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.
By Emile Simpson
Best Defense terrorism movie reviewer
Yemeni security forces recently fired on protesters in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, apparently wounding up to 30 of them. In the Hands of al Qaeda hydrates such headlines: In this gripping documentary film, released last year, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad unpacks the complex dynamics of the conflict. At its core, this is a film about the fight between al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Yemeni Government -- government versus insurgents -- but this polarized dynamic is situated within broader kaleidoscopic elements: How many south Yemenis see the security forces as northern occupiers? Why do some tribes support AQAP and others fight them? This provides a nice illustration of the erosion of the boundary between the military and political domain in contemporary armed conflict.
The centerpiece of the film is Ghaith Abdul Ahad's coverage of the AQAP heartland east of Aden, at the centre of the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen. For example, in Ja'ar we encounter a city of 100,000 fully controlled by AQAP. This is truly fascinating; the tension of the documentary at this point is palpable. Since Ja'ar was retaken by Yemeni forces in the summer of 2012, this film offers a rare glimpse into what ground-holding by the international jihadis of AQAP looked like: While we see an extreme form of sharia law practiced, so too is there an active print and internet media operation, and real efforts to gain local support by AQAP water and electricity projects.
AQAP's carrot and stick approach during their overt, ground-holding phase does not seem so distant from COIN doctrine, albeit in a far more brutal form (an example of mirror imaging?). The film draws out the contrast with the no carrot, big stick, U.S. drone approach that appears to strike fear not just into AQAP, but also into the civilians who live under the drones' gaze: Much of the local population's political support is lost, but U.S. objectives against the AQAP leadership nonetheless appear to be met. Whether this represents campaign success more broadly presumably would depend on how one conceptualizes the conflict -- are you fighting physical networks or an idea? Perhaps too the film illustrates in Yemen a U.S. move back to a more conventional understanding of military effect against an enemy, for better or worse. While the film is not about COIN or drones per se, and is indeed admirable in its objectivity, a viewing would no doubt form an excellent basis for discussion of the pros and cons of these approaches.
In the Hands of Al Qaeda (2012)
Executive Producer: Tracey ‘H' Doran-Carter
Producer: Jamie Doran
Director: Safa Al Ahmad
Emile Simpson served in the British Army as an infantry officer in the Gurkhas from 2006 to 2012. He deployed to southern Afghanistan three times and is the author of War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics (Columbia, 2012).
Over the weekend, two writers coming from very different backgrounds expressed concerns about the tone and makeup of the Obama national security team.
Mackubin Owens is a Marine veteran (with a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts from Vietnam) and an expert in civil-military relations. On Saturday he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, "A president has every right to choose the generals he wants, but it is also the case that he usually gets the generals he deserves. By pushing Gen. Mattis overboard, the administration sent a message that it doesn't want smart, independent-minded generals who speak candidly to their civilian leaders."
Administration insiders may dismiss Owens as a hostile witness using a hostile platform. It is harder to dismiss the concerns of David Ignatius, a veteran reporter in the Middle East (and author of some terrific novels about it), who wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that, President Obama, " by assembling a team where all the top players are going in the same direction...is perilously close to groupthink."
I suspect one reason that beat reporters aren't writing about this is that they fear alienating valuable sources in the administration, such as Tom Donilon, the national security advisor. Yep, I am looking at you, New York Times.
By Major Michael L. Burgoyne, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
In this time of fiscal austerity, continued support for Colombia is both a necessity to allow Colombia to secure its country and an investment in a valuable partner.
Given recent positive trends, it is easy for some to erroneously assume that U.S. support to Colombia is no longer required. On October 18, 2012, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government initiated formal peace talks in the hope of ending a five decade internal conflict. Unlike previous efforts however, the FARC finds itself in a difficult negotiating position. During the last attempted negotiation, the FARC boasted some 20,000 fighters and was threatening the capital. After a decade of successful security policies, the FARC's numbers have been cut in half and the group has been reduced to guerrilla activities. Colombia's focus on "democratic security" has facilitated healthy growth in the Colombian economy and direct foreign investment. Colombian GDP has averaged 4.45 percent growth, resulting in an increase of $233 billion over the last decade. In addition, the government has signed free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union, and Canada. Perhaps most importantly, virtually every measure of citizen security has improved: kidnappings have declined 89 percent, homicides have been reduced by 49 percent, and there has been a 66 percent reduction in terrorist attacks.
