Sunday UK Strategic Defence Review: Chapter 2

OK, so it’s time for another chapter of the Strategic Defence Review as a Blog.

Chapter 2 begins as follows:

The use of force as an option is becoming more complicated. It is likely to become more difficult to use force in the way in which we have used it in the last two decades.

This is of course code for Iraq. The Iraq experience is a considerable theme through the chapter.

Many of our assumptions about joint working and expeditionary capabilities have been validated. But experience has shown that our operations have developed in more complex ways than we envisaged. We have sometimes underestimated the intricacy of working in multi-national operations and with non-military actors

To put it another way: We were right to expect we wouldn’t spend all our time in Germany. Further, we had to talk to the RAF. But one particular operation turned out to be much more complicated and much more serious than we allowed ourselves to imagine.

Looking ahead, The Future Character of Conflict will grow more complex. We are likely to face a range of simultaneous threats and adversaries in challenging operating areas – such as fighting in urban areas against enemies concealed amongst civilians. We are also likely to be subject to greater scrutiny from the media and public, both in the UK and overseas. Communications is now a key component of any campaign.

That seems to be communications as in “strategic communications” – PR, in other words. Nothing to do with being Better Off With Map And Nokia. Snark aside, again, this is the experience of Iraq glaring through.

Technological development, especially in the fields of cyberspace and space, may further change our understanding of conflict. It is likely to be more difficult to maintain our technological edge over some adversaries, or to bring that edge to bear on others, with a profound effect on the way we operate.

Anything electronic is now cheap, and the big power monopoly of satellite reconnaissance is breaking down.

There follows a list of operations and arguments that tend to support the 1998 SDR and the later New Chapter. They do not include Iraq, and only mention Afghanistan in passing on the grounds that we got there logistically, until we get to this paragraph:

Special Forces have demonstrated their value across a broad spectrum of activity, from operating alongside our conventional forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to capacity-building with partners or hostage rescue.

However, when we get on to the “lessons learned”, we get this:

Our assumption that we could “go first, go fast and go home” has proved false. We believed that we could deploy our forces for the most difficult early intervention stage of a conflict, and leave the subsequent stabilisation and development tasks to partners. But we have not been able – or wished – to disengage as we had planned. We have therefore further improved our ability to sustain deployed forces, including, for example, through additional procurement of strategic lift.

I think this is important. Going first, going fast, and going home was very close to the early Rumsfeld view – airpower, strategic mobility, force protection, and an almost neurotic self-assertion towards allies. It’s rather what the European Council on Foreign Relations says here; Europe was meant to do the boring stuff. It reminds me of the old line about “America cooks and Europe washes up”. Well, if you never wash up, eventually you get typhoid. The reference to additional lift was the decision to lease, at vast cost, and eventually buy the RAF some C-17 transports – a sort of shadow of the concurrent procurement train crash around the Future Strategic Transport Aircraft.

The international and national policy and legal framework is having an increasing impact on our operations. Defence continues to make an important contribution to tackling terrorism overseas, following the lines set out in the SDR New Chapter in 2002. The role of Defence in working with other departments to tackle the drivers of terrorism, and to build security capacity, is crucial – although the scope for conducting overseas counterterrorism operations is narrower than envisaged in 2002.

Indeed – 2002, and the spirit of 2002, are a long time ago, and:

In many cases, our operations have developed in much more complex and dynamic ways than we envisaged and planned for, and we have not been able to adapt as rapidly as we would have liked.

Indeed.

In particular, in our focus on our geographical area of responsibility, for example in Basra, we may have placed insufficient emphasis on the multi-national operational level. In the later stages of operations in Iraq, the full integration of UK staff into US and coalition headquarters significantly improved the coordination of our contribution. We are taking that lesson forward in Afghanistan.

To put it another way: We thought we could ignore what was going on in Baghdad, Anbar, and Multinational Division South-Centre, and just crack on in Basra without rocking the boat. But it’s impossible to divide the problems of war, whether between land, sea, and air or between geographies within the same theatre. When they wanted war elsewhere, we opted out of the big decisions and lost the ability to say no effectively.

Our deployment of formed headquarters and formations for limited periods has not reflected the need for “campaign continuity”. We have now extended the tour lengths for key headquarters personnel and are looking at options that would ensure greater continuity throughout the headquarters. We are clear that we need to go further to produce better campaign continuity.

