Friday, January 29, 2016

Dam, Dam, Double Dam: An Avoidable Crisis in Mosul

The Mosul Dam received massive media attention in 2014 when the Islamic State (ISIS) seized the structure. Concerned about the possible destruction to the dam, Iraqi, Kurdish, and air-led American forces scrambled to retake it. The coalition succeeded after weeks of hard fighting. If destroyed, the dam is estimated to kill 500,000 citizens in Mosul, leave over one million homeless, and damage bridges and other infrastructure along the Tigris River. But now that the Mosul Dam is back in Iraqi hands, the worry is not that ISIS will be responsible for the dam’s collapse.
Built on a foundation of gypsum, limestone, and clay, the dam is at risk of deterioration due to these substances propensity to dissolve when touched by water. American officials recently came forward claiming the dam is structurally unsound and will require immediate repairs to avoid disaster. While this issue is not a new one, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been slow to respond since retaking the position. His government also seems lax in warning its citizens in Mosul about the potential flood or proper protocol to take should the dam break.  Given the multiple problems facing the Iraqi government right now – ISIS, shortage of funds, and proving that the government is capable- it is easy to see how this might have been deprioritized. But help is very much available.
Trevi Group, an Italian company, is in negotiations with the Iraqi government concerning emergency treatment on the dam. However, the corporation wants an Italian security force present to ensure the safety of the engineers. Considering ISIS still controls the city of Mosul, lying only 51.5 km away from the dam, protection for their own personnel seems legitimate. However, there is resistance within al-Abadi’s cabinet about letting foreign forces help guard the structure, delaying any sort of immediate action particularly from those who fear an increased Western presence in Iraq. Financially, America petitioned the World Bank to loan Iraq the money needed for dam repairs.
Image result for mosul damThe Iraqi government’s negligence on this issue ensures short and long-term consequences. In the short-term, a broken dam results in the loss of a critical energy source, citizen’s lives, and damaged infrastructure along the Tigris River.  In the long-term, the already struggling administration loses credibility, stemming from the perceived inability to protect its own citizens and to maintain critical infrastructure. Such convictions could lead Iraqis into the open arms of ISIS. Even though it might be unpopular within al-Abadi’s government, foreign aid is essential to resolving this issue and avoiding disaster. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"The Defense of Duffers Drift" and "The Defense of Jisr Al-Doreaa"- Why can't we teach new dogs old tricks?

Ernest Dunlop Swinton first published “The Defense of Duffers Drift” in 1904.[i] Michael L. Burgoyne and Albert J. Marckwardt came along 105 years later and gave us the modern reboot known as “The Defense of Jisr Al-Doreaa.”  Both texts explain in straightforward yet poignant terms what it means to be the invader in unfamiliar lands, and how easy it is to fall victim the deadly trap of complacency.  One would think that idea of allowing locals to wander freely about your base, or forgetting to hire sufficient translation staff would be rookie mistake, and that such errors would have been trained out of our armed services well before the 21st century. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.
The tragic and preventable losses that lead Burgoyne and Marckwardt to publish their updated version are a clear sign that there is something very wrong with the way our commanders viewed their mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. [ii] Swinton’s words, though a little stiff for the modern tongue, were not so incomprehensible that its lessons were unclear. Yet somehow they did not manage to stick. Perhaps it was America’s endless preoccupation with the Russians, or the resounding defeat of Saddam during the First Gulf War, but somewhere along the way the United States got cocky. It forgot how to fight a real honest to goodness ground war, the kind where fighter jets and long range missiles can only get you so far, and the real work has to be done on the ground, cheek to jowl with the enemy and in an environment that is far from hospitable.
One would think that Commanders would have learned a thing or two about COIN since the time of Duffers Drift, perhaps in Vietnam.,but apparently those lessons didn’t stick either. What will it take for the most common sense ideas to be incorporated into basic military policy and curricula? Does every trainee need to recite “The Defense of Duffers Drift” from memory before being awarded his commission? Probably not, but adding a few more cultural awareness classes into the mix wouldn’t hurt. America is the most prosperous nation in the world. It can afford to teach its soldiers which way to shake hands and how not to insult the chieftain’s daughter.


Monday, January 25, 2016

U.S. Grand Strategy - Does It Exist?

Since the end of the Cold War, it has been difficult to look at U.S. foreign policy and identify any grand strategy.  Once ensuring the demise of communism was no longer our priority, has the U.S. ever really established a new ultimate goal to work toward?  The “War on Terror” might be the closest thing the U.S. has had to a grand strategy since that time.

Does the “War on Terror” really count as grand strategy?  It represents a great hope to rid the world of terrorism, but other than that, does it have any real political goals?  Does it have a strategic endgame?  I would say that it does not, and therefore does not count as grand strategy.

So, what about grand strategy going forward?  The current presidential race is not overly focused on foreign policy, but in the moments when it does take one that focus, overarching strategic concerns aren’t really a topic of conversation.  Instead, reactionary issues take center stage.  How should we react to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?  How should we react to Iran’s growing presence on the international stage?  How should we react to China’s threat to our cybersecurity?  While these are important issues for the moment, none of them move the United State forward in any way toward a particular goal.  Do we even know what our goal is at the moment?  We have been overtaken by concerns we need to react to right now, and we have forgotten to have a grand strategy.  While we debate how we want to move our country forward in the next four or eight years, we should take a moment or three to think about how we want to move forward.  About where we want to move forward to.  And about what kind of grand strategy it will take to get us to that place.