Sharon and Rantisi

There’s been a discussion on Sharon’s attack on Rantisi by David Adesnik on Oxblog, as well as Michael Totten, Dan Simon and Martin Kimel. I’d been meaning to comment on it, and jumping into this discussion seems like a good place to start.

I think the attack (the unsuccessful helicopter attack by Israel on Abdel Aziz Rantisi, one of the political heads of Hamas) was charitably, a bad idea. In fact I think it was colossally stupid…It was a bad idea for two reasons:

First and foremost because while the drama in Israel and Palestine is written in the blood of the residents there, it is being played out for an audience of three.

The United States, the EU, and the Arab states. When these three drama critics make up their minds, we will have peace – almost regardless of the desires of the residents of the area.

The PA is funded by these three, and Arafat stays in power by distributing the loot. Hamas, Hezbollah, and the multiplicity of splinter groups are funded, primarily by the Arab states. They are also funded, both directly and indirectly by the EU, as well as by the rising Arab population in the EU (who act as the Irish population of Boston and the Northeast did and does in supporting the IRA) and to a small extent by the Arab population of the US.

No bucks, no Buck Rodgers,” is how Tom Wolfe once described the space program.

I’ll suggest that martyrdom on an industrial scale is also an expensive proposition, and that subsidizing the infrastructure that proselytizes, recruits, equips, and delivers terrorists – and rewards their families when they have committed their acts – is the driving engine of the intehfada.

No bucks, no booms,” is the way I’d put it.

What needs to happen – and what I believe is primed to happen, given the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq – is the slow drying up of the resources that support the terrorist infrastructure.

The PA is slowly lurching toward financial transparency, and the intense pressure of the US on the EU, and the concerns of the EU about terrorism have the potential to show results in managing the PA’s own cash flow.

The Arab states, who have this year seen anti-Western terrorist acts on their own soil, are beginning to take some tiny steps toward limiting their cash subsidy of Palestinian terrorists.

By launching what was widely perceived as an unprovoked attack on Rantisi, Sharon allows himself to be cast as the heavy in this little drama, and made it possible for the forces that succor the terrorists to justify acting just a little more equivocally for just a little while longer. And the resources that feed the terrorist infrastructure – from the schools that teach hate, the media that broadcast it, the recruiters who find the candidate terrorists, to the terrorists themselves – who often admit they are doing it for the glory and financial security of their families – those resources will flow for a little while longer.

The second reason it was a bad idea is practical and tactical; if you have to fight, you always want to choose the time of the fight to your advantage. If your opponent is getting relatively stronger, act sooner. If the opponent is weakening in relation to you, wait. The politics within Palestine, and the politics between the Palestinian terrorists and their sponsors are complicated and chaotic. But all appearances are the that people whose opinions count are stepping away from Hamas and Hezbollah. The Iraqis aren’t writing any checks these days. The Iranians have their hands full. The Saudis are reviewing their positions.

Now much of this doubtless is dissembling, and I don’t doubt for a minute that the diplomats are good at telling us what we hope to hear.

But I don’t see anything that suggests that the ties between Hamas/Hezbollah and their sponsors in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the EU will be stronger in three months than they are today.

So attacking Rantisi three to six months from now wold have offered three advantages:

First, it is narrowly possible that they could have grudgingly accepted the roadmap and agreed to move toward a political solution (sure, I could win the Tour de France this year, too…). Not likely, but barely possible. I lost $5.00 Sunday night to someone who pulled the only card that would save their hand at the river (last card dealt in seven-card stud)…a 1 in 52 shot, and it came across.

Next, waiting weakens Hamas/Hezbollah as their funding is reduced and their legitimacy challenged by opposing forces within the Palestinian proto-state. They rely not only on a core of committed soldiers, but on a wider group of ‘casual combatants’; street kids up for a fight, a collection of the momentarily enraged, all financed by people whose career options are limited to cart vending and terrorism. Some of those may begin to see other options.

