Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Book Update - The Mission
I finished Dana Priest's new book The Mission late last night, fueled by a pot of Peet's coffee. Great read -- I highly recommend the book.
However, I'm not sure I agree with the author's major arguments. Ms. Priest argues, among other things:
1. The U.S. military has gradually squeezed out diplomatic efforts abroad. This has occurred because military funding has remained constant while funding for diplomatic agencies (State Dept, USAID, Commerce, etc) has declined. I agree with the author's argument here, and think this is a dangerous trend. We ought to be engaging foreign governments, economies, and societies -- not just their militaries.
2. In this vacuum, military commanders (the "CinCs") have initiated a number of "military diplomacy" programs. These include the use of Special Forces to train foreign soldiers, sharing of intelligence, promotion of foreign military sales, etc. In the absence of diplomatic workers from traditional agencies like State and USAID, these soldiers have become the biggest group of American government personnel operating abroad. I agree with the author here too; the soldiers have filled a diplomatic vacuum created by tremendous funding disparities. Ironically, this occurred even in the Clinton Administration, where human rights and international engagement had a kindred spirit in the White House.
3. Soldiers are ill-trained and ill-equipped to do this job on behalf of America. Using soldiers abroad has led to a number of breakdowns in American foreign policy, such as the failure to establish a lasting and self-sustaining peace in the Balkans. Moreover, soldiers have contributed to conflict and human-rights problems in various ways, especially through the training of foreign troops. Here, I strongly disagree with Ms. Priest. U.S. soldiers have left a powerful and lasting legacy in places like Bosnia. They may remain there for some time. But the mission is a success story. 10 years ago, snipers dueled over the streets of Sarajevo, killing civilians with impunity. Today, civilians can walk through Sarajevo without fear. A similar, if not-yet-perfect, situation exists in Kosovo, where U.S. soldiers secure the future of Serbs and Albanians alike.
Bottom Line: Soldiers don't make the best diplomats in the world. They should not replace political, social and economic diplomacy, as they have done because of funding disparities between the Pentagon and other federal agencies. But soldiers do a pretty good job at policing the peace. And while the American infantry isn't automatically ready to assume such missions, it can be trained to do so. With good training and leadership, American soldiers can make and keep peace in some of the world's worst places -- just as they have done in Bosnia and Kosovo. On occasion, mistakes will be made. However, American soldiers have proven their ability to stop the killing -- a goal that thousands of diplomats could never attain in the Balkans.
Muslim U.S. Army National Guard soldiers says he won't go
Case raises issues of religious freedom; soldier will lose if he fights this one
Sunday's New York Daily News reports that a New York-based reservist named Ghanim Khalil has said "Hell no, I won't go." It's more complicated than that. Basically, he has stated that he will not go if called to fight in Iraq, because he does not believe in the cause for which he would be fighting. Khalil, who is a supply specialist in the New York National Guard, has no mobilization orders -- but he's been told "it's only a matter of time."
"If I'm asked to go to the Middle East, I will not," Khalil, of Staten Island, said at a news conference yesterday before he headed over to the anti-war rally near the United Nations.
"I believe if this war occurs, it is a violation of human rights," added Khalil, a Muslim with Pakistani roots.
"As a Muslim, I have objections" to the war, he said. But he called his protests universal, saying people of all faiths have spoken out against Persian Gulf War II.
* * *
National Guard spokesman Col. Dan Stoneking wouldn't comment on Khalil specifically, saying, "All Americans have First Amendment rights," but that reservists who won't serve would be sanctioned.
Analysis: This is a ridiculous case on so many levels.
1. I think Mr. Khalil has been influenced by some people close to him to make this stand, probably because it will bolster the alleged moral credibility of the anti-war movement if they have a few martyrs. I go to law school with such an individual, who "made his bones" in the peace movement by encouraging Marines to go AWOL during the first Gulf War. If that's the case, Mr. Khalil ought to think carefully about what he is doing. It is technically possible that he could be court-martialed for his conduct. He will serve the jail time; not them.
2. As a matter of religious freedom, Mr. Khalil is on very shaky ground. The First Amendment has been tested by conscientious objectors who sought to avoid Vietnam service, and they were instead drafted as medics and other types of soldiers. More recently, in the all-volunteer force, the First Amendment was tested by an Air Force rabbi who wanted to wear his yarmulke in uniform. The Court held that the Air Force was not infringing his religious freedom by ordering him to conform to uniform regulations. In general, the Supreme Court defers to military judgment on matters like this. (See Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 US 503, Decided on March 25, 1986) And in this case, religion or not, the Court would probably uphold Mr. Khalil's conviction for failing to report for duty.
3. I'm not sure there's a legitimate religious issue here. First, Saddam Hussein's no Islamist -- he runs a secular regime in Baghdad with little if any tie to the Muslim religion. If America were about to wage war on Saudi Arabia -- or even Iran -- things might be different. Second, Islam itself contains no proscriptions on warfare in its entirety, the way the Quaker religion does for example. Islam embraces "just war" just as Christianity and Judaism do. Thus if our ends are morally just, then Mr. Khalil ought to have no religious objection to them. Personally, I consider the goal of liberating the oppressed Iraqi people to be a pretty just end.
4. This isn't a conscription Army -- Mr. Khalil voluntarily joined the National Guard. He's probably gotten some benefits, like the GI Bill or tuition assistance, and has at least enjoyed the pay from the National Guard since joining. It's not like America's problems with Iraq are new. He should've seen the writing on the wall before and never joind the military if he thought it was so bad.
5. It's not like Mr. Khalil is an infantryman -- he's a supply specialist. If he sees any fighting at all, it will be by accident. If his Guard unit hasn't been called up yet, it may not be called. If his unit was called, it's just as likely to be called for some homeland-defense mission as an overseas deployment. I might cede him some credibility if he were a high-speed Airborne Ranger in the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, or something like that. But then again, I doubt someone with convictions like Mr. Khalil could make it through that kind of selection and training process.
Post Script: As a U.S. Army officer and Jew, I dealt with this issue several times in my military career. A number of fellow soldiers -- from sergeant to colonel -- asked me in a variety of contexts how I would act if American went to war against or on the side of Israel. A related quesiton was whether I would desert the U.S. Army for the Israeli Defense Force should Israel be attacked. (American military personnel have done this, so it's not a baseless question) My answer was always that I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and that I would remain true to that oath. The questions usually went away as I got to know these individuals. But I think they reflected a larger insecurity in America's uniformed ranks towards Jews and Muslims, and unease over each faith's true allegiances. Thus, I sympathize with Mr. Khalil -- but I cannot support his position in any way.
Lawyers at War
International law professor Ruth Wedgwood has something to say to the American Bar Association in this morning's Wall Street Journal: stop impeding America's war on terrorism. Ms. Wedgwood, who is often consulted by the Bush Administration on dicey matters of international law (such as the treatment of enemy combatants), knows what she's talking about. I read the ABA report, and think for the most part it's a flawed document. The ABA, like many lawyers, cannot break with their paradigm that everything is a problem of law; that terrorism must be dealt with by courts and attorneys. Nearly every recommendation in the ABA report hinges on that assumption.
The American Bar Association has entered the fray over the president's detention of enemy combatants in the war on terrorism. At its recent meeting in Seattle, ABA delegates helpfully urged the administration to do what it is already doing -- namely, allowing Americans captured with the Taliban or al Qaeda to seek "meaningful judicial review" of their legal status. In addition, suggested the ABA, any U.S. citizens or residents captured as combatants should be granted access to defense counsel in a way that "accommodates the needs of the detainee and the requirements of national security."
Unfortunately for the rest of us, this second step involves a balancing act that isn't so easy. Americans hold liberty dear, but they also are acutely aware that the need for intelligence on anticipated attacks by al Qaeda is urgent, and the supply is scarce. The prime source of intelligence will be captured combatants; and lawyers, alas, will inevitably turn off that flow of time-critical information.
* * *
The president has employed his constitutional power as commander-in-chief to treat al Qaeda and Taliban fighters as combatants, to keep them from returning to the battlefield. Under the established law of armed conflict, he can civilly intern a captured combatant until the end of active hostilities. Military commanders are entitled to interrogate all combatants at length, to learn as much as possible about al Qaeda's cells, weapons and future plans for attack.
In a conventional war, a habeas corpus petition by enemy soldiers would likely be dismissed out-of-hand. With an enemy who does not wear any distinctive insignia or uniform (contrary to the laws of war) and who makes the world a 24/7 battlefield, the inquiry can be more delicate. But not always. Consider the situation in Virginia, where the federal appeals court cut the Gordian knot after three rounds of appeals related to Yaser Hamdi, a Saudi-American found on the Afghan battlefield carrying an AK-47.
