September 30, 2006
One of the hallmarks of maneuver warfare as it has been conceived in the Marine Corps is the use of combined arms. "Combined arms" refers to the use of various weapons systems in concert, such that each reinforces the weaknesses of the other. The doctrinal definition is this:
Combined arms is the full integration of arms in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must become more vulnerable to another. We pose the enemy not just with a problem, but with a dilemma -- a no-win situation. [from Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1, Warfighting]There's no reason to think that this doctrine couldn't be articulated at the national level as well. Rather than confining it to the realm of military strategy and the use of force, why not include all the elements of national power -- diplomatic, economic, informational, military, etc -- and force them to work in concert toward a common goal? This may be an ideal, but it is one at which the US does not perform so well. The primary reason is the way our foreign policy bureaucracy operates: there is little in the way of the kind of unity of command necessary for an individual decision-maker to muster all elements to work in concert.
But not so in Iran, warns Robert Kaplan:
September 28, 2006
From Checklist to Checkmate
My TCSDaily article is up! It discusses the problems with airport security -- specifically an over-reliance upon checklists.
September 27, 2006
Bet on the Pope, Not the National Intelligence Estimate
The National Intelligence Estimate so loudly in the news this week contains some interesting nuggets about countering extreme Islam:
Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in majority Muslim nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on Al-Qai'da, could erode support for the jihadists.What are these vulnerabilities, and how to exploit them?
The jihadists' greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution -- an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari'a-based governance spanning the Muslim world -- is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists' propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.More responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations might be seen as an alternative to the jihadists' "religious and political straitjacket."
This is reasonable, and has been offered in one interpretation or another as a reason for the war in Iraq for some time. It makes sense, given the idea that Muslims feel they have an alternative to jihad in those places.
But at the same time, there is something missing from this strategy. There is a spiritual need felt by many Muslims that goes unfilled by either material progress or democratic advancement. Those alternatives should be viewed then as part of the solution, but not the entire answer. Consider the comparison of Communist insurgencies and what seems to be a presently Islamic-inspired one, in the article, Mao in Mufti: Insurgency Theory and the Islamic World:
In contrast with the militant Communist mindset, that of the militant Islamist has an anti-materialistic orientation and a spiritual goal. Thus, an appeal to the “heart and mind” might not suffice because “soul” is a key element of the Islamist worldview construct. Although the patent victory of capitalist-democracy in the Cold War undermined the Communist worldview, that is largely irrelevant in the current conflict with the radical Islamists. Showing a better way to worldly utopia (classless society) hardly counts when the focus is spiritual salvation. But is the focus always spiritual salvation? Perhaps not. Muslims, as any people anywhere, can become pre-occupied with the tasks of making a living. However, when those tasks become too overwhelming, there are many symbols, traditions, institutions, opinion-leaders, and other prompts to remind them that religion offers the best remedy – the true solution. To challenge this “truth” would be very counter-productive. It is nonsense to presume that, since the former Communist societies of Russia and China abandoned Marx’s dialectical materialism, Islamic societies could bypass the Qur’an.This argument indeed goes to the heart of many of our popularly construed notions of what a victory will look like: some Muslims will wake up one day and see a chicken in every pot, two cars in the garage, and a pluralist political system and decide they don't need violent extremism. But many will still want the spiritual fulfillment that comes from jihad, however false or shallow that may seem to those of other faiths.
