Hat tip to Kanani Fong of Kitchen Dispatch
At the Siskel Center, 164 N State St, Chicago. IL. 60601
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Hat tip to Kanani Fong of Kitchen Dispatch
At the Siskel Center, 164 N State St, Chicago. IL. 60601
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 12th January 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
We now have a re-elected president Obama who no longer has to face another election. He has “more flexibility”" as he assured Russian president Medvedev. His cabinet appointments so far give us a good view of what the next four years, at least, will bring. David Ingatius gives us the leftist view of the future in a Washington Post story.
Thinking about Eisenhower’s presidency helps clarify the challenges and dilemmas of Barack Obama’s second term. Like Ike, Obama wants to pull the nation back from the overextension of global wars of the previous decade. Like Ike, he wants to trim defense spending and reduce the national debt.
I would hardly call Obama an example of Eisenhower-like determination in national defense. Ignatius seems to believe that Israel is an ally best abandoned.
Here’s a Christmas-y song that I think is beautiful:
The song was written and sung by Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.
Here’s what Hynde said at a rock concert in 2003, not that long after the 9/11 attacks:
“Have we gone to war yet?” she asked sarcastically, early on. “We (expletive) deserve to get bombed. Bring it on.” Later she yelled, “Let’s get rid of all the economic (expletive) this country represents! Bring it on, I hope the Muslims win!”
I like several Pretenders songs (Back on the Chain Gang, for example), and this pretty much spoiled them for me. I’m not boycotting the group…I don’t turn the radio off if one of their songs comes on…it’s just…sad.
Fast forward to 2012. The Korean rapper known as Psy (“Gangnam Style”) was scheduled to perform at a Christmas concert (a benefit for Children’s National Medical Center) which is traditionally attended by the President of the United States. It turns out that in 2002, he smashed a model American tank onstage “to oppose 37,000 U.S. troops that descended on the Korean Peninsula” (in the words of a CBS Local writer who seems to be as ignorant of history as Psy himself evidently is)…and a couple of years later, he rapped:
Kill those f***ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives/Kill those f***ing Yankees who ordered them to torture/Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers/Kill them all slowly and painfully
This rant was apparently inspired at least in part by the murder in Iraq of a Korean missionary by Islamic terrorists after the SK government refused to cancel its plan to send troops in support of the Iraq war.
After the information about Psy’s past performances came out (and Psy issued a standard pro-forma apology). some people thought that Obama might have declined to attend a concert at which Psy was a star attraction. But they were wrong, and he did attend.
One would think it would be obvious that for the commander-in-chief to attend a Psy concert..given the above backstory..is highly disrespectful to American military people, and indeed to Americans as a whole. What would have been most appropriate would have been for the concert organizers to disinvite Psy. Failing this (and there might have been contractual reasons making it impossible even had the organizers been inclined this way), Obama could have issued a brief statement of regret that it was impossible for him to attend given Psy’s comments about Americans. This would have demonstrated that the President has respect for his own country, and that he expects such respect to be shown by others.
No one familiar with Obama’s history would really be surprised that he did not choose this course. What is slightly surprising, and more than slightly disturbing, is that Obama’s attendance seems to have been just fine with many Americans, and with most of the old-line media. This Atlantic writer, for example, uses the Psy-Obama handshake to bash any “right-wingers” who might see anything wrong with Obama’s presence at the concert.
Of course, when a couple of months ago Americans in Benghazi were actually killed, as opposed to just being threatened with being killed, most of the old media showed great lack of interest in digging into the feckless Administration behavior that led to this debacle.
What is pretty clear is that we have a substantial number of people in this country who simply do not identify as Americans. They may identify with their profession, or with their social class, or with their educational background and asserted intellectual position, or maybe even with their locality…but identification with the American polity is missing. (And this phenomenon seems to be strongest among those whose self-concept is most closely tied in with their educational credentials.)
What such people do generally care about…a lot..is coolness, which means they care about entertainers and celebrities. We now have a President who apparently cares more about the transient glory of being associated with a flash-in-the-pan rapper (and whoever else sang at this concert) than about showing respect to those he has the responsibility to command. And this is evidently just fine with many among the media and academic elites.
[cross-posted at zenpundit.com]
Owen West, commodities trader, novelist and USMC Major in the Reserves has written a remarkable book in his war story of counterinsurgency in Khalidiya, a decaying rural town in the deadly Anbar province, heartland of Iraq’s Sunni insurgency. A success story for COIN, but also a very cautionary tale of the transformation of the Iraqi Brigade 3-1, from a dispirited, ill-equipped, poorly led unit distrusted and ignored by it’s American “partner” battalion and under siege by a hostile population into a self-confident, elite, combat force, “the Snake-Eaters”, feared by insurgents and respected by townspeople – and of their American advisors of Team Outcast who struggled to broker this transformation.
After reading The Snake-Eaters and reflecting, the book speaks to readers at different levels.
Read the rest of this entry »
In a previous post, I asked a question about leverages in terms of foreign policy:
A key–an essential–question on leverages at Abu Muqawama (Dr. Andrew Exum):
Where things get tricky is when one tries to decide what to do about that. The principle problem is one that has been in my head watching more violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Egypt: the very source of U.S. leverage against the regimes in Bahrain and Egypt is that which links the United States to the abuses of the regime in the first place. So if you want to take a “moral” stand against the abuses of the regime in Bahrain and remove the Fifth Fleet, congratulations! You can feel good about yourself for about 24 hours — or until the time you realize that you have just lost the ability to schedule a same-day meeting with the Crown Prince to press him on the behavior of Bahrain’s security forces. Your leverage, such as it was, has just evaporated. The same is true in Egypt. It would feel good, amidst these violent clashes between the Army and protesters, to cut aid to the Egyptian Army. But in doing so, you also reduce your own leverage over the behavior of the Army itself.
Okay, so we have leverage with an Army cracking down on its own people, an Army fattened on US military aid and training. I thought bilateral military training was supposed to mitigate the worst instincts of some armies? Isn’t that the theory? What does it mean to have leverage? To what end? To what purpose? I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone does, so Dr. Exum has a point. We have no strategy (link goes to Zen) within which to place “trade offs”. Well, if we do, I can’t see it.
Greg Scoblete at The Compass (RealClearWorld) asks the question in a much better fashion (I enjoy reading that blog, whether I agree or disagree with specific points):
But all of this begs an important question – leverage for what? The idea is that the U.S. invests in places like Bahrain and Egypt because it needs or wants something in return. During the Cold War, it was keeping these states out of the Soviet orbit. In the 1990s and beyond, it was ensuring these states remained friendly with Israel and accommodative to U.S. military power in the region. Today, what? What is it that U.S. policy requires from Egypt and Bahrain that necessitates supporting these regimes during these brutal crack downs?
