Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shuffling the National Security Team Deck

In case you haven't heard yet, the President is making some serious moves with his national security team. In the past 24 hours we've heard that AMB Crocker is going to take over as Ambassador to Afghanistan, CIA Director Leon Panetta is going to DoD, and GEN Petraeus is going to CIA, with many more announcements to come, I'm sure. I'm a big fan of all three of these gentlemen - all of them have spent a lifetime of service to the United States and are extremely competent. They are, however, and like the preponderance of the President's national security team, products of previous administrations (Bush, Clinton, and Bush to be specific). This led me to make the following statement on Twitter: "Obama's nat sec team are almost entirely from prev admins. Not how one leaves their mark on the world."

Ex promptly and rightly jumped on me about that, using the Truman administration as an example. I'm sure that's not the only example. So as an universal statement, I was incorrect. I do believe that the Truman example is not exactly apt for the current situation. Truman faced a drastically changing world at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War and guided his team to establish the basis of U.S. policy for the next forty odd years. While the world is constantly changing, Obama ran on a platform of changing how the United States approaches its defense and foreign policy engagement with the world in a relatively (operative word here) static global environment since 2001 (the Arab Spring may be the exception to this, but we're yet to see how the administration handles it in its totality beyond supporting European military operations). In spite of that platform of change, Obama filled his team with old hands from either the Clinton or Bush administrations or Congress.

I don't see that President Obama has yet left an indelible mark on the world - certainly not as was anticipated - nor is on a glide path to do so. I see that Guantanamo Bay is still open with military trials in the works, we are still in Iraq and have hinted to the Iraqis that we'd like to stay longer, we have escalated in Afghanistan and are talking about being there for the foreseeable future, we still do not have effective engagement with Iran or North Korea, and we have seen our relations with the UK decrease significantly. On the positive side, our relations with France have improved significantly, relations with Russia and China seem to have improved moderately, global public opinion of the U.S. has increased somewhat, and we haven't yet screwed the pooch on the Arab Spring. All things considered, it seems to me that the Obama administration has effectively maintained (second term) Bush admin policies with a smattering of Clinton policies. Not every president needs one, but there certainly isn't an Obama Doctrine. Yet.

I also question the likelihood of one coming about under the current circumstances if he keeps selecting old hands from other admins in the absence of a serious external cause for change (such as another Cold War or 9/11). Granted, an obstinate Congress is a huge impediment to significant change, but these old hands haven't produced the changes Obama's base was hoping for. Reshuffling those old hands doesn't seem to be the method to drive change at this point. Now to pose a question or two to our readers: Is my assessment of the Obama administration accurate? If it is, is the lack of change at least partially because there is little new blood in the national security team? If it isn't accurate, how has he left his mark or how will he and what role does his national security team play in that? If anyone actually reads this, I'm sure it will elicit opinions, so fire away (in accordance with our commenting policy of course).

Of course, this all raises an important issue: where do you find people to fill the highest positions in government if they haven't proven themselves in previous administrations? It's not the President's fault that he's using his predecessors' people - they seem to be the only folks most people trust enough to lead these huge organizations. I haven't the faintest idea where alternate candidates for these positions would come from - so in that I sympathize with the President and don't blame for just moving around those who are already around. He's also not the only president to do this - far from it. At some point though, age will require an infusion of new blood - specifically those people who now hold Deputy Assistant Secretary positions (or did in the Bush administration for the Republicans), but the line-up of the top jobs has been essentially the same for the past 10 years (or 20 in some cases). I don't know how to break this paradigm, or even that it should be broken (maybe expertise and experience is more important than change), but serious internal change, without an external catalyst (such as Truman experienced), in how we do business with the world is most likely to come from people who didn't play a fundamental role to establish the world we are in now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Three cups of WHAT? How about a nice tall glass of FM 90-8 COUNTERGUERRILLA ASS-KICKING?

