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I always thought that President Obama wanted to model his domestic policy on Lincoln and his foreign policy on Eisenhower.
But the news this week of the IRS harrassing right-wing groups and the Justice Department harrassing the Associated Press evokes the Nixon era for me.
On the other hand, Nixon had better relations with the military (despite contemplating firing Creighton Abrams in Vietnam).
This is me really going off the Obama reservation.
Quote of the day: Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, tells Dexter Filkins in this week's edition of the New Yorker that in considering intervening in Syria, "Here's what we wrestle with: there are huge costs and unintended consequences that go with a military intervention that could last for many years."
Another White House official tells Filkins, "The country is exhausted." I don't think that second comment is quite accurate. It is more that the country is tired of being involved on the ground in the Middle East and deeply skeptical of the efficacy of another try.
Filkins also quotes an academic expert who predicts that eventually all of Syria's Alawites will be pushed into Lebanon, with the eventual refugee flow doubling that nationette's population.
The vibe of the article is that the Obama administration increasingly is leaning toward intervention -- from the air, in aid and intelligence, but not with ground troops.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
By Billy Birdzell
Best Defense guest columnist
On April 30, 2013, Fox News aired an interview with a supposed member of U.S. Special Operations Command who said that members of "C-110," who were training in Croatia on September 11, 2012, could have both arrived at the Benghazi consulate in 4-6 hours and arrived before the second attack on the annex during which Tyronne Woods and Glen Doherty were killed. The mystery man critiques the Obama administration's decision-making, yet offers no information as to how C-110 would have influenced the battle in such a way that the outcome would have been different. Perhaps because it was actually impossible for C-110 to arrive before the attack, and if they did, they would not have been able to do anything that would have prevented our heroes, Woods and Doherty, from being killed.
"C-110" stands for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group. It is a unique company within the 10th SF Group in that it is trained as a Commander's in-Extremis Force (CIF). Each of the five active duty SF Groups has a CIF and they respond to important threats within their geographic area which are below the threshold for, or availability of, elements from the Joint Special Operations Command (like the Delta Force). A CIF has approximately 40 operators.
According to the Pentagon timeline posted by CNN, the enemy attack began at 2142 and all US personnel were out of the consulate by 2330. By 2330, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the foreign service information officer, Sean Smith, were dead. President Obama was briefed at 2300 and SOF were approved to launch from Croatia (C-110) and the United States (Delta Force) at 0239 and 0253 respectively. At 0515, the attack began against the annex. Doherty and Woods were killed by mortar fire shortly thereafter.
Obama gave the launch order at 0239. The mystery operator said 4-6 hours. That's 0639-0839. Woods and Doherty died at 0515. An Air Force C-17 was evacuating personnel from the Benghazi airport at 0740. Mystery man and Fox News can't add. Strike one.
For argument's sake, assume Obama gave the launch order 10 minutes after he met with General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta at 2300. Four to six hours turns into 0310-0510. Six hours, however, would have been impossible.
If the Commander of European Command coordinated with his counterpart in Africa Command as soon as the National Command Center informed General Dempsey at 2230 and they diverted a C-17 to Croatia in anticipation, it is still highly unlikely the plane would have been on the ground in Croatia before midnight; it takes an hour to fly to Croatia from Germany and a crew would have had to have gotten ready, briefed, examined contingency plans, and fueled the plane. From Zaton Military Airport in Croatia, it is over 900 miles to Benghazi, which would have taken approximately two hours in a C-17 cargo plane. Zaton is on the coast and it more likely the CIF would have flown out of Udbina Airport, but this is a best case scenario.
Assuming the Air Force was willing to land a C-17 at the Benghazi airport with an unknown security situation, once on the ground, the 40-man CIF would have then had to have moved to the annex which was 30 km away. Moving such a far distance would have required vehicles. 40 operators can move in 8 HMMWVs, which can fit into one C-17. However, did they have the vehicles with them? Did they have everything on the training mission that they needed to go into combat? If not, it would have taken more time for someone to get everything ready. Maybe the man of mystery is creative and planned on renting cars from Avis (yes, Avis has a location at the Benghazi Airport) and using stealth to get to the consulate in a move akin to the French using taxis to get to the front in order to stop the Kaiser's hordes back in 1914. Mystery man is really a cook who has never been on a deployment. Strike two.
Even if one of them had Avis First and the cars were waiting on the runway, the timing would have been iffy. Parachuting would have been another option. There is a large, open field close to the U.S. consulate at the southwest intersection of Third Ring Road and Shan Al-Andulus Road that could have accommodated the CIF. However, one is defenseless while parachuting, so it is a good idea to insert a good distance from the action to ensure one is not shot before his boots hit the ground. The Benghazi Zoo is only 3 miles from the consulate and the combination of trees and animal cages would have provided good cover, as well as entertainment, in case someone saw 40 people parachuting into the middle of the city.
Assuming magical planes were waiting for the CIF and they were somehow able to physically get to the annex before 0515, mystery man failed to mention that Doherty and Woods were killed by mortar fire. Forty operators armed with rifles and light-machine guns can neither stop mortar rounds nor determine from where the mortar is being fired. The only thing the CIF would have done had they gotten to the annex before 0515 is created more targets and overcrowded the consulate.
Even if the CIF was on ready 5 (fully armed, sitting in the aircraft with pilots at the controls) in Sigonella (the closest European base to Benghazi) with advanced warning of an attack but unsure of the time, and they launched at 2232 on only-in-Hollywood orders from someone other than the president, they would not have been able to do anything about Stevens and Smith's deaths, nor stopped the mortar rounds. Strike three.
The person in the interview is a clown and I am incredibly disappointed in the news for not using Google.
Billy Birdzell served as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer and special operations team leader from 2001 to 2009. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in security studies at Georgetown University.
By Lt. Gen. John H. Cushman, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
This is what the president should say:
Organs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have recently made announcements of that nation's readiness to attack with long range weapons targets of the United States.
It is time for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
The United States has no intention to attack the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
If under any pretext the Democratic People's Republic of Korea attacks the United States, we will respond with devastating might. Their nation will be a wasteland.
Leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have built military weaponry that can serve no useful purpose.
I repeat, it is time for them to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
End of conference
General Cushman commanded the 101st Airborne Division, the Army Combined Arms Center, and the ROK/US field army defending Korea's Western Sector. He served three tours in Vietnam. He also is author of Command and Control of Theater Forces: The Korea Command and Other Cases (1986).
Steve Coll, a former managing editor of the Washington Post and author of Ghost Wars, a favorite book of many readers of this blog, is one of the best journalists I've ever met. He especially understands intelligence matters, national security, and Washington. So when he wrote this week in the New Yorker about the possibility of high-level indictments of national security officials at the Obama White House, I paid attention. Here is an e-mail interview I conducted with him:
It's clear that the Justice Department has been carrying out extensive interviews with current and former senior administration officials about David Sanger's excellent reporting on the Obama administration's involvement in cyberattacks against Iran. At the same time, the administration has established that it is willing to tolerate aggressive leak prosecutions against current and former government officials. Equally, the White House is allowing Justice prosecutors to make such decisions without political interference -- as is proper (See: Richard Nixon). So if you add all that up, indictments are a possibility.
I have not formally approached the Times or Sanger about this investigation -- the subject of my New Yorker reporting was the separate prosecution of former C.I.A. officer John Kiriakou, who pleaded guilty and became the first C.I.A. officer ever sent to prison for providing information to the American press. In that longer story, I mentioned the ongoing Sanger case as context, based on what I picked up along the reporting trail, and I cited some reporting by the Washington Post, which appeared earlier this year.
