Saturday, August 30, 2003
A few recommendations...
I'll be away from my laptop until Monday evening, so I thought I would recommend a few weblogs which have caught my eye in the last few weeks. Enjoy!
War and Piece -- War and Piece is written by Laura Rozen, a journalist who reports on national security and foreign policy issues from Washington, D.C.
Jusiper -- a center-left weblog that looks like an edgier version of TAPPED and the Washington Monthly. Good reporting and analysis from the left side of the aisle; I suspect this will be a really good site to watch for the 2004 election.
Darren Kaplan -- Thoughts on foreign policy and other issues from an attorney who lives in New York.
Priorities & Frivolities -- a great site run by a soon-to-be student at Harvard's Kennedy School. Sometimes it covers baseball; mostly it covers politics.
Fedlawyerguy.org -- A great weblog on all the administrative law and federal agency stuff that wonks like me find really interesting. This is about the nuts & bolts of government, and it's really good.
AFA Scandal: Winds of Change has a good collection on the sexual assault scandal which continues to unfold at the U.S. Air Force Academy. It appears that Gen. John Rosa, the new USAFA commanding general, is making an effort to clean house. Whether he can make a dent on the entrenched culture there remains to be seen. (Thanks to Oxblog for the tip)
A legal obligation to police Iraq?
Eugene Volokh comments on a blog post arguing that America has a legal obligation to police Iraq under the Geneva Convention, and that our failure to protect Iraqis from other Iraqis may amount to a war crime. This argument could give rise to some sort of legal recourse against American authorities for "letting" Friday's car bombing happen in Najaf.
I agree with Eugene's analysis under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, as well as his distinction between negative and positive obligations. We certainly have an obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and to abstain from killing non-combatants to the extent that's military practicable. However, whether we have an affirmative obligation to protect Iraqis is really a moot point. As Eugene points out, we have compelling political and military reasons for stabilizing the situation there, and those interests are what will control U.S. behavior in Iraq.
Friday, August 29, 2003
Car bomb kills leading Muslim cleric and at least 90 other persons in Iraq
The New York Times reports (along with nearly every media organization) that a major car bomb exploded today in Najaf, killing more than 90 persons. One of the fatalities was Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, a relatively moderate Shiite cleric who had shown some willingness to work with American officials in recent weeks and months.
The explosion occurred moments after the Shiite leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, had left the site, which houses the tomb of Imam Ali and is considered the holiest shrine in Shiite Islam.Quick Analysis: Like the UN car bombing, this is pure terrorism. It is violence with a political purpose, intended for an audience beyond the victims. The purpose here is to intimidate the Americans and Iraqis, and to contribute to a larger sense of bedlam that might force us to abandon our Iraqi endeavor. The question for our side is: will we let it?
Thursday, August 28, 2003
ROTC enrollment on the rise
The Washington Post reports that college students across America are joining the military's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in increasingly larger numbers than before. In percentage terms, these increases are even outpacing recruiting for enlisting personnel, which have hovered just above recruiting target numbers for the last few years.
Across the state and country, other colleges have reported increased interest and enrollment in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Last academic year, Army ROTC enrollment at Maryland colleges and universities went up 20 percent, from 466 the year before to 560. The numbers nationwide grew 3 percent, from 29,818 to 30,824, during the same time.Analysis: I think this a great thing. Military service is not for everyone, but I believe that every American ought to serve his or her nation in some way -- whether in the military, foreign service, Peace Corps, as a school teacher, or in some other needed capacity. I joined the military because I felt it was the best opportunity for me to serve, mature, and lead a diverse group of Americans -- and the military kept its end of the bargain for me.
I think there are at least three trends at work here. The confluence of these factors -- more than any one alone -- has led to this surge in ROTC enrollment.
1. The Economy. Like it or not, the American economy is still not doing well. Recruiters still come to campus to recruit new B.A. and B.S. holders, but not in the same numbers they did in the late 1990s -- and certainly not with the same lucrative offers. ROTC offers a steady job with decent pay and great benefits after college. I don't think you can discount this lure for the military, particularly among working class and middle class students.
1.a. The Economy II - College Costs. The cost of higher education has risen dramatically in the last 10-15 years, particularly at public institutions that used to be relatively inexpensive (or even free) for in-state residents. Much of this owes to the counter-cyclical nature of state budgets, which are tied to income and consumption taxes that do poorly in bad economic times, and squeeze state services like higher education. (See this Wall Street Journal article on the trend in California) In a bad economy, college fees rise as administrators try to balance their budgets on the backs of students. Parents can't afford to offset these increases as they could in a good economy, forcing a student to either work or borrow money. An ROTC scholarship looks awfully attractive to a college student in this predicament.
2. The War on Terrorism. I think it's safe to say that the Sept. 11 attacks made many Americans look inside themselves to their own patriotism, and led many to look for ways to express that patriotism. The military has benefitted in some small measure from this. Recruiting numbers have not skyrocketed as they did in December 1941, but they have gone up. Some of this may owe to economic factors in the larger population, but I think these ROTC students are joining for more than just financial reasons. I've given a class to UCLA's Army ROTC seniors during the last 2 years, and my impression is that they're going out into the force with a purpose -- not just a bottom-line mentality.
3. Worldwide Deployments - Relevance and Opportunities. At a more practical level, the war on terrorism has given the military new relevance and new opportunities. For a young lieutenant (or ensign) just graduated from college, this means real opportunities to serve abroad in harm's way where the nation depends on him or her to get the job done. That's a far cry from the peacetime military, which often revolves around paperwork, PowerPoint, and chickensh*t. The prospects for a new military officer are far more exciting today than they were for me in 1997, notwithstanding the Balkans mission then. I think this has a positive effect on recruiting as well.
