Update to my previous post, prompted by Aaron Connelly’s Halloween tweet. Due to copyright buffoonery, I can’t embed either Fat Joe’s glorious remix to “Make it Rain” or DJ Drama’s ensemble cut “5,000 Ones.” So click on the aforementioned links and use your imagination to think of cape and hat-clad Hamid Karzai, pockets loaded with stacks of Iranian riyals, making it rain in the club.
Not too far behind is Crispin Burke, employed as a military liason to the Balling Out of Control Center of Excellence, trying to restrain both Silvio Berlusconi and Gaddafi from using their respective heavily armed female bodyguards to open fire in the club. The cause of the dispute is both world leaders’ infatuation with the Great Satan’s Girlfriend. Meanwhile, Alex of i-Con and his allies in Canadian drug cartels try to make a deal with Joseph Fouche over the construction and mass-production of Clausewitz model Terminators.
Performing on the stage of the club, surrounded a chorus line of dancing girls clad in panda hats, is Julian Assange doing a duet with Ozzy Osbourne singing “Paranoid.” Impossible, you say? Well, at least a blogger can dream…..
For a man derided as the “Mayor of Kabul,” President Hamid Karzai is quite the G. His cousin, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is out there grinding with an intensity that would put even champion trap stars like Young Jeezy or The Clipse to shame (although I suspect that Alex of i-Con might disagree with me on The Clipse). Then he threatened to join the Taliban when the West told him that he would have to slow his roll. Now, Karzai is boasting that he gets “bags of money” from Iran. I’m not sure what’s next–perhaps an 1990’s Shiny Suit rap-style video featuring Diddy, Ma$e as well as Kat Stacks dancing on the hood of a Maybach.
In any event, as Robert Haddick observes that Karzai is attempting to undermine the United States counterinsurgency strategy, preserve his own power, and shift the war’s endgame. Furthermore, none of these behaviors were necessarily all that new. Karzai has been a G for quite a while.
In an article for World Affairs Journal, Steven Metz explains why:
In protecting [Cold War-era] dictators and using them as regional proxies, Washington was not concerned with the retention of power by a particular individual or group, but with the construction of stable, sustainable economic and political systems. Americans believed that, over the long term, only open governance, market economies, and the rule of law would lead to stability and limit the anger and frustration that Communists exploited. Thus the United States pushed its clients toward controlled economic and political reform. The authoritarian governments that received U.S. backing saw things differently. Their objective was retaining power and maintaining access to congressional aid packages. They resolutely resisted policies that might undermine their power, often including the very economic and political changes that the United States tried to promote. Reform was a threat, not a goal. The partners might, under pressure, make limited or token changes to keep Washington sweet, but only so long as they left intact the political and economic systems that rewarded them so generously.
The new post-Cold War threat environment features a similar arrangement, Metz explains, this time based on a more stringent arrangement: the dictator or supremo in question must not only reform but exercise complete control over his territory and reform enough to remove grievances that would produce violent Islamist terrorism or insurgency. But this is beyond the ability, inclination, and legal and organizational culture of many of the states we partner with. So as Metz points out, are we going to continue our dependence on strategies that require such unrealistic relationships?
Meanwhile, Karzai will continue to get bags of money from Tehran.
I learned from several people over the weekend that Paddy Griffith, the former Sandhurst professor, military historian, and wargamer, had died in June. This is a tremendous loss not only for the military history profession but also the wider community of strategic studies and anyone who cares about the study of war and conflict.
Griffith was not a popular historian like Stephen Ambrose, an agenda-setting one like Martin van Creveld, or a specialist. Though he wrote academic military history he also worked extensively on wargames. Griffith was a tremendously creative and playful historian who was not afraid to poke holes in old verities. His book Battle Tactics of the Civll War, for example, challenged the prevailing interpretation of the Civil War as a preview of World War I. His book Forward Into Battle also took aim at prevailing interpretations of 19th century warfare and the idea that the United States enjoyed tactical success in Vietnam, among other things. Griffith was not a contrarian for contrarianship’s sake–he had serious, data-driven arguments that were respectable even if one disagreed with them. And they informed policy as well, as Forward Into Battle was tremendously influential on the writing of the 1993 edition of the Army’s FM 100-5 Operations.
