November 15, 2006
Jihad beats McWorld
A story over the weekend in the Times chronicled the use of hip-hop music by Islamists to spread their messages.
HIP-HOP and rap artists are teaching young Muslims the ideology of radical Islamism through songs about the war in Iraq, the oppression of Muslims and the creation of an Islamic state governed by Sharia, or religious law.
Intelligence agencies have identified music as a “tool for indoctrination”. The phenomenon began with an American group called Soldiers of Allah. The group has since disbanded but its music and lyrics remain popular on the internet. Other groups in Britain, France and the US have been identified as giving cause for concern. Many use the derogatory term “kufur” to describe non-Muslims.
[ . . . ]
“The music is very persuasive because it is giving young people ideas, and those ideas are what might motivate someone to become a jihadi. The material is all in English. It’s spreading a radical message to domestic populations that don’t speak Arabic or Urdu.”
"American culture conquers all" is a meme that has circulated for years. A friend used to joke that if Britney Spears could have been convinced to do some concerts in Afghanistan, there would have been no need for a US invasion.
Yet stories like these hint at a different set of conclusions: that like any other Western innovation, pop culture can be subverted to serve the virus of radicalism. In this case, the use of hip hop, a form which glorifies the artist and his ego, serves to glamorize jihad.
Rather than meeting radicalism with apple pie and entreaties to freedom vacuously defined as popular music, jeans and McDonald's, it seems that the much-vaunted "war of ideas" that is sometimes heard but rarely elaborated upon will have to actually take place, and hold some substance. Moreover, it seems that any new memes introduced to fight against those of the radicals, will have to be Muslim in origin, even if they use Western forms, as seen here. It is a complex problem and one unlikely to be solved by any government, if it can be solved at all. Creating counternarratives is a task best left to the private sector in the West, and putting such narratives in the form of popular music will take some time -- not in the least because those most likely to do so probably feel that their lives will be endangered.
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.
October 31, 2006
Why do they hate us?
Robert Keohane and Peter J. Katzenstein have a new article in Policy Review that excerpts their work Anti-americanisms in World Politics. They find that things are a bit more complicated than one might think:
First, we distinguish between anti-Americanisms that are rooted in opinion or bias. Second, as our book’s title suggests, there are many varieties of anti-Americanism. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that what is called anti-Americanism varies, depending on who is reacting to America. In our book, we describe several different types of anti-Americanism and indicate where each type is concentrated. The variety of anti-Americanism helps us to see, third, the futility of grand explanations for anti-Americanism. It is accounted for better as the result of particular sets of forces. Finally, the persistence of anti-Americanism, as well as the great variety of forms that it takes, reflects what we call the polyvalence of a complex and kaleidoscopic American society in which observers can find whatever they don’t like — from Protestantism to porn. The complexity of anti-Americanism reflects the polyvalence of America itself.As to the first point, they make a careful distinction between opinion and bias:
Some expressions of unfavorable attitudes merely reflect opinion: unfavorable judgments about the United States or its policies. Others, however, reflect bias: a predisposition to believe negative reports about the United States and to discount positive ones. Bias implies a distortion of information processing, while adverse opinion is consistent with maintaining openness to new information that will change one’s views. The long-term consequences of bias for American foreign policy are much greater than the consequences of opinion.The authors then go on to detail the varieties of anti-Americanism that they have discerned:
Liberal anti-Americanism. Liberals often criticize the United States bitterly for not living up to its own ideals . . .Their most interesting paragraphs are those detailing the "polyvalence" of America:
Social anti-Americanism. Since democracy comes in many stripes, we are wrong to mistake the American tree for the democratic forest. Many democratic societies do not share the peculiar combination of respect for individual liberty, reliance on personal responsibility, and distrust of government characteristic of the United States . . .
Sovereign-nationalist anti-Americanism. A third form of anti-Americanism focuses not on correcting domestic market outcomes but on political power. Sovereign nationalists focus on two values: the importance of not losing control over the terms by which polities are inserted in world politics and the inherent importance and value of collective national identities . . .
Radical anti-Americanism . . . is built around the belief that America’s identity, as reflected in the internal economic and political power relations and institutional practices of the United States, ensures that its actions will be hostile to the furtherance of good values, practices, and institutions elsewhere in the world . . .
Elitist anti-Americanism arises in countries in which the elite has a long history of looking down on American culture. In France, for example, discussions of anti-Americanism date back to the eighteenth century, when some European writers held that everything in the Americas was degenerate . . .
Legacy anti-Americanism stems from resentment of past wrongs committed by the United States toward another society. Mexican anti-Americanism is prompted by the experiences of U.S. military attack and various forms of imperialism during the past 200 years . .
American symbols are polyvalent. They embody a variety of values with different meanings to different people and indeed even to the same individual. Elites and ordinary folks abroad are deeply ambivalent about the United States. Visitors, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy, are impressed, repelled, and fascinated in about equal measure.And they finally describe the process by which the concept of "America" is appropriated worldwide:
“Americanization,” therefore, does not describe a simple extension of American products and processes to other parts of the world. On the contrary, it refers to the selective appropriation of American symbols and values by individuals and groups in other societies — symbols and values that may well have had their origins elsewhere. Americanization thus is a profoundly interactive process between America and all parts of the world. And, we argue here, it is deeply intertwined with anti-American views. The interactions that generate Americanization may involve markets, informal networks, or the exercise of corporate or governmental power — often in various combinations. They reflect and reinforce the polyvalent nature of American society as expressed in the activities of Americans, who freely export and import products and practices. But they also reflect the variations in attitudes and interests of people in other societies, seeking to use, resist, and recast symbols that are associated with the United States.
Is there not also a distinctly conservative form of anti-Americanism? Many conservatives look at the US today and are aghast at much of its popular culture, consumerism, and selfishness. Those who feel this way would be the first to deny it. But don't they really adhere to pastoral or romantic visions of a past that will never return? They love America, but as it once was, not as it is.
Second, the authors' description of the process of appropriation rings similarly with the Adventures post Globalization and War, about a year ago, especially a certain part, which attempts to debunk key assumptions about globalization:
Globalization will inevitably lead to Westernization. It's rather ironic that so many leftist academics espoused this theory, since it manages to embrace a sort of assumed Western superiority while at the same time turning the rest of the world's cultures into victims. Or maybe, Westernization would result because we in the West are so aggressive? No matter. The assumption is false. If there is any lesson to be learned these days from globalization's effects on people and cultures, it is that it transmits all of them, and transforms all of them. There is an process of give-and-take at play in nearly every place -- whether physically or in cyberspace, or other media -- where two or more cultures and peoples collide. In this way, we find radicalized Muslims as easily in Munich as we do in Mecca, and democrats as easily in Kabul as in Kansas. Moreover, the very cultures that were thought soon to be washed away by the onrush of global capitalism find themselves just as easily transmitted by it as those of the West. Witness the border region of the US and Mexico, which is a teeming hybrid of both Western and Latin cultures, or examine the growing influence of Chinese and Japanese pop culture upon the rest of Asia and even the United States. Western -- and American -- culture have influenced each of these others in turn, but by no means can be described as ascendant, and even less and less so, as dominant.Finally, one of Keohane's and Katzenstein's most interesting insights is that of the polyvalence of America. If personal freedom has become second nature in the United States; if man feels free to do as he wishes in all spheres of his life -- much more so than in other places; and if a respect for freedom has become institutionalized over centuries, then isn't the polyvalence of America much more than just an "American" trait? Isn't it a microcosm of the expression of human life in all of its manifestations? Emma Lazarus didn't mince words in her poem on the Statue of Liberty.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,Perhaps it is that golden door that is most upsetting to so many elsewhere, who are still learning of the unimaginable dynamism that lay behind it.
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
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 24, 2006
A Simple Plan
The New Media Journal carries a fictional bit of prognostication by one Raymond S. Kraft. It is the story of a surprise nuclear attack on the United States, performed with aplomb by Iran and North Korea [via Rocket's Brain Trust].
At 0723 Hawaii time on the 67th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack three old fishing trawlers, about 100 miles apart, and each about 300 miles off the east coast, launched six small cruise missiles from launch tubes that could be dismantled and stored in the holds under ice, or fish, and set up in less than an hour. The missiles were launched at precisely one minute intervals. As soon as each boat had launched its pair, the skeleton crew began to abandon ship into a fast rubber inflatable. The captain was last off, and just before going overboard started the timer on the scuttling charges. Fifteen minutes later and ten miles away, each crew was going up the nets into a small freighter or tanker of Moroccan or Liberian registry, where each man was issued new identification as ship's crew. The rubber inflatables were shot and sunk, and just about then charges in the bilges of each of the three trawlers blew the hulls out, and they sank with no one on board and no distress signals in less than two minutes.Commentary
The missiles had been built in a joint operation by North Korea and Iran, and tested in Iran, so they would not have to overfly any other country. The small nuclear warheads had only been tested deep underground. The GPS guidance and detonating systems had worked perfectly, after a few corrections. They flew fifty feet above sea level, and 500 feet above ground level on the last leg of the trip, using computers and terrain data modified from open market technology and flight directors, autopilots, adapted from commercial aviation units. They would adjust speed to arrive on target at specific times and altitudes, and detonate upon reaching the programmed GPS coordinates. They were not as adaptable and intelligent as American cruise missiles, but they did not need to be. Not for this mission.
I'm unfamiliar with Mr. Kraft's work, but here he succeeds in rapidly painting a scenario that is entirely plausible. The more interesting questions are those it merely implies.
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."
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 27, 2006
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.
September 26, 2006
The Irrational Tenth Part 2
I welcome all comments to either post.
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.
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 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!
August 18, 2006
Discussion: Energy Independence Part Two
Those readers who have been participating in the conversation below on Energy Independence could do no worse than to click on the ad in the sidebar for Ford and see what they're up to. (Or just go here).
My take is that Ford reads the marketplace and understands that there is a widespread demand for vehicles using a different form of energy. That demand may be due to environmental concerns, national security concerns, or economic independence concerns. It doesn't matter. Ford wants to fill that demand. I think they should be commended on an innovative ad campaign too (and no, I don't get revenue per click for Blogads, so I'm not juicing my own bottomlilne here).
All of this reinforces my earlier belief that a sense of legislative forbearance is what is most desperately needed, not some new government program akin to putting a man on the moon. If there are regulatory obstacles to projects like that of Ford, then by all means, let them be removed. But otherwise, let the market sort it out. In the end, the result will be more efficient and achieved faster than any comparable large-scale titanic government effort.
August 15, 2006
Discussion Topic: Energy Independence
One of the frequent strategies espoused for the war is that of pursuing independence from the importation of vast sums of foreign oil.
It seems there are many competing agendas among those who favor this move. Many want to end the dependence on fossil fuels in general. That may be well and good, but it doth not make an immediate foreign policy or strategy for war.
Also, many who advocate increasing the use of alternative energy see no way for this to happen but for the government to invest massive sums in such technologies. It seems to me that any sector of the economy in which the government is heavily invested, whether monetarily, from an attention-standpoint, or via regulations, is likely to be inefficient and screwy. Consider public education, health care, pensions, and defense (hey the military is filled with motivated individuals, but it is after all a bureaucracy and as such, filled with nonsense). In other words, it's hard to see how a massive government program to rid our dependence on oil would really serve any immediate strategic aims. I rather think that the government should abolish the energy department altogether and then if there are market alternatives to imported oil, those will begin to shine.
The other agenda for many who insist on an end to imported foreign oil is an old-school isolationism. Rid the US economy of the necessity to have anything to do with oil exporters, and then we can just fence the Middle East in and let them kill each other off. But it seems to me that those who are angry with us now will be no less angry with us if we are more isolated from the world.
Any thoughts? Please discuss.
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.
July 27, 2006
The Hamdan Decision and the Privatization of War
July 20, 2006
Just what has the Ghana Battalion been up to?
Pajamas Media's editor in Sydney, Australia (aka the author of The Belmont Club, Richard Fernandez), has posted a link to a map showing the disposition of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL), as of July, 2006. Richard makes the case on his own blog that the site of much of the recent fighting is in the area of operations of the Ghana Battalion of the UNIFL.
I have no problem with Ghana. A friend once did a study abroad there and spoke highly of it. But doesn't one wonder: what have the Ghanan troops and other members of the UNIFL been doing when Hezbollah yokels up and launch a rocket across the border? Any attempts to chase them down? Fight them? Arrest them?
In fact, what's the UNIFL doing right now?
Let me make an assumption that the answer is, "very little." Jed Babbin recently recollected his own experience in this regard:
The UN's years-long record on the Israel-Lebanon border makes mockery of the term "peacekeeping." On page 155 of my book, "Inside the Asylum," is a picture of a UN outpost on that border. The UN flag and the Hizballah flag fly side-by-side. Observers told me the UN and Hizballah personnel share water, telephones and that the UN presence serves as a shield against Israeli strikes against the terrorists.Here we have an answer to the questions implied in a previous post:
The next step will be: how to ensure that no terrorist force metastasizes on Israel's border once again? Or really, how to ensure that no terrorist force can threaten Israel from the north? A buffer zone isn't really helpful if Hezbollah or anyone else can just get longer-range missiles and use them from Northern Lebanon. Instead, one of two things has to happen:If Babbin's account of the actions of UNIFL can be trusted, then the answer to the problem of proxy war and Lebanese sovereignty is rather different than the actions necessary to end the conflict. Instead, the presence of UNIFL actually legitimizes an area of non-state lawlessness, when the goal should be to somehow reduce it.
a) someone responsible has to control Lebanon's borders. It could be the Israelis, though they won't want to; the Lebanese though they'll be questionble in their effectiveness; or the "international community" which probably means the US (though perhaps the French would help, given that they used to own Lebanon).
b) Lebanon's borders must be redrawn and the Beka'a declared an international DMZ of some sort. This is extremely unlikely.
