Additional U.S. Forces Provisioned to Iraq promotes tipping point

CNN: U.S. readying plan to send advisers to Iraqis fighting ISIS in Anbar.

I’m feeling lucky today. In the post,  Child Psychology, Iraq, ISIS, Tipping Point, Holy Grail, I wrote,

“The provision of force adequate to produce the tipping point may have occurred. Providing political insight,  movements tell more than battles.”

For insight as to the role of the “advisers”, see Leon Panetta on ground troops. The presence of Tac Air Control Parties on the ground, providing target designation for high-flying aircraft above the altitude limit of MANPADs, is now judged less risky and more effective than Apache helicopters, which are very vulnerable to MANPADs.

Check out Obama’s new message to ISIS.



Child Psychology, Iraq, ISIS, Tipping Point, Holy Grail

The terrible army of ISIS is not composed of children, but, composed of criminals, teenagers, and sociopaths, shares some of the attributes of such.

When captured, the terroists of Al Qaeada, and by extension, ISIS, tend to talk. See the NY Times article, “Some Captured Terrorists Talk Willingly and Proudly, Investigators Say.” Contrast this with the behavior of the typical well-trained Soviet spy, with the Rosenbergs, the “atomic spies” as a particular example, who refused to confess to save their lives, or the song of Kevin Barry.

One could argue that that this willingness to talk is due to the lack of “resistance training”, but, quoting the Times,

“They want to boast, particularly if they have ever done something to harm ‘the infidel,’ ” said David Raskin, a former chief of the terrorism unit in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. “But just being an enemy of the United States is something they’re very proud of and anxious to talk about.”

So it has the elements of the taunt, which has a long history in warfare, going back to Homer. But the taunt of Homer’s warrior was a form of psychological warfare, intended to unhinge the opponent. The taunt of the captured terrorist is something else: lacking external efficacy, it is no more than a psychological prop to the prisoner.

Now let’s look at the behavior of Iraqi troops following the recapture of the town of (Reuters) Jurf al-Sakhar, in the account given in the Reuters article, “After victory in key Iraqi town, time for revenge.” Several behaviors are described:

  • Execution of prisoners, not unknown in well trained armies (See Commando Order.)
  • Noisy, demonstrative celebration.
  • At a point where, the battle concluded, the need for personal risk taking had abated, the militia continued with in risky behavior in their celebrations. Quoting, ““Run to the ditch. Mortars. Mortars,” yelled a militiaman. An army officer shouted at local militia leaders, berating them for advancing too fast, before helicopters had wiped out any pockets of resistance.

The celebration was paid for with lives.  One would think that at least some of the participants had some prior relevant experience. Had  none of them been warned, “Keep your head down”, or does something impel this noisy, dangerous outburst at the end of an event where success should be its own reward?

A CNN article, ISIS prisoners reveal life inside terror group, contains interviews of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurds. Although the statements of the prisoners cannot be taken as fact, they are valuable  even as creative lies. Creativity is not the mark of a terrorist mind, so the statements are a view of the mental landscape, constructed, at the very least, from what they were told by, or experienced by, others.

There is a classic question to put to a veteran: Why did you fight? What made you keep on?  It may be hard to just get up and leave, but there are many ways to shirk. As late as World War I, the French Army had a roving echelon to execute soldiers who attempted to leave the line. In World War 1, the British executed 304 men for desertion.  But in the 20th Century, just one U.S. Army soldier suffered this fate, Eddie Slovik.

The veteran answers, “You fight for your buddy.” The buddy system is explained to the soldier as to his advantage, because two heads are more than their sum. They are told to look out for each other. What they don’t know, but only experience, is that they become friends. If your buddy is a casualty, your fury becomes that of an animal, which makes you better at what was merely the business of killing.

After your buddy, you fight for your unit, your country, your flag, but these are increasingly abstract conceptions of “duty”. They are important nonetheless, because they comprise motivations that are contained totally within the self. They rely on a mental landscape hospitable to indoctrination by time proven techniques of military training.

Absent a sense of nationhood, the same techniques of military training applied to the Iraqi Army did not achieve the result of effective internal motivation. The buddy system, if applicable at all, failed to amplify the effectiveness of the individual soldier. The Iraqi Army is actually less effective than the militias and the terrorists, which employ a completely different motivational system.

