Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Son Apparently Will Be Punished For His Father's Sins

And this is the reason I waited so late for my last blog post. According to multiple reports (video!), NATO planes bombed a house belonging to Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, a son of leader Moammar Gaddafi. Saif al-Arab and at least three of Moammar Gaddafi's grandchildren are reported to have been killed. Oh by the way, Moammar Gaddafi was reported to have been in the house at the time of the bombing!

Lt. General Charles Bouchard, the commander of NATO military forces, said that all targets that are bombed, "are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the [Gaddafi] regime's systemic attacks on the Libyan population...We do not target individuals." Not to call foul on the good general, but apparently yes, we do target individuals. I think this touches on what we mentioned in class this week regarding the targeting of "command and control" elements of the Libyan government. This of course is a nice way of saying that we are going after the position, not the man. In other words, NATO isn't bombing Gaddafi because he's a bad man that we don't like; NATO is bombing Gaddafi because he is the leader a hostile regime.

This bombing, and the previous one of Moammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli, show fairly clearly that the removal of Gaddafi by force is something that NATO forces have decided will be accomplished sooner or later. What remains to be seen is if this is a good idea, and if anyone is prepared for Libya without Gaddafi. Gene Cretz, US Ambassador to Libya, recently said, "I don't believe that any credible group or individual sees the solution to the Libyan problem without the removal of Moammar Gaddafi, one way or the other." To be clear, this is not Iraq; no one thinks that the removal of a dictator will automatically set up Libya as a flourishing democracy. However, I have yet to see a solid plan regarding what will actually happen if and when NATO forces are successful in killing Moammar Gaddafi, and I'm not sure that any of the NATO forces that are currently responsible for keeping the rebels afloat have any commitment to that cause once Gaddafi is dead. That is, until those French forces finally move in...

The Importance of Making Good Sub-Optimal Decisions

David Rothkopf has an interesting blog post up right now about the reshuffling of deck chairs on the Obama national security cruise ship. He seems to like the decision and goes to some length about a quote from the ubiquitous unnamed source, breaking it down piece by piece. The quote in question is, “the strongest possible team to exercise our strategies and policies. I stress the word team.”

Rothkopf makes the observation that the important word, the really important word isn’t strongest or team, but instead possible. In doing so, he opens up a conversation on an important aspect of formulating any kind of policy, but particularly those having to do with international affairs. I agree with Rothkopf’s general idea that an important aspect of any president’s decision-making—whether it concern staffing, plotting a new course in an ongoing conflict, or evaluating other foreign leaders—is the need to make really good suboptimal decisions. By that I mean, having to look at your preference ordering (i.e. the way you’d really like things to unfold) and immediately have to jettison option one or maybe even option two for something lesser because any number of externalities interfere with the ideal.

Doing this effectively can be hard work. Just think about recent history of appointees, whether they are related to domestic or international policy, and a number of stinkers from both Bush and Obama come to mind.

Rothkopf really goes into detail about this, but what I got from it was an emphasis on the notion that preferences cannot be formed in a vacuum. Once allowed to “burn in the sun or rot in the humidity,” a policy or appointment that looked great in optimal conditions doesn’t respond well to crosscutting interests/policies or domestic political conditions. Thinking about your ideal fix to any problem isn’t difficult; most savvy international policy observers could do that. The challenge is actually two fold: first, one must line-up good “least bad” options, and second, the decision maker must know what external considerations are truly important and grounds for disqualifying one policy in favor of a another.

Take the always-treacherous subject of U.S. policy towards Pakistan for example. I struggle to think that our Pakistan policy is exactly what we’d like it to be…no regrets. Clearly we are forced to work a sub-optimal policy but deciding how far down the order of preferences to slide is the true challenge. One important question is actually how badly will the Pakistanis react if we favor India on more substantive issues? Answering that incorrectly could stymie future relations with India or It could create a truly violent backlash from Pakistan’s proxies.

Presidents never have perfect records on these things. I think I agree with Rothkopf that Obama got the most possible out of these appointments, given all of the externalities. I don’t however believe we worked the synergy between interests, strategies, and preferences very well in crafting our Libya policy. But both decisions highlight the importance of maximizing possibility and not dreaming about perfect solutions.

Okay, Let's NOT Get Technical

In my prior post, I was going to try and craft my final blogpost entirely on an iPad. Research, links, composition, everything. Well, it let me write a title, but then I couldn't type in the white box where blogposts happen. Oh Steve Jobs, you minx.

Anyway, we can get technical in another way. Let's talk weaponry. And none of this hoity toity "less than lethal" stuff. I'm talking stuff that goes kaboom. And better yet, it goes kaboom when you want it to.

Let's say you're in Afghanistan and some BG (read: Bad Guy) starts shooting you from behind a large rock. You shoot back, but he's too well protected. You have grenades, but the target is too far away to hit with a handheld object. You have a standard grenade launcher, but if the projectile falls in front of the rock, the BG will still be shielded. If you aim higher to get over the rock, the projectile will overshoot the target and land well behind him, causing no damage to him at all. If only there was a way to aim RIGHT over the boulder and then have the projectile explode JUST as it sails over the BG's head. Oh wait, there is and it's been called the Punisher. Okay, the formal name is the XM-25, but come on! THE PUNISHER!

