The Bird Dog Doctrine

Bird Dog's picture

Preamble: Recognizing that there is a war being waged by various groups of militant Islamists on multiple fronts, the U.S. has a role in trying to marginalize those groups to the point of insignificance.

Therefore, the Bird Dog Doctrine is articulated as follows:

1. This is as much an information war as a hot war. The U.S. should utilize its resources to assist the Ummah and theological community in discrediting this ideology. This assumes that the Ummah and theological community are willing to do so.

2. To the extent that there is actionable intelligence that militant Islamist groups are plotting attacks on U.S. soil, we are within our self-defense rights to take those groups out.

3. For the government that harbors the militant Islamist group that conducted a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, we our within self-defense rights to take that government down if we choose to do so, under the condition that such an operation is responsibly planned and manned. This means that, post-invasion, we are obligated to help form a sustainable government that will not harbor militant Islamist groups.

4. Our military actions should conform with the laws of war and our own rule of law. This implicitly includes minimizing civilian casualties.

5. The U.S. should always keep all diplomatic channels open at all times with all parties, but with expectations kept really low.

6. A policy that is limited to bombing from afar does not work.

7. At this current stage, the U.S. should combat militant Islamist forces with our own ground, air and naval forces, but only under the following conditions: (1) the government the U.S. is supporting is worthy of that support; (2) See Item 4 above.

8. For Muslim-majority countries, the U.S. should undertake the role of encouraging the expansion of civil liberties and political rights for all, and for equal protections for minorities.

9. For Iran, our best options are diplomacy and sanctions.

10. There is never a bad time to speak truth to power and bad behavior. Ever. There are no sacred cows.


That's pretty much it. I hope that clarifies things and keeps liberals from putting words in my mouth. I left out counterinsurgency doctrine because it was abandoned in Iraq and it didn't work in Afghanistan. It no longer applies. If Item 3 arises, a counterinsurgency strategy may be necessary if post-invasion conditions degrade. I didn't directly address sharia law, but you can read between the lines in Item 8.

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Jeezus, BD


Are you, by any chance, under the impression that you're Napoleon IV ?

It is the poisoned cup. It is too late.


Bird Dog's picture

Do you have a point?

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

I don't understand the…

Zelig's picture

…comparison. Sorry if I'm a bit slow, but for the comparison to work for me, our armchair war prognosticator would actually have to get up out of his Aeron, enlist in the military, receive proper training, wheedle and finagle a transfer to a combat unit, then fight. 

What am I missing?

Me: We! -- Ali

What are you missing?

Bird Dog's picture

Easy. Because you're not a woman, you can never discuss the topic of abortion. Because you're not a woman. Your illogic is fairly glaring. 

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

My question was to Vint.

Zelig's picture

My logic is stable and glowing, not glaring. Your analogy is insane. Also, we're talking Napoleon IV, not XIV here. Feel free to look up the differences between the two gentlemen. 


How's that Surge going? Mmmmm. Surge me baby!

Me: We! -- Ali

"Our armchair war prognosticator"

Bird Dog's picture

Your words, referenced to yours truly, so I have every right to respond.

As for the surge strategy, it worked while it lasted. Too bad the beginning of the end of the surge occurred when Obama was elected, and ended for good not long after. Those elections, they do have consequences. Bin Laden's dead, but there are twice as militant Islamists today than four years ago. Under Obama's watch, Iraq and Syria and Libya have completely unraveled. 

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Don't the people of Libya, Syria and Iraq have a say in the

mmghosh's picture

matter? Isn't it their responsibility to maintain their own peace?

I still fail to see why it is Mr Obama's responsibility.

Do they?

Bird Dog's picture

The point is The People have no say in any of those countries. Our bombing of Libya didn't help that and perhaps made the situation worse. That is on Obama. Our withdrawal from Iraq, which is on Obama, gave ISIS safe harbor in western Iraq and precipitated the deaths of thousands of Yezidis and Christians. Who has a say there?

Do the people of Syria have a say? On one side there's a dictator who has killed over 100,000 civilians and on the other is an army of 13th century Islamist warriors. I don't blame Obama for the Syrian civil war, but he owns his idiotic red-line rubbish a year ago and he owns his inaction in not helping the rebels who aren't militant Islamists.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Everyone who picks up a gun has a say.


Your comment whooshes right past the fact that civil war represents an effort to change civil order. Politics with a bullet is still politics. It never stops being about politics. If anything there is far more "participation" in this sense across the Mideast today than there has been in decades. We celebrate the American Revolution as a great thing, freedom on the march and all that, and then turn around and condemn the violence when other people seek to do much the same. 


We intervened in the Libyan civil war not to install a peaceful, democratic, stable government, but to prevent rebel forces from being overrun by the combined arms of a vengeful dictator. That was the mission. The mission was completed. Full stop. Calling the Libya mission a failure because it failed to achieve aims it was never intended to achieve is silliness.


