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I always thought that President Obama wanted to model his domestic policy on Lincoln and his foreign policy on Eisenhower.
But the news this week of the IRS harrassing right-wing groups and the Justice Department harrassing the Associated Press evokes the Nixon era for me.
On the other hand, Nixon had better relations with the military (despite contemplating firing Creighton Abrams in Vietnam).
This is me really going off the Obama reservation.
By Joel Wing
Best Defense officer of Iraqi statistical analysis
Iraq recently saw a huge increase in the number of attacks and casualties in April 2013. Iraq Body Count recorded 561 deaths for the month, the highest since August 2009, while the United Nations reported 712 killed, the most since June 2008. That caused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to go on national TV to call for calm, and warn against the rise of sectarianism and violence. (3) The cause of the deterioration in security is the combination of an ongoing offensive by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and retaliatory attacks by other insurgent groups for the government raiding a protest site in the town of Hawija in Kirkuk province. The former will eventually end, while the latter could lead to increased support for militants. Either way, it appears that talk of a renewed civil war is premature. Yes, militants are becoming more active in the country, but they are for the most part isolated in certain areas; Shiites are relying upon the government to respond to them rather than militias, and the majority of the population is going about their business.
Al Qaeda in Iraq launched its latest offensive in December 2012. That was marked by increased casualty rates, high profile, mass casualty attacks, and bombings in southern parts of the country. On April 29, for instance, two car bombs went off in central Karbala, two more detonated in Amarah in Maysan governorate, followed by another vehicle-based device exploding in Diwaniya the next day. Operations in southern Iraq are a hallmark of AQI's offensives, and take advanced planning, intelligence gathering, and the stocking of supplies, because they take place outside of where the group usually works. Recently, al Qaeda has been able to launch larger offensives and sustain them for longer, because they have witnessed an increase in fighters, and a lack of resistance by the Iraqi security forces. After the U.S. withdrew in 2011, it emptied its prisons leading to many detainees going right back to fighting. The Iraqi army and police also no longer carry out counterinsurgency operations after the exit of the Americans, and are more of a reactive force now carrying out raids and mass arrests, which cannot prevent attacks, and cause resentment against those areas that are targeted. This campaign will eventually end, likely in a month or two, as AQI runs out of supplies and has to restock. That will cause a decrease in deaths, until it ramps up again in the summer as it has during the last few years. The media usually misses this ebb and flow in insurgent operations, focusing instead upon the monthly casualty totals, rather than analyzing the larger trends.
Another source of increased instability is the reaction to the government's raid upon a protest site in the town of Hawija. On April 23, Iraqi security forces moved into the camp looking for assailants who had attacked a nearby checkpoint, which killed one soldier and left three wounded. The demonstrators had been given an ultimatum to turn over the attackers, but did not respond. The organizers were also connected to the Baathist Naqshibandi Army insurgent group, providing another impetus for the government to act. Following the raid, protesters and militants carried out a series of retaliatory strikes across Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala, Ninewa, and Tamim provinces, while several activists said they were giving up peaceful protests and taking up armed opposition to Baghdad. This is far more dangerous than the al Qaeda in Iraq offensive because it could mark a sea change in public opinion amongst some Sunnis. Some protest leaders like Sheikh Abu Risha of the Awakening Movement in Ramadi have called for moderation since the Hawija incident, but the vast majority is pushing for arming themselves, at least in self-defense, if not outright opposition to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This could turn many young Sunni men towards militancy, and give groups like the Naqshibandi and the Islamic Army of Iraq a new source of support and recruitment. These organizations have a much broader appeal to Iraqis than al Qaeda, because they have presented themselves as nationalist groups out to protect Sunnis from the Shiite government, rather than being part of a global jihad against the West. If the insurgents are able to make headway with the demonstrators, that could increase violence over the long-term.
Still, the combination of al Qaeda in Iraq's offensives and growing support for the wider insurgency does not mean that Iraq is heading towards a new civil war. First, most operations by militants are in specific cities, and even then only affect a small percentage of the population. (10) Even cities like Baghdad, that have the largest number of deaths, might only have 100-150 per month out of population of over 7 million. Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar can see a steady stream of dead and wounded each month, while Haditha and Rutba hardly have any throughout the entire year. This localized nature of violence means that the vast majority of Iraqis are not affected unless they live in certain areas or neighborhoods. Second, the Iraqi civil war from 2005-2008 was marked by Sunni insurgents being met by Shiite militias. So far, the Shiite community is relying upon the government to take care of security rather than taking matters into their own hands. This is despite constant efforts by al Qaeda in Iraq to incite them by bombing every religious holiday and event. All together that means that Iraq is in for a rough immediate future with casualty figures likely going up, but it is nothing like the peak of violence when Sunnis and Shiites were at each others' throats and large swaths of the country were being cleansed. The real problem in Iraq is not the activities of the insurgency, but rather the political deadlock in Baghdad. That's likely to take a generation to resolve, and should get a lot more attention than the daily images of bombings and shootings in the country.
Joel Wing is an Iraq analyst at the Musings On Iraq blog.
AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images
By Brig. Gen. Kim Field, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
As a general officer and a mother of four sons, I still look back on our entry into the Iraq War with disbelief. There may have been good reason, but explanations to date satisfy almost no one. I deployed three times to Afghanistan and better understood our entry, even if the prosecution of our effort became increasingly baffling. I am dismayed that my sons are learning in school to lump the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the same causal bucket. What are they learning about who America is, what we stand for, why we do what we do?
Recently, there was an article in the New York Times about the split in the Republican Party on the appropriate foreign policy stance for America. To oversimplify, isolationists are warring with the traditional aggressive foreign policy advocates under the same tent. Further, the article was a bit shocking in that foreign policy was equated with use of the military instrument. How can any of this be?
