Monday, July 28, 2003
Update on 3ID decision to remove embedded reporters
Fred Kaplan writes in Slate that this move may be one of the first public signs that the Bush Administration knows things are going badly in Iraq. (The other sign is an attempt to enlist James Baker as the new proconsul for Iraq.) I wrote on this decision by MG Buford Blount last week, after seeing the news in the European Stars & Stripes:
On Monday, the 3rd ID commander, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, decided to stop allowing reporters to spend time with his troops, other than to gather information for pre-approved “news features,” according to an e-mail response from Lt. Col. Birmingham, 3rd ID spokesman in Baghdad.Fred Kaplan thinks something is rotten in the E-Ring, and I think he's right. In his Slate piece, he implies that the Bush Administration sees saturating media coverage as a hindrance to further nation-building efforts. In short, too much coverage of casualties, adverse conditions, unfriendly locals, and griping soldiers may hurt American resolve to persevere in the face of all that adversity.
Now, however, the story has turned sour, to the point where two soldiers with the 3rd I.D., who had grown all too accustomed to talking freely with the press, publicly lambasted not just the brass but the political bosses—on network television, faces exposed, names on the record—in startlingly stark language. One of the soldiers told ABC News, "If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I'd ask him for his resignation." The other said, "I've got my own 'Most Wanted' list. … The Aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz."There's some irony to this... The most pro-military coverage of the war -- arguably of the last decade -- came from the reporters who were embedded with the troops on the march to Baghdad. Even when covering bad news, like the shooting of Iraqi civilians at a checkpoint, the embedded reporters generally told the story from a grunt's perspective in a way that would make their parents proud. The most skeptical coverage came from the rear, from reporters at HQ in Kuwait or further back in Washington.
Removing the embedded reporters is likely to result in less "candid camera" moments for our troops in the field. (No more quotes asking for the SecDef's resignation) But it may result in a more negative spin in general for the military. That would be ironic, given the reasons the administration has for removing the embedded reporters from 3ID.
Congratulations to Joe Doherty and his colleague Lynn Lopucki of UCLA Law School for their research on bankruptcy which earned them this mention in the Hearsay column of The Washington Post.
According to researchers at the UCLA School of Law, bankruptcy costs for the largest U.S. companies in Chapter 11 reorganization have dropped 57 percent in real dollars since the 1980s. But the length of time that cases are in bankruptcy has decreased almost as much -- 50 percent -- which the researchers say roughly correlates with the drop in costs.
Notes on the offense of treason
Stop the Bleating, another military/legal affairs blog, has a great note today on the history of the treason clause in the U.S. Constitution. Matt takes on the thorny issue of whether you can prosecute someone for espousing views that might amount to treasonous speech, whatever that may be. He concludes:
. . . I'm not entirely sure that we need to resort to any new rules of law to resolve the issue that Bell identifies. You see, in my own research on the topic I came to the realization that the overarching purpose of the Treason Clause was primarily to protect peaceful political dissent. But we have something in the Constitution now that wasn't present when the Clause was enacted, and it protects such dissent quite well. It's called the First Amendment, and I think it may be up to the task of dealing with situations like the Al Qaeda Al scenario that Bell proposes.
Going on the offensive
Tom Ricks has an outstanding piece in today's Washington Post, which he wrote from Iraq where he is currently reporting on the Army's 4th Infantry Division. The piece assesses the latest campaign by American forces to quash the Iraqi insurgency. Using a mix of unconventional tactics and intelligence-driven operations, American forces appear to be winning some significant victories -- but at a cost. The whole story's worth reading for an understanding of what's going on over there right now.
Despite their losses, Army officers and soldiers asserted that they are making solid gains in this region, where most of the fighting has taken place and where about half the 150,000 U.S. troops in the country are posted.Update: Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor who I know and respect, thinks this is unethical conduct -- and possibly unlawful under the laws of war.
Mark (with an assist from Atrios) cites to Art. 75 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention, as his support for the contention that this is unlawful. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not signed Protocol I, and thus cannot be bound by it by the conventions of positivistic international law.
Of course, that's just a legal footnote about Protocol I. The U.S. did sign the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949, and it explicitly precludes hostage taking in armed conflict:
Art. 34. The taking of hostages is prohibited.There is also a norm of international law known as "distinction" -- which literally means distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants. This principle would probably preclude the kind of conduct conducted by COL Hogg in Iraq, since the Iraqi Lt. Gen.'s family members are unquestionably non-combatants.
Doing what's unlawful is one thing; doing something which is counter-productive is quite another. We're trying to rebuild Iraq as a kinder, gentler place -- a nation that contributes to regional stability, economic growth, personal liberty, etc. To accomplish our mission, we need to win the Iraqis' hearts and minds. Kidnapping the wives and daughters of our adversaries is not a way to win hearts and minds -- it's a way to squeeze their private parts. This is the kind of tactic that can backfire, bigtime. Especially if your opponent is willing to go a step further in his atrocities than you.
America's finest sons and daughters
Ruth Voshell Stonesifer writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning about her son -- Kristofor Stonesifer -- who was killed in combat during the first days of combat in Afghanistan. Her essay discusses some of the reasons her son went to war, and some of her feelings since his death in 2001.
