By Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.


Presidential Palace Afghanistan

The Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan

It was a cold winter in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2011, and the gutted ruins of the Presidential Palace stood as a dreary background piece as assorted Coalition Forces gathered nearby to study the art of war.  In late December 1979 specialized military units of the Soviet Union arrived at this very palace and forcefully removed Afghanistan’s President Hafizullah Amin, killing his son in the heat of the assault.  Nonetheless, in the shadow of these historical events, and the insurgent violence punctuating daily life in Kabul–in ear-shot of our location– we were all looking for lessons learned to improve security and to take directly into the field.  The fact that “green on blue” violence occurred far too often caused most of us to redouble our situational awareness and move more cautiously as we walked “Shona ba Shona” (should-to-shoulder) with our Afghan partners. The last message we expected to hear at our training session was an exhortation to trust our Afghan partners.

british-special-forcesBritish Special Forces

The British Special Forces officer who stood up before our large group needed little introduction before he delivered this message to us. His service in “The Troubles,” the Northern Ireland Conflict (1968-1998), added luster to his uniform and credibility to his speech. His direct and forceful admonition to trust our partners preceded a story in which he explained why. On patrol in a southern province of Afghanistan a couple of years prior, the middle-aged British officer was shot in the throat by the Taliban–his scarred neck bearing witness.  As his life stumbled in the balance of time, one of his Afghan partners risked his life and pulled him to safety, grasping the opportunity to treat a potentially lethal wound, and preventing the daily brief from recording another KIA. “You have no choice but to trust your Afghan partners,” he emphasized after delivering that powerful battlefield testimony, “or otherwise it’s over–it’s really over.”

His lesson learned in Afghanistan was valid. But perhaps so was my experience–one quite different. 

My duties did not often require participation in combat missions, but finding critical cultural information sometimes demanded it. On one such mission in the Kabul region we moved from village to village with our Afghan partners. I will not soon forget the irony of that mission. Warned by one of our NCOs that we were approaching a particularly hostile village after we moved through some friendly ones I was ready for the worst. After a half hour or so passed and a couple of small villages later, I stated to the NCO, “Man, I’m glad we got through that mess; I could feel the hostility of those last two villages.” “No, he replied, “those were the friendly ones; we are coming to the hostile one now.”

We made it back to the post of our Afghan partners without incident, and immediately I approached one of them who was in-the-know on enemy movements. “Where are the bad guys,” I asked him after sharing some brief greetings. He just smiled, didn’t say a word, and kept staring forward. I asked again as if something was lost in translation. The response was the same. Turning to my friend and head of the security detachment I said: “Can you believe this guy; we are risking our necks out here and he won’t’ even give us a crumb. And he is supposed to be our partner?” My battle-buddy shook his head in unbelief and we pressed on.

To make a long story short, we found out later why the response was so cold. The very head of one of the Afghan units walking “shona ba shona” with us was a man working with the insurgents. The very same man who demonstrated the highest degree of Pashtunwali–the unwritten Afghan code containing strong principles of hospitality and loyalty–simultaneously worked for our harm. He fed us, sheltered our forces, spent hours in prolonged conversations, lengthy trust-building exercises, and on many occasions drinking “chai”–and likewise efforts with the same enemies who plotted our early retirement from life.

So let’s understand the importance of cultural awareness, and let’s use it to develop partnerships, and to enhance communication and mission success. But let’s also practice situational awareness and understand fully the dimensions of cultural engagements–and the risks.


Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.


El Chapo


Large areas of Mexico growing and shipping illegal drugs in the open; El Chapo arrested, escaping and arrested again; drug traffickers expanding territory and reach into the US; US Customs and Border Patrol agents arrested for working with cartels; gruesome killings by cartels in Mexico and the US, Mexican government officials complicit in drug trafficking; and government reports warning of the dangers of cartels; all are bits of information making headline news and topics of scholarly research but making little sense of the strategic danger Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (MDTOs) pose to US security—as well as major human rights problems.  This short post will posit that the chief danger of MDTOs is their vertical (government structures), horizontal (area, demographic, and local structures), and subterranean (law enforcement and security organizations, businesses, political groups and activists, and other areas of cover) penetrations.  This growing reach and sophistication of MDTOs threatens human security and the viability of government by allowing the cartels to have increasing capabilities, freedom of movement, and impunity from prosecution.  This penetration into the critical power structures and human domain of an area or country is therefore critical for understanding the subject and addressing the issue.


Police, Drug, Poppy, Field, Agriculture, Crop, Mayo, Village, City, Tajumulco, San Marcos, Guatemala, Border, Mexico, Operation, Destroy, America, Plant, Car, Health, Opium,

Mexican police destroying drug cultivation fields


VERTICAL PENETRATION OF THE STATE.  The recent arrest in the United States of Edgar Veytia, the Attorney General of the Mexican state of Nayarit, on drug trafficking charges (court document, is not an isolated case. Declassified US Government documents reveal a very real problem of high ranking or federal level Mexican officials complicit in drug trafficking, a complicity reaching into military, security, and governance structures in varying ministries of the Government of Mexico. [See National Security Archive, and

The problem is so acute it makes headline news. So often while conducting interviews with US border security officials I would ask the question: What is Mexico’s connection to the MDTOs? The answer was often enough, “The government is the cartel.” See Lee Morgan, The Reaper’s Line; Mike Ligon, Ten Years on the Line: My War on the Border; Terry Kirkpatrick, Sixty Miles of Border. Nathan Jones, Mexico’s Illegal Drug Network and the State Reaction; and Anabel Hernandez, The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers.  While the exact nature of the GoM to the cartels is debated, understanding the deep penetration of the state is critical for understanding the threat and the cultural terrain.


