Thursday, April 23, 2009
# Posted 4:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
WALLACE: One of the concerns about the memos is the lengths to which the Justice Department went to justify some of the techniques.Cross-posted at Conventional Folly (9) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
[CHRIS] WALLACE: And you [told the White House] this would be a grave threat to national security to...The rough shape of the outer limits is publicly known -- even George Bush insisted the United States will never approve of torture. What we're arguing about now is whether several borderline interrogation methods constitute torture. If the CIA were still using those borderline methods, it might be useful for Al Qaeda to know their specifics.
In theory, Al Qaeda can train its operatives more efficiently if they don't have spend time learning to resist certain methods. But will vicious, America-hating terrorists really trust the US not to use harsh interrogation methods, no matter how many memos are released and repudiated? Besides, Al Qaeda operatives never know who will capture them. If it's the Saudis, or the Egyptians, or any number of Middle Eastern governments, they can fully expect to be tortured and will have to train accordingly.
If there's a case to be made against releasing the memos, I think David Ignatius does it better:
Obama seems to think he can have it both ways -- authorizing an unprecedented disclosure of CIA operational methods and at the same time galvanizing a clandestine service whose best days, he told them Monday, are "yet to come." Life doesn't work that way -- even for charismatic politicians. Disclosure of the torture memos may have been necessary, as part of an overdue campaign to change America's image in the world. But nobody should pretend that the disclosures weren't costly to CIA morale and effectiveness.That may explain why Obama's own CIA director, not to mention his predecessors, all opposed releasing the memos.
For related thoughts, see this post by Scott Payne.
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 3:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Why, pray tell, would such a serious student of military affairs propose shutting down institutions of higher learning that have produced America's greatest soldiers, from Eisenhower to Petraeus? To save money:
Producing [academy graduates] is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student).One of the points that Tom Ricks keeps hammering home in his book Fiasco is that big decisions (like invading Iraq) have unexpected consequences. You'd think that lesson would also apply to shutting down three of America's most successful institutions of higher and military education.
Incidentally, how much would the savings be? If you figure that each academy produces a little more than a 1,000 graduates per year, the annual cost of producing academy graduates is around half a billion dollars -- or roughly 1/1000th of the defense budget.
This assumes by the way, that the academies provide no special training that ROTC grads would have to go through after joining the military. I'd say that's a very weak assumption. According to one retired colonel who responded to Ricks' proposal:
I was not an academy graduate, but as a young lieutenant I looked upon my peers from West Point with admiration. As a result of their deep immersion in military culture, they had a head start on those of us who were commissioned from other sources.A head start isn't free -- something that should be fairly plain to supporters of the other Head Start.
I'd recommend reading all of the responses to Ricks solicited by the Post. They provide a much richer perspective on the whole issue of military education.
You can also read the transcript of Ricks' online forum about the article. There are a few good exchanges, but you'll have to wade through a lot of snarkiness and self-congratulation (on both sides of the conversation).
A final thought: There are a lot of things that the academies need to be better. I also think the military as a whole could show more interest in civilian education. But if you're looking for a classic example of throwing out the baby with the bath water, this is it.
(Hat tip: JR)
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
# Posted 5:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
An editorial in today's Post slams the Bush administration for its constant use of waterboarding in the interrogations of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaida, two of three Al Qaeda prisoners subjected to the treatment. KSM was waterboarded 183 times in a single month, Abu Zubaida, 83.
I'm not sure what to make of the Post's argument. If waterboarding is torture (as per the Post), then doing it two or three times is just as bad as doing it two hundred times. If it isn't torture, then what's the difference how many times the method is used? I guess it's possible that there are certain methods which aren't torture if used sparingly, but are if used constantly. Based on my limited knowledge of the subject, I'd say that depriving someone of sleep for one night is unpleasant, two nights is rough but defensible, and seven nights may be torture.
Now back to the question of whether torture works. Opposite the Post's editorial, there is a column by Marc Thiessen which quotes the recently released memos to the effect that harsh interrogation resulted in "specific, actionable intelligence" that saved American lives. That's not necessarily true just because the memos say it, of course. But if these memos are being treated as essential documents in the war on terror, those assertions deserve careful scrutiny.
As a Republican, I am often frustrated by the dismissive attitude of certain Republicans toward the entire question of torture. (Just one reason I admire John McCain.) Less surprisingly, I am also frustrated by the efforts of Democrats to denounce everything the Bush administration did as unconscionable. I guess I better read up on the issue, since I don't think it's going away.
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, April 20, 2009
# Posted 6:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Right now, I have insurance through COBRA, which means I still have insurance through my previous employer, but have to cover my employer's share of the cost. Basically, I'm now paying three times as much for the same insurance. With premiums as high as they are now, that really hurts.
