By John T. Kuehn
Best Defense guest columnist
The so-called "Arab Spring" has now turned into a larger Mideast autumn that is reflecting warfare and conflict approaching the bloody religious wars that Europe went through during the 16th and 17th centuries.
We are seeing the beginning of a wider regional war along the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis and beyond -- not an "axis of evil," but rather an axis of instability and conflict. It could go further, linking to similar areas of violence to the east (in Afghanistan-Pakistan) or to the west to the mess in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of democracy breaking out everywhere, it seems that war is breaking out everywhere. Syria is the nexus for the current dangerous inflection point. It is in many ways similar to the Netherlands of the 16th century, that area of rebellion against the Hapsburgs/Catholic Church that rocked the world for over 80 years as the Reformation swirled about.
As we all know, voices are clamoring in Washington to "make it go away." Or rather to make the critics of the Obama administration quiet down. Most recently, Secretary of State John Kerry argued for airstrikes on airfields reputedly being used by the Assad regime for combat missions, including chemical weapons attacks. Kerry's proposal was vetoed during a recent principals meeting at the White House by none other than General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So much for war-mongering generals. Additionally, in recent months, Hezbollah has entered the conflict with thousands of fighters to help retake the city of Qusayr from the Syrian insurgents. Today, Qusayr is a ghost town with fewer than 500 inhabitants. Recall, too, that Hezbollah are the same bubbas that brought us the Marine Barracks attack in 1983. Reports out today indicate that the Lebanese Army has had several firefights with local Sunnis who support the Syrian rebels. Just great, a re-ignition of the Lebanese civil war might be in the offing.
Moving to the east we find the "sectarian violence" in Iraq at levels not seen since the American surge in 2007. Could yet another civil war be igniting there -- this time absent the armed umpiring of the United States and its allies? It may already have. The link here is precisely Iran's support for the Assad regime and its client quasi-state farther south, Hezbollah. From a purely military standpoint, Tehran's line of communication with its political allies and co-religionists farther west in Syria and Lebanon runs directly through Iraq. This "rat line" is used by the Quds Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been in place in various forms ever since the U.S. invasion in 2003. See David Crist's recent book The Twilight War if you doubt me on this issue. The sectarian violence in Iraq is directly related to the Syrian violence -- make no mistake. One way for the insurgents' co-religionist Sunni allies in Iraq to influence events in Syria is to destabilize the pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. In this way they can interrupt the flow of Iranian support to both Hezbollah and Assad through Iraq.
Afghanistan? There is no need for further discussion; war continues there and is likely to continue -- although the political ties of Tehran to Kabul may strengthen given President Karzai's recent strong denunciation of U.S. efforts to include the Taliban in peace talks. Too, Iran's oil goes to India, which is also a supporter of the Kabul regime, all of which makes Pakistan the odd man out and more likely to support Sunni co-religionists and political allies represented now by insurgents in both Syria and Iraq.
What about further west? Let's see, Egypt has severed diplomatic ties with Syria, never a good sign. Further south, in the always pleasant Horn of Africa, we find U.N. personnel have been blown up in Mogadishu by al Shabab. Although clear linkages to the conflict to the northeast do not exist, the forces behind this latest attack on the international order are of a religious bent that favors the insurgent-Sunni factions. Too, this sort of violent outburst does nothing to improve the stability of this entire region. Farther west we find the arc of instability running along the Maghreb (Tunisia and Algeria) as well as splitting south through Libya to troubling events in Mali and Nigeria; the latter country is itself in a low state of civil war divided along ethno-religious lines. Finally, to the north of it all is the NATO ally and Sunni co-religionist government of Turkey, warily eying the troublemaking regime of Vlad Putin, which supports Syria. But Turkey is now distracted by widespread, Westernized demonstrations against its own attempts to impose religious conservatism. None of this can be comforting for the major powers, which all have a stake in the Middle East and Africa. Get the picture? Heated outbursts to quiet political audiences are probably -- as Dempsey pointed out to Secretary Kerry -- ill-advised.
This regional conflict is not just about religion, nor is it all about longstanding political relationships and ethnic tensions -- it is all of the above. I am compelled to ask, what should the United States do that it is not already doing? This presupposes I know the range of action the U.S. government is already engaged in, but I would suggest these steps -- whatever they are -- are probably sufficient for now. Those who predicted the Arab Spring turning into a messy regional war were right. It has arrived.
