Monday, September 15, 2003
The Citizen Soldier's Burden
Today's New York Times has an important story about the sacrifice being made by today's Army reservists in the war on terrorism. For some, that sacrifice has gotten to be too much, and they are contemplating the decision to leave the military altogether after their current mobilization ends.
. . . since the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Gorski, a staff sergeant with the 870th Military Police Company of the California National Guard, has spent 16 months away from home, first at an Army base in Tacoma, Wash., and most recently in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala. He is likely to spend eight more months in Iraq, and he has decided to leave the National Guard as soon as he can.Analysis: Having recently served in the California Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve, I can testify to this problem from first-hand experience. Mobilizations are not just decimating (reducing by 10%) the personnel strength of these units -- these mobilizations are rendering units absolutely combat ineffective. One battalion I'm familiar with mobilized in October 2001 for a one-year homeland security mission. It returned in October 2002, only to lose more than half its personnel who refused to reenlist or even attend drills anymore. The only soldiers who remain in the reserves tend to fall into three categories:
(1) Soldiers who are so close to retirement that they have too much vested to get out. This tends to include senior sergeants and officers in the rank of Major and above;
(2) Soldiers who work in the civilian world for the government, and are relatively immune from the civilian-job consequences of back-to-back mobilizations;
(3) Soldiers who just joined and have yet to receive the educational benefits or other benefits they joined the military for, or cannot leave because they are still serving their initial enlistment.
Those three groups include roughly 30-40% of the reserve force. The rest will probably decide to get out after their current mobilization ends, or when their current enlistment ends. This portends a crisis of readiness for America's reserves, particularly if the war on terrorism will require their services in the near future for another conflict or another tour in Iraq. The overwhelming majority of "nation building" force structure (Civil Affairs, Military Police, Medical, Logistics, etc) resides in the reserve component. Bottom Line: If we see an exodus of reservists in the next several months, we will also see a corresponding decline in our readiness to conduct nation-building missions around the world.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Is Secretary Rumsfeld in political trouble?
Josh Marshall has been asking this question for a while, spurred by criticisms of the Pentagon over its planning for post-war Iraq and other important matters. Privately, some friends of mine in the Pentagon and surrounding defense community have speculated as to whether he'd be asked back for a second term in the E-Ring.
Now, Tom Ricks and Vernon Loeb at the Washington Post pile on the same story, reporting that Rumsfeld's star may now be in decline. Mr. Ricks is often regarded as the dean of the Pentagon press corps, with Mr. Loeb as a senior faculty member. If they're reporting this, I think this story is a lot closer to conventional wisdom than many would think.
Having demanded full authority for overseeing the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, elbowing the State Department aside, Rumsfeld is being blamed by many in Congress and the military establishment for the problems facing the United States, which include mounting U.S. casualties and costs exceeding $1 billion a week.Analysis: At the very least, one has to wonder about the SecDef's continued viability in light of concerns over Iraq. As early as May, I could read the tea leaves that we didn't have the requisite plan or resources in place to do the job we needed to. Had the SecDef chosen a different style of management, this may have been the fault of planners at the lower level, perhaps at CENTCOM. But the war plan for Iraq -- and its post-war progeny -- clearly came from the SecDef's planning cell and left the Pentagon with his personal imprimatur. The logical consequence of that fact is that the Secretary should bear the responsibility for any problems in the plan.
All plans change when they're executed, but this one was fatally flawed from the start for at least four reasons:
(1) It explicitly adopted assumptions that were incredibly optimistic about the way the Iraqi people would behave after "liberation" from the Hussein regime;
(2) The plan did not allocate any resources for the contingency that those assumptions may prove to be faulty, something the CIA had been advising the SecDef for the months leading up to the war;
(3) The SecDef's plan did not change enough to reflect the deletion of Turkey as a jumping-off point for the land campaign, and it did not include a way to effectively pacify the northern part of the country and the approach routes to Baghdad after the war. Had we gone in from Turkey, the 4th Infantry Division would have steamrolled right through the "Sunni Triangle" where we're having all these problems now. That change was never fully incorporated into the plan.
