Archive for the ‘Libya’ Category

Whose Convenience? The Murky World of Bottom-Feeding Shipping Registries

Monday, December 5th, 2016

originally published in the December 12 issue of the Weekly Standard: http://www.weeklystandard.com/print/whose-convenience/article/2005622

Whose Convenience?
The murky world of bottom-feeding shipping registries
DEC 12, 2016 | By ANN MARLOWE

Hurd’s Bank, July 2015
Sixteen miles out to sea from Valletta, Malta, safely into international waters, dozens of large ships sit at anchor in July of last year. An hour before the late summer sunset, the sea and sky are nearly the same blue. That day, more than forty vessels are in the free, shallow-water harbor known as Hurd’s Bank. Crew members—pudgy men in cheap sportswear—lounge on the rails of their vessels, enjoying the end of the day. Ship owners often leave skeleton crews on board these vessels, who are supplied with food and water from shore. They wait for the right moment or the right deal for their often-illicit cargos. Hurd’s Bank isn’t the only such free offshore anchorage in the world, but it’s the only one in Europe.

It’s a peaceful scene, but Hurd’s Bank helps keep the slow-burning Libyan civil war going. Many of the vessels here are tankers, and some carry diesel purchased in Libya at the local, subsidized price, diesel which is then illegally exported to be sold for 15 to 20 times as much off the coast of Malta. The tankers that hold Libyan diesel here have loaded it at western Libyan ports, such as Zuwara. Buying at the subsidized price—or simply appropriating the fuel—and selling a few hundred miles away on Hurd’s Bank is an easy way for

Libya’s militias to finance themselves.

Among the ships out on Hurd’s Bank in the summer of 2015 were “two vessels that are involved in fuel smuggling,” according to a recent report by the U.N. Security Council Panel of Experts on Libya. One was the Amazigh F, an oil tanker owned by the Basbosa Shipping Company. The Marshall Islands address of Basbosa Shipping is the same as that of ADJ Swordfish Ltd. (now ADJ Trading, Ltd.), a company controlled by a Libyan named Fahmi Ben Khalifa together with investors from Malta and Egypt. The other of the two ships was the Basbosa Star, then owned by ADJ Swordfish.

Before anchoring off Malta that July, both the Amazigh F and the Basbosa Star had sailed to Libya multiple times. And on each of their trips, the U.N. panel notes, the ships had shut down their automatic identification systems as they approached the Libyan coast, “following the pattern of smugglers.”

“One individual stands out in the fuel smuggling business from Zwara,” the U.N. panel writes: Fahmi Ben Khalifa, also known as Fahmi Salim. “He has a long record of smuggling. During the Qadhafi regime he was imprisoned for a period for drug smuggling.” In addition to his Maltese company, Fahmi Salim “also chairs the board of directors of a Libyan company, Tiuboda Oil and Gas Services Limited,” the panel details. Fahmi Salim had tried to get a proper license to bring fuel into Malta from Libya, but Maltese officials rejected the request. That didn’t stop him from doing business.

Both the Basbosa Star and Amazigh F spent most of their time shuttling between Malta and Libya; both operated out of the same Marshall Islands address. But they have something else in common: They are among the hundreds of vessels flying the flag of Palau. The Basbosa Star changed its flag from Sierra Leone to Palau in February of last year; the Amazigh F was Palau-flagged beginning early in 2014. (A year ago, the ship’s name was changed to Sea Master X.) The activities of the Basbosa Star, Sea Master X, and other Palau-flagged vessels point to the larger problem of regulating the world’s many “flags of convenience.” The proliferation of fast-growing, obscure shipping registries offers rogue owners many opportunities to dodge authorities.

The Republic of Palau is a far-flung Micronesian nation made up of hundreds of small islands east of the Philippines. With a population of 21,000, its total landmass is equal to about that of Norman, Oklahoma. Made into an American territory after World War II, Palau became independent in 1994. The country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, and English is an official language along with Palauan. The cash-strapped little country has relied on fishing and tourism for its scanty revenues. In September 2012, the Palau Registry was launched with two Chinese gambling ships, adding registering vessels to Palau’s endeavors.