The reason for the necessity of one of these options is because the international system should have no desire for a conflict like the current one to happen again. The only way this is possible is if the next time a terrorist organization supported by Syria launches attacks at Israel, it does so from within Syria. This will then clarify thngs for the rest of the world. Borders, which are among the most sacrosanct of the current system's rules, will have been violated, and that makes consequences easier.
It is hard to see how any United Nations force will be able to offer a solution that is favorable to either of the two states involved, Lebanon and Israel, and unfavorable to the non-state terrorist group, Hezbollah. And shouldn't the reduction of non-state terror organizations be in the interest of the international system?
One is truly left to wonder whether the actual goal is inspried more by anti-Semitism or a desire to frustrate the United States.
No, more likely is the explanation offered by Bruce Bawer in While Europe Slept as to why Europe is so tolerant of the extreme Islam growing in its midst. One of his arguments is that Europe and America learned fundamentally different lessons from WWII: The US learned not to give in to tyranny, even if war is necessary. Europe learned to avoid war at all costs, even if putting up with a bit of tyranny is required.
This is not so different from Robert Kagan's seminal essay of a few years back, Power and Weakness, in which he notes a similar problem:
It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory — the product of one American election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.The UN is a vehicle for the expression of the European attitude to power as described by Kagan, and to war as described by Bawer. And this is why the Ghanans et al. have not stopped Hezbollah's attacks on Israel: Stabiliy, ceasefires, and peacekeeping are preferable to a decisive end to conflicts, because decision requires violence. Europeans are from Venus.
July 17, 2006
Israel's Beka'a Dilemma
In the past few days, Tigerhawk has excerpted two reports from StratFor discussing the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Syria. First was an excerpt on Friday with this tidbit:
Israel will not put ground forces in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley, without first eliminating the Syrian air force; to do otherwise would be to leave Israel's right flank wholly vulnerable. If al Assad does nothing, Israel will have to assume that Syria is waiting for an opportune moment to strike, and will act accordingly.In other words, if Israel prosecutes the war such as to eliminate Hezbollah's presence int he Beka'a Valley, it will be extremely vulnerable to Syrian attacks. Israel is therefore awaiting some indication from Syria that it will not stop Israel or attack its forces in their pursuit of Hezbollah into the Beka'a.
The second StratFor article excerpted by Tigerhawk here contains further detail:
The uncertain question is Syria. No matter how effectively Israel seals the Lebanese coast, so long as the Syrian frontier is open, Hezbollah might get supplies from there, and might be able to retreat there. So far, there has been only one reported airstrike on a Syrian target. Both Israel and Syria were quick to deny this.All of these considerations become more clear when taking a look at the battlespace:
What is interesting is that it was the Syrians who insisted very publicly that no such attack took place. The Syrians are clearly trying to avoid a situation in which they are locked into a confrontation with Israel. Israel might well think this is the time to have it out with Syria as well, but Syria is trying very hard not to give Israel casus belli. In addition, Syria is facilitating the movement of Westerners out of Lebanon, allowing them free transit. They are trying to signal that they are being cooperative and nonaggressive.
The problem is this: While Syria does not want to get hit and will not make overt moves, so long as the Syrians cannot guarantee supplies will not reach Hezbollah or that Hezbollah won't be given sanctuary in Syria, Israel cannot complete its mission of shattering Hezbollah and withdrawing. They could be drawn into an Iraq-like situation that they absolutely don't want. Israel is torn. On the one hand, it wants to crush Hezbollah, and that requires total isolation. On the other hand, it does not want the Syrian regime to fall. What comes after would be much worse from Israel's point of view.
This is the inherent problem built into Israel's strategy, and what gives Hezbollah some hope. If Israel does not attack Syria, Hezbollah could well survive Israel's attack by moving across the border. No matter how many roads are destroyed, Israel won't be able to prevent major Hezbollah formations moving across the border. If they do attack Syria and crush al Assad's government, Hezbollah could come out of this stronger than ever.
This image was grabbed from Google Earth. It shows a tilted view of the operational space of the current war, facing northeast from northern Israel. The Beka'a Valley is represented by my poorly drawn hashed area in the middle of the picture. It is extremely restricted terrain; there is not a great deal of room for maneuver. Its entire length runs parallel to the Syrian border. Even though much of that border is made up of mountain ranges, this still leaves any attacking force vulnerable to armored attack through gaps, or to indirect fire, whether via missile or artillery. As the map shows, there is a significant difference in elevations within the Valley as opposed to either side. (For another good map of the Valley from a different perspective see here.)
Hence the Israeli dilemma: Hezbollah cannot be destroyed unless its facilities, camps and logistics dumps in the Beka'a are destroyed. To create a buffer zone in south Lebanon is only to cause Hezbollah to seek longer-range rockets or missiles in the future. But, a ground assault to destroy that logistics infrastructure requires that the risk of Syrian interference be mitigated somehow. There are many ways to do so. The most obvious is to pre-emptively attack Syria. This was recommended today in The New Republic by Michael Oren (registration required):
The answer lies in delivering an unequivocal blow to Syrian ground forces deployed near the Lebanese border. By eliminating 500 Syrian tanks--tanks that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad needs to preserve his regime--Israel could signal its refusal to return to the status quo in Lebanon. Supporting Hezbollah carries a prohibitive price, the action would say.Oren proposes more than just the military actions necessary to ensure the security of an expeditionary force operating in Lebanon. He suggests that Assad's rule itself should be threatened.
There was one report over the weekend that Israel had given Syria 72 hours "to stop Hizbullah’s activity," and "bring about release of kidnapped IDF troops." A deadline implies consequences. This was the only report of the deadline, so it seems unconfirmed.
Some readers may be tempted to ask, "How can the Israelis strike Syria? It will bring a declaration of war from Iran!" Well, how would anyone know the difference?
My guess is that there's a 50/50 chance of the war being confined to Lebanon. Diplomacy may convince the Israelis not to strike Syria. Or their goals may be smaller in scale than the destruction of Hezbollah. Either way, the clock is ticking. A commenter in a previous thread noted that it takes 3 days to activate Israeli reservists for defensive action, and three more for offensive action. That clock has been ticking for about 4-5 days now. Decisions are being made and soon the trains will have left the station.
If the war expands into Syria, my guess is there's a 90% chance that the US will then get directly involved in some way. Iran will declare war on Israel, and might even include the US too, just to link them together. Even if it does not, it would more overtly attack our interests and this will demand a US response.
If it comes to this, the US will be given a rare and fleeting chance to act decisively to frustrate the regional hegemonic and nuclear ambitions of Iran's mullahs. Proxy war may be Iran's core competency, but open battle is that of the United States.
July 16, 2006
Noncombatant Evacuation Operation in Lebanon: The US will take the lead in evacuating Americans and other allied nation's citizens from Lebanon. In fact, there is already an assessment team on the ground figuring out the logistics of how to do a mass evacuation, especially since the Israelis have taken the Beirut airport out of action. Here's a couple of key issues that will be important:
a) throughput of personnel: If the evacuation is to be handled by helicopters as Spook 86 argues, and those are from the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, then there are going to be some serious logistical problems to be solved if the NEO is not to drag on for weeks. How many helicopters does the ESG have? An educated guess would be less than 30, mainly CH-46s and CH-53s, with a handful of Navy CH-60s. Figure an average of 20ish people per trip and you start to see the problem. There are an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, not to mention foreign nationals. Now the second part of the problem is the distance that must be flown. Cyprus has been mentioned as one drop-off point, where follow-on fixed wing transport can be arranged to Europe or back to the States. Nicosia, Cyprus is 150 miles from Beirut, according to Google Earth. This makes for one long flight for just 20 people per bird. Finally, I think they'll have to go to Cyprus. It's the closest relatively safe place with airfields.
I'm no NEO expert. There are probably a variety of techniques to shorten the roundtrip distance needed per flight in order to increase the flow of personnel. But here's two predictions: the US is going to surge more helicopters to the region somehow. And, don't be surprised if the British and especially French navies show up to assist in the evacuation. The NEO will be big.
b) Rules of engagement: The NEO will require a relatively light footprint on the ground; it probably will not be conducted under fire, so there can probably be some bare minimum in the way of processing stations. These areas, however many there are, will need security. I'd expect at least a company of Marine infantry to go ashore to provide security at pickup sites. A larger force could be required, depending on how many pickup sites there are and how dispersed they are.
This leads one to wonder what sorts of rules of engagement they'll be given. If sniped at, what's the response? If the transport helos receive ground fire, will Cobras be on call to respond?
Finally, aside from tactical considerations of ROE and responses, what does it mean strategically if an American helicopter is shot down in Lebanon? That is the biggest risk of the entire operation. Finally, if US ships are close to shore, what's to prevent Hezbollah from using one of its drones to attack the US Navy?
July 13, 2006
The Guns of July Part Two
Assorted thoughts for today about the conflict in the Middle East:
1. All day I thought, you know, there really hasn't been that much activity on the ground yet. Richard Fernandez agrees, writing in a Belmont Club thread:
. . . remember that actual events on the ground are still limited, despite the ominous sounds being generated everywhere. That might be part of the posturing game. Our best bet is to keep watching. We'll know where this goes soon enough.I agree.
2. Strategic Forecasting, in a subscription-only piece (hat-tip to Tigerhawk) has predicted this [emphasis added]:
Given the blockade and what appears to be the shape of the airstrikes, it seems to us at the moment the Israelis are planning to go fairly deep into Lebanon. The logical first step is a move to the Litani River in southern Lebanon. But given the missile attacks on Haifa, they will go farther, not only to attack launcher sites, but to get rid of weapons caches.This means a move deep into the Bekaa Valley, the seat of Hezbollah power and the location of plants and facilities. Such a penetration would leave Israeli forces' left flank open, so a move into Bekaa would likely be accompanied by attacks to the west. It would bring the Israelis close to Beirut again.This is eerily similar to a possible scenario for Israeli action described in an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post[emphasis added here as well]:
This leaves Israel's right flank exposed, and that exposure is to Syria. The Israeli doctrine is that leaving Syrian airpower intact while operating in Lebanon is dangerous. Therefore, Israel must at least be considering using its air force to attack Syrian facilities, unless it gets ironclad assurances the Syrians will not intervene in any way. Conversations are going on between Egypt and Syria, and we suspect this is the subject. But Israel would not necessarily object to the opportunity of eliminating Syrian air power as part of its operation, or if Syria chooses, going even further.
At the same time, Israel does not intend to get bogged down in Lebanon again. It will want to go in, wreak havoc, withdraw. That means it will go deeper and faster, and be more devastating, than if it were planning a long-term occupation. It will go in to liquidate Hezbollah and then leave. True, this is no final solution, but for the Israelis, there are no final solutions.
For some time, the defense establishment has considered the Hizbullah armaments an important enough target to justify preemptive action. Therefore, the removal of the missile threat and the perceived strategic parity that has constrained Israel's reaction to past Hizbullah provocations must be the primary goal of an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon.
Eliminating the Hizbullah missile threat will allow greater freedom of action against Syria and Iran. The "search and destroy" mode of operation required for capturing and/or destroying the missiles hidden in numerous locations necessitates the use of ground forces. But, of course, even their cautious employment under an aerial umbrella might be costly. To a large extent the success of Israeli actions in Lebanon will be measured by the counting of casualties.
Israel may well capitalize on its missile hunt in Lebanon to expand the goal of the operations. Israeli threats to seriously punish Hizbullah probably mean targeting its leadership. A "gloves off" policy to decapitate Hizbullah could paralyze this terrorist organization for several years. This would clearly signal Israel's determination to deal with terrorist threats and with Iranian proxies.
A further expansion of goals concerns Syria - the channel for Iranian support to Hizbullah. Damascus still hosts the headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, despite promising the Americans a few years ago to close their offices.
Israel may enjoy much freedom of action versus Syria because Syria frustrated the American and French attempts to limit it's influence in Lebanon in their quest to restore Lebanon's independence. Washington, in particular, may relish military pressure on a Bashar Assad regime that allows infiltration of insurgents into Iraq from its territory.
Syrian targets could be attacked by an Israel Air Force that could easily suppress the Syrian air defenses and acquire aerial supremacy. Israel may also decide the time is ripe for attacking the Syrian long-range missile infrastructure, whose threat hovers over most of Israel.
3. Michael Ledeen makes this point in an NRO piece:
After a few days of fighting, I would not be surprised to see some new kind of terrorist attack against Israel, or against an American facility in the region. An escalation to chemical weapons, for example, or even the fulfillment of the longstanding Iranian promise to launch something nuclear at Israel. They meant it when they said it, don’t you know?The kidnapping yesterday put the initiative in the hands of Hezbollah. Israel has regained the initiative in this conflict with its rapid and robust response. It's important at this point to differentiate between acts by Hezbollah that regain the initiative yet again at the operational level and acts which escalate the conflict in an attempt to seize the initiative at the strategic level. If Israel conducts airstrikes in Syria, this is an escalation, a strategic enlargement of the conflict. The same is true of Hezbollah acts that involve overt Syrian or Iranian involvement. On the other hand, an Israeli ground incursion into Lebanon does not seem like such an escalation. The same might be said for rocket attacks by Hezbollah. These would be more confined to the existing campaign space, small though it may be.
4. Today, the Intrade prediction market contracts dealing with Iran were extremely active and had high volume. Here's a breakdown:
a) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31SEP06" increased from 5.0 to 10.0, an increase of 100% on volume of 631.
b) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31DEC06" increased from 10.0 to 18.0, an increase of 80%, on volume of 5050.
c) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31March07" increased from 15.0 to 22.0, an increase of 47%, on volume of 8179.
