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  • Archive for the 'Iraq' Category

    The Great Iraqi Bug Out and the Death of “LOGCAP”

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 17th June 2014 (All posts by )

    This article from the McClatchy papers makes clear that the collapse of the Shia dominated Iraqi Army was arranged. See: “Iraqi soldier who fought with Americans says decision to flee left him feeling ashamed” By Hannah Allam and Mohammed al Dulaimy.

    While this explains a great deal why the American intelligence community was blindsided by the collapse, it leaves a huge strategic level issue for the Obama Administration. Will they protect American hired private military corporation personnel from torture-murder by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Forces? The failure to do so would be a huge strategic blunder that would cripple American conventional force projection for literally decades.

    Why this is requires explaining “LOGCAP.”

    LOGCAP Explained
    LOGCAP or “Logistics Civil Augmentation Program” was established in 1985 primarily to pre-plan for contingencies and to “leverage existing civilian resources.” It was not really used in a large way until the 1st Gulf War of 1990-1991, to take advantage of the Saudi and Gulf States civil economies to replace uniformed American logistical support. This was as much a political move by the Pres. George H.W. Bush Administration to manage American anti-war, and primarily Democratic anti-war, opposition to retaking Kuwait as it was a logistical exercise. (Hold that thought!)

    LOGCAP was later expanded by the Clinton Administration to cover “operations other than war” in places like Somalia, Southwest Asia, Haiti, the Balkans, and East Timor. This allowed the Clinton Administration to exercise a muscular and multi-lateral foreign policy with the minimum of senior uniformed military opposition. Opposition which balked at “operations other than war” as the American Senior military leadership’s version of the “Vietnam War syndrome,” as the US Army’s deployments during the Kosovo war made clear.

    This Clinton Administration “work around” approach to American military “Flag Rank” opposition was hugely apparent with the Croat “Operation Storm” in Bosnia, where “Military Professional Resources Incorporated” acted as an American military surrogate to plan the Croat Offensive that broke Serbian power in Bosnia.

    Effectively “Private Military Corporation” contractor support has been the keystone of American military power projection since the 2nd Clinton Administration. This fact has been documented in a lot of places. See this July 2000 article from US Army Logistician Magazine — Contingency Contracting in East Timor — or this more recent Defense Industry Daily article that speaks to the most recent LOCGCAP 4 contract — LOGCAP 4: Billions of Dollars Awarded for Army Logistics Support.

    LOGCAP after 9/11/2001
    The two Pres. George W. Bush Administrations further expanded the use of LOGCAP after 9-11-2001, not only to manage public opposition to the “War on Terror” but also as a “Fight the War on the Cheap” exercise because your average logistics/garrison specialist first class (SFC) with government income, free medical care, education benefits, and housing allowances for three dependents earn earns arguably 125-150K in “benefits.” A DynCorp or KBR contractor costs the US government up to twice what a SFC costs in terms of annual income, but it is a known, predictable, fixed cost incurred and gone; whereas the Federal government will pay for the SFC and his dependents for another 20+ years in terms of benefits obligated by service.

    This was in fact one of the reasons Democrats in Congress hated private military corporations doing uniformed military work in the War on Terror. Their extensive use in the 1st Gulf War plus the on-going operations in Iraq and Afghanistan hugely reduced the long term opportunity for graft and corruption via the Congressional administration of uniformed veterans education and medical benefits.

    LOGCAP as a Foreign Policy Disaster
    LOGCAP in Iraq and Afghanistan is only part of the private military corporation portfolio. The DEA uses a number of private military corporations in the Drug wars in Latin America for aerial electronic surveillance and training of local security forces. The American government also uses a number of private military corporations to furnish spares for things like the ATK built AC208B light gunship in Iraq.

    The torture-murder of any of those Iraq private military contractors will utterly cripple current American foreign policy as implemented since the late 1990’s by the Defense Department regional commanders.