The Democratic Party is a little more coherent, but I am not sure that there is agreement with Jimmy Carter's statement: "Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood." Right or wrong, under Democratic leadership, we have done almost nothing in Syria to protect human rights. Is "human rights" the most important thing to our country and is this how we should represent ourselves to the world?
Inside the Pentagon, I watch and in some cases participate as we wrangle over the "rebalance to the Pacific." Should the military really be the agency doing the most in what was a reasonable shift in strategic emphasis? Maybe, but the explanations why are not satisfying and Air-Sea Battle is downright mystifying. Do we intend to "contain" China, and if so, do we mean militarily, economically, in the information domain? Or do we want to "shape her decisions?" Something else? These are very different paths with significant consequence, and to my mind, we should have the answers before we charge off, possibly committing billions of dollars.
What do we stand for? Many of us think domestic policies are likely on an inevitable path toward a more European model of capitalism-social consciousness and think our choices with regard to international matters are indeed more free and more significant. But watching the machinations of the Congress over forced across-the-board cuts (sequestration), feeling confident that DOD could take a cut but not the way we are forced to do it, it is clear that this problem of identity is foundational to all dimensions of what we do as a country.
As a soldier, I have nothing to say about wither our foreign policy endeavors. But I sure wish I understood better what we could be asked to do and why. How is the military to represent itself overseas when our muddled sense of American identity is reflected in so many testy issues, beyond the normal and healthy tensions of party politics?
Having taught international relations theory for three years, I do believe when the strength of our values coincides with the level of our national interest, we have the makings of good, sustainable foreign interventions. But this means understanding what our values are, who we are as Americans. Do we still believe in American exceptionalism? If so, why? What makes us exceptional a decade into the 21st century? We should be specific and clear about this in a necessary debate.
Just as senior military officers should be professionally guided by the conviction of clear personal values and not just the Army Values dogtag around their necks, it is insufficient for the collective American people to point to the Constitution as a clear, present day expression of who we are. The base case is there, but it's not always helpful in execution. Sacrilege.
It will be very difficult to avoid diving into the issues of immigration and healthcare and countless other issues through which party divides run deep. And a Congress that makes DOD accept compensations it doesn't ask for even when that means we reduce the training that will keep soldiers alive in the future, a Congress that makes us buy equipment we don't want beyond that which keeps the industrial base warm, can't lead this effort. The Congress is full of smart, well-intentioned individuals held captive by a system that cannot help us produce a sense of identity that would then enable meaningful party debates over how to make that identity come alive. The president is a party member. He can't lead this either, no matter how good a leader he is.
I believe the American people want this discussion. I do not believe the military has the market on service. I do not believe the average American values his or her Nikes and iPhones more than they do a conversation over what it means to be an American. My sister-teacher, as well as good friends Paul Yingling and John Nagl, who have chosen to leave the world of security affairs for the profession of teaching, will be part of this debate, as will their students. My father and his senior friends who have time, interest, and continued desire to serve, will be part of this. My boys and nieces and their classmates, all of whom had to complete community service on the path to college, will be part of this. Servicemembers will be part of this as long as the issues do not become partisan. And so many more from so many other walks of American life. I am tired of hearing that Americans need the most important of issues dumbed down, that we simply don't care about anything that does not directly affect the material goods that come into our homes. I don't believe it. In fact, I can't even contemplate the possibility of leaving my boys without a mother for years, or forever, if this were the case.
I am so honored to serve the way I do -- representing a people that comprise a country of goodness the world has never before seen. We have to stop the recent wandering that has confused so many inside our ranks, within our borders, and throughout the world. As we bring the face of America home after 12 years of steady war and before we inevitably send it out again, greater clarity on the question, "who are we, we Americans?" is essential.
BG Kim Field is deputy director of policy, plans and strategy on the Army staff. She has served three tours in Afghanistan, two tours with State, and taught international relations in the "Sosh" Department at West Point.
When Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster offers a criticism of the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine, you know he's not just riding intellectual fashion. This is a guy who has done well both in conventional warfare (see 73 Easting) and counterinsurgency (see Tell Afar).
We have the counterinsurgency manual, the stability operations manual, and the security-force assistance manual, but I don't think we have put the politics at the center of those manuals. So, for example, we assume in our doctrine that the challenges associated with developing indigenous security forces are mainly about building capacity, when, in fact, they're about trying to develop institutions that can survive and that will operate in a way that is at least congruent with our interests.
McMaster also says that, "We need leaders who have physical and moral courage on the battlefield, of course, but also the courage to speak their minds and offer respectful and candid feedback to their superiors. Our leaders can't feel compelled to tell their bosses what they want to hear."
Michael Howard, one of the great military historians, gives Emile Simpson's War From the Ground Up about 10 thumbs up in a new review, calling it "a work of such importance that it should be compulsory reading at every level in the military; from the most recently enlisted cadet to the Chief of the Defence Staff and, even more important, the members of the National Security Council who guide him."
By Henry Farrell
Best Defense office of ethno-military affairs
You asked recently whether the "British Army ever formally recognized and honored the role that Irishmen (not Anglo-Irish aristos) historically played in its enlisted ranks?"
The answer is yes, at least for World War I. Neither the British nor the Irish government was particularly inclined to celebrate the role of Irish soldiers in the British Army until quite recently. World War I split the Irish Volunteers into a majority under the sway of John Redmond, who supported the British in World War I (and in many cases volunteered to join the British Army), and a minority who opposed the war and the threat of conscription (which was nominally led by my great-grandfather Eoin MacNeill). The latter started the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, and won, more or less (the Irish civil war was fought between two sub-factions of this faction; as Brendan Behan once remarked, the first item on the agenda of any IRA meeting was always The Split). The former nearly completely disappeared from historical memory -- nobody, except the Ulster Unionists, particularly wanted to remember the Irishmen who had fought on Britain's side. Sebastian Barry's extraordinary play, The Steward of Christendom, talks to this amnesia from the perspective of the "Castle Catholics" who had sided with the British administration. Frank McGuinness's earlier play, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, talks about it from a Unionist perspective.