My son was a quiet and thoughtful patriot. When I questioned him about Sept. 11, while he was still at Fort Benning, Ga., and before he went overseas, he spoke only about his fellow Army Rangers chomping at the bit to right the wrongs perpetrated on America that day. But Kris expressed no such zeal.Steve Lopez, one of the Los Angeles Times' best columnists, also writes today about the mother of a soldier killed in combat.
Evan Ashcraft was killed last week. He was 24 and an Army sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division. When his mother invited me to visit with her, she had only one purpose. She wanted to honor her boy, and to put a human face to the daily tally of casualties.Thoughts... I think the essential question is precisely "Was this for a good cause?" America has sacrificed a great number of its sons and daughters on the fields of Iraq for some cause -- whether it's WMD, regional stability, prevention of terrorism, oil, humanitarian goals, or something else. Some people have questioned the efforts of reporters (such as Josh Marshall) in seeking out the truth about the Bush Administration's casus belli -- our reason for going to war with Iraq. I don't think such queries are misplaced. If we are going to send our finest sons and daughters into harm's way, then we deserve to know as a nation the reasons for doing so.
The lawfulness of killing in war
John Yoo, a UC Berkeley law professor who recently served as a political appointee in the Justice Department, opines in the Weekly Standard that there is no reason to wring our hands over the killing of Saddam's sons. This essay is one of the better ones I've seen on the subject. It concisely sums up the law and states why no legal problem exists with last week's targeted killing of the two Hussein men.
No law prohibits the targeting of specific enemy leaders in war. Assassination is different: the murder of a public figure for political reasons. The murders of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln were assassinations. By contrast, the killing of the enemy in combat is protected by the laws of war. As Hugo Grotius, the father of international law, observed in 1646, "It is permissible to kill an enemy." Legitimate military targets include not just foot soldiers, but the command and control structure of an enemy's military, leading up to its commander in chief.
Assessment: women in combat
A semi-official after-after review of Gulf War II has concluded that women performed effectively in combat, after a decade of policy changes that opened up a myriad of opportunities close to the front lines. Women in all four services saw combat in Iraq, whether as helicopter pilots, MPs, chemical warfare specialists, or logisticians. Anthony Cordesman, now a professor at CSIS, wrote the study, which says:
Women made up roughly 15 percent of U.S. military forces during the Iraq War, ranging from a high of 19 percent in the Air Force to 6 percent in the Marines. The number of women in high-risk jobs increased strikingly compared to those in the Gulf War, although women are still barred from ground combat positions. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this change is that there are no meaningful reports of gender problems in combat or high riskpositions. While scarcely unexpected, this experience is a further refutation of the arguments that women cannot perform such duties or will disrupt operations in wartime.Analysis: Notwithstanding the ordeal of PFC Jessica Lynch, I think this conclusion is right on. In general, women performed effectively in the gulf, proving the wisdom behind the policy changes in the 1990s that opened more combat and combat-support roles to women. I wrote about this in December 2002 in the Washington Monthly, saying essentially the same thing as Cordesman.
Indeed, if mixed-gender units perform as they have in the California desert--and in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan--it would strengthen the integrationist trend in several ways. The least likely possibility would be the elimination of all rules barring women from full combat service, from special forces to light infantry. But even if this were to happen, surveys suggest that only a small number of women would apply. And only a fraction of those who do would have the physical ability and fortitude to make it through, say, the crucible of Army ranger school, from which a majority of qualified men wash out before graduation.Bottom Line: Women went to the gulf, they fought, and they did as well as the men they served with. Today's military is a remarkably diverse organization, and it knows how to build cohesive winning teams regardless of the backgrounds of the soldiers in those units. Male, female, black, white, brown -- it makes no difference. Everyone wears green (or desert camo), and that's what counts.
Sunday, July 27, 2003
LANCE WINS HIS FIFTH CONSECUTIVE TOUR DE FRANCE!
Lance Armstrong, the gifted athlete who battled testicular cancer and won, added a fifth consecutive Tour De France title to his long list of accomplishments today. This tour was tougher for Lance than previous ones. He faced fatigue, dehydration, French citizens, crashes, and near wipeout during the grueling 2,130-mile race. But in the end, his experience and endurance enabled him to win the race, supported by the strong U.S. Postal Service team. Lance already ranks with the best American athletes of all time -- Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, Bruce Jenner, Mark Spitz -- to name a few. But this title puts him in the rarefied ranks of cycling. Only one man (Miguel Indurain) has ever won 5 consecutive Tour De France titles.
Maybe Lance will go for six?
Friday, July 25, 2003
More on the impact of killing Odai and Qusai Hussein
Speaking by video teleconference from Iraq, 4th Infantry Division commander MG Ray Odierno said today that the killing of Saddam Hussein's two sons in Mosul on Monday had little practical effect on the threat he was seeing arrayed against him.
