I've been reading a book by an economic historian that made me think of the anti-corruption campaign in Afghanistan in a different way.
The book is Douglas Allen's The Institutional Revolution. I picked it up because I was so taken by his discussion in an academic article about the organization of command and control in the Royal Navy during the age of fighting sail.
In this book, Allen, looking at the roots of the industrial revolution, argues that the more a society is subject to the whims of nature (drought, flood, wind, and such), the more likely it will appear to modern man to be corrupt. The last sentence in the book is, "What on the surface seem to be archaic, inefficient institutions created by people who just did not know any better, turn out to be ingenious solutions to the measurement problems of the day."
What we call "corruption" is basically the way the world worked before 1860, and much of the world still does today. Indeed, he argues that the British empire was built on a complex web of bribes, kickbacks, and what economists call "hostage capital."
"Institutions are chosen and designed to maximize the wealth of those involved, taking into account the subsequent transaction costs," Allen writes. "The institutions that survive are the ones that maximize net wealth over the long haul."
I think Allen focuses a bit too much on standardization and measurement as driving forces in the changes in 19th century institutions, such as public policing. For example, my experience of theft in small towns is that people often know who does it, and handle it quietly and privately, while in big cities, they have no idea who the criminals are. Hence the need for public police forces in 19th century England as there was a massive movement of people from the countryside to the cities.
Allen also changed the way I understand aristocracy. He argues, persuasively, that the role of aristocracy was to provide loyal, competent, honest service to the crown. Thus their wealth had to be in land that could be confiscated. An aristo who invested in industry was no longer hostage to the crown, and so could no longer be trusted entirely. Hence the creation of strong disincentives to pursuing other forms of wealth, one reason that the ruling class in England tended to sit out the Industrial Revolution.
Overall, a really interesting book, full of thought-provoking facts and assertions.
Here is the "lede," or first sentence, of an article from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn:
The father of a Pakistani officer investigating a corruption case against the prime minister has questioned whether his son's death was an act of suicide.
By Gary Anderson
Best Defense office of foreign ethics
In 2004-5, I did a study on the future of the Taliban for Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, who was then the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. After the 2001 U.S.-led intervention, the Taliban had appeared on the run, but three years later, they were making a comeback. What I found in the study was that the Karzai government was the chief enabler of the resurgent Taliban movement. Afghan governmental corruption and incompetence was making the Taliban look good in comparison, despite years of misrule when that organization was in power. As a commander, and later as the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Eikenberry angered Afghan President Karzai by urging reform, and ultimately failed in his attempts to get Karzai to clean up his government in a meaningful way. Today, the Taliban are back in spades. This has damaged every aspect of the U.S. war effort because it affects security, governance, rule of law, and development. These are the pillars of coalition strategy in that unhappy country.
Corruption is exacerbated by the highly centralized Afghan form of government. All provincial (state) and district (county) officials are appointed by the central government in Kabul. On paper, there is nothing wrong with centralization. Many highly-developed democracies such as Japan have basically the same system. It even semi-works in Iraq. Those countries have good transportation and reliable communication systems. This allows the central government to control things that go on in governance in the provinces. None of that is true in Afghanistan. Consequently, it is nearly impossible for the Kabul government to closely monitor the performance of governance and development in the provinces, much less remove incompetent or corrupt officials.
The most pernicious corruption in our province was caused by the provincial commander of the Afghanistan National Police, the provincial prosecutor, and the director of public health. The head cop was a competent administrator, and kept the provincial capital relatively secure; however, he did so by hoarding personnel and resources badly needed by the outlying districts that he was supposed to be supervising. Outside the provincial capital, he was making a handy side-living running a protection racket for drug dealers and smugglers. Some of his handpicked appointees in my district were running extortion and burglary rings.
The prosecutor was making his money by encouraging defense lawyers from all over Afghanistan to send their wealthy clients to our province where he could guarantee light sentences or mere fines for serious offenses. The director of public health for the province, one Dr. Tariq, is a real piece of work. Over three years, he managed to misspend or divert $9 million dollars of World Bank funding, the vast majority of which was U.S.-provided.
While working at the district level, I had success in purging the worst of the bad cops in mid-level leadership positions by threatening to invite Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post to report on police corruption. This did cause the chief to replace to purge eight of them. It was a small start, but a start.