This began to change in the 1990s, leading to an initiative to create a memorial to the Irish who died in World War I, which was folded into the more general peace initiative. The result was the building of a tower with financial support from both the British and Irish governments, commemorating the war dead from both parts of Ireland. The British and Irish army bands played together for the first time at its opening. The Wikipedia page on the memorial gives a good overview of the project and the politics behind it.
By Lt. Cdr. David Forman, US Navy
Best Defense guest correspondent
Before President Obama's national security team started their analysis in 2009 that eventually led to the current rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, then-Senator Jim Webb experienced a peculiar event. It was so peculiar that it now helps shape his argument that we need another type of rebalance: one that returns the legislative and executive branches to actual co-equal partners in government.
In December of 2008, Sen. Webb entered a soundproof room to review the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would shape our long-term relations with Iraq. Though not actually classified, the White House controlled the document as though it was. According to the logbook he signed to enter the room, Sen. Webb was the first member of the legislative branch to review it. The irony of "secretly" reviewing a document that should have been written or thoroughly debated by Congress was not lost on such an experienced public servant.
In his recent article, "Congressional Abdication," in The National Interest, Webb draws attention to three main events he believes indicate Congress is not fulfilling the full range of its responsibilities, including Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as it pertains to use of the military. First, as mentioned above, the Congress did not play any meaningful role in the development of the SFA agreement with Iraq. Though not an official treaty, the agreement was a unique display of exclusive executive-branch negotiations. Second, and most alarming to Webb, is that the Congress played no part in debating or approving combat operations in Libya in March 2011, a previously unprecedented type of military intervention. And last, the Congress was kept in the dark until the president was ready to sign the strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan in May 2012.
To be clear, Webb's remarks at a recent session at the officers of The National Interest began with, "I'm not on a crusade." He is not trying to throw stones in the Congressional arena now that he is on the sidelines. Webb's goal is to provide an honest and insightful assessment of the current imbalance between the two branches.
After the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in 2001, the president was understandably afforded great leeway to act. No elected official wanted to be seen as unpatriotic in the aftermath of such a penetrating and deadly assault on American territory. However, the complexity and diversity of pursuant foreign policy issues combined with the perpetual need to fundraise has prevented Congress from digging deep into foreign policy issues and recovering the ground it patriotically sacrificed in 2001.
The path to rebalancing is not easy or entirely clear, but recognition by the president and the Congress, the media, and the American people is a necessary first step. Congressional approval may seem like a nuisance in the pace of today's political developments, but it is also vitally important. Not only does this process adhere to our laws, it also shows the resolve of the American government and the nation it represents.
Though the eventual solution will take time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a natural focal point to help restore legislative balance to executive branch involvement in foreign policy. The framework for Congressional involvement and genuine oversight still exists, but its members must duly exercise this capability. With American involvement in Afghanistan winding down, issues with North Korea and Iran are most likely front-runners of opportunity for the Congress to reassert its constitutional authorities and work as a co-equal partner to steer our nation through a myriad of upcoming foreign-policy decisions.
LCDR David Forman, USN, is a senior military fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The views presented here are his own and do not represent those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.
The passing of Hugo Chávez provides a moment to consider the question of the waning of the Communist era. The history of the origins of the Industrial Revolution that I've been reading led to that question.
My tentative answer is this: I suspect Communism, while it played a major role in the 20th century, will be hardly remembered by historians 500 years from now. After all, it was a blip empire that lasted about as long as a human life. Its significance, I am guessing, will be seen as just one spinoff from the Industrial Revolution. Maybe like global warming but far less important.
In sum: Communism may be the Albigensian heresy of our time. Sure, that belief system covered a smaller geographical area (but I think a larger chunk of the known world). And there is no question that it lasted much longer.
In the hot new issue of Foreign Policy, Vali Nasr, now dean at Johns Hopkins SAIS, but formerly at the State Department, offers a scathing portrayal of President Obama's national security team. The villain of the piece appears as "the White House," which is referred to 63 times, most of them negative. Readers of this blog will not be surprised by Nasr's conclusion that "the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics."
Every administration has turf fights, but this article makes me thinks Obama's have been memorably bad. Other examples:
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Over the weekend, two writers coming from very different backgrounds expressed concerns about the tone and makeup of the Obama national security team.
Mackubin Owens is a Marine veteran (with a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts from Vietnam) and an expert in civil-military relations. On Saturday he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, "A president has every right to choose the generals he wants, but it is also the case that he usually gets the generals he deserves. By pushing Gen. Mattis overboard, the administration sent a message that it doesn't want smart, independent-minded generals who speak candidly to their civilian leaders."
Administration insiders may dismiss Owens as a hostile witness using a hostile platform. It is harder to dismiss the concerns of David Ignatius, a veteran reporter in the Middle East (and author of some terrific novels about it), who wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that, President Obama, " by assembling a team where all the top players are going in the same direction...is perilously close to groupthink."
I suspect one reason that beat reporters aren't writing about this is that they fear alienating valuable sources in the administration, such as Tom Donilon, the national security advisor. Yep, I am looking at you, New York Times.
By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense department of war movie reviews
Torture has once again become a matter of noisy public debate. This time (thank goodness!), the reason has nothing to do with new revelations of U.S. servicemembers or CIA employees going amuck on prisoners. Instead, the cause de célèbre is a movie, Zero Dark Thirty. Critics of the movie say that it promotes the use of torture by linking torture to a piece of evidence that proved indispensable in America's search for bin Laden. This, critics like Senators McCain, Feinstein, and Levin say, is a dangerous fiction not rooted in historical reality.
