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 FP.com, "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.” http://www.areu.org.af/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28&Itemid=33

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.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A few days ago the U.S. and Saudi governments announced a record breaking $60 Billion dollars in future arms sales. This comes as a great relief to the Obama administration who was faced with the prospect of massive layoffs in the defense sector as the Defense Department begins to roll back its budget. While these cuts will come slowly over the next few years,the more important issue for the defense industry is the lack of big ticket defense procurements in the pipeline. Defense budgeting usually looks five to ten years into the future and from what I have seen of these budgets there is simply not enough money coming their way to maintain the American defense sector at its current size. This is however nothing new. The American defense industry has essentially existed as a welfare system since the end of the Cold War. If you were to ask Ash Carter, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, he would tell you (privately of course) that the DoD is personally paying the operating costs of several U.S. weapons factories that are not producing so much as a single bullet. In fact only one weapons plant has actually shuttered its doors since 1991.

So why is Saudi Arabia suddenly buying $60 Billion in weapons just when the U.S defense industry is showing signs of struggling? A sale perhaps? The answer is in fact two fold and has as much to do with the Kingdom's unique relationship with the United States as its does with its own internal politics.

Officially, Saudi Arabia spends around 13% of its annual GDP on defense, despite having not fought a real war since the 1930's. (Yes there was some bombing of rebels in Yemen last year but I would hardly call that a war.) Furthermore, as was demonstrated during the 1991 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia sits firmly under the protection of the U.S military's security bubble and has no real need for a high tech military and yet they are one of the top buyers of American made F-15's and Sidewinder missiles as well as the second largest purchaser of Bradley fighting vehicles in the world. While the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is long and complicated it essentially goes like this. The U.S. built up Saudi Arabia's oil industry in the 1930's and remains its biggest customer. In exchange for Saudi Arabia keeping the supply of oil steady the U.S. government agrees to provide the Kingdom's rulers, the Al-Saud family, with complete protection from both internal and external threats. The one caveat on this relationship has always been that whenever the U.S. defense industry is suffering and a key election is approaching the Al-Saud's pitch in to buy just enough weapons to ensure that workers in key electoral areas like Washington and California are not laid off. The Clinton administration did the same thing in 1993 when Saudi Arabia agreed to buy 72 F-15's for $9 billion dollars just in time for the mid term elections.

The second reason for Saudi Arabia's willingness to buy $60 Billion in weapons it doesn't need has to do with corruption within the House of Saud. While it is certainly true that the Al-Saud family is by far the richest clan on the face of the earth, over the past decade money has gotten a little tight. Decades of largess has allowed the Al-Saud family to expand to over 20,000 members with the typical male having anywhere between 10 and 40 children each. This means that allowances have dropped down to the range of $10,000 to $15,000 a month for the average prince. While this is certainly huge by normal standards it is not enough maintain a leer jet and the general lifestyle that many Saudi royals feel is their birthright. As a result, many in the Al-Saud family have had to resort to more nefarious ways of making money. Typically this activity comes in the form of "commissions" that they receive from foreign companies in exchange for the Saudi government granting them business contracts.

How large are these commissions and how large will the commission be for this most recent deal? Lets take the Kingdom's 1993 purchase of 61 commercial aircraft from Boeing for $7 billion as a case study. Boeing was in fierce competition with France's Airbus to win this contract. In an effort to win, Boeing was advised to secure the services of Khalid bin Mahfouz, a man known as the Saudi banker to the King. His consulting contract stated that he would be entitled to a whopping 5% of the price at delivery of all the aircraft. Court documents would later show that his commission was actually more in the range of 10-12%.

Behind the scene the fix was already in well before Boeing secured the services of Mr. Mahfouz. In February of 1993, Secretary of State Warren Christopher had been sent by President Clinton to pressure King Fahd (now deceased) to make the deal exclusively with Boeing. So why hire Mr. Mahfouz at all? While the Al-Saud family technically owns all the oil under Saudi Arabia, members of the family cannot simply withdraw funds from the Arabian Oil Company's accounts. ARAMCO is supervised and audited by huge international corporations and such thievery would not go unnoticed. Instead members of the Saudi royal family must either overpay or overbuy from foreign companies in order for those companies to return a percentage of that money (usually around 10-12%) back to the Saudi royals personal accounts. So while Mr. Mahfouz pocketed a cool $700 million from his consulting job with Boeing a significant portion of that money would have had to be dispersed amongst the Saudi royals starting most likely with Crown Prince Sultan, brother to the King and head of the the Saudi Defense Ministry.

So how much money should we expect the Saudi Royal Family to pocket off this new $60 billion dollar arms purchase? If we conservatively estimate that there is about 10% graft on every deal then the Al-Saud should walk away with around $6 Billion. Will some of this money end up being given to organizations that support terrorism? History says yes, but since the Kingdom has staunchly refused to cooperate in the Treasury Department's terrorist financing investigations we will likely never know for sure. If you are interested in a more in depth explanation of how things work inside the kingdom I would highly suggest reading Sleeping with the Devil by Robert Baer from which most of the facts in this article were taken.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It has recently been brought to my attention that as someone in their mid-twenties I am a member of what has been referred to as the millennial generation. We are a group of people who were raised in years of economic prosperity and tech bubbles, only to have our world views rocked by the tragic events of 9/11. We spent our college years being lied to about why the nation needed to go to war in Iraq, and we sat in shock as over 4,000 men and women our own age lost their lives in two wars. Finally, once we reached maturity and entered the workforce, we experienced first-hand the result of a previous generation overcome with greed, a generation that had had complete and undying faith in the infallible nature of the capitalist marketplace.

Some pundits have suggested that the millennial generation is set to become one of the most isolationist and financially cautious generations that America has ever produced. However, upon hearing this I suddenly remember that the people making such claims are in fact members of the very generation whose sheer ineptitude resulted in the very conditions that were supposed to have gotten me so depressed and jaded in the first place. To those who have already preemptively given up on us millennials I say to you why don't you forget about retiring and instead start earning again to pay China back for all that money you all so wisely borrowed from them. In the meantime we up-and-comers will attempt to shift through the ashes of our once economically strong and internationally respected country.

