Michael Vlahos is Professor of Strategy at the United States Naval War College. His is the author of Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change, an analysis of how war — as sacred ritual — shapes collective identity: And what it means in culture to be human. His career includes service in the Navy, the CIA, Johns Hopkins SAIS, and the State Department. An historian-anthropologist of war, he focuses on the relationships between civilizations, and the creative syncretism that is at the heart of change in history. He appears and posts on Huffington, the National Journal, and the John Batchelor Radio program (WABC).
Grazing airy electron opinion, the firing of Denny Blair — especially him of most High Court title — is surely a blog-seduction most likely to touch-off tremulous surface fanning and gasps, whetting unfettered gossip: All fluttering to those inmost whisperings and intimate doings in the sacred precincts of our Imperial Court.
Well what I get is all Imperial Court. I feel like I am channeling Constantinople in 1043 dealing with Irini Doukaina (Cafavy, here). Oh, you did not know how much power women marshaled in 11th and 12th century Byzantium? Perhaps you might want to consider how advanced a “medieval” civilization could be.
Yet they were dealt a bad hand. The Latin West (our ancestors!) seeded such infamous defamation of everything Byzantine that Byzantine reputation still has not recovered. Truth is that Romaioi (what Byzantines called themselves) were an amazingly compassionate and complex civilization compared to every other place on earth. They invented the hospital, social welfare, equal judicial rights for all … and the fork! And only in Constantinople could a woman be emperor. Really.
What I am trying to say is that we begin to look a lot like late modern Byzantines.
In this sense:
We are also compassionate and complex, sophisticated and advanced, and yet we are also plagued by what above all plagued Byzantines: Court politics. Vicious and divisive politics in the 11th century imperial court so undercut the ability of Constantinople to meet non-state threats that the Empire almost fell.
But we are worse than Byzantines. The politics of America’s Imperial Court makes the world of Constantinople look prudent, modest, and restrained.
July 21, 2009 by Kelley B. Vlahos Listen closely and you can hear the slow release of hot air. There’s a leak somewhere, and it appears to be coming from the giant red, white, and blue balloon set aloft some months ago by the counterinsurgency experts who convinced everyone in Washington that Afghanistan was one “graveyard of empires” that could be resurrected for the good of the world.
In fact, anxiety over the latest major U.S. offensive in Afghanistan is increasing among military officials and policymakers every day, sources tell us. News reports coming in from Helmand province and repeated public complaints from American and British leaders bear that out.
And the story is this: in order for so-called “population centric” counterinsurgency to work in a place as vast and geographically unrelenting as Afghanistan, there must be a lot of counterinsurgents (more than 600,000, according to the current Army counterinsurgency manual). Right now, there is a lid on the number of coalition forces approved for the mission, and worse, there are pathetically few Afghan troops and police available to do the most important work, which is to collaborate with the foreign forces to fight the Taliban and successfully hold areas on behalf of the Afghan government over the long term.
Even as 10,000 Marines pushed into the Hindu Kush bearing the talisman of David Petraeus and his patented COIN doctrine this month, it was clear to top U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal that something was amiss.
“The key to this is Afghan responsibility to the fight,” he told the New York Times on July 15. “As a team we are better.”
His anonymous lieutenants were much blunter. “There are not enough Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police for our forces to partner with in operations … and that gap will exist into the coming years even with the planned growth already budgeted for,” an unnamed U.S. military official told the Washington Post four days earlier.
Click on photo above for complete story. See also our reviews of:
Our Bunker Hill-a STAKE in the Heart of “The Borg”, June 27, 2009
I consider this book one of the most important books of our time, for it takes on “the Borg” at an intellectual level in a cultural context, and in so doing, speaks truth to power: our Emperors (“the Borg”) are naked and ignorant.
Early on he points out that ours is not the first globalization, and that previous globalizations have demonstrated that new identities rise within globalization and *cannot be put down* (his emphasis). New ideas, counter-establishment ideas, cannot be suppressed, and ultimately triumph in new consciousness at multiple levels. States struggle vainly, equating everything “new” with being a “threat,” and ultimately collapse under the weight of their own ignorance and inability to adapt.
The first few chapters suggest that our reaction to 9-11 opened a Pandora’s box, that AF-IQ are our Waterloo, and that “non-state actors” is a generic term for all that is outside the state.
He specifies six “identity” migration paths: networks of conversion and subversion (e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood and the Pentecostals); autonomous urban subcultures (e.g. gangs); emerging nations; fighter fraternities; militarized Bucellani (vandal elites, e.g. the Taliban, a state within a state); and our own cross to bear, intercessor security sub-cultures (e.g. our military-industrial complex to which I would add, a Congress lacking in integrity).
