Friday, July 24, 2009
U.N. in Lebanon: Due Diligence or Diligence Due? [Steve Schippert]
The question, of course, is entirely rhetorical. When a weapons cache in a warehouse in southern Lebanon, along the Israeli border, unexpectedly exploded, no one wondered whose it was or what it was. Well, except perhaps United Nations officials, who routinely have trouble making decisions, lest one party or another might prefer not to hear a proclamation that the apple is, indeed, red.
True to form, the U.N. is almost certain that it is a possibility that the weapons cache that exploded in the middle of Hezbollah’s forces “might” possibly perhaps maybe be Hezbollah’s. Or at least, there’s a chance.
The U.N. peacekeeping chief has said there are signs an illegal weapons stockpile that exploded last week in southern Lebanon belonged to the Lebanese guerrilla movement Hezbollah.
In a speech delivered behind closed doors to the Security Council on Thursday, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy also said that some of the people who tried to prevent U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from investigating the site were Hezbollah members dressed in civilian clothes.
"A number of indications suggest that the depot belonged to Hezbollah, and, in contrast to previous discoveries by UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces of weapons and ammunition, that it was not abandoned but, rather, actively maintained," he told the 15-nation council in the speech, obtained by Reuters.
He said the mere presence of such arms south of the Litani River represented a "serious violation of resolution 1701."
And that "serious violation of resolution 1701" just might possibly perhaps maybe have been supplied by Iran, through Syria. But that’s another level of clarity that is decidedly not for beginners. Let’s practice calling the apple red first before we go analyzing the core and its seeds.
This is, of course, the same United Nations that finds itself incapable of concluding that Syria — specifically Bashar al-Assad and his merry band of Mukhabarat — were behind the massive truck bombing and assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and 19 others in Beirut in 2005.
And the Blue Hats on the ground (mil-speak for UNIFIL forces from various countries) are on vacation. Everyone knows that getting deployed as a Blue Hat means a no-combat breather in a different land. They have no dog in the fight. And no one wants to go home from vacation dead, after all.
Oh, sure, technically their mandate is to “enforce” U.N. Resolution 1701 and prevent Hezbollah from rearming. But that would mean actually, well, fighting Hezbollah terrorists, who have other designs and orders from Tehran. The Blue Hat colonels and generals jockey for international recognition and prestige while the foot soldier views the situation with disinterest in the generals and disdain for risking death when he has no vested interest in the fight.
It’s essentially Barack Obama’s ideal army. In fact, the long-winded yet ineffectual international organization is a perfect fit. And when he loses the 2012 American presidential election, he will most probably and naturally “ascend” to secretary-general of the United Nations, where he can finally become President of the World, command an army that won’t fight, and endlessly tour the globe giving speeches ad nauseam.
What a spectacle it will be one day to see an American president locking horns with an American secretary-general of the U.N. And for those who are still having a hard time distinguishing true colors, the job of secretary-general will be a much more natural and perhaps ideologically liberating fit for the current president of the United States.
But regardless, the U.N. is and will remain functionally useless, militarily feckless, and little more than a waste of billions of dollars and the squanderer of prime Manhattan real estate.
If the U.N. proclamation that the weapons cache that exploded on Lebanon’s side of the Israeli border “might” be Hezbollah’s doesn’t make that clear, despite the U.N.’s massing “its own” forces to supposedly enforce its own resolution against exactly that, nothing will.
No, you will be among those wildly cheering Secretary-General Obama in a few years as he promises to heal international wounds and begins strong-arming global taxation.
Good luck with that.
07/24 01:08 PM Share
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Clothes Make the Man [Fred Schwarz]
An article at Strategy Page details the Air Force’s ongoing search for a satisfactory work uniform. The new Airman Battle Uniform, introduced a couple of years ago, is much more convenient than the old one:
The ABU is permanent press, wash-and-wear and more comfortable. No ironing needed, and you cannot use starch on them. The new boots that go with the ABU are suede green, and cannot be polished. That's another big draw.
Unfortunately for those serving in the Middle East, the new fabric is also hotter, especially where the large map pocket creates a double layer (some airmen have been getting the pocket removed). It also is harder to keep clean, and an airman notes in the article’s comment section that the boots are good at retaining stains and bad at keeping water out. So the search continues.
It’s tempting to draw a contrast between the U.S. military’s impressive success with high-tech weaponry and its continuing struggles to find a good uniform, but the difference there is the difference between building a few hundred or thousand precision devices at high cost and mass-producing something cheap and rugged in quantities a hundred times greater.
In any case, the situation can’t help being better than it was during the Civil War, when each regiment arrived at training camp wearing a uniform of its own design. The elite French troops known as Zouaves, who had distinguished themselves in the Crimean War of the 1850s, were widely admired in America at the time. So a number of regiments, such as the 5th New York, wore flashy Zouave-type uniforms:
They quickly discovered that bright red pants attracted bullets at an alarming rate — though their plight was not as bad as that of the 2nd New Hampshire and 2nd Wisconsin regiments, which wore grey uniforms at the battle of Bull Run and got fired on by Union troops who thought they were Confederates. These and other fancy-dress regiments soon learned to wear standard Union blue on business and save the finery for the parade ground.
07/23 03:14 PM Share
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Discussing GITMO on WITF Radio (Call-in Show) [Gregory S. McNeal]
Tank readers, apologies for my absence recently. I've been buried in my day job and in work on GITMO and other CT related projects. With that said, I want to call your attention to an appearance I'll be making tomorrow that may allow us to correspond by more than just the blog and email (and thanks to those of you who've sent emails recently and patiently waited for my slow response).
Tomorrow morning (Thursday, July 23, 2009), from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., I will appear on "Smart Talk" on WITF-89.5FM and 93.3FM out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The topic is Guantanamo, the detainee task force, and President Obama's approach to counterterrorism.
Leonard Rubenstein of the U.S. Institute of Peace will also appear on the show. Leonard is the former director of Physicians for Human Rights, and an expert on health and human rights during conflicts. I'm looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with him and with callers (it's a call-in show).
For those of you outside the Harrisburg listening area, you can listen live here. The call in number is 1-800-729-7532.
(Cross-posted at LawandTerrorism.com.)
