Checkmate in Baghdad and Geneva

October 4, 2013

“Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.” – JFK

War is a messy business. Serial wars get even more untidy over time. Often, it’s hard to know where one begins and another ends. Such is the case today as the Arab spring looks like another Muslim winter. America and Europe stumble from one conflict venue to another wondering what happened to all those rosy assertions about jasmine, justice, moderation, and modernity. The Islamic world is a mess and no one has a clue as to where or how the sequential mayhem ends. In Syria, the nanny states of the West are again perched on the brink of another sectarian and/or tribal abyss.

Nonetheless, the optimism of intervention still prevails. Today you hear argument after argument about the responsibilities of power and success – or preaching about very selective humanitarian concerns.  If you read enough foreign policy analysis you might come to believe that someone has the answer, or that somehow Europe and America have the “responsibility” to make the Third World well. Never mind that the very words “developing” and “emerging” have become geo-political oxymorons, triumphs of hope over experience.

Ironically, the grand strategy, if there is one, when you strip away the boilerplate, can be summarized with a single word – that word is “more.” More is the mantra of imprudent expectations; bailouts at home and flailouts abroad. If one “investment” doesn’t work, surely the original sacrifice wasn’t big enough. No thought seems to be given to developing a new game plan. More aid, more pandering, more troops, more drones, or more missile strikes; but never more common sense. It’s always more, and more is never enough.

And now ‘more’ is accompanied by “red line” moralizing, the color coded version of chicken. Alas, the no-fault/default cultures of Europe and America are unlikely enforcers of any kind of norms and standards in the less civilized world. The West insists, ironically, on measures of accountability and restraint that have been abandoned in Europe and America. Political decay, especially in the First World, has consequences.

All the rhetoric about global responsibility is a rehash of the “white man’s burden” trope. Worse still, the hand-wringing and preaching seems to validate “orientalism,” guilt driven theories that excuse and forgive Muslim pathology because the chaos is thought to be the results of European racism, colonialism, or exploitation.

Ironically, much of the confused strategic rhetoric originates with senior military officers and the Intelligence Community.

Since Vietnam, the Pentagon has sought to redefine most wars as either guerilla, insurgent, or conventional conflicts. Conventional conflict is a distant third in most deliberations. Real wars might have to be declared and put to a vote. Unfortunately, the accepted taxonomy ignores ground truth and the worldview of likely opponents.

Most wars in the troublesome Muslim world are in fact religious wars, conflicts where the nexus is a clash between religious and secular values. The most obvious evidence of religious war, external to the Muslim world, occurs at the tectonic plates of religion, those borders where Muslim and non-Muslim polities meet. South Asia, North Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus region, Thailand, and the Philippines are obvious examples. Even China has pockets of Muslim irredentism.

When ayatollahs and imams rant about “jihad,” or holy war, they have few illusions about the nature of contemporary conflict. Indeed, most Muslim clerics seem to grasp global strategic reality better than American generals who insist on parsing various Muslim wars into local insurgencies with local motives. Religion has become the invisible camel in the infidel tent.

The most celebrated version of the official US military view in these matters is contained in Army Field Manual 3-24; Counterinsurgency, the doctrinal bible that David Patraeus helped write and subsequently rode to four star notoriety. Unfortunately, like too many of his over-schooled peers, General Patraeus is more likely to be remembered for his social life than his military insights or battlefield achievements. Equally misguided was the US Marine Corps decision to adopt the Army manual in the interests of tactical ecumenism.

Religious war is now a global phenomenon, thanks in part to the failure of flag officers to acknowledge that threat. The Pentagon doesn’t have any official guidance for religious war beyond political correctness.

Within the Ummah, modern wars are of two types; civil and proxy. Contemporary revolutions in Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, the Sudan, Somalia, Mali, and Egypt are religious civil wars. These in turn are of two classes; sectarian (i.e. Shia vs Sunni) or secular/sectarian. Secular military dictatorships, Egypt today for example, have been in the clerical crosshairs since Mohammed’s time. Libya and Syria are examples of secular oligarchies where tribal rivalries created opportunities for Islamists.

Syria is a prominent example of modern proxy war, where principals (Russia and the US or Iran and Israel), once removed, are attempting to settle old scores or exploit a regional opportunity. Any notion of moral “red lines” or WMD thresholds in Syria is just another flight from reality, a veil for political egos and hidden agendas.

The American Ranch Hand campaign (1962-71), which poisoned Southeast Asia for nearly a decade, was the most egregious, sustained modern use of chemical warfare. Granted, the putative aim of the Agent Orange campaign was defoliation; still, the net effect was to poison civilians and water sources under the canopy. No American administration is well-positioned to point fingers at Syria when the US Air Force, the Pentagon, and the White House have yet to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the mutilation of a generation of American GIs and several generations of Vietnamese children.

We might also recall those gassed Kurds and Persians (1988) of recent memory who perished from indifference if not complicity. Or we could mention the million or so Rwandans (1994) who fell to tribal clubs and cutlery. Such events barely make the evening news in the West. With these and Vietnam, ‘moral’ superiority about chemical warfare or genocide, if it ever existed, is a void not a high ground.

The recent gas attack in Syria is not an exception, nor is it a rule. Identifying culprits is probably irrelevant.  Nations adhere to international conventions or “norms” as it suits their interests. Credible force is the only reliable sheriff or deterrent. And a false flag prologue is often the pretense for the use of force.

Clearly there is more than a little overlap in any conflict taxonomy. Nonetheless, the need for a new vocabulary for the age of intervention is underwritten by two indisputable facts: religion underwrites much of the typology and too many conflicts are misrepresented as insurgencies when they are in fact civil wars. If Libya or Syria were true insurgencies, America should have sent guns to Gaddafi and Assad.

The ‘insurgent’ paradigm suits the politics, not the reality, of modern war. Terms like Islamic, religious, or “civil” war are avoided because the US military has no charter, doctrine, or legal authority for intervention in overseas internal disputes; and surely no moral authority for taking sides in religious rivalries. The Sunni tilt in American foreign policy since 1979 speaks for itself, a grim litany of blowback and failure.

At a minimum, you could argue that American intervention has made Shia fanatics, Hezb’allah, the Taliban, and now a global al Qaeda possible. Recall that America helped create a vacuum in southern Lebanon for Hezb’allah to fill. Recall also that clandestine support to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the Soviet era made the Taliban possible. Imprudent signals to Islamists made the recent Muslim Brotherhood electoral success possible in Egypt too. In the geo-political arena, unqualified support for Saudi and Emirate oil oligarchs makes Salifism and related religious fascism possible worldwide.

The incompetence of intervention has more than a little to do with the caliber of American generals since Korea. Surely, David Patraeus was no guerilla fighter like Joe Stillwell and Martin Dempsey is no cavalry officer the equal of George Patton. At Benghazi, American military honor was compromised by timidity, if not bureaucratic cowardice. General Dempsey claims that he did not act because Mrs. Clinton didn’t give him a green light. Under Dempsey, the military ethos changed from “no man left behind” to “cover your behind.” Victory is no longer a staple of any flag officer’s resume or vocabulary.

The Intelligence Community is also part of the rhetorical decay. While at the White House, John Brennan literally scrubbed any reference to Islam, Islamists, jihad, or holy war from public and administration conversations about national security. He actually convinced most government departments, contractors, and the Press to delete any language that might suggest linkage between terror, religious war, and Islam. The Director of National Intelligence now refers to Islamic terrorists as “nefarious characters.” At CIA, Brennan is now well placed to police the language and analysis of National Intelligence Estimates.

And the chickens of strategic decline are home to roost as America again sides with the Sunni in Syria. Dithering in the West for two years has allowed Bashar al-Assad to regain the tactical advantage on the battlefield. And strategically, the Alawite regime now has a clear victory.  American gun sights have been lowered from regime change to “let’s make a deal.” Never mind that time is as good a gift to Assad as any aid from the Persians and Russians.

And the proxy war is a disaster. Vladimir Putin throws a ‘Hail Mary’ in Syria, and Foggy Bottom and the White House morph into cheer leaders. Worse still, the American administration embarrasses itself by trying to take credit for the Russian initiative. Say what you will about Putin, he is a better friend to Syria than Obama is to Israel. When the next “red line” is in the works, it might have to be drawn around Israel.

The Russian strategy may look a little like a deus ex machina, but compared to the Obama amateurs, Putin plays the great game like Winston Churchill. And putting John Kerry in  a diplomatic cage match with Sergei Lavrov is like watching  a bear  toy with a cocker spaniel. Checkmate in Baghdad and Geneva!

…………………………………………

The author provided intelligence support to Ranch Hand at Tan Son Nhut AB in 1968 and 1971. He writes occasionally about the politics of national security.