The fancy new grenade rifle system takes something vital away from the enemy: cover. With a state-of-the-art aiming capability incorporating lasers and math, the XM-25 allows a soldier to send a 25mm straight to a BG, all from a safer distance than would be required with a standard grenade launcher.

The Punisher is already being used by Army troops on a trial basis in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, the Department of Defense last month signed a $65 million contract with ATK, the munitions contractor responsible for making and testing the weapon. Because it is an experimental weapon at this time, there are only 5 Punishers in existence. But assuming that the weapon continues to deliver in tests, there is reason to believe that another 36 will be available in 2012.

In referring to the XM-25, Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller stated that it "seems to be game-changing. You no longer can shoot at American forces and then hide behind something. We're going to reach out and touch you." What a quote. One sergeant stated, "The XM25 brought the difference to whether they would stay there 15 to 20 minutes shooting [and] taking pot shots or the actual fight ended after using the XM-25." That's a glowing endorsement if I've ever heard one.

If you've seen Restrepo, then you know how the fighting in Afghanistan can take place over incredibly long distances. As awesome as this weapon is, however, I'm curious as to why it's taken this long to be developed.

Let's get technical

Friday, April 29, 2011

Is U.S. Hegemony being challenged by BRICS?

In order to elaborate on this headline, I must first ensure that readers understand what is meant by U.S. Hegemony. Today, many consider the United States of America to be a global hegemon. Not as a brute power or dominant leader mind you, but rather that the majority consider the U.S. as being a global leader achieved through consensus from the majority of nations rather than a leader through force. So considering that U.S. hegemony was reached through elements of power -politics, economics, and culture -exerted over other nations, the U.S. requires the consent of the majority of nation-states to keep its status. Accordingly, given today’s media coverage on changes in political, monetary, and cultural trends of regional powers such as BRICS(Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) , is U.S. hegemony being challenged by BRICS? To see if there is validity in this question, let us look at the monetary and cultural components of power.

Monetary Hegemony
BRICS encompass over 25% of the world's land coverage and 40% of the world's population - and hold a combined GDP (Purchasing Power Parity) of circa $20 trillion. On almost every scale, they have the potential to be and are becoming the largest entity on the global stage. They are among the biggest and fastest growing emerging markets. This rising hegemonic powerhouse has officially held two summits -2009 and 2011- where their focus was oriented toward future collaboration, discussing their roles in global affairs, and most importantly their intentions to reform financial institutions, even suggesting the controversial need for a new global reserve currency. Many Americans view statements such as this as absurd, but is it really that hard to take seriously considering that China alone holds over $1trillion in U.S. treasury securities and the growth and strength in their economy. Looking at U.S. hegemony and arguments of U.S. GDP and military still surpassing China’s –it’s concerning for U.S. National Security and Defense when Chinese foreign reserves now equal over 50% of their GDP and the U.S. has to debate whether or not to increase its debt limit. Makes you wonder how long we can afford the costs associated with simply maintaining the most superior fighting force in the world for the greater good. And, it’s almost sad that the disconnect between domestic politics and global economics is jeopardizing U.S. hegemony, where domestic politics is letting the security of a nation be tied up in the “good faith and trust in the U.S. dollar”. Domestic politics may be the U.S.’s biggest enemy. Its faith rests in the assumption that the U.S. earns enough a year to make a minimum payment on its credit card. Although, when you’ve maxed out all your credit cards, are asking mother may I to your credit card company (members of BRICS) to increase your credit card limit, but then tell your credit card company that you’re actually still the one who makes the decisions and are really the one in control. Many economists share this concern, to include Goldman Sachs’s global economist Jim O’Neill whom has a fascinating and daunting thesis on the rise of BRICS with many statistics to support this concern.

Cultural Hegemony
The use of language can serve as a means of creating and applying hegemony. With the U.S. disseminating information through its media to the global public and holding dominance over the internet, the U.S. is, intentionally or not, practicing its influence over other cultures. These influential institutions have subtly used language to frame a message. Now consider the changes in demographics, the rise of the “social media revolution” and BRICS accounting for over 40% of the world’s population -it doesn’t take long to envision how BRICS’ cultural demographics will challenge U.S. cultural hegemony.

If BRICS chooses to embrace the phenomenon of language and media to influence thought not only within their countries, but also across their regional societies and seeing that BRICS is embracing globalization through their own terms, what do you think this will mean for U.S. hegemony, or is the rise of BRICS merely the move to preserve the balance of power in international relations? At first glance, it appears that the U.S. is on a concerning course –where “the ship” is sailing at its flank speed and if the U.S. doesn’t consider new azimuths and doesn’t consider charting a new course, it will reach rough waters and possibly run aground on the shores of BRICS.

Pirates, Unions, and the Need for Naval Collaboration

What do labor unions and Somali pirates have in common? Well if you’re an Indian, Russia, or Indonesian sailor and a member of a big maritime union, the latter could be the cause for a huge strike brought about by the dangerous working conditions that arise while repeatedly transiting the Indian ocean with some of the world’s most precious cargo.

Two days ago, a representative for such a maritime union told the AFP that, “There is a strong possibility that a collective international boycott by the seafarers coming from the labor-supplying countries like the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Russia, Bangladesh, etc. is round the corner.” The article goes on to suggest that the containment policy pursued by numerous navies in the region is failing. The threat of a strike could further jam up supplies of all things hydrocarbon, including asphalt, petroleum, and coal, potentially driving up prices for commodities that are already viewed as too expensive.

