Colin Kahl's new report on containing a nuclear Iran (done with a couple of his homies) is long, but worth it. I was asked to suggest cuts to a draft and honestly couldn't find any. It is the best thing I have read about Iran policy in a long time.
The problem is that much what he is recommending for containment is expensive stuff like forward-deployed missile defenses and conventional forces, and defense budgets are going in the other direction. He also wants us to get more involved in Syria and in attacking Iranian networks of "covert operatives, surrogates and proxies" across the region.
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.
By Commander H.B. Le, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest columnist
On April 30, 1975, a 34 year-old South Vietnamese Navy commander -- the commanding officer of Nha Be Naval Support Base near Saigon -- navigated a small fishing trawler towards the South China Sea. Saigon had just fallen, and the trawler, crowded with 200 refugees, cautiously weaved its way down the Soi Rap River. In the span of just a few hours, as other refugees were plucked from smaller or sinking boats, the passengers had swelled to 400. After two uncertain days at sea and on the first birthday of the commander's youngest child, the refugees were taken on board the tank landing ship USS Barbour County (LST 1195).
On November 7, 2009, along with the U.S. 7th Fleet's flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), my ship arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam for a scheduled goodwill port visit. This visit was my first return to Vietnam since my father, mother, and three of my seven siblings and I departed in that fishing trawler. My father had navigated the trawler to sea, and, for me, navigating USS Lassen (DDG 82) into Da Nang Harbor brought me full circle to our past.
During that unforgettable port visit, I was interviewed by local and international news media. Most questions dealt with my thoughts on returning to my native country. Like my siblings who had come to America in 1975, I have always felt fortunate to grow up in the United States and to enjoy all the opportunities this great nation offers. It was a privilege for my sailors and me to represent USS Lassen and the U.S. Navy to the people of Vietnam.
It was also deeply moving for me to travel to my birthplace of Hue, joined by one of my older brothers who had graciously flown from Singapore, where he worked. Hue is just 50 miles northwest of Da Nang, and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a few hours reuniting with two aunts, an uncle, and extended family members.
Throughout the port visit and for several days afterwards, I received heartwarming e-mails and notes from family and friends, as well as from people I did not know. Easily the most remarkable was a short letter I received in the ship's mail on November 18, eight days after USS Lassen departed Da Nang Harbor:
USS Lassen (DDG 82)
FPO AP 96671-1299
November 6, 2009
Congratulations on your command. I read with interest the press release about your visit to your homeland. I was the Executive Officer of the USS Barbour County (LST 1195) at the time of your rescue. I have wondered throughout the years what became of the myriad people we took on board and transported to the Philippines (Grandy Island). Again, congratulations and enjoy your tour.
Russ Bell CDR, USN (Retired)
I was thrilled when I read the letter and e-mailed my father right away. He wrote in response from his home in Virginia:
We finally have the opportunity to express our gratitude to one of the people who saved us and gave us a new beginning in the United States of America. Would you please send our thanks to CDR Russ Bell and his crew for helping and saving us at sea on May 2nd, 1975 and bringing us to Freedom? I still remember that on the 3rd of May, the XO was the one who gave me an envelope and then helped to send my letter from the Barbour County to Uncle Ed Rowe at his parents' address in Kansas City, MO. It comes back to my memory very clearly now, just like it happened yesterday! God bless the crew of USS Barbour County and their families. God bless the U.S.A.
Today on behalf of my family, I wish to thank Commander Russ Bell, U.S. Navy (Retired) and the crew of USS Barbour County. Also, thank you to Uncle Ed -- Colonel Ed Rowe, U.S Army (Retired) -- and his wonderful family for sponsoring us all those years ago... and happy 39th birthday to my dear brother, Phil.
Commander Hung Ba Le was the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) from April 2009 to December 2010. One of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, Lassen's namesake is Commander Clyde E. Lassen, who received the Medal of Honor for his courageous rescue of two downed aviators while commander of a search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam. Commander Le is currently serving as a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs in Cambridge, MA.
By Emma Sky
Best Defense bureau chief, Iraq
The famous Iraqi sociologist, Ali Wardi, wrote about the dual personalities of Iraqis. For many of us who served in Iraq, this is something we also seem to have developed.
I spent the weekend in Texas, staying with American friends I served with in Iraq. Although we had not seen each other in years, conversation came easily. Our shared experiences away at war had created life-long bonds. We reminisced about our time together -- the sense of purpose, the camaraderie, our small victories. We laughed. We drank. We ate unhealthy fast food. We gossiped about people we knew. Together, we visited the memorial at Fort Hood to pay our respects to the 450 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division killed in Iraq.
But all weekend I also surfed the Internet for news and chatted with Iraqi friends. Iraq is spiraling out of control. Following the arrests in December of the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, Sunnis took to the streets, revealing their widespread sense of alienation in the new Iraq and demanding the end of what they consider a government policy to marginalize them. As with other protests in the Arab world, they were initially driven by legitimate grievances. But against the backdrop of provincial elections, little was done to address the concerns of the protestors -- despite calls to do so from the top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani. Politicians instead exploited the demonstrations for electoral gains. President Maliki took the opportunity to distract attention away from the lack of services and rampant corruption, presenting himself as the defender of the Shia, in the face of Sunni regional powers intent on overthrowing Shia regimes -- Syria first, then Iraq. Sunni politicians, for their part, sought to benefit from the demonstrations to rail against government oppression to gain support for their own electoral campaigns.
Last week, the Iraqi Army entered Hawija, near Kirkuk, to arrest people accused of attacking Iraqi Security Forces. In the ensuing violence, 200 people were killed. There are reports of desertions from the Iraqi Army. Kurds have moved peshmerga into positions in the disputed territories. Tribes are forming militias to protect themselves from the Iraqi Army. Five Iraqi soldiers were killed in Anbar -- and the province has been put under curfew. Ten satellite channels, including al-Jazeera, have been banned, accused of spreading sectarianism. Bombs exploded in Shia towns. The speaker of parliament called for the government to resign and for early elections.
By seeking to eliminate his Sunni rivals, Maliki has removed the wedge that the U.S. military drove between Sunni extremists and the Sunni mainstream during the Surge, at such great cost. There is a growing sense that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are merging into one, with Shia regimes, backed by Iran, battling against Sunnis, including al Qaeda elements. We may be witnessing the breakdown of the post-WW I settlement and the nation-states established under the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Many Iraqis still cannot fathom how the United States could lose interest in Iraq and simply walk away after so much investment. They explain it in terms of conspiracy theories: a "secret agreement" between the United States and Iran; a "deal" between Biden and Maliki to divide up Iraq.
Will our legacy from the Iraq war be a regional power struggle ignited by the resurgence of Iran, the contagion of sectarianism into Syria, the horrific violence of jihadist groups? Is this in our national interest? Can we not do more to make Iraq a more positive influence in its neighborhood?
As the situation deteriorates, I wonder, will the United States proactively develop, articulate, and adopt strategies to engender a better balance of power in the region -- or reactively respond to the inevitable fallout with tactical measures.
Emma Sky is a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute. She served in Iraq 2003-2004 as the governorate coordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 2007-2010 as the political advisor to General Odierno.
Lady Emma Sky
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.
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.
The other day a couple of commenters discussing innovation in the military mentioned one change (fwiw, the company-level intelligence cell) as a big reason why "we won in Iraq."
Hmm, I thought: Did we actually win that war? I am not sure. It doesn't feel like it. Yes, we got out with our shirts on. But win?
