Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tom Friedman = Worthless Strategic Thinking

"These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And then we fucked up the end game."

     - Charlie Wilson

Friedman's latest column is truly awful:

It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here’s my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan. 
Actually, we do have the NATO support and the domestic support, but, please, don't let being wrong stop you. Continue:

The U.S. surge in Iraq was militarily successful because it was preceded by an Iraqi uprising sparked by a Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who, using his own forces, set out to evict the pro-Al Qaeda thugs who had taken over Sunni towns and were imposing a fundamentalist lifestyle. The U.S. surge gave that movement vital assistance to grow. But the spark was lit by the Iraqis.
The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, the Green Revolution in Iran and the Pakistani decision to finally fight their own Taliban in Waziristan — because those Taliban were threatening the Pakistani middle class — were all examples of moderate, silent majorities acting on their own.
The surge was also successful because American soldiers and marines started living closer to the Iraqi population centers and because America "took the gloves off" when it came to Iranian special groups operating in country. Any serious analysis of the "surge" has to realize that there were so many factors that aligned for the surge to work it was ridiculous - and saying "the Iraqis did it first" just starts a chick/egg battle that could go on all night.

And WRT to the Green Revolution - wonder if the fact that Iran's neighbor (Iraq) has free and fair elections has anything at all to do with the Iranian people expecting their vote to count? And whose fault is it Iraq has elections?

As to Pakistan - the U.S. has been leaning on Pakistan to get tough on the Taliban for a long time. And I've written about the administration's attempt to come up with a carrot and stick approach to encourage such behavior and, of course, the U.S. is quietly aiding Pakistan behind the scenes as we speak.  

What if we shrink our presence in Afghanistan? Won’t Al Qaeda return, the Taliban be energized and Pakistan collapse? Maybe. Maybe not. This gets to my second principle: In the Middle East, all politics — everything that matters — happens the morning after the morning after. Be patient.
Yes, the morning after we shrink down in Afghanistan, the Taliban will celebrate, Pakistan will quake and bin Laden will issue an exultant video.

And the morning after the morning after, the Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the Pakistani Army will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them,
Afghanistan’s warlords will carve up the country, and, if bin Laden comes out of his cave, he’ll get zapped by a drone.

My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don’t.
Okay, first things fucking last - China wants the U.S. to win you dumb mother fucker. If you get off your ass and get the fuck out of Manhattan and go to Afghanistan - like other, better journalist , do - you'd notice that the Chinese wants to play a constructive role. I take that back - they don't want to they have to because a future worth creating for China means access to Afghan copper.

This morning after nonsense is playing with fire. Because the morning after Bin Laden declares victory America will begin an incredibly painful and destructive impeachment proceeding which will paralyze our nation for months if not years. And if the Taliban somehow beats the Pakistani army? Well, what about the morning after India's preemptive nuclear strike on a Taliban controlled Pakistan?

And through it all, American prestige will be ruined. It's like the line at the end of Charlie Wilson's War: "We always do this; we go in and we change the world, but then that ball - it keeps on bouncing." Our biggest problem in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) is that what Friedman is suggesting is exactly what everyone expects the U.S. to do. It's why they hedge - because we've too often let that ball keep on bouncing - from turning our backs on our allies in Saigon in 1975 to walking away from Afghanistan the first time we drove the totalitarians out, the U.S. can always be counted on the go home as soon as the going gets tough because of people like Tom Friedman, and Bob Herbert and Eugene Robinson and the other anti-American leftists who have opposed every war since 1812.

The thing that I find most disconcerting about Friedman is that he is so widely read. Millions of Americans picked up (or clicked on) their copy of the New York Times today and saw Friedman's column and - although they don't know much about Afghanistan - are saying to themselves right now, "Hey, that makes a lot of sense! Let's pull out of Afghanistan!" Really Tom, you ought to be a bit more responsible with your analysis. Let's give Afghanistan at least 6 more months


Obama 2012: Some really early thoughts, pt II

I have previously written that President Obama has two politically viable options on Afghanistan:

In conclusion, I believe Obama has one path on the economy and two paths on Afghanistan if he is going to seek reelection in 2012. On the economy, the most important factor will be putting America back to work, but he can win without achieving "full employment" so long as the the unemployment numbers are trending down by 2012. In Afghanistan, Obama can go big and long or go home, but the status quo both in terms of troop strength and strategy is unacceptable and will cost Obama the presidency in 2012 no matter what happens to the economy.
Now a NBC/WSJ poll offers evidence that my analysis is correct.

By a narrow 47 percent to 43 percent, respondents say they support increasing the troop level in Afghanistan, which is a reversal from last month, when 51 percent opposed the increase and 44 percent supported it.
In addition, as Republicans criticize President Barack Obama for waiting to announce his troop decision — former Vice President Dick Cheney recently accused him of “dithering” — 58 percent of poll respondents say they support delaying a decision until after Afghanistan’s Nov. 7 runoff election and after the country’s political situation becomes clearer.

“I am optimistic that he and his generals are taking some time to actually think through this,” said Andrew Maxwell of Los Angeles.

Yet the public is divided on what Obama and his generals should ultimately decide. Fifty-five percent say they would accept sending an additional 10,000 troops and training Afghanistan’s army and police; 46 percent favor not sending any more troops and focusing instead on attacking specific al-Qaida camps on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; and 45 percent support withdrawing all U.S. troops from the country.
Just 43 percent support sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan — which is the recommendation of the top U.S. commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.

I predicted that withdraw would be more popular than staying the course (without a troop increase), and for what its worth it I appear to be off by a couple point - but - I stand by my belief that withdraw (would be be idiotic) would wind up being a wash in terms of public approval.

