12 December 2013

Understanding Syria (3): Chemical Weapons

The purpose of this post is to alert readers to the 3rd part of historian William R. Polk's study entitled, Understanding Syria. Parts 1 & 2 can be found at these links:  Understanding Syria and Appendix A: The Intellectual and Political Foundations of 21st Century Jihad.  

Part 3, can be downloaded  in PDF format and is entitled Appendix B: Chemical Weapons.  

This latest essay is an excellent short description of chemical weapons, a history of their use since WWI, and it lays out an analysis of the question of whether or not President Assad used them against his own people.  He also examines the grand strategic implications of President Putin's intervention, which effectively put a stop to an American intervention, opened the door to greater Russian involvement in the region, and may have changed the strategic dynamic in the Middle East, particularly from the perspective of Israel.   

Polk's argument in this essay is also an excellent bookend to Seymour Hersh's' explosive report in the London Review of Books, which I discussed in The Syrian Guns of August (Counterpunch, Dec 10, 2013).

10 December 2013

The Syrian Guns of August

A Reckless Disregard for Truth and Sanity

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY, Counterpunch, December 1, 2013

Remember the thumping of Obama’s war drums for a US attack on Syria last August and September, including his spokesmen’s absurd invocations of Kosovo as a precedent for a limited cruise missile strike on Syria?  The trigger for hyping that war fever was a sarin gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, on August 21.  Obama was quick to blame Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for crossing Obama’s bizarre Netanyahu-esque “red line.”
The charge never made sense.  Assad was beginning to win the civil war, and a chemical attack was not needed militarily.  Moreover, such an attack would generate worldwide animosity and contribute to the further isolation of Assad.  So, Assad seemed to have far more to lose than to gain by launching such an attack.  Of course people do stupid things in war, so a chemical attack by Assad on his own people was not out of question, and that uncertainty coupled with the drumbeat made the American masses vulnerable to a con.
On the other hand, the Syrian rebels, particularly the Jihadi fighters, were beginning to lose the war, and they needed outside help.  Also, their donors were dragging their feet on supporting them, especially supplying them with lethal weapons.  Therefore, the Jihadis stood to gain in terms of favorable public relations caused by a chemical attack, if the attack could be pinned on Assad.  Finally, videos and pictures of the attack flooded the internet immediately after the attack, almost as if an orchestra was playing.
In short, even without invoking the Mossad, the chemical attack always had the strong odor, if not the certainty, of a classic false flag operation.
Perhaps it was the shaky foundation underpinning Obama’s war threats that caused the war fever to fizzle so quickly; but it was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 11 September  2013 NYT op-ed that pulled the rug out from under Obama’s case for another American-led,  pro-Israel war in the Middle East.  Of course, given America’s sound-byte mentality, the crisis was immediately forgotten in the chaos of the government shutdown and the growing hysteria over the implications of Iran’s peace offensive.
Now Seymour Hersh has produced a stunning  analysis of the intelligence information available to President Obama last August, when he was threatening to attack Syria.  Hersh is one of the world’s great investigative reporters — e.g., He exposed the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and much of the Abu Graib scandal in Iraq, among other things.  In his latest analysis, Hersh lays out in excruciating detail what Obama knew and when he knew it.  He paints a portrait of deception and delusion in Versailles on the Potomac that has become all too familiar since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, but especially since the lead up to the war in Kosovo.
Using sources in an intelligence community, angered by being manipulated again by politicians intent on war, Hersh demonstrates, inter alia, how Obama’s case for war was a mixture of (1) cherry picked intelligence data that omitted pertinent countervailing information, (2) assumptions posing as facts, (3) why satellite/ground sensor coverage in August was sufficient to conclude Assad probably did not launch the attack, and (4) most importantly, the failure to acknowledge contemporaneous intelligence revealing the rebels also had the capacity to assemble chemical weapons and launch the attack.  To appreciate the full persuasiveness of Hersh’s stunning report, you must read it for yourself.
Not surprisingly, the Washington Post and the New Yorker declined to publish his 5500 word tube steak, so Hersh had it published in the prestigious London Review of Books.
Bear in mind, the Syrian faux crisis may have passed, but war mongering against the Muslim world is not over — Iran is still in the crosshairs.  Israel is working its traps in Congress and on K Street to queer the peace deal, by “encouraging” its wholly owned subsidiaries to assemble the votes needed to intensify the sanctions, even though Iran is moving toward an accommodation. Obama, who claims to be promoting the deal, is again wringing his hands, Hamlet-like, damping expectations, now saying the chances for a deal with Iran are 50% at most.
The Syrian Guns of August are now ancient history to the attention-deficit, trigger-happy cognoscenti inhabiting the Washington echo chamber. But the deeper warning implicit in Hersh’s essay is that, sooner or later, the reckless disregard for truth and sanity that is now part of America’s political DNA – e.g., the mixing of boogered intelligence and crackpot red lines — is going to spin out of control and land our country in a really serious war we cannot win.
Next June 28 will be the 100 year anniversary of the day when one teenage Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo triggered a chain of unstoppable “red line” crossings and faulty intelligence appreciations that ended up destroying the European order.  We are still living with its unresolved consequences, especially in the Balkans and the Middle East.  It is an ironic time to have such a disaster-seeking grand-strategic decision cycle in Versailles on the Potomac.
To paraphrase Prince Bismarck, God may eventually tire of protecting fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.

05 December 2013

Should the U.S. Leave the Middle East?

Mike Lofgren Responds to William R. Polk’s, “Intellectual and Political Foundations of 21st Century Jihad.

Lofgren* retired after 28 years on the Republican congressional staff.  He held senior staff positions in the both the House and Senate Budget Committees, where he specialized in Defense and Foreign Policy.  After he retired, Mike authored “The Party Is Over: How the Republicans Went Crazy, the Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted” (Penguin 2012),which made the New York Times Best seller list for a short time.

Lofgren’s opinion piece addresses the logical policy implication of a U.S. counter-terrorism strategy that is playing into the hands of the strategy enunciated by Abu Bakr Naji, as so well described by William R. Polk.

Chuck Spinney
*Caveat Empter: Lofgren is a close and respected friend.

It’s Time for a Total Withdrawal from the Middle East
Mike Lofgren, December 5, 2013

This fundamentalist insurgency certainly feeds on Western (specifically US) stupidity and avarice. But it is highly self-limiting. For the US to pack up and go home and stay out of the Middle East was always the most attractive strategy, especially now with the greater world diversity of energy supplies. But regardless, the West is merely the subsidiary enemy of the Salafists. The Sunni-Shia divide is the main front; I don’t see how the Salafists’ having an admittedly clever anti-colonial strategy will magically conquer the Shiites who  are indigenous to those societies.

