< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: August 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Looks Like Bush Threw in the Towel on Iran

Today, President Bush announced: (1) "There must be consequences" for Iran's continuing uranium enrichment and (2) "Iran must not be allowed" to develop nuclear weapons.

Compared to the recent incandescent fulminations from members and colleagues of his administration, this was pretty tame--nothing about a pre-emptive strike, or a destruction of Iranian infrastructure, or an invasion. He's almost saying that as long as we can say that there have been some kinds of sanctions, however tame, and as long as Iran doesn't actually go through with the development of nuclear weapons, then he will declare victory and walk away. Enrichment of uranium is no longer a provocation to war, only an occasion for a good faith symbolic sanction effort (not enough even to provoke Iran to stop shipping oil, which would cripple the world economy). And as long as they don't actually develop a weapon, we won't have to "stop" (read "bomb") anything.

If this is the administration's actual position, then it suggests the adults in the administration have gained the upper hand, perhaps more for economic reasons than for reasons of sound foreign policy or international law. The hard choices on Iran are, like the Iraq question, being bequeathed to the next administration.

If this is not what the administration is doing, i.e. if they are using today's speech to mask their war preparations, and they actually intend to strike Iran soon, then the disaster we all will inherit will make Iraq look like a Sunday school picnic, and make today's speech the final show piece for how truly evil an American government can be.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Duty of Democrats: (or What Does Bob Reich Have to Hide?)

So shocking and misguided is Bob Reich's latest "advice to Democrats" that it raises the question of his own integrity. In essence, he advises that if Democrats do gain a majority in either house, they should "resist the temptation" to conduct investigations of the administration and its behavior.

In actual fact, if Democrats are elected it will be precisely because the public wants just that--accountability for the reckless violence, lawbreaking, and greed that has characterized this administration's behavior. Phony pretensions to statesmanship are not the voters' motives; truth is their motive. Not to expose the full truth of the administration's behavior is to become overtly complicit in them. Advocating that they not be exposed is explainable only by fear of their exposure.

(Incidentally, guilt for such complicity--i.e. for passively accepting what others have done to abuse innocent people--is a strong Christian teaching, e.g. when Jesus condemned the Pharisees for "allowing" the misdeeds of prior generations; viz. Luke 11:48.)

Bob, the Democratic voters of Massachusetts have already rejected your "statesmanship." Now you risk being perceived as one who fears personal embarrassment if the misdeeds of the Bush administration are revealed in their full scope. Say it ain't so.

Democrats, for God's sake and the sake of this nation, don't listen to Bob.


Barnett's latest post discussing, among other things, the Old West analogy. I'm still digesting, but the parts most interesting so far are clipped below. Do read the whole thing though. My thoughts will follow today or tomorrow.

And in the larger strategic sense, we need to remember the inttegration of the American West in the latter half of the 19th century, recognizing that such integration will change us in addition to changing those integrated, and understanding that this historical process will be bloody around the margins.

I realize that whenever I evoke the settling of the American West, some knees automatically jerk with the assumption that genocide is somehow the argument. Reducing that complex historical process to just that angle is certainly self-righteous, but it's ultimately diverting.

America's westward expansion was, much like globalization, an integrating and disintegrating process. It reformatted the land from one civilization into another, and because of the strong disjuncture between those civilizations, it resulted in genocidal conflicts, but likewise intense infrastructural networking, state building, and the extension of political rule. It was imposed out of a sense of destiny that was as much justified as it was unjust. It was simply unstoppable, bloody, nasty and ultimately settling.

Now, some in the West assume that the disjunctures between Islam and what I call the Functioning Core of globalization are equally great as that presented by America's westward expansion--thus genocidal wars are inevitable.

I think that's a bad misreading of the region and Islam in general.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Rule-Sets and Old Words

Despite a rather inappropriate reputation from some quarters, I actually admire Tom Barnett's work... just as I admire Robb's and Lind's work, and the posts of Zenpundit, Wiggins, Purpleslog, Curtis Gale Weeks, and others. Very interesting stuff these folks post about.

