Saturday, July 31, 2010

30 JULY: A year ago on Ink Spots

Ok, so I'm a day late on this one, but I'm sure you won't have noticed. Just a quick one today; it's Saturday morning, blessedly un-humid and about 80 degrees here in DC, and I'm making ribs, so the blog is going to have to play second fiddle (as if it doesn't already)!

This time last year, we were just getting to know Starbuck (of Wings Over Iraq fame) and Schmedlap. Which was good timing, because they were both writing about PowerPoint, and who would've wanted to miss that? Especially hope you'll check out the link within that post to Schmedlap's PPT briefing on why PowerPoint sucks.

Gunslinger took a brief look at a confrontation between Iraqi security forces and American troops responding to an incident, worrying about the potentially dire portent of this kind of clash. In the intervening year, we've moved closer to the departure of the bulk of American troops (which reminds me: one month from tomorrow, on 01 SEP 10, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM officially becomes OPERATION NEW DAWN. So mark your calendars), but there's still a chance for this kind of thing in the future. You guys heard about any similar incidents?

A year ago, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was on trial. He was saying some pretty nutty stuff. He's still on trial. On the bright side, I guess that's due process. Check out this excellent resource on the progress of the trial, courtesy of the Open Society Institute. (Lil linked to it last year but sort of buried the lede. If you're interested in the trial, read that website!)

So, uh, Exum was on TV last year and I live-blogged his appearance and busted his balls a whole bunch in the process. I think it would be a pretty egregious oversight if I left that out of the one-year-later just because we're buddies now, so here you go. One interesting note from that interview: Ex said that August of 2010 would be a good time to gauge progress in Afghanistan. So, uh, start in on that tomorrow, guys.

For just about a year now, Multi National Forces-Iraq has been Mono National Forces-Iraq (OK, it's actually been U.S. Forces-Iraq, but I made that joke a year ago and wanted to demonstrate continued faith in it).

Also, briefly: Cracks started appearing in the COIN approach in Afghanistan, Tom Ricks didn't know what he was talking about (but who cares?), and I found an awesome cartoon that seemed to capture what being a COINdinista is all about.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Friday, July 30, 2010

This is the kind of thing that makes me think we haven't seen the end of civil violence in America

How can the country continue to exist in relative peace and harmony (and by that I mean widespread consensus on the right of the government to exist, and widespread tolerance for the divergent views of one's fellow man) when people like this agitate against basically everything good and decent?

On the Tea Party Patriots website, a member posted an item entitled, "Stop Six Flags Muslim Family Day" which includes a missive from Annie Hamilton, an L.A. woman leading the charge against the park. She writes:

Muslim Day at Six Flags is inappropriate for a multitude of reasons and I'm saddened and shocked by the ignorance of the Corporate folks and by the action that now must be taken by the rest of us.

First, Islam is NOT a religion, it is an ideology - the religious portion only encompasses 11 % (the qur'an) the rest is the Sira and Hadith and the closest parallel to Islam is the Ku Klux Klan - if that is Six Flag's idea of 'appropriate' then by all means, hold your day on September 12th but don't plan on expanding any time soon because not only will we ensure that you don't grow, we'll make sure that your parks become a thing of the past...


This is all about teabagger protests against Six Flags hosting a "Muslim Day" in which the park will cater to a minority with modestly-dressed park workers and halal food.

Seriously, how will this not end in a fight?

(Also, random, wild coincidence: the Mother Jones article I've linked to above was written by my old landlord. Wild.)

EDIT: To clarify, my old landlord did not write the anti-Muslim screed I've excerpted above. She wrote the article from which I've excerpted that quote. Added the lead-in sentence and nested the quote within the broader excerpt to try to make it more clear.

Some insights on "old" and "new" terrorism

Mike Innes has a great interview up on Current Intelligence with Richard Huffman, the publisher and editor of I'll admit I'd never visited Huffman's site before, but it's a fantastic resource on the German terror group, and I'd encourage you to check it out. You should also read Mike's interview, which contains some really interesting bits.
[Huffman:] What is interesting to me is that little of the current research and exploration of the Baader-Meinhof era draws any parallels to our modern terrorism challenges; because to me this is an area ripe for exploration. People don't seem to realize that there was a "War on Terror" 35 years ago that offers fairly stunning parallels to our modern "war on terror." Like in America, Germany pushed through dozens of anti-terrorism laws that curbed civil liberties in crucial ways, yet ultimately seemed to have little actual effect on stopping terrorism. Torture (or "enhanced interrogation techniques")? Check. A right wing media empire that rose to prominence and profits by beating the anti-terrorism drum? Check. Taking the criminal prosecution of the terrorists out of the standard court system? Check. Using the struggle against terrorism to build up police and military budgets? Check. The mantra after 9/11 was always "this is different." New rules need to apply. We need to reconsider our old values concerning civil liberties etc., to address this never-before-seen threat. I would argue that not only had it ALL been seen before, but it was within our lifetimes.
For me, the coolest thing about the whole deal is that this is just some dude who got interested in something and now runs basically the best online resource on this subject on the planet. It tells you something about the incredible diversity of the internet, but also about the exponential multiplication in analytical power that this resource offers us. Of course, the tools for sorting wheat from chaff haven't quite evolved at the same pace, but that's a whole other story (and something I've been thinking about a lot lately). So for now, just take my word for it: this is worth reading.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

John Nagl is a really smart guy, but this is just goofy excuse-making

Josh Rogin got his hands on an advance copy (pdf) of the Final Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, the group of bipartisan defense experts charged by Congress with Monday-morning quarterbacking DoD's work in writing the official QDR. The panel was composed of a whole bunch of big names in the field, including Stephen Hadley, William Perry, Richard Armitage, Jack Keane, Eric Edelman, John Lehman, Jim Talent, and John Nagl.

The report is broadly critical of the QDR, which puts Nagl in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the work of his colleagues while not being too rough on the woman who founded the think tank where he's now president, former CNAS pooh-bah and current Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy. This is even harder than eating soup with a knife!

Nagl ... told The Cable in an interview that his panel's report doesn't necessarily contradict Flournoy's document.

"The QDR was a very good product and did a good job of focusing on the wars we're in, but was unable to focus on the far out, which is was congressionally mandated to do. Plus the panel could look at things that were outside the Department of Defense," he said. "We also have the luxury of thinking deeper and seeing some troubling trends."

Who else thinks that saying you're "unable" to do something that's required by law is a tolerable excuse? I mean, seriously, that's your excuse? They were unable to do what Congress has mandated they do because there was some other stuff going on? Can you imagine trying that one at work (or on the IRS)?

Ok, so the panel had some luxuries, like not fighting a war at the same time as trying to accomplish its goal. (The Defense Department also has something like a squillion more people to devote to the task than the QDR Independent Panel, but whatever.) And I know how hard it is to develop a massive document like this, especially one that's consensus-built. But there is really no excuse for failing to do what's directed.

Oh, wait. Yes there is.
One of the problems with the QDR was that it came out before President Obama's National Security Strategy and therefore couldn't be properly aligned with the overall vision, Nagl said. "The entire process is not as tightly organized as we would like to see it and it doesn't cascade down from the top as we'd like it to."
Yeah. That is a problem.

As I've told you before, the way we formulate national strategy is all kinds of effed up right now. The QDR should really be informed by a National Military Strategy that's nested within a National Defense Strategy that's nested within a National Security Strategy, all of which should coherently articulate American interests, strategic objectives, means, choices, and associated risk. But let's be clear: the QDR is not a strategy, per se; it's a strategic review. The QDR is overlaid on the various strategies, articulating how the various tools of national power housed in DoD will be applied to threats and strategic challenges. The NSS hadn't yet been published when the QDR came down the pike, and that's a problem. (Of course, the NSS sucks so badly that it wouldn't have helped to produce a better QDR anyway, so I've always found the bleating on that note to be sort of silly.)