Since the inception of Plan Colombia in 2000, the United States has supported Colombia with training, equipment, and security assistance. To date some $9 billion has been focused on supporting Colombian counter-drug and internal security efforts. Although this support seems costly, in fact, it is a very small price tag compared to large-scale deployments to conduct security force assistance and foreign internal defense in Iraq and Afghanistan. The consistent support for Colombia, however, is now beginning to dissipate. The 2013 budget from the White House lays out a 15 percent reduction in military and narcotics aid to Colombia.
When evaluating security cooperation with Colombia, it is imperative to remember the following key points:
1. The war is not over. Despite the deserved praise of Colombian and U.S. efforts, the Colombians are still in the fight. Last year, 243 Colombian soldiers were killed and 821 were wounded. The FARC has been cut in half but still numbers 8,000 combatants. The FARC is also not the only threat facing Colombia. The National Liberation Army (ELN), another insurgent group, maintains some 2,000 guerrillas. Most importantly, the lucrative cocaine trade will not disappear with the FARC. A dedicated effort to control the growth of criminal bands (BACRIM) will be necessary to prevent Zeta-like groups from rising from the ashes of Colombian political insurgency.
2. The Colombians initiated an innovative new counterinsurgency strategy, creating joint task forces specifically designed to destroy the FARC system. The design methodology and outcomes of this initiative may prove critical as an example for other partner nations facing criminal groups. This is a worthwhile effort that the United States is trying to support, but it is very challenging given current Colombian resources.
3. The U.S. effort through Plan Colombia and the Colombian Strategic Development Initiative has not necessarily created lasting institutions that can sustain organizations once U.S. support is removed. For decades, the Colombian military has been understandably focused on current combat operations, often at the expense of building institutions. The Colombian Army's doctrine and education systems, as well as its personnel and logistics systems, require substantial improvement to ensure that, when budgets shrink due to continued success against the FARC, the military will retain its hard-won institutional knowledge.
4. Colombia has been a reliable and extremely valuable regional security partner. Most recently, Colombia (for the second time) participated in the multinational operational exercise PANAMAX as the Combined Forces Land Component Command. They performed exceptionally well, leading a joint multinational staff and working with their U.S. counterparts. The Colombian Army is composed of battle hardened veterans with a strong understanding of U.S. doctrine and systems. Their leaders and soldiers have an unsurpassed knowledge of counterinsurgency and transnational organized crime groups. They are arguably the most capable army in the region. Once the Colombian internal threat is under control it can be expected that the Colombian role as a regional and global security exporter will increase.
The United States has made a very wise investment in Colombia. Continued U.S. support will enable Colombia to consolidate control of the country in the coming years and allow them to take on a broader regional security role. If the United States drastically cuts support to Colombian security efforts, this would be akin to spiking the ball on the one yard line and could delay Colombian consolidation for several years.
Colombia, in many ways, is a test of the light-footprint, long-duration approach to counterinsurgency. David Galula warns that in the final phase of a counterinsurgency "the main difficulty is a psychological one and it originates in the counterinsurgent's own camp. Responsible people will question why it is necessary to make such an effort at this stage, when everything seems to be going so well." It remains to be seen if the United States can display strategic patience and follow through on its investment in Colombia.
Major Michael L. Burgoyne, a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer, currently serves as the Andean Ridge Desk Officer at U.S. Army South. He holds an M.A. in Security Studies from Georgetown University and co-authored The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa. 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.
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I was in a discussion the other day of the Obama administration's foreign policy. The more I listened, the more President Obama began to remind me of President Eisenhower.
There is indeed a long list of foreign crises pending right now:
But as I listened to the discussion, I thought of President Eisenhower, who took office and set to getting us out of the Korean War, as Obama did with Iraq. He also worked hard to keep us out of the French war in Vietnam, overriding the Joint Chiefs' desire to use nukes to help the French. He also rejected pleas of many to intervene in the Hungarian Revolution. And he had the Suez Crisis, with the French and British. Then there were issues of Stalin's successors in the Soviet Union, which was rapidly building its nuclear arsenal.