I thought about this again when I read this thoughtful comment by Lt. Gen. James Dubik in the May issue of ARMY magazine:
America is confusing "withdrawing from a war" with "ending a war." The two are very different. A war ends when strategic objectives are met or an enemy is defeated and recognizes its defeat. In Iraq, the war continues -- albeit at a level that the Iraqi security forces are, so far, able to handle and the Iraqi government can manage.
The other night I went to a preview of Manhunt, a HBO documentary that will air on that network on May 1 and thereafter many times on CNN.
The documentary was like a high-class version of a Frontline episode, filmed and edited well, with expensive touches like music. One of the themes was how many of the analysts who targeted bin Laden were women. Another was how isolated it felt to be in the CIA after 9/11. Overall, I found the film a great document, but too inclined to give the CIA a pass, especially on the issue of torture and on some specifics, such as how the Khost bombing that killed seven CIA officers in December 2009 was allowed to happen.
But what I want to talk about today was the discussion following the film, which was even more interesting. (I took notes, having asked Peter Bergen, the documentary's executive producer, beforehand if I could, and was told yes.) It felt historic, a bit like being in the same room with the D-Day planners.
It also felt a bit like an encounter group. Clearly there had been strong disagreements within the CIA about the course they took:
What I found myself wondering as I listened to all this was a question an Army officer who worked on Guantanamo issues asked me years ago: How can you win a war for your values by using tactics that undermine them?
At the end of the discussion, I turned to the woman standing next to me, who I think had just been identified in the film as the chief bin Laden hunter. "So, are you Jessica Chastain?" I asked, referring to the actress who played that role in Zero Dark Thirty. (Yes, I know, on reflection, it was a stupid way to put it. I have been told that the Chastain character was a composite of several of the CIA women, including Jennifer Matthews, who was killed in the Khost bombing.)
"No," the woman replied, "Jessica Chastain wasn't there." Great answer!
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
In a footnote in the Orwell diaries, I learned that more British civilians were killed by enemy action during World War II than were members of the Royal Navy (60,595 vs. 50,758).
Meanwhile, in other news related to World War II, for the first time in nearly 70 years, there is not a single American tank on German soil.
The estimable Micah Zenko wants a "first draft" of "the Third War." Actually it has been written, and is being published this week. It is The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti. It has all sorts of interesting details, like that the United States has the ability to remotely turn on a cell phone in Pakistan and then collect the precise coordinates of whoever is carrying it.
Here is an interview I did with the author by e-mail:
Tom Ricks: What are we going to learn from your book that we haven't gotten from others, like those by Peter Bergen?
Mark Mazzetti: Peter's books are absolutely terrific, and a hard act to follow! And, there have certainly been a number of terrific books covering the war on terror. What I've tried to do in my book is tell a story of a secret war, and how that war has changed places like the CIA and parts of the Pentagon. The CIA is now at the center of waging covert wars in places like Pakistan and Yemen. The agency certainly has had a history of far flung military adventures, but then it tried to get out of the killing business -- only to come back at it in a big way since the September 11 attacks. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has become more like the military, sending soldiers into the dark corners of the world on spying missions. There's been a real blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies.
With the "big wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan either over or winding down, I think that these secret wars have become the default way of doing business. And, only now is the pressure growing for the White House to bring greater transparency to the shadow wars.
TR: What was the biggest surprise to you in reporting and writing the book?
MM: I think that the biggest surprise was how much this type of warfare brings various colorful characters to the forefront. When the United States determined it couldn't send the 101st Airborne into a country, it began to rely on private contractors and other types of individuals to do things like gather intelligence on the ground. I spent a chapter on the private spying network run by Duane Clarridge, a former CIA officer and one of the figures in the Iran-Contra scandal. A Pentagon official hired Clarridge's team to gather intelligence in Pakistan because there was a belief that the CIA wasn't up to the task, but the entire operation ended up in recriminations and a Pentagon investigation. It's stories like this that I really tried to highlight in the book.
TR: Why do you think drones have become so controversial only recently in the United States?
MM: That's a good question. I think that up until recently, at least in Washington, you had both Republicans and Democrats uniformly supporting targeted killings and there was no constituency calling for greater transparency and accountability for these kinds of operations. Since the November election, you have seen Democrats become more vocal in challenging the Obama administration on the use of targeted killings. And, of course, there is Rand Paul's now-famous filibuster that captured concerns among Libertarians about secret government operations.
TR: Which of our three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and "knife") do you think historians ultimately will find the most significant?
MM: This might sound like I'm avoiding giving a direct answer, but all three wars have impacted each other, and so in some ways I think that some historians will look at this entire post-9/11 period as one that fundamentally changed both U.S. foreign policy and how the United States conducts war. Certainly, the Obama administration has relied on these shadow wars because it considers them cheaper, lower risk, and more effective than the big messy wars of occupation like Iraq and Afghanistan. But, so much of the way that an organization like the Joint Special Operations Command does business is a direct result of its work in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They took parts of what they were doing in those countries and brought outside of the "hot" battlefields.
TR: What do you think are the lessons of this third war?
MM: There's no question that the United States has become dramatically better at manhunting than it was on September 11, 2001. There is better fusion of intelligence, and the Pentagon, CIA, and other intelligence agencies are working more closely together. I think, though, that one of the lessons is that secrecy can be very seductive and that it might be too easy for our government to carry out secret warfare without the normal checks and balances required for going to war. As you well know, as much as the Pentagon can be a lumbering bureaucracy, there is a certain benefit of having a good many layers that operations must pass through in order to get approved. When decisions about life and death are made among a small group of people, and in secret, there are inherent risks.
By Lt. Gen. John H. Cushman, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
This is what the president should say:
Organs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have recently made announcements of that nation's readiness to attack with long range weapons targets of the United States.
It is time for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
The United States has no intention to attack the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
If under any pretext the Democratic People's Republic of Korea attacks the United States, we will respond with devastating might. Their nation will be a wasteland.
Leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have built military weaponry that can serve no useful purpose.
I repeat, it is time for them to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
End of conference
General Cushman commanded the 101st Airborne Division, the Army Combined Arms Center, and the ROK/US field army defending Korea's Western Sector. He served three tours in Vietnam. He also is author of Command and Control of Theater Forces: The Korea Command and Other Cases (1986).
Ricks: We are almost out of time. Speaking of mutually shared decisions, the U.S. government is probably going to face one this year on Iran. How has everything we've been talking about shaped how we are going to be thinking about Iran down the road?
First David, then Michèle.
Crist: Well I think it's all interrelated -- issues in Afghanistan, issues in Iraq, all affect how we look at Iran and how we are positioned to be able to do something about Iran. I think it's all interrelated. Lessons I think have been institutionalized at least within senior leaders on some of the problems we had in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially second- and third-order effects. What are the consequences of different actions we take? What are consequences of conflict in general? Is regime change a viable option? Isn't it a viable option? If not, then how do we...? I mean, all that is in the background of all the discussions. And I think it's been very healthy in many ways.
Ricks: One of the issues that we've been talking about is the quality of civil-military relations and straightforward, candid, honest advice from generals to civilian leaders -- for which we have apparently just seen General Mattis quietly fired. [Ricks note: I should have said "pushed out early."]
Crist: On the record I won't comment on General Mattis's views.
