Thursday, January 31, 2008

African't you feel the love tonight...

It's not a good day to be a country in the northeastern portion of Africa. You have (1) rebels advancing towards the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, (2) a potential civil/ethnic war between Luo and Kikuyu tribes in Kenya, (3) continuing unrest in the Darfur region of Sudan, and (4) unrest at the Gaza border providing an unpleasant reminder of the threats to stability in Egypt.

There are three powers that currently have an interest in Africa. There is the United States, Europe (particularly France?) and China. Can any of these countries be said to be employing military means to advance/protect those interests?

Additionally, based on what we read about Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leon, why wouldn't it be a good idea to contract another PMF to help with these developing crises?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

CinC-o de Mayo, RE: the Dana Priest article

The Priest excerpt alludes to the ongoing debate over the application of U.S. military force as an instrument of U.S. statecraft. In the chapter "The CINCS: Proconsuls to the Empire", the main example of the military taking on a new role is Zini operating in his capacity in Commander in Chief for Central Command, which includes the Middle East, Central Asia, and the more militarily troublesome parts of Africa such as Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

The "Proconsul" function - - described by Priest as being "the warrior-statesman" bringing "order and ideals" from the hegemonic power - seems to be an aspect of the military "tool" of statecraft that far predates that current international state system. Priest seems to suggest that this "Proconsul" role has become more prevalent in the United States, mainly as a result of reductions in the State Department budget and reluctance on the part of the Clinton Administration to confront the military.

However, is it possible that there are certain geographical and policy areas in which the United States should employ the "Proconsul" military "tool" with diplomatic aspects, instead of a diplomatic "tool" with military aspects?

This seems particularly true in Pakistan, where the military is the strongest and most organized state institution and the main concerns - control over nuclear weapons and combating Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in the Northwest Frontier and Federally Administered Tribal Areas - are military in nature. The military aspect seems similarly prominent in the other areas included in Central Command, such as Somalia, Sudan and the Middle East.

So is the Proconsulship a fluke temporary phenomenon, a resurgent trend, or nothing new? Is this good? Bad?

Friday, January 25, 2008

And now for something completely different...

Accuse me not of pro-bear propaganda, this is real.

A beer drinking, cigarette smoking, ammunition carrying veteran of Monte Cassino may finally get the recognition he deserves: his own monument in Edinburgh. The bear, named Voytek (Polish for "dude") , was Iranian by birth, a Polish soldier by choice, and finally Scottish by the grace of god.

on the subject of private security contractors...

According to Friday's Monkey Writes:

"WASHINGTON — With its international mandate in Iraq set to expire in 11 months, the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials."

"...the administration is requesting protections for the 154,000 civilian contractors working for the Defense Department in Iraq; most carry out such duties as driving trucks, preparing meals and the like. The administration says it depends heavily on those contractors, including about 13,000 private security contractors working for the Pentagon."

Anyone interested in finding a general breakdown for the main private security firms currently employed in Iraq?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

response to Mubarrak and the wall

First, as was said, this has to make Mubarak nervous. Hamas began as a project of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Mubarak has endeavored to suppress for a number of years now. He therefore has to tread carefully with the Palestinians that have literally stormed the gates into his country, to avoid agitating those living in Egypt whose sympathies are closer to Islam and Hamas than they are to the government.

Second, this has to make Israel nervous as well. It was only a few weeks ago during the Anapolis conference that Israel called for tighter control of the flow of arms between Egypt and Hamas. Israel's been happy since Hamas militants kicked Fatah out of Gaza, essentially allowing Israel to keep both major Palestinian groups isolated and relatively powerless, and try to weaken Hamas' appeal by making it harder for them to be the providers of food and clothing.

So where the problem was once underground tunnels providing rockets, you now have a streaming mass of people and an Egyptian government that is (probably) afraid to do much in the way of checking and regulation, in the event it ticks off Islamist elements within the country. Teh suck for Israel.

Hamas will possibly expand on this idea of buying in Egypt what it can't get in Gaza, which might jeopardize Israeli attempts to (a) isolate Hamas and (b) make it harder for Hamas to keep itself supplied. This can't be going over well in Israel, particularly now that Olmert's government is threatening to break down.

It can't be going over well in Egypt, where the government cannot help but see the risk having Hamas militants freely enter the country along with those Palestinians simply seeking supplies. It's not like they could stage a coup, but they could make noise asking for help, and no Arab country likes having to help the Palestinians. They're like in-laws that everyone would rather keep locked in the shed.

The question is, as has been played by Jordan, Egypt and Israel (among others) many a time is, if the less-violent strategy of isolation isn't going to work, who's going to get ticked off and crack down on the Palestinians this time?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Kiss me you infidel

Nicholas Sarkozy is expanding the French presence in the middle east to prove, conclusively, that a Napoleonic complex transcends birthplace. The President/super-model afficianado has recently busied himself by gladhanding around the UAE. No longer content to merely arm the Middle-East, he now aspires to occupy small portions of it.

Much fuss has been raised about this, and pundits (at least Al-Jazeera) believe it implies closer French ties to Washington. They are skeptical of a European power with a presence in the Gulf, and especially one which has advocated for additional pressure against Iran.