Bottom Line: The all volunteer force can only work when successive generations of American men and women make the choice to enter the military -- to personall step into the breach and place themselves in harm's way. In particular, our military depends on young citizens graduating from college to make this choice -- forgoing possible riches in the private sector for a few years while they serve their nation. Unfortunately, the burden of service (as officers and enlisted personnel) has mostly been borne by America's working and middle class. This article didn't discuss the equitable issues of military service, and the current distribution of ROTC students by socioeconomic class. But this is certainly a concern of mine, and something I hope to see reported in the future.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Will Wes Clark run? Can he win?
Amy Sullivan writes in the Washington Monthly that the answer is "maybe" -- but it all depends on Gen. (retired) Clark. It could all depend on one other man from Arkansas who's also a Rhodes Scholar, and for whom Clark worked a few years ago.
Clark just might get the biggest endorsement of them all. In a June interview, former President Bill Clinton told the Associated Press that he has been impressed by every aspect of Clark's career and uttered these magic words: "I believe Wes, if he runs, would make a valuable contribution because he understands America's security challenges and domestic priorities. I believe he would make a good president." The statement has been judged by many political observers to be a non-endorsement endorsement, and a signal to Democratic donors and consultants to wait for Clark.I wouldn't want to handicap the Democrat race just yet, and I'm not part of any betting pools either. But if you had to pick a long-shot horse to take the cup, it'd have to be Clark. The Washington Monthly is known as an opinion leader inside the Beltway -- especially among Democrats. If Clark can get enough buzz, and if he decides to run, he may well have a shot.
Update: Thursday's New York Times reports that Wes Clark is leaning towards declaring himself a candidate -- but is still conducting his reconnaissance.
It's safe to say he wants to run," said a longtime friend who has had frequent political conversations with General Clark. "But he approaches this like a military man. He wants to know, Can I win the battle? He doesn't want to have a situation where he could embarrass himself, but I'm absolutely certain he wants to run."And the race gets more interesting. . .
On casualty and body counts
The New York Times reports that American deaths in Iraq since May 1 (the day President Bush declared an end to major combat operations) now exceed Americans deaths during the actual "war" phase of the war. (sic) According to the AP's tally, 138 American soldiers died during major combat operations, a number which was surpassed on Tuesday when this story was written.
After a bomb killed a soldier this morning on a highway northwest of Baghdad, the death toll since the end of major combat operations exceeded the number killed during the war, according to the Pentagon. The soldier was the 139th member of the armed services to die since the formal declaration of the end of major combat operations. During the war in March and April, 138 died.Analysis: Presumably, this story is supposed to make us pause and reflect on the cost of our Iraqi endeavor, much as the Vietnam Memorial gives us pause every time we see it. The human cost of this war has been high, both in terms of our dead and our wounded -- a number which is largely unreported by the media and the military. We should pause when we see stories like this to reflect on our reasons for waging war. President Bush made the case yesterday that our cause was worth this cost in blood, and I think he made a good case. But this is a judgment that every American should make, based on the best available evidence from all sides.
However, I do not think that death makes a good metric of success in war -- or nation building -- for at least three reasons. First, focusing on death as your metric of success gears every effort towards producing death, or avoiding it. That strategy is not necessarily consistent with our goals in Iraq, especially today. On the inflicting side, we do not want to inflict maximum casualties on a population that we are trying to win over. On the avoiding side, too much emphasis on casualty avoidance and force protection can frustrate a commander who is trying to accomplish his/her mission. Here's a hypo to explain how this works:
You're a logistics battalion commander with an attached Military Police platoon for security. The MP platoon has 10 HMMWVs with crew-served weapons, organized in 3 squads. Ordinarily, you choose to second one squad with each critical convoy as an escort, allowing for a moderate amount of security. But now you're driven less by mission accomplishment and more by casualty avoidance and force protection. Now you want to escort every convoy, not just the critical ones, and you want to do so with more firepower. So you send out two squads of escorts with every convoy, effectively reducing the number of convoys you can send and exhausting the MPs.That's just one example of how casualty-avoidance can infect the thinking and planning of a ground commander. I'm the first one to say that our soldiers are our most precious resource -- the heart and soul of our combat power. But we can't afford to let casualty avoidance dictate our tactics or strategy. In the long run, this will subordinate our mission to our avoidance of casualties, and ultimately result in failure.
Second, focusing on death as your metric of success reduces warfare to an attrition-based slugmatch where the winner is the one with the least casualties -- in relative or absolute terms. That's essentially how Napoleon waged war in the early 19th Century with his levee en masse, and it's also how we fought the Civil War. It's not the way we want to fight now, in the 21st Century, with an all-volunteer force that is long on technology and short on manpower. We have substituted capital for labor across our military force, and we simply can't absorb the same casualty counts as we could have in WWII and Vietnam. Moreover, our enemy can afford to lose more people, because he's fighting a guerilla war of national liberation and casualties only fuel his cause. We don't want to get dragged into an attrition fight here. (For more on this, see DNI's library on 4th Generation Warfare)
Finally, death makes a lousy metric of success because it aligns poorly with tactical, operational and strategic objectives. This was illustrated quite clearly in Vietnam, where we inflicted thousands (perhaps millions) of deaths on the North Vietnamese -- but ultimately lost the war. Our objectives in the war did not include the wholesale infliction of death on the Iraqi people, and our objectives today in the nation-building phase certainly don't either. Killing Iraqis won't help us win their hearts and minds. Paradoxically, their view is that killing Americans may liberate their nation from our occupation (see, e.g., Somalia). But if we focus too much on our U.S. casualties, then we will unavoidably resort to using Iraqi casualties as a metric of comparison. I don't think that's a road we want to go down.
Cooler heads appear to prevail in India
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported on its International Page this morning that the Indian government has taken a measured response to Tuesday's bombing in Mumbai which killed more than 50 persons. While blaming Muslim groups for the bombing, India stopped short of officially criticizing the Pakistani government for its alleged sponsorship of Muslim insurgents in India. That diplomatic self-censorship may be a sign that cooler heads have prevailed within India's government, and that this latest bombing will not derail the continuing diplomacy between the two nations.