Finally, waiting strengthens Israel’s claims on the U.S., as it is seen as complying with yet another peace plan in the face of violent rejection by the other side. Right now, more than at any time since the Suez crisis, the opinion of the U.S. matters.

Sharon’s no idiot; no one in a position like his is. And he certainly has access to information that none of us out here in the safety of the Blogosphere have. But I’m hard-pressed to put together a logical or moral justification for the attack.

I’m sure some readers can suggest a few…

My Ft. Bragg MBA

I had an interesting personal experience that gave me some insight into the capabilities of our Special Forces, and the power of the kind of 4th Generation management which they represent.

As a part of maintaining my own “Armed Liberal” skills, I had arranged to be part of a class taught by a former Special Forces instructor now instructing law enforcement and private classes while also contracting back to the military. At the time, I was also contracting for a large software development company, sorting out one of their troubled engagements….I had walked into a situation in which the team was not only disorganized and badly led, but had that wonderful sense of ‘geek entitlement’ that was so prevalent during the .com boom years. That spirit is one which suggests that half-efforts by technically competent people are really all that can be expected, and that the messy heavy lifting involved in actually getting things done is somehow less of a concern than shopping for a new Acura or standing in the dining room chatting.

As my loaded tone suggests, it’s not a work style with which I fit particularly well, and at one point I was louder and doubtless less diplomatic with two of my team members than I might have been. They had inadvertently shut down the client’s system and gone to lunch early, which was a Bad Thing because the system was an e-commerce system which made the client about $100,000 an hour. The client called and was extremely unhappy, and I paged them back to the office and we conferred.

We were in a corridor, and as my voice rose, doors started to open and we collected quite an audience.

One of them was the CTO of the company, my contract officer, who asked me to join him in his office, where he suggested that my skills at managing less-motivated team members might – as he put it – need improving.

He knew that I was taking the class, and hosting the instructor at my home. He suggested that as a former senior NCO, the instructor might have some helpful suggestions to make on ‘managing the unmotivated.’

So after I picked the instructor up at LAX and got him set up in the guest room at our house, we went off to dinner.

“I have a funny question,” I opened.

He gave me a concerned look, assuming that I was looking for some violent or secret inside stories, which we had agreed in advance would be off-limits.

I went on to explain my problem, and ask him the question: “How did you deal with unmotivated troops?”

He started laughing and sprayed some of his Bohemia beer on the table.

“Your boss doesn’t understand. There are no unmotivated troops in the Special Forces. That’s the biggest reason why they are special. Most militaries go into fights full of people who would rather be somewhere else, doing something else. The Special Forces are full of people who want to be right here, right now.”

He explained that as a trainer for Special Forces medics, one of his jobs was explaining to the physicians who rotated into camp clinics and hospitals that unlike regular troops, who used medical conditions as an excuse not to perform their duties and so exaggerated them, that they had to be alert to Special Forces troops who would mask the extent of their injuries because they did not want to miss training or duty.

“The problem isn’t getting them going, it’s holding them back,” he explained to me.

He then spent dinner explaining his interpretation (and since he’d Been There & Done That, it’s the most relevant data that I have on the subject) of management in the Special Forces universe.

My notes are pretty simple (note that the simplistic bullet-point conceptualization is entirely my own, and that his discussions were appropriately complicated, anecdote-filled, and rich in meaning and context):

SELECT – pick your people carefully

PROTECT – protect them from the inevitable petty nonsense, but make sure they know there are consequences from within the team for doing wrong

EXPECT – make it clear that you expect them to succeed, and that you expect that they will help the rest of the team do what it takes to succeed

INFORM – keep them well-informed of what’s going on, not only in their immediate environment, but on the broader levels as well

LISTEN – make sure they know that when they speak they are heard and responded to

GET OUT OF THE WAY – once you’ve set objectives and metrics, let them do their job

I took his advice, and – as I should have done sooner, and have done ever since – on returning to work had the offending sysadmins removed from the project. It worked, and it was the beginning of a long process that eventually got the project turned around.