As to the exact numbers, 10,000 is way too small. I support sending 40,000 but I have it on good authority that 30 battalions - about 30,000 troops - would suffice. And David Killcullen has suggested 25,000.

With those numbers in mind, it seems the dangerous middle way lays between sending no troops and sending <25,000.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Gates and Clinton: A Historic Partnership?

In an earlier post I speculated that President Obama could be as successful a foreign policy president as Richard Nixon, if he manages to normalize relations with Iran.

Across the Potomac river, Bob Gates is revamping the military - moving the DOD from its Levithan-heavy Cold War mindset to a more Sys-Admin approach.

In his revamping of the Pentagon, Secretary Gates is undertaking a historic task, nearly on the level of what the 1st SECDEF  who pulled the Pentagon together out of the old Department of War and Department of the Navy, accomplished.

Down in Foggy Bottom, Secretary Clinton seems to be setting her sights on 'Lil Kim and the Kim Family Regime. Earlier this year she made a veiled threat about Japan or even South Korea going nuclear. More recently, she stated unequivocally that the U.S. will never have a normal relation with the KFR. (The exact statement is that the U.S. will never have a normal relationship with a nuclear armed North Korea - but if the KFR gives up their nukes they will probably fall) That statement was followed by Gates threatening to nuke the Norks if they invade or attack South Korea.

The ramping up of rhetoric on the part of the U.S. is a nice change from the Bush and Clinton administrations, when provocations from the KFR would most often be met by diplomacy and rewards for 'Lil Kim's bad behavior.

Just as President Obama's policies towards Iran could make him the most important foreign policy president in 3 decades, so Clinton and Gates could become the most successful cabinet secretaries since Henry Kissinger if they are able to engineer a collapse of the KFR. And by constantly pushing (and hopefully working with China behind the scenes) they could make it happen.

Obama's Middle East Endgame: Part III - Getting to Moscow through Tehran

Yesterday I caught John Limbert n CSPAN's BookTV talking about his new book: Negotiating With Iran: Wrestling With the Ghosts of History.

Limbert has a Ph.D. from Harvard, has served in the State Department and is currently a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. When someone in the audience asked him about Iran and Russia, his answer sounded oddly familiar to anyone who reads this blog.

He said that Russia has two great fears:

1. The U.S. will attack Iran
2. The U.S. will normalize relations with Iran

On a couple of firearms/shooting sports related forums where I post regularly (under a pseudonym), I am often castigated for having the crazy idea that Russia and Iran are natural enemies. The other forum users tend to believe what they see on CNN; Russia and Iran are "allies", Russia protects Iran in the U.N. and so on and so forth. I attempt to calmly explain that Persian and Russians have so much historical antipathy, that any "alliance" between Iran and Russia is bound to be fleeting and could easily be torn asunder were the U.S. to make the Iranians a better offer.

So now the Obama administration is trying to find a way to wind down the tension between the U.S. and Iran. This is a sensible policy choice. As soon the Shia/Sunni/Israeli tensions are stabilized in the middle east - both through accepting Iran's status as a de facto nuclear power and through bringing Israel, Jordon, Egypt and the Gulf States under a true "nuclear umbrella" that does more than just guarantees a second strike but also greatly reduces the chances that an Iranian strike would even get through. Once those ducks are in a row Iran will be better positioned to focus its energy on containing Russia.

But that's okay - because that is what Russia wants.

In stabilizing the Middle East through detente - and freeing up Iran to focus its foreign policy energies on fighting global warming - President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates are building a future worth creating. Obama has the potential to be the most successful foreign policy president since Richard Nixon if he manages to normalize relations between the U.S. and Iran before he leaves office.

Now, let's see if the president decides to get interested in building a future worth creating in Afghanistan.


5GW Handbook is fast approaching....

Perhaps it will be out in time for the holidays? 

In any case, here is my revised introduction:

The War for Robert Taylor (Brent Grace)

In this chapter I am going to explore what I believe could be a real world example of 5th gradient warfare waged against an urban insurgency. I am going to draw heavily on Columbia University sociology professor Sudhir Venkatesh’s three volumes on life in inner city Chicago to described a 5GW counter insurgency operation that was conducted by the Chicago Housing Authority, the city of Chicago and the Federal government against a second generation gang known as the Black Kings who operated out of the Robert Taylor public housing project in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I am going to argue that the CHA et al adopted a 5GW strategy because the BKs had become so embedded within community that it was necessary to change the whole community – or, to put it another way, shape the battle space – in order to defeat the BKs. 
How My Example Fits Within the XGW Framework
                  One of the barriers to writing about the fifth gradient of war is that there is quit a bit of debate over what exactly constitute each gradient of warfare. So I must begin this chapter by stipulating a few assumptions I am making as I lay out my example of 5GW. Those assumptions include:
1.     Warfare is organized violence. 
2.     Each successive grade of warfare represents a tighter focus of violence (aka kinetics) and a more sophisticated division of labor required to create the kinetics.
3.      As a corollary to the point above, as the violence becomes more focused the role of the non-kinetic (aka “everything else) becomes more important in determining the outcome of the conflict.
There are two overall schools of thought when it comes to classifying warfare. The first is the Generations of Modern War that is perhaps best explained (at least to me) in Col. Thomas X. Hammes The Sling and The Stone (2004). GMW theory is a Hegelian view of war; that is, the history of war since 1648 is linear with each subsequent generation of war emerging out of social and technological developments to counter the previous generation of war. In this view 1st generation war is Napoleonic linear warfare, 2nd generation war is industrialized war with massed artillery fire (such as The American Civil War and WWI), 3rd generation war is Blitzkrieg and 4th generation war is asymmetrical warfare (such as Vietnam and Iraq).
         The second system of classifying warfare is the XGW framework, which is similar in many ways to GMW, but does not necessarily assume that warfare progresses chronologically. Instead, XGW is concerned with the “principal behind an expression of force” (Herring 2009), in other words, XGW examines the specific goal that is sought in each generation of warfare. In this context, for example, 3GW has as its goal locating and focusing kinetics on the weak point(s) in the enemies network. Some of my coauthors (Abbott 2009; Herring 2009) have suggested that 5GW is concerned with manipulating what can be or is observed, and in my example I am going to expound upon that idea by showing that a 5GW campaign could be used to attack and eventually alter a battle space, thus making it more difficult for a given actor to orient himself within the battle space and therefore reducing the actors effectiveness as a fighter.

