The National Journal's Yochi Dreazen interviews Ashton Carter, the Pentagon's top hardware guy. The best bit:
NJ: You've pointed out that the Pentagon spends millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours producing reports that few people read or need. What is it like, as the man on top, to be the recipient of so many of those reports?
Carter: On Saturday afternoons when I sit in here and these big reports come in, I sometimes wonder if I'm the only human being who will ever read them. They were asked for long ago, and whoever asked for them has forgotten that he asked for them. The only reason I'm reading them is that I have to sign them and am worried about embarrassing myself. If you read many of them, you wonder if anyone read them before they sent them to me. It's illustrative of how we allow processes to accrete.
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
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As a general rule, when serving military officers decide to place their opinions on the public record, they write in hyper-cautious military-speak that appears designed to conceal any sort of original insight. So thank you, Col. Lawrence Sellin, for being an exception to the rule. Sellin, a staff officer in ISAF Joint Command in Kabul, sounds like he had a Very Bad Day at the office, and then returned home to pen a screed against the work being done at headquarters.
For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general's thought processes as abruptly as a computer system's blue screen of death.
The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn't matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.
Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer. Harried movement together with furrowed brows and appropriate expressions of concern a la Clint Eastwood will please the generals. Progress in the war is optional.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. Col. Sellin sounds like he has a future career as a pundit -- which, come to think of it, may soon come in handy. (H/T Ghosts of Alexander)
Update: Not surprisingly, Sellin has been sacked from his job at ISAF headquarters, officially for violating a directive that requires officers to clear "written or oral presentations to the media" with a public-affairs officer. He says that he bears no ill will to anyone in his former organization, and will be returning to Finland to work for an IT company where he had been employed before going to Afghanistan.
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Colombia's top court may have just put new President Juan Manuel Santos in something of a tough spot:
The Colombian constitutional court ruled yesterday that last year's agreement giving the US military access to more bases in the country is unconstitutional because it was not approved by legislators.
The court's decision, reached by a 6-3 majority, said however that the ruling does not affect US military personnel and contractors working from Colombian bases covered by earlier accords.
This means any US personnel at the seven bases included in the 2009 pact could shift to bases permitted by previous agreements while the government decides whether to put the latest accord before congress, where new President Juan Manuel Santos has a big majority.
Santos has defended the deal, which was inked by his predecessor Alvaro Uribe, but has also made a point early in his presidency of trying to improve relations with neighboring Venezuela, which is strongly opposed to the construction of a new U.S. base in Colombia.
While Santos may be able to get the agreement through congress easily, doing so will require him to take political ownership of the issue and force him to choose between increasing tensions with Venezuela just when they were starting to ease and offending Colombia's longtime backers in Washington.
You know, there once was a time in the not too distant past when the British military defended civilization against a genocidal German regime that appeared intent on rampaging across much of the planet. Now, it looks as if it will be reduced to a shadow of its former self: Proposed cuts would slice the Royal Air Force to levels not seen since World War I, while the Army could see reductions of as much as 40 percent of its forces.
Some observers suggest that these selectively-leaked numbers are merely posturing -- the military is airing a doomsday scenario in order to rally support for scaling back the cuts. That may be true, but the reality of serious reductions to the Britain's armed forces is here to stay. The government's budget, weakened further by a persistent economic crisis, simply can't support the present size of the British military.
Critics of the size of the U.S. defense budget will no doubt look to Britain for tips regarding how they can reverse the growth in military spending. I'm not sure, however, that they are going to find anything useful. If we take Britain as a model, the keys to reversing defense spending appear to be, in order of importance: Have an unsustainable budget deficit that cannot be managed any other way, find another global superpower to police the world for you, and transform the region of the world where your interests lie into one of peace and stability. The United States doesn't look likely to fulfill any of those requirements in the short-term -- though, with the capabilities of one of its most important allies looking to be slashed, its job is only about to get tougher.
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I feel like some of the media’s John McCain fanboys should give more consideration to the idea that less here has changed than they think, and they themselves just shouldn’t have been so eager to embrace McCain in the first place. McCain is still a fanatical warmonger who believes in maximal application of military force in all circumstances, a kind of mirror-image Quaker. That his cartoonish worldview has ever been taken seriously tells you a lot about how deep in the grips of militarism Washington, DC is.
I'm not sure what timeframe Yglesias is considering but it's not true that McCain never met a war he didn't like. McCain's early career in congress was actually more defined by opposition to the use of military force. In 1983, as a freshman congressman, McCain broke with President Reagan and most congressional Republicans to oppose the redeployment of U.S. troops in Lebanon. Regarding what came to be known as Operation Desert Storm, he told the New York Times in 1990:
''If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.''
