November 8, 2006
The Best and the Worst
For the most magnanimous take possible on the election, see Bill Whittle:
Remember one thing before you go. The most important election we are ever likely to see in our lives was not this evening's election. Bush's re-election in 2004 was the one we HAD to have, and we got it. Be grateful for that, acknowledge that this loss is no one's fault but our own, congratulate the Democrats on their impressive wins and start figuring out how we can make sure this never EVER happens again. =)For the most pessimistic, see this, from a reader of the Corner, which I quote in full:
I wish to tell my friends to be cheerful and especially to be of good will. Disappointments come and go, but moments of courage and integrity in dark hours will be there when the stars grow cold. We have lost the election, so let us maintain our determination, our dignity and our sense of humor, and let us take this moment to reflect upon how our actions have fallen short of our ideals. And then, finally, let's act like the Americans we are, roll up our sleeves and start rebuilding. We who have survived Civil War, the Nazis and the Communists can probably manage to find a way to preserve the Republic in the face of Speaker Pelosi.
America is not only much, much stronger than you imagine; it is stronger than you CAN imagine.
To those who have written me in anger over the years, I say sincere congratulations to you on a big win, and I genuinely hope it will remove some of the bitterness in your hearts and restore some belief in a system that was never broken.
As for me, I pledge to re-enter the fight with more energy, not less, and to continue to try to make the case I think needs to be made. I'll start on that tomorrow.
"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities." -- Winston Churchill
Welcome to the process of exhausting all other possibilities. This is where we separate the men from the boys. Pick a line and stand in it.
Those people who were serious about criticizing Rumsfeld (as opposed to those who were just vindictive or crazy) did so because they wanted our military to be doing more, not less, but does anyone seriously think that a Democratic Congress is going approve expenditures for the extra 50-70,000 troops that his serious critics say would be required to actually win in Iraq?
As a practical matter, I'm not sure how Iraq is possibly salvageable at this point given our current political situation. Zal is apparently on his way out, not wanting to be scapegoated as the man who lost Iraq and the real travesty is that he will be unlikely to receive half the official honors that Bremer and Tenet got despite his far more capable service to our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once the Baker Commission comes out, the administration is going to be under overwhelming pressure to implement the suggestions of the "bipartisan" commission and their failure to do so is just going to give the Democrats one more issue to run on to a pliable media and (near as I can determine) general public. Sooner or later, Baker's recommendations will likely be implemented, at which point al-Qaeda will be left in control of Anbar, Salahaddin, and possibly Babil and Diyala as well. They won't have any oil, but they'll have their failed state and that will give them a base from which to strike throughout the rest of the Middle East. Whether or not they are able to work out a manageable detente with Muqtada al-Sadr (who I expect will likely seize the southern part of the country), they won't be able to conquer his territory nor vice versa, meaning that we will still have a failed terrorist state made up of what was central Iraq to deal with. Oh, and a lot of innocent Iraqis are going to die, probably in the tens of thousands. But no one here will care about them, just like no one ever cares about the hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese and Cambodians who died when we abandoned Vietnam, but the important thing is that we'll all feel that much better. The truly ironic thing is that Iraq is likely to be held up as an example of why "Arabs/Muslims can't handle democracy," because to believe otherwise would be to admit that we should have done more, fought harder, and worked better to save them. And we can't have that. It goes without saying that if this is going to be the result that we never should have gone into Iraq in the first place.
The loss of Iraq is almost certain to coincide with a major push in Afghanistan-Pakistan and having defeated the United States, al-Qaeda is likely to regard the momentum as being with them. My own assessment is that Pakistan is likely to fall (probably in a palace coup) before al-Qaeda and the Taliban make any serious headway in Afghanistan. That may preserve the Karzai government, but it will also turn bin Laden into a nuclear power. The only good news that I can take away from this is that if, not when, this occurs the United States is unlikely to lapse into a "Blame America First" or "Iraq Syndrome." We won't lift a finger to save Somalia (now almost certainly lost) or Iraq, but the fall of Pakistan is likely to awaken the general population from their slumber. If not now, then certainly once the nukes start flying, whether at India or at the United States in Europe. It also now goes without saying that the US will not prevent the emergence of a nuclear Iran or take anything more than token gestures regarding North Korea. One thing I want to be clear on is that this isn't the apocalypse and al-Qaeda is not going to take over the Middle East in 2 years but that they will make a great deal of headway there if the US is emasculated in the interim as a result of domestic politics, particularly if the legislative branch now treats the executive as though it is part of an enemy state.
A word on Europe. As you are no doubt seeing in the media coverage, much of the European punditocracy is now giddy that the US has rejected the evils of Bushitleretardespotheocrat and all his works. While this is likely to make American tourist trips and cocktail parties more enjoyable, it is also nothing short of meaningless because, as we have seen over the last several years, Europe wants to be treated as a great power but does not wish to exert the necessary effort to actually be one. Our cooperation with them on intelligence and law enforcement matters would continue regardless of the event because they must [cooperate] for their own self-preservation, but they will not support sanctions against state sponsors of terrorism or increased troop commitments to Iraq or Afghanistan. In the case of the latter, they simply do not have the troops to send or the logistics to sustain them. . . .
The next 2 years are likely to suck, but I could always be wrong and the Democrats could always develop an uncharacteristic amount of sanity.
"You win some and you lose some." "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." And so forth.
Well, actually, no. When you and your countrymen might die, it is whether you win or lose.
There no doubt are many furtive conversations taking place in both Iraqi kitchens and government councils right now.
"Should we go to Jordan?"