    The lack of trust such a mass abandonment of private military contractors by the Obama Administration — a lack of trust that is already bad since the abandonment of both the American Ambassador and his private military contractor bodyguards at Benghazi, Libya — will result in demands for far more money up front in the form of letters of credit in foreign banks not under US Government control to pay for both private pre-paid “go to hell plan” preparations and death benefits.

    That sort of change will increase private military corporation contractor support costs to such a degree that it will require uniformed US military in much larger numbers to replace private military corporations. The functional impact will be the reducing of American military type “hard power” projection world-wide for decades…and increase the amount of graft flowing through Democratic interest groups if the security threat warrants the use of a lot of uniformed military to address an existential foreign threat.

    Isn’t it funny how things work out like that with the Obama Administration?

    Posted in Current Events, International Affairs, Iraq, Middle East, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized, USA, War and Peace | 19 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Victor Davis Hanson:

    As far as war and peace go, closure for Obama is when the United States is surrounded by war and confronted with looming conflicts, and yet has ended them all by declaring that we choose not to be interested in any of them. Obama is right about one thing: losing is certainly a way of reducing the violence.

    Genteel defeat is the way of the appeaser and comes from cowardice or expediency, sometimes both. The cowardice may be physical though it is often intellectual, a willful cutting of corners for short-term political gain at the expense of foreseeable long-term geopolitical disaster.

    Closure is a pernicious concept. People who use the term sincerely, rather than as cover for some hidden agenda, may have a compulsive aversion to loose ends. Sometimes a loose end or other untidy low-energy equilibrium is the best, least risky, most robust outcome that one can hope for in a bad situation. Obama has achieved closure in Iraq. We could have had a muddy equilibrium stabilized by a few tens of thousands of US troops. Instead we will get closure in the form of a decisive defeat for the USA and its allies following Obama’s principled military withdrawal.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Iraq, Obama, Quotations, War and Peace | 19 Comments »

    Saigon in Baghdad — Iraq’s Corruption-Based Collapse

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 13th June 2014 (All posts by )

    While the media has made much of both the Iraqi government’s request for air strikes on the Al Qaeda aligned fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Obama Administration’s refusal to do so, few people have bothered to look at what airpower was available to the Shia dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In fact, the Iraqi Air Force has had light gunships based on the Cessna C208 Caravan capable of firing Hellfire missiles since 2011 that should have been fully capable of dealing with the ISIS “technicals” — armed light trucks — seen in many photos recently.

    Iraqi AC-208B Fires Hellfire

    This is an Iraqi ATK AC208B Cessna “Combat Caravan” Light Gunship with laser guided Hellfire missiles.

    See this link and text:

    http://www.defenseworld.net/news/3837/ATK_delivers_3rd_AC_208__Combat_Caravan__Aircraft_to_Iraqi_Air_Force

    Alliant Techsystems has announced delivery of a third AC-208B “Combat Caravan” aircraft to the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission in Kirkuk, Iraq. To date, ATK has delivered 11 modified C-208 aircraft in support of U.S. Government contracts for rebuilding the Iraqi Air Force: three reconnaissance aircraft, five trainer aircraft and three AC-208B aircraft. The AC-208B Combat Caravan aircraft is a specially modified Cessna Grand Caravan that incorporates an electro-optical targeting system with integrated laser designator, Hellfire laser guided missiles, an air-to-ground and air-to-air data link and aircraft self-protection equipment.

    See also this link and ATK press release photos:

    http://defensetech.org/2011/10/26/atks-ac-208-combat-caravan-gunship/

    The AC208B “Combat Caravan” light gunship in ATK Press Release Photos.

    Whether the current Iraqi government there has any left in operable condition is a very different question. I very strongly suspect that most of the 30,000 Iraqi Army troops that deserted in the face of the ISIS attack had not been paid in months, with most of their weapons, radios and vehicles either being sold or deadlined from issues of corruption.