Fans of the movie disagree. They argue that the movie portrays this evidence as far less valuable than that obtained by clearly legal means. What is more, they say, the movie performs a service by leaving no doubt in the audience's mind that so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs) were torture, and also by shocking the conscience of these same viewers, causing them to wonder how the U.S. government could so easily surrender founding national values to such little good effect.
I agree with the movie's apologists. The movie does not depict torture as producing indispensable evidence. It shows morally repugnant torture producing a piece of evidence that the CIA already had but had tucked away in a file and forgot about. Seven years of torture, the movie says, produced little if any intelligence that clearly legal methods could have (and did) provide. The real narrative of the movie: A new sheriff (President Obama) comes to town who outlaws torture; subsequent CIA detective work relies exclusively on more cunning, ethical techniques involving, not just humane interrogations, but other intelligence methods; and -- presto! -- in two short years, bin Laden's hideout is found and, a few months later, he is killed. Even if the movie gets many details wrong, it at least gets the basic story right.
But far more important than the movie's historical accuracy is the deeper debate it has resurrected: Does torture work? And, even if it does work, is torture something Americans ought to be using on "hardened" terrorists (or on anyone else for that matter)?
This debate is sorely needed since most opinion polls show Americans' support for torture steadily climbing. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey reported that 53 percent of Americans believe that torture should often (19 percent) or sometimes (34 percent) be used against terrorism suspects to gain information. That marked a steady 10 percent climb from 2004. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by a Stanford University professor indicated that, over a five-year period, the number of Americans approving of torture climbed 14 percent to 41 percent in 2012.
This trend is something that those against "torture as American policy" should be watching carefully. U.S. legislation, military regulations, and Army doctrine -- most notably the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and U.S. Army Field Manual 2-22.3 Human Intelligence Collector Operations -- now enshrine prisoner treatment that is in keeping with international standards and the national values expressed by such principled American leaders as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In our republic, though, all laws are subject to change -- even those in the Constitution -- if enough Americans support this change.
There is no question which side of the torture debate I fall on. First and foremost, it is clear to me that torture fails as a tactic within the most important domain of war, the moral one. It is thus something that we Americans simply ought not to do.
When people see images of torture, most empathize with the tortured rather than the torturer. This is especially true for those who identify strongly with the tortured in the first place because of in-group, out-group bias, say, because the tortured is a fellow Muslim or a fellow Iraqi. The moral judgment that this empathy has naturally generated -- the judgment that those torturing are "cruel," "evil," or worse still, "inhuman" -- has inspired legions of America's enemies to fight us. At the same time, shame has decreased the will to fight of some Americans within the ranks and at home and damaged the political ability of coalition allies to support America's military adventures abroad. Choosing torture as policy is thus rightly seen as a kind of slow moral suicide, strengthening the fighting spirit of our enemies while sapping our own fighting spirit and that of our allies.
It is also clear to me that torture is an extremely poor method for collecting reliable intelligence. This clarity derives in part from military doctrine, training, and professional reading. But it is also rooted in personal experience.
During the summer and fall of 2003, my boss and I managed interrogation operations for Task Force 1st Armored Division (TF 1AD) in Baghdad. My boss was Major Nathan Hoepner, who wrote an email in August 2003 that would one day be quoted by Tom Ricks in Fiasco. When told by the highest command in Iraq that "the gloves are coming off" and that our unit must provide a "wish list" of harsh interrogation techniques, Major Hoepner emailed a passionate rebuttal: "We need to take a deep breath and remember who we are...It comes down to standards of right and wrong -- something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient." He concluded: "BOTTOM LINE: We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there."
Tragically, his impassioned plea fell on deaf ears. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez soon signed a policy memo encouraging the use of EITs on prisoners, tactics employed at U.S. military Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) schools to teach trainees how to survive torture with honor. Sanchez replaced this memo with another in October that ostensibly required interrogators to obtain his approval for non-doctrinal techniques. However, it actually reinforced the belief of some interrogators that they themselves had the authority to order that clothing, food, shelter, light, and warmth be withheld from detainees. Thus it was that degrading, formally promulgated tactics laid the foundation for more serious crimes at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.
At the height of the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib, I regularly communicated with an interrogation chief working at the prison. The reason was to press him to have TF 1AD detainees re-interrogated. Despite his team's conducting numerous interrogations for us, we did not receive ANY useful intelligence whatsoever from Abu Ghraib. Sure, they produced reports on our detainees, but invariably, these reports contained either useless information or different versions of the same stories we had already extracted using humane, rapport-based approaches.
I was not alone in my frustration with Abu Ghraib. For example, Kyle Teamey, the S2X (senior human intelligence officer) for 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Ramadi at the time, said: "The folks at Abu Ghraib not only failed to provide any intel of value, they turned the entire Sunni population against us. Meanwhile, we were getting actionable intel by giving detainees Skittles and a cup of coffee."
Despite our nation's and military's gross failures at Abu Ghraib and several other detention facilities, most interrogators at Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan did not choose to torture. Why is this the case? One reason is that many shared the idealism expressed by Major Hoepner, which holds that torture is just something that Americans should not do.
But we should not dismiss professional competence as a reason, either. Those interrogators who had done their professional reading were less likely to engage in torture. In a future guest column, "Top 10 Books on U.S. Interrogation," I will provide a list of some of these books. Interrogators had also learned doctrine and conventional wisdom at the military intelligence schoolhouse that taught that torture is an ineffective intelligence tool. This conventional wisdom included the proverb, "The longest list of lies in the world is that given by the tortured." Many interrogators had taken doctrine and such conventional wisdom to heart, before they deployed.
Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. Pryer is a military intelligence officer who has served in various command and staff positions in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and, most recently, Afghanistan. He is the author of the Command and General Staff College Foundation Press's inaugural book, The Fight for the High Ground: The U.S. Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003 - April 2004. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
But declining by the day. No, that hearing last week didn't reflect well on the U.S. Senate. But he didn't do well in it, either. He didn't appear that interested in the job.