I contend that the events on 9/11 have had the exact opposite effects of isolationism. We millennials may just have easily been called the first globalized generation as we saw first hand the effect that 19 Arab hijackers, disgruntled with foreign policies we had never heard of, could have on all of our lives. Since that day the number of students studying Arabic and Middle Eastern culture has sky rocketed across American campuses. I recently met the daughter of a New York City firefighter from Queens who had just returned from studying in Cairo. When I asked her why she chose to study Arabic she told me that after her father saw the towers fall in person he was determined to have his kids understand how such a thing could have happened.

Yes, our generation is going to be much more skeptical of politicians as a result of having been flat out lied to and manipulated by the Bush administration over the Iraq War. But is skepticism when it comes to ones elected officials ever really a bad thing? One thing I will say though is that the only way to truly keep one's government in check is to have a population willing to educate themselves on the issues. I appeal to all of my fellow twenty somethings to abandon all of the pied pipers parading their uneducated opinions across cable tv and recognize what our parents have not, that not everything calling itself news is really news. Would you watch FOX if it was renamed APE (American Propaganda/Entertainment)? I didnt think so. We must all recognize the fact that there is a difference between being informed and being educated. Watching the "news" endlessly all day might give you insight into what is happening in the world, but these shows will rarely tell you WHY they are happening. Those answers can simply only come from reading and independent investigation.

Our generation has the hard task of having to understand a very complicated world in its entirety. The policymakers of tomorrow will need to have the foresight to understand what unrest in places like Kazakhstan is going to do to the global energy markets and in turn how this will effect Saudi Arabia's relationship with its Arab neighbors. Previous generations of leaders felt secure that all they needed to leave college knowing about was the Soviet Union and the policy of deterrence. Maybe some of them even learned Russian in an attempt to be the best. Fast forward to today where members of the millennial generation are fighting to win a war in Afghanistan, a country where five languages are spoken and two (Dari and Pashtu) are vital to successfully completing the mission.

A final thought on whether the millennial generation is more or less likely to engage in military operations abroad in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The next generation of military leadership that have just begun to take the reigns are the men and women who have spent the last nine years making their bones effectively making strategies like Counterinsurgency work. They see the importance of getting involved in countries like Yemen before they become safe havens for terrorists. Will be be doing nation building along the lines of Afghanistan and Iraq? Certainly not, but that does not mean that we will not seek to have a presence. If anything, it was the previous generation of cold warriors in the military who were so scarred by their experience in Vietnam that kept us from getting involved in places likes Afghanistan before they became a problem.

The road ahead will not be an easy one for the millennial generation, but I am secure in the fact that the series of blunders that we have been witness to over the past decade will serve to make us, the next generation of leaders, more cognoscente of the world in which we live. While we may not be as optimistic about the future as the baby boomers who came before us, I truly believe that it is the realism of the millennial generation that will one day return America to the pinnacle of international esteem.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I have been meaning to write a post recently concerning muttering that I have been hearing from individuals with experience in Iraq about the very real possibility that Iraq may be in store for another civil war. Yesterday's coordinated attacks by insurgents are a chilling sign that it is far too soon to be breathing sighs of relief over the state of Iraq. The bombings that occurred on Tuesday took place over the course of two hours in 13 different cities including Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra, Karbala, Mosul and Kut. If these names sound familiar, they should as they have been the sites of some of the most heavy insurgent activity over the last seven years. These attacks represent three main points; 1. that the insurgency is still alive, 2. they still maintain an organizational capability that allows them to coordinate attacks all across Iraq, and 3. the insurgents are still in possession of a great deal of explosives.

While the Iraqi government and U.S. forces both estimate the Iraqi insurgency to number only in the hundreds, these malign actors are not the main focus of concern for people who have been observing Iraq closely these past few years. Politics and ethnic divides are far more likely to split Iraq than the actions of a few well armed fanatics.

The most likely fault line for civil war in Iraq is the oil rich city of Kirkuk. The majority shiite population of Iraq strongly favors having all the countries oil revenues come under the control of the central government, which is of course mostly controlled by Shiites. The Kurds residing in Northern Iraq have for years now claimed Kirkuk as the capital of their state within a state and they are vehemently opposed to the Iraqi government infringing upon their chief revenue stream. The Kurds have for years now been silently (or not so silently if you live there) ethnically cleansing Kirkuk of Sunni and Shiite Arabs alike. The Kurdish paramilitary force, the Peshmerga, while distinctly smaller than the Iraqi military would still be capable of making a stand against the Iraqi state should there be a show down over the sovereignty of Kirkuk and its mineral wealth. Should such a conflict lead to the Kurds declaring an independent state this would only serve to make matters worse as such a declaration would surely force Turkey to get involved militarily seeing as how they have been dealing with their own Kurdish uprising for decades.

Another likely source of trouble in Iraq's near future is the rumored return of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who for the past several years has been in self imposed exile in Iran where he has been studying to become an Ayatollah (I am told he is still very far away from deserving such a title). A recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine entitled the King of Iraq highlights the immense amount of power Sadr is still capable of wielding in Iraq. However, the article is poorly titled as Sadr is much more a king maker than he is a king. Iraqs deposed and yet still sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki owed his election to Sadr's support. He also likely owes his latest electoral defeat to the fact that Sadr turned on him after the Iraqi government started allowing the U.S. military to attack Sadr's Mahdi army.

We must now ask ourselves what happens if Sadr returns to Iraq intent on seeing his candidates placed in the positions of greatest power within the Iraqi government. Iraq's Sunni population is not likely going to take such a grab for power lying down. Memories of Mahdi Army death squads killing Sunni's in hospitals as a result of Sadr controlling the Ministry of the Interior are still fresh in the minds of most Sunnis. But if Sadr does not get his way it is a very real possibility that we will see a resurgence of the Mahdi army, which it is important to point out, was never disbanded or disarmed despite the fleeing of its leader to Iran.