And the Salafists appear to me to be totally unsuited to running a modern society and maintaining their autonomy even in the medium term. The most successful example of a quasi-Salafist state, Saudi Arabia (which only exists because, ironically, it has been propped up by US military and diplomatic support for decades) can only function with a huge, oppressed foreign work force to actually make society operate smoothly. Some might object to my characterization by saying that the real fundamentalists consider the Saudi monarchy apostate, but the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been the principal state funder and egger-on of Jihadist movements.

Looked at from the historical perspective of, say, the year 2500, a putative Salafist caliphate would be a bizarre and anomalous footnote. I doubt it could exist autonomously for long in a world, not just with the West, but among rising modernizing civilizations like China and India. Salafism exists partly because of Western crimes and blunders, but also because of the inherent limitations of Islam insofar as it is the codification of Bronze-Age nomadic tribal mores. As the Japanese and then Chinese learned, you must modernize while adapting or become an irrelevant anachronism.

All the more reason for total withdrawal from the Middle East. As any idiot can see, intervention merely artificially sustains Jihadist movements. As old Karl would have said, withdrawal will “heighten the contradictions” within the ideology of Salafism.

Understanding Syria (Part 2): Intellectual and Political Foundations of 21st Century Jihad

My friend, Bill Polk, a distinguished historian specializing in the Middle East, is busily writing a series of extended essays aimed at increasing our understanding of the conflict in Syria and, by extension, our seemingly perpetual war with the Islamic world.  I posted the first part of this series, collectively entitled Understanding Syria, on 8 November 2013 here. Attached below is the next essay in the series.  More will follow.  
I found this essay to be a particularly powerful argument. Readers of this blog who follow the strategic theories of late Colonel John R. Boyd will find Bill’s analysis of the intellectual/philosophical basis for moral and political cohesion in the first half and the of the strategy for Jihad laid out by Abu Bakr Naji (in the last half of the essay) to be entirely consistent with Boyd’s ideas — from grand strategy to tactics.  The discussion of Jihadist strategy rings lots of Boyd’s bells — particularly those relating to Sun Tzu, Boyd’s critique of Clausewitz’s failure to address the idea of pumping your adversary’s friction to increase his expenditure of effort, his conception of generating non-cooperative centers of gravity, and Boyd’s dissection of insurrection, revolution, and guerrilla war.  
What I find to be particularly disturbing about Bill’s analysis is that the counter strategy being pursued by the United States to counter militant Islam fits Naji’s strategy — to paraphrase Eric Von Manstein’s description of the French strategy in 1940 — like a “hand fits a glove.”  If you doubt this, think about the nature of our strategic “success” in Iraq and Afghanistan -- which is evident only to the field marshals of narrative inside the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac .  
Readers are free to distribute/post/publish Polk's analysis (with or without this intro).
Chuck Spinney

The Intellectual and Political Foundations of 21st Century Jihad
Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism 
William R. Polk, December 1, 2013
Polk’s introductory note: 

You have received a copy of the first part of my essay, "Understanding Syria." [here] As I wrote it, I found that there were three side issues that needed to be ventilated but which were not part of the main text.  They are 1) the interpretation of Islam that motivates the Jihadis,  particularly those now active in Syria but also others in Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Philippines, Mali and elsewhere; 2) the issue of chemical weapons as a component of WMD (weapons of mass destruction); and 3) the international and American law on forcible intervention abroad.  I attach below the first, the intellectual and politico-military basis of Jihad.  

