The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi in the front row of a military parade (above, next to Major General Zaw Win) earlier today was stunning to many observers: both for how unthinkable her presence would have been just a few years ago (she was locked up in her house, after all -- by the military), and for how far Aung San Suu Kyi appears willing to go to reconcile with an institution still distrusted by many of her fellow Burmese. (See this slide show of Burmese political cartoons in FP for one perspective on how 'reformed' the military and the government in Burma really are). On the same day the military announced its plans to retain a role in politics for the near future
Does The Lady's presence underscore how much has changed in Burma since her house arrest, or does it highlight how much power the military still has? Probably both. One thing for sure: the photo above is an amazing sight.
NYEIN CHAN NAING/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government on Tuesday continued to deny that a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer earlier this year. The denial comes a day after Tokyo-based Kyodo News quoted unnamed "senior Chinese military officials" admitting for the first time that it happened -- but only by accident, they said.
It's worth noting, especially in light of Beijing's official denial, that we don't know who these Chinese officials are, or why they're speaking up now. But the report, if true, is disturbing precisely because the alleged standoff happened accidentally. According to the officials, the radar lock was an unplanned, "emergency decision" taken by the commander of the frigate -- one that did not include communication with fleet command or navy headquarters. This line in particular from Kyodo's report does not inspire confidence:
"The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States, a senior official said, explaining why the commander did not seek guidance."
Great. At a time when Chinese authorities seem to be making efforts to dial down tensions with Japan over disputed islands, could a war between East Asian superpowers be sparked by accident -- by some frigate commander gone rogue?
That nuclear war could come about in just such a scenario was, of course, a major concern during the Cold War. But decades of tension, as well as apocalyptic visions of global annihilation as a result of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. locking horns, produced carefully designed systems to minimize the damage any one rogue actor could inflict (only the president can access the nuclear codes), and to minimize misunderstandings from more minor incidents (the Kremlin-White House hotline).
But East Asia -- relatively free of military buildup until recently -- doesn't have these same systems in place. A soon-to-be-released report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies highlights the danger that emerges when a region's military systems develop faster than its communication mechanisms, and finds that accidental war in East Asia is a real possibility:
Across East Asia, advanced military systems such as anti-ship missiles, new submarines, advanced combat aircraft are proliferating in a region lacking security mechanisms that could defuse crises. Bilateral military-to-military ties are often only embryonic. There is a tangible risk of accidental conflict and escalation, particularly in the absence of a strong tradition of military confidence-building measures."
The Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands dispute has been marked by an increasing number of deliberate provocations on both sides: surveillance vessels entering nearby waters, patrol planes making passes by the islands, scrambled fighter jets. These are planned actions, designed to incrementally heighten tensions. But the more fighter jets that get scrambled without good communications systems in place, the higher the chances that these deliberate moves escalate beyond what either Japan or China is anticipating.
That being said, it's important to note that historians still question whether any wars have truly been started by accident. (War "is almost by definition a deliberate and carefully considered act," writes Michael Howard.) The origins of World War I -- sometimes dubbed the accidental war -- are still hotly debated, for example. But Reuters recently noted that China, while seeking to cool tensions with Japan, is at the same time taking steps to increase central control over its military (putting paramilitary agencies under a single command, for instance) to prevent accidents -- a sign, at least, that one party in this conflict is taking the possibility seriously.
Chinese government officials considered using an armed unmanned aerial vehicle to target a drug trafficker hiding in Myanmar, according to an interview with Liu Yuejin, the director of China's Public Security Ministry's anti-drug bureau that appeared in Global Times on Monday. The target, Naw Kham, wanted for a drug-trafficking related attack that killed 13 Chinese sailors, was eventually captured last April in a joint Chinese-Laotian operation in Laos and is now appealing a death sentence in China. Yuejin's comments are an unusual glimpse into China's considerations for the use of drone strikes, a tactic that is no longer used exclusively by the United States.
The proposed Chinese strike would have occurred in Myanmar's restive north, where the Naypyidaw government has struggled to control ethnic conflicts and a thriving drug trade. Much like the U.S. official rationale as for strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, China could have either sought Naypyidaw's support or credibly claimed that the government was "unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual being targeted," in the words of the Obama administration's white paper on its own targeted killing program. Similarly, as a violent drug trafficker tied to the deaths of Chinese sailors, China could have justified the potential drone strike under the white paper's loose definition of the "imminent threat of violent attack" against the homeland -- much as the United States justified targeting al Qaeda militants tied to the bombing of the USS Cole with drone strikes, beginning Abu Ali al-Harithi in 2002 (well before the white paper was authored).
The admission that the Chinese government considered a drone strike comes as its relationship with Myanmar has become increasingly strained amid stalled economic projects and new competition for influence with the West. China also appears to have placed special emphasis on their UAV programs in recent months, unveiling new models (that look suspiciously like U.S.-made Predator and Reaper drones) and retrofitting old Shenyang J-6 jets to fly by remote control.
