Defacto Partition in Syria?

Reuters: “Putin says to keep cooperating with U.S.-led coalition over Syria” Quoting,

"We are talking about a designation of the territories against which we can conduct strikes, and where it is better to refrain from strikes, about the exchange of information on various issues, and the coordination of our actions on, so to speak, the battlefield," Putin said.

On bilateral cooperation with France, he said the aim was to "establish constructive work by our military specialists to avoid duplication and avoid strikes on those territories and groups which are themselves ready to fight terrorism."

This is consonant with the conclusion of Russia Offers to Help Syrian Rebels; U.S. Policy; Towards a Syrian Peace:

Perhaps limited tactical cooperation, formulated in tandem with mutually agreed territorial declarations, would be a good start towards a Syrian peace.

Putin’s statement, consonant with defacto partition, may be no more than  recognition of Turkish special interest in Turkoman tribal areas adjacent to Turkey’s border. Or it may be the nascence of a fluid principle. To the devoted open-sourcer, it is something to watch for.

Putin’s statement on the jet shoot-down differs  from  dire CNN hype (see “Spider causes man to trash flat” for the mental level),

"And we proceed from the position that there will be no repeat of this, otherwise we'll have no need of cooperation with anybody, any coalition, any country."

In the language of diplomacy, this is de-escalation. It  is consonant with the conclusion of the open source prediction of Turkey shoots down Russian warplane:

“But the open source prediction is that little more will come from this, other than the possible loss of a few more jets on each side, and redeployment of Patriot batteries to Turkey.”

And even that may be an exaggeration.


Turkey shoots down Russian warplane

This open source deduction is based upon the simultaneity  of  two reports:

(Reuters) Turkish warplanes shot down jet near Syrian border: CNN Turk


(CNN) Report: Warplane crashes near Syria-Turkey border

While there is little value in a “scoop” of a few hours, it offers the open sourcer an opportunity to study the reactions of Russia and Turkey, as the fact of the encounter wends its way through the complicated apparatus of

  • diplomacy
  • propaganda
  • posturing
  • escalation or de-escalation

On October 6, Turkey reported that a group of F-16 fighters were subject to fire-control radar lockons.  See also The Aviationist. This means that Turkish fighters, designated as targets by Russian computers, were “painted” with radar beams, the last step before firing antiaircraft missiles with passive radar  trackers that home on the reflections.  According to The Aviationist, this was not the first time.

The Ukraine incursion marked a new Russian policy of active intimidation, intended to impede NATO members, and friendly countries such as Sweden, from formation of a coherent alliance response. The Russians may have judged that effort successful. And if it worked against the heavyweights of the Western Alliance, why wouldn’t it work against a marginal power such as Turkey?

Turkish foreign policy has been notable for regional passivity. The radar lockons were intended to prevent the emergence of an active principle in Turkish foreign policy towards Syria. As jets have a large turning radius, the Russians thought the lockons would also provide a few more miles of airspace for maneuver.

The Russians were wrong. But the open source prediction is that little more will come from this, other than the possible loss of a few more jets on each side, and redeployment of Patriot batteries to Turkey.



Chuck Hagel says Focus on ISIS

Chuck Hagel says focus on ISIS. First, a few paragraphs on an alternative mode of analysis that might be provocative to foreign policy decision makers.

Sociobiology offers an understanding of the ISIS phenomenon in a way not afforded by traditional religion, or philosophy. The conception of life as “divine spark” brought with it theodicy, the question of why there is evil in the world. This obscures another possibility, that the roots of ISIS are common to human nature, though normally suppressed by an ecosystem of ideas acting as life forms. This was explored in Ideas as Life Forms.

Thinking in terms of good and evil obscures the dynamics that the life form concept exposes. Good and evil are static definitions. While one can grow at the expense of the other, the science of dynamical systems was unanticipated by our traditions, except in the lurid illuminations of eschatology. For practical purposes, even without abandoning your principles, you might consider using sociobiology to strategize about ISIS. Stranger bedfellows of thought have been embraced in the human mind.

