November 30, 2006
A Red Harvest in the "Conflict Ecosystem"
The good news - and, unfortunately, the bad news - is that Iraq is not in a state of civil war in the textbook sense. If it were, our military and political mission would be easier.
In a civil war, you have clearly defined sides struggling for political power, with organized military formations and parallel governments. You know who to kill and who is empowered to negotiate with you. You can pick a side and stick to it.
Unleashed, our military could smash any enemy in an open civil war. Even our diplomats would have trouble preventing an American victory.
But the violence in Iraq comes from overlapping groups of terrorists, militias, insurgents, death squads, gangsters, foreign agents and factionalized government security forces engaging in layers of savage religious, ethnic, political and economic struggles - with an all-too-human lust for revenge spicing the mix.
There is a genuine problem here: The ever-accelerating pace of change since the end of the Cold War has left us with an inadequate vocabulary. Words literally fail us. We don't know what to call things. No military lexicon offers a useful term to describe the situation in Iraq.
Who's the best counterinsurgency theorist you know? I guarantee the best you've never heard of is David Kilcullen, an Australian, currently serving in the US State Department. Kilcullen led Aussie infantry units in East Timor and went on to get a PhD in the history of insurgency in Indonesia. Since the war in Iraq began he's written several articles describing the differences between classical counterinsurgencies and the one we face today. One article, Counterinsurgency Redux, contains this tidbit:
In modern counterinsurgency, the security force must control a complex "conflict ecosystem" -- rather than defeating a single specific insurgent adversary.That's the term that Peters is looking for: conflict ecosystem. Not only does it view things in organic and biological terms, but it allows for multiple actors pursuing multiple goals.
Classical counterinsurgency focuses on securing the population rather than destroying the enemy. But it still fundamentally views the conflict as a binary struggle between one insurgent (or confederation) and one counterinsurgent (or coalition). Modern insurgencies belie this binary approach, since there are often multiple competing insurgent forces fighting each other as well as the government, and the "supported" government's interests may differ in key respects from those of its allies. Hence we might conceive of the environment as a "conflict ecosystem" with multiple competing entities seeking to maximize their survivability and influence. The counterinsurgent's task may no longer be to defeat the insurgent, but rather to impose order (to the degree possible) on an unstable and chaotic environment.
And not only that. Robert Kaplan famously wrote in 1994 of "The Coming Anarchy":
The degree to which Van Creveld's Transformation of War complements Homer-Dixon's work on the environment, Huntington's thoughts on cultural clash, my own realizations in traveling by foot, bus, and bush taxi in more than sixty countries, and America's sobering comeuppances in intractable-culture zones like Haiti and Somalia is startling. The book begins by demolishing the notion that men don't like to fight. "By compelling the senses to focus themselves on the here and now," Van Creveld writes, war "can cause a man to take his leave of them." As anybody who has had experience with Chetniks in Serbia, "technicals" in Somalia, Tontons Macoutes in Haiti, or soldiers in Sierra Leone can tell you, in places where the Western Enlightenment has not penetrated and where there has always been mass poverty, people find liberation in violence. In Afghanistan and elsewhere, I vicariously experienced this phenomenon: worrying about mines and ambushes frees you from worrying about mundane details of daily existence. If my own experience is too subjective, there is a wealth of data showing the sheer frequency of war, especially in the developing world since the Second World War. Physical aggression is a part of being human. Only when people attain a certain economic, educational, and cultural standard is this trait tranquilized. In light of the fact that 95 percent of the earth's population growth will be in the poorest areas of the globe, the question is not whether there will be war (there will be a lot of it) but what kind of war. And who will fight whom?Kaplan's incredible vision, nearly 12 years old, has come to pass. But where he sees an anarchy that betrays attempts to tame it, Kilcullen sees an ecosystem -- and ecosystems merely appear chaotic. In actuality, they are highly ordered, reflecting a sort of emergence that many complex systems display.
[ . . . ]
Also, war-making entities will no longer be restricted to a specific territory. Loose and shadowy organisms such as Islamic terrorist organizations suggest why borders will mean increasingly little and sedimentary layers of tribalistic identity and control will mean more. "From the vantage point of the present, there appears every prospect that religious . . . fanaticisms will play a larger role in the motivation of armed conflict" in the West than at any time "for the last 300 years," Van Creveld writes. This is why analysts like Michael Vlahos are closely monitoring religious cults. Vlahos says, "An ideology that challenges us may not take familiar form, like the old Nazis or Commies. It may not even engage us initially in ways that fit old threat markings." Van Creveld concludes, "Armed conflict will be waged by men on earth, not robots in space. It will have more in common with the struggles of primitive tribes than with large-scale conventional war." While another military historian, John Keegan, in his new book A History of Warfare, draws a more benign portrait of primitive man, it is important to point out that what Van Creveld really means is re-primitivized man: warrior societies operating at a time of unprecedented resource scarcity and planetary overcrowding.
Spengler, the pseudonymous columnist for the Asia Times, once wrote that the best strategy for the US in Iraq would be to adopt the philosophy of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op, a nameless private detective, who in the novel Red Harvest, orchestrates a gang war, then sits back to watch. Spengler quotes the Continental Op:
"Plans are all right sometimes ... And sometimes just stirring things up is all right - if you're tough enough to survive, and keep your eyes open so you'll see what you want when it comes to the top."Spengler elaborated:
Americans want their tough guys to have a heart of gold. In the Kurosawa-Leone-Hill adaptations, the Toshiro Mifune-Clint Eastwood-Bruce Willis characters take great risk to aid a lady in distress. Hammett's Op cares neither about lady nor risk. His object is the mutual destruction of the contending parties, which he arranges with humor and enjoyment.And explained:
At one point the Op arranges "a peace conference out of which at least a dozen killings ought to grow ... pretending I was trying to clear away everybody's misunderstandings ... and played them like you'd play trout, and got just as much fun out of it ... I looked at [the police chief] and knew he hadn't a chance in a thousand of living another day because of what I had done to him, and I laughed, and felt warm and happy inside."
Fortunately for the United States, there still exist a few of the genuine article. In the 1920s, Hammett's character worked for the Continental Detective Agency. Today, he might be a contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Operations.That's the trick isn't it? The US electorate may occasionally be asked to send their sons to die for democracy or their own freedom. But what if the truly necessary acts are simply the inducement of, and thriving upon, chaos? For that it takes a cynic, and cynicism doesn't well rally the public.
Instability is his natural element. He acts unpredictably, even quirkily, to keep the other side off balance and to discover openings. The point is not so much that he despises authority, but rather that it is meaningless to give him orders. The more textbook counterinsurgency fails, the more responsibility will devolve to him. Frustrated military commanders will whisper, "Take care of this for me, and don't tell me how you did it," and let slip this particular dog of war.
All of this is a far cry from the idea pummelled into our minds for nearly four years: the absolute necessity of "a plan" for the war. Yet in a conflict ecosystem, the law of the jungle may well apply instead of the law of the operations order. Perhaps anarchy is our best friend.
November 27, 2006
Magical Realism Visits the Middle East
Students of Latin American literature will be familiar with "magical realism," a technique of writing frequently associated with Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, the Nobel-prize winning Colombian novelist. Wikipedia notes some elements of magical realism, several of which are excerpted here:
* Contains fantastical elementsIndeed, Garcia-Marquez's novels contain all of these elements. The primum inter pares of these is One Hundred Years of Solitude (which has even made it into Oprah's Book Club, though it was first published in 1970). Garcia-Marquez's masterpiece contains such passages as this:
* The fantastic elements may be intrinsically plausible but are never explained
* Characters accept rather than question the logic of the magical element . . .
* Distorts time so that it is cyclical or so that it appears absent. Another technique is to collapse time in order to create a setting in which the present repeats or resembles the past
* Inverts cause and effect, for instance a character may suffer before a tragedy occurs
* Incorporates legend or folklore
* Mirrors past against present; astral against physical planes; or characters one against another . . .
* Open-ended conclusion leaves the reader to determine whether the magical and/or the mundane rendering of the plot is more truthful or in accord with the world as it is.
"The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point."What could possibly be realistic in these passages? As Garcia-Marquez knew, it was the inherent fantastic nature of daily life in places like Columbia that made nearly anything believable so long as it was presented in a plausible way -- and if the storyteller believed it himself.
"She was in the crowd that was witnessing the sad spectacle of the man who had been turned into a snake for having disobeyed his parents."
"'What day is today?' Aureliano told him that it was Tuesday. 'I was thinking the same thing,' Jose Arcadio Buendia said, 'but suddenly I realized that it's still Monday, like yesterday. Look at the sky, look at the walls, look at the begonias. Today is Monday too.'"
"Colonel Aureliano Buendia organized thirty-two armed uprisings and he lost them all. He had seventeen male children by seventeen different women and they were exterminated one after the other on a single night before the oldest one had reached the age of thirty-five. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad."
"As soon as Jose Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a pistol shot echoed through the house. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps, and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendia house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano Jose, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ursula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread."
Such lessons are illustrated in Mark Bowden's tale of the hunt for and killing of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious cocaine smuggler in history. In Killing Pablo, Bowden describes the lunacy that results when Pablo negotiates his surrender with the Colombian police, on the condition that a special jail be built for him, at a location of his choosing, staffed with "jailors" on his payroll. The place was called La Catedral:
Not long after Pablo moved into La Catedral, the purity levels of cocaine on the streets of New York were restored and the prices dropped.
Lawyer Roberto Uribe visited him weekly and found the place growing cozier. At first the living quarters, gymnasium, and cafeteria had seemed like a real prison, but gradually the furnishing became more lavish . . . Anything could be brought in. The prison guards were no more than Pablo's employees, and the army checkpoints just waved Pablo's trucks through . . . To have plenty of cash onhand, Pablo shipped in tightly rolled American hundred-dollar bills in milk cans, which would be buried in the fog of dawn at places around the prison. Two of the cans, each containing at least $1 million, were buried under the soccer field. A bar was installed, with a lounge and a disco. For the gymnasium there was a sauna. Inmates' "cells" were actually more like hotel suites, with living rooms, small kitchens, bedrooms, and bath. Workmen began constructing small, camouflaged cabanas uphill from the main prison. This is where Pablo and the other inmates intended to hide out if La Catedral was ever bombed or invaded. In the meantime, the cabanas made excellent retreats, where the men entertained women privately . . . Food was prepared for them by chefs Pablo hired away from fine restaurants, and once the bar and disco were up and running, he hosted many parties and even wedding receptions . . .
It was not a normal prison in other ways. Pablo, for instance, did not feel obliged to actually stay. He rarely missed an important pro soccer game in Medellin . . . Pablo considered such excursions minor . . . he did after all, always come back. He had made his deal with the state and intended to honor it . . .
It is all too easy to see the similarities between the fictions penned by Garcia-Marquez, the surreal nature of negotiating with terrorists such as Pablo Escobar, and the presumptions of American political elites who believe that by engaging Iran and Syria -- thereby admitting their involvement in Iraq's chaos -- that such chaos might be ended on terms favorable to either the US or Iraq. Such dreams are the stuff of our own variety of magical realism, but rather than resulting in pleasant narrative escapes, they will result in the irrelevance of the United States, whether one means its military power, its national interests, or its once-admired revolutionary Democratic ideals.
Negotiating with Iran and Syria, whilst they hold positions of strength, is likely to be only the first of the magically realist positions that the US political class breathlessly advocates. There will be more, and the ones to follow will be even sillier. In one episode in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the entire village of Macondo succumbs to an incurable insomnia, "the most fearsome part of which," was not "the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory." Only through painstakingly going throughout the town and painting the names of objects upon them are the villagers able to remedy their memory loss.
With an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table, chair, clock, door, wall, bed, pan. He went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana. Little by little, studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use. Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory: This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee in order to make coffee and milk. Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.While everyone forgets, we can begin to label the things we encounter today in the news, hoping that the values of the letters are not forgotten: evil, enemy, tyranny, appeasement, suicide, madness. The village of Macondo was saved from its insomnia-induced memory loss when a traveling gypsy magician returned from the dead and offered an antidote. Will something similar be conjured from history to redeem us?
November 22, 2006
. . . But somebody's got to do it
Der Spiegel carries a slideshow of photos of assassinated Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayal. He is seen in turn with various members of his family, including his wife, when they were married.
The Washington Post reports the details of Gemayal's death.
Gemayel, a 34-year-old father of two and an up-and-coming politician, was killed when his car was ambushed by men from one or two cars that collided with it in the suburban neighborhood of Jdeideh. At least three gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons equipped with silencers, hitting him in the head and chest, officials said. Television footage showed the tinted driver's-side window pocked with at least eight shots and the glass on the passenger's side shattered. The silver sedan's hood was crumpled from the collision.
Doctors said Gemayel was dead when he arrived at the hospital, and his bodyguard later succumbed to his wounds.
Is this a consolidation or an overextension? Iran announces it is seeking a new set of centrifuges. Syria tells James Baker it'll help in Iraq in exchange for the Golan Heights. Iran invites Iraq and Syria to a conference. Syria and Iraq re-establish diplomatic ties. Syria offs another prominent Lebanese politician.
Are Syria and Iran overplaying their hands? Have the carefully leaked deliberations of the Iraq Study Group been so much theater, meant to force an over-reaction? Victor Davis Hanson wrote in his book The Soul of Battle that upon hearing of the German offensive that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, Patton's inclination was to let the Germans go as far west as they could, and then take his Third Army and cut off their rear, blocking their retreat.
Patton, of course, knew from his initial conversation with Bradley that he would be under orders to go north, not to continue east: "That's too daring for them. My guess is that our offensive will be called off and we will have to go up there and save their hides."
Tony Blankley, writing at RealClearPolitics, says this:
In fact, even those Americans who today can't wait to end our involvement in the "hopeless" war in Iraq will -- when the consequences of our irresponsibility becomes manifest -- join the chorus of outrage.Jules Crittenden writes that "It's a dirty job . . .
Expedient Washington politicians, take note: Your public is fickle. They may cheer your decision today to get out of Iraq but vote you out of office tomorrow when they don't like the results . . .
Iran has been our persistent enemy for 27 years -- Syria longer. They may well be glad to give us cover while we retreat, but that would merely be an exercise in slightly delayed gratification, not self-denial, let alone benignity. So long as Iran is ruled by its current radical Shi'a theocracy, she will be vigorously and violently undercutting any potentially positive, peaceful forces in the region -- and is already triggering a prolonged clash with the terrified Sunni nations. Our absence from the region will only make matters far worse.
We need to start undermining by all methods available that dangerous Iranian regime -- as the Iranian people, free to express and implement their own opinions and policies, are our greatest natural allies in the Muslim Middle East.
We have only two choices: Get out and let the ensuing Middle East firestorm enflame the wider world; or, stay and with shrewder policies and growing material strength manage and contain the danger. [emphasis added]
This is the thing about dirty jobs that need to be done. They can only be ignored or left half-done for so long . . .But will any of this happen? What prevents it from happening right now? It is not a lack of resources. It is only a perception that all is lost, held by a large part of the political class. Fortunately, they are wrong. Sadly, they don't know it.
This is why the current move to restrain the militias in Baghdad must be stepped up. This is why the calls for more troops there must be heeded. This is why the United States must pursue and destroy militias there ruthlessly and in force.
This is why these regimes need to know that their missteps will cost them, and that their own infrastructure, seats of power and persons are not immune from our threat of force as long as they abet murder, spread instability through the region, and seek weapons of mass destruction.
Belmont Club takes the pessimistic argument: The Rout Continues:
The most comical aspect of this whole rout is the way the diplomats will continue to prepare for the big meeting with Syria and Iran to broker a regional peace, something they believe "only a Superpower" can achieve. Alas, the habits of self-importance die hard. The countries are already making their own arrangements with the new victors, because those countries realize better than Barack Obama that you cannot charge a price for what you have already given away. And what will come of it all won't be peace. It will be war on a scale that will either draw America back into a larger cauldron or send it scurrying away behind whatever line of defense it thinks it has the will to hold. More than 60 years ago, Winston Churchill told the appeasers they had a choice between war and dishonor. They had chosen dishonor, and added that now they would have both war and dishonor.
If Bush lied and people died, then Pierre Gamayel is probably dead today because Nancy Pelosi told the truth last week: Bringing the war to an end is my highest priority as Speaker. James Baker didn't stage that.
November 20, 2006
I'm not asking you to ask, I'm telling you to listen
Iran judges itself the victor in the Iraq war. It is now inviting Syria and Iraq to Tehran for a conference.
Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran for a weekend summit with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to hash out ways to cooperate in curbing the runaway violence that has taken Iraq to the verge of civil war and threatens to spread through the region, four key lawmakers told The Associated Press on Monday.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has accepted the invitation and will fly to the Iranian capital Saturday, a close parliamentary associate said.
The Iranian diplomatic gambit appeared designed to upstage expected moves from Washington to include Syria and Iran in a wider regional effort to clamp off violence in Iraq, where more civilians have been killed in the first 20 days of November than in any other month since the AP began tallying the figures in April 2005.
The Iranian move was also a display of its increasingly muscular role in the Middle East, where it already has established deep influence over Syria and Lebanon.
"All three countries intend to hold a three-way summit among Iraq, Iran and Syria to discuss the security situation and the repercussions for stability of the region," said Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party and a close aide to the prime minister.
What do victors do next? They consolidate their gains. Belmont Club notes:
It was Mark Steyn who said that however evasively the Democratic party phrased it, the platform upon which they ran would be understood by its true name throughout the Middle East. George Packer, writing in the New Republic, said that now was the time to make arrangements to evacuate the thousands of Iraqis who believed in America; and that those Iraqis were even now making deals with whoever they thought would be in charge -- after the policy with the unstated name was implemented -- in order to survive.What will the conversations be like in Tehran? Hard to say, but one thing is sure: Tehran won't be asking for anything, but dictating terms instead. After the meeting, no one should be surprised at what comes next. Talabani might even change his tune as to how many US troops are needed for how long.
But the Iranians can hardly contain their glee. They know what last elections meant; and so do Iraq and Syria. There may be no need to wait for the Baker report. It is being overtaken by events.
Phase One of the "Global War on Terror" is over. It has seen two vicious regimes destroyed in the Middle East. Thousands of Al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured. A fledgling democracy grips power by its fingernails in Iraq. Iran is emboldened and is now the dominant power in the region. A new regional war looms around the periphery of Israel and another is beginning around the periphery of Somalila. Pakistan has ceded territory to the Taliban in Waziristan. The US military now has hundreds of thousands of battle-hardened veterans.
Writing in the Weekly Standard of his latest trip to Ramadi, Michael Fumento concludes thus:
People always ask how the Iraqis feel about Americans and the war in general. I respond that they just tell you what they think will prove advantageous to them, a combination of complaints and praise for Ameriki (America). Non-embedded American reporters run into the same thing. I asked one of the north Ramadi farmers through the translator if he thinks Ramadi is getting safer. He starts out with a few complaints, such as lack of water from the Euphrates for his fields because of rationing, and then tells me: "But safety is 100 percent better now that the Americans have come along." Baloney. Things got a lot more dangerous when we first came along. They may or may not be safer now than a year ago, but this guy isn't going to tell me. None of them will tell me.There are pluses and minuses. The war is not over, but the first part of it is largely ended. It might be presumptuous to end a chapter now, but the largest use of US force has been in Iraq, and that enterprise is now destined to wither away in one form or another. It's hard to know what comes next: an interlude, or Phase Two. The previous post The Golden Mean argued that those who favor attacking Iran are now largely in the wilderness. It's hard to know if there will even be a Phase Two. But for now, the last page has been turned and it will be time to wait for the sequel in whatever form it takes.
Soldiers also give different accounts of the extent of progress in Ramadi. A Cougar driver told me nothing had changed since his last deployment, yet the very fact that he was driving into Ramadi in a convoy of just four trucks indicated otherwise. Another told me Ramadi is now "a thousand times better." Ultimately each was simply another blind man feeling his part of the elephant. With my three embeds in Anbar, I'd like to believe I've felt quite a few parts of the elephant.
Depressed? No. Thinking we won't eventually win? Not at all. Just being realistic. They don't call it a "long war" for nothing.
The Golden Mean
Pundits and armcharists have struggled for months to articulate a military strategy vis a vis Iran that fits the following constraints: the nuclear program must be stopped; there can be no invasion; and if possible the regime should be removed.
Perhaps Arthur Herman has discovered the solution to this evasive strategic proof . . .
November 19, 2006
In defense of "Adaptation"
Phil Carter, a well-respected blogger and Captain in the US Army Reserves, recently returned from a year in Iraq, takes issue with my article, "Adaptation" in the Weekly Standard's Daily Standard, in which I argued that through engagement in Iraq, the US military is slowly adapting to fighting irregular warfare. Phil offers several critiques [emphasis in the original], which I'll respond to one at a time:
November 16, 2006
Two more great Iraq articles
No time to analyze at the moment, but check these out:
Reality Check II: Examining the consequences of redeployment by Fred Kagan and
Six Steps to Victory: The bottom-up plan to defeat the insurgency by Eric Eglund.
Adaptation: What the US military is learning in Iraq
I've written an article for the Weekly Standard's online edition arguing that the US military is learning in Iraq how to adapt to irregular warfare. Check it out here.
November 15, 2006
All Together Now
The Guardian reports US Plans Last Big Push in Iraq:
President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations . . .
Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers . . . The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.
Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait . . .
Point three focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state . . .
Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations will include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.
This all sounds eerily like the well-argued Weekly Standard article from earlier this week, Doubling Down in Iraq:
Consider these data: Between November 2004 and February 2005, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, the number of coalition soldiers in Iraq rose by 18,000. In that time, the number of Iraqi civilians killed fell by two-thirds, and the number of American troops wounded fell by three-fourths. The soldiers were soon pulled out; by the summer of 2005, American and Iraqi casualties rose again. Later that year, the same thing happened again. Between September and November of 2005, another 23,000 soldiers were deployed in Iraq; once again, both Iraqi and American casualties fell. In the early months of 2006, the number of soldiers fell again, and casualties spiraled up.To take one point at a time:
The picture is clear: More soldiers mean less violence, hence fewer casualties. The larger the manpower investment in the war, the smaller the war's cost, to Iraqis and Americans alike. Iraq is not an unwinnable war: Rather, as the data just cited show, it is a war we have chosen not to win. And the difference between success and failure is not 300,000 more soldiers, as some would have it. One-tenth that number would make a large difference, and has done so in the past. One-sixth would likely prove decisive.
-Sending 20,000 more troops: Ever the contrarian, just when a new Democratic congress is claiming its victory as a mandate for withdrawal, Bush is ready to throw fuel on the fire.
But why 20,000? Why not more? The answers are probably: a) force availability, and b) the desire not to become fully engaged (even though we are already decisively engaged, as far at the operational theater goes. It seems that the "all hands on deck" approach is being dismissed.
Even so, 20,000 more troops can't hurt. It may prove very helpful indeed.
-Regional cooperation: The idea that Syria or Iran will help much here is laughable. But asking Kuwait or Saudi Arabia for assistance of some sort, whether diplomatic, financial, or of an intelligence nature, could pay great dividends. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are primarily Sunni states, and it will not please them to know that the US is abandoning Iraq to be dominated by Iran, and probably for its Sunni population to be ethnically cleansed. It is in their interests to assist us -- if only for the realpolitik goal of thwarting Iran's regional ambitions.
-Reviving reconciliation: This will be the most difficult of these tasks. For the Shias and Sunnis, the last three years have seen increasing levels of vengeance and vigilantism. A shrewd effort here might pay off, but what will be done differently that we aren't already doing?
-Increased funding for a variety of goals: Hard to know what to make of this. On its face, it seems kind of undefined. But the key word in the entire phrase might be "Congress." It might merely be an attempt to get Congress to fund the war without a lot of grandstanding, in order to create a bipartisan consensus for the whole thing. Then, a rising tide will lift all boats, or in this case, political ambitions.
Perhaps the most worrisome part of the plan, at least in the Guardian's portrayal, is it's time-based essence. "One last big push" implies an end, or, in other words, a timetable. Otherwise, one last push before what?
The Guardian infers that the "what" is the US presidential election. "The "last push" strategy is also intended to give Mr Bush and the Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said."
Without a doubt, part of the "what" is in fact driven by domestic politics. But perhaps the other part is baldly enriching uranium next door . . .
