After several months of opposition protests, now, Madagascar president Marc Ravalomanana has been forced to camp outside of the capital while tanks and gunmen break into his presidential compound. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina has proclaimed himself leader, having appointed prime ministers and a cabinet. And he has called for the current president's arrest with the apparent support of at least part of the army.
Rajoelina claims all this is not a coup d'etat, but... can he suggest a better name?
Desperate to improve things, President Ravalomana offered to call an election over the weekend -- letting the voters decide who is really in change. Rajoelina, however, looks in no mood to negotiate. This wave of popular support is probably the best shot he has at power, and the opposition is keen to ride it to its fullest. African Union and United Nations calls for calm are falling on deaf ears.
What next? A worst case scenario will see a coup -- and one that promises to be bloody. On top of the 100 already killed in protests, more would certainly fall victim to the president's toppling. Ravalomanana supporters are gathering sticks and makeship weapons to defend his final stand outside the city.
The worse case could also see the exit of some of Madagascar's recent international investors -- mining companies and Korean giant Daewoo. Now is not the best time to be losing foreign cash, as developing countries are expected to see a $700 billion shortfall in the financial crisis. But somehow, I doubt all that is on Rajoelina's mind. He has a different kind of capital control to worry about.
In a press release, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice announce the withdrawal of the "enemy combatant" definition of Gitmo detainees. The memo says that, under President Obama's orders, the department is reviewing detention policy:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
The memo states that the government will no longer detain combatants who provided "insignificant or insubstantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban. (The Bush administration came under fierce criticism for holding persons with little or no connection to the terrorist organizations.) More than 200 remain incarcerated at Camp Delta; it's unclear if any -- or how many -- will be released under the new legal standards.
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Keeping up their reputation for packing the latest and greatest high-tech pirate-fighting gear, U.S. forces and their European allies are sprearheading a computer-based coordination system meant to allign the efforts of an entire coalition of navies working in the region. Instant messages (not all that different from your Gchat dispatches) convey the positions of pirate-fighting ships, reports of incidents and threats, and incoming intelligence. So popular are the coordination systems that even Chinese and independent and vessels are signing on.
Something the coalition is doing seems to be working; pirates' boat seizures have fallen noticeably from their peak last fall. Still, the anti-piracy push is not out of the woods. Bad weather so far this year is one explanation for the slowdown, the AP reports. Asian countries seem to recognize this and have dug in their heels. Japan sent its first vessels this week, and China announced that its 800-soldier anti-piracy mission was in for the long haul.
Of course, real military success on the high seas will depend heavily on the situation on land in Somalia. No instant gratification there (or instant messaging for that matter), but as FP found out in Seven Questions this week, at least there's a squint of hope...
In the long meantime, the Navy will be online.
The Obama administration may actually dodge a battle over that Air Force refueling tanker controversy that former Undersecretary of Defense Jacques Gansler weighed in on for FP by simply not buying it at all. Of course, this is going to set off an even bigger battle with congress. CQ's Josh Rogin reports:
The White House has given the Pentagon guidance to delay procurement of aerial refueling tankers by five years and cancel plans for a new long-range bomber, according to three sources close to the discussions. [...]
If OMB’s recommendations are enacted, the largest battle in Congress will be over the Air Force’s contract for a new fleet of midair refueling tankers, which the Pentagon delayed last September following a protest backed by the Government Accountability Office.
The competition, which ultimately will be worth as much as $100 billion, has pitted Boeing Co. against a consortium of Northrop Grumman Corp. and the North American arm of the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co.
Lawmakers from states representing both companies reacted with dismay to the prospect that the tanker competition could be delayed again, especially for five years.
Sen. Jeff Sessions , R-Ala., said Congress would fight back against a delay in the tanker contract if it is submitted in the formal budget request. The Northrop Grumman contender for the contract would be assembled largely in his state.
“For a group who has been in the OMB for just a matter of weeks to come in and suggest the cancellation of the No. 1 Air Force priority for procurement is stunning, and I don’t think Congress will accept that,” Sessions said.
Sen. Sam Brownback , R-Kan., whose state would benefit if Boeing won the contract, called the OMB guidance “deeply disturbing
I'm not enough of an expert to know how much the Air Force actually needs this tanker (and they seem pretty unlikely to give a straight answer on budget questions) but I do wish the U.S. had a procurement strategy aimed at getting the military the best equipment for the best price rather than getting congressmen reelected.
