Third Eye OSINT publishes enlightened commentary on geopolitics. The articles will always reflect a pro-American personal viewpoint, because the author is a loyal citizen of the United States of America. This blog is a wholly-owned project of Alfidi Capital.
I have never before watched a James Bond film in a theater. I now know why after seeing Spectre today at my local cineplex. I paid to watch an uninformed fantasy about intelligence work. Once is okay, because I learned enough. Here comes the first ever movie review on Third Eye OSINT.
We can begin with elements that would never make sense in the real world of intelligence. Geopolitical differences between rival powers somehow become irrelevant (the "Nine Eyes" sharing arrangement between the Anglo-West countries and presumably the BRICS bloc). Field agents and agency principals display a stunning naivete about pervasive digital surveillance (Bond, M, and Moneypenny discussing background research). Operatives discuss sensitive policy matters out in the open in unsecure areas in front of uncleared people (Bond and Q at the Austrian hotel with Dr. Swann). Technical specialists plug away on sensitive projects using computers whose displays are visible to anyone in a public area (Q typing while on the ski lift). Small caliber handguns can hit targets at enormously long ranges (the speedboat chasing the helicopter) and also blow up facilities the size of a city block (the hotel at the beginning, the desert facility at the end). All manner of vehicles are conveniently placed for a quick getaway (Bond's plane in snowy Austria, his helicopter at the desert facility, and his speedboat on the River Thames), and of course our hero always knows how to operate them. Our hero also always uses his real identity and is never under an assumed cover. He wastes no time getting under the covers with his female leads while their lives are obviously in danger. Yeah, find me a real intelligence system that operates this way.
The standard Bond film tropes are everywhere. The world's most famous secret agent wrecks his very expensive car, defeats a larger man in a fistfight, easily shoots multiple assailants without reloading, and saves his favorite woman just in time. The evil leader always reveals his entire sinister plan to Bond, and Bond gets away without breaking a sweat. It's great that Bond's women are becoming increasingly competent fighters in their own right. Female moviegoers need strong heroines, but the heroines still show glaring emotional weaknesses and need to be rescued from very improbable dangers. Dr. Swann inexplicably leaves the London safehouse to wander away from Bond, only to be captured for display. A truly competent operative would have either stayed at the safehouse during the operation's most crucial phase, or volunteered to go with Bond as backup. Alas, the plot always needs a traditional resolution, and the damsel in distress must always end up as the plot device motivating Bond's final heroics.
Monica Bellucci made an indelible impression while conducting the necessary exposition in Rome. She proves that desire knows no expiration date. Kudos to the producers for casting an older woman in a seductive role. Ms. Bellucci is much closer in age to Daniel Craig (Mr. Bond) than Lea Seydoux (Dr. Swann), so the romantic chemistry of an age-appropriate couple makes more sense. I also think Dave Bautista is getting typecast as the heavy who goes light on dialogue. I wouldn't want to fight the guy. Bond fought the guy on the train without getting a scratch or even getting the carnation dislodged from his jacket's lapel, but that's why he's Bond.
The James Bond franchise is great, mindless fun. Many American men who entered adult life without surrendering their adolescent imagination must see Bond as a role model. He always gets disciplined, suspended, or fired but somehow retains access to all of the resources he needs to do his job. The magical Bond narrative is great escapism for anyone who can't escape a boring life or defeat a petty tyrant at work. I overthink a lot of Hollywood product that isn't aimed at me.
The tripartite struggle for leadership of the Islamic world between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey rages on in the modern world. These regional powers probe each other's peripheries indirectly. Turkey's deliberate blind eye to the rise of ISIL, for example, was a gamble that instability in Shiite Syria would drain Iran's strategic strength. Regional powers also compete with cultural influence. Modern social science provides data for a useful comparison of these three nations' cultural "soft power" in their regional competition.
I pulled the Hofstede Centre's country comparison drop-down menu for the three countries in question. I also viewed their data on the United States as a baseline for comparison. The US scores high on individualism, masculinity, and indulgence. Iran scores higher than the US on power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Saudi Arabia scores higher than the US on power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation. Turkey also scores higher than the US on power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation. The obvious first impression from this baseline comparison is that these three Middle Eastern powers have very different cultural priorities than the US. Their higher power distance scores predispose them to accept autocratic regimes. High preferences for uncertainty avoidance would favor maintenance of their existing social orders and formal rules, even if this comes at a high cost in economic losses or human suffering.
