Monthly Archives: November 2008

Short Review of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency Manual

http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/Repository/Materials/COIN-FM3-24.pdfI was asked to prepare a short review of the US Army/Marine Corps COIN Manual (FM 3-24) for a professor over at the National War College. The manual is a must read (or must skim) for those who want to understand how the US Army intends to fight current and future counter-insurgencies. Many critics have called it too academic and ‘lovey-dovey’, and while it does try to come up with an intelligent framework for conceiving COIN operations, the manual does tend to place too little emphasis on military force.

 

FM 3-24 can be read here.

U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24 / MCWP 3-33.5)
Headquarters, Department of the Army, 282 pp.

FM 3-24, the counterinsurgency (COIN) manual written by Gen. David Petraeus’ team, fills an operational and intellectual void in the American military. Following the defeat in Vietnam, writes COIN expert John Nagl, “we purged ourselves of everything that had to do with irregular warfare or insurgency, because it had to do with how we lost that war. In hindsight, that was a bad decision.” (1)
It was a bad decision because the United States became engaged in complicated counter-insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. FM 3-24 would have been a timely addition to military doctrine before the current conflicts, but contemporary American engagements made the work especially urgent. As the foreword states: “With our Soldiers and Marines fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is essential that we give them a manual that provides principles and guidelines for counterinsurgency operations.”
This review explores central ideas in FM 3-24, evaluates their treatment within the manual, and examines how they are understood by junior commanders on the ground.

The Apocalyptic Origins of Suicide Terrorism

I want to apologize to those readers who have been following this blog for the extensive lapse in postings for the last two months. I have been working on my book about milennialism and have found it difficult to switch gears. But it has occurred to me that I have failed to use a great resource — my readers — in preparing my book. As a result, I would like to post some of the passages from my book to get your feedback.

The first posting I’m putting up is a section that I’m not sure I will keep in the book. It comes from the last chapter on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic movement. I’m not sure that I can make this argument well — it’s a huge and problematic literature, riddled with functionalist retrospective explanations that’s hard to combat effectively without doing my own research. Any suggestions, including other sources, would be most appreciated.

The Apocalyptic Origins of Suicide Terrorism

The marginal quality of apocalyptic thinking and the kinds of violent actions that it inspired comes across quite clearly in the issue of suicide terrorism against Israeli civilians. Predatory martyrdom – killing yourself as part of a Jihad against enemy soldiers – has plenty of Qur’anic support, even though it is not a “constant” of Muslim history.[1] Nor is it uniquely Muslim. Kamikaze pilots had already shown the world how warriors, who would rather die with honor in battle than survive in shame, deal with certain defeat. This kind of suicidal attack on enemy troops first appeared in the Middle East as part of the new global Jihad, when Hizbullah chased the Americans out of Lebanon with two massive suicide operations in 1983.[2]

Suicide terrorism – attacks deliberately targeting civilians – has a different ethos. Here, any claim to warrior’s honor fails. As Sheik of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Tantawi wrote:

Any explosion that leads to the death of innocent women and children is a criminal act, carried out only by people who are base, cowards and traitors, because a rational man with just a bit of respect and manliness, refrains from such operations altogether.[3]

Few warrior traditions do not condemn attacks on civilians, a fortiori, a monotheistic religion claiming to serve a merciful God and to treasure every human life as a universe. The ideologue of modern, apocalyptic Jihad, Sayyid Qutb, cited the Qur’an and insisted:

Do not kill any women, children or elderly people (Muhammad’s successor Abu Bakr).” “Fight for the cause of God those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression. God does not love aggressors (Qur’an 2:190).”

