Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Looks like a full-court press to me. So far as I can tell, this is really revolutionary stuff. We're less surprised in the modern global security environment by one state taking an interest in what previously might have been considered to be the sovereign internal affairs of another, what with economic interconnectedness, so-called "superempowered individuals" and sub-state actors, and so on, but isn't this even a step beyond what we're used to seeing? It's one thing to say "we'd like to see the Pakistanis using the F-16s we're selling them to prosecute counterinsurgency operations on their northwest frontier rather than to defend against an imagined Indian threat," and it's quite another to say "we wish the Pakistanis would teach more math to third-graders." Yesterday's commentary seems much closer to the latter.
"This is one of my pet peeves: Countries that will not tax their elites but expect us to come in and help them serve their people are just not going to get the kind of help from us that they have been getting," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience Tuesday at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition conference.
"Pakistan cannot have a tax rate of 9 percent of GDP when land owners and all of the other elites do not pay anything or pay so little it's laughable, and then when there's a problem everybody expects the United States and others to come in and help," Clinton said to a round of applause. She noted that Pakistan's finance minister is now presenting a package of economic and tax reforms.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was also on the same panel, drove home the message that countries who want U.S. development aid must adopt the reforms that Clinton is advocating.
"I've been doing this for a long time and I have never heard a discussion like this, where you have the secretary of state saying what she just said, which is recognizing that unless we are tougher on how we provide assistance...we should not be financing them at this level," Geithner said.
Panel moderator Frank Sesno noted that scaling back assistance to Pakistan, and countries like it, could conflict with other U.S. objectives in the region, such as bolstering the government's internal stability.
"All of these objectives are going to be in conflict at one time or another," Geithner responded. If the countries do not make the required reforms, "We're not going to be able to justify financing [them] on this scale," he said.
On Monday, Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke made a similar plea while appearing on the Rachel Maddow show.
"Their maximum tax rates are much lower than ours, and there's a lot of tax evasion there, as has been well reported. And we can't ask American taxpayers to pay the burden if the Pakistanis don't raise their own revenue," Holbrooke said. "So I don't want to leave people with the impression we're going to pay for the reconstruction
In an interview, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah told The Cable that the multi-billion reconstruction effort that Pakistan faces in the wake of the flood crisis is "going to be much more successful" if Pakistan adopts the Obama administration's suggestions to ""implement a stronger tax regime that's ... more effective."
But even more than all that, here's what really worries me: are we so sure that we understand Pakistan's internal politics well enough to give guidance (or make demands) about potentially inflammatory domestic issues like taxation? Most of us are prepared to acknowledge that Pakistan at least has the potential to become -- if it's not already -- the most dangerous country in the world for the U.S., right? I don't really have enough area knowledge to say this for a fact, but it seems to me that one way to accelerate that development is to contribute to the sort of socio-economic/class stratification that could imperil the government from yet another direction, piling yet another threat on to that posed by the challenge of religious extremist groups/parties and those agitating for land reform and other measures of economic equality (who are already susceptible to manipulation by Taliban-type groups mentioned latterly).
Basically what I'm asking is this: are we sure we should be asking the Pakistani government to piss off rich people at the same time they're pissing off poor people, conservative people, very religious people, Indians, Baluchis, and Pashtuns? It might be good politics in the U.S. -- fair enough that people get annoyed about pumping U.S. aid dollars into a country that can't effectively collect its own legally and morally justified receipts -- but shouldn't the priority here be maintaining the stability of the Pakistani government?
Would be very interested to have actual Pakistan experts weigh in here (as well as all you development folks).
UPDATE: Whoops, in my rundown of people the government has pissed off, I forgot to include the military.
Monday, September 27, 2010
And since I don't think I linked to this when we last had a discussion of Somalia, go read this May 2010 Crisis Group report on "Somalia's Divided Islamists."
I apologize for not adding more but work and life are keeping me busy. I will post more once things have settled.
Update: An anonymous commenter points out this map (thanks!).
Thursday, September 23, 2010
UPDATE: This morning's Playbook has a statement on the S-300 issue from National Security Staff spokesman Mike Hammer:
"The White House strongly welcomes the Executive Order signed by Russian President Medvedev which bans the transfer of advanced weaponry to Iran, including the S-300. We believe President Medvedev has demonstrated leadership on holding Iran accountable to its international obligations from start to finish. We welcome this faithful and robust implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1929, and we remain committed alongside our Russian and other P5+1 partners to finding a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue."
