November 13, 2006
By a thousand cuts . . .
Travel has kept me from writing about what I'd intended today . . . but not to worry, as Westhawk has instead done so. See his piece on Britain's looming insurgency.
November 6, 2006
A Coffin for Dimitrios
While traveling over the weekend I read A Coffin for Dimitrios, by Eric Ambler. Fans of Alan Furst's spy fiction will love this book. Ambler wrote it in 1939 and it was one of the most popular works he ever wrote.
The premise goes something like this: An Englishman who is a successful writer of detective stories is vacationing in Turkey and has a chance social encounter with the head of the Turkish secret police. While they are discussing another issue entirely, the Turk has to attend to a professional matter: dealing with the death of one Dimitrios, a murderer, spy, assassin, and drug smuggler whose body has just turned up. The writer, who has always written crime fiction, but never really witnessed the underworld up close, is fascinated by Dimitrios' life and decides to trace it on his own out of curiosity . . .
To tell more would begin to spoil things. Hopefully that's enough to whet your appetite. The book was outstanding and I'm adding it to the Adventures of Chester Bookstore. Put it on your Christmas list!
October 26, 2006
"Welcome to the party, pal!"
A quick cycle through the headlines of the past two days provides an update on our NATO allies:
October 5, 2006
The European Intifada Continues
The violence in northern European banlieus was much in the news a year ago this month, but has strangely dropped from view. But now the French Interior Ministry warns that an "intifada" is pressing on many fronts:
Radical Muslims in France's housing estates are waging an undeclared "intifada" against the police, with violent clashes injuring an average of 14 officers each day.How will the French contain this violence? Can they?
As the interior ministry said that nearly 2,500 officers had been wounded this year, a police union declared that its members were "in a state of civil war" with Muslims in the most depressed "banlieue" estates which are heavily populated by unemployed youths of north African origin.
It said the situation was so grave that it had asked the government to provide police with armoured cars to protect officers in the estates, which are becoming no-go zones.
The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the leading centre-Right candidate for the presidency, has sent heavily equipped units into areas with orders to regain control from drug smuggling gangs and other organised crime rings. Such aggressive raids were "disrupting the underground economy in the estates", one senior official told Le Figaro.There's been quite a bit of Ramadan violence in Belgium as well. See the posts from Brussels Journal here and here. The Journal warns that there may be another flare up this weekend, "The authorities are especially nervous since the Belgian municipal elections are being held on Sunday October 8th. It is likely that the elections will be won by anti-immigrant, “islamophobic” parties. Since ramadan will not be over on October 8th and many immigrants might perceive a victory of the indigenous right (as opposed to their own far-right) as an insult, Muslim indignation over the election results in major cities may spark serious disturbances."
However, not all officers on the ground accept that essentially secular interpretation. Michel Thoomis, the secretary general of the hardline Action Police trade union, has written to Mr Sarkozy warning of an "intifada" on the estates and demanding that officers be given armoured cars in the most dangerous areas.
He said yesterday: "We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists. This is not a question of urban violence any more, it is an intifada, with stones and Molotov cocktails. You no longer see two or three youths confronting police, you see whole tower blocks emptying into the streets to set their 'comrades' free when they are arrested."
He added: "We need armoured vehicles and water cannon. They are the only things that can disperse crowds of hundreds of people who are trying to kill police and burn their vehicles."
October 3, 2006
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Suppose you are a member of Britain's security services and are faced with a dilemma: you can either arrest a terror plotter and lose the opportunity to continue rolling up his network, or know that if you don't, the US will swoop him up and send him to a secret prison (aka, "render" him)? Which is worse?
In Which the European Defense Agency Shows It Has Learned Nothing in the Last Five Years
Political discourse about warfare is all too frequently shot through with utopian impulses. This is because warfare involves both the vision of an "end-state" that one's forces work toward, and millions of decisions at all levels that are easily second guessed as time passes.
