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!

…………………………………………

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.

 

 

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No Exits?

April 12, 2011

 

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

So what is to be done?

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues. This essay originally appeared in American Thinker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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G. Murphy Donovan, check6dc@gmail.com

No Exit?

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

 

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

 

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

 

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

 

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

 

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

 

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

 

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

 

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

 

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

 

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

 

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

 

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

 

 

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

 

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

 

So what is to be done?

 

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

 

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

 

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

 

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

 

 

G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vinegar Joe and the Village People

November 2, 2010

“The fear of war is worse than war itself.” – Seneca

Saving Islam from Itself

Sometimes the past provides instructive precedent. Yet just as often, history is meaningless for those who choose not learn from it. Several generations ago, soldiers saw a necessary relationship between war and winning.  Today’s brass seems to have foresworn goals like victory for more ambiguous objectives like “stability.” Joe Stillwell must be rolling in his grave.

Stillwell was an iconic, albeit unsung, hero of WWII. At the start of the war, among his peers, he was thought to be one of the best and most demanding troop commanders on active duty. His soldiers called him “Vinegar Joe.” Between wars, Stillwell had several tours as military attaché in China, acquiring a fluency in Mandarin. George Marshall assigned Stillwell to the China/Burma Theater.

Stillwell’s jungle campaigns were overshadowed, then as now, by  Admiral Nimitz, General MacArthur, and ultimately by an Air Corps B-29 over Hiroshima carrying a single bomb called Little Boy. The great achievement of Stillwell and his air commander, Claire Chennault (of the Flying Tigers), was that they tied down the core of the Japanese Imperial Army in China while Nimitz and MacArthur spilled guts and garnered glory in their Pacific island hopping campaigns.

Stillwell did not suffer fools gladly. He and George Marshall got along well enough, but he made no secret of his disdain for British and Chinese “allies;” the timidity of Lord Louis Mountbatten and the posturing of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Vinegar Joe’s acerbic personality didn’t help much either. In the end, Roosevelt fired Stillwell at the behest of Chiang Kai-shek in the closing days of 1944. Six months later, the war was over. A little more than a year after that, Stillwell died quietly in bed at the Presidio from cancer.

Surely, the Second World War produced more flamboyant generals, like McArthur and Patton, but Stillwell set a standard for competence and modesty.

Surviving photos of Joseph Stillwell (right) reveal a man who looked more like an aesthetic than a warrior; thin as a rail, balding, and bespectacled. Even his dress uniform was austere, just US lapel insignia and stars on his shoulders. Stillwell knew that real leaders had no need to wear a resume on their chests. “Fruit salad” and vinegar were a poor mix.

If Joe Stillwell’s ghost walked into a Joint Chiefs meeting today at the Pentagon, it would be a little like watching Leonidas meeting the Village People. And to be honest, most of the colors are awarded for attendance, not achievement. It’s always easier to give soldiers a ribbon than it is to give them a promotion or raise.

And this emphasis on appearances is not without penalty. Recall the sad tale of Admiral Boorda, the late Chief of US Naval Operations, who committed suicide after it was discovered that he had awarded himself a Vietnam combat ribbon that he had not earned.

The hazards of emphasizing form over substance are not limited to personal humiliations. Looking good seems to be the new being good; a heretofore merit based military culture is absorbing an ethic of political correctness at the expense of victory. This new military idiom has very significant tactical and strategic implications. Admiral Mike Mullen, at the Pentagon, and General Dave Patraeus, in Afghanistan, provide examples.

Mullen is in danger of becoming the JCS Chairman best remembered for adopting the gay “rights” tar baby. The administration is hostage to a campaign promise and wants some high profile uniformed officer to win over Mullen’s four star peers. So far it’s tough sledding.

Clearly the White House and Congress are playing “kick the can” with the gay issue. Mullen and the Chiefs should be smart enough to punt the problem back where it belongs. The Pentagon has more important things to do in wartime. If the Congress wants to advance the ball, they might pass a law to retract “don’t ask/don’t tell” and surely the brass will salute smartly. Indeed, the President himself has recommended such an approach.

If gay issue is a tactical distraction, the political correctness of General Dave Petraeus has strategic implications. The Patraeus political digressions make former ISAF commander General Stan McChrystal’s loose talk look like prophesy. The difference between these two flag officers is candor; McChrystal had it and Patraeus does not.

The latter has become a megaphone for several politically correct misrepresentations; blaming Israel, Afghan withdrawal ambiguity, and suggestions that terror groups, including the Taliban, might be appeased – in the interest of “stability” or political solutions.

The blame Israel canard was on full display when Patraeus, as CENTCOM commander, dispatched a team of staffers to several Arab countries in order to take the pulse of the Arab street. The team returned and prepared a briefing that suggested America could or should make a deal with terrorists on Israel’s borders: Hezbollah, Fattah, and Hamas. Never mind that none of these Arab groups can manage to partner with each other, least of all Israel.  Now Patraeus has apparently carried the appeasement paradigm to South Asia where talk of making deals with the Taliban is rampant.

The Petraeus argument has three facets; victory is impossible, all possible solutions are political, and the key to political stability is a radical change to the long-standing policy of American/Israeli solidarity. A sordid axiom of the Petraeus worldview links Israeli intransigence to American casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The attempt to link Israeli domestic policy to NATO casualties worldwide was later repeated by Vice President Joe Biden on his trip to the Mid-East. The military and political logic here comes perilously close to a classic anti-Semitic argument.

The CENTCOM analysis and its derivatives are fatally flawed on several counts. Legitimate pollsters audit Arab sentiments on a regular basis; anti-Jewish sentiment consistently registers in the upper 90th percentile. And scholars who have audited historical paranoia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in Arabia and the larger Muslim world agree that these phenomena pre-date the state of Israel by millennia.

Any connection between American foreign or Israeli domestic policies and future casualties in Iraq or South Asia is unsupportable too.  General Petraeus should know that there are no military operations analyses which measure events which might or do not happen.  Indeed, if a thread links Islamist terror worldwide, it is anti-Semitism, not opposition to Israeli policies. The Mumbai attack which struck a Jewish center in India is illustrative. Pakistani jihadists were instructed that “the lives of Jews (not Israelis) were worth 50 times those of non-Jews.”

