Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saddam: Sign That Dirty Shiite Option in Play?

Abu Ardvaark has a disturbing analysis of the ramifications and details of the Saddam Hussein execution: the Shiite option may actually be on the table as a strategy in Iraq. This would entail siding with the Shia in order to crush the Sunni insurgency.

As mentioned earlier in the "Dirty Shiite Option" the crucial element to be on the lookout for is what the intended end-state is -- simply siding with Shia is going to come back and bite us eventually. We have to deliver some kind of brokered compromise. Abu Aardvark has done the thinking, and Eric Umansky backs it up with details from the exeution (hat tip Defense Tech).

Aside from the Iraqi perspective of the execution, WashPost also has a good article on the "
The first great Shakespearean death scene of the YouTube generation" with some obvious ramifications for the information side conduct of counterinsurgency in the Long War:
For as long as he was alive, Hussein was useful for an important American argument about the war. He was a bad guy; we captured him; he would face justice. This miniature narrative, contained within the broader one of a war gone terribly wrong, is losing its force. And with Hussein dead it will likely become almost entirely inert. Another video clip, easily found on the Web, showed Hussein dead, wrapped in a white cloth, with his face clearly visible. The camera lingered over the image for a strangely long time, as if to say, yes, he's still dead.

Saddam Hussein Is Still Dead is not a rallying cry. But the images of his execution and his body seem to point to a new era in the way images are used politically, what might be called a post-propaganda era. So many images that were supposed to have such profound impact on public perception -- the now infamous "Mission Accomplished" photo op or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's bloody head tastefully framed for the cameras -- have failed to connect with the reality of either public opinion, or the facts on the ground. This image means progress, we're told, but there isn't any progress. This image is a final chapter, but the blood still flows. For a public media campaign to work, at least some of the politically calculated captions placed on images must, in the end, turn out to be true.

The current administration has attempted to construct a classic media argument in support of the war at a time when "the media" are dissolving and re-forming into something new, something in which the images we wish to see are more important than the images we are forced to see. Even before the execution video arrived, television people were publicly clucking about what they would or wouldn't show. It will be tasteful, they assured us. But their efforts at gatekeeping are now almost entirely irrelevant. The public will find exactly as much of the death of Hussein as it wants, and people will watch for as long as it holds any novelty or fascination.

(Barnett on) New Chinese Defense White Paper

New Chinese defense white paper out as described in this WashPost article:

The Chinese views on regional security, articulated in a government white paper on national defense, provided a rare glimpse into the strategic assessments that underlie decisions and priorities of the secretive Chinese military and the Communist Party's policymaking Central Military Commission. In part, the paper was designed as a response to repeated complaints from the Bush administration that China has not explained the rationale behind its long-term military improvement program. China's announced military budget has risen about 10 percent a year recently, reaching $35.4 billion in 2006, and Pentagon specialists estimate that also counting equipment expenditures would more than double it.

Along with Taiwan's pursuit of independence, the government pointed out as particular security challenges North Korea's missile tests last summer and its maiden nuclear test in October, which undermined Chinese-led diplomatic efforts to create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. The most recent round of nuclear negotiations took place last week and ended in stalemate, creating doubts about the utility of continuing the three-year-old six-nation talks. In listing Chinese concerns, the white paper also cited a U.S.-Japanese effort to build a regional missile defense shield based on U.S. ships equipped with the Aegis radar system and a U.S.-Japanese missile now being developed. The joint defense system, portrayed as protection against a North Korean attack, has been criticized by Chinese officials and commentators because it also could blunt China's missile threat in the event of U.S.-Chinese hostilities over Taiwan.

Chinese officials have expressed concern that Taiwan could eventually be integrated into the U.S.-Japanese system, providing a counterweight to China's increasing missile threat against the self-ruled island. That fear was not explicitly conveyed in the white paper, but Japan's growing willingness to assert itself militarily was cited as a strategic concern for military planners in Beijing. "America and Japan are strengthening their military alliance in pursuit of operational integration, and Japan seeks to modify its peace constitution and exercise collective self-defense," the paper said. "North Korea launched missiles and had a nuclear test. The situation in the Korean Peninsula and northeast Asia is getting more and more complicated and serious."

The paper said China's military improvements are part of the country's overall modernization and economic expansion. The effort will continue apace, it added, seeking to "lay a solid foundation" by 2010, make "major progress" by 2020 and "reach the strategic goal of building informationized armed forces and being capable of winning informationized wars by the mid-21st century." Moving from infantry to high-tech naval and aerial warfare has been a major goal of China's military modernization. It has entailed the shedding of thousands of untrained foot soldiers and a concerted effort to replace them with trained technicians able to function in the world of computerized weaponry.

At the face of things then classic security dilemma situation. Tom Barnett has covered the article already of course:

So what is China guilty of in this last explanation of its vaunted defense build-up?

As a rising economic power they're doing to their military the same thing they've been doing to their economy for years now: swapping out cheap labor (here, ground troops) for high-tech capital (mostly air and naval, aping their model, otherwise known as the U.S. military). Why does the PLA ape the Pentagon? Who else should they logically ape?

And here are the provocative rationales offered by Hu Jintao for China's build-up:

1) danger on the Korean peninsula (hmm, that one's hard to critique);

2) rising U.S.-Japanese military cooperation (given the state of Sino-Japanese relations, that seems fairly plausible, does it not?)

3) rising provocations re: independence from Taiwan (that's really BS, but a standby for the Chinese).

China continues to use Taiwan as a national diversion, with the Party leadership making that the great excuse for a build-up that logically arises from China's rising. Yes, the obsession is real, and it's mind-boggling with the PLA. I have sat in conversations with their military strategists and planners and listened to nonsense after nonsense on this issue. You'd think the whole frickin' universe revolved around this all-important scenario, when--truth be told--this scenarios matters only to military acquisition planners in both Beijing and Washington. Why? Frankly, it's all we have left and for the Chinese, it's a nice cover for what I believe to be the long-term rationale truly at work: China's growing fears over its rising energy dependence, which within years will vastly outweigh ours.

But my God! What kind of nation builds a big military to protect its access to energy around the planet?

Well, actually, that would be us by a huge margin. (...)

All this mirror imaging by China's strategic thinkers, whether it's on Taiwan or energy security, that's got to be something just to confuse us. Surely they cannot be so unimaginative simply to ape our moves, building a naval and air force whose primary design is to prevent our ability to threaten their ability to threaten Taiwan's ability to threaten independence? And beyond that simply to guard sea lines of communication? Surely the Chinese strategic vision is not that narrow, that myopic?

Why the hell not? That's basically our Big War rationale. With China, they're aping #1. But what exactly is our excuse when Marines and Army are dying every day in this Long War we've declared? Why is the Pentagon so intent on having a war with the country that inevitably becomes our biggest economic partner?

