The Lafarge Affair.

If you read the papers, it is easy to get the idea that the post-WWII order is breaking down.[1]  However, elements of one era can live on, for a time at least, in a new era.[2]  One part of the post-war order took the form of multi-national corporations operating in the developing world.

What happens when civil war or terrorism breaks out in those countries?  Do companies abandon their often-substantial investments and call the insurance company?  Do they pull out their Western leadership staff and abandon their local employees to their fates?  Alternatively, should they stay and try to continue operating?  In many developing countries, both the regime in power and the opponents willing to take up arms against it are unsavory.  In peacetime, the government can hide a lot of its brutality and oppression.  Once war breaks out, both sides come out into the open with unchecked violence.  If the companies remain, what kind of adaptations might they have to make as war drags on?

As anyone who has read Nevil Shute’s Most Secret (1945) or just walked around Paris knows, the French have long been pioneers in the use of reinforced concrete for construction.  (They call it “beton.”)  Cement is a major component of concrete.[3]  Currently, Lafarge SA is a major force in the business.[4]   It made large investments in Syria before the civil war began in 2011.[5]

The initial stage of the war raised the troubling questions of “should I stay or should I go.”[6]  Lafarge decided to stay.  Then the initial war, the basis of the company’s calculations, went sideways.  In eastern Syria from 2013 to 2015, the Islamic State (ISIS) seized control of territory and proclaimed a caliphate.  (They also videotaped and posted to the internet the burning to death of a captured Jordanian pilot, among other indications of their mind-set.)  ISIS exploited all the economic resources available within its domain.  This included extorting Western companies, as well as selling oil and trafficking in non-iconic antiquities.

Mired in this situation, Lafarge may have made some questionable choices.  Lafarge allegedly paid ISIS and other groups $5 million to insure the safe passage of employees and goods through territory controlled by the caliphate.  Local managers pressed local employees to keep working while the security situation deteriorated.  Critics also cite “lax security” at the Lafarge properties.[7]

Confusing the effect with the cause, a French court has “indicted” Lafarge SA.

[1] And not just because Donald Trump got elected president.  Doesn’t matter what the daily edition of the New Republic (i.e. the New York Times) thinks.

[2] See, for a highly readable example, R. F. Arragon, The Transition from the Ancient to the Medieval World (1936).

[3] On the deeply fascinating subject of Portland cement, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_cement

[4] Liz Alderman, “France Indicts Cement Giant on Charge of Aiding Terror Groups in Syria,” NYT, 29 June 2018.

[5] If you look at news photographs of Syrian cities during the war, you will see that a huge market existed for concrete and cement before the war.  Commonly, one sees that artillery fire and aerial bombing blow out the front walls of apartment buildings.  The poured-concrete floors then fall downward like the pages of a book, rather than disintegrating or collapsing straight down.  The back walls and staircases serve as the hinge or binding.  So, the concrete appears to be generally of high quality to the eye of a non-expert.

[6] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMaE6toi4mk

[7] Without seeking to exculpate the company, it is fair to ask just how Lafarge could have provided adequate security against ISIS when the governments of Syria and Iraq could not defend themselves without foreign military aid.

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Indonesian Islam.

Back in the day, Seymour Martin Lipset wrote The First New Nation: The United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective (1963).  Like most of Lipset’s work, it was about several things at once.  For one thing, it was about the United States as the first colonial territory to gain its independence from a colonial overlord.  Therefore, American could serve as a model for all the Asian and African countries recently or about-to-be liberated from European empires.  For another thing, it was about the related issue of how to create a stable democracy.  (That’s what most of the leaders of new nations said that they wanted, although the historical record now suggests other ambitions.[1])  According to Lipset democracy is intimately connected with economic growth: “[t]he more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy.”  This idea lay behind both the Marshall Plan to aid Western European economic recovery after the Second World War and the First Gulf War (1990-1991).[2]

Time hasn’t fully born out Lipset’s ideas–so far.  China, for example, is an increasingly prosperous autocracy.  In many Muslim countries, oligarchies have gobbled up national wealth, while the vast majority of people have little opportunity.  More importantly, religious belief can outweigh political theory.  It isn’t clear that the beliefs of Islam are compatible with Western conceptions of democracy.  Traditional Islam rejects any separation of church and state, it rejects law derived from legislatures rather than the Word of Allah, and it rejects the very idea of nation-states in favor of the “umma” of all Believers.[3]  Moreover, Islam is socially conservative in ways that Western liberals find repugnant.  Women’s rights and gay rights antagonize social conservatives.