07/22 12:30 PM Share
Friday, July 17, 2009
Sen. Gillibrand: Self-Interest Above Support for Troops [Elaine Donnelly]
Activists for gays in the military, apparently adopting the leftist mantra “by any means necessary,” have launched four major attempts to circumvent the1993 law stating that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the armed forces. The statute, which is frequently mislabeled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” enjoys strong support in the military. Gay activists and their friends in Congress nevertheless are determined to impose a San Francisco–style agenda on the armed forces — incrementally if not all at once.
The first ideological attack occurred when ABC commentator George Stephanopoulos aggressively questioned Obama's national security adviser, Jim Jones, on the May 10
This Week program. Reflecting demands from the activist Michael D. Palm Center, Stephanopoulos asked Jones whether Pres. Barack Obama would suspend enforcement of the 1993 law. Three days later White House spokesman Robert Gibbs shot down the idea. As I wrote at the time, an imperious presidential order disregarding the law would constitute a serious, perhaps irreparable breach of faith with men and women who volunteer to serve.
Next, President Obama pandered to his LGBT Left constituency by proclaiming June as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality” month. Reacting to vociferous pressure, Defense Secretary Robert Gates displayed ignorance of the law by wondering whether there is a “more humane” way to enforce it. But laws and regulations defining eligibility for military service are not “inhumane.” Everyone can serve our country in some way, but there is no inherent right to be in the military.
If Secretary Gates really wants to be helpful, he should drop the expendable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” administrative policy, and fully explain and enforce the 1993 law that Congress actually passed.
The third attempted ambush came on June 25, when openly gay congressman Jared Polis (D., Colo.) attempted to offer two amendments to the House defense authorization bill.
One measure would have repealed the present homosexual ineligibility law, and the other would have “suspended” ongoing enforcement, in effect having the same result as repeal. Polis withdrew the amendments before they could be considered by the House, probably due to opposition from Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Despite their present political advantages and a liberal media constantly promoting the agenda, the failure of Polis’s amendments represented another major defeat for the LGBT Left.
Now comes the fourth major push for circumvention of the 1993 law — Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s brazen attempt to put politics over principle. According to The Hill, Gillibrand, New York's junior senator, who was appointed to replace Hillary Clinton, is using the controversial issue of gays in the military to solidify her support among gay voters. (Liberal congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is expected to challenge Gillibrand in the Democratic primary.)
Gillibrand is considering offering an amendment to the 2010 defense authorization bill that would put an 18-month “moratorium” on discharges of homosexuals in the military. According to The Advocate, a gay publication, Senate majority leader Harry Reid
(D., Nev.) has endorsed the idea and wants to suspend discharges permanently.
As of this writing, we don’t know whether Senator Gillibrand actually will offer gratuitous legislation to circumvent and nullify the law. We do know that her politically motivated move to the LGBT Left, described in The Hill, is unworthy of serious consideration by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Advocates of repealing the 1993 law are showing poor judgment in trying to persuade President Obama or Secretary Gates to simply stop enforcing the law — an action that would violate their oaths of office and betray the interests of the troops they lead. It is simply wrong to play political games with an established law, upheld several times by the federal courts, which was written to protect morale, recruiting, retention, and readiness in the all-volunteer force.
Senator Reid, as majority leader, should know this better than anyone. His endorsement of a proposal that would allow the president to ignore existing law undermines the constitutional authority of the U.S. Senate, which Harry Reid leads.
There is no justifiable reason for any elected or Pentagon official to suspend enforcement of the law for the sake of persons who are not eligible to serve under the clear language of the 1993 law. Even the Washington Post, which advocates repeal of the law, advised gay activists in a June 27 editorial that they “should not be looking for ways to get around existing policy.”
In 1993, overwhelming, bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress passed the law to protect good order, morale, and readiness in our military. Instead of worrying about political payoffs, President Obama, Secretary Gates, and every member of Congress should remember the interests of our men and women in uniform, which should be their paramount concern.
07/17 05:10 PM Share
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The Limitations of “Fake Right, Go Left” [Fred Schwarz]
Deebow at Blackfive has an interesting perspective on President Obama’s announced plan to investigate the Afghans for killing POWs in the fall of 2001:
Having spent a bit of time as an Embedded Trainer (kind of like being an 18B, master logistician, finance guru, operations specialist and contract specialist all rolled into a big warrior/diplomat tortilla), I can tell you that we had one really big picture tactical and strategic rule by which my partner Capt. Jack and I lived by:
Afghanistan is their country and as such we are here to train them how to be an Army and not to get into how they conduct their business unless it will interfere with our mission objectives or place us in danger (because their were only two of us vs. their entire company).
. . . My job was to teach them to be an effective fighting force, and part of that was to be how they treated their enemy.
But a couple times, I was staring down the barrel of my M4 with my back to my buddies trying to make my point about how prisoners are treated while the Afghans (more of them than me) stared down the barrel of their AK-47 trying to explain to me the way they deal with prisoners. Tense moment in my military career for certain.
Considering how sensitive the situation in Afghanistan still remains, and how much we’ve learned about respecting and accommodating cultures that are very different from ours, this might seem like a bad time to dredge up old charges. But as Deebow points out, from Obama’s perspective, it’s the perfect time:
This isn't about getting the Afghans to search their souls and decide if they treated their enemies well. Having worked with them and understanding their culture, they are not encumbered by many of the ethical dilemmas that our soldiers face when dealing with an enemy who is ruthless and does not share our respect for laws or regulations in the conduct of war. And it isn't about finding blame either...
It is about the fact that Sonia Sotomayor starts her confirmation hearings today. It is about his Health Care Nationalization program. It is about the continued skyrocketing unemployment and dismal economic malaise that gets lightly skimmed by the Old Media everyday.
It is about "QUICK!!! LOOK OVER THERE!!!" as the Chicken Littles of his administration try to distract attention from what their real goals are and try to seize more and more power.
Speaking of Sotomayor, I’ve been struck by the contrast between her testimony today and that of John Roberts and Samuel Alito at their confirmation hearings. Roberts and Alito stood up for their beliefs and defended them ably, knowing that it might lose them some votes, whereas Sotomayor’s strategy has been to shamelessly deny or disavow everything she’s spent the last 20 years saying. Now where could she have learned that?
In an odd way, that’s why I’m willing to cut President Obama a tiny bit of slack, about the size of a postage stamp, on the Afghan war-crimes thing — because, as with 95 percent of what he says, you know he doesn’t mean it. I’m pretty sure that deep down, Obama understands what things were like in November of 2001, and his inclination is to let Afghans be Afghans. So I suspect that in the end, this investigation will yield nothing more than an equivocally worded statement of regret.