It is, however, irrational, to view this as a direct threat to Tehran. Sarkozy is placing a minuscule 500 soldiers in the Emirates and this is far from an expeditionary force. More likely, the base evidences of France's desire to secure the nuclear materials it will provide to Abu Dhabi for the construction of two nuclear power facilities.

Rafah Border

"Thousands of Palestinians crossed the Rafah border into Egypt to buy food and other staples" just after Hamas bulldozers paved the way (not shown).

President Mubarak, Tear That Wall Down!

Since recent Quassam rocket attacks by Hamas into Israeli territory, Israel has shut down border crossings into Gaza and rationed energy and food supplies. Gaza, has in effect, been completely cut off save one crossing into Egypt that smugglers have surreptitiously undermined (literally) by digging tunnels into Egyptian territory. They have been forced to do this because the Egyptians, like the Israelis, refuse to open an official crossing.

In a recent interview with BBC news, Egyptian officials attempted to explain why they will not open the border with Gaza to allow necessary supplies to flow across. They cited the illegal occupation of Gaza by Israel and that any humanitarian assistance (fuel, food, etc.) could be viewed as tacit approval of Israel's presence in Palestine. The BBC's counterclaim centered on the hypocrisy of Arab countries' damnation of closed borders into Israel, while simultaneously not providing any assistance of their own.

Today however, residents of Gaza took the matter into their own hands (or feet) and trampled the border into Egypt. The New York Times described the scene as

"one of a great bazaar, with Palestinians piling donkeys, carts and motorcycles high with goats, mattresses, chickens, televisions, cement and other goods they had been unable to buy in Gaza.”

Eyewitnesses later claimed that Hamas officials both set bombs and used bulldozers to destroy the wall before Palestinians went streaming across. Mubarak allowed Palestinians to pass over citing their terrible plight and predictably did not miss an opportunity to vilify Israel. This, despite the fact that he kept his border closed until it was taken down by force.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Santa Clausewitz Coming to Town

Just a thought on Clausewitz, the Taliban and insurgents in Iraq. Clausewitz in section 25 of chapter one speaks about intense and weak motives for war. Weak motives will lead to a divergence of political and military aims and a situation where the political nature of the war dominates. Intense motives will lead to a close association of political and military aims, where the military aims dominate. To what extent might it be fair to say that, in the current conflict between U.S. forces and various elements of the insurgency in Iraq (a lumping together of both religious- and politically-motivated individuals) is the U.S. waging a war based on weak motives while the insurgency is waging a war of intense motives?

The public reasoning for U.S. forces engaging in combat in Iraq has included a number of justifications, including WMD's, preventing the harboring of terrorists, democratization, countering Iran, securing energy interests, etc... Might the fact that it's hard to ask any 10 people why the U.S. is really in Iraq and get fewer than 20 answers indicate what Clausewitz would qualify as "weak motives"?

On the other hand, the insurgency in Iraq seems to be a combination of those who just want the U.S. out, those fighting for religious extremist reasons, those who want to fight the U.S. wherever they can, et al. Can these contrarywise be considered "intense motives"?

If this is so, what does this say about the military engagements in Iraq? Do they make up one war, or are there multiple wars going on? Does this have any significance whatsoever?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

And I Hear He Once Killed a Bear with His Bare Hands

David Petraeus and I wear the same running shoes, but the similarities end there. Runner's World, via Danger Room:

Today, he arrives for his workout at precisely 6:30 a.m., ready to hit the road in his New Balance 992s and an Army T-shirt. The subject quickly turns to running. "When we bring a new guy in, I take him out for a run," says Petraeus. "I'll go out hard, then ramp it up around five miles to try to waste him"... Of the 21 soldiers who began the 5.7-mile loop, only four (including Nordby and Martins) hang with Petraeus to the finish. He comes in at a pace under six minutes per mile, impressive for a guy with a metal plate in his pelvis and a gunshot wound on his chest (courtesy of a training accident).

I often force my graduate students to hold to a grueling 6 minutes per kilometer pace, sometimes for as long as two kilometers...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bush Arrives in Saudi Arabia Bearing Gifts

So, while on his recent trip to the Middle East, President Bush stopped in Saudi Arabia to meet with their leaders, and present them with an offer of a $20 billion arms agreement. The Administration says that this is to bolster Saudi Arabia's defenses to deter Iran. It's a good thing that we're protecting them from a country that's a dictatorial theocracy where opposition is suppressed, people are oppressed, and there are virtually no freedoms. Oh wait, not only does that describe the country that we're defending them from, but also the one we're protecting!

In another blast of irony, Bush spent a large part of this trip promoting democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Its clear that making a $20 billion arms deal with 0ne of the worlds' least democratic countries is a great way of promoting that policy. But perhaps Preside t Bush doesn't want democracy in Saudi Arabia - both Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden are more popular among the citizenry than he is.

This is another great example of short-sighted foreign policy - give weapons to people who are our friends now, and can easily be our enemies later. At least if we have to fight them later on, we'll know what equipment we're up against.