I suspect that Obama's dominant impulse is to keep us out of the problems he sees overseas, just as Ike sought to keep us out of Vietnam and Hungary. Many people disagreed with his decisions. But he was a successful president.
National Archives/SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Vicki Huddleston, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, says that the French government paid $17 million to ransom French nationals in recent years. She further alleges that these payments funded al Qaeda-linked operations in Africa.
The French are wrong to do this. Not just mildly wrong, but massively wrong. Not only are they funding terrorism, they are increasing the chances that their people will be nabbed.
I say this as someone who feared getting kidnapped in Baghdad. This was at a time when Iraqi criminals supposedly were nabbing people and then selling them to al Qaeda. I was once in a group of reporters summoned to the Green Zone for a briefing from an American security official. He informed us that Baghdad was the most dangerous city in the world, that we were the most lucrative targets in the city, and that he thought we were nuts. Thanks fella!
Bottom line: I felt that my best defense was the U.S. government policy of not paying kidnappers. I still do.
Recently I was at a foreign policy discussion in which a participant said that everybody agrees that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, despite everything else that went wrong with the boneheaded invasion of Iraq.
I didn't question that assertion at the time, but found myself mulling it. Recently I had a chance to have a beer with Toby Dodge, one of the best strategic thinkers about Iraq. He said something like this: Well, you used to have an oppressive dictator who at least was a bulwark against Iranian power expanding westward. Now you have an increasingly authoritarian and abusive leader of Iraq who appears to be enabling Iranian arms transfers to Syria.
And remember: We still don't know how this ends yet. Hence rumors in the Middle East along the lines that all along we planned to create a "Sunnistan" out of western Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war, which we left just over a year ago, continues. Someone bombed police headquarters in Kirkuk over the weekend, killing 33. And about 60 Awakening fighters getting their paychecks were blown up in Taji. As my friend Anthony Shadid used to say, "The mud is getting wetter."
By Maj. Jaron Wharton, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
In September 2010, President Obama's Policy Directive on Global Development offered that development is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative for the United States. Undeniably, it is a core pillar of our foreign policy, along with diplomacy and defense, in an integrated, comprehensive approach to national security. It follows that USAID's contribution to national security is vital -- but this has not been codified.
Because we are living in times that require a fully integrated national security approach, the USAID administrator should become the president's principal advisor for development and assistance (akin to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff role and associated linkage to the secretary of defense, but concomitant to the secretary of state) and a permanent member on the National Security Council. This elevated position will provide the president with unfettered development advice, while codifying the position that development is on par with defense and diplomacy. Maintaining USAID's intimate relationship with State recognizes the inherent ties of development assistance to foreign policy.
While historical trends, events, and statements have created numerous challenges to elevating the administrator's role, the agency's comparative advantage as an expeditionary organization which alleviates human suffering, develops markets of tomorrow, and expresses American values, provides an invaluable perspective. State's 2010 QDDR calls for USAID to play a greater role in the interagency policy process, including making its mission directors primary development advisors to the chiefs of mission. An elevated role for the administrator would be a logical follow-on to these other shifts.
Just over 25 years ago, Goldwater-Nichols changed the Defense Department in both a fundamental and positive way. One of the main shifts was to empower the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in two ways: (1) By expanding his staff into a large "Joint Staff" that reports directly to him; and (2) identifying the chairman as the president's senior military advisor. Over the last several decades, the newly powerful position of chairman has helped elevate the role of professional military advice to the president, while not compromising the secretary of defense's civilian authority. The history of this aspect of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation can apply to USAID in several ways: (1) It can help formally elevate the role of development; (2) it can help preserve the secretary of state's authority in foreign assistance; and (3) it improves the nature of development assistance advice to the president. An elevated status would assuredly achieve a more efficient use of development assistance resources and enhance their effectiveness.
USAID is undertaking a potent reform agenda, analogous to an internal "Goldwater-Nichols-light" to forge a more modern development enterprise. This change is as conscious and as basic a transformation in its 50-year history, and it is desirable for the USG to build on this framework through a persistent invitation for increased interagency engagement at the highest levels.
