Friday, October 31, 2003
Wes Clark on America's empire
The November issue of the Washington Monthly features this article from retired-Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who is trying to posture himself as an alternative to the current foreign policy being pursued by the Bush White House. The article is essentially an excerpt from Clark's new book, and it offers some insight into the foreign policy that Clark would adopt if he moved into 1600 Penn. Ave.
We need to see ourselves and the world around us in sharp relief--and use that vision to inform better our policies. Simply put, the United States needs a new strategy for the 21st century--a broader, more comprehensive, and less unilateralist approach abroad, coupled with greater attention to a sound economy at home, and sensible long-range policies. The Bush administration's strategy of preemption, published in the 2002 National Security Strategy, was focused against Iraq. At home, the formula of the supply-siders--tax cuts for the wealthy to feed trickle-down economics--has about run its course. It is time for America to return to the basic concepts that ensured its unprecedented prosperity and security and to adapt from these a new strategy that can better serve our needs today.Good words; hard to implement. I like Wes Clark's view of the world, and his view of where America should fit into the world. I think that we ought to enlist other nations and international organizations in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terror networks, because the only way to defeat a terror network is to build a stronger network of our own. However, I also recognize that saying these things and doing them are two different things. It will be exceedingly hard for President Clark to implement his vision -- harder even that it would be if he were General Clark again. A lot of fence mending must be done before we can start down this multilateralist road. If Wes Clark wants to make this vision seem realistic, I think he has to articulate the "how" instead of just the "what" for his view of the world and America's place in it.
Lawmakers push for better body armor -- and the Pentagon responds
Lisa Burgess reports in Stars & Stripes today that 33 members of Congress have sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee requesting that the Pentagon be directed to buy better body armor and other gear for soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, 33 House members, led by Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., sent House appropriators a letter that emphasized the need to supply all deployed troops with the Defense Department’s new Interceptor flak vests, as well as provide adequate immunizations, drinking water and even sundries such as toothpaste.In response to this story, and to widespread criticism over the Interceptor body vest procurement problem, the Pentagon released a statement today that it was doing all it could to get the body armor to Iraq as quickly as possible.
The Army and Marines are rushing to get enough body armor into Iraq and Afghanistan by December for everyone who needs it, as fast as it comes off the assembly line.Analysis What we have here is a lot of "too little, too late" on both sides. The push by the 33 Democratic legislators comes as Congress has given its blessing to the President's $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan, and also near the end of the FY2004 defense appropriations process. In other words, the push may be too late. I have learned that at least one member of Congress tried to amend the President's $87 billion request in the House to add funding for body armor, but that rider was rejected on procedural grounds. At this point, I'm not sure what can be done, given the fact that Congress has signed off on this bill and the President seems sure to sign it.
That said, I'm not sure what else can be done. The Pentagon jump-started the procurement of this body armor a few months ago, and there appears to be no feasible way at this point to make the production lines move any faster. At this point, December 2003 may be the best that our military-industrial complex can do in terms of a delivery date for these pieces of equipment, and soldiers couldn't even buy these items faster if they wanted to with a personal credit card.
What's left to be done? I think we're kidding ourselves if we think that Iraq will be the last battle fought by our military for some time, or that we will leave Iraq anytime soon. The Interceptor body armor should be fielded to every American soldier and Marine -- active and reserve -- as soon as possible. We ought to make the fielding of critical soldier equipment a priority. It was tragic to send men and women into combat without this gear this time. We will be derelict if we do it again.
Update: National Journal's Congress AM Daily reports that 103 members of Congress have called on the House Armed Services Commitee chairman to hold hearings on the Pentagon's failure to field Interceptor body armor before the war in Iraq.
In the letter to Hunter, Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) and the others noted service members' complaints that only some soldiers serving in Iraq have been issued the highest quality "Interceptor" body armor -- Kevlar bulletproof vests with removable ceramic inserts. Other soldiers have been killed when Vietnam-era "flak jackets" failed to stop enemy bullets.
Federal judges harder to predict on sentencing than lawmakers say
Jess Bravin and Gary Fields reported in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about a really interesting draft study by the General Accounting Office on sentencing decisions by federal judges. The study belies much recent criticism of federal judges -- that they are too lenient across the board; that they always "downwardly depart" from the sentencing guidelines; that they bend the law where they think the facts warrant it. This new GAO study punctures at least one of those critiques, and hints at a much more complex picture of the federal bench.
Government researchers did find wide disparities in sentencing across the country's 12 regional judicial circuits. In drug cases, for example, district judges in San Francisco's Ninth Circuit were 19 times as likely to mete out sentences below the guidelines of the U.S. Sentencing Commission -- to make what are called "downward departures" -- as those in the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Va., an unpublished draft study by the General Accounting Office shows.Analysis: It's funny how numbers can go against conventional wisdom sometimes. A few outspoken judges have created the perception that all judges are willing to bend the rules for defendants -- and that appears to not be the case. The response to this perception has been quite Draconian. The Justice Department now wants to track all judges who downwardly depart from the sentencing guidelines. The federal judiciary has had to deal with this issue while trying to get more resources with which to hear cases and clear its backlog. Hopefully this data makes the debate a little bit more intelligent -- and honest.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Start of military tribunals said to be 'imminent'
Col. Frederic L. Borch III, the prosecutor appointed by the Pentagon to lead the military tribunal effort, announced today to an American Bar Association meeting that the start of these trials was "imminent, soon". It has been nearly 2 years since President Bush authorized these tribunals in his 13 Nov 01 executive order, and some have predicted that the trials would never actually happen. Today's speech belies that prediction, and indicates that these proceedings may be just around the corner.