The less I add to the whole Mortenson imbroglio, the better. You've already heard a lot of opinions about this, I'm sure. Mine doesn't matter, but it's pretty close to what Ex said: it would be stupid to pretend like the lessons learned by the U.S. military about counterinsurgency are somehow invalid because Mortenson is a self-interested fabricator; it would be stupid to imagine that Mortenson influenced that institutional adaptation determinatively, instead of simply offering a clean popular referent for the military's COIN shorthand; and it would be stupid to believe that without Mortenson, U.S. soldiers and Marines would never have comprehended the importance of understanding the operational environment. Foust has a good take, reprinted in Greg Jaffe's piece on the subject:
“I’d say the biggest value of Mortenson’s work was in creating the ‘don’t be a jerk’ school of counterinsurgency,” said Joshua Foust, who worked as an Afghan analyst for the Army. “I think it would be a shame to abandon the idea of trying to respect the people you’re trying to reform with guns and money just because one of the people promoting the concept is shown to be a fraud.”
Plenty of people are going to try to tell you what all of this means for the military and whatnot, and I'll leave it to them. But Jaffe generally overstates, I think, the way Mortenson influenced the U.S. military's operational approach, and one of the anecdotes he offers as evidence of that influence in fact risibly demonstrates the tenuous connection between tea-drinking and tactical-level counterinsurgency.
Mortenson’s biggest impact, however, is evident in the writings of Army officers who embraced his call to tea. Last year, Lt. Col Patrick Gaydon and Capt. Jonathan Pan wrote of their alliance with Haji Abdul Jabar, a district governor in Afghanistan’s violent Arghandab district.
“Like Greg Mortenson’s best seller, Three Cups of Tea, our relationship with Jabar was forged over chai during the late summer and fall of 2009,” the two officers wrote in a piece for Small Wars Journal, a Web site where military officers debate battlefield strategy.
Jabar was courteous but reserved when he first met the two earnest soldiers. Once he came to know Gaydon and Pan, his reserve melted away, according to the officers, and Jabar treated them as family.
Jabar was killed as he drove home from work last June, a sign that “stabilization was working in Arghandab,” according to Gaydon and Pan. (The somewhat tortured thesis is that the Taliban killed him because his work with the Americans was winning the support of previously indifferent locals, thus threatening the Taliban’s power base.) The story could have been lifted right from the pages of Mortenson’s collected works.
It's appropriate that Jaffe references the "writings of Army officers" and chose the word "story" to describe Gaydon and Pan's tale, evocative as the term is of narrative and moral. (Anecdote, for example, connotes something different, and we should, I suppose, be thankful that it was merely the "writings of Army officers" that were greatly influenced, not their behaviors.)

Here's the big joke about Gaydon and Pan: when they were "forging relationships over chai during the late summer and fall of 2009," they were working at the brigade headquarters of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (and writing occasional apologia for the boss). If that unit sounds familiar, it should: they took some of the heaviest casualties of any American unit in Afghanistan while conducting what brigade commander COL Harry Tunnell called a "counter-guerrilla" campaign. Tunnell's mentality was summed up by one of his soldiers, who later told Army investigators "if I were to paraphrase [a speech the colonel gave] and my impressions about the speech in a single sentence, the phrase would be: 'Let's kill those motherfuckers.'"

(5/2 SBCT might also ring some bells as the parent unit of one Calvin Gibbs and his "kill team," which has made news recently.)

Whatever will Harry Tunnell and his aggressive acolytes do now, what with the precipitous fall of their tea-drinking tactical messiah? Sorry, Jaffe, but you picked the wrong SWJ article.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Want to see what the quotidian militarization of foreign policy looks like?

It's simple to look back over time and recognize broad, somewhat vague policy trends like "the militarization of foreign policy." You can look at the way we budget for international affairs versus defense; you can point to the myriad wars and other interventions in which we've engaged in recent years; you can even complain, if you like, that our international humanitarian and disaster relief efforts are primarily channeled through the military. But when you think about that trend, you're not imagining a decision-maker waking up one morning, sitting down at his desk, and saying "I'm going to militarize our foreign policy today!" -- it's just the way we label a whole bunch of aggreggated effects of seemingly reasonable decisions, right?

Well, yeah. Most of the time. And sometimes it's a little less honest, and a little less accidental.

In 2009, the administration included in its emergency war supplemental a request for $400 million to assist Pakistan in the development of its counterinsurgency capabilities. Breaking with the traditional custom for military aid, whereby grant funds are appropriated to the State Department for dispersal to the partner nation, the president instead requested that this money be appropriated to the Defense Department as part of what he called the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF).

While report language authored by House appropriators noted that "the Committee believes that the PCCF should be considered within the context of the Department of State appropriations" and expressed the sense that "such a request for training for Pakistan, or any other nation where we have a national security interest, must be considered within the context of Department of State policy guidance, applicable governing authorities and appropriations," the appropriators went one better: they not only established the $400M PCCF account within State's appropriation, but sent another $400M to DoD as the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund.