Hamdi, now in the Norfolk naval brig, was born in Baton Rouge and raised in Saudi Arabia. He traveled to Afghanistan to take weapons training with the Taliban and was captured by the Northern Alliance "in a zone of active combat in a foreign theater of conflict." Hamdi admitted to military intelligence teams that he'd trained and deployed with the Taliban, and carried an automatic weapon until his capture.
The Fourth Circuit found no reason to reject the factual or legal basis of the president's decision to detain Hamdi as a combatant, in light of his out-of-court admissions and the recorded circumstances of his capture. The appellate court rebuffed the district judge's hunting-call for more battlefield details, including whether Hamdi had actually fired his gun in battle or was merely held in ready reserve.
The proposed "excavation" of battlefield scenes from a half-world away might be characteristic of a criminal investigation, but wasn't adapted to the "rubble of war," ruled Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson and his colleagues. There are, after all, no crime-lab investigators on an Afghan battlefield ready to record whether a combatant's clothing has powder residue. So, too, the demand for review of all classified screening criteria for the transfer of combatants, all raw intelligence interviews of Hamdi, and the names and addresses of all interviewers, was held to be an unwarranted excursion into the president's domain.
The principle of separation of powers unavoidably has a large footprint in wartime. It is the president who is constitutionally charged with successfully prosecuting a war and protecting the American people against renewed attacks.
* * *
Al Qaeda has learned quickly. Its planners are smart enough to use American "mules" once they realize that stateside recruits are immune from effective interrogation. The government could create an expeditious surrogate procedure, using military commissions and counsel to establish the status of any citizen combatants, thus simplifying the federal courts' task of habeas review. But in the meantime, the dilemma remains. We have stationed anti-aircraft batteries around government buildings. We have tasked environmental clean-air sampling stations around the country to watch for biological reagents. Yet intelligence remains a key to citizen safety.
The federal courts will take this issue case-by-case and may vary their procedure according to the clarity of the government's affidavit. But journeys to Afghanistan and planning sessions with al Qaeda leave little room for doubt that someone has signed up with the bad guys.
Analysis: Terrorism is a round peg that cannot easily be pounded easily into the square holes of law or war. It requires innovative solutions, sometimes from the war paradigm and sometimes from the criminal-law paradigm. Forcing the President to choose all his options from the law paradigm will tie his hands in a way we can't afford. America cannot afford to let terrorists have a tactical advantage like that the criminal courts or 4th Amendment would confer -- we must have the ability to gather intelligence and pro-actively stop terrorism.
Monday, February 17, 2003
Firefighters' masks fail to stop chemical agents
This disturbing report from Noah Shachtman at Defense Tech:
FIREFIGHTERS' MASKS CAN'T STOP GAS
The gas masks used by almost every fire department in the country can't keep chemical agents like sarin and mustard gas from getting in. Many firefighters have no idea their equipment is deficient, according to CBS News.
When he received the report (of the masks' shortcomings), the chief of the Arlington Virginia Fire Department, Ed Plaugher, says he was, "devastated - literally devastated."
Plaugher led the Sept. 11 response at the Pentagon. Even though his rescue teams presumed there might be poison gas, they rushed in anyway, certain their gear would protect them. That confidence is gone.
"The failure of the test is a very, very big deal for us, because it means we have to re-evaluate and re-ramp the way that we attack an incident like this," says Plaugher.
What he means is delay. Today, if the alarm rings and a gas attack is suspected, the Arlington teams will not rush in.
Sequel: Want to know another not-too-secret fact? Standard-issue military gear won't protect against many of the industrial chemical hazards that firefighter's gear is designed to protect against. Military protective masks are designed to protect against battlefield chemical/biological weapons, but not against industrial/urban hazards like what might happen if you accidentally blew up a chemical factory in Baghdad. Are there suits that will protect you against everything? Yes, but they're expensive, hard to use, and delicate. (If you saw the movie Outbreak, you know what I mean)
Sunday's New York Times Magazine ran a great photo essay on female warriors who may lead the way to Baghdad if we go to war with Iraq. In many ways, the article reprises the cover article I wrote in December for the Washington Monthly on women in combat. I encourage you to check both out.
Since the Gulf victory in 1991, a series of largely unnoticed policy changes have opened new opportunities for women to fight alongside, and even to lead, front-line troops. The Navy and Air Force, with some fanfare, allowed women into the cockpits of fighters and bombers. But less well known is how vastly the Army has expanded the role of women in ground-combat operations. Today, women command combat military police companies, fly Apache helicopters, work as tactical intelligence analysts, and even serve in certain artillery units--jobs that would have been unthinkable for them a decade ago. In any war in Iraq, these changes could put thousands of women in the midst of battle, far more than at any time in American history.
This new role for female U.S. troops is the product of three different forces. One is congressional pressure to integrate the military by gender as it previously had been integrated by race. Another is the ongoing enlistment shortage; the military remains reluctant to admit women yet is unable to recruit enough competent men to staff an all-volunteer Army. But the most important reason has been pressure from women within the Army who need combat experience to advance their careers, nearly all of them in the officer corps. And yet this experiment has been conducted largely below the threshold of public awareness.
The wisdom of this integration is sure to be tested in any sizable ground war with Iraq. If female soldiers perform poorly, they could put their comrades' lives at risk, strengthen the hand of conservatives who oppose women serving as soldiers, and provoke a backlash from the American public. But if, in the heat of battle, women fight bravely and effectively, it could spark a different sort of debate among the military and the public at large over why regulations and military culture still conspire to keep women from many prime assignments in the nation's service.
Some thoughts on duct tape and plastic wrap
Knowing my background in anti-terrorism and force protection, some friends and family members have asked for my opinion on whether they should buy a stockage of duct tape and plastic wrap -- and whether they should build a safe room in their house. I usually qualify my advice by saying I was an MP, not a Chemical Corps officer. I know the general details of biological and chemical warfare, but not the intimate details that make these deadly things work. That said, I think this is good advice, and I wish there was more of it out there.
1. Will duct tape and plastic wrap protect my house? Maybe. If you can use these materials to make an air-tight box in your house, then in theory, you can keep out any biological or chemical agent. Try it on a small scale -- take a decidedly non-airtight cardboard box and use these materials to seal it. Then put that box into a tank of water and see if any air bubbles escape. Do this again until you get it right. It's not easy work. Though very strong, duct tape is still somewhat porous; you need to layer these materials to achieve a complete seal. Plastic wrap is notoriously weak too; it rips and tears quite easily. If you can do this well enough to build an air-tight box that withstands the water-tank test, you're better than me. In any case, it's theoretically possible to build an air-tight container in your house to protect yourself against chemical or biological agents. It just takes a lot of effort -- and the type of engineering skill that usually comes with an MIT degree and lots of experience.
But there are a myriad of issues to be resolved next.
2. How will you get fresh air in/out of this safe room? Without some filter mechanism, it will be impossible to refresh the air in your safe house. You can deal with this in several ways. One might stock oxygen tanks inside, though that may cause interesting overpressure issues if you release those pressurized tanks within your sealed room. (The overpressure may blow the seals on your tape) With some engineering expertise, you could add an air-filtration system with a HEPA filter and a carbon filter to screen out all chemical and biological agents (much like a gas mask does). But this would be difficult and costly.
3. How do you eat? Assuming you have a perfectly sealed box and you can recirculate the air, you'll also have to eat and drink at some point. In theory, you can just stock some canned goods and bottled water and you're good to go. But how much do you stock? This is manageable, but it must be planned ahead of time. If the threat is real and your house is contaminated, you can't expect to step out of the box for a quick trip to the fridge. (Theoretically, you also have to plan for the removal of human waste, but I'll leave that to you)
4. How do you know when to get in/out of the box? The answer here is far from clear -- this is the hardest question of all. Except for certain high-threat locations like the Pentagon and White House, we have no national chem/bio surveillance system which would tell us there's been a nerve-gas or anthrax attack. Scary, huh? Chemical weapons would be detected by large numbers of casualties, and possibly through the signature of the delivery device. Police, fire and specialized National Guard units would outline the contaminated area and attempt to seal it off as best they could. But that would take time. If you're in that area, you may or may not get any warning of the chemical agent. You simply aren't going to get the real-time warning you need to get into the box fast enough to make a difference, unless you happen to have your own personal M8A1 Chemical Agent Alarm.
- Biological agents are even trickier -- no one may know they're there until they start killing people in many cases. Until recently, the military didn't have a system for real-time detection and warning of biological agent. It does not -- the so-called BIDS system. But it's not perfect, and it's not fielded all that widely. If news helicopters flew over Los Angeles and sprayed anthrax spores or some other nasty bug, we would not get the warning in time to hop into our sealed boxes. Indeed, we may not learn of this incident until the first casualties start walking into local emergency rooms.
