Foxtrot Golf Whisky ?

October 9, 2013

The Decline and Fall of National Security

Two unlikely sets of institutions are playing key roles in the decline of American foreign policy effectiveness: Intelligence agencies and military commands. The CIA and DOD, agencies that were heretofore above politics have lost their objective moorings. Contemporary guardians of national security have been suborned by partisanship, in the process, fostering a kind of soft sedition; analytic and operational incompetence.

The Intelligence Colossus

If a casual observer were to attempt to find fault with Intelligence in the 21st Century, he might identify size, complexity, and politics. Since World War II the American Intelligence Community (IC) has grown exponentially, 17 agencies in the US alone today and an expensive host of intermediary managers and commercial contractors. Unfortunately, national Intelligence products, now a kind of communal inertia, do not justify the exorbitant investment in collection and processing of raw data.

The Colin Powell UN speech in the run-up to the Iraq War and the now infamous Benghazi talking points are recent egregious examples “Intelligence” products corrupted by politics. If the purpose of Intelligence is to support the political flavor of the day, why not just subcontract analysis to Madison Avenue?

“Big” was not always the best thing you might say about US Intelligence. Time was when warning or analytic failures had consequences. Pearl Harbor is an example. Ironically, the sub-rosa Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was cashiered by Harry Truman immediately after WWII. Truman was not fond of a large Intelligence establishment or large political egos. It probably didn’t help that OSS chief William “wild Bill” Donovan was a prominent Republican lawyer. Politics are ever-relevant.

Parts of the OSS were salvaged by the National Security Act of 1947 which created a then modest Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). But the Intelligence Community didn’t get a real boost until 1961 with the publication of Roberta Wohlstetter’s Pearl harbor: Warning and Decision, a volume that is still required reading for Intelligence acolytes. Wohlstetter’s encyclopedic study established several benchmarks for Intelligence still relevant today.

Foremost was the axiom that warning is usually an analytic or political, not a data failure. In today’s argot it would be “failure (or unwillingness) to connect the dots.” Sixty years later, on 11 September 2001, analytic failure, not available evidence, was still the weak link. The only difference between Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 Twin Towers warning debacle is cost and the size of the Intelligence legion; alas, still a toothless dog that doesn’t bark.

And the warning problem is complicated today by design. Analysis is hamstrung by the Brennan Doctrine, an a priori policy that rejects evidence which might link terrorism, sedition, and Islamist wars with Muslim ideology or politics.

“How you define a problem shapes how you address it.” – John O. Brennan

The very word “Islamism” has been struck from threat discussions. Where there is no distinction between church and state, religion is the center of gravity. Trying to analyze terrorism and contemporary small wars without mentioning Muslim political motives or Islamic doctrine is a little like studying WWII without mentioning Japanese Imperialism or German National Socialism.

Warning and Decision is still de rigueur for other reasons. A careful reading of official CIA reviews reveals that conclusions about the “under funding” of Intelligence functions are, for CIA, the attractive parts of the Wohlstetter narrative. Ironically, truly talented analysts like Wohlstetter still do not work for Intelligence agencies. The best minds do not work for Intelligence because such analysts would be difficult to manipulate, hence politically unreliable.

The Military Establishment

Senior soldiers, however, are exceptionally reliable. Wet fingers are standard issue on the Pentagon side of the national security equation these days. Political correctness has tarnished more than a few brass hats since Douglas MacArthur was fired. Admiral Mike Mullen’s recent social pandering and General Martin Dempsey’s Benghazi mendacity speaks volumes.

Military literature is equally disingenuous. Two subjects dominate military journals and training manuals today: counterinsurgency (COIN) and an excursion called Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW); foxtrot golf whiskey.

COIN

Counterinsurgency (COIN) is official US military doctrine, a lame legacy of Vietnam. Counterinsurgency is warfare or intervention on behalf an incumbent or allied regime. Yet COIN doctrine seldom accounts for the enemy view — phenomena like coups, revolution, or civil war. The Pentagon avoids such terms because the US military has no charter or doctrine for regime change. The rhetorical dishonesty over the recent “coup” in Egypt makes the point well enough. And at the expense of logic and clarity, any discussion of jihad is officially proscribed by the brass too; no matter how many GIs might get killed by jihadists. With the Brendan doctrine, Jihad, or holy war, is still ritual cleansing.
Since Vietnam, most small Muslim wars might properly be called civil, or better still, religious wars. If Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, or Syria had anything to do with counterinsurgency, the West should have armed the Ayatollah Khomeini, Mullah Omar, Sadam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar Assad. On the E-Ring, COIN and regime change seem to be synonymous. Military analysis, such that it is, is trying to square this circle with some profound naval gazing. Strategists are calling for a ‘fourth generation’ model of warfare.