Yep, you've got that right: the 2009 supplemental (pdf) established a Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund in the Defense appropriation, satisfying the administration's exact request (but under a different name) in spite of expressed reservations about the appropriateness of DoD control over such a fund, and to soften the blow, appropriators also established a Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund in the State appropriation. That's PCF and PCCF: two different funds, two different money-owners, same general purpose.

So what's the difference? DoD's $400M was available upon passage of the bill (June 24, 2009) until the end of FY10, when the program's authority would also expire. The appropriated funds for State's PCCF would only become available on the last day of FY09, and both the funds and the program authority wouldn't expire until the end of FY11. If you're keeping score at home, that means that DoD had from June 2009 until the end of September 2010 to spend its $400M, while State had from October 2009 until the end of September 2011. Presumably this reflected Congress' desire to channel foreign military assistance through the State Department over the long term, while recognizing the Defense Department's unique ability to satisfy urgent Pakistani requirements in an expeditious fashion. What I mean by that is that the Pentagon has the capacity and the expertise to identify what the Pakistanis needed, put the equipment on contract, and deliver it to our partners ASAP -- which State simply wasn't yet suited to do.

That's sort of a funny way to look at things, though, considering how PCCF actually played out: as a simple pass-through fund from Congress to State to DoD, which executed the program. (The establishing legislation allowed for both PCF and PCCF funds to be transferred from one department to the other -- that is, combined with one another -- if the transferring Secretary saw fit.) Ironically (and hilariously), this procedure turns out to have made the State funds even more useful than the ones directly appropriated to DoD, as the State-to-Defense transfer constituted obligation of funds; once State "spent" its $400M with DoD, those funds could no longer expire, so the cash originally appropriated to PCCF (State) didn't have the same calendrical axe hanging over it as the DoD-appropriated funds. The pressure to spend that State money before it expired ceased to exist, while DoD had to scramble around getting equipment on contract with its own PCF cash before it disappeared at the end of September. But I digress...

By now you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with the militarization of foreign policy, so let's get back to the point. Last week when the details of the shutdown-averting budget compromise started coming out, Colin Cookman noticed that there was $800M in there for PCF (Defense). This is interesting not only because of everything you've read above, Congressional intent to transfer responsibility to the State Department, expiration of PCF's program authority, etc etc, but because the White House didn't actually ask for any PCF money for FY11 -- they asked for $1.2B for PCCF, which (as CRS notes on p.18 of this pdf) "moves ongoing activities to increase the capabilities of Pakistan's security forces from DOD control to the purview of the Secretary of State."

In the words of the immortal Lee Corso: not so fast, my friends. As Josh Rogin predictably sniffed out before it had even occurred to me to look, there it is in the legislation signed last week:
For the `Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund', $800,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2012: Provided, That such funds shall be available to the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, notwithstanding any other provision of law, for the purpose of allowing the Secretary of Defense, or the Secretary's designee, to provide assistance to Pakistan's security forces.
But wait, there's more! Section 2112(b):
The authorities contained under the heading `International Security Assistance, Funds Appropriated to the President, Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund' in title XI of Public Law 111-32 shall remain in effect until September 30, 2012.
So the law extends the authorization for both PCF and PCCF until the end of FY12, but only appropriates money ($800M) to PCF... the program that was supposed to go away this year. Sure, it's a $400M cut to what had been requested, but that's not the real story here. (Only $700M was appropriated across the two programs in FY10, so nearly doubling that amount for FY11 would've been a stretch in any politico-fiscal environment.) No, the real story is the way so many players in government colluded to hoodwink the taxpayer and extend the Pentagon's control of a fund that nearly everyone agrees is the legitimate prerogative of the Secretary of State.

1. Congressional Republicans cynically refused to fund through the State Department's budget an account that most of them would agree is important to national security, choosing instead to hide nearly a billion dollars under DoD's topline (notwithstanding the inarguable reality that the program constitutes foreign assistance), secure in the knowledge that such scheming will burnish their collective reputation as supporters of the troops, advocates for a strong defense, and opponents of namby-pamby hand-holding foreign aid.

2. The White House and Congressional Democrats rolled over for this deal, knowing as they did that it would continue DoD control of an element of U.S. foreign policy and increase the likelihood that training and equipping decisions would diverge from the broader context of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, all without saving a single dollar in the overall topline.