Other theories for what may lay ahead in Iraq's future include: the resurgence of another strong man dictatorial government, increasing power plays by Iran, or god forbid another ethnic conflict between Sunnis and Shiites like the civil war we already saw play out from 2006-2007. I am not trying to spread the message of doom and gloom, as I will be the first to admit that the Iraqi security forces have come along way in the past 3-4 years. All I am saying is that we here in the America should hold off on printing another Mission Accomplished banner anytime soon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

We here at D&D are still enjoying our August recess, but fear not, we shall return soon.  In the meantime, the NYT featured a story today from Dexter Filkins about how the ISI used the CIA and American resources to arrest Mullah Baradar for their own, self-serving ends.

“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”
Well that's discouraging.  And who could have ever imagined that was the case?

       

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A few days ago Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he is would like to see the Defense Department cut $100 billion from the defense budget over the next five years. As someone who has studied the defense budget in depth over the past few years at both the Kennedy school and the Fletcher School I have written the following memo outlining ways in which the DoD can cut $150 billion from the defense budget by 2016.

Returning the defense budget to pre 9/11 levels will force us to prioritize future threats and explicitly define the strategic purpose of each branch of the armed forces. Budgetary constraints will finally shift us away from our current Cold War mix of combat capabilities towards a new 1-3-2-1 force planning construct. Under the new formula, the U.S. military will be responsible for defending the United States (1); maintaining forces capable of deterring aggression in NE Asia, the East Asian littoral, and Middle East (3); actively partner with allies to perform stability operations in two of these regions (2); and maintain a capability to win decisively in one war against a conventional or WMD armed adversary (1).

Analysis of the future threat environment has concluded that unconventional wars are the most likely conflicts facing the U.S for the foreseeable future. In order to properly mitigate this threat, the armed forces must elevate irregular warfare, counterinsurgency and stability operations to the status of “core missions.” While critics will argue that prioritizing unconventional threats will leave us vulnerable to attack by conventional actors, the lack of a near-peer competitor makes this a low-risk opportunity to remodel our force structure to battle more current and likely threats. Institutionalizing counterinsurgency and stability operations will allow the U.S. military to respond to a broader range of threats at a greatly reduced cost. The following suggestions are ways to reduce the defense budget to approximately $400 billion by FY 2016. Suggested cuts translate to $104.7 billion in annual savings and an additional $159.7 billion in long-term savings resulting from a reduction in F-35 procurement over the next ten years.

Reduce End Strength to Near FY 2000 Levels ($63.3B in annual savings)
By reducing the overall end strength of the land forces to FY 2000 levels, we can decrease annual defense spending by an estimated $61.3 billion. The majority of savings can be found by first rolling the Army back to ten divisions each consisting of three combat brigades, a total reduction of 67,620 soldiers. From the remaining force, we should eliminate one armored division and one light infantry division to form two stability and reconstruction divisions each consisting of 10,000 troops. These divisions will allow special operations forces to focus on direct action by taking over training of indigenous security forces and most other COIN/Stability operations. CBO estimates that this restructuring would save the Army $32 billion over the next 16 years ($2 billion annually) due to the smaller number of units that would require modernization and the reduced need for next generation weaponry. One area of growth for the Army should be the 20th CBRNE Support Command, which should be doubled in size to 12,000 soldiers in order to be able to assign an EOD team to every BCT and a CBRN unit to each division. If we are no longer engaged in large scale combat operations, the Marine Corps will also be forced to reduce its numbers from 202,000 back to 172,000. While the Army and Marine Corps will likely object to large scale reductions in their end strengths, our new force planning construct no longer calls for us to fight two simultaneous conventional campaigns and thus maintaining the current number of combat forces is no long necessary

Reduce the Number of Foreign Military Bases by 25% (Cost of $30B, yields $25.5B in annual savings)
Of the 737 U.S. military bases currently operating worldwide (not counting in Iraq and Afghanistan) 427 (58%) are located in Europe. While the majority of our future planning and acquisition programs are oriented around fighting and deterring threats emanating from the Middle East and Asia, the U.S. military’s antiquated basing structure is still largely focused around deterring a Soviet threat that no longer exists. I propose reducing our global footprint by ¼ through the closing of 145 of these bases: 112 in Germany, 6 in Belgium, 2 in Greece and 31 in Italy. While the cost of many of these bases is shared with allies, we can no longer justify a large presence to guard against a non-existent threat. This new round of BRAC will cost approximately $30 billion if begun in 2011, but should yield annual savings of $25.5 billion after 2016.

Reduce Procurement of the F-35 by 50% ($15.9B in annual Savings, $159.7B long-term)
Our lack of a peer competitor and our near term focus on unconventional warfare means that our emphasis on replacing our current generation air systems with next generation systems is unwarranted. Rather than purchasing thousands of new F-35’s, we should reduce procurement of this platform and instead replace air systems that have reached the end of their life cycles with the latest version of the same system. These newer systems are far more capable than the ones they replace and cost approximately half as much as next generation technology. A fifty percent reduction in the procurement of F-35’s will cut $159.7 billion from the total long-term procurement budget and translate to $15.9 billion in annual savings. While the Air Force and Navy will argue that such cuts will reduce the number of missions they are capable of flying, a portion of the F-35’s mission can be allocated to our new long-range bombers and UAVs.

Restructure the Navy to be a More Mobile and Cost Effective Force ($5.3B in savings over 5yrs)
Since the end of the Cold War, the Navy has failed to redefine its strategic purpose. Over the next decade, we must move the Navy away from its focus on maritime warfare towards its primary missions of supporting ground-based operations and protecting the sea lines of communication (SLOC). According to their long-term shipbuilding plan, the Navy plans to acquire 53 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS’s) to perform antiship, anti-submarine and countermine warfare at a cost of $33.1 billion. I believe that combining the Navy and Coast Guard’s Small Combatant Programs will provide the Navy with a capability that is superior for executing the peacetime elements of its maritime strategy, but also offers the speed and offensive capabilities necessary to guard against threats to the SLOC. Reducing the number of LCS’s purchased will allow the Navy to acquire the naval version of the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter (NSC). The CBO estimates that swapping out 25 LCS’s for 20 NSC’s will save the Navy an estimated $5.3 billion.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


On Thursday, Rear Admiral Nora Tyson took command of Carrier Strike Group Two aboard the USS George H. W. Bush. Tyson made history, becoming the first woman to command an aircraft carrier in the US Navy. When Tyson received her first commission in 1979, women for the first time became a Surface Warfare Officer and a carrier-certified Naval aviator. Women were not given permanent assignments on board combat ships until 1994.