5GW: The Battle of Who Could Care More

In a 4GW caring is important. In a battle of ideas (capitalism/communism, Jihadism/Liberal Democracy) the fighter – especially the insurgent – is generally a passionate advocate for their position. A 5GW is, like a 4GW, typically an insurgency that pits a smaller force against a much stronger opponent, but unlike 4GW there is no ideology involved. 5GW fighters don’t care about ideology – and they hope their opponent dose not care that there is a battle going on (Abbott, 2009):
Every other form of modern-warfare requires people to care. The aggressor needs to be able to morally and physically support his military forces for over a period of time — often a long time. The defender, once he realizes he is being attacked, will care about his own survival and fight back.                 
In many ways getting an enemy to not care is the essence of what happened in the Robert Taylor between the mid 1980s and mid 90s as the BKs rose to prominence. The gangs needed the city of Chicago to not care that they were operating. This was no Maoist insurgency; the BKs were not really looking for converts or comrades; they just needed enough space to operate freely. Much of what the BKs did, from paying off local elites to tamping down violence at the behest of the police was designed to make potential troublemakers not care just enough to decide that taking on the gang was more trouble than going along. On the flip side, anyone inside any level of government that really wanted to fight the gangs was fighting a battle to get someone to care; get the FBI to care about the racketeering; get the City to care about the conditions inside the projects and get the police to care more about a strong rule of law than a hassle free peace. And once this was accomplished, once the government started caring enough to dump resources into solving the problem, the war was won.
Once the authorities cared, they set off a series of developments that substantially weakened the Black Kings. To explain how that happened, I shall steal another concept from Abbott’s (2005/2009) blog posts on 5GW: waterfall development. In a waterfall development model:
·       Requirements must be known a long time before fighting begins
·       Requirements will be rigid and non-adaptable
·       Long Time between proposal and victory
In the 5GW I am describing the insurgents, like all insurgents, draw strength from their environment. Not unlike the way the Viet Cong hid in the jungle and used the natural landscape of Vietnam as a weapon against American soldiers and marines, the Black Kings used their immense store of local knowledge and ability to blend into the environment of Robert Taylor as their primary defense. So the CHA et al defeated them by launching a 5GW against the environment itself. In their grand strategy to destroy the gangs of Chicago, the government turned construction workers, real estate developers and non-profit organizations into unknowing soldiers in a massive counter insurgency campaign. And when they were finished the insurgents found the environment had been so radically altered that they were unable to reorient themselves and many wound up walking away from insurgency all together.
 If you want more? You want to see how this story ends? Want to find out how the 5GW went down?

You'll have to read the book!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Poland Must Take the Lead on Combating Global Warming! And they should ask Pakistan, Iran and North Korea for help on the matter...

This picture depicts global warming and the 3rd Reich, up to no good.

This is an excellent article about why Poland is so afraid of global warming.

Poland should be terrified of global warming.

Global warming considers Poland part of it's sphere of influence.

And, as before, global warming is making a deal with Germans to divide Western and Eastern Europe:

Currently, Russian gas has to be piped through Eastern Europe to reach Western Europe. If Russia shuts off the gas to pressure a neighbor in the east, it is felt in the more powerful, wealthier countries to the west, where it touches off loud protests.

The new Nord Stream pipeline will change that equation. By traveling more than 750 miles underwater, from Vyborg, Russia, to Greifswald, Germany, bypassing the former Soviet and satellite states, it will give Russia a separate supply line to the west.
As a result, many security experts and Eastern European officials say, Russia will be more likely to play pipeline politics with its neighbors.
“Yesterday tanks, today oil,” said Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, a former head of Poland’s security service.
But fear not! We all know that the antidote to global warming is alternative energy. 

As a matter of fact, global warming has recently agreed that its ok if Iran develops alternative energy, so global warming should not object if Poland, the Baltic states, and other Eastern and Central European countries join together to develop alternative energy as well.

As I've said before, global warming has made its choices. Global warming wants more alternative energy.

Of course, this post makes more sense if you realize that when I say global warming, I mean Russia.

And when I say "alternative energy" I mean a break-out nuclear capacity, similar to what Japan has and Iran and is reaching for. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama: Voted Change, Got More of Same, pt II

There is a heartbreaking story in Monday's Washington Post about a gay sailor who was abused by his shipmates before being drummed out of the Navy for being homosexual.

It appears as though Obama is set to continue Don't Ask, Don't Tell for the time being.

And that's too bad.

America is in the process of building a "Systems Administration force" and we are going to need all talented people we can get - gay or straight.

The young man in the story in the WAPO was trained to train bomb sniffing dogs - a very sys admin skills set which can save lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also making the journey from "green to gold" (moving from being an enlisted man to being an officer). Officers trained in sys admin duties have been in short supply for the last few years, and that fact has cost American lives.

