ANALYSIS: THE WAR OVER THE SURGE

William S. Lind looks at the effects of the surge, and attacks McCain’s championing of it as the sole reason behind the reduction in violence in Iraq. Lind’s analysis echoes that of Middle East experts and military analysts (Juan Cole, John Nagl, Michael O’ Hanlon, etc) interviewed here, many of whom ascribe a range of outside factors to the reduction. Cole and the more left-leaning of the experts focus on non-military developments such as Al Qaeda in Iraq’s loss in support among the Sunnis and the ethnic cleansing in Iraqi urban environments, while Nagl and O’Hanlon focus on the change in US strategy that allowed the MNF to co-opt and direct the Sunnis that made up the Anbar Awakening councils.

Continue reading

REPORT: LATIN AMERICAN GANGS

The Air Space and Power Journal publishes a Spanish edition (with English translations) that focuses on questions of non-state actors. This summer’s edition is devoted to the issue of street gangs and national security in Latin America–a pertinent topic given Mexico’s current criminal onslaught and the expansion of networked gangs such as MS-13 into North America (not to mention their current wreckage of Central America). Some authors (John P. Sullivan and Lainie Reisman) emphasize law enforcement and intelligence responses to gang infestation and critique the choice to focus on military solutions. Max G. Mainwaring takes a more despairing view that William S. Lind and Martin Van Creveld may share–the clash between gang and state is a titanic clash of civilizations. John M. Hagedorn has an interesting look at transnational gangs and globalization. All in all, it’s a fascinating issue and I urge anyone with an interest in gangs and public security to check it out. 

REPORT: BLINDSPOT

Strategist wonders whether we are overlooking Dubai as a source of possible Mideast instability due to our Iraq-Iran fixation. It’s a fair question, as the UAE isn’t on anyone’s crisis maps. The UAE is a classic rentier state–oil profits give the population a comfortable existence. Its’ leadership, like that of many similar small Gulf states, have played the region’s great powers off against each other and achieved a modicum of security. On the cultural front, the monarchy has bought off many potential opponents. The problem is, as Coming Anarchy’s Curzon observes, Dubai’s rising economic inequality and growing resentment of rich, hedonistic, and powerful foreigners may provide the impetus for unrest. I also would cast into question the ability of the UAE’s rulers to continue to navigate an independent course between rival regional powers, especially if Iran is attacked by the United States or Israel. 

REPORT: SIMPLICITY AND COMPLEXITY

Zenpundit has a great post over at Complex Terrain Lab on complex thinking and adaptation. An excerpt: 


Periods of globalization in history ramp up the velocity of economic, cultural and ultimately political transactions. Relative to the status quo, writing, the printing press, free trade, mass migration and the internet have caused large increases in complexity to which society had to adapt, often being forced to change habitual ways of thinking. We are living through such a period of globalization and adaptation today.

War and global security is so vast and complex a subject that anything approaching real understanding of its intrinsic logic eludes human minds. Some, like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, try to compress it mathematical formulas. Such linear thinking, of course, famously failed in Vietnam. Body counts did not translate into meaningful metrics of victory in irregular warfare. The great thinkers and strategists of the future, will, like John Boyd, grand synthesizers with unorthodox backgrounds. Montgomery McFate, anthropologist and creator of the human terrain system concept, is a good example

REPORT: CIVILIAN CASUALTIES AND AIRSTRIKES

Thom Shanker reports in yesterday’s NYT that air strikes have been cut back in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties. This is a step in the right direction, as these attacks haven’t done much to curtail the Taliban’s operations but have earned the enmity of the civilian population. Of course, the Taliban propaganda machine’s distortion and exaggeration of American attacks accounts for a good deal of the population’s anger. But all the same, this is a good sign that the strategic big-picture is finally being valued over the short term tactical benefit of decapitation operations against cell leaders and commanders.

Even these operations, perhaps modeled after the Israeli practice, don’t really work well. David Tucker of the Naval Postgraduate School has an interesting article in the June edition of Homeland Security Affairs arguing against decapitation of high-value targets and a greater focus on counterprofileration. While his criticism of Networks and Netwars is a little off-base, Tucker does show that Al Qaeda is not really a network of networks in the popular conception.

REPORT: MASTER OF CHAOS

I saw the new Batman movie over the weekend–went on two long and was too dark for my tastes. However, Heath Ledger’s demented performance as Joker as worth the price of admission. As I drove back from the theater, I started thinking about the interesting parallels between the movie and the subject matter of the asymmetric warfare discussions we’ve been having in the last couple of years. 

Continue reading

REPORT: PHOTOSHOP POLITICS

This is a somewhat amusing story about Mexican politics and photoshop, via Harvard International Review Blog:

“Last week, Mexico’s federal electoral institute (IFE) was up in arms over a ‘cloning’ scandal. Mexican
electoral law states that politicians may not ‘politicize’ the
implementation of government programs by advertising them alongside
photos of themselves. A creative mayor in the town of
Toluca, a Mexico city suburb (actually located in the neighboring state
of Mexico), decided to get around the law by using a stunt double, or ‘clone,’ as the press has been referring to it. …A few days after the scandal broke, Mexican daily REFORMA interviewed the man behind the mayor’s publicity campaign. The
publicist explained that he had used a local citizen who looked
somewhat like the mayor, and then applied the magic of Photoshop to
improve the similarities.”

As hilarious as the situation is, it does illustrate the larger point that technology is changing electoral politics in surprising ways. Snopes.com is overloaded with election 2008 rumors, mainly untraceable chain emails that acquire a sheen of credibility with each person who hits the “forward” button. And the Internet was instrumental in the creation and growth of perhaps one of the most divisive and dangerous conspiracy theories (911 conspiracists), which has persisted despite numerous detailed technical refutations.

The problem for information operations (IO) and public diplomacy practitioners is the process of rebutting these kinds of tricks, especially in the context of local political cultures (such as the Middle East) in which conspiracy theory and political subterfuge are deeply rooted. New technology won’t necessarily make their jobs easier, as the ease with which terrorists have utilized social network technology demonstrates. The answer may be, as Craig Hayden argues in the UC Public Diplomacy Blog, a kind of radical transparency.