Monday, August 29, 2005

Oooh, crikey...

I completely forgot, Dan Todman also co-edited Alanbrooke's diaries.

Explain to him again, as you would a child...

The Krepinevich article is creating a buzz. First off, read it. Second off, I agree with virtually all of it, which will come as no surprise whatsoever to regular readers.

I'm not sure, at the time of writing, what I've got to contribute to the general blather, so I figured I'd reproduce an email reply I sent on the topic (without permission, but given that it's me ranting I imagine it will be ok) yesterday. It's rather intemperate, I admit (and yes, I know the presence of words highlighted by typing them in capital letters means I'm completely, completely, irretrievably mental).

Great stuff, agree with almost all of it.

But again, THIS IS COIN 101!!!! It frustrates me so much that two years in
people like Krepinevich can come up with this and people can react like it's
something novel. David Brooks has a column on it and it makes me want to grind
my teeth to dust. Two bloody years into this bloody insurgency...

The truth is that I could have written most of this two years ago (if I was able
to string it together in as coherent a manner as Krepinevich has). I offer
this up not as testimony to my own brilliance (though I did get some
satisfaction when reading Krepinevich's points on the centres of gravity and
the contact initiation metric [which I'm sure you'll be aware I've been banging
the drum for for months]) but to the fact that this really SHOULD, if we had
the right institutional mindset, be stunningly banal stuff. In fact, never mind
two years ago - it's almost criminal that people weren't seriously considering
it BEFORE we went in. I'm sure [*****] would agree. Hell, I'm sure Krepinevich
would agree. Everything in there is stuff we've been over before - population
protection, intelligence-led operations, better co-ordination, White Zones,
CAP-style local presence and small-unit military adviser embedding, Keeni-Meeni
style operations in the Red Zone, an end to (or substantial drawdown of)
"Whack-a-Mole" conventional search and destroy ops.

Basically, what Krepinevich is saying, I'd have been trying - I say trying,
because I know it's far, far easier said than done - to do from day 1. The
problem is that I think the state of opinion both within the administrations,
British and American, and the public at large is now such that the chances of
the powers that be calling a Mulligan and saying we need a substantial
re-jigging for a ten year project are close to zero, even if they do come to
think Krepinevich is broadly right.

Buh?

I've had a go at the BBC in the past... and I'm going to have a go at them again.

This is an interesting article that draws attention to something worth drawing attention to - the fact that within Kosovo ethnic Serbs are now subjected to a fair amount of intimidation and sometimes open violence. Not on the scale the Serbs themselves inflicted on others, of course, but the bottom line is that that's not the point and we should be aware of these things happening and ask questions as regards what we can do about them.

But the phrasing of the pice suddenly seems a bit odd:

In March 2004, 19 people were killed and hundreds more injured in an explosion of anti-Serb violence in Kosovo. It was the worst violence in Kosovo since 1999, when a Nato bombing campaign ended a Serb crackdown.


Crackdown? I know it is official BBC policy to be exquisitely mealy-mouthed about these things but this seems to me to be a startlingly evasive characterisation of what the Serbs actually carried out. Pretty bloody limp in my view.

On a not-unrelated note, see this article in the Times today. I've written before of the tendency of the television news media to make strenuos assertions about supposed "overwhelming majority of law-abiding" people who "unequivocally condem" things in the face of polling evidence that suggests that, actually, they don't. Sometimes these assertions are even followed up by vox pops that make them sound pretty hollow in the first place, even while the editorial underpinning stresses that everything is just wonderful. Mostly it happens with regard to the Muslim community, but as the article notes this is actually just the most common example. You can understand the thinking behind it, of course and its not entirely reprehensible as such. But that doesn't stop it being bullshit.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Yup

Michael Totten on the recent Israel situation

"Israel has four options.

1) Rule the West Bank and Gaza forever while denying Palestinians citizenship and equal rights. Basically, this is the South African apartheid model. The fact that Israel acquired those lands in self-defense in 1967 doesn't change that.
2) Grant citizenship and equal rights to Palestinians. This would make Jews an ethnic minority in Israel only a few years from now. They'll never do it.
3) Forcibly relocate (in other words, ethnically cleanse) Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza.
4) Withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.