This is the time for calm heads to prevail and avoid a much larger general war, but first we must recognize the real potential for this mess to turn into something along the lines of Europe's own wars of religion, something like the grim and destructive Thirty Years' War that began with a "Prague Spring" in 1618.
John T. Kuehn has taught military history at the Command and General Staff College since 2003 and retired from the Navy as a commander in 2004. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Kansas State University in 2007. He graduated with distinction from Naval Postgraduate School in 1988. He won the Society of Military History Moncado Prize in 2010 and is the author of Agents of Innovation (2008), Eyewitness Pacific Theater (with D.M. Giangreco, 2008), and numerous articles and editorials.
By Bing West
Best Defense guest commenter
Re Benghazi and the military (a matter of much lesser import than the deceptive talking points): On ABC on 12 May, George Will and retired General Cartwright excused the military by saying 10 hours was not enough time to react. The general said it takes up to "a day or two" to arm an F-16, file flight plans, arrange for refueling, etc.
Therefore the solution is to pre-stage the right kinds of forces, which requires a much larger military and a knowledge beforehand about the location and severity of the threat. By this reasoning, we do not have general purpose forces; we have special purpose forces.
Benghazi thus raises the question: Do we need more forces staged around the world or do we need senior officers who can respond to emergencies outside their normal checklists?
Last week's congressional testimony included two new revelations. First, four Special Forces soldiers en route to Benghazi to help our wounded were ordered not to go by a Special Operations officer in Stuttgart. Not only did that manifest being afraid to take a risk for your beleaguered comrades, it also raised the question of authority in the chain of command during battle. What is the authority that permits an officer thousands of miles away to override the commander on the ground?
Second, Mr. Hicks testified that Secretary Clinton approved, at about 8 p.m. Washington time, the evacuation of the embassy in Tripoli, due to terrorist threats. That was a dramatic, escalatory decision. It is unknown whether the president or the secretary of defense was notified.
In the event, the U.S. military took no new, immediate action, even though the embassy was being evacuated in addition to the chaos at Benghazi. The military has justified itself by saying the battle was over by the next morning. But no human being could predict the night before when the battle would end. That the embassy in Tripoli was not overrun was a matter of fate/luck/enemy decisions that had nothing to do with the prescience or actions of the Pentagon staff. The tardiness of U.S. forces was a failure to improvise, which in turn is a basic test of leadership in battle.
One question illustrates the inertia: Had it been President Obama who was missing in Benghazi, would the military have taken only the same actions and later offered the same rationale; to wit, "we knew the battle would be over in 10 hours, (inside our OODA loop)"?
The military at the highest level must examine its ability to improvise, and not rely on the enemy to give us "a day or two" to prepare.
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.
Not from what I am hearing ‘round the barnyard. Here's an example, from retired Special Forces Col. David Maxwell, on the record and everything, about Fox's ‘scoop' saying SF could have responded to Benghazi in time:
Whistle blower my a**. If this guy is a real special operator (and I have my doubts) I wonder if he realizes what an embarrassment he is to the community. What he offers is pure speculation and not based on any real facts as I have heard and appears to be coming from his fourth point of contact. He comes across as just another conspiracy theorist who is taking Fox News for a ride.
Pretty small to start: Six Irish troops with work with 21 British troops. And less than 100 years after the Easter Rising! (And why six Irishmen -- for the "six counties that live under John Bull's tyranny"?)
I wonder: Has the British Army ever formally recognized and honored the role that Irishmen (not Anglo-Irish aristos) historically played in its enlisted ranks?
In other Anglo-foreign military news, a Canadian reservist who presided over a lethal screw-up with Claymore mines in Afghanistan was demoted from major to lieutenant. I don't remember that sort of two-grade demotion occurring in the U.S. military -- do you?
Vicki Huddleston, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, says that the French government paid $17 million to ransom French nationals in recent years. She further alleges that these payments funded al Qaeda-linked operations in Africa.
The French are wrong to do this. Not just mildly wrong, but massively wrong. Not only are they funding terrorism, they are increasing the chances that their people will be nabbed.
I say this as someone who feared getting kidnapped in Baghdad. This was at a time when Iraqi criminals supposedly were nabbing people and then selling them to al Qaeda. I was once in a group of reporters summoned to the Green Zone for a briefing from an American security official. He informed us that Baghdad was the most dangerous city in the world, that we were the most lucrative targets in the city, and that he thought we were nuts. Thanks fella!