The reason ISIS has safe harbor in western Iraq is because the Iraqi government has been unwilling/unable to forge a workable political alliance with Sunni tribes in the region. The US government is not responsible for the failure of that leadership, and it's beyond silly to suggest otherwise. It's also beyond silly to suggest that US forces should remain in Iraq indefinitely until the Iraqi leadership decides to stop being dysfunctional.


"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Go with that

Bird Dog's picture

The Libyan mission was not a failure. Not even your president agrees with that.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

They have all had their say and there is no peace.


I fail to see why they can't be responsible for themselves and quit disturbing the world with their endless and murderous tribalism-based idiocy.  Perhaps you can explain all this to me, for it seems all such talk leads to the conclusion that these ethically bankrupt nations' idiocy is to be tolerated, a sort of reverse, Kafka-esque White Man's Burden, wherein the West is enjoined to tolerate the obviously intolerable. If they saw off the heads of our citizens, if they enslave and violate Yezidi women, well, there's obviously a good reason.  I just don't see it.  Perhaps you can explain why the murders of our citizens isn't Obama's responsibility.



It amazes me that you still consider invasion an actual policy option, given its outstandingly bad track record.


The US sucks at invasion. A country that has air-conditioned tents hiding behind layers of concrete walls shouldn't be invading anything. We do it the most expensive and culturally isolated way imaginable.


Watching Iraq was like watching us invade the Moon. The complete lack of empathy with Iraqi people was evident from the get go, and led to many tens of thousands of needless civilian deaths and enormous suffering, none of which have contributed to a stable, content Iraqi populace.


It also bears mentioning that invasion can be a huge business to the Blackwaters and Halliburtons of the world. Having it be an option provides an incentive for these war profiteers to use their considerable resources to argue in favor of invasions on a routine basis. One reason the US sucks at invasions is that so much money is funneled through these companies, and people from the invaded country notice. By operating through a gang of privateers, the US loses credibility and moral authority.


It is one of the reasons nobody really cares what we think about Putin in the Ukraine.


This is a sad state of affairs and was not always so. We did not send roving bands of mercenaries to post-war Japan and Germany. But this is the way things are now, and so long as that is the case, invasions should be totally out of the question.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.


Bird Dog's picture

Was invading Afghanistan and taking out the Taliban the right or wrong thing to do? Those were the only conditions where I believe doing so is justified.

Oh, and we don't suck at invasion because we can take out leaders and governments fairly quickly. We suck at managing the post-invasion environment. In Afghanistan, we sucked through inattention. In Iraq, the reasons for our sucking are well documented.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009



We suck at occupation. My mistake.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.



Was invading Afghanistan and taking out the Taliban the right or wrong thing to do? Those were the only conditions where I believe doing so is justified.

huh. i could have sworn you supported the invasion of iraq. clearly you think other conditions* warrant invasion.


*[conditions may be altered without notice at any time. see your local warblogger for details.]

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

Indeed, funny

Bird Dog's picture

I remember you getting angry at me because I brought up something you said six years ago.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009



if you think merely restating a long held and well known political position of yours is equivalent to filing away long lists of links to comments of mine (and others, no doubt) to nurse your grudges, and then airing them in personal attacks whenever the facsimile of your honor feels threatened, your mileage does vary quite a bit.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

That's a yellow card, nilsey.


Tendentious comments disparaging another commenter's personal & psychological motives are a no no. 


"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Seconded--As Established By Abundant Precedent -nt-

M Scott Eiland's picture


The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.



you mean bringing up personal and psychological (say, mind reading) things is bad? like this?


I remember you getting angry at me because I brought up something you said six years ago.

edit to add: and what exactly is tendentious about my comment? just curious. i stated my recollection of a personal attack on me that if i recall correctly got bird dog either yellow carded or maybe even suspended. i don't know which but maybe someone here has the comment bookmarked somewhere and can tell you.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw



You don't see how suggesting Bird Dog is "nursing grudges" or "defending the facsimile" of his honor is tendentious wrt Bird Dog's motives & state of mind?

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

in fact, i do


that's why your warning to me stands unchallenged.


you don't see, though, why getting a warning for "tendentious, personal comments" is odd when that comment responds to this?

I remember you getting angry at me because I brought up something you said six years ago.

is that not personal? is that not tendentious?

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

I don't see how it is.


I don't know if it's factual or not, but it doesn't seem particularly disparaging to me. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes



its not an argument of any point of fact relevant to the discussion at hand. it's a personal aside, which i responded to in kind.


i'm fine with the warning, like i said. but let it be noted: i wasn't the one to take the thread into the personal space.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

Taking out Al Qaeda, yes. The Taliban, maybe.