The net result of the penetration of the state is large areas of Mexico (major land areas) where illegal drugs are grown, stored, and shipped in the open with complete impunity. The GoM attempts to interdict some of these locations have done little to arrest the problem—and some experts add are cover operations of their complicity. The local populations and indigenous groups have suffered much in these operations. And Mexican military detachments have openly assisted in transshipment operations across the US-MX border as witnessed by many local sheriffs of the Border Association. See their Congressional Testimonies here,


The aforementioned sources have done an excellent job noting these issues in detail but special attention should be given to Ion Grillo. His two books, El Narco; and Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, are extraordinary expositions of the problem, which his investigative journalism has uncovered. Illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and political corruption are intertwined in the open in such places as Altar, Sonora, Mexico. Video documentaries like Vice News, illustrate the point well.   



Dr. Mireles and his self-defense group


HORIZONTAL PENETRATION. Places like Altar, Mexico, the Michoacán state, and Guerrero state, are notable examples, and the last two have given rise to self-defense groups seeking to retake their state.  José Manuel Mireles Valverde, a Mexican doctor who helped form a self-defense group/vigilante group (the terms depend on one’s viewpoint) made international headlines and called attention to the issue of horizontal penetration. Dr. Mireles and his group repeatedly asserted that the local cartels had completely taken over (penetrated) the economy, security forces, and governance of the Michoacán state leaving the local population as victims to violence, murder, rape, and extortion—and home invasions. The documentary Cartel Land ( is an extraordinary view of the subject.


As cultural intelligence experts and practitioners note, penetration of the population, or human terrain, is among the most dangerous outcomes of cartel activity. The ability of cartels to coopt, bribe, incentivize, and animate local populations with jobs, propaganda aiming to generate support, narcocorrido (drug ballads), and social support and community support programs all works to strengthen MDTO operations. Ion Grillo, noted earlier, has done much work to expose this problem that occurs in Mexico—and a problem that has entered the United States as border communities and other areas embrace the drug cartel narrative. 


[I personally witnessed this problem when substitute teaching in the Tucson Sector during the 2016 school year. The cartel culture was on occasion embraced as a glamorous lifestyle, one to be imitated. Local police forces in Texas have attempted to  address this problem by developing anti-gang and cartel programs to help school aged children to avoid the trappings of the gang and cartel lifestyle.]


But the problem is also evident in the United States, but with different objectives.  MDTOs, the most severe threat among international organizations, effectively exploits family ties on both sides of the border.  At 2015 DEA report notes:

The foundation of Mexican TCO operations in the United States is comprised of extended family and friends. Families affiliated with various Mexican TCOs in Mexico vouch for US-based relatives or friends that are deemed trustworthy enough to help run various aspects of the drug trafficking operations in the United States. Actual members of Mexican TCOs are usually sent to important US hub cities to manage stash houses containing drug shipments and bulk cash drug proceeds. (DEA, National Drug Threat Assessment,


Exploiting Hispanic communities by blending into the local terrain, the MDTOs keep a low profile and avoid confrontation and overt actions that could disrupt their expanding operations. (Ibid). The point here is that a lack of “spillover violence” is not an indicator of security but the very opposite—a point missed by many accounts that focus on the lack of violence theme in contrast to Mexico.


Douglas, AZ, a typical town penetrated by cartel activity


SUBTERRANEAN PENETRATION. Among the most dangerous advances of the MDTOs is their penetration of the subterranean (underground) structures of a country or area.  When cartels are able to penetrate the local police (security), political, business, social, and educational structures of an area they have increased their presence and operational capabilities by gaining valuable intelligence, influence, impunity, and cover. An insightful analyst or warfighter concerned about this topic should be focused not just on presence and operations of the MDTOs but penetration and increasing penetration into these areas. For instance, when MDTOs made inroads into local police in Nogales, Arizona, and government structures of Douglas, Arizona, or Border Patrol in these areas of the Tucson Sector (See Ligon, Kirkpatrick, and Morgan sources cited earlier) the problem becomes exponentially more problematic. 


Applying cultural intelligence and studies, or operationalizing it as the Marine Corps doctrine states, involves understanding how cultural terrain can be exploited by a malign actor. The MDTO threat to the United States serves as an example of how these non-state actors or Transnational Criminal Organization can gain power by penetrating vertical, horizontal, and subterranean structures of a country and its communities.


Dr. Scott Catino serves as a security consultant in the Richmond, VA area. He is a veteran of OEF, and OIF, and served two terms as a US Fulbright Scholar in Bahrain. He is co-author with Ed Ashurst of Alligators in the Moat: Politics and the Mexican Border.

Martin Scott Catino

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If peace has not come to the Mideast, it is not because of a lack of effort, and a lack of ideas. There are many approaches to use, influence, and cultivate “culture” in the Mideast to affect positive change and mitigate conflict. We could easily call these efforts that have spanned decades a monumental failure, but that blanket statement would reflect a strategic reality but not the local and individual progress, which has occurred across this vast region.  Lives in the Mideast have been touched, changed, and affected, and here are just some of the broad cultural approaches. In general, they fall into two main categories: targeting troubled areas of culture; and cultivating cultural aspects for long-term benefits regionally.

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1. The youth of the Mideast. Cultural programs ranging from job training and creation, to “football [soccer] diplomacy” (building communication between Palestinians and Israelis), to education and other focused activities have been used in earnest. Some of these have had marked success and remain a major aspect of cultural change. State Dept. funding to expose Mideast youths to messages, social media, and cultural and educational exchanges continue to target this critical demographic group.

2. Women of the Mideast. Women in the Middle East are among the most potent and active voices and energy for progress: human rights, the rule of law, and cultures of peace and security.  Women in the Middle East often embrace the individual rights championed by the West, but not for individual benefit. This seems odd, but many women in the Mideast see women’s rights as  a means to help their family, extended family and community.  US led and Western programs targeting these women have proven beneficial, and likely to bear fruit well into the future.

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Cathedral of St. George, Beirut

3. Religious engagement. Here is among the most difficult areas to penetrate. Religious engagement and related activities seeking to channel religious activity, both nationally and locally into social services and charitable work have met with stiff resistance. Insurgent and other Violent Extremists Organizations (VEO) have made the control of local mosques and charities among their priority aims. Finding ways to engage national and religious leaders has brought some progress. But engaging local religious leaders is far more problematic and would require efforts, resources, and skills that are not easily available and would be generational in time needed to affect change.