How should we view American policy toward the Middle East? What is the larger strategic framework within which we ought to view the various relationships? What is the optimal posture for the United States? Folks, I don’t know. I’d love to know your opinions on the subject.
Posted in Blogging, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, Society, Terrorism, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Detente’s greatest achievement was the opening of consistent contact between the United States and the USSR in the early 1970s—a gradually intensifying engagement on many levels and in many areas that, as it grew over the years, would slowly but widely open the Soviet Union to information, contacts, and ideas from the West and would facilitate an ongoing East-West dialogue that would influence the thinking of many Soviet officials and citizens.
- From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War by Robert M. Gates. (I am currently reading this book).
Indeed Washington’s on-again off-again attention to the region, driven by relatively short term developments like the Soviet-Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the war against terror, makes Iranian and Chinese overtures appealing to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.
- A Sino-Persian grab for the Indian Ocean? by Jamsheed K. Choksy (Small Wars Journal)
Earlier this month the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, twisted his mouth into the shape of a pretzel to explain why it was okay for the U.S. to support Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal but not okay to support North Korea’s arsenal and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He also saw no problem with the United States as much declaring war on India when he sympathized with Pakistan’s need to use nuclear weapons against India in order to feel safe.
Then Americans wonder why Pyongyang and Tehran laugh at Washington’s lectures on nuclear proliferation. The leaders of both regimes have been doing clandestine nuke business with Pakistan for decades. They know Pakistan is the biggest nuclear weapons proliferator on the planet — and so does Mullen, who is the highest ranking military officer in the USA and as such is the principal military advisor to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.
That’s not the half of the double standard America has practiced with regard to Pakistan. Barely a day goes by that the American news media doesn’t warn of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran because of the regime’s end-of-time religious views, which American news analyst John Batchelor has termed “hallucinatory.”
It doesn’t get more hallucinatory than the views of Pakistani media mogul, Majeed Nizami, the owner of the Nawa-i-Waqt, The Nation, and Waqt TV channel. During a recent speech at a function given in his honor he declared that Pakistan’s missiles and nuclear bombs were superior to “India’s ghosts,” and that unleashing nuclear war against India was imperative. “Don’t worry if a couple of our cities are also destroyed in the process.”
That would be the same Nation newspaper that cites the United States government as being behind every terrorist incident in the world, including the Times Square attack.
If you think Nizami is an isolated nut case, you don’t know much about him, or Pakistan. He is the true face of the most powerful factions in Pakistan including its military leaders.
But in the view of the U.S. government and news media it’s okay for Pakistan’s military to hold hallucinatory views whereas it’s not okay for Iran’s leaders because, well, because.
It’s the same for anti-Semitic views that abound in Pakistan. In the same article that discussed Nizami’s view that nuclear Armageddon was the ticket to peace in South Asia, Pakistani journalist Shakil Chaudhary reported on a June 18 column in Nizami’s Nawa-i-Waqt paper in which Lt. Gen. Abdul Qayyum (ret), former chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills, approvingly quoted Adolph Hitler as saying: “I could have annihilated all the Jews in the world, but I left some of them so that you can know why I was killing them.”
- He ain’t heavy, he’s my genocidal, hallucinatory, two-faced ‘ally’ by blogger Pundita.
Why do you suppose certain factions in DC appear so adamant on retaining Pakistan as a “strategic asset” post 9-11 and post Abbottabad? CBz blogger Joseph Fouche recently posted a nice piece about the tendency for some to see patterns and intrigues when mere muddle may well explain reality. Sadly, I am prone to this….
So what exactly is our muddle? Is what I’ve posted above overstated and alarmist? State and USAID want to keep its various lucrative aid programs? The Pentagon/DOD want to keep its favorite “proxy” Army for future use against any kind of “sino-islamic” alliance – or Russia or Iran? Tons of money (supposedly….take all of this with a grain of salt) sloshing around DC from various foreign entities, such as the Saudis or the Pak Mil/ISI? Plain old strategic “incompetence” typical of a big, energetic and free-wheeling democracy?
What other rationales might be keeping warring DC factions up at night? Placating the Saudis and keeping the oil flowing? Monitoring Pakistani nukes? (Okay, this one for sure). Preventing even more proliferation via Pakistani-Saudi transfers?
The world is three dimensional and complicated with various currents pulling our policy makers in different directions. I’d be delighted to hear creative thinking on any of these topics by one of the Republican presidential candidates. Your thoughts? Opinions? Relevent anecdotes, articles, films, or books?
Help a gal out, people.
The following is a Memorial Day post that I wrote last year for my old blog:
And so it rained two years in a row on Memorial Day, but this year the rain was less gentle and something more fierce. Hard silvery lines bouncing off the black pavement. Asphalt covered in puddles and rivulets and running water everywhere. The thunder and lightning were violent: windows shuddered, they shaked and rattled and car alarms went off. Everything just a little bit mad, a little bit wild, a little bit out-of-control. As the day went on the rain eased and slowed and stopped and the sun came out, a soggy late afternoon sun peering through a humid and blurry mist.
No parade for me today. I worked at home and waited for the on-call pager to go off, the cell to ring, the hospital to beckon, but it only rained and thundered and “lightning-ed”.
And how many years has it been now?
In 2003, I got an email message in my inbox. An ordinary work day for me, filled with trays and trays of biopsies and phone calls from aggrieved physicians. “The patient is calling. Is the biopsy result ready yet?”
There it was: the photo of a young man in uniform with a flag displayed behind him and a message written below the photograph:
A woman that I’d met a few times – once while we both served as bridesmaids at the Los Angeles wedding of a mutual friend – had sent me an email, one in a long line of messages to everyone in an email list. He looked so young.
He was young.
It’s curious how often during the course of a normal day that I think of you, and of your sister, and of that small stylish wedding before the war where your sister and I helped our friend Kimberly with all the final little wedding details.
RIP, Joe. People that never even met you – never even knew you – miss you.