4GW

Unfortunately, the new doctrine keeps many of the inanities of Army and Marine Corps official guidance. Foremost is the inability, or unwillingness, to precisely describe the enemy by name, nation, associations of nations, or ideology. And calling 3rd generation warfare a “war on terror” is a little like calling WWII a war on blitzkrieg. Tactics and the enemy are different things: tactics are ephemeral; enemies are kinetic until they are defined and defeated in detail.

The 4GW crowd also talks of collapsing the enemy’s “center of gravity,” but the center for Islamists, and the broader Muslim base, is religion. A CJCS that has stricken Islam from the discussion is not likely to assault “one of the world’s great religions,” much less try to neutralize imams who might insist on Sharia law — or target clerics sponsoring holy war, lethal jihad.

4GW aficionados also support a Fabian strategy. Fabius Maximus Cunctator (280-203 BC) was a Roman general who used defensive delay and attrition tactics to bleed Hannibal’s expeditionary forces during the Punic Wars. Fabius is thought to be the father of guerilla war.

Fabian Defense?

Ironically, the Fabian fad is a page out of Osama bin Laden’s cookbook: extend the infidel armies and kill with a thousand cuts. War is curious politics; Islamists are defining our strategy? If so, 4GW is truly cunctative; too late for a flaccid flag corps that already offers “transition” and “stability” as passive strategic objectives.

Imagine a high school athletic coach who would use such banalities instead of words like victory! We remember Bolingbroke, not Hotspur, because Henry IV knew how to win. Douglas MacArthur struck the same cord: “There is no substitute for victory.” Life, war, and politics are zero-sum games — history is the tale of winners and losers.

American diplomatic and military operations are starting to look like T-Ball or scoreless soccer; no winners or losers, yet all participants get a medal or a promotion. John Brennan and Martin Dempsey might tale a bow here.

The Fabian debate is another nickel and dime argument. What’s required is a new global strategy, not another small war tactical salad where universal threats are ascribed to vague local grievances.

If diplomacy is the only answer, then new strategy is required there too. Here two attack vectors recommend themselves; abandon the “two-state” chimera in the Mideast and engage, dare we say confront, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Israel needs to negotiate directly with the Arab League, not individual terror surrogates like Fatah. And America needs to confront the OIC, not individual Muslim states like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria. If Fabian strategy is a good idea, then it is the Arab League and the OIC, not America, that needs to be put on the defensive.

The burden for killing autocrats or defeating Islamist “insurgency” needs to be shifted to the faithful, that celebrated “moderate” Muslim majority, the citizens of the Arab league and the OIC. God knows the US Department of Defense sells Muslim autocrats enough firepower to police zealots.

The question that futurists need to ask is; why are American and European infidels obliged to make the world safe for Islam when only Muslims can save the Ummah from itself? Answer that question; then worry about the reform of inert military doctrine and fanciful national strategy.

And as a practical matter, any policy reform would require regime change in America: at Intelligence, at Defense, and at the White House.

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Tags: CIA, DOD, the Intelligence Community, John Brennan, General Martin Dempsey, Islam, Islamism, Israel, the Arab league, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, 9/11, Roberta Wohlstetter, and Pearl Harbor.

This essay appeared in the 10/09/2013 edition of American Thinker


Cooking Our Goose

October 8, 2013

“Be just before you are generous.’ – RB Sheridan

President Obama compared the Affordable Care Act to the Apple Corporation the other day while attempting to defend the flailing of the new and expanding health care bureaucracy.  A few days earlier, he had invoked the Runaway Slave Act in a similar confused analogy.  In the frenzy of trying to defend the indefensible, Barak Hussein Obama is starting to sound like Mrs. Malaprop. Unfortunately, Richard Sheridan enriched culture with humor; there’s nothing funny about another inept federal monolith midst a global economy already corrupted by social excess, debt, and deficit spending.

In the first instance, Apple Corporation is a money maker, an unalloyed entrepreneurial success.  Another massive government bureaucracy only consumes, it will not create wealth. Just as surely it will create jobs, another army of inert government apparatchiks, a world where the phrase “public servant’ can never be more than half true.

Steve Jobs actually fired corporate deadwood to reform Apple and return it to profitability. He also furloughed corporate philanthropy until Apple recovered. Comparing Apple to any government agency is a little like confusing apples with onions. Apple servers also handle ten times the traffic of government health care portals, crashing as we speak. 

Federal programs, like public schools, are permanent sinecures with tenure. The Affordable Care Act is not necessarily about health anyway. It’s about politics; winning and losing – and the rewards that victors distribute; in short, another vote buying scheme where taxes and debt are used to reward an expanding base of intemperate dependencies. Who votes against lunch on your neighbor?

