So I ran into a friend who knows a lot about U.S. policy and Iran. We sat down on a park bench and this is what he told me:
The worst possible thing to do is go to war with Iran. The key is the people -- and they are sick of the mullahs. Right now the pressure is working to separate the people from the regime. A limited strike would undercut all that.
Also, any attack would cause us to maintain a heightened, more expensive defense posture, and give them moral standing to retaliate.
So an attack is counter to all our long-term objectives. We are having more effect right now through economic pressure than ever before.
There is no doubt [that there is a huge divergence between U.S. interests and those of Israel]. We want to stop Israel from attacking so the issue is how to persuade Israel that we are serious about stopping Iran from having a weapon -- like a congressional finding that we will take all steps necessary to stop Iran. It means we will define red lines that can't be crossed.
But the bottom line is, I don't know a single person in government, civilian or in uniform, who thinks it is in our national interest to go to war with Iran now.
If we do go to war, it will not be small. Iran could reconstitute its nuclear program in maybe five years, but if we go after its abilities to project military power, we'd open a 15-year window."
JOHANNA GERON/AFP/Getty Images
In an uncertain world, there is one thing we can always count on: Joe Biden will be wrong about major foreign policy moves.
As long as President Obama continues to do the opposite of what his veep recommends, he should do alright.
Also, President Obama's favorite metaphor, "the tide of war is receding," is more pessimistic than it seems. Nothing is more predictable than shortly after the tide stops going out, it starts coming back in.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Bacevich, one of the more interesting thinkers around, has a good piece with some other cats proposing a independent, non-partisan commission "to evaluate the military experience of the past decade." They call for an examination of five particular aspects: The design of U.S. combat forces, the U. S. global military footprint, the national security apparatus, the civil-military gap and how top jobs have been filled.
This strikes me as a worthwhile proposal.
Meanwhile, I finally caught up with Professor Bacevich's essay on Albert Wohlstetter, which contains this memorable two-cushion shot in reference to the revolution in military affairs, or RMA:
Joint Vision 2010 stands in relation to the RMA as Tom Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree stands in relation to globalization: it is an infomercial-marketing disguised as elucidation.
No one seemed to notice it, but this comment, made by Sen. Lindsey Graham during Sen. Webb's Sept. 14 hearing on bloat in the general officer corps, is especially interesting because it comes from a conservative South Carolina Republican who is also an Air Force Reserve JAG officer:
SEN. GRAHAM: ...one thing I would say, in my little area of the world, is that a two-star judge advocate general position did not serve us well during Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay discussions. Because there's a real tension, and this is -- goes beyond party politics -- between the office of the general counsel, who serves the secretary of Defense, and each service chief. They're civilians. And the military uniformed lawyer, loyalty lies to their commander.
And we had a very bad problem in the Bush Administration that the Obama Administration, quite frankly, has corrected. The civilian lawyers in the Bush Administration, in my view, shut out military legal advice and tried to make a power grab, saying that the judge advocate general had to clean -- clear their legal advice to their commanders through the civilian office of general counsel. That, to me, was an exercise of control of legal independence.
Is it time for a military journal or law review to step up and do an in-depth look at the Bush Administration vs. the JAGs? (If you know of such an overview and analysis, please let me know.)
My personal theory, based on some interviews I did at the time with JAGs, is that they became the first line of defense against the use of torture and other Bush Administration transgressions because they were "double professionals," heedful of their dual duties both as officers and as lawyers. This made them more likely to refuse to break the law or tell others to do so.
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
I just liked this photograph. President Obama yesterday bestowed the Medal of Honor on Dakota Meyer, the Marine on the right. Just when I think Obama is tone deaf on the military, he does something like this that makes me think he really knows what he is doing. Apparently Meyer had mentioned to White House staffers that he would like to have a beer with the president.
Here is a response from AEI's Tom Donnelly to my calling him out yesterday:
By Tom Donnelly
Best Defense guest defendant
I won't presume to respond for AEI as a whole, but I don't see why providing for the common defense correlates to tax rates on the rich or to the percentage of GDP owned by the top 1 percent of earners. We have to weaken our military until the rich pay their "fair share," whatever that is? What about corporations who pay little or no tax? Do we have to cut defense spending until General Electric pays its fair share? What about lower-income Americans who pay no income taxes at all? What about the subsidies and distortions in the tax code? If defense spending is the hammer for every political occasion, why don't we make cuts commensurate with the tax revenues lost, for example, subsidizing second-home-in-Maine mortgages?