    What we are seeing with the Iraqi government is a collapse from corruption. If the CIA had any capable human agents on the ground outside the Green Zone — ones that were paid attention too — none of that would have been a surprise to the Obama Administration.

    Now we have “Saigon in Baghdad,” with a President that has all the bad features of the Nixon Administration and is isolationist to boot.

    Posted in Current Events, International Affairs, Iraq, National Security, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Bergdahl, Father and Son.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 5th June 2014 (All posts by )

    bergdahl

    The world got a little more bizarre this week. President Obama worked a trade that involved releasing five serious Taliban leaders in return for the freeing of an army deserter from Afghanistan. Bowe Bergdahl was a private who seems to have walked away from an outpost in Afghanistan and ended up with the Taliban. There are a number of stories surfacing from other members of his unit about his departure.

    The handling of the announcement has drawn considerable criticism from conservatives.

    The story of how the Bergdahls ended up at the White House is pure turnip-truck territory. According to Time:

    Their presence at the White House on Saturday was the apparent product of coincidence: the couple had visited the capitol for a Memorial Day event and then stayed in town for meetings in Congress. Had they been at home in Idaho when the deal was announced, they likely would not have flown to Washington to appear with Obama—and a key visual element of the drama, replayed endlessly on television, might not have occurred.

    Does anyone believe that ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, National Security, Obama | 38 Comments »

    Have we lost and is this why ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th May 2014 (All posts by )

    A new book by a retired army general explains that we lost the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Why ?

    I have had reservations about Iraq for years, at least since 2008.

    When President Bush convened a meeting of his National Security Council on May 22, 2003, his special envoy in Iraq made a statement that caught many of the participants by surprise. In a video presentation from Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III informed the president and his aides that he was about to issue an order formally dissolving Iraq’s Army.

    I think that decision probably lost the post-invasion war. The other puzzle that was not explained until the recent book, Days of Fire explained it, was why Bremer was put in place of Jay Garner, who had done well with the Kurds.

    Garner began reconstruction efforts in March 2003 with plans aiming for Iraqis to hold elections within 90 days and for the U.S. to quickly pull troops out of the cities to a desert base. Talabani, a member of Jay Garner’s staff in Kuwait before the war, was consulted on several occasions to help the U.S. select a liberal Iraqi government; this would be the first liberal Government to exist in Iraq. In an interview with Time magazine, Garner stated that “as in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don’t have a problem with most of them. But we do have a problem with those who were part of the thug mechanism under Saddam. Once the U.S. identifies those in the second group, we will get rid of them.

    Had Garner continued with that policy, we might have been out of the cities in a few months instead of years, as was the case with Bremer.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Book Notes, History, Iraq, Middle East, Military Affairs, Obama, Russia | 70 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Michael Rubin in Commentary:

    What self-described realists misunderstand when they pursue their cost-benefit analysis without emotion or regard for principle is that friendship and trust have value. In one chapter of Dancing with the Devil, I explore the history of intelligence politicization. Iraq may now be the marquee example upon which many progressives seize, but intelligence politicization occurred under every president dating back at least to Lyndon Johnson, if not before (the scope of my book was just the past half-century or so). Iraq intelligence was flawed, but the world will get over it, especially since it was consistent with the intelligence gathered by almost every other country and the United Nations. The betrayal of allies, however, is a permanent wound on America’s reputation that will not be easy to overcome.

    This is a chronic problem. We were able to get away with being a fickle ally when we acted like a superpower. Our allies had no choice but to deal with us; our adversaries had to be cautious lest they provoke us. We betrayed Kurds, Iraqi Shiites and other groups without paying much of a long-term price. It was easy to be casual about our alliances. We could afford to see one-dimensional cynical calculations of national interest as realism.

    But now that we behave like just another country we are beginning to pay more of a cost for our unreliability. Our design margin, in Wretchard’s phrase, has eroded. It is increasingly difficult for us to protect our remaining interests. The Obama foreign policy is an inverse force-multiplier.

