever weapons a state can acquire and deploy an attribute of sovereignty? For if it is not, then by what right do certain states possess weapons of such awful magnitude? And if it is, how can there ever be measures both appropriate and practical to limit the deployment of such weapons? And finally, even if having a nuclear weapons capability is a condition to which any state may aspire, does the possibility of a widespread nuclear proliferation pose such a threat to the peace and survival of the society of states that what hitherto was a state's sovereign right -- the right to deploy the weapons of its own choosing -- must now be rethought?Iran fails all of these tests. The capabilities of a nuclear Iran WOULD introduce multipolarity into the system of states, its intentions ARE threatening to the legitimate constitutional sovereignty of Israel, and its political culture is NEITHER stable enough to ensure the endurance of benign intentions (which don't exist) NOR does it possess representative institutions coexisting with fundamental human rights.
. . . A nuclear weapons state can be reinforcing for the security of the society of states when its capabilities do not introduce multipolarity into the system, when its intentions do not threaten the legitimate constitutional sovereignty of other states (unless it is attacked), and when its political culture is stable enough to ensure the endurance of such benign intentions. A nuclear weapons state imposes unacceptable risks on the system of deterrence when it threatens to make other states nuclear targets for geopolitical objectives that are incompatible with the maintenance of the current state system, or for geostrategic goals that are incompatible with the stability of the system of nuclear deterrence. In either case, the unpredictability of nuclear attack increases, with potentially devastating consequences for populations and states.
This observation helps us answer the sovereignty question: no state that does not derive its authority from representative institutions that coexist with fundamental human rights can legitimately argue that it can subject its own people to the threat of nuclear pre-emption or retaliation on the basis of its alleged rights of sovereignty because the people it thus makes into nuclear targets have not consented to bear such risks. [emphases in original]
Even so, Bush should not make some grand gesture that were Iran only a democracy, we would condone its nuclear goals. In the following passage, Bobbitt explains why the US shouldn't say, "sure, once you're a democracy, have all the nukes you want."
Thus far I have implied a link between proliferation and deterrence, suggesting that the society of states as a whole can determine when proliferation poses a systemic threat by asking whether a state's acquisition of nuclear weapons strengthens of weakens the prevailing system of nuclear deterrence. That system is currently underpinned by United States nuclear forces. It rests on the assumption that the United States will not use nuclear weapons as a means of aggression, but that it will actually destroy another state if that state cannot be otherwise dissuaded from attacking a state protected by the American nuclear deterrent. If the United States were to change its policies in either aspect, the current system of deterrence would be difficult to sustain, as formerly protected states raced to arm themselves and formerly deterred states began to explore the rewards of coercion.So there you have the first way of explaining why nukes can't be had by Iran. Kudos to the speechwriter who can turn that into a soundbite.
This present system would be gravely undermined by multipolarity -- the acquisition of a third superpower nuclear arsenal -- for two reasons. First, multipolarity introduces a complexity that tends to weaken American commitments by blurring the identity of the states to be deterred: in a tripolar or n-polar world, responsibility is diffused. The persuasiveness of the argument, often heard in the United States during the Cold War, that the United States must act to suppress international violence or parry aggression, because if the United States doesn't, no one else will, fades in a multipolar world. The sheer complexity of deterrence in a multipolar world, coupled with an understandable American willingness to let other powers take up burdens long carried by the United States, creates a situation similar to that of the paralyzed crowds that attend emergencies. Second, the system of deterrence is stressed whenever a crisis triggers the threat of the use of nuclear weapons to deter aggression; such crises call the American bluff and require the United States to run potentially fatal risks to enforce dissuasion. Multipolarity can only increase, perhaps exponentially, the number of nuclear crises. We could have had another system of nuclear deterrence, perhaps managed by other powers, but this is the one we have, and this is the system bequeathed us by the Long War. [emphasis in original]
But here's the second way, just in case it proves too difficult for the White House rhetoricians. From a recent Iran report by Strategic Forecasting:
This, by the way, is a good place to pause and explain to readers who will write in wondering why the United States will tolerate an Israeli nuclear force but not an Iranian one. The answer is simple. Israel will probably not blow up New York. That's why the United States doesn't mind Israel having nukes and does mind Iran having them. Is that fair? This is power politics, not sharing time in preschool. End of digression.
I think the best option is to distill Bobbitt's work above into a political speech using some of it verbatim when necessary, but if that fails, one can always fall back on the preschool option . . .
Let's hope Bush says something about Iran tomorrow . . .
[Coming tomorrow: a movie review!]
