Crude but this does appear to be our strategy…War on terror is in its Third Round – latimes.com, Andrew Bacevich

With over a billion Muslims in the world it is difficult to imagine this as a successful strategy since it risks radicalizing those who now bear us only suspicion, not ill-will.  It also risks eventually crossing the line at which national security interests prevail entirely over individual rights set out in the Constitution, a line I distinguish from the present regrettable situation only by the fact that the population gets excited and active about civil liberties.  (I hasten to say, I have no special knowledge of Vickers’ thinking and am relying on Bacevich to characterize it accurately here.)

With former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates gone, Vickers is the senior remaining holdover from George W. Bush’s Pentagon. His background is nothing if not eclectic. He previously served in the Army Special Forces and as a CIA operative. In the 1980s he played a leading role in supporting the Afghan mujahedin in their war against Soviet occupiers. Subsequently, he worked in a Washington think tank and earned a doctorate in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Even during the Bush era, Vickers never subscribed to expectations that the United States could liberate or pacify the Islamic world. His preferred approach to combating terrorism is simplicity itself. “I just want to kill those guys,” he likes to say, “those guys” referring to members of Al Qaeda. Kill the people who want to kill Americans and don’t stop until they are all dead: This defines the Vickers strategy, which has now become U.S. strategy (Emphasis added)

For Vickers, this means acting aggressively to eliminate would-be killers wherever they might be found, employing whatever means necessary. Vickers “tends to think like a gangster,” one admiring former colleague comments. “He can understand trends, then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side.”

Round 3 is all about bending, breaking and reinventing rules in ways thought to be advantageous to the United States. Much as counterinsurgency supplanted “shock and awe,” a broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced counterinsurgency as the prevailing expression of the American way of war. The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries. Instead, it uses missile-firing drones along with hit-and-run attacks to eliminate anyone the president of the United States decides to eliminate (including the occasional U.S. citizen).

This is America’s new M.O. Paraphrasing a threat issued by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what this implies: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.”

Furthermore, the president exercises this supposed right without warning, without regard to claims of national sovereignty, without congressional authorization and without consulting anyone other than Vickers and a few other members of the national security apparatus.

via War on terror is in its Third Round – latimes.com.

Is it any wonder that sometimes our international relations don’t go well?

The Washington Post today carries a story on the appointment of a replacement for Richard Holbrooke as the person responsible for civilian activity in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  At the mid-point of the article is this paragraph:

“But virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy’s other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there.”

It doesn’t require a managerial genius to know that changing all the key players at approximately the same time will change things fundamentally and, unpredictably.  Given the new person in Holbrooke’s position and all these changes, don’t expect less than, at best, months of confusion as personalities adjust and learn about each other and the personalities of Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s leaders.  Eventually it may all settle out nicely but it will take time that is at a premium if any significant change in the American commitment in Afghanistan is to take place in August, as previously announced.

All of these key people deserve, and probably crave, relief from their current roles.  They should be given it but most of that relief should come after August’s changes and not before.  There may be some special cases but surely all this turnover at this time is not just risky, it is foolish.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/14/AR2011021405949.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

Defense Spending: Can you believe it? Okay Tea-Partiers, here’s a challenge!

Today’s Washington Post contains a George Will column on defense spending.  It is not the details of Marine amphibious craft or the individual items that draws my attention but the larger numbers and comparisons coupled with the fact that, despite the law requiring it, the Department of Defense cannot produce auditable financial statements for the appropriate congressional committees to review.  In effect neither it nor the country knows what it spends on defense.

Add to that the Washington Post’s recent revelations of the size of the intelligence community that make it impossible for its heads to say how many people it employs, how many contractors, how many security clearances at each level and the fact that a great deal of its budget is contained in the unauditable defense budget, are you a little queasy about your government being “out of control?”

The wars have other separate financing. Although there is doubtless expenditure overlap, the mammoth’s reason for being so large is not just that it is conducting two wars.  This is astonishing.  There simply must be some means of reviewing what it spends and why, followed by a determination that some things are priorities to be funded and others are perhaps good ideas that are not justified in current circumstances.