Indonesia provides an interesting case.  It is the most populous Muslim country in the world.[4]  Piled on top of religious conservatism are hostilities related to ethnic or religious minorities.[5]  The very small share of people with Chinese ancestry play an out-sized role in the economy and have long been the target of Muslim hostility.  Women’s rights and gay rights have a salience in Muslim concerns because of Indonesia’s popularity with Western tourists.

Like Turkey, Indonesia has a democratic system.  Can democratic politics can be used to impose an Islamist agenda?  In 2002, Jemaah Islamiya—an Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda—killed 200 people in bomb attacks on the Indonesian island of Bali.  Repression followed.  Recently, however, there have been both a mass mobilization of Muslims against the Christian governor of Jakarta and renewed terrorist attacks.  There is also legislation pending to criminalize public display of affection by gay people.

Will Southeast Asia become the next front in the war against radical Islamism?

[1] A friend insists that there is a scene from one of Ionesco’s plays in which a character says “We will drink wine under the willow trees.  AND YOU WILL BE MY SLAVES!”  I haven’t been able to run it down.

[2] It was a war for oil prices and oil markets, not a war for oil companies.  The historically-minded men and women behind the war were aware that the 1970s “oil shocks” had pitched the world close to the edge of depression and that the Great Depression of the Thirties had been the principal cause of the Second World War.  They didn’t want that to happen again.

[3] We’ll probably hear complaints that the University of Michigan Museum of Art is a sign of creeping Islamization.

[4] Indonesia’s population is 270 million.   87.2 percent Muslim, 9.9 percent Christian, 1.7 percent Hindu, and 0.7 percent Buddhist and 0.2 percent Confucian.

[5] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Islamist Shift Unsettles Indonesia’s Democracy,” WSJ, 29 June 2018.

My Weekly Reader 14 June 2018.

Well before the arrival of Europeans on the Eastern seaboard of North America, the Native Americans had advanced far beyond simple bands of wandering hunters-and-gatherers.  They had become settled hunters-and-farmers; their communities had grown from bands to confederations of tribes.  It would be easy to portray their situation as an Eden and the Europeans as the snake in the Garden.  This over-simplifies things.

First, the Native Americans were Stone Age people whose lives could be very hard.  Europeans were an Iron Age people whose axes, knives, cooking pots, and muskets could ease those hard lives.  Second, many tribes disputed with others.  Trading with Europeans gave them access to European technology, but alliances could give them the bulge on rivals.  Cooperation co-existed with conflict between .Europeans and Native Americans.

Yet conflict became endemic.  The two different peoples despised one another.  The Europeans—Spanish, French, Dutch, and English—were all monotheists, believing themselves to be in the left lane of the highway to Heaven and everyone else to be taking the off-ramp to Hell.  Endlessly busy in pursuit of gain, the Europeans found the Native Americans to be an idle lot.  The Native Americans were commonly animists, believing that each living thing possessed a spirit.  Lacking much material wealth, the Native Americans couldn’t comprehend the acquisitiveness of the Europeans.

The imbalance in real strength between the two sides doomed the Native Americans.  Certainly, the Europeans possessed an immense technological advantage over the Native Americans.  Sailing ships, firearms, and iron tools all surpassed anything Native Americans could produce.  More importantly, there were just a lot more Europeans who wanted to live in North America than there were Native Americans who might want to keep them out.  The spread of European diseases compounded, but did not cause, the imbalance.

The first American “way of war” rested on the English understanding of the Native Americans.  The Native Americans could not stand and fight against heavily armed and armored Europeans.  They faded away into the forest at the English approach.  So march to a stockaded village, burn it down along with stored food and crops in the field, then go home.  On occasion, the English could trap the enemy inside their stockade.  Then they applied fire and sword.

An early war in New England illustrates these realities.[1]  Before 1600, the Narragansett confederacy had dominated southern New England.  Then the Pequot tribe intruded itself into the Connecticut River valley.  In 1622, they had expanded their territory by defeating the Narragansett.  In 1630, the Puritan settlers began to arrive in Massachusetts Bay.   Conflicts arose between the Narragansett and the English from time to tie, but the Narragansett understood the danger to themselves.  In 1636, they palmed off the murder of a rough-around-the-edges merchant ship captain by some of their own allies as the handiwork of the Pequot.  Then they sent a bunch of warriors to fight with the English against the Pequot.  The war ended with a gory massacre of many Pequot trapped inside their own stockade at Mystic.  Some of the survivors became slaves of the Narragansett.  Forty years later it would be the turn of the Narragansett in King Philip’s War (1675-1678).