As for why the Russians finally decided to scuttle the arms deal after years of lobbying by Washington, the official speculated that Moscow now has something it needs -- and that it finally has faith that the U.S. is willing to help. Russia is jockeying for as much U.S. support as possible for their upcoming bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and Moscow is planning to finalize its bid this year.
"Momentum on WTO accession is what they see as they next big negotiations with us. We're right in the middle of that. That's asymmetric because that's more in their interest than ours. I think we have to deliver on that," the official said.
But the Obama administration isn't asking Russia for favors or giving them out in return, the official explained. The idea is to make the U.S.-Russia relationship more valuable to the Russians than their relationship with Iran, and both countries should act in their own interests.
"The objective is not actually to develop a good relationship with Russia. The goal here is to advance our national security and economic interests and to promote universal values," the official said.
Lute, the National Security Council's unofficial "war czar" and the sole active-duty general among the group, is portrayed as among the biggest skeptics of the military's strategy to send a surge of more than 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan in an effort to shift the momentum away from the Taliban.In late November, as the president made the decision to escalate the U.S. commitment to the war, Lute warned him that the approach was unlikely to succeed."Mr. President, you don't have to do this," Woodward quotes Lute as saying.The Army general maintained that the Taliban's ability to exploit Pakistani safe havens, the persistent corruption within the Afghan government and the poor state of the Afghan security forces made it unlikely that the surge of forces would produce major changes in Afghanistan by July 2011.Lute's strident questioning of the military's preferred strategy drew a stern rebuke from Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military's top officer."The secretary and I believe you weren't always helpful in the course of the review," Mullen is quoted as telling Lute."I hope the president doesn't have the same view," Lute responded.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The Marine Corps will maintain the capability to conduct opposed amphibious landings with the EFV. The EFV’s ability to conduct high speed maneuver at sea as well as on land, combined with its weapon, communication, and protective systems make it a highly-survivable and lethal capability suitable for opposed landings as well as hybrid threats that accompany counter-insurgency environments. The program also includes a force protection component for use once ashore which consists of an underbody appliqué armor kit, employed to enhance survivability against IEDs, much as the Bradley and M1A2 underbelly appliqués are employed. The range and speed of the EFV, up to 26 knots or greater, allows for a substantial over-the-horizon launch process, providing stand-off that protects our naval amphibious ships from high end littoral threats, such as anti-ship ballistic missiles.The emphasis is mine, and that last bit is the part I'm most interested in. Later:
In an era of increasing challenges to access, the capabilities of a vehicle like the EFV afford our amphibious ships the maneuver space and stand-off distance to better counter anti-access weapons.So it's obvious that Amos is heeding the SECDEF's guidance to make future weapons programs relevant to projected future threats; here he's trying to tie EFV to one of Secretary Gates' recent bugaboos: anti-access weapons. But is his claim even remotely true? On its face, it seems pretty clear that it's not. This CRS report (pdf), for example, casts doubt on whether the EFV's 25 to 30 mile range for amphibious operations marks even a slight improvement from a fleet-protection perspective over the current amphib tractor, the AAAV.
The Navy and Marine Corps both accept that the future operational environment is likely to pose an anti-access challenge (pdf), and that new systems should take this into account. So why is the next Commandant sitting down in front of Congress and telling them that an amphib that does absolutely nothing to protect the fleet from anti-ship missiles is a step in the right direction?
I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.He repeated the sentiment just weeks ago during his Oval Office speech on the Iraq drawdown:
So I was surprised to see this in today's Morning Defense:
And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.
Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there. But we must never lose sight of what's at stake. As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists.
OVERNIGHT ALERT FROM THE POST –Woodward’s book, due out Monday, describes the administration as “barraged” with terrorist warnings on U.S. soil. But Obama told Woodward: “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever... we absorbed it and we are stronger.”I think we all understand the political realities involved in this, and there's no doubt the president would suffer terrible consequences if he were to be seen admitting that terrorism is a danger we simply have to learn to live with. But when I think about what we can "absorb" and about the president's stated belief that "we are stronger" after having suffered through the consequences of 9/11, it makes me wonder whether we're stronger for the $70B we're spending annually in Afghanistan, or for the thousand-plus U.S. lives that have been lost there, or for the consequences of our involvement there like reduced flexibility in our land forces, physical and psychological strain across the force, and the eroded moral force that accompanies a superpower being seen as a vanquished occupier.
