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Archive for the ‘4GW War’ Category

Pretty amazing revelation that when the White House started discussing McChrystal’s proposal, that there seemed to be no awareness of the details of the March strategy by Obama or that it expressed a goal of defeating the Taliban:

In June, McChrystal noted, he had arrived in Afghanistan and set about fulfilling his assignment. His lean face, hovering on the screen at the end of the table, was replaced by a mission statement on a PowerPoint slide: “Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population.”

“Is that really what you think your mission is?” one of the participants asked.

In the first place, it was impossible — the Taliban were part of the fabric of the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan, culturally if not ideologically supported by a major part of the population. “We don’t need to do that,” Gates said, according to one participant. “That’s an open-ended, forever commitment.”

But that was precisely his mission, McChrystal responded, enshrined in the Strategic Implementation Plan — the execution orders for the March strategy, written by the NSC staff. . . .

“It was clear that Stan took a very literal interpretation of the intent” of the NSC document, said [Former USMC General and NSA advisor] Jones, who had signed the orders himself. “I’m not sure that in his position I wouldn’t have done the same thing, as a military commander.”

My God. If generals have to “read the boss’s mind” in Afghanistan when his orders go through many layers of review and calibration, we are totally screwed. I mean this is as bad as the kind of stuff you see at a Kinko’s or a law firm. Oh, when I said send so and so that letter I really mean to check with me before you sent it, because I was having a conference call before that. Didn’t you check with my calendar? Uh, no, I was doing what you said.

Generals at the top echelons, like Jones, are pretty unimpressive and highly political creatures. For most of them, honor goes out the window after they pin on a star. The Van Ripers of the world are rare. More often you get the half-nonsensical and half-destructive Joneses and Wesley Clarks.

Obama is a huge moron in plain English. Either that or he’s totally callous. Or both, which is most likely.

It should have been obvious in March when he said what to do in Afghanistan was to continue to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda and build up Afghan forces that he was, in effect, calling for a surge. Why? He was calling for recommitment of resources, we just had a surge that was perceived as successful in Iraq, and one of the aspects of the COIN Manual that Petraeus and company produced is the importance of security and training, both of which take lots of troops.

Obama’s half-serious campaign stance of “the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan” is catching up with him. It would all be kind of funny if his zombie-like pursuit of this war would not needlessly cost a few hundred, possibly several thousand, bright young American lives.

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Apparently, it takes six months to decide to half-ass McChrystal’s plan and cut 6,000 troops?

Obama admires Abraham Lincoln and his decision to can various generals–including McClellan–for not being aggressive enough to win the Civil War.  But Obama, unlike Lincoln, is unpatriotic and a pacifist, dithers about whether victory is worth it, and changes his mind on core objectives–in effect, giving his generals a moving target. 

Plus Obama’s adding language to the plan about “off ramps” and what not.  So basically we’ll add 35,000 troops, a bit less than double what we have.  They’ll accomplish a little more, but nothing game changing.  Then we’ll find a reason to leave next June and will do so.  A few hundred more young Americans will die than would have otherwise, and this outcome all so Obama doesn’t look too weak in calling it quits sooner on this misguided nation-building effort.  This is hardly Lincolnesque . . .  more like Hamlet!

I think a deliberate withdrawal or even a limited war is not dishonorable, incidentally.  There are times to have flexible definitions of victory.  Think of something like the Korean War which ended in an armistice or the conventional victory of expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. But if you think it’s truly a “war of necessity,” and you think the way to win is to build a functioning Afghan state (as Obama said in March), do it right or change that strategy.  Obama is keeping the strategy but under-resourcing it.   Further, with his “exit ramp” talk, Obama is basically admitting he’s looking for reason to call it quits.  It’s a far cry from the Gettysburg Address.  It’s more like a blueprint for our enemies and less committed allies to engineer an American exit.

I actually think Joe Biden’s proposal for a scaled down war using counter-terror operatives is the most sensible and conforms our operation to what the U.S. national interest is in the neighborhood.

Let me speak plainly.  I don’t think these illiterate savages deserve democracy or any U.S. efforts to help them.  I don’t think it’s in our interest, and the trade off is woefully imbalanced.  Afghans and Pakistanis and everyone else in the world just need to learn that if they help our enemies they’ll be punished en masse. For some reason, though, I don’t think Obama can make that kind of warning convincingly.  Sadly, neither could the liberal Republican, George W. Bush.  