 

 

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Political Revolt and Religious Reform

May 8, 2011

“Revolution is a transfer of power; reform is the correction of abuses.”  Lytton

 

Scholars and politicians are still trying to make a case for Muslim “democracy” in the wake of an ongoing viral Arab revolution.  These arguments, as they have since the beginning, are underwritten by two grand assumptions; a “moderate” Islamic present and an enlightened Muslim future. If asserted conclusions and wishful thinking were evidence, such speculations might be supportable.

The predicate of “moderation” imagines an Islam that is ecumenical and tolerant; in short, a culture of persuasion, not an imperial political ideology. Such assumptions tend to ignore the realities of global militants, jihad financiers, and aggressive proselytizers.

Fearful politicians and an uncurious Press reserve most of their anguish for relatively minor and geographically remote groups of Muslim radicals such as Arab al Qaeda and the South Asian Taliban. The Pyrrhic victory laps associated with the recent summary execution of Osama bin Laden are symptomatic. Concurrently, the larger international Islamist movement grows apace, largely unexamined and unchecked.

Global terror attacks now number over 50 thousand incidents per annum; and most anti-secular insurgencies worldwide, while nearly exclusively Islamic, are dismissed as unrelated or isolated events with local motives. Islamic terrorist organizations now number in the dozens and more than a few operate globally. Petrodollar financing of mosques, religious schools, and religious cultural centers also operates beneath the radar of international concern. Religious proselytizing organizations such as Hizb al-Ikwan al-Muslimum (Muslim Brotherhood), Hizb ut Tahir (Party of Liberation), and the Tabilighi Jamaat (Society for Faith Propagation) now have a gross membership in the hundreds of millions.

PEW surveys of Arab attitudes towards jihad, terror, Jews, and religious law reveal significant support for the Islamist agenda. In some countries those sentiments exceed fifty percent of the population. The most facile defense of irredentist Arab attitudes are the blanket claims, like those made by White House advisors, that negative sentiments are  “unislamic” or  fringe phenomena, not representative of  true Islam or genuine Arab opinion. Islamic leaders seldom make such fatuous claims about “moderation,” yet factual terror statistics and factual opinion surveys seem to have little impact on non-Islamic apologists.

More than a few militant groups, work several facets of the jihad imperative; violence and good works. Hamas and Hezb’allah (Party of God) are two prominent examples – bloody sedition masked under a burka of community service.

Nonetheless, the largely unwarranted assumptions about Muslim moderation are not near as troubling as forecasts or wishful thinking about Muslim “democracy.”

It is religious reform and tolerance, not political revolution that makes democracy and republicanism possible. Islam does not recognize a distinction between church and state. Indeed, contemporary Islamic clerics and scholars hold that religious/secular distinctions create a “hideous schizophrenia” in the West – the source of all European and American degeneracy. Such dogma offers few prospects for renewal, internal or external to dar al Islam.

Developed societies do not find the sacred and profane mutually exclusive. For too many Muslims, such enlightened tolerance is neither a virtue nor a likely future.

 The Christian Experience

 The keystone for secular/religious harmony is the admonition to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” found in the synoptic gospels (Mathew 22:21). Indeed, the early Christian tradition followed a polytheistic Roman model which, short of political revolt, was very tolerant – and at one time, republican. Indeed, the man Christians knew as Saint Paul was in fact, unlike Christ, a literate rabbi and a Roman Citizen. He lived in three worlds and thrived.

Up to the time of Constantine, few people made a distinction between Jews and Christians. A Christian was a kind of reform Jew.  Early Christian theologians, and later Enlightenment philosophers, were admirers of Greek and Roman secular notions of democracy and republicanism: Albertus, Augustine, Aquinas, and (especially) Erasmus were prominent.

The seeds of civilization were first embalmed in sectarian amber with Constantine’s Edict of Milan (313 AD); a proclamation whose net effect made Christianity the state religion of a fadingRoman Empire.Constantine, weary of internecine wars in Europe moved the Roman capital to the Bosporus where classical civility awaited its fate at the hands of the Ottomans.

The end of the Roman Byzantine epoch was forecast in 1054 AD when the western and eastern rites of the Christian church excommunicated each other – a divide which persists today.  By 1453 AD, the lights of Constantinople were dimmed by Mehmed II after a siege that lasted less than 60 days.

If Constantine had the gift of prophesy and could have foreseen the tyranny of Holy Roman Emperors and corrupt Catholic Popes, he might then have given polytheism, and the entire Greek and Latin pantheon, a second look.  Monotheism was a hop, skip, and jump from religious monoculture, a straitjacket that was not undone inEurope for a thousand years.

Rome and Constantinople did not perish from a single cause. Indeed, the decline of both was slow enough that Western Europedidn’t rouse itself from the dogmatic stupor of the Dark and Middle Ages until it was too late. The last vestiges of Classical Rome, and many Greek antecedents, were devoured by monotheistic cannibals; Christianity on the north and west and Islam to the east and south. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment barely saved Europeand Christianity from themselves.

Much of the problem with historical religious tyranny is the assumed superiority of monotheism and the infallibility of associated clerics or “prophets.” Orthodox or fundamentalist monocultures are invariably authoritarian and characteristically intolerant. In the modern Arab world, autocratic secularism and religious exclusion often share the same pulpit.

Diversity and pluralism are celebrated as secular virtues, yet somehow these values don’t travel well with doctrinaire monotheists. True cultural diversity would include religious practices, not just racial demographics. Ecumenicism, another value attributed to Islam, is also a one-way street as any non-Muslim pilgrim to Tehran,Riyadh, orMeccawould discover.

A thousand years after the fall of Rome, but mere decades after the fall of Constantinople, the Christian Reformation challenged both an absolute Church and a host of absolute monarchies. Here, many of the key Enlightenment players were clerics. Luther and Erasmus were seminal; two monks ordained into the same Augustinian order. It was Erasmus who most notably disputed Fra Luther’s determinism and argued to retain key Catholic ideas of choice and free will.

The American Experience

The ink had hardly dried on Luther and Calvin’s absolutism, notions of predestination and fatalism, when a thousand apostates bloomed. Many Christian free thinkers fled from the intolerance and religious wars of Europe to the relative freedom of the British and French colonies in America. Once there, the Protestant varieties of Christianity continued to multiply, many of them restoring Catholic values that Luther had rejected. Prominent among these were free will, redemption, clergy, and good works.

It was left to Americans to fire the forge of democratic ecumenicism; a furnace where freedom, republicanism, and the best common law traditions of Judaism and Christianity would be alloyed.

Most of the European Enlightenment gloss that was to grace the boilerplate (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights) of the American experiment would have been unknown to most citizens of the original colonies. Indeed, the various state assemblies and elected representatives were created a century before the 1776 war against England. The Virginia House of Burgesses first sat in 1619. A “burgess” was a free man.

The 13 American republics were as much a product of secular neglect as religious reform. England cared little about colonial governance as long as imperial commerce and revenues were assured.  Indeed, the Church of England had little influence before the Revolution and less after. And the early democratic pretensions of the states were limited; the voting franchise was restricted to property owning, white males.

Nonetheless, the early American republics were unique in two respects. The choice of government, if not governors, was a bottom-up phenomenon. And religious tolerance was not so much a choice, as a necessity. The young American democracy developed in tandem with two religious “awakenings,” in fact an American religious reformation which produced a diversity of Christian sects inAmerica that Luther and Calvin could never have imagined. The spires of Christianity and Mogen Davids of Judaism, the American religious mosaic, are still visible today in every town from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The story of how the “Awakenings” changed Puritan thinking was best told by Nathanial Hawthorne in the fictional Scarlet Letter.

Hester Prynne is not simply the story of a fallen angel redeemed. The back story is even more fascinating. Hawthorne was writing in midst of the Yankee critique of Luther and Calvin. In the process of trying to reform Catholicism, Puritan zealots had rejected beliefs in free will, penance, and good works. Hawthorne, a writer with Puritan roots, and his fictional adulterers, helped to restore these core values to American variants of Christianity. In the end, Hester’s scarlet letter becomes: a red badge of courage, an affront to clerical hypocrisy, a symbol of personal responsibility for moral choices, and ultimately, an icon of good works; the path to redemption – in this world, if not the next:

“…the scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril.”

Europe took its “democratic” cues fromAmericafrom that point forward.  Historians seldom note that the US Constitution never mentions democracy. Republican founding fathers had little faith in the wisdom of crowds.

Subsequent, political and commercial success in Europe and America was made possible, not by the decline of religion, but by the rise of reform; republican reforms that released the constructive energies of true political and spiritual diversity.

The Civil War was America’s great secular renovation; it was made possible by diverse religious campaigners that insisted on social justice. The abolitionist movement,Lincoln’s Republican Party, and the Underground Railroad began, and were sustained, by the conscience of congregants.

Europe might well take credit for social “democrats” as these were linear descendants of Luther, Calvin, Marx, and Lenin. Ecumenical Judeo/Christian republicanism, however, was a product of the American experiment, and the wellspring of Yankee exceptionalism.