I will say and I can say this with a certain honesty since I've helped draft many of the memos: He has been very candid on what his views of what needs to be done. I haven't seen anything like the Rumsfeldian approach to stifling alternative views, and so as a consequence while...And some people in the U.S. military -- maybe the political leadership isn't as receptive as they would like on authority issues and some other response...the dialogue is there, and frankly a lot of it gets to these ideas of what I have always thought of as one of the intangibles where you have breakdown in discourse between civilian and military leadership is as you say trust. And a lot of it is personality based. Just personalities of the individual players and how they personally get along, as well as concerns of political leadership.
Ricks: And you have seen a trusting, candid exchange?
Crist: I have from my level, absolutely. And I've sat in many -- not as many as Michèle and some of the others here -- but a number of meetings with senior leaders on both sides of it. And I have seen it be quite candid.
Ricks: My impression is that the Obama administration has been almost afraid of Centcom under Mattis and Harward -- the mad-dog symptom with two incredibly aggressive guys. But I see Michèle shaking her head. Michèle, jump in.
Flournoy: I would say of all the issue areas that I was exposed to in the deputies committees process, there was none where we took a more deliberate, strategic, questioning, and very candid approach than Iran. And it really started back -- this goes a few years back now when it was started up when Gates was still secretary of defense -- and I think the thought that was put into exactly what words the president says to describe our objective in Iran: Is it "prevent"? Is it "contain"? That was debated, the consequences downstream of choosing one versus the other, multiple senior leader seminars, war games looking at different options, going down the road of different scenarios, very close partnership with the military in actually setting the theater so that we are now communicating a degree of deterrence to back up the policy of sanctions and negotiations.
So I actually think on Iran, probably more than on any other issue that I've seen, it's been very strategic, very comprehensive. There's no idea that you can't bring to the table. There's no idea that hasn't been debated. And people may have very strong views and disagree. But this is not one where -- this was one where there was a real constant coming back to what are our interests? What are our objectives? How do we make sure we are applying rigor and not just going down the road towards confrontation with no limits or no boundaries or no sense of what we are trying to achieve?
Crist: I would add one more point in having looked at U.S. strategy for a long time on Iran. One thing that I found interesting that has evolved over the last few years that I haven't seen earlier is looking even beyond the nuclear issue. What is our long-term relationship with this country? Are we long-term adversaries? If so, how is that going to play out across the region? And how do we counteract that? And also, are there areas, I think, which despite the engagement piece, seemed to have died off, there has been a lot of thought given -- are there areas where there is mutual cooperation? And what will that lead to long term? Can we have maybe not rapprochement but some kind of détente with Iran?
Ricks: So can we start to get Putin to be aggressive again and drive Iran into our hands?
Crist: Yeah, it's tough because in my personal opinion we are for a host of reasons adversaries in the region. We have two different strategic views of what we want out of it.
But the issue is bigger than just the nuclear issue. The nuclear issue is a symptom, more than a cause, of our problems.
THE END... -- or is it?
Fastabend : I want to challenge us at the table. I want to give an example of some of the things we lapse into. Half of us have said that the problem of the past decade has been counterinsurgency and that we've done it and now we are all wrapped up about whether we are going to do it again or not. I'm not sure we've done it.
You could equally assert that what we have done is brokered two civil wars. And what's really striking to me about the difference between the two experiences of the last decade and El Salvador: In El Salvador, there wasn't that -- there were many moments that I had in many nights in Iraq wondering about, "I wonder if we are fighting for the right guys here." I think in retrospect we were brokering a civil war, and that's how we calmed it down, by giving the Sunnis a chance to get it to a stalemate.
I think that civil war is still ongoing. I don't think Iraq was a success unless we have an incredibly low standard for success. I can't believe after over 6,000 dead and over 50,000 wounded -- not counting what's happened to the Iraqis -- we leave behind a government that can't stop overflights of arms to Syria from Iran. That counts for success? Really?
Alford: Would it be better to still have Saddam there?
Fastabend: That's a ridiculous statement, if you don't mind me saying. Of course not. It would be better to have enough presence and influence in that area to have justified that sacrifice having made it. Or having had a better decision process about whether we are going to make that sacrifice or not. We'd be a lot better off in the coming months in our face-off with Iran if we had two, three brigades around the five strategic air bases in Iraq. It would definitely influence their decision-making.
Alford: So that should influence our decision in two years in Afghanistan.
Fastabend: Yeah, it should.
Ricks: So you think the way that the Obama administration resolved Iraq has fundamentally weakened our position vis-à-vis Iran?
Fastabend: [Response off the record.]
Flournoy: Can I just say for the record, a little bit of a point of fact. I think there was serious discussion of a willingness of having a residual force. What changed the whole dynamic was when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki made the judgment that he could not bring the guarantee of immunity for U.S. forces through the COR [Council of Representatives] without risking a confidence vote on his government, and therefore he wasn't willing to do that. Then you're left with do you leave forces there with no immunities? That was a nonstarter. That's what ultimately drove us to zero. It wasn't necessarily a preferred option for the reasons you are describing.
Glasser: So thinking about this in the context of Afghanistan and the decisions that are yet to come, I have questions.
One, has anything changed that has made us take a more strategic approach or to ask the right questions now after so long of somehow not getting to the right set of questions over the next two years? Because that certainly -- this is a very reasoned discussion, but I think pulling back you get a sense that there's just a rush to the exits and that that's what we are doing. In part because the politics and the public opinion in the U.S. have already gotten us out the door, does that have an increased risk from a military point of view?
Second one: This issue that Shawn raised of what is our post-Vietnam legacy? What is the version of that for post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan legacy? There were obviously crucial decisions that were made in the 1970s after Vietnam about what the U.S. military force was going to be, how it was going to be reorganized. Have we learned the lessons from that? We know we are going into a period of transition. Are the right things happening? Are the right preparations happening? Is there a process to understand what this moment of transition can mean over the long term?
Chandrasekaran: Can I tack another question onto that? Which is, what do we see as an acceptable end state in Afghanistan given the parameters that are on the table?
Fastabend: I like Tom's light footprint, having a few bases there from which you go out and hunt every night.
Mudd: Just the ability to eliminate the target we went into. [CROSS TALK, INAUDIBLE.] The only way Kabul makes a difference is it affects our capability to protect ourselves. That's it.
Ricks: David Kilcullen, who couldn't be here today, maintained you can't do that because you need the larger presence to acquire the intelligence that gives you the targets.
Mudd: I don't think that's true . . .
Dubik: Well, you need the intelligence; whether it needs the larger U.S. presence to get that intelligence is a separate issue. You can get the intelligence from Afghans...
Mudd: We can get it in Pakistan.
Dubik: If the relationship is correct and there is enough stability and trust that the Afghans will give it to you. So I think that there's, for me anyway, a very difficult set of questions to ask yourself.
First, what's necessary to protect our interests? Apropos of why we went in there to begin with.
Second, what do I have to do in the country to be in the position to make attacking al Qaeda a real capability? For me anyway, when I ask myself that question, that gets to some degree of stability in the country, some degree of relationship with the military and the population, and some propping up of the military in terms of enablers to allow them to do what they can do and, I think, want to do.
Crist: To me a larger issue of defining success in Afghanistan is something that doesn't destabilize Pakistan. I'm far more worried about the impact of a drawdown from Afghanistan is going to have on Pakistan than I am . . . [inaudible].
Flournoy: I wanted to respond to, "Is this all just a rush to the exits?" I think you'd see a very different set of decisions if it were just a rush to the exits. I think Dale actually described it well when he said that we are at a critical juncture in the whole campaign, which is when you really do put the Afghan forces you've built -- helped to build -- in front. And you still have a hand on the back seat, but you want to do that before you draw down substantially. You want to put them up front while you are there to be able to help and advise and adjust. It's that milestone that's being -- the judgment is that they are ready for the most part.