Posted by Lexington Green on 26th May 2011 (All posts by Lexington Green)
As I previously mentioned, my favorite book from last year was the memoirs of Lord Wolseley. I am currently reading a decent biography of Wolseley, The Model Major General, A Biography of Field-Marshall Lord Wolseley by Joseph H. Lehmann (1964). Lehmann’s book fills in many interesting details, but it cannot possibly capture the verve and excitement and unrefined Victorian era honesty and cultural confidence of the memoir, which is in Wolseley’s own words. I remember picking up the Lehmann book years ago, it was marked as $6, but it was half off because it had sat on the shelf at Bookman’s Corner for over a year. It is amazing that a man as world-renowned, powerful and influential as Wolseley should have fallen into such absolute obscurity. In 1890 literally anyone in the world who could read a newspaper would have known who he was. Now it may be the case that not one person in a million has heard of him, i.e. that maybe fewer than 7,000 people in the world know who he was. Such is the fleetingness of fame and human greatness.
One of the most stirring parts of Wolseley’s altogether thrilling memoir is his account of the Red River Expedition of 1870.
Two snippets will give a flavor.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 7th March 2011 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
I had occasion today to give myself a quick refresher course on honor killings, one form of which is already present in the Torah as of Leviticus 21.9:
And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.
and found myself once again noting that there is a substantial swathe of regions of the world where honor killings are found, and that where it is found (including in immigrant communities from those parts of the world) the practice is not confined to any one religious group.
Hence this DoubleQuote:
I think it is appropriate to consider honor killing a form of religious violence when the claim is made by those who do the killing that they are acting in the name of their religion — but that it is also important to distinguish such acts committed in a cultural context in which they are practiced across religions from acts that are the exclusive province of one religious tradition.
There are examples of honor killings which are performed in the name of Islam, and/or advocated by Islamic scholars — and the same could no doubt be said of other religious traditions — but honor killing as a genre is fundamentally more cultural than religious.
The analytic point:
From my point of view as an analyst, it is important to note and compare both religious and cultural drivers — neither avoiding mention of the one out of “correctness” — nor overlooking the other for lack of comparative data.
Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Britain, Christianity, Human Behavior, Immigration, India, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, Morality and Philosphy, Religion, Society | 36 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th January 2011 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I have previously posted my opinion that Afghanistan is not worth the cost. I stated my reasons why we should leave here and here and here. Nothing has changed there but a lot is happening elsewhere in the Middle East.
Egypt’s escalating tensions amount to the first real foreign crisis for the Obama administration that it did not inherit. The crisis serves as a test of Obama’s revamped White House operation. Daley, a former Commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, is now running a staff that is briefing Obama regularly on Egypt.
They have handled it badly. This is a very dangerous time for us. The Egyptian Army seems to be siding with the protesters. That may or may not last.
The left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that Egyptian army officers in Cairo’s central square have tossed aside their helmets and joined the crowd. “The Army and the people are one,” they chanted. MSNBC’s photoblog shows protesters jubilantly perched on M1A1 tanks. The real significance of these defections is that the army officers would not have done so had they not sensed which way the winds were blowing — in the Egyptian officer corps.
And even as Mubarak tottered, the Saudi king threw his unequivocal backing behind the aging dictator — not hedging like Obama — but the Iranians continued to back the Egyptian protesters. The Saudi exchange tumbled 6.44% on news of unrest from Cairo. Meanwhile, the Voice of America reports that Israel is “extremely concerned” that events in Egypt could mean the end of the peace treaty between the two countries. If Mubarak isn’t finished already, a lot of regional actors are calculating like he might be.
But Washington will not be hurried. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that President Obama will review his Middle Eastern policy after the unrest in Egypt subsides. The future, in whose spaces the administration believed its glories to lie, plans to review its past failures in the same expansive place. Yet time and oil wait for no one. Crude oil prices surged as the markets took the rapid developments in. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu observed that any disruption to Middle East oil supplies “could actually bring real harm.”
Of course, Mr Chu should not worry as we have wind and solar to take up the slack. Actually, we get our oil from Canada and Mexico but the price of oil shifts with the world’s supply.
The present Obama commitment to Afghanistan is ironic since he promised to bring troops home but he has declared that Iraq was NOT necessary and Afghanistan is. This is slightly crazy. The Iraq invasion was an example of US power being applied in a critical location; right in the middle of the Middle East. Afghanistan is a remote tribal society reachable only through unreliable Pakistan. It has minimal effect on world events. We went there to punish the Taliban for harboring the people who attacked our country. Thousands of them have been killed. We have little of interest there now. We should have left last year.
With a Shi’ite dominated government in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a Muslim Brotherhood that may keep Egypt in neutral or tacitly accept Teheran’s leadership, how could things possibly get worse?
They can if Saudi Arabia starts to go. And what response can the U.S. offer? With U.S. combat power in landlocked Afghanistan and with the last U.S. combat forces having left Iraq in August 2010, the U.S. will have little on the ground but the State Department. “By October 2011, the US State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police and this task will largely be carried out by private contractors.” The bulk of American hard power will be locked up in secondary Southwest Asian theater, dependent on Pakistan to even reach the sea with their heavy equipment.
This is not where we want to be. The problem is that Obama and Hillary and the rest of this administration have no concept of strategy.
The Obama administration made fundamental strategic mistakes, whose consequences are now unfolding. As I wrote in the Ten Ships, a post which referenced the Japanese Carrier fleet which made up the strategic center of gravity of the enemy during the Pacific War, the center of gravity in the present crisis was always the Middle East. President Obama, by going after the criminals who “attacked America on 9/11″ from their staging base was doing the equivalent of bombing the nameless patch of ocean 200 miles North of Oahu from which Nagumo launched his raid. But he was not going after the enemy center of gravity itself.
For all of its defects the campaign in Iraq was at least in the right place: at the locus of oil, ideology and brutal regimes that are the Middle East. Ideally the campaign in Iraq would have a sent a wave of democratization through the area, undermined the attraction of radical Islam, provided a base from which to physically control oil if necessary. That the campaign failed to attain many of its objectives should not obscure the fact that its objectives were valid. It made far more strategic sense than fighting tribesmen in Afghanistan. Ideology, rogue regimes, energy are the three entities which have replaced the “ten ships” of 70 years ago. The means through which these three entities should be engaged ought to be the subject of reasoned debate, whether by military, economic or technological means. But the vital nature of these objectives ought not to be. Neutralize the intellectual appeal of radical Islam, topple the rogue regimes, and ease Western dependence on oil and you win the war. Yet their centrality, and even their existence is what the politicians constantly deny.
Events are unfolding, but they have not yet run their course; things are still continuing to cascade. If the unrest spreads to the point where the Suez and regional oil fall into anti-Western hands, the consequences would be incalculable. The scale of the left’s folly: their insistence on drilling moratoriums, opposition to nuclear power, support of negotiations with dictators at all costs, calls for unilateral disarmament, addiction to debt and their barely disguised virulent anti-Semitism should be too manifest to deny.