Not surprisingly, I tend to believe that our healthcare system needs a major overhaul to make it more affordable. What kind of overhaul? I dunno. I know what I want -- portable and affordable insurance that covers the same high quality services I get now. I just have no idea how to get from here to there. As such, my ears perked up yesterday when Larry Summers, the economics point man at the White House, said this on Meet the Press:
By doing the right kind of cost-effectiveness, by making the right kinds of investments and protection, some experts that we--estimate that we could take as much as $700 billion a year out of our health care system. Now, we wouldn't have to do anything like that, we wouldn't have to do a third of that in order to pay for a very aggressive program of increased coverage.That seems like a silver bullet. Is it really possible that we could save that much just by being more efficient without consuming less healthcare? I sure hope so. But if healthcare is a business, why haven't insurance firms noticed these mountains of inefficiency and improved their own profit margins by squeezing them out of the system?
But say for a minute that these inefficiencies really are there and ripe for elimination. Summers' estimate suggest that if we get rid of inefficiency, we could either finance a government-supported program to provide healthcare to the uninsured, or we could build a much leaner private insurance system that makes coverage affordable for the currently unininsured.
My sense is that the Obama administration is learning toward the former option, but we may not know the details for a while. Personally, I don't like the idea of the government taking charge of such a massive program if there is a way for the private sector to do it equally well. If inefficiency is killing the system now, I'm not inclined to believe that more government is the answer. But who is out there, leading the charge, explaining how to save the healthcare system in a way that encourages competition and entrepreneurship, rather than central direction?
I'm all ears
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, April 11, 2009
# Posted 10:48 AM by Patrick Porter
In analysing a movement like Al Qaeda, it is very tempting to mystify the enemy.
Two things often said about AQ are that: 1) its continued violence shows that it has not been effectively combated, and 2) that as a networked, decentralised movement based on a diffuse ideology, it is highly resilient.
Seth Jones and Martyn Libicki’s fascinating new study of ‘How Terrorist Groups End’ argues the first.* It discusses Al Qaeda’s progress on a range of fronts, but AQ’s enduring capabilities is one of its key arguments. And a whole swathe of literature over the past few years argues the second.
Both of these assumptions are open to doubt. It seems inadequate to argue that the continued frequency of Al Qaeda attacks means that the war has not damaged them substantially. First, by measuring success in terms of ‘inputs’ and regularity of activity, it is apolitical and astrategic, ignoring ‘outputs’ and effects of that violence. It is commonplace to point out that America’s military behaviour has had counterproductive effects on global opinion - but the same dilemma haunts our enemies.
Al Qaeda’s method is to use inspirational and exemplary violence by taking jihad, a predominantly local phenomenon, to the ‘far enemy’, the United States. It hopes to spark a great uprising in the Islamic world. It directs its violence to make war on its enemies, and also to convince other Muslims to support its vision of perpetual struggle against the infidel. Its long term project is to drive ‘Crusaders and Zionists’ from Arabia, to overthrow the apostate regimes that corrupt the house of Islam by attacking their patron, and to restore a ‘united Islamic caliphate as a vast empire of the righteous.’ Only through unity under a Caliph can divine law be reinstituted. Through its mayhem, Al Qaeda seeks ultimately to purify Islam, bring down the internal and external forces of ‘unbelief’ that oppress it, and to bring about a world order that enforces a dogmatic version of the Qur’an and Islamic law. On its own terms, destruction is ultimately a means, not an end. It seeks to translate violence into earthly, political goals. Quantifying attacks in a vacuum pays no regard to the relationship between Al Qaeda’s terrorism and Islamic opinion.
So far, it has not inspired a great, massed Islamic uprising. It has not generated revolutions in Egypt, Syria, or Saudi Arabia. America the patron has not fled the region and cut its ties with apostate regimes. Furthermore, AQ’s methods if anything has generated a blowback against itself. In a major theatre of Al Qaeda’s war, Iraq, the movement has been bloodied by a revolt against its overreaching brutality, a blowback with wider ripples. Al Qaeda’s despairing fighters and theorists speak of a great reversal. Its stocks have plummeted in Saudi Arabia, due to both mass opinion, state power and the counterproductive effect of terrorist attacks there. On a range of measures of global opinion, it is suffering.
We are not privy to the inner councils of Bin Laden’s movement. But from their perspective, it is surely inauspicious that they are endangered and unpopular in two vital places in their cosmos, Saudi Arabia, the land of the prophet, and Mesopotamia, which Bin Laden described as the ‘land of the two rivers’, the ‘capital of the caliphate’, with Baghdad as ‘the world’s millstone and pillar.’ This was not exactly what their visionaries had in mind, no matter how many explosions they can trigger around the world.
