This is the second time I've heard lately about China perhaps deciding that regime change is the best course for handling North Korea. Fine by me.
Meanwhile, gunmen who may have been members of the North Korean military took over a Chinese fishing boat, stole its food and fuel, and demanded a ransom. "Rogue border guards" are being blamed. The Chinese captain says he was in Chinese waters.
The AP quotes a Chinese officer, Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, as writing that, "North Korea has gone too far! Even if you are short of money, you can't grab people across the border and blackmail."
In the ever-growing category of things I didn't know:
The first time British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ever flew in an airplane was on 15 September 1938, to see Hitler at Berchtesgarden. Seeking to bolster his policy of appeasement, Chamberlain flew to Germany twice more that month, first to Bad Godesberg and then to Munich.
Also, Churchill, stunned and alone after the Munich agreement, retreated to his country house, where his first visitor was Guy Burgess, then a producer for the BBC, but of course also a Soviet spy. No indication that Churchill knew anything about that.
Both facts from Martin Gilbert's fine Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.
Democracies, from France at the end of the eighteenth century to the United States in the middle of the twentieth, have failed to live up to the expectations of eighteenth-century liberal thinkers. On the contrary they have repeatedly displayed a bellicose passion reminiscent of the worst years of the Wars of Religion....The doctrine that peoples if left to themselves are naturally peaceable, like its converse that they are naturally belligerent, begs far more questions than it answers.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
I always read the Pentagon's flag officer announcements, mainly to see if someone I know has gotten an interesting job. (It is nice to see people I knew as majors are now making three and four stars. Unfortunately, it also reminds me that people who joined the military when I started covering the Pentagon are retiring.)
In this case, I don't know Rear Adm. Metts, but I sure found the move of this information warfare specialist interesting. Maybe the U.S. government is going to respond more actively to the stream of Chinese intrusions into American government and business computers:
Rear Adm. (lower half) Willie L. Metts will be assigned as director for intelligence, J2, U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. Metts is currently serving as deputy chief, tailored access operations, S32, National Security Agency, Fort Mead, Md.
And yes, that is the way the press release spelled Fort Meade.
The other day FP carried a standard carriers-are-great piece by a trio of admirals. A friend of mine, appalled at what he regarded as the ostrich-like views of the high-ranking authors, sent a corrective note to me:
Key questions to be considered would be:
- To what degree will China be able to impede our ability to freely use carriers in the Pacific in the future?
- How willing would U.S. political leadership be to commit carriers in a high-threat environment where China would view a negative outcome for them as a threat to the survival of the Party (recognizing that in that culture every defeat, even small ones, are a threat to the survival of the Party)?
- Would POTUS commit a carrier if there was a 10 percent chance it would be hit?
- How about 20 percent, or 30 percent?
- How many of the vertical launch tubes on the destroyers and cruisers are committed to defending the carrier vs. carrying Tomahawks to carry out power-projection missions?
- When does the Navy come in a la Bay of Pigs and say that it can only operate carriers forward to accomplish the mission if it is allowed to hit targets on the mainland, placing CONUS at risk to reprisal, and how does the president respond?
- When does the POTUS realize that for years we have built platforms that we cannot afford to lose, either in monetary cost or the cost of lives? That is the key question. Rule number three of war is never build a weapon that you cannot afford to lose or have defeated. We seem to proceed on an assumption that no one will ever attack our carriers. I think the Chinese will see themselves as being in a position that they cannot afford NOT to attack our carriers.
- How does this all affect our position vis a vis Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and India? All of those relationships will be at risk if we don't have an alternative.
Final thought: The Navy has already accepted that the fleet is going to shrink to 270 ships, and I am here to tell you that it will go smaller than that, probably 230 before this is all done. This is largely because all of those ships that were built by Reagan are all retiring at the same time and we are not building replacements at the same rate right now. That will be the price of maintaining 10-11 supercarriers at $12-13 billion with an annual shipbuilding budget of $15 billion. The price will decrease overall naval presence, and raise questions as to the U.S. commitment to local security concerns.
Here are the results of our survey of good books of military history that aren't about the U.S. military.
There were so many British books mentioned that I moved them into a second category. The first part here is genuinely foreign books -- not necessarily written by foreigners (though most are) but about wars in which the British and Americans were not major players, or at least not written from the Anglo-American perspective.
Most of these mentions were in the comments, but about 10 percent came in by e-mail.
I offer them in no particular order. Not even cleaned up -- just pasted in. For details on the books, go back to the comments section -- lots of explanations there about why a particularly book was nominated.
