Monday, February 28, 2011

Did the SECDEF do a 180 on COIN?

The SECDEF made a speech at West Point on Friday about the future of the Army. You should read it. What you shouldn't do is read the bulk of the context-free misrepresentation currently passing for news analysis of the speech. Friend of Ink Spots David Ucko is an exception to this trend, and in fact does a great job of describing exactly how much of the media gets it wrong.
There has been ample coverage of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ final speech to the West Point cadets last Friday, with much of the attention focusing on an apparently growing disenchantment with counterinsurgency, a theme previously touched upon on this blog. 
For obvious reasons, the quotation that got the most play in the press was Gates’ quip that any future sec-def who advises the sending of ‘a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined”’. This sentence has been picked up upon as a candid admission by a straight-talking and possibly repentant Secretary of Defense, wishing to use his last appearance at West Point to highlight the folly of ongoing campaigns. In reality, the statement has been taken out of its context and therefore risks being misinterpreted, along with the rest of the address. 
I've got basically nothing to add, so go read David at Kings of War.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Leon Wieseltier wants U.S. action on Libya, suggests it should be pretty clean and easy

Here's the good man on President Obama's well-founded reluctance to put an American face on the anti-Qaddafi movement by directly involving U.S. forces:
To be sure, there are conspiracy theorists in the region who are not in their right mind, and will hold such an anti-American view; but this anti-Americanism is not an empirical matter. They will hate us whatever we do. I do not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of American intervention.
Well I don't know about you, but I feel relieved!

In case it matters, though, this is the same Leon Wieseltier that was a signatory of the infamous Project for a New American Century letter of September 20, 2001 -- the one that ran down a list of targets for the "global war on terror." The list included Iraq -- "any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq" -- which should come as no surprise; Wieseltier was also a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

Presumably Leon Wieseltier "[did] not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of American intervention" to remove Saddam, either. I don't suppose the families of the 100,000+ people who perished during the "Liberation of Iraq" are particularly comforted that regional conflagration was avoided.

The can-do kids: a Pentagon counterfactual

I want you to take a little trip with me, all the way back to 2004. The United States is at war, and nearly 70,000 American troops are on the ground in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld has some "issues w/various countries," so he fires off a memo to the Under Secretary of Defense to try to get some answers... only this time it's not know-it-all undersecretary for fiascos Doug Feith. No, we need a guy in the hot seat who understands The Coming Anarchy. Forget about idealistic neoconservatives; we need a guy who recognizes "humankind's tendency toward a kind of slipshod, gooey, utopian, and ultimately dangerous optimism." We need Bob Kaplan.

Just imagine...

RUMSFELD: We need to solve the Pakistan problem. Are you coming up with some proposals for me to send around?

KAPLAN: With more pressure [we] might increase Islamabad's cooperation in relatively short order.

RUMSFELD: I do think this memo on Pakistan is correct. I think we have to force the issue of Pakistan up to the Deputies and get a policy. If Pakistan goes under, we have serious problems (pdf). So, uh, thanks.

KAPLAN: America has strategic advantages and can enhance its power while extricating itself from war. But this requires leadership—not great and inspiring leadership which comes along rarely even in the healthiest of societies—but plodding competence, occasionally steely nerved and always free of illusion. So yeah, no problem, chief.

RUMSFELD: Yeah, ok, I get the point. No more emails like this. (Next time I'll ask Wolfowitz (pdf).)


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some thoughts on LTG Caldwell's probably-legal-but-still-wildly-inappropriate influence operations

Michael Hastings has another news-making piece in Rolling Stone today. In it, he alleges that "the U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in 'psychological operations' to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war" in Afghanistan. So far as I can tell, this is a lie. Hastings goes on to make a number of other specious assertions and allegations in the course of the piece. None of this changes the fact that this is a vitally important story, one that serves as a window onto the deeply disturbing trend of senior officers defining the appropriate role of the military in ever more expansive ways.

Read the story. The rest of this post is written under the assumption that you understand the basic facts of Hastings' reportage. Now let's get some things straight:

1. Michael Hastings is almost definitely a douchebag. Both this piece and the infamous McChrystal expose are filled with unsubtle editorializing. But there is no reason to believe that he is inventing sources or falsifying documentation. The Caldwell story is not made-up, and there are facts here that need to be considered. I don't know the details of this Holmes guy's career, his training, and so on, and I've seen rumblings this afternoon on Twitter that there might be a story there. But I'm writing this on the assumption that the basic facts as Hastings has conveyed them are not fabricated out of whole cloth.

2. "The Army" doesn't order anyone to do anything, legal or illegal. Individual officers give orders that either accord with law and regulation, or that don't. Those orders are then followed, or they're not. If an unlawful order is followed, both the originator and the executor of that order are legally culpable.

3. No one was ordered "to manipulate visiting American senators" in any way, at least not according to the evidence provided in the article. Instead it is alleged that certain personnel were ordered to perform background research and provide advice and expertise to LTG Caldwell on how he might be able to manipulate members of  Congress.

4. This directive was founded, of course, on the presumption that the persuasion of and exertion of influence on American political leaders is a legitimate function and recognized responsibility of the Commanding General of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan/NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. This presumption was a poor and unfounded one.

5. CSTC-A/NTM-A is not a warfighting command. It is an element of ISAF that is focused on building the capacity and capabilities of our Afghan partners to operate independently and function without a massive coalition presence. It is a security cooperation office on steroids, an institution that exists to provide equipment, training, and advice to the Afghan government at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. There would seem to be precisely one remotely reasonable justification for the command to be augmented with information operations (IO) personnel, or for an organization that does not engage with the enemy to perform psychological operations (PSYOP, defined in part as efforts to "convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals") in any form or fashion: in order to influence Afghan audiences to more aggressively support U.S. capacity-building initiatives and speed the transition of security responsibility.

6. Relatedly, Hastings alleges that "at a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misuse of vital resources designed to combat the enemy." This is false. IO resources are not explicitly "designed to combat the enemy," but to support the accomplishment of operational objectives. It's possible to conduct legal, well-planned, legitimate IO that has exactly nothing to do with combatting the enemy.

7. There is no reason to believe, as some have glibly suggested, that CSTC-A/NTM-A required PSYOP-trained personnel to conduct social media outreach, or that LTG Caldwell intended for those personnel to perform that function.

8. IO officer LTC Michael Holmes conceives of his job as being "to play with people's heads," which is certainly a component of IO, and also "to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave." This too is part of IO and PSYOP, but not an appropriate role for CSTC-A/NTM-A, an organization that is not enemy-focused. Presumably ISAF has IO/PSYOP personnel whose mission entails influencing enemy perceptions and decision-making.

9. Holmes further argues that he is "prohibited from doing that to our own people." Considering that PSYOP has a specific training pipeline to distinguish it from broader IO or strategic communication (which is comprised of IO and public affairs) writ large, this strikes me as a compelling and true statement. There does not seem to be any specific legal prohibition on PSYOP personnel providing technical insight about the mechanics of decision-making to inform public affairs efforts (and references to the Smith-Mundt Act are a stretch); but U.S. military PSYOP personnel receive dedicated training for the purpose of targeting foreign audiences, and Holmes is certainly correct to say "when you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman [sic], you're crossing a line."

10. Even if Caldwell, Buche, and Breazile deny Holmes' claim that the assignment of IO personnel to DV pre-briefs was intended to provide "a deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds" or to answer the question of "how do we get these guys to give us more people?", it seems certain that LTG Caldwell believed PSYOP training had endowed his IO team with some special skill set that would facilitate more effective decision analysis and add value to his political messaging efforts. Otherwise he would simply have continued to use his dedicated public affairs staff to this end.

11. The details of the alleged smear campaign against Holmes are one-sided and supportive of the message of scandal that Hastings clearly intends to convey, so it's impossible to evaluate their legitimacy. But it sure doesn't look good.