Let's have a year, year-plus, to make sure that this is going to work and make adjustments as necessary and then get to the much more circumscribed mission, which is about securing our counterterrorism objectives long term vis-à-vis al Qaeda in the region and making sure that the Afghan forces can at minimum prevent the overthrow of the central government and a return to some kind of safe-haven situation. That's the critical thing -- that does not take a huge long-term U.S. force. It requires some, and I would agree with your point on at least in the near time some of those neighbors ought to be pretty [INAUDIBLE OVER COUGHING]. So it can't just be advisors. If it were really like wanting to wash our hands of this, you would see a very different profile than what just came out of the White House and the meeting with Karzai.
Chandrasekaran: It's hard to reconcile the kind of wash-your-hands view with what has been telegraphed -- you know, deputy national security advisor talking about a potential zero option even though that was likely just a negotiating tactic -- the very real possibility that it could be a presence anywhere between 2,500 and maybe 6,000. That's certainly sufficient to continue the necessary CT [counterterrorism] missions.
But we've built an army there that is going to require an enormous follow-on assistance presence as well as financial support, a part of this that really hasn't gotten, I think, nearly enough attention. If the bill for the sustainment of the Afghan security forces is somewhere around $4 billion in 2015 and if we only have 3,000 forces there, we can say all we want to about trying to diverge the troop footprint from the congressional appropriation, but our history shows us that those two things are inextricably linked and that the fewer troops you have there the less chances you have of getting the necessary money to support them. And we all know why the communist-backed regime fell was when Moscow stopped funding Kabul. And so I think we are not paying nearly enough attention to the money question.
But we still, I think, are not asking ourselves -- our government is not asking -- whether this grand plan of building such a large ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] with such complex logistical requirements, with such complex need for enablers, which will likely have to be internationally provided for some years, is at all feasible there, and in the time remaining between now and the end of 2014 should the security force assistance mission be more than just pushing the Afghans into the lead but also one last-ditch attempt to triage this to get to a smaller, more manageable force that has a better chance of holding its own.
Ricks: This actually goes back to the whole issue of, "OK, it might have been a better original decision to go with local forces. Then, what sort of local forces?" I actually think in Vietnam our fundamental error was in '62, '63 not emphasizing local forces and keeping our eye on that ball and just "no, we are not putting our national forces in." It might not even need to look like your forces. It might be better to have an indigenous force that looks like an indigenous force. But Jim Dubik is an expert on this having done this. Jim?
Dubik: I think there's still some learning to be done on both our part and the Afghan part on exactly what the ANA [Afghan National Army] is. And I'll just focus on ANA and not the greater. We certainly, I think anyway, made exactly the right decision in 2009 to expand the Afghan army and at the same time to disintegrate the development effort, to take the combat forces and to accelerate them as fast as we could and to allow the enablers to grow at what is going to be a really slow pace. I think that was the right decision, and I think it got us to a better point than we are now. The enablers, though for me, is really going to be a very -- it's not a settled question, let's put it that way. For me, anyway, in the near term, the set of enablers they need are pretty well known and have to be externally provided.
But we've never really asked the Afghans in a way that is meaningful. To say, "OK, how do you really want your army to be organized?" We have asked them, so I don't mean to say we haven't. But we've asked them in our presence, and that's like asking your younger brother, "You want to go to a movie with me?" or "Oh, yeah, I'm going with you." When you're not there, the answers might be different. The set of enablers that we assume now -- and I've written about them and drank some of that Kool-Aid myself -- but the enablers that we ask now may not be, after the question is settled in, say, 2015, which I think is probably the right time frame, the enablers that they really need or want. And the current organization of regional commands probably will stay, but in our absence the arrangement and relationship of those regional forces and how they're -- that I still think there's some learning to occur in 2013 and 2014 when our presence is diminishing and their sovereignty and judgment increases.
We saw a good bit of that in Iraq in 2009, '10, '11 when they started making more independent decisions about their own force. Now I know the two cases are significantly different, but there are certain commonalities.
Chandrasekaran: On paper what was done starting in 2009, I think, made sense. There was a lot to be said for it. But it just didn't fundamentally take into account the political realities that we face here. It made assumptions about the willingness of the U.S. government to continue sustainment, and it assumed that there would be a robust U.S. security force mission. I don't think 2014 was on the table in '09, but it made assumptions about robust U.S. support -- physical support -- for many years.
Dubik: No argument. But those assumptions, as questionable as those were, were better than the assumptions of 2001 through '9, when we were going to grow the army at such a slow rate that we would be there for 150 years before we were done with it. Because we were growing it at the rate of its slowest -- we integrated the force, so we weren't going to put a force out until all elements were ready.
Ricks: I remember reading somewhere that we couldn't start training the Afghan soldiers until they were literate. 99 percent of soldiers in world history have been illiterate. Why can't we have a few illiterate soldiers here?
Blake Hounshell: Are the Taliban literate?
Alford: Don't you think they'll evolve back after we leave in '14? There'll be an evolution back to their history and natural tendency?
Dubik: There'll be a shift. I don't know if it's evolution back or forward. And that's what I mean by learning. We are going to learn what actually works and what's actually sustainable.
Glasser: I'm raising that point actually only to get us to this question of clearly there is a broad consensus around this table that the civilian-military dysfunction was a key part of what got us to where we are. All I was trying to do was to suggest how can we isolate what are sets of decisions or strategic choices that do fall more on the military side of the ledger.
For example, Shawn started us off with his question about rotation. Why wasn't there ever a decision? I don't know and I may be wrong with this, but my guess is that is not so much coming from the civilian leadership as this is how our Army works, this is how our system works. So, yeah, we have to have a new commander in Afghanistan every year.
Dubik: I have a different opinion. It certainly is a major component of the military decision. But if you make the assumption that the war is going to last X amount of time and [so] you don't need to grow the size of the ground forces, then you're kind of left with a de facto rotation decision. Or you're not going to allow policy-wise to go there and stay because that's not an acceptable policy.
The nexus of those kinds of decisions is by its nature civil-military. And in fact in my other comment about autonomy, that's why we have the wrong model. These are shared decisions, and they have to be shared decisions. The commitment of resources in a military campaign is not merely a military decision. This is, and necessarily will be, an important civilian component of the decision. The rotation stuff -- in Iraq for example -- if we are going to leave by 2004, then you don't have to grow the size of the army, and, well, we're not really 2004. Maybe it'll be 2006: "OK, we'll just rotate our way through this."
(One last installment to come, about Iran, of course.)
USACE Photo by Matthew Rowe
By Eve Hunter
Best Defense guest columnist
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this past Monday, quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald's definition of a first-rate intelligence as being able to hold two competing and opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. That is precisely the predicament he put his audience in.
Gen. Dempsey approached the current geopolitical situation with a jovial attitude. He compared the U.S. position in the world with the TV character "Mayhem," of Allstate Insurance (and 30 Rock) fame. His face was aglow with patriotism, even while confronting questions concerning "the West's failure in Syria." Hedging his bets, he spoke positively of the Iraq War, saying that Iraq is now a "partner, not [an] adversary."
Despite the general's optimism, however, he was very clear in the fact that Congress is inhibiting America's potential to be a "global leader" and a "reliable partner." Dempsey spoke of a prospective shift in defense strategy that would include eliminating unnecessary weapons and recognizing, with funds, that diplomacy is the key to global security.
