The key to understanding our wars: the trinity of COIN.

Summary:  Most of our wars since Korea have been counter-insurgencies (COIN), in which we employ a trinity of methods — firepower, mobility, and militia. It doesn’t work for us, or for any foreign armies doing COIN. Today we review the trinity and why it fails, and ask the more important question of why we don’t see this pattern.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Celtic Trinity Knot

Out of 3 tools come one outcome (Celtic Trinity Knot).

Since Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WWII, modern armed forces, whether of developed or undeveloped nations, tend to rely on a trinity of methods to fight insurgencies.  None of these are new (almost nothing is new in war; it’s all a matter of combinations, emphasis, and execution).

  1. Popular front militia
  2. Firepower on civilians
  3. Sweep and destroy missions

Armies rediscover these 3 methods, each time dressing them up in the fancy terminology befitting radical innovations. Sometimes they mask their use behind pseudo-science, as DoD did with FM 3-24 (describing our new way of counter-insurgency, behind which they relied on the big 3 methods). We don’t see this history because it’s not useful for the military and their journalist allies to show us, and we have amnesia about our history.

Popular front militia were a core component of our fighting in Southeast Asia. When we recruited local militia in Iraq it’s COINnew, new, new.   Local militia were a staple of our fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the usual frequently ugly results. See these examples from March 2013 (torture by Shiite militia) and March 2015 (“Afghan Militia Leaders, Empowered by U.S. to Fight Taliban, Inspire Fear in Villages“). More articles see this post and this one from 2009.

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Scary lessons for America from pre-revolutionary France.

Summary: Today we look at 18thC France, and speculate about our future. They too had their 1%, hungry for wealth and power. In a time of troubles, they refused to compromise and so plunged France into a long bloody transition to a new regime. Our situation is very different, but there are a few ominous similarities.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“It’s all about power and the unassailable might of money.”
— E. P. Arnold Royalton, the great 21st century industrialist in “Speed Racer” (2008).

"Liberty Leading the People", Eugène Delacroix (1830).

“Liberty Leading the People”, Eugène Delacroix (1830).

Contents

  1. Pre-revolutionary France.
  2. America today.
  3. Differences and similarities.
  4. Books by GOP candidates.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Pre-revolutionary France

There was desperate need for financial reform of the French government in the late 18thC, but deep institutional failure prevented reform. King Louis XVI wanted reform, especially the nobility and clergy to pay taxes, but the nobility and clergy blocked change through the parlements (high courts) and Assembly of Notables (1787) — an opposite outcome to that of the previous great crisis in 1626.

Out of easy options, the King called the Estates General in 1789. The 3 Estates each had one vote: the nobility, the clergy, the commons. This might have been the last opportunity to save France from revolution. Each Estate prepared a list of grievances (Cahiers de doléances).

The nobility desired a weaker King: limitations on royal absolutism, guarantee of individual liberties, and taxes only with approval of the Esates General. For this they were prepared to give almost nothing, and had little interest in lightening the burden on the commons. They wanted compensation for abolishing the corvée (forced unpaid labor) and capitaineries (game preserves of the King and nobility). Their opening offer to the commons: nothing.

With no room for negotiation, the Estates General immediately deadlocked. On June 17 the Third Estate, plus defectors from the other two, declared themselves the National Assembly. On June 20 the King locked them from the Salle des États. They relocated to the Royal Tennis Courts, and swore the Tennis Court Oath. The revolution had begun.

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News good & bad about the fantastic growth of America’s security services.

Summary: We need a sense of proportion when reading the news to avoid being swept away by euphoria on Monday, by despair by Tuesday, and by Friday having forgotten the reasons for both. Today we look at the growth of our police and domestic intelligence services, attempting to put them in perspective with both our history, our present threats, and probable future.  Share your thoughts in the comments.  (2nd of 2 posts today.}

A flag burning

Contents

  1. The Bad News.
  2. The Worse News.
  3. The Worst News.
  4. For More Information

(1)  The Bad News

We’ve expanded the security services at all levels (local, State, Federal), militarizing their equipment and methods. For example there are more armed Federal agents and more Federal SWAT teams, mirroring the expansion at the local and State levels. Plus a massive expansion of their surveillance machinery.  Yet the past 14 years provide almost no evidence that this provided any benefit to America.