(4) The SecDef's campaign plan did not anticipate rapid success as well as it should have, and this caused a gap between the date of liberation and the date when the post-war plan was ready to be executed.
There were other flaws in the plan, but those flaws were generally corrected by outstanding execution on the ground by American men and women in uniform. These flaws could not be so easily corrected, because they resulted in political decisions (e.g. how many reservists to mobilize) that could not be fixed at the V Corps or CENTCOM level. Only the President and SecDef can make those determinations, and their plan was flawed from the start.
Does this rise to the level of resignation for the SecDef? I'm not smart enough to guess that, nor am I privy to the Washington beltway buzz on this issue to be able to speculate on what movers and shakers thought. But I do think he's becoming a political liability for the White House, just as the Attorney General has become. In 2002, the average American associated the SecDef with forthright press conferences about our progress in the war on terrorism. Now, I think the average American associates Secretary Rumsfeld with continuing carnage in Iraq.
A war on terrorism or a war on civil liberties?
Some question U.S. tactics in the law enforcement part of the fight against terrorism
Sunday's Los Angeles Times has an interesting story on its front page about the Holy Land Foundation, which has been effectively shut down by the State, Treasury and Justice Departments as an entity that provides financial support to groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations.
The foundation's bank accounts are frozen by government edict. Its possessions, from computers to potted plants, have been locked away in government storerooms for nearly two years. The charity's sole activity is a lawsuit aimed at recovering $5 million in assets frozen by the U.S. Treasury Department.Analysis: It's hard to know what the truth is in a situation like that of the Holy Land Foundation. On the one hand, both sides agree that Hamas provides legitimate social services for the Palestinian people. It only makes sense that moderate Arabs around the world would want to give money to that worthy cause. On the other hand, however, money is highly fungible. Giving money to Hamas is like giving money to a thug who also has a worthy family. You lose control over the money once it's given, so you don't know if it's going to buy weapons or food. And at the very least, if it goes to buy food it frees up money that may subsequently be used to buy weapons.
The key, from an American legal perspective, is to quash this kind of financial activity without restricting the rights of Americans to freely associate or express themselves as guaranteed by the First Amendment. The statute in question, 18 U.S.C. 2339b, has been attacked on the grounds that it chills speech and other forms of expression (e.g. giving money) that might be regarded as providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations. (See this lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights) There is some sort of line to be drawn between what is lawful and what is not, but that line is apt to be quite fuzzy. I trust our federal courts to draw the line, but many aren't so willing.
Ultimately, our efforts to dismantle the financial networks used by terrorists is every bit as important as our effort to find their weapons of mass destruction, or their leaders. Without such financial networks, these terrorists lose their global reach. Unfortunately, this aspect of the anti-terrorism fight is in jeopardy because the administration currently lacks credibility with a large part of the American public with respect to civil liberties. Pushing forward proposals (like this one) to enlarge administrative subpoena power is a bad way to rebuild that credibility. Instead, what's needed is an accounting. The American people need to know (among other things):
(a) What's being done by law enforcement in the war on terrorism, within reasonable bounds of operational security;
(b) How new powers are being used by law enforcement. If the matters themselves are too sensitive, such as FISA warrants, then perhaps a statistical summary of FISA warrants can be released along with some general explanation;
(c) A progress report on the war on terrorism. Again, it may not be possible to produce too detailed of a report for operational security reasons. However, an candid summary that's unclassified would still be worthwhile.
As with Iraq, the American public wants and needs to know our end state with respect to the legal war on terrorism. My friends and family members are quite willing to embrace some short-term actions by law enforcement, but they are not willing to start down an increasingly steep slippery slope to which there is no end. By themselves, these actions by the Justice Department generally don't frighten my friends or family members. But in the aggregate, they do frighten many people. What's needed is some sort of end state -- a point at which there will be no more balancing of liberty against security.
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Trimming the fat at the Pentagon
Should we cut missile defense to buy better body armor for our troops?