Sociobiology is both immature and subject to the distorting influences of prejudice and social pressure, as well as the well known and utterly notorious failure of experimental psychology to produce replicable results. Most studies in psychology are later found, by the standards of other sciences, to be wrong. The comparative strength of sociobiology is in experimental results with lower organisms, and the general hypothesis of applicability, with varying strength, to humans. The current use of sociobiology is the generation of something more than hypotheses and less than facts, namely, plausible explanations.

The Japanese have an expression for an aspect of human nature, the inner “anger insect” that, according to the culture, the holder must suppress. It is a remarkably simple statement about something which western culture embroiders with a rich but obscuring tapestry of morality and philosophy about free choice. But the unbridled egotism of every infant gives a clear view of the insect. The idea that it remains a potential in the adult is not really acknowledged in the West. According to western religions, various sacrements nullify it as a moral issue.

But the recent spate of mass murders by young men in their twenties make the insect a practical issue. According to tradtional thought, the sacrements were foregone. But an example of bacteria, promoted forward in time by sociobiology, suggests that ideas with competitive advantage in propagation are the most durable things around. “Quorum sensing” is one of them. Prior, bacteria were divided between those which are pathogenic, causing disease, and nonpathogenic, which do not. There followed context dependent pathogenicity. But the discovery that bacteria communicate volubly by chemical means was followed in short order that they are capable of mob violence.

With bacteria, mob violence is the decision by a group of bacteria, based upon their number and concentration, that they can take over and destroy the host. It is innate in many species of bacteria that are normal constituents of the human biome. Bacteria living comfortably and harmlessly in the nose, skin, or intestine, cultured externally to sufficiently high concentrations, become deadly. This is a form of the opportunistic pathogen. But the new idea, compatible with sociobiology, is that this is thought without a thinker.  But since   the physical basis of the brain is chemical, it should not seem as strange as it does that bacterial thought is mediated by exchange of chemical signals.

When slaughter by a male in his twenties seems to inspire similar crimes, we call it copycat. When a bunch of murderous males in their twenties communicate via social media, we call it legitimization. When a cohesive group forms of murderous males in their twenties, we call it a cult. The three words are unified by quorum sensing, which in humans takes the form of a primitive group mind, the collective behavior of the “inner insect.”

Contrasting with the popular view of the “war on terror” as a long war, Hagel expresses urgency, which might be an acknowledgement that unlike the West’s timeless battle between Good and Evil, idea based life form are time dependent. Comparison with the exponential growth of bacteria would be simplistic, but power laws, sums of X to the nth power, are convenient approximations of growth. And any growth leads to the point of the quorum, achieved when ISIS became pathogenic to Iraq.

Hagel wants to establish priorities that

  • Are at odds with U.S. policy towards the Assad regime, which seems based on misbegotten hope for early reconstruction of the rule of law.
  • Would be highly irritating to Turkey, a member of NATO, whose concern about dismemberment by Kurds is real.
  • Interfere with the “no boots on the ground” policy of disengagement.
  • Provoke concern about creating a stage for Russia to resume the U.S./Soviet version of the Middle East Great Game.

The idea of ISIS has not been understood as a dynamical process, so it has been everybody’s lesser problem. That ISIS could behave as a population sensing quorum, acquiring something that years ago might have been called critical mass, is novel. But the growth of ISIS popularity in American social media cannot be ignored.

Hagel’s priorities, disrespecting policy, would inevitably change the map. Perhaps he understands the danger of a runaway dynamical process. His innovation draws comparison to the misbegotten drive of American neoconservatives to forge a new Iraqi nation from the ground up. That mistake may be a significant cause of the current caution, but there are differences.

  • The neoconservative policy  in Iraq was created in isolation from the actual theater, mainly as a recombinant synthesis of conservative American politics.
  • The origin of Hagel’s initiative is a combination of reactive and proactive, the ratios of which are known only to those who were in the room. Reactive has a negative connotation, because it means you didn’t see it coming. With proactive comes the danger of the imagined threat. But on a case-by-case basis, either can beat policy, which simply means that all the thinking has been done already.