(Hat tip: Danger Room)
Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviewed the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. Her first question: Should her job even exist, or should the 22 federal agencies and 200,000 employees under the D.H.S. banner disaggregate?
Napolitano, the former governor of border-state Arizona, didn't get defensive at Maddow's question, she just calmly explained her plans for the agency. Surprisingly her top priority seems to be Mexico.
Sounding sensibly hawkish, Napolitano stressed the importance of federal agencies working together to systematically to stop the flow of guns and money south and give Mexican authorities the shot in the arm they desperately need.
What's so weird about this? Two things.
First, Janet Napolitano is the secretary of homeland security, not defense or state. But rather than ineptly responding to natural disasters and taking a lot of flak for airport lines, Napolitano has taken leadership over the U.S. response to the burgenoning crisis, which may include sending troops across the border. She's acted as point-person for local politicians and leadership from the White House, State, Defense, and the Attorney General's office. Texas Governor Rick Perry turned to her to ask for a thousand more troops.
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
One European company seems to be surviving the global economic downturn just fine. EADS, the pan-European aerospace conglomerate best known as the parent company of Airbus, has recovered from a dismal 2007 to record a $2 billion profit in 2008.
Travis Sharp's new piece for FP, might offer a hint for why things are looking up for EADS. While the world's economy contracts, countries everywhere are investing in expensive military systems like those built by EADS:
Despite its overwhelming dominance in overall spending, the United States did not have the fastest growing defense budget in the world between 2005 and 2007, the most recent period for which an accurate assessment is possible. That distinction belongs to Kazakhstan, which saw its defense budget increase by 84 percent. Other countries with booming budgets during this period included Angola (80 percent), Ukraine (57 percent), Jordan (57 percent), and Slovakia (55 percent). The United States, China, and Russia had more modest growth rates of 17 percent, 27 percent, and 33 percent, respectively.
But EADS's good times may not last forever, particularly if U.S. Democrats enact "Buy American" policies to limit the amount of equipment the U.S. military buys from overseas. The main flashpoint for this debate is an Air Force refueling tanker contract that Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing have been fighting over for years with Congress acting as an increasingly incompetent referee. Former Undersecretary of Defense Jacques Gansler believes military protectionism is bad for dense and ultimately bad for the economy:
The Defense Department is not a social welfare organization, and its sole responsibility is to supply U.S. war fighters with the best equipment at the best price. Luckily, though, these two goals aren't mutually exclusive: Military globalization is in fact a blessing for Americans.
The United States is still the world's largest military customer, and it's in the interest of international weapons manufacturers to do business where the buyers are. In the past decade, a number of major international firms have set up shop in the United States. In fact, the Northrop deal would have created tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
The day's biggest news story is undoutedly the New York Times's bombshell about Barack Obama's planned grand bargain on missile defense and Iran with Russia. But the other Times reports an interesting development on missile defense in that other nuclear flashpoint, North Korea.
In a move that could have strategic implications for the whole northeast Asian region, the Japanese Government plans to dispatch naval destroyers equipped with anti-missile systems to the seas off North Korea, as the isolated dictatorship continues preparations for the launch of a rocket.
As long as the weapon passes through the atmosphere far above Japan, as seems to be the intention, the system will probably not be fired. But if the rocket malfunctions and threatens any of its islands, then Japan will become the first nation to use a long-range missile defence system in anger. [...]
If Japan tries and fails to take out a North Korean rocket, it will be an international humiliation and a crushing blow to the expensive missile defence programme, which is already expected to surpass its estimated cost of as much as $8.9 billion (£63 billion) by 2012. If it succeeds, it will rattle China, which already fears that the combined US-Japan missile defence effort will undermine its own limited nuclear deterrent.
It's likely that the system won't actually be deployed, but a real-world demonstration of a long-range anti-missile system would have implications for the missile defense debate in the United States as well.
It would be a lot harder for the Obama administration to continue to use the "effectiveness dodge" -- the argument that missile-defense systems should not be deployed because they cannot be proven effective -- if the Japanese are able to successfully shoot down a North Korean missile. On the other had, if the interceptors were to miss and Japan was embarrassed, it would actually make Obama's grand bargain a lot easier to pull off.
Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency
This morning, Erik Prince, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Blackwater stepped down. A former Navy SEAL and heir to a multi-million dollar auto-parts fortune, Prince was the brains behind and public face of the company, which garnered a billion dollars' worth of government contracts between 2001 and 2008.