It seems that the preponderance of those who fall into this latter category are to be found in Europe. Earlier this summer, the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations released a report entitled Violent Jihad in the Netherlands: Current Trends in the Islamist Terrorist Threat. It offers a sobering look at how those who already come from a relatively affluent society with liberal democratic traditions are nonetheless attracted to jihad anyway:
While their parents often still practice Islam within the traditional cultural context, young Muslims are often confronted with a rapidly modernising, more secularized culture which conflicts with local religious traditions. These young people have not been fully secularized themselves, and they continue to struggle with existential and religious questions, seeking answers in an Islam which is increasingly divergant [sic] from a local cultural context. Althought Muslims worldwide are faced with globalization and modernization, young Muslims growing up in secular Western societies, in which Islam is just one more religious and cultural movement, are much more acutely confronted with problems of existential and religious orientation. [p. 31]While being repulsed by the choices of these young people, one cannot help but feel sympathy for their thirst for something more than mere secular pabulum. A further part of the Dutch report details how young Muslims in the Netherlands go about in creating a faith for themselves:
The scope for an individual interpretation of Islam, combined with religious ignorance among young European Muslims and their insufficient command of Arabic, leads to a relatively simple, often non-coherent ideology which justifies the use of violence against people with different ideas. With the help of radical websites and chat sessions, they compile a radical 'cut-and-paste' version of Islam from Koran quotations which they reshape into a revolutionary pamphlet of global violent jihad. [p.32]How can this be countered? These young Muslims are so many blind men feeling an elephant and describing it as they go. It must be truly frustrating to have spent a great deal of time and effort concocting a religion out of ignorance and, in this case, Arabic illiteracy, only to have it infantilized by a European elite that sees all such efforts as not only equal, but throwbacks to unenlightened, non-secular ages.
The recent efforts of the Pope then make more sense. His speech at the University of Regensberg reads almost as a prelude of more interesting insights to come. For now though, he is chiding a university faculty to have a wider conception of the relationship of reason and faith than they previously have:
Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss". The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university. [emphasis added]Is the Pope setting up the intellectual elite of Europe for something more to follow, perhaps, getting them ready for a dialogue that examines reason and faith among both Christianity and Islam?
Lee Harris, writing in the Weekly Standard, opined thus:
Here he is like many European Muslim leaders and ideologues, Tariq Ramadan for instance, who believe that the continent has been overcome with a spiritual malaise, a lack of purpose and self-esteem. Unlike secularism, Islam is a worthy competitor for men's souls--it is just an inferior doctrine, self-evidently so because it did not produce Europe. Moreover, and this is the point of the text Benedict cites, Islam is incapable of producing a Europe because its conception of God does not assume a rational divinity.And perhaps one large enough to encompass an Islam open to rationality as well? In any case, addressing a "continent [that] has been overcome with a spiritual malaise, a lack of purpose and self-esteem" is the missing portion of our strategy. It will be very difficult for any US government agency -- diplomatic or otherwise -- to address this void. But keep your eye on the Pope.
Now the Pope says this excerpted text does "not in any way express my personal thought." Really? So, the Vicar of Christ does not believe that Catholic doctrine is superior to Muslim teaching? Sure he does. The Pope does not want Christian Europe to regain its spirituality by becoming less rational, like Islam, but through an expanded concept of reason--one large enough to encompass a creator who is Himself rational.
Westhawk on Cluster Bombs
Westhawk argues that the Israelis may have intentionally seeded southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the end of the Israeli-Hezbollah war in order to deny the area for human habitation, thereby frustrating the attempts of Hezbollah to reestablish itself in the same places after the war's end:
If Israel really did leave a million unexploded bomblets in south Lebanon, the purpose was to thwart all of these Hezbollah sustainment requirements. Israel persuaded much of the population in south Lebanon to leave the area during the fighting. The cluster bombs are there to discourage its return. The Israeli government must also hope that the cluster bombs disrupt the rebuilding of south Lebanon’s infrastructure, and the restarting of commerce in the area. If Lebanon’s Shi’ites, Hezbollah’s base of support, must spend all of their energy on basic survival, there should be less time and energy remaining to support the Hezbollah militia. And if the Hezbollah organization must spend its Iranian funding keeping its civilian support base fed and sheltered, presumably there will be fewer funds remaining for rocket systems, guided missiles, and night vision equipment for the militia.I wonder what kinds of cluster muntitions the Israelis used. Artillery-fired anti-tank or anti-personnel mines sort of self-deploy on impact, but have a very high dud rate. These one would never want to put in an area where one's own forces might reoccupy in the conceivable future. On the other hand, my understanding of air-dropped cluster munitions is that they are not meant to be persistent, but to eviscerate area targets on impact. There was much controversy about these in the beginning of the Afghan campaign because the parachutes that the bomblets use to guide themselves are colored yellow, the same as the humanitarian rations that the US was dropping. So when the bomblets were duds, they unduly encouraged human attention.
