Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Semi-Open Thread: Beyond the Wonks and Beltway Types. What can Political Science and 'On The Ground' Experts Teach Us About ISIL?

As is our tradition, do treat this as a semi-open weekend thread.

Happy birthday to me. I feel old. I say that every year. This year I am really feeling it. Where does the time go? I would like to thank one of the kind supporters of WARN who sent me some birthday monies that I will use to purchase a great graphic novel series they recommended. Big smiles and thanks to them.

For my birthday weekend, I will be going to the casino, seeing the new movie The Drop, attending a Star Wars themed burlesque show (anticipating your questions, no, I am not the star of the show), and eating at Maggiano's and Wildfire as my dinner treats to myself. I am a master of the mid high tier restaurant scene.

Any other Virgos in the house? How do you of lesser astrological signs celebrate/reflect on the anniversary of being forced out of your mother's birth canal?

A more important question: What did you think of President Obama's speech on ISIL and his plans to "destroy" the "threat" which they represent to the United States and its allies?

I was not impressed by Obama's speech. Its meandering detour to matters of the economy was vexing. He was describing events which have already taken place and/or are in process--the United States has likely already been doing on a covert level the things that Obama is now finally publicly proposing.

Obama sounds and looks tired. Given the difficulties he has faced both from the White Right at home, as well as the mess unleashed abroad by a failed Iraq intervention, and other meddling in the Middle East, even the legendary and mythic King Solomon would be made weary.

A more contemporary allusion: I was not expecting The King's Speech, but Obama's timbre channeled Robert Dinero's voiceover in the last act of the classic movie Casino. Like Dinero, Obama is trapped by a set of outcomes, none of which are desirable or good. Obama is a bound man.

There has been some very good and smart writing about the United States and ISIL that I would like to share. Daniel Drezner of Tufts University offered up a very smart examination of the divides between experts in the field of political science and the beltway wonks and talking heads who are actually called upon to craft (and sell) foreign policy.

One of the jokes in political science is that few politicians or policy makers actually pay attention to the findings in the field.

There are some exceptions of course, with the scholarship on Congress, voting, and some areas of international relations, being the most obvious. And there is also recent work by Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens which empirically demonstrates how the plutocrats are served as exclusive clients by Congress to the detriment of the American people and mass democracy. Their work should have been the lede on every news program. Alas, it was met with relative silence by the commentariat. The Fourth Estate fails the American people once again.

While the answers to questions and puzzles offered by political scientists are often ignored by politicians and policymakers, this has not stopped Republicans from seeking to defund the field. Why? Because recent empirical work on obstructionism and broken government has revealed how the hyper-partisanship of the Tea Party GOP has broken Congress. Thus, the Republican Party has decided to kill the messenger.

Drezner was one of the first scholars to blog as a means of engaging in public pedagogy via new media. In addition to his "serious", "inside" the discipline work, Drezner also wrote the excellent book Theories of International Relations and Zombies. If World War Z is the fun and provocative literary fiction distraction about the rise of the living dead, Theories of International Relations and Zombies is a fun yet grounded and serious examination of how theories of international relations can be used to understand the zombie menace.

Drezner's "What Political Science Can Teach Us About Combating the Islamic State" also linked to this work on ISIL from the resource Political Violence at a Glance. The latter is an excellent primer on ISIL and Obama's options.

Lots of folks like to play armchair policymaker and/or general. While it is easy to pontificate from the safety of one's computer or a TV studio, Obama is held accountable for the difficult choices that have to made on ISIL; but it is policy analysts, junior and senior military officers, as well as lower level officials and soldiers who will have to put their literal skin in the game as they enact the Obama administration's war plans on the street and ground level.

Shit rolls downhill Decisions are made at the top of an organization and are ultimately implemented at the bottom.

The website Balloon Juice has had some great guest posts from folks with military and foreign affairs experience about ISIL, and the types of planning and leadership involved in crafting a response it. As those of you who listen to WARN's podcast know, I am very interested in process.

These two essays by experienced mid-level military and diplomatic corps officers about ISIL are very helpful.