Iraq The Model on the Ministry of Education kidnappings
Iraq the Model believes that Iran was behind yesterday's brazen kidnapping of dozens of Iraqi Ministry of Education employees:
The mass abduction that shocked Baghdad yesterday was intended to be a clear message from Tehran-through its surrogates in Baghdad-to anyone who thinks productive dialogue with the Islamic republic over Iraq and Middle East peace is a possible option.
The operation was a show of victory and it was so smooth and perfect that neither the MNF nor the Iraqi military could do a thing to stop it.
And today the show continues with the assassination of the colonel who's in charge of internal investigation in the department of national police, also known as the police commandos, one day after an investigation was ordered.
Perhaps choosing a ministry like the higher education (which belongs to the Sunni Accord Front) is also a warning message to Sunni politicians who are preparing to send a delegation to Washington especially that the Accord bloc announced recently that they were looking forward to "clear the misunderstanding and mistrust" between them and the US administration to search for solutions for the situation in Iraq.
November 10, 2006
DefenseTech notes that
the wonks at the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Federation of American Scientists have teamed up to make a Google Earth map of the nearly nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal.The map can be viewed on GoogleMaps here, or can be downloaded for GoogleEarth (which is itself free) here. [I prefer the GoogleEarth version, as it is less cluttered with other place names].
The satellite map - drawn from this Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists study -- "offers a fresh accounting of the extensive U.S. nuclear inventory, and its dynamic graphics let site users 'fly' onscreen across a sprawling network of military facilities in 12 states and in Europe," a press release reads.
One of the sites is the Pantex facility, outside Amarillo, TX. Robert Kaplan visited Pantex in the mid-1990s and wrote about the experience in his book An Empire Wilderness: Travels Into America's Future. He is escorted throughout the facility, and has an opportunity to interview four of the workers who disassemble nuclear weapons. Here's the Pantex facility . . .
. . . about which, Kaplan said this:
Say what you will about the logic, or illogic, of being able to destroy human civilization many times over; or about the cancer-causing radioactivity that the U.S. nuclear weapons program inflicted on its own citizens in the 1950s and after; or about other abuses that may have occurred over the decades. Still, never before in history, certainly not under any of the great bureaucratic despotisms of ancient Egypt of China, not in Aztec Mexico, not even in the vast death apparatuses of Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany, has so much destructive power been overseen so seamlessly and politely, with press tours given to any journalist who bothers to phone in advance and can prove American citizenship.
Will the United States be around as long as these weapons exist and the plutonium cores remain lethal? Even after hundreds of years, some sort of government bureaucracy will be necessary to furnish maps of their underground locations. Even if science discovers a way to remove all the radioactivity instantly, that process, too, would require rigid government oversight. Moreover, the possibility that the coming century will see the elimination of nuclear weapons is unlikely: "Nations prefer familiar uncertainties to thoroughly unfamiliar leaps in the dark," said Hard professor Stanley Hoffman. Can the city council of Amarillo or even the state of Texas be trusted to oversee Pantex? I think not. That is the conundrum. The collapse of distances and the increasing interconnectedness of the world economy argue against the permanence of Washington. The visit to Pantex made it clear to me that the future (if there is to be one) will depend on the transformation of the federal government into an as-yet-undiscovered alloy -- a far more flexible, lightweight version of itself -- so as to appear almost invisible, even as it retains the power to oversee not only nuclear weapons but, for example, ever-scarce water resources. Whether this is likely, who can say?
If Kaplan's musings are relevant to the United States, then one begins to see the smallest glimpse of the future problems that the nuclear programs of regimes such as North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran will cause us. What of nuclear storage facilities that are but a few dozen miles from Waziristan right now? What of North Korean facilities for which there is no government map or diagram?
In Iraq I once witnessed the accidental eruption of a large ammunition storage facility. It spanned acres and acres of hard, cracked dirt, with bunkers spaced here and there. Inside each one, remarkably cool given the outside temperature, were row upon row of Soviet-era munitions of all kinds: mortar and artillery shells, land mines, rockets for various purposes, ad infinitum. There were dozens of such bunkers. I had the opportunity to visit this area one day and did so. Even though on a battalion staff, I liked to go see the places where our Marine engineers would be working, so I'd know what I was talking about when they sent updates and so forth.
One morning around 9am, I was sitting at my desk doing regular stuff when the ammo point, at least two or so miles away, began to explode. As senior officers raced toward the site to check on our folks, I ran to the roof of my building to see what was happening. The entire site was going up. Even from a two-mile distance, I could feel the heat from the blasts.
After returning to the US, I realized when the IEDs started that it was sites like the one I had visited that were providing much of the materiel.
What sorts of IEDs will come out of Pakistan's ammo dumps if Musharraf's regime ever falls? Or from Yongbyon, should Kim depart the scene?
Kaplan says, "Even after hundreds of years, some sort of government bureaucracy will be necessary to furnish maps of their underground locations," and speaks of "the transformation of the federal government into an as-yet-undiscovered alloy -- a far more flexible, lightweight version of itself -- so as to appear almost invisible, even as it retains the power to oversee . . . nuclear weapons."
Yet perhaps this post itself hints at what the answer might truly be. Today, those who stumble upon the Federation of American Scientists page, or DefenseTech, or this blog, can find a GoogleMap of the locations of all American nuclear stockpiles. What might be available to such surfers in 5 years? Or 10? Is it not possible that instead of a government bureaucracy that serves as the caretaker and guardian of such knowledge, perhaps instead some other form of human organization -- something more organic, spontaneously ordered, and resilient -- will take its place?
November 9, 2006
The Thousand Fathers
A small group of officers assembled by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to draw up alternatives to the U.S. military strategy in Iraq is expected to conclude its work in December, according to defense sources. Some observers anticipate the recommendations will call for a dramatic change of course in the Persian Gulf nation and perhaps in the war on terrorism more broadly...It's the secret group to develop a backup plan in case the president doesn't like the public group's plan. Or, the secret group, being close to the top, has maybe already gotten wind of the public group's plan and decided it's awful . . .
The Joint Staff review is being carried out in extraordinary secrecy. A spokesman for Pace said this week the group has no formal name but its role is “to assess what’s working and what’s not working” in Iraq and beyond. The spokesman did not respond by press time (Nov. 8) to a number of follow-up questions posed by a reporter.
Pace’s exploration of Iraq alternatives comes as a congressionally mandated study group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), is conducting an independent review of the strategy to combat the insurgency and sectarian violence in the war-torn nation.
Some experts speculate the Marine Corps general decided to convene his own panel to develop new alternatives for Iraq in case the Baker-Hamilton “Iraq Study Group” offers recommendations the military or the Bush administration find unacceptable...
Participants include Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who until earlier this year commanded a cavalry regiment that pacified the Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Tall Afar, though violence has since returned to that town. Another team member is Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who directs an Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency school at Fort Leavenworth, KS. The Marine Corps reportedly has sent Col. Thomas Greenwood, director of the Marine Command and Staff College, and the other services are represented on the study team, as well.
The Joint Staff strategy review kicked off in late September and was originally slated to last 60 days, though it now appears work will continue into December, according to officials familiar with the group who are not authorized to speak for it...
Meanwhile, Ralph Peters mentions the "all hands on deck" concept:
One proposal under discussion within the administration is to "send everything we've got" - to deploy every possible Army and Marine unit, no matter how worn and weary, for six months to "clean things up."Now there's an option for you!
John McCain said yesterday that Moqtada Al-Sadr needs "to be taken out," and that the "Mahdi Army continues to pose a threat."
Heck, even the preacher at the Duke Chapel is getting in on the game. I was out of town one weekend and missed it, but he delivered an eloquent sermon about Iraq on October 29th to what is probably a left-leaning congregation -- and he did it on parents' weekend to boot, just for maximum effect:
A number of people have asked me to preach a sermon about Iraq. Imagine you've let yourself into someone else's home and you find yourself in the kitchen. You reach up and open a cupboard door. Out fall a deluge of tightly stacked items, crashing down on your head and tumbling all over the floor. As well as being in a lot of pain, you may well feel pretty stupid. You may be saying to yourself, "I shouldn't be in this house. I certainly shouldn't have opened the door without checking what was inside." But feeling stupid and full of shame shouldn't stop you doing the one thing you simply must do. And that is, to get on your knees, clean up after yourself, and try to put everything back in the cupboard as best you can.He was kidding. Read the whole thing.
That's pretty much all I have to say about Iraq. [laughter]
This is the golden window for not only making significant changes, but for also building bipartisan consensus, before the show trials begin in January. If the Democrats are on board with an Iraq plan, even the media will drag themselves kicking and screaming toward slightly better coverage. They know where their bread is buttered.
As to my preacher, I have my differences with his view, but I'll take it. Whatever is necessary to not abandon Iraq.
James Baker is a brilliant diplomat and should not be misunderestimated. The events in the next week will spell salvation or doom in Mesopotamia.
Nancy Pelosi has her own take, recorded for posterity on HotAir. When interviewed by Fox News, "Asked if it was more important to win or leave Iraq, presumptive Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told Fox this:"
The point is, this isn't a war to win, it's a situation to be solved. And you define winning any way you want, but you must solve the problem.
It will be a very smart move to make some major changes to our strategy in Iraq before January, when this woman becomes the Speaker. At the same time, get as much buy-in from her posse as possible.
McCain's right too: No American voters are going to be upset if al Sadr goes away. In fact, best to kill The Man With One Red Shoe now, because if we do pull out of Iraq, he'll probably be the next dictator of Shiastan.
Bob Owens notes that the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was an advisor the the first President Bush when he screwed the Shi'ites, leading to the deaths of nearly a hundred thousand of them.
The obvious question is, "Did Bob Gates have a hand in shaping Bush's call for rebellion?"
If so, would he also partially responsible for failing to support the rebellion, leading to one of Saddam's greatest genocides? I do not know the answers to these questions, but they must be asked before he is confirmed as the next U.S. Secretary of Defense.
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?"
November 2, 2006
The Man With One Red Shoe
Has Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army played a role in the presumed capture of a US Army translator? Is Sadr culpable for this, or has some other faction of his force performed this act? Confederate Yankee offers one explanation:
The fact that al-Taei (or as this article spells it "al-Taayie") did not turn up dead within the first 72 hours of his abduction, and the fact that he is believed to have been captured by the Mahdi Army instead of al Qaeda, leads me to believe that he was abducted not to become a victim of torture and murder, but to become a political pawn for one of the factions of Muqtada al-Sadr's militia.The idea that al-Sadr needs killing, and that this might be accomplished by his own forces working against him, was floated recently by Bill Roggio as well:
What remains to be seen, and what we may never know, is whether al-Taei's capture is something that al-Sadr had a hand in, or if a faction within his loosely-organized Mahdi Army Militia conducted the kidnapping independently. If al-Taei's abduction was not conducted with al-Sadr's knowledge or blessing, there is the possibility that the kidnapping is evidence of a rift between factions of the Mahdi Army.
If so (and this is purely speculation), it could be that factions within the Mahdi Army are using the kidnapping to make a run on al-Sadr's control of the militia. The kidnapping places a microscope on al-Sadr (note the renewed calls to have him killed, which stem at least in part from the kidnapping), and depending on internal Iraqi politics, could rattle his standing with both other Mahdi Army factions and with the Iraqi government, which for now, seems to be doing the bidding of al-Sadr (on that, at least, Sullivan was correct).
If al-Sadr starts to lose (more) control of the Madhi Army, his importance to and influence within the Iraqi government may wane, and the possibility that Ralph Peters may eventually get his wish, perhaps courtesy of the apparently fragmenting Mahdi Army itself.
Sadr can no longer claim these are the acts of mere 'rogue elements' of his Mahdi Army. The clashes between Mahdi Army units and Iraqi and U.S. forces are occurring on a near-daily basis, and the sectarian violence is largely driven by Mahdi fighters. Ralph Peters argues it is time for the U.S. to kill Sadr. However, this would give Sadr the status of martyr to the 'occupiers' and could create unnecessary violence. We argue this is a task best left to the Iraqis. Ideally, a 'rogue element' of the Mahdi Army would kill him (or so it would appear). This would be just desserts for Sadr's shallow attempts at obfuscating his militia's role in the fighting. And it would spawn a round of internecine fighting that would do much of the needed dirty work of dismantling the Mahdi Army.
The question of whether Sadr is behind the kidnapping, and whether his control of his forces seems to be slipping, is impossible to know. Since the invasion, Sadr has proven to be an adroit player of the Iraqi game. His continued presence after four years of other Iraqi politicians -- or leaders -- who have largely come and gone seems to testify against the idea that he has lost control over his own forces.
So then, taking that as case A, allow case B: Sadr's influence has grown to the point that he is now making use of it. The kidnapping of an American and the subsequent negotiations to maintain his release create a certain legitimacy for Sadr. Perhaps a year ago such an action would have warranted open battle with his forces; perhaps now he has struck because he knows such an outcome is unlikely, and that the Americans, coming to him with hat in hand, asking if he knows anything about a missing translator, will only buttress his own prestige within the Iraqi community.
It may be possible in the coming days to read between the lines of stories on this issue and deduce whether case A or case B is correct.
Regardless, Sadr should have been killed long ago. Many would argue that this is not necessary: only a significant defanging of his forces would have marginalized him. But this is to discount the nature of Shia Islam, which if nothing else, tends toward messianism. In other words, the big boss himself is frequently the source of strength, and not merely the forces with which he surrounds himself. See Ayatollah Khomeini.
The 1980s comedy The Man with One Red Shoe stars Dabney Coleman as a CIA officer who has been duped into thinking that Tom Hanks, a hapless violinist, is a spy. Coleman pursues Hanks left and right throughout the film, always being asked by one of his henchmen, "Sir, why don't we just kill him?" Coleman always has a better answer about how to manipulate him instead. Finally, at his wits' end, Coleman finally says, "Ok." But by then it's too late. Hanks has run off with a female spy.
Perhaps the Iraqi electorate is the female in this twisted analogy, and al-Sadr is the man with one red shoe. Sadly, I think we'll be seeing much more of him, not less.
October 26, 2006
"Welcome to the party, pal!"
A quick cycle through the headlines of the past two days provides an update on our NATO allies:
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 24, 2006
A Simple Plan
The New Media Journal carries a fictional bit of prognostication by one Raymond S. Kraft. It is the story of a surprise nuclear attack on the United States, performed with aplomb by Iran and North Korea [via Rocket's Brain Trust].
At 0723 Hawaii time on the 67th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack three old fishing trawlers, about 100 miles apart, and each about 300 miles off the east coast, launched six small cruise missiles from launch tubes that could be dismantled and stored in the holds under ice, or fish, and set up in less than an hour. The missiles were launched at precisely one minute intervals. As soon as each boat had launched its pair, the skeleton crew began to abandon ship into a fast rubber inflatable. The captain was last off, and just before going overboard started the timer on the scuttling charges. Fifteen minutes later and ten miles away, each crew was going up the nets into a small freighter or tanker of Moroccan or Liberian registry, where each man was issued new identification as ship's crew. The rubber inflatables were shot and sunk, and just about then charges in the bilges of each of the three trawlers blew the hulls out, and they sank with no one on board and no distress signals in less than two minutes.Commentary
The missiles had been built in a joint operation by North Korea and Iran, and tested in Iran, so they would not have to overfly any other country. The small nuclear warheads had only been tested deep underground. The GPS guidance and detonating systems had worked perfectly, after a few corrections. They flew fifty feet above sea level, and 500 feet above ground level on the last leg of the trip, using computers and terrain data modified from open market technology and flight directors, autopilots, adapted from commercial aviation units. They would adjust speed to arrive on target at specific times and altitudes, and detonate upon reaching the programmed GPS coordinates. They were not as adaptable and intelligent as American cruise missiles, but they did not need to be. Not for this mission.
I'm unfamiliar with Mr. Kraft's work, but here he succeeds in rapidly painting a scenario that is entirely plausible. The more interesting questions are those it merely implies.
October 17, 2006
Collapses and Coups
The world should not be surprised by a Chinese-sponsored coup in North Korea.
Consider two assumptions: first, that of all the countries surrounding North Korea, China by far possesses the most levers of influence. It shares a long border with North Korea; provides food aid and other types of logistics support to North Korea; has a treaty with North Korea, calling it a "friend"; has a shared ideological background; has cooperated on some military matters; and so forth. Not only that, but because of all of these relationships, the Chinese are in a much better position than the other neighbors to have a clear read on exactly what is going on inside the North; what the status of the military is; who in the leadership might be tired of Kim; and so forth.
The second assumption is that there are many possible futures for the crisis. These beg the question: which will be more beneficial to China, and therefore, which might China attempt to foster?
October 11, 2006
A Nuclear Leviathan in the Pacific
Westhawk argues that the biggest loser of North Korea's nuclear test is China.
China remains by far the biggest loser from North Korea’s actions. America’s security alliances with Japan and South Korea will become more important and these bonds will be strengthened. Japan, now led by the unapologetic nationalist Shinzo Abe, will scrap any remaining restraints on its military doctrine and will invest in an offensive military strike capability. Japan could also very quickly become a nuclear weapons state itself, something that could occur after further provocations.Joe Katzman argues at WindsofChange that the focus should not be on North Korea, but on China:
The truth is that North Korea is an irrelevant bit player in this whole drama. The real player here is China. They have helped North Korea at every step, and North Korea's regime cannot survive at all without their ongoing food and fuel aid. Kim Jong-Il's nuclear plans may be slightly inconvenient to the Chinese - just not not inconvenient enough to derail a strategy that still promises net plusses to those pursuing it within China's dictatorship.Both of them think that the best way to influence China, and thereby to influence North Korea, is to make it clear that Japan, South Korea, and possibly even Taiwan, will be encouraged or given tacit approval by the US to strengthen their militaries.
The U.S. and its allies in the region will be forced to bypass an ineffectual China when formulating their security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific theater. And this will result in a strengthening American-led, anti-Chinese alliance in the region. This is exactly opposite the outcome China wished to see occur.And Katzman:
In other words, China won't move unless its current strategy is seen to cost them, big-time.David Frum, former Bush speechwriter, takes a similar tack, in an article in the New York Times (here via AEI):
The biggest cost, and the only one that will be real to them in any sense, is to have Kim Jong-Il's nuclear detonation result in parallel nuclear proliferation among the nearby states China wishes to dominate/ bully. That would be a foreign policy disaster for the Chinese, and would cause the current architects of China's North Korea policy to be buried along with their policy. Which, as we noted earlier, is the only kind of policy education that works in a system like theirs.
A new approach is needed. America has three key strategic goals in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test. The first is to enhance the security of those American allies most directly threatened by North Korean nuclear weapons: Japan and South Korea.Frum offers a four part plan for dealing with the crisis and accomplishing his three steps [emphasis added]:
The second is to exact a price from North Korea for its nuclear program severe enough to frighten Iran and any other rogue regimes considering following the North Korean path.
The last is to punish China. North Korea could not have completed its bomb if China, which provides the country an immense amount of food and energy aid, had strongly opposed it. Apparently, Beijing sees some potential gain in the uncertainty that North Korea's status brings. If China can engage in such conduct cost-free, what will deter Russia from aiding the Iranian nuclear program, or Pakistan someday aiding a Saudi or Egyptian one?
Step up the development and deployment of existing missile defense systems.Commentary
[ . . . ]
End humanitarian aid to North Korea and pressure South Korea to do the same.
[ . . . ]
Invite Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to join NATO--and even invite Taiwan to send observers to NATO meetings.
[ . . . ]
Encourage Japan to renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and create its own nuclear deterrent.
What Frum proposes would most certainly punish China, but how much punishment is too much? Consider the panoply of security architectures that have comprised the US alliance system in the Pacific. The US has a security treaty with Japan. It has similar agreements with South Korea. It has guarantees, explicit and otherwise, with Taiwan. The US used to have an alliance with Australia and New Zealand called ANZUS; but New Zealand protested the stationing of nuclear weapons or nuclear ships in its ports in the 1980s, forcing the US to come to refer to New Zealand as a "friend, not an ally." The alliance with Australia on the other hand, is one of the strongest that the US maintains.
At the same time, each of these countries has dramatically differing relations with each other. Australia maintains an alliance with New Zealand. Japan has no security relationship with South Korea, though it has offered to help defend Taiwan from China. A diagram of the existing security relationships might look like the following. I've included all alliances as arrows, whereas other lesser defense partnerships are lines without arrows. All of the US relationships are included; not all of those between the other countries are:
October 9, 2006
In 2004, an article appeared in the Korea Times, quoting National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Hadley stated that the US policy toward North Korea is one of "regime transformation."
In an apparent policy turnaround, the United States will seek transformation of the North Korean regime without attempting to change or overthrow it, a top U.S. security policymaker said Tuesday.If regime transformation is the policy of the US government, it seems a strategy of "collapse brinksmanship" is the method being employed to reach it.
``If the U.S. policy is put into words, it would be `regime transformation,’’’ National Security Advisor-designate Stephen Hadley was quoted as telling South Korean parliamentary delegates visiting the U.S.
Hadley also reiterated the U.S. is firmly committed to the six-party talks aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff and has no intention of attacking North Korea, according to the lawmakers.
Rep. Park Jin, a key member of the delegation, said Hadley’s statement can be understood as a U.S. policy that would induce North Korea toward transformation through gradual economic reform without trying to collapse the current regime.
In Cold War nuclear strategy, brinkmanship was first defined by John Foster Dulles as "the ability to get to the verge without getting into the war." Wikpedia notes, "Brinkmanship is ostensibly the escalation of threats to achieve one's aims. Eventually, the threats involved might become so huge as to be unmanageable at which point both sides are likely to back down. This was the case during the Cold War, as the escalation of threats of nuclear war is mutually suicidal."
But the brinksmanship being practiced now by the US is one of collapse, not nuclear attack. The US is attempting to create conditions whereby it becomes more and more likely that North Korea will collapse. The intended audiences for this interplay are China and South Korea, who have the most to fear of a North Korean collapse. Also, whereas in nuclear brinkmanship, as Wikipedia notes, both sides usually back down to avoid suicide, the US will not suffer suicide if North Korea collapses. Sure, it might be ugly, but the US has the least to lose from such an event.
In short, the US strategy is meant to show South Korea and China just how dangerous North Korea is, to get them all to on the same page, so that the North can then be induced to negotiate away its nuclear capability. Then, as Hadley detailed, the regime can be transformed, via "gradual economic reform."
It's a bold strategy, and it might not work. But the alternatives are equally hairy. Live with a nuclear North? Begin a military confrontation? Or other combinations of either of these? None are very palatable. Collapse brinkmanship may well be the least of many evils.
Was the nuke test a hoax?
This site does not profess conspiracy theories.
But from time to time, I do attempt to perform what I've called "agressive pattern-spotting."
1. About two years ago, there were rumors of an impending North Korean nuclear test. Later, there was an enormous explosion. The explosion was later determined to have been a massive amount of conventional munitions. The North Koreans, living in such a mountainous country, are quite good at mining, tunnelling, and excavation, and large quantities of TNT and other explosives are part and parcel of those competencies. Read about this incident here, via the BBC.
2. President Bush, in his statement today about the test, said this (emphasis added):
Last night the government of North Korea proclaimed to the world that it had conducted a nuclear test. We're working to confirm North Korea's claim. Nonetheless, such a claim itself constitutes a threat to international peace and security.3. Via Drudge, Japan's Kyodo News Agency is reporting that a number of jets have been dispatched from the Japanese Air Self Defense Force to:
[ . . . ]
Threats will not lead to a brighter future for the North Korean people, nor weaken the resolve of the United States and our allies to achieve the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Today's claim by North Korea serves only to raise tensions, while depriving the North Korean people of the increased prosperity and better relations with the world offered by the implementation of the joint statement of the six-party talks.
check levels of radioactivity over the Sea of Japan and other areas following North Korea's announcement about its nuclear test.4. The scale of the explosion was small for a nuclear test. This article quotes the Korea Earthquake Research Center thus:
The agency's move to collect samples at an altitude of 10 kilometers is part of the Japanese government's efforts to step up its monitoring of the impact of the reported nuclear test.
The activity measured 3.6 on the Richter Scale, which could be caused by the explosion of the equivalent of 800 tonnes of dynamite, he said.
Based on these four things, there is a significant chance that it is still unclear whether North Korea has actually conducted a test; that our own and allied governments are working to independently confirm such; and that it is within the realm of possibility that the seismic event detected was in fact a massive conventional explosion.
I think we should await independent confirmation.
Feel free to discuss.