12. Hastings further alleges that "Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban," supporting this accusation only with an unflattering quote from Holmes: "We called it Operation Fourth Star." This, to put it plainly, is just Hastings being a fucking asshole. Such accusations are especially rich from a journalist who has surely faced similar charges from his own critics, someone who could quite easily be pegged as seeming more eager to advance his own career and make waves than to do good journalism and inform meaningful policy change in Afghanistan.

13. Let's be clear about something: in the military, officers do not perform tasks they find unpleasant "under duress" from their superiors. They execute the orders of those appointed over them, or they refuse. And they are held legally and morally responsible for that decision. If Holmes did what he was directed to do "under duress" and he is still convinced that he "violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948" (an absurd claim, for what it's worth), then he should be asking himself why he failed to do what is required of him by oath and regulation: to refuse the unlawful order.

14. The "Capt. John Scott" (Rolling Stone's editors' refusal to use correct, service-specific rank abbreviations makes it impossible to tell whether Scott is an O-3 or an O-6, though I don't suppose it matters) identified in the article as an attorney consulted by Holmes was exactly right to say that "using IO to influence our own folks is a bad idea and contrary to IO policy (pdf)," but I've got to be honest and note that this doesn't exactly constitute stellar legal advice.

15. When a spokesman for LTG Caldwell "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors," that's not a semantic dodge. He's saying that Holmes is full of shit, that the whole thing's made up. He's not saying "the general used to IO cell to inform HIS efforts to influence DVs"; he's saying they played no part in such an effort.

16. Hastings closes with what I imagine he believes to be an incredibly powerful parting shot:
As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.
But here he demonstrates either extremely bad faith or inexcusable ignorance: Carl Levin has long supported train-and-equip efforts as a substitute for U.S. troop presence, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's been tossing around the absurd "train host nation forces instead of keeping Americans boots on the ground!" canard, as if that constitutes a comprehensive solution, for much longer than LTG Caldwell's been at CSTC-A/NTM-A. A PSYOP O-5 didn't have a damn thing to do with Levin's support for ANSF funding. Hastings' concluding coup de grace is really just a totally specious bit of draw-your-own-incorrect-conclusion nonsense.

I hope you're not disappointed, but those 16 points don't lead to any sort of really cohesive conclusion or judgment about right or wrong. If you need it boiled down to one sentence, I'd put it like this: all the talk of illegality is just trumped-up editorializing, but LTG Caldwell's actions -- if accurately described -- were inappropriate and suggestive of deeper problems with the way he conceives of his role.

What deeper problems? Well, as noted up there in #4, this is all predicated on Caldwell's belief (underpinned by the support of the military establishment) that lobbying Congress is fair play and part of his job. The military, as you may have heard, tends to inculcate a can-do attitude. When given a mission, officers don't tend to sit around and think up reasons why they can't accomplish it, why it's going to be harder than they thought, or why it ought not really to be their job. They look for ways to get it done. They take stock of the resources they have at hand and figure out a way to effectively apply them against the problem. Sometimes that means doing things that are unconventional, and sometimes that means figuring things out as you go. (DoD didn't have a whole lot of useful guidance on how to run economic development projects in Iraqi cities in 2005, for example, but this type of attitude is what helped a bunch of field- and company-grade offiicers figure it out.)

But this is also why we have laws and regulations: to dampen the aggressiveness and enthusiasm some of these can-do folks will invariably have for performing tasks that are not appropriately delegated to them.
Sometimes that means running influence operations on your own bosses to talk them into the policy course you think is right, and enabling that with personnel who were specifically trained to deploy their skills against non-U.S. targets.

There's a fuzzy line here, and I'm not going to pretend like it's a bright one. The Joint Staff says that the joint force needs to be able to conduct both IO (including PSYOP) and public affairs (pdf): to communicate, shape, and influence. The shaping and influencing is meant to be targeted at the enemy and the operational environment, while the communicating helps to win support for the mission with domestic audiences. Of course, this is all built on the idea that all a public affairs officer has to do is share the good news in order to get Congress and the public on his side, while acknowledging that there may be a little bit more art and nuance involved in persuading a foreign audience. (Why this should be true is never precisely explained, but it seems a bit like backwards reasoning: seeing as we're only allowed to tell the truth to Americans, we'd better hope the truth accomplishes the mission!) And if you've got that skill set in your force or in your command, that special ability not just to convey information but to tailor and target that information in such a way as to really influence the decision calculus and eventual behavior of your target audience... and if you're convinced a certain type of behavior by your higher will help get the job done... well, it's a hell of a temptation. And it looks like LTG Caldwell may have fallen victim to it.

But really, it can't be this way. Our military leaders can't be viceroys, and they can't have carte blanche to skirt law and regulation in order to get the job done. This should be a reminder that constant vigilance is required to keep the proper balance in civil-military relations, and for civilian senior leaders to stay informed and engaged as best they can to ensure that happens.

I hope this investigation happens, and I hope they find that Holmes and Hastings just made the whole damn thing up. I fear that's not the case, though, and I don't think we should be surprised if we find that it's not.

Ongoing Crisis in Cote d'Ivoire (UPDATED--Heavy Fighting in Abidjan and West)

Amidst the violence in Libya, the ongoing crisis in Cote d'Ivoire' seems to have been forgotten--or at least ignored since it didn't seem much was happening. This week though, things are taking a turn for the more violent. Yesterday, six pro-Ouattara protesters were killed, along with ten pro-Gbagbo soldiers, right as an African Union delegation visited (again) to try and find a solution. Today, fighting erupted in the west of the country.

UPDATE: the BBC reports that heavy fighting has erupted in Abidjan and continues on the border with Liberia

What's the background to all this?

Basically, the country's internationally-recognized President, Alassane Ouattara, is trying to choke off the resources of his predecessor. While the UN Security Council agreed to send 2,000 extra peacekeepers to the country to help ensure security, Ouattara ordered a suspension of cocoa exports. This matters because cocoa is Cote d'Ivoire's biggest source of income (and the country is the world's largest producer of cocoa, for a look a cocoa futures since the crisis began in November, see here).

Since the November elections, the international community has been trying to choke off aincome to election loser Laurent Gbagbo: the EU and the US have imposed sanctions, Switzerland has frozen Gbago and loyalist assets, the ECOWAS central bank has rescinded Gbagbo's authority to spend money, and big Western banks have ceased operations.

In response, Gbagbo has tried to take control of some of the banks but ECOWAS controls the internet-based system for money transfers and they've shut it down. Gbagbo has also requested cocoa exporters to pay in hard cash but even that isn't working so well since many international companies know their governments recognize Ouattara's government (this week the US accepted the credentials of his ambassador to Washington) and they don't want to be sanctioned for supporting Gbagbo. All this to say, banning cocoa exports is one more way to make the Army and civil servants understand that, eventually, Gbagbo won't have enough money to pay their salaries. This has led to a run on banks--for the reasons you would imagine.

So what does this deadlock mean for Ivorian people: well, the economy is in the dumps, the UN reports that 40,000 Ivorians have fled to Liberia--which in itself is an indication of how bad things could get (who flees to Liberia?), and AU mediation is making the terrible recommendation that the two rivals should share power (a la Zimbabwe). ECOWAS has repeatedly toyed with military intervention which is risky because Gbagbo still has a lot of loyal/competent forces. So the question remains, do we just wait until Gabgbo runs out of money and support or do we do something else? Or does that depend on how much violence spreads and how quickly?

AND UPDATE: At what point do UNOCI and the French Licorne forces start using force to implement their mandate to "protect civilians from imminent threat of violence?"

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are you coming up with some proposals for me to send around?