Still, you have to wish that Sotomayor and Obama would be more like Roberts and Alito. Instead of backing off and denying and rationalizing and cheese-paring their rhetoric, Roberts and Alito said what they believed and defended it, like grown-ups. That’s why they will be remembered as influential Supreme Court justices, while Sotomayor will be a minor figure — and why Obama will go down in history as a man of fine words but few results. Winning people over is harder than tricking them, but the respect it gains is much deeper.
Last week an environmental group draped Mount Rushmore with a banner bearing Obama’s face and the legend AMERICA HONORS LEADERS, NOT POLITICIANS. The cause they were supporting, Waxman-Markey, is nonsense, and their methods were juvenile, and the implicit disdain for the grubby business of meeting the people’s needs, instead of simply ruling over them, is offensive. Even so, the banner had half a point.
A politician becomes a leader by holding strong beliefs, putting forth a persuasive case for them, and then, once in office, following through and making them work. You don’t become a leader by spin-doctoring your way into office and sneaking legislation through, hiding your real views all the way; and when it comes to security, you don’t become a leader by following reasonable policies while holding them at arm’s length and covering your nose.
Obama’s plan for the presidency, if he had one, was evidently to get into office and then massively increase the role (and debt) of the state before anyone noticed. But people are already starting to notice, because when you gain power by misleading the voters, your support is built on sand. In similar fashion, the American and Afghan militaries may be glad that Obama is letting them do their job, but things like the war-crimes investigation show that he’ll toss them aside at a moment’s notice if he needs to create a distraction or placate some pressure group. It’s hard to lead when you’re always going in two directions at once.
07/14 06:25 PM Share
Monday, July 13, 2009
Space Birds, Sitting Ducks, and the Dogs of War [Fred Schwarz]
High-tech weaponry is an enormous advantage, but one analyst thinks America must keep in mind that other countries can build or buy countermeasures fairly easily:
Aircraft carriers, navy destroyers, short-range fighter aircraft and forward bases such as Guam and Okinawa in the Pacific Ocean are becoming increasingly vulnerable to technology and tactics being developed by America’s rivals, [Andrew] Krepinevich argues in the July issue of Foreign Affairs journal.
Even new areas of supremacy, such as US dominance of global positioning satellites that guide “smart” bombs to their targets, are becoming a “wasting asset” as states such as China develop the space technology to destroy them. China already has the ballistic missiles and laser technology to destroy low-orbit satellites on which the military depends.
Krepinevich claims America should devote more resources to cutting-edge nanosatellites to maintain its technological lead and should invest in missile interceptors and laser energy defences that could counter the threat from adversaries deploying their own “smart” weapons . . .
In wars of the future, “smart” rockets and missiles will be readily available to non-state forces such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, let alone traditional powers such as Russia and China, which already have the technology and the ability to sell it on. Despite this, the Pentagon is spending billions on short-range strike aircraft that need to operate from forward land bases or aircraft carriers vulnerable to missiles, submarines and drones.
The article discusses a 2002 war-games exercise in which “a surprise attack was launched on the US fleet by swarms of Iranian suicide vessels and anti-ship cruise missiles. More than half of the US ships were sunk or disabled in ‘the worst naval disaster since Pearl Harbor.’” It’s reminiscent of Col. Billy Mitchell’s 1921 demonstration that the warships of the day were sitting ducks for bombers. That result began the U.S. Navy’s long shift to airpower, and it’s possible that Krepinevich’s article could cause a similar fundamental rethink.
Speaking of which, here’s one of my favorite high-tech military system nicknames (which is a lot more than just a cute name):
One of the reasons that the number [of] terrorist suicide bomb attacks, and casualties, are occurring at a lower rate in Afghanistan, compared to Iraq, is that there is better technology available to detect suicide bombers . . . One of the more recent purchases is 300 Fido XTi explosives detectors. This 2.7 pound device can detect explosives with the same accuracy as a dog. These electronic devices are expensive, at about $22,000 each, but they are small enough to mount on a robot, or, via a cable, a safe distance from the troops . . . everyone benefits because of the bomb attacks that are foiled, and the bombers who are taken alive, and interrogated to find the permanent (and difficult to replace) members of the bomber team.
These days, by the way, Afghan troops have replaced Americans at most of the roadblocks and checkpoints where bombers like to strike. I’ll bet Afghans perform most of the interrogations too.
07/13 07:53 PM Share
From 40-Mile Hops to Round-the-Clock Pilotless Flight [Fred Schwarz]
The era of U.S. military aviation began 100 years ago this month. Check out the specs that the Wright brothers had to meet:
July 27 : Orville Wright, with Lt. Frank P. Lahm as passenger, performed the first official Army flight test at Fort Myer. They flew for over an hour, meeting one of the specifications for a military airplane.
August 2: The Army accepted its first airplane from the Wright brothers after the aircraft met or surpassed all specifications in flight tests at Fort Myer. The Army paid the Wrights the contract price of $25,000 plus $5,000 for speed in excess of 40 miles per hour.
August 25: The Army leased land at College Park, Maryland, for the first Signal Corps airfield.
October 26: At College Park, after instruction from Wilbur Wright, Lt. Frederick E. Humphreys and Lt. Frank P. Lahm became the first Army officers to solo in a Wright airplane.
November 3: Lt. George C. Sweet became the first Navy officer to fly when he accompanied Lt. Frank P. Lahm of the Army on a flight at College Park. Lt. Sweet was the official observer for the Navy at the trials for the Wright Flyer.
You have to wonder what Orville would have thought of a military aircraft that not only can fly without a pilot and perform complicated maneuvers, but can stay aloft for days and be refueled in mid-air:
The original DARPA test has an F-18 fighter, modified to operate without a pilot, equipped with new refueling software and hardware, that was able to successfully refuel in the air. The new air force and navy systems are going to use UAVs (an Air Force X-45C, and a Navy X-47B) to get refueled. With this capability, a UAV can stay in the air longer, and no longer have to spend several hours returning to base, landing, refueling, and taking off and returning to its patrol area.
. . . the first generation of [robotic] aircraft will be remotely controlled from the ground, or another aircraft, most of the time. . . . But the new generation of robotic (as opposed to remotely controlled) bombers will receive their orders, and then be sent off to do the job (with a human flight commander observing it all remotely, ready to abort anything not going according to plan).