Probably not.  By my lights, the Taliban are mostly in it for the money.  Those mountains have always featured smugglers and bandits.  Do you remember the Tusken Raiders from Star Wars?  Those long rifles they were shooting?  Those are modelled on the Pashtun jezail.  The Taliban are just warlords and warlords are always for hire.  The Pakistani military considered them rabble for hire, keeping a meaningful government from materialising in Afghanistan, one which might let India come sneaking around the back way through the mountains.  I don't have to tell you any of this.


USA's problem is consistently choosing the corrupt, citified wussies over fighters with mandate.  One notable exception:  Rashid Dostum, who should surely be slowly roasted alive over an open fire.  Dostum fought against the Taliban but was in many ways worse than them.  The CIA complained bitterly about our choice of allies in this case.  But true to form, in accordance with your rhetorical question about the Taliban, the Bush Administration took sides in someone else's fight.  


I believe the Taliban could have been completely coopted.  They're by no means united, as you also know.  We ended up dealing with more than a few of them, anyway, through Karzai.   They're not all bad guys, they have real mandate in their AOs.  They've provided justice, albeit terribly rough justice, in places where the Americans and Kabul weenies have never done.


"We" must clarify who actually manages the post-invasion environment for the Americans.  Is it the White House?  The Pentagon?  CENTCOM?  The pogues in Kabul?  Certainly not the commanders in the field.  American ROEs under Stanley McChrystal were interestingly horrible.  He wanted to "degrade" the Taliban.  Nobody, I repeat not one swinging pecker in that whole war, with the possible exception of a few low-level commanders, ever understood the need to provide security and let SOCOM do its job of building out local militias to defend these villes from outside marauders.   That war went sideways, not from a lack of attention, but from the most obvious deficiency, the inability of Americans to speak Pashto, to speak to - and more importantly listen to - the people and do what they wanted us to do - which was provide security, not go out hunting Taliban jackalopes.

The Taliban was harboring al Qaeda and...

Bird Dog's picture

...the Taliban refused to turn them over. It was not possible to take out one without taking out the other. So yes, I think the removal of the Taliban was more than justified.

Maybe we could have coopted the Taliban, but that would be under the "sucked through inattention" category.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

We didn't get rid of the Taliban. That's a fact.


Half of 'em ended up in Karzai's government, especially that brute Rashid Dostum*.  So much for Justified Removal.  Nobody could get the Taliban out of Afghanistan because nobody can get them out of Pakistan.  And everyone knew that from the start.  Don't tell me otherwise, we both know better.  As surely as the muj used to hide out in the Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan, the Taliban moved over the mountain as surely as the bear in that little song, "to see what he could see".   Then they moved back.  And we didn't get rid of them then.  And we went at it for well over a decade and we didn't get them.


The only valid strategy to get rid of Al Q in Afghanistan would have been to get rid of them in Pakistan, too.  You don't get rid of cockroaches by turning on the lights and watch them scurry away.  


*well, technically Dostum wasn't part of the Taliban, though he did plenty of dirty deal with them.  But he's an awful warlord, who had no business being in government.

Dostrum was with the Northern Alliance,

Bird Dog's picture

which I'm pretty sure fought against the Taliban.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Recognising that Islam is


Recognising that Islam is undergoing a long-delayed upheaval, that delay directly attributable to US support * for various undemocratic regimes:


1.  This is not an information war.  It is a war of lies and self-delusion.  US support for KSA, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq (such as it was), Yemen, Qatar, Pakistan and others is predicated on support of the Devil We Know.  This support has only produced the wars we see.  Backing the "theological community" is the wrongest of all possible approaches:  such an approach only exacerbates religious faction and further suppresses the fundamental aspects of democracy, including religious pluralism and freethinkers.  The mullahs are the enemies of democracy.


2.  To the extent that actionable intelligence is available, its underlying causes ought to be investigated.  Terrorism has arisen because the nations enumerated in Point 1 have suppressed free speech, the rights of man (and especially women) and freedom of association.  "Taking out" terrorists only serves the interests of tyrants.  Terrorism is simply politics by other means.  All who doubt this have not read their Bakunin or Lenin or Trotsky or Mao or Osama bin Laden nor any other sound text on terrorism.  Actionable intelligence might be of use to an intelligent actor.  I am not convinced the USA has the mindset required to understand how and why terrorist movement arise, nor yet how they fail.


3.  Governments are arbitrary.  Taking out a government is really no different than the elements of Point 2.  


4.  Fighting terrorists is mostly fighting criminals.  The rules of war are all nonsense.  The rules of police work might be applicable - provided the criminals could be dragged before a judge in a creditable justice system.  In the absence of such a justice system, any effort to apply Rules or Laws is a Kafka-esque dark comedy.  The enemy does not wear uniforms, he is a crook and a murderer.  While the USA will not roll up its sleeves and accept the true nature of this fight, applying rules of war to a war without rules, by definition, the USA is deluded.


