I stumbled into reading this fascinating 1968 paper by Paul Ward English, The Origin and Spread of Qanats in the Old World because I’ve been trying to figure out if Yemen’s historical shift from irrigated spice and produce exporter to impovershed, drought-stricken nation came as a result of destruction during the Mongolian invasion or from another cause I can’t pin down through variations on boolean searches.
It essentially goes into the construction and operations of qanats, their historical significance, and alludes to the challenges nations might face in transitioning from this traditional technology into more modern devices. Challenges, of course, that have remained in place in the intervening forty years since the paper was published.
Most qanats in Iran are constructed by a class of professional diggers (muqannis) who inherited this task from the slaves and captives of the Achaemenid and Sassanian kings. These men form a community of traveling artisans, migrating from place to place as floods destroy qanats in one area or a lowered water table demands that qanat tunnels be lengthened in another. The tools of the muqanni are primitive: a broad-bladed pick, a shovel, and a small oil lamp. His profession is well paid but hazardous. The muqanni must work with water flowing around him, ventilation is poor, and the chances of cave-ins are great. Today, qanats are still being built by these muqannis and the techniques of construction have changed little.
The stuff you learn. I still can’t figure out the origin of the onset of Yemen’s dusty world, but I enjoyed this brief paper too much not to pass it on.
One of the things I pulled from Tamim Ansary’s Destiny Disrupted–of the many things, this book was marvellous–was that waterworks throughout the Mongol-conquered Islamic world were destroyed from a mixture of vindictiveness, suppression, and population control. It’s been rattling around in my head for awhile now, this idea that they were never rebuilt to the extent that they existed prior to the Mongolian expansion. How has that contributed to the destabilization of governments (of every stripe) in the Islamic world over time? I hesitate to make an argument similar to that of climate conflict, because simple/reductionist arguments are easily (and rightfully) refuted. But there’s a clear economic impact in the transformation of a producing society into a non-producing society, with political impact close on its heels.
Anyway. Qanats are a good start to a problem I want to understand better.
I’m hoping to write more on CNAS’s fourth annual conference tomorrow, when my entire day doesn’t get devoted to live-tweeting the event! To read through the day, check out the #CNAS2010 tag on Twitter. But here’s a couple of my particular notes from the day.
Tellis: Mutual suspicions between Pak & Ind over Afgh continue unabated. #CNAS2010 The existential battleground is emplaced in Afgh today.
Okay, Richard Fontaine wins points for addressing Madam President. #CNAS2010
Fontaine “…Accepting that a US presence in South Asia has become the new normal.” #CNAS2010
India is unwilling to push Iran to the point where they might lose a potential ally; but India doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. #CNAS2010
Flournoy: We are still trying to face 21st century challenges with Cold War systems and projects. #CNAS2010
Flournoy: “We cannot keep spending more and more to get less and less.” #CNAS2010 as with everything, money talks.
Fick: Rule #4 for future questions: No quoting TS Eliot! #CNAS2010
Flournoy: “We have never resourced State to build an expeditionary civilian capacity.” #CNAS2010 There is not enough “word” in the world.
Sanger: You tend to view the engagement strategy through the most challenging country…it’s only interesting if it’s difficult. #CNAS2010
Cronin: We have a growing mismatch between our means and needs. #CNAS2010
There’s more at the hashtag, but that gives you a good idea of how the day went. I think overall it was a very strong series of panels, asking difficult questions and providing something of a roadmap towards answering them. We’re still left with a lot of uncertainty in a many different directions–how do we build up a civilian reconstruction program that we’ve never funded or incentivized, how do you balance talking to repressive regimes with the less accessible citizens of repressive nations, what will our conflict environment look like in the next several decades and how should we incorporate lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan–but I think it lived up to its playbill slogan of “Shaping the Agenda.”
My Google reader just ate the 103 posts I hadn’t read from Small Wars Journal, leaving behind only the most recent of posts.