But Obama does not seem interested in rectifying the situation. He does not seem interested in stopping the kind of human rights abuses described in the WAPO story.

He does not seem interested in calling the bluff of outstanding universities like Harvard - which bans military recruiters and ROTC units from its campus - ostensibly because of DADT. Would the cause of building a sys admin force be bolstered by recruiting from Harvard?

Ironically, on other issues of vital national security Obama has been unable to stand up to his own party. 

But on this matter, he seems to be going against his own base in favor of some imagined "middle America" where being gay is still frightening to regular people.

Mr. President, I'm a straight (and straight laced) conservative who lives in Ohio, I promise you, anyone who is sitting around worried that some "queers" might get into the army is pretty far off the reservation and highly unlikely to vote for you under any circumstances. It may shock you to know that an increasing number of liberals, moderates and conservatives are coming to agreement on this issue - its just not the wedge it was in 1993 or even 2004.  On the other hand, lifting DADT will increase the talent pool from which our future sys admin force can recruit and that will make America safer and stronger.

Mr. President, you are holding 11 - and you always double down on 11..

Barack Obama could learn a lot from Vince Vaughn in that scene.

Obama could learn the value of "doubling down" in Afghanistan.

Doubling down (i.e. approving McChrystal's request for 40k troops) isn't just about about a properly resourced COIN strategy anymore. Increasingly, Obama decision is about signaling to our allies in the region that we're serious about staying.

Even if Obama does end up making the correct decision on Afghanistan strategy (by which I mean adding troops, since counterinsurgency is manpower-intensive), the public agony over his deliberations may already have done incalculable damage. The Afghan people have survived three decades of war by hedging their bets. Now, watching a young and inexperienced American president appear to waiver on his commitment to their country, they are deciding, at the level of both the individual and the mass, whether to make their peace with the Taliban—even as the Taliban itself can only take solace and encouragement from Obama's public agonizing. Meanwhile, fundamentalist elements of the Pakistani military, opposed to the recent crackdown against local Taliban, are also taking heart from developments in Washington. This is how coups and revolutions get started, by the middle ranks sensing weakness in foreign support for their superiors.

Obama's wobbliness also has a corrosive effect on the Indians and the Iranians. India desperately needs a relatively secular Afghan regime in place to bolster Hindu India's geopolitical position against radical Islamdom, and while the country enjoyed an excellent relationship with bush, Obama's dithering is making it nervous. And Iran, in observing Washington's indecision, can only feel more secure in its creeping economic annexation of western Afghanistan. So, too, other allies far and wide—from the Middle East to East Asia, and Israel to Japan—will start to make decisions based on their understanding that Washington under Obama may not have their backs in a crisis. Again, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama only plays to such fears.

And Obama has already signaled to other American allies that they may be on their own when the wolf - or bear- comes howling at the door

I Don't Have to Write About Obama's Nobel Prize...

Because I can't say it better than Tom Friedman already did:

All that said, I hope Mr. Obama will take this instinct a step further when he travels to Oslo on Dec. 10 for the peace prize ceremony. Here is the speech I hope he will give:

“Let me begin by thanking the Nobel committee for awarding me this prize, the highest award to which any statesman can aspire. As I said on the day it was announced, ‘I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize.’ Therefore, upon reflection, I cannot accept this award on my behalf at all.

“But I will accept it on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century — the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

“I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi fascism. I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers and sailors who fought on the high seas and forlorn islands in the Pacific to free East Asia from Japanese tyranny in the Second World War.

“I will accept this award on behalf of the American airmen who in June 1948 broke the Soviet blockade of Berlin with an airlift of food and fuel so that West Berliners could continue to live free. I will accept this award on behalf of the tens of thousands of American soldiers who protected Europe from Communist dictatorship throughout the 50 years of the cold war.

“I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who stand guard today at outposts in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan to give that country, and particularly its women and girls, a chance to live a decent life free from the Taliban’s religious totalitarianism.

“I will accept this award on behalf of the American men and women who are still on patrol today in Iraq, helping to protect Baghdad’s fledgling government as it tries to organize the rarest of things in that country and that region — another free and fair election.

“I will accept this award on behalf of the thousands of American soldiers who today help protect a free and Democratic South Korea from an unfree and Communist North Korea.

“I will accept this award on behalf of all the American men and women soldiers who have gone on repeated humanitarian rescue missions after earthquakes and floods from the mountains of Pakistan to the coasts of Indonesia. I will accept this award on behalf of American soldiers who serve in the peacekeeping force in the Sinai desert that has kept relations between Egypt and Israel stable ever since the Camp David treaty was signed.

“I will accept this award on behalf of all the American airmen and sailors today who keep the sea lanes open and free in the Pacific and Atlantic so world trade can flow unhindered between nations.

“Finally, I will accept this award on behalf of my grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who arrived at Normandy six weeks after D-Day, and on behalf of my great-uncle, Charlie Payne, who was among those soldiers who liberated part of the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald.

“Members of the Nobel committee, I accept this award on behalf of all these American men and women soldiers, past and present, because I know — and I want you to know — that there is no peace without peacekeepers.

I agree. And I'd like to add that I hope Obama understands that in order to make peace he will have fight his own party in order to shrink the Gap and grow the Core.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Obama Wants to Get Pakistan Right; Congressional Democrats Don't Care If American Soldiers Die

Tip of my hat to President Obama on Pakistan.

On one hand, he wants to get tougher WRT the allocation of American aid (he wants to see it isn't used to build a big war force to fight India).