All of this is a long way of saying that I agree with the Independent Panel report's general conclusions about the shortcomings of the QDR, as outlined in the introduction:
The initial Bottom-up Review [the QDR's predecessor] was considered a success. Of course there was much debate about the conclusions, but Congress thought the process was worthwhile and mandated that it be repeated every four years. Unfortunately, once the idea became statutory, it became part of the bureaucratic routine. The natural tendency of bureaucracy is to plan short term, operate from the top down, think within existing parameters, and affirm the correctness of existing plans and programs of record.That is exactly what happened to the QDR process. Instead of unconstrained, long term analysis by planners who were encouraged to challenge preexisting thinking, the QDRs became explanations and justifications, often with marginal changes, of established decisions and plans.
I'm not going to get into the specific recommendations made by the panel in the sections of the report that amount to a re-do of the QDR (but suffice it to say that it's definitely informed by the now-published NSS, and amounts to something like "more of EVERYTHING, wwwhhhheeeeee!!!!"). But the fact of the matter is that the QDR needs to be focused on the big picture, on strategic evolution, and on reconceptualizing the way that the nation's military tools can be applied to the task of achieving our strategic goals -- not our intermediate operational objectives. I didn't hate the document as much as some people did, but the Independent Panel got this part right.

"What's hard to look at"

This week's issue of TIME features a heart-wrenching photograph of an 18-year old Afghan woman who had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban as punishment for running away from her abusive in-laws. It's a disturbing look at the awful things that people do to one another, a tangible, visible reminder of the brutality that ideologues visit on those they seek to rule.

But is it right?

TIME's managing editor, Richard Stengel, explained his decision to feature the photograph on the magazine's cover. (Fair warning: the link above takes you to his editor's note and a small version of the image, so if you're easily shaken and you'd rather avoid it, don't click. Here's the cover story, and here's a link to a full-size pdf of the image.)
The much publicized release of classified documents by WikiLeaks has already ratcheted up the debate about the war. Our story and the haunting cover image by the distinguished South African photographer Jodi Bieber are meant to contribute to that debate. We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground. As lawmakers and citizens begin to sort through the information about the war and make up their minds, our job is to provide context and perspective on one of the most difficult foreign policy issues of our time. What you see in these pictures and our story is something that you cannot find in those 91,000 documents: a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.
So: does this constitute advocacy? (Before you answer, consider the fact that the woman's picture is accompanied by the headline, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.") Stengel's assertion that the decision to run the image was judgment-neutral strains credulity; will anyone view that photo and say "this helps confirm my view that we must withdraw?"

I don't have a problem with advocacy one way or the other, even by media organizations. Publications are within their rights to have an editorial line, and if TIME's is that we ought to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely in order to protect the human rights of Afghans, then that's fine. But let's not fool ourselves that this is merely "provid[ing] context and perspective on one of the most difficult foreign policy issues of our time," unless that context and perspective amounts to "there are no good options here."

And again, didn't we already know that?

I don't want to reduce this whole thing to a complaint about the media and the circulation motive, the ethics of making editorial decisions and headline choices out of a drive to sell papers, etc etc, because I don't find that to be a particularly interesting subject. Will more people pick up this issue because of the disturbing cover image? Probably. Will some people avoid it for the same reason? Probably. Will more people be talking about TIME because of this provocative editorial decision? Certainly, and it strikes me that that's probably the point.

So I guess if we're trying to come around to something bigger than a discussion of journalistic ethics, it's this: should the plight of women (or people in general) under hard-line theocratic rule be driving our policy choices?

What about after 1,000 dead Americans?

What about after 10,000 dead Americans?

There's no moral equivocation here. We are the good guys, and there's no two ways about it. I'm not going to sit here and say "well the Taliban might cut people's faces off, but we kill plenty of people with misguided Hellfires and that's just as bad!", because it's not. There's a difference in intent, and that matters.

But where's the line? How many human rights are enough? How much suffering is too much?

So, this: What's the magnitude of human tragedy required to justify a financially and strategically bankrupting enterprise?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

F136 lobbying/advertising update (oh yeah, and legislative update, too)

Want to see something really bad? Here's Pratt & Whitney's new internet advertisement opposing the JSF alternate engine:

Yep, you're seeing that correctly: it's a dirty, tired, raggedy-ass infantryman, out there in the field fighting for your freedom, wondering why we're talking about $3B for an extra engine when he's out here wearing one pair of socks for three months at a time. "If you support the troops, you can't support the alternate engine!", his sad eyes seem to implore.

If you click on the ad, it takes you to, which is Pratt & Whitney's response to GE/Rolls-Royce's

Another awesome, heartstring-tugging addition to the trail of embarrassing half-truths propagated by both supporters and opponents of the alternate engine. These guys are dicks. I'd like to punch Pratt & Whitney AND GE/Rolls-Royce right in the face.

(For what it's worth -- and it's not much at this point -- the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee voted 11-5 yesterday in favor of the alternate engine program. The White House is still threatening a veto.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Risk and Reward: McChrystal may have been right on civilian casualties in Afghanistan

When GEN McChrystal introduced new, more restrictive rules of engagement in July 2009, reactions were varied. As they were applied in expanding campaigns in southern Afghanistan, though, complaints mounted among troops on the ground:
As levels of violence in Afghanistan climb, there is a palpable and building sense of unease among troops surrounding one of the most confounding questions about how to wage the war: when and how lethal force should be used.
Perennial COINtras like Gian Gentile piled on too, arguing that the emphasis in Afghanistan on avoiding civilian casualties while fighting insurgents is unfounded.

In an ironic twist, on the same day GEN McChrystal ended his career, the National Bureau of Economic Research has released a study that seems to vindicate his approach. Using data from ISAF's Civilian Casualty Tracking Cell, the authors examined the impact of civilian casualties caused by ISAF and insurgents (respectively) between January 2009 and March 2010. Crucially, they examined the impact of those casualties at the district level on both short- and long-term levels of violence, as well as looking for spill-over effects into neighboring districts.

For Afghanistan, the authors found that:

The relationship between civilian casualties and violent incidents in Afghanistan is characterized by three important facts:

(1) There is a positive relationship between civilian casualties and levels of future violence in an area and that relationship is much stronger for ISAF-caused civilian casualties.

(2) Civilian casualties affect the long-run trends in violence, not short-term fluctuations.

(3) The relationship between civilian casualties and violence does not appear to spill over district boundaries.

In particular, they argue that the increased violence following civilian casualties caused by ISAF is the result of increased insurgent recruitment - what they term the revenge mechanism. In contrast, their comparative analysis of Iraq suggests that rather than revenge, Coalition-caused civilian casualties impacted the willingness of the population to share information with counterinsurgents.

The paper's conclusion doesn't beat around the bush:

In sum, the empirical evidence from Afghanistan sheds light on the way in which insurgent groups operate. In particular, it appears that while in high population-density, urban conflicts (such as Iraq) information flows are a critical component to counterinsurgency operations, in more rural insurgencies the most salient factor is the availability of fighters. To the extent that counterinsurgent forces engage in unpopular and aggressive operations that generate specific local grievances, they are likely to facilitate increased recruitment and support for insurgent groups.

In responding to such a situation, military leaders face the task of balancing population protection with restrictions on their own operations. Minimizing counterinsurgents’ harm to civilians appears to minimize the recruiting potential of insurgent forces. The goal of reducing civilian casualties is not necessarily in conflict with the objective of protecting international forces’ lives.

I have yet to fully digest what looks to be an important piece of scholarship and a significant and timely contribution to the ongoing COIN debate. Nonetheless, three questions immediately pop into my head.

  • First, even if inadvertent civilian casualties caused by counterinsurgents do have a measurable impact on levels of insurgent violence, how big is that impact compared to other factors? This may be difficult to measure given the interplay between different drivers, and second- and third-order effects.
  • Second, why (as the study suggests) is the effect of civilian casualties asymmetric in Afghanistan? In other words, why can the insurgents get away with it?
  • Third, how do the different mechanisms and dynamics outlined by the authors regarding the dominant challenges for counterinsurgents relate to the work by other scholars on the collective action problems faced by both insurgents and incumbents?
You can purchase the article from the SSRN (or read what I think is a complete version for free here) and post your own questions in the comments.