I don't have any reason to think that. The Times, under executive editor Bill Keller and now Jill Abramson, has had to handle a succession of tricky editorial and publishing decisions involving classified information, from Wikileaks to these multiple leak investigations by the National Security Division at Justice. There was the Kiriakou case, which involved the Times; a separate case involving former C.I.A. officer Jeffrey Sterling and Times reporter James Risen; and now the Sanger case. In the Risen and Sanger cases, the Justice investigations have involved reporting done for books, in addition to reporting done for the Times. My reading from far outside is that the Times editors have done very well handling these dilemmas. It's a complicated responsibility, as I can testify from experience at the Washington Post. I'm sure there are at least a few calls the editors would like to have back, but overall I think they've made courageous, responsible decisions in the public interest.
I don't know.
Almost certainly not, particularly if they involve heavy charges under the Espionage Act or other similar statutes, as Justice has done in previous cases. As my story about the Kiriakou case outlined, leak prosecutions are highly selective and they fail to take into account the institutionalized failures and hypocrisy of the government's management of classified information. David Pozen, a law professor at Columbia University, estimates in a forthcoming Harvard Law Review article that fewer than three in a thousand leak violations are actually prosecuted, and the true percentage, if all leaks of classified information could be counted reliably, is almost certainly much closer to zero. These kinds of prosecutions -- aimed, apparently at creating a deterrent effect -- in an atmosphere of such laxity just can't be justified as public policy, even if they are permissible as a matter of law.
The Kiriakou case teases some of that out -- it's a very polluted environment. There's a lot of opportunism from all sides. That's why they call Washington a swamp. But I think the single biggest factor -- and a factor that could be fixed -- is the broken system that over-classifies government information by orders of magnitude. Until the government can credibly distinguish a real secret from a phony or artificial one, prosecutions of leakers will always seem selective and without adequate foundation.
Steve Coll's article in the issue of the New Yorker out this week, about a CIA officer jailed for leaking, is interesting especially for two asides:
-- Over the past 100 years, he writes, 10 government officials have been prosecuted for leaking. Six of them have been during the Obama administration.
-- Coll predicts that this may come back to haunt the administration: "If prosecutors find that senior White House officials broke the law while communicating with Sanger, President Obama may be unable to prevent high-level indictments."
Ricks: Rajiv, you have been unnaturally patient. [Gestures dramatically with open right hand] This is a man who, in Baghdad, was famous for shouting at people, "Right now, right now, right now!" He was a great bureau chief.
Chandrasekaran: I'm just taking all this in. It's fascinating. I find myself agreeing with an awful lot of what's being said around the table.
Just sort of building on a lot of this, I feel like the military does a great job of looking at troop-to-task calculations. We don't we do that on the diplomatic side of things? There was this assumption building on, all right, September 12: Was the Taliban really our enemy? We then -- fast-forward a couple months -- think that we can have a reasonably strong central government, civilian government, in a country with zero institutions, with no human capacity. There just, from the very beginning, weren't the necessary questions asked about what this would take, not from a military point of view, but from a whole-of-government point of view.
All these assumptions get baked in that wind up being completely contradictory and counterproductive to any efforts to build a stable government, and at no point do we step up and say, "Wait. This doesn't make sense." Part of it's a bandwidth issue. Part of it is, I think, civilian sides of our government aren't doing the necessary sorts of calculations about: Is this in our best interests? Is this doable? What would it take to do it? And then, even further, getting right back to the beginning, the question of space; one associated issue with this -- and I don't mean to blame the victim here -- we don't do a good enough job of saying no to the partners we're trying to help. Not just internationally, but the Afghans themselves. You know, when the Afghans say, "We want to centralize power in Kabul because, you know, Ashraf Ghani says it's going to help fight corruption," we don't push back meaningfully and say, "Yes, but it's completely unrealistic given the capacity of your government." When [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai says, "We want you ISAF forces to go push into these districts because we've got bad guys there," we don't do a good enough job of saying, "Wait a second; it doesn't make sense to do that."
Ricks: General Jabouri, listening to this, as someone who has dealt with the Americans, what do you think of Rajiv's analysis? Are the Americans able to say no? Do they make intelligent decisions, from your perspective as an Iraqi general and a mayor of a city?
Jabouri: I think the Americans, in the beginning, always take the ally from who said, "OK, do everything they want." And they're strong. Like Chalabi, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, someone, they always say to them, "OK, I'm from this hand to this hand [extends hands, palms up]." But after that discover they chose the wrong man. The ally is not the man who says it is always OK to do things.
Ricks: So again, a lack of sufficient thought, of understanding, going into the situation.
Jabouri: I think also they depended totally on the people outside Iraq, not from inside Iraq. The do not make a balance between that, but now we see the result in Iraq, with what happened.
Ricks: Ms. Flournoy?
Flournoy: I think this point about really being thoughtful about your political objectives and what's the goals and the strategy to achieve them and not being all things to all people is really important. And I think it is something that we really struggle with. When you ask why, I do think it does also speak to the imbalance in our own investment as a government. I mean, we have this tremendously -- well, at least historically -- well-resourced military, well trained, well cultivated. Obviously when you put thousands of Americans in harm's way, a lot of attention is going to rightfully be focused in that direction to make sure we know what we're doing and are managing that well.
But again, if you think what drives the success or failure of these operations, it is your political objectives and your political strategy and how well you frame those question. I would argue we don't grow on the civilian side grand strategists, we don't grow political strategists. You occasionally find them, and I can list a few I admire and respect. But I remember one of the most difficult moments of the Iraqi government formation, sitting in the embassy in Baghdad saying, "Well, what're we going to do? What's our strategy to help them cohere?" Not that the U.S. was going to dictate the outcome, but how are we going to help get over this hump and move forward? Having the senior political officer at the time tell me, "Well, that's not my job. My job, as the political officer, is to observe and report." And I said, "I'm sorry. We invaded a country. We are occupying this country. Your job is thinking about the political strategy that's going to help put it back together again on sustainable terms." But that's not what we train people to do; it's not what we resource them to do. And I do think it's connected to this fundamental imbalance of resources and that we didn't put enough time, attention, thought, focus, resources into the whole civilian side of what we were doing.
Dubik: In conflicts that are essentially not winnable, militarily. The military operations are necessary, but they're not sufficient. They're not even decisive.
Ricks: Emile Simpson makes this very good point in his new book, War From the Ground Up, as a young British officer who fought in Afghanistan that you've got to turn Clausewitz on his head and look as this as violent politics, not as warfare that leads to a political outcome. A lot of it is political operations coming out of the barrel of a gun.
By Lt. Cdr. David Forman, US Navy
Best Defense guest correspondent
Before President Obama's national security team started their analysis in 2009 that eventually led to the current rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, then-Senator Jim Webb experienced a peculiar event. It was so peculiar that it now helps shape his argument that we need another type of rebalance: one that returns the legislative and executive branches to actual co-equal partners in government.
In December of 2008, Sen. Webb entered a soundproof room to review the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would shape our long-term relations with Iraq. Though not actually classified, the White House controlled the document as though it was. According to the logbook he signed to enter the room, Sen. Webb was the first member of the legislative branch to review it. The irony of "secretly" reviewing a document that should have been written or thoroughly debated by Congress was not lost on such an experienced public servant.