During this administration, USAID's participation in senior-level NSS meetings has dramatically increased. While data are not readily available to compare across administrations, there has been a definite uptick in participation from previous years. This demonstrates a need on behalf of senior NSS leadership to hear from USAID, but also suggests USAID's contributions warrant continued participation. Having resident development expertise on the NSS only helps to better lead through civilian power, especially in issues that contribute to an imbalance in defense representation.
USAID should take internal steps to reinforce its relevance and further professionalize its engagement in the national security apparatus. However, as in Goldwater-Nichols, where the ramifications for the professionalization of the Joint Staff were extreme, USAID is already fully-capable of the increased level of responsibility. There is no longer a dichotomy within USAID between those focused on altruistic development and assistance and those who understand the necessity, practicality, and Hill-emphasized need for more targeted work to support national security objectives.
Indeed, the development portfolio is now facing critical challenges and is at significantly increased risk given growing fiscal constraints. Despite being elevated by the Global Development Policy to be on par with defense and diplomacy, elements of any effort by the agency to demonstrate true relevancy in national security must include improved and sustained engagement in the NSS. This inherently makes the case USAID's activities are considered in the national interest. Elevation of the administrator as a permanent member on the NSC provides an additional forcing function on the broader USG to recognize this point. At a minimum, the USAID administrator should be elevated and maintain his presence at the principals' committee level beyond an "informal member as appropriate."
Major Jaron S. Wharton is an active-duty infantry officer in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan (2002 and 2010) and in Iraq (2003-06). He previously served as a White House Fellow at USAID. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the official policy or positions of the U.S. Government.
The WTF moment for me in Obama's second inaugural address, delivered Monday at noon, was his use of the phrase "peace in our time." This came during his discussion of foreign policy, and in such circles, that phrase is a synonym for appeasement, especially of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain in September 1938. What signal does his using it send to Iran? I hope he was just using it to jerk Netanyahu's chain.
I also simply didn't understand what he meant by "a world without boundaries." But my immediate thought was, No, right now we need boundaries -- like those meant to keep Iran out of Syria and Pakistan out of Afghanistan.
Two things I did like:
Overall, I'd give it a C-. It wasn't a terrible speech, but I am grading on the curve because I have seen him do so much better. Overall, the rhetoric seemed tired, like second-rate Kennedyisms, which may reflect the pack of Hill rats and political hacks staffing the White House. It made me wonder if the president is depressed. I mean, I wouldn't blame him. But not a happy thought.
Word on the national security street is that General James Mattis is being given the bum's rush out of his job as commander of Central Command, and is being told to vacate his office several months earlier than planned.
Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way -- not because he went all "mad dog," which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, "And then what?"
Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed -- at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I'd call him a tough-minded realist, someone who'd rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
Presidents should feel free to boot generals anytime they want, of course -- that's our system, and one I applaud. But ousting Mattis at this time, and in this way, seems wrong for several reasons:
TIMING: If Mattis leaves in March, as now appears likely, that means there will be a new person running CENTCOM just as the confrontation season with Iran begins to heat up again.
CIVIL-MILITARY SIGNALS: The message the Obama Administration is sending, intentionally or not, is that it doesn't like tough, smart, skeptical generals who speak candidly to their civilian superiors. In fact, that is exactly what it (and every administration) should want. Had we had more back in 2003, we might not have made the colossal mistake of invading Iraq.
SERVICE RELATIONS: The Obamites might not recognize it, but they now have dissed the two Marine generals who are culture heroes in today's Corps: Mattis and Anthony Zinni. The Marines have long memories. I know some who are still mad at the Navy for steaming away from the Marines left on Guadalcanal. Mattis made famous in Iraq the phrase, "No better friend, no worse enemy." The Obama White House should keep that in mind.
I'm still a fan of President Obama. I just drove for two days down the East Coast listening to his first book, and enjoyed it enormously. But I am at the point where I don't trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.