If we could "absorb" another 9/11, then WTF are we doing in Afghanistan? (For whatever it's worth, I'm not the only one wondering.)
Thursday, September 16, 2010
A dude tried to get on an airplane in the U.S. with a bomb in his pants, and this is causing confusion about whether to give a country on the other side of the planet ONE POINT TWO BILLION DOLLARS in helos, patrol boats, and small arms.
Senior State Department and American military officials are deeply divided over the pace and scale of military aid to Yemen, which is emerging as a crucial testing ground for the Obama administration’s approach to countering the threat from Al Qaeda.
As the terrorism network’s Yemen branch threatens new attacks on the United States, the United States Central Command has proposed supplying Yemen with $1.2 billion in military equipment and training over the next six years, a significant escalation on a front in the campaign against terrorism, which has largely been hidden from public view.
The aid would include automatic weapons, coastal patrol boats, transport planes and helicopters, as well as tools and spare parts. Training could expand to allow American logistical advisers to accompany Yemeni troops in some noncombat roles.
[. . .]
The Yemen quandary reflects the uncertainty the administration faces as it tries to prevent a repeat of the Dec. 25 attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by a Nigerian man trained in Yemen. American officials say a central role in preparing the attack was played by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric now hiding with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the network’s branch in Yemen.
Let's just reflect for a second on the stupidity of this.
Now go read Paul Pillar on this. I was planning to write something a little more involved when I came across his post, and he's way smarter than me.
Pillar's use of the term "perfect security" made me think about a very brief essay David Foster Wallace wrote three years ago on the meaning of 9/11. James Fallows linked to it last week, and it's worth sharing again. Wallace made a point that I've often made over the last several years: perhaps exposing ourselves to the risk of personal harm or death at the hands of violent extremists is just one of the many uncomfortable trade-offs we're forced to make to enjoy the benefits of a free society. I'm going to reproduce his essay here in full, because it's worth reading and because I think excerpting him tends to rob the text of some of the je ne sais quoi that made Wallace perhaps the most enjoyable read in the English language.
Re-reading this last week made me feel sad, both at the way our politics make Wallace's point fundamentally un-sayable for those from whom it would be most meaningful, and for the fact that last weekend marked the two-year anniversary of the virtuoso's suicide.
Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?
In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?
Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?
In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?
1. Given the strict Gramm-Rudmanewque space limit here, let's just please all agree that we generally know what this term connotes—an open society, consent of the governed, enumerated powers, Federalist 10, pluralism, due process, transparency ... the whole democratic roil.
2. (This phrase is Lincoln's, more or less)
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
THE PUSH FOR FIFTH-GEN FIGHTERS –
Deptula’s video also showed fighters being developed overseas, such as the Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. “These fighters are being marketed worldwide and could be sold to a future adversary,” the video warned.And that's exactly right, and an extremely compelling argument for... Well, I'm not sure what it's an argument for. And it's only compelling if you're Bill Gertz. But still.
You know what the world's most capable fifth-gen fighter [pdf] (defined as "state of the art") is? The F-22. You know where it's been developed and built? Hint: not overseas. That's right, it's right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. But what's the world's second-most capable fifth-gen fighter? you might be wondering. That's the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter. Which is, uh, also a U.S. system (co-developed with NATO allies and Australia). There are suggestions that the Chinese and Russians are also developing fifth-gen fighters (the latter potentially in concert with India), but that's pretty much it.
I'm not sure if this is Lubold and DiMascio's error or Deptula's -- though I would assume the former (it's a pretty good bet that the DCS/AF for ISR knows more about fighter aircraft generations and designations than I do) -- but the three aircraft listed in the article are known as "fourth-plus" or "4.5-gen" fighters. (Other 4.5-gen fighters in service for countries relevant to this discussion? How about the F-15E (U.S.), the F-16 Block 60 (U.S.), and the F/A-18E/F (U.S.)?) Which is to say that they're less capable than at least one U.S. system currently in the air, flying missions, and than another one that's soon to enter service, and that they're similarly capable to the three aircraft that make up the bulk of the U.S. fleet.
