Feb 29, 2008

Third Wave Jihad - Hodgepodge of Wannabees

You may wish to see David I's recent column in the Washington Post. Like us, our boy manages to shine only when reporting other folks' ideas. Slightly hacked excerpts below:

Politicians who talk about the terrorism threat should be required to read a new book by a former CIA officer named Marc Sageman. It stands what you think you know about terrorism on its head and helps one see the topic in a different light.

Sageman has a résumé that would suit a postmodern John le Carré. He was a case officer running spies in Pakistan and then became a forensic psychiatrist. What distinguishes his new book, "Leaderless Jihad," is that it peels away the emotional, reflexive responses to terrorism that have grown up since Sept. 11, 2001, and looks instead at scientific data Sageman has collected on more than 500 Islamic terrorists -- to understand who they are, why they attack and how to stop them.

The heart of Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat -- and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the current administration, echoed increasingly by certain presidential candidates that, as one particular Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda.

The numbers say otherwise, Sageman insists. The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a "clash of civilizations."

It's the third wave of terrorism that is growing, but what is it? By Sageman's account, it's a leaderless hodgepodge of thousands of what he calls "terrorist wannabes." Unlike the first two waves, whose members were well educated and intensely religious, the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action. Like young people across time and religious boundaries, they are bored and looking for thrills.

"It's more about hero worship than about religion," Sageman said in a presentation of his research last week at the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank here. Many of this third wave don't speak Arabic or read the Koran. Very few (13 percent of Sageman's sample) have attended radical madrassas. Nearly all join the movement because they know or are related to someone who's already in it. Those detained on terrorism charges are getting younger: In Sageman's 2003 sample, the average age was 26; among those arrested after 2006, it was down to about 20. They are disaffected, homicidal kids -- closer to urban gang members than to motivated Muslim fanatics.

Sageman's harshest judgment is that the United States is making the terrorism problem worse by its actions in Iraq. "Since 2003, the war in Iraq has without question fueled the process of radicalization worldwide, including the U.S. The data are crystal clear," he writes. We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.

The third wave of terrorism is inherently self-limiting, Sageman continues. As soon as the amorphous groups gather and train, they make themselves vulnerable to arrest. "As the threat from al-Qaeda is self-limiting, so is its appeal, and global Islamist terrorism will probably disappear for internal reasons -- if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away."

Sageman's policy advice is to "take the glory and thrill out of terrorism." Jettison the rhetoric about Muslim extremism -- these leaderless jihadists are barely Muslims. Stop holding news conferences to announce the latest triumphs in the "global war on terror," which only glamorize the struggle. And reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq, which fuels the Muslim world's sense of moral outrage.

If Sageman's data are right, we are not facing what a President called "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation," but something that is more limited and manageable -- if we make good decisions.

Feb 27, 2008

Tasseography - Fistfull of Polls

40 years ago, the US invasion of South Vietnam was in its fourth year and the surge of that day was about to add another 100,000 troops to the 175,000 already there, while South Vietnam was being bombed at triple the level of the bombing of the north and the war was expanding to the rest of Indochina. Still, the war would not go well, so the hawks were shifting towards doubts, among them the distinguished historian and Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger. He and Kennedy -other Kennedy liberals had already begun - reluctantly began to shift from a dedication to victory to a more dovish position.

Schlesinger explained the reasons. I’ll quote him now:

“Of course, we all pray that the hawks are right in thinking that the surge of that day will work. And if it does, we may all be saluting the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a victory in a land that we have turned to wreck and ruin. But the surge probably won’t work, at an acceptable cost to us, so perhaps strategy should be rethought.”

Well, the reasoning and the underlying attitudes carry over with almost no change to the critical commentary on the US invasion of Iraq today. And it is a land of wreck and ruin. The British polling agency, Opinion Research Business, has recently updated its estimate of deaths. Their new estimate is 1.3 million, excluding two of the most violent provinces, Karbala and Anbar. On the side, it’s kind of intriguing to observe the ferocity of the debate over the actual number of deaths. There’s an assumption on the part of hawks that if we only killed a couple hundred thousand people, it might not be so bad, so we shouldn’t accept the higher estimates. You can go along with that if you like.

Uncontroversially, there are over two million displaced within Iraq. Thanks to Jordan and Syria, the millions of refugees who have fled the wreckage of Iraq aren’t totally wiped out. That includes most of the professional classes. But that welcome is fading, because Jordan and Syria receive no support from Washington and London, and therefore they cannot accept that huge burden for very long. It’s going to leave those two-and-a-half million refugees who fled in even more desperate straits.

The post-invasion sectarian warfare has devastated the country, as you know. Much of the country has been subjected to rather brutal ethnic cleansing and left in the hands of warlords and militias. That’s the primary thrust of the current counterinsurgency strategy that’s developed by Petraeus. He won considerable fame pacifying Mosul a couple of years ago. It’s now, perhaps only coincidentally so, the scene of some of the most extreme violence in the country.

