Thursday, April 24, 2008

Afghanistan -- The Highway of Conquest

Last week's Islamist Entanglement lecture was about Afghanistan. It is difficult not to feel sorry for Afghanistan -- after all, until the 18th century it was not really so much a country as a place that had been conquered numerous times over the centuries, by empires from the East, West, North and South, earning it the description as "highway of conquest". In 1747 the first independent Afghan Kingdom was finally formed when various tribal factions agreed to submit to the rule of a relatively weak central ruler. However, the situation in the country did not dramatically improve after the 18th century and Afghanistan remains the most primitive of the places so far discussed. The country reminds one of Europe during the Dark Ages or present day Africa -- tribalism and religion predominate in the population's thinking and, apart from foreign interventions, continue to guide its course. No serious attempts at Westernization have occurred until the early 20th century. Scott concludes the lecture with a pessimistic assessment of Afghanistan's future, even more so than either Egypt's or Turkey's. He predicts that the Bush administration's attempt to "democratize" Afghanistan will fail. Next up -- Iran. Don't miss it -- sign up now for the whole course or individual lectures!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Glick on Obama & Clinton

Caroline Glick has another good essay in the Jerusalem Post comparing Clinton and Obama. My favorite passage is the following:
THERE ARE two reasons that a deterrence model will be as ineffective in curbing Iranian aggression as Obama's appeasement model. First, as last week's 25th anniversary of the Iranian-sponsored bombing of the US embassy in Beirut recalled, Iran has been attacking the US and its allies both directly and through proxies since 1979. To date, not only has the US failed to deter such attacks, it has never made Iran pay a price for them. With this abysmal track record against a non-nuclear Iran, it is hard to see how the US can threaten a nuclear-armed Iran with sufficient credibility to make a deterrence-based strategy successful.

The second reason that basing US policy towards Iran on a deterrence model will likely fail is because Iran's leadership has made clear that is not necessarily concerned about the survivability of Iran. From Ayatollah Khomeini to Ayatollah Khamenei to Ali Rafsanjani to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's leadership has made clear that they are not Iranian patriots but global Islamic revolutionaries. Given their millenarian, apocalyptic view of their country's purpose in world affairs, there is good reason to believe that a strategy based on some form of mutually assured destruction would have only marginal impact on Iran's decision-makers.[emphasis added]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lewis on Codevilla's War

Historian John David Lewis has released an excellent review of the second edition of War: Ends and Means by Angelo Codevilla and the late Paul Seabury in the Michigan War Studies Review. I had read the first edition many years ago and enjoyed it -- it lays out some important truths in this difficult topic, truths that even most of today's intellectuals, both left and right, do not get. Here's the first paragraph of Dr. Lewis's review:
Angelo Codevilla and Paul Seabury are clear about their purpose: "This book was written to open contemporary minds to the essential truths of war, lest those truths intrude of their own accord" (1). Americans, residents of the "magic kingdom," know little of war because it little impacts their lives. After 9/11, "The inhabitants knew enough to be frightened, but not enough to understand." This new edition of the 1989 original has been edited by Codevilla (Seabury died in 1991) and updated with an expanded treatment of "victory," as well as new chapters on "Indirect Warfare and Terror," post-Cold War conflicts, and the two wars in Iraq. The book is a valuable and comprehensive primer on basic issues in warfare for its targeted non-professional readers. The writing is lucid, without jargon, and can be read in sections. At every step, War offers multiple examples to support its conclusions, while foregrounding questions that free people must understand.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why Ahmadinejad is smiling...

As usual, Caroline Glick has some of the best analysis of what to make of recent events in the Middle East. Here are a few exerpts:
And the fact is that the Sunni states are aligned with most of Iran's policies. They keep Iraq at arm's length and loudly criticize US operations in the country. They continue to back Hamas and ostracize Israel. And they have taken no substantive stands against Hizbullah's subversion of the Saniora government since the end of the Second Lebanon War.

