Review (Guest): Dynamics Among Nations – The Evolution of Legitimacy and Development in Modern States

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Hilton Root

5.0 out of 5.0 Stars Complexity thinking that shifts the paradigms of international relations

By J. P. Massing on December 5, 2013

In ‘Dynamics Among Nations’, Professor Hilton Root convincingly challenges the propositions of the liberal international consensus and re-frames the prevailing conceptualisation of development by introducing complexity thinking to the fields of political economy and international relations.

I highly recommend this intellectually stimulating and excellently written book to decision makers, researchers and students – as well as to anyone who is interested in gaining an advanced and well-informed understanding of the complex realities of development and global policy.

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Apr 14

Review (Guest): Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving Into Liquid War

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Pepe Escobar

5 out of 5 stars Tour de Force!

By Donald L. Conover

Tour de Force! That’s the only way to describe Pepe Escobar’s remarkable achievement with Globalistan: How the Globalized World Is Dissolving into Liquid War. In page after page, Mr. Escobar demonstrates his remarkable erudition gained in a peripatetic career, spanning the caves of Tora Bora to the slums of Sao Paolo and Mumbai; from the halls of venality to the palaces of the gluttonously wealthy; from conversations with forgotten Pentagon warlords to raps with Brazilian gang lords.

Our Neocon leaders seem to think the rest of the World is frozen in situ, waiting for them to hatch their nefarious schemes. Globalistan shows us the consequences of such a blindered [or should I say "blundered"] attitude.

Producers for the talking heads of “mainstream” media will have to have this book. It is the one volume necessary to make sense of our churning humanity in the 21st Century. A quick scan can provide the background on every crisis from Iran to “Chindia”; from Shiiteistan to the Gazprom Nation; from PetroEurostan to the Bush White House.

Escobar demonstrates why it is true that if we don’t find ways to spread our prosperity around the World, the have-nots will come and take it away from us with guns and bombs and box cutters. All of the walls and fences cannot protect the United States, Europe, and Saudi Arabia from overwhelming illegal immigration. Weapons and fences doom us, like the Texans at the Alamo. Eventually they will be overrun by 3 billion human beings living in abject poverty, but with access to the latest episodes of “24″ and “Sleeper Cell,” unless we help the Mexicans achieve their dreams of Texas in Mexico.

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Feb 9

Berto Jongman: Gray Work – Confessions of an American Paramilitary Spy

Berto Jongman

Berto Jongman

Can be ordered now, releases on 27 May 2014.

Jamie Smith.  Gray Work: Confessions of an American Paramilitary Spy (William Morrow, 2014)

Book Description:

An unprecedented, raw, first-hand look into the life of America’s private paramilitary warriors and their highly secretive work around the world. Jamie Smith, a contractor with more than two decades under his belt, has planned and executed hundreds of missions on behalf of government agencies and private industry in some of the world’s most dangerous hot spots.

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They are elite warriors who run highly dangerous missions deep inside foreign countries on the brink of war. Jamie Smith knows these men well. Not only is he one of them, but he cofounded one of the most successful private contracting multinational firms in the world. For the first time, he breaks his silence, detailing the ultimate danger and risk of paramilitary operations—both officially government-sanctioned and not. Pulling back the curtain of secrecy, he reveals in very intimate terms exactly what private soldiers do when the government cannot act or take public responsibility.

Combining the thrilling narrative of a riveting international spy thriller with boots-on-the-ground realism, Gray Work follows Smith through his CIA training and career as an operative, his co-founding of and eventual exit from Blackwater, and his creation and direction of his own company. Espionage and assassinations, rescues and renditions, the turbulence of the Arab Spring, the fall of Qadhaffi, the grit and gristle are all here in covert black ops from Syria to Libya, Iran, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and beyond.

As the founder and director of Blackwater, Smith’s initial vision has undeniably shaped and transformed a decade of war. He argues that this gray area—and the warriors who occupy the controversial space between public and private—has become an integral element of modern warfare.

