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RealClearPolitics - Articles - Austin Bay

Last Build Date: Wed, 08 Apr 2009 00:20:00 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Secretary Gates' Defense Budget Proposals

Wed, 08 Apr 2009 00:20:00 -0600

The answer is no. Gates understands the importance of perseverance in war -- the weapon of spine, determination, will. Osama bin Laden committed many strategic blunders, but one of his greatest was underestimating American will. References to America "fleeing" from Somalia litter captured al-Qaida documents. Credibility of commitment -- the will to win -- is the psychological backbone of deterrence. A determined foe will scorn advanced weapons with near-magic capabilities if he believes you won't use them or that he can force you to fight on a battlefield where the weapons are not decisive. He wagers his will to win far exceeds your comfy, bourgeois fecklessness. Credible commitment, Gates wrote, extends beyond winning the war of bullets to winning the war for long-term security, which requires maintaining "small war" capabilities, including counter-insurgency skills, local security training programs, rule of law projects, and economic and political stabilization capacities. In the strategic context of the 21st century, these are "systematic weapons" (strategic approaches and tactics not dependent on specific weapons systems, but rather people skills). They are potentially more decisive than the deadliest high-tech weapons system, for they are the means of restoring or promoting productive, just societies and thus creating future allies. The continuing tragedy is that the United States has yet to comprehensively integrate civilian entities and non-military governmental agencies into this process and thus never achieves "Unified Action" (Pentagonese for the synchronized use of diplomatic, military, information and economic power). The U.S. military is often the only agency on the ground. Infantrymen must act as diplomats in the morning, agricultural experts in the afternoon and cops after dark. Gates' article noted improvements in inter-agency cooperation, but -- with succinct resignation -- concluded that "military commanders will not be able to rid themselves of the tasks ... ." Gates' defense plan, presented this week, seeks to embed these capabilities but also thwart the most likely current and emerging conventional threats, what he called "the security challenges posed by the military forces of other countries -- from those actively hostile to those at strategic crossroads." "Most likely" sounds bland, but for Congress, defense industries and many military leaders, they are fighting words. Money isn't the only reason -- legitimate debate over what constitutes adequate preparation for a "war of national survival" is not only justifiable, but a duty. The reason the United States confronts terrorist threats is that America has the combat power to win conventional force-on-force fights, and that must be retained. Gates doesn't dispute that -- he argues for balance. Budgets are limited. Procuring the expensive "perfect" may be ideal, but acquiring sufficient numbers of "the better than good enough" is more rational. As a specific example, Gates bets that a sufficient number of F-35s assures U.S. air dominance in the coming decades, so the Pentagon can buy fewer F-22s. Now a battle over numbers flares. Gates says 187 F-22s. I estimate the right number is around 250. Hey, it's not quite thin air. It's based on attrition and operational estimates, and posits a U.S.-China clash over Taiwan. No one wants that conflict, but if it occurs sometime in the next 20 years we'll rue the day we didn't buy more F-22s. Gates, however, wins the bigger point -- America has less expensive systems that more than overmatch potential adversaries. Choices must be made, and Secretary of Defense Gates has made his. He has done so with an acute assessment of the long-term strategic benefits of assuring success in Iraq and Afghanistan complemented by a cool, intellectually defensible estimate of future requirements. His proposals now become a Washington budget warfighting[...]

Japan Rewrites North Korea's Script

Wed, 01 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Elements of the outline are so formulaic they reduce to a bully's checklist. Close the North Korea-South Korea border with an angry huff? Check. Arrest foreigners, preferably journalists, since that guarantees big-league media headlines? Check. Imply the communist regime has or will obtain nuclear weapons? Yes, thuggish hints galore. Brandish ballistic missiles? Indeed, but this time embellish the brandish by touting a launch window (April 4 to April 8), which signals to diplomats that tyrant Kim Jong-Il is confident his Taepodong-2 missile will work. Aim missiles at Japan? Check again, with a plus. If the missile demonstrates extended-range capabilities, then Kim's warheads could threaten U.S. territory. Call these selected scenes from a bully's dangerous script. No argument from me: North Korea is a weak bully, an impoverished, economically failed state that is also a jailed state run by a criminal regime involved in international terror, narcotics smuggling, nuclear proliferation, kidnapping and theft, and guilty of starving millions of its own people. North Korea is vulnerable to pressure from China. Likewise, Kim's regime has demonstrated an interest in its own survival. Both South Korea's "Sunshine Policy" (political and economic opening to the North) and the America's "python strategy" (the six-nation diplomatic process designed to denuclearize North Korea) have attempted to use the Kim regime's economic failure, susceptibility to Chinese pressure and desire to stay alive. With West Germany's expensive absorption of East Germany as an example, South Korea fears a North Korean collapse almost as much as it fears a war. Though "Sunshine Policy" cash lines Kim's criminal pockets, it also looks to a post-communist North needing infrastructure and skilled workers. These South Korean and U.S. endeavors have had some successes -- the incremental successes of diplomacy. The success is fragile, however. North Korea continues to pursue nuclear weapons. Halting that quest will take occasional Chinese political and economic pressure. Beijing believes Chinese economic progress requires access to the U.S. market. Beijing's bankers don't like the Obama administration's protectionist instincts -- its hard-line generals want to see Obama handle a crisis. For China, the current North Korean tantrum is a marketing tool and diplomatic test. Chinese pressure can be bought -- at a stiff price. Enter Japan. North Korea's dramatic bullies expect Japan to kvetch then roll over, but -- the uncomfortable point -- suddenly Japan has its own script, one with dark historical echoes for East Asia. In the first decades of the 20th century, the Japanese empire controlled Korea and swaths of contemporary China. Imperial Japanese forces, organized for offensive strikes, attacked Pearl Harbor and threatened Australia. Japan's post-World War II constitution forswore offensive capacities but permitted self-defense forces. This century, Japan's Self-Defense Forces, however, have become a potent, high-tech military. The tech includes Aegis destroyers armed with U.S.-made Standard 3 antiballistic missiles (ABMs) and ground-based Patriot PAC-3 ABMs. Two months ago. Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Forces announced that it was authorized to intercept North Korean missiles threatening Japanese land and sea territory. A defensive action? Yes, but indicative of subtle change. The Japanese are tired of North Korea's nuclear threats and worry that U.S. security promises are no longer rock solid. Barack Obama's opposition to ABMs increases their insecurity. The United States has Aegis ships near Japan and says it would intercept an "aberrant missile." This is measured language, carefully hedged -- but it doesn't fully reassure frightened Japanese. Japan is slowly acquiring offensive capabilities. Japan doesn't have aircraft carriers, but it has deployed a new "helicopter destroyer" that l[...]

