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Entries in Syria (11)

11:00AM

Why I'm still in this business

FT story on preacher who "unites opponents of Assad."

Great quote from the man himself, Moaz al-Khatib:

  The international community has been in a slumber, silent and late as it saw the blood of the people bleeding and its children being killed for the last 20 months . . . When the international community intervenes at the right time and when it moves to defend people at the right time it makes societies stable.  The wrong international policies have led to extremism. (italics mine)

Yes, I was glad to see Obama recognize the rebels.

Like he said last night about the elementary school shooting, we have to change the way we do things.

All progressivism begins with this question.

12:00PM

The real Turkey-Iran battle over Iraq

Blogged a piece a while ago about how Iranian products just aren't making it in Iraq, while Turkish ones are far more welcome.  This FT piece by Daniel Dombey (whom I cite a lot) argues that what the geo-pols consider Turkish empire re-building is undergirded for the most part in wanting to dominate export models (my read of his analysis).  Why?

Turkey has hit that middle-class phase where the people want to consumer a lot and thus imports rise - along with consumer credit.  Unless you combat that with exports, you end up a bit too much like the US.

Iraq has just overtaken Italy as Turkey's second-biggest export market, with the KRG leading the way.

Turkey has similar eyes for Syria and - ultimately - a post-changed-regime Iran.

These are good ambitions, the best kind of "imperialism" - really:  making consumers happier than the crappy regime that lords over them.

11:44PM

Delivering a PPT in the PNT

 

Was approached by a group at the Joint Staff a while back to present to a working group focused on a particular operational theater.  The group regularly hosts speakers for an audience of about 75 flags, officers and senior civilians, with VTC to a large number of overseas commands.  Audience also had a number of foreign senior officers.  

The sponsor had asked to discuss near- and mid-term issues that could prove disruptive to security issues under their purview.  Because my current brief is more long term, I saw this as a chance to brief a number of Wikistrat sims.  So the bulk of the brief was on four sims we've done over the past couple of years now.

Little bit nervous going in, because it was a significant audience in terms of hierarchy, so a good test of the product line - as it were.  Unlike a pitch where you talk about the methodology and the company, this was a pure product presentation.  Not a demo, but actual product that had to stand on its own - as in, nowhere to hide behind hand-waving.

Joel Zamel was there as well to answer questions on the company and methodology.

I did 28 slides at a podium.  Couldn't move around due to the VTC cameras.  Also had to finger a screen to advance the slides (tap, tap, tap).  All in all, a terrible set-up for somebody like me, and I often feel like I underperform in those situations (I don't get complaints; it just doesn't feel as gloriously un-self-conscious as the perfect set-ups - for me - do).  But for whatever reason, it worked great and I got my head around the delivery and banged out about 30 mins of presentation, followed by another 30 or so of Q&A that felt even better.  Audience was really great.  Really interesting questions and super engaged.  What you expect from that level of crowd.  So you give what you get (e.g., my humor was above average), as the best audiences always get the best briefs.  It's just how it works.

Still, you just never know going in.  I tend to be pretty quiet right up to the point, because it takes a lot of energy. And yes, some nerves on the product. But the material was received very well, which was very gratifying. Big league audience in the bowels of the Pentagon and Wikistrat - at only three years old - comes off as top flight. We fielded a lot of powerfully positive comments and feedback. Extremely validating.

Follow-on lunch inside the Building with a crew of USA younger officers who are all elite something or other in some prestigious fellows program.  Most had seen me give my current standard globalization brief at Belvoir during my regular lectures there.  That was a really nice discussion.  Decent bisque, too.

Only really hard part was getting up at 0400 to fly there and back on same day, but nice to be back home for a movie with the kids at the end of their school week.

All in all, it felt like a genuine milestone.

You know, we run a lot of training simulations at Wikistrat.  Really pretty much nonstop.  And one of the things I'm always preaching throughout the community is that everything needs to be of high-enough caliber that, if I'm standing in front of a senior audience of serious operators and policy types at the Pentagon or some COCOM, I sound like the real deal from stem to stern. That's really the first threshold. Everybody knows we can do it fast and far less expensively, so the only remaining question is, Is the quality as good as anybody else's out there?

And that test was passed today (actually yesterday) - with flying colors.

And that is no small achievement. 

So the community should feel very proud of itself and what it is accomplishing.