I'm not overstating. There are many in the military and especially the Air Force and Navy that just gotta have their conflict with China. Otherwise these guys must contemplate evolutions of their forces that they do not care to contemplate.

Too many Pentagon planners want to make the environment match the force, not the other way around. They'll tell you China spies on us and tries to steal our secrets, constantly trying to make their force more like ours. They'll tell you the big future threat we face is the loss of Taiwan. They simply don't want the war we've got, and if left to their own devices, will continue to build a force that's unprepared for that war--getting our people killed in the process.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Meta-Dabble on Sage, Specialization

Following Svenpundit's funny metapost on "Alternate Universe Blogging" I'll allow myself a meta-dabble too, albeit -- as it where -- in a tediously Scandinavian manner.

I finally settled on a feed-reader after trying out a few and looking at a few more. Sage it is. Integrates automatically with Firefox, and the two basic functionalities -- update feeds and find feeds on open tab -- work easily. The only thing I kind of miss is the possibility to have all new feeds aggregated on the same page -- a bit like Google News.

So reading the blogs got a lot easier -- but also troublesome. For a fox (as opposed to hedgehog) incarnate, there's just too much to take in ... or rather: too little time. Moreover, the hedgehog-like call for specialization as a comparative advantage in the bloguniverse is even more pressing when the feeds are so readily available. But hey, I asked for it.

A final note: All of a sudden it strikes me, that since I can read anyone's posts without going to their URLs my visit will probably not be detected by their SiteMeter function? Or are these hits still accounted for?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Katrina Says About Counterinsurgency

Central parts of what has gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan are only partially tied to Big Issues like military strategy and tactics. Rather, these stem from a not very debated part of security and military studies: the introduction of (perceived) modern management and administration techniques such as outsourcing -- executed in a peculiarly blueeyed way that is glaringly incompetent. This story from CNN -- on the lack of controls on reconstructing funding spent on Katrina story -- confirms the pattern:
The tally for Hurricane Katrina waste could top $2 billion next year because half of the lucrative government contracts valued at $500,000 or greater for cleanup work are being awarded with little competition. Federal investigators have already determined the Bush administration squandered $1 billion on fraudulent disaster aid to individuals after the 2005 storm. Now they are shifting their attention to the multimillion dollar contracts to politically connected firms that critics have long said are a prime area for abuse.

In January, investigators will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts. The charges range from political favoritism to limited opportunities for small and minority-owned firms, which initially got only 1.5 percent of the total work. "Based on their track record, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw another billion more in waste," said Clark Kent Ervin, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general from 2003-2004. "I don't think sufficient progress has been made."

The story about the incompetent handling of the outsourcing of police training in Afghanistan a) looks a lot like the one on Katrina here, and b) might explain a lot about the current situation (mentioned in this post).

Evidently, any kind of public outsourcing should follow basic rules of accountability, transparency and oversight. And more evidently, these are especially called for when the outsourcing deals with issues of national security interest. In the case of Federal outsourcing these exist (OMB Circular A–76, 2003, pdf). Enabling more federal outsourcing has been a focus area for the Bush Administration, including the Army (the Army's implementation of the OMB rules is called Army Regulation 5-20). Whether these revised rules are too lax I don't know: all that is visible from here is the practical context and fallout, e.g. as in this 2003 news item:
Officials want to turn over to the private sector those jobs determined not to be central to the Army’s national defense mission. The method generally followed is to allow defense contractors to compete with Army employees to determine who can best perform the job at the lowest cost, a process that requires a comprehensive economic analysis. The Army’s plan is in keeping with last year’s White House directive that agencies increase the amount of work deemed not "inherently governmental" that is contracted out or put up for competition between the public and private sectors.
The trouble began when the outsourcing cum public downsizing agenda got mixed up with the national security agenda through Rumsfeld's lean-focused transformation. Legacy-defense organizations have always operated with residual or duplicate elements -- for reasons of incompetence, sure, but also because war is inherently unpredictable and strategic leeway is necessary.

Outsourcing anything not related to core military functions has included not only cooking and basic logistics -- but also civilian elements of Stabilization and Reconstruction (including counterinsurgency) which did not look like 'important DoD stuff'. Being a stepchild of an organization will always carry disadvantages -- but if the stepchild is crucial to the overall success then maybe it needs new parents?

With the NSPD 44, State was formally given responsibility for Reconstruction, and created the S/CRS to take ... well, at least they probably have the capacity to follow academic debates on the subject. The NSPD 44 trouble will not go away until DoD either takes S&R serious -- or until Congress gives S/CRS a decent budget. Doing S&R and counterinsurgency entails giving the political reconstruction side a fair consideration.

Now, let's play a little game: We aim to
achieve the same effect on the ground from both military and civilian type initiatives and thus a balance between the two kinds of action. Then we acknowledge that military stuff is expensive, and discount roughly for logistics provided by the military, other special material expenses (procurement, etc.). What would the respective budget shares then be? If not 50-50 then maybe a repartition giving about 2/3 to military type expenses.

Polemically, a decent budget for the S/CRS would then be 1/3 of the money spent on S&R in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to this CRS report, out of the total (US) cost of Afghanistan and Iraq of US$ 357 bn, 20.2 bn has gone to training security forces and 25.8 bn to reconstruction, foreign aid and embassy expenses. Counting training of local security forces as part of the civilian tasks (enhanced CIMIC), this makes for a total of 46 bn for reconstruction. Here the repartition is 87% vs. 13%. However, if we put training under the military heading, the count becomes 93% vs. 7%. Arguably, then, an additional amount of between 71 and 93 bn should have been spent on reconstruction (at least, not factoring in the increased total amount).

The trouble is that State will never get an operating budget for S&R even remotely comparable to DoD because of the necessitas of security -- and that DoD, in spite the DoD Directive 3000.05, will be very unlikely to fully embrace S&R in practice. Tom Barnett's positive vision for a DoD originated Department of Everything Else may very well be the only possible way in the long term (Knoxville op-ed).

But in the short term raising the budget for anything -- whatever its importance -- doesn't matter if the money is not well-spent.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Reading: Levinsky's Integration

Published in 1917, The Rise of David Levinsky gives a fine cultural portrait of the conditions and workings of US immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. Levinsky was authored by Abraham Cahan, editor of a leading yiddisch-language journal, Forverts.

In the book, David Levinsky -- a poor, orthodox Russian jew -- comes to New York in search of a new life, winding up 25 years later, rich, atheist, single and somewhat unhappy.

The novel's main point of interest is Levinsky's urge to integrate -- integration as: to acquire and master the functional culture of his new country.
Consequently a lesson emerges for today's agenda in Europe: perhaps the European countries' incentives should be better structured to assure the creation of that kind of urge.