A bleeding-heart journalist immersed in the ongoing messiness, Nir Rosen, recently wrote an epitaph entitled “The Death of Iraq” [5-page pdf]in the somewhat mainstream-ish journal Current History . He writes that “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century,” which has been the perception of many Iraqis, as well. “Only fools talk of ‘solutions’ now,” he went on. “There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.” This is what I hear from my friends in place - they don't speak of winning, they speak of how now to administrate a failure.

But Iraq is, in fact, now a marginal(ized) issue, and the reasons are the traditional ones, the traditional reasoning and attitudes of the liberal doves who all pray now, as they did forty years ago, that the hawks will be right and that the US will win a victory in this land of wreck and ruin. And they’re either encouraged or silenced by the good news about Iraq.

And there is good news. The Multi-National Force–Iraq, (I think three Poles are still battling it out in there somewhere) carries out extensive studies of popular attitudes. It’s an important part of counterinsurgency or any form of domination - you want to know what your subjects are thinking. It released a report last December. It was a study of focus groups, and it was uncharacteristically upbeat. The report concluded—I’ll quote it—that the survey of focus groups “provides very strong evidence” that national reconciliation is possible and anticipated, contrary to what’s being claimed. The survey found that a sense of “optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups…and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis” from all over the country and all walks of life. This discovery of “shared beliefs” among Iraqis throughout the country is “good news, according to a military analysis of the results," Karen de Young reported in the Washington Post.

Well, the “shared beliefs” are identified in the report. I’ll quote de Young: "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the US military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of [what they call] ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation.” So those are the “shared beliefs.” According to the Iraqis then, there’s hope of national reconciliation if the invaders, who are responsible for the internal violence and the other atrocities, withdraw and leave Iraq to Iraqis. That’s pretty much the same as what’s been found in earlier polls, so it’s not all that surprising. Well, that’s the good news: “shared beliefs.”

There was a recent poll which found that 75 percent of Americans believe that US foreign policy is driving the dissatisfaction with America abroad, and more than 60 percent believe that dislike of American values and of the American people are also to blame. Dissatisfaction is a kind of an understatement. The United States has become increasingly the most feared and often hated country in the world. Well, that perception is in fact incorrect. It’s fed by propaganda. There’s very little dislike of Americans in the world, shown by repeated polls, and the dissatisfaction—that is, the hatred and the anger—they come from acceptance of American values, not a rejection of them, and recognition that they’re perceived to be rejected by the US government, which does indeed seem to rile some fickle folks up.

There’s other good news that was reported by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker during the extravaganza staged last September 11th. ("September 11th?", you might ask. "Why that timing?" ;) ) Petraeus and Crocker provided figures to explain the good news. The figures they provided showed that the Iraqi government was greatly accelerating spending on reconstruction, which is good news indeed and remained so until it was investigated by the Government Accountability Office [17-page pdf], which found that the actual figure was one-sixth of what Petraeus and Crocker reported and, in fact, a 50 percent decline from the previous year.

Well, more good news is the decline in sectarian violence; that’s attributable in part to the ethnic cleansing that Iraqis blame on the invasion. There are fewer people to kill, so sectarian violence declines. It’s also attributable to the new counterinsurgency doctrine, Washington’s decision to support the tribal groups that had already organized to drive out Iraqi al-Qaeda, to an increase in US troops, and to the decision of the Sadr’s Mahdi army to consolidate its gains to stop direct fighting. (That’s what the press calls “halting aggression” by the Mahdi army.)

Well, it’s possible that Petraeus’s strategy may approach the success of the Russians in Chechnya, where—I’ll quote the New York Times from last September — Chechnya, the fighting is now “limited and sporadic, and Grozny is in the midst of a building boom” after having been reduced to rubble by the Russian attack. Well, maybe some day Baghdad and Fallujah also will enjoy, to continue the quote, “electricity restored in many neighborhoods, new businesses opening and the city’s main streets repaved,” as in booming Grozny. Possible, but dubious, in the light of the likely consequence of creating warlord armies that may be the seeds of even greater sectarian violence. Well, if Russians share the beliefs and attitudes of elite liberal intellectuals in the West, then they must be praising Putin’s “wisdom and statesmanship” for his achievements in Chechnya. "High five, Putin!"

Washington has expectations for Iraq, and they’re explicit. They're outlined in a Declaration of Principles that was agreed upon between the United States and that Iraqi government we installed under our occupation. These two parties issued the Declaration of Principles. It allows US forces to remain indefinitely in Iraq in order to “deter foreign aggression”—and also to facilitate and encourage “the flow of foreign investments [to] Iraq, especially American investments.” I’m quoting. Not exactly an unbrazen expression of intent.

Such expectations were bulwark'd when POTUS issued a signing statement declaring that he will reject crucial provisions of congressional legislation that he had just signed, including the provision that forbids spending taxpayer money—I’m quoting—“to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of [United States] Armed Forces in Iraq” or “to exercise [United States] control of the oil resources of Iraq." OK? Shortly after, the New York Times reported that Washington “insists that the Baghdad government give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations,” a demand that “faces a potential buzz saw of opposition from Iraq, with its…deep sensitivities about being seen as a dependent state.” It’s supposed to be more third world irrationality.

