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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.





A Thanksgiving Thought: How Lucky We Are!

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

To all of you and yours, the best of the Thanksgiving holiday. Travel safely, and savor the time to be with family and friends, and to do a good deed or two.

It’s also a good time for each of us to take a moment, reflect on how much is good about each of our lives. As I write these notes each week, I often think about how much we have to be grateful for, and how little worry or fear or going-without there is for us relative to so many others around the globe.

Thanks to all of you who make this Thanksgiving possible.


Egypt: This Freedom Thing Is Hard! The Power of Society

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

When the Arab Spring started happening, I remember many being concerned that Egypt might end up being governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, not seen as a positive turn for U.S. interests. After a period of temporary rule by the military, the brotherhood ended up prevailing, in the form of President Mohammad Morsi. Scarcely a year later, the military intervened again and Morsi was removed. The Morsi-led government appears to have been ineffective, certainly so from the perspective of a good portion of the population.

Now the military is overseeing the country until a new civilian government is elected. But the country is in even more economic, political and social distress now than it was one or two years ago. What are the chances any new government can succeed without the international community stepping in with aid that fill the requirement for basic services…, water, transportation, electricity, health services, etc……until an Egyptian government can take over? What’s the cost of supporting the country vs. the cost of continued poverty, instability, violence and the likely escalation that comes from situations just like this one?

I’ve been looking for perspectives from outside the U.S., to see the situation through their eyes.” I found the following article from Lebanon’s The Daily Star paper. It does a great job of explaining some of the politics, behind-the-scenes dynamics, difficulties, and the powerful role the population can play in such a weak-governance situation….powered by a small core of activists using social media.

“How Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Lost Power”
July 26, 2013 By Edmund Blair, Tom Perry, Paul Taylor