Comparing the three countries to each other reveals that Saudi Arabia has by far the highest power distance and masculinity. This implies that Saudi Arabia has the most to lose from disruptions to its social order by ISIL or other non-state actors, and that it would respond to such disruption in a more masculine way. Note that a masculine policy from Saudi Arabia is not necessarily the same as an effective military response. Saudi armed forces are notoriously ineffective, as their difficulties in combating Yemen's Houthi faction make clear. The strong Saudi commitment to fighting in Yemen leaves it strategically vulnerable to any ISIL penetration of its northern border. Any social stress from fighting an insurgency on two borders would be exceptionally acute for Saudi Arabia given its high Hofstede scored for masculinity and uncertainty avoidance. Third Eye OSINT assess that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey will continue to prefer proxy fights against ISIL and each other in the near term. The countries' strong preferences for maintaining social order, as measured by their Hofstede scores, currently outweigh any inclination to express their rivalry in more masculine forms like direct combat. Cultural norms offer one predictive approach in conjunction with other considerations of geostrategy, such as demographic pressures, economic cycles, and competition for resources. The three primary Middle Eastern rivals will continue to test each other's influence. Their cultural preferences indicate how severely they will react to existential threats from non-state actors like ISIL.
Most humans are not designed for abstract reasoning. The ones who find it easy end up as global actors. The seriousness of international policy often lacks a softer side that allows ordinary people to connect. Interfaith dialogues fills that purpose for the large number of humans who need comforting imagery to galvanize their actions.
I mention the elite-driven programs because my search for global interfaith organizations yielded mostly grassroots groups that have little connection to true globalism. It is quite alright for non-decision makers to busy themselves with interfaith dialogues, so long as the heavy lifting remains at the top. The smaller organizations can do little harm and may do some good if the elite organizations seed them with attractive memes.
The world's major monotheistic religions hold to parallel myths and mysteries. Disguised solar cults survive to this day in the halos around the icons of mythical founders. Comparative religious discussions are beyond the scope of Third Eye OSINT's geopolitics. Suffice it to say that religion exists and its utility as a social control mechanism does not escape the attention of global elites.
I attended the Naval War College Foundation's annual San Francisco seminar last month. This is the third time I've attended and this year's "Global Hotpots Symposium" delivered my money's worth. The photos below depict the day's action at the Marines' Memorial Club. The comments below are paraphrased from the speakers, with my own thoughts in bold text.
The first speaker described the insecurity plaguing the Middle East. Her factual descriptions of conditions in the region were impeccable. The story of ISIS's rise from the remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front in Syria is well-documented. The Assad regime's brutal suppression of its own people was a factor the West must acknowledge. ISIS captured billions in wealth from looting Iraqi assets in Mosul and draws fighters from around the world. Disproportionate numbers of wanna-be jihadis are coming from Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon.
I disagree with expert assessments of ISIS's tactical and operational prowess. Photos of their "technical" gun trucks with anti-aircraft weapons hastily placed in pickup trucks show an amateurish approach to fire support. The gunners in the truck beds aim wildly without even using iron sights. They exhibit no evidence of combined arms maneuver despite claims of capturing US-made Iraqi armored vehicles and aircraft. I have seen no evidence in open sources of a logistics system ISIS uses to sustain its captured materiel. Terror tactics work against Iraqi forces with no ideological cohesion or nationalist sentiment of their own. I do agree with our NWCF speaker that ISIS excels at information operations. Erasing the Iraq-Syria border signals Arab rejection of Sykes-Picot colonialism. Executing POWs wearing orange jumpsuits symbolizes revenge for the perceived US humiliation of Muslim prisoners at Gitmo.
Syrian refugees have been straining civil society in Jordan and Lebanon for several years. Sunni Arab states may be turning against ISIS, at least among the Gulf sheikdoms. Turkey and Saudi Arabia could easily be decisive against ISIS if they act. Saudi Arabia just committed more air and ground forces to fight the Houthis in Yemen than they ever committed against ISIS. The kingdom obviously believes Iranian influence to its south is a bigger threat than barbarians to its north. The NWCF speaker astutely observed that the Sunni states tolerated ISIS's expansion as a way to pressure Iran.
Sunni ISIS fighters obviously target Shia. I don't buy the argument that ISIS represents an existential threat to Iran that justifies Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Tehran's threat of a nuclear program is more valuable as a strategic deterrent to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I also don't buy arguments that ISIS cannot be destroyed with military force. They have a strategic-level center of gravity in Raqaa that a ground campaign can destroy. They also have financial channels from oil revenue and donations that the US can interdict.
Our speaker noted that ISIS's logistics system includes smuggling routes across Turkey's southern border. The anti-ISIS coalition's effort to retake Kobane makes decent strategic sense in that context. The coalition's failure to counter ISIS propaganda makes no sense; ISIS's narrative of romance, revenge, honor, and adventure appeals to disaffected youth.
The second NWCF speaker described recent tension between North Korea and South Korea over the Northern Limit Line (NLL). He recapped recent Hermit Kingdom antics as a reminder that the country's "Byungjin line" requires a dual track of economic development and nuclear weapons. The world still cannot confirm whether the DPRK has installed a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile.