Incidentally, an immigrant Dane, Jacob A. Riis, was behind the contrasting depiction of the period, namely How The Other Half Lives. This book, and fellow Dane Jacob Holdt's later American Pictures are interesting both for their primary effect -- social illustration and enlightenment -- and for their secondary effect (or reception history) in Europe -- as building blocks in the continued, mesmerizing myth about the 'uncivilization' of the US.

See also this post on the role of culture for
functional integration in Europe vs. the States.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

African Command Will Be Political, Not Military

According to the Boston Globe, a new African Command seems likely to be greenlighted by President Bush in the coming days:

The US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, would oversee strategic developments and military operations across the entire continent, where a combination of problems -- natural disasters, civil wars, chronic disease, and the growing presence of Islamic radicals -- has destabilized some countries and created an increasing threat to global security, White House and Defense Department aides said. The Pentagon proposal, which the White House is expected to approve in coming days, is overdue, according to Africa specialists. (...)

The Pentagon, which crafted the proposal with the aid of the State Department and other government agencies, envisions the new command to be unique among its global combat headquarters. Because African nations do not pose a direct military threat to the United States, Defense officials said, the AFRICOM operation would focus far less on preparing troops for major combat in the area.

Instead, it would stress military training programs to help local governments secure their borders and take steps to guard against crises such as Darfur as well as contain outbreaks of deadly diseases such as AIDS and malaria .

Unlike in other traditional command posts, the four-star general who would be in charge of AFRICOM would probably have a civilian counterpart from the State Department to coordinate nonmilitary functions of the US government. The expectation is that diplomacy and economic and political aid will often prove more critical to achieving US goals in Africa than relying on military solutions.

The idea for a separate Africa command grew out of a major Pentagon review completed earlier this year. The study concluded that the US military needed to stop domestic security threats before they start by keeping unstable countries around the world from toppling into anarchy.

"The goal is to prevent another Afghanistan," said Lieutenant Commander Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman who has been briefed on the proposal. With a dedicated headquarters for Africa, he added, the military would have "an organization that is in a better position to do prevention and better organized so other elements of the US government can interface."

Africa, Carpenter said, "is very different than what we see in other regions of the world. For many countries, it is simply having a functioning coast guard and police force" that would make the difference between stability or chaos.

Dracobs has written about the coming AFRICOM before, here and most notably here:
Basically [according to the now confirmed rumours about the Pentagon vision], the new African Command would deal with foreign policy: economic development and political stabilization. It will be interesting to see whether Pentagon really means it -- and will be willing to integrate and coordinate with (even on some choices subordinate itself to) e.g. USAID. The sensible international version would essentially include the already existing multilateral universe, from foreign development partners such as IMF, WB, UNDP ... and the EU, whose civil crisis management capabilities are growing and are being considered deployed to Afghanistan to support the NATO operation there.(...) The challenge here is to find a way of organizing coordination without hierarchy -- between only partially aligned mission definitions and especially self-conceptions from civil multilateral to military national perspectives.
Now it seems that these rumours were true and that AFRICOM will be very political rather than military in nature. Even if this in the first run is a good thing for Africa, it also paradoxically plays into the ongoing trend of an even further militarization of US foreign policy (since State Department has so few resources that it cannot compete with the Pentagon) which was e.g. well described in Dana Priest's, The Mission.

Magazines: 'Foreign Policy' Still Not Good Enough

Foreign Policy magazine is a step or two behind Foreign Affairs, which still reigns as the best edited and written current affairs journal. To prove it is lagging, FP has published a quite bewildering "Top 10 Stories You Missed In 2006". Let's look at the list:

10. Hackable Passports
9. What’s Worse Than Bird Flu? The Cure.
8. Petro Powers Drop the Dollar
7. The Gender Gap Gets Smaller
6. Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks
5. United States Funds the Taliban
4. Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race
3. Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab
2. China Runs up African Debt
1. India Helps Iran Build the Bomb, While the White House Looks the Other Way

OK, when FP do lists like this, I'd like all the stories to be a) factually correct, b) significant, and c) preferrably not something I knew or would be reasonably expected to know already. How many stories fit all three criteria? One, namely the story on President Bush's law revision which extends the number of domestic situations where POTUS can send in troops, etc. The remaining nine either fell on being:

1) Something I knew already (or would expect people to know):
  • 10. Hackable Passports. The RFID insecurity scandal reeks with incompetent faith in whatever technological solution seems at hand. Wired has covered this story in depth and it would easily qualify for the years best story on technology-meets-politics. Hey, even I wrote about RFIDs and that before Wired (albeit on a different subject concerning Pentagon incompetence). That story has been pretty well covered all over, then.
2) Factually incorrect or pushed too far:
  • 8. Petro Powers Drop the Dollar. I may be no macro economist, but I don't think the effect of moving US$ 5 bn from dollars to euros could move the rate significantly. Moreover, ever since the euro was created, there has been a larger structural -- i.e. politically neutral -- incentive for third nations to diversify their currency holdings into euros. If this is what we see now, then it is perhaps less dramatic than the FP would suggest because the markets would have known of the incentive for a long time.
  • 5. United States Funds the Taliban. No they don't. Incompetence in reconstruction prgrammes have led money to sieve into Taliban hands. The real story related to this subject is the troubling level of Pentagon incompetence in overseeing outsourced contracts, including e.g. the training of the Afghan police force (NYTimes article). Moreover, see this MountainRunner post on a new GAO report on the subject.
3) Insignificant - i.e. probably not worthy to be on a Top 10:
  • 9. What’s Worse Than Bird Flu? The Cure. Uh, Tamiflu might have some sideeffects?! Well, as long as it a) works against a possible human bird flu-strain, and b) the death rate of the sideeffects was pretty low, which it seems since only 10 Canadians died suspsiciously, then this is a non-story. In case of bird flu anyone would take Tamiflu.
  • 7. The Gender Gap Gets Smaller. The story is here that some development programmes are working: There are more girls in developing world class rooms than there used to be. Great. But that is hardly surprising: why else would we do this? The story doesn't trump the real hidden and more disturbing story of the loss of the boys in the developed world on all levels of education, but increasingly at high school and college levels to a degree where females dominate completely. What is to become of Western man?
  • 6. Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks. Sure they do: Iran wants the money. This is a non-story because it does not belie Iran's possibile negative intentions. Iran might well want both to a) negotiate a deal and get some money from Israel, b) nuke Israel after getting paid. So why the fuss about the story?
  • 4. Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race. Fuels in the sense that they sell stuff? The South Americans are grown up: If Brazil wants to buy Russian gadgets in order to obtain Russian support for a UNSC seat, then so be it. Yes, they ought to better their countries instead of buying weapons for an internal arms race; but Russia should hardly be blamed.
  • 2. China Runs up African Debt. The real story here is not the cheap Chinese lending, but rather the bigger story oif which it is part, namely the emerging African proxy war over good governance between the West and China. China doesn't give a damn about human rights, and is fundamentally opposed to the 1990s UN-paradigm of outwards state accountability. See my post "China's African Policy: Proxy Wars Over good Governance".
  • 1. India Helps Iran Build the Bomb, While the White House Looks the Other Way. The accusations are true in the sense that the mentioned incidents did happen as e.g. mentioned in this CRS report,. But there is no reason to believe that India's government actively supports Iran getting the bomb. Ultimately, India would gain very little from helping Iran, and just as India stand to gain a lot from a good relationshsip with the US, they could lose a lot if the country appeared to have been instrumental to an Iranian bomb. The real concern is whether evidently weak and problematic export controls and general anti-proliferation measures in India will be the result of the US-Indian Joint Statement process.
Bottom line: I would have kept 1 item as it is (POTUS powers); dropped Hackable Passports, Tamiflu, Russian Arms, and Israel-Iran talks, and heavily re-versioned the rest according to the above. That's just not good enough Foreign Policy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Recent NYTimes Reviews

