08-05-2016 | Doubleplus Ungood

There is a strange urge in my mind: I would like to stop behaving as a rat pressing levers -- even if I have to go hungry for awhile. I would like to step outside the conditioning maze and see what makes it tick. I wonder what I would find. Perhaps a terrible superhuman monstrosity the very contemplation of which would make a man insane? Perhaps a solemn gathering of wise men? Or the maddening simplicity of unattended clockwork?

--Jacques Valle, The Invisible College, p. 206


07-23-2016 | All Things

"God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when he does.

When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.

God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else -- something it never entered your head to conceive -- comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?"

-- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 52


05-18-2016 | Simple Vanity

Desert Storm was a replay of Operation Praying Mantis, albeit on a far grander canvas. By nightfall on February 27th, American commanders estimated that given one more day the demolition of the Iraqi army would be complete. Before that day could arrive, however, Desert Storm ended.

In Washington, where destroying the Imperial Guard had never figured as a particular imperative, priorities were shifting. Concern for appearances was displacing serious strategic analysis. To some observers, it looked like the Americans were piling on a hapless and defeated foe. The optics were changing in ways that threatened to tarnish perceptions. When to call time was emerging as the question of the moment.

Powell was quick to sense - and embrace - the new mood. "The doves are starting to complain about all the damage you're doing," the closeted four-star dove told Schwarzkopf on a call to Riyadh. "The reports make it look like a wanton killing." What would Schwarzkopf think about calling a halt on the 28th? After briefly hesitating, the CENTCOM commander gave way. The idea of winning a Five-Day War, outdoing the vaunted Israelis by one day, caught his fancy. (The several weeks of bombing that had preceeded the ground attack did not figure in his arithmetic.)

Soon thereafter, Powell updated President Bush and his senior aides in the Oval Office. "Mr. President, it's going much better than expected. The Iraqi army is broken. All they're trying to do is get out," he reported. "By sometime tomorrow the job will be done." Norm concurred in this assessment, Powell added.

"If that's the case," the commander in chief asked, "why not end it today?" Once again, Bush was far in front of his subordinates. Ducking into the president's study, Powell quickly called Riyadh. What if the president terminated hostilities later that very day? "I don't have any problem," Schwarzkopf replied. "Our objective was to drive 'em out and we've done that." Desert Storm would end at midnight Washington time, the president decided, a nice, tidy one hundred hours after the ground offensive had begun.

With the clock ticking down, Schwarzkopf, channeling MacArthur, seized the moment to lay down his own narrative of events that unfolded. In a globally televised presentation subsequently known as "The Mother of All Briefings" - Saddam had vowed to defeat the Americans in "The Mother of All Battles" - the CENTCOM commander declared victory. It was a masterful performance, alternately pugnacious, sarcastic, humane, and self-depreciating. His overarching theme emphasized the historic, indeed unprecedented, nature of the US-led coalition's military achievement. In a "classic tank battle," it had all but obliterated the Iraqi army. Any remnants that survived were trapped. "The gates are closed." It was time to stop. "We've accomplished our mission." The problem was that he had not. And the gates were not closed.

Later the same night, Bush himself appeared on television. Absent Schwarzkopf's bombast, he affirmed Schwarzkopf's verdict. "Kuwait is liberated," the president announced. "Iraq's army is defeated. Our military objectives are met." It was time to move on: "the war is now behind us." The first of Bush's claims was indubitably correct, the second partially so. Unfortunately, the last two assertions missed by a wide margin, with considerable implications for the future.

In fact, substantial elements of the Republican Guard remained intact. Nor were they hemmed in. The unilaterally declared ceasefire offered the prospect of escaping back to Baghdad; they wasted little time in doing just that.

Compounding the error, Schwarzkopf bungled the ceasefire's implementation. In a position to impose, he instead chose to concede, with regrettable consequences. The fault was not his alone. Strangely enough, the suspension of operations caught American political and military leaders alike by surprise. No one in a position of authority had given much thought to what would happen next. Washington had provided CENTCOM with no instructions regarding the terms of any agreement to terminate hostilities. So Schwarzkopf drafted his own...