UPDATE: Only the Russians are claiming that the blast was larger:
Russia's defense minister said Monday that North Korea's nuclear blast was equivalent to 5,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT.
That would be far greater than the force given by South Korea's geological institute, which estimated it at just 550 tons of TNT.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a much more detailed description of the large explosion in 2004. It seems no one is really sure just what happened then.
ONE MORE UPDATE: Gratuitous Machiavellian thought of the day: if we tell them we don't believe their test was real, and they test again, how many tests before they run out of weapons? I'll turn my internal monologue back on now.
STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Suitcase nukes are supposed to be difficult to produce because, among other reasons, they only require very small amounts of radioactive material, and that material decays very rapidly. If there are any nuclear scientists reading this, by all means chime in.
MORE: Welcome Instapundit readers! He had the same Machiavellian thought. Feel free to look around. I hope you'll visit again sometime.
MORE AGAIN: There is speculation that the test was a dud. This raises an interesting totalitarian leadership question: if one has only a handful of nuclear scientists, and they are expensive to create and maintain, when a nuclear scientist fails you, how do you punish him? Moreover, if one is such a nuclear scientist, and one knows that a nuclear capability is still beyond your means, but the Dear Leader schedules a test without your foreknowledge, how do you tell him that his capabilities aren't quite what he thinks they are? Or do you just go ahead with it and hope that afterward his ire won't fall completely upon you?
LATEBREAKING UPDATE: The Washington Times' Bill Gertz is reporting that "U.S. intelligence agencies say, based on preliminary indications, that North Korea did not produce its first nuclear blast yesterday."
Still not conclusive. Gertz frequently reports things that aren't seen anywhere else. Either he has incredible access or his sources are sometimes wrong. Or both. We'll see what happens in this case.
October 5, 2006
The European Intifada Continues
The violence in northern European banlieus was much in the news a year ago this month, but has strangely dropped from view. But now the French Interior Ministry warns that an "intifada" is pressing on many fronts:
Radical Muslims in France's housing estates are waging an undeclared "intifada" against the police, with violent clashes injuring an average of 14 officers each day.How will the French contain this violence? Can they?
As the interior ministry said that nearly 2,500 officers had been wounded this year, a police union declared that its members were "in a state of civil war" with Muslims in the most depressed "banlieue" estates which are heavily populated by unemployed youths of north African origin.
It said the situation was so grave that it had asked the government to provide police with armoured cars to protect officers in the estates, which are becoming no-go zones.
The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the leading centre-Right candidate for the presidency, has sent heavily equipped units into areas with orders to regain control from drug smuggling gangs and other organised crime rings. Such aggressive raids were "disrupting the underground economy in the estates", one senior official told Le Figaro.There's been quite a bit of Ramadan violence in Belgium as well. See the posts from Brussels Journal here and here. The Journal warns that there may be another flare up this weekend, "The authorities are especially nervous since the Belgian municipal elections are being held on Sunday October 8th. It is likely that the elections will be won by anti-immigrant, “islamophobic” parties. Since ramadan will not be over on October 8th and many immigrants might perceive a victory of the indigenous right (as opposed to their own far-right) as an insult, Muslim indignation over the election results in major cities may spark serious disturbances."
However, not all officers on the ground accept that essentially secular interpretation. Michel Thoomis, the secretary general of the hardline Action Police trade union, has written to Mr Sarkozy warning of an "intifada" on the estates and demanding that officers be given armoured cars in the most dangerous areas.
He said yesterday: "We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists. This is not a question of urban violence any more, it is an intifada, with stones and Molotov cocktails. You no longer see two or three youths confronting police, you see whole tower blocks emptying into the streets to set their 'comrades' free when they are arrested."
He added: "We need armoured vehicles and water cannon. They are the only things that can disperse crowds of hundreds of people who are trying to kill police and burn their vehicles."
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.
Slow Motion Arms Race
Because of the long lead times and enormous budgets necessary for much technological development of new weapons systems, advances can often be slow, and easily overlooked. The same is true of advances by possible adversaries.
But a tiny glimpse into the competitive dynamic of US and Chinese systems is revealed in these two articles:
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 26, 2006
The Irrational Tenth
Belmont Club notes a sort of ongoing conversation taking place in many circles about the war and the size of the force necessary to best prosecute it.
At that time  there was very little appreciation of what was really required to defeat the enemy. The Democrats were arguing for police action through multilateral alliances. Or for large half-million man troop deployments in Iraq. And the Conservatives thought that major combat operations were over in Iraq. But in truth, no one was asking the right questions. As one Marine Colonel (the reference to which I can't find at the moment) argued, more men of the wrong kind would have converted Iraq into a mud-trodden disaster. John Kerry understands this, and calls for more Special Forces to be used. But where to get them?Where to get them indeed. This is the type of conversation in which someone quickly chimes in, "Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics." And they'd be right in a sense, because figuring out what kinds of forces are necessary when and where is a sort of strategic issue. Figuring out where to find them and then supplying them is more of a logistical problem, since it deals with the whole panoply of issues that entail the forming and manning of a certain kind of force. A commenter on the Small Wars Journal noted:
In the short run you have to raid tactical units for more recruiters, for drill sergeants, for instructors, etc. This means less capable deploying units. We've divested ourselves of a lot of training facilities. It will take lots of time and money to get back to the capacity we had in 1990 with a much smaller number of installations because an expanded Army has to be quartered somewhere and it has to train when not deployed.In short, institutional fear of a lack of national will hampers the ability to make a full-throated cry for increases in size.
So without some degree of political guarantee that we won't find another "Peace Dividend" there is really little to no constituency within the institutional Army to expand in anything but the most gradual way.
And this is truly the problem. New forces might be raised, new kinds of fighters might be created, but in the end without the will to use them, they come to naught. Critics can carp to no end about the lack of postwar planning in Iraq, and certainly have a point in many cases. But our national will seems too endeared with the search for a perfect plan for warfare, without acknowledging that such quests are as fruitless as perpetual motion machines. This sentiment is one of the bases of Tony Corn's wide-ranging critique of an over-reliance on Clausewitz in Policy Review:
Last but not least, the third major flaw is “strategism.” At its “best,” strategism is synonymous with “strategy for strategy’s sake,” i.e., a self-referential discourse more interested in theory-building (or is it hair-splitting?) than policy-making. Strategism would be innocuous enough were it not for the fact that, in the media and academia, “realism” today is fast becoming synonymous with “absence of memory, will, and imagination”: in that context, the self-referentiality of the strategic discourse does not exactly improve the quality of the public debate.
In making the case that there is a distinct Western military tradition dating back to the Greeks, Victor Hanson argued in The Wars of the Ancient Greeks that one such instance is "the ubiquity of literary, religious, political and artistic groups who freely demanded justification and explication of war, and thus often questioned and occasionally arrested the unwise application of military force."
Fair enough. But Corn seems to think that we have gone too far, that our conversations are "strategy for strategy's sake." Indeed, I know a different aphorism, often mentioned by field-grade logisticians with whom I served: "amateurs talk logistics, professionals talk pornography."
What this is meant to express, however earthily, is the idea that it is a sort of raw, fighting spirit which is the essence of war, and given that, all else will fall into place with merely mediocre planning. Leadership, persistence, manipulation, sheer force of will -- these are the missing elements.
T.E. Lawrence knew this. "Nine-tenths of tactics are certain and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals. It can only be ensured by instinct, sharpened by thought practicing the stroke so often that at the crisis it is as natural as a reflex."
Belmont Club finishes,
In the end, the single best . . . response to the attack on September 11 was simply to do something, a policy which seems to me infinitely better than doing nothing, if only because action led to learning and that was superior to sitting back and imagining that we had the answers.Yes, the irrational tenth is probably only to be discovered in combat.
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.
David Frum and Containment
David Frum, former speechwriter for the Bush Administration, has made an argument in two separate places that the Bush team is not preparing at all to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, and is instead "acquiescing" to their desires.
Frum first made the case last week in his blog at National Review:
1) Any prudent war planner has to assume that the rulers of Iran will strike back . . .Then he seconded these emotions with a piece in Canada's National Post (via AEI), arguing that the Bush Administration is preparing for a campaign of containment against Iran:
2) Despite the accusations of America's critics, the United States does not bomb other countries out of a clear blue sky . . .
3) Nor has there been diplomacy outside the UN . . .
4) Finally, through Washington there echoes the hushed sound of back doors being opened to quiet negotiations . . .
Iran is going nuclear. Sanctions will not be imposed. The U.S. hesitates to strike. And the Bush administration's new big idea will not work. Brace yourselves.
In his post at NRO, Frum mentions that perhaps the real goal is a deal. If this is true, then the Bush administration can't be faulted for its pursuit, no matter how unlikely it seems. For while there is a certain clamoring in the right for action against Iran, there is at the same time little substantive discussion of the fact that such action will be the beginning of what could be a very large war, and while justified and perhaps necessary, it will not be clean and simple by any means. If a favorable outcome -- a non-nuclear Iran -- can be obtained without the use of force, then by all means, let's do it.
But if not, then we are in for a very interesting next few years, as a nuclear Iran is a prospect no sane and serious individual should be willing to entertain lightly.
What might a policy of "containment" look like vs Iran? A glimpse was perhaps provided earlier this year in an article in the Times of London on the Proliferation Security Initiative:
A PROGRAMME of covert action against nuclear and missile traffic to North Korea and Iran is to be intensified after last week’s missile tests by the North Korean regime.From the perspective painted here, the Proliferation Security Initiative seems to be two things: both a good picture of what "containment" against another rogue nuclear power resembles, and a race against the clock to make sure that it does not sell or pass nuclear material to other states or non-states.
Intelligence agencies, navies and air forces from at least 13 nations are quietly co-operating in a “secret war” against Pyongyang and Tehran.
It has so far involved interceptions of North Korean ships at sea, US agents prowling the waterfronts in Taiwan, multinational naval and air surveillance missions out of Singapore, investigators poring over the books of dubious banks in the former Portuguese colony of Macau and a fleet of planes and ships eavesdropping on the “hermit kingdom” in the waters north of Japan . . .
The United States and its allies are now preoccupied by what Kim might do with the trump card in his arsenal — his stockpile of plutonium for nuclear bombs.
“The real danger is that the North Koreans could sell their plutonium to another rogue state — read Iran — or to terrorists,” said a western diplomat who has served in Pyongyang. American officials fear Iran is negotiating to buy plutonium from North Korea in a move that would confound the international effort to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.
The prospect of such a sale is “the next big thing”, said a western diplomat involved with the issue. The White House commissioned an intelligence study on the risk last December but drew no firm conclusions.
Iran is a much larger and more powerful entity than North Korea, and more strategically located to boot. If the picture above is an accurate portrayal of a containment strategy, one must ask how much more difficult such a strategy would be if aimed at Iran.
Furthermore, one must not be too hasty in comparing such strategies to those used against the Soviet Union. A central part of that doctrine, as we all know, was mutually-assured destruction. Attack us and we will destroy you, though we may well be destroyed in the process, to paraphrase.
Is it possible some new doctrine of offensive use of nuclear weapons might apply to situations in which states are likely to sell nuclear materials or pass them to proxies? How might such a doctrine be formulated? If containment is truly to be the policy of the US, then it should have such a strict expression of offensive capability as one of its key platforms.
Such are the dilemmas we'll be facing if Iran becomes a nuclear power.
September 15, 2006
Interesting New Contracts at Intrade
In the past few days, the online prediction market Intrade has doubled its number of contracts for both US or Israeli strikes against Iran and for the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. The actual contracts can't be pointed to, so you'll have to go there and poke around a bit to find them.
This probably reflects a desire on the part of the Intrade folks to keep on top of these events, rather than any unusual movements in those markets.
September 12, 2006
From Every Mountainside
Tom Ricks’ book FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq has been climbing the charts of late. Ricks lists the work Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula as being very important to understanding the fight in Iraq today. Galula was a French officer who served in Greece, Algeria, and China, and observed various different insurgencies firsthand. His work is peppered with colorful anecdotes such as the things he learned after being captured by the Chinese Communists. Nevertheless, it very much attempts to develop a theory of counterinsurgency warfare that is extremely relevant today, despite the differences between Communist fighters and those of the Islamic ilk.
Galula believed that the population must be divided into three groups, the favorable minority, who will always favor the side of the counterinsurgent, the insurgent minority, those who are the actual fighters and organizers for the insurgency, and the rest of the population, which lives between the two sides, and can be swayed in either direction. He further made the point that insurgencies are always motivated by a cause, and that counterinsurgencies must have a cause as well if they are to succeed:
The strategic problem of the counterinsurgent may be defined now as follows: “To find the favorable minority, to organize it in order to mobilize the population against the insurgent minority.” Every operation, whether in the military field of in the political, social, economic, and psychological fields, must be geared to that end.
To be sure, the better the cause and the situation, the larger will be the active minority favorable to the counterinsurgent and the easier its task. This truism dictates the main goal of the propaganda – to show that the cause the situation of the counterinsurgent are better than the insurgent’s. More important [sic], it underlines the necessity for the counterinsurgent to come out with an acceptable countercause.
All of this struck me very forcefully last week while attending the 5th Annual Defense Forum in Washington, DC, and hearing Tom Ricks give the keynote address. Ricks told the story of Army Colonel H.R. McMaster’s method of addressing the sheiks and imams in his area of operations upon arrival in Iraq in 2005. “McMaster told the Iraqis that when the American military first invaded Iraq, they were like men stumbling around furniture in a dark room. Now, the Iraqi government has turned on the lights for us, and the time for honorable resistance has ended.”
Ricks stated that this level of courtesy, used by McMaster even while implicitly threatening those who opposed him, is both necessary and extremely effective in the Arab world because the core value of that society is honor, or dignity, or respect. Ricks believes that when “Americans speak to the Iraqis about freedom, something is lost in translation.”
To use Galula’s terminology and theory, an independent observer must conclude that democracy is the “countercause” that the US seeks to advocate in the Middle East. But to use Ricks’ anecdote of Colonel McMaster, perhaps this is not the strongest or most effective countercause we might be using. Instead, perhaps we could link the honor that is so important to Arabs to what we define as freedom. Or perhaps we might attempt to dissociate jihad – especially the suicidal variant – from those actions which are perceived to be honorable.
These are tall orders but certainly possible for what has already been called a “long war.” Surely we are up to the task.
September 7, 2006
Dispatches from the Defense Forum
The Defense Forum of 2006 was an outstanding event and I'd like to thank the US Naval Institute and Marine Corps Association for making it possible for me to attend.
If any Loyal Readers are interested, here are the pieces I wrote from the conference for Pajamas Media:
First Dispatch: about the remarks of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Giambastiani.
Second Dispatch: about a panel on the progress of the Long War.
The Third Dispatch discusses both the remarks of Tom Ricks, and a panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The final dispatch recounts the final panel, about lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's lots of good stuff in there!
September 4, 2006
Defense Forum Washington 2006
Tomorrow (Tuesday the 5th), I'll be attending the Defense Forum in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Marine Corps Association and the US Naval Institute, two outstanding professional organizations for the Naval services.
While there, I'll be sending email dispatches throughout the day to Pajamas Media, so look for updates on their homepage.
The schedule of events looks really interesting and I'm especially looking forward to the panels entitled "The Long War: Where Are We Now?" and "Fighting on the Terrorists’ Turf: Lessons Learned in Iraq & Afghanistan and the Gap Between Expectations and Realities".
If there's a chance during the panel discussions, I'll be sure to ask a question or two from the back of the room. If any readers have questions you'd like me to try to address, please send them on to my email account, listed in the sidebar to the right.
I'll be attempting to file my dispatches while using my Motorola RAZR phone in a modem capacity for my laptop. There's a backup if it doesn't work, but it will be pretty cool if it does!
August 31, 2006
Energy Followup Post
So there was quite a bit of great discussion in the two threads on Energy Independence in the last couple of weeks. (See here and here.) Two more thoughts. First, frequent commenter "Papa Ray" sent me this link: China nomads on energy's cutting edge, which is quite an interesting story. Frequent readers may know that I have a burning desire to go to Mongolia one day (at least I think I've mentioned that before). I've often wondered if the nomads there would do well with some sort of rugged electrical production system. Maybe something like this: SkyBuilt Power.
And also, a Loyal Reader sent this comment:
Let's get a little creative in our quest to reduce our consumption of
imported petroleum. Use tactics that cost little or nothing.
If every job that could be accomplished by telecommuting were to be
for 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 days a week, we'd reduce our consumption
overnight. A distributed workforce is a good thing, in wartime and
For those who can't telecommute, how about changing the workweek? Four
10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days would reduce consumption by up
Road tolls can be increased without taxing gas, increasing car-pooling.
Right turn-on-red, smart traffic signals, enforcement of pedestrian
scofflaws and a myriad other options, in combination could reduce
consumption immediately, by more than 25%, with very small impact on
No Manhattan Project (i.e., huge waste of taxpayers' funds) necessary.
Change the rules of the game.
Any thoughts, readers?
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!
August 18, 2006
Discussion: Energy Independence Part Two
Those readers who have been participating in the conversation below on Energy Independence could do no worse than to click on the ad in the sidebar for Ford and see what they're up to. (Or just go here).
My take is that Ford reads the marketplace and understands that there is a widespread demand for vehicles using a different form of energy. That demand may be due to environmental concerns, national security concerns, or economic independence concerns. It doesn't matter. Ford wants to fill that demand. I think they should be commended on an innovative ad campaign too (and no, I don't get revenue per click for Blogads, so I'm not juicing my own bottomlilne here).
All of this reinforces my earlier belief that a sense of legislative forbearance is what is most desperately needed, not some new government program akin to putting a man on the moon. If there are regulatory obstacles to projects like that of Ford, then by all means, let them be removed. But otherwise, let the market sort it out. In the end, the result will be more efficient and achieved faster than any comparable large-scale titanic government effort.
August 15, 2006
TCSDaily Article: Unfrozen Caveman Voter
I've written another piece for TCSDaily entitled, "Unfrozen Caveman Voter." Go check it out and ask yourself: are you part of the caveman demographic?
Discussion Topic: Energy Independence
One of the frequent strategies espoused for the war is that of pursuing independence from the importation of vast sums of foreign oil.
It seems there are many competing agendas among those who favor this move. Many want to end the dependence on fossil fuels in general. That may be well and good, but it doth not make an immediate foreign policy or strategy for war.
Also, many who advocate increasing the use of alternative energy see no way for this to happen but for the government to invest massive sums in such technologies. It seems to me that any sector of the economy in which the government is heavily invested, whether monetarily, from an attention-standpoint, or via regulations, is likely to be inefficient and screwy. Consider public education, health care, pensions, and defense (hey the military is filled with motivated individuals, but it is after all a bureaucracy and as such, filled with nonsense). In other words, it's hard to see how a massive government program to rid our dependence on oil would really serve any immediate strategic aims. I rather think that the government should abolish the energy department altogether and then if there are market alternatives to imported oil, those will begin to shine.
The other agenda for many who insist on an end to imported foreign oil is an old-school isolationism. Rid the US economy of the necessity to have anything to do with oil exporters, and then we can just fence the Middle East in and let them kill each other off. But it seems to me that those who are angry with us now will be no less angry with us if we are more isolated from the world.
Any thoughts? Please discuss.
July 31, 2006
Kissinger on Iran
Henry Kissinger's op-ed in today's Washington Post requires careful examination.
Let's take a close reading of The Next Steps With Iran:
The world's attention is focused on the fighting in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, but the context leads inevitably back to Iran. Unfortunately, the diplomacy dealing with that issue is constantly outstripped by events. While explosives are raining on Lebanese and Israeli towns and Israel reclaims portions of Gaza, the proposal to Iran in May by the so-called Six (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) for negotiations on its nuclear weapons program still awaits an answer. It's possible that Tehran reads the almost pleading tone of some communications addressed to it as a sign of weakness and irresolution. Or perhaps the violence in Lebanon has produced second thoughts among the mullahs about the risks of courting and triggering crisis.Unless Israel resumes its offensive against Hezbollah, the mullahs have little reason for second thoughts about provoking conflict because the war will have finished in Hezbollah's favor. Hezbollah's centers of gravity are either its support from Iran and Syria, or its masterful use of the international media to rally world opinion against Israel. Whichever it is, if it's not both, the Israelis have yet to find a critical vulnerability to attack either of those two strengths. Attriting Hez forces buys time for a little peace in the future, but it does not solve any problems in the long term. It looks as though Israel is going to widen its ground offensive. We'll see what happens next . . .
However the tea leaves are read, the current Near Eastern upheaval could become a turning point. Iran may come to appreciate the law of unintended consequences.Is this a reference to a defeat for Hezbollah? Perhaps.
For their part, the Six can no longer avoid dealing with the twin challenges that Iran poses. On the one hand, the quest for nuclear weapons represents Iran's reach for modernity via the power symbol of the modern state; at the same time, this claim is put forward by a fervent kind of religious extremism that has kept the Muslim Middle East unmodernized for centuries. This conundrum can be solved without conflict only if Iran adopts a modernism consistent with international order and a view of Islam compatible with peaceful coexistence.Thank goodness Kissinger doesn't say the only other way the conundrum can be solved without conflict: for the world to just accept a nuclear Iran. Finally, someone sane in the diplomatic community!
Heretofore the Six have been vague about their response to an Iranian refusal to negotiate, except for unspecific threats of sanctions through the United Nations Security Council. But if a deadlock between strained forbearance by the Six and taunting invective from the Iranian president leads to de facto acquiescence in the Iranian nuclear program, prospects for multilateral international order will dim everywhere. If the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are unable jointly to achieve goals to which they have publicly committed themselves, every country, especially those composing the Six, will face growing threats, be they increased domestic pressure from radical Islamic groups, terrorist acts or the nearly inevitable conflagrations sparked by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.This is the gut check for the world. As much as an encouragement of iran's nuclear ambitions by other states may serve to promote their interests in checking US power, ultimately, if Iran proliferates, then the international system will be broken, perhaps beyond repair. And the United Nations will become even more of a laughingstock than it is now. Previous posts have discussed the issue of Iranian proliferation from the standpoint of stability in the international system (here and here). Iran may well be the tipping point in nuclear proliferation in the world. Not only would the likelihood of further proliferation by Egypt, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia be increased dramatically, but the case of Iran is unique in that the series of events comprising Iranian proliferation offer a direct challenge to the UN and the system of nonproliferation. Whereas Pakistan and India pursued their programs clandestinely, and successfully so, and Israel is still technically an undeclared nuclear power, Iran's cover was blown in 2003 by an opposition group, thus creating a clear case where the nonproliferation regime must be tested in its ability to dissuade a state from aquiring nuclear weapons. Iraq may have involved horrendous lapses in intelligence, but one thing is certain for the moment: Iraq currently has no nuclear weapons or programs to produce them. If the international security system cannot deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, then its credibility will be completely destroyed, and its legitimacy nil. Kissinger is right: world order will decrease, conflicts will multiply, and what he doesn't explicitly say will also be proved true: the chances of a nuclear exchange or a nuclear crisis will increase dramatically as well. These are not conditions that will appear overnight, but over an intermediate period. The morning after an Iranian weapons test will not mark the end of the current system of international security, but it will mark the beginning of the end. Kissinger next offers a quick primer in Diplomacy 101:
The analogy of such a disaster is not Munich, when the democracies yielded the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but the response when Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. At Munich, the democracies thought that Hitler's demands were essentially justified by the principle of self-determination; they were repelled mostly by his methods. In the Abyssinian crisis, the nature of the challenge was uncontested. By a vast majority, the League of Nations voted to treat the Italian adventure as aggression and to impose sanctions. But they recoiled before the consequences of their insight and rejected an oil embargo, which Italy would have been unable to overcome. The league never recovered from that debacle. If the six-nation forums dealing with Iran and North Korea suffer comparable failures, the consequence will be a world of unchecked proliferation, not controlled by either governing principles or functioning institutions.