There is no evidence that any kind of Israeli/Palestinian settlement would have any impact on Islamism worldwide. The historical evidence suggests just the opposite. Since the end of the Vietnam War, US forces have intervened on behalf of Muslims on a dozen occasions.  There are few if any indications that such human and material largesse altered radical opinions, terror tempos, or the intensity of the propaganda jihad.

The Patraeus/Biden analysis fails to consider unintended consequences; the abundant evidence that appeasement will be seen as weakness or a lack of resolve. Islamists define victory as the elimination of Israel and the submission of the West. Beyond appeasement, General Petraeus’ objectives reflect no such clarity.

The crux of the modern flag officer dilemma is modesty – or lack of it. The tendency of senior officers to regale themselves like refugees from the HMS Pinafore is merely an image problem; the treacherous waters of politics and political correctness are far more troublesome. No serving military officer should be asked, nor should they accept, any mission which asks them to campaign in domestic culture wars. No flag officers should be asked to fight for, or front for, changes in foreign policy. And no soldier should believe that ambiguous delusions like “stability” are a substitute for victory.

The military is the blunt instrument of policy; it is not a test bed, nor is it a policy think tank. Surely, military officers should provide discrete and confidential advice, but this should not be confused with consent. The Joint Chiefs and their subordinates execute national policy; they do not make it or approve it.

Joe Stillwell had more than his share of disagreements with his peers and President Roosevelt. He didn’t like his assignment and his theater allies were less than helpful. Nonetheless, Stillwell held the Japanese by the nose while others kicked their azimuth.  He never lost sight of his duty as a soldier; making the most of what he had and winning by inches.

To this end, Vinegar Joe’s heirs might consider two suggestions. For appearances sake, the wearing of decorations, save the highest medal, purple hearts, and most the recent campaign ribbon should be optional. Real warriors don’t need chest hair or fruit salad.

And in the interests of strategic clarity, General Patraeus should understand that the struggle with Islamism is not binary; i.e. military or political. The Islamic threat, like a pentagon, has five facets; ideology, religion, culture, politics, and violent jihad.

Any general who no longer believes in winning or victory in any of these venues ought to keep that sentiment to himself – or find another line of work. On his worst day in the jungles of Burma, Vinegar Joe would have never told his troops; “We are not here to win”.

We seem to have bought into the Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn” analogy, the notion that, if we break anything in the Islamic world, we own it. Ironically, it was Powell’s disingenuous presentation to the United Nations which justified the second Iraq war and subsequent occupation. The difference between the strategy of George Bush senior and his son is this question of occupation or presence on Muslim soil after, or if, the shooting subsides. For the moment, the Obama administration and General Patraeus seem to have accepted the occupation paradigm. It’s hard to believe that any politician will bring the “nation building” definition of victory into another presidential election cycle.

So the question remains. Assuming we are at war with Islam or Islamists, or both; what does victory look like? Victory may look a lot like disengagement or, better still, redeployment and a reprioritization of targets within the Islamist threat matrix.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a threat to strategic energy sources. That threat has been neutralized. Afghanistan is a threat to itself and possibly will continue to be one of many terror sanctuaries. All the while, the threat to Israel and the Levant is obscured by the smoke from these small wars. Unfortunately, the Islamist threat in the Middle East is existential; Iraq and Afghanistan, in contrast, are merely troublesome.

Yet, by accident or design, NATO is now stuck in the muck of Islamic nation building and there’s very little evidence that the alliance is capable or inclined to cope with another contingency – such as a perfect storm over Israel. That storm is forecast by a convergence of interests: Persian nuclear ambitions and the growing conventional capability of Arab non-state radicals encircling Israel.

Thus victory for NATO might look like Iraq and Afghanistan in the rear view mirror. Victory might even look like candor, an admission that the Islamist threat is not limited to South Asia or bin Laden and al Qaeda.

When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia funded half the clandestine war against the Communists. Now that the threat comes from co-religionists, the Saudis have another standard.

Victory might also look like reassignment of responsibility; i.e. re-gifting the expense and manpower for the war on terror, counter-insurgency, and nation building to the Arab League. Only Muslims can save Islam from itself.

The goals of fanatics have been crystal clear for 50 years. They seek to circumscribe the influence of reason, freedom, and democracy in the West. Indeed, the Islamist definition of victory is captured in a word: submission. Fanatics also seek to eradicate the state of Israel. Our goals should have similar clarity. We might put the Muslim world on notice, Arabs and Persians in particular: Europe and America will defeat any threat to democratic institutions including Israel – no matter the cost.

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This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of the New English Review. The author  also writes at Agnotology in Journalism.


Signals and Noise in Intelligence

August 30, 2010

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell

Media pundits have reduced the complex problems of tactical and strategic Intelligence to a kind of running joke. Failure to “connect the dots” is the common taunt. Such mindless euphemisms, when applied to national security analysis, reduce the signal/noise dilemma to a child’s game. As a practical matter, conveying the correct signal to the correct receiver is the most difficult challenge in art, science, and especially, government. A signal is not singular. Indeed, signals are irrelevant without receivers. In similar veins; speakers require listeners, writers require readers, warnings require recognition, and analysis requires acceptance.

Many of the impediments to signals are internal to the Intelligence Community: this includes time honored vehicles like briefings and reports and less obvious barriers like structure, size, and politics. Intelligence collection and targeting systems operate efficiently today in real time. The strategic analysis process, however, does not provide a comparable return on investment.

Briefings

Rhetorical skills, in a briefing for example, might not convince any listener. The best facts, logic, and analysis often fall on deaf ears. Titans of industry and government are people with strong convictions. They know what they believe; and they believe what they know got them to where they are. There are no objective listeners any more than there are objective speakers. We all filter what we say and hear through the sieve of what we think we know. And too many of us think we know more than we do.

Truth is what we believe; unfortunately, what we believe is not necessarily true. Strongly held beliefs will always trump facts, logic, and analysis. Any speaker who seeks to change a paradigm needs to know what his audience already believes.

