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New Article: The NSC is Broken and it’s Time to Fix It

February 1st, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

The Chicago Progressive

I have a new article up at The Chicago Progressive, where I look at facets of the current exasperating disarray in national security.

The NSC is Broken

American presidents, particularly in their second term, tend to emphasize foreign and defense affairs in establishing their legacy because it is where our political system and the Constitution give them the greatest freedom of action. Success or failure here for their administration emanates from two distinct but related areas: formulating good, effective, policy ideas and secondly, policy execution by strategy and implementation with our allies and adversaries. Lacking good policies, an administration is simply a caretaker government on autopilot; lacking competent execution, good policies will be frustrated, then discredited and potential opportunities lost. The primary tool the POTUS has to see his foreign policies carried out is the National Security Council and the inter-agency process it supervises; while membership of the NSC was set into law in 1947, every president is free to establish and staff the national security decision making process that suits them best. Unfortunately, this means that while every president gets exactly the NSC he wants, too few of them get the one they most need or deserve. [….]

….Furthermore, no president, not even the highly secretive Richard Nixon, can run a one-man foreign policy (though Nixon, it must be said, certainly tried) nor should President Obama be expected to do so. The Obama administration is closest to using the “Operational NSC” model, which worked relatively well during the first term. While not friction-free, Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, John Brennan and several others were very experienced senior officials and political heavyweights accustomed to working closely with the Oval Office who were able to counterbalance the excessive influence of a relatively junior White House staff whose primary experience was and remains domestic politics. No such check and balance exists today. Brennan departed his post as counter-terrorism adviser to the President to head the CIA, Hillary Clinton left to prepare to run for president, while Panetta and Gates returned to private life. When the dean of the American foreign policy community, Leslie Gelb, the respected former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Democrat who is no conservative, called for the firing and replacement of the entire senior White House staff, it was unprecedented but not surprising. A staff that cannot get little things like a photo-op right are not of the caliber to serve the president in questions of war and peace [….]

Read the rest here.

The third greatest story ever told

January 31st, 2015

[by Lynn C. Rees]

Colleen McCullough is dead (props Razib Khan).

It’s a sign of George Lucas’ complete incompetence as a storyteller that he found the third greatest story ever told and left it an abomination. It is a sign of McCullough’s greatness as a storyteller that she took the third greatest story ever told and lifted it far enough to almost glimpse the second greatest story ever told. When I see the fall of the Roman Republic, I see it through McCullough’s eyes.

McCullough wrote seven books in her Masters of Rome series:

  1. The First Man in Rome
  2. The Grass Crown
  3. Fortune’s Favorites
  4. Caesar’s Women
  5. Caesar: Let the Dice Fly 
  6. The October Horse
  7. Antony and Cleopatra

I’ve read the first six.

McCullough is given one of the greatest cast of characters in history and brings them to life:

Lesser-known characters given their due:

One aspect of history that McCullough’s novelizations allow her to highlight how interconnected these characters were, especially by blood ties. Genealogy helped and hindered the lives of prominent Romans in ways history books sometimes fail to capture. Servilia Caepionis, for example, was Caepio’s daughter, Drusus’ niece, Cato’s half-sister, Brutus’ mother, and Cassius and Lepidus‘ mother-in-law as well as Caesar’s long-time mistress.

McCullough uses fictional but plausible plot devices, arrived at through meticulous research, to plug gaps in the historical record. She marries Sulla to an invented short lived younger sister of Julia Caeseris, making Sulla Marius’ brother-in-law and providing a rationale for why Sulla was on Marius’ staff in Numidia. She explains Caesar Octavianus’ chronic absence from the field of battle by making him asthmatic.

Vivid scenes I recall:

  • Marius, deep in Asia Minor, unarmed and alone, giving Mithridates and his army the stare down and forcing Mithridates to retreat (“O King, either strive to be stronger than Rome, or do her bidding without a word.”, according to Plutarch).
  • The pompous young Pompeius, looking forward to meeting the great general Sulla on his return from the east, is shocked when the formerly handsome Sulla, disfigured by a disease (of McCullough’s invention), having lost his hair and teeth, wearing a ridiculous Raggedy Andy wig, drunkenly greets him like an sentimental old fool.
  • Sulla, wandering in this ridiculous over the top getup through the streets of Rome later, then he promptly proscribes the enemies he has been sniffing out as an innocuous circus act.