While this is an issue commonly discussed in energy-related publications, it has not gotten much attention in the broader world of international politics and defense news. The ripple effects of a labor strike could bring the story of piracy’s tangential effects front and center. Piracy is not enough of a force to halt shipping on its own, but it need not fully impede shipping in the Indian ocean to adversely affect the world economy—the potentially for a pirate-induced labor strike demonstrate this fact.

A potential work stoppage should raise critical questions about the counter-piracy policies of the U.S. and its allies and the need for more meaningful naval cooperation. India’s navy, the fifth largest in the world, will likely be at the center of this debate. Platt’s blog “The Barrel” has been on the record since February in calling for the Indian navy to step up its efforts in interdicting pirates as they venture further and further from the African littoral. These “blue water” pirates (I know it’s a stretch, but just follow along for now) highlight how asymmetrical conflict should be an emphasis of naval strategic thinkers as much as it is in the Army and Marines.

Furthermore, the specter of international piracy and its pestilent effect on transnational shipping should influence naval procurement both in the U.S. and abroad. Big deck amphibious ships like the ones off the coast of Libya are interesting platforms for effectively challenging the pirates.

Burden sharing will be the likely catch phrase of counter-piracy strategy going forward. Putting together an arrangement between countries like the U.S., India and China is certainly difficult, but this is the kind of interest-based collaboration that should be the emphasis of military-to-military collaboration in the Asian region.

"Now, go away, or I shall taunt you a second time!"

France is deploying an new old weapon in Libya this week : concrete filled bombs, remarkably similar to...giant rocks. While earlier press statements falsely noted that the 660-pound “training bombs” were being employed due to a lack of explosive munitions, it turns out in some cases they are actually preferable to traditional explosives, as they can cause massive damage to Qaddafi's forces-especially tanks- without the shrapnel that could harm nearby civilians.

Destroying tanks while avoiding damage to nearby civil infrastructures and civilians certainly seems like a good idea, which may make Americans wonder why we ever departed from the strategy in the first place, as American fighter pilots used similar concrete devices in Iraq in 1999. However, while, damaging a single tank may be easy, one could imagine that destroying a cave or camp would actually be better done with the use of shrapnel devices that work in a wider radius, when the purpose is to cause harm.

Interestingly, in the NYT article linked above, Steven Lee Myers notes that "The concrete bombs are also an apt symbol of a low-level war against Iraq that is dictated as much by political and diplomatic sensitivities as strategic or military concerns." Sounds familiar, eh?

However, this isn't to say that throwing stones should be a strategy we resort to in the budget crisis, as even 600 pound concrete bombs have to be guided by modern technology, whether it be a GPS or lasers. Some estimates put the French GPS kits at around $125k, and US kits at $40k. Then again, $40k bomb bomb kit sounds expensive....until you realize it's destroying tanks that cost 1-2 million dollars.

Now, imagine how devastating they could be if we could launch them from space instead...... oh wait, we're actually researching that. Probably not quite what Einstein imagined when he said "I do not know how the third world war will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the fourth… rocks".

Thursday, April 28, 2011

If "Afghanistan" is in the Headline, Expect More Bad News

Check it:

"Eight American service members and a contractor were shot and killed by an Afghan military officer on Wednesday while they attended a meeting of foreign and Afghan officers on the military side of Kabul International Airport, according to statements from Afghan and NATO spokesmen."

Here is another lovely problem with the war in Afghanistan that has no solution. With the beginning of US troop withdrawal just months away, now is not the time for there to be another shooting of coalition forces by an Afghan soldier. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid was quick to say that the Taliban had orchestrated the attack, something that Afghan officials have been just as quick to deny. On the one hand, the Taliban are willing to claim responsibility for anything that disrupts the war effort. Doing so provides them with a modicum of psychological leverage in the war of ideas. On the other hand, it is unlikely for the Afghan government to willingly advertise to the world that its military is ridden with armed insurgents.

Whether or not the shooter in this (or any other) case was Taliban is mostly irrelevant. From Tony Corn's article in Small Wars Journal, we already know that the Afghanistan government is as corrupt as a stack of Richard Nixons (the recent jailbreak in Kandahar is a great example of such grandiose lawlessness... in all seriousness, Afghanistan needs a Batman).

Like I stated above, there is no real solution to this. We can't disarm Afghan soldiers when they're in the presence of Americans. Despite background checks and interviews, there's no foolproof way to keep dedicated insurgents or mentally unstable soldiers out of the Afghan military. Maybe these attacks will lessen when forces begin to leave the country. Maybe not.

In a barely related story, this guy argues in the Huffington Post that the Obama administration has "quietly instructed the CIA to intensify its efforts to hunt down, capture, or kill Osama bin Laden." The author insists that as soon as the US is out of Afghanistan, the Taliban will invite their "guest" back to the country so that everyone can realize that the past ten years have been for nothing. Now THAT would be a depressing headline.

(For the record, I'm pretty sure this is a doctored photo... I don't think Bert has have ever been in the same room as bin Laden)

So Osama is dead and buried at sea. This is a very big deal and also not. The assassination of bin Laden has resulted in a big sigh of relief for everyone who thought he was going to die of old age, but at the same time few have predicted that his death will bring about the end of the war more quickly, or that the enemy will suffer from a lack of morale. Like we always say, the enemy has a vote in war. At this time, there's no telling how al-Qaeda and its allies will react to bin Laden's death. The world will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, isn't it gratifying to know that at this very moment he's likely being picked apart by crabs?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You're not gonna reach my telephone

The Playstation Network has been down for almost a week now because hackers have penetrated the system and have potentially stolen a bunch of private information.