In his recent article, "Congressional Abdication," in The National Interest, Webb draws attention to three main events he believes indicate Congress is not fulfilling the full range of its responsibilities, including Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as it pertains to use of the military. First, as mentioned above, the Congress did not play any meaningful role in the development of the SFA agreement with Iraq. Though not an official treaty, the agreement was a unique display of exclusive executive-branch negotiations. Second, and most alarming to Webb, is that the Congress played no part in debating or approving combat operations in Libya in March 2011, a previously unprecedented type of military intervention. And last, the Congress was kept in the dark until the president was ready to sign the strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan in May 2012.
To be clear, Webb's remarks at a recent session at the officers of The National Interest began with, "I'm not on a crusade." He is not trying to throw stones in the Congressional arena now that he is on the sidelines. Webb's goal is to provide an honest and insightful assessment of the current imbalance between the two branches.
After the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in 2001, the president was understandably afforded great leeway to act. No elected official wanted to be seen as unpatriotic in the aftermath of such a penetrating and deadly assault on American territory. However, the complexity and diversity of pursuant foreign policy issues combined with the perpetual need to fundraise has prevented Congress from digging deep into foreign policy issues and recovering the ground it patriotically sacrificed in 2001.
The path to rebalancing is not easy or entirely clear, but recognition by the president and the Congress, the media, and the American people is a necessary first step. Congressional approval may seem like a nuisance in the pace of today's political developments, but it is also vitally important. Not only does this process adhere to our laws, it also shows the resolve of the American government and the nation it represents.
Though the eventual solution will take time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a natural focal point to help restore legislative balance to executive branch involvement in foreign policy. The framework for Congressional involvement and genuine oversight still exists, but its members must duly exercise this capability. With American involvement in Afghanistan winding down, issues with North Korea and Iran are most likely front-runners of opportunity for the Congress to reassert its constitutional authorities and work as a co-equal partner to steer our nation through a myriad of upcoming foreign-policy decisions.
LCDR David Forman, USN, is a senior military fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The views presented here are his own and do not represent those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.
Crist: I agree on the notion of the tendency of the U.S. military. In Vietnam, they used to call it the "Little Brown Man Syndrome," which is: The Americans come in and show you how to really fight your war. But I think with Afghanistan the fundamental problem is a lack of a long-term strategy. What do we want Afghanistan to do? And I see we sort of evolved into it without a lot of thinking.
The initial force went in; we got enamored with the idea of SOF [special operations forces], light footprint, using the Northern Alliance -- in fact we probably should have had more conventional forces. We missed a lot of opportunities as these guys skirted across Pakistan, and we, frankly, allowed them to do it because the Afghans wouldn't go after them. If they wanted to sit up in the hills, the Northern Alliance was more than happy to let them sit in the mountains, and we didn't have that capability.
Then the problem is, as we slowly evolve with, frankly, not a lot of thought -- if you look at the force incrementally increasing, it's not a well-articulated strategy. Then it comes to the point where, well, we have the force, we need to start doing this ourselves, and we sort of fall back on our natural patterns and tendencies and things that are comfortable with an effective military that likes to solve problems. So I lay it on the long-term strategy that went in in 2001.
Jabouri: Let me say something from my experience: I think American forces focus just on the enemy, on al Qaeda, and they forget about the people.
I think if you want to win the war against al Qaeda, you should protect the people first. The American forces always, in the beginning, in Iraq, they put their eyes on al Qaeda, and they don't care about the people. I think the security forces can't create the security without the long-term forces. If you now go to Kurdistan in Iraq, if you see the images, Kurdistan has very good security, but they do not have many checkpoints or forces. The people have, and the government has the security forces to keep the security. They are the people in other parts of Iraq, the people not interested in the security forces of Iraq because they do not have to create the security.
Ricks: This seems to go to Phil Mudd's question of space versus targeting, but it seems to me also to Colonel Alford's comments because one of the answers to reconciling space and targeting is to have local forces occupy the space, not American forces that alienate locals.
Dubik: But a strategy, correctly or not, a strategy that emphasizes local forces, building local conditions, is de facto a long-term strategy. It gets right back to the question of -- we backed into both these wars.
Ricks: Not unlike in Vietnam, where we put in ground troops originally to protect the air bases.
Dubik: And it sucked us in. We just backed ourselves into the problem we faced, and had we thought that the solution was going to be a 10- or 15-year solution, we certainly would not have committed. We would have changed many of the decisions that we made, but we didn't adopt the indigenous force because we thought we could solve it and leave.
Fastabend: I think the reason we do that consistently is, as I hinted at in my question (I really liked your question; I'll explain to you why), is because we think strategy and we keep strategy, and our theory of strategy is the linkage of ends, ways, and means, which is how I got here, which is how I'll do my job tomorrow.
It is pablum; it is a way to avoid making a real choice, so no one in or out of the government ever said to themselves, "Let's decide what we're going to do. Are we going to target individuals regardless of space, or are we going to go in there and have space?" No, what we said is, "We need a stable government in Iraq, so therefore, you need a stable government in Iraq." Deductive logic tells you that you need to control everywhere in Iraq. And then you have to worry about the security forces; you've got to make sure they've got border patrols. And we never went back to the fundamental choice about what do we really need to do. We hide choices. We never talk about choices because choices are hard and choices mean making a decision. Choices mean taking responsibility for who makes the choice and which choice they take -- and that, in my view, is the biggest flaw we have institutionally in this country, is we've got very shallow theory and doctrine about what strategy really is.
Ricks: This is a great comment.
(Much more to come)
Ricks: What I hear from around this table is a remarkable, surprising consensus to me. I'm not hearing any tactical problems, any issues about training, about the quality of our forces.
Instead, again and again what I'm hearing is problems at the strategic level, especially problems of the strategic process. To sum up the questions, they are asking: Do our military and civilian leaders know what they are doing? And that goes to the process issues and to general strategic thinking. That's one bundle of questions. The second emphasis I'm hearing, and this also kind of surprised me, is, should we have, from the get-go, focused on indigenous forces rather than injecting large conventional forces? That is, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have we tried to do El Salvador, but wound up instead doing Vietnam in both, to a degree?
Mudd: Just one quick comment on that as a non-military person: It seems to me there's an interesting contrast here between target and space. That is: Do we hold space and do we help other people help us hold space, or do we simply focus on a target that's not very space-specific? And I think at some point fairly early on we transitioned there [from target to space], which is why I asked my initial question. A lot of the comments I hear are about the problem of holding space, and should we have had someone else do it for us? And I wonder why we ever got into that game.
Ricks: Into which game?
Mudd: Into the game of holding space as opposed to eliminating a target that doesn't really itself hold space.
Alford: It's our natural tendency as an army to do that. To answer another question, it's also our natural tendency as an army to build an army that looks like us, which is the exact opposite of what we should do. They're not used to our culture. One quick example, if I could: the Afghan border police. The border police, we tried to turn them into, essentially, like our border police and customs agents. Right across the border, the Pakistani Army uses frontier guardsmen. Why do they do that? They use their culture -- a man with a gun that fights in the mountains is a warrior. He's respected by his people. He's manly. All those things matter, and it draws men to that organization. We always talk about how our borders on [the Afghan] side are so porous; it's because we don't have a manly force that wants to go up into the mountains and kill bad guys, because we didn't use their culture.
Ricks: So we're already breaking new ground here. We're holding up the Pakistanis as a model!
Alford: On that piece. It's a cultural thing.
Dubik: I agree with the second comment. On the first point, in terms of why we held space, I think it's how we defined the problem. We defined the problem not as al Qaeda -- it was "al Qaeda and those who give them sanctuary." And so we couldn't conceive of a way to get at al Qaeda without taking the Taliban down, and because of the problem definition, we inherited a country.