January 20, 2006
Problem with comments
So I was fooling around with my Movable Type templates the other night, trying to implement a small coding change to stop the enormous volume of comment spam I receive. I did something that now makes it difficult or impossible to comment. Thanks to an Alert Reader for notifying me.
Let me see what I can do . . .
UPDATE, 1/22/06: Well, no joy on fixing it myself, so I've contacted Movable Type for support. Hopefully, I'll have it resolved shortly.
UPDATE2, 1/30/06: MT is publishing comments now, but only after I approve them, and move them from my junk folder. Hopefully, I'll have this whole thing working perfectly in short order. I have a Help Ticket open, so we'll see what happens . . .
January 19, 2006
Michael Scheuer to Bill O'Reilly: "We have to kill more of the enemy."
Michael Scheuer was on Bill O'Reilly this evening and Johnny Dollar has the transcript:
O'REILLY: [talking about Dick Cheny's interview with Neil Cavuto] OK. Now he comes in, and he's very cool and confident, as he usually is. He doesn't do a lot of media, but when you see him he's cool and confident. And he basically says, look. We could get attacked, but we have done a tremendous amount of damage to Al-Qaeda. This is Dick Cheney saying this to Neil Cavuto. Do you believe that?Scheuer also believes that the recent "truce" offer from bin Laden does not imply weakness, but is part of the ancient Muslim code of warning an enemy prior to an attack.
SCHEUER: No, sir. He's whistling past the graveyard, sir. They have a body count of how many people we've killed in Al-Qaeda, but they never have had an idea of how big Al-Qaeda was, or is. So when Mr Cheney says that, it's simply to me a sign of panic. Because if Al-Qaeda attacks us again in the United States, the United States has absolutely nothing to respond against. Unless we're willing to take out a city like Riyad or Cairo. The President and the Vice-President and Mr Clinton before them play a very dangerous game here. Because if we are attacked again, what do we respond against? And to think that somehow we're winning this war is really to fly in the face of reality, sir.
O'REILLY: Is there anything we can do to win it?
SCHEUER: Yes, sir. We certainly have to kill more of the enemy. That's the first step.
O'REILLY: Any way we can?
SCHEUER: Anywhere we can, whenever we can, without a great deal of concern for civilian casualties. As I said, war is war. The people who got killed when they were hosting Zawahiri to dinner were not the friends of the United States.
O'REILLY: All right, Mr Scheuer, always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very much for taking the time.
I was surprised to see Scheuer speak in such frank terms about warfare, because of his previous statements about Jewish conspiracies. Given that those were in front of a liberal audience of the policy elite, but that his more bellicose comments today were on Fox, the favored cable news source of redstaters, perhaps . . . he's just trying to please everyone to sell more books.
Either way, his theory of an impending attack is certainly interesting.
SCHEUER: It's always my pleasure, sir. Thank you.
January 15, 2006
Niall Ferguson Is Firmly in the Pre-Emption Camp
Harvard's Niall Ferguson, author of "Empire" and "Colossus," has come down firmly on the side of pre-empting Iran's nuclear ambitions:
With every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the combustible ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and scope than the wars of 1991 or 2003 - were in place . . .Read the whole thing.
Diplomatic History is Taking Place Even As We Speak
In addition to the much-publicized diplomatic shuffling between the US and the EU, there are other meetings taking place which happen much less frequently, or at all, and which seem to indicate that momentous events behind the scenes, the contents of which we might only speculate upon, are at hand.
Syria's Assad made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last week.
The answer to all three might be Iran, or it might not. What is scary is that the answer could be Iran. In short, while Iraq was largely diplomatically, economically, militarily and otherwise isolated from the rest of the world before 2003, Iran is only slightly so today. While Iraq's contacts with the west were abundant via the Oil-for-Food scandal, those contacts were still scandalous. Iran is linked to the economies of Russia & China, has relationships with North Korea, Pakistan, even France, Germany, and the UK.
The relationships which Iran possess do not sum up to a coalition. But they are there nonetheless, making the Iran nut even harder to crack, and the price for miscalculation ever higher.