McCullough’s star though out is clearly Caesar, growing from a young boy learning at the knee of Uncle Marius, to the devoted husband of the daughter of one of Sulla’s archenemies who refuses to divorce her despite Sulla going into full beast mode to the rising politician to conquering general to assassinated dictator.

Sulla, however, is her most unforgettable character. A Cornelii, one of the great patrician families of Rome, but born into a branch fallen on hard times, Sulla hangs out with the low life hipsters of Rome, uses his good looks and charm to first win the love of two rich women (who he promptly murders), and then climbs his way to the leadership of Rome’s conservative aristocratic oligarchy. He is first friends and then deadly enemies of Marius. He ruthlessly culls Rome of his enemies only to give up power and go back to his partying ways. Her Sulla makes Caesar and Octavianus look like helpless babes.

Come for Caesar, Pompeius, Cleopatra, Octavianus, or Antonius. Stay for Sulla and Marius, men overshadowed by the prima donnas they made possible. McCullough can rest in peace knowing she brought one of the primal stories of Western civilization alive for anyone who reads her books.

George Lucas can toss and turn.

The Jordanian way

January 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — hostage negotiations, a new take ]
.

As Zen says:

**

Okay, rule of law, much?

What are the angles here? What can we learn?

And will this work?

Unholy: perhaps it’s a useful word

January 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — when religion casts a long and violent shadow ]
.

unholy cover
cover art for the Unholy album, New Life behind Closed Eyes

**

Unholy may prove to be a very useful word, I think.

It’s not secular, it’s not irreligious, it doesn’t lack for some sort of supernatural influence — in fact it fits right in with the metaphysical implications of such Biblical phrases as (Revelation 12.7):

there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels

and (Ephesians 6.12):

we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places

**

Because, I am arguing, it is neither secular nor irreligious, it fits perfectly, I’d say, the kinds of situation we’re in so freuqnetly, globally, of religiously motivated group violence.

The word jihad — besides focusing entirely on Islamic variants, when in fact Buddhist, Hindu and Christian militians are also in evidence — concedes too much to those who regard their warfare as holy, divinely sanctioned, while other terms make things sound secular and almost normal, as if politics without the religious booster was all we are talking about.

BrutaL and spiritual, spiritual and brutal on both sides — in the Central African Republic, for instance:

It was March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim rebel coalition Séléka swept into the riverside capital, Bangui, from the northeast. President François Bozizé fled as a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder got underway. Séléka leader Michel Djotodia soon proclaimed himself the successor; he would later lose control of his ranks and an attempt that fall to disband them would do little to stop the atrocities.

At the same time, groups of militias called anti-balaka had begun to form and train and retaliate against Séléka. Their name in the local Sango language means “anti-machete”; their fighters are comprised of ex-soldiers, Christians and animists, who think magic will protect them. They’re adorned with amulets to ward off attacks and fight with hunting rifles, poison-tipped arrows and machetes.

Amulets and machetes.. warriors and angels.

**

Maybe we should say “unholy warriors” and “unholy wars” rather than “holy warriors” or “jihadis” — and “unholy monks” for the Burmese mobsters in saffron robes.

And I’d reserve the use of the term for situations in whiuch at least one side in a conflict openly avows religious motivation. Someone making a treaty someone else feels is foolish or dangerous simply doesn’t meet the bar.

**

It’s worth considering the Unholy CD cover art alongside two other recent images:

Moebius Floating City

and:

Wild-Hunt-602

And about that top image from the Unholy album, just so you know:

UNHOLY present their Prosthetic Records debut, a metal massacre fueled with down-tuned guitars, double bass and deep grooves akin to the sounds of Entombed, Crowbar and later Carcass, with members having been in bands like Santa Sangre, Another Victim and Path Of Resistance.