Sigh. I had been looking forward to reading through it after I’d gotten through everything else; it’s just not quite the same, reading it chronologically in one long page versus navigating forward from post to post.
I had wanted to go to the 2010 Milblogging Conference, take a couple days of vacation and poke around DC while I was up in the area, ’cause I haven’t been there in several years. I ended up taking my vacation a little closer to home, but possibly next year? It’s got to be a lot easier for folks on the West Coast, that’s for sure.
Looks like elections in Kyrgyzstan have been scheduled for early October; here’s hoping they keep to their own deadline. Iran is mucking about with war games, which I’m sure has the television pundits in a massive tizzy.
I’m interested to see Danger Room reporting on the deployment of Culture Units from the UK to Afghanistan. It’s a fairly explicit practicum of COIN, no?
I still haven’t worked my way through Joe Klein’s Time Maganize piece on US troops in Afghanistan, but there’s a lot of talk about it out there in the blogosphere.
Musing on Iraq looks at the US Human Rights Report on Iraq, tracking failures and improvements. Worth your time to read.
This week’s public STRATFOR intelligence report has to do with Iraq’s strategic placement near Iran, and how the US might fit into the cracks there.
Washington’s way forward depends upon what the American government believes the probabilities are at this point for a viable Iraqi government and security force able to suppress insurgencies, including those fomented by Iran. If the Americans believe a viable Iraqi government is a possibility, they should roll the dice and withdraw. But it is not clear from our point of view what Washington is seeing. If it believes the probability is low, the United States not only will have to halt the withdrawal, it will have to reverse it to convince the Iranians that the Americans are hypercommitted to Iraq. This might cause Tehran to recalculate, opening the door for discussion.
Food for thought, anyway. And now I’m for home, and cracking open the copy of In the Graveyard of Empires that I finally managed to find a reasonable price for. I mean, I already spent a godawful amount of money on books, but a $30 new hardback is like three or four used paperbacks. Pretty easy math for me.
Honestly, since every deadline made has been blown through like a stack of dead leaves, I’m not entirely certain what further sanctions on Iran will accomplish; Juan Cole and I agree on that. From Salon:
A Swiss company just signed a deal worth $13 billion to import Iranian natural gas over the next 25 years. As for financial sanctions, so far Iran is evading them through banking partners in the United Arab Emirates, and Iran and Venezuela have two joint banks. These measures provide Iran with a back door, allowing it to mitigate the effects of financial sanctions.
Very few sanctions have actually produced regime change or altered regime behavior. The U.S. could not even accomplish this goal with regard to a small island 90 miles off its shores, Cuba. That an oil giant halfway around the world with a population of 70 million that is as big as Spain, France and Germany can be effectively bludgeoned with sanctions is not very likely.
And BBC reported this morning that Turkey has offered to mediate on Iran’s nuclear programme:
The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, announced the offer after talks with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.
Western powers say Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and the US and its European allies have been pushing for new sanctions against Tehran. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Last year, Turkey offered to store Iran’s uranium as part of a deal for Iran to send low-enriched uranium abroad to be turned into fuel rods. The plan faltered, but on Tuesday Mr Davutoglu said Turkey could help revive a diplomatic solution.
I mean, at least they picked a side, but it’s a seriously weak move and pretty late in the game. I don’t know–the more I learn about Iran, the more disgruntled I get. Not because of the brutal buffoonery of its secular leader, or the state’s general harm towards its citizens, or even because there’s little for me to do on this very far other side of the world except wonder about exactly how much truth I’m reading. I’m disgruntled because there’s no simple resolution here, from any direction. It’s like a chess match where half the pieces have been swept away, and doubles of others have been inserted onto the board.
If economic sanctions won’t work, and the West is generally less likely to bomb Iran without open provocation, and Ahmadinejad plays with the olive branch of dipliomacy like it’s a child’s toy, what are the other options? Waiting for another hostage crisis to take action? Seeing if Iran has actually managed to build a missile that will reach beyond Syra and Jordan?