He also opposed U.S. military operations in Somalia, Haiti, and (initially) Bosnia. From Kosovo on, and certainly after 9/11, McCain has been far more hawkish. But at the time of the 2000 election, when the "fanboys" first acquired their McCain infatuation, the senator actually had a fairly mixed record on military force.
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Reactions to U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates's recommendation of Marine Gen. James Mattis to head Central Command today are running the usual gamut of opinion, with nearly everyone pointing to his past statements on how "it's fun to shoot some people" and interpreting that in different ways. (For more of the Mattis treatment, check out this NSFW Twitter thread. My favorite? "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." He's kind of like the Poor Richard of counterinsurgency, but with a potty mouth.)
Plenty of folks seem to really like the guy. Gates today called him "one of the military's most innovative and iconoclastic thinkers." Tom Ricks, who floated his name as soon as Gen. David Petraeus took the Afghanistan job, has weighed in enthusiastically. The LA Times calls him "one of the military's premier strategic thinkers" and "a deft political operator." Wired's Spencer Ackerman, perhaps the Internet's premier COIN fanboy, says Mattis "has a larger reputation as a big brain," like Petraeus.
Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, is also a huge fan. He served under Mattis in Iraq's Anbar province in 2004 and helped him write FM 3-24 (pdf), the famous Army/Marine Corps Field Manual, in 2006.
Asked to comment on Mattis's likely appointment, Nagl emailed: "He is a warfighter and a counterinsurgent, a thinker and a warrior, and we are fortunate as a nation that he will oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Mattis, who is currently the outgoing head of Joint Forces Command, testified in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee. No real standout lines in there, but it's clear he's had a great deal of high-level exposure at JFCOM to the types of strategic and tactical questions he'll face at CENTCOM.
At his press conference this afternoon, Gates also had interesting things to say about the Pentagon's relationship with the media, following up on a memo he sent around last Friday that was quickly and predictably leaked.
"I have grown
increasingly concerned that we have become too lax, disorganized, and,
in some cases, flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press," Gates said. "Reports and
other documents, including on sensitive subjects, are routinely
provided to the press and other elements in this town before I or the
White House know anything about them." (For the record, military and DoD officials remain welcome to leak important documents and information to Foreign Policy.)
Asked why he hadn't said anything about General McChrystal's classified assessment on Afghanistan that was leaked to the Washington Post last fall, Gates gave this tantalizing answer: "Because I was never convinced that it leaked out of this building." Ahem.
On the infamous Rolling Stone article that led to McChrystal's firing, Gates made this emphatic comment: "General McChrystal never, ever, said one thing or in any way, shape or form, conveyed to me any disrespect for civilian authority over the military. Never. I have never had an officer do that since I have been in this building, in three-and-a-half years." He then went further: "I have never encountered, at any level of the military, any disrespect for civilian authority."
What do you call a political rally where citizens-turned-automatons stand silent and unmoving without signs, literature, or adornment of any kind? No real political rally at all -- or, permissible dissent in Burma.
The iron-fisted Burmese junta -- led by military general Than Shwe -- has repeatedly framed this year's upcoming elections as fair and democratic, dismissing the critics who claim it is merely a design to cement five decades of uninterrupted military rule. But the despotic regime's recent ban on essentially any public, recognizable political expression -- on marching, chanting, making speeches, brandishing flags, distributing publications, or making disturbances near any offices, factories, markets, schools, hospitals, and religious meetings (read: anywhere on solid ground) -- likely won't win over any disbelievers.
Today the ruling junta published a 14-point directive in state-run newspapers to explain what constitutes a recognized party and exactly what that party can -- or much more thoroughly, can not -- do. To attain party status, a group must be registered by the (state-run) Election Commission and then amass a minimum of 1,000 members in the three following months. To hold a rally, the party must be approved and then must obtain permission to hold the rally from that same committee. It is worth noting first that the majority of the 38 currently registered groups (a mere sixth of the number registered in the most recent election … back in 1990) support the ruling party; second, that campaigning comes with its own laundry list of restrictions; and third, that any participants in a political rally must adhere to the aforementioned restrictions or face a crackdown from local authorities. The end result? Any political body espousing real opposition is unlikely to materialize, and any political rally is whittled down to what most closely resembles a silent rave -- minus the headphones and the fun.
The other conditions of the elections only make prospects grimmer: No election date has been specified, over 2,000 "political prisoners" are barred from the voting booths, and what is arguably the only party capable of posing a real challenge to the junta, the National League for Democracy, is effectively defunct. The party's leader and rightful winner of the last Burmese elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, is most likely skeptical as she awaits the arrival of this elusive election -- all from the decrepit lake house where she remains under a 20-year-long house arrest.