Even though most of the combatants are not literally children, the concepts of child psychology are useful here, explaining much:

  • When battle interferes with the coherence of a unit, the absence of internal motivation results in cut-and-run behavior. In Western armies, where training has produced internal motivation, units are much less likely to cut and run.
  • The weakness of the abstractions of “duty” result in dereliction at the level of an army.
  • Motivation in these units is external, not internal, requiring constant reinforcement by group contact, celebration, and incentivization.
  • Emotion, the importance of which for an army cannot be underestimated, swings wildly between irrational exuberance and complete disintegration.

In sum,  the units of the combatants on both sides behave like the peer groups of child psychology. The stories from both sides are not identical, but congruent: imaginative, dependent on external reinforcement, crumbling either as the individual prisoner or the incoherent unit. Strictly for prediction, it may be useful to imagine the combatants as composed entirely of children with guns. The canny image of ISIS leaders is sharply undercut by the fantasy of an air force of three jet fighters abandoned by the Syrian Air Force.

Put into the fewest possible words, with an implied reference of Western culture, the combatants exhibit labile affect. This is a useful result. It implies that, when the tipping point occurs, the collapse of ISIS, as an organized entity, will be as rapid as their ascent.

The provision of force adequate to produce the tipping point may have occurred. Providing political insight,  movements tell more than battles. The arrival of 150 to 200 Iraqi Kurds in Kobani, previously sanctioned by Erdoğan, and also, “between 50 and 200 Free Syrian Army rebels“, seems to signal a relaxation of the former preconditions of the U.S. and Turkey on the application of force. In touching regard for the corpse of the Iraqi state, the U.S. had declined to arm the Kurds, with this notable reversal of the policy. Erdoğan has acquiesced to or achieved an abandonment of domestic policy towards the Kurds and the foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors.”

The aspect of child psychology called “peer rivalry” suggests that arming the Kurds will have a salutory effect on Iraqi military performance. It works like this. In the mind of the child, it is more acceptable to flee the bully than it is to allow a peer to excel. If you’re not convinced, then simply imagine the Iraqi Army as Gore Vidal, who said,Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.”

But this will not be the happy ending, as ISIS will continue as an insurgency, the ending of which would be the Holy Grail.






Homework for Aspiring Predictors re 17 Ways of “Knowing”

Using the list of 17 labels/categories described in Obama Admin Decision Making; Iran/Syria Policy Paralysis Part 2, characterize how some contemporary and historical world leaders think.

By considering historical figures, you get to check if your analysis makes any sense. Contemporary figures are useful for actual predictive juice.

Depending upon where you live, you may have a homecourt advantage with certain leaders. In the U.S., Obama and Putin are covered very well. Pakistan has always been rather opaque to me. India is intermediate.  Curiously, Afghanistan’s Karzai was always very well illuminated.

Due next Monday.

Obama Admin Decision Making; Iran/Syria Policy Paralysis Part 2

A source in the Obama Administration refers to a C.I.A. internal study doubting the effectiveness of covert arms programs. Take a look at the New York Times article, or, if you’re blocked by the pay wall, the Georgetown Law brief,  “CIA study finds arming rebel groups is rarely effective.”

The study was used as justification for the decision not to provide the Syrian moderates with lethal aid. As a knowledge base for the decision,  in my little table of types of knowledge, this falls under the category of “expertise”.

People think they know lots of things, but rarely make the distinction of “how” they know them, unless there is an argument. Then it comes out as reason versus intuition, intuition versus expertise, expertise versus common sense, etc. After it is established that the “truths” are irreconcilable, there ensues a brief argument about which type of “how I know” is more valid, flummoxed expressions, followed by disengagement and, inevitably, amnesia. The dispute which underlies is not about the “truths” subject to debate, but in a meta-domain of how people come to identify things as “truths.”

