Mao, 4GW, and Judgement

Jung Chang’s massive book on Mao – “Mao” – hasn’t been released in the States yet, but was on the shelves when I was in the UK last week (yes, I’m back…great trip, highlighted by dinner with Norm Geras, a productive business week, and a rocking dinner at a restaurant called “Loch Fyne” which in my view ought to be called “Loch Mighty-Damned-Fyne” but more on that later).

I’m about halfway through the book, having read through my cramped flight to LA on Virgin Economy yesterday, and wanted to note some initial thoughts.

Jung Chang lived through the Cultural Revolution, and so has cause not to like Mao much. But she really dislikes him, and her overt bitterness and rage – deserved as it may be – undermines the inherent strength of her argument. The book is full of rhetorical digs at Mao; the facts alone suffice.

If you were a leftist in the West in the late 20th Century, the book will rock your world more than a little bit; its basic premise is simple:

The story of Mao rising to power with the support of peasants who saw Communism as their path to a brighter future, and his success based on his wiliness as a guerilla leader is a lie. Mao was a brutal exploiter of peasants, whose explicit use of terror and brutality match the Islamists we oppose so strongly. He won China, not because of his skills as a military leader, or even because of the power of his guerilla (4GW) methodology, but because of the incredible level of resources the Soviet Union put at his disposal, and because he managed to control the information flow outward to the Soviets and the West – using internal control derived from fear and brutality.
He was a brutal tyrant, and nothing more.

I’ll post some longer things on the book as I get time (and if there’s interest), but two interesting points have been running through my head as I’ve been reading.

First, what does this do to Hammes’ arguments in “The Sling And The Stone“?

Hammes argued, if you’ll recall, that it is the power of Mao’s formulations:

Phase I: The insurgents concentrate primarily on building political strength. Military action is limited to selected, politically motivated assassinations. Any other military action must have a propaganda purpose to cement the population’s support of the insurgents.

Phase II: The insurgents gain strength and consolidate control of base areas. They begin to actively administer some portions of the contested area. And, because Mao had no outside sponsor supplying weapons [an assertion contradicted by Chang – Ed.], they conducted military operations both to capture arms and to wear down government forces.

Phase III: The insurgents commit regular forces (which have been carefully husbanded up to this point) in a final offensive against the government. This phase can only succeed if the “correlation of forces” has been shifted to the insurgents during the early phases.

that drives the power of 4GW. Does it make any difference if Phase I is in fact based on brutalizing the population into supporting the insurgents? And if Phase II can only work if a powerful sponsor is maintaining a flow of cash and materiel (as China did in Vietnam)?

I don’t know, and I want to think hard about this (which means: I want you to think hard about it and help me develop my ideas).

Second, and here’s one that will get me into serious trouble, but I have to ask anyway. Mao was unquestionably evil. There were, in almost every case, less-brutal, equally effective alternatives to the routes he took.

But – and here’s the but – what would China today be like if the Nationalists has won? Would they have created a supersized version of Taiwan (good outcome) or simply have been equally tyrannical and oligarchic? And if you think China is better off today – stronger, more prosperous, no less free – than it would have been under Nationalist tyranny (note that their status in Taiwan as a client state of the US leads me to guess that they were more liberal than they would have otherwise been), do you change your judgement of Mao?

IRA Dumps Weapons

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Derby (pronounced “Dahby”), listening to the BBC News discuss today’s announcement that the IRA has announced an end to terrorist attacks.

It’s an interesting – and hopeful – piece of news. They have been running down the history of IRA violence since the 1970’s, and point out that over 3,000 people were killed in the IRA conflict. I hadn’t thought of it as being that deadly, thinking more of the polite warnings before bombs were set off in London in the 1980’s.

The interesting question, obviously, is the effect of 7/7 and 7/21 on this decision.I’ve been dining with my co-workers – part of the reason for my trip is to take the folks here out and get to know them. They’re young information workers, hip, liberal, anti-war marchers almost to a man.

And the bombings have made them quite willing to see the Muslim community in the U.K. placed under close watch; the radical imams deported or jailed, their anti-Western mosques closed, and their disaffected young followers deported – or jailed. Political correctness? Fuggedabout it. Civil rights? “What about the civil rights of the victims?” they reply.

This is a big deal. The political cost of terrorism just went up. I think the IRA just did the math and decided that a change was necessary.

It’s never been free…note Hammes’ book talks about this loss in his discussion of the second Intifada… but somehow I’m wondering of the cost hasn’t gone up dramatically.