The Arabic word used for Fundamentalist – now usually thought of as revolution-friendly -- Islam is salafiyah. Even native Arabic speakers usually translate it as “reactionary.”  But the concept is far more complex.  The word salafi in classical Arabic means a person who stands both in the rearguard and in the vanguard -- Arabic delights in such contrasts.  The logic of the apparent paradox was brought out by the teachings of jurisconsults from the beginning of the “impact of the West.”  In the Eighteenth century they began to search for means to protect their civilization.   Some argued that “real” strength was not gained by copying the practices of the West but had to be derived from fundamentals as laid out in the Quran and elucidated in the practices of the Prophet and his intimate circle (the Hadith).  Weakness, they believed, came from the innovations and perversions that encrusted Islamic thought and Islamic society in the long dark ages of decline of its power and civilization.
I have described elsewhere the movements of “purification” inspired by such men as the Arabian Ahmad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the Algerian/Libyan Muhammad bin Ali al-Sanusi, the Sudanese Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, the Iranian activist Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and the Egyptian theologian Muhammad Abduh.   In a fundamental aspect, their teachings and movements resembled those set off in northern Europe by Luther and Calvin.  These Christians and Muslims shared a belief in the absolute authority of the unalterable word of God as set out in the original texts.  Their task was to go back to discover the “pure” message and lead their followers to implement it.  However much they differed, both the Muslims and the Protestants were in this sense salafis.  
The original texts, the Old Testament and the Quran, reflected primitive tribal Jewish and Arab societies, and the codes they set forth were severe.  They aimed, in the Old Testament, at preserving and enhancing tribal cohesion and power and, in the Quran, at destroying the vestiges of pagan belief and practice.  Neither early Judaism nor Islam allowed deviation. Both were authoritarian theocracies.  But, over the centuries, both outgrew their original isolation and came to deal with diverse societies and beliefs.  Thus, in practice, both became more ecumenical and put aside or modified many of their original concepts.  In the eyes of some theologians, such modifications amounted to perversions of God’s commandments.  So, throughout history, a few religious scholars have sought to “go back” to the original or “pure” message as their ancestors had received it, as they believed, from God, and as they had enforced it.  These attempts at “return” reached a large body of believers in Europe in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries and in the Middle East in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.  Thus, Old Testament-inspired New England Puritans implemented a draconian, Biblically-based legal code, complete with lashings, burnings and stoning to death for such crimes as adultery, sodomy and blasphemy. Today’s militant Muslim Fundamentalists, similarly, have insisted on a literal interpretation of early Islamic practice.  Indeed, some, like the Taliban,  have also sought to implement anew what were primitive, non-Islamic tribal codes (Pashtu: ravaj) or to insist, like several African societies, on implementing tribal customs even when they were not sanctioned by Islamic law (the Shariah).  
The ancestors of vast majority of today’s Christians, Jews and Muslims eventually relaxed.  In the aftermath of the puritan movements, subsequent generations turned away from what their fathers and grandfathers had sought to impose.  In effect, they found other, less draconian ways to accomplish their social and cultural objectives.   Others held firm.  So among some Christian sects – Old Believers, Born Again Christians and  many Protestant groups -- “Return” remained a powerful rallying call.   It was even more so for Muslims.  That is because many of their more influential thinkers believed that Islam itself faced an existential challenge in the era of imperialism and colonialism.  For Muslims and other cultural groups in Africa and Asia, the challenge was clear and present.  So I turn to the recent expression of the perceived threat and the ideas among Muslims on how to counter it.
The inspiration for the current version of Islamic salafiyah, and particularly for its militant wing, has come mainly from the Egyptian, partly-American-educated polemicist religiously learned man (Arabic: alim),  Sayyid Qutub.  
Born in an Egyptian village in 1906, Sayyid Qutub got his early education in a primary school in the village and then in a secular school in Cairo, During his twenties and thirties, he wrote a charming memoir on village life and a  not very successful novel but gained a reputation as a literary critic in Egyptian periodicals.  Then, just before the Second World War, he became a minor official in the Egyptian Ministry of Education.  From that post, he received a scholarship to study the American educational system.  He spent two years mainly in Colorado and California, but traveled widely throughout the country.  
Everywhere he went in America, Qutub was appalled by what he saw.  In his eyes, America  was a cesspool of wasteful consumption, exaggerated sex  and crass materialism.  Putting together all he found to detest about America, he placed American civilization in an Arabian context:  it was like the pre-Islamic Arabian period of “ignorance [of God’s way],” the Jahaliyah, which was reformed through the actions of God’s Messenger, Muhammad.  In this way, he categorized the West, not Islam, as the retrograde society. 
Today’s Muslims, he argued, must reinstate the pattern and practices of the order announced by Muhammad in the Seventh Century.  That is,  Muslims must go back to the original pattern, Muhammad’s community, in order to correct today’s excesses.  Only then can they move ahead.  This is the true meaning of salafiyah.
Salafiyah in practice even when not designated by that word has a long history in Islam.  We see it first in the great Eighth-Ninth century Muslim scholar Ahmad bin Hanbal of Baghdad who preached a strict interpretation of the Islamic heritage and sought to prevent innovation (Arabic: bidac).  Running contrary to the trends of his time and criticizing the ruling authorities, he was imprisoned.  That was to become the fate of some of his successors, notably the uncompromising jurist of the Mongol period of invasions, Ibn Taimiyah, who died in prison in Damascus in 1328 AD.  These were the Muslim thinkers who laid the basis for the thought of Sayyid Qutub and today’s Muslim Fundamentalists.
For such men as Hanbal, Taimiyah and Qutub, Islam was a coherent system in which the distinctions we draw between the secular and the religious were themselves travesties.  They viewed life in society in holistic terms with Islam all-encompassing.   
Hanbal and Taimiyah were not so challenged as Qutub by non-Muslim material superiority – “the coming of the West to Asia and Africa -- and so did not need to explain counter demands for innovation.   Qutub did.   And while he did not use these words, I read his works to be motivated by much the same judgment as made by secular nationalists:  Muslim societies are now weak and must find their way to dignity and strength.  He differed from the secularists in believing that they could find it only by returning to first principles whereas the secularists wanted to forget the past and rush into Western-style modernity.  Thus, he believed and many Muslims came to agree with him that ventures into nationalism and socialism, the main currents of thoughts in the 1950s and 1960s, were bound to fail to bring strength and dignity.  They did.  And as we shall see their failure opened the way for the return of Muslim Fundamentalism.
Qutub understood the nationalists’ and Socialists’ Westernizing program and partly, only partly, was prepared to accommodate it.  It was his willingness to work with the nationalists that made him acceptable to the men who led the first of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolts, the 1952 Egyptian coup d’état.  Like the secular nationalists, he admitted that the West was materially strong and agreed that the East must also become materially strong.  Doing so is justified, he pointed out, because God appointed mankind to be his agents to control and exploit the Earth.  But, he argued, Westernized Muslim and secular Arab nationalists had perverted God’s intent.  They  copied the wrong things in Western society.  Instead of simply using the material benefits, they traded for them the essence of their own culture. 