Let’s see how this works. The table below is a mix of labels, some of which are qualities, while others may be useful in a system of categorization. We have:

  • personal judgment

  • consensus

  • widely held (preexisting consensus)

  • expertise (provided by third parties, and accepted as truth because of the elevated opinion of their judgment)

  • non rational (faith based, idée fixe, delusion)

  • belief (assertion of fact without reason, or reason that has not recently been examined by the one making the assertion)

  • intuitive (the product of unconscious cognition)

  • instinctual (producing a response yet without cognition)

  • scientific (observational )

  • common sense (derived by rudimentary logic from primitive beliefs)

  • factual (indisputable, the repudiation of which occur with great advances of knowledge)

  • logical, capable of formal derivation

  • probabilistic (opinion)

  • operational (practical)

  • theoretical (compromised by lack of application)

  • contradictory

  • falsity (a form of truth which is not)

The above is actually the anchor of a system useful to the practitioner with the need to justify a decision. It is a Chinese menu of  17 modalities, of which only a single arbitrary choice is required to trump all the others. If this were a card game, it would be a gambler’s delight.

Let’s take an example. Suppose Obama were afflicted with a heartrending desire to help the poor Syrian moderates. He need only pick and assert “personal judgment”, which immediately knocks “expertise”, the C.I.A. study, out of the game.

On the other hand, suppose Obama had been afflicted with the Tea Party, and a lingering desire to be a great domestic President, while   the wolves, both domestic and international, attempt to fasten their jaws into various parts of his anatomy. (I don’t know how he slept at night.) In this case, he picks “expertise”, the C.I.A. study, from the list, which immediately knocks “consensus” out of the game.

If Obama wishes to pursue some course other than the above two, he need merely pick “contradictory” from the list. All the cards are available to be picked, without requiring sleight of hand. Of course, one of the rules of this game is that while the selection of cards is arbitrary, the choice  must be justified by “spin.”

If it seems that this simple list of 17 labels facilitates believing anything you want, this is because the list embodies something akin to what logicians call a “domain error.” There is also an interesting analogy to the “principle of explosion”,  that from a contradiction, anything can be proved. Since the list of 17 is not a formal system, we can’t go further, but it should give you some idea where the weakness lies.

The table appears useful to illustrate fallacies, but it is equally useful for real-world paradoxes. The novel The Man Without Qualities, by Robert Musil, is set in Austria prior to World War I, illuminating a precocious modernity lost to all but specialists or readers of the book. Arnheim, a sophisticated, assimilated German Jew and successful industrialist, has an earthy father, who created the waste-management industrial empire that Arnheim seeks to manage for the benefit of mankind. Arnheim the younger is a sophisticate who would be entirely at home in our age.

As a hybrid of older practices and modern management, Arnheim the elder commissions studies on business opportunities that embody scientific risk taking. Then, in contradiction to the studies, the board, and his son’s advice, he proceeds with his instinctive choice. And he is always right.

Invincible intuition may not be a myth, but neither is it a fact. More people think they have it than do. It is always subject to repudiation. But it has a dark companion, that goes with you into a solitary state, where you sort things out, not caring if all the details of the process are communicable to others. Only the result counts. When the result is good, it’s called genius. But it requires that solitary place.

Henry Kissinger, in his book, World Order, section “Cyber Technology and World Order”, expresses concern for the availability of that solitary state. The absence, according to Kissinger, results in displacement of thought, which is solitary, by data, which is communal. Quoting, “Great statesmen…had these qualities of vision and determination; in today’s society, it is increasingly difficult to develop them.”

I feel some sympathy. One of the reasons for this blog is the apparent disappearance of the fifth of the Five Ws of news gathering, “who,what,when,where,why”,  from the most popular news sites. Why? In the jargon of databases, human knowledge, the way it is actually stored in peoples’ heads, is flattening out. The zeitgeist seems to be “ditch the why, everything is phenomenological.”

But Dr. Kissinger’s nostalgia for the great thinkers of the past neglects the dark heritage of those thinkers. The “isms” of the 19th Century that caused the great wars of the 20th were the products of those solitary minds. One advantage of a flat knowledge structure is that it prohibits the construction of those piles of ideological sophistry, of dizzying height and weight, that the 20th Century bore as an unsheddable burden.

President Obama, and other people of similar age, are of just the right age to be conscious of the enormity of those solitary thinkers, and to be desirous of avoiding repetition. If you’re a good guy, and don’t want even the chance of authoring another historical monstrosity, this is what you do. You ignore the solitary option entirely, and go with the collegial.