Diplomacy never operates in a vacuum. It persuades not by the eloquence of its practitioners but by assembling a balance of incentives and risks. Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means defines both the challenge and the limits of diplomacy. War can impose submission; diplomacy needs to evoke consensus. Military success enables the victor in war to prescribe, at least for an interim period. Diplomatic success occurs when the principal parties are substantially satisfied; it creates -- or should strive to create -- common purposes, at least regarding the subject matter of the negotiation; otherwise no agreement lasts very long. The risk of war lies in exceeding objective limits; the bane of diplomacy is to substitute process for purpose. Diplomacy should not be confused with glibness. It is not an oratorical but a conceptual exercise. When it postures for domestic audiences, radical challenges are encouraged rather than overcome.The popular methods of portraying diplomacy include its being on the opposite end of a one-dimensional axis that includes military action on its far end, and of characterizing diplomatic initiatives as merely talk and not action. Such a view is unconstructive. Diplomacy is dealmaking, pure and simple. The tragedy perhaps is that so much of our recent dealmaking has seemed much more like concession-making alone. As Kissinger mentions, diplomacy is not rhetoric; the other side of the negotiating table will not be swayed by the eloquence of domestic speeches. Kissinger next spends two paragraphs comparing the current situation with that of the US and China in the 1970s. He concludes that they are dramatically different:
The challenge of the Iranian negotiation is far more complex. For two years before the opening to China, the two sides had engaged in subtle, reciprocal, symbolic and diplomatic actions to convey their intentions. In the process, they had tacitly achieved a parallel understanding of the international situation, and China opted for seeking to live in a cooperative world.Kissinger sees a window of opportunity for diplomatic action and it looks something like this: allow Israel to teach Hezbollah a significant lesson; quickly come to consensus among the Six; use the Israeli action to encourage realism among the Iranians, an attitude that would abandon their messianic religious idealism heretofore displayed in favor of seeking a deal. It's a tall order and my guess is the window won't be open long.
Nothing like that has occurred between Iran and the United States. There is not even an approximation of a comparable world view. Iran has reacted to the American offer to enter negotiations with taunts, and has inflamed tensions in the region. Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks -- or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability. The crisis in Lebanon could mark a watershed if it confers a sense of urgency to the diplomacy of the Six and a note of realism to the attitudes in Tehran. [emphasis added]
Up to now Iran has been playing for time. The mullahs apparently seek to accumulate as much nuclear capability as possible so that, even were they to suspend enrichment, they would be in a position to use the threat of resuming their weapons effort as a means to enhance their clout in the region.Kissinger sees comprehensive sanctions as a necessity, and soon. And he encourages a process among the Six that will not necessitate 100% agreement or long pauses.
Given the pace of technology, patience can easily turn into evasion. The Six will have to decide how serious they will be in insisting on their convictions. Specifically, the Six will have to be prepared to act decisively before the process of technology makes the objective of stopping uranium enrichment irrelevant. Well before that point is reached, sanctions will have to be agreed on. To be effective, they must be comprehensive; halfhearted, symbolic measures combine the disadvantage of every course of action. Interallied consultations must avoid the hesitation that the League of Nations conveyed over Abyssinia. We must learn from the North Korean negotiations not to engage in a process involving long pauses to settle disagreements within the administration and within the negotiating group, while the other side adds to its nuclear potential. There is equal need, on the part of America's partners, for decisions permitting them to pursue a parallel course.
A suspension of enrichment of uranium should not be the end of the process. A next step should be the elaboration of a global system of nuclear enrichment to take place in designated centers around the world under international control -- as proposed for Iran by Russia. This would ease implications of discrimination against Iran and establish a pattern for the development of nuclear energy without a crisis with each entrant into the nuclear field.This seems like a fantastic idea if it can be accomplished in a verifiably safe fashion.
President Bush has announced America's willingness to participate in the discussions of the Six with Iran to prevent emergence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. But it will not be possible to draw a line between nuclear negotiations and a comprehensive review of Iran's overall relations to the rest of the world.This is a point that many other commentators have made: while Iran's nuclear program is our paramount concern, there are a number of other issues that need addressing, any one of which would be bad enough on its own.
The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America -- and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six -- is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.
At the same time, an Iran concentrating on the development of the talents of its people and the resources of its country should have nothing to fear from the United States. Hard as it is to imagine that Iran, under its present president, will participate in an effort that would require it to abandon its terrorist activities or its support for such instruments as Hezbollah, the recognition of this fact should emerge from the process of negotiation rather than being the basis for a refusal to negotiate. Such an approach would imply the redefinition of the objective of regime change, providing an opportunity for a genuine change in direction by Iran, whoever is in power.A good point: give the Iranians enough rope to hang themselves, then say diplomacy won't work. Don't just assume it won't. He may be referring to direct negotiations here.
It is important to express such a policy in precise objectives capable of transparent verification. A geopolitical dialogue is not a substitute for an early solution of the nuclear enrichment crisis. That must be addressed separately, rapidly and firmly. But a great deal depends on whether a strong stand on that issue is understood as the first step in the broader invitation to Iran to return to the wider world.Another good point: a policy of improving relations with the world should have identifiable and verfiable objectives.
In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program. For that reason, America has an obligation to explore every honorable alternative.This final statement is where Kissinger shows he understands the game better than most of the denizens of Foggy Bottom ever will: "vindicating" US efforts implies efforts that have failed. And it refers to the use of force. Kissinger understands all too well the big stick that must be carried by the soft-spoken.
Altogether an excellent piece. Given the hyperbolic nature of the coverage of Israel's war with Hezbollah, Iran's nuke program has fallen by the wayside. Kissinger's piece could not have come at a better time. In summary: Iran is the real problem; the clock is ticking quickly; there's an opportunity; get after it. Wise words from an old man.
July 28, 2006
Discussion Topic: The Future of Iraq
The US is shifting forces around Iraq and the region in order to bolster security in Baghdad. Around 6,000 Iraqis have killed each other in June and July.
Can the US slow the pace of sectarian violence long enough for professional native security organizations to grow?
If the answer is no, then what should US policy be?
If the central government dissolves and the country splits, what should US policy be?
Let me argue first, that the US will be able to staunch the violence to bring the sectarian killings to a lower-level and prevent an open civil war. That the answer to number 2 is to go after the Mahdi Army and al Sadr. And the answer to number three, I'm not sure about, but absolutely certain that complete withdrawal would be the poorest of options because we would have less influence on the outcome of the dissolution.
July 27, 2006
The Hamdan Decision and the Privatization of War
July 24, 2006
Gates of Vienna Symposium: After Hezbollah
Gates of Vienna is conducting a symposium as to what might be the end-state of the current war between Israel and Hezbollah. The assumption is the destruction, or severe defeat of Hezbollah. And then . . .
What happens next? What will the Middle East look like after Hizbullah?Attempts at prediction are a staple here at The Adventures of Chester. So far, previous posts have asked, "Will Israel be given the time it needs to reduce Hezbollah?" and "Will Israel widen the war to include Syria?" and those posts have answered Yes and No, respectively, in so many words.
What happens to Syria? What does Syria have besides Hizbullah? It’s got some of Saddam’s old WMDs, a lot of sand, and presumably some olive trees and date palms. But on a “Principal Products” map of the Middle East, Syria’s main product icon would be a little picture of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Take that away, and what does Syria do to hold its head up in the honor-sensitive Arab world?
What happens to Iran? How do they respond to having their best boy whipped? How will they bring their influence to bear in the Maghreb after Hizbullah is gone? Will they drop Boy Assad as an ally once he has outlived his Hizbullah-related usefulness? How will it affect their nuclear efforts?
But the "After Hezbollah?" question is more difficult. Allow a guess:
Hezbollah is militarily defeated some weeks hence, but before then, some other event occurs that serves to keep the region in a period of flux. This period of flux will continue until one of two outcomes is sustained: the US and its allies find themselves involved in an overt war with Iran, or Iran becomes a declared nuclear power. The events that contribute to the period of flux could be friendly actions, such as new initiatives in Iraq or diplomatic initiatives in the Levant; or Iranian actions, such as a new intifada-like campaign in Iraq, or the attempted closing of the Straits of Hormuz, or the testing of a ballistic missile.
In other words, Israel has the opportunity to achieve an operational victory over Hezbollah and destory it; but by the time that is accomplished, the overall regional strategic picture will not have changed enough to allow such a victory to congeal long enough to create a status quo that can be characterized as "post-Hezbollah." Something else will happen. The victory, though a real one, and a meaningful one, will not be as meaningful as it otherwise might be until the problem of Iran's nuclear program is settled one way or another.
This assumes an Israeli victory of course, and the capabilities within its military to produce one.
July 23, 2006
Discussion Topic: Splitting Syria From Iran, Hez
The AP reports that a major diplomatic task is being undertaken: an attempt to split Syria from its support of Hezbollah, and presumably, from its alliance with Iran, is underway:
With Israel and the United States saying a real cease-fire is not possible until Hezbollah is reined in, Arab heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia were pushing Syria to end its support for the guerrillas, Arab diplomats in Cairo said.Let's all discuss. My stream-of-consciousness thoughts:
A loss of Syria's support would deeply weaken Hezbollah, though its other ally,
Iran, gives it a large part of its money and weapons. The two moderate Arab governments were prepared to spend heavily from Egypt's political capital in the region and Saudi Arabia's vast financial reserves to break Damascus from the guerrillas and Iran, the diplomats said.
Syria said it will press for a cease-fire to end the fighting — but only in the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative that would include the return of the Golan Heights. Israel was unlikely to accept such terms but it was the first indication of Syria's willingness to be involved in efforts to defuse the crisis.
-Do the major Arab powers have the wherewithal, whether politcal capital or financial resources, to sway Syria from its support of Hezbollah by themselves? How is such an agreement enforceable?
Seems that if they can pull it off by themselves that would be a serious accomplishment for the US because it would mean no concessions on our part in negotiations. Even with US support in the background, for example, pressuring Israel to do or not do certain things as good-faith measures, it would still be a significant move forward.
-Can the Arab powers appeal to Assad's regime as Arabs? Does that appeal carry more water than the amity he feels with Iran since his ruling caste is Shia?
-If the US enters these negotiations, what will be on the table? The US has had many differences with Syria in the past three years: the harboring of Saddam's lieutenants, the support for the insurgency, the assassination of Hariri and lack of cooperation with the resulting investigation . . . what is the US prepared to offer Syria to entice it away from Iran's umbrella? Is there a Libya-like deal there to be made? Can Qaddafi come in and do a bit of "witnessing" as it were?
-Is it possible to corral Syria away from Iran's influence while not affecting its innate hostility to Israel? My guess is yes, but only if the Arabs make the deal among themselves.
-If Syria drops its support for Hezbollah, would that serve to sunder its security relationship with Iran? What does Iran gain from being "allied" with Syria if Syria no longer supports Hezbollah?
All of this seems like reading a good mafia novel with competing crime families. Assad is weak and inexperienced. Everyone sees him as the weakest link. Does he know it? Is he trying to figure out who is the best candidate to be his protector? Whose wrath will he fear more? Iran or the US?
-Aside from political capital and financial resources, what levers can the Egyptians, Jordanians and Saudis pull to put pressure on the House of Assad?
What do all of you Loyal Readers think?
MORE: I just saw Tigerhawk's post on this same topic and he makes some of the same points I do. So go there for more discussion and his thoughts.
July 20, 2006
Just what has the Ghana Battalion been up to?
Pajamas Media's editor in Sydney, Australia (aka the author of The Belmont Club, Richard Fernandez), has posted a link to a map showing the disposition of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL), as of July, 2006. Richard makes the case on his own blog that the site of much of the recent fighting is in the area of operations of the Ghana Battalion of the UNIFL.
I have no problem with Ghana. A friend once did a study abroad there and spoke highly of it. But doesn't one wonder: what have the Ghanan troops and other members of the UNIFL been doing when Hezbollah yokels up and launch a rocket across the border? Any attempts to chase them down? Fight them? Arrest them?
In fact, what's the UNIFL doing right now?
Let me make an assumption that the answer is, "very little." Jed Babbin recently recollected his own experience in this regard:
The UN's years-long record on the Israel-Lebanon border makes mockery of the term "peacekeeping." On page 155 of my book, "Inside the Asylum," is a picture of a UN outpost on that border. The UN flag and the Hizballah flag fly side-by-side. Observers told me the UN and Hizballah personnel share water, telephones and that the UN presence serves as a shield against Israeli strikes against the terrorists.Here we have an answer to the questions implied in a previous post:
The next step will be: how to ensure that no terrorist force metastasizes on Israel's border once again? Or really, how to ensure that no terrorist force can threaten Israel from the north? A buffer zone isn't really helpful if Hezbollah or anyone else can just get longer-range missiles and use them from Northern Lebanon. Instead, one of two things has to happen:If Babbin's account of the actions of UNIFL can be trusted, then the answer to the problem of proxy war and Lebanese sovereignty is rather different than the actions necessary to end the conflict. Instead, the presence of UNIFL actually legitimizes an area of non-state lawlessness, when the goal should be to somehow reduce it.
a) someone responsible has to control Lebanon's borders. It could be the Israelis, though they won't want to; the Lebanese though they'll be questionble in their effectiveness; or the "international community" which probably means the US (though perhaps the French would help, given that they used to own Lebanon).
b) Lebanon's borders must be redrawn and the Beka'a declared an international DMZ of some sort. This is extremely unlikely.
The reason for the necessity of one of these options is because the international system should have no desire for a conflict like the current one to happen again. The only way this is possible is if the next time a terrorist organization supported by Syria launches attacks at Israel, it does so from within Syria. This will then clarify thngs for the rest of the world. Borders, which are among the most sacrosanct of the current system's rules, will have been violated, and that makes consequences easier.
It is hard to see how any United Nations force will be able to offer a solution that is favorable to either of the two states involved, Lebanon and Israel, and unfavorable to the non-state terrorist group, Hezbollah. And shouldn't the reduction of non-state terror organizations be in the interest of the international system?
One is truly left to wonder whether the actual goal is inspried more by anti-Semitism or a desire to frustrate the United States.
No, more likely is the explanation offered by Bruce Bawer in While Europe Slept as to why Europe is so tolerant of the extreme Islam growing in its midst. One of his arguments is that Europe and America learned fundamentally different lessons from WWII: The US learned not to give in to tyranny, even if war is necessary. Europe learned to avoid war at all costs, even if putting up with a bit of tyranny is required.
This is not so different from Robert Kagan's seminal essay of a few years back, Power and Weakness, in which he notes a similar problem:
It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory — the product of one American election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.The UN is a vehicle for the expression of the European attitude to power as described by Kagan, and to war as described by Bawer. And this is why the Ghanans et al. have not stopped Hezbollah's attacks on Israel: Stabiliy, ceasefires, and peacekeeping are preferable to a decisive end to conflicts, because decision requires violence. Europeans are from Venus.
July 19, 2006
Game, Set, Match: Hezbollah's Demise Has Been Decided
UPDATE FOLLOWS BELOW
My spider senses tell me that the US has decided to give Israel a goodly amount of time to destroy Hezbollah. NPR's All Things Considered today interviewed US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns. Since the resignation of Robert Zoellick, a few weeks ago, Burns is the number two man at State. He's always interesting to observe and is one of the heavy hitters behind US policy. Consider: [emphases added, and let me also state for the record for the NPR folks that I duly paid $3.95 for this transcript, rather than listening with realaudio and copying myself]:
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Secretary of State Rice said today that there should be a cease-fire in Lebanon as soon as possible when conditions are conducive. Does that mean after Israel is satisfied that is has sufficiently disabled Hezbollah?The US is creating a diplomatic dilemma for Hezbollah: in order to stop the Israeli offensive, Hezbollah will have to take actions that inherently admit defeat and discredit it. Returning the Israeli soldiers and removing itself from the south might leave the Arab street sufficiently riled up, but these actions will be strategic disasters. And that's not to even mention the attrition their forces will have suffered at whatever point the fighting stops.
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, I think it means that the conditions have to be appropriate for a ceasefire to be effective. What all the leader in St. Petersburg said over the weekend - the G-8 countries and that - is that it’s very important that we go to the heart of the problem. And the heart of the problem is that Hezbollah - in deciding to abduct the Israeli soldiers and in deciding to now inflict a reign of terror on Israeli cities in the north - has actually broken four U.N. Security Council violations. And as you know Robert, this has been a 25 to 30 year struggle over that border. And what we wanted to do is make sure that the border can be safe and secure so that there’s no need for violence on either side. Hezbollah has broken that long- standing prohibition on violence.
SIEGEL: But to pursue this notion of when conditions are conducive - if the Israelis felt that it would take them several more weeks of air strikes in order to degrade Hezbollah, would that be acceptable to Washington? Or do you think that the countdown to a cease-fire is measured in days rather than weeks?
Undersecretary BURNS: I think what has to happen now is that Hezbollah has to return the abducted soldiers, and Hezbollah has to also stop the bombing of Northern Israel. That is a condition that - not only the United States - but all the European countries, Russian, and Japan laid down the other day.
That’s why Secretary Rice said when conditions are appropriate, because a cease-fire in place today would essentially leave Hezbollah in a victorious position, and Hezbollah with a sword hanging over Israel’s head. That is not a condition conducive to peace or stability. And it’s a tragic situation, because Lebanon is very much a victim of what Hezbollah has done.
SIEGEL: Does that mean, then, that Hezbollah would have to return the Israeli soldiers it captured and also completely disarm in the South of Lebanon in order for there to be conditions conducive to a cease fire?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, I don’t - we have certainly not been that specific about conditions conducive to a cease-fire, nor has anyone else. Kofi Annan has not been that specific.
Everyone knows what happened here. And I think what was remarkable about the St. Petersburg statement issued yesterday morning by the leaders was that they said there was one party responsible for this, and it’s Hezbollah. They all said that. If you look at the public statements of Egypt and of Saudi Arabia, and look at the statements of Kofi Annan himself - it was Hezbollah who started this. And Hezbollah has now put us and put us and put the Israelis in a situation where they have to defend their country.
So our task as diplomats and our task in the United States is to try to use our influence and our energy to right that situation, and it has to begin with Hezbollah.
SIEGEL: Since the president was heard saying that he believes someone ought to tell Syria to tell Hezbollah to cut it out in Southern Lebanon, why aren’t we saying that to Syria? Why aren’t we talking directly to Syria now?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, we’re certainly talking to the Syrians. I mean, they have an ambassador in Washington, we have an embassy in Damascus. The quality of that relationship is very, very poor.
Syria, of course, is a country that in our view has destabilized Lebanon for the past 30 years. And we certainly don’t want to see Syria now try to regain its position in Lebanon. But the other day in St. Petersburg, the leader said – all of them – that in addition to the extreme miss by Hezbollah starting this conflict, there were others who supported, who bore a equal responsibility, and Syria and Iran are certainly two of them.
Siegel: Equal responsibility?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well certainly, Syria and Iran have to be held accountable for what they’ve done, and it’s our strong advice that they would stop resupplying Hezbollah in the coming days.
SIEGEL: So the long and the short of it is the Israelis should continue until they really deal a grievous blow to Hezbollah. That’s the - that should be the condition that precedes any kind of ceasefire?
Undersecretary BURNS: I wouldn’t put it like that. I would put it in the following way: that Hezbollah has the responsibility now to take the steps to end this crisis. And the obligation rests with Hezbollah to begin to lead the region back towards peace, and that’s where we will be putting our efforts over the next several days and several weeks.
Allow me to paint a best-case scenario: The US or EU brokers backchannel diplomacy between Syria and Israel to the effect that neither will attack the other unprovoked. Israel then is given diplomatic leeway to absolutely destroy Hezbollah, even to the extent of entering the Beka'a Valley, provided it takes place within a reasonable amount of time.
The next step will be: how to ensure that no terrorist force metastasizes on Israel's border once again? Or really, how to ensure that no terrorist force can threaten Israel from the north? A buffer zone isn't really helpful if Hezbollah or anyone else can just get longer-range missiles and use them from Northern Lebanon. Instead, one of two things has to happen:
a) someone responsible has to control Lebanon's borders. It could be the Israelis, though they won't want to; the Lebanese though they'll be questionble in their effectiveness; or the "international community" which probably means the US (though perhaps the French would help, given that they used to own Lebanon).
b) Lebanon's borders must be redrawn and the Beka'a declared an international DMZ of some sort. This is extremely unlikely.
The reason for the necessity of one of these options is because the international system should have no desire for a conflict like the current one to happen again. The only way this is possible is if the next time a terrorist organization supported by Syria launches attacks at Israel, it does so from within Syria. This will then clarify thngs for the rest of the world. Borders, which are among the most sacrosanct of the current system's rules, will have been violated, and that makes consequences easier.
In other words the goal of the international community should not just be the destruction of Hezbollah; it should be a solution such that a similar proxy cannot emerge.
Before you hound me in the comments, please, like I said, it's a best-case scenario . . . Some of the conditions of the best-case will undoubtedly not be met. Finally, this is excepting some event by Iran which escalates the conflict. Then, all bets are off.
UPDATE: Bill Roggio and the other smart guys at the Counterterrorism Blog study the Israeli military call-ups, rather than reading the diplomacy tea leaves like me, and come to a different conclusion:
While there is always the possibility the Israeli government and military officials are conducting a sophisticated information operations campaign, the military is not mobilizing for a large scale invasion of Lebanon. Only three battalions (about 300 troops per battalion) have been mobilized over the past few days. With Israel being a small nation, a large scale call up of troops could not be hidden from public view.Goodness knows there are smarter guys than me at the Counterterrorism Blog. All of this shows the difficulty of reaching a consensus on intelligence issues. At least those of us in the blogosphere try to make predictions . . .
The same post also mentions that "air strikes cannot defeat Hezbollah's forces alone." If their analysis is correct, then a decision will not be reached, and the entire tumult will revert to the status quo ante.
In my mind this would be unfortunate.
July 17, 2006
Israel's Beka'a Dilemma
In the past few days, Tigerhawk has excerpted two reports from StratFor discussing the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Syria. First was an excerpt on Friday with this tidbit:
Israel will not put ground forces in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley, without first eliminating the Syrian air force; to do otherwise would be to leave Israel's right flank wholly vulnerable. If al Assad does nothing, Israel will have to assume that Syria is waiting for an opportune moment to strike, and will act accordingly.In other words, if Israel prosecutes the war such as to eliminate Hezbollah's presence int he Beka'a Valley, it will be extremely vulnerable to Syrian attacks. Israel is therefore awaiting some indication from Syria that it will not stop Israel or attack its forces in their pursuit of Hezbollah into the Beka'a.
The second StratFor article excerpted by Tigerhawk here contains further detail:
The uncertain question is Syria. No matter how effectively Israel seals the Lebanese coast, so long as the Syrian frontier is open, Hezbollah might get supplies from there, and might be able to retreat there. So far, there has been only one reported airstrike on a Syrian target. Both Israel and Syria were quick to deny this.All of these considerations become more clear when taking a look at the battlespace:
What is interesting is that it was the Syrians who insisted very publicly that no such attack took place. The Syrians are clearly trying to avoid a situation in which they are locked into a confrontation with Israel. Israel might well think this is the time to have it out with Syria as well, but Syria is trying very hard not to give Israel casus belli. In addition, Syria is facilitating the movement of Westerners out of Lebanon, allowing them free transit. They are trying to signal that they are being cooperative and nonaggressive.
The problem is this: While Syria does not want to get hit and will not make overt moves, so long as the Syrians cannot guarantee supplies will not reach Hezbollah or that Hezbollah won't be given sanctuary in Syria, Israel cannot complete its mission of shattering Hezbollah and withdrawing. They could be drawn into an Iraq-like situation that they absolutely don't want. Israel is torn. On the one hand, it wants to crush Hezbollah, and that requires total isolation. On the other hand, it does not want the Syrian regime to fall. What comes after would be much worse from Israel's point of view.
This is the inherent problem built into Israel's strategy, and what gives Hezbollah some hope. If Israel does not attack Syria, Hezbollah could well survive Israel's attack by moving across the border. No matter how many roads are destroyed, Israel won't be able to prevent major Hezbollah formations moving across the border. If they do attack Syria and crush al Assad's government, Hezbollah could come out of this stronger than ever.
This image was grabbed from Google Earth. It shows a tilted view of the operational space of the current war, facing northeast from northern Israel. The Beka'a Valley is represented by my poorly drawn hashed area in the middle of the picture. It is extremely restricted terrain; there is not a great deal of room for maneuver. Its entire length runs parallel to the Syrian border. Even though much of that border is made up of mountain ranges, this still leaves any attacking force vulnerable to armored attack through gaps, or to indirect fire, whether via missile or artillery. As the map shows, there is a significant difference in elevations within the Valley as opposed to either side. (For another good map of the Valley from a different perspective see here.)