Bottom line: I felt that my best defense was the U.S. government policy of not paying kidnappers. I still do.
By Steve Donnelly
Best Defense Libyan wars and Fox flak-catcher correspondent
In 2011, Ambassador Robert Ford boldly engaged his new assignment in Syria, brazenly and very publicly meeting with opposition leaders on the brink of armed rebellion against the al-Assad Regime.
Three times in as many months he had been surrounded by mobs of pro-government protesters, pelted with eggs, and attacked in embassy cars on the streets of Damascus. No phalanx of Blackwater. No body armor and helmet. No impenetrable motorcade of up-armored SUVs.
Was he nuts? What was he doing there?
Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin got the answer from the horse's mouth for a September 29, 2011 article:
"When an ambassador makes a statement in a country that's critical of that country's government, when that government visits an opposition or a site where a protest is taking place, the statement is much more powerful -- and the impact and the attention it gets is much more powerful if it's an ambassador rather than a low-level diplomat," Ford told The Cable in an interview last week.
Ultimately, the Syrian pressure cooker was nearing boil, and Ford had to pull out.
Three years before, Ryan Crocker, himself a survivor of the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing, whose residence had been attacked in 1998 when he was Ambassador to Syria, and one of the first diplomats on the ground in Kabul after the Taliban's departure in 2002, took up his post in Baghdad, not before or after conflict but in the midst of it, and charged with the dangerous and difficult task of US conflict stabilization and transition out of that historically conflict-ridden country.
With Special Representative Sérgio Vieira de Mello killed along with 20 of his staff in the massive 2003 Canal Hotel bombing attack on the UN's Baghdad office, Crocker was, no doubt, the next prime trophy for Iraqi bad guys, but even if almost suffocated at times by Blackwater, and US military and diplomatic security, he stayed on and directed the civilian side of the US Surge.
The unusual aspect of Crocker's task in Iraq was not just to knowingly put his own life on the line, as many prominent diplomats have done in this region with inevitable results, but to institutional that role within the State Department ranks by managing the deployment of hundreds of Crocker-inspired diplomats out into the dangerous Iraqi landscape to support the civilian transition through the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs that walked into Sadr City in 2008 behind the US crackdown after hundreds of mortars fell on Embassy Baghdad for more than a month, and regularly met in provincial capital buildings that were themselves routine targets for massive truck bombs, and firefights.
Surprisingly few of Crocker's PRTs were killed in Iraq, primarily due to the robust US military presence there. But that is seldom the case in most unstable areas where US engagement is essential. From 1968 to 1979, a US Ambassador was killed in office on the average of one every two years, so its is not just about "our times."
Does that explain the professional tradition that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was following as he settled in for a restless night in the Benghazi compound after an important day of carrying the US flag into an unstable and emerging democracy? Risky business. Important work. Speaks for itself.
Ten Libyan guards, after all, were killed along with three other US civilians, before, finally, the US diplomatic survivors in Benghazi reached the marginal safety of the larger CIA compound a few blocks away, with help from Libyans.
In June 2012, the Center for New American Security (CNAS) held its annual conference at the snazzy Willard Hotel in Washington, DC ,for the national security elite to discuss waging wars in the face of budget cuts. No one, however, was lamenting any shortages of battleships, packhorses or the plumes for parade helmets. The masthead for the CNAS Conference said it all: "Rethinking U.S. Security: Navigating a World in Transition." As strongman dictators fall, things just get chaotic, especially in landscape characterized by non-state actors and factions with scores to settle with each other, transnational terror networks with scores to settle with us, riots trigger by Facebook, and cyber-attacks that can destroy a power plant grid by attacking the operating software. Much more complicated than the days of Gavrillo Princip and Professor Moriarty, and little to do with negotiating arms treaties in Helsinki.
The same hawks who cheered Crocker and his PRTs in Iraq, and Ford in Syria, including Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, know why US diplomats take these risks, especially in these fractured areas, underscoring Tom Ricks' accurate observation of Fox News's political "hyping" of Benghazi as a "wing of the Republican Party."
The oft said, "It's complicated," explains the chaos of Benghazi. We may never know anything more than that those whose lives were lost bravely put them on the line for what they believed to be important enough to do so. What don't you understand about that?
Stephen Donnelly is former senior planning advisor on Iraqi reconstruction for the Department of State.
By Col. Robert Killebrew, USA (Ret.)
