Friday, February 5, 2010

From CNS News:

According to a Jan. 28 translation from BBC Monitoring Middle East, Ahmadinejad spoke on official Iranian television, saying that this year’s “Ten Days of Dawn” celebration, marking the anniversary of the country’s Islamic Revolution, would see the “demise” of the American system.

“I believe that 22 Bahman [ February 11 in the Persian calendar] this year marks the demise of the liberal capitalist system.” Ahmadinejad said.
Big talk from a big talker, but unfortunately we have to take him seriously. President Ahmadinejad seems to take his nation's birthday seriously, having already begun the executions of 9 dissidents in the lead up to the big party -- I'd hate to see his advent calendar.

Well, the blogosphere has lit up with speculation as to what exactly Iran plans to do this Feb. 11 to strike a blow against the liberal capitalist system. Will it be a nuclear test? Doubtful. Unless the Islamic Republic has rapidly sped up enrichment, they are in no shape to detonate anything. So what?

More on this to come, I promise -- but keep your eyes open people, Iran has asked for your attention.

This Week in Weird: Funding your own Conventional Force; or, How I learned to stop worrying and love the Internet.

Have you ever woken up and said to yourself, "how am I ever going to equip my conventional forces?" Feel better, we here at D&D have found your answer. Even if you are not a state, rebel group, or even paramilitary organization, you can still build up your air force, mechanized units, and force-projecting capabilities.

First up: AIR POWER
Surf over to Aero Kros, and start shopping! Perhaps you can elbow your way into the deal that Kit found over email:

Subject: Offer MIG

Dear Christopher

We have the following aircrafts and engine for sale:

1. MIG-21 UM jet plane ( without engine), year of manufacturing 1980, priced at EUR 20000

2. engine R11F2SK-300 , priced at EUR 10000

The planes were retired in the years 2003-2004 and their total flying time amounts to about 1000- 1655 hours respectively. Their airworthiness is contingent upon overhauling

Supersonic air power? Check!
Or, if you want to go old school on your enemies, you can buy a MAN-LIFTING WAR KITE.

Next up: ARMOR...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The team at Democracy Arsenal has a great catch on a minor detail from the most recent DNI Threat Assessment.  In short, it notes that Hizballah is not actively planning terror attacks against the U.S.

While this would normally fall in the domain of my esteemed colleague, "Angry" Jeff Schneider, the Czar of Terror and Intelligence (like Mike Fratello, but even better with the Telestrator), it's simply too juicy for me to pass.

Too often we just talk about "terrorists" and the presumed existential threat they represent.  Not only is it foolish to describe a group solely with the term terrorist (it's a tactic, not an ideology!), but the connotation also lumps together disparate groups, many of whom actually hate each other.  By recognizing that Hizballah has not engaged in attacks against the U.S. in 13 years, and confirming that intelligence indicates no future attacks are forthcoming, DNI is taking a small step towards eliminating our over-reliance on a nonsensical term which obscures our understanding of the actual threats we face.

I'm not attempting to rationalize or excuse past actions of Hizballah - there is no way to justify atrocities they have committed.  However, recognizing that organizations change and evolve and that Hizballah no longer represents a direct threat to the U.S. means that we can better allocate resources and focus on those groups that do still actively seek to harm us.  Good for DNI to have the courage to make that differentiation.

I was planning to write a piece to supplement my last post and argue that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, everyone's favorite underwear bomber, was a perfect example of why utilizing the criminal justice system for terror suspects was the right decision.  However, I discovered that Adam Serwer over at TAPPED already wrote the exact same piece, and wrote it better than I could have done.  So instead of reinventing the wheel, I highly recommend you all check him out.

Additionally, in response to my previous post, my colleague "Angry" Jeff Schneider raised a few excellent questions about the feasibility of trying terror suspects in court.  He first questioned if it was even possible to give prominent terrorists, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a fair trial.  I believe it is.  Jack Goldsmith over at Slate gives a nice run-down of how the legalistic issues, such as an impartial jury, can be solved.  Steven Simon also makes the case that there is sufficient evidence that is unclassified and "clean" (i.e. not obtained through torture or other illegal means) to secure a conviction under standard legal rules.