Other than that, what else do the Gripen (Sweden), the Rafale (France), and the Typhoon (UK/Germany/Italy/Spain) have in common? Well, there's the fact that they're developed and operated by SOME OF THE UNITED STATES' CLOSEST FUCKING ALLIES ON EARTH. The Rafale is French and is only operated by the French. The Typhoon is a European co-production and is currently flown only by the countries of its manufacture, plus Saudi Arabia and Austria. The Swedes, meanwhile, are the really dangerous proliferators of this lot: the Gripen has been sold to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and South Africa, and they're lining up the Thais next! Now I suppose it's possible that one or all of these countries could become a "future adversary," but it doesn't seem likely.
This picking of nits is all sort of silly, though. The U.S. is developing and fielding fifth-gen fighters, and whether or not our close European allies end up selling their less-capable planes to undesirables, there are states out there that will probably seek to close the fighter gap (in both number and technology) with us. Which is really why the video is appropriately titled, leaving aside the poor examples it uses: there will, no doubt, be future threats to U.S. air supremacy. Let's take a look at the Defense Department definition of that term.
air supremacy (DOD) -- That degree of air superiority wherein the opposing air force is incapable of effective interference.We're unlikely to face threats to U.S. air superiority, though.
air superiority (DOD) -- That degree of dominance in the air battle of one force over another that permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, maritime, and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.See the difference? Air superiority means the ability to create an environment that's permissive to operations. Air supremacy means the ability to create an environment where operations are completely unchallenged from the air. This is a circumstance that's reasonably unique in history, and one that we shouldn't reasonably expect to continue (though one can obviously understand why the Air Force would strive to maintain its warfighters' edge).
And so we're back where we've been all along: talking about what's reasonable, not just what's possible; that is, what's a requirement versus a desired capability. (The DoD loves to use the term "requirement" for everything it wants, and here's an example of why it's pernicious.) Whether we should expect to spend exorbitant sums on ensuring global air supremacy rather than just air superiority, or whether that money could be more effectively spent on other requirements.
Furthermore, airplanes require bases. That means that if you want to use them in an expeditionary capacity, and you're not talking about launching them off of carriers (which face their own challenges from the development of anti-access weapons), you need partners to give you runways and hanger space. And you need to be able to protect those airfields, too.
What does all of this mean? Well, simple: maybe we need to be having a serious national conversation (ok, that's a bridge too far -- how about just a serious conversation in the security community?) about how much capability is required, how much is desirable, and how much is optimal, then stacking that up against the fiscal realities we're operating under (and here I'm talking about the entire range of military roles and missions, not just air dominance/supremacy/superiority). That purpose isn't served by service rivalry, parochialism, and scare tactics on the part of the unholy alliance between military professional communities/associations and the defense industry.
UPDATE: The incomparable GrEaT SaTaN'S gIrLfRiEnD has some thoughts on the subject (accessible only if you speak Courtney's language).
Thursday, September 9, 2010
I thought both made for an interesting read. Any other stories out there like the one from the "At War" blog?
Friday, September 3, 2010
It's worth reading the whole thing, both as a reminder of the continued violence in Iraq and as a way to help you understand the media's thinking in coverage of that ongoing violence.
combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country's future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.
As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
1. CHINA IS RAPIDLY FUCKING US UP IN SPACE! Thanks to our commie Muslim president, the Chinese are doing WHATEVER THEY WANT in space, including FLYING TWO SATELLITES CLOSE TO EACH OTHER. According to an exclusive quote from one of Gertz's legion of in-the-know analysts, "the [satellite] rendezvous appears linked to the military, which is in charge of the all [sic] space programs in China."
Wait, it's linked to the military?! The same military that's "in charge of the all space programs in China"?! But how could that be?! And how did these expert analysts derive such a conclusion? Is it because the military is in charge of the all space programs in China, so by definition, a China-related thing happening in space is almost certainly linked to the military??!
2. WARS ARE WON BY KILLING PEOPLE, NOT PLAYING PANSY GAMES WITH HEARTS AND MINDS! Take, for example, the "Covert Kandahar war" that GEN Petraeus tells Gertz "began in earnest over three months ago;" that covert war "has featured a very high optempo and has taken a significant toll on the enemy." (NB: "Optempo is shorthand for the pace of operations," adds Gertz. "There's certainly no way I could've made this information clear by writing it as 'a very high [operational] tempo,' and so I had to give you that little nugget of information as an editorial aside from a national security expert." Ok, I made up the second part of that quote.)