Once I got to the provincial capital as the governance advisor for the entire province, we caught a few breaks; they were caused, not by blatant corruption, but by gender issues. What finally did in the police chief was his reported rape of three female officers who had the gall to file complaints. Although they were eventually forced to retract their charges, a national uproar ensued, and the Afghan national government was embarrassed enough to reassign the top cop. However, to the best of my knowledge, he has not been held accountable for the rest of the corruption he fostered.
The prosecutor became a target because there was national level focus on the fact that many of his client protection scams were related to so-called "honor killings." In these crimes, husbands or other relatives kill a woman or girl for embarrassing the family by such heinous crimes as demanding a divorce or working outside of the house. The scrutiny was encouraged by us, and allowed our local national security directorate commander to organize a sting operation that finally jailed him. However, before he could go to trial, the former prosecutor used his connections to get permission to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual Haj religious pilgrimage. To the best of my knowledge, he is still on the loose.
Despite our compiling a package on Dr. Tariq and sending it to Kabul, he is still on the job. One of the most appalling charges is that at least 11 women died in childbirth for lack of midwives that World Bank funding had provided for the hiring of such medical personnel in the last year alone.
Almost everyone in the province knew that all three of these characters were bad actors, but no one could do anything about it because they were hired and paid by Kabul. It took outside action by foreigners and the public glare of the media to do what little that we could. Until the Afghan government allows some form of local public review of provincial and district officials, the government of Afghanistan will be its own worst enemy.
Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was a district governance advisor in Afghanistan's Badghis Province. With transition of the district to Afghan security control, he became the provincial governance and rule of law advisor.
I caught up with retired Gen. Richard Cody on Monday morning and asked him if Douglas Feith or another Rumsfeld follower had pressured the Army to retire Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba after Taguba filed his report on abuses and torture at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Absolutely not, Cody said. "The reason Tony didn't go any farther, and retired as a two-star general, was that it was his time," he said. Despite Taguba's suspicions, there was no pressure from the Rumsfeld crowd, he added. (This rings true to me -- I once attended a lecture for new Army generals that informed them that all their careers would end with a phone call telling them it was their time to retire.)
As for the Taguba report itself, Cody added, "Tony did a pretty damn good job, I thought. I was proud of him. . . He spoke truth to power."
STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images
By John Stuart Blackton
Best Defense chief Afghanistan correspondent
Before responding directly to Major Wharton, let me step back a bit and put the concept of Afghan corruption into context.
The simple definition that most of the current practical work on corruption uses is something along the lines of: "corruption is the abuse of public position for private gain." This is a moral and legal perspective that assumes a shared social agreement on the distinction between public and private and an agreed moral and legal view of what constitutes abuse around that public/private distinction.
These basic conditions have not been met for most of the last 500 years in Afghanistan. To the extent that they have a historical basis in the country, it is quite recent as I will endeavor to illustrate in my remarks today.
The "abuse of public position for private gain" construct is a top-down view of the process. It takes the standpoint of the state. For my purposes, as the United States Military tries to relate the real, empirical fact of widespread corruption in Afghanistan to a population-centric approach to achieving stabilization of security, it may make more sense to take a bottom-up view of the process.
Viewed from the perspective of a 30-year old Afghan male head of household, corruption (let's simplify it to "bribery") is a functional tool. One pays a bribe for one of two reasons:
A bribe is only useful to our putative Afghan father if he is transacting with an official who has something to offer (public services, for example) or with an official who seeks to do something damaging to him that can be averted with the bribe.
For most of Afghan history over the last five centuries the state was not sufficiently powerful to make institutional bribery a very useful, instrumental tool for an ordinary Afghan man. The state offered almost no services (so he couldn't buy much of value from an official) and the state was not actively taking too much (it was not a notable collector of taxes and it was not raising and maintaining a large standing army by conscription). Afghanistan was on the periphery of two great imperial systems that did, in fact, offer a range of public services and possess serious capability to take away goods, land and chattels from their citizens. The Mogul Empire, to the east, was a massive taxation machine raising enormous revenues to support an expensive imperial establishment and a massive standing army. The Persian state, just to the west, was a similarly expansive tax machine with a costly central government. Elaborate and extensive systems of corruption permeated life in the Mogul empire and in Persia. Even minor citizens at the bottom paid bribes to mitigate having to pay more onerous taxes or having to supply sons to the army. They paid bribes to gain favors and services from an elaborate system of local and provincial governors who could offer or withhold things of considerable value to citizens.