A debate over when Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza is an argument worth having. Perhaps it’s best that Sharon is pulling out of Gaza now. Maybe it would be better if he waited. We won’t really know for certain until we can look back in hindsight and see what happens next.

But if “Israel should be under Jewish rule” forever, as Pat Robertson claims, that means Israel has to choose one of the first three options. None are even remotely viable. Jewish morality and experience rightly forbids options one and three. Hardly anyone on either the Israeli or the Palestinian side has any desire to see option two implemented. That leaves only option four. The West Bank and Gaza will not, cannot, remain under Jewish rule. Israelis leave now or later because they have no other choice."



I actually have my concerns re: the West Bank, largely because of the water situation, but broadly speaking you wouldn't want to disagree with any of that.

If memory serves, Barbara Amiel was at one point very much in favour of Option 3 with the added twist that while doing it the Israelis should threaten first strike use of tactical nuclear weapons against anyone who tried to intervene to stop it. I seem to remember it was around that point that I switched to the Times.

The Drezner Challenge

Dan Drezner challenges his readers to come up with plausible candidates for which international figure self-appointed moral arbiter Pat "Let's give lots of money to Charles Taylor" Robertson would like the CIA to blow up next.

For what it's worth, my nominees are as follows.

- Whoever is Prime Minister of Canada in two years time.
- Kofi Annan
- Winona Ryder
- Desmond Tutu
- Tinky-Winky
- That gay bloke out of Fright Night, (not the late Roddy McDowall, the other one)
- Salman Rushdie

Goodbye to all that...

Via Mark Grimsley, I note an interesting post by Esther MacCallum-Stewart on her excellent site regarding Brian Bond's "The Unquiet Western Front".

For what it's worth, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and, generally speaking, agree wholeheartedly with its central thesis, which will be obvious to anyone who has read post on Wilfred Owen. I would echo one of the inhabitants of Esther's comments box in noting that I think she perhaps misinterprets Professor Bond's argument in implying that his stance is that literature is somehow inherently bad or misleading or soppy gloop.

In reality I'd classify Bond's argument as encompassing two broad strands.

1) In reading Great War literature, both generally and with a view to employing it as a piece of historical source material, people have generally been deeply selective in precisely WHICH pieces of literature they have chosen to use, with the result that what one sees, over and over again, is not a sweeping canvas but a torn fragment of the whole picture - and a misleading fragment at that.

2) Those very selective examples of the Great War canon that we reliably choose to lavish our time, approval and quotation passages on (Owen, Sassoon, Sheriff etc etc etc) are, in turn, rarely placed within any sort of reliable context and, lacking that context, their impact on the popular imagination leads to distortion and their use as historical source material has been and remains rather dubious.

Smashing

Excellent – Dan Todman, a First World War specialist who co-edited this (excellent) book with Gary Sheffield now has his own blog. I’d encourage all readers to visit it as so far it looks first class. Looking forward to seeing where he takes it.

Flypaper, Shmypaper

Gregory Djerejian has an uncanny habit of saying largely what I’ve been thinking but am too clumsy/lazy to put into words effectively. Do read Gregory Djerejian has an uncanny habit of saying largely what I’ve been thinking but am too clumsy/lazy to put into words effectively. Do read his new post on precisely what’s wrong with the so-called “Flypaper Strategy”.

He notes ten reasons, but here are the most important. The others are good, but you really only need these:

1) It assumes there exists a set, finite number of insurgents that we need only kill in order to achieve victory.

2) It presupposes that it offers a strategy that will kill terrorists faster than they are created.

3) It assumes that the attrition being inflicted upon the enemy provides a greater blow to them than the training, experience and in-country tradecraft development they now have access to is benefiting them.

4) It’s just plain immoral.

To this I’d add:

5) It requires the almost certainly fallacious supposition that we, fighting a limited war with necessarily limited means, will have more staying power than an almost pathologically committed adversary who is quite willing to commit to a total (by their lights) conflict with total means.

On point 1, it really is just so blindingly obvious that the fact it apparently needs restating makes me want to fall to my knees and scream like some sort of flaked-out, drug-addled U.S. GI in an Oliver Stone film. We’re talking COIN 101 here. You cannot work on the assumption that the insurgent pool is finite and that whatever you do, as long as you gut nasty guys the numbers will go down. It doesn’t work like that.