Because the quality is only going to keep improving.  I'm seeing that elevate with each sim.  Less correcting work for me as Chief Analyst, and more time to really work the synergizing write-up, so elevation across the board, as well as product I can stand in front of - inside the Pentagon and with a senior audience - and deliver without a hitch.

12:02AM

Where is the world is Wikistrat?

A graphic listing most - but not all - of the sims conducted by Wikistrat this year.  The point is to display the breadth and the volume.  Be impressed, because you should be.

Wikistrat's sims aren't a year in the planning.  Client names the subject and we're off and running in days.  Why? All Wikistrat needs is a framework and then we turn the analysts loose on the scenarios.  The company don't spend countless man-hours narrowing down the range of possibilities so that 95% of the uncertainty and surprise is drained from the exercise by the time we actually start it.  Wikistrat can customize the structure to your concerns and then it brings the masses in to run with that structure and take it places you - the client - hadn't considered.

That approach allows for a huge mapping of possibilities.  You want to find the needle in the haystack?  Well, Wikistrat can run through that hay awfully damn quick.

Spend a minute and see if you can guess the four sims that were my ideas . . .

{music}

First one was China as Africa's de facto World Bank.  I'm pretty sure that was based on a WSJ headline noting that tipping point.  It ended up positing a lot of interesting intersection points between the US and China on the continent. Sim ended up generating both a report and a briefing by me.

Second one was the North American Energy Export Boom.  There was a time when Wikistrat asked me what I'd most like to explore in terms of near-term uncertainty in the system, and the whole fracking thing just jumped out at me:  Which way does it go?  Does it work out big-time for the US and - ultimately - the world?  Or does it get aborted like nuclear power for enviro reasons?  That was a very strong sim in terms of output, and all that material (final report and my brief) still tracks incredibly well with headlines.  All we did is simply systematize all those possibilities, organizing them into four major trajectories (usual X-Y approach). But the upshot was, anybody who goes through that stuff now has the capacity to process all the headlines to come.

Third one was the China slowdown sim.  That one's been in my mind since I wrote the piece for Esquire back in the fall of 2010 (it came out in the Jan '11 issue).  The idea came to me in the summer of 2010 and it took a while to sell it to the magazine, but it looks fairly prescient today, doesn't it?  Anyway, a very solid sim that ran down all manner of possibilities, and I really loved the quartet of scenarios we came up with (which drew comparisons to historical risers).  Great report and probably the strongest brief I've yet done for WS.

Fourth one was "when China's carrier entered the Gulf."  Wikistrat asked me to generate a host of possible sims way back when, and that was one of them. Just a simple logical progression argument, with the trick being imagining all the possibilities when that inevitability unfolds.  Hence the sim, which turned out great, along with a solid report.  And this one was only a "mini-sim" by WS standards:  just a brainstorming drill on scenarios with a quick follow-up on policy options.  Mostly junior analysts, but the output was as good as anything I've seen from the National Intelligence Council - seriously.

Two on the list I didn't really have anything to do with: NATO and Pakistan.  First one was driven by a client's curiousity.  Second one is just a natural "what if?"  Both turned out quite nicely.

The Democratic Peace Theory Challenged sim is another one I did not design, and I will admit that, at first blush, I didn't much care for the subject.  I was brought in to work the design and shaped it somewhat, but I truly had low expectations.  In truth, those were exceeded by a long shot.  The material needed more shaping than usual, because the sim had a theoretical bent, but what I ended up with at the end in the final report was . . . to my surprise . . . quite strong - I mean, present at a poli sci/IR conference strong (or walk into any command and brief strong).  It easily could have veered into all sorts of panic mongering, but instead it organized a universe of possibilities very neatly.  I was really proud of the overall effort, and it reminded me not to get too judgmental going into sims.

The Syria sim I didn't design, nor did I oversee its operation.  That Wikistrat left to junior versions of myself.  I was brought in at the end to shape the first draft of the report, and, while I moved things around plenty, the material held up very nicely to my critical eye, which is encouraging.  If Wikistrat is going to handle all the volume coming down the pike (contractual relationships are piling up at a daunting rate), then the Chief Analyst position needs to be like that of any traditional RAND-like player:  that person needs to be able to shape things a bit at the start and then at the end, but mid-range staff need to be able to herd all those cats and the resulting material. So that one felt like a nice maturation of the process, because, like with any successful start-up, the real challenge isn't marketing but execution.