So, in brief, the United States is now insisting that Iraq must agree to allow permanent US military installations, provide the United - whoops, grant the United States the right to conduct combat operations freely, and to guarantee US control over the oil resources of Iraq. OK? It’s all very explicit, on the table. It’s kind of interesting that these reports do not elicit any reflection on the reasons why we invaded Iraq. You’ve heard those reasons offered, but they were dismissed with ridicule. Now they’re openly conceded to be accurate, but not eliciting any retraction or even any reflection.

Well, there’s a lot more to say about good news when I should just shut up and revere our Lord of COIN so I will just say that thinking about these things perhaps gives some insight into the famous “clash of civilizations” and its actual substance, topics that ought occasionally to be foremost in the minds of those serious about wanting to win this effing bastard of a thing.

Feb 18, 2008

Suicidin' Retards

When I heard the story about two female retards being fitted up with suicide bombs and sent to visit the Baghdad pet market, I had to laugh.

Who's directing this war--Mel Brooks? You can just see Dom DeLuise as the local Mahdi, telling Madeleine Kahn as a drooling bag lady, "You're gonna see the nice puppies, yes yes yes, pretty kitties, yes yes yes, just hold still a moment, Uncle Ahmed needs to adjust your new cummerbund!" Like snotty film buffs love to say, "It works on so many levels."

Starting with the bomb level. These two crazy ladies managed to kill about 100 pet fanciers, a huge total for pedestrian bombs.

They must have had these two Mongoloid gals wearing explosive mumus like my fat aunt used to have, big floral burquas with plenty of room for the lady who's retaining water, or, say, plastic explosive.

They may have been mentally retarded, but they must've been on the Stairmaster for months to pack that much kaboom. Dom must have told them, "Now when you see a puppy or a kitty you really really like, just pull this little string and before you can say 'ow!' you'll be in heaven with 72 puppies, or 64 kitties, or as many goldfish as you want. Now scoot down there, you differently-abled martyr, you!"

I'm sorry, I just can't stop. Just the language they're using on the news accounts--like, when it's some Special Olympics star who wins a gold medal for finishing the 100-yard dash in under six minutes, nobody'd ever say "retarded." He's "special." But interfere with all the upbeat "surge working" stories and you're just a dead retard.

Then there's the matter of like, how do they know? I mean, "retarded" compared to who--the average suicide bomber? If this proves that Al Q. is "scraping the bottom of the barrel" for recruits, does that mean they had aptitude tests till now? "We are sorry, Rashid, but your SAT scores do not qualify you to wear a vest and pull a string."

Until a few years ago, most healthy, normal mainstream journalists would have said that just putting on one of those vests is prima facie evidence that you're cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Does this mean we're saying all those other suicide bombers were perfectly normal dudes?

Because, it so happens, that's what I've been saying all along. Until now, mainstream types have been screaming that these suicide bombers prove that every Muslim is insane. Total crap, of course, unless you're also willing to say that the Alamo proved every Texan was insane or the kamikazes prove that every Japanese is wacko.

Don't get me wrong, it so happens that MOST Texans and Japs ARE crazy; but it's not being willing to sacrifice your life for the cause that makes them crazy.

I've said lots of times that it's not that hard to get kids to die for the tribe or God or Marx or for that matter, 134th Street if that's their local gang turf. We're the crazy ones, so out of touch with all our own glorious military dead that we think there's something crazy about wanting to go out in a blaze of glory.

It actually scares me when people at coffee break in my office say they "juuuuust caaaaan't understaaaaaaaaaand" the "mentality" of a suicide bomber. I mean, didn't they cheer at that scene in Independence Day when Randy Quaid aims his plane up the ass of the alien ship just as it's about to fire the city-killing beam? Wasn't that supposed to be heroic?

Take a less ridiculous case: since the USAF was totally unprepared to defend the continental US against attack on 9/11, the fighters they scrambled to deal with possible further attacks were sent up with no air-to-air munitions at all. That's a fact. And you can see where it leads. The brass was going to order those pilots to crash their fighters into any commercial jet they concluded might be piloted by a guy with a Koran and a Stanley knife. That would have been a pure suicide mission. And I would have expected the pilots to do it without hesitation. Pilots are ego-crazy, but they're tough. They understand that the job involves dying sometimes.

The real reason we understand missions like that but not the average Iraqi pop-rock is that we just don't see why anybody would care enough about Sunni or Shia enough to die for it. But for that matter, it's not easy to see why some Cholo is willing to die for 134th Street either--not if you live in a comfy house in the hills. But if you lived on 134th Street it'd make perfect sense. You have to remember (for the millionth time): not everybody thinks like you. The people in the next house don't even think like you, let alone slum kids in Baghdad.

My point here is that "crazy" doesn't mean much in wartime. It's usually a compliment, if anything. If it turns out that these two ladies had Down's Syndrome, that's different; that's a real birth defect, one you can check on and prove or disprove. But even then, if you know much military history you know that most armies are filled up with any scum the recruiting gangs could scoop up from the alleys.