Yesterday afternoon, Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic unearthed what is almost certainly the most awesome Rumsfeld "snowflake" of all time. (This got some play in Politico's "Morning Defense" today -- though in true traditional media fashion, it was unsourced; I guess it's possible Phil Ewing just stumbled over it on the same day -- so I assume a lot of people are picking up on it. To those of you who have seen this already: sorry. But not that sorry. This will never get old.) Here it is, reproduced in full:
If for some reason you can't read/see this, here's the text:
April 7, 2003 11:46 AM 
TO: Doug Feith 
FROM: Donald Rumsfeld 
SUBJECT: Issues w/Various Countries 
We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Syria and Libya, and we need it fast. If they mess up Iraq, it will delay bringing our troops home. [Ed.: LULZ!] 
We also need to solve the Pakistan problem. 
And Korea doesn't seem to be going well. 
Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around? 
I wish I could say I'd never gotten similarly vague email "direction" at work, but I'd be lying. But come on now: I'm not the story here.

Mr. Secretary -- Really excellent work here. You pretty much nailed down all the important security issues of the day -- really prescient stuff. I like how you didn't just stick to the fundamental roles and missions of the Defense Department, but really conceptualized your mission in an aggressive, proactive way. Drop some coercive diplomacy on that ass! Solve the Pakistan problem! And shit, come up with a Korea policy while you're at it! You know what, though? You're probably not best qualified to do that, and you've got a lot of demands on your time. Just drop all that stuff off in Dougie's inbox. Hell, what are Number Twos for?

Seriously, what kind of balls does it take to release something like this on your own promotional website? Probably about the same enormous balls it takes to imagine that the Secretary of Defense (or the Under Secretary, really) should be the lead on solving foreign policy problems, I guess. It's no wonder Rumsfeld wasn't interested in spending a whole lot of time fiddling with stability operations in Iraq -- he had foreign policy to conduct!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why can't we do math AND strategy?

By now everyone's familiar with the dismissive turn of phrase Bob Gates used to blow off the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission: "In terms of the specifics they came up with, that's essentially math, not strategy." The defense-defenders love this one, and they've deployed it aggressively: basically every recommended cut to a defense program or the defense topline is derided as "math, not strategy."

Hey, it's a good line. It's probably the same thing I'd say if I were the SECDEF. But it's wildly irresponsible for the Pentagon to say "hey, it's not us, we're doing our part!" as Gates did back in November:
"If you cut the defense budget by 10 percent, which would be catastrophic in terms of force structure, that's $55 billion on a $1.4 trillion deficit," Gates said. "We are not the problem."
(By that logic, shouldn't GE be saying "if you cut the F136 engine, which would be catastrophic in terms of Ohio jobs and the assured reliability of the Joint Strike Fighter, that's $2.9 billion (pdf) on a $553 billion defense budget. We are not the problem"?)

Secretary Gates wants to have his cake and eat it, too: he wants to dismiss critics of his cuts by saying the recommendations are based on strategy, but push back on those calling for deeper cuts by talking about math. But a responsible defense budget and a responsible federal budget must take both considerations into account: math and strategy. If ADM Mullen is right and the national debt really does pose the greatest threat to national security, then isn't the "math" part really, really significant? Strategy, after all, is inseparable from math: strategy is fundamentally about choices, about maximizing benefit with limited resources. The SECDEF said it himself just two years ago!
The United States cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything. The Department of Defense must set priorities and consider inescapable tradeoffs and opportunity costs.
Gates's defenders -- and I'm one of them -- will say "but the Department already has set priorities, and this budget request is based on the real requirements of supporting our national security strategy!" And when it comes down to it, I probably agree with him on this one. Beyond this justification, Gates has to defend the requested figure out of simple adherence to his word: he told the service secretaries and chiefs that they'd get their savings back if they found fat to cut; if those dollars instead come out of the topline, just wait and see the foot-dragging when the next round of service-identified "efficiency" cuts comes around.

But just as expected, people aren't happy: conservative commentators, China hawks, the defense industry, and most of their buddies on the Armed Services committees think that $553 billion is just an irresponsibly paltry sum, while peaceniks, budget hawks, and proponents of other vulnerable spending programs are tearing their hair out at the seeming invulnerability of the defense budget. Add to that latter group the New York Times editorial board, which yesterday did its level best to oversimplify the issue and generally aid confusion and misunderstanding. On the subject of the EFV's termination, they wistfully bemoan the $3 billion already wasted -- as if anything the SECDEF might do could get it back. On the Joint Strike Fighter, they note a doubling of per-unit cost while arguing vaguely that "it should be cut back" -- apparently failing to absorb the irony of recommending action that will further increase cost-per-plane. And on the Osprey and Virginia-class sub, they argue for program cuts or cancellations based on oversimplified and outdated operational rationales.

And that's not even the worst part. Try this one on for size:
The Pentagon needs to jettison the ancient formula that guarantees each service its accustomed share of taxpayer dollars. Air and sea power that can be readily mobilized are vital to American security. But for a decade, the Army and the Marines have been pushed to their limits while the Navy and the Air Force have looked for ways to stay useful and justify their budget shares. 
Updating the formula to reflect a more realistic division of labor would wring significant savings from the Air Force and the Navy while protecting the Army and the Marines from the multiple combat tours that have strained service members and their families over the last decade.
I hear a lot about this "ancient formula," but I've never had it adequately explained to me. That said, let's stipulate that there is such a formula for ensuring each service gets its annual share of the budgetary pie; might it not be the case that this makes good sense? After all, you can't turn the entire Defense Department around on a dime, as Secretary Gates has learned, nor should it be easy to do so. This isn't just a matter of institutional interests and inertia  (though those are at play, too), but of preventing the crises of today from fundamentally destabilizing the kind of steady-state modernization that underpins the U.S. military's global freedom of action and deterrent functions.

But back to the editorial -- let's look at exactly what the two paragraphs above really say: "Air and sea power that can be readily mobilized are vital to American security... [but] a more realistic division of labor would... protect the Army and Marines from... multiple combat tours." Uh, what? This is really almost impenetrable. Presumably the writers mean to say that budget shares should more realistically reflect the actual intra-Departmental division of labor over the last several years (not "a more realistic division of labor"), and that cuts to the Navy and Air Force's budgets would allow for an increase in land forces end-strength and result in extended home-station dwell-time for Army and Marine units. But there are a number of very significant problems with this line of reasoning.

  1. The suggestion that the Navy and Air Force have had to "look for ways to stay relevant and justify their budget shares" is based on two serious misunderstandings: the first is that air and sea forces' true value should be found in tactical utility in combat rather than strategic deterrent and guarantor of access, and the second is that "looking for ways to stay relevant" is a bad thing rather than an important driver of institutional adaptation. 
  2. Calls to shift funding from expensive, sophisticated, long lead-time weapon systems to personnel accounts and other investments in land power force structure fail to acknowledge that high-end technical solutions cannot simply be purchased when needed, but are the end-result of sustained investment in the defense industrial base and commitment to developmental technologies.
  3. Further end-strength increases will put additional strain on an already troubled recruiting base and increasingly challenge the Army and Marine Corps to build soldiers and Marines from suboptimal raw material. On top of that, absent significant reform to Tri-Care and military benefits, expansion of the active-duty rolls will carry with it the very same long-term fiscal commitments that are helping to cripple serious efforts at deficit reduction in the domestic portion of the federal budget.
  4. If you listen to senior leaders in both the Defense Department and the broader United States government, manpower-intensive land wars aren't on anybody's top-five list of efficacious foreign policy solutions. U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan are about to start coming down, so what sense does it make to start budgeting for a larger Army and Marine Corps?

This editorial exhibits the very worst tendencies of both budget-cutters and budget-growers: bath math, bad reasoning, and an absence of strategic judgment.

Things aren't as simple as any of the factions in the budget debate want to make them. Beware of those who bring math or strategy, but not both.

Maybe there are Libyan aircraft in Malta to freak out about, but this ain't the one

If you're tracking the Libya story, there have been a lot of reports of defectors heading to Malta (specifically defectors from the air force). NPR put an AP story up on their site about two hours ago that's headlined "Libya Air Force Jets in Malta, Pilots Seek Asylum"; two pictures are attached, one of which does in fact show a Mirage jet with Libyan air force tail insignia.