In fact, as he had concluded from his trip to America, the West had little to offer. In its blind race toward materialism, Qutub held, Western society had lost sight of what wellbeing really means.  In his view it is precisely the turn away from spirituality that is the great failing of Western culture.  It is not just that a life without spirituality is barren – which he believed – but that it loses the coherence of the whole Divinely-created and God-mandated system.  The attempt to make up for this loss by adopting such ideologies  as nationalism or such constructs as participatory democracy or Socialism are, he argued, wholly inadequate and, worse, they are a false trail leading away from true religion.  True religious life, a spiritual life, in which God’s commands determine man’s fate, was to be found in a pure form only in early Islam.
As a historian, I have to say that Qutub’s reading of Muhammad’s new order is not quite what I and other scholars believe the years immediately following the establishment of Muhammad’s community to have been.  There was a great deal of dissidence, infighting and greed evident in those years.  Moreover, the time of the four “Rightly Guided Caliphs” lasted only a short time.  However, not only for Qutub but also for virtually all Muslims, those few years were the Golden Age.  It is for this reason that the more extreme of today’s Syrian jihadis speak of their aim as reestablishing a caliphate.  In that age, Fundamentalists believe, “pure” Islam was coherent, all-embracing, just, available and God-given.
From the  short and simple beginning of the Arabian caliphate, Islam spread across the world from Indonesia to Morocco and from sub-Saharan Africa far into Central Asia and grew into a complex civilization that was widely admired and to an extent copied in contemporary Europe.  Its astronomers, physicians, philosophers and other learned men were taken as exemplars throughout the West. 
Even among the illiterate, Islam exercised a powerful appeal.  In part this was because its creed was both attractive and easy to understand:  affirmation of the unity of God (tawhid) and denial of any sharing (shirk) of His majesty; men are not to exploit one another so taking of interest (riba) is forbidden; Muslims are enjoined to help one another so everyone must pay a welfare tax, (zakat); all must abide by the law (shariah) where explicitly laid out in the Quran or exemplified by the actions and sayings (hadith) of the Prophet; Muslims are forbidden to kill one another because they are brothers (ikhwan); they should perform the pilgrimage (hajj) in which as many Muslims as possible from all over the world assemble to express their faith, exemplify their unity and draw strength from one another; and Muslims are commanded to struggle (perform jihad)  in the cause of God (fi sabili’llah) to create the community (ummah) He had ordered.
Since Islam had been announced among a tribal people, and its mores had been influenced by their traditional practices, it easily adapted to other tribal peoples and incorporated their practices.  So, in Afghanistan for example, Muslims lived both by Quranic precepts and Pushtun, Turcoman, Hazara or Tajik customs.  The division between Sunnis and Shiis can be explained in part by the diversity of ethnic cultures. And since conversion was easy, peoples with even more distant ethnic backgrounds eagerly joined its community.  Its emphasis on equality and its lack of racism made Islam attractive, for example, to millions of downtrodden untouchables (dalits) of India for whom Hinduism meant perpetual slavery.  Such conversions also brought ideas and habits alien to the Quran and Hadith into Islamic practice. These “intrusions” were often easily accepted, but from time to time, they and those who followed them were the subject of bitter reproach or violence.  We see this today, as for example in the Syrian Sunni Muslim hostility to the deviant Shia Muslim sect of the Alawis. 
What so infuriated the Orthodox Muslims about the Alawis was that they were “almost Muslims.”   That is, heretics in the Islamic family.  This is or should be understandable to us.  Historically, we see that reaction of religions to heresy has often been more violent than intolerance of a different religion.  That is, I think, because heretics are considered more dangerous than true outsiders.  The Inquisition, as we know, spent most of its energy sniffing out Christian deviation, crypto-Jews, Judaizing Christians and Muslims who only pretended to be Christians (Marranos and Conversos) .  
The modern Syrian experience was more pointed, as I explained in my first essay, because heresy became associated with political power.  No one paid much attention to the Alawis or Christians or other minorities when power was in the hands of Muslims, as it was under the Ottoman empire and under the early Syrian Republican regimes.  But when Hafez al-Assad changed the Constitution to omit the requirement that the president be a Muslim and himself took power, he provoked a civil war.   Muslims were prepared to tolerate deviants but not deviant overlords.
Yet, it has to be said in fairness that over the centuries Islam has been far more tolerant of difference than most other religions.  Non-Muslim and such quasi-Muslim communities as Alawis, Druze, Ismailis and Yazidis were allowed to live by their own rules and under their own authorities.  (Such toleration was rare in contemporary Europe.)  Islamic rules were mandatory, but mandatory only for Muslims.  People who did not profess to be Muslim have generally been accepted as protected neighbors [Arabic: jar].
The Quran is explicit in its description of ours as a pluralistic world.   Despite the widely held idea that Islam was spread by the sword, Qutub rightly points to the Quranic injunction that belief is both personal and free; each man is legally, according to the Shariah, allowed to chose his own way.  Thus, the “People of the Book [the Bible],” Jews and Christians, and by later extension, Hindus, were to be accepted peacefully into the Islamic world as protected communities [Ottoman Turkish: millet].  Only if what an individual or a group does is deemed threatening to Islamic society are restrictions on their actions legal.  Or, in extreme cases, is an attack on them justified. 
This is an issue posed by the Syrian rebellion – have the Alawis harmed the Islamic community?  The Syrian and foreign jihadis’ answer that it has.  Therefore, suppressing it is legal.  If the West supports them, it too is acting illegally and deserves to be fought.  This is what the jihadis read the Quran as ordering (Surah II/190-193, my translation), 
Fight in the cause of God those who fight against you [that is, defend yourselves], but do not initiate hostilities.  Verily God does not love aggressors.
But [if such people are the aggressors] kill them wherever you encounter them and expel them from where they had expelled you, because tyranny is more insufferable than fighting…
And fight them to the death until subversion is no more and the religion of God is established.  But if they surrender, do not attack any but the evil doers.
This battle cry is memorized, along with the rest of the Quran, in daily classes by millions of young students (Arabic: taliban) in tens of thousands of religious schools all over the Islamic world.  We may take these words as essentially the marching orders of the jihadi.  For him, the Alawis are the aggressors.  And, by extension, the West, its local agents -- Westernized or perverted Muslim governments allied with the West -- and Israel are the true enemies of Islam. They are charged with having dispossessed Muslims from their homelands, oppressed them with tyrannies, stolen their wealth and attempted to corrupt their faith.  So it is moral and legal to fight them.  Only if they desist can peace come.  
Sayyid Qutub was not, of course, a jihadi, but he was feared as a justifier of subversion of secular order.  So, like his great predecessors, Hanbal and Taimiyah,  he was often imprisoned.  He spent about twelve years of his life in an Egyptian prison until at age sixty, he was convicted of sedition by a secular court and hanged.  During his life, especially in prison, he wrote commentaries [Arabic: tafasir]⁠1 on the Quran as many clerics have done.  But he also wrote widely on early Islamic society, Islamic law and what he saw as the foibles and failures of Western society.  Some of his writings bear comparison to the Islamic legal classics.  As a group, they have attracted a mass readership -- believed to be in the tens of millions -- throughout the Islamic world and have apparently influenced men as opposed to one another as the leaders of the Taliban, the Saudi Royal Establishment, al-Qaida, the Iranian and Iraqi clerics [Arabic: ulema] and now the various and competing groups of Syrian militants.  Sayyid Qutub is the philosopher of the Islamic revolution.