This was a problem for the Americans in Vietnam and also for the British Army in various counterinsurgencies. It’s probably common to all armies involved in a long war that isn’t utterly central to their worldview, because it’s driven by career structures. To be a general, you must have a general’s command, and why would you be a general if not to command? Further, what they usually command is a formation, and formations usually rotate. Ad-hoc geographical or functional commands are against the bureaucratic structures involved – perhaps it’s because of this that they are always necessary.

We have found it challenging to identify and rapidly implement lessons in doctrine. This is inherently difficult, but in some areas we have already moved a long way. The Army recently issued a new Counter-Insurgency Doctrine, and we now have a dedicated training facility for counter-insurgency in the UK.

Well, they’re right, really.

Often, innovation within the operation has minimised the adverse impact of these weaknesses. In our current operations, we have incorporated those insights into our strategic policy. Our Afghanistan/ Pakistan Strategy, and General McChrystal’s strategy, are based on a clear understanding of the challenges we face, a long-term vision founded on integrated political, development and military action and an overarching regional approach. Our Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) procedures are delivering the equipment our forces need as the requirements evolve. The Government has approved over £5.5 billion of UORs in Afghanistan since the operation began.

To put it another way – we muddled through, sort of. The reference to UORs corroborates this – part of the reason why the armed forces don’t buy all they need through UORs is that they go around much of the procurement process, in order to be urgent. This means, of course, that they may end up paying more, or getting less. On the other hand, the very fact that they needed to raise £5.5 billion worth of them for Afghanistan – that’s as much as the carriers – suggests that the normal procurement process is dysfunctional.

What about the future? It’s likely to be:

* Contested – access and freedom of manoeuvre – even as we attempt to deploy into the regional theatre – will have to be fought for;
* Congested – we are likely to be unavoidably drawn into urban areas, the littoral and lower airspace;
* Cluttered – we will find it difficult to discriminate between a mass of ambiguous targets – friendly forces, other international actors such as non-governmental organisations or development agencies, media representatives, local civilians and our adversaries;
* Connected – key lines of communication, including critical military infrastructure, maritime chokepoints and computer networks, will be vulnerable to attack and disruption; and
* Constrained – legal and social changes will place additional limits on our actions.

This is true, but hardly original. This is a good book.

Our preferred way of warfare – concentrating force, bringing technology to bear and seeking rapid defeat of our adversaries – may not be as effective as it has been in the past.

Is that our preferred way of warfare? I think this might need a debate. It sounds a lot like a classic statement of the American way of war, which may be the problem. Of course, nobody wants to disperse force, fail to use technology to best advantage, and seek endless, inconclusive struggle – but if Rupert Smith is right and struggle tends to be endless and inconclusive, and technology less decisive than expected, perhaps this should have some bearing on our preferences.

And here comes the dread word: “cyber”.

Cyber Space, in particular, poses serious and complex challenges for UK security and for the Armed Forces’ operations. Our increasing dependence on cyber capabilities creates opportunities but also serious vulnerabilities. Cyber attacks are already an important element of the security environment and are growing in seriousness and frequency. The most sophisticated threat is from established and capable states but cyber eliminates the importance of distance, is low cost and is anonymous in nature, making it an important domain, not just for hostile states, but terrorists, and criminals alike. Cyber space is critical to much of our military effort here and overseas and to our national infrastructure.

Note that the most sophisticated threat comes from states – not the main or the most serious threat. Of course, if the feared attack involves an electron microscope or a quantum computer, a state is the most likely attacker. But it’s in the very nature of information security that the great overwhelming majority of threats come from a huge diversity of tiny actors, and they are just as capable of doing serious damage as anyone else.

Further, defence against these threats tends to be the same – basically, sensible network management. The good news here is that there is no talk of giant firewalls or of “cyberdeterrence” – just of sensible security precautions. Further, the realities of the threat environment are taken seriously. No Dr. Evil plots here, nor cold war fantasies, just a space rather like the sea. The upshot of this is that the UK has far greater interests in keeping the infrastructure up, working, and open to all than it could possibly have in disrupting it. Very like the sea. The White House appears also to be heading this way, as Kings of War points out.

The National Security Strategy also set out the increasing challenges we face in Space. The Armed Forces’ dependence on space has grown rapidly over recent years. Access to space-derived information is now critical to our ability to conduct operations. This makes us vulnerable. The development of offensive counter-space capabilities is a particular concern. But, given our reliance on assets we do not control, there is also a risk of loss of access in periods of high demand – such as during large-scale operations or in the event of a sudden reduction in existing capacity. A continued close relationship with the US underpins our access to space capabilities. But we intend to look closely at how we contribute to allied programmes or develop national capabilities.