peretzp via Flickr
By Jaron S. Wharton
Best Defense guest columnist
Corruption[i] has a deleterious effect on International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) efforts and may be the greatest impediment to accomplish its mission along with the greatest obstacle to the Afghan government's ability to establish enduring security and stability.[ii] A counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign is ultimately a competition for good governance and "when corrupt officials slowly drain the resources of a country, its potential to develop socially and to attract foreign investment is diminished, making it incapable of providing basic services to or enforcing the rights of its citizens."[iii] If a COIN force cannot offer a credible alternative in the form of support for a relatively clean local government it will fail grossly. When done properly, these campaigns last roughly a decade. When done improperly, failure takes much less time.[iv]
Indeed, well-grounded perceptions of injustice and the abuse of power have directly fueled the insurgency in Afghanistan, making ISAF appear complicit in a range of activities from the empowerment of national security forces to contracting practices. According to a 2010 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) survey, "Poverty and violence are usually portrayed as the biggest challenges confronting Afghanistan. But ask the Afghans themselves, and you get a different answer: corruption is their biggest worry."[v] Afghanistan was ranked 176 out of 178 nations in the 2010 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.[vi] Yet despite frequent public statements made by President Karzai, there has been an overall lack of political will to address the corruption problem.[vii] As Sarah Chayes, former NPR reporter and author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban, writes, anti-corruption "is the issue that will win the war."[viii]
Part of securing and serving the people of Afghanistan means protecting them from the abuse of power as corruption is not a victimless crime. Moving forward, ISAF must focus on reducing the corruption that impedes the success of the mission and the viability of the Afghan state. Countering corrupt activity requires an international effort far beyond just ISAF. While this is a delicate task, I believe ISAF should consider re-issuing "anti-corruption guidance." General McChrystal published initial guidance in February 2010, but it is prudent to offer an update -- especially against the backdrop of distressed autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. The following eleven tenets should inform any new ISAF anti-corruption guidance to troops.
1. First, do no harm. In many ways, we have contributed to the corruption problem through insufficient oversight of international contracting and development efforts (ref: June 8 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report titled "Evaluating US Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan"). Some think that corruption is endemic to Afghan society and assert that Afghans view today's abusive practices as normal. They are wrong -- the current scale of corruption deviates from traditional norms and cultural practices. Since 2002, Afghanistan experienced unprecedented growth in illicit economic activity that continues to prevent growth of the licit economy and foster kleptocratic behavior. For us to reduce the space where corruption can occur, "we all must sweep in front of our own house."[ix]
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is a Fellow at the U.S. Joint Special Operations University, Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and the author of Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering and Fomenting Insurgencies.
By Haider Ali Hussein Mullick
Best Defense chief Pakistan correspondent
I just got back from my third trip to Pakistan this year, where I examined the scope and scale of its counterinsurgency strategy and al Qaeda's response.
The bottom line is that al Qaeda's big plans for world dominance have failed, but its ability to keep the United States and allies on high alert is increasing. There are two primary reasons for this paradoxical situation: First, al Qaeda's very successful nine-year 'train the trainer' program, which multiplies its strength without expanding its numbers. Second, the August floods that devastated Pakistan are a game changer, a godsend for al Qaeda, diverting 30,000 Pakistani counterinsurgents and key enablers (helicopters, engineers, medics, etc.) away from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to flood relief and reconstruction activities. To overstretch armies, smart insurgents always pray for the opening of multiple fronts. The damage from the floods couldn't be worse -- 1/5th of Pakistan (size of New England) inundated, seven million people lost their homes, and $30 billion in total damages. The timing was equally terrible: The Pakistani surge was finally working, and troops were holding Swat and South Waziristan since 2009.
