Friday, December 17, 2010

Lessons Learned from U.S. Government Law Enforcement in International Operations

I was recently involved in a project to research and examine lessons learned on the law enforcement elements of the U.S.'s experiences in Panama, Colombia, and Kovoso, printed by the U.S. Army's Strategic Studies Institute as a PKSOI Paper. I'm not usually in the practice of hawking the things I work on in this forum, but I'm doing so for this one because I think it is an important topic that is often overlooked. In fact, that's one of the lessons we drew during this study. The U.S. has some experience doing this stuff in the past 20 years, but we act like the police elements of our operations are only important once we're in the middle of ops and that whatever the current operation is will be the last time we have to worry about it. Exhibits A and B being Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter of which we're still trying to figure out how to make work. And it doesn't appear that any of the lessons we have learned from these two wars are going to be institutionalized. These three case studies provide some good examples of what right looks like, how to fix a problem that's been identified, and some things not to do. I think this paper should help get the ball rolling on building the discussion of improving our ability to deploy police and raise indigenous police forces, hopefully beyond the handful of great theorists and practitioners currently involved who have been fighting this fight for some time with little support. Anyway, here's the blurb from the SSI website:

Law enforcement (LE) aspects have been an increasingly prominent feature within the U.S. Government’s (USG’s) commitment to international operations. Beyond the deployment of police personnel to interim policing missions, LE agencies may also be involved in international operations to enforce U.S. domestic law; for capacity building; and/or in support of U.S. military forces. This analysis examines lessons from three operations: Panama (1989-99), Colombia (1989-Present), and Kosovo (1998-Present). This analysis was supported by an extensive range of interviews and in-country field research in Colombia and Kosovo. The lessons learned were developed and validated in a series of workshops with subject matter experts. The results show the pervasive and complex role that law enforcement and related issues have played in contemporary international operations. Despite the unique circumstances and history of each operation, there were key findings that are common to all operations considered and have implications for broader USG law enforcement efforts in support of current and future international operations.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dick Holbrooke, a dedicated servant of his country, dead at 69

Whatever else you want to say about the man, Dick Holbrooke gave more of his life to America than almost anyone. He entered the foreign service in 1962 and went almost immediately to Vietnam, serving in austere conditions and with little supervision as a kid just barely out of college. During the Carter administration, he became the youngest Assistant Secretary of State ever. He missed out on the Republican 80s, then performed the same role (this time for Europe; the first for East Asia) during the Clinton Administration. He was twice a special envoy -- to Cyprus and to Kosovo -- and was the chief negotiator of the accord that ended the Bosnian war. And he capped off his career as the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the position he held until his death earlier this evening.

Five decades of service. It's a hell of a thing.

If you need a reminder of just what Holbrooke has done for this country, read this profile by George Packer in the New Yorker last September. Think about what it means to spend 48 years in that business.

So RIP to a great public servant, and may his family know peace in their difficult time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I will not boycott you again Tom - I will continue to engage you as my "solipsistic self"

Thank you, Tom, for pointing out that the United States has used the draft in the past 100 years. I obviously didn't know that since I was only born in 1980 and obviously nothing existed before me, at least nothing worth knowing. Or maybe my position on this topic is based on the realities of modern warfare, arms, and other conditions and not a "we've always done it this way" mentality. Possibly.

Yes, the draft was used in every major war the United States has fought since the Civil War through to Vietnam - most of these conflicts being of vital interest to the U.S., if not existential in nature. Obviously these conscripted forces performed very well - the Greatest Generation being the exemplar in this regard. There was a call and need for national service and it was well met.

I question the logic that if Americans were conscripted then the U.S. would not undertake foreign interventions because of greater effect on the elites and popular unrest. A war was fought in Vietnam with a conscript military with steady escalation. A war the ended after conscription ended. Decision-makers - politicians - have any number of reasons they make the choices they do, and I don't know how much their personal lives influence that (I'm sure it varies from politician to politician). As I mentioned in the comments to my last post on this topic, Senator McCain supported the Surge in Iraq and he did have "skin in the game" - a son in the USMC and another at the Naval Academy that was about to graduate. It didn't affect his decision making.

I also question the feasibility of conscription in today's economic conditions. All branches of the military are looking at where they can make cuts as our current wars start winding down and I'm not hearing any arguments from Congress or the Executive Branch to significantly increase spending to make these wars more "fair" when everyone is talking about cutting or at least stemming costs. They're much more concerned about weapons development and jobs in their constituencies, not adding tens of thousands (or more) people to the military's roles, with significant short term costs in paying, training, and equipping them and longer term costs in benefits. It is a political nonstarter because no one wants to pay for it.

And speaking of politicians, what do they benefit from re-instituting conscription? Pissed off constituents who feel their rights are being infringed? More national debt? An all-volunteer force is perfect for the political classes because they can use that force with minimal impact on the rest of America. I'd like to think they would do so out of their perspective of national interest and not personal politics, but we all know it's a little of columns A and B. They have zero interest in changing that paradigm - it's just bad politics for individuals.

The insulation of the military is also an absurd argument to bring back the draft. Draftees in our nation's history have been activated for 2-6 years of duty. I have no idea what the numbers are for those that stayed in after their commitment (and would be interested in seeing them if anyone has them), but are today's military leadership much different or more insulated than those during times of conscription? Are they not the same types of people that would have volunteered instead of getting drafted? Or stayed in after their conscription time elapsed? There has always been a core of military "elites" around which these conscripted forces were formed. That was the reasoning behind the founding of West Point - provide the professionals to lead the citizen soldiers when they were required. Conscripted junior enlisted and officers will not change the fact that the military's senior leadership will always be somewhat different from the rest of us.

