By Kathleen McInnis
Best Defense guest respondent
If the grand strategic project of the 21st century is to either (a) shore up the Westphalian system or (b) develop an acceptable post-Westphalian system, then the ability to effectively wage asymmetric and counterinsurgency warfare will be, by necessity, part of the toolkit to do so. I really thought Bob Killebrew captured that part well; because the actors in the system are blurring the definitions of what it means to be a legitimate, violence-wielding actor in the global system, we will continue to need capabilities to work in that blurry, murky space.
Washington seems to conflate preparedness with intention and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Indeed, I think it's really worrying that we do so. We're limiting our ability to signal military intent short of going to war, as well as limiting our ability to use military tools to help advance political discussions, negotiations, etc. Exercises, planning, capability development are all ways to signal to potential adversaries (state and non-state alike) the seriousness of U.S. intent. Utilized appropriately, these tools can even get actors back to the negotiating table. Preparedness is key, which is why Celeste Ward's work to put a finer point on the term COIN should be applauded -- preparedness requires a higher degree of intellectual precision than we currently have with respect to "COIN." That's what deterrence is largely about. But we seem to think that if we develop a capability, we will -- or should -- use it.
The notion that if we have a force capable of conducting COIN, we will get ourselves embroiled in even more conflicts around the globe is absurd. The point, in my mind, is to ensure that the U.S. has the toolkit to respond to whatever contingency is in the no-kidding national interest. If we don't use those capabilities, bonus. But I suspect you're right -- we will have to.
Kathleen McInnis is an MPhil/PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King's College London and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She previously served on the NATO Policy-Afghanistan desk in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy).
I am with Dr. Slaughter in her disgust for the Syrian regime for what they are doing to their own people. I agree that they have violated their responsibilities as leaders. But I hesitate to support the use American military force to wage war in an action that is likely to result in the deaths of more civilians than the regime's current actions. Values are an American interest, but are they worth war without overwhelming support from the rest of the globe? I don't think so. Values are a great reason to flex the United States' ample diplomatic and economic capabilities as this approach is more in line with our values.
Tom again: Also, once we intervene, I think we are in part responsible for subsequent events. What if the eventual winner in Syria starts driving out or killing minority groups? Do we intervene again?
For a security conference focused on the U.S. in Asia, it is amazing how little Taiwan is mentioned. I can remember when it dominated discussions of the American relationship with China. I think this is a sign of progress.
By Col. Robert Killebrew, USA (Ret.)
Director, Best Defense office of Market Garden studies
as the war in Afghanistan continues to boil, the defense intellectual crowd has
wandered into an unnecessary and counterproductive debate about whether the
United States can avoid being involved in future counterinsurgency wars. "Unnecessary and counterproductive" is an appropriate
description of a largely contrived argument that distracts brainpower from
focusing on the real issue -- the changing nature of warfare in the emerging
Of course the U.S. is going to be involved in counterinsurgency in the future, just as we will be involved in all kinds of wars, period. Insurgency is one of the oldest forms of warfare -- an uprising against a government. But the terms under which rebellions are put down are changing fast. Until very recently, the Westphalian attitude of the times reinforced the authority of governments to suppress internal rebellions without too much regard to sensitivities or legal restraints; both the American revolution and Napoleon's war on the Iberian Peninsula, for example, featured insurgencies that were brutally suppressed by regular forces, but there was no thought of holding commanders -- much less governments -- responsible for brutal reprisals.
All that is changing as the world is changing. Nuremburg mattered a lot. The WWII Germans felt no need for a counterinsurgency doctrine -- their reaction to resistance in occupied countries was just to round up hostages and shoot them -- but after the war some commanders were held to account despite the argument that they were only obeying orders, a legal landmark. Punishing commanders for massacres was not only simple justice, but an indication that civilians were no longer just an incidental backdrop to a war. Rather individuals began to be regarded as having rights that continued even during warfare, and even when they rise against their rulers. That principle of the universality of human rights in war is a historic change that is now considered applicable even in modern struggles against the medieval brutalities of al Qaeda or the Taliban. In the 21st century, international law is struggling to replace the Westphalian compact as the new firebreak against indiscriminate barbarism.
This is the nub of the challenge of counterinsurgency (or COIN, as it is known by its unfortunate acronym). People may rise in rebellion against their government, or against the government of a conquering power, but the government's reaction can no longer be to slaughter them wholesale -- as is happening now in Syria -- for two reasons. First, sanctions to punish indiscriminate killing are spreading and increasingly effective, as the Syrian leadership will eventually learn. This is the emergence of the new sensibility of human rights, which will accompany widespread political changes in the new century (as we are seeing today in the Arab world). Second, and more practically, killing alone doesn't work against a determined opposition -- never has, in fact. Insurgency, which stems from political dissatisfaction, ultimately requires a political solution, so the greatest part of any successful COIN campaign requires political solutions that address the fundamental issue that started the insurgency in the first place, while security forces -- both military and, increasingly, police -- try to contain violence and drive it down to tolerable levels.
All this can frustrate soldiers when they get tasked to fight insurgents under restrictive rules of engagement and with little backing from the political class. An American military that in the 1990s trained for violent high-tech short wars has been understandably frustrated to find itself bogged down in an inconclusive, decades-long war that its political leadership has either misunderstood or backed away from. The "COIN is dead" school of military thought is a reaction to that frustration -- and to the damage that our protracted focus on counterinsurgency has done to other, essential military capabilities -- but it is wrongheaded for a number of reasons.