David Glantz, When Titans Clashed
Rommel's Infantry Attacks (2 nominations)
Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War 1961-74
Martin Van Creveld, everything but especially Command in War
Michael Oren, Six Days of War (2 votes)
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon
Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory
Noel Mostert's The Line Upon a Wind
Patrick Rambaud's The Battle
Roland Perry, Sir John Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War
Larteguy's The Centurions and The Praetorians (3 nominations)
Harold Parker's Three Napoleonic Battles (short treatments of Friedland, Aspern-Essling, and Waterloo, with observations uniting all three)
John Elting's Swords Around a Throne (the Billy Yank/Johnny Reb treatment of what it was like for soldiers, leaders, and specialists in Napoleon's Grande Armee)
David Galula's Pacification in Algeria
Legionnaire, by Simon Murray
B.H. Liddell Hart's Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant
Colonel Saburo Hayashi, Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War
Hoito Edoin, The Night Tokyo Burned
No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, by Hiroo Onoda
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson
The Franco Regime, by Stanley G. Payn
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, by Peter Godwin
Sean Maloney's three-volume history of the Canadian experience in Afghanistan (Enduring the Freedom, Confronting the Chaos, and Fighting for Afghanistan). He also did a narrative of the first eight or so years entitled War in Afghanistan: Eight Battles in the South.
Ivan's War, by Catherine Merridale (2 nominations)
The Reluctant Admiral, by Hiroyuki Agawa (Yamamto)
Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War
Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar, by his wife Dorothy with an introduction by David Halberstam
Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung
Either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure or The 47 Ronin
Heart of Darkness for anyone about to do an AFRICOM rotation. (And one de-nomination.)
Lester Grau, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan
Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace
Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
Avigdor Kahalani, Heights of Courage
Rabinovich's Yom Kippur War
On the Banks of the Suez: An Israeli General's Personal Account of the Yom Kippur War, by Avraham Adan
Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer (2 nominations)
All Quiet on the Western Front, and the lesser known but just as powerful sequel to the book, The Road Back, both by Erich Maria Remarque
Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel
Coalitions, Politicians and Generals -- Some Aspects of Command in Two World Wars, by Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell
Strange Victory, by Ernest May
Julian Jackson's The Fall of France
Witness to Surrender, by Brig. Siddiq Salik
The Way It Was, by Brig. Z.A. Khan
In the Line of Duty, by Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh
Guerrilla Warfare, by Ernesto "Che" Guevara
Afgantsy, by Rodric Braithwaite
The Jungle is Neutral, by F.Spencer Chapman
The War in Paraguay: With a Historical Sketch of the Country and Its People and Notes Upon the Military Engineering of the War, by George Thompson
On British military -- listed separately because more familiar
Keith Douglas, Alamein to Zem Zem
George MacDonald Fraser's Quartered Safe Out Here (3 nominations)
John Masters, first two volumes of his memoirs
Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up
Keegan's Face of Battle
William Slim, Defeat into Victory (4 nominations)
The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, by Andrew Gordon (4 nominations)
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of The Great War, by Robert K. Massie (4 nominations)
The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, by John Lukacs
How the War Was Won: Factors that Led to Victory in World War One and The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War 1900-1918, two volumes by Tim Travers
The Story of the Malakand Field Force, by Winston Churchill
Churchill and Seapower, by Christopher Bell
J.F.C. Fuller's Strategy
Donald Morris, The Washing of the Spears (Zulu Wars)
Gordon Corrigan's Mud, Blood, and Poppycock (attempts to bust many of the popular myths about WWI on the Western Front)
Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War (doorstopper-sized analysis of WWI)
Andrew Roberts' Masters and Commanders
The Tizard Mission: The Top-Secret Operation That Changed the Course of WWII, by Stephen Phelps
Not Mentioned in Dispatches
18 Platoon, by Sidney Jary
The Defence of Duffer's Drift, by Maj. Gen. Ernest Dunlop Swinton.
Brazen Chariots, by Robert Crisp
My War Gone By, I Miss It So, Anthony Loyd, ex-British soldier in Bosnia.
Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper
The Great Crusade: A New Complete History of the Second World War, by H. P. Willmott
Battle for the Falklands, by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins
Sassoon's The War Poems
The Dark Hills, by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Bingen on the Rhine, by Caroline E. Norton
Richard Haass is a pretty smart guy, but he let someone talk him into this headline: ‘The Irony of American Strategy.'
Like, gag me with a spoon. Cute? Maybe. But I think that headline could only be written by someone who had not lost someone in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12 years.
Actually the article isn't bad, although it leans heavily on the weak thought that 10 years ago the United States got deeply involved in the Middle East when it didn't need to, but now when it wants to get out, it can't. That strikes me more as an op-ed (or blog post) than a full-blown Foreign Affairs thumbsucker.
By Christopher Swift
Best Defense bureau of Chechen affairs
I've done fieldwork on the insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan and have studied the war there for nearly 15 years. I've also interviewed several very prominent rebels.
This would mark the first time Chechens have attacked any sort of U.S. target. Up until now their focus has been on Russia. This is a big deal. And it shows how the conflict in the Caucasus has metastasized into a kind of globalized jihadist theatre, at least in the minds of the young people fighting there.
These guys likely had no connection to the Caucasus Emirate in person; connection would likely have been online. This looks more and more like "resonant effects," rather than something planned and executed by a cadre-level organization.
Chechens I know are completely crushed. Let's hope the FBI gets to the remaining suspect before the Chechen refugee community in Boston does. Boston welcomed and protected Chechen asylum seekers like no other city. Those people will tear these kids to pieces for the harm they've done.
A midday update:
As I'm learning more and more, it looks like most of these "connections" would have been online rather than through working with a terrorist syndicate out in the field. These kids have been out of Russia for more than a decade. And it looks like they've been living highly compartmentalized lives as well.