5. How would you know it's 'all clear'? Again, you wouldn't. No system exists today to go around to every neighborhood and decontaminate it after an attack. Even if such a system existed, how would you know your neighborhood had been decontaminated? In theory, TV or radio stations might broadcast such information, but would you be willing to trust the local news station with your life? In the military, we train to decontaminate personnel and critical equipment. But some areas themselves may stay contaminated until the agent dissipates naturally. This is especially true of so-called "persistent nerve agents" like VX, which occurs as a gelatin-like substance and is one of the most lethal substances in existence. In the right weather, this stuff can persist for days or weeks. Luckily, however, this stuff is fairly static. If we know where the device was blown and we know the wind, we can predict where the agent will go. If you stay out of this hazardous area, you'll live. But if you're in the contaminated area and you're in your box, you may be stuck in a really bad place for some time.
Recommendation: Save your money and avoid the long lines at Home Depot -- don't buy the duct tape or plastic wrap. Even if you could solve all of these problems, it's still unlikely you'd get enough advance warning from the government to get into your "safe" house in time. Instead, your best bet is to listen to the news. If an attack happens, look for information about where it hit and where it's predicted to spread. Then do everything you can to avoid that area. I know it sounds simple. But often times, the simplest plans are the best ones.
Reserve call-ups strain city/county public safety departments
Today's Los Angeles Times carries a front-page article on the strain that extensive call-ups of American military reservists puts on police, fire, and civic agencies at the state and local level around the country. Here in California, more than 8,000 reservists (including me) have been called to active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. Many of these tours have lasted for a few months; some have lasted a year or longer. With war looming in Iraq and occupation duty on the horizon after that, it's not clear when these callups will end. Conceivably, many soldiers will be called a second time if this trend continues.
For a number of complex reasons, a disproportionate number of these reservists work in the public sector -- especially in local police and fire departments. Police and fire departments like to hire military veterans because of their physical aptitude, military training, education, experience, and professional maturity. Many departments, like the LAPD, award extra points to veterans in the hiring process. These agencies also have generous reserve-duty policies, sometimes paying their personnel for the time they serve in the reserves (on top of their reserve salaries). Police officers and firefighters often rely on reserve service for much-needed extra money in the early years of their careers. For their part, police/fire departments encourage reserve service because the military provides leadership training/experience their personnel can't get as easily in the civilian world.
However, there's a basic tension here -- the public-safety needs of the state/local community vs. the military personnel needs of the U.S. government.
"Are these people better off guarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, or can they do more service to the country as police officers back in their communities?" asked Lynchburg Police Chief C.W. Bennett, who is struggling to make do with three of his most experienced officers gone or about to go. "We have to make some tough decisions about where these people can do the most good."
The Chief is right -- someone needs to be thinking about why we're calling up so many reservists, and whether these men/women can do more good if they're left in the departments they work in. Current Army mobilization policies (FORSCOM Regulation 500-3-3) do not allow for the exemption of reservists from mobilization for external work reasons, i.e. "the city needs me." Compelling personal reasons can sometimes exempt a soldier, but that's about it. I know a lot of people who do important public-sector work in the anti-terrorism community who don't serve in the military reserves for this reason.
There's a second issue: why does the Pentagon need to call up so many reservists in the first place? The answer is that after Vietnam, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Creighton Abrams decided to restructure America's military to require a massive reserve callup in any future war. The theory was that a reserve callup would test the political resolve of America's leaders, and force them to account for the war to America's people. (Vietnam was fought largely by conscripts and the existing Army -- with little reserve mobilization at all.) Consequently, critical support units like military police, logistics, intelligence, civil affairs, etc., were moved to the reserve component. The Air Force pushed a number of its tactical fighter wings to the Air National Guard and Air Force reserve.
Today, this has come around to bite the Pentagon in the backside. With our current commitments to Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Egypt, and a dozen other places, America barely has the forces it needs to fight the war in Afghanistan and the buildup in Kuwait. Moreover, the active force structure relies on critical support units (see above) that exist only in the reserves . Consequently, the President must call up a substantial number of reservists to fight the war on terrorism, and any subsequent/related war on Iraq.
Friday, February 14, 2003
Signing off until Monday
I'm going camping north of Santa Barbara this weekend, and will be taking a break from 'blogging for the next three days. Despite the current sophisticated state of cellular telephony, laptops, and high-speed Internet service, I've made a conscious choice to leave my laptop behind and get away for a few days. I may take a book, but that's about it.
I promise to do a full Intel Dump on the weekend's events when I return. I'm sifting through materials on the new "Terrorist Threat Integration Center" and will have some thoughts on that (and more) when I return.
Book Recommendation: The Mission
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest’s new book on the American military
I just picked up Dana Priest’s new book The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military. (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003) This book is the latest of its popular/political/journalistic genre to hit the racks on America’s military. By my count, we’ve had David Halberstam’s War in a Time of Peace, Eliot Cohen’s Supreme Command, Max Boot’s Savage Wars of Peace, Wes Clark's Waging Modern War, and several others in the past 1-2 years. Ms. Priest is an outstanding reporter for the Washington Post; she now covers the White House. I will withhold judgment on the book itself, having just finished the first chapter. However, I already sense an argument against many of the ways that Presidents Clinton and Bush used the military during the last five years. It’s a very provocative argument, and a book that I look forward to reading.
Here are a couple of sample passages from the Prologue:
Long before September 11, the U.S. government had grown increasingly dependent on its military to carry out its foreign affairs. The shift was incremental, little noticed, de facto. It did not even qualify as an “approach.” The military simply filled a vacuum left by an indecisive White House, an atrophied State Department, and a distracted Congress. After September 11, however, the trend accelerated dramatically with the war in Afghanistan and the likelihood of U.S. military operations elsewhere. Without a doubt, U.S.-sponsored political reform abroad is being eclipsed by new military pacts focusing on anti-terrorism and intelligence-sharing.
All this comes at a time when decision-makers understand less and less about their military. Our elected leaders often treat men and women in uniform with either suspicion or excessive reference, failing to ask probing questions or push hard enough for reform. Yet it is the responsibility of those civilians to set the military’s direction, to use it as a tool when appropriate and otherwise to refrain from using it. At a minimum, Americans should understand the consequences of substituting generals and Green Berets for diplomats, and nineteen-year-old paratroopers for police and aid workers on nation-building missions.
* * *
The heightened reliance on generals, grunts and Green Berets arose when the prospect of big, direct confrontation and smaller unconventional wars between the superpowers ended. For a while, U.S. political and military leaders flailed about trying to redefine the country’s national interests. Military budgets and force sizes shrank, but even so, the Defense Department had more money and more people than any other foreign-focused government agency. With fewer threats, strategic-level commanders also had time and resources to worry about other things. More important, they had the inclination. Many officers, connoisseurs of history, viewed peacetime as an intermission between big wars. They wanted to use this intermission to prevent the next big conflict, which their think tanks predicted would be fought asymmetrically with low-tech weapons: suicide bombers, toxic chemicals, and deadly viruses wielded by worldwide terrorist cells funded by drugs, diamonds and dirty money. The key to prevention, many came to believe, was to create multinational “neighborhood watch” groups – regional coalitions of nations – that would discourage the bad guys in the ‘hood from straying too far and that would stop them if they tried something stupid.
No figures were more convinced of this approach than the generals who led the U.S. military’s regionally focused unified commands. With discretionary money and time, these commanders-in-chief, or “CinCs” (pronounced “sinks”), set out on their own parallel course to “shape” the world, as instructed by the president and the secretary of defense. Fairly soon, the CinCs grew into a powerful force in U.S. foreign policy because of the disproportionate weight of their resources and organization in relation to the assets and influence of other parts of America’s foreign policy structure – in particular, the State Department, which was shriveling in size, stature, and spirit even as the military’s role expanded.
* * *
Although the war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was clear in purpose, we are now seeing that the hardest, longest, and most important work comes after the bombing stops, when rebuilding replaces destroying and consensus-building replaces precision strikes. As the U.S. Army’s experience in Kosovo shows, the mind-set, decision-making, and training of infantry soldiers rarely mixes well with the disorder inherent in civil society. The mismatch of culture and mission can distort the goal of rebuilding a country. In the hands of poorly-formed, misguided troops, it can create disaster.
Such a mismatch was evident even to Pfc. Ian Smith, a nineteen-year-old from Ventura, California, who sat at the computer stall next to mine one evening in Vitina (Kosovo). Downloading music to his laptop, he leaned back in his yellow plastic chair and offered an unsolicited assessment of his Kosovo mission: “If you want to put a country back on its feet, you can’t send the military. You have to send reformers,” he said, meaning the civilians he imagined do these sorts of repairs.
Smith, however, had already lowered his expectations about the “reformers.” “This year all the NGOs (humanitarian organizations) are gone. So we take firewood from the people who need it,” meaning the majority Albanians, “and give it to people who need it,” meaning the minority Serbs. He rolled his eyes. “The only way to make a difference is when there’s a TV in every house, a phone in every house. Make it a first-world country and they’ll feel advanced. If they see a difference, that’s the key.”
