Permissible Arms

Only Got One More Step to Go

A little bit of late night blogging; somehow Friday just slipped away from me. Posting has been light as all my blog-related brain cells have been dumped at Attackerman; normal service should resume soon as the vestiges of moving office suites fall away.

Bits and bobs:

I shall attempt substance soon. Promise.

Better than Batman

Posted in islam by Karaka on 6 August 2010

Matt Lewis, who’s also guest-blogging with me over at Attackerman, tipped me off today about Fareed Zakaria’s general awesomeness. See, Fareed has posted an open letter to the Anti-Defamation League returning the Hubert Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize the ADL awarded him in 2005.

That is why I was stunned at your decision to publicly side with those urging the relocation of the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan. You are choosing to use your immense prestige to take a side that is utterly opposed to the animating purpose of your organization. Your own statements subsequently, asserting that we must honor the feelings of victims even if irrational or bigoted, made matters worse.

This is not the place to debate the press release or your statements. Many have done this and I have written about it in Newsweek and on my television show – both of which will be out over the weekend. The purpose of this letter is more straightforward. I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both. I hope that it might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue. This decision will haunt the ADL for years if not decades to come. Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain your reputation.

No kidding. What an honourable thing to do; I’m flat shocked that the Anti-frickin-Defamation League sided against religious tolerance. But like Matt, Fareed is totally my hero.

Memory (Stop) Loss: Counterinsurgency Edition

My office is knee-deep in a full-scale move to a larger suite, which has eaten away at this week like a particularly adventurous pika with stack of vegetation. I’ve been spending my limited spare time finishing Tamim Ansary’s compelling, thoroughly wonderful Destiny Disrupted, a history of the world from the Islamic perspective (more on that later) and reading the Qur’an for the first time. At some point I realized that, while I had read excerpts from the Qur’an, and interpretations of bits of the Qur’an, I had never actually read the Qur’an itself. This is an attempt to rectify that, though it’s a bit slow going as I try to digest the translation, the footnotes, and the meaning of the suras.

A US Army soldier looks over a note containing Pashto translations of frequently-used phrases June 14, 2010 in rural Dand District, just south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

In other reading, Ann Jones, author of Kabul in Winter, has a raw and incendiary op-ed in the Asia Times Online. I disagree with much of the substance of Jones’ article–that counterinsurgency is a failed policy that has not worked in Afghanistan–and, fundamentally, with her understanding of what counterinsurgency is and how it works. She seems to think that proponents of counter-insurgency consider it to be a panacea, a trick that will work to end violence and poverty and insecurity overnight, or at least in the nine months since it was implemented in Afghanistan. But that is simply not so–most expressions of the doctrine pair it with the idea of entrenchment, of a substantial period of time. To look at a policy that has been in place for less than a year, a policy which explicitly requires a substantial duration of time (the relative softness of the July 2011 withdrawal date notwithstanding) and say that it has failed is either a deliberate misreading of the situation or a lack of understanding about the doctrine itself. I won’t recommend that you read the op-ed–it comes across more like the teenaged rage of someone who has just understood what poverty means for the first time rather than a thorough criticism of doctrine as it’s applied in country. And it pains me to say that, because Jones has spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan and certainly has earned her bones on the subject. But the piece is sloppy, poorly understood, and far too loose with tone for me to be anything but critical.

Tim Hsia, at the NYT At War blog, has a compelling piece on the military and politics, which is probably another wave in the hopefully terminal RollingStan flap. Worth reading both for commentary about personal politics of soldiers and the larger political frameworks of both the US and Afghanistan/Iraq.

In other words counterinsurgency turns Clausewitz’s famous maxim that “war is an extension of politics” on its head. Military officers in a counterinsurgency environment realize that “politics overseas is an extension of a counterinsurgency war.”

Counterinsurgency is not just about eliminating insurgents; at its core it is a political struggle that requires identifying and separating political irreconciliables, whilst also shepherding former insurgents into reconciliation meetings. After all, if one has won the hearts and minds of the populace, then one has just as likely won their political affiliation to the incipient national government of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Soldiers with whom I have worked have been more versed in the politics of Iraq and Afghanistan than in domestic politics. Back home, I have yet to meet any American civilian who is more knowledgeable about the politics of Afghanistan or Iraq than the typical Army company commander. This perhaps is the real “political” problem: a civilian population detached from the nation’s foreign policy issues.

Great start to a discussion from that post.

Laleh Khalli at the Middle East Report writes on The New (and Old) Classics of Counterinsurgency, running through names and works familiar to most who are well-read in the subject. However, it does offer a nice overview of COIN literature and a healthy bibliography for someone interesting in wading more deeply into doctrine.

