— National Defense —

September 11, 2012

Things We Read Today, 8

Justin Katz

Today: September 11, global change, evolution, economics, 17th amendment, gold standard, and a boughten electorate... all to a purpose.

February 10, 2012

In Honoring Giffords Mabus' Flouts Navy Ship Naming Conventions Again

Marc Comtois

Since President Obama took office, his Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus has been, shall we say flexible in following the conventions of Navy ship naming that have been set down. He has strayed tradition enough to have prompted a review of ship-naming policy. And he has done it again.

Now Mabus has named a new vessel after retiring Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The logic behind this is difficult to take issue with--except it still flies in the face of past precedent. The Giffords will be an LCS, a littoral combat ship (these are pretty cool looking ships!), which have been named (with the exception of the first two) for smaller cities; a convention Mabus followed until now.

Ship naming has always been subject to some level of politicization. There is a Virginia-class attack submarine named after former senator John Warner and the aircraft carriers are usually named after presidents except when they're not! Then there is the Bob Hope Class of vehicle cargo ships which are all named for individuals who have received the Medal of Honor (as are several other AKR class vessels). Well, except for Mr. Hope of course. Another example of inconsistency more familiar to Rhode Islanders would be the Seawolf class attack submarines named Seawolf, Connecticut and Jimmy Carter.

Yet, these exceptions have occurred over a period of years and decades. Mabus is set apart because he has a pretty high batting average in flouting ship naming conventions during his 3 years as Navy Secretary. Mabus started his tenure by naming a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship--traditionally named after cities--after the recently deceased Democratic Representative John Murtha.

Next up is the T-AKE Class of naval support vessels, the Lewis and Clark Class, which had been named after explorers and pioneers*--until Mabus took office. Then the Medgar Evars and Cesar Chavez were named to join the likes of Sacagawea, Alan Shepard, Amelia Earhart, Mathew Perry, Washington Chambers et al. In his defense, Mabus' supporters argue that Chavez, a Navy veteran, was a "pioneering" organizer of migrant farm workers. While it's harder to criticize Mabus for naming the Evers (also a Navy veteran), it is pretty clear that he has broadened the original definition of pioneer since the keels were first laid for this class of ships. Overall, I counted 4 out of 7 ships that have been named by Mabus that didn't appear to follow prior convention. Is this going to sink the Navy? No. Yet, it does appear to be an unprecedented level of politicization by one Navy Secretary.

*Incidentally, the description of the AKE class naming convention has been "retcon'd": there are a lot of articles supporting Mabus saying these ships were originally to be named after explorers, pioneers and “visionaries.” The "visionary" qualification is a recent appellation. The original intent was to name them only after explorers.

April 3, 2011

Ivy ROTC Update

Marc Comtois

After much, sometimes heated, debate, Columbia University has elected to allow ROTC back on campus. Good. Now, Brown University finds itself increasingly out of the Ivy mainstream, though they're currently reviewing the policy:

[Dean of the College Katherine] Bergeron also discussed her attendance at the Ivy Plus conference — a consortium of universities, including members of the Ivy League as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago and Stanford — where deans from the universities discussed their respective plans to offer or not offer ROTC programs.

Of those universities, MIT, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton and Penn already offer ROTC programs. Harvard announced its intention to reinstate its ROTC program earlier this month, and Bergeron said it looks likely that Columbia, Yale and Stanford will do the same. If this were the case, Brown would be the only Ivy League university not to have a ROTC program on campus.

I suspect Brown will come around, if grudgingly.

February 14, 2011

Senator Jack Reed's 2010 Earmark for RI Defense Contractor

Marc Comtois

UPDATED: WPRI's Tim White and Ted Nesi reported last week that both Senator Reed and then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy secured $27 million in earmarks for Middletown defense contractor Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow over the years. On Sunday, ProJo reporter John Mulligan looked into the Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow kickback scheme and potential political repercussions, particularly the earmarking process.

Over the years, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy have secured millions of dollars worth of federal spending “earmarks” for Advanced Solutions.

“As far as we can tell from these documents, the alleged abuse involves contracts awarded and managed by the Navy,” spokesman Chip Unruh said in a printed statement from Reed’s office. “The affidavit does not even mention the word ‘earmarks.’ ”

“The earmarking process is an easy target right now and I don’t think it’s entirely fair,” said Sean Richardson, a Washington lobbyist and onetime chief of staff to Kennedy.

Members of the Rhode Island congressional delegation and staff are careful to screen earmark requests, he said. None of them would work on an earmark “that we wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Providence Journal,” he said. None of them had any reason to view Advanced Solutions as “anything other than a Rhode Island success story,” he said.

About 10 seconds of research at Legistorm (data from Taxpayers for Common Sense) revealed that Senator Reed submitted a $3 million earmark for ASFT in 2010, with a final approved amount of $2.4 million. That does not mean Senator Reed is or will be implicated in any of the current mess. It simply means that, while the affidavit did not mention "earmarks", it is true that Senator Reed did submit at least one for ASFT.

August 18, 2010

Non-RI Based Speculation on Jack Reed as the Next SecDef

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Associated Press is reporting that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will retire sometime next year. Rhode Island Senior Senator Jack Reed is listed amongst the possible successors...

Washington insiders have long speculated that potential successors include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel; Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy; John Hamre, chairman of the Defense Policy Board and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank; and Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat...

Flournoy and Reed are also considered long shots, with neither regarded as having enough experience in managing such a large bureaucracy. While Reed, a former Army ranger, is considered a favored Democratic talking head on defense matters, he also is the father of a toddler daughter and is said to prefer the relatively quiet life of a local politician.