Personally, I would be happy to see some rise in federal tax revenues in trade for a long-term solution to the problem of runaway entitlement costs -- costs that are already triple the core defense budget but rising, thanks to Baby Boomer retirements, rapidly and inexorably. That would at least link the government's income to its largest expenditure.
But even if we can't resolve the political impasse over how to get our fiscal house in order and have to keep borrowing, I'd prefer to be investing in an adequate defense, the ultimate common good. Even people at AEI would rather be safe than rich.
What a story! It turns out that four military personnel deployed to the U.S. Embassy to help with security and explosive ordnance disposal. For Fox, this apparently constitutes President Obama breaking his vow not to insert troops. The article actually begins, "Despite repeated assurances from President Obama and military leaders that the U.S. would not send uniformed military personnel into Libya …"
I wonder if one day having worked for Fox News during our time will be regarded like being a supporter of Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. I think Fox may be the most destructive force in American society nowadays, basically pouring poison into the stream of our political discourse.
(HT to a captain of the Marines)
New England Secession/Flickr
By Emma Sky
Best Defense roving Middle East correspondent
I took my seat alongside hundreds of others yesterday at
Fort Myer for the ceremony to mark the Change of Responsibility from General
Dempsey to General Odierno, the new 38th Chief of Staff of the Army.
The Units that paraded before us were reminders of America's history: the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard), the United States Army Band (Pershing's Own), the Fife and Drum Corps, the Commander-in-Chief's Guard, Salute Battery, Continental Color Guard, State and Territorial Flags.
There is no other country in the world where a grandson of an immigrant could rise to the highest level of the military. General Odierno is the American dream. With General Odierno at the helm, I have every confidence that the Army will become smarter, more agile, and fitter to face future threats -- while taking significant cuts to its budget. General Odierno has proven himself a versatile commander, leading both the surge of troops into Iraq and also the draw down. There is no one who better understands the Army as an institution or its soldiers as people.
But as we have witnessed since 9/11, America cannot impose its will by force, and how America wields its power determines how it is perceived around the world. There had to be a response to 9/11. Some will argue that we should have treated it as a criminal act, rather than an act of war. The responses would have been different. And many question whether the way in which we went about trying to make ourselves safer did in fact serve to create more enemies.
What I have no doubts about, however, is the extraordinary endeavors of America's men and women in uniform, who year after year volunteered to serve in war zones, and who went to such efforts to make America safer and to bring stability to the areas in which they operated. Many lost their lives, and many more their limbs. The cost has been great. We get to chose the way we live our lives -- but not how we die. And for many soldiers, if they had one day left to live in this world, they would volunteer to spend it out on patrol, with their comrades on their right and on their left, who would be willing to take a bullet for them, and vice versa.
Before 9/11, I had never met an American soldier. Today, at Fort Myers it was wonderful to be back among so many familiar faces, soldiers I served with in Iraq and Afghanistan year after year - soldiers who welcomed me into their tribe and made me feel one of them.
There is no one who understands soldiers better than General Odierno, and the stress this last decade has put on the military and their families. He will ensure that his term as 38th Chief of Staff of the Army marks the transformation of the Army into a leaner but smarter organization, able to defend the nation and to take care of its soldiers.
"First to fight for the right
And to build the Nation's might
And the Army goes rolling along."
Baroness Sky has served several tours in the Middle East, including one as General Odierno's political advisor in Iraq during the surge.
David Ignatius, for my money the best foreign policy columnist working today, makes a good argument that President Obama has been very successful in foreign policy. "There have been a lot of bumps and bruises, especially in the global economy. But if you step back from the daily squawk box, some trends are clear: Alliances are stronger, the United States is (somewhat) less bogged down in foreign wars, Iran is weaker, the Arab world is less hostile and al-Qaeda is on the run."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
By Richard Fontaine
Best Defense directorate of long-term grand strategy
Secretary of State Clinton's swing through India points again to the tremendous potential of an Indo-American strategic partnership over the long term. But it also demonstrates how tough some of the challenges will remain over the next couple of years.