How the French went wrong, just a few short years after the American Revolution, is another story. The Richelieu precedent and religious homogeneity probably didn’t help – or possibly Voltaire died too soon and Robespierre lived too long. The French Catholic monopoly survived in any case. To the south, in Spain, a stifling secular/religious oligarchy prevailed through a bloody Spanish Civil War and well into the 20th Century.

The Russian Revolution of the early 20th Century was in many ways similar to the French. The Slavic upheaval began with all the usual cant about freedom and democracy, but the face of reality soon became terror and totalitarianism. The great error of Marx and Lenin was to make an enemy of the Church, instead of cultivating and harnessing the energy of congregants, Communists created a massive spiritual fifth column in Eastern Europe. With that, the “revolution without guns” of the late 20th Century became, as George Keenan forecast, inevitable. Ultimately, the old believers ofEurope swept the secular atheists of Marxism into “the dustbin of history.” Today, the Russian prime minister wears a crucifix.

Religious contributions to American and European success were not limited to Christians. Jewish gifts to the development of democracies were substantial.

The Jewish Experience

The conflict between theocratic Jews and secular Romans reached a boiling point in the First Century (66 AD), a tipping point during the Second Revolt (132 AD). For most Jews, the Diaspora was an opportunity to turn lemons into sorbet. They did this by adapting themselves to 19 centuries of secularism in exile while retaining local diversity of religious traditions. In spite of, or because of, depredations, Jews made exceptional artistic and scientific contributions to a world of nation states. They “rendered unto Caesar” on a global scale while preserving a unique and, at the same time, a value-added culture. The keys to Jewish success were acceptance, however pragmatic, of secular authority in public affairs – complemented by traditional tolerance of spirituality.

Like the American experience, necessity was the mother of Jewish invention; tactical assimilation served a larger strategic goal of cultural survival. The Jewish Diaspora is the gold standard example of symbiotic secular and religious values in a successful society. Tension between the sacred and the profane is both necessary and sufficient for survival and progress. All success is a product of perseverance, competition, and struggle. Conflict is good – and inevitable. Utopian religious or secular monoculture is not just impractical; it is also impossible.

The great danger of Islamism is not that it might succeed, but the damage it does before it fails.Israelis likely to be the first casualty.

Today, we again hear national politicians and prominent Muslim clerics, reviving a primitive bigotry, as they talk of “wiping Jews off the face of the earth.” What are we to think – that such declarations are signs of moderation? No rational world can fail to recognize the historic and global contributions of Jews, the symbolic significance of Israel, and the categorical imperative (to borrow a thought from Emanuel Kant) to defend them both.

The Islamic Experience

Too much of Islam has never evolved or repaired the depredations of orthodoxy. Utopian monocultures, religious or secular, are impossible in this world – and possibly the next. Short of radical reform, Islamism is doomed to ruinous failure.

The sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity were written by many hands; insuring degrees of observance and a rich diversity of interpretations. The holy texts of Islam come from a solitary source – or at least that’s the claim.  The genius of Talmudic and New Testament commentary is the daily effort to make them relevant to a developed world. Republican democracy is impossible without such religious pluralism and complementary political diversity.

There are too many examples of sovereign religious and political absolutism in the Arab League, so it is instructive to look elsewhere; examine a nation likeTurkey, a NATO member; and every apologist’s favorite Muslim “moderate.”

Turkey is an instructive example of contemporary Islamic backsliding and intolerance. Put aside for a moment the ethnic cleansing of apostate Kurds and infidel Christian Armenians. Put aside also associated genocide denials. Consider instead the erosion of Kamalist secular values and the systematic intimidation of the military since the Islamists came to power in 2002; a military long thought to be the guardian of secular values is now cowed by clerics. Consider also the fate of the Eastern Rite Christian church in Anatolia. The Erdogan government has closed the last Christian Orthodox seminary inIstanbul by fiat; virtually guaranteeing that one of the oldest congregations in Christendom, without clergy, will be suffocated in a generation.

Mehmed II showed more mercy to the Christians of Constantinople in 1453. And the Church of Rome shows as much concern for their Christian brothers in Turkeytoday as they did in the 15th century. Then as now, Europe may be, as Oriana Fallaci claimed on her death bed, its own worst enemy. Admitting modern Turkey to the European Union makes about as much sense as making Somalia the 51st American state.

Tayyip Recep Erdogan is not just the prime minister; he is also head of Turkey’s largest religious party, a party which garners well over three fourths of the national vote. And Erdogan is Islamism’s most eloquent spokesman on the subject of moderation. The prime minister claims that the adjective “moderate” before the noun “Muslim” is an insult:

“These descriptions are very ugly; it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”

The Turkish prime minister does not abide the notion of moderation, how arrogant is it for Western journalists, politicians, and academics to insist on perpetuating this myth?

If theocratic monoculture is the price of racial pluralism, then claims about Islamic diversity are a social fraud. And if European and American commercial imperialism was a crime against Muslim history, surely Islamic religious imperialism is a crime against the future. Freedom and democracy have always been impossible without religious reform.

Epilogue

The world is both enriched and bedeviled by spirituality. Religion is a basis for ethics in classical education and an ancient curb-level contributor to common law. Too frequently, Western scholars and politicians are uncomfortable with religion; unable to recognize its potency and unwilling to condemn its excess.

The European and American Enlightenment is a telling example. Academics wax eloquently about the political and scientific contributions of John Locke, Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson, but few are inclined to value the spiritual reforms of Disiderius Erasmus, Roger Williams, Jonathan Edwards, John Carroll, or Abraham Geiger.

History is usually written by self-proclaimed agnostics, timid academics with little sympathy for spiritual grass roots, or the people who actually make history. At the same time the academy will defend the moral equivalence of political Islam in the name of ecumenicism; literally defend intolerance in the name of tolerance. The complicity of Islamist right and the secular left is one of the great ciphers of the new century.

For good or ill, political scientists are often too eager to ingratiate themselves to an “ism” or a political fad. The politically correct view of Islam today, now mandated apparently from10 Downing Street and the White House, is that militant Islam and national security threats are mutually exclusive. The belief that democracy will follow Arab revolts appears to be, like Islamophobia, another neologism.

White House papers insist that the language of national security analysis be altered so that no link between religion and threat can be established or implied. Somehow the religious incantations and the bombs of suicide assassins are unrelated; and now Muslim revolution is inextricably linked to democracy? Such scenarios divorce evidence from reason. Monolithic religion, like totalitarian politics, has always been a threat to civility and human progress. There is little evidence to suggest that contemporary Islamic imperialism is any different.

The “awakenings’ of American history were religious reforms. The carnage in the Arab world is a lot of things, but religious reform is not one of them. Indeed, the images from Arab television (chanting mobs of burkas, green banners of jihad, and contorted faces of clerics like al Yusuf al Qaradawi); reveal an Arabia that is not so much awakening as sleep walking back through history.

Revolts may change regimes, but only reform will correct historical error.

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The author attended Catholic schools in the Bronx and New Rochelle, New York. This essay appeared in the 7 May 11 edition of Global Politician.

 


No Exits?

April 12, 2011

 

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

So what is to be done?

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues. This essay originally appeared in American Thinker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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G. Murphy Donovan, check6dc@gmail.com

No Exit?

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

 

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

 

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

 

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

 

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

 

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

 

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

 

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

 

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

 

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

 

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

 

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

 

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

 

 

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

 

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

 

So what is to be done?

 

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

 

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

 

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

 

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

 

 

G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vinegar Joe and the Village People

November 2, 2010

“The fear of war is worse than war itself.” – Seneca

Saving Islam from Itself

Sometimes the past provides instructive precedent. Yet just as often, history is meaningless for those who choose not learn from it. Several generations ago, soldiers saw a necessary relationship between war and winning.  Today’s brass seems to have foresworn goals like victory for more ambiguous objectives like “stability.” Joe Stillwell must be rolling in his grave.

Stillwell was an iconic, albeit unsung, hero of WWII. At the start of the war, among his peers, he was thought to be one of the best and most demanding troop commanders on active duty. His soldiers called him “Vinegar Joe.” Between wars, Stillwell had several tours as military attaché in China, acquiring a fluency in Mandarin. George Marshall assigned Stillwell to the China/Burma Theater.

Stillwell’s jungle campaigns were overshadowed, then as now, by  Admiral Nimitz, General MacArthur, and ultimately by an Air Corps B-29 over Hiroshima carrying a single bomb called Little Boy. The great achievement of Stillwell and his air commander, Claire Chennault (of the Flying Tigers), was that they tied down the core of the Japanese Imperial Army in China while Nimitz and MacArthur spilled guts and garnered glory in their Pacific island hopping campaigns.

Stillwell did not suffer fools gladly. He and George Marshall got along well enough, but he made no secret of his disdain for British and Chinese “allies;” the timidity of Lord Louis Mountbatten and the posturing of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Vinegar Joe’s acerbic personality didn’t help much either. In the end, Roosevelt fired Stillwell at the behest of Chiang Kai-shek in the closing days of 1944. Six months later, the war was over. A little more than a year after that, Stillwell died quietly in bed at the Presidio from cancer.