But, the company's fortunes have changed with the administration. Five of its former employees are currently on trial for manslaughter, for killing unarmed civilians. This year, Iraq ousted Blackwater and it lost a State Department contract worth a third of its revenue.
Prince's resignation comes as part of a "comprehensive restructuring," initiated last month. Blackwater fired a number of employees, and announced it would no longer seek U.S. security contracts, instead focusing on training law enforcement officials and security guards in its facilities across the world. It also rebranded itself "Xe," pronounced "zee." (The firm provided no explanation for the name, the symbol for the noble gas Xenon.)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, responded:
"This is the second time Blackwater has tried to change its image by rebranding itself. No matter what it calls itself, Blackwater can't change the fact that its lethal actions have resulted in the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians. The company's reckless actions have also put our troops in harm's way and jeopardized our mission in Iraq. I'm glad that the State Department under Secretary of State Clinton has decided not to renew Blackwater's contract in Iraq. Blackwater's notorious reputation will outlast its name."
Maybe a new jingle?
Scott Olson/Getty Images
If, as is looking more likely, the Obama administration moves to delay or cancel the deployment of a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, one possible diplomatic downside could be the effect on U.S. relations with Poland and the Czech Republic, the two countries that signed agreements with the Bush administrations to host parts of the shield. On a visit to Washington, Poland's Foreign Minister seemed to give Obama a bit of an out on this issue:
“What we would like to be honored is what went along with” the missile-defense system, [Radoslaw] Sikorski, 46, said in an interview yesterday during a visit to Washington that included a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We paid quite a political price for the agreement, both in terms of internal politics and in our relations with Russia.”
State Department political director William Burns has also indicated that missile defense might be one area where the administration is willing to compromise with Russia and will certainly be on the agenda when Hillary Clinton meets her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov next week. The administration might feel a more productive relationship with Russia is worth some damage to its image in Eastern Europe, but it would be nice if they didn't have to make the choice.
DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images
In President Obama's speech on Tuesday, he pledged to "reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use." Could this have been a reference to the planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe, on which Obama's views are not exactly clear?
Congressional Democrats, at least, do seem to be taking aim at the system. California Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee is a critic of long-range missile defense, calling for a focus on short- and medium-range defense which have been more rigorously tested:
"Given the need to fund other high priority defense programs, reductions to the missile defense programs may be required."
Tauscher's subcomittee held a hearing yesterday in which Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, explained that his agency was conducting a review of existing missile defense systems in order to "identify limitations."
The decision may be out of his hands. With Obama looking to contain costs, the Pentagon has drawn up a list of expensive weapons programs for possible cuts. MDA is on the list along with the Air force's massively expensive F-22 fighter and new destroyers for the Navy. Details on which programs will be cut won't be released until March or April but it's rumored that missile defense will be cut by around $2 billion.
Some defense analysts see the end of an era:
"There are clear signs that US defense spending peaked in 2008 and that it will be gradually declining over the next four years as the United States reduces its presence in Iraq," Thompson told AFP.
Joseph Cirincione made a persuasive case for cutting missile defense in the May/June 2008 issue of FP.
Over a month since the United States launched its own counter-piracy effort, details of the operations are emerging. The U.S. coalition is deploying technological and legal creativity to get the job done.
The first tactic: drones. After a report surfaced last week that U.S. unmanned aircraft vehicles were watching the Somali skies, I wrote to Navy Lt. Nate Christensen, who replied: "I can confirm that UAVs are being used aboard U.S. Navy ships to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. They bring the ability to stay airborne for long periods and cover hundreds of square miles of ocean during the course of one mission." The resulting intelligence is shared among allies. A good start to tackling the surveillance conundrum of patrolling miles and miles of high seas.
Perhaps even more interesting, the U.S. is now detaining and holding pirates -- there are 16 in custody now. As Derek Reveron pointed out in "Think Again: Pirates," that's no small feat. Most countries have been nervous about touching the pirates, let alone keeping them in custody. Britain, for example, instructed its patrols not to pick up any of them. There is no mandated court to try the offenders, and many fear that amnesty requests would be the result of naval arrest. No such fears plague the U.S. Navy, apparently. "They will remain aboard Lewis and Clark until information and evidence is assembled and evaluated and a decision is made regarding their further transfer," reads a military press release.
