Monday, April 12, 2004

Response To Thomas Barnett  

On his blog, Thomas Barnett understandably takes issue with my interrupted review of his new book The Pentagon's New Map. I've decided to (briefly) interrupt my blogging hiatus and respond to what he says.
This poor blogger did everything within his power to actually finish the book, but had to stop at page 48, so insulted was he by my stupidity.
No, I didn't do everything in my power to finish the book, nor was I insulted, nor did I think him stupid. Rather, I thought he was fundamentally wrong in so many different ways that his conclusions had no basis beyond his authority and ability to assert them publicly. I needed backup and logical arguments for his assertions and I found precious few that answered questions which I believed were reasonable ones.
Because I reject chaos as a guiding principle of international relations, I am guilty of psychological aberration, delving into what he calls ?magical thinking? (our good doctor consults his American Psychiatric Glossary?online, of course, indicating his years of study in the field that allow him the opportunity to diagnose remotely).
First, "chaos" is a technical term in the usage implied by Dr. Barnett. In this sense, chaos describes the study of the behavior of complex systems in which specific inputs yield inherently unpredictable (but not totally random) outputs. Examples of chaotic systems include the weather, the stock market and, yes, international relations. Inevitably, the study of chaos focuses on a wide range of probabilities and not too many certainties: the lesson it provides us is that even with perfect knowledge of all initial variables in a complex system, the future cannot be accurately predicted. In the field of international relations, it implies that overarching theories that describe the imperatives of history like "The End of History" or "The Triumph of Communism" are basically worthless. It also implies that interactions with other states have a wide range of probable outcomes, many of which cannot be foreseen.

With me, Dr. Barnett makes the same mistake he made in the book, confusing a colloquial definition of chaos with a specific technical one. To reject the notion that international relations are inherently chaotic (in this technical sense) is to deny reality and demand that reality conform to one's mental image of what reality "should" be like: neat and predictable, where forceful decisions vigorously pursued always (or nearly always, especially if you're on the right side of history) produce desirable ends. Chaos theory tells us that reality doesn't work that way. Chaos theory tells us that even with perfect knowledge and the best of intentions, things can go anywhere from swimmingly to fubar. Or just as likely, things may develop in ways we didn't think of.

In Dr. Barnett's case, he simply says he doesn't like the idea that complex systems defy accurate predictions, but offers no reasoned argument to reject it. That's what psychologists call magical thinking. While all of us engage in some level of magical thinking, it often has its dangers, especially when magical thinking is the basis for influencing momentous decisions about the real world, as is the case with someone who has worked with and apparently regularly consults for the Bush administration. One doesn't need masters level study in Psychology and experience as a counselor (both of which, as it happens, I've have) to recognize both the phenomenom and the problems inherent with magical thinking. We're all familiar with it, as it is quite common.
...his refuting my apparent inferences that former KGB are now training al Qaeda or that the elderly remnants of Baader-Meinhof are now plotting 9/11-the sequel.
Well, to quote p.43 of Dr. Barnett's book again:
From its origins in the late 1960s, politically inspired or ideologically driven terrorist groups slowly ramped up their attacks worldwide, in no small measure because of systematic support from the Soviet bloc. When that aid disappeared in the late 1980s, global terroism nosedived, leading many experts (including me) to surmise it would no longer constitute a significant security threat for the international community as a whole.

What really happened in the 1990s is that many of these terrorist groups, cut off from Soviet material and ideological support, fundamentally reinvented themselves as religiously motivated terror movements. [Emphasis added.]
As I said in my earlier post, he can't be serious. Which terrorist groups, funded by the Soviets, have "fundamentally reinvented themselves" as which "religiously motivated terror movements" in the 1990's? Contrary to his assertion, it is simply not the case that al Qaeda morphed out of, say, the Weather Underground, Baader-Meinhof, or some other 60's/70's terrorist group. I simply have no idea what, or who, he is talking about here, and Dr. Barnett does not explain further in his post or provide references.