But there is something I don't understand about these very talented thinkers. They constantly use the term "rule-sets". Barnett's glossary on his site even contains a definition: a collection of rules that delineates how some activity normally unfolds.

This is borrowed from the programming term, I assume. But I simply don't understand how these writers use the term.

They apply the term "rule-sets" to all manner of political, social, moral, and even economic decision making processes. I can't help but wonder, why use a new word when we've used the same word for such things quite well for quite some time now?

Custom. Course of trade. Convention. Law.

Are these not suitably defined words? Don't they do a better of job of precisely identifying which "rule-set" one is talking about than merely saying "rule-set"?

It seems to me that the generic "rule-set" is actually quite ambiguous. And the latent ambiguity in the term leads to much mischief. For example, Tom Barnett talks about governments switching rule-sets from peacetime to wartime. As if somehow a certain light goes off, or on, when a government decides it is "at war". This is a very convenient way of understanding a very complex mechanism. One might easily object to such a simplistic view on the basis that "government" doesn't go to war at all, but that "people" do. As such, figuring out the rule-sets which "government" uses is only going to lead one down a very dark and ultimately unenlightening path. What matters are minds.

In other words "rule-sets" are a very general sort of thing. So general in fact I question whether or not the study of them can be properly scientific, or is it merely mythological?

To be sure, certain laws are passed and certain contingencies go into effect whenever the people of a nation consider themselves to be at war. But other laws stay the same. Other lights stay on. And besides, what the "government" decides to do pales in comparison to what individuals decide to do.

That is, there are customary ways which different countries follow on their way to war. People do certain things be they: symbolic, superstitious, economic, physiological, or even spiritual in order to signify to themselves and others that they are "at war". These are customs. The customs of fighting. They are not a part of the government's "rule-set" for "wartime." Instead, they exist apriori legalistic declarations.

Another example, course of trade, is illustrative. When "wartime" occurs certain trading becomes "taboo". Other trading becomes enormously profitable. And the customs which tacitly govern merchants, exporters and importers, shippers and customers, all reform themselves into an unwritten code of wartime trade. The habits of these business people are again circumscribed apriori wartime codes.

Getting these confused, in my mind, does much more harm than good. The "doctrine of preemption" and the "Patriot Act" may be "rule-sets" but that isn't saying much about them. One is executive made law (fiat), the other duly enacted legislation (positive), both are laws. But one is exceptionally more powerful than the other and missing that is missing a lot.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Little Truth with our Politics

Or at least, from our politicians.

One of the immune responses terrorists are not anticipating is greater local and individual autonomy when it comes public safety. I've blogged about this in the context of the Bombay bombing aftermath.

Autonomy of course is nothing unless it is used.

Naturally, the response to any exploited weakness in the social complex is for society to empower nearby agents to ward off the next attempt at exploitation. Just as it is natural for society in these situations to collectively "heal".

This is to say that in response to danger, real or merely perceived, the individual's autonomy in our social and legal systems is at its apex.

For example, in America, under certain conditions, you may use lethal force if the threat is grave enough. This is our custom.

From this the courts, legislators, and executives have reasoned that when the country as a whole operates under an imminent threat of danger, the country's executive power is at its apex.

A conflict arises here however when the executive power interferes with the individual's. Or rather, when the targets are confused.

If "our country" is under a threat as great as the Nazi threat of WW-II, as some politicans have recently implied, then it would make no sense to curtail the executive branch. A threat level like that of WW-II is existential. The very being "America" was put in jeopardy should Hitler have taken Britain.

However, if "our country" is not under a similarly grave threat of annihilation, but instead Americans, as individuals, are under individual threats of annihilation, it would make sense to assume that the individual autonomy, rather than the governmental, should be at its height.

As I stated at the outset, the tactics of terrorists assume Americans will hide behind their government in order to continue to live their blessed lives in as much peace as possible. Fear is particularly powerful where the individuals you are scaring believe they are powerless. After fighting and winning the Cold War in just such a state of relative blissful peace, this paradigm is familiar to Americans as a whole. Our "country" faced annihilation, and we gave up our local autonomy in order for the nation to preserve "itself". The tactics of our enemy suggest they see this as a preeminent weakness, and they will continue to exploit it until a corrective response is generated.