This, frankly, creeped me out. Wanted: Jihadists to Marry Widows at the NYT:

A snippet of news from a shadowy corner of Iraq: Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia recently issued a fatwa telling its fighters to marry the widows of those who have fallen…“Asking current or future fighters to marry the widows means either that they are seeking to re-establish marital ties in an effort to regain some traction in the tribes, or that they have completely moved away from the ideological foundation that fighters are to come to Iraq and immediately die in suicide bombing attacks,” Mr. [Malcolm] Nance said.

“It’s fascinating either way. If it’s the former, then they must believe there is a glimmer of hope that blood ties with these Iraqi women will gain them an edge of protection in a country that wants to be rid of them. If it’s the latter, it’s akin to a call for their fighters to settle down and gain an earthly reward by having a wife and children and to start a new generation of jihadists.”

Mr. Nance said the fatwa was “so absolutely desperate” that it could have come from only the highest levels of the organization.

Either way, it reinforces an idea that women are a possession, and that their husbands, as jihadists, have made them part of a kind of tribe of jihadists who can now claim them for other jihadists. That’s one meta-reading. It also speaks to a consolidation of power and assets within a group that can be controlled. Mostly, I figure it has to do with financial insecurity among widowed families, but the implications are unsettling.

Jason Sigger’s Civilian Strategists Should Be Better is a must-read for the last week(ish).

Rather Late Monday Errata. (Still catching up.)

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, europe, isaf, islam, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 12 July 2010

A handful of links:

  • Paul McCleary has a good article on the Afghan NCOP and police forces: “And generally speaking,” [Ward] added, “when they’re partnered, we see the right kinds of behavior.” But the question is: what happens when they’re not partnered? Good question.
  • The NYT At War blog reviews reports on Afghan opinion polls. According to the findings, corruption remains the third-biggest concern to Afghans, following security and unemployment. One in seven adults experienced direct bribery in the past two years. The total of bribes paid by Afghans in 2009 added to roughly $1 billion, almost double the amount in 2007. The average bribe paid was $156. There are some nice charts, as well. How on earth does an average Afghan have $156 to burn on a bribe?
  • The Big Picture covers Afghanistan, June 2010. Quite frankly the best photojournalism column around. This gets my pick, though there are some truly awe-striking photos in this collection. There are at least three or four of Afghan girls and women, as well.

This June 4, 2010 picture shows the starry desert night over Camp Hansen at Marjah, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Hyunsoo Leo Kim)

  • MikeF (hi Mike!) started a robust discussion of David Kilcullen’s Counterinsurgency at Small Wars Council worth your time; he very kindly posted links to Starbuck’s review and my own. Now that I’m a bit removed from my initial reactions to the book, I do think it has merit, certainly as an introduction to counterinsurgency as a practical concept and as a handy portable version of the doctrine, such as it is. I’m doing a re-read of “The Accidental Guerilla” at the moment, and I do think it’s interesting to see how Kilcullen’s ideas have shifted over time, as he’s gained more insight and experience. Still, as a whole book I do think it has some structural flaws. Well worth the $15 (₤10).
  • And also, h/t Starbuck for Bing West’s review of Counterinsurgency at the National Interest. I particularly liked this line: Stack plays Thomas Hobbes to Kilcullen’s John Locke. Very well put.
  • If you were as baffled by this whole Dave Weigel-getting-fired business as I was, check out this Diavlog with the man in question. (H/t Ackerman.)
  • CHUP on the burqa ban and fear. Such policies and practices, regardless if it means banning the burqa or banning criticism of it, are ultimately unproductive because it further polarizes the debate rather than resolving any of its underlying issues. Good discussion in the comments.
  • As you all surely know, Mattis is for CENTCOM which is an excellent power shuffle around the board. One might think his pass over for Commandant was orchestrated to get him into CENTCOM, if one was a particularly twitchy conspiracy theorist. Which I am not. For more on Mattis, AFJ has excerpts from Tom Ricks’ “Fiasco” available for ungated reading.
  • Paul Staniland recently did a guest post series at the Monkey Cage on how counterinsurgencies end. I wish they were all linked together, but if you have the time its worth poking around for them all.
  • Embedistan, also on the At War blog.

I didn’t realize you got religion with the price of the visa

Posted in islam by Karaka on 18 November 2009

Guys, I’m so behind on everything that it’s not even funny anymore, but I couldn’t let this go by without posting.

Gaddafi spends two hours with 200 Italian ladies:

Muammar Gaddafi disappointed some 200 Italian women after he invited them using an agency advertizing a “party” where the Libyan leader proceeded to lecture them on Islam, Italian media reported on Monday.

The ad, by the Hostessweb agency, was very specific in the kind of woman that should attend and read: “Seeking 500 attractive girls between 18 and 35 years old, at least 1.70 meters (5 foot, 7 inches) tall, well-dressed but not in mini-skirts or low cut dresses.”

Some 200 women showed up at a Rome villa, having been told they would receive €60 ($90) and “some Libyan gifts.” Among them was an undercover reporter for Italian news agency ANSA, who took photos and described the evening’s proceedings.