I am not committed to small government or less government if the mission of the government department is legitimate and I think defense is one of the primary functions of government.  Having said that, if Will is correct, our mammoth’s expenditures do not keep our equipment up to date and they are not the one’s that pay for our current war efforts.

If the new-comers to congress who are so determined to cut government spending will look critically and intelligently at the Department of Defense for savings (and the Intelligence Community {Do you find it as strange as I do that a function of such importance as intelligence is big enough and diverse enough to be a “community” rather than a department?} they will do us all a great service.  No across the board cuts, no politicking for their locals but genuine concern for the country’s proper defense and a willingness to work with others to reach agreement on cuts (and increases where justified) will serve us all well.

Here is the link to Will’s column:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/11/AR2011021105062.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

“…becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”

From Gary J. Bass’s review of  America’s Path to Permanent War by Andrew J. Bacevich in the New York Times September 3, 2010:

“In 1947, Hanson W. Baldwin, the hawkish military correspondent of this newspaper, warned that the demands of preparing America for a possible war would “wrench and distort and twist the body politic and the body economic . . . prior to war.” He wondered whether America could confront the Soviet Union “without becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”

No critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have brighter conservative credentials. He is a blunt-talking Midwesterner, a West Point graduate who served for 23 years in the United States Army, a Vietnam veteran who retired as a colonel, and a sometime contributor to National Review.

Bacevich has two main targets in his sights. The first are the commissars of the national security establishment, who perpetuate these “Washington rules” of global dominance. By Washington, he means not just the federal government, but also a host of satraps who gain power, cash or prestige from this perpetual state of emergency: defense contractors, corporations, big banks, interest groups, think tanks, universities, television networks and The New York Times. He complains that an unthinking Washington consensus on global belligerence is just as strong among mainstream Democrats as among mainstream Republicans. Those who step outside this monolithic view, like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul, are quickly dismissed as crackpots, Bacevich says. This leaves no serious checks or balances against the overweening national security state.

Bacevich’s second target is the sleepwalking American public. He says that they notice foreign policy only in the depths of a disaster that, like Vietnam or Iraq, is too colossal to ignore. As he puts it, “The citizens of the United States have essentially forfeited any capacity to ask first-order questions about the fundamentals of national security policy.”

Bacevich is singularly withering on American public willingness to ignore those who do their fighting for them. He warns of “the evisceration of civic culture that results when a small praetorian guard shoulders the burden of waging perpetual war, while the great majority of citizens purport to revere its members, even as they ignore or profit from their service.” Here he has a particular right to be heard: on May 13, 2007, his son Andrew J. Bacevich Jr., an Army first lieutenant, was killed on combat patrol in Iraq. Bacevich does not discuss his tragic loss here, but wrote devastatingly about it at the time in The Washington Post: “Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.’s life is priceless. Don’t believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life: I’ve been handed the check.

Bacevich is less interested in foreign policy here (he offers only cursory remarks about the objectives and capabilities of countries like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran) than in the way he thinks militarism has corrupted America.” (My emphasis.)

National security abuses committed during the Vietnam war were exposed, debated and legislation was passed to correct for them in the future as a result of the Church Committee in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House.  The corruption of our values in the war and those we learned about that were developed in the years intervening to the present day were largely seen as a result of well-intentioned but unreflective policy-makers.  Oliver North was seen by many as having lied to Congress through some misunderstanding on his part of what it really meant to be a patriot.  Admiral Poindexter could later propose a program intruding on people not suspected of anything through an excess of zeal, not as a member of any broadly-held anti-constitutional  set of policy sentiments.

Now we:

1.  Know how hollow were the reasons posed for justifying our going to war in Iraq,

2.  Know the Attorney General (Gonzales) was willing to stonewall Congressional inquiries about national security and torture,

3.  Read the occasional accounts of the comments and behavior of the vice-president and of his chief of staff in support of a close to omnipotent executive,

4.  Heard Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz say that the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Saddam’s control was almost cavalierly adopted as a justification for war,

5.  Saw the Pentagon take on more and more intelligence functions,

6.  Noticed that after the first appointee, only military men have been chosen to be Director of National Intelligence,

7.  Learned that the Obama administration is prepared to support the assassination of an American citizen wherever he may be without any judicial process or determination of his posing an imminent threat.

