More recommended weekend reading – about geopolitics

Some of this week’s stories of great interest about geopolitics!

Contents

  1. A Problem More Serious Than Bias“, Joshua Foust, Registan, 25 August 2008 — Discusses the SWC’s apparently biased coverage of the recent civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  Looks like a bad intel process SWC?
  2. Coming Clean About Casualties“, Columbia Journalism Review, Joshua Foust, 29 August 2008 — “The U.S. military in Afghanistan needs to acknowledge what it doesn’t know”
  3. The three dumbest neocon predictions since the Disaster in Iraq“, John Dolan, The Exiled Online, 25 August 2008
  4. Convention Coverage: Rachel Maddow Goes Post-Idiotic“, Mark Ames, The Exiled Online, 25 August 2008 — The only useful analysis I’ve read of the Democratic Convention.
  5. Best geopolitical post of the week IMO:  “Backwards in Iraq: The Origins of 2011“, Dr. iRack, Abu Muqawama, 27 August 2008
  6. The equivalent of Nixon going to China:  Iranian Trump Card. Russia Can Take Control of Persian Gulf“, Radzhab Safarov, General Director of the Russian Center for Iranian Studies, Vremya Novostey, 29 August 2008
  7. Update:  “Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number“, posted by b at Moon of Alabama, 23 August 2008 — Why do we so often kill “30” militants in Afghanistan; at least, that is what the reports say.

 Excerpts from these articles

I.  A Problem More Serious Than Bias“, Joshua Foust, Registan (“All Central Asia, All the time”), 25 August 2008 — Discusses the SWC’s apparently biased coverage of the recent civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  If so, bad intel. 

Organizations tend to develop biases, which corrupt their Organization-Orientation-Decision-Action loops at every step.  This has nothing to do with the skills or knowledge of its people.  This problem is more akin to those studied by Edwards Deming, the guru of factory quality control.  Honest reporting is largely a function of institutional structure and processes.  Treating it as a matter of honor leads to denial (pistols at dawn does not fix these kinds of problems).

Some aspects of this are discussed in Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis by political scientist Graham T. Allison (1971, revised 1999).  See Wikipedia for a summary.  He looks at three models for organizational behavior:

  • The “Rational Actor” Model
  • the Organizational Process Model
  • The “Governmental Politics” Model

II.  Coming Clean About Casualties“, Columbia Journalism Review, Joshua Foust, 29 August 2008 — “The U.S. military in Afghanistan needs to acknowledge what it doesn’t know.”  Why not just rely on the rule “Never believe anything bad about the Government until they deny it for the second time”?  Excerpt:

One of the challenges the U.S.-led coalition faces in the war in Afghanistan is controlling the narrative surrounding its actions. Often, the accounts given by officials differ so sharply from those of local eyewitnesses that the coalition’s portrayal of events seems disconnected from reality. The recent bombing controversy in western Afghanistan is only the newest case. By examining how various stories diverged over the days after the incident, a clear pattern emerges: the coalition has a problem with damage control.

A historical note, an echo from the past:  Headquarters, United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, reply to Washington’s inquiries about the February 1945 bombing of Dresden: 

  1. it had always been the policy of the American forces that civilian targets were not suitable military objectives;
  2. there had been no change in the American policy of precision bombing of military objectives…

III.  The three dumbest neocon predictions since the Disaster in Iraq“, John Dolan, The Exiled Online, 25 August 2008 — Good analysis, and funny too.

IV.  Convention Coverage: Rachel Maddow Goes Post-Idiotic“, Mark Ames, The Exiled Online, 25 August 2008 — The only useful analysis I’ve read of the convention.  Excerpt:

I just flew back to the U.S., just in time to watch the Democratic Convention’s opening night. I’m amazed by how Soviet my country has become, or always was. We love these hokey big ceremonies just as much as any totalitarian country.

I flipped the channel away from the Convention coverage and wound up on the opening day of the US Open, and there it was again-more ceremony, with all the hokey Soviet nostalgia that comes with it. Jesus, even the US Open has succumbed, trotting out stars from our Soviet past: Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Ilie Nastase-I could only hold out long enough to hear John Newcombe’s depressing name called out, before immediately flipping the channel, which put me right back on the other, bigger Soviet ceremony, the one in Denver.

 I always assumed the Russians were the world’s worst ceremony-monkeys, because all you saw on their shitty state-controlled TV were endless hokey ceremonies, and tributes to crusty old pigs. I guess we’re just as hokey as they are, only with marginally slicker production values, although the slickness-gap is narrowing fast.

… shut the TV off, repeating to myself, “Don’t hate, don’t hate, don’t hate…remember, they’re just idiots, but they’re not the bad guys…Just idiots, that’s all…nothing to get excited about…”

V.  Best geopolitical post of the week IMO:  “Backwards in Iraq: The Origins of 2011“, Dr. iRack, Abu Muqawama, 27 August 2008 — In full:

According to Reuters, the 2011 date for a complete withdrawalof U.S. forces was a compromise. Looks like Bush wanted a longer stay, asking for authorization until 2015. The Iraqis countered with 2010, and the compromise was 2011. The date is not finalized, and it not clear what if any U.S. presence there might be after 2011 (since, even under Maliki’s recent formulation, the Iraqis could ask us to stay longer in a support role after that.) But if you want to know why our leverage has gone down, you now know. Because Bush was begging to let us stay longerthan the Iraqis wanted, we had to give the Iraqis concessions instead of vice versa to let us do so.