...when that meeting convened on March 3 at Safwan, an Iraqi airfield not far from the Kuwaiti border, satisfying the presumed demands of History competed with more substantial considerations. The atmosphere was rife with grandstanding. Earmarking furnishings for the Smithsonian Institution "in case they ever wanted to re-create the Safwan negotiation scene" emerged as a priority.

To demonstrate that he harbored no grudges against his adversaries, Schwarzkopf magnanimously agreed to grant an Iraqi request to resume use of their military helicopters. "Given that the Iraqis had agreed to all our requests," he later explained, "I didn't feel it was unreasonable to grant one of theirs." So much for the prerogative of dictating terms. The event adjourned with comradely saltues and handshakes all around.

- Andrew Bacevich, America's War for the Greater Middle East p. 126-128.


05-14-2015 | Fitness Landscapes (Slight Reprise)

The normal functioning of the world serves to hide our state of truly catastrophic dispossession. What is called "catastrophe" is no more than the forced suspension of this state, one of those rare moments when we regain some sort of presence in the world. Let the petroleum reserves run out earlier than expected; let the international flows that regulate the tempo of the metropolis be interrupted; let us suffer some great social disruption and some great "return to the savagery of the population," a "planetary threat," the "end of civilization!" Whatever. Any loss of control would be preferable to all the crisis management scenarios they envision.

When this comes, the specialists in sustainable development won't be the ones with the best advice. It's within the malfunction and short-circuits of the system that we find elements of a response whose logic would be to abolish the problems themselves. Among the signatory nations to the Kyoto Protocol, the only countries to have fulfilled their commitments, in spite of themselves, are Ukraine and Romania. Guess why. The most advanced experimentation with "organic" agriculture on a global level has taken place since 1989 on the island of Cuba. Guess why. And it's along the African highways, and nowhere else, that auto mechanics has been elevated to a form of popular art. Guess how.

What makes the crisis desirable is the fact that, in the crisis, the environment ceases to be the environment. We are forced to reestablish contact, albeit a potentially fatal one, with what's there, to rediscover the rhythms of reality. What surrounds us is no longer a landscape, a panorama, a theater, but something to inhabit, something we need to come to terms with, something we can learn from.

We won't let ourselves be led astray by the ones who've brought about this "catastrophe." Where the managers platonically discuss among themselves how they might decrease emissions without "breaking the bank," the only realistic option we can see is to "break the bank" as soon as possible, and, in the meantime, take advantages of every collapse in the system to increase our own strength.

The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection p. 81-82


05-12-2016 | Salad Days

The principal item on the agenda in these conversations was Rumsfeld's career. Nixon was engaging in one of his favorite pastimes, dispensing political advice. At the time of their talks both men assumed that eventually Rumsfeld would run for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Illinois. The main question was what jobs or experience would help him win a Senate seat. Nixon encouraged Rumsfeld to do something in foreign policy.

"Believe me, in a big sophisticated state, and yours is a big sophisticated state, it's about the world. It's not about their miserable little subjects," the president told Rumsfeld. He recounted his own experience as a representative from California, becoming active in the House Un-American Affairs Committee and in the investigation of Alger Hiss, so that when he ran for Senate from California in 1950, he was considered a foreign policy "expert" and voters looked up to him.

Rumsfeld agreed that he'd like to be involved in foreign affairs because "that'd give me a credential." Nixon suggested Rumsfeld might consider a job in the Defense Department but warned him away from becoming a secretary of the Army, Navy or Air Force. "The service secretaries, well, they're just warts. I like them as individuals, but they do not do important things."

Nixon also outlined for Rumsfeld which countries and regions of the world might help further the career of an aspiring politician and which wouldn't. "The only things that matter in the world are Japan and China, Russia and Europe," Nixon explained. "Latin America doesn't matter. Long as we've been in it, people don't give one damn about Latin America, Don." Stay away from Africa, too, Nixon warned. As for the middle east, he went on, getting involved there carried too many potential hazards for a politician. "People think it's for the purpose of catering to the Jewish vote," Nixon told Rumsfeld. "And anyway, there's nothing you can do about the middle east."