8.  Have seen that the TSA just adds more costly screening devices to their processes, giving little sense that they actually have a strategy in mind for public safety.  Then they implement their procedures in an often thoroughly public-alienating manner.  How much of a sign of growing public concern should it be (it does not appear to be any) to the authorities that much of this is now commonly referred to as Security Theatre?

9.  Know the government will work with newspapers to redact the names of those who might suffer retaliation for cooperating the US before publication of WikiLeaks documents but it won’t work with WikiLeaks when offered that chance before publication.  (It will also deny it was offered the chance until the documentary evidence to the contrary is produced and published.)

10.   Hear the government speak of “blood on the hands” of WikiLeaks only later to acknowledge that there is as yet no reported incident of retaliation toward those whose names were included in the earlier large document dump.

I’ll stop here although there is more that could be adduced to support the conclusion that there are a large number of people in policy roles in our government who do not see the constitution as something to be preserved against the most challenging of threats but to be set aside in those times, as if our rights are to be upheld only when we do not need them.

Worse still is to see the number of Americans who seem to agree with that or at least, who do not want to be “confrontational” about it.  (Do you notice how many people want to avoid confrontation at almost all costs, as a survey of New Yorkers suggests in pointing out that a majority of those surveyed agreed with the right of the Moslem group to build a center in downtown Manhattan within a few blocks of Ground Zero but a larger number thought they should decide not to do so to avoid offending those opposed to it?)

The US I grew up in was one in which one expected to defend, if called upon by circumstances, the nation and its values and the actions of the government were largely in support (with partisan variations across what now seems a narrow spectrum) of those values.

We never tested Hanson Baldwin’s 1947 suggestion of the consequences of war with the Soviet Union but we may be testing them now:  Substitute war against radical jihadists.

“He wondered whether America could confront the Soviet Union “without becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/books/review/Bass-t.html

How bad would it be to just “pull out” of Afghanistan?

KABUL, Afghanistan- Afghan President Hamid Kar...
Image via Wikipedia

Every now and then, in fact frequently, the Karzai administration takes some step or makes some pronouncement that causes me to wonder if the dire consequences of a “pull out” would, in fact, be worse than what we have now and the direction that government is going.  Today the Washington Post reports on Karzai’s efforts to limit international (read US) involvement in anti-corruption investigations.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/08/AR2010090805935.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

Moral obligations to be met before we leave Afghanistan…Women and our Afghan allies

Women and the people who have truly cast their lot with us deserve some consideration before we leave Afghanistan, however much we may want to just pack up and go.

Here is a link to an NPR program on women and their current treatment by the Taliban.  Imagine what is likely to happen to them without us there.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129306237&ft=1&f=1149

Note that education of women, in and of itself, is opposed by the Taliban.  And  we’ve been prating about how we have helped secure educational opportunities for them.  If we leave messily, as we almost certainly will, we will not have lived up to our moral obligation to them.

Then remember the people who did not make it aboard the helicopters picking up evacuees from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon (and remember, there were people all over South Vietnam, not just in Saigon, who had placed themselves and their families in jeopardy if we left without securing their safety).  Some of those people suffered greatly and others did not.  In either case we did not live up to our moral obligation to them, those who escaped retribution did so without our help.

I really would like to see us out of there.  I really would not like to see women and those who have served us suffer for our leaving.  Any suggestions?

Moral choice in Afghanistan, how war aims become transmuted by war itself into moral issues…

The whole story (link below) is interesting but two points hit me hard in this story and I have added emphasis to make them visible.  First is that analysis of 76,000 WikiLeaked documents covering escalation of the insurgency 2004- end of 2009 show al-Qaeda had become an afterthought in the war.  Those documents are more compelling testimony to me than Leon Panetta and other government officials claiming it, because they are raw field stuff, not material filtered to and from officialdom.  Second is that al-Qaeda has to deal with Afghan mistrust of foreign intrusion, just as we do.