3. OUR CHAMBERLINIAN APPEASIONIST PRESIDENT BACKS DOWN TO CHINA AGAIN! The USS George Washington, which Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell recently noted would be exercising in the Yellow Sea, though not necessarily at the earliest possible opportunity, has NOT BEEN INCLUDED in exercises to take place AT THE EARLIEST POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY. Morrell confirms the suspicions of sane, literate people everywhere when asked to comment: "I never said the GW would be part of the next exercises, only that it would be back in the Yellow Sea as part of this series of exercises." Here's what Morrell did say on August 5th:
[Naval exercises] will once again involve the USS George Washington. And the USS George Washington will exercise in the Yellow Sea, in the West Sea. But I don’t have for you yet dates when that exercise involving that aircraft carrier will take place. But that will be -- part of the sequence of exercises that we conduct will be a return of the -- of the George Washington, including exercising in the Yellow Sea. . . I think this will take place over the -- over the next several months, over the next several months.So again, pretty much what sane and literate people everywhere already knew. Gertz counters that sanity with yet another of his special experts; this time it's "Bill Hawkins, a consultant specializing in Asian affairs":
Failure to send the George Washington carrier group into the international waters of the Yellow Sea because of Chinese protests sends a signal of weakness rather than resolve in terms of U.S. support for South Korea.Well SON OF A BITCH. Yet another signal of weakness to the Chinese. Between this and the satellite thing, we'd better hope it's only Arabs who like the Strong Horse!
Bill Hawkins sounds like a serious, objective guy, doesn't he? That's the kind of stiff upper lip we all need, especially the Commander in Chief! Let's see what else ol' Bill has written in the past. I'll just check out his bio at FAMILY SECURITY MATTERS. (Man, I hope Major Junior Thomas W. Smith, Jr.'s hard-hitting defense analysis has rubbed off on Hawkins!) Here's a brief listing of publications:
- Exclusive: Why Did U.S. Kowtow to Chinese Naval Ambitions?
- Exclusive: Masking Appeasement Behind International Law?
- Exclusive: Is the Treasury Scared of China?
- Exclusive: UN Dithers While Dangerous Alliances Form
- Exclusive: Desperate to Trade with the Enemy?
- Exclusive: To Appease China, Obama Administration Accepts Empty Rhetoric
4. YOU CAN CRUISE THE CARIBBEAN WITH FORMER SPYMASTERS MICHAEL HAYDON [sic, and sic the four other times Gertz misspells Hayden's name in the article] AND PORTER GOSS! For a mere $1K to $2,700 "depending on the stateroom selected," you too can be privy to lectures from "high-level folks" like Goss, who will present a talk entitled "Radical Fundamentalism and (Judeo-Christian) Western Civilization Are Irreconcilable." No word yet on whether secular humanist American culture is reconcilable with RADICAL FUNDAMENTALISM, but Gertzians won't want to miss this one.
God, I love Bill Gertz. This just made my day.
Ok, so first of all, stop describing pirates as if they’re some kind of action heroes. What’s up with all the “pirate lair” and “pirate den” language? Second, when you’re describing the forces of a pirate/militia group, use accurate nomenclature. Last I checked, small infantry divisions are made up of way more than “several hundred men.” I’m sorry but 6 technicals and 80 heavy machine guns does not an infantry division make. And then avoid the reference to “grappling hooks”—this is not Pirates of the Horn with Johnny Deep. Third, the hole “check” gimmick…seriously? Finally, “pirate middle manager”? This always makes me think of calling Pirate Inc. HQ, and having a receptionist answer ‘Good morning, Pirate Inc., for middle managers, press 5.’ Though I suppose if they’re Shabab-affiliated it would be minus the elevator background music. Seriously, this is reporting?
So far, I’ve been ranting about style. Now on to substance (sort of): is there anything important in this article? Did you learn anything of import by reading it? Umm, not really, in fact more than likely you didn’t. Why, because there’s nothing there. Of course both sides are leveraging pirates for their own gains, of course these alliances may be temporary, of course the pirates are building up their land bases and of course Western presence is making things harder for their operations. The article read like an email a sixteen year old sends his brother after going on a really cool class trip (the trip was arranged for journalists the article says). There are ways to write about this that actually don't make Somalia and its people look like an adventure film and its hapless characters. Start writing that way, please.