Good effort, team, but it looks like the pirates haven't lost their edge yet. A coal carrier was taken hostage today, just one of the 24 attacks so far in 2009. (Navies have stopped nine others). At that rate, this year would bring in about 100 less attacks than last. Alas!
Photo: U.S. Navy
With Kyrgyzstan taking another step toward shuttering the Manas air base, there's increasing speculation that the Obama administration is considering resuming military cooperation with Uzbekistan, which expelled the U.S. in 2005 in the midst of a diplomatic feud over the country's human rights record. Christopher Flavelle writes in Slate:
The shifting landscape around Afghanistan is closing off options for Obama, who must now begin to think about unsavory compromises if he wants to make progress in the Afghan campaign. [...]
President George W. Bush, though largely indifferent to public opinion, could afford to do the honorable thing in 2005 by walking away from an ugly regime in Uzbekistan, when Afghanistan was looking better and the base in Kyrgyzstan was still available. Obama, whose inauguration speech promised that the ideals of rule of law and rights of man "still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake," may have to let his image suffer because he lacks the options of his predecessor.
Obama may still be spared this unpleasant choice. Analysts tell Eurasianet the Kyrgyz move is likely a ploy to get Washington to pony up more cash for the base, though some recent statements from the U.S. military indicate that Kyrgyzstan may have overplayed its hand.
Hopefully the Uzbekistan option is being floated by the Obamans as a bargaining chip with Kyrgyzstan and won't actually come to pass. Kyrgyzstan's not exactly Canada but Uzbekistan is in a class of its own as a human rights abuser and Fred Kaplan's 2005 arguments for why the U.S. should steer well clear of the place still hold.
Given all his encouraging human rights rhetoric, it would be nice if Obama could just minimize his dealings with post-Soviet dictatorships. Besides, his campaign manager and his secretary of state's husband have them well covered.
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images
In a time of high tension, someone preemptively smashes spy satellites in low-earth orbits, creating tens of thousands of metal chunks and shards. Debris-tracking systems are overwhelmed, and low-earth orbits become so cluttered with metal that new satellites cannot be safely launched. Satellites already in orbit die of old age or are killed by debris strikes.
The global economy, which is greatly dependent on a variety of assets in space, collapses. The countries of the world head back to a 1950s-style way of life, but there are billions more people on the planet than in the 50s. That's a recipe for malnutrition, starvation, and wars for resources.
In an e-mail exchange with FP, the Center for Defense Information's Theresa Hitchens explained why she also sees the crash as evdience that regulation for the use of space is badly needed:
It is both an "we told you so" moment, and an opportunity to make some policy changes. Industry and many experts have been saying for years that usable space was getting crowded, and that the possibility of serious collisions was growing. Thus, the growing clamor for space traffic management from many in the business; and the interest even among the telecommunications industry in developing more formal processes (although not regulation, as many of us believe necessary) for orbital data exchange and collision avoidance procedures. Obviously, the time has come and passed for these things to take shape.
On the policy opportunity end, it can only be hoped that this disaster will focus the minds of policy-makers on the need to find better ways to ensure the future security and sustainability of space. This also highlights the question regarding national and international security. Imagine if these two satellites were owned by national governments who were on the brink of war. Don't you think one government might be blaming the other for "deliberately" causing the crash? Could a space accident cause a war on Earth? The likely answer is yes.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote enthusiastically about the tri-government military operation that Uganda, Congo, and Southern Sudan were undertaking to root out the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Unfortunately, since then, things haven't been going well. The LRA managed to survive the initial military onslaught, and went on to massacre as many as 900 civilians since the military offensive began in mid-December. Joseph Kony, the group's notorious leader, is still alive and well. (While the LRA's deputy commander is set to surrender soon, it was Kony's death or capture that was the main point of the endeavor.)
Yet, just when this military venture was about to fizzle out with its primary objective still not met, an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the New York Times, has now thrown the operation back into the spotlight. On Feb. 7, the Times reported that the United States, through the Pentagon's newly minted Africa Command (or Africom), was heavily involved in the planning of the operation -- supplying intelligence, supplies, and more than a million dollars in fuel aid. According to the Times:
The Ugandan government asked the American Embassy in Kampala, Uganda's capital, for help, and the request was sent up the chain of command in November to President Bush, who personally authorized it, a former senior Bush administration official said."