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Jan 30

Review (Guest): Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

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cover kill anything that movesNick Turse

5 of 5 stars. I was there, he is right on some things. By George James Kalergis on September 8, 2013

There is some evidence for his proposition. He greatly overstates the incidence of rape and deliberate murder of civilians however. He makes it sound as if this was a routine/daily occurrence. In my year there in combat, I did not see one incident such as this.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my experience in Vietnam as a result of reading this book. It has some elements of truth to it, especially concerning the inflated body counts and influence from the chain of command for bodies. However, from my experience he has looked for (and found) many individual instances of abuse of civilians in that war and made it seem that was much more of a regular occurrence than it was.He doesn’t point out the danger we were in from women and children who would set booby traps or shoot at us. It was a nightmare scenario and I’m sure many soldiers lost their lives because they were not cautious enough with women and children. Read the rest of this entry »
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Jan 18

Review: Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War

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Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Halvard Buhaug

5.0 out of 5 stars FINALLY – a modern version of the causes of revolution literature from the 1970′s, January 12, 2014

I am absolutely delighted to see this book published, and to also see it win awards. In the 1970′s there was a strong political science literature on the causes of revolution (see a few examples below) as well as on governance alternatives intended to achieve dignity and equality such that revolutions do not occur. A few examples:

Harry Eckstein, Internal War: Problems and Approaches
Ted Gurr, Why Men Rebel: Fortieth Anniversary Edition
Chalmers Johnson, Revolution and the Social System

The book earns five stars but could reasonably be reduced to four stars for failing to have a holistic analytic model and any substantive reference to true cost economics.

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Jan 12

Review: God’s Terrorists – The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad

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Charles Allen

4.0 out of 5 stars Important History Not Understood By Most, November 22, 2013

The historical half is mind-glazing, the more recent chapters highly relevant to understanding the deep ignorance of the US Intelligence Community and the US policy (prostitution) community these past 12 years.

I have given the book four stars in part because it is not designed to illuminate the threat in visualizable terms, and it is not up to date. Now that Saudi Arabia has declared war on the USA and the West generally (joining with Israel in a truly bizarre satanic alliance), and on Iran and the Shi’ite portion of Afghanistan specifically, this book absolutely merits updating and republication, hopefully with some decent maps and graphics and tables this next time around.

Early on in a nut-shell: Wahhabism spread in the 19th century, first throughout the Arabian penninsula and then to the Indian subcontinent including what are now India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Wahabbism is both a fundamentalist ideology that wins over deep converts, and a form of mercenary religion, buying its way into susceptible corners.

The most important point stressed throughout the book is that Wahhabism is outside the mainstream of Muslim society.

The big surprise for me, and one reason I am distressed at how badly we prepare people for service in this area, is the deep history of Wahhabism among the Pashtun. Today Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Qatar and the United Arab Republic seem bent on funding a religious war in Central and South Asia, and no one seems to be paying attention to this emergent threat. I would go so far as to say we are now, in this region, where we were in 1988-1989 when the Saudis first began funding the global Islamic outreach program led by Sheikh Binbaz and represented in part by young Bin Laden.

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Nov 22

Review: Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012

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Vahid Brown, Don Rassler

5.0 out of 5 stars An amazingly deep yet concise review of Haqqani balancing act — local, regional, global, November 22, 2013

This book is in our J-2 library in Afghanistan and while I have not discussed it with others, believe it is well-regarded. For me it accomplishes something I have not seen elsewhere: it explains the Haqqani, the second most violent and largest group after the Taliban, and it does so concisely.

What I particularly appreciate about this book is the coherent manner in which it examines the value propositions that have positioned Haqqani today at the local, regional, and global levels.

The author’s credit Haqqani’s emergence in the early days to two value propositions: first, the offering of safehaven in Waziristan; and second, the ability to deliver violence on order for the Pakistani military and ISI.