Hence the Israeli dilemma: Hezbollah cannot be destroyed unless its facilities, camps and logistics dumps in the Beka'a are destroyed. To create a buffer zone in south Lebanon is only to cause Hezbollah to seek longer-range rockets or missiles in the future. But, a ground assault to destroy that logistics infrastructure requires that the risk of Syrian interference be mitigated somehow. There are many ways to do so. The most obvious is to pre-emptively attack Syria. This was recommended today in The New Republic by Michael Oren (registration required):
The answer lies in delivering an unequivocal blow to Syrian ground forces deployed near the Lebanese border. By eliminating 500 Syrian tanks--tanks that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad needs to preserve his regime--Israel could signal its refusal to return to the status quo in Lebanon. Supporting Hezbollah carries a prohibitive price, the action would say.Oren proposes more than just the military actions necessary to ensure the security of an expeditionary force operating in Lebanon. He suggests that Assad's rule itself should be threatened.
There was one report over the weekend that Israel had given Syria 72 hours "to stop Hizbullah’s activity," and "bring about release of kidnapped IDF troops." A deadline implies consequences. This was the only report of the deadline, so it seems unconfirmed.
Some readers may be tempted to ask, "How can the Israelis strike Syria? It will bring a declaration of war from Iran!" Well, how would anyone know the difference?
My guess is that there's a 50/50 chance of the war being confined to Lebanon. Diplomacy may convince the Israelis not to strike Syria. Or their goals may be smaller in scale than the destruction of Hezbollah. Either way, the clock is ticking. A commenter in a previous thread noted that it takes 3 days to activate Israeli reservists for defensive action, and three more for offensive action. That clock has been ticking for about 4-5 days now. Decisions are being made and soon the trains will have left the station.
If the war expands into Syria, my guess is there's a 90% chance that the US will then get directly involved in some way. Iran will declare war on Israel, and might even include the US too, just to link them together. Even if it does not, it would more overtly attack our interests and this will demand a US response.
If it comes to this, the US will be given a rare and fleeting chance to act decisively to frustrate the regional hegemonic and nuclear ambitions of Iran's mullahs. Proxy war may be Iran's core competency, but open battle is that of the United States.
July 16, 2006
Noncombatant Evacuation Operation in Lebanon: The US will take the lead in evacuating Americans and other allied nation's citizens from Lebanon. In fact, there is already an assessment team on the ground figuring out the logistics of how to do a mass evacuation, especially since the Israelis have taken the Beirut airport out of action. Here's a couple of key issues that will be important:
a) throughput of personnel: If the evacuation is to be handled by helicopters as Spook 86 argues, and those are from the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, then there are going to be some serious logistical problems to be solved if the NEO is not to drag on for weeks. How many helicopters does the ESG have? An educated guess would be less than 30, mainly CH-46s and CH-53s, with a handful of Navy CH-60s. Figure an average of 20ish people per trip and you start to see the problem. There are an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, not to mention foreign nationals. Now the second part of the problem is the distance that must be flown. Cyprus has been mentioned as one drop-off point, where follow-on fixed wing transport can be arranged to Europe or back to the States. Nicosia, Cyprus is 150 miles from Beirut, according to Google Earth. This makes for one long flight for just 20 people per bird. Finally, I think they'll have to go to Cyprus. It's the closest relatively safe place with airfields.
I'm no NEO expert. There are probably a variety of techniques to shorten the roundtrip distance needed per flight in order to increase the flow of personnel. But here's two predictions: the US is going to surge more helicopters to the region somehow. And, don't be surprised if the British and especially French navies show up to assist in the evacuation. The NEO will be big.
b) Rules of engagement: The NEO will require a relatively light footprint on the ground; it probably will not be conducted under fire, so there can probably be some bare minimum in the way of processing stations. These areas, however many there are, will need security. I'd expect at least a company of Marine infantry to go ashore to provide security at pickup sites. A larger force could be required, depending on how many pickup sites there are and how dispersed they are.
This leads one to wonder what sorts of rules of engagement they'll be given. If sniped at, what's the response? If the transport helos receive ground fire, will Cobras be on call to respond?
Finally, aside from tactical considerations of ROE and responses, what does it mean strategically if an American helicopter is shot down in Lebanon? That is the biggest risk of the entire operation. Finally, if US ships are close to shore, what's to prevent Hezbollah from using one of its drones to attack the US Navy?
July 13, 2006
The Guns of July Part Two
Assorted thoughts for today about the conflict in the Middle East:
1. All day I thought, you know, there really hasn't been that much activity on the ground yet. Richard Fernandez agrees, writing in a Belmont Club thread:
. . . remember that actual events on the ground are still limited, despite the ominous sounds being generated everywhere. That might be part of the posturing game. Our best bet is to keep watching. We'll know where this goes soon enough.I agree.
2. Strategic Forecasting, in a subscription-only piece (hat-tip to Tigerhawk) has predicted this [emphasis added]:
Given the blockade and what appears to be the shape of the airstrikes, it seems to us at the moment the Israelis are planning to go fairly deep into Lebanon. The logical first step is a move to the Litani River in southern Lebanon. But given the missile attacks on Haifa, they will go farther, not only to attack launcher sites, but to get rid of weapons caches.This means a move deep into the Bekaa Valley, the seat of Hezbollah power and the location of plants and facilities. Such a penetration would leave Israeli forces' left flank open, so a move into Bekaa would likely be accompanied by attacks to the west. It would bring the Israelis close to Beirut again.This is eerily similar to a possible scenario for Israeli action described in an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post[emphasis added here as well]:
This leaves Israel's right flank exposed, and that exposure is to Syria. The Israeli doctrine is that leaving Syrian airpower intact while operating in Lebanon is dangerous. Therefore, Israel must at least be considering using its air force to attack Syrian facilities, unless it gets ironclad assurances the Syrians will not intervene in any way. Conversations are going on between Egypt and Syria, and we suspect this is the subject. But Israel would not necessarily object to the opportunity of eliminating Syrian air power as part of its operation, or if Syria chooses, going even further.
At the same time, Israel does not intend to get bogged down in Lebanon again. It will want to go in, wreak havoc, withdraw. That means it will go deeper and faster, and be more devastating, than if it were planning a long-term occupation. It will go in to liquidate Hezbollah and then leave. True, this is no final solution, but for the Israelis, there are no final solutions.
For some time, the defense establishment has considered the Hizbullah armaments an important enough target to justify preemptive action. Therefore, the removal of the missile threat and the perceived strategic parity that has constrained Israel's reaction to past Hizbullah provocations must be the primary goal of an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon.
Eliminating the Hizbullah missile threat will allow greater freedom of action against Syria and Iran. The "search and destroy" mode of operation required for capturing and/or destroying the missiles hidden in numerous locations necessitates the use of ground forces. But, of course, even their cautious employment under an aerial umbrella might be costly. To a large extent the success of Israeli actions in Lebanon will be measured by the counting of casualties.
Israel may well capitalize on its missile hunt in Lebanon to expand the goal of the operations. Israeli threats to seriously punish Hizbullah probably mean targeting its leadership. A "gloves off" policy to decapitate Hizbullah could paralyze this terrorist organization for several years. This would clearly signal Israel's determination to deal with terrorist threats and with Iranian proxies.
A further expansion of goals concerns Syria - the channel for Iranian support to Hizbullah. Damascus still hosts the headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, despite promising the Americans a few years ago to close their offices.
Israel may enjoy much freedom of action versus Syria because Syria frustrated the American and French attempts to limit it's influence in Lebanon in their quest to restore Lebanon's independence. Washington, in particular, may relish military pressure on a Bashar Assad regime that allows infiltration of insurgents into Iraq from its territory.
Syrian targets could be attacked by an Israel Air Force that could easily suppress the Syrian air defenses and acquire aerial supremacy. Israel may also decide the time is ripe for attacking the Syrian long-range missile infrastructure, whose threat hovers over most of Israel.
3. Michael Ledeen makes this point in an NRO piece:
After a few days of fighting, I would not be surprised to see some new kind of terrorist attack against Israel, or against an American facility in the region. An escalation to chemical weapons, for example, or even the fulfillment of the longstanding Iranian promise to launch something nuclear at Israel. They meant it when they said it, don’t you know?The kidnapping yesterday put the initiative in the hands of Hezbollah. Israel has regained the initiative in this conflict with its rapid and robust response. It's important at this point to differentiate between acts by Hezbollah that regain the initiative yet again at the operational level and acts which escalate the conflict in an attempt to seize the initiative at the strategic level. If Israel conducts airstrikes in Syria, this is an escalation, a strategic enlargement of the conflict. The same is true of Hezbollah acts that involve overt Syrian or Iranian involvement. On the other hand, an Israeli ground incursion into Lebanon does not seem like such an escalation. The same might be said for rocket attacks by Hezbollah. These would be more confined to the existing campaign space, small though it may be.
4. Today, the Intrade prediction market contracts dealing with Iran were extremely active and had high volume. Here's a breakdown:
a) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31SEP06" increased from 5.0 to 10.0, an increase of 100% on volume of 631.
b) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31DEC06" increased from 10.0 to 18.0, an increase of 80%, on volume of 5050.
c) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31March07" increased from 15.0 to 22.0, an increase of 47%, on volume of 8179.
For the uninitiated, these contracts are settled when the event occurs or when the date expires. When a contract is settled, it is either a "yes" and the value goes to 100, or it is a "no" and the value drops to 0. So the "price" level of the contracts currently don't indicate a huge sentiment that airstrikes are imminent, since the prices are mostly closer to 0. But they are worth watching to see how that sentiment changes in the coming days. At least, they are worth watching if you have any belief whatsoever in the wisdom of crowds.
5. Here's a couple of requests for information for you Loyal Readers:
a) What's the range and payload of Israel's Jericho missiles? What would be the most effective use of them if Israel wanted to strike Iran? How many does it have? I researched this once and I think they have between 200 and 300. But I bet there are readers who know better than any quick Google searches I could do.
b) Have there ever been any reports of chemical weapons being shipped to Hezbollah? How credible are those reports? Can Katusha or Fajr rockets hold a chemical payload without destroying it on detonation?
c) Can rocket attacks be countered with counterbattery fire? My guess is that the Katushas can, but that something like the Fajr missiles depend on how close the counterbattery tubes are to the launch sites. Artillery has a much shorter range than rockets do.
d) What's the latest version of Patriots we've sold to Israel? Do they have PAC3s or just PAC2s? There's an order of magnitude of difference in performance.
6. Tigerhawk's big post today was extremely insightful. This is his conclusion:
Iran cannot afford to let Israel decimate Hezbollah in Lebanon. If Israel measures its response to preserve Hezbollah, a wider war can still be avoided. However, if Israel decides that it can no longer allow Hezbollah to attack it from Lebanon, Iran will have to intervene. The question is how? One method might be to increase the pressure on the United States, the external player with the greatest ability to influence Israel. If Iraq's Shiites rise up during the crisis in Lebanon, we will know who is behind them.This is a very compelling argument. Allow some absolutely unadulterated speculation: If Iran's goal is to set the Middle East ablaze in order to give it as much leverage as possible in upcoming trials concerning its nuke program, then an Iraqi uprising seems like a great way to do so. The question is, can they actually accomplish such an uprising? I haven't followed the latest antics of Moqtada Al-Sadr closely enough to know. Readers may disagree. Keep an eye on Muthanna province though, which was turned over to the Iraqi security forces in toto today. That is deep in the heart of Shi'ite Iraq. If there's to be some sort of uprising, it might be one place to look, and the target might not be American and coalition forces, but the Iraqi government.
July 12, 2006
The Guns of July
The big news of the hour is twofold: first, Carl in Jerusalem has it on good authority that Israel is stepping up its strikes into Lebanon and will declare war tonight against its neighbor. I've never heard of Carl in Jerusalem before but that post is being linked from everywhere. So far, no other secondary confirmation of an open declaration of war, even though Drudge himself is running with the headline "It's War, Israel Says" which points to this piece in which Olmert doesn't say that but calls "the Hezbollah raid an "act of war" by Lebanon and threatened "very, very, very painful" retaliation."
Then there's good ole Debka, which always has something interesting, but which usually must be taken with a shaker of salt. Debka is reporting both that Ali Larijani, the Iranian National Security Advisor, is in Damascus for consultations with Syria, AND that the real reason this whole dustup started is so Iran can force the G8 to focus on Israel during their conference starting today:
Tehran hopes to hijack the agenda before the G-8 summit opening in St. Petersberg, Russia on July 15. Instead of discussing Iran’s nuclear case and the situation in Iraq along the lines set by President George W. Bush, the leaders of the industrial nations will be forced to address the Middle East flare-up.This makes for an interesting little narrative, but it ascribes a great degree of control of events to the Iranians -- a degree that is hard to sustain at any level when human beings are involved. Keep It Simple Stupid is the best defense against conspiracy theories: no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, and conspiracy theories are always the most convoluted of plans.
But even if Iran didn't set in motion the current crisis, there's no reason to believe it doesn't want to profit from it.
If Larijani is in Damascus, my guess is they're trying to keep Israel from declaring war on Syria at all costs. Consider:
-Syria is militarily extremely weak compared to Israel
-Iran is not only weaker than Israel, it has no easy method of threatening Israel, save with missiles of questionable accuracy.
-Israel can strike Syria from the air with impunity.
Now consider: from the Iranian and Syrian standpoint, the best course of action is to vex the Israelis as much as possible via their Hamas and Hezbollah proxies. So long as this happens, Israel does take the headlines, and the attention span at the G8. But as soon as Israel declares war on Syria, or commits an act of war, which might be the same thing, then events start to turn sour for the Iranians:
-Iran will have to declare war on Israel or risk losing face in the region, since it has pledged to defend Syria
-Syria's government would likely fall; what might follow it is anyone's guess; what does follow might not be nearly as close to Iranian interests
-Israel and the US have never fought on the same side at the same time, but Lord (and Yahweh) knows they'll help each other in other ways. If a three-way war breaks out, and Israel requested US permission to use bases in Iraq for strikes against Iran, even for refueling, the US might grant them their wish. Alternatively, it was rumored long ago that Israel had set up a deal with the Kurds to use Kurdish bases for strikes into Iran. The same might be true of Turkey, which has no love for Iran either.
From the Israeli standpoint, it all depends on what they can gain from striking Syria. If they think strikes in Syria will convince the Syrians to pressure Hamas to release Shalit, they might give it a shot. But they are probably just as aware of the consequences as anyone else: Iran might declare war.
So my guess is neither Israel, nor Syria, nor Iran want to get in a war with each other at the moment. But there're always wild cards. At least three groups, Israel, Hamas, Hizbollah, and possibly a fourth, the Lebanese military, are now involved. From that stew, an event might emerge that like it or not would force a widening of the conflict by one side or another, or an entry by Iran or Syria. This is it, in a nutshell: Is Israel willing to risk a widening of the conflict in order to dismantle Hamas and Hezbollah? Is Iran willing to risk the dismantlement of Hamas and Hezbollah in order NOT to widen the conflict?
The New Republic carries a piece entitled, Battle Plans:
The next Middle East war--Israel against genocidal Islamism--has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah's latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel's antagonists won't be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites . . .And we silly Americans thought this was about one captured Israeli soldier. Stupid, stupid . . .
The ultimate threat, though, isn't Hezbollah or Hamas but Iran. And as Iran draws closer to nuclear capability--which the Israeli intelligence community believes could happen this year--an Israeli-Iranian showdown becomes increasingly likely. According to a very senior military source with whom I've spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.
For Israelis, that is the worst scenario of all. Except, of course, the scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of the patron state of Hezbollah and Hamas.
UPDATE, 8:08am EST: Welcome Pajamas Media and Roger Simon readers! Roger says, about this post: "I think he is naive in thinking the Israelis didn't want this confrontation. It may be quite the opposite - at least in its result. You could look at this all as Sharon's trap... and his adversaries walked right into it."
Hmm. Could be. The question is what kind of confrontation did they want? Is this a limited action meant to stop the kidnapping for prisoners rubric that has become standard practice? Or is this something larger? Is it meant to attack Hezbollah in depth? Or is it even larger, meant to hit Syria and Iran too? My guess, as I tried to outline above, is that the Israelis don't want to spark a regional conflict, just hurt Hezbollah very badly.
Here are some interesting things to read:
-The Jerusalem Post reports :
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Thursday morning that Israel would not allow Hizbullah to return to its positions on Lebanon's southern border. He also demanded that Lebanese forces secure the border, something they have not done to date, during comments made to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.Hmm. Several months.
A high-ranking IDF source said that the current operation, dubbed Operation Just Reward, would be "long" and could last up to several months, or "as long as it takes to destroy the Hizbullah's ability to launch attacks against Israel."
Raja @ Lebanese Bloggers, who's been doing a play-by-play of events, also something big is in the works:
Something tells me that everything the Israelis are doing right now is preparation for something much bigger.Finally, this is the most interesting thing I've read in the past 24 hours. An article written in August of 2002 by Mark Silverberg, an author in the Ariel Center for Policy Research is an absolute must-read:
American and Israeli leadership both share a common concern that Bashar al-Assad is "playing with fire". Hezbollah has the ability - even the intention - of sparking an explosion that could lead to a regional war. Nasrallah now possesses 7,000 Katyusha rockets - each targeted at Israel. Some are heavy, long-range missiles that threaten the entire Galilee region to the outskirts of Haifa (and its oil refineries).Read the whole thing. It's an uncanny description of exactly what's happening 4 years later.
Hezbollah has completed building a line of forward positions along the Israeli border, complete with video cameras that track the IDF's movements in order to learn the operational routine of its units. Iranian officers in Southern Lebanon check Hezbollah deployments directly under Syrian eyes.
Within the next several months, Hezbollah will also complete construction of its second line of defense deep inside South Lebanon meant to create a barrier against any Israeli armed advance. The effect of such a barrier will permit Hezbollah to shell northern Israel continuously over a period of several months, and, if necessary, to slow an Israeli retaliatory invasion.
The problem for Israel is that young President al-Assad has surrounded himself with people inexperienced in high politics, although he recognizes his country's military and technological inferiority to Israel. Assad Jr. unfortunately, is fascinated by Nasrallah, accepts his patronizing praise and has allowed him to hold at least one Hezbollah paramilitary parade on Syrian soil.
He's playing the dangerous game of brinksmanship without understanding the rules. Slowly, almost invisibly, an important revolution appears to be underway. Hezbollah is gradually consolidating its strength in Syria, and the Iranians, whose Vice-President recently visited Damascus, have "laid down the law" for the confused leadership there.
A Syria that can be manipulated by Hezbollah under Iranian guidance could well miss that crucial moment when Iran and Hezbollah attempt to spark a regional conflagration by means of a military provocation on Israel's northeastern border.
That is a major source of concern to both Israel and the United States Defense Department. A weak and naive Syria will accelerate the power, influence and growth of Hezbollah, just as Arafat now finds it impossible to control Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Palestinian territories. The more that Nasrallah is convinced that Assad Jr. is not up to speed; the more he will be convinced that he, in consultation with his Iranian cohorts, holds the key to power. And if he is convinced that there is an American threat to Iran, he will preempt it by striking at the Galilee to provoke an Israeli retaliatory strike.
But that retaliatory strike will be at Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Syria.
This is not an imaginary scenario. As recently as three weeks ago, American and Israeli UN representatives met privately with their Syrian counterpart to warn him of the danger posed to Syria and the entire region by Hezbollah.
The singular conclusion is that someone has to inject sufficient fear into the Syrians to bring Nasrallah down.
And if the Europeans and Americans can't, the Israelis will. [emphasis added]
UPDATE2 8:38am EST: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please comment. What does everyone else think?
July 11, 2006
Kimi Ga Yo 2
I contacted a good friend, a Brit who lives in Japan, and has lived there for years, to see if he could do a bit of on-the-ground pulse-taking about national sentiment toward the North Koreans. Here's his response:
I asked my class (9 people 7 women 2 guys, aged 28-40He always has an interesting take on things. "Basically the rise of China is scaring the s*** out of the old boys club because they know what their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't forgotten." That might be the key line right there.
all training to be serious translators so the upper
edge of the "internationalized/educated" community)
the following questions:
Do you think North Korea is a serious threat? 9 said
Do you think Japan should apply economic sanctions? 7
yes 2 no
Will NK's image decline further in Japan because of
this? 9 yes.
The fact that none of them could conjure a coherent
opinion tells you how deeply this has registered on
the Japanese conciousness.
There's no getting round it nationalism is on the rise
in Japan among the only sector that counts, the very
small no of men who run the country. Current foreign
minister Aso is a good example of these (not so) new
nationalists but their main cheerleader is the Gov of
Tokyo, Ishihara. Virulent nationalism is muted but the
old tradition of passive-aggressive nationalism is very
much alive. Basically the rise of China is scaring the
s*** out of the old boys club because they know what
their fathers did and they know the Chinese haven't
Recent NK events
In Japan the tests come on the coat tails of the
reunion (in NK, completely controlled by the NK govt)
of a kidnapped south Korean who was married to
Japanese kidnap victim Yokota Megumi with his family.
During the reunion a number of incongruent statements
by the man and the daughter he had with Megumi further
illustrated that the NKs still aren't telling the
truth about her. NK has been caught in a number of
balatant lies (including sending burnt remains back to Japan
claiming that they were her ("She committed suicide"), when
DNA tests proved otherwise.) Your average Japanese
person rightly feels aggrevied by the NK kidnappings,
their continued stonewalling and, less mentioned in
the press, the Japanese govt's unwillingness to get
involved in an issue it denied until the NKs admitted
it and forced them to. NK's stock couldn't really be
any lower in Japan.
The tests: Media and Security
The media reaction was predictable and although not
muted not nearly as bad as when the NKs shot that
missile over the country in 1998. There's a sense of
resignation and "there they go again". The main reason
people aren't worried is that although the Japanese
moan endlessly about the US troops in Japan they know
they are protected in any extreme situation by the US,
it's a media event not a security crisis. There's no
chance in hell any young Japanese will have to fight
or die at any point in the near future and they know
it. People are quite open about recognizing the US
One thing to mention in your blog is that the Japanese never renounced war,
MacArthur did and imposed it on them and it's stayed in
the constitution largely because it has suited Japan's
interests to have it there, not because it is popular.
One short sharp international incident (Japan's 911)
and in a fit of victimhood the nationalist
opportunists will throw it out the window before you
can say "Sushi".
What interests me is Japanese attempts to "impose
international sanctions" on NK in the UN. Strikes me
as pointless window dressing for Japanese domestic
consumption, typical meaningless ritualism of the kind
Japanese politicians love. What Japan unilaterally can
do is restrict trade/remittances to NK from Japan. T
hat would be the real test of their resolve. I'll be very
surprised if they do it.
June 30, 2006
Discussion Topic: Defeat
One of the most interesting questions to me is that of defeat. Sometimes when you attack another force, it folds immediately under the pressure. Alternatively, sometimes the force is emboldened by your attack. Think of the differences between Pearl Harbor, which caused the US entry into World War II, and "shock and awe" which was designed to convince the Iraqi populace that resistance was futile. But ironically, US aerial campaigns are so surgical these days that there wasn't much shock or awe to it: the gov't buildings that the Iraqis expected to be hit, were hit.
When is a people defeated? The degree to which the combatants are truly exhausted of fighting dictates the degree to which they will accept the outcome of the fight. If that is the case, then each side truly gambles whenever it seeks a decisive outcome. Moreover, if nothing less than an unconditional surrender is sought, then does that make the other side fight all the harder to avoid it, thereby prolonging the conflict?
Finally, how do the answers to these questions change when the other side is an irregular force?
Military types will say that defeat is in the mind, and victory resides there as well. What is the combination of effects necessary to impose upon minds then, such that they might conclude as quickly as possible that defeat is at hand?
The pat US answer is firepower, but I think there are two other factors at work. What do you readers think? All comments to this little ramble are welcome.
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.
June 23, 2006
The Iraqi Peace Deal
Very late night thoughts of the just-reported Iraqi peace deal (see here):
1. The source: The Times nailed another recent event way in advance: the large-scale security operation in Baghdad. They called that several months ago and were correct that it would occur in the summer. They seem to have good sources inside the parties that would be involved in the negotiations.
2. The negotiations: There's a deal and then there's a deal. How close is this to getting done? Have confidence-building measures already been performed? Could the appointments of the Interior and Defense ministers be a part of that process? Could Zarqawi's death have been part of the process? The two happened on the same day! That has bothered me ever since . . .
