Sergei Bourachaga’s latest essay concerns the recent controversy over the CIA’s treatment of Islamic terrorists, setting the current crisis in the context of the history of warfare.
Clausewitz, the CIA, and Islamic Terrorism
by Sergei Bourachaga
A few weeks ago a close friend of mine, a visiting guest lecturer from Europe, invited me to attend a presentation at a local Canadian university addressing the impact of nanotechnology on human health, and how it will affect the future of our planet.
To test the level of sophistication of his audience made up of university students, professors, faculty members, bureaucrats, and politicians, he randomly selected fifteen individuals from the audience and asked them the following question: “What is your opinion about the “Dunning-Kruger” software used by most companies in the nanotechnology field, and how it will change the storage of data on imbedded microchips already in use on smart phones recently sold on the Canadian market?”
Several interesting details emerged from the answers received.
- All fifteen respondents belonged to two distinct ideological camps that shaped and colored their responses based on political beliefs that had nothing to do with the scientific facts of nanotechnology or the “Dunning-Kruger” software. All fifteen spoke with an extremely self-confident zeal as if they had an exclusive monopoly on sound knowledge.
- Hierarchic/individualist right leaning respondents more favourably disposed to experts in positions of scientific or political authority trumpeted nanotechnology and the “Dunning-Kruger” software as the cutting edge technology that will eradicate all the evils (war, hunger, pollution…) faced currently by mankind.
- Egalitarians/left leaning collectivists took the opposite stance, insisting that nanotechnology and the “Dunning-Kruger” software are nothing but new technological advances designed to consolidate the power of the elites ruling our society, by providing unlimited access to valuable data on the most intimate aspects of an individual’s day-to-day interaction with his environment. In other words “Big Brother” will know more and more about who you are and what you do on an average day.
After collecting all the answers my friend spent approximately twenty minutes talking about nanotechnology, conveying to the audience mostly old bland information collected from a variety of sources on the internet. A significant number of attendees left after listening for a few minutes, and by the end of the lecture only a handful of students were in the auditorium out of respect for the guest lecturer, but definitely not because they were learning something valuable from the experience.
The entire previously mentioned scenario was a setup planned by the Psychology Department of two universities (one European and one Canadian). The guest lecturer/expert in nanotechnology was a psychology professor whose knowledge of nanotechnology was limited to superficial information gleaned from the internet in a couple of hours of surfing. The “Dunning-Kruger” software was a figment of someone’s imagination. No such software existed and the name had no association with any R & D company or manufacturer in the field of nanotechnology.
What really exists is the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”, first identified by Professor David Dunning and his graduate student Justin Kruger, who jointly published a research paper in 1999 that casted a serious doubt on the conventional wisdom that “Education is the natural antidote of ignorance.” Both researchers introduced significant evidence pointing out that often education can trigger in an individual an illusory confidence that reinforces his/her biases, hampers his/her understanding of facts, and paves the way for disastrous outcomes, especially if the individual is an authority figure with serious responsibilities.
Dunning and Kruger were supporting an argument often made by Professor Albert Einstein about universities that mass-produced graduates who can memorize and retain tremendous amount of information to pass exams, but fail to develop logical faculties that can be successfully used to solve complex problems. Einstein always insisted that “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”
Dunning and Kruger provided a list of characteristics that one frequently encounters in individuals who suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”. It starts with an obvious incompetence, and a blindness that prevents them from gauging the depth of their ignorance and the disastrous consequences associated with their ignorance. What differentiates these ignorants with university degrees from uneducated folks who have never received a formal education is that their scandalous incompetence does not leave them perplexed when confronted with disastrous results. Instead, with a self-righteous bold confidence they try to sell you nonsensical explanations that seem to them to be authoritative knowledge.
Another distinctive feature of individuals who suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” is their natural disposition to import knowledge from certain settings into ones where it is totally inappropriate. For example, taking moral values or rights enshrined in the Constitution to protect the citizens of a State, and applying them to ongoing warfare to protect the foreign enemies of that State. It is not surprising to see a politician who suffers from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” twisting facts and warping basic rules of logical reasoning to protect his sacrosanct beliefs. Any attempt to challenge his ideological sacrosanct commitments will easily bruise his fragile ego, and he will rely on all kinds of extreme measures to defend ideas and principles he holds dear, including measures that will guarantee the gradual destruction of the institutions and agencies entrusted with the protection of the State from internal and external enemies.
The previously-mentioned details were very obvious in the crusade launched by a group of elected American politicians to hold the CIA accountable for acts of torture used to extract information from Islamic terrorists fully committed to the destruction of America in particular and Western democracies in general.