Ricks: So what you're saying is actually that these two problems I laid out come together in the initial strategic decision framing of the problem.
Fastabend: I don't think there was such framing.
Ricks: The initial lack of framing...
Fastabend: Getting back to Ms. Cash, we didn't really decide what the questions were. We thought we knew the question. You know, we thought we had in each case [of Afghanistan and Iraq] governments to support that would hold space, and that was a secondary thing that came on us when we got there: that actually the sovereign government wasn't so sovereign.
Ricks: I just want to throw in the question that [British] Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb sent. He couldn't be here today. General Lamb said, "My question is, given the direction I had -‘remove the Taliban, mortally wound al Qaeda, and bring its leadership to account' -- who came up with the neat idea of rebuilding Afghanistan?"
Mudd: It's interesting. If you define threat as capability and intent to strike us, then I think there's confusion early on with the Taliban, because I would say they had neither the capability nor intent to strike us, but they provide safe haven. If you look at areas where we have entities that have those twin capabilities or those twin strengths -- Yemen and Somalia come to mind, maybe northern Mali -- we're able to eliminate threat without dealing with geography. So there are examples where you can say, "Well, we faced a fundamental -- I mean, not as big a problem as Afghanistan." But you look at how threat has changed in just the past two years, and I don't think anyone would say that the threat, in terms of capability and intent, of Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is anywhere near where it was a few years ago. That's because we focused on target, not geography.
Glasser: Just to go back to this question, was the original sin, if you will, focusing on U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan, versus working from the beginning to create or shore up local forces? I want to probe into that a little bit. How much did people at the time understand that as a challenge? I remember being in Kabul for the graduation of the first U.S.-trained contingent of Afghan army forces, and they were Afghan army forces. These guys worked for warlords that had come together, Northern Alliance warlords who made up the fabric of the Defense Ministry. They had nothing to do with an Afghan force, and that's why we're still training them now.
Ricks: But Colonel Alford's point is that, those are the guys you want to work with, though. But don't work with them on your terms; work with them on their terms.
Glasser: But that's what we did. That's what we do. We worked with the warlords in Afghanistan. That's who our partners were in toppling the Taliban.
Alford: But we never turned it over to them, though. In '04, I was [in Afghanistan] as a battalion commander. We never would let them fight unless we always led the way. It's part of our culture, too, as soldiers and Marines. You send an infantry battalion into a fight, they're going to fight. It takes a lot to step back and let the Afghans do it, and do it their way. Provide them the medevacs and fire support -- that's the advisory role for those missions we're going to switch to this spring, and I'm all for it. We should have done this four years ago, but now we also need to see if this is going to work over the next almost two years. We need to be ruthless with young lieutenant colonels and colonels who want to get out there and fight, or generals who do, to support the Afghans and then see how they do against the Taliban. I'll tell you how they're gonna do: They're gonna whoop 'em. The Taliban does not have the capability to beat the Afghan army if we get out of their way.
Here is the first part of a transcript of a conversation held at the Washington offices of Foreign Policy magazine in January of this year. A shorter version, with full IDs of the participants, appears in the current issue of the magazine. This is the full deal, edited just slightly for clarity and ease of reading, mainly by deleting repetitions and a couple of digressions into jokes about the F-35 and such.
I had asked each participant to bring one big question about the conduct of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I began. We began with those.
Thomas E. Ricks: One of my favorite singers is Rosanne Cash, a country singer who is Johnny Cash's daughter, who has a great line in one of her songs: "I‘m not looking for the answers-- just to know the questions is good enough for me." And I think that is the beginning of strategic wisdom: Rather than start with trying to figure out the answers, start with a few good questions.
So what I'd like to start by doing is just go around the table with a brief statement -- "I'm so-and-so, and here's my question." So, to give you the example: I'm Tom Ricks, and my question is, "Are we letting the military get away with the belief that it basically did the best it could over the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that civilians in the government screwed things up?"
Philip Mudd: I guess my question is: "Why do we keep talking about Afghanistan when we went in 12 years ago, we talked about a target, al Qaeda. How did that conversation separate?"
Maj. Gen. David Fastabend (U.S. Army, ret.): My name is David Fastabend, and my question is: "Do what we think, our theory and doctrine, about strategy -- is that right? Could we not do a lot better?"
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, got a lot of questions. I suppose one among them would be, "How did the execution of our civilian-military policies so badly divert on the ground at a time, at least over the past couple of years, when there was supposed to be a greater commonality of interests in Washington?"
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (U.S. Army, ret.): I'm Jim Dubik, and my question's related to Rajiv's and Tom's: "How do we conduct a civil-military discourse in a way that increases the probability of more effective strategic integration in decisions?"
Shawn Brimley: Shawn Brimley. I have a lot of questions, but one that keeps coming to mind, being halfway through Fred Kaplan's book, is: "How did we, collectively, screw up rotation policy so badly that we never provided our military leaders the chance to fully understand the reality on the ground before they had to rapidly transition to a new colonel, a new brigadier, a new four-star?"
Maj. Gen. Najim Abed al-Jabouri (Iraqi Air Force, ret.): My name is al-Jabouri. As an Iraqi, I have a different view of 2003. I was a general in the Iraqi Air Force, so I wanted to shoot down your airplanes. After 2003, I was a police chief and a mayor, so I wanted your help to build my country. In the last 10 years I have learned that America has a great military power. It can target and destroy almost anything.
However, I have also learned that it is very difficult for America to clean up a mess it makes. Leaving a mess in someone else's country can cause more problems than you had at the beginning. Military operations in Muslim countries are like working with glass. If you do it right, it can be beautiful and great, but if you break it, it is difficult to repair or replace. My question is: "Do American strategy planners understand the consequences of breaking the glass, and if so, do they know what it will take to repair or replace the broken glass?" Thank you.
Col. J.D. Alford, USMC: My name is Dale Alford. I too have many questions, I guess, but I'm going to stay a little bit in my lane and I'm going to talk about the military. My question would be: "Can a foreign army, particularly with a vastly different culture, be a successful counterinsurgent? And if not, why haven't we switched and put more focus on the Afghan security forces?"
David Crist: My name is David Crist, and a bunch of people had very similar lines of thought to what I was going to use, so I'll take a common complaint that James Mattis says all the time and frame that into a question: "Do our commanders have time to think? Think about the issues and the information -- in some ways they have to be their own action officer. Do they have time to sit back and think about the issues with the op tempo going on and just the information flow?"
Michèle Flournoy: I have two, and I can't decide which one.
Ricks: You get both.
Flournoy: I get a twofer? So the very broad, strategic question is: "How do we ensure that we have a political strategy that takes advantage of the security and space that a military effort in counterinsurgency can create? How do we ensure that the focus remains primarily there while we resource that aspect?" Kind of a Clausewitzian question.
Second is a much more narrow question, and we have the right people in the room to reflect on this, which is: "What have we learned about how to build indigenous security forces in a way that's effective and sustainable?" I mean, this is a classic case where we reinvent the wheel, we pretend like we've never done it before, we pretend like there aren't lessons learned and good ways -- and less effective ways -- to do this. So: "Can we capture what we know about how to build indigenous security forces?"
Susan B. Glasser: I have a question of my own that's particularly for the people with a military background in this room, which is: "In September 2001, if you had told us that in 2013 we are going to be in Afghanistan with 65,000 American troops and debating what we accomplished there and how quickly we can get out, how many more years and how many billions of dollars we'd have to pay to sustain this operation, my strong sense is that there would have been an overwhelming view in the U.S. military -- and among the U.S. people more broadly -- that that was an unacceptable outcome. So, if we can all agree that 13 years was not what we wanted when we went into Afghanistan, what did we miss along the way?"