On the other hand, the president wants to offer a quid pro quo with greater economic connectivity to the U.S. in form of special economic zones within both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is an extremely good idea that will save lives, create jobs and grow the Core.

Unfortunately, the Democrats care more about appeasing their union overlords then they do about American grand strategy:

A bill sought by Obama to boost trade by establishing special economic zones in Pakistan and Afghanistan has stalled in the U.S. Senate, partly over concerns about labor standards as well as worries within the U.S. textile industry.

I am forced to conclude that Democrats in the senate do not care about winning in Afghanistan. If they cared about winning they would care about shrinking the Gap and growing the Core. They do not. And since they don't want to win but also don't have the balls to cut off all funding for the war and order the troops home, I am left with the only remaining logical conclusion: senate Democrats do not care about American soldiers.

If senate Democrats cared about American soldiers they would either give them the resources they need to win the war or bring them home.

Americans of all political inclinations should support Obama's plan to use a carrot and stick to bring Pakistan into the Core. This plan shows real grand strategic thinking from the Obama administration and will make America safer and wealthier.

Americans of all political inclinations should oppose the senate Democrats who will throw the U.S. military and the Pakistani people under the bus at the behest of their Big Labor masters who seek to create a worldwide Soviet Comintern.

I hope the check from the AFL-CIO was worth it you bozos.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Worst of Both Worlds: Planning to Fail in Afghanistan

The NYT is reporting that president Obama is looking for a "middle way" on the debate over Afghanistan.

Oy vey.

The middle way will fail.

Obama's natural instinct as a consensus builder is failing him here. I've made it clear that I support going long and big with enough troops to control the population, but I think a compromise (not enough troops to defend the population, enough troops to make easy targets) is the worst of all possible outcomes. If you don't want to commit to winning don't stick around; send in the Terminators and be done with it. Yes, that would be an incredibly stupid move from a grand strategic point of view. It would be incredibly ineffective - it would be the Powell doctrine on crystal-meth - it would cost lives in Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, India and Russia and it would have nothing to do with building a future worth creating. But continuing with the status quo is also extremely counter-productive and will cost American lives and prestige.

We need enough troops to build trust on the ground or our endeavor will fail. But if we are going to fail anyway we might as well minimize American casualties.

There is only one reason to stay in Afghanistan: to put Afghanistan on the glide path towards becoming a functioning member of the SCO. This is essential to our national security because expanding the Core and shrinking the Gap is imperative to our national security. We have to regionalize this conflict by making partners of China and India. And American troops have a key role to play in both protecting the population and training Afghan security forces in the mean time. And both of those jobs are manpower intensive. 

I hope the president realizes this.

Petreaus 2012? Doubtfull....

One of the most interesting things I've read about the debate between advocates of leaving Afghanistan to the T&T (Terminators and Taliban) and those who advocate a COIN strategy was a short passage in a NYT article about general Petreaus's role in the debate:

General Petraeus’s aides now privately call him “Dave the Dull,” and say he has largely muzzled himself from the fierce public debate about the war to avoid antagonizing the White House, which does not want pressure from military superstars and is wary of the general’s ambitions in particular.

The general’s aides requested anonymity to talk more candidly about his relationship with the White House.

“General Petraeus has not hinted to anyone that he is interested in political life, and in fact has said on many occasions that he’s not,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University who was the executive officer to General Petraeus when he was the top American commander in Iraq.
“It is other people who are looking at his popularity and saying that he would be a good presidential candidate, and I think rightly that makes the administration a little suspicious of him.”
And, later in the article:

By then the general had been talked about as a potential presidential candidate himself, which still worries some political aides at the White House.

Is it possible that this whole hubbub about McChrystal and the debate over increasing troops in Afghanistan is really the White House projecting its fears that they'll face Patreaus/Jindal in 2012? Could the White House intentionally be trying to weaken the reputation of certain generals that they see as potential revivals for Obama?

It sounds pretty far fetched, and I wouldn't suggest that the president himself is thinking along these lines, but its entirely possible there are various political operatives within the White House who are both Lefties and hoping that there will be no one left to challenge Obama when the Taliban comes rolling back into Kabul.

Dick Morris - not the single most reliable source, I acknowledge - has often said that the Clinton administration spent the better part of 1994 and 1995 living in perpetual fear that Colin Powell was about to announce his presidential run and that that would be the end of Clinton's presidency.

Obama - or his administration - should put their minds at ease. I think it is highly unlikely that a general is going to take off his uniform and show up in Iowa and be considered a serious candidate. Petreaus would show up for the first primary and want to talk about his extremely complex and nuisance understanding of American foreign policy and national security but pretty soon he'd realize everyone in the room just wanted to know whether he was for or against abortion. Career politicians are used to the knucklehead issues the average slack-jawed yokel cares about, and would be well prepared to navigate the waters; a 4 star is not used to having his agenda dictated to him by dilettantes. Running for president is a process that takes years; decades sometimes, and you have to build a lrge base of domestic support. You have to have people who know you (meaning they know you will bring home the bacon) well enough to go door to door and make phone calls on your behalf. So any career officer (this is for 2012 - not 2016) will be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to every aspect of campaigning, especially fund raising and a "get out the vote" effort.

Still, if Petreaus - or McChrystal, were to resign over a difference of opinion with the White House (I'm not sure that's something that's really in the cards, either) I would expect a number of polls to show either man beating Obama by 10-12%. I would also expect those poll numbers to drop precipitately as both the administration and Mitt Romney trained their fire on the potential future rival.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Song Remains the Same: Obama vs. the Pentagon

This reminds me a lot of what we saw in the 1990s WRT Clinton and the military. Whether it was DADT or Bosnia, mistrust and second guessing (in both directions) clouded the relationship and occasionally harmed American foreign policy, like the time Colin Powell wrote a letter to the editor in the NYT predicting that a military operation designed to stop 100,000 Bosnian Muslims from being raped, tens of thousands from being murdered and hundreds of thousands from being locked in death camps would certinally turn into a quaqmire from which there would be no escape.*

*We subsequently won the war in 2 weeks. It was the closest Powell ever came to being right.