Surely, the Second World War produced more flamboyant generals, like McArthur and Patton, but Stillwell set a standard for competence and modesty.

Surviving photos of Joseph Stillwell (right) reveal a man who looked more like an aesthetic than a warrior; thin as a rail, balding, and bespectacled. Even his dress uniform was austere, just US lapel insignia and stars on his shoulders. Stillwell knew that real leaders had no need to wear a resume on their chests. “Fruit salad” and vinegar were a poor mix.

If Joe Stillwell’s ghost walked into a Joint Chiefs meeting today at the Pentagon, it would be a little like watching Leonidas meeting the Village People. And to be honest, most of the colors are awarded for attendance, not achievement. It’s always easier to give soldiers a ribbon than it is to give them a promotion or raise.

And this emphasis on appearances is not without penalty. Recall the sad tale of Admiral Boorda, the late Chief of US Naval Operations, who committed suicide after it was discovered that he had awarded himself a Vietnam combat ribbon that he had not earned.

The hazards of emphasizing form over substance are not limited to personal humiliations. Looking good seems to be the new being good; a heretofore merit based military culture is absorbing an ethic of political correctness at the expense of victory. This new military idiom has very significant tactical and strategic implications. Admiral Mike Mullen, at the Pentagon, and General Dave Patraeus, in Afghanistan, provide examples.

Mullen is in danger of becoming the JCS Chairman best remembered for adopting the gay “rights” tar baby. The administration is hostage to a campaign promise and wants some high profile uniformed officer to win over Mullen’s four star peers. So far it’s tough sledding.

Clearly the White House and Congress are playing “kick the can” with the gay issue. Mullen and the Chiefs should be smart enough to punt the problem back where it belongs. The Pentagon has more important things to do in wartime. If the Congress wants to advance the ball, they might pass a law to retract “don’t ask/don’t tell” and surely the brass will salute smartly. Indeed, the President himself has recommended such an approach.

If gay issue is a tactical distraction, the political correctness of General Dave Petraeus has strategic implications. The Patraeus political digressions make former ISAF commander General Stan McChrystal’s loose talk look like prophesy. The difference between these two flag officers is candor; McChrystal had it and Patraeus does not.

The latter has become a megaphone for several politically correct misrepresentations; blaming Israel, Afghan withdrawal ambiguity, and suggestions that terror groups, including the Taliban, might be appeased – in the interest of “stability” or political solutions.

The blame Israel canard was on full display when Patraeus, as CENTCOM commander, dispatched a team of staffers to several Arab countries in order to take the pulse of the Arab street. The team returned and prepared a briefing that suggested America could or should make a deal with terrorists on Israel’s borders: Hezbollah, Fattah, and Hamas. Never mind that none of these Arab groups can manage to partner with each other, least of all Israel.  Now Patraeus has apparently carried the appeasement paradigm to South Asia where talk of making deals with the Taliban is rampant.

The Petraeus argument has three facets; victory is impossible, all possible solutions are political, and the key to political stability is a radical change to the long-standing policy of American/Israeli solidarity. A sordid axiom of the Petraeus worldview links Israeli intransigence to American casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The attempt to link Israeli domestic policy to NATO casualties worldwide was later repeated by Vice President Joe Biden on his trip to the Mid-East. The military and political logic here comes perilously close to a classic anti-Semitic argument.

The CENTCOM analysis and its derivatives are fatally flawed on several counts. Legitimate pollsters audit Arab sentiments on a regular basis; anti-Jewish sentiment consistently registers in the upper 90th percentile. And scholars who have audited historical paranoia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in Arabia and the larger Muslim world agree that these phenomena pre-date the state of Israel by millennia.

Any connection between American foreign or Israeli domestic policies and future casualties in Iraq or South Asia is unsupportable too.  General Petraeus should know that there are no military operations analyses which measure events which might or do not happen.  Indeed, if a thread links Islamist terror worldwide, it is anti-Semitism, not opposition to Israeli policies. The Mumbai attack which struck a Jewish center in India is illustrative. Pakistani jihadists were instructed that “the lives of Jews (not Israelis) were worth 50 times those of non-Jews.”

There is no evidence that any kind of Israeli/Palestinian settlement would have any impact on Islamism worldwide. The historical evidence suggests just the opposite. Since the end of the Vietnam War, US forces have intervened on behalf of Muslims on a dozen occasions.  There are few if any indications that such human and material largesse altered radical opinions, terror tempos, or the intensity of the propaganda jihad.

The Patraeus/Biden analysis fails to consider unintended consequences; the abundant evidence that appeasement will be seen as weakness or a lack of resolve. Islamists define victory as the elimination of Israel and the submission of the West. Beyond appeasement, General Petraeus’ objectives reflect no such clarity.

The crux of the modern flag officer dilemma is modesty – or lack of it. The tendency of senior officers to regale themselves like refugees from the HMS Pinafore is merely an image problem; the treacherous waters of politics and political correctness are far more troublesome. No serving military officer should be asked, nor should they accept, any mission which asks them to campaign in domestic culture wars. No flag officers should be asked to fight for, or front for, changes in foreign policy. And no soldier should believe that ambiguous delusions like “stability” are a substitute for victory.

The military is the blunt instrument of policy; it is not a test bed, nor is it a policy think tank. Surely, military officers should provide discrete and confidential advice, but this should not be confused with consent. The Joint Chiefs and their subordinates execute national policy; they do not make it or approve it.

Joe Stillwell had more than his share of disagreements with his peers and President Roosevelt. He didn’t like his assignment and his theater allies were less than helpful. Nonetheless, Stillwell held the Japanese by the nose while others kicked their azimuth.  He never lost sight of his duty as a soldier; making the most of what he had and winning by inches.

To this end, Vinegar Joe’s heirs might consider two suggestions. For appearances sake, the wearing of decorations, save the highest medal, purple hearts, and most the recent campaign ribbon should be optional. Real warriors don’t need chest hair or fruit salad.

And in the interests of strategic clarity, General Patraeus should understand that the struggle with Islamism is not binary; i.e. military or political. The Islamic threat, like a pentagon, has five facets; ideology, religion, culture, politics, and violent jihad.

Any general who no longer believes in winning or victory in any of these venues ought to keep that sentiment to himself – or find another line of work. On his worst day in the jungles of Burma, Vinegar Joe would have never told his troops; “We are not here to win”.

We seem to have bought into the Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn” analogy, the notion that, if we break anything in the Islamic world, we own it. Ironically, it was Powell’s disingenuous presentation to the United Nations which justified the second Iraq war and subsequent occupation. The difference between the strategy of George Bush senior and his son is this question of occupation or presence on Muslim soil after, or if, the shooting subsides. For the moment, the Obama administration and General Patraeus seem to have accepted the occupation paradigm. It’s hard to believe that any politician will bring the “nation building” definition of victory into another presidential election cycle.

So the question remains. Assuming we are at war with Islam or Islamists, or both; what does victory look like? Victory may look a lot like disengagement or, better still, redeployment and a reprioritization of targets within the Islamist threat matrix.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a threat to strategic energy sources. That threat has been neutralized. Afghanistan is a threat to itself and possibly will continue to be one of many terror sanctuaries. All the while, the threat to Israel and the Levant is obscured by the smoke from these small wars. Unfortunately, the Islamist threat in the Middle East is existential; Iraq and Afghanistan, in contrast, are merely troublesome.

Yet, by accident or design, NATO is now stuck in the muck of Islamic nation building and there’s very little evidence that the alliance is capable or inclined to cope with another contingency – such as a perfect storm over Israel. That storm is forecast by a convergence of interests: Persian nuclear ambitions and the growing conventional capability of Arab non-state radicals encircling Israel.

Thus victory for NATO might look like Iraq and Afghanistan in the rear view mirror. Victory might even look like candor, an admission that the Islamist threat is not limited to South Asia or bin Laden and al Qaeda.

When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia funded half the clandestine war against the Communists. Now that the threat comes from co-religionists, the Saudis have another standard.

Victory might also look like reassignment of responsibility; i.e. re-gifting the expense and manpower for the war on terror, counter-insurgency, and nation building to the Arab League. Only Muslims can save Islam from itself.

The goals of fanatics have been crystal clear for 50 years. They seek to circumscribe the influence of reason, freedom, and democracy in the West. Indeed, the Islamist definition of victory is captured in a word: submission. Fanatics also seek to eradicate the state of Israel. Our goals should have similar clarity. We might put the Muslim world on notice, Arabs and Persians in particular: Europe and America will defeat any threat to democratic institutions including Israel – no matter the cost.

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This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of the New English Review. The author  also writes at Agnotology in Journalism.


Turkey, a fourth front against Israel?