For the uninitiated, these contracts are settled when the event occurs or when the date expires. When a contract is settled, it is either a "yes" and the value goes to 100, or it is a "no" and the value drops to 0. So the "price" level of the contracts currently don't indicate a huge sentiment that airstrikes are imminent, since the prices are mostly closer to 0. But they are worth watching to see how that sentiment changes in the coming days. At least, they are worth watching if you have any belief whatsoever in the wisdom of crowds.
5. Here's a couple of requests for information for you Loyal Readers:
a) What's the range and payload of Israel's Jericho missiles? What would be the most effective use of them if Israel wanted to strike Iran? How many does it have? I researched this once and I think they have between 200 and 300. But I bet there are readers who know better than any quick Google searches I could do.
b) Have there ever been any reports of chemical weapons being shipped to Hezbollah? How credible are those reports? Can Katusha or Fajr rockets hold a chemical payload without destroying it on detonation?
c) Can rocket attacks be countered with counterbattery fire? My guess is that the Katushas can, but that something like the Fajr missiles depend on how close the counterbattery tubes are to the launch sites. Artillery has a much shorter range than rockets do.
d) What's the latest version of Patriots we've sold to Israel? Do they have PAC3s or just PAC2s? There's an order of magnitude of difference in performance.
6. Tigerhawk's big post today was extremely insightful. This is his conclusion:
Iran cannot afford to let Israel decimate Hezbollah in Lebanon. If Israel measures its response to preserve Hezbollah, a wider war can still be avoided. However, if Israel decides that it can no longer allow Hezbollah to attack it from Lebanon, Iran will have to intervene. The question is how? One method might be to increase the pressure on the United States, the external player with the greatest ability to influence Israel. If Iraq's Shiites rise up during the crisis in Lebanon, we will know who is behind them.This is a very compelling argument. Allow some absolutely unadulterated speculation: If Iran's goal is to set the Middle East ablaze in order to give it as much leverage as possible in upcoming trials concerning its nuke program, then an Iraqi uprising seems like a great way to do so. The question is, can they actually accomplish such an uprising? I haven't followed the latest antics of Moqtada Al-Sadr closely enough to know. Readers may disagree. Keep an eye on Muthanna province though, which was turned over to the Iraqi security forces in toto today. That is deep in the heart of Shi'ite Iraq. If there's to be some sort of uprising, it might be one place to look, and the target might not be American and coalition forces, but the Iraqi government.
July 12, 2006
The Guns of July
The big news of the hour is twofold: first, Carl in Jerusalem has it on good authority that Israel is stepping up its strikes into Lebanon and will declare war tonight against its neighbor. I've never heard of Carl in Jerusalem before but that post is being linked from everywhere. So far, no other secondary confirmation of an open declaration of war, even though Drudge himself is running with the headline "It's War, Israel Says" which points to this piece in which Olmert doesn't say that but calls "the Hezbollah raid an "act of war" by Lebanon and threatened "very, very, very painful" retaliation."
Then there's good ole Debka, which always has something interesting, but which usually must be taken with a shaker of salt. Debka is reporting both that Ali Larijani, the Iranian National Security Advisor, is in Damascus for consultations with Syria, AND that the real reason this whole dustup started is so Iran can force the G8 to focus on Israel during their conference starting today:
Tehran hopes to hijack the agenda before the G-8 summit opening in St. Petersberg, Russia on July 15. Instead of discussing Iran’s nuclear case and the situation in Iraq along the lines set by President George W. Bush, the leaders of the industrial nations will be forced to address the Middle East flare-up.This makes for an interesting little narrative, but it ascribes a great degree of control of events to the Iranians -- a degree that is hard to sustain at any level when human beings are involved. Keep It Simple Stupid is the best defense against conspiracy theories: no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, and conspiracy theories are always the most convoluted of plans.
But even if Iran didn't set in motion the current crisis, there's no reason to believe it doesn't want to profit from it.
If Larijani is in Damascus, my guess is they're trying to keep Israel from declaring war on Syria at all costs. Consider:
-Syria is militarily extremely weak compared to Israel
-Iran is not only weaker than Israel, it has no easy method of threatening Israel, save with missiles of questionable accuracy.
-Israel can strike Syria from the air with impunity.
Now consider: from the Iranian and Syrian standpoint, the best course of action is to vex the Israelis as much as possible via their Hamas and Hezbollah proxies. So long as this happens, Israel does take the headlines, and the attention span at the G8. But as soon as Israel declares war on Syria, or commits an act of war, which might be the same thing, then events start to turn sour for the Iranians:
-Iran will have to declare war on Israel or risk losing face in the region, since it has pledged to defend Syria
-Syria's government would likely fall; what might follow it is anyone's guess; what does follow might not be nearly as close to Iranian interests
-Israel and the US have never fought on the same side at the same time, but Lord (and Yahweh) knows they'll help each other in other ways. If a three-way war breaks out, and Israel requested US permission to use bases in Iraq for strikes against Iran, even for refueling, the US might grant them their wish. Alternatively, it was rumored long ago that Israel had set up a deal with the Kurds to use Kurdish bases for strikes into Iran. The same might be true of Turkey, which has no love for Iran either.
From the Israeli standpoint, it all depends on what they can gain from striking Syria. If they think strikes in Syria will convince the Syrians to pressure Hamas to release Shalit, they might give it a shot. But they are probably just as aware of the consequences as anyone else: Iran might declare war.
So my guess is neither Israel, nor Syria, nor Iran want to get in a war with each other at the moment. But there're always wild cards. At least three groups, Israel, Hamas, Hizbollah, and possibly a fourth, the Lebanese military, are now involved. From that stew, an event might emerge that like it or not would force a widening of the conflict by one side or another, or an entry by Iran or Syria. This is it, in a nutshell: Is Israel willing to risk a widening of the conflict in order to dismantle Hamas and Hezbollah? Is Iran willing to risk the dismantlement of Hamas and Hezbollah in order NOT to widen the conflict?
The New Republic carries a piece entitled, Battle Plans:
The next Middle East war--Israel against genocidal Islamism--has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah's latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel's antagonists won't be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites . . .And we silly Americans thought this was about one captured Israeli soldier. Stupid, stupid . . .
The ultimate threat, though, isn't Hezbollah or Hamas but Iran. And as Iran draws closer to nuclear capability--which the Israeli intelligence community believes could happen this year--an Israeli-Iranian showdown becomes increasingly likely. According to a very senior military source with whom I've spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.
For Israelis, that is the worst scenario of all. Except, of course, the scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of the patron state of Hezbollah and Hamas.
UPDATE, 8:08am EST: Welcome Pajamas Media and Roger Simon readers! Roger says, about this post: "I think he is naive in thinking the Israelis didn't want this confrontation. It may be quite the opposite - at least in its result. You could look at this all as Sharon's trap... and his adversaries walked right into it."
Hmm. Could be. The question is what kind of confrontation did they want? Is this a limited action meant to stop the kidnapping for prisoners rubric that has become standard practice? Or is this something larger? Is it meant to attack Hezbollah in depth? Or is it even larger, meant to hit Syria and Iran too? My guess, as I tried to outline above, is that the Israelis don't want to spark a regional conflict, just hurt Hezbollah very badly.
Here are some interesting things to read:
-The Jerusalem Post reports :
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Thursday morning that Israel would not allow Hizbullah to return to its positions on Lebanon's southern border. He also demanded that Lebanese forces secure the border, something they have not done to date, during comments made to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.Hmm. Several months.
A high-ranking IDF source said that the current operation, dubbed Operation Just Reward, would be "long" and could last up to several months, or "as long as it takes to destroy the Hizbullah's ability to launch attacks against Israel."
Raja @ Lebanese Bloggers, who's been doing a play-by-play of events, also something big is in the works:
Something tells me that everything the Israelis are doing right now is preparation for something much bigger.Finally, this is the most interesting thing I've read in the past 24 hours. An article written in August of 2002 by Mark Silverberg, an author in the Ariel Center for Policy Research is an absolute must-read:
American and Israeli leadership both share a common concern that Bashar al-Assad is "playing with fire". Hezbollah has the ability - even the intention - of sparking an explosion that could lead to a regional war. Nasrallah now possesses 7,000 Katyusha rockets - each targeted at Israel. Some are heavy, long-range missiles that threaten the entire Galilee region to the outskirts of Haifa (and its oil refineries).Read the whole thing. It's an uncanny description of exactly what's happening 4 years later.
Hezbollah has completed building a line of forward positions along the Israeli border, complete with video cameras that track the IDF's movements in order to learn the operational routine of its units. Iranian officers in Southern Lebanon check Hezbollah deployments directly under Syrian eyes.
Within the next several months, Hezbollah will also complete construction of its second line of defense deep inside South Lebanon meant to create a barrier against any Israeli armed advance. The effect of such a barrier will permit Hezbollah to shell northern Israel continuously over a period of several months, and, if necessary, to slow an Israeli retaliatory invasion.
The problem for Israel is that young President al-Assad has surrounded himself with people inexperienced in high politics, although he recognizes his country's military and technological inferiority to Israel. Assad Jr. unfortunately, is fascinated by Nasrallah, accepts his patronizing praise and has allowed him to hold at least one Hezbollah paramilitary parade on Syrian soil.
He's playing the dangerous game of brinksmanship without understanding the rules. Slowly, almost invisibly, an important revolution appears to be underway. Hezbollah is gradually consolidating its strength in Syria, and the Iranians, whose Vice-President recently visited Damascus, have "laid down the law" for the confused leadership there.
A Syria that can be manipulated by Hezbollah under Iranian guidance could well miss that crucial moment when Iran and Hezbollah attempt to spark a regional conflagration by means of a military provocation on Israel's northeastern border.
That is a major source of concern to both Israel and the United States Defense Department. A weak and naive Syria will accelerate the power, influence and growth of Hezbollah, just as Arafat now finds it impossible to control Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Palestinian territories. The more that Nasrallah is convinced that Assad Jr. is not up to speed; the more he will be convinced that he, in consultation with his Iranian cohorts, holds the key to power. And if he is convinced that there is an American threat to Iran, he will preempt it by striking at the Galilee to provoke an Israeli retaliatory strike.
But that retaliatory strike will be at Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Syria.
This is not an imaginary scenario. As recently as three weeks ago, American and Israeli UN representatives met privately with their Syrian counterpart to warn him of the danger posed to Syria and the entire region by Hezbollah.
The singular conclusion is that someone has to inject sufficient fear into the Syrians to bring Nasrallah down.
And if the Europeans and Americans can't, the Israelis will. [emphasis added]
UPDATE2 8:38am EST: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please comment. What does everyone else think?
July 11, 2006
Kimi Ga Yo 2
I contacted a good friend, a Brit who lives in Japan, and has lived there for years, to see if he could do a bit of on-the-ground pulse-taking about national sentiment toward the North Koreans. Here's his response:
I asked my class (9 people 7 women 2 guys, aged 28-40He always has an interesting take on things. "Basically the rise of China is scaring the s*** out of the old boys club because they know what their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't forgotten." That might be the key line right there.
all training to be serious translators so the upper
edge of the "internationalized/educated" community)
the following questions:
Do you think North Korea is a serious threat? 9 said
Do you think Japan should apply economic sanctions? 7
yes 2 no
Will NK's image decline further in Japan because of
this? 9 yes.
The fact that none of them could conjure a coherent
opinion tells you how deeply this has registered on
the Japanese conciousness.
There's no getting round it nationalism is on the rise
in Japan among the only sector that counts, the very
small no of men who run the country. Current foreign
minister Aso is a good example of these (not so) new
nationalists but their main cheerleader is the Gov of
Tokyo, Ishihara. Virulent nationalism is muted but the
old tradition of passive-aggressive nationalism is very
much alive. Basically the rise of China is scaring the
s*** out of the old boys club because they know what
their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't
Recent NK events
In Japan the tests come on the coat tails of the
reunion (in NK, completely controlled by the NK govt)
of a kidnapped south Korean who was married to
Japanese kidnap victim Yokota Megumi with his family.
During the reunion a number of incongruent statements
by the man and the daughter he had with Megumi further
illustrated that the NKs still aren't telling the
truth about her. NK has been caught in a number of
balatant lies (including sending burnt remains back to Japan
claiming that they were her ("She committed suicide"), when
DNA tests proved otherwise.) Your average Japanese
person rightly feels aggrevied by the NK kidnappings,
their continued stonewalling and, less mentioned in
the press, the Japanese govt's unwillingness to get
involved in an issue it denied until the NKs admitted
it and forced them to. NK's stock couldn't really be
any lower in Japan.
The tests: Media and Security
The media reaction was predictable and although not
muted not nearly as bad as when the NKs shot that
missile over the country in 1998. There's a sense of
resignation and "there they go again". The main reason
people aren't worried is that although the Japanese
moan endlessly about the US troops in Japan they know
they are protected in any extreme situation by the US,
it's a media event not a security crisis. There's no
chance in hell any young Japanese will have to fight
or die at any point in the near future and they know
it. People are quite open about recognizing the US
One thing to mention in your blog is that the Japanese never renounced war,
MacArthur did and imposed it on them and it's stayed in
the constitution largely because it has suited Japan's
interests to have it there, not because it is popular.
One short sharp international incident (Japan's 911)
and in a fit of victimhood the nationalist
opportunists will throw it out the window before you
can say "Sushi".
What interests me is Japanese attempts to "impose
international sanctions" on NK in the UN. Strikes me
as pointless window dressing for Japanese domestic
consumption, typical meaningless ritualism of the kind
Japanese politicians love. What Japan unilaterally can
do is restrict trade/remittances to NK from Japan. T
hat would be the real test of their resolve. I'll be very
surprised if they do it.
The bastards have done it again
Terrorists have attacked the metro system in Mumbai (aka Bombay), killing an estimated 135.
