Some Apocalyptic Thoughts for Monday Afternoon

Warning:  This is some very disturbing analysis.  I hope I’m 100% wrong on this one.  I’ve also thought the scenario I outline below was possible for 2009 but through the end of October/early November, I thought it still somewhat remote.  I’m less confident and increasingly pesimisstic about the potential for this scenario to be very real, very much in play (more and more likely by the day it seems as of now with no wise leadership or counter-movements to help block the momentum).  So be warned.  I’m not in the business of fear-peddling or fear-hyping, but these are dark thoughts.  There are not the only ones within my brain, but I have been appalled (even fairly cynical me) by the responses across the board to this crisis and the sense that there is no Wizard behind the curtain.

I’m increasingly growing very disturbed by the way global events are proceeding.  A chain of potential explosions across the grid of the globe looks frighteningly more plausible by the day.  Meanwhile the US media is caught in wonderful tales of some pathetic Illinois Governor and a dude launching his foot wear. Here in Canada it’s about the potential of a coalition government.

All of which still assume a top-down model of power, a kind of view of the stability of large scale social organization that may all be swept away.  Reading the newspapers and frankly much of the blogosphere is becoming an increasingly useless exercise for me.  Particularly when it comes to political discussion:  left, right, libertarian, progressive, blah blah.  All of those discussions are assuming the continued existence in some form or other or our social-technological cultural foundations.

To me its increasingly as if reading the news in the ancient ziggurat/city-state culture a few months before Alexander the Great came conquering across Eurasian and installed the Hellenistic world and swept away the decaying, crumbling previous world era.  Like I said some apocalyptic thoughts.

The economic story would go like this:  the American consumer is dead and has been flogged to the breaking point of exhaustion.  Who then is going to buy all those Asian products?  Who can they sell their wares to?  The Asian economies contract leading them to stop buying the commodities across the Global South (esp. Latin America and Africa) that have led to that bubble (see the mass decrease in the price of oil recently).  Huge deflationary movements across the global simultaneously.  Much more rapidly and the fragility (i.e. non-redundancy) of the global platform system bleeds out.

As Niall Ferguson in his epic The War of the World, the great catacylsm and spasm of violence across the globe emanating from Europe during the 20th century (First War, Second War, Cold War) consisted of the inter-locking reality of the three “E”s:  empire, economics, and ethnicity.  Empire being the death of imperial systems.  See the decline of the US.  Also with all the talk of the coming Asian Century (rise of India/China), this could all be swept away by the economic meltdown.  The Asian Century that wasn’t in other words.  Still-born Asian Century.  The vacuum created by the implosion of economic and imperial systems, is filled by ethnic hatreds that flare up to the consternation and shock of many who assume a cosmopolitan order of peace and security (all fine when the economy and governance is roughly holding up).

The most likely early hot spots of ethnic hatred is the band of the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Syria???, through obviously Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India).  Other increased zones of violence would be Gap-status countires in the Western Hempishere (on smaller scale but still bloody).  Revived narco-fueled wars across Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, southern Mexico.  Other ranges of violence: The Horn of Africa (another Somalia implosion on the horizon) as well as violence across the middle band (Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, and potential flare ups again in Congo).

The massive de-leveraging must continue and the question is only whether the end of the fall (which has at least 9 months, probably 12 to 24 to maybe even 36-40 to go. who the hell knows at this point) will end us worse than the build up.  Exposed, exhausted, and de-legitimized.  The space of de-legitimization to be filled by ethno-nationalistic movements across the board.

With the breakdown of nation-state systems (orange and blue in Spiral colors), comes a mass re-reddifying both in memetic coloring and potentially in real blood, merged with increased technological capacity (global platform) plus increased cognitive flexibility and complexity however merged to earlier moral/social systems. Roving bands of pirates (e.g. Somalia), terrorists (e.g. Mumbai), criminal networks (coming here already to Vancouver in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, particularly the global sex slavery/human chattel trade) counteracted by potentially increased technocratic elites holding onto whatever power they can, as civil libertiese erode due to the inability to come up with a worldwide republican security theory, class lines harden in the post-industrial societies, the social contract of the 20th century continues to break down (ask Ford, GM, Chrysler) as the Nation-State gives way to the (increainsgly predatory?) Market State.

Ferguson forget a fourth E:  Environment.  As in environmental degradation/destruction as a potential accelerant to the fire of the other three.  Something along the lines of Diamond’s Collapse scenario.

The idea that an infrastructure stimulus will jump start the US economy out of this bog seems increasingly detached from reality for me.  At the pace things are moving, if the wave swells become large enough, it isn’t going to matter, as it could all be swept away by the mega-forces aligning at the moment.

Like I said, God how I hope I’m  completely wrong on this one.