So, yes, I do think that "some form of the draft just isn't gonna happen." Because it has been used in the past does not mean it will be used in the future. There's a whole other discussion of how the U.S. fights its wars now as opposed to WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam: it is technologically and capably superior to its foes, not based on mass. I think there's a good argument that our type of military does not benefit from losing its professional ideal. But that's another discussion for another time, just like how we'll have to sort out whether or not women get drafted and some other topics before this could be taken seriously as a real possibility. At the moment we can't afford a conscripted military, the politicians don't want one, it would have little to no effect on military "insulation", and probably isn't best for military readiness. If you want the people of this nation to care about war, then raise the hell out of taxes to pay for it. That will make people care and truly spread the pain (as opposed to a lottery that would likely have so many loopholes as to make the tax code look simplistic), even if that, too, is politically unlikely.

Would we reinstate it if a major conflict arose with existential consequences? Probably - and we probably should at that point. Until then there is no political will to do this nor any real reason. Except to make some people feel better that they're not the only ones paying for war. That's an unfortunate reality and will continue to be so until our actual survival as a nation is threatened. So no, I'm not being "solipsistic" or ignorant of our history. I'm looking at today with the benefit of having learned (yes, from books and not experience in this case) from that history and I don't see any real possibility of a draft in the near future nor the need for it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thoughts on others' thoughts on "Responsible Transition" (EDITED)

I'm not going to offer a comprehensive critique of Dave Barno and Andrew Exum's new report on the path forward in Afghanistan, because I'd like to spend a little more time going over it before I comment in depth, and because I'm not interested in spending a lot of time on it right now. But I'd like to say a few things about what other people have said, because it's easier to criticize than to do any kind of deeper analysis.

First of all, full disclosure: I'm not going to make any disclosure statements. FFS, you don't even know my name! Why would I disclose anything else? Seriously though: Ex and I are friends, but we have significantly different ideas about the war in Afghanistan. I read a draft of this paper two months ago and gave some very brief but critical feedback. So let me just say up front that 1) my friendship with Ex doesn't keep me from busting his balls and telling him when I think he's wrong, and 2) if I had any organizational or philosophical fealty to CNAS, I'd be at their Christmas party right now instead of defending their institutional integrity on the internet.

That said: it is very, very bizarre to criticize CNAS or the paper's authors for failing to recant previously articulated support for a broad-based, well-resourced counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. Here's Bernard Finel:
Finally, about CNAS.  I know it has no “institutional positions” and hence no obligation to explain shifts in analysis.  But that is wildly disengenuous [sic]. We are seeing a major reversal in CNAS’s position on COIN issues — which are their signature area of research and influence – and refusing to acknowledge past mistakes or address new assessments is, well, creepy.  It is vaguely Stalinist — you know, we’ll just rewrite history and pretend nothing happened.  I am pretty sure that if Heritage new year started promoting higher taxes they would feel obliged to explain why their views had changed. The “no institutional positions” line from CNAS leaders is just a cop out.  Own your past mistakes. Acknowledge them and learn from them.
And then there's Michael Cohen, who tweeted that "CNAS has gone 180 on COIN and offers no explanation." [EDIT: Let me clarify here that I'm not dealing with Cohen's criticism of the report in any kind of comprehensive way. He feels like he's been unfairly lumped in with Finel here, and that's probably true. So go read his criticism of the paper, which repeats some of Bernard's goofy lament about how wrong Ex was a year ago, but also makes an important point about how he and Barno have mostly overlooked the reconciliation process.]

"Bizarre" is probably not the right word for this; that suggests that this kind of criticism is unexpected and inexplicable. Anyone who's read Bernard's blog (or Cohen's, for that matter) could've predicted this sort of overwrought critique --- "major reversal," "creepy," "vaguely Stalinist, "rewrite history," etc. -- simply by observing how many of those who have been advocating withdrawal for some time seem so aggrieved at never having been suitably acknowledged. In fact, that seems to be some critics' main takeaway from "Responsible Transition": not satisfaction that formerly outspoken advocates of an expanded effort in South Asia have come 'round to their point of view, but rather outrage that CNAS seems not to have been sufficiently punished for giving a home to those advocates who, in Bernard's words, "were simply wrong based on the available evidence at the time." Finel is pissed, and not just at the fact that there are still people who disagree with him, or that the U.S. is still in Afghanistan -- he's pissed that everyone didn't agree with him in the first place. After all, "[d]evelopments in Afghanistan since the 2009 surges have been exactly as any informed observer would have expected," he writes. They were wrong "based on the available evidence at the time"! By this line of thinking, anyone who pushed a different policy course than he and his fellow sober pragmatists must be a charlatan, "a courtier (and worse)," a war profiteer, or a liar.

But what of CNAS' "disingenuous" refusal to excoriate its very own institutional self for "past mistakes" and a "shift in analysis"? For a "180 on COIN" with "no explanation"? Well, Bernard's own words satisfy this nutty complaint: "I know it has no 'institutional positions'..." What further need is there for qualification? They don't have institutional positions! The analysis of their employees does not constitute the analysis of the organization! To say that COIN is CNAS' "signature area of research and influence" simply because Nagl and Exum have been vocal in support of that operational approach is just as absurd as saying that Brookings' "signature area of research and influence" is the Bush Doctrine because it employs Pollack and O'Hanlon. And to say that CNAS has undergone a "major reversal in its position on COIN issues" when it DOESN'T HAVE AN INSTITUTIONAL POSITION ON ANY ISSUES is just damned goofy.