June 7, 2010

“By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.” – Edmund Burke

Turkey has long been held up as an exemplar of a model Islamic state; secular, moderate, democratic, and collegial. Nonetheless, the inherent contradictions of an “Islamic republic” may be coming home to roost in Anatolia – putting the lie to secular, moderate, and collegial.

Ankara, a NATO “partner”, has been backsliding for some time now; indeed, ever since the Islamists achieved power in democratic elections. The so-called “freedom flotilla” which attempted to run the blockade to Gaza a few days ago is the latest symptom of the march backwards. The convoy, masquerading as humanitarian relief, originated in Turkey with a political cargo of 700 pro-Hamas activists – spoiling for confrontation. The agitators got the fight they were looking for, and predictably, Israel is now vilified for defending its borders against hard core Islamist Turks and a small mixed bag of “progressive” nitwits.

Lest there be any doubt about Turkey/Hamas nexus in this contrived confrontation at sea, it should be noted that the unrealized port of debarkation in Gaza was festooned with Turkish flags and a gargantuan portrait of Recep Tuyyip Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister. The Turkish sponsor of the Gaza flotilla is the IHH (Isani Yardim Vakfi), a radical Islamist organization registered In Istanbul with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (al Ikhwan) and the Union of Good (Itilaf al-kahayr), a collective of Islamist funds which supports Hamas.

We might also note that Hamas itself is a militant step-child of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a network now operating in over 40 countries. The Brotherhood is illegal in Egypt where it has been responsible for countless assassination attempts and gratuitous acts of terror for nearly a century. Nonetheless, Hamas is held up as the people’s representative in Gaza. Never mind that the Hamas insurgency split the Palestinians into two irreconcilable factions. Yet, somehow Israel is supposed negotiate a two state solution with two groups of Arab fanatics, who can’t share the same tent, no less a country.

Caroline Glick’s 15 Oct piece in the Jerusalem Post ”How Turkey was Lost”, sounded an early alarm about the Turkish malignancy, a cautionary tale about confusing elections with democracy. She described Ankara’s back sliding since the election of Erdogan, head of the formerly outlawed Islamist AKP. Since Erdogan came to power in 2002, Turkey has given Hamas a reception usually reserved for heads of state, eliminated the visa requirements for Syrian travelers to Turkey, and now cancelled air exercises with Israel and begun joint military maneuvers with Syria. Glick seems to believe that the Turks have cast their lot with the Shiite Crescent. If what she suggests is true; we now have an Islamist fox in the NATO henhouse – and Turkey’s campaign for membership in the European Union has hit the hard rocks of reality.

The irony of elections in a country with a Muslim majority is that it often represents the camel’s nose under the tent; opening the door for religious opportunists to hold the one election that could be the last. On this score, Algeria evokes hot flashes of déjà vu. Islamists might be fanatics, but they’re not morons; they will use Western institutions to undo apostates and infidels. Such are the vicissitudes of democracy. And such is the dilemma also in Afghanistan; where the choice is between the corruptible Karzai and the incorruptible Taliban, Mullah Omar. Not too many good options in this neighborhood. If Omar ever ran in a UN supervised election; he might win in a landslide.

The big problem with Afghanistan, like Iraq before, is its potential for distraction. The only accomplishment of elections in Iraq was to reverse the sectarian poles – and assist Iraq in becoming the second Shiite nation in the Crescent, another potential ally for theocratic Tehran. Over time, American good intentions have managed to do to Iraq what the ayatollahs could not.

Land-locked Afghanistan is not an immediate, or should we say proximate, threat to America or Israel. Afghanistan has six neighbors; five of which are Muslim states, all with a vested interest in neutering the Taliban and al Qaeda.  As Bernard Lewis has reminded us so many times; Islamic fundamentalism is more of a threat to dar al Islam (the Muslim world) than it is to the West.

Elections in Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan could be meaningless. And another UN supervised circus proves nothing. Nation building might better be done by the natives. If we can’t influence electoral probity in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or the Emirates; why do we think we can do it in Kabul?   With Turkey now backsliding, the European Union pandering, and the White House apologizing; someone might ask why another American kid should die in any Muslim backwater to underwrite another election.  Indeed, the larger question should be: why does the West need to save Islam from itself?

The difference between the Bush and Obama brands of Islamic illusions are negligible. The Turkish slide to the theocratic side drops one of the last veils covering the “moderation” myth. Turkey, on a larger scale, is similar to Algeria; Islamists will use elections to come to power, but their objective is not pluralism, moderation, or any notion of democracy as we know it.

The exposure of Islamic irredentism in Turkey may be a blessing. Turkey was long thought to be a progressive influence in the Muslim world, a bulwark against the worst instincts of Islam. Indeed, Turkey was thought also to be a friend and ally of Israel. The Turkish attempt to break the Gaza blockade is a signal event; non-state Sunni actors in the terror campaign against Israel are giving way to Turk and Persian state sponsors. Ankara and Tehran may now take the lead in the jihad against Israel and the West.

Indeed, the Turkish flotilla fiasco opens a fourth front against Israel. Shiite and Sunni terror groups torment Israel from three directions on land; and now an unapologetic Muslim state sponsor agitates on the high seas. Arabs and Persians make common cause when it comes to Israel and now the Turks have joined the anti-Semitic axis on a sea-going front. These “freedom” flotillas have a lot more to do with intimidating Israel than they have to do with assisting Gaza.

The seismic signals from Turkey may provide some incentive for America and its allies to reexamine alliance membership and strategy – in the war “we are not having with Islam.” Ankara’s NATO participation was long thought to be a reward for modern democratic institutions. Now, other questions need to be answered; did we let a Muslim democracy into NATO or has the Western alliance been suborned by a theocratic 5th column? More importantly, if and when the Israeli navy meets another “freedom” flotilla off Gaza, this time with a Turkish naval escort; what’s the NATO battle plan?


American Intelligence; Too Big to Succeed?

June 5, 2010

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

The top Intelligence job in the national security arena has claimed another victim. Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), titular head of the Intelligence Community (IC), has announced plans to retire. Pundits suggest his departure was not voluntary. Blair is seen as the fall guy for a string of recent Intelligence “failures,” the most recent of which was an attempted bombing of Times Square on 1 May. Ironically, Blair has no line or budget authority over any of the 16 disparate intelligence agencies; and, as a former military officer, he doesn’t have any political cover either. More culpable line officials like Leon Panetta (CIA) and Janet Napolitano (DHS) are both well-connected Democrats and thus less likely to be called to account.

A number of potential successors for Blair have surfaced, the most prominent of which is James Clapper. A former Air Force officer, Clapper is the current Undersecretary for Intelligence at DOD. Like Robert Gates, General Capper is a holdover from the Bush years and as such may not be a slam dunk for the job.

If credentials and experience mean anything, Clapper is well prepared. He began his military career as a Marine Corps grunt, transferred to ROTC at the University of Maryland and received a commission in the Air Force. He began his career as a signals (SIGINT) officer and he has favored the technical side of Intelligence ever since. He served as a combat aviator in Vietnam and rose to command a wing at the National Security Agency (NSA). He went on to become the chief of Air Force Intelligence and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Clapper’s distinctive contribution to the Intelligence business is the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This little known technological wonder is the digital brains behind the American capability to locate, analyze, and target the enemy in real time. Indeed, this geo-strategic identification and strike capability is the new “gold standard” – a unique American intelligence capability.

Officers like Clapper are known as “mustangs,” soldiers with pedestrian blood lines who rise through the ranks. He was a former enlisted man, he did not go to an elite university, and he did not graduate from one of the prestigious military academies. In short, he is not a “ring knocker,” not one of those military academy graduates with a sense of entitled promotions. Jim Clapper is a classic American success story; and unlike most of his contemporaries, a genuine Horatio Alger.

So why in the name of rationality would he want the worst job in Washington? The DNI has no real line authority and no budgetary means to control events in subordinate Intelligence agencies.

General Clapper’s motives will be examined in detail if he appears before Congress for confirmation. Beforehand, the long knives on the Hill and in the Press are already evident. Several politicians have already suggested that they would prefer the likes of Leon Panetta – or some other well-wired party loyalist. Those who argue for politicized managers seldom mention the fiasco cooked up by the ever sentient former CIA Director, George Tenent, for the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq; an “analysis” that was later used as the basis for Colin Powell’s disastrous and disingenuous presentation at the UN in 2003.

A faux controversy over DIA (1992-1995) is already evident.  In the early 90’s Clapper tried to reorient the analytical focus from area studies to more technical intelligence concerns, e.g., weapons systems. Consistent with his background, Clapper presumed to think that Intelligence ought to focus on the things it does well. If he believes that geo-strategic navel gazing and wishful thinking are better done elsewhere; he is probably right and politically incorrect at the same time. Recent NIE’s on Iraq and Iran provide more than ample evidence to support any skepticism about geo-political analysis that Clapper might have had. He may not have made poor decisions at DIA, but he did make enemies.