Congratulations to Rear Adm. Tyson!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


One of the major revelations to come out of the 92,000 previously classified documents recently released by wikileaks is that apparently the Taliban have on several occasions fired at U.S aircraft using surface to air missiles better known as MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems). The media has seized upon this story as yet another government blunder since after all wasn't it the U.S. government who originally supplied the Mujahideen with stinger missiles back in the 80's when they were fighting the Soviets? However, a closer examination of the specs on these stingers leads one to a far different and perhaps more dangerous conclusion; that Pakistan has begun to supply the Taliban with their own surface to air missiles to use against U.S. forces.

I had often heard that there were several hundred stingers unaccounted for after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and when I was there this summer I asked the crews of helicopters I was flying on why it was that we no longer considered these weapons a threat. According to weapons experts, the batteries on stinger missiles are good for one shot each and they must be changed out if the delivery system is to be used more than once. Furthermore, the average shelf life of unused batteries is only 4-5 years. Meaning that any stinger missiles given to the Mujahideen in the 80's would no longer be effective today. While it is not beyond the realm of contemplation that a skilled technician could jerry rig some sort of alternative battery for these devices, such skill is likely out of the range of the vast majority of Taliban. These weapons are however still capable of exploding, only the delivery device is deactivated. As such a great deal of the remaining stingers left over from the 80's have probably since been turned into IEDs.

The fact remains however that the Taliban are getting fully functioning MANPADS from somewhere, which in all likelihood have been constructed in the last 4-5 years. The most likely candidate is Pakistan which is both the traditional patron of the Taliban and has for the last twenty years been a manufacturer of their very own surface to air missile known as the Anza. The Anza has an effective range of up to 5000 meters and could certainly have been behind the downing of several US helicopters in recent years. In recent years, Pakistan has advertised the Anza series for export,displaying it at the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) 2007 event in the UAE.

Worst case scenario: The Pakistani ISI is directly providing the Taliban with surface to air missiles

Best Case: Pakistan is irresponsibly selling MANPADS on the open market and they are ending up in the hands of the Taliban through a middleman

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The always-superb Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a story in the Washington Post about progress in Afghanistan, comparing the lack of it in Marja (a "bleeding ulcer," as General McChrystal famously said) with the relative tranquility and prosperity of Nawa. Both hamlets are similar demographically and geographically, but while Marja continues to hemorrhage Nawa is creeping forward.

Both were stricken by the Taliban insurgency four years ago. And over the past year, both have been treated with America's new counterinsurgency formula: Each community has been flooded with U.S. Marines and Afghan security forces, at troop levels that meet or exceed what counterinsurgency theorists prescribe. Each has received a surge of cash and civilian experts in an effort to provide public services, rebuild infrastructure and dole out basic economic assistance. Each has been described as a priority by the central government in Kabul. So why did all this work in one but not the other?
Photo by Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde
Chandrasekaran is unable to reach a firm conclusion, and most of the insiders he interviewed seemed similarly befuddled.  But they all seem focused on learning the lessons from each case, and applying them elsewhere.  The overriding question Chandrasekaran asks concerns the future utilization of the COIN model - which town is the outlier, and which is the repeatable success?

Unfortunately, this is the wrong question.  It rests on the assumption that the U.S. did something right in Nawa but something wrong in Marja, and the only thing to do is discover that error.  At a deeper level, the assumption is that all events are conclusively influenced by U.S. policy - we can do it right or do it wrong, but ultimately we are the ones determining the outcome.  I find this idea troubling.  Accepting that the U.S. military is the decisive factor in the near-term future in Afghanistan means neglecting local relations and politics, national governance (or the lack thereof), and a host of other factors, not the least of which is the most fundamental of all military strategy - the enemy gets a vote.

Chandrasekaran almost hits on this point, but quickly loses the thread:
But the residents also emphasized that the Taliban fighters left of their own accord. "They chose to flee from here," said one shopkeeper. "They drove away as soon as the Marines arrived."
In other words, perhaps the success in Nawa was not the result of superior American tactics, but rather of a Taliban miscalculation.  Their failure in Nawa may have been part of the reason the Taliban refused to flee Marja; an attempt to avoid repeating the mistake.

So what does this mean for U.S. operations in Afghanistan?  It's a reminder that actors and events that are not part of the plan influence the outcome, sometimes decisively.  As the Bush Administration learned in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, unplanned events occur and must be dealt with, even if that means discarding the original blueprint.  COIN doctrine cannot be implemented according to any book, and the notion that there is a "right" way to do COIN which guarantees success is a fallacy.  Perhaps General Petraeus has taken a similar lesson from recent events.  He has reportedly decided to scrap the invasion Kandahar, calling the current plan "not an appropriate model."  Kudos to P4 for making the right call, and hopefully this is only the first of many.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The July 11 attacks by the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab killed more than 70 people watching the finals of the World Cup in Kampala, Uganda's lakeside capital city. The tragic bombings, and the response, have brought up an interesting issue in the field of international security - why countries react in different ways to terrorist attacks.

On one end of the spectrum is Spain's reaction to the March 11, 2004 attacks by "homegrown" Al-Qaeda members on the Madrid subway (Ed. note - why do so many terrorist attacks happen on the 11th day of the month?). The attacks occurred shortly before the 2004 parliamentary elections, and led to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's party, known by its Spanish acronym PSOE, taking power from the Conservative Jose Maria Aznar. In the aftermath of the election, tinged by Aznar's contention that the bombings were caused by the Basque separatist group ETA, Zapatero's government withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq.