Guest Post: U.S. Marines, the Forever Tribe by Stan Coerr

January 30th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

We at ZP would like to thank Colonel Stan Coerr for his permission to reprint this essay, written on the eve of  his retirement last July, after a quarter century of of military service in the Marine Corps Reserve and on active duty.

Stan Coerr is the author of Rubicon: the Poetry of War and is a retired Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and works in the federal civil service.   He holds degrees from Duke, Harvard and the Naval War College, has been a fellow at MIT and Stanford, and was recently accepted to begin work on a doctorate at Oxford.  He is finishing a book on his time in Iraq, and his next book will be on the life and work of Dr. Bernard Fall.

The U.S. Marines, America’s Forever Tribe

by Stan Coerr

Today is my last day in the uniform of the United States Marines.

I write this not as a farewell. Rather, this is a reflection on this tribe of which I am a part, and which is inside me forever.

What I remember of twenty- five years inside this brotherhood are vignettes: stories that indicate who we are and why we devote our lives to an organization such as this.

Some happened to me; others I read or saw. All describe who we are as Marines.

——————

What everyone looking in from the outside must realize is that Marines are instant brothers, no matter the situation, no matter whether they have met before that moment.

The Marines are a tribe.

We have our own language, culture, mores and idiomatic shorthand communication.

We have our own distinctive clothing. We cut our hair in a distinctive way.

We paint our bodies with unique tribal markings.

We undergo rites of passage to turn boys into men, the men we need to further the greater good of us all.

We hand down legends of those who went before, who fell in battle, who did great and heroic things.

We sing songs to celebrate them; we memorize what they did.

——————-
We listen to the wisdom of the tribal elders, and we turn to them for decisions and guidance.

Ken Schwenke and Mike Dossett are 180 degrees out from one another in style, but those of us fortunate enough to be Marine Options at NROTC Duke, a team forty strong in the mid to late 1980s, to this day benefit from the nurturing and guidance and demanding perfection of those two men.

Bob Dobson was an exceptional battalion commander, a very deep thinker and a man who knew how to train Marines.

I was fortunate to work beneath the finest general officers the Marine Corps can produce. I worked for George Trautman when he was both a Lieutenant Colonel and a Lieutenant General, and his relentless, driving intellect and fearsome demand for detail, analysis and good decisions sharpened me in ways I am still discovering.

I was lucky enough to serve beneath Generals Mattis, Conway and Dunford, in both peace and war, and from when they were Colonels to their positions as four-star generals.

The nation is fortunate that men such as these have set us on the course we follow today.

————————
The Marine Corps is people, and it is stories.

——————-

I am marching a platoon down the streets of New Orleans during the Mardi Gras parades in 1989, as leader of the drill team.

I was to the side of the team as they marched, so I was right next to the screaming crowds. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets, screaming and shrieking and cheering.

Marine options in college wear navy uniforms but Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor insignia.

As we marched through the throngs, one man in the crowd, right next to me, saw my EGA and said simply, in a conversational voice and just to me:

“Get it, Marines.”

Never saw him, never spoke to him.

A brother.

——————–

I check in to Bob Dobson’s rifle battalion in Twentynine Palms, California in 1994.

Then-Colonel Jim Mattis, the Seventh Marines regimental commander, called for me to come see him. I was not only just a brand-new Captain, but I was an aviator in an infantry regiment: I was not a key player.

Colonel Mattis took his phone off the hook, closed his office door and spent over an hour, just with me, telling me his warfighting philosophy, vision, goals and expectations. He told me how he saw us fighting – and where – and how he was getting us ready to do just that.

America knows him as the caricature: Mad Dog Mattis. Those of us who served with him know that he is a gifted, caring, warfighting general, and the finest of tribal elders.

——————
I am watching a film clip from Vietnam.

Jack Laurence of CBS News, a very talented TV reporter and author of the magnificent memoir The Cat From Hue, was out in the jungle with a Marine rifle company.