I’d always assumed that the IRA had been badly weakened by 9/11, as much of it’s financial base in the 70’s and 80’s was in the American Northeast. And I can’t believe that the donations were as forthcoming in October.

It’ll be interesting to watch and see how tis plays out.

Also Worth Noting in the Telegraph

Terror suspect is a convicted mugger

One of the four suspects in the attempted suicide bombings in London last week spent several years in prison as a mugger, the Telegraph can reveal.

The large pool of young men on the border between society and criminal life serve as foot soldiers for the terrorists – think Richard Reid.

The pool is too large – sadly – to drain, but it is the ideologs who draw them into fundamentalist belief – and beyond, into readiness for terrorist action – who will be the schwerpunkt for this battle.

Hope And Glory

Reading the UK papers in the hotel restaurant this morning before walking to the office – through Guildford, a town so relentlessly charming that I described it to my wife as “a parody of a British town” – I come to a section in the Telegraph (which I understand is one of the more conservative papers) about patriotism as a response to 7/7.

They had a series of articles:

What does it mean to be British? – a set of reader comments
We want to sing Land of Hope and Glory
An opportunity to be British and proud of it

and finally,
Ten core values of the British identity.It’s interesting to me; I’ve argued in the past that a form of constitutional patriotism is possibly the solvent for the “Bad Philosophy” that I believe enables terrorism – and particularly enables it among the disaffected young men who live in immigrant communities, and who are looking for something they can believe in in which they believe they can participate.

In America, things are somewhat different:

Salem Salamey is president of the Lebanese American Heritage Club, and a long-time resident of Dearborn. He says, “We have participated in the Memorial Day parade for the last 17 years. In fact, we are pretty close to beginning to lead that parade because every year we move up one slot. Of course, it’s a day of commemorating the fallen Americans who fell in the line of duty defending our values, American values of liberty, justice, equality and democracy.”

It’s funny, but that parallels pretty closely what the Telegraph suggests as the ten core values of British identity:

I. The rule of law. Our society is based on the idea that we all abide by the same rules, whatever our wealth or status. No one is above the law – not even the government.

II. The sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament. The Lords, the Commons and the monarch constitute the supreme authority in the land. There is no appeal to any higher jurisdiction, spiritual or temporal.

III. The pluralist state. Equality before the law implies that no one should be treated differently on the basis of belonging to a particular group. Conversely, all parties, sects, faiths and ideologies must tolerate the existence of their rivals.

IV. Personal freedom. There should be a presumption, always and everywhere, against state coercion. We should tolerate eccentricity in others, almost to the point of lunacy, provided no one else is harmed.

V. Private property. Freedom must include the freedom to buy and sell without fear of confiscation, to transfer ownership, to sign contracts and have them enforced. Britain was quicker than most countries to recognise this and became, in consequence, one of the happiest and most prosperous nations on Earth.

VI. Institutions. British freedom and British character are immanent in British institutions. These are not, mostly, statutory bodies, but spring from the way free individuals regulate each other’s conduct, and provide for their needs, without recourse to coercion.

VII. The family. Civic society depends on values being passed from generation to generation. Stable families are the essential ingredient of a stable society.

VIII. History. British children inherit a political culture, a set of specific legal rights and obligations, and a stupendous series of national achievements. They should be taught about these things.

IX. The English-speaking world. The atrocities of September 11, 2001, were not simply an attack on a foreign nation; they were an attack on the anglosphere – on all of us who believe in freedom, justice and the rule of law.

X. The British character. Shaped by and in turn shaping our national institutions is our character as a people: stubborn, stoical, indignant at injustice. “The Saxon,” wrote Kipling, “never means anything seriously till he talks about justice and right.”

Not for the first time, we have been slow – perhaps too slow – to wake up to the threat we face. Now is the time to “talk about justice and right”, and to act on our words.

Interesting stuff.

And of course, I can’t get away without my daily N.Y. Times bash. From the Telegraph:

So what do foreign correspondents think of the British?

Sarah Lyall, of The New York Times, says: “It used to be about the stiff upper lip, cream teas and cricket, but all that changed after Princess Diana died. The British don’t have an obvious set of values now other than their knack for self-depreciation.”


Dis Union Over Here

It’s reported that the AFL-CIO is – finally – splitting, with the giant SEIU and Teamsters (and less-giant United Food Service Workers and Unite Here) departing the fold to form a separate, more active organization.I’ll gladly echo Marc Cooper here:

What Stern proposes as an alternative may or may not be the right prescription. What we do know is that the current course of the AFL-CIO is not tenable. It’s stagnant, stalled and mostly a piggy bank for Democrats, many of whom don’t give a damn about labor.