Today, the nuclear-armed Pakistani army is under great stress, and reluctant to go into North Waziristan, home to al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and the Pakistani Taliban. The army is the police, National Guard, relief organization, reconstruction agency, and governing body in critical areas in the north and south, while the weak civilian government is perceived to be corrupt, inept, and aloof as it wrestles with the Supreme Court. Half of 180 million Pakistanis are under the age of 25 and facing high prices, unemployment and little opportunity. They watch the rich pay virtually no taxes and they find solace in U.S. and India bashing, and blissful ignorance about their actual enemies, which are the al Qaeda syndicate, corruption and poverty. Al Qaeda couldn't ask for a better home.
What's worse is that we don't have any good options in Pakistan, and President Barack Obama has made that clear again and again. But we can make our bad options better. If there were a 9/11-type attack post-marked Pakistan there would be retaliatory airstrikes against terrorist camps -- but Washington doesn't have a 'day-after plan'. We need a strategy that deals with such an attack and strives to balance terrorist interdiction (with or without Pakistani help amid imminent danger) with U.S. civil-military aid and outreach to the Pakistani people. Today we must maintain the Catch-22 of supporting nuclear-armed, comatose Pakistan, knowing that it won't wake up, walk on its own or hug us anytime soon. But we must combine that with a long-term roadmap to bring the countries together, to imagine the impossible by doing the possible. We must continue to assert our security interests, help Pakistan help itself, and make our partnership transparent to the Pakistani people. Hope is not a policy, but striving for a more effective partnership with a nuclear-armed country that is the second-largest Muslim nation, that is home to al Qaeda, and that borders Iran, China and India, is.
Read more here to learn about al Qaeda's post-9/11 metamorphosis, and how the United States can better partner with Pakistan to degrade al Qaeda and associates.
Here's a report from my friend and CNAS colleague Bob Killebrew, who has been hanging out in Colombia. It sounds like the we could learn a thing or two from the Colombian government.
By Col. Robert Killebrew (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense Bogota bureau chief
That the United States has had to painfully re-learn the lessons of counterinsurgency is by now a staple of strategic culture; the story of Gen. David Petraeus and our new counterinsurgency manual is well known even in places that wouldn't know a guerrilla from a traffic cop.
What we don't yet fully understand is that the nature of insurgency itself is changing. In a sense, Iraq and Afghanistan are only the beginnings -- call them "insurgency 101" -- of a dialectical change in warfare that is locating crime, terrorism and insurgency in a shifting network of state and nonstate actors that will make fighting "insurgents," or drug cartels, or violent gangs, much harder for status quo states like the United States. In the hemispheric-wide narco-war that now covers North and South America, the Mexican drug cartels and their fellow travelers - including the Venezuelan government and their Iranian allies -- the only success story so far is Colombia, and some of their lessons are worth considering.
First, context. Colombia had had a rocky time in the 20th century with its military establishment. By the late 1970s, the military existed virtually outside the government as part of a compromise deal to keep the generals happy and the politicians away from security issues. As a result, when the Marxist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) began to make inroads in the 1980s, military action was divorced from the political life of the country, and though the military was fighting a war against the FARC, it was losing because the fighting had no political context. So a painful lesson the Colombians had to learn was to bring the military into a political relationship with the rest of the government, and for the government -- not just the generals -- to take ownership of the war.
RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Here is a report review by a CNAS colleague of mine.
By Jennifer Bernal-Garcia
Best Defense illegal drugs correspondent
I sat down recently with the 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment NDTA), which came out last month. Bottom line up front: good on thoroughness, bad for your morale.
Some takeaway points:
While the failure of the "war on drugs" is an oft-rehashed theme, the NDTA goes into specifics. The availability of most illegal drugs -- heroin, marijuana, meth and MDMA -- throughout the country is increasing, mostly as a result of ramped-up production in Mexico. Apparently the costs resulting from lost productivity associated with drug abuse, the burden on the justice system, and the environmental impact of drug production are a staggering $215 billion.
Heart of Oak/Flickr
Dick Cheney told ABC’s Jonathan Karl on “This Week” yesterday that, "I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques.” That phrase strikes me as a terribly misleading euphemism. Would people support it if they knew that interrogation professionals like retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington and Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Groseclose consider such techniques to be degraded and counterproductive interrogation techniques? Enhanced, my foot. A Best Defense demerit to Karl for not pinging him on this. Enhance your interview technique, Jonathan.