. . . New Delhi's apparent reluctance to blame Islamabad itself for Monday's bombings, as it has after previous terrorist attacks, signaled to many political analysts that India and Pakistan will persevere in their recent attempts at détente. Indeed, officials from the two countries are to meet Wednesday in Islamabad to discuss resuming direct air services.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Patriot Act forces investment firms to become nosier
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported this morning that firms offering mutual funds and other investments have started gathering more information about their clients in order to satisfy parts of the USA Patriot Act and Treasury regulations promulgated under its authority. I blogged about this some time ago, when USAA asked me to verify my identity despite my having an account with them for several years when I tried to open a mutual fund. Now, the Journal reports that this has become the norm for mutual fund firms and others in the industry, with some important secondary and tertiary consequences.
Starting Oct. 1, mutual-fund firms won't be allowed to open new accounts without first collecting personal data from investors not always gathered previously. Fund companies also must verify each new customer's identity promptly after opening an account. While some firms already check facts like these, these rules go a step further.Analysis: Title III of the Patriot Act contains a variety of provisions relating to financial crimes. Presumably, gathering the identities of investors will help prevent the use of sham accounts by terrorists, and enable us to connect terrorists and their money more effectively. Unfortunately, this is one area where dismantling terrorists' finances may have a direct impact on all of us. Just as we've learned to cope with more security at the airports, we must now learn to cope with more security in our financial system.
At the end of the day, this latter category of security is very important. If we can take down Al Qaeda's financial network, we can hobble the organization. Without its global network and ability to move money, men and materiel around the world, Al Qaeda will be reduced to a group of thugs with regional reach.
Update: I found my earlier post on this subject from Feb. 11, which I wrote after getting an alarming message from my bank that they needed to verify my identity before opening a mutual fund account. Sec. 326 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56) is the provision which requires this verification -- here's part of the text:
SEC. 326. VERIFICATION OF IDENTIFICATION.
Twin blasts hit Bombay, killing at least 45
A pair of car bombs exploded in Bombay on Monday, killing at least 45 persons and wounding scores more. The news comes at a time of great tension between India and Pakistan -- two nuclear nations capable of dragging the world into a third world war. No group has yet taken responsibility, according to the New York Times, and Indian officials were reticent to blame the usual suspects. Nonetheless, it appears this blast may have been the work of Muslim insurgents, who may have been working with a Pakistan-based terrorist organization.
No one has taken responsibility for the blasts, and it was unclear how the bombs were detonated. Suburban Bombay, whose official name is now Mumbai, has been the site of five explosions — two on buses, two at markets and one in a train — in the last eight months that have killed a total of 15 people. The most recent was in July.Analysis: I'm no expert on the India-Pakistan conflict, and I won't speculate on the facts of this event. However, I would like to point out an fact that should be obvious to most. This is clearly an attempt to derail whatever diplomacy is occuring between India and Pakistan. When I heard Gen. Pervez Musharraf talk in Los Angeles last month, he seemed quite adamant about pursuing peace. I think both nations recognize that they ought to peacefully resolves disputes such as the Kashmir problem and their water problems. (See these essays by RAND expert Chris Fair in The Atlantic Monthly on the region) The use of bombings like this to derail diplomacy is a common tactic used by terrorists. It has been used in India, Israel, Sri Lanka, Ireland, and elsewhere. The goal is to force those who might worry about security into opposing whatever diplomatic entreaties are being negotiated. Often, it works. It takes tough leadership and resolute diplomacy to ensure these tactics fail.
One further note: this conflict is probably not getting the media coverage it deserves. Until an American military officer e-mailed me from India to flag my attention, this event flew under my radar too. The New York Times had it on its home page yesterday; it has since fallen off. The Washington Post ran the story on page A7. The LA Times did not give it top billing either. Only the NYT covered the event from Bombay; the other two papers covered it from New Delhi. Contrast this to the way we treated the recent suicide bombing of a bus in Israel. If we want to have India and/or Pakistan as our allies in our global war on terrorism, we probably need to pay more attention to this conflict. Not to mention the obvious implications for a guerilla war between two of the world's largest nations with nuclear arms...
Adam Smith wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, several years before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, that sympathy was often a function of proximity. He used the example of a man who cut his finger, and felt more pain than he did upon learning that a thousand Chinese men had perished in a disaster. This was almost certainly true in the 18th Century, when Smith wrote, and I think it's true today. But in our increasingly interconnected world, we must learn to appreciate the pain and suffering of our global neighbors. Events in Mumbai can affect us in the United States. Threats to our security will increasingly come from failed states such as Iraq and Afghanistan, not states like the Soviet Union, and we must develop a sense of global situational awareness to understand this.
Update: I blogged this note before reading my print edition of the Wall Street Journal, so I did not give credit where it was due. (Lesson learned: read the Journal earlier in the morning) The Wall Street Journal led with this story at the top of its news summary column on the front page, and reported on the bombing from the actual scene of the attack in Mumbai. Pretty good article too.
Monday, August 25, 2003
Top U.S. official for North Korea resigns
The New York Times reports tonight (for tomorrow's paper) that the State Department's top diplomat for North Korea has resigned. This news comes just before the start of 6-way talks between North Korea, the U.S. and four other nations. Suffice to say, this is an awkward time for such a personnel change.
The State Department confirmed the departure of Jack Pritchard, the special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, but denied that he had been forced out. Mr. Pritchard's departure signals disarray in the administration's posture toward that country, experts outside the State Department said. It comes at a critical moment as the United States attempts to rally North Korea's neighbors to persuade the country to drop its efforts to reprocess spent fuel rods for weapons.Analysis: This is a bad time to approach North Korea with different voices. The best analogy I can think of here is from The Godfather, where Sonny Corleone speaks out of turn at a meeting and jeopardizes the family. You never want to show dissent or fracture when dealing with the North Koreans. Now would be a very good time to reaffirm U.S. policy towards the Korean peninsula -- with one voice -- and to clearly designate our point man (or woman) on this issue.
