Thursday, October 21, 2010

Michael Chertoff, former US Secretary of Homeland Security, recently emphasized that establishing rules of engagement regarding cyberwar should be a top priority. Dealing with the issue of active defenses is an important component of this initiative.

“Preemption” is a loaded word. The right of a nation to act in self-defense against imminent threats is protected by Article 51 of the UN Charter, but cyberspace adds a different dimension to the issue. If the government discovered potentially malicious code on a computer, code that could disable a US power grid, or shut down military command and control centers, preemptive action to destroy the virus would necessitate a delicate hand.

The code could be on another country’s computers, on a civilian’s computer, or within the government network. Eliminating the code could have unintended effects on target computer or computer system, and accessing it might violate the owner’s civil liberties. In order to respond in "real time" to cyber threats, should the United States develop more automated response systems? If this was the case, cyber threats could be countered without a single human involved. Efficient, but scary.

Sanctioning unchecked cyber preemption is a problem. From a government standpoint it means revealing defense capabilities, as well as the priorities about what assets are important to us. At worst, it means taking a first, possibly aggressive action, that could have inadvertent negative effects on targeted systems, or even provoke an enemy to retaliate. On the other hand, if no preemptive action is taken, one could end up with an "embarrassed executive problem." Somewhere in the aftermath of a cyber attack, an official will have to sit in front of Congress and say the equivalent of "Yes, we knew the oil rig had safety issues, but we didn't fix them." And that, as we all know, is frustrating.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Robert Pape writes something on terrorism, I pay attention.  He always adds something to the discussion, and usually it's something valuable.  But his recent article on, "It's the Occupation, Stupid" delivers research results and leads the reader to an uncertain conclusion.  His argument holds that terrorism, especially suicide terrorism, is motivated by foreign occupation.  These findings, based on his research at the University of Chicago, make logical sense: of course people in an occupied territory resort to violence when all other means have been exhausted.  His conclusion from this study, however, is problematic.  Taking these findings to their logical end, Pape says

The research suggests that U.S. interests would be better served through a policy of offshore balancing.
This is true, but interpreted incorrectly can lead to a dangerous isolationism.  Pape is right that the War on Terror is self-defeating, and that having boots on the ground overseas can often be counterproductive.  He is also right that occupying foreign territory provokes deadly blowback.  But there are two important nuances to this argument:

1) Avoiding foreign occupation is not the same as withdrawing into isolation
2) Offshore balancing requires U.S. involvement and action in foreign countries, which could also instigate blowback.

First, it is important to recognize the difference between offshore balancing and isolationism.  It is tempting to extrapolate from Pape's argument that retreating into "Fortress America" is the wisest course.  But withdrawing from the world would not make America safer, and furthermore, in this global age, is impossible. 

Secondly, offshore balancing implies U.S. power projection overseas and involvement in the affairs of other states, and that doing so is in the best interests of Washington.  This could take the form of drone strikes, Special Operations raids, or even 1990's-style cruise missile attacks.  But this involvement could have a similar effect as foreign occupation: motivating terrorists.  This is a hole in Pape's data, and until further investigated remains a concern. 

There is no question that Pape's overall point is correct: foreign occupation is a major driver of terrorism, and removing boots from the ground is preferable.  But he would be wise to avoid leaving open the possibility of interpreting his findings to support isolationism.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Tuesday, a federal judge in California issued a worldwide injunction against execution of Section 654 of Title 10, or as it is more commonly known, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The injunction by Judge Virginia Phillips of the Central District of California follows her September 9 ruling in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is an unconstitutional infringement on servicemembers’ rights of substantive due process under the 5th Amendment and freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment. The ruling was the first to declare the law unconstitutional.

First to the law surrounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The various federal courts that have addressed DADT in 2009 came to different conclusions. In Witt v. U.S. Dept. of the Air Force, the Ninth Circuit upheld parts of DADT and deferred judgment through remand on the issue of substantive due process. In Pietrangelo v. Gates a federal judge in Massachusetts rejected all three arguments against DADT. The decision was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which based its ruling on “the special deference we grant Congressional decision-making” in the area of military policy. The case was then declined by the Supreme Court.

As is usual in court cases with significant public interest, cases challenging DADT have several elements, some of which have attracted more attention than others. The most-publicized element of DADT rulings has been the policy arguments surrounding the “unit cohesion” issue – whether the presence of gay and lesbian servicemembers makes a military unit less effective. This issue is important, but far from the only one raised in legal challenges to DADT. It has been challenged by various groups on several grounds: it violates the 5th Amendment’s guarantee of substantive due process, it violates the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, and it violates the equal protection clause.