So is this the great "reversal" that Bernard is trumpeting, the "180 on COIN" of Cohen's dreams? Well, in short, no. First of all, as the report notes, the COINdinistas didn't get everything they wanted out of the so-called "surge": the president offered a more limited vision and rejected a massive, protracted troop presence. Exum and Barno are adapting to the reality of 2010: the president has elaborated his strategy, we've had an additional year to observe the progress of the war, and the U.S. government, NATO, and the Afghan government have demonstrated over that period their collective seriousness about the drawdown-by-'11, transition-by-'14 timeline. The authors aren't saying "my bad, this COIN stuff is a bunch of nonsense and it's not working, so listen up while I pimp some other plan." They're saying "look, no matter what anybody said before, these are the decisions the president has made about the near and mid-term, so here's how we get the best results out of that over the long term." To put it simply, anyone who is painting this as a "reversal" or "180" on COIN is completely full of shit.

Now, are the recommendations themselves any good? As I said before, I've got my own complaints. [EDIT #2:] For what it's worth, here's a snip of what I wrote about the draft that I originally saw:
So I guess in conclusion, I like what you're trying to do here, and I very much like the acknowledgement that the current strategy doesn't have a real, concrete end point. But I have some major concerns about a) your justification for continued involvement (i.e. WHY winning is important); b) your explanation for how this approach actually works better to achieve our goals in Afghanistan (i.e. HOW we win this way); c) your apparent willingness to sacrifice on the big picture (not getting Americans blown up by al-Qaeda) in order to meet with some limited success in the small picture (keeping Afghanistan from collapse to the Taliban) (i.e. WHAT the point of what we're doing here is).
I objected to the bits about increased leverage on the Pakistanis, both because I think we're already trying pretty hard on that one and because there's no concrete elaboration of exactly how to do it. I'm a bit uncomfortable with the sizing of the "residual force" for the same reasons: it's not that 30K is necessarily the wrong number, but I'd like to see them show their work. Why 30,000 and not 25,000? Or 15,000? Or 40,000? And then there's the bit about shifting investment away from the central government in Kabul and increasing support for local government, which I think is plainly inconsistent with an indirect approach that will necessarily be largely dependent on Afghan Security Forces... that are organized, trained, equipped, and directed by the national government. How do you keep building up ANSF while shifting investment to local government? How do you support decentralized militias/arbakai without getting them shot at by previously U.S.-trained and -equipped ANSF? Without creating yet more unpredictable conflict dynamics? And so on.

But all in all, "Responsible Transition" is something to be happy about. People with influence are taking a pragmatic approach to post-"surge" Afghanistan and trying to understand how we get from where we are and where we will be to where we need to be. They're not saying they wish the last year hadn't happened, they're not arguing that the president is dumb and shouldn't have made the decisions that he did, and they're not working with fantasy counterfactuals about woulda, coulda, shoulda or if only we hadn't. They're trying to understand America's vital and enduring interests, to make sense of what those mean in South Asia, and to move the state of play in the region from where it is now to where it ought to be under the resource and political constraints we can all feel confident will obtain in coming years. We ought to applaud that, not act butt-hurt about the fact that nobody listened a year ago.

Other criticisms of "Responsible Transition":

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I could care less about your indignation and sense of "fairness", the draft is a nonstarter

When we started this blog I assumed we would write about many various and sundry topics. But I never thought I'd ever feel the need to blog about reinstating the draft or compulsory service. Yet, here we are. For some reason, it has been a popular topic of late and I cannot fathom why. Some of the more prominent writers on the topic in the past weeks have been Tom Ricks and Crispin Burke. I cannot express enough how much I think reinstating the draft is a bad idea and I find the arguments for it to be somewhat less than compelling. Crispin tackles some of the hard numbers pretty well at, so I'm going to attack this issue from a more qualitative approach (while not completely devoid of numbers). I'm going to pose a lot of questions that I don't have the answers for because the answers are so patently outrageous as to immediately disqualify starting the draft/conscription. If you haven't thought about this things then you're not seriously considering this problem.

The biggest problem I have with the pro-drafters is that they seem to base their arguments on some sense of fairness as opposed to legitimate policy concerns. First, is the pro-draft argument that only 1% of the population is bearing the brunt of Iraq and Afghanistan. My response is: so what? How much of the population needs to be involved in these wars to balance the burden? When policymakers and politicians wrangle over 30 thousand troops here and there (as they should), how would drafting the vast majority of military age men and women affect the wars? Sure, putting 4 million (the number of citizens in the U.S. who reach their majority each year) Soldiers and Marines into Afghanistan and Iraq might be enough to execute the COIN strategy put forward earlier this year, but how on earth would we pay for that?

When we're staring defense efficiencies in the eye, how could any responsible government contemplate increasing the size of the force many times? What with the costs in pay, healthcare, retirement, and other overheads and all. There's also the question of what would these people do? Deploying soldiers costs a lot of money and we couldn't possibly have enough to do for all of them. Would they mainly train? Train to do what? We don't know what our relatively small all-volunteer military is going to do once these wars are over, how could we justify adding millions of people to that problem? The military is not a jobs program.