Testing some policymaker’s suite of beliefs, especially in any public way, is hazardous duty. Messengers get shot for less on a regular basis.  Speaking truth to power is dangerous; and those who raise too many problems often become the problem. Inertia is often the most persuasive argument in the room.

Briefings slides are both inevitable and ubiquitous. This modern petroglyph is where the figurative dots are literally connected. The power point presentation (PPT) has become part of the national security culture, although it’s not clear that these tools have improved communications. Even the junior officers who prepare briefing slides, aka power point rangers, are skeptical. “Hypnotizing chickens” is a common euphemism for PPT sessions.

Reports

All of what might be said about the spoken signal is also true about the written word – and worse still. At first glance, a document might seem more concrete and credible than a briefing. This is an illusion.

With a briefing, there is at least a specific audience for the message; the written word provides no such assurances. All you can ever say about the written word is who received it, not who read it. The fact that any document was delivered to ‘such and such’ a policymaker’s office is often meaningless. Titans are buried in paper and electronic mail every day. There are few, if any, feedback mechanisms that allow us to know who read, understood, or might have agreed with a written report. Even legislators seldom read the laws to which they contribute and for which they vote.

An ‘after action’ report might be an exception, though not necessarily a good one. With these, the signal is clearly separated from the noise. Here specific actions are recommended to specific policymakers; and some up or down judgment usually follows – usually after the damage has been done. The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) is an example.

Yet the clarity of post facto deliberations is often undermined by hasty judgments, added complexity, and more ambient noise. The Homeland Security Act (2002) and the Intelligence Reform and Prevention of Terrorism Act (2004) are examples.  The net result of these well intended fixes was the creation of three new stovepipes; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). How more layers in a 16 agency Intelligence Community (IC) reduce the signal to noise ratio remains a cipher to most observers. And burying the most economical military service, the Coast Guard, under a non-military bureaucracy (DHS) beggars any notions of operational prudence – offensive or defensive.

Special commissions and ad hoc committees may be inevitable and their recommendations may be significant. Unfortunately, their deliberations are not remotely connected to any known science.

When the diverse fail to converse, post facto commissions or study groups usually come to the same two conclusions; expand and reorganize. The ‘usual suspects’ seldom suggest that less might be more. Arguing for fewer boats is not the way sailors become admirals. Unfortunately, increasing size, complexity, and cost (or shuffling the deck chairs) does little to coordinate the uncoordinated or reduce the noise level in warning systems.

Warnings

The nexus of Intelligence is warning. All other national security functions might be irrelevant if warning fails. The attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were catastrophic warning failures. Four targets were selected by al Qaeda and four targets were destroyed. The Islamist offense was as efficient as our defense was deficient. Warning signals get lost or unrecognized in the noise of everyday bureaucratic traffic. After action reports often isolate those lost signals, yet those same reports (aka ‘shots from the grave’) seldom make serious recommendations about eliminating the noise.

Roberta Wohlstetter’s  (1912-2007) military intelligence study, Pearl Harbor; Warning and Decision (1962), is required reading for most entry level Intelligence professionals, yet there is little evidence that her cautionary classic has had a lasting impact on Intelligence praxis. The proliferation of Intelligence agencies since Mrs. Wohlstetter’s day may have increased the ambient noise within the IC by orders of magnitude. If spending is a measure of complexity, the Intelligence budget has trebled in less than a decade. The IC now employs nearly a quarter million souls at a cost of 75 billion dollars per annum. The Director on National Intelligence (DNI) claims that ten thousand analysts are working the terror problem alone. Indeed, terrorism has become a cash cow for academics, think tanks, and government agencies.

Analyses

Warning signals might be likened to tripwires, while formal analyses might be compared to the prepared defenses behind the wires. All the right signals might be detected, yet the message might still be undone by; existing analysis, the conventional wisdom, or expectations. Outdated analyses and estimates create ambient noises of their own and they often taint perceptions. Several recent studies suggest that “experts” too close to any subject often develop blind spots, an unwillingness or inability to see new or contradictory evidence. Believers do not suffer apostates gladly.

And with new analysis, bridging the gap between analysis and acceptance is a crucial step seldom taken. Few analysts make good salesmen; and managers of analytical processes are not inclined to rock the boat.

The space between analyst and process manager is often filled by “talking dogs.” The talking dog is usually an articulate soul who does justice to a suit or military uniform. A briefer may not have any relevant expertise, but they can usually be trusted to stay on message.

The 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq might represent a case study of these phenomena. This assessment provided the ‘substance’ for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation before the UN (6 February 2003) in the run up to the second Iraq war. Unfortunately, like many bureaucratic products, this estimate was a “wet finger;” an estimate that catered to expectations, not facts or reasonable analysis. Such reports are common to all bureaucracies, yet they are much more consequential in the national security arena. The fruit of that 2002 poisoned tree is yet to ripen. How the IC treats the genuine nuclear threat next door in Iran is a story yet to be told.

Beyond the inherent difficulties of oral, written, or analytical mediums; the noise problem in the IC is also structural and political. Technological band aids, additional personnel, and bigger budgets are unlikely remedies for these man-made, self inflicted aliments.

Structural Noise

The structural problem, simply stated, is size; 16 agencies, 18 layers if the penultimates are counted. The “stovepipe” problem is compounded by internal layering within each agency and complicated by the various agency specific; information systems, clearance levels, and classification types.

A “secret” world will always be at odds with the free flow of information. In this respect, Intelligence reports and studies labor under a unique handicap. The gauntlet that signals and analysis must run in such a maze is formidable.

Part of the problem is historical; Intelligence is a complex of institutions built by events not design. DHS is the latest example of Lincoln Log engineering. Much of what flourishes year to year in the IC is redundant, superfluous, and dangerously opaque. Signals attempting to navigate obdurate bureaucracies encounter obstacles at every level; and the ambient noise is deafening.

These vertical structures often become institutional cultures for all manner of human foibles. Each layer inevitably creates its own gatekeepers and apparatchiks; ‘not on my watch,’ ‘not invented here,’ ‘not my job,’ and ‘not without our chop’ are just some of the examples of attitudinal barricades. Such culture infests every large bureaucracy and the IC is no exception.