The substantive due process claims argue that DADT violates servicemembers’ right, identified in a 2003 case invalidating a law prohibiting sodomy in Texas, to “autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.” The issue hinges on what level of scrutiny courts apply to the right of “intimate conduct. A challenge to a “fundamental right” is reviewed with “strict scrutiny” and can only be outweighed by a “compelling” government interest. A challenge to a right that is not fundamental is reviewed with a “rational basis” test where the government’s hurdle is merely rationally related to a legitimate state interest. In essence, if the Supreme Court says a particular right is fundamental, then it makes it much more difficult for government restrictions to withstand a constitutional challenge. It’s in this area of the law that the issue of unit cohesion is argued.

The free speech claims argue that since part of the evidence proving a servicemember’s homosexuality under DADT can be statements and not conduct, these regulations unconstitutionally restrict free speech. The counterargument is that the “evidentiary use of speech” has never been prohibited and can be used to prove a variety of things, including motive and intent.

Lastly, the equal protection argument is that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment under the Constitution. The counterargument is that sexual orientation is not a “suspect class” (whereas gender and race are) and that the government has a rational basis for the legislation, similar to the argument under substantive due process.

In Log Cabin Republicans, the Judge found that there was no rational basis for prohibiting gay and lesbian servicemembers from serving openly. More importantly, rather than just rejecting the government’s claim, Judge Phillips actually found that the reverse is true – prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving openly actually harms unit cohesion and decreases readiness. In making this finding, Judge Phillips pointed to discharges of highly trained Arabic linguists and other experts, as well as the increasing rate of obesity, criminal records, and lower education among new recruits.

Judge Phillips also found that DADT restricted speech “more than reasonably necessary to protect the Government's interests.” Because the speech relates to content, rather than a location or circumstance, it must be held to a higher standard. This higher standard asks if the restriction is truly necessary given the governmental interests at stake. Judge Phillips found that there was not a “substantial governmental interest” at stake because of the harm DADT does to military recruiting and readiness.

Importantly, Judge Phillips’ listed extensive findings of fact about DADT and its effects in her opinion. The Ninth Circuit resolves disputes about law, not facts, and its review of Judge Phillips’ ruling will have to accept her findings of fact that DADT is harmful to military readiness in seeing if she misapplied legal precedent. A potential Supreme Court ruling would have the same approach.

It would appear that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is history. But several other layers of the issue reveal that to be misleading.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Recently announced plans by the Afghan government for reconciliation and reintegration with the Taliban have been described to me by Afghan colleagues as both the best and the last idea that remains for how to bring the bring the nine year war to a close. The international security forces (ISAF) and the Taliban have been locked in a pseudo stalemate since the insurgent revival in 2007. While ISAF forces are more than capable of forcibly driving the Taliban from almost any area of Afghanistan, such offenses have roughly the same effect as squeezing a balloon. The more pressure you apply in one area the greater their presence will expand in another. As international support for the war has waned, the Karzai government has come under immense pressure to negotiate with the nebulous Taliban leadership in order to provide its coalition allies with an honorable exit strategy. While such a plan might seem feasible from the perspective of those sitting in Washington and perhaps even Kabul, the realities of how the insurgency is structured outside the capital discredit any hope for a lasting reconciliation.

During the course of interviews I conducted this summer in Kabul with members of the Force Reintegration Cell (F-RIC) at ISAF HQ I was shocked to learn that their plans for Taliban reintegration were based entirely on misconceptions about how the insurgency operates. The strategy, as it was explained to me, is to reward communities, not fighters, for allowing their "saddened brothers" to come down from the mountains and rejoin society. There exists two major problems with this line of thinking. First of all, as anyone who has spent serious time in places like Kandahar and Helmand can tell you, the Taliban do not live in the mountains, the majority of the day to day insurgent fighters live in the very villages that they are intimidating. Furthermore, if only communities that contain former insurgents are being rewarded with development money, we are suddenly going to find ourselves with many more fighters than we ever thought existed. Villages that were never known to have a Taliban presence before will inevitably begin blowing up their own roads in order to prove that they are deserving of reintegration money.