Excellent investigative journalism by Trevor Aaronson at The Intercept brings us “The Sting: How the FBI Created a Terrorist“. It’s yet another in a long series of exposes since 9/11 showing how the US security services (no longer “law enforcement agencies”) manufacture threats to keep us frightened. To keep us passive like rabbits as our rights are eroded, and to keep their budgets large and growing.  {For more about this see The US government sponsored jihadist menace.)

Another example is the NY Police Department’s tri-state surveillance of Muslims. Documented over 2 years by the AP; challenged by the ACLU, and (almost inevitably) ruled just fine by the government’s tame judges.

On a larger scale we have the network of over 70 Fusion Centers created by the Department of Homeland Security, providing lavish quarters for multi-agency teams to gather information and produce intelligence. Numerous reports document their near-total ineffectiveness, since there is so little terrorist activity in the US. The latest is a 141-page report by the Senate, which concluded that they have produce mostly “shoddy, untimely and often useless intelligence reports that have done little to keep the U.S. safe.

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A warning about the robot revolution from a great economist.

Summary:  Our series about experts has discussed our reliance on bad or biased experts. Today we see the opposite: how we ignore insightful exports, people who could help us see and prepare for the future. An economist and Nobel Laureate warned us of what’s happening today. We didn’t listen then but can still learn from him. Also, let’s learn to listen better to our top experts; it might be an essential skill for our survival in the 21st century.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Automation robot

Introduction

Sixty years ago science fiction author James Blish described a future in which semi-intelligent machines caused massive unemployment. Of course we did nothing to prepare. Thirty years ago a great economist wrote a paper clearly describing the 3rd industrial revolution that’s now begun (even today it’s one of the clearer statements of the situation). It was part of a major report by the National Academy of Engineering, much of which also accurately described these trends. We have done nothing to prepare, not even to study the problem on a large scale, because the majority of economists had a religious-like faith that future industrial revolutions must run like the first two — so we could go blindly into the future.

“National perspective: the definition of problems”

By Wassily Leontief, Nobel Laureate in Economics.
A chapter in Long-Term Impact of Technology on Employment and Unemployment.
National Academy of Engineering (1983). Red emphasis & headings added.

The great Industrial Revolution triggered by the invention of the steam engine has by now run its course; the age that we are about to enter will be dominated by the sign of the electronic chip. The new wave of tech­nological innovation will carry us forward at least as fast and as far as the last. However, to make full use of these opportunities, our eco­nomic, social, and even cultural institutions will probably have to undergo a change as radical as that experienced during the tran­sition from the preindustrial society to the industrial society in which we live today.

The introduction of successive generations of more and more complex machinery made possible by the discovery of new sources and forms of mechanical energy over the last 200 years not only led to an unprecedented rise in the output of various goods and services, but at the same time freed working men and women from the toil and trouble associated with physical exertion. The role of labor as the dominant factor of production was not reduced but enhanced. The control and guidance of increasingly powerful and intri­cate machinery required that each worker exercise mental capabilities of progressively higher and higher order. The competitive market mechanism translated this steadily increasing demand for labor into higher and higher real wage rates.

As the earning power of an average work­ing family increased, it naturally chose to allocate some part of those earnings to acquiring more leisure time. One might speak of this progress as an increase in voluntary technological unemployment. One hundred years ago, the number of hours worked in the average week in the United States was over 70; by the beginning of World War II, hours per week sank to 42.

Computers and robots replace humans in the exercise of mental functions in the same way as mechanical power replaced them in performance of physical tasks. As time goes on, more and more complex mental func­tions will be performed by machines. Not unlike large bulldozers assigned to earth-moving jobs that could not possibly have been carried out even by the strongest laborers or draft animals, powerful computers are now performing mental operations that could not possibly be accomplished by human minds.

Any worker who now performs his task by following specific instructions can, in princi­ple, be replaced by a machine. That means that the role of humans as the most important fac­tor of production is bound to diminish — in the same way that the role of horses in agricul­tural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.