"Should we let the Americans attack Sadr?"
"If I try to tamp down the death squads, but the Americans leave, will the squads come for me?"
October 26, 2006
Does Max Boot read blogs?
Sending mercenaries to Africa isn't politically correct. But it would be a lot more useful than sending more aid money that will be wasted or passing ineffectual resolutions that will be ignored.This was a topic that was broached here at Adventures back in May of this year. Let Blackwater Loose in Darfur was prompted by a report in the Boston Globe that Blackwater had volunteered to go to Africa and stop Darfur's genocide, provided someone would pay them. Here was my take then:
The essential problem is unique to the international system: horrific events, like genocide, which occur within the boundaries of a given state, are seen as being within the sovereign bounds of that state, and the territorial sovereignty of any given state, in our current system, is sacrosanct. Only the society of states, embodied in a number of international institutions, can choose to violate that precious sovereignty. Cries of "Never again" then seem to pale so long as that which prompts them is confined to one state. Intrastate genocide becomes, ironically, a sort of externality of the international system.All of this is especially relevant to the previous post, The Autumn of the Patriarch, which wondered where all these "proxyized" forms of warfare are headed.
October 3, 2006
In Which the European Defense Agency Shows It Has Learned Nothing in the Last Five Years
Political discourse about warfare is all too frequently shot through with utopian impulses. This is because warfare involves both the vision of an "end-state" that one's forces work toward, and millions of decisions at all levels that are easily second guessed as time passes.
An article in the London Telegraph reports that the new European Defense Agency has released a paper envisioning the next 20 years of conflict.
The paper, An Initial Long-Term Vision for European Defence Capability and Capacity Needs, paints a Europe in which plunging fertility rates leave the military struggling to recruit young men and women of fighting age, at a time when national budgets will be under unprecedented strain to pay for greying populations.It seems the study does not attempt to really envision future conflicts so much as it attempts to proscribe a series of measures that must be in place in order for the EU to engage in war. In other words, rather than focusing on enemies, it seems to focus on its own requirements. There is a term for this: self-induced friction. The EU Defense Agency is only 2 years old and already is hamstringing itself.
At the same time, increasingly cautious voters and politicians may be unwilling to contemplate casualties, or "potentially controversial interventions abroad – in particular interventions in regions from where large numbers of immigrants have come."
Voters will also be insistent on having backing from the United Nations for operations, and on crafting large coalitions of EU member states with a heavy involvement of civilian agencies, and not just fighting units, the paper states. They will also want military operations to be environmentally friendly, where possible.
All of this is similar to the Powell Doctrine in the United States, another set of internally imposed rules meant to make domestic constituents happy and to limit the kinds and types of wars that will have to be fought.
A hard-thinking, proactive enemy -- and there are few other kinds -- no doubt laughs in glee at these efforts, as it merely gives him all the more opportunities to avoid battle with the West and pursue his own agenda with impunity; or, once engaged in battle, to prevail simply by using methods and techniques that the West is institutionally (and thereby mentally) unprepared to counter.
The entire report may be downloaded here.
October 2, 2006
Could Al Qaeda team with the mob?
There is a scene near the end of the film The Rocketeer in which a deal of some kind goes south and all of a sudden three parties find themselves in a Mexican standoff: cops, the mob, and a bunch of Nazi sympathizers intent of helping Hitler invade America. When the shooting starts, the mob quickly starts fighting the Nazis. At one point a cop and a mobster are crouching next to each other, firing away with submachine guns, when they pause, look at each other, shrug, and then keep firing.
But today, this sentiment -- "hey, mobsters are awful, but at least they love America," -- must be realized as so much wishful thinking. An AP story released over the weekend [via Instapundit] reported that the FBI is keeping close tabs on the possibility of collusion between organized crime and terror-related groups.
September 30, 2006
One of the hallmarks of maneuver warfare as it has been conceived in the Marine Corps is the use of combined arms. "Combined arms" refers to the use of various weapons systems in concert, such that each reinforces the weaknesses of the other. The doctrinal definition is this:
Combined arms is the full integration of arms in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must become more vulnerable to another. We pose the enemy not just with a problem, but with a dilemma -- a no-win situation. [from Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1, Warfighting]There's no reason to think that this doctrine couldn't be articulated at the national level as well. Rather than confining it to the realm of military strategy and the use of force, why not include all the elements of national power -- diplomatic, economic, informational, military, etc -- and force them to work in concert toward a common goal? This may be an ideal, but it is one at which the US does not perform so well. The primary reason is the way our foreign policy bureaucracy operates: there is little in the way of the kind of unity of command necessary for an individual decision-maker to muster all elements to work in concert.
But not so in Iran, warns Robert Kaplan:
September 27, 2006
Michael Yon Names Names
Michael Yon, the retired Green Beret who embedded for months with US forces in Iraq, pulls no punches in this email dispatch he just sent to his mailing list:
Pajamas Media recently reported that there are only 9 embedded reporters in Iraq . Many are blaming this on the media, and while I can never be called an apologist for mainstream media, I can say with certainty that the United States military is censoring.Them's fighting words! Yon has huge credibility on issues like this. It seems he would not easily risk it.
It remains unclear if this is a general policy, though there are recent inquiries to the office of the Secretary of Defense. I await response. Or, perhaps, the censorship is merely the policy of ******* who is responsible for operations involving embeds. ******** is said to be the most quoted man in Iraq . I've learned to trust nothing he says. I do know for a fact that ******* has been untruthful with the media. If ******* calls me on this, I'll take the time to prove it.
While sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers and friends, fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military apparently is preventing journalists from telling the story. They attempt to deflect accusations of censorship by allowing in just enough reporters to appear transparent.
UPDATE: After noting Belmont Club's post on Yon's email, which notes that it has not been verified as actually coming from Yon, I've removed the name that Yon mentions in the email. It should not have been included in the first place.
September 26, 2006
The Irrational Tenth Part 2
I welcome all comments to either post.
September 25, 2006
Jihad and Thailand's New Leadership
News reports indicate that there were a number of reasons why Thailand's military decided to overthrow Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last week, but the most interesting among them was a disappointment with his strategy toward the Muslim insurgency in the south. From The Australian:
THE Royal Thai Army will adopt new tactics against a militant Islamic uprising, following the coup that sent Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, into exile in London last week.But at the same time Zachary Abuza, a political science professor at Simmons College in the US, and author of a forthcoming book about the Thai insurgency, offers a more nuanced take:
According to sources briefed by the army high command, Mr Thaksin's bungled response to the insurgency in southern Thailand, which has claimed 1700 lives in two years, was a critical factor in the generals' decision to get rid of him.
Military intelligence officers intend to negotiate with separatists and to use psychological warfare to isolate the most violent extremists, in contrast to Mr Thaksin's heavy-handed methods and harsh rhetoric.
[ . . . ]
if the prime minister's absence was the opportunity, sources said, the incentive to act was a sense that the Thai state was losing control over its southern territory, where about four million Muslims live.
A final spur for the coup came when bomb explosions tore through the south's commercial and tourist centre of Hat Yai this month, killing a Canadian visitor and three others, wounding dozens and prompting holidaymakers to flee.
Shocked Thai officials conceded that the terrorism could no longer be contained and might spread north to resorts such as Phuket and Koh Samui, with catastrophic results for the $13billion-a-year tourist industry, still reeling from 2004's Boxing Day tsunami.
[ . . . ]
When Mr Thaksin, a former policeman who made his fortune from telecommunications, came to power in 2001, he broke with the old order. He put police cronies in charge of the southern border and shut down two intelligence clearing centres.
Soon, reports in the media alleged that corruption, smuggling and racketeering were rife.
In January 2004, militants raided an armoury and started a killing spree. They have murdered Buddhist monks, teachers, hospital staff and civil servants - anyone seen as representing the Thai state. The army has seemed powerless to halt the chaos.
"Down there, you stay inside the camp at night," said a soldier who recently returned from a tour of duty. "If you go out, you die."
Mr Thaksin's iron-fisted methods went disastrously wrong. A suicidal mass assault on army and police posts by young Muslims, many armed only with machetes, ended with almost 100 "martyrs" dead. Later, 74 unarmed Muslims died at the hands of the security forces in the village of Tak Bae, most of them suffocated in trucks, and a suspected police death squad abducted Somchai Neelaphaijit, a Muslim lawyer, on a Bangkok street.
Somchai, who had brought torture cases before the National Human Rights Commission, was never seen again.
Then there is the southern insurgency. Will the CDR [Council for Democratic Reform] and interim administration be better equipped to deal with [it]? At the very least, there will be less political interference in counter-insurgent operations and fewer personnel reshuffles and policy initiatives from an impatient “CEO prime minister.” Second, the CDR is likely to implement many of the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Council that Thaksin had blatantly ignored. Though the NRC’s recommendations alone will not quell the insurgency, they will have an important impact in regaining the trust of the Muslim community. Third, Sonthi has expressed a willingness to talk with insurgents, though to date only PULO has offered to talk and the aged leaders in Europe have no control over the insurgents. And many in the military establishment including Sonthi, himself a Muslim, have publicly refused to see the insurgency for what it is, denying it any religious overtones or secessionist goals. Nor is the political situation likely to alter the campaign of the insurgents. If anything they may step up attacks in an attempt to provoke a heavy-handed government response. The Muslim provinces have been under martial law for over two and a half years, with little to show for it but an alienated and angry populace.
It seems Thailand has made two strategic errors in the past 15 years, the first of which was the dismantling of intelligence assets in the south.
A 2004 article from The Straits Times notes that
the upsurge in violence is also proving difficult to understand and control because it comes after Bangkok effectively dismantled its intelligence apparatus in the area and scaled down its military presence, thinking it had all but crushed the separatist movement in the late 1990s.Dr. Abuza made the same point in the piece above, noting,
The simple, stark fact, as admitted to me by a retired Thai general last week, is that neither the military nor the police now have a clue what is going on in the south.
“There has been a complete failure of intelligence. No one knows who the insurgents are. They don’t have a face.”In the absence of this lack of knowledge, it seems that ousted PM Thaksin made his second error: he responded to the insurgency with heavy-handed tactics, rather than classic counterinsurgency strategy. This only served to make things worse.
How will the generals do? We shall soon see. It was through cunning and realpolitik that Thailand avoided becoming a European colony while every single one of its neighbors did so in the last 300 years.
For the moment though, the south of Thailand, just like Waziristan or Somalia, has become another of the black holes with which we have become all too familiar, which the rest of us stare into with vacuous looks upon our faces, wondering intently what goes on in there, and from which the faintest traces of muezzin calls can be heard.
August 30, 2006
America's Schizophrenic View of Warfare
I've written an article for TCSDaily entitled Bipolar Disorder: America's Schizophrenic View of Warfare. It argues that Americans tend to view total war as positive, and counterinsurgencies as negative, rather than merely seeing them as different kinds of conflict. Go see for yourself!
June 29, 2006
The Geneva Convention for a Non-State Entity
Today's Supreme Court ruling seems to me a remarkable point in the development of a kind of quasi-sovereignty for non-state organizations.