Is this to be the nature of the world for the foreseeable future? Civilzation perpetually under siege? Innocents regularly dead? If this is not stopped, we will descend to the Dark Ages in a death of a thousand cuts.
The Terrorist, He's WatchingHow will this affect India-Pakistan relations? The role of India in suppressing Iran's nuclear program (if there is one)? The strengthening of US-India ties? Domestic responses within India?
The bomb in the bar will explode at thirteen twenty.
Now it's just thirteen sixteen.
There's still time for some to go in,
And some to come out.
The terrorist has already crossed the street.
The distance keeps him out of danger,
And what a view -- just like the movies.
A woman in a yellow jacket, she's going in.
A man in dark glasses, he's coming out.
Teen-agers in jeans, they're talking.
Thirteen seventeen and four seconds.
The short one, he's lucky, he's getting on a scooter,
But the tall one, he's going in.
Thirteen seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, she's walking along with a green ribbon in her hair.
But then a bus suddenly pulls in front of her.
The girl's gone.
Was she that dumb, did she go in or not,
We'll see when they carry them out.
Somehow, no one's going in.
Another guy, fat, bald, is leaving, though.
Wait a second, looks like he's looking
For something in his pockets and
At thirteen twenty minus ten seconds
He goes back in for his crummy gloves.
Thirteen twenty exactly.
The waiting, it's taking forever.
Any second now.
No, not yet.
The bomb, it explodes.
June 30, 2006
Discussion Topic: Defeat
One of the most interesting questions to me is that of defeat. Sometimes when you attack another force, it folds immediately under the pressure. Alternatively, sometimes the force is emboldened by your attack. Think of the differences between Pearl Harbor, which caused the US entry into World War II, and "shock and awe" which was designed to convince the Iraqi populace that resistance was futile. But ironically, US aerial campaigns are so surgical these days that there wasn't much shock or awe to it: the gov't buildings that the Iraqis expected to be hit, were hit.
When is a people defeated? The degree to which the combatants are truly exhausted of fighting dictates the degree to which they will accept the outcome of the fight. If that is the case, then each side truly gambles whenever it seeks a decisive outcome. Moreover, if nothing less than an unconditional surrender is sought, then does that make the other side fight all the harder to avoid it, thereby prolonging the conflict?
Finally, how do the answers to these questions change when the other side is an irregular force?
Military types will say that defeat is in the mind, and victory resides there as well. What is the combination of effects necessary to impose upon minds then, such that they might conclude as quickly as possible that defeat is at hand?
The pat US answer is firepower, but I think there are two other factors at work. What do you readers think? All comments to this little ramble are welcome.
June 29, 2006
The Geneva Convention for a Non-State Entity
Today's Supreme Court ruling seems to me a remarkable point in the development of a kind of quasi-sovereignty for non-state organizations.
Were there to develop an Anti-Qaeda force, a private military to pursue Al Qaeda and win the war on its own terms, then their members would also have the Geneva Conventions apply to them, were they ever to be apprehended or detained by the US, yes? In other words, if the Geneva Convention now applies to a non-state that is a non-signatory in the eyes of the US, does it not then apply to ALL non-states that are non-signatories?
This is quite a large new degree of sovereignty that has been granted to non-state organizations. How will the concept of citizenship evolve with decisions like these?
If protections that normally accrue to states after debate and ratification can now be given over to non-states which have no mechanism for ratification, let alone debate, one can easily imagine a scenario in which non-state organizations form themselves and immediately possess the rights of a state, with no corresponding need to adhere to any laws in their own activities.
If this is the case, then we have the answer to the war: it will be privatized, and its ultimate victories won by uninhibited private military actors, not the hamstrung citizen militaries of nation-states.
Any legal minds out there are welcome to comment.
June 21, 2006
The Reasons We're Only Learning About the 500 Shells Now . . .
The announcement by Senator Santorum that the US has uncovered over 500 sarin and mustard gas chemical artillery rounds comes as quite an interesting development and deserves a bit of thought. The obvious question is: why are we only learning of this now?
The details of the revelation itself are telling: Sen. Santorum revealed in his interview with Hugh Hewitt that he first learned of this information some 10 weeks ago, and has been working on getting a sanitized, declassified version of the existence of these shells released since then. He learned via a tip, and after his own efforts came to naught, he implored upon Rep. Hoekstra to do what he could as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Soon enough, a sanitized version of the document in question, describing the shells, was produced. To hear Santorum tell the story, he nearly immediately held a press conference.
Someone has been sitting on this information for awhile. Why? Here are four scenarios:
1. Sources and Methods: The discovery of the shells was kept under wraps because of the sources and methods used to find them. This could mean both technical means or human information. Moreover, the fact of the shells' very existence might have necessitated security. If there are 500, there may be more, and there are many who would like to get their hands on them. I'll be the first to testify that Iraq has more ammunition depots than Texas has barbecue. They may still be in the process of discovery today.
2. CIA = CYA Perhaps the CIA was underplaying the existence of the shells to cover its own poor estimates of Iraq's capabilities? This explanation is less plausible to me. According to Santorum, the report comes from the National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC to the military. This is not part of the CIA. Unless I'm mistaken, and I hope a military reader will correct me if so, NGIC is a DoD facility, run and mainly staffed by the Army, but serving all services. If memory serves, Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel regularly train and take classes at NGIC, and much of what they learn there (how to defuse nukes, for a made-for-tv example) is understandably classified. It makes sense that any chemical munitions discovered would be tallied, and probably even examined in the field, by NGIC; NGIC, after all, would be in charge of promulgating procedures for the handling of shells if more were discovered in the future.
On the other hand, the stonewalling of Santorum came from the DNI, John Negroponte. He's the man who runs everything, CIA, NGIC and other DoD intelligence agencies, supposedly. So he is the one to ask about this scenario . . .
3. Covert Action It's always impossible to tell with such things, and absolutely futile to speculate, but there is the chance that some recovered shells have been used in covert action operations by the US. Many people in the world would like to have chemical artillery shells; why not put them up for sale and see who comes a-knockin? Or perhaps there's an underground railroad leading out of Iraq for these things; who's on the other end of it, and was it set up by the former regime, or just entrepreneurs?
I mention these possibilities only because they are worth mentioning. To think though that the US might have conceived of such covert action, and then succeeded in executing it, is to assume a level of competence within our clandestine services that seems unlikely. There's no way to prove or disprove this scenario. And that's all I'll say about that.
They Don't Know What They Know If this scenario is true, someone will be reading the paper in the morning and saying, "Oh yeah . . . I guess chemical artillery rounds kind of are WMD, huh?" The government is large. It is unwieldy. It doesn't always talk to itself. RIght hand, meet the left hand.
Whatever the explanation, it'll get interesting. The key is: did the White House know about them? The answer to that question will go a long way toward figuring out which of the above scenarios might be correct.
June 20, 2006
The Rocket's Red Glare
The North Koreans are declaring their sovereign right to ballistic missile tests:
TOKYO - North Korea declared Tuesday it has a right to carry out long-range missile tests, despite international calls for the communist state to refrain from launching a rocket believed capable of reaching the United States.There are rumors meanwhile that the US may shoot down any such missile launched:
The Pentagon activated its new U.S. ground-based interceptor missile defense system, and officials announced yesterday that any long-range missile launch by North Korea would be considered a "provocative act. . . .There are several very good reasons to go ahead and down any missiles launched by North Korea: it would provide a real test of our incipient missile defense systems; such a shootdown would reinforce the doctrine of nuclear assurance as it applies to Japan, one of our staunchest allies; and tactically, denyng the North Korean military the advantage gained by telemetry and other such data gathered from the flight could play no small role in retarding the advancement of their military capabilities. But the most compelling reason to shoot down any test missiles is simple and scarier: how does one really know it is a test? This is no soubt what the Japanese are wondering. I was there in the 90s when the North tested their last missile, and it was . . . not well received.
Two Navy Aegis warships are patrolling near North Korea as part of the global missile defense and would be among the first sensors that would trigger the use of interceptors, the officials said yesterday.
The U.S. missile defense system includes 11 long-range interceptor missiles, including nine deployed at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The system was switched from test to operational mode within the past two weeks, the officials said.
One senior Bush administration official told The Washington Times that an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors.
For a detailed look at the US missile defense system, readers are encouraged to see Alan Dowd's piece in today's TCSDaily.
For a more in-depth look into ballistic missiles in general, missilethreat.com [h-t to Dowd] is a cornucopia of info on ballistic missiles and the threat they create. The scenario page there features high-quality animation of possible conflict scenarios involving ballistic missiles.
While it is tempting to view international terrorism and ballistic missiles as inhabiting two separate ends of the conflict spectrum, the one being non-state organizations employing low-tech and creative means, the other being a weapons system most likely produced and fielded by a state military, it might be better instead to view them both as features of our system of globalization: while murderous ideologies propagate through the globe like viruses, high-tech missile know-how does the same. As Dowd notes in his article, 30 years ago, only 8 nations possessed ballistic missiles, whereas now, by his count, there are 25 with ballistic missile arsenals.
When we envision Robert Kaplan's "coming anarchy", or Thomas Barnett's Gap, our mental images usually involve low-intensity warfare, pestilence, famine, resource scarcity, and crushing poverty, along with intractable conflicts. But these are images that, while scary, and needing to be contained if not rolled back, don't threaten the US imminently.
Adding to that picture the continued propagation of complex weapons systems like ballistic missiles adds a new urgency to our concept of the Gap, or the anarcy of the developing world and its failed states. Imagine another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but with ballistic missiles; or a Rwandhan genocide with airstrikes. While it's true that roving bands of thugs probably don't have the training to maintain and operate exceptionally complex military hardware, it's not a safe bet that the threats of the Third World will always remain as roving bands of thugs.
May 2, 2006
Let Blackwater Loose in Darfur
The executives of one of the most well-known private security firms, Blackwater, have offered to provide a brigade of peacekeepers in Darfur, if only someone will pay for it. [hat-tip: Arts and Letters Daily]
A few weeks ago, at an international special forces conference in Jordan, Black announced that his company could deploy a small rapid-response force to conflicts like the one in Sudan. ''We're low cost and fast," Black said, ''the question is, who's going to let us play on their team?"In other words, the private security firms need something other than cash to pay for their peacekeeping; they need some sort of legitimacy. But legitimacy for what? Invasions? The establishment of private empires of sorts?
What companies like Blackwater are proposing to do in Darfur today is very different from the combat missions of a decade ago. ''We have no interest in offensive operations," says Taylor flatly. Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, the industry's trade association, agrees: ''[Executive Outcomes] and Sandline were supporting offensive combat operations. I don't think that'll happen again, and certainly not that way."No one questions that firms like Blackwater would excel at providing this service cheaply and professionally.
Today, private military companies are offering defensive services-they propose to secure refugee camps and vulnerable villages, guard humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs, or, depending on the requirements of the contract, assist peacekeepers like the African Union troops in Darfur.
There's little question that companies like Blackwater could be more effective operationally than the African Union, which has been hampered by its peacekeepers' lack of command and control experience. Private military companies boast a roster of former special forces officers and law enforcement officers who are accustomed to volatile conflict and post-conflict areas like Sudan.The essential problem is unique to the international system: horrific events, like genocide, which occur within the boundaries of a given state, are seen as being within the sovereign bounds of that state, and the territorial sovereignty of any given state, in our current system, is sacrosanct. Only the society of states, embodied in a number of international institutions, can choose to violate that precious sovereignty. Cries of "Never again" then seem to pale so long as that which prompts them is confined to one state. Intrastate genocide becomes, ironically, a sort of externality of the international system.
Blackwater also subjects all of its personnel to an impressive array of extra training-whether they're training to work in Baghdad or the firm's North Carolina headquarters. They take classes in international humanitarian law, leadership, ethics, regional awareness, and ''customs and traditions." They've recently approached Amnesty International about teaching human rights education classes. And the International Peace Operations Association boasts that its code of conduct was written by human rights lawyers.
The industry also claims that it's far cheaper than its multilateral or military counterparts. ''We offer the ability to create a right-sized solution-which creates a cost savings right off the bat," says Taylor. By contrast, Brooks notes, ''NATO is insanely expensive; it's not a cost-effective organization. Neither is the [African Union]. Private companies would be much, much cheaper. When we compared their costs to most UN operations, we came up with 10 to 20 percent of what the UN would normally charge."
And so the handwringers worry over how to stop such ghastly events while still maintaining the territorial sovereignty of states.
There is no easy solution.
Blackwater though, seeks to insert itself due to one particular detail of the particular externality of Darfur. Namely, no powerful state in the world has any inherent national interest in preventing the killing there, except solely out of a sense of altruism. Blackwater offers to solve the problem for them, if only someone will pay for it all.
Here's several ways that Blackwater can raise the capital necessary to fund the Darfur peacekeeping mission, and really score a PR coup at the same time:
Option 1: Pro Bono
First announce that the mission in Darfur will be a non-profit venture. The troops and overhead will be paid for, but the firm itself will make no profit from the enterprise. Call it private security pro bono if you will. Then ask states to fund the cost.
Option 2: The Wealthy Donor Option
Go the non-profit route again. This time though, approach several wealthy individuals for support. How many Hollywood millioinaires turned out for Live8 last year? Ask them to put their money where their mouth is. Most will decline you. When they do, shame them publicly. The publicity alone will attract other wealthy donors. You know, the steel magnate from Pittsburgh, who's retired now, and already given plenty of dough to his alma mater. Or the guy in the heartland somewhere who made his fortune in mousetraps. Ask for $100 million and tell the donors that they might get a building named for them if they give that much to an insitution, but here, they'll be a footnote in history and maybe a city in Africa will carry their legacy. Be creative.