The Korean War Armistice left the two Koreas' western maritime boundary undefined. The North has tested the US and ROK commitments to uphold the NLL several times. North Korea appears to have three aims: maintaining economic rights to fishing and crabbing waters; retaining Haeju's port access to save shipping costs on its maritime route with China; and maintaining the ease of dropping SOF on islands close to the ROK.
North Korea has zero interest in submitting its NLL objections to international mediation. Its KPA Navy is too weak to seize disputed islands outright from the ROK. The Cheonan sinking incident was the North's way of testing how much the US and ROK are willing to escalate after an obvious provocation. I am unclear on whether the NLL represents an airspace boundary as well as a maritime one. I do not know whether the ROK has an identification friend or foe (IFF) system compatible with US aircraft but common sense dictates that they should. South Korea's declared ADIZ clearly extends beyond the NLL, so any North Korean air-sea operation in the NLL's vicinity would demand a military response.
I attended a separate lunch discussion with a senior expert who shared his impressions of the Middle East from several tours. I was not surprised when he said the US underestimated the Sunni/Shia divide in Iraq. I figured that out during my own tour, when it was obvious that Sunnis and Shias would not return to formerly mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad. A similar sectarian fragmentation is not currently evident in Afghanistan. That's the good news, provided the US can keep a token force there long enough to ensure there is no fragmentation. The senior official's best success metrics in both Iraq and Afghanistan were not the number of successful troops in contact (TIC) reports or KIA counts. He valued statistics on local recruitment of military and security forces, along with school enrollment. Those successes proved that tribal leaders in either country accepted their government's legitimacy.
The third NWCF lecturer addressed the future of urban warfare. The most recent Israeli-Hamas war showed how targeting insurgents in cities often destroys infrastructure. The US learned that the hard way in Iraq; just watch the many YouTube videos of JTACs calling for CAS on some building. We also learned that occupying forces end up owning government services, a lesson learned and forgotten in WWII.
Africa is rapidly becoming a laboratory where urban violence tests tribal and sectarian fault lines. Boko Haram's objective is larger than seizing Maiduguri. Their Islamist application of Sharia law appeals to people in corrupt parts of northern Nigeria who have grievances against Nigerian institutions. The larger story of how Chad and Niger carried the fight against Boko Haram must include Nigerian forces' failure to reinforce liberated towns. Al-Shabaab's resurgence is another story the West must hear, because that terror group still has a strong hold on Somalia and is now threatening Western malls after its Kenya mall attack.
Our lecturer endorsed US forces training its division-level formations in full-scale urban warfare. I searched Google for "sewer drone" to find tech options US forces can use in urban warfare. Advice from JAGs on ROE and targeting will be integral to urban warfare. Many of the asymmetric advantages the US brings to a conventional fight are negated when defenders have an advantage in urban terrain.
The final NWCF speaker addressed the possibility of a new Cold War in Russian-American relations. Russia has begun targeting military exercises at NATO areas. NATO's response has been to preposition equipment in Eastern Europe and step up Baltic air patrols. Remember, folks, "NATO" has always been the US instrument for influencing Western Europe. Our European friends rarely take action to assert their interests without US leadership. Russian opinion polls show a rapid shift against the US, but not so much against Europe until recently.
Russia's national psyche has always been predisposed to insecurity and paranoia. I recently attended a gathering of Russian emigres in San Francisco. A lot of them truly believed that pedestrian traffic islands around town were some kind of conspiracy to launder money. It would have been funny if this wasn't indicative of multigenerational Russian paranoia about any official pronouncements.
The apotheosis of the "vatnik/vatnost" phenomenon represents how far Russia has regressed from its post-Cold War openness. Search Google for those words to see an Internet meme celebrating the revival of reactionary, anti-intellectual traditions that Western materialism cannot vanquish. I won't link to the vatnost's retrograde image here, so go find it. The West recognizes Russia's new belligerency and so do former members of the Warsaw Pact who resented Russian dominance.
The West must understand why free market shock therapy worked in the Baltics and Poland but not Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus. I suspect the answer lies partly in the US's willingness to extend military cooperation to those successful states but prematurely curtailed Russia's NATO participation. A strong security link to the West would have made Russian-speaking elites feel safer about sticking with free market reforms. I may explore this theory in future blog articles if no one in the US foreign policy community picks it up. Karen Dawisha's Putin's Kleptocracy explores how Putin expropriated KGB funds. His recent admission that Russian forces invaded Crimea and provoked its secession prove his duplicity. John Schindler's XX Committee discusses the Chekhism of the Siloviki around Putin, providing invaluable insights into Russia's ruling elite. US reluctance to challenge Putin emboldens him despite Russia's obviously diminishing power. The NWCF expert believes Russia's geostrategic pivot is to its east given China's demand for Russian natural resources. He also believes this will lead to a divorce when they can no longer hide their rivalries. I think that divorce will come sooner than anyone expects when China's economy crashes. I also noticed that many of my Russian-speaking friends in the San Francisco area often repeated Russian media narratives about Ukraine's supposed aggression and "Nazi Galitchina" nationalism. Russia definitely won the propaganda war with Russian language media in Ukraine and elsewhere.