(more to come...)
In the hot new issue of Foreign Policy, Vali Nasr, now dean at Johns Hopkins SAIS, but formerly at the State Department, offers a scathing portrayal of President Obama's national security team. The villain of the piece appears as "the White House," which is referred to 63 times, most of them negative. Readers of this blog will not be surprised by Nasr's conclusion that "the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics."
Every administration has turf fights, but this article makes me thinks Obama's have been memorably bad. Other examples:
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Over the weekend, two writers coming from very different backgrounds expressed concerns about the tone and makeup of the Obama national security team.
Mackubin Owens is a Marine veteran (with a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts from Vietnam) and an expert in civil-military relations. On Saturday he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, "A president has every right to choose the generals he wants, but it is also the case that he usually gets the generals he deserves. By pushing Gen. Mattis overboard, the administration sent a message that it doesn't want smart, independent-minded generals who speak candidly to their civilian leaders."
Administration insiders may dismiss Owens as a hostile witness using a hostile platform. It is harder to dismiss the concerns of David Ignatius, a veteran reporter in the Middle East (and author of some terrific novels about it), who wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that, President Obama, " by assembling a team where all the top players are going in the same direction...is perilously close to groupthink."
I suspect one reason that beat reporters aren't writing about this is that they fear alienating valuable sources in the administration, such as Tom Donilon, the national security advisor. Yep, I am looking at you, New York Times.
I was in a discussion the other day of the Obama administration's foreign policy. The more I listened, the more President Obama began to remind me of President Eisenhower.
There is indeed a long list of foreign crises pending right now:
But as I listened to the discussion, I thought of President Eisenhower, who took office and set to getting us out of the Korean War, as Obama did with Iraq. He also worked hard to keep us out of the French war in Vietnam, overriding the Joint Chiefs' desire to use nukes to help the French. He also rejected pleas of many to intervene in the Hungarian Revolution. And he had the Suez Crisis, with the French and British. Then there were issues of Stalin's successors in the Soviet Union, which was rapidly building its nuclear arsenal.
I suspect that Obama's dominant impulse is to keep us out of the problems he sees overseas, just as Ike sought to keep us out of Vietnam and Hungary. Many people disagreed with his decisions. But he was a successful president.
National Archives/SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
But declining by the day. No, that hearing last week didn't reflect well on the U.S. Senate. But he didn't do well in it, either. He didn't appear that interested in the job.
He has the votes, but not much else. His big problem is that no one much wants him running the Pentagon. Congressional Republicans consider him a traitor. Congressional Democrats see him as anti-gay and anti-abortion, undercutting their support for him. And Northeastern Democrats (and some others) worry about his stance on Israel. Democratic support in the Senate appears more dutiful than passionate.
That said, I don't think that a Hagel exit would hurt President Obama much. SecDef nominees have blown up on the launch pad before: Remember John Tower (picked by the first President Bush) and Bobby Inman (picked by President Clinton to replace Les Aspin)? Interestingly, both were succeeded as nominees by men who went on to be very successful stewards of the military establishment: Dick Cheney and William Perry. Calling Michèle Flournoy?
The prospect of a Hagel regime at DOD is a real problem now because the next SecDef will need to do two things: Work with Congress to reduce the defense budget thoughtfully, and work with the military to re-shape the military to make it relevant to future conflict. At the moment, Hagel appears to lack the political capital to do the former, as well as the intellectual appetite to do the latter.
Bottom line: Every business day that the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn't vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, I think the likelihood of Hagel becoming defense secretary declines by about 2 percent.
I just finished reading the transcript of last week's hearing on the confirmation of former Sen. Charles Hagel to be defense secretary. The question in the headline is what I asked myself as I read it.
I heard a lot on Friday about what a poor job Sen. Hagel did in his confirmation hearings to be secretary of defense. So I sat down with the transcript over the weekend. I was surprised. I've spent many hours covering confirmation hearings, but I never have seen as much bullying as there was in this hearing. The opening thug was Sen. Inhofe (which I expected -- he's always struck me as mean-spirited), but I was surprised to see other Republican senators kicking their former Republican colleague in the shins so hard.
Here's John McCain badgering his erstwhile buddy:
Senator MCCAIN. ...Even as late as August 29th, 2011, in an interview -- 2011, in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, "I disagreed with President Obama, his decision to surge in Iraq as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq." Do you stand by those comments, Senator Hagel?
Senator HAGEL. Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them.
Senator MCCAIN. Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?
Senator HAGEL. Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to support that out.
Senator MCCAIN. The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.
Senator HAGEL. I will explain why I made those comments.
Senator MCCAIN. I want to know if you were right or wrong. That is a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
Senator HAGEL. The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit--
Senator MCCAIN. Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that "The surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Where you correct or incorrect, yes or no?
Senator HAGEL. My reference to the surge being the most dangerous--
Senator MCCAIN. Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That is a pretty straightforward question. I would like an answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.
Senator MCCAIN. Well, let the record show that you refuse to answer that question. Now, please go ahead.
Senator HAGEL. Well, if you would like me to explain why--
Senator MCCAIN. Well, I actually would like an answer, yes or no.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no. I think it is far more complicated that, as I have already said.
Tom again: FWIW, Hagel later got in the point that his comment was that "our war in Iraq was the most fundamental bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam." I think that assessment is correct.
(Senator Chambliss then took a moment to abuse the English language: "We were always able to dialogue, and it never impacted our friendship.")
Then Lindsay Graham waded in.
Senator GRAHAM. ...You said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I am not an Israeli senator. I am a U.S. Senator. This pressure makes us do dumb things at times." You have said the Jewish lobby should not have been -- that term shouldn't have been used. It should have been some other term. Name one person, in your opinion, who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the U.S. Senate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, first--
Senator GRAHAM. Name one.
Senator HAGEL. I don't know.
Senator GRAHAM. Well, why would you say it?
Senator HAGEL. I didn't have in mind a specific--
Senator GRAHAM. First, do you agree it is a provocative statement? That I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said.
Name one dumb thing we have been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby.
Senator HAGEL. I have already stated that I regret the terminology I used.
Senator GRAHAM. But you said back then it makes us do dumb things. You can't name one Senator intimidated. Now give me one example of the dumb things that we are pressured to do up here.
Senator HAGEL. We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel. That is what I was referring to.
Senator GRAHAM. So give me an example of where we have been intimidated by the Israeli/Jewish lobby to do something dumb regarding the Mideast, Israel, or anywhere else.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I can't give you an example.
Next to throw some punches was David Vitter:
Senator VITTER. In general, at that time under the Clinton administration, do you think that they were going ‘‘way too far toward Israel in the Middle East peace process"?
Senator HAGEL. No, I don't, because I was very supportive of what the President did at the end of his term in December-January, December 2000, January of 2001. As a matter of fact, I recount that episode in my book, when I was in Israel.
Senator VITTER. Just to clarify, that's the sort of flip-flop I'm talking about, because that's what you said then and you're changing your mind now.
Senator HAGEL. Senator, that's not a flip-flop. I don't recall everything I've said in the last 20 years or 25 years. if I could go back and change some of it, I would. But that still doesn't discount the support that I've always given Israel and continue to give Israel.
Near the end of the day's verbal beating, Senator Manchin said, "Sir, I feel like I want to apologize for some of the tone and demeanor today." That was good of him.