The analytical controversy is sure to accompany Clapper to his confirmation hearings if and when he is nominated. Critics hail from an agency that was formed from the detritus of the military intelligence agencies; four stovepipes that DIA was supposed to supersede. Yet, the Service intelligence agencies and DIA survive today – not without rancor. From the beginning, DIA was known within DOD as a “mushroom” factory, a moniker consistent with the original work space in the basement of the Pentagon. When most employees moved to Bolling AFB, cynics rechristened DIA as the “death star,” an  allusion to the fate of some careers and the black glass monolith which serves as the new workspace. Fools may be suffered gladly at DIA, then as now, but change was seldom among them.

If and when Clapper takes the hot seat on Capital Hill a host of challenges other than petty critics await: centralization of Intelligence authority, analytical competence, redundancy, duplication, community size, politicization, and the growing sense that the Intelligence Community just doesn’t work – a leviathan too big to succeed.

Jim Clapper is known to be an advocate of centralized line authority and an enemy of bureaucratic duplication. He favors focused analysis and the challenge of making heretofore disparate factions come together synergistically. Although he is known as a chap who plays well with others, Clapper’s ability to swim with political sharks like Panetta, Napolitano, and John Brennan (White House homeland security advisor) is still a cipher. Beyond loyalty, none of the latter three have shown any flair for national security performance other than party lines and political correctness.

In many ways the Intelligence Community is the product of Lincoln Log engineering, each crisis or failure seems to generate more spending, more bureaucracy. With no political axes to grind, Jim Clapper could deftly wield a stiletto and reshape a leaner and meaner national security community, where competence, not size or spending, becomes the dominant idiom.

The appointment of a new DNI is also a test for the administration, a test to see if the White House is serious about improved performance. The White House may offer line and budget authority as an incentive for the next candidate, knowing that only Congress can deliver on such a promise. Many on the Hill harbor reservations about Intelligence “czars” and more than a few opposed the idea of DNI to begin with.

If General Clapper is nominated, he will do so as a mustang, a scrapper who made the most of modest beginnings. He knows the business and he is not afraid to rock the boat. He has the street credentials, integrity, and independence to remold institutions sorely in need of diet and sharper focus. If he takes the job with no assurances of getting line and budget authority, he will, unfortunately, go down in history as just another gelding coursing through the Intelligence Community, an inscrutable “wilderness of mirrors.”

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The author is the former Director of Research and Russian Studies (aka Soviet Awareness), Bolling AFB; he served under General Clapper when Clapper was the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, HQ USAF. The author also served two tours with DIA.

(This essay was originally published in the 02 June 10 edition of American Thinker.)


The Wilderness of Mirrors

May 18, 2010

“It is not certain that everything is uncertain.” – Blaise Pascal

There was a time when most National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) were classified, restricted and rarely read. Recurring estimates were dusted off periodically and circulated in the Intelligence Community for coordination.  “Happy” might be changed to “glad” and the cycle would begin anew. Indeed, the NIE was formatted not to be read, they all began with the punch lines, “Key Judgments”. Most readers stopped there.

All of this changed in the wake of the 2002 NIE on Iraq. The subsequent estimate on Iraq was sifted above the fold like the ashes of Herculaneum. We have come full circle on analysis, from cooking to opening the books. CIA, especially, is clearly trying to address a credibility problem. Unfortunately, the recent publications relations blitz opens select products not the process; the effort does not speak to the two faults at the heart of the analysis problem; competence and integrity.

Off the Gold Standard

As far as anyone knows, any given estimate might be drafted by some unknown staffer at the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and amended by one or sixteen nameless intelligence agency hands. Dissenters appear in footnotes. In most cases, the point men represent agency politics not expertise. Few experts of national repute work at the NIC or in the bowels of Intelligence agencies. Believing that our intelligence agencies still hire the best analysts is a little like believing that our best lawyers work on Capitol Hill. Most national estimates are not just group-think, worse still; they are bureaucratic group-think. They don’t represent good analysis so much as they represent consensus, however brief.

The sixteen agency “community” is defended in the name of analytical diversity. Yet, these same agencies are then condemned as “stovepipes” when the diverse fail to converse; a classic ‘cake and eat it’ argument.

Boosters regularly insist that the NIE is the “gold standard” in the Intelligence Community. This is a classic example where hope and optimism seems to have overcome recent historical experience.

Conversely, uninformed critics often sneer at Military Intelligence (aka Tactical Intelligence) as an oxymoron. In fact, our seamless web of strategic and tactical collection, processing, identification, targeting and weapons applications is the real Intelligence Community gold standard. (Thanks to General James Clapper). This is not to say that the tactical folks never get it wrong. But when they do, their systems are self medicating. National security estimates, on the other hand, have been a basket case for decades.

Integrity is the predictable victim when the key dynamic of the process is bureaucratic log-rolling. The closet battle between Air Force Intelligence and all other agencies during the Cold War is a classic example. In that period, Air Force footnotes to strategic force NIEs would exceed the word count in the body of estimates. Those infamous bomber and missile “gaps” were products of this struggle.

Maxwell Taylor’s, Uncertain Trumpet (1960), documents some of the blow back from this era. Strategic force assessments are unique insomuch as the threat is tied directly to budgets. The math is simple, bigger threats equal bigger budgets. The late Kevin Lewis of the RAND Corporation tagged this phenomenon as the “tumescent threat’.

In those days the Air Force was a young divorcee. Separated from the Army; she was determined to spread her wings. With the help of Intelligence, a ‘ten foot’ Soviet foil was fashioned.

Reform and Controversy

The Soviet threat was embellished again by the “B Team” controversies of the 1970s. A 1974 Foreign Policy article, by Albert Wohlstetter, then at the University of Chicago, suggested that our strategic NIE might be underestimating the threat. The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) requested that then CIA director William Colby host a competitive analysis with outside experts. Colby refused; believing that no outside group could do better than his intelligence officers. The issue resurfaced in 1976 when Colby was fired and replaced by George H.W. Bush; and the B Team project went forward.

The B Team was staffed by 16 mostly hard line civilian intellectuals and they predictably reported that the national assessment of the Soviet military capabilities and intentions was seriously flawed. In retrospect, it’s fair to say that the B Team report was half right on capabilities and justifiably prudent in their assessment of doctrine or intentions.

Three years earlier, William Colby had abandoned the founding analytical paradigm; one created and nourished by Sherman Kent. The small and centralized Office of National Estimates (ONE) and the Board of National Estimates (BNE) was cashiered. It was replaced by a larger and more ecumenical system of National Intelligence Officers (NIOs) in 1973; latter to be incorporated into today’s even more complex National Intelligence Council (NIC) et al. In a decade, the analytical paradigm shifted from small and focused to large and decentralized – all intelligence agencies became NIE players. To date, there is little evidence to suggest that estimates have improved and considerable evidence to suggest that they have become easier to manipulate or taint with politics.

Abandoning Kent’s Wise Council

Sherman Kent, legendary second chair of the original BNE (1952-1967), at his introspective best, catalogued many cases where national estimates missed the mark, including the Soviet missile deployment to Cuba.  Any human institution gets it wrong from time to time. And critics who do not expect mistakes are naïve; Intelligence assessments and estimates are not prophesies. The contemporary problem is much more troubling; truth now seems to serve power.

Kent formalized early analytical tradecraft. He created and preserved the first paradigm for national intelligence analysis; one which insisted on a prudent space between analysis and policy. Today’s analytical superstructure and its products have become something he would not recognize. The spectrum of fakery includes feigned ignorance, data manipulation and outright invention – probably motivated by politics.

Cases of  historical premeditated ignorance would include the Israeli nuclear weapons program, the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident and the KAL 007 shoot down of September 1983, just to name a few. Blatant statistical manipulation was part of the heady brew during the McNamara years of the Vietnam War. Bomb damage, infiltration, strategic hamlet, pacification and Vietnamization statistics, masquerading as measures of effectiveness, were all used to obscure an unpalatable ground truth. More recently, since 9/11 and in the run-up to the second Iraq War, evidence seems to have been manipulated wholesale to support foregone conclusions.

The most egregious recent example of cooked Intelligence was Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations on 05 February 2003 just prior to the second Iraq expedition. On that occasion, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sitting Secretary of State, with the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency posing behind him, delivered an assessment to the world that was an embarrassment to General Powell and Director George Tenant and the institutions they represented. The briefing to the UN, presumably based on NIC estimates, was fatally flawed as fact and analysis.

Blatant exaggeration was the most bizarre part of the Powell address. Did someone think the threat in this part of the world needed to be embellished? Unfortunately, the final paragraph in the 2002 Iraq NIE is yet to be written. Crying wolf on Iraqi weapons may make analysts wary of making the tough calls on Iran’s missile and nuclear weapons capabilities. Once bitten; twice shy!

After any real or imagined intelligence failure, the inevitable ad hoc commission comes to tell us how to fix the beast. Invariably, the answer is more money and more bureaucracy. Bigger is always better. The 9/11 Commission and the more recent Iraq Study Group (March 2006) are illustrations. The Intelligence Community is now larger and deeper and, of course, more expensive. In short, it’s business as usual.