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Victory through airpower! We always believe the promise, despite the past.

Summary: We gear up for another round of wars, repeating the same methods that failed repeatedly since WWII, with pregame performances more predictable than a Superbowl’s halftime festival. Today we look at the grand claims of certain easy victory through airpower. Like Charlie Brown listening to Lucy, each time we believe — ignoring past disappointments.

“There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.”

— Curtis LeMay, interviewed by Michael Sherry after WWII, in his book The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, Yale University Press (1989).

Victory Thru Airpower

Today’s propaganda: “How America’s Drones Can Defeat ISIS“, Arthur Herman (senior fellow at Hudson Institute, created as cheerleaders to the USAF ), Defense One, 15 March 2015. None dare call it warmongering, although that’s what it is. The money paragraph:

“Fortunately, Carter will have at hand the perfect tool for delivering a series of mortal blows against ISIS without putting a single American soldier on the ground: America’s fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV’s.”

These performances before our wars are as predictable as a waltz. Each round of air power advocacy makes bold predictions of easy certain victory buttressed by grandiose but false claims about previous air wars.

Something similar happened more recently, almost by accident, in Kosovo in 1999, when persistent NATO air strikes so cleared away Serbian resistance that Kosovar militias were able to come down from surrounding hills and retake lost ground.

If we lift our habitual fog of amnesia to remember that war, even RAND, loyal servant of the USAF that created it), added a realistic note amidst its ritualistic accolades about the awesome Kosovo air war:

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The robots are coming, bringing hope of a better future.

Summary:  Slowly the outlines of the 3rd industrial revolution becomes clear, and with it the only path to a better future for humanity. Today we have an excerpt from a brilliant article about this by British journalist and novelist John Lanchester.

That means the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors. The general theoretical proposition that the worker who loses his job in one industry will necessarily be able to find employment, possibly after appropriate retraining, in some other industry is as invalid as would be the assertion that horses who lost their jobs in transportation and agriculture could necessarily have been put to another economically productive use.

— Wassily Leontief ( Nobel laureate in economics), The Future Impact of Automation on Workers (1986).

A woman in the robot office

Excerpt from “The Robots Are Coming

John Lanchester
London Review of Books, 5 March 2015

Lanchester reviews these books:

We are, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, on the verge of a new industrial revolution, one which will have as much impact on the world as the first one. Whole categories of work will be transformed by the power of computing, and in particular by the impact of robots.

… We are used to the thought that the kind of work done by assembly-line workers in a factory will be automated. We’re less used to the thought that the kinds of work done by clerks, or lawyers, or financial analysts, or journalists, or librarians, can be automated. The fact is that it can be, and will be, and in many cases already is. Tyler Cowen’s Average Is Over points towards a future in which all the rewards are likely to be captured by people at the top of the income distribution, especially those who become most adept at working with smart machines.

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Review: Behold the Three-Headed “World War Z”!

Summary:  We’ve broadened our focus to include film criticism by Locke Peterseim. Today he reviews Brad Pitts’ World War Z. {Spoiler alert!} “As a fan of smarter, more grown-up horror-action, I was pleasantly surprised by the film and supportive of its genre-bending choices. So my advice is leave the others at home and take that version of yourself to see World War Z.”

World War Z poster

Behold the Three-Headed World War Z!

By Locke Peterseim
Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly, 24 June 2013.
Reposted here with his generous permission.

Forget the whole 3D added-value deal — for the price of a single World War Z movie ticket you get at least three movies in one:

World War Z Film One – The Book Adaptation

The first World War Z is the book lover’s worse nightmare: a complete and total failure to capture even a fraction of the rich, dark pleasures of Max Brooks’ 2006 “oral history” science-fiction novel about the zombie apocalypse. (I guess I should say, a zombie apocalypse — we have so many to choose from these days.)

In fact, aside from a few tidbits sprinkled here and there, little of Brooks’ novel made it to the film’s final cut. Which begs the question, why option the literary property and call your film World War Z, if it has little to nothing to do with the book of the same title? Which brings us to…

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