This popular view of collective responsibility was what was most appealing about the Bush doctrine, i.e., you’re with us or you’re against us. But in eight years it’s morphed into “help our enemies and we’ll spend many years and many billions of dollars and many young American lives to drag you into the 21st Century.” 

Where’s General Pershing when you need him?!?

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Web Round-Up

Interesting piece by Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge on the X Factor in the banking crisis: the exact value of the $8T in loans of all types held by banks on their balance sheets.

Did they think housing would never decline? Apparently, for some, yes.

Game theory explains lunacy of the Treasury’s funding of private, nonrecourse investments in “toxic” assets. Indeed, common sense says if you get only the upside and little of the downside any “prices” you do come up with will be unstable, provisional, and invitations to inside dealing and fraud. The fact that outside auditors and outside investors are closed off from this grab-bag makes the Geithner Plan the most egregious “corporatist” giveaway measure in Obama’s presidency or any American presidency.

Ed Rollins notes that Obama is well liked, but not necessarily feared or respected. More seasoned leaders with real executive experience learn the difference between being liked and respected early in life; I don’t think Obama has . . . yet. I also think his entire supplicant act is an expression of his 1980s nuclear freeze, anti-American, anti-unilateralism schtick, typical among folks who were worried that helping the Contras or not letting the Communists defeat South Africa would be a grave injustice.

While everyone worries about the civil rights of terrorists at GITMO, piracy continues apace in the Gulf of Aden. There is a pretty obvious relationship between our pussy-footing around the disorderly parts of the world and the bravado with which they challenge us. It’s not for nothing North Korea has engaged in its perrenial challenge to the West in exchange for more largesse. Bush and Clinton both bribed them so many times over and never really employed any sticks. But Somalia is even worse. These pipsqueaks in motor boats can be easily destroyed, by armed merchant crews and the civilized world’s navies working in concert. If there were ever a good time for bounties and Letters of Marque and Reprisal, this is it. Why are we not shelling their bases, mining their ports, collectively punishing their support networks, and summarily executing pirates upon capture? It was once done this way, in the 19th Century in fact, and it worked reasonably well. But no we’re so “civilized,” we’re willing to let civilization’s enemies have the last laugh.

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Israel’s incursion into Gaza has the air of Kabuki Theater. We’ve all been here before. We’ve seen the Israeli armored vehicles sprouting menacing antennae and deadly antipersonnel weapons, the peacocking Hamas fighters and their impotent Qassam rockets, the dead Palestinian children and, in this case, the occasional dead Israeli civilian. The usual arguments have reared their heads about the need for diplomacy, restraint, proportionality, American “engagement”, European condemnation, the pressing need for a final settlement, and the like. None of these factors appear likely to change soon. The timing likely does have something to do with changes in the American political scene. The Bush administration has followed their habit of doing nothing diplomatically or publicly to embarrass their Israeli client. Why ask for permission when you know it’s forthcoming no matter what?  But even this factor likely will not change much under Obama.

The more interesting issue from my vantage point are Israeli tactics and strategy.

The Hezbollah War of two years ago had a superficially similar cause, effect, and strategy. There, in response to the capture of Israeli soldiers and continued rocket attacks–in other words, relatively serious nuisance-type threats that are far from “existential”–Israel launched a full scale war against southern Lebanon and various Hezbollah sanctuaries. Israeli followed the strategy of what may be called a deliberately disproportionate response–a strategy advocated by William Lind in response to the 9/11 attacks. However, when it was over, the final outcome was indeterminate. Israel got bogged down in the well-defended traps set by Hezbollah. Casualties quickly became an Israeli domestic concern.  The vaunted IDF proved less capable and aggressive than expected.

The operation had all the features of a hammer and anvil assault without the anvil, and the Hezbollah terrorists mostly disappeared north, disguised as civilians or otherwise. Hezbollah lived to fight another day, and when it was all over, their domestic power had increased.  Surviving the Israeli onslaught became translated as a victory in the Arab world. Normally this is a bit comic, as in the Egyptian reading of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. But, frankly, since Israel aimed to cut the Gordian Knot of Hezbollah terrorism in 2006, their survival rightly was also seen as a victory in Israel’s own eyes.