Were there to develop an Anti-Qaeda force, a private military to pursue Al Qaeda and win the war on its own terms, then their members would also have the Geneva Conventions apply to them, were they ever to be apprehended or detained by the US, yes? In other words, if the Geneva Convention now applies to a non-state that is a non-signatory in the eyes of the US, does it not then apply to ALL non-states that are non-signatories?
This is quite a large new degree of sovereignty that has been granted to non-state organizations. How will the concept of citizenship evolve with decisions like these?
If protections that normally accrue to states after debate and ratification can now be given over to non-states which have no mechanism for ratification, let alone debate, one can easily imagine a scenario in which non-state organizations form themselves and immediately possess the rights of a state, with no corresponding need to adhere to any laws in their own activities.
If this is the case, then we have the answer to the war: it will be privatized, and its ultimate victories won by uninhibited private military actors, not the hamstrung citizen militaries of nation-states.
Any legal minds out there are welcome to comment.
May 2, 2006
Let Blackwater Loose in Darfur
The executives of one of the most well-known private security firms, Blackwater, have offered to provide a brigade of peacekeepers in Darfur, if only someone will pay for it. [hat-tip: Arts and Letters Daily]
A few weeks ago, at an international special forces conference in Jordan, Black announced that his company could deploy a small rapid-response force to conflicts like the one in Sudan. ''We're low cost and fast," Black said, ''the question is, who's going to let us play on their team?"In other words, the private security firms need something other than cash to pay for their peacekeeping; they need some sort of legitimacy. But legitimacy for what? Invasions? The establishment of private empires of sorts?
What companies like Blackwater are proposing to do in Darfur today is very different from the combat missions of a decade ago. ''We have no interest in offensive operations," says Taylor flatly. Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, the industry's trade association, agrees: ''[Executive Outcomes] and Sandline were supporting offensive combat operations. I don't think that'll happen again, and certainly not that way."No one questions that firms like Blackwater would excel at providing this service cheaply and professionally.
Today, private military companies are offering defensive services-they propose to secure refugee camps and vulnerable villages, guard humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs, or, depending on the requirements of the contract, assist peacekeepers like the African Union troops in Darfur.
There's little question that companies like Blackwater could be more effective operationally than the African Union, which has been hampered by its peacekeepers' lack of command and control experience. Private military companies boast a roster of former special forces officers and law enforcement officers who are accustomed to volatile conflict and post-conflict areas like Sudan.The essential problem is unique to the international system: horrific events, like genocide, which occur within the boundaries of a given state, are seen as being within the sovereign bounds of that state, and the territorial sovereignty of any given state, in our current system, is sacrosanct. Only the society of states, embodied in a number of international institutions, can choose to violate that precious sovereignty. Cries of "Never again" then seem to pale so long as that which prompts them is confined to one state. Intrastate genocide becomes, ironically, a sort of externality of the international system.
Blackwater also subjects all of its personnel to an impressive array of extra training-whether they're training to work in Baghdad or the firm's North Carolina headquarters. They take classes in international humanitarian law, leadership, ethics, regional awareness, and ''customs and traditions." They've recently approached Amnesty International about teaching human rights education classes. And the International Peace Operations Association boasts that its code of conduct was written by human rights lawyers.
The industry also claims that it's far cheaper than its multilateral or military counterparts. ''We offer the ability to create a right-sized solution-which creates a cost savings right off the bat," says Taylor. By contrast, Brooks notes, ''NATO is insanely expensive; it's not a cost-effective organization. Neither is the [African Union]. Private companies would be much, much cheaper. When we compared their costs to most UN operations, we came up with 10 to 20 percent of what the UN would normally charge."
And so the handwringers worry over how to stop such ghastly events while still maintaining the territorial sovereignty of states.
There is no easy solution.
Blackwater though, seeks to insert itself due to one particular detail of the particular externality of Darfur. Namely, no powerful state in the world has any inherent national interest in preventing the killing there, except solely out of a sense of altruism. Blackwater offers to solve the problem for them, if only someone will pay for it all.
Here's several ways that Blackwater can raise the capital necessary to fund the Darfur peacekeeping mission, and really score a PR coup at the same time:
Option 1: Pro Bono
First announce that the mission in Darfur will be a non-profit venture. The troops and overhead will be paid for, but the firm itself will make no profit from the enterprise. Call it private security pro bono if you will. Then ask states to fund the cost.
Option 2: The Wealthy Donor Option
Go the non-profit route again. This time though, approach several wealthy individuals for support. How many Hollywood millioinaires turned out for Live8 last year? Ask them to put their money where their mouth is. Most will decline you. When they do, shame them publicly. The publicity alone will attract other wealthy donors. You know, the steel magnate from Pittsburgh, who's retired now, and already given plenty of dough to his alma mater. Or the guy in the heartland somewhere who made his fortune in mousetraps. Ask for $100 million and tell the donors that they might get a building named for them if they give that much to an insitution, but here, they'll be a footnote in history and maybe a city in Africa will carry their legacy. Be creative.
Option 3: The Paypal Option
Go to the world. Again, make it pro bono/non-profit. Ask for private donations to fund peacekeeping in Darfur. If the US public can give a billion or so in a few weeks for tsunami relief, it can certainly cough up several million to stop a genocide. Plus, none of it has to be sifted through the sticky fingers of [insert international body here]. And it'll be tax-deductible!
Finally, PR is key. Hire a bunch of bloggers to embed (ahem: my email address is in the sidebar). The journos should be all over you already. If firms like Blackwater are half as good as they claim, the immediate effects of their intervention, properly publicized, should spur further contributions in a sort of virtuous cycle.