These principles had to be strictly observed, even with those enemies who had persecuted them and inflicted unspeakable atrocities on them.[4]

To commit suicide while targeting innocent women and children, then, as some bombers did starting in 1993, demands a major transgression, one that offends basic civilized norms.[5] People do not readily commit suicide, much less send their children to do so, much less, to kill children.[6] First, as a basic issue of Islamic Sharia, there is a commandment not to kill the defenseless civilians among one’s enemy unless they kill yours.[7] Indeed, one disciple of Abdullah Azzam claimed that what distinguished his master from Osama bin Laden, was precisely this issue:

[T]here is no way that a real Mujahid, a ‘man’ like Abdullah Azzam, who was fond of the Salafi creed, the companions and Ibn Taimiyyah, would lower himself to the methods that Ibn Laden used and advocated or even condone such terrible acts and deviation from the true jihad. How can a Mujahid like him end up killing women and children, attacking civilian non-Muslims, blowing up places of worship…[8]

When, in the early 1990s, Hamas first introduced suicide terrorism – martyrdom operations – opposition came even from their own ranks.[9] To explain it, one must not only explain how marginal activists and theologians defend it, but how a public embraces it. When the IRA tried suicide terrorism, the opprobrium that ensued guaranteed that that was the last such attempt. Suicide terrorism needs public approval to move from the margins to the center.

The academic literature on the origins of suicide bombing works almost exclusively ex post facto and has a heavy functionalist bias.[10] Once it has become popular, once the suicides are praised by their families, acclaimed as “martyrs” by the Imams and the public alike, once TV sequences show the gorgeous, unveiled, eager female sexual partners that await the dead man in heaven – once it has become socially normalized – then one can posit some more pedestrian motivations for suicide bombing… like humiliating check points, or peer pressure, or resistance to occupation, or even “despair at not having hope.”[11] But long before that can happen, many inhibitions – religious, cultural, human – must all fall victim to something still more powerful.

To explore the phenomenon ex post ante, as turkey rather than bat historians, let us look more closely at the millennial stakes at play in its origins. Rather than invoke public opinion as a key explanation, we need to ask: What drove some men to develop a theology of suicide terrorism? And what made it so popular? To do so, we must consider the situation of Hamas and their Palestinian constituency when they made the “leap.” From a millennial perspective, it makes sense that it would occur in Gaza, by an apocalyptic group dedicated to global Jihad, during the “Oslo Peace Process.”[12]

Oslo created an apocalyptic crisis for both Israeli and Arab activist millennials – for the messianic settlers, disciples of Zvi Yehuda Kook, it meant reversing the wheels of destiny: giving back sacred territory defied their apocalyptic scenario in which that land’s conquest was part of a redemptive historical process. Similarly, to those radicals committed to Jihad against Israel and the West, the very idea of compromise represented a humiliation and a renunciation of the claim to the entire Waqf of the land of Israel.

Such a collapse of one’s redemptive historical scenario provokes a crisis of faith: supremely confident while things go their way,such reversals often trigger the trip switch from passive to active, transformational to violent. Such shifts in turn intensified the apocalyptic dynamic of “one person’s messiah is another’s Antichrist.” Each side saw the other increasingly as an implacable enemy, and in addition to longstanding free-lance Arab violence against Israeli civilians which intensified throughout the early 1990s, religious Jews engaged in unprecedented violence – an intentional massacre of Arab civilians (Baruch Goldstein, Hebron, February 1994); and the first assassination of an Israeli Prime Minister (November, 1995). [13]

For the apocalyptic Muslims, as well, Oslo defied sacred history. Dedicated at their core to the irredentist scenario, they could view negotiations only as betrayal, treason against all three circles of the apocalyptic “us” – Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims.[14] With the PLO pursuing negotiations (regardless of whether in good faith or not), and even a fair number of Palestinians expressing optimism in resolving the conflict without eliminating the Israeli presence, Hamas found itself faced with a contradiction to its faith in the juggernaut of its total victory, a development that left them temporarily speechless.[15]