Griffith, as he explained in the opening pages of The Viking Way of War, was also an unabashed champion of combat-centric military history. He was interested in the tactics, strategies, and operations—something that has grown rarer in military history of late. He understood that battle was the soul of military history, and was not afraid to polemically argue for its importance. This does not mean that the other aspects—organization, strategic culture, sociological context, etc, are unimportant, but that war revolves around fighting and the way those fights occur is a legitimate and highly important topic of scholarly inquiry.
I’d highly recommend picking up Forward Into Battle, although it’s best also read in concert with other books surrounding the historical eras he covers.
Some thoughts at RTJ inspired by a recent trip to Gettysburg and the recent postings of Sven Ortmann.
Andrew Liptak makes a provocative argument–military science fiction really, really sucks. And why?
Military SF novels aren’t about the institution of warfare; they focus on the effects of war, on the soldiers, on the morality of an organization, and on what humanity will do to survive. But warfare is much more than just its destructive effects: It is an institution with its own theories and reasoning. It represents significant strategic, economic and political events, all coming together in a destructive crescendo. When military science fiction focuses on people, there is very little about warfare, and how it is conducted. In these tales, futuristic warfare is often incredibly simplified, on both the storytelling level, as well as the actual elements that make up the story. Here are some of the biggest problems with representations of war in most military SF.
I have commented on some of the problems with a specific subgenre of this in io9 too. But the problem with Liptak’s argument is that there is a misunderstanding of what fiction should ideally focus on. As experienced by characters, it is true that fiction will mostly focus on effects, with an ultimately shallow outline of the technologies and strategies involved. That’s simply what fiction is. Some good science fiction does focus very much on the broader outline of the worlds involved, and I’ve blogged on them.
But the primary focus is the characters. A focus on the technologies, strategies, and tactics involved tends to amplify some of the worst tendencies of science fiction in general: a fascination with the technical details of machines or the outlines of future worlds rather than the people who populate them. There is an inherent tradeoff, and when in doubt, lean towards character. The contrast between the anime versions of Ghost in the Shell and the manga is instructive–the anime is much more about the characters whereas the manga is chock full of lovingly footnoted technical details.
Historical fiction, to some degree, has the kind of level of detail and thought that Liptak desires, but in large part only because the past has already been laid out for us. I don’t think there’s a strict either-or choice between character and detail, but at the same time a tradeoff certainly exists.
While I want to get to writing about “The Hedgehog Idea,” a ton of reading and writing on the Gettysburg campaign keeps pulling me back. Additionally, I’d like to comment on Bernard Finel’s new SWJ piece. Finel makes the point that with 100,000 troops in Afghanistan comprising a higher-water mark of force available to the United States that will decline, a full-on policy of coercive bargaining with Taliban must be commenced to ensure a stable long-term outcome in Afghanistan that does not require a massive amount of troops to police.
This piece does move beyond the dichotomy of counterinsurgency vs. the “small footprint” approach, and is based on the President’s original strategic intent as well as the reality that current force levels are unlikely to continue. However, the practical difficulties in tailoring operations for negotiations and shaping the political-military outcome are–as Finel notes–nontrivial. It is a step in an interesting direction and ought to be developed into a campaign design to flesh out its particulars.
As an aside, I also think to some degree that Finel’s approach here may become a subject of a new area of COIN studies–designing operations for limited outcomes. It is too soon to write off US participation in future COIN missions, but the expansive objectives of past US COIN missions may be a thing of the past. Tailored operations for limited war may characterize a good deal of future out-of-area operations.