TENGKU BAHAR/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama has just announced that General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, will replace now-booted General McChrstyal as top commander in Afghanistan, technically a lower position though probably a more strategically vital one . This isn't entirely unprecedented. In 1941, then-President Franklin Roosevelt demoted Douglas MacArthur as part of a strategic -- not punitive -- change of policy. A Time article from that year describes the general's surprising composure in the wake of professional reshuffling:
Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur, Military Adviser to the Philippine Commonwealth, had just taken a demotion in rank. As he stood at a window in his penthouse apartment atop the swank Manila Hotel, looking out on the bay, on the brooding fortress of Corregidor, he was (for practical purposes) no longer a field marshal or the four-starred general he had been when he retired three and a half years ago from the U.S. Army. His Commander in Chief had just called him back to that Army in reduced but impressive rank.
General MacArthur was not downcast at this technical demotion, and he had no reason to be. For he had also been made commander of The U.S. Army Forces in the Far East."
Ten years later, of course, MacArthur got the axe for real for his public disagreements with President Harry Truman over U.S. strategy in the Korean war. Strangely, Dugout Doug seems to have set a precedent for both the generals in the current controversy.
Amid all the chatter about whether Stan McChrystal should keep his job, one storyline in the Rolling Stone article is getting lost: the doubts many U.S. soldiers have about counterinsurgency doctrine:
[H]owever strategic they may be, McChrystal's new marching orders have caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire, soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. "Bottom line?" says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers' lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing."
Michael Hastings, the author, is clearly a skeptic -- a COINhata, if you will. He does little to present McChrystal's side of the argument, or any evidence that his strategy could be working. Admittedly, there isn't much evidence at this point. CFR's Stephen Biddle made a smart comment about this last week:
We're at one of those moments where it's very hard to tell whether things are going well or badly. Counterinsurgency always has this "darkest before the dawn" quality. When you start with a tough situation, you introduce reinforcements and you begin to contest insurgent control of population areas they now control, violence then rises. Enemy causalities go up, causalities to your own forces rise, casualties to civilians increase, general mayhem rises. If you succeed, you gain political control of these populations and violence eventually comes down. From an early increase in violence, you can't deduce that you're winning or that you're losing because you would see exactly the same thing either way at this point in the war.
That was true enough in Iraq; the surge looked to many like it wasn't working well into the summer of 2007. But I wonder if Afghanistan is really a comparable situation. It's a much more fragmented country, where trends in one area don't necessarily spill over into other places. Tribal leaders don't have the same ability to bring their communities along, especially as years of war and Taliban rule have undermined the authority of tribal elders. So it's hard to imagine the same kind of "awakening" spreading rapidly across the country. This is going to be a slog, valley by valley, village by village.
The thing is, though, it's not as if there is a viable alternative strategy out there. For years, the U.S. more or less tried Vice President Joe Biden's preferred approach of keeping a light footprint and limiting U.S. military operations to going after bad guys, while de-emphasizing nation building. That didn't work either. So I think it's worth giving COIN more time to succeed, whether or not McChrystal is the man implementing it.
Which raises another question about the general's leadership in Afghanistan. As any COIN expert will tell you, theory is one thing; implementation is quite another. What made General Petraeus so effective in Iraq was that he was brilliant at operationalizing COIN concepts and ensuring that everyone down the chain of command was carrying them out properly. Is McChrystal doing that effectively? I have my doubts. He certainly isn't following the COIN dictum that "unity of effort" is paramount -- he and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, can't seem to get along; nor can Eikenberry get along with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. If winning a counterinsurgency war is mainly a political effort, what does it tell you if the politics guy isn't even in the game?
The president believes that Gen. McChrystal is the best commander that NATO and coalition forces have had in Afghanistan over the past nine years."
That's a nice compliment for McChrystal, but it's also a back-handed slap at Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who commanded the U.S.-led efforts in Afghanistan for 18 months in 2006 and 2007.
Eikenberry the current U.S. ambassador in Kabul, isn't impressed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and said as much in a leaked memo that made McChrystal furious. In the Rolling Stone article, McChrystal says he felt "betrayed" by the memo, and accuses Eikenberry of "cover[ing] his flank for the history books." Omar's comments probably won't help the two men get along.
You may have heard by now that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, inexplicably gave Rolling Stone unparalleled access to his inner circle, and the magazine dropped a bomb on him today, feeding reporters a story that finds him dissing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on the record and quotes his aides mocking Vice President Joe Biden, special representative Richard Holbrooke, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones. We also learn that McChrystal was none too impressed when he met President Barack Obama for the first time last year.