Friday, July 23, 2010

23 JULY: A year ago on Ink Spots

This time last year, the whole Iranian election saga was still shaking itself out. Mystifyingly, Ahmadinejad still hasn't "defeat[ed] the global arrogance" [that's us! And by "us" I mean America, not Ink Spots].

We did our second edition of "what we're reading," highlighted how badly Russia sucks, and lamented the governorship of Rick Perry.

Alma told you all about the first Small Wars Journal Writing Competition. (And how about an update on the winners (question 1, question 2) with links to the pdf version of SWJ in which their essays were published?)

The there was the Army's temporary end-strength increase, the Pakistani military's anti-Mehsud (remember him?) campaign, and al-Shabaab causing problems for Kenya.

And finally: the military-industrial complex pimps itself to unsuspecting Metro riders, and Gunslinger reminded us that veterans can still be dumb about national defense (not through his own example, obviously, but Tammy Duckworth's!). Oh yeah, and I took a little swim through my purportedly legitimate area of expertise -- the land of pierogis and potatoes -- with a little piece on Ukraine's energy dispute(s) with Russia.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sovereignty open thread

The UN's International Court of Justice ruled today that Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia was legal. (The Court declined to positively state that Kosovo's actual independence is legal, but that's a whole other story.)

In the lead-up to the ICJ's announcement, Serbian PM Boris Tadic said this:
“If the I.C.J. opinion establishes a new principle, an entire process of creating new states would open throughout the world, something that would destabilize many regions of the world."
Presumably because they agree with Tadic, separatist targets Spain, Russia, and China have aggressively argued against recognition of Kosovo's independence.

So: true or false?

Does this decision destabilize the globe? Do you expect that Catalunya, Xinjiang, Dagestan, and Texas will declare independence? (And if they do, does it really mean anything?)

While we're at it, let's flash all the way back to Versailles: aware as we all are that self-determination is a bit of a slippery slope, is the will of the resident majority justification enough for independence?

UPDATE: More on this subject from Joshua Keating at (Nothing like the Abkhazian president lauding Russia's "rightfulness" to brighten up a grouchy afternoon!)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SECDEF clarifies adjustment to Korea OPCON transfer

As I wrote about last week, Geoff Morrell's had a hell of a time dancing around the reasons why we've decided (mutually with our Korean allies) to delay the OPCON transfer from 2012 to 2015. Don't worry, Geoff, the boss has come in to bail you out, and I'm sure now that things are clarified, there won't be any more questions on the subject.

We were scheduled to transfer in April of 2012, but at the request of the Korean government, we agreed to slide the date to 2015 and also make the relationship more robust in terms of exercises, command and control, capabilities, and so on.

I continue to believe that the Koreans are fully capable and a professional military ready to lead the combined defense. But I think this additional time will allow us to make the eventual transfer more wide-ranging and more synchronized and ultimately better for the alliance.

Um, right. We're going to make the eventual transfer more wide-ranging and more synchronized. So there's that cleared up.

Can the Anti-Defamation League please, PLEASE just STFU?

This is outside my normal lane, but it's so egregious that I just can't avoid ranting about it here: During a baseball game between New York and Tampa on Saturday, Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver, a former teammate of ex-Yankees manager Joe Torre, said this about the way that Torre's success with the team has been rather indelicately whitewashed in the franchise's organizational memory:
"You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had ... taken of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot 'em," McCarver said Saturday. "They would airbrush the pictures, and airbrushed the generals out of the pictures. In a sense, that's what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there's no sign of Joe Torre at the Stadium. And, that's ridiculous. I don't understand it."
McCarver has since apologized -- "Although my analogy was inappropriate, in my opinion the underlying point remains true" -- which I think was probably unnecessary. (Is it just the case now that any time you say "Nazi," it's necessarily offensive and inappropriate?) But the ADL had its own take. According to,

The Anti-Defamation League, which advocates against anti-Semitism and bigotry, also felt McCarver's comments went too far.

"No matter what one thinks of the Yankees' treatment of Joe Torre, likening it to how Germany and Russia treated their generals who fell out of favor is an inappropriate comparison," the organization said in a statement, according to the Daily News.

Honestly, can you guys just STFU? What in the world does this have to do with "anti-Semitism and bigotry"? Why does the ADL think its organizational position on this matter is any more relevant than what Abe Foxman thinks about the tie I'm wearing today?

Serious question: what exactly is inappropriate about what McCarver said? Ok, so he compared Torre's departure from the Yankees to a murderous political purge, but are we all so uptight nowadays that we can't take that for what it was -- a colorful simile? I'm not the guy who sits around bitching about how political correctness is ruining the world and whatnot, but this is just damned stupid, full stop.

EDIT: Slightly more context from the NY Daily News.

Part two of why lobbyists are so terrible (UPDATED)

In response to Dana Priest and William Arkin's revelation this week in the Washington Post that the government contracts TOP SECRET-cleared national security work to nearly 2,000 private companies, more than a quarter of which have come into being since 9/11, here's what the President and CEO of the Professional Services Council -- the lead lobby group ("trade association") for the government professional and technical services industry, and so I guess, ironically, the guys who are looking out for my interests in Congress -- had to say:
“Despite the evident problems identified, it is clear we are safer. Through the private sector the government has been able to access talents and capabilities that would otherwise be inaccessible, since they are in great demand and short supply across the economy.”
This, I can tell you, is pretty much total nonsense.

For one thing, this amounts to argument by assertion. "It is clear we are safer." Really? Is it? Then it should be easy to demonstrate.

Which talents and capabilities are we talking about? It's not like we're curing cancer here. I know some people have technical gigs, but mostly you're looking at project management and basic white-collar professional skills. Those are in great demand and short supply?

The problem is the government's hiring system. There's a reason that 90% of the smart people under 40 that I know in government are contractors: because the government makes it impossible for you to come aboard as a civil servant, even in transition from a contractor position performing the exact same duties.

Now there are presumably reasons for this relating to the extensive benefits/sustainment trail for a government employee (which obviously need not be invested in a contractor), personnel flexibility (read: ease of firing), and the opportunity to contract outside for a specialized skill when the need calls for it. But it also means that you have an old, comfortable government workforce (in many places made up primarily of retired O-5s and O-6s with no specific preparation to perform their function) supplemented by young, purpose-trained contractors (often with recent graduate degrees in their field of work). A RAND study from 2001 (pdf) found that about 75% of the defense civilian workforce was over 40, and around a third were over 50. I'm not gonna spend half the morning looking for recent data, but let's just say the trend is not improving. (I'm almost certain I saw some figures recently saying that around two-thirds were over 50.)

I'm getting a bit off track here, but this is a subject I get really exercised about. It's a complex issue, figuring out the costs and benefits of insourcing versus contracting, defining what exactly constitutes an "inherently governmental function" (which cannot be performed by contractors, and which I can tell you for damned sure is a much larger bin than the way we currently define it), how we best husband taxpayer dollars while ensuring the future health and effectiveness of the workforce by balancing civil service hires with contractor support, etc... but I fear for the composition of the Defense Department in 2030.

UPDATE: Jason Sigger has a bit more on this at Armchair Generalist.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Restrepo Reviews

On Friday, Alma, Gunslinger and I (plus a couple others) went to see Restrepo. Alma and Gunslinger will update the post as soon as they get a chance. I hope Gulliver and MK will do the same as soon as they've seen it. Of course, if you've seen it, we hope you'll add your own comments and tell us what you thought.

UPDATE: I've added my thoughts and bumped this to the top. -Gulliver

To be honest, I didn't know what to expect going in. We ended up sitting in the very front row (we didn't get there that late, the show was just sold out). Anyway, being so close made me a little queasy at first and then I got used to it. Overall, I thought it was interesting--though a little long. I've never served and I've never been to Afghanistan so I always think it's interesting to see what a place looks like (beautiful), the conditions that soldiers live in, and get a feel what it might have been like.