Then there's the oft-argued question of fairness with the all-volunteer force when it comes to the socio-economic status of enlistees. Crispin cites some numbers that suggest that our recruits don't necessarily come from the poorest as is usually argued, but surely many of them do. And I ask again: so what if they are? Being a private in most branches of the military is relatively low skilled work with huge amounts of supervision. Comparable work in the civilian world, if there is such a thing, would pay similarly to what a lower enlisted person makes, but without all of the long-term costs. While there are many wealthy kids who enlist in the military, the vast majority do not and leave this grunt work, literally and figuratively, to their less-fortunate fellow citizens. If being a soldier is the best you can do with your life than you do it. If it's not, then you do something else. I don't see that as a matter of fairness, I see that as a reality of our world where some people do the things they can and others do the things they want to.

The whole pro-draft argument almost always focuses on junior enlisted and ignores non-commissioned officers, warrant officers, and commissioned officers. The world has it's middle management and its elites. So does the military. These are all important for the functioning of organizations. Why do junior enlisted continuously reenlist and work their way up to the ranks? At that point it's not usually because there isn't anything else they can do - it's a free choice. Do officers go through their commissioning source because they don't have any other options? No. They do it because of very personal reasons for each of them. Just like the men and women who enlist. Those that stay in to make NCO ranks and those that join as officers may have more options in life, but the fact that they choose the military completely refutes the fairness argument of joining the military. It's not the only choice for the poor and less educated. It's an opportunity for those people, just as it is for the less poor and more educated. If it were the only choice, more of the poor and undereducated would enlist.

This probably smacks of an elitist rant, but I like to think of it as more of a realist rant. I came from a lower-middle income family and decided that I wanted to be a military officer and did it. That was my choice. I have no patience with these bizarre concepts of "fairness" that the poor are bearing the brunt of our wars and that that needs to be fixed. That canard isn't merely untrue, it's irrelevant. I spent nearly three years in Iraq, bearing a greater brunt than most military folks, and the vast majority of the people I served with, enlisted and otherwise, did so because they chose to join the military, not because it was the only choice they had. I cannot recall a single instance where someone thought it was unfair that they were at war when 99% of the population was unaffected by that war - we all knew that when we joined. You know what's unfair? Making a young man or woman (yeah, there's that whole topic I'm not even going to go into) go to war who didn't want to be in the military in the first place because some misinformed people thought something they did voluntarily was unfair to them. That's damned unfair. And it doesn't help the national interest to boot. So as the title of this post states, I really could care less about your indignation and sense of fairness on this topic. It's misplaced. The only thing a draft will accomplish is diminish the military's capabilities and satiate your sense of "fairness." Sounds like a couple of good reasons to infringe upon our fellow citizens' rights. But hey, you'll feel better, so that's something.

Next you're gonna tell me the Pakistanis aren't planning to use those F-16s for COIN

Spencer Ackerman reports that he's shocked, SHOCKED to find that the Saudis are using military materiel provided by U.S. -- ostensibly for counterterrorism purposes -- to wage war against Shi'ite rebels on the Yemeni border. Similarly surprising is the U.S. ambassador's assessment that the Saudi campaign "was poorly planned and executed" and "embarrassingly long," despite a "massively disproportionate" array of forces and equipment. But wait -- there's more! In a startling turn of events that could never have been predicted, the Yemenis are also taking advantage of U.S. assistance to prosecute a CREB campaign (the French term -- contre-rebellion, usually translated as counterinsurgency so as to avoid doctrinal confusion -- seems more appropriate here, not to mention having that je ne sais quoi...) against the same Houthis rebels the Saudis are using our shit to kill. Foreign Policy's Ellen Knickmeyer reports that Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh assured Dave Petraeus that U.S.-provided helos wouldn't be used against the Houthis just months before insisting to John Brennan that "the Houthis are your enemies too" -- all while preparing to send his U.S. trained "counterterrorist" commandos to quell the northern insurgency. Oh, and just in case you forgot: we're about to ship $1.2 billion in hardware and training to Yemen... better to fight al-Qaeda with.

How 'bout the Saudis? Well, they're fighting the hell out of terrorists... or at least the guys that are terrorizing their border with Yemen. The USG seems to have pretty well given up the ghost on this one; here's Spencer again:
“Based on these assurances, the [U.S.] ambassador [in Riyadh] has approved… the provision of [U.S. government] imagery of the Yemeni border area to the Saudi Government,” the February cable reads. Although the war on the Houthis was petering out, the imagery could enhance “Saudi capabilities against Al-Qaeda activities in this area.”
This would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. If I had more technical ability, I'd do one of those hilarious parodies of "Downfall" in which Hitler's disappointed words at the close of the scene were captioned with "...well, maybe the Saudis will use that IMINT against al-Qaeda."

What's the moral of the story? Despite the U.S. military's persistent use of the term "capability" as a synonym for a weapon system -- a semantic manifestation of wishful thinking wherein the provision of a piece of gear is the same as transfer of the tactical and operational competencies that equipment is meant to enable -- we all need to come to grips with the fact that absent the elaboration of very specific consequences for "bad behavior," partner nations are going to use the stuff we sell or give them for "counterterrorism operations" to do pretty much whatever the hell they want. There's two ways to handle this: 1) we can just figure out a way to have less heartburn about this disappointing reality, recognizing that some sovereign states are going to get theirs so long as we're asking them to take care of some housekeeping on our behalf, or 2) we can find a different way to execute a worldwide counterterrorism campaign than rushing materiel and training to every third-world backwater where al-Qaeda pops its collective head up, imagining as we do that the knock-on negative effects of this decision can't possibly outweigh whatever near-term operational and PR benefits we might gain.  Right now we're basically taking Option 1, which would be fine with me if it actually made for effective counterterrorism. But... well... you know (pdf), it's, uh... it's not (pdf). I'm sure it'll be better next time. Or we could be a little more patient, a little more comprehensive, a little less direct, and do a little more of Option 2. Just sayin'.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wikileaks Files are Still Classified

I don't want to dwell so much on the files themselves, but given some of the backlash against some statements and actions from the government in the past couple days needs some response.

