Monday, May 31, 2010

In memoriam: to those "who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes"

I hope everyone enjoyed the long weekend. It was a sweltering one here in DC, and I was happy to see so many people braving the weather at Arlington this afternoon.

Others have written about why this day is so important, but one moment today helped to remind me: a family in church clothes in the field up behind the Tomb of the Unknowns, kneeling to pray before a gravestone that read "1974-2009, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM." This was one family among four thousand. And 58,000 from Vietnam, and 53,000 from Korea, and 400,000-odd from WWII, and 135,000 from WWI.

I'm skeptical of the blanket assertion that "these men died for freedom," but I'll tell you one thing that's certainly true: these men died that other men wouldn't, and that's a hell of a thing.

So I'll leave you with the words of the orders issued on the very first Memorial Day, shamelessly copied in full from Small Wars Journal:


General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of


Adjutant General


Friday, May 28, 2010

The 2010 National Security Strategy sucks, and I'm gonna tell you why

The 2010 National Security Strategy was published by the White House yesterday. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but it sucks.

On the bright side, so has pretty much every other version of the NSS. The fundamental imperative for any strategic document, I think, can be summed up in the guidance my favorite sports-talk station gives to listeners before they call in: "have a take and don't suck." The problem with a document like this is that it's developed by consensus, by innumerable chops back and forth among a bunch of different stakeholders, so just about everyone with a "security" issue gets to wedge in his or her "priority." You end up with something that's comprehensive rather than assertive, and so the NSS is often more remarkable for what it chooses not to focus on than for what it includes. That's not to say that there needs to be some controversial core argument, but rather that the guidance should lay out some clearly-defined vision rather than cobbling together every possible "threat" and "challenge" imaginable in the future security environment.

Now on the other hand, this NSS sucks especially bad. And I'm going to argue that it sucks in ways that are not only disappointing, but actually sort of pernicious. But we'll get to that later. To start off with, let's talk about what's wrong:
1. It's a statement of principles, not a strategy.
It's no coincidence that the writer of the NSS is Ben Rhodes, previously the president's national security speechwriter, now Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications. Stuff like this is normally drafted by speechwriters, so it's not exactly a departure from the norm. But as others have already argued, this "strategy" reads more like a State of the Union than anything that would go by that name in the Pentagon. The document does a fantastic job of laying out just "what America is about," what we value, and how we'd like the world to be if we could draw it up from scratch, but without the connective tissue of prioritization and resource choices, none of that is really what strategy is about.
2. It doesn't know what it wants...
The "Overview" section at the beginning of the NSS tries to tell us what the whole thing is about:
Our national security strategy is, therefore, focused on renewing American leadership so that we can more effectively advance our interests in the 21st century.
"National security" is construed so broadly as to incorporate basically every element of American political, economic, and military strength. "American interests" are defined in such a way that they're nearly unintelligible. Here's what the NSS has to say on page 17:
To achieve the world we seek, the United States must apply our strategic approach in pursuit of four enduring national interests:
  • Security: The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners.
  • Prosperity: A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity.
  • Values: Respect for universal values at home and around the world.
  • International Order: An international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.

But are these really our "enduring national interests"? If so, why? Is a stable international order actually a core national interest, or is it merely a means to ensure security, prosperity and respect for universal values? Is "security" really a desired endstate, or is it simply a means to ensure both liberty and prosperity?

One of the novel areas of focus in this version of the NSS is domestic economic strength.

At the center of our efforts is a commitment to renew our economy, which serves as the wellspring of American power. The American people are now emerging from the most devastating recession that we have faced since the Great Depression. As we continue to act to ensure that our recovery is broad and sustained, we are also laying the foundation for the long term growth of our economy and competitiveness of our citizens. The investments that we have made in recovery are a part of a broader effort that will contribute to our strength: by providing a quality education for our children; enhancing science and innovation; transforming our energy economy to power new jobs and industries; lowering the cost of health care for our people and businesses; and reducing the Federal deficit.

Each of these steps will sustain America's ability to lead in a world where economic power and individual opportunity are more diffuse.

And so there we are: back to the "ability to lead," and to global primacy. So our objective is "leadership," right? And we get leadership by... assuring our security? And enhancing and sustaining our economic prosperity? But wait, aren't those the interests that we're trying to advance through leadership? See how this gets circular? We need to be strong so that we can be secure so that we can lead so that we can advance our interests in being strong and secure and prosperous and... leading? It all ends up as a meaningless tautology.

3. ...And so it wants everything.

Political pressures and limitations mean that the truly important, defining questions that should inform American grand strategy are elided through a sort of assertive question-begging: the Obama administration, knowing that even to engage in a public consideration of whether American global "leadership" is still necessary or desirable -- whether the benefits of unipolarity are worth the costs -- would give rise to the sort of Democrats-as-defeatist criticisms to which they are already so vulnerable, simply ignores the question. The administration assumes, as has every other post-Cold War presidential administration, that the most appropriate remedy to a staggering array of global threats is simply to pursue or retain the power to do everything.

Here are a few of the things the document suggests are "priorities:"

pursuit of a nonproliferation agenda/security weapons of mass destruction; disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda and Associated Movements; succeeding in the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan; denying extremists safe haven in Pakistan; transitioning full responsibility for Iraqi security to that nation's sovereign government; comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and tis neighbors (to include creation of a Palestinian state with contiguous territory); engagement with Muslim communities around the world; rebuilding American economic strength; pursuit of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements; support for individual opportunity and state capacity abroad; promotion of "universal values" (er, but just by example), to include global equality for women; the shaping of a just and stable international order "capable of addressing the problems of our time."

And no joke, all that's just [paraphrased] from the section entitled "Advancing Top National Security Priorities."

The thing about priorities is that if you have a whole bunch, you don't have any. What are these objectives and mission sets prioritized against? What else is the nation interested in accomplishing or effecting that does not constitute a "priority"?

4. Unfortunately, what's missing is any idea of how to get there from here... if we can even figure out where "there" is.

Strategy is fundamentally about prioritization and resourcing. The National Security Strategy is meant to provide the broad, overarching strategic concept for ensuring the nation's security, within which the Defense Department will nest its National Military Strategy and the QDR. While the DoD is obviously responsible for identifying which parts of the NSS require the application of military means, this particular NSS does nothing to suggest which mission sets or objectives are more important than the others. It does nothing to answer questions of how budgets and authorities should be balanced between various departments -- meaning that it's essentially silent on the question of resources, or means -- or how what the military would call the defense, diplomacy, and development Lines of Effort should be blended across the various ways available to us to effect our desired endstates.