Fred Kaplan has an interesting piece in Slate about places where we could excise a little money from the burgeoning American defense budget. As the largest discretionary item in the federal budget, defense will swallow nearly $400 billion in FY2004, and considerably more when you factor in supplemental appropriations for Iraq and the war on terrorism. Kaplan suggests cutting a few weapons programs which have not cut the mustard:
The $87 billion supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan is fairly straightforward: $32.3 billion for operations and maintenance, $18.5 billion for personnel, $1.9 billion for equipment, $5 billion for security, $15 billion for infrastructure, and so on. It's a bookkeeping calculation: If you want to continue the mission, that's what it costs; if you want to spend less, you have to downgrade the mission.Analysis: The real problem with weapons programs it that their cost tends to balloon as they age. Retired Pentagon analyst Franklin "Chuck" Spinney has done some brilliant work (see this data too) investigating weapons programs over the past 30 years, and his work indicates that every major weapons program winds up costing much more than we thought when we bought it. The reasons are simple. Defense contractors push a lot of their costs to the back end so that they can get the Pentagon to buy in when a project looks cheap. As the costs balloon, the contractors can file a claim for the costs, usually based on some sort of constructive change in the contract. The result is that large procurement programs have a deceptively small cost in the short-term, and a larger cost in the long-term, and an overall cost that's much higher than anticipated.
Clearly, we need some (or most) of these programs to field the military that fought so decisively in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. But the tough part is finding the right mix of programs, and balancing that against expenditures for personnel and current operations. I find it quite telling that the President's $87 billion request for Iraq includes a substantial purchase of body armor for American soldiers. My reporting indicates this will go to purchase individual sets of the newest body armor for all soldiers who will rotate through Iraq, and eventually for the entire Army and Marine Corps. I think this is a good thing, given the success this body armor had in Iraq. But I also think this body armor is something we should have bought a long time ago. The fact that we're buying it now tells me that we've spent far too much on long-term weapons procurement, and far too little on the short-term stuff our soldiers need.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Moussaoui one step closer to a military tribunal?
The Washington Post reports that U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has given the U.S. government another order in the Moussaoui case to comply with her order allowing access to other terrorists the U.S. has in custody. Moussaoui is seeking access to Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, in accordance with the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses, in order to gather information which might be helpful to his defense. I think the defense theory is that Moussaoui was actually not a part of the Sept. 11 plan, and these two men can prove it.
Government officials filed no response yesterday, but indicated that they were likely to defy the order and refuse to produce the two witnesses -- identified by sources as former al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, a Saudi who allegedly served as paymaster to the Sept. 11 hijackers. Both are in custody and being questioned at an undisclosed location.Analysis: If Judge Brinkema backs the government into a corner, I think they will remove this case to a tribunal. Few will shed a tear for Mr. Moussaoui if he's transferred to military custody, and it might even make the U.S. government look more legitimate in the sense that it's treating him like the other non-citizen terrorists it has in custody at Gitmo. (Of course, Moussaoui is a French citizen so there may be some diplomatic complications here)
But the real question is political: does the White House have the political capital (not to mention the chutzpah) to put a person in front of a military tribunal, given the heat they have taken for these trials and other issues (e.g. the USA PATRIOT Act). I don't think the White House wants that kind of lightning rod to be planted on its front lawn at this juncture (wouldn't be prudent). In fact, I think the likely fate for Mr. Moussaoui will be that of Mr. Hamdi and Mr. Padilla. An order will be signed designating him an enemy combatant, and that will be the end of it. No trial, at least not in the short term. No political risk, other than what's already been incurred for those other 'combatants'. This seems like the most likely course of action to me.
Two great pieces in Slate to check out
Once again, Slate has two great pieces of writing in two areas I care a lot about: law and war. The first piece comes from Dahlia Lithwick, Slate's outstanding legal correspondent, who details some of the discussion over the USA PATRIOT Act. Ms. Lithwick correctly points out the fact that too few people debating the Patriot Act actually know the minutiae of the act, and she tries to correct that lack of knowledge with her four-part series.