An article in the London Telegraph reports that the new European Defense Agency has released a paper envisioning the next 20 years of conflict.
The paper, An Initial Long-Term Vision for European Defence Capability and Capacity Needs, paints a Europe in which plunging fertility rates leave the military struggling to recruit young men and women of fighting age, at a time when national budgets will be under unprecedented strain to pay for greying populations.It seems the study does not attempt to really envision future conflicts so much as it attempts to proscribe a series of measures that must be in place in order for the EU to engage in war. In other words, rather than focusing on enemies, it seems to focus on its own requirements. There is a term for this: self-induced friction. The EU Defense Agency is only 2 years old and already is hamstringing itself.
At the same time, increasingly cautious voters and politicians may be unwilling to contemplate casualties, or "potentially controversial interventions abroad – in particular interventions in regions from where large numbers of immigrants have come."
Voters will also be insistent on having backing from the United Nations for operations, and on crafting large coalitions of EU member states with a heavy involvement of civilian agencies, and not just fighting units, the paper states. They will also want military operations to be environmentally friendly, where possible.
All of this is similar to the Powell Doctrine in the United States, another set of internally imposed rules meant to make domestic constituents happy and to limit the kinds and types of wars that will have to be fought.
A hard-thinking, proactive enemy -- and there are few other kinds -- no doubt laughs in glee at these efforts, as it merely gives him all the more opportunities to avoid battle with the West and pursue his own agenda with impunity; or, once engaged in battle, to prevail simply by using methods and techniques that the West is institutionally (and thereby mentally) unprepared to counter.
The entire report may be downloaded here.
August 9, 2006
Interview with Alan Furst
I've conducted a brief interview with Alan Furst, who has written several superb spy novels set in pre-WWII Europe. The interview is now up over at TCSDaily.
Furst's own site is www.alanfurst.net.
I have to tell the story of how this came about, cause it's pretty neat.
Mrs. Chester dragged me shopping one day and I ducked into a Borders in need of a reprieve. Browsing around, I moseyed over to the Mystery/Suspense section to look for Furst's new book, The Foreign Correspondent.
I couldn't find it, so I went to the help desk. There, I saw a stack of copies, along with the entire inventory of everything else they had in stock by Furst. "Are these all on hold?" I asked the staff. "No, we've set them aside because he's supposed to come in today and sign them. He's supposed to be here any minute."
Well, this was cool! So soon enough Mr. Furst did arrive and signed a copy for me. I went and sat down in the cafe. Then a thought occurred to me: why not a blog interview? I asked him and he agreed immediately, saying he loves reading blogs.
Anyway, I thought that was very kind of him and a pretty cool little backstory.
Furst's novels are truly fascinating. You feel as though you are really in Europe right before all hell breaks loose. And in some cases after it's broken loose too.
My favorite is Night Soldiers, probably because it's a bit longer than the others, which means all the more intrigue:
I've also read The World at Night and Dark Voyage:
Those were both excellent as well. When reading these works, the scope and depth of the changes that were afoot in Europe really begins to dawn on the reader. Most interestingly perhaps is that everyone seems to know that war is coming . . .
Loyal Readers here at Adventures will probably enjoy any of Furst's novels. Go check out the interview too.
UPDATE: Here's a previous post that references his work as well: Through The Looking Glass.
June 30, 2006
Some things to note for weekend thinking:
1. The Guardian reports that:
The intelligence agencies have warned ministers that Iran could launch terrorist attacks against British targets if the row over its controversial nuclear programme escalates, it was disclosed today.That's something to keep in mind. The same article notes:
The parliamentary intelligence and security committee - which oversees the work of the agencies - said the possibility of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism was now considered one of the main threats facing the UK.
"There is increasing international tension over Iran's nuclear programme and backing of groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah," the committee said in its annual report.
"There is a possibility of an increased threat to UK interests from Iranian state-sponsored terrorism should the diplomatic situation deteriorate."