A History of the Modern World, by R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton:
The Austrian government was determined to make an end to the South Slav separatism that was gnawing its empire to pieces. It decided to crush the independence of Serbia, the nucleus of South Slav agitation, though not to annex it, since there were now thought to be too many Slavs within the emprie already. The Austrian government consulted the German, to see how far it might go with the support of its ally. The Germans, issuing their famous "blank check," encouraged the Austrians to be firm. The Austrians, thus reassured, dispatched a drastic ultimatum to Serbia, demanding among other things that Austrian officials be permitted to collaborate in investigating and punishing the perpetrators of the assassination. The Serbs counted on Russian support, even to the point of war, judging that Russia could not again yield in a Balkan crisis, for the third time in six years, without losing its influence in the Balkans altogether. The Russians in turn counted on France; and France, terrified at the possibility of being some day caught alone in a war with Germany, and determined to keep Russia as an ally at any cost, in effect gave a blank check to Russia. The Serbs rejected the critical item in the Austrian ultimatum as an infringement on Serbian sovereignty, and Austria thereupon declared war upon Serbia. Russia prepared to defend Serbia and hence to fight Austria. Expecting that Austria would be joined by Germany, Russia rashly mobilized its army ono the German as well as the Austrian frontier. Since the power which first mobilized had all the advantages of a rapid offensive, the German government demanded an end to the Russian mobilization on its border and, receiving no answer, declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914. Convinced that France would in any case enter the war on the side of Russia, Germany also declared war on France on August 3rd.
The German decisions were posited on a reckless hope that Great Britain might not enter the war at all . . . The German plan to crush France quickly was such that it could succeed only by crossing Belgium. When the Belgians protested, the Germans invaded anyway, violating the treaty of 1839 which had guaranteed Belgian neutrality. England declared war on Germany on August 4th . . .
As for Russia and Austria, they were both tottering empires. Especially after 1900, the tsarist regime suffered from endemic revolutionism, and the Hapsburg empire from chronic nationalistic agitation. Authorities in both empires became desperate. Like the Serbs, they had little to lose and were therefore reckless. It was Russia that drew France and hence England into war in 1914, and Austria that drew in Germany. Seen in this light, the tragedy of 1914 is that the most backward or politically bankrupt parts of Europe, through the alliance system, dragged the more advanced parts automatically into ruin.
It is not useful to draw analogies among the power relationships, the rising or falling states, or the alliances of 1914 to those that exist today. We live in a new world. But it is useful to consider the enormous complexity of the world then and now, and to realize that complexity offers both opportunities for the art of the deal to thrive, and for miscalculation to lead to utter ruin.
We are blessed to live in the "interesting times" of the old Chinese proverb . . .
January 12, 2006
Interview: Army officer who studied in India
[Sometime ago I encounted an Army Major who was an Olmstead Scholar studying at the University of Mumbai (Bombay). Wow, I thought: that would make an interesting interview. Here it is. A short one, but he may be able to answer reader questions in the comments. We'll call him MC for now.]
TAOC: How long were you in India and where? Did you have a choice of educational institution, or is there a set program?
MC: We were in India for 25 months, from late May 2003 to late June 2005. We lived in Bombay, which is what most people still call it despite the attempts to get people to call it Mumbai. I did try to travel around the country as much as possible (but not as much as I would have liked). I attended the University of Mumbai and studied for and earned a Master of Arts in Political Science. The Olmsted foundation, which is a private foundation that sponsors the scholarship in conjunction with the Departmentof Defense, (www.olmstedfoundation.org) puts no requirement on course of study except that it cannot be in a science/technical field, i.e. it should be language, literature, history, political science, economics, etc. Generally, the Scholars have the choice of school so long as there are not other Scholars studying at the same school; however, there is only one university in Mumbai. But in a place like Beijing, you'll have two-three Scholars in the city at a time at different universities. I had a fairly rare experience in that I was the first Scholar to a country, city and university and all three were my first choice. Sometimes the Olmsted Foundation is more directive in their requirements for a variety of reasons and in it not unknown for someone to get their third or fourth choice of country.
TAOC: What kinds of contact with the Indian military did you have?
MC: The Scholarship is most definitely not a mil-to-mil exchange or a Foreign area officer training program, but you can develop contacts depending on the country and our Defense Attaché in country. You have to seek them out, though and leverage opportunities, such as visits from our War Colleges(National War College and Air War Colege have been frequent visitors) and CAPSTONE. Here I want to emphasize the importance of having some "purple" in you. You will be the regular face of America's military outside of New Delhi and Wellington (the location of the Indian Defence Services Staff College). Having a pretty good depth of knowledge on our sister services beyond the US Army was enormously helpful and opened many doors. Our Attaché in India was reasonably supportive and with India being a friendly country (the situation is markedly different for my colleagues studying in
China and Russia for instance), I was able to do a fair amount of interaction with the Indian military, often through their retired officer community and usually with the Indian Navy as Bombay is a big Navy town. I interacted with a large number of retired Brigadiers/Commodores/Air Commodores and General and Flag officers, all of whom still maintain some level of influence, as do our retired "gray-beards." I gave presentations at numerous conferences on Goldwater-Nichols, US nuclear strategy, the Unified Commands, and officer promotion and selections in the US Army to audiences that included many three and even four-star retired officers (very rare in India as each service only has one four-star billet).