Implicit in his writings is the idea that Islam is under attack and therefore must defend itself because failure to do so would be to contravene the intention of God. He does not explain how this is to be done.  Defining the nature of the struggle, identifying the oppressors, justifying the tactics and predicting the outcome are the tasks taken up by several of Qutub’s successors.  Here I will focus on the one most identified with current conflict in Syria, most influential among Fundamentalists and most candid in laying out the nature of the struggle. 
Abu Bakr Naji, about whom -- or them, since some have suggested that “Naji”  is not one man but a committee -- nothing is known for certain. Perhaps the name is only a nom de plume attached to a book called Idarah at-Tawhish  (Management of Desolation).⁠2  Naji picked up where Sayyid Qutub left off.⁠3  He is the strategist of the politico-military and military doctrine of al-Qaida and such affiliates as Jabhat an-Nusrah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Naji begins with his interpretation of the post-caliphal world (that is, what we call the “colonial” world): as he sees it, it began when the West took control and degraded the culture of the inhabitants and divided what had been societies and made them into states on a Western model.   When the colonial powers withdrew, the states they had created “fell into the hands of…military governments or civil governments supported by military forces…Then the UN, the two superpowers and their acolytes took control of the world.”  Acting alone or with the connivance of  native agents [Arabic: wukal] , who were motivated by lust or the desire for riches, they overturned the order [Arabic: caqida]⁠4 of the societies.  As the societies weakened and became corrupted, the foreign powers and their local allies “squandered and plundered the resources of those states and spread inequity among the people.”  So, “since the fall of the caliphate…” their lives were conditioned by “no goodness, no justice and no [material benefits of] the world…”  
True Muslims, however, can take heart from the fact that the great states’ power is limited: unless, that is, the natives submit of their own accord.  So a part of the task that must be undertaken is to show the people the evil results of the current state system.  Of course, those now in power – whom he calls the Taghut⁠5 -- and their foreign allies realize this. To disguise their real objective and to win over the natives, these powers use deceptive media to portray their rule “as non-coercive and world-encompassing...[and to portray the native] people as subservient to it not only through fear, but also through love because it spreads freedom, justice, equality among humanity, and various other slogans.”
In assessing blame for this condition, Naji indicts not only foreign powers and their venal local henchmen -- although they are the major culprits --  but also the mass of the people.  Naji takes a dim view of them:  “Notice that when we say that the masses are the difficult factor…We know that they not generally dependable on account of [how the foreign imperialists and native turncoats have shaped them and we realize that there will be] no improvement for the general public until there is victory.  [Consequently, our strategy] is to gain their sympathy, or at the very least neutralize them.”
Naji sees the only effective way to stop the slide into iniquity which was begun in the colonial era to be a strategy of violence.  It cannot be accomplished, he and Qutub agreed, by the creation of institutions, by a “theoretical model or by sparkling slogans.”  What reformers offer is a snare for the youth that “prevents them from raising the slogan, ‘jihad is our path and death in the path of God is our noblest desire!’”  So, what must be undertaken is a long-term campaign to destroy the power of the imperialists and cleanse Islamic society.  
Such a violent policy, he continues, is justified by Islamic law.  Moreover, Westerners are hypocrites to inveigh against it on moral grounds.  Look at their record: “in the 20th century alone they committed massacres against themselves and against the Muslims⁠6 [on a scale} which had not been matched in all of human history.  Even the most brutal peoples, like the Tatars [or Mongols], did not shed as much blood as they did.  They frivolously spent the money of the Muslims and their own money—which is, in reality, the money of God—for spreading unbelief, moral depravity, and debauchery, while millions of humans died hungry, the number of which some rational minds would not believe even if it were recorded in a book.
“As for the [the Middle Eastern] nationalists, the Baathists, and the democrats, they have afflicted the Islamic community [Arabic: the Ummah]  by corrupting religion and by the ghastly destruction of souls.  That which Saddam [Husain], [Hafez al-] Asad, [Hosni] Mubarak, [Saudi King] Fahd, the Socialist Party in Yemen, and others did with regards to this destruction of souls alone surpasses those killed in all of the wars of the jihadis in this century...”
Since war is thus justified, it must be carefully planned and executed.  It has several stages. 
The first stage is “vexation” of the enemy aimed at creating chaos in which the forces of the foreign powers and their local proxies are distracted and exhausted and the Muslims learn that they have power and learn how to use it.  Operations are of diverse kinds but should be dramatic.  Thus, they should be on a small scale, carried out independently by autonomous groups -- not like the elaborate attack on the World Trade Center which was premature.  What needs to take place at this stage is “advancement of groups made capable of  vexation through drilling and operational practice so that they will be prepared psychologically and practically for the stage of the management of savagery.” 
The second stage is the spread of savagery.  “Note here that we said that the goal is to dislodge these regions [which have been selected for attack] from the control of the regimes of apostasy.  It is the goal we are publicly proclaiming and which we are determined to carry out, not  [just] the outbreak of chaos.”  This second stage appears in Naji’s order as guerrilla warfare.  It is essentially what is now happening in Syria and Iraq.  As he sees it, it is the transition from small scale and scattered terrorism to large-scale warfare, his third stage.  
The third stage is the administration of savagery.  The tasks that must be undertaken at this stage include “establishing a fighting society” with requisite means of self defense.  Also necessary is the creation of an intelligence agency both to learn the plans of the enemy and to guard against internal subversion.  And, a socio-political program aimed at  “Uniting the hearts of the people” by means of money, food and medical services and by providing a functioning system of justice under Shariah governance.  This implies the creation of an enclave or territory under the control of the movement.  From this base it will become possible to create a rudimentary state.  We can see the beginnings of this already in eastern Syria.⁠7  From this base, it will become  “possible to expand and attack the enemies in order to repel them, plunder their money, and place them in a constant state of apprehension and desire for reconciliation.”
The word “administration” leads Naji to a step beyond those acceptable to Qutub.  Indeed, he advocates what seems perilously close to adopting the course of a business school: “We must make use of books on the subject of administration, especially the management studies and theories which have been recently published, since they are consonant with the nature of modern societies.  There is more than one site on the Internet in which one can obtain management books.  I believe that they can be downloaded from the website Mufakkirat al-Islam…Moreover, it is possible to obtain more management books and resources from other sites on the Internet or from libraries and publishing houses…”  
But, he recognizes, this is a dangerous if necessary policy, so while “ in our plan we open the door of management wide to those who have mastered its art , [we open] the door of leadership only to those who are reliable, even though there is a security apparatus which keeps watch over the two doors, monitoring the professionalism of the actions of the leaders and the managers in order to prevent infiltration.”
Management, he says, is not the aim.  It is only the means.  What is to be managed is power.  Here Naji tries to draw lessons from the Russian campaign in Afghanistan.  The Afghans could not defeat the Russians in formal battles because the Russians had overwhelming military capacity. What the Afghans had to do was to provoke them so that their forces over-extended themselves and were caught in wasting, un-winnable conflict, which bankrupted their economy and lost the support both of their own people and the government they sought to protect.  America, he thought, will fall easily into this trap.