When the QDR was published several months ago, you had a great many budget hawks saying things like "how can we write a QDR and plan defense budgets when we don't even know what missions the Defense Department will be asked to perform by the national leadership??!" Most of these folks were just bent out of shape that the SECDEF was going to cancel programs they deemed necessary, holding out hope that the President's NSS would show just exactly how necessary their big industrial pet project was to national defense. (To be fair, though, the QDR really should be about understanding the ways in which the Department is working and must work in the future to execute the National Military Strategy, which of course ought to be nested within the NSS.) Well, let me ask you this: do we have any better idea about that now? Did this publication shed any light on whether the Department is asking itself the right questions, or answering them the right way in the QDR? Is there a single program decision from either the QDR or the budget announcement that makes more or less sense on account of this NSS?

In short, the document completely fails to provide any strategic leadership. It's the same old laundry list of "priorities" and "requirements" that the DoD and the services are criticized for providing when asked about programming and budgets for the future.

Reforming our national security apparatus is a process that must be led from outside and above the departments. It can't be done by DoD, no matter how often Secretary Gates says we need a rebalancing of the instruments of national power, and no matter how many times Admiral Mullen speaks on the Hill to ask that the foreign assistance budget be fully funded. This is exactly the sort of thing that requires Presidential leadership. Because without a strategic vision that's articulated outside the Department, you'll continue to see our foreign and security policies be dominated by defense considerations.

If the White House or the National Security Staff were to really engage in the preparation of strategy, it would go like this:

  1. Identify enduring U.S. interests in a clear and comprehensive way
  2. Determine what strategic endstates would ensure the advancement and protection of those interests
  3. Develop the ways by which those endstates can be realized, how efforts must be channeled and directed, what levers and mechanisms must be manipulated
  4. Create or modify the means the government requires to influence the environment and enable its lines of effort, which is to say figure out what kind of tools you need beyond a hammer, and then figure out how to budget and program for them
That's how strategy's developed: working back from endstates through ways/LOEs to means/tools, and then enacting measures to use the tools you've created along the ways you've identified to achieve the endstates necessary for the advancement of your interests.


For one thing, the NSS's abdication of responsibility for true strategic leadership aggravates the tensions in civil-military relations that so many people have been lately bemoaning. With a lack of clear guidance about our true national priorities, the Defense Department is left to the only thing it knows how to do: advocating for the centrality of problems it knows how to solve, slinging that hammer over the shoulder and heading out in search of a nail. In other words, you're going to have generals and senior DoD civilians doing the sort of high-level strategic freelancing you don't want, determining United States foreign policy from the perspective of the U.S. military. (Note: this is not the way this country is meant to run.)


By writing a National SECURITY Strategy that completely fails to explain to people exactly what is meant by "security," and by pursuing a circular strength-means-leadership-means-security-means strength strategic logic, and by thus determining that essentially every political, cultural, social, and economic aspect of American life helps to define just exactly how "secure" we Americans are, this administration has cannily and basically without objection used rhetoric to establish every single one of its domestic political priorities -- "complete and competitive education for every American; a transformation of the way that we produce and use energy; ... access to quality, affordable health care; ... the responsible management of our federal budget; ... comprehensive immigration reform"; [you forgot "fat kids"!]; etc. -- as germane to national security.

And I'll just leave the interpretation of that part up to you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

USSOCOM commander: "COIN doctrine [is] an oxymoron"

ADM Eric Olson, speaking at a conference today, pretty much laid into COIN doctrine and rhetoric:

The U.S. military's counterinsurgency tactics increasingly place too much emphasis on protecting local peoples and not enough on fighting enemy forces, said [...] Olson.

While the U.S. military has adopted a population-focused strategy in Afghanistan, Olson said May 26 he "fears counterinsurgency has become a euphemism for nonkinetic activities."

The term is now to often used to describe efforts aimed at "protecting populations," Olson said during a conference in Arlington, Va.

The military's top special operator, in a shot across the bow of modern-day counterinsurgency doctrine proponents, then added: "Counterinsurgency should involve countering the insurgents."

The admiral went on to describe COIN doctrine as "an oxymoron" (a word choice that strikes me as a little imprecise, if not exactly nonsensical), noting that

[...] "almost none" of what the doctrine contains is "actually applied" during military operations, he said.

Olson pointed to parts of the current counterinsurgency doctrine that is based on U.S. military efforts in certain provinces of Iraq. Those tactics rarely apply anywhere in Afghanistan, he said.

"It is an imperfect template from which we must deviate," Olson said to a silent room.

I guess my version of 3-24 was missing the page that directed thoughtless, automatic execution of an unalterable plan (a plan that revolves around hugging the enemy until he quits).

Seriously though, if what he's saying is that we ought to remember that counterinsurgency is bigger than just the nonkinetic action, bigger than just development projects and COPs and restrictive ROE, that the rhetoric is starting to diverge from the reality...

...then I agree. And I applaud him for saying so.

(Of course, if he's saying we just need to kill more bad guys, then I think it's a lot more complicated.)

From the Department of Incredibly Misleading Headlines

Yesterday I saw the following headline show up in a number of places on Twitter:
Gates Orders Services To Adopt McChrystal's COIN Standards
Sounds like a big deal, right? So I click the link and head on over to Defense News, expecting to read something revolutionary about how GEN McChrystal's counterinsurgency guidance had inspired a Department-wide review of doctrine and TTPs, or something.

Well, turns out that's not what this is. I wasn't even going to comment on the whole thing until this morning, when I saw the same headline linked at SWJ and on a number of other blogs.

Here's the first couple of paragraphs of the article running under that headline:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has directed the U.S. military services to adopt a set of counterinsurgency tools modeled after ones instituted in Afghanistan by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said a senior Pentagon official.

Gates on May 24 signed a directive ordering the services to "take McChrystal's COIN training and proficiency standards ... and adapt those for the whole force," Garry Reid, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combat
terrorism, told Defense News May 25.

The idea is to take the kinds of COIN training and "proficiency" standards that McChrystal, the top American general in Afghanistan, implemented there with his "AfPak Hands" program.

Then later, this:

Gates wants the new military-wide training and proficiency standards to be "in line" with those used in McChrystal's "Hands" program, Reid said.

"Every service member needs some understanding" of the local population, culture and language "when they're going to be on the ground," he said during prepared remarks at an industry conference in Arlington, Va.

The memo instructs the Pentagon's top policy shop in coming months to develop the framework for the standards. It will then be up to the services, Joint Staff and other military components "to fill those out - as they would with anything else," Reid said.