First, insurgencies aren't going away, and the United States will fight more of them. For a variety of reasons, populations and individuals today are more empowered than ever before, and governments are under more pressure to meet the expectations of their people. Political dissatisfaction, mass migration, widespread armaments, and crime are producing an international landscape that will challenge weak governments for decades, and often insurgencies will be supported by outside powers hostile to the United States or our friends. Aggression by insurgency is an old strategy that will recur.
Second, because they're hard doesn't mean we can't win them. In fact, insurgencies are more unsuccessful than otherwise. When states react to insurgencies wisely, insurgents are usually defeated. Colombia is in the process of defeating an insurgency that was threatening its survival a decade ago. The once-inevitable revolution in El Salvador is long over. The government of Iraq is consolidating power and looks to be on a success curve. In all cases, political reforms marched hand with increasing military and police capabilities and the collapse of the insurgency's outside sponsor. One significant point for military planners is the degree to which military power must be blended with the state's police and other civil powers, which until recently was contrary to U.S. military tradition and practice. Nothing changes tradition and practice, though, like hard lessons in the field.
Thirdly, American military (and political) planners and doctrine-writers must understand that the U.S. is not, and never will be, the primary COIN force -- our best course will always be to work "by, with, and through" the host country in the lead, with Americans playing a supporting role. This is a profound change for soldiers who are trained to take charge of dangerous situations. Even in Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. forces faced the worst-case COIN scenario possible -- the absence of a government to support -- ultimate success has not been, and will not be, possible until the local government shoulders the load. We were far too slow to understand this in these two theaters, and too slow to plan and resource local leaders once we did understand it.
Finally, wars are never fought the same way twice, though armies invariably prepare for the last one. The American military faces a daunting challenge -- to correctly draw lessons out of a decade of experience in two wars that will prepare them for the next one, without falling into the last-war trap that a decade of war has prepared for us. Additionally, the military services know they will be the ones on the ground compensating for weaknesses in the other branches of government. Getting this right in the manuals will be very tough, and may challenge deeply-held Service beliefs and organizational imperatives; a noted COIN authority is fond of reminding his friends "counterinsurgency is more intellectual than a bayonet charge." That is certainly true -- but no reason to walk away from it.
Longtime grasshoppers know I am a big fan of the commentary of David Ignatius. So, no surprise, I think he is right in his comments on how Pakistan has blown it over the last decade:
Pakistan is losing the best chance in its history to gain political control over all of its territory -- including the warlike tribal areas along the frontier.
Pakistan has squandered the opportunity presented by having a large U.S.-led army just over the border in Afghanistan. Rather than work with the United States to stabilize a lawless sanctuary full of warlords and terrorists, the Pakistanis decided to play games with these outlaw groups. As a result, Pakistan and its neighbors will be less secure, probably for decades. . . . The Pakistanis lost a chance over the past decade to build and secure their country. It won't come back again in this form. That's a small problem for the United States and its allies, but a big problem for Pakistan.
The defeat of Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican Party primary for Senate last night tells me two things. First, it says that the national security centrist position continues to erode. Losing Lugar reminds me of the defeat a few years back of Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the patron saint of professional military education. Second, it makes me wonder if the great Midwest is turning away from internationalism and back to its pre-World War II isolationism.
I remember someone trying to sell to me the materialistic view that the Midwest only turned away from isolationism when grain exports became a big deal after World War II, especially as we elbowed Argentina out of the European market. At the time I didn't buy it. But I wonder -- now that grain is a corporate enterprise, employing far fewer individuals, maybe Midwesterners don't see any reason to engage in the world.
Here's another, harsher take.
It is striking to me how little President Obama says about the war in Afghanistan.
The situation reminds me a bit of Iraq late in President Bush's term. Bush had no credibility on the issue, so had to rely on General Petraeus to become the face and voice of the war. It wasn't fair to Petraeus, maybe, but someone had to do it, and Petraeus did, most notably in the September 2007 Senate hearings that effectively quashed congressional sentiment for a quick withdrawal.
But that isn't the problem now. I think Obama has a good deal of credibility on foreign policy and national security issues, perhaps more than any Democratic president since FDR (although the extraordinary narrowness of the backgrounds of Obama's White House national security team continues to worry me -- basically they are Hill rats and political hacks). Maybe there just isn't that much to say about the war. But I think there is.
If the Petraeus parallel held, either General Mattis (the Centcom commander) or General Allen (the commander in Afghanistan) would step in. But Mattis apparently has been muzzled by President Obama, and Allen still seems to be getting accustomed to the white-hot glare of global publicity. I actually think the gag on Mattis is a mistake -- the American people like straight talk, even if it doesn't play well in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Do it all at CNAS's annual Woodstock for policy wonkers. It will be on June 13 in DC.
If you haven't seen Brzezinski and Scowcroft do their breakdancing routine, you haven't lived. Bust them moves.
By Robert L. Goldich
Best Defense bureau for Celtic secessionism
Remember when the main character in the movie Braveheart, loosely, really loosely, based on the Scottish chieftain and military leader William Wallace, shouted "Freedom!" at the top of his lungs? Although the real Wallace defeated the English in 1297 at Stirling Bridge, he was captured in 1305 and hanged (but not until he was dead), drawn (four horses pulling his body apart in different directions) and quartered (just what it sounds like) for "treason" by the English.