Westhawk sums up:
Israel has clearly shifted to a “bottom-up” strategy in Gaza and south Lebanon. The Israeli government is now making life as miserable as a hostile media will allow it for the common people in those places. The Israelis hope to convince the enemy populations to compel their leaders to change their anti-Israeli policies. And if that fails, then perhaps a broken, impoverished, and starving enemy will result in a weakened military opponent. This is what results when every other tactic has been tried.Indeed, this is the 21st century equivalent of salting the ashes of Carthage.
Steve Acuff for NC4
North Carolina readers may want to visit the campaign website for Steve Acuff, who is running as a Republican in the 4th District (my own). His opponent is David Price, an incumbent with 18 years in the House.
Steve's a great guy. I did some volunteer work for the campaign this summer and found him to be very down-to-earth. Check out his his site here.
Michael Yon Names Names
Michael Yon, the retired Green Beret who embedded for months with US forces in Iraq, pulls no punches in this email dispatch he just sent to his mailing list:
Pajamas Media recently reported that there are only 9 embedded reporters in Iraq . Many are blaming this on the media, and while I can never be called an apologist for mainstream media, I can say with certainty that the United States military is censoring.Them's fighting words! Yon has huge credibility on issues like this. It seems he would not easily risk it.
It remains unclear if this is a general policy, though there are recent inquiries to the office of the Secretary of Defense. I await response. Or, perhaps, the censorship is merely the policy of ******* who is responsible for operations involving embeds. ******** is said to be the most quoted man in Iraq . I've learned to trust nothing he says. I do know for a fact that ******* has been untruthful with the media. If ******* calls me on this, I'll take the time to prove it.
While sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers and friends, fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military apparently is preventing journalists from telling the story. They attempt to deflect accusations of censorship by allowing in just enough reporters to appear transparent.
UPDATE: After noting Belmont Club's post on Yon's email, which notes that it has not been verified as actually coming from Yon, I've removed the name that Yon mentions in the email. It should not have been included in the first place.
"Pathfinders on a four-day mission fight off eight-week Taleban siege"
This Times article is some good reading.
He said that the most frightening times were when the compound came under indirect fire, such as mortars. “It is so indiscriminate, you never know when one will pop over the wall,” he said. But direct fire was “a joy”. “You can fire back. It’s not like Iraq, with roadside bombs. Someone shoots and you can shoot back.”
Berlin Production of Idomeneo A Little Strange to Begin With
The AP reports:
German politicians condemned on Tuesday a decision by a Berlin opera house to cancel performances of Mozart's "Idomeneo" over concerns they could enrage Muslims and pose a security risk.At first glance, this seems to fit the familiar pattern of:
The Deutsche Oper in west Berlin announced on Monday it was replacing four performances of "Idomeneo" scheduled for November with "The Marriage of Figaro" and "La Traviata."
The decision was taken after Berlin security officials warned that putting on the opera as planned would present an "incalculable security risk" for the establishment.
In the production, directed by Hans Neuenfels, King Idomeneo is shown staggering on stage next to the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs.
a) Western person or institution makes a public statement with some sort of content about Islam or Mohammed
b) Muslims go nuts.
Yet perhaps there is something else to this story. First off, what the heck is Idomeneo about and why does its performance include as props "the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs?"
Wikipedia's synopsis of the plot makes no mention of any of the these people, except for Poseidon [Neptune] and no mention of his beheading.
My guess is that this is an instance of some pretty ridiculous modern liberties taken with the script of Idomeneo. More akin to the whole "Piss Christ" controversy years ago than to either the Cartoon Jihad or, for lack of a better term, the Pope Jihad.
This doesn't mean that as free speech it shouldn't be defended. It just means that perhaps it's a little less defensible than the other instances. In the end of course, bad taste is not a crime, or shouldn't be.
September 26, 2006
The Irrational Tenth Part 2
I welcome all comments to either post.