Flash Mobs, Tea Parties and Tocqueville

Wed, 18 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

A flash mob organizer might send four accomplices a message like this: Paint yourself blue and show up at Sixth and Congress in two hours. In concept, the ability to communicate quickly and virally (think exponents -- each friend contacts four more friends, and those friends four more) quickly multiplies the number of blue-painted crazies unexpectedly crowding a downtown sidewalk. A couple of years ago, I overheard two mothers discussing a high school party that included a "flash mob-like" activity. A text message provided the insta-mob location. Alas, one of the moms had to drive her son to and from the mob scene. That's an old lesson reinforced: Even improvised anarchy may require parental logistical support. San Francisco, however, is fed up with flash mobs that leave litter. The San Francisco Chronicle assured its readers that the city's looming crackdown was not "political, ideological or cultural," but a Valentine's Day flash mob pillow fight left heaps of icky, sticky feathers for sanitation workers -- in other words, clean-up costs. The pillow brawl was billed as "the fourth annual," which indicates less flash and more coordination. Unless event organizers take responsibility for the trash, the city may shut the next one down. Here's the bumper sticker: Leave Trash? No Flash. One hundred seventy-nine years after the publication of his "Democracy in America," French aristocrat and author Alexis de Tocqueville remains the most insightful analyst of American political mores. Tocqueville didn't anticipate flash mob technology, but he understood them in America's context. He noted in volume two of his masterpiece that Americans formed "public associations" for many reasons, including entertainment. Freedom of association flows from the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of peaceable assembly. Tocqueville also noted that this freedom is "dangerous." In Europe, crowds signaled revolt. American democracy had produced a paradox, one that had a subtle but profound national security dimension. Tocqueville concluded the "liberty of association" had become "a necessary guarantee against the tyranny of the majority." Civil associations -- presumably even pillow fights -- facilitated political association, and free political association kept American democracy vibrant. Association was the "dangerous means" for thwarting the majority's "omnipotence." Tocqueville's observations and San Francisco's impending trash-bred quash of flash mobs led me to the Internet. I typed in "flash mob" and "tea party." The Google search produced an article on "anti-stimulus" protests occurring throughout the United States. Scores of demonstrations against congressional "pork" spending, congressional "earmark" spending, lack of oversight in bailout spending and congressional corruption (Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is a particular target) have sprung up around the United States. In some cases, several hundred people have gathered -- organized using "flash mob" communications techniques. The tea party protestors connect their contemporary gripes with the same anti-tax and anti-autocrat sentiment that spawned the Boston Tea Party of 1773. The Internet and cell phones are simply swifter couriers for delivering messages from bloggers and protest organizers, the rough contemporary equivalents of the "committees of correspondence" that linked American revolutionaries in the 18th century. Yes, hyper-left San Francisco insists it has no ideological issues with flash mobs ... but tyrants do. In 2006, Zimbabwe's military cracked down on cell phone companies because they provide "independent connections" (i.e., communications) inside and outside the country. This threatened "national security." The military wanted to limit the outflow of information on Zimbabwe's terrible internal conditions and deny demonstrators a tool for organizing. Tocqueville wrote: "It cannot be denied that the[...]

The North Korean Triangle

Wed, 11 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Kim presides over a criminal state and an economic disaster. Exporting missile technology to thugocracies like Iran earns Kim some hard cash. Rumors circulate that North Korean embassies occasionally sell heroin in order to pay their bills. Counterfeiting U.S. currency is another source of income that keeps Kim in caviar. North Korea's major export, however, is the threat of war magnified by potential nuclear holocaust. It's an international version of an alley bully's extortion game. Pay me off, the punk waving the pistol says, or I'll burn down your store. The analogy, however, only goes so far. North Korea's Kim waves a nuclear weapon, and if he uses it, he kills himself. Linked economies in a global recession already vex the Obama administration. The destruction of productive global hubs like Tokyo and Seoul would produce a depression. One of the largest employers in the Texas county I call home is headquartered in Seoul. An attack on Seoul is thus an attack on the Texas economy. Kim's extortion gambit targets this economic, political and technological linkage. The Bush administration put in place a long-term diplomatic "python" strategy designed to squeeze the nuke from Kim while avoiding thermonuclear immolation and economic havoc. The "six nation" forum, consisting of the United States, Japan, Russia, China, and South and North Korea, has produced mixed results. The North Koreans did destroy part of a key nuclear facility. The December 2008 six-nation meeting, however, broke up when North Korea refused to sign a nuclear verification protocol -- an act interpreted by many as a decision by Kim to wait and see if the Obama administration would drop this essential requirement. The Bush administration always backed its carrots with the implicit stick of military reprisal. North Korea's threat to shoot down South Korean civilian airliners and its plan to test a new long-range missile (couched as a satellite launch) follow the extortion script. The bellicose threats and display of weaponry are a probe of the Obama administration's commitment to allies and its willingness to protect American interests. North Korea has actually handed the Obama administration an opportunity to stand strong. U.S. and South Korea forces have quietly continued to conduct annual military exercises, which send the important signal that the United States is prepared to back up South Korea in the event of a North Korean attack. That's good. Japan, however, has exhibited the most spine. After North Korea announced a new missile test, Japan's defense ministry began deploying Aegis destroyers equipped with U.S.-made anti-missile missiles (anti-ballistic missiles) in the Sea of Japan. A spokesman for Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force said that its defense guidelines permit the interception of any missile (even one allegedly carrying a communications satellite) if it "appears likely" to land in Japanese territory, including territorial waters. The Japanese remember the 1998 North Korean missile test that "bracketed" their country. They are tired of the extortion racket, which is why they have invested in missile defense. The Obama administration should applaud Japan's decision to demonstrate its defensive capabilities. Of course, this amounts to an acknowledgement by Obama that missile defense makes sense diplomatically and militarily. The Obama administration needs to continue the six-nation talks. Bush's "python" strategy required the steady cooperation of China. Beijing may be angling for economic assurances that economic protectionists in the United States will resist. China has no interest in a war on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea and the United States are two of China's major trading partners. However, China also wants to make certain the United States doesn't erect trade barriers. President Obama says, "Buy American." Chin[...]