Even the greatest armies--take the Army of the Potomac--had to fill the ranks with professional recruiting-bounty con men, not to mention the usual psychos and crims running from hometown lynch mobs. And they didn't have IQ tests in those days either. If you could stand up in a uniform and march all day, you'd do fine. You can bet there were plenty of mongoloids (they weren't so squeamish about words back then) who proudly wore their country's uniform, even if they couldn't have named their country even on a multiple choice format.

Normal military service in a 19th-century army at war was pretty close to wearing a suicide vest anyway. Fredericksburg, if you were a Federal; Pickett's Charge, if you were a Reb; those were pretty much suicide missions. And the death you could expect was a million times scarier than the one a modern suicide bomber gets.

An Iraqi "martyr" can count on instant, painless death. They usually find the bomber's head totally popped off the body--that's how they ID the bomber. So it's basically death by beheading, and it's worth remembering that beheading used to be a privilege in Europe, the honorable death they reserved for VIPs. (Ordinary scum got hanged, a way more embarrassing way to go--that terminal boner sticking out for your neighbors to laugh at--and likely to involve a lot of dangling and gurgling if the hangman got his math wrong.)
Compare that with the suicide mission of walking in formation up Mary's Heights at Fredericksburg, or strolling across the fences into cannon fire at Gettysburg. Or fast-forward to the grimmest war at all for a frontline soldier: 1914, the Western Front. Now that was a suicide mission, going over the top. After a few months they all knew it was totally pointless, too--machine guns beat charging infantry every single time, but the gung-ho officers refused to admit it.

Take a machine gun bullet in the belly out there and you were going to die all right. But not by nice quick beheading. You were going to (a) die of peritonitis if you were lucky enough to be dragged back to your lines; (b) be forgotten in No-Man's land and bleed out, which means freezing to death as your circulatory system loses the power to keep your body warm; (c) be eaten alive, or half-alive, by the rats that swarmed between the trenches; or (d) lie there until the next bombardment sent a shell--just as likely your own side's as the enemy's--to plow up the blood/mud mush one more time and just by accident blow your infected mess of a body into vapor.

When you compare that death to the one the average Iraqi suicide bomber gets, well my God, even a retard could figure out which is better. The WW I dead were totally anonymous, a little name on long, long lists; you'll be a hero in your Baghdad neighborhood, celebrated for decades. The WW I soldiers died slow, horrible deaths; you'll go instantly, without pain. Most important of all, they died in what they knew, absolutely perfectly well knew, were stupid, pointless charges.

You, the supposedly retarded Baghdad bomber, are going to trade your one lousy slum life for the lives of dozens of the enemy tribe, and you're going to make the international press in the process and embarrass the Hell out of the Americans.

They don't sound so stupid to me.

Feb 14, 2008

Kenya: No Worries There, Mate

I only turn our attention to Kenya as I remain troubled by freaky memories of giving fire sale golf lessons to a strapped Kenyan ambassador who hoped that learning golf with his embarrassing entry level set of Mizuno clubs would aid in networking his way into the boozing echelons of G8 diplomats.

The impoverished pretender was hopeless at anything even remotely demanding a sober cerebellum's micro-management of hand-eye cooperation, but he never failed at springing for peanuts and two beers each at the hooker-rife Sheraton where we'd savor the highlights of our weekly routine of sneaking on to any given local course for however long it took to be spotted furrowing through the greens with scoliotic swings, only and always to be chased off the grounds by barking representatives of the local master race.

Before each lesson the ambassador's driver would pick me up in a CD tagged black stretch Mercedes and en route to hooking up with ambassador-man for yet another weekly raid I'd pump limo-boy (talking to the limo-boy was verbotten per explicit ambassadorial instruction) for the lo-down on the legation's upstairs/downstairs relations. "Just a matter of time", I thought. "Just a matter of time before the bows and arrows come out." All that was an amazing 20 years ago.

While Western media is having a revelous heyday publishing pictures of culturally hyper-regressing Kenyans armed with bows and arrows (these pictures have been picked up all across the occidental world), I turn to the metrics-men of the insurance industry to size up the lay of that quaking land - for it is often such plodding folk one can count on to deliver less dubiously indulgent and level-headed assessments on matters of reasonable import.