All of the NWCF panelists combined for a final panel and took audience questions. Here come the panel's answers, in a stream of consciousness style with no unifying theme. More Middle East nations are at risk of collapse due to poor governance. The West cannot wear down Russia with spending programs like the Strategic Defense Initiative because the US's ballistic missile defense plan just pumps up Russian nationalism. It's hard to assess the US response to North Korea's cyber actions. The ROK's heavy Internet connectivity is very vulnerable to cyber attack. It is very interesting that piracy is more prevalent on Africa's west cost than its east coast (i.e., Somalia and the Horn of Africa). The US still has substantial interests in anti-piracy, stability, and development in the Horn of Africa. The US Navy's Maritime Strategy mentions A2AD as a stalking horse for countering China, with less attention to civil affairs after budget cuts. China sees global hotspots differently than the US, with separatists in Xinjiang and Tibet figuring prominently. The US can slow but not stop Iran's march to acquiring nuclear weapons because Iran plays with the Non-Proliferation Treaty's limits. It will be easy for Iran to get weapons-grade HEU if it can keep enrichment ability. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are likely to follow Iran into a nuclear arms race. Boko Haram's captive schoolgirls have either perished, dispersed, or returned home; many are still held captive. Arabs think the US State Department's information operations campaign against ISIS lacks credibility. ISIS has a heavy Twitter presence with thousands of sympathetic accounts. The human capacity to handle deprivation has postponed resource wars and ingenuity drives more efficient resource use. Russia's economy and demography won't support Putin's planned army expansion. The Obama Administration truly believes its electoral mandate is to avoid foreign relations.
This concludes my synopsis of the Naval War College's 2015 expedition to The City. A lot of black swans lurk in the world. Look at China's tensions with India, a delayed economic crisis over Greece's inevitable exit from the euro, and migrations from Central America to North America that challenge our southern border's security. US war colleges and private think tanks do a pretty good job of training American leaders to solve strategic problems. I will extend my own discussion of strategy here on Third Eye OSINT.
Full disclosure: The opinions I express in this article reflect my own views and do not reflect the official positions of any US Government entity.
Dr. Sean McFate's The Modern Mercenary describes how private military companies (PMCs) operate today. He is not alone in describing "neomedievalism" as one possible future, although I prefer the term "neofeudalism." One of Dr. McFate's key revelations is that PMCs are more than the mercenaries of old or the military enterprisers who have trained forces since the Thirty Years' War. He believes that modern PMCs have the potential to expand conflicts by creating new demand for their services through extortion, piracy, and other means. I would like to explore likelihood that PMCs can supplant some functions of hollow states.
The UN Mercenary Convention reflects nation-states' desire to maintain a monopoly on violence. Allowing private actors license to proliferate violence erodes nation-state legitimacy. The trouble with such limits is that states now face many challenges to their legitimacy. Sub-national conflicts among ethnic and religious minorities, epidemic diseases, transboundary water management, and other problems can overwhelm a state's management capabilities. Hollow states need help managing disorder as their systems degrade, and PMCs can fulfill a firebreak role that forestalls total state disintegration. Nation-states have the opportunity to update international law for PMCs that recognizes the roles they can play for hollow states.
Growth will come to the PMC sector with or without updated legal controls. Drones and cyber botnets are cheap, and private groups are skilled in their use. Privately owned tech under PMC control means darknet enterprises can fund more overt operations. Hollow states will not be able to detect, regulate, or tax such operations once they gain momentum.
It is easy to view PMCs as living systems much like parasites residing within a host body. The hollow state becomes the host. Smaller PMCs that remain virtual can exist almost exclusively in the cyber-electromagnetic domain. The ones that metastasize into paramilitary forces must have physical real estate to billet their forces and maintain equipment. The imperative to maintain garrisons within safe havens implies PMCs will try to capture hollow states in some way. Hollow states that are starved for funding or cannot maintain the rule of law will become prospective hosts for PMCs that need safe havens.
The leading candidates for PMC safe havens are those countries that rank poorly on scales like Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index or the Fund for Peace's Fragile States Index. They are especially attractive host bodies if they are beset with sub-national conflicts that defy conventional resolution. PMCs will need constant flows of funds to maintain complex weapons and logistics systems as they grow to supplant nation-state conventional forces. These PMCs will naturally seek diverse revenue sources that weak states are willing to surrender in exchange for services. The revenue need not be from illicit sources like smuggling narcotics or contraband goods. The host-PMC relationship could be as benign as contracting for border control and customs enforcement functions that a hollow state can no longer perform. Such a beginning allows an ambitious PMC to manage the sub-national and trans-border relationships that will sustain it independently of a host nation's patronage.