The other photograph, though, shows a Eurocopter AS332L1 civil-variant Super Puma with commercial markings. The caption reads like this:
Two Libyan helicopters sit on the ground after arriving at Malta's international airport, Monday Feb. 21, 2001. The helicopters reportedly arrived carrying seven people, with who [sic] claimed to be French.
Here's the thing: they probably are French.

The two helos pictured, Super Pumas with tail numbers F-GHOY and F-GYSH, are registered to the French company Heli-Union (as you can see from the paint job), which provides support to drilling interests. They've been photographed in the past in both Malta and France. Here's a photo of F-GYSH to which the photographer has appended the comment "Final destination TIP/HLLT Libya."

That's Tripoli International Airport. Which makes sense, because Heli-Union has a subsidiary in Libya (pdf).

So yeah, these helos were probably evacuating oil and gas folks -- almost definitely Westerners, one would expect -- and had the ill fortune to land around the same time as a couple of Libyan military aircraft.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Does the 2011 National Military Strategy fail to satisfy the requirements of U.S. law?

As you may have noticed, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff released the 2011 update to the National Military Strategy a week ago today. I've seen it asserted that the Chairman is required to review the strategy every two years, but only required to publish a new one when changes are necessary; I can't locate that provision in the law, but I might be missing something. (I've been going through Title 10 over the last couple of days. Don't ask. 10 U.S.C. Sec. 153 (d): "Not later than February 15 of each even-numbered year, the Chairman shall submit to the [Congressional defense committees] a report containing the results of a comprehensive examination of the national military strategy.") In any event, this is the first NMS to be published since 2004.

I sat down and read the NMS the morning it came out, and I'll admit that I wasn't terribly impressed. But I didn't write about it, because frankly there's just been too much going on. And that may be exactly what the Chairman and the SECDEF were hoping: that everyone would be too busy to really look at the thing. Not only does it suffer from many of the same failings as the National Security Strategy (namely: failure to actually be a strategy), but it seems to me that it fails to satisfy the statutory requirements that bear on the CJCS. So I'm going to go through the bit of the U.S. Code that specifies what "each report on the examination of the national military strategy" must include and just take a quick glance at whether or not that happened. You with me?
(A) Delineation of a national military strategy consistent with [the NSS, the QDR, and the SECDEF's required reports]
Ok, yes, we have a document called "the National Military Strategy." I'll let lawyers decide whether its not actually being a strategy is a violation of the spirit of the statute, but we'll give them a pass on this one.
(B) A description of the strategic environment and the opportunities and challenges that affect United States national interests and United States national security.
There is definitely a section entitled "Strategic Environment" (section II, page 2). Let's ignore the fact that it's merely a restatement of the same specious vagaries about "demographic trends," "nonstate actors," "weapons of mass destruction," "global commons," etc. that appear in every "strategy" or operating concept published by the Department; we'll give 'em two for two so far.
(C) A description of the regional threats to United States national interests and United States national security.
This wholly absent from the document. Threats are simply not discussed outside such vague assertions as "states with weak, failing, and corrupt governments will incresingly be used as a safe haven for an expanding array of non-state actors that breed conflict and endanger stability" -- and that's in the "strategic environment" section. The NMS does deal with several geographic regions individually in the section detailing the third "National Military Objective," to strengthen international and regional security. But this bit lays out U.S. goals and priorities in each of the regions, not "a description of regional threats."
(D) A description of the international threats posed by terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and asymmetric challenges to United States national security.
Again, there is no description of these threats, but merely an assertion of them as a feature of the "strategic environment." The word "asymmetric" is used only once in the document, in the context of desired U.S. space capabilities: "Joint Forces will... maintain symmetric and asymmetric capabilities to deter adversaries [in space]," which doesn't even make any damn sense. (What is an "asymmetric capability"? Here I feel compelled to paraphrase Conrad Crane and note that there are only two types of warfare: asymmetric and stupid. But asymmetric capabilities? Can anyone give me an example?)
(E) Identification of United States national military objectives and the relationship of those objectives to the strategic environment, regional, and international threats.
As noted above, the NMS does identify four "National Military Objectives": 1) Counter violent extremism; 2) Deter and defeat aggression; 3) Strengthen international and regional security; and 4) Shape the future force. It's not clear to me that the document identifies or explains "the relationship of those objectives to the strategic environment, regional, and international threats," seeing as threats are basically not identified at all, but this provision of the law could probably have been written more clearly.
(F) Identification of the strategy, underlying concepts, and component elements that contribute to the achievement of United States national military objectives.
This is what the entire middle section of the document is meant to accomplish, but it's a pretty poor show. I don't see a lot about underlying concepts (except "leadership") or component elements, or really much of anything beyond "this is what we want to do" without a whole lot of detail on the "how."
(G) Assessment of the capabilities and adequacy of United States forces (including both active and reserve components) to successfully execute the national military strategy.
If I've never read a National Military Strategy in my life and I'm trying to imagine what it should look like from reading the law, this is the section I'm going to focus on. Strategy -- as we've discussed many times -- is about means, ways, and ends. Objectives, of course, are the ends. Concepts of operation and force employment are the ways. Capabilities and resources are the means. You work backwards from what you need to accomplish (ends), figure out the mechanisms through which those things are accomplished (ways), and then identify and budget for the necessary tools (means). So yeah, an assessment of the adequacy of your capabilities is pretty freakin' important to understanding the risk you accept when implementing a particular strategy. More on that in a second.
(H) Assessment of the capabilities, adequacy, and interoperability of regional allies of the United States and or other friendly nations to support United States forces in combat operations and other operations for extended periods of time.
Probably shouldn't shock us that there's no assessment of partner forces' ability to support U.S. operations when there's not even an assessment of U.S. capabilities.
(3)(A) As part of the assessment under this subsection, the Chairman, in conjunction with the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of the unified and specified commands, shall undertake an assessment of the nature and magnitude of the strategic and military risks associated with successfully executing the missions called for under the current National Military Strategy.
This is a separate subsection of the bit that pertains to the NMS; it's not something that is mandated for inclusion in the report, but a task the Chairman is expected to perform as a part of the broader review process. There's nothing that says he has to put the results of this assessment down on paper, but it sure would be nice to know, huh? Of course, in order to perform an assessment of strategic and military risk vis-a-vis the current strategy, you have to have a real strategy, right? You have to have clearly outlined missions, right? As should be pretty plain by now, that seems to be a bridge too far.

So what did we get? Well, we got plenty of meaningless boilerplate like "Leadership is how we exercise the full spectrum of power to defend our national interests and advance international security and stability." We got a restatement of a whole bunch of vague principles of national security and military force. We got a paean to the power of the interagency. We got a potentially meaningful hint that the outgoing Chairman sees a need to rebalance our military posture in favor of traditional missions and away from the sort of manpower-intensive land wars represented by current operations. But we didn't get real strategy. Here's how the document concludes:
This strategy is derived from a thorough assessment of the strategic environment and how to advance our national interests within it. It describes how the Joint Force will redefine America’s military leadership by enabling whole-of-nation approaches to address national security challenges. It calls for a broad portfolio of leadership approaches – facilitator, enabler, convener, and guarantor - to address problems that are truly international in nature. Our leadership approaches magnify the capabilities we possess, making them just as important to assuring favorable outcomes. Our ability to lead will determine how well we advance America’s interests through this strategic inflection point.
Um, right. So we use leadership to assure our interests. Which we advance to assure our leadership. Uh, and so on.