Based on these facts, I doubt we have a Faisal Shahzad-style situation. The Caucasus Emirate is about two companies in size. Most of these guys are living in tents in the mountains and constantly moving between safe houses. Their reach outside the region is very limited. Even the Kavkaz website is run outside the region.
I've been in that terrain. It's very difficult physicial and sociological ground to traverse, even for a local. So I'd be shocked to see that they were connected directly to the group.
It looks like the bomber was in Russia just last year. If this is true, then we may in fact have a Shahzad-type event on our hands. It's still too soon to know whether this is international or a lone-wolf event based on these new facts.
Christopher Swift is an adjunct professor of national security studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a fellow at the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law.
Editor's Note: The headline on this post has been changed.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
By Richard Coffman
Best Defense bureau of Vietnamese War affairs
Hanoi's War is an important book drawing on secret Vietnamese Communist Party and government archives and chronicling how Hanoi planned and waged war in Vietnam following the defeat of the French in 1954.
More than that, the book surfaces serious dissension at the highest levels in Hanoi over priorities, strategies, and resources undermining, among other things, preparation for the Tet Offensive of 1968 and leading to arrests and purges. Had Washington and Saigon had a clearer picture of this, the war certainly would have been fought differently, and the outcome might well have been more favorable. It's probably fair to say that we knew as much about Hanoi's leadership then as we do the North Korean leadership today.
As it was, this book describes how badly U.S. bombing in the North and significant ground incursions into communist base areas in Cambodia and Lao hurt Hanoi's war effort. It further shows the utter failure and enormous cost of Hanoi's major offensives in 1968, 1969, and 1972, which forced the North into greater dependence on the Soviets and Chinese and ultimately to engage in negotiations to force U.S. withdrawal.
The author, Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, a native-born Vietnamese, naturalized U.S. citizen, and professor at the University of Kentucky, had access to a wealth of official Vietnamese language archives, personalities, and unpublished manuscripts. Among others, she interviewed Hoag Minh Chinh, once North Vietnam's leading communist theoretician and a purged dissident. She had access to the unpublished memoirs of the first of communist party First Secretary Le Duan's wives, who served in the Mekong Delta for years
Lieng-Hang not only plows much new ground, but does so in a well-organized, lucidly argued, and well-written chronological treatment of the Vietnam War and Hanoi's direction of it. Readers will be grateful for her facility in writing and organizing this substantively dense material, and that she makes clear that the archives she reviewed were sanitized and by no means complete.
To students of communist ideology and tactics, Hanoi's War neatly describes the rise to the pinnacle of power of communist party leader Le Duan and his close associate Le Duc Tho, and the marginalization of Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap. Indeed, these latter two internationally acclaimed heroes of the Vietnamese communist revolution, widely thought to wield unchecked power in Hanoi, sat out the Tet Offensive, Giap pouting in Hungary and Ho taking the waters in Beijing.
We further learn that despite Le Duan's repeated failures of strategies and tactics in the war in the South and immense personnel losses and the virtual destruction of the northern economy, he held on to power by virtue of brutal and non-stop repression. Even before the infamous Hanoi Hilton imprisoned U.S. airmen, it held scores of Le Duan's political opponents and dissidents, both real and imagined. His purges even claimed senior military officers close to Giap and some who helped plan the Tet Offensive.
In these and scores of less consequential matters, this book should humble Western intelligence and diplomatic observers, journalists, historians, academics, and the international left who got so much of North Vietnam wrong then and whose mistaken interpretations and judgments persist to this day.
Make no mistake, this is not revisionist history. The book's subtitle gives us a clue to her leanings: "An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam."
The author persists in describing the Vietnam War as "unwinnable" for the United States, which certainly must come as news to such eminent contemporary historians as Lewis Sorley and Mark Moyar, whose recent works, even without primary sources on Hanoi's troubles, make clear that the outcome in Vietnam was far from inevitable. Moreover, she has a palpable antipathy for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger even while brilliantly and in great detail describing how they simultaneously leveraged both Moscow and Beijing to squeeze Hanoi -- and against his deep instincts, Le Duan -- to get the best possible negotiated deal extricating the United States from Vietnam.
Indeed, Le Duan so preferred massive offensives designed to trigger popular uprisings in the South that he sent his right-hand man, Le Duc Tho, to Paris to keep the lid on the negotiations. This follows Le Duan's pattern in dispatching trusted generals to command the headstrong southern communists who believed their revolution was betrayed by the 1954 Geneva Accords. How ironic -- or perverse -- that Le Duc Tho won a Nobel Peace Prize for his service in Paris.
Finally, she attributes Hanoi's victory not to its persistence and tenacity, not to winning hearts and minds in the South, not to the enormous sacrifices of North Vietnam's armies and people, nor to U.S. politics which hamstrung and undermined the U.S. effort, particularly under Richard Nixon, but to the unwavering and irresistible pressure of post-colonial, third-world, anti-war nations fed by Hanoi's clever propaganda and diplomacy and eager to teach the United States a lesson. This, she avers, is perhaps the greatest legacy of Hanoi's war and serves as a model to those planning future revolutionary campaigns against Western powers.