Leftism is making common cause with Islamic terrorism. Why ? I don’t really know. Some of it may be the caricature of Jews making money and being good at business. Some may simply be the extension of animosity to Israel extending to all Jews. The people behind Obama are not free of these sentiments. His Justice Department is filled with lawyers who defended terrorists at Guantanamo. Holder seems uninterested in voting rights cases if a black is the offender. He was even unwilling to say that Islamic terrorism was behind 9/11.
Because it will hit them where it hurts, in the lifestyle they somehow thought came from some permanent Western prosperity that was beyond the power of their fecklessness to destroy. It will be interesting to see if anyone can fill up their cars with carbon credits when the oil tankers stop coming or when black gold is marked at $500 a barrel. It is even possible that within a relatively short time the only government left friendly to Washington in the Middle East may be Iraq. There is some irony in that, but it is unlikely to be appreciated.
I would add a bit to this from one of my favorite essays on the topic. It compares Gorbachev to Obama.
Nor are the two men, themselves, remotely comparable in their backgrounds, or political outlook. Gorbachev, for instance, had come up from tractor driver, not through elite schools including Harvard Law; he lacked the narcissism that constantly seeks self-reflection through microphones and cameras, or the sense that everything is about him.
On the other hand, some interesting comparisons could be made between the thuggish party machine of Chicago, which raised Obama as its golden boy; and the thuggish party machine of Moscow, which presented Gorbachev as its most attractive face.
Both men have been praised for their wonderful temperaments, and their ability to remain unperturbed by approaching catastrophe. But again, the substance is different, for Gorbachev’s temperament was that of a survivor of many previous catastrophes.
Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.
In another passage:
There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.
A variant of this is the frequently expressed denial of the law of unintended consequences: the belief that, if the effect you intend is good, the actual effect must be similarly happy.
Very small children, the mad, and certain extinct primitive tribes, have shared in this belief system, but only the fully college-educated liberal has the vocabulary to make it sound plausible.
With an incredible rapidity, America’s status as the world’s pre-eminent superpower is now passing away. This is a function both of the nearly systematic abandonment of U.S. interests and allies overseas, with metastasizing debt and bureaucracy on the home front.
The turmoil in Egypt is a test that, I fear, Obama and his Secretary of State, will not pass.
Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anti-Americanism, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, History, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, National Security, Obama, Politics, Terrorism | 1 Comment »
Posted by Charles Cameron on 8th January 2011 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ cross-posted from the DIME/PMESII boards at LinkedIn and Zenpundit ]
I’ve been hammering away at the importance of a nuanced understanding of religious drivers in successful modeling of our world, and today I ran across some paragraphs from a book by Gary Sick that explain, forcefully and briefly, just why this seems like a big deal to me.
Sick, who was the National Security Council’s point man on Iran at the time of the Ayatollah Khomeini‘s Iranian Revolution, recounts how totally unprepared we were for the sudden emergence of a theocracy in his book, All Fall Down:
Vision is influenced by expectations, and perceptions — especially in politics — are colored by the models and analogies all of us carry in our heads. Unfortunately, there were no relevant models in Western political tradition to explain what we were seeing in Iran during the revolution. This contradiction between expectation and reality was so profound and so persistent that it interfered fundamentally with the normal processes of observation and analysis on which all of us instinctively rely.
On one level, it helps to explain why the early-warning functions of all existing intelligence systems — from SAVAK to Mossad to the CIA — failed so utterly in the Iranian case. Certainly, US intelligence capability to track the shah’s domestic opposition had been allowed to deteriorate almost to the vanishing point. But even if it had not, it would probably have looked in the wrong place. Only in retrospect is it obvious that a good intelligence organization should have focused its attention on the religious schools, the mosques and the recorded sermons of an aged religious leader who had been living in exile for fourteen years. As one State Department official remarked in some exasperation after the revolution, “Whoever took religion seriously?”
Even after it became clear that the revolution was gaining momentum and that the movement was being organized through the mosques in the name of Khomeini, observers of all stripes assumed that the purely religious forces were merely a means to the end of ousting the shah and that their political role would be severely limited in the political environment following the shah’s departure, The mosque, it was believed, would serve as the transmission belt of the revolution, but its political importance would quickly wane once its initial objectives had been achieved.
The blissful ignorance didn’t end back there in 1979. Right at the end of 2006, reporter Jeff Stein asked Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Dem, TX), the incoming head of the House Intelligence Committee (which has oversight of the entire US Intelligence Community) whether Al-Qaida was Sunni or Shiite – noting in two asides, “Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East” and “To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?”
Reyes guessed wrong – not good – and so did a lot of other senior people in the FBI, Congress and so forth. Understandable perhaps, but still, not good.
The popular media keep many of the rest of us confused, too. Glenn Beck has been misinformed by the Christian thriller writer Joel Rosenberg, and refers to the “Twelvers” when he means the “Anjoman-e Hojjatieh” -which, to extend Stein’s point, is the equivalent of saying “Catholic Church” when you mean “Legionnaires of Christ”.
Okay, we know that religion has something to do with all this Iran – and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq, and Yemen, and Somalia, and Nigeria — and maybe even homegrown — mess. And I agree, other people’s religions really aren’t our business normally, and it’s not surprising if we don’t know much about them.
Except, I’d say, when religions take up the sword, or have significant power to influence decisions about the use of nuclear weapons — at which point it’s appropriate to get up to speed…
Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Beck-O-Lanche, Christianity, History, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Religion, Terrorism | 12 Comments »
Posted by Charles Cameron on 31st December 2010 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]
Zenpundit recently posted a video of a terrific hour-plus-long speech by Doug Hofstadter – one of the best videos I’ve ever taken the time to watch – in which Hofstadter, the guy who brought us Godel Escher Bach and much more, talked about analogy and suggested that it’s at the very core of human cognition.
I posted a poem and some comments in response — they got a bit mangled in terms of formatting, which may be fixed by the time you read this – and Zen then posed a question:
Charles – there’s a large portion of visual imagery in the passage you cite: do you think the incorporation of imagery (thus activating a powerful region of the brain) enhances or distorts the underlying conceptual connection in an analogical construction?
That’s what set me off this time…
I think of a poem as a braiding of three strands: a strand of sound or music, a strand of image, and a strand of meaning. For convenience, I’ll usually include a fourth – wit – but it’s actually more like a pearl that can be threaded on the strand of meaning.