TWO MAJOR POINTS:
1. The US Military is no longer Of, By, and For We the People, no longer a collective citizenry that is armed–in brief, the militarization of national policy has made us arrogant, ignorant, and repugnant.
2. By resisting change we are promoting change. I cannot help myself, I think of the anti-Borg from outer space that grows when we nuke it, shrinks when we show love.
The author points out that every US military intervention into a Muslim society has failed; that our failures lead to new formulas (reformations) rather than new directions (transformations); and that in being drawn in and maintaining the chaos space, we are feeding the metamorphosis of non-state cocoons into butterflies very hard to hit with an artillery shell or even an aimed bullet.
The middle of the book expands on the theme of war as “creative destruction” (a mantra in the commercial intelligence world), while pointing out that in ignoring morality, the Napoleonic and Clauswitzian essential (“the moral is to the physical as three is to one”–today I would make it 10:1) the US is giving up the very power that matters, and failing to understand that identity is stronger than materiel. He points out that the “others” have commitment, sacrifice, collective effectiveness, breeding in battle, are fighting on their home ground, and achieve transcendence in resisting the US. Meanwhile, in the US, 1% do the fighting and the other 99% are asked to go shopping.
P26: “America’s problem comes with the discovery that it is merely the midwife rather than the godfather. We fight so as to get nothing from those we legitimize.”
I have a note culture is identity is being is sacred and together form consciousness.
The author is critical of Al Qaeda and its many mistakes, but credits them with drawing the US out into creating the chaos space within which other indigenous forces are rising.
His section on method discusses the utility of history and anthropology, both foreign “denied areas” to the USG IMHO.
The author points out the obvious that is not so obvious to those sacrificing America’s blood, treasure, and spirit in our name, i.e. two thirds of humanity is “the other” living the Hobbsian life that is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.,” For these people, war is an entry point to negotiations, and the new players acquire legitimacy by out-lasting (not necessarily out-fighting) US forces.
As we move toward the conclusion the author speculates that we may be headed for a new Middle Ages with a global pandemic, climate change, and an energy crunch (to which I would add water crunch).
AF-IQ went wrong in five ways:
1. Liberation fizzled (I add, because neither Rumsfeld nor Gates are serious about waging peace)
2. Al Qaeda showed up in Iraq (the author neglects Iran’s glee and strategic leverage)
3. No miraculous reconstruction (according to Paul Wolfowitz , “at their expense”)
4. No democratic transformation (to have expected one was idiocy or mendacity)
5. World did not, will not, accept the “Long War”
Chapter 8 on “fit” credits Martin van Creveld with the term, and elegantly discusses how our leaders went to war, ordered others to war, without the slightest understanding of “the other.” The “American way of battle” that Tony Echeverria has pointed out is not a way of war at all, has been, in the author’s words, “the helpmate to enemy realization.”
On page 176 the author itemizes our “transformation” rules set and concludes it is flat out wrong.
1. Situational awareness (based on remote technologies)
2. Precision killing (ineffective for individuals)
3. Rapid dominance (not so fast)
4. Kill enough of the enemy and their leaders, and resistance will fold (simply not so).
PP191-192 are a stake in the heart of COIN–it is not wrong, it is simply ignorant and oblivious of the strategic Whole of Government and Whole Earth ramifications of spending all of our money on a lemon. COIN is (my words) “Borg triumphant.” COIN is “bento-box consciousness” and RAND–normally a supplicant cheer-leader– has outlined its demise in detail.
P202: “The events of 9/11 drove us back to Great War, but this time without *the people.* This Great War was *and remains* a war of the leadership and its tribal confederacy. It is a state-military enterprise, but far more significantly, *it is also now a state-military liturgy.* (Emphasis in original.]
The author notes that the “other” has a faster learning curve than we do, and on page 182: “Today’s non-state actors know us better than we wish to know them.” This is an indictment of the USG.
GOLDEN CANDLE AWARD: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
OSS ’04: To the JHU-APL, and especially to Capt Joseph Mazzafro, USN (Ret) and Dr. Michael Vlahos, for sustained excellence in the integration of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) into their complex all-source analytic efforts in support of the Department of Defense. Aided by the Gibson Library, they have set a new standard.
Michael Vlahos is an iconoclast and a free-thinker.
The U.S. Intelligence Community and its policy and operational consumers do not “do” culture and are seriously challenged at geo-anything. Michael Vlahos, in our view, has ably articulated the central lens by which we should be crafting our collection, policy, trade, and operational strategies with respect to the rising tide of Islam (India, Indonesia, Iran, and pockets everywhere else).