[1] James A. Warren, God, War, and Providence (2018).

Pakiban III.

Pakistan never wanted anything to do with the American war on the Taliban.  An ideological congruence existed between the Taliban and powerful elements in Pakistan.  An Islamist regime gave Pakistan strategic depth to its east against India.  Afghan Islamists had been valuable allies in the war against the Soviets.  Pashtun values have a powerful appeal for some kinds of people, even if they aren’t Pashtuns.[1]

On the other hand, after 9/11, Americans were hot under the collar.  Richard Armitage flew into Pakistan and made Pervez Musharraf an offer he couldn’t refuse.[2]  But neither Armitage nor Musharraf supposed that the Americans would still be in Afghanistan 17 years later.  They were going to invade the country, kill Osama bin Laden and his merry men, and leave.  Yet, here we still are, with no clear purpose except to avoid defeat.  In the meantime, Pakistan’s policy has turned back to its original pole-star.  Moreover, it has sought alternatives to being bullied by the Americans.[3]

Pakistan sees India as its essential enemy.  Pakistan blames India for the dismemberment of greater Pakistan in the successful secession of East Pakistan/Bangladesh.[4]  The Pakis believe that India has been supporting a secessionist movement in Baluchistan.  Paki leaders have, for a long time, suspected that India would exploit conditions in Afghanistan as a way to put pressure on Pakistan.  In particular, Afghanistan has long argued that the existing Afghan-Pakistan border needs to be revised.   To this end, Pakistan has pursued closer relations with both China and Iran.  Since 2017, Pakistan has been trying to patch up its relationship with Russia.

So long as the United States remains in Afghanistan, it is subject to pressure from Pakistan.  The chief supply routes to American forces there run through Pakistan.  To this end, the Obama administration and the early Trump administration tried to rein-in India in Afghanistan.  They hoped to conciliate Pakistan and win its support against the Taliban.  At the same time, the United States has poured in financial and military aid, while soft-pedalling concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.  On the other hand, American troops and American drones have attacked Taliban forces in their Pakistani safe-havens.  This has enraged Pakistanis.  For example, in 2011, anti-American protests flashed across Pakistan.  These temporarily shut down supply routes to American forces in Afghanistan.

That approach has not worked.  In August 2017, the Trump administration called on India to do more in the fight in Afghanistan.  This guaranteed a bad reaction from Pakistan.

During the Clinton administration, the Taliban sheltered Al Qaeda from a combination of ideological congruence and Pashtun values.  The United States hesitated to attack Al Qaeda from a combination of prudence (not wanting to accidentally set off an Indo-Pakistan nuclear war) and incredulity (that a tiny movement could actually declare war on the United States, that the U.S. could kill the people responsible, and that Bill Clinton—a “dope-smoking draft dodger”–could be president).  While the Paki conditions still apply, none of the American ones do.  Get out.

[1] Compare https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bmDhfEtNh0 with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a16jACPxSig

[2] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1zcuYLRbq0

[3] Yarioslav Trofimov, “”Pakistan’s Fears Fuel Afghan War,” WSJ, 25 August, 2017

[4] There is a lot of self-delusion in this view.

CrISIS 10.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003.  Almost immediately multiple insurgencies sprang up.  Then Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQIM) appeared .to make things still worse by fomenting a brutal civil war between the Shi’ite majority and the Sunni minority.  Eventually, Iraqis and Americans came to their senses.  Together, they destroyed AQIM and killed its leader Zarkawi.  The few survivors of AQIM slunk away to neighboring Syria.  Here they found safety as it was a foreign country plunged into a civil war in which neither the Americans nor the Iraqis wanted to engage themselves.  The Syrian civil war radicalized some of its participants.  Some of these joined with the remnants of AQIM, which re-branded itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  Eastern Syria is thinly populated in comparison with the western parts of the one-time country.  Government forces were stretched thin as well.  ISIS established its rule over the area.  From this base it invaded Iraq in 2014.  An Iraqi army rotted by corruption and sectarianism in the years after the Americans had withdrawn collapsed.  ISIS proclaimed a “caliphate.”