4. Social Media. Despite the millions of dollars used to use, dominate, and exploit social media, this avenue has met with mixed results.  Voice of America (VOA) has had some success, and continues to be a major aspect of America’s reach into a global world. During the Cold War VOA was among the most potent ideological weapons of the West, but this has changed. The diffusion of technology, co-option of it by VEOs, and increasing skills and use by malign states like Iran, Hezbollah (sub state), and others make this area less effective today.

5. Hollywood and other Western entertainment. It was not surprising to find former President George Bush repeatedly telling foreign audiences that he does not like Hollywood movies because they give a false image of Americans. This is not just a reflection of his personal view. The fact of the matter is that an inadvertent influence and image is messaged through Hollywood, which depicts American culture as violent, selfish, immoral and individualistic rather than family oriented.

No matter how focused, funded, supported, and monitored our Information Operations and messaging to Mideast audiences may be, there will be a deluge of influence washing over Mideast audiences often through Hollywood’s influence.  No matter how fictional these images may be, many societies in the Mideast will believe them, in whole or part. No surprise we find Rocky posters and pictures in insurgent hideouts during the 1990s.

6. The strategic tourist. You have most likely heard the term “The Strategic Corporal.” This term refers to the fact that in the digitalized and globalized 21st century and Battle Space, the decisions of corporals will have strategic effects. Those who witnessed and lived through the Quran Burning incident in Afghanistan a few years ago understand this issue well.

But it is not just a military issue. As global connectivity decreases the time to travel and communicate, the media focuses and disseminates the negative, we will find another effect: The Strategic Tourist. When Americans and other Westerners get arrested for having sex on the beach (not the drink) in the UAE, or for promoting Starbucks in the Forbidden City in Beijing, or for building a school in Afghanistan that promotes female education, the outcomes may be violent or at least create effects that reach far beyond the locality.  These effects become more than stories but examples supporting national and regional cultural narratives influencing negative sentiments about the United States.

But there is a positive influence of personal engagements with foreign cultures. Some of the more anti-American people I ever met seemed to soften in time when they see Americans up close and realize that the images of Hollywood do not match the realities.

Indeed, some people may never respond to the most sincere cultural efforts to bring peace. But there is no substitute for using a warm hand to reach a cold heart.

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.



Critical thinking as a practice has arrived into the military-security community riding the wave of social science and interdisciplinary studies innovations that have both enhanced and degraded overall skills requisite for the modern warfighter. But let us not overlook the significant value of critical thinking since other practices have failed to meet the practical demands of a complex, volatile, dynamic and lethal operational environment. Simply stated: mission success requires that USG (United States Government) personnel embrace this art. Too many soldiers and security studies scholars have paid a hard price for slighting it. Let us learn from these mistakes in order to make security studies and service more effective.

DEFINITIONS: What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is defined as “the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improve it.” (Richard Paul and Linda Elder, 2014. Critical thinking: concepts and tools. 2). Critical thinking, when broken down to its essence and relevancy, has three main parts that create the practical focus necessary for deepening one’s reasoning and analysis.

Commitment. Critical thinking is “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking” (Paul and Elder)—all terms and aspects that require the individual to commit to thinking more thoroughly, deliberately, and comprehensively while applying structures and tools to test the assumptions, biases, and mindsets so often found in unstructured or “normal thinking.”  A key point should be clear on this subject: without a commitment to “think about thinking” the outcomes of our assessments will suffer significant failures. Given the criticality of the security environment, such failures can be severe.

Mental Process. Critical thinking is also philosophical in that it believes that natural thought patterns are often weak, biased, and incomplete. The human mind is capable of extraordinary feats, creativity, memory, and judgment—as well as intuition and forecasting. But the human mind is also flawed, biased, and incomplete in memory, capable of routinely failing to provide the depth, scope, and comprehensive required for effective security operations and mission success. Disciplining one’s mind to think critically about sources, key assumptions, arguments–and avoiding cognitive biases–is a practice that should be embraced and developed into a habit that becomes reflexive.

Structured approaches and tools of application.  Richard Heuer (1999). The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis rightly notes that a commitment to think more critically is important but not enough. More accurate analysis and judgment requires both “decomposition and externalization”—capturing the key variables and writing them down. Heuer notes on page 88:

It is noteworthy that Franklin over 200 years ago identified the problem of limited working memory and how it affects one’s ability to make judgments. As Franklin noted, decision problems are difficult because people cannot keep all the pros and cons in mind at the same time. We focus first on one set of arguments and then on another, “. . . hence the various purposes and inclinations that alternatively prevail, and the uncertainty that perplexes us.” Franklin also identified the solution—getting all the pros and cons out of his head and onto paper in some visible, shorthand form. The fact that this topic was part of the dialogue between such illustrious individuals reflects the type of people who use such analytical tools. These are not aids to be used by weak analysts but unneeded by the strong. Basic limitations of working memory affect everyone. It is the more astute and careful analysts who are most conscious of this and most likely to recognize the value gained by applying these very simple tools.

Heuer, among others, rightly calls attention to the need to capture and articulate in written form the key variables necessary for more accurate assessments.


But let us not get too conceptual with the notion of critical thinking. The military-security environment requires timely, accurate, relevant, and actionable assessments, and these challenges are met by applying some very important tools. Here are some of the most valuable that can be used quickly and effectively.

Source Evaluation: Evaluating sources for accuracy is essential for critical thinking. Is the source a direct observation (versus indirect or hearsay), reliable (history of proven accuracy), expert (provided from someone with expertise on the subject), corroborative (can be corroborated by other sources), and free from distortion? Testing one’s sources rather than quickly receiving them is important. Applying these criteria will help source evaluation and mitigate the practice of careless acceptance of information.


Key Assumptions Check. Carefully identifying the key assumptions used in any argument or assessment is important. Taking the time to identify, isolate, and challenge key assumptions deepen one’s analytic framework and enhance overall utility of one’s work. Take the time to use this simple tool in your assignments, briefs, arguments, and thought process.  You may be surprised at the benefits even in a short period of weeks.