The formal education of those US politicians who started the witch-hunt, never exposed them to the crucial principle that politics on the international arena between state and non-state actors is based on pragmatism and realism. A realism that clearly states that a “Nation State” cannot coexist with others if it does not exist first. Thus the primary concern of the State is to protect itself from internal and external enemies, through the use of power and warfare where no rules are adhered to if they pave the way to the destruction of the State. In other words, if America is forced to choose between becoming the victim of Islamic terror or exercising torture to defend itself against Islamic terror, the choice should be very simple. No politician in a position of power should compromise the very existence of a country to uphold moral principles that hinder the full neutralization of the enemy, especially when the enemy at stake has displayed a consistent contempt for the sanctity of any human life. All politicians dealing with threats that can seriously harm lives and property should anchor their plans in the basic principal that politics on the international scene is AMORAL.
The United States of America followed the amoral principles of “Realpolitik” for the last two centuries, and that is how it secured the ultimate triumph on the evil empire of The USSR. From an ideological point of view America was a fierce opponent of Communism regardless of who was promoting it, where, and how. But for practical considerations that have no relevance to moral values, President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger set aside their abhorrence for communism in 1970, and decided to use a murderous communist regime, China, against a brutal communist regime, the USSR. This strategy was labeled by academics as the new “Détente“ between The US and China.
It did not really matter to President Nixon and his Secretary of State that the fields of Vietnam were still soaked with the blood of American soldiers, who were falling prey to North Vietnamese attacks, often planned by Chinese military advisors, who made sure that the NVA and the Viet Cong guerillas have a limitless supply of Chinese military hardware. It did not matter to both US politicians that US prisoners of war captured by North Vietnamese guerillas were tortured regularly in the presence of Chinese “Intelligence Officers”. After all, the US’ main concern was not the number of casualties sustained on the battlefields of Vietnam (58,193 deaths, 153,329 seriously wounded, including 10,000 amputees; over 2400 American POWs/MIAs were unaccounted for as of 1973). The US wanted to fry a bigger fish, planting on the border of the USSR a powerful hostile regime (China), thus forcing a serious shift in Soviet military strategy which eventually expressed itself in a substantial redirection of Red Army divisions from the European theatre to the Russo-Chinese border.
During his 1972 visit to China (February 21-28), President Nixon shook hands with a butcher named Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao) to forge new diplomatic relations with the world’s most populous Communist nation. The very same nation who, two decades earlier, killed directly or indirectly 33,652 US soldiers during the Korean War. A war that witnessed and chronicled the brutal interrogation and brainwashing techniques used by the Chinese agents, against American prisoners of war in Manchuria. A tragedy that captured the imagination of Hollywood, and major studios produced a couple of different movies about the “Manchurian Candidate” reaching the White House and running America based on directives received from Chinese handlers.
US “Peace Activists/Useful Idiots” who were extremely shaken by the abuses of the US Army in Vietnam, were unmoved by the atrocities committed by Chinese military experts torturing captured US soldiers. US politicians, such as Senator Mike Mansfield who was quick to label the Vietnam War as “a tragic mistake”, never expressed a single statement of condemnation about the pain and suffering inflicted by the Chinese military experts on US soldiers, or about the logic of manipulating the Chinese leadership to contain the threat on US international interests by the long shadow of the USSR. In the end, politicians left the US Army to shoulder alone the humiliating defeat inflicted by foreign enemies, and the explicit contempt of a considerable number of Americans at home, who often spat on Vietnam War veterans in the streets of America while yelling “Murderers!”
Today, history is repeating itself by targeting a different institution: the CIA (“The Agency”), some three decades after closing the books on the Vietnam tragedy. The institution entrusted to lead the WAR on Islamic Terrorism, following the events of 9/11 is accused of undermining humanitarian rules of conduct, while attempting to contain and neutralize the enemies of America.
Ask the US politicians who launched the crusade to extract a pound of flesh and a pint of blood from The CIA, what is a good definition and description of WAR, and you will immediately see one of the most important characteristics of individuals suffering from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”, a dismal ignorance of the realities of war, and a self-righteous bold confidence substituting nonsensical definitions that sounds to them like authoritative knowledge. Ask them if they know anything about Carl Von Clausewitz, and with unflinching self-confidence you will hear the following answer: “Of course I know Von Clausewitz. He is the famous German cook who introduced the “schnitzel” a couple of centuries ago.” Obviously the answer is wrong. And the only common denominator between the famous cook and Von Clausewitz is Germany.
Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian/German Army General and a brilliant military theorist, whose massive multi-volume writings titled Vom Kriege/On War, are closely studied in almost every military academy on this planet, regardless of the ideological orientation of the political will guiding the military establishment. He defined war as “a fascinating trinity—composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force…” to be used skilfully to impose the will of the State upon its enemies. He insisted that war in particular, and politically motivated violence in general, is a continuation of the same dialogue but in a different language.