In spite of being available publicly, the documents on Wikileaks are still classified information.

Some of it has to do with not giving legitimacy to leaks, partially to protect redacted sources, and partially because technically the information contained in those documents are still classified. While the question "why?" is relevant, it doesn't much matter as the documents are still classified. So what are the consequences of this? There are a couple.

1. If you view the documents it could endanger a current or future security clearance you may need to work. For current holders, viewing classified information when not authorized is against your agreement and the law. Viewing it on unclassified systems (personal or NIPR computers) is a violation of numerous agreements and laws. For future/potential holders, looking at classified information isn't a good way to start your clearance approval process. So yeah, don't post links to Facebook, etc. Reading and posting stories about the leaks are not illegal in any way according to my understanding, even if the documents are quoted. As long as you're not looking at a page that has "SECRET" or some such thing stamped on it.

2. Viewing the documents on your company's computer system could jeopardize your company's ability to maintain or gain a facility clearance and/or do classified work for the U.S. government. I don't blame Amazon from kicking Wikileaks out. They want to get government contracts, including classified contracts and having unauthorized classified data on their servers will prevent that from ever happening. It's pure self-interest. (And please don't comment any bullshit about the First Amendment here - private actors don't have to provide platforms for people to spout whatever they want, especially if it's not in their best interests. Just like we reserve the right to delete stupid, crude, and off-topic comments here.) Like the reasons above for persons, same applies to companies.

Some people might say it's stupid that leaked information remains classified. Well, yes and no. Yup, everyone in the world with internet access can read it. However, for the reasons above, this is one of the few ways the government has any leverage over leaked info. I can't entirely blame them for holding on to something. And there certainly shouldn't be a Wikileaks exemption to this rule just because they've leaked so much. That would give too much credit to WL from the government's perspective.

So bottom line here is: the documents are still classified so be careful if you want to look at them and think of the implications starting from that perspective. Also, before you start beating on people for doing things (like many did to Amazon and likely Pay Pal in the near future), think about why they're doing these things. It's probably not kowtowing to the government - it's probably for their bottom line. I'm not defending them, but you're delusional if you think these corporations care about anything else.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stolen elections in Cote d'Ivoire (Breaking!)

Wow--it looks like President Gbagbo outright got his friends in the Conseil Consitutionnel to steal the election for him. This is huge, absolutely huge.

The second round, between incumbent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara was held last week. Elections were supposed to be announced by the Independent Elections Commission by Wednesday but it missed the deadline. Yesterday, the Commission had announced (as the NYT/AP reports) 54.1% for the opposition leader and 45.9% for Gbagbo (the President is in year 1o of his first five year term after, I think 6 delays in elections).

But the Conseil, which is headed by a Gbagbo supporter, invalidated the results, saying the deadline was missed. Today, it announced that it was chucking out 500,00 votes, giving the incumbent victory--by 51.4% of the vote-- despite the fact that:

Those results — which were considered credible by the African Union, the United Nations and the White House — gave opposition leader Alassane Ouattara 54.1 percent of the vote, compared to 45.9 percent for Gbagbo.

It argued that Gbagbo supporters had been intimidated and that those votes were invalid...Meanwhile, the opposition leaders won what observers called a fair elections in neighboring Guinea and Blaise Campaore was "re-elected" in Burkina Faso...

Stay tuned, this could get really bad.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Corruption in Afghanistan

On my way home today, I was reading this article (NYT) about how some of the infamous cables discuss the scope of corruption in Afghanistan. The article annoyed me for a couple reasons. I'm just going to start with the second and third paragraphs, because, as I'm writing, I'm realizing dealing with that will suffice for this evening. I think I need to start a series--Lil's Afghanistan corruption vignettes or something--...but only if you people are interested.

Back to my second paragraph, where,
One Afghan official helpfully explained to diplomats the “four stages” at which his colleagues skimmed money from American development projects: “When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.”
The article is describing how contractors (we don't know what kind, Afghans? foreigners? that's detail that matters don't you think?) skim off money at these four project phases. Let's go through the phases.

First phase, umm, isn't that a phase where we could do something about it? We're the ones with the cash. Not only that but who are we relying upon to publicize bids, make sure businesses know how to bid etc? No, this is not something that small to medium businesses know how to do, that's why organizations like Peace Dividend Trust are on the ground.

Second phase, ok, that's an internal problem but that seems to be something that donors could work on (ie support the relevant ministry office). Don't you find it crazy that nine years into this thing we're still not sure how ministries work and we still don't know how corruption happens for things like applying for a building permit? Really, that's reminds me that it took an Integrity Watch Afghanistan Survey for us to find out that it takes 20 steps to get a driver's license (and seriously plenty of donor country officials found out through the survey).

Third phase, now this is an interesting one. One of the crazy things I've learned is that we don't really monitor projects. No, really, we don't. Why? Well, outside of Kabul, the auditors we've hired (and it's not just us, other donors too) just won't go, it's not safe. The quote in the graph talks about US money. Fear not, it's not better when it's (donor) money funneled through the World Bank's Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which, as I've repeatedly been told, is "not designed to detect fraud." The ARTF is how most donors provide direct budget support. Its recurring window operates on a reimbursement basis so the auditors get receipts (yes receipts, they won't go out and make sure the school was actually built) and give the Afghan authorities the money for the projects. I get that in some places Westerners really can't go the school but why the hell can't we help civil society organizations do this kind of monitoring, pay their transportation costs, provide them with a GPS equipped camera and get them to take pictures every week and keep doing it for a year after the project is done? It would be pretty easy to tell whether the school is being built where the people said it would and whether we should keep paying for teachers and books.