Option 3: The Paypal Option
Go to the world. Again, make it pro bono/non-profit. Ask for private donations to fund peacekeeping in Darfur. If the US public can give a billion or so in a few weeks for tsunami relief, it can certainly cough up several million to stop a genocide. Plus, none of it has to be sifted through the sticky fingers of [insert international body here]. And it'll be tax-deductible!
Finally, PR is key. Hire a bunch of bloggers to embed (ahem: my email address is in the sidebar). The journos should be all over you already. If firms like Blackwater are half as good as they claim, the immediate effects of their intervention, properly publicized, should spur further contributions in a sort of virtuous cycle.
Now take any of the above three choices and mix and match until you have enough dough to support your operations for an extended period. After you get going, your success might be shameful enough to the society of states that they start to cough up institutional money to continue your mission. All told, the private firm comes out ahead and does a good bit to shake the image of "mercenary" that seems to dog the industry.
In case you haven't noticed, each of these involves the non-profit angle. It seems that any for-profit option would have a very hard time gaining legitimacy, unless it was funded by Sudan's neighbors, or perhaps on an installment plan, by the people in Darfur themselves -- though that might be an exceptionally long installment.
Notably, it is the very same people who most loudly proclaim, "never again", who will also most loudly protest private efforts to stop the death. Perhaps actions will be perceived to speak louder than words if things are orchestrated with a bit of savvy and elan . . .
In diplomacy, business, and life, much is made of "the art of the deal." This is a situation that is crying out for a deal to be brokered between a variety of players. Something much greater than wealth will accrue to the person who can put all the pieces together in this situation: a guaranteed place in history.
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 . . .
April 20, 2006
A Contrarian View of China's Future
As Hu Jintao's visit to the US winds down, allow a little bit of speculation about the future of China.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal carried an article noting Hu's upcoming visit, and stating that the Chinese government's legitimacy is dually based on economic growth and nationalism.
The WSJ today carries an editorial that ends with this line:
The larger strategic bet here is that sooner or later China's economic progress will create the internal conditions for a more democratic regime that will be more stable and less of a potential global rival.
The US strategic assumption therefore is that "sooner or later, economic growth will lead to democracy." This is a controversial statement in political science circles -- there isn't any strong agreement on this, just a kind of fervent hope. Perhaps it is because of how closely Americans associate political freedom with economic opportunity. But it's still controversial.
But a completely uncontroversial statement in economic circles is that a boom-bust cycle prevails in most if not all markets and economies. Think about it: has anyone ever heard of an economy without a recession? and usually, isn't it true that the larger the boom, the greater the bust? I'm only 28, but I remember the heady days of 1999. Anyone who said a few key buzzwords and promised ridiculous market growth could get angel funding it seems. Then the bubble burst and we had a recession and now things are humming right along again.
Has China ever had a real recession since Deng liberalized the economy in 1978? There's been some slowing of growth here and there of course, but I don't believe a full-fledged recession, in which the economy actually shrinks.
Wouldn't it seem that China is . . . overdue for a recession?
No one can know how an economic retrenchment may begin. There are many possibilities:
-a collapse in the banking sector
-a decline in US domestic consumption
-oil price shocks
-deflationary slump caused by currency revaluation (as is argued by a Stanford professor in another Journal op-ed today)
But can one say, with any reasonable seriousness, that an economy which has boomed for two or three decades will not see at least one major recession?
Moreover, compared to developing countries, our recessions here in the US have been relatively mild. Consider these other Asian economic recessions:
1. Japan in early 1990s -- deflationary slump. The Japanese economy reached such lofty heights in the 1980s that the value of downtown Tokyo real estate was gauged as being higher than all of California. Fortunately, Japan has now recovered and -- as I heard on the radio the other day -- is in the midst of its second longest expansion in the postwar period, growing for 51 straight months. But from the early 90's for about ten years, Japan suffered what has become "the lost decade." "Nihon wa ima shiniso!" my host-brother proclaimed to me in 1994. "Japan is nearly dead these days."
2. Wikipedia's article on the East Asian financial crisis of 1997 notes that per capita GDP, (measured in purchasing power parity) has declined from 1997-2005 in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In other words, those economies have been more or less stagnant overall in terms of the net effects of growth in the economy and growth in the populations ever since the currency and financial crisis of 1997.
So suffice it to say that when China has a slump or recession, there's a good chance that it won't be pretty. It will probably make one of our domestic recessions look like a single bad day at Nordstrom.
If economic growth stalls, what is to replace it as a pillar of political legitimacy? It seems there are two possibilities, more nationalism, or, in the hope of the United States, democratic legitimacy through political freedom. At the time of its recession, Japan had had a history of parliamentary elections and representative democracy for three or four decades (one could debate this given the overwhelming dominance of one party, but Japan was democratizing for a very long time to say the least). Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia all had some form of popular representation during their crises, though the democratization was varied in degrees in each. All of these countries though, at the time of their difficulties, were much, much, much further along the way toward representative and consensual government than China currently is.
Democracy in China seems unlikely to spring forward overnight during a time of economic crisis. It seems equally unlikely that any budding manifestations of it will suddenly blossom. Indeed, during the rural uprisings and riots we've seen trickling out in the news last year, it seems China was much more likely to send in the brute squads to put them down than to expand freedom for the rioters. Some of the freedoms the Chinese currently enjy might wither on the vine if poor economic times come along . . .
Perhaps nationalism will be intentionally spread to make up the difference in regime legitimacy?
This seems at least as likely a scenario as that of economic growth leading to greater political freedom, as is the strategy of the United States.
If China's roiling economy is one of the key pillars of regime legitimacy, I fear that the regime may soon learn what a bust is . . . and what might happen then?
In short, while everyone and their grandmother expects the "Chinese economy to surpass the US by 2030" or "China to emege as a global power" etc, I think it is just as likely that China will suffer a severe economic crisis, and do something horrible that makes it a pariah in the world's eyes -- whether internally or abroad; or that the Chinese regime could collapse under a popular uprising. I'm no expert, but it seems that if there's one place where they like to riot as much as France, it might be China. Flipping through a history of China is to read again and again of peasant or other popular uprisings.
If China transforms into a democracy with no political violence or economic hardship, we'll all break out the plum wine and celebrate. But all should have their eyes wide open as to the likelihood of more dreadful scenarios as well.
Sadly, I think there's little more the US can do than what we already are: building relationships with China's neighbors to counterbalance it if things go to heck; encouraging political freedom inside the country; trading with China; etc etc etc. The op-ed by the Stanford professor makes the case that we should quit complaining about their currency evalution, as a rapidly inflating currency was what led to Japan's deflation. I'm not enough of an economist to make heads or tails of that, but perhaps it's worth considering.
Perhaps we should just darn the torpedoes and pressure China to democratize much faster than it is, for its own sake . . . Given how many other things are on the US plate at the moment, it seems more likely that we'll kick this can down the road for a while longer . . .
March 17, 2006
Fallujah, media memes, and public debate
I knew Wretchard was reading this book, so I decided to read it too and finished it earlier in the week.
The thing that struck me, but which West does not explicitly state, is that media perceptions were the driving factor in two key decisions made by the Bush Administration: first, to order the assault on the city in April of 2004, and second to halt it a few days later.
First, US popular revulsion to the images of the four dead military contractors in Fallujah caused the Administration to seek vengeance solely for its own sake.
For a gleeful mob to hang Americans like pieces of charred meat mocked the rationale that the war had liberated grateful Iraqis. The mutilation was both a stinging rebuke and a challenge. National pride and honor were involved. The president's envoy to Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, went on television in Baghdad to denounce the atrocity, vowing that the "deaths will not go unpunished." The spokesman for the JTF, Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, followed up by saying the attack on Fallujah would be "overwhelming." Write an order for the Marines to attack, General Sanchez told his staff, and I don't mean any fucking knock-before-search, touchy-feely stuff.The Marines, namely the 1st Marine Division, then still under General Mattis, and his immediate field commander, LtGen Conway of the First MEF, had intended to slowly take over various portions of the city over months, not invade it in one decisive action. But they had their orders (apparently very poorly written ones, according to West) and they carried them out.
But then media coverage and perceptions of the attack were once again integral in operational decisionmaking. The CPA
had prepared a public affairs plan in support of the offensive, although it didn't address the Arab press.That left Arab media to shape perceptions of the battle with no American influence at all.
On April 4, Fallujah was dominating international headlines because all major news outlets had rushed reporters and video crews there after the administration's vow of an overwhelming response.West's chapter entitled "Faint Echoes of Tet" is priceless. Here's an extended excerpt:
The CPA and all Iraqis were relying on the press to inform them about the military situation. Reports about the fighting came from two major sources -- Western journalists, principally American, and the Arab press. The two dominant Arab satellite networks were Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, and Al Jazeera, based in Qatar. In addition to reaching hundreds of millions of Arabs, their reportage was more trused by Iraqis than was the US-funded channel called Al Iraqiya, based in Baghdad. About 25% of Iraqis -- the more wealthy and influential -- had access to satellite reception, and by a five-to-one margin they preferred Jazeera to Iraqiya . . .West offers what might have been a palliative for this spin.
Both networks had learned how not to bite the hands that fed them. Criticism of the autocracies in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere had resulted in the closure of offices and the withdrawal of advertising revenues. Diatribes about the Israeli occupation of Iraq were the two staples of their coverage that received wide approval among Arab governments . . .
In April the insurgents invited a reporter from Al Jazeera, Ahmed Mansour, and his crew into Fallujah, where they filmed scenes from the hospital. Hour after hour, day after day after day in the first week in April, the airwaves were filled with pictures of the dead, the bleeding, and the maimed. The Arab media were calling the resistance an Initifada, linking the insurgent fighting against the Americans to the Palestinian uprising against the Israelis. The sound bites featured the wails of the mourners, the sobs and screams of mothers, and the frenzied shouts and harried faces of blood bespotted doctors and nurses. No one with a breath of compassion could watch Arab TV and not feel anguish. Most poignant were the pictures Jazeera ran of babies, one after another after another, all calm, frail, and pitiful in the repose of death. Where how or when they died was not attributed. The viewer assumed all the infants wwere killed by the Marines in Fallujah. The baby pictures would bring tears from a rock . . .
A Jazeera and Al Arabiya were unrelenting in broadcasting the plight of the civilians in Fallujah, while the internet amplified the message of Marine callousness and sped protests around the world on a minute-by-minute basis. On the Google search engine, during the month of April, the word Fallujah leaped from 700 to 175,000 stories, many highly critical of the Marines. Quantity had a spurious quality of its own, resulting in an erroneous certitude based on the sheer volume of repetition.
The reports filed by Western journalists embedded with the Marines did not support the allegations of widespread, indiscriminate carnage. Senior US government officials, though, didn't have the time to peruse tactical reporting. Instead, in their offices they turned on cable news, where video clips from Fallujah were shown over and over again. The images, obtained from a pool that included the Jazeera cameramen inside the city affected viewers in Iraq, in Washington, and in Crawford, Texas.
In the face of this press onslaught, the White House, the Pentagon, the CPA, and CentCom were passive. Partially this was a military reflex to avoid any comparison to the 'body count' debacle of Vietnam. none of those at the top of the chains of command, though, requested from the Marine units in daily contact any systematic estimates that distinguished between civilian and enemy casualties. Given the video recorded the the unmanned aerial vehicles and the imagery required of every air strike and AC-130 gun run, records of the damage would have been easy enough to collect and verify had anyone thought of doing so.
In the absence of countervailing visual evidence presented by authoritative sources, Al Jazeera shaped the world's understanding of Fallujah without having to counter the scrutiny of informed skeptics. The resulting political pressures constrained military actions both against Fallujah and against Sadr.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, which in the 1990s was so influential at describing the nature of the emerging connected world, made two observations that are relevant here:
1. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. In the case of Fallujah, the CNN and other western outlets frequently used footage from Jazeera, subverting to some extent the hierarchy of national boundaries as being determinative of press coverage. The same is true with the Google News aspect that West mentions. And finally, the hierarchy of the chain of command was subverted as well. Presumably the President himself had Fallujah brought into his living room, and its coverage shaped his perceptions of the battle. West implies that he did not seek out other opinions, notably that of the ground commanders, Mattis and Conway.
2. Markets are conversations. Cluetrain asserted that the information technology revolution allowed mass markets to revert to their conversational origins: the haggling, debate, and spirited nature of the traditional market or bazaar, rather than the stilted interaction between monolithic institutions and underdog individual customers that came to characterize relationships in the age of the industrial society.
West's solution to the whole conundrum, as mentioned in the last two paragraphs above, is very interesting. Traditional public relations methodology has attempted to generate enough contrary content such that the good might offer an alternative to the negative for the public to choose what to believe themselves. But what West advocates is something more like a public debate, in which some viewpoints, spin, or memes, are publicly refuted in some meaningful way. The only member of the Bush Administration who does anything like this on any kind of regular basis is the Defense Secretary. Occasionally when asked a leading or insinuating question for example, he responds with another question that attempts to refashion the dialogue. But even he doesn't do this that often. Keeping track of what memes are proliferating, where they come from, how they contradict each other, and finding concrete and believable evidence to refute them is a big job. Few military or policy organizations do this well. Not even corporations excel at this: usually they stumble along with PR as a sort of arm of the Marketing department. How many times has a corporation been accused of something and responded with deft explanations and a robust defense? Only about a tenth of the time or so would be my guess . . .
In fact, the only kind of organization I can think of that has an inherent stake in immediately and strongly responding to charges made by the press -- or by an opponent, with the press as its proxy -- is the political campaign. Attack ad is met by attack ad, and spin meets spin. But even those organizations are in search of the ever-memorable sound bite, not some public consensus on "truth."