The relationships between growing PMCs and declining states will be as complex as the emergence of feudal manors that supplanted the Western Roman Empire. Roman garrisons abandoned their frontier outposts when the Empire could no longer pay to keep them on duty. The milieu of Catholic bishops, Gothic tribes, and disenfranchised Roman lords were the PMC force providers of their day. Neofeudalism is the future of today's hollow states. Modern PMCs will evolve to fight the global guerrillas that hollow states are too weak to resist.
Afghanistan may finally be getting better after almost fourteen years of direct Western intervention n its affairs. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is leveraging his years of development expertise from the World Bank. His Pashtun ties mean he represents Afghanistan's most populous sub-national group. Having a competent head of state is a necessary but not sufficient condition for better governance. The people themselves must want a better country.
UNICEF statistics on Afghanistan are discouraging. School net attendance ratios for girls show only a minority can get education after more than thirteen years of liberation from the Taliban's anti-female theology. Educated women are one of the most potent weapons against radical Islam. The UNGEI's statistics on girls' education in Afghanistan do not match the UNICEF data. The international community will have problems coordinating a coherent aid solution if it can't agree on data for the biggest problem areas.
A developed country must be a connected country. Searching the World Bank's site for Afghanistan's transport sector reveals road network data that has not been updated since 2007. The World Bank's main page on Afghanistan has more recent development data. The overall numbers are still discouraging. It is jarring to see CO2 emissions displayed so prominently for such a poor country. Controlling carbon is a luxury only the developed world can easily afford. Exempting Afghanistan from this expectation for at least a decade would speed its development. The USGS estimates Afghanistan has enormous natural resources but those will remain untapped if the West expects immediate adherence to every environmental standard in the developed world.
Afghanistan's future political development depends greatly on where it resides in the Strauss-Howe generational cycle. Generational Dynamics has begun discussing Afghanistan's Awakening period. Getting better data on the country's age cohorts will be crucial in estimating how strongly younger Afghans will push their elders for political reforms. The Asia Foundation's longitudinal public opinion polls of Afghans are among the best data available covering sentiment within the country. Effective leaders will leverage that polling data. Afghanistan's next generation of leaders should read the Fourth Turning to understand how public opinion will determine their options.
Weak governance in Afghanistan leaves it at the mercy of stronger neighbors. Iran threatened to attack Afghanistan in the late 1990s and has long maintained ties to Herat province. Pashtuns in Pakistan seek to erase the Durand Line and create a Pashtunistan joined with southeastern Afghanistan. Ironically, wise leaders in Kabul can hold Afghanistan together by giving provincial governors the support they need to solve problems as locally as possible. The West has never fully understood Afghanistan's traditionally decentralized approach to governance. Afghans understand it quite well enough.
Repatriated Afghans like President Ghani have enough experience in the West to know how to implement good governance. The West should have enough confidence in their education and professionalism to let them do so in ways consistent with Afghan traditions. The developed world has long known what lasting democracy needs. A middle class that can participate in making policy and an independent judiciary are absolute minimum requirements for a stable society under the rule of law. I have personally met Afghan graduate students studying in San Francisco under Fulbright scholarships and I am confident that they can make the best of what the West offers their country. The Fourth Turning awaits them when they return to Afghanistan.
The Yazidi minority in Iraq and Syria has it rough. ISIL has spent the past year driving Yazidis from their homes and enslaving them. The international community has work to do after it eventually defeats ISIS. The Yazidis and other minorities will need repatriation to their homes and permanent security that they cannot achieve on their own.
The national government of Iraq has failed its R2P responsibilities towards the Yazidis, just as it failed the Iranian exiles within its borders. Iraq's hastily reconstituted army is unable to make significant progress against ISIS without help from the US and other stable nations. The weakness of Iraq's Shiite-led government and military in the face of ISIS will persist long after the US and its allies vanquish ISIS . . . and that victory may be a long time in coming.
The international community is doing what Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis are incapable of doing for Yazidis. UNHCR has provided emergency shelter for Yazidi refugees since the Mount Sinjar siege in August 2014. Estimating need starts with an estimate of population size. Pew Research's Fact Tank discussed several Yazidi population estimates in August 2014. Third Eye OSINT judges the straight extrapolation from the Iraqi 1965 census to be the most accurate number. Consider that Saddam Hussein's Arabization repression of ethnic Kurds would have suppressed any excess fecundity that less literate groups possess. Statistics have a logic all their own. The least reliable numbers are the most recent self-reported stats the Yazidis fed to the US State Department. Diplomats are normally not experienced statisticians. Self-reported numbers that are far higher than what normal statistical progression should indicate are very likely artificially inflated. Deliberately driving numbers higher feeds a political agenda for more aid spending.