As you might imagine, folks in Washington are not pleased. "Within hours after today's Rolling Stone story broke," reports the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, "McChrystal was called by the White House, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were not happy."
Here's McChrystal's statement:
I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard. I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome."
Too late? It's hard to imagine how McChrystal survives what is going to be an epic sh*tstorm all week long. And then the article itself goes up Friday.
As James Dobbins noted last fall in a prescient article for FP, the disagreements between McChrystal and Eikenberry have been unusually public, to the long-term detriment of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. But I wonder why Eikenberry was able to stick around so long. After all, he clearly didn't believe in the mission, as his leaked memos made clear. And those memos made it impossible for him to get along with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai -- which is one of the main jobs of an ambassador. How could he possibly be effective?
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
NPR and ProPublica have teamed up to produce a startling report about gaps in the U.S military's diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries. Their investigation calls fresh attention to the plight of so-called "walkie talkies" -- service men and women who by all external indicators appear to be hale and hearty, but who in fact suffer from debilitating mental ailments.
Combat-related brain injuries no longer receive the short shrift they once did: since the start of U.S operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, once unfamiliar terms like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have entered the lexicons of medical specialists and newspaper readers alike. The ProPublica report, however, reveals that even seemingly straightforward -- and seemingly innocuous -- injuries are all too often slipping under the military's medical radar screen. The most common injuries experienced by U.S soldiers are known as mild traumatic brain injuries -- what some doctors continue to refer to by the name anyone who never got the hang of snow-boarding will recognize: a plain old concussion. (Of course, soldiers typically incur brain damage after weathering the shock of road-side bombs, not the impact of a ski-slope tumble.) You might think that identifying and treating these injuries would, by the standards of army medics facing far more catastrophic cases, be more or less a piece of cake. Unfortunately, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army's Surgeon General, admitted that one exam used by the military to detect concussions and other brain trauma is about as accurate as "a coin flip."
Even if the exams succeed, accurate testing rarely leads to a responsible follow-up. Often, diagnoses never find their way into a soldier's medical files. If they do, there's no guarantee they won't simply be abandoned -- or, even worse, burned -- in obscure, warzone warehouses:
"The reality is that for the first several years in Iraq everything was burned. If you were trying to dispose of something, you took it out and you put it in a burn pan and you burned it," said [Lt. Col. Mike] Russell, who served two tours in Iraq. "That's how things were done."
(And that's a troubling quote for many reasons.)
Treatment procedure is equally disheartening to read about. There's general consensus among specialists that victims of mild brain injuries should undergo rehabilitative therapy. In reality, it's far more common for patients to be prescribed psychotropic drugs (a response, perhaps, to the intense media coverage of psychological trauma, like PTSD) -- or to be ignored altogether.
The serious consequences of these oversights are driven home by the harrowing stories of victims like Michelle Dyarman, a former reserve soldier whose life was utterly transformed by two roadside bombs and a Humvee accident. After misdiagnosis and mistreatment by military medics, Dyarman's brain doesn't function the way it used to:
Today, the former dean's list student struggles to read a newspaper article. She has pounding headaches. She has trouble remembering the address of the farmhouse where she grew up in the hills of central Pennsylvania...
Dyarman has returned to her civilian job inspecting radiological devices for the state, but colleagues say she turns in reports with lots of blanks; they cover for her.
Meanwhile, she -- and we -- are left to wish the army had offered her the same kind of support.
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South Korea plans, on Thursday, to disclose the official results of its investigation into the sinking of the Navy frigate Cheonan, but the government seems to be gradually rolling out its findings. Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told assembled diplomats at an EU Chamber of Commerce luncheon that "it's obvious" that North Korea was behind the explosion that sank the ship. Later today, a senior South Korea official gave the Korea Times previewed some of the evidence:
Characters and numbers in North Korean fonts were found on fragments of what is believed to be a propeller blade from a torpedo that sank a South Korean frigate, a senior Defense Ministry official told The Korea Times, Wednesday.
"They were not Chinese characters or a serial number, but it was obvious that the lettering was North Korean," the official said on condition of anonymity regarding findings from a multinational investigation into the cause of the sinking of the ROK Navy's patrol boat Cheonan near the West Sea border with North Korea on March 26. [...]
The official said the torpedo in question was powered by two sets of propellers that rotate in opposite directions. He added that investigators conducted a computerized simulation and reached the conclusion that a 250kg, mid-sized sonar-tracking torpedo exploded underneath the gas turbine room of the 1,200-ton vessel.
The gas turbine has been found on the seabed and will be hoisted out of the water, according to the officials. Traces of explosives from the wreckage were also found to be similar to those from a North Korean torpedo found in the West Sea seven years ago, they said.