Palau is just one of dozens of flags of convenience, many from weak or impoverished—even landlocked—nations desperate for hard currency. Flags of convenience have often been used for legally dubious purposes. The first such registry, in Panama, was attractive as a way to avoid new U.S. regulations on sailors’ working conditions. And from the beginning, it facilitated smuggling: The first vessel with a Panamanian flag of convenience was the aged cargo ship Belen Quezada, which, in the early years of Prohibition, ran liquor from Canada to the United States. Flags of convenience continue to provide cover for owners engaged in criminal enterprises, which include not just smuggling fuel, but such dangerous gambits as shipping weapons to terrorists.

Rogue flag-of-convenience ships tend to be found around the world’s ungoverned or barely governed spaces. They are not, for the most part, a direct menace to the United States, except when we have to go in to clean up the mess created by smugglers overseas. Our Coast Guard—unlike that of, say, Libya—has the resources to protect national waters. According to the Coast Guard, under Port State Control (PSC) regulations, “all foreign-flagged vessels are examined no less than once each year.” A Coast Guard spokesman says, “Generally vessels that have not undergone a PSC exam within 12 months and vessels that are a first-time arrival to the U.S. will receive a Port State Control Safety and Security exam.” Most of those ships are allowed to go on their way: While 8,925 vessels made 73,752 U.S. port calls in 2015, only 202 ships were detained, or 2.2 percent of vessels in American waters. The United States currently bans a grand total of three vessels from its waters.

Flags of convenience range from the big players such as Panama (72 percent of all commercial shipping worldwide) and Liberia, down to landlocked countries such as Bolivia and pariah states including North Korea. Even the big players are vulnerable to misuse. At the end of the ’90s, the Liberian registry of shipping, once the world’s largest, ended up in the hands of convicted war criminal Charles Taylor. The registry was accused of funding U.N.-banned weapons shipments and facilitating the transport of “blood diamonds.” Revenues from the registry provided as much as a third of Liberia’s national income. (The Liberian registry, which is run out of Virginia, was in the news again in 2013 as a donor of $120,000 to Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for governor of Virginia.)

There are several big regulatory bodies that inspect and, when necessary, detain ships, and these rank the flags of convenience by their frequency on the detention lists. Two of the main foreign regulators are the organizations created by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding and the Tokyo MoU, and they represent European and Asian authorities. The U.S. Coast Guard has its own Targeted Flag List that gives special scrutiny to ships flying the flags of Belize, Bolivia, Honduras, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Taiwan, Tanzania, or Thailand. From 2013 to 2015, for instance, 25 percent of Belizean ships and 26 percent of Bolivian ships entering U.S. waters were detained.

Beneath these flags of convenience singled out for regulatory attention, there are other, newer, privately run registers that are below the international radar, plying waters where they aren’t likely to run into port state inspections that would look too closely at where they’ve been and what they’ve been carrying, and otherwise get them into trouble. Several are associated with budget-strapped, low-population, under-governed Pacific island nations, such as Tonga, Tuvalu, and now Palau.

The Tongan registry at one point had 180 ships. It is one of the very few flags of convenience to be forced by international pressure to shut down foreign registrations. Several Tongan-flagged ships turned out to belong to al Qaeda. In January 2002, the Tongan-flagged ship Karine A was found by Israeli authorities to be transporting 50 tons of weapons and ammunition to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. That same year, 15 Pakistani men on board the Tongan-flagged Sara were arrested and charged with plotting an al Qaeda attack in Europe (the ship had been on its way from Casablanca to Libya when it detoured into Italian waters and was stopped).

More recently Tuvalu’s flag has had troublesome connections. In 2012, Reuters Freight Fundamentals reported that the National Iranian Tanker Company had flagged 11 of its tankers to Tuvalu, in an apparent effort to circumvent impending EU sanctions.

The Palau registry has had its share of vessels in the news—and not in a good way. A ship called the Lucky Star 8 attempted to conceal a recent visit to North Korea. The Amaranthus was found abandoned, moored along the west coast of the Greek island Zakynthos with a hold full of smuggled cigarettes. Even with innocent cargo there are problems: The Minnath—carrying 200 tons of vegetables—was so unseaworthy it nearly sank off India last year.

The Palau registry claims it cares about safety and legality. “Marine Inspections are required to be done annually at no cost to the owner. If a registered vessel under the Palau Flag has showed good record .  .  . the Flag Inspection may be waived for two years.” The registry even says it has a network of inspectors on-call and ready to go to work. But clearly something has gone amiss with this inspection regime if so many Palau-flagged ships are found in questionable circumstances. There’s also an underlying question about motive when you consider that the Palau registry appears not to be a huge moneymaker: The Republic of Palau earned only $100,000 from its registry in its first two years.