    Our geopolitical situation is going to deteriorate faster than most Americans expect.

    Posted in International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, National Security, Quotations, Russia, War and Peace | 13 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 1st January 2014 (All posts by )

    Caroline Glick, Khodorkovsky and the freedom agenda:

    Both the Iranian democracy activists then and the Ukrainian protesters today demonstrated through their actions that they do not seek the mere overthrow of unrepresentative, repressive governments. They seek freedom, and are willing to work for it. All the Iranians needed then, and all the Ukrainians ask for today, is assistance from foreign powers, just as George Washington’s Continental Army required French assistance to defeat the British Empire.
     
    While those are easy cases to understand, the lesson of Putin’s Russia and of post-Saddam Iraq is that freedom doesn’t sprout from thin air. The only way to plant democracy in nations unfamiliar with the habits of liberty is to cultivate them, relentlessly and unapologetically, over time.

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Iraq, Management, Political Philosophy, Quotations, Russia | 4 Comments »

    Obama, US Military Victory, and the Real “Red Line” in Syria

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 9th September 2013 (All posts by )

    The thing that really bothers me in all the back and forth surrounding the American strike on the Assad Regime debate, and the Democratic Party aligned media spin of what the meaning of words “Red Line” mean, is how off-point from the interests of the American people it all is. The Assad regime’s use of Nerve Gas isn’t the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Deploying those Clinton era spin techniques over the definition of “Red Line” is the political equivalent of pointing and yelling “_Squirrel_!”

    The bottom line is that if the Assad regime of Syria survives on the strength of chemical weapons of mass destruction, an incredibly dangerous to American national security situation will come to pass. The Chemical Weapons Convention will be dead, publicly murdered and discredited similar to the way the Kellogg-Briant Pact against war was in the face of Nazi rearmament. There will be an arms race for chemical weapons of mass destruction in the Mid-East & elsewhere. That will require the US military to rearm with either lethal chemicals or with tactical nukes — with all the costs that requires both financial and moral — in order to maintain a credible deterrent for future conventional military operations.

    The issue with the Assad Regime’s use of chemical weapons of mass destruction is the Assad regime . The only fit punishment, one that will prevent catalytic proliferation of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction around the world, is the Assad Regime’s over throw. That overthrow is readily obtainable by American military forces and can be achieved without a single boot on the ground, nor a single foreign ally.

    The fact that the Obama Administration is unwilling use grasp those means, and to politically justify their use with the same sort of weapons of mass destruction argument that Pres. George W. Bush deployed to justify regime change in Iraq, is the real strategic “Red Line” for Syria. It is a Red Line that the American people chose in electing a Democratic Senate in 2006 and in both electing and reelecting Pres. Obama (and a Democratic Senate) in 2008 and 2012.

    It is a “Red Line” that has to be erased by competent and principled Presidential leadership that forthrightly explains the threat, continually over time, if Americans are to continue enjoying — its admittedly rapidly declining — freedom from police state surveillance at home.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, Uncategorized, USA, Xenophon Roundtable | 24 Comments »

    How to Lose a War: A Primer

    Posted by Zenpundit on 29th July 2013 (All posts by )

    cross-posted from zenpundit.com

    Since Pakistan is now attempting to get its victory over the United States in Afghanistan formally ratified, now seemed to be a good time to reflect on the performance of American statesmen, politicians and senior generals.

    It has occurred to me that we have many books and papers outlining how to win wars. Certainly the great classics of The Art of War, The History of the Peloponnesian War and On War are the foremost examples, but there are also other useful classics in the strategic canon, whole libraries of military histories, memoirs of great commanders and an infinite number of PDFs and powerpoint briefs from think tanks and consultants. Strangely, none of these have helped us much. Perhaps it is because before running this war so few of this generation’s “deciders” read them en route to their law degrees and MBAs

    We should engage in some counterintuitive thinking:  for our next war, instead of trying to win, let’s try to openly seek defeat. At a minimum, we will be no worse off with that policy than we are now and if we happen to fail, we will actually be moving closer to victory.