A slew of book reviews from the above-mentioned publication:

"Old World Order": ETHICAL REALISM. A Vision for America’s Role in the World. By Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman. 199 pp. Pantheon Books.
You can trace the fortunes of this visionary conception of America’s role in the world through recent books. President Bush’s muscular and militarized response to 9/11 was accompanied by its own 21-gun salute: Robert Kagan’s “Of Paradise and Power”; John Lewis Gaddis’s “Surprise, Security, and the American Experience”; and Walter Russell Mead’s “Power, Terror, Peace, and War,” a celebration of the convergence of Wilsonian idealism, “millennial capitalism” and scorn for multilateral institutions.

Bush’s second term in office has generated even more policy literature than his first. But now that it turns out we have leaned forward into a haymaker, the spirit of these new texts — “The Opportunity,” by Richard N. Haass; “America at the Crossroads,” by Francis Fukuyama; “The Good Fight,” by Peter Beinart; “The New American Militarism,” by Andrew J. Bacevich — has been rueful, weary and often bitter. Traditional conservatives, shocked out of their habitual caution by 9/11, have begun to recoil from the consequences of the campaign they consented to join. We have reached a “breaking ranks” moment; and it’s far from over.

“Ethical Realism” represents yet another turn of the doctrinal wheel. One of the authors, Anatol Lieven, is a brilliant, fiery pamphleteer of the left who has described the neoconservative enterprise as “world hegemony by means of absolute military superiority.” The other, John Hulsman, is a former fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who supported the war in Iraq and applauded Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rhetorical partition of Europe into the anti-American, played-out “old” and the rising, pro-Washington “new.”
"Killing Machines": WAR MADE NEW. Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today. By Max Boot. Gotham Books.
In the history of military technology, new ways of destroying adversaries have presented themselves at irregular, though ever shorter, intervals. Yet technological innovation has a bleak dialectic: advances in warfare usually require adaptive mechanisms purchased at tactical cost. American soldiers of 2006, for example, waddling like armadillos in their unwieldy carapaces of body armor — which improve the odds of surviving wounds otherwise lethal — make excellent targets for ragged insurgents using the weapons of an earlier generation. This is the thesis of “War Made New,” Max Boot’s unusual, and magisterial, survey of technology and war.
"Manifest Destinies": DANGEROUS NATION. By Robert Kagan. 527 pp. Alfred A. Knopf
In his celebrated book “Of Paradise and Power,” Robert Kagan took issue with “the mistaken idea that the American founding generation was utopian, that it genuinely considered power politics ‘alien and repulsive’ and was simply unable to comprehend the importance of the power factor in foreign relations.” Those words might stand as one epigraph for his provocative and deeply absorbing new book. Another could be what a South African historian once said about a book of his own: although its pages told of another time, “they are also about today.”

From the beginning, Americans liked to believe that they were free of Old-Worldly original sin, dwellers in a city on a hill who “cherished an image of themselves as by nature inward-looking and aloof.” And from the beginning, Kagan argues in “Dangerous Nation,” they were wrong.

"War Chronicle": FINDING THE TARGET: The Transformation of American Military Policy, Encounter, by Frederick W. Kagan; THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR: Deciding the Fate of North America, HarperCollins, by Walter R. Borneman; Elizabeth Pond’s ENDGAME IN THE BALKANS: Regime Change, European Style, Brookings Institution; THE OCCUPATION, Verso, by Patric Cockburn; ANNIHILATION FROM WITHIN: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, Columbia University Press, Fred Charles Iklé.
In their various ways, Kagan, Pond and Cockburn all teach us that there are no quick fixes or permanent solutions to the problems we face. But then, if international affairs were easy, we would probably be a lot better at it.

Mercenary Swede Convicted Of War Crimes

The AP reports that a Swedish man has been convicted of war crimes -- things he did as a mercenary in Bosnia in 1993.

A Swedish man who served as a mercenary in a Croatian militia was convicted Monday of war crimes during the Bosnian war. The Stockholm District court did not hand down a prison sentence to Jacky Arklov, who was found guilty of abusing and torturing prisoners, because he is already serving a life term for killing two police officers in Sweden. (...) "This is the first time in modern times that a person has been convicted in a Swedish court of violating international law," the court said in a statement. Arklov had pleaded guilty to most of the charges..." [emphasis added.]

It will be interesting to see how said and domestic law in the Scandinavian countries will deal with Scandinavian insurgents returning from Iraq and elsewhere (given that they return in peace, that is).

Quick Advice On Counterinsurgency: Wisen Up, Read MountainRunner

The price for being occupied with other, mundane things is that one has no chance of keeping up with the virtual Joneses, in this case the incontournable MountainRunner who should be on the reading list of all advanced readers interested in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do go read this post "How Not To Win the Long War" and this post on "The Big Assumption: Numbers Do Not Equal Effect", from which I quote:
(...) When the President’s Coalition of the Willing was at its strongest, there were more than twice as many private security contractors operating in Iraq as the second largest member of the Coalition, leading some to suggest it was really a Coalition of the Billing.

So why don't we consider the additional tens of thousands contractors that could be brought back over to provide site, transport, and sector security? Because it makes for a messy world with of friction, oversight, integration, and accountability. We need to remember the latest incarnation of the Marine Corps' Countering Irregular Threats intentionally ignored the role of "guns with legs" because it was too complex.

(...) This blog has raised the negative impacts of Haditha (done by the military) reconstruction failures (done by contractors), all of which are completely ignored in practice. When CENTCOM looks at Thomas Friedman as their COIN expert, we're in trouble.

John Nagl, David Galula, Mao, Thucydides, and others should be required reading to appreciate the value of SWET. Instead of debating numbers, we should be discussing how the tactics have failed and prevent the Iraq government from fulfilling the mandate we've given it.

We can't win unless the population believes we will deliver a solution. Military forces and contractors, armed and not, must be under a strategic direction to start conducting real counter-insurgency operations and public diplomacy operations to rebuild trust with the populations. It may be too late, afterall we spent the last three plus years creating the environment that's over there now.