There’s an appropriate variation of an adage for this: don’t blog about foreign policy if you can’t handle unanswerable questions. But this one seems more unanswerable than most.
With Peter Bergen popping up everywhere these days (including a couple unexpected and more expected ones), I thought it might be worth collecting together some of those links. Which I just did. Admire my hyperlinking skillz.
Other links of note:
Military Women in the Media 22 from akinoluna; wonderful aggregation of a topic of particular interest to me.
According to the Pentagon’s report, the Army’s goal for fiscal year 2009 was to sign 65,000 new recruits. It actually signed 70,045—amounting to 8 percent more than the target.
But the picture is less bright than it seems. Though the Pentagon’s report doesn’t mention this fact, in each of the previous two years, the Army’s recruitment goal was 80,000—much higher than this year’s. The Army met those targets, but only by drastically lowering its standards—accepting more applicants who’d dropped out of high school or flunked the military’s aptitude test.
This year, the recruiters restored the old standards—a very good thing for troops’ morale and military effectiveness—but they signed up 10,000 fewer new soldiers.
That puts a slightly different spin on things.
I have no idea where I got this 2006 Harper’s article from, but wow it was a fascinating read. It’s an account of a discussion between A.J. Bacevich, Charles J. Dunlap Jr., Richard H. Kohn, and Edward N. Luttwak about the US military, democracy, and much else. If you have a little time, I reccommend it.
I wanted to write a post specifically devoted to the PBS Frontline special, but to be honest, everyone else has said all that I though and more. I direct you to Kings of War, whose comments on the subject are something of a microcosm of opinion on the documentary.
Secdef Gates is touring East Asia right now, and will be talking with Japan about Afghanistan. (Did you know new PM Hatoyama is being investigated for fundraising fraud? Guess it’s just getting interesting, in Japan.)
The military in Afghanistan has walked back its decision to ban KIA photographs/videos:
After news organizations protested the amended rule, the Pentagon suggested a rewrite. The new rule released Thursday would allow photography of casualties but said participating news organizations could not use material where there is a recognizable face or other identifiable feature. Journalists could not write about or photograph wounded troops unless those service members give prior permission.
Prior to the AP’s controversial photo in September, news organizations had much more leeway to publish photos of the dead as soon as the next of kin had been notified – even though much less of this material has been shown during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than in past conflicts.
And finally, John McCreary updates me on conflicting things coming out of Iran:
Iran: For the record. Two Iranian news agencies rebutted reports this weekend that Supreme Leader Khamene’i died, while state-run TV ignored the subject. Hunh?
Huh indeed. That would be a rather big deal. I mean, I heard he had a cold…
Things I’m reading this morning:
A second round of voting now looks probable; it could help calm the country, or it could make things worse. In any event, the election is not yet an utter catastrophe. Two years ago, in Kenya, Mwai Kibaki allegedly stole his reëlection to the Presidency, and the country erupted in mass riots and militia killings. In June, Iran’s fraud-riddled vote ignited a protest movement with revolutionary ambitions. In Afghanistan, despite possibly decisive fraud, the opposition has barely thrown a rock. Abdullah Abdullah, the aggrieved second-place finisher, just holds press conferences in his garden.
It goes without saying that Afghans have had enough of violence. Abdullah’s restraint signals a broader, resilient desire among many political and tribal leaders to avoid having their country descend into chaos again. This is the opening that American policy has repeatedly failed to grasp since the Taliban’s fall in late 2001: an opportunity to reject the false expediency of warlords and indispensable men, in favor of deepening participatory, Afghan-led political reform and national reconciliation.
So backward has the theocracy made its wretched country that it is even vulnerable to sanctions on refined petroleum, for heaven’s sake. Unlike neighboring secular Turkey, which has almost no oil but is almost qualified—at least economically—to join the European Union, Iran is as much a pistachio-and-rug-exporting country as it was when the sadistic medievalists first seized power. So it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if a regime that has no genuine respect for science and no internal self-critical feedback had screwed up its rogue acquisition of modern weaponry. A system in which nothing really works except the military and the police will, like North Korea, end up producing somewhat spastic missiles and low-yield nukes, as well.