It probably won't come to that in the early 21st Century. But a more formidable successor to Mel Gibson exists in the person of Alex Salmond, the current First Minister of Scotland, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its majority in the Scottish Parliament. Just about everybody in the United Kingdom seems to agree, whether they like him and his policies or not, that Mr. Salmond is an extraordinarily astute, charismatic, and dynamic political leader. He is currently engaged in a high-stakes interaction with the British Government and its political leadership to have a referendum, sometime in the next couple of years, on whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country.
Well. As with all such disputes, it arises for domestic reasons which need not concern the United States and those responsible for, and interested in, U.S. foreign and national security policy. We may not be able to affect the process overtly, and doing so would almost certainly be counterproductive. But that doesn't mean that some very important questions need to be asked about what the implications of Scottish independence would be for US national defense. Let's start with general issues.
First, Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom since 1707, when the "Act of Union" was enacted by Parliament. That alone means something. What would it say to American policymakers if our closest ally, one with whom we have been linked in peace and war since we entered World War I in 1917, suddenly broke apart after over 300 years of political unity? What would it say about the internal cohesion of whatever rump UK remained after Scotland left? Would Wales -- which, arguably, has much more linguistic and cultural differentiation from England than Scotland -- be next? Would moves for Northern Ireland's independence from the UK, and union with the Republic of Ireland, be re-energized, with possible attendant violence? Or, more broadly, would a disintegrating United Kingdom be considered as reliable a partner?
There are some more pointed questions that American policymakers might start thinking about. Mr. Salmond has on occasion stated that he favors having the UK retain control over foreign and defense policy, but this scarcely squares with his also stated desire to eventually have all nuclear weapons -- that is, British ones -- out of Scotland, and his stated support for establishment of a "Scottish defense force" that would include the Scottish regiments of the British Army. (As a fair chunk of the enlisted soldiers, and most of the officers, of Scottish regiments, aren't Scottish, this might not work out too well, but I digress.)
What would be the foreign policy of an independent Scotland, as it appears that Mr. Salmond in fact wants to have his own defense policy? Would it join NATO? How much, if at all, would it cooperate with the armed forces of a truncated United Kingdom? With the armed forces of other Western democracies, including, but not limited to, those of the United States? Would it cooperate with the British intelligence services in the maintenance of internal security against terrorism in the British Isles? Would it cooperate with other countries' intelligence services, including those of the United States? Would it look more leniently on the presence of embassies and diplomatic representatives, and their activities, from anti-American and anti-Western states such as North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela? Mr. Salmond and his Scottish Nationalist Party, and the dominant political culture in Scotland, is quite far to the Left, for a variety of internal reasons that don't matter here. This doesn't augur well for a positive answer to any of these questions. It suggests that we have to consider that, a la the Republic of Ireland, Scotland might well be aggressively neutral, and avoid involvement all kinds of Euro-Atlantic collective security agreements that have been so important in maintaining European stability since 1945.
Finally, what would Scottish independence, and what it implies about the long-term political stability of the UK, say to American economic interests? To Americans, Great Britain is not, say, velvet-divorced Czechoslovakia, and certainly not Doonesbury's Brzrkrstan. It is viewed as a bedrock of political stability that underlies a willingness to invest in a country. It could scarcely be considered such if Scotland left it. Moreover, Mr. Salmond has made all kinds of statements about the need for an independent Scotland's economic policy to shift sharply to the Left, not something guaranteed to invite foreign investment.
The people of the current United Kingdom will ultimately decide, one way or another, actively or passively, about Scottish independence. But that doesn't mean that Americans don't have a strategic stake in it. Scottish independence may or may not be a good idea for Great Britain as it is currently constituted. But there are good reasons for us to think that it might not be too good for us.
That was the question a friend posed the other day. Here, slightly edited for clarity and further reflection, is what I wrote back to him:
My impression is that the Army is kind of all over the place these days. It reminds me a bit of the years in the mid-1950s before the Pentomic Army.
The looming budget cuts are the biggest thing shaping today's force. The Army may be going into what Eliot Cohen once called "the Uptonian hunker," waiting for the budget cuts to hit.
The second biggest thing is the dog that isn't barking. As far as I can see, there is very little interest in turning over the rock to figure out what the Army has learned in the last 10 years, how it has changed, what it has done well, what it hasn't. More than a Harry Summers, where is the intellectual equivalent of a self-evaluation such as the 1970 study on Army professionalism? Shouldn't the Army be asking itself how it has changed, and looking at the state of its officer corps? We have seen some terrible leadership but very little official inclination to examine its causes. A couple of years ago, I noticed in reviewing my notes for my book Fiasco that, to an extent I hadn't noticed while writing it, it was the battalion commanders' critique of their generals.
We have seen had huge changes in the way the Army fights. It isn't just the flirtation with conventional troops doing COIN. ( U.S. troop-intensive COIN has indeed gone out of intellectual fashion, but not I think a more FID-ish COIN.) It also is:
What are your thoughts, grasshoppers? What am I missing?
Colin Gray concludes his 30th maxim, about the persistence of thuggishness in world politics, with this quotation: "Nice guys finish last." He attributes this to "Popular American saying."
This is one of the rare lapses in his book, and a bit ironic given his emphasis on the need for cultural sensitivity in making and implementing strategy. In this case, he gets the words right but the attribution wrong, and if you know your baseball history, that's significant. The crack about "nice guys finishing last" is not a folk saying broadly popular with Americans, it was an riposte made by Leo Durocher, a brawling baseball manager with a distinctly dark view of the world -- and of how to play baseball: "Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it." So I would say that the comment isn't so much reflective of American views -- which tend to be more optimistic, law-abiding and meliorist -- as of the hard-bitten minority that believes that to get along in the world, you have to kick, bite and gouge every inch of the way. Or, as Durocher once confessed, "If I were playing third base and my mother was rounding third with the run that was going to beat us, I would trip her."