This flight of fancy only slightly detracts from what is otherwise a major and unique contribution to our understanding of what we faced in Vietnam. Students of military history, the Vietnam War, and revolutionary communism have much to look forward to as these archives are more fully mined in the years ahead.
Richard Coffman served as a Marine Corps officer in Chu Lai and Danang, RVN in 1965-1966. He then served in the CIA for 31 years, analyzing the North Vietnamese leadership there from 1967 through 1972.
By Noel Koch
Best Defense guest columnist
In the run-up to President Obama's trip to the Middle East, apologists for Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy civilian convicted of spying for Israel, urged Pollard's release. This has become a recurring event led, strikingly, by Israeli leaders.
Here are two reasons why it is absurd to consider ever releasing Jonathan Pollard:
First, the Israelis have never told us who his co-conspirators were.
Second, the Israelis have never told us how much of the information they obtained was traded to nations hostile to the United States.
Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 while trying to escape into the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. In March 1987 he was convicted in a plea bargain that permitted him to avoid a public trial, as a result of which there would be no public record and thus no public awareness of the full extent of his crimes or why he committed them.
The narrative aggressively promoted by his supporters in Israel and the United States paints Pollard as a committed Zionist prompted by his love for Israel and concern for its security. It ignores other facts, e.g. before he began spying for Israel, he had already reached out to other foreign intelligence organizations, one of which actually was an enemy of Israel, in an effort to capitalize on his position as an analyst with access to classified U.S. information. The plea agreement also helped obscure the fact that Pollard was bought and paid for by the Israelis; his motive was money, not warm feelings for the Jewish state.
Israel's damage control efforts included the contention that the Pollard escapade was a rogue operation not carried out through the nation's normal espionage channels. This much would prove to be true. Pollard was not being run by Mossad. As is often the case with missteps between states, this one was rooted in personal animus. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger's reluctance to put the lives of American military personnel at the disposal of Israel's interests promptly produced the usual result: a smear campaign in which Weinberger was implied to harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. Especially ill-disposed to Weinberger was his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon. Among other things, Sharon was convinced Weinberger was refusing to share intelligence of interest to Israel. Accordingly, Sharon set about to get the alleged intelligence on his own.
Sharon's agent in this endeavor was legendary Israeli intelligence operative Rafi Eitan. Rafi found his dupe in the buyable Jonathan Pollard. Here begins an aspect of the matter hidden from public view by the manner in which Pollard was prosecuted. It has served the Israeli narrative for Pollard to be seen as some sort of super spy. He was nothing of the sort. He simply exploited his trusted access to Navy computers to withdraw information his handlers instructed him to get. At least some of the documents were secured behind alpha-numeric designators. Pollard had no idea what these designators represented. He was simply told to extract the associated documents.
Thereupon rests one reason Israel has from the outset been anxious to retrieve Pollard, and one of several very good reasons Pollard should remain in prison to the end of his life sentence. U.S. intelligence personnel have long known that Pollard didn't act alone and that there were other, still unidentified (or at least unprosecuted), traitors to America involved in this undertaking. Who identified for Pollard the specific documents he was to pull out of the computers? Israel hasn't told us.
In the netherworld of espionage, competent national agencies trade information. It is known that the information Israel bought from Pollard was exchanged with other national agencies to the detriment of U.S. interests. Some of the damage to the United States is known. Some may not be. In any case, Israel has never given the United States a complete accounting of what was stolen (to be sure, Pollard himself doesn't know) and what was passed to enemies of the United States.
Jonathan Pollard got what he wanted: money, jewelry, and paid trips in exchange for his treachery; he got what he deserved: life in prison. Unlike Judas, who had the grace to hang himself in shame, he lives in the hope that his purchasers will spring him so he can enjoy the apartment set aside for him, the money they have been banking for him, and the hero's welcome they have promised him for betraying the United States.
Noel Koch served in the U.S. Department of Defense from 1981 to 1986. During this time he worked with Rafi Eitan, advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on terrorism, and later with Amiram Nir, who held the same position with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
Gen. George C. Marshall was usually very close-mouthed about the tensions he felt with our British allies during World War II. But in a 1947 letter to McGeorge Bundy, who was helping write the memoirs of former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Marshall was pretty candid:
... there was quite evident to me the feeling that of the British leaders that our ground army was not going to be effective, at least in time to play a decisive part in the fighting. As you know, Mr. Churchill had grave doubts about the comparative fighting ability of the American divisions as compared to the German divisions, though we should never say this publicly.... There was also the feeling that we would have no commanders comparable to the British Field Marshal..."
(P. 236, The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, Vol. 6: ‘The Whole World Hangs in the Balance.' Edited by Larry Bland, Mark Stoler, Sharon Stevens and Daniel Holt. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. Buy it now! )
The deputy foreign minister for Russia may be reading Best Defense: "We must look squarely at the facts and the trend now suggests that the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory."
Speaking of crummy things, several of you have written to me protesting the latest changes in this blog's commenting system. I agree: This morning the system wouldn't even allow me to read the comments. It seems like every time the LiveFyre system settles down, some genius comes up with a new fillip to screw things up again. I have complained to the authorities.