Yuejin told Global Times that the drone strike option was passed over because of instructions to capture Naw Kham alive, but his comments demonstrate that China is weighing targeted killings seriously. When -- almost certainly not "if" -- China conducts its first drone strike, it will join just three other nations -- the United States, Britain, and Israel -- and place itself among the drone powers in the ongoing international assessment of the legality of these operations and whether they abridge international law and the established concept of sovereignty.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Wow, what an awfully long day! What a roller coaster of emotion!
Kevin Baron has the full rundown. There were spats between friends -- though it seems like if John McCain and Chuck Hagel are still on speaking terms, they'll be frenemies from here on out. There were flubs -- a frequently flustered Hagel fumbling on Iran (specifically the issue of containment), senators with gotcha questions (Sen. Lindsey Graham at one point even interrupted to point out to Hagel, "I gotcha!"), and pandering all around. All in all it was the most dramatic piece of Washington theater since...well, inauguration was only two weeks ago.
It remains to be seen what effect Hagel's performance will have on his confirmation prospects. Josh Rogin reports that today's hearing has lost Hagel votes, but it seems doubtful that support will crater completely. But that's for another day.
For now, we pause to take one last look...at the looks of Chuck Hagel. We feel you, Chuck. It was ups and downs all day.
And if you think this post is an excuse for this .gif we made, it is.
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Said al-Shihri is dead again, maybe this time for good. As the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, he is the highest ranking official in AQAP to be killed since the organization emerged in January 2009. He's had some near misses since then, and sources in the Yemeni military have been known to jump the gun in claiming his death. This time the news has been issued by the Yemeni government and its state news agency, and been confirmed by Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington.
Shihri was last reported killed in September 2011. We wrote about him at the time:
Shihri, who went by the pseudonym Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya before being captured by U.S. forces in December 2001, soon after returning to Afghanistan. After several years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Shihri went through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and was released in September, 2008. Four months later, he appeared in a video announcing the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an aggressive offshoot led by a former bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi, which quickly gained the attention of Western journalists and the intelligence community with a series of high-profile attempted attacks and flashy online periodicals.
Shihri is believed to have helped plan a 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi prince Muhammad bin Nayif, then-head of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism program and a proponent of the jihadi rehabilitation program Shihri underwent. He also worked to raise funds and recruits from Saudi Arabia. Some of his efforts were met with criticism from within the al Qaeda network. Documents recovered from bin Laden's safehouse in Abottabad include a letter from bin Laden criticizing Shihri's communiqués demanding the release of a Saudi fundraiser for AQAP, and suggesting that the al Qaeda franchise clear their press releases with al Qaeda Central.
AQAP, though, seems to have made it a point to assert its independence from al Qaeda central command. In the same letter, bin Laden also advised against trying to hold territory in Yemen to establish an Islamic emirate -- a suggestion the AQAP leadership pointedly disregarded. Bin Laden's reasoning that it would leave AQAP tied to targets and exposed proved true.
AQAP disregarded those instructions and -- in concert with a more locally-focused affiliate organization -- briefly occupied portions of Jaar and Abyan provinces, including the town of Zinjibar. They were driven out by a joint U.S.-Yemeni campaign in the spring of last year. Since then, the organization has been scattered. Airstrikes have targeted suspected AQAP members in Hadramawt, a large, sparsely populated province east of AQAP's former stronghold. Shihri was reportedly wounded in Yemen's northern Saada governorate, where AQAP has engaged in sectarian clashes with the Houthis, a tribal-religious group agitating for government autonomy.
Unconfirmed rumors of Shihri's death have been circulating for several days, and the circumstances of his death remain murky. According to the Yemeni government, Shihri was seriously wounded in Saada on November 28. The Yemeni government did not comment on the nature of the attack, and refrains from discussing clandestine U.S. operations on Yemeni soil. After the strike, Shihri then slipped into a coma and later died and was buried by AQAP. As with previous reports of Shihri's death, it should probably be taken with a grain of salt until confirmed by AQAP. Or denied by Shihri himself, as he has done before.
To everyone's surprise, 2013 might prove a historic year for women in the U.S. military, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that the Pentagon will remove the ban on women in combat.
All the attention is focusing on ground troops, but it's actually on the high seas that the last glass ceiling, or in this case high-strength alloy steel hull, is being shattered. Last October, the Navy announced that beginning in January, women will be allowed to serve on attack submarines for the first time, and the number of women in crews on Trident-class submarines will also be increased.
And the United States isn't alone. Britain has also said that this year will see the beginning of female participation on Royal Navy submarines, and countries such as Canada and Australia have already seen successful integration of women in submarine crews.
While these changes are being welcomed by men and women around the United States, the question remains: Why have submarines proved the final stubborn frontier? Out of the 42 countries that use submarines, only six allow women to serve.