TAOC: What are your impressions of Indian power? The influences of the British on the subcontinent? The Indian military?
MC: India will continue to be a regional player and will likely expand its regional influence in the years to come, but is its own worst enemy in so many ways and I am less confident now than before I went over that they will emerge as a true world player within the next 10-years. India has a good military, one that could certainly defeat Pakistan conventionally and probably reverse the embarrassment of their 1962 War with China, but the costs would be significant. Personally, I don't think they are as good as they seem to think they are. They are still struggling with two very diverse insurgencies in their own country both in Jammu-Kashmir and northeastern states. Their concept of logistics is pretty shallow at all levels. They are having a serious recruiting problem for their combat arms officer ranks and this is causing various troubling second and third order effects such as earlier and earlier promotions as an incentive to keep officers in the ranks thereby creating lieutenant colonels with 8-9 years of experience. Their depth of population is such that they have an unlimited supply of people from which to draw upon for their jawans (troops) but cultural and educational inconsistencies make the pool from which they can draw officers is very limited. India has a need for the "gentleman officer" up from the educated middle class as they do not have an NCO corps comparable to US, UK or Australian forces. Unfortunately, the people that would make the best officers are eschewing military service (and the civil service) for the lure of Dalal Street (Bombay's equivalent of Wall Street). India has emerged as a capitalist society and part of Hindu philosophy revolves around material wealth, ergo while the Indian military is highly respected and admired, more and more of the middle class see service with the defense forces as someone else's responsibility. This is a generational change.
Hire Vets First
I just received an email from the Marine Corps that included this:
The return to civilian life for U. S. Soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan is full of pitfalls, with an unemployment rate three times the national average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics says that for the first three quarters of 2005, nearly 15 percent of veterans aged 20 -24 are jobless -- three times the national average.
According to the website VeteransToday, published by veterans, the high unemployment rate is "partly because most service members seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are in their early stages of their military careers and possess limited transferable job skills or very little civilian work experience."
Some 200,000 persons leave active military service each year. The government wants to convince U.S. employers to hire them. To tackle the problem, the U.S. government launched a series of initiatives to come to their aid. The U.S. Veterans Administration created in October a project titled, "Fulfilling the Commitment -- Coming Home to Work", a public-private effort so they "will have employment opportunities when they return home from the war on terrorism. The young men and women who protect our way of life need to know that they will have the opportunity to work and to take care of their families once they are discharged from military service," sand James Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The Department of Labor announced a six-month public relations campaign aimed at veterans returning to work in civilian life. The Veterans Administration also plans a web page, REALifelines, especially for veterans wounded in combat.
Job fairs for veterans are also being organized. One of them was attended by thousands of vets. One of the organizations at the Veterans Job Fair and Career Expo in New York, the National Hire Veterans Committee, encourages employers to recruit veterans on its website, www.HireVetsFirst.gov telling employers, "Your organization depends on reliable, resilient human capital. Veterans of America's armed forces have the skills, training and character to meet your toughest challenges for today and tomorrow. That's why the President's National Hire Veterans Committee wants you to know that hiring veterans is not just goodwill. It's good business."
Here's the site for those of you out there who'd like to hire a vet: HireVetsFirst
For what it's worth, when I left the Marine Corps in May of 2004, I was unemployed until September of 04, when I started my current job. I wasn't injured, have a BA, etc. And it still took me awhile. Mainly cause I had a very particular focus, I think.
On the other hand, if I hadn't been unemployed, I might never have discovered the blogosphere.
January 11, 2006
Spirit of America Releases Anonymous Blogging Guides in English, Arabic, Chinese and Persian
This is fantastic. I think Spirit of America is one of the coolest non-profts to come around in a long time.
The guides are a synthesis of all currently available information on the subject of anonymization. They have been edited for non-technical readers, translated into the languages of the target areas and posted on the wiki. Bloggers can use the wiki format to expand, edit and change the current guides to reflect a closer knowledge of the changing situation in their countries. Others may use the guides, and the other resources provided, to translate the guides into other languages or create new guides specific to their countries’ situations.
Man, that is cool.
Executive Summary & Future Research Opportunity?
[Scroll to the bottom of this post for the Executive Summary of the Oxford & York Conference, "Media and Technology in the Age of the Blogger," which I attended in New York in October.]