One response, among the more “conventional thinkers” was to justify the truce and “move away” from the theme of the destruction of Israel. The Hamas intellectual, Bassam Jirrar pursued this option with a very popular book, in which he created an apocalyptic extender, a temporal buffer between “now” and the Endtime in a popular book, Israel’s Destruction in 2022. Cook notes how this relatively moderate Muslim apocalyptic writer – little of the characteristic anti-Semitism and ferocious violence in his works – created a possibility for temporary moderation: “If God has really decreed the destruction of Israel in that year, it is sacrilegious to attempt to destroy it beforehand. Hence Hamas’ willingness to speak about a truce with Israel.”[16]

But while conditions of growing cognitive dissonance produce face-saving formulas, they also, as we have seen, encourage coercive purity and still more indiscriminate violence. Already as the first Intifada faltered in the early 1990s, Hamas apocalyptic cult of blood and death intensified as the exorbitant hopes of destroying Israel it had inspired, collapsed. And this upping of the ante came partly as a response to the fragility of Hamas’ own apocalyptic Endtimes prophecies failed.

At the same time, however, the turn toward the End… showed the Intifada under severe threat, its truth revealed only in ecstatic obliteration – precisely the logic of the suicide bomber who would save his world by blowing it up.[17]

The Oslo Process (1993-2000) took matters still further in the wrong direction. Giving up on war now was bad enough, but making peace with the intolerable enemy? Impossible. Each negotiation, therefore, brought its harvest of martyrs who gave their lives to assure that the peace process would “collapse.” A Hamas operative exulted over the results the Ninth round of the Peace Negotiations:
In little more than eighteen days the number of martyrs has gone to thirty-five, and this number did not exist in the past, and we have never seen a number like this except under the shadow of negotiations…”[18]

Oliver and Steinberg’s study illustrates the world of belief in which the Palestinians turned to suicide terror – the apocalyptic religious world of the highest stakes: “no” to any compromise, “yes” to every violence, anything to provoke Armaggedon, anything destruction to save the world.[19] Where 19th-century anarchists declared: “God is dead, everything is permitted, the apocalyptic Jihadi of the late 20th century declared, “Allah wills it, everything is permitted.”[20]