“CAIRO: When Egyptians poured onto the streets in their millions to demand the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, few thought they would return two years later demonstrating for the overthrow of the man they elected to replace him. The stunning fall from power of President Mohammad Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood which backed him, has upended politics in the volatile Middle East for a second time after the Arab Spring uprisings toppled veteran autocrats.Some of the principal causes were highlighted a month before the army intervened to remove Morsi when two of Egypt’s most senior power brokers met for a private dinner at the home of liberal politician Ayman Nour on the island of Zamalek, a lush bourgeois oasis in the midst of Cairo’s seething megalopolis. It was seen by some as a last attempt to avert a showdown.
The two power brokers were Amr Moussa, 76, a long-time foreign minister under Mubarak and now a secular nationalist politician, and Khairat al-Shater, 63, the Brotherhood’s deputy leader and most influential strategist and financier. Moussa suggested that to avoid confrontation, Morsi should heed opposition demands, including a change of government.
“He [Shater] acknowledged what I said about the bad management of Egyptian affairs under their government and that there is a problem,” Moussa told Reuters. “He was talking carefully and listening attentively.”
Shater, a thick-set grizzly bear of a man who is now in detention and cannot tell his side of events, replied that the government’s problems were due to the “non-cooperation of the ‘deep state’” – the entrenched interests in the army, the security services, some of the judiciary and the bureaucracy, according to Moussa’s account.
“The message that I got after one hour was that OK, he would discuss with me, agree with some of my arguments, disagree with the rest, but they were not in the mood of changing,” Moussa said.
Nour gave a similar account, saying Shater did not budge. But he added that the talks might have started a process of political compromise had they not been exposed in the media.
“[Shater] is a normal person and his appearance does not do him justice. His appearance gives the impression of mysteriousness and ruthlessness, but he is well-mannered and gentle,” Nour said.
The dinner on a terrace around the swimming pool of Nour’s eighthfloor duplex apartment was cut short when journalists got wind of the meeting. Moussa left convinced that the Brotherhood was over-confident, incompetent in government and had poor intelligence on what was brewing in the streets and the barracks.
Yet many Egyptian and foreign observers still expected the tightly knit Islamist movement, hardened by decades of repression, to dominate Egypt and the region for a prolonged period, after 60 years of rule by army-backed strongmen. Instead, Morsi was bundled out of office and into military detention on July 3 amid huge anti-government protests, barely a year after he became the first democratically elected leader of the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Morsi’s failure sends a powerful message: Winning an election is not sufficient to govern Egypt. Post-Mubarak rulers need the acquiescence of the security establishment and of the population at large. Upset either and your position is not secure.
Egypt’s Islamists may draw the bitter lesson that the “deep state” will not let them wield real power, even with a democratic mandate. This report, compiled from interviews with senior Muslim Brotherhood and secular politicians, youth activists, military officers and diplomats, examines four turning points on Egypt’s revolutionary road: the Brotherhood’s decision to seek the presidency; the way Morsi pushed through the constitution; the failures of the secular opposition; and the military’s decision to step in.
Morsi and some senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, who have been held incommunicado since the coup, could not be reached for comment.
With the Brotherhood angrily resisting its eviction from power, the prospects of Egypt’s second transition to democracy being smoother than the first look slight. This time, the army says it does not wish to exercise power directly as it did in 2011-12 after Mubarak’s fall. But few doubt that armed forces commander General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who planned Morsi’s overthrow and has since been promoted to deputy prime minister as well as defense minister, is the man now in control.
In the immediate aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, the Brotherhood had no intention of ruling. It reassured secular Egyptians and the army by promising publicly not to seek the presidency or an outright parliamentary majority.
“I met Shater three times in 2011/2012 and each time it was clear that the political appetite was growing, but the first time he was extremely explicit that the Brotherhood would not seek political power right away,” said U.S. academic Nathan Brown, a leading expert on Egypt at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He was very clear to the reasons: The world’s not ready for it, Egypt’s not ready for it, and – the phrase he kept using – the burdens of Egypt are too big for any one political actor. Those turned out to be very sound judgments but he abandoned them.”Events began to take on a momentum of their own. The Brotherhood won control of parliament in alliance with smaller Islamist and independents, but soon found that was not sufficient to pass or implement legislation. An army council kept the keys to power.
As the frustrations grew, some members of the Brotherhood – particularly the young – began to press for the movement to change its stance and bid for the presidency and the executive power it would bring.
“The entire council of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood was against the presidential nomination,” said Gehad al-Haddad, 31, one of the leading young Islamists. So Haddad and 16 other youth activists exploited Facebook and Twitter to change minds.
“We lobbied, the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood, we literally lobbied. We put up a chart of the Shura council members and decided which ones to pressure to change their vote,” the British-educated activist, now the movement’s spokesman, said in a midnight interview at a pro-Morsi protest camp outside a mosque in eastern Cairo. “The Muslim Brotherhood takes its vote from the grass roots up, even that vote.”
Opponents argued that the quest for executive power was premature and would fuel suspicion and hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood, which had long pursued a patient, gradualist strategy.
The issue came to a head at a marathon closed-door meeting of the Brotherhood’s Shura Council at its four-storey headquarters in the hilltop Moqattam districtthat overlooks Cairo from the south.
“We remained for three days, debating, each team giving the justifications of the opinion it had, whether accepting or rejecting. And when the vote happened, the decision was just by three or four votes,” said Essam Hashish, 63, a university engineering lecturer and Shura member.
It was one of the most closely contested votes in the history of the movement and went to three rounds. Just 56 of the 108 members voted on the decisive ballot to put up a candidate for president, while 52 voted against. After that, support for Shater as the Brotherhood’s candidate for president became overwhelming.