As for the morality of the situation, well my personal view is that it’s pretty much immoral. Now, that’s not necessarily a problem in the international sphere. But first of all it had better damn well be effective – and it isn’t. And second of all if you are a commentator and you are going to espouse this theory, don’t then come about spouting all your “Oh we are spreading freedom and building a wonderful new Iraq and we are so moral, blah, blah, blah” at me. Just don’t even begin to commence to think about it. Because the fact of the matter is that the Iraqi people are your pawns. And that’s it. That really is it. And if you can’t see that, well I can only shrug as though I were a Frenchman. And I hate that.

On a last point, Gregory does a good job of putting the theory in historical context. It’s often said by critics of the war that the “liberation” side of the justification for the conflict was all cooked up after the event as a smokescreen to cover for the fact that no WMD were uncovered. I don’t think this is fair, in fact I think it’s plain wrong. I do believe, quite genuinely, that many in the US administration and the British government alike (though the British politicos were less happy to state it outright by virtue of their more legalistic approach to making the case) saw the conflict as a happy convergence of national interest and genuine goodness – hell, I saw it that way at the time. The “Flypaper Theory” however, emerged entirely after the fact as one of the endless “hidden good news stories” cooked up by sections of the commentariat in order to make what was actually a situation going rapidly tits-up appear as though part of a wonderfully subtle, well thought out and brilliantly conceived strategy on the part of the Bush administration. It could have died in the cradle, but unfortunately a surprisingly large number of people who, in the immortal words of Quentin Tarantino, “should have f***ing better known better” decided to pick it up and run with it. The fact that so many people give it credibility two years on makes me want to gnaw my own feet off.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Off Topic

Oscar Peterson gets his own stamp. Very cool. The main thing about Peterson's two main trios is that you look at their discography and it's one great album after another and then you realise that on top of that they spent just as much time if not more backing up pretty much every major name that was ever out there at one time or another. Stunningly good stuff.


Mind you, that Diana Krall - pretty much lift (elevator to my transatlantic chums) muzak these days since she went to Verve (ouch! Can't believe I said that. Painful but true).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I hope that drunk bloke doesn't go mental...

Over at the Civil War Bookshelf there are extracts from a just plain bizarre interview with James McPherson.

This struck me as especially choice:

This is a volume in the series Gary Gallagher ... is editing for the University of North Carolina Press. [...] About a dozen books are scheduled for the series, on the both the military and nonmilitary aspects of the war. Since I had become interested in the naval war, especially when I edited the Lamson letters with my wife Patricia a few years ago, I asked Gary if I could do the naval volume in his series.


Boggle.

The whole thing is pretty rum to be honest.

Also see this follow-up.

Iraq....

Interesting Intel Dump post by Jonathan Caverly on the emerging situation in Iraq.

I'd like to write something trying to put some sort of context into the recent coverage of the situation in Basra following Steve Vincent's murder but to be honest I just can't summon up the energy to do so yet.

On the issue of whether Iranian influence is increasing the answer, it seems to me, is an unequivocal Yes.

On the issue of permenant American bases, IF that comes on the table - while it's plausible that there will be Iraqi politicians concerned about growing Iranian influence in Iraq (Sunnis and some Shia) it is going to be well nigh impossible to make the case that permenant American basing in the country once the insurgency is suppressed is in any way whatsoever representative of the will of the Iraqi people. Hell, I don't believe it. I'll say that flat out right now. I would also throw into the mix the notion that it might actually result in the replacement (or augmentation) of a Sunni insurgency by a Shia one.

Anyway, enough of that for now. Go read the Intel Dump piece and give it a chew over

FUBAR

I would expect a major brouhaha to erupt over the next 24 hours (well, it's already started...) regarding the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menendez by British armed police on the 22nd July. It appears that pretty much everything we thought we "knew" about the incident may well have been... well... bollocks.

I supported the police at the time and still would were the circumstances as set out then to be accurate. However, the apparent (we still don't know) revised circumstances seem to me to make the whole issue substantially more of a grey area - at best.

The real issue though is that we now smell the rank stench of a coverup.

For a month we were led to believe he was was wearing a bulky coat that was believed (reasonably but incorrectly) to be concealment for a bomb.

He wasn't.