From my POV, the poem is thus essentially a screenplay for the mind’s eye – and if a poem begins with strong music, at the very least I’d like it to end with strong music, if it starts with wit or wordplay, I’d like it to end with that too, and if it has imagery, I’d like the images to unspool in a way not unlike the images in a movie…
When I’m reading poems by others, and particularly if I’m teaching a poetry class, I’ll sometimes notice a sudden disjunction in one of the three strands. If it’s clearly for effect, all’s well and good – but if it’s unconscious, unintended, it will always reveal an aspect of the poem that hasn’t been worked through yet, and applying conscious attention to it will result in the emergence of new material from the unconscious store that enriches the final product. Sometimes, that kind of attention reaches something that was psychologically difficult, a disjunction in soul if you like – and the result of moving through it to the finished poem can be very much like a breakthrough insight in therapy.
But “poetry is not a hospital” – if Apollinaire didn’t say that, and I used to think he did, I shall.
From my POV, therefore, there are analogies of sound, analogies of meaning, and analogies of image. There’s an analogy of sound between tomb and womb – we call it rhyme. There’s certainly an analogy of meaning – whence we come at birth, whither we go at death. And if you like, there’s an analogy of image – when I think of the “twinning” of those two words, I see life itself as running across a brief stretch of grass between two caves…
When as here, the analogy runs across all three braids, you have a very powerful “conceit” or poetic device.
The graphic match, together with sonic rhyme, between the visuals of a hotel room fan and the rotors of a helicopter at the beginning of Apocalypse Now parallels the sense of explosive heat and frustrated inaction of Captain Willard trapped in Saigon with the sense of freedom and clarity he feels when sent on mission up-river – again, an analogy in three strands.
But analogy can also cut across the senses in a different way. Here’s Hermann Hesse‘s view of the Glass Bead Game:
Throughout its history the Game was closely allied with music, and usually proceeded according to musical or mathematical rules. One theme, two themes, or three themes were stated, elaborated, varied, and underwent a development quite similar to that of the theme in a Bach fugue or a concerto movement . A Game, for example, might start from a given astronomical configuration, or from the actual theme of a Bach fugue, or from a sentence out of Leibniz or the Upanishads, and from this theme, depending on the intentions and talents of the player, it could either further explore and elaborate the initial motif or else enrich its expressiveness by allusions to kindred concepts.
Beginners learned how to establish parallels, by means of the Game’s symbols, between a piece of classical music and the formula for some law of nature. Experts and Masters of the Game freely wove the initial theme into unlimited combination.
That’s analogy cutting across disciplines, and across sensory modalities too.
There was a period of about a dozen years when I almost completely stopped writing poetry, and concentrated on devising a variant on Hesse’s game that would be playable on a napkin in a café – conceiving of it as an art that would combine tight form (think: sonnet, sonata) with the entire spectrum or palette of human thought, visual, verbal, numerical, aural.
The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.
And that was written before the world wide web allowed us to mingle visual, verbal, numerical and aural elements so directly in a single presentation.
You can imagine how delighted I was, therefore, to stumble upon Sven Birkerts‘ writing:
There are tremendous opportunities, and we are probably on the brink of the birth of whole new genres of art which will work through electronic systems. These genres will likely be multi-media in ways we can’t imagine. Digitalization, the idea that the same string of digits can bring image, music, or text, is a huge revolution in and of itself. When artists begin to grasp the creative possibilities of works that are neither literary, visual, or musical, but exist using all three forms in a synthetic collage fashion, an enormous artistic boom will occur.
That’s what the HipBone Games were all about…
That’s what I was reaching for, back in the days before I even called my games the HipBone Games — when they were still TenStones Games played on a board whose geometry I borrowed from the Sephirotic Tree – when I played TS Eliot‘s poem, The dove descending, in juxtaposition to Vaughan Williams‘ piece for violin and orchestra, The lark ascending…
…matching music with poem, descent with ascent, dove with lark, and the natural world of the English countryside with the “wrought” world of Eliot’s London in the pentecostal Blitz.
I don’t think Stephen or I had web browsers at the time – we played that game using AOL’s early texting function, so the music was entirely in the mind…
And I still think of that game as one of the loveliest expressions of the “hipbone” art.
Hesse’s game really is, for me, the continuation of poetry by other means…
But then it turns out that analogy is an incredibly powerful aspect of human thought – and one that, IMO, we haven’t explored very deeply, perhaps precisely because it jumps silos and disciplinary boundaries, and creates fresh insight…
…which is pretty much as Doug Hofstadter was suggesting in that video Zen posted.
And so this fundamentally analogical frame of mind — which I had developed in a poetic and aesthetic context and applied to the symbolism so dear to the poets, cultural anthropologists, analytical psychologists, and comparative theologians and the like — turned out to be highly applicable and seen as highly creative when applied to real world issues, when I got a job for a couple of years at a small think-tank just outside DC.
Because if linear causality is the warp of the weave of the world, acausal patterning is its woof (or weft) – and frankly, our current techno-civilization is hopelessly warped in the direction of warp, and has very little understanding of woof, of weft, of pattern — of what can only be learned from analogy.
Not that there doesn’t have to be enormous care taken to avoid over-reading parallels. But consider the immediacy of the impact of this DoubleQuote, which I composed in 2003:
Santayana echoes Marx refracts Hegel:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Seen from another angle: history has rhymes to match its reasons…
Posted by Charles Cameron on 23rd December 2010 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]
Martyr and messiah are two of the more intense “roles” in the religious vocabulary, and unlike mystics and saints, both martyrs and messiahs tend to have an impact, not just within their own religious circles but in the wider context of the times.
Martyr and messiah are also words that can be bandied about fairly loosely — so a simple word-search on “messiah” will reveal references to a third-person platform game with some gunplay and the white messiah fable in Avatar, while a search on “martyr” might tell you how to become a martyr for affiliate networks, just as a search on “crusade” will turn up crusades for justice or mental health – my search today even pointed me to a crusade for cloth diapers.
1. Martyrdom and messianism in WikiLeaks
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, both terms crop up occasionally in WikiLeaks, with the Government of Iraq, for instance, banning use of the word “martyr” for soldiers who died in the war with Iran, and US diplomats wiring home a report by an opposition psychiatrist to the effect that “Morally, Chavez [of Venezuela] combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image.” Indeed, the whole paragraph is choc-a-bloc with that kind of imagery, and worth quoting in full:
Ideologically, Chavez wants to project an image of a “utopian socialist,” which de Vries described as someone who is revolutionary, collectivist, and dogmatic. In reality, de Vries argues, Chavez is an absolute pragmatist when it comes to maintaining power, which makes him a conservative. Coupled with Chavez’ self-love (narcissism), sense of destiny, and obsession with Venezuelan symbolism, this pragmatism makes Chavez look more like fascist, however, rather than a socialist. Morally, Chavez combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image. De Vries, however, said Chavez is a realist who uses morals and ethics to fit the situation.