The reporter described how the ladies answered the ad expecting to attend a lavish party but were instead told to wait in a large hall until the arrival of Gaddafi, who gave them a lesson on Libya and the role of women in Islam.

Seriously. You can’t make this shit up.

Tagged with: , ,

Today you killed me, but remember.

Posted in iraq, islam by Karaka on 10 November 2009

Right now, I’m reading Richard Engel’s A Fist in the Hornet’s Nest, which is his account of being an American journalist in Baghdad before, during, and after the initial US invasion of Iraq. It’s something of a mediocre book, where the events are more compelling than his ability to write about them, but he certainly does have an understanding of the Middle East/Central Asia borne of a decade of being there.

However, this passage stood out to me today.

I tried to back away, but found myself surrounded by people cheering, “Allahu Akhbar!” Arabic for God is greatest. The phrase is the heart of the prayers pious Muslims perform five times a day. It embodies everything Muslims believe, which is fundamentally that God–Allah–is greater than human existence and that a Muslim–a word that literally mean in Arabic a person who “surrenders”–must submit to God’s greater power.

Calling out Allahu Akhbar was a way for the crowd to try to overcome the tragedy–which they were powerless to prevent–by drawing strength from their faith. To call out Allahu Akhbar meant–perhaps subconsciously–that they would not be defeated because God’s power is greater than what had just happened, greater than death or American bombs. I’d seen Palestinians react similarly to death many, many times. Allahu Akhbar! Today you killed me, but remember, God is greatest.

Page 118.

God in a binary number

Posted in islam by Karaka on 4 November 2009

During my long week of ill health, I cleared out most of my DVR, including the several episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher is a fifty-fifty pundit–he has just enough information to ask questions, to make a joke or two, but never enough to be truly informed. That being said, he sure can build a panel.

On 10/02/09, Maher had a panel that included Thomas Friedman. (Download it here, subscribe to the audio podcast via iTunes or here.) Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times whose subject, generally, is economics as well as foreign policy. He had a very insightful take on suicide bombers, and Islam, and the Muslim world:

Thomas Friedman: I mean, just remember that a lot of the suicide bombing that’s going on today is inside of Pakistan, and is Sunnis against Shiites. It’s inside Iraq, Sunnis against Shiites. I think foreign policy is part of it, I think that’s one of the things that feeds it. I think that, also, religion is something that feeds it. But to me, it’s–another part of this is a deep sense–it goes back to the religion–is that these young men are raised with the view that they have the most–that Islam, and this is not a criticism–is that Islam sees itself as the most perfect expression of God’s monotheistic message.

If I were to put it in computer terms, Islam sees itself as God 3.0. It sees Christianity as God 2.0. it sees Judaism as God 1.0, and Hinduism as God 0.0. And I think part of the dissonance, Bill, is that when they come here or to Europe, in their identity they have the most perfect system. But in real life, their countries are economically behind, in terms of education [they’re] behind. And there’s a real dissonance: if I have the most perfect operating system, why am I behind?

And I think that produces a lot of rage too. It is about foreign policy, it is about what we do. And it’s also about how much they hate their own government, who also keep them down, oppressed, behind.

Is he right, do you think? Or is that too simplistic?

Friday Errata.

Posted in islam, us defense, us military by Karaka on 18 September 2009

Spiegel Online International reports a renewed wave of homophobic terrorism sweeping Muslim countries:

Iran is a case in point, where homosexuals have been persecuted on a more or less regular basis since the Islamic revolution. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been in office there has definitely been an increase in this persecution despite the fact that Ahmadinejad never grows tired of emphasizing that there are no homosexuals in his country.

It fucking breaks my heart and pisses me off and this is probably one of about two issues that will get me to curse extensively and profusely without any regard for relative intellectual sophistication. This, as much as anything else, is a human rights violation.

*

On the other side of my broken heart, AP reports that Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King has been made the new commander of the Army’s Drill Sergeants:

Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King can dress down a burly, battle-hardened sergeant in seconds with a sharp phrase and a withering look, then turn around and tell trainee soldiers to be sure they get seven hours of sleep.

She receives a footnote in the Army News release of the same story, but that’s cool. Whatever. It’s still fucking awesome. (Hey, I already broke my curse barrier, might as well keep the trend. In this post anyway.)

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The Joint Chiefs of Staff website released the text of Admiral Mullen’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute:

When I go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the question that gets posed routinely – either implied or asked – is: Are you staying this time, or are you leaving? Because we left both those countries in ways, and the adults who are in those countries right now all remember that. And I don’t know how else to establish a long-term relationship, except it takes time to do that. And in ways we’re just beginning, or we’re digging ourselves out of holes that were established in the last several decades.

Interesting.

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Small Wars Journal overviews the release of the new DoD Stability Operations instructions, which I’ll also be reading this weekend. A weekend I am now about to begin. Have a good weekend, blogosphere.

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