"I think it's safe to say that our start is imminent, soon," said Col. Frederic L. Borch III, who oversees nine prosecutors in a Pentagon office set up to handle the upcoming trials. Borch, speaking to an American Bar Association gathering, would not be more specific.Analysis: Why start now? I think the administration wants to fight the perception that the men detained at Guantanamo Bay are languishing there in perpetuity -- with no legal process whatsoever. These military tribunals represent a relatively low risk way to give the detainees some legal process and dispute that perception. Notwithstanding the procedural criticisms of these tribunals, they will represent more legal process than the detainees have gotten so far. The White House may be able to spin this as a magnanimous act -- something that goes above the requirements of the Geneva Convention.
To use a bad legal pun, I think the jury's still out on the tribunals. I've read the procedural rules created by the Pentagon and compared them to both the Manual for Courts Martial and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The differences are major, but the tribunals still have the potential to be fair proceedings for the men detained at Guantanamo. I'm not convinced yet that the tribunals will be the kangaroo courts that some have made them out to be. I guess I have faith in the career military lawyers who will staff the tribunals and sit as members of the jury, and their ability to do the right thing. Maybe that's overly optimistic. But at least we're giving these detainees some legal process. It remains to be seen how just that process will be.
Two U.S. soldiers killed in attack on M1A2 tank
Enemy tactics appear very similar to those in Israeli-Palestine conflict
The AP reports on a roadside bomb that struck and seriously disabled one of the Army's M1A2 tanks from the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 4th Infantry Division -- killing two soldiers. The attack was the first to successfully knock out an M1 since the end of major combat operations on May 1, and only the third destructive hit on an M1 during the war.
The Abrams tank was disabled when it was struck by a land mine or a roadside bomb Tuesday night during a patrol near Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division. A third crewman was evacuated to a U.S. hospital in Germany, she said.Analysis: The M1A2 weighs more than 70 tons, and is the most advanced and heavily armored combat vehicle in history. They are considered virtually impregnable to attack from anything but another tank or sophisticated anti-tank missile (like the Hellfire). I imagine the Army is extremely concerned right now about this new development, because the majority of its vehicles in Iraq are not as well protected as the M1 tank or M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicle. Indeed, the Army is currently deploying its new "Stryker" brigade to Iraq, composed of lightly-armored wheeled vehicles which were partially developed with an eye towards peacekeeping operations. If the Iraqi guerillas now have a way to take out the M1 tank, that's a very serious development.
There's another interesting angle here that was noted by an officer who participates in a military list-serv I belong to. That's the similarity between this M1 hit and the 15 Oct 03 attack which killed three Americans in the Gaza Strip. In that attack, a huge bomb exploded in the roadway under a U.S. diplomatic convoy of heavily armed and armored vehicles. Compare the TTPs used in Gaza to those used in Iraq:
The attack occurred at about 10:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m. EDT) Wednesday, five hours after the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for building a controversial fence around theThis is pure speculation, but I think these two sets of tactics are pretty similar. The U.S. suspects right now that foreign elements are behind many of the attacks in Iraq, and that they are having a significant influence on domestic Iraqi guerillas. Even if they're not actually conducting the attacks, I think it's very likely these foreigners are providing training and expertise to the Iraqis in the art of urban combat and insurgency. To some extent, these foreign guerillas may also be passing along their doctrine from places like the Gaza Strip and West Bank, where guerillas and terrorists have learned how to defeat sophisticated Israeli security schemes and achieve deadly results. This is a very dangerous development. More to follow.
Embedded report from the 3rd ACR
Nir Rosen of the Asia Times is one of the last reporters to remain 'embedded' with a unit in Iraq. Asia Times publishes this series from Rosen which offers some vivid reports from the field with the soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Overall, I think the series paints a pretty good picture of what's going on over there with this unit. Here's an excerpt from the first article of the series:
AL-QAIM, western Iraq - "This is the wild wild west," says Captain Chris Alfeiri, holding a fly swatter while relaxing in between missions. A 30-year-old native of Boston, Alfeiri is one of about 1,000 soldiers from the 1st Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), based in Fort Carson of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and currently stationed in al-Qaim, at the western edge of Anbar province, bordering on Syria.
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
The myth of the Republican military voting bloc
Benjamin Wallace-Wells deconstructs this myth in next month's issue of the Washington Monthly, and argues that the GOP ought not take military votes for granted in 2004. This well-reported and written story chronicles the recent political history of the military, from George C. Marshall to the present day, and paints the picture today of a military that's increasingly disenchanted with the current White House.
The effect of all of this, says Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and professor of political science at Boston University, is that "the soldier vote and the pro-military vote are in play." In 2004, says Feaver, the military sociologist at Duke, "there is the potential for these forces which have always pushed towards the Republicans to be neutralized, or even pushing towards the Democrats."Analysis: I've never thought the military really lived up to its stereotype when it came to politics. The conventional wisdom is that America's military is one of the last bastions of American conservatism. I do think that America's military officer corps is somewhat more conservative than society at large, but I think that it's largely become a professional class that is too diverse to effectively be pigeonholed that way. Moreover, the enlisted corps of the military is most certainly not conservative -- it's far too diverse in race and socio-economic terms. On balance, I'd say that the military leans slightly to the right of center, but it's no John Birch society. Military voters could vote for John McCain or George Bush -- or they could vote for Wes Clark or Bill Clinton.