Iraq: Reid, Biden Wants Out, Cut Private Contractors

The New York Sun reports that the Democrats are gathering behind a position that the US forces should get out of Iraq altogether.
Senior Democrats are coalescing behind the view that America should begin withdrawing from Iraq by early 2008, the heart of the next presidential campaign season. (...) The position emerging among the ascendant congressional majority effectively sets a political deadline for the war in Iraq. Until now, the White House has attacked Democratic attempts — such as a plan from Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat of Pennsylvania — to set a deadline for withdrawal. Such a timetable, the White House and its supporters argue, gives the terrorists an advantage because they can wait out the coalition forces. (...)

Despite expressing the view that America should prepare for a withdrawal, Democratic lawmakers have not yet said they will use the power of the purse to bend the president to their wishes. Mr. Reid stressed yesterday that he did not think the troop push would make much of a difference, but he added, "We are going to do everything we can to make sure our troops get everything they need." The one area that Mr. Reid said Democrats would use their influence in the budget process is in the use of contractors in Iraq, which he said number nearly 100,000. "We are not going to continually fund these contractors," he said.

The Democrat's position is a logical result of the war's impopularity in general and especially with the revived left wing of the party. But it is also in contradiction of the terms on the ground: the need for US troops, whether in stabilization or training is pretty obvious.

Moreover, whatever one feels about the presence of private contractors in Iraq (and their cost, accountability and role) the impression that they must be counted as part of the overall number of stabilizing units, including coalition forces and Iraqi security forces is unavoidable. Cutting funding abruptly for swift domestic political gains may cause more damage than imaginable up front.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Just A Quick Shelfari, Then

A nifty book collection-cum-discussion site is a reality with Shelfari. As proposed by Chirol at Coming Anarchy (hat tip) Shelfari looks likely to get swallowed up or copied by some of the large webbased booksellers like Amazon. Amazon already has both "I own it" including personal ratings plus the possibility of writing reviews -- turning this information into a social site would be easy.
One way to enhance the usefulness of Shelfari as it is would be to develop the possibility to have identical-but-parallel, concurrent discussions on Shelfari and (between) one's blog(s) at the same time. Another useful thing would be the ability to import exactly the Amazon "I own it!" list to Shelfari.

UPDATE: Actually, Shelfari does have some kind of coop with Amazon so the next step would be logical.

France Bombs Rebels in Central African Republic

The Independent reports that French Mirage F1's have been bombing in the Central African Republic, neigbouring the Sudanese Darfur province. France is not afraid to get involved in the Darfur regional context -- or maybe there is another agenda? Hard to tell without being an area specialist, but at least it is clear that the French are very much involved in a low-key way in the region already -- by tradition in Chad and CAR -- cf. e.g. this VoA piece. From the Independent:

France yesterday defended recent fighter jet raids on towns bordering Sudan's Darfur region by claiming the aggressive action was aimed at preventing regional chaos. In the past two weeks, with minimal publicity, Mirage F1 jets have attacked and scattered a rebellion in north-eastern Central African Republic (CAR). But reports from the ground say the operation has had a devastating impact on civilians.

A French Defence Ministry spokesman said the action - which included regular Mirage sorties in neighbouring Chad where tens of thousands of refugees from Darfur are living - was in line with international calls to stabilise the region. He claimed that without action there was a danger of a "Somalisation" of the region."We want to ensure that the Darfur crisis does not take on a further dimension. The region is crucial if we want to put a peace force in Darfur," he said. After opposition from the Sudanese President Omar El Beshir, plans to send 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur have been axed. Mr Beshir will only accept a beefed-up African Union force with UN logistical support.

The French operations in CAR have been centred on repelling rebels which the government claims are - like the Darfur militias - backed by the Sudanese regime. Others say the rebels of the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (UFDR) are disgruntled allies of CAR President François Bozizé who helped him come to power in a 2003 coup and are dissatisfied with his ruling of the country along ethnic lines. Both the rebels and Sudan deny they have any links. (...)

According to the UFDR, the raids over several days at the start of December included an attack on Birao with six Mirage F1 fighters and four helicopter gunships. It claims the attack forced thousands of civilians to flee towards Darfur and southern Chad. A French armed forces spokesman yesterday refused to give details of whether bombs, missiles or machinegun-fire had been used by the jets.

FT's 150 Non-Public Companies: Oil, Finance Dominate

The Financial Times has published an interesting list of the world's top 150 privately held companies.

Dominant sectors are 1) oil & gas (13 out of top 18), and 2) financial services companies in a broad sense including private equity, banking, insurance, asset management, and auditing (65 out of 160).

The list was assembled with the help of McKinsey & Co., which a) as a partnership is being privately held itself, and b) is not on the list. McKinsey must thus be worth less than the US$ 9 bn which qualifies for a spot on the list?

Moreover, Japan Post is estimated to be worth US$ 156 bn, whereas the two equivalent companies from countries a third of the size of Japan, La Poste (France) and Poste Italiane are worth respectively 15 and 13 bn. Can that be true -- why this enormous discrepancy?

US Special Forces in NATO Capitals

US Special Forces have been operating in NATO-countries without the knowledge of host countries. Already, the level of domestic dismay over CIA-led US counter-terrorism operations on European countries' soil -- at least sometimes without active government acceptance -- is pretty high.

These missions, whether apprehension as in Italy and elsewhere or rendition flights as in most of Europe, appear to have been carried out mostly by CIA teams. News reports of how clumsily operations were carried out in Italy and Norway raised serious concerns about the level of CIA operatives cultural proligacy and sometimes basic operational common sense.

Yet CIA operatives should in principle be far more politically astute than US Special Forces teams. Given the level of public dissatisfaction with CIA teams operating here it seems astonishing that the Pentagon according to an article in LA Times has allowed US Special Forces teams to operate in NATO-countries. Presumably, these well-trained fighters do not exactly fit the light-footed profile needed for that kind of thing.
U.S. Special Forces teams sent overseas on secret spying missions have clashed with the CIA and carried out operations in countries that are staunch U.S. allies, prompting a new effort by the agency and the Pentagon to tighten the rules for military units engaged in espionage, according to senior U.S. intelligence and military officials. The spy missions are part of a highly classified program that officials say has better positioned the United States to track terrorist networks and capture or kill enemy operatives in regions such as the Horn of Africa, where weak governments are unable to respond to emerging threats. (...)

Some intelligence officials have complained that Special Forces teams have sometimes launched missions without informing the CIA, duplicating or even jeopardizing existing operations. And they questioned deploying military teams in friendly nations — including in Europe — at a time when combat units are in short supply in war zones. (...) Senior officials at the CIA and the Pentagon defended the program and said they would urge [new Defense Secretary] Gates to support it. But they acknowledged risks for the United States in its growing reliance on Special Forces troops and other military units for espionage. (...)