According to the BBC, the British Navy banned women's participation for their own good, citing "health concerns about carbon dioxide." Unsurprisingly, two years ago, a study by the Institute of Naval Medicine deemed these concerns unfounded. The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, raised questions about cramped quarters and privacy:
On fast-attack submarines, approximately 150 personnel live in space the size of a three-bedroom house. Officers sleep in three-person staterooms, each the size of a small closet, and all 15 of them share a single shower, sink and toilet.
For female officers to live on the submarines, some three-person berths would be reserved for them and they would share the bathroom -- known as a "head" -- with men in a time-sharing arrangement.
But logistics and CO2 aside, the Navy has always been a bit behind the times when it comes to female participation. In the United States, it wasn't until 1978 that women were allowed to participate in surface warfare, and many of them left in the 1980s because of the lack of opportunities available. Now, as the Navy suffers from lack of personnel and women become more dominant in fields like engineering, they are finally being allowed below the surface.
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More than a year after President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down -- and almost two years after protests against his dictatorship flooded the streets of Sanaa -- Yemen's political crisis continues. Saleh was formally ousted in February in a referendum that made his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his successor, but while the former president is in retirement, much of the government he built in his 33 year reign is not. This includes the former president's son, Ahmed Saleh, as well as his collection of Scud missiles.
The younger Saleh was once considered Ali Abdullah's heir apparent, but his presidential prospects were largely quashed by the popular uprising in 2011. For now, he appears to be biding his time as the commander of the Yemeni military's elite Republican Guard, a post he received while his father was still in power. The transition plan for Yemen calls for a reorganization of the Yemeni military to break up the influence of prominent power brokers in command positions -- and soon after taking office, Hadi removed several Saleh-connected officers from their posts, including the elder Saleh's relatives commanding the air force and presidential guard. Ahmed has managed to stay at the head of the Republican Guard for now, and Hadi has appeared wary of challenging him outright.
Hadi's efforts to whittle away Saleh's influence may have hit an impasse, though, as Ahmed Saleh has now refused to handover Republican Guard Scud missiles to the Yemeni Ministry of Defense. Sources in Hadi's office told Reuters that Saleh's refusal "has caused a crisis between the two sides," and that the president has threatened to rescind the immunity granted to Ahmed Saleh as part of the transition deal.
This latest round of power jockeying comes amid preparations for Yemen's national dialogue, in which representatives of Yemen's many tribal, political, and religious factions will meet to discuss a new constitutional framework for the country. Preparations for the dialogue have been slow, with some parties -- including key elements of Yemen's southern secessionist movement -- refusing to join other groups at the negotiating table.
The Scud standoff, though, is a reminder that Yemen's transition will not exclusively be decided at the much-discussed dialogue. During the country's political crisis in 2011, the popular movement was at times eclipsed by feuds in the capital between political, military, and tribal oligarchs, each wielding their own armed faction -- these included former President Saleh and his brood, but also prominent military commander Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and (unrelated to him) the al-Ahmar brothers, who are influential in the Hashid Tribal Federation, Yemen's largest tribal bloc. These tensions have been mostly dormant for the past year, but the power players are all still there, waiting. And if the national dialogue falls apart, no one wants to be caught unprepared.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Alright, I can't believe I need to say this, but the future will not look like Call of Duty.
The latest entry in the bestselling game series, Black Ops II, takes place in the not-too-distant future, a version of the year 2025 in which the United States and China are engaged in escalating tensions after a U.S. cyberattack hits the Chinese stock exchange, prompting officials in Beijing to halt exports of rare earth minerals. Chaos ensues. Drones! Invisibility cloaks! There's a villainous Nicaraguan drug lord pulling strings for good measure, and David Petraeus is the secretary of defense.
The technology is science fiction, but the politics, that's just fiction. You'd never know it by reading some of the responses, though. Probably as a result of game studio Treyarch's effort to bolster the game with the input of some high-profile consultants, including Brookings Institute future-warfare expert Peter Singer and disgraced gun runner-turned-media personality Oliver North, some people are taking the game's premise disturbingly seriously. Fox News' review points to the game development's "eerie resemblances with the serious war-gaming exercises conducted by the U.S. military and government officials," while CNN's review explains that the expert consultants saw the "dwindling supply of rare earth elements" as "a feasible backdrop for a new Cold War."
Yes, China controls 95 percent of rare earth mineral production today, and that does constitute an "undisputed monopoly," as Hal Quinn and Michael Silver wrote in their editorial for the Washington Times. But there's no reason for all this hyperventilating. Despite their name, rare earth minerals aren't all that rare -- the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the supply of these minerals, which are critical to high-tech gadgets from cell phones to advanced weapon systems, will last well into the next century, if not longer. Despite China's current market dominance, Chinese reserves constitute only half of global rare earth supplies, and other countries -- notably Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Australia -- are beginning to exploit their deposits and become reliable suppliers in an increasingly diversified rare earth mineral marketplace.