The report also revealed that MI5, the security service, was expanding so rapidly in order to meet the threat of terrorism in the UK that it had outgrown its London headquarters building.Wow. That is amazing. MI-5 is the agency that will be infiltrating or surveiling any homegrown terror cells or organizations. Good to see that they are taking things seriously across the pond.
Thames House at Westminster is expected to have exhausted its capacity by October. The committee said another building had been found to provide additional accommodation - but its identity was censored out on security grounds.
MI5 staff numbers are now expected to grow by over 50% over the next three years, with over half its resources now devoted to counter-terrorism.
2. That article was via RegimeChangeIran, which is asking for your help. Gary Metz, aka Dr. Zin, is requesting donations for "several campaigns to take this work to the next level." Look for more info there soon. He's also asking for volunteers. Sounds like he has something up his sleeve . . . RegimeChangeIran is a great site, so consider supporting him.
3. Finally, while we're in an altruistic mood, Robert Mayer of Publiuspundit sends this:
I have decided to try the path of Michael Totten sans the Middle East. I will be writing pieces from places like Honduras (one of the darkest corners in Latin America), Catalunya (which voted for large autonomy from Spain), The Netherlands (where the government has collapsed over the Ayaan Hirsi Ali affair), Switzerland (an overlooked and extremely interesting country), and the Czech Republic (home of the original velvet revolution that people talk so much about). Most of my reporting will be from Latin America and eventually Eastern Europe, someday moving on to other regions.His first post is here. Check it out and if you like it hit his tipjar.
April 24, 2006
Economic Determinism and Europe's Descent
Charles Boix has written a fascinating recent article in Policy Review, in which he argues that as universal as the desire for freedom may be, the conditions for the spread of democracy are limited. Chiefly, equality of economic conditions is the primary state in which democracy will take root and thrive:
The insight that equality of conditions is a precondition for democracy has a long and often forgotten tradition in the study of politics. It was apparent to most classical political thinkers that democracy could not survive without some equality among its citizens. Aristotle, who spent a substantial amount of time collecting all the constitutions of the Greek cities, concluded that to be successful, a city “ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars.” By contrast, he noticed, a state could not be well-governed where there were only very rich and very poor people because the former “could only rule despotically” and the latter “know not how to command and must be ruled like slaves.” They would simply lead “to a city, not of free persons but of slaves and masters, the ones consumed by envy, the others by contempt.” Two thousand years later Machiavelli would observe in his Discourses that a republic — that is, a regime where citizens could govern themselves — could only be constituted “where there exists, or can be brought into being, notable equality; and a regime of the opposite type, i.e. a principality, where there is notable inequality. Otherwise what is done will lack proportion and will be of but short duration.”Boix then goes on to offer a variety of empirical evidence to support this point. He takes particular aim at Islam itself, showing that it is no stronger a force against democracy than any other cultural factors in other parts of the world, and that even Islam is subordinate to economics when it comes to the flowering of democracy:
Islam has been much brandished as the cause of authoritarian attitudes and institutions in the Middle East and North Africa. But as Freedom House recently pointed out, if we take into account the large Muslim populations of countries such as India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey, the majority of the world’s Muslims live now under democratic regimes. In turn, some scholars have noted that, even if Islam is compatible with free elections, the Arab world is not. Indeed, all Arab states remain undemocratic as of today — and do so by employing substantially repressive policies. The problem with this claim, however, is that it never specifies the ways in which Arab culture and behavior may be at odds with the principle of mutual toleration among winners and losers that makes democracy possible. Moreover, the few surveys we do have seem to show that Middle Eastern populations favor democracy by margins similar to those found in Latin American or Asian publics. The truth is that the politics surrounding the control of natural resources, rather than any religious or cultural factor, is what explains the preponderance of authoritarianism in the Middle East (and much of sub-Saharan Africa as well).Boix's is a great article and his ultimate conclusions are not to be dismissed.