I'm starting a new book:
Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, winner of the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes, 1967. From the forward:
This book has developed from a study that was first undertaken a number of years ago, when Howard Mumford Jones, then Editor-in-Chief of the John Harvard Library, invited me to prepare a collection of pamphlets of the American Revolution for publication in that series . . .And from the preface:
. . . The pamphlets include all sorts of writings -- treatises on political theory, essays on history, political arguments, sermons, correspondence, poems -- and they display all sorts of literary devices. But for all their variety they have in common one distinctive characteristic: they are, to an unusual degree explanatory. They reveal not merely positions taken but the reasons why positions were taken; they reveal motive and understanding: the assumptions, beliefs, and ideas -- the articulated world view -- that lay behind the manifest events of the time. As a result, I found myself, as I read through these many documents, studying not simply a particular medium of publication but, through these documents, nothing less than the ideological origins of the American Revolution.
Study of the pamphlets confirmed my rather old-fashioned view that the American Revolution was above all else an ideological, constitutional, political struggle, and not primarily a controversy between social groups undertaken to force changes in the organization of society of the economy.
. . . the spokesmen of the Revolution -- the pamphleteers, essayists, and miscellaneous commentators -- were not philosophers and they did not form a detached intelligentsia. They were active politicians, merchants, lawyers, plantation owners, and preachers, and they were not attempting to align their thought with that of major figures in the history of political philosophy whom modern scholars would declare to have been seminal . . . They would have been surprised to hear that they had fallen into so neat a pattern in the history of political thought. They believed that any political system, certainly all republics, had to be based in some significant degree on virtue, but they had no illusions about the virtue of ordinary people, and all of them believed in the basic value of personal property, its preservation and the fostering of economic growth. They were both "civic humanists" and "liberals," though with different emphases at different times and in different circumstances. And indeed it is the flexibility of their ideas, the complex variations that could be harmoniously composed on the main themes, that has proven the most impressive product of the later studies of Revolutionary ideology.
For those who are interested, here's a PDF Executive Summary from the conference I attended in October, "Media and Technology in the Age of the Blogger". It's about 700kb, which will eat up my bandwidth, so first come, first served, until I start running out of my monthly quota. Then I'll be happy to forward it to anyone who requests by email. I think it's a great document, summing up the gist of each panel, and the major themes in each, very well:
This is my first PDF, so if it doesn't work . . . I'll have to give it another shot.
UPDATE: Thanks to Sparky at Developer Food for letting me use his site and bandwidth to continue hosting this document.
January 10, 2006
Advice for Military Public Affairs
Here's a few suggestions I just made to a PAO at CENTCOM about ways CENTCOM can get their message out to bloggers. I thought I'd see what you readers think:
1. The availability of deployed military personnel for interviews with bloggers, via phone or email. Maybe this could work in a "Request for Interview" fashion, where a blogger or group of bloggers would request to interview either a certain person, or someone knowledgable about a certain topic and then the PA folks could find the person or someone who fit the bill.
2. Invitations for bloggers to travel to areas where CENTCOM is operating. That might be pie in the sky, but it worked for Bill Roggio.
3. An ability to develop relationships between bloggers and PA personnel to discuss issues of interest to bloggers.
This is the key: the secret is that a blog is not news, or rarely is it news. A blog is a conversation. The trick to get CENTCOM's story out is for peple at CENTCOM to join the conversation.
January 6, 2006
[Several updates follow the original post. Please scroll down.]
My spider senses are twitching about Iran. I sense a disturbance in the force. Several reports, from different sources -- Strategic Forecasting, the Turkish press, and now RegimeChangeIran -- are all hinting at windows of opportunity that are closing: for the US or Israel to stop Iran's nuclear program, or for Iran to exploit the situation in Iraq to its advantage before democracy takes root.
Pundits are all worked up debating whether 2006 will be like 1994.
Perhaps a better comparison might be 1914. Things might get hairy awful fast in the mid-east. Iran is not just another country; it is an entire Persian civilization with a long history of conquest from Darius and Cyrus fighting the Greeks, to the Sasanians, the Safavids, and the modern state.
The prediction markets currently have a 36% chance of a US or Israeli airstrike on Iran by March of 07. I plan to keep a close eye on these numbers.
Here's what I expect in the next 12 months.
-There will be airstrikes upon Iranian facilities by either the US or Israel.
-There will be catastrophic, if not cataclysmic, terror attacks in various parts of the Middle East, sponsored by Iran or its proxies; The Gulf States, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq are potential targets.