Any knowledge, worthy of its name, can and should be reduced to slogan. Here is the slogan of this post...

Smokey Says: Only YOU can prevent terrorism.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Israel and USA: Losers Together

As is clear to objective observers (including an unexpectedly large segment of Israeli public opinion), the terms of the UN resolution have essentially ratified the defeat of Israel in Lebanon. Forget the illegal premise of the war, or its illegal conduct; the bigger problem is that we and the Israelis lost.

Hezbollah was not defeated or disarmed and will probably become an integral part of the Lebanese army. Lebanon is now united--as never before--in favor of Hezbollah and against both Israel and the US. Arab moderation is evaporating. The US once more is exposed as a pitiful toothless tiger; its president, as both irrational and irresolute.

"Gonna work with our friends in Israel. See, they'll wipe up those HisBoluses in a few days, and then we can come in and do a ceasefire. See, they get to kick the HisBolus's ass and we'll still come off as peacemakers. Then we can go wipe out the Eye-Rain-ians the same way."

Didn't work. Probably might want to think twice before trying it on Iran, too.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Some Thoughtful Analysis from Robb

Robb's latest post at Global Guerrillas is very well put ("It's Not Too Late for Israel"), very thoughtful (as always), and has the benefit of being quite concise as well. Do read it in its entirety.

There is, in my opinion, a deep conflict arising within the IDF and Israel as a whole. The camps are split between: a) full scale ground invasion in order to seize enough ground to push Hizbullah back beyond the launch envelope and b) effects based-like operations in order to eliminate Hizbullah's operational basis.

Robb's post hits on several keys, pointing out a middle path is required between the two camps as I've framed them above.
In a world where the state is growing weaker, our victory can easily destroy the enemy state itself, not merely bring about “regime change.” If this happens, it may prove difficult or impossible for us or for anyone to re‑create a state. The result will then be the emergence of another stateless region, which is greatly to the advantage of Fourth Generation entities. As is so easy in the Fourth Generation, we will have lost by winning. Therefore, we must learn how to preserve enemy states at the same time that we defeat them.
(quoting from the Fourth Generation Seminar's own FMFM 1-A).

This is the central problem with Israel right now, they never wanted this war because in their mind they had won. But by winning, they lost. This is a Hegelian moment to be sure. They failed to "preserve" a state in Lebanon strong enough to challenge Hizbullah's violence.

Originally, the stopper in the vacuum of power was Syria (not much of a stopper), but over time this too become sucked away in the blackhole of what Robb terms "open source warfare."

So now Israel is likely to attempt a full scale ground invasion, challenging Hizbullah's violence, and pushing them back behind the Litani river (query whether this is beyond the launch envelope for their newest weaponry or not?).

Yet, as the document Robb quotes extensively from points out, this is not exactly the way to go (it could be, of course, depending on their force mix, but early returns say the mix is too heavy). Here Robb points out:
Light infantry is the best counter to irregulars because it offers... First, good light infantry (unless badly outnumbered) can usually defeat almost any force of irregulars it is likely to meet. It can do this in a “man to man” fight that avoids the “Goliath” image. If the light infantry does not load itself too heavily with arms and equipment, it can enjoy the same mobility as the irregulars (enhanced, as necessary by helicopters or attached motor vehicles). Second, when it uses force, light infantry can be far more discriminating than other combat arms and better avoid collateral damage. This is critically important at both the mental and moral levels.
Robb himself notes:
Israel's only chance to reverse this situation and win (which will be at most a limited victory, given previous blunders) in this war is to fully embrace the light infantry approach and fight this at close quarters. This means sending the tanks back to the sheds, slowing down the air campaign (limiting it to counter-battery fire), and reducing the infantry's dependence of tactical firepower support. Further, all efforts that destabilize the Lebanese state should be reversed.
A9 readers will no doubt note I've noted similar tactical preferences here before. However, I also believe the "light infantry" approach advocated here is capable of some significant refinement.

Light infantry alone will not convince Hizbullah they are beaten. All it will convince them of is that Israel has decided to fight like men.