DVD Rec of the Week
If you like this blog, you'll probably enjoy watching this:
The Battle of Algiers, produced only three years after the end of the French-Algerian War, is an excellent little study in the phases of a counterinsurgency, and quite a learning tool to boot. Moreover, its style is incredibly realistic. When coupled with a reading of Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice it almost makes for a small little course in counterinsurgency, especially for those (like probably everyone reading this) who have been inundated in the headlines of the past three years and can readily draw comparisons to current news and practices.
The Criterion Collection edition also includes two full discs of special features, most of which looked interesting, though I didn't have time for them.
There's more background about the film at Wikipedia's entry.
The Irrational Tenth
Belmont Club notes a sort of ongoing conversation taking place in many circles about the war and the size of the force necessary to best prosecute it.
At that time  there was very little appreciation of what was really required to defeat the enemy. The Democrats were arguing for police action through multilateral alliances. Or for large half-million man troop deployments in Iraq. And the Conservatives thought that major combat operations were over in Iraq. But in truth, no one was asking the right questions. As one Marine Colonel (the reference to which I can't find at the moment) argued, more men of the wrong kind would have converted Iraq into a mud-trodden disaster. John Kerry understands this, and calls for more Special Forces to be used. But where to get them?Where to get them indeed. This is the type of conversation in which someone quickly chimes in, "Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics." And they'd be right in a sense, because figuring out what kinds of forces are necessary when and where is a sort of strategic issue. Figuring out where to find them and then supplying them is more of a logistical problem, since it deals with the whole panoply of issues that entail the forming and manning of a certain kind of force. A commenter on the Small Wars Journal noted:
In the short run you have to raid tactical units for more recruiters, for drill sergeants, for instructors, etc. This means less capable deploying units. We've divested ourselves of a lot of training facilities. It will take lots of time and money to get back to the capacity we had in 1990 with a much smaller number of installations because an expanded Army has to be quartered somewhere and it has to train when not deployed.In short, institutional fear of a lack of national will hampers the ability to make a full-throated cry for increases in size.
So without some degree of political guarantee that we won't find another "Peace Dividend" there is really little to no constituency within the institutional Army to expand in anything but the most gradual way.
And this is truly the problem. New forces might be raised, new kinds of fighters might be created, but in the end without the will to use them, they come to naught. Critics can carp to no end about the lack of postwar planning in Iraq, and certainly have a point in many cases. But our national will seems too endeared with the search for a perfect plan for warfare, without acknowledging that such quests are as fruitless as perpetual motion machines. This sentiment is one of the bases of Tony Corn's wide-ranging critique of an over-reliance on Clausewitz in Policy Review:
Last but not least, the third major flaw is “strategism.” At its “best,” strategism is synonymous with “strategy for strategy’s sake,” i.e., a self-referential discourse more interested in theory-building (or is it hair-splitting?) than policy-making. Strategism would be innocuous enough were it not for the fact that, in the media and academia, “realism” today is fast becoming synonymous with “absence of memory, will, and imagination”: in that context, the self-referentiality of the strategic discourse does not exactly improve the quality of the public debate.
In making the case that there is a distinct Western military tradition dating back to the Greeks, Victor Hanson argued in The Wars of the Ancient Greeks that one such instance is "the ubiquity of literary, religious, political and artistic groups who freely demanded justification and explication of war, and thus often questioned and occasionally arrested the unwise application of military force."
Fair enough. But Corn seems to think that we have gone too far, that our conversations are "strategy for strategy's sake." Indeed, I know a different aphorism, often mentioned by field-grade logisticians with whom I served: "amateurs talk logistics, professionals talk pornography."
What this is meant to express, however earthily, is the idea that it is a sort of raw, fighting spirit which is the essence of war, and given that, all else will fall into place with merely mediocre planning. Leadership, persistence, manipulation, sheer force of will -- these are the missing elements.
T.E. Lawrence knew this. "Nine-tenths of tactics are certain and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals. It can only be ensured by instinct, sharpened by thought practicing the stroke so often that at the crisis it is as natural as a reflex."
Belmont Club finishes,
In the end, the single best . . . response to the attack on September 11 was simply to do something, a policy which seems to me infinitely better than doing nothing, if only because action led to learning and that was superior to sitting back and imagining that we had the answers.Yes, the irrational tenth is probably only to be discovered in combat.
