Article Roundup

Too busy to blog lately. As a father’s day gift, I am being granted some keyboard time. What follows is the merest surface-scratching on what could easily be ten or more meaty blog posts that will never get written.

I have been following with interest the discussions on Zenpundit, Coming Anarchy, TDAXP and Thomas Barnett’s blog. (I mentioned this “family” of blogs here, and I heartily endorse them all.)

One interesting subject discussed recently is the new book by John Robb, Brave New War, which I mentioned here. (Robb’s personal blog here, and his other blog Global Guerrillas, here.) It is a good, short, bracing read. Despite being too jargon-laden in spots, it is a cold analysis of what we might be facing in the next decade or so, in the form of a global “bazaar of violence” which generates networked and nimble sub-national enemies, jointly operating as terrorists and international criminals-for-profit. I will observe that the last section provides a sketch of what a “network commonwealth”, such as Jim Bennett has written about, based on a strong, networked civil society (“armored suburbs”), would look like in the security dimension. Barnett and Robb are sometimes portrayed as two sides of a yin / yang view of the future, with Barnett the optimist and Robb the pessimist. It is more complicated than that. Both see resilience as the key to success and survival in the years ahead. Robb sees the impact of blowback out of the “Gap” being greater, and the prospect of positive developments there as lower than Barnett does. Robb does see a happy future here in the Core, but only after a “time of troubles” has cleared away the dead of obsolete institutions. Nonetheless there is a fair amount of overlap between them as thinkers.

A major difference seems to be their vision of the future of the nation-state. Barnett sees a world of states going on indefinitely. Robb, like several other thinkers see the state as an institution in decline. The ur-text of this thinking may be Martin van Creveld’s essay The Fate of the State from Parameters in 1996. If you have not read this essay, you should. Creveld wrote a book elaborating on the article, but the article gives you a clear, brief picture of the argument.

The whole school of writers about “Fourth Generation Warfare” generally seem to accept Creveld’s analysis on this subject. The most comprehensible thing I have read about 4GW is the book by Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century. Hammes and Robb have been conversing, and agree that the big threat in the future is “catastrophic super-empowerment” of individuals and small groups to deploy destructive power previously only possessed by nation states — primarily by using bio-weapons. Hammes discusses this in his essay Fourth Generation Warfare Evolves, Fifth Emerges (It’s a pdf, so open it in a new window). (I will note that I don’t agree with the “GW” periodization, and I don’t think it helps to clarify thinking, but it is commonly used, so I am going along with it.)

One thing that is certainly true about current politico-military challenges: They cannot be resolved quickly. Guerilla-type struggles are the only game in town in a world of nuclear weapons. (This is a key point made well by Martin van Creveld in his 1993 book Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict.) Political and military leaders usually want quick victories. So they build forces to fight the wars they imagine they will fight, usually based on wishful thinking. This leads to catastrophic outcomes. A very, very good analysis of this phenomenon is the article “Over by Christmas”: Campaigning, Delusions and Force Requirement by J.B.A. Bailey. Bailey is a retired British general, and author of an excellent book on the history of artillery. Bailey notes the impact this kind of thinking had on the decision to invade Iraq, and how that war was planned-for. He also offers a very interesting discussion of how the British have learned over the years to wage the long-term struggle without making false promises that the conflict would be over soon. It ends up being, in effect, a call for the creation of Thomas Barnett’s proposed SysAdmin force.

One major obstacle to the development of realistic and attainable national security goals, and acquiring the tools and personnel to attain them, is the way our military selects its senior officers. I recently linked to the very good essay A Failure of Generalship by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling. This caused some commenters to question my patriotism, etc. which is comical. Iraq, like the early and unsuccessful stages of our successful wars, should have led to a spate of firings, and it did not. Another article by another distinguished retired military officer, Douglas Macgregor, entitled Fire the Generals! makes much the same point. Our country is ill-served by the current system.

The utter incompetence of the Palestinians is highlighted by this piece from the Financial times entitled “Business as Usual”. The Israelis are building their own Silicon Valley. The Palestinians, once the wall was completed, making it harder to murder Jews, do the one thing they know how to do, and start murdering each other. Walls work. They demarcate borders and make them much easier to patrol, monitor and defend. The Maginot line worked. The Germans went around it. The Israeli wall works. A wall on our souther border would also work. It would not be impermeable. It would not have to be. It would sharply increase the price of illegal crossing. That would be plenty. Once we had reestablished law and order and reasonable security on our border, Joe and Jane Jacksonian could begin engaging in a rational discussion about what we want to do about immigration. This will be a live and ugly issue for a while, since the politicians do not yet understand that this is an identity issue for people, deeper than day to day politics as usual.