No doubt every agency is born of good intentions, but over time the institution often becomes the enemy of the idea. Tenure and survival too often become the dominant idioms of large enterprises, especially governmental departments. Intelligence has not defined the IC today so much as the IC has defined what passes for “intelligence.”

The modern enemy is nimble, mobile, decentralized, economical, lean, mean, and effective. For the moment, the national security community that seeks to track this quarry is none of these.

Political Noise

And all of what the IC does is colored by politics. To argue otherwise is dishonest or naïve. The question is not whether, but how much. It is no accident that every Intelligence agency falls under the Executive Branch. Intelligence is a traditional servant of policy.

In the wake of WW11, the father of modern national estimates, Sherman Kent (1903-1996), sought to sustain the integrity of analysis by keeping a discrete distance between policy and Intelligence. Situating CIA in the Virginia woods may have been part of that stratagem. Today there are few measures for how well the barrier between Intelligence and policy has been maintained.

We like to think that analyses or research is driven by scientific method; a rigorous consideration of facts, logic, and research – untainted by bias or subjectivity. Unfortunately, original research requires resources, special talents, and time. Policymakers, driven by events, rarely have the patience or time for rigor. As a consequence, most of what we call research or study, in or outside of government, is actually “derivative,” a polite euphemism for junk science. The “hot wash-up” is the rule, not the exception, in the worlds of Intelligence and politics.

And politics is the most persistent noise surrounding Intelligence analysis and reporting.  Clearly, policymakers have bigger fish to fry than Intelligence, but no policy is well served by flaccid or cautious analysis. Fear is a very loud ambient noise. The blizzard of euphemisms coming from the policy community today looks a lot like fear.

Euphemisms usually have two purposes; masking a painful truth or attempting to change the subject. Rhetorical contortions are commonly used to avoid naming two combat fronts a “war.” This distortion is compounded by efforts to separate these wars and the world-wide anti-terror campaign from Islam and Islamists.  Such mixed signals are sending cautionary ripples through the analytical community. Trying to speak or write about the struggle with Islamists without mentioning Islam or Muslims is a little like attempting to eradicate malaria by ignoring mosquitoes.

Obscuring the threat is not without opportunity costs. As the chief of USAF Intelligence put it, in an email, to an editor of WIRED Magazine on 9 December 2009:

“The number one cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is the Taliban — not air power. Human Rights Watch has verified that the Taliban kills three to four times more civilians than ISAF air and ground forces combined. More often than not, these deaths are deliberate….It is curious that it appears there is more ink spent on casualties from air attacks than there is on the criminality and violation of the ethical tenets of ‘Islam’ (sic) that occurs daily as a result of Taliban actions.”

Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula’s concerns were underscored by a more formal, but equally candid, report from Afghanistan written by Maj. Gen. Mike Flynn, chief of ISAF Intelligence, and published by The Center for a New American Security on 4 January 2010:

“Our senior leaders – the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, Congress, the President of the United States – are not getting the right information to make decisions with … The media is driving the issues.  We need to build a process from the sensor all the way to the political decision makers.”

A casual reading of these two reports from senior Military Intelligence officers reveals two clear signals. Instead of defining the enemy; we are at risk of being defined by our opponents. The second signal is even more ominous; the Media, not good Intelligence, appears to be driving the policy process.

The differences between the generals in the field and the politicians became an open wound with the recent resignation of the ISAF commander in Afghanistan. What soldiers like Stanley McChrystal lack in tact is seldom redeemed by candor.

Nonetheless, these alarms are symptoms of a crisis of confidence, a growing sense among taxpayers that many very expensive public institutions simply do not work. The Intelligence Community is one of those institutions.

Great research is done in small batches; usually a small group of sharply focused world class experts. And great writing is usually done by a single hand; a hand unencumbered by layers of second guessers. Such requirements are seldom satisfied in the national estimative process. With Intelligence, peer review is too often confused with institutional consensus.

And even those ‘hot washups” will always be surrounded by some level of ambient noise. But, introduced uncertainty is another matter. No decision is well served by ambiguity or doubt. Policy pronouncements masked in a veil of euphemisms may placate real or imagined foes, but such uncertainty tends to confuse the home team

Epilogue

Vacuums of ignorance are often filled by beliefs; beliefs that might not be true. The purpose of Intelligence is to warn, define the threat, and challenge false paradigms. If policymakers prefer wishful thinking, Intelligence must persist to undo these illusions. Indeed, Intelligence must take the final step – bridge that gap between analysis and acceptance. Trivial euphemisms like “connect the dots” undermine both the difficulties and seriousness of the problem. Words matter.

Reason and religion are unique tests for contemporary warning and analysis. The rational actor models that served us so well during the Cold War no longer apply. The threat spectrum is now dominated by theocratic irredentism, a mix of fanaticism driven by an unreasonable quest for political, religious, and cultural monoculture. The spectrum of mayhem now runs from lone wolves to totalitarian theocratic states, from suicide bombers to nuclear weapons.

National security analysis does not just support the policy process; it also sets the tone for the entire Intelligence Community. A “gold standard” collection and targeting system will be impotent if the analytical side of the equation can’t produce a clear picture of the threat. The national estimative process might benefit from better people, fewer people, and more independence. Over-coordination and consensus are often the most pernicious kinds of ambient noise.

Once the threat has been defined, clarity from the policy community would also be a deficit neutral improvement to the noise problem in the Intelligence Community. Citizens and soldiers must know what and who they are fighting. If the war of ideas is lost in the ambient noise of political correctness or politics, shooting wars may not matter.

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This essay appeared in the 27 Aug 10 edition of Small Wars Journal.


Who Betrays Us?

July 6, 2010

 

“If everybody is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” – George S. Patton 

Crystal is not glass. Strike crystal and it rings like a bell. When it breaks, crystal makes a special noise, a sound like the end of music. The other day, we heard the end of a special elergy, the 24 notes of taps, when General Stanley McChrystal furled his flag.