Director, Best Defense office of Market Garden studies
as the war in Afghanistan continues to boil, the defense intellectual crowd has
wandered into an unnecessary and counterproductive debate about whether the
United States can avoid being involved in future counterinsurgency wars. "Unnecessary and counterproductive" is an appropriate
description of a largely contrived argument that distracts brainpower from
focusing on the real issue -- the changing nature of warfare in the emerging
Of course the U.S. is going to be involved in counterinsurgency in the future, just as we will be involved in all kinds of wars, period. Insurgency is one of the oldest forms of warfare -- an uprising against a government. But the terms under which rebellions are put down are changing fast. Until very recently, the Westphalian attitude of the times reinforced the authority of governments to suppress internal rebellions without too much regard to sensitivities or legal restraints; both the American revolution and Napoleon's war on the Iberian Peninsula, for example, featured insurgencies that were brutally suppressed by regular forces, but there was no thought of holding commanders -- much less governments -- responsible for brutal reprisals.
All that is changing as the world is changing. Nuremburg mattered a lot. The WWII Germans felt no need for a counterinsurgency doctrine -- their reaction to resistance in occupied countries was just to round up hostages and shoot them -- but after the war some commanders were held to account despite the argument that they were only obeying orders, a legal landmark. Punishing commanders for massacres was not only simple justice, but an indication that civilians were no longer just an incidental backdrop to a war. Rather individuals began to be regarded as having rights that continued even during warfare, and even when they rise against their rulers. That principle of the universality of human rights in war is a historic change that is now considered applicable even in modern struggles against the medieval brutalities of al Qaeda or the Taliban. In the 21st century, international law is struggling to replace the Westphalian compact as the new firebreak against indiscriminate barbarism.
This is the nub of the challenge of counterinsurgency (or COIN, as it is known by its unfortunate acronym). People may rise in rebellion against their government, or against the government of a conquering power, but the government's reaction can no longer be to slaughter them wholesale -- as is happening now in Syria -- for two reasons. First, sanctions to punish indiscriminate killing are spreading and increasingly effective, as the Syrian leadership will eventually learn. This is the emergence of the new sensibility of human rights, which will accompany widespread political changes in the new century (as we are seeing today in the Arab world). Second, and more practically, killing alone doesn't work against a determined opposition -- never has, in fact. Insurgency, which stems from political dissatisfaction, ultimately requires a political solution, so the greatest part of any successful COIN campaign requires political solutions that address the fundamental issue that started the insurgency in the first place, while security forces -- both military and, increasingly, police -- try to contain violence and drive it down to tolerable levels.
All this can frustrate soldiers when they get tasked to fight insurgents under restrictive rules of engagement and with little backing from the political class. An American military that in the 1990s trained for violent high-tech short wars has been understandably frustrated to find itself bogged down in an inconclusive, decades-long war that its political leadership has either misunderstood or backed away from. The "COIN is dead" school of military thought is a reaction to that frustration -- and to the damage that our protracted focus on counterinsurgency has done to other, essential military capabilities -- but it is wrongheaded for a number of reasons.
First, insurgencies aren't going away, and the United States will fight more of them. For a variety of reasons, populations and individuals today are more empowered than ever before, and governments are under more pressure to meet the expectations of their people. Political dissatisfaction, mass migration, widespread armaments, and crime are producing an international landscape that will challenge weak governments for decades, and often insurgencies will be supported by outside powers hostile to the United States or our friends. Aggression by insurgency is an old strategy that will recur.
Second, because they're hard doesn't mean we can't win them. In fact, insurgencies are more unsuccessful than otherwise. When states react to insurgencies wisely, insurgents are usually defeated. Colombia is in the process of defeating an insurgency that was threatening its survival a decade ago. The once-inevitable revolution in El Salvador is long over. The government of Iraq is consolidating power and looks to be on a success curve. In all cases, political reforms marched hand with increasing military and police capabilities and the collapse of the insurgency's outside sponsor. One significant point for military planners is the degree to which military power must be blended with the state's police and other civil powers, which until recently was contrary to U.S. military tradition and practice. Nothing changes tradition and practice, though, like hard lessons in the field.