Remember my ruminating a couple of weeks ago about whether our strategic culture was shaped in part by the Old Testament?
Turns out someone who actually knows what he is talking about when he discusses the Bible is thinking about the strategic implications of the situation of Israel described in that book. In the new issue of The American Interest, former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim finds parallels between Israel's current strategic situation and that described in the Bible. He predicts that:
"Israel could indeed find itself in a general situation paralleling that of its Biblical predecessors: without a geographically remote ally, and in a region no longer tightly tethered to and constrained by an extrinsic great power rivalry. Like its Biblical predecessors, Israel may be forced to confront its place in shifting local power balances among states that might be at times friendly and at other times hostile. It may also have to weigh alliances with and against powers more geographically proximate: Turkey, Iran, India, perhaps Pakistan (if it survives as a state) and even China."
Zakheim also is interesting in his discussion of the politics of the prophets: "The Prophets were consummate realists: Isaiah preached independent neutrality when it was appropriate; Jeremiah preached submission to the superpower when the external ‘correlation of forces' had changed."
The lesson for Israel he finds in the words of the prophets is this: "Realism in foreign policy, moderation in religious policy, openness in economic policy and equality in social policy may be the best path for the Jewish state as it confronts its uncertain future."
By Kathleen McInnis
Best Defense guest respondent
If the grand strategic project of the 21st century is to either (a) shore up the Westphalian system or (b) develop an acceptable post-Westphalian system, then the ability to effectively wage asymmetric and counterinsurgency warfare will be, by necessity, part of the toolkit to do so. I really thought Bob Killebrew captured that part well; because the actors in the system are blurring the definitions of what it means to be a legitimate, violence-wielding actor in the global system, we will continue to need capabilities to work in that blurry, murky space.
Washington seems to conflate preparedness with intention and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Indeed, I think it's really worrying that we do so. We're limiting our ability to signal military intent short of going to war, as well as limiting our ability to use military tools to help advance political discussions, negotiations, etc. Exercises, planning, capability development are all ways to signal to potential adversaries (state and non-state alike) the seriousness of U.S. intent. Utilized appropriately, these tools can even get actors back to the negotiating table. Preparedness is key, which is why Celeste Ward's work to put a finer point on the term COIN should be applauded -- preparedness requires a higher degree of intellectual precision than we currently have with respect to "COIN." That's what deterrence is largely about. But we seem to think that if we develop a capability, we will -- or should -- use it.
The notion that if we have a force capable of conducting COIN, we will get ourselves embroiled in even more conflicts around the globe is absurd. The point, in my mind, is to ensure that the U.S. has the toolkit to respond to whatever contingency is in the no-kidding national interest. If we don't use those capabilities, bonus. But I suspect you're right -- we will have to.
Kathleen McInnis is an MPhil/PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King's College London and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She previously served on the NATO Policy-Afghanistan desk in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy).
David Rothkopf on the American search for enemies abroad: "The United States is a bit like a 375-pound, middle-aged man with a heart condition walking down a city street at night eating a Big Mac. He's sweating profusely because he's afraid he might get mugged. But the thing that's going to kill him is the burger."
I wrote nothing about the recent NATO summit -- and not a single reader asked how come. That's interesting because clearly the readers of this blog are interested in national security issues.
I suspect that you, like me, just found the whole thing boring. In fact, the main thing that interests me about Europe right now is its economic crisis, not its security pretenses.
That said, I still believe what one sage once told me about the purpose of NATO: "They keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down."
CNAS, the little think tank where I hang my hat, picked a new president yesterday: Richard Fontaine. He is a smart, even-keeled guy who used to be the foreign policy advisor to Sen. John McCain.
But I don't think picking Fontaine is a make-nice-with-Republicans move. Rather, I think that Fontaine is a young, energetic guy who cares about national security, understands the unusual culture of CNAS, and would make a good president of the place. He is also a great listener, an unusual quality in Washington.
As a bonus, the selection of Fontaine will flummox those who contend that CNAS is a stalking horse for Obama administration policies. Plus, I continue my streak of reporting to someone about half my age, which is fun.
It is striking to me how little President Obama says about the war in Afghanistan.
The situation reminds me a bit of Iraq late in President Bush's term. Bush had no credibility on the issue, so had to rely on General Petraeus to become the face and voice of the war. It wasn't fair to Petraeus, maybe, but someone had to do it, and Petraeus did, most notably in the September 2007 Senate hearings that effectively quashed congressional sentiment for a quick withdrawal.
But that isn't the problem now. I think Obama has a good deal of credibility on foreign policy and national security issues, perhaps more than any Democratic president since FDR (although the extraordinary narrowness of the backgrounds of Obama's White House national security team continues to worry me -- basically they are Hill rats and political hacks). Maybe there just isn't that much to say about the war. But I think there is.
If the Petraeus parallel held, either General Mattis (the Centcom commander) or General Allen (the commander in Afghanistan) would step in. But Mattis apparently has been muzzled by President Obama, and Allen still seems to be getting accustomed to the white-hot glare of global publicity. I actually think the gag on Mattis is a mistake -- the American people like straight talk, even if it doesn't play well in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
War is never desirable, but I confess to wondering: Exactly how would the two countries confront each other as they escalated? Boycott each other's films? Neil Young banned from performing in Copenhagen?