As to whether competition over these resources could come to blows, Christine Parthemore, who now works in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs and is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, cautioned against cold war alarmism in a Center for a New American Security report on rare earth minerals. "History," she wrote in 2011, "indicates that conflict over absolute scarcities is unlikely." While supply disruptions are possible, the report argues, they'll look more like the 1973 oil crisis than the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So let's certainly open up different sources of rare earth mineral supplies, but let's not have a collective freak out about a potential cold war with China over iPhone batteries. It really is just a video game.
U.S. and Pakistani officials signed a memorandum of understanding today, finally reopening supply routes to Afghanistan after a seven month blockade. In a statement to the press, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan assured that public that the decision to restore supply lines was made "without any financial benefit."
That may be true for Pakistan, but not everyone is coming out of this empty-handed. The Associated Press reports:
"Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble," a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. "Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."
A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
"We are able to make money in bundles," the commander told the AP by telephone. "Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us."
The U.S. military estimates that theft, bribery and mismanagement put $360 million in the hands of the Taliban, regional war lords and criminals in 2010 alone -- with more than half that amount pinched from convoys along the supply routes.
Citing evidence "rang[ing] from sobering to shocking," a 2010 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report titled Warlord, Inc illustrated the extent of extortion and corruption along the Afghanistan supply routes and called for increased efforts to cut losses. Efforts to protect supply routes and diminish the influence of local power brokers have gained little traction and convoys remain a target for attack and theft.
Though today's MOU banned the transport of arms and ammunition, the Taliban's glee remains unabated. "We have had to wait these past seven months for the supply lines to reopen and our income to start again," cheered one commander, "Now work is back to normal."
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
Energy resources are a hot commodity in the Levant Basin days, and with 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, and 5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids at stake, the Israeli defense ministry is asking for a "one-time budget increase" of about $760 million to boost its naval capacity in the Mediterranean Sea so it can better protect the country's offshore natural gas platforms. Though Israel purchased its fourth Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarine from Germany earlier this year to the tune of over $500 million, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz are on board with the plan, which "calls for adding four new warships to Israel's naval fleet and deploying hundreds of soldiers in the area."
Natural gas discoveries in the early twenty-first century have created a military debacle for Israel, which does not have demarcated maritime boundary with Lebanon. All of the multinational gas platforms are privately owned and fall within Israel's exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from the coast, but they are located beyond Israel's territorial waters, which only stretch 12 nautical miles from land.
Israel's first offshore natural gas discovery, Tamar, is not slated to come online until 2013, but the defense institution fears that the platforms are already targets for terrorist attacks from Hezbollah, which receives long-range missiles from Syria. The Israeli navy does not traditionally get the lion's share of the defense budget, and top officials are worrying. As one anonymous senior Israeli military planner told Reuters, "We will do our best, but not without a major boost to our capabilities." In May, senior naval officer Capt. Sassi Hodeda told the Los Angeles Times that the navy wants to improve its radar systems and use unmanned surface vehicles to patrol, but added that they require "special technology" the navy does not have.
If the navy does receive the extra funding, the vessels it purchases "will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles." According to the Jerusalem Post, the options include designing the ships in the U.S. using foreign military aid, and building them in South Korea, but if Israel is really looking for international help, maybe it should consider ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty first.
Although the Arab Spring hasn't won Israel many friends in the Middle East, Haaretz reported yesterday that its navy "recently strengthened its cooperation with the Lebanese Navy in the Mediterranean." The partnership, Israel hopes, will prevent provocations in the form of possible pro-Palestinian flotillas to Gaza on May 15, or Nakba Day, which commemorates "the displacement of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and on Naksa Day, which takes place in June and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians after the 1967 war."
It's no surprise that Israel would turn to regional multilateralism in order to avoid a repeat of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, "pro-Palestinian activists from Sweden [have] announced their intent to organize another Gaza flotilla this year, saying they have already bought the ship."
Whether this friendly strategic cooperation will last, though, is an entirely different question. Israel and Lebanon may soon be engaged in nasty disputes over natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, which as Robin M. Mills reported for FP last year "spans not only Israel's offshore but also that of Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria." In 2009, U.S. exploration company Noble Energy found Tamar, a deepwater field that holds 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. Noble discovered Leviathan, which has an aerial area of 125 square miles and contains a potential 20 Tcf, in early 2010. As Mills noted, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the entire basin "could contain 120 Tcf of gas, equivalent to almost half of U.S. reserves."
With Tamar set to come online in April 2013, and Leviathan expected to begin production by 2016, what is for now just a dispute over maritime borders could soon turn into a regional conflict over natural gas.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has an interesting definition of the word "provocative." After meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the U.N. this week, Lavrov commented on March 14 that the recent resumption of U.S.-Georgia military exercises "seems somewhat provocative."