Congress should really be outraged about the whole thing. Presumably they enact laws for a reason, and they should either insist upon their satisfaction or take them off the books. Do I think this disappointingly shallow public-relations document represents the entirety of the U.S. military's efforts to think through global challenges, develop appropriate capabilities, and do the real scutwork of strategy development? No, I don't. But the weakness of this statutorily-mandated review is emblematic of a bigger, more meaningful failure in that regard, and the failure of Congress to perform due oversight helps to perpetuate that failure.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rumblings in Gabon

In the last couple of days, some of the Africa-based/interested reporters I follow on Twitter have mentioned growing signs of political turmoil in Gabon (just do a search, you'll find them).

Since Ink Spots friend Carl Prine asked what I thought might be Egypt/Tunisia implications for sub-Saharan Africa, I thought I would dig around a little bit and see what I would find. I haven't yet seen any implication for the current political deadlock in Cote d'Ivoire but I'll be writing about that for Valentine's Day.

Gabon, you might recall, is a small, oil rich, former French colony in West Africa. Libreville has long been home to the Bongo family. Omar Bongo died a couple years ago and his son Ali, was "elected" President.

This blog post (from Accra) explains what has been going on in Gabon. In short, the opposition leader, André Mba Obame, who is thought to have won the 2009 elections that permitted Bongo Jr. to replace his father, has sworn himself in President (January 29th). He took refuge in the Libreville offices of the UN Development Program's (the article says it's the party's HQ but on further checking it's UN offices, see the links below). Security forces violently tried to take over the compound and thousands of students (and citizens) have taken to the streets, not just in the capital but around the country on several occasions since then. In addition, a private TV station was ordered to shut down and the opposition party was disbanded.

As the website Global Voices explains:
Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets of the nation’s capital, Libreville, on January 29th, and faced violent suppression from Ali Bongo’s troops. Protests have spread to other cities, and the crackdown against them has become increasingly fierce. Protests planned for February 5th and 8th were both suppressed with tear gas. At this point, it’s unclear whether protesters will be able to continue pressuring the government, or whether the crackdown has driven dissent underground.

Anyway, these stories (here, here, here) describe what has been going on there. But to summarize: the Bongo family is thought to have stolen 8% of the country's GDP but while oil revenues have made a small group of people rich, 30% of the country's 1.5 million people still live in poverty, and it's clear that Bongo Jr. likely didn't win. He retains the support of France, major French investors such as Vincent Bollore --yes, the Bollore who lent Sarkozy his yacht so that the President could go on vacation.

I went looking around for stories in the French speaking media but was unsuccessful (nothing in Le Monde, nothing in Jeune Afrique, same thing from Radio France Internationale). One of the articles I linked to above mentions an interview with Bollore which basically says he supports Bongo and stability in Gabon (and that democracy there provides a basis for foreign investment). One of the articles mentions there was a small protests in Paris to support the people of Gabon. Unlike for both Tunisia and Egypt, senior French officials--that is the French Foreign Minister for Tunisia who used a Ben Ali jet while she was on vacation there during the protests and the Prime Minister, Francois Fillon who used a Mubarak jet in Egypt--have not yet been re-exposed for their scandalous friendship with Gabon's leadership but I think that's a matter of time.

I couldn't find much else but keep a tab on this page, it will be interesting to see whether the people of Gabon are inspired by their Tunisian and Egyptian sisters and brothers.

Friday, February 11, 2011

If I meet Burt Reynolds, I'll shake his hand for you*

It's official: Ink Spots is famous.

Ok, not really. But Danger Room is famous, and they linked over here, so we're getting pretty good play this afternoon. Noah Shachtman emailed me a couple of weeks ago, right after I'd inaugurated the "Learn to Speak Pentagon" series, and asked if I would write a "Pentagonese primer" for them. So I kicked around a few ideas and threw something together... and then Egypt happened, and the defense blogosphere's attention justifiably shifted elsewhere. In the meantime, I've held off on Lesson 3 until Danger Room had a chance to run the piece, but it's up now and I don't want you guys to think I've abandoned the theme.

Go read: "Pentagonese: A Primer"

I went through two versions of this to hone in on the sort of thing Noah was looking for, so here's the stuff he didn't use as a kind of bonus DVD.

Downrange ­– An operational theater or combat zone. Often synonymous with “the ‘Box,” or “the Sandbox” (though these beachier forms can be Iraq-specific, too). Never paired with a specific geographic reference, so you won’t hear “downrange in Afghanistan.”
  • “We have to reschedule the VTC next month – the general’s going downrange.”
Fidelity and Granularity – This pairing illustrates the characteristic Pentagonese phenomenon of using two distinct and relatively uncommon standard English words to mean the same very specific thing – in this case, “details.”
  • “No sir, we, uh, we don’t have enough fidelity on that to give you a good answer at this time” or “we need to get a bit more granularity on the resources piece before we can move out on this.”
Kinetic – Lethal, violent, traditional. Contrasted with “non-kinetic actions,” a neologism coined to better elaborate the sort of mindset shift encapsulated by the publication of a handbook entitled “The Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapons System.” (Money is a decidedly non-kinetic “weapons system.”) This is the part with the shooting.
  • “We can dominate the kinetic fight, but if we can’t protect the people, we’ll lose.”
Metrics – What DoD uses to assess situations, evaluate activities, and measure progress. Metrics are used to demonstrate rigor and obtain granularity. “Munitions expended in the calendar month” might be a metric – so too might something fuzzier and more subjective like “districts under government control.” Typically reflective of the military’s efforts to make qualitative judgments through the collection of quantitative data, metrics must be established in order to populate stoplight charts.
  • “We need to work up some metrics so we can show the Boss we’re doing something out here. Can’t you get me a number for the hearts and minds we’ve won, or something?”
OBE – “Overtaken by events;” no longer valid as a result of a change in circumstances. If you sent your wife an email about all the awesome things the two of you were gonna do together when you got out of the Army, and then you got stop-lossed the next day, you might say that communication was OBE. Exclusively employed in the Building as an acronym/initialization.
  • “All those recommendations you made are OBE, man – didn’t you read the paper this morning?”
Offline ­– A mystifyingly general term meaning something like “in another venue.” Usually part of a suggestion to expedite a meeting by “taking this up offline.” If you’re on a VTC, offline could mean on the phone; if you’re in a conference room, it may mean a one-on-one sidebar. Contrary to expectations, offline never means “not on the internet.”
  • “I don’t want to hold up the group, so me and Colonel Jones can talk offline.”
Out of my lane – Beyond the limits of one’s expertise or area of professional responsibility. Almost always employed as a sort of disclaimer when weighing in on something you don’t know a damn thing about.
  • “I’m just a dumb infantry guy, so this is out of my lane, but if you ask me we ought to be getting out in front of this Egypt thing.”
Optics – How something looks to outside observers. Rarely considered by personnel in the field; when you come to The Building, before you do anything you’ve got to be aware of the optics. “How it looks” in regular civilian-speak.
  • “This thing is sensitive on the Hill, so before we announce anything we’ve got to sit down and think about the optics.”
Scratch the itch – Yet another of the military’s overused idiomatic expressions, this one is pretty self-explanatory: to satisfy a stated need. Notable more for frequency of use than for being particular obscure or nonsensical.
  • “We’ve got a few outstanding media requests on this, so I need to you to go ahead and scratch the itch and put this one to bed.”
TTPs – Tactics, techniques, and procedures. A collection of methods for performing a particular task. TTPs are a way of doing business – they’re how doctrinal principles are translated into action.
  • “If you want to get a look at TTPs and best practices for end-running Congress on budgets, pay attention to what the SECDEF’s been up to.”
* Anyone who can tell me the genesis of this title without Googling wins a free Ink Spots t-shirt** and my everlasting admiration.

** We don't actually have t-shirts.

UPDATE: Wave to the Mother Jones readers, too. Adam Weinsten linked over here in a post highlighting the most hilariously awesome command information video of all time -- so rife with jargon that I was actually laughing within the first 30 seconds. Seriously, go watch it. It'll make your day.