Secretary Clinton is in India at the helm of a large, high-level government delegation for the second annual Strategic Dialogue. The first round, held in Washington last year, started to pull the bilateral relationship out of its previous doldrums and set the stage for President Obama's successful visit to India last fall. This round is aimed at sustaining last year's progress and implementing the many commitments both sides took on.
That's tough to do. Many of the big policy changes on the American side have already been made -- the United States has supported Indian access to civilian nuclear technology, a change that required amending domestic law and international agreements; it modified its export controls so that India has greater access to American technology; it now supports India's membership in the four international nonproliferation regimes; and the president endorsed Indian permanent membership on the UN Security Council. There is always more to do, to be sure, but these are serious moves.
On the Indian side, most of the expected policy changes are stuck, largely due to domestic politics. The civil nuclear deal is not operational because of a flawed liability law. Key defense agreements remain incomplete. India has granted little in the way of market access, despite repeated American hectoring. And the United States bemoaned the fact that the two American companies bidding on a major fighter jet program were knocked out of the competition.
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense bureau of keeping your eye on the ball
The Obama administration rolled out the unclassified version of its long-awaited counterterrorism strategy document on Wednesday.
Put simply, this is a war plan against al Qaeda. The document is al Qaeda-centric to the point of being al Qaeda-obsessed. What is striking about the strategy is not so much what it says about al Qaeda or its repeated mentions of killing Osama bin Laden (5 of them), but what it left out about counterterrorism more broadly:
Terrorists who aren't AQ: The document mentions "other terrorist concerns requiring focus and attention" such as Hamas, Hizballah, the FARC, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, the document does not address these groups in a substantive way.
State-sponsors of terror: While recognizing that some states (Iran and Syria) support terrorist organizations, the strategy does not spell out what this means for broader foreign policy towards these countries. Pakistan is notably absent from this list despite its established ties to the Haqqani Network, Afghan Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Mexico: The growing violence in Mexico did not make the cut in the new strategy. With more than 35,000 dead over the last five years, including numerous government officials, kidnappings, and car bombings, Mexico is emerging as a principal security question for folks on both sides of the border.
The Internet: Cyberterrorism and the increasingly active use of the internet as a virtual safe haven got only lip-service in the unclassified version of the White House report. As Spencer Ackerman at DangerRoom points out, this is not an adequate treatment of what is a growing problem. Domestic Terrorism: Despite DHS calling attention in 2009 to the resurgence in right wing extremism, the new CT strategy does not address this very distinct threat. You don't have to go too far back in time to see the Unabomber, Tim McVeigh, the rise of right-wing militias as a pre-eminent counterterrorism concern.
Pakistan: The President's counterterrorism advisor John Brennan argued on Wednesday that "there's no alternative to us or to the Pakistanis to ensuring that we continue engaging with them." I'm left asking: What happens if the United States and Pakistan don't make up? The United States and Pakistan suffered a bitter divorce in the 1990s. What's to stop that from happening again?
Lastly, what comes next? Brennan also declared "al Qaeda is in its decline," but went on to warn of an adapting enemy and AQ network that will pose a persistent threat. The 9/11 Commission cited a failure of imagination as one of the primary faults in U.S. counterterrorism thinking ten years ago. After reading the 2011 CT strategy, (and the 2003 and 2007 documents) I am left asking the question: What comes next? What are we missing? What are we failing to imagine?
Did anyone notice the United States did a drone strike the other day in Somalia? I didn't think so. Add that to other places where we are bombing: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.
Back in the old days, air strikes were considered an act of war. But the Obama Administration sez no -- and here I am beginning to change my mind. Maybe they are onto something. The drone strikes being conducted in those three countries are not being done to challenge those states, but to supplement the power of those states, to act when they cannot or will not. More importantly, these are precise strikes against certain individuals, making them more like police work than like classic military action. Police work involves small arms used precisely. Drones aren't pistols, but firing one Hellfire at a Land Rover is more like a police action than it is like a large-scale military offensive with artillery barrages, armored columns, and infantry assaults. (Yes, I am shifting my position a bit from what I wrote recently about Libya.)
We all understand that drone aircraft have changed warfare, but I suspect they also are changing diplomacy and foreign relations. Drones, like cruise missiles before them, have made it much easier to use force internationally. But doing this does not mean we are at war.