Driven by its own imperatives, “America will either seek revenge and the conflict will intensify or it will launch a limited war.  In the case of the latter, its grudge will not be satisfied and it will not succeed in curbing this escalating expansion.  America might have caused the downfall of the state of Afghanistan, which it had already planned for, or [the Taliban state] might have collapsed without the momentous events of September…[In any case America] will begin to confront the transformation of [its Afghan campaign]… into tens of thousands of groups…which will turn their strikes against it.” 
As the campaign spread and as it seeks to retaliate,  “America will not find a state on which it can take its revenge, because the remaining [states} are its clients.  Thus, it will become clear to it that the regimes which support it cannot protect it from attacks and cannot preserve its strategic interests and the interests of its adopted daughter, Israel, in the region.  It has no choice but to fall into the second trap [that is occupying] the region and set[ing] up military bases…[This will put it at] war with the population in the region.  It is obvious at this very moment that it stirs up movements that increase the jihadi expansion and create legions among the youth who contemplate and plan for resistance…
“So [the correct tactic is to] diversify and widen the vexation [ Create multiple non cooperative centers of gravity with distributed attacks.  Aim cause adversary to try to expend resources defending everywhere.]strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.  For example:  If a tourist resort that the Crusaders patronize in Indonesia is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which [will cause] a huge increase in spending.  If a usurious bank belonging to the Crusaders is struck in Turkey, all of the banks belonging to the Crusaders will have to be secured in all of the countries and the (economic) draining will increase.  If an oil interest is hit near the port of Aden, there will have to be intensive security measures put in place for all of the oil companies, and their tankers, and the oil pipelines in order to protect them and draining will increase.  If two of the apostate authors are killed in a simultaneous operation in two different countries, they will have to secure thousands of writers in other Islamic countries.  In this way, there is a diversification and widening of the circle of targets and vexation strikes which are accomplished by small, separate groups.  Moreover, repeatedly (striking) the same kind of target two or three times will make it clear to them that this kind (of target) will continue to be vulnerable.”  In short, Naji believes, violence is necessary.  It  weakens the enemy while it performs as the school – almost the social “hospital” – needed to transform corrupt societies into the pure Islam of tomorrow.
Those who adopt struggle must confront reality:  “One who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening (others), and massacring…”⁠8  This beginning stage is fundamental.  It must be conducted ruthlessly.  So must the other stages be effected since jihad cannot be carried out with softness, “whether the softness is in the mode of inviting others to join (the jihad), taking up positions, or (undertaking) the operations, since the ingredient of softness is one of the ingredients of failure for any jihadi action…Regardless of whether we use harshness or softness, our enemies will not be merciful to us if they seize us.  Thus, it behooves us to make them think one thousand times before attacking us…Consequently, there is nothing preventing us from spilling their blood; rather, we see that this is one of the most important obligations since they do not repent, undertake prayer, and give alms.  All religion belongs to God.”
Naji goes on to assert that only the certainty of revenge will prevent the West and its native agents from harming Muslims.  Revenge [Arabic: thar] is a very old and even pre-Islamic concept.  Let us be clear: it is a concept we in the West understand.  Retaliation is the policy we adopted in the “Delicate Balance of Terror” vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.   It also is the policy we adopted in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center.  Naji proclaims its part in the modern Muslim Fundamentalist struggle.  The tools and the geography are different, but the principle of making the aggressor “pay the price” is similar:  As he says, “No harm comes to the Ummah or to us without (the enemy) paying a price.”  Not quite an eye for an eye, but certainly a death for a death.  That policy has the dual objective of deterring attacks on Muslims and of “spreading hopelessness in the hearts of the enemy. 
Making the enemy “pay the price”  can occur anywhere: “if the apostate Egyptian regime undertakes an action to kill or capture a group of mujahids, the youth of jihad in Algeria or Morocco can direct a strike against the Egyptian embassy and issue a statement of justification, or they can kidnap Egyptian diplomats as hostages until the group of mujahids is freed…The policy of violence must also be followed such that if the demands are not met, the hostages should be liquidated in a terrifying manner,⁠9 which will send fear into the hearts of the enemy and his supporters.“
In conclusion, the politico-military doctrine Naji lays out can be described as a Muslim version of what Mao Zedong and Ho Chi-minh proclaimed as their kind of war: a combination of terrorism when that is the only means of operation, guerrilla warfare when that becomes possible as areas of operation are secured and ultimately, when the conflict “matures,” the creation of a warlike but independent state-society which he thinks of as a new caliphate.  It is a sequence often played out in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries all over the world as I have reported in my book Violent Politics.  It is ugly, brutal and costly, but it has nearly always eventually succeeded.   Whatever may be the outcome now in Syria,  Naji gives us a plan of how his followers intend to fight it there and perhaps throughout the world.  As he tells us, it “not an economic, political, or social battle“ with state-like opponents for territory but “a battle of  the proclamation of the single God [Arabic: tawhid] against unbelief and faith against polytheism..”    
Nothing quite like it has been on the world stage since the great wars of religion some four hundred years ago. 
A selection of his commentaries is translated by M.A. Salahi and A.A Shamis in The Shade of the Quran (MWH, London, 1979).  His Social Justice in Islam  was translated by John Hardie for the American Council of Learned Societies in 1953.
The Arabic word tawhish (from w-h-sh) has multiple evocative meanings.   Used in pre-Islamic poetry, it is a place frequented only by wild animals; of a Bedouin raider, it takes on the meaning of “lightening his load”  in order to escape or  to become like a cornered wild animal driven to desperation.   Perhaps the best way to think of it in Western terms is something like what Hobbes meant by “the state of nature,”  that is, being outside the normal constraints of civilized society. [CS note: according to one of Polk’s correspondents, “Tawhish” … “actually means brutality, savagery, bestiality from the word "Whash', which means monster or savage animal.”
I have used the translation done by William McCants under the title The Management of Savagery,  commissioned by the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, in 2006. No publisher was indicated, but it available on the internet.  I have not been able to secure a copy of the Arabic original.
From the development of his argument, it seems to me that by  caqida he meant not only doctrine and the religious establishment but also something like the social contract .
A Quranic term for evil-doers related to the idea of idol worshipers.
Foreign Policy,  November 30, 2013, Stephen Walt, “Why do they hate us (II): How many Muslims has the U.S. killed in the past 30 years?”  He estimates that the number is between about 300,000 and a million.
See The Guardian, July 12, 2013,  Ghaith Abdul-Ahad: "How Syria's mould-breaking al-Nusra Front  is winning hearts and minds."
This description of the jihad as it has happened in Syria is documented by Human Rights Watch, “You Can Still See Their Blood,” a report on massacres in the Latakia area of Syria in  October 2013.
The “terrifying manner” has been shown in a number of videos and photo stories all designed to capture maximum attention.  American media have been reluctant to show them; for one gruesome event, see Paris Match, September 12-18, 2013 , “Surenchére dans l’Horreur.”  (“The Extremes of Horror.”)