The most engaging part of his speech was his willingness to admit uncertainty. On a macro-level Dempsey was ebulliently confident, but on country-specific questions, he seemed just as flummoxed as the rest of us. For example, our understanding of the Syrian opposition is more opaque than it was six months ago. On Iran, the one question he would ask Ayatollah Khomeini is why he is doing what he is doing. Dempsey's relationship with his newly appointed Chinese counterpart is only in the beginning stages; implications for defense remain murky.
Many may see a lack of decisiveness as a weakness, but at this inflection point in history I am happy to have a man like Dempsey leading our Joint Chiefs. He is aware of the complexities of today's world, as made clear by an alliterative reference to bits and bytes being as dangerous as bullets and bombs. At the same time he is painstakingly deliberate, which, at the 10 year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, is a welcome change.
Ricks: Michèle, you looked like you were about to say something.
Flournoy: I think that this discussion is about the alignment of objectives. Are they consistently aligned with our interests? And is the level of cost bearable and appropriate, given the nature of our interests?
I saw that sort of insight applied to subsequent cases. I think the experience of Iraq -- the inherited operations of both Iraq and Afghanistan -- caused us to have a very fundamental strategic discussion about Libya, for example, and why we weren't going to put boots on the ground, invade the country, own it, et cetera. People have said, you know-- it's the caricature of leading from behind, and that this is some terrible mistake for the U.S.
What it was, was really circumscribing our involvement to match what were very limited interests, to say we are going to play a leadership role that enables others who have more vital interests to come in and be effective. But we are not going to be out in front; we are not going to own this problem; we are not going to rebuild Libya.
I think that the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan -- working through how do you get operations back onto a track where your interests and your actions are aligned -- also informed things like Libya, like Syria, and so forth. You can argue whether or not that we made the calculation right, whether we got it right or not. But I'm just saying that the conversation -- the fundamentals conversation -- did happen in subsequent cases because of, I think, the experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ricks: Would you say that President Obama -- to put you on spot -- is good at having that sort of conversation?
Flournoy: In my experience he is. If the staff doesn't -- if the process doesn't serve it up to him -- he's usually pretty good at saying you're not asking the right question, the right question is "x."
Brimley: I mean just as a two-finger on that. That was my first month at the White House when that happened. And it was an amazing process to watch almost from start to finish as a case study in how a president considers the use of force.
Ricks: You're talking about Libya?
Brimley: Yes. When you read the history it seemed to me that with the decision to invade Iraq, there might not have been a formal National Security Council meeting where the benefits were voiced in open session in a proper process. But [on Libya] the president held at least three or four full National Security Council meetings and dozens of deputies and principals meetings to weigh that issue.
Ricks: And was the question why front and center?
Brimley: Yes, very much so.
Point No. 2: When you look at the mechanics of what we did in Libya, we provided a set of capabilities that were unique. We had unique comparative advantage: air- to-air refueling, ISR architecture, command-and-control architecture.
Alford: Geography mattered on that too.
Brimley: Geography, yes absolutely. The fact that we had a presence in the Mediterranean already was very helpful.
Alford: And you have an ocean.
Brimley: Right. We provided this set of unique capabilities that were enabling for other partners, to include partners from the Gulf to act in ways that they hadn't before. Every situation is different.
But I think that process, at least for someone like me relatively young, as a case study in how we think about how we think about use-of-force decision-making and the way we provide unique capabilities in the future is hugely informative.
The second thing I'd say on Libyais that as a young person, my limited experience dealing with these issues has been informed almost entirely by Iraq and Afghanistan. So when we were debating Libya, people in my generation were very sort of hesitant to really almost do anything. Almost a hard-core realist approach of "it's not really core to our national interests; we shouldn't get involved." But the people, I think, who had came of age in the Clinton administration who dealt with limited uses of force -- no-fly zones -- were much more willing to entertain creative solutions. So people in my generation, I think, going forward will tend to be an all-in or all-out.
Ricks: There's an article to be done there on the generational qualities in foreign policymakers.
Brimley: I think the people within the Clinton administration having dealt with a couple of these use-of-force decisions in the ‘90s were much more creative in how they thought about ways in which we could use force but not go all in.
Alford: A great example, real quick. I was a second lieutenant in Panama when we took out Noriega. And by December 26th the Panamanian people were on our side, but that could have easily been a counterinsurgency fight, but the Panamanian people were very Americanized. We invaded that country, took out its leader, and rebuilt it. And it happened like that because the Panamanian people said yes. By February I was home, drinking beer.
(More to come about, especially about the relationship between golf and force structure)
David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George Bush the latter, writes:
"For a long time, war with Iraq was discussed inside the Bush administration as something that would be decided at some point in the future; then, somewhere along the way, war with Iraq was discussed as something that had already been decided long ago in the past."
Ricks: Rajiv, you have been unnaturally patient. [Gestures dramatically with open right hand] This is a man who, in Baghdad, was famous for shouting at people, "Right now, right now, right now!" He was a great bureau chief.
Chandrasekaran: I'm just taking all this in. It's fascinating. I find myself agreeing with an awful lot of what's being said around the table.
Just sort of building on a lot of this, I feel like the military does a great job of looking at troop-to-task calculations. We don't we do that on the diplomatic side of things? There was this assumption building on, all right, September 12: Was the Taliban really our enemy? We then -- fast-forward a couple months -- think that we can have a reasonably strong central government, civilian government, in a country with zero institutions, with no human capacity. There just, from the very beginning, weren't the necessary questions asked about what this would take, not from a military point of view, but from a whole-of-government point of view.
All these assumptions get baked in that wind up being completely contradictory and counterproductive to any efforts to build a stable government, and at no point do we step up and say, "Wait. This doesn't make sense." Part of it's a bandwidth issue. Part of it is, I think, civilian sides of our government aren't doing the necessary sorts of calculations about: Is this in our best interests? Is this doable? What would it take to do it? And then, even further, getting right back to the beginning, the question of space; one associated issue with this -- and I don't mean to blame the victim here -- we don't do a good enough job of saying no to the partners we're trying to help. Not just internationally, but the Afghans themselves. You know, when the Afghans say, "We want to centralize power in Kabul because, you know, Ashraf Ghani says it's going to help fight corruption," we don't push back meaningfully and say, "Yes, but it's completely unrealistic given the capacity of your government." When [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai says, "We want you ISAF forces to go push into these districts because we've got bad guys there," we don't do a good enough job of saying, "Wait a second; it doesn't make sense to do that."
Ricks: General Jabouri, listening to this, as someone who has dealt with the Americans, what do you think of Rajiv's analysis? Are the Americans able to say no? Do they make intelligent decisions, from your perspective as an Iraqi general and a mayor of a city?
Jabouri: I think the Americans, in the beginning, always take the ally from who said, "OK, do everything they want." And they're strong. Like Chalabi, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, someone, they always say to them, "OK, I'm from this hand to this hand [extends hands, palms up]." But after that discover they chose the wrong man. The ally is not the man who says it is always OK to do things.
Ricks: So again, a lack of sufficient thought, of understanding, going into the situation.
Jabouri: I think also they depended totally on the people outside Iraq, not from inside Iraq. The do not make a balance between that, but now we see the result in Iraq, with what happened.
Ricks: Ms. Flournoy?