There is a good dissertation to be done on the political and diplomatic implications of this new military technology. I know there have been a couple of books in recent years on this subject -- can anyone highly recommend one?
I never would have expected that the Obama Administration's Justice Department would prosecute a National Security Agency whistleblower but decline to investigate cases in which people died while being interrogated by U.S. officials. The case against the NSA official fell apart like a cheap suit, by the way. Viewing things as I do through the prism of national security, I think that of the entire administration, Eric Holder and his Justice Department have been this administration's least valuable player.
I still consider myself an Obama supporter, but mainly for non-national security reasons. In that arena, my worries grow. I hear Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute is leaving the White House soon. You may not have heard of him, but his departure may prove significant, because from what I hear, he is one of the few generals who has felt not only heard but understood by this White House. And he was a carryover from the previous administration, which may indicate that this team has not on its own found anyone in the military with which to have candid exchanges. This crop of White House officials may or may not be politically astute (I am not a good judge of that) but in the area I know, I fear they are in the D range in their handling of policy deliberations with the military. That's LBJ territory. So far this hasn't caused any major problems, but it could: In a sustained crisis, their failure to build relationships of trust and understanding with today's four star officers will hurt us all, but especially those out at the sharp end of the spear. And it may be later than you think: By August 1965, the American phase of the Vietnam War was just months old, but Johnson had made the two negative decisions that would lose the war and break the Army -- to not pursue the enemy into his cross-border sanctuaries, and to not activate 100,000 reservists or extend the enlistments of active-duty forces.
What especially worries me is that I fear the Libyan intervention may be the wave of the future: A small, messy operation in which the United States is a minority partner, providing unique capabilities such as ISR and refueling, but not leading the action or dominating multilateral discussions of the way forward. Yet so far I have to meet a single person in the military who thinks intervening in Libya was the right thing to do. Again, this is a recipe for trouble down the road.
Here's one short-term test: Will Lute be replaced at the White House by another general? If so, who will it be?
It was easy to miss this exchange, which near the end of Gen. Petraeus' confirmation hearing for CIA last week. It is worth reading closely.
GEN. PETRAEUS: ...So again, I would come back, if I could, Chairman, to my point, which has to do strictly with the military commander on the ground strictly evaluating, again, the military campaign plan in awareness of the strategic context and these other factors that are out there in explicit recognition that others have to evaluate those factors. I cannot do that. Only the president of the United States can assess all of the different considerations.
And again, I should note that I stated this in the situation room to acknowledge that indeed in this process there are broader concerns than those of the military commander. And as a result, I obviously support the ultimate decision of the commander-in-chief -- that is, we take an oath to obey the orders of the president of the United States and indeed do that.
SEN. LEVIN: And if you couldn't do that -- if you couldn't do that consistent with that oath, you would resign?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I'm not a quitter, Chairman. And I don't -- I think that that -
SEN. LEVIN: Well, but that's important -- (inaudible).
GEN. PETRAEUS: I've actually had people e-mail me and say that, and I actually -- this is something that I have thought a bit about.
SEN. LEVIN: I'm sure you have.
GEN. PETRAEUS: And I don't think that it is the place for a commander to -- actually to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very, very dire situation. This is a -- this is an important decision. It is, again, a more aggressive approach than the chairman, General Mattis and I and -- would have indeed certainly put forward, but this is not something I think where one hangs up the uniform in protest or something like that.
SEN. LEVIN: Just the final part of this -
GEN. PETRAEUS: You know, if I could continue though, Chairman, I feel actually quite strongly about this. Our troopers don't get to quit, and I don't think that commanders should contemplate that, again, as any kind of idle kind of action. That would be an extraordinary action, in my view.
And at the end of the day, this is not about me, it's not about an individual commander, it's not about a reputation. This is about our country. and the best step for our country, with the commander- in-chief having made a decision, is to execute that decision to the very best of our ability, to do everything I can during the remainder of my time as commander of ISAF to enable General Allen then to take the effort forward and then, if confirmed, to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to do everything I can from that position with that great organization to support the effort as well.
SEN. LEVIN: I think that's well put, and it's -- very reflective of your character. You are a man of extraordinary honor and we all are in your debt.