Obama Pulls Out, Polemically

Wed, 04 Mar 2009 00:20:00 -0600

Bush administration plans called for a phased transition from "more coalition security operations" to "fewer" based on the continuing, demonstrated improvement in the capabilities of Iraq's own military and police forces -- "rheostat" warfare is the term. Stabilizing, securing and extending the authority of Iraq's national government was an integral part of the process. As "fewer" combat operations nudged toward "zero," U.S. logistics and training support units would continue to assist Iraqi forces. "No" combat operations was qualified. U.S. forces in the region would remain on "strategic overwatch" -- a "night light" for the Iraqi government, particularly useful when confronting Iranian finagling. U.S. special operations personnel would also continue to assist the Iraqis in conducting anti-terrorist operations. Obama's "new plan" retains these elements. Yet the president argues he is fulfilling a campaign pledge to pull out quickly, a pledge that intentionally and insistently echoed Sen. Harry Reid's, D-Nev., declaration that the war in Iraq was lost. Reid's claim was stupid, nakedly partisan, deleterious to the war effort and demonstrably false. Iraq's January provincial elections are another indicator that the emerging victory continues. The London Times reported Baghdad's nightclubs are open for business, noting, "... the burgeoning nightlife in the Iraqi capital is the most dramatic evidence so far that this city is returning to its old, pre-war ways ... ." Booze, tarts and watering holes for Iraqi literati indicate progress of a sort -- one reporters can comprehend. I'll admit they were economic and social indicators I expected, for security and liberty permit the libertine, and security and liberty were the trend lines the likes of Harry Reid failed to see. In an ArenaUSA video filmed in May 2008, I pointed out another indicator of emerging victory in Iraq would be the return of Baghdad's nightlife. The surge of 2007 energized and solidified political, economic and military trends that began in 2004 -- positive trends from the perspective of Iraq and the United States -- trends like an improving Iraqi Army, economic recovery and increasingly capable Iraqi governmental institutions. The key, of course, is an elected, fully sovereign Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki did not officially form his democratically elected Iraqi government until May 2006. May 2009 is the third anniversary of the historic event, and in a historical lens -- especially given the security challenges represented by al-Qaida terrorists and Saddamist loyalists, as well as cultural and religious divisions exacerbated by terrorist actions -- the Iraqi government's accomplishments are extraordinary. Someday that will be recognized. Obama hinted at it in his speech. Obama's speech describing his "pullout" plan was artfully riddled with rhetorical hedges -- the type that provide diplomatic and military wiggle room. After mentioning inevitable "tactical adjustments" he said, "... this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners ... ." In March 2008, an Obama adviser, Samantha Power, told a surprised BBC interviewer that, no matter the campaign rhetoric, that's what we should expect once he was in office -- flexibility. Obama continues to pursue a sleight of hand, overseeing a phased transition that doesn't resemble the rapid pullout once demanded by his Democratic primary election supporters. Words, however, matter -- they have moral, psychological and political effects. Couching U.S. disengagement in the language of defeat is a mistake Obama must avoid, though this is precisely the kind of rhetorical flourish that thrills his radical supporters. The biggest mistake would be to disengage [...]

A Hotel in Babylon

Wed, 25 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600

"Sumer and Ur, home of Abraham ... Ninevah ... Mesopotamia -- perhaps the southern marshes -- as the source of the Agricultural Revolution? ... Alexander at Gaugamela ..."

Covering five or six millennia in a conversation over coffee is impossible, but with Iraqi history as the topic, that's roughly the time span available for comment and speculation -- and we gave it a go, fully aware I'd soon join yet another army operating in history's cradle.

Then he said: "Iraq should not make money by only selling oil. Agricultural Revolution? We grow food. We've water. And the country should be filled with tourists. There is so much to see, so much history. I have always wanted to own a hotel in Babylon. Maybe, you think, in 10 years?"

"Maybe," I nodded. His was a "what if" based on hope, not despair.

While on duty in Iraq, I visited Babylon twice -- Babil, the locals call it. I didn't go as a tourist on a whim, I was under orders, as a colonel from a higher headquarters visiting the headquarters of Poland's contingent. The Poles had an archeologist attached to their staff and -- when the briefings and planning sessions ended -- the Polish commander insisted we walk through the spectacular ruins with the archeologist as a guide.