Thirdly, American military (and political) planners and doctrine-writers must understand that the U.S. is not, and never will be, the primary COIN force -- our best course will always be to work "by, with, and through" the host country in the lead, with Americans playing a supporting role. This is a profound change for soldiers who are trained to take charge of dangerous situations. Even in Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. forces faced the worst-case COIN scenario possible -- the absence of a government to support -- ultimate success has not been, and will not be, possible until the local government shoulders the load. We were far too slow to understand this in these two theaters, and too slow to plan and resource local leaders once we did understand it.
Finally, wars are never fought the same way twice, though armies invariably prepare for the last one. The American military faces a daunting challenge -- to correctly draw lessons out of a decade of experience in two wars that will prepare them for the next one, without falling into the last-war trap that a decade of war has prepared for us. Additionally, the military services know they will be the ones on the ground compensating for weaknesses in the other branches of government. Getting this right in the manuals will be very tough, and may challenge deeply-held Service beliefs and organizational imperatives; a noted COIN authority is fond of reminding his friends "counterinsurgency is more intellectual than a bayonet charge." That is certainly true -- but no reason to walk away from it.
By J. Dana Stuster
Best Defense office of Arab seasonal affairs
In the earliest days of the Arab Spring, Algeria appeared poised to join Tunisia in its revolution. Protests swept through the country weeks before the first stirrings in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya or Syria. According to The Economist's tongue-in-cheek attempt to quantify the factors generating the unrest ("the shoe thrower's index"), Algeria seemed less likely to be stable than its revolutionary neighbor and far outpaced Bahrain in factors contributing to potential unrest.
Algeria isn't stable now, but it has managed to avoid reaching a critical mass of domestic upheaval through a measured police response that has been severe without being so brutal that it incites more anger, as well as economic concessions that reduced the cost of staple foods and legal reforms that include the repeal the country's twenty-year-old emergency law. While it remains to be seen whether these concessions will stick in the long-term, they seem to have bought some time for the Algerian government.
The next potential crisis will be the country's legislative elections, scheduled for May. The country is only dubiously democratic; true power resides with a cabal of political and military officials informally know as Le Pouvoir, and there are concerns that, if a truly democratic election is held, the military may intervene to prevent an Islamist landslide in the parliament. The last time the military stepped in was 1992; what followed was a military coup, the institution of the emergency law, and an ugly civil war. The Algerian government is only now walking back the many effects of 1992, and if Le Pouvoir intervenes in May it would be a significant setback for the country, but so too could be a polarizing election.
Speaking at CSIS recently, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci expressed his full confidence that the military will support the results of the election and downplayed the significance of a potential Islamist election, pointing out that an Islamist party (condoned by the government) has participated in the parliament since the late 1990s. Listening to Medelci, it is easy to get caught up in his optimism for Algeria. He boasts about his country's progress toward meeting the United Nations' Development Program's Millennium Development Goals and speaks eloquently about the political and economic reforms underway. Speaking to a collection of Arab media, businesspeople, think tank experts, and diplomats, he touted the increasing privatization of the economy, the large college-educated population (the majority of which are women), the proliferation of trade agreements, and the government's attempts to diversify the economy, including a large solar array to reduce Algeria's reliance on oil exports. He tied the new flurry of reforms to Algeria's efforts over the past decade to better incorporate minority groups, though he didn't go into detail on these. He seemed pleased with the new reforms, which include expanded press freedoms, a new quota system for women's representation in the parliament, an increased role for the judiciary in elections to make them more independent from the administration, and an upcoming revision of the constitution.
It all sounds very promising, and if done right, it could be precisely the sort of gradual reform that the United States has encouraged the monarchies in the Gulf to embrace. But even ignoring the questions about how healthy Algeria's economy truly is (only last year, Issandr El Amrani called Bouteflika's economic policy "an unmitigated disaster"), Algeria has only a narrow window of opportunity for this to succeed - Bouteflika's term expires in 2014, but he is physically ailing and there is no clear means of succession if he passes while in office. If Algeria cannot prepare its democratic institutions for this essential transition, it will face a two-front struggle: a crisis within Le Pouvoir, and also the remobilization of the disenfranchised and disheartened public that took to the streets in January 2011. Eurasia Group's James Fallon pointed to Algeria for a potential renewal of upheaval last November, and while the protesters in Algiers had difficulty expressing a set of common grievances, they will no doubt learn from the successes in Egypt and Tunisia.