Given the number of civilian massacres that have occurred since the start of the operation -- massacres that happened because no one adequately secured the villages in the area -- this could potentially be embarrassing for Africom and the Pentagon.
I asked Vince Crawley, chief of public information at Africom, to comment on the claims made by the New York Times. He responded by emphasizing that the United States was involved only in an advisory capacity and that "this wasn't a U.S. plan that Uganda carried out. It was a Ugandan plan that would have taken place regardless of U.S. assistance." With regard to the securing of villages in the area, Crawley said,
There was dialogue on how to protect the areas. There was discussion. Again, it's not a U.S. operation. ... Fundamentally, it's not appropriate for us to comment on the strategies and tactics of other nations. That's not what partners do."
Even with U.S. help, the LRA won't be easy to stamp out. Check out our new list of five other rebel groups around the world that have demonstrated remarkable staying power.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
"Predictable" is pretty much the last adjective I would pick for Somalia. But here's something that we might have seen coming: after pulling out last month, witnesses now report that Ethiopian troops are back in Somalia.
When it comes to Somalia, Ethiopia just can't seem to get enough. The countries have fought border wars for decades. In 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union government took control of Somalia, Ethiopian troops started slipping over the border -- much as they are reported to have done today. A few months later, they invaded. So though the troops are out again, have no illusions that Ethiopia will yield its Somali influence so quickly.
That should make things nice and awkward in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where Somalia's newly elected President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed got a standing ovation at the African Union conference. You see, Ethiopia ousted Ahmed, who was president back in 2006.
Now, Ahmed has promised to reconcile with his neighbors. But he'll have to do the opposite to win respect for his government in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops are reviled as occupiers. Al Shabaab, (shown above) the Islamist radical group that Ahmed will need desperately to rein in, has more than once vowed to wage jihad on Addis Ababa. Here's where it gets unpredictable.
ABDIRASHID ABDULLE/AFP/Getty Images
In case you missed the game last night, Gen. David Petraeus's coin toss was a great bit of theater, and very much in keeping with the Super Bowl's overall last days of the Roman Empire vibe.
As one guest at the party I attended observed, it must be nice for him to be involved in a conflict where you know one side is eventually going to win.
Check out FP Executive Editor Susan Glasser's interview with Petraeus here.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Russian officials may be walking back a bit on earlier hints that they were suspending the deployment of missiles to the Kaliningrad region in response to Barack Obama's more conciliatory tone. Voice of America is reporting that senior Russian military officials have called the reports "premature":
They said Russia has not taken any practical steps to deploy the short-range Iskander missiles and therefore one can not speak of a suspension.
The earlier reports stated the Russia had made its decision after a phone call between Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in which the U.S. president promised to reexamine the U.S. missile shield program on its merits.
Previous statements indicate that Obama isn't a big fan of missile defense, but it would be hard for him to scrap the program entirely without looking weak and angering the Czech Republic and Poland, who have signed treaties to host the system.
The two leaders will likely discuss the issue in person at the G20 summit in April, but an unspoken arrangement in which the U.S. is in no particulary hurry to set up the shield and Russia is no particular hurry to set up its missiles without any options being taken off the table, might be the best conceivable outcome.
Photo: DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
Laurent Nkunda's arrest isn't the only recent major development in central Africa. Beginning in mid-December, the governments of Uganda, Congo, and Southern Sudan began a significant joint military operation to root out the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), an insurgent group out of northern Uganda whose leaders have outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court.
The LRA has a tumultuous 20-year history of not just destabilizing northern Uganda (which currently has about 1.5 million citizens in camps for internally displaced persons because of the group's activity), but also destabilizing southern Sudan, eastern Congo, and the Central African Republic. In the past few days alone, new reports of LRA attacks have trickled out of Southern Sudan, where some members of the group fled after their Congolese hideout was bombed by the tri-government military venture.
What is striking about this military operation -- which, so far, has failed to kill the group's notorious leader, Joseph Kony -- was the regional approach that the three countries took, especially in an area that's not exactly known for its international cooperation (particularly in the aftermath of the Congo War). True, Uganda's army and air force supplied the bulk of the manpower, but even the modest involvement of the Congolese and Southern Sudanese armies at the periphery of the operation is a step in the right direction. While the outcome of the current military operation is still not clear, greater regional coordination almost certainly holds promise for future efforts -- both military and diplomatic -- between the three conflict-rife states.