On a stump of a hill overlooking ruins sits a palace playpen Saddam built for himself and his homicidal sons -- a work of cruel marble kitsch. I remember telling a soldier walking with me that that the place was a hideous eyesore, but Saddam, who claimed he was a new Nebuchadnezzar, couldn't leave Babylon alone. "Building it damaged the ruins. No way it didn't," I said.

"It's sure there," the soldier replied -- one of the most succinct architectural damnations I've ever heard.

"Yeah, so we deal with it, huh?" I said. Then, thinking of my Iraqi friend's entrepreneurial aspiration and knowing war zones aren't for tourists, I added, "When someone turns that palace into a luxury hotel, you'll know we're well on our way to victory."

That was 2004. It's 2009. In the last six months, as the Iraqi government solidifies its victory over al-Qaida's murderers, Saddam's thugs and Iranian-backed gangs, there are tantalizing signs Iraq's tourist industry has begun to revive. Earlier this month, Iraq re-opened its National Museum, which was damaged and looted when Baghdad fell in April 2003. Greece recently offered financial assistance and technical aid to help Iraqis restore and develop damaged archaeological sites and revamp museums. In late 2007 -- when the Iraqis knew they were winning -- the Iraqi minister of tourism said Iraq needed to increase its available hotel space by "three or four times" in order to be able to handle the rise in tourism he anticipated.

Ten years was my Iraqi friend's guess -- 2014. But based on market signals, it's time he contacted a commercial real estate agent in Babil.

Kosovo's Birthday Beyond the Balkans

Wed, 18 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600

But it didn't, not quite, not yet. For almost nine years, the phrase "resolving Kosovo's final status" served as diplomatic shorthand for determining if Kosovo would become a separate nation, remain part of Serbia or linger as a U.N.-EU-NATO protectorate. Cynics said it really meant "buy time and hope" because Kosovo is in the Balkans, where "final" often means "maybe, until the next bloodletting." In the wake of the Clinton administration's 1999 Kosovo War, an evident divide in Europe emerged between nations that considered Kosovo independence a foregone conclusion and those who feared the consequences of redrawing Balkan borders. Intervention to prevent genocide -- bless you. Securing peace in Europe -- good. Giving ethno-nationalist separatism -- even superficially -- NATO and EU imprimatur? Let's think about that. Serbia and Russia reject Kosovo's independence -- that divide runs deep and wide. Kosovo exposed other clefts, not quite so wide as those splitting Paris and London from Moscow and Belgrade, but also weighted with dangerous history. For example, NATO member Spain was wary of unilateral independence. Basque separatists in northern Spain demand their own nation and continue to detonate bombs. Romania and Greece opposed a "unilateral" Kosovo independence. They feared establishing a "separatist precedent" for spinning statelets from sovereign nations. The United States, Great Britain and France in turn argued that Kosovo would be a "one-off" (unique) situation. Last year, in a column published before Kosovo declared independence, I wrote that "Kosovo's dangerous conundrum could provoke a Cold War-in-miniature. Is this an alarmist fret given Europe's 21st century political, economic and information connections? ... Kosovo lies in the heart of the Balkans. Whatever its final status, violent Serb and Albanian diehards will not be satisfied. Recall that progressivist nabobs at the turn of the 20th century thought modern Europe had politically evolved beyond war. Then the Balkans erupted, World War I followed, then World War II, tagged by the long thermonuclear precipice of the Cold War." In concept, broad international and multilateral interests are supposed to dampen and ultimately absorb tough collisions like Kosovo -- interests like trade and economic development. The larger "European identity" pushed by the European Union is an attempt to diminish ethno-nationalist antagonisms. Vladimir Putin's Russia, however, doesn't buy in. His corrupt, crony-led regime longs for Soviet-era military and diplomatic sway -- Cold War nostalgia. In August 2008, the Russo-Georgia War erupted, and Moscow invoked its interpretation of The Kosovo Precedent. If protecting Kosovar Albanians elicits a NATO invasion, Russia can invade to "protect" South Ossetia. A Russian ruse to camouflage thuggery? Yes, but it played to Russian and Serb perceptions. Russia insisted that Kosovo's unilateral independence was a "redline issue" -- as in, don't cross it. When crossed, Moscow picked up a saber. No, it isn't quite that simple, but it's part of the wicked tangle. Earlier this month, U.S. News and World Report reported that the Obama administration's new director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, had identified the Balkans and Kosovo as one of the five key areas of concern (beyond al-Qaida) for U.S. intelligence agencies . A key quote: "Events in the Balkans will again pose the greatest threat of instability in Europe in 2009," Blair said. "The biggest challenge comes from the "unresolved political status of the Serb minority in Kosovo, particularly in northern Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina's continuing uneasy interethnic condominium." Russia champions the Serb cause. The czars championed Slav ethnic solidarity when it suited them. Contemporary Russi[...]

