It’ll Do You Damage: Proxies & Covert War

Recently, several members of the Syrian National Council threatened or began the process of resignation from the body, marking new fractures as government forces continue their bloody, brutal crackdown against Syrian rebels in Hama, Idlib, and Deraa. Notably, Idlib, located along the Turkish border, and Deraa, near the Jordanian border, would have been some of the more ideal conduits for arms and supplies into Syria, or even safe zones within the country. Unsurprisingly, the Syrian government appears to be trying to nip such a possibility in the bud by expanding their crackdown, dispelling hopes that Syria’s military might not have the strength or will to broaden its campaign of repression. The New York Times describes the consequent fracturing of the SNC:

The main Syrian exile opposition group suffered a serious fracture on Wednesday as several prominent members resigned, calling the group autocratic, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and powerless to help Syrian rebels as government forces, having flushed insurgent strongholds in the north, swept into the rebellious southern city of Dara’a.

The council, [Kamal al-Labwani] added, was in danger of causing splits in Syrian society by failing to create a single rebel military command under its control, leaving individual militias to seek their own sources of help.

On Tuesday, the Syrian National Council had taken steps to bring the Free Syrian Army under its umbrella. But Mr. Labwani, the council member who is resigning, said the exiles had few ties to the fighters inside. “The Free Syrian Army is the people who are inside Syria,” he said.

The tension and difficulty of coordinating the activities of exile groups and local militias is hardly a new one in covert warfare. As Labwani notes, the absence of a unified command structure leaves the rebel movement open to fracturing. But interestingly, Labwani simultaneously complains of  “Muslim Brotherhood members within the exile opposition of ‘monopolizing funding and military support.'” In other words, Labwani wants the ability to create a unified military command structure but opposes monopolization within the political structure. This arrangement would approximate the nature of a democratic government (not dominated by any one party or clique) with normal civil military relations (a subordinate and unified military command structure) – but unfortunately for Labwani and the SNC, such things do not come about easily. Continue reading

The View From Broken Windows

The passing of of eminent political scientist James Q. Wilson has brought renewed attention and almost universal praise to his most famous work, Broken Windows Theory. While Wilson will certainly be missed and Broken Windows was a rare and valuable fresh addition to police doctrine, now that his theory has been put to the test for 30 years, it’s time to reevaluate its success and some of its assumptions just as Wilson began to do later in his life. Continue reading

Broken Windows…A Powerful Strategy, When Applied Robustly


“Public order is a fragile thing, and if you don’t fix the first broken window, soon all the windows will be broken.”~James Q. Wilson

There is an terrific article from 1982 on the Broken Windows theory By GEORGE L. KELLING and JAMES Q. WILSON in the Atlantic Magazine. Mr Wilson who died March 2nd 2012 and Mr. Kelling had some great ideas and insights into crime and violence and on how to reduce it. The “broken windows theory”  is very familiar to cops working the street and is the catalyst to “community policing” and its evolution in law enforcement over the past 30 years. The term “broken widows” is a metaphor for all crime, crime problems and violence as well as quality of life issues people relate to a productive society. The theory is very sound most especially when translated, practiced and applied on the streets. Broken windows and community policing leverages the mutual trust factor between police and the community and builds upon it so collaborative efforts are made in solving hosts of problems within a community. The theory, has been proven in the locations that had adopted the theory and translated it robustly to their philosophy of policing and to their communities. In other words they, “community and cops” lived and breathed the strategy and implemented problem solving methods to see it through. In doing so they saw results, a reduction of crime and violence and a better quality of life.

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Interacting Tactfully and Tactically: Is This a Strategy, Law Enforcement Can Use?


"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." ~Mark twain

Dr. Michael Asken has a great piece I read a couple of weeks back titled; “Being simultaneously tactful and tactical”  Tactics is “the art and science of winning engagements and conflicts. Tactics refers to the concepts and methods we use to accomplish a particular objective. Can you be both tactful and tactical and accomplish law enforcement objectives? Will the combination of tactful communication and tactical skill give you the edge you need to win on the street? I believe so!

The Friendliness Factor can it be deadly?

Being tactful, too many of us in law enforcement forget about. Many cops believe if they show compassion and follow the golden rule of treating others like they want to be treated; it is some form of weakness. That somehow magically because we use a tactful approach, the person we are dealing with will get the upper hand. Some of this attitude may come from what’s known as “the friendliness factor” which is well known attribute in the law enforcement community and has been studied since 1992 by the FBI in three major studies “Killed in the line of Duty (1992)”, ‘In the Line of Fire (1997)” and “Violent Encounters (2006) which list behavioral descriptors of officers killed and assaulted.

  • Friendly
  • Well liked by community and department
  • Tends to use less force than other officers felt they would use in similar circumstances
  • Hard working
  • Tends to perceive self as more public relations than law enforcement
  • Service oriented
  • Used force only as last resort (peers claimed they would use force at earlier point in similar circumstances)
  • Doesn’t follow rules, especially in regard to (arrests, confrontations with prisoners, traffic stops and waiting for back-up)
  • Feels he/she can “read” others/situations and will drop guard as result
  • Tends to look for the good in others
  • Laid back and easy going

Friendliness alone does not lead to an assault. Instead it is the deadly combination of all or some of these traits including a naïve form of friendliness. Friendliness can be a powerful tactic when used appropriately in combination with superior situational awareness. Friendliness and tact, the ability to show respect, empathy and concern for another, even as a false front has a powerful effect and can wear down an adversary, even dangerous individuals. Tactful communication is as powerful a tactic as in other tactical concept we have in our moral, mental and physical tactical bag of tricks. Tactical communication combined with awareness and tactical ability to position ourselves to a more advantageous position, of strength through persuasion and understanding there may be a need to escalate. 

Tactful and tactical approaches should be a central part of our strategy when dealing with emotionally charged people or people in circumstances where an anxiety and stress are high. a great method, when constant adaptation to shifting conditions and circumstances in a world where chance, uncertainty and ambiguity dominate. The essence of winning and losing is in learning how to shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic towards our success. Continue reading

War and the impermanence of order

There was once a time when liberal democracy appeared to be an idea with an expiration date. To some intellectuals looking back at the past three centuries from the twenty-first, this seems impossible. From the Glorious Revolution to the collapse of the Soviet Union, history seems very obviously to favor the rise of liberal democratic states, along with peace, economic integration, and the general rise in respect for human rights. As a matter of crude description, this is so. But what is more useful is the question of why it has occurred.

Bernard de Jouvenel, in his On Power, discussed sovereignty and government in the context of a terrible titanomachia scouring the modern world. In 1944, he despaired:

We are ending where the savages began.  We have found again the lost arts of starving non-combatants, burning hovels, and leading away the vanquished into slavery.  Barbarian invasions would be superfluous: we are our own Huns.

Jouvenel was no doubt underestimating the sheer pervasiveness of violence in those primeval days. But his perspective, and point, are unsettling. To Jouvenel, and many other intellectuals of the time, the world was increasingly dominated by states with multifarious and complex bureaucratic machinery, operating under a single will, and even democracy, interlinked as it became with mass politics, served not as a force for individual liberation per se but as a force to clear away the last restrictions on the reach of the state. In a world then dominated by continental giants -Roosevelt’s America, Hitler’s Germany, and Stalin’s Soviet Union – the most obvious trend in world history appeared not to be the advancement of human rights and individuality, but the triumph of the Hobbesian homo magnus. Continue reading