It is in that context that I recommend this book as a superb example of mainstream thinking, while also respectfully observing that this approach is both inadequate, and out of touch with the alternative Epoch B bottom-up models that have been proven not only recently, but centuries ago within indigenous societies, as documented by, among others, Charles Mann in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.
For this review, I decided to consult my mentors, and with their permission, offer two of their comments as a collective review–wisdom of the very crowds the authors of this book think they can help be wiser.
In 2008, notes Stanger, roughly 80 percent of the State Department’s requested budget went out the door in the form of contracts and grants. The Army’s primary support contractor in Iraq, KBR, reportedly has some 17,000 direct-hire employees there.
The U.S. military is now proposing a huge nation-building project for Afghanistan to replace its dysfunctional government with a state that can deliver for the Afghan people so they won’t side with the Taliban. I might be more open to that project if we had a true global alliance to share the burden of an effort that will take decades. But we don’t. European publics do not favor this war, and our allies will only pony up just enough troops to get their official “Frequent U.S. Ally Card” renewed. We’ll make up the difference by hiring private contractors.
After spending a week traveling the frontline of the “war on terrorism” — from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan in the seas off Iran, to northern Iraq, to Afghanistan and into northwest Pakistan — I can comfortably report the following: The bad guys are losing.
Yes, the dominos you see falling in the Muslim world today are the extremist Islamist groups and governments. They have failed to persuade people by either their arguments or their performances in power that their puritanical versions of Islam are the answer. Having lost the argument, though, the radicals still hang on thanks to gun barrels and oil barrels — and they can for a while.
. . . . . . .
To the extent that the radical Islamists have any energy today, it comes not from the power of their ideas or examples of good governance, but by stoking sectarian feuds. In Afghanistan, the Taliban play on Pashtun nationalist grievances, and in Iraq, the Sunni jihadists draw energy from killing Shiites.
The only way to really dry up their support, though, is for the Arab and Muslim modernists to actually implement better ideas by producing less corrupt and more consensual governance, with better schools, more economic opportunities and a vision of Islam that is perceived as authentic yet embracing of modernity. That is where “our” allies in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have so consistently failed. Until that happens, the Islamist radicals will be bankrupt, but not out of business.
+++++++Phi Beta Iota Editorial Comment+++++++
Most readers will focus on the beginning of Friedman’s story and completely miss the ending. What Friedman does not state that needs stating over and over again is that the U.S. taxpayer is being cheated by a foreign policy that substitutes technology for thinking, military sales for strategy, and convenient dictators for democracy. Until we have an Undersecretary of State for Democracy with one Assistant Secretary for those dictators that agree to a five-year exit strategy, another for those that do not; and a counterpart Undersecretary of Defense for Peace who can move beyond the lip service that Defense continues to give to Operations Other Than War (OOTW), Stabilization & Reconstructions (S&R), Humanitarian Assistance (HA), and the mother of all military strategies, Irregular Warfare properly defined as Waging Peace by All Means Possible, we will continue to betray the public interest at home as well as abroad.
Click on NYT Logo Above for the Full Story Online.
Our policy is to point to the original full sotry online whenever the source offers a persistent URL that does not require registration. Below are extracts from Tom Friedman’s “The Class Too Dumb to Quit,” as flagged by Marcus Aurelius, pseudonym for a Special Operations officer with decades of HUMINT abroad.
This scene is a reason for worry, for optimism and for questioning everything we are doing in Afghanistan. It is worrying because between the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are grinding down our military. I don’t know how these people and their families put up with it. Never have so many asked so much of so few.
The reason for optimism? All those deployments have left us with a deep cadre of officers with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, now running both wars — from generals to captains. They know every mistake that has been made, been told every lie, saw their own soldiers killed by stupidity, figured out solutions and built relationships with insurgents, sheikhs and imams on the ground that have given the best of them a granular understanding of the “real” Middle East that would rival any Middle East studies professor.
. . . . . . .
Early in both Iraq and Afghanistan our troops did body counts, à la Vietnam. But the big change came when the officers running these wars understood that R.B.’s (“relationships built”) actually matter more than K.I.A.’s. One relationship built with an Iraqi or Afghan mayor or imam or insurgent was worth so much more than one K.I.A. Relationships bring intelligence; they bring cooperation. One good relationship can save the lives of dozens of soldiers and civilians. One reason torture and Abu Ghraib got out of control was because our soldiers had built so few relationships that they tried to beat information out of people instead. But relationship-building is painstaking.
And that leads to my unease. America has just adopted Afghanistan as our new baby. The troop surge that President Obama ordered here early in his tenure has taken this mission from a limited intervention, with limited results, to a full nation-building project that will take a long time to succeed — if ever. We came here to destroy Al Qaeda, and now we’re in a long war with the Taliban. Is that really a good use of American power?