South Korea has certainly taken its time before making a formal accusation over the incident. The ball's in Beijing's court now.
McClatchy's Saeed Shah is reporting that Faisal Shahzad, the alleged Times Square bomber, is the son of a retired Pakistani Air Force officer living in an upscale area outside Peshawar.
"Said to be a retired air vice marshall, Haq hurriedly left the large family home in the Hayatabad suburb Tuesday, along with the rest of the family, when Pakistani media found the house," Shah writes, noting that a U.S. official confirmed that Shahzad's father is a "retired Pakistani Air Force officer." The BBC adds that Haq may have formerly been head of the country's Civil Aviation Authority.
The AP's Ashraf and Riaz Khan tracked down Kifyat Ali, Haq's cousin, who told them Shahzad's arrest was "a conspiracy so the (Americans) can bomb more Pashtuns," and that the 30-year-old accused terrorist often went to Peshawar to visit his family.
One possibly shaky Pakistani report says that Shahzad's uncle is Maj. Gen. Tajul Haq, who was inspector general of the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary border force, from 2000 to 2003.
If all this is true, it's pretty interesting. There seems to be a pattern of mediocre sons from elite families becoming terrorists. Osama bin Laden's dad was a wildly succesful contractor with close ties to Saudi royalty. Underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father was a prominent Nigerian banker and one of the wealthiest men in Africa. Perhaps they feel like failures next to their successful dads, and militancy offers a pathway toward self-respect.
Also noteworthy is what Shahzad studied in Connecticut. You guessed it: engineering.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Greece's new austerity measures, which will include cuts in public sector salaries, pensions, as well as tax increases, have provoked widespread, and occasionally violent, protests. But the country's military is taking a big hit as well:
Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos Greece is aiming to slash operating costs by up to 25 percent in 2010 from 2009, instead of the planned reduction of 12.6 percent listed in this year's budget.
"That is a colossal amount, reaching the margin of our operating needs," Venizelos said, insisting that the cuts were not a direct result of the Greek debt crisis, nor would affect the strategic balance with historic rival Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit Athens next month.
Strangely, Venizelos says the cuts are not a response to the financial crisis, but are "mandated by the modern views of military planning." Not really sure what school of military planning mandates a 25 percent lower budget, but okay.
Greece currently has 15 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
If Congress took these four steps for one day, all Members would understand the magnitude of the dangers posed by an EMP attack.
- Close all cafeterias. After an EMP attack, transportation networks would grind to a halt and no food would be delivered.
- Walk to work. Traffic lights would no longer function, so all roads would be gridlocked. The computer systems operating mass transit would be inoperative.
- Turn off Members’ Blackberries. Satellites in low-earth and many of the communication support systems would be disabled. Devices such as Blackberries and GPS would not work.
- Shut off the lights. Critical computers that direct the national electrical grid would be inoperative.
I don't know how well it would work to raise EMP awareness, but I suspect that quite a few citizens wouldn't mind the of keeping Congress cut off from communications and in the dark for a day.
Sharon Weinberger wrote about EMP's and the people who are terrified of them for FP in February.
Think mustard gas is bad?
In possible contravention of long-standing international conventions on the prohibition of chemical and biological weapons, the Indian military has announced the addition to a new weapon to its arsenal: chili grenades.
Made from bhut jolokia -- the spiciest chili pepper in the world, according to the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records -- the grenades are expected to be "effective nontoxic weapon[s]... [whose] pungent smell can choke terrorists and force them out of their hideouts."
I urge readers to be on the lookout for one of these things at the next international weapons exhibition they attend.
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During his campaign President Obama pledged to repeal the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. While the issue wasn't an immediate starter for the administration, Obama revisited it in his 2010 State of Union address, where he again called for a repeal of the policy.
In response, Congress has begun to hold prominent hearings on the possible repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." While the hearings certainly have a marquee aspect to them -- both Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and General David Petraeus have appeared to testify -- much of the testimony has been cautious and, well, pretty tepid.
Enter retired General John Sheehan, who served as a Supreme Allied Commander in NATO from 1994-1997. These three years marked the height of fighting in the former Yugoslavia, and also saw what is arguably the single greatest atrocity committed during the entire Yugoslav Wars: the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre, during which the Bosnian Serb army murdered more than 5,000 Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
How did this happen? Why were the Dutch peacekeepers stationed in Srebrenica for the express purpose of protecting its civilians incapable of doing so? While historians and Dutch officials agree there were multiple problems with the peacekeeping operation, today General Sheehan introduced a completely novel one.
During testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Sheehan explained that the presence of gay servicemen in the Dutch peacekeeping battalion was "part of the problem" with Srebrenica. In disbelief, Committee Chairman Carl Levin asked Sheehan to clarify: "Did the Dutch leaders tell you it [the fall of Srebrenica] was because there were gay soldiers there?" Sheehan affirmed that they had.
Reeling from Sheehan's comments, Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende said that "these remarks should never have been made," while retired General "Henk" van den Breemen, one of the Dutch leaders Sheehan implicated as having claimed that gay servicemen were to blame for Srebrenica, denied Sheehan's allegation and described his remarks as "total nonsense."
Being able to speak your mind freely is one of the perks of retirement, I suppose. Whether it's one that should always be exercised, however, is an entirely different matter.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
I haven't seen anyone blog this interesting tidbit from Robert Kaplan's new piece in the Atlantic, in which the top U.S. intelligence official in Afghanistan says two of the most notorious Taliban affiliates are "absolutely salvageable":
A deal with the insurgents constitutes another part of a withdrawal strategy. While becoming more organizationally formidable since 9/11, the Taliban have also modified their behavior. Mullah Omar has sent out a directive banning beheadings and unauthorized kidnappings as well as other forms of violent and criminal activity, according to both Al-Jazeera and ISAF officials. “In a way, we’re seeing a kinder, gentler Taliban,” said both Commander Eggers and General Flynn. Moreover, in working with the tribes in the spirit of Churchill’s Malakand Field Force, Flynn, the intelligence chief, went so far as to suggest that the insurgent leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are both “absolutely salvageable.” “The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing alQaeda leaders refuge in Kunar. Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions. As for the Haqqani network, I can tell you they are tired of fighting, but are not about to give up. They have lucrative business interests to protect: the road traffic from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Central Asia.” Lamb, the former SAS commander, added: “Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes. With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”
There's been a lot of chatter recently over bringing Hekmatyar and/or Haqqani over on the the government side, but this is the first time I've seen a senior U.S. military official expressing this level of enthusiasm for the idea, even if it's from a free spirit like Flynn. The Washington Post editorial board pre-emptively thundered last month that the inclusion of either guy "would be a disaster for the cause of human rights or a responsible Afghan government," so presumably Flynn isn't the only guy in the U.S. military or civilian hierarchy thinking seriously about cutting a deal with one or both militant networks. (TNR's Michael Crowley quotes Bruce Riedel, who conducted the Obama administration's AfPak strategy review and presumably still talks to the powers that be, expressing cautious enthusiasm for working with Hekmatyar.)
There's no question these are nasty men, but they don't strike me as particularly worse on human rights issues than say, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, or any number of petty warlords the United States is working with in Afghanistan. The real question is what their demands are, and whether they're willing to do things like rat out al Qaeda members hanging out in their areas of control. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his deputies are smart, practical men who have been given an impossible timetable and are going to do whatever works in order to meet President Obama's withdrawal timeframe. If that means holding their noses and dealing with a sociopath like Hekmatyar, I'm sure they'll do it when the price is right.
We thought the cover image of our March/April "War Issue" -- an iPhone loaded with apps like "instaCOIN"and "DroneWar" -- was a joke, but it turns out not to be that far-fetched. Danger Room's Nathan Hodge reports:
In a discussion yesterday with reporters, Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army’s Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas, said that around 200 soldiers would receive an “iPhone-like device” with digital apps installed.
Walker said the devices would have “various apps for system maintenance, instruction manuals — that we can all remotely upgrade. Also, we’re working to allow soldiers to have a distributed way of getting feedback to us on the equipment, where they can do Wikipedia-style upgrades to tactics, techniques and procedures, and comments on performance of hardware and software.”
Further down the road, Walker said he could envision tactical applications, like an app with GPS capability that could pinpoint the user’s location, or a digital tool that would allow troops to analyze terrain.
We had a good time coming up with the apps for our phone, so Walker is welcome to get in touch if the army needs ideas.
How much does it matter that the Netherlands and other European countries appear to have little interest in continuing the war in Afghanistan -- or fighting wars in general? Quite a bit, says Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
“The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” he told NATO officers and officials in a speech at the National Defense University, the Defense Department-financed graduate school for military officers and diplomats.
But in a piece in Foreign Policy's new print magazine, Andrew Bacevich takes a different view, arguing that it makes little sense to reast NATO -- a remnant of the Cold War -- as an American-led instrument of power projection. Europeans should focus on their own problems:
This doesn't mean that NATO is without value. It does suggest that relying on the alliance to sustain a protracted counterinsurgency aimed at dragging Afghans kicking and screaming into modernity makes about as much sense as expecting the "war on drugs" to curb the world's appetite for various banned substances. It's not going to happen.