Under legislation passed by the RI General Assembly this year, Senate vacancies are now filled by special election to be held as quickly as is reasonable after a seat becomes open, and no longer by gubernatorial appointment.

May 26, 2010

Go Bama

Donald B. Hawthorne

Some things speak for themselves:

Rick Barber, Congressional candidate.

Les Phillip, Congressional candidate.

Dale Peterson, Ag Commissioner candidate.

January 7, 2010

Gates to Stay On As Secretary of Defense

Carroll Andrew Morse

For anyone theorizing that Rhode Island Senior Senator Jack Reed might become Secretary of Defense in time for either Patrick Lynch or Frank Caprio (but most likely Lynch) to opt to run in a special Senate election, instead of for Governor, the dream is now dead. From the Associated Press...

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, will remain in his Cabinet post for at least another year, his spokesman said Thursday.

Gates, who has said he considers himself a Republican, told President Barack Obama in December that he would stay on at least through the end of 2010, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told The Associated Press.

October 15, 2009

A Justification for Anything

Justin Katz

My demonstrated ambivalence about near-torture of terrorists (perhaps even crossing that line) may be immoral, in itself, but there are many layers to the matter, and given the unlikelihood that an individual's opinion will make much difference, the deep consideration that the question requires has been perpetually postponed. Clearly, an interrogation technique needn't be unambiguous torture before it risks objectification of the subject. Clearly, too, the reasoning required to arrive at a stamp of moral and legal legitimacy for acts that push the boundaries sets dangerous precedent. Such is the case with this, from National Review editor Rich Lowry:

The interrogations really should be viewed as a continuation of the war by different means. When the detainees were compliant, they weren't subjected to harsh techniques--they were no longer in the fight. But if they had knowledge of ongoing plots that they were keeping from us, they were, in effect, still combatants. And coercion was appropriate. Their cell was just the battlefield in a different form.

If that's the framework, and we can kill on the battlefield, what wouldn't be allowed against prisoners of war? And although we certainly shouldn't lose sight of the fact that our enemy is not a state actor, making definition difficult, if that war is not declared and defined in detailed terms, what's to stop the "battlefield" from expanding to include any suburban home in the United States?

Arguably, it's among the benefits of a mixed culture that the just reservations of one group will not always be adequate to restrain those whose beliefs allow venturing into morally murkier waters, and given the stakes, it isn't unreasonable to be relieved that we've learned what we've learned, however we arrived at the information. But torture will always appear vindicated, to some extent, if it contributed to avoiding substantial loss of human life. The problem is that we cannot know beforehand what information the prisoner possesses.

October 13, 2009

October 9, 2009

Obama's Agenda and the Nobel Peace Prize

Donald B. Hawthorne

Thoughts on the strategic issues and political agenda driven by Obama's world view:

Power Line: Paul Rahe on Obama's Agenda

Charles Krauthammer on Decline is a choice

Peter Wehner links the two concepts of Obama's agenda and his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. More thoughts from Jonathan Tobin, Jennifer Rubin and the NR editors.

Bill Whittle reminds us of the American exceptionalism Barack Obama doesn't believe in.

More valuable thoughts from Andy McCarthy and Peter Kirsanow. Human rights groups are skeptical as are certain liberal opinion leaders.

Previous AR foreign policy posts here, here, here, here, and here.

reason.TV ridicules the award while Obama finally says something many people can agree with.

Meanwhile, let your thoughts and prayers be with the people who were nominated for the Peace Prize but lacked the celebrity status of Obama or Gore. It is truly these people who are making valiant efforts to bring peace to the world.


As a reminder, more thoughts on the alternative view of American exceptionalism here: Happy Birthday, America! and William Allen: George Washington as America's First Progressive.

More on who awarded the Nobel to Obama.

Victor Davis Hanson adds his thoughts on Lessons from Oslo and Mark Steyn asks Who Really Won? In diminishing American power abroad, Obama and the U.S. choose decline.


SNL on Nobel Peace Prize.


Just One Minute on Peggy Noonan wants to write Obama's Nobel Speech.

Jennifer Rubin on America’s Not Big Enough for Him.


It could have been so different and influenced the future for the better.


Neville Chamberlain would, no doubt, approve of Obama's latest with Russia. How does this advance the cause of peace or America's interests?

September 21, 2009

Whose side is Obama on?

Donald B. Hawthorne

At some point, after the questions keep piling up, one overriding and fundamental question begs to be answered: Whose side is Obama on?

Obama Ready to Slash Nuclear Arsenal:

Disturbing report, from The Guardian
Obama has rejected the Pentagon's first draft of the "nuclear posture review" as being too timid, and has called for a range of more far-reaching options consistent with his goal of eventually abolishing nuclear weapons altogether, according to European officials...

Unilaterally cutting your own strategic arsenal isn't just naive, it's downright dangerous. Consider the implications here -- Obama has just signaled to the Russians and Chinese that we'll drastically reduce our nuclear forces without a quid pro quo. That means that both nations are free continue the aggressive upgrades to their strategic nuclear forces (particularly so in Putin's Russia), without having to worry about what the U.S. or international community thinks.

The START Treaty, a valuable agreement that downsized the US and Russia's deployed nukes in a pragmatic, safe way, is set to expire in December. Thanks to Obama's baffling impatience with diplomatic process, he's now completely compromised our two most important bargaining chips -- the European Missile Shield and our nuclear inventory -- without even sitting down to the table. And when it does come time to negotiate a new arms reduction treaty, we will have absolutely zero leverage.