Afghanistan's Wicked Problems

Wed, 11 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600

"Wicked" problems are dynamic and multidimensional -- intricate, constantly changing challenges that frustrate precise definition. As a wicked problem evolves, we can learn a lot about it -- useful knowledge informing constructive action. But the problem will still change in unforeseen and unexpected ways, seeding "unknown unknowns" that produce surprise. In a wicked problem like a war, surprise may be fatal. A strategic planner I know says all problems involving human psychology have "wicked" elements. Here's the gist of a complex argument: as basic needs (food and shelter) are met, new needs (pension plans) arise. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, we "can't get no permanent satisfaction." Even semi-satisfaction would please most Afghanis. Since fall 2001, Afghanis have seen some incremental improvements, positive changes from the point of view of everyone but terrorist fanatics. The Afghan government has had some success in beginning to build formal institutions. The Afghan Army can handle some basic security missions, and it is improving, albeit slowly. Slow is an Afghan affliction. Yet fundamental change takes a long time, especially when a war-ravaged society must expand the "human capital" of modernity -- produce the teachers, accountants, electricians, nurses, policemen and farmers who brace stable, prosperous communities. Slow may be fatal when you rely on the American public's will. That is reflected by the ongoing struggle over Afghan policy within the Obama administration and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. Obama appears to be committed to winning. During his campaign, Obama identified Afghanistan as "the right war." He is looking for diplomatic opportunities. He intends to send more U.S. troops and -- like George W. Bush before him -- demands more combat forces from NATO allies. Key advisers warn that though deploying more troops serves useful purposes, adding tens of thousands does not guarantee "winning." This is why some seek military operational changes that will promote economic development and political stability. The term "surge" gets used, though in hushed tones, for a number of Democrats deplored Bush's Iraqi "surge" and guaranteed it wouldn't work. Eliminating terrorist base areas in Pakistan is viewed as a potential "game changer." During the campaign, Obama advocated an offensive strike at al-Qaida and Taliban enclaves inside Pakistan -- with or without Pakistan's permission. Cooler heads suggested such boldness (particularly if executed without Pakistani cooperation) would politically damage Pakistan's fragile central government and perhaps destroy it. Collapse in Islamabad would seed chaos from Kashmir to Baluchistan -- a "wicked" game changer. The Pakistanis may eventually decide it is in their national interest, and in the interest of regional stability, to destroy al-Qaida's sanctuaries. The radicals threaten Pakistan, and more Pakistanis know it, which improves America's chances for a "diplomatic" elimination of the bases. The Mumbai, India, massacre by Islamist terrorists brought Pakistan to the brink of war with India -- a nuclear war. The Islamist takeover of Pakistan's Swat Valley and the subsequent destruction of the area seem to have backfired politically -- 11th century tribal values don't promote economic growth. Eliminating the enclaves will definitely help -- but that does not "solve" Afghanistan. Other options stalking Capitol Hill include leaving Afghanistan after crafting a "deal" that denies the use of its territory to terrorists who wish to attack the United States. Conceivably, this "surviving guarantor" might not be the current central government but could be a vast tribal confederation that includes the Taliban. [...]

Obama and Iraq's Emerging Victory

Wed, 04 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600

But voters traipsing to the polls offer terrorists particularly easy targets ripe for mass murder, which in turn generates the sensational headlines terrorists seek. Protecting civilians on sidewalks entering and exiting easily accessible locations (i.e., polling places) was one of the biggest problems confronting U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces during 2004 as they prepared for Iraq's historic January 2005 elections. I know from personal experience -- the plans team I served with in Iraq struggled with this complex problem. The courage of the Iraqi people won that election, as ink-stained fingers became the symbol of democratic will in the face of personal danger. Electoral peace and quiet in January 2009 told me Iraqi police and military forces conducted an intricate nationwide security operation -- another sign of organizational maturity, improving intelligence and increasing professional confidence. The election, however, is much more than a significant headline and a solid security operation. The election demonstrates rather dramatically that Iraq's process of political maturation continues. Remember, the first post-Saddam vote took place only four years ago, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government formed in May 2006. In this election, voters punished several sectarian parties, tossing the rascals out because they hadn't performed. In several provinces, Iraqi secular political parties did much better, which is a sharp blow to extremist Shias and their Iranian financiers. The election is also an implicit rebuke -- delivered by the Iraqi people -- of posturing defeatists like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who declared Iraq a lost war and a hopeless cause. Perhaps the commentators who claim Arabs can't handle democracy will reconsider their position. In the next week or so, I hope to read this headline: "Sen. Reid, we didn't lose. And there is hope in Iraq, President Obama, because there has been significant change. Now don't blow it just because you ran on a platform of retreat." Not a headline? It ought to be. Obama is a very lucky new president -- he has an emerging victory at hand. Securing it and reinforcing it will enhance his chances of achieving "Lincoln-esque" stature. The Iraqi people have earned their democracy. Historical accusations of "abandonment" and "self-defeat" don't burnish a presidential legacy. Operation Charge of the Kings, launched in March 2008, showed that the Iraqi Army was able to plan and conduct large-scale combat and counter-insurgency operations. The U.S. and coalition forces, however, provided air, intelligence and logistical support. In many respects, Charge of the Knights provided an example of what "strategic overwatch" looks like, the where U.S. air, intelligence and logistics assets aid Iraqi planned, led and manned security operations. "Strategic overwatch" is a delicate, multi-year process, "a wind-down" (force withdrawal) phase that could include a sudden "build-up" (reinforcement). "Strategic overwatch" is complicated -- it requires diplomacy, economic and political engagement, and steadying leadership. Terror campaigns and insurgencies end with diminishing codas of violence. Peace and quiet -- prevalent during this past election -- instantly disappear when a terrorist tosses a grenade. The Iraqi government has improved markedly in its ability to handle internal violence, but troublemaking by neighbors like Syria and Iran remain a huge threat. In Fargo, N.D., early last July, Obama began a "war flip-flop" by suggesting he might "refine" his Iraq policy. He needs to start refining right now -- and assure the Iraqis they will not be abandoned. The sharpest refinement would be to accept the challenges[...]