September 25, 2006
Jihad and Thailand's New Leadership
News reports indicate that there were a number of reasons why Thailand's military decided to overthrow Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last week, but the most interesting among them was a disappointment with his strategy toward the Muslim insurgency in the south. From The Australian:
THE Royal Thai Army will adopt new tactics against a militant Islamic uprising, following the coup that sent Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, into exile in London last week.But at the same time Zachary Abuza, a political science professor at Simmons College in the US, and author of a forthcoming book about the Thai insurgency, offers a more nuanced take:
According to sources briefed by the army high command, Mr Thaksin's bungled response to the insurgency in southern Thailand, which has claimed 1700 lives in two years, was a critical factor in the generals' decision to get rid of him.
Military intelligence officers intend to negotiate with separatists and to use psychological warfare to isolate the most violent extremists, in contrast to Mr Thaksin's heavy-handed methods and harsh rhetoric.
[ . . . ]
if the prime minister's absence was the opportunity, sources said, the incentive to act was a sense that the Thai state was losing control over its southern territory, where about four million Muslims live.
A final spur for the coup came when bomb explosions tore through the south's commercial and tourist centre of Hat Yai this month, killing a Canadian visitor and three others, wounding dozens and prompting holidaymakers to flee.
Shocked Thai officials conceded that the terrorism could no longer be contained and might spread north to resorts such as Phuket and Koh Samui, with catastrophic results for the $13billion-a-year tourist industry, still reeling from 2004's Boxing Day tsunami.
[ . . . ]
When Mr Thaksin, a former policeman who made his fortune from telecommunications, came to power in 2001, he broke with the old order. He put police cronies in charge of the southern border and shut down two intelligence clearing centres.
Soon, reports in the media alleged that corruption, smuggling and racketeering were rife.
In January 2004, militants raided an armoury and started a killing spree. They have murdered Buddhist monks, teachers, hospital staff and civil servants - anyone seen as representing the Thai state. The army has seemed powerless to halt the chaos.
"Down there, you stay inside the camp at night," said a soldier who recently returned from a tour of duty. "If you go out, you die."
Mr Thaksin's iron-fisted methods went disastrously wrong. A suicidal mass assault on army and police posts by young Muslims, many armed only with machetes, ended with almost 100 "martyrs" dead. Later, 74 unarmed Muslims died at the hands of the security forces in the village of Tak Bae, most of them suffocated in trucks, and a suspected police death squad abducted Somchai Neelaphaijit, a Muslim lawyer, on a Bangkok street.
Somchai, who had brought torture cases before the National Human Rights Commission, was never seen again.
Then there is the southern insurgency. Will the CDR [Council for Democratic Reform] and interim administration be better equipped to deal with [it]? At the very least, there will be less political interference in counter-insurgent operations and fewer personnel reshuffles and policy initiatives from an impatient “CEO prime minister.” Second, the CDR is likely to implement many of the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Council that Thaksin had blatantly ignored. Though the NRC’s recommendations alone will not quell the insurgency, they will have an important impact in regaining the trust of the Muslim community. Third, Sonthi has expressed a willingness to talk with insurgents, though to date only PULO has offered to talk and the aged leaders in Europe have no control over the insurgents. And many in the military establishment including Sonthi, himself a Muslim, have publicly refused to see the insurgency for what it is, denying it any religious overtones or secessionist goals. Nor is the political situation likely to alter the campaign of the insurgents. If anything they may step up attacks in an attempt to provoke a heavy-handed government response. The Muslim provinces have been under martial law for over two and a half years, with little to show for it but an alienated and angry populace.
It seems Thailand has made two strategic errors in the past 15 years, the first of which was the dismantling of intelligence assets in the south.
A 2004 article from The Straits Times notes that
the upsurge in violence is also proving difficult to understand and control because it comes after Bangkok effectively dismantled its intelligence apparatus in the area and scaled down its military presence, thinking it had all but crushed the separatist movement in the late 1990s.Dr. Abuza made the same point in the piece above, noting,
The simple, stark fact, as admitted to me by a retired Thai general last week, is that neither the military nor the police now have a clue what is going on in the south.