This is probably the most significant paragraph in the chapter. After 1971, the UK hasn’t tried to maintain its own reconnaissance satellite capability, nor has it participated in multilateral projects. It is thought, although as with everything between the UK and the USA, it is not written down in anything subject to ratification, that there is an understanding that the USA would share its overhead imagery with the UK. We know that this was turned down at least once during the Falklands War.

Tellingly, during the Iraq war, European countries fell in three groups. Those who had their own imagery – France and Germany. They didn’t participate at all. Those who got such a capability after the spring of 2003 – Spain and Italy. They left early. Those who had nothing at all – everyone else, basically. The outlier is Turkey, which didn’t have such a capability (although they did have representatives at the EU Satellite Centre) but didn’t get involved. Then, the Turks probably had good human sources in Iraq. They’ve since ordered a high-resolution photographic satellite from Telespazio of Italy.

Exactly what the US chose to share with us out of the wealth of imagery its national technical means, as they say, produced remains one of the great questions about the UK’s involvement in Iraq.

Research and development investment in defence technology in emerging nations has been increasing significantly over the past decade. Some key equipment produced by these countries is already as capable as equivalent equipment produced by the UK and our key allies and partners.

Civil investment in research and development, both nationally and globally, is now much larger than equivalent defence spending. Much of this research is developing technology – for example in communications, materials or biomedical science – which could be used in a military or wider security context. But the Ministry of Defence and our international partners in defence can expect to have less visibility of and expertise in such cutting edge technology than we have had in the past.

Loss of our technological edge in significant areas of military capability would have a profound effect on the way we operate.

This is the Arduino question; the proliferation of what used to be technology confined to the superpowers, or as Phil Hunt put it, what happens when a Congolese workshop with a RepRap can make a surface to air missile? Arguably, the key point here is that there is nothing we can do about it except for getting more like that ourselves – which comes back to the procurement economy.

As Kings of War’s David Betz says, this is an argument for general-purpose forces more than anything else. He also quotes the Navy as follows:

* Firstly, what do you want to defend and what are the Standing Commitments for Defence?
* Secondly, we need to have a clear idea about what we as a country would aspire to do on our own.
* Third, where the UK is operating as a coalition member, how do we want to influence our partners?

Slew in the direction of Dalston

British police forces are making plans to deploy surveillance drones in UK airspace, the Guardian reports. Kent Police is leading the project; four other police forces have signed up. The drones look to be (relatively) cheap and simple machines that are battlespace tested: a manufacturer – BAE Systems – has evaluated its candidate drone (HERTI) in Afghanistan. The Guardian says that only CAA licensing now stands in the way of domestic deployment.

A news piece like this has an aspect of dark comedy. Many people have worried for a while that UK policing has become militarised; here’s a story that’s confirmatory to an absurd degree. What’s next? Precision targetting of Harehills with JDAMs? Don’t be ridiculous …

You’d think there might be some legitimate role for surveillance drones in UK policing. After all, helicopter surveillance and CCTV are both legitimate, and drones constitute the intersection of those methods. Nonetheless, intuition tells you that something is horribly wrong here. But what is it that’s wrong?

The Guardian’s story – and they may be getting over-excited, but I tend to think not – says that Kent Police started out by claiming that the drones were to be used to monitor shipping and illegal immigrants. You might think that at least the shipping part of that would be OK; seas and shipping being what they are. But it turns out that these claims were just spin on the part of Kent Police; they always had a wider role in mind. Documents disclosed to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act suggest Kent Police would also like to use drones to monitor “antisocial driving” and “event security”, and also to conduct “covert urban surveillance”. Of course, this last could cover just about anything. And this, I think, points to the problem; it’s a problem of proportionality. Someone, somewhere, has lost touch with the relative seriousness of things. Not only that, they’ve lost touch with what constitutes a safe environment for policing. Is the view from their doorstep just a blur of hurt and evil doing, or what? It doesn’t take much discrimination to be able to tell that “theft from cash machines” won’t justify the same sort of efforts at risk reduction as attempting to interdict bomb plotters in a ‘failed state’. In certain parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s almost impossible for someone in uniform to move around safely. Britain is not like that at all, and you’re only going to infuriate and alienate British people by seriously suggesting that it is. So what do Kent Police and the other collaborating police forces think they’re doing making plans to hide in a bunker and send out Predators?