His work though raises vexing questions about what he does not discuss. Namely, how does his economically determinate argument explain the rise of semi-autonomous, undemocratic groups within Europe? According to his economics-based theory of democratization, Europe should be a place where democracy continues to thrive indefinitely, not where it is threatened by some other system. Yet the growth of semi-autonomous immigrant communities in Europe's large cities -- places where the democratically created laws of the host society don't apply or aren't enforced -- is a frequent feature of the news these days (and even a slew of recent books).
How to account for this? Especially when all of these communities have one thing in common -- Islam?
My guess is that this phenomenon speaks less to the anti-democratic tendencies of Muslims than it does to the pusillanimous and faint-hearted efforts of the Europeans in defending and justifying their freedoms. But readers are welcome to differ . . .
February 21, 2005
Bush Goes to Europe
Stories and links about Bush's trip to Europe this week:
Bush's Grand Tour: Gerard Baker at the Weekly Standard wonders if Bush isn't walking into a trap.
What is new is a growing commitment by the leaders of Europe to implement a global strategy that will actively block the United States from pursuing its goal of combating tyranny.Transatlantic Intelligencer points to a sign of this chasm in relations in Inveterate Arte: A Sign of Respect?
James Kitfield in National Journal wonders if a second term will give Bush a second chance to make a first impression.
And Mark Steyn writes that the only thing the President must remember is not to giggle at how silly European policies are.
And now the President himself is on his way, staying up all night on Air Force One trying to master the official State Department briefing paper on the European Rapid Reaction Force, the European Constitution, the European negotiations with Iran, etc. ("When these subjects come up, US policy is to nod politely and try not to giggle. If you feel a massive hoot of derision coming on, duck out to the men's room, but without blaming it on the escargots.") The French Foreign Minister took to calling the US Secretary of State "chre Condi" every 30 seconds. It's doubtful if the French President will go that far, but, if he does, the White House line is that Mr Bush is happy to play Renee Zellweger to Chirac's Tom Cruise ("You had me at bonjour").
Steyn points to a recent CIA study which says the European Union will break-up within 15 years unless it radically reforms its ailing welfare systems.
Denis Boyles offers the President a guide on what to say to the Europeans.
1. Get a job . . .Meanwhile, Daniel Blumenthal and Thomas Donnelly, two scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, ask, "Why is Europe Eager to Sell Arms to China?"
2. Clean up your mess . . .
3. Stop taking bribes . . .
4. Since you cant defend yourselves, get out of our way . . .
5. Knock off the eco-hypocrisy . . .
6. Start a No European Left Behind program . . .
7. Jacques, Gerhard, get a better campaign issue . . .
The European Union is on the verge of lifting the arms embargo it imposed on the Peoples Republic of China following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. If the E.U. carries out this threat - and make no mistake, this would be a genuinely hostile act against the United States -- the transatlantic tiffs of recent years could come to seem minor, and Bush could be saying a final farewell to old allies rather than renewing strategic bonds.
The missing pieces of the PLA puzzle are exactly the sorts of command and control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that the Europeans are getting ready to sell. These are the same technologies that make the U.S. military so effective, having been developed initially for NATO operations. Lifting the embargo would thus mean that, in a future flare-up with Beijing such as the cross-straits crisis over Taiwan in 1996 or Chinas 2001 downing of an American EP-3 surveillance aircraft, U.S. soldiers would find themselves going up against an adversary armed with NATO technology.
The immediate objective of the PLAs modernization effort is the subjugation, either by intimidation or direct military action, of Taiwan. But the larger target is the United States and its position as the guarantor of freedom and stability in the region -- what the Chinese government calls American hegemony. Beijing wants to develop the military capacity to deter the United States and its regional allies from acting in Asia. Lifting the embargo will go a long way toward helping the Chinese reach that goal.