It was not to be, not for very long anyway.  ISIS fielded highly-motivated irregular soldiers without heavy weapons.  They could win where they were out against weak and distracted armies like those of Syria or Iraq.  They could never prevail against well-armed conventional forces like those of Turkey or Iran (or Israel if they made too much progress in that direction).  Iran sent military advisers and “volunteers” to help direct the Shi’ite militias, and called in Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.  The Americans re-entered the fray with Special Forces.  More importantly, they mobilized the Kurds against ISIS.

Now ISIS has been effectively destroyed in both Iraq and Syria.  However, if ISIS is defeated, “ISISism” is not.[1]  During its brief run of successes, ISIS won the loyalty of other radical Islamist groups in places as far apart as West Africa, Afghanistan, and Indonesia.  The dame factors that attracted Islamist volunteers from all over to Syria and Iraq still seem to draw new volunteers to the new hot spots.  Then there is the potential for “lone wolf” attacks.

In May 2018, several families (with children in tow) attacked churches in Surabaya, Indonesia, while a young Chechen ran amok with a knife in Paris.  The ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan has been launching attacks on civilians, rather than concentrating on military or government targets.  Four American soldiers were killed in a fire-fight with Islamists in Niger.

Is an organizational or institutional approach to this problem really helpful?  Before there was ISIS, there was Al Qaeda.  Before there was Al Qaeda there were the “Arab Afghans” who went to fight the Soviets.  There are subtle variations in radical Islamist ideology and there are ambitious, unhinged men eager to claim the mantle of leadership.

What seems to matter most is not the particular group or leader.  Rather, it is vital to understand and address the basic conditions that turn a relatively small number of people into serious problems.  For the sake of discussion, consider whether one source for the adherents of radical Islamism are the awful failed governments and societies across much of the developing world.  For the sake of further discussion, consider whether it is in just such places that the radicals have the best hope of operating.  Eventually, both questions lead to Pakistan—and its nukes.

[1] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Faraway ISIS Branches Grow as Group Fades in Syria, Iraq,” WSJ, 18 May 2018.

My Weekly Reader 29 June 2017.

A pessimist’s analysis of the American position in the world might run something like the following.  The United States is the world’s only global power.  (As such, it performs many of the vital military, political, and economic functions of a world government.)  It faces a host of regional powers bent on disrupting the global order created through American leadership after the Second World War.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and radical Islamist jihad all offer examples of the failure of military power as a solution to challenges.[1]  Moreover, the foundations of American power have been cracked by changes in America’s society and economy.  Liberal internationalist elites ignored the human costs of their policies until they inspired a backlash under the last three presidential administrations.  Domestic politics have come to center on divisive identity politics and the expansion of entitlements (including the entitlement to not be taxed) beyond what the traditional economy can support.  In light of these grim facts, America should shift from “hard” (lawyers, guns, and money) power to “soft” power (diplomacy, humanitarianism); America should seek to lead from behind by encouraging allies to assume their responsibilities; and America should do its nation building at home.

Eliot A. Cohen takes sharp issue with this point of view.[2]  “The chances are growing that the United States will find itself using military power chronically and at varying levels of intensity, throughout the early decades of the 21st century.”  Even over the short-run, the United States faces complex challenges: China’s rise as an economic and military power in a key region for American interests; an aggrieved Russia trying to punch above its weigh while it still can; and a transnational radical Islam that will continue to inspire local insurgencies.  These quarrels may have to be resolved in places as different as the high seas, the anarchic peripheries around or between failing states, and even outer space.  So far as he’s concerned, micro-lending isn’t going to cut it.  “Hard” power will have to be at least part of the response.

Cohen is equally persuasive, alarming, and rough-edged in the rest of the book.  Asking whether America possesses the means to use force where needed, Cohen answers with a qualified “Yes.”  His deepest concern lies in the nature and quality of thinking about the use of the instruments of power, rather than about the quality and quantity of those instruments.  One danger springs from what he sees as the capture of strategic thinking by process-oriented bureaucrats.  Plans, working papers, studies, and a deep dive into minutiae introduce rigidity and myopia into thinking about the long-term strategic environment.  In short, dopes have a large voice in the use of military power.  Another concern arises from our public discourse on these issues.  The United States, says Cohen, needs to do some serious thinking and debating on its relationship to the outside world and on how and when to use military force.  Not only must Americans recognize the need for force, they will have to accept that the country is in for a series of long wars with no easy resolution, let alone parades.  In the White House, in Congress, and in the Pentagon, decision-makers are too much concerned to define the “end state” of any military action.  Get in, wreck stuff, get out defined the 1991 and 2003 wars with Iraq.  Neither resolved the basic problem.  Here Cohen could profit from a review of the post-WWII experience.[3]

Left largely unaddressed is the problem of paying for all this power.  It seems presumptuous to believe that Americans will prefer national security to Social Security.