3. The State Department, however minimal its say in the final budgetary wrangling, almost certainly breathed a sigh of relief at being able to throw Republicans a $1.2B bone without actually cutting anything. As Rogin noted, State was likely able to save several other programs under threat by satisfying 10% of its total topline cut through what amounts to a transfer to another department's budgetary bin.

4. Department of Defense senior leaders have consistently called for an increase in resources for the diplomacy and development legs of the 3D stool, but just as consistently fight against the normalization of military assistance programs currently being conducted under special Title 10 (Defense) authority and mutely accept the two-year continuance of their control over a program that should rightfully belong to those statutorily charged with the conduct of our foreign affairs.

No big deal, you might say: we need to help the Pakistanis, the money got appropriated, so who cares where program authority lands -- especially when State's been passing money and execution responsibilities through to the Pentagon anyway? Here's why it's a big deal: every single bit of institutional momentum, bureaucratic inertia, and political pressure will continue to facilitate "minor" compromises and symbolic switches like this until a forward-looking, reform-minded government takes a stand.

Next time you hear the president, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, or Congressional leaders bemoaning the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, just think back and remember how they've all got a hand in it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I feel the need... the need for... ACTION ON GLOBAL MILITARY SPENDING

I don't know what's gotten into me, but I woke up this morning feeling compelled to take some action. So I spent a couple of hours sitting around thinking about action, trying to get a clear idea of just exactly what sort of action to take. Then, like a bolt from the blue, I had an idea: it's time to Take Some Action on Global Military Spending. Which is really a remarkable and fortuitous coincidence, because I've just learned that today is the "Global Day of Action on Military Spending." Just exactly what sort of action I'd like to take, though, that's sort of still up in the air. The Day of Action's organizers' website -- -- gives a helpful suggestion in the web banner's subtitle: CUT GLOBAL MILITARY SPENDING NOW! But that seems hard, and I'm not entirely sure what steps I'd need to take to get that done, and it certainly strikes me as the work of more than one day. So the action I've settled on is to think and write, and that's just going to have to do.

Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway reproduced this chart (from ThinkProgress) yesterday showing relative percentages of global military spending:

Doug then makes three reasonably simple and superficially sensible statements about what this data means: that no nation poses an existential threat to the U.S.; that the U.S. contributes too much to the defense of states that are capable of defending themselves; and that U.S. defense spending could decrease without a significantly negative impact on our national security.

These are straightforward and seemingly uncontroversial assertions. If you've read the blog for a while, you'd probably figure I agree with them. If you've read the blog for longer than a while, you'll probably find it unsurprising that I'm going to quibble with them.

First off, Doug asserts that "there is no nation on the planet that poses a real threat to the United States in the way that the USSR during the Cold War." To draw this conclusion on the basis of defense spending is, I think, profoundly misleading. Perceptions of the Soviet threat were based not merely on the relative strength of the superpowers' economies and militaries, but on the presumed implacability of the ideological conflict between the world's most powerful democracy and the flag-bearer for global communist revolution. To put it more simply, the "real threat" posed by the Soviet Union was as much a matter of intent as of potential. And if we want to look at it like that, then no, there probably isn't a nation on the planet that currently poses a similar threat.

But what if we're looking at it as a matter of simple military capability, as I think we must when we're referencing relative military spending? For me, this is pretty simple: any nuclear state with the necessary delivery mechanisms and sufficient number of warheads poses an existential threat to the U.S. I don't know enough about the details of strategic arms and nonproliferation to say who's on that list, but I feel confident that Russia and China both qualify.

And what about burden-sharing with our various allies and partners? One can reasonably assert, as Mataconis does, that "our allies... can afford to pay more toward their own defense than they [do] now," but I'm not sure that examining relative shares of global military spending should lead us to this conclusion. For one thing, a particular country's share of that particular pie says exactly nothing about what it can afford. I don't see Greece or Iceland or Portugal on the chart, but we can safely assume that each country represents an almost infintesimal share of global military spending. By Mataconis' logic, those countries "can afford to pay more." You sure about that?

And again, context is important. We'd do well to put ourselves in our allies' shoes and ask, as they surely must, "why should we spend more?" Presumably the U.S. foreign policy establishment perceives some enduring interest in the extension of a defensive umbrella over certain states (NATO allies, Japan, Korea, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few); this common understanding has obtained across administrations of all ideological stripes, even in the absence of the monolithic Cold War threat. Here we face the same troubles as with Pakistan: if we've identified a certain endstate as important to our interests, and if we've made it plain to all concerned parties that these important interests provide sufficient justification for our defense or foreign-aid dollar, then what leverage do we have when asking our partners to pony up? The fact of the matter is that Germany could probably zero out defense spending and suffer few consequences from the U.S., at least until such time as we're able to have a mature national conversation about whether American national security interests really require the territorial defense of continental Europe.