...Does he not understand stabilization through the balance of power, projection of strength, and goal-orientated (not ideologically orientated) foreign policy -- otherwise known as freshman grade realpolitik? During the short history of nuclear arms, there has never been a more dangerous epoch than the early 21st century, where non-proliferation efforts have widely failed. By surrendering the only two negotiating tools with muscle behind them, Obama has just flashed a green light to every aspiring nuclear power and every potential strategic competitor: build your bombs...

Related earlier stories:

And these are responses from our international friends!
Unilateral appeasement
Obama punishes international democrats and rewards international tyrants
9/11: Never forgetting means never forgetting


Mary Anastasia O'Grady on Hillary's Honduras Obsession: The U.S. is trying to force the country to violate its constitution.

John Steele Gordon on This Could Be Interesting

The [United States] Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, issued a report recently that the Honduran government did nothing illegal under Honduran law...It seems that the definition of coup d’état at Foggy Bottom and the White House is not just an "extra-constitutional change of government" but also a constitutional one—if the Obama administration doesn’t approve of it.

Emanuele Ottolenghi on Reset Button!

Russia just announced that it will not shelve its plans to deploy tactical missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave. Obama’s reset policy is beginning to work...for Russia!

Jennifer Rubin on The Adolescent President

The Washington Post’s editors are understandably nervous—Obama is wavering, perhaps crumbling before their eyes, on Afghanistan. They note that, not so long ago, he was sounding George W. Bush–like in his determination to prevail. But no more...

While Obama "appears to be distancing himself from his commanders"—whom he installed and presented with his mission of ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban—there is little reason, they note, for him to back away from his own analysis offered just months ago that a return of the Taliban would be a disaster for Afghanistan and hugely destabilizing to its neighbor Pakistan.

There is something bizarre about the president’s disassociating himself from his generals and his own stated goals–within a span of just months. He gives the appearance of an errant teenager who one month ago simply had to do X and now can’t bring himself to even defend X. But we can’t say it’s without precedent...

In April, Obama defended missile defense in Europe...

In September, he pulled the rug out from under the Poles and Czechs. But April was April. It’s, like, you know, a whole different thing now.

In both cases, the only factor that "changed" was that objections arose to the president’s previously stated course of action. Russia made a fuss over missile defense, and the entire liberal wing of the Democratic party threw a fit over the idea that we’d have to devote time and money to winning the "good" war. So the president balked, giving way to those who screamed the loudest...

...someone in his administration must surely realize that a second reversal of this magnitude will only cement his image as a Jimmy Carter–esque figure–weak, irresolute, and easily manipulated–and invite endless challenges to the U.S. After all, if he’s going to back down whenever someone screams loudly, there will be a lot of very loud screaming.

John Hannah on Call Them Out, Mr. President: Obama should stand up for the Iranian people, and against the Iranian regime, at the UN

The agreement by the United States and other world powers to launch negotiations with Iran on October 1--despite the regime's refusal to discuss ending its uranium enrichment program--makes clear that there will be no meaningful progress to stop Iran's drive for the bomb when world leaders, led by President Obama, gather this week at the United Nations General Assembly. All the more reason, then, that the president should use the occasion, and his considerable political skills, to at long last rally the international community on behalf of the beleaguered Iranian people--who last Friday took to the country's streets yet again by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to voice their contempt for the regime of supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The facts of the past three and a half months are well known but bear repeating: A stolen presidential election on June 12. A brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters demanding their votes be counted. Young women murdered in broad daylight by rooftop snipers. Old men beaten bloody by plain-clothed thugs. University students terrorized in their dormitories in the middle of the night by axe-wielding vigilantes. Detainees, male and female alike, repeatedly sodomized and raped. Others tortured to death. Weekly Stalinist show trials. Threats from the regime's highest levels of large-scale purges to come, including the forceful targeting of top opposition figures.

Making matters infinitely worse is the fact that the Iranian people have had to endure this systematic assault on their human rights largely alone--to the great shame of the United States, Europe's major democracies, and the rest of the free world. Millions of Iranians have heroically sought to secure through peaceful means their most basic democratic rights. Untold numbers have been subjected to violence, illegal detention, torture, and even murder at the hands of a tyrannical regime that also happens to be the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism. They deserve far better from America and the democratic community of nations than deafening silence.

...The fact is that since the disputed June 12 elections, the Iranian opposition has consistently requested that the rest of the world refrain from recognizing the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At Friday's demonstrations in Tehran, protesters chanted "Obama, Obama, your talks should be with us [not the regime]." Leading Iranian human rights activists have pleaded for other states to avoid steps that would confer legitimacy on the regime and grant it psychological succor--while demoralizing its democratic opponents.

...There's no doubt that Ahmadinejad and his henchmen will seek to portray such talks as a major triumph, a sign that no matter what horrors the regime inflicts on its own citizens, the world is prepared to look the other way in a desperate effort to accommodate the Islamic Republic's rising power. The message conveyed to the Iranian people will be clear: You are alone and forgotten. Further resistance is futile.

The United States should not allow itself to become an accomplice in Ahmadinejad's power play. That is why even as engagement with the regime proceeds next week, Obama needs to make the plight of the Iranian people a top priority. Doing so, of course, has the virtue of keeping faith with America's highest ideals. But more importantly it also serves U.S. strategic interests.

Through their popular uprising, the Iranian people have mounted the most serious challenge to the Islamic Republic in its 30-year history. The regime is frightened and confused, on the defensive, never closer to unraveling. The United States should do nothing that needlessly risks relieving that pressure and giving comfort to Iran's rulers...