Now take any of the above three choices and mix and match until you have enough dough to support your operations for an extended period. After you get going, your success might be shameful enough to the society of states that they start to cough up institutional money to continue your mission. All told, the private firm comes out ahead and does a good bit to shake the image of "mercenary" that seems to dog the industry.
In case you haven't noticed, each of these involves the non-profit angle. It seems that any for-profit option would have a very hard time gaining legitimacy, unless it was funded by Sudan's neighbors, or perhaps on an installment plan, by the people in Darfur themselves -- though that might be an exceptionally long installment.
Notably, it is the very same people who most loudly proclaim, "never again", who will also most loudly protest private efforts to stop the death. Perhaps actions will be perceived to speak louder than words if things are orchestrated with a bit of savvy and elan . . .
In diplomacy, business, and life, much is made of "the art of the deal." This is a situation that is crying out for a deal to be brokered between a variety of players. Something much greater than wealth will accrue to the person who can put all the pieces together in this situation: a guaranteed place in history.
March 24, 2006
Why didn't Turkey let us open a northern front in 2003?
That's the question Wretchard poses in Belmont Club today. Here is my response:
As to your question, how this debacle occurred . . . My guess, and that is all it is, is that the issue of staging/basing rights in Turkey for the 4th ID is one of those things that falls in between departmental seams in the makeup of our foreign policy apparatus.
Was it a State function or a Defense function to convice the Turks to let us have our way? If memory serves, both Powell and Wolfowitz made trips to Turkey in the Jan/Feb/Mar timeframe. Who was ultimately responsible? Was everyone on the same page, making the same kinds of overtures to the Turks? or was it a case of an issue -- everyone who's worked in a large organization has observed this phenomenon -- where both were in charge and therefore neither took the initiative, knowing that they had the other to blame if it went south . . .
I think this is an enduring seam in the execution of our policies: the separate chains of command and institutions between the warmakers and the dealmakers quashes the ability to align the execution of policy except at the highest level -- the President. This seam definitely persisted for the entire lifespan of the CPA as well after the fall of Baghdad . . .
I agree, W, that only in retrospect can we say that 4th ID may have made a difference in the Sunni triangle, but I'm not so sure it would have. When we did the big op-pause about 7 days into the invasion, in order to "clean up the Fedayeen in our rear" (as ordered by LtGen McKiernan of CFLCC), the 1st MarDiv's intelligence section's opinion was that such resistance would collapse upon our seizure of Baghdad, and therefore the best way to clean it up was to press on. But somebody higher up wanted to stop, so we did.
This flies in the face of the assertions in Cobra II that Saddam's regime had two centers of gravity: the regime apparatus in Baghdad, AND the spirited insurgency fighters with a spiritual heart in the Sunni triangle (or some such).
I don't think that's an accurate observation. I think it was true that Baghdad was the center of gravity, and therefore the key node of the entire regime's system of power.
I think the real problem was that we dithered too long after Baghdad fell. That dithering was the result of the same seams between diplomats and generals mentioned above wrt to Turkey. Warfare is about creating opportunities and then exploiting them. For the creating part, I give us an A+. For exploitation, a B-.
One wonders if this performance might not be inherent to democracies. We worry so much about whether to go to war, and why, and why shouldn't we, and how else could we, and is there a precedent like this, and what will the French think, and how will people feel, that in the end, this makes the initial action the source of our mental focus, and not the second and third-order effects which is where exploitation -- and victory -- lies.
March 17, 2006
Fallujah, media memes, and public debate
I knew Wretchard was reading this book, so I decided to read it too and finished it earlier in the week.
The thing that struck me, but which West does not explicitly state, is that media perceptions were the driving factor in two key decisions made by the Bush Administration: first, to order the assault on the city in April of 2004, and second to halt it a few days later.
First, US popular revulsion to the images of the four dead military contractors in Fallujah caused the Administration to seek vengeance solely for its own sake.
For a gleeful mob to hang Americans like pieces of charred meat mocked the rationale that the war had liberated grateful Iraqis. The mutilation was both a stinging rebuke and a challenge. National pride and honor were involved. The president's envoy to Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, went on television in Baghdad to denounce the atrocity, vowing that the "deaths will not go unpunished." The spokesman for the JTF, Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, followed up by saying the attack on Fallujah would be "overwhelming." Write an order for the Marines to attack, General Sanchez told his staff, and I don't mean any fucking knock-before-search, touchy-feely stuff.The Marines, namely the 1st Marine Division, then still under General Mattis, and his immediate field commander, LtGen Conway of the First MEF, had intended to slowly take over various portions of the city over months, not invade it in one decisive action. But they had their orders (apparently very poorly written ones, according to West) and they carried them out.
But then media coverage and perceptions of the attack were once again integral in operational decisionmaking. The CPA
had prepared a public affairs plan in support of the offensive, although it didn't address the Arab press.That left Arab media to shape perceptions of the battle with no American influence at all.
On April 4, Fallujah was dominating international headlines because all major news outlets had rushed reporters and video crews there after the administration's vow of an overwhelming response.West's chapter entitled "Faint Echoes of Tet" is priceless. Here's an extended excerpt:
The CPA and all Iraqis were relying on the press to inform them about the military situation. Reports about the fighting came from two major sources -- Western journalists, principally American, and the Arab press. The two dominant Arab satellite networks were Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, and Al Jazeera, based in Qatar. In addition to reaching hundreds of millions of Arabs, their reportage was more trused by Iraqis than was the US-funded channel called Al Iraqiya, based in Baghdad. About 25% of Iraqis -- the more wealthy and influential -- had access to satellite reception, and by a five-to-one margin they preferred Jazeera to Iraqiya . . .West offers what might have been a palliative for this spin.