You're so vain, you probably think this revolution is about you

Congratulations the Egyptian people! In the past few weeks, I and others occasionally lost faith that they would actually force the removal of Mubarak from power. Oh we, of little faith. This has been a most intriguing and inspiring course of events that every American should celebrate. Over 80 million people have set the stage for self-determination. Wow.

However, we all know not all Americans are going to celebrate this for what it is. This thirdling blogger isn't going to change the discourse on this topic, but I'm going to say it anyway: American pundits, this revolution isn't about you. For those elements on the left that want to declare victory for your side, note you had little influence on this. The USG's policies in the past month have been cryptic at best and while there may have been back channel discussion, I'd like to think it was to do the right thing. If that is the case, I'm not going to pat you on the back for siding with the right side of history.

Elements on the right get a rebuke, too. Enough of your scare mongering. If you truly understand and care for our nation's forefathers, then you would immediately see they would celebrate this. A whole peoples taking their future out of the hands of a despot and placing it within their own. Might Islamist groups be part of the new government? Sure - if that's what the Egyptian people want. It is not for us to say what government Egyptians should have and to think otherwise is arrogance in the extreme and despotism from without.

So no, this revolution isn't about you. It's about the Egyptian people and their freedoms. America's role should be to step in when asked for assistance and otherwise let these emancipated peoples choose how they want to be governed. It is what we demanded for ourselves 235 some odd years ago. Their path ahead will be difficult enough without foreign interference. Do not make this about you, because it's about them and their courage and their freedom. Give them this day, celebrate their victory, and wish them your best. It is the right thing to do.

Karl Hack on Malaya and counterinsurgency

After last week's post and the brief discussion that followed it, this could not have come along at a better time: "Setting the Record Straight on Malayan Counterinsurgency Strategy: Interview with Karl Hack" at Small Wars Journal.

I hate to keep hinting at a big, earth-shaking post that I keep not writing, but this bit in particular just absolutely nails something that I think is absolutely essential to understanding COIN in a broader context and to talking and writing about it in an accurate, honest way:
Yet for counterinsurgency, people do sometimes ask ‘what is the one key ingredient’? The answer is, menus do not work like that, and neither did the Malayan Emergency. There were distinct phases or stages. I would argue that many other insurgencies are also likely to have distinct stages, and indeed that within a single insurgency different provinces or regions may be at different stages at any one time. It is quite possible that Helmand and Herat, Kandahar and Nangarhar, could simultaneously be at very different stages, requiring very different policies.
The question above, therefore, encompasses what I would like to dub the ‘temporal fallacy’ (that policies abstracted from one defining moment might be equally valid in qualitatively different phases), and the spatial fallacy (that different geographic regions will be in the same phase, so allowing a single strategy for a country no matter how fractured and diverse).
Much popular writing and most military messaging about counterinsurgency is guilty of both the termporal fallacy and the spatial fallacy; whether this is a matter of disingenuous manipulation of public and political opinion or innocent but misleading oversimplification is still something of an open question.

Monday, February 7, 2011

COIN rhetoric versus reality

Over the last several weeks, I've been giving a lot of thought to a post that I've mentally titled "Rehabilitating Counterinsurgency." To this point the argument only exists in my head and a few scribbled notes (those notes do include a colorful chart!), but it's premised on the assertion that years of conceptual, rhetorical, and semantic laziness have brought us to a place where we no longer remember what counterinsurgency is, what it's supposed to be, and what its limits are. We'll see if I can flesh it all out this week, but in the meantime I want to highlight a phenomenon that's central to this subject: the disconnect between COIN rhetoric and COIN reality.

In reading Spencer Ackerman's Washingtonian profile of Michele Flournoy this morning, a line that was likely intended as a sort of boilerplate throwaway jumped out and really stuck with me. Spencer tries to summarize the inside-baseball of the "rise of the COINdinistas" with this quick and simple explanation:
But [the counterinsurgents] argued that American strategy in both wars was overly militarized and needlessly provocative, creating what CNAS nonresident fellow and Petraeus brain-truster David Kilcullen termed “accidental guerrillas”: new insurgents fighting the United States because of its early, heavy-handed tactics, such as encircling entire Iraqi villages with concertina wire.
(I've added the emphasis in the last bit for reasons that should become obvious shortly.)

Now look at this excerpt from a paper produced by the U.S. Air Force Academy's Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership about tactical adaptation in the 3rd ACR (pdf):
The next challenge facing the 3d ACR was to isolate and kill or capture insurgents while minimizing civilian casualties. To this end, the 3d ACR built an earthen berm around the city [of Tal'Afar] to direct the flow of residents and those insurgents attempting to flee through one of only two checkpoints.
(Again, the emphasis is mine.)

Operation Restore Rights and H.R. McMaster's broader Tal'Afar campaign are considered a huge success story for counterinsurgency, almost a proof of concept for the then yet-to-be-published doctrine. So how can it be that precisely the same tactic that facilitated this success is viewed in another context as an example of the very tactics that inflame an insurgency?

The answer is simple: COIN is -- and always has been -- about more than the love n' hugs tactics, the restrictive rules of engagement, the development aid and reconstruction projects that pundits and politicians have so enjoyed highlighting. It follows that simplistic explanations about the root causes of insurgency like the one Ackerman offers above are frequently specious and even dangerous. There can be a significant, substantive difference between tactics that prioritize population control and those that prioritize popular favor; when a choice is required between the two, we must be confident that the choice is informed by a demonstrable relationship between effects and mission accomplishment -- not simplistic bumper-sticker slogans like "the population is the prize."

One can fairly contend that population control measures and excessive violence in the early days of the Iraq war contributed to the recruitment of "accidental guerrillas;" I don't contest this. But it seems plausible to me -- and I'm no expert on this -- that insurgents were created not simply by the use of heavy-handed tactics, but because they were employed to no productive end. Perhaps if that concertina wire had helped U.S. troops to more effectively regulate levels of violence, those "accidental guerrillas" would have stayed home... or joined the ISF, like they presumably did in Tal'Afar. Maybe U.S. forces inflamed the insurgency in 2003 and 2004 because we didn't know what the hell we were trying to do in Iraq, not just because we were doing it badly. And maybe the very same things that constitute "doing it badly" when executed in a strategic vaccuum -- concertina wire, cordon-and-searches, kill-and-capture raids, use of intensive supporting fires -- can in fact be extraordinarily useful tactics when employed as part of a considered, cohesive, integrated campaign plan.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Primum non nocere

Up until about a year ago, I used to like to go to panel discussions and other such talks about Afghanistan. They were downers, but there was still a lot of hope. Not so much any more. They are usually so bloody depressing that I have a hard time sitting through them. How many panels do you need to attend to figure out that we haven't been doing things right and have no plans of doing so in the future? I had to tap out.

Until this week, but not because it was about Afghanistan in particular. On Thursday, USIP hosted a panel on the nexus of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) and SSR (Security Sector Reform) in Afghanistan. SSR is a pet topic of mine recently and USIP's current program on the topic is just tops. The confluence of DDR and SSR is an interesting topic in the defense world - one that is underdeveloped yet growing (the best primer out there was by Sean McFate at NDU). It was a good panel and well moderated to keep on time and topic (if you're ever on a panel moderated by Bob Perito, stick to your alloted time or he'll make you stick to it).

The major takeaways from the panel is that we (the U.S., NATO and Afghanistan) have not done DDR or SSR well and it doesn't appear that we intend to change that any time soon. Specifically, DDR was not even mentioned in the Bonn Agreement and when it was begun, it focused exclusively on parties to the Bonn Agreement, not now-labeled Illegal Armed Groups in the south. The program's only useful output was the reduction of some heavy weapons from the country, although it seems that most of these were unserviceable anyway. Metrics were focused on outputs, such as weapons removed, instead of looking deeply at the program's objectives, which were essentially unmet. Another interesting tidbit from this talk was that the senior leaders of the militias landed in the government and many soldiers landed in some sort of government or government-sanctioned group, but lots of soldiers ended up with nothing to do and most of the middle leadership were essentially excluded from everything. Not a very effective DDR program.