The Islamists had earlier looked at nominating someone outside their movement, approaching respected judges Ahmad Mekky and Hossam Gheriyani, who had stood up to Mubarak. Both declined.
Insiders said Shater’s charisma and ambition were key factors. The furniture and shopping mall magnate was the dominant politician in the movement, described by colleagues and foreign diplomats as a powerful, pragmatic negotiator used to getting his way.
But his candidacy was short-lived. The electoral commission, which was headed by a Mubarak appointee, disqualified him on the grounds that he had been convicted of a criminal offence in 2007, even if the charges seemed politically motivated.
The mantle of Brotherhood candidate thus fell uncomfortably on the shoulders of Morsi, a provincial engineering professor who had studied in the United States but lacked the political savvy and public-speaking ability than Shater had.
“When we took the decision to nominate Morsi, after the withdrawal of Khairat al-Shater, he [Morsi] returned home weeping: He had been given a responsibility that he had not sought,” Hashish said. “It was known that whoever took responsibility at this time would not find the road covered in roses. But we also knew that there was nobody at that time who could undertake this the way we could.”
Morsi narrowly won the presidential election on the second round of voting with 51.73 percent of the vote against Ahmad Shafik, a former air force general who was Mubarak’s last prime minister and faithful ally. The chubby, bespectacled Islamist owed his victory partly to the support of liberal and leftist candidates who threw their weight behind him between the two rounds. Their supporters hated Shafik and were given a string of assurances that Morsi would form an inclusive government, and involve them and civil society in drafting a new constitution.
Voters who switched from secular candidates on the first round to Morsi in the runoff were dubbed “lemon squeezers” in reference to the Egyptian tradition of making unpalatable food edible with a splash of lemon juice.
Morsi moved swiftly to shake up the military after his inauguration on June 30, 2012. Within six weeks, he summoned Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76, who had served Mubarak for two decades and was interim head of state after him, and told him to retire, along with the U.S.-trained chief of staff, General Sami Enan. Morsi appointed Sisi, a pious Muslim, as commander of the armed forces.
In one of the biggest misunderstandings of his term, the president believed he had stamped his authority on the men in uniform. In reality, the officer corps was willing to see two old retainers put out to pasture, clearing a blocked promotion ladder. “They [the Brotherhood] misread what happened. We allowed it to happen,” said one colonel.
The military still viewed with deep suspicion a head of state who, they believed, saw Egypt as “just part of a bigger [Islamic] Caliphate,” the colonel added.
Morsi believed the military would not act against him, especially if the Brotherhood took care of the army’s economic interests when drafting a new constitution. “He thought Sisi was his guy,” a senior Western diplomat explained. “He didn’t understand the power dynamics.”
When Morsi and the Brotherhood pushed for a new constitution they clashed with secular parties and civil society groups angered by the Islamist tinge to the charter, ambiguous wording on freedom of expression, and the absence of explicit guarantees of the rights of women, Christians and non-government organizations.
After weeks of debate, fear that a judiciary packed with Mubarak-era appointees would dissolve the constituent assembly helped prompt Morsi to issue a decree shielding the assembly from legal challenge and putting the president above judicial review. It was a move borne out of the Brotherhood’s deep suspicion that the judiciary was out to undo all its electoral gains. When Morsi rammed the new charter through, the opposition walked out.
“The truth is that the declaration [taking supra-legal powers] was a big mistake,”
said Nour. It was still possible to rebuild confidence between Morsi and the political forces, he said, “but there was not enough effort from the two sides to rebuild this confidence.”
The constitutional decree was a turning point. Ministers were not consulted. Several of Morsi’s own staff warned that it would set him on a confrontation course with civil society. Five senior advisers quit. But Morsi displayed the same determination and self-confidence that marked his other key decisions.
“One thing we know about this president, he is as stubborn as hell,” said Gehad al-Haddad, a Brotherhood member whose father Essamal-Haddad, a British-trained doctor, was Morsi’s politically moderate top foreign policy adviser and is now in detention with him.
The constitutional decree triggered weeks of street demonstrations outside Morsi’s Ittihadiya palace, which was regularly attacked with Molotov cocktails bombs, rocks and metal bolts. Frustrated at the failure of the police and the Republican Guard to protect the presidency, the Brotherhood fielded its own well-drilled security guard outside the palace in pitched battles with anti-Morsi protesters on Dec. 6.
The protests eventually faded, but that single sighting of an organized Brotherhood force in the streets, albeit without visible firearms, further alarmed both the secular opposition and the army.
Another wave of protests rolled over Egypt starting on Jan. 25, the second anniversary of the uprising that overthrew Mubarak, while the main cities in the Suez Canal zone, where passions were running high over deaths in clashes at a soccer match, spun out of government control. Morsi imposed a curfew on Port Said, epicenter of the troubles. But he struggled to command obedience.
“People at night were playing football with the army which was supposed to be imposing the curfew,” said Mekky, who had become justice minister. “So when I [as president] impose a curfew and I see neither my citizens nor my army that are supposed to implement the curfew are listening to me, I should know that I am not really a president.”
On Jan. 29, the army issued the first of a series of solemn warnings that political unrest was pushing Egypt to the brink of collapse and that the armed forces would remain “the solid and cohesive block” on which the state rests. In hindsight, it was a harbinger of military intervention.
With the exception of Nour, the liberal and secular opposition boycotted any contact with Morsi and the Brotherhood’s political wing after the constitution episode.
But the European Union, supported by the United States, launched a discreet diplomatic effort to try to bring the two sides to compromise on a national unity government.
The aim was to trigger fresh parliamentary elections and a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund that could have unlocked stalled economic aid and investment.
For months, EU diplomat Bernardino Leon shuttled between the leaders of the six-party opposition National Salvation Front alliance, Morsi’s office and the Brotherhood’s political wing, while keeping in touch with the army. By April, Leon had produced a draft deal that would have required both Morsi and his opponents to compromise.