Speaking of Cheney, I like Politico but I think Vandenhei, Harris and Allen have built him into more than he really is. He ain’t no savant. He has a lot of amateurish mistakes to answer for, most notably his unfounded but official embrace of torture. At this point, Cheney strikes me as a cranky, bald version of abdicated Gov. Palin.
Politico has a lot of good days. But on its bad ones, it reminds me of the people who were attacking FDR around 1934. I would say that Cheney reminds me of Charles Curtis, but I think that is unfair to Hoover’s vice president, and to Native Americans generally.
Last night I went to see David Kilcullen, the most quotable Australian since the Brothers Gibb, report on his most recent tour of Afghanistan. This is a great way to begin a speech:
One afternoon about six weeks ago I got ambushed in a valley in Dora Nur, in Nangarhar province...
Kilcullen, who is now a consultant to NATO and the U.S. government spent much of his time explaining how the war effort in Afghanistan is being crippled by the debilitating corruption of the Kabul government. (I'd bet this is similar to the straight talk Secretary Clinton is delivering today on her visit to Afghanistan.) He said a Western diplomat in Kabul told him that the government there reminds him of the Nationalist Chinese government in 1949, with an urban elite trying to scrape together as much wealth as they can before time runs out and they have to scoot.
Kilcullen described a "cycle of corruption" that is destroying Afghanistan:
Rapacious behavior of government officials
Rage and alienation of the people
Operating space for the Taliban
Growing Taliban strength
Taliban encouragement of poppy cultivation
Poppies producing funds that corrupt government officials
And so on
"Poppy is the Taliban CERP," he said, a chilling phrase to anyone who knows the major role that that U.S. military acronym refers to money that American commanders used to win friends and influence people. The farmers who grow the dope only make about $800 million total annually, he said, with the vast majority of revenue, more than $3 billion, being split between drug lords, the Taliban, and government officials.
His bottom line is that there are two real options in Afghanistan: Either tell the Kabul government we are pulling out, or put in enough troops to actually break the cycle of corruption, which he said would be a minimum of about 40,000. "We either put in enough to control, or we get out." The worst thing we could do, he added, is put in enough troops to get more people killed but not enough to do anything to break change the behavior of corrupt officials. Also, he said, it is more about what you do than the actual number of troops -- "If you do it wrong, you could put it a million troops and it wouldn't make any difference."
Without quite saying so, he also indicated that time is a factor right now. "We're seeing a lot of money leaving the country. We're seeing tribes associated with the Northern Alliance re-arming. ... A lot of people are getting nervous." He talked about how attuned local Afghan leaders in remote areas are to American politics, being familiar with the various stances of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Carl Levin. "Right now we're sending kind of a message of indecision."
One surprise to me was that he isn't particularly worried about the possibility of al Qaeda moving back into Afghanistan. "I hope so," he said, explaining that it would be a strategic gain for us to see the terrorist group leave Pakistan and move into parts of Afghanistan that essentially are "the moon with gravity."
Remember yesterday I mentioned David Wood as a good defense reporter? He has a terrific column today about what is going wrong in Afghanistan. I'll summarize it here, but only if you promise to click on this link and read the whole thing.
Wood begins with a good strong "lede" that manages to combine action and policy:
When a warning crackled over the radio of a suspected ambush ahead, Lt. Col. Rob Campbell swore softly and ordered his three armored trucks to a halt. What happened next illustrates why the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is failing, why commanders here are asking for more manpower -- and why they are pleading for more time.
Then his main character strides into the picture, along with a succinct statement of the problem:
Leaping out with his M-4 carbine, Campbell, a tall cavalry officer with sandy hair and freckles, strode through the empty, sun-baked fields flanking the road while his men fanned out, checking the ground for IEDs, sweeping the fields for snipers. The Afghan police assigned to patrol this stretch of road? Nowhere in sight.
Campbell comes off as a good, thoughtful officer doing well, but conscious that time is running out. Anyway, read the whole thing -- one of the best things I've read on Afghanistan in awhile.