(Quick personal vignette: I went into the military as a conservative and came out as a moderate/liberal. I attribute this change to the experience of living and working with such a diverse group of soldiers, especially the ones I was privileged to lead. Most of my enlisted soldiers came from working-class backgrounds, and their perspective was one that I had nto been exposed to while growing up in Southern California. Charlie Moskos and others have written that one of the best things about the draft was their exposure to other American kids, and social interaction and educatin that flowed from that. I think the same dynamic occurs in an all-volunteer force, except that only the volunteers are lucky enough to take advantage of it.)
In 2004, there are lots of issues in play which matter to national security voters. I divide these issues into two main categories:
1. Issues of national security per se, such as how to best fight the war on terrorism.
2. Issues which affect national security voters personally, such as how to equip the military and whether to give them a pay raise or certain benefits.
The Bush White House is vulnerable on both sets of military issues. The criticisms for the first set of issues are widely known. It will not be hard for the eventual Democratic nominee to make an argument against the White House on Iraq, on progress against terrorism, or any other front. The truth is that this is a very difficult war, and that smart people can disagree both over our progress and our direction in this war. That leaves a lot of room for disagreement. My hope is that the Democratic candidate offers a positive vision instead of merely attacking the President on this issue.
The second set of issues -- those which affect military voters personally -- will also be viable issues in the 2004 election. Some of these will flow directly from Iraq, and will include criticism over the administration's decision to put Americans in harm's way there in the first place, as well as criticism over specific problems in Iraq like the failure to equip all soldiers with the latest body armor. So too will the overstretching of America's reserves, which will probably result in a large exodus of reservists as they redeploy in 2004 from a year in Iraq. The Democrats will also hammer the White House over the "concurrent receipt" issue which affects veterans benefits, as well as military pay issues. The recent incident at Fort Stewart may also provide grist for the Democratic machine. All of these issues can (and probably will) be used by the Democrats to pull away military voters to the Democratic party.
Who stands to gain the most here? That should be obvious -- Wesley K. Clark. Of all the Democratic candidates, Wes Clark stands in a league all his own for his ability to exploit these issues. Moreover, I think he even stands above President Bush for his personal credibility on these issues. John Kerry may also be able to run with these issues, but not as well as Mr. Clark. It's still too early to handicap the Democratic race, and I'd be a fool to bet now on Dean or Clark or Kerry. Of course, lots can happen between now and Nov. 2004; these issues may not have the same resonance then as they do now. More to follow...
Army announces plans to retain, expand Peacekeeping Institute
After almost eliminating its Peacekeeping Institute at the Army War College several months ago, the Army announced today that it would retain and expand the center, which has become something of an policy-oriented think tank within the Army on operations other than war. The decision to close came as part of a larger headquarters realignment proposal for the Army, but was quickly criticized as short-sighted by many inside and outside the Army. In hindsight, the move appears particularly daft, given the Army's extensive commitment to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The institute will be renamed the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) to encompass the revised charter.Analysis: This is good news for at least two reasons. First, this institute does a great job of collecting knowledge on peacekeeping and educating the military about that knowledge. In a profession where mistakes cost lives, the effort to spread 'lessons learned' from previous missions is incredibly important, and the PKI did a good job of this. Second, this is good news because it shows that the Defense Department is willing to listen to criticism and react to it. I'm sure there were some egos bruised in the process, but at the end of the day, the Pentagon came around and kept the PKI open. It's amazing what can get done when you emphasize solving problems over winning bureaucratic battles.
A bloody view of the war
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a superb article on its front page today by Yaroslav Trofimov on the 21st Combat Support Hospital, and how that organization's personnel see the war. The Army's medical community has historically been less hooah about combat operations. Medical personnel tend to see themselves as healers first and warriors second, and they are the ones who must deal with the human cost of war. This article tells their story, and shares their perspective of the war.
While attention focuses on the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq -- 115 by enemy fire since Mr. Bush announced the end of major combat on May 1 -- the military doesn't generally publicize the more-frequent incidents in which soldiers are wounded. According to a tally kept by the U.S. Central Command, as of 7 p.m. on Oct. 27, the U.S. military had sustained a total of 1,737 nonlethal casualties from hostile action in Iraq, including 1,186 since May 1.Analysis: I have two reactions to this story, and they're at odds with each other. The first is to wonder whether reporting on casualties is really a good idea. Such reporting tends to demoralize the American public, and to embolden our adversaries as a result. Also, an emphasis on casualty reporting translates through the democratic process into public pressure to reduce casualties, which translates through the chain of command to pressure on commanders to minimize risk in their operations. That pressure reduces operational effectiveness, because commanders alter their plans to maximize force protection instead of mission accomplishment. I think that's a very dangerous thing, and that ultimately, it can lead to mission failure.
On the other hand, I think it's important to recognize the cost of war and to weight that cost against our raison d'etre. This cost has been quite high. As a vignette, a friend of mine told me that she has sent replacement uniforms to her physician friends in the 4th Infantry Division to replace blood-soaked uniforms that they could no longer wear. I can't even imagine such carnage, and I've worked in a Los Angeles-area emergency room before. These medical personnel see the cost every day, and I think they bear a difficult burden in explaning the "why" behind the injuries to soldiers when they come out of anesthesia. I support the mission in Iraq, however, I think I'd be hard-pressed to explain that every day to wounded soldiers the way these doctors have to.
Army battalion commander faces assault charges in Iraq
The Washington Times reports this morning on an interesting legal vignette from the 4th Infantry Division, where LTC Allen B. West stands charged of assaulting an Iraqi prisoner in order to gain information in connection with an attack on his unit. These charges are remarkable because LTC West was an artillery battalion commander at the time of the incident. It's rare that a senior officer would take such a direct role in prisoner interrogation, and that the Army would prosecute such a senior officer. But in this case, the 4th Infantry Division's Staff Judge Advocate has recommended that LTC West either be allowed to "RILO" (Resign In Lieu Of court martial) or be court-martialed for his conduct.