This might make sense if only Russia wasn't organizing military exercises of its own in the Caucasus. In December 2011, Russia announced a new strategic command-and-staff exercise, "Caucasus 2012," to take place in September 2012. The purpose is to prepare for a possible Israeli attack on Iran (and the potential repercussions in the Caucasus region). The exercises are to involve all areas of the armed forces, and will take place not only in the Russian territories of the North Caucasus, but also in neighboring Armenia, as well as the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (over which the 2008 war was fought).
It also conveniently occurs right before the scheduled parliamentary elections in Georgia for October 2012. The Georgian Foreign Ministry is obviously skeptical of these "military exercises" on its borders, claiming Russia is "seeking to instigate a permanent state of tension" in the region.
Then again, Russian foreign affairs rhetoric isn't exactly known for its consistency. Last year, during the NATO decision-making to provide the Libyan rebels with military assistance against Qadaffi, Russia's NATO ambassador Dimitri Rogozin commented that creating a no-fly zone over Libyan air space was "a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country." Similar words came from Putin himself, who described the NATO mission as a "medieval call for a crusade ... [that] allows intervention in a sovereign state."
Ah, Putin condemning foreign military intervention
in a sovereign state. How quickly he forgot his intentions
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
The new secretary of defense -- on the job for just 11 days -- expressed frustration with Iraqi leaders, who have yet to tell the United States what their position is about keeping American troops there past the expiration of the current Status of Forces Agreement. All U.S. troops are supposed to leave by the end of this year, under the terms of the 2008 deal. Washington has indicated it would be willing to negotiate a continued troop presence there, but Iraq must first ask it to do so.
"I'd like things to move a lot faster here, frankly, in terms of the decision-making process. I'd like them to make a decision, you know: Do they want us to stay? Don't they want us to stay? ... But damn it, make a decision," he told a gathering of troops, according to NPR.
Panetta was in Iraq today after spending two days in Afghanistan, where he met with Hamid Karzai -- his first trip to both countries as the new Pentagon chief.
The longer Iraq takes to make up its mind, however, the more costly it will be for the United States to reverse course.
Meanwhile, the United States believes that Iran is behind an increasing number of attacks against American troops in Iraq -- part of a campaign to convince it not to stay on in the country. June was the deadliest month in over two years for American troops there -- with 15 soldiers killed.
"This is really crunch time with the clock what it is and Ramadan approaching," said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "The U.S. wants a sense of whether the Iraqi political system will give approval. For the U.S. side of things, Iraq is in the rearview mirror."
Katulis told Foreign Policy the administration doesn't want to give the impression it is dictating to the Iraqis what it needs.
"There's a sense in the Obama administration that we want to help the Iraqis complete the mission of helping train the security forces," he said. "But it's all about balancing that with the sensitivities of Iraqi leaders" -- many of whom do not want U.S. troops to stay and are actively fighting to claim the mantle of the leader who forced them out.
Katulis said that quietly, behind closed doors, a range of Iraqi leaders tell U.S. officials they want troops to stick around -- given Iraq still lacks key security infrastructures like an air force or border control -- but it's hard for them to say that publicly.
Slip of the tongue?
Meanwhile, Panetta's trip made headlines for another reason -- the new defense secretary made two separate slips in comments to the press.
As defense analysts focus on escalating tensions in the South China Sea, recent events in Nepal confirm that China's geopolitical influence is growing in South Asia as well. From a report yesterday by the AP:
Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's birthday on Wednesday over concerns that gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.…
Nepal says it cannot allow protests on its soil against any friendly nations, including China.
Police guarded the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu against any protests, and areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.
Authorities earlier said they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
It's time for one of Washington favorite parlor games -- predicting what the president will say before he says it. What we know is that tomorrow President Obama will announce his plans for a troop reduction in Afghanistan. Thirty-three thousand surge troops were added in 2009, with the promise that by this summer they would begin to come home. But how many and how fast is still an open question.
Officially, the White House says the president is still "finalizing" his decision. And indeed, some of his key advisors reportedly disagree on what to do. Gen. David Petraeus-- the current Afghanistan commander who will soon take over the CIA -- and many of the generals are pushing for a pretty small initial withdrawal of no more than 3-4,000 troops. On the opposite extreme, some in the administration and outside want a far broader withdrawal. Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president's senior advisor on Afghanistan, advocates pulling 15,000 troops out by the end of the year and another 15,000 by the end of 2012, according to the New York Times. Carl Levin, the influential senator and chair of the armed services committee, backs that approach as well. Vice President Joe Biden -- who was a critic of the surge before it was cool -- reportedly wants all 30,000 surge troops gone within 12 months. Defense Secretary Bob Gates is pushing for something in the range of 5,000 troops -- a brigade -- this year and another 5,000 over the next winter, according to the Times.