All of which brings me back to a point I've been making for a long time about defense budgets: it's not enough to talk about spending levels in either absolute or relative terms -- we have to try to understand the capabilities that are being bought, not to mention the strategic vision that provides a framework for the employment of those capabilities. It's not enough to look at that pie chart and say "well hell, no one even comes close! Surely we're safe!" But what if our definition of safety requires us to assert territorial control over a mountainous landlocked country in central Asia (and for the record, mine doesn't)? What if it requires us to defend Taiwan -- something that would clearly be FAR more expensive and dangerous for us than its annexation would be for China? It's perfectly fair to criticize these objectives or mission sets, and in fact I make a habit of doing exactly that. (One of my great frustrations with our national strategy documents is the casual assumption that global military dominance is an absolute requirement of U.S. national security.) But you can't do it by looking at a pie chart, because that pie chart doesn't take into account the kind of security that each of those countries is trying to buy.

All of which by way of saying that Mataconis' first two conclusions can't be logically derived from the data displayed on the chart, and the third conclusion can't be drawn directly from the first two.

There are plenty of good arguments in favor of military spending cuts. Let's start making them rather than relying on facile analysis and bad logic. We can do math and strategy. Why don't we try?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Logic of Violence in Civil War: Libya edition

Tonight a friend asked me "if everyone hates Qaddafi so badly, why isn't there more rebel activity in the west? Why isn't there more sabotage and insurgency and all that?" My first thought was something like, hell, you've got me. What the hell do I know about Libya? And that's true enough: I don't know much of anything about the specifics of the civil war, of ethnic cleavages or tribal rivalry, or really even about the geographic patterns of violence there beyond what's been widely reported in the media. But I do know a very little bit about the general subject of insurgency and irregular war, and the literature has something to say about this.

For one thing, popular interpretations of civil war and rebellion tend to overstate the power of ideology as a motivating factor for combatants. In the present example, this manifests as the belief that widespread loathing of an authoritarian leader should logically translate into broad-based, geographically indifferent rebellion. A melange of motivations is evident in anecdotal reporting from the front (none better than what runs under the byline of prolific multi-platform star C.J. Chivers), though we'd be well-served to keep in mind that people aren't always fighting for the reasons they say they are. These accounts don't really answer our question, in any event: if the rebels of Brega and Benghazi are fighting for democracy, the Qu'ran, or anything but Qaddafi, then surely some in the west of the country would take up arms in the service of one of those ends, right? Here's Stathis Kalyvas (p. 46) on the subject:
An extensive body of research shows that combatants are usually motivated to fight not by ideology or hate or fear but by peer pressure and processes involving regard for their comrades, respect for their leaders, concern for their own reputation with both, and an urge to contribute to the success of the group -- in short, what is known as "primary group cohesion."*
Chivers' account of one rebel straggler, too, puts paid to ideological explanations; Sgt. Abdullah Insaiti, a 13-year veteran of Qaddafi's army, defected to the opposition with his entire unit in February.
His unit, he said, had been scattered under fire in the fighting in recent weeks. He said he believed that eight of his friends had died, but offered that the number was probably much higher than that. Some, he said, had been blown apart in the shelling they had been subjected to out in the desert, where the forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi have been pounding the rebels with all manner of fire. 
Asked if he knew where his unit was now, Mr. Insaiti gave a perplexed shrug.
I'd be curious to see how many of this man's unit return to combat versus blending back into the considerably less dangerous routines of civilian life, but the tale is an instructive one either way: surely an entire platoon doesn't defect over ideology.