Deception Detection. The military-security environment differs significantly from the non-military environment in that deception is used more widely, commonly, and effectively. The Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, Iran, and many other state and non-state actors practice(d) denial and deception (D&D) and disinformation so effectively that the United States suffered major setbacks in policy as a consequence—a subject too broad to cover in this short piece. I recommend as an overview on the subject, Roy Godson, Strategic Denial and Deception (2000). International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, Volume 13, Number 4, pp. 424-437.  Deception detection applies equally to our own US public and media sources in print and other formats, which should be examined likewise (Joseph Caddell 2004, DECEPTION 101―PRIMER ON DECEPTION. US Army War College).

Using deception detection techniques is thus critical to thinking critically. The Critical Thinking Handbook rightly notes:

In reality, analysts too seldom check for the possibility of deception, even when there is a well-known history of its use. The search for clues that deception is being conducted is often time consuming and requires extensive fact checking and hypothesis testing. Nonetheless, it can be critical in cases where the stakes are high. Analysts should be concerned about the use of deception when the deceiver would have a lot to gain through his efforts and has strong capabilities to deny or manipulate U.S. intelligence collection assets.(US Army TRADOC G-2, The Critical Thinking Handbook, 142).

MOM (motive, opportunity, and means). The acronym MOM is used commonly to detect deception. Analyzing sources and arguments with these three criteria or key questions on the information is an important start to critical thinking. I urge students to begin to apply this simple acronym to test for deception.

Understanding critical thinking as commitment, process, and practical application of effective tools will significantly enhance both the soundness of one’s assessments and the depth of analysis. Given the high stakes of the security environment, the costs of neglecting the practice of critical thinking is not a viable option.  It should be the objective of every serious warfighter and security practitioner to make critical thinking a habit, a habit directly related to mission success.

German soldiers penetrating deeply into Soviet territory during Operation Barbarossa, June 1941


When the German army crossed the border of Poland and pushed into the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the largest land battle in history had begun. Hitler boasted:  “The world will hold its breath and fall silent when BARBAROSSA is mounted.” Indeed, the massed army and fury of the Nazi assault was breathtaking, and Western leaders predicted an imminent collapse of the Russian bear, slain by the German huntsman like so many other nation-states during the early years of WWII. But the victories of the Wehrmacht would come to a grinding halt at the gates of Moscow a mere six months later. Historians would later call it Hitler’s blunder, an act of arrogance and inability that was doomed to fail in the monstrous lands, manpower, and industrial might of the Soviet Union. 


Some historians have taken exception to this view, and assert that the possibility of a German victory was indeed real. R.D. Hooker, Jr., writing in the prestigious Parameters journal, noted:


Yet the truth may be altogether different. Distorted not only by the Allied victory in the west, but also by Russia’s eventual, crushing victory in the east, the cold evidence suggests something quite different. In fact, the German army stood on the threshold of a shattering victory in August 1941. Only Hitler’s decision to send the Panzers of Army Group Center away from Moscow and into the Ukraine robbed the Wehrmacht of a victory that would have changed the world for generations. For five decades, a skewed interpretation has led American military thinkers to ignore and denigrate the wellsprings of German military power. The best lessons of World War II may well lie, largely ignored, in the ashes of history. ( Parameters, Spring 1999, pp. 150-64.)


Moreover, Barbarossa is re-evaluated by another significant fact.  Hitler was right: The Soviets were planning an invasion of Europe. Modern scholarship benefiting from an openness of post-Cold War relations and historical archives have learned much about Stalin’s aggressive designs on Western Europe. Had Hitler not attacked as he stated, the Soviets would no doubt have done so at a later date when they had consolidated power and recovered from the great purges of the times.


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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill


Yet, the very day of the assault in June 1941 revealed a significant factor in Germany’s defeat, an action easy to overlook in the smoldering ruins of Soviet tanks and cities: a powerful coalition of nations was coming together to defeat Nazi Germany. Soviet Russia, Great Britain, and the United States were willing to ally against Hitler’s genocidal plan for lebensraum (living space) and conquest of Europe.  


The United States Government uses the acronym DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economics) to identify the national instruments of power that can determine not only the strategic outcomes of nations, but the destiny of an era.  The “D” for diplomacy is certainly significant, and a valuable area essential for developing analytic frameworks. Diplomatic partnering allows the communication, resources, weaponry, manpower, technology, logistics, and finances to be leveraged directly against an enemy. Ultimately, Hitler’s plans were frustrated in large part to Soviet manpower and ingenuity, as well as Western leadership that utilized its immense diplomatic skills to move manpower and resources to the strategic points of the fight. The outcomes were historic.


Diplomacy can be a frustrating process leading to lengthy and painful engagements with the most unlikely of partners–like Soviet Russia. But the outcomes justify the efforts. Even though the Grand Alliance immediately broke down in the aftermath of World War II leading many to question its integrity and utility, the victory over Fascism would not have been achieved without it.

The Interwar Period

August 22, 2016

                                                              “Children, what do you know of the Fuhrer?”


This period in European History is indeed remarkable. There are some major lessons learned that are relevant for the present. The times were so notable that most major military training programs cover this time frame as a lesson in creeping aggression and the manipulation of societies, and their responses.  

Here are some major points to consider:


1. Propaganda is often very effective in manipulating the masses, directing popular focus and energy, and creating potent organizations.


We are raised in environments and patriotic and democratic societies that emphasize the superiority and dominance/triumph of truth over error, and consensus opinion over dictates of government. I believe this is a correct path ethically and politically. Nonetheless, propaganda and lies (disinformation) can be very effective in the short term, causing major responses that benefit the dictatorial and totalitarian sinister powers of the age. This was the case in the interwar period. The Fascists and Communists were masters of propaganda, and the latter more so. Communist propaganda demonstrated a deep mastery of human psychology and the dark knowledge of human nature. Its effectiveness is witnessed in the death of multiplied millions of its victims and the robotic obedience of its adherents.