5.  Diplomatic channels ought to be kept open.  But as with Point 4, unless the USA were of a single mind in its prosecution of terrorist criminals, that, too, is nonsense.  While America still maintains the Guantanamo Prison, let its diplomats be silent.  It is a shameful thing, that the acme of republican democracy should deny a criminal his day in court.


6. As bombing from afar does little more than create more enemies, so does justice from afar.  Offshore justice at the Guantanamo Prison is the greatest possible recruiting tool for Islamic terrorism.  Only bullies and cowards would ever defend the existence of that prison.  In a century, mankind will point to it as the greatest bit of hypocrisy of our times.  It will join the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow as a byword for injustice.


7.  Fighting criminals with the American military is a complete misuse of this valuable resource.  The applicable entities are the FBI and CIA.  The American military has shown itself an inappropriate tool of justice.  


8.  While the USA continues in its stance, enumerated in Point 1, all talk of civil liberties is so much disgusting lip service.  Civil liberties are severely curtailed here at home, in the USA, by both government and private enterprise.  The greatest threat to American democracy is the sale of personal information and rubber-stamp FISA courts.  They are the face and obverse of the same coin.  


9.  Whom the gods would destroy, to them do they grant wishes.  Iran has meddled in Iraq, now it finds itself up to its waist in a Shiite/Sunni war.  The soundest strategy for enhancing the US/Iran relationships is to stand quietly by as they are consumed by this war.  Iran has many enemies.  We have nothing to add to that situation.


10.  When America disposes of its own sacred cows and speaks truth to itself, then it may sanctimoniously urge others to seek for truth.  I will hold Diogenes' Lantern and search for honest men in broad daylight.  Though the sun shines bright, I have not found any, especially not among those whose tactics have been given an eight year run and failed.  If they have the temerity to blankly criticise the President's strategy, having nothing with which to replace it, let them take this point especially to heart, for the truth is not in them.


* USSR and Russia, too.  


That's Kind Of Funny


This is not an information war.  It is a war of lies and self-delusion.


That's exactly the definition of what an information war is!

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

The lies part, yes. The self-delusion part, sadly, no.


When you start believe your own shills, then you're in trouble.



...but the true first target of an information war is always the people of the country waging it.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Well, sure. Problem is, you don't want your Fearless Leader


down in the Fuhrerbunker, dreamily examining architectural models while the capital city is burning down around his ears.  The Third Reich managed the run-up to its shooting war admirably.  Their propaganda was superb, as Goebbels observed about the strategy of lies, just make sure they're big enough and keep up the repetition, what the Ad Men call Impression Count.  


And the Germans bought it all.  If their leader wasn't so deluded, their odds of success were rather good.


Here's the problem with our War on Terror:  our Fearless Leaders have come to believe fundamentally untrue things about that war.  Properly fought, it should be an information war, not a shooting war.  After 9/11, when the world press was saying "Nous sommes tous Américains", we are all Americans, we had all the makings for a war we could have won.  Bush43 and Rummy the Dummy and the rest of 'em should have said, note that conditional - "Peoples and nations, this tragedy is part of the cost of being an open nation.  This is the risk everyone takes.  Today it was the USA.  Tomorrow it will be you.  We will not allow this nation to degenerate into a fearful police state.  We call upon the world to fight this menace, not at some superficial level, killing a few instigators, for men will die for their beliefs.   Let history show all such approaches only lead to disaster.  This movement must be cut off at the root, where it is believed.  The free world, the pluralistic world, the world of democracy must stand up for its beliefs in the rights of man, the rights of all people in all places to live according to their own beliefs."




Had Bush43 made such a statement, he could have defecated on KSA's dinner plate and gotten away with it.  Told those bozos to get right, blamed them for creating these monsters, blamed every two-bit undemocratic dictator and generallisimo in the world for 9/11. And gotten results, too.


He didn't, of course.  Instead, he just had to revenge the attempted murder of his father by Saddam Hussein, like some greasy little pimp.


Be careful of the lies you tell, for you may come to believe them.

Related. From Michael Hastings: The Operators

brutusettu's picture

“Marja (Helmand province Afghanistan) must be controlled in order to eventually control Kandahar. Kandahar must be controlled to control Afghanistan. Afghanistan must be controlled to control Pakistan. Pakistan must be controlled to prevent Saudi Arabia terrorists from getting on a flight at J.F.K. Airport in Jamaica, Queens.”


Heh. From the Simla Manifesto, Oct 1838,


Lord Auckland, Governor-General of India.

It had been clearly ascertained, from the information furnished by the various officers who have visited Afghanistan, that the Barukzye chiefs, from their disunion and unpopularity, were ill fitted, under any circumstances, to be useful allies to the British Government, and to aid us in our just and necessary measures of national defence. Yet so long as they refrained from proceedings injurious to our interests and security, the British Government acknowledged and respected their authority; but a different policy appeared to be now more than justified by the conduct of those chiefs, and to be indispensable to our own safety. The welfare of our possessions in the East requires that we should have on our western frontier an ally who is interested in resisting aggression, and establishing tranquillity, in the place of chiefs ranging themselves in subservience to a hostile power, and seeking to promote schemes of conquest and aggrandisement.