Endnotes

[1] The first case was a Christian Palestinian woman from *** who blew herself up near Israeli soldiers in 1982.
[2] The Tamil Tigers were the first to copy Hizbullah; see Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 60-75.
[3] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series – No. 53, May 2001.
[4] Cited in Berman, Terror and Liberalism, p. 98. See also, Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya’s renunciation of violence: Al-Musawwar (Egypt), June 28, 2002. Cited in MEMRI, Inquiry and Analysis Series – No. 309, December 22, 2006.
[5] On the Islamic prohibitions, see Lewis, “License to Kill.” Qaradawhi condemned 9-11, invoking this principle of not attacking innocent civilians (from BBC Newsnight, July 8, 2004).
[6] One of the great weaknesses of the Palestinian movie Paradise Now (2005) is the lack of real emotion, motivation and preparation behind the two men’s determination to undertake a suicide mission. Overall, one does not get the impression that the religious dimension holds much significance for the director, Hany Abu-Assad.
[7] On the prohibitions, see Lewis, “License to Kill;” Qaradawhi condemned 9-11, invoking this principle of not attacking innocent civilians (from BBC Newsnight, July 8, 2004).
[8] Jalal Adualrub, comment at a thread on condemnations of Bin Laden by other Muslim authorities at Islam Life. The author is an active Jihadi warrior. 10-Feb-07]
[9] Cook “Muslim Fears or the Year 2000,” Middle East Quarterly 5:2 (June, 1998); Understanding Jihad, pp. 142-7. On the legal restraints on killing civilians in Jihad, see Bernard Lewis, “License to Kill: Usama bin Ladin’s Declaration of Jihad,” Foreign Affairs 77 (1998), p. 19; on the problems for Islamic theology posed by suicide terror, see the earliest study on the issue, Re’uven Paz, Hit’abdut ve-G’ihad ba-Islam ha-radiḳali ha-Palestini: ha-pan ha-ra’yoni (Tel Aviv: Merkaz Mosheh Dayan le-limude ha-Mizrah ha-tokhon ve-Afriḳah, Universiṭat Tel-Aviv, 1998).
[10] See above all, Robert Pape’s Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic to Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2005) which pushes the functionalist “rational choice” paradigm to its extreme.
[11] See Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill, pp. 19-44, specifically in the context of the Palestinian case.
[12] For a study of the apocalyptic setting of Hamas and suicide terrorism in the mid 1990s, see Paul Steinberg and Anne-Marie Oliver, The Road to Martyrs’ Square: A Journey into the World of the Suicide Bomber.
[13] On the impact of the Oslo Process on the apocalyptic thinking of the post-’67 Kookists, see Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days. It produced two unprecedented acts of violence from those circles, Baruch Goldstein’s attack on the Muslim worshippers in Hebron and Yigal Amir’s assassination of Yithak Rabin: see Ehud Sprinzak, Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination (New York: Free Press, 1999). See also below, n. 233.
[14] See Hamas Charter (above, n. 46), article 14 (The Three Circles); article 13 (Peaceful Solutions and International Conferences).
[15] “The Oslo accords of September 1993—in which Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed on a set of terms—marked a turning point for apocalyptic writers, leaving them temporarily speechless. But quickly they ascribed the whole process to a plot by the dajjal. In Jericho: the Cursed City, Muhammad ‘Izzat ‘Arif wrote that the Jews had given Jericho (which together with Gaza was the first piece of land Israel withdrew from) to the Palestinians because of a curse in Joshua 6:26 against anyone “who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho.’”
[16] Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic, pp. 120-22; Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem, pp. 237-8
[17] Oliver and Steinberg, Martyrs Square, p.110.
[18] Oliver and Steinberg, Martyrs Square, p.179.
[19] Ibid., pp. 114-81. In this sense, Timothy McVeigh, Baruch Goldstein and the Hamas suicide bombers shared a common apocalyptic logic (Gorenberg, pp. 203-8).
[20] Muravich,

Apocalyptic Revivals? The Press is interested

Newsweek recently ran an article on whether Obama is [seen as] the Antichrist by some which quotes me. So now I’m getting missives from the media about apocalyptic issues again. Below is a set of questions one reporter sent me with my answers.

• There have been many “revivals” recently among the charismatic Christian groups (such as the Lakeland, FL revival) claiming that we are in the “end times.” What is the difference between these new apocalyptic groups versus the millennialists?

Millennial and apocalyptic are two different aspects of the same phenomenon. Millennial refers to the belief in a coming period (a thousand years, mille anni) of collective salvation, peace on earth, justice, plenty, fraternity. It is above all “this worldly,” a kind of social mysticism.

Apocalyptic refers to the sense that the transformation from this world, filled as it is with evil, to that perfect world, is imminent. Apocalyptic scenarios differ, some are cataclysmic, others transformative; some call for action, others for waiting for God’s intervention.

The current Lakeland Revival looks like many movements that Ronald Knox called examples of “enthusiasm.” A cursory look at their site suggests that they emphasize healing (a few “resurrection” claims which do tend to announce the end, but not necessarily). Pentecostal Christianity need not be explicitly apocalyptic, i.e. imminentist, indeed it should probably best be understood as a response to disappointment, just as the original Pentecost (descent of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the crucifixion) was a response to disappointment that Jesus had not returned to earth to “finish the (millennial) job.” (the movement started at 2am January 1, 1901, hours into the new century).