Flournoy: I think this point about really being thoughtful about your political objectives and what's the goals and the strategy to achieve them and not being all things to all people is really important. And I think it is something that we really struggle with. When you ask why, I do think it does also speak to the imbalance in our own investment as a government. I mean, we have this tremendously -- well, at least historically -- well-resourced military, well trained, well cultivated. Obviously when you put thousands of Americans in harm's way, a lot of attention is going to rightfully be focused in that direction to make sure we know what we're doing and are managing that well.
But again, if you think what drives the success or failure of these operations, it is your political objectives and your political strategy and how well you frame those question. I would argue we don't grow on the civilian side grand strategists, we don't grow political strategists. You occasionally find them, and I can list a few I admire and respect. But I remember one of the most difficult moments of the Iraqi government formation, sitting in the embassy in Baghdad saying, "Well, what're we going to do? What's our strategy to help them cohere?" Not that the U.S. was going to dictate the outcome, but how are we going to help get over this hump and move forward? Having the senior political officer at the time tell me, "Well, that's not my job. My job, as the political officer, is to observe and report." And I said, "I'm sorry. We invaded a country. We are occupying this country. Your job is thinking about the political strategy that's going to help put it back together again on sustainable terms." But that's not what we train people to do; it's not what we resource them to do. And I do think it's connected to this fundamental imbalance of resources and that we didn't put enough time, attention, thought, focus, resources into the whole civilian side of what we were doing.
Dubik: In conflicts that are essentially not winnable, militarily. The military operations are necessary, but they're not sufficient. They're not even decisive.
Ricks: Emile Simpson makes this very good point in his new book, War From the Ground Up, as a young British officer who fought in Afghanistan that you've got to turn Clausewitz on his head and look as this as violent politics, not as warfare that leads to a political outcome. A lot of it is political operations coming out of the barrel of a gun.
By Col. Ted Spain, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
1. Secretary Rumsfeld's deployment plans did not include an adequate number of military police to control the routes during the ground war, nor sufficient military police to help control the streets after the ground war. This contributed to the Jessica Lynch fiasco and the chaos on the streets of Baghdad.
2. Law and order was not given sufficient attention in the pre-war planning. This failed to provide a police system to provide security to the Iraqi citizenry and to instill a sense of trust in the U.S. Army.
3. The categories of the thousands of detainees were never clear, causing confusion as to the proper legal treatment. Were they enemy, terrorist, or criminal? What's the difference?
4. The process of collecting intelligence from detainees was flawed from the pre-war planning sessions, during the ground war, and during the subsequent occupation. This set the stage for abuse, including the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal.
5. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the warden of Abu Ghraib Prison, was the wrong leader at the wrong place at the wrong time. Her appointment resulted in scandal and loss of trust in American forces by Iraqi citizenry.
6. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of all military forces in Iraq during the occupation, was in over his head and continued fighting the ground war long after it was over.
7. The Coalition Provisional Authority, under the leadership of L. Paul Bremer, dismantled the Iraqi Army and the highest level of the Ba'ath Party. We lost some of the most experienced personnel that were so vital in putting Iraq back together again.
8. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik was more focused on padding his résumé and getting camera time than helping stand up a viable Iraqi Police Services.
9. Because standing up an Iraqi Police Service was focused on quantity, not quality, we never completely knew who we could trust.
10. President Bush's coalition of the willing was only a coalition in name. Even those that were willing were not able. Only a couple of countries contributed to gaining stability in Iraq.
Colonel Ted Spain commanded the U.S. Army's 18th Military Police Brigade during the ground war and first year of the occupation of Iraq. He was responsible for thousands of military police and Iraqi Police across Baghdad and Southern Iraq. He is the co-author, along with Terry Turchie, a former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI, of Breaking Iraq: The Ten Mistakes That Broke Iraq, which is being published this week.
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.
Remember how last month I was thinking aloud about how I should write an essay on future force structure with the title "More Salvadors, Fewer Vietnams"? Well, it turns out it already has been written, by Army Maj. Fernando Lujan. It was published last week.
Maj. Lujan, a career Special Forces officer who extensively studied the operations of American forces in Afghanistan, and also spent a lot of time hacking his way through the jungles of South America, called it "Light Footprints: The Future of American Military Intervention." And it is a fine article about military human capital. The essay, he said at a seminar I attended last week, "is about how to do more with less." Not only is the light footprint, indirect approach more effective than sending in brigades of conventional ground forces, it also is cheaper, he argues.
There are several characteristics of successful missions, he explains:
Special operations, he reminded us at the seminar, is "not just drone strikes and ninjas." Word up.
Ricks: What I hear from around this table is a remarkable, surprising consensus to me. I'm not hearing any tactical problems, any issues about training, about the quality of our forces.
Instead, again and again what I'm hearing is problems at the strategic level, especially problems of the strategic process. To sum up the questions, they are asking: Do our military and civilian leaders know what they are doing? And that goes to the process issues and to general strategic thinking. That's one bundle of questions. The second emphasis I'm hearing, and this also kind of surprised me, is, should we have, from the get-go, focused on indigenous forces rather than injecting large conventional forces? That is, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have we tried to do El Salvador, but wound up instead doing Vietnam in both, to a degree?
Mudd: Just one quick comment on that as a non-military person: It seems to me there's an interesting contrast here between target and space. That is: Do we hold space and do we help other people help us hold space, or do we simply focus on a target that's not very space-specific? And I think at some point fairly early on we transitioned there [from target to space], which is why I asked my initial question. A lot of the comments I hear are about the problem of holding space, and should we have had someone else do it for us? And I wonder why we ever got into that game.
Ricks: Into which game?
Mudd: Into the game of holding space as opposed to eliminating a target that doesn't really itself hold space.
Alford: It's our natural tendency as an army to do that. To answer another question, it's also our natural tendency as an army to build an army that looks like us, which is the exact opposite of what we should do. They're not used to our culture. One quick example, if I could: the Afghan border police. The border police, we tried to turn them into, essentially, like our border police and customs agents. Right across the border, the Pakistani Army uses frontier guardsmen. Why do they do that? They use their culture -- a man with a gun that fights in the mountains is a warrior. He's respected by his people. He's manly. All those things matter, and it draws men to that organization. We always talk about how our borders on [the Afghan] side are so porous; it's because we don't have a manly force that wants to go up into the mountains and kill bad guys, because we didn't use their culture.
Ricks: So we're already breaking new ground here. We're holding up the Pakistanis as a model!
Alford: On that piece. It's a cultural thing.
Dubik: I agree with the second comment. On the first point, in terms of why we held space, I think it's how we defined the problem. We defined the problem not as al Qaeda -- it was "al Qaeda and those who give them sanctuary." And so we couldn't conceive of a way to get at al Qaeda without taking the Taliban down, and because of the problem definition, we inherited a country.
Ricks: So what you're saying is actually that these two problems I laid out come together in the initial strategic decision framing of the problem.
Fastabend: I don't think there was such framing.
Ricks: The initial lack of framing...
Fastabend: Getting back to Ms. Cash, we didn't really decide what the questions were. We thought we knew the question. You know, we thought we had in each case [of Afghanistan and Iraq] governments to support that would hold space, and that was a secondary thing that came on us when we got there: that actually the sovereign government wasn't so sovereign.
Ricks: I just want to throw in the question that [British] Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb sent. He couldn't be here today. General Lamb said, "My question is, given the direction I had -‘remove the Taliban, mortally wound al Qaeda, and bring its leadership to account' -- who came up with the neat idea of rebuilding Afghanistan?"