The in-flight refueling is necessary because unmanned, as well as manned, aircraft can carry more weapons if they can refuel during the mission. For UAVs, such refueling enables these aircraft to stay in the air for days at a time. That's what UAVs are built for. Since fighter pilots have to sleep, and their aircraft are not built for round-the-clock missions, UAVs have a major edge.
These systems use a manned tanker to refuel the UAV (with automated refueling software), but research on UAV-to-UAV refueling is already underway.
07/13 02:01 PM Share
Saturday, July 11, 2009
They Love Us in Nairobi [Fred Schwarz]
According to the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, Kenyans and Nigerians are wild about America. No surprise there, in view of who our president is; presumably other sub-Saharans would be similarly enthusiastic.
Out of Africa, we are rather less popular. The Germans, for some reason, are narrowly pro-America, and India, after years of assiduous courtship by President Bush, only slightly anti. Among the rest . . . well, all you need to know is that our biggest fan is Egypt.
Judging from the results of the poll, taken between April and June of this year, Mexicans appear singularly unmoved by our generous immigration policies, our friends the Iraqis seem less than grateful for being rescued from tyranny, and the “special relationship” with Great Britain looks to have dissolved around the time the Beatles did.
There’s no surprise in any of this, really. The most powerful nation makes a convenient scapegoat for all the world’s troubles and every nation’s inadequacies. Another three and a half years of Obama apologies may conceivably shrink the red bars by a point or two, but as long as America has the world’s strongest economy and its most powerful armed forces, it will unavoidably continue to attract jealous hostility from despots and democrats alike.
07/11 10:43 AM Share
Friday, July 10, 2009
Clash of Cultures [Fred Schwarz]
Elsewhere on our site today, Gabriel Ledeen reviews Marine lieutenant Wesley Gray’s Embedded: A Marine Corps Adviser Inside the Iraqi Army. The book recalls Gray’s 2006 tour of duty in Haditha, training an Iraqi Army unit to take responsibility for protecting the nation. One point that Gray makes is that Iraqi attitudes and beliefs are very different from those of Americans:
The conversations Gray recounts are priceless and make a fascinating study for anyone trying to understand the war, the Iraqis, or Iraqi society. Here are a few excerpts from Gray’s conversations with Iraqi soldiers:
“In Iraq, it is mandatory to beat your wife! To not beat your wife is considered unmanly. Men who do not beat their women allow their women to take advantage of them through their powers of seduction. I think Western pressure to stop wife beating will only lead to a systematic weakness in Iraqi men.”
“First Division is paid at a higher rate than everyone in our division because their pay officers know even more people than Captain Tseen does at the Ministry of Defense. Americans like to call this corruption. We call this getting things done. . . . All pay officers skim pay. Why do you think being the pay officer is such a highly regarded position in the Iraqi Army?”
And the culture clashes continue today. A few days ago, an Army logistics officer posted this list:
Things Some Iraqis Believe
1. Scorpions eat sand.
2. Sand storms are caused by Americans driving their vehicles in the desert to kick up the dust.
3. We take pills in order to be able to walk around with all of our equipment on.
After which a security contractor in Afghanistan came up with the following:
Things Some Afghans Believe
1. US and ISAF forces are here to conquer Afghanistan and steal the oil.
2. The ICRC is actually a front for Christian crusaders, and they force locals to convert to Christianity in order to receive medical treatment.
3. There is a brothel on every US base, staffed by local girls kidnapped by US forces.
07/10 02:32 PM Share
Thursday, July 09, 2009
The (Free) Irbil Five: Meeting Iran’s Preconditions [Steve Schippert]
Immediately, the context you need: Since the beginning of U.S. operations in Iraq in 2003, fully 10 percent of our combat fatalities there have come at the hands of just one Iranian weapon — the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field. It is how the Iranian regime has been killing your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers serving in Iraq.
I’ll wager you were not aware of that rather damning statistic. How do I know it? Well . . . I asked a friend in the Pentagon in 2007. If ambitious journalists would like to share this with their readers and viewers, please do. The numbers are not secret; I am sure they have even been updated. Perhaps they were published elsewhere around the same time. If they were, chances are you never saw it. And those who have seen the figure likely saw it right here at The Tank on National Review Online. Because I wrote it. Over and over.
If you're not pissed off yet just by the context, maybe you will be when you consider today’s news. And you thought freeing jihadi Gitmo detainees to beach resorts in Bermuda was an assault on reason?
Now President Obama, in his breathless quest for a pointless international stage-show starring himself and Iran’s messianic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has decided to release the Irbil 5 — Iranian Quds Force agents detained in a January 2007 raid on their safehouse in Irbil, Iraq. Oh, I’m sorry. I meant to say the Iranian “consulate” in Irbil. That it never had diplomatic status is just one of those silly details that clutter up the narrative. Kind of like that pesky little “10 percent” detail.
Michael Ledeen provided an introduction to this earlier at The Corner. Permit me to quickly give you a rundown. And if you don’t leave furious after reading it, you should have perhaps checked for a pulse before you showed up.
Five men, Iranian terror facilitators who were key to ensuring that the maximum number of your brothers and sisters would die inside combat vehicles without saying goodbye, are now free be recycled back into service for the Iranian regime’s terror machine.
While the Associated Press is already dutifully referring to the Irbil Five as “diplomats,” let’s just put to the side for a moment their specific job titles. Let’s also set aside that referring to them as “diplomats” is ignoring the U.S. military’s adamant insistence that they are no such thing, but rather Quds Force operatives — one of them a very senior officer, at that. The American military is not to be trusted, of course. But the AP, well, they’re the watchdogs, dontchaknow . . . Perhaps an AP scribe is calling the Pentagon right this very second asking how many U.S. soldiers and Marines have been killed by Iranian EFPs. In theory, it is possible.
As far as Iranian diplomats go, let’s keep in mind that it was the Iranian ambassador to Syria, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, who coordinated the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, snuffing out 241 Marines and ushering in another quaint Iranian innovation: Suicide truck bombings — and simultaneous coordinated suicide bombings at that.
The administration is already spinning the release of the Irbil Five as business as usual. One article I noticed early in the day noted that the release of the Iranians was already planned as part of the disengagement agreement the administration reached with Iraq to free prisoners before the end of this year.
That’s a load of bunk. Why? Because within the context of what Iran is already doing to its own people, including again today in streets across Iranian cities, the principled decision would be to pull the rug on any plans to release any of the Iranian regime's thugs, operatives, or representatives. The explanation that this was already long in the works, as if the Obama administration just never noticed it, does not wash. The Obama administration is not stupid or unaware. It may be foolish in the decisions it makes, but not for lack of knowledge or awareness.