Morsi never explicitly embraced the EU initiative, submitted to him in an email on April 11, although he never rejected it either. Events soon put a deal out of reach.
Haddad, one of the Brotherhood negotiators with Leon, suggested the leaders of the NSF were too divided to deliver on an agreement.
Khaled Dawoud, the NSF’s spokesman, acknowledged that the coalition was full of “big characters and big egos,” but said that they had held together when it mattered.
Perhaps the main reason the deal foundered was that the Islamists considered the NSF politically insignificant. “There are only two players in this playground, the old regime … and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the rest just choose a camp. It is not a reality that everyone likes, but it is the reality, you can’t change that,” Haddad said.
When EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton returned to Cairo with Leon on June 18-19, the situation had deteriorated. “We found President Morsi far from reality,” a member of Leon’s team told Reuters. “The message of the visit was to tell him, ‘Mr. President, you are running out of time. The country is running out of time.’”
The Brotherhood had inherited a shattered economy from the military-led interim government. In the 17 months between Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s inauguration, foreign currency reserves crumpled from $36 billion to $15.5 billion – hardly enough to cover three months’ imports. Cairo owed international energy companies about $8 billion in unpaid bills, prompting gas producers to reduce shipments to Egypt, freeze investment and slow domestic gas output.
Tourists and investors were scared away by images of violent street protests and political instability. The military council had vetoed a first attempt after the revolution to agree a loan with the International Monetary Fund, wanting to avoid piling debt on the country or compromising national sovereignty. Insiders in the early interim governments said the generals were also scared of triggering riots if they accepted IMF demands to curb food and fuel subsidies.
A former senior Finance Ministry official said Morsi’s constitutional decree effectively ruined any further prospect of an IMF loan. “What happened with the constitution showed the nation was split,” said the official. The risk of instability deterred the IMF.
Financial support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dried up because of their hostility to the Brotherhood, seen as a threat to Arab monarchies. Morsi became dependent on the gas-rich emirate of Qatar, which provided some $8 billion in loans, grants and deposits under his rule, with lesser sums from Turkey and Libya, both more sympathetic to the Brotherhood.
The inefficient system of subsidizing bread, cooking gas and diesel fuel became an ever greater burden on government finances, accounting for almost the entire budget deficit. There were shortages of diesel, with long lines at gas stations, sometimes causing fights at the pumps. Power cuts worsened in the run-up to mass protests on June 30, leaving many households without air conditioning for hours as peak summer heat approached. As the Egyptian pound tumbled in value, inflation hit 9.75 percent in June.
Feeling increasingly besieged, the Brotherhood accused saboteurs loyal to the former regime of manipulating fuel and electricity supplies.
Many Egyptians blamed government incompetence.“The biggest form of obstruction was the failure of the Interior Ministry to do its job. Imagine a state with no security,” said Bassem Ouda, 43, supply minister for the last six months and a rising star in the Brotherhood.
Interviewed at the pro-Morsi sit-in, he accused the ministry of directing criminal gangs that obstructed fuel distribution in the days that led up to June 30.
Economic grievances fueled public support for a petition by the “Tamarrod – Rebel!” youth movement demanding Morsi’s resignation and an early presidential election.
Launched on May 1 by three activists in their 20s armed with little more than mobile phones and laptops, the petitions spread like wildfire.
Dawoud, the NSF spokesman, recalled attending an early Tamarrod news conference on May 12.
“They held it in some miserable office … you couldn’t even breathe in that building,” he said.
“And then they announced, boom, inside that room, that in a matter of days, weeks, we gathered 2 million signatures – people saying we want early president elections.”
He said that when he went to his next NSF meeting, he told his leaders: “OK, we can go on the record, these are brilliant people, we have to support them.”
By June 30, the organizers claimed to have 22 million signatures with addresses and national identity numbers. There was no independent verification, but the movement had clearly hit a national nerve. Mahmoud Badr, 28, the young journalist who co-founded the group, told Reuters that Tamarrod had succeeded where others failed by dint of shoe-leather campaigning and savvy use of social media.
Brotherhood officials are convinced that Tamarrod was bankrolled and abetted by Gulf money, exiled Egyptian oligarchs and the army. The reality appears to have been more spontaneous and less conspiratorial, though some unfamiliar faces with suspected links to the security services began to appear at Tamarrod campaign offices in the final days.
Billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris, who left Egypt shortly after Morsi’s election, told Reuters that he had thrown his full support behind the youth movement.
“The Free Egyptians party, the party that I founded, used all its branches across Egypt to [gather] signatures for Tamarrod,” Sawiris said in a telephone interview from his yacht off the Greek island of Mykonos. “Also the TV station that I own and the newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm, were supporting the Tamarrod movement with their media … It is fair to say that I encouraged all the affiliations I have to support the movement. But there was no financing, because there was no need.”
Exactly when the military decided it would overthrow Morsi is disputed. Senior officers said that General Sisi, up until the last day of his ultimatum for the president to accept a power-sharing agreement, continued to hope Morsi would agree to call a referendum on the continuation of his rule. That would have given a constitutional fig-leaf to his departure.
A senior army colonel said the military had acted to save the country from civil war. “This has nothing to do with the army wanting power, but with the people wanting the army to be involved. They trust us, you know, because we will always be with the Egyptian people, not with a person or a regime,” he added.
The military now faces the same conundrum it failed to solve in 2011-12: how to make Egypt work without taking responsibility, and hence unpopularity, for painful reforms?
In their first temporary stint in power, the generals presided over a period of economic stagnation, unabated human rights abuses and scant reform. They seemed almost relieved to hand the poison chalice to Morsi upon his election, even though they did not trust the Muslim Brotherhood with all the levers of power.
This time, it’s different, said the colonel. The army will not govern and there will be a short, sharp transition to elected civilian government. Yet despite a sudden infusion of $12 billion in Saudi, UAE and Kuwaiti aid, the starting conditions look worse than for the previous period of military rule.