We know what became of the British military in 1842, based on this tragically stupid manifesto.  4,500 regular troops were killed (including 690 British) and 12,000 civilian workers on the retreat from Kabul.

For a student of history, the Simla Manifesto of 1838 is great.

mmghosh's picture

Incidentally, William Dalrymple has a fascinating book on the 1st Afghan War of 1842.  It seems the tribal protagonists of the war between the British and the Afghans are almost exactly the same as the Americans and the Afghans today.


And although few in the West are aware of it, as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, history is repeating itself. We may have forgotten the details of the colonial history that did so much to mold Afghans’ hatred of foreign rule, but the Afghans have not.

Today, Shah Shuja is widely reviled in Afghanistan as a puppet of the West. The man who defeated the British in 1842, Wazir Akbar Khan, and his father, Dost Mohammed, are widely regarded as national heroes. Mr. Karzai has lived with that knowledge all his life, making him a difficult ally — always keen to stress the differences between himself and his backers, making him appear to be continually biting the hand that feeds him.

In 2001, top Taliban officials asked their young fighters, “Do you want to be remembered as a son of Shah Shuja or as a son of Dost Mohammed?” As he rose to power, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar deliberately modeled himself on Dost Mohammed, and, as he did, removed the Holy Cloak of the Prophet Muhammad from its shrine in Kandahar and wrapped himself in it to declare jihad, a deliberate historical re-enactment, the resonance of which all Afghans immediately understood.

The parallels between the current war and that of the 1840s are striking. The same tribal rivalries exist and the same battles are being fought in the same places under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities are being garrisoned by foreign troops speaking the same languages, and they are being attacked from the same hills and high passes.

Not only was Shah Shuja from the same Popalzai sub-tribe as Mr. Karzai, his principal opponents were Ghilzais, who today make up the bulk of the Taliban’s foot soldiers. Mullah Omar is a Ghilzai, as was Mohammad Shah Khan, the resistance fighter who supervised the slaughter of the British Army in 1841.


The same moral issues that are chewed over in editorial columns today were discussed in the correspondence of British officials during the First Afghan War. Should foreign troops try to “promote the interests of humanity” and champion social reform by banning traditions like the stoning of adulterous women? Should they try to reform blasphemy laws and introduce Western political ideas? Or should they just concentrate on ruling the country without rocking the boat?

As the great British spymaster Sir Claude Wade warned on the eve of the 1839 invasion, “There is nothing more to be dreaded or guarded against, I think, than the overweening confidence with which we are too often accustomed to regard the excellence of our own institutions, and the anxiety that we display to introduce them in new and untried soils.” In this early critique of democracy promotion, he concluded, “Such interference will always lead to acrimonious disputes, if not to a violent reaction.”

Of course then again, Islam itself colonized Afghanistan. -nt-



"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

There are many Islams, and have been for ages

mmghosh's picture

Islam is as "splittist" as any other major religion.  The different peoples of Afghanistan have many versions of Islam within them.  And BlaiseP may be pretty much in the right, maybe we overdo ideological issues, when it may just be a matter of warlordism and making money.


The oil wealth of Saudia is behind the current intolerance in Pakistan and by extension the Taliban.  This is not inevitable - the oil wealth of Gaddafi and Saddam did not fund Islamic militancy.  I haven't any good speculations about how to handle the KSA, but the least one can hope for is decreasing their leverage in Western politics through finance - inconceivable at one time, but very conceivable today.

For about 1500 years, Afghanistan was one of the intellectual

mmghosh's picture

centres of the world - or at least Afghanistan and its environs.  Perhaps from earlier days too, but certainly from the post-Alexander Helleno-Buddhist period right up to the time of Tamerlane.  Gandhara sculpture and the writing of the canonical texts of Mahayana Buddhism, continued into the Islamic period - the Persian literary, philosophical and scientific culture of Firdausi, Avicenna and especially Ulugh Beg.


No doubt it would have appeared faintly ridiculous to that age to imagine that the language and culture of an obscure group of islands off mainstream Western Europe would completely take over the planet within a mere 500 years or so.


A Gandhara Buddha


Faintly Ridiculous? Look at the dominant cultures.


They all have several aspects in common.  They all began as weak, divided entities which found reasons to unite.  Having a long history of internal disunity behind them, they understood the unification process rather better than the merely-conquerors.  Rome was such an entity, during the Republic and for a few of the Emperors.