You all know I was not that much of a Hagel fan before. But now I feel more inclined to support him, if only to take a stand against the incivility shown by Senators Inhofe, McCain, Graham, and Vitter, the SASC's own "gang of four."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
I am told that General Mattis was traveling and in a meeting when an aide passed him a note telling him that the Pentagon had announced his replacement as head of Central Command. It was news to him -- he hadn't received a phone call or a heads-up from anyone at the Pentagon or the White House.
I asked a friend about that. He wrote back:
...the commander-in-chief can make a change whenever he wants and give no reason. That is right and proper under our system of government.
But there's also the matter of common courtesy to an uncommon man. Here is what one person wrote to me: "What message does it send to the Services when the one leader known for his war-fighting rather than diplomatic or bureaucratic political skills is retired early via one sentence in the Pentagon's daily press handout? Even in battle, Mattis was inclusive of all under his command. He took the time to pull together his driver and guards after every day's rotation on the battlefield, telling them what he thought he had learned and asking them for input. Surely senior administration officials could have found the time to be gracious. But they didn't." Bing West, admittedly a friend of Mattis and fellow Marine, tells me: "It was injudicious to truncate Mattis's command time because his toughness was well-known across the Middle East. The image of a determined warfighter is precisely what a commander-in-chief should cherish when trying to exert leverage upon a recalcitrant Iran."
Pentagon spokesman George Little sent along this note on Friday afternoon:
I reject in the strongest possible terms your reporting about leadership changes at CENTCOM. The fact of the matter is that Gen. Mattis discussed the timing for a change of command at CENTCOM with the Secretary last fall. At that time, Gen. Mattis was asked for recommendations on who might succeed him at CENTCOM. It would be wildly inaccurate to suggest anything else.
I wrote back to Mr. Little these questions:
Can you answer these questions? They are yes or no, I think: Are you flatly saying that Mattis was in fact called? Or are you saying that Mattis was not called but should not have been surprised? Or are you saying something else?
When he didn't address those questions, I sent them again and said I would publish his statement along with the comment that he wouldn't address my specific questions. This led him to write back:
He wasn't called. He personally met with the Secretary. This wasn't a surprise. You can't say I declined to address your questions.
I think Mr. Little is emphatically denying something I didn't say. That is, I think Mattis knew he would be leaving eventually, which would lead to such a conversation with the secretary, but was in fact surprised by the timing and the lack of notice about a press release announcing his successor being issued.
Cpl. Cassandra Flowers/DVIDS
The WTF moment for me in Obama's second inaugural address, delivered Monday at noon, was his use of the phrase "peace in our time." This came during his discussion of foreign policy, and in such circles, that phrase is a synonym for appeasement, especially of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain in September 1938. What signal does his using it send to Iran? I hope he was just using it to jerk Netanyahu's chain.
I also simply didn't understand what he meant by "a world without boundaries." But my immediate thought was, No, right now we need boundaries -- like those meant to keep Iran out of Syria and Pakistan out of Afghanistan.
Two things I did like:
Overall, I'd give it a C-. It wasn't a terrible speech, but I am grading on the curve because I have seen him do so much better. Overall, the rhetoric seemed tired, like second-rate Kennedyisms, which may reflect the pack of Hill rats and political hacks staffing the White House. It made me wonder if the president is depressed. I mean, I wouldn't blame him. But not a happy thought.
Here are a few things I have heard since I posted my comments on Friday about the Obama administration pushing General Mattis out at Central Command. Thanks to all who wrote in to make this follow-up possible:
On Saturday I sent the above post over to the NSC for comment. Here, without comment from me, is what NSC spokesman "Tommy" Vietor wrote back:
I greatly appreciate your offer to allow us to comment.
What you describe in your email doesn't at all resemble the rigorous, open NSC process I've been a part of here at the White House. The role of the NSC is to coordinate the interagency and facilitate an all of government process and discussion to ensure each agency has input into national security policy. General Mattis has been a critical part of those discussions about the CENTCOM region, and it's completely inaccurate to say there was any effort to prevent him from airing his views. I'd note that General Mattis prepares a weekly report for the Chairman and SecDef on everything that's happening in his AOR. Tom makes sure that report is delivered to the President each week in full.
With respect to Iran policy, Tom [Donilon] worked directly with CENTCOM's leadership, in particular General Mattis and General Allen, to put together our force posture in the region. Without getting into detail, there has obviously been extensive contingency planning related to Iran and the region, and there has been a policy process that has been deliberately structured to allow for assumptions to be challenged and hard questions to be asked at the highest levels of government.
More broadly speaking, many of DOD's top leaders have said that the process Tom lead to formulate out defense strategy was the most robust, open and inclusive conversation they've been a part of.
To quote Secretary Panetta: "And in my experience, this has been an unprecedented process, to have the President of the United States participate in discussions involving the development of a defense strategy, and to spend time with our service chiefs and spend time with our combatant commanders to get their views. It's truly unprecedented."
Chairman Dempsey: "This strategy emerges from a deeply collaborative process. We sought out and took insights from within and from outside the Department of Defense, to include from the intelligence community and other governmental departments. We weighed facts and assessments. We challenged every assumption. We considered a wide range of recommendations and counter-arguments. I can assure you that the steps we have taken to arrive at this strategy involved all of this and much more. This strategy also benefited from an exceptional amount of attention by our senior military and civilian leadership. On multiple occasions, we held all-day and multi-day discussions with service chiefs and combatant commanders. The service chiefs, who are charged with developing the force for the strategy, were heard early and often. The combatant commanders, charged with executing the strategy, all weighed in time and time again. And we were all afforded extraordinary access to both the president and the secretary of defense."
The bottom line is that we are extraordinarily grateful to General Mattis for his patriotism and his service. He is a critical part of our team, and we look forward to his continued counsel in the months ahead.
Tom Ricks again: That comment struck me as blather that obscured more than it illuminated. I said so to Mr. Vietor, who wrote back to ask me what specifically he hadn't addressed. So I sent over these questions:
Vietor's answer: "I'm going to let General Mattis speak to the timing of his departure."
Vietor's answer: "This won't satisfy you, but both Tom [Donilon] and General Mattis understand that policy debates and advice to the President should remain confidential, so I have no plan to outline their candid advice or views."
Vietor's answer: "The President and Tom both welcome hearing dissenting views. Its crucial to good policy making. I can't speak to an alleged anonymous perception. If you quote someone on the record or something specific, I can try to offer more."
Vietor's answer: "The average tour length of the previous 25 COCOMs is 2.7 years. The longest serving COCOM is Admiral Stavridis, who assumed command of SOUTHCOM in October 2006. The second longest serving COCOM is General James Mattis, who assumed command of Joint Forces Command in November 2007. The President just appointed General Allen SACEUR. The last Marine SACEUR was Jim Jones, who later become NSA. I think that's a pretty strong signal about how much the President values the Marine Corps."
Kris Connor/Getty Images
Word on the national security street is that General James Mattis is being given the bum's rush out of his job as commander of Central Command, and is being told to vacate his office several months earlier than planned.
Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way -- not because he went all "mad dog," which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, "And then what?"
Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed -- at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I'd call him a tough-minded realist, someone who'd rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
Presidents should feel free to boot generals anytime they want, of course -- that's our system, and one I applaud. But ousting Mattis at this time, and in this way, seems wrong for several reasons:
TIMING: If Mattis leaves in March, as now appears likely, that means there will be a new person running CENTCOM just as the confrontation season with Iran begins to heat up again.