Max Weber and the Palestinian State

Expat Scott M, over at Pedantry blog makes an interesting point in his post on the Israel-Palestine impasse (note that he’s wrong, but nonetheless gives us an interesting way to look at things).

He says:

There is a very simple notion in political science, one that goes back to Max Weber: A state possesses, by definition, a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, and it protects that monopoly. When a state is unable to protect that monopoly, it isn’t a state. There is no Palestinian state, and a non-existent state can not have a monopoly on violence. There is no possibility of anti-Israeli terrorism ending until there is a genuine Palestinian state with a monopoly on legitimate violence to protect. Any decision not to negotiate or make concessions until the violence abates is nothing but a cheap rationalisation for maintaining the status quo indefinitely.

[Update: Just found Donald Sensing’s post on the same subject…]

Continued…Here he’s quoting Weber who says, in Politics As a Vocation:

‘Every state is founded on force,’ said Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk. That is indeed right. If no social institutions existed which knew the use of violence, then the concept of ‘state’ would be eliminated, and a condition would emerge that could be designated as ‘anarchy,’ in the specific sense of this word. Of course, force is certainly not the normal or the only means of the state–nobody says that–but force is a means specific to the state. Today the relation between the state and violence is an especially intimate one. In the past, the most varied institutions–beginning with the sib–have known the use of physical force as quite normal. Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

Scott misses last part of the same paragraph, in which Weber makes a key distinction:

Note that ‘territory’ is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the “right” to use violence. Hence, “politics” for us means striving to share power, either among states or among groups within a state.

To Scott, the unassailable fact that the PA cannot control sub-entities within the territory means that they, unlike Israel, cannot be held accountable for the actions of Hamas et al, and that Israel should ignore the provocations of other groups.

To me, it has the opposite sense; what standing does the PA have to negotiate as a state if they can’t act as a state and control “the “right” to use violence”?

I’ll suggest that we have a different problem to solve, which suggests a different set of solutions.

The typical path to statehood is tribe – nation – state.

What we have in Palestine is an attempt to create an artificial state directly from a set of tribes. It worked in Israel, because most of the Israeli immigrants came from established states, so the superstructure of a state was familiar to them.

It isn’t so familiar to the people who live in the West Bank and Gaza. This isn’t some racist argument that they can’t create or live in a state; it is just that they haven’t – ever. And to expect them to suddenly develop democratic institutions and accept the rule of law because we want them to – without having formed a nation, or any of the other intermediate stages of political development – is to engage in the worst kind of wishful thinking.

And when we assume that the forms of diplomacy and politics that work between states can work between a state and a non-state, we’re wishing as well.

The New Army Chief of Staff

Hat tip to Oxblog, who has a whole post up on the new Secretary of the Army Army Chief of Staff (thanks, Mark…). What caught my eye was an this old CNN story:

According to a once-secret Army memo, Gen. Peter Jan Schoomaker, who was in charge of a special forces unit at the time, declined to provide an assessment of the FBI plan for the siege of the [Waco] compound.

Believe it or not, this is good news…

“….This was not a military operation and could not be assessed as such,” Schoomaker, a career special forces soldier, wrote in the memo describing the meeting.

“We explained that the situation was not one that we had ever encountered and that the Rules of Engagement for the FBI were substantially different than for a military operation.”

One of the soldiers told the Justice Department officials in attendance: “We can’t grade your paper,” according to the memo.

Well, he understands the limitations and boundaries between civilian and military action. That’s a good sign.

Follow the Money – And Take It Away

In today’s L.A. Times (intrusive registration required – use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’, and you are guaranteed at least two popunder ads every time you visit the darn site), an editorial supporting freezing the assets of the Burmese junta:

The U.S. Congress is considering tougher measures to freeze the assets of the Myanmar government held in the United States and to bar the country’s leaders from traveling here.