PM Netanyahu of Israel was using the term “messianic” with a little more precision when he described the Iranian regime as “crazy, retrograde, and fanatical, with a Messianic desire to speed up a violent ‘end of days.’”
2. Julian Assange in the role of martyr
The words martyr and messiah, then, carry a symbolic freight that is at the very least comparable to that of flags and scriptures – so it is interesting that both terms crop up in the recent BBC interview with Julian Assange.
My reading of the interview suggests that it is Assange himself who introduces the meme of martyrdom, though not the word itself, when he answers a question about the impact of the sexual accusations against him, “What impact do you think that will have on your organisation and what sort of figure do you think you, Julian Assange, cut in the face of all this. How will you be regarded? What will it do to you?” with the response, “I think it will be quite helpful for our organisation.”
In the follow up, interviewer John Humphrys twice uses the word “martyr” explicitly:
Q: Really? You see yourself as a martyr then?
JA: I think it will focus an incredible attention on the details of this case and then when the details of this case come out and people look to see what the actions are compared to the reality of the facts, other than that, it will expose a tremendous abuse of power. And that will, in fact, be helpful to this organisation. And, in fact, the extra focus that has occurred over the last two weeks has been very helpful to this organisation.
Q: Just to answer that question then. You think this will be good for you and good for Wikileaks?
JA: I’ve had to suffer and we’ve had incredible disruptions.
Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.
JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more.
3. Julian Assange in the role of messiah
If the role of martyr implies, at minimum, that one suffers for a cause, that of messiah implies that one leads it in a profound transformation of the world. Both terms are now found in association with the word “complex” – which applies whenever a individual views himself or herself as a martyr or messiah – but a “messianic complex” is presumably more worrisome than a “martyr complex” if only for the reason that there are many more martyrs than messiahs, many more willing to suffer for a cause than to lead it.
It is accordingly worth noting that it is the interviewer, John Humphrys, who introduces both the word “messianic” and the concept of a “messianic figure” into the interview, although Assange makes no effort to wave it away…
Q: Just a final thought. Do you see yourself… as some sort of messianic figure?
JA: Everyone would like to be a messianic figure without dying. We bringing some important change about what is perceived to be rights of people who expose abuses by powerful corporations and then to resist censorship attacks after the event. We are also changing the perception of the west.
Q: I’m talking about you personally.
JA: I’m always so focussed on my work, I don’t have time to think about how I perceive myself… I had time to perceive myself a bit more in solitary confinement. I was perfectly happy with myself. I wondered what that process would do. Would I think “my goodness, how have I got into this mess, is it all just too hard?”
The world is a very ungrateful place, why should I continue to suffer simply to try and do some good in the world. If the world is so viciously against it ,why don’t I just go off and do some mathematics or write some books? But no, actually, I felt quite at peace.
Q: You want to change the world?
JA: Absolutely. The world has a lot of problems and they need to be reformed. And we only live once. Every person who has some ability to do something about it, if they are a person of good character, has the duty to try and fix the problems in the environment which they’re in.
That is a value, that, yes, comes partly from my temperament. There is also a value that comes from my father, which is that capable, generous men don’t create victims, they try and save people from becoming victims. That is what they are tasked to do. If they do not do that they are not worthy of respect or they are not capable.
4. Julian Assange, martyr and messiah?
I think it is clear that both Assange and his interviewer are in effect reframing the religious terms “martyr” and “messiah” in non-religious, basically psychological senses — although I don’t suppose Assange is exactly claiming to have the two “complexes” I mentioned above.
Here’s what’s curious about this reframing, from a religious studies point of view:
Assange’s implicit acceptance of a “messianic” role undercuts the specific force of the role of “martyr” – one who gives his life for the cause. “Everyone” he says, “would like to be a messianic figure without dying.” Assange wouldn’t exactly object to being a martyr without dying, too.
Posted in Christianity, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Media, Morality and Philosphy, National Security, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Privacy, Religion, Rhetoric, Society, The Press, USA | 9 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 29th October 2010 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
The 2004 Madrid train bombings occurred the week of a national election and cost Prime Minister Aznar his job. This was widely seen as punishment for Spain’s participation in Iraq and the new Socialist government quickly turned tail and fled.
Last week, a UPS cargo flight crashed in Dubai because of a fire in the cargo hold, thought to be caused by lithium batteries. Now, we see several more instances of UPS planes with potential bombs hidden in altered ink cartridges.
Is this bin Laden telling us that he can still do damage from his palatial home in Pakistan ? I think this is just the beginning of this story.
One shouldn’t gloat but…
There were actually two studies done by the same Soros funded group of “researchers”. I did fourteen posts on the first study back in 2004-2005, and I demolished its conclusions using simple methodological arguments that you did not need a degree in statistics to understand. The study was so bad and so transparently wrong that you didn’t need to understand anything about statistics or epidemiological methodology, you just needed to know a little history and have a basic concept of scale.
In my very first post on the subject I predicted that:
Needless to say, this study will become an article of faith in certain circles but the study is obviously bogus on its face.[emp. added]
That prediction proved true. Leftists all over the world not only accepted the 600% inflated figure without hesitation but actively defended the study and its methodology. I confidently made that prediction almost exactly 6 years ago because I was even then beginning to understand a factor in leftists’ behavior: they are nearly completely controlled by delusional narrative
Caroline Glick’s excellent recent column on Iraq, Iran and US strategy.
Baseball Crank on deficits and spending. This is very well done.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 22nd June 2010 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
When I was about 10 years old, my parents had a copy of Ernie Pyle’s book about his life in World War II. I read it and was impressed, inexperienced as I was. Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper at Okinawa. There were great war correspondents in Korea. I remember Marguerite Higgins, who was probably the model for the woman war correspondent in WEB Griffin’s books about that war. The later reporters in Vietnam, from what I know, spent most of their time in Saigon. Higgins was walking next to Robert Capa, the greatest war photographer, when he stepped on the land mine that killed him. She didn’t hang around bars.
The only real war correspondent I know of now is Michael Yon. I read his book, Moment of Truth in Iraq and wrote a review. The only other book that compares with it is Bing West’s The Strongest Tribe but this is because West can add a lot of background from his long history going back to Vietnam. Yon had his troubles, mostly with officious PA officers in Iraq, but has had strong support from the soldiers.