(HT to TD)
By Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
As President Obama made his announcement this week about the troop drawdown this week, allied forces in Afghanistan are on the topic table again. European allies responded positively to the president's announcement. U.K. prime minister David Cameron, who announced his own plan for British troop withdrawals in May, was quick to applaud Obama, adding:
We will keep UK force levels in Afghanistan under constant review. I have already said there will be no UK troops in combat roles in Afghanistan by 2015 and, where conditions on the ground allow, it is right that we bring troops home sooner."
Britain has approximately 10,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan -- the second highest number after the United States. Working alongside Cornish soldiers on the frontlines out of Camp Bastion -- Britain's largest military base in the country -- are a troop of 70 military dogs. So what's life like for a British military dog in Afghanistan? Actually, not too shabby.
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images
By Nora Bensahel
Best Defense bureau of presidential speech analysis
Late Wednesday afternoon, I headed over to the White House to attend a background session about President Obama's Afghanistan speech. But when I watched the speech a few hours later, I wondered if I had somehow had wandered into the wrong briefing room.
I was promised by senior administration officials that the speech would provide at least some strategic rationale for withdrawing 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of 2011 and 23,000 more troops by September 2012. They argued that the concept of a distinct fighting season is not entirely right, and so withdrawing forces next summer would not affect military operations significantly. They argued that the timing of the withdrawal was determined primarily by U.S. rotational requirements, that the mission will remain unchanged, and that General John Allen (who could replace General Petraeus as early as next month) will be have complete flexibility to determine how and where the remaining 68,000 troops will be used. And they emphasized that the U.S. government is committed to establishing an enduring strategic partnership with Afghanistan after 2014 that would likely include a U.S. military presence in addition to civilian assistance.
I was not convinced by many of these arguments. Strategic objectives should drive withdrawal timetables and not rotational requirements. These officials underestimate the risks that this timetable poses for military operations, and should openly acknowledge that the mission will inevitably change away from counterinsurgency towards counterterrorism. Still, at least these are arguments that can be debated.
The speech I heard Wednesday night, however, was a political speech that addressed none of these issues. By my count, only a third of an already-short speech discussed the future U.S. role in Afghanistan, and it provided no strategic rationale. Instead, its overwhelming message was that the war in Afghanistan is basically over and that the United States is simply winding down an already successful mission. The last half of his speech mentioned Libya, the Arab Spring, clean energy, and "nation building here at home" - the clearest possible signal that Afghanistan is no longer a policy priority.
This may be an appealing message for the majority of Americans who believe that U.S. troops should be withdrawn as quickly as possible. But it does not explain why 68,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after next September or why the United States would benefit from a long-term strategic partnership. Instead, it builds unrealistic expectations that the war in Afghanistan is on a stable path towards success - and those expectations will be soon be shattered by the casualties that will inevitably occur as military operations continue.
Many Americans may be happy with the speech I heard. But they really needed to hear the speech I was promised.
Nora Bensahel is a senior fellow and deputy director of studies at CNAS.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images
What struck me most about the president's speech is not that he plans to cut the American presence in Afghanistan but that he committed us to staying there for several more years.
And again, the Lincolnesque rhetoric.
Obama last night:
"Now, let us finish the work at hand. Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story. With confidence in our cause; with faith in our fellow citizens; and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -- for this generation, and the next."
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
(HT to RF)
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense archives bureau chief
Want to know what the president is going to say tonight on Afghanistan? Here's a hint: Check out what he said four years ago.
In one of the first foreign policy speeches of his presidential campaign, delivered at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center on August 1, 2007, then-candidate Obama outlined his views on Afghanistan and Pakistan and foreshadowed his administration's policy.
"It is time to turn the page," Obama said. "When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world's most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland."
On troop numbers: "As president, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban." Once in office and faced with the realities of a rapidly deteriorating war effort and resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the president deployed not 10,000 additional troops, but more than 60,000. Nonetheless, the policy goal was there.
On the end-game: "We must not, however, repeat the mistakes of Iraq. The solution in Afghanistan is not just military -- it is political and economic." The appointment of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to the region, the accompanying "civilian surge," and massive increase in development funding to the region all are signs of this being a main point of effort in the Obama strategy.