So now it begins again. Last week somebody had the temerity to ask General McChrystal his thoughts on the probability that various strategies being bandied about may succeed or fail. And he had the audacity to answer honestly and objectively, based on nothing more than his 20+ years of professional experience and the most up-to-date orders he has received from his commander and chief.

The Obama/McChrystal plan is classic counterinsurgency and focuses on protecting the Afghan population while strengthening Afghan security forces and government. McChrystal was asked about a "counterterrorism" strategy that would purportedly contain al-Qaeda with much lower numbers of American troops, casualties and other costs. McChrystal did not try to force the president's hand on whether to increase the foreign troop presence in Afghanistan. The general critiqued an option that is at direct odds with Obama's policy and conflicts with the experiences of the U.S. military this decade. That is not fundamentally out of line for a commander.

It important to remember in this debate that Obama has not made any official decision on a new strategy for Afghanistan. As far as anybody knows, Obama still plans to fight "the good war" and beat the Taliban.

But that hasn't stopped the cadre of armchair commandos from trying to muzzle the opinion of the professional.

McChrystal's view -- that a strategy employing fewer resources, in pursuit of more limited goals, would be "short-sighted" -- is something the White House needs to hear. He is, after all, the man Obama put in charge in Afghanistan, and it would be absurd not to take his analysis of the situation into account. But McChrystal is out of line in trying to sell his position publicly, as he did last week in a speech in London
I don't think McChrystal was trying to "sell" his idea so much as he was trying to give an honest answer to an honest question. For what its worth, his answer was almost identical to the answers I heard from a room full of experts- civilian, military, and retired military - only a few days before.

 It's clear that one thing that is happening here is that Obama, once again, is asking a question publicly without knowing the answer ahead of time. McChrystal wasn't sitting in his HQ in Afghanistan inventing cold fusion or something; his formula for troop increases was based on a careful study of both a history of COIN, stretching back to Indian fighting on the frontier, and the current reality on the ground and the nature of the Pashtun insurgents and AQ. The bottom line: Obama should have had a pretty good idea about what McChrystal was going to recommend before he even asked for the recommendation, and if he knew he wasn't going to want to increase troops he should have said so upfront. If he knew he was going to outsource his grand strategy to Biden, he should have said so as well.

It's also clear and unfortunate that this debate reflects residual antipathy that arose between the military and American liberals/Leftists during the Vietnam war. The animosity between  those in uniform and their civilian commanders created a "stabbed in the back" myth that took hold within the officer corps in the shadow of Vietnam and led the military to completely forsake its COIN capability in favor of the Powell doctrine so as to avoid ever being betrayed by the politicians again.

I just hope Obama realizes that his actions in the next few months will continue to affect policy long after he has been impeached for losing the war left office.


Obama 2012: Some really early thoughts....

LFP = Light Foot Print, meaning drones, CIA paramilitary operators and SOCOM

The above chart represents my guess, as of right now, about how the different scenarios will play out for both Obama's choice on Afghanistan and the economy.  I've come up with three scenarios (good, bad and ugly) for each and handicapped Obama's reelection chances if each scenario comes to pass.

On the economy:

Three words: jobs jobs jobs.

As you can see, my ugly scenario involves us heading into approximately January/February 2012 with unemployment =/>10%. Under this scenario, Obama might as well step aside and give Hillary Clinton or Jim Webb a shot at the presidency, because he will be unable to even campaign. Also, he'll be able to do whatever he wants in Afghanistan and it and won't matter, because with an economy in that condition no one will be paying attention to Afghanistan. I find this scenario the least likely of the three.

My bad scenario has unemployment hovering somewhere between 6 and 10% basically for all of Obama's first term. My gut tells me we stay on the high side of that range, maybe an average of around 8.5% for Obama's whole first term. But the absolute unemployment rate probably matters less than the trend line in early 2012, and if the president can catch a couple of lucky breaks he could make the "morning in America" argument if unemployment is dropping from 8.5 or 9% in 2011 down to 7 or 8% in 2012. Indeed, after four years of suffering such a rapid drop will wind up looking very refreshing to most Americans.

In the bad (and most likely) scenario, the economy is just bad enough to make the race against (insert not-Palin here) competitive but just good enough to make reelection possible. In this scenario Afghanistan could matter a great deal if it is handled wrong. First, if Obama goes with my bad Afghan scenario and either completely withdraws or leaves behind just Spec Ops guys and killer robots, maybe, just maybe, the American people will be so sick of war and so happy with the relative economic gains that they will be willing to overlook the Republicans attack on Obama's "surrender"* to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

What will not fly under any circumstances is the status quo "ugly" scenario that basically kicks the can down the road on the COIN vs. outsource-it-to-killer-robot decision and allows enough troops to stay in the country to provide decent targets to the Taliban but not enough to really protect the population. This is the situation we are in now and it is untenable, even if some bloggers think we have the option of waiting.  My sources say we have to shift from "don't worry we're leaving" to "don't worry we're staying" or we will never build the kind of relationships we need to fight the Taliban.