3. The terms: The Times article states,
The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.It's never good to believe the first report. This one implies that the US will admit ongoing human rights violations. It also implies that the UN has somehow given sanction already to an existing withdrawal plan. Neither of these seem like concessions the US would be willing to make. FInally, the article states in a later point "A halt to “anti-terrorist operations” by coalition forces in insurgent areas" as being another term. What exactly does that mean? It seems way too broad.
My guess is that the agreement is much more detailed and some of these details are incorrect as reported.
4. Enforcement: The deal involves "seven Sunni insurgent groups". Is that a significant enough portion of the insurgency to really offer a meaningful end to violence? Do we have good documentation of their capabilities (see confidence-building measures above)? And, will they act against the remaining elements of the insurgency, whether Ba'athists, criminals, or Al Qaeda? This would be a must, no?
5. Effects: Wow. I think the degree to which this will be good for Bush will depend on whether Iraqis who've killed Americans are given amnesty and how that works out.
This would be bad for Iran, not only because they'll lose a little more on their bid for influence, but because the US will soon be in a position to right-face the whole force and head east (figuratively).
The Left will still be the Left, but it won't win in November. And if the whole thing goes through more or less as declared by the Times -- which says it has seen the documents -- then Zalmay Khalilzad should get the Nobel Peace Prize.
If the deal goes through as predicted, someone is going to have to sit back and tally the results: what did the insurgents get out of the insurgency? This is a deal after all, not a surrender. Did they get a place at the political table? A share in oil revenue? Something more? Implied security guarantees?
One can ask what the US has gotten for its blood and treasure . . . but I think it is far too early for that.
If Iraqis who've killed Americans are given amnesty, a curious possibility enters the mind: future Sunni politicians who declare their status as veterans of the war against the Americans in their campaigns . . . This is a horrendous historical comparison, but Confederate officers weren't allowed to run for office . . .
But let's hold for more developments . . .
June 22, 2006
Prairie Pundit Review of Cobra II
Prairie Pundit has posted a review of Cobra II in which he takes the authors to task for several different reasons, namely, its description of the Fedayeen, troop strength debates, and descriptions of intelligence work at the operational level. As they say, read the whole thing, especially if you are considering buying it.
I can personally vouch for one of Prairie Pundit's criticisms:
In fact the Centcom staff and Franks came up with pretty good way of eliminating a large part of the Fedayeen on the way to Baghdad that Trainor and Gordon, again, do not even discuss. The intelligence analyst noticed that the Fedayeen would come back from their attacks and "puddle" around Baath Party headquaters or Iraqi intelligence offices in the towns along the route. Franks told the staff to bomb those buildings when the "puddles" were at their maximum. Reports on these attacks were usually limited to just saying that the building had been destroyed, because we did not want to tip the Fedayeen and let them know why we happened to bomb those building when we did. The authors never discuss this tactic of dealing with the enemy and write as if the Fedayeen survived to start the insurgency.Prairie Pundit is exactly right. Sitting in our ops tents one day in Nasiriyah right after the invasion, I was checking the MEF's Significant Events page, chronologically listing important things that were happening throughout the MEF's battlespace, along with a standard date-time group. At one point, something like this came up on an update:
SOF TM REPORTS 500 FEDAYEEN FIGHTERS CONVERGING ON SOCCER STADIUM IN AD-DIWANIYAH, GC XXXXXXXXAbout half an hour later, this was followed up with this:
SOF CONFIRMS DIWANIYAH SOCCER STADIUM DESTROYED WITH CLUSTER MUNITIONS @ DTG XXXXXXXLater, when my unit moved to Diwaniyah, I had an opportunity to visit the soccer stadium as part of a team sent to find humanitarian projects in the city which my engineer battalion might have been able to perform. Needless to say, the stadium was pretty screwed up (I may even have a picture of that somewhere . . .).
Anyhow, see Prairie Pundit's review for further discussion.
June 21, 2006
The Reasons We're Only Learning About the 500 Shells Now . . .
The announcement by Senator Santorum that the US has uncovered over 500 sarin and mustard gas chemical artillery rounds comes as quite an interesting development and deserves a bit of thought. The obvious question is: why are we only learning of this now?
The details of the revelation itself are telling: Sen. Santorum revealed in his interview with Hugh Hewitt that he first learned of this information some 10 weeks ago, and has been working on getting a sanitized, declassified version of the existence of these shells released since then. He learned via a tip, and after his own efforts came to naught, he implored upon Rep. Hoekstra to do what he could as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Soon enough, a sanitized version of the document in question, describing the shells, was produced. To hear Santorum tell the story, he nearly immediately held a press conference.
Someone has been sitting on this information for awhile. Why? Here are four scenarios:
1. Sources and Methods: The discovery of the shells was kept under wraps because of the sources and methods used to find them. This could mean both technical means or human information. Moreover, the fact of the shells' very existence might have necessitated security. If there are 500, there may be more, and there are many who would like to get their hands on them. I'll be the first to testify that Iraq has more ammunition depots than Texas has barbecue. They may still be in the process of discovery today.
2. CIA = CYA Perhaps the CIA was underplaying the existence of the shells to cover its own poor estimates of Iraq's capabilities? This explanation is less plausible to me. According to Santorum, the report comes from the National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC to the military. This is not part of the CIA. Unless I'm mistaken, and I hope a military reader will correct me if so, NGIC is a DoD facility, run and mainly staffed by the Army, but serving all services. If memory serves, Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel regularly train and take classes at NGIC, and much of what they learn there (how to defuse nukes, for a made-for-tv example) is understandably classified. It makes sense that any chemical munitions discovered would be tallied, and probably even examined in the field, by NGIC; NGIC, after all, would be in charge of promulgating procedures for the handling of shells if more were discovered in the future.
On the other hand, the stonewalling of Santorum came from the DNI, John Negroponte. He's the man who runs everything, CIA, NGIC and other DoD intelligence agencies, supposedly. So he is the one to ask about this scenario . . .
3. Covert Action It's always impossible to tell with such things, and absolutely futile to speculate, but there is the chance that some recovered shells have been used in covert action operations by the US. Many people in the world would like to have chemical artillery shells; why not put them up for sale and see who comes a-knockin? Or perhaps there's an underground railroad leading out of Iraq for these things; who's on the other end of it, and was it set up by the former regime, or just entrepreneurs?
I mention these possibilities only because they are worth mentioning. To think though that the US might have conceived of such covert action, and then succeeded in executing it, is to assume a level of competence within our clandestine services that seems unlikely. There's no way to prove or disprove this scenario. And that's all I'll say about that.
They Don't Know What They Know If this scenario is true, someone will be reading the paper in the morning and saying, "Oh yeah . . . I guess chemical artillery rounds kind of are WMD, huh?" The government is large. It is unwieldy. It doesn't always talk to itself. RIght hand, meet the left hand.
Whatever the explanation, it'll get interesting. The key is: did the White House know about them? The answer to that question will go a long way toward figuring out which of the above scenarios might be correct.
June 20, 2006
The Rocket's Red Glare
The North Koreans are declaring their sovereign right to ballistic missile tests:
TOKYO - North Korea declared Tuesday it has a right to carry out long-range missile tests, despite international calls for the communist state to refrain from launching a rocket believed capable of reaching the United States.There are rumors meanwhile that the US may shoot down any such missile launched:
The Pentagon activated its new U.S. ground-based interceptor missile defense system, and officials announced yesterday that any long-range missile launch by North Korea would be considered a "provocative act. . . .There are several very good reasons to go ahead and down any missiles launched by North Korea: it would provide a real test of our incipient missile defense systems; such a shootdown would reinforce the doctrine of nuclear assurance as it applies to Japan, one of our staunchest allies; and tactically, denyng the North Korean military the advantage gained by telemetry and other such data gathered from the flight could play no small role in retarding the advancement of their military capabilities. But the most compelling reason to shoot down any test missiles is simple and scarier: how does one really know it is a test? This is no soubt what the Japanese are wondering. I was there in the 90s when the North tested their last missile, and it was . . . not well received.
Two Navy Aegis warships are patrolling near North Korea as part of the global missile defense and would be among the first sensors that would trigger the use of interceptors, the officials said yesterday.
The U.S. missile defense system includes 11 long-range interceptor missiles, including nine deployed at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The system was switched from test to operational mode within the past two weeks, the officials said.
One senior Bush administration official told The Washington Times that an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors.
For a detailed look at the US missile defense system, readers are encouraged to see Alan Dowd's piece in today's TCSDaily.
For a more in-depth look into ballistic missiles in general, missilethreat.com [h-t to Dowd] is a cornucopia of info on ballistic missiles and the threat they create. The scenario page there features high-quality animation of possible conflict scenarios involving ballistic missiles.
While it is tempting to view international terrorism and ballistic missiles as inhabiting two separate ends of the conflict spectrum, the one being non-state organizations employing low-tech and creative means, the other being a weapons system most likely produced and fielded by a state military, it might be better instead to view them both as features of our system of globalization: while murderous ideologies propagate through the globe like viruses, high-tech missile know-how does the same. As Dowd notes in his article, 30 years ago, only 8 nations possessed ballistic missiles, whereas now, by his count, there are 25 with ballistic missile arsenals.
When we envision Robert Kaplan's "coming anarchy", or Thomas Barnett's Gap, our mental images usually involve low-intensity warfare, pestilence, famine, resource scarcity, and crushing poverty, along with intractable conflicts. But these are images that, while scary, and needing to be contained if not rolled back, don't threaten the US imminently.
Adding to that picture the continued propagation of complex weapons systems like ballistic missiles adds a new urgency to our concept of the Gap, or the anarcy of the developing world and its failed states. Imagine another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but with ballistic missiles; or a Rwandhan genocide with airstrikes. While it's true that roving bands of thugs probably don't have the training to maintain and operate exceptionally complex military hardware, it's not a safe bet that the threats of the Third World will always remain as roving bands of thugs.
April 24, 2006
Economic Determinism and Europe's Descent
Charles Boix has written a fascinating recent article in Policy Review, in which he argues that as universal as the desire for freedom may be, the conditions for the spread of democracy are limited. Chiefly, equality of economic conditions is the primary state in which democracy will take root and thrive:
The insight that equality of conditions is a precondition for democracy has a long and often forgotten tradition in the study of politics. It was apparent to most classical political thinkers that democracy could not survive without some equality among its citizens. Aristotle, who spent a substantial amount of time collecting all the constitutions of the Greek cities, concluded that to be successful, a city “ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars.” By contrast, he noticed, a state could not be well-governed where there were only very rich and very poor people because the former “could only rule despotically” and the latter “know not how to command and must be ruled like slaves.” They would simply lead “to a city, not of free persons but of slaves and masters, the ones consumed by envy, the others by contempt.” Two thousand years later Machiavelli would observe in his Discourses that a republic — that is, a regime where citizens could govern themselves — could only be constituted “where there exists, or can be brought into being, notable equality; and a regime of the opposite type, i.e. a principality, where there is notable inequality. Otherwise what is done will lack proportion and will be of but short duration.”Boix then goes on to offer a variety of empirical evidence to support this point. He takes particular aim at Islam itself, showing that it is no stronger a force against democracy than any other cultural factors in other parts of the world, and that even Islam is subordinate to economics when it comes to the flowering of democracy:
Islam has been much brandished as the cause of authoritarian attitudes and institutions in the Middle East and North Africa. But as Freedom House recently pointed out, if we take into account the large Muslim populations of countries such as India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey, the majority of the world’s Muslims live now under democratic regimes. In turn, some scholars have noted that, even if Islam is compatible with free elections, the Arab world is not. Indeed, all Arab states remain undemocratic as of today — and do so by employing substantially repressive policies. The problem with this claim, however, is that it never specifies the ways in which Arab culture and behavior may be at odds with the principle of mutual toleration among winners and losers that makes democracy possible. Moreover, the few surveys we do have seem to show that Middle Eastern populations favor democracy by margins similar to those found in Latin American or Asian publics. The truth is that the politics surrounding the control of natural resources, rather than any religious or cultural factor, is what explains the preponderance of authoritarianism in the Middle East (and much of sub-Saharan Africa as well).Boix's is a great article and his ultimate conclusions are not to be dismissed.
His work though raises vexing questions about what he does not discuss. Namely, how does his economically determinate argument explain the rise of semi-autonomous, undemocratic groups within Europe? According to his economics-based theory of democratization, Europe should be a place where democracy continues to thrive indefinitely, not where it is threatened by some other system. Yet the growth of semi-autonomous immigrant communities in Europe's large cities -- places where the democratically created laws of the host society don't apply or aren't enforced -- is a frequent feature of the news these days (and even a slew of recent books).
How to account for this? Especially when all of these communities have one thing in common -- Islam?
My guess is that this phenomenon speaks less to the anti-democratic tendencies of Muslims than it does to the pusillanimous and faint-hearted efforts of the Europeans in defending and justifying their freedoms. But readers are welcome to differ . . .
April 20, 2006
A Contrarian View of China's Future
As Hu Jintao's visit to the US winds down, allow a little bit of speculation about the future of China.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal carried an article noting Hu's upcoming visit, and stating that the Chinese government's legitimacy is dually based on economic growth and nationalism.
The WSJ today carries an editorial that ends with this line:
The larger strategic bet here is that sooner or later China's economic progress will create the internal conditions for a more democratic regime that will be more stable and less of a potential global rival.
The US strategic assumption therefore is that "sooner or later, economic growth will lead to democracy." This is a controversial statement in political science circles -- there isn't any strong agreement on this, just a kind of fervent hope. Perhaps it is because of how closely Americans associate political freedom with economic opportunity. But it's still controversial.
But a completely uncontroversial statement in economic circles is that a boom-bust cycle prevails in most if not all markets and economies. Think about it: has anyone ever heard of an economy without a recession? and usually, isn't it true that the larger the boom, the greater the bust? I'm only 28, but I remember the heady days of 1999. Anyone who said a few key buzzwords and promised ridiculous market growth could get angel funding it seems. Then the bubble burst and we had a recession and now things are humming right along again.
Has China ever had a real recession since Deng liberalized the economy in 1978? There's been some slowing of growth here and there of course, but I don't believe a full-fledged recession, in which the economy actually shrinks.
Wouldn't it seem that China is . . . overdue for a recession?
No one can know how an economic retrenchment may begin. There are many possibilities:
-a collapse in the banking sector
-a decline in US domestic consumption
-oil price shocks
-deflationary slump caused by currency revaluation (as is argued by a Stanford professor in another Journal op-ed today)
But can one say, with any reasonable seriousness, that an economy which has boomed for two or three decades will not see at least one major recession?
Moreover, compared to developing countries, our recessions here in the US have been relatively mild. Consider these other Asian economic recessions:
1. Japan in early 1990s -- deflationary slump. The Japanese economy reached such lofty heights in the 1980s that the value of downtown Tokyo real estate was gauged as being higher than all of California. Fortunately, Japan has now recovered and -- as I heard on the radio the other day -- is in the midst of its second longest expansion in the postwar period, growing for 51 straight months. But from the early 90's for about ten years, Japan suffered what has become "the lost decade." "Nihon wa ima shiniso!" my host-brother proclaimed to me in 1994. "Japan is nearly dead these days."
2. Wikipedia's article on the East Asian financial crisis of 1997 notes that per capita GDP, (measured in purchasing power parity) has declined from 1997-2005 in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In other words, those economies have been more or less stagnant overall in terms of the net effects of growth in the economy and growth in the populations ever since the currency and financial crisis of 1997.
So suffice it to say that when China has a slump or recession, there's a good chance that it won't be pretty. It will probably make one of our domestic recessions look like a single bad day at Nordstrom.
If economic growth stalls, what is to replace it as a pillar of political legitimacy? It seems there are two possibilities, more nationalism, or, in the hope of the United States, democratic legitimacy through political freedom. At the time of its recession, Japan had had a history of parliamentary elections and representative democracy for three or four decades (one could debate this given the overwhelming dominance of one party, but Japan was democratizing for a very long time to say the least). Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia all had some form of popular representation during their crises, though the democratization was varied in degrees in each. All of these countries though, at the time of their difficulties, were much, much, much further along the way toward representative and consensual government than China currently is.
Democracy in China seems unlikely to spring forward overnight during a time of economic crisis. It seems equally unlikely that any budding manifestations of it will suddenly blossom. Indeed, during the rural uprisings and riots we've seen trickling out in the news last year, it seems China was much more likely to send in the brute squads to put them down than to expand freedom for the rioters. Some of the freedoms the Chinese currently enjy might wither on the vine if poor economic times come along . . .
Perhaps nationalism will be intentionally spread to make up the difference in regime legitimacy?
This seems at least as likely a scenario as that of economic growth leading to greater political freedom, as is the strategy of the United States.
If China's roiling economy is one of the key pillars of regime legitimacy, I fear that the regime may soon learn what a bust is . . . and what might happen then?
In short, while everyone and their grandmother expects the "Chinese economy to surpass the US by 2030" or "China to emege as a global power" etc, I think it is just as likely that China will suffer a severe economic crisis, and do something horrible that makes it a pariah in the world's eyes -- whether internally or abroad; or that the Chinese regime could collapse under a popular uprising. I'm no expert, but it seems that if there's one place where they like to riot as much as France, it might be China. Flipping through a history of China is to read again and again of peasant or other popular uprisings.
If China transforms into a democracy with no political violence or economic hardship, we'll all break out the plum wine and celebrate. But all should have their eyes wide open as to the likelihood of more dreadful scenarios as well.
Sadly, I think there's little more the US can do than what we already are: building relationships with China's neighbors to counterbalance it if things go to heck; encouraging political freedom inside the country; trading with China; etc etc etc. The op-ed by the Stanford professor makes the case that we should quit complaining about their currency evalution, as a rapidly inflating currency was what led to Japan's deflation. I'm not enough of an economist to make heads or tails of that, but perhaps it's worth considering.
Perhaps we should just darn the torpedoes and pressure China to democratize much faster than it is, for its own sake . . . Given how many other things are on the US plate at the moment, it seems more likely that we'll kick this can down the road for a while longer . . .
April 13, 2006
Iran Extravaganza Post
This post will be about Iran, and divided into four parts. Each is more or less unrelated, except that they are all things that have been kicking around in my skull for the last few days and weeks. Take from them what you will.
In Kenneth Pollack's work, The Persian Puzzle, he discusses several different policy options vis-a-vis Iran and then has this little gem, near the end of the work, while discussing one he calls "The Grand Bargain":
The problem with the Grand Bargain is that it doesn't work in practice. Every American administration since Reagan has put the Grand Bargain on the table and tried to coax the Iranians into accepting it. In particular, the Grand Bargain was the explicit core of the Clinton initiative. When Clinton administration officals spoke to Khatami's unofficial interlocutors, as well as to various European countries that tried to play a mediating role between Washington and Tehran, the course that they consistently laid out was a process of negotiations that would lead to a comprehensive deal over all of the different problem issues that lay between the two countries -- this is where the term "Grand Bargain" came from. The problem that lies at the heart of the Grand Bargain -- the problem that the Clinton administration stumbled over, much to its disappointment -- is the fundamental problem that lies at the heart of the Iranian-American confrontation.While that settles in, consider this excerpt from Bush's State of the Union address in January:
Whenever American officials are able to talk to Iranians about what it is that they would want from a Grand Bargain, and whenever American citizens are able to talk to Iranian officials about what it is that they would want from a Grand Bargain, one of the foremost things that the Iranians invariably say is, "Respect." In my own conversations with Iranians, in and out of government, I have found that it is usually the first of their demands -- and they often say it immediately and then have to think hard as to what their other demands might be. "Respect" is an abstract concept that needs to be made tangible if it is going to be part of a deal. So, like good negotiators, the Americans inevitably ask, "What do you mean by respect?" Typically, the Iranians cannot define what respect would be, but they are full of illustrations of disrespectful American behavior that would have to end for Iran to be willing to accept a Grand Bargain. For instance, the Iranians never fail to observe that saying that Iran was part of an "Axis of Evil" was disrespectful. The sanctions are disrespectful. Criticizing the (flagrantly rigged) February 2004 Majles elections for being flagrantly rigged was disrespectful. Any criticism of Iran's internal affairs, such as its kangaroo-court judicial procedures and its arrest of political dissidents on ridiculous charges, is disrespectful. A senator calling Iran the world's worst terrorist state is disrespectful. American newspapers writing articles about problems in the Iranian economy is disrespectful. The State Department stating that Iran supports terrorism rather than acknowledging that Iran is a victim of terrorism (both of which are true) is disrespectful. Claiming that Iran is harboring Al-Qaida personnel is disrespectful. I have personally heard every one of those statements made by Iranians in response to my question as to what "respect" means . . .
As it has for the past fifty years, the United States remains not only Iran's greatest political stumbling block but its greatest psychological stumbling block. The Iranians have so much emotional baggage attached to the United States that they simply cannot move past it. Just as the taking of the embassy in 1979 was more about seeking psychological gratification for twenty-five years of Iranian grievances against the United States (real and imagined), so today any political relationship with the United States remains captive to that same insurmountable sense of grievance. When Iranians talk about getting "respect" from the United States, they are demanding that the United States treat them better than we treat any other nation on earth -- that we refrain from all criticism whatsoever and not just by the administration itself, but by the Congress and even the media. We don't treat our closest allies that well.
And, tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran. [emphasis added]Well, that's certainly interesting . . . read into it however you like.
George Friedman's latest Strategic Geopolitical Intelligence Report (subscriber-only) is about the conflicts between idealism and realism in foreign policy. He goes through several past examples and summarizes them with this pithy line:
A doctrine emerges in looking at these three examples: the pursuit of political principles is possible only when one is willing to look at the long term; the near term requires ruthless and unsentimental compromise.Friedman then goes on to state that he believes this is very relevant to the present because the US just might make a deal with Iran about Iraq:
The United States may well wind up making a deal with Iran over Iraq. Alternatively, a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia might give Washington the opportunity to negotiate with the Baathist guerrillas in the Sunni Triangle. Whichever path is followed, it will be condemned by both left and right for dozens of excellent moral reasons.You know, I just am not sure that I'm buying this. Well, to clarify: there is no doubt that ruthless and unsentimental compromise is a necessity in the execution of strategy. But Friedman states the necessity of such compromise with Iran in passing; he makes no detailed case for it, and I find it hard to see one.
Bush has been pursuing the path of pragmatism, however clumsily or adroitly, for months now. He will make a deal with someone because going it alone is not an option. The current situation in Iraq cannot be sustained, and all presidents ultimately respond to reality. Bush might have to eat some words about democracy and the United States' commitment thereto, but if Roosevelt could speak of the Four Freedoms while working with Josef Stalin, all things are possible.
Cutting deals across unsavory lines will be necessary regardless of the goal. But getting out of Iraq may not be that goal. The Iranians are a huge threat. If they can be used against the Ba'athist insurgency, then the Sunnis can alternatively be used against the Iranians.
There are lots of goals in the Middle East and each has little subgoals as well:
a) destroy al Qaeda (and capture those who might be more useful alive)
b) prevent Iran from having nukes (and circumscribe its influence in all parts, and foster regime change there if possible)
c) destroy the insurgency (both the Ba'athist one and Muqtada Al Sadr's simmering one)
d) foster Iraqi democracy (while at the same time keeping the place from splitting apart, or becoming too theocratic)
It's hard to say at any one point which of these is the most important to the US and Bush; the US probably prefers it that way so that its adversaries cannot guess its true intentions (Bush is rumored to have been a tremendous poker player while at business school). But my own guess is that preventing Iran from having nukes is probably going to trump all the others in the near term. And I think Friedman ascribes more power to the insurgency than actually exists. Soon they'll be gone. Violence will spike some more in the future and after the government is formed, then decline gradually over time. But Iran is a huge problem and getting worse.
Moreover, the same American government that invaded Iraq on the pretext of the danger from the nexus of rogue state, terrorism, and WMD is more or less still in place. They may have eaten a bit of crow on the issue of how the US might know when such an invasion is necessary, given how abysmal our intelligence is. But their initial logic has not been refuted: WMD in the hands of unstable regimes who support terrorism IS an enormous threat to the world. Arguing that pre-emptive action is impossible because our intelligence is horrendous is really to quibble about the execution of the policy of pre-emption, not to rebut the basic premise. Moreover, even if intellilgence is lacking, perhaps the Iranian regime's own admissions of their intent obviates the need to rely solely on the boys at Fort Meade and Langley.