Perhaps then, one thing that the Defense Department needs is a rapid response combat punditry team. Since this would essentially be a political function, it should be staffed with appointed civilians, but preferably those who are not too closely tied to the reigning administration, if that's possible. The office would work to refute, debate, clarify and offer counter-narratives in any case deemed necessary. This would be something different from "propaganda" creation, at least as I envision it. Propaganda nowadays is smelled as such by the public immediately and if there ever was value to it, it would certainly be counterproductive today. But to publicly enter into a debate with the memes, or individuals in the press -- to begin a conversation, rather than the traditionally conceived shouting match or corporate institutional-speak-- might be very effective. It would be a difficult job, but it seems to be a necessary one these days. The key would be to be forceful, but not necessarily adversarial. Public debate is about winning people over to one's side after all, and the ultimate coup would be to win the press themselves.
Notably though, one key to good conversation is when each side is willing to admit previous mistakes, or misjudgments. A candid combat pundit would do so. And if the press failed to do so, it would lessen it morally in the eyes of the independent observer. Or, miracle of miracles, perhaps some would admit mischaracterizations from time to time. In that case, would not public debate be more enlightened than it is now?
The blogosphere already performs the function I've described to some degree, but with much more limited effectiveness. Someone based within the DoD would have the authority of office to go with that of the megaphone.
A second technique for offering evidence to counter inaccuracies that enter public discourse would be the use of a small number of "directed telescopes", perhaps working out of the same combat pundit office mentioned above. The directed telescope was an innovation of Napoleon. Each was a pretty senior colonel or general officer, held by Napoleon in exceptionally high esteem, and trusted implicitly. He would use them to survey terrain, deliver important communications, gather intelligence, make judgments of enemy dispositions, and occasionally they would jump in to correct units that were not following Napoleon's intent. Martin Van Creveld describes this technique in Command in War:
Climbing through the chain of command, however, such reports tend to become less and less specific; the more numerous the stages through which they pass and the more standardized the form in which they are presented, the greater the danger that they will become so heavily profiled (and possibly sugar-coated or merely distorted by the many summaries) as to become almost meaningless. To guard against this danger, and keep subordinates on their toes, a commander needs to have in addition a kind of directed telescope -- the metaphor is an apt one -- which he can direct, at will, at any part of the enemy's forces, the terrain, or his own army in order to bring in information that is not only less structured than that passed on by the normal channels but also tailored to meet his momentary (and specific) needs. Ideally, the regular reporting system should tell the commander which questions to ask, and the directed telescope should enable him to answer those questions. It was the two systems together, cutting across each other and wielded by Napoleon's masterful hand, which made the evolution in command possible.While in Napoleon's time the directed telescope was one of two parts that were reinforcing -- regular reporting being the other -- in our day, there would be three parts: regular reporting, the directed telescope, and the press. The telescopes would be a powerful tool to have in the arsenal of a Defense Secretary or President in need of further independent information on the status of forces or situations. And, in my conception, the telescopes might provide valuable information about the conduct of a given battle or campaign. Such information could be priceless in engaging in the debate with the press described above. They might be composed of a couple of colonels, some independent civilians (West himself, or Robert Kaplan might be good examples, since this is similar to the roles they've fashioned for themselves already, albeit independently), and even a physically fit diplomat or two. Combined with robust archiving, search, image retrieval, and public-speaking capabilities inherent in the combat pundit office (perhaps "office" is the wrong term, as it should be informal, small, and not legislatively created), the National Command Authorities might be much better able to determine the status of all kinds of events, and use that information to refute inaccurate media memes (and be more informed in general as well).
As organized from 1805 on, Napoleon's system for cutting through established channels and for directly gathering the information he needed consisted of two separate parts. The first was a group of between eight and twelve adjutant generals; these were men selected unsystematically from among colonels and generals who caught the emperor's eye, usually carried the rank of brigadier or major general, and were between ages thirty and forty and thus in the full flower of their mental and physical powers. Their duties varied enormously, from reconnoitering entire countries (Savary in 1805) to negotiating a surrender (Rapp in the same year) to spying out enemy headquarters under the cover of a truce (Rapp again, on the eve of Austerlitz) to commanding the cavalry of the artillery reserve in battle (Druot, Lauriston) to governing a province and commanding a garrison far from the main theater of operations. Such responsibilities called for practical savoir faire as well as diplomatic ability, the knowledge and talents of a military commander, and, last, but not least, sheer physical stamina.
PS: Comments are currently closed. Feel free to email me any thoughts or responses you have. I may include them here, but no promises.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention: in case there's any doubt to the role the press played in the Fallujah Battle, remember that when the city was finally assaulted in November of 04, the first objective was seizure of the hospital so that he images mentioned above would not be used so spuriously.
March 2, 2006
Welcome to Post-Tipping Point politics. There is no upside to doing the right thing – which is to emphasize, as one blogger put it, that there is a difference between Dubai and Damascus. There is tremendous political upside to doing the wrong thing, boldly declaring, “I don’t care what the Muslim world thinks, I’m not allowing any Arab country running ports here in America! I don’t care how much President Bush claims these guys are our allies, I don’t trust them, and I’m not going to hand them the keys to the vital entries to our country!”Geraghty points to this New Republic piece, in which Peter Beinart asks,
Courting these voters will mean supporting proposals that are supported by wide swaths of the American people, but are largely considered nonstarters in Washington circles: much tougher immigration restrictions, including patrolling the Mexican border; racial profiling of airline passengers instead of confiscating grandma’s tweezers; drastically reducing or eliminating entry visas to residents of Muslim or Arab countries; and taking a much tougher line with Saudi Arabia and coping with the consequences of that stance. Since 9/11, the Bush administration, and most leaders on Capitol Hill in both parties have dismissed those ideas as unrealistic, counterproductive, or not in accordance to American values.
If you listen to Democratic criticism of the port deal, the Jacksonian themes are clear. In the words of California Senator Barbara Boxer, "We have to have American companies running our own ports." But nationalism tinged with xenophobia makes Democrats uncomfortable.
For Democrats, stealing the Bush administration's populist, unilateralist thunder would be a remarkable coup. And it would be a remarkable historical irony, since Jacksonianism in Jeffersonian clothes--civil libertarian, anti-globalization, uninterested in transforming the world--inverts the foreign policy of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Politically, the opportunity is clear. There's just one catch: Is this really what Democrats believe?
I'm convinced this is all a remake of Naked Gun. You remember the scene: in his zealous pursuit of the Queen's would-be assassin, Lt. Frank Drebin finds himself at an Angels game, suddenly taking the place of the umpire behind home plate. A pitch is thrown. The crowd goes silent. Drebin is quiet. The pitcher stares at him. The batter turns and looks at him. Drebin looks back at him. Then he mumbles, "Strike?"
The crowd goes wild. Drebin smiles. He's got em now! He's forgotten all about the assassin for the moment. The next pitch is thrown. It's obviously way outside. Drebin calls another strike. The crowd goes nuts! Drebin does a little dance behind the plate, with two fingers up in the air, repeating, "Two! Two! Two! Strike Two!" On the next pitch, Drebin calls a strike before the ball even hits the catcher's mitt. Then he polishes it off with a moonwalk and a bit of breakdancing.
This is where the Democratic party finds itself. With their friends in the press, they've thrown out all manner of arguments in their zealous quest to wrest power from George W. Bush. Then, all of a sudden, they find themselves in a position to umpire a large commercial transaction. Everyone waits to see what they're going to say.
The country goes wild! They reinforce their success and continue on this meme. But as Beinart notes above, are they really ready to deal with the underlying reasoning that leads the nation to cheer at their calls?
We all know how that segment of the movie ends. Drebin is having so much fun that he forgets about the sleeper in his midst. Then, when he's reminded, he starts a riot on the field. Of course, it's Hollywood and in the end he's a hero. But is this the kind of national security that we want? Ask a Democrat what kinds of actions he's prepared to take in the war, and he'll say he'll withdraw troops from Iraq. Then he'll list a litany of things he would have done differently. But does he really have a plan of any substance? In the midst of discrediting the Bush Administration, he sees an opening on Bush's right. Finally! But is he really ready to go there and do the things that those constituencies want done? All of a sudden, the pre-9/11 Democrats have gone on a blind date with 2006 voters. I have a feeling that before it is all over, the Democrats will be as terrified of the voters as they are of Arabs.
This all goes back to my post of yesterday: How will our society answer the question: Is Islam compatible with a free society? The Democrats may be about to side with those who say, No. SInce this violates some of their most fundamental principles, and those of multiculturalism, can they even make this journey? Or are we witnessing a transformation of the Democratic party?
Interestingly enough, Naked Gun opens with Drebin "on vacation" in Beirut, if memory serves, where he takes out Ayatollah Khomeini, Gorbachev, Idi Amin, and Qaddafi all at one time.
[Frank has beaten a horde of America's most-feared world leaders in a conference room and heads for a door]This was supposed to be funny back in 1988: a witless American taking the fight to the enemy: basically what the American people would have loved to see done to any of those world leaders. But it's meant to be a farce!
Muammar al-Qaddafi: Hey, who are you?
Frank: I'm Lt. Frank Drebin! Police Squad! And don't ever let me catch you guys in America!
[the door hits Frank in the face and he loses his balance]
Who knew it was prophetic of the possible electoral machinations of the Democratic party in 2006?
The Key Strategic Question
Is Islam compatible with a free society?
This is the key strategic question of our day.
In October, William Buckley wrote:
The moment has not come, but it is around the corner, when non-Muslims will reasonably demand to have evidence that the Muslim faith can operate within boundaries in which Christians and Jews (and many non-believers) live and work without unconstitutional distraction.[h-t to a Belmont Club commenter]
Buckley is correct that this is a question demanding an answer, but he misjudges the timing of its asking and answering. The truth is that assumed answers to this question have been fundamental in developing our strategies in the war on terror, and that we have yet to answer it definitively.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? A 'yes' answer offers a far different set of strategic imperatives than a 'no' answer.
In his book The Universal Hunger for Liberty, Michael Novak notes the tone of discourse in the beginning of our war:
"Surely," the proposition was put forward, by many Islamic voices as well as by the president, "a modern and faithful Islam is consistent with nonrepressive, open, economically vital societies."To say yes to our question, one assumes that there are aspects of being Muslim and faithful to Islam, that can coexist peacefully with liberty, tolerance, and equality. The strategy that follows is one of identifying the groups and sects within Islam that adhere to these notions of their religion, and then encouraging them, favoring them, propagating them, and splitting them off from the elements of Islamic practice that are all too incompatible with the portions of modernity that invigorate men's souls: free inquiry, free association, free commerce, free worship, or even the freedom to be left alone.
To answer no, one states that Islam itself is fundamentally irreconcilable with freedom. This leads to a wholly different set of tactical moves to isolate free societies from Islam. They might include:
-detention of Muslims, or an abrogation of certain of their rights;
-forced deportation of Muslims from free societies;
-rather than transformative invasions, punitive expeditions and punitive strikes;
-extreme racial profiling;
-limits on the practice and study of Islam in its entirety
And even some extreme measures if free societies find the above moves to be failing:
-forced conversion from Islam, or renunciation;
-extermination of Muslims wherever they are found.
These last are especially ghastly measures. But a society that thought Islam incompatible with freedom might in the long term slip towards them.
Since 9/11, the assumption of our government has been that Islam can be compatible with freedom. The Bush administration has been exploiting all manner of divides within the Muslim world, not to conquer it, but to transform it such that a type of Islam compatible with freedom -- and therefore the West and the US, the wellspring and birthplace of modern individual liberty -- will come to the front at the expense of a type of Islam that is irreconcilable. Every institution of government answers our key question with a resounding yes. The Pentagon, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, makes a distinction between "bin Ladenism" and moderate Muslims, our would-be allies. Bush makes speeches in praise of freedom in general and especially in the Muslim world. The defense establishment is addressing what it calls a 'war of ideas':
The U.S. government is also focusing more attention on the intangible but vital dimension of the "war of ideas" between radical Islam and moderate Western and Islamic thought. The Pentagon's September 2004 National Defense Strategy stressed the need to counter ideological support for terrorism to secure permanent gains in the war against terrorism.A yes answer to the question requires Red State Christians in the US to tolerate an Islam that tolerates them. A no answer to the question requires an abandonment of belief in the universality of ideas originating in the west, because it becomes clear that a large portion of humanity -- a fifth perhaps -- follows an incompatible religion. A yes answer forces one to attack totalitarian elements within Islam. A no answer forces a clash of civilizations, a Great Islamic War, as it assumes that all Islam is totalitarian.
It stated the importance of negating the image of a U.S. war against Islam, and instead, developing the image of a civil war within Islam, fought between moderate states and radical terrorists. This kind of imagery will feed into the broader debate beginning in the U.S. on how to win such a war of ideas and how to cultivate moderate democratic Islamic states.
A yes answer might lead to the establishment of something like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, as discussed in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The idea of the congress, however, grew out of a feeling among independent intellectuals on the non-Communist left, as well as American officials, that the West after World War II faced a huge Soviet commitment to propagandizing and imposing Communism, and might lose the battle for European minds to Stalinism.One principle of the CCF's founding document was, "Freedom is based on the toleration of divergent opinions. The principle of toleration does not logically permit the practice of intolerance."
So the congress — established at a 1950 Berlin meeting at which the writer Arthur Koestler declared to a crowd of 15,000, "Friends, freedom has seized the offensive!" — launched magazines, held conferences, mounted exhibitions, and generally sought to expose Stalinist falsehoods from its liberal position. At its height, according to Coleman, the CCF "had offices or representatives in 35 countries, employing a total of 280 staff members."