Palau is just one example—and it may be far from the worst—of why policing the murky world of shipping registries needs to be done with new vigilance.

Why does EU tolerate Libya’s smuggler kingpin as migrants drown?

Monday, August 29th, 2016

originally published October 16, 2015 in Asia Times News & Features, Middle East (http://atimes.com/2015/10/eu-turns-blind-eye-to-fuel-for-arms-smuggling-as-migrants-drown/)

Libya’s Smuggler King has an EU company and a ship that visits Malta

Links between human, weapons and diesel fuel smuggling are there to see, if the EU wants to

Zwara, the westernmost town on the Libyan coast, boasts turquoise water, endless sand beaches, and delicious fresh fish. You can even sit at a beach café at night and have an espresso while gazing at the Mediterranean. Over the course of several visits in 2011-12, it seemed the most Europeanized place in Libya. But for the last three months, local sources complain that the fish stores have been empty: every fishing boat is involved in human trafficking instead. And photos of corpses of drowned migrants on those endless beaches have shocked the conscience of the world. On Sept. 19th alone, almost 4,800 migrants were rescued off Libya. An estimated 130,000 have crossed from Libya to Europe this year to date, mainly from Subsaharan Africa.

LibyaOn Sept. 28, the European Union Naval Force for the Mediterranean (EUNav) announced that on October 7 it would begin “Operation Sophia” to intercept smugglers’ ships and capture their crews, escalating from the current policy of merely tracking them. EU authorities have identified 17 Libyan boats involved in the trade. It is likely most if not all belong to citizens of Zwara.

One question is why the EU authorities made an advance announcement that gives the ship owners time to switch to other vessels. Another is why the announcement was made just as the summer smuggling season draws to a close.

The biggest question is why the EU ignores the fact that migrant smuggling is just one part of the activities of a well-funded mafia that includes not only the expected Libyan citizens, but also EU citizens.

The EU has mainly turned a blind eye to the trade that brings weapons and ammunition into Zwara for the jihadi coalition controlling Western Libya, Libya Dawn, and takes subsidized Libyan diesel fuel in exchange. By perpetuating the Libyan civil war, this trade also takes lives.

A liter of diesel fuel costs about .10 Libyan dinar or .065 euro in Libya, but upwards of a euro in Malta or elsewhere in southern Europe. The UN has banned both sides of the trade, but the EU doesn’t pay attention very often. (See this recent case of a boat impounded by Greece with weapons aboard)

On Oct. 12, the Libyan Central Bank decided to lift the subsidy on diesel and other subsidized goods in the interest of slowing the hemorrhage of cash out of the country. Fuel represents 70 – 80% of the $9 billion Libya has been spending annually on discounted goods.
Group of Zwara rebels at Libyan-Tunisian border in August 2011

Group of Zwara rebels at Libyan-Tunisian border in August 2011

Anything that will stop the flow of weapons to Libya Dawn is a good thing. They are an unsavory lot, closely linked to Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, the listed terror group that took part in the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 12 2012. There is hard evidence that Libya Dawn funds the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, the umbrella group of terrorists that includes Ansar. Libya Dawn regularly sends shipments of weapons and ammunition by sea from Tripoli to Benghazi to re-supply Ansar and other terror groups, including IS, who are fighting the Libyan National Army there. The internationally recognized Libyan government is based in the eastern cities of Bayda and Tobruk and controls the east and some of the south; Libya Dawn controls Tripoli and most of the coast from Misrata to the Tunisian border, including Zwara.

To this day, despite its financing of Ansar and its complicity in the smuggling trades, the UN and EU consider Libya Dawn as a legitimate negotiating partner in peace talks with the internationally recognized government. And it looks to many Libyans as though the EU does not want to act against the diesel smuggling and arms trafficking that allows the human smugglers the space to operate.

“The Italians want to stop this migrant business,” said a Zwara citizen, “Bashir,” who is one of a small group who are discreetly acting against the smugglers. “But they don’t care about the other smuggling. We want to stop all! I have met with people from Italian embassy (to Libya, now situated in Tunis) five or six times. They know the names of all the smugglers.”