But regime security forces are a bit of a special case, to be fair -- this still doesn't really speak to the question of the west's relative quiet. But Kalyvas does, at least in a general sense. To boil a 400-page book down into a few sentences, let's put it like this: The Logic of Violence in Civil War argues that combatants are most likely to employ selective violence in areas where they are approaching, but have not secured, hegemony. To put it even more simply: the warring parties are most likely to kill people not in those places that either they or the opposing faction firmly control, but rather in those places where killing people might have a meaningful impact on defections and the supply of information. Here it is in the original Social-Science-ese (p. 13):
The theory bridges the meso- and microlevels and predicts the likelihood of violence as a function of control. On the one hand, political actors do not need to use violence where they already enjoy high levels of control and cannot use selective violence where they have no control whatsoever; having no access to information, they may use indiscriminate violence, but it will be counterproductive. Instead, they want to use selective violence in contested areas, where they have incomplete control. On the other hand, individuals want to denounce only where it is safe for them to do so; this is the case where their victims have no access to the rival political actor and, therefore, lack the option of counterdenunciation. In turn, this option is related to control: the higher the level of control for one actor, the lower the presence of the rival one, and, hence, of the option of counterdenunciation. The prediction is that violence is most likely to occur where one actor is near hegemonic, not where this actor is in full control or is being contested. Violence, in other words, is most likely where the organizational demand for information meets its individual supply. 
Now, if you're still awake: what does this mean for Libya? Well, Kalyvas doesn't directly address the question of sabotage and guerilla activity, but rather selective violence against neutral or undecided populations. We can, however, draw logical conclusions from his work, and the most meaningful of these -- widely known to students of insurgency but perhaps counterintuitive -- is that collaboration follows control. Conceptually inseparable from the belief that ideology drives rebellion is the commonly-held view that regime strength corresponds geographically (and demographically) with regime popularity; in point of fact, civilians are most likely to peaceably accede to the wishes of the government in areas where the regime's military power and physical control are at their peak.

All of which is just a long way of expressing a pretty simple hypothesis: it's entirely possible that few Libyans are rising up outside of the east and a few small pockets of rebel control simply because government control of the rest of the country just seems incontestable or insurmountable. (Kalyvas, p. 93: "The absence of alternatives often produces collaboration irrespective of the level of popular satisfaction or lack thereof," which come to think of it could've pretty much been the whole post all by itself.) As I mentioned to my friend, there may be other valid explanations related to ethnic or tribal politics, geographic history, and so on, and these would certainly be more effectively articulated by an area expert. But I'm not that guy, so this is what I've got.

*Why this should be so is a complicated question that's largely beyond the scope of what we're talking about here, but Kalyvas alludes to a number of biases that impact scholarly work on the subject. Notably: "There is a clear epistemic bias, at least in the sociological and historical traditions, in favor of the assumption that all (or most) participants in conflicts are motivated by ideological concerns. Because 'urban' scholars tend to be primarily motivated by ideology themselves, the often assign unambiguous ideological motives to participants, even if this is not the case" (p. 44).

It's Not Over in Cote d'Ivoire

The arrest of Laurent Gbagbo today has finally brought the long crisis in Cote d'Ivoire to the front pages of US newspapers.

But,a s Beth Dickinson explains very well here,this doesn't mean that things are over in Cote d'Ivoire. Yes, the recalcitrant loser of November's election has finally been detained by the forces of Alassane Ouattara but it took four long months. Much has happened since Gbagbo refused to step down after the UN and the Ivorian elections commission declared Ouattara the winner of the runoff vote.

Just to give a brief list, the Security Council agreed in December to send two thousand extra troops (they still haven't arrived), the two attack helicopters did arrive (three months late). In January-February, the international community did its best to strangle Gbagbo's resources: ECOWAS cut off his signing authority (this matters because Cote d'Ivoire is a Franc CFA country and therefore partially controlled by the regional central bank) and Ouattara announced a halt to cocoa and coffee exports. This led prices to skyrocket for cocoa futures. Meanwhile, the EU and the US froze Gbagbo's assets. South Africa, whose President seems to call for power-sharing a la Zimbabwe/Kenya every time someone tries to steal an election, finally followed suit on the asset freeze, but only ten days ago.

Last month, the Security Council finally imposed an asset freeze and travel bank on Gbagbo (they had threatened before but not named him or his family/entourage to a list). And finally, the Council told UNOCI and Licorne to really "use all necessary means" to prevent violence.

Still, Gbagbo's arrest today took a lot of support from the French Licorne forces and UNOCI, in particular by responding to the use of heavy weapons in Abidjan. On top of that, Gbagbo has been using a lot of anti-French, anti-UN and anti-foreigner (that is anti-northerner) rhetoric. Many of his supporters are still armed--the Republican Guard in particular has long refused to comply with a UN arms embargo. Not only that but he (and the head of his Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude) used the months of crisis to recruit more followers, and arm them.