CIVIL-MILITARY SIGNALS: The message the Obama Administration is sending, intentionally or not, is that it doesn't like tough, smart, skeptical generals who speak candidly to their civilian superiors. In fact, that is exactly what it (and every administration) should want. Had we had more back in 2003, we might not have made the colossal mistake of invading Iraq.
SERVICE RELATIONS: The Obamites might not recognize it, but they now have dissed the two Marine generals who are culture heroes in today's Corps: Mattis and Anthony Zinni. The Marines have long memories. I know some who are still mad at the Navy for steaming away from the Marines left on Guadalcanal. Mattis made famous in Iraq the phrase, "No better friend, no worse enemy." The Obama White House should keep that in mind.
I'm still a fan of President Obama. I just drove for two days down the East Coast listening to his first book, and enjoyed it enormously. But I am at the point where I don't trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
As defense secretary, Charles Hagel is likely to be particularly attuned to the needs of enlisted soldiers and skeptical of the demands of senior officers. That's my takeaway from reading the transcript of an oral history interview he gave to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Sure, he was in Vietnam 45 years ago -- but he made these statements in 2002.
"The people in Washington make the policy, but it's the little guys who come back in the body bags," he said near the end of the interview.
He also came away from Vietnam underwhelmed by his senior leaders. Here's an extended comment about that:
I was not much impressed with our -- our battalion leaders, our XOs. I don't -- I didn't ever get a sense that they came down in, enough into the platoon company level to really do what I thought officers should do. And the lieutenants and the captains carried the bulk, as they do in any war, essentially. But it was the sergeants. It was the senior enlisted that carried the weight. I mean really carried the weight. And it was obvious to everybody. And they -- the senior sergeants were the reassuring, calming guys. And in many cases, many cases, these were the guys that didn't fall apart. And some of the officers did. And some of the officers couldn't read maps very well. And I just -- I never had much confidence in -- in a lot of the officer corps. Now, there were exceptions to that. Some exceptional officers that I saw and I served with.
It is also striking how the Army he served in differs from today's. In 1968, Hagel had been in the Army less than two years, yet for a short time after the Tet Offensive, he served as "acting company sergeant." That's a green force.
Other stuff that struck me:
Charles T. Hagel (AFC/2001/001/2230), Photographs (PH02), photographer unknown, Veterans History Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
The significance of the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary is not that he is the first Vietnam vet to be tapped, but rather that he is the first combat-veteran enlisted man ever to be picked. (Like Forrest Gump, he served in the 9th Infantry Division.)
I think that is nice. But I don't think it particularly will help him with the job. I worry more about the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of the members of the Obama cabinet. Too many former members of Congress, too few people who know much about the real world.
It also is kind of weird that the three of the last four SecDefs picked by a Democratic president have been Republicans, at least in name (Hagel, Robert Gates and William Cohen). Where's that Democratic bench?
I remain a fan of President Obama, but I think he and his team have a certain tone deafness on national security. The military may just look like a political problem to certain offices at the White House, but it really needs to be considered as something more than that.
Library of Congress
I cannot remember another modern administration that pulled almost all its top national security officials from the Congress. Right now we have former members of Congress as the secretary of defense, secretary of state, president, and vice president. They are advised by a national security advisor and deputy national security advisor with backgrounds as Capitol Hill staffers. And now the president is said to be considering replacing the current people at State and Defense with two other senators -- John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.
Wait a minute. I thought diversity was a good thing! How about some people with backgrounds in academia (such as William Perry, who was a fine secretary of defense, or George Shultz), corporate America (such as David Packard), Wall Street (see Robert Lovett), the law (Edwin Stanton, Henry Stimson, Caspar Weinberger), career-track federal service (Robert Gates), or the military (George Marshall or Colin Powell)? How about people who have actually run something (members of Congress don't run anything but their offices).
President Obama's nightmare is said to be following in the tracks of LBJ -- that is, having a great domestic agenda undercut by backing into war. But he might pay more attention to JFK, who had a narrow team of advisors who thought they were smarter than everyone else. I think Obama is unnecessarily creating a vulnerability -- that is, why voluntarily wear blinders by getting people largely experienced in one relatively small aspect of the world? There is a reason that diversity is not just right but also smart practice. You'd think Obama would understand that.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on May 9, 2011.
I think we need to have a short-term plan that temporarily keeps us close to Pakistan, followed by a much different long-run strategy that cuts us loose from this wreck of a state.
In the short run, our goal should be to collect our winnings. Pakistan screwed up, bigtime. We have them off balance, and the blustering of their officials isn't helping their cause. Over the next several months, we should aim to use this situation to get the terrorists and information we want.
And then get out. In the long run, we should back away from Pakistan. They believe they have us over a barrel, that (as Steve Coll has observed) they are too big to fail. They have nuclear warheads and they stand on our supply route to the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. So I think we need to accelerate the troop drawdown in Afghanistan, and move from a large footprint of conventional troops to a smaller footprint of Special Operators and support units conducting counterterror missions. (But note Petraeus' pushback over the weekend: "Targeted military strikes don't produce security on their own.") This reduced force of perhaps 20,000 troops could be supplied by air and through Central Asia. Expensive, yes. But cheaper than giving billions of dollars annually to Pakistan and seeing it spent on its nuclear program and corruption. We also should encourage ties between Afghanistan and Central Asia.
With our military posture in Afghanistan shifted, we then could move to a purely transactional aid plan with Pakistan: "For doing X, you get Y amount of money." No more money for promises, and certainly not $4 billion a year for being a frenemy. In the long run, our interests are much more with India, anyway. If Pakistan wants to retaliate by allying with China -- knock yourselves out, fellas.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 14, 2011.
The more I study President Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War, the more nervous I get about the Obama Administration.
I am still thinking this through, but when I read the history of LBJ and Vietnam, I see him looking at the world through congressional glasses. He seems to thinks that Hanoi is like the opposition in the Senate, something to be cajoled and manipulated. He does not realize he is fighting a limited war but that his Vietnamese enemy is not, and that the Communist leadership really thinks and lives outside his known world. They are not into "signals."
I don't think President Obama is excessively congressional in his outlook. But I fear Vice President Biden is. What's more, they've compounded the error by stocking the White House staff with like-minded people, such as a national security advisor who was a lobbyist and a deputy national security advisor who was a Hill staffer. That comes on top of a president, a vice president and a secretary of State who all came directly from the Senate. That is a very narrow, very peculiar range of experience to bring to the task of dealing with the world out there, especially as Congress has been unusually weak in national security over the last 15 years, to the point that if often has been irrelevant to the discussion. I can't think of a national security team with a background as narrow as this one. Why put on blinders voluntarily? Whatever happened to the "Team of Rivals" concept? How about mixing in some academic knowledge, military experience, journalistic savvy, or business acumen? And if they are so good on the politics of it, which is the one thing they should be, how could they screw up Guantanamo so badly? And why have they left a dysfunctional team in place in Afghanistan?
In addition, Hill staffers who move into the executive branch tend to worry me a bit. I remember covering Les Aspin as a defense secretary and being surprised at how little he really knew about how the military operated, especially beyond the Pentagon. I think former Hill people often focus too much on Congress, and sometimes defer to it in a way that I suspect is inconsistent with the Founding Fathers' intent in creating an adversarial system of competing branches of government. In addition, I suspect that some former Hill staffers retain the habit of excessive deference to the boss, when sometimes the job for the head of an executive agency is privately telling the boss he is wrong before he goes public with it. Exhibit A is George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, who gave his president too much of what that president wanted and too little of what he needed.