This is simply the next concession handed to the Iranian regime, the foremost state sponsors of terrorism in the world — the head of the snake, by the new American president.
All for what? To “reset” relations? To bring them to the table, where the president will cast his spellbinding charm upon them? Or is it simply to satisfy an ego-driven campaign commitment to stage the greatest international-relations vaudeville act since Neville Chamberlain’s good-faith meeting with Der Fuehrer?
Candidate Obama said famously that he would hold talks with the Iranian regime “without preconditions.” Oh, really? Perhaps he was just not specific enough to overtly say “without American preconditions.” It seems Iran has set preconditions of its own.
And President Obama is obliging at every turn. Mum and dispassionate on the Iranian slaughter of its own people while the world’s most evil regime is challenged from within; affording them an astounding American presidential statement that Iran has a right to nuclear technology; and now releasing five Quds Force operators with American and Iraqi blood on their hands back to the terror regime.
The Obama administration has already let slip from time to time that they expect little to come of meetings, discussions, and negotiations with the intransigent Iranian regime, which insists — with the aid of our own president, it should be noted — that nuclear technology is its right. Perhaps the administration is once again planting seeds that it hopes will stay obscured for now — so that later, when Ahmadinejad and Khamenei stay true to form and talks fail, Mr. Gibbs can say from the White House press-room podium, “Look, we said long ago that the likelihood of success was slim.”
All the while, in order to play high-profile charades with the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, an exchange is made. Four Quds Force operators and at least one senior Quds Force commander are returned to Iranian circulation. And in return we get . . . well, nothing. The administration hopes that Iran will change its mind and come to the picture show. You know, the one where the administration quietly doesn’t expect the Iranians to stop their race for nuclear weapons anyway? Yeah, that show. Hopenchange.
Compelling, isn’t it?
One thing is for certain. Our forces are less safe in Iraq because of the liberation of the Artists Formerly Known as the Irbil Five. And America has never appeared feebler in the eyes of her deadly enemies.
07/09 07:13 PM Share
No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy [Fred Schwarz]
Here’s a fascinating transcript of a press conference with Larry Nicholson, the commanding general of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade–Afghanistan. His men have just kicked the Taliban out of the Helmand Valley, a poppy-growing stronghold; now they must continue to build trust among the locals while preparing to eventually hand over the region to Afghan troops. The general’s statements show how deeply the lessons of counterinsurgency from the surge in Iraq have been absorbed throughout the U.S. military. “Marine diplomacy” might sound like the punch line to a joke, but in Afghanistan today, it’s an indispensable part of America’s arsenal.
From the very beginning of the operation, the emphasis has been on winning over the locals:
Seven days ago tonight, we inserted — at 01:00 local, we inserted about 4,000 Marines and sailors into the Helmand River Valley, over a period of about seven hours. The intention was to go in big, strong, fast; overwhelm any opposition and frankly save lives on all sides but most specifically save civilian lives . . . these are areas that have been visited before by coalition forces and Special Operations forces. But they never stayed. It was always just passing through. The number-one question we’re getting across the board right now is, how long are you staying? And one of my requirements, to every one of our company commanders, was that within 24 hours of hitting the deck, you will have a shura [consultation] with the local elders. . . .
The focus of this operation from the very beginning has been on the people, not the enemy. And I know that may sound very strange, and I got some raised eyebrows even with talking to Marines, but our focus is to get to the people. So the — you know, on the way, we’ll take care of the Taliban. But get to the people. So the fact that the Taliban in large part have decided to flee the area, often leaving significant weapons caches and weapons and IED, you know, components behind is in our — I think in our great favor.
Integrating Afghan troops with U.S. units is a key part of the plan, and it has several benefits: taking advantage of the Afghans’ cultural knowledge, training them in counterinsurgency tactics, and reassuring local residents that it’s not just a foreign invasion:
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The fact of the matter is, I — we don’t have enough Afghan forces, and I’d like more. You know, imagine right now I’ve got 4,000 Marines in Helmand with about 600 . . . 650 Afghan forces. Imagine if I had 4,000 Marines with 4,000 Afghan forces. . . . they are such force multipliers, because as you move through areas, they see things we’ll never see. They understand intuitively what’s going on in an area that we’ll just never get, no matter how much cultural training our guys get. So they are absolutely essential. And of course everything we do — everything we do — is with an eye towards turning over and transitioning to them . . .
One of my biggest fears — as we move into the Helmand River Valley, if I’m a local, and I just see a company of U.S. Marines come by with no Afghans, you know, how does that inspire confidence in my government? How does that make me believe in — that — in something — that something positive has happened? It doesn’t. And again, it’s just another bunch of foreign troops moving through the area. . . . So we have sort of subdivided and sliced and diced the existing Afghan forces that we have and moved them down into every formation we have, so that there are no Marines on the battlefield that don’t have Afghan forces with them.
Marines are learning to apply their superior force with a light touch:
One thing we learned in Iraq . . . the surge was great, the surge provided more troops and more equipment; but at the end of the day, you can’t surge trust, you can’t surge cooperation, you can’t surge personal relations. Those have to be built over a period of time. If we go into a town and it requires lots of damage to the town and we’re killing local people, even if we kill Taliban, those local fatalities and the damage we cause is going to resonate. And I think one of the things that the [provincial] governor has been so public about this week is that we don’t have one — as far as I know right now, we have not had one civilian casualty in the past seven days. Now, that’s — you think about 4,000 Marines, 600 Afghans, moving through an area, at least 20 engagements with the enemy, and to the best of our knowledge — and we stay very close to this — we’ve not had a civilian casualty.
They use a variety of weapons to achieve their goals:
I made sure my guys understood that stability ops started the day we hit the deck — the day we hit the deck, when we see our first locals. Because again, we choreographed this very closely with the governor, and . . . the governor through his networks got the word out: When the Marines land, stay. Don’t leave. The Marines are coming in, but stay there. And furthermore, approach the Marines, go up to the Marines. . . .
Clearing for us, as I’ve told our guys a hundred times, can be moving into an area, handing out Jolly Ranchers and drinking tea, or it can be a very kinetic, house-to-house fight. And I’ve told our guys: You should expect some of both. And you’d better be able to hand out Jolly Ranchers and 5.56 ammunition with equal enthusiasm and accuracy.