McChrystal was no ordinary infantryman; he chose the road not taken. Rangers are a unique fraternity where only extraordinary warriors thrive. Those who rise to the top in any calling often walk a fine line between genius and eccentricity, soldiers are no exception. General McChrystal crossed the line more than once, but he never stepped on a land mine until Rolling Stone magazine came to do a “profile” at HQ Afghanistan.

The agent of McChrystal’s demise was an effete free lancer who looks and sounds like a prep school refugee. Lest anyone pretend the author of “The Runaway General” didn’t have an agenda, Michael Hastings coined the following journalistic axioms in an earlier piece for GQ:

“You pretend to be friendly and non-threatening. And over time you build trust, which everyone knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editors calls for it, you’re supposed to f–k them (your subject) over.”

Hastings was on special assignment for a magazine whose usual fare is sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Yet, like Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone has cultural pretensions.  Those affectations were on full display in the McChrystal issue. Lady Gaga (sic) graces the cover; equipped with a bullet brassiere on full auto. Ms. Gaga is a performance artist whose cultural niche is defined by Madonna groupies.

Like Hefner, Wenner panders to a young and, by their own definition, hip demographic of readers under 30 years of age; although both publishers might charitably be described as priapic geriatrics, 84 and 64 years of age respectively. Like all purveyors of progressive culture, Wenner has trouble separating value and vulgar. And, to no one’s surprise, he consistently carries water for the left; as a Clintonista or, more recently, as an Obama contributor.

From any perspective, we have to assume that General McChrystal, and/or his staff, was aware of these things and the risks of having of an anti-war zealot in their midst. The key question to be answered is; who was using whom?

After Afghanistan, a maverick like McChrystal wasn’t going to be selected for a political job like Army Chief of Staff. Hard to picture McChrystal, like the incumbent George Casey, making the rounds of the Sunday gab shows reminding citizens that the feelings of Muslims were more important than the safety of soldiers massacred at Ft. Hood, Texas.  And surely McChrystal wasn’t a candidate to follow Mike Mullen into the political swamp at the JCS. On the Pentagon’s E Ring, Mullen is better known for social issues, like gay “rights” for sailors, than he is for war fighting. There were no stars in McChrystal’s future either; he already had his four.

McChrystal is a country music fan; no doubt he’s familiar with Kristofferson’s iconic line: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When McChrystal let the fox into the Afghan hen house, he knew which huevos were in play.

Before the Rolling Stone controversy, the friction between the “White House wimps” and the military brass was the worst kept secret in Washington. Yet the rift, from the beginning was cultivated by the president – and what can only be described as a cabal of divisive beltway toadies. From the start, Obama ignored the field commander, refused to define the enemy or describe the end game – or explain to the American public why Afghanistan “is a war of necessity.” The party line had three “soft” features; don’t use the word “war,” don’t mention Islam, and restrict descriptions of the bad guys to either Taliban or al Qaeda.

Shortly after the election, Obama put on his long pants and fired the previous ISAF commander in Afghanistan – and then dithered for months over troop deployments. Since then, the White House has been driving on a learner’s permit. In the past year and a half, the commander in chief has met the tactical commander on few occasions; McChrystal, in contrast, has met with Hamid Karzai, face to face, over 50 times during the same period. If McChrystal claims Obama is only “disengaged” on the subject of war: the general is being generous.

The hapless Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D- Nevada), told America that the Iraq “war is lost,” just before the last American election. A newly elected Vice President followed up with very public carping at General McChrystal’s expense. If there were ever a toady who should be cashiered for loose lips; it’s Joe Biden (hereafter known as Joe “bite me” to troops in the field). Biden doesn’t just put his foot in his mouth; he doesn’t bother to remove his shoes after he steps in something. Biden’s advice on Iraq was to subdivide, i.e. three new states (sic), as if the UN didn’t have enough dysfunctional members.

“Team” Obama was augmented by Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry early on, both sent to Kabul, presumably, to make sure McChrystal walked the “soft power” walk. Unfortunately, neither Holbroke nor Eikenberry play well with other adults.

Holbrooke’s function in South Asia is a dark swan. He doesn’t seem to get along with anyone but himself. In the foggy world of diplomacy, androgyny, and cookie pushing; Holbrooke stands out. He is supposed to be a special envoy; but, his specialties might be limited to arrogance and petulance. Holbrooke, former Clintonista and incumbent Karzai basher, doesn’t play well with 3rd World leaders or allied military officers.

And Eikenberry’s performance isn’t too far removed from Holbrooke’s.  Soon after arriving in Kabul, Ambassador Eikenberry started to “back channel” McChrystal, (i.e. send critical, uncomplimentary reports back to Washington). Indeed, Eikenberry pique seems to have been tweaked because a Brit, and not Eikenberry, was appointed “viceroy”; a slight he seems to lay at the feet of a Karzai/McChrystal conspiracy. Eikenberry was miscast by Rolling Stone as a martinet “stuck in 1985;” the year may be closer to 1895 and the Eikenberry character could have come straight out of  Gilbert and Sullivan.

On the UN side of Kabul, the blue helmets were having a civil war of their own. Norway’s Kai Eide, and his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, had a transnational shoot out over the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai’s election in 2009. Galbraith got fired, Karzai got a second term, and Eide took the Quisling special back to Scandinavia. Eide was and remains an ardent fan of accommodation with the Taliban

These “team” players were supplemented by a gaggle of second guessers back in Washington with the president’s national security advisor, Jim Jones, on point. Jones’ most recent contribution to the clueless sweeps was a “greedy Jew” joke spliced into a speech that was supposed to underline American support of Israel. After 18 months in office, the commander in chief has traveled to several Arab, Turkish, and Muslim capitals, yet never to Israel. Mr. Obama’s Islamic globe trotting sends a message consistent with Jones’ taste in jokes. From the beginning, the former Marine commandant, like Joe Biden, also made loud noises that undermined or contradicted McChrystal’s strategy at the front.

So what’s a soldier to do when a president hand picks you to lead the charge in combat and then allows rear echelon cockroaches to eat your lunch? McChrystal did what any good guerrilla fighter would do; he let another insect carry a poison pill back to a dysfunctional nest. Indeed, General McChrystal performed one final service for his country; he used a press nitwit to expose a confederacy of national security dunces; using the prescribed “soft” tactics – things like toxic ridicule.