Adam Silverman's guest post about ISIL, criminology, and the religious/political radicalization of young men is especially illuminating. A useful quote:
Finally, there are other foreigners fighting with ISIL other than the Chechens. Most of these are coming from Europe. However, there are about twelve Americans who have gone and joined ISIL and maybe a 100 or so that have joined other groups involved with the Syrian Civil War. While this is not a good thing, the numbers of Americans involved barely registers as negligible. Moreover, what appears to be happening is that the normal development pattern that criminologists call neutralization and drift (.pdf download) is occurring. Sykes and Matza (1957), building on the differential association and social learning work of Sutherland (the Father of Modern Criminology), posited that young males seek out risk taking activities. 
This is done through adopting behavioral norms that neutralize the rules promoting good conduct and retarding deviant, delinquent, and criminal behavior allowing them to drift into what is often illegal risk taking activities. 
There is an age component to this, with most aging out by their mid to late twenties. From looking at cases of Muslim American, Muslim British, and Muslim youth from other European countries that have joined al Shabab or al Qaeda it appears that the normal patterns of neutralization and drift are at work. The difference is that unlike previous generation when the drift would be into a gang or hanging out with the wrong crowd, now there is a completely formed radical and reactionary movement that is looking to recruit from alienated and disaffected youth.
I have had a good number of students who are in ROTC or returning military veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other theater in the "War on Terror". With two exceptions, they are all very much younger than me.

When I look at those men and women in their late teens and twenties, I can't help but to see their youth, how much more life experience they have then their peers, and that they are the ones who have to implement (meaning to kill and die for) the policy decisions made by old rich men (and a few women).

Combat Cav Scout nails it here:
At the Operational level, the planning is generally aimed at creating the environment for the Strategic plans to come to fruition. It’s a smaller scale, generally with a shorter timeframe, with multiple contingency plans based on the enemy’s most likely course of action and the enemy’s most dangerous course of action. This is the domain of Theater headquarters, Corps, Divisions, and to some extent, Brigade-level mission planning. From Brigade level and below, the planning is at the Tactical level, down through Battalions and Squadrons to Companies, Troops, and Batteries, to the Platoon and finally to the Squad and Section. This is where the rubber meets the road... 
While plans at the Strategic and Operational level are frequently thought up and drafted by people with advanced degrees and decades of experience, with access to all sorts of high-tech information systems and the latest intelligence in air-conditioned facilities with nice amenities, the guys and gals who attempt to make those plans a reality are usually High School graduates and recent College graduates, in many cases doing this for the first time in the real world, and they’re running on bad food, little sleep, too much caffeine and adrenaline, using equipment that’s often unsuitable and in varying states of disrepair, and possessing very little knowledge of the outside world and their part in it. 
Things can go sideways very quickly at the tactical level with repercussions all the way up to the White House. All of the previous paragraphs should have led you to the realization that this shit is hard to do.
Do you have any news items to share? Any important developments about matters of public or private concern to discuss? 


Myshkin the Idiot said...

My wife, my son and I are all Libra's. My son was born the day before my birthday.

I heard on NPR some of the demands by the right for how to accomplish the destruction of ISIS. Their plans involve thousands of troops occupying that area for years and years and years. I stick with the idea that those countries in the immediate area need to be responsible for that. The damn war on terror is a perpetual obligation to control global affairs.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to this country that the removal of troops from Iraq would lead to a dissolution of government power or the corruption of others in certain regions. What happened to black people in the South when federal troops were removed and the Southern elite was allowed to regain control of their state governments?

Shit, what happened in Algiers Pointe, New Orleans when Katrina obliterated local control? White vigilantes took up arms and shot "anything that didn't belong" and were praised by the NRA and others for being "responsible" citizens.

balitwilight said...

Iraq has plenty of "troops". They are called The Iraqi Army. What Iraq doesn't need - and the "troops" that should NEVER have been on Iraqi soil in the first place; and needed to be removed completely - are AMERICAN soldiers.

Nobody needs to be occupying Iraq - not the USA, nor any of the United States' favourite puppet-regimes-du-jour, whether that be Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, etc. If I were Iraqi and had foreign soldiers swaggering around my streets, I might pick up a gun too. I know that's what many Americans would if Chinese or Canadian soldiers were rolling down Main Street in Humvees. Why is it so hard for us to see that as a normal human reaction to be expected?

The analogy isn't so much Federal troops leaving the South. The correct analogy is Soviet troops leaving Yugoslavia, or German troops leaving France in 1945. In the former case, the nightmarish Bosnian war broke out. That does not mean that the original occupation by the Soviets was justified. The last people who would be justified to sit in armchairs and "advise" the former Yugoslavians about who should now occupy their country, or what "troops" they need in their country - would be the Soviets who caused the problem in the first place. Americans need to remember that and get in touch with accountability and humility.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

One, the President is in a tough spot. He should first get Congressional approval for an agreed-upon US strategy and the billions of dollars that will be spent over the next two to three years.

Two, there are two theaters of operations, one in Iraq and one in Syria. To defeat ISIL in Iraq, you need a political settlement in which the disenfranchised and abused Sunnis wholeheartedly join the government and re-deploy their own forces--the Sunni militias--to fight ISIL. Once, ISIL forces have no sanctuary and base of support in Iraq, one can concentrate on them in Syria. The USG can do this part of the strategy working closely with all factions in Iraq. However, failure in Iraq means the whole strategy will collapse. For this part of the strategy to succeed, only Iran's assistance is needed in influencing the Shia-led government, but we have cards to play.