Over the next weeks and months, anyone who is interested in a political resolution to the crisis in Darfur would do well to pay attention to the actions of the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan with regard to the LRA and other rebel groups in the region. Much has been made of the connections between the LRA and Khartoum, which covertly funded the the group's terrorist activity in southern Sudan during the country's most recent civil war. Indeed, whether this new regionalism will bear tangible fruit, only time will tell.
Meanwhile, the region's stability and the lives of possibly thousands of people hang in the blance.
Over at Abu Muqawama, a fashionable blog hangout for the COIN set, host Andrew Exum and his commenters dissect Col. Gian Gentile's recent article for ForeignPolicy.com, "Think Again: Counterinsurgency."
Exum takes issue with Gentile's argument that the U.S. Army has moved too far away from its traditional focus on warfighting:
You have got to be kidding me. Just look at the budget and where the money is being spent. Governing is budgeting. From the limited perspective of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could see where Gian might be able to argue that we have embraced COIN whole-heartedly. (As well we should have, as those are counter-insurgency campaigns.) But there are two other services in the U.S. military against whom the U.S. Army and Marine Corps compete for budget share. And the Congress, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the defense contractors, the defense industry, and many within the uniformed officer corps of all services have interests in keeping the U.S. military focused on conventional warfare -- and the big, expensive, job-producing weapons systems needed to fight conventional warfare.
And Gentile fires back:
You know, I sit down at my little desk in my quarters along the banks of the Hudson opening up my WP Atlas Map Series to prep for my class on World War I and the eastern front, and BAM!! Brother AM throwing HEAT at me. OK, game-on, Let's see if I can hit the f...ing bull!
Read the whole thing, as they say.
When Michael "Scott" Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet was shot down over Baghdad in the wee hours of America's first war in Iraq, on Jan. 17, 1991, no one imagined that the story of his disappearance would end in a Washington, DC, boardroom. Fortunately, it hasn't.
The Navy pilot, father of two, and native of my own Jacksonville, Florida, was the first American lost in the first Gulf War. The night his plane crashed, the Pentagon and then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney declared him killed in action. It was a decision that Speicher's family and friends have fought for years. Because his remains were never found, many experts have been led to believe that he was captured, not killed, that fateful night. Evidence surfaced--including his initials scratched into an Iraqi prison wall--that forced the Defense Department in 2001 to declare him "Missing in Action" instead. When the more recent U.S. war and takeover of Iraq failed to explain definitively what happened to Speicher, the Pentagon prepared to close the case. His family vehemently opposed that move.
Last week, the ongoing saga over his whereabouts took a dramatic turn, when a Naval review board decided that Speicher's case should remain open and more evidence should be collected. Now, the decision will be left up to the secretary of the Navy, who will have the final decision on the case before he leaves office in less than a month.
It's an interesting case for many reasons, most important of which is that it could serve as a test case on how not to handle the recovery of missing military members during and after a time of war. We here at Passport will be watching.
Photo: Getty Images
As my colleague Laura Rozen just reported on The Cable, Jeh Johnson is Obama's pick for DoD general counsel. It's a fantastic choice. I worked for Jeh when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the New York City Bar Association, and found him to be nothing less than brilliant, incredibly fair, and an all-around nice guy.
Johnson brings a long resume to the job. He spent three years as federal prosecutor, was general counsel for the Air Force under Clinton, and was the first black partner at New York firm Paul, Weiss. He was also special counsel to John Kerry's campaign in 2004 and served as an advisor and fundraiser to Obama from beginning of Obama's run.
Johnson "is an exceptional legal mind," says one former Pentagon intelligence official in an e-mail. Congrats to Johnson. This is a great pick from the transition team in a week that could use a few more.
The Washington Post's Walter Pincus has an analysis of Robert Gates recent articles and media appearances. He writes:
A longtime Russia analyst during his years with the CIA, Gates today sees Moscow as less of a threat than do many inside and outside the U.S. military establishment.
Pincus is referring to statements like this one, from Gates' piece in the new Foreign Affairs:
Russian tanks and artillery may have crushed Georgia's tiny military. But before the United States begins rearming for another Cold War, it must remember that what is driving Russia is a desire to exorcise past humiliation and dominate its "near abroad" -- not an ideologically driven campaign to dominate the globe. As someone who used to prepare estimates of Soviet military strength for several presidents, I can say that Russia's conventional military, although vastly improved since its nadir in the late 1990s, remains a shadow of its Soviet predecessor. And adverse demographic trends in Russia will likely keep those conventional forces in check.