Isn’t modern technology awesome?

It truly is. It has allowed the world to be connected in ways unimaginable just decades ago. Today, cell phones are popular in places like Afghanistan, where they often serve as the main form of communication for the population. So don’t think for an instant that the Taliban and other insurgents haven’t attempted to exploit such technologies in their efforts against ‘the infidels’.

The proliferation of cheap, instantaneous technologies is both a blessing and a curse to counterinsurgents. Text messages on temporary phones or using disposable SIM cards can convey death threats, or, just as concerning, messages containing plans of a militant operation.

Of course, if hackers can find a way into the Playstation network, the U.S. government can exploit enemy usage of modern information and communication technologies. Undisciplined use of this technology by insurgents can lead the enemy right into our hands. This possibility has led Taliban fighters to order cell phone towers to shut down at night so that NATO forces can’t use signals to track them.

In certain instances, however, tracking such communications is nearly impossible, especially if the senders are careful and take the necessary precautions. Hell, the U.S. government is even teaching democratic dissidents in certain countries how to protect their identities when sending messages across the Internet or with their cell phones. And it doesn’t even take sophisticated measures to overcome detection. As mentioned above, using temporary phones or black-marketed SIM cards allow the users to remain anonymous. It just requires a little ingenuity.

As one of our classmates would say, the enemy also has a voice in what happens in a war. If one side develops a technology or method, it can be expected that the other will respond. So as insurgents begin to use modern communications technologies, the counterinsurgent may develop means to exploit that usage, which lead the insurgents to find ways around that exploitation. It is interesting to watch the progression of move-and-countermove by the opposing sides.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Afghanistan, step yo' game up!

Yesterday, almost 500 Taliban prisoners escaped from Afghanistan’s largest prison. How did they do it? By digging 1,000 to 1,200 feet of tunnels that emerged underneath the prison.

I believe the Taliban has been watching too many American movies, as this scene could be a modern-day ‘Great Escape’.

But as clever as it may be that the Taliban were able to pull this off, it has enormous implications for the counterinsurgency efforts in the country. Not only does it mean that more Taliban fighters return to their posts to continue their insurgency against our troops, but it also raises concerns regarding the Afghan government’s ability to provide basic functions of governance.

Let me start by recognizing that part of the blame goes on American forces. Apparently they had spent ‘months trying to improve the physical security’ of the prison. Perhaps they should have also considered installing concrete flooring as well. But seriously, their efforts proved to be insufficient. However, there comes a point when Afghan personnel need to step their game up.

Basic COIN doctrine recognizes that it is better to allow the host nation to accomplish a task tolerably than for you to do it perfectly (T.E. Lawrence). FM 3-24 recognizes the importance of this maxim. But the key word is ‘tolerably’. It is not tolerable to allow enemy prisoners to escape. As Mr. Agha Lalai Dastageri, a provincial councilman in Kandahar, noted “This clearly shows the weakness of the government and the security forces, and if this doesn’t change, the prison breaks will happen again and again.

Is there a point at which a third party involved in a counterinsurgency recognizes that it picked a poor government to support? Until the Afghan government can prove that they are ready to take over control of their country, the U.S. will have to continue to be involved in the country. With events such as this occurring, the situation is not promising for a U.S. withdrawal any time soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

We Want Out...But We Also Want to Be in Charge

Today the BBC reported that NATO forces struck Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s compound. This is possibly in response to comments made by John McCain over the weekend, showing support for the rebels and calling for the US to resume its leadership role. “The fact is that it is the United States that is NATO. We ought to recognize that and we ought to continue our leadership role”

While I wonder what the other members of NATO would think of these comments, I don’t necessarily disagree with the US resuming a leadership role in NATO’s Libyan actions. However, I seem to remember many disagreeing with US involvement in Libyan when we were in charge and I feel that there was a valid reason. Namely , what is the mission we should be leading? The Obama administration and other European powers have repeatedly called for Gaddafi to step down. However, the Whitehouse has also made claims that regime change is not the goal of US involvement in Libya. Its understandable why there is confusion in the US public.

I respect that the US refrained from immediately sending in troops at the beginning of the uprising (hopefully we have learned that while we are quite good at toppling leaders, we aren’t quite as adept at regime building). We have respected the wishes of the rebel groups in Libya in not putting troops on the ground. However, the administration has failed in informing the American people of or strategy or even a stance on Libya. We began by letting the rebellion take its course. When it looked like the rebels were losing NATO as the UN to issue a no-fly zone, under which the US bombed Libyan tanks, which at the time appeared to be the main obstacle to the rebellion. When the rebels made advances, we pulled back and allowed the Europeans to take over. Now that the rebels and the Libyan Army have seemed to reach a stalemate and as the siege of Misrata continues unabated, US officials have called for the US to re-involve itself while simultaneously resuming its targeting of Gaddaffi’s residence in Tripoli.