Bobbitt Redux (Re: Terrorism and McCain)

I mentioned Philipp Bobbitt’s work in this previous post; here he is on Conversations with History discussing his most recent book Terror and Consent.

I really dig Conv. with Hist. but the interviewer (Prof. Kreisler) always begins with personal bio/love of history, which I usually find less than interesting.  If you’re like me in that regard, the meat of the conversation begins at about 13:50.

As I stated in my last post, I think his understanding of state formation is pretty much unparalleled.  He has a genius ability for the coining of new phrases/terms.  But unfortunately his new book has some major deficiencies in its understanding of terrorism.

Follow me after the jump as I detail how/why… (more…)

skypecast: russia georgia conflict (Audio Content)


Above is the link for the first (in what we hope is a series) of skypecasts between my friend Scott Payne (from the blog Politics of Scrabble) on the Russian-Georgia conflict. We taped this Wednesday night so some of what has occurred since, is obviously not covered.

By clicking the link, the audio will play on the site. If you have trouble playing the mp3 on my site, it is also up on Scott’s, here. Big ups to Scott for the handling the recording/technical side.

[For background on the conflict, here.]

A brief note: Towards the end, we briefly touch on the possibility of Georgia employing asymmetrical warfare against Russia (instead of trying to get the West to have their back in a straight up fight). I suggest a possible model as Hezbollah. The next day (i.e. yesterday Thursday, since we taped this Wednesday night), Reihan Salam writes this excellent post saying the exact same thing. Now Salam and I aren’t long lost psychic twins; rather we are both avid readers of John Robb–whose really the one who opened up this line of thought.

Hope you enjoy. Any comments/suggestions in terms of style, format are appreciated. In this one Scott is more in the interviewer/questioner role and I in the responder role. Next time, we’ll have do some role reversal. But if anyone has ideas as to future topics those are also welcome.

Edit I: I need to get a headset, apologies for the hollowness of my voice and the volume level differential between myself and Scott.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 12:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jus Post Bellum

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Prof. at University of Chicago Divinity School, has an intriguing (but I think ultimately misguided) essay in the current World Affairs.  Read it here.

Elshtain discusses an oft forgotten part of the just war tradition:  jus post bellum (justice after the war).  Traditionally just war theory often focuses only jus ad bello (just reasons to go to war, e.g. self-defense) as well as jus in bello (justice/just action in war, e.g. not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure, not torturing captured prisoners).

For Elshtain taking seriously jus post bellum requires as he sees it:

There will be, for the next decade and possibly the one after that, no substitute for America’s presence and role in regenerating Iraq’s capacity to defend itself. An ethics of exit, with this recognition in mind, points ineluctably in the direction of a careful, long-range, and measured withdrawal of major combat forces from Iraq, rather than any withdrawal in line with the pre-fixed timetables offered on America’s campaign trails.

On a policy front this is along the lines of the Colin Powell Pottery Barn Rule (which whether he actually said it or not, he’s said it now in the common memory which is just as/more important): you break it, you own it.

And there is a part of me that certainly sympathizes with this view, i.e. in some measure of actually thinking about Iraqis and the horrors of their reality.  That’s why I’ve always favored at the bare minimum (a la George Packer) extremely accelerating the rates of VISAs for Iraqis who have helped the Coalition Authority.  Don’t leave them in Iraq.

I also have always believed following the analysis of Michael Ware (CNN) and Thomas Ricks (author of Fiasco) that the US will be in Iraq for 10-15 years minimum.  The question being at what level of troop numbers and for what stated goal/strategy.  And here there is a wide gap between Obama and McCain.  I’m far from convinced this is a good policy, but it’s going to happen seems to me regardless.  Obama has promised no permanent bases which McCain is for, so at minimum that is all I can really vote (i.e. if you think the campaign pledge around all troops out in 16 months is real, think again).

But that being said, there is still for me a whiff of unreality/hubris about the whole piece.  There are moments when the Prof. realizes that this situation is different than post WWII Germany but then tends to back away from the abyss of recognition.

She writes:

Yet there is great unanimity among just war thinkers concerning the U.S. commitment to jus post bellum criteria—namely, the obligation to leave Iraq with something better, or at least not worse, than what went before. How, then, might the just war tradition bear on an ethics of exit? The end of a war must be consistent with the initial argument for conflict as couched in just war criteria—that is, to repair or to remedy a major injustice or act of aggression. Another just cause might be to prevent nigh-certain and massive harm from occurring before it has occurred. But, again, the basic aim of jus post bellum is a more just situation than that which pertained before the armed conflict.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but is this even possible?  While again I sympathize with the moral reflection inherent in jus post bellum, how is this achieved?   The argument from the William Odoms of the world (scroll half way down page) has always been that the presence of US troops is what prevents Iraq (or whatever you want to call the fiefdoms of that region) from reaching some new equilibrium status, however shaky, corrupt, or “minimal” state it might be.  And more disturbingly likely involving more not less violence.