Second, by pointing to the frequency of attacks, the ‘counting incidents’ method fails to differentiate the kinds and intensities of attacks. In terms of operational success, it continues to inspire violence. But its ability to inflict complex mass-casualty atrocities has been curtailed. Despite frequent boasts, attempts at ‘spectacular’ atrocities continually collapse, are intercepted or broken up. This is partly because an international coalition of states has cooperated to make it more difficult to coordinate transnational terrorism in the First World (NOT impossible, but more difficult!). It is also because being at war with an American-led coalition has dislocated its infrastructure and organisational cohesion. It is now a more disjointed and disunited movement. Being deprived of its main sanctuary and staging post in Afghanistan, being almost driven from Anbar in Iraq, and being regularly molested in its new hideaways in Pakistan, has made it harder to operate on a grand scale.
The third difficulty with this approach is that it sets an eccentric standard, imitating the same utopian mentality of the Bush Administration, that success should be defined in absolute terms as the utter eradication of the movement and its method. Instead, we can see from opinion polls on suicide bombing, to internal schisms, to uprisings against AQ, that its violence has not had the political gains it desired within the Islamic world. The goal cannot sensibly be to abolish terrorism, but to manage the terrorist network as it busily destroys its own cause.
AQ can congratulate itself on one big thing. It has helped induce its main enemy to hurt itself in many ways. This remains one of the great dangers of terrorism, that it can goad states into self-harm. The climate of insecurity it created did play a part in making the Iraq war possible, for example. But in doing so, AQ has overreached itself, and jeopardised its own survival as a movement. It is now for the US to encourage AQ’s self-destructive tendencies, but at a lower cost.
The other mythology is that by mutating into a ‘network’, AQ has become greatly resilient. This is part of a broader trend in war studies, that stresses the strengths and dynamism of ‘netwar’, and the problems that industrial-age state behemoths like the US face in waging it.
But as new literature convincingly demonstrates, becoming a network is a decidedly mixed blessing. Networked forms can lose the capacity to forge unity of purpose, strong ties and shared strategic vision, and the loss of a safe central base disrupts effective learning and competitive selection of members. In gaining flexibility and endurance, they sacrifice command and control. Hence the hard time Al Qaeda has had with its own ‘brand’, as its affiliates commit atrocities in Algeria or Iraq that undermine its following.
So, some contrarian conclusions. Networks suffer great disadvantages. Regular attacks are not necessarily a sign of ‘winning.’ And America was not the only international actor to suffer blows in Iraq. Declaring a war on terrorism, as every Tom Dick and Harry can say, is a silly concept. But so, historically, is declaring war on America.
*Its also a really interesting analysis of how terrorist groups end or die out, a la Audrey Cronin’s work. I’m not sure about its general presumption against military force as a tool of counter-terrorism, but that’s for another time.
Cross-posted from Kings of War (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
# Posted 6:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
What Abrams is against is taking new land for settlements:
Israeli settlement expansion beyond the security fence, in areas Israel will ultimately evacuate, is a mistake: It wastes Israeli resources and needlessly antagonizes the Palestinians who live nearby.This kind of expansion is also rare; thus it isn't much of a threat to peace talks.
There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the peace process, however. For a closer look, I recommend Abrams' recent cover story in the Weekly Standard. The details are important, but the essence of argument is this. Fatah can't make peace. Hamas won't. American efforts to keep negotiations going are a waste of energy that could spent dealing with real problems in the West Bank.
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, April 06, 2009
# Posted 4:10 AM by Patrick Porter
She has an interesting take on how France historically reinvigorated the military alliance, and can do again.
Here's the link. And here is the English translation:
France can revitalize NATO, again
France is back in NATO – and, not surprisingly, it’s with a bang, not a whimper. This week's NATO summit in Germany will mark both the organization’s 60th anniversary and France’s rejoining of NATO’s integrated military structure. The French clearly do not want this step to go unnoticed. It has been reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to boycott the gathering unless diplomatic protocols were changed so that he would be seated at the head of the summit table. After frantic talks, a new arrangement was worked out that will place the French president next to NATO’s Secretary General whenever television cameras are in the room.
The episode may prove to be prescient, as France’s return to NATO presents the organization with the opportunity to reform more than just seating protocol – it could jump start discussions critical to the future of the Atlantic Alliance.
Ironically, this is precisely what happened when Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO in 1966. The act is generally remembered as having triggered the most serious crisis in NATO’s history, which it did. But what is often overlooked is that, ultimately, French withdrawal revitalized the stagnating organization.