40 Maxims on Strategy would be a much better title for Gray's book than the actual one, which is Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace and Strategy. I was put off by that title but bought the book after I saw Gen. Mattis recommend it.
It is good stuff. Here are some of the things I underlined:
The socio-cultural context has been emphasized here because it has been, and remains, the prime area of strategic weakness in the behavior of the U.S. superpower.
... strategy must convert one currency (military behavior) into another (political effect).
Competent strategy is all but impossible in the absence of a continuous dialogue between policymakers and soldiers.
Tom again: These aren't the only reasons, of course. But they are a good start.
Gray also made me think I should go back and read Thucydides again. Last time I used a tiny print Penguin Classic edition because I was reading it on my commute on the Metro. This time I think I will try the big fat Landmark edition with all the maps, which I have lying around somewhere.
By Peter Bacon
Best Defense Academy of Frenemy-American Relations
At SAIS the other day, the Kettering Foundation and the Institute for American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) held a high-powered conference on the future of U.S.-China relations, featuring pretty much all the big names in the China racket. If you weren't selected to be one of the illuminati, here is what you missed:
--Professor David Lampton of SAIS summed up the conference's assessment of Sino-American relationship as "not in the best of times, but not in the worst of times." Both Professor Lampton and Rear Admiral Eric McVadon both identified believe that the relationship has evolved over the past decades from a one-dimensional, anti-Soviet Cold War partnership to a "three-legged stool," of security, economic, and culture relations. Elites within both countries bolstered this relationship: Tao Wenzhao, a senior fellow at CASS, argued that the recent meetings between elites such as Hu Jintao and President Obama, and between Joe Biden and Hu's putative successor Xi Jinping augured well for future Sino-American relations. Indeed, Wenzhao remarked that one Chinese official observed that "Mr. Jinping [had] never spent so much time with a foreign guest" as he did with Biden. The conference's keynote speaker, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, similarly identified the Hu-Obama communiqué issued during the two leaders' meeting as "a real blueprint of strategic objectives shared and 34 tangible paragraphs elaborating on them and tasks ahead for the relationship."
--The panelists overall still felt quite uneasy about the future of the Sino-American relationship. Stephen Orlins, President of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, memorably remarked on his experience on Chinese television when he was asked by a Chinese audience member "why every U.S. policy was designed to oppose China's rise." Tellingly, Orlins continued, "everyone in the audience [stood] up and [started] to applaud." Brzezinski, similarly, wondered whether the anti-China rhetoric from the field of Republican candidates could engender "a more Manichean vision of the world" within the American government. Panelists on public perceptions of the United States and China confirmed this: Yuan Zheng, a Senior Fellow from CASS, found in studies from 2008 to 2010 that "ordinary Chinese have mixed feelings towards the US, just as [ordinary Americans] with China." Indeed, he continued, "56 percent of those Chinese surveyed felt that American policy was two-sided, geared towards 'cooperation and containment.'" Andrew Kohut, President of the Pew Research Center, also pointed out that 58 percent of Americans felt that the United States needed to get tougher with China on trade, while 56 percent of Americans simultaneously felt that the United States and China needed to build better relations.
--Panelists and speakers at the conference argued that these ambivalent tensions necessitated a global condominium between America and China, or, in the words of Brzezinski, "to act towards each other as though we were part of a G-2 without proclaiming ourselves to be a G-2." This "basic generalization" of Brzezinski followed on statements made by other speakers such as David Lampton and Tom Fingar of Stanford University who both argued that without Sino-American cooperation and leadership, problems of international economic management, collective security, or climate change would not be dealt with. Fingar further argued that each power needed to pursue this cooperative partnership even if we had not reached a state of mutual trust between the two powers. The "very real, very now" nature of issues such as climate change and its impact on national security and ever-changing threats to global security necessitated a partnership even as publics and elites remained distrustful of each other.
I know some of the little grasshoppers may disagree with me, but I think that sending 100 Special Forces troops to Africa to coordinate different countries' operations against the Lord's Resistance Army is a good use of our military. This is classic "indirect action," and it is a whole lot better than sending battalions of American infantry. I expect they will introduce unique American capabilities-such as imagery from satellites and long-loiter drone aircraft-to help corner the LRA. And because the American commitment is so small, there won't be a ticking political clock on their deployment. This means the foe can't simply go to ground and wait out the crackdown. So, unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan, time is not immediately a factor against the American move.
It also was interesting to me that this news did not make the front pages of the newspapers I looked at.
Joby Warrick, who used to sit next to me at the Washington Post, has a new book out on the guy who killed a bunch of CIA operatives in Afghanistan in December 2009. Here is a short interview I did with him about The Triple Agent.
Best Defense: There have been a ton of books on
intelligence and al Qaeda over the last several years. What makes yours
different? Why should a hard-working stiff (or one of the many readers of this
blog currently deployed to Afghanistan) pay to download it?
Joby Warrick: Triple Agent is a different kind of read because it is, at its core, a pure narrative, the story of an intelligence operation that unfolds over the course of a year and then goes badly wrong. There's a lot of "news" in the book, including an account of drone warfare that is as detailed, in my humble opinion, as any in the open-source arena. But the reader is pulled along by a story that is populated by unforgettable -- but very real -- characters and races to its tragic climax. For those who closely follow CT, this review by the Brookings Institute's Ben Wittes wonderfully distills what the book seeks to achieve: a penetrating and informative reconstruction of a flawed intelligence operation that, to use Ben's words, "bristles with the energy of a thriller."