Bret Stephens on Summits of Folly: Mr. Obama bankrupts his country while appeasing his foe

Beggar thy neighbor, bankrupt thy country, appease thy foe. As slogans (or counter-slogans) go, it isn't quite in a class with Amnesty, Acid and Abortion. But it pretty much sums up President Obama's global agenda—and that's just for the month of September.

In 1943, Walter Lippmann observed that the disarmament movement had been "tragically successful in disarming the nations that believed in disarmament." That ought to have been the final word on the subject.

So what should Mr. Obama, who this week becomes the first American president to chair a session of the U.N. Security Council, choose to make the centerpiece of the Council's agenda? What else but nonproliferation and disarmament. And lest anyone suspect that this has something to do with North Korea and Iran, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice insists otherwise: The meeting, she says, "will focus on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament broadly, and not on any particular countries."

But the problem with this euphemistic approach to disarmament, as Lippmann noticed, is that it shifts the onus from the countries that can't be trusted with nuclear weapons to those that can...

...But what's really historical is the explosion in the debt-to-GDP ratios of the G-20 countries, which the IMF predicts will rise to 81.6% next year from 65.9% in 2008. For the U.S. the jump is especially pronounced—to 97.5% next year from 70.5% last. Only Japan and Italy will be deeper in the red; even Argentina looks good by comparison. This is before the first baby boomer hits retirement age next summer, to say nothing of the liabilities coming from ObamaCare.

What happens to countries with these kinds of fiscal burdens? They decline. In 1983, Japan's gross government debt stood at 67% of GDP. It has since tripled. West Germany's was a little under 40%. It is twice that today. These used to be the economies of the future. They are, or ought to be, the cautionary tales of the present.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama is earning kudos from the Russian government for his decision to pull missile defense from central Europe, even as Poland marked the 70th anniversary of its invasion by the Soviet Union. Moscow is still offering no concessions on sanctioning Iran in the event negotiations fail, but might graciously agree to an arms-control deal that cements its four-to-one advantages in tactical nuclear weapons...

And all of this in a single month. Just imagine what October will bring.

Continue reading "Whose side is Obama on?"

June 6, 2009

This Mission of D-Day Continues

Justin Katz

Ocean State Republican has posted video and text of President Reagan's 1984 D-Day speech:

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

Take special note of this passage:

... Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose — to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.

Presence is not occupation; that's a notion some among our countrymen don't seem to comprehend in their distrust of their fellows.

May 22, 2009

Import of Gitmo Detainees: Assuaging the Wrong Fear

Monique Chartier

From President Obama's speech yesterday:

Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders -- namely, highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety.

As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following face: Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal, supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Republican Lindsey Graham said, the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.

Isn't this a red herring? The threat to the continued detention of such persons is not inadequate physical arrangements. It is that bringing them onto the soil of the United States and into the direct purview of our court system greatly increases the chance that such detainees will leave the prison not by breaking out but by a turn of the key ordered by an American court.

This is not in any way to advocate for the indefinite detention of these detainees but rather, to identify yet another instance of flawed reasoning; in this case, one that will permit casual observers to say, "Oh, yeah, our prisons are secure; go ahead and bring them here". In fact, prisons are comprised of both walls and authority. A breach of either enables a prisoner to go free; if of the latter, freedom tends not to be temporary.

May 8, 2009

Whitehouse's Dog and Pony Show

Marc Comtois

So, Senator Whitehouse is pretty proud that he's finally getting a chance to question Bush Administration lawyers about "torture memos." I wonder if he's interested in questioning members of Congress, particularly House Speaker Pelosi, about what I'm sure Whitehouse would consider a lack of oversight of the program?

December 30, 2008

Mark Zaccaria: Closing the Deal

Engaged Citizen

Recently Rhode Island Congressman James Langevin has been quoted as saying “We’re way behind where we need to be now” in terms of our preparedness to withstand and resist Cyber Terrorism attacks.

Going beyond the purely defensive posture of his initial position, Congressman Langevin also told United Press International "The best defense is a good offense and an offensive [cyberwar] capability is essential to our national defense."

In fact, just before Christmas, the Congressman was quoted by Reuters as saying, "This is equivalent in my mind to before September 11 ... we were awakened to the threat on the morning after September 11."

During his recent campaign for re-election Mr. Langevin made much of the fact that his committee assignments required him to observe tight security restrictions. Candidate Langevin allowed as how his inability to publicly debate these sensitive matters had much to do with his extremely low effectiveness ratings in Congress. Those who know ranked Langevin 217th out of 235 Democrats in the House in the last Session. That puts him well behind many of his more junior colleagues, including some who were in their Freshman Term.

So here we are. Mr. Langevin was returned to the House for a fifth term. No one would suggest that he reveal any of the details of the sensitive briefings he receives. Still, his comments about our nation’s lack of readiness do indicate that he now publicly wishes to be considered an authority on these matters and one who is ringing alarm bells.

So what’s your next move, Congressman?

I earnestly hope that since he has now released himself from the veil of secrecy that has restricted him in the past he will be free to do what we have hired him to do. I trust he will now introduce legislation that will correct the inequities he has cited in his recent comments to the press.

Even the Vice President Elect has suggested that he has some knowledge of impending terrorist activity that will be timed to test the new Administration. While no legislation of any kind will prevent a physical attack, James Langevin heads a subcommittee on Cybersecurity. From that chair he is well positioned to suggest incentives, if not actual regulations, to increase the levels of existing Public Key Encryption schemes that now offer some level of protection to every wireless digital device in the world. Such legislation need not increase the costs of government in these difficult economic times. There’s no need for new bureaucracies to oversee the implementation of detailed regulations that first have to be written by someone before they can be implemented. Existing industry standards can be used with more complex key structures to make the cyber communications we all depend on even more secure than they are today.