Second, Fred Kaplan chimes in with a great piece on the President Bush's lost opportunities after Sept. 11. Another president might have remade the world... this one did not. There will surely be lots of once-over-the-world analysis of Sept. 11 in the next few days. I'll try to find the better pieces and link to them.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
'Training the Brains Behind the Intelligence'
This creative headline will run above a very interesting story in Monday's Los Angeles Times on the FBI's efforts to train terrorism analysts at its academy in Quantico, Virginia. Among the most significant failures before Sept. 11 was the failure to train adequate numbers of intelligence analysts who could find the indicators of terrorism and put those indicators together into a coherent picture. (Other failures included the lack of cross-talk between offices and lack of communication with the intelligence community) Now, Richard Schmitt writes in the LA Times, things are getting better.
. . . these are different kinds of recruits. They will not become FBI field agents, who come to this campus 30 miles south of Washington to hone their shooting skills and engage in cops-and-robbers exercises at a mock village that looks transported from a Hollywood back lot.The story goes onto discuss the nature of the training exercises being used by the FBI to train these analysts. (A lot gets left out, but you can understand the security reasons for why that's so) Just as America's military must transform itself to deal with the 4th Generation Warfare threat, so too must the rest of America's security apparatus -- its FBI, INS, judiciary, homeland security agency, state and local police, and many others. The FBI has built a legendary reputation for solving crimes and winning convictions, but that's not enough in the realm of terrorism. Now, the FBI has to get so good at inchoate investigations that it can prevent terrorism from happening -- that's a lot harder than catching the bad guys and trying them after the bomb goes off. The key to this transformation is intelligence. And if this story is indicative of a larger trend, I'd say the FBI is on the right track.
Powell: Iraq will cost more than we think
In what should come as no surprise, Secretary of State Colin Powell said today that America's mission in Iraq will cost billions more than projected -- or known -- today. Powell's statement comes as the administration heads to Capitol Hill in search of additional funding for Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the global war on terrorism.
"It's going to cost more, and there will be continued sacrifice on the part of our young men and women," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday. "Hopefully, in the very near future we'll get control of the security situation," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."Analysis: Former-Army Chief of Staff Gordon R. Sullivan wrote a book titled "Hope is not a method," and that book title has become a mantra among America's military officers. That Secretary Powell would use the word "hopefully" in describing our chances of securing Iraq is not a good sign. Of all people, he understands the futility of hope as a planning method.
The real stakes here are much higher. The authorization and appropriations debate over Iraq is really a battle about who will control American foreign policy -- warmaking, diplomacy, nation-building, and everything else. Art. I and Art. II of the Constitution embody a tension between Congress and the President, and that tension has not been easily resolved for our Constitution's 213 year history. This tension typically plays out each other with the National Defense Authorization Act and its companion authorization bill, where Congress tells the President how to spend money on defense. Suffice to say, if something doesn't get funded, it generally doesn't get done -- especially where large weapons systems (e.g. missile defense) are concerned. The annual authorization bill also includes hundreds (or thousands) of small provisions which set policy for the military as a matter of federal law. Each year, this bill is the largest piece of legislation considered or passed by Congress.
The battle over funding for Iraq is obviously more important than a given year's annual authorization act. The lives of America's sons and daughters are at stake, as well as the direction of a mission that has the potential to influence our foreign policy for decades. Funding is the tool by which Congress exercises oversight of this mission. It would be easier if Congress could simply hold hearings on the wisdom or efficacy of Iraq. But that's not the way that oversight works -- funding is the hook on which the entire process hangs. The authority to fund (or defund) the mission is the leverage Congress has to ask the tough questions of the White House on Iraq:
- Why did we invade Iraq (if not for WMD), and did we accomplish the missions we set for the major combat phase of the war?The Constitution empowers the President as commander-in-chief of the military, and it gives him plenary power in the area of foreign policy. But it gives Congress the power to raise and maintain the military, as well as the power to fund the military. Presidents typically criticize Congress for asking these kinds of questions, and for letting partisanship infect foreign policy. The Bush White House will likely say that Congressional probing is hindering our ability to persevere in Iraq. If Congress delays its funding decisions in order to hold hearings, the screaming from the White House will get even louder. That's unfortunate. The Framers intended this tension when they wrote our Constitution. If they were looking at this debate over funding for Iraq, I think they'd be quite proud that their system of checks and balances worked exactly the way they intended.