And so I really think that our guys have taken this to heart. They feel like they’re part of something special, because they are. We’ve taken a hell of a large swath of Taliban heartland away from them. And again, our job now is to inspire the people, inspire confidence in the people that we’re going to stay and that their government is there to take care of them. And that’s — the heavy lifting is just ahead. That’s going to be the really hard part.
And amid all the friendship-building, basic logistics are not being neglected:
The number one threat here right now today is not the Taliban, it’s the heat. And as I said, it is hot as fire. Every day we’ve got helicopters, day and night, pushing all manner of logistics, but especially pallets of water to the Marines. I am more than confident — and I stay in touch with my commanders down there — I am more than confident that we’re getting the amount of water they need in a timely manner. No one is going without water.
My problem, and what I’m fussing about with my staff, is that the water’s not cold. We need to freeze that water. We need to deliver water that’s pretty well frozen. It will thaw out very quickly. So we’re working on that. Also trying to get them a special meal this weekend, get some steaks down there. And these guys sure as hell have earned it. So we will have some helicopters this weekend flying in a special meal to the guys.
07/09 03:06 PM Share
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
What Part of “Eligible” Does Gates Not Understand? [Elaine Donnelly]
On June 30, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he had asked the Defense Department general counsel, an Obama administration political appointee, to find a more “humane” way to enforce the 1993 law stating that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military.
The 1993 law, Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C., is usually mislabeled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” even though it codified almost word-for-word long-standing Defense Department regulations affirming that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in uniform. It is unsettling to hear the secretary of defense making comments that betray serious misunderstandings of the law, which he has had more than enough time to review.
It has been suggested that recruits or officers who withhold information relevant to their eligibility, but are “outed” by someone else, should be entitled to accommodation in the military. Secretary Gates should consider whether such a provision would create an incentive for partners of gay servicemembers to help them avoid “adverse action,” i.e., honorable discharge, by disclosing their homosexuality.
Secretary Gates should be mindful that according to four annual Military Times surveys of active-duty subscriber/respondents, the law as passed by Congress enjoys widespread support. Federal courts have upheld it as constitutional several times — as recently as last month. It was enacted by Congress to protect good order, morale, and readiness in our military — matters that should be Secretary Gates’s primary concern.
The problem here is not the law — it is the Clinton-era administrative policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which is inconsistent with the statute. For many good reasons, Congress deliberately rejected President Bill Clinton’s proposal to let homosexuals serve in the military as long as they do not say they are homosexual. The Clinton administration imposed the policy on the military anyway, in the form of enforcement regulations that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District determined to be inconsistent with the law. President George W. Bush could and should have dropped Clinton’s convoluted administrative policy years ago, but failed to do so.
Gates’s equivocation appears related to the highly publicized stories of Lt. Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate and former Army Arabic-language translator, and Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, an Air Force weapons systems officer (WSO) who is frequently misdescribed as a pilot whose training cost $25 million. (The number is questionable in any case, since Air Force figures provided to the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces indicated that it costs approximately $3.1 million to train a fighter or bomber pilot.) Both are being discharged because they are homosexual.
Gates should know that although Lt. Col. Fehrenbach did not intend to reveal his homosexuality, he still is not eligible to stay in the Air Force. If he and Lt. Choi were misinformed about their eligibility to serve, that does not change the clear meaning of the law or justify its suspension. Even the Washington Post, which advocates repeal of the law, advised gay activists in a June 27 editorial that they “should not be looking for ways to get around existing policy.”
The only “humane” thing to do is what President George W. Bush should have done years ago: administratively drop the contradictory policy known by the catch-phrase “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Secretary Gates is authorized by law to rescind the Clinton-era enforcement regulations, and he could also exercise his power to restore “the question” about homosexuality that used to appear on induction forms before President Clinton eliminated it. Current law fully authorizes such action — no additional legislation is required.
During the debate on this year’s defense authorization bill, House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton (D., Mo.) said he would schedule hearings on gays in the military at an unspecified future date. Gates’s directive to the DoD general counsel appears to be a preliminary step toward “modification” (read, circumvention) of the 1993 law. Gates should not take any action that ignores congressional intent and circumvents, redefines, or violates Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C. Doing so would be an affront to Congress and a violation of the oaths of office taken by the president and the secretary of defense. Emotion and misinformation should not be allowed to stampede Congress into repealing a law that is important to the troops that Gates is charged to lead.
07/08 08:06 AM Share
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Robert McNamara, the War-Fighting Auto Executive [Fred Schwarz]
An interesting article (from a magazine I used to work on) examines the 15 years that Robert McNamara, the Vietnam-era defense secretary who died yesterday at the age of 93, spent as a whiz-kid executive at Ford Motors. McNamara, a brilliant student and business professor, had spent World War II in the Army doing what he later made a career of: analyzing processes statistically to make them work better.
The Stat Control team had coordinated the Allies’ global bombing campaign . . . by compiling and analyzing reams of data on planes, bombs, airfields, fuel depots, pilots, crew members, and targets. McNamara had squeezed 30 percent more flying hours out of Gen. Curtis LeMay’s B-29 bombers simply by getting a handle on the numbers of crews and planes and rescheduling them more efficiently.
Soon after the war’s end, he and his Army colleagues joined Ford, and McNamara emerged as the leader of the group. Among the gearhead “car guys” who still predominated at Ford, McNamara had a reputation for other-worldliness:
In the 1960s Ford men often repeated the story of how McNamara had “designed” a car while sitting in church one Sunday. He showed up for work the next morning with a piece of paper on which he had laid down the contours of a new model. Only he hadn’t done it with a drawing, as a car guy would have. His doodling had been in numbers. He had written down a desired length, weight, cost, investment level, and price, with no word about how the car should look or feel.
McNamara showed little patience for frills, ornamentation, or sentiment. He dismayed car buffs by changing the Thunderbird from a sexy two-seater to a boring four-seater. Yet McNamara’s specialty, cutting waste and maximizing output, was exactly what Ford needed as it emerged from a stagnant era of one-man rule by its elderly founder. When he erred, it was the result of being ahead of his time, as when he tried to sell cars based on safety and gas mileage before those things became important to buyers.