When airport security is part of the problem

A bizarre story from Dublin.  Short version: A Slovak agency was running a covert security check at an airport, which is presumably Bratislava.  The test involves planting explosive materials in the bags of unsuspecting passengers.  8 packages in total.  7 found.  One made it on to a plane to Dublin, and was brought home by the Slovak migrant who now lives there.  Apparently this was 3 days ago.  It’s not clear whether embarassment or delay in figuring out what had happened got us to today, when Irish police located the explosives and presumably various diplomatic notes are now being exchanged.  The timing suggests that the test was run into response to the Detroit bomb.  One wonders how much of this stuff goes on — perhaps the “someone must have put it there” excuse needs more credibility.

UPDATE: Initial word was sent by telex to the baggage handlers and not the Dublin airport authority.  Who uses telex anymore?

German election roundup

The last lot of German polls are out, showing a modest recovery for the SPD but nothing strategically epic. However, some polls have shown enough recovery to put some pressure on the FDP’s calculations. We’re in the realm of statistical noise here.

It’s quite surprising just how dull the campaign has been – the main parties essentially arguing that they won’t drop the ball, although they’d be happy with some more votes for their faintly more radical partners. I’m sticking with my prediction that the SPD will pick up a bit more and that then we’ll go into Klausur with the other parties; whatever happens, don’t bet against Angela Merkel as a committee politician. This is despite the economic crisis, and more recently, the Kunduz air raid, which even induced the chancellor to refer to “war”.

It’s not as if nothing is happening; a senior Green resigns over sensational videos of the party’s co-leader. Sensational videos of Renate Künast fishing, that is. This is a resigning matter, but not for her.

As far as the German engagement in Afghanistan goes, there is a row going on about the idea of paying for the training and deployment of 2,500 extra Afghan soldiers in the German sector. This has resulted in a very unusual outbreak of harmony between the CSU and the Greens, both of whom think it’s a good idea; but the government much less so. This wraps into the row between the US and Germany about the Kunduz incident, which seems to be on hold until after the election, just as any decisions about strategy or tactics are.

In fact, all the decisions are. It feels like the current European way; elections without decisions.

Greek journalist sued for writings on Bosnia

Via Marko Hoare’s blog, here’s an unhappy story about Greek journalist Takis Michas. A few years back, Michas wrote a book about the links between Greece and the Bosnian war — Greek support for Milosevic and Karadzic, Greek volunteers going to fight for the Serb side in Bosnia, and so forth.

Well, now he’s being sued by a Greek veteran of the Bosnian war. The lawsuit seems pretty dubious; the volunteer is claiming that he’s been libelled because Michas described the Greek volunteers as “paramilitaries” who took part in the Srebrenica massacre when (the volunteer says) they were in fact members in good standing of the Serb Bosnian army who just happened to be in Srebrenica around that time. The suit is being funded by something called the “Panhellenic Macedonian Front”, which is an umbrella group for a variety of extreme nationalists. A short interview with Michas, discussing the lawsuit, can be found here: Continue reading

Russian journalist killed in Chechnya

This woman may have had the most dangerous job in the world:

A prominent Russian human rights activist has been found dead hours after being kidnapped in the North Caucasus region.

Natalya Estemirova worked for Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest human rights organizations. She was bundled into a car early on July 15 as she left her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, her Memorial colleague Aleksandr Cherkasov said.

[…]

Estemirova was a lawyer who documented abductions, torture, and other human rights abuses in Chechnya. She worked with reporters, including murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and other human rights groups.

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said Estemirova’s work was vital to uncovering abuses in Chechnya. She said Estemirova “was one of the main people who documented the most terrible crimes during the second Chechen war: torture, extrajudicial executions, abductions.

“Natasha has until now remained one of the few people who have continued reporting crimes perpetrated by forces controlled by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.”

[…]

Estemirova was awarded the first Anna Politkovskaya Prize in 2007 by the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Speaking to RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service shortly after, she said the authorities were doing nothing to investigate abuses documented by Memorial.

“Changes have happened, changes for the worse. As far as human rights go, it is worse because, first of all, nothing has been done to investigate the crimes that have been committed in Chechnya since 2000,” Estemirova said.