Mark Steyn's latest article in Cityjournal discusses the idea that the leaders of Iran, since its Revolution, have always viewed themselves as much more than the leaders of any one country or state:
What, after all, is the issue underpinning every little goofy incident in the news, from those Danish cartoons of Mohammed to recommendations for polygamy by official commissions in Canada to the banning of the English flag in English prisons because it’s an insensitive “crusader” emblem to the introduction of gender-segregated swimming sessions in municipal pools in Puget Sound? In a word, sovereignty. There is no god but Allah, and thus there is no jurisdiction but Allah’s. Ayatollah Khomeini saw himself not as the leader of a geographical polity but as a leader of a communal one: Islam. Once those urbane socialist émigrés were either dead or on the plane back to Paris, Iran’s nominally “temporal” government took the same view, too: its role is not merely to run national highway departments and education ministries but to advance the cause of Islam worldwide.Steyn is here hinting at something that is little discussed outside of the abstract: how Iran would use its new nuclear status. Everyone generally assumes that its entry into the club would be bad because it would empower the Iranian state. But what Steyn touches upon is the idea that instead Iran is making its bid for supremacy over an entire religion. An earlier section in the same essay:
Take Iran: it doesn’t fit into any of the groups. Indeed, it’s a buffer zone between most of the important ones: to the west, it borders the Arab world; to the northwest, it borders NATO (and, if Turkey ever passes its endless audition, the European Union); to the north, the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation’s turbulent Caucasus; to the northeast, the Stans—the newly independent states of central Asia; to the east, the old British India, now bifurcated into a Muslim-Hindu nuclear standoff. And its southern shore sits on the central artery that feeds the global economy.
If you divide the world into geographical regions, then, Iran’s neither here nor there. But if you divide it ideologically, the mullahs are ideally positioned at the center of the various provinces of Islam—the Arabs, the Turks, the Stans, and the south Asians. Who better to unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership? If there’s going to be an Islamic superpower, Tehran would seem to be the obvious candidate.
The excellent little book Grand Strategies in War and Peace contains an essay on Soviet Grand Strategy, from the Revolution through the 1980s. Among other things, the essay discusses one key decision point of the USSR early on in its life: the leaders had to decide what was more important, continuing to prosecute the revolution abroad, or focusing on shoring up security within the boundaries of Russia first? The answer was important as it would determine things like who might or might not be invaded, where to spend military outlays, and so forth. The answer, as you can guess, was to first shore things up at home, lest the revolution become overstretched and then stall -- making it vulnerable to rollback.
Are not the Iranians pursuing a similar strategy now? Surely they've sent influence abroad, but it has been of the softer kind than invasions. Instead, they are focusing on getting nukes -- the ultimate guarantor of state security -- and then, as Steyn mentions, they'll really be able to flex their muscles.
Fortunately for all of us, the essay on Commie strategy described above was written by none other than Condoleezza Rice.
Thus far I have implied a link between proliferation and deterrence, suggesting that the society of states as a whole can determine when proliferation poses a systemic threat by asking whether a state's acquisition of nuclear weapons strengthens of weakens the prevailing system of nuclear deterrence. That system is currently underpinned by United States nuclear forces. It rests on the assumption that the United States will not use nuclear weapons as a means of aggression, but that it will actually destroy another state if that state cannot be otherwise dissuaded from attacking a state protected by the American nuclear deterrent. If the United States were to change its policies in either aspect, the current system of deterrence would be difficult to sustain, as formerly protected states raced to arm themselves and formerly deterred states began to explore the rewards of coercion.Now let's just say for argument's sake that you completely disagree: deterrence will work in an "n-polar" world, even if one of those poles is Iran. Let's consider the assumption there that the Iranians are rational actors. There are many who argue that Ahmadinjad is a "madman," thus attempting to rebut those who think deterrence would work, even with him.
This present system would be gravely undermined by multipolarity -- the acquisition of a third superpower nuclear arsenal -- for two reasons. First, multipolarity introduces a complexity that tends to weaken American commitments by blurring the identity of the states to be deterred: in a tripolar or n-polar world, responsibility is diffused. The persuasiveness of the argument, often heard in the United States during the Cold War, that the United States must act to suppress international violence or parry aggression, because if the United States doesn't, no one else will, fades in a multipolar world. The sheer complexity of deterrence in a multipolar world, coupled with an understandable American willingness to let other powers take up burdens long carried by the United States, creates a situation similar to that of the paralyzed crowds that attend emergencies. Second, the system of deterrence is stressed whenever a crisis triggers the threat of the use of nuclear weapons to deter aggression; such crises call the American bluff and require the United States to run potentially fatal risks to enforce dissuasion. Multipolarity can only increase, perhaps exponentially, the number of nuclear crises. We could have had another system of nuclear deterrence, perhaps managed by other powers, but this is the one we have, and this is the system bequeathed us by the Long War. [emphasis in original]
"Madman" is so simplistic. What might be a more complex way of describing his thinking? Since my desire to find new material for you loyal readers out there knows no bounds (or because I'm truly addicted to this stuff, I don't know which is worse), one evening I found myself trolling through the RAND site, where I encountered this splendid paperby David Ronfeldt: Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis. The hubris-nemesis complex is defined thus:
In the years ahead, the United States will assuredly find itself in new international crises involving nations or groups that have powerful leaders. In some cases, these leaders may have a special, dangerous mindset that is the result of a "hubris-nemesis complex."What are some of the attributes of the complex?
This complex involves a combination of hubris (a pretension toward an arrogant form of godliness) and nemesis (a vengeful desire to confront, defeat, humiliate, and punish an adversary, especially one that can be accused of hubris). The combination has strange dynamics that may lead to destructive, high-risk behavior. Attempts to deter, compel or negotiate with a leader who has a hubris-nemesis complex can be ineffectual or even disastrously counterproductive when those attempts are based on concepts better suited to dealing with more normal leaders.
- a destructive-constructive messianism;THe study goes on to list some leaders who exhibit this complex: Castro, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Khadafi, Khomeini, and probably Slobodan Milosevic, Kim Il Sung, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Some who are unsavory but nonetheless have different personalities are: Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
-high, moralizing ideals that justify violence;
-a demand for absolute power, loyalty and attention;
-a fierce sense of struggle that may turn self-sacrificial;
One interesting aspect of the study is its mention of fictional examples. Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost come in for scrutiny:
Aboard ship, Ahab imposes an "irresistible dictatorship" to go after a superpowerful beast, Moby Dick, that had injured him physically, and in Ahab's view, intellectually and spiritually too. This "grand, ungodly, godlike man" fulminates like a vengeful match for any power in heaven, in hell or on earth. His consuming pride and rage for revenge against the White Whale blaze in the great speech before his crew where he proclaims, "I will wreak that hate upon him . . . I'd strike the sun if it insulted me." And while others think him mad, Ahab knows he is but "demoniac" -- and that "for this hunt my malady becomes my most desired health." The Whale of course proves to be his nemesis.This made me want to pull Melville off my shelf and read one memorable part again:
Toward thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale: to the last I grapple with thee: from hell's heart I stab at thee: for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.Can Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be the Captain Ahab of the Muslim world? It's a thought worth considering, whether he exhibits hubris-nemesis tendencies. Ronfeldt wrote his study on behalf of the CIA.
April 12, 2006
Through the Looking Glass
Austin Bay's piece today about The Quiet War Against Muqtada Sadr has this interesting bit:
Sistani's aides told Iraqi and coalition officers: "Let us deal with Sadr. We know how to handle him and will do so. However, the coalition must not make him a martyr."I have a feeling many more than the Iraqis would understand, just not many Americans. Politics, when not democratic, makes a messy affair.
I left Iraq with the impression that Sistani's plan for handling Sadr would be a python-like squeeze only an Iraqi insider would fully understand.
Two of Alan Furst's historical novels of espionage in World War II contain moments when the soon-to-be agent realizes just what business he is about to become involved in.
The World At Night has this recruitment scene:
"So, what I"m working on." Simic lowered his voice, leaned closer to Casson. "What I'm working on is a nice private Spaniard for the British secret service. A general. An important general, respected. What could he do? What couldn't he do! He could form a guerrilla force to fight against Franco. Then form a military junta and restore the monarchy. Prince Don Juan, pretender to the Spanish throne, who is tonight living in exile in Switzerland, could be returned to Catalonia and proclaimed king. See, Franco took the country back to 1750, but there's plenty of Spaniards who want it to go back to 1250. So the junta would abolish the Falangist party, declare amnesty for the five hundred thousand loyalist fighters in prison in Spain, then declare that Spain's strict neutrality would be maintained for the course of the war. And no German march to Gibraltar."And Night Soldiers contains a similar scene, but for a different master:
Slowly, Casson sorted that out. It had nothing to do with the way he thought about things, and one of the ideas that crossed his mind was a sort of amazement that somewhere there were people who considered the world from this point of view. They had to be on the cold-hearted side to think such things, very close to evil -- a brand-new war in Spain, fresh piles of corpses, how nice. But, on the other hand, he had been reduced to crawling around like an insect hunting for crumbs in the city of his birth. It was the same sort of people behind that -- who else?
The man and the woman at the next table laughed. She began it, he joined in, one of them had said something truly amusing -- the laugh was genuine. You think you know how the world works, Casson thought, but you really don't. These people are the ones who know how it works.
"You understand, do you not," Antipin said, "that they meant for me to kill him."
"If that's his name."
"Why. To create an incident, to make politics, to give their newpapers something to say: bloody-fanged Bolshevik murders local policeman. Yes?"
Khristo though about it for a time. He understood it, but it seemed very strange. Events occurred, newspaper stories were written. That the sequence could be staged -- events made to happen so that stories would be written -- had simply never crossed his mind.
"The murder was an alternative, a second scheme to try in case their first one failed."
Khristo squinted with concentration. The world Antipin was describing seemed obscure and alien, a place to be explained by an astrologer or a magician. Violence he knew, but this was a spider web.
Or maybe such is not confined to non-democratic politics after all . . . Bruce Bawer notes this about the French in his article in the Hudson Review:
All of which makes it even more fascinating to read Timmerman on Chirac’s shabby little demimonde of bribes and bagmen. From the cash stashes in Chirac’s office toilet to the Quai d’Orsay diplomat caught poking through garbage bags outside a Houston home to the classified U.S. and UN data that Chirac, unforgivably, shared with Saddam right up to the invasion of Iraq, Timmerman’s account makes the entire history of Washington scandals from Watergate onward look like a Girl Scout cookie drive. He makes a point that’s actually occurred to me before, too: that the French are so accustomed to their politicians being profoundly cynical and corrupt that they naturally assume all American politicians are like that, too. One recalls the cheers at Cannes for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, that pastiche of falsehood and cheap innuendo; the bitter irony is that the scale of French leaders’ real-life avarice and perfidy dwarfs even the worst of that film’s accusations against their American counterparts.If America's perpetual tale is one of innocence lost, then innocence regained, perhaps we are in the midst of the eye-opening portion of that cycle . . . and once opened, what might our eyes tell us to do?
April 8, 2006
The US-Iraqi Security Treaty of 2007
Belmont Club points to an article I noticed in Opinionjournal last week, in which Amir Taheri fleshes out his belief that the strategy in many Muslim capitals is to wait out the end of Mr. Bush's presidency, the assumption being that whoever follows will not be so prone to an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East:
According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.Allow a bit of speculation . . .
Mr. Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as "waiting Bush out." "We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies," says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran's new Foreign Minister.
The Bush administration is probably equally as concerned as Mr. Ahmadinejad that its successor will pursue a, for lack of a better term, more "traditional" foreign policy in the Muslim world. Moreover, the Bush team has proven fairly adept at forcing military actions to conform to domestic political timeframes. I think an oft-overlooked facet of the timing of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was its relationship to the election cycle. Bush et al. knew that they wanted to get rid of Saddam, and knew that they had to do it in his first term, because there was no way to guarantee that he'd have a second. Letting the inspections drag on then, as an alternative strategy for example, would have been more than just backing down; it would have lessened the chance that the regime would be changed before November of 2004.
Likewise, the Second Battle of Fallujah coincided with the end of the US election in 2004, as Bush could not risk the media's coverage of a dirty, urban battle while he was shoring up his own electoral position at home.
Some might think this is a poor way to plan: manipulative of policy for the purposes of political gain . . . but to think such is to ignore the intricate ties between warfare and politics . . . Clausewitz would understand what the President is up to, as would Lincoln, I think . . .
In any case, assuming Mr. Taheri is correct in his assessment of the "waiting Bush out" strategy he describes, we now encounter a new foreign-policy conundrum for Bush's team. First an inescapable fact: after January 20th, 2009, we'll have a new President, who might have altogether different ideas of how the US should be involved in the Middle East.
So assume that Bush wants his strategy to continue beyond his own tenure. How might he ensure that? One way might be through a security treaty with the new Iraqi government. Such a treaty might detail the nature of continued US intervention for the next decade or so: where bases might be located; how aid should be distributed; how intelligence might be shared between the two; how the two countries' forces could cooperate in a variety of endeavors . . .
It is unlikely that such a step could be taken in 2006 because of political conditions in both countries: the Iraqi government is in no shape to begin deliberating it, as it does not yet exist. And in Washington, things have entered the twilight zone that occurs in the runup to elections: little other than the election itself is on anyone's mind, and passing a major piece of foreign-policy legislation is unlikely (the immigration debate is certainly foreign-policyish, but is also certainly more driven by reelection concerns than anything else). Moreover, after 2007, Bush will probably have missed his chance to attempt such an initiative . . . by 2008, he'll have entered full-scale lame duck status, and most everything will be on autopilot as the politerati totally focus on the presidential election.
Back to Iraqis: one thing's for sure: whoever does end up running the government over there will not run it for long if security is not his highest priority . . .
So there's an interesting confluence of interests: US desires to extend its forward presence in the Mideast for the intermediate term, perhaps 10 years or more; and an Iraqi political need to appear to shore up domestic security, while at the same time addressing the status of the large US presence within the country.
And then there's the timing: the formation of the Iraqi government, and what could be called the continual reformation of the US government, both won't be complete until early 2007 . . .
My guess is that if the Bush team wants to enshrine some sort of aggressive US transformational policy in the Middle East, 2007 will be the year to make it happen, and a treaty, or other similar agreement, might be the means . . .
One interesting side note is that treaties must be approved by the Senate . . . and the number of Senators who are preening for 2008 is as large as ever . . . and the Bush team also has a habit of skillfully employing the tactic of forcing a vote on an issue so that legislators are thereby defined by that vote in an upcoming election (think the DHS bill of 2002 for example) . . . interesting . . .
A principle of grand strategy is to ensure that one's policies live longer than one's own administration -- for if they are the correct course, then they should not be limited in the timeframe of their execution . . .
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 23, 2006
The President's Sergeant Major
A few days ago, the case was made here that the President, if not the Secretary of Defense, needs a "directed telescope" to help him understand ground events in Iraq, and to refute, counter and clarify whatever hash is out in the evening news in the US:
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).
Several new stories serve to clarify this idea a bit. First, Peggy Noonan has an excellent piece in today's Opinionjournal about the distance of elites from the masses, and the resulting cause for error in judgment:
The leaders of the day did not know that terrible violence was coming because of what I think is a classic and structural problem of leadership: It distances. Each of these men was to varying degrees detached from facts on the ground. They were by virtue of their position and accomplishments an elite. They no longer knew what was beating within the hearts of those who lived quite literally on the ground. Nehru, Mountbatten, Jinnah--they well knew that Muslims feared living under the rule of the Hindus, that Hindus feared living under Muslims, that Sikhs feared both. But the leaders did not know the fear that was felt was so deep, so constitutional, so passionate. They did not know it would find its expression in a savagery so wild and widespread.So how to correct for this as much as possible? Keeping the idea of a "directed telescope" in mind, now see this exchange between Hugh Hewitt and Michael Yon, warblogger extraordinaire:
Each of these leaders had been removed by his own history from facts on the ground. "Elitism" doesn't always speak of where you went to school or what caste, as it were, you came from. You can wind up one of the elites simply by rising. Simply by being separated for a certain amount of time from those you seek to lead.
People who know most intimately, and through most recent experience, what is happening on the ground, and in the hearts of men, are usually not in the inner councils. They have not fought their way or earned their way in yet. Sometimes they're called in and listened to, at least for a moment, but in the end they tend to be ignored. They're nobodies, after all.
This is a problem with government and governing bodies--with the White House, Downing Street, with State Department specialists, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and West Point, too. It is not so much a matter of fault as it is structural. The minute you rise to govern you become another step removed from the lives of those you govern. Which means you become removed from reality.
Hugh Hewitt: . . . Michael Yon, when you do go back, which part of the country are you headed to? Are you going to embed with another unit like the Infantry division you were with a year ago?Now tie it all together. You can see it, yes? What the President needs is his own Sergeant Major - a directed telescope on the battlefield reporting directly to him. Not his staff, not the White House Spokesman or the Press Pool. The chain goes straight to The Man himself.
Michael Yon: Well, I've already contacted Sergeant Major Mellinger, who's the top enlisted man in the theater, meaning he is the top enlisted man in Iraq. And he goes everywhere. I've been out with him twice before, and I call him the University of Iraq, because he seems to know everything that's going on. So I'd like to spend a couple of weeks with him, getting in-briefed again about the new state of the country, because he speaks very bluntly. And then after that, I'll go to probably where the action is. I tend to go to where our troops are seeing the most combat, but then I pop out sometimes, and go to the peaceful areas. But I want to know how our troops are doing.
This is not hard to envision. Grab any of a number of Sergeants Major out there who are now retired. They have made careers of making gut calls in all manner of odd situations. Grab a guy who used to be in Delta Force, or the 1st Marine Division SgtMaj. You could grab an officer if you preferred (ahem: my email address is in the sidebar), but if it was me, I'd have a senior enlisted man, the type who's harder than woodpecker lips. Whoever he is, he must be able to communicate very very very well. Then give him an armored four door humvee, a translator, and a couple of shooters to be a mini-brute squad. That's all he'll want if he's the kind I have in mind. He can always hop on a bird if needs to. Get him some nice equipment too -- a camera, a sat phone, etc.
Then set him loose. Tell him to go to whatever is interesting and report whatever he thinks necessary. Give him no format whatsoever. No timeframes whatsoever. Or, if you know of a particular operation that needs checking up on, send him there.
One more thing he needs: a little letter signed by POTUS that says, "This man may go wherever he wishes. Do not impede him." He can laminate that and put it in his vest and that's all he'll need for access.
The cost of all this is miniscule compared to the added channel of insight that the President would have to the events on the ground. He can then make better decisions, question his subordinates a little more pointedly, but most importantly, be very prepared to refute, clarify, and offer counternarratives to the press.
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.
March 2, 2006
Welcome to Post-Tipping Point politics. There is no upside to doing the right thing – which is to emphasize, as one blogger put it, that there is a difference between Dubai and Damascus. There is tremendous political upside to doing the wrong thing, boldly declaring, “I don’t care what the Muslim world thinks, I’m not allowing any Arab country running ports here in America! I don’t care how much President Bush claims these guys are our allies, I don’t trust them, and I’m not going to hand them the keys to the vital entries to our country!”Geraghty points to this New Republic piece, in which Peter Beinart asks,
Courting these voters will mean supporting proposals that are supported by wide swaths of the American people, but are largely considered nonstarters in Washington circles: much tougher immigration restrictions, including patrolling the Mexican border; racial profiling of airline passengers instead of confiscating grandma’s tweezers; drastically reducing or eliminating entry visas to residents of Muslim or Arab countries; and taking a much tougher line with Saudi Arabia and coping with the consequences of that stance. Since 9/11, the Bush administration, and most leaders on Capitol Hill in both parties have dismissed those ideas as unrealistic, counterproductive, or not in accordance to American values.
If you listen to Democratic criticism of the port deal, the Jacksonian themes are clear. In the words of California Senator Barbara Boxer, "We have to have American companies running our own ports." But nationalism tinged with xenophobia makes Democrats uncomfortable.
For Democrats, stealing the Bush administration's populist, unilateralist thunder would be a remarkable coup. And it would be a remarkable historical irony, since Jacksonianism in Jeffersonian clothes--civil libertarian, anti-globalization, uninterested in transforming the world--inverts the foreign policy of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Politically, the opportunity is clear. There's just one catch: Is this really what Democrats believe?
I'm convinced this is all a remake of Naked Gun. You remember the scene: in his zealous pursuit of the Queen's would-be assassin, Lt. Frank Drebin finds himself at an Angels game, suddenly taking the place of the umpire behind home plate. A pitch is thrown. The crowd goes silent. Drebin is quiet. The pitcher stares at him. The batter turns and looks at him. Drebin looks back at him. Then he mumbles, "Strike?"
The crowd goes wild. Drebin smiles. He's got em now! He's forgotten all about the assassin for the moment. The next pitch is thrown. It's obviously way outside. Drebin calls another strike. The crowd goes nuts! Drebin does a little dance behind the plate, with two fingers up in the air, repeating, "Two! Two! Two! Strike Two!" On the next pitch, Drebin calls a strike before the ball even hits the catcher's mitt. Then he polishes it off with a moonwalk and a bit of breakdancing.
This is where the Democratic party finds itself. With their friends in the press, they've thrown out all manner of arguments in their zealous quest to wrest power from George W. Bush. Then, all of a sudden, they find themselves in a position to umpire a large commercial transaction. Everyone waits to see what they're going to say.
The country goes wild! They reinforce their success and continue on this meme. But as Beinart notes above, are they really ready to deal with the underlying reasoning that leads the nation to cheer at their calls?
We all know how that segment of the movie ends. Drebin is having so much fun that he forgets about the sleeper in his midst. Then, when he's reminded, he starts a riot on the field. Of course, it's Hollywood and in the end he's a hero. But is this the kind of national security that we want? Ask a Democrat what kinds of actions he's prepared to take in the war, and he'll say he'll withdraw troops from Iraq. Then he'll list a litany of things he would have done differently. But does he really have a plan of any substance? In the midst of discrediting the Bush Administration, he sees an opening on Bush's right. Finally! But is he really ready to go there and do the things that those constituencies want done? All of a sudden, the pre-9/11 Democrats have gone on a blind date with 2006 voters. I have a feeling that before it is all over, the Democrats will be as terrified of the voters as they are of Arabs.
This all goes back to my post of yesterday: How will our society answer the question: Is Islam compatible with a free society? The Democrats may be about to side with those who say, No. SInce this violates some of their most fundamental principles, and those of multiculturalism, can they even make this journey? Or are we witnessing a transformation of the Democratic party?
Interestingly enough, Naked Gun opens with Drebin "on vacation" in Beirut, if memory serves, where he takes out Ayatollah Khomeini, Gorbachev, Idi Amin, and Qaddafi all at one time.
[Frank has beaten a horde of America's most-feared world leaders in a conference room and heads for a door]This was supposed to be funny back in 1988: a witless American taking the fight to the enemy: basically what the American people would have loved to see done to any of those world leaders. But it's meant to be a farce!
Muammar al-Qaddafi: Hey, who are you?
Frank: I'm Lt. Frank Drebin! Police Squad! And don't ever let me catch you guys in America!
[the door hits Frank in the face and he loses his balance]
Who knew it was prophetic of the possible electoral machinations of the Democratic party in 2006?
The Key Strategic Question
Is Islam compatible with a free society?
This is the key strategic question of our day.
In October, William Buckley wrote:
The moment has not come, but it is around the corner, when non-Muslims will reasonably demand to have evidence that the Muslim faith can operate within boundaries in which Christians and Jews (and many non-believers) live and work without unconstitutional distraction.[h-t to a Belmont Club commenter]
Buckley is correct that this is a question demanding an answer, but he misjudges the timing of its asking and answering. The truth is that assumed answers to this question have been fundamental in developing our strategies in the war on terror, and that we have yet to answer it definitively.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? A 'yes' answer offers a far different set of strategic imperatives than a 'no' answer.
In his book The Universal Hunger for Liberty, Michael Novak notes the tone of discourse in the beginning of our war:
"Surely," the proposition was put forward, by many Islamic voices as well as by the president, "a modern and faithful Islam is consistent with nonrepressive, open, economically vital societies."To say yes to our question, one assumes that there are aspects of being Muslim and faithful to Islam, that can coexist peacefully with liberty, tolerance, and equality. The strategy that follows is one of identifying the groups and sects within Islam that adhere to these notions of their religion, and then encouraging them, favoring them, propagating them, and splitting them off from the elements of Islamic practice that are all too incompatible with the portions of modernity that invigorate men's souls: free inquiry, free association, free commerce, free worship, or even the freedom to be left alone.