In Syria, the best strategy is also political--get an agreement between the Assad regime and the secular opposition we would like to arm to end that portion of the civil war in some kind of agreement that both sides can live with. That said:

Three, in Syria, there is no good strategy for a variety of reasons. For one thing, all of the outside powers who provide us with intelligence and who channel weapons/men to the fighters inside Syria have their own agendas and their own duplicitous ways of operating at cross-purposes to the overall effort and to US efforts. To get Turkey, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia to join together is going to be very difficult. Without a common purpose there will be no unity of command on the ground inside Syria.

The unity on the ground inside Syria is extremely difficult because there are too many militias fighting for too many different agendas. So-called secular militias fight alongside al Qaeda affiliates. There is no over-arching political mechanism for the opposition to the Assad regime.

Helping the Assad opposition means opposing Iran's proxy forces supporting Assad, namely, Hezballah. Thus, Iran's help in Iraq with the Shiites will be linked to our behavior towards Hezballah.

Helping the opposition against ISIL may mean helping the Peoples Working Party, the PKK, which the Turks (and the USG) believe is a terrorist organization. Whether it is or not, or just a nationalist group opposed to Turkish heavy handedness is a moot point. Turkey is extremely sensitive to the Kurdish issue.

There are probably more complications.

I would urge the President to concentrate on Iraq. Get that settled. Push ISIL out of Iraq with a combined political and military effort. That will buy time to deal with the Syria.

Get the Congress to vote on the strategy and the money. Do not put US combat forces on the ground. We can assist on the ground with targeting and planning, but not combat. This is not our country and not our fight. And, air power alone has never been successful.

In Syria, a political settlement that brings the civil war to an agreed upon ending with the Assad regime and the secular opposition in a coalition or federalized government would give space and time to then tackle ISIL who would be isolated politically and militarily, with no sancturary in Iraq to which to retreat.

But, if Sunni-Shia-Kurdish forces do not want to fight on the ground in a coordinated way with a unity of purpose and a unity of command in Iraq, walk away.

What gives ISIL the space to operate is political chaos. End the political chaos, and you have the opportunity to beat them on the ground. Lose the political battle and you lose the lose ground war.

joe manning said...

Zbigniew Brzezinski's The Grand Chessboard and Owen Lattimore's The Situation in Asia state that rapid development in the M.E. constitutes an existential threat to western capitalism via increased competition. Bbrzezinski recommended that the US "cut them off at the knees." Accordingly, one gets the impression that the whole ISIS vs US thing is contrived to suppress secularization in the M.E., and to keep the two entities on a war footing; in the interests of social control.

balitwilight said...

Let's take a break from sanctioning Russia for "interfering" in Ukraine, and count all the good reasons why America needs to bomb one more Muslim country.
If I were a teacher, the one story I would teach every student is "The Emperor's New Clothes". American foreign policy strategy is the emperor's clothes. Repeatedly, history lays bare the fancy weave of lies and deceit that we pull over our eyes and flatter ourselves with every 10 years to cover the naked ugliness of Empire and Militarism. Where is the "Domino Theory" now? Where is the "Counter-revolution" in Central/South America? Where are the "Weapons of Mass Destruction"? Where is the "Fight Them Over There"?
At the time of every one of these "strategic failures" (which are all actually deliberate lies), there were media, pundits, armchair strategists and - saddest of all - "progressives" who lined up behind the naked Emperor, cheered his shiny clothing, and limited their commentary to whether Purple or Yellow was a more suitable colour for the fabric. When the parade ends with wholesale slaughter abroad and bankruptcy and creeping facism at home, a new parade begins: "Look over there: it's ISIS!!!"

As MLK observed (up close, as the "War on Poverty" metamorphosed into B-52 Arc Light) - every bomb we cheer on with "USA!" explodes hopes and dreams in Ferguson, Newark, Washington D.C, South-Central LA, Kansas City.

Nothing any of us say will affect US govt. policy - so it's all rhetoric. So here is my policy program for the USA:

1) Empower and support the United Nations instead of corrupting it. Embrace and fund conflict-resolution within the UN.
2) Obey International Law, without exceptions. Develop International Law even further.
3) Abandon the rogue club-of-3 with Sudan, Israel - and join the International Criminal Court. Use the ICC.
4) Renew the atrophied State Department so that more resources are given to it than to the Department of War (aka DoD) and the CIA.
5) Join and participate in non-military North/South East/West International treaties. Disband Nato (The Warsaw Pact is gone).
6) Apply a single global standard to supporting Democratic governments and NOT supporting Dictatorships.
7) In all USA foreign policy (trade, etc) - align USA advocacy on behalf of constitutional principles or Democratic majorities.
8) In any conflict or crisis turn to all the tools listed above (which the USA has left to rust in favour of shiny PROFITABLE bombs). Military action is only to be used within real (not corrupted) UN sanction, and International Law.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Great points all around. I couldn't have said it like that at all, thank you for illustrating exact and feasible means of what can be done to change US foreign policy.

balitwilight said...