If he has proof that al Qaeda membership and [Insert whatever name you like of a leftist terrorist group of the 60's/70's here] membership overlap, or even that there has been some kind of organized, significant interaction between these groups (aside from some freelancers trying to earn a few kopecks or drachmas or whatever), I, and many others, would surely love to know more about it. But the truth is that al Qaeda was bin Laden's particular version (reinvention?) of the radical Sunni Islamism of Qutb and the Wahabbist tradition which originated out of the experience of the so-called Afghan Arabs in Afghanistan who were fighting the Soviet Union. None of this has anything to do with left wing terrorism of the 60's/70's.
I might call it crazy, but I?m not a medical specialist like the reviewer, so I resist using such jargon. Instead, I realize now that I should have given up writing the book about the same place (page 48) that he gave up reading, discouraged and shamed as I am by this awesome display of put-downs.
Clearly, sarcastic putdowns are not limited to the author of this blog! But if Dr. Barnett asserts that al Qaeda is a reinvented left wing terrorist gang, I need proof. If he asserts that chaos (technical definition only) is a "cop-out," I need an argument far more compelling than that it somehow conflicts with his understanding of his religion.
I wish Tristero (ah the courage of the assumed online persona ?)
My "true" identity is a cinch to discover but it doesn't matter as I'm nobody important. I have no authority beyond my ability to read, listen, research, and analyze as carefully as my mind permits. But yes, sure: I'm afraid of damaging my "real career" if some McCarthyite thug like Ann Coulter decides to smear me, but not obsessively afraid, as my career is below most folks' radar. But, as explained on a comment to his post, a pseudonym also leads the reader to encounter what I write without recourse to the normal, but fallacious, practice of judging the argument's validity on the basis of the arguer's "authority."
...a happy life in the world that Richard Clarke?prognosticator of prognosticators?would build for him. He will find his civil liberties well cared-for in that alternative universe. Dick is known for his kindness to lesser beings. They should get along just fine.
Oh, I don't think I'd like Dick Clarke very much. I don't like his ideas about civil liberty that much either. But all the ad hominem attacks on Clarke and all of his faults (as if his detractors are paragons of grace and staunch advocates of civil liberties), don't alter this fundamental truth:

Clarke got al Qaeda right. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and so on got it wrong.

I have said it before and I will say it again: my stuff tends to be a Rorschach Test for most people: they only see what they already believe.
That is a cop-out that allows Dr. Barnett the opportunity to defend his position by responding - not to the substance of his opponents' critiques - but to the character of his opponents. Dr. Barnett's critics simply can't see beyond their own prejudices. But sooner or later, he will have to provide some serious backup for what he believes for not all his opponents will be so easily dismissed. And the backup can't come in the form of informal appeals to his religious heritage, but in the form of a reasoned argument. Nor can it come by asserting an entirely bogus "passing of the baton" from the left wing nuts of the past to the fascist religious nuts of the present.

No, sooner or later Dr. Barnett will have to provide backup in the form of references to authentic primary and secondary sources.
Tristero tried to be objective all the way to page 48. He should be commended for his attention span. Especially since he seems to work alone.
I try to weigh arguments based upon their worth and within the realm of my knowledge. I'm prepared, if I don't understand and it's important, to read a limitless amount, to consult dozens of experts, and to do original research. And, when it's important, I never, ever take anyone's word for truth. I find out for myself. That doesn't make me "objective" in the sense of standing above the fray, as no one is, including Dr. Barnett. But it does make me reasonably honest. I have a fairly good attention span, for an educated 21st century American, but not exceptionally so. (It is the fact that I, a fairly average fellow, could find such distressing logical flaws in the first 48 pages of his book that made me less than curious to read further.)

And yes, I do work alone, except when I don't.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Back April 18  

One week hiatus. Meanwhile, keep your eye on what is NOT getting much presss attention. Often, the most amazing things become law when no one is paying attention.

Oh, here's a nice roundup of Rice's testimony that eviscerates her position. Enjoy.

Sunday Prayer  

from Digby:
"Dear Lord, please lead Instapundit's readers to the chapter on WWII in which it says that Germany declared war on the US, overran most of Europe and invaded Russia and may they read the part where it shows the US was attacked by Japan. After that perhaps they could be led to Google to find out how many casualties were suffered over all in WWII in countries from one end of the globe to the other. May you then remind them that the war we fought then was one of survival, not one of choice based upon lies, bad information and optimistic scenarios --- and that the lesson of that war was that wars of aggression would never again be sanctioned by the civilized world. Until now.

Finally, Dear Lord, may you hand them each an apple and an orange and explain to them the difference. Amen."

Operation Ignore  

Trudy Rubin reminds us how widespread the Bush reality distortion field is:
let's give the White House the benefit of the doubt. Let's say this was a case of a new threat so inconceivable that imagination failed.