“There has been a complete failure of intelligence. No one knows who the insurgents are. They don’t have a face.”In the absence of this lack of knowledge, it seems that ousted PM Thaksin made his second error: he responded to the insurgency with heavy-handed tactics, rather than classic counterinsurgency strategy. This only served to make things worse.
How will the generals do? We shall soon see. It was through cunning and realpolitik that Thailand avoided becoming a European colony while every single one of its neighbors did so in the last 300 years.
For the moment though, the south of Thailand, just like Waziristan or Somalia, has become another of the black holes with which we have become all too familiar, which the rest of us stare into with vacuous looks upon our faces, wondering intently what goes on in there, and from which the faintest traces of muezzin calls can be heard.
A few additions to the blogroll:
Arts and Letters Daily is a great little compendium of all sorts of one-off news and in-depth pieces from a humanities perspective, but usually very relevant to life.
The Christian Science Monitor usually has excellent coverage of a variety of issues.
The Australian is a good news source from down under.
USCavOnpoint offers articles about military strategy and counterterrorism.
David Frum and Containment
David Frum, former speechwriter for the Bush Administration, has made an argument in two separate places that the Bush team is not preparing at all to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, and is instead "acquiescing" to their desires.
Frum first made the case last week in his blog at National Review:
1) Any prudent war planner has to assume that the rulers of Iran will strike back . . .Then he seconded these emotions with a piece in Canada's National Post (via AEI), arguing that the Bush Administration is preparing for a campaign of containment against Iran:
2) Despite the accusations of America's critics, the United States does not bomb other countries out of a clear blue sky . . .
3) Nor has there been diplomacy outside the UN . . .
4) Finally, through Washington there echoes the hushed sound of back doors being opened to quiet negotiations . . .
Iran is going nuclear. Sanctions will not be imposed. The U.S. hesitates to strike. And the Bush administration's new big idea will not work. Brace yourselves.
In his post at NRO, Frum mentions that perhaps the real goal is a deal. If this is true, then the Bush administration can't be faulted for its pursuit, no matter how unlikely it seems. For while there is a certain clamoring in the right for action against Iran, there is at the same time little substantive discussion of the fact that such action will be the beginning of what could be a very large war, and while justified and perhaps necessary, it will not be clean and simple by any means. If a favorable outcome -- a non-nuclear Iran -- can be obtained without the use of force, then by all means, let's do it.
But if not, then we are in for a very interesting next few years, as a nuclear Iran is a prospect no sane and serious individual should be willing to entertain lightly.
What might a policy of "containment" look like vs Iran? A glimpse was perhaps provided earlier this year in an article in the Times of London on the Proliferation Security Initiative:
A PROGRAMME of covert action against nuclear and missile traffic to North Korea and Iran is to be intensified after last week’s missile tests by the North Korean regime.From the perspective painted here, the Proliferation Security Initiative seems to be two things: both a good picture of what "containment" against another rogue nuclear power resembles, and a race against the clock to make sure that it does not sell or pass nuclear material to other states or non-states.
Intelligence agencies, navies and air forces from at least 13 nations are quietly co-operating in a “secret war” against Pyongyang and Tehran.
It has so far involved interceptions of North Korean ships at sea, US agents prowling the waterfronts in Taiwan, multinational naval and air surveillance missions out of Singapore, investigators poring over the books of dubious banks in the former Portuguese colony of Macau and a fleet of planes and ships eavesdropping on the “hermit kingdom” in the waters north of Japan . . .
The United States and its allies are now preoccupied by what Kim might do with the trump card in his arsenal — his stockpile of plutonium for nuclear bombs.
“The real danger is that the North Koreans could sell their plutonium to another rogue state — read Iran — or to terrorists,” said a western diplomat who has served in Pyongyang. American officials fear Iran is negotiating to buy plutonium from North Korea in a move that would confound the international effort to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.
The prospect of such a sale is “the next big thing”, said a western diplomat involved with the issue. The White House commissioned an intelligence study on the risk last December but drew no firm conclusions.