The Brotherhood is entrenched in sullen opposition, determined to prevent the new technocratic government succeeding where its own administration failed. The army vacillates between saying it wants to include the Brotherhood in a new political process and cracking down on its leaders, accused of inciting violence and betraying the country. Morsi, his closest aides and the Brotherhood’s most powerful politicians are being held in extra-judicial custody by the army at undisclosed locations.
Those leaders still at large say they have begun a long march of nonviolent resistance until the Brotherhood prevails over the army. But a radical fringe of Islamists may revert to armed struggle and assassinations. First signs are visible in the lawless Sinai peninsula. Others may go back to a strategy of Islamizing Egyptian society from the grassroots up, rather than the top down.
Repression will only strengthen the Brotherhood, said Haddad. “This is an organization built for 85 years under oppressive regimes. That is our comfort zone. They just pushed us back into it.
“This is a standoff. Either we force the military’s head back into their barracks, and they have to be taught a lesson not to pop their head back into the political scene ever again, or we die trying,” he added.”

We’d love to share your thoughts and views. Send me a note at, and we’ll share them with our readers.


How Do You Leave A Country Like Afghanistan? Part 2

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Continuing the theme from my last note, I recommend to you the Center for a New Amertican Security’s May, 2013 paper, “Toward a Successful Outcome in Afghanistan.” It’s written by three of the most experienced and thoughtful experts you could imagine, General John Allen, USMC (Ret.); Michelle Flournoy; and Michael O’Hanlon.