What Communists could not achieve by force of arms, social Democrats have won with giveaways and the ballot box.  When you tally government educators, government bureaucrats, and government dependents; more than half the American population is receiving a government check of one sort or another. The folks who actually produce wealth and pay the bills are a shrinking minority.

As comics like to say: “You can’t eliminate poverty by giving people money.” The problem with all wealth distribution schemes, indeed someone else’s money, is that more is never enough.

The Affordable Care Act is neither affordable, nor is it likely to be caring. Were it just or caring, Obamacare would make no exceptions for cronies and political elites. Alas, when the piñatas are exhausted, no one gets paid in “150 different languages”. Indeed, stick a fork in it, our golden goose is almost cooked.

 


Checkmate in Baghdad and Geneva

October 4, 2013

“Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.” – JFK

War is a messy business. Serial wars get even more untidy over time. Often, it’s hard to know where one begins and another ends. Such is the case today as the Arab spring looks like another Muslim winter. America and Europe stumble from one conflict venue to another wondering what happened to all those rosy assertions about jasmine, justice, moderation, and modernity. The Islamic world is a mess and no one has a clue as to where or how the sequential mayhem ends. In Syria, the nanny states of the West are again perched on the brink of another sectarian and/or tribal abyss.

Nonetheless, the optimism of intervention still prevails. Today you hear argument after argument about the responsibilities of power and success – or preaching about very selective humanitarian concerns.  If you read enough foreign policy analysis you might come to believe that someone has the answer, or that somehow Europe and America have the “responsibility” to make the Third World well. Never mind that the very words “developing” and “emerging” have become geo-political oxymorons, triumphs of hope over experience.

Ironically, the grand strategy, if there is one, when you strip away the boilerplate, can be summarized with a single word – that word is “more.” More is the mantra of imprudent expectations; bailouts at home and flailouts abroad. If one “investment” doesn’t work, surely the original sacrifice wasn’t big enough. No thought seems to be given to developing a new game plan. More aid, more pandering, more troops, more drones, or more missile strikes; but never more common sense. It’s always more, and more is never enough.

And now ‘more’ is accompanied by “red line” moralizing, the color coded version of chicken. Alas, the no-fault/default cultures of Europe and America are unlikely enforcers of any kind of norms and standards in the less civilized world. The West insists, ironically, on measures of accountability and restraint that have been abandoned in Europe and America. Political decay, especially in the First World, has consequences.

All the rhetoric about global responsibility is a rehash of the “white man’s burden” trope. Worse still, the hand-wringing and preaching seems to validate “orientalism,” guilt driven theories that excuse and forgive Muslim pathology because the chaos is thought to be the results of European racism, colonialism, or exploitation.

Ironically, much of the confused strategic rhetoric originates with senior military officers and the Intelligence Community.

Since Vietnam, the Pentagon has sought to redefine most wars as either guerilla, insurgent, or conventional conflicts. Conventional conflict is a distant third in most deliberations. Real wars might have to be declared and put to a vote. Unfortunately, the accepted taxonomy ignores ground truth and the worldview of likely opponents.

Most wars in the troublesome Muslim world are in fact religious wars, conflicts where the nexus is a clash between religious and secular values. The most obvious evidence of religious war, external to the Muslim world, occurs at the tectonic plates of religion, those borders where Muslim and non-Muslim polities meet. South Asia, North Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus region, Thailand, and the Philippines are obvious examples. Even China has pockets of Muslim irredentism.

When ayatollahs and imams rant about “jihad,” or holy war, they have few illusions about the nature of contemporary conflict. Indeed, most Muslim clerics seem to grasp global strategic reality better than American generals who insist on parsing various Muslim wars into local insurgencies with local motives. Religion has become the invisible camel in the infidel tent.

The most celebrated version of the official US military view in these matters is contained in Army Field Manual 3-24; Counterinsurgency, the doctrinal bible that David Patraeus helped write and subsequently rode to four star notoriety. Unfortunately, like too many of his over-schooled peers, General Patraeus is more likely to be remembered for his social life than his military insights or battlefield achievements. Equally misguided was the US Marine Corps decision to adopt the Army manual in the interests of tactical ecumenism.

Religious war is now a global phenomenon, thanks in part to the failure of flag officers to acknowledge that threat. The Pentagon doesn’t have any official guidance for religious war beyond political correctness.

Within the Ummah, modern wars are of two types; civil and proxy. Contemporary revolutions in Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, the Sudan, Somalia, Mali, and Egypt are religious civil wars. These in turn are of two classes; sectarian (i.e. Shia vs Sunni) or secular/sectarian. Secular military dictatorships, Egypt today for example, have been in the clerical crosshairs since Mohammed’s time. Libya and Syria are examples of secular oligarchies where tribal rivalries created opportunities for Islamists.