...Rumsfeld did what could to please the president, and that meant helping out with White House political operations. He worked with Mitchell and Colson, the key figures in Nixon's political apparatus. One secret bit of help Rumsfeld volunteered was to use his old Princeton ties for secret contracts with the Gallup Poll, which Colson believed had "dovish" instincts. "We have decided that we'll try Rumsfeld working with Gallup. He went to school with George Jr. at Princeton," Colson told the president in July 1971. Nixon and Colson were eager to try to influence the results of major pollsters, notably Gallup and Harris, perhaps getting them to phrase their questions or to present their results in a way that was helpful to Nixon. "I mean, if the figures aren't up there, we don't want them to lie about it," Nixon explained to Colson at one point. "They can trim them a little one way or another."

There is no evidence in the Nixon tapes that Rumsfeld tried to sway the outcome of Gallup's polling results. Rumsfeld did, however, manage to glean some advance information about what Gallup's upcoming poll results would show, giving Nixon an edge of a few days to prepare. Rumsfeld appeared to realize that in these contacts he was asking Gallup to go beyond the traditional independent role of a pollster. At a White House session in October 1971, Rumsfeld urged Nixon to keep these contacts with the Gallup Poll top secret:

Rumsfeld: Say, I just want to report, sir, about my conversation with George Gallup.

Nixon: Oh yeah, you went to school with him, didn't you?

Rumsfeld: I did. And I kind of want to be awful careful about telling people around the building that I'm talking to him. Because all he's got in his business is his integrity.

Rumsfeld then informed Nixon that an upcoming Gallup Poll would show that the president's popularity had gone up.

Nixon and Haldeman seemed to believe that these secret contacts through Rumsfeld were paying off in subtle ways. On the even of Nixon's trip to China, Haldeman told the president that the Gallup Poll would be timed in a way that would help Nixon. "I can't believe that Gallup would tell Rumsfeld that he would hold," Nixon exclaimed. "Because Gallup was always, 'Jesus Christ, I call them as I see them.'" Haldeman explained that Gallup wasn't rescheduling the poll itself, but merely altering when the results would be made public. "He would wait and release it next month, after you got back," he explained.

James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, p. 17-19


05-11-2016 | Being Concise

At the conclusion of the war against Nazi Germany, from his headquarters in Riems, France, Dwight D. Eisenhower had sent this admirably succinct cable to the War Department: "The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 02:41, local time, May 7th, 1945." In the seven decades since, no U.S. regional commander has replicated Eisenhower's achievement. Not one has ever fulfilled his mission. That is, at no time have conditions within the command's assigned AOR ever reached the point where the officer in charge has felt able to report the job finished.

Andrew Bagevich, America's War for the Greater Middle East p. 37


05-09-2016 | Leverage Points

The metropolis is a terrain of constant low-intensity conflict, in which the taking of Basra, Mogadishu, or Nablus mark points of culmination. For a long time, the city was a place for the military to avoid, or if anything, to beseige; but the metropolis is perfectly compatible with war. Armed conflict is only a moment in its constant reconfiguration. The battles conducted by the great powers resemble a kind of never-ending police campaign in the black holes of the metropolis. No longer undertaken in view of victory or peace, or even the re-establishment of order, such "interventions" continue a security operation that is always already in progress. War is no longer a distinct event in time, but instead diffracts into a series of micro-operations, both military and police, to ensure security.

The police and army are evolving in parallel and in lock-step. A criminologist requests that the national riot police reorganize itself into small, professionalized, mobile units. The military academy, cradle of disciplinary methods, is rethinking its own hierarchical organization. For his infantry battalion a NATO officer employs a "participatory method that involves everyone in the analysis, preparation, execution and evaluation of an action. The plan is considered and reconsidered for days, right through the training phase and according to the latest intelligence ... there is nothing like group planning for building team cohesion and morale."

The armed forces don't simply adapt themselves to the metropolis, they produce it. Thus, since the battle of Nablus, Israeli soldiers have become interior designers. Forced by Palestinian guerrillas to abandon the streets, which had become too dangerous, they learned to advance vertically and horizontally into the heart of the urban achitecture, poking holes in walls and ceilings in order to move through them. An officer in the IDF, and a graduate in philosophy, explains "the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. This is why we opted for the methodology of moving through walls, like a worm that eats its way forward."

Urban space is more than just the theater of confrontation, it is also the means. This echoes the advice of Blanqui who recommended (in this case for the party of insurrection) that the future insurgents of Paris take over the houses in the barricaded streets to protect their positions, that they should bore holes in the walls to allow passage between them, break down the ground floor stairwells and poke holes in the ceilings to defend themselves against potential attackers, rip out the doors and use them to barricade the windows, and turn each floor into a gun turret.