    HOW TO LOSE A WAR

    While one of these principles may not be sufficient cause for losing an armed conflict, following all of them is the surest road to defeat.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Big Government, Book Notes, Current Events, History, International Affairs, Iraq, Military Affairs, National Security, Philosophy, Politics, Society, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    High Ground in Chicago at the Siskel Center 2/21- 2/23

    Posted by Zenpundit on 20th February 2013 (All posts by )

    HIGH GROUND 

    Hat tip to Kanani Fong of Kitchen Dispatch 

    At the Siskel Center, 164 N State St, Chicago. IL. 60601
    (312) 846-2600

    The award -winning film HIGH GROUND :
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Announcements, Arts & Letters, Film, Iraq, Miscellaneous, Society, USA, War and Peace | Comments Off

    The Coming Dangerous Decade

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 12th January 2013 (All posts by )

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anti-Americanism, Elections, History, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Leftism, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism | 17 Comments »

    Beauty and Ugliness

    Posted by David Foster on 16th December 2012 (All posts by )

    Here’s a Christmas-y song that I think is beautiful:

    2000 Miles

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Iraq, Korea, Music, Obama, USA | 26 Comments »

    Book Review: The Snake-Eaters by Owen West

    Posted by Zenpundit on 8th June 2012 (All posts by )

    [cross-posted at zenpundit.com]

    The Snake Eaters by Owen West 

    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 »

    Posted in Book Notes, International Affairs, Iraq, Middle East, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    On “Leverages”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 11th January 2012 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Hitchens and Gingrich in 2002

    Posted by Jonathan on 18th December 2011 (All posts by )

    Via Peter Robinson and Ricochet (and Instapundit), this is worth watching both on the merits and because it reminds how people were thinking a decade ago:

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, History, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, Video, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    On the ideas that follow us, one decade to the next….

    Posted by onparkstreet on 11th July 2011 (All posts by )

    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.

    Posted in Afghanistan 2050, Afghanistan/Pakistan, China, Economics & Finance, History, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Military Affairs, Russia, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    On Memorial Day

    Posted by onparkstreet on 30th May 2011 (All posts by )

    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:

    “Our beloved….”

    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 in Iraq | 6 Comments »

    Wolseley’s Red River Expedition of 1870

    Posted by Lexington Green on 26th May 2011 (All posts by )

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Americas, Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, History, International Affairs, Iraq, Military Affairs, North America, War and Peace | 9 Comments »

    Honor killings

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 7th March 2011 (All posts by )

    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.

    Sources: Brandeis studyBBCSydney Morning Herald

    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 »

    Afghanistan, Egypt and Obama

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th January 2011 (All posts by )

    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 »

    “Whoever took religion seriously?”

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 8th January 2011 (All posts by )

    [ 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.

    1

    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.

    2

    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”.

    3

    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 »

    A Baghdad DoubleTake and other matters

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 31st December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ 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.

    Hesse again:

    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:

    QUOBaghdad 1917 2003

    Eh, Zen?

    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 in Arts & Letters, Diversions, History, Iraq, Music, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Poetry | Comments Off

    Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 23rd December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ 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.

    and:

    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 »

    A bin Laden October surprise ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 29th October 2010 (All posts by )

    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.

    Posted in Elections, Iraq, Middle East, National Security, Politics, Terrorism | 2 Comments »

    Hah, Hah, I Was Right, Thrppppt!

    Posted by Shannon Love on 24th October 2010 (All posts by )

    One shouldn’t gloat but…

    I was right about the bogus Lancet Iraq Mortality Survey.

    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

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Iraq, Leftism, Science, Statistics | 23 Comments »