BD: Did your research make you more or less pessimistic
about the Afghan war?
JW: I became less pessimistic about the prospects for defeating "core" al-Qaeda in the Af-Pak region. The CIA's drone campaign is extraordinarily effective, and the agency is getting progressively better at targeting senior leaders and disrupting their networks. On the other hand, my view of the war itself has not changed substantially. After spending time in the east and meeting with ordinary Afghans there, it's hard to imagine how a future Afghan government will retain control of provinces such as Khost or Paktia once U.S. forces are gone.
BD: What has been the unofficial reaction of CIA types to
JW: I've had wonderful response from individual CIA officers, including some who served at Khost and were present on the day of the bombing. Many said they appreciated the book's straight-ahead approach in telling the story, and the fact that, while pointing out fatal mistakes that led to the bombing, the book is respectful of ordinary men and women who served at Khost and worked under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.
BD: How do you think
the CIA should change?
JW: After the bombing, the CIA owned up to what then-director Leon Panetta described as "systemic" failures that contributed to the great loss of life on Dec. 30, 2009. A key failure was an insufficient focus on counterintelligence, which is an even tougher challenge at a time when the intelligence agencies and operatives are strained by multiple rotations and a decade of warfare. There also were mistakes that uniquely reflect the circumstances and individuals at Khost. The CIA has implemented numerous reforms, but a challenge for the agency is how to ensure proper attention and follow-through, given the relative lack of transparency and oversight.
BD: What is the one question you'd like to answer about the book that nobody has asked you?
JW: Some of the events in the book have never been described elsewhere, and I've been surprised that few reviewers or interviewers have asked about them. One favorite: a description in the book of a dirty-bomb threat that emanated from Pakistan mid-2009 and raised alarms at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Information gleaned through SIGINT intercepts suggested strongly that the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) had acquired "nuclear" material-presumably radioactive sources useable in a dirty bomb--and were trying to decide what to do with it. Concerns over a possible dirty-bomb attack directly factored into the decision to take out TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike on Aug. 5 of that year. No radioactive material was subsequently found, and to this day, no one knows what happened to it, or indeed, whether it ever existed.
I've thought about it. It is going to be necessary sometimes. But I think I would like to see citizens-turned-foreign terrorists first stripped of their citizenship.
Meanwhile, speaking of intelligence hits, David Ignatius reports that the Iranians may have whacked a Saudi diplomat in Karachi, Pakistan, in May.
Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr
Jakub Grygiel is one of the more interesting strategic thinkers around. In the new (Fall 2011) issue of Orbis he has a good piece that looks at why certain decentralized parts of the Roman Empire were better able to counter the barbarian invasions than were others.
The lesson of his inquiry:
The policy of decentralizing security provision by, for instance, building greater capabilities for local police forces, may be the most effective way of responding to such a security environment. Signs already abound that this is exactly what is already happening in the United States, a country that because of a deep tradition of self-reliance and federalism may be well positioned to adapt to the possibility of non-state, small, localized, threats. Other countries, in particular in Europe, where the drive to build a centralized state that arrogates to itself most aspects of social life has been historically longer and more relentless, may face greater challenges.
Andrew Bacevich, one of the more interesting thinkers around, has a good piece with some other cats proposing a independent, non-partisan commission "to evaluate the military experience of the past decade." They call for an examination of five particular aspects: The design of U.S. combat forces, the U. S. global military footprint, the national security apparatus, the civil-military gap and how top jobs have been filled.
This strikes me as a worthwhile proposal.
Meanwhile, I finally caught up with Professor Bacevich's essay on Albert Wohlstetter, which contains this memorable two-cushion shot in reference to the revolution in military affairs, or RMA:
Joint Vision 2010 stands in relation to the RMA as Tom Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree stands in relation to globalization: it is an infomercial-marketing disguised as elucidation.
In my nearly two decades of covering the defense establishment, I never really looked at the Army Corps of Engineers. It is like a separate entity.
I regretted that neglect when I read a story in this morning's Washington Post about a scheme involving two Corps program managers and people at a private company that prosecutors are calling "one of the most brazen bribery and corruption schemes in the history of federal contracting." The Post continues: "they bought millions of dollars worth of BMWs, Rolex and Cartier watches, flat-screen televisions, first-class airline tickets and investment properties across the globe."
The story ended on this dismaying note: "Press officers of the Corps of Engineers did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment." The Corps needs to make dealing with this scandal priority no. 1 -- especially in a budget environment where any entity that is not clearly contributing greatly faces the prospect of being eliminated.
Justice William Douglas once suggested that every federal agency should have a sunset provision -- that is, it ceases to exist after, say, 10 years, unless the Congress renewed it. I think it may be time to re-visit that thought.
Meanwhile, in other legal proceedings, a Coast Guard chief warrant officer was convicted of, among other things, malingering. I can't remember seeing that charged before.
I wonder which step Mullen is on?
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that Pakistan's intelligence agency was in the background of the recent attack on our embassy, as well as a bunch of other assaults. But he seems happy to keep on chatting with them.
He also said a bunch of other stuff, like about where the fight is. My interpretation is that we have moved to a strictly transactional relationship. We will continue to deal with them but will call them out on occasion.
Just treat this as a guest column.
With ISI support, Haqqani operatives plan and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy. We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28th attack on the Inter- Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.