Smith’s infantry brethren are now in Afghanistan. They, too, believe they are on an unnamed, open-ended mission on behalf of the United States – even if the rest of America hasn’t yet figured it out.
Army passes on its 'lessons learned' from smallpox vaccinations
Some side effects, but all can be managed
Today's Los Angeles Times reports on a particularly candid press briefing by the Army on its recent campaign to inoculate 500,000 soldiers against smallpox. Though well planned/executed, the military vaccination effort has run into predictable problems with medical logistics and medical effects. Most of these were anticipated (e.g. side effects), and the military planned for their occurrence. But some were not. It's important to note that the military enjoys several advantages over the civilian population in this effort -- it's more healthy (on average), younger, and more tightly controlled than civilian society. In theory, these problems will be magnified in any civilian vaccination effort.
"The risks [of the vaccine] are still pretty darn low," Col. John D. Grabenstein, deputy director for military vaccines, told a scientific panel created to advise the government's smallpox vaccination program. "Sick leave is rare and short ... and just about everything is occurring at rates lower than historically predicted," he added.
* * *
Even the military, with all its built-in efficiencies, has had some problems with its vaccination program. Tens of thousands of military personnel have experienced fever, malaise and swollen lymph nodes after being vaccinated, and "there has been a rash of rashes," Grabenstein said, about 12 for every 1,000 people inoculated. Almost all are harmless, but as many as seven people have developed what may be generalized vaccinia, a systemic spread of the vaccine's live vaccinia virus in lesions over the body, he said.
In addition, two soldiers were hospitalized with encephalitis, a serious inflammation of the brain, and an airman developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart.
But even these severe cases "have had a full recovery and are not slowing down the military vaccination program," Grabenstein said.
'Lessons learned' from an old soldier
Air war architect from Gulf War I suggests path for Gulf War II
Few airmen earn the right to call themselves a "soldier" or "warrior". Among the services, the Air Force is regarded as the most corporate and least martial. However, some airmen stand out, like Colonel John Boyd and General Charles "Chuck" Horner. These men, through their actions in combat and peace, earned the title of warrior. With help from a brilliant plans staff, Chuck Horner conceived and directed the air war over Kuwait and Iraq in 1990-91. This campaign is understood today to have revolutionized warfare, and to have set the conditions for the massively successful ground assault. When Chuck Horner speaks, I listen.
Today, he writes an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times with a few lessons for military planners engaged in the current campaign:
We knew how Iraq operated its air defenses in 1991, and we attacked vital communication and command nodes. Once they were isolated, individual surface-to-air missiles and aircraft were destroyed so viciously that surviving Iraqi SAM operators and fighter pilots were debilitated by shock and awe, incapable of employing their weapons effectively. Then, we flew at altitudes beyond the range of the Iraqi guns and short-range SAMs and used precision weapons to destroy many targets.
Although we ultimately forced Saddam Hussein's troops out of Kuwait, our approach was not an effective one for changing leadership.
* * *
Another lesson from the Gulf War is to integrate modern air power with ground forces. In 1991, air power destroyed artillery and armor, limiting Iraq's capacity to repel our ground forces. More than 40 Iraqi divisions were defeated with the loss of about 150 Americans, half of whom were killed by our own weapons. Recent action in Afghanistan -- when air and land forces again were closely integrated -- reaffirms the effectiveness of this approach.
In order not to leave Iraq worse off than it is today, we should use our forces efficiently: Don't engage those elements of the Iraqi military that do not resist. In 1991, 88,000 Iraqis chose to surrender. Allow them to do so again. For our own security, advanced surveillance aircraft can monitor the movement of bypassed Iraqi units. If they move to threaten our forces, they would be put down by precision weapons.
* * *
We must keep the Iraqi people informed and reassure them that we will return their country to their control. People who have fled Iraq can communicate with the folks at home to tell them what to expect. Television, radio and leaflet messages will also be important.
Any strategy must recognize the important and difficult issues that will exist after a war. Our land forces will play a major role in areas such as providing food, water and medical care until relief agencies can take over.
There will also be an immediate need to maintain law and order to prevent criminal acts and retribution.
Air power will have the lead role in winning the conflict, but land power will have the more critical role of helping Iraq rebuild itself.
Thursday, February 13, 2003
Can the President wage war on Iraq?
The latest skirmish: a civil lawsuit to enjoin the Bush Administration from war
In Massachusetts, 12 plaintiffs filed suit today in federal court seeking to enjoin President George Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from waging war on Iraq without an explicit declaration of war from Congress. The plaintiffs include members of Congress (John Conyers, Jesse Jackson Jr., Dennis Kucinich, Jim McDermott, Jose Serrano), as well as ordinary citizens affected by the war -- including active and reserve military personnel.
"A coalition of plaintiffs... hereby bring this action challenging, under Article I, § 8 of the United States Constitution, the authority of Defendant President George W. Bush and Defendant Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (hereinafter “Defendants”) to wage war against Iraq, absent a clear declaration of war by the United States Congress."
The parties have also requested an expedited hearing for their case, given that the President has said it will be "weeks not months" before he conducts decisive action against Iraq.
"... Each of the Plaintiffs faces imminent harm from the war threatened by the Defendants. The Plaintiff service people have the most to lose – their lives and limbs – in an illegal war. The Plaintiff parents risk the loss or injury of their children in the service when an undeclared war commences. The Plaintiff Congressional Representatives are threatened with losing their constitutional right and authority to be the decision makers, representing their constituencies, as to whether the United States will enter a war with Iraq. The Plaintiffs meet the standards for issuance of a preliminary injunction, as the accompanying memorandum of law demonstrates."
Analysis: Of course, this is a political tactic. It's an ironic twist on Clausewitz, who wrote that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Here, you have a situation where law is a continuation of politics by other means. (This begs the question: is law really a form of warfare?) Congress has taken up this issue, and to the chagrin of these anti-war activists, passed a Joint Resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq to enforce UN Security Council resolutions. Congress has also passed a resolution to authorize the use of force in America's war on terrorism.
The courts have never -- and probably will never -- hold that the President needs an explicit declaration of war before committing US troops abroad. That would unconstitutionally infringe on his power as Commander in Chief of the military. In several wartime cases, the Supreme Court has held that Presidential decisions to commit troops to combat without such a declaration have been lawful. There's no reason why they would change that holding in this case. (But see, plaintiffs' memorandum of law in support of their arguments) Unless this suit finds a very receptive federal judge, it will die in U.S. District Court. And even if it proceeds, it will not succeed.
Update: The AP reports that "There has been no response yet from the Bush administration. The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction and an expedited hearing. An expedited hearing was granted, and a federal judge will hear the case next Thursday."
Human shields cling to bridge in Baghdad
If the U.S. bombs the bridge and kills them, is it a war crime?
The Associated Press reports that 14 peace activists from several different nations have reached Baghdad after a lengthy tour of Europe via double-decker bus. The group almost didn't make it, and their leader (former US marine Ken Nichols) was deported by Turkey before reaching Iraq. After days of speculation over whether the U.S. would stop this traveling circus, the peaceniks have reached their destination. Now that they're there, they have "wrapped their arms around posts on a bridge over the Tigris River on Thursday, symbolizing their intent to act as human shields in any U.S. war on Iraq."
The 14 activists, mostly from Italy, were one of the first groups here using the "shield" title, which suggests they might place their bodies at potential targets to deter bombing. But they acknowledged their mission is only a gesture meant to try to deter an invasion to topple Saddam Hussein. "I have no intention of being a martyr," Canadian Roberta Taman said. "I'm here because I believe that the world wants peace and that we can achieve peace."
The campaigners, organized as the Iraq Peace Team, have been draping banners over public facilities in Baghdad this week - an electricity station, a water treatment plant and, on Thursday, the Martyrs Bridge over the Tigris. "Bombing This site Is A War Crime," the banners read.
Is that right? Would it be a war crime for the U.S. to hit the bridge over the Tigris?
The answer is not as clear cut as either the activists -- or the Pentagon -- would like.
1. The first issue is whether the larger war itself would be lawful. Lawful acts of combat in the context of an unlawful war would obviously not be lawful. The U.S. reads existing UN Security Council resolutions to already give the U.S. the authority to attack Iraq, notwithstanding the Security Council's current hesitation to authorize any action. These resolutions, including several passed in 1990-91 in the First Gulf War, are so-called "Chapter VII" resolutions of the UN Security Council which authorize military force for implementation. However, the French and German view is that these resolutions do not suffice to create international authorization for a war, and that a US-led war without explicit (and new) UN authorization would be unlawful. This is a dramatic oversimplication, but you get the idea. The very lawfulness of any US action in Iraq might be questioned.
2. Commanders have a duty to observe two principles of the law of war which are relevant here. The first is "distinction", which means the distinction between military and civilian targets. Commanders are required to take all practical measures to hit military targets and to not hit civilian targets. Deliberately targeting civilians is illegal under the laws of war, and intentional (or negligent) collateral damage may be as well. The second principle is "proportionality." Military commanders should use the amount of force necessary to accomplish the mission and defend friendly forces -- but not more.