I'm not going to make any definitive statements of causality. Either of the above two events may happen before the other. What happens after those two is anyone's guess. But I think they are both coming, and coming faster than we may all expect.
I have a bad feeling about this.
UPDATE: Many assume that Iran would not overtly use terror or the deterrent effects of its new nukes to its own gain in the immediate future, thinking instead that things would settle into a "cold war" of sorts.
This represents a best-case and is foolhardy for planning purposes. As usual in strategy, Iran's advantage rests in its ability to exploit seams; at the moment there is quite a transitional seam in Israeli politics and therefore policy. If there were plans on the drawing board for an Israeli strike, they are being shelved for sure. We are about to encounter another seam via the US election as well, wherein the entire Congress temporarily becomes entranced by domestic concerns and local politics.
If Iran declares itself a nuclear power, the institutions, systems, policies and governments of the region and the world will not just snap into a new paradigm of a "cold war" with Iran, though in the longer term, that is certainly probable. Instead, from the moment Iran makes the announcement, or detonates a bomb, a new seam begins between the old policy regimes and the new. And there lies Iran's advantage. Much hay can be made while the capitals of the west are engaged in debate on a response.
I'm calling it like I see it.
UPDATE2: Welcome, Instapundit readers.
UPDATE3: Between reading reader comments this evening, I was perusing a chapter in Grand Strategies in War and Peace entitled "British Grand Strategy in World War I" by Sir Michael Howard. This section struck me as particularly relevant to our current discussion on Iran:
In 1915, whatever British strategists may have intended, the eastern front was the major theater because the Germans had decided to make it so. During the course of that year the German armies in the east inflicted such drastic defeats on Russia that her Western allies began to doubt her capacity, and even more the will of her government to carry on the war at all. It was the need to relieve the pressure in the east that compelled the French and the British armies to continue their offensive on the western front. There was no longer any expectation of a strategic breakthrough leading to a major decision: the object now was to pin down the German forces and exhaust them. It was a strategy determined by the French High Command, and one into which Kitchener allowed himself to be drawn only very unwillingly. But if he did not do so, he feared, not only the Russians but even the French (who had already suffered over a million casualties) might be tempted to make peace. It was at this stage that the truth broke in on him that one has to make war, not as one would like to, but as one must.[emphasis added]Are we not perhaps in a similar situation with Iran? As much as Kitchener would have preferred to use British naval forces to merely blockade Germany, or to invade from the south, via the Dardanelles as Churchill disastrously suggested, thereby taking pressure off the Russians in the east, but without going straight into the maw of the enemy on the west, as much as he would have preferred these alternatives, he slowly realized that they would not work. And he was forced to fight the war in a much less than ideal fashion.
Here we are again. As much as we might like to a) have the EU diplomacy work or b) have no insurgency in Iraq simultaneous to this crisis or c) have a larger ground force in readiness or d) have more perfect intelligence or e) just let Israel do it, as much as we might prefer those things, they either aren't available or they won't work.
Iraq, as messy as it is, has perhaps spoiled us still for what war really is: a situation wherein every alternative is equally unpalatable, but in which one must act, must do something, risking possible defeat from the choice taken against certain defeat from the failure to choose at all.
UPDATE4: There is now a French-language trackback to this post, so I thought I'd investigate. The author is, of all people, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Swiss Army. Using the SYSTRAN Language Translation Technology, I translated his post and will copy it into the extended entry of this post, so click "Read More" if you are interested. His bio is here and you can translate that with Systran as well if you'd like. Certainly interesting: from private to LtCol in 9 years. Seems, impressive, oui?
UPDATE5: While we're all considering all the ifs, ands and buts to the Iran situation, I encourage those who haven't to read an article by Mark Helprin in the Claremont Review of Books, entitled "Let Us Count the Ways." Here is an excerpt particular to Iran:
Take for example Iran, a peripheral state that is nonetheless the most powerful and belligerent sponsor of terrorism remaining in the Middle East and indeed in the world. This is a country of 73 million, with a formidable military and difficult mountainous terrain. It is not, absent the kind of mass and power the United States and NATO needlessly relinquished at the Cold War's end, a country to invade, even in the "in-and-out" style advocated herein. And yet it has acquired and is acquiring intermediate-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, it is a habitual and recidivist supporter of terrorism, and its legislature frequently opens with chants of "Death to America."The sections I cut from the quote were mainly related to the 2004 election, the time when his piece was written. Helprin is an unabashed realist, and disagrees with the democracy push in the Arab world, a point on which I disagree with him. But man, do I love the way he thinks. Even with our forces still engaged in Iraq, there is absolutely nothing militarily to prevent us from executing the punitive actions he describes. Nothing. If we have but the will, it can happen tomorrow. And as he astutely mentions, the mere threat of such a program may be enough to cow Iran into abandoning its nuclear schemes.