Good point, but do "many inside and outside the U.S. military establishment" really disagree with it? I find it hard to believe that even those who think the military is neglecting conventional threats by focusing on counterinsurgency would argue that Russia today is a comparable threat to the Soviet Union.
If there actually is a real debate about this, I'm glad Gates is the one in charge. Here's hoping he and his colleagues continue the recent strategy of basically ignoring Russia's pointless military posturing and focusing their attention where real damage can be done.
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
In recent days, the number of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia has started to fall. French troops arrested eight pirates on January 1st, turning them over to the Somali government. The EU mission also saved a Greek tanker from kidnapping on January 2nd. A Danish warship sunk yet another pirate vessel after warning flares set that ship on fire (the pirates were rescued from the wreck, and remain onboard the Danish vessel). And a Chinese cargo ship flat out-maneuvered the pirates on January 2nd.
A round of applause might be in order. After a slew of hijackings last fall, the world's navies finally seemed to get serious about fighting the pirates. Previously, many countries feared that arresting pirates could lead to awkward legal proceedings and even amnesty suits by suspects claiming they could be put to death at home if extradited. All good points. But then, so are the tens of thousands of ships that pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. From the looks of it, squeamish fighters once reluctant to pick up pirates are increasingly keen to do just that. Whatever they're doing, it seems to be working.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Having bid farewell to the Green Zone last week, U.S. forces today opened the brand new Baghdad embassy, which will house "1,200 employees, including diplomats, troops and staff from 14 federal agencies."
For a detailed look at America's new digs in Iraq, it's worth revisiting architectural historian Jane Loeffler's analysis of the structure from the September/October, 2007 issue of FP, written before it was constructed:
It will be six times larger than the U.N. complex in New York and more than 10 times the size of the new U.S. Embassy being built in Beijing, which at 10 acres is America’s second-largest mission. The Baghdad compound will be entirely self-sufficient, with no need to rely on the Iraqis for services of any kind. The embassy has its own electricity plant, fresh water and sewage treatment facilities, storage warehouses, and maintenance shops. The embassy is composed of more than 20 buildings, including six apartment complexes with 619 one-bedroom units. Two office blocks will accomodate about 1,000 employees. High-ranking diplomats will enjoy well-appointed private residences. Once inside the compound, Americans will have almost no reason to leave. It will have a shopping market, food court, movie theater, beauty salon, gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts, a school, and an American Club for social gatherings. To protect it all, the embassy is reportedly surrounded by a wall at least 9 feet high—and it has its own defense force.[...]
If architecture reflects the society that creates it, the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad makes a devastating comment about America’s global outlook. Although the U.S. government regularly proclaims confidence in Iraq’s democratic future, the United States has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future. Instead, the United States has built a fortress capable of sustaining a massive, long-term presence in the face of continued violence.
Yeah, it's safe to say there's going to be a sizeable U.S. presence in Iraq for a while.
The first thing to say about the coup attempt that followed the death of Guinean President Lansana Conté is that it's something of a miracle it took 24 years. The president, who died of diabetes Monday, was hardly a beloved exemplar of democratic values. By the time of his death, even the once-loyal Army was starting to mutiny over low pay. In fact, for many West Africa watchers, Guinea's fall into chaos has only been a matter of time.
For more than two years leading up the president's death, political wrangling and unrest were the norm. General strikes in 2006 paralyzed the country. Conté refused to leave power and poverty was consuming the country. I was in Senegal at the time, and the stories we heard there were fierce: Strikes were so strictly adhered to that any passing soul on the street would be shot. There was violence between police and civilians -- as has also become the norm in times of crisis in Guinea.
In the compromise that ended those strikes, the president finally named a prime minister. There have been several in recent years, and the most recent, Ahmed Tidiane Souare, was a close Conté ally whom the International Crisis group wrote in June "puts reform at risk." Democratic legislative elections were scheduled for this month.
Instead, Guinea got a coup.
So now what? For now, the military has the reins, despite claims from Souare that he retains control. The perpetrators of the coup, calling themselves the National Council for Democracy and Development, have called a curfew and promised elections in two years. As in previous times of tension, soldiers fill the streets and much of Conakry is shut down. Companies, such as mining giant BHP, are closing offices for now. Other countries in the region are condemning the coup.