As Bashir (real name withheld to protect him) and others explain, a group of interlinked crime families, similar to Italian Mafia families and including ties to them, handles human trafficking, diesel smuggling, drug smuggling, and weapons importation. The kingpins have to be taken down — otherwise, people who specialize in human trafficking will just shift to cocaine or weapons or alcohol smuggling for awhile. (Diesel smuggling is the only business that requires specialized ships.) Tolerating one kind of smuggling is like allowing an American Mafia family to continue to control illegal gambling and drug dealing, but to crack down only on prostitution. But many Zwara people think the Europeans don’t really care about any illicit commerce, except that which deposits unwanted migrants on their shores.

As evidence for this, Bashir points to the fact that Zwara’s smuggling king is a shareholder in and a director of a Malta company, and Malta is an EU country.

The smuggling kingpin is Fahmi Slim Mousa Ben Khalifa, aka Fahmi Slim. Slim, a dark-skinned Zwara native said to be about 45, served a few years of a 15-year sentence for drug smuggling in Gaddafi days before the revolution opened the prisons. Now he is so powerful that part of the harbor in Zwara is known simply as “Fahmi Slim’s harbor.” While he is not directly involved with human smuggling currently, locals say that he works with some of the human smugglers in other illegal ventures.

Editor’s note: an official of an international agency confirms that Fahmi Slim is involved in fuel-smuggling activities in Libya and is known to French, Maltese and Italian authorities as a person of interest.

The EU could put pressure on Slim and anyone he controls easily: Fahmi Slim is a partner in and director of the Maltese corporation ADJ Trading Ltd. ADJ, under its old name of ADJ Swordfish, also owns a tanker called Basbosa Star that has a history of movements that suggest diesel smuggling. As Zwara does not have an oil terminal – the nearest one is in Zawia, 100km east – any tankers that call at its port are ipso facto suspect. Asia Times editors have seen evidence linking the Basbosa Star and its sister ship, the tanker Amazigh F, in suspicious activity.

Now, new documents (1) also show Slim’s name on a ship that is being sold with the permission of the Tripoli-based Libya Dawn anti-government. The ship, carrying the IMO number 7900522, was impounded in Misrata, Libya for diesel smuggling years ago, in 2008 or 2009. It remained in Misrata harbor even after Gaddafi’s fall, slowly decaying, until this spring, when the Libya Dawn coalition that controls Misrata decided it wanted the ship — now derelict — removed.

The vessel is shown on the shipping website Equasis as owned by one “Benkhalifa FSM” since May 22 2015. That is Fahmi Slim’s full legal name. Each ship has a unique IMO number from build to scrap, so it is an important way to identify ships after name changes. On Equasis, the name of the vessel numbered 7900522 is given as Tiuboda 1. Tiuboda is near Zwara, and Fahmi Slim is chairman of a Libyan company named Tiuboda Oil Services, #41992.
Troodos ship photo

Troodos/Tiuboda 1 ship photo

On another shipping website, Fleetmon.com, the IMO number 7900522 is associated with the name Troodos – owned by an obscure Spanish company, AlvarGonzalez SA, using a Georgian flag (5). This appears to be the owner from the time when the ship was impounded.

Currently the ship is being marketed by a Mr Albarasi. He showed a prospective Libyan buyer a three page contract from the Tripoli Ministry of Transportation, stating that he, Emrajaa Embarek Abdul Hamid, bought the ship from the deputy Minister of Transportation, one Abdul Alatef Mahmod Ben Amer. On the first page, the document states that the Acting Minister gave permission for the sale on March 30, 2015.

Reached by Viber and responding to written questions in Arabic, Mr Albarasi said he is the sole owner, that “he owns it according to a contract made with Ports and Marine Transportation” and that “nobody else has anything to do with the ship.” He also wrote, “Troodos is the name of the ship.”

Troodos_Tiuboda 1 photoThen, on Sept. 19, reached through the prospective buyer who asked not to be identified, Mr Albarasi admitted that although he had bought the ship from the Tripoli ministry, his partner, one Abdulkarim Nassraat, later sold it to Fahmi Slim, who is now the owner. (Equasis shows Slim bought the ship on May 22.) Zwara sources identify Mr Nassraat as a Zwara native. Note that the sale occurred while the Troodos/Tiuboda 1 was still a derelict ship, unable to move under its own power. This makes it look very much like a “wash” sale.