So really what we're talking about here is this: the SECDEF wants to take the metrics by which we measure the language and cultural skills of AfPak Hands personnel and extend them across the whole Department, meaning that the folks in that program won't be the only ones headed downrange who are trained to be sensitive to the "human terrain."

It's difficult to understand why you'd call these "McChrystal's COIN standards;" while the sorts of skills that AfPak Hands' training program is focused on are obviously relevant to personnel operating in the COIN environment in Afghanistan, that phrase clearly evokes the ROE/SOP direction published by McChrystal under the title "ISAF Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance." It seems clear that the publication wasn't trying to be sensationalist or anything -- the writer was just relaying the poorly-articulated, second-hand message of DASD Reid and elected to stay consistent with Reid's confusing word choice.

This isn't exactly a non-story -- the fact that AfPak Hands' metrics are considered meaningful and useful enough to be extended across the services is worthy of mention -- but I think a lot of people are reading this headline and getting the wrong idea.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sorta remotely COINish quote of the day

Here's David Foster Wallace, who, as I've told you in the past, was pretty much the greatest writer of fiction since Hemingway, and whose literary style and tone I would shamelessly parrot if I had even a fraction of the necessary talent, in a nonfiction essay about tennis (which is remarkable enough on its face, the fact that I'm reading about tennis):
[W]hat a top [power-baseliner] really resembles is film of the old Soviet Union putting down a rebellion. It's awesome, but brutally so, with a grinding, faceless quality about its power that renders that power curiously dull and empty.
For what it's worth, this is from "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff About Choice, Freedom, Limitation, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness," originally published in abridged form in Esquire in 1996 under the title "The String Theory" and reprinted under the title above (TPMJPAPCSACFLJGHC, that is) in the 1997 essay collection entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and which is one of two incredible tennis-player-bio-meets-philosophical-treatise-s that Wallace wrote. (The other is "Roger Federer as Religious Experience," which was in the August 20, 2006 edition of the New York Times' Play magazine and is available online, and which is probably the single greatest piece of sports writing I've ever read. And honestly, I don't give a tinker's damn about tennis.)

If you don't read DFW, whether it's because you've never heard of him or because you dismiss him as some avant-garde PoMo new-agey hipster, you are seriously missing a meaningful part of human experience. And that's not just the half a bottle of port talking.

Wait, the administration wants WHAT?

According to Josh Rogin at The Cable, "U.S. military aid to Lebanon [is] under the microscope as Hariri visits Washington." He explains:

As Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri makes the rounds in Washington today and tomorrow, he faces deep questions in Congress and in the Defense Department about the future of the U.S. military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Supporters of the funding, mostly at the State Department and the White House, argue that strengthening the Lebanese military is the best way to bolster Hariri against the mounting influence of both Syria and Hezbollah, the radical Shiite militant group, inside Lebanon. The Lebanese military, this faction argues, is the most representative of the country's civic institutions and continuing the funding can help convince Hariri that working with the U.S. is a beneficial and defensible strategy.

But many lawmakers and some at the Pentagon, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, are extremely skeptical that continuing to funnel large amounts of cash and supplies to the LAF is really a good way to approach the Lebanon problem. They are angry about statements Hariri has made about Syria's alleged transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah, and question whether the military aid to Lebanon is part of a coherent strategy.

Ok, basically tracking so far. Military aid to Lebanon is a controversial and widely misunderstood subject, and it's true that there's no consensus in the USG on how exactly that assistance should be rendered, and to what end.

That said, the Obama administration is continuing in a direction that's basically consistent with the Bush administration on this issue, one that's informed by the understanding that the Lebanese Armed Forces are NOT capable of disarming Hizballah or fighting Syria or Israel, and that our efforts vis-a-vis the LAF are not meant to change that.

Rogin (or Andrew Tabler, who he quotes; it's not clear from the way the paragraph is written) seems to disagree:
"The number one issue now is arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah and this confounds our policy of supporting the Lebanese military," said Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Obama administration wants Hariri to use the state's instruments of power, such as the LAF, to confront Syria over the alleged arms transfers, but Hariri is in no position to confront Damascus.
The Obama administration wants the Lebanese government to use its armed forces to pressure Syria on arms transfers to Hizballah, and our military assistance to the LAF is directed towards that objective? I think Rogin (or Tabler) has got this one dead wrong, and I think basically all Lebanon/Levant-watchers will agree.

Security assistance and military aid are imperfect tools, I'll admit, and often suffer from a failure to nest assistance programs and other engagements within a long-term, strategic plan for a country or region. That said, our engagement with Lebanon is not reorganized and reprioritized based on the political flavor of the moment, and the entire LAF assistance plan isn't being reworked or redirected as a result of a few news stories about Syrian materiel transfers to Hizballah.

The U.S. is not aiding the LAF in the hopes that it will destroy Hizballah, nor that Beirut will use the LAF to pressure Syrian decisionmakers. It's just not what the assistance program is about. (What it is about is counterterrorism and territorial control/sovereignty, but basically only in those areas that Israel and Hizballah are not already preeminent. Which is to say that we support the LAF so that it can shut down terrorist activity in its Palestinian refugee camps and elsewhere.) No one is interested in destabilizing the country and the region by playing kingmaker, arming a proxy force to the teeth to take on Iranian-backed groups across the Levant. It's just not happening.

If you want to hear this from a real Lebanon expert, check out this talk by David Schenker (who is actually quoted at the end of the Rogin piece) at the Middle East Institute (h/t Abu Muqawama). It's in nine parts and also includes Aram Nerguizian, and it's worth watching the whole thing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Does anyone remember us having "honest, thoughtful discussions" about the tactical utility of war crimes?

In a post this weekend at Firedoglake and the Huffington Post entitled "The Fundamentals of Radical, Transnational Counterinsurgency," Josh Mull spends about 1,200 words talking about "fascism" and "hate speech" and "ethnic cleansing" without really saying much of anything about the "fundamentals of... counterinsurgency." It's a schizophrenic screed penned mostly as a response, it seems, to Ann Marlowe's brief World Affairs piece expressing her entirely unfounded (and un-argued!) opinion that "brutality works." Alma addressed Marlowe's piece here, concluding with this:
I don't mind a healthy dose of provocation in commentaries on Afghanistan and other topics, but this one strikes me, to say the least, as particularly vacuous.
We also dealt (obliquely) with the familiar argument that unrestrained brutality can increase a counterinsurgent's effectiveness here, in a post that Mull links to disapprovingly. How truly evil must this "counterinsurgency" be if it brings us to this? he seems to wonder, a world where
[w]e so believe in this concept of "victory" in Afghanistan that we have honest, thoughtful discussions on whether or not crimes against humanity are a good tactic.
We do?