Back in 2007, the candidate showed the same resolve in accomplishing these goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although not perfectly executed, the outlines of the Obama strategy were all there. These lines of argument are evident in the president's policy and likely will be in his speech tonight.
Then-candidate Obama's concluding statement on the war four years ago is a useful reference for today:
Above all, I will send a clear message: we will not repeat the mistake of the past, when we turned our back on Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal. As 9/11 showed us, the security of Afghanistan and America is shared. And today, that security is most threatened by the al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuary in the tribal regions of northwest Pakistan.
Al Qaeda terrorists train, travel, and maintain global communications in this safe haven. The Taliban pursues a hit and run strategy, striking in Afghanistan, then skulking across the border to safety.
This is the wild frontier of our globalized world. There are wind-swept deserts and cave-dotted mountains. There are tribes that see borders as nothing more than lines on a map, and governments as forces that come and go. There are blood ties deeper than alliances of convenience, and pockets of extremism that follow religion to violence. It's a tough place.
But that is no excuse. There must be no safe-haven for terrorists who threaten America. We cannot fail to act because action is hard.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
I continue to think that intervening in Libya was the right thing to do, but I still don't think this Obama administration statement to Congress passes the laugh test. Firing cruise missiles at someone isn't an act of war? And I wonder if the Air Force and Navy know that it ain't a war if it doesn't involve ground troops.
The twisted logic here reminds me of the Bush administration's legal rationale for embracing torture.
The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of 'hostilities' contemplated by the Resolution's 60 day termination provision. U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition, whose operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force solely to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of attack and to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.
(HT to BB)
No, Warren Buffett doesn't know how to assault a machine gun bunker or check out the maintenance record on a Bradley fighting vehicle. But he does know how to prepare for the financial equivalent of combat and take advantage of chaos and panic. "To finish first, you must first finish," he observes (p. 22) as he begins to discuss lessons of the financial crisis of September 2008, when, as he notes, the American economy veered dangerously close to collapse. Credit, he explains, "is like oxygen. When either is abundant, its presence goes unnoticed. When either is missing, that's all that is noticed."
Liquidity strikes me as the financial equivalent of combat readiness, the thing that has allowed Buffett famously to boast that when others get greedy, he panics-and that when others are panicking, that's when it is time to get greedy. "Having loads of liquidity [in the company]. . . lets us sleep well. Moreover, during the episodes of financial chaos that occasionally erupt in our economy, we will be equipped both financially and emotionally to play offense while others scramble for survival. That's what allowed us to invest $15.6 billion in 25 days of panic following the Lehman bankruptcy in 2008."
My question: If I am right and liquidity is the financial equivalent of combat readiness, could the academic literature and theory of financial liquidity be used to illuminate better our understanding and even measurement of readiness? This would be a good project for one of youse smart military officers doing a double degree at the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government. I think to explore the connection, don't turn first to discussions of military readiness, but rather to studies of the nature of sustained combat effectiveness, and see how measures of liquidity might be applied to that area. You might wind up being the Black-Scholes of military theory.
I did this last year, but we can learn about military affairs from Warren Buffett every year. The military is not a business, and should not be run like one. But still, the defense establishment could learn a lot from a person as wise as Buffett.
If I could, I would ban all those business fad management books I see senior officers reading and instead make them study the annual reports from Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. You may not know Berkshire Hathaway, but if you buy insurance from Geico, drink Coca-Cola, eat See's Candies, read the Buffalo News, use goods transported by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, or wear Fruit of the Loom underwear, then products and services of companies owned in part or whole by Berkshire are touching your life.
For example, the U.S. military, and especially the Army, have been plagued by micromanagement since the mid-1950s, so long that no one now in the Army has much experience in any other way to run it. I see generals constantly scurrying endlessly to meetings where they often sit in the dark while subordinates read aloud to them bedtime stories (AKA Powerpoint briefings). Well, there is another way, and it is laid out by Buffett in his annual report for 2010:
At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years…and call me when they wish. And their wishes do differ: There are managers to whom I have not talked in the last year, while there is one with whom I talk almost daily. Our trust is in people rather than process. A "hire well, manage little" code suits both them and me.
