Stratfor: ISIS & the rise of Warlord Entrepreneurs

Summary: This analysis by Stratfor discusses the adoption of modern business methods by insurgents, something long discussed here. It’s progress that mainstream geopolitical analysts are finding more analytically useful perspectives on jihadists rather than the usual hackneyed labels. It’s learning, that if continued might make us a threat to them.  {1st of 2 posts today.}


The Rise of Warlord Entrepreneurs

By Jay Ogilvy at Stratfor, 24 June 2015

As the Islamic State digs in after its conquest of Ramadi, U.S. President Barack Obama has been candid about his lack of a strategy to deal with the group, in part because he is waiting for commitments from the Iraqi government, but in part because the Islamic State is poorly understood. We know it is “nimble,” “aggressive” and “opportunistic.” But there is much about it we don’t know.

If you Google “books on the Islamic State,” you might be surprised at how many have jumped off the press in the past year, a phenomenon all the more remarkable given how little we actually know about the group. One book you will not see among your search results, since it does not have “Islamic State” in its title, is the recently published Warlords, Inc: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, edited by Noah Raford and Andrew Trabulsi. It is an anthology and therefore unlikely to be widely noticed, but I would like to draw on the insights of a few of its authors.

Together with Philip Bobbitt’s analysis of the nation-state’s decline and the market state’s rise, Warlords, Inc. provides geopolitical context for understanding the rise of the Islamic State. Though their prescriptions differ, Bobbitt and several Warlords, Inc. authors define the edges of a white space that the Islamic State is trying to fill by referring to the group’s geopolitical context. By looking at what’s outside the outline rather than what’s inside it, they may be giving us a more accurate picture of the Islamic State than those who claim to be peering directly into the group’s dark and secretive interior.

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A post-holiday bulletin: government fear-mongering makes us less prepared!

Summary:  We’ve survived yet another brush with death from terror, although we disregarded the barrage of warnings on cable news to wet our pants on command of the FBI. There are lessons from this, if we wish to learn. Fear-mongering makes us less prepared for the eventual attack.  This is a post-holiday follow-up to Prepare for terror on the 4th of July!  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”
— Last line in The Thing from Another World (1951)

While waiting for ISIS to attack the San Francisco Bay Area, our household held a festival of 1950’s science fiction films. In them generals often ordered “If you see a UFO, shoot it down!” (without knowing why they came). For breaks we switched from 1950’s government-manufactured fear to cable news — to see 21st century government manufactured fear.

The different is that this time we have learned, through repetition, to ignore these warnings. Yet we have not learned sufficiently to see that we pay for the vast apparatus that creates these warnings. We pay for the endless stream of fake terror cells — recruited, trained, sponsored, and busted by the FBI — for the legions of clerks who write the bogus analysis and press releases — and for the suits who solemnly recite evidence-less warnings to “be vigilant.”

Covering their asses, desensitizing us to real warnings

It’s the principal-agent conflict at work. it’s in the best interest of the government security officials to give countless warnings, so that the eventual real attack (large or small) will be covered. This means that their warnings become disregarded but expensive-to-produce noise. Only adult supervision from the White House and Congress can help, and they show no interest in doing so.

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Germany’s treatment of Greece shows what the Right wants us to become

Summary: The Greek-eurozone tale is a common one, much like that of America’s inner cities. As usual, the Right begins its tightening with the weak and poorly behaved. People are told that they deserve their harsh fate.  But it doesn’t end with them, as austerity is a medicine always requiring another dose.  {1st of 2 posts today.}


Previous posts reported economists’ explaining the roots of the Greek crisis, so unlike the simple morality play in the newspapers. Yesterday’s post said that events in Europe result from similar political forces at work in America, both pushing the west to the Right. This provides evidence of that, in a small way, by Tyler Cowen, a conservative Professor of Economics at George Mason U: “Greece and Syriza lost the public relations battle“. It’s quite revealing, which we see at the opening.