A cipher in all of this is Hilary; she comes off like the Cheshire cat; grinning from ear to ear while the Oval Office tries to put lipstick on another pig. Clinton has kept her distance; “give him (McChrystal) what he wants;” says she. If and when the Obama national security crowd self-destructs, Hilary can say “I told you so,” pick up the pieces, and do a pants suit rendition of what Bobby Kennedy did to Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

Any idea that McChrystal was insubordinate or threatened civilian authority is bravo sierra, as they say in the barracks. The general simply raised the blinds and let in some light. He even helped the young president to grow up a bit. On the day Obama let his field commander go, the president used the word “war” to describe the Afghan conflict. That’s progress! Obama then appointed a third field commander in 18 months; demoting the CENTCOM commander to replace McChrystal in Kabul.

And yes, the new guy is the old David Petraeus who, when serving in Iraq under George Bush, was vilified by the left, including then Senator Obama, as a liar and traitor. Indeed, the same news outlets that published those scurrilous George Soros ads, now celebrate the Petraeus choice as “inspired.” General “betray us” under a Republican has morphed into General “save us” under a Democrat. So much for politics stopping at the water’s edge.

So what’s the plan now? It appears the exit strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan is on schedule (according to Joe bite me) and Petraeus will be the happy face of at least one success even if it belongs to the previous administration. Yet, the president is still hostage to a campaign slogan, that “war of necessity.” Unfortunately, the Oval Office position is already flanked left and right. The incumbent does not want to carry any war, of choice or necessity, into the next presidential cycle. And the Cheshire cat just grins and waits.

All of which highlights the distinction between politics, Chicago style and principled soldiering, McChrystal style. Given a choice between sacrifice and survival, which road do men of character take? McChrystal has answered that question; he fell on his sword. Obama will get back to us in 13 months.

Stanley McChrystal may have furled his flag, but let’s hope he has not spiked his guns. In or out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat whose name we dare not speak will get worse before it gets better. When it does, real soldiers will need to strap on their irons again. Keep your powder dry, Stan.

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This essay originally appeared in the 29 June 10 issue of American Thinker. The author is a Vietnam veteran with 25 years of military service. He also writes at Agnotology in Journalism.

 

 

 


Whistling in the Dark

May 22, 2010

“Courage is the resistance to fear, the mastery of fear – not the absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

Dennis Blair’s commentary for the opinion pages of the Washington Post on 18 December is a world class contribution to the literature of denial. His assessment of American national security since 9/11 is notable only for what it ignores. The Director of National Intelligence uses the fifth anniversary of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004 to celebrate a 16 agency US Intelligence Community that is not lean, mean, agile, or effective.

Let’s deal with denial first. Mr. Blair wastes an opportunity by writing about Intelligence reform without once mentioning “Islamic” terrorists or two costly wars in progress in two “Muslim” theaters. Reading his assessment, you could be led to believe he can not or will not identify the threat or the enemy. It is as if the words Islam and Muslim had been stricken from the strategic vocabulary. In this he is not alone.

The President, speaking in Cairo and Istanbul, exhibited the same reticence. Reading the Cairo transcript one might conclude that the sources of genocidal Islamic rage are things like French dress codes. In a similar vein, the Secretary of State, more recently, in Berlin described bin Laden and al Qaeda as the “core” of the administration’s national security concerns. Mrs. Clinton’s false narrative seeks to narrow the threat to one man and one terror group. Clinton also repeats a chestnut often offered by her husband, former President Bill Clinton:

“And we do bear some of the responsibility, frankly, for helping to create (sic) the very terrorists that we’re now all threatened by.”

Mr. an Mrs. Clinton are fond of arguing that the United States, and Israel by implication, are at the heart of Islamist angst. Ironically, this is the same rationale that has been provided by ayatollahs, imans, and mullahs for the past half century.

A clear picture of the Obama national security doctrine is emerging as we sift the specifics from the President, from Secretary of State Clinton, and now from the Director of National Intelligence. For the moment, this doctrine appears to have three components; denial, threat minimization, and guilt. We should first believe that Muslims and Islamists do not share what they so obviously have in common; we should also accept bin Laden and al Qaeda as the only “core” issues; and, adding insult to injury, we must recognize that we Americans (and Jews) are two of the sources of Islamic jihad, terrorism, and the quest for kalifa.  Corollaries to this doctrine are provided by the policies for Iraq and Afghanistan; both of which could charitably be described as exit strategies with expiration dates.

This policy of denial, if not appeasement, should be a winner in Europe and at the United Nations, but it leaves a lot to be desired if the safety of America (or Israel) is a concern. Indeed, if the Sunni threat can be reduced to a bearded man and forty thieves in a cave somewhere in Pashtunistan, then surely the nuclear menace from Shiites and Iran is a kind of strategic chopped liver.

Mr. Blair’s holiday manifesto, after ignoring the Islamist menace, provides a definition of Intelligence strategy with a bizarre wish list of primary concerns:

“The new (US) National Intelligence Strategy provides the blueprint …  for effectiveness…  and a focus on cyber security, counterintelligence and … problems such as pandemic disease, climate events, failed states … scarce natural resources…(and) such issues as energy, trade, drug interdiction and public health… Continued commitment and investment in this reform are vital.”

Does cyber security include those unsecured downlinks from reconnaissance drones in Iraq and Afghanistan which are being hacked? Does counterintelligence effectiveness include that Muslim Army major who shot up Fort Hood? And what do disease, climate, natural resources, and public health have to do with an enemy that might make all those other concerns irrelevant. What Mr. Blair’s intelligence “strategy” seems to lack most is focus.

The Director of National Intelligence goes on to tell us:

“It has been famously argued that information is power and, therefore, should never be shared. The Sept. 11 attacks showed the fatal flaws in that logic. Our nation is becoming safer every day…..”

Who is it that says information shouldn’t be shared? And speaking of 9/11, how are we doing with bin Laden and Mullah Omar after a decade of looking? And who among us feels safer every day?