Obvious Solutions

No recent task force or congressional bromide addresses the obvious solution to better national security analysis; ending the Executive Branch monopoly and removing national estimates from the Intelligence cloister. There is no good reason for national security analysis to be the exclusive purview of any branch of government or worse still, a cabal of agencies with vested interests in outcomes. Privatization may be the only answer for analytical competence, transparency and product integrity.

A small group of independent experts could convene as required to prepare assessments. The membership might vary as the subject requires; rotating diversity if you will. Experts might be compensated on a per diem basis. Politicians, lobbyists and obvious partisans need not apply. Intelligence agency functions could then be restricted to what they do best; all source collection, tactical and strategic warning, and intelligence support to deployed or engaged forces. The resources now devoted to assessments, estimates and forecasts should be reallocated to an independent analytical body.

Transparency might also eliminate special interest ad hoc analysis within the Intelligence Community. The Douglas Feith cowboys that recently freelanced from the Pentagon come to mind.

Assessments from an independent group of experts might also benefit from single hand and named authorship, much like Supreme Court decisions. Dissenters would write minority opinions. Court analysis is attributable and transparent. Should national security arguments have lesser standards? Indeed, the current practice of giving the Executive Branch an exclusive on national security analysis is a little like giving the power of  judicial review to Congress.

Calling our national assessments “intelligence” estimates is also a perennial source of confusion. The issue is national security not Intelligence. Intelligence is merely one of the ingredients of analysis. Most data, method and even thinking that go into analysis are unclassified. Surely sources and methods of intelligence collection need to be protected by classification. So be it. Nonetheless, classification should not be used as an excuse to obscure the process and product of national security deliberations.

The Case for a  New Paradigm

The advantages of government sponsored privatized national security analysis seem to be self-evident: The analysis could be done by acknowledged experts with known credentials; Intelligence would be subordinated to national security analysis; secrecy could not be used to mask weak evidence or shabby method; transparency would boost public trust; and all branches of government and the taxpayer would be exposed to available evidence, rigorous reasoning and the arguments of dissenters.

Limiting the influence of politics on Intelligence and analysis would be the most important advantage of an independent and transparent process. There is no government activity that does not benefit from sunshine and the “wisdom of crowds”.

Any argument against a more open system would surely raise security and secrecy questions. Indeed, secrecy and compartmentalization is the favorite post mortem finding that no one ever cares to do anything about.

Secrecy has always been a self-inflicted wound within the Intelligence cloister. Those with SECRET clearances do not have access to TOP SECRET material; those with TS clearances do not have access to CODE WORD material; and those with CW clearance do not see EYES ONLY product. Analysis takes place at all these levels, yet the very system of compartments restricts the flow of relevant information. New categories of restriction are invented on a regular basis because of parochial or real security concerns. The Intelligence Community is now so big that it is impossible, if not imprudent, to give all analysts access to all relevant data from every security compartment. Yet, we expect them to perform.

The blind alleys of security are crafted with precious little regard for the burdens placed on analysis. Even a hypothetical super analyst at the Pentagon or at the NIC with every Intelligence clearance may be half blind because he or she will not have operational clearances. Rear echelon observers seldom know what friendly Intelligence or military operations are ongoing at the flashpoints. This is less of a problem at the tactical level where the military has attacked cognitive dissonance with a vengeance. There is little public evidence to suggest that this issue has been addressed at the top of the analytical food chain.

In theory, all data from all categories of Intelligence and all levels of classification are joined in a mystical fusion process at the top of the national security pyramid. In reality, the pyramid is more like a prism or as James Angleton might have put it; “a wilderness of mirrors”. Nobody seems to know where the “fusion” takes place, if it happens at all. Angleton coined his metaphor to describe the agent business. Had he been an analyst, the metaphor would have been even more colorful – and probably unprintable.

An Analytical Star Chamber

The argument here is to create a national security star chamber; a specific place with specific analysts for a single purpose – national estimates untainted by log rollers or politicians. A key assumption would be that America’s best and brightest would possess enough civic virtue to participate.

The process of selecting a panel would not be without its own problems. Finding a good cadre to serve and winnowing the ideologues would be difficult but not impossible. Surely no more difficult than selecting and confirming federal judges. The likes of Paul Johnson, historian, and Bernard Lewis, Islamic expert, analysts of proven talent with an expansive world view, would be ideal. Indeed, the paper trail for civilian experts is explicit and relatively easy to audit.

Such an analytical star chamber would of course be interdisciplinary with a rotating chair depending on the subject at hand. This rarified air should not be limited to academics; institutions like the military, Intelligence, the science laboratories or even the Press might participate. In the latter category, a stellar analytical mind with a sharp quill could make significant contributions to the form and logic of national estimates. There is no reason why national security findings should not be good literature. Here someone of Claudia Rosett’s (Wall Street Journal) stature comes to mind.

The Consequences of  Inaction

A final and paramount consideration is the potential cost of not changing the existing analytical paradigm. An observer outside of the classified cloisters might be led to believe that the only change afoot today in the national security arena is a shift in political winds. Reading the tea leaves of public statements, the threat is being repackaged with charm and sanitized with soft soap. Whether this represents new analysis or new policy is difficult to determine.

Rational actor models informed most of our strategic analysis during the Cold War. A theocratic threat hardly fits that paradigm. There are no Herman Khans, Bernard Brodies or Albert Wohlstetters discussing mutual deterrence in Sunni or Shiite seminars.

When policy colors analysis, the only relevant tool in play maybe a wet finger in the wind. The predictable result will be more confusion and risk, not stability.

We seem to have a good war and a bad war at the moment; the latter hostage to a campaign promise. And we are admonished to see both as mere “contingencies”. We are not to associate enemy combatants with the culture or religion they share; in short, “we are not at war” – with a world-wide growth business. On the flanks of actual combat, one sect already has a nuclear weapon and the other sect is an aspirant. Indeed, Pakistan has a weapon and is one bullet removed from theocracy and Iran already has the theocracy and may be a few tests away from a nuclear weapon. If we were to use a Sherman Kent set of weighted adjectives to describe this dilemma, we would have to say that a dark future is not merely probable; it is very likely.

Kent formalized our “words of estimative probability”. Yet, thinking about futures in terms of probabilities began with Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Today, all national estimates or forecasts still need to pass a Blaisean test. The potential benefits of belief should always outweigh the likely return on skepticism.

An overestimate is a no-lose hedge. If the threat fails to materialize, what is lost? On the other hand, an underestimate is always dangerous and often fatal. Weakness is more provocative than strength; any thug understands this. Trying to sugar coat a clear and present danger is not simply a poor tactic; it is a reckless strategy.

The two most important values for any human institution are trust and regret. Without trust, no relationship is possible; neither with colleagues, policymakers nor the public. Without regret no progress is possible. For those who can not or will not recognize error and change their behavior, the future is forever a receding green light.

One Key Question

A host of difficult questions are always associated with any suggested change; especially a radical change to the apex of a complex Intelligence and national security analytical apparatus. Yet, only one question is relevant here: Do we want to limit the corrosive influence of politics on national security analysis? Or put another way, do we want power to serve truth? If the answer to this question is yes, then all other questions are subordinate and solvable.

The National Security Council has always been a political hothouse; and now the National Intelligence Council has become a sauna. The solution is not a return to the BNE. That institution was flawed because it was part of the Intelligence cloister and operated at the whim of a political appointee. We should not return to the B Team either because that group was cherry picked for its politics. Nonetheless, they made their point; competing views should be included in all national security analysis. And the personalities of a star chamber shouldn’t matter either; at least not as much as their credentials, talent, and demonstrated independence.

If we are to address the persistent competence and integrity problems that plague the national security process, “top tier” national security analysis needs to be isolated from the vexations of secrecy and the venom of politics. And we could do worse than heed Sherman Kent’s wise counsel; “…great discoveries are not made by second rate minds.”

[The following source material is arranged by relevant subject starting with early trade craft; followed by reforms, controversies and a sampler of contemporary thoughts about national security analysis.]

Jean Mesnard, Pascal: His Life and Works (translated by G.S. Fraser), Harvill Press, 1952.

Blaise Pascal was a late Renaissance physicist and mathematician who had a unique influence on modern analysis. He introduced notions of probability and risk/benefit analysis; not just as ways of calculating odds, but more importantly, as ways of looking at the world – ways of estimating the costs of everyday choices. His most important contribution may have been humility; we ignore his frequent cautions about the limits of reason, technology and “scientific method” at our peril.  If Pascal and Sherman Kent had been contemporaries, they would have been soul mates. Both had a profound understanding of human frailty and the limits of our “key judgments”.

Sherman Kent, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy, Archon Books, 1978 (revised edition).

“Words of Estimative Probability”, Studies in Intelligence, Fall, 1964.