One of the most striking aspects of the Greek situation is just how much the Greek government has lost the public relations battle.  They have lost it among the social democracies, and they have lost it most of all with the other small countries in Europe.

Conservatives respect public opinion (vox populi, vox dei), except when it’s just the views of the mob. But public opinion is malleable, and condemnation of the Left has been a knee-jerk reaction of the news media for centuries — as we’ve seen in America from the first great public relations campaign against William Jennings Bryan in 1896 (the most expensive Presidential campaign ever) to the demonization of Martin Luther King (“commie agitator”). The campaign against Greece ranks among the best of them, driven by a mix of fact and fiction.

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The Greek crisis shows Europe’s 1% winning, just like their cousins in America

Summary: Previous posts reported economists’ explaining the roots of the Greek crisis, so unlike the simple morality play in the newspapers. This post looks at its politics, a narrative of victory by Europe’s 1%, a milestone on their 2-centuries-long quest to destroy the Left. Progress requires sacrifices, so examples have to be made — such as the people of Greece. Nike, goddess of victory


  1. Devastated Europe
  2. What’s the cause?
  3. The Right triumphant
  4. What happens next?
  5. For More Information

Image of Nike, goddess of victory. By Emanuel Lakozas. She no longer favors Greece.

(1)  Devastated Europe

The crisis is one of Europe, not just Greece. As Paul Krugman shows, the people of Europe are paying a high price for their leaders’ policies. Due to its long-standing weakness and incompetent leadership, Greece is merely the worst affected.

GDP change in Europe 2007-14

From Krugman, New York Times, 29 May 2015.

Krugman explains the cause of these dismal results:

… what’s striking at this point is how much the origin stories of European crises differ. Yes, the Greek government borrowed too much. But the Spanish government didn’t — Spain’s story is all about private lending and a housing bubble. And Finland’s story doesn’t involve debt at all. It is, instead, about weak demand for forest products, still a major national export, and the stumbles of Finnish manufacturing, in particular of its erstwhile national champion Nokia.

What all of these economies have in common, however, is that by joining the eurozone they put themselves into an economic straitjacket. Finland had a very severe economic crisis at the end of the 1980s — much worse, at the beginning, than what it’s going through now. But it was able to engineer a fairly quick recovery in large part by sharply devaluing its currency, making its exports more competitive. This time, unfortunately, it had no currency to devalue. And the same goes for Europe’s other trouble spots.

(2)  What’s the cause?

The cause is often described as stupidity by Europe’s leaders. Journalist Ryan Cooper gives this hyperbolic assessment: “The eurozone has become a murder-suicide pact“. Continue reading

A report card for the Republic on Independence Day!

Summary:  For the second post on this Independence Day, see this post from 4 July 2008. Written at the start of that presidential campaign, it remains as true today as then. We have to learn from these experiences and do better if we are to have a free and prosperous future.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}


The salons of our Versailles-on-the-Potomac ring with gossip about the election.  Every day brings exciting news… about Michelle’s and Cindy’s dresses, changes in the lineups of each team’s gladiators, the daily score of money raised, and new fantasies about the “true” values and beliefs of each candidate.

Listening to this bustle, I wonder if we remain capable of self-government?  Or, like the Romans of the late Republic, have we grown weary of the burden — and wait for someone to govern us?  To shed light on this, let’s compare the political rhetoric and literature of America’s past with today’s.

  1. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
  2. The Federalist Papers
  3. Presidential inaugural addresses and State of the Union Speeches

(1) The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858:  7 debates, 3 hours each

Take a look at the transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (also see Wikipedia). They read like term papers of today’s college sophomores.  They are longer, more complex and sophisticated than the “debates” of today, in which candidates volley sound-bites with journalists.

(2) The Federalist Papers, 1787-88  (see the text)

Consider the Federalist Papers.  Originally published as 77 articles, the demand was so great that they were reprinted and eventually published in book form (with 8 new chapters).  They were political literature directed at the American people:  merchants, farmers, and professionals (as defined at the time, male and white).