That he was challenged by officers emerging from a suspected-terrorist safehouse.

He wasn't.

That, upon being challenged, he ran away from them.

He didn't.

That so frantic to escape was he that he barged into an underground station, vaulting the passenger barriers to get to a train.

He walked into the station and bought a ticket the usual way, pausing to buy a newspaper as he did so.

Even if you allow that the error made by the police was within the bounds of merely tragic and not incompetent (an argument that is feasable, though not to anything like the extent it used to be), these are vast differences with the story that came out at the time and the public have been allowed to run with it for a month during which the police have variously encouraged that interpretation of events or done nothing to disabuse Joe Public of any inaccuracy. We also know that in the aftermath senior police officers, including Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, made strenuous attempts to prevent the opening of an independent inquiry.

Although all the facts are not yet in, today's revelations are certainly enough for very legitimate concern. The question rather becomes one of who knows what and for how long have they known it?

My gut instinct is that Sir Ian will be gone by Monday. More likely rightly than not.

He's dead, Jim...

James Booth, the actor who played Private Henry Hook VC in Zulu, has died aged 77.

I've already done a post on the rainbow array of glaring historical inaccuracies in the film (which is, nontheless, a great film) and I won't rehearse them all here but...

But his portrayal of Private Henry Hook as a thieving drunk would later inspire a campaign to restore the reputation of the Victoria Cross-winning soldier.


Frankly, it's scarcely surprising. Short of the fact that he won the VC, the Hook portrayed in the film could not have been a greater contrast to the real man if the scriptwriters had tried (ironically, the writer behind the film, John Prebble, was himself a sometime historian). In the film Hook is seen as a drunk, a malingerer, a cheat and a thug, who finds mean redemption in the battle). In reality, Hook was a teetotaller, a hard worker and one of the most popular figures in the battalion among both officers and men, with a repuation for kindness, generosity and conscientiousness (and a doting father and husband). Indeed, he was only present in the hospital at the time of the attack because he had volunteered to take on extra duty assisting Surgeon-Major Reynolds.


Makes U-571 and The Patriot seem like pretty small fry in comparison!

Apologies...

Forgive the long absence. I've had various things on the boil and minimal time and less inclination to write anything. In all honesty I've been avoiding the news somewhat over the past couple of week, beyond the daily chew through the BBC website. Burned out or something.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Robin Cook dead at 59

What it says on the tin. Christ. Quite a shock.

Cook was always regarded as one of the smartest of the Labour Party's big hitters but always lacked a personal following within the Commons, which was seen to put something of a damper on his ambitions.

For my part I thought he was mostly wrong in office (not that this is particularly a minority opinion, much of his pre-1997 promise was widely seen to evaporate once he actually got behind the controls - "The man with the ethical foreign policy and the unethical home affairs policy", as somebody in the defence community quipped a couple of years ago) and mostly wrong out of office. To his credit, when he decided to resign he did so and he went, in marked contrast to Clare Short (though the sight of him being given hearty congratulations by Frank Dobson after his speech in the Iraq debate still makes my eyeballs bleed). It may conceivably be that time bears out that he was correct in his actions. However, my personal view is that his post-war musings have been not merely wrong but dangerously wrong, most notably in his notion (shared by the Lib Dems) that come what may Anglo-American forces should be pulled out and replaced by UN troops that don't even exist on paper and would not emerge even were we to withdraw. That said, I saw him on This Week a few weeks ago and I thought he largely gave a nuanced (wrong, but nuanced) and honest performance.

All this said, he was one of the big beasts in the Westminster jungle, 59 is no age these days and his presence on the scene will be missed by most observers (dare I say it, comedy impressionists perhaps most of all). RIP.

UPDATE:

I've done Cook something of a disservice. I completely forgot his response to the Scott Report on the arms to Iraq scandal, which Michael White, the Guardian's political editor (and a minor league national treasure in his own right, bless 'im) was flagging up on BBC News 24. A genuinely inspired and skilful piece of work and perhaps one of the most important indvidual contributions on the floor of the Commons in recent(ish) political history.

Joyner on McCaffrey on Iraq

James Joyner has a roundup of points from a recent report (PDF) by reitred General Barry McCaffrey. Well worth a look and certainly at first glance (I haven't had time to fully digest it yet) the report looks like good stuff.