I feel it would be better if the US either stated a policy or acted as if it had a policy other than just seeming to do as little as possible and throwing solutions at the problem to see if it works. Instead, the US should either make the decision to let the rebellion take its course (which now seems impossible given our stance that Gaddafi must go) or decide that it will openly work with the rebel government in Benghazi to work with them to help organize troops and provide both advice and assistance that will be beneficial to the rebels, while still allowing them to fight. If we say we want Gaddafi out, we need to back up our policy. Otherwise, let the rebels fight and let our humanitarian involvement not extend to destroying tanks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

See ya, Saleh?

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been playing the Dictator Game well so far – so let us not jump to the conclusion that he’s a goner just yet. Saleh has been expertly employing the range of tactics available to dictators. He has used the time-tested “bait-and-switch.” By oscillating between conciliatory measures and violence he has kept us guessing.  A week prior to poor Mr. Mubarak’s ousting Saleh announced that he would not seek a continuance of his 32-year rule and step down in 2013 meanwhile pro-government supporters continued to clash with protestors – killing some of them in the process. Mr. Saleh also sends in the police, to protect the protestors, who don’t buy it and continue the mission. The back and forth has continued for nearly three complete months… so who on earth really believes this is it?

There are so many reasons this isn’t going to happen.

It’s not written in stone yet
            The draft agreement would grant Saleh legal protection from prosecution – something he says he will not leave without and something the youth in the streets refuse to agree to. The political opposition which has tentatively agreed to the deal also has deal-breaking reservations. The proposed deal would call for the formation of a unity government within a week of the signing of the deal – but the opposition leaders want Saleh to step down first and cannot fathom forming a unity government by swearing oaths of Salah as President, who they say has “already lost legitimacy.” This agreement is being touted as a real deal, but it hasn’t been set in stone.

Saleh is not alone – he has his supporters
            Even if the deal is signed and Salaeh resigns at the end of 30 days – he wouldn’t really be gone. The Parliament, which the present proposed deal gives the power to approve or reject Saleh’s resignation, is dominated by his own party. But say they let him resign, his political and personal dominance doesn’t necessarily come to an end. The anti-government protestors have been matched in the street by pro-Saleh/pro-government types. Saleh stepping down might not be enough for everyone to just go home – it wasn’t enough for many Egyptians that Mubarak stepped down.

The protestors are not alone either
            In the months since protests began, a slow but steady stream of important figures have broken publically with Saleh and joined the popular movement in the streets. In late March top army officials announced support for the protestors and dispatched troops to protect them. Unlike in Egypt, where the entire military switched sides, only a number of Yemeni commanders have switched allegiance further complicating the lines of division. But suffice to say, the protesters are not along in the street and are not happy with a deal allowing Saleh to get away from 30-plus years of oppression and no trial afterwards.

There is more than one source of opposition
Those who have tentatively agreed to the deal drawn up by the Gulf Cooperation Council are a group called the Joint Meeting Parties – a coalition of seven Yemeni opposition political parties. While perhaps powerful as opposition on the elite political level, they are not representative of the young Yemeni in the street. While old political hacks make deals those in the street remain resolute, one of the street-representatives declaring that “Of course, we don’t accept this.”

So what does this recent maybe-deal mean? Probably nothing, absolutely nothing actually. It may be accepted by the political opposition, despite their resignations, but then will most definitely be rejected by the protestors in the streets. A wedge could be driven between the opposition groups – elite and street – and Saleh may continue in power because he has successfully divided his opposition. If the deal is rejected, Saleh stays in power and people stay in the streets regardless. But the opposition would stand more closely together, and with a few generals could prompt a deepening conflict and escalating violence.
Yemen could get nasty. Unlike Libya and Egypt – which merely tempt us with the possibility of anti-American terroristic-types taking advantage of turmoil – Yemen is home-base to AQAP. I don’t worry than a post-Saleh regime would in favor AQ, but I do worry that AQ could take advantage of political and social unrest in the country to expand their areas and carry out nefarious plots while the Sanaa is preoccupied.
But what to do, what to do? Nothing. Sadly, our military has already outstretched its capabilities. And we ought not to cheat the end-end game in Iraq or the previous and often-ignored quagmire in Afghanistan by opening another front elsewhere. We’ve succeeded in allowing the Libya buck to mostly pass to the French – who care a tad bit more than we do. But when Yemen goes down, and it probably will, who cares enough to get involved? Or rather, we may care – for the suffering of the Yemeni people among other things – but caring doesn’t give us the will to spend blood and treasure, or the ability to make things right. 

Jailtime as Statecraft?

Defense statecraft is about the application of force to achieve national goals. This year we've learned about the different tools used to apply said force, namely the different branches of the military, the weapons they use, and the standard procedures that they operate by. We haven't, however, talked about the role of military justice as an unconventional tool of defense statecraft. Let's.

Remember Jonathan Pollard? Dude was caught spying for the Israelis in 1985 and has been in prison ever since. During his time in the big house, Pollard has become a low-level celebrity, with multiple politicians in the United States and Israel lobbying for his release. As a matter of fact, Pollard recently wrote a letter to President Obama that was hand-delivered by Shimon Peres, President of Israel. In the letter, Pollard hints that his release would be a boon for U.S./Israeli relations:

"My release in time to celebrate Passover at home in Israel with my beloved wife would be a welcome gesture of friendship to the Israeli people, an act of solidarity with a staunch and long-time ally of the United States, and a deeply compassionate and humane gift of life to my wife and me."