Three articles about the roots of modern Islamism which I found to have interesting or new facts. Bottom line: It really is a perversion of Islam and is more of a modern totalitarian ideology than a religious phenomenon. Still, how to root it out remains an interesting question. (1) Islamist Extremism: Jihadism, Qutbism and Wahhabism; (2) Islam and the Theology of Power by Khaled Abou El Fadl; and (3) Qutbism: An Ideology of Islamic-Fascism, from the current issue of Parameters. The third article offers strategies to oppose Islamism, which seem potentially viable.

Three articles by anthropologist Montgomery McFate. Ms. McFate has apparently run into professional condemnation due to her willingness to analyze the terrorists we face in a way that is helpful to the U.S. Military. These are articles are worth a long post all by themselves. I do not have time to write 5,000 words about these articles, so I merely provide the links: (1) Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of Their Curious Relationship; (2) The Object Beyond War: Counterinsurgency and the Four Tools of Political Competition; and (3) The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture.

Near the top of my bookpile is Michael Barone‘s new book, Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers, which Jim Bennett has read and tells me is excellent. Good reviews from John O’Sullivan and Andrew Roberts should convince you to buy it and read it.

Speaking of Bennett, his book The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century recently was reissued as a paperback. You ought to buy it. Also, we should be seeing a new, major publication from him soon, which will be trumpeted to all and sundry on this blog when it appears.

Speaking of the Anglosphere, here is a chart showing its existence in a striking way, just in case you had not seen this.

Speaking of John O’Sullivan, here is Spengler’s review of his new book about Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II. I have not read it yet, but I will.

Speaking of Spengler, here is a fascinating piece by him about The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig, a thinker whose acquaintance I now suppose I am going to have to make … .

Some time ago, Robert Kaplan had a superb article entitled Colonel Cross of the Gurkhas. Col. Cross offered many interesting comments, this was one:

“Late-nineteenth-century warfare never stopped,” Colonel Cross told me, “though it was masked for a time by the Cold War emphasis on atomic bombs. And in this type of warfare that you Americans must master, only two things count: the mystic dimension of service and the sanctity of an oath. It’s about the giving of one’s best when the audience is of the smallest.”

This sounds correct. We are retrogressing into an era more like the 19th Century in many ways, and politico-military tasks will be the responsibility of relatively small communities of long-service professionals devoting themselves to hard, dirty and thankless work over many decades in remote places.

As it happens, Alan Macfarlane knows Col. Cross, since Col. Cross lives in Nepal and Prof. Macfarlane does his anthropological fieldwork there. Apparently there are taped interviews of him, but they are not on Prof. Macfarlane’s site. I went ahead and bought several of Col. Cross’s books, but have not yet had a chance to read any of them yet. His book of memoirs is admirably entitled A Face Like A Chicken’s Backside.

Prof. Macfarlane himself has a new book called Japan Through the Looking Glass: Shaman to Shinto coming out next month. I have had the privilege of reading it in manuscript. It is every bit as good as his previous works. I pre-ordered it, of course.

Michael Lind calls for a revival of what he calls The Republican Way of War. Something less ambitious than Mr. Bush’s second inaugural speech has to be adopted. What it will look like remains unclear. Mr. Lind’s vision sounds like a good starting point. He, like me, is a capital-R Realist — within limits. Realism in foreign policy is like Newtonian mechanics. National self-interest in the security field is like gravity. You cannot make sense of things unless you are aware of it. RTWT.

Here is a good article on the reality behind the myths about Canada’s military and its peace-keeping emphasis. Canada was a rational actor during the Cold War, and took steps to preserve the US alliance, while allowing the mythology to build up. Canada needs to make important decisions about its military in the current era. I hope they decide wisely.

Finally, let me note that Arnold Kling is one of the best writers on economics we have. He has recently written the first and second of a three part series on the New Deal. I eagerly await the third installment. I have said that Mr. Kling is the Milton Friedman of our age — not in terms of original contributions to economics. Kling’s pieces remind me of Friedman’s Newsweek columns. Kling is a writer on very important topics, which he discusses with extreme clarity and simplicity, cutting through all the fog. If you do not read him regularly, please begin doing so.

7 thoughts on “Article Roundup”

  1. Well, following these links and reading them could take care of the next several months of reading time, not counting the our or five I’ve already read (and of course the one I wrote). If the ones I haven’t read are as good as the ones I have, it would at least be a rewarding several months.

    So many books…

  2. Jim, yeah, this is a few months worth of backlog of blog posts never written.

    But I figured I might as well pass it on to whoever might be interested.

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