On the other end of the spectrum is the U.S. reaction to the September 11 attacks in 2001, with a death toll of over 3,000. Within a month, after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda members, U.S. and allied forces had entered the country. On October 7, 2001, airstrikes began in Kabul. U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan today, 105 months after the initial invasion. 9/11, far from deterring future action, led directly to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

In reacting to the 7/11 attacks, Uganda's government has remained uncowed, despite being singled out for attack by Al-Shabaab because of the presence of Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia. President Yoweri Museveni was defiant, stating that "we shall go for them wherever they are coming from. We will look for them and get them as we always do." Although this rhetoric is not likely to be backed by immediate military action, Museveni's words are no retreat. In fact, he has already hinted at changing the mandate of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia to one of "peace enforcement." Such a shift in the rules of engagement would allow for a more proactive military effort against Al-Shabaab.

Leaving aside the (important) question of why Al-Shabaab would attack Uganda or what their broader agenda may be, why did Uganda react in this way, and why do countries react so differently when responding to terrorism?

Monday, July 19, 2010

While we've been distracted by the ever-changing world around us and lost interest in Iran after sanctions were passed by Congress, life has rolled on in Tehran.  But it has not rolled smoothly.  Yesterday marked a crucial turning point in domestic relations, as merchants in the capital ended a 12-day strike

Now why is this important?  No, it's not the result of U.S. sanctions and is certainly no reason to declare a victory.  And no, these strikes really are not similar to the mass protests and strikes of 1979 that brought down the Shah - the government is in no immediate danger of collapsing.  But this strike is crucially important as an indicator that economic conditions in Iran continue to deteriorate and that the general populace has thus far been unswayed by the "Blame America" rhetoric from the regime.

Under the mismanagement of President Ahmadinejad, the Iranian economy has cratered.  He spun profits from record-high oil prices into vast subsidy programs to bulwark domestic support, but when oil prices dropped those programs became massive government expenditures with no revenue backing.  Not only did he miss an opportunity to expand and diversify Iran's economy, Ahmadinejad's fiscal cluelessness has now burdened the state with more debt than it can handle.  The solution: higher taxes, which led directly to the recent strike.

Again, the regime is not in imminent danger.  But these strikes illustrate the cost of financial imprudence, and without an economic turnaround even blatant vote-stealing won't keep the current government afloat.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The 2010 mid-term election is developing into a referendum on the economy, with foreign policy playing little to no role. A recent Gallup poll asks Americans what they think is "the most important problem facing this country today" and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan tie with 3%. No foreign policy issue garners more than 7% (immigration) and the aggregate of the all the foreign policy-related issues is 17%. Americans are most daunted by the economy; 53% mention either the economy or unemployment/jobs as the most important problem.

This is occurring in an atmosphere where the public sees the President as competent in foreign affairs, but increasingly inept at handling the national economy. In a recent TIME poll, Obama retains a 52% approval rate on foreign policy (41% disapprove) and a 47/44 approval/disapproval rate on Afghanistan, but has only a 44% approval rate on the economy (53% disapprove). The President has been seen as more competent on foreign policy than on the economy since March 2009.

Finally, a majority of Americans both approve of the President's timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan and approve of his decision to both remove General McChrystal and appoint General Petraeus, the latter by incredible margins.

There are two important implications of this polling data. First, foreign policy will be a non-issue for most of the 2010 campaign. With voters' attention disproportionately fixed on the economy, campaigns will be about jobs, jobs, and jobs. Of course the occasional congressional race will hinge on a foreign policy issue. Districts with large military bases or ethnic populations with specific foreign policy interests feature intense foreign policy debates, but they are not the norm across the country. However, even when foreign policy and national security are emphasized, it will likely occur in the context of, you guessed it, jobs.

Second, congressional support for President Obama's foreign policy won't flag, even with a Republican takeover of (one or both houses of) Congress. On the major foreign policy issues facing the United States, namely Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama is supported heavily by the Republican minority. In fact, in the recent debate over supplemental funding for the war in Afghanistan, the main opposition was from liberal Democrats.

Democrats running for Congress this fall will be in a race against the economy, hoping it improves enough by October to argue that things are getting better. If the unemployment rate starts creeping down over the end of the summer, and September and October see big job gains, then Democrats can feel (somewhat) secure in the fact that they will only lose a few seats. If however, unemployment stays around 9.5%, or increases, watch for Democrats to suffer major losses in November.

Of course, all of this analysis exists in a place that assumes the absence of an "October surprise" - an event that would shock the electorate in a way so as to call into question their core electoral assumptions. I've stated previously that I thought the August 31st U.S. military draw-down in Iraq would have a similar effect, causing the electorate to focus on Iraq and the Middle East. I still think that will happen, but not anywhere near the amount required to make the mid-terms anything but a referendum on the economy. Even at the height of the CNN-led frenzy over the Gulf Coast oil spill, only 18% of voters listed the spill as the most important issue facing the U.S.

Gallup's "Bottom Line" sums up the issue nicely:

Although the precise percentage of Americans mentioning economic concerns varies from month to month, these issues have dominated the public's consciousness for well over two years. This fact should serve as a sharp reminder to politicians and challengers involved in House and Senate races this fall; failure to address economic issues will be at the candidate's own peril.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Breaking News:

Three synchronized bombs exploded in Kampala today during the World Cup final, killing at least fifty (some reports range to over 60). While many will turn their eyes to the LRA and Kony, there is another, game-changing possibility.

D&D Snap Analysis:

Synchronized explosions in crowded soft targets are not typical for the LRA, they are more typical to traditional AQ actions. This possibility is further magnified by comments made tonight by Sheik Yousuf Sheik Issa (al Shabaab Commander) in Mogadishu to an AP reporter:

"Uganda is one of our enemies...whatever makes them cry makes us happy. May Allah's anger be upon those who are against us."
If this is an Al Shabaab operation, it will mark their first outside of Somalia, and a clear shifting in both their capabilities and aims within the region. It may also signal that they are seeking some form of horizontal escalation of their conflict inside of Somalia.