For those of you interested in this subject, please take a few moments to view Nazi Germany’s master propaganda piece: Triumph of the Will (1934). Here is the video link: This video illustrates the propaganda tactics of a rising Nazi movement. 


2. Often the existence of one enemy can give rise to another as destructive or even more so. I am speaking here of the Communist threat sweeping Europe and the Fascist response.

No doubt the rise of Communism as a local and regional force and challenge was duly noted by Europeans. But what was the response to it? Fascism rode to power in large part on an anti-Communist message, pledging to fight Communism, protect the sacred and religious values the Red Menace threatened to destroy, and protect life and property against the Bolshevik revolutionaries. 

Yet Fascism created a threat nearly as problematic to local populations: purges, imprisonments, a loss of freedom, restriction of liberties, and ultimately genocide and World War. Often in politics, the cure is worse than the sickness–or nearly as bad. 


3. Slumbering populations of Europe.

There was a terrible price to pay for “slumbering,” lacking the political virtues of vision, readiness, and foresight. It is remarkable again that the indicators of violence, genocide, and destruction were increasing during the interwar period and too few responded. Many Jews hoped against hope that Hitler would not carry out his evil designs of genocide. Many European and Western leaders believed the diabolical and belligerent language of Mein Kampf (Hitler’s autobiography) glorifying war and mass killings were just rhetoric meant to appease a wounded generation of zealot patriots but never meant to be acted upon. And countries of Europe like Poland and Great Britain believed even to the very days preceding the invasion of Poland that a peaceful solution would be achieved with Hitler, who was deemed a reasonable man.

Thus many Europeans slept, or we can say were sleep walking.

Other examples could be given that underscore the importance of watchfulness in periods like this and in a larger sense in all times of political crisis.  Keeping a broad scope and emotional detachment during periods of crisis is absolutely essential for maintaining readiness and the structures of peace.

The guns and artillery of World War I had barely cooled when troubles began anew, signs that the peace may be short lived. Studying this period reveals some interesting if not amazing aspects of the times and of war in general.  Here are some major themes and axioms to consider–lessons learned from history.

Winning the war does not necessarily mean winning the peace. The victory over Germany was indeed real and complete. Yet the peace afterward was difficult to manage. The Allies were divided on their approaches to reconcile Germany. Moreover, the destroyed economies, lives, and infrastructure of Europe created instability, unrest, and conflict. Finding leaders who understand and manage such chaos requires skills no less acute than those needed in war.  Europe struggled to find those leaders and solutions during the time.

Aggressors like Adolf Hitler exist in periods of peace and can potentially manipulate masses to war and to mass murder. Had the Allies understood the emotional paralysis of the period (war weariness), the danger of popular reluctance to confront major troubles, and the potential for further bloodshed in a major war, no doubt Hitler would not have been given such freedom to violate treaties and impose his will over Europe. The lesson learned is staggering: Had Europe acted decisively against Hitler in his early years of developing his designs and war machine the horrible deaths and brutality of WWII would have been prevented.  Indeed fear and inaction have terrible consequences collectively and individually.

Soldiers from Fort RileyKansas, ill with Spanish influenza at a hospital ward at Camp Funston.

War brings unplanned and unknown consequences that significantly exacerbate plans for peace and stability. The 1918 Flu Pandemic that swept Europe and the globe killed as many as 100 million experts believe, and serves as an example of facing the unknown during and after war. It seems almost too horrible to contemplate that after the world’s first global war, an event that took nearly 18 million lives, another catastrophe of even greater magnitude would occur so unexpectedly–and that by the Hand of God not man.  

Giving careful attention to the endings of war, preparing for natural disaster as well as political ones, and fighting the tendency of war weariness are all critical components of a secure peace. Doing otherwise is to flirt with disaster and undo the hard won victories of war

Air Commando Hoi B. Tran and the Tet Offensive of 1968

By Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.


Hoi Tran 1


Today, February 10, 2016, is another Tet holiday (New Year) celebrated by the Vietnamese American community–along with Vietnamese around the world.  Amid the food, celebration, reverence for ancestors, reuniting of families, and children receiving red envelopes containing money from their elder family members are the memories from 48 years ago when the Tet Offensive occurred.  “Tet,” as it is frequently called, was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War and a result of the North Vietnamese Communists breaking the truce and seeking not only a tactical surprise but also a strategic victory over South Vietnam and its American allies.  Consequently, major civilian and military command and control centers came under waves of attack by 80,000 Communist troops striking over 100 towns and cities across South Vietnam.

Saigon Under Attack During the Tet Offensive

Among the many free Vietnamese resisting that offensive was Hoi B. Tran, air commando of the VNAF (Vietnam Air Force).  But the young Major was not surprised at the Communist onslaught. He noted in his memoirs:

The Communists took advantage of our weakness whenever they deemed necessary.  They would fight and kill us mercilessly when they had the upper hand, and they would shamelessly ask for a truce to negotiate when they he were about to succumb. . . .  We knew their dirty tricks but always gave them the benefit of the doubt only to end up on the short end of the stick!  It was their old fight/talk-talk/fight tactic they employed since the Korean War in the fifties. Hanoi had used this very same dirty tactic to mount a general offensive during the most solemn occasion in the Vietnamese culture, the Tet or Lunar New Year of 1968. Our U.S. ally and our military brass were well cognizant of the concept, ‘The best defense is a good offense.’ However, being civilized nations, we did not dare violate the principle of decency. (Hoi B. Tran, A Vietnamese Fighter Pilot in an American War, 254.)