Von Clausewitz often argued that “The enemy of a good war plan is the dream of a perfect plan.” The perfect plan is the one hatched by politicians who have never spent a single day in a combat zone, who will insist to military commanders and intelligence-gathering operatives, that war must be waged with total respect for the Geneva Convention, even if the enemy is an Islamist terrorist whose violence knows no boundaries, and contempt for human life and obsession with the “Cult of Death/Islam” allows him to direct his rabid rage against innocent children, women, the elderly, and everyone who refuses to accept the will of ALLAH, clearly expressed in the Noble Koran. After all, no one should be cruel to a pious religious Muslim who is engaging in an act of terror based on the following clear instructions he received from ALLAH:
“We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers (Jews, Christians, Hindus). They serve other Gods for whom no sanction has been revealed. Hell shall be their home; dismal indeed is the dwelling place of the evil-doers”. Koran 3:149
As Western democracies and nations dedicated to the rule of law, do we have any moral obligation under the rules of war to temper our outrage, at the atrocities committed by the soldiers of ALLAH, with moderation and kindness? Let us first ask ourselves if our outrage is justified. To avoid boring readers with the long list of butcheries perpetuated by Islamic Radicals since 9/11, I will focus only on the month of November 2014, and the most recent attack (December 17, 2014) on a private school in Peshawar Pakistan.
According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), a non-profit non-governmental think tank based at King’s College- London, “Seven human beings died every hour in November  as a result of violence attributed to al-Qaeda, its offshoots and groups that subscribe to a similar ideology. 664 attacks in 14 countries, a daily average of 22 such attacks and 168 fatalities. Of the 5,042 people killed in total, a majority were civilians. Military personnel made up 1,723 deaths.” Needless to mention that military casualties also include intelligence officers and operatives from various countries fighting Islamic terror.
The next savagery, bearing all the hallmarks of Islamic terrorism, took place a few days ago in Peshawar-Pakistan. Several militants belonging to The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked a military-run private school, and in cold blood massacred 132 children and 9 staff members. According to Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani, the barbarism was a fair act of revenge. “We wanted the Pakistani Army to feel the pain,” he said, because most of the students were the children of Pakistani officers. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to “continue this war until even a single terrorist is not left on our soil.” Sharif also lifted a ban on the death penalty for terrorist crimes, which has been in place since 2008.
Ironically, less than 48 hours after the tragedy of Peshawar, a Pakistani court in the city of Rawalpindi granted bail to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the man accused of masterminding the deadly 2008 rampage through the Indian city of Mumbai by Pakistani militants who killed 166 victims. I guess in Pakistan, decision-makers make a distinction between a good Muslim terrorist who imposes the will of ALLAH on Indian or Western infidels, and bad Muslim terrorists who attack the Pakistani Army.
With all the recent mass killings described above, should we blame the leading intelligence agency (CIA) in the war waged against Islamic terrorism, for showing a lack of moderation and kindness to humans with deeply ingrained bestial nature, based on findings promoted by politicians catering to the vagaries of popular misconception of what a war is?
The answer is a clear NO according to Von Clausewitz who had the following stark warning to the politicians of his own time:”…to introduce into the philosophy of war itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity. War is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.” In other words, pity the nation whose leaders, based on misguided naïve idealism, turn war into something that is alien to its nature. Such naïve idealism will generate nothing but a string of failures, which will gradually cripple the morale of the Agency, and infuse the ranks of the enemy with the strong confidence that a new “Divine Victory” will usher the downfall of the Evil American Empire.
US politicians who initiated the inquisition targeting the CIA failed to see that their words and antagonistic behavior are drastically reducing the Agency’s ability to recruit operatives and neutralize in a timely manner threats from Islamic terrorists. In Europe, many Islamic terror suspects who were released from clandestine prisons took the initiative of launching legal procedures against the Agency. In 2009, an Italian court convicted 23 Americans in absentia for the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from the city of Milan. The case was the first trial involving the CIA’s rendition program. Currently, under European laws the accused are considered fugitives and can be arrested if they happen to be found in any country within the EU. In other words the short-sightedness of US politicians handed on a silver platter the very rope Islamic radicalism needs to hang the Agency.
To better safeguard the strategic long-term interests of The West in the war against Islamic terrorism, US politicians should keep a copy of The Prince, written by Niccolo Machiavelli, on their night tables. He had the following advice to those working in the spying profession: “If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.” Meaning, next time you interrogate a terrorist, while you are waging a war, finish the work by exterminating him/her. It is the only method that will minimize acts of vengeance and improve your chances of survival in the war.