If you and I know that, it’s a cinch Mr. Langevin does.

So what we need from our Representative now is not simply a clarion call telling us there is a problem and that the Government ought to do something about it. He is the Government. We need to see him initiate corrective action to neutralize the problem that he, himself, has highlighted in his recent public comments.

We all know there are challenges facing America. Any casual observer of current events could give us quite a list of them. We look to Congress, and those we elect, not for a more detailed listing of problems but for one or two real solutions. As the head of the Committee we should reasonably expect more from Representative Langevin than just an attempt to fill the air with commentary, but no real ideas.

Years ago an advertising campaign asked all of us the question, “Where’s the Beef?” Now a campaign for better representation here in Rhode Island is asking James Langevin the question, “Where’s the Bill?”

Mark Zaccaria is a small businessman and former elected official who was Congressman Langevin’s GOP Opponent in the recent election.

December 2, 2008

$621 Million Air Freshener?

Marc Comtois

Harry Reid, so classy:

"My staff tells me not to say this, but I'm going to say it anyway," said Reid in his remarks. "In the summer because of the heat and high humidity, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol. It may be descriptive but it's true."
Reid was talking about the new Capitol Visitors Center--all $621 Million worth of it. Citizens Against Government Waste sums up this case-study in "government boondoggle":
Initially conceived in the early 1990s and projected to cost $71 million, the CVC has become an example of out-of-control government contracting and mismanagement. After costs ballooned and construction schedules spiraled out of control, the three-level, underground monument to congressional excess finally came in at a whopping $621 million and three years behind schedule.

“The mismanagement and bloat associated with the construction of the Capitol Visitors Center is emblematic of the rampant waste in the nation’s capitol,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “This boondoggle should give pause to anyone contemplating the expenditure of hundreds of billions more taxpayer dollars for any federal infrastructure projects as part of any new stimulus package. Like the federal budget itself, Congress used the CVC as a warehouse for tens of millions of dollars in extravagant bells and whistles for itself. Even more reprehensible, members of Congress seeking to add special features for themselves used security concerns surrounding the September 11 attacks to justify their extravagant add-ons and constant change orders.”

Original plans called for more than half of the CVC space to be left as unfinished “shell space,” available to be outfitted for future needs. Instead, in 2001 Congress began implementing its wish list for the unfinished spaces. The House side got a two-story hearing room and the Senate grafted on a collection of small hearing rooms and a television and radio studio with adjoining makeup facilities so that senators could cut spots for their constituents back home. Those two efforts alone added $85 million to the cost of the CVC. The CVC will also have a 450-seat dining area, two orientation theaters (one for each chamber), a large auditorium, and an exhibition hall.

Air fresheners would have been cheaper.

October 13, 2008

On Obama's disarmament priorities

Donald B. Hawthorne

From Power Line:

We are now three weeks out from the presidential election, and so far as I am aware Barack Obama has not been asked a single question about the disarmament credo he sets forth in the video...

Isn't it time for someone who covers politics for a living to ask Obama a few serious questions about this credo? Or for John Mccain to note it?

Watch the video and hear Obama in his own words.


Rubin describes one of the obvious implications of a unilateral disarmament mentality:

Joe Biden said it again today: "We will end this war." Referring to Iraq neither he or Barack Obama ever say "win." They never even say "secure the gains." One hopes they don’t really believe their campaign hooey. They must understand victory is nearly at hand, and all that is required is a patient transition and a deliberate plan for insuring that violence does not resurface, right? We really don’t know, but at some point the rhetoric becomes reality and he, his supporters and the overwhelmingly Democratic Congress will act accordingly.

This all might be a good topic for the final debate: why is "end" always the goal and not "win"? What does that message transmit to our enemies?...

August 10, 2008

Review: Your Government Failed You

Marc Comtois

Richard Clarke, Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters

Your government failed you.
So said Richard Clarke to the American people during the 9/11 Commission hearings a few years back. Clarke's resume of over 30 years in the foreign policy arena speaks for itself and adds weight to his point of view. At times, his tales of frustration infuriate because they show just how much government did fail leading up to 9/11.

But, as reaction to his first book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror made evident, he can also be frustrating to those who are familiar with events he describes. And this familiarity with acute events can lead, ultimately, to a wholesale--albeit unwarranted--distrust of Clarke.

If I know that he's not being completely forthcoming on Event "A" for which I know a lot about, then how can I be sure he's not doing the same for Events "B, C and D" for which I'm not as familiar? And to the degree that his diagnoses and prescriptions rely upon his experience and expertise, as supported by his explanation of various events, then how seriously am I to take his ideas? In other words, are Clarke's ideas well-informed and worthwhile or just part of an exercise in legacy-protection? The answer, unsurprisingly, is all of the above.

When reading and analyzing a first-hand account of events, a reader should always be on the look out for bias; on the part of both the source and the reader. Ultimately, each of us have to rely on our sense of what seems like good, sound reasoning and argumentation. So, despite these reservations, there are still some things that even those most predisposed to distrust him can learn from Clarke.