Berkshire's CEOs come in many forms. Some have MBAs; others never finished college. Some use budgets and are by-the-book types; others operate by the seat of their pants. Our team resembles a baseball squad composed of all-stars having vastly different batting styles. Changes in our line-up are seldom required.
Imagine a military run like that, that trusted people rather than process, a military where the Army chief of staff could boast that XVIII Airborne Corps is run so well that he has kept the commanding general in place for several years, and hasn't seen him in two years or even talked to him in one. But, the chief of staff would continue, he does talk to the Army commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan daily, in part because they need his help, and in part because he isn't distracted by checking on the XVIII Airborne Corps. My view: People who spend most of their days in regularly scheduled meetings too much probably are wasting their time and others'.
Also, because Buffett keeps successful people in place, staffs and subordinate managers are not constantly in turmoil and adjusting. Instead of constantly adapting to new bossses, they can focus on the tasks at hand. And the boss can leave them alone because he knows how to tell when they need help and when they don't.
Kaplan also said at a breakfast for CNAS donors and supporters that President Obama's most symbolic moment may have been when he went to Brazil even though the NATO intervention in Libya was beginning. Obama, he argued, is unusually focussed on the future, and so went to Brazil anyway.
I liked this observation especially because one of my elementary school teachers once commented to my parents that, "Tom is like Brazil -- enormous potential that will never be exploited." My father of course thought this was so amusing that he came home and repeated it to me for the next several years. I never understood why he reveled in it so.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. John McCain knocks down the idea that torture -- specifically waterboarding -- was essential in getting bin Laden:
Former attorney general Michael Mukasey recently claimed that "the intelligence that led to bin Laden … began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information -- including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden." That is false.
I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden -- as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed's real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.
In fact, the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator -- none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee -- information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden -- was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.
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.
President Obama on 60 Minutes: "And you know, there were big chunks of time in which all we were doin' was just waiting. And it was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old, and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me that she was all right. It was a very tense situation."
By chance, last night I was reading some material on the failed hostage rescue operating in the Iranian desert in 1980. It was heartbreaking for all concerned, and politically crippling for President Carter. I think one of the unexpected side benefits of getting bin Laden will be that the U.S. military has greater faith in Obama as commander in chief-and Obama in his military:
Q: How much did some of the past failures, like the Iran hostage rescue attempt, how did that weigh on you? I mean...
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I thought about that.
Q: ...was that a factor?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. Absolutely. No, I mean you think about Black Hawk Down. You think about what happened with the Iranian rescue. And it, you know, I am very sympathetic to the situation for other presidents where you make a decision, you're making your best call, your best shot, and something goes wrong -- because these are tough, complicated operations. And yeah, absolutely. The day before I was thinkin' about this quite a bit.
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These things always sound better in French, don't you think? It is from the "libre de penser" pages of the newspaper Le Devoir of Canada. Francophones are big on pensing -- have you ever noticed how in France, even the corporate executives look like philosophy professors? Bonus is the byline: "Serge Truffaut," which sounds like it was made up by a writer for Saturday Night Live.
Anyway, I say: La méfiance est mère de sûreté.
What a brilliant resolution of the problem of what to do with the corpse.
Congratulations to all involved. I am told the mission was carried out by Navy SEALs working under the control of the CIA. The 40-minute operation, most it spent gathering intelligence, sounds like an extremely difficult task carried off well. It is a nice bonus that there were no American casualties. This is how a government official described the compound where the jerk was hiding:
When the compound was built in 2005, it was on the outskirts of the town center, at the end of a narrow dirt road. In the last six years, some residential homes have been built nearby. The physical security measures of the compound are extraordinary. It has 12- to 18-foot walls topped with barbed wire. Internal wall sections -- internal walls sectioned off different portions of the compound to provide extra privacy. Access to the compound is restricted by two security gates, and the residents of the compound burn their trash, unlike their neighbors, who put the trash out for collection.
The main structure, a three-story building, has few windows facing the outside of the compound. A terrace on the third floor has a seven-foot wall privacy -- has a seven-foot privacy wall.
Tom again: What suspicious minds are asking: Why did the Pakistanis give him up? And what did we give in return?
I also think this will strongly up the pressure on the Obama Administration to end its involvement in Afghanistan. Not just politicians but the man on the street is likely to say, Hey, we got him, mission accomplished, let's go home.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.