The Yezidis are also spread among several Transcaucasus nations. Georgia is increasingly under Russian dominance. Armenia and Azerbaijan have not resolved their tension over disputed territory. None of those states strongly favor the rights of ethnic minorities. Yazidis in the Transcaucasus seeking a better life will not migrate to Iraq or Syria while ISIS threatens their kin. Migration to Western Europe exposes them to wealth creation that they otherwise cannot access. The international community should leverage Westernized Yazidi expatriates as a leadership cadre for a post-conflict Iraq and Syria. These leaders will be trustworthy if they refrain from inflating their population numbers as a way to extort more Western aid.
The straightforward military solution to ISIS is obvious to serious strategists. One division-sized ground combat formation, with at least one fighter wing of air support, could drive west from Sadr City all the way to ISIS's de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. One month of solid combat would disperse the tens of thousands of drug-crazed jihadi opportunists adhering to ISIS for romantic adventures in theological purity. The West's political leaders are unwilling to sell this prospective victory to their electorates. Lack of political will to win leaves Iraq and its neighbors with a festering sore in Mesopotamia. Yezidis will remain homeless in the meantime.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is about a decade old. It couches its appeals to Western sensibilities in a language of righteous indignation that never gets old. The Palestinian nationalists behind the BDS movement use it as another strategy to achieve their goal of destroying Israel. It is fair to identify the BDS movement's supporters and their own goals.
NGO Monitor has done excellent work tracking the funders of the BDS movement and its allied causes. The New Israel Fund aligned with BDS is particularly noteworthy for its history of supporting Israeli NGOs that make false or misleading claims about Israel's justice system and military operations. Even the BDS symbol is an adaptation of the Palestinian "Handala" cartoon encouraging perpetual victimhood. Handala figures prominently in the imagery of the Palestinian right of return principle. It is obvious that Israelis and others who adhere to the right of return principle have not considered the effects of forced immigration on Israeli citizens.
Israelis and Jewish-Americans who sign on to the BDS movement are, in the phraseology attributed to the Comintern describing their international collaborators, useful idiots. Jewish Voice for Peace claims the BDS positions are going mainstream. That claim is unverifiable, and is certainly untrue within mainstream Judaism after Jewish organizations have repeatedly identified JVP representatives as unwelcome. The Anti-Defamation League has an excellent backgrounder on how JVP covers for the anti-Israel agenda of other entities.
I had a very unenlightening experience in recent weeks when a JVP activist spoke to a foreign policy study group I frequently attend at one of San Francisco's most renowned civic affairs clubs. She sounded very naive, as if they could all sing Kumbaya to give the Palestinians their own state. This woman claimed that JVP's social network audience exceeds AIPAC's audience. I just did my own checking today on Twitter, Facebook, and Alexa.
JVP Twitter followers: 41,500
AIPAC Twitter Followers: 46,000
JVP Facebook fans: 206,756
AIPAC Facebook fans: 102,417
JVP website Alexa rank: Global rank 536,838; US rank 123,682
AIPAC website Alexa rank: Global rank 214,495; US rank 36,527
The numbers show AIPAC leading JVP in two of those three metrics. The JVP woman was either lying or stupid to make her claim of social reach. Radical activists are not above lying to move their agenda. Soviet dupes in the West did it all the time.
BDS activists often draw false parallels between their movement and the US civil rights movement of the 1950s-60s, the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, or the Northern Ireland peace process. The red herrings fly fast and furious with these people. The US civil rights movement never lobbied for a separate homeland for African Americans, but for justice within a single-state solution. The anti-apartheid movement was a similar recognition of a single state's legitimacy. The Northern Ireland peace process ended with recognition of British sovereignty, another single state solution. The BDS objective of weakening Israel's ability to defend itself through a military boycott, with no requirement for the Palestinian territories to likewise disarm, is not the moral equivalent of earlier movements for peace and justice.
It is glaringly obvious that JVP and other BDS supporters in the Anglo-West have not conducted any serious thinking about what happens after their boycott succeeds and a Palestinian state crowds out a greatly weakened Israel. Where would Palestinian returnees settle? Would they go to Israel to evict Israelis or to a Palestine that may not be able to absorb them? Will the GDP of a Palestinian state support both its existing citizens and new returnees? Will Hamas abandon its charter's pledge to destroy Israel and evict all Jews from the Middle East? Is a comprehensive Israel-Palestine peace even possible while a Sunni-Shia conflict exists within Islam? Serious diplomats across the Middle East and the Anglo-West have wrestled with these questions for decades. The only firm answer has always come in the form of Israel's ability to defend itself from existential threats.