In terms of substance, I don't think that the film painted the soldiers and their officers in the most flattering light. The captain basically boasting at the beginning that he hadn't read anything to prepare because he didn't want to be tainted by what he might have read honestly seemed pretty stupid. I mean, if you can educate yourself in advance, why wouldn't you? Gunslinger has educated views on their performance/leadership under fire so I'll leave that analysis to him. I did find it shocking that the NCO so thoroughly lost it during the ambush.

I thought the film would have been easier to follow if the directors had picked fewer perspectives from which to tell the story. I also think it would have been interesting to provide a deeper point of view from fewer people. Thinking back on length, if the film intended to provide perspective on how tedious, long and repetitive deployments can be, then it succeeded. Overall though I thought it was interesting and definitely worth seeing.

I finally went to see Restrepo on Tuesday after work in downtown DC. The film is showing at the E Street Cinema, I suppose now that it's gotten full distribution through alliance with National Geographic. I'd been trying to figure out a way to see it for weeks, but wasn't able to get a ticket for the only two showings in the national capital area, at the AFI Silver Theater documentary festival up in Silver Spring.

Having decided to go to that particular showing of the movie pretty last-minute, I'd forgotten having seen a notice on the Restrepo Facebook page that Sebastian Junger would be at the DC theater signing posters and books following the early-afternoon showing. When I walked into the lobby, there was a line of several dozen people waiting to meet the author of War. It was a little surprising -- though pleasantly so -- to see that the book and movie had generated so much interest.

As far as the actual film is concerned: I thought it was very good. Having said that, I'm very surprised to tell you that I felt like the book was more effective in conveying the sense that Junger intended, which is to say "what it feels like to be at war." Now of course a documentary film is going to largely be about documenting events, and the filmmaker is limited by what he's physically exposed to, camera in hand. (This is one of my complaints about the film, actually, though it's one that couldn't really be addressed: many of the most meaningful and significant events described in the book do not appear in the film, and many are not even referenced. This is, of course, a limitation of being just one or two dudes with one camera, and you can't be there for everything.)

My big takeaway, however trite it sounds, is just that these guys are so freaking young. I say this as someone who frequently interacts with soldiers and Marines, who is well aware of the demographic data of the force, who reads casualty announcements marking the deaths of very young men, and who knows intellectually that a whole bunch of specialists and lance corporals are 19 or 20 years old... these guys are so freaking young.

I'm not in a position to critique the behavior of the soldiers featured in the film or the leadership of their officers, not only because I'm not a subject matter expert in combat leadership, but also because a filmmaker necessarily makes decisions about what to put in and what to leave out, and I don't think it's fair to assess performance without real, sustained exposure to actual events. (I know it's a novel idea: don't make judgments without all the info.) I've seen several complaints about CPT Kearney's opening interview in the film, where he admits to not having studied up on the Korengal before deployment so as to see the AO with fresh eyes. He's also been criticized for the way he spoke to local elders about his predecessor during several shuras, expressing a sort of "new sherrif in town, we're not operating like those old jerkoffs" kind of attitude. Even on this I think we should reserve judgment: it may not make friends in the Army, but if this guy's professional judgment is that the best way to win the support of the elders is to throw the previous unit under the bus, then hey, we're all adults here. (It may be worth reminding people that when GEN Mattis was prepping his Marines for their deployment to Anbar Province in late 2003, he seriously considered having them wear green woodland camo and black combat boots so as to differentiate themselves from the DCU- and desert boots-clad soldiers of the 82nd, who were the prior ground-holders. He only relented when the 82nd's CG personally expressed his sense that this was a personal affront.)

So in summary, good film. Great opportunity to give your average viewer who doesn't think too much about Afghanistan a sense of what it's like to sit in a remote, isolated base and get shot at for 15 months. Had I not read the book previously, I would certainly say that this is the best movie I'd seen all year. It's only my very slight disappointment at the mismatch between written word and moving picture that keeps me from giving Restrepo a full 5/5.

16 JULY: A year ago on Ink Spots

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that I was going to inaugurate a new "Last year on Ink Spots" feature. Then I linked to one post and forgot about the whole thing for two weeks. But really, this is a better idea: seeing as we're pretty low traffic (read: basically no traffic) on the weekends, I figure I'll post a "last year" update every Friday to give folks some old stuff to hash over while we're playing golf and drinking beer and [whatever French people do on Saturdays]. So for this edition, I'll point you back to some things we wrote about in the first half of July last year.

This time last year, the Afghan presidential elections hadn't yet happened [/been stolen]. We told you about James Carville heading over to Kabul to advise Ashraf Ghani's campaign. I wonder if Carville had anything to say about the way the whole deal shook out (even though Ghani didn't end up being particularly competitive).

Gunslinger started a trend with a little piece metrics and assessments (through the lens of Robert McNamara's analytical obsession), a subject we'd return to later. Alma also chimed in on the former Defense Secretary in the week of his death. And I took a look at the LA Times' effort to reconceptualize Donald Rumsfeld as a latter-day McNamara.

Just as a reminder of how long people have been complaining about our Afghan confusion: last year Gunslinger gave kudos to Michael Cohen for his "Afghan Mission Creep Watch," a feature that continues to this day (if not under precisely the same title).

Lest you think this whole looking-back exercise is just a vehicle for me to say, in true Herschel Smith fashion, "look how right I've been all along!", here's an example of a position I took that has changed pretty significantly: I wrote a skeptical piece about the effectiveness of drone strikes as part of the broader strategy, coming down on the side of restraint. Not sure I feel the same on that subject these days.

But look, sometimes we have been right, like when I wrote about how stupid the F-22 program is. And Alma summarized Rory Stewart's pessimism about Afghanistan, concerns that have largely been borne out over the last year. Oh yeah, and in the midst of complaining about everybody wearing ACUs all the time, I used the occasion of GEN McKiernan's retirement to tell people criticizing him for "not getting it" to STFU.

And finally, two other noteworthy bits: comments on a pretty hilarious article about a fervent young American Baptist advising and mentoring a middle-aged Afghan Army mullah, and Gunslinger with a much-needed call for sanity in the COIN-versus-conventional-versus-hybrid-versus-whatever debate. (We'd be well advised to heed it today.)

Ok folks, no more complaints about not having anything to read this weekend!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Some days, being the Pentagon spokesman really sucks

I pick on Geoff Morrell from time to time, and it's probably unfair. The man is passing up what must be some pretty lucrative opportunities in the media to serve his country in the Defense Department, and for that at the very least he's deserving of our thanks. To be honest about it, I think he has damned near the worst job in Washington: he has to get up there and talk his way around subjects on which he's not an expert, and to defend policies that he probably hasn't played a key role in determining. He has to cover his bosses while giving the media enough to keep them pliant, all the while spouting enough cliches and boilerplate to keep anyone from paying terribly close attention to the substance behind all this style.

No, seriously. It's a bad job.

Yesterday illustrated just exactly how terrible this gig can be sometimes. Usually Morrell's press conferences cover half a dozen or more discrete subjects, but yesterday's pretty much just drilled down on two: upcoming U.S.-South Korean naval exercises, and the announcement that the Karzai government has approved ISAF's initial plans to build up some kind of community defense initiatives.

The latter subject is the one that's getting all the press, and with good reason. I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on this, but suffice it to say that Morrell's discomfort with the specifics of the issue seem to reveal a certain lack of clarity in the Department about exactly how this whole "local community policing" thing is going to go. The individuals are going to be locals, we're told. But they're going to be responsible to the government, and they're going to have uniforms. But no, NO!, they're not going to be militias -- they answer to the government, not a warlord.

This particular question and answer sequence really highlights what a difficult time Morrell had explaining this whole deal:
Q So this is going to be similar to the awakening councils in Anbar province in Iraq?