On the train from Exeter to London the other day I was re-reading retired Lt. Gen. Dave Richard Palmer's Summons of the Trumpet, partly because I decided I didn't really get it the first time around when I read it a couple of years ago. I also picked it up again because it as close as I think anyone has come to writing an operational history of the Vietnam War.
The book is good, but a bit dated in places. I think General Palmer is over-optimistic about the implications of the Ia Drang fight. He also seems credulous about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, especially in his interpretation that Hanoi was foolish to launch such an attack.
That said, overall I think it is the best book I've been able to find for an overview of what actually happened in the war, rather than what people were saying about it.
This is what Palmer writes about the important role foreign military advisors played in the creation of these United States of America (pp. 27-28). They might be appreciated by anyone trying to advise Afghan forces nowadays:
"There was once a time when the American army needed foreign advisors. . . Having neither a nucleus of professionals nor a backstop of military tradition to draw on, Congress turned with scant hope to Europe for trained officers. They came. Lafayette, Steuben, Kosciusko, Dekalb, Pulaski, Duportail -- just to mention a few of the better known names is to evoke an image of the vitally important role they played in the winning of our War of Independence.
These advisors tackled an awesome task: molding an army from raw material in a backward country in the midst of war. A strange and often inhospitable environment seriously complicated their job, not to mention problems created by the barriers of language and other cultural differences. Then, too, buffeted by puzzling and sometimes petty crosscurrents of political and personal jealousies, . . . the foreigners often suffered acute frustration and actual bitterness. Nonetheless, they persevered.
. . . Another unchanging reality of advising is the more or less constant cocoon of frustration enveloping the advisor. Adjusting to advising is a greater individual challenge than can be easily imagined by anyone who has not done it.
Best Defense guest historian
I fully appreciate the dialogue between the Athenian elite and the Melian elite. I am sure that among the Melians there must have been contention as to what choice to make. In 400 BC, as in our time, an elite in the name of the people always makes such decisions for better or worse.
A modern parallel existed in May of 1940 in Great Britain. With her armies being shattered on the continent and her key ally in the final stages of her death throes, Britain faced a choice very much like that of Melos.
The choice was no less stark than that faced by Melos. The enemy was a great power, with the momentum of victory behind it. It was utterly ruthless. Britain could have cut a deal with the looming threat -- a deal eagerly sought by Hitler -- and opted out of harm's way with little loss but of reputation and humiliation.
Many of the British elite who were led by Halifax and the Foreign Office were looking for such a peace treaty but Winston Churchill, understanding the nature of his foe, outmaneuvered the Halifax faction and accepted the challenge from Hitler come what may. This choice amounted to the key strategic decision of the 20th century. Churchill's leadership resulted in a decision that showed a willingness to risk all to preserve western civilization from Nazi barbarism.
This choice in my view was anchored in realism. Churchill and his Parliamentary allies possessed a hardboiled realism that fully appreciated the consequences of defeat but also the possibilities (as remote as they seemed at the time) of victory in the end.
Halifax's approach, in contrast, was seemingly realistic on the surface but in fact was not, because it failed to appreciate the nature of the opponent. Any deal arranged with the Nazis could only be temporary, because of the innate predatory nature of the Nazi regime and its cold-blooded ideology. Churchill, a historian, intuitively understood this important fact.
I find this parallel with the experience of the Melians very compelling. Had the Melians had a great power ally (Sparta), perhaps their choice may have become heroically successful rather than heroically doomed. As it was there was no deliverer off in the distance whose interests were served by a living Melos.
"Jeff" is an amateur military historian and financial executive retired after thirty years with Merrill Lynch.
The authors, three souls who toiled in the lower depths of the Joint Staff's J-7, write that, "the decision was made to retain AFRICOM as the supported command, with USEUCOM, USCENTCOM, USTRANSCOM and U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) in support."
Sounds simple, but wait: AFRICOM doesn't have any forces, so EUCOM became "de facto force provider." It is almost as if EUCOM were acting like a service. (Which would make it our sixth service, after the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and SOCOM, which already effectively has its own civilian-led secretariat, in the SO/LIC bureaucracy.)
It gets even more complicated. Many aircraft were flying from bases in EUCOM's area of responsibility, so EUCOM "retained OPCON of these forces." What's more, EUCOM had other fish to fry, so reported Adm. Locklear, "We were responding to OPCON pleas of the provider to make his life easier rather than the OPCON needs of the commander." It's like a waterfall running in reverse.
Also, it turned out that AFRICOM lacked the ability to actually run an operation. (Interesting side fact: Half its staff is civilian, and it had never rehearsed to run anything.)
Final bonus fact: The U.S. military has apparently come up with the worst acronym I have heard in a long time: "VOCO." The article's authors quote an Army brigadier as stating that in the Libyan operation, there was "Lots of VOCO between all levels of command." It stands for "verbal orders of the commander." But hold on: Aren't all orders are verbal, unless the guy is pointing or something? What the poor general meant was "oral orders of the commander." That would be "OOCO." I'd prefer "Unwritten orders of the commander," which would be "UOCO," but that is too hard to pronounce. It could make you poco loco in the coco.