England, by itself, in the distant past, was a wretched thing, out on that island, invaded by the Danes and Jutes and Angles and eventually overthrown by the Normans.  The nations of France and Germany, especially Germany, were cobbled together from little duchies and fiefdoms and baronies.  They each arrived at their own recipe for glue but Language was always an essential ingredient - and more than language, the internalisation and coopting mechanisms to teach it to others, to grow creoles.


Then examine, if you will, those whose dominance failed.  Alexander, though he spread Greek into the East, never unified his empire.   True, he didn't live long enough to manage that process - and Greek did become a great language of commerce and faith, more on the strength of the Byzantines than the Macedonians, but Alexander merely conquered, he didn't glue his empire together or provide a mechanism for ongoing maintenance, re-applying the glue and providing reasons for believing in his empire.


The Muslim empires were routinely awful.  They never respected the cultures they found in place.  And there were so many of them, all squabbling with each other.  The main ones everyone knows, the Fatimid and Ayyubid of Egypt, the Mamluk, the wretched Khedive.  The Ottoman Empire was a fine thing.  Their glue recipe was good for a few years but it dried out in the sun, obliging the Ottomans, who never quite transcended their Turkishness, to keep re-applying it.  Their recipe lacked a unifying language:  nobody actually spoke Court Turkish.  The Mughals began well enough but their recipe wasn't as good: the antique Qu'ranic Arabic could no more unite their empires than the Latin of the Vulgate united Europe.


Gandhara was a beautiful waystation from empire to empire.  It could not last, trapped between them.


Borges once said something to the effect that among the thousands of myths, one myth is harmful, the myth of countries.  

Nice Little Theory


You forgot Japan, another nest of warring fiefdoms in a small island, eventually unified.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Heh. Tell it to Admiral Perry.


The Japanese were always nominally unified under the Mikado, if the shoguns fought amongst themselves.  The Tokugawa era only lasted a few decades and ended with the Mikado seizing control again in the Meiji era.  The unified Japan was not much different, structurally, than the barons and dukes and assorted warlords of Europe, right up to WW1 - but which if you consider the Balkans part of Europe, continues to the present day.  

It still seems ridiculous.


In fact I don't think I understand how it was even possible. Jared Diamond's book doesn't do a very convincing job explaining the rise of Britain, and yet somehow something happened to weaken the ability of Eurasian civilizations with every geographic right to lead the world in human development, at the same time that the backwaters and hinterlands of Europe created an entirely new modernity that was unimaginable in 1300. It leads me to think that the ability of people to have new ideas and act on them has profound effects on the course of history. And yet... the very notion that "freedom" and "new ideas" are desirable in their own right is itself a product of European modernity. Which like all things will eventually pass into something else.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

IMO it comes down to immigration

mmghosh's picture

the successful nations are the ones with population mixing. Britain had a great culture of allowing immigration of all kinds of people. Just see the diversity in the World Cup winning team of Germany.

The last really significant movement out of Afghanistan were the Moguls. After the British came in the hardening of borders meant that enterprising Afghans who serially invaded and progressed here didn't come any more, and the place stagnated into the backwater it is today.

We're having a Gandhara sculpture exhibition right near where I live for the past couple of weeks. Isn't the sculpture exquisite? 2000 years ago artists were making this in Gandhara - modern Kandahar, the city of Mullah Omar and the Taliban . A greater fall is hard to imagine.

The Balkans show Population Mixing doesn't always work.


I've often heard variants of your argument.  It's a nice idea, doesn't play out in most places.

Not everywhere, naturally.

mmghosh's picture

But successful entities seem to have this common theme.  I learned how the different components of ancient China came together in Xian.  I'm going to Indochina later this year, especially to check out the wonderful civilisation of the Khmers.


All the cultures we discuss grew and developed for several centuries.  After going to the Gandhara exhibition I have been overwhelmed by the delicacy and the humanity of the vision of the people of that age.  They have given us so much in the way of knowledge and beauty.  I discount the brutality, violence and urge to genocide that comes with some visions of civilisation.  Many Buddhists and Jain cultures have shown us that civilisation, and more especially an atheist civilisation, does not have a necessary congruence with brutality.


As for lasting, what does last in the end?  All cultures begin, develop and die.  Maybe we make the error that ours will last longer than the others.

The Yaksha asked,--'What is most wonderful?'


Yudhishthira answered,--'Day after day countless creatures are going to the abode of Yama, yet those that remain behind believe themselves to be immortal. What can be more wonderful than this?'

Let's not gild the lily of past civilisations with undue praise.


Civilisations fail.  The world of ancient China was incredibly brutal under its first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, books were burned, scholars murdered, the Great Wall built by the vast enslavement of millions of workers.   Qin Shi Huang was a genocidal destroyer, his treatment of the state of Zhao is an exemplar of fanatical cruelty.  The Khmer, likewise, expanded their empire with incredible ferocity.  


Everyone's great - except the West, all of whom are dubbed Faintly Ridiculous.  