Meanwhile, NATO aircraft hit some hijacked fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan, killing a bunch of people. Some of them were insurgents, some of them children and other civilians trying to get the fuel the Taliban was distributing from the trucks for free. The total is somewhere between 50 and 90, it appears. My question: Does this air strike pass the Petraeus test, which I saw him apply in Mosul back in 2003-2004: Before taking any action, consider whether it will create more opponents than it stops. Anyway, this makes me wonder if NATO forces got snookered into the attack.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
First there was Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the former congressman who pled guilty to taking a bunch of defense-related bribes and is now doing the time in a federal prison in Arizona. Now, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune, six people at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command have been indicted for supposedly accepting bribes in relation to defense contracts. The federal employees were involved in providing support to Southcom's counter-drug efforts.
My worry: What if these cases are more common that we know, but are only surfacing in San Diego because of an aggressive local law enforcement office and a newspaper that is interested in the subject?
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
A Navy chaplain pleaded guilty to adultery and fraternization for carrying on with junior sailors in Kuwait and at sea. There were some uglier charges also surfaced against Lt. Shane Dillman, a Pentecostal minister who served aboard the USS Carl Vinson.
I asked my old Washington Post colleague Brad Graham, whose new book on Donald Rumsfeld is just about out, to explain to me the difference between Rumsfeld and his successor, Robert Gates. Specifically, as some astute readers asked here the other day, why when Rumsfeld poses questions it is meddlesome micro-management, while when Gates does it he is being Churchillian?
Here is Brad's reply:
It does appear that Gates, who after succeeding Rumsfeld seemed bent on setting himself apart from his predecessor in approach and tone, has in some ways come to mirror him. The micromanaging and the overruling of the military chiefs are just a couple of examples. Indeed, as Ryan Henry, who worked under both Rumsfeld and Gates, told me when I was writing the biography, the longer Gates has served, the more he has come to understand why Rumsfeld was the way he was.
But in personal style, Gates has remained distinctly different from Rumsfeld, and this has been a key to his success. He has shown little of the arrogance, the dismissiveness, the discourtesy of his predecessor. He has managed to convey firmness and decisiveness without being overbearing and offensive. Most significantly, he has restored a measure of accountability without breeding deep resentment and making himself unpopular. While Rumsfeld in six years fired only one top official (Tom White), Gates in two-and-a-half years has already removed six (Harvey, Pace, Fallon, Wynn, Moseley and McKiernan). And yet Gates has none of the bullying, domineering image that Rumsfeld seemed to cultivate. Rather, he has demonstrated an ability to exercise strong civilian leadership with reason and just cause.Significantly, too, Gates has brought a sense of balance to a Pentagon that Rumsfeld had kept in a swirl. His lack of flare and self-promotion have been a relief after the theatrics of his predecessor. In the Rumsfeld tradition, Gates has persisted in prodding the military to think outside its box. But he has taken a quieter approach and, at the same time, refocused the military transformation process. He talks less about what might be needed for future wars, placing more emphasis on current needs and on how to wage unconventional warfare better.
You didn't ask, but the question of Rumsfeld versus McNamara also may be of interest, since McNamara is the only other Pentagon leader whose term rivals Rumsfeld's for controversy. Both Rumsfeld and McNamara came to the Pentagon from the corporate world exhibiting arrogance and impatience, and both showed similar characteristics in office: keen analytical minds, insatiable appetites for data, predilections for new methods and approaches for problem solving. McNamara may have been more soullessly analytical, and Rumsfeld more intuitive, but both sought tighter civilian control of the military and ordered reappraisals of U.S. strategy. Both also brought with them contingents of civilian aides who shared their determination to shake things up and a propensity to clash with the Joint Chiefs. And both became embroiled in unpopular wars.
Where they differed most notably was in how they ultimately viewed their own tenures. Despite his public cheerleading for the Vietnam War, McNamara privately became dubious about its wisdom and effectiveness while still in office. In later years, he increasingly recognized that he had failed as defense secretary because of mistakes he and others had made in Vietnam. By contrast, Rumsfeld did not leave office doubting his handling of the Iraq War. He has acknowledged no major missteps or shown any remorse on the subject to date. Asked in my final interview with him last fall whether he harbored any regrets, Rumsfeld sounded tired of such queries. "Oh, that's the favorite press question," he quipped."