- Is the bridge a lawful military target? If Iraqi troops or military/strategic assets use it, the answer is pretty easily yes. If it's used for logistical or infrastructural supply of Iraqi troops, the answer could still be yes. If yes, then the bridge can be hit.
- If the bridge can be hit, what about the known existence of civilians at that site? Here it becomes tricky. In theory, commanders are to avoid intentionally or negligently causing civilian casualties. However, "human shields" would create an easy way for despots to make their adversaries commit war crimes. So international law deals with this by putting the blame to the side that uses human shields. If Iraq condones or allows these persons to be human shields, then Iraq accepts the blame (and legal liability in a war-crimes tribunal) for their deaths. In the first Gulf War, Iraq used human shields quite extensively. The U.S. knew about them, and bombed some of those sites anyway because the military value of those targets outweighed the collateral damage. Nonetheless, the legal and moral responsibility for those deaths lay with Saddam Hussein.
- Are there any 'proportionality' issues here? Probably not. Assuming the bridge is a lawful military target (and critical infrastructure usually is), the U.S. can use the appropriate bomb to bring it down. I'm no expert on air-dropped munitions, but I suspect that means a precision-guided munition of some kind that can hit the bridge and bring it down with one or two bombs. Such a weapon would kill whoever was on the bridge, and probably hurt/kill anyone with their arms wrapped around it too. There isn't a way to accomplish this legitimate military end (blowing the bridge) without causing casualties in the immediate vicinity. The absence of any viable/practical alternative means to cause that end means this would almost certainly be a proportional strike.
3. The peace activists themselves may be relieving both the Americans and the Iraqis here of any legal liability by their actions. In American law, this doctrine is called "assumption of risk." It requires two elements: 1) that the victim know about the risk and 2) that the victim voluntarily assume that risk as an act of free will. The actions of these activists argue strongly that they have assumed the risk of being killed by American ordnance. Such an event would be tragic. But the U.S. cannot be held liable for this, and military lawyers advising Gen. Tommy Franks know this. It's unlikely this human-shield effort will have any effect whatsoever -- except to cause more suffering for the families of these activists if they are hurt or killed.
Bush Administration sends war plan back to planners for revision
Plan failed to minimize civilian casualties; set conditions for American occupation
Today's Washington Times reports that the White House has turned down an initial plan for the air war in Iraq. Why? As written, the plan would have targeted parts of the Iraqi civilian infrastructure and other things which would inflict too much harm on the Iraqi people. This, in turn, would cause tremendous civil-military problems for the U.S. in the post-war occupation phase, giving Iraqi civilians more reason to resent the U.S. instead of seeing the U.S. as its liberator.
The Bush administration's desire to spare dual military-civilian targets in Iraq has produced an air war plan that is too timid and does not properly prepare the battle space for ground troops, according to interviews with military officers.
* * *
The officers said the plan, as of a few weeks ago, would largely spare infrastructure targets, such as bridges, and most, if not all, telephone communications.
The officers said the plan deviates in significant ways from the 1991 38-day air campaign during Operation Desert Storm, in which telephone communications, power systems and bridges were targeted from the first day to isolate Saddam Hussein and his military forces.
The reason for the change: The Bush administration wants to spare hardships to Iraqi civilians and to show that the real target of the bombing campaign is Saddam.
It hopes that Iraqi citizens, in return, accept U.S. military rule during an interim period leading to the establishment of a democratic government. Bush officials also want, to the extent possible, to avoid civilian casualties.
Analysis: This story illustrates just how far the U.S. is willing to go to scrupulously observe the laws of war, and to minimize civilian death and suffering in war. No nation in history does more than the United States to observe the laws of war in combat. Our military fights under strict rules of engagement, in extremely focused way. We attach lawyers to every level of command down to the regiment/brigade -- these attorneys advise commanders on how to fight lawfully. We train our soldiers in detail on the laws of war before deployment so they'll know the right thing to do. Our military has the technology to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and to focus our combat power very tightly on those military targets. Finally, we have CNN to keep us honest; any mistakes will be instantly and graphically reported to the world, and our civilian/military leaders will be held accountable for those acts.
WP: U.S. special operations forces enter Iraq
Tom Ricks, perhaps the best military reporter around, reports in this morning's Washington Post that American Special Forces teams have entered Iraq to conduct long-range reconnaissance and direct action in preparation for a U.S. led campaign.
The troops, comprising two Special Operations Task Forces with an undetermined number of personnel, have been in and out of Iraq for well over a month, said two military officials with direct knowledge of their activities. They are laying the groundwork for conventional U.S. forces that could quickly seize large portions of Iraq if President Bush gives a formal order to go to war, the officials said.
The ground operation points to a Pentagon war plan that is shaping up to be dramatically different than the one carried out by the United States and its allies in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Instead of beginning with a massive aerial bombardment, the plan envisions a series of preliminary ground actions to seize Iraqi territory and effectively encircle Baghdad before a large-scale air campaign hits the capital, defense officials and analysts said.
"It's possible that ground movements could come in and occupy large portions of Iraq almost unimpeded," said one person familiar with Pentagon planning. In northern Iraq, the source said, "we might get to the outskirts of Tikrit without firing a shot." Tikrit, a city north of Baghdad, is Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ancestral home and a major base of his power.
Analysis: Ricks has extremely good sources, and I can't think of a reason why he got this story wrong. This strategy also matches U.S. doctrine, which makes it more likely that it's true. Before any war, you want to do as much as possible to get accurate, on-the-ground, eyes-on intelligence about the enemy. Special Forces teams are uniquely suited to do this mission, given their extensive training, experience and maturity from multiple deployments, language skills, ability to be covert, and skill with using sophisticated electronic surveillance and communications gear.
What does this mean for the larger question -- are we going to war? I think the answer has always been yes, but now that war is more imminent. The Pentagon would not commit these American soldiers if it did not see action in a relatively short amount of time. Committing any ground troops entails substantial risk, and my gut insticts tell me the U.S. would not do this unless it planned a war within months.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
More on smallpox vaccine controversy
UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman has some interesting thoughts today on this weblog regarding the smallpox-vaccine controversy. Mark's one of the smartest policy guys I've met in my (short) lifetime, and he's especially good at assessing the cost/benefit calculus of a particular policy to decide whether it's rational or not. One of his arguments really struck a chord with me:
Part of the problem seems to be that workers who have reactions to the shots severe enough to keep them out of work for a while would have to rely on the notoriously inadequate worker's compensation system to cover their health care costs and lost earnings. (Perhaps if their lobbyists had been somewhat more generous to Republican campaign funds, someone in the Administration would have considered their interests before proposing a plan affecting their interests.) Now you might say -- the editors of the Wall Street Journal do say, in an editorial dated (11 Feb 03) -- that the country needs to have these people vaccinated, and that they ought to be patriotic enough to do the right thing. But on the other hand you might say that if the country needs them vaccinated, then the country damned well ought to pay the full cost of the vaccination, rather than leaving the risk on people few of whom are rich enough to benefit from a cut in dividend taxation.
* * *
Even that won't do the job entirely. The California Nurses' Association, for example, is resisting the vaccinations at least in part because it opposes the Administration's plan to invade Iraq. That strikes me as an intolerable mixing of roles; the CNA ought to defend its members' interests, and is free to express its political opinions, but nobody put them in charge of foreign policy. But I doubt that ideological nonsense of that sort is a major problem here. The problem is a plan that may be poorly conceived and has certainly been poorly explained, combined with a failure to consult the opinions, or consider the interests, of the heath care workers that they and their representatives could reasonably interpret as an expression of contempt."
Agreed. This is a problem I detect in a lot of the anti-war/anti-Bush/anti-vaccine/anti-whatever groups. They meld the causes when the causes don’t exactly lend themselves to it. The California Nurses Assoc. and California Medical Assoc. are on solid ground if they oppose the vaccines on medical grounds, on workers-comp grounds, and possibly even on personal-autonomy grounds. But when the CMA and CNA oppose such policies on illogical grounds, or patently political grounds, they spend their political capital in a way that does nothing for their constituency or the people of California. They have a good argument -- the Bush Administration needs to do more to justify mass smallpox vaccinations. That may entail scaring people with scenarios like that from Dark Winter. But that's what policy leadership means -- explaining to people the why behind what they're being asked to do.