[…]

Estemirova is the latest of many prominent Kremlin critics to have been killed in what human rights groups say is an atmosphere of impunity. Lawyer Stanislav Markelov, another of those to have worked with Estemirova, was gunned down on a Moscow street in January.

Dangerous jobs: being a human rights investigator, human rights lawyer, or investigative journalist in Russia. Really dangerous jobs: being a human rights investigator in Chechnya.
Continue reading

A bit of Balkan kabuki

The Bulgarians arrested Agim Ceku last week! But then, after a couple of days, they let him go. Serbia is upset.

Who is Agim Ceku, and why should you care?

Well, Agim Ceku is a very important Kosovar Albanian. He was an officer in the Yugoslav army and then, after 1991, he was a commander in the Croatian Army during their war against the Serbs. Then, after that, he was chief of staff of the Kosovar Liberation Army during the 1999 Kosovo War. Later, he was Prime Minister of Kosovo. He’s sort of retired now, or at least politically in eclipse, but he’s still one of the most important political figures in Kosovo.

The Serbs say he’s a war criminal. They have indictments against him for various horrible acts, including genocide. They tried him in absentia for some of them, back in 2002, and convicted him to 20 years in prison. They’ve managed to get an Interpol warrant for his arrest. So, Interpol member states are supposed to assist in capturing Ceku and, if necessary, extradite him to Serbia.

There have been several attempts to do this. None have yet succeeded. The most recent was last week, when Ceku visited Bulgaria. He was stopped at the border, then detained, while a Bulgarian court considered whether to hand him over to Serbia. After a couple of days the Bulgarians decided no, they weren’t going to do that, and Ceku went free. The Serbian government has expressed outrage, outrage! Ceku is still in Bulgaria but should be heading back to Serbia soon.

So why should anyone care? Continue reading

Ingushetia, boom

So someone tried to blow up Yunus-Bek Yevkorov last week. Almost got him, too: they seem to have killed several members of his entourage, including his cousin, and Yevkorov himself is currently in a Moscow hospital with burns and a ruptured liver. He’s expected to live, though.

We wrote about Mr. Yevkorov a few months ago:

Yevkurov was appointed by Moscow late last year to replace the notoriously corrupt, unpopular, and none-too-competent incumbent. The timing was interesting: just a couple of months after the Georgia conflict. Ingushetia is next door to South Ossetia and just a short drive from Georgia. In retrospect it looks like Moscow decided it could no longer afford to have a loyal-but-hated tool running things in this strategic region, and decided to appoint the most plausible possible Ingush instead.

It’s damnably difficult to get straight news out of Ingushetia — the Russian authorities don’t encourage foreign journalists, while the local government is oppressive and pretty paranoid — but it looks like Yevkurov is trying to make a go of it. He’s much more popular than his predecessor (not hard), and he seems to be peripatetically competent.

Other than the President getting blown up? Not a lot has changed since then. Until last week, Yevkurov was still trying to set things right. And he was still severely handicapped by a moribund local economy — Ingushetia is the poorest republic in Russia; it produces, basically, nothing — and Moscow’s insistence on using federal security forces, who are universally feared and loathed, to “help” the situation there. Continue reading

Review: Alistair Crooke, “Resistance: the essence of the Islamist revolution”

I’ve been asked to crosspost this from my blog…

Resistance – The Essence of the Islamist Revolution is Alistair Crooke’s survey of modern Islamist thought. It would be clearer to say it is a couple of books occupying the same space; one would be a history of Islamist thought since the origins of the Iranian Revolution, with a polemic for greater understanding of such thought, and another would be a slightly eccentric, neo-Platonist rant with overtones of Ian Buruma’s notion of Occidentalism.

Well, that sounds fun, doesn’t it? Then you have to add in Crooke’s career; the book glosses him as an advisor to the European Commission on the Middle East, but makes absolutely no mention of his term as SIS station chief in Tel Aviv, in which role he negotiated a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which lasted until an unfortunate air raid resulted in the deaths of a round dozen civilians and not the Hamas man the Israelis were after. (The story is here.)

The war resumed, and Crooke was recalled; officially this was for “security reasons”, but if anything imperilled his security it was probably that after the event, the Israeli tabloids discovered his job title, identity, and photograph with un-mysterious suddenness. He eventually fetched up in Beirut, running a thinktank called the Conflicts Forum, devoted to contact between Western powers and Islamists. (Time was, it would have been a nightclub, but we live in fallen times.)