Their website has nothing immediately about the end of time; their prophecy page stops dating prophecy fulfilled in 1967. If they are apocalyptic, they are not working off of specific dates (understandable after 2000), but off of high energy. They clearly want to be a new spiritual capital, and they envision their spark (“Ignited Church” – what a name) catching fire throughout the land and the world.
But my guess is that this may be in interesting variation of previous such movements. The iconography is biblical, they’re clearly philo-Judaic, having spent time in Israel (they refer to Jerusalem as Yerushalayim which suggests animated conversations in that city), they use Kabbalistic ideas and terminology (Shekinah). They seem resolutely transformational, although the reports of Todd Bentley roughing up people when heals them suggests an opening for violence. (hopefully that will door will be closed.)

For an example of a preacher who was accused of similar things, see an account from the late 6th century in Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks bk 9, ch 3 or 4: (from a chapter of an as-yet unpublished book)

    The pattern of Gregory’s narrative on this score seems remarkably consistent. Popular charismatic prophets come in the wake of signs, wonders, and prodigies, not to mention catastrophes, like mushrooms come after rain. In Book 9, chapter three reports on the “many portents [that] appeared at this time.” The following chapter tells of “imposters and soothsayers”:

    That same year there appeared in Tours a man called Desiderius, who gave it out that he was a very important person, pretending that he was able to work miracles. He boasted that messengers journeyed to and fro between himself and the Apostles Peter and Paul. I myself was not there, so the country folk flocked to him in crowds, bringing with them the blind and infirm… [Gregory then describes his miracle working as a kind of sadistic chiropractics where his assistants often pulled and stretched people to death]. The wretched man was so above himself, that he gave it out that Saint Martin had less power than he; for he imagined himself to be the equal of the Apostles…

    Not quite as dramatic as claims to be the Christ of the Second Coming, the case nonetheless bears all the marks of apocalyptic charismatic prophets: the healing, the crowds of commoners, the inflated ego of the leader.

This one took place around 580. Here’s another one around 591 that is quite explicit in that the healing revival leads the leader to claim to be Christ returned (can’t get more apocalyptic millennial than that).

Gregory of Tours, False Christ of Bourges, History of the Franks, X:23-25.

• Why do you think this resurgence is occurring now?

These things happen all the time. It’s when they begin to coalesce into a larger wave that apocalyptic expectations begin to play an open role in things. Here I find the apocalyptic dimension quite muted, at least in the movement’s public face. Obviously, there are Christian believers who are in a state of super-excitation – again, “Ignited Church” – and these kinds of revivals are an obvious outlet. Look at the Promise Keepers in the 1990s. If you have more evidence of a number of such phenomena, then you might be able to talk of a resurgence.

• Have you noticed any specific trends that seem to spark new apocalyptic movements?

Predicting the outbreak of apocalyptic movements and their development necessitates using Chaos theory, and will never be a science. Obviously disturbances and sudden and profound changes, as well as signs (astronomical, earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues) make people much more attentive to the message of apocalyptic “roosters” crowing that the dawn is near. I’d also factor in a) the passage of 2000, which was a disappointment, but did not put an end to the conviction of many that they lived in the endtimes (Pentecostalism as a response to disappointment makes a lot of sense here); 2) the radical instability of the world right now, and particular the existence of another apocalyptic millennial movement, global Jihad.

• Do you expect this new wave charismatic Christian apocalyptic groups to die down? Why or why not?

No I don’t. Christians have too much invested in their current reading of the apocalyptic scenario linked to Israel to go back to normal time easily. This one may not “take,” but my sense is that we’re in for many more examples. None may “take” in the apocalyptic sense (full-fledged movement of people convinced that they act on the stage of salvific history), but we might be in for another “Great Awakening” like the decades from 1720-40 and 1820-40.

• The Christian Zionists, for example, claim that the large migration of Russian Jews back to Israel is a signal pointing to the end of the world. Does that carry any legitimacy?

Legitimacy with whom? With Christian apocalyptic believers? Sure. The existence of Israel is the one concrete historical event that they can claim fulfills prophecy in our day. For both the Jewish Zionists and the Christian Zionists, 1948 was supposed to bring the return to Zion by all Jews – it didn’t; 1967 got the temple mount back so the 3rd temple could be built, but it hasn’t been yet; so the Russian migration is a way of telling themselves that, although it didn’t happen as fast as they thought, it’s still happening.