An informant reported that there was an assassination plot against Col. West, an artillery officer working with the local governing council in Saba al Boor. On Aug. 16, guerrillas attacked members of the colonel's unit who were on their way to Saba al Boor.Analysis: This story is interesting on a lot of levels. First, there's the question of effectiveness, and whether LTC West's use of his M9 pistol was effective in interrogating this prisoner. It appers that it was. Second, I think we have to balance that short-term effectiveness against any long-term consequences that flow from these kinds of interrogation tactics. In this case, the firing of two 9mm rounds near the prisoner was clearly coercion in a psychological sense, but I'm not sure whether it really crossed the line into torture. Remember, this is combat, not police work, and the rules are different. I'm not sure whether this incident will really have the kind of long-term consequences the Army is concerned about. Indeed, this kind of interrogation may be necessary to get information that can save American and Iraqi lives.
On another level, this story is interesting because it reveals American attitudes towards misconduct in the ranks. Generally speaking, the Army takes a dim view of this stuff, whether it's done by an Army MP private or an artillery colonel. Indeed, the colonel will usually be treated more harshly, both because of his experience and the command responsibility he bears. Truly, the buck stops in this case with LTC West, and he will be held responsible for anything done in his command. If one of his lieutenants had done this, LTC West probably wouldn't be facing charges now. But he surely would face some administrative action -- possibly the end of his career -- for the incident.
Finally, this story is interesting because it reveals the kind of stress our soldiers and commanders are under in Iraq. I bet that if you asked LTC West last year whether he'd do this, he'd have responded "no". Senior officers in the American Army tend to be very well educated about the laws of war, at least in comparison to our NATO allies and our enemies. If you gave him a hypothetical like this, he probably would have said he'd call in the brigade's counter-intel/HUMINT teams to do the interrogation. But the exigencies of the situation often make people do things they wouldn't ordinarily do. Clearly, LTC West and his unit are under a great deal of stress right now, or else this incident would not have happened.
I'm conflicted about whether these charges are justified or not. LTC West has the ultimate responsibility as commander to protect his unit, and a little bit of "smacky face" (to borrow Jess Bravin's quote from the WSJ) may be justified in this kind of situation. The line between coercion and torture is a very difficult one to draw, and I'm not sure this was the wrong thing to do in this situation. If this case goes to a court martial, LTC West may be able to make that case to a military jury of his peers.
Coda: Want to know how the Washington Times got this story? Easy. Guy Taylor, the writer, was embedded with 4th Infantry Division for some time during their ramp-up at Fort Hood and their subsequent deployment to Iraq. I imagine he made a number of contacts during that time, and built relationships among the officers in the division. I think this will be an unintended payoff of the embedding program for both the media and the public over the next several years. These bonds will probably continue over the years, especially as journalists cultivate relationships with officers on their way up.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Army takes intel AAR off the web
Over the weekend, Tom Ricks reported in the Washington Post about an "after action review" conducted by officers from the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center that was critical of American military intel ops in Iraq. Among other things, this report highlighted key areas where American units were not given the intel resources to do their job.
The Army critique of U.S. intelligence efforts in Iraq is especially noteworthy, because the Bush administration and senior military commanders have maintained for months that more U.S. troops are not needed in Iraq, and that what is needed, instead, is better intelligence. The report discloses, for example, that the intelligence teams already operating in Iraq have been far less productive than the Army expected them to be. The 69 "tactical human intelligence teams" operating in the country at the time of the study, at the beginning of the summer, should have been producing "at least" 120 reports a day, but instead were delivering an average total of 30, it states. It attributes that apparent underperformance to "the lack of guidance and focus" from the intelligence office overseeing the teams' work.Today, the Federation of American Scientists reports that the Army has taken the unclassified report down off the web, though a copy of the report still remains available on the Post's website.
The Army has taken one of its popular web sites offline after the Washington Post reported on a critical account of U.S. intelligence posted on the site.Very interesting. For starters, this is not a classified report, so it's odd that they would have this reaction to it. It's possible that it should have been classified, in which case the smart thing would have been to figure that out before it ran on the front page of the Washington Post. At this point, I think the Army is trying to stuff a cat back in the bag that's already taken off down the street.
This secrecy penchant with respect to AARs is also a departure for the Army, which has learned to embrace brutal, candid criticism as a way of increasing learning and spreading knowledge. These assessments are usually quite candid -- and quite bruising. "No thin skins" is a rule of AARs. Typically, these AARs are printed and circulated widely. Naturally, other Army officers want to learn from some other guy's mistakes instead of making his own. My hope is that this report has simply been removed to the "For Official Use Only" part of the CALL website, accessible by any .mil computer or with an AKO password.
However, there were some great kernels of wisdom in this report with implications for the policy process. There are legitimate concerns about whether our commanders have the MI resources they need to get the job done. Indeed, 4ID commander MG Ray Odierno stated in a press conference yesterday that these were legitimate issues:
Q. Dave Fulghum, Aviation Week. Do you give any validity to this October "lessons learned" study out of Fort Leavenworth that says Army intelligence analysts were too few in number and under trained?So even if this report should have been kept in military channels, I think that a sanitized version should be released to the public so that we can discuss issues like appropriate resource levels for military intelligence units. These are contentious issues that come up every year in the DoD budget process -- a process through which we spend $400 billion in taxpayer money. We can't allow the Army to develop a monopoly on information that will cripple the debate on the subject. If we're having problems in this critical area, we (the public) need to know about it.