And remember at this point we haven't even gotten into the command arrangements with the other 14 nations in the anti-Qaddafi coalition (AQC).
By Peter Mattis
Best Defense guest respondent
Colonel Gregory Daddis' argument is that strategy is overrated: "Talented American generals can develop and implement a comprehensive political-military strategy and still lose a war." As sympathetic as watching a poorly executed strategy fail is likely to make someone to this argument, the argument itself rests on fallacious assumption. In the United States, a general cannot develop and implement a comprehensive political-military strategy. That's what civilian control of the military means. We are not the Prussians under Frederick the Great or the French under Napoleon, where civilian and military command was unified. A talented American general only may advise on creating such a strategy, because he/she -- like almost everyone else in the room -- lacks the standing and the comprehensive professional competence to establish the political ends. Something civilian commentators should remember when the national introspection and reflection begin, hopefully with more honesty.
Does a good strategy guarantee success? No. A good political-military strategy however does mean that individual operational and tactical successes (or failures) are far less important.
The Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 provides a useful antidote to the focus on operational successes at the expense of thoughtful strategic planning. The Chinese suffered enormous losses for the number of troops engaged. Apart from the crossing the border with some level of operational surprise, it is hard identify what the People's Liberation Army (PLA) did right. Beijing did however achieve its political objectives. As Vietnamese documents later showed, Hanoi learned that Moscow could not be depended upon to protect Vietnam from China. Vietnam's potential expansion was stifled, because it had to maintain more forces closer to the northern border. Beijing earned the gratitude of Bangkok and Washington, while getting Moscow to back off in Asia. If there is a Chinese way of war, then focus on political outcomes of campaigns is a key element to how the use of force is measured.
General Ulysses S. Grant's peninsula campaign in 1864 also shows the value of operations within a sound strategic framework. From the Wilderness to Spotsylvania to Cold Harbor and the failed amphibious move on Petersburg, Grant continued to have opportunities -- irrespective of stalemate or defeat on the battlefield -- to hurt Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and separate it from the Confederate political leadership. Because Grant understood this, he did not react the same way to defeat as the previous commanders of the Army of the Potomac. Lee may have been able to parry Grant's individual and successive thrusts; however, he could not force Grant out.
Although Andrew Bacevich's charge that the U.S. military has failed in almost every conflict since becoming an all-volunteer force may be hyperbole, there is enough truth to warrant some critical introspection. The lack of a draft meant a U.S. administration did not have to think as critically about power, passion, and politics -- even if the draft was not always a sufficient guard against supercilious "strategizing." Similarly, we should compare the record of the PLA's operational competence against the record of it accomplishing Beijing's objectives. That the former was poor while the latter superb should raise important questions for would-be U.S. strategists to consider about why and how to employ the U.S. military.
On one score at least Clausewitz was unequivocal: "War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means." Although the military's professional prerogative and special competence, victory on the battlefield and operational competence are only relevant if they advance political objectives. The focus on the war-fighting excellence of the U.S. military seems to distract those in the civilian world from understanding that that excellence means little without walking through the political steps of strategy long before the military becomes involved.
Clausewitz was clear about war being simple, but he decried devotion to any simplistic notion of how to design and execute strategy. One of the analogies used was a comparison to chopping down trees with an axe. At first glance, the object is simple. Chop the tree down. However, it rapidly gets more complicated. Which direction does it need to fall? What about the knots in the trunk? Is it a hard- or soft-wood tree? Where to start making the cuts and at what height? Each tree grows in a different context -- even if in the same forest -- with different features. Thus, what is simple in concept rapidly becomes more difficult in execution.
In his book The Logic of Failure, psychological researcher Dietrich Dorner highlighted how complex problems needed variable levels of planning for good strategic decision-making to occur. Many individuals had a marked tendency to plan too much or too little, based on how insecure they were facing uncertainty. Dorner's experiments were not simplistic "games" of strategic choice, but rather continuing tests of people to manage the complex relationships -- such as the interrelationships between healthcare, population, food supply, and more -- over time where they had near dictatorial powers. Even people should know better by dint of training and experience still fail to set clear objectives, to treat strategies like testable propositions, and gather information related to the first two. Instead, most "muddle through" and a repair approach, which, although often better than nothing, is the result of a lack of clear objectives. In the face of such uncertainty, humans fall back on what they know and can deal with -- no matter how trivial -- to preserve their sense of competence.
In the dialogue with the people of the small, weak island of Melos, the Athenians explained why the island must submit to the wishes of the city of Athens: "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." (P. 352, Landmark edition) Yow. That is (as the headline suggested) perhaps the nastiest line I ever have read.
The Melians asked to be allowed to remain neutral in the war. Tough luck, said Athens, which then invaded and "put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves," and then re-settled the island with their own colonists.
Such wholesale violence seemed to be about par for the course in the ancient Greek world. Samos is not that big an island, but when one party in a civil war on the island prevailed, it executed 200 of most powerful men from the other party and banished another 400. (P. 493, Landmark edition) Sounds to me like they extirpated the opposition.