Friday, September 05, 2003
Security v. mission accomplishment -- a really hard tradeoff
Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a great article by Greg Jaffe and Chris Cooper about the tradeoffs being made by commanders on the ground in Iraq between site security and other missions. In the aftermath of deadly car bombings, many have called for the deployment of U.S. soldiers as security around key sites -- police stations, large mosques, government centers, power stations, et cetera. As we have a finite number of soldiers on the ground, the dedication of U.S. troops to these sites takes away from the available pool of soldiers who can conduct offensive missions.
Careful to say they are not short of troops now, commanders conceded that they are under ever-greater pressure to siphon off troops for defense, as civilians, foreign governments and U.S. politicians clamor for better security. While a United Nations resolution just offered by the U.S. may lead to an agreement to bring foreign reinforcements to Iraq, the Pentagon is concerned the wait may be long.Analysis: I can tell you from experience that this is a really tough balancing act. On the one hand, you have critical sites and high-value assets that must be protected. Some of these are Iraqi sites; others belong to the U.S. But if you leave these unprotected, it's almost a sure thing that the enemy will attack them. And if you lose these things (e.g. U.S. command post), you risk a major tactical or operational setback. So you have to dedicate the assets to protecting these sites.
On the other hand, you can't win a counter-insurgency fight by playing good defense. The way to win a guerilla war is to go on offense -- to gather intelligence, find the enemy, hunt them down, and capture or kill them. If you devote too many troops to this mission, you take away from your ability to prosecute the offensive part of the fight. Commanders and planners are trained to evaluate the operational risk entailed in both courses of action, and it's a safe bet that this balance is being looked at daily to make sure we get it right.
To add another level of complexity, there's a paradox in anti-terrorism planning which goes like this: The more you protect the hard targets, the more you have to worry about the soft targets. Our enemy is not stupid. Al Qaeda has typically chosen its targets after careful reconnaissance designed to determine the vulnerability of their intended target. If we protect something they want to hit, they'll either change methods or change targets. Our jihadist enemies may want to become martyrs, but they don't want to fail in their attacks.
So how do we strike this balance? As always, it's easier said than done. The most important thing is to gather, analyze and produce good intelligence to aid the commander in making these tradeoffs. The second most important thing is to have sufficient resources on the ground so you don't have to guard too few things in order to leave yourself some offensive capability. And the third thing is to constantly reevaluate these decisions in light of new threat information. I think we're doing these things, save some residual concerns about having enough troops in Iraq to do everything we need to do.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
America's 'grief corps'
Think you have a tough job? Think again. Today's Washington Post has a sobering article on the military officers and NCOs who have one of the toughest jobs in America: casualty notification. There's not much I can say here, except that I have enormous respect for these men and women who personally notify every family of every casualty no matter what the cause. This function exists in war and peace, yet since Sept. 11, it has escalated into quite a large task for America's military.
More troops are dying in Iraq and more families are requesting funerals at Fort Myer than Winborne's 10-person staff can handle. The shortage in the Army's bereavement corps is so acute that her department has started actively recruiting new casualty notification officers and casualty assistance officers -- CNOs and CAOs, the men and women who do some of the grimmest work of war, unheralded and far from the battlefields.
Screaming Eagles work hard to rebuild Iraq
The New York Times has an interesting article today on the progress made by the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. The article piqued my interest because I've worked with Col. Linnington before, and his name and unit is featured prominently in the piece. But as I read down, I found some interesting things in this piece -- signs that we may be doing good things in Iraq despite the plans coming out of the Pentagon.
Col. Michael Linnington's brigade fought its way across Iraq. But one of his most unusual missions took place in this remote northwestern corner of the country.So what else is new? Field commanders, junior officers and sergeants are taking the initiative to make things work in Iraq, despite the best efforts at the top to frustrate their efforts. That has been true for decades, if not centuries. I doubt you'll find any of these actions by the 101st in a CENTCOM or JCS operational plan. Captains, majors and colonels figured it out on the ground.