There were more details of past and current DDR initiatives, which were fairly separated from SSR, and the video is up so you can catch it all if that's your thing. There is also a paper coming out in the next couple of months by one of the panelists, Caroline Hartzell, which I'm looking forward to reading. This event did raise a bigger question in my mind, which has been plaguing me on other topics. We've bollixed this up for years and we continue to bollix it up. Here is my question: if we're not doing it right and we plan to continue doing what doesn't work, should we be doing it all?

The title of this post is from the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. In this regard, war is always harmful to some people, but should nations undertake programs and actions that harm their own mission? Is it possible that doing nothing would be better? I'm not speaking of the Afghan War writ large, but the programs therein. Our DDR policies aren't helping our mission at all and is hindering it in many cases, so should we doing it still? Same, same with police training. Or opium eradication. They all seems like things we should do, but what we are doing is counterproductive to our goals. It strikes me that maybe a better course of action would be to do nothing. Obviously, analysis would have to be done (some might ask why we'd start doing that now...) on the likely effects of doing nothing, but in some cases it seems like the apt course of action.

Afghanistan is becoming a tragic and elongated episode of Yes, Minister, where the leadership is some sort of coterie of Sir Humphrey Applebys. "[W]e don't measure our success by results, but by activity. And the activity is considerable." This is not to say that program and mission leaders aren't doing their best to meet their objectives, but we're putting a greater premium on doing things - anything, really - because it makes it look like we're trying. That's just not good enough. This war is costing everyone too much in everything to keep going down this path. There doesn't appear to be anything that will change the fact that we're going to be there for some time to come. But we need to start looking at what we're doing, what we're spending time and money on, and stop undertaking activities that hinder our ability to attain some modicum of success (however ill-defined that is). We need to start ensuring that we're first doing no harm.

Much ado about nuclear nothings

The Telegraph has caused quite a stir by reporting that the New START Treaty negotiations require the United States to provide information on Trident II Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) that the U.S. sells to the United Kingdom. Some folks have been up in arms about this, believing it to be a slight to our partners in the Special Relationship. While it seems like a pretty dickish move by the U.S., I don't see it that way.

Firstly, the language of the agreement in the document linked to by the Telegraph only requires the U.S. to report to Russia on Trident II missiles while they are in U.S. hands. Essentially, the treaty requires the U.S. to report and allow inspection of all offensive arms produced and maintained by both parties, including SLBMs. We have to report on each Trident II we make - why on earth would the missiles we make for the UK be exempt from that? I'm sure the Russians would just accept an "Oh those? Those are for the UK. Don't worry about them and please don't look at or count them." I know this is surprising, given U.S.-Russian relations over the decades, but something tells me that the treaty would be completely useless unless we gave them the details on our export missiles. Same, same for when the UK returns them to us for destruction at the end of their life cycle. We can't have the treaty at all (the overall effect of which is still up for debate) without this clause. Which was, apparently, in the 1991 START Treaty. There is no change in policy on this.

Our UK readers are probably thinking, "That's all fine and good for you, but what about us?? This screws us!!" Not exactly. Your new government has changed its policy on keeping its stockpile a secret and is moving towards increasing transparency on its nuclear weapons and policies. Since the UK uses SLBMs exclusively and you have a known number of submarines, the whole world knows you can only keep 160 missiles in operation at any given time. You also make your own warheads, so each missile's yield is still your state secret and not something we can know or share with the Russians. This clause doesn't change what the world knows about your arsenal, where it is, or how it may ever be used.

Bottom line is everyone needs to calm down. This hasn't changed anything that has already been ongoing for 20 years and no one's security is degraded by it. It sounds like the U.S. is screwing the UK, but a few minutes of reading reveals that we're not. The Special Relationship may not be as special as it used to be, but we're not stabbing you in the back. Well, in the New START Treaty at least. The other takeaway? Never take anything the Telegraph reports at face value. Ever.

UPDATE: John Noonan pointed out to me via Twitter that I was erroneously referring to the recent treaty as START II when New START is the appropriate term. Apologies for the inaccuracy.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday quick-hits

There is a lot of stuff to talk about right now, and we've been largely absent from the conversation. Egypt is at the top of the list, of course. I'm reticent about engaging in the sort of sudden-expertism that's so prevalent in the blogosphere and on cable news, but there are certainly angles to this story that we can meaningfully weigh in on (for me it's American security assistance to Egypt and the broader U.S.-Egypt mil-to-mil relationship), and I hope to get to that in the near future. But for now I'm mostly focused on the immediate struggle against the Old Enemy (and late-afternoon drinks with some defense-blogging luminaries), so I just want to hit you with a few brief notes.

1. Read Jason's tank-wonk piece on what changing Army org structure means for armor culture and the future employment of tanks. Then read this excellent (if incidental) companion story in Aviation Week by Friend of Ink Spots Paul McLeary, Andy Nativi, and David Eshel: "Future of Main Battle Tank Looks Secure." Good contributions to the never-ending "Is Armor Dead?" debate.

2. Check out this review of the new Rumsfeld book by Bloomberg defense guy Tony Capaccio. Note this excerpt in particular:
“What was unique about Iraq was that the intelligence community reported near total confidence in their conclusions,” Rumsfeld writes. “Their assessments appeared to be unusually consistent.”
Now get in the way-back machine and go read Eli Lake in The New Republic in September 2002. This is six months before the Iraq war started, remember. Money paragraph:
But this is all mere speculation, because there is no NIE for Iraq and there probably won't be one anytime soon. The reason for this omission is that the Iraq hawks running the Pentagon and staffing the office of the vice president long ago lost faith in the CIA analysis. So they set up their own network for analyzing and collecting intelligence regarding Iraq and have been presenting it to the president themselves. The result is that instead of Bush receiving one assessment of the facts on the ground, he has for months been receiving two--one (more cautious) from the CIA and the other (more optimistic) from the Iraq hawks. As one former CIA analyst says, "Not since Vietnam has there been as deep a divide over intelligence as to enemy capabilities as you are seeing now in Iraq." The administration's confusion on Iraq, in other words, goes even deeper than its critics understand. It's not just that different factions in the administration disagree about U.S. policy vis-a-vis Saddam. They disagree about the fundamental facts on which that policy should be based.
The whole article is worth reading -- it's a thoughtful look at how the intersection of intelligence and policy is fraught with all sorts of problems of ideology, perception, and so on. Great, great work from someone I frequently butt heads with. Oh yeah, and Rumsfeld: face.

3. And finally, the Most Disingenuous Quote of All Time award goes to the anonymous defense industry flack who told Politico's Jen DiMascio (re: foreign military sales to Egypt)
“We do this because we are told by the U.S. government it’s in the U.S. national interest,” a defense industry official said, referring to U.S. sales abroad. “If at any time it stops becoming so, ... it’s not too hard to say we’d be on board with that.”
Um, riiiiight. That's why there's no Lockheed guy in Baghdad lobbying MNF-I and the Iraqi MoD that the F-16 is the best solution to Iraq's air-defense needs, right? They're just siting at their desks in Bethesda waiting for an order to come in, then executing on USG requests to support the national interest? Sure.

Hey, "national interest" can be a really complex mix of things, and it can include jobs and economic strength and industrial base health and a whole bunch of other stuff aside from military-strategic concerns. I get that. But it is just totally obscene for arms manufacturers to suggest that they only sell systems abroad "because [they're] told by the U.S. government it's in the U.S. national interest" -- with the further implication that they're not out ahead of the USG pimping their stuff as the best solution for everybody involved. Sure, the defense industry just fills orders as a public service, with the almost not-even-worth-mentioning side benefit that it helps to sustain their business and increase revenue. Bullshit.