He has the votes, but not much else. His big problem is that no one much wants him running the Pentagon. Congressional Republicans consider him a traitor. Congressional Democrats see him as anti-gay and anti-abortion, undercutting their support for him. And Northeastern Democrats (and some others) worry about his stance on Israel. Democratic support in the Senate appears more dutiful than passionate.
That said, I don't think that a Hagel exit would hurt President Obama much. SecDef nominees have blown up on the launch pad before: Remember John Tower (picked by the first President Bush) and Bobby Inman (picked by President Clinton to replace Les Aspin)? Interestingly, both were succeeded as nominees by men who went on to be very successful stewards of the military establishment: Dick Cheney and William Perry. Calling Michèle Flournoy?
The prospect of a Hagel regime at DOD is a real problem now because the next SecDef will need to do two things: Work with Congress to reduce the defense budget thoughtfully, and work with the military to re-shape the military to make it relevant to future conflict. At the moment, Hagel appears to lack the political capital to do the former, as well as the intellectual appetite to do the latter.
Bottom line: Every business day that the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn't vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, I think the likelihood of Hagel becoming defense secretary declines by about 2 percent.
I was reading Robert Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins, and was struck that in March 1943, President Roosevelt made a prescient observation about the future of Yugoslavia. Harry Hopkins, his close aide, quotes him as saying in a meeting with Anthony Eden that, "the Croats and Serbs had nothing in common and that it is ridiculous to try to force two such antagonistic people to live together under one government."
I just finished reading the transcript of last week's hearing on the confirmation of former Sen. Charles Hagel to be defense secretary. The question in the headline is what I asked myself as I read it.
I heard a lot on Friday about what a poor job Sen. Hagel did in his confirmation hearings to be secretary of defense. So I sat down with the transcript over the weekend. I was surprised. I've spent many hours covering confirmation hearings, but I never have seen as much bullying as there was in this hearing. The opening thug was Sen. Inhofe (which I expected -- he's always struck me as mean-spirited), but I was surprised to see other Republican senators kicking their former Republican colleague in the shins so hard.
Here's John McCain badgering his erstwhile buddy:
Senator MCCAIN. ...Even as late as August 29th, 2011, in an interview -- 2011, in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, "I disagreed with President Obama, his decision to surge in Iraq as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq." Do you stand by those comments, Senator Hagel?
Senator HAGEL. Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them.
Senator MCCAIN. Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?
Senator HAGEL. Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to support that out.
Senator MCCAIN. The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.
Senator HAGEL. I will explain why I made those comments.
Senator MCCAIN. I want to know if you were right or wrong. That is a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
Senator HAGEL. The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit--
Senator MCCAIN. Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that "The surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Where you correct or incorrect, yes or no?
Senator HAGEL. My reference to the surge being the most dangerous--
Senator MCCAIN. Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That is a pretty straightforward question. I would like an answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.
Senator MCCAIN. Well, let the record show that you refuse to answer that question. Now, please go ahead.
Senator HAGEL. Well, if you would like me to explain why--
Senator MCCAIN. Well, I actually would like an answer, yes or no.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no. I think it is far more complicated that, as I have already said.
Tom again: FWIW, Hagel later got in the point that his comment was that "our war in Iraq was the most fundamental bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam." I think that assessment is correct.
(Senator Chambliss then took a moment to abuse the English language: "We were always able to dialogue, and it never impacted our friendship.")
Then Lindsay Graham waded in.
Senator GRAHAM. ...You said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I am not an Israeli senator. I am a U.S. Senator. This pressure makes us do dumb things at times." You have said the Jewish lobby should not have been -- that term shouldn't have been used. It should have been some other term. Name one person, in your opinion, who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the U.S. Senate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, first--
Senator GRAHAM. Name one.
Senator HAGEL. I don't know.
Senator GRAHAM. Well, why would you say it?
Senator HAGEL. I didn't have in mind a specific--
Senator GRAHAM. First, do you agree it is a provocative statement? That I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said.
Name one dumb thing we have been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby.
Senator HAGEL. I have already stated that I regret the terminology I used.
Senator GRAHAM. But you said back then it makes us do dumb things. You can't name one Senator intimidated. Now give me one example of the dumb things that we are pressured to do up here.
Senator HAGEL. We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel. That is what I was referring to.
Senator GRAHAM. So give me an example of where we have been intimidated by the Israeli/Jewish lobby to do something dumb regarding the Mideast, Israel, or anywhere else.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I can't give you an example.
Next to throw some punches was David Vitter:
Senator VITTER. In general, at that time under the Clinton administration, do you think that they were going ‘‘way too far toward Israel in the Middle East peace process"?
Senator HAGEL. No, I don't, because I was very supportive of what the President did at the end of his term in December-January, December 2000, January of 2001. As a matter of fact, I recount that episode in my book, when I was in Israel.
Senator VITTER. Just to clarify, that's the sort of flip-flop I'm talking about, because that's what you said then and you're changing your mind now.
Senator HAGEL. Senator, that's not a flip-flop. I don't recall everything I've said in the last 20 years or 25 years. if I could go back and change some of it, I would. But that still doesn't discount the support that I've always given Israel and continue to give Israel.
Near the end of the day's verbal beating, Senator Manchin said, "Sir, I feel like I want to apologize for some of the tone and demeanor today." That was good of him.
You all know I was not that much of a Hagel fan before. But now I feel more inclined to support him, if only to take a stand against the incivility shown by Senators Inhofe, McCain, Graham, and Vitter, the SASC's own "gang of four."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
By Maj. Jaron Wharton, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
In September 2010, President Obama's Policy Directive on Global Development offered that development is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative for the United States. Undeniably, it is a core pillar of our foreign policy, along with diplomacy and defense, in an integrated, comprehensive approach to national security. It follows that USAID's contribution to national security is vital -- but this has not been codified.