Throughout Your Government Failed You, Clarke clearly names names and assesses blame. His reasoning seems sound and his grasp of the nuances of foreign affairs and diplomacy is worth noting as is his recognition of the role that contingency can play in outcomes. And while he doesn't let himself off the hook for some of the errors made, his phraseology can be passive/aggressive. For instance, the phrasing of his "apology" that gave title to this book leaves the impression that he's apologizing more for others than himself. In his opening to Chapter 5, Clarke explains that on the morning of 9/11

I knew that I had failed. In the days and years leading up to that awful moment I had failed to persuade two administrations to do enough to prevent the attacks that were now happening around me.
You see, the decision makers in government didn't listen to Clarke, which is why they failed. And he only failed because they didn't listen. That's a fairly obtuse way of taking blame. The question is then: should we listen to him? Based on my reading and analysis of the events that Clarke describes, I certainly am wary of accepting Clarke's version of events prima facia.

For instance, he notes "the refusal of the Bush administration to ratify the [Kyoto] protocol...(p.277)" and makes no mention of the Clinton administrations similar "refusal." Elsewhere, he explains how he thinks partisanship is bad for national security, something for which many would agree. But the examples of partisanship he provides are markedly one-sided.

I think the record is fairly indisputable that national security issues have been used for partisan electoral advantage in recent years: terrorism threats have been overhyped near elections, predictions have been made about terrorist attacks occurring if the other party wins, people's patriotism has been questioned. (p.340-41)
Common charges levied against the Republicans, all. No mention of the political rhetoric flying from the Democratic side--immediate withdrawal, illegal war, the Bush fascist state, etc.--which helped them sweep to Congressional power in 2006. I suppose if you believe one set of arguments, then they aren't partisan?

Much of the first part of the book is devoted to Clarke's restatement of many of the same charges he made in Against All Enemies. He still thinks Iraq is a distraction away from Afghanistan, which is an arguable point, especially with Osama bin Laden still loose. He also puts much blame for Iraq at the feet of the generals charged with preparing our forces for the invasion:

1) "Neither the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [General Richard Myers] nor the regional commander at CENTCOM [General Tommy Franks] dissented from the initial war plan..."
2) The generals didn't implement proper counter-insurgency activities though they were aware of analysis from the CIA and State department that predicted insurgent activity in post-invasion Iraq.
3) Related to #2, once it became clear that the President intended to invade Iraq, the Generals did not advise the President and Congress that they did not have enough troops to deal with an insurgency.
4) "Inadequate training and...equipment" for American troops in Iraq.
5) Generals tacitly condoned torture, such as at Abu Grahib.
6) Generals didn't ensure that wounded troops were treated adequately (Walter Reed).
All of these points are worth debating. But elsewhere, Clarke essentially accuses General David Petraeus, architect of the proving-successful surge implemented in 2007, of moving the goalposts himself when his own counter-insurgency efforts were initially exhibiting slow returns. "It began to seem as if the reason for the surge, in Petraeus's mind, was to prove that his new counterinsurgency strategy could work."

The recent success in Iraq is making Clarke a victim of the time line. For he claims that Petraeus

[b]y defending a policy that in the larger sense was injurious to the United States and the Army, by arguing for staying on when he admitted that his own condition for the U.S. presence (real progress toward Iraqi unity) was not being met...raised new questions about what makes a general political.
When Clarke wrote these words, the effectiveness of the surge was still in doubt. But no matter the expertise that lay on the side of the predictor, reality has a way of ruining predictions.

Clarke has much else to say about a plethora of items related to national security and, not as impressively, global warming. As to the last, he essentially toes the Al Gore line. Nothing earth shattering (or warming?).

Further, it becomes clear that Clarke is a supporter of the Powell doctrine, though redefined for the times, which is entirely defensible. On the other hand, he also channels Thomas Franks (the academic, not the general) by basically asking "what's the matter with the military," because he can't understand why they have become so overwhelmingly Republican (though he notes that Democrats are gaining support).

All in all, this is a "thick" book. There is a lot to digest and a lot to think about. Clarke's writing isn't florid or light. Instead, he hits you time and again with anecdotes and antidotes that spring from the mind of the man who apologized to the American people on behalf of the U.S. Government. In the end, his is a voice that warrants a listen. Perhaps the best way to get a balanced view of some of the events is to read Clarke's book in combination with Douglas Feith's War and Decision. To quote Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but verify."
Cross-posted at Spinning Clio.

June 30, 2008

Whitehouse Support FISA, More Liberal Philosophical Gymnastics To Follow

Marc Comtois

According to John Mulligan at the ProJo, it looks like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will follow the lead of fellow Democrats Jim Langevin, Barack Obama and Jack Reed and vote to approve the FISA bill (Andrew had more details and analysis of the bill here and here).

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has condemned the Bush administration in the harshest terms because, in his view, it has damaged civil liberties in the name of counterterrorism.

But Whitehouse is now considering backing President Bush on an overhaul of the nation’s intelligence rules that critics say would undercut the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches. Partly because his seat on the Intelligence Committee has shown him the value of warrantless wiretaps on suspected terrorists, Whitehouse says, he has already joined bipartisan majorities behind Mr. Bush on key surveillance questions.

“The more we know about what terrorists are saying to one another overseas, the better positioned we are to anticipate and defend against what they’re planning,” said Whitehouse, echoing the president’s argument that the law “will help our intelligence professionals learn our enemies’ plans for new attacks.”

Yeah, imagine that, the more you learn the facts and the actual dangers posed, the more inclined you are to support the programs best able to thwart an attack. The local progressi-sphere were all over Rep. Langevin (and still are) for his informed support of the new FISA bill. Meanwhile they continue to give Obama a pass for being politically astute and "moving to the center" and have stayed mum on Reed. Wonder what's in store for Whitehouse? We'll see. One final note: as far as I can tell, Rep. Langevin is pretty much right in line with the rest of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation on issue after issue. Except he's pro-life. Perhaps, in the eyes of many on the left, that's his unforgivable sin?