Obama Orbits: Satellites and Space Weapons

Wed, 28 Jan 2009 00:25:00 -0600

The Obama administration has revived the subject -- after a fashion. Check the White House Website on the page detailing defense-related campaign promises. The new administration opposes "weaponizing space" and will "restore American leadership on space issues ... ." Restoration means seeking "a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites" and includes "thoroughly" assessing "possible threats to U.S. space assets and the best options, military and diplomatic, for countering them ... ." Obama promises to accelerate "programs to harden U.S. satellites against attack." Though the fervent language implicitly suggests this is a dramatic change from the Bush administration, it actually echoes Maj. Gen. James Armor's congressional testimony of May 2007 during hearings investigating the implications of China's anti-satellite test. The hearings were the unclassified component of a thorough assessment of a real threat to U.S. space assets, the Chinese ASAT, and a public example of U.S. leadership on space issues. Armor (director of the Pentagon's National Security Space Office) noted that changes in U.S. space policy since the Eisenhower administration "have been evolutionary" (i.e., have changed, based on experience), but "the key tenets have remained remarkably consistent. One such tenet is the compelling need for a strong national security space sector and the inherent right of self-defense to protect U.S. national interests in space." Yet U.S. space policy, Armor argued, is "based on a longstanding U.S. commitment to peaceful uses of outer space ... ." Advertising execs know touting laundry soap as "new" or "improved" increases sales though the "new" product differs little from the old. From Ike to G.W. Bush, administrations have had to balance the "peaceful use" of space against evolving technological threats to its peaceful use. The same dilemma confronts Obama and will vex his successor, as well. Al-Qaida's 9-11 surprise provides a brutal lesson about all "civilian" technology, from a rock scraper used to clean a deer hide to jumbo jets as missiles -- and possibly "peaceful" satellites, as well. In a malevolent hand, the scraper becomes a primitive ax perfect for cleaving a human skull. Though space systems experts know the procedures are (at present) difficult, a deceptive 21st century space power -- or for that matter, a private space consortium with a criminal bent -- could conceivably maneuver a civilian satellite so that it "interferes" with an opponent's or competitor's satellite. In other words, under the control of creative evil a "peaceful" satellite becomes a weapon, the space equivalent of a "Q-Ship," a merchantman with hidden guns plying distant sea lanes and attacking unarmed, unsuspecting and unprotected commercial shipping. Most commercial satellites don't carry a lot fuel. Spy satellites are another matter -- they can (again, with difficulty) maneuver, which means they could possibly become a weapon. They can also be weaponized, covertly. Spy satellites, however, contribute to on-the-ground peace. At the moment, India and Pakistan can see satellite-gathered data that confirm neither side is preparing to attack the other. Be thankful, as they both have nukes. At the moment, most space buffs argue the best way to "interfere" with a satellite is to blind it from a ground station or blast it with an ASAT missile. But the devil of exacting definition haunts the words "weapons," "interfere" and "satellites" in Obama's space policy promise. Armor told Congress that "what constitutes a 'space weapon' and determining effective mechanisms to verify compliance are fundamental barriers to meaningful arms-control meas[...]

Machiavelli, Joint Forces Command and Mexico

Wed, 21 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600

But fear sells. Sensationalists latched onto the comments in the document that cited Pakistan and Mexico worst-case "rapid collapse" scenarios, which -- if they occurred -- would damage U.S. interests. Fearmongers missed (or ignored) the scenarios, which were "what ifs?" designed to spur creative planning and policies that would avoid them altogether. JFCOM's planners were merely doing their job. "Worst-case scenarios" provide fodder for war-gaming and planning "excursions." This intellectual preparation may or may not have organizational and technological consequences, but the intellectual exploration has value. Classicists understand. In Chapter 14 of "The Prince," Machiavelli writes of "Philopoemen, the leader of the Achaeans" who was "praised by the historians for ... having in peacetime never thought of anything else except military strategy." As he traveled he would "invite discussion" from his friends -- likely the men who would be his subordinate commanders in wartime. They would speculate on how they might defend a hill they were passing, maneuver in the terrain for advantage or even retreat. Machiavelli writes: "Because of these continuous speculations," Philopoemen "knew how to cope with all and every emergency." Philopoemen, however, didn't have to deal with instantaneous, global selective quotation and hype. No doubt a Mexican collapse would have huge effects on the U.S.; so would a collapse of Canada, which has also been war-gamed. In the latest edition of "A Quick and Dirty Guide to War" (fourth edition, Paladin Press), James F. Dunnigan and I revisit a "Canadian collapse" scenario first war-gamed in 1990. It is an analytic exercise speculating on the consequences of Quebec separating from the rest of Canada. Any direct comparison between Mexico and Pakistan is a huge stretch. Pakistan is failing, and it isn't clear that the central government has the power or political will to address fundamental ethnic, economic, demographic and ideological challenges. Mexico is a threatened state, but the country has political will to confront the threats posed by violent drug cartels and its own legacy of corrupt politics. President Felipe Calderon made that quite evident when he launched The Cartel War in December 2006. Even accounting for Chiapas (Maya land) and numerous wannabe separatists, Mexico also has money, education and a comparative political-social coherence the entirety of South and Central Asia should envy. Gen. (retired) Barry McCaffrey's recent report to the West Point social sciences department on Mexico (memo dated Dec. 29, 2008) praises the Mexican government's will to act decisively and provides sound advice to U.S. policymakers: "Now is the time during the opening months of a new U.S. administration to jointly commit to a fully resourced major partnership as political equals of the Mexican government ... Specifically, we must support the government of Mexico's efforts to confront the ultra violent drug cartels. We must do so in ways that are acceptable to the Mexican polity and that take into account Mexican sensitivities to sovereignty. The U.S. government cannot impose a solution. The political will is present in Mexico to make the tough decisions that are required to confront a severe menace to the rule of law and the authority of the Mexican state." McCaffrey's report also noted: "President Calderon has committed his government to the "Limpiemos Mexico" campaign to "clean up Mexico." This is not rhetoric. They have energized their departments of social development, public education and health to be integral parts of this campaign. Finally, there is a clear understanding that this is an eight-year campaign -- not a short-term[...]