Apart from the difficulties surrounding how to actually identify low level insurgents, the question remains as to with whom the Karzai government actually intends to negotiate. When they ruled over most of Afghanistan in the 90's the Taliban possessed a hierarchical structure centering around Mullah Mohammed Omar. However, since their fall from power in 2001 and their eventual escape to Pakistan, the Taliban has since become an ambiguous grouping of smaller factions centering around key Mujahideen personalities such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Rumors abound of the senior Taliban leadership having reconstituted itself in Quetta, however, scholars such as Hassan Abbas challenge the veracity of these claims and question what if any influence the Quetta Shura would even have over the rest of the Taliban factions should it actually exist.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yes it's true, yet strangely you don't see that headline splashed across CNN.  The reason is that this wasn't a conventional attack on Iran, it was a cyber attack.  As David Sanger reported in the New York Times,

The Iranian government agency that runs the country’s nuclear facilities, including those the West suspects are part of a weapons program, has reported that its engineers are trying to protect their facilities from a sophisticated computer worm that has infected industrial plants across Iran.
In short, a computer worm has infiltrated the systems that run Iran's nuclear facilities, causing an unspecified amount of damage.  As the story reports, experts (and I am certainly not one) believe the level of sophistication of the attack could only be achieved by a state.  Without further information about the extent of the damage or nature of the worm, which given the nature of attack is unlikely to be made public, it's impossible to say for sure who released the worm or why, but early speculation points at two prime suspects - Israel and the United States.

Attacking the technological base of the Iranian nuclear program is not a solution to the problem, but it will most likely slow the program.  While that may seem minor, if you believe Jeffrey Goldberg's recent article in The Atlantic then perhaps a bit of time may be tremendously important.

Even more important, however, will be the repercussions from this attack.  If Iran believes that the U.S. or Israel was behind the attack, it may seek to retaliate, in cyberspace or with a conventional attack.  Furthermore, if other nations, particularly China and Russia, come to believe that America was behind this attack, it could mark the start of a new era of cyberwar.  Until now countries have tested defenses and capabilities, much like boxers circling the ring and throwing exploratory jabs.  Launching a prominent attack on Iran's nuclear systems could come to be viewed as the first real punch thrown in this match, and could signal to other powers that the fight is on. 

Once that barrier is crossed, and cyberwar crosses from potential to actual, there is no going back.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

By: Beka Feathers

Last Saturday, Afghans across the country went to the polls to choose the men and women who will represent them for the next five years in the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan National Assembly (unless they were in the 20 percent of the country where the security situation kept polling places from opening, and the further undisclosed portion where people were simply too frightened to show up). Preliminary results will be announced later today, and a few days from now, domestic and international election monitors will offer their opinions on whether the vote was "free and fair." Nobody seems to want to ask whether the election was a success.

What does success mean? As with nearly everything else in Afghanistan, it depends on where you stand. For the individual candidates, of course, it means a seat in the new parliament. For Hamid Karzai, it means a body of people without the will or organization to provide any serious opposition to his policies. For ISAF and the international community, it largely means the ability to claim that despite fraud and violence, the Afghan people are still committed to democracy. And for the Afghan people themselves?

Every post-election report suggests that success isn't even on the radar screens of most Afghans. Their confidence in the ability of any national institution to provide responsible governance or to sustain the rule of law has fallen so low that for many, it just wasn’t worth the risk of showing up. Even an optimistic estimate says that turnout was down 43 percent from the 2005 parliamentary elections. Polling places were sparsely attended even in relatively secure areas (unless you count the people who locked themselves inside the stations so that they could vote over and over again).

It isn't just the security situation behind this electoral malaise. It's true that over a thousand polling stations never opened, and that the Taliban made good on threats to attack voting centers and election monitors. It's also true that many warlord candidates were running their own intimidation campaigns to prevent their opponents' supporters from getting to the polls.[1] But the most serious enemy Afghan democracy faced last Saturday was doubt.

The Afghan people doubt that elections bring change. They doubt that those elected are interested in anything other than lining their own pockets. They doubt that any of their supposed allies in the international community still believe democracy can flourish in Afghanistan, no matter what their upbeat press conferences say. That's the real reason they aren't going to the polls.

On some of these points, there's not a lot that well-intentioned international observers can do from Washington, London, Kabul or anywhere else. The parliament might not improve conditions for the average Afghan, newly-elected members might do nothing but line their pockets, violence and instability will almost certainly continue to be a feature of daily life. The only aspect of this process over which internationals have complete control is whether or not we telegraph to the Afghan people and the world that we think the new parliament is a failure before it even gets off the ground. On this point, the most important lesson we can learn is to start talking out of only one side of our mouths.