Fourth phase, the ribbon cutting ceremony. This is something where we should be putting out foot down. No, we won't cover that expense. This is like donors getting played by senior Afghan officials on salary top ups. "What do you mean you didn't know that X just had a meeting with another donor who said "no" to a top up yesterday"? And now we're saying yes because we don't want to lose their "support." We've been at this nine years and we're still surprised about this kind of thing?

Ok, third paragraph:

"It is hardly news that predatory corruption, fueled by a booming illicit narcotics industry, is rampant at every level of Afghan society." And then a trite reminder about Transparency International's latest ranking on corruption perception.

The first sentence annoyed me. First of all, when is corruption ("the abuse of entrusted office for private gain") not predatory? I'm trying to think of an example but I'm drawing a blank. Second, "fueled by a booming narcotics industry"? In the preceding graph you said it was fueled by American money. Now I'm not saying it can't be both, because it certainly is both but why do you now focus on the latter?

So I would ask you to consider this: in 2001, the international community provided Afghanistan with $250 million in assistance money (I know it was under the Taliban, still it's an interesting baseline). Yes, you read that right, $250 million dollars (I got that from the World Bank's fast facts page on Afghanistan).

What kind of impact do you think the cash we're pouring in now is going to have? In 2008 (the last year for which I could find figures), the drug trade represented about $3.4 billion while US assistance alone that same year was $5.7 billion. In a country where we just figured out it takes 20 steps to get a driver's license (even though we've been there nine years), those numbers are really alarming so let's not boil down corruption like this. The rest of the article goes on to explain more local dynamics but I think we need to keep in mind that we have a role a responsibility here as well and that it's a big one.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Admin notes

1. Don't post irrelevant comments that have nothing at all to do with the topic at hand. We'll delete them. We won't get tired of it. If you have a point to make, get your own blog. That means you, Canyon Country.

2. Apologies to Positroll and any others whose perfectly legitimate comments got momentarily hung up in spam filters. Need to check these out more often.

3. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming, and back to pajama time* for me!

*If this doesn't make any sense to you, please read here. Hilarious. I will never, ever get tired of that story. Perhaps the funniest part: it's unclear whether Gertz is making an intentional, allusive reference or has just picked up on the zeitgeist that drives the "professionals" to describe a group largely responsible for the eroded cachet (and profitability!) of their industry in increasingly infantile terms.

Bill Gertz: Terminally dishonest, analytically handicapped, or just a really bad writer? (UPDATED)

You guys do know that -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- I don't actually go out looking around on the internet for stuff to get pissed off about, right? (You: "Then why do you follow Bill Gertz on Twitter?" Me: Touche.) Really, I don't. And sometimes I even beat myself up about how negative I get on the blog, how it seems to be so much easier to criticize other people's work and call my e-nemeses dummies than to write something original and constructive and pioneering.

But seriously: my e-nemeses are dummies. 

So here I am last night just trying to mind my own business and get some work done (on Twitter? Shut up) when I see this:
@BillGertz: State Dept. report confirms secret missile defense deal with Russia
Well! That sounds interesting! Let's go read about a secret missile defense deal! And so I follow the link. There I am: the venerable Washington Times, home to venerable "geopolitics editor" Bill Gertz and the best damned China-hawkery you'll find this side of Air Combat Command. The same "news"paper that referred to Armenia as a "small Central Asian state" in an article last night until I childishly taunted the writer into fixing it with nary an acknowledgement of the mistake in the original, you ask? Yep, one and the very same. 