June 20, 2008

Langevin Takes the Progressive Heat over FISA, will Obama?

Marc Comtois

Apparently Congressman Langevin has voted in favor of FISA. Local progressives are apoplectic, throwing around the DINO label (what kind of Democrat is pro-life!). It also seems that the fact that Congressman Langevin is Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee (Cybersecurity and Emerging Threats) is not so much indicative of his familiarity with the issue but rather leads to the suspicion that he is some sort of sleeper neocon Bushitlerian. Good times. However, I wonder if they are falling victim to partisan shortsightedness. What would the reaction be if it was a President Obama, not Bush, in office? Would the hysteria be quite as palpable...or would it be OK because, well, it would be Obama?

Then again, do they even know that Obama supports the same FISA compromise bill that Congressman Langevin just voted for?

March 31, 2008

Iraq and the Return of the "Winter Soldier"

Mac Owens

On Easter Sunday morning, I appeared on WJAR 10's News Conference. The topic was the Iraq War after five years and I was paired with a nice young Iraq War veteran, now a Brown student, who opposes the war. I appreciated the work of Jim Taricani and Bill Rappley. The conversation was quite civil.

The other fellow identified himself as a member of an organization called "Iraq Veterans Against the War" (IVAW). Two weeks ago, IVAW convened a conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, entitled Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. Modeling itself on the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI), which of course provided the text for John Kerry’s infamous testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later that year, the Silver Spring event claimed to “feature testimony from U.S. veterans who served in [the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan], giving an accurate account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground.” But as I argue in today’s National Review Online, the event was, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, like déjà vu all over again.

The good news is that WSI II seems to have had the impact of a wet firecracker. Despite the predisposition on the part of many in the press and politics to believe the worst about U.S. troops in Iraq, viz. John Murtha and the Marines in Hadithah, this event has not garnered much press attention. I try to explain why in my NRO piece.

The biggest difference between now and 1971 is that today’s soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan can rely on those who suffered through the post-Vietnam War era—-assisted by the internet and the blogosphere—-to give them the benefit of the doubt and to hold accountable those who make outrageous claims about them. Thus anyone who is really interested will discover that IVAW has about 800 members, which represents a miniscule percentage of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile reenlistment rates for the Army and the Marine Corps have been in excess of 100 percent for many months now.

Interested parties will also discover that despite the organization’s name, a large percentage of its members have not deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. And finally they will discover that several prominent IVAW have severe credibility problems, including the infamous Jesse MacBeth. The lack of coverage of this event gives me hope that today’s reporters are less credulous than were there predecessors. We shall see.

January 20, 2008

America's Long War(s)

Mac Owens

This past year I had the opportunity to serve as a member of the "Future War" panel of the Defense Science Board 2007 Summer Study. I have distilled my contribution to the final report in this piece for the Foreign Policy Research Insitute (FPRI). In it, I try to lay out some of the challenges that US defense planners will face in the future, including the continuing war against Islamic extremism, nuclear weapons proliferation, the rise of China, and a possibly resurgent--and hostile--Russia. I'm not looking for trouble, but it is alway prudent to consider all the possibilities and examine the risks. As a former Army chief of staff once observed, hope is not a very good strategy.

For those Anchor Rising readers who follow security affairs, you might be interested to know that I am the new editor of FPRI’s quarterly journal, Orbis.

October 18, 2007

The New Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Strategy: A Turning Point in World History?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Don't miss what could be a huge story for the future of the world. Here's the short version from the Associated Press

It's being called the first major revision of American naval strategy in 25 years.

Maritime officials say they plan to focus more on humanitarian missions and improving international cooperation as a way to prevent conflicts....

The new strategy reflects a broader effort to use aid, training and other cooperative efforts to encourage stability in fledgling democracies and create relationships around the globe that can be leveraged if a crisis does break out in a region.

The U.S has faired so poorly in rebuilding Iraq, in large measure, because of a lack of forces and training specifically dedicated to reconstruction operations. The announcement of this new strategy means that the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard intend to do their part to remedy this deficiency. It also means that the leaders of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard expect the U.S. military to be involved in more nation-building type operations in the near future, despite any isolationist sentiment that may seem to be growing in the country right now.

But what really makes the new maritime strategy significant is the shift within the military bureaucracy that it suggests. Almost certainly, a key reason that the U.S. has lacked forces tailored for humanitarian and democracy-stabilization missions has been a reluctance on the part of high-level military leadership to endorse their creation, reasoning that the existence of forces proficient in nation-building operations would overly tempt America's leaders to undertake nation-building projects. Better not to have such forces at all and prevent the U.S. from being able to even think about joining certain classes of conflicts.

The new strategy means that a significant number of military strategists and policy makers, at least within the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard, have rejected this view. They've decided that safeguarding U.S. security means more than preparing for conventional threats and that American security now requires an ability to deal with and defuse violence and instability spawned by the many weak, backward states that populate the globe.

Hopefully, the Army and the Air Force are on their way to a similar realization. The coup-de-grace will come when the State Department recognizes that engaging people in retrograde states is part of its mission too!

September 11, 2007

9/11 Six Years Later

Mac Owens

I had a piece in NRO this morning about 9/11 and the meaning of victory. It is here. It's always important to remember that the war is over when the loser says its over, not the winner.

Petraeus and Crocker

Mac Owens

No Such Thing as A Stupid Question? Not So Fast, My Friend!