Q: General, Eric Schmitt with the New York Times. What's been the effect of your region in the last few days since the deaths of the two Hussein sons? What impact has it seen in your area?Analysis: This sounds very similar to what I wrote on Tuesday. I opined that America would not see a significant dropoff in guerilla attacks because Odai and Qusai probably spent more time hiding than exercising command and control over insurgents. Moreover, the evidence tends to indicate a loosely connected network of guerillas in Iraq -- not a hierarchical organization controlled by former Saddam henchmen. Ultimately, I think the killing of these two men will probably have a marginally positive effect on our operations in Iraq, but not a large one. MG Odierno agrees:
. . . What I would say is -- to comment on that -- I think there will be more of a long-term effect. It's very important that this operation occurred and that we have shown them that no one of the old regime's going to survive. And I think it's going to have a long- term effect. It will take a little bit of time. Might take months, might take weeks, might take three months, four months, but it's going to have an effect overall on the overall outcome. But I have seen no immediate impact based on the specific attacks.Sounds like a very prudent commander, and one that I'm glad we have over there. Taking these men out was the right thing to do, but it's not the end of our mission in Iraq. We must continue to persevere, to take the offensive, in order to prevail over the guerillas who aim to thwart our goals in Iraq.
3ID commander orders an end to media embedding
In response to the controversy this month surrounding some out-of-school comments by his soldiers to the media, MG Buford Blount has put the 3rd Infantry Division "off limits" to embedded reporters from the states, according to Lisa Burgess in the European Stars & Stripes. The move appears to be calculated to reduce troop contact with the media, giving them a chance to blow off steam without having their comments picked up by a journalist and transmitted around the world. This move comes after one soldier candidly told an ABC News reporter: "If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I’d ask him for his resignation."
On Monday, the 3rd ID commander, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, decided to stop allowing reporters to spend time with his troops, other than to gather information for pre-approved “news features,” according to an e-mail response from Lt. Col. Birmingham, 3rd ID spokesman in Baghdad.It would be a shame if the "media embedding experiment" ended on such a low note after the second Gulf War. For the most part, I think this experiment worked very well. It gave the American public a grunt's eye glimpse of the war and exposed a generation of reporters to the military. If anything, media embedding created problems because news reports from the field were largely positive, and most media did not offset that coverage with quality analysis from the rear. (The Washington Post is the notable exception to this criticism)
Nonetheless, this may be the right thing to do now, with so many media "flooding the zone" in Iraq to find stories of disenchantment and quagmire. Our soldiers need to blow off some stress, and they don't need a reporter embedded in their unit to hear them do that. Furthermore, there's nothing preventing a reporter from covering the news as a "unilateral" in Baghdad or any other part of Iraq -- they don't need to be embedded anymore.
Was it legal to take out Saddam's sons?
Corollary: was it legal to show their post-mortem photos?
Slate provides an excellent explainer on this subject, citing to Executive Order 12333 and other relevant authority on the subject. The basic answer is "yes -- it was legal to kill Odai and Qusai Hussein". The legal analysis boils down to one question: were these political leaders, or military leaders? Political leaders (e.g. Yassir Arafat) cannot be killed because it would be an assassination. Military leaders (e.g. Admiral Yamamoto in WWII) can be killed lawfully in wartime. Whether Odai and Qusai were military or political targets is a matter of argument, but I think the administration is on firm ground in saying that they were not legitimate political leaders now, after the fall of the Hussein regime.
During wartime, it is generally acceptable to attack figures who are involved in military operations, and it is widely believed that Odai and Qusai were helping to coordinate resistance to the American occupation. As long as the brothers weren't killed by treacherous means—say, by luring them to a peace conference, then shooting them—they are legitimate targets. A close parallel is the 1943 killing of Japanese Adm. Isoruku Yamamoto, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. When U.S. aircraft* ambushed his plane, Yamamoto was the mission's sole target. However, because the admiral oversaw military operations against the United States at the time, the killing is generally not considered to have been an assassination.The Slate explainer goes on to tackle a more pressing issue: the legitimacy of our decision to publish photos of the two men's corpses.
The military claims that the publication of Odai's and Qusai's photos was necessary in order to prove to the Iraqi public that the pair were dead. But as Explainer noted in March, the Geneva Convention prohibits the public airing of pictures that might humiliate a combatant—the same justification the United States used to object to broadcasting interrogations of American POWs.As a matter of law, the Third Geneva Convention does indeed prohibit anything that would expose POWs to "public curiousity". Of course, one can argue that these were corpses, not POWs, and that at no time were they alive and in the custody of the United States. Some have also suggested that the U.S. might have given the bodies and photos to the Iraqis for dissemination -- or for public display as was done for Mussolini when he was killed. Though that may technically sidestep the Geneva Convention problem, I think it's still wrong. Using our agents and surrogates to do our dirty work is not a good answer. Furthermore, doing so would make the Iraqi "government" look more like our puppet.
The Moral Dimension of War: We've dealt with this issue in other contexts, such as the "rendering" of captured suspects over to allies (like Pakistan) for interrogation, or the use of foreign interrogators in American detention facilities to do things that our guys can't do. Those things don't sit well with the American public, let alone the international human rights community. And I'm not sure that the marginal gains are worth the loss in political capital and moral capital.