I had a long talk with a friend of mine who's an old infantryman and law school classmate. Between us, we have a few years of service in Korea, where we inhaled deeply whenever we saw headlines like this one. We both agree that North Korea is causing trouble right now because we have committed so much of our combat power to Iraq. The North Koreans did this in 1998 when we rattled our sabers in the desert, and they did it during Kosovo in 1999 as well. The NKs think they can squeeze concessions out of the U.S. right now because we have so little combat power to shift to the Korean peninsula. The Army still has nearly every one of its combat brigades committed to Iraq, or on a deployment plan to go there. Short of calling up the National Guard as we did in 1950, we'd be hard pressed to oppose any major event on the Korean peninsula with ground forces.
Strategically speaking, we have assumed a tremendous amount of risk in the world by committing so much of our combined military capacity to Iraq. At this moment, we lack the flexibility to commit to new missions like Liberia, or reinforce old missions like Korea, or even do continuing exercises like Bright Star. This completely alters our foreign policy calculus, in terms of what we can and cannot do. Our enemies know this too. At this juncture, the most prudent course of action is probably to contain North Korea however we can, lest we allow them to exploit the risk we have created by devoting so much of our blood and treasure to Iraq. More to follow.
Weblogs and politics
Cory Doctorow has this essay in the Boston Globe about the influence of weblogs on politics, and what he perceives to be a sea change in the interaction between information and politics. Among other things, the online version of the column includes "best of" lists from Joe Conason, Mickey Kaus, and Josh Marshall. It's probably worth a read just for those three lists, which I should use to update my blogroll.
Tomb of the unknown citizen
The New York Times reports today on a macabre -- but fitting -- tribute to the thousands of persons who died at the World Trade Center. Despite the best DNA technology available, medical personnel were unable to identify thousands of remains left in the rubble of the complex. Rather than preserve these offsite, or inter them somewhere sterile, the decision appears to have been made to create a tomb for these unknown remains on the site of the World Trade Center.
In its memorial design competition, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation required every entry to include a suitable space to store the remains. The contestants were not required to actually design the storage — that will be done later. There were 5,200 design entries from 62 countries; a winner is to be selected this fall.
Sunday, August 24, 2003
A four-letter word for France
Wine. Get your mind out of the gutter. Though I'm a native Californian and a devoted consumer of California wines, I also enjoy French wines when I can get my hands on a good one. (Not too often on a grad student's budget)
Two articles in the New York Times give me reason to celebrate. The first article says that the deadly heat wave sweeping Europe may be creating the best wine vintage in half a century. Vintners and other experts are ecstatic about the 2003 grapes -- being picked early now.
Vintners are busy with an early vendange, the annual grape harvest that normally does not start until mid-September. As a rule, hot summers and early harvests produce great wines, winemakers say.Outstanding! I've been told there's a wine futures market, and I imagine it's wild with speculation right now about the prospects for the 2003 vintage. The second article discusses some of the latest research on the French population's health, and posits that red wine may be to blame for the so-called "French paradox" -- why the French eat so poorly, stay so thin, and live so long.
Biologists have found a class of chemicals that they hope will make people live longer by activating an ancient survival reflex. One of the chemicals, a natural substance known as resveratrol, is found in red wines, particularly those made in cooler climates like that of New York.Great! One more reason to drink red wine. Thankfully, this research applies to all red wine, not just French red wine, that contain the right chemical mix. So I can enjoy my Californian petite syrahs (e.g. Bogle and Stag's Leap) and cabernets (Carmenet and Plumpjack) with the knowledge that they're helping my heart. Now I just need to mimic the French by making red wine a normal part of my diet. Somehow, I don't think that will be a problem.
An interview with one of America's leading Al Qaeda experts
Josh Marshall has posted an excellent interview with Peter Bergen at TalkingPointsMemo. Bergen is a journalist too, and he has authored one of the three best books on Al Qaeda and contemporary multinational terrorism that I've read: Holy War, Inc. (The other two must-have books are Countering the New Terrorism and Inside Al Qaeda) Bergen is one of the few journalists to have personally interviewed Osama Bin Laden, and his research on the Al Qaeda organization is first-rate. I think his expert opinions on the organization -- and its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are as good as any out there. Here's an exceprt from the second part:
BERGEN: . . . We did a very smart thing in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Mullah Omar made a calculation that we would be drawn into a Soviet-style invasion. They would respond with guerilla warfare. They would have some tactical successes in that warfare, and a strategic success that the United States would be reviled around the Muslim world for its brutal occupation of Afghanistan.The first part of the interview is available here on TalkingPointsMemo, and it's also worth a read. The nature of the insurgency in Iraq appears a lot like previous insurgencies in other parts of the world -- most notably Afghanistan. I think we should pay careful attention to the thoughts of experts like Peter Bergen, Brian Jenkins, Bruce Hoffman, and Rohan Gunaratna. They know this threat very well, and their historical insight will help us craft a successful strategy this time around.
Saturday, August 23, 2003
In defense of anti-terrorism measures
Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who writes from the right on legal policy issues, has an interesting op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post on the USA Patriot Act. Ms. McDonald takes issue with the ACLU's recent challenge to Sec. 215 of the act, which authorizes the FBI to seek a court order to look into library records and internet browsing records, among other things.
Section 215 allows the FBI to obtain documents in third-party hands if they are relevant to a terrorism investigation. According to the ACLU, this power allows the FBI to "spy on a person because they don't like the books she reads, or because . . . she wrote a letter to the editor that criticized government policy."Memo to Main Justice: Hire Ms. MacDonald to replace the AG on his current roadshow, or at least hire her to serve as his chief speechwriter and political adviser. These are the sort of concrete legal arguments that must be made in support of the USA Patriot Act. Rhetorically speaking, the ACLU and DoJ can fight each other to a draw, with one side extolling the virtues of liberty and the other praising the virtues of security. Concrete arguments like these can cut through the rhetoric, and help the American public understand that the act is not as bad as widely perceived.