Update: Noah Shachtman at DefenseTech connects this intel AAR's removal to a larger pattern of such acts in the federal government.
Update II: Fred Kaplan takes this issue on in Slate, and criticizes the Army for taking its information down from the public section of the Internet.
Skill & technology laid the foundation for victory in Iraq
Army study discounts the effects of technology alone, as well as jointness, in victory over the Iraqi forces -- luck played a role too
Prof. Stephen Biddle of the Army War College recently presented a study to the House Armed Services Committee on lessons learned from Iraq that concluded that Iraqi ineptitude was key factor in America's victory. Speed, technology and "jointness" could not explain, by themselves, the rapid American victory over Iraqi forces. As Prof. Biddle found in his 1996 study of Gulf War I, the key determinant of victory was the synergistic interaction of American skill with the lack of skill on the Iraqis' part -- magnified by the presence of a severe technology differential.
So both advanced technology and a major skill differential are necessary to explain OIF’s low casualties; to explain the failure of scorched earth requires Iraqi cooperation, whether deliberate (in the form of disobedience or lack of intent) or inadvertent (via organizational incapacity). Given Iraqi idiosyncrasies, a major skill differential, and modern technology, the OIF outcome would probably have obtained even without the speed of the Coalition advance or our precision or situation awareness per se; our technology was advanced enough and diverse enough that any of a wide variety of capabilities could have sufficed to punish Iraqi error very harshly. Inter alia, precision and situation awareness might have been sufficient, but neither were necessary as such; speed was probably neither necessary nor sufficient. A major skill differential, by contrast was necessary – as was some source of the modern lethality and protection needed to exploit Iraq’s mistakes. Given this, the causal importance of speed, precision and situation awareness has often been overestimated in the public debate on the war; the causal role of the skill differential between ourselves and our enemies has probably been underestimated. And the variety of ways in which technology can exploit that differential has been underestimated in the postwar focus on precision and situation awareness per se.Analysis: Prof. Biddle's PowerPoint slides do a better job of breaking this down into bite-sized pieces. Basically, he doesn't think that we could have won in Iraq with such a small force if the Iraqis had fought better. Had we fought an enemy as well trained as the "Afghan Arabs" in Al Qaeda, we might have encountered much more difficulty -- particularly in any urban combat operations. (See this study by Prof. Biddle on the war in Afghanistan)
The implications of this study are quite large, as Prof. Biddle points out. On the strategic level, we need to consider how such factors like skill and technology affect the probabilities of success and casualties. At the operational level, we must plan operations that do not hinge so much on our enemy's inability to fight back effectively. And at the tactical level, we must train to fight an enemy better than ourselves -- like the OPFOR at the National Training Center -- to prepare for the day that we face an adversary more capable of opposing us.
Historically, militaries have learned more from their defeats than their victories. Military organizations that win wars historically tend to become complacent, and to adopt false lessons from victorious wars. The danger now is that America's military will think it can easily replicate its success in Iraq, and graft those methods onto future conflicts. We would be wise to not make that mistake.
White House text file disables Internet search engines
Now this is odd... EnBanc reports (by way of the DNC blog) that the White House has put a text file on its home page to preempt external search engines (like Google) from looking inside the White House page for pages in certain folders -- everything from "Disallow: /911/iraq" to "Disallow: /kids/teeball2003/text".
Presumably, this anti-robot device is meant to force people to use the White House's search engine and page links. But in practice, this anti-robot page will act as a smokescreen, because there are lots of people like me who simply Google things like "President Nov. 13 tribunal order" to find the President's 13 Nov 01 military tribunal order (interestingly, it doesn't look like news releases have been delimited in this anti-robot device). I'd like to think that this is just administrative page management by a savvy webmaster in the White House. But I'm not smart enough about HTML to know.
FBI jousts with librarians over Patriot Act
The front page of today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has an interesting article on Sec. 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and the visceral reaction it has provoked from America's librarians. The section allows the FBI to subpoena library records, among other things, and mandates that librarians do not disclose such subpoenas to their patrons. Though never used, the provision has provoked librarians to adopt policies whereby they regularly purge their records in order to safeguard their patrons' privacy. Now, the Journal reports that the FBI has gone on the offensive to try win over librarians' hearts and minds.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Gamely, FBI Special Agent David J. Beyer tried to convince three dozen Kentucky librarians that it is unlikely his agency will ever use the USA Patriot Act to search their stacks and records.Analysis: The record is pretty clear -- the FBI has not used its Sec. 215 authority even once. The reason is that it's far more efficient to use the administrative subpoena powers of the Justice Department to gather information. It's unknown how often the FBI has used these powers to gather information. Presumably, such subpoenas have been used in the DC and New York anthrax cases to find people who have recently studied anthrax and bioterrorism. But that's speculation on my part.
What's the real issue here? It's not Sec. 215 -- that provision hasn't been used at all. The real issue here is trust. Simply put, large blocks of American society (I have no idea whether it's a minority or majority) do not trust the federal government with their civil liberties. This lack of trust enables them to believe the worst about their Justice Department. I happen to think that the Justice Department does mostly good things, and that its career attorneys and agents are some of America's finest public servants. But I often find myself in the minority when I discuss this issue with friends and students. The reality is that many of my colleagues do not trust the Justice Department, or the Bush Administration. And without such trust, these Americans are willing to see nearly anything as an assault on their civil liberties -- almost regardless of factual basis.