C'mon, you know who you are. The National Archives has just the session for you, on Tuesday April 10:
The Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Archives invite you to a panel program discussing Robert S. McNamara's most controversial years as Secretary of Defense (1965-68), and Clark Clifford's brief but significant successor tour as Secretary (1968-69). The event will take place at noon on 10 April 2012 at the McGowan Theater, National Archives, located at 7th and Constitution, NW, Washington, DC.
Discussion will be based on the Historical Office's recent publication, McNamara, Clifford, and the Burdens of Vietnam, 1965-1969, by Edward J. Drea. Panel speakers will focus on the work of Secretaries of Defense McNamara and Clifford and the Vietnam War, but they will also address the impact of Vietnam on American defense interests in other parts of the world.
David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, will convene the panel and introduce Dr. Erin Mahan, Chief Historian, Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense. Dr. Mahan will introduce the panelists and lead the panel. Harold Brown, Air Force Secretary under McNamara and later Secretary of Defense under President James E. Carter, will talk about working with McNamara. Professor Emeritus George C. Herring of the University of Kentucky, one of the nation's foremost experts on the history of the Vietnam War, will review the book. The author, Dr. Edward J. Drea, currently a contract historian in the Office of Joint History, Joint Chiefs of Staff, will respond to Secretary Brown's and Professor Herring's comments. The speakers' presentations will be followed by a question and answer session and then a reception.
The event is free; reservations are not required. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. For this McGowan Theater event, doors to the building will open 30 minutes prior to the start of the program. Use the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue.
It seems to me, reading Pericles' funeral oration (431 BC), that it clearly provided the inspiration for Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Pericles begins by dismissing his own speechmaking ability: "[I]t is hard to speak properly upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers that you are speaking the truth." That reminded me of Lincoln's "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."
Pericles then dwells on what we might call "Athenian exceptionalism": "Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves." A bit later, he adds, "In short, I would say that as a city we are the school of Hellas." This brought to mind Lincoln's beginning, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
Most striking of all, both speeches conclude by challenging the living to live up to the standard set by the fallen. "So dies these men as became Athenians," says Pericles. "You, their survivors, must determine to have as unaltering a resolution in the field." I think Lincoln expresses that thought better: "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
(After writing this I did some quick Googling and saw that the comparison between the two speeches is apparently a major theme of Garry Wills' book on the Gettysburg Address. So clearly I am not the first to come across this.) I knew that Lincoln was into Shakespeare and the King James Bible, but I hadn't realized he also absorbed the Greeks.
By Ron Rogers
Best Defense department of odd war stories
I forgot to mention a unique story about an experience enjoyed by no other soldier in Republic of Vietnam (RVN). There came a day when I gave a nice Viet Cong (VC) platoon a ride down the canal separating RVN from Cambodia and they asked to be dropped off on the VC side and disappeared into the high grass as they walked to their R&R leave, 1 kilometer away in Cambodia. They were so grateful for the ride that they didn't shoot me!
When the platoon leader waved me down, I thought that I was giving a Popular Force platoon a ride. As I continued down the canal to my temporary duty at A-424, it dawned on me that they had gotten off on the wrong side! I pushed the throttle as far as it would go and raced along close to the bank so the VC would have a harder time tracking me with a weapon. Their nice platoon leader wore an NVA pith helmet without the star and he spoke French with me. I think they would have ridden further, but their crisp khaki uniforms were getting wet and the men got upset. Their leader wore shorts and high socks and didn't care, but he didn't want their uniforms messed-up or their AKs (very few of the South Vietnamese Popular Force had that weapon!) to get rusty. They didn't try to take the 2 M1s lying in the bottom of the boat. They belonged to the two VN SF assholes who ignored my orders to get underway and went to eat and take Pak. The chain didn't know what to say to me and I told them I didn't appreciate being fucked with. We had a schedule and they were violating it. Boy, were they pissed when they were handed back their rusted rifles.
We radioed around when my commander thought it was weird to find a wandering PF unit wanting to cross the canal. Well, there were no PF in that sector that day -- just me and a VC platoon. I held that throttle so hard that the web of my thumb was bleeding badly. So I stopped at a fort and a Vietnamese medic bandaged it and spoke French with me. (Can you get a Purple Heart for a self-inflicted wound?) They thought that I was French! In 1965, a decent number of rural folks thought that we beret wearers were French. I guess they hadn't read the papers nor watched TV.
Sometimes you can get scared without being shot at. Of course, that platoon commander was awfully nice.
Ron Rogers was a Special Forces soldier once, and young.
Brett McGurk, who I ran into in the Green Zone when he was negotiating the SOFA with the government of Iraq, has been named U.S. ambassador to Iraq. This is good because he knows all the promises Maliki has made over the years, not just to the U.S. but to Kurds and others, and so might be able to better forestall the prime minister's various attempts to re-negotiate all his deals.
No word on whether he had to take an oath renouncing all support for the Bush administration.
Do it all at CNAS's annual Woodstock for policy wonkers. It will be on June 13 in DC.
If you haven't seen Brzezinski and Scowcroft do their breakdancing routine, you haven't lived. Bust them moves.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.