One of John Boyd's ideas that really intrigued me was his perspective on the moral dimension of war. I think this is one of the defining characteristics of 4th Generation Warfare. If you can define the moral dimensions of a conflict and the norms/rules of conflict, you can dominate it. To date, we have been able to do so by casting asymmetric means like terrorism and guerilla warfare in a negative light. But the more we employ unconventional tactics, and the more we step into the gray area of international law, the more we will cede the moral high ground to our opponents. I think it's something we need to be cognizant of.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
The Art of War
Jess Bravin has a fascinating piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on the combat artists who accompanied allied forces in Iraq. These men went as soldiers first, artists second, and captured some incredible images of the war that simply transcend what photographers were able to capture.
Britain started the modern practice of appointing war artists in 1916. Hungry for propaganda to shore up the war effort, officials sent such leading painters as John Singer Sargent and Paul Nash to the front lines. Britain's World War I allies, including the U.S., Canada and Australia, followed suit with combat artists of their own.The Journal has one of the Marine Corps artists pencil sketches embedded in the story on its website, of a Marine cleaning his rifle in Kuwait while wearing chemical protective gear. The elegant simplicity of the sketch is quite powerful. I recommend reading this piece if you can, and looking for these artists' work over the next several months.
All of the news stories I post on this site are the intellectual property of their authors and the publications which originally run them, e.g. the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Additionally, I own the copyright to all of the content that I write for this site, and I have a copyright notice posted on this page to indicate that. Federal copyright law prevents me from posting anything more than brief excerpts or summaries of an article, with due credit, under the "fair use" doctrine. I intend to follow the law, and respect the intellectual property of the authors and publications which I cite.
In one note (see below), I excerpted parts of a story that altered the balance that the writer attempted to achieve between conflicting viewpoints. At the editor's request, I have posted the entire story in order to provide that balance. Normally, I would not post the entire text of a story because doing so would infringe on the copyright of the publication. However, I have received permission to do so in this case.
Finally, some of the publications I cite to include the notation (subscription required) after the link (such as the Wall Street Journal). That means that these journals require a subscription in order to see the full text of the article. I am typically more careful about borrowing text from these publications, since they have made a conscious decision to sell their content instead of giving it away online. If you want to read the full text, then I ask that you purchase a one-time subscription or general subscription. Good reporting is worth paying for.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Recruiting and retaining top talent in the FBI
Today's Los Angeles Times has a great Column One piece on their front page about the difficulties the FBI is facing with recruiting and retaining its best agents despite a meager salary scale. Unfortunately for all of us, the difficulties appear most acute in urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York -- where the threat of terrorism is greatest.
While the FBI plays a lead role in the war on terrorism, many agents say they are waging a private battle against financial hardship. An outdated pay structure has left many agents struggling to make ends meet, especially in high-cost cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.Analysis: This problem is not unique to the FBI. Lots of public agencies are having difficulty with recruiting and retaining the best and brightest Americans they can. Nick Thompson had a great piece in the Washington Monthly on this issue in June. Federal judges (including Chief Justice Rehnquist) have also expressed their discontent with the federal salary structure. Although they're making as much money as any federal employee save the President, the differential between the pay for a federal judge and a private law firm partner can run into the thousands of dollars. This has been an issue for America's military as well, with an exodus of junior officers from all four services in the late-1990s due to chronic problems in the military and opportunities in the outside world. (This exodus has slowed somewhat due to world events, but it may resume when large units redeploy from overseas and "stop-loss" orders come off.)
So how do we encourage more public service? That's a really hard question. I'm not in favor of a draft, nor am I in favor of compulsory public service. However, I do think that we should create an opportunity-based system (like military enlistment) where young Americans can serve in various capacities in return for college scholarships, graduate-school scholarships, and other benefits.
In the age of terrorism, our lives depend on the FBI's abilities. The FBI's abilities, in turn, depend on the people it can recruit and retain. Given the importance of these agents to our national security, it may be wise to pursue some sort of housing allowance or cost-of-living offset for the agents we put in high-threat/high-cost areas like New York and Los Angeles.
Better terrorism intelligence -- or a longer OODA loop?
That's the question posed by members of Congress in today's Los Angeles Times. The Times reports that several lawmakers have taken the new "Terrorist Threat Intelligence Center" (TTIC) to task for being just another piece of bureaucracy instead of an effective clearinghouse for the gathering and analysis of intelligence.
The intelligence center, staffed by more than 100 agents from all three agencies as well as the State and Defense departments, was established to remedy a widely acknowledged failure of the CIA and the FBI to share critical intelligence in the months leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.Analysis: These members of Congress are on to something, but they're not there yet. The central problem is this: how can the large, bureaucratic, federal security apparatus (DoD, CIA, DHS, DoJ, etc) compete with a nimble, agile, networked, flexible foe like Al Qaeda? How can it possibly react to intelligence reports fast enough to actually do something before a terrorist attack?