But spastic missiles and low-yield nukes can still ruin the whole day of a neighboring state, as well as make a travesty of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and such international laws and treaties as are left to us. Thus, if it is true that Iran is not as close to “break-out” as we have sometimes feared, should that not make our deliberations more urgent rather than less? Might it not mean, in effect, that now is a better time to disarm the mullahs than later?
In other words, this military campaign is not just a matter of troops versus guerrillas. It is becoming a rallying point for Muslim radicals, with volunteers coming in from Afghanistan and others from madrasahs from all over Pakistan — and with Pakistan’s own security hanging in the balance.
Tariq took responsibility for the recent horrific bombings in the Punjabi city of Lahore, which targeted Pakistani security forces, thus claiming that South Waziristan had a very long reach into the rest of the country.
Pakistani security forces also arrested some 300 Afghans on Sunday.
Eight days earlier, a Taliban faction had kidnapped me along with an Afghan journalist, Tahir Luddin, and our driver, Asad Mangal, during a reporting trip just outside Kabul. The faction’s commander, a man who called himself Atiqullah, had lied to us. He had said we were being moved to southern Afghanistan and would be freed.
Instead, on Nov. 18, we arrived in Pakistan’s tribal areas, an isolated belt of Taliban-controlled territory. We were now in “the Islamic emirate” — the fundamentalist state that existed in Afghanistan before the 2001 American-led invasion. The loss of thousands of Afghan, Pakistani and American lives and billions in American aid had merely moved it a few miles east, not eliminated it.
Through seven years of reporting in the region, I had pitied captives imprisoned here. It was arguably the worst place on earth to be an American hostage. The United States government had virtually no influence and was utterly despised.
Since 2004, dozens of missiles fired by American drones had killed hundreds of militants and civilians. The Taliban had held Afghan, Pakistani and foreign hostages in the area for years, trading lives for ransom and executions for publicity.
“We’re in Pakistan,” I said out loud in the car, venting my anger.
Afghans and Americans alike describe the country in those days as a poor nation, but one that built national roads, stood up an army and defended its borders. As a monarchy and then a constitutional monarchy, there was relative stability and by the 1960s a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts. Visitors — tourists, hippies, Indians, Pakistanis, adventurers — were stunned by the beauty of the city’s gardens and the snow-capped mountains that surround the capital.
“I lived in Afghanistan when it was very governable, from 1964 to 1974,” said Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who met recently in Kabul with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. Mr. Gouttierre, who spent his decade in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer, a Fulbright scholar and the national basketball team’s coach, said, “I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
This is our life, and as the only two Westerners living permanently in Kandahar without blast walls and intrusive security restrictions to protect us, it has been a mix of isolation, boredom, disarmingly potent realizations, and outright depression in the face of what is happening. In our 18 months here, we have witnessed up close the ruinous consequences of a conflict in which no party has clean hands. We have spent countless hours talking with people of all persuasions in Kandahar, from mujahedeen who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, to guerrillas who fought alongside the Taliban in the 1990s, to Afghans who fight against the Kabul government and foreign forces today. And we have learned that Kandahar defies simple categorization; far more understanding is necessary before we can appreciate how (and how many) mistakes have been made by the Western countries waging war here, let alone begin crafting a vision for the future.
Our Kandahar has many faces, though, not all branded by conflict. Life here is also about swimming in the nearby Arghandab River, enjoying the cool caramel taste of sheer yakh, and sitting among the branches of a friend’s pomegranate orchard. It’s listening to tales of the past 30 years told by those who directly influenced the course of history, and it’s watching the traditional atan dance at wedding celebrations.