So what's all this about a secret deal with the Russians? I wish I could say it was easy to sort the whole thing out, but Gertz's prose is damned near impenetrable, what with his tenuous hold on grammatical convention, artless overuse of generic identifiers, and general inability to construct clear and meaningful English sentences free of loaded, leading pre-judgment. Here's the lede, largely (and mercifully) free of the sort of advocanalysis and debatable-contention-disguised-as-conventional-wisdom that fills the rest of the piece:
The Obama administration, despite public denials, held secret talks with Russia aimed at reaching a ballistic missile defense agreement that Moscow ultimately rejected in May, according to an internal State Department report.
Disclosure of the report to The Washington Times comes as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday pressed for a new anti-ballistic missile treaty, warning that a failure to reach an agreement would trigger a new strategic arms race.
The four-page document circulated on Capitol Hill stated that administration officials held four meetings with the Russians and last spring presented a draft Ballistic Missile Defense Cooperation Agreement (BMDCA) to Russian negotiators.
The internal report contradicts congressional testimony by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June denying a missile defense deal was in the works.
I'm not sure about you, but it seems to me like this would be a good time to introduce some kind of concrete detail about the aforementioned report, right? But there's perilously little of that, aside from those few excerpts you'll see quoted here. In case you're confused already (and I was -- it took me three readings to sort through the whole thing), the "report" seems to be some kind of internal State Department communication referencing a proposed BMDCA that was discussed with the Russians. Gertz elaborates... sort of:
As part of the U.S.-Russia talks, the State Department submitted to Congress on May 5 a legal memorandum called a Circular 175 report that is required before reaching treaties and agreements.
"The BMDCA was designed to be a framework agreement under which the United States and Russia could begin missile defense cooperation while not limiting either party's missile defense capabilities in any way," states the report, which is labeled "sensitive but unclassified."
The draft 10-year agreement would have set up a BMD Cooperation Sub-Working Group. The Circular 175 was "approved by Under Secretary [of State Ellen] Tauscher on May 5, 2010," the report said.
Presumably the Circular 175 report to Congress is not the generically-titled "report" to which Gertz continually refers, and we're actually dealing with a completely separate document that communicated details about the Circular 175 from one part of the State Department to another. (I think.) Still with me? So this communication outlines the basics about the proposed BMDCA: "framework agreement... begin missile defense cooperation... not limiting either party's missile defense capabilities...", etc. What else does it say? Well, it tells us that "the Russian Government indicated... that they were not interested" in a BMCDA. So the USG wanted to talk to Russia about working together on missile defense in a way that wouldn't place any limits on American defenses, but Moscow decided to pass. Simple enough. Case closed.
Not so fast, says our intrepid correspondent!
The draft missile defense agreement was first reported in The Times on June 16, noting that U.S. officials feared it would limit defenses.
A day later, Mrs. Clinton was asked about The Times report and dismissed the idea of any secret draft agreement to limit defenses. "No. 1, there is no secret deal. No. 2, there is no plan to limit U.S. missile defenses, either in this treaty or in any other way. And No. 3, on that score, the story is dead wrong," she said.
Mr. Gates, appearing with Mrs. Clinton, also denied any draft agreement was being negotiated, stating that "whatever talks are going on are simply about trying to elicit [Russian] willingness to partner with us along with the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense."
When asked whether the draft agreement was public, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Times on June 18 "there is no draft agreement to provide you."
Gertz modestly fails to mention that when "the draft missile defense agreement was first reported in The Times," it was in the June 16th edition of his own weekly "Inside the Ring" column. (Editorial aside: when he says "...noting that U.S. officials feared it would limit defenses," Gertz is presumably making a grammatical mistake. That is, he means to say that his column noted purported U.S. fears, and that wacky participial phrase in the latter half of the sentence isn't intended to indicate that the "draft missile defense agreement [noted] that U.S. officials" had fears. But I digress. Fears were noted!) So here's where we are now: Gertz has quoted from the Senate Armed Services hearing on START and has affirmed that Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates both denied any talks with the Russians related to limiting missile defenses.
Because Gertz -- surely limited by space considerations and not tempted in the least to make questionable editing decisions out of bad faith or a desire to mislead -- only quoted part of Secretary Clinton's comments before the committee, it's probably worth referencing the transcript (pdf). Here's the first mention of "secret deals" -- the very first question out of the gate (p. 13) after Clinton, Gates, Energy Secretary Chu, and CJCS ADM Mullen have delivered their prepared statements:
[Senator LEVIN, Chairman:] Secretary Clinton, let me start with you. During the course of the negotiations on the New START, were there any side agreements, any informal agreements, any secret agreements with Russia that are not included in the treaty relative to any limitations on U.S. missile defenses or any other subject?
Secretary CLINTON. No.
There we are, right off the bat: no secret agreements. The next time this comes up if a few minutes later (p. 19-20).
Senator COLLINS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Clinton, you were very clear in answering the chairman’s first question about whether there was any secret agreement or side deal associated with the negotiations of the New START Treaty that would affect missile defense. And you were very clear in saying that, no, there were not.
There’s a press report that came out last night that claims that the administration is secretly working with the Russians to conclude an agreement that would limit U.S. missile defenses. It goes on to say that the administration last month presented a draft agreement to the Russians. Is this report accurate?
Secretary CLINTON. No. I’m not aware of the report, Senator Collins, but, as Secretary Gates said, we have consistently told the Russians that if they wish to work with us on missile defense we are open to working with them. So maybe there is something lost in the translation here, because we have consistently reached out to them. We would like them to be part of a broad missile defense system that protects against countries like Iran, North Korea, both of which they border, by the way, so it is in their interest.
But Secretary Gates mentioned that in his opening remarks, so if I could ask him to just perhaps add onto what I said.
Senator COLLINS. Yes.
Secretary GATES. Well, I have seen—I have just seen a reference to the newspaper story that you described, and what I emphasized, what I added, frankly, in my opening statement was that whatever talks are going on are simply about trying to elicit their willingness to partner with us along with the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense.
But there is nothing in the approaches that have been made to the Russians that in any way, shape, or form would impose any limits whatsoever on our plans.
Again we have Secretary Clinton responding to Gertz's assertion that "the administration is secretly working with the Russians to conclude an agreement that would limit U.S. missile defenses," and his further assertion that a draft of such an agreement had been presented to the Russians in May, with a firm denial. Both Clinton and Gates emphasize the administration's interest in working collaboratively with the Russians on missile defense while repeatedly insisting that any such cooperation would not place limits on American missile defenses. This point is made very clear.