Monday, October 27, 2003
Baghdad attacks portend a new Iraqi guerilla campaign
Recent strikes indicate an evolution in terrorist tactics, techniques and procedures
Guerillas launched a coordinated series of attacks around Baghdad today, killing at least 34 and wounding hundreds, using suicide bombings as their modus opperandi. (See also this WP article on the attacks) The attacks targeted the International Committee of the Red Cross and 4 Baghdad police stations -- symbols of international intervention and the U.S.-sponsored regime respectively. The effect on the capital, according to the New York Times, was to plunge the city into chaos. Officials think that a "new element" might be to blame for today's series of attacks.
The attacks took place between 8:30 and 10:15 a.m. local time, leading American and Iraqi officials to believe that they were part of a highly coordinated operation. There was a strong suspicion that foreigners were involved, and American and Iraqi officials referred to a "new element" being responsible for the bombings.Today's attacks come on the heels of a coordinated rocket attack on the Al Rasheed hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying. An American Army colonel was killed in that attack, though Mr. Wolfowitz escaped unscathed. As the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports, this attack represents an evolution from the previous six months of guerilla attacks, both in terms of its sophistication and the level of the risk the attackers took to get so close to a high-value target.
The attack on the U.S.-run Al Rasheed hotel, which sits in a vast "green zone" of Baghdad that is off-limits to ordinary Iraqis, marks a shift in the guerrillas' tactics. Rather than just hit-and-run ambushes, they are using more standoff weapons such as mortars, rockets and remote-controlled explosive devices that allow resistance fighters to strike without being hit in return.Analysis: It's far too early to know -- in the absence of a communique' from these groups -- who is responsible for both attacks. However, I think that both attacks represent a paradigm shift in the nature of the guerilla war we face in Iraq, as the Wall Street Journal alludes to in its report. These two attacks are markedly more sophisticated than the hit-and-run guerilla tactics used thus far. Here's how:
- The attacks today were time-coordinated so that they would happen with near simultaneity. That's a significant tactical evolution because a) it's tough to do, and b) it means they're sophisticated enough to know that simultaneous attacks work because your enemy doesn't have time to raise his guard after the first attack. (Attacks in series rarely work because the first one always raises everyone's guard)
- The attacks today employed suicide bombers, something not frequently seen in Iraq. Part of this owes to the lack of religious fervor on the part of the Iraqi insurgents -- they simply don't believe in their cause the way that Palestinian insurgents do. But with the exception of some Fedayeen attacks during the war, we have not seen suicide bombings en masse in Iraq. That trend may be changing.
- Today's attacks also were precisely targeted at "soft" symbolic targets of the continuing U.S. occupation. Rather than attack the CPA headquarters itself or other hard targets, they chose to attack the softer Red Cross and Iraqi police stations. These sites have a lot of symbolic value, because of the role that each organization plays in post-war Iraq. I think this is a pretty sophisticated targeting decision.
The trend is clear: We are seeing the outbreak of a truly 4th Generation War in Iraq, which pits American-led forces against a loose-knit network of guerillas with increasingly sophisticated tactics, techniques and procedures. If I had to guess, these tactics are being heavily influenced by both Al Qaeda and Ansar Al-Islam (see this LA Times article on Ansar Al-Islam by Esther Schrader), as well as other international terror groups, and there are probably a number of veteran terrorists directing the action from behind the scenes now. The only viable course of action at this point is to seize the offensive -- to gather intelligence, launch raids, and disrupt the terrorist cells before they can strike again. Undoubtedly, our enemies are planning to strike again.
Study reports success in treating Gulf War II casualties
Dave Moniz reports today in USA Today on a military analysis of casualties in Iraq that shows that wounded soldiers are twice as likely to survive their wounds than in previous conflicts. The military physicians conducting the study cite a number of factors, including:
* Wounded troops see surgeons and trauma specialists much more quickly. In Iraq, mobile surgical teams travel with combat units and can begin operating on severely wounded troops in minutes.Analysis: This is probably one of the biggest military success stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision to push forward surgical teams up to the front line was a calculated risk on the part of military medical planners, but it appears to have paid off. These teams did not become casualties themselves, and they were at the right time and place to provide critical trauma care to soldiers. Similarly, most of the soldiers and Marines who fought their way into Iraq had new Kevlar body armor, which made a tremendous difference in preventing fatal thoracic wounds. What will be interesting now is to see how these 'lessons learned' filter back via reverse osmosis to the civilian medical community. A recent study showed that the medical knowledge gained during the Vietnam War by military physicians found its way back into civilian trauma centers during the 1970s and 1980s, and actually had a statistically significant impact on the number of murders in America because it lowered the fatality rate for violent wounds that otherwise would have resulted in death.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Twice the citizen or second-class soldiers? Or both?
An op-ed of mine ran today in the Sunday @Issues section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I comment on the situation at Fort Stewart, GA, where hundreds of reservists now wait for medical care and administrative processing before they can be released from active duty. But instead of purely siding with the reservists or criticizing their complaints, I try to generalize from this incident to make a larger argument about the role of today's reservist -- and the lack of resources he/she has to fulfill that role.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, America mobilized its reserves in a way that hadn't been seen since Korea. At home and abroad, reservists performed missions that active soldiers couldn't (such as guarding airports) and supported the active force in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Since Sept. 11, no fewer than 40,000 reservists have been on active duty at any given time, both for homeland security missions and combat operations overseas. Today, the Defense Department has 168,915 reservists on active duty in support of the war on terrorism. Senior officials have made it clear that the military could not function without the support of the reserves.