Yet if McNamara was the right man at the right time for Ford, he was the wrong man at Defense — or at least the wrong man to fight the Vietnam War; if he had left office after the 1964 election, he would be remembered as one of the best defense secretaries. His problem was that the techniques that had served him so well when allocating resources in an air war, and in rationalizing well-defined industrial processes, proved much less applicable to a jungle guerrilla war where the enemy was widely dispersed and the biggest cost item — American lives — was hard to control and impossible to set a value on. McNamara and his analysts kept solving problems only to find that the terms of the problems had changed.
The efficiency-maximizing approach, as practiced by McNamara and others, had worked during World War II because the Allies enjoyed material superiority; a high level of casualties was expected and accepted; there was little or no public dissent; and when they beat an enemy, it stayed beaten. In Korea the first three of these were still true, more or less; but in Vietnam, and today in Afghanistan and Iraq, only the first one is. Logistics and planning remain extremely important, of course; but today it’s also necessary to take into account many more things involved in a war that cannot be reduced to dollars and numbers and pins on a map.
07/07 04:55 PM Share
Monday, July 06, 2009
Tank Roundup for July 6 [Fred Schwarz]
An interesting overview of why making peace between Israel and Palestine won’t be as easy as Obama seems to think:
The West Bank is thriving, while Gaza just scrapes along. The smuggling tunnels from Egypt to Gaza still operate, sustained by cash to bribe Egyptian police. Iran is the main source of cash, and the Egyptians are willing to tolerate that as long as Hamas does not provide a sanctuary for Sunni Arab terrorists (who are at war with Egypt.) Egypt still believes several terrorist cells in Gaza are plotting attacks in Egypt . . .
Bill Roggio reports on Uighur terrorists in China (and recently in Pakistan). In both conflicts, neither side is known for its exemplary conduct, but the situation goes to show that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement is an active terrorist organization, however much Obama may romanticize it as a national liberation group:
[July 6:] More than 140 people were killed and 816 were wounded, and hundreds more were arrested after Uighurs staged protests in Urumqi, the capital of China's northwestern province of Xinjiang. The government claimed foreign extremists were behind the riots.
[April 20:] The Pakistani government has deported nine Chinese Uighurs to China after detaining them in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The nine Uighurs conducted attacks on Pakistani security forces. Uighurs train and fight alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. . . .
In the Vietnam War, communist fighters used urine-soaked rags to confuse American “people sniffers.” More recently, strips of foil dropped from planes have thrown off radar systems. And today the battle between high-tech weapons and low-tech countermeasures continues, this time with China trying to neutralize America’s information advantage:
. . . several thousand microtransmitters . . . broadcast signals — 10,000 of them — on the frequency of a SAM [surface-to-air missile] site. From the perspective of a HARM [high-speed anti-radiation missile] looking for a ‘lock’ on a SAM radar signal — this meant an air-to-ground picture that looked like 10,001 SAM signals, only one of which was real.
Tanker-transport plane to gunship in four hours:
This spring, the Marines decided to buy nine kits for their KC-130J tanker-transports, each kit comprising Hellfire and Viper Strike missiles and bolt-on sensors — with a door gun, optional. The result, code-named Harvest Hawk, turns a tanker into a gunship, in just four hours, on the cheap.
The report goes on to say that the Air Force is now borrowing the Marines’ idea.
07/06 03:02 PM Share
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Re: The Declaration of Independence [Fred Schwarz]
Thanks for the reminder, Gregory. As Jonah Goldberg has pointed out at The Corner, every year someone tries to make a case that the real pivotal event behind the Declaration occurred on July 2, not July 4, but there’s a reason we celebrate on the Fourth: Celebrating Independence Day on the Second of July would be like celebrating your wedding anniversary on the day you got engaged. (And to be fair to Joseph Ellis, he admits as much at the end of his article; I think this was simply a case of a Daily Beast headline writer trying too hard.)
Regarding the Declaration itself, nowadays people tend to focus on the second paragraph and gloss over the rest, but to me, the essence of the document lies elsewhere: In the opening, which admits the importance of explaining the reasons behind a revolution, instead of just storming the barricades; in the passage beginning “Prudence, indeed,” which points out the wisdom of a take-it-slow approach; and in the bill of particulars, which details the British government’s numerous offenses against the colonies, and the many attempts the colonists made to work things out (remember, the Declaration was adopted more than a year after Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill).
You wouldn’t know it from the defiant tone of the Declaration’s most frequently quoted passages, but it really was adopted more in sorrow than in anger, and a similar hesitancy, and similar clarity about causes and reasons, would have well served most of the world’s other revolutions, successful and unsuccessful.
07/04 11:29 AM Share
Friday, July 03, 2009
The Declaration of Independence [Gregory S. McNeal]
On this Fourth of July I thought it appropriate to post a reminder of what this holiday is about:
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
07/03 11:30 PM Share
Thursday, July 02, 2009
A Realistic Approach to Somalia [J. Peter Pham]
Today my weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review continues to urge the adoption of a realistic stratagem for dealing with the conflict in Somalia between the country’s tottering “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) and the Islamist insurgents led by al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked group formally designated a “foreign terrorist organization” last year by the U.S. Department of State.
The article begins by reviewing the further deterioration of the situation in Somalia and criticizes the Obama administration’s decision to send 40 tons of weapons and munitions to the TFG, noting with respect to the latter that the “poorly thought-out gesture may have handed the Islamist extremists both the weapons and the nationalist (and anti-American) card” to use in their fight against the interim regime. I then argue:
If the failure so far of no fewer than fourteen internationally-sponsored attempts at establishing a national government indicates anything, it is the futility—indeed, hubris—of the notion that outsiders can impose a regime on Somalia, even if it is staffed with presumably moderate Somalis duly vetted and anointed by the international community. Instead, in the context of the decentralized reality among the Somali, the concerned international community in general and the United States in particular need to invest the time and resources to seek out local partners who are actually capable of partnering to create a modicum of stability—societal, economic, and, ultimately, governmental—rather than throwing money and arms at a “Transitional Federal Government” which, as a former U.S. ambassador who dealt with Somali issues told me last week, “is neither transitional, nor federal, nor a government.”