The main reason that the Sunni Arab countries cannot contend with Iran is that their publics share Iran's jihadist ideology. And their publics share Iran's general jihadist ideology because the Sunni states have indoctrinated their publics to believe in jihad through their state-controlled media.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and their Sunni Arab brothers are in no position to argue with Iran publicly or to confront Iran's Arab proxies because they can't explain to their own people why Iran's bid to destroy Israel and to dominate the world in the name of Islam is a bad thing.

However, to get the full context of how we got to this point, I recommend Scott Powell's Islamist Entanglement lectures which are available both as a set and as individual lectures. Sign up now!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


The most recent lecture of Scott Powell's Islamist Entanglement series focused on the history of Egypt. Despite the fact that Egypt had not been an independent country for many centuries, Egypt follows a path somewhat parallel to Turkey's. Its first (unsuccessful) period of westernization started while still under Ottoman rule early in the nineteenth century under the leadership of Muhammed Ali in reaction to the British and French interventions in 1798. A much-hated British occupation followed some disastrous financial decisions that the Egyptians made. Egypt has what Scott termed a somewhat hollow but nevertheless strong "sense of nationhood" that's tied to its ancient history. As a result, there was much anti-colonial sentiment in Egypt which resulted in clashes with the British and ultimately culminated in Gamal Abdel Nasser's takeover that kicked out the remaining British influences by 1954. Nasser's rule was ultimately a failure, having governed as socialist dictator at home and squandered his perceived grandeur during the Six-Day War with Israel, in which Egypt lost territory along with Syria and Jordan. Nasser was nationalism's last great champion in Egypt. The leaders that followed Nasser, including Sadat and Mubarack, merely tried to maintain the dictatorial system that Nasser established. Thus, nationalism as a motivating political ideology in Egypt is spent. In its wake, Islamism has begun step in, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood and can be expected to ultimately prevail, as has also been discussed elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

General Petraeus on Iranian Acts of War in Iraq

"Acts of war" is my description but how else should one interpret what Iran is doing. From Gen Petraeus opening remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing (all emphasis below added):
...Recently, of course, some militia elements became active again. Though a Sadr stand-down resolved the situation to a degree, the flare-up also highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming and directing the so-called special groups, and generated renewed concern about Iran in the minds of many Iraqi leaders. Unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.
Actions by neighboring states compound Iraq's challenges. Syria has taken some steps to reduce the flow of foreign fighters through its territory, but not enough to shut down the key network that supports Al Qaida-Iraq. And Iran has fueled the violence, as I noted, in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support to the special groups.
Together with the Iraqi security forces we have also focused on the special groups. These elements are funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran's Quds Force with help from Lebanese Hezbollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq's seat of government two weeks ago, causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital, and requiring Iraqi and coalition actions in response.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Why Palestinian statehood is not in our interest

I hope to write my review of Scott Powell's latest Islamist Entanglement lecture on Egypt as soon as I get a chance to listen to it. In the meanwhile, Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute has written an excellent op-ed on the topic of how the present administration has been acting against our interests in pursuing the creation of a Palestinian state.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Around the web...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Nanotechnology success

Back when I was in High School I read Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler. The book describes the potential of nanotechnology -- a technology that would involve the use of molecular sized machines in fields as diverse as manufacturing, medicine, and space travel. Since its original publication date in the late 1980s numerous advances have been made. A recent exciting advance is described here:
Researchers from the Nano Machine Center at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA have developed a new nanomachine that can capture and store anticancer drugs. The tiny nano machines are called “nanoimpellers” and store anticancer medications inside tiny pores and release the drugs directly into cancer cells in response to light.
This a truly amazing achievement with great potential for the future.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

And now for something completely different...

No, not Monty Python, Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. When I was somewhat younger I was an avid fan of Bruce Lee and I very much enjoyed Norris's reminiscing about his late friend.
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