Syria is a prominent example of modern proxy war, where principals (Russia and the US or Iran and Israel), once removed, are attempting to settle old scores or exploit a regional opportunity. Any notion of moral “red lines” or WMD thresholds in Syria is just another flight from reality, a veil for political egos and hidden agendas.

The American Ranch Hand campaign (1962-71), which poisoned Southeast Asia for nearly a decade, was the most egregious, sustained modern use of chemical warfare. Granted, the putative aim of the Agent Orange campaign was defoliation; still, the net effect was to poison civilians and water sources under the canopy. No American administration is well-positioned to point fingers at Syria when the US Air Force, the Pentagon, and the White House have yet to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the mutilation of a generation of American GIs and several generations of Vietnamese children.

We might also recall those gassed Kurds and Persians (1988) of recent memory who perished from indifference if not complicity. Or we could mention the million or so Rwandans (1994) who fell to tribal clubs and cutlery. Such events barely make the evening news in the West. With these and Vietnam, ‘moral’ superiority about chemical warfare or genocide, if it ever existed, is a void not a high ground.

The recent gas attack in Syria is not an exception, nor is it a rule. Identifying culprits is probably irrelevant.  Nations adhere to international conventions or “norms” as it suits their interests. Credible force is the only reliable sheriff or deterrent. And a false flag prologue is often the pretense for the use of force.

Clearly there is more than a little overlap in any conflict taxonomy. Nonetheless, the need for a new vocabulary for the age of intervention is underwritten by two indisputable facts: religion underwrites much of the typology and too many conflicts are misrepresented as insurgencies when they are in fact civil wars. If Libya or Syria were true insurgencies, America should have sent guns to Gaddafi and Assad.

The ‘insurgent’ paradigm suits the politics, not the reality, of modern war. Terms like Islamic, religious, or “civil” war are avoided because the US military has no charter, doctrine, or legal authority for intervention in overseas internal disputes; and surely no moral authority for taking sides in religious rivalries. The Sunni tilt in American foreign policy since 1979 speaks for itself, a grim litany of blowback and failure.

At a minimum, you could argue that American intervention has made Shia fanatics, Hezb’allah, the Taliban, and now a global al Qaeda possible. Recall that America helped create a vacuum in southern Lebanon for Hezb’allah to fill. Recall also that clandestine support to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the Soviet era made the Taliban possible. Imprudent signals to Islamists made the recent Muslim Brotherhood electoral success possible in Egypt too. In the geo-political arena, unqualified support for Saudi and Emirate oil oligarchs makes Salifism and related religious fascism possible worldwide.

The incompetence of intervention has more than a little to do with the caliber of American generals since Korea. Surely, David Patraeus was no guerilla fighter like Joe Stillwell and Martin Dempsey is no cavalry officer the equal of George Patton. At Benghazi, American military honor was compromised by timidity, if not bureaucratic cowardice. General Dempsey claims that he did not act because Mrs. Clinton didn’t give him a green light. Under Dempsey, the military ethos changed from “no man left behind” to “cover your behind.” Victory is no longer a staple of any flag officer’s resume or vocabulary.

The Intelligence Community is also part of the rhetorical decay. While at the White House, John Brennan literally scrubbed any reference to Islam, Islamists, jihad, or holy war from public and administration conversations about national security. He actually convinced most government departments, contractors, and the Press to delete any language that might suggest linkage between terror, religious war, and Islam. The Director of National Intelligence now refers to Islamic terrorists as “nefarious characters.” At CIA, Brennan is now well placed to police the language and analysis of National Intelligence Estimates.

And the chickens of strategic decline are home to roost as America again sides with the Sunni in Syria. Dithering in the West for two years has allowed Bashar al-Assad to regain the tactical advantage on the battlefield. And strategically, the Alawite regime now has a clear victory.  American gun sights have been lowered from regime change to “let’s make a deal.” Never mind that time is as good a gift to Assad as any aid from the Persians and Russians.

And the proxy war is a disaster. Vladimir Putin throws a ‘Hail Mary’ in Syria, and Foggy Bottom and the White House morph into cheer leaders. Worse still, the American administration embarrasses itself by trying to take credit for the Russian initiative. Say what you will about Putin, he is a better friend to Syria than Obama is to Israel. When the next “red line” is in the works, it might have to be drawn around Israel.

The Russian strategy may look a little like a deus ex machina, but compared to the Obama amateurs, Putin plays the great game like Winston Churchill. And putting John Kerry in  a diplomatic cage match with Sergei Lavrov is like watching  a bear  toy with a cocker spaniel. Checkmate in Baghdad and Geneva!

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The author provided intelligence support to Ranch Hand at Tan Son Nhut AB in 1968 and 1971. He writes occasionally about the politics of national security.