When the Human Shield Slips

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 00:20:00 -0600

Hezbollah and Hamas also build "meshed, networked static defense systems" comprised of bunkers and tunnels in their human shields' neighborhoods and selectively booby-trap houses with high explosives. They then dare Israel to counter-attack and, in the process, kill thousands of Arabs while losing several score Israeli soldiers in close combat with guerrillas. Video cameras, television talk shows, native human sympathy for harmed innocents and, yes, democratic values play major roles in "involuntary martyrdom." As the body count rises, Hezbollah and Hamas provide global media with heart-rending video featuring dead bodies and wounded survivors. Anti-Israeli protests erupt in European capitals, and Israel is once again "condemned by the international community" for committing war crimes. The United Nations drafts a ceasefire deal, as Hezbollah and Hamas leaders -- the men who employ this strategy -- proclaim victory because they survived the Israeli attack. No ceasefire ever lasts with such men. Within 24 months they fully intend to employ the same criminal strategy again. And it is criminal. Using a hostage as a "human shield" is a criminal technique. We've all seen the Hollywood dramatization, where the pistol-wielding thug grabs his beautiful, naive accomplice and places her body between him and the police. The crook bets that the cops value the accomplice's life. A cruel paradox guides the bad guy's gamble. He relies on the police observing moral and legal codes he himself disdains. The tension jumps several quanta if the sociopathic gunman fires at a policeman and kills him. Does the cop's shaken partner hold fire or risk hitting the hostage? A fictional film might have a hero cop make the perfect shot, drilling the bad guy in the forehead with laser-accuracy. Combat operations in densely populated areas, however, face the fact of inevitable destruction and death. There will never be several thousand perfect shots. But the Israelis have in Gaza -- so far -- fought three weeks' worth of war with very astute shots, demonstrating that Israeli defense and intelligence agencies have learned from the 2006 Rocket War. While Hezbollah touted victory, the Israelis publicly and privately critiqued themselves. They also dissected Hezbollah's political and military operations and those of Hezbollah's sponsor, Iran. Iran also serves as Hamas' financier and collaborator. Bottom line: Israel would not play into the "involuntary martyrdom" trap again. What may prove to be history's most detailed and intimate "intelligence preparation of the battlefield" operation preceded the Gaza offensive. Israeli intel identified weapons caches and bunkers, then got the names and phone numbers of Gazans living near the targets. Intel also established the daily routines of Hamas leaders -- the guys who claim victory after their people are slaughtered -- and determined likely escape routes and hideouts. Israel's anti-Hamas assault began with a concentrated, 220-second-long precision weapons attack on Hamas' leaders -- not quite the equivalent of a "sniper shot" at our Hollywood crook as he moves to grab the hostage, but based on the same concept. Phone calls to Gazans living near (or in) bunkers and weapons caches preceded attacks on those targets. Fearing their cell phones will be triangulated (and then targeted), Hamas' Gaza leaders have remained hidden and largely unavailable to mass media. That's put a lid on the victory bombast. Israeli ground troops are using probing tactics that have turned static defenses into death traps. Yes, Gaza and southern Lebanon differ in terms of terrain and size. Indeed, [...]

The Next Future: Money in Both Doom and Boom

Wed, 07 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600

The future, however, is another matter. The future is big business. Doom makes money. The doom end of the future business -- both imminent doom and eventual doom -- blossomed when first radio then television programmers discovered that sensational, scary stories riveted an audience. Biblical prophets predicting doom faced stones thrown by mobs. Contemporary prophets predicting doom face network cameras. Stones hurt. Network cameras sell books. Pity Jeremiah -- he was born too soon. Bright, positive futures ("bloom and boom futures") are a tougher sell than doom, unless you're in the cosmetic business and can eliminate wrinkles in six weeks. Fad diets and a host of other slick promotions ranging from quick self-improvement programs to messianic presidential campaigns work the same niche -- playing on hopes, promising change. Everyone, however, is in the future business. Whether deliberate, improvised or utterly impulsive, everyone has plans -- and plans anticipate future conditions and future developments. Individual and organizational planning "time horizons" may vary widely. The 5-year-old wants his chocolate bar right now. When a football team's offensive unit heads for the line of scrimmage, the future time horizon for the play called in the huddle is roughly 20 seconds -- the time it takes to execute the play and determine the result. In the late 1970s, China began an economic modernization program that arguably has a five-decade time horizon. Current conditions and past performance certainly inform economic decisions, but investment and its alter-ego, divestment, are fundamentally driven by assessments of the future. Defense departments rely on secret and open-source data and intelligence analysis to estimate a variety of futures, like the effectiveness of technologies and potential (future) threats. Historical examples abound. The Chinese invested in a Great Wall to thwart anticipated barbarian assaults. Machiavelli devoted the better part of a chapter in "The Prince" to an ancient general who spent his free time asking his lieutenants "what if" questions about potential enemy actions. The general was exploring "alternative futures," an exercise that challenged his lieutenants' imaginations. Creative solutions to imaginary conditions would become the basis of real world operations if the "real future" became a desperate present with conditions resembling the general's "what ifs." Disneyland's Tomorrowland, however, serves as an entertaining example of the limits of prognostication. Tomorrowland (a 1950-ish dream of the future) is now quaintly dated, its freeways and rockets entertaining fossil futures. Disney's spiffy techno-bliss, however, proved to be more correct than Paul Ehrlich's moneymaking and utterly hysteric doom scenarios (e.g., 1968's "The Population Bomb") that predicted mass starvation by the 1980s. Economics, security concerns, hope for boom, fear of doom -- these drive the industry now called "future studies" run by "futurists." Future studies programs attempt to identify and analyze key trends and, from those analyses, anticipate crises. It's a 21st century version of Machiavelli's general posing "what ifs." The idea is to craft better policy. Intelligence, diplomatic, financial and security capabilities, if timely applied, may resolve or mitigate the problems. For example, a recent defense study by Joint Forces Command (JFC) examined "trends influencing world security" in the following areas: demographics, globalization, economics, energy, food, water, climate change and natural disasters, pandemics, implications of cyber (com[...]