What if the New York Times were to publish the Federalist Papers, one chapter every Sunday for 85 weeks?  Would they have a large audience?  More likely they would have to donate the advertising space to Public Service advertisements and charities.

Our interests run more to 30 second attack ads (the candidates media advisers run these because they work).  What does that say about us, our minds and nature?  Perhaps this is not what the Founders hoped for, as the raw material on which to build a Republic.  They gave much thought to the character required of America’s citizens if the Republic was to survive.  Here is the conclusion to Article 55:

{Read the rest here.}

Independence Day Inspiration: make it meaningful!

Summary; Today we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, a a milestone on the march to American independence. But we should also remember that journey’s now almost lost beginning — events equally heroic but more relevant and inspirational to us today.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We have spent the prime of our lives in procuring {for our children} the precious blessing of liberty. Let them spend theirs in shewing that it is the great parent of science and of virtue; and that a nation will be great in both, always in proportion as it is free. ”

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Willard, 24 March 1789.


We’re free, but how did we become so? Every successful round of political reform begins with people deciding to act and then organizing like minded people. Why not celebrate Independence Day by joining this company of people who have profoundly shaped our civilization?

In 1772 Samuel Adams and others decided to start the Committees of Correspondence, the first step on the road to independence. In 1785 Benjamin Franklin and others organized the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society. In 1887 William Wilberforce and others began a crusade to end the slave trade in British ships.

Don’t expect fast results. These programs took years, decades, or generations of struggle to win. We forget this by focusing on the moments of triumph and forgetting the years of struggle that produced them. Perhaps on Independence Day we should read the speeches that led to the Declaration. Like this by Thomas Paine, from the first of the 16 “The Crisis” pamphlets (23 December 1776).

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STRATFOR gives A New Way to Think About Mexican Organized Crime

Summary: Stratfor looks at events in our southern partner, whose dynamics we ignore but might have a decisive effect on 21st century America. Trade, crime, immigration — Mexico is a central player in all of these, yet we pay more attention to events in Yemen. It’s another example of our cloudy vision, a weakness that can negate even the greatest power.   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“What nation poses the greatest threat to the sovereignty of the US?”
— Q&A following briefing by Martin van Creveld to a US intelligence agency. Twenty years ago they were incredulous. Now it seems more realistic.


A New Way to Think About Mexican Organized Crime

By Tristan Reed at Stratfor, 15 January 2015

Decentralized but more powerful

Since the emergence of the Guadalajara cartel in the 1980s as one of the country’s largest drug trafficking organizations, Mexican organized crime has continued to expand its reach up and down the global supply chains of illicit drugs.

Under the Guadalajara cartel and its contemporaries, such as the Gulf cartel, led by Juan Garcia Abrego, a relatively small number of crime bosses controlled Mexico’s terrestrial illicit supply chains. Crime bosses such as Miguel Angel “El Padrino” Felix Gallardo, the leader of the Guadalajara cartel, oversaw the bulk of the trafficking operations necessary to push drugs into the United States and received large portions of the revenue generated. By the same token, this facilitated law enforcement’s ability to disrupt entire supply chains with a single arrest. Such highly centralized structures ultimately proved unsustainable under consistent and aggressive law enforcement pressure. Thus, as Mexican organized crime has expanded its control over greater shares of the global drug trade, it has simultaneously become more decentralized, as exemplified by an increasing number of organizational splits.

Indeed, the arrest of Felix Gallardo in 1989 and of colleagues such as Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo a few years prior led to the breakdown of the Guadalajara cartel by 1990. Thanks to geographic factors, however, Mexican organized crime was destined to increasingly dominate the global illicit drug trade, soon even eclipsing the role Colombian drug traffickers played in supplying cocaine to the huge and highly lucrative retail markets in the United States.

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