• Are there any global events that have been known to spark this “end time” thinking?

The Great depression set off lots of apocalyptic thinking, including the ugliest of all, the Nazis. Apocalyptic prophecies speak of “wars and rumors of wars”, but that fits any time. The creation of Israel is the single most important apocalyptic event of our time, and anything that happens to Israel and Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) will have a major impact on this apocalyptic mindset. In apocalyptic dynamics, “one person’s messiah is another’s Antichrist,” so the successes of global Jihad (9-11, other bombings, intimidation of Europeans, especially English, spread of an aggressive and triumphalist Islam) will also strengthen the argument that we live in the endtime.

• What is the difference between an apocalyptic cult versus, a Christian denomination that believes we are in the end times due to Biblical prophecy?

You’ve just stepped into an academic minefield. So I won’t use your vocabulary (“cult”? Horror!) but I’ll try and answer the question. A Christian community that has come to believe that the end is near, and pray and repent and await, but otherwise remain within the current traditions and continue to function within the social norms is different from an apocalyptic movement that “burns bridges” to “normal time” and everyday demands (job, parenthood, planning), that begins to feed off its own enthusiasm and break away from other, less responsive/evolved/”true” believers (Christians, Muslims, Jews) becomes a “sect” and eventually (if it successfully re-enters normal time, which all apocalyptic movements must eventually do), either a denomination, a sect, or a new religion (Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nation of Islam).

• Are any of Biblical claims and prophetic predictions about the end of the world valid?

This is a bizarre question. Academically, we can’t know; historically for millennia people in every generation have been convinced they lived in the endtime. Both Christianity and Islam are religions born of apocalyptic origins. Both await the completion of the original prophecies about the Day of Judgment. They’ve all been wrong. (As a “bringer of the End,” God is a major underachiever.) I personally don’t think that if there is a God, he intends to intervene in history (if he didn’t in the Holocaust, then I can’t imagine when he would). But that won’t stop inspiring people to believe that. That’s what I study.

• How can you distinguish the true apocalyptic claims from false?

Only when they prove false.

• Can the Bible be considered a valid source for predicting the end of the world? Why?

Well, on the one hand, as a source for that kind of thinking it’s been inexaustable. (Even Muslims are using the Bible for their apocalyptic prophecies – much richer than the Quran.) So if we’re to judge by the traffic, it’s the all-time greatest site. But if we judge by the accuracy of the prophecies , predictions, and calculations that people have derived from their reading of that text, then it’s a dismal failure. Personally, I think the bible has much more interesting things to say about “transformational” apocalyptic, than it does about when to date the cataclysm.

• What do most end times “prophets” do once they find they incorrectly predicted the end of the earth? Is there any accountability from their followers?

This was studied by Leon Festinger in a study of a 1950s space-ship “community” led by a woman. He coined the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe the painful experience of disappointment. There are many ways to handle this c.d., including “upping the ante”, turn to coercive purity, flip from passive to active mode, or vice-versa, redate and proselytize some more (the delay was so the believers could spread the word), flee the world. What mixture any group eventually blends in this period of “apocalyptic jazz” is as “chaotic” a process as when such a group gets going.

• Although these groups have a bad track record when it comes to predicting the end of the earth, is it acceptable to ignore their claims all together? Why?

The other major law of apocalyptic dynamics is that “wrong does not mean inconsequential.” The Nazis were wrong about beginning a “tausendjäriger Reich” (millennial kingdom), but they sure left their mark on history; the Zionists were wrong that by establishing a state, they would put an end to anti-Semitism, but Israel is a major player in the global scene, both practically and in the global imagination. I think we ignore them at our peril, especially the “active cataclysmic” ones who believe that God wants them to be his agent in carrying out massive devastation of this “evil” world.