Sherman Kent is the godfather of modern Intelligence analysis. He was the second director of the Office of National Estimates. The original staff was no more than three dozen and for the 16 years of Kent’s tenure it never exceeded 75. He began his analytical career on the Yale faculty and served with the OSS before coming to CIA in the early 50s.

His essay on probability is a classic of its kind. Kent was not trying to assign numerical precision to the language of estimates so much as force analysts to think about their judgments in precise orders of probability – or improbability. Indeed, all things are possible yet few are certain.

Kent believed that good analysis required a small, centralized, critical mass of expertise; insulated from politics. The standards that Kent set for rigor and integrity seem to be honored in breach today.

Harold P. Ford, Estimative Intelligence, University Press of America, 1993

This is an update of Sherman Kent’s 1978 classic on the subject. Ford and Kent were colleagues at the original Board of National Estimates. In Ford’s recent testimonial for William Colby in Studies, he doesn’t mention that Colby changed Intelligence analysis in ways that have yet to prove themselves. This omission is true of many contemporary accounts of Colby’s tenure. Perhaps the “family jewels” crisis, the Pike/Church Committee investigations, the 1773 Middle East war, and the B Team flap all conspired to obscure Mr. Colby’s most lasting mark on Intelligence process: turning national security analysis into a bureaucratic goat rope.

P. Gill, S. Marrin and M. Phythian (editors), Intelligence Theory: Key Questions and Debates, Routledge, 2008.

This is a good anthology of essays on intelligence trade craft and the current state of play in strategic analysis. The Richard Betts piece is notable for seeing the “dominance of operational authorities over intelligence specialists”. Betts is way too polite; the politicization of national security analysis is too serious a problem to obscure.

The Center for the Study of Intelligence does credit to the memory of Sherman Kent by sustaining a literature of Intelligence; unfortunately, their journal, Studies, is still classified. Classifying professional literature is a little like talking to yourself.

Albert Wohlstetter, “Is There a Strategic Arms Race?” Foreign Policy, Summer 1974.

The national estimates debate was well under way when this essay fanned quality of analysis smoke into a house fire. Wohlstetter may not be the father of the B Team but his arguments had the gravitas to launch a thousand lips – and many haven’t stopped moving since. He attacked the “arms race” myth and argued that our relationship with the Soviet Union was more like a managed competition. So far so good.  After living with the bomb for half a century, the principal players are still “rational actors”.

Wolstetter’s wife, Roberta, was the true Intelligence scholar in the family; her contributions to the study of strategic warning are unique.

Richard Pipes, “Team B; the Reality Behind the Myth,” Commentary Magazine, October 1986.

This is a defense of the Team B analytical model by one of its distinguished members. The eminent and always articulate Dr. Pipes makes his case for dueling analysts and robust threats, erring always on the side of international cynicism and domestic prudence. The B Team analysis of Soviet capabilities might have been off on the high side; yet their take on Soviet doctrine was probably spot on, given what we knew at the time. In threat analysis, inflation is only a venial sin.

Anne H. Cahn, “Team B: The Trillion Dollar Experiment,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 1993.

Here we have what’s known in the business as a shot from the grave. A quarter century after the fact, the B Team still annoys people. Ms Cahn, and like minded disarmament advocates, has made the “B Team” a Nicole Kidman; an issue with great legs. If hyperbole were an argument, Ms. Cahn might have a better case against competitive analysis. And there is something more than a little off key when she writes complains about “excess” in a journal for the  wizards who brought us the hydrogen bomb.

Ms. Cahn expanded her arguments to book length in 1998; Killing Détente: The Right Attacks CIA. The “Right” didn’t kill Détente, but Wolhstetter and Pipes did help to kill the Soviet union, the major Communist exemplar. They spent, we spent and the wheels came off their bus; a good investment, considering the alternatives.

Ms. Cahn seems only to understand part of the logic of threat assessment. Yes, bigger threats are a rationale for bigger budgets; but, threat inflation is also a hedge against an underestimate, which could be fatal – and intentions which can change overnight. The price of freedom isn’t just “eternal vigilance;” it is analytical prudence. If there is a very high degree of uncertainty about the threat; there needs to be some corresponding rise in vigilance – and capability to respond.

Colin Powell, “Transcript of the Presentation to the UN Security Council on US Case Against Iraq,” posted at CNN.com on 6 February 2003.

This might be the best example of the worst analysis in the history of recent history. This briefing, and the NIE that proceed it, is a case study of much that ails the Intelligence Community. Just the mobile biological weapons allegations made by Secretary Powell serve as an example. The only potential gain of putting a weapons lab on the functional equivalent of a Good Humor truck would be mobility. On the other hand, the potential risk is enormous. A minor fender bender might lead to a national disaster. A little back of the envelope Blaisean analysis, or better still common sense, should have killed Powell’s agnotology.

Greg Bruno, “National Intelligence Estimates”, Council on Foreign Relations (backgrounder), 14 May 2008.

Bruno’s essay is an excellent unclassified summary of the current NIE process. It is also a good critique of the notorious pre-war estimate on Iraq. Beyond the obvious problems with facts and analysis, there were two footnotes (dissents) to the 2002 estimate. To its credit, Air Force Intelligence questioned the logic of putting biological weapons on RPV’s; State Department intelligence officers questioned the evidence for nuclear weapons in Iraq.

While State analysts were officially skeptical about the NIE, Secretary Powell reflected none of this uncertainty in his Security Council presentation in early 2003. Indeed, if Powell was provided five days of personal preparation by DCI George Tenant before his UN speech, we are left to wonder what happened to make Powell contradict his own Intelligence officers?

“Report on the US Intelligence Community Prewar Intelligence Assessment on Iraq,” US Select Committee on Intelligence, 9 July 2004.

Unfortunately, most Congressional reports are too little and too late. This official critique of the now famous 2002 assessment on Iraq is an example. Had such analysis been available a year and a half earlier, Messrs Powell and Tenant might have been able to salvage their reputations before the UN Security Council. Congressional committees may never get the hang of oversight, but they are the best Monday morning quarterbacks inside the beltway.

Maxwell Taylor, The Uncertain Trumpet, Harper and Brothers, 1960.

General Taylor was probably the most important military figure in the last 60 years. Scholars like Wohlstetter may have made the intellectual case, but it was Taylor’s influence with the Kennedy/Johnson administrations that made things happen. He argued for flexible military capabilities, forces that could respond short of a nuclear exchange, at a time when strategic forces held center stage. His influence laid the groundwork for the Special Forces that now play such an important role in asymmetric warfare. Ironically, three of the four major recommendations in Uncertain Trumpet concerned strategic capabilities – including fallout shelters. Yet, Taylor is best remembered for the doctrine of Flexible Response and the capabilities that followed.

[The next two reports are samples of current thinking about Intelligence analytical tradecraft. Their banality is underscored by comparing them with the proceeding entries in the bibliography above.]

Deborah Barger, “Toward a Revolution in Intelligence Affairs”, RAND Corporation, 2005.

This paper, written by an assistant deputy director of national Intelligence, calls for a revolution in Intelligence and then fails to say what such a “revolution” might look like; no plan, tactics, strategy or  objectives. It goes on with a clarion call for “bold and unique solutions” and then recommends none. In short, this report is 150 pages of govenrnment sponsored twaddle; a polemic telling us how we might think about thinking.

G. Treverton, S. Jones, S. Boraz and P. Lipscy, “Towards a Theory of Intelligence,” 15 June 2005 Conference Proceedings, RAND Corporation, 2006.

These proceedings are a group version of the Barger paper. One speaker suggests that Intelligence has two “unsolvable” (sic) problems; “predicting the future and changing minds.”

In fact, these problems are not only solvable, but they are what Intelligence does. Every estimate is a forecast of some sort and every analytical argument is an attempt to confirm the conventional wisdom or change it. Any analyst who believes that he can not bridge the gap between analysis and acceptance might just as well stay in bed in the morning.

The RAND report goes on to wonder; “what should Intelligence do?” and their answers do not include recommendations about collection, warning, or national estimates – primary Intelligence functions. If  national security analysts are still wondering what to do some sixty years on, then to use Sherman Kent’s Words: “… Intelligence is through”.

In Memoriam

Kevin Lewis (1955-2008), “The Tumescent Threat,” unpublished RAND Corporation paper, (author’s library), circa 1981.

Nearly thirty years ago Kevin Lewis, then a young analyst at RAND Corp in Santa Monica, wrote a satirical research report that was a hilarious send up of missile envy, bomber gaps and ever growing budgets. It became an instant underground success on the beach and on the E-Ring. Lewis, like his colleagues Alex Alexiev, Ben Lambeth. Bob Nurick, Gordon McCormick, Lee Marvin and others were regulars at the Chez Jay seminars on Ocean Boulevard. Lewis thought outside the box on his way to breakfast every day; his wit and wisdom will be missed.

(A version of this essay appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of the Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.)