29 November 2013

Iraq Sitrep: No Light at the End of the Tunnel

The United States bears a moral responsibility for the murderous state of affairs in Iraq, but contemporary American grand strategy has become a self-referencing mix of arrogance, narcissism, and exceptionalism; so it is not surprising that most Americans have dismissed Iraq their minds (as they are now dismissing Afghanistan).  Attached is an excellent reminder of the situation in Iraq.  
Patrick Cockburn, one of the very best journalists now covering conflicts in the Arab World and Central Asia interviews Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the most influential Shia clerics in Iraq and leader of the Mehdi Army, a powerful Shia faction.  Sadr party is now a part of the Shia dominated Iraqi government, but he is becoming increasingly alienated from its leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Al-Sadr argues that a toxic mix of (1) sectarianism, (2) governmental incompetence and corruption, and (3) external interference by the U.S. and U.K. and Iran is plunging Iraq into an ever-deepening state of chaos, with no light at the end of the tunnel. (Note: I inserted a few clarifying comments in red.)
Chuck Spinney
(h/t Antiwar.com)

"The near future of Iraq is dark"
Warning from Muqtada al-Sadr - the Shia cleric whose word is law to millions of his countrymen


In a rare interview at his headquarters in Najaf, he tells Patrick Cockburn of his fears for a nation growing ever more divided on sectarian lines.
The future of Iraq as a united and independent country is endangered by sectarian Shia-Sunni hostility says Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia religious leader whose Mehdi Army militia fought the US and British armies and who remains a powerful figure in Iraqi politics. He warns of the danger that [1] “the Iraqi people will disintegrate, [2] its government will disintegrate, and [3] it will be easy for external powers to control the country”.
In an interview with The Independent in the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south-west of Baghdad – the first interview Mr Sadr has given face-to-face with a Western journalist for almost 10 years – he expressed pessimism about the immediate prospects for Iraq, saying: “The near future is dark.”
[1] Mr Sadr said he is most worried about sectarianism affecting Iraqis at street level, believing that “if it spreads among the people it will be difficult to fight”. He says he believes that standing against sectarianism has made him lose support among his followers.
Mr Sadr’s moderate stance is key at a moment when sectarian strife has been increasing in Iraq – some 200 Shia were killed in the past week alone. For 40 years, Mr Sadr and religious leaders from his family have set the political trend within the Shia community in Iraq. Their long-term resistance to Saddam Hussein and, later, their opposition to the US-led occupation had a crucial impact.
Mr Sadr has remained a leading influence in Iraq after an extraordinary career in which he has often come close to being killed. Several times, it appeared that the political movement he leads, the Sadrist Movement, would be crushed.
He was 25 in 1999 when his father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a revered Shia leader, and Mr Sadr’s two brothers were assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s gunmen in Najaf. He just survived sharing a similar fate, remaining under house arrest in Najaf until 2003 when Saddam was overthrown by the US invasion. He and his followers became the most powerful force in many Shia parts of Iraq as enemies of the old regime, but also opposing the occupation. In 2004, his Mehdi Army fought two savage battles against American troops in Najaf, and in Basra it engaged in a prolonged guerrilla war against the British Army which saw the Mehdi Army take control of the city.
The Mehdi Army was seen by the Sunni community as playing a central role in the sectarian murder campaign that reached its height in 2006-7. Mr Sadr says that “people infiltrated the Mehdi Army and carried out these killings”, adding that if his militiamen were involved in the murder of Sunnis he would be the first person to denounce them.
For much of this period, Mr Sadr did not appear to have had full control of forces acting in his name; ultimately he stood them down. At the same time, the Mehdi Army was being driven from its old strongholds in Basra and Sadr City by the US Army and resurgent Iraqi government armed forces. Asked about the status of the Mehdi Army today, Mr Sadr says: “It is still there but it is frozen because the occupation is apparently over. If it comes back, they [the Mehdi Army militiamen] will come back.”
[2] In the past five years, Mr Sadr has rebuilt his movement as one of the main players in Iraqi politics with a programme that is a mixture of Shia religion, populism and Iraqi nationalism. After a strong showing in the general election in 2010, it became part of the present government, with six seats in the cabinet. But Mr Sadr is highly critical of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s performance during his two terms in office, accusing his administration of being sectarian, corrupt and incompetent.
Speaking of Mr Maliki, with whom his relations are increasingly sour, Mr Sadr said that “maybe he is not the only person responsible for what is happening in Iraq, but he is the person in charge”. Asked if he expected Mr Maliki to continue as Prime Minister, he said: “I expect he is going to run for a third term, but I don’t want him to.”
[2&3] Mr Sadr said he and other Iraqi leaders had tried to replace him in the past, but Mr Maliki had survived in office because of his support from foreign powers, notably the US and Iran. “What is really surprising is that America and Iran should decide on one person,” he said. “Maliki is strong because he is supported by the United States, Britain and Iran.”
Mr Sadr is particularly critical of the government’s handling of the Sunni minority, which lost power in 2003, implying they had been marginalised and their demands ignored. He thinks that the Iraqi government lost its chance to conciliate Sunni protesters in Iraq who started demonstrating last December, asking for greater civil rights and an end to persecution.
“My personal opinion is that it is too late now to address these [Sunni] demands when the government, which is seen as a Shia government by the demonstrators, failed to meet their demands,” he said. Asked how ordinary Shia, who make up the great majority of the thousand people a month being killed by al-Qa’ida bombs, should react, Mr Sadr said: “They should understand that they are not being attacked by Sunnis. They are being attacked by extremists, they are being attacked by external powers.”
As Mr Sadr sees it, the problem in Iraq is that Iraqis as a whole are traumatised by almost half a century in which there has been a “constant cycle of violence: Saddam, occupation, war after war [also the Iran-Iraq War and the decade of sanctions after the 1st Gulf War], first Gulf war, then second Gulf war, then the occupation war, then the resistance – this would lead to a change in the psychology of Iraqis”. He explained that Iraqis make the mistake of trying to solve one problem by creating a worse one, such as getting the Americans to topple Saddam Hussein but then having the problem of the US occupation. He compared Iraqis to “somebody who found a mouse in his house, then he kept a cat, then he wanted to get the cat out of the house so he kept a dog, then to get the dog out of his house he bought an elephant, so he bought a mouse again”.
Asked about the best way for Iraqis to deal with the mouse, Mr Sadr said: “By using neither the cat nor the dog, but instead national unity, rejection of sectarianism, open-mindedness, having open ideas, rejection of extremism.”
[3] A main theme of Mr Sadr’s approach is to bolster Iraq as an independent nation state, able to make decisions in its own interests. Hence his abiding hostility to the American and British occupation, holding this responsible for many of Iraq’s present ills. To this day, neither he nor anybody from his movement will meet American or British officials. But he is equally hostile to intervention by Iran in Iraqi affairs saying: “We refuse all kinds of interventions from external forces, whether such an intervention was in the interests of Iraqis or against their interests. The destiny of Iraqis should be decided by Iraqis themselves.”
This is a change of stance for a man who was once demonised by the US and Britain as a pawn of Iran. The strength of the Sadrist movement under Mr Sadr and his father – and its ability to withstand powerful enemies and shattering defeats – owes much to the fact it that it blends Shia revivalism with social activism and Iraqi nationalism.
Why are Iraqi government members so ineffective and corrupt? Mr Sadr believes that “they compete to take a share of the cake, rather than competing to serve their people”
Asked why the Kurdistan Regional Government had been more successful in terms of security and economic development than the rest of Iraq, Mr Sadr thought there was less stealing and corruption among the Kurds and maybe because “they love their ethnicity and their region”. If the government tried to marginalise them, they might ask for independence: “Mr Massoud Barzani [the KRG President] told me that ‘if Maliki pushes on me harder, we are going to ask for independence’.”
At the end of the interview Mr Sadr asked me if I was not frightened of interviewing him and would not this make the British Government consider me a terrorist? Secondly, he wondered if the British Government still considered that it had liberated the Iraqi people, and wondered if he should sue the Government on behalf of the casualties caused by the British occupation.
(Reprinted from The Independent by permission of author or representative)

11 November 2013

Should the AF Retire the A-10? - A Seminar on a Seminal Question

[Reprinted in Small Wars Journal, 13 November 2013]

The Air Force has decided to retire the A-10 attack aircraft from its inventory.  To people who follow defense, particularly old timers, this cynical move is hardly surprising.  