The best conceptual framework for this problem comes from the late-Col. John Boyd, whose ideas redefined military strategy over the last 4 decades. Boyd also developed the "Observe, Orient, Decide, Act" (OODA for short) model of military decisionmaking. He developed this model to map the competitive mental processes of fighter pilots in the Korean war, largely to explain why U.S. pilots did so much better with ostensibly inferior aircraft. The answer was that they had slightly more maneuverable aircraft, and better training, which enabled them to move through their OODA loop faster and react faster than their opponents. Though designed for 1-on-1 combat in the skies, the OODA loop can be used to illuminate almost any competitive endeavor, from corporate decisionmaking to warfighting.
In the context of terrorism, it provides the perfect framework for understanding the difficulties of the U.S. government in dealing with a threat like Al Qaeda. We now face a global terror network capable of rapid innovation and adaptation to our actions. They, in short, have a very tight OODA loop. It is imperative that we construct organizations capable of rapidly gathering intelligence on Al Qaeda, analyzing it, and exploiting it. The TTIC can be such an organization, if given the chance. But it must be embraced by its colleagues in DoD, DoJ and DHS, who ultimately must act to exploit the intelligence from TTIC.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
U.S. confirms the death of Uday and Qusay Hussein -- now what?
The Washington Post (and others) report that American military officials in Baghdad have confirmed the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein -- sons of the former Iraqi dictator. The two men died after a fierce firefight with American infantry who surrounded a residence they had sought refuge in. After pounding that house with rifle, machine gun, and other fires, American infantry entered the building to find the two Husseins dead.
[Lt. Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, gave few details about the operation, but he said it lasted about six hours and involved troops from the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Special Forces and others. U.S. officials became aware of the location when a "walk-in" informant came to them last night and said that several high-ranking suspects could be found there.So what does this mean for our Iraqi endeavor? Well, it depends. If these two men were providing some of the command and control behind the ongoing guerilla attacks on American forces, then some of that activity may drop off, assuming they did not have a redundant command structure. However, it's not clear that these two men were directing those attacks, or doing anything other than trying to hide from American forces along with their father.
Optimism is good, but realism is better. We need to consider all possible scenarios in Iraq, including the possibility that the guerilla resistance we're seeing is not the result of a coordinated, shadow command structure led by Mr. Hussein or some other "Mr. Big". (American forces in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti and Afghanistan have been predisposed to see this organized crime-style model even in the absence of evidence indicating its truth) It's very possible, given the diffuse locations and tactics of these guerillas, that we are seeing a loosely connected network of enemies in Iraq. If that's the case, then we may not see any drop at all from this latest success.
Bottom Line: The jury's still out on this one. This success may have some effect on the guerilla activity in Iraq, but I don't think we're going to see it disappear entirely anytime soon. Relentless pursuit of the Hussein regime (and Hussein himself) will help the infant government now forming, and add to the sense that the Hussein regime will never return to power. But it's hard to tell anything else with a great deal of certainty.
Did we plan for success in Iraq?
"Maybe," according to a report in today's USA Today, which mirrors a story in the Los Angeles Times last week. Barbara Slavin and Dave Moniz make the point that U.S. planning for post-war Iraq was less-than-stellar, largely due to faulty assumptions and group-think about what post-war Iraq would look like.
Baghdad fell just 21 days after the initial assaults, and military analysts describe the campaign as historic, even brilliant.Apparently, Bush Administration knew the post-war phase would be the toughest. The USA Today report notes the advice given by the Army's leadership -- former-SecArmy Tom White and retired-Gen. Eric Shinseki -- that the occupation would require "several hundred thousand" troops. The USA Today report also notes a National Security Council memo analyzing past nation-building operations and projecting a need for 500,000 troops for this one:
As late as February, barely a month before the war began, the question of how many troops to send to Iraq to stabilize the country after the war was unsettled, according to a high-ranking Defense Department official involved in the planning process.Shortly after American troops entered Baghdad, I wrote a piece similar to this memo in the Washington Monthly, arguing that our recent experience with nation-building should be a guide for doing it this time around.
The architects of the war might be forgiven for misgauging the number of troops required had the war come a dozen years ago, when the United States had little experience in modern nation-building. But over the course of the 1990s America gained some hard understanding, at no small cost. From Port-au-Prince to Mogadishu, every recent engagement taught the lesson we're now learning again in Iraq: America's high-tech, highly mobile military can scatter enemies which many times outnumber them, in ways beyond the wildest dreams of commanders just a generation ago. But it's not so easy to win the peace.So what's the bottom line? I think we can draw some conclusions from today's article, the LA Times article last Friday, and some of my writing.
(1) The U.S. knew what it would take to do the job right in Iraq, because of our recent experiences in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Indeed, our top officials knew what it would take, based on studies done by the Army War College and National Security Council.
(2) Senior officials in the Pentagon and White House appear to have chosen courses of action which were contraindicated by the advice mentioned in (1). It's not clear why this choice was made. It may never be possible to pin down the exact decision calculus inside the minds of the top leaders in the Pentagon. However, it appears that the Pentagon made a conscious decision to accept risk in the planning and execution of its post-war plan, in order to start and fight the war faster. That may have been an acceptable tradeoff, given the effect that our high operational tempo had on the Iraqis. But it's clear now that the risk on the back-end (in the post-war phase) was significant, and possibly larger than planners anticipated. (More on operational risk and planning later...)