Where will Obama come down?
The L.A. Times cites Pentagon and administration officials saying the reduction will be about 10,000 by the end of the year. If true, it would be a significant move by Obama. Petraeus has warned Obama that taking out that many troops that quickly "could create problems for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan" especially if other countries follow America's lead and begin withdrawing, the paper said. But a faster withdrawal decision would seem to bolster the president politically at home. A recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll found that 54 percent of the country approves of Obama's handling of the war but are growing impatient with the decade-old conflict.
The Washington Post cites administration officials saying Obama will likely remove far fewer than 10,000 -- probably in the Pentagon-approved range of 3-5,000, though the officials warned that no final decision has been made. Interestingly, according to the Post, the president had hoped to announce progress on another front at the same time as the troop withdrawal -- reconciliation talks with the Taliban. But those talks have stalled and there is political confusion over the U.S.'s partner in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, whose rhetoric has been growing more and more incendiary -- some would say unhinged -- of late.
The New York Times presents a third theory, attributed to an "official," that the president tomorrow might not give any specific withdrawal number. He might only announce a date for the final drawdown of all the surge troops sometime in 2012 -- but leave the timetable vague and rely on commanders in the field to make suggestions. This was the approach he used in Iraq. According to the Times, administration sources said the president would most likely pull out "the entire 30,000 troops by the end of 2012."
When one woman made a mistake at work, her boss called her a "stupid fucking female" and spit in her face. She was later stalked, sexually harassed, and raped. Another woman got drunk with her coworker, who was her superior, when he raped her. She spent the next two years forced to continue working with him; her work assignments were downgraded because she took medication to cope with the trauma of the ordeal. A third woman was sexually harassed by a supervisor and raped by a coworker. When she sought help from her workplace's chaplain, she was told that "it must have been God's will for her to be raped" and was recommended to attend church more often.
Where do these women work?: The U.S. military.
These are the stories of some of the plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed in an Eastern Virginia federal court yesterday against Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. The litigants are current and veteran service members, 15 women and two men, and they charge that, even twenty years after the landmark Tailhook case, the military has allowed a dangerous culture of rape and sexual abuse to proliferate. Specifically, Gates and Rumsfeld are charged with running "institutions in which perpetrators were promoted; ...in which Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subject to retaliation...and ordered to keep quiet."
Since 2005, when Congress mandated that the Defense Department create a task force on military sexual assault, other similar efforts have attempted to do something about this increasingly egregious problem. Last March, the Pentagon released the latest Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military which showed an 11 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in the military during fiscal year 2009 (equivalent to one-third of female service members reporting sexual violence). The Pentagon even says that reported incidents probably represent only 20 percent of those that actually occur.
While sexual assault in the military carries its own unique implications -- a particularly high-stress workplace environment, a traditionally male-dominated work culture, a strict mandate to follow superiors' orders, among much else -- the military is not the only workplace where women (and men) are assaulted. According to one statistic, one out of every six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And, on average, 36,500 incidents of rape and sexual assault happen annually in the workplace.
This year, that number unfortunately includes Lara Logan. The CBS news correspondent is recovering in an American hospital after being sexually assaulted and beaten by a mob in Tahrir Square last Friday. The media firestorm surrounding Logan's ordeal ranges well into the vulgar. As Jezebel points out, "media outlets are clamoring to respond -- in the most offensive way possible" detailing Logan's looks, sex life, and past experience reporting from war zones and other dangerous places, implying that she had it coming.
Today, journalist Nir Rosen (who has written for FP) resigned from his fellowship position at New York University's Center on Law and Security after some heavy backlash to his critical tweets of Logan, including "Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger." On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Debbie Sclussel, an extreme right-wing commentator, wrote that Logan "should have known what Islam is all about."
Sadly, the "Muslims did it" argument has found its way into the mainstream. Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post noted that Egypt is a place where women "are not free to pass through the street without being groped and catcalled." The Daily Beast, today, ran a piece titled "Egypt: Unsafe for Women." Even film critic Roger Ebert joined the debate, tweeting: "The attack on Lara Logan brings Middle East attitudes toward women into sad focus."
While the statistics on women's experiences in Egypt are terrible and alarming -- 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women visitors have experienced harassment -- Egyptian culture is by no means the only one where rape, sexual assault, and harassment are embedded and pervasive.
Sadly, Logan's story is not an isolated event: Not isolated to an attractive foreign reporter pursuing a story, not isolated to those 18 days in Tahrir, not isolated to broader Egyptian culture, not isolated to the experience of women in every country around the world. Yet the way this incident has been explained in popular media -- as a result of Logan's looks, her job, and the unique cultural environment in which she was working -- reduces Logan's experience into a singular, rather than societal, problem.
Perhaps the most unique thing about these cases is that they are so public. As we can see in the cases of the 17 service members suing the Pentagon, and the countless others who remain silent, sexual violence in the workplace (and everywhere else) is notable not for its rarity but for the stigma and difficulties attached with reporting it.