Friday, October 24, 2003
INTEL DUMP on weekend break. I will be disconnecting this weekend from both my news feed and my laptop. Please come back on Monday for new analysis and commentary.
Federal prosecutors charge key figures in anti-terrorism case
Glenn Simpson reports today in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about the case of Abdur Rahman Alamoudi, who federal officials believe is at the center of a global financial web stretching from the U.S. to the Middle East, and which has put millions of dollars in terrorist coffers over the last several years. Alamoudi is currently charged with 18 counts of money laundering and tax, immigration and customs-fraud crimes, related mostly to illegal dealings with Libya. But federal officials believe, according to Mr. Simpson, that he is responsible for much more than these crimes. Alamoudi's lawyers deny the allegations.
Investigators have laid out the network's intricacy and geographic breadth in recent court filings related to a terror-finance investigation of a Virginia-based group of charities and businesses. Thursday, they indicted a key figure they say is linked to Hamas and al Qaeda.Notes: This is the latest in a long series of excellent articles from Mr. Simpson in the Wall Street Journal on the subject of terrorist financing (see here, here, here, here and here). The articles have unveiled an incredibly sophisticated web of financiers, banks, commercial businesses, and individuals who have come together around the world to contribute to the international Islamic jihad by giving it the means to move money around the world. Arguably, these men have done as much to promote terrorism as those who ran the training camps in Afghanistan, or procured the explosives for bombs in Africa. Without these financial networks, Al Qaeda could not operate its global terror network; it could not project its power beyond the sands of Afghanistan and the Arabian peninsula. These financiers give Al Qaeda its global reach, and have supported its operations from Chechnya to Sudan to America.
It has taken U.S. prosecutors some time to unravel this network, but they appear to be doing so -- one terror cell at a time. This is painstaking, tedious work, and it may be years before we see a major reduction in Al Qaeda's operational capabilities as a result of these efforts. But these efforts' importance cannot be understated. Starving Al Qaeda of cash is one of the most important tasks in America's war on terrorism.
It's also a task that's very hard to measure. In his now-infamous memo, SecDef Rumsfeld wrote that "we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." The financial war on terror is one area where lack such metrics to measure progress. Sure, we can easily measure our progress in terms of assets frozen or successful prosecutions. But those metrics don't necessarily tell us how much operational capability we've stripped from Al Qaeda, at least not without knowing the total assets that Al Qaeda has on hand. Moreover, it's very difficult to count our successes in this way because Al Qaeda's resources are not exactly finite. As long as they are able to raise money (or make it as profit on legitimate business ventures), we will have to continue this aspect of the fight.
Reversal of Boykin
NRO pulls editorial calling for general's resignation or termination
In a strange turnaround, the editors of the National Review have withdrawn their editorial calling for LTG William "Jerry" Boykin's resignation. The editors say this editorial was never meant to run, and that a production error allowed the paragraph to appear on their website.
A draft editorial paragraph was prepared, stating the position that Boykin should be fired; at just about the last minute, we decided to withhold judgment--to see how the investigation into the general’s behavior proceeded, and to reach a conclusion then.This explanation seems odd to me, given the time lapse between this editorial's appearance yesterday morning and today's retraction at 2:24 p.m. East Coast time. To me, the more likely explanation is that the NR editors felt out-of-step with the White House, and decided to correct the initial thoughts much like a weblog author would upon further introspection. But I'll let you be the judge.
Total Information Awareness lives on
Noah Shachtman reports today in Wired that members of Congress continue to debate ways to conduct "data mining" and "non-obvious relationship analysis" ("NORA") in ways that won't compromise Americans' civil liberities. Earlier this year, civil liberty concerns helped torpedo the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program, which was envisioned as a massive data collection and analysis project that could fuse data from private and public sources. Despite the end of that project, the debate continues over the use of these systems, largely because their potential -- for use and abuse -- is so great.
"When somebody buys a ticket on Delta Airlines in Munich, Germany, if there's any potential for (that person to have) a suspicious background, I want bells and whistles to go off on that computer," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told the group of 25 or so policy makers assembled in the Russell Senate Office Building's third floor by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank. But Congress "won't allow (intelligence) agencies" to "truly gather information on people's personal lives."Our basic challenge is this: how can we fight terrorism within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution? Every aspect of the war on terrorism raises difficult Constitutional questions which reveal a basic tension between the means we might like to adopt (such as universal surveillance) and the principles we've sworn ourselves to (like the 4th Amendment proscription on unreasonable searches and seizures). These tensions cannot easily be resolved.
I happen to think we're at a good balancing point now, and that most (though not all) of our means have been carefully thought out to preserve Americans' constitutional rights. Material support prosecutions have not chilled speech the way some thought. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has not been abused since the USA PATRIOT Act's passage to snoop on average Americans who have no connection to terrorism or foreign intelligence. Sec. 215 of the PATRIOT Act has not been used to gather library records or other information, largely because it's not as effective as other means at the Justice Department's disposal. At the end of the day, our nation's government has somehow managed to balance liberty with security. Vigorous advocacy by civil rights groups and cool heads at senior levels have made this happen.
Total Information Awareness -- and projects like it -- raise difficult questions because they are such a radical departure from the types of things that lawyers and scholars have looked at over the years. Surveillance tactics today represent more of an incremental change than a revolutionary one, and it's not that hard to apply legal precedent (such as Kyllo v. United States) to determine how these technologies should be dealt with under the Constitution. Similarly, material support prosecutions aren't that much of a departure from historic prosecutions of organized crime. They're an evolution of the concept that you go after the little fish first in order to get the big fish.