Good outline, BD: I mostly agree

Jay C's picture

With a couple of exceptions, of course. FWIW, I concur in concept on most of your points (though some, I think might be a bit difficult to put into practice):

1. Agree.  (big "If", though)

2. Agree

4. Agree

5. Agree

6. Mostly agree: remote bombing/attacks aren't a panacea, but might be useful in some circumstances (especially when the aim is

                        reduction of OUR side's casualties.

8. Agree.  (If unrealistic)

9. Agree

10. Agree.


Points 3 and 7, though, at least IMO, read a little too much like the Cheney Doctrine of "preventative war"; you seem to take it for granted that military intervention (i.e. "invasion") is the preferred course of action in contexts where the notions of "harboring" might be subject to, shall we say, differing interpretations. The case of Pakistan comes to mind: under the BDD, you seem to think we would be "justified" in "taking them down" - that scenario doesn't seem (nor ever has) either realistic or likely.


Oh, and while it may be flattering (not to me, but YMMV) to be taken as the Voice of Liberalism, I think most of your "words-in-my-mouth" gripes might be better directed at those who make the comments, not "liberals" in general: pace Scott (though I agree with his point in no. 321801), this should be one of those odd "commenter, not the comment"  cases. Just my 2 cents: blanket carps of that sort don't add much weight to specific arguments.


How would you apply this doctrine to specific cases?


For example, Iraq currently, Afghanistan currently, Mali, Syria, Libya, Pakistan. 


More generally what I have in mind is, what if 2 and 3 are in conflict with 7? What if the second part of 3 proves impossible or unworkable? And what if 1, 5, 8 and 10 prove to be wholly ineffective? 


Finally, when is disengagement the best option?

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

In order

Bird Dog's picture

Iraq. We do nothing with the Maliki government because it's not worth supporting. We should provide provide plenty of assistance to the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Afghanistan. We should keep combat troops there, and do away with the artificial, politically contrived deadlines. All that we can really do is train Afghan forces, use special forces for counter-terrorism ops, and use our diplomacy to shore up the Afghan government.

Mali. Since the Libya fiasco spilled over into Mali, we bear some responsibility. France has already reclaimed the territory taken by AQAM, and we can assist the French in continuing those efforts.

Syria. We shouldn't do anything to degrade Assad's forces without equally degrading IS forces. If there are non-militant Islamist rebels to assist, then that's about as good as we can do.

Pakistan. See Item 9.


As for Items 2 and 3 conflicting with Item 7, they really don't because our self-defense comes foremost. Obviously, Item 3 applies to Afghanistan. It was the right decision to go in and take out the Taliban. The lesson is that we shouldn't have taken our eye off the ball.

As for your concerns about what may be ineffective, we won't really know for a while because this is a long war. The thing is, why shouldn't we try to discredit a medieval ideology and a medieval sharia law? Why shouldn't we keep all of our diplomatic channels open? Why shouldn't we be proponents for civil liberties, politics rights and protecting religious and ethnic minorities? Why shouldn't we speak truth to power and bad behavior?

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

So basically, your doctrine isn't much different from Obama's.


He's doing exactly what you say wrt Iraq, Mali, Syria, Pakistan, and Iran. WRT Afghanistan, you might disagree with the idea of setting a timetable for departure. I hope you can at least recognize that there is a judgment call to be made: without a definitive timetable for handing over responsibility, it's entirely possible that neither the government in Kabul nor the various police & military outfits will ever assume responsibility. They will just continue to rely on US firepower and funding, with the added bonus of being able to blame us when things go wrong. There's a calculated risk that a timetable will boot them out of the nest so to speak. 


Your doctrine doesn't look ANYTHING AT ALL like the McCain Doctrine, or the Cheney Doctrine, which obviously tend towards maximalist application of force.

As for your concerns about what may be ineffective, we won't really know for a while because this is a long war. 

They aren't concerns, they are data-driven observations from 11 years of lessons and failures. So far all that we know for certain is that we can kill people and topple regimes. Beyond that, all we know is what doesn't appear to work.  

The thing is, why shouldn't we try to discredit a medieval ideology and a medieval sharia law? Why shouldn't we keep all of our diplomatic channels open? Why shouldn't we be proponents for civil liberties, politics rights and protecting religious and ethnic minorities? Why shouldn't we speak truth to power and bad behavior? 

I agree with all of those motives, and they aren't even in contention here. The contention is how those aims can best be realized. Toppling regimes, for one, seems to be a fairly poor way of achieving those objectives.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes


Bird Dog's picture

My position is no troops or any other aid in Iraq while al Maliki is in office. Obama has put 1,000± troops in Iraq since ISIS took Mosul. McCain's position right now is more closely aligned with Obama's. 

My position is "yes" to troops in Kurdistan. Obama has no troops in Kurdistan. I don't know McCain's position, but my guess is that he's closer to me than Barry on the subject.