So what is different about the current attack on Hamas? Here too an ongoing problem exists from the standpoint of Israeli security: the continuing annoyance of rocket attacks from a neighboring state that enjoys diplomatic support on account of the tragic case of the Palestinian people, but that is governed (when it is governed) by the most extreme of extremist groups dedicated to perpetual war against Israel. Israel’s construction of the security fence, withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, and policy of embargo suggests that Israel’s strategy to date has been to weaken Hamas’ appeal among Palestinians, while also giving Israel space within which to defend itself and also to prepare a withering assault.

At the level of grand strategy, it appears the Israeli goal is limited, merely to weaken Hamas further, reduce their prestige in the eyes of Palestinians, and tidy up the situation as best as possible before the incoming Obama administration. To the extent this is about hearts and minds, the Israelis are focusing on the minds of the Gaza Palestinians by showing the futility of the current campaign of resistance. Israel rightly recognizes that big picture political goods like creating the Palestinian Authority and supporting democratic elections  and more mundane ones like humanitarian assistance won’t change the fundamental nationalist feeling of the Palestinians, but enough blown up houses, bridges, police stations, roadways, powerplants, and people might. There has been much analysis about the “Fourth Generation” aspects of this conflict, but it appears far more like the older 19th Century “punitive raid”:  a functioning state has engaged a disorderly, ungoverned province on its border, in effect collectively punishing it to create conditions for pacification.

Are the tactics up to the job? Will the usual restraints on democratic nations’ military campaigns assert themselves? This remains to be seen. It’s not clear why this ground attack will work out better than the Lebanese adventure two years ago.  That said, there are some important differences that are worth mentioning, not least the small size of Gaza and the anvil in the form of the Mediterranean Sea.  The value of these factors remains to be seen.  It is possible, as in South Lebanon, that Hamas leaders will effectively hide underground where they are the de facto government and enjoy strong popular support, especially now as the “solidarity of the trenches” asserts itself. Other than further enraging Palestinians and other enemies of Israel and killing a few Hamas leaders, it’s not so clear that the outcome will matter in any long-term sense, particularly as the size, scope, and timeline of this invasion will almost certainly not be enough to crush Hamas in Gaza.

The use of ground forces suggests superficially that a more surgical approach is being embraced that cannot be obtained through bombing alone. After all, Israel could undoubtedly flatten Gaza based on every guess, hunch, and tip of a terrorist apparatus in Gaza if it so chose. But, like America, Israel’s commitment to “purity of arms” is often counterbalanced by its strong domestic concern for avoiding Israel casualties, and the latter goal usually asserts itself when a choice must be made between the two. There are probably more prosaic reasons for the ground invasion. The use of ground forces suggests that the Israeli military leadership has concluded some intelligence can only be gathered locally and that the costs of addressing targets solely from the air is not worth the diplomatic (and sometimes domestic) backlash. There is likely also a strategic advantage to the ground invasion: the use of tanks, APCs, and infantry (especially in the wake of their apparent misuse in Lebanon) tells Hamas and the Gaza Palestinians that Israel means business in unmistakable terms.

The grand strategy of patient attrition by the Palestinian resistance depends upon a view of the Israelis as typical westerners: decadent, impatient, likely to weary of the “colonial” struggle in Palestine, cowardly, etc. Israeli actions that contrast their own physical courage and competence with the nowhere-to-be-seen Hamas leadership may have some impact on the Palestinians, reminding them that these ineffectual rocket attacks on southern Israeli settlements are boomerang assaults that do far more harm to Palestinians. It’s noteworthy that for all the criticism of the Lebanon Campaign of 2006, things have basically quieted down there after the ceasefire.

If Hamas’ hands are tied by its own military weakness, Israel’s are tied too by its small size, the diplomatic criticism of European nations upon whom it depends for trade, and the voice of the Israeli left that will not countenance the ethnic cleansing tactics employed in 1948 and 1967. From the standpoint of Israeli security, a punitive raid is probably the wrong tool for the job, if that job is defined as ending Palestinian national aspirations and their resort to terrorist and rocket assaults. So, as in Lebanon in 2006, it remains to be seen which of the dual effects of this operation–killing some members of Hamas and reducing their prestige but also enraging numerous Palestinians and their supporters–is the more dominant outcome. In any case, this is one battle in a long war that will likely last much longer. The dominant strategic factors have not changed and will not change from this operation, unless Israel is willing to re-occupy Gaza for an extended period of time with the sole goal of rooting our the entire Hamas infrastructure. There is little reason to think that the Olmeri government and the Israeli people are willing to do so over a more-or-less containable threat of rocket attacks from Gaza.  So, even though this hammer has an anvil (unlike in Lebanon), it will not be wielded forcefully enough or for long enough to do the trick.