We treat this obvious threat as if it were insurmountable, because due to our insufficient preparation, current deployments, and strategical blindness, at the moment, it is. The administration has no policy . . .
. . . Meanwhile, Iran shelters al-Qaeda, acquires missiles, and races toward nuclear armament.
But were the open and bleeding flank in Iraq closed, the center safely held, and the American military properly supplied, rebuilt, and rejuvenated, the sure way to strip Iran of its nuclear potential would be clear: issuance of an ultimatum stating that we will not allow a terrorist state, the legislature of which chants like a robot for our demise, to possess nuclear weapons; clearing the Gulf of Iranian naval and coastal defense forces; cutting corridors across Iran free of effective anti-aircraft capability; surging carriers to the Gulf and expeditionary air forces to Saudi Arabia; readying long-range heavy bombers in this country and Guam; setting up an unparalleled search and rescue capability. If then our conditions were unmet, we could destroy every nuclear, ballistic-missile, military research, and military technical facility in Iran, with the promise that were the prohibited activities to resume and/or relocate we would destroy completely the economic infrastructure of the country, something we could do in a matter of days and refresh indefinitely, with nary a boot on the ground. That is the large-scale option, necessary only if for some reason the destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities could not, as is likely, be accomplished by stealth bombers and cruise missiles. The almost complete paralysis of its economy, should it be called for, could be achieved with the same instruments plus naval gunfire and blockade.
UPDATE6: More fuel for the fire. Here's an excerpt from a recent report by Strategic Forecasting entitled, "The Iraqi Election's Effects, from Washington toTehran:"
One of the unremarkable constants in the Middle East of late is how hands-off a position the Israelis have been taking on everything. Threatening not-so-subtly to take action against Israel is old hat, but doing so against the background of increasingly touchy nuclear negotiations is another issue entirely. When the Iranian president began saying that Israel should be wiped off the map -- or at least moved to Alaska -- the Israelis obediently perked up and began dusting off battle plans to neutralize (read: nuke) Iran, with March bandied about as a realistic timeframe.Hmmm.
There are many things that could complicate U.S. goals in the Middle East, but none would do so more efficiently than Israeli missiles striking Iran. Since the last thing the United States needs is an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran, and the second-to-last thing the United States wants is a new war in Iran, the Iranians are betting that the Americans will try to placate them as Washington does with North Korea.
What the Iranians want, of course, are guarantees on future Iraqi policy. They also want to make certain that their Baathist enemies are never again in a position to return to power. And they are expecting the United States to guarantee all these things. Of course the Sunnis are expecting the United States to guarantee their interests. The Kurds have always relied on the United States. And the Israelis want to make sure that the Iranian nuclear threat is not left to them to handle. Each has its own threat. The Sunnis can crank up the insurgency. The Shia can invite in more Iranians. The Kurds can try to instigate an uprising in Turkey (or Iraq, Iran or Syria). The Iranians can threaten Israel with nuclear weapons, and the Israelis can threaten a preemptive strike.
Washington does not want any of these things. That means the United States must juggle a series of nearly incompatible interests to get a situation where it can draw down its troops. On the other hand, the Shia need the Americans to protect them from the Sunnis and the Iranians. The Sunnis need the Americans to protect them from the Shia. The Kurds need the Americans to protect them from the Turks (and the Sunnis). The Iranians need the Americans to protect them from the Israelis. And the Israelis generally need the Americans.
So, there is enough symmetry in the situation that the Bush administration might just be able to pull it off. What "it" consists of is less clear and less important than the balancing act that precedes it. It is in that balancing act that the United States reduces its forces, pushes al-Zarqawi to the wall, plays Iraqi and Iranian Shia against each other and gives the Iranians enough to keep them from going nuclear before Washington is ready to deal with the issue on its terms. It is dizzying, but that's what happens when war plans don't work out on the field the way they did in the computer -- which is usually. The administration has actually crafted something resembling a solution, or a solution has presented itself. Between that and polls that are a bit above awful, there is a chance the situation could work out in the administration's favor.
However, as all of this suggests, a final agreement is not only nowhere in sight, but not even in mind. Any conclusive agreement that would be acceptable to one group would be unacceptable to at least one other. In fact, the only thing that all of the domestic players agree on is that Washington has a role to play as the ultimate guarantor of any new government. The United States has no problem with this save one condition: that Washington is not responsible for day-to-day security. That in turn requires one item: a functional, united Iraqi army. That too has a precondition: a united army must include the Sunnis. Again, there is a follow on: the only Sunnis with military expertise are the Baathists.