One piece of Tripoli Port (Lebanon) paperwork –in English – locates the ship, under its Fahmi Slim-registered name of Tiuboda 1, in Tripoli, Lebanon harbor on July 15, “coming from Malta.” Mr Albarasi explained in Arabic, “The ship was towed from Misrata to Malta and the engines were maintained there.” He says the vessel is currently in Beirut obtaining an inspection.

If the EU wants to put pressure on those who have the power to stop human trafficking in Zwara, Fahmi Slim is an excellent place to begin. Why was his ship allowed in Maltese waters? Why is his Maltese company allowed to conduct business? The sale of the “Troodos/Tiuboda 1” to Mr Albarasi and its sale barely two months later to Fahmi Slim suggests that the Tripoli anti-government works hand in glove with Slim. In this instance as in others, Libya Dawn behaves more like a criminal enterprise than a government. Isn’t it time for the EU to bring its formidable soft power to bear to stop these needless deaths by stopping the money flows to the smugglers?

(1)ADJFahmiBenKhalifaAppointedDirector

(2)Fahmi Slim’s full legal name

(3)AlvarGonzalez SA

Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute based in New York City, has written for the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, Tablet Magazine and other publications. She visited Afghanistan 18 times and spent 4 months in Libya in 2011-12. She tweets about Libya at @AnnMarlowe.

Do We Really Want to be Members of a Tribe?

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

(http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/207079/members-of-a-tribe)

Sebastian Junger’s fascinatingly wrong-headed ‘Tribe: on Homecoming and Belonging’

By Ann Marlowe
July 7, 2016 • 12:00 AM

“The question for Western society isn’t so much why tribal life might be so appealing—it seems obvious on the face of it—but why Western society is so unappealing.”

This statement early in Sebastian Junger’s new paean to tribal togetherness is, on the face of it, rubbish. Western society’s lack of appeal must be news to the millions of people who try, often at risk of their lives, to enter the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and the European Union each year as migrants or immigrants, apparently having decided that all that tribal connectivity in Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria (to name the countries that were the top sources of migrants to the E.U. in 2015) was something they could live without. Such rashness alerts us that Tribe is one of those eccentric screeds where everything looks like a nail because the author has a hammer. (But then, 2016 is a year in which this seems to be a feature of political thinking.)

Junger argues that the loss of the tribal environment in which human beings evolved helps to explain the 2008 financial crisis, mass shootings, and insurance fraud. He even argues against the American and Northern European practice of making children sleep by themselves in their own rooms—after all, our primitive ancestors didn’t do that, so it must cause problems. And yet Junger never defines what he means by “tribe.” The closest he comes is near the end of the book: “Acting in a tribal way simply means being willing to make a substantive sacrifice for your community.” But Americans already have one of the world’s highest levels of community engagement in terms of volunteerism, charitable giving, and attendance at religious worship.

Junger wants something more intense than normal life. Natural disasters, he argues, “Turn back the clock on ten thousand years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because there is no survival outside group survival, and that creates a social bond that many people sorely miss.” He’s in love with the immediately post-Sept. 11 upsurge of group cohesion, and some of this was a good thing. He points out that there were no mass shootings for a year after Sept. 11 and that “rates of violent crime, suicide and psychiatric disturbance dropped immediately. … New York’s suicide rate dropped by around 20 percent in the six months following the attacks, the murder rate dropped by 40 percent.” But there was also a circling of the wagons, a suspicion of the foreign and the Muslim, a lot of flag waving by people careful to stay far from danger.

Is American society circa 2001-2 really something we want to revisit? Did we fight smart wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a result? Was abridging our freedoms at home really the best way to enlarge the cause of freedom in the world? Is the rhetoric of “homeland” and “belonging” to a larger entity and “solidarity” helpful going forward?

Junger’s book is sorely lacking in analysis, counter-examples, subtlety, and organization. His prose has the rounded homogeneity of best-selling nonfiction. Yet the itch Junger is scratching is widespread in advanced societies, and the regressiveness of his argument is very of the moment, and he knows something about what he speaks: A seasoned war correspondent, he is the author of War, about an extended embed at a remote combat outpost in Afghanistan, and the companion film Restrepo. And as a national level distance runner at Wesleyan, he also spent a summer training with Navajo runners.