While there are certainly counter points to be made, this argument is not to be dismissed as simply ideological cover for wanting to cut moral responsibility.  It might be based rather on a clear eyed appraisal of what the US can actually do/who actually holds the power (i.e. the militias, including the one we call the government).  And who is simply a negative force (the US Army) and by negative I don’t mean evil but rather only has power to prevent some things from happening but has no influence to effect positively the kind of strategic change it seeks.   i.e. Temporarily prevent more ethnic cleansing/genocide, civil war, and outside powers from invading.  But might have no recourse to build momentum towards a new order, however defined by Elshtain.  No ability in other words to promote political end game scenario, no matter what local deals can be struck militarily or reconstruction wise.  All of which stand on extremely tenuous ground without a larger political context within which to fit them.

Ehlstain spends the rest of the article outlining the criteria of jus post bellum and shows in each case that the US is obligated under said criteria.  These include having a major role in the military conflict, disbanding the army/police and therefore having responsibility for the protection of the citizenry.  I don’t see any illogic in theory with any of those criteria per se and his analysis that the US is bound to them.  But what I am saying is I’m not sure these categories apply in practice (in this case) or rather if they do that there be a separate and currently missing criteria:  feasibility/actual ability to achieve prior criteria.

Moral reasoning in politics minus some hard headed realistic assessments are often well meaning and thoughtful but not always helpful in pinning down what should in fact be done or rather what can be done, often less than the best wished for situation.

For example:

There is a delicate balancing act involved in repairing the political infrastructure of a state that has been the victim of decades of misrule and military invasion. The aim is to restore legitimate authority. If you played a major role in military operations, your degree of responsibility for this goal is enormous. It follows that to abandon the occupied state before this aim has been accomplished would be an act of moral dereliction of the most egregious kind. That is the bottom line of any ethics of exit from Iraq.

Of course the aim is to restore legitimate authority.  Who doesn’t want that?  But Is this aim possible?  Specifically in Iraq.  With is history, its  current political actors, the failed policy of the US in the aftermath of the defeat of the Baathist regime.  If so, how?  What evidence can be pointed to that suggests such?  Or is this a blanket open ended McCain style commitment?  Practically can the US military afford such a situation even if it were possible?

To invoke Thomas PM Barnett for a second, the force necessary to do exactly what Elshtain calls for doesn’t actually exist–what Barnett calls the Dept. of Reconstruction/Systems Administrations Force.  That gap has been filled by the US military, which it is neither designed to do nor capable of doing (no shot at them, that’s their not their job).  Even with the recent surge we see that the gains have been in military (surprise surprise) terms.  Not political.

More into the weeds for a second, the surge has had to align itself/coming to accept the reality of the militia-ization and fragmentation of Iraq.  i.e. The Surge qua tactic actually works against the kind of state buildup Elshtain would like to see.  Unless one militia/one leader seeks a renewed dictatorship (Maliki?) which would violate the principle of not leaving the situation the same/worse than before the war.  Undoing the surge tactic would revive violence (breaking another one of the jus post bellum criteria). So you see the pickle.

John Robb on Basra

Gored on the horns of a dilemma.  The US Army that is.

Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 10:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Demise of COIN?

John Robb in a brilliant piece:

This situation puts the US military in a difficult position, one that goes deeper than being caught on the horns of dilemma (as in: caught between supporting “former” insurgents or government forces). The improvised theory that led the US military to fund the insurgency (the “Awakening”) has transformed the US Counter-Insurgency doctrine (COIN) — a document was so carefully prepared and announced with such fanfare — into a mere pile of paper. Why? Because we have abandoned the doctrine’s binding assumption: that everything we do in counter-insurgency should increase the legitimacy of the host government. Essentially, the abandonment of our doctrine means that the US military is now completely adrift in Iraq without a counter-insurgency roadmap.

The this situation refers to the fact that the US controls (at least formally) both the Iraqi Army/Police and the Sunni Insurgency.   We are quite literally funding both sides in the war.  That is unless you think “the war” is only al-Qaeda in Iraq in which case we are not. But the facts would not support such an assertion.

Already it was clear that the surge ran crosswise to the stated goal and strategy of the War–i.e. a democratic Iraq ally in the War on Terror (goal) which was principally to be constructed through a multi-ethnic unified country, strong central government through elections.

Now Robb tells us the surge is not only working against the strategy of the policy but against its own Counter-insurgency manual which reflected the stated goal/policy of the Iraq War.

Robb argues that this lack of a systemic approach will hurt in interpreting and integrating new information from the battlefield.  The title of his brief is “Adrift.”

All of which to bring it to a purely political humdrum level makes very ambivalent the right-wing litmus test question of “Is the surge working?”

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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