Those steps are warranted unless Suu Kyi is released and allowed to travel freely. The United States and other countries earlier imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar that devastated its economy. Trade with Thailand and China, plus the export of narcotics, has kept it afloat.

The trading partners, other countries in the region and aid givers like Japan need to get tougher by imposing sanctions and aid suspensions to push the country toward democracy; that’s the outcome Myanmar’s citizens show they favor every time they get the chance.

That’s the beginning of what I’m talking about when I talk about defunding the kleptocrats.

They can’t keep the cash under their mattresses. They can’t invest it locally, because there is nothing to invest it in, so they’d rather have T-bills and real estate in New York or London. The things they want to buy – from Boeing, Chanel, and Nike – require dealing with Western companies.

While I’m not a fan of the intrusive measures designed to catch petty money-laundering, I do think it ought to be possible to trace the huge amounts these thugs steal from their people, find the places where it enters the Western economy, and make it risky and expensive for them to put or spend their money here.

I’m a believer in the market, and if we can make it riskier and more expensive for the thugs – and for those who profit from sweetheart deals with them – we can shift the behavior somewhat.
That’s not as conceptually satisfying as Toby Keith’s song suggests:

Justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys
You got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.

But more realistic and satisfying nonetheless.

Conflict Diamonds: Throwing It All Away

Joe talks about the Congo and Burma, and generally asks what we will do if we are going to be faced with the Robert Kaplanesque question of what to do with the failing states in The Coming Anarchy? (If you haven’t read his bleak book, you should.)

It seems that we’re left with recolonialization on one hand, and a nation-scale version of what a Richard Price character called the ‘self-cleaning oven’ (in which drugs, disease and violence depopulate the slums of New Jersey) on the other. Joe has pointed out how limited our resources are; the possible options are few and hardly bring confidence. UN troops? Somehow Srebrenica is the image I always have; that and the helpless ‘smurfs’ of the film ‘No Man’s Land’.

But it seems that there is one point of leverage that we in the West have. Cash. I’m not talking about giving it, either; I’m talking about taking it….The wars in these collapsing states are fought by would-be kleptocrats, who are essentially playing a brutal version of ‘capture the flag’ where once they have it, they control the sale of resources…diamonds, oil, tantalum, cocoa…into the international markets. Sales which take place for cash; dollars and euros to be stashed away by the ruling elites.

These brutal civil wars are worth fighting, not for power alone, but to appropriate the resources of the country and sell them. Take a look at this somewhat dry but exhaustive paper “Congo: The Prize of Predation” by Olssen and Congden (requires Acrobat viewer):

“They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing else, I suspect. They were conquerors and for that you want only brute force…They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at in blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.” (From Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1989, p 21)

Joseph Conrad’s description of king Leopold’s Congo Free State from 1899 applies as well to the predatory war that has been raging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998. This war alone, fought in remote jungles by a multitude of rebel and national armies from the Great Lakes region, is believed to have taken some 3 million lives and left 2.5 million internally displaced.1 A primary reason for the initiation and continuation of the fighting has been a desire to gain control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources like gold, diamonds, and coltan that Congo is endowed with (Panel of Experts, 2001a, 2001b). Though shrouded in a veil of real and fabricated grievances, the true engine of the great war in Central Africa appears to be greed.

Our study uses Collier and Hoeffer’s (2001) empirically based distinction between greed and grievance as the two main motivations for civil wars. The grievance aspect is well known and is covered in numerous political science studies. What we refer to as grievances include inequality, lack of political rights, and ethnic or religious divisions. Economists – schooled in the tradition of rational, profit maximizing entrepreneurs – and a growing number of other social scientists, have lately come to analyze civil wars as a competition between warlords for the appropriation of valuable resources. In Collier and Hoeffler’s (2001) statistical investigation of civil wars from 1960 to 1999, they find that greed-related explanations have a greater explanatory power than grievance.”