A no answer might disparage the notion that Westerners can say anything of import to those practicing Islam. I'm not sure if Bruce Thornton would answer no to the key question, but he doesn't seem to like the idea of Westerners trying to convince Muslims of anything new about their religion:
If, then, you are in possession of this truth that you are absolutely certain holds the key to universal happiness in this world and the next, why would you be tolerant of alternatives? Why should you tolerate a dangerous lie? Why should you “live and let live,” the credo of the spiritually moribund who stand for everything because they stand for nothing? And why wouldn’t you kill in the name of this vision, when the infidel nations work against God’s will and his beneficent intentions for the human race?A yes answer to our question might force us to reexamine the religious roots of our own conceptions of freedom, in order to figure best a way to help Muslims look for such roots in their faith. This might resemble the efforts of David Gelernter in his recent Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, "A Religious Idea Called 'America'"
This is precisely what the jihadists tell us, what fourteen centuries of Islamic theology and jurisprudence tell us, what the Koran and Hadith tell us. Yet we smug Westerners, so certain of our own superior knowledge that human life is really about genes or neuroses or politics or nutrition, condescendingly look down on the true believer. Patronizing him like a child, we tell him that he doesn’t know that his own faith has been “hijacked” by “fundamentalists” who manipulate his ignorance, that what he thinks he knows about his faith is a delusion, and that the true explanation is one that we advanced, sophisticated Westerners understand while the believer remains mired in superstition and neurotic fantasy.
The most important story in and for American history is the biblical Exodus; the verse “let my people go” became the subtext of the Puritan emigration to America in the seventeenth century, the American revolution in the eighteenth, and--in significant part by Lincoln’s own efforts--of the Civil War in the nineteenth. It became important, also, to the twentieth century Americanism of Wilson and Truman and Reagan and W. Bush--Americanism as an outward-looking religion with global responsibilities.A yes answer might say that if God gave Biblical antecedents for the freedom of all mankind, He might have put some in the Koran as well . . . A yes answer would try to figure how to play our own religion-based beliefs into a conversation with Islam, as Henry Jaffa seems to argue in the Claremont Review:
In the end we do need to know the real character of Americanism. The secular version is a flat, gray rendition--no color and no fizz--of this extraordinary work of religious imagination: the idea that liberty, equality, and democracy belong to all mankind because God wants them to.
We [are], in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.A no answer, on the other hand, might first start with Islam as anathema to free society, then move to other religious creeds, seeing them through a lens of general suspicion.
Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? Like a Zen koan, this is the question that vexes us.
Our answer of course, might change. The Bush administration has been answering yes for five years. But, inhabiting a democracy, it is of course reflective of and responsive to public sentiment. Several commentators believe that sentiment may be shifting. A piece by Jim Geraghty on his National Review blog wonders if Americans' answer to the key question is changing:
This strikes me as the fallout of the Tipping Point™ - my sense that in recent weeks, a large chunk of Americans just decided that they no longer have any faith in the good sense or non-hostile nature of the Muslim world. If subsequent polls find similar results, the port deal is dead.Perhaps the people's answer to the question is changing.
And what to make of the Manifesto from a dozen European intellectuals, Muslims or former Muslims many of them? How are they answering the key strategic question?
It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats . . .In Glenn Reynolds' podcast interview with Claire Berlinkski, author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Too, she relates this story:
Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others.
Reynolds: You have this wonderful scene in your book where you talk about this, this Englishman of Bengali descent, and he said that when he traveled to the United States, he saw all these immigrants who were US citizens being welcomed by the INS and told, "Welcome home!" And he said, you know, if I ever got that kind of treatment you know when I returned to England, I'd happily lay down my life for England right there . . .In a dissenting statement to the above-mentioned manifesto, Paul Belien in Brussels Journal quotes Dr. Jos Verhulst:
Berlinski: I would have died for England on the spot, that's what he told me. If ever once, someone had said "welcome home" when I showed them my passport at customs and immigration, I would have died for England on the spot.
And now he stands at the dawn of the 21st century: the maligned individual, unsteady on his own feet after executing the inner breach with every form of imposed authority, uncertain, blinking in the brightness of the only god he is willing to recognise – Truth itself, stretching out before him unfathomably deep – full of doubt but aware that he, called to non-submission, must seek the road to the transcendent, carrying as his only property, his most valuable heirloom from his turbulent past, that one gold piece that means the utmost to him, his precious ideal of complete freedom of thought, of speech and of scientific inquiry. That is the unique advance that he received to help him in his long and difficult quest.When I was in Iraq, one Iraqi told me he wished Iraq could be the 51st state in the union. Our experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan seems to indicate that there are many Muslims who would prefer that we answer the key question with a yes, saying to those Muslims who can find Islam compatible with freedom, "Have courage!" and once they've achieved their freedom, "Welcome home!"
Meanwhile he is being beleaguered and threatened on all sides; from out of the darkness voices call him to submit and retreat; they shout that the gold in his hands is worthless, while the brightness ahead of him still makes it almost impossible for him to see what lies in store. In short: what this contemporary individual needs most of all is courage, great courage. And the will to be free and to see, which is tantamount to the will to live.
To what fate are we assigning them if we answer no?
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Even though I had no direct quote above, this piece, like most that I do, had a lot of influence from Belmont Club, especially Blowback.
UPDATE2: There seems to be some problem posting comments. The server must be a little slow. It took me several tries to post last night. Thanks for your patience.
February 24, 2006
"Solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism."
Ian Schwartz has a 2 mintue and 27 second video available of Christopher Hitchens' speech at the Danish Embassy in DC today, where Hitchens organized a pro-Denmark rally. [Hat-tip: Instapundit]. I've put together a little transcript of Hitchens' remarks:
"Brothers and sisters, I [inaudible] . . . a speech.I imagine that Hitchens and I might disagree on many points. He's more or less a socialist after all. But he's pretty much won my admiration for all time with his spirited defense of the war in Iraq. The piece he wrote in the Weekly Standard back in September alone is absolutely outstanding [see A War to Be Proud Of], and when I see things like Fukuyama backpedaling, I look back on that piece and feel comforted.
It misses the point . . . [inaudible] [laughter]
[Crowd: "Speech! Speech!"]
Brothers and sisters, I just thought I would thank everyone for coming and say how touching it is that people will take a minute from a working day to do something that our government won't do for us, which is quite simply to say that we know who our friends and our allies are, and they should know that we know it. And that we take a stand of democracy against dictatorship. And when the embassies of democracies are burned in the capital cities of dictatorships, we think the State Department should denounce that, and not denounce the cartoons.
[Cheers of support and applause]
And that we're fed up with the invertebrate nature of our State Department.
[Laughter, cheers, applause]
If we had more time, brothers and sisters, I think that we should have gone from here to the embassy of Iraq, to express our support for another country that is facing a campaign of lies and hatred and violence. And we would -- if we did that we would say that we knew blasphemy when we saw it, we knew sacrilege when we saw it: it is sacrilegious to blow up beautiful houses of worship in Samarra. That would be worth filling the streets of the world to protest about.
[Cheers and applause]
We are not for profanity nor for disrespect, though we are, and without any conditions, or any ifs or any buts, for free expression in all times and in all places
and our solidarity . . . [inaudible]
So, we said we would, I told the Danish embassy that we would disperse at one o'clock. I hope and believe we've made our point, I hope and believe that today's tv will have some more agreeable features, such as your own, to show, instead of the faces of violence and hatred, and fascism, and I think I can just close by saying, solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism.
[Applause as Hitchens steps away]
Today only increases my favor for Hitchens. Three cheers for Denmark!
February 23, 2006
Has war with Iran begun already?
Back in January, I said:
Here's what I expect in the next 12 months.Is it possible that the Iranians have begun their campaign of terror, but with as much deniability as possible? Let's discuss.
-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.
As far as terrorism and its relationship to a state, Iran presents a different set of circumstances than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's raid on the eastern seaboard on 9/11 was an act of a transnational terror organization with sanctuary within a state. Afghanistan was a totally willing host to Al Qaeda's parasitic organization. Nevertheless, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were still different organizations, with different goals, intents, and motivations, complementary though they might have been.
In Iraq, terror organizations have yet a different relationship with the state. There they exist as something more akin to a cancer, feeding off the ideological and organizational remnants of the Hussein regime, and attacking the host -- the new Iraqi state, founded in the period of 2004-2005.
But what if terrorism is not just a tactic, or an organization separate from its host state? What if instead, terrorism is part and parcel of the state, and not just a tactic, but key to the national security strategy of a state? What if its institutions are not just cooperative with those of a given state, but nearly completely reliant upon it, even to the point of serving as its proxy?
Something akin to this last scenario describes the relationship of Iran to terrorist outfits, whether Hezbollah, its own internal security organizations, or its Pasdaran officers who have made mischief in all parts of the Muslim world at some point or another. Let us then posit that terrorism in some form is an integral part of Iran's foreign policy.
Allow a slilght digression on the nature of terrorism itself. As much as Al Qaeda or its brethren may wish to inflict massive casualties within the West and the US especially, terrorism is just as much about, well, terrorizing a given audience or constituency. That is to say, even though many forms of it might inflict significant casualties, the ultimate goal is influence. It is meant to change minds. When its perpetrators are known, and terror acts are overt, it might be categorized within that type of operation that the West would know as a "show of force." When its origins are not known, or if it is perhaps not even clear that a certain event has a single human agency behind it, then it seeks other forms of influence -- perhaps to change mindsets or affect policy. In some cases, it might even overlap or be confused with covert action, one of the purposes of which is to affect or change policy without any public knowledge of agency or origin.
The US response to 9/11 -- transformation of two states, and an unremitting pursuit of Al Qaeda in all its forms -- would seem to suggest that overt terrorism does not influence the US in a productive manner. Any organization or state that used terror solely for the purpose of a "show of force" would be looking down the business end of the US military's arsenal with little delay. This is not to suggest that spectacular attacks won't be pursued, just that they might now be most useful only for their destructive power.
But the second kind of terrorism -- deniable, covert, and meant to influence -- might take on a whole new importance. These kinds of attacks might be meant to embarrass the West, harrass it, sow discord among its nations, or alternately (and perhaps not simultaneously) unify the Muslim world against it. What might some of these actions look lilke? Well, perhaps "spontaneous" demonstrations in dozens of countries about something published four months previously in an obscure news organ would fit the bill. Or, perhaps a massive terror attack upon a key Shia shrine, which has thus far not been claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, could fit into this category as well.
When considered in the light of the long history of Iran with terror, as both its sponsor and its exporter, one wonders if Iran has begun a new campaign in its quest to achieve nuclear power status with no real objection from the rest of the world. Much of the below has been stated in other venues, but consider each of these points afresh:
-the cartoon controversy did not really begin until after the IAEA had referred Iran to the security council.
-the current chairmanship of the IAEA is held by Denmark.
-some of the worst violence was in Syria, a state where the government controls association, and which is allied with Iran.
And as far as the mosque destruction goes:
-no particular group has claimed responsibility.
-conventional wisdom, correct or not, holds that this act has created one of the highest states of tension in Iraq in some time.
Have these acts been effective in influencing the West? The cartoon controversy might have united the West a bit, but it might have united the Muslim world much more. The mosque destruction is a bit too recent to judge.
One wonders though: how does the US public's reaction to the UAE port deal relate to the cartoon riots? One commentator today (can't find the link) mentioned that it is the reaction of the US public to distrust this transaction when they see that their own government was not forthright enough in supporting Denmark.
One can speculate all night on whether the above two acts are related and how. There are other explanations. Coincidence is one of the easiest.
But all of this raises a larger point: when Americans envision war, we imagine large scale military assaults and operations to neutralize targets, not covert and deniable violence on behalf of influencing public attitudes. Yet this blind spot is exactly what Iran excels at performing, and exactly what vexes Secretary Rumsfeld so much as he laments today in the LA Times:
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we -- our government, the media or our society in general -- have not.I believe our war with Iran has begun.
Consider that violent extremists have established "media relations committees" and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.
Strategypage today has a list of "Ten Signs that the United States is about to Bomb Iran." These are things to look for that will indicate an imminent strike by the US, movements of units and materiel and such that intelligence analysts would examine.
Iran is playing quite a different game than us. It seeks a campaign of influence, of which terrorism and rioting might be key components. Iran's campaign needs no top ten signs to detect it. If the period before it was referred to the Security Council might have been called the "diplomatic phase," it is now in the "influence phase," which might last for a long time, and mean no further escalation is necessary. There may be no start or stop, there may be no formal military action, there may be no overt Iranian involvement, but war with Iran will likely look like a series of events, inexplicable and spontaneous, yet which frustrate our aims.
It is a well-crafted strategy really, as it seeks the seams in our defenses. It undermines our cultural assumptions (wars must be declared at a given point, ended at a given point, and fought by uniformed military forces on "battlefields") and even some of our societal organizational seams (media institutions are not part of the governments that fight wars, but are separate, and beheld to different standards).
For those who think I might be some sort of conspiracy nut, consider: a key part of influence is opportunism. I'm not implying that Iran knew the cartoons would be published, or even was behind the Danish imam who first started circulating them. But when you see an opening you seize it. Iran may have had nothing to do with the destruction of the golden mosque, but this doesn't stop Ahmadinejad from fanning the flames of popular emotion by blaming the US or Israel.
Welcome to warfare in the 21st century. What will be next?
UPDATE: Hat-tip to Instapundit for the Strategypage bit. Also, for this piece by Michael Novak:
Naturally, the West is feeling guilty about the cartoons, and chillingly intimidated by the “Muslim reaction”—more exactly, by the contrived, heavily stimulated, long-contained, and deliberately timed demonstrations of focused political outrage against them—while failing to pay serious attention to the truly huge event that started off this week with a great boom.I guess I'm not the only one . . .
That event, I have a hunch, might well be followed by another shocker fairly soon.
For the stakes for Iran—its nuclear future—and for Syria—its safety from within—and for the future of Hamas in Palestine, could scarcely be higher than they are just now. The most organized radical forces are poised to act in great concert. The moment is crucial for their future prospects.