The excerpts below hardly do the complete South African Insurance Times & Investment News article justice so I'd recommend reading it in it's entirety for one of the better situational briefings around, imho.
  • Kenya's post-election crisis has significantly damaged the domestic economy and Global Insight has downgraded its 2008 base-line forecast to 4% from a pre-crisis forecast of 6.1%, assuming a quick resolution is found.
  • The tourism, agriculture, transportation, and communications sectors have been directly hit by the unrest, with knock-on affects rippling through the rest of the economy.
  • Kenya's budget is also facing considerable pressure on a number of fronts as underlying budget assumptions are tested.
  • Tribalism, political disharmony, land disputes, and pervasive poverty all have a leading part to play in the current turmoil.
  • Mediation talks have so far failed and a new team of African leaders, led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, has taken over the negotiations.
  • Possible political solutions include, among others, the formation of an interim unity government with a view to paving the way for a constitutional change, and for President Kibaki to step down and resign himself to a re-run of the election.
  • Nevertheless, there are key fundamental developments that lend a mitigating factor to the situation and point to a limited long-term impact on the economy. [*]
[*]Kenya's role as the regional hub and its geopolitical importance all bolster long-term growth. Key infrastructural developments, especially within trade and transportation infrastructure, are of categorical regional importance and the fundamental drivers that have led to the 2004-2007 economic revival remain.

The export sectors are well-grounded and developed enough to take advantage of a more competitive exchange rate, and the unique tourism sector remains strong enough to recover.

It is also worthy to note that the economy has grown and pro-business policies have been passed (albeit delayed), despite competition in a split parliament and a strong no vote on the government’s constitutional propositions.

Kenya is at a turning point that will force the country to take a long, hard look inwards.

There is still optimism that a solution will be found in enough time to halt a severe hit to the economy, but even if such a solution is delayed, there is enough strength and opportunity in Kenya's fundamental drivers to support a return to the path of recovery in the long term.

Feb 11, 2008

IO Planetary Calm

In a subtitled video that popped up in a few places on the Internet earlier this week -- Glosslip.com found it, and it was later picked up by Gawker.com and other sites -- Scientology leader David Miscavige is shown speaking to an audience about both the religion's multipronged campaign for the "global obliteration of psychiatry" and its international effort to disseminate a booklet, authored by Church founder L. Ron Hubbard, that the organization uses for outreach. The video appears to have been made in 2006.

In describing the workings of what he called "the 2006 campaign for the global elimination of psychiatry," Miscavige boasts of a coordinated international public relations attack meant to damage and discredit the psychiatric profession, its revenues and the drugs it employs.

"That campaign was expressly, maybe even diabolically, engineered to ignite both government action and media blizzard," says Miscavige from a lectern. "Our Mental Health Adjustment Kit essentially works like a 'smart' bomb in that it sniffs out 'psych' fuel lines and blows the funding mechanism."

"To put it bluntly," he continues, a moment before receiving rousing cheers from a large audience, "we booby-trap the whole psychiatric ecosystem."

Miscavige also goes into detail about a program he refers to as Operation Planetary Calm, whose goal is the worldwide distribution of Hubbard's "The Way to Happiness," a text the Church of Scientology refers to as a nonreligious "common-sense guide to happier living," according to a website registered under the address of the church. At one point, a computer animation depicts a giant grenade, labeled "Psych Buster," exploding near a building labeled "government" and another building, perhaps a bank, with a large dollar sign on its side. Miscavige repeatedly invokes end-times biblical tropes such as "plagues," "parting seas" and "apocalyspe," and cites the goal of breaking "the dark spell cast across Earth by psychiatry."

As of this writing, at least three copies of the video had been posted on YouTube, the most-watched of which had fewer than 10,000 views.

Read the entire transcript here.

Feb 8, 2008

Touched Becometh Toucher

Some heavy-breathing guy called Matt reached out from behind and below and touched us. He offered no candy from his van but did ramble on about a 1-2-3 Meme in motion. The meme and its rules:
  • Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
  • Open the book to page 123.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the next three sentences.
  • Tag five people.
Overcoming certain challenges (We own few books. Those we do possess often have far fewer than 123 pages. Almost all of our books are rather picture heavy. What little text does exist is most often not in English.), I give you our snotty contribution:
Some years ago a dentist asked me to see a patient who had already consulted half a dozen of his colleagues in an attempt to rid herself of a mouth odor only she could perceive. Claiming with great intensity that her breath smelled like "dragon dung" she had avoided people for over a year rather than be summarily rejected by them. I knew that epileptic seizures involving the uncus, the tip of the temporal lobes of the brain (these are called "uncinate fits") typically involve the illusion of odor, but this seemed different in that the offending smell was constant rather than episodic and for some years she had been taking the antihypertensive drug reserpine, which will often give people a sense of being guilty about something or even produce full-fledged depression.

And now we touch untouched other:
Minstrel Boy
Stephen Soldz
One of our Roguelies
Professor Douglas
...and Napa Valley Steve for a mold breaking six.

DNI's 2008 Threat Assessment (version: Baby Talk)

A week of windy and format-challenged posts it would seem.

The Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (unclassified version) [47-pages pdf} was released earlier this week. Baby talk aside, passages of sufficient noteworthiness were nonetheless not completely in the lacking. Chosen for reasons undulating between the cynical and the significant, here are excerpts we found almost worth the excerpting effort:

Meddled East

  • The brutal attacks against Muslim civilians unleashed by AQI and AQIM and the conflicting demands of the various extremist agendas are tarnishing al-Qa’ida’s self-styled image as the extremist vanguard. Over the past year, a number of religious leaders and fellow extremists who once had significant influence with al-Qa’ida have publicly criticized it and its affiliates for the use of violent tactics. [A claim as a picture perfect expression of a Strategic PSYOP in play]

  • Many Sunnis who participate in local security initiatives retain a hostile attitude toward Shia parties that dominate the government, and some Shia leaders still view many anti-AQI Sunni groups as thinly disguised insurgents who are plotting to reverse the political process that brought the Shia to power. Security in southern Iraq probably will remain fragile in the coming months as rival Shia groups continue to compete violently for political power and economic resources. In Al Basrah, security remains tenuous. Security also is a problem in northern Iraq. Violence has increased in Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, as both Sunni resistance elements and AQI increasingly focus their activities in the area. The Iraqi government will have to address Sunni Arab concerns over representation on the provincial councils, defeat AQI and the insurgents, and address Kurdish expansionism to improve security in northern Iraq .[Filed under Significant]

  • Approximately 90 percent of all suicide attacks in Iraq are conducted by foreign terrorists [Oh? and Really?]

  • Negotiations on hydrocarbon laws continue to be stalled by disagreements between the central government and the Kurds over control of resources and revenue sharing. [We keep meaning to write a Mosul for Dummies Like Us]

  • Although Riyadh also has made strides against key supporters and facilitators of extremist attacks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia remains a source of recruits and finances for Iraq and Levant-based militants and Saudi extremists constitute the largest share of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq.


  • We judge the ongoing political uncertainty in Pakistan has not seriously threatened the military’s control of the nuclear arsenal, but vulnerabilities exist. The Pakistan Army oversees nuclear programs, including security responsibilities, and we judge that the Army’s management of nuclear policy issues—to include physical security—has not been degraded by Pakistan’s political crisis. [Filed under Significant; 5-page pdf]


  • ...we will be alert for signs of systemic changes such as an indication that [Russian] presidential powers are being weakened in favor of a stronger prime minister.

  • Russia is positioning to control an energy supply and transportation network spanning from Europe to East Asia. Aggressive Russian efforts to control, restrict or block the transit of hydrocarbons from the Caspian to the West—and to ensure that East-West energy corridors remain subject to Russian control

  • [Russian] demographic, health problems, and conscription deferments erode available manpower [in the military].


  • We judge that the Balkans will remain unsettled in 2008 as Kosovo’s drive for independence from Serbia comes to a head and inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia worsen. [Filed under - Definitely not sexy]


  • China’s global engagement is not driven by Communist ideology or military expansionism, but instead by a need for access to markets, resources, technology and expertise...

  • Beijing is seeking a constructive relationship with the US and the rest of the world, which will allow China to fully capitalize on a favorable strategic environment. Indeed, Chinese officials consistently emphasize the need to seek cooperative relations with Washington, because conflict with the United States would risk derailing China’s economic development. They also seek to alleviate international concerns about China’s strategic intentions.


  • Persistent insecurity in Nigeria’s oil producing region, the Niger Delta, poses a direct threat to US strategic interests in sub-Saharan Africa. Ongoing instability and conflict in other parts of Africa pose less direct though still significant threats to US interests because of their high humanitarian and peacekeeping costs...

  • Tensions between longtime enemies Ethiopia and Eritrea have increased over the past year, with both sides seemingly preparing for a new war. The last war killed about 80,000 soldiers on both sides. If conflict reignites, Ethiopian President Meles’s own hold on power could be put in jeopardy if the war went badly for him.


  • With about 70 percent of global oil reserves inaccessible or of limited accessibility to outside oil companies, competition between international oil companies to secure stakes in the few countries open to foreign investment is likely to intensify. [Filed under Darfur et al]

  • Global food prices also have been rising steadily over the past two years driven by higher energy prices...The double impact of high energy and food prices is increasing the risk of social and political instability in vulnerable countries.


  • The most direct threat to the US is the spread of infectious pathogens to our shores, or within areas where US personnel are deployed.

Feb 7, 2008

GWOG - Global War On Gangs

It's not completely beyond the wobbly trajectories of SMC to channel, via jacked & hacked pieces, the work of notable other to explore eclectic node and intersect within the matrix of shrinkology, IO, and insurgency/COIN. Posted less often than perhaps our ambitions would have it are materials pertaining to Western European and American insurgency type movements and their state sponsored counter-movements. Perhaps an exception to this rule of negligence is in order. This then on advanced gangs (3G gangs) as insurgent entities - from the perspective of state.

Dr. Max Manwaring's recent (2008) A Contemporary Challenge to State Sovereignty: Gangs and Other Illicit Transnational Criminal Organizations in Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil [67-page pdf], explores a marginalized species of SMC fetish as he asserts that gang-generated instability leads to threats to national, regional, and global security; nation-state sovereignty; failing and failed states; and a "clash of civilizations." The objective of these illegal non-state entities is to neutralize, control, or depose governments to assure their own commercial or ideological expectations. Their ultimate threat is the coerced criminal imposition of a radical restructuring of the state and its governance. This monograph builds on his 2005 monograph, Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency [53-page pdf]. Below we serve up des amuses bouches from SSI's summarizing efforts for both papers - for the sake of context, not flatulence.