If NATO has a future, it will find that future back where the alliance began: in Europe. NATO's founding mission of guaranteeing the security of European democracies has lost none of its relevance. Although the Soviet threat has vanished, Russia remains. And Russia, even if no longer a military superpower, does not exactly qualify as a status quo country. The Kremlin nurses grudges and complaints, not least of them stemming from NATO's own steady expansion eastward.
So let NATO attend to this new (or residual) Russian problem. Present-day Europeans -- even Europeans with a pronounced aversion to war -- are fully capable of mounting the defenses necessary to deflect a much reduced Eastern threat. So why not have the citizens of France and Germany guarantee the territorial integrity of Poland and Lithuania, instead of fruitlessly demanding that Europeans take on responsibilities on the other side of the world that they can't and won't?
What do readers think?
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
Which country has the most special operations forces?
a) Russia b) North Korea c) Israel
Answer after the jump...
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Tom Ricks blogged this morning about a new think-tank paper by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the U.S. Army's top intelligence officer in Afghanistan. No big deal, right? These sorts of papers are published every day in Washington.
Well ... not exactly. Turns out the Pentagon was none too pleased with Flynn's methods, and perhaps his conclusions as well.
"I think it struck everybody as a little bit curious, yes," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Reuters. "My sense is that this was an anomaly and that we probably won't see that (in the future)."
Ouch! "It was an unusual and irregular way to publish a document of this nature," Whitman added for good measure.
The paper rips U.S. intelligence officials in Afghanistan as being "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced ... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers."
"Eight years into the war in Afghanistan," Flynn writes, "the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy."
Ricks, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, which published the paper, explains Flynn's motives thusly:
As I understand it, the paper was released through CNAS because Gen. Flynn wanted to reach beyond his own chain of command and his own community and talk to people such as commanders of deploying infantry units about what kind of intelligence they should be demanding."
One also suspects that Flynn must have conveyed his message to his superiors already, and grew frustrated that he wasn't gaining any traction. I will say that the timing of the report is slightly unfortunate, coming just after the CIA suffered its worst losses in the field in a quarter century. At the same time, the suicide attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman only serves to underscore the idea that the U.S. intelligence community is out of its depth in Afghanistan.
In January, the U.S. military will hold its first simulation of an attack from a long-range Iranian missile on the United States, as opposed to a North Korean one:
It also would be more difficult testing the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system against a missile that would be faster and more direct as it races toward the United States than a simulated strike from North Korea.
"Previously, we have been testing the GMD system against a North Korean-type scenario," O'Reilly said.
"This next test ... is more of a head-on shot like you would use defending against an Iranian shot into the United States. So that's the first time that we're now testing in a different scenario."
His comments came the same day that diplomats disclosed concerns among intelligence agencies that Iran tested a key atomic bomb component as recently as 2007. The finding, if proven true, would clash with Iran's assertion that its nuclear work is for civilian use.
The test would fire an interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at a simulated incoming missile, launched from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. An aide to O'Reilly estimated the cost at about $150 million.
Iran's long-range Shahab-3 missile has a maximum range of about 1,200 miles. Long enough to hit Israel or even Greece, but well-short of hitting the United States.
ALI SHAIGAN/AFP/Getty Images
No, he doesn't speak Arabic. But take a look at this quote from Gen. David Petraeus at the Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain, where he is trying to cajole America's Arab allies to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.
I would remind my Arab brothers if there is a concern about certain influences in Iraq then it would be wise to increase the Arab influence.
This is an anodyne statement wrapped up in interesting rhetorical packaging. Petraeus seems to be mimicking, unconsciously or otherwise, the way many Arab leaders deliver their views in public. The most obvious example is the reference to his "Arab brothers." However, there are two other stylistic points worth mentioning: Petraeus mentions "certain influences in Iraq" rather than accusing Iran directly, and he calls on his allies "to increase the Arab influence." This is not the way that New York-born CENTCOM commanders generally speak English -- it is, however, reminiscent of the linguistic habits of many English-speaking Arabs.
This should only reinforce Gen. Petraeus's reputation as a talented general, diplomat, and COIN-student extraordinaire. It is also a good time to note that the United States has come a long way from Norman Schwarzkopf's Hail Mary metaphors and George H.W. Bush's references to "Saadum" Hussein.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Today marks the start of a grueling set of four congressional hearings for U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and Gen. Stanley McChrystal:
We'll be live-blogging and live-tweeting throughout, and watch for thorough coverage on the AfPak Channel as well.
So, what to look for?