So what at first seemed like a Christmas miracle for Conakry has taken a dangerous turn for the worse.
Photo: SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
There is a crisis. People are dying. Sending peacekeepers sounds great -- they come with U.N. neutrality, a mandate (usually) to use force, and the promise to do something. Who doesn't want to help out in places like the DR Congo, Zimbabwe, and Somalia?
If only it were so easy, writes the U.S. Government Accountability Office in a report released today. Future peacekeeping missions will be plagued by complex logistics, extensive troop needs, daunting political circumstances, and a reluctance from member states to donate troops and resources.
But the report is even more jarring. One cannot help but notice that the "hypothetical" situation described in the report sounds not-so-vaguely reminiscent of Somalia, to which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested sending peacekeepers just this week.
The potential new mission’s area of operations would have limited infrastructure and utilities, lacking roads, buildings, and water, and would thus require increased logistical planning...the potential new operation would be in a high-threat environment, political factions would recently have been fighting for control of the country, and there would be large numbers of internally displaced persons...According to UN planners, a potential new force would likely require units with the capability to deter threats from armed factions supported by international terrorist groups, which previous operations did not have to take into account to the same degree.
Sound familiar? There are only few countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have that level of chaos with possible international terrorists to boot -- and Sudan already has two U.N. missions.
So what would a peacekeeping mission to Somalia look like? This "hypothetical" country would require 21,000 troops, 1,500 police, 4,000 to 5,000 civilian staff, and a costly helicopter force to supply aerial surveillance 24 hours a day. According to the report:
There are a limited number of countries that provide troops and police with needed capabilities to meet current needs, and some potential contributors may be unwilling to provide forces for a new operation due to such political factors as their own national interests and the environmental and security situation in the host country.
The U.N. is already short 18,000 troops to staff its mandated missions around the world, and is missing 22 percent of the needed civilian personnel. The GAO warns that, though there are efforts to help the U.N. close the gap, the U.S. has failed to support some incentives such as increased protection for civilian forces. And Somalia is far less appealing a locale than Liberia, Cote D'Ivoire, and maybe even Darfur.
So peacekeeping is failing -- or it might, if the world tries this particular case. Blue helmets are not one-size-fits-all countries. Hopefully Congress will read this "hypothetical" between the lines.
Photo: STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images
As I wrote on Monday, the United States is hoping to send U.N. peacekeepers into turbulent Somalia. Yesterday, a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the use of force on ground in Somalia to stop pirating passed. In a press briefing afterward, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was very cryptic in response to the final question:
QUESTION: (Inaudible) does this resolution mean that –
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: -- you can intervene militarily in Somalia?
SECRETARY RICE: We – there is a very – there is a very clear, longstanding understanding in international politics about the role of UN Security Council resolutions in this regard, and the fact that it is the Transitional Federal Government that is desirous of not having their territory used for safe haven for pirates. And so that is what has just taken place here in the Council.
Our top "story you missed" this year was that the U.S. was already boosting its troop levels and building permanent infrastructure in Afghanistan, in a manner similar to the Iraqi "surge". As we noted, though, no one had yet taken steps to engage local militias and former insurgents, a key component of counterinsurgency strategy. That may now be changing:
The U.S. military will soon launch a pilot program to raise local militias, paid by the Pentagon, in an effort to improve security throughout the country. [...]
The new program in Afghanistan, tentatively dubbed the Afghanistan Social Outreach Program, has a number of backers. Two weeks ago, it was approved by President Karzai, with the endorsement of the ministers of interior and defense. "There is common agreement among the Afghan leadership, people, and international forces that there needs to be a bottom-up approach to security and progress in this country, as well as a top-down central government approach," says Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
As in Iraq, the Afghan forces would be on the U.S. payroll, which officials hope will also entice some former insurgents to work with NATO forces. "We bring money so we can hire young men to be the first line of defense" in small towns throughout Afghanistan, says a senior U.S. military official in Kabul. "We wouldn't be surprised if some of them used to be insurgents. We figure this is a way to crack the nut."
The two tribal situations couldn't be more different, so I wouldn't get too optimistic about Gates and Petraeus pulling another one out of the hat. But it's another sign that Obama might have a head start on his Afghanistan strategy.
(Hat tip: Small Wars Journal)
Photo: DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
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