Linkdump of what I’m reading over the weekend:
How to Measure the War by Jason Campbell, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro:
The news is not all bad, however. With the help of outside donors, the Afghan government has made great strides in providing increased access to basic health care, with 82 percent of the population now living in districts that have a basic package of health care programs, up considerably from 9 percent in 2003. This metric is of limited value for truly sick individuals, who probably still cannot access health care in many cases. But it has translated into significant improvements in the rate of vaccinations as well as infant and child mortality rates. Though literacy rates continue to linger at less than 30 percent, more than 6 million children currently attend over 9,000 schools. Gender equity is improving as 2 million of the students are girls and 40,000 of the 142,000 teachers are women. This represents a marked improvement over the Taliban years. Finally, telephone usage has increased dramatically to an estimated 7 million Afghans, up from just 1 million in 2002.
Course Correction by Ganesh Sitaraman:
The project underway at Camp Julien aims to help the United States and its allies succeed where King Amanullah, the Russians, and even the mujahedin failed. Julien is home to the Counterinsurgency Training Center–Afghanistan, where U.S. and coalition forces are trying to teach themselves and Afghans how to fight a different kind of war. For one week each month, 130 students descend on Julien to learn about counterinsurgency. Attendees come from every possible background: U.S. and coalition troops of all ranks, ages, and nationalities; State Department and USAID personnel; Afghan soldiers and police; members of NGOs; contractors; Army anthropologists. (I was there in July as part of my research on law in situations of counterinsurgency.)
The Missing Debate in Afghanistan by Peggy Noonan:
It is strange—it is more than strange, and will confound the historians of the future—that Gen. McChrystal has not been asked to testify before Congress about Afghanistan, about what the facts are on the ground, what is doable, what is desirable, how the war can be continued, and how it can end. He—and others, including experienced members of the military past and present, and foreign-policy professionals—should be called forth to talk to the country in the clearest terms under questioning from our elected representatives.
Before the surge in Iraq, we had the Petraeus hearings, which were nothing if not informative, and helped form consensus. Two generations earlier, we had the Fulbright hearings on Vietnam, which were in their way the first formal, if deeply and inevitably contentious, airing of what was at stake there and what our position was.
Why are we not doing this now? Why are we treating Afghanistan almost like an afterthought, interesting and important but not as urgent a question as health care?
Today, that hard work is paying off as even some congressional Democrats, skeptical of McChrystal’s proposed plan for Afghanistan, are suggesting they wait until they’ve heard what Gates thinks. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has criticized the McChrystal proposal as too troop-heavy. Congress at some point ought to hear directly from McChrystal and Petraeus, Levin said last Sunday. “But above them all is a secretary of defense. We ought to focus on what will Secretary Gates’ recommendation be to the president . . . we ought to listen to the secretary of defense when he makes up his mind.”
If Iran gets the bomb, other regional powers will pursue nuclear programs—if they are not already doing so. Inevitably in a region as volatile as this, there will be a few small-scale nuclear catastrophes, probably rulers targeting their own people. Saddam gassed the Kurds and slaughtered the Shiites, Hafez Assad massacred the Sunnis of Hama, and mass graves throughout the region testify to the willingness of Arab rulers to kill their own people—in their hands, a nuclear weapon is merely an upgrade in repressive technology. Still, it’s extremely unlikely the regimes will use these weapons against their regional rivals. Remember, the main reason these states support nonstate terror groups is to deter one another and thus avoid all-out war.
Ingushetia’s cycle of violence by Dom Rotheroe:
It is a complaint we hear all over Ingushetia, that there is no law or justice. In a society in which blood vendettas are part of a man’s honour, young male relatives of the deceased have to seek their own justice.
They head into the hills to get a gun and take revenge. And while with the extremists, their ideology may shift accordingly. Some may become suicide bombers, of which the North Caucasus has seen a resurgence this summer, culminating in an attack on Ingushetia’s main police station in August which killed 21 and injured more than 100 more.