More on this soon, as more details emerge.

Louisa Seferis 
Demagogues and Dictators Central African Analyst      
 
On the 28th of May, the UN Security Council reached an acceptable compromise with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the future of its UN mission in the DRC. Kabila’s government, which had requested a complete withdrawal of UN troops for the 50th anniversary of DRC independence on June 30th, signed off on the following changes:

The resolution authorized the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel by 30 June this year from areas where security has improved enough to allow their removal.
 [This, Alan Doss reported in May 2010, will mainly be from Western provinces to avoid troop withdrawal in the “volatile East.”]
The Council decided that MONUSCO shall comprise, in addition to the appropriate civilian, judiciary and correction components, a maximum of 19,815 military personnel, 760 military observers, 391 police personnel and 1,050 personnel of formed police units.(Source: UN Security Council)
MONUSCO, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly MONUC), now has a mandate until June 30, 2011. The new mandate prioritizes stability, as the name suggests, through the promotion of military and non-military solutions as well as the protection of civilians. Kabila would have liked to see MONUC depart this 30th of June, however, in time for his impressive display of development during the 50 years of Congolese independence. The main boulevard became a six lane highway, street lights were switched on with ceremonial fanfare, and the King of Belgium only waited for three hours for the parade to begin. But as one of my Congolese colleagues said to me, “We wait to see if the progress continues to be a reality. This is already better than Mobutu, but you can’t feed yourself on empty promises.”
 Image: monuc.unmissions.org

The big problem with celebrating 50 years of independence and demonstrating development is the presence of severe pockets of violence throughout the DRC.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm a bit late weighing in on this absurd Russian spy saga, but I still don't quite know what to make of it.  Originally, I was surprised that the arrests were made immediately on the heels of an apparently successful meeting between Obama and Medvedev.  However, given that Moscow has, surprisingly, not issued a sharp rebuke of the U.S., I can only surmise that they either had advance warning or realize that the proof against these alleged agents is undeniable and it would only make them look worse to attempt a denial.

Interestingly, it seems that a massive prisoner swap is in already set to be completed.  Not much information is available about who will be exchanged, but it seems plausible that Washington seized these agents solely to use as trade bait in order to regain U.S. assets in Russian custody.  More importantly, the whole affair reminds me of the wise words of the late, great, Warren Zevon: "how was I to know she was with the Russians too?"




And if you think this whole post was just an excuse to include such an epic video, well you might be right...

A technical error caused the original post and comments to be lost.  Apologies.

I'm a bit late to the pundit party, but I have a few thoughts about "The Runaway General" controversy that have been overlooked.  General McChrystal crossed a line, and left the President with no choice but to relieve him of his command.  This much is sure.  It is a huge story, one which will reverberate in the coming months and years across Afghanistan, as my colleague Jeremy as already noticed.


However, we have focused solely on the derogatory comments sprinkled throughout the article, and in doing so have missed the bigger point: COIN is not working in Afghanistan, and General McChrystal was oblivious to its failings.  Unfortunately, President Obama and his national security team seem similarly blinded, as the selection of General Petraeus indicates more of the same COIN-predicated strategy.


Ironically, criticizing the COIN orthodoxy has become near-heresy in many circles, a far cry from its wandering in the desert days in pre-surge Iraq.  The rapid growth, and indeed dominance, of this theoretical paradigm is not inherently negative, but falling in thrall to the theory and neglecting to think critically and reflect on the situation in Afghanistan and the applicability of COIN theory is a fatal flaw.  General McChrystal and his team fell victim to true-believer blindness, and U.S. and NATO troops, and Afghan civilians, will pay the price long into the future.


One of the fundamental prerequisite for COIN is the existence of a viable alternative to insurgency.  This entails a functioning state, economic opportunity, and basic governance structures, such as police, utilities management, and the like. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Tuesday, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took to the opinion page of the Washington Post to deliver a full-throated assault on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New-START) championed by President Obama and the nation's military leaders. Romney's op-ed, titled "Obama's worst foreign-policy mistake," takes President Obama to task for caving to the Russians and receiving "nothing whatsoever in return."

Romney's piece was another step toward a likely 2012 run for president, an attempt to assert his national security credentials on the national stage. As a one-term governor Romney has none of the "tough on national security" experience that conservative voters crave, and must convince the Republican base that he can handle Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Iran, North Korea, and other global hot spots.

Romney's effort, however, was nothing short of a disaster. His critique has been lampooned as "thoroughly ignorant," "groundless and misleading," and "ridiculous." Even The American Conservative called Romney's argument "absurd."

Fred Kaplan of Slate, an expert on nuclear weapons and arms control, went through Romney's argument line by line, debunking nearly every claim made by Romney. Romney uses wildly inaccurate weapons numbers, misunderstands the military's position on missile defense, and, at one point, even suggests that the Russians would try to mount ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles) on strategic bombers and railroad cars.

Romney is not an international arms control expert, but he is an intelligent and analytical man. I'd bet my student loans that this was bad staff work. An initial draft was probably written by an aide, edits were made, not all were included, and someone pressed "send" prematurely. It's no excuse, but no politician or elected official writes everything submitted in their name, and mistakes happen.

Bad staff work doesn't mean Mitt Romney is ignorant of foreign policy, but it does illustrate a problem for the Republican Party - its leaders are not serious foreign policy leaders. Republicans, who have traditionally enjoyed wide margins over Democrats on national security issues, have turned inward to focus on domestic policy, ceding foreign policy to the Democrats. The Tea Party has swept the conservative base with an emphasis on tax cuts, budget deficits, and constitutional law. The rising stars and most popular officials in the Republican Party, from Senator Jim Demint of South Carolina and Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi to Sarah Palin, are all focused primarily on domestic issues. The foreign policy leaders in the party, Senators like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, are either past their prime or too moderate to survive a primary. One needs to look no further than RNC Chairman Michael Steele's recent comments on Afghanistan to see the lack of foreign policy credibility in the leadership of the Republican Party.