• What is your personal opinion on the end of the earth? Do you think it is possible to predict an end?

There’s a difference between “end of the world” – eschatology – and the end of “this world” and the beginning of the messianic age – millennium – on earth, in history. I’m personally hoping that this world continues to struggle in every generation to find just ways to settle disputes and productive ways to interact with both the earth and each other. Even if Augustine was probably right that there will never be perfection “in the saeculum” (time-space continuum, world of the flesh, history), we can surely make that world a better place. Eliminate suffering and aggression? No. Bridle it, reduce its gratuitous presence, yes. Even in the messianic age, there will be disputes, dishonesty, cheating, and injustice. The question is, “how do we deal with it.” If that’s a “liberal’s” imperfect (processual) millennium, so be it. But I am very wary of the folk who say, the only way to perfect world is violence and destruction… “don’t you know that you can count me out…”

• Do you believe that there will be any events to signal that we are entering into the end?

Hopefully when the sun novas in several billion years.

• What (if you believe there will be an end) do you think will happen during the end of the earth?

I have great respect for the passion of apocalyptic believers, but not much for their common sense; nor can I adhere to scenarios (like the Book of Revelation) that anticipate the death of millions if not (under current global demographic conditions) of billions. Not something I find it spiritually uplifting to look forward to. I am fairly immune to the lure of apocalyptic prophecy – perils of the profession – even though I can admire and respect some of the spirituality that sincere apocalyptic beliefs can inspire. (It does great things for your modesty, integrity, and appreciation of others to spend a some intense moments imagining yourself before an omniscient and just judge.)

Rahm Emanuel Gets the Obama Treatment from Arab-Americans

The appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s Chief of Staff has raised concern among Arab-Americans. Emanuel is an Orthodox Jew, his father is Israeli, and he volunteered as a civilian on an IDF base during Gulf War I. Rumors have been circulating about him being a secret Israeli citizen, and his father’s recent remarks about Arabs only exacerbated the situation.

James Zogby wrote an article for the Arab American Institute cautioning his fellow Arab-Americans from reverting to paranoia and anti-Semitism. While the two sets of rumors do not parallel each other perfectly, this is a rebuke to those who dumbed down the anti-Obama efforts by rumors about him being a closet Muslim with an anti-Israel agenda. 

On November 5th, my office sent an email to tens of thousands of our members and contacts congratulating President-elect Barack Obama. In our message, we noted the historic transformation his victory represented and commended the thousands of Arab Americans who participated in this winning campaign.

The initial and near universal response was heartwarming, with many sharing moving anecdotes of their campaign experiences, their reactions to the victory, and their hopes for change.

One day and one announcement later, the tide turned.

Too-Rare Case of IDF Getting Serious about Discipline

The IDF has a discipline problem. Walk around the Tel Aviv bus station on a Sunday morning, and you will see soldiers walking around with shirts untucked, hair untrimmed, and boots dirty. Soldiers don’t take commanders’ orders as sacred, and see doing things their own way as a greater virtue than discipline. This is largely the result of a conscious effort to create a “peoples’ army”, allowing soldiers to address officers by their first names and teaching only remedial marching. Such traditional military practices are scorned in the IDF as worthless wastes of time and energy. Commanders are very limited in their abilities to punish problematic soldiers, even in basic training.

Will Obama Retain Gates?

As President-elect Obama pieces together his cabinet, no decision is more consequential than his choice of Secretary of Defense. With two difficult wars ongoing, many are suggesting that Obama would be foolish to replace a competent and successful Sec-Def like Gates. Such a move would open a seam that enemies are sure to attempt to exploit.

Prof. Alan Gropman of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University wrote an op/ed in several publications before the election urging the incoming president to keep Gates.   

Gropman writes: 

To accelerate senatorial ratification, President-elect McCain or Obama should consider selective reappointing of well-qualified senior officials. The most important would be Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Since Congress is in session before the presidential inauguration, either McCain or Obama could have that crucial position filled soonest.

