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Posts Tagged ‘army’

In between his paeans to folks in Bangalore wearing Nike shoes and drinking Starbucks coffee while talking on their Samsung phones, Thomas Friedman also likes to write about foreign policy. He infamously declared every six months for three years running that the situation in Iraq was critical and, by implication, that if things did not sort themselves out that the war was essentially lost. He never felt obliged to revisit his previous predications. He also quietly started speaking out against the war after positioning himself earlier as one of its most sentimental cheerleaders.

But now he’s turned a new corner. His banality and faddishness have fully joined forces with his peerless capacity for observing the mundane through the lens of a well-traveled propagandist for globalization. He basically has declared the war on al Qaeda won and the events of 9/11 over-played and, therefore, unimportant for the next election. No hidebound slave to the past, he writes:

I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

I guess I missed that great day, some two or three years ago, where representatives of al Qaeda stood on the deck of the USS Nimitz and signed formal documents of surrender. Has Friedman not noticed the recent attacks on Glasgow airport, al Qaeda’s massacres of civilians in Iraq, the radicalization of European Muslims, the Paris riots, and the Bali, Madrid, and London bombings? We’ve not had a significant domestic attack after the various resrictions Friedman complains about were put in place. His failure to notice this bona fide success is analogous to the liberal complaint about “warehousing criminals,” even though the last decade of increased incarceration has also led to a significant reduction in violent crime. One of the worst things about Friedman, and one of his great deficiencies as a columnist, is his failure to refocus the public’s attention on important, though easily forgotten, matters of importance. He instead loves the ephemeral, as evidenced by his vulgar habit of dropping brand names to show how we all consume the same things world-wide.

Al Qaeda is real. It means us harm. Within its ranks, one finds motivated personnel who have shown a remarkable combination of cunning, high concept operations, and willingness to exploit our tendency towards forgetfulness and complacency. The post 9/11 changes on the border and outside our borders–including the establishment of GITMO and the increase of monitoring of visitors to the US–mean that American citizens can live more securely and with fewer restrictions upon ourselves. As I’ve noted before, the false freedom of open borders means less freedom of movement and security at home. Instead of coining useless new phrases–like al Qaeda 2.0–Friedman should use his powers of rhetoric to envision the results of al Qaeda’s next attack, perhaps an exploding LNG tanker in Boston or a hijacked cargo jet hitting the Sears Tower or a company of urban snipers slipping in through Mexico.

Friedman does not understand that the very openness he wants to return to was, in part, the cause of the various security lapses that led to 9/11. The government and private industry maintained a culture of willful blindness and wishful thinking. Frieman tells us we need to be more open and solicitous of the opinions of the rest of the world, and, to appease our critics, we must close GITMO and create procedures to faciliate easier access for business travellers. He intones, “Those who don’t visit us, don’t know us.” My God. Has Friedman not noticed that sometimes people visit us, hate us more, and use their visits to kill lots of us, e.g., Atta, Qutb.

It’s true, there has been a great deal of water under the bridge since 9/11 on how best to deal with al Qaeda; in particular, the strategy of forcible democratization of the Middle East seems entirely discredited by events in Iraq. But the problems of the Iraq War do not mean that al Qaeda is no longer a big deal or that we can turn our attention to the things that Friedman really gets excited about like gadgets and smart foreigners with similar, transnational values.

Friedman is the most prominent champion of globalization in the American media. He undoubtedly endures endless sleights, sincere pleading, and criticism from Davos People for America’s alleged crudeness and insensitivity. With his latest column, Friedman has guaranteed access to the finest cocktail parties in Davos and Geneva and Paris and Durban for years to come. At the same time, he has disqualified himself from being taken seriously by Americans who are concerned about American security.

There is little accountability in journalism. People make predictions that do not come true and still continue to earn a living. I want this stupid column plastered everywhere the next time al Qaeda manages to undertake a successful attack, which, sadly, is almost certainly inevitable.

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In the wake of the Cold War, the US military was cut dramatically. We went from a 750,000 man Army to one of about 475,000 today. The Navy and Air Force undertook similar cuts. We went from spending about 5.5% of GDP on the military to 3%. One consequence has been that the “all volunteer force” is stretched thin, has had to make due with relaxed recruiting standards, and there is a great deal of grumbling from senior commanders that the Iraq War and the repeated, lengthy deployments are killing recruiting and retention.

A larger military, both now and in the future, likely would be easier to recruit for and retain manpower, even during a time of war, than the present system. There is a reason for this paradox: such a military would allow greater time between deployments, greater flexibility when a surge of any kind is needed (including for contingencies in other theaters), and it would ease the strain on the battlefield through more overwhelming force whenever a large number of forces may be concentrated. Since one of the missions our troops will likely be called upon in the future is counterinsurgency, large numbers of skilled, trained, and well-rested infantry will be needed. The basic dynamics of this type of war are less technology and more manpower intensive than their counterparts. The U.S. had over 500,000 troops in Vietnam and the French had more than 400,000 in Algeria. We have now approximately 160,000 troops in Iraq. Since our goals in the wake of 9/11 have been so ambitious–indeed, overly ambitious and utopian in my opinion–Rumsfeld and Bush’s continuation of the “peace dividend” military and their failure to demand a larger military (particularly when support would have been high right after 9/11) has proven foolish indeed.

This is not just a matter of 20/20 hindsight. Their decision-making was truly warped. Who looks at the Soviet problems in Afghanistan and blames them on troop levels rather than on the Soviet penchant for “scorched earth” tactics and the inherent unpalatability of its ideology to the religious Afghan people? Who looks at a looming occupation and thinks gratitude will grease the wheels when governance and power are necessary? Who looks at a country the size of Iraq and thinks troop levels that are a fraction of the number of (per capita) police in the peaceful United States will get the job done? The combination of incompetence and ideological blindness is the root of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq. Some hard-headedness, including about the size of the military, will be needed in the next administration. We should not, because present-day recruiting problems avoid planning for the next conflict in a way that is sustainable, avoids a draft, and allows the military to accomplish the mission.

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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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