. . . . . . .
The bad news? This is State-Building 101, and our partners, the current Afghan police and government, are so corrupt that more than a few Afghans prefer the Taliban. With infinite time, money, soldiers and aid workers, we can probably reverse that. But we have none of these. I feel a gap building between our ends and our means and our time constraints. My heart says: Mission critical — help those Afghans who want decent government. My head says: Mission impossible.
Does Mr. Obama understand how much he’s bet his presidency on making Afghanistan a stable country? Too late now. So, here’s hoping that The Class Too Dumb to Quit can take all that it learned in Iraq and help rebuild The Country That’s Been Too Broken to Work.
+++++++Phi Beta Iota Editorial Comment+++++++
“Relationships Built” versus “Body Count” is a major step foreword. However, the management of “Full-Spectrum HUMINT across the US Government is so inept as to be virtually criminal. Within the Department of Defense, the Human Terrain System (HTT) and the lack of linguists also able to write coherently in English stand out as sucking chest wounds.
With respect to Viet-Nam, click on the cover below to read our review of Triumph Forsaken. There is absolutely no question in our mind but that IF the U.S. Government were to find its integrity, strategic center of gravitas, and the will to restore the Constitution and the Republic, that Whole of Government operations could not only create a prosperous world at peace, but we could also wipe out our multi-trillion dollar deficits within a decade. INTEGRITY. One word, one world, one outcome.
This book is a tragic mess. I actually wonder if the author wrote it, or if this is staff work and part of marketing for STRATFOR, which despite its mixed track record and lack of sourcing or analytic coherence, appears to be a success as an online opinion feed and rapid response “go fer” service.
There are no other books mentioned in this long essay; no notes; no index, no nothing–just one long essay that is completely lacking in any kind of strategic analytic framework.
Here are some of my flyleaf notes:
China not expanding into Siberia? This is completely at odds with the reality that China has a massive and aggressive program to move immigrants into Siberia at the same time that Russian occupation of the southeastern region of Russia is dropping.
Mexico defeated? Although later in the book the author provides a graphic that shows Hispanics largely dominating back up to the Hidalgo-Guadalupe line that pioneers of Spanish heritage developed in the first place, he reeks of the conventional wisdom that Mexico was “defeated” by the USA rather than attacked and pushed out. As a friend of mine related, when he asked his grandfather when the family immigrated, the answer was: “we didn’t–they moved the border on us.”
America Centric. This book–whoever wrote it–is so out of touch with global realities and so blindly America-centric that I really have to wonder if this is a serious offering. While it was no doubt written in pieces over time, probably beginning in 2007, it reflects ZERO insights or after-the-fact acknowledgement of all that has happened since Business Week ran the cover story in October 2007 on the coming recession, or the very obvious fact that the eight demographic actors (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Wild Cards such as Congo, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey) will define the future, not the USA, which has lost its integrity and its intelligence (I will respond to comments on this point, see the seven books I have sponsored).
Humanity. There is none in this book. The author appears to be primarily a techno-state geek and still thinks in terms of trends at the macro-organizational and macro-technology level. I have a note, “No humanity in this book.” There is ZERO understanding of political-legal, socio-economic, ideo-cultural, or even techno-demographic and natural-geographic. While the author(s) have a stab as geographic erudicity, it is pathetic. Robert Kaplan does it better in “The Revenge of Geography,” from which I extract the following righteously intelligent observation by Kaplan:
BEGIN KAPLAN. These deepening connections are transforming the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian and Pacific oceans into a vast continuum, in which the narrow and vulnerable Strait of Malacca will be the Fulda Gap of the 21st century. The fates of the Islamic Middle East and Islamic Indonesia are therefore becoming inextricable. But it is the geographic connections, not religious ones, that matter most. END KAPLAN.
That one sentence is better than this entire book.
There are a few small elements of the book that were worthy of noting.
1. The author is convinced that Poland will invade Russia from the west while Japan invades Russia from the east. I take the first seriously and the second–as someone who spent a third of their life in Asia–with shocked amusement.
2. The author believes there will be a Russian-Turkish war over Central Asia. I find this worthy of future alertness and reflection.
3. The author believes that Russia’s being “landlocked” in the east (the part that I have suggested the Alaska Independence Movement and Christian Exodus both seek permission to develop as part of the Russian strategy to slow the calculated Chinese creep north and northeast), and I have a note to myself: Vladivostok? Global warming? NW Passage?
4. Five cycles of the West. The book identifies five cycles, from founders to pioneers, pioneers to small town America, small town to industrial, and industrial-suburban to migrant class, and I just shake my head. I know some, but not all, of the rest of the world, and this is so grossly generic and US-specific as to make me cringe.