I hesitate to zoom in on a single negative when there's a fair bit in there that's "trending" positive, but I note that it seems Fallujah is a right bloody mess. I only note this because the city is still pretty much a news blackout with remarkably little solid information coming out of it (apart from the inevitable heartwarming good news stories about prancing children and bustling bazaars). And also because it's what I already suspected.

Hrrrgh.


The focus of this site is meant to be on broadly non-political things of a serious nature, so I'll try to make this the last post of its type for a while but until then...

Fresh from claiming that the London bombings were quite possibly not carried out by Muslims and that al Qaeda is a plot cooked up by the CIA, the chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, one of the biggest, if not the biggest in the UK, has announced that the Prime Minister is akin to Hitler and that proposed anti-terror legislation could be the first step in a project not unlike Nazi treatment of the Jews.

While we wait for his constituents, who purely by the law of averages must largely be made up of the Overwhelming Majority Of Moderate Muslims, to condemn the chairman's statements over the past fortnight and demand his resignation, I suggest passing the time by laughing at his hilarious wig.

UPDATE:

Oh lawks, looks like there's no point waiting. It's not that I am not acutely aware of the possible civil liberties implications of new anti-terror legislation. Nor, in fairness, can moderate Muslims be expected to come grovelling every time one among their number says something crappy. However, this is a running story regarding a major figure within the British Islamic community and I do find the apparent deafening silence annoying. Apart from criticism from the local Labour MP, who is a Muslim, everyone else seems more or less willing to give him a silent pass and his constituents appear to endorse him. It would be a substantial boon, in my view, if somebody from the MCB or a similar groups was prepared to come forward and say, "Actually, unrepresentative though they were, it is very hard to dispute that the London bombers were Muslims. Actually, al Qaeda is not a fraudulent concoction of the CIA and is a real threat that we need to deal with, though we may differ on quite how to do that. And actually, although we may have civil-liberties related concerns regarding the imposition of new terrorism legislation and we feel these need to be subject to intense scrutiny, it is neither helpful nor reasonable for one of the major public authority figures in our community to compare the Prime Minister to Adolf Hitler." But apparently that is too much to ask.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Through a glass, darkly.

I doubt it will have escaped anyone's attention that we're looking at the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.


The event was an historical landmark and deserves to be treated as such. It was also clearly a human tragedy. However, my personal view is that much of the ethical debate that has inevitably and understandably resurfaced is largely sterile as it tends to involve placing an ahistorical and arbitrary partition between the nuclear bombings and the conventional bombing campaign that followed it.

This is a mistake, as to do so removes a lot of the context from the debate. It is important to recognise that, immense though the devastation was, it was not, in fact, conventional devastation of an order of magnitude particularly removed from that inflicted in the Combined Bomber Offensive in the ETO or - more relevantly - in the massive incendiary bombing sweeps conducted by the USAAF over Japan in the months leading up to the atomic bombs being dropped.

What we get in this case is two wild cards, both of which tend to play on an emotional level - the fact that the devastation was caused by a single bomb on the one hand and the radiation factor on the other. The former tends to invoke an understandable horror, but it is highly questionable whether that alone sets the atomic bombing as a breed apart, ethically speaking. The radiation is a double whammy in that it continued to kill long after the fact and the outbreak of peace and it plays to the natural, instinctive repulsion felt by human beings at the notion of "poison" (which is of a piece with notions of the "beastliness" of poison gas in the Great War and undoubtedly has a substantially fuller pedigree that laziness prevents full documentation here). However, at the time the bombs were dropped, the implications of the radiation were recognised hazily at most, with numerous American scientists, boffins and soldiers present at the creation subsequently popping off at a not especially ripe age and many theorists more worried about the possibility of chain reactions that would cause the planet to blow up.

The point is not that no ethical debate is justified, but that any ethical debate makes little real sense if the bombings are placed in a vacuum. I would contend that to set them apart from the conventional bombing campaign is a serious mistake and one that will generate far more heat than light.