Following is the Summary from the paper, and the URL for the entire paper follows the Summary.

“The United States can still achieve its strategic
objectives in Afghanistan if it maintains and
adequately resources its current policy course –
and if Afghan partners in particular do their part,
including by successfully navigating the shoals of
their presidential election and transition in 2014.

The core reasons for this judgment are the impressive
progress of the Afghan security forces and the
significant strides made in areas such as agriculture,
health and education, combined with the
promising pool of human capital that is increasingly
influential within the country and that may
be poised to gain greater influence in the country’s
future politics. However, the United States and
other international security and development
partners would risk snatching defeat from the jaws
of something that could still resemble victory if,
due to frustration with President Hamid Karzai or
domestic budgetary pressures, they were to accelerate
disengagement between now and 2014 and
under-resource their commitment to Afghanistan
after 2014.

Afghan partners need to understand their role
in this process, too, for the international support
on which they depend will surely be contingent
on a reasonable level of electoral integrity and
political progress. Pakistan has an important role
to play as well, in its willingness to pressure the
Taliban sanctuaries still allowed to exist on its soil
– though Islamabad’s present activities, however
regrettable in some ways, may not in themselves be
enough to derail the mission.

It is highly desirable that Washington and Kabul
clarify and solidify their commitment to an
enduring partnership as soon as possible. This
would reduce incentives for hedging behavior in
Afghanistan and Pakistan and contribute to a
constructive atmosphere for the campaigns leading
up to the crucial April 2014 Afghan presidential

I’d love to share your views and ideas with our readers. Please send me a note at, and I’ll get it out.



How Do Africa and the Middle East Sort Themselves Out?

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

I spent a bit of time trying to learn more about the underlying issues……aside from weak governance, poverty and lack of food and water…….that are among the phenomenon causing the unrest and enabling the threats our country sees as concerns for our national security.

It seems evident that the borders that resulted in 50+ countries in Africa alone are a piece of the puzzle. It’s no surprise that tribes, cultures, religions with little in common find themselves unable to produce central governments that can and do equitably provide structure, security and services to all. Almost regardless of which faction leads and what alliances may be formed, someone is unhappy. Keeping this in perspective, many countries face these challenges at this early stage in their existence. But, a continent of them, where differences cross borders and span regions, with not much of a middle class to provide stability……that’s a very complex, dynamic, dangerous, hard to understand circumstance. Try developing an Africa policy with all these phenomena and affects to consider.

Lots of outside influences make the continent and the Middle East even more difficult a situation. I’ve seen several articles recently describing how the South American drug cartels are moving into Africa, both for sourcing and distribution routes to Europe.

Here are some data points, and an approach from Mike O’Hanlon. Don’t have the answers, but will look forward to your comments and ideas.
“Islamists In Egypt Strengthen Their Grip”
Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2013
“Ban of Gadhafi Officials Raises Fears of a Broad Purge in Libya”
Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2013
“Bosnia Lends Clue To Syria Strategy”
By: Michael E. O’Hanlon
USA Today Opinion | May 3, 2013

“The recent hullabaloo over Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons is appropriate at one level but surreal at another. When a dictator such as Syrian President Bashar Assad has already killed tens of thousands of his own people with the most brutal and indiscriminate of tactics, the fact that he might have harmed a few dozen more with sarin gas, while horrible, does not radically change the complexion of the conflict.

That President Obama has said Syria’s use of chemical weapons would constitute crossing a “red line,” means he will have to act. If U.S. intelligence eliminates any remaining doubts about the use of chemical weapons, the United States will probably have to retaliate — perhaps with cruise missile strikes against whatever Syrian army unit did the deed.

But what about the broader problem? Is the United States, already weary of wars, burdened by debt, and chastised by the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences, going to stand aside indefinitely in this war?

Obama’s critics want him to “do something.” They refer to the Rwanda genocide of 1994, or the more successful Libya intervention of 2011, and demand that the U.S., along with other NATO states and the Arab League, find a way to end the carnage. Arm the rebels, establish a no-fly zone, set up safe areas for internally displaced persons and refugees.