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Blackwater, like any group of armed professionals in a chaotic environment, will find that some of its operators make mistakes. Under stress, they might be too quick on the trigger, misidentify the target, or otherwise create problems for themselves and the mission in Iraq. This is inevitable and likely occurred in the recent incident in Baghdad where 17 civilians were gunned down. The fact none of their protectees have died in Iraq is admirable, but this does not necessarily show that Blackwater’s personnel are furthering the mission goals from a strategic perspective. If the goal is to secure Iraq for the Iraqis so that they rally to the government so we can then leave, all of the people that are killed or aggrieved in the course of security operations create more work for the US government and the uniformed military.

But Blackwater’s very existence, even if its men performed their work with exquisite sensitivity, is not good news. Private contractors providing services that were once the responsibility of the uniformed military–most dramatically providing security for proconsul Paul Bremer and various US Army Generals–is a sign that our military is too small and inflexible to deal with the mission in Iraq and the war on terror more broadly. The shift from the uniformed military to contractors is part of a broader shift of power away from the nation-state to transnational entities–things like the WTO and multinational corporations–and a parallel devolution of power to subnational groupings like the tribe, the family, and the private individual.

Blackwater’s ususal mission in Iraq is a prosaic one: guarding VIPs in a nation that is in the midst of a very violent insurgency. But their presence shows two very bad things. One, it shows that the environment in Iraq, even in its capital city, remains too dangerous for movement by Iraqi and American officials in all but the most well-armed caravans, replete with armored cars, automatic weapons, and platoon-size teams of guards. Second, it shows that this capability is not available to the government in house. (more…)

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William Lind argues that al Qaeda’s previous strengths–its fanaticism and decentralization–may prove its undoing in Iraq:

It is reasonably clear that, contrary to the White House’s claims, the “surge” had little or nothing to do with the improved situation in Anbar province in Iraq. That security there has improved is a fact; a Marine friend who just returned told me the whole province is now quiet. If we look past the Bush administration’s propaganda and ask ourselves what really happened, we may find something of great value, namely a “seam” in Islamic Fourth Generation forces that we can exploit.

As is widely known, the key to turning the situation in Anbar around was a decision by the local Sunni clans and tribes to turn against aI-Qaeda. We did not make that happen, although we did make it possible, not by what we did but what we stopped doing, i.e., brutalizing the local population. Once U.S. forces in Anbar adopted a policy of de-escalation, the sheiks had the option of putting al-Qaeda instead of us at the top of their enemies list. De-escalation was, to use a favorite military term, the enabler.

As is also widely recognized, al-Qaeda itself then provided the motivator by its treatment of local Sunnis. Its error was one common to revolutionary movements, trying to impose its program before it had won the war. Worse, it did so brutally, using assassinations, car bombings that caused mass casualties and other typical terror tactics. Some reports suggest the final straw for Anbar’s Sunnis was a demand by foreign al-Qaeda fighters for forced marriages with local women.

Again, in itself this is nothing new. Where we may begin to perceive something new, a potential seam in Islamic 4GW operations, is in al-Qaeda’s response to its own blunder. It has refused to change course.

When other revolutionary groups have alienated the population by unveiling their program too soon, before they consolidated power, their leadership has quickly ordered a reversal. Mao had to do so, and so did Lenin, in the famous NEP of the early 1920s. Competent leadership usually understands that a “broad front” strategy is a necessity until their power is so great it cannot be challenged.

Why doesn’t al-Qaeda’s leadership do the same? Here is where it starts to get interesting. Perhaps they have not done so because they cannot.

Unlike Bolsheviks and other revolutionary parties that acted within a state framework and modeled themselves on the governments of states, Fourth Generation entities based on religious or “cause” appeals cannot practice what the Marxist-Leninists called “democratic centralism.” They cannot simply issue orders from the top and have those orders obeyed. Their organizations are too loosely structured for that. The leadership can inspire and give general guidance, but it cannot do much more than that. It cannot get its fighters to do things they don’t want to do, or stop doing things they very much do want to do.

Here we may see a flip side of the de-centralization that makes 4GW entities so difficult for states to fight directly. One of state armed forces’ favorite tactics, going after the leadership, has been shown over and over again not to accomplish much because local 4GW fighters do not depend on that leadership. But just as they do not depend on it, they also do not have to obey it. Their autonomy cuts both ways.

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