On balance, I think the USA Patriot Act is a good piece of legislation. Title II of the act gives the FBI broader discretion to apply for FISA warrants, and recognizes that it's not so easy in the age of terrorism to separate criminal investigation work from counter-intelligence work. Title III of the act gives law enforcement more power in the area of financial crime, something which is necessary to take down the intricate financial network on which Al Qaeda relies. Titles VII and IX contain important provisions with respect to information sharing and intelligence analysis -- the bread and butter of anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism. These provisions do carry some risk of abuse. But so too does every criminal statute, and we rely on substantive and procedural protections in our courts to protect us from those risks. Whether the courts do a good job is a matter of dispute, but on balance, I think most Americans are willing to trust the judiciary with their rights.
The defense of the USA Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism measures is important. The American people must buy into our anti-terrorism measures in order to support their enormous fiscal cost and the potential cost in delay, hassle, intrusiveness, and change (see, e.g., airport security). I support these measures, for the most part, but I also sense that many Americans have legitimate questions about them. In the long run, this PR problem will frustrate anti-terrorism efforts by lowering political support for such measures, and for the politicians who support them. Terrorists will exercise tactical patience, and wait for our complacency to set in. They will see political support for anti-terrorism decline, along with discretionary funding for anti-terrorism measures. Manpower and materiel will be shifted to other government programs, and soon, vulnerabilities will start to appear. Terrorists will lie in wait for this moment, and then they will strike. We can't let that happen.
This issue is too important to leave to the Justice Department alone; real policy leadership here must also come from the White House, and from opinion leaders and public intellectuals in society. Mr. Ashcroft does not have the credibility to defend this act, or to advocate for the administration on this issue. Simply put, the American public does not trust Mr. Ashcroft to tell the truth on these issues, regardless of how concrete his arguments are. If the administration is really serious about defending its anti-terrorism measures -- and it ought to be -- it needs to do more here. Jack Balkin thinks this may be part of a deliberate White House strategy to test the waters on this issue for the 2004 political season. That is possible. But I think the results are already obvious -- the public will not react well to Mr. Ashcroft's roadshow.
Friday, August 22, 2003
The book to buy for lawyers, law students, and other law-minded academics
Eugene Volokh's new book Academic Legal Writing scored a rave review from Michael Herrington in Writ today. I haven't purchased my copy yet (financial aid just showed up), but I intend to. Eugene taught my First Amendment law class last semester, and I think he's absolutely brilliant. Herrington agrees, and recommends this book without reservation:
Having now, for the first time, carefully read a style book, I now see the error of my ways. If you have a sibling, a child, a friend, even a distant acquaintance, in law school or trying to get something published in a legal publication, buy them a copy of Academic Legal Writing.
Final thoughts from Oxblog on the BBC: Josh Chafetz has a lengthy discussion of his Weekly Standard article on the BBC, and the allegations he made in that article. As one can imagine, the article provoked a fair amount of criticism, which proved the old adage: never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.
LT Smash is about to redeploy from Iraq. I think the right expression in the Navy for a job well done is "Bravo Zulu". In the Army, we'd grunt "hooah" at you. In either case, stay safe and thanks for the reporting from the desert.
Ashcroft goes on the offensive
But will his PR blitz really lead the public to trust him?
Seeking to defend the administration and defuse criticism of its stance on civil liberties, Attorney General John Ashcroft has hit the road on a speaking tour of the United States. His goal, according to the Washington Post, is to explain why measures like the USA Patriot Act are so vital, and to reassure Americans that his Justice Department is finding the right balance between liberty and security.
In a strongly worded speech that included quotations from Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, Ashcroft portrayed the Patriot Act as a linchpin of the government's war against terrorism.The Washington Post follows this news story with an editorial about "Mr. Ashcroft's Roadshow". The editorial echoes some things I wrote on TIA and the planned terrorism futures market, regarding the general American sentiment towards the Bush Administration on these issues.
. . . if people are worried about how the Justice Department is wielding its authority under the Patriot Act, a big piece of the blame lies with Mr. Ashcroft himself. Muscular congressional oversight of this new law is critical, but the department has until recently balked at answering reasonable questions from lawmakers. At one point last fall, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) was so exasperated he was threatening to issue a subpoena to get the information. This is no way to make the public feel better about how the department is handling sweeping new powers.I think that's right. Granted, I live in Santa Monica, which ranks with Berkeley and Cambridge, Mass. as one of the more liberal cities in America. But I associate with a balanced cross section of friends and colleagues, on the left and the right, who all evidence some distrust of John Ashcroft and this admininistration with respect to civil liberties. Mr. Ashcroft has almost become a punchline of sorts to any joke about spying, eavesdropping, or otherwise invading someone's privacy. ("Don't talk about your last date on your cell phone; John Ashcroft's listening.")
The net result of this distrust was seen very clearly in the debates over TIA and the Pentagon's planned terrorism futures market. Americans -- and their legislative representatives -- didn't care how these programs actually worked. They didn't care that academics on the left and right supported such ideas in the abstract. Despite TIA's fate, we still need computerized tools to look for "non-obvious relationships". And a closed-access futures market for experts could have been a great way to quantify collective expert opinion. Nonetheless, the American public answered these programs with a resounding "Enough already!"
After a series of anti-terrorism measures passed since Sept. 11, I think the Bush Administration has effectively spent its political capital on terrorism. These measures include, but are not limited to:
- The USA PATRIOT Act, which has become a lightning rod for criticism of the Bush Administration. I think some of that criticism should be directed at others, such as Congress, who raced to pass an omnibus bill after Sept. 11 without considering any of the secondary or tertiary implications of its provision.
- The Homeland Security Act, which consolidated and reorganized America's domestic security apparatus. I think this consolidation was probably necessary because of the inefficiencies and gaps which existed before, but some people feel threatened by the consolidation of all these agencies under one roof -- and the sharing of intelligence between them.