Those “stovepipes” which Mr. Blair celebrates are part of the problem also, not the solution. He fails to mention that the major element of the “reform” he celebrates was the addition of two new stovepipes; the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center. The 16 separate Intelligence agencies are still defended in the name of analytical diversity; yet when the diverse fail to converse, we are led to believe that “sharing” solves the problem.

Mr. Blair’s celebration of sharing didn’t anticipate the catastrophic failure to communicate a week later; precisely the flaw that allowed the “underwear” bomber, Mr. Abdulmutallab, to board a Detroit bound Northwest Airbus with nearly 300 souls on board on 25 December. Tragedy was averted by a few courageous passengers and crew, not an alert Intelligence Community.

Other than “sharing”, the key word in Mr. Blair’s 18 Dec argument may be “investment,” a shop worn euphemism for bigger is better. In this arena, Blair seems to be oblivious to the “tumescent threat” a bloom that sinks many an enterprise. Institutions may be the product of good ideas, but when size becomes unmanageable, the institution often becomes the enemy of the idea. If Mr. Blair’s analysis provides any clues, the bloated US Intelligence Community may have reached a tipping point.

In his analysis, Mr. Blair also fails to mention Israel, America’s lone democratic ally in theater. This omission is becoming part of a pattern. President Obama has visited two major Muslim capitals since coming to office. He has yet to go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. One of the lessons that Mr. Obama might take away from a visit to Israel would be an appreciation of virtues of compact, focused Intelligence efforts.

Israel is often characterized as the “canary in the coal mine.” If we read the signals coming from the Oval Office, we might think about changing the metaphor from canary to sacrificial lamb.

And if Dennis Blair’s analysis of the national security threat and associated Intelligence requirements on 18 December represents the best thinking of the American 16 agency consortium, he and his colleagues, like the White House, are whistling in the dark.

(This article appeared in the 18 Dec 09 edition of American Thinker)

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer and author of “Escaping the Wilderness of Mirrors,” an argument to privatize national estimates, which appears in the December edition of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.


What is to be done?

May 20, 2010

“The most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.” –  George Orwell

At the start of the 20th Century, Vladimir llyich Ulyanov penned a short polemic called “What is to be done?” In this essay, he laid the intellectual foundation for a rebellion and a future that was to become the Soviet Union. Lenin argued that while revolution might be made in the name of the proletariat, the heavy lifting was actually done by an elite “vanguard” of intellectuals. This oligarchy would latter bloom into such institutions as the Politburo, Central Committee, the Congress of People’s Deputies, Committee for State Security (KGB), and other euphemisms for nomenklatura. Lenin also rejected moderation; setting the stage for the Bolshevik/Menshevik split, a long civil war, and a delusion of world revolution – the Internationale.

Ironically, while tilling the ground for revolution, Lenin was also sowing the seeds of internal contradiction that would eventually bring down the Soviet Union and put the lie to Communism.  His brand of socialism made all the right noises about equality, pluralism, and democracy; yet, the truth became the face of Joseph Stalin – a dictator. For fellow travelers in the West, the first doses of reality therapy came from two quarters; a British author and a minor American Foreign Service officer. In 1945, George Orwell lampooned socialism as an Animal Farm where some critters would inevitably be more equal than others. And George Kennan argued, in a 1947 Foreign Affairs essay, that if the spread of Communism were “contained” by means short of nuclear war; it and the Soviet Union would implode from the weight of contradictions. Oddly enough, Kennan couldn’t overcome his background as a diplomat; he spent the rest of his life complaining that “containment” didn’t mean military force.

Nonetheless, the combined pressures of containment, deterrence, and flexible response provided the policy synergy necessary to hold the line and prevail in the Cold War. By the late decades of the last century, a revolution without guns was underway. In 1987, Ronald Reagan blew on the Berlin Wall and the animal farm imploded.

A new debate about the fate of the world arose soon after. By 1989 the optimists were represented by Frank Fukuyama who argued in the End of History that the demise of Fascism and Communism represented a triumph of tolerant democracies. Like Hegel before, Fukuyama saw history as an evolving rational unity. Alas, equating the passage of time with progress doesn’t explain regressions like the Dark Ages, National Socialism, nor the irredentism of contemporary Islam.

Samuel Huntington responded to Fukuyama’s optimism with The Clash of Civilizations, a more pessimistic view of Islamism. Huntington was half right; clash yes, civilization no. Ayatollahs and Imams seldom refer to Western culture as civilization; and “civilization,” as the West knows it, is hardly the goal of Islamists. Like every other war, the clash is political, not cultural. The goal of Islamism is to replace secular with theocratic; while replacing bikinis with burkhas could still be a lesser social objective. Islam, in its most animated forms, is an aggressive political ideology.

The Afghanistan War is now nearly a decade old. The White House has concluded its “top to bottom” policy and objectives review. The narrowly focused results were announced on 1 Dec 09 at West Point. Charitably, the new plan could be described as an exit strategy with an expiration date. The problem with any extended effort in Afghanistan is its potential to obscure or encourage more dithering on existential threats – like Iran.

So what is to be done?

The first step might be a dose of reality therapy. We must recognize the conflict with Islamism for what it is – a global conflict. There are no wars of “choice” (Iraq) or “necessity” (Afghanistan) and no separate archipelagos of terror. This is a single phenomenon with unitary tactics, strategy and objectives. The enemy is not a bearded man hiding in a cave somewhere or simply AL Qaeda, as many administration sources have suggested. The foe is an extensive and remarkably effective net of decentralized proselytizing and fighting cells which have secular and theocratic state sponsors. Their reach is global and that includes domestic sleeper cells.

If we can bring ourselves to rebrand the threat, we might rethink our alliances. Oriana Falacci may have been correct about the “cicadas,” her acid characterization of the European Union. At the moment, we may have more in common with the state Capitalism of Russia, the market Communism of China, the democratic pluralism of India, and the social security state of Japan. Other partners might include South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Israel; but the big four would be a start. The US has more of a future with any of these nations than any nation in the Muslim world – and possibly much of Europe.