Was that an "honest, thoughtful discussion" about war crimes? About "whether or not crimes against humanity are a good tactic" (particularly in any moral sense)?

It doesn't help that Marlowe's original bit was so confused and poorly-argued, but Mull's response ends up as a disorienting farrago of aspersions, errors in fact, and ejaculations of righteous indignation. Mull acts as if we're over here fiddling while Rome burns, willfully ignorant to the moral costs of war while American troops rape, pillage, and fire the town, quibbling over tactical marginalia as the pervasive "COIN ideology" gradually corrodes our sense of right and wrong.

Well, I'm not afraid to tell you that this is the purest bullshit.

The affect most plainly evinced by Mull's tone and word choice is that of the jilted faithful; I can't help but think that he's so angry at COIN because it didn't live up to the things he thought it might: war without brutality, war without violence, war without war. Mull writes about a "fine-tuned, population-friendly counterinsurgency strategy," but that's never been on offer; "population-centric" ain't the same thing as population-friendly. And listen, if you think you were sold a bill of goods and you expected that counterinsurgency was all about love and hugs, talking things out, restoring legitimacy and puppy dogs and ice cream, then I can see how you might end up disappointed. But this one ain't on the COINdinistas, it's on those who misplaced their own faith.

Here are some truths, just so that we're all on the same page:
  1. Violence is a part of COIN, as it is a part of all war.
  2. Anyone who tells you that COIN is a "kinder, gentler form of war" is a liar.
  3. Unrestrained brutality is not an effective tactic in COIN, no matter what Ann Marlowe would have you believe.
The reason many of us sit here and have "honest, thoughtful discussions" about the utility of various tactics and operational approaches is that it's important to know how to do this well, so that what's needed can be done, and so that we can do it less. It's important to try to understand action and reaction, knowing as we all do that we'll never faithfully and completely map cause and effect. Discussions of the utility of force or the logic of violence aren't about justifying brutality or subverting the law of war, but rather an effort to better understand the levers and mechanisms through which war can be prosecuted more effectively -- which is really the only way to make the violence and brutality that is inherent in war even the slightest bit more just.

None of this is a substitute for strategic thinking. It's not a substitute for considerations of justice and morality, for thoughtful study of the relationship between our objectives and our actions.

Counterinsurgency is not an ideology. It's a tool, and sometimes it's the right one. But a man who doesn't believe in war can't possibly believe in COIN, either. It's galling (and not a little pathetic) to see the parade of "progressive" pacifists essentially whining about the lost promise of COIN when it's plain to see their own misconceptions are to blame.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"We cannot continue to dismiss actions by North Korea as 'more of the same'"

So says Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). The question that immediately leaps to mind is something like "ok, so then what should we do?"

The Washington Post is making a big production out of the fact that Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen refused yesterday to call North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship (which cost 46 sailors their lives) an "act of war." The Post's Anne Flaherty pressed the two on the subject during yesterday's press conference, using the words "act of war" in no less than three separate (leading) questions:


Q Does the United States consider the sinking of the South Korean warship an act of war? And seeing as the United States has vowed to defend South Korea, what do you plan to do about it? What are your options?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, we certainly support the findings of the Korean -- the South Korean investigation. We obviously are in close consultation with the Koreans. The attack was against one of their ships. And we will -- naturally they would have the lead in determining the path forward. They've laid out some paths forward, and we will be consulting very closely with them as we move ahead.

ADM. MULLEN: I spoke to my counterpart yesterday. And we've been engaged with them since the incident, not just from here, but also Admiral Willard in PACOM, as well as, obviously, General Sharp. And we are all focused on that region, the stability in that region -- that needs to be sustained -- and at the same time very focused on supporting our strong ally in the Republic of Korea.

Q But could you say whether or not you agree that -- with the South Koreans that it is in fact an act of war? And can you go over some of the options that you have to

SEC. GATES: I think that -- I think basically what we've said is about all there is for us to say. We accept the findings and support the findings of the investigation. The Republic of Korea has outlined several paths forward, and we will be consulting very closely with them going forward.

Q Admiral, could you address that too, please? It's clearly an act of war, isn't it?

ADM. MULLEN: Again, I think the secretary -- we've said all we want to say on this right now. Certainly we're concerned about it. We've supported them. We've helped them in the investigation and we agree with the conclusion. They're a great friend and great ally, and we'll continue to do that.

Which makes one wonder exactly what the newspaper's trying to accomplish beyond getting a flashy headline like "SECDEF: KOREA SHIP SINKING 'ACT OF WAR'", right?

Leaving aside the pretty obvious answer to why the press would be interested in inflammatory, provocative, and frankly dangerous pronouncements from senior policymakers, what about the real substance of all this: how does this all shake out? Obviously the U.S. response is conditioned on what the South Koreans decide is necessary, but what would the Jim Inhofes of the world have us do?

How does South Korea defend itself against the aggressive actions of a nuclear-armed neighbor? Does anybody believe that a sort of tit-for-tat, you sink ours, we sink yours kind of reaction is going to accomplish a whole lot, or make something like this less likely in the future?

Seeing as we've all pretty much decided that the North Korean decisionmaking process and apparatus is entirely obscure to us, I'm not going to bother wondering out loud what the hell the DPRK gets out of something like this. Is retributive action necessary to avoid setting some sort of pussified precedent, to avoid emboldening Kim Jong Il and whoever else is running stuff up there to push even harder?

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) says "we cannot allow North Korea to take the lives of 46 South Korean sailors with a torpedo attack and pretend it didn't occur," and I'd tend to agree with him. But that doesn't get us any closer to figuring out what we do instead, and I don't have any bright ideas.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Massu could have done it--Or not

On the World Affairs journal website today, a short piece by Ann Marlowe entitled "What If COIN Just Doesn't Work?". Based on her several trips to Afghanistan, the author makes the argument that:

"the Sri Lankan government seems to have succeeded against the Tamil Tigers, but if we could use their measures we would win in Afghanistan too. When the US government fought insurgents in the South after the Civil War, it declared martial law and shot enemy suspects on sight.

More and more, I suspect that it’s the brutality that works, not the COIN. It’s moving hundreds of thousands of people across a country, or shooting all the men in a village as a reprisal for terrorism, or taking hostages, or doing extra-judicial kidnappings. Of course, the brutality would work without the COIN, too. Brutality works. But that’s not who we are."