5. China is Japan on steroids. Wow. Can anyone be this ignorant of cultural and historical reality? Even if intended as a throw-away line on industrial prowess, this thought is so ill-conceived as to be frightening in its ignorance. Incidentally, China did not sign the post war treaty and they still have a right to claim reparations from both Japan and the USA (see Gold Warriors by the Sterlings).
6. Space, the final frontier. The book stresses space in a techno-geek sort of way, and I pretty much give up on the book at this point. There is nothing in here about RapidSMS, cell phone and renewable energy lighting up the Southern Hemisphere, etcetera.
The author(s) have been very lazy in this book, to the point that I wonder if organizational un-intelligence has blinded them to their own arrogance in thinking that such an essay, absent both an analytic framework and respect for the vast non-fiction literature covering every aspect of all that this book ignores, would be well received. Evidently they are right, the book ranks well, but that may say more about the marketing than the book. I am sure the author(s) would be delighted to be as wealthy as Bill Gates, using first-rate marketing to sell second-rate thinking.
For one analytic framework that is properly holistic in thinking about both the next 100 years and what we as a collective can do about it, visit Earth Intelligence Network (501c3 Public Charity).
5 for intent, 3 for immaculate conception, 4 on balance, September 29, 2008
Thomas L. Friedman
I was not going to buy this book, having become generally disenchanted with the journalists style of ignoring the past 10-20 years of pioneering work by others, and instead interviewing one’s way toward an immaculate conception of the same stuff.
HOWEVER, I was won over by his appearance on television, his passion for going green, and his articulate summarization of complex ideas. If you read a great deal, the book is a fast read with way too much detail. If you do NOT read a lot, this is a 5 star book with a wealth of detail you will not find in any one place elsewhere, buy it, read it SLOWLY, and be all the better for it.
A few notes for my failing memory and those who follow my reviews:
1) Better than average index, indeed, quite good and a real pleasure.
2) President Reagan undid most of the energy conservation progress made in the 1970’s, costing us the equivalent of everything we are so desperate to get now.
3) Denmark is an example of getting it right, and of energy policy producing jobs and savings and quality of life beyond most people’s wildest imagination.
4) George Bush Junior blew it (but the author is careful not to mention Dick Cheney’s obsession with secret meetings with Enron and Exxon to plot the invasion and occupation of Iraq). The new president chose deliberately–and the author is compelling in quoting the White House press person on this point–to continue cheap gas and profligate energy waste as an American birthright of sorts.
5) Cradle to Cradle and Divesity are hot now. Duh. I quelch my annoyance as not seeing any credit to Herman Daly or Paul Hawkin or Club or Rome or Limits to Growth and so on, because later in the book he discusses how localities can become Noahs and Arks, and I like this section very much.
7) Energy Internet, Where IT Meets ET is quite special and alone worth the price of the book for those of us that do read a great deal.
8) Innovation *is* happening, and I am extremely impressed by his account of how the US Army has been discovering the value of going green, for instance, using renewable energy to power remote outposts so as to dramatically reduce the need to truck fuel over roads, reducing both targets and costs for the entire force.
9) US Government has no energy policy, and the private sector desperately needs one if the private sector is to make the 30-50 year bets on nuclear, wind, solar, bacteria, biomass, and so on.
10) China has 106 billionaires, and the balance of the book on China, both its challenges and its potential to go green and not make our mistakes, is also very valuable and provides coverage I have not seen elsewhere.
I found a number of gifted turns of phrase in the book, and they helped to balance the verbal vomit of facts and figures stuffed into the book.
Here are two quotes that I consider worth highlighting:
“American energy policy today, says Peter Schwartz, chairman of Global Business Network, a strategic consulting firm, can be summed up as ‘Maximize demand, minimize supply, and mmake up the difference by buying as much as we can from the people who hate us the most.'” [Schwartz forgot to mention that we borrow the money with which we buy….] p. 80.
“All the human energy and talent is here [in the USA], ready to launch. Yes, it can go a long way on its own…[b]ut it will never go to the scale we need as long as our national energy policy remains so ad hoc, uncoordinated, inconsistent, and unsustained–so that the market never fully exploits our natural advantages.” p. 375
The author appears to ignore or not include the extreme greed and the predatory capitalism that characterizes the energy companies, for example, Exxon eternalizing $12 in costs to the public for every $4 in gas we buy [i.e. they did NOT make a $40 billion windfall profit this past year, they instead stole this money from the public now and in the future.]
Here are some books that I read before this one, and that I recommend very highly for those who wish to delve into the pioneering ideas of others. The author is himself a distiller and obsever, not a pioneer, but unlike his other books, on this one, I give him extra credit for being relevant, on target, and passionate in the most positive way.