Both networks had learned how not to bite the hands that fed them. Criticism of the autocracies in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere had resulted in the closure of offices and the withdrawal of advertising revenues. Diatribes about the Israeli occupation of Iraq were the two staples of their coverage that received wide approval among Arab governments . . .
In April the insurgents invited a reporter from Al Jazeera, Ahmed Mansour, and his crew into Fallujah, where they filmed scenes from the hospital. Hour after hour, day after day after day in the first week in April, the airwaves were filled with pictures of the dead, the bleeding, and the maimed. The Arab media were calling the resistance an Initifada, linking the insurgent fighting against the Americans to the Palestinian uprising against the Israelis. The sound bites featured the wails of the mourners, the sobs and screams of mothers, and the frenzied shouts and harried faces of blood bespotted doctors and nurses. No one with a breath of compassion could watch Arab TV and not feel anguish. Most poignant were the pictures Jazeera ran of babies, one after another after another, all calm, frail, and pitiful in the repose of death. Where how or when they died was not attributed. The viewer assumed all the infants wwere killed by the Marines in Fallujah. The baby pictures would bring tears from a rock . . .
A Jazeera and Al Arabiya were unrelenting in broadcasting the plight of the civilians in Fallujah, while the internet amplified the message of Marine callousness and sped protests around the world on a minute-by-minute basis. On the Google search engine, during the month of April, the word Fallujah leaped from 700 to 175,000 stories, many highly critical of the Marines. Quantity had a spurious quality of its own, resulting in an erroneous certitude based on the sheer volume of repetition.
The reports filed by Western journalists embedded with the Marines did not support the allegations of widespread, indiscriminate carnage. Senior US government officials, though, didn't have the time to peruse tactical reporting. Instead, in their offices they turned on cable news, where video clips from Fallujah were shown over and over again. The images, obtained from a pool that included the Jazeera cameramen inside the city affected viewers in Iraq, in Washington, and in Crawford, Texas.
In the face of this press onslaught, the White House, the Pentagon, the CPA, and CentCom were passive. Partially this was a military reflex to avoid any comparison to the 'body count' debacle of Vietnam. none of those at the top of the chains of command, though, requested from the Marine units in daily contact any systematic estimates that distinguished between civilian and enemy casualties. Given the video recorded the the unmanned aerial vehicles and the imagery required of every air strike and AC-130 gun run, records of the damage would have been easy enough to collect and verify had anyone thought of doing so.
In the absence of countervailing visual evidence presented by authoritative sources, Al Jazeera shaped the world's understanding of Fallujah without having to counter the scrutiny of informed skeptics. The resulting political pressures constrained military actions both against Fallujah and against Sadr.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, which in the 1990s was so influential at describing the nature of the emerging connected world, made two observations that are relevant here:
1. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. In the case of Fallujah, the CNN and other western outlets frequently used footage from Jazeera, subverting to some extent the hierarchy of national boundaries as being determinative of press coverage. The same is true with the Google News aspect that West mentions. And finally, the hierarchy of the chain of command was subverted as well. Presumably the President himself had Fallujah brought into his living room, and its coverage shaped his perceptions of the battle. West implies that he did not seek out other opinions, notably that of the ground commanders, Mattis and Conway.
2. Markets are conversations. Cluetrain asserted that the information technology revolution allowed mass markets to revert to their conversational origins: the haggling, debate, and spirited nature of the traditional market or bazaar, rather than the stilted interaction between monolithic institutions and underdog individual customers that came to characterize relationships in the age of the industrial society.
West's solution to the whole conundrum, as mentioned in the last two paragraphs above, is very interesting. Traditional public relations methodology has attempted to generate enough contrary content such that the good might offer an alternative to the negative for the public to choose what to believe themselves. But what West advocates is something more like a public debate, in which some viewpoints, spin, or memes, are publicly refuted in some meaningful way. The only member of the Bush Administration who does anything like this on any kind of regular basis is the Defense Secretary. Occasionally when asked a leading or insinuating question for example, he responds with another question that attempts to refashion the dialogue. But even he doesn't do this that often. Keeping track of what memes are proliferating, where they come from, how they contradict each other, and finding concrete and believable evidence to refute them is a big job. Few military or policy organizations do this well. Not even corporations excel at this: usually they stumble along with PR as a sort of arm of the Marketing department. How many times has a corporation been accused of something and responded with deft explanations and a robust defense? Only about a tenth of the time or so would be my guess . . .
In fact, the only kind of organization I can think of that has an inherent stake in immediately and strongly responding to charges made by the press -- or by an opponent, with the press as its proxy -- is the political campaign. Attack ad is met by attack ad, and spin meets spin. But even those organizations are in search of the ever-memorable sound bite, not some public consensus on "truth."
Perhaps then, one thing that the Defense Department needs is a rapid response combat punditry team. Since this would essentially be a political function, it should be staffed with appointed civilians, but preferably those who are not too closely tied to the reigning administration, if that's possible. The office would work to refute, debate, clarify and offer counter-narratives in any case deemed necessary. This would be something different from "propaganda" creation, at least as I envision it. Propaganda nowadays is smelled as such by the public immediately and if there ever was value to it, it would certainly be counterproductive today. But to publicly enter into a debate with the memes, or individuals in the press -- to begin a conversation, rather than the traditionally conceived shouting match or corporate institutional-speak-- might be very effective. It would be a difficult job, but it seems to be a necessary one these days. The key would be to be forceful, but not necessarily adversarial. Public debate is about winning people over to one's side after all, and the ultimate coup would be to win the press themselves.