It's hard to find a uniformly positive perspective anywhere these days about the central government in Kabul, and the Afghan people know that. They aren't looking for the international community to paint a false and rosy picture of a functioning democratic bureaucracy when they know that they've got a collection of corrupt and indifferent strongmen. They don't have time to waste on American domestic PR struggles. If they look to the outside at all, it's for solutions, and support for solutions, to these problems.

International advocates for Afghan democracy can do a lot to hold their own contractors and governments accountable for corruption. They can support the fledgling efforts of the parliament to assert itself against Karzai's increasingly broad claims of authority. They can treat individual members of parliament as men and women with a responsibility to uphold the will of their constituents, rather than as placeholders to be trotted out on official occasions. And most importantly, international actors can start matching words to actions - either the election was a success for big-picture democracy, or it means we should wash our hands of the whole project. ISAF forces, American taxpayers, and certainly the Afghan people can't afford to have it both ways for any longer.

The current political conversation in Afghanistan is about the ideals that underpin the system, not about the policies of individual factions. The value of democracy is itself an issue up for debate, and that campaign did not end on September 18. If reform-minded Afghans and their international partners want average Afghans to trade in their doubt, they need to do what losing parties do in a mature democracy. Instead of bemoaning the injustice of their loss, they need to start planning for the next one.

[1] For more information on pre-election tactics by candidates, see this excellent summary by the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit “Afghan Election, 2010: Alternative Narratives.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Well summer has finally ended, and I have no choice but to accept the unfortunate reality that school is beginning yet again.  On the plus side, now that I've returned to academia and a somewhat-normal routine, I'm set to resume blogging regularly (or at least less-irregularly).  To kick things off, here is a response to Dan Drezner's post about how millennials understand foreign policy.  Jeremy wrote a terrific response last week, and so I'm going to expand upon some of his themes and explore a few new ones.

I see two major points in this discussion:

1) We are not isolationist, instead we are globalized to an unprecedented degree.
2) We are cynical of how the world works, but that is not always a bad thing.

The most important point, contra-Drezner, is that our generation is not going to be "anti-interventionist to the point of isolationism."  Instead, as Jeremy noted, this generation is truly the first "globalized generation."  In terms of foreign policy, this means that we understand the inherent interconnectedness of today's world.  Every individual across the globe could potentially impact our lives here, as the 9/11 hijackers proved, and as we increasingly rely on the internet for all aspects of our daily lives our vulnerability too grows.  This is the bitter fruit of economic globalization and the revolutions in communications, travel, and technology that have changed the fundamentals of our existence.

Furthermore, we millennials understand that there is no going back.  We cannot retreat to "Fortress America" and choose isolation; for seclusion is no longer an option.  There are two reasons for this - structural and personal.  Structurally, I find it hard to believe that the world will stop "shrinking" anytime soon.  Communications technologies are constantly growing more powerful, and as the global economy continues to integrate it pulls the world inextricably together.  We no longer manufacture everything in America that we need to survive, and the oceans of the world no longer serve as protective barriers against foreign intrusion.  America is part of this global system, and millennials understand that taking our ball and going home simply no longer applies.

On the personal level, globalization, however you choose to define it, has taken root amongst our peers.  Many millennials have traveled, studied, lived, and worked overseas, and not solely in Old Europe.  We are fortunate to have these opportunities, made possible by the decrease in time, barriers, and, most importantly, cost of international adventure.  The factors that enabled us to travel more than any previous generation are not going away, nor are the connections we made to people, places, and cultures.  In other words, we millennials have a greater understanding of the globe than our predecessors, and a vested interest in places that is impossible to otherwise replicate.

The second major point concerns our relationship with governments, our own and foreign, and the international system.  We are, to put it mildly, cynical.  The distortions and lies of the Bush Administration regarding Iraq headline the list of grievances, but struggling through the Great Recession while watching Congress dither is only slightly less influential.  Thanks to the miracle of the internet we have witnessed the prevarications of other governments and the ways in which they manipulate their own people.

This cynicism is not necessarily a bad thing.  Our eyes are open to the ways of the world, and we are prepared to analyze the events of the future, not simply accept what we are given.  And this doesn't mean that idealistic optimism is dead - we millennials have our fair share of dreamers, planners, and changers.  But we do recognize the difficulties of achieving real, substantive, enduring changes, and come prepared.

Drezner's post is laced with pessimism for the future, and Jeremy is fueled by anger and frustration from our experiences.  I don't share these views, but, like Jeremy, I am cautiously optimistic about the chances for our future.  The interconnected world presents evolving threats, and it will require intellectual rigor, pragmatic flexibility, and a clear vision to meet these new challenges.  I have faith that we millennials are prepared for what comes next.

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