Most history, when separated from advances in knowledge, fails to justify itself. Ever since Plato’s Republic, people have wished that, by some magical social system, they could throw some sand in the gears of the history machine. This desire is my interpretation of Obama’s apparently simplistic dictum, “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Unfortunately for all those who would prefer to concentrate on the improvement of domestic society, the world won’t leave us alone.  Other world leaders, fiddling in solitude while their  societies and economies drift in darkness, are the sureties of this.

 There are always many ways to draw the problem, in this case, the analysis of the Obama Adminstration’s decision processes. But even Leon Panetta’s memoirs, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, indicate the intricacies are closely held. According to Panetta, the “college” of the decision process has not been inclusive of  expertise existing inside the government. But if what is there had worked to prevent the ascent of ISIS, who would care?

 The outsider has the luxury of not having to make bad history. What would I have done, had I been in the room with that classified C.I.A. report? Perhaps, to free my conscience from inaction, I would have first picked “personal judgment”. Then I would have attempted to show that the C.I.A. study, and the contemplated action, were based on different domains of discourse. The post “ISIS & Calls for U.S. leadership & Growing the Ideal Lawn”, contemplates novel actions, based on a strategy without a defined endpoint.





Ebola, Public Health, and Sloppy Thinking Part 1

Until the discoveries of Louis Pasteur, which were given clinical interpretation by Joseph Lister, physicians killed practically everyone they touched. If they didn’t get them with dirty hands or fleas, blood-letting did it. Some palliative medications, still used today, are based on poisons such as arsenic or belladona. But in the old days, the distinction between palliation and cure was poorly made, because the germ theory, or any etiologies at all, were far in the future. The occasional survival, or spontaneous remission, was interpreted as causation, a mistake highly in vogue today.

In spite of lack of historical evidence of the efficacy of the medical profession, people still chose to believe in their doctors. The patient-physician relationship is remarkably analogous to that between the adherent to Shi’ite Islam and his chosen Imam. The next time you get together with friends, tell them you’ve given up on the medical profession, and are doctoring yourself. It is likely you will be told you need a doctor, but who you chose is up to you.

You might tell your friends that (NIH) 90% of medical studies are later proven wrong. The Atlantic article about Dr. John Ioannidis, titled “Lies, damned lies, and Medical Science”, paraphrases Mark Twain to good effect. So you think you’re going to be your own doctor? Not so fast. If Ioannidis is correct, the foundation of medicine is quicksand, but yours is none at all.

Since people have had faith in their doctors since the dawn of history, and since the track record does not justify it, the grounds for the continuing faith lie, by exclusion, in the realm of the non rational. You can replace faith in your doctor by faith in yourself, but it is unlikely you will do better. But if you stick with your doctor, it is likely that, at some point, reflecting the results of one of Dr. Ioannidis’s refuted studies, you will be the recipient of treatment which is ineffectual or harmful, yet completely in compliance with the officially defined “standard of care” in effect at the time. In other words, they can kill you, but you can’t sue.

At least the above fate is unintentional. If you decide instead to doctor yourself, it is likely that you will fall victim to intentional harm, or harm of a more ambiguous sort, motivated by the desire to take your money without doing you any harm or good. The etymology of the word quack is medical. But if we put the difference between  quackery and legitimate medicine on the same line, it has an unpleasant tinge: quackery has no chance of doing you some good, while legitimate medicine has some.

None versus some isn’t what we want to read, but, shielded like bright bumper chrome by the antibiotic miracle,  emergency medicine, and cures for  acute diseases, lie the wreckage of medicine’s attempt to find out what we should eat, how much we should weigh, how much we should exercise, and every other question of health and prevention. But, since quackery in some cases rises to equivalence with manslaughter, governments exercise a degree of paternalism that would not be accepted in any other realm. For example, the genetic testing firm 23 and Me was ordered by the FDA in November 2013 to stop selling direct to the consumer. 23 and Me offers only tests, not treatments.