Iran is a much larger and more powerful entity than North Korea, and more strategically located to boot. If the picture above is an accurate portrayal of a containment strategy, one must ask how much more difficult such a strategy would be if aimed at Iran.
Furthermore, one must not be too hasty in comparing such strategies to those used against the Soviet Union. A central part of that doctrine, as we all know, was mutually-assured destruction. Attack us and we will destroy you, though we may well be destroyed in the process, to paraphrase.
Is it possible some new doctrine of offensive use of nuclear weapons might apply to situations in which states are likely to sell nuclear materials or pass them to proxies? How might such a doctrine be formulated? If containment is truly to be the policy of the US, then it should have such a strict expression of offensive capability as one of its key platforms.
Such are the dilemmas we'll be facing if Iran becomes a nuclear power.
September 24, 2006
I no longer work in my previous industry, which was real estate development.
Instead, I've decided to fashion a new career for myself. A big part of it, though there are other parts, is writing. The details are:
-In addition to my regular column at TCSDaily, I'm making efforts to contribute to other outlets as well (and if you're an editor reading this and would like to discuss a piece, please email me at my address in the sidebar).
-I'll be ramping up the activity here on the blog. This may take the form of some new formats, rather than the long form I've always enjoyed. We'll see.
-I'll begin writing a book soon. The topic will be how to win the war. I've outlined several chapters and am very excited about getting it down on paper, er, screen. Some of that work will appear here or in other outlets from time to time.
-I'll continue doing some original reporting if and when opportunities present themselves.
-I'd like to experiment with podcasting and hope to have the equipment to do so in place soon.
-The Adventures of Chester Book Club is close to becoming a reality (see below). More on that as it develops. If you're interested, comment to this post, or shoot me an email.
Thanks to all you loyal readers out there. I've taken long breaks from this blog from time to time and may have to again in the future. For now, though, I hope to have a continued presence for the next three months at a minimum.
UPDATE: Another new change: there is now an Adventures of Chester Bookstore. I've picked the 6 books that appear on the front page and added a brief blurb about them. They are either perennial favorites or some of the best I've read this year. Now you can browse Amazon without ever leaving Adventures!
September 23, 2006
A brief note on comments
Bill Roggio has been kind enough to upgrade me to Movable Type 3.3.
Many of you regular commenters may have noticed a glitch: You enter your comment and press the post button, but then you can't see it when the page reloads. This glitch is the result of some tinkering I did months ago to try to throw off those idiot spammers. With the new upgrade, I believe the glitch has resolved itself.
Posting has been on hold for a bit but will resume very shortly.
September 21, 2006
The Adventures of Chester Book Club
How many of you readers out there would be interested in participating in a book club? The parameters are:
-would read 1 to 2 books a month
-I would post twice a week or so on each book. Participants would be free to post their own thoughts in the comments to that post.
The first book I'm considering is Sir Robert Thompson's "Defeating Communist Insurgency". If you think you might like to participate, shoot me an email or post a comment here.
I'm just taking a pulse at the moment. Don't go buy the book yet! I'm working on a deal with the publisher. No promises.
September 15, 2006
Interesting New Contracts at Intrade
In the past few days, the online prediction market Intrade has doubled its number of contracts for both US or Israeli strikes against Iran and for the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. The actual contracts can't be pointed to, so you'll have to go there and poke around a bit to find them.
This probably reflects a desire on the part of the Intrade folks to keep on top of these events, rather than any unusual movements in those markets.
September 12, 2006
From Every Mountainside
Tom Ricks’ book FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq has been climbing the charts of late. Ricks lists the work Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula as being very important to understanding the fight in Iraq today. Galula was a French officer who served in Greece, Algeria, and China, and observed various different insurgencies firsthand. His work is peppered with colorful anecdotes such as the things he learned after being captured by the Chinese Communists. Nevertheless, it very much attempts to develop a theory of counterinsurgency warfare that is extremely relevant today, despite the differences between Communist fighters and those of the Islamic ilk.