Secretary Clinton must have sensed how eager critics of the treaty were to focus on this bogus "secret negotiations" bugaboo, because she came back to it of her own accord later in the hearing (p. 36). This part's important, because it fleshes out the excerpt that Gertz provides in his piece.
[Secretary CLINTON:] Mr. Chairman, if I could, just on a follow-up to your last questions, which I very much appreciate. I want to ensure that the record is clear on one additional point. Senator Collins raised a certain press report about a U.S.- Russia deal to limit U.S. missile defenses and I want to be as clear as I possibly can. Number one, there is no secret deal.
Number two, there is no plan to limit U.S. missile defenses, either in this treaty or in any other way.
Number three, on that score the story is dead wrong. I want to be very clear about that because I don’t want anyone using what is yet again another inaccurate story to argue against this treaty. As Secretary Gates and I have both said, we will continue to explore missile defense cooperation with Russia, but the talks are not secret and there is nothing on the table or even in the wildest contemplation that would involve any limits on our missile defense. Instead, we’re seeing to see whether they can be expanded with additional capabilities for our security.
So here we are yet again: a firm denial of any "secret deal"; a firm denial of any agreements that would limit U.S. defenses; and an elaboration of the administration's consistent position that missile defense collaboration with Russia is a desirable opportunity to increase European and global security. Clinton notes that "on that score" -- that is, on the subject of possible limitations on U.S. missile defense -- "the story is dead wrong." Dead wrong. No two ways about it. It's very clear: there is no secret agreement that would limit U.S. missile defenses. Simple as.

Where could the confusion be coming from here? How is it that Gertz is now claiming a win, telling "arms control wonks who argued my June 16 scoop was wrong: you're wrong," arguing that the newly-revealed "internal State Department report" shows that "Hillary misled Senate"? Well, yet again we're going to have to dig around and speculate; it's not easy to do in a 1,000-word article in a publication that one would assume has editors, but Gertz steadfastly refuses to apply clear thinking and narrative structure to make his point in any kind of meaningful way. So let's go back to the original piece that asserted secret negotiations, the one published the day before the hearing, and see how Gertz characterized the matter:
The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.
According to the officials, the administration last month presented a draft agreement on missile defenses to the Russians as part of talks between Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov.
The secret talks and possible agreement have triggered alarm among pro-missile defense advocates who are concerned that the administration, in its effort to "reset" ties with Moscow, will make further concessions constraining current and future missile defenses.
Ok, now we might be on to something. "many [unnamed, obviously!] officials fear" that a BMDCA "will limit U.S. missile defenses," Gertz asserts, while also tacking on the misleading suggestion that Russia had made such limitation a priority in its negotiations with the U.S. (If that were the case, one might reasonably ask, then why wouldn't the Russians insert ANY limitation language in the actual text of the treaty -- beyond a mutual prohibition against modifying ICBM and SLBM launchers to host missile defense components instead -- rather than working to that end by negotiating a similarly non-binding informal arrangement, ironically one that focused on cooperation rather than limitation and reduction, as the treaty's main text does?) Senator Collins read the statements like the preceding as "claims that the administration is secretly working with the Russians to conclude an agreement that would limit U.S. missile defenses," which is perhaps a slightly misleading formulation if only because it implies that Gertz was suggesting the "secret" agreement would include concrete limits rather than simply limiting missile defense as a matter of uncharitable interpretation.

Let's try to sum this up, shall we? On June 16th, Bill Gertz writes that the U.S. and Russia are working toward a "secret agreement" that he alleges has some U.S. officials worried about possible limitations on missile defense. On June 17th, Secretaries Clinton and Gates both deny that any secret agreements to limit missile defense have been negotiated, and assert that while the U.S. seeks to cooperate with Russia on this matter, the administration will not accept any provisions that limit missile defense. (Oh yeah, and the U.S. side decided unilaterally to insert a statement in the treaty's preamble that yet again insists that missile defenses are not subject to the treaty, and also to include more than $10 billion for missile defense in its FY11 budget request.) On June 18th, P.J. Crowley responds to Gertz's question about whether the "secret draft agreement" is public by telling him that there is no such agreement. Then at some point in the intervening months, it emerges that there was in fact a draft agreement on missile defense cooperation that was not secret, was not concerned with limiting missile defense, and was not ultimately agreed to -- a draft agreement that seems instead to have been focused on precisely what the SECDEF stated before Congress was the object of ongoing discussions with Russia, which was to "elicit willingness to partner with us as well as the Europeans in terms of a regional missile defense" --  and somehow Gertz claims that this revelation "contradicts congressional testimony" by Gates and Clinton "that a missile defense deal was in the works" and feels vindicated for his earlier assertion that there was a "secret draft agreement to limit defenses." Except that 1) THERE STILL IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT THERE WAS EVER A "SECRET DRAFT AGREEMENT TO LIMIT DEFENSES," 2) BOTH SECRETARIES INSIST THAT THERE NEVER WAS SUCH AN AGREEMENT, AND 3) THEY EACH TESTIFIED TO THAT EFFECT. Neither even briefly addressed the existence of a possible missile defense cooperation agreement except to indicate that such an agreement would be consistent with the administration's overall goals and policy.

So I am being totally serious when I ask: is Bill Gertz a liar, or is he just incredibly stupid?

UPDATE: Courtesy of Blake Hounshell on Twitter, here's the fact sheet the State Department issued this morning on the subject of Missile Defense Cooperation with the Russian Federation. Some highlights:
  • There are no “secret deals” with Russia on missile defense.
  • The Administration has repeatedly communicated to the Russian Government at the highest levels that the United States will not agree to any limitations or constraints on U.S. ballistic missile defenses, and that the United States intends to continue improving and deploying BMD systems to defend the U.S. against limited missile launches, and to defend our deployed forces, allies, and partners against regional threats.
  • The Administration has repeatedly made clear that it is pursuing missile defense cooperation with Russia. As one example, at a June 17 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates stated: “Separately from the treaty, we are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations. But such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans.”
  • The Obama Administration believes that missile defense cooperation with the Russian Federation is in the national security interests of the United States, as did the Bush Administration. Restrictions or limitations on U.S. missile defense capabilities are not under discussion in any forum.
  • So yeah, pretty much what I said (/boom).