Finally, I have an across the board "good scenario" in which unemployment drops back down the 2005-06 or mid to late 1990s levels. Under this scenario, Obama could win pretty handily even if he leaves Afghanistan to the Terminators and the Taliban and he will be almost unbeatable if he orders a successful "surge" style COIN strategy that stands up local militias to fight the Taliban all over the country.

I've made it clear that I believe Obama should support General McChrystal's recommendation and order a full on COIN strategy (based on what I heard at the COIN conference we need ~30 battalions - 30k troops) that both protects the population and begins embedding American forces with their Afghan counter-parts. But I'll admit there are plenty of risks, not the least of which is that the Afghan government could continue to be plagued with corruption and allegations of election fraud which would make it very difficult to counter the Taliban's argument that Karzi's regime is the corrupt tool of the imperialist west. It's also possible that Pakistan could continue to hedge between the U.S. and a Pashtun (read: Taliban) government in Afghanistan which would allow the ISI to continue to build their "farm team" for the coming war with India in Kashmir. Both AQ and the Taliban would love to see another Mumbai-style (or better yet 9/11) attack inside India that will be linked back to the ISI and force America to choose between the two south Asian states.

At home, the war appears to be loosing support but I say ignore the polls for the time being. The Republicans are basically in favor of increasing the troops in Afghanistan and that means that both Obama and whoever his opponent will be in 2012 will own this war (to see how this plays out in a national elections Google, Kerry, John: Voted for it before I voted against it). So unless Obama is worried that Cindy Sheehan and Micheal Moore are going to run against him, I don't think the negative polling on Afghanistan will have any real negative consequences if he decides to go with the high end of McChrystal's recommendation. In fact, Obama should be hoping for such a confrontation, because a public slap-down on Micheal Moore would probably boost Obama's approval among moderates and independents.   

In conclusion, I believe Obama has one path on the economy and two paths on Afghanistan if he is going to seek reelection in 2012. On the economy, the most important factor will be putting America back to work, but he can win without achieving "full employment" so long as the the unemployment numbers are trending down by 2012. In Afghanistan, Obama can go big and long or go home, but the status quo both in terms of troop strength and strategy is unacceptable and will cost Obama the presidency in 2012 no matter what happens to the economy.

*This depends on who he runs against. I'll deal with this in another post.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Eyeballing the Link Between Unemployment and Reelection..

All stats from this website.

Weird. Hmm. I would have expected a much clearer correlation between the unemployment rate and presidential reelection.

I started looking at these numbers wondering what Obama's chances of reelection are if unemployment remains high and from a historical perspective things may not be quit as bleak as they appear. I would say unemployment has to be trending down by, oh, say January of 2012 for Obama to have a decent shot at a second term, and obviously if the numbers are still trending up by then both Obama but the whole country will be in a lot of trouble. But as Reagan proved, unemployment does not necessarily have to be low by 2012, it just has to be trending down. And as both Bush 41 and Carter show, trending down after the spring of the election year seems to be too late, so January 2012 will probably be the moment of truth for Obama to make or break his second term.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Obama and the IOC: A Knucklehead Move

We no an has Olympics? by BrendanGrant.

(h/t to I hate Linux for the pic)

I was not a person who criticized the president for trying to bring the Olympics to Chicago - because I think its not only ok but admirable when the president is a booster for team America.

But Obama's Copenhagen trip was a real screw up.

The president is an accomplished attorney and former law professor, so he should know that the first rule of being a lawyer is that you never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer (at least not in public).

Promoting a great American city for the Olympics was not his sin; his sin was not looking before he leaped. Obama should have only gone to Copenhagen if he already had the IOC sewn up (and if there was no room for him to know that; no back channel negotiations; then the trip should have been a no go). Frankly, a pissant NGO like to the IOC should be so honored that the U.S. president took time out of his day to meet with them they should do what he asks, and if they aren't willing to do that then they don't get to meet him.

President Obama is under estimating the power of the presidency and over estimating the power of Obama. He thought that somehow his personal appeal would overcome fashionable Euro-Trash anti-Americanism, and it didn't. At the same time, he didn't even consider that a presidential visit to an NGO should be a special treat to reward good behavior (every judge on that panel took a picture and went home and told their kids "I just met Obama!") and not a tag along with Oprah.

This dichotomy, overestimating his own abilities and under estimating the power of the office, could become very dangerous if it is not brought to heal ASAP. Obama should start running ALL of his foreign affairs decisions; whether on trade, immigration, security, or visits with Euro-Trash dilettantes, by Hillary Clinton or Bob Gates. Clinton and Gates have the judgment and experience to keep Obama on the right track so long as he keeps the lines of communication open and pays attention to the advice he receives.

The New Core Gets the New Olympics: Congratulations Rio!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Steve Coll is missing the forrest for the trees...

I like Steve Coll. His book Ghost Wars:The Secrete History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, is probably the best single volume on both Afghanistan and American foreign policy. But he is missing a number of a salient points in his recent blog post comparing the U.S. COIN strategy in Afghanistan to the Soviet COIN strategy:

Then, during the late nineteen-eighties, faced with a dilemma similar to that facing the United States, the Soviets tried to “Afghan-ize” their occupation, much as the U.S. proposes to do now. The built up Afghan forces, put them in the lead in combat, supplied them with sophisticated weapons, and, ultimately, decided to withdraw. This strategy actually worked reasonably well for a while, although the government only controlled the major cities, never the countryside. But the factional and tribal splits within the Army persisted, defections were chronic, and a civil war among the insurgents also played out within the Army, ensuring that when the Soviet Union fell apart, and supplies halted, the Army too would crack up and dissolve en masse. (I happened to be in Kabul when this happened, in 1992. On a single day, thousands and thousands of soldiers and policemen took off their uniforms, put on civilian clothes, and went home.)