The short-term consequence of a return to light infantry engagement is to rally Hizbullah's base. You can see the soft, half-smiles on the grizzled faces of Hizbullah's most hardened fighters: "now they fight us on our terms."

In a nutshell, this is the knife's edge between imperliasm and colonialism. Imperialism just sends the Armada to float off the coast and maybe fire a few canons here and there in order to scare the natives back into peaceful acquiesence. Colonialism, however, sends the troops into villages and torches them.

That is: Air power v. grunts or: McClellan v. Sherman or for the Kantian crowd: Power v. Murder.

Again, the Hegelian balance here should be clear enough and the opportunity for even a limited light infantry approach to devolve into a host of still more unintended consequences after the "victory" should also be readily apparent.

Roaming bands of light infantry will be met by the steel of all hardened Hizbullah veterans as well as the steel of the youth of Lebanon, Syria, and many others. As the veterans smile, the youth will rejoice. Rumor will spread. Hopes will be raised. Sure, the battles will roll up in favor of Israel, but the myth of Hizbullah and resistance will inflate the resistance worldwide.

In my opinion, light infantry alone is insufficient. Just as carpet bombing alone is insufficient for a successful air campaign. The enemy will not be disoriented by Israel's change in tactics, they will be thrilled.

Alexander was a ruthless general. He was rumored to have teams of assassins working with his army. They would poison the drinking water of the finest combatants on the other side. Or slip into their tents at night and dagger them in their sleep.

Undoubtedly, this was mostly legend. But it is an important legend. Leaders and fine warriors were afraid of the unknown when fighting with Alexander. They were disoriented. They were scared, more than usual, of death. And this made them uncomfortable in battle.

We must get serious about disorienting and disrupting the tribal hierarchies. They exist even though they are hard to pinpoint or even identify. I'm speaking about their unwritten codes and pecking orders. Their moral, spiritual, and physical rankings are what we can use to upend them. In much the same way good cops disrupt gangs by playing on these social characteristics, we must do the same.

Of course, we can't merely go and put the chief of a small gang in a police cruiser while he's out for a night on the town, thereby embarrassing him and reinforcing the impression that even he answers to the law just like everyone else. But we can resort to the type of tactics Alexander was rumored to use.

Light infantry attacks limit the field of battle, which is good considering the toll expansion of the field of battle has recently taken on Israel's moral fight. But they also limit the field of battle too much if we simply engage the enemy on their terms alone.

Indeed, I fear such a course of action would only harden the resistance for the next few years while bleeding Israel dry.

It may sound like dirty pool to a lot of you, but this is a dirty business... Israel needs to hire teams of assassins, and make the use of them notorious. Some may forget, they once were.

Indeed, in my opinion, killing militia leaders in their homes, in their beds, at night, with no warning, is the only way to turn newly recruited irregular fighters back into disenchanted civilians. Once you start that process, and only until you start that process, will you see the tide starting to turn in this very long of wars.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Israel's Leaders are Cowards

That's why they have taken the easy, but ineffective, way out by trying to defuse Hezbollah rockets by bombing them. If the last half of the twentieth century taught anything, it is that you can't win a war with surgical air strikes; you can only win by sending troops (a lot more than your adversary has) to do the patient and dangerous work of clearing the enemy from every house and hole-in-the-ground in the territory you invade.

I was encouraged for Israel when I heard a few days ago that the Israeli cabinet had approved a larger ground assault--but obviously that was deceptive. They have a half a million troops but have so far committed only a few thousand, arguably not significantly more than Hezbollah has on the ground.

They are cowards. Not their soldiers, or even their air force--but their leadership. For them, the errant bombs (and when you're killing birds with bombs, then all bombs are errant) are better than Viagra--a reassurance of their potency punctuated and reinforced by the howls and screams of their victims, not women only but also children.

Israeli civilians pay the price for their leaders' cowardice, continued rocket attacks bringing death and destruction to a population that depended on its leaders to protect them.

Come to think of it the Israeli leadership is a lot like the American--old men who've lost their influence and try to regain it by cheap wars. Trouble is, it doesn't work.