How about Bradley Manning? Wikileaks source extraordinaire has yet to be found guilty for his long list of federal crimes. In the meantime, he is serving a prison sentence that some equate to prolonged, low-grade torture. In this recently shot video, President Obama brushes off someone's comparison of Manning to Daniel Ellsberg, the man responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in the 1970s.

In conclusion,the way that the United States treats prisoners convicted of treason is interesting. As is customary in my blogposts, here are my finishing questions that are more or less rhetorical: How does the continued incarceration of Pollard really affect relations with Israel? Does treating Manning like crap work to dissuade other countries from sending spies to the U.S.? Assuming Manning is found guilty after his trial, will his conditions improve, worsen, or stay the same?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Clinton Fallacy

The situation in Libya is not getting any better. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Admiral Mullen says that Libya is likely to become a stalemate. While the NATO led air campaign has destroyed about 30-40% of Qaddafi's ground forces, new tactics adopted by said forces make it difficult for pilots to determine if the targets on the ground are government forces are rebels.

Despite the acknowledgement that air power is becoming less effective, America's only response is to increase the use of air power, specifically by using drones. Even though drones provide a means of delivering precision guided munitions, I think that the U.S. is caught in an air power fallacy. During the Bosnian War, the Clinton administration relied upon an air campaign to lend support against Serbian troops. However in Bosnia, air power was not the only form of Western intervention. There were also NATO troops on the ground, and even in some cases where these troops had limited rules of engagement (such as the Dutch troops that couldn't intervene to stop the Srebrenica Massacre), their involvement helped end the war.
I've said before that the West has already gotten to the level of involvement where this can be considered a full military intervention, so there is no need whatsoever to keep hiding behind the idea that we're "only" supporting the rebels via air power. If the U.S. is holding back out of casualty aversion toward its ground troops, we need to press for NATO to put boots on the ground and finally push against Qaddafi directly (though this may be difficult because the U.N resolution does not yet allow for this). Even if it's just so we don't seem like unilateral interventionists, It's still possible to deploy ground troops legitimately. We should speak with our NATO allies and the UN in order to gain support for such an action. While this course of action may not work, the United States government should at least make an attempt, instead of sticking with a strategy that does nothing to help bring this conflict to a conclusion

The Red Baron and EBO

The other day was the anniversary of the death of Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. Unlike the History Channel, I do not get wrapped up in romanticizing enemies. I thought it was worth addressing this in conjunction with how the Libya situation is hopefully de-romanticizing the mythical revolution in military affairs, specifically that our country cannot merely rely on airpower as a strategy.

The revolution of military affairs led military strategists to rely on “effects based operations” (EBO) that assumed that precision guided attacks focused on centers of gravity would allow us to force the enemy to do our bidding. This assumed that technological innovation would lift the fog of war by providing a clear picture of the enemy situation. In short, EBO is enticing to the Air Force because of an overwhelming reliance on mathematical analytics…changing warfare from a “an art to a science.” This article is the best I’ve seen that captures the issues with EBO.

The Libya situation makes clear some of the issues with EBO. Namely, strategists and campaigners cannot assume that they know how their actions will “affect” the enemy. Early in fight, when it became clear that the “No Fly Zone” was a little bit more, Qaddafi’s forces began shedding uniforms, using civilian vehicles, and hiding among the population. These actions likely forecast what future enemy forces will do in the face of an American assault, and should accentuate the concept that we must fight for intelligence and develop the situation while in contact with the enemy. The Army seems to have grasped this, as seen in their Army Capstone Concept, in the wake of works like this one by old Army Officers.

The biggest hope should be that we learn the right lessons from this conflict. Hopefully from an ending that involves a Qaddafi-less Libya. Specifically…this war will not have been won by airpower.
It will require aggressive and thrifty maneuvers on the part of the rebels, with secure lines of logistics, and an iron will in urban combat. Given Defense Secretary Gates’ recent remarks at the United States Military Academy at West Point, we should worry that our strategists will attempt (like the Kosovo example) to twist this into a victory for EBO-enthusiasts. Kind of like how historians made The Red Baron into more than just another enemy shot out of the sky. Better him than any more of ours.

Changing of National Security Guard Proves Intriguing

The time has come for my obligatory, national security musical chairs post. As we’ve discussed somewhat in class, all leaks regarding who will be taking what should be taken with a grain of salt. Some ideas either reflect temperature testing, where a name is floated to gauge the extent to which a candidate might be loved or loathed. Others are merely smoke screens that disguise the real intent of the administration long enough for it to furtively vet a candidate.

The most import issue is the tradeoff between politics and policy. Finding the right intersection between those two different issues is usually the determining factor in a successful cabinet level appointment. Some of the beltway gossip floating around about Obama’s upcoming appointments awakens interesting questions about this tradeoff.

David Ignatius had a column up about a week ago where he ruminates in a number of things that I found pretty interesting. First, he adds fuel to the notion of Leon Panetta moving from CIA to the Pentagon. Ignatius asserts that Panetta has emerged a Gates’ favorite, a fact that if true, could come as some surprise to Michelle Flournoy.

Panetta’s move to defense has both positive and negative aspects. On the good side, he would likely maintain the initiative of taking a scalpel to the defense budget so as to avoid less discriminate hack jobs. My main concern about him at defense is that he might work too well with Sec. Clinton. Panetta has long been a close confidant of the Clinton family, and his allegiance to them could subtract from the level of debate that should occur in the situation room. Imagine the debate about Libya without the suspected skepticism of Gates in the room. Ignatius says that he has done a surprisingly good job at CIA, so perhaps my concerns are unwarranted, but I am still unconvinced that “Uncle Leon” could handle the three aspects of a good DefSec: management, strategic thinking, and military-to-military diplomacy.