In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence. They may believe that by using these proxies, they are hedging their bets or redressing what they feel is an imbalance in regional power. But in reality, they have already lost that bet. By exporting violence, they've eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic well-being. Only a decision to break with this policy can pave the road to a positive future for Pakistan.
... As you know, I've expended enormous energy on this relationship. I've met with General Kayani more than two dozen times, including a two and a half hour meeting last weekend in Spain ... Some may argue I've wasted my time, that Pakistan is no closer to us than before, and may now have drifted even further away. I disagree. Military cooperation again is warming. Information flow between us and across the border is quickening. Transparent -- transparency is returning slowly.
... I actually believe that the ISI has got to fundamentally shift its strategic focus. They're -- they are the ones who implement as -- I would argue as a part of government policy the support of extremists. It's not just Haqqani because we've also had our challenges with LET, which is an organization they put in place. So in many ways, it's the proxy piece here. The support of terrorism is part of their national strategy to protect their own vital interests because of where they live. And that's got to fundamentally shift.
... it's very clear the toughest fight is going to be in the east, and the Haqqani network is embedded in Pakistan essentially across from hosts Paktia and Paktika, which, as General Petraeus said, is sort of the "jet stream to Kabul." And they want to own that. That's really their goal ... So I think the risk there is very high. Over the course of the next couple of years I think the biggest fight is going to be in the east, enabled certainly by us, but also Afghan security forces and coalition forces, more than anyplace else. The south I'm not going to say is not problematic, but we're in a much better place in Kandahar and Helmand than we were a couple years ago. It's going to be the east, I think, that in the end answers this from a security standpoint. And Haqqani is at the heart of that.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
The war in Iraq continues. Suppose we gave a war in Iraq and nobody here cared? Not clear what the deal is to keep U.S. forces in Iraq. But keeping just 3,000 troops worries me -- that's more like a big kick-me sign than a force that can support and protect itself. (Unless it is a cover for about 12,000 more mercenaries.) I mean, Mookie already has threatened to whack American advisors remaining into next year. Meanwhile, Turkey conducted a bunch of airstrikes against Kurdish targets in northern Iraq.
It is also going to be harder to see one more American die in Iraq now that Iraq has lined up with Iran to support the beleaguered regime in Syria. Leaves a kind of even emptier feeling. (But at least we got Iraq's stockpiles of WMD!) Old Juan Cole sees an emerging Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran alliance. A new axis of evil?
Ken Pollack is worried that Iraq is on the precipice, again:
There is extensive scholarly literature on how civil wars start, end and recur, and Iraq's experiences over the past eight years conform to these patterns frighteningly closely. Historically, states that have undergone an intercommunal civil war like the one in Iraq have an unfortunate tendency to slip back into such conflict. This is especially true when the state in question has major, easily looted resources-like oil.
This same history demonstrates that a slide into civil war typically follows a period of time when old problems come back to haunt a country but everyone sees them as relatively minor and easily solved, and thus they do not take them seriously or exert themselves to nip them in the bud. Then, seemingly small and simple-to-overcome issues snowball quickly-much faster than anticipated-and a resurgence of civil war that people believed was years or even decades away reignites overnight. Unfortunately, the point where civil war became inevitable typically is clear only in the rearview mirror.
Speaking of Iraq, it is good to see old Joel Wing come off the injured reserve list.
David Ignatius, for my money the best foreign policy columnist working today, makes a good argument that President Obama has been very successful in foreign policy. "There have been a lot of bumps and bruises, especially in the global economy. But if you step back from the daily squawk box, some trends are clear: Alliances are stronger, the United States is (somewhat) less bogged down in foreign wars, Iran is weaker, the Arab world is less hostile and al-Qaeda is on the run."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
By Emma Sky
Best Defense roving Middle East correspondent
Is this your first visit to Syria, the passport-control man asks me. No, I tell him, I came here once before over a decade ago. He stamps my passport. I had been very lucky to get a Syrian visa this time. The travel advice was not to visit. The Syrian regime is very wary of foreigners, fearing that journalists and spies are inflaming the situation further. I collect my bag and walk through customs, passing a poster, of modest size, of President Bashar al-Assad with the words in Arabic proclaiming: "Leader of the youth, hope of the youth."
I jump in a taxi. I ask the driver how are things in Syria. Things are fine, he assures me. There has been some trouble around the country, but things are OK in Damascus. As we drive, we chat. He points out the area where Druze live. With his hand, he waves in another direction to where Palestinian refugees live, and then again to where Iraqi refugees live. Alawites are over there and in villages. Christians this way and in villages. Sunnis are around 65 percent of the population. Kurds live in the north. Many different peoples live in Syria. I ask him how he knows who someone is or whether they are Sunni or Shiite. He tells me that he does not know and it does not interest him to know: There is no sectarianism here in Syria. We pass Damascus University. Outside there are lots of flags and pictures of Assad and his deceased father. Across the city, the Syrian flag is flying strong and photos of the president are omnipresent. As I ride through al-Umawiyeen Square, I see lots of young men and women gathering, holding Syrian flags. It is not a demonstration, a Syrian tells me; it is a celebration -- a celebration of the regime. Later, I watch the event on television. It has made the international news. Tens of thousands of Syrians have come out to al-Umawiyeen Square to show their support for President Bashar al-Assad in a lively celebration that includes pop singers and fireworks.
When I had visited previously, the city had been filled with huge pictures of Hafez al-Assad; and Bashar, his son, had been studying ophthalmology in London. The death of Bashar's elder brother, Basil, in a car crash, propelled him back into the family business of ruling Syria.