More than a few readers, including Salon's Glenn Greenwald, complained that I hadn't rebutted Hersh's arguments. That wasn't my intention -- I was relaying what Hersh said. I did make two editorial comments: that his speech was a "rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe" and that it "quickly went downhill" after its opening line. But I imagine that when most reasonable people read the transcript -- I don't have a video, unfortunately -- they will see what I'm talking about. As far as I know, nobody, including Hersh, is disputing my quotes.
I thought it was self-evident that several points Hersh made were off-base and conspiratorial, but perhaps it's worth spelling things out for everyone.
1. The idea that "we're gonna change mosques into cathedrals" is "an attitude that pervades … a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command." This is essentially unverifiable unless you do a survey of JSOC personnel. Good luck with that. For now, the weight of evidence suggests that JSOC is on the whole a highly competent and professional organization that has no intention of converting Muslims to Christianity around the world. If it were otherwise, I'm sure we'd be hearing about it from others besides Seymour Hersh.
2. Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, "are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.… Many of them are members of Opus Dei." McChrystal has already denied being a member of Knights of Malta; McRaven and JSOC have thus far declined to comment. But so what if they were? Everything I've seen tells me that the Knights of Malta are a public service organization, not some kind of Catholic extremist group. And Opus Dei is hardly the secretive cabal of ruthless assassins depicted in The Da Vinci Code. It has a Facebook page.
3. "They do see what they're doing -- and this is not an atypical attitude among some military -- it's a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They're protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function." I have no doubt that many in the U.S. military are religious, and yes, I've heard about Jerry Boykin, Erik Prince, and those rifle scopes. But the plural of anecdote is not data -- and acknowledging there are devout Christians in the military and implying that top military leaders are embarking on a "crusade" against Muslims are two very different things. "Zealotry is viewed as being unprofessional [in the SF community]," former Special Forces officer Kalev Sepp told Stars and Stripes. "Anyone who professes religion in an open way like that is suspect to where their real loyalties lie." (Do I really need to explain this?)
4. "They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins.… They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war." I believe Hersh is referring here to challenge coins, a common sight across the U.S. military. They seem pretty innocuous to me.
There's a lot more, but you get the idea. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and just say it: Odds are good that JSOC is not being overrun by Catholic fanatics.
Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.
In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:
There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.
This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:
The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.
An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.
I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:
It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?
Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
As the debate over "don't ask, don't tell" rages on in the United States, it seems Turkey is also facing its own domestic dilemma over military participation.
While gays are barred from military service in Turkey, the armed forces allegedly are "asking for 'photographic' proof that people seeking an exemption from compulsory military service on the grounds of their homosexuality are actually gay," Hurriyet reports.
The practice is not official, and the military has firmly denied the claims but there have been consistent accusations from Turks who were allegedly subject to the practice, and the 2009 European Union progress report also cited concerns over the issue.
Turkey's dilemma is not so much "don't ask, don't tell," -- it's more over "show and tell."
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
In a move aimed at punishing potentially naughty
citizens, the government of Tajikistan is trying to get its students studying
abroad at religious schools to return
home. Fearing a politically and religiously coupled radicalization against
its authority, the Tajik state stepped up the conflict by blocking websites
supposedly critical of the government and armed forces. AFP reports that the blockage:
comes after Tajik Defence Minister General Sherali Khairullayev accused local media at the start of the month of supporting the Islamist militants.
He said that journalists' coverage had been one-sided and focused solely on alleged shortcomings of the armed forces. 'They do not ask who has carried out a[n] act of terror, on whose orders,' he complained.
The broad backlash follows a series of attacks carried out inside this Central Asian state by what the government suspects are radicalized Muslim elements. In recent weeks, scores of government soldiers have died, some in unclear circumstances, but clearly linked to fighting operations in the particularly volatile Rasht region of Tajikistan.
Apparently, the state does not want to slide back into a repeat of civil war which ravished the country during the 90's and pitted the current government, backed by Russia, against a more diverse opposition of Muslim fighters and non-religiously affiliated resistance, at least partly based in Afghanistan at the time.
While there have been reforms in the country allowing political opposition, there are still problems with the political will and administration in carrying them out; thus the recent chaos reflects what seems like a still non-placated opposition which stems, in part, from the authoritarian and non-inclusive tendencies of the current government.
For the poorest of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, the prospect of armed conflict is a tremendous expense -- both economically and politically -- that Tajikistan truly cannot afford and would be a setback to any nascent post-war progress that may have been acheived.
Barack Obama's White House aides have been furiously spinning Bob Woodward's new book as one that paints a positive image of the president, a wartime leader making touch decisions in the interest of the American people.