The purpose of the posting is to announce a seminar in Washington D.C. where experts will address some of the issues raised by this controversial decision.  The seminar is sponsored by the Strauss Military Reform Project will take place at 0930 on November 22 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  It will be open to the public and interested readers can find the RSVP details and the agenda at this link.  Readers are cordially invited to attend a public (and free) seminar discussing some of the issues raised by this decision.  A listing with links to relevant background reading material can be found here

The remainder of this posting is intended to give you a little background, written admittedly from my perspective of being a long-time supporter of the A-10, dating back to my involvement as an Air Force officer in vulnerability studies and (peripherally) in some gunfire testing in the late 1960s and later as a civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The A-10 is arguably the most effective combat airplane ever designed to provide close support to ground troops in combat.  This is a very demanding mission, because it is usually necessary when the troops are in trouble.  Pilots have to develop a feel for the battlefield and need to think like infantrymen.  The A-10 pilots are trained specifically for this mission, and work with ground forces in training exercises.  The A-10's staying power over a battlefield (i.e., long loitering capability) gives it a level of responsiveness that high speed jets like the F-15 can not equal.  Moreover, its excellent low speed maneuverability, its highly effective 30mm cannon, and its low vulnerability to enemy fire make it the most responsive and capable CAS weapon in our air inventory.  It is no secret that ground troops in the dusty of battlefields of Afghanistan love the A-10.  

Nevertheless, the AF hates the A-10 with passions rooted deeply in its founding culture of precision strategic bombardment.  

The history of this hatred goes back to the doctrinal debates in the Army Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s, the so-called precision bombardment of Germany and Japan, and the evangelism surrounding the AF's fight for institutional independence that ended with the AF's successful secession for the Army in 1947.  If you doubt the AF's evangelism surrounding the claim of the independent war winning capabilities of strategic bombing, watch and listen carefully to the dialogues in the movies "12 O'Clock High" or "Command Decision." (available on Netflix)

Fundamentally, the AF's animosity toward the A-10 is rooted in the fact that the A-10 works for the Army, and the A-10 subordinates its operational art to that of the Army ground forces it supports.  This combined-arms outlook stands in sharp contrast to the Air Force's view of itself.  Since well before WWII, the AF has promoted its organizational independence from the Army by claiming it could provide a unique independent war winning capability -- precision strategic bombing and destruction of what it deems to be the vital organs of its adversary's supporting economic and political infrastructure -- for example, ball bearing production by Germany during World War II.  This claim leads to a vision of war that is diametrically opposed to one of being part of a combined-arms team. The AF's old old motto, 'Victory Through Airpower Alone," may have fallen into disuse after its litany of failed promises, not least because its theory of vital nodes has not been proven in real war, but the dream has never been forgotten; and today, it remains deeply rooted in the AF's cultural DNA.

Before rejecting this argument, readers should remember: The A-10 had to be forced upon the AF by the Secretary of Defense in the aftermath of the AF's poor performance in the close air support mission during Vietnam, a war where the AF chose to concentrate the bulk of its efforts on the strategic bombing of North Vietnam -- far more heavily, in fact, that when it bombed Germany.  

Another indicator of the AF's dislike of the A-10 becomes apparent when one considers the historical fact that the A-10 production line was the only AF fighter/attack airplane production line that was shut down at the end of its production run in the early 1980s, during the glory days of the Reagan spending spree.  This was a period when everything got funding extensions.  The higher cost F-15 and F-16 production lines, in contrast, were kept open, and the AF bought far more than these fighters than originally planned in the 1970s.  

Also, remember how tens of billions were spent during those glory days restarting the flawed B-1's production, producing only 21 super expensive B-2s -- both strategic bombers, and even restarting the troubled C-5, arguably one of the biggest cost overrunners in DoD's history.  

Moreover, despite the unconstrained programmatic hijinks in the 1980s, routine efforts to replace the A-10 in the mid-to-late 1980s with a more modern version of itself (i.e., a low-cost dedicated CAS platform) were sabotaged by the AF after the initial work was approved by the Secretary of Defense.  

Finally, consider the fact that while the AF now says it must trash the A-10 for what it says are budgetary reasons, it also is lobbying hard to start a $50 billion next-generation strategic bomber program that will suck money out of the taxpayer for the next 50 to 75 years.

Despite the AF's long-term opposition to the A-10, it should be remembered that the A-10 has been a stunning -- some might say embarrassing -- success in every war in which it has been employed, beginning with the First Gulf War in 1991 -- a war, it should be remembered, where the AF reluctantly deployed the A-10 only after the theater commander, an Army general, insisted on it being deployed.  And in today's wars, Marines and Army grunts in Afghanistan will tell you, as they have told me, they love the A-10.

Yet, despite this success story, the AF now claims it is being forced to retire the A-10 as cost saving measure, while at the same time, it is cobbling together a plan to spend $500 billion on a new bomber.  This crazy situation is made even more bizarre by the fact that retiring the A-10 won't even save much money, because it has, by far, the lowest operating costs per flying hour of any fighter/attack aircraft in the AF inventory.   

The current 'plan' for its close support mission in the future -- really a ludicrous rationalization -- is that the AF will replace the low-cost A-10's low-cost, proven capability to support ground troops with the high-cost, highly problematic, multi-mission capabilities of  F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  

The F-35, as just about everyone knows, is a  deeply troubled, super-high-cost stealth fighter that is way behind schedule.  The F-35, predictably, is plagued with a host of technical problems.  If the F-35 ever becomes operational, it  will be completely unfit for the kind of knife fighting the A-10 excels at -- low and slow jinking around a battlefield saturated with small arms threats.  The F-35 will be far too vulnerable to these cheap threats (including light machine guns).  The F-35's poor thrust-to-weight and high wing loading guarantee poor agility at low speeds and long re-attack times; it will have nothing comparable in offensive capability to the A-10's 30mm gun; its low fuel fraction guarantees the F-35 will have no loitering capability.  Any battle damage the F-35 somehow manages to survive will be almost impossible to repair at the field level without depot-level contractor support, because of its high complexity systems and exotic stealth structures.  Moreover, the F-35's high cost and complexity will guarantee much reduced inventories, poor availability, and low sortie rates coupled with very high operational costs.  

Readers who are interested in learning more about these issues and live near Washington DC are invited to a seminar discussing them.  Participants will address questions surrounding (1) the vital importance of the Close Air Support mission, (2) the controversial decision to retire the A-10 in favor of the F-35, (3) what it will take to provide a CAS capability in the future, and most importantly, (4) how the Defense Department should proceed to insure our ground troops will be given the support they need and deserve.  

The seminar will take the form of a discussion among people having long experience in this mission area -- from a variety perspectives -- from aircraft designers, to pilots with A-10 combat experience and, most importantly, the views soldiers and marines on the receiving end of close support in ground combat operations.  In the interests of having a vigorous debate, pushbacks by people supporting the AF decision will be not only welcomed but emphatically encouraged and solicited.  The goal is to promote a free market of ideas. 

This seminar will take place on 0930 Nov. 22  at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and will be sponsored by the Strauss Military Reform Project, a subsidiary of the Project on Government Oversight.  The details of the seminar and a list of relevant reading materials can be found at the links at the top of this posting.