This is why I think it is essential to conduct a thorough investigation of the U.S. government's unfortunate record of officially-sanctioned torture over the last eight years: Bushies argue that they may have done bad things, but at least, when they made torture national policy, they kept the country safe from attack.
What has got me stewing about this, oddly enough, is the British government's stalwart reaction to losing the American Revolution. In the aftermath of that wrenching disaster, British officials conducted a painful and thorough examination of how to better provide for the security of their nation. It was fortunate they did, because the consequent reforms helped them get in shape to withstand Napoleon two decades later. As Kevin Phillips puts it in his terrific book The Cousins' Wars, "Much of the change that helped to beat Napoleon in Europe was seeded by frustration over defeat in North America."
Bottom line? Just because you have an embarrassing problem, you shouldn't try to hide it, because dealing with it may prepare you for an even bigger challenge down the road. So let's get the torture and interrogation situation straightened out before the next big terrorist attack. My preference, as I've stated before, is for a truth and reconciliation commission that offers an amnesty period during which people would be invited to step forward. Anyone not 'fessing up during that time would face the possibility of prosecution. Again, I think this effort should target those who departed from American history and made torture national policy.
(And follow-up on yesterday: Yes, I do believe torture has two victims, the human suffering it and the human inflicting it. I believe there is a pretty good body of evidence collected on how torturers often are haunted and eroded by their long past acts.)
Here is a note an Army National Guard lieutenant colonel I know sent to the columnist Charles Krauthammer, who didn't respond:
I don't usually make a point of responding to the talking-head proselytizers in my Sunday paper but your column prompted me to do so.
I'll make this simple. There are NO circumstances under which torture is acceptable. Jack Bauer's "24" makes for great TV but even in a ticking timebomb situation such behavior is inappropriate and illegal. Torture is counter to our moral code, a violation of the Geneva and Hague conventions to which we subscribe and perhaps least understood, but most significantly, counterproductive and ineffective. Nothing else really needs to be said, but if you want more details read on.
I have friends who have been to SERE and instructed SERE students and acted as interrogators. All agree that waterboarding and other such 'enhanced' techniques are good for training (in a strictly controlled environment) our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on what to expect in captivity. They also agree that it is torture to anyone outside that training environment. Finally, they all agree that torture rarely results in actionable intelligence, as the victim is willing to say most anything to end the torture.
So you must wonder, by what authority is this letter writer speaking? Well, as a Lieutenant Colonel and Combat Arms Battalion Commander in the Army I am responsible for the welfare, training, good order, and discipline of my soldiers. I am responsible for everything they do or fail to do. I am also responsible to follow and issue only those orders that are legal, ethical and moral. Torture of another human being is illegal, unethical and immoral, and I would be duty bound to disobey any such order...just as PFC Lynndie England and SPC Charles Graner (and their many counterparts, senior officers and NCOs at Abu Ghraib) should have done...just as any of my soldiers should disobey should I give such an order. We all have the lessons of Nuremburg to rely upon anytime such questions come to mind; "I was just following orders" is never justification for committing crimes against other human beings.
Before deploying to Iraq last year, I explained these things to my troopers. It is difficult to explain to young (practically) kids, with little experience, and poor knowledge of the world...but if you are caring and committed, and repeat yourself often enough they learn and understand. I told them the most important thing they needed to take away from all their preparations was that while it would be terrible to lose one of them or have one of them seriously physically injured, it would be worse to have them come home physically well and mentally broken because they had somehow lost their humanity. Torture destroys our humanity, and any equivocation (feel free to exercise the Kantian absolutist vs utilitarian argument to your heart's content) on the matter is just bullshit.
. . . If captured I would honor our Armed Forces Code of Conduct to the best of my ability and go to whatever my fate, resolute in the knowledge that our nation remains a last bastion of what is right (or ought to be right) in the world. Torture has no place in America, and Americans have no reason to employ it. War ain't fair, but we have to fight it while maintaining a level of dignity and humanity, jus in bello. This is rough work for people bound to a code of Duty, Honor, Country. Proselytizers, who say but do not act, need not apply.
To summarize: Those who endorse torture need to think twice about the effect it has on the moral and discipline of our troops. Also, think about his point that torture has two victims: the person suffering it, and the person inflicting it.