In contrast, an alternative approach would include working with effective authorities in the Republic of Somaliland, Puntland State, the province of Gedo, and other areas of the onetime Somali Democratic Republic:
Consider just the raw demographic data. Of the estimated 9 million Somalis in the world, more than one million of them are refugees or permanently living in the diaspora; 3.5 million live in the Republic of Somaliland; and another 2.4 million in Puntland. Thus, even if its writ were not circumscribed to a few pockets in Mogadishu, the unelected TFG could claim to govern at most one-fifth of the Somali population. How can failing to engage with the legitimate elected authorities—directly chosen in internationally-monitored democratic elections with universal suffrage in the case of Somaliland, indirectly picked by the region’s House of Representatives in the case of Puntland, co-opted by traditional leaders in the case of Gedo—who actually govern two-thirds of Somalis be helpful? Going forward, the international community would do better to engage these nascent polities. Doing so not only recognizes the progress they have achieved, but also, by helping to strengthen the remarkable stability they have already secured, both reduces the “problem areas” which need to be of concern and wins Somali partners who are best positioned to show their own fellows how they might get their act together.
Building up the capacities of the functional parts of the former Somali state also has the additional advantage of standing up important allies in the fight against the two most pressing security challenges emanating from the failed state: maritime piracy and the spread of Islamist extremism and violence.
In addition, I emphasize that “any workable solution to the crisis of governance and capacity in the Somali lands must embrace a ‘bottom-up’ or ‘building-block’ approach rather than the hitherto ‘top-down’ strategy. This means that a truly realistic strategy must engage traditional clan leaders, members of the vibrant Somali business community, and civil society actors.” Thus I conclude:
While the news coming from Mogadishu continues to be disconcerting, it need not be the cause for exaggerated alarmism. After all, any policy must, at the very least, do no harm. Moreover, a sober look at the reality on the ground in the Horn of Africa points the way to what can realistically be done to ensure security for Somalis, their neighbors, and the overall international order.
07/02 10:56 AM Share
Friday, June 26, 2009
Slashing the Military to Pre-9/11 Levels [Gregory S. McNeal]
While trillions of borrowed dollars fly out of Washington in the form of stimulus (and into Washington from America's wallets), the federal government is cutting back in one area where the Founders believed a federal government was necessary — "to provide for the common defense."
Perhaps most alarming are the cuts to missile defense, right when our enemies are preparing advanced missile systems. As an illustration of the dramatic cuts, consider this alarming graphic provided by the Heritage Foundation:
06/26 11:35 AM Share
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
MVP Act Clears a Hurdle [Fred Schwarz]
The House Administration Committee has approved the Military Voting Protection Act of 2009 (H.R. 2393) and sent it to the full House for a vote. As its name suggests, the act would make it easier for service members who are stationed overseas to vote by absentee ballot. The most important provisions would require the Defense Department to take a more active role in collecting completed ballots, and to ship them back to America by express mail instead of the pokey military mail services. That should reduce the problem of ballots getting lost or arriving too late to be counted.
It all sounds fairly uncontroversial, and the bill is likely to pass with little or no opposition. Indeed, when a nearly identical bill was introduced in Congress last year, it passed the Senate on a voice vote — but the House rejected it, for two reasons. First, it was a presidential election year, and the Democratic majority thought military voters would favor McCain. (This may explain why all the Senate sponsors, and all but one of the House sponsors, were Republicans.) And second, the 2008 bill permitted completed ballots to be sent back to the States by private express-delivery service.
That got the National Association of Postmasters of the United States riled up. Think of what FedEx or UPS could have said: “When the U.S. government needs to safeguard the most sacred right of democracy, who does it call? Not the post office.” The bill died in the House committee. So this year the bill’s proponents took care to recruit sponsors from both parties and to specify USPS Express Mail as the only permissible carrier. Barring any further mischief, the bill should be enacted into law, and our forces overseas will no longer face obstacles in exercising the very rights they are fighting for.
(By the way, the 2008 version also
Expresse[d] the sense of Congress that the Department of Defense (DOD) should:
(1) utilize existing and emerging technologies to enhance the ability of members of the Armed Forces to meaningfully participate in elections and have their votes counted; and
(2) continue to closely examine the option of electronic voting, with the objective of protecting voter privacy and guarding against voter fraud.
That certainly makes sense for an electorate that is spread out all around the world, on land and sea, and in the long run it will probably solve the age-old problem of military voting. For the time being, though, including that language in the law would open a can of worms, because if electronic voting works for the military, why not use it for civilians too? So you would have software firms and computer makers vying for influence with DoD, hoping to get the jump on the much larger civilian election market. This is an issue that really needs to be treated separately, which is why the provisions about investigating computer voting were stricken from this year’s version.)
06/24 04:59 PM Share
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Fighting Intensifies in Somalia [J. Peter Pham]
Today my weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review criticizes Somalia’s “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) and its international supporters for “ongoing refusal to deal realistically” with the burgeoning crisis in the Horn of Africa subregion as Islamist militants brought their offensive to the edge of Mogadishu amid fierce fighting and the country’s nominal government reeled from the loss last week of several of its more effective members.
The article reviews the recent deterioration of the situation in Somalia and analyzes the appeal over the weekend by the TFG for a foreign military intervention to rescue it. I then argue:
If all of this seems a bit farcical, it is because it seems the surreal has become the ordinary in the international community’s approach to Somalia, even as the situation has gone from bad to worse to worst, presenting the entire Horn of Africa with a security crisis of the first order, spreading instability across a fragile subregion and . . . raising the specter that transnational terrorist networks like al-Qaeda will find and exploit the opportunities thus offered. Yet, for want of better ideas, the international community has opted to buy into a seductive, but nonetheless vicious, circle of its own manufacture whereby it must “stay the course” and continue to waste scarce resources shoring up the hopeless TFG because it has already invested too much time and resources into the regime to do otherwise. In short, if the TFG is “fiddling” while Somalia burns, it is doing so with a full orchestral accompaniment provided by an international community that apparently lacks either the will or the imagination (or both) to do anything else.
Subsequently I proceed to sketch out the outlines of an alternative approach that includes recognition of the desuetude of Somalia as a real subject of international law, the encouragement of effective actors and other authorities among the Somali, and a redefining of the role of the African Union peacekeeping force currently deployed to protect the TFG, concluding:
I readily acknowledged that an approach such as the one I sketched out may strike many as minimalist. However, I was convinced and am even more certain today that it was the course most likely to buy Somalis themselves the space within which to make their own determinations about their future while at the same time allowing the rest of the world, especially the countries of the Horn of Africa, to achieve their legitimate security objectives. Thus, not only does the strategy offer the most realistic hope of salvaging a modicum of regional stability and international security out of situation that otherwise grows increasingly intractable with each passing day, but it certainly beats replaying a tired old score while the neighborhood goes up in flames.
06/23 11:13 AM Share