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By Major Chris Heatherly
Best Defense guest columnist
"...and she loved a boy very, very much -- even more than she loved herself." -- Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
Many Americans read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein while growing up. Summarized, the story is about the relationship between a young boy and a tree whose self-sacrifice to please the boy is a recurrent theme. By book's end, the tree is reduced to little more than a lonely stump with nothing left to give. Although The Giving Tree is nearly 50 years old, the book's warning on the dangers of self-sacrifice are particularly apt when describing the current state of U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations. If the United States does not address the manner and tone of this relationship to determine our irreducible interests, it risks sacrificing international influence and our own national priorities.
Fact: The United States provided nearly $3.1 billion to Israel in 2012.
Fact: The United States has provided $115 billion to Israel since its foundation in 1949.
Fact: The United States has provided over $4 billion to the Palestinians since they began limited self-governance in the 1990s.
Question: What, if anything, has this goodwill bought the United States and how have our own interests been furthered?
Israeli forces attacked the USS Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 171 U.S. sailors. Israel has conducted numerous espionage operations against the United States, gravely damaging U.S. national security. Amongst the known spying incidents, the case of Jonathan Pollard is particularly egregious. A U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard passed tens of thousands of highly classified documents to Israel before his capture in 1985. Pollard received a life sentence for espionage in 1987. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger considered Pollard's actions so damaging that "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in the view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel." Since his conviction, Israel's government admitted to running Pollard as an agent, granted him Israeli citizenship, and has continually lobbied for his release.
Palestinian behavior towards the United States is no better. The Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, killing U.S. passenger Leon Klinghoffer. On 9/11, CNN and other media sources showed video of Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of al Qaeda's terrorist attacks. Hamas, a U.S. and European Union designated terrorist organization, enjoys widespread political support from the Palestinian people and election to parliamentary seats.
American government support for Israel goes far beyond simple financial donations. The United States has employed its veto authority to block United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel over 40 times. (By comparison, China has used the veto authority just 8 times while Russia/Soviet Union together tallied 13.) In most of these instances, the United States has cast the sole vote of opposition. Additionally, the United States has deployed military assets and personnel to protect Israel against its neighbors. Such one-sided support has not gone unnoticed, especially in the Arab world. It generates widespread suspicion of American motives, interests, and actions in the Middle East and the greater Muslim street -- a trend that has occurred for decades.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear to be truly interested in a lasting, peaceful solution to their decades-long struggle for territorial control. Israeli "settlers" build illegal settlements in Palestinian areas in violation of U.N. resolutions. Hamas fires rockets from schools, mosques, and other protected locations against civilian targets. Israel conducts drone and air strikes in retaliation. A Palestinian suicide bomber kills numerous Israeli citizens...and Israel's military forces destroy the bomber's family home with resultant collateral damage. Both sides clamor to play the victim on the world stage. It's a modern day version of the Hatfield and McCoy feud with religious extremism added to the equation.
In my opinion, there is no compelling or logical reason for the United States to retain the status quo relationship with either Israel or the Palestinians. Some may see this view as either anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic. In reality, it is neither. I am an alumnus of a Jewish national collegiate fraternity and proud to have several Jewish and Muslim friends. I believe, however, that America should withhold all foreign aid to both parties, reframe the situation in the Middle East, and develop a fresh, balanced approach to Israelis and Palestinians alike. First and foremost, this approach should be built to achieve American national interests, be they a peaceful Middle East, greater global influence, continued access to oil resources, a non-nuclear Iran, or the spread of democracy. My recommendation aspires to follow President George Washington's cautious advice on foreign entanglements. It is time to stop being the proverbial giving tree, and instead to begin acting in our own national interests.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army. Major Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master's degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.
That was the question that kept on coming back to me as I read Joshua Phillips' None of Us Were Like This Before. It is not a perfect book but it is an important one.
Yes, there are ethical and moral reasons for conducting a comprehensive review of instances of torture of Iraqis, Afghans and others by American soldiers over the last 10 years.
But there also are practical reasons:
1. The damage torture does to those who inflict it. (Two of the soldiers in the unit Phillips examines killed themselves after coming home.)
2. The damage torture does to our war efforts-both in the host populations, and in world opinion.
3. The effect on the current force.
The questions I would like to see addressed include:
--Who stopped torture?