So, what upshot? Crooke makes a strong case for modern Islamism as a classical reaction to colonialism and modernisation, or rather an interwar vision of modernity. He relies on an impressive battery of reading ranging into cultural Marxism at one end and into hardcore conservatism at the other. More controversially, he tries to place Islamism since the 1950s in a context of rebellion against free-market economics drawn from Naomi Klein; but the Ba’athist and similar regimes hardly qualify as Friedmanites, with their nationalised oil companies, state military industries, and extensive Soviet influence in administration, secret policing, and military doctrine and structure.

He draws on a battery of confidential interviews, which are some of the most interesting things in the book, to illuminate current ideas and practice, specifically among Hezbollah thinkers. Notably, they argue, the Caliphate should now be seen as a world-wide network of loosely interconnected “communities of resistance”, rather than a state or any other kind of hierarchical organisation. The aim of these is to uphold the practice of an ideal, self-organising community of believers against a total onslaught by the forces of liberalism, which wishes us all to be atomised individuals.

In practice, this demands a sort of liberation theology/community-organising/vaguely anarchist drive to create base groups everywhere, drawn together by the practice of mutual aid and the study of critical texts, and if necessary to form the underground shadow-administration common to all good guerrilla armies.

Crooke is interesting on the military implications of this, but I think what he describes is less original than he suggests. Flat, highly networked command structures, with a high degree of autonomy down to the squad and the individual, are not characteristic of Islamic or Islamist warfare; what he is describing here sounds a lot like Auftragstaktik. Also, he describes the requirements of a Hezbollah leader as integrity, authenticity, reliability, personal charisma, and ability to mobilise others; would anyone at all disagree?

There is an interesting side-trip into Islamist economic ideas. He criticises Westeners who assume that the main aim of these is to find technical workarounds to make the normal course of business sharia-compliant; apparently the real thing is considerably better. However, a lot of it (as described here) consists of accepting a market economy but not letting money be the be-all and end-all of everything, etc, etc; in practice, this seems to mean a welfare state. No surprise, then, that one of the thinkers he quotes had to write an entire book to rebut the charge that his ideas were indistinguishable from European social democracy.

According to Crooke, the main distinction is in the field of monetary economics; but, in so far as his writing is a true misrepresentation of it, it seems to be distinct in a way which isn’t particularly original. Apparently, Islamist economists are very exercised about M3 broad money growth, on the grounds that this represents the growth of credit in a fractional-reserve banking system and that this is the root of the evils of capitalism. Instead, they are keen on…the gold standard, that most free-trade imperialist of economic institutions!

At this point you might want to halt briefly; Islamist Auftragstaktik applied to community organising? The Caliphate in terms suited to Clay Shirky? Dear God, Islamist monetarist gold bugs? Phew! And you could, perhaps, take comfort from the thought that however strange Iranian political thought may be, their economic thought is no stranger than Fraser Nelson’s or Jude Wanniski’s. Placing an upper bound on the strangeness, after all, is probably an important step towards international understanding.

Then we get into the second book. Crooke is always quoting Plato, specifically the apposition between the port and the city; he attacks Karl Popper, and uses a great deal of Horkheimer and John Gray. It is fair to say he accepts entirely the complex of critiques that argue that life is meaningless without a higher purpose usually decided by higher people, that the freedom offered by liberalism is no such thing, that trade (or commerce, or industry) is “mere”; it is harder to say whether he accepts this for the sake of argument, as much of the Islamist thinking he is discussing bases itself on these ideas.

And there is a valid argument that a lot of it claims to represent the up-side of such critiques – the need for a self-empowered, cohesive community, the problems of the free market – but might just as well be the downside. The economy should be directed, at a national level, towards certain “great concepts”; this could be post-war French indicative planning, and might well be, having been written in the 1950s – or it could be a Straussian exercise in National Greatness Conservatism. We should work and care for society; or is it, as one of Crooke’s interviewees says, that “life is not worth living without something worth dying for”?

None of this stuff about “false reconciliation” and “self-pacifying”, materialism, etc, etc, answers E. P. Thompson’s classic attack on “theories that assume that ordinary people are bloody silly“, either. Strangely enough, towards the end of the book, we have a sudden swerve back towards liberalism; freedom is not so bad after all, it turns out, compared with a neoconservatism informed by Leo Strauss.

Curiously, I left the book with a feeling that it had set out to make right-wing Americans feel closer to political Shi’ism.