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Archive for August, 2014

We’re Back in “The Iraq Business”

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

I took the summer to try to construct a point of view on the Middle East and Africa  turmoil and threats.

I put this view out primarily to draw out your alternative perspectives and your critiques and idea.

As we get pulled back into what is now the Syria-Iraq-Lebanon turmoil…….

I made four assumptions in the course of the research:

  • These are socio-cultural, religious differences at their heart, not political or governmental.
  • They are exacerbated because of countries that incorporate multiple tribes, religions into one entity that can’t satisfactorily-to-all be governed, since even forming a government that incorporates all interests is impossible.
  • Because these socio-cultural, religious populations are not tolerant of others, they do present some level of threat to the US population and our interests.
  • The US’s military size and might is almost useless against the kind of small, each unique, asymmetric, hit-and-hide individuals and small, mobile cells. Whack-a-mole and another pops up.
  • The US, acting by itself, no longer has the critical mass or the power differential to act alone. Our power is misaligned with the threat and so not effective. With the US, Russia and China not aligned around common interests, the rest of the world that might join any alliance is going to stay non-commital as long as they can.

I went into the summer believing that the solution to the sectarian turmoils included

  • A regional effort, since the turmoils threated their safety, security and other interests
  • That the indiscriminate brutality of the bad guys would ultimately turn the populations, the tribes, the religions against them.

I was dead wrong on both counts.

  • It sure looks like the turmoil has expanded to include more of the region, instead of the region reacting to manage the turmoil.
  • I bet if you outlined the region based on socio-cultural religious affinities, it would look a lot more like the turmoil areas than do the artificial/official country lines.
  • There is no level of brutality to which human being will not descend to force their way of life on others, to inflame situations, and to keep what they have.
  • There is some percentage of criminals that have joined these socio-cultural, religious zealots and are using this as cover for very bad deeds. How can we possibly tell who is the criminal and who is the zealot? Does it matter?

Any….yes, any….direct US involvement in these turmoils, from humanitarian relief to targeted assassinations of terrorists, gets at least one of the two or three parties involved mad at us, and only serves to increase the number, complexity and impossibility of predicting threats.

  • None of these sectarian turmoils, from Libya to the Lord’s Resistance Army, are separate or independent of the others. They know about each other, if only through the global news, and realize that the sum of their actions and incidents, each with a unique combination of components and phenomenon, makes it impossibly complicated to build intelligence understanding, prioritizations and prediction.
  • Every bit of data and intelligence we get from the region is shaped and/or interpreted based on someone’s socio-cultural religious perspective and filters. We are not really “there”, and we clearly do not understand the root causes of what is happening. So many strategic and intelligence surprises have come as the result of the US and others being outsiders.

Other countries we call “allies” have not gotten involved because

  • “It’s only part of Ukraine. Let Putin have that (after all, he just wants to reconstitute the Soviet Union, not take over Europe), do not create tension or a confrontation that might endanger our populations and our national interests. Our economies are fragile or failing right now, and we can’t afford to risk cutting off trade with Russia and China.”
  • They are much closer geographically to the threats, have much more of their populations sympathetic to and involved in the threats, and face a higher likelihood of reprisals if they get involved.

Here’s the point of view I get to:

  • Control is an illusion in today’s world.
  • Stability and predictability are what “we”, the US and other countries of our ilk, really want. In the Middle East and Africa, the US is viewed as a destabilizing influence. Lots of the world doesn’t care, thank you very much, to be better in our image, and they resent our interference, insensitivity, and sense of entitlement. Every interference only creates more “bad guys”.
  • If you can’t separate the bad guys and the population…..and we can’t because the populations are the bad guys to each other……you have no opportunity to eradicate or resolve the conflicts.
  • The US, and other countries from outside the region, should only be covertly involved in these turmoils, and only in very specific actions.
  • I agree with engaging with the bad guys “over there” to lessen the probabilities of events here.
  • The closest analogy to these turmoils is gang warfare, Crips and Bloods. You don’t counter gangs with armies.
  • The UN and WHO can be vehicles for intervention in the form of general help that is viewed as universally valuable and acceptable to all factions. Humanitarian aid to one faction or another is viewed as taking sides.
  • The bad guys are great at communicating their point-of-view and at forcing their will on others. We are terrible at both. The best we may be able to do is to constantly create problems and paranoia, and “talk down” those zealots who can be separated from the core bad guys. We have to get much better at information operations and messaging.

And, by the way, many of the aspects of this kind of tumultuousness are ever more present in our country today

  • Increasing concentration of wealth and power.
  • A failing middle class.
  • More poverty.
  • Increasing social, cultural, racial, political, religious intolerance.
  • Rising dissatisfaction with and distance from government. More agendas and less representation of the “American people’s” agenda.
  • Law enforcement, the local “cop on the beat” that is the last and maybe best line of defense for the kinds of small, asymmetric extremist actions we increasingly see….remember the old saying “If it doesn’t look right to the cop on the beat…”… increasingly seen by the population as an enemy, not helpful in protecting them, and adversarial and insensitive to their situations and needs.
  • Declining voting participation…..people feel like their vote doesn’t matter?
  • See Ferguson. MO, etc.

I do agree that what still makes the US “special” is that we want to make a difference, and we will try to help make this a better world.  If we do not even try, what do we stand for?   I vote for continuing to try, but certainly not the way we have been.

This is my view, and I share it in hopes that it will draw out your views and criticisms.  Please send me a note at, and I’ll share your perspectives with our readers.





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