The 2010 midterms will likely be decided on a combination of health insurance reform, taxes, and jobs - Iraq and Afghanistan will be important issues, but there is relatively little disagreement between the parties on US policy in both countries. The 2012 presidential election, however, will be a showcase for foreign policy. Voters don't see Congress as protecting US national security, but they do see presidents that way. When President Obama stands next to his Republican challenger, that challenger will be judged by his or her ability to protect the nation and conduct its foreign affairs. As it stands, there aren't many Republicans who can play that role.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

General David Petraeus took command of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Sunday.

Many are considering this change of command to be little more than a change in nameplates, as President Obama has made it clear that US and NATO policy in Afghanistan will not change with the removal of General McChrystal. As we at Demagogues and Dictators seek to provide multi-faceted analysis of issues, I thought the below image provided an excellent graphical evaluation of the situation (courtesy of Doctrine Man)


On a serious note, I do think that the transfer of command is significant, even with all parties involved professing fealty to the current strategy.

Why? Because personalities matter, even in war.

Anyone who has ever spent time in any office (or pretty much anywhere, for that matter) can tell you that individuals who don't get along find it difficult to work together. Even if the dysfunctional triangle of General McChrystal, Ambassador to Afghanistan Eikenberry, and AfPak Envoy Richard Holbrooke never led to any purposeful undermining, poor (or very bad) communication is disruptive on many levels. First, and foremost, it causes a breakdown in staff communication farther down the chain. Second, it makes it that much more difficult for the US military and the US civilian agencies to understand what the other requires, something that is already difficult in the most hospitable of conditions. Third, it forces the United States to show a divided front in Afghanistan, and to all of the myriad actors important in the conflict (Pakistan, India, Russia, NATO, etc.).

Effective communication won't fix anything overnight, but they do improve ISAF's chances. In the jargon of the social sciences (I know, I can't resist), effective communication between civilian and military actors doesn't provide the permissive conditions for a successful counterinsurgency campaign, but they almost certainly are a necessary condition.

I don't know if General Petraeus will be able to work effectively with Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke, but I know that General McChrystal couldn't. That alone is reason for some hope.

Monday, July 5, 2010

       
Emily Keane
Kampala, Uganda

In response to Dave Reidy’s post on Nicholas Kristof’s article on conflict minerals in the DRC, I strongly believe that Reidy’s attack is deeply flawed. As I see it, Reidy’s main point is to lambaste Kristof for his uninformed, simple description and solution of a conflict that United States consumers cannot solve.

But I believe Kristof's whole point IS to be sensationalist. Let's remember that he is a columnist in the New York Times, and not Foreign Affairs or any other academic publication. He is not an expert, nor does he pretend to be. What his column does best is bring these important, yet neglected issues to light. And while Reidy is right that Kristof paints a watered down account of the conflict, Kristof has the power and audience to push these grim realities into people's faces. Who else continually writes about the conflict in Congo, sex slavery in Southeast Asia, and the genocide in Sudan on such a regular basis to such a large audience?

Why must we claim that a commitment group of people cannot influence change?! Sure, American consumers are idealistic and have the attention span of a fly, but their power CAN be harnessed! Worldwide pressure against South Africa's policy of apartheid played a role in its banishment. There's are more than enough examples to use here, but just look at Kristof’s first sentence: ''“Blood diamonds” have faded away, but we may now be carrying “blood phones.” Perhaps a bit kitschy, but no one would argue that only years ago the idea of combating conflict diamonds was considered impossible. And look how far we've come on that issue! Do they still exist? Yes. But now a majority of people have the facts and have the ability to make a more ethical decision when buying diamonds. Why is it any different with the natural resources in Congo?

I completely agree with Reidy that the conflict in the Congo and its associated economy is complex. But to scoff at Kristof’s suggestion that a more well-informed public will not change anything is too pessimistic for me. Kristof’s solution will perhaps, at best, only put a small dent in the conflict, but is that not something?

Of course, this will not solve the conflict and only locally stakeholders committed to peace can achieve that. Kristof’s article offers food for thought on what we can do for those affected by this conflict: to be more aware and thoughtful in our choices as consumers.


Emily Keane is a joint-degree student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology focusing on humanitarian logistics

       

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nick Kristof has another column out this week on the DRC, highlighting the role of "conflict minerals" in the ongoing violence.

I’ve never reported on a war more barbaric than Congo’s, and it haunts me. In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices. 
This, sadly, is true: the conflict in the DRC is horridly brutal and violent, and some of the belligerents do derive funding from mining these minerals.  Kudos to Kristof and the ENOUGH Project, under the leadership of John Prendergast, for calling attention to the horror unfolding daily.

Image: Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project

 


Unfortunately, the plaudits for their efforts end there, as their narrative of the conflict is one-dimensional and unrealistic.  Bringing pressure to bear on companies like Apple is a good thing, but it's nothing more than symbolic and will ultimately be impotent to halt, or even alter, the carnage in the Congo.  Kristof acknowledges that combating conflict minerals alone is insufficient,
It’s not that American tech companies are responsible for the slaughter, or that eliminating conflict minerals from Americans’ phones will immediately end the war. Even the Enough Project, an anti-genocide organization that has been a leading force in the current campaign, estimates that only one-fifth of the world’s tantalum comes from Congo.  “There’s no magic-bullet solution to peace in Congo,” notes David Sullivan of the Enough Project, “but this is one of the drivers of the conflict.” The economics of the war should be addressed to resolve it.
but he doesn't go far enough.  There are two problems with the notion that public pressure can change events.

First, as Kristof mentions, conflict minerals are not the main driving force behind the violence.

Monday, June 28, 2010

For those of you not addicted to the Telegraph and the BBC -- here's tomorrow's big news, tonight. It looks like the NYT are going to run with it in the morning, but we here at D&D have it now.

Take a read... and check back tomorrow for more news and analysis!