Some may see that image in Woodward's first of three adaptations of the book, published in today's Washington Post. But once could also see a president who doesn't trust his military advisors and treats them a little bit like the help. Consider this anecdote about the Afghan strategy review:
He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out. His top three military advisers were unrelenting advocates for 40,000 more troops and an expanded mission that seemed to have no clear end. When his national security team gathered in the White House Situation Room on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2009, for its eighth strategy review session, the president erupted.
"So what's my option? You have given me one option," Obama said, directly challenging the military leadership at the table, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command.
"We were going to meet here today to talk about three options," Obama said sternly. "You agreed to go back and work those up."
Mullen protested. "I think what we've tried to do here is present a range of options."
Obama begged to differ. Two weren't even close to feasible, they all had acknowledged; the other two were variations on the 40,000.
Silence descended on the room. Finally, Mullen said, "Well, yes, sir."
Later on, we find Obama telling Gates that 30,000 more troops was his final answer:
"I've got a request for 4,500 enablers sitting on my desk," Gates said. "And I'd like to have another 10 percent that I can send in, enablers or forces, if I need them."
"Bob," Obama said, "30,000 plus 4,500 plus 10 percent of 30,000 is" - he had already done the math - "37,500." Sounding like an auctioneer, he added, "I'm at 30,000."
Obama had never been quite so definitive or abrupt with Gates.
"I will give you some latitude within your 10 percentage points," Obama said, but under exceptional circumstances only.
"Can you support this?" Obama asked Gates. "Because if the answer is no, I understand it and I'll be happy to just authorize another 10,000 troops, and we can continue to go as we are and train the Afghan national force and just hope for the best."
"Hope for the best." The condescending words hung in the air.
So which is it? Tough commander in chief or insecure armchair general? I suspect this will be a question for history to answer.
With Iraq and Afghanistan increasingly revealing the new realities of war, ProPublica yesterday reported a hitherto unprecedented fact: between January and June, more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the first time in history that corporations have lost more personnel on the battlefields than the military.
The nonprofit investigative reporting group analyzed U.S. Department of Labor data and revealed that more than 250 contracted civilians died during the first six months of 2010, compared to 235 soldiers during the same period.
According to ProPublica, this startling statistic reflects the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Iraq and "the central role of contractors in providing logistics support to local armies and police forces"-roles that used to be performed by soldiers. The privatization of warfare means that its contractors-often local civilians or workers hired from developing countries-deliver fuel, provide food, clean kitchens, and give protection to U.S. outposts. ProPublica's report noted that there are currently 150,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, while, as of March 2010, there were over 200,000 private contractors (although that number is believed to be smaller today).
Steven Schooner, a professor of government contracting at George Washington University Law School, told ProPublica that a reduction in military deaths doesn't necessarily mean that battlefield losses are in decline:
"It's extremely likely that a generation ago, each one of these contractors deaths would have been a military death," Schooner said. "As troop deaths have fallen, contractor deaths have risen. It's not a pretty picture."
See ProPublica's Disposable Army series for more coverage on civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
Bob Woodward's new book about Barack Obama's presidency promises to create enormous headaches for a White House that's already reeling from a weak economic recovery and a surging Republican opposition, judging by accounts in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The accounts paint a portrait of a president sharply at odds with the military and deeply ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan. And they rip the veneer off an administration that had hitherto been known for its tight message discipline and a relative lack of infighting.
If you thought the Rolling Stone article that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal fired was damning, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Get a load of some of these nuggets:
The most explosive revelations, however, center around the Obama's decision last year to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but set a controversial July 2011 timeline for beginning to withdraw -- an awkward compromise that Woodward's sources seem eager to portray as very much the president's own. And Bob's got the goods: Obama, who comes across as deeply skeptical about the war and overwhelmingly concerned with finding an "exit strategy" rather than winning, personally dictated a six-page "terms sheet" outlining the conditions under which he was sending the troops. Woodward describes a tense Nov. 29, 2009, meeting where the president demanded that each participant read it and raise any objections "now." According to the Post, "The document -- a copy of which is reprinted in the book -- took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy's objectives, what the military was not supposed to do."
As Woodward describes it, the memo represented Obama's attempt to keep the military from boxing him in and pushing to escalate the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (a storyline we've heard before, though with fewer details). At one point, Woodward says, Obama told military leaders, "In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, 'We're doing fine, Mr. President, but we'd be better if we just do more.' We're not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] ... unless we're talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011." It's not clear just who's boxing in whom at the moment, though. The Post remarks on the irony that Petraeus has been tasked with implementing a strategy with which he clearly does not fully agree, but the general has been pretty savvy about thus far about establishing that the withdrawals will be "conditions-based."
Obama told Gates and Clinton at another meeting that he didn't want to stay in Afghanistan for a decade: "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars." He also made a similar remark to Lindsey Graham, telling the South Carolina senator, "I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party."
Republicans are going to have a field day with this one.
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:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
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.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
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.
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images
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."
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