2015-01-01

General Nagata and the Secret Sauce

 WASHINGTON — Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, sought help this summer in solving an urgent problem for the American military: What makes the Islamic State so dangerous?
In the space of two short paragraphs, the NYT uses the words "decipher', "complex", "conundrum", "brain", "professors", "understand", and "idea" - in connection with a savage, sadistic enemy that rapes and tortures children.

This is the language of intellectuals whose only weapons are their intellects and their immense self-regard.

There is a time for intellect and reflection; and there is a time for courage and action. The sad irony here is that these geniuses are precisely the people who will NEVER understand the Islamic State. It is too simple for them to grasp.

*

I found the intellectualism of the Times' approach off-putting, but I want to focus here on what I take to be the substance of Gen. Nagata's comments.  I'll begin at the end: 

“When I watch Americans use words like cowardly, barbaric, murder, outrageous, shocking, etc., to describe a violent extremist organization’s actions, we are playing right into the enemy’s hands,” General Nagata added. “They want us to become emotional. They revel in being called murderers when the words are coming from an apostate.”

There are three components to this quote:  (1) "playing into the enemy's hands" i.e. the assumption that if the enemy wants us to do something, it is in our interest to do the opposite; (2) "they want us to become emotional" and therefore respond with rash, ill-considered action; and (3) "they revel in being called murderers [by] an apostate" because this is an indication that they're fighting an effective war against an an enemy they hold in contempt.

In general, you want to do the opposite of what the enemy wants you to do; but if you have reason to believe you can win a confrontation and that the enemy underestimates your capabilities, then you and the enemy want the same thing:  you both want a confrontation.  If you have capabilities that the enemy doesn't know about or underestimates, then it's in your interest to do what the enemy wants, and it would be just as logical to speak of the enemy playing into your hands.  That Gen. Nagata presents this scenario in purely reactive terms is, I think, unfortunate.

Clearly a calculated decision is more likely to represent sound judgment than an emotional one.  But an emotional - or I would say gut-level - response to a threat is basically one of two things:  fight or flight.  The enemy prefers the latter because it makes their job easier:  they can then enslave and butcher us at their leisure with minimal cost or risk to themselves.  The enemy "want us to become emotional" precisely to the extent that they assume this will be our response, and their early experience with the Iraqi Army no doubt confirmed this assumption.  We gain the advantage precisely to the extent that we defy the assumption.

It is perfectly reasonable for any army to value a reputation for toughness.  Combat involves killing and soldiers are not babysitters.  When the enemy embraces an ethic (for want of a better word) utterly different from our own, we should not be surprised that they take pride in being called murderers, as it signifies both their effectiveness and their indifference to our cultural standards.  Yet all of this seems to be a conundrum for Gen. Nagata.

Returning to the question of "playing into the enemy's hands", I would say that the enemy's interests are served just as well when we busy ourselves with endless hairsplitting and deliberation.  By Nagata's own admission, he does not understand the movement, or even its "idea", and therefore is not even close to defeating the enemy.

A general who wants to "engage in a long-term conversation" does not fill me with confidence.  This is an admirable trait for a debating society, less so for an army.

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It looks to me like Gen. Nagata - along with a lot of other smart people - is trying to find the "secret sauce" of Islamic State's success.  There is nothing wrong with that, I just don't think it is all that complicated.  You can control people pretty easily if you terrorize them enough. 

I think a more interesting and more productive approach would be to find the secret of those who have successfully resisted - notably the Kurds.  It seems that a strong cultural identity is a key ingredient.

"The enemy's will is strong because his identity is strong.  And we must match his strength of purpose with strong identities of our own."  This is Natan Sharansky's thesis in 'Defending Identity' (preface, p. x), and I think it's an important idea for us now.

Sharansky explores the perceived conflict between identity and liberty, and refutes the liberal fallacy that "nationalism leads to oppression, so we must erase all forms of national or group identity".  On the contrary, Sharansky asserts:  "Despite our profound differences, we recognized that to successfully defend the values most dear to us, we had to make sure that others were strong enough to defend theirs."  (Sharansky, p.41.)  Among Sharansky's closest allies in the Soviet prison camp were evangelical Christians.

Michael J. Totten observed - back in 2006 - that "the Kurdistan Regional Government actually provides money and housing for Arab Christians who want to pick up and resettle in the north."  ('In the Wake of the Surge', p. 31.)  This suggests to me that the Kurds as a culture have internalized Sharansky's insight. 

I don't know if there is a "secret sauce" for Kurdish success, but if there is, I think its ingredients include a sense of identity.  I think Americans have a long-established sense of national identity that incorporates this insight.  Perhaps Iraqis, as a nation, have yet to develop it.  Perhaps they can learn it from the Kurds.