Last month, several hundred people were massacred in Duekoue, which is inhabited mostly by Gbagbo supporters. If this headline didn't make you think "Rwanda", I don't know what will but about 30,000 people had taken refuge in a church compound. This kind of thing could happen again. There has been heavy fighting in Abidjan for days now so we should expect high casualty figures. On top of everything, one million people have fled the fighting and over 100,000 fled to Liberia.

So, it's nice that Cote d'Ivoire is finally getting some attention, it's nice that the Security Council finally did more than threaten sanctions and in fact threw its support behind UNOCI and Licorne (something that many UNOCI and Licorne officials felt had long been lacking) but don't count this one as over yet. Alassane Ouattara gave a nice speech (in French) on how he will work on reconciliation, but it will take a lot of work.

Oh and one more thing, the New York Times' coverage of this crisis, has been abysmal. Why is it that for the first time in months, Adam Nossiter, their West Africa-based reporter-- is actually in Abidjan? Until now, all his articles have relied on wire reports and the byline has been from the safety of Ghana. Why was no one from the times there when the BBC, Le Monde, Reuters, AP, AFP, and others were on the ground, in some cases making it to Duekoue to report on the massacre there?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The ICC is screwing Afghanistan

With all the attention payed to "cricket diplomacy" in the India-Pakistan semi-final match of the recently completed cricket World Cup as well as India's winning the cup and the Indian Premier League nearly here, some diplomatic fallout of a recent International Cricket Council (ICC) decision on the 2015 World Cup has not yet reached full flame. But it will intensify over time because it's screwing a number of nations' cricket programs. For those of you not into sports, I'll get to the point - this isn't a sport blog after all.

Basically the ICC has determined that only the 10 full members of the ICC will be permitted to play in the 2015 World Cup, blocking all associate and affiliate members from qualifying. Granted, the associate members haven't faired terribly well in the few World Cups they have been allowed to play in (with the notable exception of Ireland), but for the top six associate/affiliate members (who are ICC sanctioned to play the ODI format) it means that they'll lose tons of money and experience that their programs desperately need to even hope to ever become full members. In spite of the fact that a couple of the full members (specifically Zimbabwe and possibly Bangladesh) aren't any better than most of the associate/affiliate members.

So what does this have to do with the issues we normally discuss here at Ink Spots? Quite simply, this really screws Afghanistan's team at a time when that country really needs some good news. I've written before about some of Afghanistan's recent cricket successes and while sports will not change conduct of the conflict their home is experiencing, the ICC is dashing one of the few shining lights (however minor in the grand scheme of things) of present-day Afghanistan. Admittedly, Afghan success in a World Cup will not bring peace or even full test status or revenue from ticket and television sales. But among cricket-playing nations, cricket and politics go hand in hand. Last year's IPL draft nearly caused significant political problems on the Subcontinent. This decision in itself exemplifies this - it appears to be taken mainly to protect the two weakest members of the ICC.

The ICC is a club - not the WTO or the G20 or the UNSC - but it's a club. A club that a lot of nations want to be a part of, because it does come with benefits outside cricket (for example, Zimbabwe's return to test cricket was seen as acceptance of that nation's regime by ICC member nations). While no one knows if Afghanistan would have even qualified for the 2015 World Cup, they won't even have that chance now and all because the ICC is looking after its own. In any case, this is screwing them and if there's one thing Afghanistan doesn't need it's getting screwed in yet another way.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why don't the Libyan rebels unilaterally disarm? (UPDATED)

Ok, I know this sounds like a nutty idea, but it's something I've been thinking about ever since the staggeringly effective U.S. bombardment of Libyan air defenses and maneuver forces kicked off the present period of stalemate: if the UNSCR authorizes protection of civilians and populated areas and nothing else, and if U.S. and NATO forces have made it clear that they will NOT perform close air support for opposition forces (or even support them with suppressive or defensive fires), and regime elements have indicated that they will continue to push east-northeast and take offensive action to suppress the rebellion... why don't the rebels simply lay down their arms, return to built-up areas, blend in with the civilian population, then wait for the inevitable destruction of advancing regime forces by coalition strike assets tasked to protect civilian life?

Is this too simple? Is it too much to expect the Libyan opposition to entrust their lives to the discretion of Western commanders, even after the coalition has proved itself both willing and capable of rendering regime forces combat ineffective or inoperable?