While Algeria's problems are far from solved and new unrest may arise between now and then, for now, its role in the Arab Spring is restricted to its participation in the Arab League delegation to Syria. Medelci distanced his government from Anwar Malek, the Algerian monitor who resigned from the delegation and called it a "farce." Medelci has pointed out that Malek was representing a non-governmental organization and not the Algerian government, which remains committed to the mission in Syria. Justifying this commitment involved some verbal hurdles. Pressed by Ellen Laipson of the Stimson Center to reconcile Algeria's involvement in the Arab League's involvement in Syria with its policy of non-intervention, Medelci explained that he considers the Arab League mission as less a matter of interference, but an effort to prevent broader interference through providing an option for third-party mediation.
Medelci was nothing if not positive in his assessment. Speaking of its revolutionary neighbors in North Africa, he told the audience, "We hope that these countries now control their destiny and can join us as stronger partners. We need stronger partners, but we are not in a position to be hegemonic. We don't have lessons to teach but we share a revolutionary heritage." This July will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's independence from France, and while, for now, Algeria's non-interventionist intervention in Syria may be the center of attention, it is shaping up to be a dramatic year domestically as well. Here's hoping it lives up to the foreign minister's optimism.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Here is a note from General Joseph Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, responding to my post Friday saying I was worried by how the Marine Corps is handling the budget implosion.
"Tom: I believe your recommendation that we simply announce that we are cutting the Corps to 150K misses the mark. Frankly, it doesn't make any sense. What analysis supports 150K? As I very carefully explained in my presentation, the responsibility of Marine Corps leadership is to recommend an organizational construct for the Corps that supports our National Security Strategy in the context of the future security environment. After rigorous analysis, that's exactly what we have done. I can assure you that we're fully prepared to refine our recommendations as refinements are made to our strategy/budget. While you are "bothered" by the way we have attacked the issue, we have attacked it the only way we know how. We have done due diligence and told the truth. Another point you may have missed in both my presentation at CSIS and our off the record session at CNAS concerns readiness. I made it very clear that regardless of our future force structure, the Commandant will deliver a capable and ready Corps of Marines to our Nation. That's what we do -- and our track record speaks for itself.
Tom again: I dunno. Maybe I wasn't clear enough. Not only do I think it unrealistic for the Marine Corps to plan on shrinking to just 186,000, I think the larger question is whether the Marine Corps should focus the discussion on the size of the force or the quality of the force. When asked how big they will be, I think they probably should say, As big as we can be while being a force in readiness.
By Patrick McKinney
Best Defense department of Maghreb affairs
In late October 1956, British and French forces aided Israel's seizure of the Suez Canal from Egypt. In March 2011, an allied force including British and French forces intervened in Libya to establish a no-fly zone and protect rebels from the ruling Gaddafi regime. Half a century apart, these actions in North African defined trans-Atlantic defense. The Suez Crisis heralded an era of American leadership and action, while Libya has shown that, though powerful, America intends to rely on its allies to carry larger burdens, and take responsibility for their own regions. America once drove and financed western security, but due to fiscal shortfalls and a decade of conflict, it no longer intends to guarantee European security.
In 1956, the once-powerful European states were still weakened from the world war and faced forceful colonial independence movements. The French lost Indochina in 1954 and the situation in Algeria continued to deteriorate, while the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt was England's last foothold in the Middle East. After tense negotiations, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to nationalize the canal as sovereign Egyptian territory, and in response, Israel, England, and France coordinated an invasion with the pretext of securing the canal for world commerce. They failed to inform the United States of their intent and expected American support or indifference. To their surprise, they received neither.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower forcefully protested the Suez invasion and demanded that foreign forces withdraw from Egypt. Though he had little compassion for Nasser and his regime, Eisenhower intended to support international order and avoid unnecessary international conflicts. He condemned the invasion, saying, "We believe these actions to have been taken in error. For we do not accept the use of force as a wise and proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes." Israel, England, and France were surprised by the American response and false expectations of support. Their forces began withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone, and returned control to Egypt.
After the conflict, American authority and consent became pre-eminent in the Trans-Atlantic partnership. Through NATO, America assured European defense from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and American priorities were NATO's priorities. England lost its Middle Eastern influence and decided to influence western and world security through cooperation in its "special relationship" with the United States. Embarrassed and affronted by the perceived betrayal, France took the alternate path and sought to set its own defense priorities. France demanded a restructure of NATO leadership in 1958, and began the withdrawal of its forces from the command in the 1960s. France remained outside of NATO for more than forty years until operations in Afghanistan and officially returned its forces in 2009.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.