The authors conclude that Haqqani displaced Hezb-i-Islami HIA/HIG) because the Haqqani have had and still have a superior savvy of tribal politics which in turn led to their earning a larger share of the CIA money passed through the ISA by CIA. Above all the authors credit the Haqqani with being able to manage a nuanced balancing act across borders and interests.

Here is the meat, summary notes for those without the time to absorb this excellent book directly:

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Nov 22

Review: Wrong Turn – America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency

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5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Regarded in Afghanistan, A Real Gem, November 22, 2013

This book is in our J-2 Library in Afghanistan, and it is a very well-regarded gem.

This is a vitally important book. The author drives the value-proposition home with his Afterword, entitled “Truth as a Casualty of COIN.” His core point: lies kill military efficiency (including military learning). Those who would cite the vast spectrum of presidential and DoD directives and concepts and so on clearly are as out of touch with reality as the well-intentioned dolts that signed off on all that junk. Prior to reading this book I articulated — and had checked by colleagues at the US Army Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) and across Special Forces — some harsh comments in my summary critical review of The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.

Being a strong critic of defense idiocy and corruption myself, coming off 20 years of trying to get the US Intelligence Community to actually produce ethical evidence-based decision-support, this book by a former commander who is now teaching history at West Point should be required reading in all the schools from entry-level to war college.

The author opens early with his view that the COIN understanding of “the population” is delusional (he is being kind). The population is indeed the center of gravity, but if one is going to substitute technology for thinking, ideology for policy, and corrupt puppets for indigenous leadership, then one should expect to implode. As I have lectured here are there, including to civil affairs cannon fodder at Fort Bragg, “no amount of tactical excellence can make up for strategic decrepitude.” (see the definition of the latter term of art in my review of Clausewitz and Contemporary War).

The book focuses on the disconnect between a military trained, equipped, and organized to fight wars, and the “light infantry” variant that pretends to win hearts and minds while kicking down doors and running air strikes on civilians. The fact is that if there is no Whole of Government endeavor, if the Department of State is the Department of Nothing as Andrew Cockburn recently slammed Boffo Haircut (who gave up his integrity when looking into CIA’s role in Iran Contract and the cocaine crack explosion), then the military is on a fool’s errand at great expense in terms of blood, treasure, and spirit.

I am reminded of DIME by the early portion of the book. We need all four — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic. The fact is that we have a military that is dysfunctional and corrupt to the bone across strategy, policy, acquisition and operations, and a “paper tiger” across the other three domains.

There are five short quotes I have selected that capture the essence of the book, which I will follow with a final comment and eight other recommended books.

QUOTE (117): “When a state gets its strategy right in war, tactical problems tend to be subsumbed and improved within it.” This is an entire book waiting to be written — and the obverse of my comment to the civil affairs gladiators.

QUOTE (118): “But sometimes, in a war that involves limited policy airms, there may well be alternatives to victory.” Here I would point out that until last year the morons in DC conflated Al Qaeda and the Taliban — I do not make this stuff up. These are the same people that did not know Iraq was a Sunni minority ruling over a Shi’ite majority.

QUOTE (127): “The counterintelligence narrative posits that savior generals have game-changing effects, but it over-states their influence on the course of the war.” Yes, to which I would add, it is not helpful to have a Zionist bimbo sharing your bed and a G-2 without the balls the call a counterintelligence foul when he sees one.

QUOTE (128): “…hearts and minds counter-insurgency carried out by an occupying power in a foreign land doesn’t work, unless it is a multigenerational effort.” To understand the details, search for my Marine Corps University short paper (summary of a 1976 thesis), < 1992 MCU Thinking About Revolution >. No one in DC gets any of this.