Quotation of the Day

Enola Gay
You should have stayed at home yesterday

Words can’t describe
The feeling and the way you lied

These games you play
They’re gonna end in more than tears someday
Enola Gay
It shouldn’t ever have to end this way

It’s 8:15, and that’s the time that it’s always been
We got your message on the radio, condition's normal and you’re coming home

Enola Gay
Is mother proud of Little Boy today?
This kiss you give
It’s never ever gonna fade away

Enola Gay
It shouldn’t ever have to end this way
Enola Gay
It shouldn’t fade in our dreams away

It’s 8:15 and that’s the time that it’s always been
We got your message on the radio, condition's normal and you’re coming home

Enola Gay
Is mother proud of Little Boy today?
This kiss you give
It’s never ever gonna fade away...

Those new anti-terror provisions

Roundups here and here.

We're in a very delicate period. The attacks on London invite rushed legislation, pushed through with minimal scrutiny in a very tense environment. Although the notion that rushed legislation in response to a specific event is generally bad legislation is a cliche, it has the very real virtue of being true.

Let's have a shufti at some of the things being proposed:

New anti-terrorism legislation in the autumn, to include an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the UK


All for it in principle. In fact it seems to me long overdue. How enforcable it will be remains to be seen. Let's finally get round to the notion that there are some foreign buggers we just don't want in the country.


The addition of the Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun Islamist organisations to the list of prohibited groups




My gut response to this is to be annoyed that it took bombings in London to put this on the table. Quite what the impact will be I'm not sure though.

An examination of the possibility of longer pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects


I'm open to convincing on this - but unless we're talking about a process under the scrutiny of independent judicial review I'd say no.

Consultation with Muslim leaders about drawing up a list of those not suitable to preach, who will be excluded from Britain

In principle I agree - we need to start freezing people out (and we need to start producing domestically trained imams too rather than importing them from Saudi and Pakistan). In practice though "Muslim leaders" is bound to include the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated MAB, who are part of the problem. As it is I don't know whether this will be worth the paper it's written on.

Agreements with other countries, such as Jordan, to ensure people can be deported to their nations of origin without being tortured or ill-treated

Hahaha. We may as well be frank here - these agreements are unlikely to be worth the paper they are written on. We need to decide openly whether our national security means that we are prepared to send people off into a situation where they are likely to have electrodes attached to their goolies. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. But this seems to me to be a particularly slimy way of going about things.

Home secretary automatically to consider deporting any foreigner involved in listed extremist bookshops, centres, organisations and websites

Great - except that we are likely to run into the electrodes/Betty Swollocks interaction scenario mentioned above.

Automatically refuse asylum to anyone with anything to do with terrorism anywhere

In principle, fine. But again... see above. And I can see real implementation problems.

Use more control orders against British terror suspects, who cannot be deported

Again, independent judicial review please...

Increase the number of special judges hearing terror cases

Maybe, though I do wonder whether we need reforms in other (largely evidence-based) areas too.

Review the threshold for gaining British citizenship and establish, with the Muslim community, a commission to advise how to better integrate parts of the community "presently inadequately integrated"

High time, in my view.

Create a list of foreign preachers who will be kept out of the UK and consult on creating new powers to close places of worship used to foment extremism

Yup.

But - and it's a BIG but - here's the really big issue.

Consultation to strip citizenship from naturalised citizens engaged in terrorism


To quote loosely from a former Prime Minister - No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

No.

No, no, no.

No.

Nope, nup, no.

Citizenship is not something to be taken lightly. We have given it too lightly in the past. That must now change, the better to deal with the future. But I am very, very, very uncomfortable with the idea that somebody's citizenship - and presumably the protections and rights that go with it - could be stripped away. This is a bad, bad idea, a bridge too far and I hope there will be vigorous opposition to it.

This is not to say we don't have a problem - largely a self-created problem. But talking about removing citizenship is not the way to deal with it. This means that it will be harder to deal with existing problems than it will be to reduce future problems, but it is an entirely necessary restraint in my view.










Thursday, August 04, 2005

4GW Books

There's an interesting "Ten Best" 4GW book list up at Defence and the National Interest.

It's nice to see, once again, John Nagl's brilliant counterinsurgency book getting another plug. That said, there are a few areas where I'd take issue.

Fizzy Gravy

First off, I'm not sure I'd list Bunker's "Non-State Threats and Future Wars" in the top ten. It's a smashing little collection in its own right, including reflections on their classic texts by Martin van Creveld and Ralph Peters, but I don't think it's particularly earth shattering as a whole - especially when one considers what books didn't make the cut.