I am just not sure how the author comes to the conclusion that "brutality works", since she also makes the point that:

"In Algeria, the French were able to forcibly resettle villagers, build miles-long walls to close Algeria’s borders, and, of course, torture terrorists, or simply toss them out of planes if they wouldn’t talk. And that war didn’t end well."

In other words, if brutality worked, Algeria would still be French. So brutality works--sometimes--and fails--sometimes. With or without COIN.

Now can someone explain me exactly how closer this gets us to an understanding of the conditions under which COIN is more or less likely to work (a useful Ph.D. topic, if someone is in need of one)? I don't mind a healthy dose of provocation in commentaries on Afghanistan and other topics, but this one strikes me, to say the least, as particularly vacuous.

Afghanistan, Oxford Style

An interesting debate is going on this week on The Economist's website. John Nagl opposes Peter W. Galbraith on the issue of whether the war in Afghanistan is winnable. Bruce Riedel and Christopher Preble comment on the proposer and opposition's statements, and readers have until Friday to vote for whoever they find most convincing.

Nagl's main argument is that the coalition forces have only just gotten the resources and strategy that they needed for the past nine years--hence, we should give them a chance.

Galbraith's hammers a single argument, which is that COIN is doomed to fail without a government who has the population's support--and here Karzai fails to deliver. If this proposition is true, this means that third parties (such as coalition forces in Afghanistan) waging a COIN campaign have little, if any, control over one main determinant of its success or failure. For how would you change a bad leader when stuck with one? Outside meddling with internal politics, however tempting and inevitable, will only destroy the legitimacy of any new leader who could emerge from this process. No one remembers particularly fondly the puppet governments of South Vietnam.

Another point I found interesting has to do with police forces. Galbraith mentions as one example of poor governance the sorry state of the ANP:

"Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on recruiting and training an Afghan police force with little to show for it. Some 80% of recruits are illiterate and a significant number are drug users. The standard eight-week training course is far too short to produce qualified police, especially since some time is necessarily devoted to teaching survival skills and even basic hygiene. A much longer course might produce better-trained Afghans, but the graduates would then probably not want to be police in a country where, in certain provinces, one in ten is killed each year."

I am not an expert on security sector reform, but I can think of more than one example (starting with Sierra Leone and Burundi) where the military makes progress while the police remains a nest of corrupted, incompetent individuals who are little more than predators for the rest of the population. First, am I wrong and are there blatant examples of successful police reform we could use as models? And if I am not, then what is the problem with the police? Is it because the military receives more aid and support for its reform than the police? Is it because the selection criteria to enter the police force are lower than for the military (and are they, really?). Does it have something to do with discipline, the feeling of belonging to a corps? Or is the simple fact of garrisoning men at night the best way to ensure that they will not misuse their authority and arms? These are crucial questions, for at some point outside forces will leave, the military will remain mostly in its bases, and only the police will be in contact every day with the population.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Issue of Doctrine (from the French Army) is out

In the email this morning, a notice from the Armée de Terre that Doctrine n. 17: The Commitment of French Land Forces in Afghanistan is out. Since I know there is interest out there on what the French are writing on all of this, I thought I would post a link. Obviously, I haven't read it yet (I opened it and it's clear they need an English editor) but this is the table of contents:
I also found several articles on French forces and COIN over on the IFRI website. They look like they might be worth a read. This time they are in French (here and here, for example).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Canadian COIN manual

This thing's been out for a while, apparently -- the date of publication is 13 DEC 2008 -- but I'd never seen it. So here you have the Canadian COIN manual, B-GL-323-004/FP-003 COUNTER-INSURGENCY OPERATIONS, courtesy of The Torch (via Christian Bleuer).
The Canadian Army has recently been called upon to conduct significant and complex counter-insurgency operations. It is highly likely that future operations will also be characterised [sic, LOLOLZ!] by the requirement to continue to conduct counter-insurgency operations. As such, it is clearly time to capture our lessons learned and formalise [sic again, silly Canadians!] our doctrine.
Counter-insurgency is a specific campaign theme and although the key elements of our extant doctrine remain relevant in such campaigns, this publication articulates the specific framing philosopy and guiding principles that must be considered at all levels of command in the prosecution of counter-insurgency. The publication clearly indicates that insurgencies are rooted in political and social issues and thus the military has an overall supporting role to those other agencies and institutions that will create the enduring, indigenous-based conditions for peace. In essence, the military, particularly the land force, provides the maoeuvre space for those other agencies and elements of power working to a shared campaign end-state. Tactical level actions by the land force during a counter-insurgency campaign will be planned and conducted in keeping with the general principles of war and specific tactical principles; however, the tactical actions should not contravene the guiding principles and philosophy described in the publication.
I haven't had a chance to take a look at this thing -- and frankly, I can find a lot better things to do with the time that I do find than read allies' doctrine! -- but here it is if you want to skim or peruse at length.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

See, it really IS possible to write a good paper about security assistance

Now that I've made critical remarks about one paper on the subject, let me point you to a really excellent, comprehensive article about military assistance (and seriously, I have nothing to do with it!): Derek S. Reveron's "Weak States and Security Assistance" (or here in pdf), from the June 2010 issue of Prism.

It's pretty basic stuff, but that's to Reveron's credit -- there are very few places where you'll find such a thorough explanation of the various mechanisms and authorities related to security assistance and (more broadly) security cooperation. The field tends to be loaded with jargon and acronyms, like most things in the military, and the bureaucracy can seem impenetrable and obscure even to people who work in the field. This article does a great job of simplifying and summing up, and it's going to be my go-to reference when people ask what to read to understand this business.

Dr. Reveron's apparently got a book coming out this year called Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military. I'm normally a pretty tough critic of stuff like this that's written outside DoD (well, hell, let's be honest: the stuff written inside the Department mostly isn't very good, either), but I look forward to this title's publication.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the persistence of the belief that authoritarian states are better at COIN

Sometimes it seems like this little conflict studies subculture of ours exists merely to chew over the same intellectual cud repeatedly. How often do I read a paper or a blog post positing some new driver of violence, some controlling factor in conflict, some recipe for pacification and think "geez, where was I just reading about that?"

Patrick Porter, formerly of Kings of War and now writing at the excellent new-ish blog The Offshore Balancer, is not the sort I'd generally accuse of this failing. For one, the new blog tends to focus on broader strategic issues rather than the COINy day-to-day. But yesterday Patrick took up a question that's been batted around quite a bit lately (and quite sensibly, I might add, in response to the love-n-hugs Surge narrative that's taken hold in some corners); quoting Starbuck (lot of that going around) at Wings Over Iraq, Patrick asks "does the brute force method ever work in counterinsurgency? [And if so] Under what conditions?" While stipulating that brutal campaigns have on certain occasions been effective in the past, the rest of the post explores the whys and wherefores and posits that this is true in spite of brutality, rather than because of it.