But TIA and its progeny are different, because they represent such a total departure from the means of criminal enforcement. These new technologies don't easily fit the rules on the books, and indeed, we don't even understand these technologies' implications enough to write new rules yet. Maybe the best thing would be to have a few lawyers in DARPA who can say "Hey, wait a minute" every time a scientist has a good idea like TIA. The scientists probably wouldn't like that very much. But a few good lawyers might help DARPA think through the legal and policy implications of its futuristic programs before they're torpedoed by people who are frightened by those implications.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
Thoughts on the Rumsfeld memo and metrics of success
I've had a little more time to digest the "Rumsfeld memo" which was first made public by a USA Today story on Wednesday. (See also this LA Times story from today on the matter) As I said earlier, I think this memo represents a healthy dose of skepticism, optimism, and realism about America's war on terrorism. But one paragraph in particular struck me as quite insightful:
Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?What are metrics? I'm no engineer, but I learned last year in a business-school seminar that "metrics" is a fancy word for "measurements" that matter to management. A metric can be something like number of customers who enter a retail store on a given day. Or in the terrorism context, it can be some other indicator, such as number of Al Qaeda members in custody.
As Sec. Rumsfeld points out, the problem is this: If you choose the wrong metrics, your execution will invariably orient on those metrics and produce unintended results.
A great case-in-point is the Army Physical Fitness Test. It's the Army's chosen metric of fitness. It has become the end-all/be-all of fitness for most of the Army. Does it measure true fitness? Not really. Does it measure combat readiness? Not really. Does it measure job performance? Not really. But it's the metric, nonetheless. (The Army chose this PT test of pushups, situps and a 2-mile run largely because of standardization, ease of administration, and the fact that it's a pretty good -- albeit not perfect -- indicator of basic physical fitness.) Army platoons and companies have oriented on this test as their basic metric of success in the area of physical fitness, creating PT programs and remedial PT programs and incentive programs focused on improving performance under this metric. They have done so to the exclusion of other kinds of fitness which are arguably more related to combat, such as the ability to road march long distances or carry a wounded buddy. Indeed, I've seen units cut things like road marches out of their PT program in order to focus on pushups, situps and the 2-mile run. I think this is a case where the metric of success (the APFT) has become more important than the mission (improving fitness and combat readiness), and that the tail is now wagging the dog.
I took a strategic planning class at UCLA's business school last year, and our group project was to pick a company doing poorly and turn it around with a strategy built on metrics. My small group (1 Disney exec, a consultant, and me) picked AOL, and we built a strategy focused on leveraging AOL-Time Warner's tremendous content and the "pipes" of AOL to deliver that content to the customer. We chose a set of objectives in each operational area of the firm -- Innovation, Customer Targeting, Operational Effectiveness -- and aggregate performance metrics to measure our success for each objective. Each of these was fed, in turn, by granular metrics from AOL's subordinates. Ultimately, they fed up to the 5-10 key metrics that we recommended the AOL CEO watch on a daily basis. (Who knows if the strategy would have worked or not?) But the point of the class was that you can't emphasize these metrics enough, and that your strategy would become a function of your metrics if you didn't think them through well enough. When you tell your subordinates that their performance will be measured by certain indicators, it's only natural for them to focus on these indicators and work to do well by those -- even if there is dissonance between those indicators and your stated mission. (See also Bureacracy by James Q. Wilson for a great explanation of how incentives and organizations work in public agencies)
In Iraq and Afghanistan, we have allowed certain metrics to become accepted measures of our success or failure by default, including:
- Capture or death of Osama and Saddam
- Number of U.S. KIA + U.S. non-battle casualties
- Number of enemy high-value KIA/captured (the Iraqi deck of cards)
- Number of IED events/week in Iraq
- Total amount spent on Iraq and Afghanistan
I would submit to you that these are the wrong metrics, and that we have let them become the default metrics in the absence of a clear strategy from the White House and Pentagon. These metrics don't measure our success so much as our commitment in terms of spirit, blood and treasure. (Isn't that a book title?) Over time, our strategy will reorient towards these metrics. Our commanders will reduce their operational risk in order to minimize the risk of casualties. Our commanders may not spend money on certain things because they don't think it's worth the political fight with their higher HQ. And so it
goes. At the end of the day, our official metrics of success read more like a Harper's Index column than a serious set of policy metrics. They measure the wrong things, and they drive commanders to do things at the strategic, operational and tactical levels that don't necessarily mesh with our national strategy.
In my book, the only metric that matters in America's war on terror is this one:
- # of terrorist attacks on U.S. persons or interests at home and abroad.
The closer we get that measurement to zero, the closer we get to victory. Every other measurement of success and every other strategy ought to feed up to this aggregate metric. I think the metrics put forward recently by the White House and Pentagon (e.g. # of schools built in Iraq) are irrelevant to this all-important metric of success. At best, you can make an attenuated argument that winning hearts and minds of Iraqis with schools will help to reduce the recruitment pool for international jihad, but that's a really big stretch. There are other aggregate and granular metrics which do matter, such as # of terrorists in U.S. custody, money frozen through anti-terrorism financial investigations, number of suspected terrorists denied entry visas, etc.
But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we never see another attack on America again. That's how we ought to measure success. Deep down, I think Don Rumsfeld knows this, and he's puzzled about how to construct aggregate and granular metrics that measure progress towards this ultimate goal. Thankfully, he's supported by some incredibly smart people in the Pentagon, and he can call in support from other agencies such as State, Treasury, Justice, DHS and the CIA to help unpack this problem. Defining success in this war won't be easy. But it's still important that we try.