This graphic, for some sad reason, skips the headlining sim of the year to date:  When Israel Strikes Iran.  That one I had a lot of fun with, giving it my years-in-the-testing phased approach (initial conditions, trigger, unfolding, peak, glide path, exit, new normal).  That approach goes back to my Y2K work and later after-action on the Station Nightclub fire disaster in Rhode Island (done for the local United Way to provide lessons learned on how well the organization responded). That was the most structurally ambitious Wikistrat sim to date and it - unsurprisingly - produced the best material by far. I'd put that final report and brief up against anything the best elements of the US national security establishment could produce . . . naturally at about 20 times the cost and five times the duration of effort.

The graphic also doesn't include the most recent sims.  I just finished a final report on The Globally Crystalizing Climate Change Event (one of mine), and, despite the great time projection, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the material holds up in the report.  I thought the analysts did a great job there.

Based on that fine crowd performance, Wikistrat pushes the community even harder in the just-wrapping-up sim entitled When World Population Peaks.  This one was truly challenging, but my point in designing the sim was almost to purposefully "test out" analysts in the manner of a language-skills oral exam, meaning I wanted something almost too hard for most analysts so as to press both them and the supervising analysts on how they handled it.  Think of it like a NASA sim where Control is trying to crash the lunar module.  That was a bit stressful, I think, for a lot of the community who participated, but - to me - it was like a nasty cross-country workout (I am assistant coaching my kid's team again for the 8th year in a row and I'm on my third kid) early in the season:  bit of a bitch mentally and physically, but it'll pay off down the road.

Yes, Wikistrat does take all its sims - even the training ones - very seriously.  If you're not growing then you're dying - simple as that.  Start-ups have to have that survival-of-the-fittest mentality and we're talking about a small firm that's come out of nowhere (okay, Israel) in just three years.

So, a nice overview of the year, and it's an impressive body of work.  Would you believe me if I told you that all of it was accomplished within a timeframe and with a far smaller budget that one of those bloated wargames that Booz Allen runs for the Pentagon?

Well, if you did, then you'd know why Wikistrat is going to succeed in this cutthroat business.

9:11AM

Wikistrat's latest sim: "Syria's Turmoil Explored

I co-wrote with Nick Ottens, a Wikistrat supervisor and Dutch journalist who specializes in globalization reportage.

This crowdsourced simulation, conducted in real time on Wikistrat’s online platform during the course of three weeks, discussed the sustainability of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and forecasted dozens of scenarios for its collapse or survival. In addition, analysts explored and evaluated a range of policy options for the United States, Russia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, France and other actors. The simulation saw the participation and collaboration of over 120 Wikistrat analysts from all around the world. The following is an excerpt from the simulation’s executive summary, available for download here.

Assad has little control over his own destiny. His survival to date has had less to do with his bloody suppression of insurgents than the absence of comprehensive foreign intervention, China’s and Russia’s diplomatic support (along with some material support from Moscow), and the opposition’s enduring divisions. Brute force can put down any uprising, but it won’t put the sectarian “genie” back in the “bottle.” Those enduring tensions will do more to shape the future of Syria than anything Assad can now manage.

Absent assassination, military coup or outside intervention, the struggle will require significant time to reach resolution. Assad’s forces keep the upper hand wherever they focus attention, but they cannot hold territory once they move on. Recent opposition successes notwithstanding, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) survives but does not flourish.

The Wikistrat simulation explored five scenario pathways. Overall, the analysts agreed that the rising sectarian violence, questionable army loyalty and ongoing defections dramatically reduce Assad’s chances to restore stability. The most plausible scenarios thus portray a slow-but-continuous of the regime until Assad falls. At that point, the opposition’s divisions and conflicting goals imply Libyan-style post-war difficulties.

 

11:47AM

Syria: When US inaction accelerates a radicalizing dynamic

Nice op-ed by Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham in WAPO.

The core argument:

We are hopeful the rebels will ultimately prevail, but it remains a deeply unfair and brutal fight, and the speed and manner by which it is won matter enormously. All evidence suggests that, rather than peacefully surrendering power, Assad and his allies will fight to the bitter end, tearing apart the country in the process.

America’s disengagement from this conflict carries growing costs — for the Syrian people and for U.S. interests.