Most of all, the congressional mentality sees little danger in inaction. On Capitol Hill, there's always the next term. That's not the case in foreign policy, where opportunities slip away never to return. Lost time is not found again. I think Obama handled Egypt well, but he didn't have to do much there except speak well, which he does consistently. On Libya, though, dithering is dangerous. If you wait for an international consensus to emerge, it probably won't. I am not saying we should do a no-fly zone. I am saying there are many other steps we could take, as I have written aboutbefore.
If we have a foreign policy disaster on Obama's watch, I think historians will zero in on the dangerous lack of diversity in the backgrounds and viewpoints of his key national security advisors. I wonder how Samantha Power, the former journalist who is the NSC's director for multilateral affairs and human rights, stands it.
So, while I haven't turned in my Obama fan card yet, I am not sure I am gonna renew it.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on June 7, 2010.
Interesting comment on U.S.-China relations from Defense Secretary Gates in Singapore over the weekend:
Last fall, President Obama and President Hu made a commitment to advance sustained and reliable military-to-military relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China. The key words here are "sustained" and "reliable" -- not a relationship repeatedly interrupted by and subject to the vagaries of political weather.
Regrettably, we have not been able to make progress on this relationship in recent months. Chinese officials have broken off interactions between our militaries, citing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as the rationale. For a variety of reasons, this makes little sense:
First, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are nothing new. They have been a reality for decades and spanned multiple American administrations. Second, the United States has for years demonstrated in a very public way that we do not support independence for Taiwan. Nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- has changed in that stance. Finally, because China's accelerating military buildup is largely focused on Taiwan, U.S. arms sales are an important component of maintaining peace and stability in cross-strait relations and throughout the region."
Zakaria has more on Beijing's new arrogance.
(HT to AD)
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on May 26, 2010.
An Army officer writes about being a lesbian in the 10th Mountain Division -- and, in a courageous move, does it on the division commander's discussion board. I think this is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever seen on the subject. Imagine your partner not being able to wrap you in his or her arms when you come home from a deployment.
Although many think homosexuality is a behavior, I beg to differ. I used to pray to God every night to change the way I am. Ever since I was in Elementary school I have known I've been different. My friends all had boy crushes and never talked about liking other girls. I did and felt all alone. I asked my dad what a "lesbian" was after reading about a woman named Ellen who came out publicly that she was gay. My dad told me that it was a girl who liked another girl and she was going to hell because of it. I cried myself to sleep that night and for many years after. I did not want to like girls. I tried dating boys with no success of changing my feelings. I figured I'd live a lonely life, until I allowed myself to be who I am. I was raised Catholic and my family was very homophobic until they realized they had a gay daughter. My other siblings are heterosexual. That was not conditioning, a trend, or some form of faulty upbringing that made me who I am today. I believe in God and know that he made me who I am. No one else can judge me but him and I put my full faith in him everyday as I go through life.
I also currently serve as an officer in the Army. I know exactly how hard it is to serve knowing that my career could end at any moment if someone were to find out about my sexuality. I have never gawked or looked at a woman inappropriately whom I serve with. That is not out of fear of being caught, it's out of respect for other women. I would never want someone gawking at me while I change, so I don't do that myself. I have deployed with 10th Mtn proudly and when I came home I was not able to share my relief and joy with my girlfriend as others could at the welcoming home ceremony. I live in constant fear that my career could end at any moment. I hate having to hide who I am and there's not a day that goes by that I don't struggle with it. When I ended my relationship of 7 years, I couldn't talk to anyone about it. My relationship lasted longer than most military marriages and yet I have no support. I still go to work everyday having to put up a front that everything is fine, because as far as anyone was concerned I wasn't even dating anyone.
I can't express the insurmountable stress it causes to have to hide a piece of who I am. When DADT is overturned, I won't be jumping out of my office screaming "I'm gay" to the world. I'll just be able to breathe easier knowing that my job is secure and relax. I won't discuss my personal life with coworkers because it's none of their business, but at least I would have the option to. I wouldn't have to pretend to have a crush on a guy or go on a date with a fellow CPT in order for others to not get suspicious.
For those saying that gays shouldn't be allowed in the military, the news flash is that we currently do and are allowed to. Under the current policy, no one is allowed to accuse us without evidential proof nor ask us questions about our sexuality. I am also not able to talk about my relationships as others are free to discuss their husbands/wives/girl/boyfriends. Could you heterosexuals imagine not being able to say anything about your partner? What if the policy said no one discusses their relationships, period? I bet the suicide rate would skyrocket. Don't discuss your wife's new attitude or husband's infidelity. Don't talk about your girlfriend getting pregnant or boyfriend proposing. Imagine going throughout your entire career not being able to discuss your relationships and not being able to bring your loved one to any military function. I bet you couldn't.
It's easy to say the policy should stay the way it is when you don't have to live it.
Meanwhile, in the May issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, 2nd Lt. Matthew McCallum argues that the right and honorable thing to do is to let gay Marines be openly gay: "The Marine Corps needs to keep its honor clean and allowed declared homosexuals to serve with pride."
Bottom line: I'm with these guys. I think some people are born gay. Who are we to second-guess God?
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 4, 2009.
By Stacy Bare
Best Defense bureau of veterans' affairs
There is no easy way to discuss the issue of veteran entitlement in America. It is a sensitive topic and that there are those veterans among us who have an issue with what entitlement is, perhaps a natural reaction. It is also a reaction that our strategic leadership should have foreseen. When you are part of the 1 percent who serves repeatedly and you come home to a country where most people are absorbed with Jersey Shore, the Karadashians, or Michael Vick's dog trial but can't find Afghanistan on a map nor pick out the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a lineup, it is easy to feel like society owes you something. That is, however, not why we choose to serve and is antithetical to the nature of service and duty.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, America was encouraged by our president to go back to the lives we were used to living. We were not asked to gird ourselves for sacrifice, for war, for men and women who would come home disconnected and misunderstood by their communities; at worst, broken and bruised emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Since then, the men and women who served our nation have come home to a country that had little understanding of the war or what the war had done to our minds and bodies. Since Korea, our veterans have deserved better, but America was not ready then, nor were they now, for the wars of the last 11 years.
America panicked, and rightly so; we did not want a repeat of what happened during and after Vietnam. America did something and a lot of it. Something, however, does not always equate to the right thing. In our attempt to heal, to be generous, and to be thankful to those who volunteered to serve, America inadvertently created a cadre of veterans for whom nothing would ever be good enough and at times dis-incentivized reintegration back home. Our country was good enough to go fight for, why isn't it good enough to come home to?
We've got a lot of work to do in this country: It isn't just veteran issues that need fixing, and veterans can and should take an active leadership role. For example, roughly 1,000 service members have lost an arm since we started the war in Afghanistan. An estimated 30,000 Americans will lose an arm this year alone. Here is our opportunity to be a hero, to be a real warrior even without our uniform, to be leaders in our communities. To embrace that challenge is a decision we as veterans have to make.
Our generation is easily the best supported generation of veterans since those of World War II. A lot of the something America has done is necessary, needed, and deeply appreciated. However, we have been nervous to say out loud that service alone should not guarantee free admission and the front of the line every time for every service member.
So what do we do?
We need to follow the examples of those veterans who have politely said "No ,thank tou" to the handouts and asked instead for a hand up, an opportunity to excel, a level playing field -- not free admission. We as veterans need to create a return on investment for the sacrifices and resources we're being given by a grateful nation and we need to stand beside America in the long hard work of creating a better future for younger generations, not just wait for free tickets to the next baseball game.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.