Law acquires reverence in the minds of lawyers. Without law, what would there be? With sentiment mixed with cynicism, the alternative, no law, inspires horror in the legal mind. To the legal mind, an alternative explanation for the current situation is the absence of law. This is partly valid, but lacks the predictive value of sociobiology. Obama and Kerry are lawyers. Alternatives to current policy encounter obstacles analogous to laws, treaties, alliances, and vacant political structures. It is very difficult for a lawyer of high moral caliber to abandon respect for these structures, no matter how vacant. That some of these could be reconstructed in a later time is too much of a leap.

Let the following not be construed as a high-five for conservative free enterprise. Hagel’s career was business. As a successful CEO, Hagel’s environment did not have the cushion of infinite failure permitted of U.S. foreign policy under both parties. Unless Hagel is a universal problem solver, his particular background facilitated an approach to this problem, which retrospection suggests is superior.

There are no universal backgrounds. Each decision maker has a background that implies a context for problem solving and a chance for excellence in one area. None have excelled in all the areas: domestic, foreign, economy, social improvement, justice, and so forth. Democracy, the safeguard of liberty, has nothing to say about how the actual process of decision making, by people in a room, could be improved.

We are left with the question: How can a president be more than the individual self?

French Tragedy and Bulk Data Collection

In May, I wrote Senate Allowed Spy Program to Lapse — Playing With Lives. With this tragedy, some may wish to ponder again.

Based upon past terrorism cases,  the argument has been made that bulk data collection is ineffective. Historical analysis is not without merit, but historical prediction is challenged by the changing landscape:

  • The software tools used by the NSA, the fusion of A.I. and Big Data, are constantly evolving, reducing the acknowledged problem of analyst overload.
  • As terrorist communication techniques and technologies evolve, cells become more resistant to low-tech discovery. This pushes the probabilities of detection towards Big Data sifting.
  • A primary activity of NSA warrantless wiretapping was to build, without looking at contents of communications, database representations of “who-knows-who”. Since encryption technology has advanced beyond DES, it becomes increasingly questionable whether the successors can be broken by brute-force or even lots of plain text. This makes “who-knows-who” more important.

An  opinion of whether the potential of bulk data collection to save lives is worth the challenge to civil liberties is usually couched as pure ideology.  But it may be influenced by the degree of empathy with the geographic areas of greatest risk, the “blue” states of the Eastern Megalopolis, and California.

Historically, the U.S. has compromised civil liberties in times of war.  Perception of a state of visceral war, one with a significant body count, fluctuates with current events, and fades with memory.

The choice between compromise of civil liberties, and the probabilities of future mass casualties, masquerades as logical. With which will you have the fewest future regrets?


Egypt Russian Airliner Crash Caused by an On-Board Bomb

The open-source prediction is that the plane was brought down by an on board bomb. As a prediction, it is almost too late to be interesting. The Brits say yes; Americans maybe; the Russians and Egyptians say, too early to tell.

But it’s not too late to examine the question for didactic purposes.  A shoulder fired missile, a.k.a. MANPAD,  cannot reach the cruising altitude of a commercial airliner.  Let’s fence it with facts which exclude mechanical failure:

  • The airliner was an Airbus A321, of which there have been only two other hull losses, both due to pilot error. One hit a mountain in a bad-weather approach to Islamabad. Another hit a runway utility vehicle at Tainan airport Taiwan.
  • The weather was fine, with none of the risk factors of Air France Flight 447, which was downed by a combination of pilot error, instrument malfunction,  and the notoriously violent thunderstorm supercells of the Intertropical Convergence Zone.
  • Hence, the possibility of internal mechanical failure causing the breakup of the aircraft, while not excluded, is exceedingly small.

In open source analysis, the ratio of an outcome probability to alternatives is the relevant factor, not the absolute probability. In the case of TWA Flight 800, the chance of mechanical failure was also exceedingly small, but unlike the current case, vastly greater than competing theories, mostly  conspiratorial in nature.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which under Mohamed Morsi ruled Egypt between 2011 and 2013, has had many phases, or colors. With origins as a typical terrorist, or revolutionary organization, phases of moderation, or attempted political legitimacy, were punctuated by occasional violence, and many cycles of acceptance and repression, particularly under Anwar Sadat. Uncertainty about how coherently bound the Brotherhood was to a common platform at any particular time  was characteristic of external observers, and possibly of the Brotherhood itself.