North Korea Releases Doctored Photos of Dictator

A recent photo of Kim Jong Il visiting a military unit released by the North Korean government appears to be a fake, the BBC and The Times are reporting.

(From the BBC)

There are three discrepancies in the photograph-

The shadow cast by Kim Jong Il’s legs does not match that of the officers.

The black line running behind the legs of the officers disappears when it approaches the legs of the dictator.

Mismatched pixels are visible to the right of Jong Il’s left foot, suggesting two photos were poorly spliced together.

AOLNews has the pictures in detail.

This suggests the rumors the the North Korean dictator is ill, likely with brain tumor, are true, and that he has not recovered well enough to even pose for propaganda photographs.

In the Aftermath of Obama’s Historic Victory…

Developments in the Middle East from now until January must be considered against the backdrop of the impending Obama administration and the end of Bush’s.

Olmert will be visiting Bush in Washington this month to cement agreements with an administration Israel is quite comfortable with. Obviously, Bush and Olmert are both on the way out, but Israel doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to gain last-minute concessions, and Bush can improve his legacy by hammering out some interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

 On Tuesday night, as the world was focused on the election, Israel entered several hundred meters into Gaza near the Kissufim crossing, the old entrance to Gush Katif. They found and destroyed a tunnel designed to kidnap soldiers, and engaged a Hamas squad in a firefight, killing at least six gunmen in concert with the air force. Hamas fired dozens of Qassams into the Sderot area today.

 Why is Israel endangering the cease-fire right now? It may be they truly felt they had no choice but to destroy the tunnel, and picked Tuesday night because they knew that the raid would not be picked up in the news. It is also possible Israel feels it is better to pick a fight with Hamas in the last months of the Bush administration than risk being pressured to accomodate Hamas and reach a more permanent agreement under the Obama administration.

What might Iran and its “appendage” Hezbollah do in response to the election? It is possible that they will test Obama with an aggressive move right away, but this seems unlikely. It is more reasonable to expect that Iran will be especially conciliatory as Obama takes office, in an attempt to build Western support for dialogue. Obama will be under pressure to prove that dialogue works with Iran, and may be willing to pressure Israel in return for progress  on Iran. Iran’s calculation is “we will make Obama look good if he will start pressuring Israel, and we can tangibly harm Israel’s strategic position by simply behaving for a year.” Obama has a lot of prestige riding on his dealings with Iran, and it is will likely be one of his first foreign policy tests.  

Israel and Hamas in the 80s

I am helping a terrorism expert in D.C. conduct research for his upcoming book on Israeli counter-terrorism. We are currently looking at Israel’s attitude toward Hamas in its formative stages. Everything that I have found indicates that, in contrast to what many claim, while Israel allowed Hamas to operate in Gaza before it became a violent group, it gave Hamas no active aid.  Has anyone come across any evidence that Israel did indeed actively help or cooperate with Hamas in the 80s?

McCain Looking Strong Among Orthodox Voters- Especially Kids

Interesting post tonight from Lisa Schiffren over at National Review Online about Orthodox Jewish voting preferences.

The break-down of Jewish voting preferences by denomination according the AJC’s 2008 survey is-

Orthodox: McCain 78%, Obama 13%

Conservative: McCain 26%, Obama 59%

Reform: McCain 27%, Obama 62%.

It seems that McCain will do relatively well among Jewish voters, and will do phenomenally well among Orthodox voters. It is unlikely enough to give McCain the victory.  

Late last week results of early voting by expat American Jews in Israel were released, with John McCain winning about 70% of the votes. This has something to with the reality factor, when your personal house is in the line of fire of Iran’s half-built nukes. And it has something to do with the fact that the majority of Jewish immigrants to Israel from the U.S. over the past two decades have been Orthodox, of one stripe or another. Social and religious values dictate conservative politics among Orthodox Jews as among the religious of most Christian denominations.