I’m not taking a position on this. I would want to study it thoroughly, and that’s not the purpose of the reference, which is to exhibit some very special relationships:

  • The desire of the individual to trust, or “believe in” a physician, which is probably motivated by the desire to remove uncertainty from a hazardous situation, and assign it to someone else.
  • The concept of “standard of care”, the official definition of what is the right thing to do at the present time. It changes in response to U-turns and huge gyrations in the “knowledge base.” Smoothed a bit by bureaucratic inertia, it presents a very curious state of affairs, with the past, and what medicine did in it, ruled off as if by yellow caution tape with the lettering, “Don’t look back.”  And so we continue to trust.
  • The  bureaucracy of health and medicine, which, while providing the individual with paternal protection from naivete and quackery, has a knowledge base that, Dr. Ioannidis has shown, has severe methodological flaws.
  • Mirroring the relationship with the physician, the  individual demands certainty from the bureaucracy. Nobody wants to go to sleep at night wondering if Ebola is a personal threat. The individual demands an answer, and the bureaucracy is under extreme pressure to provide one, even if it does not legitimately exist.

In “Ebola, Rats, Lice, and History, and Hans Zinsser Part 2”, I wrote, “Policies have recursive origins. A fix must dig into that recursion, or the new policy will be a simple reaction to the failure of the old. Things being what they are, good luck can fall off the table in any direction.”

The decision processes of the CDC and NIH are reliant on the same decision processes that create the studies torn apart by Ioannidis.  It’s the same culture. The brightest minds in CDC and NIH must know this in an academic way. But if all the real estate, stretching to the horizon, is quicksand, what does a builder do? You build anyway, institutionalizing defective thinking.

Thus the system has become acclimatized to sloppy thinking. The drift has been exacerbated by the demand for answers that do not exist, enforced by politicos wildly swinging axes to decapitate agencies we need to function now.

But all is not lost. Do not panic. I repeat, do not, under any circumstances, panic. “In the quite likely event of an emergency, put your head between your knees and…”






Ebola: Fire head of CDC ?

Writing for CNN, Dr. Ford Vox asserts “Why CDC chief must go”.

This is a great day for Dr. Vox. He gets to have a piece on CNN, his profile is raised, and he becomes a greater public figure than he already is.  He has a great publicity photo. It is not such a great day for Dr. Frieden, whose stellar resume is acknowledged by Dr. Vox.

It is also a great day for me, since in Ebola, Rats, Lice, and History, and Hans Zinsser Part 1, I wrote,

“…but should it come to bite us, the appropriate response is not to juggle appointments and departments at CDC. If, in the future, some medical catastrophe were to befall the U.S., this kind of destructive response could result, and  it would be a supreme sacrifice of talent.”

The ISIS debacle, and the Ebola debacle have institutional analogies,  startling only because they are contemporaneous. In each, it is alleged that individuals should be axed. In each, individuals, whose resumes glow with achievement have, while serving in bureaucracies, been stunningly broadsided by events. The CDC is a huge pre-existing bureaucracy, while the Obama Administration may have created their own institutional puzzle-house.

The American Approach, called  the Six Phases of a Project, has been thoroughly studied and documented in all the best academic annals. We should be proud of this method, one of the pillars of American success, which is further elaborated in the documentary, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”, where Wally decides, “…what to do, and who it do who.”

We could, of course, mount a comprehensive investigation to determine whether Dr. Frieden should actually be fired. This would start with a midnight raid by the F.B.I. to cart away all the computers and filing cabinets of the suspects, convene the appropriate  panels, so that the legislators can ask incisive questions on camera, and find the Newly Qualified Man to lead us out of this mess.

But the Newly Qualified Man does not exist. All we have are the nonparticipants, including Dr. Vox, to whom praise and rewards should be forthcoming.

The Japanese have another system, “Kaizen”, discussed in The Dawning Age of Cooperation: The End of Civilization as We Know It, the Wiki, Kaizen, and many other places around the web. Ironically, one of the contributors to the development of Kaizen beyond the traditional cultural roots was W. Edwards Deming, who “wrote the book” on quality control. Kaizen is practically a half-culture, too complex to be easily encapsulated. But out of it comes the simple proverb,  “Fix the problem not the blame.”