2005 Monograph

Although differences between gangs and insurgents regarding motives and modes of operations exist, this linkage infers that gang phenomena are mutated forms of urban insurgency. In these terms, these “new” nonstate actors must eventually seize political power to guarantee the freedom of action and the commercial environment they want. The common denominator that can link the gang phenomenon to insurgency is that some third generation gangs’ and insurgents’ ultimate objective is to depose or control the governments of targeted countries.

[There are] issues that must be taken together and understood as a whole before any effective countermeasures can be taken to deal with the half-criminal and half-political nature of the gang phenomenon. This is a universal compound-complex problem that must be understood on three distinct levels of analysis: first, the gangs phenomena are generating serious domestic and regional instability and insecurity that ranges from personal violence to insurgent to state failure: second, because if their criminal activities and security challenges, the gangs phenomena are exacerbating civil-military and police-military relations problems and reducing effective and civil-military ability to control the national territory; and, third, gangs are helping transitional criminal organizations, insurgents, warlords, and drug barons erode the legitimacy and effective sovereignty of nation-states . The analytical commonality linking these three issues is the inevitable contribution to either (a) failing and failed state status of targeted countries, or (b) deposing or controlling the governments of targeted countries. In these terms, we must remember that crime and instability are only symptoms of the threat. The ultimate threat is either state failure or the violent imposition of a radical socio-economicpolitical restructuring of the state and its governance.

In describing the gang phenomenon as a simple mutation of a violent act we label as insurgency, we mischaracterize the activities of nonstate organizations that are attempting to take control of the state. We traditionally think of insurgency as primarily a military activity, and we think of gangs as a simple law-enforcement problem. Yet, insurgents and third generation gangs are engaged in a highly complex political act—political war. Under these conditions, police and military forces would provide personal and collective security and stability, while they and other governmental institutions combat the root causes of instability and political war—injustice, repression, inequity, and corruption. The intent would be to generate the political-economic-social development that will define the processes of national reform, regeneration, and wellbeing. The challenge, then, is to come to terms with the fact that contemporary security and stability, at whatever level, is at base a holistic political-diplomatic, socio-economic, psychological-moral, and military police effort.

2008 Monograph

Another kind of war within the context of a “clash of civilizations” is being waged in various parts of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere around the world. Some of the main protagonists are those who have come to be designated as first-, second-, and third-generation street gangs, as well as their various possible allies such as traditional Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs). In this new type of war, national security and sovereignty of affected countries is being impinged every day, and gangs’ illicit commercial motives are, in fact, becoming an ominous political agenda.

Rather than trying to depose a government with a major stroke (golpe or coup) or in a prolonged revolutionary war, as some insurgents have done, gangs and their allies (the gang phenomenon) more subtly take control of territory and people one street or neighborhood at a time (coup d’ street) or one individual, business, or government office at a time. Thus, whether a gang is specifically a criminal or insurgent type organization is irrelevant. Its putative objective is to neutralize, control, or depose governments to ensure self-determined (nondemocratic) ends. This objective defines insurgency, a serious political agenda, and a clash regarding the authoritative allocation of values in a society.

The purposes of this monograph are to (1) introduce the gang phenomenon as a major nonstate player and a serious threat in the global and regional security arenas;( 2) examine the gang phenomenon in Central America in general and in El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil more specifically; and (3) summarize the key points and lessons and make brief recommendations. These cases demonstrate the analytical commonalities of various types of gang activities as they contribute to the instabilities that lead to the erosion of national security, nation-state sovereignty, the processes of state failure, and the struggle between democratic and criminal values.

Feb 3, 2008

Deconflicting the GWOT Matrix

The success of the initial U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan was deployed pre-2003 to bulwark speculative pitches of the feasibility of a successful post-invasion endeavor in Iraq. Five years later, U.S. leverage inside Iraq is considerably marginalized and the Taliban and their allies have made an impressive comeback in Afghanistan while U.S.-Afghan relations are on the fray.

Afghans are disillusioned by the failure of real progress in securing and rebuilding their country, again a narco-state as half of the country's GDP is drug-related. The Bush administration promised a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan it never delivered. Compared to other recent post-conflict countries, Afghanistan receives minimal assistance. This despite the fact that Afghanistan remains the home to much of al Qaeda and has served as the largest terrorist haven in the world.

Like McDonald's dropped Kobe and Pepsi a Madonna, Jackson, and Ludacriss, some are now suggesting it's time to deconflict the GWOT matrix and save what can be saved of an Afghanistan critically foundering in the shadow of an embarrassing and debilitating controversy called Iraq.

Last week, January 30 2008, the Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP) released the Afghanistan Study Group Report. [48-page pdf] The goal of the Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and General James L. Jones, is to provide policy makers with key recommendations that will lead to a re-vitalization and re-doubling of the United States and international community commitment and effort in Afghanistan. The study group’s findings and proposals will be shared with U.S. government officials, Members of Congress, key officials in NATO and at the United Nations, and representatives of the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as other interested governments and parties.