In the evening, I stroll down the street to a restaurant. It is very modern and Western. All-you-can-eat sushi for $20. I try to read my emails on my BlackBerry. I switch between two different networks, but can only receive GPS, not GPRS. The restaurant claims to have Wi-Fi. I ask the waiter. There is Wi-Fi, he tells me, but it is not working at the moment. Nor is Facebook. Internet access is limited.
I walk through Souq al-Hamidiyah in the old city of Damascus. It is a wide, pedestrianized street, two-stories high, and covered. It is buzzing with life. Store owners sit outside their shops, trying to entice potential customers. Traders sell their wares down the middle of the street. Walking with the flow of people, I emerge to find the Umayyad Mosque directly in front of me.
I go to the ticket office, pay the entrance fee for foreigners, and collect a hooded gray cloak to cover myself. The cloaks come in three sizes. A woman sitting there directs me toward the smallest size. The cloak stinks, and I wonder when it was last washed and how many women have had to wear it in the sweltering summer heat. I put the cloak on over my clothes, pulling up the pointed hood to ensure my hair is covered. I enter the Umayyad Mosque -- built on the site of a shrine dedicated to John the Baptist -- looking like a member of the Ku Klux Klan except dressed in gray, and carrying my shoes in my hand. I wander into the covered area where hundreds of people are praying, men in one area, women in another. I walk out to the courtyard. In one area, a group is seated on the ground. One man is kneeling, raising his arms, weeping "ya Hussein." The others follow suit, tears flowing, looking quite distraught.
The rest of this article can be read in its entirety: here.
The new issue of Daedalus is about the U.S. military. It has an all-star lineup, but unfortunately most of it is not online. (I was involved in an early discussion of what subjects the issue should cover, and am pleased to see the issue's contents overcome the Boston-New York provincialism I sensed in that long-ago session.)
I was particularly struck by this assertion by retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, who now teaches at Boston University, and has a great ear for BS:
'We the People' need to understand: it's not longer our army; it hasn't been for years; it's theirs and they intend to keep it. The American military belongs to Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to Hilary Clinton and Robert Gates. Civilian leaders will continue to employ the military as they see fit. If Americans do not like the way the army is used, they should reclaim it, resuscitating the tradition of the citizen-soldier and reasserting the connection between citizenship and military service. … [A]s long at the tradition of the citizen-soldier remains moribund, reversing the militarization of U.S. foreign policy will be a pipe dream.
(Pp. 11-12, Daedalus, Summer 2011)
By Patrick McKinney
Best Defense department of Maghreb affairs
In late October 1956, British and French forces aided Israel's seizure of the Suez Canal from Egypt. In March 2011, an allied force including British and French forces intervened in Libya to establish a no-fly zone and protect rebels from the ruling Gaddafi regime. Half a century apart, these actions in North African defined trans-Atlantic defense. The Suez Crisis heralded an era of American leadership and action, while Libya has shown that, though powerful, America intends to rely on its allies to carry larger burdens, and take responsibility for their own regions. America once drove and financed western security, but due to fiscal shortfalls and a decade of conflict, it no longer intends to guarantee European security.
In 1956, the once-powerful European states were still weakened from the world war and faced forceful colonial independence movements. The French lost Indochina in 1954 and the situation in Algeria continued to deteriorate, while the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt was England's last foothold in the Middle East. After tense negotiations, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to nationalize the canal as sovereign Egyptian territory, and in response, Israel, England, and France coordinated an invasion with the pretext of securing the canal for world commerce. They failed to inform the United States of their intent and expected American support or indifference. To their surprise, they received neither.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower forcefully protested the Suez invasion and demanded that foreign forces withdraw from Egypt. Though he had little compassion for Nasser and his regime, Eisenhower intended to support international order and avoid unnecessary international conflicts. He condemned the invasion, saying, "We believe these actions to have been taken in error. For we do not accept the use of force as a wise and proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes." Israel, England, and France were surprised by the American response and false expectations of support. Their forces began withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone, and returned control to Egypt.
After the conflict, American authority and consent became pre-eminent in the Trans-Atlantic partnership. Through NATO, America assured European defense from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and American priorities were NATO's priorities. England lost its Middle Eastern influence and decided to influence western and world security through cooperation in its "special relationship" with the United States. Embarrassed and affronted by the perceived betrayal, France took the alternate path and sought to set its own defense priorities. France demanded a restructure of NATO leadership in 1958, and began the withdrawal of its forces from the command in the 1960s. France remained outside of NATO for more than forty years until operations in Afghanistan and officially returned its forces in 2009.
By Richard Fontaine
Best Defense directorate of long-term grand strategy
Secretary of State Clinton's swing through India points again to the tremendous potential of an Indo-American strategic partnership over the long term. But it also demonstrates how tough some of the challenges will remain over the next couple of years.
Secretary Clinton is in India at the helm of a large, high-level government delegation for the second annual Strategic Dialogue. The first round, held in Washington last year, started to pull the bilateral relationship out of its previous doldrums and set the stage for President Obama's successful visit to India last fall. This round is aimed at sustaining last year's progress and implementing the many commitments both sides took on.
That's tough to do. Many of the big policy changes on the American side have already been made -- the United States has supported Indian access to civilian nuclear technology, a change that required amending domestic law and international agreements; it modified its export controls so that India has greater access to American technology; it now supports India's membership in the four international nonproliferation regimes; and the president endorsed Indian permanent membership on the UN Security Council. There is always more to do, to be sure, but these are serious moves.