Presumably NATO's inaction in the face of regime offensives against Misrata and Brega is a result of the rebels' military defense of those towns. It's hard to imagine that the unopposed shelling of civilians would be permitted by the coalition, while sensitivity about intervention in running battles of a civil war may be giving Western political and military leaders pause.

"The opposition" has proved itself largely incapable of protecting civilians, holding ground, or doing much more than harrassing regime forces as they advance or flooding into abandoned ground after coalition air assets loose that ground from the regime's grip. What do they have to lose?

UPDATE: Chris Chivers has more on the haplessness of the rebels' military organization, if such a thing can be said to exist.
But by almost all measures by which a military might be assessed, they are a hapless bunch. They have almost no communication equipment. There is no visible officer or noncommissioned officer corps. Their weapons are a mishmash of hastily acquired arms, which few of them know how to use.  
With only weeks of fighting experience, they lack an understanding of the fundamentals of offensive and defensive combat, or how to organize fire support. They fire recklessly and sometimes accidentally. Most of them have yet to learn how to hold seized ground, or to protect themselves from their battlefield’s persistent rocket and mortar fire, which might be done by simply digging in. 
Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns. 
You also ought to be reading his blog, where he deals in greater detail with some of the opposition's armaments (including several outstanding and illustrative photos).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Principles of War have not changed: We need objectives in Libya

I am absolutely perplexed why people are suggesting that somehow the Principles of War have fundamentally changed in the last few years. While the tools and methods for the application of the Principles evolve over time, the Principles themselves have not changed and I don't see any reason to change them now. I'm specifically referring to the conjecture that we don't need objectives or a description of a desired end state with regard to Libya, a mantle taken on by Tom Ricks and yesterday by Crispin Burke as a guest poster at Best Defense.

I'm going to pick on Crispin first, because as an Army officer he brings credibility to his writings on design. But I also think he completely misrepresents both traditional operational planning and campaign design. Traditional operational planning, a system that has evolved since the Napoleonic Wars to what we know today in the 5-paragraph operations order based on the Military Decision Making Process, is not a rigid system that completely ignores the ability to adapt or understand complex systems. In fact, I think it does a pretty good job of handling those two issues as long as your commanders and planners are capable of adapting and understanding complex issues. The invasion of Iraq, meticulously planned, is a good example of an engineered operational plan that went to shit thirty minutes before LD and was FRAGOed the rest of the way by competent people until the fall of the regime. The proposition that MDMP-based planning leads to rigid thinking and doesn't provide enough adaptability to commanders (or situational needs) is bunk and I'm afraid that if you make that conjecture you may not truly understand how planning is supposed to work (I should point out here that Crispin says they are important, but Tom isn't so keen on objectives at all). Objectives are not antithetical to adaptability or flexibility - they're actually quite essential to it!

I also think Crispin overestimates the panacea of design. To state that design helps commanders understand the problem, which gives them the ability to not worry so much about mission statements, objectives, or end states is flat out wrong (I'll concede a withdrawal plan isn't necessary at the start as long as you have end state objectives). TRADOC Pamphlet 525-5-500 (Commander's Appreciation and Campaign Design) states as that the first function of campaign design is "Identify the combination of parallel and sequential objectives that lead to mission success and define the way the mission will be performed." Read the rest of the pamphlet - the terms objectives, end states, and mission statement are pervasive. I can't even fathom how you expect subordinate commanders to execute operations in a campaign if they don't even know what they're driving at or what their purpose is! How is that supposed to work??

I am actually a big fan of many elements of campaign design, but just like the old MDMP you need people who understand how to use it. Had design been used in the Sanchez or Casey days of the Iraq War I highly doubt things would have turned out any better. The utility of any system is limited by the capabilities of the people using it. Within Army planning circles, the discussion of MDMP versus design is turning into something similar to the old COINdinista/COINtra debate or even of the Effects Based Operations debate. Design provides commanders and planners with some great ways of approaching planning, but it doesn't solve all of the problems inherent to the older way of doing things. So let's all not make this a debate on old versus new, because modern campaigns need elements of both design and MDMP.

Certainly, things like strategic and operational objectives are still required to successfully run military campaigns. I don't even understand the logic that dictates that they aren't needed - even the literature on the subject says it's still a fundamental part of design. So yeah, we need operational objectives and an end state that lets us know when we've accomplished our goals. They may change over time, but we need to start with something. Otherwise we will suffer strategic and/or operational drift, often leading to mission creep or other such things you don't want in a campaign. As I said before, the methods of warfare have evolved since the 1830s, but the principles have not.