--What were the characteristics of units that indulged in torture? And of those that didn't?
--How can we better train soldiers to deal with this?
--Are there continuing effects on the force that need to be addressed?
One final note: Phillips writes that, "I rarely met a detainee who had received an apology, or any acknowledgement at all, for the harsh treatment he had endured during U.S. captivity."
Emma Sky, who has written for this blog on occasion, recently issued a sharp paper at CNAS that blasts the handling of Iraq by both the Bush and Obama administrations. She reports that Iraqis believe that the United States has lost Iraq to Iran, and that Iraqis now travel to Tehran to ask permission to oust Maliki. She concludes that, "America could learn that money can't buy love, that relationships are key, that strategic patience is needed, that allies should not be ignored and that a regional approach is needed as well as a bilateral one."
This ran as a comment a few days ago. I think it is a powerful meditation on personal sacrifice in public service. If you missed it then, read it now. If you read it then, please do so again.
This subject goes to the heart of all I (now) believe. I'm wrong to spit anger your way.
Brotherhood and respect for the Fallen are two very romantic notions that I believe in fully, but I still question them. I'm afraid these days that I question just about everything. My notions when I was a young Midshipman are far from where I am now. Hell, I even voted for Ronald Reagan twice. In my twenties, I quite enjoyed one year when I received 4 pay raises: annual COLA, promotion to Captain, going over 4 years, and a Reagan COLA kicker. I look at politics and economics differently now.
The profession that you are about to enter is an honorable and, dare I say, very enjoyable one. But as you progress, you will view things differently. Maybe you won't question things -- you state that you will subjugate yourself to the government. But to subordinate yourself totally and blindly to the actions of said government is to denigrate yourself. Hogwash to think that everything your government does is the correct thing. If you so believe that, you have lost all your undergrad education to wasted time.
I do not advocate government overthrow, but I do plead for citizen and soldier participation in formulation of legal, moral and honorable actions of the government. I won't preach to you about the sins of the last decade. Whether the USA was correct or not in wars upon Iraq and Afghanistan is yours for personal analysis.
I saw wrong when I stood at the upstream end of TSA one day with tears in my eyes watching my son walk away never to be seen alive by his mother and me again. Some in this forum say I wear my heart on my sleeve, because of my personal loss, in my comments. No, my son's signature is tattooed on my right bicep for all the symbology that is probably obvious with that. My heart on my sleeve is for my country and our lost way since 9/11/01.
I understand the essence of brotherhood -- I served 7 years on active duty as a USMC officer. I hated the Iraq War, but allowed pride of service to guide me as I watched my Marine son walk toward combat. I understood that he had to follow orders; I would expect nothing less of him. I didn't protest the war until he died, out of respect for him and his platoonmates, many of whom I had already met and today treat like sons. Afterwards, I took to the streets (literally) and joined the failed attempt to stop the Iraq war. As it was, the war drifted off to some "honorable" withdrawal, nearly 3,300 American KIA's after my son later. For what was it all for I will continue to search and reflect until I die.
It was not foreseen in 1997, the year my son enlisted, that the USA would be committing itself to multiple ground wars in Islamic countries. I have in-laws who still spout shit: "He signed the papers himself didn't he? He knew what he was getting into didn't he? He wasn't drafted was he?" Superficially, these inane comments are true. But, in my opinion, none of us signed up for Executive Branch stupidity. Blindly following immorality is not service or courage, it is stupidity.
Politics, professional soldiering and parenting ARE all pushed together. We live in that world. I hope you can incorporate that notion in your future studies. Love is hard. Strange to see those two words in the same sentence but it is true. And there is nothing selfish about demanding that the country shows the same duty and honor and service as does the soldier.
I've long found Paul McHale, a former member of Congress and also a former Pentagon official, a clear thinker. Here he questions the Pentagon's "pivot" to Asia:
"Does it make sense for the United States Army to prepare for a protracted land war against China? . . . Should the Army really be focused on North Korea while paying insufficient attention to Iran? And if a post-2014 civil war in Afghanistan spills over the Durand Line and threatens the stability of Pakistan's government, are there any issues in Myanmar that trump the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Taliban?"
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.