(3) The entire post-war plan was given relatively short shrift by planners and commanders at the top levels, apparently because of assumptions at the highest levels of government that "we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." (Vice President Cheney, March 16) This assumption drove every other aspect of the plan, from mobilization of additional reservists for security to contracts for additional civilian security forces. When this assumption proved to be false, it was too late to change those other aspects of the plan. Without a contingency force already sitting in Kuwait ready for commitment, it was impossible to rapidly mobilize one from the states to get there when they were needed.
The result: American soldiers have not been set up for success in Iraq. The Administration has not yet done all it can do to set them up for success, and we must. Our mission in Iraq is important, notwithstanding questions about our casus belli. (See Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo for the best reporting on this issue.) We must succeed there in order to create regional stability and prevent the kind of threats from emerging in Iraq that have emerged in other failed states (e.g. Afghanistan). Going to the U.N. on bended knee to get official U.N. sanction and peacekeeping support is one answer. Mobilizing sufficient numbers of reservists to implement a long-term rotation plan with enough boots on the ground is another. Contracting with Iraqis for civilian security forces is a third good option. Ultimately, we must prevail. But we must get smarter about our planning in order to do so.
Monday, July 21, 2003
Army examines its choice of weapons lube
After taking sharp criticism from current and former soldiers alike for its continued use of "CLP" weapons lubricant, Inside the Army (subscription required) reports today that the Army has decided to relook its choice of lubricant for the standard M-16A2 assault rifle that most soldiers carry. (The same lube is also used for the M4 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon)
Inside The ArmyThis is something I've written on before, in connection with the report on the 507th Maintenance Company ambush. "Soldiers For The Truth" has also had some good reporting on this, along with blogger colleagues One Hand Clapping and Winds of Change. Few things are more important in combat than having small arms which work when they're needed. I'm not sure if Militec is the right answer here, but I'm pretty sure that CLP is less than adequate. Of course, no weapons lubricant will work when soldiers fail to do the necessary weapons maintenance, a trend which also appears in the 507th report. However, we owe it to our soldiers to give them the best materiel that our defense dollars can buy. I hope this investigation pushes the Army a little bit closer to that product -- whatever it is.
Update: I recently updated this post with the full text of the article from Inside the Army, which is an independent publication which covers the Army and is associated with several other such publications about the other services. The original article was quite balanced, but I made the editorial decision to only post certain excerpts which criticized the Army. I received a note asking me to post the entire article, as well as permission to do so from the publisher, in the interest of fairness. I thought it was the right thing to do. For more outstanding coverage of this issue and others, I recommend making Inside the Army a regular stop. Their reporters consistently do a good job of reporting on this kind of stuff -- which as we see from this story, has a direct effect on the way our soldiers perform in combat.
Sunday, July 20, 2003
Every generation has its heroes
Sunday's Washington Post has an extremely moving story about the men who suffered some of the most grievous wounds during the war with Iraq, and who now are recovering from their wounds at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. (The Post also has the photos from the article available online.)
On TV, the war was a rout, with infrared tanks rolling toward Baghdad on a desert soundstage. But the permanent realities unfold more quietly on Georgia Avenue NW, behind the black iron gates of the nation's largest military hospital.Some thoughts... The human cost of war is always one of the most troubling things to accept, because it really calls into question our reasons for the war itself. When you look at a wounded combat veteran, the question stares back at you: "Was this man's injury worth it?" I will reserve judgment on that question, given all that has come to light in the last few weeks regarding our casus belli in Iraq. However, I believe that we owe these answers to the men and women we sent to Iraq, and to the families of those who will not return. Our nation should never fight for an unworthy case; the cost in blood and treasure is too high.
Saturday, July 19, 2003
Two memorials in Santa Monica
I took my dog Peet for a walk today to the Third Street Promenade, and walked through two memorials to Wednesday's horrific incident at the Santa Monica farmer's market. One was what you might expect from the city of Santa Monica -- a multicultural, non-sectarian gathering to mourn the dead and give thanks for our existence. I've been a lot of memorial services, but this one didn't move me in any particular way.
The second memorial was the Saturday farmer's market itself, which promoters and farmers decided to hold today despite Wednesday's tragedy. Every vendor commemorated the incident in some way, whether with black cloth around his stand or black ribbons in front of his table. But the overall message was: we will persevere through this tragedy. That was a powerful message, and I think it was the best way to memorialize those who died on Wednesday.
Friday, July 18, 2003
Tony Blair: a great American
The British have been blessed in our time to have great orators like Winston Churchill and Tony Blair for national leaders. In times of crisis, these men lift their citizens' morale and spirits with moving words. Speaking before a joint session of Congress yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair turned his words towards us, his somewhat reluctant allies across the Atlantic.