Yet Junger’s tribalism is vague. He mainly refers to Native American tribes, though he does mention a few African tribes. As anthropologists have been at pains to establish, tribes come in all sorts of flavors, and some are very nasty. It matters, because the crux of Junger’s argument is that human beings used to live happily in a certain way for hundreds of thousands of years in small tribes, and we no longer do, and our genetics change much more slowly than our living conditions, so we are profoundly maladjusted to the way we live now. This in turn leads to greedy bankers who disrespect the tribe by taking more than their share and PTSD for returning warriors, because war used to involve the whole tribe, not just a small segment of society. It’s hard not to see Junger’s model for how human beings used to live as yet another primitivism fantasy, an imaginary paradise loosely gleaned from American Indian life. It’s nostalgie de la boue—a term coined in 1855, just as the lower layers of European society were finally starting to escape the mud.

Moreover, the term tribal today is often used to describe social organization in some spectacularly unsuccessful places, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, and (with less validity) Libya. In some places in these countries belonging to a tribe is more or less important. But these societies, unlike American Indian life as Junger characterizes it, suffer from severe gender inequality, endemic corruption, conflict, and often from extremes of wealth and poverty.

But let’s give Junger the benefit of the doubt, say that human beings evolved under something like the conditions of the nicer American Indian tribes, and see what he has to say.

***

“Indians almost never ran away to join white society,” Junger notes. But so many Americans who do not claim Indian identity have Indian great-great-great grandmothers or -fathers that plenty of Indians must have entered white society. From my anecdotal knowledge, most of the captives lived on the frontiers and were not part of the ruling elites. They had pushed out to the places where the forest met the fields for cheaper land or more privacy; they were not abducted from Boston or Richmond. My hunch is that the captives who chose to stay were predominantly lower income, lower status, less educated: They were making a rational choice in the context of their position in white society. As Junger points out, “Indian society was essentially classless and egalitarian,” and a lower-status white person might do better relatively there.

As to the appeal of Native American life to non-Native Americans, it may well have been relaxed and companionable and egalitarian, but it did not offer much scope to the intellectual or cultural interests of cultivated Europeans (or for that matter Chinese or Japanese) at the time. How appealing would it be to spend the rest of your life in a society of 100 to 1,000 ethnically homogeneous people, without access to writing, science, philosophy, more than one type of cooking, chess, more than one type of music, more than one type of dance, more than one type of fashion, painting, or a variety of sports? Even in the 18th century, it meant no horse-drawn carriages, no roads, no Homer, no Shakespeare, no flower gardens, no piano, no silk, no architecture, no metal tools, no fine china, no furniture, no number theory.
‘Acting in a tribal way simply means being willing to make a substantive sacrifice for your community.’

Junger is also curiously silent about the moral and spiritual life of the Indian tribes. He might have noted that at the time of the first settlers, Protestantism was also becoming the dominant religion of northern and Western Europe. Protestantism demanded individual moral judgment and constant self-scrutiny (rather like Judaism). The notion of a career as providing meaning in life was just beginning to grow and with it the idea that one was responsible for one’s success or failure in worldly terms, and that it all had something to do with goodness. All of this is hard stuff; that’s why many people in the West, and even more in the Rest, still don’t like it.

It’s easier to live in a shame culture, not a guilt culture, and that’s what Native America was. The Indians may have lived blamelessly, even virtuously, but without forming independent moral judgments, figuring out one’s identity as an autonomous individual, even opposing the group if one thought they were wrong. When people are caught up in a larger-than-life drama, good or bad, whether a natural disaster or an event like Sept. 11, they find themselves back in a shame culture, where self-interrogation is less important than meeting group expectations. And for some people, this has good effects.

Junger’s two favorite idylls, military life and Native American life, meet along an existential dimension: In both of them, you don’t need to engage in a daily struggle to achieve your purpose in life. Most of us in advanced, urbanized cultures have to confront disturbing existential questions every day. What have I accomplished today? What’s my plan? Am I living rightly? Is everything I’m doing today furthering that plan?

This sort of interrogation is a part of Jewish culture even among non-religious Jews and surely explains the celebrated neuroticism and melancholy of Jews. Which brings me to another issue: I can’t see the word “tribe” without thinking of the phrase, “member of the Tribe.” Maybe it’s the same for Junger, who is half-Jewish on his father’s side. I’ve never liked this phrase, which implies that Jews are born, not made, and which mistakes what is great about Judaism. Our ancestors were not very like the American Indians Junger extols: They invented monotheism and wrote the Bible and started abstract thinking and one of the great schools of legal reasoning thousands of years ago. All of this proved to be essential to modern life. All of it was accessible to people who were not born Jews.