Kaizen has not perfected Japanese society. But by comparison with Kaizen, we should recognize that the almost instinctive urge to find and punish the “guilty” is our own cultural projection onto the problem of mismanagement. There are multifarious approaches, each of which may be as defining of a culture as the traditional standards of government and religion.







Putin & Erdoğan have a chat…about what?

They talked by phone. Quoting, “…the main motive of the phone call was extending condolences to the Russian head of state for the recent suicide bombing in Grozny.”

I don’t think so.

If, in your liberal arts education, you have been taught the use of Occam’s Razor, and the pitfall of conspiracy-theory psychosis, you may have the mindset of “It’s nothing, unless proven otherwise”, which derives incorrectly from “innocent until proven guilty.” To take advantage of all that’s available from open sources, you have to put a finer point on your pencil.  The  fallacy of the conspiracy theorist is not that of speculation. It is the “proof” of a “theory” from the unvarying premise that, if something could be true, it is. This premise is usually combined with some scrap of compatible information, such as this phone call.

A conspiracy theorist’s interpretation of the phone conversation is that Putin and Erdoğan are divvying up Syria.  The open source hound’s interpretation is actually closely related; but it is a mere brush stroke, a single tile in a mosaic, that may build in this direction, always finishing as an almost-fact. Speculation is an essential part of the open-source activity.

As the mosaic builds, or fails to, there must be a library of speculations that accrete as well, because  insights don’t really come out of the blue. They build on the edge of consciousness, on the wings of the stage, waiting for the call, “you’re on.” In this case, the mosaic actually has a few more tiles:

The post “Syria: The purpose of Nekrassov’s Piece”, suggests “Assad’s regime, now a homeless waif in the international community, is up for adoption.” It is now arguably visible to Putin that the risk to Assad is no longer from U.S. supported moderate rebels. The Assad regime now faces destruction at the hands of ISIS, which, if not completely indigenous to the area, has put down roots.  Those who think U.S. foreign policy lacks the certain element called intelligence may now enjoy a little schadenfreude at the Russian miscalculation, which, by virtue of their system of governance, belongs to Putin.

Nekrassov suggested Assad has a role in confronting ISIS. Kerry slapped this down hard, saying that Assad had, in fact, been playing “footsie” with ISIS. (Did this result in late night queries to ISKRAN , the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies,  to find out what “footsie” is, who plays it, and why?)

Since Assad’s position is hopeless, Erdoğan may have been emboldened to make Putin an offer, a partition of Syria. Assad’s defensible portion might include Damascus, the historical Alawite coastal enclave, and such areas as Hezbollah would be willing to shoulder. With a free hand in the north, Turkey could sculpt and control Kurdish ambitions, while filling the political vacuum now occupied by ISIS with Sunni elements of the same sectarian persuasion as the Turkish majority. See “Turkey & the New Ottoman Empire”

No post about this subject would be complete without the usual harangue about southern Iraq. Since the “seat of government” is there, and because the politicians wear western business suits, those adhering to the Westphalian model seem to pin their hopes on a solution that would coalesce around this “center.”

Southern Iraq is bound to Iran by culture and religion dating back to 680 A.D.  The connections are vastly powerful, yet curiously under weighted by U.S. strategists. There is, in the scheme of things, an exceedingly minor theological rift between the religious institutions of Iraq and Iran. With the passing of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who is currently 84, integration of the religious establishments of Qom and Karbalā will become total. Secular fusion will inevitably follow.


Iraq/Syria Policy Paralysis

Characteristically, the CNN and Reuters reporting on this is extremely U.S. centric. It’s not a question of bias, but rather, a simplification of the regional actors.  In U.S.-centric reporting, Turkey becomes no more than an obstacle to the implementation of U.S. policy objectives. In Aaron Stein’s article for Al Jazeera, a specific reason comes to light for Ankara’s refusal to intervene: they want a strong central state in Syria. Without it, a “free city of Kobane” (spelled “Kobani” on U.S. sites), could become a base for Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

It is almost reasonable to surmise that, in comparison to a Kurdish “Free Kobani”, Turkey would prefer an ISIS state across the border, because ISIS would lack significant insurgent potential inside Turkey. By comparison, there are enough Kurds in the eastern provinces of Turkey to tear the country apart from the inside.