MR. MORRELL: Well, the difference -- the -- but, Joe, the difference between awakening councils, the awakening councils were militias. These were local tribal leaders who hired guns, you know, hired, you know, their guys to provide for their security and that of their families and their communities.

They were eventually, under General Petraeus's leadership, transitioned into a -- into a government force. You remember, the hiring of the Sons of Iraq was such a big issue. This initiative is one where it starts off housed within a government function. It is working for the government; it is not working for any local tribal leader. So I think there's a real distinction between what the Sons of Iraq started off as versus what he's proposing in this situation.
But also, the government isn't going to give them much of anything. Like, you know, guns, or training, or anything like that. (Morrell suggests that a whole lot of training is probably unneccessary, "in this culture at least, because there's such a prevalence of weapons.") So basically this amounts to handing out a bunch of uniforms and crossing our fingers that these fighters will observe some kind of innate loyalty to the GIRoA. Or something.

Like I said, I'm not gonna spend a whole ton of time on that subject, because I think the other one, while lower-profile, is even more interesting.

Since the end of the Korean War, the U.S. and South Korean governments have operated under an agreement that in the case of renewed hostilities, Korean forces would fall under the operational control (OPCON) of the American Combined Forces Command (CFC, a combo of ROK forces and the extant U.S. command in the peninsula, U.S. Forces-Korea (USFK, aka the 8th Army plus USAFK, MARFORK, and CNFK)). If you're unfamiliar with this subject, YES, you're reading that correctly: if a second Korean War broke out, U.S. officers would command both U.S. and South Korean forces in opposition to the North Koreans. [*While I'm in the business of editing for clarity, let me add this: U.S. officers wouldn't command Korean formations, like with American Army captains commanding Korean companies, or anything like that. But the entire Korean force would be placed under overall American command, much the same as allied units come under NATO command in ISAF.]

In recent years, changes in the security environment, U.S. force posture, and warming North-South relations helped spur the U.S. and its Korean ally to plan for the transfer of OPCON back to the Koreans, and the two sides agreed that this would take place in 2012. There were and are a lot of good reasons why this should happen, but I'm not going to get into the details. (Look here.) But then... To be brief and simple about it, one can fairly say that some in South Korea were starting to get nervous as that date approached. ROK forces have definitely improved when it comes to individual and unit capacity, as well as interoperability with U.S. forces, and Korea has an extremely advanced defense industry. Some concerns still remain over leadership, doctrine, and operational planning, the sort of "high end" things that armies master last.

Anyway, everybody got nervous enough that the deadline got changed just a couple of weeks ago (this in spite of the fact that successive CGs of USFK have been saying for years, "yep, right on track, OPCON transfer in 2012, everybody's gonna be ready, no problem!). Like I said before, things had been moving in that direction for a little while, but the sinking of the South Korean ship in March and the consequent Chinese and North Korean intransigence probably helped drive the nails in the coffin. So now the OPCON transfer is on for 2015.

I tell you all of this as prelude to yesterday's press conference, in which Morrell was put in the very uncomfortable spot of trying to explain how this had nothing at all to do with the Koreans' preparedness to take OPCON, but rather with a whole bunch of stuff that has basically nothing to do with that. Just watch:

Q Yes. Why is it that -- on the North Korean and South Korean issue right now, why do you feel that it’s productive to go forward with these and -- the main question -- I’m sorry -- is, what specifically do you feel the U.S. needs to work with north -- with South Korea on in -- during this delay in -- on transfer? What are some of the specific weaknesses that you see that they indicate they would not be ready at
the original date?

MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I mean, obviously, we think, from an -- from a warfighting control perspective, that the ROK military would be capable of taking over operational control at the original date, in 2012. That’s in terms of their development as a -- as a military force.

That said, we agree that there is utility in pushing this to the right -- further by about three years. And by doing so, we would be able to sort of broaden the scope of the -- of the -- of what is transferred, and we would be able to better synchronize sort of those transformation efforts.

So, for example, while they would be capable in 2012 of assuming operational control of the war -- of warfighting, should that -- should that become necessary, we will now work on, in the additional three years we have, force management, defense reform, ground operations -- their -- the ground operations command. There’s some movement and consolidation of bases and so forth. All of these things can be worked on during that time, so that more than just operational control of the warfighting responsibilities is transferred come 2015.

This will allow us to make sure that we are all synced up and, as a result, ultimately be stronger as an alliance for having taken the time to do so.

Q So U.S. will renegotiate with South Korea 2 plus 2 meeting in wartime command and control?

MR. MORRELL: We will renegotiate, you said?

Q Yes.

MR. MORRELL: I don’t think there’s a renegotiation. I mean, the president has made -- the two presidents have agreed to adjust the operational control transfer schedule from it commencing on 2012 to 2015. That’s been agreed to.

Obviously, when the two secretaries get together with their counterparts, they will talk about a range of alliance issues, beyond just this very limited who is actually running a war effort should one -- should war break out on the peninsula again, heaven forbid. So they’ll talk about a range of things. It will not be a negotiation about op-con transfer. That fundamentally has -- decided.

Obviously now this provides us with the opportunity to delve into a range of other things that can be transferred and moved along over the course of those additional three years. And those are things that will be brought up as well.

Um, riiiiiight.

Being mostly comprised of native English speakers with IQs over 60, the press corps didn't give up on this line of questioning. Later:
Q One more on this area. Last fall Secretary Gates said that he was pleased with the progress of the plan so far in terms of the transfer of OPCON. So what changed between then and -- (off mike) -- these other elements for consideration?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I think he’s still fundamentally pleased with the development of the Korean military, particularly when it comes not just to their fighting ability but to their warfighting management capabilities as well. And that’s evidenced by the fact that he believes fundamentally that they are in a position or will be in a position to assume those responsibilities on the original time schedule, the 2012 time schedule.

That said, the two presidents have come to an agreement that they’re -- that it is worth adjusting that timeline, pushing it three years to the right, to 2015, so that we can work on other issues as well, just beyond the day-to-day management of a conflict on the peninsula. And that’s what I referenced in my answer to Viola, that there are other areas that we are now going to focus on -- and those are just a few, and we can get you more, and more specificity -- in the additional time that we now have afforded to us.

Q (Off mike) -- added since then.


Q (Off mike) -- since then.

MR. MORRELL: I’m not sure they’ve been added since then.

I think they are things that we are now going to take advantage of the additional time we have to deal with, rather than do OPCON transfer with regards to this narrow, limited function in terms of managing the day-to-day warfighting. And we’re going to do a broader transfer that involves a host of other areas, as well, is my understanding of it.
So let's see if we've got this straight: Korean forces are ready to take OPCON from an operational, warfighting perspective, which, after all, is what OPCON is all about, right? But there's a "whole host" of other stuff that we can use that extra three years to get up to speed on, like.... umm, well, we don't seem to be sure what other stuff. Or how the advancement of that other stuff is going to be facilitated by a three year delay in OPCON transfer. Oh, wait, no: force management, defense reform, and, uh, movement and consolidation of bases.

[After press conference, off mike] "I can't believe you guys sent me out there with this thin-ass explanation about moving bases and teaching them force management! WTF does any of that have to do with operational control of forces?! Jesus, this job sucks sometimes!"*

Seriously though, is there any reasonable explanation for this beyond capability? I know we want to express our confidence in the warfighting and command and control abilities of our close ally, but man, this is a pretty spare justification. I don't know how it would play in the media or with the regional power dynamics, but would it really be the end of the world to say something like "with the way the security situation has gotten a little more tense recently in the wake of the unprovoked sinking of our close ally's ship, both the American and Korean governments feel more comfortable retaining for the time being the OPCON arrangement we've functioned under for half a century. Hopefully tensions will relax and the North and South can return to a constructive path toward better relations; at such time we and our Korean allies will again engage in a conversation about the appropriate time to transfer OPCON"?

Instead, Morrell had to get up there and dance around the reality that everyone recognizes, which is that this has absolutely nothing to do with "force management, defense reform, and base consolidation" or whatever other nonsense he had to mumble about.