What Is Peace?

Wed, 24 Dec 2008 00:00:00 -0600

Avarice, ambition, envy, anger, pride: Shakespeare made villains of them all. They reappear every 30 minutes on all news television. Indeed, they are at the root of Sept. 11 and the War on Terror, Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Mumbai, Beslan, Georgia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Burma, Tibet -- a list proceeding ad infinitum. For the past five years, I've taught a strategy seminar in the University of Texas' Plan 2 undergraduate honors program. I sometimes kid the students and tell then that the course title ought to be "Big Plans." We do consider a few rather large-scale planning problems, like Alexander the Great tackling the Persian Empire, Hannibal challenging Rome and the Mongols conducting operations from East Asia to Central Europe. Without exception, one of the most difficult assignments comes very early in the semester: I have the students write a paper answering the question, "What Is Peace?" I've yet to get a definitive answer, but without exception each class has produced deeply thoughtful and provocative analyses. The moral and philosophical facets of the paper are obvious, but there is also a practical angle. When you make a plan for anything -- much less a war plan, or a plan for creating peace -- you either explicitly or implicitly have a goal. If peace is the goal, in order to achieve it shouldn't you have at least a glimpse of what it is or might be? One young man -- after demurring with, "It is tempting for the cynic to describe peace as merely a time between clashes" (a phrase reminiscent of the classic, "Peace is the brief timeout between wars") -- subsequently insisted he could find no better goals that "will give us our ultimate tranquility" than Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms." Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. "Taken together, I believe these freedoms could establish an existence of peace and prosperity for all humankind." Fear, however, would "destroy any Peace ..." The "imperfect nature" of human beings utterly dismayed another student, but dismay was no cause for denial of rank imperfection. Instead, she castigated utopianism, particularly economic utopianism -- not the idea of freedom from want but the notion it can be achieved. She concluded "peace" based on met needs was in fact "an undesirable end" because conflict "drives people to excel and forces improvement." Curbing conflict, however, "in order to avoid violence and mass destruction" is possible -- but she asserted that required creativity in resolving conflict. A business major decided to sidestep issues of human imperfection and propose a "market model" for assessing peace on the planet. Peace exists when knowledge is shared ("transparent") and "prevailing information is both non-aggressive and anticipated. ... Nations and participants know with certainty that other nations will not act in an aggressive manner." Peace derives from a reduction in fear and an increase in trust. The business major's marketplace meshed with a philosophy major's theory that peace resulted when a population's "collective expectations about the future" favored equilibrium or continuity on a "scale of perceived stability." Thus soft talk and no surprises passes for peace. I asked them both if they supported very, very large intelligence budgets -- and indeed they did. A student from an immigrant family (he's now in medical school), however, returned to Petrarch's crooked traits, pegging the clash of human desires as the deep problem. Peace exists when "different desires" are "in agreement." When desire refuses "compromise," the[...]

Mexico's Cartel War: Year Three

Wed, 17 Dec 2008 00:00:00 -0600

Iraq's body count does serve, however, as a crude gauge of comparative ferocity. This week, editor James F. Dunnigan noted that on an "average day" (in Iraq) 26 Iraqis are killed in criminal and terrorist-related violence. With the warning that the Mexican statistics are based on reported and investigated murders -- which means that the actual number of murders is probably higher -- November 2008 was the Cartel War's deadliest month, with over 700 people slain. Do the math. In November, Mexico averaged 23 deaths a day from "crime and terror" incidents. Estimates for the total number killed from January through November 2008 run from 4,900 to 5,100. Thus Juarez is off-limits. Even bureaucratese-riddled State Department warnings about travel in Mexico are pretty stiff. For example, from October: "The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted. ... While most of the crime victims are Mexican citizens, the uncertain security situation poses risks for U.S. citizens, as well." I will agree that the Cartel War is, on a grand historical level, like Iraq and our long struggle we call the War on Terror, for they are all wars for the terms of modernity. There are scores of others, and they are much more a clash of systems than civilizations. President Calderon -- the man in the cauldron -- sees his war as a war for systemic change, with his goal the democratic rule of law. In a recent speech, Calderon addressed what he saw as the deep challenge in Mexico: corruption. Calderon understands corruption has security consequences as well as economic and political penalties. "Instead of faltering," Calderon said, "we have taken on the challenge of turning Mexico into a country of laws." Corruption in the police and judiciary provides the "dirty space" for all types of crime, but the drug cartels essentially began carving out "drug duchies," where they were the law. This is one reason Calderon decided to use the Mexican military. Calderon saw a situation similar to that in Colombia, where at one time the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) organization openly claimed territory. FARC started out with political aims and still claims political aims, but the people of Colombia have come to know it as a criminal gang in the narcotics and kidnapping business. Mexico's drug cartels skipped the political stage, though they love buying politicians. Calderon is also pursuing economic transformation (e.g., opening the oil business to foreign investment) and "structural reforms" (something of an all-encompassing code word for reforming the police, the judiciary and politics). His own words drive the point home: "Nowadays, we are experiencing the consequences of years of indifference to the cancer of crime, impunity and corruption. This scourge became a threat to the peace and well-being of Mexican families and constitutes a challenges to the state's viability." In August, Calderon made the goal of purging local, state and national police forces the centerpiece of his special national conference on crime. One of the biggest sources of public discontent in Mexico is the knowledge that known criminals are protected by corrupt police officials. With four years left in his term, Calderon is proving to be a world-class political talent, a brilliant combination of democratic statesman with long-term strategic vision, a savvy domestic political leader who addresses the Mexican public's aspirations and can work with a volatile national legislat[...]