Bloomberg.com: Units Headed to Gulf Lack Proper Chemical-Warfare Training
Tony Capaccio reported on yesterday's Bloomberg news wire that U.S. Army units headed towards the Gulf had not completed all of their required "NBC" training. (NBC = nuclear, biological and chemical) In an internal audit of training records, the Army Audit Agency found that several units, including the Army's 4th Infantry Division (in which I served from 1999-2001) failed to train on a number of critical NBC tasks with the required frequency and intensity, including:
- Wear, maintenance and exchange of "Mission Oriented Protective Posture" chemical-protective gear
- Maintenance of various pieces of chemical-warfare equipment, such as nerve-agent detectors
- Firing the M4 and M16 rifle while wearing the MOPP suit and protective mask
- Use of chemical-defense equipment like the M8 alarm and CAM (Chemical Agent Monitor)
Army auditors randomly examined 25 units at Fort Lewis, Washington, and Fort Hood, Texas, headquarters of the U.S. I Corps and III Corps, respectively. The Fort Hood units included the 4th Infantry Division and 13th Corps Support Command, which are deploying to the Gulf region.
"Units generally did not have effective chemical defense programs," the Army Audit Agency said in a 50-page report obtained by Bloomberg News. "Our review showed that unit commanders aren't making nuclear, biological and chemical training a priority," the audit said.
* * *
The audit found that soldiers in 18 of the 25 units reviewed at Fort Hood and Fort Lewis "weren't proficient in operating chemical and biological defense equipment."
"With the exception of masks, soldiers couldn't effectively operate basic chemical defense equipment," the report found.
That's in part because chemical specialists assigned to combat units "didn't have the level of expertise necessary to train other soldiers in the proper operation of chemical and biological defense equipment," the audit said.
Nearly one-fourth of 380 standard-issue gas masks, chemical agent alarms and decontamination devices had defects or were otherwise not unusable because specialists "didn't make sure soldiers either performed operator preventive maintenance checks and services or properly completed the services," it said.
Some Fort Hood and Fort Lewis units that were graded as having a high readiness level "didn't ensure solders received chemical and biological defense training" to make them capable of firing weapons while in protective gear, the audit said.
Soldiers in 18 of the 25 units "didn't meet the weapons qualification standard," it said.
Analysis: This is very disturbing news, though it's not surprising to me as an officer who served in the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood. NBC training is tough, messy, difficult training, and it's not the kind of thing you want to do in the Texas heat. That said, it was our job as leaders to train our soldiers to standards. Good leadership isn't about pandering to your troops and going easy on them -- it's about training them to standard so they come alive from combat. Sadly, many Army units suffer from weak leadership. At Fort Hood, this came from the top down. The Fort Hood commander created a general climate of coddling for soldiers. In trying to strike a balance between quality of life and combat readiness, he erred way too far on the side of quality of life. Junior leaders had to seek a general's permission to train at nights or on weekends; training resources were tightly managed so leaders had difficulty getting bullets, fuel, spare parts, etc., to train.
That said, some units overcome those obstacles to do the right thing and train their soldiers. In the 4th Military Police Company, we trained often on this task and embedded NBC training into every training event -- even gunnery. I vividly remember shooting Scout Gunnery in August 1999 while wearing my full MOPP suit and ProMask, and losing 10 pounds in one week. (That was a hot week) As MPs, we would play a key role in working with Chemical units to mark and seal off contaminated areas, and also to direct contaminated units to decontamination sites. So we trained hard on this, because we knew it meant our lives in combat. And as leaders, we enforced standards ruthlessly. For me personally, a lot of that owed to my experience in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division, where I lived for a year with the constant threat of chemical-tipped artillery.
However, the 4th Infantry Division faced two further challenges:
1) 4ID was in the process of digitization during this time period, and consumed by several major exercises at the same time. There is a finite amount of training time available to any commander -- even those who push the envelope. We pushed as much training in as possible, but we were never really able to train on anything 100%. Instead, we would multi-task a lot, such as embedding NBC training in our convoy-defense training.
2) Fort Hood and the Army had an extreme shortage of chemical officers and sergeants to manage this training in their units. Much of this owed to a failure to recruit/train/retain quality junior officers, with an acute shortage in the Chemical Corps branch. The same problem existed for enlisted personnel. This meant that a lot of units had no "subject matter expert" they could use to plan/manage/supervise this training.
House-Senate Conference Committee Agrees to Limit Pentagon TIA Project
Today's New York Times reports that a House-Senate conference committee agreed to a legislative amendment that would forbid the Pentagon from pursuing its Total Information Awareness project without further consultation with Congress. News of this project leaked late last year, and stirred great controversy on both sides of the aisle among those who feared it might lead to constant/total surveillance of the American population by the Department of Defense.
The negotiators' decision meant almost complete failure for a last-minute Pentagon effort, begun Friday, to protect the program from the Wyden amendment by establishing advisory committees to oversee the program.
The total information concept would enable a team of intelligence analysts to gather and view information from databases, pursue links between individuals and groups, respond to automatic alerts, and share information, all from their individual computers. It could link such different electronic sources as video feeds from airport surveillance cameras, credit card transactions, airline reservations and records of telephone calls. The data would be filtered through software that would constantly seek suspicious patterns. The Defense Department had already begun to discuss the use of the system with the F.B.I. and perhaps other agencies. Now, without a new law specifically authorizing its use and a new, specific appropriation to pay for it, the program could not be used against United States citizens. But it could be employed in support of lawful military operations outside the United States and lawful foreign intelligence operations conducted wholly against non-United States citizens.
The negotiators did agree to extend from 60 to 90 days the time the Defense Department would have to provide a detailed report to Congress, including its costs, goals, impact on privacy and civil liberties and prospects for successes against terrorists. Unless that report was filed, all further research on the project would have to stop immediately. But President Bush could keep the research alive by certifying to Congress that a halt "would endanger the national security of the United States."
Analysis: Adam Clymer's a very experienced reporter, and one of the NY Times' all-stars. But in this case, I think he's completely misreading the legislation. I'm very familiar with "reporting requirements," as these things are known. Title 10 of the U.S. Code is full of them. The Pentagon is required to report to Congress on a wide variety of things, from progress on hiring minorities to the details of military research. In many cases, those requirements are worded to say that the Pentagon may not do something until it reports to Congress, like this TIA reporting requirement. Ultimately, that does not prevent the Pentagon from acting. It merely adds a layer of legislative oversight to the process -- something our Constitution explicitly delegates to Congress in Art. I.
This reporting requirement will not stop TIA from moving forward, nor will it stop the Pentagon and other federal agencies from pursuing similar policies. What it will require is for them to 1) develop mitigation plans for managing the programs' effects on civil liberities, and 2) report to Congress in detail on those plans.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Has the Gulf War ever really ended?
America has been continuously conducting combat missions over Iraq for 12 years
The Associated Press reports that American aircraft have bombed a surface-to-surface missile site near Basra in Southern Iraq. This system had the potential to launch Ababil missiles over the border into Kuwait, where thousands of U.S. troops now mass in preparation for war.
The U.S. pilots attacked the Iraqi missile system near the southern city of Basra at about 1700 GMT Tuesday, according to a statement from the U.S. Central Command. The statement said the Iraqis had moved the missile system into the southern no-fly zone.
* * *
Eight U.S. warplanes dropped a total of 16 bombs on the Iraqi missile system near Basra Tuesday, Pentagon officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. bombs struck an Iraqi Ababil-100 missile launcher, a command van and resupply vehicles, senior defense officials said.
The Ababil is a solid-fueled missile developed after the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq says it doesn't fly farther than the 93-mile limit on Iraqi missiles imposed by U.N. sanctions. The U.S. and the U.K. say the Ababil probably either has a longer range or could easily be modified to fly farther. U.S. officials say the Ababil also can be used to carry chemical or biological warheads.
All of this begs the question: have we ever stopped bombing Iraq? The answer is no. Since 1991, American aircraft have continuously flown combat missions over Iraq. These include Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch, which enforced no-fly zones in the south and north respectively. U.S. aircraft have also flown other missions over Iraq, including surveillance and other flights. We have bombed Iraq steadily over the last 12 years. Arguably, we have remained in a steady (albeit low) state of war with Iraq for 12 years.
This raises another question: how will we know when we start the second Gulf War? In theory, we should see a marked increase in the number of sorties and the amount of ordnance dropped, or perhaps in the type of targets which are hit. But that may or may not happen. It's conceivable that we will slowly ratchet up the U.S. air campaign from its current state to catch the Iraqis off guard, and to destroy certain critical sites (e.g. air-defense assets) before the "real" air campaign starts. It's also conceivable that we might use the cover of these current missions to insert Special Forces and other forces on the ground.
Congress is the Culprit: Why USAA cares about the USA PATRIOT Act
I did some quick research into why USAA gave me an alarming message (see below) after I submitted my application for a Roth IRA. It appears that Sec. 326 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56) directs the Secretary of the Treasury develop regulations requiring ID verification for anyone opening any bank account in the US. Presumably, this is to prevent people from opening sham accounts for illicit purposes, such as to funnel money to terrorist organizations.
SEC. 326. VERIFICATION OF IDENTIFICATION.