After Sept. 11, the Bush administration gave expanded authority to the Special Operations Command, which oversees the Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other elite units, in the fight against terrorism. At the same time, Rumsfeld, who lacked confidence in the CIA, directed a major expansion of the military's involvement in intelligence gathering to make the Pentagon less dependent on the agency. Officials said this led to the secret deployment of small teams of Special Forces troops, known as military liaison elements, or MLEs, to American embassies to serve as intelligence operatives. Members of the teams undergo special training in espionage at Ft. Bragg and other facilities, according to officials familiar with the program. The troops typically work in civilian clothes and function much like CIA case officers, cultivating sources in other governments or Islamic organizations. One objective, officials said, is to generate information that could be used to plan clandestine operations such as capturing or killing terrorism suspects. Ennis said MLE missions were "low level" compared with those of the CIA. "The MLEs may come and go," he said, "but the CIA presence is there for the long term." (...)

There have also been questions about where teams have been sent. Although conceived to bolster the U.S. presence in global trouble spots, the units have carried out operations in friendly nations in Europe and Southeast Asia where it is more difficult to justify, officials said. On at least one occasion, a team tracked an Islamic militant in Europe. "They were trying to acquire certain information about a certain individual," said a former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official declined to name the country, but said it was a NATO ally and that the host government was unaware of the mission. Critics said such operations risked angering U.S. allies with a dubious prospect for payoff. In some countries where MLE teams are located, "There's not a chance … we're going to send somebody in there to snatch somebody unilaterally," said a government official who is familiar with the program. [emphasis added.]

Friday, December 15, 2006

End of World Near: Babel Nominated To 7 Golden Globes

The movie Babel has been nominated for seven (7) Golden Globes. Nominations for best movie, best director, best script and three supporting actor nominations (including Brat Pitt!). Regular readers will have seen my Babel review already -- here's the link to my diatribe.

Iraq: Pace Recommends Finally Taking Reconstruction, Political Side Serious

The Pace study is finished and Bush has been briefed on the top brass recommendations. Crucially, they agree with the Baker-Hamilton report on turning from combat to training -- plus more focus on and effort in reconstruction. Here, from the Washington Post:
The chiefs do not favor adding significant numbers of troops to Iraq, said sources familiar with their thinking, but see strengthening the Iraqi army as pivotal to achieving some degree of stability. They also are pressing for a much greater U.S. effort on economic reconstruction and political reconciliation.

Sources said that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is reviewing a plan to redefine the American military mission there: U.S. troops would be pulled out of Iraqi cities and consolidated at a handful of U.S. bases while day-to-day combat duty would be turned over to the Iraqi army. Casey is still considering whether to request more troops, possibly as part of an expanded training mission to help strengthen the Iraqi army.

The recommendations Casey is reviewing to overhaul the military mission were formulated by Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the outgoing top U.S. ground commander, officials said. The plan positions the U.S. military to be able to move swiftly to a new focus on training, one of the key recommendations from several reviews of U.S. strategy, including from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Under the plan developed by Chiarelli's staff, the military would shift about half of its 15 combat brigades away from battling insurgents and sectarian violence and into training Iraqi security forces as soon as the spring of 2007, military and defense officials said. In northern and western Iraq, U.S. commanders are already moving troops out of combat missions to place them as advisers with lower-level Iraqi army units, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the military in Iraq, said yesterday at a briefing in Baghdad.

Administration officials stressed that Bush, under pressure from Congress and the electorate to abandon the United States' open-ended commitment, has made no final decisions on how to proceed in Iraq. But the new disclosures suggest that military planning is well underway for a major change from an approach that has assigned the bulk of responsibility for security in Iraq to more than 140,000 U.S. troops.

The chiefs also want to see a new push on political and economic issues, especially employment programs, reconstruction and political reconciliation, to help quell the problems that have fueled both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite-Sunni sectarian strife, say defense officials and U.S. military officers in Iraq. A new jobs program is considered key to pulling young men from the burgeoning militias.

Pentagon chiefs think that there is no purely military solution for Iraq and that, without major progress on the political and economic fronts, the U.S. intervention is simply buying time, the sources said. They particularly want to see U.S. pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents, approve constitutional amendments promised to the Sunni minority, pass laws to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue, and modify the ban on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party taking government positions.

Bush alluded to this proposition when he met briefly with reporters after his meeting at the Pentagon. "Our military cannot do this job alone," he said. "Our military needs a political strategy that is effective."

But Bush also showed no sign that he is retreating from his basic proposition that the U.S. military must be engaged in Iraq for some time. "If we lose our nerve, if we're not steadfast in our determination to help the Iraqi government succeed, we will be handing Iraq over to an enemy that would do us harm," he said, adding that he would not be "rushed" into a decision.

This is evidently the right choice: the training mission was announced 2½ years ago, but has not had the substantial weight and smell of strategic-choice-importance until now. Yet, focusing on training properly brings its own problems. Greg Jaffe had fine piece on this in the WSJ recently, "U.S. Commanders Advance Plan To Beef Up Training of Iraqi Army":
Senior U.S. military commanders in Baghdad, eager to shift the fight in Iraq to that country's army, are advancing a plan that could more than double the number of American troops involved in training Iraqi soldiers. The tentative plan, which calls for breaking up some big U.S. combat units into military-training teams, reflects a major shift in U.S. tactics, and meshes with one of the key recommendations of a high-profile report released Wednesday by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The new approach isn't expected to require a marked change in the overall number of American troops in Iraq. But it would increase the number involved in advisory roles to as many as 10,000, from the current 4,000, senior military officials said. (...)

Senior military officials are betting that larger U.S. military training teams that would live and work with Iraqi units could speed the development of an Iraqi army force that has shown some promise, but is still bedeviled by corruption, absenteeism and logistical problems. How quickly the Iraqi army improves could ultimately determine how quickly U.S. troops could withdraw from the country.

However, even the staunchest advocates of building up the Iraqi army warn that the strategy carries significant risks that could derail it. In the near term, commanders say, shifting more U.S. troops into training and advisory jobs could lead to an increase in sectarian violence in Baghdad, because there would be fewer U.S. troops patrolling the streets. Iraqi army units and their U.S. trainers would have to pick up the slack.

The idea of shifting more U.S. troops into training roles has been kicking around in Baghdad and the Pentagon at least since spring. Multiple internal studies by the U.S. Army have concluded that its current training teams in Iraq, typically 10 to 12 U.S. soldiers per an Iraqi battalion, are too small to be effective. (...)

A big concern with the plan is how to protect U.S. soldiers serving on advisory and training teams. These troops would be prime targets for insurgents and sectarian militias seeking to stymie the progress of Iraqi units. They would also be vulnerable if their Iraqi units were overrun by the enemy. Senior U.S. military commanders also warn that without progress on rebuilding Iraq's economy and without a political accommodation between Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis, no military force will be able to impose order in the country. "The military cannot win this alone -- it's flat impossible," said one senior U.S. official.