[1] Hence, the Obama administration recognized that the American people opposed any new war in the Middle East.  From this perspective, a deal to slow down Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons made a lot of sense.

[2] Eliot A. Cohen, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force (2016).

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/06/29/soldiers-become-governors/

My Weekly Reader 30 May 2017.

Ali Soufan was born in Lebanon in 1971, but ended up living in the United States and became an American citizen.[1]  “Education’s the thing, don’t you know.”[2]  In 1995 he got a BA in Political Science from Mansfield University.[3]  Later on he got an MA in International Relations from Vanillanova.  Then he went into the EffaBeeEye.

No chasing bank-robbers or goombas for him.  The harps had those jobs sewn up.[4]  He spoke Arabic and the Bureau only had eight Arabic speakers, so he went into counter-terrorism.  In 1999 he went to Jordan to liase with the Jordanian intelligence service, which had uncovered leads to what would be called the “Millennium bomb plot.”  Here began another theme in his career.  He found a box of files in the CIA station, allegedly ignored by the over-worked agents, containing maps of the targets.  The CIA seemed more vexed than grateful.  In 2000 he went to Yemen as part of the team investigating the bombing of the USS “Cole.”  Here he made important discoveries.  He went back to Yemen after 9/11 to pursue leads.  Here he figured out that the CIA had held back information from the FBI that might have allowed him to connect the “Cole” attack with the 9/11 plot.[5]  The CIA seemed more vexed than grateful.  Then he interrogated captured Al Qaeda terrorists.  Subsequently, some of his subjects were transferred to CIA control and were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques.[6]

By 2005 Soufan had become fed-up or burned-out.  He resigned from the Bureau to start a consultancy.  In 2011 he published The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.[7]  Here he tracked the campaign against Al Qaeda from 9/11 to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  Now Soufan has published Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State (2017).[8]  The American invasion of Iraq (2003) triggered a disaster.  Partisan observer—Soufan included–put too much emphasis on the botched occupation.  Iraq was a social IED waiting to be tripped.  The invasion itself lit the fuse.

Even before OBL died, Al Qaeda had transformed into something else, something worse.  It had become Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.  The remnants of that group fell back to Syria and became the Islamic State (ISIS).  More importantly (unless you’re stuck inside the Caliphate), ISIS called for the “lone wolf” attacks that have wreaked havoc in Europe and the United States.  Boko Haram (Nigeria), Al Shabab (Somalia), Jumatul Mujahedeen (Bangladesh), and Abu Sayaf (Philippines) all align themselves with the ideology of Al Qaeda.  We live with the results.

[1] I conjecture that his parents fled the awful Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebanese_Civil_War  So, that’s one anecdotal argument against President Trump’s “Muslim ban.”  The recent suicide bombing in Manchester, England, offers an equally compelling anecdotal argument on the other side.  So, we probably shouldn’t rely upon anecdotal evidence.  “Well, d’uh,”–my sons.

[2] I think that’s from one volume of the trilogy U.S.A. by John Dos Passos, but I can’t find the exact reference.

[3] Mansfield is a former teachers college in the middle of nowhere in north-central Pennsylvania.   He got his BA when he was 24, so he lost some time somewhere doing something.

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitey_Bulger

[5][5] Before people start jumping all over the CIA, read the Report of the 9/11 Commission.  Not just the executive summary, but the whole thing.  Then look at the list of Commission members and run down their career tracks.

[6] Soufan subsequently made public comments on the results obtained by the different approaches.  The CIA seemed more vexed than grateful.

[7] In Western culture, black flags usually denote pirates.  Until the 18th Century, captured pirates rarely got a trial.  You just hanged them at the yard-arm or threw them overboard if there were some sharks handy.  This is a plea for cultural sensitivity on the part of radical Islamists.  Falls under the heading of “enlightened self-interest.”

[8] At least he didn’t call it Al Qaeda: Covenant or Al Qaeda: Dead Men Tell No Tales.