The recent Ali al Megrahi pandering to Libya by Great Britain is a symptom of how viral European appeasement has become. The one person convicted in the Lockerbie mass murder has been granted amnesty. If a few bombs on Spanish trains can change a government in Madrid, imagine what changes might be wrought in Europe with   nuclear weapons in Sunni and Shiite hands? We can let the Norwegian Parliament’s pandering associated with the last year’s Nobel Peace Prize speak for itself.

We might also rethink our strategy and tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every measure of effectiveness; force to force, force to population, and strategy to strategy metrics suggests that ground war can not possibly result in anything that approximates victory or even stability in Iraq or Afghanistan (see appendix below). Contrary to White House claims, save technology, the war plan for South Asia is little different from our strategy in Vietnam or the Soviet strategy in their Afghan war. Making forays against terrorists or insurgents from defensive cantonments, with extended lines of communication, then as now, cedes most of the initiative to the enemy. The imperative is to move from defense to offense and let the Ummah (Islamic world) do the nation building and stabilize their insurgents.

To this end we should gift the so called “war on terror” to Islam; their problem to solve – or else. Jihad doctrine, fighters, finances, and moral support all originate within Muslim world. All Muslims are not terrorists, but just as surely nearly all terrorists and their supporters are Muslims. If Islamism is a greater threat to Muslims, then Muslims should carry the burden of fighting.

Instead of wasting precious lives and expensive munitions on remote mountain roads, we might contemplate the occasional shot across the bow, or more if necessary, over Tehran, Damascus, Cairo, Riyadh, Karachi, or Tripoli. Surely such offensive initiatives put our energy sources and debt service in play, but Muslim autocrats have even more to lose; and we might make that clear.

If our cities are at risk, then their cities must suffer the same anxiety until the madness ends. The alternative is an endless, one-sided, war of attrition against the West by Islamist rules, on their turf – all of which is designed to bleed Dar al Harb (literally “house of war” or we infidels) into submission.

Recent arguments have parsed the Afghan front into two options; a war on terror (specifically against al Qaeda) or a war on insurgency (aka “nation building”). Choices here are distinguished by troop requirements; the Biden option argued for less troops and the McChrystal option called for more. Unfortunately, after nearly a decade, neither strategy offers a clear path to victory or stability.

Afghanistan not only represents another potential graveyard for Western empire, but it is a tactical distraction from a larger strategic question. We need to ask ourselves why European and American troops need to die in any political desert to save the Islamic world from itself. If Iraq was a distraction from Afghanistan, we should ask also why Afghanistan is not a distraction from the existential threat from Iran.

We might also serve notice also on Muslim co-religionists worldwide that those who advocate or rationalize jihad of the sword, kalifa, sharia, anti-Semitism and other seditious polemics will not be welcome to America as immigrants, teachers, students, or visitors. The Bill of Rights was written to protect America not some global village. In short, kill two birds with one stone; turn the Islamic population bomb, “revenge of the cradle,” back on itself and end the oxymoronic policy of tolerating intolerance in the name of tolerance.

And finally, we need to be crystal clear on the question of future Holocausts. No theocratic state or their “non-state” actors should possess the capability to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”. We can take Islamists at their word on their intentions; it’s their growing military capability, those weapons of mass destruction, which need to be neutered. The idea that passive missile defense in Europe, or in the Mediterranean, will act as a deterrent is an assumption and nothing more. There is no evidence to suggest that defensive missile technology works or that “supreme rulers” in any theocratic state subscribe to Deterrence or any other rational actor theories.

Israel can not do anything about her geography or her history; and to be candid, Israel has done more with her modest sand box in fifty years than Persia or Arabia has done in the last five hundred years with all of the Levant and North Africa. Ralph Bunche once said that “when two peoples claim the same land, someone has to lose.” Indeed! We need make it clear to Americans and the world that our immutable policy on Jews and genocide is “never again”.

There are more than a few practical advantages to adopting the foregoing policy initiatives. As a group they are deficit neutral; indeed, there is every reason to believe that there might be Mid-East and South Asia dividends if we turn “nation building” over to the natives. The new American administration ran on the slogan; “change we can believe in.” Surely, like Lenin at the start of the last century, Barack Obama is the most articulate and persuasive revolutionary of the new century. The world is still waiting to be told; “what is to be done?”

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Appendix;

The following is a brief summary of (operations research) measures of effectiveness, statistically based ways of assessing the probability of military success; success is defined as victory or stability. None of these measures comes remotely close to a positive reading for a ground war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

S. J. Deitchman, “A Lanchester Model of Guerrilla Warfare,” Institute for Defense Analysis, 23 May 1963: Lanchester models of force ratios are thought to apply best to conventional warfare. However such modeling has established a number of axioms: all other things being equal (which they seldom are), a bigger force is a better force; technology does offset the numbers; but numbers still matter in important ways.

James T. Quinlivan, “The Burden of Victory; the Painful Arithmetic of Stability Operations,” Rand Review, summer, 2003: The combined Iraqi/Afghan populations are over 50 million; suggesting more than a million trained personnel might be required just to stabilize these two countries of the Ummah. Or in the words of a mathematician: “The extremely low force ratio for Afghanistan, a country with a larger population than that of Iraq, shows the implausibility of current stabilization efforts by external forces”. This is the polite way of saying there are not enough US troops in the field to do the job – nor is an adequate force likely to be deployed. For a government contractor, Quinlivan’s candor is rare, indeed.

Ivan Arrequin-Toft, “How the Weak Win Wars; A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict,” International Security, summer 2001, pp. 93-128: Toft’s strategy to strategy findings are consistent with force to population models. Yet, it is less clear that Islamists are weak or small, but Toft’s bottom line is hard to dispute; “If history is any guide, the insurgents (Islamists) will win”.

Aside from the low probability of success, Afghanistan has the same “distraction” potential that Iraq had. For the moment, Iraq and Afghanistan are still secular states; Iran, on the other hand, is a theocracy about to go nuclear. Our inability or unwillingness to prioritize the targets in the Islamist threat matrix is the most alarming and dangerous development of the new century.

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This essay appeared in the  20 May 10 edition of Family Security Matters.