February 5, 2006
Today's sermon at church was pretty thought-provoking. The minister took the occasion of Bush's State of the Union address to offer his own interpretation of the "State of the Church," by which he meant, the state of the Christian church in general, not our own church community.
He pointed out that statistics show that 76% of Americans weren't in church today. He noted that long ago, when a new subdivision was created, the developers would choose a place for the church, making sure there was one, but now, churches have trouble expanding or even starting in some communities. Neighborhoods often even oppose church expansions -- which was apparently the case for our church several years ago.
Pastors are portrayed on television and in popular culture as bumbling, and inarticulate. Christians in general are shown as being narrow-minded and judgemental. In years past missionaries would depart the United States for lands abroad, then return to report on their progress. Now, the United States is the 3rd largest mission field in the world, with missionaries coming here to testify, then returning to their own countries to report.
The minister mentioned Thomas Friedman's book, "The World is Flat", which makes the case for the extreme interconnected nature of the world economy today.
He noted that we live in a time of extreme technological advance, with corresponding social upheavals, and political controversies. He said that although Christianity may seem as though it cannot adapt to new circumstances, and it may seem that our nation is not a Christian nation, that Christianity has weathered similar social upheavals before. I thought he was going to draw comparisons to the Reformation or the Renaissance, but instead, he drew our attention to the 1st century AD.
In the 1st century, Pax Romana ruled the world, and Roman engineering, in the form of roads and other public works projects, and shipping and transportation technology, meant rapid change in many parts of the world. Christianity started in this environment and began to spread like wildfire. By the end of the 1st century, the Christian church had spread until it covered most of the known world.
But its spread was not without strife. The Romans at first ignored Christianity, then began to persecute it, and then things got so bad that Romans would kill Christians anytime they discovered them.
How did Christianity spread so quickly in this environment? The pastor's thesis was that Christianity spread because it acted and "looked" differently than the rest of the world. That is to say, his thesis is that Christianity spread by its own example. He pointed us to the book "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark, in which it is argued that Constantine's conversion to Christianity was not a leading event but a trailing one: only when much of the empire was already Christian did Constantine convert. By that time, Christianity had already infiltrated all realms of empire life. The reason the pastor gave was that during the period between 100 AD and the conversion of Constantine, Rome had many troubles which its government and its elites could not solve. When they failed, Christians stepped in and attempted to take care of the people of the empire, to provide the services that the government could not.
The pastor noted that when Christians today discuss how to influence the United States so that it might become a more devout or devoutly Christian nation, they usually have two solutions: first, they want to somehow convert the media such that celebrities are Christians and set good examples. Second, they want to "vote out the bums" in office and replace them with Christians.
The pastor said that those ideas were all well and good but the real way that Christianity will spread is by the example of its philosophy in everyday life: Christians can change the culture "through the living of our very lives." Christians themselves can affect this change by 1) aspiring to be Christ-like, 2) going on mission trips of some kind, whether locally or abroad, and 3) having social and communal relationships with other Christians, because Christianity does not thrive in a vacuum.
I thought this was a very interesting sermon and I really agreed with his idea that Christianity must survive and thrive on its own merits, not by voting in certain politicians who might enforce it through fiat, or by merely having somehow the right celebrities in place to espouse its tenets. This appealed to me as one who tries to examine all manner of ideas on their own merits.
I did however, have two other reactions to the sermon:
First, if today is an era of rapid technological change and there is a faith that is spreading as quickly as Christianity did in the 1st century AD, I think the more accurate analogy is Islam. Islam is offering itself very clearly as an alternative to the modernizing forces of rapid technological change, social and political upheaval, and "mental war" as I mentioned in a previous post.
Second, if, as the pastor recommended, Christians can advocate their own religion by setting an example through the living of their very lives, how might Muslims be convinced to do the same? And not just Muslims in the US, or the West, but Muslims in the Middle East as well? Is this even possible? Or are they destined to attempt to impose their own enforcement of Islam upon the rest of us, by law when possible, or by protest when not?
Perhaps our own democratic initiatives in Iraq -- a secular country, and a religiously diverse one at that -- are as much about inculcating some sense of this striving to prove the value of one's own religion as a way of life in compeition with other ways of life, as they are about anything else?
I know that all may be a bit off the beaten path from the regular topics here, but it all seems incredibly relevant given the cartoon controversy of late.
November 10, 2005
Globalization and War
[This is my contribution to this week's online symposium on Globalization and War, sponsored by ZenPundit and it is cross-posted there. Enjoy!]
In the 1990s, the world awakened to a post-Communist order, one in which global capital was largely unfettered to come and go as it pleased. Soon it became apparent that not just capital, but people, ideas, goods, services, and every manner of human transaction, physical or otherwise, was enabled by technology and the fall of the USSR to spread as never before. This entire phenomenon came to be known through the shorthand term of "globalization."
Western academia had several assumptions in its analysis of the globalization phenomenon. Taken together these closely-held tenets, nearly sacred in ivory towers, might be called the "normal" theory of globalization. Many of these assumptions are now very clearly wrong and they are worth exploring:
1. Globalization will inevitably lead to Westernization. It's rather ironic that so many leftist academics espoused this theory, since it manages to embrace a sort of assumed Western superiority while at the same time turning the rest of the world's cultures into victims. Or maybe, Westernization would result because we in the West are so aggressive? No matter. The assumption is false. If there is any lesson to be learned these days from globalization's effects on people and cultures, it is that it transmits all of them, and transforms all of them. There is an process of give-and-take at play in nearly every place -- whether physically or in cyberspace, or other media -- where two or more cultures and peoples collide. In this way, we find radicalized Muslims as easily in Munich as we do in Mecca, and democrats as easily in Kabul as in Kansas. Moreover, the very cultures that were thought soon to be washed away by the onrush of global capitalism find themselves just as easily transmitted by it as those of the West. Witness the border region of the US and Mexico, which is a teeming hybrid of both Western and Latin cultures, or examine the growing influence of Chinese and Japanese pop culture upon the rest of Asia and even the United States. Western -- and American -- culture have influenced each of these others in turn, but by no means can be described as ascendant, and even less and less so, as dominant.
2. Globalization leads to homogenization. A famous and well-regarded 1996 work was entitled Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World. Each of the visions it describes as competing for dominance in the world can only be considered homogenous: jihad and tribalism on the one hand, and global capitalism on the other. But the nearly 10 years since have revealed the actual fragmentation of both of these tendencies. All sorts of large-scale institutions, which Barber lumps into "global capitalism" are disintegrating, or decentralizing. And tribalism serves many people in many different ways. Polities are now to be found in diasporas all over the world, and are much less likely to fall upon traditional fault lines as they are to splinter into dozens of interest groups. From the consumer marketplace to geographic identity, political parties, racial identification, and even ideologies, heterogeneity is the order of the day.
3. Globalization will lead to a decline in state power. This is one of the most frequent assumptions in all of the lexicon of the political scientists who study globalization, and is taken for granted so regularly as to be a maxim of the field. But while there is certainly no dearth of failed states, successful states are just as plentiful. Moreover, state power, while sometimes bested by new challenges, does not seem to be withering away. Consider the many faces of state power that are not about to crumble: intelligence collection; military expenditure and operations; the setting of monetary policy and interest rates; the collection and disbursement of revenue; the creation and enforcement of regulations. States are surely challenged by globalization, and many may succumb to it, but its effects cannot be described as a frontal assault, and the demise of states is far from a foregone conclusion.
If the old touchstones of globalization analysis are looking pretty worn for the wearing, where does that leave us? I propose two new tenets of globalization that recent history seems to uphold:
1. Globalization subverts hierarchies. Indeed, it is not state power that is waning, it is state power expressed in the form of bureaucracy. Globalization speeds the pace of life, of events, of the spread of ideas, of the necessity for decisionmaking. Sclerotic state bureaucracies -- and any other bureaucracies for that matter, corporate or otherwise -- can only keep up for so long. Here is where the purported loss of state power may be visible; for while organizations that are flexible and adaptable have no problem adjusting to the speed of current decision cycles, those that require reams of forms filled out in triplicate, several layers of command between action and decision, and administration by committee are the ones most likely to be found mired in scandal, backlogs, and ultimately, irrelevancy.
The very medium through which I deliver this message is one of the more prominent examples. A pulsing, living, breathing conscious thing called the internet, but which is actually the online mind of a large proportion of humanity, is constantly seeking new information, devouring it, processing it, transmitting it, analyzing it, storing it, and so on in iterations ad infinitum. Compared to traditional means of performing those same functions, it is blisteringly fast. Moreover, it has little imposed order within its organization. What hierarchy may exist is highly decentralized and spontaneously generated ex machina. There is no top-down organization and drawing a wire-diagram of even the smallest portion of it would soon prove frustrating. The relationship to subversion of hierarchies is not hard to comprehend. One of the earliest texts on the implications of the internet, the cluetrain manifesto declared that "hyperlinks subvert hierarchy." In the intervening years, this has proved true. And so on to the next point:
2. Globalization leads to a decentralization of all aspects of human existence. Whereas cranks like the Unabomber once worried that the forces of history were turning human beings into "mere cogs in the social machine," now we know better. The "machine" is decentralizing, and is no longer singular, having made itself into a networked entity, not a singly hierarchy. And the results for human choice have been, and will continue to be, nearly unimaginable. Humans are not cogs in a machine -- they are more and more free radicals in a large interconnected organism. Certainly we are connected to others in many more ways, and in some cases new ways, than we once were, but at the same time our freedom of activity has not been circumscribed -- in most cases it has been enhanced dramatically. In the United States for example, a country that was recently declared to be a Free Agent Nation, is now developing a do-it-yourself economy, such that, for example, anyone with the time and inclination to do so can use services such as eMachineShop, and draw on a worldwide manufacturing and supply network. Such trends are expected to increase dramatically.
What does all this mean for the future of warfare? Several things: while violent conflict may be localized, if there are fundamental ideas underlying that conflict (as opposed to, say, local resource scarcity), the ideas will not be localized in the slightest. Walling off any one part of the world in the hopes that it will not impede upon the rest will prove useless.
Moreover, if decentralization is the order of the day, then the states that allow their functions to be decentralized will probably retain more power than those that continue to try to control their tasks via rigid hierarchies.
Finally, networked global actors, whether states, non-state groups, religious organizations, criminal enterprises, or basically any other formal or informal group of people, will continue to be dramatically more nimble than their hierarchical counterparts and competitors.
In many areas of warfare, theorists are attempting to understand and work within the ethic of decentralization. Philip Bobbitt in The Shield of Achilles, creates the concept of the market-state. Though he does not express it in the terms of hierarchy and decentralization used here, the goal of the market-state is to perform the functions of the state through decentralized and networked means -- markets, whether via privatization or other sorts of proto-markets. Some examples he offers are security warranties through which one state might offer a sort of guarantee to aid another that is more akin to an insurance policy than an alliance. Bobbitt also mentions programs such as "lease-hire security insurance, licensing some forms of defense technology and emphasizing the U.S. role in providing information, missile defense, and even intervention for hire."
Whereas Bobbitt is a strategist by training, David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla study networks and networked forms of warfare at the tactical and operational levels. In works like Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy and Swarming and the Future of Conflict they discuss the advantages and disadvantages of networked forms of organizations and their preferred tactic, swarming. One development that seems to be influenced by the RAND researchers is the Marine Corps' experiments with a form of networked ground warfare called USMC Distributed Operations, which is about
enabling the ground elements to conduct successful NCW [network-centric warfare] against an adaptive, asymmetric enemy.
It is important to remember that no new programs develop from scratch. The US military's officer and NCO corps will have to undergo a variety of changes if distributed operations or other networked forms of battle organization and doctrine are to be adopted. Those systems, that of officers in particular, rest upon ancient ideas of aristocracy and noblesse oblige. Can the US military perform what might seem to be a subversion of this storied hierarchy?
It should be noted that whether it can or not, many private organizations may be able to do so with ease. The growing private military industry is as capable as any state of creating and provisioning the types of security markets that Bobbitt envisions and the types of decentralized tactical units that are foreseen by Arquilla and Ronfeldt. If the US military, or other state militaries prove too hierarchical to adapt to the decentralized, globalized world in which we live, other actors now waiting in the wings, many of them private, will rise to fill the void.
Such a vision of the future of warfare seems dark and mysterious, one in which the Leviathan of the state could easily break down. Perhaps. But a future in which anyone can publish anything might have once seemed frightening, just as a future in which anyone could worship as they pleased still does to many. There is just enough reason to believe that the future decentralized security market, both private and public, will serve its ultimate citizens – or consumers – just as efficiently as other new markets serve us today.
November 8, 2005
Globalization and War Online Symposium
At the invitation of Mark Safranski, (aka Zenpundit), I am participating for the rest of the week in THE ZENPUNDIT ROUNDTABLE: ON GLOBALIZATION AND WAR! Now this is going to be some great stuff! Here's the line-up:
The Zenpundit Roundtable:
Bruce Kesler representing Democracy Project
Professor Doug Macdonald of Colgate University
Simon of Simon World
Professor Sam Crane of Williams College and The Useless Tree
Chester of The Adventures of Chester
Professor RJ Rummel of the University of Hawaii and Democratic Peace
Paul D. Kretkowski of Beacon
Stand by for lots of interesting thoughts! We've all already submitted our posts to Zenpundit and he promises to release three a day, along with a "moderator's post". I'll be cross-posting my own thoughts here at Adventures and hope to comment on the other posts as well.
I got quite a headful of globalization theory at Duke, both in my major and in a FOCUS Program that I did as a freshman, since discontinued, called, "Globalization and Cultural Change." Combine that with my military adventures and this is all right up my alley. I just love it.