The most intriguing job opening will be at the JCS as Adm. Mullen steps down (that’s assuming, the Petraeus to CIA rumor is just that, a rumor). The odds on favorite, because he’s Obama’s apparent favorite, is Gen. Cartwright. Mullen has played a decisive role in most every national security decision in recent history. So Cartwright will immediately step into some high-level thinking that he is apparently well suited to perform, according to Ignatius. Furthermore, a chairman from the Marines will be an interesting change from the current Naval admiral.


Can Wikileaks Be Legally Punished? A Boy Can Dream.

On this past Wednesday, attorney Jon Fleischaker gave a talk at the UK Law School regarding WikiLeaks. Fleischaker has about 40 years of experience in defending journalists and fighting for First Amendment rights. The talk he gave at the Law School centered around the concept of prior restraint. Prior restraint is any type of censorship (such as an injunction) that prevents certain material from being communicated in advance. In this way, the material is never released in the first place. Oh, and it's also pretty illegal.

In the 1930s, the Supreme Court deemed prior restraint unconstitutional, except in cases of national security issues. This issue was dormant until the planned publication of the Pentagon papers by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Nixon Administration tried to use the national security exception to issue an injunction against the publishing of these documents, but a fragmented Supreme Court struck down the injunctions (though they did issue nine separate opinions in doing so).

I asked Mr. Fleischaker what he thinks would happen if the WikiLeaks situation was put in place of the Pentagon Papers--that is, what would happen if the United States tried to issue an injunction barring WikiLeaks from releasing any more cables (putting aside the logistical issues that would be involved in such an attempt). Fleischaker stated that he thought the Court would issue the same ruling, that the national security exception would not apply. He went on to say that the Supreme Court did not say that the Nixon Administration couldn't try to punish the New York Times or Washington Post if and when they published the Pentagon Papers, just that the government couldn't prohibit the publishing in the first place.

That, as the kids say, ain't enough. If the national security exception does not apply in this case, then where exactly would it apply? Fleischaker's argument is that allowing the government and judges to determine what is and what isn't important to national security is the beginning of a slippery slope to increased censorship. At first glance, I think this argument is a solid one, but if the leaked information is classified, that mean the government has indeed declared the information to be secret. I don't think anyone is decrying the system of classifying information as illegal, and if that's the case then it should be legal for the government to pursue legal measures such as prior restraint to keep the information secret.

Leaving an option to punish publishers after information is released is akin to closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out. The U.S. government should be legally allowed to go after organizations like WikiLeaks before the information is released in order to minimize potential national security damage.

The Rainbow Disconnection

Typically, springtime brings the much-anticipated return of color: blooming flowers, blue skies, and those awkward pre-summer sunburns from afternoons at Keeneland. Thanks to the Department of Homeland Security, though, the U.S. terror level is about to get a lot less colorful this spring.

Earlier this week, DHS Secretary Napolitano officially bid adieu to color-coded terrorist threat levels, the often-mocked system that confused the nation (or at least deprived it of exposure to the cool-color palette) for the past ten years. Its successor, the National Terror Advisory System (NTAS), will be operational as of Tuesday, April 26.

Instead of keeping the U.S. on a constant but vague state of alert, NTAS only issues a warning based on specific and credible information. The most severe alert, an imminent threat alert, warns of “a credible, specific, and impending threat” against the United States, while the less extreme elevated threat alert warns of “a credible terrorist threat.” Unlike the former terror alerts, these warnings are only issued for a specified time frame, and will expire unless renewed.

The new system will also be more effective at reaching its intended audience. Many NTAS alerts will only be sent to members of law enforcement or to areas that are directly affected by a particular threat, while others will be shared more broadly. These will be available through public media outlets and a new section of the DHS website, and will also be sent to anyone who registers for updates via Twitter, Facebook or Email. Website developers even have the option of including NTAS RSS feeds and widgets on their pages.

NTAS’s most significant advancements, as well as its potential to succeed where the color-code system failed, lie in its more interactive relationship with the civilian population. Along with the assignation of an “imminent” or “elevated” label, new terror alerts will include guidance on how citizens can prevent or lessen the danger, and how they can protect themselves in the event of a particular emergency. The nationwide “See Something, Say Something” campaign is intended as both a watchdog and feedback mechanism, encouraging concerned citizens to share information on possible threats or suspicious people with their local authorities.

The improved transparency and outreach arms of the NTAS system are a welcome change from the murky color-based model. If it weren’t for the fact that threat levels generally sat at “yellow,” reaching “orange” status five times and “red” status only once, the majority of Americans would have had difficulty naming the day’s alert states under the old system. Even if they could, how many of them could explain why the present level was chosen, beyond referencing the general threat of terrorism? By providing more details on the situation at hand and making that information more easily accessible, DHS makes it easier for average Americans to stay informed about national security news, and to better prepare themselves in the event of a crisis.