Mudd: It's interesting. If you define threat as capability and intent to strike us, then I think there's confusion early on with the Taliban, because I would say they had neither the capability nor intent to strike us, but they provide safe haven. If you look at areas where we have entities that have those twin capabilities or those twin strengths -- Yemen and Somalia come to mind, maybe northern Mali -- we're able to eliminate threat without dealing with geography. So there are examples where you can say, "Well, we faced a fundamental -- I mean, not as big a problem as Afghanistan." But you look at how threat has changed in just the past two years, and I don't think anyone would say that the threat, in terms of capability and intent, of Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is anywhere near where it was a few years ago. That's because we focused on target, not geography.
Glasser: Just to go back to this question, was the original sin, if you will, focusing on U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan, versus working from the beginning to create or shore up local forces? I want to probe into that a little bit. How much did people at the time understand that as a challenge? I remember being in Kabul for the graduation of the first U.S.-trained contingent of Afghan army forces, and they were Afghan army forces. These guys worked for warlords that had come together, Northern Alliance warlords who made up the fabric of the Defense Ministry. They had nothing to do with an Afghan force, and that's why we're still training them now.
Ricks: But Colonel Alford's point is that, those are the guys you want to work with, though. But don't work with them on your terms; work with them on their terms.
Glasser: But that's what we did. That's what we do. We worked with the warlords in Afghanistan. That's who our partners were in toppling the Taliban.
Alford: But we never turned it over to them, though. In '04, I was [in Afghanistan] as a battalion commander. We never would let them fight unless we always led the way. It's part of our culture, too, as soldiers and Marines. You send an infantry battalion into a fight, they're going to fight. It takes a lot to step back and let the Afghans do it, and do it their way. Provide them the medevacs and fire support -- that's the advisory role for those missions we're going to switch to this spring, and I'm all for it. We should have done this four years ago, but now we also need to see if this is going to work over the next almost two years. We need to be ruthless with young lieutenant colonels and colonels who want to get out there and fight, or generals who do, to support the Afghans and then see how they do against the Taliban. I'll tell you how they're gonna do: They're gonna whoop 'em. The Taliban does not have the capability to beat the Afghan army if we get out of their way.
Here is the first part of a transcript of a conversation held at the Washington offices of Foreign Policy magazine in January of this year. A shorter version, with full IDs of the participants, appears in the current issue of the magazine. This is the full deal, edited just slightly for clarity and ease of reading, mainly by deleting repetitions and a couple of digressions into jokes about the F-35 and such.
I had asked each participant to bring one big question about the conduct of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I began. We began with those.
Thomas E. Ricks: One of my favorite singers is Rosanne Cash, a country singer who is Johnny Cash's daughter, who has a great line in one of her songs: "I‘m not looking for the answers-- just to know the questions is good enough for me." And I think that is the beginning of strategic wisdom: Rather than start with trying to figure out the answers, start with a few good questions.
So what I'd like to start by doing is just go around the table with a brief statement -- "I'm so-and-so, and here's my question." So, to give you the example: I'm Tom Ricks, and my question is, "Are we letting the military get away with the belief that it basically did the best it could over the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that civilians in the government screwed things up?"
Philip Mudd: I guess my question is: "Why do we keep talking about Afghanistan when we went in 12 years ago, we talked about a target, al Qaeda. How did that conversation separate?"
Maj. Gen. David Fastabend (U.S. Army, ret.): My name is David Fastabend, and my question is: "Do what we think, our theory and doctrine, about strategy -- is that right? Could we not do a lot better?"
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, got a lot of questions. I suppose one among them would be, "How did the execution of our civilian-military policies so badly divert on the ground at a time, at least over the past couple of years, when there was supposed to be a greater commonality of interests in Washington?"
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (U.S. Army, ret.): I'm Jim Dubik, and my question's related to Rajiv's and Tom's: "How do we conduct a civil-military discourse in a way that increases the probability of more effective strategic integration in decisions?"
Shawn Brimley: Shawn Brimley. I have a lot of questions, but one that keeps coming to mind, being halfway through Fred Kaplan's book, is: "How did we, collectively, screw up rotation policy so badly that we never provided our military leaders the chance to fully understand the reality on the ground before they had to rapidly transition to a new colonel, a new brigadier, a new four-star?"
Maj. Gen. Najim Abed al-Jabouri (Iraqi Air Force, ret.): My name is al-Jabouri. As an Iraqi, I have a different view of 2003. I was a general in the Iraqi Air Force, so I wanted to shoot down your airplanes. After 2003, I was a police chief and a mayor, so I wanted your help to build my country. In the last 10 years I have learned that America has a great military power. It can target and destroy almost anything.
However, I have also learned that it is very difficult for America to clean up a mess it makes. Leaving a mess in someone else's country can cause more problems than you had at the beginning. Military operations in Muslim countries are like working with glass. If you do it right, it can be beautiful and great, but if you break it, it is difficult to repair or replace. My question is: "Do American strategy planners understand the consequences of breaking the glass, and if so, do they know what it will take to repair or replace the broken glass?" Thank you.
Col. J.D. Alford, USMC: My name is Dale Alford. I too have many questions, I guess, but I'm going to stay a little bit in my lane and I'm going to talk about the military. My question would be: "Can a foreign army, particularly with a vastly different culture, be a successful counterinsurgent? And if not, why haven't we switched and put more focus on the Afghan security forces?"
David Crist: My name is David Crist, and a bunch of people had very similar lines of thought to what I was going to use, so I'll take a common complaint that James Mattis says all the time and frame that into a question: "Do our commanders have time to think? Think about the issues and the information -- in some ways they have to be their own action officer. Do they have time to sit back and think about the issues with the op tempo going on and just the information flow?"
Michèle Flournoy: I have two, and I can't decide which one.
Ricks: You get both.
Flournoy: I get a twofer? So the very broad, strategic question is: "How do we ensure that we have a political strategy that takes advantage of the security and space that a military effort in counterinsurgency can create? How do we ensure that the focus remains primarily there while we resource that aspect?" Kind of a Clausewitzian question.
Second is a much more narrow question, and we have the right people in the room to reflect on this, which is: "What have we learned about how to build indigenous security forces in a way that's effective and sustainable?" I mean, this is a classic case where we reinvent the wheel, we pretend like we've never done it before, we pretend like there aren't lessons learned and good ways -- and less effective ways -- to do this. So: "Can we capture what we know about how to build indigenous security forces?"
Susan B. Glasser: I have a question of my own that's particularly for the people with a military background in this room, which is: "In September 2001, if you had told us that in 2013 we are going to be in Afghanistan with 65,000 American troops and debating what we accomplished there and how quickly we can get out, how many more years and how many billions of dollars we'd have to pay to sustain this operation, my strong sense is that there would have been an overwhelming view in the U.S. military -- and among the U.S. people more broadly -- that that was an unacceptable outcome. So, if we can all agree that 13 years was not what we wanted when we went into Afghanistan, what did we miss along the way?"
(more to come...)
By "Pierre Tea"
Best Defense guest columnist
Two months from now, in May 2013, the debate on COIN, as applied to Iraq and Afghanistan, will become academic, historical, and ripe for serious post-application analysis beyond the walls of the Pentagon.
The COINs will have all been spent, the PRTs' tents folded, and whatever hearts and minds purchased, leased, or lost can be counted, weighed against our costs, and their results. To quote Omar Khayyam, "The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on."
No credible analysis could avoid the obvious: that "something" had to be done about Saddam Hussein who ruthlessly threatened his neighbors (our allies) and his own populations, and about Osama bin Laden and his list of supporters, who directly attacked the United States. How did the "something" done work out?