*Ok, he didn't really say any of that. As far as we know.

On reading things to intentionally piss yourself off

Blaise Pascal said that "man's sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder." My strange disorder is this: I willfully seek out writers that I know suck, and that I know are only going to piss me off. My "little things" are Bill Gertz and Ralph Peters.

As SNLII would surely remind me, I don't limit myself to Peters and Gertz: I aver that everything Gian Gentile writes is basically the exact same piece, and yet I continue to read it just to get myself all bowed up again. But this isn't that big of a deal, right? Everybody does it, I'm sure. After all, reading isn't just about learning (at least not for people like me) -- at least as important as the information content is the tone, the rhetorical exercise... the part where the writer is trying to convince me of something. I suppose it's a sign of the decline of the rhetorical art that much contemporary writing now consists primarily of assertion rather than argumentation (or so I assert).

But I digress. What I really want to get to is this: Ralph Peters and Bill Gertz suck. Bad.

What's worse than that, though? The fact that these two jokers are consistently included in the DoD's daily news digest, The Early Bird. Here's why this is a big deal: there are probably several thousand (into the tens of thousands) readers of the Early Bird every day across the Defense Department and the services. It's compiled by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, which gives this introduction on the entry page:
The Current News Early Bird is a daily compilation of published items and commentary concerning significant defense and defense-related national security issues. It aims to represent how the public, Congress and the press see military and defense programs and issues. The Early Bird is an internal management tool intended to serve the informational needs of senior DoD officials in the continuing assessment of defense policies, programs and actions. Further reproduction or redistribution for private use or gain is subject to original copyright restrictions.
So let's put it this way: Editorial decisions about what to include and what not to include are hugely influential in shaping what for many officers and DoD civilians will be the primary source of news for the day.

Peters, at least, is filed under the Opinion heading. Everybody knows how nuts he is, so I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time ranting about his terrible op-eds, always plagued throughout -- no matter the subject -- by a serious case of sudden expertitis.

(Just because I can't help myself, here's a taste from today's steamer:

Aid those already on your side, not your enemies: Our attempts to bribe our enemies with wells, make-work and welfare are doomed to failure. Reward your allies with aid projects; let the hostiles envy them -- and figure it out on their own.

Unconditional aid to tribesmen who just want your butt gone won't buy you lasting gratitude (that rarest human sentiment). Your generosity's read as weakness, not goodness.

In Ralph's Professional Tough Guy world, there's no such thing as a civilian population -- everyone's an "ally" or a "hostile." But I digress.)

Gertz, on the other hand, for reasons that are entirely obscure to me, has his weekly "Inside the Ring" column highlighted solo under its very own heading, under which -- so far as I can tell -- no other article ever appears: "National Security." Every Thursday, like clockwork, there it is:

17. Inside The Ring
(Washington Times)...Bill Gertz

The column is meant to be a quick hop around the most relevant defense issues of the week, both separating the wheat from the chaff for the general reader and letting defense insiders in on what their colleagues are talking about. (Gertz's Washington Times bio says that ITR "chronicles the U.S. national security bureaucracy.") Instead it's mostly a vehicle for Gertz to advance his pet interests: China hawkery, Democrat-bashing, and advocacy on behalf of those Peters types who seem to think all Arabs and Muslims are "terrorist potentialities." He throws down a whole lot of editorial commentary (occasionally extending to outright bullshitting) in a column that is meant to look like down-the-middle, just the facts ma'am reportage.

Want an example? Well, it just so happens that I have a particularly egregious one from today's column! In the very first section, Gertz reports on a 02 July memorandum from OSD to Pentagon leadership on the subject of military interactions with the press. He runs down what amounts to a book report on the memo and the media's reaction to it, paraphrasing Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell's press conference responses to questions on the subject.
Gen. McChrystal's ouster last month marked the second four-star to go down because of loose lips with the press, Mr. Morrell said. The first was the 2008 resignation of dovish U.S. Central Command commander Adm. William J. Fallon, who resigned after telling Esquire magazine that he was the only thing preventing a war with Iran.
Now this is total bullshit.

First of all, Fox Fallon did not "[tell] Esquire magazine that he was the only thing preventing a war with Iran." Here's what Tom Barnett wrote in his introduction to the Esquire piece:
If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon, although all of his friends call him "Fox," which was his fighter-pilot call sign decades ago. Forty years into a military career that has seen this admiral rule over America’s two most important combatant commands, Pacific Command and now United States Central Command, it’s mpossible to make this guy–as he likes to say–"nervous in the service." [snip]’s left to Fallon–and apparently Fallon alone–to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: "This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions."
Note: That's Tom Barnett writing. You see any direct quotes from Fallon that suggest that he thinks he's the only thing preventing a war? No, me neither. On top of that, Fallon came out afterwards and told Tom Ricks that Barnett's piece was "poison pen stuff" that was "really disrespectful and ugly." Sound like a guy who's pumping himself up as the last best hope for peace? So yeah, Gertz is basically just lying.

And the other bit, the "dovish" part? That's another d-bag move. Fox Fallon served 41 years in the U.S. Navy. He served in Vietnam, Bosnia, and Iraq, commanded an attack squadron, a carrier battle group, and two Global Combatant Commands, and he earned a Bronze Star and a Navy Commendation Medal with valor device, among dozens of decorations. Here's what he had to say when Barnett asked him what would happen if tension with Iran did boil over to the point of war:
"Get serious," the admiral says. "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."
Now he's a dove? Only for those morons who were dissatisfied with his low level of China hawkery while at PACOM, and his statements to the effect that fighting another major land war against the state directly between two other states in which we're fighting would probably not be an optimal outcome for anybody.

Who the hell is Bill effin' Gertz to call this guy "dovish"??

Ok, I'm getting myself all spun up over one little thing, but it should be clear by now that Gertz has no problem fabricating and casting false aspersions to advance his ideologico-editorial agenda. And this is a guy being reprinted in the Early Bird every single week, where senior leaders read his "analysis" as matter-of-fact reporting. F that.

GET BILL GERTZ OUT OF THE EARLY BIRD. (Or at least put him in the "Opinion" section.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

C'est le 14 Juillet: African Veterans to Get Same Benefits as their French Colleagues!

Over at Secret Defense, Jean Dominique Merchet reports that African veterans who served with French forces during WWII, Korea, Indochina, and Algeria will now get the same benefits as their colleagues. President Sarkozy (who is in need of some positive spin--have you read about the whole Bettencourt "affaire"? It's a trip), in honor of the Fete Nationale du 14 Juillet, has announced a 150 million Euro program to ensure that African veterans now receive the same level benefits, regardless of where they now live.

Why is this such a big deal? Because, as the BBC explains, until now, African soldiers were only payed a pension worth one tenth to one fifth of what their French colleagues got. Back in May, the Conseil Constitutionnel (the Constitutional Council) declared that practice illegal so now Sarko is presenting legislation to the Assemblee Nationale and the law should go into effect in January.

Oh, and did you see that soldiers from 13 African countries (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritanie, Niger, Sénégal, Tchad and Togo) joined French forces today on the Champs Elysees for the Annual Defile du 14 Juillet? It was apparently pouring rain most of the time but this created a lot of buzz too--not all of those leaders have the best human rights records and Sarkozy was criticized both for colonial nostalgia and for granting them the honor of parading.

Bon 14 Juillet les amis!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2053 nuclear explosions, 1945-1998

Courtesy of @pourmecoffee on Twitter, here's a really interesting animated video depicting the two thousand plus nuclear detonations since the first in 1945. Each second represents one month, and each country's explosions are depicted in a different color. Shit really starts getting crazy in the 1960s.

This is particularly interesting to me at this precise moment because I'm just finishing Don DeLillo's Underworld, in which the nuclear arms race is a significant motif.

If you get bored, jump ahead to about the 13 minute mark, when there's a sped-up recap.

Why defense industry lobbyists are so damn likeable!