Because we are living in times that require a fully integrated national security approach, the USAID administrator should become the president's principal advisor for development and assistance (akin to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff role and associated linkage to the secretary of defense, but concomitant to the secretary of state) and a permanent member on the National Security Council. This elevated position will provide the president with unfettered development advice, while codifying the position that development is on par with defense and diplomacy. Maintaining USAID's intimate relationship with State recognizes the inherent ties of development assistance to foreign policy.
While historical trends, events, and statements have created numerous challenges to elevating the administrator's role, the agency's comparative advantage as an expeditionary organization which alleviates human suffering, develops markets of tomorrow, and expresses American values, provides an invaluable perspective. State's 2010 QDDR calls for USAID to play a greater role in the interagency policy process, including making its mission directors primary development advisors to the chiefs of mission. An elevated role for the administrator would be a logical follow-on to these other shifts.
Just over 25 years ago, Goldwater-Nichols changed the Defense Department in both a fundamental and positive way. One of the main shifts was to empower the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in two ways: (1) By expanding his staff into a large "Joint Staff" that reports directly to him; and (2) identifying the chairman as the president's senior military advisor. Over the last several decades, the newly powerful position of chairman has helped elevate the role of professional military advice to the president, while not compromising the secretary of defense's civilian authority. The history of this aspect of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation can apply to USAID in several ways: (1) It can help formally elevate the role of development; (2) it can help preserve the secretary of state's authority in foreign assistance; and (3) it improves the nature of development assistance advice to the president. An elevated status would assuredly achieve a more efficient use of development assistance resources and enhance their effectiveness.
USAID is undertaking a potent reform agenda, analogous to an internal "Goldwater-Nichols-light" to forge a more modern development enterprise. This change is as conscious and as basic a transformation in its 50-year history, and it is desirable for the USG to build on this framework through a persistent invitation for increased interagency engagement at the highest levels.
During this administration, USAID's participation in senior-level NSS meetings has dramatically increased. While data are not readily available to compare across administrations, there has been a definite uptick in participation from previous years. This demonstrates a need on behalf of senior NSS leadership to hear from USAID, but also suggests USAID's contributions warrant continued participation. Having resident development expertise on the NSS only helps to better lead through civilian power, especially in issues that contribute to an imbalance in defense representation.
USAID should take internal steps to reinforce its relevance and further professionalize its engagement in the national security apparatus. However, as in Goldwater-Nichols, where the ramifications for the professionalization of the Joint Staff were extreme, USAID is already fully-capable of the increased level of responsibility. There is no longer a dichotomy within USAID between those focused on altruistic development and assistance and those who understand the necessity, practicality, and Hill-emphasized need for more targeted work to support national security objectives.
Indeed, the development portfolio is now facing critical challenges and is at significantly increased risk given growing fiscal constraints. Despite being elevated by the Global Development Policy to be on par with defense and diplomacy, elements of any effort by the agency to demonstrate true relevancy in national security must include improved and sustained engagement in the NSS. This inherently makes the case USAID's activities are considered in the national interest. Elevation of the administrator as a permanent member on the NSC provides an additional forcing function on the broader USG to recognize this point. At a minimum, the USAID administrator should be elevated and maintain his presence at the principals' committee level beyond an "informal member as appropriate."
Major Jaron S. Wharton is an active-duty infantry officer in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan (2002 and 2010) and in Iraq (2003-06). He previously served as a White House Fellow at USAID. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the official policy or positions of the U.S. Government.
I am told that General Mattis was traveling and in a meeting when an aide passed him a note telling him that the Pentagon had announced his replacement as head of Central Command. It was news to him -- he hadn't received a phone call or a heads-up from anyone at the Pentagon or the White House.
I asked a friend about that. He wrote back:
...the commander-in-chief can make a change whenever he wants and give no reason. That is right and proper under our system of government.
But there's also the matter of common courtesy to an uncommon man. Here is what one person wrote to me: "What message does it send to the Services when the one leader known for his war-fighting rather than diplomatic or bureaucratic political skills is retired early via one sentence in the Pentagon's daily press handout? Even in battle, Mattis was inclusive of all under his command. He took the time to pull together his driver and guards after every day's rotation on the battlefield, telling them what he thought he had learned and asking them for input. Surely senior administration officials could have found the time to be gracious. But they didn't." Bing West, admittedly a friend of Mattis and fellow Marine, tells me: "It was injudicious to truncate Mattis's command time because his toughness was well-known across the Middle East. The image of a determined warfighter is precisely what a commander-in-chief should cherish when trying to exert leverage upon a recalcitrant Iran."
Pentagon spokesman George Little sent along this note on Friday afternoon:
I reject in the strongest possible terms your reporting about leadership changes at CENTCOM. The fact of the matter is that Gen. Mattis discussed the timing for a change of command at CENTCOM with the Secretary last fall. At that time, Gen. Mattis was asked for recommendations on who might succeed him at CENTCOM. It would be wildly inaccurate to suggest anything else.
I wrote back to Mr. Little these questions:
Can you answer these questions? They are yes or no, I think: Are you flatly saying that Mattis was in fact called? Or are you saying that Mattis was not called but should not have been surprised? Or are you saying something else?
When he didn't address those questions, I sent them again and said I would publish his statement along with the comment that he wouldn't address my specific questions. This led him to write back:
He wasn't called. He personally met with the Secretary. This wasn't a surprise. You can't say I declined to address your questions.
I think Mr. Little is emphatically denying something I didn't say. That is, I think Mattis knew he would be leaving eventually, which would lead to such a conversation with the secretary, but was in fact surprised by the timing and the lack of notice about a press release announcing his successor being issued.
Cpl. Cassandra Flowers/DVIDS
I was thinking over that question last night as I fell asleep at the Army War College, where I am visiting. I think one reason President Obama excites so much emotion is that he represents the end of the Reagan revolution.