2014-12-31

Happy New Year

Or Sylvester as it's known in some parts.  Ring out the old, ring in the new, and don't do anything dethpicable.

2014-07-14

The Future

The Federal and state governments will likely go broke, and people who depended on government benefits will feel a lot of hurt. Social Security will be long gone. Big liberal states like California will be hardest hit. Infrastructures will suffer and things like serviceable roads, law enforcement, and emergency services will deteriorate.

Depending on how successful Obama is in his effort to wreck our economy in general and our medical system in particular, doctors and hospitals will likely be few and far between.

Over the past couple of generations, a lot of worthless paper has changed hands because (1) loans were given to people who didn’t have the means to repay them; and (2) politicians made promises that they didn’t have the means to pay for.

The government and its agencies will grow hungry and mean – like any other predatory animal – and will increasingly focus their dwindling resources on functions that generate revenue. This means finding ever more creative ways to expropriate citizens of their money and belongings. So we can expect to see increases in everything from petty robberies such as parking tickets to major hauls like seizures of cars, homes, and businesses on the pretext that they were used for “drug trafficking”.

End result is that survival strategies are going to go back to being what they’ve always been. Be honest, courteous, hardworking, competent, and educated, and associate with other people who are. Take care of those close to you and be ready to defend them – and yourself.

2014-07-10

Gays and Society

Social conservatives typically imagine that gay people and gay organizations are trying to destroy society. They are wrong about gay people as individuals, of course, but they're not completely wrong about gay organizations - most of which are Leftist in orientation. These groups really ARE trying to destroy society, not because they're gay, but because they're Leftists, and that's what Leftists do.

2014-07-08

Source Bias Checklist

1. identify sources
2. assess source's reliability
3. get specifics
4. avoid vendettas
5. first-hand knowledge
6. ideological orientation
7. financial interests
8. debts and favors
9. bias of intermediaries
10. past experiences
11. psychological factors
12. internal consistency
13. external consistency
14. insider details
15. dialog and dissent
16. awareness of objections
17. nuance
18. the human voice
19. snarl/purr words
20. narrative
21. implicit bias
22. red herrings / straw men
23. fallacies
24. weasel words

2014-06-25

Light Posting Until Next Week

I'm traveling, and I have spotty internet service.

2014-06-18

"The firewall was very one-sided ..."

Woodbury, Connecticut high school student Andrew Lampart noticed something odd about the behavior of his school's internet firewall:
To start with, the senior at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, Connecticut, said he couldn’t access the National Rifle Association’s website.

“So, I went over to the other side,” the 18-year-old told WTIC-TV in Hartford. “And I went over on sites such as Moms Demand Action or Newtown Action Alliance and I could get on these websites but not the others.”
He went on to compare results from other searches:
“I immediately found out that the State Democrat web site was unblocked but the State GOP web site was blocked.”

Lampart even looked at Web sites focusing on abortion issues and religion. He found that “right-to-life” groups were blocked by the public school firewall but that Planned Parenthood and Pro-Choice America were not. He also tried to get on web sites such as Christianity.com and the Vatican’s web site but both were blocked. Islam-guide.com he found, was not.

“They’re trying to, in my opinion, shelter us from what’s actually going on around the country and around the world by blocking these web sites. It should be the other way around. The web sites should be unblocked so that students can get different viewpoints from different sides of each argument,” Lampart said.
Notice that he was careful not to just jump to a conclusion based on one or two data points. He took his time and investigated systematically.

Chloe Simone Valdary: Native Son

Native Son | Chloe Simone Valdary
I am the native son of warrior poets and mighty men of valor. My brothers are so fresh and so cool, they kill lions and slay giants for fun, and they still find time to compose a song or two. My sisters are so fly, when they have something to say, they will speak their minds regardless of who you think you are. You could even be a Persian king who doesnt allow that sort of thing but my sisters are so beautiful, it doesn’t matter; he too will be charmed by their breathtaking magnificence.

These numbers you see tatooed on my arm are not the only story my life tells. I have known more hardship than that. My veins speak of my 400 year toil in Egypt and on my back, you can see the lashes I acquired from the Pharoahs who enslaved me. Babylon kidnapped me and made me genuflect before her self-absorbed kings. But three of my nephews defied her and walked through fire and came out alive.

Assyria raped and pillaged my villages and Greece put her pagan sculptures in my temple; yet I defied her too and my people fought with so much strength, they decided to name us after instruments that were made to beat nails into walls. Rome also trampled me underfoot; with her legions of war she tried to annihilate me.

But I am here and they are not, and now I stretch out my limbs and bend my back and, baby, I am free.  ...