I think this also speaks to Jeff's final point, about the danger of it become a Stalinist show trial.  I agree that the possibility exists, and it would be a huge problem for the U.S. if the proceedings are perceived that way.  In fact, it would be a national security issue, as I addressed previously.  However, I believe that, once the case goes to court, it will be conducted in accordance with the legal principles of the U.S., which ensures fairness and equality, and that this will be plainly evident to all observers.  If the concern is about perception, even a flawed trial is better than indefinite detention.  In short, I still think trying KSM in a civilian court is the right decision.

Tonight's Huffington Post headline reads: "America's Once Secret War in Pakistan Busts Wide Open". I must admit, I saw, I was intrigued, and I clicked. The story is one of tragedy.

"(AP/Huffington Post) -- SHAHI KOTO, Pakistan — A roadside bomb killed three U.S. soldiers and partly destroyed a girls' school in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday in an attack that drew attention to a little-publicized American military training mission in the al-Qaida and Taliban heartland."
At first blush, a shocker. The US has very publicly not sent active-duty combat troops into Pakistan, at the demands of the ISI and Pakistani Government -- not to mention for lots of other reasons. My first question: what were these soldiers doing in Shahi Koto? The answer is buried well below the fold in the HuffPo story:

"The soldiers were part of a small contingent of American soldiers training members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, Pakistan's army and the U.S. Embassy said. The mission is trying to strengthen the ill-equipped and poorly trained outfit's ability to fight militants.

The soldiers were driving to attend the inauguration of a different girl's school, which had been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance, the embassy said in a statement."
WELL. If a headline was ever duplicitous, demagogue-ish, and plain wrong, this is it. A secret war in Pakistan? Not so much. Evidently the Huffington Post decided that research was over-rated. They could have looked here, here, or here -- and found out that there were US Military Advisers training Pakistani Troops. Not only were these stories published in 2009, but they were the top results in a search I did using the Google. Do the editors at HuffPo read the NYT?

How's that research department working for you, Arianna?

But then, the ultimate shocker -- within the report itself, we have the blunt assessment from the always diplomatic Richard Holbrooke:

Holbrooke also said the U.S. has not tried to hide its training mission with the Pakistani military."

"There is nothing secret about their presence there," he told reporters in Washington."

Amen Richard, amen.

We have, in this country, a cult that fetishizes the revealing of secrets. Sometimes it is a good thing -- Woodward and Bernstein, Tobacco Whistle-Blowers, and Tail-Hook -- but sometimes its a very, very, bad and dangerous delusion -- Birthers, Birchers, and recent Nick Cage movies.

But when it comes to US Soldiers in the field losing their lives, that is what the story should be about. Lets focus on what is important, and honor them with just the facts, and only the facts.

Secretary Gates has announced that he will be replacing Marine Maj. Gen. David R. Heinz, director of the Joint Strike Fighter program . In military terms this amounts to a straight up firing. This makes the fifth General that Gates has fired in his tenor as Defense Secretary sending the strong message that with stars comes accountability. (It should be noted that two of those Generals were fired for misplacing several nuclear warheads for a matter of hours, I think we can all agree that any Secretary in their right mind would have fired those guys)

In this particular case, Gates seems nothing short of pissed off at the massive delays in the Joint Striker Fighter, (aka F-35 Lightening II) program, which is at present the DoD's most expensive weapons system to date. General Heinz will not be bearing the full brunt of the blame however as Secretary Gates has also announced that he will be withholding a $614 million payment to defense contractor Lockheed Martin as a sign of his diminishing patience with their progress. That is at least until Lockheed can dispatch their team of belt way bandit lobbyist to Capital Hill to complain that the Secretary is just being flat out mean....Secretary Gates gets a big thumbs up from this blogger for his conviction that perhaps contractors should actually do the job they are paid for and that perhaps Generals should spend a little more time supervising the programs they have been entrusted with and less time pondering what boat they are going to buy when they inevitably go work for said contractor. This is of course not always that case as some projects inevitably run long, however, in this case I think I might be right.