One of my general criticisms of 4GW theorists is that they tend, in my view at least, to have a strange blind spot for classical counterinsurgency theory and texts. Lukin, in fairness, doesn't quite fall into this trap, but I think some of his core choices require context. Mao is, of course, classic and fundamental but it's important to put it into context - since Vietnam, most Maoist insurgencies have fallen flat on their arses.

I'm also wary of anything that is set up as providing insight into "the Eastern style of warfare". There isn't one. In fact "Eastern" styles of warfare are many and varied between and within China, Japan, SE Asia and the Indian subcontinent.* None of this is to say that various Oriental texts lack usefulness, merely that we need to be wary of a selective and indiscriminate reading of history and varied regional strategic cultures.

Finally - although it only makes the "Honourable Mention" section of the list - in spite of the fact that it widely has the term "classic" stapled to it I reckon you could afford to give Taber's "War of the Flea" a miss. It's not valueless but it's very much of its time and has dated substantially, with a confidence in the effectiveness of guerrilla groups that was largely demolished by events subsequent to its publication ("Che", for example [and his "foco" theory], is seen very much as the Wave Of The Future and it's amusing to read the parts of the book that deal with him, given that not long after the book's publication he got himself very dead indeed in a comedy fashion).

Hand Shandy

I think it's important for anyone interested in the 4GW concept to read quite broadly at this stage and not take it at face value. Although there is much of value emerging, equally lucid critiques exist (and I personally feel that we should be looking at 4GW as a supplement to traditional strategic thinking and threat assessment, not a substitute [which is what many of its advocates are pusing for]):

If you're going to read Bunker's "Non-State Threats", check out this at the same time:

Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Jan Angstrom (eds.) - Rethinking the Nature of War

Great collection in a similar format that broadly takes a far more sceptical look at the issues. Also includes defences of 4GW/"New Wars" theories by Mary Kaldor and Martin van Creveld.

Also these:

Colin Gray - Modern Strategy
Colin Gray - Another Bloody Century
David Lonsdale - The Nature of War In the Information Age: Clausewitzian Future
Various readings, primarily by Christopher Bassford, available at Clausewitz.com.
Jeremy Black - War and the New Disorder in the 21st Century
On a final, rather self-glorifying note, I wrote a rather rambling critique of The Transformation of War a while back and I still think that it's more or less right.

On "Western" and "Eastern" ways of war, John Lynn's "Battle: A History of Combat and Culture" is an invaluable counterpoint to the VDH Western Way model.




*Beyond very broad generalisations with variable applicability through history, there isn't a Western Way of Warfare either. Sorry.

On an unrelated note, but one that equally makes me a martyr to my gall bladder....

An extreme-right wing Jewish terrorist has been lynched after opening up on Israeli Arab bush passengers.

But look:

Israeli security sources described the incident as a "Jewish terror attack".

...

"It seems like Jewish terror against Arabs," police spokesman Avi Zelba told Reuters news agency.


I love the way those wicked, ghastly, racist Israelis are prepared to call a spade a spade on this issue but over here we're still classifying people who blow up cafes full of kids and old women and pluck civilian reconstruction workers off the streets and saw their heads off on camera as "militants".

George Galloway Watch - Part 2,358

Oh look, more fun.

If this was a few decades ago we'd have strapped this grinning, malevolent son of a bitch to a chair in a courtyard and shot him. I make no value judgement in pointing this out.

The philosophers over at Crooked Timber are beginning to have second thoughts
:

To be honest, listening to these orations, my reaction was that this is on the absolute cusp of being the sort of thing that a decent, liberal society ought to be chucking people in jail for.


Well.... duh. But everyone was happy to share a platform with him when it suited them weren't they? "Chatshow" Charlie Kennedy and all. And to give him a platform to rant and pontificate. It's not like it was impossible to see this coming back in the day, but I remember when I and others who pointed out just what sort of a person Gorgeous George is were dismissed as warmongers or told that there was a broader "cause" that was more important than any dodgy affiliations that Galloway and his chums may have. It's not rocket science that the man is a shit of the very first water, it's just that a large number of people chose to ignore the fact until after the Stop the War Coalition was faltering and he'd safely ousted Oona King - shame on them.