QUOTE (132): “American strategy has failed in Afghanistan because it became tapped by the promise that counterinsurgency can work only if it is given enough time…” See my summary review of Colin Gray’s utterly gripping Modern Strategy — time is the one strategic variable that cannot be bought nor replaced. The corruption of US foreign and national security policy, deepened by the assassination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago by a mix of Texas energy, New York money, CIA, and out of control elements of the rest of the US government, has wasted 50 years and destroyed the Republic. Time matters. So does integrity.

I am not going to summarize the most precious part of the book, pages 133-135, read these in the library or a bookstore if you cannot take the time to ingest the entire book.

I’ve had to work my way through multiple generations of flag officers divorced from reality and inattentive to the public interest. I dare hope that the serving Chief of Staff of the US Army is paying attention, and that this particular colonel might rise to be one of the thinking generals. Certainly I cannot count more than five in my lifetime out of the sixty or so I have known (Zinni is one of best and on record as saying that the US IC provided him “at best” 4% of what he needed to know as CINCENT). Consider helping me with the following SSI monograph under development, search for < 2013 ON REVOLUTION — Helpng Transform the US Army Consistent with CSA Guidance >

Buy this book, read it, display it, and share it. Let that be your act of loyal dissent this week.

Semper Fidelis,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

See Also:

Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century
Uncomfortable Wars Revisited (International and Security Affairs)
Losing the Golden Hour: An Insider’s View of Iraq’s Reconstruction (An Adst-Dacor Diplomats and Diplomacy Book)
We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project)
The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It
Surrender to Kindness: One Man’s Epic Journey for Love and Peace

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Nov 22

Review: Pakistan on the Brink–The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

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Ahmed Rashid

5.0 out of 5 stars REF A — 12 Years of Lessons Learned in Time for 2014, October 13, 2013

This is an extraordinary book that required a great deal of time, not in the reading, but in the reflection. This will be a longer review than usual, even for me, because this book contains all of the insights that the US and the Coalition have refused to embrace for the past twelve years. It is never too late to learn.

The author opens with a well-known quote on the dangers of drawing a line between fighting men and thinking men, lest one end up with the fighting being done by fools and the thinking by cowards. To this I would add another group, the “deciders,” who in the absence of any familiarity with fighting or access to intelligence with integrity, end up making decisions whose true cost in blood, treasure, and spirit crosses the line dividing legitimate actions “in the national interest” from “crimes against humanity.

Positive up front: US under Obama has given more of everything and progress has been made across both military (stronger Afghan army, degraded Taliban) and socio-economic (education, health, media) domains. To that I would add elections. Afghanistan is about to experience the most extraordinary election cycle it has ever been my privilege to observe.

In contrast, the author finds that Pakistan has worsened in every possible manner, in large part because the US has not understood Pakistan, has lacked a strategy (or the intelligence with which to devise a coherent sustainable strategy), and in failing, the US has allowed Pakistan to drag itself down and Afghanistan to be a regional albatross – a cancer on all others.

The author is quite blunt in describing an incoherent even infantile US decision-making environment characterized by “contradictory policies, intense political infighting, and uncertainty.” In being inept, the US opened the way for regional players to manipulate, exploit, and exacerbate.

Chapter 1 on the Bin Laden raid is utter nonsense, this may be the price the author pays to maintain access and avoid being assassinated. See instead The Bin Laden Story 00-90 at Phi Beta Iota.

The author points out that by 2014 the Coalition engagement in Afghanistan will have been longer than WWI and WWII. In my own mind this highlights the fact that the US in particular, but the Western nations in general, have lost their integrity. They are incapable of collecting and analyzing the truth, thinking holistically, evaluating true costs over time, or devising a sustainable strategy that ultimately achieves the desired end-state: peace and prosperity. A churlish skeptic would point out that no, the West has achieved precisely what it wants, public theater at home, a massive transfer of wealth from the individual taxpayer to the military-industrial complex, and personal enrichment of most policymakers, at least in the USA. Either way, the larger publics lose at home and abroad.