With Iraq winding down, he went next to Afghanistan. Most of his reporting has been on his blog or, more recently, on his facebook page. He has had a lot of trouble with the generals in Afghanistan. Some of us who have doubts about the progress and the chances for success, tend to take his side. He was suddenly expelled from his embed with a US unit several weeks ago. Many of us believed this was due to his harsh criticism of the Canadian general who commanded the sector where a critical bridge that had been left unprotected, was blown up by the Taliban.
Please stay with me. This matters.
And so it goes like this:
Major General Nick Carter (UK) commands RC-South.
Brigadier General Daniel Menard (Canada) commands Task Force Kandahar.
Under BG Menard’s command are three U.S. Battalions and just over 2,800 Canadian forces. (U.S. battalions: 1-12 Infantry Reg.; 2-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment; 97th Military Police Battalion). American combat forces comprise a substantial portion of Menard’s force structure, leaving his command and Canadian civilian leadership open to fair scrutiny, just as American leadership is open to Canadian inquiry. Moreover, while Canada increasingly shies from combat, American units under Canadian command will spill blood under Canadian military leadership that answers to Ottawa.
Kandahar Province is apportioned into battle spaces. As mentioned, TF-Stryker has responsibilities that include Spin Boldak and FOM on Highway 4 that crosses the Tarnak River Bridge. TF-Stryker, however, is not responsible for the bridge itself.
The British Royal Air Force (RAF) is responsible for something called the GDA. The GDA is the Ground Defense Area, and is responsible for security immediately around KAF. By all accounts, the RAF is doing a fine job. The GDA includes the area around the Tarnak River Bridge.
TF-K is responsible for Kandahar, but the specific area of the bridge belongs to the RAF. However, the bridge itself is guarded not by RAF but by ANP (Afghan National Police) mentored by the American 97th MPs. The 97th is under Canadian command through TF-K. And so, at the time of the attack, TF-K was responsible for the physical security on the bridge itself, while GDA had responsibility for the land around the bridge.
Which Coalition partner has final responsibility for this strategic bridge? Is it the RAF who “own” the ground, or TF-K who mentor the ANP guarding the bridge? If an officer were to say this vital bridge is solely the responsibility of the ANP, his judgment would be deemed unsound.
This kind of frankness got him expelled. He was accused of releasing names of KIA before families had been notified. He was accused of disclosing security information that violated OPSEC. None of this was true.
The general who got him expelled ? He was court martialed and convicted. Not for the bridge incident but for other offenses.
The other general Yon has been very critical of is McChrystal.
he writes, “McChrystal is bent over the coffin of the Afghan war with a hammer in his hand and a mouth full of nails”? When asked for his thoughts on the general state of the war, he says one must be intuitive rather than deductive. “Innumerable wild cards are always flying and so the best that one can do is study hard and watch and listen and give it time to mix.” If a reliance on feelings alone is hardly the metric from which one should draft a war plan, consider the recent words of General McChrystal. The purpose of the Marjah operation was to create an “irreversible feeling of momentum,” but, “You don’t feel it here but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside.”
Yon believes the war can still be won, but that a change of command is in order. At this level of warfare, he says, “McChrystal is like a man who has strapped on ice skates for the first time. He might be a great athlete, but he’s learning to skate during the Olympics.” Yon adds that publicly denouncing the commanding general of a war is not an easy thing for him to do, especially considering it means crossing swords with General Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, two men he greatly admires. Indeed, if anyone can turn this war around, Yon believes it is General Petraeus. He concedes such a return to the battlefield is unlikely, and suggests another general whose name fewer people have heard. “General James Mattis from the Marines. I get a good feeling about Mattis but I don’t know. General Petraeus is a known entity and he is solid gold.”
Now, we have the new developments with McChrystal. If you want to know what is happening, read Michael Yon.
Posted by Lexington Green on 19th June 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Voices from many quarters are saying dire things about the American-led campaign in Afghanistan. The prospect of defeat, whatever that may mean in practice, is real. But we are so close to the events, it is hard to know what is and is not critical. And the facts which trickle out allow people who are not insiders to only have a sketchy, pointillist impression of the state of play. There is a lot of noise around a weak signal.
ChicagoBoyz will be convening a group of contributors to look back on the American campaign in Afghanistan from a forty year distance, from 2050.
40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.
This exercise in informed and educated imagination is meant to help us gain intellectual distance from the drumbeat of day to day events, to understand the current situation in Afghanistan more clearly, to think-through the potential outcomes, and to consider the stakes which are in play in the longer run of history for America, for its military, for the region, and for the rest of the world.
The Roundtable contributors will publish their posts and responses during the third and fourth weeks of August, 2010.
The ChicagoBoyz blog is a place where we can think about the unthinkable.
Stand by for further details, including a list of our contributors.
Posted in Afghanistan 2050, Afghanistan/Pakistan, Europe, History, India, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Obama, Politics, Predictions, Russia, Society, Terrorism, USA, Vietnam | 17 Comments »
“The sergeant kept the lower half of his body still and raised his flashlight attached under his rifle barrel. He cautiously squeezed the handle grip shining light at his feet. Sure enough, he stood on what the Marines called a burrito wrap. The insurgents quickly planted these IEDs by throwing them out in the street.”
Some months ago, the author (Luke Larson served as a Marine infantry officer and saw action in two tours to Ar Ramadi, Iraq in 2005 and then again in 2007) left a comment on my blog asking me to review Senator’s Son. After I agreed to review the book, he e-mailed me a few sample chapters. Based on what I read, I ordered a copy of the novel.
I finished the book by reading a page here and a page there, late at night, after long days at the hospital. I kept circling back over what I’d previously read, underlining passages and writing in margins, engrossed by the written word:
Golf mobile one pushed to Ramadi Med with the senior corporal and two other badly injured corporals. Rogue and Doc V rounded the corner of the gun truck heading back towards the seven-ton. The only Marine still in constant consciousness was the burned private. The private in his combat boots and boxers wandered in a daze talking to himself. The Marine stared at the lieutenant. His eyes pleaded to him. “Sir, you have to get me out of here.”
It’s a high-wire act of tense action mixed in with hesitant calls home to family, doctrinal discussions on counterinsurgency, stories of suffering Iraqis – told with real empathy, and the absurd teasing humor of young Marines far from home. One mini-monologue by a “been there, done that,” character named Rock had me rolling. Very funny.
The novel does have some problems: the prose can be confusing, there are unnecessary flashbacks, and a framing device that just plain doesn’t work. None of this matters, really. The heart of the book is a page turner, a story well told, and most importantly, an education for the reader.