On the Indian side, most of the expected policy changes are stuck, largely due to domestic politics. The civil nuclear deal is not operational because of a flawed liability law. Key defense agreements remain incomplete. India has granted little in the way of market access, despite repeated American hectoring. And the United States bemoaned the fact that the two American companies bidding on a major fighter jet program were knocked out of the competition.
As I studied the Vietnam war over the last 14 months, I began to think that John F. Kennedy probably was the worst American president of the previous century.
In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.
Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam. The assassination of Vietnam's President Diem on Kennedy's watch may have been one of the two biggest mistakes of the war there. (The other was the decision to wage a war of attrition on the unexamined assumption that Hanoi would buckle under the pain.) I don't buy the theory promulgated by Robert McNamara and others that Kennedy would have kept U.S. troops out. Sure, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam -- just like Lyndon Johnson wanted out a few years later: We'll scale down our presence after victory is secure. And much more than Johnson, Kennedy was influenced by General Maxwell Taylor, who I suspect had been looking for a "small war" mission for the Army for several years. Indochina looked like a peachy place for that -- warmer than Korea, and farther from Russia.
(As a side note, there's another coup that JFK supported earlier in 1963: the Baathist one in Iraq that chucked out a pro-Soviet general. Events in subsequent decades obviously are not Kennedy's fault, but it still is interesting to look at the documents. Here's a State Department sitrep from, of all dates, Nov. 21, 1963: "Initial appraisal cabinet named November 20 is that it contains some moderate Baathis. Of twenty-one ministers, seven are holdovers from previous cabinet, thirteen are civilians, four are from moderate Shabib-Jawad faction of Baath (Defense -- Tikriti; Communications -- Abd al-Latif; Education -- Jawari; Health -- Mustafa) and a number of technician-type civil servants." Did you notice the name of that defense minister? I think this might have been Saddam Hussein's uncle.)
Anyway, I think his track record kind of makes even old Herbert Hoover look good.
Tom Ricks, was born in Massachusetts and is the grandson and great-grandson of Democratic politicians there.
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense bureau of keeping your eye on the ball
The Obama administration rolled out the unclassified version of its long-awaited counterterrorism strategy document on Wednesday.
Put simply, this is a war plan against al Qaeda. The document is al Qaeda-centric to the point of being al Qaeda-obsessed. What is striking about the strategy is not so much what it says about al Qaeda or its repeated mentions of killing Osama bin Laden (5 of them), but what it left out about counterterrorism more broadly:
Terrorists who aren't AQ: The document mentions "other terrorist concerns requiring focus and attention" such as Hamas, Hizballah, the FARC, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, the document does not address these groups in a substantive way.
State-sponsors of terror: While recognizing that some states (Iran and Syria) support terrorist organizations, the strategy does not spell out what this means for broader foreign policy towards these countries. Pakistan is notably absent from this list despite its established ties to the Haqqani Network, Afghan Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Mexico: The growing violence in Mexico did not make the cut in the new strategy. With more than 35,000 dead over the last five years, including numerous government officials, kidnappings, and car bombings, Mexico is emerging as a principal security question for folks on both sides of the border.
The Internet: Cyberterrorism and the increasingly active use of the internet as a virtual safe haven got only lip-service in the unclassified version of the White House report. As Spencer Ackerman at DangerRoom points out, this is not an adequate treatment of what is a growing problem. Domestic Terrorism: Despite DHS calling attention in 2009 to the resurgence in right wing extremism, the new CT strategy does not address this very distinct threat. You don't have to go too far back in time to see the Unabomber, Tim McVeigh, the rise of right-wing militias as a pre-eminent counterterrorism concern.
Pakistan: The President's counterterrorism advisor John Brennan argued on Wednesday that "there's no alternative to us or to the Pakistanis to ensuring that we continue engaging with them." I'm left asking: What happens if the United States and Pakistan don't make up? The United States and Pakistan suffered a bitter divorce in the 1990s. What's to stop that from happening again?
Lastly, what comes next? Brennan also declared "al Qaeda is in its decline," but went on to warn of an adapting enemy and AQ network that will pose a persistent threat. The 9/11 Commission cited a failure of imagination as one of the primary faults in U.S. counterterrorism thinking ten years ago. After reading the 2011 CT strategy, (and the 2003 and 2007 documents) I am left asking the question: What comes next? What are we missing? What are we failing to imagine?
Did anyone notice the United States did a drone strike the other day in Somalia? I didn't think so. Add that to other places where we are bombing: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.
Back in the old days, air strikes were considered an act of war. But the Obama Administration sez no -- and here I am beginning to change my mind. Maybe they are onto something. The drone strikes being conducted in those three countries are not being done to challenge those states, but to supplement the power of those states, to act when they cannot or will not. More importantly, these are precise strikes against certain individuals, making them more like police work than like classic military action. Police work involves small arms used precisely. Drones aren't pistols, but firing one Hellfire at a Land Rover is more like a police action than it is like a large-scale military offensive with artillery barrages, armored columns, and infantry assaults. (Yes, I am shifting my position a bit from what I wrote recently about Libya.)
We all understand that drone aircraft have changed warfare, but I suspect they also are changing diplomacy and foreign relations. Drones, like cruise missiles before them, have made it much easier to use force internationally. But doing this does not mean we are at war.
There is a good dissertation to be done on the political and diplomatic implications of this new military technology. I know there have been a couple of books in recent years on this subject -- can anyone highly recommend one?
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.