And on that happy note, enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Old Tanker Syndrome Outbreak

Bust out the ointments, because we're having another rash of Old Tanker Syndrome. Adam Elkus brought this Military Review article to my attention last week, penned by an Army major, lamenting the demise of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). In it, Major Walters states that the Army has lost its ability to conduct conventional combined arms operations at the hands of a myopic focus on COIN doctrine, that reconnaissance is pretty much dead across the full spectrum of operations, and that transition of the 3d ACR to a Stryker Brigade Combat Team is a terrible decision because there are no longer reconnaissance forces above the brigade level.

Let me start this by admitting that this transition from ACR to an SBCT hurts to every cavalryman. It was the last of the great combined arms cavalry units, each ACR facing transition to something else as well as the total loss of Division Cavalry Squadrons (DIV CAV). It sucks and it hurts. Especially as modular brigades are essentially based on cavalry task organizations so it's not fun to watch the model get canned. After we acknowledge that most of the concern over this move is about pride, let's move on to facts.

First, for those that don't know, ACRs were designed to be the forward eyes and ears of corps formations. Divisions had their own squadrons (I was lucky enough to serve in one of these before they were transitioned to Armored Reconnaissance Squadrons (ARS)) and brigades had their own troops. But modularity changed all of that. DIV CAVs went away, because modularity decentralized operations to the brigade level. Brigades lost their Brigade Reconnaissance Troops, but gained ARSs - putting the preponderance of reconnaissance forces in the hands of brigade commanders. As they were becoming the central fighting force of the Army - related to by not exclusively because of operations in Iraq - it made sense to beef up that colonel's ability to look out forward or to secure his own forces. There was some loss of capability in that DIV CAVs had tanks and APCs (Abrams and Bradleys), as well as mortars and two troops of Kiowa Warriors, whereas ARSs consist of APCs and wheeled vehicles (and mortars), but no organic rotary wing assets. They were given significant UAV support though.

So what is the effect of all of this? Brigades - the primary formation for battle command - have greater reconnaissance of their own, but those recon units had lesser ability to fight for their information, relying more on sensors. I don't see this as necessarily bad. While sensors are not the panacea that many advocates make them out to be, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (doctrinally the M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle) is a pretty robust platform that does not take hits all that well, but can destroy T-72 MBTs with a couple of its weapons systems. There are two other reasons that removing tanks from reconnaissance forces is a pretty good move from my perspective: logistics and the propensity to fight instead of fighting for information. Tanks have a heavy logistical footprint - something you may not want in the force you are sending kilometers ahead of your main body (this is in a conventional environment). They are great for many things, but the guzzle fuel at ridiculous rates and keeping them in the fight is difficult so far ahead. The second reason I don't have issue with this change is structure is that during the invasion of Iraq, while nominally conducting reconnaissance or security operations, my squadron was often just another maneuver unit. I think the cause of this was that we were able to fight like a small brigade so we were used in that way. A lighter force ensures your ARS does not become decisively engaged and actually performs its primary mission.

All of this is a bit of a diversion from the main topic, but the point is that while there are changes to how we've done cavalry business, those changes may actually be good for the force. To suggest that only 3d ACR can provide decentralized reconnaissance and security at the tactical and operational levels across the spectrum of conflict is ludicrously unfounded. To this point, I ask the question: where was 3d ACR during the invasion of Iraq? To no fault of their own (this is not to be taken as a swipe at this great unit) they were in the ocean trying to get to the fight. The invasion force's principle headquarters was the corps level - the type of organization an ACR is designed to support. So a DIV CAV squadron did what they were intended to do. Granted, DIV CAVs don't exist anymore, but I think we can see that the Army is a highly flexible and capable organization that will figure out how to win battles and wars. It is erroneous to state only one type of unit can perform a certain function - that argument hasn't held up to scrutiny since the end of the Cold War. Especially with regard to a unit designed to support corps commands in an environment that places greater emphasis on decentralized brigade-level operations.

Which brings us to my main point. The Army is changing for a number of reasons and while challenging those changes is healthy, let's all make the right arguments. Major Walker does make some valid points in his article, but those points are lost amid the same tired arguments against organizational change. My advice to the Armor community (of which I am regretfully no longer an active member) to stay relevant is to avoid the following worn out, specious statements unless you can actually show evidence that they are true:

  1. The Army has gained COIN experience at the cost of combined arms competencies. The fact that your last unit didn't do a Table XII does not support this - especially if your last line-unit assignment was in 2005. Even in COIN, units still maneuver, they call for fires and CAS, worry about logistics, and work in TF teams. This statement may actually be true, but anecdotes do not make it so. Show me the numbers.
  2. ARSs don't have enough manpower or dismounts. No they don't. You know what else didn't? ACRs, DIV CAVs, BRTs. As a scout platoon leader I was lucky if I ever had one dismount per BFV in the platoon and most often did not. For whatever reasons, the Army had problems getting enough guys trained to be dismounted scouts. It's somewhat understandable since doctrinally you're supposed to trust that SPC to call for fire and that takes time to do if you find the right guys capable of it. But manpower issues are not unique to ARSs - it's been a chronic problem in cavalry organizations. TOEs of ARS also give the force more reconnaissance than it used to have, even if more dispersed, so on the whole this statement is untrue.
  3. Armor is dead. It's not. The 3d ACR may go the way of the dodo, but the Army still has lots of tanks and lots of tankers who just love what they do. Gunnery skills may vary by unit, but those core skills are still out there. Don't bitch about armor being dead - start writing about how to make core tanking skills universal across the force. (And please don't even try this line with some of my former PSGs and 1SGs - they might disagree in a more vociferous manner than I am here).
Here's the bottom line: the Armor Corps is going through some changes, good and bad. If you're going to argue against it, make your case. I'm getting tired of old (in mindset, not age) tankers making the statement that COIN killed armor as prima facie. It sounds that it could be the case, but we don't know because there is no evidence available for or against. And it also ignores the realities of the current fight even it were true. Would these armor leaders suggest that tankers should have stayed home from the fight because it erodes their ability to wax North Korean mechanized forces? Because that's how I often read these types of critiques. A COIN focus was necessary for the force because that was the "strategy" proscribed by the command - so adapt and get in the fight. And stop worrying: the current COIN fights will wind down and you'll be doing your table XIIs soon enough. You'll adapt again - that's what cavalrymen do.

I apologize to some of readers who aren't so into the details of this discussion and for the length of this post. I'm sure that I missed some things and that many of you are going to smack me around in the comments. Which is good - let's actually have this discussion and stop with the bumper sticker slogans.

The suckiest DoD job that's not in The Suck

As we've discussed in the past, Geoff Morrell's job sucks. Now he has to put up with this (though admittedly it's coming from known anonymous-quoter and wild speculator-of-professional-motives-and-personal-feelings Michael Hastings):
No one knew whether McChrystal would keep his job; NATO officials had prepared two press releases — one for if he stayed, another for if he was fired. Even the military's top brass was kept out of the loop: Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, viewed as particularly untrustworthy by the Obama administration, was frantically calling NATO headquarters in Brussels to find out what was happening across the Potomac at the White House.
The emphasis, of course, is mine.

So now I've got to ask: WTF did Morrell ever do to you, White House? He's loyal to his boss, he tap-dances like crazy to pitch the administration's line to an adversarial press corps, he traded in a pretty good gig on the outside for this thankless bitch of a job, and he's "viewed as particularly untrustworthy"? If by "the Obama administration" you mean Tom Donilon and Mark Lippert, then I can buy this, but it seems like a pretty unfair and unsupportable characterization. Of course, Hastings won't support it -- anonymous sources, you see. Ethics and whatnot.


The rest of the piece is about how Petraeus has been boxing in the president and vice versa, etc etc, a whole bunch of stuff that seems basically true to me, and that there's already generally pretty broad (if speculative) consensus about. But I guess it's flashier stuff when you run it under this byline, so there you are.