Hey sir, right after I saw the change in mission on tv, I gave a safety brief to a patrol, we went out the gate, and the lead truck got blown the f*ck up. I guess some dudes didn't get the memo that OIF is over.Don't forget. And just in case I didn't make my point in the last post: don't forget that while your life in Washington and your worldview may feel different now, here on "day one of life with no Iraq War," the guy rolling out of the wire may disagree.
EDIT: You know, I changed my mind about that title just as soon as I posted it. I guess I'd say that in my mind, and in some big-picture sense, the war is basically over, and has been since a good while before the end of OIF. But violence in Iraq isn't finished, and probably won't be for a while. Nor is anti-American violence, though it's at comparably low levels.
And just as I'm finishing this up, a coworker pointed out to me a cartoon from this morning's Examiner that just about sums it all up.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I've got a few problems with the argument being made, not least of which the general assumption that global political and economic events have impacted all (or event most) members of a specific age cohort in a similar way. It's hard enough to make this argument about a particular ethno-linguistic group, or a socio-economic segment, or even holders of the same nationality. For me, it seems totally unwarranted to assume that "twentysomethings" have taken a set of stock lessons from the events of the last decade on account of the fact that we had a similar number of years behind us when we experienced them.
I wonder whether the current generation of millennial twentysomethings will develop a worldview about international relations that transcends party and clique. If that happened, it would profoundly shape the contours of American foreign policy starting next decade.
As I think about it, here are the Millennials' foundational foreign policy experiences:
1) An early childhood of peace and prosperity -- a.k.a., the Nineties;
2) The September 11th attacks;
3) Two Very Long Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq;
4) One Financial Panic/Great Recession;
5) The ascent of China under the shadow of U.S. hegemony.
From these experiences, I would have to conclude that this generation should be anti-interventionist to the point of isolationism.
Then again, I'm looking at this through my own irony-drenched Gen-X eyes.
It seems like Dickinson has accepted Drezner's thesis (or perhaps I should say "hypothesis") that common experience of the same historical era should result in a reasonably consistent or homogenous worldview across an age group. But we don't expect Baby Boomers or Gen Xers to share a worldview, do we? Is it only our youth that makes people believe the so-called "millenials" are too unsophisticated to cobble together a worldview from a priori philosophical positions (or theory) rather than some formative experience? I don't know, maybe I'm taking this a little too personally.
It's only fair to give you Dickinson's disclaimer (with which she closes the essay) up front:
Of course, I am but a subset of my demographic group, and no one authorized me to speak on behalf of my peers. But like the generation that grew up in Vietnam, we will be the Iraq generation. What that means is not yet clear, but it begins now. It's day one of life with no Iraq War.I suppose this means that we're not supposed to take this effort to summarize the thinking of a generation as an effort to summarize the thinking of a generation. I think it's nonsense, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention her having asked. Let's take a look at what it is, exactly, that our generation is meant to have learned from the war.
1) We are starry-eyed multilateralists. For those of us who were just learning what activism meant when the war was launched, the lead-up to the Iraq War in the U.N. Security Council was front and center. . . as a result, my generation has grown up respecting the United Nations, seeing it (and institutions like it) as offering a more just world. . . We are a generation of idealistic multilateralists -- and despite its flaws, we want our country to work with the U.N.Except when we're not, and we don't.
For a great many American young people, Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the comparative advantage of leading a "coalition of the willing" in which one country directs operations and others fill in niche capabilities over a UN or NATO intervention in which U.S. priorities are subverted to the bureaucratic nightmare of alliance politics and national caveats. The Iraq War could also be taken as the ultimate repudiation of multilateral diplomatic pressure, seeing as the American invasion was pitched by our government as a matter of last resort after the failure of a series of UNSC resolutions. Iran and North Korea, too, underline the UN's fundamental impotence.
Dickinson can argue that the Iraq experience has molded young Americans into "idealistic multilateralists," but I can just as easily point her to the many aggressive unilateralists whose presumptions about limitations on American power have only been confirmed in their own minds by the events of the last eight years.
Except when we don't.