Somehow a Marine from another unit was separated from his brothers, and this company had found him.

Laurence rolls tape, and approaches the company commander. This man is wearing filthy utilities. He is exhausted and thirty pounds underweight, with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. A man with things to do and the weight of hundreds of lives on his shoulders. A hard, intense man.

Laurence talks about the lost Marine, and asks: “Will you take care of this man?”

The Captain stares at Laurence as if he is insane, and says, as if it should be obvious: “He’s a Marine.”

Laurence: “What?”

Captain: “He’s a Marine. I’ll take care of him.”

—————–

I am with Paddy Gough in a Cobra over 29 Palms in December 1992.

We are at one hundred feet, flying back from a mission. It is bitter cold on the desert floor, below freezing, and a dark, ugly cloud layer sits low on the sand.

A line of exhausted Marines below us is marching back to their camp after a week of training. They string out like ants, hundreds of them in the cold. They are bent under their equipment: heavy weapons, mortar tubes, ammunition, packs, helmets, flak jackets.

We fly in silence, watching them, until Paddy comes up on the intercom with me, and says quietly:

“This country does not know how lucky we are to have such men.”

—————–

I am a seven-year-old boy, and my father is putting me to sleep.

I am sleeping in a Marine Corps-issue jungle hammock, which of course to a boy is the coolest thing ever.

I need something to read, so he disappears into the study and returns.

He hands me a book I read cover to cover and which I am holding right now: the 1962 Guidebook for Marines.

—————-

I am giving a speech in El Cajon, California in July 2003.

I was one of the first people back from the invasion of Iraq, and I was therefore much in demand from local groups who wanted to hear about this campaign in Mesopotamia.

I was outdoors at a Fourth of July street festival, speaking to a crowd of several hundred people and telling them how magnificent our fighting force was, and what I had seen.

I told these people that their Marines were in the fight in the desert, winning, doing it right for the people back home, representing the best of who we are as a nation.

Standing far to the back of the crowd was a motorcycle gang. Huge, hairy guys, dozens of them, in beards and bandannas and wraparound sunglasses and leather and boots, leaning on their Harleys.

As I came off the stage, they came to me as a group. The first of them grabbed me and I now saw the EGA sewn onto his vest, right next to his Vietnam campaign patch.

He embraced me, tight, and said:

“Right on, brother. Right on.”

——————————–

Karl Marlantes was in the best position imaginable in 1967.

He was on a Rhodes Scholarship, comfortable in Oxford, immune from the Vietnam War and the vagaries of the draft. He was immersed in the world’s premier academic institution on a full ride, the goal of every serious college student.

But Marlantes had been to Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in 1964. He had been inducted into the tribe. And his brothers were at war. He says:

“I couldn’t go to a party without thinking of my Marine friends, terrified in the jungle while I was hanging onto my girlfriend’s warm body with one arm and holding a pint of bitter in the other. The one choice my conscience would not allow was to sit it out in college.

I pulled all my scholarship money from the bank…and Second Lieutenant Karl Marlantes USMCR reported for active duty. “

—————————–

Or from Phillip Caputo in 1961:

“I wanted to find in a commonplace world a chance to live heroically.

Having known nothing but security, comfort and peace, I hungered for danger, challenges and violence.

The Marine Corps was more than a branch of the armed services. It was a society unto itself, demanding total commitment to its doctrines and values. We were novitiates, and the rigorous training , administered by the high priests called drill instructors, was to be our ordeal of initiation.

At the end of the course, the DIs honored our survival by informing us that we had earned the right to be called Marines.”

—————-

I earned that right, as did many of you. As did millions before us, and the millions to follow.

I feel no sadness about taking off the uniform for the last time. The Marine Corps does not care about me….nor should it. The organization will always be there, and it will always hone and harden the finest our country has to offer.

I was only one of many…but at the same time, I was one of the few.

The Marine Corps serves the nation, and those of us who are called serve the Marine Corps.

We serve the unit.

We serve the tribe.

Most of all, we serve our brothers.

Semper Fidelis.


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