Indeed, I tend to support these kinds of ideas myself, and the president is reportedly considering providing some arms to some of the insurgents more seriously than he did before.

Before entering war
Even so, Obama is right to be wary of putting U.S. credibility on the line when there is no clear exit strategy. The Syrian insurgency is a motley bunch that includes al-Qaeda-linked extremists. The overthrow of Assad would no more end Syria’s war than the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 brought peaceful bliss to Iraq.

We need a debate about the right exit strategy in Syria before we enter into the war. The right model is neither Iraq, nor Afghanistan nor Libya, but the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Two decades ago, we watched similar killings for a couple years in the nation that had broken away from Yugoslavia, until international outrage and battlefield dynamics converged to make a solution possible. We bombed Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian militias, then forced him into a deal that created a “soft partition” of Bosnia.

It wasn’t perfect, but 18 years later, Serbs, Muslims and Croats have not gone back to war.

Syria could be harder because the insurgents are so fractured. But by offering the various factions help — not only now on the battlefield, but also later as they try to rebuild Syria once Assad is gone — we can establish influence and leverage. This will not be easy and will hardly guarantee a great outcome. But it is far more promising than the trajectory we are on.

With a Bosnia-type approach, Assad’s Alawite minority would keep a section of the country, most likely along the coast, where local police would be the main security forces. Assad himself would have to step down and ideally would go into exile. Kurds would keep similar sections of the country in the north. The main central cities would be shared.

Establish basic rights
And, of course, minority rights would be enshrined in the deal. In other words, having different parts of the country run primarily by one group or another would not be an invitation to further ethnic cleansing or killing.

Yes, this plan does imply a number of U.S. peacekeepers on the ground, perhaps comparable in number to the 20,000 who began the job in Bosnia in 1995. The United States should, however, commit to such a deployment only if other countries, including Arab states and Turkey, provide the majority of peacekeepers. In fact, we should seek pledges of international participation before moving to any direct U.S. involvement in the conflict.

With international participation, combined with a fair-minded idea for a peace accord later, Washington and other key capitals might also finally convince Moscow that there is no hope for putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. We need Russia’s help to push Assad out and get this kind of settlement.

It is time to get realistic about our options in Syria and to get beyond the impulse just to “do something.” We need a comprehensive approach that includes a viable exit strategy. The Bosnia model provides the best first draft for such a plan.”

We’d love to share your comments with our readers. Comment on the Roundtable at, or send me a note at, and I’ll share them.


Boston, Our Lives, Our World

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

So sad, in so many ways.

Have heard all the warnings about this is our new life and our new world.

Guess I’d like to view it a little differently, and offer a word of hope and encouragement. Nothing new, but maybe timely.

There is more than enough anger and unhappiness in our world, many angry people.

Maybe, if each of us in this little community, do only one tiny good deed, one unnecessary nice act toward someone else, each day we will take just a tiny bit of the anger and unhappiness out of the system.

That’s part of a full and good life. And it’s always been a good idea to live each day to the fullest.

Take good care…of one another.

Your Recommendations: Great Books From the Beach

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

“An interesting item attached from O-Dark-Thirty, the literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project It can all seem pretty technical and detached, but these young people make what they go through and what they have to live with afterwards very real.”
Mike Decker

“McChrystal’s My Share of the Task”
Louis Tucker

“Who Stole the American Dream, by Hendrick Smith”
Clayton DePue

“Just read Surprise Attack. Lots of good examples, lots of good info. “Deep” in points, but I really learned a lot about how and why we are so often surprised. Lots of factors here, not just A or B.”
Jim Howcroft

“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism” by Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein


“The Washington Rules” by Andrew Bacevich
Chris Bott

“Brute” and “First to Fight”…good perspective on Marine Corps. Brute is the Biography of LtGen Victor “Brute” Krulak. “First to Fight” is written by LtGen Krulak…..he wrote the book on COIN to be employed in SEA.
Also if you have not already read it “The World is Flat” by Tom Friedman and “The Pentagon’s New Map” by Thomas P.M. Barnett.
Scott Jack

“The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t
by Dan Silver”
Collin Agee

“I talked to BG Ian Rigden from the UK and he gave me a wonderful model for how an operating environment is formed and evolves:

Geography shapes culture. Culture defines institutions. Technology drives change.