How, then, to explain White House failure to act on information about what was likely to happen in Iraq after a war? Those dangers were not unimaginable. The CIA, the State Department, legislators, a plethora of Iraq experts foresaw the chaos that could follow The Day After. But no one at the White House seems to have listened.

Army Secretary Eric Shinseki famously warned that several hundred thousand troops would be required to ensure postwar Iraq security. He was sharply rebuked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz.

The State Department's Future of Iraq project detailed how to reconstitute the Iraqi army to provide ready security. But the project was junked by Pentagon civilian officials who disbanded the Iraqi army. Most Iraq experts had warned against such a step.

U.S. officials didn't train new Iraqi security forces to confront an insurgency. I was told by a senior U.S. official in Baghdad in October that U.S. special forces could handle any insurgents so long as they had good intelligence. Iraqi forces would serve merely as adjuncts.

And so we watch as ill-equipped Iraqi police and paramilitary forces scatter before the threat of insurgent violence. And more U.S. troops are being ordered up.

So we must ask why prewar warnings were so willfully disregarded by Bush team. Based on my interviews with administration officials and those of many journalists, I believe top officials blocked out any information they didn't want to hear.
Yup. And then, she writes:
You say all this is history, and we must think about Iraq's future. But the mistakes of the last year have constricted future options. Iraqis were never going to tolerate a long occupation, and time is running out.
Time had run out the moment the Bush/Iraq war started.

LittleGreenFootballs or Late German Fascists?  

Take the quiz!

From "The You Can't Make This Stuff Up" Department  

4th Rebuilding Iraq Expo, Arbil, Iraq

Sounds great! And guess who's been invited to present a talk?

Bechtel may also come as well. Come one, come all! See you soon!

A Thought Experiment  

Let's perform a little thought experiment together.

It's now September 12, 2001. You are reliving that day, the signts, the smells, the conversations, the feelings.

Do you remember how upset you were? And frightened? Do you remember how everyone went around saying "No one could possibly imagine such an insane thing, a hijacked plane crashed into a building, let alone 4 planes simultaneously hijacked?" Do you recall Rudolph Giuliani as he openly wept for his friends or watching Bush on tv, desperate for some assurance that our country, and the world, would be alright?

Ok. We're back there. All the subsequent history of the past three plus years is forgotten. Emotionally, we're in the moment and the moment is Wednesday, September 12, 2001.

Now, let's change one thing.

On this ominous Day After, imagine that someone leaked Bush's daily brief from August 6, 2001 and it was published in every paper in the country.

Go ahead, take the time to read it. Go ahead and read it while you're still in the emotional state you were in on September 12, 2001. Remember, Bush was handed this a mere 5 weeks earlier...

Finished? Good, now I have a question.

If that brief had been leaked the day after 9/11, how many days would pass, do you think, before there'd be a huge outcry and shouts of "unprecedented stupidity and incompetence at the highest levels?" And how long would it take before serious calls for the resignation of George W. Bush and his entire cabinet were heard on the floors of Congress, on the tv, in the press?

And folks, that is why this memo is being made public now and not then. Because even though it is still the day after 91// in terms of our actual response to bin Laden - remember, he and his top guys are still out there, and al Qaeda's perpetrated far more successful attacks post 9/11 than before - it is difficult to work up the needed outrage at what the existence of the memo -a genuine smoking gun if there ever was one - makes horribly clear:

Bush was told, straight out, with not a word minced, that there was a serious and imminent threat from al Qaeda. He ignored the warning, as he had ignored the numerous previous ones. Instead of snapping the bureaucracy to attention, to learn every scrap of information about the threat, he said nothing and went on vacation, smugly certain that the real threats were coming from states like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

(Yeah, sure, the typical beaureacratic CYA noises were made -''we are in the process of studying how to implement a an overall strategic plan to eliminate the threat, blah, blah, blah"- but in reality, nothing happened, the problem was ignored.)

Now, after a long, complex, and painful debate, we encounter a terrible truth. Bush was not merely asleep at the switch. It's much worse than that: Bush was chasing phantoms, he was attending to utterly unreal threats while reality was ignored. He and his entire cabinet had constructed an alternate, delusional reality with no basis in fact. They were, quite literally, at the mercy of voices rattling around in their heads that no one else heard, including their most experienced advisers.

Where's the outrage? At long last, will the country react with widespread anger, will the American people finally realize how seriously this administration has failed us?

Or will this just become more grist for the he said/she said mill, where every viewpoint is just another viewpoint, and reality is whatever the loudest speaker says it is?

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