Pakistan and Afghanistan matter not only to Central Asia, where other countries such as Uzbekistan are beginning to implode, but to the Middle East and India. At the very end of the book the author ponders how Afghanistan might follow the Turkish example of Islamic/secular regeneration, and I cannot help but wish that 12 years ago the Coalition had had the brain to leave the British home and make Afghanistan a collaborative effort among Muslim nations led by Turkey.

QUOTE (19) “After a decade, NATO has achieved none of its strategic aims – rebuilding the Afghan state, defeating the Taliban, stabilizing the region – so what assurances can it now plausibly give that it will do so by 2014?

The author defines Afghanistan today (2012) as a corrupt and incompetent government, a dysfunctional bureaucracy and inoperable justice system, high on drugs and illiteracy, with a police force that has the highest desertion rate in the world.
The sucking chest wound: no indigenous economy. Bush specifically refused to invest in roads, dams, water, and power. Karzai has been a complete failure [the author gives Karzai credit and cause across the book, outlining the many ways in which the US failed to develop a relationship of trust with him.]

Pakistani military is out of control and the deal breaker. Nothing the US or other can do will overcome an arrogant ignorant Pakistani military continuing to support extremists and their violence within Afghanistan.

QUOTE (22): “If the west is to depart Afghanistan by 2014 and leave behind relatively stable regimes in Kabul and Islamabad, it will need a multidimensional political, diplomatic, economic, and military strategy.”

Answering this challenge is the purpose of the book.

My nine page detailed summary for professionals coping with Afghanistan and not having the time to read this excellent work, is posted at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.

Books Cited by the Author:

Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign
Power Struggle Over Afghanistan: An Inside Look at What Went Wrong–and What We Can Do to Repair the Damage

Books I Have Reviewed Circling AF-PK-Islam:
Lines of Fire: A Renegade Writes on Strategy, Intelligence, and Security
Surrender to Kindness: One Man’s Epic Journey for Love and Peace
Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West
Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond
Uncomfortable Wars Revisited (International and Security Affairs)
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam

Also Recommended:
Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

20131014 RASHID Pakistan on the Brink Review by Steele [Short & Long]

- – - – - LONG REVIEW (SUMMARY) BELOW THE LINE – - – - -

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Oct 13

Review: Stratagem: Deception and Surprise in War

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Barton Whaley

5.0 out of 5 stars Pioneeding, Deep, Essential, Needs 21st Century Follow-Up September 5, 2013

I borrowed this book from another officer, and have been quite delighted to spend time with it.

This is a much older book than most realize (1969) and its examples and case studies stop with the Six-Day War in 1967 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. It is certain a book that is worthy of being brought up to date through to the varied wars of the 21st Century; it is also a book that would merit a deeper look at the ethics, efficacy, and frequent perversion of deception operations, by which I mean both the mission and the mind-set creep from focused deception to what has been called “Strategic Communication,” or lies so broad and deep we believe them ourselves and want everyone else to believe them also. Apart from being dated, this is the books more important oversight – it does not offer the reader a balanced appraisal of when transparency, truth, and trust are a better investment than pervasive and pernicious deception of one’s own public, global leaders, and global publics. The latter may be asking too much, I will soften it by strongly endorsing this book as a reader for war colleges around the world, with my own monographs (free online) from the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), as the counterfoil.

Now for the good of this book, this is considerable. This book merits vastly more attention than it has been getting, in part because the US marketplace is dumbed down and drugged up, and the US military still has a “hey-diddle-diddle up the middle mind-set.” “Keep it simple” is often actually “keep it stupid.” In that context, this book could be used to teach both ethics and nuanced thinking at the war colleges. The book offers – and the author points out this is the least visible part of the book – “an original exercise in methodology – a method designed to unmask deception when it is present.”

The author’s introduction to the 2007 reprint is BRILLIANT. I can do no better and therefore I keep the book at five stars and suggest that the introduction, and my extractive summary of the book provided here at Amazon, be used as handouts across the war colleges.

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Sep 6