Despite the surprise, intensity, and scale of the attacks the Vietnamese Communists suffered their most devastating defeat of the war, their entire covert infrastructure and Viet Cong suffering losses that would not be recovered for several years afterward. Hoi Tran’s air base typified the victory earned in that time, such a remarkable victory that General William Westmoreland, commander of US forces in Vietnam, personally visited the base. Hoi Tran noted again:

At the end, the Tan Son Nhat joint U.S and Vietnamese defense forces were successful in their fight to repulse the Communist attackers. Casualties to our defense forces were very light in the view of the size of the forces committed to overrun the base. The Communist attacking forces sustained over nine hundred killed in action, and some were taken prisoner. General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, must have been very pleased with the effective and successful defense of Tan Son Nhat. He personally came to the base, and I was honored on behalf of Colonel Cuon to take him and his staff around the defense perimeter and the apron to count enemy dead bodies. It was clear the warning from our sympathizer in the pacified hamlet surely helped our defense preparation. Undeniably, the courageous American and Vietnamese defense troops at Tan Son Nhat saved the base from being overrun by the Communist assault forces. (Hoi B. Tran, 259).

But the American news media, critics of the war, and a wavering presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson allowed the enemy to snatch victory from defeat as a patriotic public continued to grow weary of the war and its casualties.  Despite these realities, dedicated soldiers like Hoi B. Tran emerged from the period and continue to remind us all of the importance of resolve—and that freedom in any age requires a courageous response to aggression.

Bahrain: Are You Confused?

August 13, 2012

Bahrain: Are You Confused?

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.

March 25, 2011

Unrest in Bahrain, 2011

For approximately 16 months while serving in Bahrain as a US Fulbright Scholar (2007-2009), I watched Shia extremists foment an insurgency on this small Gulf island.  Few in the United States, the expatriate community, or the West understood the problem or the strategic importance of this home of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.  Bahrain was simply too small, too insignificant, and too confusing.  And like many early stage insurgencies, the actors were too clever.  Radical Shia Imams parading as caring pastors mixed with Shia malcontents, human rights activists, the intelligentsia, and the young and the restless who moved about in abayas and dishdashas at schools like the University of Bahrain, where Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s Ali Khamenei were deemed champions of the world’s oppressed, and of course, of the Shia of Bahrain. These very people and groups are now key players of the insurgency taking place in Bahrain.  Yes, Bahrain is experiencing an insurgency that is using the guerrilla warfare tactics one can find in Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan, where analysts witness daily the same tactics used by insurgents to achieve their violent dreams.   In this short essay I will try first to explain the activities of the major groups active in the current strife, and second, try to explain why the situation in Bahrain is so confusing.

It is Good to be the King: Or Maybe Not?

     King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, is a powerful man, whose whit and ability to maintain control is admired, envied, and despised by the various sectarian and racial groups that walk the streets of places like Manama, the capital of Bahrain.  The King is brilliant, and holds the reins of power with an ease and finesse that baffles his opponents. His ability to manage easily the diverse interests of the Sunni Arab world, the shifting sands of international economics, and the many South and Southeast Asian migrants that inhabit his island involves subtle skills that he uses confidently, grasping intangible power structures as easily as one could grasp the steering wheel of the family car.  He understands every Middle Eastern leader’s most cherished secret: the most important fight is the one to stay in power. So he offers much more than crackdowns:  free schooling, subsidies to the poor of his country (Shia included), and business freedoms in the local markets. In fact, the Ajam, the enterprising Persian business class of Bahrain, embrace this freedom. But more importantly they embrace the freedom to stay out of politics, which dampens the delights of the dinar.

The King is certainly no tyrant, no Louis the XVI or George the III. The progressive reforms of the Sunni Monarch move forward, howbeit at a disappointing pace for many, and at times with grudging smiles to Western faces. But neither are his policies equal.  Discrimination against the Shia class (as well as the South and Southeast Asian) is visible if not openly insulting. The King surrounds himself with loyal Sunni security forces, Gulf and Western security assets, Western technology and economic partnerships, and masses of South Asian migrants that he wears like his elegant gold sash, an apolitical girding of workers caring not for revolution, but for a daily wage wired back home. This is indeed a comfortable security belt, one that will not pinch him with a worker’s strike that could paralyze his kingdom.  Supporters of the King would argue that this unequal policy is necessary to maintain security and progress amid a radicalized population, a point that outsiders may find difficult to accept given the Western penchant for demanding equality, and urging its implementation immediately and without qualification.

The (Not So) Innocent Shia of Bahrain

          Nonetheless, such a glaring inequality in this Sunni kingdom leads the innocent heart to yearn in naiveté and yield to the simplistic impulses that embrace naturally the dishonored and the disfranchised.  The many sincere Shia, who want equality, a better life not for themselves but for their families and posterity, are in abundance. But satisfying those pangs for justice comes at a cost, the readiness to follow uncritically the Shia propaganda that litters the country, the images of Nasrallah sold in malls, the Hezbollah flags waving defiantly in the town of Ali in southern Bahrain, and the many vitriolic sermons of Shia imams that bellow out from mosques too simple and too rustic to raise international concerns.

Joining the innocent and aggrieved is another group, or perhaps an overlapping dimension of personality within the same group. These are the not so innocent of the innocent. These are Shia who upon closer examination reveals a level of bitterness and hate not easily discernible amid the pillars of black smoke rising from the crumbled remains of the Pearl Roundabout.  These followers of Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad) all have valid complaints, and amid the complaints a motive of revenge formed from collective emotions heated by injustice, and stirred in the black cauldron of Shia imams and their political counterparts.

Zaynab [not her real name] is an example. Her attendance in my classes at the University of Bahrain came from a stuttering courage revealing her innate shyness, her Islamic views of submissiveness, and a contradictory impulse to swim upstream in a workforce whose source was patriarchal.   I admired Zaynab. Her love for her husband, her children, and her academic success in the classroom underscored her character, revealing gently her humanity adorned in her flowing black abaya.