U.S. training teams now live and focus on advising Iraqi battalion commanders, who each oversees about 500 troops, plus staff. Under the new plan, the expanded teams would spend more time with the lower-ranking commanders and their troops who do most of the day-to-day fighting and patrolling in Baghdad. U.S. commanders say the larger teams would be better able to prevent abuses by the Iraqi units and ensure that they do their jobs properly. "Beefing up the training teams will give us a 24/7 presence in the Iraqi units that we haven't had so far," said a military official. Some officers who have recently served on U.S. military training teams in Iraq praised the effort to focus more troops on the training mission. But they cautioned that this wouldn't fix many of the Iraqi army's biggest problems. Many Iraqi units continue to be hamstrung by ineffective or corrupt commanders who have the support of key officials in Iraq's Ministry of Defense. "Right now we cannot even fire Iraqi army leaders [whom] we know cooperate with insurgents or are incompetent," said Lt. Col. David Coffey, who returned last month from Iraq, where he had served on a 10-man training team.

The supply system often fails to deliver Iraqi troops the fuel, food and bullets they need to carry out their missions. Several advisers said there is also pressure to inflate the capabilities of the Iraqi units in readiness reports. "There is tremendous pressure on the training teams to show steady progress in the abilities of the Iraqi battalions," Col. Coffey said. "This ignores the fact that many units actually get worse as key leaders are killed or go AWOL, as unit equipment degrades, as the enemy situation gets worse, or as combat operations prevent ongoing training."

The U.S. soldiers who make up the military training teams cannot order Iraqi commanders to carry out missions. Instead, their job is to advise, cajole and set a good example for their Iraqi counterparts. The teams help the Iraqi forces plan raids, set training schedules and get necessary supplies. They also act as a conduit to U.S. forces in the area.

Moreover, as Tom Barnett points out, under the heading "One More Thing The Military Is Good For", the Pace recommendations are politically useful for President Bush:
On the Joint Chiefs' recommendation, I don't see much difference from the ISG. In sum, it also says pullback from combat, train up Iraqis and support them, and... Oh yeah... always hunt terrorists. I think we have a consensus, but since the Chiefs won't comment on dialogue with Syria or Iran (foreign policy turf), this way Bush can say he's listening to his generals while he blows off the ISG's call for a regional security/diplomatic initiative. That, my friends, is some military cover.

Hardly part of the Chiefs analysis, but hey, useful nonetheless.

S&R = Send More $$$

An interesting thing about the strategic prevalence of Stabilization & Reconstruction, MOOTWs, peace support ops is that its much more man power intensive than regular major combat ops, especially given the newest advances in NEC. The troops also have to stay longer, adding a tally of three-four times the original required number of combat troops, just to sustain the presence. See for example this AP article where US Army Chief of Staff Schoomaker points out that the US Army cannot send but 15.000 more troops to Iraq without the Army 'breaking':
As President Bush weighs new strategies for Iraq, the Army's top general warned today that his force "will break" without thousands more active duty troops and greater use of the reserves. Noting the strain put on the force by operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the global war on terrorism, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said he wants to grow his half-million-member Army beyond the 30,000 troops already added in recent years. (...) "Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand ... is placing a strain on the Army's all-volunteer force," Schoomaker told the commission in a Capitol Hill hearing. "At this pace ... we will break the active component" unless reserves can be called up more to help, Schoomaker said in prepared remarks.
This is because the Army is essentially dimensioned for major combat operations, not prolonged counter-insurgency campaigns -- and of course because, even in spite of the Stryker efficiency restructuring, US forces still are back-office heavy compared to others.

An interesting strategic aspect appears when comparing defense budgets before and after the end of the Cold War. During the cold war, NATOs troops were in an all or nothing situation -- either sitting in their barracks or facing tactical nukes in the Fulda Gap. Luckily, they could keep sitting. After, in the immediate aftermath everyone talked about and effectuated the 'peace dividend', meaning defense budget cuts because of the threat reduction. The new, real post-cold war challenge means a lot more real figthing for Weestern troops -- and it means extended involvements for NATO troops. When coupling the S&R troop deployment requirement with the peace dividend size budgets in the rest of the NATO countries, something doesn't add up.

Basically, the strategic reality of S&R and state building means that is an argument to spend more money on defense. But manpower intensive spending, not technology. And then more money for civilian side reconstruction. But that is another story.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cool US Federal Budget Graphic

Having any kind of overview over the US federal budget is a) interesting, b) impossible for all but the initiated -- that is, until one of those people kindly puts the thing down as a nice graphic explanation. Go see for yourself at The Budget Graph (works best for me at least in IE).

New York Times Readers: Parochial, Cocooning

What's up with the New York Times? Or maybe its the readers that -- faced with a world in flames -- are crawling into themselves and a coddly little world of home improvement and inane children oriented, soft news stories?

Let's check out the top 25 most emailed articles' list for the last 30 days. This list tells a story about what the readers really are interested in -- as opposed to what the editors put on page one ('most read' would of course be better than 'most emailed' because there's bound to be elements of "show off" in the selection. Yet even this list confirms that people spend more time, energy and mental investments on social life that on policy important subjects). Now, if we take the NYT's own categorizations, the articles add up like this (the full list is copy-pasted below):

5 entries: HEALTH
2 entries: BUSINESS, and BOOKS

Well, that may not be that bad for public policy concerns you might say: either of these could be macro-oriented. In fact, only about five deals directly with public policy choices -- and only one, number 24 on Washington, deals even partially with foreign policy (actually, its mostly about the role of religion in domestic American politics).

So lets redo the categories and divide the articles into two groups. First group contains those articles with primarily micro-level perspectives, and are focused on familial concerns, spare-time, dream time, couple time, consumer life, etc. Give aways are words like "your cell phone". The second group then contain those that have a macroperspective and are concerned with finding solutions to concrete sets of problems for large groups. The 'rest group' then contains articles that cannot reasonably or without argument be placed in either of the other two groups.

The results are as follows:


This enormous bias towards the private sphere, interests in gossipy or miscellany subjects is even bigger when accounting for the rest goup entries: three of these five are about children or adolescents albeit with a systemic perspective -- but the article relevance is clearly on the private sphere side. Aggregate result: the NYTimes readers are about 10-15% interested in public policy, and 85-90% interested in their personal lives. Surprising? Perhaps not. Consequential for the status of participatory democracy and general enlightenment? Perhaps. Striking as an illustration of the do-good-conscious classes' limited factual reach? Indeed. Annoying for anyone interacting with NYTimes-readership-like people? Oh, yes.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Now Give A Llama!

It may be a truism, but it is still an often overlooked fact that almost nothing ever happens in Denmark that hasn't already been invented or introduced somewhere else. (Not that that keeps us from being tenaciously proud of the local cultural produce).