Finally, during the mid-nineteen-nineties, a fragmented and internally feuding Kabul government, in which Karzai was a participant for a time, tried to build up national forces to hold off the Taliban, but splits within the Kabul coalitions caused important militias and sections of the security forces to defect to the Taliban. The Taliban took Kabul in 1996 as much by exploiting Kabul’s political disarray as by military conquest. The history of the Afghan Army since 1970 is one in which the Army has never actually been defeated in the field, but has literally dissolved for lack of political glue on several occasions.

The first point he misses in this post, but does deal with in a post he made a few days later, is that the U.S. was actively working against the Afghan (or Soviet puppet, depending on your point of view) government right up through the early 1990s. The weapons and training given by both the U.S. and Pakistan intelligence services went a long way in bringing down the Afghan government.

Ironically, another point he makes in the second post is that the American effort to stabilize Afghanistan, after we decided to stop funding the insurgency, was only an, at best, half hearted effort (I think Bush 41 was a dud; complete lack of strategic imagination on a number of issues; handled the Soviet collapse well).

With all of this in mind it stands to reason that we are in a much better position then the Soviets were for the following reasons:

#1. There is no super power supporting the Taliban today. In fact, both India and China seem to be playing a constructive role. And of the U.S. is committed (for now..)

#2. The Pakistanis have a very different view of Taliban than they did of the Mujahadeen.

To expound a bit on point #1, the world has really changed since the 1980s. Back then India was a basket case, China was a less developed country, the Soviets were still the Big Bad and the U.S. wanted a good relationship with Pakistan to hedge against an Indian/Soviet alliance and as a nice place to spy on China and Russia. By the mid 90s we decided we cared about Pakistan's bomb and slapped them with a nonsensical sancations regime that would last until the 2001 and we decided we didn't care at all about Afghanistan.

Today its all changed. China is a growing economic power that needs two things, resources and regional stability, and a stable Afghanistan may just help them achieve both. India is economically joined-at the hip to both China and the United States and we aren't going anywhere when it comes to South and Central Asia because of our relationships with those two countries.

Pakistan, which has oscillated back and forth on being a basket case, is a less sure ally today then they were in our proxy war against the Soviets but they are clearly scared to death of the Taliban, and, unlike during the 1990s, we've completely forsaken the notion that Pakistan is somehow sovereign and we run raids into the Swat valley with alacrity.

In conclusion, we are not rerunning the Soviet mistakes on Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was opposed by the whole world; the U.S. invasion is currently supported by 41 countries. The Soviet army wasn't much better than the Afghan army; with tales of widspread desertion and drug use among Soviet conscripts its a wonder they were able to hold out as long as they did. The U.S., on the other hand, has a large and extremely well trained volunteer force that has a great deal of experience dealing with COIN missions in the last few years.

How this guy got to be a professor of anything is beyond me....

This video clip describes how I feel reading the latest tripe from Bacevich.  And you know, there is never a sock full of horse manure around when you need one.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to a global counterinsurgency campaign. Instead of fighting an endless hot war in a vain effort to eliminate the jihadist threat, the United States should wage a cold war to keep the threat at bay. Such a strategy worked before. It can work again.
Where oh where do I begin?

#1. Endless global counterinsurgency? Bullshit. The COIN campaign is hardly global; its focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan - and only certain regions of Pakistan. How he gets "global" from that I don't know. If he's referring to Iraq then maybe he didn't notice a salient fact about Iraq: we won.

#2. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger "what's the number for the Islamic world"? I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize on behalf of America to Muslims around the world. Please know that many non-Muslims in the U.S. are non-the-less informed about Islam and we understand that the very idea of an "Islamic world" is offensive and that there is at least as much diversity of opinion about the nature of the relationship between God and man within Islam as there is within Christianity. Sorry.

#3. The high tech American way of war is discredited? If by discredited you mean so successful that the U.S. took down Iraq in 3 weeks and has achieved such a lead in kinetic capability that there is no one in the world even building a force to compete with us, then yes, discredited is a good word. Seriously, when was the last time anybody had the guts to send a fighter against an F-15? When was the last time anybody had the guts to challenge our sea power? We are fucking these dudes up with killer robots. Got it? We don't even have to waste the time to send a human anymore, we'll send a Terminator to get you. And that's what this guy calls discredited? The only problem with our military capability has been that we have won wars way too fast for our military civil-affairs and civilian aid agencies to catch up. But that capability is improving.

#4. What role did "containment" play in the Cold War, anyway? I would say exploiting fissures within the "communist world" was at least as effective, and maybe more effective, than "containment".

#5. Decapitating strikes. Right. We did that in the 1990s and now there's a big hole in the New York skyline. My single biggest beef with this strategy is this: what did we lack in our strikes against AQ leadership in the 1990s? Actionable intelligence. What did we lack against Iraq in 2003? Actionable intelligence. How do you get intelligence? You have to build relationships on the ground. The Taliban, which hides AQ, is a primarily Pashtun insurgency that hides among a Pashtun population. To find the Taliban we have to engage with the Pashtun people, and the only way they are going to trust us enough to talk is if they know we can protect them from the Taliban.

#6. Perfect our society for competition? Will somebody get this guy a copy of The World is Flat? This guy was in the army for how long and he never noticed they have T.V. in other countries? People in the Gap WANT the connectivity - the Takffaris want to sever the connection. Besides, there is NO poverty in America when compared with the poverty in Afghanistan.

The really scary thing about this article is that there are kids at Boston University whose only exposer to IR or American foreign policy is going to be the class they take from him. I feel bad for those kids.