No longer able to respond to situations in an ad hoc manner and remain viable, the USA and its European allies were forced to confront deep divisions within the alliance. An overarching vision for NATO that included both military and political objectives was agreed upon, and a more equitable division of labour among its members was worked out to realize it. A similar re-assessment for today’s NATO is long overdue. And current alliance leaders would do well to examine three key areas that were addressed in this period – Russia, arms control, and defence capabilities; though much has changed in the last four decades, these three issues are still at the core of NATO’s long-term viability.
The first topic alliance leaders were forced to address was the changing nature of relations with Russia. Shortly after the withdrawal, de Gaulle travelled to the Soviet Union to pursue bilateral relations between Paris and Moscow. The move galvanized NATO. Fearful that France would take the lead in East-West relations. the allies countered with a comprehensive re-assessment of their own policy toward the Soviet Union. This resulted in agreement on two issues: 1) to remain relevant, NATO had to move beyond its military functions and address broader, more political issues such as détente and arms control, and 2) these initiatives would be pursued collectively rather than unilaterally – and that included the United States. In the 21st century, a resurgent Russia necessitates the same commitment to clearly articulated objectives and collective action. Multilateralism has been essentially shunned for the past eight years by Washington, but France’s reintegration coinciding with the new American administration presents a unique opportunity to begin the hard work of rebuilding it.
This is particularly urgent in the other area Alliance leaders focused on after French withdrawal: arms control. Progress here was viewed as critical not merely to increase European security; forging an agreement on non-proliferation with the East was hoped to be the basis for pursuing non- proliferation on other continents as well. In terms of Russia, it was hoped that working constructively with Moscow in this area would lead to broader dialogue on other further issues.
The strategy worked. The allies’ unity during arms control negotiations with the USSR proved essential to concluding the most durable arms control treaty of the 20th century, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and jump started talks on human rights and territorial integrity, culminating with the Helsinki Accords. Today, Russia has suspended the Treaty on Conventional Forces and discussions in this area have halted. Both Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy, however, have publicly supported the idea of opening a dialogue, including arms control, to review European security. Once back in NATO, Sarkozy will hopefully actively pursue this, and France is well positioned to work toward coordinating NATO and EU policy on the issue. Moreover, with France’s added diplomatic weight, the West will have a much stronger, more unified hand in negotiations.
Finally, the loss of French troops and territory served to remind Alliance leaders that NATO's credibility was rooted in its defence capability. Thus, modernizing and further integrating the allies’ defences was seen as essential to revitalizing the organization. This is equally imperative today -- and not necessarily a matter of vastly increasing spending. Alliance members can tangibly strengthen their military integration by purchasing weapons and technology from each other, consolidating duplicated systems, and developing new systems jointly. As the European country with the highest overall expenditure on defence and the only continental West European country with nuclear weapons, France's involvement in this area is vital. Deepening integration on the operational level in this way will do far more to strengthen NATO than the issuing of joint communiqués or the creation of ever more institutional structures.
Forty years ago, France’s withdrawal from NATO threatened to end the most successful alliance in military history. Ultimately, however, it revitalized it. Today, if France spurs the Atlantic Alliance to confront issues that are critical to NATO’s future, its reintegration could revitalize it once again (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:10 AM by Patrick Porter
Over the past couple of years I've banged out a book. Amaze your friends, sex up your image and buy a copy! (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Friday, April 03, 2009
# Posted 11:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
If you didn’t know the history of its founders, you could almost imagine that the Foreign Policy Initiative represents a constructive and nonpartisan effort to keep America engaged around the world.The funny thing is, FPI's inaugural conference was remarkably non-partisan and constructive. I didn't see Packer in the audience, but no one at the event could've missed the strong statements of support for Obama's new Afghanistan policy from Bob Kagan, Fred Kagan, Bill Kristol and others. Those same individuals also spent a considerable amount of their time behind the microphone warning that Republicans in opposition have an unfortunate habit of stumbling into an isolationist mindset. Thus, one of the explicit purposes of FPI is to shore up GOP support for Obama's efforts in Afghanistan, so that the President can count on conservative support even if his liberal base thinks victory is unachievable.
For another report from the conference, I highly recommend Chris Brose's post on the subject, which includes a description of Bob Kagan,
bare-chested (as usual), in full war paint, banging the Mayflower china with a combat boot, shouting that America needed to put 10 million men under arms.Finally, a word about Rep. Jane Harman, until recently the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee. She was at the conference and when she got on stage, she tackled the elephant in the room. She said she didn't care if some people thought FPI was some sort of neocon organization. These people are her friends and she'll stick by them.
An admirable sentiment.
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly (1) opinions -- Add your opinion