What happens when you hit a splintery rock with a hammer, shattering it, sending political shards in all directions? Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hit the Muslim Brotherhood with a hammer, destroying whatever coherence bound Brotherhood members to a political ethic. Those who found themselves not in jail, and whose inner tendencies  were previously moderated by the pull of central Brotherhood leadership, became ISIS sympathizers.

This is not saying much about a country where an unwary foreign tourist at Cairo Airport may need  to be ransomed from a restroom, or buy a snatched passport back from a professional passport snatcher. So it is easy for ISIS to use disaffected members of the Brotherhood to reach inside Egyptian official institutions to place a bomb on an airplane. Apparently, Sharma-El-Sheikh Airport is a friendlier place, where for a small sum a traveler may buy a way around security, a kind of “frequent bomber program.”

So probabilities related to airplanes in general are minimal. An actor has been identified. Thus far, this is the easiest kind of open-source question to resolve, as close to proof as statistics can provide. Only the differing statements of the four “authorities” stand in the way of the conclusion:

  • The Egyptians don’t want to admit the level of institutional compromise implied by the bomb diagnosis. For them, the best outcome, with the least impact on tourism, would be mechanical failure.
  • The Russians, who already send 3M tourists per year to Egypt, would like even more comradely relations. Egypt was a Soviet client of longstanding; a resumption would be a major coup for those who dream of the Soviet reach of old. It’s amusing to think they may hang the Russian airline to get the conclusion they want.
  • The Americans are just slightly piqued that the Brits found out first. To understand in fullness the special relationship, read every book by John le Carré.

Congratulations, Brits! You’ve done more with less.


Special Forces deployed to Syria

Peter Van Buren (Reuters) and Fred Kagan (CNN) offer negative opinions of the recent decision to deploy 50 Special Forces to Syria.

These are well constructed articles, designed to be satisfying reads complete with a reader’s belch at the end. Unless you have a preexisting  opinion other than general unhappiness, you will enjoy these articles, with the feeling that you have been properly educated. This, of course, is what opinion writers strive for. Solutions are beyond their grasp. Peter Van Buren has even made publication capital out of his mistakes with the book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

The White House announcement was deliberately ambiguous with respect to deployment details and mission. It is not in the interest of the U.S. for this blog to remove that ambiguity. But for those who hoped for a more proactive mission description,  “adviser” admits the flexibility to be a powerful force multiplier.

The number, 50, is criticized as too small, too tentative, and indicative of the weakness of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. Here I must disclose that I am very partial to Barack Obama as a person. The decision to seek the presidency is almost a sign of psychosis, supported by the revelations of Ronald Kessler’s In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect. But Barack Obama is the kind of guy I would have a (nonalcoholic) beer with.

One part of Obama’s formative experience was as a community organizer. That kind of experience sharply draws the distinction between the average American, who is not rich and possibly struggling to survive, and the class and kind of people who put the U.S in Vietnam. Then and today, the people who devise foreign policy are at least somewhat removed from the struggle to survive.

But the argument is that they see further. Obama’s choice is to be very conservative as to how much. Perhaps, when deciding when to put lives at risk, he sees himself as the direct proxy of the average American. But the retrospective of U.S. policy in Syria shows that foreign policy requires the office holder  to be more than one’s self. This apparent impossibility is resolved by  the occasional magic of the select group, multiplying individual powers instead of succumbing to group-think policy inertia. Rare but possible, we have seen it happen.

The number, 50, is a legitimate number for an advance team, for exploring working relationships with poorly known opposites. Eager to publish,  op-ed writers tend to prejudge. We cannot tell if the 50 are the spearhead of a new Syria policy, invested not just with boots on the ground, but with new ideas as well, such as partitioning Syria to separate combatants saturated in murderous hatred. This has been explored in recent posts on this blog.

We cannot tell also whether, in possible disagreement with Russia, Obama is willing to engage in brinksmanship. In the practical description of nationalism, the nation is the largest unit governed by  moral and legal norms. Brinksmanship challenges the instincts and decency of a domestic  presidency.