Still, it doesn't surprise me that our military is taking the lead role in Iraq. That tracks a larger trend around the world, which Dana Priest effectively laid out in her book The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military. Essentially, the military has muscled out other U.S. governmental agency by force of its resources, size, rapid deployment capability, and ability to operate in a tense environment. At some point, down the road, we may see more USAID and State Department leadership in Iraq. But for now, it's natural to expect that DoD would take the lead role. Luckily, our men and women in these units are flexible and innovative enough to act as soldier/diplomat/policeman/politician/advisor -- whatever the situation may require. Now it's up to us to give them the resources (troops, money, equipment, international support) they need to do the job right.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
The post-modern presidency of George W. Bush
Josh Marshall has this provocative essay in the September issue of the Washington Monthly on President Bush, and the argument that he epitomizes the idea of what a post-modern president would be. The piece is a little theoretical for a guy with my public school education, but it makes a very interesting point about this presidency that I hadn't considered yet. Here's the part that I thought said it all:
The president and his aides don't speak untruths because they are necessarily people of bad character. They do so because their politics and policies demand it. As astute observers such as National Journal's Jonathan Rauch have recently noted, George W. Bush campaigned as a moderate, but has governed with the most radical agenda of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Indeed, the aim of most of Bush's policies has been to overturn what FDR created three generations ago. On the domestic front, that has meant major tax cuts forcing sharp reductions in resources for future government activism, combined with privatization of as many government functions as possible. Abroad, Bush has pursued an expansive and militarized unilateralism aimed at cutting the U.S. free from entangling alliances and international treaty obligations so as to maximize freedom of maneuver for American power in a Hobbesian world.This piece is sure to spark criticism from the neo-con media on the right, such as the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal, just as Mr. Marshall's piece in March 2003 ("Practice to Deceive") did. But while such criticism is inevitable, it's probably also a waste of energy. Mr. Marshall's critique seems spot-on to me. Any salvos launched at Mr. Marshall from the White House will simply prove his point.
WP reports on the soldiers wounded in Iraq
Until now, the wounded toll went largely unreported by the major media and the Pentagon
Until now, there has been lots of reporting on those killed in Iraq, but little reporting on soldiers wounded in Iraq. Much of this owes to advances in body armor and battlefield medicine (also covered) which have transformed many wounds that would've been fatal in previous wars into injuries. However, Vernon Loeb reports in today's Washington Post that the numbers of wounded have actually been quite high -- and that thousands of Americans have returned home from Iraq as a result of wounds suffered in action.
The number of those wounded in action, which totals 1,124 since the war began in March, has grown so large, and attacks have become so commonplace, that U.S. Central Command usually issues news releases listing injuries only when the attacks kill one or more troops. The result is that many injuries go unreported.I'm no fan of body-count journalism, and I don't think we should make policies exclusively on the basis of projected casualties. (See this note from last week) But I do think it's important to take this into consideration. I also think it's important to be sensitive to the new generation of veterans who will soon rejoin American society. Some will be wounded on the outside; many will be scarred on the inside. The searing experience of battle will change them all in some way, great or small. America has a terrible record (save notable exceptions like the GI Bill) of greeting its returning veterans from war, and our thousands of homeless veterans attest to that fact. We must do better with this generation, and do what is necessary to help these men and women when they come home.
Former Army secretary blasts administration on Iraq
Robert Burns, the Pentagon beat reporter for the Associated Press, reports that former-Secretary of the Army (and retired 1-star general) Tom White has a few choice words in his new book for the White House over its handling of Iraq. White was forced by Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld (and possibly the White House) to resign after a series of high-profile clashes between the Army and SecDef over various issues. His uniformed counterpart, Gen. Eric Shinseki, was also forced out by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Now, Tom White writes that the Bush Administration made serious errors in its pre-war planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Clearly the view that the war to `liberate' Iraq would instantly produce a pro-United States citizenry ready for economic and political rebirth ignored the harsh realities on the ground," White wrote in a preface to "Reconstructing Eden," which is to be published Thursday.Analysis: This may be Monday-morning quarterbacking, but it's extremely well-informed Monday-morning quarterbacking by a man who's thrown a few footballs in his time. Secretary White, had he stayed in uniform, probably would've made it all the way up to 4-star rank. As Secretary of the Army, he was widely considered one of the most popular service secretaries in recent memory -- at least within the ranks. And he was a part of the pre-war planning process in the Pentagon until his departure in May 2003, so he knows what he's talking about -- much more than this author. If Tom White thinks we screwed up the post-war planning, and failed to devote adequate resources to the problem, he's basing that opinion on a lot more evidence than any other writers I've read lately.