Simple, but so insightful.”
Gary Phillips

More recommendations to follow, so send me your favorite books in a note to


Great Books From the Beach

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I got to read some great books over the last couple of weeks.  Recommend each one of them to you.

Little America: The War Within the War For Afghanistan; Rajiv Chandrasekaran.  A wonderful, detailed chronicle and thoughtful examination of a small slice of the war in Afghanistan, written by a Washington Post reporter.

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate; by Robert Kaplan.  All those pesky human and geography phenomena we don’t consider, but ought to.

How to Look For Trouble: A StratFor Guide to Protective Intelligence; by Scott Stewart and Fred Burton.  Reporting and perspectives on a number of case study incidents 

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future; by Joseph Stiglitz.  The more you concentrate wealth, and the power that goes with it, and the greater the chasm between the have’s and have not’s, the more likely becomes the kinds of unrest we see around the world.

The Counterinsurgency Challenge: A Parable of lLeadership and Decision making in Modern Conflict; by Christopher Kolenda.  A wonderfully-written, very detailed role-play approach to taking the reader through the necessity for expert critical thinking, sensemaking and development of understanding that has to happen before good planning and effective operations can take place in the kinds of very complex and dynamic engagements we are finding are the majority of our military and intelligence activities.

Surprise Attack: The Victim’s Perspective; by Ephraim Kam.  Why are we surprised by events that, with more thoughtfulness and an anticipatory approach to building an understanding of the circumstances and dynamics, might be more predictable or avoidable.

And I re-read two great books about the Vietnam war:

The Village War: Vietnamese Communist Revolutionary Activities in Dinh Tuong Province, 1960-1964; by William R. Andrews.

Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages; by Stuart Herrigton.

These are two great cook-books for how to effectively wage COIN and CT on the required local basis.

Got some great books that you would recommend?  Let me know, and I’ll pass your recommendations on to our readers.  Send me a note at



I Am Profoundly Disappointed In All Of Our Elected Representatives

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I’ve tried to stay clear of using this blog for any political purposes, and I believe the topic here to be apolitical.  If you perceive it otherwise, my apologies.

I am so profoundly disappointed by all of our elected representatives in Washington, DC, including the Senate, House of Representatives and the White House.  We sent them to represent our interests and to work to make the best possible lives for all of us.  Instead, I perceive them as disconnected from all of us out here across the country; completely ignorant of and uncaring about what we think of all of them; plotting, preening and positioning; lurching from crisis to crisis; doing incredible damage to our confidence, economy and our nation’s pride in what we can represent. 

It just doesn’t seem like a good way to run a country.

How do we hold them, all of them as a team we sent to Washington to work together, accountable for their actions and lack of action on important initiatives?  Each of us has to decide what we can do to let them know how we feel about them, and to make things a little better.  If you’ve got ideas that can make a bit of a difference, let me know and I’ll publish them for our readers. 


Send me a note at, will you.




More Compassion Needed

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

In my Thanksgiving note, I asked you all to make a point of showing some compassion to one another.

Now, the whole world cries over the deaths of 20 little kids.  I saw a president cry yesterday. 

This time, let’s make this tragedy make a difference going forward.

As a nation, we need to find better ways to express our feelings, frustrations and disagreements.  Our nation is the poster child for violent behavior.

Until then, we have to rule the weapons, or they will continue to rule our lives.

I will have compassion for our representatives in Washington as they do the right thing about this terrible national threat.

But, we, all of us, sent them there to make the best lives for all of us, and that includes our safety and our well-being.

Allan Simpson said it better……”They have to be patriots, not politicians.” 

They should have our compassion as long as our representatives do what is necessary to promote our well-being and safety. 

The moment we see them “playing politics” instead of doing the right thing by all of us, we have to call them out and get them out of Washington.

The Newtown tragedy can be the inflection point for a New Time for our nation. 

Don’t let the moment or this opportunity pass…….until the next tragedy.

Newtown.  New Times.

Take care.


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