But he doesn’t go nearly far enough. The paralyzing mutual embrace between Big Labor and the Democratic Party is a marriage that is awful for both parties…Labor, who is taken for granted by the Democratic leadership and ignored when real interests are at stake…and the Democrats, who are locked into a set of sclerotic positions by labor leaders who have a veto on candidates.

A wild and wooly time will surely follow, as new alignments, positions, and alliances are formed. That’s good.

Because for the Democrats who insist on running an “Anyone But Bush” campaign in ’08 forget that Bush won’t be running, and they’ll need a stronger reason for voters to support them.

The Sling And The Stone

I’ve been looking for a while for a line of argument into my belief that Iraq isn’t remotely like Vietnam.

As I’ve discussed, I don’t see why my hawkish views on Iraq contradict my dovish ones on Vietnam. Vietnam was both a proxy war and a genuine anticolonialist one, and we missed the boat historically by not taking a stand after World War II in favor of independence (or, as Ho Chi Minh proposed, quasi-independence) for as many states as possible.

Reading Hammes’ “The Sling and the Stone” gave me a nice hook for this.Hammes emphasizes Mao’s theories of warfare, and places the Chinese revolution, the war in Vietnam, the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution, the Intifada(s), and Al-Quaida in their context.

It’s interesting to note that the London Times Book Review today reviews Jung Chang’s biography of Mao, which contradicts several of Hammes’ key assertions about the Chinese revolution (read the review, and I’ll go through those in a separate post).

Mao’s three phases, as set out in Hammes book are:

Phase I: The insurgents concentrate primarily on building political strength. Military action is limited to selected, politically motivated assassinations. Any other military action must have a propaganda purpose to cement the population’s support of the insurgents.

Phase II: The insurgents gain strength and consolidate control of base areas. They begin to actively administer some portions of the contested area. And, because Mao had no outside sponsor supplying weapons [an assertion contradicted by Chang – Ed.], they conducted military operations both to capture arms and to wear down government forces.

Phase III: The insurgents commit regular forces (which have been carefully husbanded up to this point) in a final offensive against the government. This phase can only succeed if the “correlation of forces” has been shifted to the insurgents during the early phases.

Hammes’ key point of course, is the one too often neglected in this age of the technology of war – that war is foremost a political act, and that political action is as important as military action in war that is less than existential…that is where the point is not to simply destroy one’s opponent, wither because we cannot or choose not to.

He suggests that in every case mentioned above, that the winning side focused on the political battle – both within their own society, and within the society of their opponents.

Here’s where it gets interesting as we talk about Iraq.

He makes a strong distinction between the first, more successful Intifada that led to Oslo, and the second, homicidally violent one that has failed the Palestinian people.

In every winning case, the political groundwork done by the winning side was based in a positive vision of the future; of a view toward a hopeful future that could be imagined by Chinese peasants, Palestinian shopkeepers, and Nicaraguan shopkeepers. Mao listed his “Six Principles” as a way of differentiating his forces from those of the Nationalist Chinese armies he was opposing [again note that Chang suggests that Mao was significantly brutal and abusive to peasants – Ed.].

Hammes says:

One final point is essential. It is difficult for a despot to effectively use 4GW as a strategic approach. Although many of the tactics and techniques of 4GW can be effective even for a dictator, the fundamental strength of 4GW lies in the idea or message that is the heart of the concept. Each successful 4GW practitioner – Mao, Ho, the Sandinistas, and the first Intifada leadership – had an underlying, appealing, unifying idea. Although in each case, the idea was abandoned upon victory [in the case of Mao, earlier, per Chang’s book – Ed.], it does not change the requirement for an idea to drive 4GW warfare. Arafat has utterly failed to develop such a message. His approach to warfare cannot succeed.

(emphasis added)

The battle for Iraq will be determined by the relative strength of the ideas of each side.

In the case of Vietnam, there was a strong vision on one side – of an independent Vietnamese state.

In the case of Iraq, the strong vision ought to be on our side – freedom, prosperity, security.

But it has to be sold – even more than lived, as Mao, Ortega, and Ho proved – and we need to work harder to live it and sell it both.

There’s a final point that he makes that I want us to take closely to heart:

Unfortunately, 4GW wars are long. The Chinese Communists fought for twenty-eight years (1921 – 49). The Vietnamese Communists fought for thirty years (1945 – 75). The Sandinistas fought for eighteen years (1961 – 79). The Palestinians have been resisting Israeli occupation for twenty-nine years so far (1975 – 2004). The Chechens have been fighting for more than ten years – this time…Accordingly, when getting involved in a 4GW fight, we should be planning for a decades-long commitment. From an American point of view, this may well be the single most important characteristic of 4GW.