(a) IN GENERAL- Section 5318 of title 31, United States Code, as amended by this title, is amended by adding at the end the following:
(l) IDENTIFICATION AND VERIFICATION OF ACCOUNTHOLDERS-
(1) IN GENERAL- Subject to the requirements of this subsection, the Secretary of the Treasury shall prescribe regulations setting forth the minimum standards for financial institutions and their customers regarding the identity of the customer that shall apply in connection with the opening of an account at a financial institution.
(2) MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS- The regulations shall, at a minimum, require financial institutions to implement, and customers (after being given adequate notice) to comply with, reasonable procedures for--
`(A) verifying the identity of any person seeking to open an account to the extent reasonable and practicable;
`(B) maintaining records of the information used to verify a person's identity, including name, address, and other identifying information; and
`(C) consulting lists of known or suspected terrorists or terrorist organizations provided to the financial institution by any government agency to determine whether a person seeking to open an account appears on any such list.
* * *
FBI/CIA: Al Qaeda still a major threat
Testifying before Congress today, FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet told the nation that Al Qaeda still represented a viable and dangerous threat to American citizens at home and abroad. Together, they painted a devastating series of pictures of possible terrorist action in the United States. Both predicted that terrorists would use weapons of mass destruction in their future attacks, and that they would attack "soft targets" in addition to traditional "hard targets" like political buildings.
"The network is extensive and adaptable,"Tenet said. "It will take years of determined effort to unravel this and other terrorist networks and stamp them out."
"The enemies we face are resourceful, merciless and fanatically committed to inflicting massive damage on our homeland, which they regard as a bastion of evil," Mueller said. "In this war, there can be no compromise or negotiated settlement."
USA PATRIOT Act and Roth IRAs???
I'm opening a Roth IRA this morning so that I can start squirreling away money for my old age. While opening this account online with USAA (who I use for all my financial business), I got the following notice:
The USA PATRIOT Act requires verification of identity. Therefore, please provide the information requested. Omissions or an inability to verify this information may cause a processing delay.
Now I'm really, really curious. I know the USA PATRIOT Act contained some provisions related to financial crime and terrorism, but I'm extremely curious as to how that requires verification from persons opening a Roth IRA account. More to follow...
NYT: US Military Ready to Provide Aid to Iraqi Civilians
Defense reporters Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker report today that the Pentagon has a plan for pushing large amounts of humanitarian aid, medical aid, and relief supplies to Iraqi civilians in the event of a war. This news comes out of an exclusive interview with CENTCOM Commander Tommy Franks, in which the general indicated the U.S. had prepared a plan for dealing with Iraqi humanitarian needs. Franks and others say this plan includes several million meals which would be delivered to Iraqi civilians in the event of any armed conflict.
"Humanitarian supplies are being positioned in order to address this sort of an issue," General Franks said, noting that one of the factors driving the shape and size of his forces was the need to deal with aid to the Iraqi people. In some cases, the military will provide leadership and some suggestions, and in other cases the military will offer its help coordinating the work of other organizations. General Franks made clear that his command had not convened any type of general session involving the major aid groups.
This is an extremely important play by the United States. I think this is part of the US plan to mitigate the risks of civilian casualties and humanitarian disaster, which would have an enormous impact on popular (domestic and international) support for the war. In war, it's always important to seize the moral high ground as well as the tactical high ground.
One way this could play out is in any urban campaign. If the U.S. were planning to enter Baghdad, they might use such a strategy to lure as many civilians as possible out of the city with humanitarian aid first. You just couldn't find through a populated Baghdad; it'd be enormously difficult and costly in blood. But if you could use humanitarian aid to lure civilians out of cities - or even out of Iraq - you could have a much freer hand when it came to targeting Iraqi forces. This would also have the tangential benefit of reducing the will to fight among Iraqi forces. I think it's likely such a move would provoke mass desertions among the rank and file of the Iraqi army. Once these soldiers learned that their families had fled Baghdad, and that there was food/water/medical aid available, they might desert in large numbers like in the first Gulf War.
The U.S. military does more than any other nation in history to protect the lives of civilians and distinguish between civilian and military targets. It attaches lawyers down to the lowest levels of command to advise leaders on the law of war; it employs sophisticated technology and tactics to minimize collateral damage with all weapons systems. This another development in that tradition, and I'm not surprised by it. Civil-military operations are integrated into plans at every level, and considering how vital the Iraqi population is to this campaign's success/failure, it's only natural that our Iraq plans would include such a robust plan for addressing the needs of Iraqi civilians.
ABA Adopts Report on Enemy Combatants
Yesterday, the members of the American Bar Association voted 368-76 to approve a panel report on the Treatment of Enemy Combatants. This is the latest in a long line of reports, white papers and recommendations from the ABA to give Constitutional protections to the U.S. citizens and non-citizens captured in America's war on terrorism. Predictably, this report criticizes the Administration for its decisions so far in the Hamdi and Padilla cases, as well as in the treatment of the 600+ prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
I've scanned the report and will dissect it later as I have time. But I have some initial thoughts on this latest statement from the ABA:
1. The ABA has convinced itself that this is a problem of law -- not war. That may not be the right answer. Everything in the ABA report is predicated on the assumption that this is a problem for America's legal system -- with its Constitutional safeguards -- to respond to. But if you question those assumptions, and look at terrorism as a problem of war, many of these arguments don't hold water. If terrorists are criminals, then they ought to be tried in court. But if terrorists are combatants, seeking to wage war on the United States and its allies through unconventional means, then you have an entirely different matter. It may well be that terrorism exists both as a matter of law and war -- or that it exists on the seam of law and war. In any case, I think the ABA is assuming too much here.
2. In several places, the ABA report refers to "international law" as if it was some coherent body that could produce a magical answer. That's not entirely true. International law is typically divided into positive international law (treaties, charters, etc), and customary international law (literally the customs practiced by the collective body of nations). Divining the meaning of international law is really difficult. In this case, it's not entirely clear how international law would treat terrorists. The 3rd Geneva Convention Relative to Treatment of Prisoners of War contains a definition of combatants in Art. 4, however that definition is anachronistic today. It was written after WWII for a style of warfare practiced in WWII, and it does not apply to the 4th Generation Warfare practitioners we face today. The Geneva Convention is the most definitive document in international law for defining combatant status, and even it does not fit this situation clearly. I think it's hard to say exactly what "international law" commands us to do here, and the ABA ought not essentialize this body of law down to a soundbite the way it has.
3. For obvious reasons, the ABA report emphasizes the right of counsel for detained enemy combatants. However, the government has compelling reasons not to allow access to counsel in many cases. In declarations submitted to the Hamdi and Padilla courts, the government argues persuasively that allowing access to counsel would upset the interrogation environment which is so critical for pulling information out of these dangerous men. This information is vital human intelligence which may help prevent future terrorist attacks. If the government were just holding these men without access to counsel for no reason, I think matters might be different. But that's not the case. The government has a legitimate, compelling interest in secluding these men and denying them access to the outside world. That may change at some point, perhaps when the government deems these men to have no further intelligence value. But until then, we owe it to the American citizenry to learn all we can from these terrorists while they are in custody. Allowing access to counsel would only frustrate that goal.
Bottom Line: The ABA is making a political issue out of the treatment of enemy combatants. But in doing so, they are making some extremely shaky arguments that rest on faulty assumptions about international law and 21st Century warfare.
Wall Street Journal: Dark Winter and Smallpox
If you've been reading this 'blog for a while, you might remember in December when I wrote about "Dark Winter". This was an exercise carried out in 2001 to wargame what would happen if terrorists hit the U.S. with smallpox. The results were devastating. Among the lessons learned:
- Leaders are unfamiliar with the character of bioterrorist attacks, available policy options, and their consequences.
- After a bioterrorist attack, leaders' decisions would depend on data and expertise from the medical and public health sectors.
- The lack of sufficient vaccine or drugs to prevent the spread of disease severely limited management options.
- The US health care system lacks the surge capacity to deal with mass casualties.
- To end a disease outbreak after a bioterrorist attack, decision makers will require ongoing expert advice from senior public health and medical leaders.
- Federal and state priorities may be unclear, differ, or conflict; authorities may be uncertain; and constitutional issues may arise.
- The individual actions of US citizens will be critical to ending the spread of contagious disease; leaders must gain the trust and sustained cooperation of the American people.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board has read these notes, and taken them to heart. Today, the paper's lead editorial argues that exercises like Dark Winter make a compelling case for mass vaccination -- especially of recalcitrant health-care workers who are putting their own personal worries over the larger public good.
The point here isn't to scare people . . . well, maybe it is; 15 months after the anthrax attacks, bioterror is a real threat. Protecting against smallpox in advance may make it less likely that an enemy would resort to its use. Dark Winter also underscores how vulnerable U.S. society will remain even with precautions, meaning that the best homeland defense continues to be taking the battle to terrorists abroad and to the states that harbor them.