What follows are excerpts from the report deemed to be of some relevance to the thematic obsessions of this shack: (Note: Readers might also want to read two related reports brought to our attention by Steven Aftergood of FAS's Secrecy News: CRS's Afghanistan: Post-war Governance, Security, and U.S. policy [68-page pdf] and NATO in Afghanistan: A test of the Transatlantic Alliance [29-page pdf])

Afghanistan stands today at a crossroads. The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country. The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans.

The “light footprint” in Afghanistan needs to be replaced with the “right footprint” by the U.S. and its allies. It is time to re-vitalize and re-double our efforts toward stabilizing Afghanistan and re-think our economic and military strategies to ensure that the level of our commitment is commensurate with the threat posed by possible failure in Afghanistan. Without the right level of commitment on the part of the U.S., its allies, and Afghanistan’s neighbors, the principles agreed upon by both the Afghan government and the international community at the 2006 London Conference and the goals stated in the Afghanistan Compact will not be achievable.


The efforts of the Afghanistan Study Group to help re-think U.S. strategy comes at a time when polls indicate a weakening of resolve in the international community to see the effort in Afghanistan through to a successful conclusion. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey of June 2007 reported that the publics of NATO countries with significant numbers of troops in Afghanistan are divided over whether U.S. and NATO forces should be brought home immediately, or should remain until the country is stabilized. In all but two countries, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, majorities said troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible.

Moreover, recent polls in Afghanistan reflect a downward turn in attitudes toward the ability of the Afghan government and the international community to improve those conditions the Afghan people identify as the most critical problems facing the country: insecurity, weak governance, widespread corruption, a poor economy and unemployment.


[T]he Study Group offers three overarching recommendations to bring sharper focus and attention to Afghanistan – within the U.S. government and within the broader international community.

The first is a proposal for the Administration and the Congress to decouple Iraq and Afghanistan in the legislative process and in the management of these conflicts in the Executive branch

The second is to establish a Special Envoy for
Afghanistan position within the U.S. government, charged with coordinating all aspects of U.S. policies towards Afghanistan.

The third is to propose an international mandate to formulate a new unified strategy to stabilize Afghanistan over the next five years and to build international support for it.


The Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP) was closely engaged in the work of the Iraq Study Group. During the discussions of that group it became more and more evident that Afghanistan was at great risk of becoming “the forgotten war.” Participants and witnesses pointed to the danger of losing the war in Afghanistan unless a reassessment took place of the effort being undertaken in that country by the United States, NATO and the international community.


While most of our analysis and recommendations fall into specific subject areas – including security, governance, counter-narcotics, development, and regional considerations – some of the challenges and solutions facing our effort in Afghanistan cut across those issues. This section deals with crosscutting recommendations.

It is clear that one of the key challenges that the mission in Afghanistan now faces is the lack of a common strategic vision that will reinvigorate our efforts under unified attainable goals. This process has to be done comprehensively – involving both military and civilian aspects of the mission as equals – and in a cooperative fashion among the U.S., NATO, the UN, the EU, and the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Compact should be the basis for any common strategic vision, and discussion should focus on developing strategies to achieve that vision.

For that purpose, the Study Group proposes to establish an Eminent Persons Group to develop a long-term, coherent international strategy for Afghanistan and a strategic communications plan to garner strong public support for that strategy.


Within the U.S., the Study Group calls for decoupling Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2003, U.S. funding of military and other mission operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been linked together in the Congressional and Executive branch budget processes for authorizations, appropriations and supplemental requests. The rationale for this was that it would provide a more unified focus on overall “Global War on Terrorism” efforts by the Congress, the Administration and the military.


In July 2007, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report on the costs of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war on terror operations since 9/11. The report emphasized the issue of transparency in war and related costs, noting the Iraq Study Group’s observation that the funding/budget requests from the Executive branch are presented in a confusing manner, making it difficult for both the general public and members of Congress to understand the request or to differentiate it from counter-terrorism operations around the world or operations in Afghanistan.

While arguments have been made that in effect the two missions are practically decoupled, we believe this to be insufficient. There is, accordingly, an emerging view that Afghanistan and its long-term problems would be better addressed by decoupling funding and related programs from those for Iraq. Doing so would enable more coherence and focus on the increasingly important Afghanistan (and related Pakistan) issues, both for the Congress and the Executive branch as well as in dealing with other governments and international organizations to achieve needed improvement in coordination, collaboration, and efficacy of efforts in the interrelated military, economic and reconstruction spheres.

Decoupling these two conflicts likely will improve the overall U.S. approach to fighting global terrorism. While the fates of these two countries are connected – and a failure in Iraq would influence Afghanistan and vice versa – tying together Afghanistan and Iraq also creates the false impression that they consist of the same mission, while in reality the challenges in these countries differ significantly from one another. It is not the intention of this recommendation to speak to the comparative funding levels for the two conflicts – only that the Afghanistan Study Group believes it would be best to consider each on their own merits.