2) We care about civilian casualties. Credit this one to the countless scholars, journalists, and writers who have chronicled what it meant to be an Iraqi living through the Iraq war. But credit it also to Abu Ghraib prison, where we all saw the worst of war. And to the renewed emphasis on winning hearts and minds that American learned the hard way when Iraq and Afghanistan took turns for the worst.
If this observation is right, my generation could reshape public perception of warfare. For most of history, conflicts have been judged by the toll taken on one's own force with less regard for the local population.
Sure, our generation is sensitive to human suffering. So too have been past generations, and I'd be surprised if they weren't a bit offended by the suggestion that twentysomethings are more interested in sparing the lives of innocents.
Dickinson would no doubt point to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual and its emphasis on winning hearts and minds, on non-kinetic actions and the importance of development, essential services, and legitimate governance. I'd respond that the early days of the COIN-oriented Surge in Iraq saw a significant jump in civilian deaths (to correspond with a major uptick in the amount of ordnance delivered on targets in urban areas, both from airborne platforms and artillery), and that tactical directives intended to curb collateral damage in Afghanistan have gone into effect at a time when combined civilian casualties (at coalition and insurgent hands) are at a wartime high.
The COIN debate is swinging back in the direction of those who argue that effective counterinsurgents have historically made use of significant amounts of targeted violence, along with often brutal resettlement and population-control measures that in other circumstances would be considered human rights violations.
Sure, we care about civilian casualties, but so what?
3) We don't like haters. September 11 showed us for the first time that there are people who hate America. But the aftermath has also taught us that aggression can make more trouble than it solves. And as such, we want leaders who take the high road -- who speak calmly and understand the diversity of both our country and our world. But speaking isn't enough; we want activist presidents who go out into the world to seek change -- and aren't afraid to admit if and where they were wrong.But who does, really?
And why did it take 'til September 11th? What about the USS Cole? What about Nairobi and Dar es Salaam? What about Mogadishu in 1993, when 18 U.S. soldiers came home in coffins, something I distinctly remember (as a 13-year old) seeing on the front cover of TIME?
And what of this "aggression can make more trouble than it solves"? If this is the case, why is support still so strong for the war in Afghanistan, a conflict with uncertain goals and an unclear linkage between operations and desired effects?
4) We are used to thinking of America on the decline. My generation is in many ways the "rise of the rest" generation. The splits in the Security Council were just the beginnings of the decline of American hegemony in the world. Now there are economic signs (a whopping unemployment rate), military signs (we finished in Iraq but didn't really win), and moral signs (granted I haven't been around Washington for terribly long, but do you remember the last time Congress was so divided?) But more than that, my generation has watched the rise of China and India. We've been abroad and we've seen the momentum that a country like Poland or Chile or Brazil has captured. And when we come home, that's missing.I'll be honest and say that I don't have a huge problem with this one, though -- having lived in Poland for two years -- I would absolutely dispute the contention that these so-called rising regional powers have any kind of "momentum" that the U.S. fails to replicate. But yeah, most of us who have come of age in the dreaded "post-Cold War period" have some sense of what I'd call eroding unipolarity. Having said that, we also realize that the financial crisis is wreaking havoc around the globe, not just here at home, and that our economic and military competitors suffer similarly from scarcity and difficult resource choices. The "unipolar moment" may have passed, but that's no reason to believe that the U.S. must return to "normal" nationhood. The process has been a bit melancholy, even tragic, but the last decade has demonstrated the limits of military intervention and more generally of American power, and that may turn out to be a good thing.
You know what else has limits? The explanatory power of age-based demographic binning. Let's give it up. Stuff like this is tired, and it doesn't teach us anything. Are some of us going to draw the same lessons as Elizabeth Dickinson? Sure. Are some of us going to draw the same lessons as Duncan Hunter, Jr., who is 33 and probably doesn't agree with a single damned thing Elizabeth Dickinson wrote? Sure. We're not "the Iraq war generation." That generation may exist in the Army and Marine Corps -- a limited, more experientially and culturally homogenous grouping, and one that's been directly shaped by personal experience with that war -- but it doesn't exist in society. One of the great "lessons of Iraq" is this: people in a society as broad and rich and disparate as the U.S. will always find ways to disagree about what's best for the country and its security. Let's not contribute to polarization and acrimony by suggesting that there's one appropriate way to have experienced the last decade.