- The implementation of a new security regime for airports, including the use of computer-assisted passenger screening system that may have racial-profiling implications.
- Expanded powers to detain and deport immigrants, based on the USA Patriot Act and executive rulemaking authority in this area, which have led to the detention and deportation of thousands of immigrants.
- The secrecy of these proceedings, which has left Americans guessing about their true extent, and left Americans with a tangible distrust of the Justice Department on this issue
- The decision to detain Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters at Guantanamo Bay without formal designation as prisoners of war, despite Art. V of the Third Geneva Convention. (See this essay from Feb. 2002)
- The decision to detain two American citizens and a Qatari man as "enemy combatants" based on a Presidential declaration -- a designation which has resulted in their imprisonment without charge or legal process, solitary detention, seclusion from counsel.
- The executive order establishing military tribunals as an option for non-citizen terrorists -- an option that would incorporate fewer legal protections for the defendant than a civilian criminal trial or military court martial. It's not clear whether the President has the power to issue such an order, let alone conduct such tribunals.
- The prosecution of so-called "little fish" for providing "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, under a statute added by the 1996 Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. It appears that most of these individuals have contributed some measure of support, whether money or training, to some terrorist organization, but there is no clear nexus between these men and a) actual terrorist activity and b) future terrorist acts. At most, defendants like the Lackawanna Six appear to have visited Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan (which is probably a bad thing). These men appear to have pled guilty in order to avoid designation as enemy combatants. But the prosecution of these little fish -- in the absence of any big fish prosecutions -- makes Americans feel threatened. It may ultimately be the right course of action, given the way Al Qaeda's network depends on these little fish, but it has political consequences.
- The secret detention of top-level Al Qaeda operatives at undisclosed locations, where they are being interrogated with undisclosed methods, and where their fate is uncertain. We are at war, and it is legal to detain and interrogate enemy prisoners of war. But there are rules for doing so, developed after abuses during WWII created an international consensus about the proper treatment of prisoners of war. Following the rules may impede us in some respects, but it helps us retain the moral high ground in the war on terrorism. We should not discount the importance of the moral dimension of warfare. That is what gives us international support to lead campaigns in places like Iraq; that is what enables foreign politicians to support us, because their population supports us. Moral capital is one more form of ammunition in the war on terrorism, and we squander it when we don't live by the rules of war.
Blowback: The term "blowback" refers to the unintended consequences of a policy choice. The classic example is Al Qaeda -- which appears to have developed out of the Afghan Arab movement that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan with our covert funding and support. (See Peter Bergen's Holy War, Inc. for more on Al Qaeda's history)
Now we are seeing another form of blowback, from the policy choices made by the Bush Administration in its war on terrorism. The common perception (true or not) is that this administration has a cavalier attitude towards civil liberties -- and that it will not let those things stand in the way of fighting terrorists. That's a normative judgment, and one that may be justified if you think the threat of terrorism on the scale of Sept. 11 is real and imminent.
But this normative judgment also has consequences -- the biggest one being that the American public no longer trusts John Ashcroft or the administration with their civil liberties. Every policy recommendation -- whether from the Pentagon or DoJ -- that touches civil liberties will meet a firestorm of criticism from now on. I'm not sure how the administration can remedy this distrust, or prevent this blowback from reoccuring. But I don't think Mr. Ashcroft's roadshow is going to do the trick.
Update: This isn't going to do the trick either. The Washington Post reports that the AG has instructed his 94 U.S. Attorneys to lobby Congress about the success of the USA Patriot Act and the problems with a provision in a pending House bill that would cut off funding for "sneak and peek" searches.
An Aug. 14 memorandum from Guy A. Lewis, director of the executive office for United States Attorneys, encourages federal prosecutors "to call personally or meet with . . . congressional representatives" to discuss "the potentially deleterious effects" of an amendment approved in the House last month that would cut off funding for "sneak and peek" warrants in terrorism cases.I'll reserve judgment on the Anti-Lobbying Act (18 U.S.C. 1913) issue, except to say that there is an issue here that could land U.S. Attorneys and their staffs in trouble if they don't follow the letter of the law. If anything, this order almost screams for some sort of independent prosecutor, because it would be odd for the Justice Department to prosecute one of its own U.S. Attorneys for something the AG told him or her to do.
Furthermore, this could frustrate attempts by the AG to sell the Patriot Act as something that's not threatening. Waging guerilla warfare (also known as lobbying) in the halls of Congress is not something the American public probably wants to see on this issue -- it will only make them more suspicious
Thursday, August 21, 2003
WSJ: Army needs more MPs to do its job
Most of the defense community agrees that we need more "nation building" troops these days than ever before -- especially Military Police and Civil Affairs soldiers. Unfortunately, the Army has too few of these specialties to go around, particularly in its active force. Christopher Cooper writes in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about this very problem, and the difficulties the Army is facing as it tries to develop more MPs for missions like the one going on today in Iraq.
Out of a total fighting force of about 490,000, the U.S. has only around 37,000 military police -- a figure that hasn't changed much in decades. The MP, a specialist soldier with the kind of training and equipment needed to enforce order on urban areas, is the closest the U.S. has to a peacekeeping soldier. Almost half of them -- 15,000 -- are active-duty troops, with the balance in the Army reserve or the National Guard. There are about 12,000 MPs currently assigned to Iraq.Note 1: This isn't just about MPs -- it's about all of the specialties necessary to execute missions along the spectrum of operations from peace to war. America's military doesn't just need tanks and infantry to execute high-intensity combat operations; it needs Special Forces to conduct low-intensity combat operations, MPs to manage peacekeeping/peace enforcement operations, and other specialties too. Inside the Pentagon (subscription required) had a great piece today that argued we needed more Special Forces in Iraq to conduct the stealthy, secretive combat ops necessary to undermine the Iraqi insurgency -- essentially to "out-guerilla the guerillas". It's an interesting idea, but one that we can't execute now because we don't have enough SF on active duty for that kind of commitment.