The Joint Strike Fighter (aka F-35) is the most expensive U.S. defense buy in history. By the time the whole shooting match is over, the Defense Department will have procured around 2,500 of the aircraft, to be fielded by all services but the Army, at a total cost of nearly $400B. (Recent projections say $112M per plane for a total of $382B, a figure that's 65% higher than the 2002 estimate.)

You may have heard that there's a little legislative tussle going on over whether the JSF needs a second engine program. The Defense Department says no. (Unsurprisingly, it's joined by Pratt & Whitney, the manufacturer of the engine that was selected when the program was originally competed.) A whole bunch of members of Congress (plus GE and Rolls-Royce, who lost the original competition), along with defense industry shills in the think tank world, say yes. In fact, the House slapped the extra engine (called the F136) into the defense authorization bill, then defeated an amendment that would've stripped that language out by a 231-193 vote. The White House has threatened a veto if the F136 provisions don't come out when the House and Senate authorization bills are conferenced, but the Hill seems confident.

I tell you all of this as prelude to the point that I really want to make, which is this: the defense industry, the lobbyists, marketeers, pollsters, and who work for them, and the think tank "professionals" who pimp themselves out to industry in pursuit of their ideological conviction that bigger defense budgets are always better... are all acting like assholes. Why don't we look at a few examples?

Anyone who reads the blog or follows me on Twitter will have sorted out by now what I think about the alternate engine program. But this isn't really about that. Let me prove it to you by first talking about the most recent bitch move taken by a participant in this little political drama: poll data commissioned by Pratt & Whitney. Here's a blurb from today's edition of Mike Allen's Playbook:
The new "bridge to nowhere"? -- Pratt & Whitney allies will distribute research on the Hill today arguing against an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter: "Voters in the 19 districts surveyed have decidedly negative feelings about Congress spending $3 billion on an extra jet engine when explained the circumstances, especially when they learn that the engine is opposed by the nation’s top military leaders for being wasteful and unnecessary."
(To be clear, by "Pratt & Whitney allies," he means Pratt & Whitney's lobbyists.)

Why don't we take a look at the poll results (pdf), commissioned by Pratt & Whitney and prepared by Clarus Research Group? Here's how the results of the "research" are introduced:

OVERALL TAKE-AWAY: Voters in the 19 districts surveyed have decidedly negative feelings about Congress spending $3 billion on an extra jet engine when explained the circumstances, especially when they learn that the engine is opposed by the nation’s top military leaders for being wasteful and unnecessary. Views expressed on the specific issue are clearly aggravated by, and must be understood within, the current political context in which voters believe that a massive amount of federal spending is wasted and that well-connected companies and special interests benefit from Congressional earmarks at taxpayers’ expense.
I for one am shocked that individuals would oppose spending deemed "wasteful and unnecessary" by "the nation's top military leaders," especially in the "current political context in which voters [presumably the same voters that are being asked these questions] believe that a massive amount of federal spending is wasted"!

Seriously, can you believe that shit? If that's not enough, let's look at the polling data a little more closely.
The survey found that 87% of voters agree with the statement: “If America’s military leaders at the Pentagon determine that a multi-billion dollar defense contract with a private company is wasteful and unnecessary, Congress should NOT spend the money.”
Only 87%?! Because I'd like to find the other 13% and punch them in the face. But really, when your interlocutor makes an argument from authority, throws out terms like "multi-billion" to people who probably don't have much sense for exactly how expensive defense procurement is, and then tells you that "America's military leaders at the Pentagon" -- another argument from authority, considering that no one wants to disagree with a general about what the troops want or need -- have determined that the program is "wasteful and unnecessary," how can you expect anybody to disagree? In a courtroom they call that a leading question (or maybe just in 7th grade mock trial; I'm not a lawyer or anything).

So who the hell are those 13% who disagree with that statement and think the money ought to be spent? Well, if you listen to the pollsters, those are just retards who didn't understand the question, or weren't asked forcefully enough. After all, among those who said initially that they support the extra engine:
  • 35% to 41% of them say they are less inclined to support it when they learn that "President Obama, former President Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the country’s top military leaders are all opposed to spending the money for this extra jet engine because they say it is unnecessary and wasteful.”
  • 56% to 61% of them say they are less inclined to support it when they learn that “many of the jobs the manufacture of the extra jet engine would create would be in Great Britain, because Rolls Royce is a British company.”
  • 57% to 61% of them say they are less inclined to support it when they learn that “GE and Rolls Royce already have large government contracts and are spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and advertisements trying to put pressure on members of Congress to approve the extra jet engine they would profit from.”

So if instead of just saying "senior leaders at the Pentagon," you actually spell out who the senior leaders are, more than a third of those 13% will abandon their support. More than half will give up the extra engine if you make it clear that it's going to be built by dirty furriners. And a similar number can be cowed into agreement if you tell them that a dirty, dirty defense contractor is trying to exploit the gentle voter's innocent, unknowing support by pressuring Congress in order to enrich themselves. Easy!

But here's my favorite part: the conclusion.

Support for the extra jet engine is more likely to hurt Congressional incumbents seeking re-election than help them: To assess the bottom-line political impact of the issue, the following questioned was asked at the end of each survey interview: “If your member of Congress voted to spend the three billion dollars for this extra jet engine, would you be more or less inclined to support him or her for re-election in this November’s election?” The result: 7% more inclined, 67% less inclined, 13% volunteered it would make no difference.

So these nice, complicit pollsters are ready to give Pratt & Whitney exactly what they need: assurances to Congress that this goofy F136 business, which looks like it might help get them elected, is actually going to kick them in the ass, so why don't they just go ahead and give up on this nonsense already and oppose the extra engine?!

It's impossible to overstate just exactly how noteworthy it is for this polling data to get linked by Mike Allen, perhaps the most influential Inside-Baseball political reporter in Washington, in the most influential daily political digest, in a paragraph that leads with an invocation of a senseless spending fiasco from times past: the "bridge to nowhere."

And now for the other side. I've already taken up a whole bunch of your time, and you're probably bored with the subject of acquisition and defense spending anyway, so I'm going to be brief. Fortunately, Pratt & Whitney's competitors at GE and Rolls Royce have misrepresented reality in such an unbelievably egregious fashion that this can pretty much be summed up with just one image.

Click on the image for a bigger version, but yeah, you're reading that correctly: "LET'S COMPETE: GE and Rolls-Royce are building the F136 engine for America's next fighter jet. But some want to hand a $100 billion monopoly to a sole contractor. At a time of record budget defecits, competition is more important than ever for taxpayers and the military."

Now, one might fairly argue that the competition is already over, that the other guys won, that the "sole contractor" approach is pretty much generally how these things go once one side has already won the competition for the contract, that the taxpayers can't really afford nearly $3B in extra spending on an unnecessary piece of redundant gear, and that GE and Rolls-Royce aren't "building the F136 engine for America's next fighter jet" because they already lost the competition for the right to do that... but I figure you guys can sort that one out for yourselves.

F the defense industry, man.

What exactly does the Washington Post want done in east Africa?

The Somali insurgent group al-Shabaab has claimed credit for the suicide attack in the Ugandan capital of Kampala that killed 74 civilians on Sunday, leading a whole bunch of front pages to squeal about how "al Qaeda's east African branch" had demonstrated its capacity and desire to undertake external operations. The Washington Post's editorial board, for one, is pissed.

Such a campaign poses, at the least, a serious risk to the stability of Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, which all have tried to prevent an al-Shabab takeover in Somalia. Given the U.S. passport holders known to have joined al-Shabab, an attempt to attack the U.S. homeland -- such as that attempted by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen last Christmas -- is entirely plausible. The Obama administration hasn't ignored the danger: In addition to providing aid to the Somali government and army, it has ordered raids by U.S. forces on terrorist targets in Somalia.