These two points make me think that, in terms of our initial war aims, we may have done as much as ever can in Afghanistan.  What remains are all those things we’ve learned (or, more correctly, progressed from “knowing” to “feeling intensely”) since arriving, i.e. the plight of women under the Taliban, the impact of the drug based agricultural system on the country, the fragility of the government we set up, the extent to which one becomes the victim of one’s best judgments as we are now bound to Karzai who is quite possibly no longer bound to us, and readers can extend the list.  But are we willing to walk away from the likely fate of women after we leave, the drug situation, a government which will almost surely reconfigure to our disadvantage if it doesn’t fall completely or fault Karzai for not wanting to give his life and fate to the United States?

The question in Afghanistan for me is increasingly not one of whether the war is now necessary but are we prepared to suffer the consequences of having gone to war there and left it to its fate when our initial purposes were met; are we able to step away from what we now know and feel intensely that we knew abstractly and from a distance before going in?

Facing Afghan mistrust, al-Qaeda fighters take limited role in insurgency

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010; A01

On Aug. 14, a U.S. airstrike in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz killed a Taliban commander known as Abu Baqir. In a country where insurgents are killed daily, this attack was notable for one unusual detail:

Abu Baqir, the military said afterward, was also a member of al-Qaeda.

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports posted by the Web site WikiLeaks underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

Bin Laden, thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, is scarcely mentioned in the reports. One recounts how his picture was found on the walls of a couple of houses near Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in 2004.

A year later, U.S. forces also saw his likeness on a jihadist propaganda poster near the Pakistan border. In 2007, a district subgovernor in Nangarhar province informed U.S. officials that a local newspaper would print “names of personnel working for bin Laden.”

Other al-Qaeda leaders are similarly invisible figures. One report describes a botched June 2007 attempt to capture or kill Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda military commander. U.S. Special Forces missed their target, instead accidentally killing seven children in a religious school in Paktika province.

There are also fleeting references to Abu Ikhlas al-Misri, the nom de guerre of an Egyptian who serves as an al-Qaeda commander in Kunar province. In 2008, an Afghan district official confirmed to U.S. officers that he had heard a rumor that Abu Ikhlas was suffering from a “sprained ankle.” But otherwise, at least in the WikiLeaks reports, the Egyptian remains in the shadows.

Change in strategy

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda’s leadership and fighters have largely sought refuge across the border in Pakistan. There they have been targeted by U.S. drone attacks from the skies as they try to remain beyond the reach of U.S. forces.

The evasion marks a departure from al-Qaeda’s approach in previous conflicts. Bin Laden and other jihadist leaders recruited thousands of Arabs and other foreign fighters to combat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Al-Qaeda also persuaded hundreds, if not thousands, of followers to travel to Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, where they played a significant role in fueling the insurgency and sectarian violence.

This time, U.S. military officials and analysts say, al-Qaeda has changed its strategy, mostly limiting its role in the Taliban-led insurgency to assisting with training, intelligence and propaganda. Although the terrorist network still considers the “liberation” of Afghanistan its primary strategic objective, it is biding its time until the infidels lose patience and leave.

“The numbers aren’t large, but their ability to help local forces punch above their weight acts as a multiplier,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor. “They’ve learned from their previous experiences, when their foreign fighters were front and center.”

In Iraq, he noted, al-Qaeda figures from elsewhere alienated the locals by trying to hijack that insurgency.

U.S. military officials say al-Qaeda recognizes the same risk in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders often see al-Qaeda, their erstwhile ally, as “a handicap,” according to an unclassified briefing presented in December by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the top U.S. military intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

Although Taliban commanders want support from al-Qaeda and jihadists around the world, according to Flynn, they are sensitive to the idea that ordinary Afghans might view it as foreign interference.

Excerpt from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/22/AR2010082203029_pf.html