And thats my fifty cents (inflation...)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The long anticipated QDR has finally arrived and all of us security geeks voraciously downloaded it yesterday and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning pouring over its every word desperately searching for something resembling a coherent defense strategy. Unfortunately, there is not all that much new to report. The QDR reminds us that we are still actively fighting two wars and that essentially we can't really figure out a way forward until we somehow extricate ourselves from those debacles. To that I say "Don't we need to be thinking at least ten years ahead if we aren't going to be caught off guard." The following is a critique of the 2010 QDR, which despite my overall disappointment, does have a few new ideas scattered amongst it.

First of all, I must point out that the major news media (cough CNN) got it wrong when they said that this QDR marked a strong change in DoD policy because it stated a departure from the previous strategy of planning to be able to fight and win two wars at the same time. In fact this QDR comes out and clearly says that the US wishes to maintain "the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors." The QDR does say that instead of fighting two wars simultaneously that we expect instead to be engaged in multiple small conflicts around the world for the foreseeable future. It is my understanding, and please someone challenge me if I am wrong here, that the DoD is now defining Iraq and Afghanistan as small wars. I would agree with them in the sense that casualty rates are drastically lower than previous conventional wars like Korea and World War II but even though these wars are costing us less in blood they do come with huge price tags. I thus believe that our operations in Somalia and Yemen would be more aptly refferred to as small wars than Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue that I believe is the most innovative in this year's QDR is the sections dealing with Northcomm's future role in homeland defense. Previously, the US military has been reticent to officially state the fact that there are plans in place for the US military to step in and perform civilian functions such as disaster response and policing in the event of a national disaster either act of god or man made. And for good reason. The US military is already committed enough oversees to be now taking on domestic functions, there is also a fine line between responding to real needs on the ground and violating the posse committatus act. The 2010 QDR calls for Northcom to downgrade the size of CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRFs) and then merge these teams with national guard forces to form Homeland Response Forces in each of the ten FEMA regions. This move should help bridge the typical 3-5 gap between when a disaster occurs and federal authorities arrive on the scene. This large change in military thinking can be attributed to former CSIS scholar and now Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Christine Wormuth who argued for just this change in a report two years ago entitled "Managing the Next Domestic Catastrophe." See people, think tanks can make a difference....

My major complaint with the QDR is that it says that we will continue to upgrade our COIN capabilities but it fails to say whether or not we are going to make COIN the military's top priority or if we will continue to plan for fighting major wars (presumably against China and Russia). From reading Secretary Gates' recent articles in Foreign Affairs it is my belief that he and the civilian defense leadership believe that all future wars will be Hybrid Wars. This term refers to small groups of trained unconventional fighters using sophisticated weaponry to enact large scale destruction against conventional forces. While this way of fighting obviously applies to Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel it would also likely be the preferred strategy of a state like Iran should it ever find itself at war with the US. In addition to using their advanced missile technology to harm our conventional forces, Iran is also likely to utilize suicide vessels and anti ship missiles to stop the US Navy's ability to launch attacks from the Persian Gulf. Hybrid war is the future but I barely see it talked about in the QDR. I am no insider but I would have to guess that the military services objected to an overemphasis on hybrid war because it is just the type of conflict that a large conventional force is unprepared to fight.

Secretary Gates has already announced the cancellation or delay of the following programs:
  • CG(X) Cruiser
  • C-17 Airlift Aircraft
  • DDG 1000 Destroyer
  • The Army's Future Combat Systems Program
  • Delayed the new aircraft carrier
  • Ended production of the F-22 Fighter
However, what the QDR doesn't mention (and really how could it) is that it is really not up to Secretary Gates which programs get cut from the budget. Congress will decide what equipment the DoD orders and the fact remains that the F-22 fighter, the new aircraft carrier and the C-17 are all incredibly popular programs on Capital Hill because they employ people in virtually every state. Gates may be trying to move the DoD forward, but he will only get as far as Congress will let him.