So let's talk about why this is so dumb. First, the most glaring reason: CAP's 2005 report "Strategic Reengagement," authored by Larry Korb and Brian Katulis (who happily echo Bergmann's insistence of their centrality to the war's end in their own op-ed on Foreign Policy), called for the withdrawal of 80,000 U.S. troops... IN 2006! That's prior to the Surge; prior to the Sahwa; prior to the JAM stand-down; prior to the Samarra mosque bombing; prior to the conclusion of ethno-sectarian cleansing across the neighborhoods of Baghdad; prior to the formation of the Maliki government; prior to the Iraqi offensive against Shia militias; prior to the conclusion of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA); and so on and so on. All of this seems so obvious as to not even need saying. In short, it's patently absurd to suggest that a massive troop withdrawal in 2006 would have gone as smoothly and produced similar results to the one currently taking place without the change in the security situation that took place in the intervening four years.
Bergmann argues that the real importance of the CAP report was the suggestion "that the US should set a date certain to prompt Iraqis to take control of their security and should withdraw its forces deliberately but responsibly in that period." Katulis and Korb echo this point:
This argument rests on the specious contention that promises of sustained American commitment to Iraq had a suppressive effect on Iraqis' enthusiasm to end the war that wracked their country. In a less charitable interpretation, one could conclude that Katulis and Korb think that sectarian violence and civil war drug out in Iraq simply because Iraqis weren't trying hard enough. (What else is there to believe, really, when you read the assertion that ISF recruiting numbers are causally related to vague assertions by opposition politicians and obscure think-tankers that the U.S. would not remain forever?)
Deadlines for a strategic redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq -- initially proposed in 2005 by leaders like former Representative Jack Murtha, championed by Democrats in Congress and candidates in the 2006 midterm elections, and outlined by the 2006 bipartisan Iraq Study Group ["and by US!", they modestly avoid noting] -- all sent the important signal that Iraqis needed to take greater responsibility and ownership of their own affairs. The message that America's commitment to Iraq was not open-ended motivated forces such as the Sunni Awakenings in Anbar province to partner with the U.S. to combat Al Qaeda in 2006, a movement that began long before the 2007 surge of U.S. forces.
The message that Americans were leaving also motivated Iraqis to sign up for the country's security forces in record numbers. The "surge" of U.S. troops to Iraq was only a modest increase of about 15 percent -- and smaller if one takes into account the reduced number of other foreign troops, which fell from 15,000 in 2006 to 5,000 by 2008. In Anbar province, the most violent area, only 2,000 troops were added.
Here's the thing, though: the U.S. was never going to "remain forever." You know how I know this? A SOFA mandating the removal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by July 2009 and from the entire country by the end of 2011 was NEGOTIATED AND SIGNED DURING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. That's right: the "Obama plan" is basically the Bush plan, with the addition of a couple of mid-course deadlines for the "removal of combat forces," an almost entirely meaningless milestone. Bergmann's claims that "there was no conservative withdrawal plan" seems a bit silly in light of this fact.
The WonkRoom post also takes a few shots at CNAS, suggesting that the perceived success of CAP's competitor in the so-called "think tank wars" was more attributable to good PR than substantive policy differences. "The CNAS approach was essentially an effort to find a centrist withdrawal strategy," Bergmann writes, so they concluded that redeployment should happen on a slower timeline, and with a more substantial residual force for advise and assist and counterterrorism missions. Uh, doesn't this sound a lot like what happened in 2008 and 2009?
And so here's the almost literally unbelievable conclusion:
There is little doubt that the Obama plan to set a date certain and to withdraw more than 120,000 troops in 16 months was essentially what CAP had been arguing for since the fall of 2005. In other words, Obama went with the progressive plan on Iraq. . . The reason there are just over 40,000 troops [in Iraq] is not because of the surge, it is because Obama decided to withdraw more than 100,000 troops.When you look closely, Bergmann's argument should really go something more like this: U.S. strategy in Iraq in 2011 is basically exactly like what CAP advocated in 2005... except that the country executed a combination of the CNAS approach and the AEI approach in the meantime in order to make "CAP's progressive plan for ending [the] Iraq war" even remotely plausible.
If you didn't understand my post the other day about how partisan national security politics is destroying my will to live, hopefully now it makes a little more sense. "Think tank experts" shamelessly shilling for one side or another and engaging in embarrassing self-gratification over their imagined success in impacting policy just intensify my disaffection.