As for union objections, the Bush Administration is preparing a compensation fund for anyone injured by the vaccine. But keep in mind that emergency workers already have insurance and worker's comp, and that health-care workers are already exposed to unusual risk of germs and illness as part of their daily lives.
No homeland defense plan will work without the cooperation of all Americans, especially its leading institutions. The unions and public-health officials resisting smallpox vaccination will have a lot to answer for if there is an attack and Americans remain unprepared.
Monday, February 10, 2003
Justice Department wins another round in the fight against terrorism
The Associated Press reports today that Enaam Arnaout pled guilty today in Chicago to one count of giving material support to a terrorist organization in violation of federal law. Aranout was charged with providing various forms of financial, logistical and other support through his charity, Benevolence International Foundation, to terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda.
Arnaout, 41, admitted in court papers that his Benevolence International Foundation had furnished funds to buy boots and uniforms for the Muslim fighting forces while claiming to aid only widows, orphans and the poor.
He did not acknowledge any relationship with bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network. But federal prosecutors said ample evidence remains that Arnaout helped al-Qaida in several ways -- including transferring funds around the world to finance its operations.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and federal prosecutors said they might ask the judge to give Arnaout a break if he follows through on his promise to cooperate.
Analysis: This is a success story. To stop terrorists like Al Qaeda, we must deny them the ability to fund themselves, move money around the world, and use their financial network to support their terrorist activities. The financial effort is as important as the combat in Afghanistan -- or luggage screening in airports. A friend asked me a few months ago why the U.S. expends so much effort going after men like Mr. Arnaout for supporting terrorism -- financially or otherwise -- instead of going after the actual terrorists like Osama Bin Laden or Ayman Zawahiri. The answer is that these men represent the vulnerable underbelly of international terrorism. Networked, cellular organizations like Al Qaeda cannot exist without their financial and logistical infrastructure. If you destroy their financial infrastructure, you deny Al Qaeda the ability to operate abroad. That operationally neutralizes Al Qaeda.
Predicting casualties in war -- art, science, or guesswork?
Victor David Hanson, a historian whose books I really liked, has an interesting piece in the National Review on war pessimism. In it, Hanson cautions us to be wary of large casualty estimates, even those produced by the Pentagon. Furthermore, Iraq's military has never fought well, especially against well-equipped and well-trained opponents like the U.S. Indeed, the most viable threat we face is from Saddam's irrational acts like loosing a Scud missile on Saudi Arabia, not from any of his front-line forces.
What can we expect from the possible invasion of Iraq? Everything in war is of course uncertain — an awful time when the lives of thousands of soldiers hang in the balance, and brutal, dirty events can spiral out of control the moment the shooting starts. Yet we should be careful in once more believing the pessimistic commentators in newspaper ads and on television who are now warning of several "hundred thousands" of dead, of chaos, of mass starvation, and of internecine killing.
Oxford student Josh Chafetz notes that short, low-casualty wars have been the norm for the U.S. since Grenada and he doesn't think things are likely to change this time around in Iraq. He goes on to make a larger argument about military planning and casualty estimates that I strongly disagree with:
"The military always tries to figure out the worst case scenario casualty figures, and then opponents of military action jump all over those figures. But that's really stupid -- no one should ever plan anything based simply on the worst case scenario. The only sensible way to plan is based on a calculus: consider each potential outcome, weight it by the likelihood of its actually occurring, and add them. Then do the same on the other side of the balance. If the weighted calculus of casualties is worse than the weighted calculus of not fighting, then don't fight. If vice-versa, then do. Obviously, no one knows what the numbers or weights are -- we can only make guesses, and we can argue about the assumptions underlying those guesses. But it's just plain foolish to pretend that only the worst case scenario should be taken into account. And yet, when people go on TV and say that "tens of thousands of Americans will die in an invasion of Iraq" -- just like they said about Afghanistan and Gulf War I and ... -- that's exactly what they're doing."
I agree there’s a political blowback problem here. But I’m not sure many understand the reason why military planners like to consider the worst-case scenario. It’s not a prediction of what will happen; it’s a prediction of what might happen if everything goes wrong. The intent here is not to scare the commander (or President), but to enable him to assume the risk of the operation knowing the worst-case consequences. When the initial estimates are too risky, the doctrinal response is for a commander to direct certain risk-mitigation measures, such as having all troops wear their chemical gear continuously instead of just upon attack. Thus, the high-risk estimates do serve a purpose in redflagging operations which might be too risky to execute as planned.
It is true that they are seized on by anti-war activists who are looking for one more reason to oppose the war. But there’s another reason why you might want these estimates known. If and when actual casualties exceed expectations, the bubble of public support for any military operation will almost certainly burst. We saw this clearly in Somalia. President Bush initially dispatched those troops as humanitarian workers, with promises of zero/few casualties. That held true until President Clinton changed the mission to something more aggressive. When he did that, he never went to the American people to explain this risk, or even inform them of the risk. Thus, when we suffered 18 casualties on 3 Oct 1993, the American public was shocked. Public support for the Somalia mission evaporated, and we redeployed from there without accomplishing our mission.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as a cost/benefit calculation the way Josh describes it. For one thing, you cannot calculate likelihood with any certainty in war, as you acknowledge. I served as an operational planner in the 4th Infantry Division, with the most sophisticated modeling and planning software you can imagine. Our guesses were only slightly better than a SWAG (sophisticated wild ass guess). The worst-case scenario is not the only estimate driving planning – in fact, it’s usually not the main assumption in any plan. But these worst-case estimates remain important for commanders and civilian decision-makers to see. Without knowing the risks, commanders cannot make informed decisions, and may send America's sons and daughters into harm's way without fully acknowledging and accepting the risk of that decision.
Sunday, February 09, 2003
As a young reporter for the UCLA Daily Bruin, I often had to scramble around at the last minute for a "prof quote". You know 'em -- these are the 1-2 sentences of analysis that most major news stories have about any technical subject, from anthropology to women's rights, to try and explain the subject and make the article seem more informed. Often times, I talked to professors who were experts in only a related field, like a law professor on crime or a medical doctor on a biology topic, because those were the experts who answered the phone. Some professors actually make their careers by being accessible to reporters who need 'prof quotes' -- I know a few who pass their personal cell phone numbers to big-time journalists so they get the call when news breaks. I wish I could say this was a college reporters' practice and that real reporters don't do it, but I can't. Chances are, if you pick up the New York Times, Washington Post or Los Angeles Times on any given day, you'll find dozens of "prof quotes".
You can find some of the most absurd, amusing and bemusing of these at a site called Profquotes.com. This site contains a wide variety of outtakes from the classroom. Here's a few I liked:
"There are two things you need to be a really good English major. First, a good, working knowledge of the Bible. And second, a really dirty mind."
Prof. Condren, English 10A, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
"That Y chromosome screws you up, the X chromosome is better -- I can put you in touch with several doctors... "
Mary Lindemann, World History, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, PA
"If we want to get a consistent answer out of a psycho, then we only ask them once."
Dr. Walters, Complex Analysis, University of Northern British Columbia
"This assumption is actually wrong. It's the basis of everything you learn in this subject. It's wrong, but it makes the math easier."
G. Archer, Structural Analysis, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA
Saturday, February 08, 2003
USA Patriot Act - Part II
Draft of "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003" Leaked to Public
A draft version of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and leaked to several media outlets on Friday. (I learned of this from Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy) This act essentially cleans up a lot of messy areas of the original USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56), signed into law on 26 Oct 01 by President Bush. This Act goes much further though, taking a number of steps to limit private remedies for anti-terrorism police abuses, and increasing the surveillance authority of government agents. It also contains some pro-civil liberties provisions, such a change to the FISA Court appellate-review process that would add a lawyer to represent the FISA Court in government appeals.
I haven't had time to read the full bill; it's a 12-megabyte file. But my initial reaction is the same as Orin Kerr's -- the press will have a field day with this one. They will focus on the "sexy" provisions like:
Section 301-306, “Terrorist Identification Database”: These sections would authorize creation of a DNA database on “suspected terrorists,” expansively defined to include association with suspected terrorist groups, and noncitizens suspected of certain crimes or of having supported any group designated as terrorist.
Section 405, “Presumption for Pretrial Detention in Cases Involving Terrorism”: While many people charged with drug offenses punishable by prison terms of 10 years or more are held before their trial without bail, this provision would create a comparable statute for those suspected of terrorist activity.
By focusing on these provisions, the press will obscure the real issues at play here. One of the key failures identified by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in its post-9/11 report was the lack of cooperation and information flow between the FBI and CIA -- or more broadly, between the law enforcement and national security establishments. Breaking down that "wall of separation" is absolutely essential for combatting terrorism. Groups like Al Qaeda will seek to exploit the seam between law and war for their own advantage if we let them. The majority of this act appears targeted at that problem, and increasing the authority of government officials on both sides of this wall to do their jobs. More to follow...