A Current Events Recap

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Gary Faulkner in hot pursuit of Osama Bin Laden on the Pakistani border.

England in the World Cup.

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The #RollingStan incident.

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Book Dreams: Ancient and Modern

Typepad ate my post up, so I decided to retype it and make it shorter. I’ve already alluded to my habit of skipping around when reading books, and I’ve been consistently in awe of Zenpundit‘s discipline in conquering his industrial-strength booklist. I, on the other hand, can’t resist the temptation to jump my scheduled reading lists (especially when a new biography of Orde Wingate is almost published!).

It’s also got me thinking somewhat, as I’ve been re-reading parts of both the 1943 and 1987 editions of Makers of Modern Strategy as well as Azar Gat’s History of Military Thought, about personal and professional reading in defense in the premodern era. Even when I keep to my reading lists, I still feel like a laggard when I read about the extensive research and reading of figures like Machiavell, Jomini, or Hans Delbruck. Of many writers and individuals with interest in the national security and foreign policy fireld, only polymathic writers like Dr. Gat himself seems to keep up with the wide-ranging reading of those centuries-old figures.  In general, a range of thinkers and practitioners from times that we might regard today as completely primitive accomplished impressive scholarship and personal reading –before Amazon.com, Kindle, Googlebooks, Worldcat, or rapid interlibrary/institutional loan.

Of course, maybe the lack of Facebook, Twitter, or lolcats had something to do with it. Maybe Schlieffen wouldn’t have completed his study of Cannae if he got too wrapped up making demotivational posters, Rickrolling other members of the General Staff, or trolling sites that might have indirectly inspired Jersey Shore. Or, worse yet, he might have discovered Lady Gaga or the awesomeness that was the first two Terminator movies. In short, he might have ended up like these unfortunate fellows.

I Can Haz Grand Strategy?

Jason Sigger, commenting on a recent article on strategic planning, is ultimately pessimistic about the idea of a centrally organized body to produce viable national security planning beyond the short-term.

On the same note Daniel Drezner observes that China’s international moves of late have been rather rash: “China has badly overestimated how it can translate its financial capabilities into foreign policy leverage,” but at the same time notes “A lot of commentators notice [China’s] material advantages, and then mistakenly infer that China has pursued a brilliant grand strategy. At this point, however, China’s continued rise seems to be occurring in spite of strategic miscalculations, not because of them.” This brings us to a larger point: perhaps more important than a brilliant grand strategy per se is the cushion for error you have available at any given time.

If you are, say, a continental power bounded by two powerful adversaries and cannot sustain a protracted war, then you better be damn well sure that the operational concept you’ve developed through judicious study of the battle of Cannae and extrapolated to the strategic level works out fine. On the other hand, if you’re an island nation with a really good Navy and you’ve just lost to a bunch of uppity colonists operating with the aid of your chief rival, things might not be so bad. In another 100 years you’ll be sipping tea in India, engaging in a strategically dubious proxy conflict against the Russians for control of Central Asia, and producing dreadful novels about creepy men in haunted mansions and the women who love them.

The larger question behind all of the grand strategy discussions is whether America has a lesser margin for error than before, as Drezner implies. What do you think?

Spin and Targeting

John Robb has a couple of posts outlining the use of open-source research for micro-targeting points in a large organization’s hierarchy. As he mentions, this is already widely in practice in Southeast Asia, albeit not in the context of organizational targeting but rather micro-targeting of individuals who grossly transgress societal boundaries.

The “human flesh search engine” as it is called takes a “village” mentality and extrapolates it to an entire nation. The kind of societal shaming and collective punishment of the individual in cases such as that of the unfortunate “Chinabounder” would not be out of place in, say, a very small American town.

In the Western context, there is also some precedent in the very elemental PR strategy of massively focusing negative attention on an individual through a series of targeted press leaks that set up a converging attack-an attack that sometimes takes a life of its own due to the target’s panic or futile attempts to fight the herd of media coverage.

Of course, there are examples of both everywhere you go. But it is interesting that the latter seems to be more predominant in the West than the former.