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