For now, here's the story (via the BBC)

For more background:
The Guardian

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kabul, Afghanistan

The bottom line of what has happened to General McChrystal is that he was betrayed by his aides, who were supposed to be the ones protecting him from this sort of thing. The reporter from Rolling Stone was supposed to have two weeks of access to the staff, but because of the Iceland volcano and the resultant ash cloud he ended up getting stuck with McChrystal's team for a month. During that time the staff essentially "went native" with the reporter and started speaking too freely. If you read the article, all the bad stuff is said by McChrystal's aides, who imply that they are expressing the boss' feelings.

The rumor mill here in country speculates that perhaps McChrystal wanted out and this was how he decided to do it. But that is quite ridiculous, since there is really no bigger disgrace for a military man than to be fired by the Commander-in-Chief. While I understand the political reasons for why Obama removed McChrystal, I think a major blow has been struck to the effort here in Afghanistan. As we speak, instead of concentrating on the fight at a time of year that is the most kinetic we have seen in the past 9 years, the entirety of command is either packing their shit in boxes (as its not just the boss who gets fired but his whole staff) or preparing several weeks worth of briefs for Petraeus when he gets here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

You heard it here first. Word here in Afghanistan is that General Petraeus will be leaving CENTCOM to replace General McChrystal as Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan.

In my opinion General McChrystal will survive this ordeal not because he is the best man for the job but because he is the only man for the job. Discussion around the camp fire here in Afghanistan has centered around who would be a suitable replacement for McChrystal and the only name that really holds any water is Lt. General David Rodriguez who came to Afghanistan at the same time as McChrystal to run the ISAF Joint Command (ICJ). The IJC is the operational arm of the coalition here, devoted to running the day to day operations of the war. While General Rodriguez could assume control of ISAF without a large learning curve, this would cause and even larger problem by leaving the positional of operational commander vacant at the height of the deadliest fighting season seen in the past 9 years of the war.

The other four names being floated in the press as possible replacements are all decorated soldiers but not one of them has the background or institutional knowledge required to assume command of a war as complicated as this one.

General James Mattis:
General Mattis is currently Commander of Joint Forces Command. Talk about someone with a past for making outrageous comments to the press. General Mattis is also a marine which will likely disqualify him from the top spot in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps has been the slowest to adopt Counterinsurgency practices, instead preferring to rely on the same battle tested tactics that brought them victory in Fallujah.

LT. General Allen:
As deputy commander of Centcom, General Allen would have a decent understanding of ongoing operations in Afghanistan but there would still be a significant learning curve involved if he were to assume command in Afghanistan. Furthermore, he is a marine and as I mentioned earlier the marine's do not have the best reputation when it comes to counterinsurgency practices.

General Martin Dempsey:
General Dempsey has Iraq experience but Iraq is not Afghanistan. Yes it is true that General McChrystal came to Afghanistan after fighting in Iraq for several years, however, as a Special Forces Commander he had the advantage of being well versed in COIN principles whereas General Dempsey is not.

Navy Adm. James Stavridis:
Is an intelligent man and has proven himself as a skilled commander of both SOUTHCOM and as Supreme Allied Commander-Europe (SACEUR). However, he has very little experience with the conflict in Afghanistan and has had zero experience implementing COIN in the field. Furthermore, the Army represents the vast majority of the troops currently fighting on the ground here in Afghanistan and as a result any successor to McChrystal would have to come from the ground forces, most likely the Army.

Here in Afghanistan the talk in the hallways and cafeterias has been dominated by discussions of what will happen when "the boss" meets with President Obama tomorrow at the White House. There is no question that General McChrystal will offer to resign as a result of comments made by him and his aides to free lance journalist Michael Hastings author of the controversial Runaway General article in Rolling stone. When I initially heard murmuring about this article two days ago I assumed that the comments contained within were a strategic move on the part of General McCrystal and his staff to have their voices heard in order to pressure Congress and the Obama administration to stop playing politics with his war. After conducting more than 50 interviews with experienced military professionals here in Afghanistan, I can tell you first hand that many commanders here echo McCyrstal's point that they are being asked to sell an unwinable position. Setting a deadline of July 2011 for the start of a withdrawal essentially cuts counterinsurgency strategy off at the knees. However, now having read the Rolling Stone article, it is clear that General McChrystal and his staff went native with this reporter, letting their guard down too much to someone who was not to be trusted.

General McChrystal is obviously not the superman that the media had made him out to be. He is a man who has often blundered when it comes to off the cuff remarks to the media. He is however the exact person that America needs running the war in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency doctrine is a relatively new introduction to Afghanistan and there are still many commanders who who do not buy into it. It will take a known warrior like McChrystal, who has more than his fair share of blood on his hands from his days running the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, to convince the most stubborn hold out here that we cannot kill our way out of Afghanistan. Besides his credibility amongst the majority of the troops here in Afghanistan, McChrystal is the only American that President Karzai is known to actually like in the whole country. The Rolling Stone article wrongly depicts General McChrystal as having stolen the diplomatic playbook for Afghanistan away from Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke. However, the plain fact of the matter is that both those men have publicly questioned Karzai's ability to lead and as a result he does not want to work with them.

The Western media has apparently flipped the switch on its collective brain and has begun incorrectly comparing General McCrystal to General MacArther, the commander of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula in 1951 who was subsequently fired by General Truman for insubordination. General McCystal is guilty of poor judgment obviously but has come no where close to committing insubordination. General MacArthur on the other hand flat out refused to follow several of President Truman's direct orders and was in fact secretly negotiating with influential congressman behind the Presidents back in order to gain approval for the escalation of the Korean War. Had MacArthur not been removed from his command the Korean War may very likely have gone nuclear. General McCrystal has disobeyed no direct orders nor has he sought to subvert President Obama's influence and thus has not committed insubordination.

If I was a betting man, I would bet conservatively on General McChrystal retaining his position as commander of ISAF, however, he is likely to be stripped of the majority of this diplomatic portfolio which will surely be given to Ambassador Eikenberry who will likely become the public face of the war as General McChrystal is ordered to retreat to the background.

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