Look at this way. FDR's New Deal lasted about four decades, until it began collapsing under President Carter. Then Reagan came along. In a nutshell, he inverted the New Deal: Government was not the answer, he said, it was part of the problem. He also began a massive transfer of wealth from the middle classes to the top 1 percent of our society. One reason he could do this is that he didn't get us into an expensive war.
In both cases, eventual successors from the other party lived with the work of their predecessors. Just as Eisenhower did not try to undo the New Deal, Clinton did not try to reverse the Reagan revolution.
I don't think Obama killed the Regan revolution. I think it was getting old -- it had lasted nearly three decades. But I think the Reagan influence effectively was killed by President Bush's lengthy Iraq war, which proved so expensive that it was no longer possible to transfer wealth to the rich at the Reagan-era rate without running up huge deficits.
Obama, I think, buried the corpse, especially with his second inaugural. Government, he is saying, often is part of the answer. I think people are ready to hear this. They don't mind paying taxes as long as they believe the results are concrete: fewer potholes, longer library hours, healthier kids -- and disaster relief for the victims of Sandy.
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.
I think I didn't appreciate how important Obama's inauguration speech on Monday was to gay Americans. This thought dawned on me as I was walking my dogs on Monday night and passed a local gay bar. The entire second floor of the building was covered by a huge American flag. I found that moving.
The WTF moment for me in Obama's second inaugural address, delivered Monday at noon, was his use of the phrase "peace in our time." This came during his discussion of foreign policy, and in such circles, that phrase is a synonym for appeasement, especially of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain in September 1938. What signal does his using it send to Iran? I hope he was just using it to jerk Netanyahu's chain.
I also simply didn't understand what he meant by "a world without boundaries." But my immediate thought was, No, right now we need boundaries -- like those meant to keep Iran out of Syria and Pakistan out of Afghanistan.
Two things I did like:
Overall, I'd give it a C-. It wasn't a terrible speech, but I am grading on the curve because I have seen him do so much better. Overall, the rhetoric seemed tired, like second-rate Kennedyisms, which may reflect the pack of Hill rats and political hacks staffing the White House. It made me wonder if the president is depressed. I mean, I wouldn't blame him. But not a happy thought.
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.
. . . The United States has the most lavishly funded military on the planet, and what does it buy you? In the Hindu Kush, we're taking 12 years to lose to goatherds with fertilizer.
Something is wrong with this picture. Indeed, something is badly wrong with the American way of war. And no one could seriously argue that, in the latest in the grim two-thirds-of-a-century roll call of America's unwon wars, the problem is a lack of money or resources. Given its track record, why shouldn't the Pentagon get a top-to-toe overhaul - or at least a cost-benefit analysis?
Just to be clear: I disagree with Hagel on Israel, on Iran and on most everything else. But my colleagues on the right are in denial if they don't think there are some very basic questions that need to be asked about the too-big-to-fail Defense Department. Obama would like the U.S. military to do less. Some of us would like it to do more with less -- more nimbly, more artfully. But, if the national security establishment won't acknowledge there's even a problem, they're unlikely to like the solutions imposed by others.
By Emile Simpson
Best Defense guest columnist
Afghanistan 2013: time to evolve the strategic narrative
(By ‘strategic narrative' I mean the explanation of actions: the lens that we propose to people through which to view the conflict.)
a. We need to adjust the strategic narrative in relation to the 2014 transition deadline.
i. Since 2009, the coalition strategic narrative has successfully toned down expectations of the more idealistic aspects of the campaign, which means that audiences now gauge coalition ‘success' primarily in terms of the stability of the Afghan state, the credibility of Afghan security forces, and coalition casualty figures. The last one will fade as we pull back, placing increasing emphasis on the first two.
ii. Our current strategic narrative still presents the conflict effectively as a zero sum game: the Taliban will either come back or they won't. This is closely associated with the proposition, that we mistakenly encourage, that what we are engaged in is a ‘war,' in which one's aim is defined against an enemy. By conditioning audiences to expect success or failure to present itself in a binary manner, we hamper ourselves: first, the conflict is not likely to produce a binary outcome, which will make our job in terms of explaining the conflict over the next few years very hard, and we will lose credibility by our failure to match what is actually happening to what we said would happen.
iii. Why is the conflict not likely to produce a binary outcome? The ‘Taliban' is a franchise movement; most of its field commanders fight for their own self-interest, hence why many simultaneously have connections into the Afghan Government. The dynamics of the conflict are thus kaleidoscopic, with actors competing vis-à-vis one another, not polarised. The bulk of the coalition leaving will accelerate the kaleidoscopic dynamic, as we are the main object against which the Taliban ‘franchise' can define itself to maintain its cohesion (i.e. less cohesion means more self-interested dynamics). The Soviet experience of transition in 1988-90 supports this analysis.
The likelihood is the Afghan Government will maintain the cities and the roads only (they don't have the logistical capability or political will to hold more), but neither do the insurgents have the combat power, logistics, or command structure to mass, take over a whole city, and hold it. This will create (and is already creating) a ‘core' area held by the Afghan Government and a ‘peripheral' zone beyond. What will result is a patchwork of allegiances, with some villages, and even broad remote areas, controlled by power brokers linked to the insurgency, others to the Afghan Government, or more likely, linked to both. By maintaining a narrative that emphasises a binary outcome, we will be perceived as having failed, when in reality the Afghan Government controls the key areas, and over time, will make pragmatic arrangements with those who control the periphery to maintain relative stability in Afghanistan.