When her embittered diatribe against the King poured out one morning in class my initial reaction was one of fear for her safety.  “Zaynab, please be careful. Your words could provoke a strong reaction from supporters of the King,” I counseled her. Her rage against the king, her contempt of his alliance with America, and her frustration with the failed plight to obtain democratic rights for the Shia community all find solace in the person of Nasrallah, the embodiment of the “heroic fight of Hezbollah against Jews, the West, and America,” she told me. Her contempt for America (but not me, for I was one of the “good ones”) was also disturbing. How youthful innocence and gracefulness could abruptly disappear in an eruption of hate still alarms me.  Her dismissive attitude toward the brutality of Hezbollah, the lack of democratic rights of the South Asian population in Bahrain (which constitutes nearly half of the population there), and the many efforts of the Government of Bahrain to help the Shia community was indicative of the level of agitation achieved by Shia religious and political leaders.  In sum, my questions regarding the validity of her views slid off her icy disposition as easily as Arab skaters enjoying the oddity of ice-skating rinks in Dubai.

The Shia leaders of Bahrain are well of aware of the Zaynabs. They understand her emotions, her passions, and her misguided dreams of a Shia awakening.  They understand these emotions because they have violated them often—an invasion of mind as well as soul. Experts on terrorism and insurgencies would be quick to indentify the tactics that create these outcomes: agitation, provocation, organization of youth, information dominance (of public attention and media), and relentless pressure on the Government of Bahrain while justifying mob violence exercised by proponents.   All these tactics effectively shaped the emotions and the will of the Shia of Bahrain. This was Bahrain prior to the present upheaval.

“Pieceful” Demonstrations

The protesters who gather now in the streets of Bahrain have claimed repeatedly that they are “peaceful.” The media generally depicts them as such, highlighting contorted faces suffering in tearful pains under a one-sided royal crackdown allegedly overreacting to their bloating presence.  The fact of the matter is that these protesters are not peaceful but “pieceful,” systematically targeting the pieces of the state critical to its existence while executing pieces of a well contrived insurgency plan.

Like many insurgencies, the recent unrest in Bahrain started with the youth of that country, a group more radical and energetic than other segments of society on the island, one that could seize the initiative and create the momentum necessary to topple a well-established regime. These youths, assisted in the planning stage by opposition political party Al Wefaq, quickly ignited the angry masses of Bahrain. The organizers created visibility through agitating large numbers to protest, through the centrality of the location of protests at the Pearl Roundabout, and through drawing in the media. Having achieved these initial pieces of the plan, the angry protests moved next on three fronts: seeking to provoke a major escalation from the government, disrupting key transportation routes and nodes, and finally paralyzing the government by obstructing the financial district in Manama, the economic heart of Bahrain. The last major piece of the first stage of the plan involved creating mass unrest throughout the entire Island, hoping to completely unseat the government by creating widespread confusion and instability.

While the international media often reported a sweeping government crackdown on the protesters, a far different picture emerged from the streets of Bahrain. The Shia mobs unleashed their plan of violence throughout the country, attacking Sunni neighborhoods, public universities, the Bahraini security forces, and the south Asian migrant community (the main labor force of Bahrain).   The Salmaniya Hospital served as a sanctuary for revolutionary activity much as the Palestinian Authority used hospitals against the state of Israel.  Rather than victims of state aggression, the protesters were the aggressors. A friend from Bahrain sent me the following email describing in detail the violence.

          I don’t know where to start.  We are living in fear and chaos.I am scared to death.  My neighborhood was attacked by opposition party and they started  to attack all Sunni  houses.    Civilians were attacked.  Why is it called peaceful protest when unarmed policemen were deliberately run over by protester’s cars!

Protesters earlier took Salminiya hospital and operated their violent attacks from there. They went to the extreme to only treat the Shia sect.  A lady died while bleeding during delivery waiting for the ambulance.  A young girl of the age of 15 died as well waiting for the ambulance.

Protesters started to violate children’s rights by using them in protesting and creating chaos at schools. Teachers misled student to attack Sunni students.

Located at the Pearl Roundabout protesters started to provoke the Shia street by spreading more lies and pretending to be victimized!

The peaceful protesters attacked the University of Bahrain and demolished the buildings [meaning rooms in the buildings]. They attacked students and stabbed them with white weapons [a term used for the makeshift weapons used by the protesters].

We are living in great fear.  My cousin was attacked by a sword and lots of unarmed policemen also were injured by white weapons. We can’t drive around or leave the house due to the lack of safety. Now protesters started to attack mosques and houses. The protesters started using Molotov cocktails and automatic weapons in their attacks. They even started to attack expatriates and two Indian workers were killed. More Asians were injured and toured [sic] by angry protesters.

In the past two days the opposition leaders were arrested but their follower started to be more violent and vengeful.

Please pray for us and talk about the situation as the opposition was smart in using media in delivering fake reports!

Indeed, the situation in Bahrain is confusing because the roots of the conflict stem from a Shia leadership that has worked covertly for decades to undermine the Kingdom of Bahrain, stoking deliberately and consistently a flame that has grown to a conflagration. The shortcomings of King Hamad al Khalifa, although critical to the issues, deserve honest, sincere, organized redress from Shia groups embracing not a radical agenda but the difficult and peaceful path of reform through dialogue and parliamentary deliberation.  The Shia leaders have dominated the media messages about Bahrain, but have not matched the goodwill and the high sentiments given to their cause, and thereby have obfuscated the key issues rather than beginning to solve them.

“The Red Line” declared by the government of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the line in the sand that Shia radicals must not cross, has been transgressed a long time ago, and current events are merely the open evidence of that violation.  The irony of these Shia protesters is that they already have achieved their vision without realizing it. The world created by their heroes in Iran and in southern Lebanon has brought nothing but misery and suffering, and now Bahrain has seen the same.

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D., is a US Fulbright Scholar and teaches graduate military studies at American Military University.  He has served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent American Military University and are completely my own.

In the Midst of Wars

June 3, 2011

Colonel Edward Lansdale entered the post-World War II era with a determination and grit that later would make him famous. Although vilified as the “ugly American” by an anti-war generation resenting Cold War commitments, he nevertheless remains a hero in military circles, which honor his sacrifices and his understanding of insurgent psychology. COL Lansdale is a historical monument to the character necessary to  defeat guerrilla movements. His development of psychological operations in the Philippines and Vietnam made history, but his inflexible resolve against Communism demonstrated the clarity and firmness of mind necessary for all leaders who face similar fights into the future.