But Kenya's foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, was right when he said last week -- before the Uganda bombings -- that the United States was not doing enough to combat the threat. The Somali government and army need more help, and ideally, more foreign forces; more should be done to stop the flow of weapons into the country. More U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Shabab leaders should be undertaken. The situation in Somalia, Mr. Wetangula told the Associated Press, is "very, very dire." It is time for the United States to recognize that -- and to respond before al-Shabab can escalate its foreign attacks.

Now I don't mean to sound dismissive about all of this, but what exactly does the Post want to have happen? As noted in the article, the USG is already providing aid to Somalia and has undertaken strikes against al-Shabaab targets on African soil. American personnel are also providing training and support to the Ugandan forces that make up the bulk of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu. So what else?

Well, "ideally, more foreign forces," says the Post. The U.S. obviously isn't going to be the one to provide those forces, so one can only presume that they're asking for more international peacekeepers. The AU force is holding on by a thread, but it's hard to imagine NATO or UN troops going in to push back al-Shabaab forces. So this means more Africans. Is the U.S. really best positioned to go asking for others to participate, considering extant suspicions about our intentions vis-a-vis AFRICOM, U.S. mil presence in Djibouti, and so on?

Furthermore, are more Africans really going to do all that much? I'm not suggesting that the AU force is incompetent, or that more forces couldn't tip the balance, but are there any really good reasons to believe that they will?

What else does the Post have in mind? "[M]ore should be done to stop the flow of weapons into the country." Ok, fine, fair enough. But why? Between this and the plea for more foreign troops, it's clear that the editorial is focused on preventing AS from making further gains in its military campaign against the Transitional Federal Government. But does that really have all that much to do with AS' ability to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S. or its interests abroad? Does AS need to hold the capital in order to have the much sought-after "safe haven" apparently so essential to mounting successful terrorist operations with global reach?

Is the AS-TFG military struggle really all that meaningful to U.S. interests? Don't get me wrong, I think it's probably a better scenario if we can shrink the list of states that are categorically and irreversibly opposed to everything the U.S. says and does, rather than extending it. But from a concrete, tangible perspective, does it really matter all that much who is "running" Somalia (to the extent that it's ever being run at all)?

This line of reasoning (and questioning) is obviously very relevant to the war in Afghanistan. After all, if we've concluded that we have to fight a war in south Asia to eliminate a possible terrorist safe haven, then it shouldn't come as any great shock that others would conclude that such a safe haven needs to be eliminated in east Africa. But even if the TFG "wins," is the safe haven gone? And even if the safe haven is gone (as it apparently is in Afghanistan, at least within that state's borders), does that mean that terrorists can't operate effectively?

So the Washington Post wants action. So does Kenya's foreign minister, apparently, for whatever that's worth. But can someone tell me exactly why it's so essential that we intervene? And if it is so essential, how we're going to do it? Because it we're going to keep zapping known AS guys with AC-130s and UAVs and Tomahawks and whatnot, fine with me. But it seems like that's about our only option, and it seems like a pretty good way to get the rest of Somalia to pick sides, too.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Support the discerning counterinsurgent's rugby club while feeling sophisticated and awesome!

Now is the time on Schprockets when we (and by we, I mean I) shamefully beg for not-totally-altruistic charity from the readership!

Ok, DC friends: As you're sitting there in your jorts sweating through another disgusting summer in the swampland capital, do you ever think "man, I wish I could get dressed up in the cocktail attire of my choice, knock back a few drinks with my sophisticated friends, and have a chance to win fabulous prizes, all while supporting a very grateful local sports team"? You do?? Well, you're in luck, because I'm about to offer you just such an opportunity.

Two weeks from tomorrow, on Saturday, July 24, my rugby club is hosting a Casino Night fundraiser at James Hoban's Irish Restaurant and Bar. Our intrepid B-side fullback will be there, and I'll be tuxed up and yet still somehow totally anonymous. Come play blackjack, craps, roulette, etc., take advantage of all the beer and wine you're interested in, and have a chance to win a big TV, a vacation rental in North Carolina, and a whole bunch of other excellent stuff.

All this for just $70?! Unbelievable but true. Come support what is almost certainly the best rugby club in town for security policy analysis. I'm begging you, please: if the club goes under, we'll have to play kickball.

Tickets here. More info here. Learn about the club here. Give written instructions to Exum on how to field a high ball here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This is your Army

This morning on the Army's website, one of the lead headlines reads as follows:
Hm, that's curious, I thought, considering that WWI hadn't even started 101 years ago. Intrigued, I clicked on the link. Maybe it's a different World War I. Like, World War Eye, or something, not World War One.

In April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called on Americans to face the freezing, muddy trenches and deadly chemical weapons of the Great War in an effort to make the world safe for democracy. With courage and bravery, American citizens left the peaceful U.S. soil to engage an enemy thousands of miles away.

Cpl. Gus Bishop, then a 20-year-old Kentucky native, chose to fight beside his fellow countrymen. He was severely injured by gunfire during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, Sept. 26, 1918.

Hm, guess not.

To be fair to Specialist V. Michelle Woods, the article text gets is right: in one place it's "nine decades later," and in another "more than 92 years after getting wounded." So it's just the headline writer at who thought that World War I was more than a century ago.

(I'm surprised there wasn't a bigger party.)

Seriously though, this is a cool story. Kudos to MAJ Donald Woods, who tracked down the documents and got his grandfather awarded a Purple Heart nearly a century after he sustained his wounds.

Maj. Donald Bishop, officer in charge of communications, 1st Sustainment Brigade, grandson of Cpl. Bishop, said he began searching for his grandfather's military records in an effort to find out about his military history.

"A couple years back I started digging around trying to find his records", said Donald. "I didn't get them for the purpose of getting him a Purple Heart. It was something I wanted, just to try and dig in and try to find some stuff about him."

Through the help of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, Donald said he was able to obtain Gus's records.

The records stated Gus enlisted in the Army in September of 1917, and arrived in France in May of 1918. He was attached to the 39th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division and Company E, 318th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division.

He was credited with serving in the Fort-le-Fere engagement, Battle of Saint Milhiel and the Meuse-Argonne Campaign. He left France in May of 1919, and was honorably discharged in June of 1919.

Donald, a Kentucky native, said while going through Gus's records, he realized Gus was not awarded the Purple Heart for his injury.

This tale strikes a familiar note for me: after my grandmother died three years ago, my dad came across a stack of my grandfather's mementos from his time in North Africa and Italy back during the second war. My dad's dad died when I was nine, so the time I spent flipping through his diary and trying to match up bits of colored ribbon with the proper medal helped me learn more about his wartime service than I'd ever known before. My own dad wasn't particularly fluent with the details of his father's units and campaigns, so I'd always wondered things like why (for example) a kid from the South Wales valleys served in the Irish Guards. Turns out pretty much the whole town enlisted in the same regiment, and that's the one they ended up in.

Anyway, neat story. And SPC Woods did a good job with it, even if her editor didn't!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Losing Kandahar, one land dispute at a time

In discussing COIN and stability ops in general, a lot of references are made to reestablishing effective governance without defining what that means except in the vaguest terms. Although just one among many over the last several years, this article in the Christian Science Monitor illustrates the dynamics particularly clearly.

Land disputes are the starting point for a lot of violence in Afghanistan - and Congo, and Sudan, and the rest of the developing world, for that matter. And those disputes provide opportunities that the Taliban have proven adept at exploiting, either by resolving or manipulating the resulting divisions.

Despite knowing this, and nearly a decade into the effort, we still struggle to set up even the simplest credible dispute resolution mechanisms. I don't mean an elaborate and fully developed national justice system: I mean local adjudicative bodies that have local legitimacy that need to be backed by our (or where, possible, GIRoA) firepower to enforce their decisions and protect them from being assassinated.

This isn't to suggest that military control of territory and population, building effective local security forces, or tackling corruption aren't just as important (or more, depending phase of operations in a given area). But it seems that as we've come to realize that development assistance is of limited utility in winning Afghans over to our side, we're a bit stymied as to what 'effective governance' means in concrete terms. Seems like solving local land disputes would be an excellent place to start.