Note 2: So why not just build more MP, Civil Affairs and SF units? Because the true value in these units is not their hardware or their organizational setup -- it's their people. What makes an MP unit so special is its experience in dealing with law enforcement and peacekeeping situations -- experience which is earned through decades of collective work on those missions. You can't build an MP sergeant overnight, just as you couldn't create a civilian police sergeant overnight. It takes years to build the kind of "street smarts" and professional maturity that is necessary for troops in Iraq. So even if you reclassify infantrymen and scouts and tankers as MPs, they will take time to develop the necessary experience levels. There are alternatives, such as cross-assigning personnel to put a critical mass of old MPs in new units. But it still takes time.
In the special operations community, this is even more true. SF operators can't just jump out of an airplane five times, go through Ranger School, and then deploy to Afghanistan and expect to succeed. The strength of America's Green Berets lies in its people, their experience, and the synergies they develop by training and working together over long periods of time. The special operations community has really embraced Col. John Boyd's mantra of "People, Ideas, Hardware -- in that order!" You can't create quality SF soldiers overnight, and you certainly can't create quality SF teams overnight.
Note 3: A well-informed reader wrote to remind me of the detrimental effect on infantry units when they're used for MP missions -- especially lousy ones like guarding prisoners or checking IDs. (See BG Curry's quote above: "It doesn't take an MP to check an ID card.") BG Curry's implication is that MPs are scarce, therefore we should use less scarce resources, like National Guard infantry, to do mundane tasks like this. I think that's a little short-sighted too. Recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the need for trained, lethal, effective infantry -- especially light infantry. The National Guard contains an awful lot of these units, and though they don't train as much as their active-duty brethren, they have seen combat in Iraq. Had these units been used as MP-retreads, I don't think they would've been ready for combat in Iraq as infantrymen.
There are a finite number of training days available -- even for the active force -- and you have to choose where you focus your training time and training resources. Army doctrine specifies that all units will focus their training on their "Mission Essential Task List" ("METL") in order to get as much bang for their buck as possible. Changing the METL of infantry units to incorporate more MP functions may make them less effective as infantry. That's a very risky proposition, and one that I think is unwise. If we have mundane tasks that can be done by untrained soldiers, I think those are things we ought to think hard about contracting out. To add a variation on BG Curry's words: It doesn't take a soldier, who we've spent thousand of dollars and man hours to train, to check an ID at the main gate of Fort Hood.
What this comes down to is a choice between 2nd Generation Warfare and 4th Generation Warfare. Napoleon developed 2nd Generation Warfare, fueled conscription which was termed the "levee en masse". It was an industrial, conscription-based, grinding, casualty-heavy form of warfare where nations threw legions of men against one another and assessed victory as a function of casualties taken and terrain seized. 4th Generation Warfare, on the other hand, is what our enemies wage against us today. They reject conventional norms and rules of warfare and fight with asymmetric means. The goal in 4GW is to find the enemy's strategic, operational and tactical center of gravity -- and attack it. The goal is to seize the moral high ground, and to win the battle of public opinion.
To the extend that we now face a 4GW conflict, we can't simply throw men and materiel at the war as we did in WWII. We must deploy trained, effective, cohesive, lethal units who can conduct operations at any point on the spectrum from peace to war. Numbers alone won't do the job.
Keegan: Iraq is no Vietnam, but we still need more troops
John Keegan, the world's preeminent military historian, writes today in the London Daily Telegraph about the situation in Iraq after Tuesday's bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad. Keegan, whose military histories cover the past 5,000 years of Western civilization, doesn't think we're stuck in a quagmire -- but he thinks we could get there if we don't deploy more combat power to do the job.
The bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad on Tuesday raises two principal questions. The first, couched in media language, asks: "Is Iraq becoming another Vietnam?" The second, a policy-maker's question and the more important, asks: "Are there enough coalition troops to pacify the country and, if not, how many more are needed?"A note on math. . . Keegan writes that the coalition (US and UK) forces include just 20,000 "fighting troops". How can that be? The Pentagon tells us that we have roughly 140,000 - 150,000 troops in Iraq, plus a bunch of British troops. How can Keegan be right that we have just 20,000 trigger-pullers?
The answer lies in the structure of the typical Army or Marine division, and the ratio of support troops to combat troops. Typically, support troops will outnumber trigger pullers by a factor of 7:1 in a given theater of operations. I think that Keegan is using that as his planning factor to estimate 20,000 combat troops. He may also be looking at the Globalsecurity.org pagethat describes exactly which units are deployed to Iraq right now. This site also lists the deployed soldiers by battalion-sized unit, which enables you to literally count heads because the configurations of those units are relatively easy to determine.
In a given division of 15,000-20,000 soldiers, you will only have 9-12 combat battalions of 300-500 soldiers apiece. The 4th Infantry Division, in which I served, had three organic brigades, which in turn had three organic battalions -- 5 tank and 4 infantry -- plus a divisional cavalry squadron. In total, this amounts to roughly 4,000 trigger pullers. On top of the infantry divisions like 4ID, you have to add in all the support and command/control structure above these units -- all the way from 4ID up to CENTCOM. When you add up the numbers, it becomes clear that you really have a lot of people in Iraq who aren't actual combat troops.
Caveat: Keegan may be wrong in two ways. First, American units have tasked their support units to conduct checkpoint operations, security patrols, and other combat missions in the Iraq occupation. Infantry and armor units aren't the only ones doing this stuff -- artillerymen, engineers, MPs, and others are running these missions too. Second, Keegan's wrong in the sense that combat has spread to everyone in the Iraqi theater of operations -- combat troops and support troops. Indeed, support troops driving in convoys have been more likely to come under fire and take casualties than their combat arms brethren, probably because the Iraqis are going after the soft targets.
Can the military be used to promote democracy?