Notably though, one key to good conversation is when each side is willing to admit previous mistakes, or misjudgments. A candid combat pundit would do so. And if the press failed to do so, it would lessen it morally in the eyes of the independent observer. Or, miracle of miracles, perhaps some would admit mischaracterizations from time to time. In that case, would not public debate be more enlightened than it is now?
The blogosphere already performs the function I've described to some degree, but with much more limited effectiveness. Someone based within the DoD would have the authority of office to go with that of the megaphone.
A second technique for offering evidence to counter inaccuracies that enter public discourse would be the use of a small number of "directed telescopes", perhaps working out of the same combat pundit office mentioned above. The directed telescope was an innovation of Napoleon. Each was a pretty senior colonel or general officer, held by Napoleon in exceptionally high esteem, and trusted implicitly. He would use them to survey terrain, deliver important communications, gather intelligence, make judgments of enemy dispositions, and occasionally they would jump in to correct units that were not following Napoleon's intent. Martin Van Creveld describes this technique in Command in War:
Climbing through the chain of command, however, such reports tend to become less and less specific; the more numerous the stages through which they pass and the more standardized the form in which they are presented, the greater the danger that they will become so heavily profiled (and possibly sugar-coated or merely distorted by the many summaries) as to become almost meaningless. To guard against this danger, and keep subordinates on their toes, a commander needs to have in addition a kind of directed telescope -- the metaphor is an apt one -- which he can direct, at will, at any part of the enemy's forces, the terrain, or his own army in order to bring in information that is not only less structured than that passed on by the normal channels but also tailored to meet his momentary (and specific) needs. Ideally, the regular reporting system should tell the commander which questions to ask, and the directed telescope should enable him to answer those questions. It was the two systems together, cutting across each other and wielded by Napoleon's masterful hand, which made the evolution in command possible.While in Napoleon's time the directed telescope was one of two parts that were reinforcing -- regular reporting being the other -- in our day, there would be three parts: regular reporting, the directed telescope, and the press. The telescopes would be a powerful tool to have in the arsenal of a Defense Secretary or President in need of further independent information on the status of forces or situations. And, in my conception, the telescopes might provide valuable information about the conduct of a given battle or campaign. Such information could be priceless in engaging in the debate with the press described above. They might be composed of a couple of colonels, some independent civilians (West himself, or Robert Kaplan might be good examples, since this is similar to the roles they've fashioned for themselves already, albeit independently), and even a physically fit diplomat or two. Combined with robust archiving, search, image retrieval, and public-speaking capabilities inherent in the combat pundit office (perhaps "office" is the wrong term, as it should be informal, small, and not legislatively created), the National Command Authorities might be much better able to determine the status of all kinds of events, and use that information to refute inaccurate media memes (and be more informed in general as well).
As organized from 1805 on, Napoleon's system for cutting through established channels and for directly gathering the information he needed consisted of two separate parts. The first was a group of between eight and twelve adjutant generals; these were men selected unsystematically from among colonels and generals who caught the emperor's eye, usually carried the rank of brigadier or major general, and were between ages thirty and forty and thus in the full flower of their mental and physical powers. Their duties varied enormously, from reconnoitering entire countries (Savary in 1805) to negotiating a surrender (Rapp in the same year) to spying out enemy headquarters under the cover of a truce (Rapp again, on the eve of Austerlitz) to commanding the cavalry of the artillery reserve in battle (Druot, Lauriston) to governing a province and commanding a garrison far from the main theater of operations. Such responsibilities called for practical savoir faire as well as diplomatic ability, the knowledge and talents of a military commander, and, last, but not least, sheer physical stamina.
PS: Comments are currently closed. Feel free to email me any thoughts or responses you have. I may include them here, but no promises.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention: in case there's any doubt to the role the press played in the Fallujah Battle, remember that when the city was finally assaulted in November of 04, the first objective was seizure of the hospital so that he images mentioned above would not be used so spuriously.
May 9, 2005
Blog Interview with Dr. Andrew Bacevich, author of "The New American Militarism"
I recently finished reading The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War by Andrew Bacevich [see the link in the sidebar], an excellent treatment of the subject of militarism, civil-military relations, and a whole host of related issues. Dr. Bacevich is a Viet Nam veteran and was a career Army officer before entering academia. He currently serves as the Director of the Center for International Relations, and Professor of International Relations at Boston University.
Dr. Bacevich is a critic of current trends in militarism and of the nature of the war. That being said, his work should not be lumped together with much less erudite or more partisan works. I found the book to offer some very interesting viewpoints on the sources of American militarism and its possible cures. I decided to speak to Dr. Bacevich to get some more details. The following is our exchange.
Chester: In your work, The New American Militarism, you map out a long-term shift in thinking among political elites, ideologues, the officer corps, religious institutions, and popular culture that has led to "misleading and dangerous conceptions of war, soldiers, and military institutions that have come to pervade the American consciousness and that have perverted present-day U.S. national security policy." What is the nature of that dangerous conception, and how does it pervert our policies?
Andrew Bacevich: Since Vietnam and especially since the end of the Cold War we've developed outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and a romanticized view of soldiers. Together these constitute a variant of militarism. This militarism is contrary to our interests and is radically at odds with our founding ideals as a nation.