Just as the engine for the gang wars in the inner city is fueled by the profits of the drug trade, the civil wars and ethnic and political friction in Africa and the less developed portions of Asia and South America provides the spark – but the desire to capture and sell the resources available is the real fuel.

We buy those resources; we could, if we chose, find ways to choke off the supply of fuel to these conflicts. Is it worth it to us?

‘Conflict diamonds’ are those smuggled out by warlords, and sold in the international markets at a discount. When I next buy TG a jewel, I’ll be helping finance one of the civil wars…or maybe, if I am prudent, not.

Think about it.

Good News!! …No, Great News!!

In keeping with Joe’s desire for good news on a Sabbath Friday, I got an wonderful email today from Dave Trowbridge, author of the Redwood Dragon blog (and a few novels!). he and his partner Deborah (also a novelist of some renown) were among the first people in the blog community that I had a chance to meet.

About the good news…go take a look for yourself.

Congratulations to Dave and the lovely and talented Deborah!!


I didn’t put anything up today to commemorate D-Day, because I assumed one of the others would; I’m sure the entire team did the same thing. So I’ll jump in.

Today, the Allied nations took a risk that changed the world. They faced a frightening world that promised struggle, loss, and death to all of Europe and Asia. They took that bleak promise, conquered it, and created the most free and prosperous era in human history.

One of the discoveries we’ve made in the last year or so is that our world is no less challenging; now we need to show that we, too, can rise to the occasion.

Supporting Veterans is one way; sadly the current Administration seems to see it differently.

Someone ought to do something about that.

JK UPDATES: Correct diagnosis of what was going on. Glad A.L. stepped in. In addition:

  • CPO Sparkey has a post of his own about D-Day, including Eisenhower’s pre-battle address to the troops.

  • LaughingWolf has his own post, also worth a read.

  • Engine Charlie Wilson Is Alive…

    In today, a business group comes out against sanctions to support Aung San Suu Kyi:

    New sanctions against Myanmar, where pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained for a week, would do nothing to force the government to relinquish power, a U.S. business coalition said Friday.


    “The proposed new sanctions will bring … neither freedom nor democracy to the Burmese people,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and co-chairman of USA Engage, a coalition of over 670 businesses, agriculture groups and trade associations opposed to unilateral sanctions.

    “Existing U.S. sanctions have accomplished exactly nothing — other than to hurt a population that is in desperate need of economic aid,” Reinsch said in a statement.

    Surf over to the NFTC website, and notice that they oppose all boycott activity, including congresional atempts to limit business given to German and French companies in response to their psoitions on the Iraq War.

    Surf over to the USA Engage website, and notice that they are an equal-opportunity supporter of international trade with thugs, as they support trade with Castro as well.

    Engine Charlie lives; we obviously shouldn’t let little things like politics get in the way of $366 million in annual import/export business.

    Rooking Saddam

    Stephen Den Beste has an essay up (I can’t bring myself to call them posts…) on Saddam’s WMD efforts that reinforces my point about WMD and bad management.

    SDB: “I just stumbled on a report that offers an interesting point which might help explain just what happened with the apparently-missing Iraqi WMDs: the ones they did have were actually mostly destroyed, and in their frantic attempts to acquire the materials necessary to produce new ones, they ended up tossing money around like a drunken sailor, and got ripped off.”

    Check out the rest. It goes a long way to answering my two questions on the subject:

    SDB: “I think that it isn’t that they voluntarily disarmed; it’s that they tried to acquire the stuff they needed to rebuild their stockpiles and got rooked, again and again.”

    That pretty neatly answers:

    AL: “…two things (both of which get trumped if they actually find the Secret Underground WMD Factories) – why Saddam would risk war to hide weapons he knew he didn’t have, and why Bush would risk lying about something so crucial, when it would be impossible for the lie not to get caught.”