He then tacks in a different direction, proposing a number of environmental conditions that may be conducive to the success of an insurgency, one of which is this:
when they fight against liberal democracies: this is a more tentative argument here, but liberalism probably makes it harder [for the counterinsurgent] to gain domestic acceptance when most ‘small wars’ are mightily unpleasant and prolonged affairs with almost inevitable abuses, and when elected leaders care an awful lot about being re-elected.
Now this isn't exactly a novel suggestion. Those who make this case usually do so for a few basic reasons. The argument pretty much goes like this (don't get confused by the blockquote -- I'm just setting it off so it's easier to read, I'm not quoting anyone):
Democratic leaders are held accountable by voters, and are thus less likely to engage in unpopular wars or pursue them for an extended period of time. Casualty-averse publics will throw out a government that gets a lot of people killed, and the free media helps bring those casualties to light. Not only that, but press freedom means it's harder for a liberal government to hide the human rights abuses and other brutal tactics that could prove helpful in prosecuting a counter-guerilla campaign. In short, liberal regimes 1) have their hands tied, and 2) give up easier.
All of those things make a fair bit of sense, perhaps with the exception of the bit about the counterinsurgent's brutality being harder to hide or tolerate in a democracy. After all, if we don't think that brutality is particularly useful, anyway, then why would efforts to restrain such behavior really have such a negative effect on the campaign.

But as I'm reading this, I'm thinking "haven't I seen this debunked in a couple of places lately?" And after going through my email and doing a little Googling, it turns out I have.

First we've got Jason Lyall's recent work on this subject, which is probably the freshest and most influential: "Do Democracies Make Inferior Counterinsurgents? [pdf]: Reassessing Democracy's Impact on War Outcomes and Duration," from the Winter 2010 edition of International Organization. Here's the abstract:
A core proposition from decades of research on internal wars asserts that democracies, with their casualty-averse publics, accountable leaders, and free media, are uniquely prone to losing counterinsurgency (COIN) wars. Yet one should question this finding, for two reasons: First, existing studies overwhelmingly adopt no-variance research designs that only examine democracies, leaving them unable to assess their performance relative to autocracies. Second, these studies do not control for confounding factors that bias causal estimates. Democracies, for example, typically fight wars of choice as external occupiers, while most autocracies face homegrown insurgencies, a function in part of divergent levels of state capacity possessed by democratic and autocratic combatants. This study corrects for both problems using a new dataset of insurgencies (1800–2005) and matching to test whether democracies experience significantly higher rates of defeat and shorter wars. No relationship between democracy and war outcomes or duration is found once regime type is varied and inferential threats are addressed.
(For a less academic summary and explanation of the work, see this very good interview with Lyall from the Rosner's Domain blog on the Jerusalem Post's website.)

I read this paper back when it came out, and found it interesting for the challenge it posed to the conventional wisdom. Lyall also echoed some of the points I'd seen in a paper by Michael Engelhardt in the Summer 1992 issue of Conflict Quarterly entitled "Democracies, Dictatorships and Counterinsurgency [pdf]: Does Regime Type Really Matter?" Turns out Engelhardt found basically the same thing: no, it doesn't. Here's what the journal's "In This Issue" section has to say in summary:
The notion that democracies are "soft" and cannot sustain many casualties in revolutionary wars without a collapse of political will gained the status of an unchallengeable truism in the wake of the Vietnam war. It even resurfaced during the Persian Gulf crisis and war of 1990-91, when Iraq threatened to defeat the coalition forces "in a sea of blood." Saddam Hussein apparently believed that his regime could survive significant battlefield losses and that coalition governments could not. Michael Engelhardt examines this assumption and concludes that, at least in respect of insurgent conflicts, regime type does not matter; both dictatorships and democracies can be defeated. Furthermore, he asserts that the inclination of democracies to liquidate costly commitments can be seen as a strength, an affirmation of their democratic character, rather than a weakness.
Again we see basically the same argument about softness, casualty aversion, responsiveness to popular doubts, etc. Are autocracies really unencumbered by these sorts of concerns? Or building on that, how about what may even be a more important question: even if autocrats have a free hand in the prosecution of COIN wars, might that reality not have unconstructive knock-on effects down the line?

That's the question taken up by Yuri Zhukov (yikes!) in the September 2007 Small Wars and Insurgencies. His paper "Examining the Authoritarian Model of Counter-insurgency: The Soviet Campaign Against the Ukrainian Insurgent Army" is unfortunately behind a paywall, but here's the abstract:
In an effort to better understand the benefits and limitations of an authoritarian approach to counter-insurgency, this article examines the relationship between regime type and military effectiveness in the often neglected case of Soviet counter-insurgency operations in Western Ukraine. This study finds that the advantages authoritarian governments enjoy in designing, planning and implementing counter-insurgency campaigns - related to a lack of restraints and constraints - can all too easily become reversed through the excesses they permit.
This piece speaks more directly to the question of brutality than of regime type, I think, though it definitely links the two together: can we really perceive authoritarianism as an advantage at the same time as we dismiss the effectiveness of brutality, as Patrick Porter does? (To be fair to Patrick, he did caveat the original statement about increased odds of insurgent success against democracies by writing "this is a more tentative argument...") When taken together, these three papers would suggest that -- in spite of what looks like a common-sense justification for exactly that -- we can't.

I have this sinking feeling

You know that scene from The Godfather after they've gone to the mattresses and Michael's exiled to Sicily, the one that's like a time lapse of the mob war where there's the kind of ragtimey piano music playing, and the newspaper keeps spinning out into the foreground with headlines like "POLICE HUNT COP-KILLER" and "CITY CRACKS DOWN" and "THIRD MONTH OF GANGLAND VIOLENCE" and whatnot? You see the same device used in like the Time-Life documentary series about THE RISE OF THE THIRD REICH, this foreshadowing with "HITLER ELECTED TO LEAD GERMANY" and "JEWS FORCED TO REGISTER WITH GOVERNMENT" and "WEHRMACHT ROLLS INTO SUDETENLAND" to build your sense of drama and anxiety about events you already know took place.

Am I the only one with the weird sense that we'll one day see this same sort of documentary montage, replete with headlines like "Sarkozy Says Burka 'Not Welcome' in France" and "Belgian MPs Vote to Ban Islamic Burqa in Public" and "French Parliament Codemns Full Islamic Veil" in the buildup of Time-Life's 2050 offering "THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS: the European Tinderbox in the Great West-v-Islam Culture War"?