That said, this story has the potential to create serious civil-military problems for the Bush Administration and America -- especially if retired-Gen. Shinseki decides to speak up as well. Acrimony between uniformed leaders and civilian political leaders is nothing new, either for America or any other nation. (See the history provided by Eliot Cohen in his book Supreme Command) But this flare-up presents a Constitutional crisis of sorts, where the President's very credibility on nuts & bolts military decision is being called into question some of his highest ranking military officials. This criticism is bolstered by the experiential gap between President Bush and Secretary White. Art. II of the Constitution designates the President as Commander-in-Chief of our military, but it does not confer automatic credibility on him in the area of national security policy. President Clinton found this out the hard way with his initial efforts to integrate gays in the military, and it cost him good civil-military relations for the length of his presidency. Now we have a situation which may be worse. President Bush isn't being criticized here for his social policies for the military -- he's being criticized for his decisions sending the military into harm's way by the very military leaders who helped supervise and implement those orders for the Army. In terms of Constitutional crises, this does not rise to the level of Cooper v. Aaron or the Nixon tapes, but it's not a good thing either.
No way out? Fortunately, the President can escape this Catch-22 situation. (And no, he doesn't need to enlist in the Army to close the experience gap with Tom White.) What he does need to do is open his national-security decisionmaking process to smart folks like Tom White and Eric Shinseki. This should be easy for a president who prides himself on being a MBA-type -- someone who succeeds by surrounding himself with exceedingly smart people.
If I had to pin the fault on one aspect of the post-war planning, it was the "group think" that pervaded the White House, National Security Council and Pentagon during the process. Clearly, the plan was based on certain assumptions about the post-war situation, and those assumptions turned out to be wrong. We were not greeted as liberators, and we have become the target of hatred for both Shiite and Sunni Muslims. No "Plan B" was created or effectively resourced, and when our planning assumptions proved faulty, it was too late to spin up a Plan B. In a perfect world, we would've deployed enough of a force package to Kuwait to stage for Plan B if necessary -- but we did not. We assumed a tremendous amount of risk by building a plan on a fixed set of assumptions and fighting that plan despite indications that we would face an insurgency after the war. The best way to mitigate this kind of planning risk is to broaden the planning process and build multiple courses of actions (COAs) which account for each probable set of assumptions.
Luckily, there is no shortage of planners on the Joint Staff to conduct such contingency planning. Nor is there any shortage of civilian experts with security clearances to do this kind of planning for RAND or another think tank. All that's required is a willingness among the denizens of the E-Ring and West Wing to consider ideas from the outside, and to act on them.
Update: James Webb -- former Navy Secretary, decorated Vietnam Vet, and author -- also has some words for the Bush Administration on Iraq.
"I am very troubled by the fact that we went into Iraq and very troubled about how we're going to get out of Iraq,'' Webb said Thursday to about 200 naval officers, veterans and civilians at the Radisson Hotel Norfolk. The lecture was sponsored by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the Naval War College Foundation.Yes he does.
Update: The Washington Post reported on Friday that retired Gen. Anthony Zinni has joined the chorus of really smart and experienced military leaders who think we may be in trouble in Iraq. Clearly, I lack the experience and knowledge of men like James Webb and Anthony Zinni -- the latter of whom is regarded as the intellectual father of the modern "CINC". (Washington Post writer Dana Priest described Zinni as an American proconsul because of the way he presided over American interests in the Middle East when he was CINC of CENTCOM.) Of course, neither man is particularly beholden to the White House. Webb is more of a Reagan Republican, and Zinni is Colin Powell's man.
But is Josh Marshall right -- is this a sign that Rumsfeld is on his way out?
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.