I hate the fact that my country's leaders panicked after 9/11 and embraced torture. It saddens me to watch this.
I can still remember when it was the bad guys who tortured people in the movies. Here's the test I think is useful for judging abuse: What would I think of this being used against captured U.S. military personnel? Or kidnapped reporters?
Police in Guatemala police rousted out an training camp being run there by Zeta, one of the major Mexican drug cartels. Reportedly the fleeing trainees left behind some 500 hand grenades, along with some rifles and ammunition. The camp also had an airstrip, an obstacle course, and a shooting range with moving targets.
People have been tortured in our names. That is a fact. If you disagree, what do you know that the Red Cross doesn't?:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
This makes me think more than ever that we need a truth and reconciliation commission -- not to punish the low-level guys who inflicted torture, but to set the record straight on who thought it was a good idea to make the use of torture U.S. national policy. Those are the people who dragged this country's name through the mud, and who also didn't understand that we can't win a war for our values by undermining them.
I was on a panel last night in Manhattan with retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the bane of the New York media, and Alex de Waal. McCaffrey was his usual interesting self. Darfur expert De Waal made a comment that struck me: When catastrophe is averted -- famine, civil war, genocide -- the media tends to shrug and ignore the good outcome. The implication, I think, is that successes tend to be neglected while failures are overemphasized, and bureaucrats and diplomats wind up looking more incompetent than they are. I think he is right. As of this morning I don't have any good ideas about how the media might do better in this area, but I'd be interested in suggestions.
De Waal also was quite critical of the International Criminal Court's issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Nothing good will come of it, he said, if I am summarizing his views correctly.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
Move over, Rupert. I'm promoting Zimbabwe thug Robert Mugabe to No. 1 on my list. Despite his toxic effect on American journalism, Murdoch never gave anyone choldera, as far as I know.
Here is the latest Zimbabwe report from Doctors Without Borders (aka MSF, Medicins Sans Frontieres):
The political crisis and resultant economic collapse is manifesting in cholera, population movement, hyperinflation, food insecurity, violence and a lack of access to HIV/AIDS treatment and health care more generally.
Despite the glaring humanitarian needs, the government of Zimbabwe continues to exert rigid control over aid organisations. MSF faces restrictions in implementing medical assessments and interventions. Especially in cases of emergencies where quick action often determines life or death, allowances for a rapid humanitarian response is crucial."
I just loved that headline. Go ahead and read the article if you must. Among those dismissed were the governor of Lebap province. The deputy minister of oil and gas got away with a reprimand. I am not making this up.
I am guessing that local newspaper headline writers aren't even allowed to refer to him as "Berdie" or "Berd-man."
I see where the British military in Afghanistan has arrested (!) a fairly senior officer, one Lt. Col. Owen McNally, on suspicion of leaking data about civilian casualties to a human rights group.
Jeez. The hallways of the Pentagon would be a lot less crowded if the U.S. military got so huffy about leaks.
I've just started reading an advance copy of To Live or to Perish Forever, a memoir by Nicholas Schmidle, a young American journalist who had the courage to walk in the footsteps of my old Wall Street Journal colleague Danny Pearl in the back streets of Karachi, Pakistan. I'm finding it really good, written with a nice clarity and restraint.
Here is my favorite passage so far:
Not all of my friends, however, were the kind that I would have brought home for Christmas. Considering that my father is a Marine general, and my younger brother a Marine lieutenant, I can say with some confidence that Abdul Rashid Ghazi would not have been a welcome guest at the family dining room table. Ghazi, a pro-Taliban leader in Islamabad, ran Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, [red dot in photo above] with his brother. In July 2007, the siblings gained international notoriety when they staged a rebellion in the center of the capital that lasted ten days and led to hundreds of deaths, including Ghazi's own. Yet I learned more from Ghazi, and he opened more doors for me, than perhaps any other single person."
Speaking of Pakistan, it was so uncool of its government to release nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan last week. He's the real axis of evil -- the man who connects the weapons programs of Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran.
And I thought the troubled places in Pakistan were supposed to be the Afghan borderlands and Swat, along with some mosques in the big cities. But I see that over the weekend, "militants" killed eight policeman at a checkpoint in the Mianwali area of the Punjab and then blew up their police building. Yow.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.