This whole thing should have been crafted to get the Iraqis to convince us we shouldn’t leave sooner and convince uswe should provide them with residual support (counter-terrorism assistance, training and advising, deterrence against external foes, etc.)–but instead we begged to stay longer. Totally backasswards. It also points to the significant downsides of any presidential candidate signaling that he would like to stay for a long, long time (a decades-long “Korea-style” presence, for example). If the next president tells the Iraqis this is what he wants, the Iraqis will be extracting concessions from us when it should be the other way around.

VI.  Iranian Trump Card. Russia Can Take Control of Persian Gulf“, Radzhab Safarov, General Director of the Russian Center for Iranian Studies, published in Vremya Novostey, 29 August 2008 — This is a translation posted by Juan Cole at Informed Comment.  Vremya Novostey (or Novostei) is a Moscow-based newspaper; Wikipediadescribes is at “liberal, reformist, but pro-government.”   This could be Putin’s equivalent of Nixon going to China, an unexpected move that changes the geopolitical game.  “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  More technically, the very existance of a global hegemon tends to push other major powers to ally.

VII.  Update:  “Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number“, posted by b at Moon of Alabama, 23 August 2008 — Why do we so often kill “30” militants in Afghanistan; at least, that is what the reports say.  He posts 13 reports like from June – August.

US and Afghan Troops Kill Dozens of Militants in Afghanistan“, VOA News, 16 August 2008 — “The U.S.-led coalition Saturday said more than 30 militants were killed in three days of fierce fighting in Zamto Valley, in southern Kandahar province. The coalition said its troops along with Afghan forces called in airstrikes during the clashes that began Wednesday and ended Friday. “

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Go here to see an archive of my posts about the Iraq War.

Go here to see an archive of other articles about the Iraq War.

7 thoughts on “More recommended weekend reading – about geopolitics

  1. Re: Russia and Iran

    Moscow halts Iran cooperation with US, will complete Bushehr reactor

    Moscow has decided to finally finish building Iran’s nuclear reactor in the southern town of Bushehr before the end of the year, after holding back for five years at Washington’s insistence.

    Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said in reference to the impact of the Georgia row on US-Russian cooperation on Iran Thursday, Aug. 28: “If nobody wants to talks with us on these issues and cooperation with Russia is not needed, then for God’s sake, do it yourself.”

    Moscow has now committed to completing the reactor within four months

    Russia also is establishing ties with Venezuela:

    Seizing on other issues with the United States, Mr. Chávez reiterated an invitation to the Russian Navy to visit Venezuela and said his government would buy a long-range missile system from Russia to complement its Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets.

  2. Update: “Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number“, posted by b at Moon of Alabama, 23 August 2008 — Why do we so often kill “30” militants in Afghanistan; at least, that is what the reports say. He posts 13 reports like from June – August.

    US and Afghan Troops Kill Dozens of Militants in Afghanistan“, VOA News, 16 August 2008 — “The U.S.-led coalition Saturday said more than 30 militants were killed in three days of fierce fighting in Zamto Valley, in southern Kandahar province. The coalition said its troops along with Afghan forces called in airstrikes during the clashes that began Wednesday and ended Friday. “

  3. As a simple experiment I searched google news for “Afghans killed” and again for “Taliban killed”, in addition to the aforementioned 30, there are other numbers.

    The links and references in the article “Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number“ documenting how many times the number 30 has been mentioned could be statistical bias on the part of the person who wrote the article. See wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias_(statistics)

    There could be just as many articles out there mentioning other numbers between 1 and 100, thus negating any supposed importance of the number 30.

    One should also be skeptical of the reporting of any such “round figures”, especially from a conflict zone. It could indicate either:

    1) Difficulties confirming the numbers due to risks and insecurities, or;

    2) Just plain lazy reporting – Numbers reported as fact by one source, spread over the wires and reproduced by other websites (usually ones who lack the resources and independent investigative capability on the ground to confirm the initial report).
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Absolutely, one cannot take this sort of thing too seriously. It is nothing more than a self-selected group. We do not know how many incident reports there were over the 3 month sample period, the denominator of the ratio. If 13, then the “30 killed” memes represents 100% of all reports. If 2 per day, then its 7%.

    As for point #2, my impression is that reporters usually lift these facts from military reports.

  4. Why the beanbag counting? Does killing a certain amount of militants contribute to some sort of goal accomplished in COIN? Confused about this, really. Clear my doubts, anyone?

  5. Yours Truly, I can only guess … Maybe the military forces fighting the conflict are just not communicating with the media properly – for whatever reason; As if the body count in and of itself were important. One wonders if it is something that you should even be mentioning considering the sort of war it is; assuming they are even aware of the sort of war they are fighting?

  6. I don’t see Abu Muquwama’s post being the “most interesting geo-political” post of the week. The readers’ comments, though, are pretty good.

    Russia has been active in Iran for a long time, but formal cooperation has been on hold. It seems inevitable that if the US put pressure on Iran and Russia at the same, it would drive them closer together. I’m not sure that Russia would go so far as to actively challengke our control of the Persian Gulf, as the Russian writer suggests, but they could certainly put the idea of an attack on Iran off the table.

    I’m generally sympathetic to Russia’s resurgence, since it provides a needed brake on US grandiosity. But Helena Cobban’s recent article comparing China’s and Russia’s different approaches to asserting power (justworldnews.org) makes the point that China’s just announced projects in Afghanistan and Iran are more important indicators of our global future.

  7. Someone always says it better than I can:

    “If Washington is smart, it will try to peel China away from Russia, dropping Tibet and Xinjiang in particular and human rights in general. Then again, though, if Washington were really smart, if wouldn’t have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and tried to work against both Iran and Russia at the same time. Meanwhile, the Chinese are dropping the US agency debt.”

    (Critical Montages)

Leave a Reply