Because we have refused to provide the rebels the assistance that would tip the military balance decisively against Assad, the United States is increasingly seen across the Middle East as acquiescing to the continued slaughter of Arab and Muslim civilians. This reluctance to lead will, we fear — like our failure to stop the slaughter of the Kurds and Shiites under Saddam Hussein in Iraq or of the Tutsis in Rwanda — haunt our nation for years to come.

Our lack of active involvement on the ground in Syria also means that, when the Assad regime finally does fall, the Syrian people are likely to feel little goodwill toward the United States — in contrast to Libya, where profound gratitude for America’s help in the war against Moammar Gaddafi has laid the foundation for a bright new chapter in relations between our two countries.

We are being left behind by events.  When Al-Qaida makes this a bigger cause celebre than America does, we lose by definition - by our abscence.

We keep trying to wind ourselves up over the chem weapons depots, but we should be more concerned with registering the anti-Iranian win in a way that benefits Israel - if we're serious about wanting to avoid war with Iran.  That's the bigger fish here, not the lowest common threat inflator of chemical arms.

There are plenty of ways to ramp up our involvement without boots on the ground.  WAPO ran an editorial recently calling for the always handy no-fly-zone.

We have entered the R2P space (right to protect), and what we need to protect most here is our credibility and the region from outcomes that make it less stable over the Arab Spring's continued unfolding.

I have, in the past, noted that the Arab Spring has been kind enough to us to offer the one-damn-thing-after-another dynamic.  Well, now's the time when we seriously deal with the one damn thing called Syria.

The Syrian PM just defected.  What are we waiting for?

9:45AM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA When Military Intervention Makes Sense

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says that “diplomacy is still better than bombs” and that “moral outrage is just the starting point for a decision to intervene.”  He then goes through all the major powers in his piece Tuesday and cites reasons why each one is either holding back or holding things up. It’s one of those great ass-covering op-eds that’s supposed to make you look smart when the intervention does comes and it — gasp! — leads to more death and destruction.

Let me tell you why great powers intervene:  they don’t care about moral outrage and they don’t care about stopping the killing.  Moral outrage is a headline and nothing more, while the killing is either made faster or slower but never really “prevented.”

Great powers intervene when they can.  It’s as simple as that.  Good and bad don’t play into it.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

1:13PM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA Obama Cleverly Leading from Behind — Again

The quiet coalition has come together to reverse the decline of the opposition rebel forces in Syria, according to this nice front-pager in Wednesday’s Washington Post.  Much like in the case of Libya, the Obama Administration is hanging back and letting the local “market” determine his military response.  He simply refuses to take the strategic lead, which is frustrating to many and yet decidedly clever on his part.

To me, this is the Obama Doctrine: respond to local demand for U.S. crisis-response services rather than — in typical American fashion — pushing our way to the front of the line, bossing everyone, and then finding ourselves alone on the postwar backside.

 Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

10:44AM

West's conundrum on Syria

WSJ story: "Syria attacks seen as sign of extremists' rise."

Reason why, in a column a bit back, I argued for quasi intervention (imagining something in air control along Turkish border + arms support to rebels) is that, the longer this goes on, the more it becomes next natural cause celebre for AQ and associated.

So conunudrum is usual one: people say, don't get involved because we encourage terrorism/are forced to ally with terrorists.  Problem is, best way to ensure their growth is to sit back and let civil strife unfold over longer haul now made possible by our inaction.

We also buy lots of stiff-arming diplomatically from great powers generally because we don't resolve this.  If we went harder and faster, we'd still get stiff-armed, but speeding the killing also speeds the great-power dynamics past this dispute.

We all know we'll be in semi-aggressive stance on Syria so long as Assad remains, so why not get it over with? Why not speed the kiliing?

My preference is always the "damned if you do" variant.

No question about the "right side of history" here.

8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:12PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: How Will It End in Syria?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

It’s hard to gauge just how strong the Free Syrian Army really is.  It’s clearly growing in size and in its ability to control ever-widening swaths of territory.  But at the same time, Russian and Iranian guns pour into Bashar al-Assad’s government.  And Bashar al-Assad has a steely will to power.

Given the mounting tension, it’s worth thinking through exactly how regime change may unfold and what it’s consequences would mean for the region.

Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy ran an online simulation on what could go down in Syria. Here are the results:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.