As a first-hand civilian witness to the application and aftermath of "money as a weapon" surged by the billions into active and highly-fragmented war zones, I look forward to post-application debates on the key questions of COIN and PRTs: Did they help, hurt, or just fuel the multi-year conflicts to which they were continuously re-applied?
The U.S. dream of a peaceful and democratic Iraq and Afghanistan, however, has not been realized, and instability in adjacent Syria and Pakistan threatens to unravel anything enduring that we may have, through COIN, hoped to purchase from these two countries without any agreement with the Old Man in the Mountain (Iran), whose negative influence remains substantial, and undermines an accurate audit of what actual hearts and minds were purchased, for how long, and to what end.
My suspicion is that once all the COINs are spent, serious post-engagement analysis will end and the domestic shroud of myths needed to justify the honored dead and injured's contributions will drop in place, with little institutional learning, and even less than myths to show for it.
Leave it to Hollywood to mythologize the region, its history, and the heroism of individuals and incremental missions accomplished and we guarantee that history will repeat itself.
"Pierre Tea" probably has shaken more Afghan sand out of his shorts than you've walked on. This post doesn't necessarily reflect the official views of anyone but it sure does reflect the unofficial views of some.
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
By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
Most Americans do not realize the sheer volume of literature that exists showing that torture is a great tool for extracting false confessions but an extremely poor tool for collecting intelligence. Here's my Top 10:
1. The Black Banners, by Ali Soufan. From my review of the book in the Army's Military Review: "Soufan describes multiple interrogations in which he earned the trust and cooperation of Al-Qaeda operatives, only to have psychologists and amateur interrogators from the CIA destroy this rapport through brutality. He reports that once they used harsh techniques, detainees stopped providing substantial intelligence." Soufan, an Arabic-speaking FBI interrogator, dispels the myth that al Qaeda terrorists are "hardened" to withstand traditional interrogation approaches. Getting al Qaeda members to talk, he demonstrates, is rarely difficult for a skilled interrogator who uses rapport-based approaches and who understands their language, culture, and religion.
2. Stalking the Vietcong, by Colonel (Ret.) Stuart Herrington. Although primarily known as a counterinsurgency classic (this book is one of the recommended readings in the famous 2006 counterinsurgency manual), this memoir describes how Colonel Herrington convinced a senior South Vietnamese official to use rapport-based approaches rather than torture. The result was not only far more reliable intelligence, but often, the "turning" of enemy soldiers so that they actively collected against their former units. Incidentally, in a more recent essay, he writes about what he learned from his 2002 and 2003 inspections of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, respectively. This essay, which is his foreword to my own book on tactical-level interrogations in Iraq, is as important as any on the subject. You don't need to buy my book to read it. It's available online here.
3. How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq, by Matthew Alexander and John Bruning. From my review of Alexander's second memoir, Kill or Capture, for Military Review: "In his ?rst memoir, How to Break a Terrorist, Alexander described how he used the power of personal example to teach his team that they could be far more effective if they convinced (rather than coerced) their sources to talk. Thanks to his good efforts -- and to those he led -- his unit quickly began to produce results. Most notably, his team coaxed intelligence from sources that led to the successful U.S. air strike against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq."
4. The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe, by Raymond Toliver. Nazis are invariably depicted in movies as cruel torturers. Historical reality is different -- surprisingly so, in light of the Holocaust and how many Nazis treated members of "races" they deemed inferior. The Nazis' most successful interrogator, Hanns Scharff, "methodically and deliberately treated his prisoners with dignity." Some eyewitnesses reported that Scharff never even raised his voice in questioning. Instead, he enjoyed great success by building rapport with captured Allied pilots. After the war, the U.S. Air Force paid him the ultimate compliment by inviting him to America to teach their interrogators.
5. Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein -- As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture, by Eric Maddox and Davin Seay. From the book's Amazon website: "Maddox's candid and compelling narrative reveals the logic behind the unique interrogation process he developed and provides an insider's look at his psychologically subtle, nonviolent methods. The result is a gripping, moment-by-moment account of the historic mission that brought down Black List #1." You will hear more about this book in 2014: It is being made this year into a movie starring Robert Pattinson.
6. None of Us Were Like This Before, by Joshua Phillips. Phillips explores the causes and harmful effects, not just of American soldiers recently torturing for information, but of their abusing detainees in general. The book is particularly important for those researching military suicides and "moral injury," a PTSD-like condition that derives from the cognitive dissonance that occurs when people see or do things that conflict with their own deeply held values. In one chapter, Phillips investigates the utility of torture and, after a survey of literature on the subject, concludes that there seems to be no real evidence that torture gathers intelligence well. In one of my favorite paragraphs, Phillips cites the apparent "patina of pseudo-science" that was passed on by the mere presence of psychologists at torture sessions, making it appear to others as if there were a scientifically valid basis for torture (even if these psychologists often did little to actually influence interrogation plans).
7. The History of Camp Tracy: Japanese WWII POWs and the Future of Strategic Interrogation, by Alexander D. Corbin. Corbin tells the story of a remarkably successful interrogation facility established during World War II at Camp Tracy, California, for the questioning of Japanese POWs. Camp Tracy interrogation teams consisted of one Caucasian and one Nisei, thus enabling teams to leverage language skills, cultural knowledge, and physical appearance to build rapport. In making the case that interrogators today should pay close heed to lessons learned at this facility, Corbin describes the similarities between Islamic radicals today and zealous Japanese warriors willing to conduct suicide attacks for their God Emperor. From the foreword: "The use of torture or ‘physical coercion' was not necessary; in fact, the opposite was true: Camp Tracy interrogators found that courtesy and kindness overcame most Japanese reluctance and reticence."
8. Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey through Iraq, by Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian. This book teaches interrogation through counter-example -- what wrong looks like. As an impressionable new interrogator, Lagouranis had the misfortune of being assigned in 2004 to two of the worst places for interrogators in Iraq, Abu Ghraib prison and a facility run by one of Petraeus's brigades that was nearly as bad. Lagouranis's Kurtz-like descent into the heart of darkness is a cautionary tale for the U.S. military interrogation community. He summarizes his team's failure to collect intelligence through torture thus: "These techniques [EITs] were propagated throughout the Cold War, picked up again after 9/11, used by the CIA, filtered down to army interrogators at Guantanamo, filtered again through Abu Ghraib, and used, apparently, around the country by special forces...If torture works -- which is debatable -- maybe they had the training to make sure it worked. But at our end of the chain, we had no idea what we were doing. We were just a bunch of frustrated enlisted men picking approved techniques off a menu."
9. Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam, by Orrin DeForest and David Chanoff. This memoir describes how DeForest, a CIA interrogation officer in Vietnam, employed the "art of sympathetic interrogation" at the war's most successful joint interrogation center. He also describes the critical need of interrogators for access to robust databases and supporting analysis. The book makes the compelling case that if intelligent rapport-based methods supported by robust analysis had been the norm rather than simple, brutal, and ignorant tactics, U.S. and South Vietnamese intelligence would have enjoyed far greater success in the war.
10. Field Manual 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations, which can be downloaded online. The accumulated practical wisdom of generations of U.S. military interrogators has been collected into the latest iteration of this book-length manual. Here's what they have to say: "Use of torture is not only illegal but also it is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the HUMINT collector wants to hear." Not the most exciting reading, but indispensable if you want to understand how the vast majority of U.S. military interrogators really think.
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.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.