b. We should not invest any coalition credibility in holding the peripheral areas: Over the next three years, the Taliban flag may go up in some towns and villages. In our current narrative, that will be seen as a major victory for them. In reality, to control dusty villages on the periphery, and even remote district centres, means little. We need to adjust our narrative so people expect that, and when it happens, people believe us when, legitimately, we point out that this is insignificant. By so adjusting the narrative, we take pressure off the Afghans to hold the peripheral areas, which they do not want to, only being there because they perceive it as a condition for us giving them support. We also take the initiative away from insurgents by recognising that this is a war for political more than physical space: insurgents are attention seekers -- they want us to react to a provocative flag raising because by reacting we show the world that they matter -- should they raise a flag in a forlorn district centre and we appear neither to look nor care, they have a serious problem.
c. The narrative needs to allow for maintaining some (but significantly less than today) coalition combat power in Afghanistan beyond 2014: This is the insurance policy that ensures the Afghan Government does not lose the cities and roads. The model should be in extremis back up to the Afghan security forces (airpower based, with boots on the ground as a last resort). This is critical, as the perception (amongst the insurgency, the Afghan people, the Afghan Government itself, and international audiences) that the Afghan security forces will hold the core areas will create space for de facto political settlements on the ground.
d. ‘Moshtarak' is over -- the narrative now needs to emphasise Afghan sovereignty: Ultimately there will remain a real possibility of the Afghan state, which is incompetent and corrupt, collapsing in on itself with little action from the insurgency until it genuinely sees itself, and is seen by insurgents and Afghans, as sovereign. In 2009 ‘moshtarak' -- side by side -- was the visual metaphor chosen to characterise the strategic narrative; that made sense at the time. However, side by side means shared responsibility, and that is incompatible with genuine sovereignty. Time now for coalition press conferences to get very dull, as most answers should amount to: "ask the Afghan Government, they are in charge." The litmus test of Afghan sovereignty will be when people stop asking the coalition their questions.
Emile Simpson served in the British Army as an infantry officer in the Gurkhas from 2006 to 2012. He deployed to southern Afghanistan three times and is the author of War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics (Columbia, 2012).
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Emile Simpson's core observation on the Afghan war is that when war is simply violent politics, one shouldn't expect it to end, because politics doesn't end. As he writes in his book, "The outcomes of contemporary conflicts are often better understood as constant evolutions of how power is configured." (P. 2)
Once you see the conflict in Afghanistan as political at its core, then just talking about the enemy as a unitary force makes no sense. For example, when in 2005 Helmand's provincial governor was ousted from office and so could not pay his followers, he sent them to work for the Taliban, which was hiring. "Akhundzada and his men did not ‘change sides'; they remained on their own side." (P. 44)
Seeing military action through a political lens, as he advocates throughout the book, also puts coalition operations in a different light. Wresting control of Kandahar city from the Taliban might seem to make military sense if it is the enemy's center of gravity, he notes. But think of it instead as a political problem. "In political terms, to have identified Kandahar city as the decisive point was a bold move; however, for a political consultant in a US presidential election, it would be like the Democratic Party investing massive resources in trying to win Texas." (P. 100)
He also warns that it is easy for the Taliban's leaders to negotiate, because it gives them legitimacy, but hard for them to reach any agreements, because then they would have to enforce them, and they can't. "If the leadership were to negotiate a political settlement only to have it ignored by the groups it claims to control, it would lost all credibility." (P. 78)
He thinks that official corruption is "a significantly more relevant issue than the insurgency" in terms of the future stability of the Afghan state. (P. 152)
Nobody has yet written an overall history of the Afghan War. I nominate Emile Simpson. (Who, by the way, was a captain, not a lieutenant, as I mistakenly said my first post about the book, on Tuesday.)
Louie Palu/ZUMA Press/New America Foundation
The significance of the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary is not that he is the first Vietnam vet to be tapped, but rather that he is the first combat-veteran enlisted man ever to be picked. (Like Forrest Gump, he served in the 9th Infantry Division.)
I think that is nice. But I don't think it particularly will help him with the job. I worry more about the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of the members of the Obama cabinet. Too many former members of Congress, too few people who know much about the real world.
It also is kind of weird that the three of the last four SecDefs picked by a Democratic president have been Republicans, at least in name (Hagel, Robert Gates and William Cohen). Where's that Democratic bench?
I remain a fan of President Obama, but I think he and his team have a certain tone deafness on national security. The military may just look like a political problem to certain offices at the White House, but it really needs to be considered as something more than that.
Library of Congress
Over the Christmas break I read several books, but the one that will stay with me most, I think, is Emile Simpson's War From the Ground Up. His core theme is an examination of "the use of armed force that directly seeks political, as opposed to specifically military, outcomes," (p. 1). Kind of like Clausewitz's most famous dictum turned upside down. In Afghanistan, he writes, "the ‘war' is better understood as a direct extension of political activity."
First point: This guy knows how to write. Although the book is a rather dense academic study (the section on the British in Borneo mainly bored me to tears), occasionally he just lets loose an observation or aphorism that is striking. It is not always enjoyable reading, but just when you are about to MEGO, he hits you with a great line.
Second point: I was amazed this was written by a former lieutenant. It is an effort to put the war in Afghanistan into a Clauswitzian context. He succeeds. "The possibility that one can ‘win militarily' but lose a war is indeed perverse logic; it totally unhinges strategic theory, as it disconnects the use of force from political purpose," (p. 138).
Third point: I suspect we'll be hearing from this guy again. So you might as well get in on the ground floor and read it.
I plan in the coming days to delve deeper into the book in a series of posts. It is almost several books in one, so I will break out sections.
Oddly, this is the second book I have read recently with the title War From the Ground Up. The other one, last winter, was about the U.S. Army's 90th Division in World War II.
A bunch of senior State Department officials got booted over security failures at Benghazi. A friend comments, "This is functionally equivalent to the sacking of GOs."
The contrast to the lack of accountability for the Abu Ghraib mess is striking. And I am confident that the prisoner abuse scandal, by outraging Iraqis and fanning the flames of the insurgency, resulted in the deaths of more Americans than did the lapses in Libya.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.