So the demand by Turkey on the U.S. that Turkish boots be accompanied by removal of the Assad regime may not be analogous to the typical U.S. quixotic quest for human rights. Erdoğan’s previous friendship with Assad was undeterred by the atrocities of Syria’s Mukhbarat toward Sunnis prior to civil war.  Stein’s article implies that Turkey wants a strong central state in Syria to frustrate the formation of a Kurdish state. And, according to the Turks, this cannot be accomplished under the aegis of the Assad regime. But (new idea) it might be accomplished in the presence of the Assad regime.

Recall how quickly the Iraqi army collapsed in early August, prior to Maliki’s departure on 8/15, and how this was supposed to vitalize a new coalition. It did not. It appears another rout is in the making, and the same people are exercising the same decision processes, because they have the same brains and mindsets as they did on August 15 of this year.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. But “desperate” is not synonymous with “futile.” As history is written by the victors, there is always the slight possibility of exoneration. But given the astonishing collapse in August, the next rout may well have the remnant Shi’ites cowering in the shrines of Karbala, while the Sunni Anbar tribesmen, who at least tried to do the right thing, suffer the unspeakable tortures of the vanquished in ancient times.

Next, an examination of decision processes specific to this situation.




Russia pulls troops from Ukraine border

CNN link. Is there a political interpretation to this move?

Donetsk is 479 miles south of Moscow. The January daily mean temperature in Moscow is 20.3F. For Donetsk, it is 24.6F. In winter, Donetsk is a little more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than Moscow. Moscow has the climate that defeated Napoleon and Hitler. Donetsk is a little better, but still severe.

It is possible to fight there in winter; the 3rd Battle of Kharkov (same neighborhood) was initiated by a German attack on February 19, 1943.  But it was a matter of life-and-death for both Soviets and Nazis. The Ukraine conflict is a luxury war, the optional entertainment of “nation builders” and “geopolitical strategists.”

When an army is deployed to the field, readiness initially increases, and then, like an organism exhausted by the cost of adaptation, it decreases. You don’t want the army of a luxury war rusting away in the field when it could be maintained for the dismal season in heated barracks, where everything is cheaper, because the logistics and infrastructure have been pre-arranged. If for no other reason than to save money, Putin’s decision to return the army to luxury accommodations in heated barracks, with luxury sauna, is wise.

But in the spirit of wasting nothing, the withdrawal, until the daisies  start pushing up again (the relevant Russia/Ukraine genus is Gerbera), will be very useful to the propagandists of RT and other Russian institutions of disinformation, which seem to be so active these days. One wonders, how Putin will entertain himself before the daisies bloom? He could deploy some Russian “advisers” to Alawite Syria, he could play with the gas taps, or he could expropriate McDonalds.

Or he could head out to the big-box store and pick up a hidef TV, the type with the fancy surround-sound system, so that he can feel like he is sitting in the middle of a war zone with explosions all around. It’s cheaper than the real thing, a real luxury.









Leon Panetta on ground troops.

In CNN video, Leon Panetta says, paraphrasing, we need Tactical Air Control Parties on the ground. This was discussed in the post,  Air Power in Iraq and Syria; Divining the Political Map. Everything Panetta says about the requirements for useful deployment of air power is precisely correct.

Mr. Panetta is the ultimate insider, providing new insight into the debate. However, he uses an implicit definition of ground troop deployment, which Obama nixes, to include Tac Air Control Parties. If this definition is in fact shared by Panetta and Obama, meaning that these parties, or their special forces equivalents, cannot be deployed, we are in for a lot of trouble. It would mean we’ve lost a good chunk of the Middle East.

So it’s not clear to this outsider whether the apparent absence of Control Parties is due to the difficulty of emplacement, which in some cases amounts to infiltration, or because of a decision by Obama to classify them as ground troops that are “off the table.”

When I was a participant in the IARPA project, “Forecasting World Events”, Mr. Panetta was director of the CIA.  FWE had a forum, and I got the impression that Leon was reading some of my stuff, particularly with respect to Syrian use of chemical weapons.

Hi, Leon! You are probably right, but I’m hoping that

a. You are wrong.


b. Your criticisms are promptly acted upon.