The NTAS system is also a welcome antidote to a system that seemed to forever place the U.S. on the brink of disaster. After nearly ten years at the yellow “elevated” threat level, any initial power that the ratings system may have once wielded had long diminished by the time its retirement was first announced in January 2011. By drawing attention to specific threats as they occur, instead of classifying every day as “a day to worry,” DHS increases the likelihood that announcements under their new system will be taken more seriously. Time will tell whether the new NTAS plan will be more effective, but springtime won’t be any less bright without NTAS's rainbow-hued predecessor in the meantime.

Friday, April 22, 2011

You have to give it to them: they are persistent

Perhaps it was just me, but I was under the impression that the Stuxnet virus set Iran’s nuclear program back years. So it surprised me when I saw this Washington Post article claiming major advances were just around the corner for Iran. I decided to look into it a little further.

First, I want to go over what Stuxnet actually did, mainly because it is pretty freaking cool. In layman’s terms—the only way I could understand it— the virus caused Iranian nuclear centrifuges to spin out of control while also fooling Iranian safety controls to believe that everything was normal, resulting in destruction of this nuclear equipment. However, whatever was broken was apparently quickly replaced. It is still unknown if the virus will do any additional damage in the future.

Now, it appears that Iran is planning new, more advanced centrifuges. The IR-2M and the IR-4 would be able to enrich uranium faster than Iran’s current centrifuges, the IR-1. In fact, the article the new technologies could be a game-changer: According to the first reliable published estimates, the increase in the production of enriched uranium could be huge — an increase in output of at least 600 percent per machine.

What is disconcerting is that the West’s options regarding Iran’s nuclear program are running out; we have pretty much ran the policy-options gauntly toward Iran. As discussed in another class, although economic sanctions may have helped prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons to this point, they have not achieved the main goal in coercing Iran to end its nuclear program. Presuming that Stuxnet originated from the West, it still was not effective in setting back the nuclear program more than a year and today, they appear back on track. Write in ‘fail’ beside the covert action option. At this stage, diplomatic solutions seem unlikely. And military conflict would be disastrous for everyone involved. What is left?

Perhaps more advanced or more stringent sanctions can be agreed upon—and legitimately enforced—by the international community. Or maybe the U.S. and Iran can overcome their differences and return to the negotiation table. And one can only hope that the U.S. will not open a fourth military front in Iran. I’m glad the U.S. government has ‘experts’ whose job it is to come up with creative new approaches to such issues. Think about it, one day soon we could be among this group. It’s a lot of responsibility.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Making of a Trump Doctrine?

Everyone has an opinion on what happens after we pull out US troops but it will soon be time for those who may potentially have to make the decision to speak publically about it. As of right now, we know it is politically unsustainable for Iraqi politicians to ask for an extension on US troop presence. The Sadr Coalition will not have it and their strength in Iraq’s Parliament will make sure they have a strong voice. The Iraqi military has stated they will not be able to defend Iraq from external forces for at least several more years and seem to be the only Iraqi voice publicly in support of renegotiating the SOFA. Sec. Gates has made a late push with PM Malaki to try and change his mind but it is unlikely to change for fear of the domestic poison it would produce. We know that Pres. Obama has pursued the Bush SOFA since taking office and that Gates represents his interests. So as long as he remains in office until 2016, we can be relatively certain that the remaining security work will be done by DoD paid contractors.

But what will Obama’s contenders do (or at least say they'll do) if they win in 2012?

Very few have given their in-depth thoughts on the subject as they wait and see if any last minute changes are made to the SOFA before the last US troops depart. But Donald Trump seems to have other plans. Although he is currently undecided about his run at the Presidency, he did make some very strong statements on Iraq (I know Daniel Drezner at has already partially covered this story, but I want to look at a few specifics). On Fox’s Sean Hannity Show last week and in interviews with several other media outlets, he stated that “if it’s me, we take the oil” when asked to discuss his vision of Iraq’s future. To further clarify, he stated that the plans are already in place for Iran to invade as soon as we leave, so if we don’t take it with us, the US will miss its opportunity to be compensated for all the work we’ve done in Iraq. There was no reference to troop levels, long term relations, stability, or security. Its just good old fashioned mercantilism at work.

Now my first question is, has anyone (Trump or his staff) looked at how long it would take to remove every drop of oil from Iraq? I at least tried. The Council on Foreign Relations stated in 2003 that Iraq has 112.5 billion barrels of proven reserve, or roughly 10% of the worlds remaining supply. Before the Iraq war, Iraq could produce 3.5 million barrels per day. By 2013, it is projected to rise above 4 million barrels per day. Now production plummeted throughout most of the last decade and is back on track now so current estimates are a little harder to discern, so let’s say Iraq still currently has 107 billion barrels. If we started tomorrow with the Trump plan, at the current rate it would take us 73.3 years to dry up the reserves. Again, my math is likely off, but 10-20 years in either direction still makes the point.

Now I sincerely doubt Trump is advocating a prolonged troop presence well beyond 2013 and the Donald certainly has a checkered history of making regretful statements. But running for Commander-in-Chief is a different world and every statement like that is potentially a future POTUS outlining their foreign policy.

To be fair, Trump did offer a more diplomatic option which was for Iraq to pay the US and its allies back $1.5 trillion for our efforts. I’m not sure if one is more likely than the other, but what is certain is that the Don has enough money to keep his name in the campaign for a long time. What it most likely means is that candidates with sound foreign policy thoughts will spend a great deal of time and money responding to Trump as he ignites some of the more radical citizens among us with these irresponsible remarks rather than discussing likely options for a US role after 2013.