The last thing about the QDR I will mention is its vague references to China. The author's of this QDR made the very smart move of only making vague references to China and our efforts to counter China's strategy of area denial. It is evident to everyone in the Defense and security communities that China's preoccupation with area denial technologies is directed at diminishing the US military's ability to project power in East ASia, thus opening the door for China to become the regional hegemon. Foreign Affairs recently detailed the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) accumulation of area denial technology:

"The PLA is constructing over-the-horizon radars, fielding unmanned aerial vehicles, and deploying reconnaissance satellites to detect U.S. surface warships at progressively greater distances. It is acquiring a large number of submarines armed with advanced torpedoes and high-speed, sea-skimming ASCMs to stalk U.S. carriers and their escorts. (In 2006, a Chinese submarine surfaced in the midst of a U.S. carrier strike group, much to the U.S. Navy's embarrassment.) And it is procuring aircraft equipped with high-speed ASCMs and fielding antiship ballistic missiles that can strike U.S. carriers at extended ranges. Advanced antiship mines may constrain U.S. naval operations even further in coastal areas."

The 2010 QDR refers to "countries" that are acquiring this technology and discusses efforts to counter it, but shies away from directly chastising China. This is a very smart move. If the Chinese read the QDR (which of course they are) and see that the US military is openly stating its intentions to hedge against the threat of a stronger Chinese military in East Asia this is only going to lead to increased Chinese efforts to deny the US military access to basing and waterways in East Asia.

To conclude, I am disappointed that the 2010 QDR did not say more in regards to our nation's long term defense strategy, but this is not to say that it was not written well. I was particularly sorry not to see a discussion of institutionalizing our COIN capability into perhaps a COIN office. Growing the Special Forces in the short term is not the same as being equipped to occupy an as yet unknown country ten years from now. No one of course wants to do this, but as history has shown us, it may be in the DoD's best interest to start better preparing for things that it doesn't want to do...

And thats my fifty cents (inflation...)

Disclaimer: I know I can't spell, but to bastardize a page from Samuel Clemens, I would have spelled things properly if only I'd had the time

Monday, February 1, 2010

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and anyone else apprehended and suspected of terrorism should be openly tried in a civilian court. Forget all the legal arguments and debates – this is about national security. The best way to ensure the safety of the U.S. is to give these men their day in court, in public, and allow the legal system to run its course.

You’re all familiar with the arguments against allowing suspected terrorists in court – it will turn into jihadi propaganda, it will compromise intelligence sources, and it limits our ability to interrogate terrorists. Steven Simon does a thorough job demolishing those falsehoods, but even without his well-reasoned defense of the judiciary a higher priority should compel the Obama Administration to send all detainees directly to court.

Despite what some pundits and politicians may tell you, we are not fighting a Global War on Terror. Terrorism is a tactic – how can you declare war on a tactic? Osama bin Laden and his ilk use terrorism, but they are not defined by it. They seek to destroy the U.S., or at the very least curb its power and influence. This is their goal, not terrorism. They cannot do this alone – a few ideologues, no matter how dedicated, are incapable of bringing down a superpower. And they know this. To succeed, they must convince the rest of the world that America is not the benevolent leader it claims to be, but rather another imperialist hegemon bent on conquest and power. In other words, bin Laden and others are fighting a battle of ideas, and terrorism is only one of their many tools to win that battle. If we fail to acknowledge that we are in a war of ideas, not a War Against Terror, we are destined to lose. By detaining and denying people the right to trial, we give undermine our position make ourselves more vulnerable.

When we abandon our ideals – democracy, freedom, and basic human rights – we help Al Qaeda make their case. The best recruiting tools extremists have ever possessed were the photos and stories that emerged from the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. If we want to win this war of ideas, we need to demonstrate that what happened at Abu Ghraib was a tragic mistake, not an indicative behavior. Keeping prisoners locked in military detention without charge or trial reinforces the negative image of the U.S. that bin Laden cultivates and strengthens his position. Fair and open trials send the exact opposite message – America is a just nation of laws and respect, not an imperialist power, and that it is bin Laden who is ideologically bankrupt.

If the Obama Administration is serious about protecting America, then they need to ensure that all detainees receive their day in court. It’s not about the legal minutia; it’s about national security.

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