Of all the possible Iraqi arrangements, the one that terrifies Iran is the one that is actually happening: a political agreement, with the support of all the local players, that involves a united, functional military complete with unrepentant Baathist elements. Memories of the 1980-1988 war are suddenly running a lot closer to the surface. Iran's biggest problem in challenging this scenario is that it does not have an effective lever. All of the Iraqi power brokers have signed on for their own reasons, and no one -- even the Iraqi Shia leadership -- believes Tehran would offer a better deal.
Which means that the only power Tehran can talk to is the one player that has no interest in talking to it if Iraq is about to be settled: the United States.
Since Washington is trying to avoid an Israeli preemptive strike against Tehran, the United States suddenly has an interest in making Israel feel better. To do that, it needs to get the Iranians under control. To do that, it needs to talk to the Iranians. And now we have Iran with something the United States wants (an Israel that is not about to go ballistic) and the United States with something Iran wants (an Iraq that Iran can tolerate).
The United States is not going to hand Iraq over to Iran, but should Tehran choose to complicate matters, neither is the United States going to be able to withdraw its forces.
Within that imbroglio there is room for compromise: have the United States -- via a permanent occupation -- guarantee Iraqi neutrality. An Iraq with 165,000 U.S. troops is in neither Iran's nor the United States' interest, but an Iraq with 40,000 troops at bases in the western Iraqi desert is. It is enough of a force to prevent unsavory governments from arising, but not enough to make Iran fear that Tehran could be flying the Stars and Stripes after a hectic weekend.
Looking at headlines, here's some that catch my eye related to the scenario above:
"I am running out of patience, the international community is running out patience, the credibility of the verification process is at stake and I'd like - by March - which is when my next report is, to be able to clarify these issues," he said.That makes yet another mention of the magical date of March, 2006 . . .
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the United States and its European allies have the votes to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council for possible censure over its nuclear ambitions, signaling increasing skepticism that continued negotiations with Iran will ever succeed.Could we see a UN Security Council resolution push by the United States beginning in March? The StratFor piece assumes that Israel would not just attempt to hit Iranian nuke facilities by airstrike, but would attempt to nuke Iran pre-emptively. I'm willing to bet that we can lean on the Israelis and get them to hold off on such an adventure while we let diplomacy run its course.
The questions are: how long does diplomacy have? what happens when it doesn't work? What might the UN resolution call for? And how does the mid-term congressional election impact the US decision-cycle, if at all?
Something else interesting: Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran is a report by the Strategic Studies Institute which looks certainly relevant. Here is the synopsis (sorry --haven't read the whole thing):
As Iran edges closer to acquiring a nuclear bomb and its missiles extend an ever darker diplomatic shadow over the Middle East and Europe, Iran is likely to pose three threats. First, Iran could dramatically up the price of oil by interfering with the free passage of vessels in and through the Persian Gulf as it did during the l980s or by threatening to use terrorist proxies to target other states’ oil facilities. Second, it could diminish American influence in the Gulf and Middle East by increasing the pace and scope of terrorist activities against Iraq, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Israel, and other perceived supporters of the United States. Finally, it could become a nuclear proliferation model for the world and its neighbors (including many states that otherwise would be more dependent on the United States for their security) by continuing to insist that it has a right to make nuclear fuel under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and then withdrawing once it decides to get a bomb. To contain and deter Iran from posing such threats, the United States and its friends could take a number of steps: increasing military cooperation (particularly in the naval sphere) to deter Iranian naval interference; reducing the vulnerability of oil facilities in the Gulf outside of Iran to terrorist attacks, building and completing pipelines in the lower Gulf region that would allow most of the non-Iranian oil and gas in the Gulf to be exported without having to transit the Straits of Hormuz; diplomatically isolating Iran by calling for the demilitarization of the Straits and adjacent islands, creating country-neutral rules against Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty state members who are suspected of violating the treaty from getting nuclear assistance from other state members and making withdrawal from the treaty more difficult; encouraging Israel to set the pace of nuclear restraint in the region by freezing its large reactor at Dimona and calling on all other states that have large nuclear reactors to follow suit; and getting the Europeans to back targeted economic sanctions against Iran if it fails to shut down its most sensitive nuclear activities.The authors of the study appear to think the clock is not ticking quite as fast as those of us here in the blogosphere. But these are all diplomatic actions we might look for in the next few months.
This is all just fascinating.