Oh, I am? Well, don't mind me.

(So long as we're on the subject, I should link to this interview in Globalia Magazine with the brilliant Olivier Roy. His first answer, which I'll reproduce here in full, deals with precisely this subject.)
The debate in Europe has shifted in some 25 years (a whole generation) between immigration and the visible symbols of Islam. Which creates a paradox: even people who were opposed to immigration acknowledge now that the second and third generation of migrants are here to stay and that Islam has rooted itself within Europe. So now the debate is about the status of Islam. And here we have a strange phenomenon: while anti-immigration feeling is mainly associated with the conservative right, anti-Islamic sentiment is to be found on both the left and the right, but for two very different reasons. For the right, Europe is Christian and Islam should be treated as a tolerated, albeit inferior religion. There is (unfortunately) no way to ban it (because of the principle of “freedom of religion”, inscribed in our constitutions, international treaties and UN charter), but there are means to limit its visibility without necessarily going against the principle of freedom of religion (for instance the European Court of Human Rights did not condemn the banning of the scarf in French schools). For the left, the issue is more generally secularism, women’s rights and fundamentalism: it opposes the veil, not so much because it is Islamic, rather because it seems to contradict women’s rights. Hence the debate on Islam
disguises a far more complicated issue: what is a European identity, and what is the role of religions in Europe; and of course, on these two issues the left and the right take very different positions. But we are witnessing the rise of new populist movements (like Geert Wilder’s In Holland) mixing both approaches, basically siding with the right but using leftist arguments.
Take a look.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shouldn't you first know the most rudimentary facts of security assistance...

...before writing a paper entitled "Unintended Strategic Consequences of Security Assistance in the South Caucasus"?

EDIT: Geez, I'm too damn snappy these days. This Thompson thing must've knocked a screw loose. I didn't mean for this title to sound nearly so condescending and unkind as it does. This stuff is complicated, and it's not easy to figure out the details. These folks are making an honest run at the subject and I generally agree with their conclusions, so I shouldn't have sounded so universally dismissive. Sorry! Now back to the original post... [/END EDIT]

The reason I ask is that this paper isn't so much about security assistance as it is about the total clusterfuck that is U.S. policy in the Caucasus, and specifically with regard to Georgia. The authors' argument basically comes down to this: don't support partner countries in ways that have unpredictable consequences in an unstable region. And while I generally agree that this is a sensible prescription, one could reasonably argue that consequences are always unpredictable when it comes to indirect approaches like security assistance/security force assistance. Whenever you're adding an extra layer of decision making, and the decision maker at that extra level is a sovereign state, you're often going to end up with effects that are obscure to the folks who set the whole process in motion.

That said, there are a couple of pretty rudimentary mistakes when it comes to the titular subject, none more egregious than this comment about the disconnect between donor priorities and recipient wishes:

The U.S. administration has offered away to square the circle by advocating "brains before brawn” and promoting the increase of intellectual capacity. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August 2009, “Focusing U.S. assistance initially on fundamental intellectual issues like training, doctrine and personnel management . . . is our prioritized approach, and this will serve as a foundation on which Georgia can build for years to come.” This seems a sensible approach in and of itself. However, there is no guarantee that writing a check for $1 billion for Georgia means the money will go somewhere other than the defense program even if it is not specifically targeted for defense. Rather, it allows Georgia, should it wish, to reallocate funds internally.
This would definitely be a problem... if it were actually true. I mean, I suppose in a technical sense, it is true. If security assistance was provisioned by just writing a check to the partner country, then that money could just be dropped into the Georgian treasury and it becomes fungible. But that's not how the process works.

Military grant aid is provided through the Foreign Military Finance and International Military Education and Training programs, both of which are budgeted in the 150 account -- the foreign assistance budget. What this amounts to is a chunk of money dedicated to a certain country for use in purchasing U.S. military equipment, training courses, or seats in professional military education classes (war colleges, command and staff college, etc.). The recipient is obligated to use this money for its intended purpose: if Georgia got IMET money, for example, it can't buy Abrams tanks instead of seats for its majors at CGSC.

Of course, this grant aid does free up the recipient's country funds for whatever use that government chooses, if you imagine that they had already planned to buy U.S. stuff with their own money. But that's very rarely the case.

This is actually one of the few decidedly positive characteristics of military aid over other types of development aid: no one expects it to be no-strings-attached! (Well, except Pakistan, but I digress.)

Anyway, check out the article if you want some perspective on the way that a foreign and security policy based on support for client states rather than direct intervention can come back and bite you, but don't go looking for a thorough and informed analysis of the limitations of security assistance.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Loren Thompson: if you thought he was douchey for his position on shipbuilding, wait 'til you see THIS! (UPDATED)

We already knew Loren Thompson was a shill for the defense industry, but who knew that he's also apparently an unfunny a-hole [meh, edited to excise original, more vitriolic commentary/epithets]?
The only people celebrating at the Pentagon last week were the Mexicans working on renovating the building. Wednesday was Cinco de Mayo, a holiday for honoring Mexican history and culture.
Uh... are you serious?

That's the lead-in to an otherwise tired and uninsightful slap at the SECDEF for his anti-waste speeches last week, the kind of speeches that send shivers down the spine of people who make their living off of fear and unrestrained defense spending. Here's Gates on Saturday:
Given America’s difficult economic circumstances and parlous fiscal condition, military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny. The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time.
Wait wait wait... "things large AND small"?? You can cancel the DDG-1000, but how will we get along if you can't pay for MEXICANS TO RENOVATE THE PENTAGON?!?!

UPDATE: Nathan Hodge at Danger Room charitably gives Thompson a chance to clarify his comments. Thompson responds by acting willfully stupid yet again.

And in a phone conversation with Danger Room, Thompson said the comment about Mexicans was a “straightforward observation” about the ethnicity of many of the workers on the Pentagon’s renovation.

“I often notice as I walked in and out of the building that a lot of Hispanics were working in the building,” Thompson said. “It’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation.”

Last week, Thompson added, was Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that honors Mexican history and culture: “We don’t have a lot of Mexicans working desk jobs in the Pentagon. I was just observing that they were the only people in the building that may have had a reason to celebrate.”

Man, that guy sucks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday photo of the day (UPDATED)

So yeah, it's cool that U.S. troops are marching in the Victory Day parade in Moscow today, etc etc. Security cooperation, building bridges between past allies, remembering our mutual sacrifices in the destruction of the Nazi specter and so on and so forth. But easily the awesomest thing about this whole story is this picture of U.S. TROOPS MARCHING ACROSS RED SQUARE.