As Zenpundit says in his review, “As an explanation of COIN, I think the book is a must read for anyone unfamiliar with the subject and the nuanced complexities that COIN entails. The gritty, unforgiving, human suffering and moments of triumph of soldiers waging “pop-centric” COIN that gets lost in powerpoint slides, in the dry abstractions of journal articles and blogospheric arguments far removed from the ground is present in ample measure in Senator’s Son.”
It’s an education I think more people should be eager to undertake – like keeping a kind of faith. The least you can do is read the stories, right?
I encourage you to read this novel. (Thanks for the link Instapundit!)
We have won our war with Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. That’s who we declared it against and we won it.
We have won the peace after that war insofar as Iraq’s post-Saddam political arrangements are broadly democratic and not exclusively sectarian based. The authoritarians of the region do not like this and it is a good sign.
The objections to Iraq at this point seem to be that we have not had an outbreak of unicorns and free beer in the region and different countries who are badly ruled have not immediately seen the error of their ways. By that standard, the US did not win WW II because Stalin and Mao did not turn into just rulers and were also not overthrown.
We have budgeted for a certain size foreign policy mouth, that is a certain capacity to take on major problems and solve them. We have fully engaged said mouth and are chewing in our usual mix of brilliance and incompetence. It is our enemies’ strategy to induce us to over-extend ourselves and thus fail on all fronts. We should not go a bridge too far.
It is in our best interest regarding Iran that it be a full member of the civilized community of nations, that it fully exploit its energy resources and its geographic position to transit central asian energy resources to world markets. This is orthogonal to the issue of Iran being a nuclear power. Russia’s interest is to have Iran a pariah, forcing central asian energy flows to go through it. The PRC’s interest is also for Iran not to have central asian energy transit flows. Our major beef with Iran is that its internal stability currently depends on it being a pariah. Too much global connectivity leads to regime change and the mullahs know it. They will threaten and do any sort of thing to maintain tensions sufficient for them to continue to rule. Add nuclear weapons to this mix and you have a danger to the US because, for historical reasons, we are convenient scapegoat number one.
So let us not adopt the intellectual framework of our enemies. Our strategic task as americans and allies is to conceive of how to limit our reach to go no further than our grasp. So far we haven’t made this mistake. That’s what victory looks like for a military hegemon.
How did this come to pass? How did it happen that adversaries like Iran and Syria are able to shape US strategy, so that we have failed to win in Iraq and will fail in Afghanistan and have deterred ourselves from taking action against the Iranian nuclear program, and have jammed up our strategic alliance with Israel? It is because American leadership of the last two administrations failed to act against those states that have attacked our troops, allies and interests. We did we not win in Iraq because states like Syria and Iran did not pay a price for the acts of force they used to shape political effects to their own advantage; when we failed to do so we abandoned our Middle East policy to the mercy of our enemies, who, as we are repeatedly told, can ruin Iraq and Afghanistan whenever they decide to take off their gloves. We did not win because our leadership, abetted by Washington policy intellectuals, is more interested in political effects in Washington than strategic victories in the Middle East. Seen in this light, the only American victory in the region is a pyrrhic one, the bitter harvest of which we may well be reaping for many years to come.
(There’s more commentary at Belmont Club.)
Smith’s argument applies also to some extent to our dealings with North Korea, where China and North Korea have used our reluctance to confront the Kim regime to control us.
Bush erred by not bringing the war directly to the Syrian and Iranian regimes. Maybe he thought we were stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan or that he couldn’t pull it off politically, or maybe it was a failure of vision. Either way we are going to pay for this mistake by continuing to suffer Iranian-backed attacks on our forces, or in a future war with Iran or its proxies, or by being forced to accommodate a resurgent Iranian empire armed with nuclear weapons. Obama is compounding the error by doing nothing and pretending that everything will be OK if we pull the covers over our heads. Sitting back while gangster regimes arm up, or (at best) attempting to delegate our defense to third parties whose interests do not entirely overlap ours is going to get us attacked, repeatedly, until we decide to confront our enemies and make them pay a price for their aggressions.
Jones, Ishmael, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, Encounter Books, 2008, 383 pp.
This book is the career memoir of a former Marine and stock broker who entered the “non-State Department” clandestine service of the CIA and was a deep cover case officer from the ’90s through the late ’00s. It covers the story of his training, deployment, and activities overseas focusing on radiological and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the course of tours in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia, and finally a “combat tour” in Iraq. Serving overseas with his wife and children under the cover of a “software solutions expert,” he contacted disaffected or bribe-able scientists and business-people from rogue nations. By casting his inquiries as commercial and academic opportunities, he was able to gather a steady stream of intelligence on WMD programs in the Third World.
The central theme of the book, however, is how staff at the home office (from top to bottom) either intentionally or inadvertently got in the way of his doing an effective job. Most authors are the hero of their memoirs but Jones does an admirable job of giving his pride in his accomplishments a reasonable airing without masking the real value of his book. The CIA is a large modern business with a primary mandate to stay out of the newspapers and off TV. How it does so is a tale both depressing and all too familiar.
“Under a dusty hospital tent where doctors yell over the roar of jet engines, Dr. John York studied an electronic image of a blood vessel in the neck of a soldier wounded by an improvised bomb. It looked like a balloon ready to pop. Too delicate to operate on directly. Dr. York would have to try a procedure that had rarely been attempted so close to a battlefield.” – Alan Cullison, Wall Street Journal
First-rate article in the WSJ. (via Abu Muqawama Twitter feed)
I attended a conference a couple of weeks ago, where I had the chance to hear a few military surgeons discuss their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amazing work being done.
In 1954, as a young Army officer detailed to the CIA with little experience, Rufus Phillips became a member of what was then called the Saigon Military Mission – several years before America’s military involvement in Vietnam became a matter of public record. He worked directly under Col. Edward Lansdale, the Air Force officer working for the CIA who was responsible for managing the U.S. presence and advising the nascent South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem – trying, for example, to convince Diem to post realistic-looking election results. As the war progressed and America’s involvement deepened, Phillips led counterinsurgency efforts and won the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work; later, he became a consultant for the State Department and served as an adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey until the 1968 election.
Phillips wrote a book Why Vietnam Matters and gave a lecture and Q&A session on it at the Pritzker Military Library on 11.22.2008. Phillips was concerned with outlining the lessons he learned in Vietnam and how they applied to Iraq and Afghanistan. One interesting observation Phillips made is on the domino theory in response to an audience question. He argued that the domino theory was very much in play in the mid-1950s in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. There was no organized native government at all so a few Commie insurgents showing up with a rifle was enough to constitute a government. This was less true in later years when those nations had developed some institutional strength, though it’s interesting that Laos and Cambodia followed South Vietnam in succumbing to Communist rule rather quickly…almost like dominoes.