The metropolis also produces the means of its own destruction. An American security expert explains the defeat of Iraq as a result of the guerrillas ability to take advantage of new ways of communicating. The US invasion didn't so much import democracy to Iraq as it did cybernetic networks. They brought with them one of the weapons of their own defeat. The proliferation of mobile phones and internet access points gave the guerrillas newfound ways to self-organize, and allowed them to become much more elusive targets.

Every network has its weak points, the notes that must be undone in order to interrupt circulation, to unwind the web. The last great European electrical blackout proved it: a single incident with a high-voltage wire, and a good part of the continent was plunged into darkness. In order for something to rise up in the midst of the metropolis and open up other possibilities, the first act must be to disrupt its perpetual momentum. That is what the Thai rebels understood when they knocked out electrical stations. This is what the French anti-CPE protestors understood in 2006 when they shut down the universities with a view toward shutting down the entire economy. This is what the American longshoremen understood when they stuck in October 2002 in support of three hundred jobs, blocking the main ports on the West Coast for ten days. The American economy is so dependent on goods coming from Asia that the cost of the blockade was over a billion dollars per day. With then thousand people, the largest economic power in the world can be brought to its knees. According to certain "experts," if the action had lasted another month, it would have "produced recession in the United States and an economic nightmare in Southeast Asia."

The Invisible Committee, The Coming Resurrection p. 58-61


05-07-2016 | Rent Extraction

Under the economy of abundance, even on the limited scale so far established in the United States, the huge bribe held out -- of security, leisure, affluence -- unfortunately also carries with it an equally huge penalty: the prospect of universal parasitism. Earlier cultures have had skirmishes with this enemy: Odysseus' scouts among the Lotus Eaters were so beguiled by their honeyed fare and dreamy ease that they had to be rescued by force. More than one emperor or despot discovered their permissiveness in the form of sensual inducements and enticements might be even more effective than coercion in securing compliance. Once established, the parasite identifies himself with his host and seeks to further the host's prosperity. Since parasitism has been widely observed in the animal kingdom, we have sufficient data to make a shrewd guess about the ultimate human consequences.

Now megatechnics offers, in return for unquestioning acceptance, the gift of effortless life: a plethora of prefabricated goods, achieved with a minimum of physical activity, without painful conflicts or harsh sacrifices: life on the installment plan, as it were, yet with an unlimited credit cards, and with the final reckoning -- existential nausea and despair -- readable only in the fine print. If the favored human specimen is ready to give up a free-moving, self-reliant, autonomous existence, he may, by being permanently attached to his Leviathan host, receive many of the goods he was once forced to exert himself to secure, along with a large bonus of dazzling superfluities, to be consumed without selection or restriction -- but of course under the iron dictatorship of fashion.


If proof were needed of the real nature of electronic control, no less a promulger of the system than McLuhan has supplied it. "Electromagnetic technology," he observed in Understanding Media, "requires human docility and quiescence of meditation such as befits an organism that now wears its brain outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide. Man must serve his electric technology with the same servo-mechanistic fidelity which which he served his coracle, his canoe, his typography, and all other extensions of his physical organs." To make his point McLuhan is driven brazenly to deny the original office of tools and utensils as direct servants of human purpose. By the same kind of slippery falsification McLuhan would reinstate the compulsions of the Pyramid Age as a desirable feature of the totalitarian electronic complex.

The 'Big Bribe' turns out to be little more better than the kidnapper's candy. Such a parasitic existence as megatechnics offers would, in effect, be a return to the womb: now a collective womb. Fortunately, the mammalian embryo is the only parasite that proved capable of overcoming this condition once it has been established, the baby's birth cry triumphantly announces his escape.

But note: once a human being has left the womb, the conditions that were propitious to his growth become impediments. No mode of arresting development could be so effective as the effortless instant satisfaction of every need, every desire, every random impulse, by means of mechanical, electronic, or chemical equipment. All through the organic world development depends upon effort, interest, active participation: not least upon stimulating resistances, conflicts, inhibitions and delays. Even among rats, courtships precedes copulation.

Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power p. 338-340