If you don't watch it, Russkies, next time they'll be serious!

(Ok, not really. (Well, probably not.))
UPDATE: Two more pictures from the day of the parade. First from the NYT...

...second from Danger Room (thanks to karakapend in the comments for this one).


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ink Spots is now on Facebook

Just as everyone else gets tired of Facebook's privacy intrusions, we decide to get a blog page over there. So if you're sticking around, "Like" us!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

AFRICOM exercise begins

Jeune Afrique reports that "Flintlock 10," a three-week annual AFRICOM exercise designed to help 16 countries fight terrorism has begun. According to the magazine, "about 1200 soldiers, including 600 US Special Forces, more than 400 Africans, and 150 Europeans" are participating. The BBC adds that the exercise involves "mostly Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Chad." The exercise required the establishment of a 300-strong temporary command center in Ouagadougou (that's in Burkina Faso). AFRICOM is also working with the African Union in this endeavor.

So I have some questions for General Ward. What's the point exactly? I mean aren't there more urgent priorities for supporting these countries' militaries than doing this kind of exercise? What's the benefit to our forces? Finally, why were the participating countries selected. eg. why is CAR not involved or for that matter some of the North African countries? What do you all think?

Is John Nagl on the New York Times editorial board?

The Defense Department just announced that our NATO allies are falling short in their commitment to deliver more institutional trainers to Afghanistan, necessitating a stopgap deployment of about 150 U.S. Marines and a U.S. Army battalion through the end of the summer. The Times weighs in with an op-ed decrying this development:

NATO agreed that non-American members would provide half of the 5,200 trainers.
Since December, those capitals have pledged to send only 1,000 trainers, and they have been very slow to deliver. Mr. Gates is now expected to send Americans to cover 600 of these slots for 90 days.

While the Americans are close to complement, General Caldwell also had to fight hard to secure enough troops to fill the American slots as well as management positions on his staff. For all of the talk about new missions and new thinking, there are still a lot of brass — and those who want to become brass — who don’t consider training a warrior’s job or a path to promotion. That culture needs to change.

American and NATO officials also need to look seriously at creating a standing corps of combat advisers who are trained and equipped to develop indigenous national security forces in overseas conflict zones.

That last couple of paragraphs are the most interesting for me. There's obviously merit to the idea of institutionalizing a training and advising capacity in the American land forces, but there's a lot of debate about the best way to do this. Nagl has been calling for the establishment of a 20,000-troop standing advisor corps for the last several years, and the Army has dismissed his suggestion for a whole host of sensible reasons. It's interesting to me that the New York Times wakes up one day to an advisor shortfall and suggests that "American and NATO officials... need to look seriously" at this problem, as if the Defense Department and the Army haven't been doing exactly that for the last four to six years.

So what do you think? Permanent advisor corps (pdf)? Modular brigades augmented for security force assistance? Bifurcated, Krepinevichian army (pdf) with separate forces for the different points of the spectrum of conflict?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Anybody interested in a really, really stupid definition of "victory"?

Because I can show you one, courtesy of Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse. He and Andrew Exum have been having a little back-and-forth about the fundamental, conceptual underpinnings of Smith's new book -- which, you won't be surprised to learn, I think are catastrophically flawed -- via Abu Muqawama and Michael Totten's blog. Smith's latest riposte came today, in a post entitled "The Trouble With Proxy Wars." Read the whole thing if you want (or don't), but I want to highlight the specific section in which Smith seems to reveal exactly what he thinks about the limits of military force (or rather, the almost completely unlimited nature of what can be achieved by effective use of force, I guess):

Whether or not the American counterinsurgency waged in Iraq’s Sunni regions was successful, Bush did not win Iraq, and Washington has no intention to win Iraq. It’s not me who says so, but rather a broad cross-section of America’s political, military and intelligence classes. Back in July 2008, Andrew himself wrote the following:

The past year and half have demonstrated that despite impressive gains in Iraq and a truly heroic effort by our soldiers and diplomats, a large portion of that country’s security environment is determined by the Iranians, who have leverage with nearly all of Iraq’s political parties and factions. If Iran desires to turn the heat up there or elsewhere in the region, it can.

Even Gen. David Petraeus, the man credited with a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, acknowledged in his senate testimony in March that "the Iranian regime has embarked on a broad campaign led by the IRGC-Qods Force to influence Iraqi politics and support, through various means, parties loyal to Iran. The Qods Force also maintains its lethal support to Shia Iraqi militia groups, providing them with weapons, funding, and training."

If the Iranians are capable of heating up Iraq, if they are able to embark on a broad campaign including both political and military aspects, then the US did not win in Iraq. The test of victory is simply whether or not you are capable of imposing terms on your adversaries; if you can’t, if rather they shape your strategic decisions -- e.g., if they determine your security environment by funding, arming and training militias -- then you have not won.

Or think of it like this: after VE Day what capacity did the Nazis have to heat things up for US troops in France and Italy and consequently determine US strategy? American society may have changed during the last half century so that we no longer know how to describe victory, but the objective standards for defining victory have not changed, nor have they changed at any time during the course of human history. The Iranians are able to shape our regional strategy because we did not win.

It bears repeating that it is not me who says we did not win, but rather our decision-makers. Of course, they do not explicitly say that we did not win, only that the Iranians can hurt us in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is the same thing.

This is really, really flawed. I could go into all the reasons why, or I could just take Smith's view to its logical historical extension and see how sane the whole thing seems to you. I'll do the latter. And so:

After VE Day, what capacity did the Soviets have to heat things up for US troops in Germany, or to deny them access to central and eastern Europe? What capacity did the Soviets have to deny the US complete dominion over Europe, or unipolarity, or limitless determination of the postwar geopolitical landscape? (Hint: if you said "nearly total," or at least "really, really high," then you're right!)

Postwar Germany is a really bad comparison for Iran for one simple reason: as much as it may disappoint Lee Smith, we haven't been fighting a war against Iran, and we haven't invaded Iranian territory! If "winning" means the exclusive, limitless ability to shape the postwar battlespace in any way we like, then we're very rarely going to "win" anything at all without engaging in total, regional war. It seems that Smith would probably agree with this analysis, and support that policy option. His stated support for aggressive action against Tehran and Damascus certainly doesn't suggest otherwise.

And so we're back where we started, really: Lee Smith is just another guy who thinks of the military instrument as a means to crush in their entirety the enemy's will and means to resist, not so much shaping outcomes as dictating them in toto. Must've been sick the day they taught Clausewitz.