My most poignant memory of the Albakov family is of Batyr’s younger brother, Beslan. Beslan’s rejects blood revenge and wants legal justice for his brother, a justice he knows will never come. He also knows that the security forces will suspect him of seeking revenge and therefore may come for him at any time.
His quietly desperate face is the face of Ingushetia today, trapped between the rock and hard place of the militants and the authorities who seem intent on feeding the ever-growing cycle of violence.
It is, god help me for saying this, a quiet day. The President is scampering off to Denmark, weapons inspectors are being invited to Iran, and autumn has chosen to assert its presence over my city with the fickleness of a middle schooler. Rain, sun, rain, grim rainless clouds, rain again, and then sun.
A couple links have kept me entertained despite a complete lack of movement on the military-political issues of the day. First off, Andrew Bentley (who seems to be a civilian contractor for KBR) posted a nifty guide at Instructables: How to Grow Flowers on a Military Base in Iraq. The more you know.
KOW has some thoughts on the inter-related goals of COIN tactics and humanitarian aid:
What is particularly disliked by parties who claim to represent humanitarian ideals is aid conditionality–using aid as a carrot either based on ‘good behaviour’ or to encourage such good behaviour. This is a contradiction of ‘humanitarian principles’ which state the aid should be given on the basis of need, rather than political appropriateness.
Obviously, in terms of COIN, there is an immediate desire to achieve a certain effect, to reward certain behaviour, not necessarily to act according to more lofty principles.
I’m in the process of nailing down my thoughts, because this topic in particular is one of great interest to me. But initially my response is that, whatever your politics are, food should not be used as a weapon, though it can be used as a tool. Cooperation is not dependent upon hunger–a starving person will strike out just as a fed person will–but by employing a methodology that relies on compliance to receive the most basic of human needs, we run far closer to being prison guards than partners.
Still working on that.
Ricks makes a false comparison of Bush 43 to Obama that’s raising some interesting critique in the comments section. I agree that it doesn’t necessarily instill great confidence in me that the Obama administration issued the results of its review of Afghanistan, requested a document that would indicate what was needed to accomplish what was laid out in that March review, and then finds itself reviewing again based on the results of that document. But at the same time, I agree with Ricks–I’d rather he be reviewing than baldly making choices with no critique.
Coming at the same question from a different angle, Stratfor’s George Friedman published his review of Obama and current foreign policy. And Informed Comment has a guest post from Haggai Ram on Israel and Iran that’s worth your time.
Finally, I’m keeping my eye on the SWJ thread on the Army Capstone comment. Still haven’t had time to review my annotations, but I hope to get to that tonight. There’s never any shortage of reading, that’s certain.
Andreas Pershbo over at ArmsControlWonk has some good analysis of what Iran’s nuclear facility actually means.
The Guardian goes further into the story:
At some point this summer, US, British and French intelligence agencies were able to corroborate the information they had, and concluded that the Qom site was an enrichment plant. “We believe that it’s not yet operational. We think it’s most likely at least a few months, perhaps more, from having all of the centrifuges installed and being capable of operating if the Iranians made a decision to begin operating it,” the senior American official said.
That’s some secret spy stuff, right there.
And today, Sec State Hillary Clinton spoke about Iran on Face the Nation; there’s no video out yet, but the article is available.
Clinton said that it is “hard to accept” that the covert uranium enrichment facility plant disclosed by leaders of Great Britain, France and the United States Friday is for “peaceful purposes,” as Iran argues, given that the facility’s existence had been hidden from nuclear regulators, thus raising suspicions.
“One has to ask, if it’s for peaceful purposes, why was it not public? Why was the fact of it not generally known through our working with partners to discover it?” she asked.
Let me say again, to be a fly on the wall come October 1st…
I am shocked, shocked I say!, to find this morning that Iran actually has nuclear tech in place!
American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to disclose the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the complex. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.
…oh, wait. That’s not shock I’m feeling. I believe it’s resignation.
Now I’m really waiting for October. P5+1 conversation with Iran: the thing to watch or the thing to watch?