To answer no, one states that Islam itself is fundamentally irreconcilable with freedom. This leads to a wholly different set of tactical moves to isolate free societies from Islam. They might include:
-detention of Muslims, or an abrogation of certain of their rights;
-forced deportation of Muslims from free societies;
-rather than transformative invasions, punitive expeditions and punitive strikes;
-extreme racial profiling;
-limits on the practice and study of Islam in its entirety
And even some extreme measures if free societies find the above moves to be failing:
-forced conversion from Islam, or renunciation;
-extermination of Muslims wherever they are found.
These last are especially ghastly measures. But a society that thought Islam incompatible with freedom might in the long term slip towards them.
Since 9/11, the assumption of our government has been that Islam can be compatible with freedom. The Bush administration has been exploiting all manner of divides within the Muslim world, not to conquer it, but to transform it such that a type of Islam compatible with freedom -- and therefore the West and the US, the wellspring and birthplace of modern individual liberty -- will come to the front at the expense of a type of Islam that is irreconcilable. Every institution of government answers our key question with a resounding yes. The Pentagon, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, makes a distinction between "bin Ladenism" and moderate Muslims, our would-be allies. Bush makes speeches in praise of freedom in general and especially in the Muslim world. The defense establishment is addressing what it calls a 'war of ideas':
The U.S. government is also focusing more attention on the intangible but vital dimension of the "war of ideas" between radical Islam and moderate Western and Islamic thought. The Pentagon's September 2004 National Defense Strategy stressed the need to counter ideological support for terrorism to secure permanent gains in the war against terrorism.A yes answer to the question requires Red State Christians in the US to tolerate an Islam that tolerates them. A no answer to the question requires an abandonment of belief in the universality of ideas originating in the west, because it becomes clear that a large portion of humanity -- a fifth perhaps -- follows an incompatible religion. A yes answer forces one to attack totalitarian elements within Islam. A no answer forces a clash of civilizations, a Great Islamic War, as it assumes that all Islam is totalitarian.
It stated the importance of negating the image of a U.S. war against Islam, and instead, developing the image of a civil war within Islam, fought between moderate states and radical terrorists. This kind of imagery will feed into the broader debate beginning in the U.S. on how to win such a war of ideas and how to cultivate moderate democratic Islamic states.
A yes answer might lead to the establishment of something like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, as discussed in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The idea of the congress, however, grew out of a feeling among independent intellectuals on the non-Communist left, as well as American officials, that the West after World War II faced a huge Soviet commitment to propagandizing and imposing Communism, and might lose the battle for European minds to Stalinism.One principle of the CCF's founding document was, "Freedom is based on the toleration of divergent opinions. The principle of toleration does not logically permit the practice of intolerance."
So the congress — established at a 1950 Berlin meeting at which the writer Arthur Koestler declared to a crowd of 15,000, "Friends, freedom has seized the offensive!" — launched magazines, held conferences, mounted exhibitions, and generally sought to expose Stalinist falsehoods from its liberal position. At its height, according to Coleman, the CCF "had offices or representatives in 35 countries, employing a total of 280 staff members."
A no answer might disparage the notion that Westerners can say anything of import to those practicing Islam. I'm not sure if Bruce Thornton would answer no to the key question, but he doesn't seem to like the idea of Westerners trying to convince Muslims of anything new about their religion:
If, then, you are in possession of this truth that you are absolutely certain holds the key to universal happiness in this world and the next, why would you be tolerant of alternatives? Why should you tolerate a dangerous lie? Why should you “live and let live,” the credo of the spiritually moribund who stand for everything because they stand for nothing? And why wouldn’t you kill in the name of this vision, when the infidel nations work against God’s will and his beneficent intentions for the human race?A yes answer to our question might force us to reexamine the religious roots of our own conceptions of freedom, in order to figure best a way to help Muslims look for such roots in their faith. This might resemble the efforts of David Gelernter in his recent Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, "A Religious Idea Called 'America'"
This is precisely what the jihadists tell us, what fourteen centuries of Islamic theology and jurisprudence tell us, what the Koran and Hadith tell us. Yet we smug Westerners, so certain of our own superior knowledge that human life is really about genes or neuroses or politics or nutrition, condescendingly look down on the true believer. Patronizing him like a child, we tell him that he doesn’t know that his own faith has been “hijacked” by “fundamentalists” who manipulate his ignorance, that what he thinks he knows about his faith is a delusion, and that the true explanation is one that we advanced, sophisticated Westerners understand while the believer remains mired in superstition and neurotic fantasy.
The most important story in and for American history is the biblical Exodus; the verse “let my people go” became the subtext of the Puritan emigration to America in the seventeenth century, the American revolution in the eighteenth, and--in significant part by Lincoln’s own efforts--of the Civil War in the nineteenth. It became important, also, to the twentieth century Americanism of Wilson and Truman and Reagan and W. Bush--Americanism as an outward-looking religion with global responsibilities.A yes answer might say that if God gave Biblical antecedents for the freedom of all mankind, He might have put some in the Koran as well . . . A yes answer would try to figure how to play our own religion-based beliefs into a conversation with Islam, as Henry Jaffa seems to argue in the Claremont Review:
In the end we do need to know the real character of Americanism. The secular version is a flat, gray rendition--no color and no fizz--of this extraordinary work of religious imagination: the idea that liberty, equality, and democracy belong to all mankind because God wants them to.
We [are], in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.A no answer, on the other hand, might first start with Islam as anathema to free society, then move to other religious creeds, seeing them through a lens of general suspicion.
Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? Like a Zen koan, this is the question that vexes us.
Our answer of course, might change. The Bush administration has been answering yes for five years. But, inhabiting a democracy, it is of course reflective of and responsive to public sentiment. Several commentators believe that sentiment may be shifting. A piece by Jim Geraghty on his National Review blog wonders if Americans' answer to the key question is changing:
This strikes me as the fallout of the Tipping Point™ - my sense that in recent weeks, a large chunk of Americans just decided that they no longer have any faith in the good sense or non-hostile nature of the Muslim world. If subsequent polls find similar results, the port deal is dead.Perhaps the people's answer to the question is changing.
And what to make of the Manifesto from a dozen European intellectuals, Muslims or former Muslims many of them? How are they answering the key strategic question?
It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats . . .In Glenn Reynolds' podcast interview with Claire Berlinkski, author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Too, she relates this story:
Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others.
Reynolds: You have this wonderful scene in your book where you talk about this, this Englishman of Bengali descent, and he said that when he traveled to the United States, he saw all these immigrants who were US citizens being welcomed by the INS and told, "Welcome home!" And he said, you know, if I ever got that kind of treatment you know when I returned to England, I'd happily lay down my life for England right there . . .In a dissenting statement to the above-mentioned manifesto, Paul Belien in Brussels Journal quotes Dr. Jos Verhulst:
Berlinski: I would have died for England on the spot, that's what he told me. If ever once, someone had said "welcome home" when I showed them my passport at customs and immigration, I would have died for England on the spot.
And now he stands at the dawn of the 21st century: the maligned individual, unsteady on his own feet after executing the inner breach with every form of imposed authority, uncertain, blinking in the brightness of the only god he is willing to recognise – Truth itself, stretching out before him unfathomably deep – full of doubt but aware that he, called to non-submission, must seek the road to the transcendent, carrying as his only property, his most valuable heirloom from his turbulent past, that one gold piece that means the utmost to him, his precious ideal of complete freedom of thought, of speech and of scientific inquiry. That is the unique advance that he received to help him in his long and difficult quest.When I was in Iraq, one Iraqi told me he wished Iraq could be the 51st state in the union. Our experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan seems to indicate that there are many Muslims who would prefer that we answer the key question with a yes, saying to those Muslims who can find Islam compatible with freedom, "Have courage!" and once they've achieved their freedom, "Welcome home!"
Meanwhile he is being beleaguered and threatened on all sides; from out of the darkness voices call him to submit and retreat; they shout that the gold in his hands is worthless, while the brightness ahead of him still makes it almost impossible for him to see what lies in store. In short: what this contemporary individual needs most of all is courage, great courage. And the will to be free and to see, which is tantamount to the will to live.
To what fate are we assigning them if we answer no?
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Even though I had no direct quote above, this piece, like most that I do, had a lot of influence from Belmont Club, especially Blowback.
UPDATE2: There seems to be some problem posting comments. The server must be a little slow. It took me several tries to post last night. Thanks for your patience.
February 23, 2006
Has war with Iran begun already?
Back in January, I said:
Here's what I expect in the next 12 months.Is it possible that the Iranians have begun their campaign of terror, but with as much deniability as possible? Let's discuss.
-There will be airstrikes upon Iranian facilities by either the US or Israel.
-There will be catastrophic, if not cataclysmic, terror attacks in various parts of the Middle East, sponsored by Iran or its proxies; The Gulf States, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq are potential targets.
I'm not going to make any definitive statements of causality. Either of the above two events may happen before the other. What happens after those two is anyone's guess. But I think they are both coming, and coming faster than we may all expect.
As far as terrorism and its relationship to a state, Iran presents a different set of circumstances than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's raid on the eastern seaboard on 9/11 was an act of a transnational terror organization with sanctuary within a state. Afghanistan was a totally willing host to Al Qaeda's parasitic organization. Nevertheless, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were still different organizations, with different goals, intents, and motivations, complementary though they might have been.
In Iraq, terror organizations have yet a different relationship with the state. There they exist as something more akin to a cancer, feeding off the ideological and organizational remnants of the Hussein regime, and attacking the host -- the new Iraqi state, founded in the period of 2004-2005.
But what if terrorism is not just a tactic, or an organization separate from its host state? What if instead, terrorism is part and parcel of the state, and not just a tactic, but key to the national security strategy of a state? What if its institutions are not just cooperative with those of a given state, but nearly completely reliant upon it, even to the point of serving as its proxy?
Something akin to this last scenario describes the relationship of Iran to terrorist outfits, whether Hezbollah, its own internal security organizations, or its Pasdaran officers who have made mischief in all parts of the Muslim world at some point or another. Let us then posit that terrorism in some form is an integral part of Iran's foreign policy.
Allow a slilght digression on the nature of terrorism itself. As much as Al Qaeda or its brethren may wish to inflict massive casualties within the West and the US especially, terrorism is just as much about, well, terrorizing a given audience or constituency. That is to say, even though many forms of it might inflict significant casualties, the ultimate goal is influence. It is meant to change minds. When its perpetrators are known, and terror acts are overt, it might be categorized within that type of operation that the West would know as a "show of force." When its origins are not known, or if it is perhaps not even clear that a certain event has a single human agency behind it, then it seeks other forms of influence -- perhaps to change mindsets or affect policy. In some cases, it might even overlap or be confused with covert action, one of the purposes of which is to affect or change policy without any public knowledge of agency or origin.
The US response to 9/11 -- transformation of two states, and an unremitting pursuit of Al Qaeda in all its forms -- would seem to suggest that overt terrorism does not influence the US in a productive manner. Any organization or state that used terror solely for the purpose of a "show of force" would be looking down the business end of the US military's arsenal with little delay. This is not to suggest that spectacular attacks won't be pursued, just that they might now be most useful only for their destructive power.
But the second kind of terrorism -- deniable, covert, and meant to influence -- might take on a whole new importance. These kinds of attacks might be meant to embarrass the West, harrass it, sow discord among its nations, or alternately (and perhaps not simultaneously) unify the Muslim world against it. What might some of these actions look lilke? Well, perhaps "spontaneous" demonstrations in dozens of countries about something published four months previously in an obscure news organ would fit the bill. Or, perhaps a massive terror attack upon a key Shia shrine, which has thus far not been claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, could fit into this category as well.
When considered in the light of the long history of Iran with terror, as both its sponsor and its exporter, one wonders if Iran has begun a new campaign in its quest to achieve nuclear power status with no real objection from the rest of the world. Much of the below has been stated in other venues, but consider each of these points afresh:
-the cartoon controversy did not really begin until after the IAEA had referred Iran to the security council.
-the current chairmanship of the IAEA is held by Denmark.
-some of the worst violence was in Syria, a state where the government controls association, and which is allied with Iran.
And as far as the mosque destruction goes:
-no particular group has claimed responsibility.
-conventional wisdom, correct or not, holds that this act has created one of the highest states of tension in Iraq in some time.
Have these acts been effective in influencing the West? The cartoon controversy might have united the West a bit, but it might have united the Muslim world much more. The mosque destruction is a bit too recent to judge.
One wonders though: how does the US public's reaction to the UAE port deal relate to the cartoon riots? One commentator today (can't find the link) mentioned that it is the reaction of the US public to distrust this transaction when they see that their own government was not forthright enough in supporting Denmark.
One can speculate all night on whether the above two acts are related and how. There are other explanations. Coincidence is one of the easiest.
But all of this raises a larger point: when Americans envision war, we imagine large scale military assaults and operations to neutralize targets, not covert and deniable violence on behalf of influencing public attitudes. Yet this blind spot is exactly what Iran excels at performing, and exactly what vexes Secretary Rumsfeld so much as he laments today in the LA Times:
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we -- our government, the media or our society in general -- have not.I believe our war with Iran has begun.
Consider that violent extremists have established "media relations committees" and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.
Strategypage today has a list of "Ten Signs that the United States is about to Bomb Iran." These are things to look for that will indicate an imminent strike by the US, movements of units and materiel and such that intelligence analysts would examine.
Iran is playing quite a different game than us. It seeks a campaign of influence, of which terrorism and rioting might be key components. Iran's campaign needs no top ten signs to detect it. If the period before it was referred to the Security Council might have been called the "diplomatic phase," it is now in the "influence phase," which might last for a long time, and mean no further escalation is necessary. There may be no start or stop, there may be no formal military action, there may be no overt Iranian involvement, but war with Iran will likely look like a series of events, inexplicable and spontaneous, yet which frustrate our aims.
It is a well-crafted strategy really, as it seeks the seams in our defenses. It undermines our cultural assumptions (wars must be declared at a given point, ended at a given point, and fought by uniformed military forces on "battlefields") and even some of our societal organizational seams (media institutions are not part of the governments that fight wars, but are separate, and beheld to different standards).
For those who think I might be some sort of conspiracy nut, consider: a key part of influence is opportunism. I'm not implying that Iran knew the cartoons would be published, or even was behind the Danish imam who first started circulating them. But when you see an opening you seize it. Iran may have had nothing to do with the destruction of the golden mosque, but this doesn't stop Ahmadinejad from fanning the flames of popular emotion by blaming the US or Israel.
Welcome to warfare in the 21st century. What will be next?
UPDATE: Hat-tip to Instapundit for the Strategypage bit. Also, for this piece by Michael Novak:
Naturally, the West is feeling guilty about the cartoons, and chillingly intimidated by the “Muslim reaction”—more exactly, by the contrived, heavily stimulated, long-contained, and deliberately timed demonstrations of focused political outrage against them—while failing to pay serious attention to the truly huge event that started off this week with a great boom.I guess I'm not the only one . . .
That event, I have a hunch, might well be followed by another shocker fairly soon.
For the stakes for Iran—its nuclear future—and for Syria—its safety from within—and for the future of Hamas in Palestine, could scarcely be higher than they are just now. The most organized radical forces are poised to act in great concert. The moment is crucial for their future prospects.
September 19, 2005
Discussion: What happens if they hit us again?
One topic raised through feedback is the question of what will happen given another 9/11 style attack. I think this is a good subject for a discussion.
Here's some stream of consciousness thoughts to start it off:
Does the attack kill a lot of children, like Beslan?
Do the terrorists use WMD?
Did they come through Mexico?
Does Washington survive?
I think it is highly likely that another attack on our soil will lead to a serious campaign to impeach the President -- and it might succeed.
What will our response be? I'm hoping not an extermination of Islam, but I'm sure that many will call for that. Wretchard has written that internments are what we do when we cannot make judgments; instead of being able to tell who in a given population is bad -- because of PC or other reasons -- we imprison the entire given population. He said it better than me. So I'm hoping that doesn't happen, but I don't think it's impossible.
Another thing that I hope doesn't happen is an expansion of the military to do domestic law enforcement and civil defense. I think this is a dangerous road and is unpalatable for many, many reasons.
I think some very smart people have probably developed a plan for a response to an unclaimed or untraceable WMD attack on a US city. I don't know what they've come up with, but perhaps that's a good thing. Whatever that plan is, if it works for a WMD attack, why wouldn't it work for something on a smaller scale, like hospitals, shopping malls, or CBD condos?
Another thing that I hope doesn't happen is that we are told to go on vacation and shop. This was the largest error of our current war. One word from the President and guys like me will quit our jobs and call the Mobilization Command (I have their 800 number in my phone). In fact, if we were attacked again, I'm pretty sure I could talk at least two co-workers into joining me, even though they have no military experience. But what would we be charging off to do?
If there isn't a group of smart people thinking about these things, then my biggest fear is that another attack on the US will be met with a continuation of our current policy. Even if our current policy is the correct one, and I think it is though it is not without a few flaws of execution, there will need to be some action taken of some kind to both satiate the bloodthirst of the populace, and as a show of force of some kind that says you can't get away with that.
For a realpolitik view of what we could be doing differently now, see Conservative Critiques of the War, Part II: The Lone Realist. Helprin, whose work I summarize there, thinks our efforts are far too feeble. He had another opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal not long ago, to the same tune: 'They Are All So Wrong' Four years after 9/11, Washington keeps courting strategic error.
What do you think, loyal readers?
September 18, 2005
Clinton the Strategist: A Dissection
Something's not quite right here . . .
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: . . . Let's talk Iraq for a second. We just had one of the bloodiest weeks of the war. I know you've said that we have to have a strategy for victory and see this through to victory, but a lot of Democrats and also some Republicans like Chuck Hagel look at the situation now and say you know what? We don't have that strategy. We're not winning.Continue reading for a complete fisking.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We don’t.
June 8, 2005
Discussion Topic: Markets and Networks
Is a network a market? Seems to me the two are very similar, with the understanding that the store of tradable value in networks isn't always money but can be trust, shared interests, or beliefs. Similarly, markets often exist in collective or public goods which are best supplied by vast networks. What is the relationship between these concepts, network and market? Is there one, or is it not worth discussing? Consider the insurgency. Is it a network? If so, doesn't it create a market for providers of jihad to interact with its consumers? Their product is war.
I'd like to hear your thoughts.
February 2, 2005
Thomas Barnett Plays Fast and Loose with National Security . . .
. . . or, "The Pop Strategist Strikes Again"
In the latest issue of Esquire magazine, Thomas Barnett, much-publicized author of "The Pentagon's New Map," offers an article entitled Mr. President, Here's How to Make Sense of Your Second Term, Secure Your Legacy, and, oh yeah, Create a Future Worth Living.
Barnett's central contentions are:
1. Tell Iran we'll "let" them have nuclear weapons in exchange for their recognition of Israel as a state.
2. Remove our security guarantee from Taiwan in order to get on China's good side and
3. Invade or otherwise remove the regime of North Korea.
If you woke up tomorrow and any of these three options had become fact, would you feel more or less secure? More or less confident about the ability of the US to shape the world's agenda?
Barnett's rather nonsensical remarks begin with Iran:
Our offer should be both simple and bold. I would send James Baker, our last good secretary of state, to Tehran as your special envoy with the following message: "We know you're getting the bomb, and we know there isn't much we can do about it right now unless we're willing to up-tempo right up the gut. But frankly, there's other fish we want to fry, so here's the deal: you can have the bomb, and we'll take you off the Axis of Evil list, plus we'll re-establish diplomatic ties and open up trade. But in exchange, not only wil you bail us out of Iraq first and foremost by ending your support of the insugency, you'll also cut off your sponsorship of Hezbollan and other anti-israeli terrorist groups, help us bully Syria out of Lebanon, finally recognize Israel, and join us in guaranteeing the deal on a permanent Palestinian State. You want to be recognized as the regional player of note. We're prepared to do that. But that's the price tag. Pay it now or get ready to rumble."The reader is hard-pressed to see the upside for the US in this course of action. First off, he proposes to approach Iran from a bargaining position which admits weakness -- never a good idea. Next, he seems to place the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian difficulties ahead of US security. Peace in Palestine is certainly a US goal, as Bush made clear this evening in the State of the Union, but it seems like allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapons program is a bit of a high price to pay for it. Barnett is overly influenced by his own core/gap ideas -- he believes that "shrinking the gap" is more important than securing the US. Earlier in the article, he mentions that his rationale for a nuclear Iran vs a nuclear Israel is that mutually-assured destruction really does work. Perhaps, but such are the statements of one who has completely thrown in the towel on nuclear proliferation. Mutually assured destruction was only viable when there were two main power blocs. The world is too complex now for it to have any relevance.
In short, the Iranians would be stupid not to take this deal. They could then renege with no consequences whatsoever. After they've detonated test bomb somewhere in Baluchistan, the plate of US options toward pressuring Iran to do anything will have shrunken dramatically.
As far as the China-Taiwan question goes, Barnett writes thus:
I know, I know, China's still "communist" (like I still have a full head of hair if the lighting's just so), whereas Taiwan is a lonely bastion of democracy in an otherwise . . . uh . . . increasingly democratic Asia. So even though the rest of Asia, including Japan is being rapidly sucked into China's economic undertow (as "running dogs of capitalism" go, China's a greyhound), somehow the sacredness of Taiwan's self-perceived "independence" from China is worth torching the global economy over? Does that strike anybody as slightly nuts?Just what is China's form of government? Certainly it exists within a capitalist society, but Barnett falls far too easily for the claim that capitalism begets democracy -- this is the underlying assumption of his remarks: he feels he can wager the independence of Taiwan now because China will be more democratic, and therefore less threatening in the future. His assumptions are:
1. Capitalism begets democracy.
2. States with integrated economies don't war against each other.
3. Democracies don't war against each other.
But these are not written in stone anywhere . . . they are true up until the moment that one of them is proven false . . . like the idea that 19 men won't fly airplanes into symbols of American power. The only assumption that seems even slightly plausible is that democracies don't war against each other -- but it seems more that they are unlikely to war against each other than that they never will. Barnett's write-off of Taiwan is reckless and shameful, aside from the less debatable point that a Bush administration promising to stand with those who stand for freedom, but which then abandons Taiwan to the Middle Kingdom will have a bit of a credibility problem. Moreover, while he is correct, that Asia is increasingly democratic, how does he then explain an increasingly militant Japan, especially vis a vis China? The Japanese clearly view China as a threat. If China decided one day that Japan was merely a renegade province, should the US scuttle its security agreements with Japan, simply so as not to harm the global economy? More:
My point is this: In a generation's time, China will dominate the global economy just as much as the United States does today (don't worry, we'll be co-dominatrices.) The only way to stop that is to kill this era's version of globalization -- something I worry about those neocons actually being stupid enough to do as part of their fanciful pursuit of global "hegemony."Here yet again, Barnett shows his bias for the global economy and against the security of any given state. Barnett belives no single state should aim for hegemony because of another of his core assumptions: nation-states are doomed and cannot survive economic globalization anyway.
If he's wrong, and the US abandons Taiwan, how emboldened will China be to pursue other strategic aims?
Finally, North Korea. Barnett says,
Kim Jong Il's checked all the boxes: He'll sell or buy any weapons of mass destruction he can get his hands on, he's engaged in bizarre acts of terrorism against South Korea, and he maintains his amazingly cruel regime through the wholesale export of both narcotics and counterfeit American currency.Doesn't Iran also fit each of these criteria: pursuing WMD, terrorism against a regional democracy (Israel, via Hezbollah, by Barnett's own admission above), narcotics, counterfeiting, check and check. Why is it that Iran gets a pass, whereas North Korea gets the rough treatment? The answer is based on all of Barnett's above assumptions, and again, on his bias toward actions which enlarge the global economy, regardless of the results for security of any one state. Iran, he believes, can possess nuclear weapons, open its economy and prosper with the Mullahs still in power. North Korea, being a closed regime, cannot. Therefore, Iran is tolerated and North Korea is threatened with invasion. It is an accepted fact in most military circles that ANY action on the Korean peninsula would be exceptionally bloody. If the US wasn't still worried about the capabilities of the North Korean military, we would not still be there en masse. But again, Barnett's goals largely don't consider the good of one particular state -- the US in this case. Instead, he considers the good of the global economy.
This is his central flaw: Barnett believes that states are doomed to become irrelevant under the onrush of global capital. This is a dangerous presumption and his policy prescriptions are best left gathering dust.