Thanks, just taking advantage of the forum Chauncey created (with what looks like amazing sustained energy and dedication) - and riffing off the interesting ideas that others like you contribute. Thanks to the Internet, maybe somehow things will change from the bottom up slowly.

chauncey devega said...

What has gone so wrong that being a peace activist is a slur? What interesting times in which we live.

chauncey devega said...

How kind. WARN is work of course. I also learn so much from all of the great and smart folks who comment here.

chauncey devega said...

Wow. What cool finds! Any others to share?

joe manning said...

Katrina demonstrates that news media is more political theater than news, blacks being publicly exhibited as America's sacrificial caste. There's every reason to believe that the ISIS vs US flap is orchestrated and choreographed for the purpose of exhibiting Arabs as the world's sacrificial caste scheduled for execution, the object being to dehumanize the masses to the point of being as pathological as their indigenous oligarchs.

Gable1111 said...

I remember a while back former rep Dennis Kucinich introduced a bill in Congress calling for the creation of a Department of Peace. They said he was crazy and because of such a proposal is not a "serious" man.

Gable1111 said...

The "experts" are too close to those beholden to the power elite to be of much use from a practical perspective.

For example, one thing that is really notable about the extent to which we did not learn a lesson of 9-11: al Qaeda spent untold tens of thousands of dollars to get the US to overreact and commit resources and dollars in a quagmire in the middle east, providing al Qaeda with targets in its own backyard. Which made Bush's bluster of "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" truly idiotic. The end result? Trillions in resources bled and the crashing of our own economy. Bin Laden got what he wanted.

Fast forward to today and ISIS. They behead two Americans with the same intent and get the same result. First the fear mongering to get Americans on board for yet another trillion dollar boondoggle, all while the economy continues to teeter on the edge.

A "war on terror" makes no sense as a serious enterprise. You cannot defeat an ideology with a bombs away war. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that many if not most of the foot soldiers that participate in "terror" activities, do so because they have little to live for in their lives given the economic devastation wrought in the area for decades, as a result of the oil "deals" western nations made with sheikdom. The more you bomb, the more you harden their views in place that they have nothing to live for, in addition to the revenge factor.

The best thing we could do is work for peace and economic equality in the area. There is no reason that the people in the West Bank, for example, should be left to lives of poverty, scratching out a living out of sheer dirt, when there is literally trillions of dollars in oil wealth leaving the region every year. There is enough that everyone should at least be able to live decent lives. Take that away, and they have nothing to live for, nothing to lose. No wonder the youth are now growing up aspiring to strap on bombs and blow themselves to get to the after life.

ISIS has done some ugly stuff in the region, but no honest person can say that such a force is a serious threat to the most powerful military force in the face of the earth. We are going to war in the region, not because we are threatened, but because war has become what we do.

balitwilight said...

Well put. The farcical nature of our shiny new "War on ISIS" is even more bleak than you captured. ISIS didn't cunningly and ruthlessly behead 2 Americans in order to fulfill some James Bond master villain plan to lure the USA into war. ISIS killed the 2 Americans ONLY AFTER America decided to begin bombing and killing ISIS members in Iraq. Before that ISIS had ZERO interest in harming Americans: they were fighting a local war. Now that war-fever and propagandised panic has successfully swept Americans from left to right, US intelligence reports are finally released that state clearly that ISIS WAS NOT A THREAT TO THE UNITED STATES.

So America kills some more people; they retaliate by killing 2 Americans; America becomes outraged at this Threat! and Attack!! and launches a new trillion-dollar war to kill even more people. That is the actual bleak and farcical tragedy of this situation.

Gable1111 said...

Yes, it is bleak, and the thought that, here we go again. How many lives this time? How many trillions of dollars this time that we never seem to have for anything that can be used productively here at home, but magically seem to have an endless supply to spend on war?

The timing of it all notwithstanding, they know they can goad America into bullheadedly charging in without thinking. They knew the beheading of the two journalists would have that effect.

Then again, the people screaming for war on the basis of the beheading has sh*t in their game as well. Their bottom line is war for the sake of it, because as Willie Sutton famously said, "that's where the money is."

The Sanity Inspector said...

On the same channel, advice columnist Ann Landers had some still-timely things to say about women's issues that are still with us. And humorist Sam Levenson told how he resigned his college professor job, once the culture of celebrity started undermining his authority with his students.