Well, above all: details about the Obama administration's planned escalation of the conflict, including where the soldiers are headed, information about strategic goals, information about the civilian surge and population-centric strategy, questions about the importance of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and questions about relations with the Karzai government and Pakistan.
Also: dissent. Eikenberry and McChrystal aren't particularly fond of one another right now. The ambassador reportedly strongly questioned the strategy the latter helped create, arguing that sending more troops without bolstering the Afghan government might foster dependency and undercut the state; McChrystal, in contrast, wanted to send 40,000, rather than 30,000, troops. One of the unstated goals of the hearings will be to show a united face. But members of congress, as well as the press, will be looking for any cracks.
Referring to the United States's NATO partners, President Obama last night asked, "that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead." A conference will be held in London in January to discuss international contributions to the effort.
NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised 5,000 troops, but it's a little unclear where he's going to get them:
Reacting to Obama's call for more help, a Polish official said the government will likely send 600 combat-ready reinforcements, mainly for patrolling and training, to beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent.
Albania pledged to increase its 250-member unit by 85 troops, army trainers and medical workers, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.
Spain's El Pais daily said the defense ministry was considering adding 200 soldiers to its 1,000 contingent. Italy declared it would do its part and Finland confirmed that it had been asked to consider sending more troops and would do so next week. [...]
Britain announced before Obama's speech it is sending 500 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing its numbers there to 10,000.
France and Germany are holding off on any troop decision until an international conference in January, though French President Nicolas Sarkozy has previously pledged that he "won't send an additional soldier."
The other big question is the Netherlands, whose parliament voted for a non-binding resolution in favor of withdrawal when the Dutch mission ends next August. If the Dutch government follows through and pulls out its 2,160 troops, that would more than negate the 1,385 troops already pledged by Britain, Spain, Poland and Albania. Canada has already passed a withdrawal plan for 2011 as well and seems unlikely to add more troops.
Even in a best-case scenario in which the Dutch keep current troop levels and the countries mentioned are able to follow through through on their commitments, NATO will still need get more than 3,500 troops from the Italians, the Australians, the deeply ambivalent Germans and a hodge-podge of smaller nations, none of whom currently have more than 1,000 troops in the country.
It doesn't seem too likely.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, and the Cold War itself ended soon after, but if you're feeling nostalgic, tune into the Cold War of the Andes: somewhat more farcical and definitely less likely to end in nuclear annihilation, but riveting nonetheless.
With Venezuelan troops lining up on the Colombian border, Peruvian officials' urging fellow South American countries to reduce military spending arms purchasing, in addition to creating a regional security force, is making a lot more sense. Peruvian officials indicated that Brazilian President Lula was receptive to the proposal in a recent meeting, and will be meeting with Colombian and Paraguayan presidents in the next week.
Although the campaign should be seen in light of Peruvian suspicion of neighboring Chile, military spending in many South American countries has increased in recent years. Some estimates place 2008 spending at $60 billion, which would be well over double the amounts spent in 2003. According to American calculations, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Colombia account for 80 percent of arms purchases. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also urged caution in purchases, warning against entering a race.
Of course, experts have pointed out in past years that the main concern is probably not war between countries, no matter what Venezuela says, but rather resource related violence. Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias of Costa Rica warned against buying more arms, while noting that the region has never been so peaceful.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
The Pakistani military reported that they entered and largely cleared the "Taliban headquarters" in South Waziristan today. The reported success is part of a large-scale offensive in the region, which is a stronghold of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani Taliban factions drawn together under the leadership of (the recently-killed) Baitullah Mehsud. The "headquarters" referred to is the town of Makeen, which had been Mehsud's hometown.
How important is it to clear Taliban headquarters, whether in Waziristan or Balochistan? In an interview with FP, Sameer Lalwani, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, argues the answer largely depends on what comes next:
[Makeen] might have been the center of TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] organization, but I suspect that at some level, ‘headquarters' doesn't mean as much to an insurgency that's able to melt away and reappear down the road at different locations and continue operations... it certainly disrupts the organization of the group. [But] it's a very fluid network, they have alliances with other neighboring tribes, they're able to parlay their way, probably, for a safe haven within Afghanistan, or in the mountains, for a period of time.
So, it really depends on what the follow-up operations are.... I think this is one of the biggest demonstrations of Pakistani commitment, in their ground invasion of South Waziristan, and the most targeted, and probably one of the stronger efforts we've seen in recent years, but I'd still be apprehensive to say this is a categorical success, even [having] secured a few militant strongholds and, I guess, the center of operations, because the real question becomes ‘how long can they hold it?'"
The Taliban certainly isn't handing the territory off. Responding to Pakistan's recent military successes, a Taliban spokesman said simply, "We are prepared for a long war."
Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
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