***

In tribal life, as in the American military, many of the existential questions are answered for you once you make the big choice to sign up. That’s why there are people who flounder in civilian life but succeed brilliantly in the military. That’s also why some 18th-century captives presumably made great Indians, but would have been lost in Providence or Philadelphia.

So, yes; living in the non-tribal world is harder and often sadder. Junger says: “The more assimilated a person is into American society, the more likely they are to develop depression during the course of their lifetime, regardless of what ethnicity they are.” Of course! If you’re a Chinese immigrant waiter working 18 hours a day and sharing a two-bedroom with 15 other men, you don’t have the luxury of depression. But a Chinese-American investment banker has time to agonize over whether he is really actualizing himself, really married to the right person, really living in the right city. “According to a global survey by the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression at as much as eight times the rate they do in poor countries.” Well, yes. If I’m sure of my food for the day, I start thinking about existential issues, and often this leads to anxiety or feelings of inadequacy.

In Tribe, Junger does not mention any of this; war and tribal life are all about camaraderie, never about how they solve the existential questions. Perhaps because of the simplistic view he takes of war, Junger also errs in his argument in Tribe that PTSD is a disease of re-entry into a fragmented society. This is unfair in a couple of ways to the military and rather unfortunate given recent medical research on the physical basis of at least some PTSD. Junger, whose website features a photograph of the author in body armor on an embed, is a great admirer of the American military, but just as he ignores the aspects of military life that are easier than civilian life, he also ignores the burdens of military discipline and of command.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that Junger’s fallen into a common trap among military reporters: thinking you’re having the full experience when you’re just an observer. Sentences like, “At one point I and the men I was with made our way to a front-line position” and “We lost one of our packhorses in the barrage” are a clue that Junger misunderstands his role. Reporters have few of the moral burdens of the combatants. No journalist fires at the car that doesn’t slow down for the checkpoint and then finds out that it contains the dead bodies of a not very bright father and his perfectly innocent Iraqi family of eight. No journalist sends a SEAL team on a mission knowing some of them will not come back—or sends four young low-ranking enlisted on a routine re-supply convoy that ends in their crippling by IED explosion. All this must be processed on re-entry.

Then there is the impact of IEDs. It’s not uncommon for American soldiers with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan to have experienced several IED blasts. This is very different from a World War II soldier’s experience. Junger notes that “roughly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have applied for permanent PTSD disability. Since only 10 percent of our armed forces experience actual combat, the majority of vets claiming to suffer from PTSD seem to have been affected by something other than direct exposure to danger.” He’s right to notice that there is a mismatch—and some fraud and freeloading—here. But that 10 percent figure is as sketchy as it is hard to verify, and it’s irrelevant in the new wars, where combat is not what’s most likely to kill you. Supply specialists, drivers, cultural experts, or engineers who had the bad luck to be in the wrong convoy can die or receive disabling injuries in an instant.

Junger’s view of PTSD as a mainly or wholly psychological ailment is also turning out to be incorrect. Medical studies are emerging now which prove what seems common sense: The human brain is injured by being multiply concussed. Just in the last months, it’s emerged that there are distinctive changes in the brain from concussions that can affect reasoning, mood, and behavior. Here is the key medical article and here is the New York Times Magazine piece about it.

More than 340,000 veterans have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (admittedly most not from IEDs), which can take months or years to manifest. Part of the reason for the high numbers of vets applying for disability is that people are surviving what would have been lethal wounds in earlier wars. Junger views it as a paradox that disability claims rise as mortality falls, but it makes perfect sense: We have a lot more injured vets coming back who would have died in WWII from the same injuries. So, if PTSD is often a response to surviving IED explosions that jar the brain, it doesn’t make much difference what kind of integration into society the returning vet has.

But again like that man who happens to have a hammer, Junger is intent on seeing all of life through the lens of the military and tribalism. Something Junger says about the current debased political discourse is applicable here: “Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost are deluding themselves.” Sympathetic though I am with Junger’s message, America should not be looked at as a combat outpost—either by foreigners, or worse, by Americans.

We have never been Sparta; the founders were clear that we were not to be a garrison state with a standing army but a nation devoted to “the pursuit of happiness” in whatever way individuals wished. And it’s precisely because figuring out one’s desires is tough that life in the contemporary world is tough. Jews learned that, perhaps, before most other people. But regression to the values of tribalism is no answer.