Galula believed that the population must be divided into three groups, the favorable minority, who will always favor the side of the counterinsurgent, the insurgent minority, those who are the actual fighters and organizers for the insurgency, and the rest of the population, which lives between the two sides, and can be swayed in either direction. He further made the point that insurgencies are always motivated by a cause, and that counterinsurgencies must have a cause as well if they are to succeed:
The strategic problem of the counterinsurgent may be defined now as follows: “To find the favorable minority, to organize it in order to mobilize the population against the insurgent minority.” Every operation, whether in the military field of in the political, social, economic, and psychological fields, must be geared to that end.
To be sure, the better the cause and the situation, the larger will be the active minority favorable to the counterinsurgent and the easier its task. This truism dictates the main goal of the propaganda – to show that the cause the situation of the counterinsurgent are better than the insurgent’s. More important [sic], it underlines the necessity for the counterinsurgent to come out with an acceptable countercause.
All of this struck me very forcefully last week while attending the 5th Annual Defense Forum in Washington, DC, and hearing Tom Ricks give the keynote address. Ricks told the story of Army Colonel H.R. McMaster’s method of addressing the sheiks and imams in his area of operations upon arrival in Iraq in 2005. “McMaster told the Iraqis that when the American military first invaded Iraq, they were like men stumbling around furniture in a dark room. Now, the Iraqi government has turned on the lights for us, and the time for honorable resistance has ended.”
Ricks stated that this level of courtesy, used by McMaster even while implicitly threatening those who opposed him, is both necessary and extremely effective in the Arab world because the core value of that society is honor, or dignity, or respect. Ricks believes that when “Americans speak to the Iraqis about freedom, something is lost in translation.”
To use Galula’s terminology and theory, an independent observer must conclude that democracy is the “countercause” that the US seeks to advocate in the Middle East. But to use Ricks’ anecdote of Colonel McMaster, perhaps this is not the strongest or most effective countercause we might be using. Instead, perhaps we could link the honor that is so important to Arabs to what we define as freedom. Or perhaps we might attempt to dissociate jihad – especially the suicidal variant – from those actions which are perceived to be honorable.
These are tall orders but certainly possible for what has already been called a “long war.” Surely we are up to the task.
September 7, 2006
Dispatches from the Defense Forum
The Defense Forum of 2006 was an outstanding event and I'd like to thank the US Naval Institute and Marine Corps Association for making it possible for me to attend.
If any Loyal Readers are interested, here are the pieces I wrote from the conference for Pajamas Media:
First Dispatch: about the remarks of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Giambastiani.
Second Dispatch: about a panel on the progress of the Long War.
The Third Dispatch discusses both the remarks of Tom Ricks, and a panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The final dispatch recounts the final panel, about lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's lots of good stuff in there!
September 4, 2006
Defense Forum Washington 2006
Tomorrow (Tuesday the 5th), I'll be attending the Defense Forum in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Marine Corps Association and the US Naval Institute, two outstanding professional organizations for the Naval services.
While there, I'll be sending email dispatches throughout the day to Pajamas Media, so look for updates on their homepage.
The schedule of events looks really interesting and I'm especially looking forward to the panels entitled "The Long War: Where Are We Now?" and "Fighting on the Terrorists’ Turf: Lessons Learned in Iraq & Afghanistan and the Gap Between Expectations and Realities".
If there's a chance during the panel discussions, I'll be sure to ask a question or two from the back of the room. If any readers have questions you'd like me to try to address, please send them on to my email account, listed in the sidebar to the right.
I'll be attempting to file my dispatches while using my Motorola RAZR phone in a modem capacity for my laptop. There's a backup if it doesn't work, but it will be pretty cool if it does!
September 1, 2006
Here's some good fuel for the fire from the past few days:
Kobayashi Maru recently considered if there might be any internal contradictions within Islamism/Islamic fascism.
Westhawk thinks that the Mahdi militia has stumbled into an unwise battle.
Publius Pundit recently traveled all over Belarus, Eastern Europe's last dictatorship, and offers his refllections. He's trying the travel-the-world-and-write-about-it model of blogging popularized by Bill Roggio, Michael Yon, and Michael Totten, so slip a few dollars his way if you like his work.
A new page lists a few notable posts from my two years of blogging here. It's linked in the sidebar, or you can find it here.