In a 4GW, we can lose the war in a decisive battle – but we’ll never win that way.

The London Shooting

Great dinner in London last night with Perry De Havilland of Samizdata; we met at one of Brian Linse’s parties and hit it off, and I was awake enough to make it into London and stay up through a meal.

He has a great historic anecdote about his house – which you should bug him to blog about, as I did – and today, has a good post up on the tragic shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian man who ran from plainclothes police into the London subway.
I was going to post the same thing, but he summed it up perfectly…

Anyone running from armed cops who have challenged them first in London today should expect to get shot dead given the clear and present danger we are in… but that does not makes this any less of a horror. If Jean Charles de Menezes just reacted idiotically to the situation he found himself in, that does not mean we should feel distain for him.

I’m not sure when it became cool to run from cops – or to fight them once stopped.

I think it’s a generally bad idea, and right now, in major cities, I’d say that it risks being suicidal. I took the train from Guildford to London and back; I’ve got dark skin, and was wearing the fleece vest I wear all the time.

When I got to the station, I made a point of taking it off, even thought it was cool. The last thing I needed was to be challenged by an anxious cop, or a stressed commuter.

Read This Book

At LAX en route to London (Treoblogging). I’m almost finished with Col. Thomas X. Hammes’ magisterial book ‘The Sling And The Stone.’

If you read this blog, you’ll like this book, and more, you’ll learn from it.

I got it on Phil Carter’s recommendation.

Thanks, Phil – for this and everything.

Where’s Mr. Clean?

I’ve bitched (check out this post on MBNA water-carrier, Jew-basher, and Kos client Jim Moran) for a long time that the soft ethical standards of the elected Democrats would make it difficult – or impossible – for them to run against a core Republican vulnerability, the corporate-lobbyist-friendly policies the GOP loves to espouse.

Dean has made this point, with some effectiveness, and it’s nice to see it get echoed over at MyDD. Check out the comments; commenter Gary Boatwright sums up my feelings perfectly:

…Unfortunately, Democratic looseness with ethical standards will make it look like the pot is calling the kettle black.

If it was up to me, I’d hire one of Elliot Spitzer’s top lawyers and give them the task of cleaning up the Democratic party. Let the chips fall where they may.

Juan Cole: Wild Colonial Boy

I do feel like Al Pacino sometimes … “they just drag you back in…” I really do not want this blog to become ColeWatch or anything like it, but the Professor had a post the other day that so perfectly encapsulated his philosophical ‘framing’ that I expected that it would get picked up widely and commented on.

It wasn’t, so I will.He says:

Reuters reports that Israel is expanding its colonial settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank even as it is planning to remove a few thousand settlers from Gaza.

We have seen these sorts of events many times in colonial history. The French colonists rioted in Algiers in January 1960 as it became clear that DeGaulle was moving toward granting Algerian demands. There were a million colonizers in Algeria then, and they had managed to grab up the best land, the most lucrative industries. The Algerian owners of the country had run out of patience with this colonial theft, however, and the colonists would not prevail. Had the French tried to remain in Algeria, it would have meant a 30 years war. The Western Right, so attached to the colonial project of dominating others and establishing racial and economic hierarchies, has been frustrated for decades by decolonization. But as the Israelis have learned, the costs of colonialism in the contemporary world are very great indeed, since contemporary populations are mobilized, connected by media, and savvy about using modern science to strike back at their torturers. You can have a colony to feel superior over, and to exploit, only at the cost of living your life in fear and being brutalized and driven toward a kind of fascist society. The only forces that really want such a fate are . . . fascists.

If you had the academic background I did – studying political theory and history in the early 1970’s – this will be as familiar as a Led Zeppelin riff. Everything back then was viewed through the lens of colonialism – internal, external, economic, social, political. It was the aqua regia of political analysis.

And, in its moment – the postwar decades in which the old colonial order crumbled – it probably had some relevance. It probably has some utility today. But as a theoretical anchor in the modern era, it’s just silly. It’s like using epicycles to try and navigate a spaceship.

And worse, it has become the root of Bad Philosophy, which dissolves every relationship into a relationship of power – and which demands that power and violence be used to free the oppressed from the bonds of that power.

Sadly, those bonds are largely imagined.

But the destruction and pain caused by their release is very much real.