Radical elements within the Palestinian nationalist movement have never surrendered their goal of destroying Israel. The methods change to make the goal seem palatable to sympathetic Westerners. The BDS movement is another strategy to de-legitimize Israel. It does not yet pose an existential threat to Israel by itself, but it is clearly a form of asymmetric warfare.
Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress this month stirred up the usual posturing from American politicians. Their equivalents in Israel and Iran, the other two audiences for Mr. Netanyahu's speech, will eventually be heard. Third Eye OSINT judges that recent noises from leaders of the US, Israel, and Iran have more to do with moving public opinion in those countries than with reaching any diplomatic agreements.
All perspectives on US/Iran/Israel relations are of interest. CFR's description of Iran's nuclear program raises enough concerns about the program's intent to warrant continuing IAEA monitoring and verification in Iran. There is no reason for any of the P5+1 parties to pursue side deals with Iran outside this negotiating framework given its legitimacy in the eyes of the UN. The US's own estimate is that Iran is years away from weaponizing its nuclear program. The CFR's description of a 2007 NIE describes the difficulty Iran has in producing sufficient weapons-grade material. The Stuxnet virus' attack on Iran's facilities pushed the weaponization date even further into the future. Talk of crossing red lines is premature.
All of the recent public actions by both Israel's and Iran's leaders are fodder for internal audiences. Mr. Netanyahu gains politically by frightening his people with an external threat. His Likud party still polls strongly but he cannot ignore the growing chorus of former Israeli national security figures who have come out publicly against Israeli policies. Anti-Iran rhetoric shores up his electoral base.
Iran's mullahs want their people to think the Iranian nuclear program is more dangerous than it is to keep the reformers sidelined. Strategic feints are an old practice in history. Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq went to great lengths to convince its own battlefield commanders that WMDs were an option, believing that mention of such programs would deter Iran or even the US from striking the regime. Iran's hardened facilities and uranium enrichment technology obviously have military potential. Whether Israel is the eventual target of an Iranian nuclear strike is open to debate. Tehran has little to gain from a strike on Israel that would almost certainly bring US retaliation. It has more to gain by rattling a nuclear saber against nearby rivals, specifically Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Both Israel and Iran also have something to gain externally by going through these motions in public. Iran wants a bigger bargaining chip to terminate sanctions, so making its nuclear program seem dangerous is a diplomatic gamble. Israel has obviously won a major diplomatic breakthrough with Saudi Arabia if the Saudis quietly approve of Israel's stance against Iran. American diplomacy is always at work and could probably have forged a P5+1 agreement sooner if not for some clumsiness. Media exposure of President Obama's Nov. 2014 letter to Tehran about ISIS was an embarrassment. Predictably, Iran's response was noncommittal once the entire US negotiating position was laid bare. Trading nuclear concessions for acquiescence to a more active Iranian ground campaign is a deal best done in back channels. US fumbling invites Israel and Iran to air their frustrations in public rather than behind closed doors.
The most explosive conflict in the Middle East isn't even Israel vs. Iran. The intensifying Sunni vs. Shia civil war within Islam is the main threat to regional stability. The leading Sunni states (Saudi Arabia first, Turkey second) are unwilling to directly confront Iran for leadership of the Islamic world, so they cynically allow Israel to do their heavy lifting for them. They won't be able to postpone the open civil war for long; ISIS is just the latest explosion of Sunni anger against Shiite proxies (Syria first, rump Iraq second).
Public speeches on geopolitics are always the tips of icebergs. They are monologues intended for multiple audiences. The primary audience is usually domestic. Hidden diplomatic initiatives rarely take their cues from public statements, except in states like North Korea where a megalomaniac leader personifies the state. The US has yet to demonstrate its ability to competently navigate both the public diplomacy and back channel communication that can set the framework for a successful P5+1 agreement. Rhetoric about leading from behind and "strategic patience" are no substitute for competence. Dialogue suffers and the world is left with monologues.
The US military divides campaign responsibility between the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war. Its pursuit of success at each level has encountered severe problems since the 9/11 attacks. The most well-funded military in human history has not achieved satisfactory strategic outcomes in Iraq or Afghanistan. These problems stem from both policy and cultural weaknesses that cry out for remedy. The US Department of Defense needs three broad reforms that will make its prosecution of each level of war more effective.
The first DOD reform must adapt strategic level policy development to modern times. The National Security Act of 1947 governs the interaction of the military and whole-of-government (WOG) actors in the Department of State, the Intelligence Community, and other areas. Its authors designed it for a post-WWII era that no longer exists. The US is in dire need of a National Security Act 2.0 for the 21st century.