So it was that the DCA Give A Goat-campaign already existed in the States in the shape of a campaign with
Heifer International. And as things go, everything is indeed bigger in the States, because, hey! you can give a water buffalo or a llama or some such livestock! Click the funky alpaca for a list of Heifer's gifts.
Thanks to Matt over at MountainRunner for illustrating the truism.

Dave! Goes On For A Few More Years

Letterman has signed up for a few more years at the CBS much to the satisfaction of us here at Dracobs Central.
[T]he Late Show" host will remain at CBS through the fall of 2010, which would give him 17 years there. He took up residence at CBS in 1993, after 11-plus years hosting "Late Night" on NBC. "I'm thrilled to be continuing on at CBS," Letterman says, adding, "At my age you really don't want to have to learn a new commute." The extension will keep Letterman on the air longer than Jay Leno, the man NBC chose over him to replace Johnny Carson as host of "The Tonight Show." Leno is slated to cede his spot to current "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien in 2009. "The Late Show" has won nine Emmys during its time on CBS, including six for outstanding variety, music or comedy series. Letterman will celebrate 25 years in late-night TV in February.
The only Danish relayer of Dave's genius, TV2 Zulu, stopped broadcasting Letterman a few weeks ago -- but just announced that they will resume broadcasts after a massive protest from viewers! In any case, there's still YouTube and this classic Steve Martin skit above.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Give A Goat! Private Sector Development Reversed

Private sector based development projects are all the rage because of the promise of private sector organizational professionalization, market driven innovation for efficient solutions and economically self-sustainable projects. On the other hand, traditional NGOs are also looking for ways to build and sustain development awareness in donor countries ... and some of them are cleverly going with the private sector logic. Danish NGO DanChurchAid has come up with a cool and optimistic packaging for a classic donor funding run: "Give A Goat" the campaign is entitled.

The concept is that one can offer "a goat" or other different virtual gifts to a friend or relative: the person then receives a notification of the gift -- while the gift itself goes to a precisely defined recipient project. And its all net-based -- including a webpayment shop. The concept is cool: optimistic, easy to use and understand, and fits perfectly a price range of normal courtesy gifts. Kudos to DCA.

Link to the presents (in Danish but with pictures and prices in kroner: about 6 kroner buys a US dollar).
English language link to DCA.

A Few Points On The Baker-Hamilton Report

The recommendations can only be understood in the context of domestic American politics in combination with the (also domestic) material constraints of the forces. The report’s central function is to propose the possibility of bipartisanship in foreign policy. Few ISG members have any knowledge of foreign policy; the painstaking process of identifying muddy middle positions (like the battle reported in today's WaPo over whether it should contain a fixed combat troops exit date (Perry's position) or not (Baker's) makes the exercise pointless from anything but a domestic perspective. The Report basically is more about reconciliation in the US than in Iraq.

Morover, the option of a surge in deployment levels -- as proposed by McCain and apparantely supported in principle by the JCF Chairman Pace study -- was discarded because of lack of troops, not because of inherent operational infeasibility. The proposed draw-down is being depicted in Western media as ‘leaving’: in reality a change of role is proposed, from combat to training.

The reality is, as both Pace panel seems to suggest and as testified by Gates is that the coalition will have their hands full for several, maybe 10 years or more, even if in other functions. The challenge with training is that the Pentagon has not been sufficiently serious about professionalizing its own approach to it. In spite of positive proposals about the necessities of cultural (linguistic, area studies insight) capacities in US forces, very few funds were proposed allocated. As noted in WaPo, there are not enough trained military trainers.

Moreover Stabilization and Reconstruction is still not being taken seriously at DoD. The one-year old DoD Directive 3000 calls for this to change by making S&R ops core competence alongside major combat operations. But as long as combat operations is only major core competence in self-understanding in practice, US forces will not be able to successfully run large S&R ops, whether Iraq or Afghanistan. NATO allies have operational advantages in that domain but are probably too small or too scattered to coordinate and dominate agenda without US assistance. Widespread practice of outsourcing SR training, e.g. police in, has been run ineptly, thus jeopardizing the whole mission. These back ground elements are determining factors in combination with the absence of additional troops.

Pentagon’s ability to embrace and professionally run elements outside combat ops (the rest of DIME), including beefing up area studies and linguistic capabilities, is crucial in long term. But there is not much likelihood anything substantial will change in short term.

All of this, of course, is then again dependent upon general political will to either change Pentagon ways -- or supply serious funding for a civilian reconstruction agency.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Phase IV & Iraq: Rummie Still Doesn't Get It

Apologies to regular readers for hiatus: new job brought new responsibilities and opportunities. To the heart of the matter: Rummie still doesn't get it. 'Still' as in in not learning from the stupid choice on Phase IV (post-major combat) Ops in Iraq, especially concerning footprint size.

Rumsfeld memo was interpreted by the NYTimes as being an expression of him not knowing he was leacing office: I disagree. The memo looks more like an attempt at legacy-making ("I said so, but...").

The present brouhaha over directions on Iraq (not that I belittle the challenges) notwithstanding, the memo is interesting because it reveals that in spite of his greenlighting of the DoD 3000 (more
here), Rumsfeld still does'nt (didn't) get the challenges of Stabilization and Reconstruction (S&R). This fact is most visible in the lead-in to the memo -- through the sin of omission:

The situation in Iraq has been evolving, and U.S. forces have adjusted,
over time, from major combat operations to counterterrorism, to
counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence. In my
view it is time for a major adjustment.

Unless counterinsurgency here is to be taken in the wider form advocated by many: as profoundly political operation type including heavy civilian side investment S&R is nowhere here. The trouble is, of course, that no one else then Pentagon is there or has field incentives to deal with the challenges. The interagency issue appears as the fundamental challenge in everything we try to do:
Aggressively beef up the Iraqi MOD and MOI, and other Iraqi ministries critical
to the success of the ISF — the Iraqi Ministries of Finance, Planning, Health,
Criminal Justice, Prisons, etc. — by reaching out to U.S. military retirees and
Reserve/National Guard volunteers (i.e.,
give up on trying to get other USG
Departments to do it.
) [emphasis added]
The Pentagon issued DoD Directive 3000.5 has effectively been undercut by the NSPD44 (which hands final responsibility for reconstruction to State i.e. the civilian side).

Coalition forces are mentioned briefly: as part of pedagogical drawing dawn in order to make ISF 'pull their socks up', and, implicitly, let them stay in terms of SOF and explicitly as key partners on training of ISF. Training emerges as the next big thing in Security: building effective and just institutions to take well care of their country. Oops, did that sound as Development? Indeed, it did.

The military tasks we undertake today and tomorrow will look more and more like development in their longterm goals -- and so their means. Rumsfeld didn't get that, and Gates probably wont either as he is a safe fallback guy. But I hope to be wrong.