C: Your chapter describing the history of the Army's attempts to reconstitute itself, and its role in advising the civilian authorities was fascinating. You show that beginning with Creighton Abrams, and ending successfully with Colin Powell's role in the Gulf War, the Army was able to restore its prestige, reconstitute its forces, yet create what is known as "the Powell Doctrine" about the use of US force which as you say, aimed "not to facilitate, but to impede intervention." How did the Powell Doctrine fail? Has the military been a victim of its own success?
AB: The Powell Doctrine failed in no small measure due to Powell himself. After the Cold War, he and the other service chiefs capitalized on the inflated status that they enjoyed thanks to Desert Storm to argue successfully for maintaining a military establishment far larger than needed to respond to the threats that we faced. In essence, they argued for excess military capacity -- a capacity that civilians were happy to put to work in ways quite contrary to Powell's own preferences.
C: Is the Army in the process of creating a new doctrine, either ad hoc, or explicitly? If so, how might you describe it? Is it an attempt to return to something like the Powell Doctrine?
ABThe army is up to its elbows in dealing with the challenges posed by Iraq -- that's the doctrinal challenge of the moment.
C: Given your background, it is not surprising that you focused on the role of the Army in the Vietnam to Desert Storm era. What role did the other services play in changing the conceptions of the military and the use of force?
AB:It was substantial. The Air Force in particular has persistently promoted a vision of air power that suggests that the use of force is becoming more precise, certain, and economical.
C: Your account seems to describe a militarism that is currently at least lacking much direct influence from the military itself, either in its propagation, or in its rebuttal. Can any current militarism either be stopped or promoted by the officer corps?
ABThe problem is not the officer corps. It's us -- "we the people" -- and the folks that we send to Washington.
C: You raise some interesting questions about the nature of military bureaucracies and their institutional interests. For example, you write that the efforts of military professionals "to reassert the autonomy of that profession backfired and left the military in the present century bereft of meaningful influence on basic questions relating to the uses of U.S. military power,"(p.6) but you later say, "Highly protective of their own core institutional interests, these senior officers have also demonstrated considerable skill at waging bureaucratic warfare, manipulating the media, and playing off the executive and legislative branches of government against each other to get what they want." (p. 30) Could these two statements be summarized by saying that since our civilian leadership has decided that war is best not left to the generals, then the generals have decided to turn their attention instead to bureaucratic battles? What kind of civil-military relationship would you recommend?
AB:Senior officers demonstrated real skill in waging bureaucratic warfare in the 1980s and 1990s. The current administration has taken the generals down a peg or two. As a practical matter, civil-military relations remain as dysfunctional today as they were during the Clinton presidency. What do we need: mutual respect and candor within an overall commitment to the sanctity of civilian control. You can make a strong argument that we haven't had that since FDR was president.
C: You summarize the relationship between the public and the military with the phrase, "We admire you. Now go away." This seems to describe a militarism that is rather hollow such that "supporting the troops" is some part of national piety, but nothing else. How would you further describe the relationship between the public and the armed services?
AB:It's a phony respect. We proclaim our support for the troops as long as doing so comes without cost.
C: Your chapter on defense intellectuals was fascinating. After World War II, the "priesthood" -- as you call them -- tried to find more reasonable forms of using violence in the shadow of nuclear weapons. This led to game theories at the strategic level, and the conception of using limited force to bargain or signal. But after Vietnam, the same intellectual priesthood began advocating "discriminating offensive strategies," using calibrated force to win outright hence surgical strikes and the like. Do you believe this had an effect on the rise of pre-emptive warfare as a concept? Has modern weaponry made the concept of total war all but obsolete?
AB:I've got no problem with preemption as such. Given the right set of circumstances, it can be justified. My gripe is with preventive war such as the Bush administration has committed us to. And, yes, the false visions of precision warfare peddled by certain defense intellectuals did pave the way for this misguided policy.
C: You do not speak highly of pre-emptive war in your book. Yet the largest single reason given for such a doctrine is to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. How would you prevent this from happening?
AB:There are no certainties in life. My own view is that a doctrine of preventive war will contribute to instability and disorder more than it will to safety and security. The best way to address the terrorist threat -- meaning those Islamic radicals who are intent on doing us harm -- is through intensive international police action. When I say "police," I'm including intelligence agencies and even on occasion action by special operations forces.
C: Are you familiar with the concepts that fall under the title "fourth generational war"? Do you think an adoption of its ideas will increase or decrease militarism in our society?
AB:Prophets are always claiming to divine how the subject of their study is being transformed and that something completely novel is appearing right before our eyes. I am highly skeptical of such prophecies, especially when it comes to warfare.
C: You recommend a complete change in the roles of ROTC programs and service academies in officer development. How would you change these institutions?
AB:I want all would-be officers first to get an undergraduate education in the company of their fellow citizens. Only after getting a liberal education should they continue on to an officer training program -- and I want all officers to experience the same preparation. In that regard, the service academies should be transformed into officer training institutions along the model of Sandhurst, offering one-year programs and no undergraduate education.
C: A final question: One over-riding concern of many civil-military relations experts is the interaction, or lack thereof, between military professionals and the socioeconomic elite of the nation. That the children of the wealthy don't serve is conventional wisdom in the US. Would serious reform of the military's ability to define, assign, and promote talented people have an impact on the participation of elites? That is to say, would you agree that many of the best and brightest don't serve because they feel that they will be able to fulfill their true potential elsewhere?
AB:People don't serve because as a country we decided after Vietnam that citizenship no longer entailed a responsibility to contribute to the defense of the nation. We need to rethink what it means to be an American. Citizenship ought to entail obligations as well as entitlements.
C: Thanks very much for your time!