The Act as originally written subordinated the armed services to a central Cabinet secretary. It did not anticipate a proliferation of intelligence agencies that compete with the CIA for authority and funding, nor did it prevent the non-defense executive agencies from creating internal offices that encroach on each other's functions. Piecemeal reforms in the post-Cold War era have not solved problems with interagency coordination. Act 2.0 must begin by recodifying each executive department's relationship with the President and the National Security Council. DOD needs Congress to articulate this legal change; it cannot do so on its own.
The second reform will require a new personnel management approach to developing military leaders who can adapt at the operational level of war. The US military's reliance on formal decision-making processes is adequate for planning major campaigns against nation-states. It is often inadequate for rapid innovation or adaptation to ambiguous environments. Changing the mental flexibility of mid-grade and senior officers means introducing them to private sector planning processes earlier in their careers.
The US Army's Training with Industry (TWI) program is a template for transforming the process-oriented thinking of career officers into the results-oriented thinking the private sector uses to stay viable. The current TWI configuration allows no more than a handful of officers each year (normally 125 people as of 2014) to spend up to twelve months on sabbatical from the Army with a small number of large private corporations. They return to the force with little incentive to use what they learned because they must re-adapt to the military's official planning processes. Redesigning the program to allow tens of thousands of officers to spend six to nine weeks interning with private corporations would spread results-oriented thinking much wider within the military. A 21st century TWI for all of DOD would resemble MBA program internships that prepare seasoned business professionals for management roles.
The third defense reform will change how new officers acclimate to tactical-level operations. Young officers must prove themselves in the eyes of their enlisted service members to be effective as leaders. More than anything else, this means offering some commonality of background, interest, or values shared between officer and enlisted ranks. The strongest and fastest way to establish this bond is to require that all US military officers first serve in the enlisted ranks as a prerequisite for commissioning.
Decades of social science research have proven that social affinity bonds among peers are strongest across peer groups with common social origins. This finding is a common thread in the study of social group cohesion at any socioeconomic level or within any culture. In the military, the most common origin is entry-level enlisted indoctrination. Officers who served successfully in the enlisted ranks, particularly as NCOs, achieve instant rapport with their enlisted followers. They do this more rapidly and effectively than non-prior enlisted officers. They also achieve horizontal trust among each other more quickly than "cherry" officers who have never served before. Horizontal and vertical trust are essential to building effective teams. Requiring enlisted service as a precursor to applying to officer accession programs ensures that new officers are trustworthy on day one.
Third Eye OSINT will elaborate more on each of these three reforms in subsequent articles. Alfidi Capital is the only source in the world for this particular strain of original military thinking.
Open-source overhead photos of several newly built Chinese islands do not reveal sufficient space for runways capable of handling fixed-wing aircraft, nor do they appear to have sufficiently deep channels or long piers to accommodate the refueling and resupply of large warships. The islands are thus mostly ill-suited to sustain the kind of island-hopping campaign the US employed during World War II to gain dominance of the Western Pacific. The lack of such capability may be temporary as China succeeds in dredging enough infill around its larger claims to support paved runways.
Coast guard cutters and patrol boats are shallow-draft naval vessels that could berth at these artificial islands for short periods, but the islands are too small to store logistical supplies needed to replenish large task forces of deep-draft vessels. China is thus not making a serious attempt at this time to challenge the US Navy's preeminent freedom of navigation role in the area. The Chinese attempt at dominance is most likely economic in the short term: staking claims to fishing waters and oil exploration blocks.
The QZ article linked above correctly notes that China's legal claims to EEZs around the islands are weak, but China has shown an increasing disdain for international conventions such as UNCLOS or the need to seek international arbitration. The islands will eventually prove useful as way stations for crews of fishing boats and oil exploration vessels.
China is currently testing the will of its neighbors to confront its fishing and energy expeditions. More confrontations drive demand within China for a more robust blue-water navy, built around the 70-year old doctrine of aircraft carrier battle groups. A carrier battle group is designed to exert persistent control over geographic features called "choke points" that constrict naval movement. The Strait of Malacca is the nearest such choke point to China's island dredging campaign in the South China Sea. Control of the Strait of Malacca is the ultimate prize in this region.
Hainan Island is approximately 933 km from the Spratlys and 479 km from the Paracels, two island groups where China is most actively building artificial reefs. China may have a land-based capacity at Hainan to counter challenges to its possession of these islands in the absence of a mature carrier battle group. For example, its CJ-10 cruise missile can range 800 km and may be adaptable into an anti-ship variant. The CJ-10A air-launched variant can range over 2000 km, but its accuracy against sea-based targets with a conventional warhead is not clear.
The Chinese PLA Navy does not possess a base network comparable to the US possessions of Guam, Wake Island, Kwajalein Atoll, and other islands that support both naval and aerial expeditions. China will reveal just how seriously it takes its territorial claims when it switches focus from dredging tiny shoals to building the underway replenishment capability its PLA Navy will need (in the absence of larger bases) to support an expeditionary fleet.