According to Robert Tagorda, a Truman Scholar and first-year student at Harvard's Kennedy School, the answer is yes. America's military can be a potent tool for the promotion of democracy abroad, particularly through military-to-military contacts. Tagorda writes for Tech Central Station about the case of the Philippines, and why such programs might be the right answer for reforming the Philippine military.
. . . as a short-term alternative, the Bush administration should revise its May proposal to include professional as well as combat training. The proposal calls for a comprehensive security review that details "how the United States can best support Philippine military modernization and reform." In addition to discussing UH-1H helicopters and other equipment, this review should devise ways in which the assistance program can be used to strengthen military adherence to civilian authority. Education will hardly serve as a panacea. But it will at least begin to put the spotlight on stabilizing and strengthening institutions that have important counterterrorism responsibilities.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
VA Secretary falls on his sword in today's Wall Street Journal
Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a disturbing article about the ordeal of Jason Stiffler, an Army soldier seriously wounded in Afghanistan who has been fighting the Army and the VA for several months to get the benefits he needs to survive as a disabled veteran. I discussed this article on the day it ran, saying that this matched my experience with the VA disability system -- which can even be Byzantine to someone with an administrative law education like me. Today, a letter from VA Secretary Anthony Principi appears on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page (subscription required). Here is the full text:
When a Bureaucracy Fails, Veterans Suffer InexcusablyWow... that's not the kind of candor I've seen in a while from a senior administration official in any administration. But it is the kind of integrity and candor that Mr. Principi is known for, and he should be commended for this letter. In the Army, falling on your sword can be the best way to admit fault and move forward, and I think that's what Mr. Principi has done here. Admittedly, the ordeal of Mr. Stiffler is an awful one, and no veteran deserves to be treated that way by his own country.
But what's done is done, and we now must focus on how to take care of the hundreds of thousands of combat veterans now serving overseas. America has not had such a large generation of combat veterans in 13 years, and given the nature of the conflict in Iraq, it's arguable that we haven't seen combat like this since Vietnam. These veterans have already started to come home, and many have begun to seek help from the VA. Over the next 3-5 years, the VA will face a bow wave like it hasn't seen for some time. America owes it to its veterans to give them the benefits they deserve, and this will become a campaign issue if the VA fails to deliver.
Texas senator advocates for a larger military
Washington Times piece sounds eerily similar to Washington Monthly pieces
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) writes today in the Washington Times that America's military is stretched too thin to accomplish all of its missions -- and missions which may come in the future. Specifically, she argues that we lack the requisite number of boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Hutchison starts her piece with a quotation from a famous piece of military history:
"You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life — but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud."Sounds good to me. In fact, it sounds very much like this piece by Nick Confessore in the Washington Monthly, and this piece by me in the same magazine:
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.I should be clear: I allege no plagiarism or dishonesty here. I borrowed from Fehrenbach, and I certainly didn't come to my own conclusions about everything I wrote about. The accepted norm is to borrow good ideas where you find them, whether it's in the Washington Monthly or the Weekly Standard.
Therein lies the irony. Sen. Hutchison's politics are quite different from mine, and probably quite different than the average Washington Monthly reader. I find some irony in the fact that a Republican senator from the President's home state would seize on ideas in a liberal magazine to criticize the foreign policy decisions of the Bush Administration. But I guess that truth is often stranger than fiction.
Monday, August 18, 2003
Intermission -- Intel Dump will begin regular news coverage again on Thursday or Friday of this week. In the interim, please stop by my friends and supporters on my blogroll. Thanks.
Friday, August 15, 2003
Update to Pentagon plans to reduce combat pay
Top DoD official says the plans were misconstrued, and pay will not drop
Undersecretary of Defense David Chu gave a press conference yesterday explaining this reversal a little further. In Dr. Chu's words, this isn't actually a reversal at all -- the original story was wrong. The Pentagon never intended to cut "total compensation" for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, it intended to shift around different kinds of pay to more selectively target those actually in a combat zone -- as opposed to those in support of a combat operation in Qatar. Here's an excerpt from the press conference:
Q: Just to be clear, there was never any intention on the part of the Defense Department to even look at eliminating these increases. Is that correct?Earlier in the press conference, Dr. Chu described the legislative and legal differences between what was being reported, and what was being done by the Pentagon:
Chu: No, no, no, no. I don't mean to be a technocrat here, but we have plenty of authority that we think is frankly better suited to the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan to maintain that compensation at the level it now stands without this power. And what we're saying in this document is we don't need this authority. What Congress really would do if they extend this is actually pay it to a lot of people who aren't in Iraq and Afghanistan.Okay, I understand now... Congress has created an "entitlement", for lack of a better word, that authorizes certain troops to certain pay under certain conditions. The Pentagon thinks those conditions are overly broad, and would rather use other kinds of pay with other conditions to pay our troops in harm's way. The current model probably authorizes Family Separation Pay for anyone on any deployment -- whether in harm's way or not. And the current danger pay may include folks in Qatar, Kuwait, and elsewhere. The Pentagon's position is that it cannot afford to pay those folks not actually in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The defense authorization/appropriations process is one of the most over-legislated, hyper-technical areas of the policy process imaginable. The annual National Defense Authorization Act is the largest piece of legislation considered by Congress, and it can run into the hundreds of pages. Often times, small provisions are inserted that may or may not mesh with the rest of the defense budget, the priorities of the President, or the priorities of Congress. But since it's part of this bill, it's the law of the land and it must be implemented somehow by the Pentagon. It's a policy nightmare.
Bottom Line: If we take Dr. Chu at his word, the "total compensation" for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will not drop -- it will change. Instead of receiving $225 and $250 for "imminent danger pay" and "family separation pay" respectively, soldiers may now receive $475 in some other special-purpose category. However, there will undoubtedly be friction in this process, and some soldiers will fall through the cracks. Some of this pay may lag, or hiccup, since the defense pay system is quite large and complex. It remains to be seen whether "total compensation" will actually stay the same, notwithstanding the comments by Dr. Chu. More to follow...