Members of Congress, if this seems a long way from the threat of terror and weapons of mass destruction, it is only to say again that the world's security cannot be protected without the world's heart being won. So America must listen as well as lead. But, members of Congress, don't ever apologize for your values. (Applause.) Tell the world why you're proud of America. Tell them when "The Star-Spangled Banner" starts, Americans get to their feet -- Hispanics, Irish, Italians, Central Europeans, East Europeans, Jews, Muslims, white, Asian, black, those who go back to the early settlers, and those whose English is the same as some New York cab drivers I've dealt with -- (laughter) -- but whose sons and daughters could run for this Congress. Tell them why Americans, one and all, stand upright and respectful. Not because some state official told them to, but because whatever race, color, class or creed they are, being American means being free. That's why they're proud. (Cheers, sustained applause.)Words like these remind us of our ideals, and of what it means to be an American. I can't help but feel pride when a national leader like Tony Blair speaks this way about America and its role in today's world. Now all we have to do is live up to these expectations -- a task which is easier said than done.
Planning for success?
The Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times has a very interesting (and very lengthy) report today on what went wrong with America's planning for post-war Iraq. This is more than your typical "first draft of history" journalism -- the Times reporters painstakingly lay out the pre-war planning process, and the various ways that nation-building planning was neglected by the Administration.
Since the fall of Baghdad on April 9, U.S. and British troops have struggled to bring order from chaos. Water, electricity and security are in short supply, fueling resentment among many Iraqis. A guerrilla-like resistance has taken shape against the occupation; U.S. casualties mount almost daily in an operation that is costing nearly $4 billion a month and stalling the withdrawal of American forces.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Great initiative... not so great judgment
Every month, the Defense Department General Counsel's Standards of Conduct Office publishes a monthly advisory on ethics within the Pentagon and the military services. SOCO has responsibility for promulgating ethics regulations, training guidelines, etc., for the Pentagon. Their staff takes it really seriously too, however, they often find ways to teach their lessons in humorous ways. Here's an excerpt from their July 2003 advisory:
In yet another remarkable case of bad judgment, a Marine Corps company commander who was deployed in Iraq asked a tobacco company to send his men its products for free. After receiving the free goods, he sent a "thank you" note that was used as part of the tobacco company’s advertising. The letter implied that the DoD endorsed the product, and, eventually, garnered the attention of two Congressmen. Please remember the standards of conduct apply in Iraq, too.It's hard to suppress a smile at this Marine captain's initiative. If I was his commander, I'd probably recommend him for a Navy Achievement Medal for this sort of thing, while chiding him privately about the thank-you note. These are the kinds of things we expect of our junior leaders, who we entrust with the lives of our finest sons and daughters. I hope his chain of command took care of him the way he took care of his Marines.
Federal judge says legal mission to Iraq was a sham
USA Today reports today that 6th Circuit Judge Gilbert S. Merritt has blasted the American government in Iraq for impeding a mission arranged by the Justice Department to restore Iraq's legal institutions. The DoJ-sponsored mission included federal judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys who had the charter of advising Iraq on its Constitution and the establishment of a new legal system.
Senior U.S. District Judge (sic) Gilbert Merritt said the 25-member delegation's hopes of assessing Baghdad's judicial and law enforcement institutions were hindered by the chaos in the city of 5 million people. Guerrilla warfare continues, water and electricity service are limited, police forces are barely functioning, and many courthouses are bombed-out shells, he and other members of the delegation said.
Pentagon to call up two National Guard brigades for Iraq
Greg Jaffe reports in this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that the Defense Department has decided it must call up two brigades of National Guard soldiers for the Iraq mission, since it has been unable to enlist America's allies in the effort there. Two brigades equates to roughly 10,000 soldiers, which does not seem like a lot for the 480,000 active-duty Army to manage. However, as the article points out, nearly all of the Army is committed to operations in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Korea and Afghanistan right now, leaving the Guard as America's only option.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to sign off on a plan later this week that would establish a rotation to relieve Marine and U.S. Army soldiers deployed in Iraq, a Pentagon official said. After training, it would be March or April by the time National Guard soldiers would be deployed, likely for stints of 13 to 16 months including the training. Even so, demands on the active-duty Army would remain intense. Asked if he had ever seen the Army stretched so thin, one senior defense official recently said: "Not in my 31 years" of military service.This is going to be a challenge. America's National Guard has already been stretched thin by consecutive homeland security deployments since Sept. 11, known as Operation Noble Eagle. In the California Army National Guard, nearly every combat arms unit has already deployed once. The units which have deployed have returned in deplorable condition, with most soldiers opting to leave the Guard. There are a number of National Guard units which have been left alone for homeland security, and these are the likely units to deploy to Iraq. However, even that is a finite supply. If America is to stay in Iraq for the long hall, this solution won't work.
Painful lessons in Santa Monica
Yesterday's tragic incident in Santa Monica which left nine people dead is a tragic reminder of how quickly accidents can escalate into mass-casualty situations when crowds are involved. The incident (not an accident -- nothing is ever accidental; it always has some cause) happened a short walk away from where I live. I go to 3rd Street a lot, and I've been to that farmer's market a dozen or so times. Suffice to say, it was hard to work yesterday afternoon as the story unfolded.
It appears that this driver had no evil intent. Details are still emerging, but it looks like he tried to pump his brake pedal, but instead found his accelerator pedal. That doesn't change the carnage he caused. He still killed 9 people, and left dozens more hurt. Despite the apparent lack of evil intent, this incident holds many lessons learned for us as we think about how we might respond to another kind of mass-casualty event -- a terrorist attack. This is just my thinking, as a former anti-terrorism plans officer, but I think it's what a lot of folks in the Santa Monica Police Dept. are probably thinking about right now.