My position is conditions-based withdrawals of combat troops in Afghanistan. Obama's position is politically-based, with all troops out by a date certain regardless of the situation on the ground. Like me, McCain opposes "arbitrary dates".

My position is diplomacy and sanctions for Pakistan. Obama has no sanctions for the country and has given out billions of military aid despite the fact that its military plays a double game. I'm not sure about McCain's present position on Pakistan. He met with the new Indian prime minister a few weeks ago.


Obama established a ridiculous red line on Syria, threatening Assad with bombings that would only strengthen ISIS yet still keep the autocrat in power. My position is to arm and train non-MI rebels. Over three years into a civil war, Obama has barely lifted a finger. And now the administration is thinking about a de facto alliance with Assad, the dictator who has murdered tens of thousands of civilians and has gassed his own people.

I suggest that the above differences are fairly significant, but Obama and I are in agreement on Mali, so there's that. BD, Obama and McCain are on the same page.

Your last sentence makes no sense to me. Other than the specific conditions under Item 3, I don't favor our going in and toppling regimes.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Obama avoided an extremely dumb move


in Syria, for which you should get on your knees and thank Bebby Jeezus we did not get Uncle Sam's pecker stuck in that cobra's hole.  

BD Seriously, You Prefer the US Send Aide to the Nousta Front


...or ISIS that will certainly steal it from who ever we choose.


Your position on Syria is just wrong, by accident of design, Obama has played Syria just right....and Assad survives to to hopefully take back all of Northern Syria...I say maybe 5 years...but we should be arming Assad. The only secularist around.



Nousta Front?

Bird Dog's picture

Do you mean al Nusra? I don't see the point in the U.S. helping Assad, a guy responsible for 170,000 deaths and who has gassed his own people. I don't see the point in degrading his military without also degrading the capabilities of the militant Islamists. Assad the militant Islamists fighting him are two sides of the same coin.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Well, Assad only wants to protect Syria, ISIS and al Nusra


plan to expand control from the Mediterranean to the Iranian plateau. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

The Same Al Nusra. . .

M Scott Eiland's picture

. . .that was just a few thousand guys out of a much larger force this time last year? Clearly, *those* guys can't be any threat!

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

The topic here is their strategic objectives,


not their capabilities, but nice job trying to score a point.  


"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes


Bird Dog's picture

Assad only wanted to protect Syria when he murdered tens of thousands of civilians over the last three years. 

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Okay, I phrased that wrong.


Assad only wants to protect his regime and the territorial integrity of Syria. Al Nusra and ISIS intend to violently expand across the entire region. One of the bad actors threatens Syria, and the other group of bad actors threatens everything from Israel to Qom.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Ever hear of Terrorist Row in Damascus?


In the days of Hafiz al-Assad, Damascus was Terrorist Central.  As long as these terrorists didn't pose a threat to him, personally, Hafiz al-Assad tolerated, nay encouraged, the terrorist scum of the earth to find sanctuary within his domain.  Hizb'allah, PLO, Islamic Jihaad's leader Ramadan Shalah.  More than few not-entirely-bad guys are also holed up in Damascus, including Nayif Hawathme, a Palestinian sorta-terrorist, an old Marxist - Israel hates him, blames him for the Ma'alot massacre - some Palestinians hate him, too - I think he's an interesting dude, he's Greek Catholic Palestinian.  Wish Israel would start talking to Hawathme, he's a smart guy. 


The worst of these was Imad Mughniyah, and that's saying a lot, for in those days, Damascus was like the bar in Mos Eisley, a hive of scum and villainy.  Mugniyeh made his home in Damascus.  And I have reason to believe the USA nailed the bastard, saints be praised.  


Bashar Assad doesn't give a damn about Syria-the-nation.  He cares about saving his own skin and the skins of his allies.  National politics, in the case of Syria - have you ever met devoted fans of a soap opera, especially an elderly one?  Same thing.  There is no Syria-the-nation.  There are only a cavalcade of actors who come and go from the stage.  It's all about family and clan and tribe and just the intricacies of the Alawi would perplex God himself.

You seem to be making the same exact point


as Bird Dog, so once again, I didn't mean to suggest Assad cares about Syria for its own sake. I'm saying he doesn't have territorial ambitions outside of present-day Syria.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Well, there's Lebanon. Syria is much vexed by Lebanon


and has put armies of occupation into Lebanon ever and anon.  Syria does want the Golan Heights back, not that Israel will ever give up the Golan.  I was just dog-wrassling the "territorial integrity" aspect of it.  

Leave it to Russia to supply arms to Syria

mmghosh's picture

And As An Aside. . .

M Scott Eiland's picture

. . .the pointy elbows being thrown in here the last few days have reached an irritating level. I'm going to yellow card without further warning anyone I see doing something that I remember seeing them receive a non-card warning for before (in other words, any "comment, not the commenter" admonitions), without further warning.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.