But even COL Lansdale would have been taxed by the diversity and complexity of revolutions and insurgencies taking place in the Mideast today. In the Midst of Wars, the Colonel’s insightful account of his service, aptly frames the outbreak of “wars of national liberation” (Communist insurgencies) that occurred like a virus, plaguing not just the “third world” but also Europe and nations on the other side of the Atlantic. Even the United States had to fight at home (dare I say counterinsurgency).  The Black Panthers, who embraced Maoist Communism and urban insurgent tactics, violently challenged “the man,” calling for an armed black community to repel the police who entered these communities “as an occupying foreign force.” The not so Ugly American knew that these “popular revolts” of his era were not popular, but orchestrated and agitated by Communist tyrants who had honed their tactics to a science during World War II.  While serving in Vietnam he noted the commonality in the insurgencies he had seen:

 “I had only a smattering of French so I relied heavily on interpreters, sign-language, and a pocket dictionary.  The people were strikingly different from the Filipinos, but the guerrilla methods of the Communists were all too familiar. . . .” (Edward Geary Lansdale, In the Midst of Wars, 373-373).

However, there is no commonality in the unrest now erupting in the Mideast (Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere). United States political and military leaders currently find themselves in the midst of wars without any central tendencies that would allow an easy paradigm of understanding. The conflict and unrest occurring the Middle East at present demonstrates a variety of motives, leadership, political ideology, and organizations. And understanding these differences will be the key to understanding the very nature of these conflicts, the implication for US security, and whether intervention is an option.

Nevertheless, United States foreign and security policy leaders should not jettison the Cold War lessons learned from COL Lansdale’s era but find flexible ways to apply them to current conflict scenarios.

Here are some lessons learned from Lansdale’s era that are relevant for today.

1. Avoid the rush to  intervention and only act when it is in America’s interests. Often global opinion has no regard for America’s national security needs, or economic interests. Many people (including leaders) the world over think the United States is omnipotent and self sufficient and thus without any legitimate interests. These international pressures force America into the role as giver and never taker. Therefore the responsibility of advocating for America’s legitimate interests falls directly on Washington. That responsibility must be clearly understood and undertaken in international affairs. America’s role as humanitarian and leader of the free world must be balanced against its role as protector and advocate of the American people.  If US policymakers are not cognizant of this fact, they can easily be led into every major conflict that occurs across the Mideast or elsewhere, or into too many conflicts, and thus exhaust our strength and weakening our power for when it may be needed most.

2. Manage the  conflictive global pressures regarding intervention and non intervention.
Intervention is never an easy or light path to take. Global opinion chides the United States for imperialism when it intervenes, and chides again when the United States does not intervene, calling the world’s only superpower “cold” and “irresponsible.” This was the case during the Rwanda genocide of 1994. US policymakers must carefully examine when we should intervene. And once we commit to that difficult task, expect and brave the hardships until the mission is complete.

3. Remember the first rule of warfare: Wars tend to escalate. Carl von Clausewitz, the famous Prussian military theorist, aptly summed the chief dynamics of war:

“War is an  act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force.  Each side, therefore, compels its opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action  is started which must lead, in theory, to extremes…To introduce the theory of moderation into the theory of war itself would always lead to logical absurdity.” (Clausewitz, On War, 76.)

The temptation to intervene militarily in areas  that appear to be no match for American or NATO forces (i.e., Libya) could be problematic. Even if a Western victory is all but assured, an escalation of conflict is likewise certain. Unless the United States is ready, willing, and able to face the escalation, it should not intervene. The cost of a precipitous  withdrawal need not be amplified here. But the lessons of early withdrawal from Vietnam and Lebanon should be remembered.

4. Remember that home front support is essential for victory and must be cultivated actively. The laissez faire approach to home front support is a sure road to defeat. A major lesson learned from the Vietnam War was that the American people were not aptly informed, instructed, and reached with the news and information regarding that conflict. While North Vietnam  and its Communist supporters sought to exploit every opportunity possible to  dominate media information, the United States leadership did little. For example, Washington should have brought Ngo Dinh Diem and other Vietnamese leaders to the United States to state their cause to the American people. The failed opportunity left and information gap that the radical Left, as well as the Communist forces, aptly exploited. The erosion of public support for the  Vietnam War was related directly to the misinformation and disinformation generated through the Left. We cannot afford another mistake of this nature.

5. Remember the financial costs of warfare and be ready to address them.  The high costs of wars have bankrupted empires and nations, and serve as pivotal lessons for the United States. Acting from false guilt and a fear of appearing imperialistic, the US has undertaken the costly task of nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet refuses to take compensation from these countries. In the future, Washington will not have the luxury of such a course of action.  Either countries that need American intervention will have to give of their natural resources as payment (i.e., oil and minerals) or will have to face their problems on the cheap, without American intervention.

6. Support our allies and keep our global commitments.
American policy leaders should not allow our soft power incentives to become more beneficial than those given to our allies. Another lesson from COL Lansdale’s era is to remember to support America’s allies and to keep one’s commitments. The foreign policy aim of using soft power (i.e., economic investment, trade incentives, foreign aid, and market access) to sway belligerent and alienated nations to soften or embrace the West has limits. Too often economic incentives harden rather than soften a belligerent’s resolve and lead the United States into the trap of giving more attention, support, and aid to its enemies than its friends. Case in point: the best way to gain billions of dollars in American aid is to foment conflict while appealing to US intervention. We, as Americans, should not make belligerency a profitable undertaking.

Had General Lansdale (he was later promoted to the rank of Major General) lived to see our day, no doubt he would have seen the increased complexity of modern insurgencies. His understanding of the nature of insurgencies would have to change in order to keep abreast of the flexible tactics and complex background of each conflict.  Yet the principles he and other Cold Warriors embraced would remain relevant and useful for the present.

The United States and  West won the Cold War and defeated global insurgencies because of many strengths.  The principles of warfare were among the most important strengths and remain timeless in their application.

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D. presently serves as a senior military adviser in Afghanistan.