1. Large groups of people are targets. The reasons are many fold. First, large groups of people maximize the chances for large casualty counts, and that's usually a goal for terrorists. Second, the proportion of people who have been to a place where lots of people are is high, thus, lots of people will say afterwards "I've been there before -- that could have been me." This increases the fear factor of an attack, adding to its psychological impact. Finally, large gatherings of people tend to be media magnets -- there's often a camera crew there already to catch the news. As Brian Jenkins said 30 years ago, "terrorism is theater."
2. Simple measures can work. A threat assessment for the farmer's market in Santa Monica would have noted the threat of an inbound car or truck-borne explosive -- either one of which would be deadly. The proximity of this market to traffic makes that a possible threat, though not a probable one. Moreover, mitigating this threat would not have been hard. Parking two cars to physically block the street at either end of Arizona Ave. would have been sufficient; so too would have been placing "jersey bounce" barriers (concrete barriers that can stop a speeding car) at either end. (This would've been more costly, and entailed a crane to move them every time.
Ironically, the 3rd Street Promenade has retractable, sunk-in metal barriers at all ends, but those devices were never installed for the farmer's market area -- which has become somewhat of a permanent fixture. Perhaps the City Council should consider those before they reopen these markets.
3. Mass casualty plans and mutual aid plans work. The city of Santa Monica does not have the ambulance or medical capacity to deal with this kind of event. Luckily, the larger West L.A. area does. Within minutes, reports indicate, ambulances from other jurisdictions sped to Santa Monica to help, as did Life-Flight helicopters. Emergency rooms elsewhere in the area also pitched in, adding to the capacity of UCLA-Santa Monica Hospital and allowing the most urgent patients to be seen at the closest hospital. These measures save lives.
California (and the L.A. area in particular) are actually quite good at this kind of anti-terrorism preparation. Our region has been cursed with natural and man-made disasters like earthquakes, wildfires, floods and riots. In response, our "consequence management" agencies (fire, medical, public health, etc) have developed great plans and working relationships for these kinds of incidents. Those plans and coordination paid off yesterday in Santa Monica.
There are more lessons to be learned, but those are my initial thoughts on this morning after. More to follow as the story develops.
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Pentagon to loan Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to homeland security effort
The trade journal Aerospace Daily reports today that the Defense Department plans to loan some of its high-tech unmanned aerial vehicles ("UAVs") to the Department of Homeland Security for border security. The loan will include military personnel and equipment. It's not clear whether the DoD personnel will merely train and familiarize DHS personnel with UAVs, or whether this loan will include some operational use of the UAVs for actual border security missions.
The deployment, set to take place within the next few months somewhere along America's southern border, comes at the request of Gordon England, deputy secretary for homeland security at DHS and former secretary of the Navy.Analysis: This raises some of the same legal questions that I wrote about in Slate last year when the Pentagon loaned surveillance aircraft to look for the D.C. sniper. Federal law bars the use of military personnel for law enforcement, although a number of exceptions exist.
So, when, exactly, can soldiers help the cops?As a matter of law, this UAV plan may be different from the case of the D.C. sniper. Arguably, the Department of Homeland Security is a national security agency more than a law enforcement agency. Its primary purpose in guarding the border is to prevent entry and secure the nation, though it certainly has the secondary purpose of prosecuting those who might break the law entering the U.S. The Posse Comitatus Act bars the use of military personnel and equipment for law enforcement -- it does not bar their use for national security functions. In addition, a number of exceptions exist, such as 10 U.S.C. 372, which states:
(a) In General. - The Secretary of Defense may, in accordance with other applicable law, make available any equipment (including associated supplies or spare parts), base facility, or research facility of the Department of Defense to any Federal, State, or local civilian law enforcement official for law enforcement purposes.Ultimately, these exceptions are limited by 10 U.S.C. 375, which states that such assistance shall not include "direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law."
Bottom Line: It looks to me like this UAV loan program will be covered by the exceptions to Posse Comitatus. The interesting thing will be whether the loan program will be covered by two provisions in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which created the DHS. Sections 876 and 886 expressly limit the military activities of the new department, and reaffirm Congress' commitment to the Posse Comitatus doctrine. Sec. 876 states:
Nothing in this Act shall confer upon the Secretary any authority to engage in warfighting, the military defense of the United States, or other military activities, nor shall anything in this Act limit the existing authority of the Department of Defense or the Armed Forces to engage in warfighting, the military defense of the United States, or other military activities.There's a pretty good argument that this deployment of UAVs violates the spirit -- if not the letter -- of the Homeland Security Act. If Congress wanted a military homeland security effort, they would have simply told the Pentagon to make it happen without creating a Dept. of Homeland Security. Instead, I think that Congress wanted a civilian effort on the domestic security front.
Eventually, I think that DHS probably plans to buy its own UAVs to run its own border security operations. But in the interim, I think they need to answer some tough legal questions about their plan to borrow them from the Pentagon.