As I watched Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker field questions during the House hearing yesterday, I was reminded of a personal experience. As a young Marine captain, I was assigned to the US Army Field Artillery School to teach artillery tactics. My mentor there was an Army captain who remains the best teacher I have ever known. Before I actually got to teach, I observed my mentor as he took a class of brand new lieutenants through the course. During one session, a student asked him a question. I'll never forget Howard's reply. "Lieutenant, we all know that there's no such thing as a stupid question, but I want you to know that yours is the closest to one I have ever heard."

So it was with the ambassador and the general. I don't believe I have ever heard so many inane and repetitive questions in my life. It's one thing to push the Democratic story line, but couldn't these guys come up with some decent questions? How Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker kept straight faces is beyond me. One thing is apparent. There has been a precipitous drop in congressional military experience. This applies to staff as well. God help the Republic.

Petraeus and Crocker

Mac Owens

No Such Thing as A Stupid Question? Not So Fast, My Friend!

As I watched Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker field questions during the House hearing yesterday, I was reminded of a personal experience. As a young Marine captain, I was assigned to the US Army Field Artillery School to teach artillery tactics. My mentor there was an Army captain who remains the best teacher I have ever known. Before I actually got to teach, I observed my mentor as he took a class of brand new lieutenants through the course. During one session, a student asked him a question. I'll never forget Howard's reply. "Lieutenant, we all know that there's no such thing as a stupid question, but I want you to know that yours is the closest to one I have ever heard."

So it was with the ambassador and the general. I don't believe I have ever heard so many inane and repetitive questions in my life. It's one thing to push the Democratic story line, but couldn't these guys come up with some decent questions? How Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker kept straight faces is beyond me. One thing is apparent. There has been a precipitous drop in congressional military experience. This applies to staff as well. God help the Republic.

August 23, 2007

Surprise! President Clinton Lied!

Marc Comtois

According to Newsweek:

In September 2006, during a famous encounter with Fox News anchor Wallace, Clinton erupted in anger and waived his finger when asked about whether his administration had done enough to get bin Laden. “What did I do? What did I do?” Clinton said at one point. “I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.”

Clinton appeared to have been referring to a December 1999 Memorandum of Notification (MON) he signed that authorized the CIA to use lethal force to capture, not kill, bin Laden. But the [CIA] inspector general’s report made it clear that the agency never viewed the order as a license to “kill” bin Laden—one reason it never mounted more effective operations against him. “The restrictions in the authorities given the CIA with respect to bin Laden, while arguably, although ambiguously, relaxed for a period of time in late 1998 and early 1999, limited the range of permissible operations,” the report stated. (Scheuer agreed with the inspector general’s findings on this issue, but said if anything the report was overly diplomatic. “There was never any ambiguity,” he said. “None of those authorities ever allowed us to kill anyone. At least that’s what the CIA lawyers told us.” A spokesman for the former president had no immediate comment.)

Remember, when Bill was President, we were told that having Hillary as First Lady meant we were really getting a Presidential two-fer, right? Keep that in mind...(more here, h/t).

July 25, 2007

The Press' Predisposition to Believe the Worst about the Troops

Mac Owens

The New Republic has come under fire by bloggers for a series of recent articles purportedly written by an active duty soldier in Iraq. The picture he draws of US soldiers is not a pretty one. Many commentators, including a number of folks who are serving, or have served, in Iraq, believe the articles, written under the pseudonym of "Scott Thomas," are bogus. So do I.

Here's my take on the issue in today's National Review Online.

July 14, 2007

The Hadithah Prosecution Unravels

Mac Owens

In May of 2006, Time magazine reported that several Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division had killed more than 20 Iraqi civilians in the town of Hadithah in al-Anbar Province, in retaliation for the death of one of their comrades by a roadside bomb in November 2005. Almost immediately, opponents of the war seized on the allegations to criticize the war in Iraq. Despite the fact that an investigation of the alleged incident was just getting under way, the Marines were convicted in the press, especially Time magazine and, of course, the New York Times.

Soon thereafter, Rep. John Murtha, (D-PA), a vociferous critic of the war, jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that the Marines in Hadithah had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." This incident, said Murtha, "shows the tremendous pressure that these guys are under every day when they’re out in combat." Appearing Sunday on This Week on ABC, Murtha went farther, claiming that the shootings in Haditha had been covered up. "Who covered it up, why did they cover it up, why did they wait so long? We don’t know how far it goes. It goes right up the chain of command."

Shortly after the story broke, I wrote on this event in National Review Online, making the point that in Iraq, our opponents have chosen to deny us the ability to fight the sort of conventional war we would prefer and forced us to fight the one they want—an insurgency. Insurgents blend with the people making it hard to distinguish between combatant and noncombatant. A counterinsurgency always has to negotiate a fine line between too much and too little force. Indeed, it suits the insurgents’ goal when too much force is applied indiscriminately.

For insurgents, there is no more powerful propaganda tool than the claim that their adversaries are employing force in an indiscriminate manner. It is even better for the insurgents’ cause if they can credibly charge the forces of the counterinsurgency with the targeted killing of noncombatants. For many people even today, the entire Americans enterprise in Vietnam is discredited by the belief that the U.S. military committed atrocities and war crimes on a regular basis and as a matter of official policy [Thanks a lot, John Kerry]. But as Jim Webb has noted, stories of atrocious conduct, e.g. My Lai, "represented not the typical experience of the American soldier, but its ugly extreme."

Now it turns out that the officer who has presided over a hearing into the charges against one of the Marines allegedly involved in the Hadithah incident, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, has recommended that the charges be dismissed and that there be no court martial.

During an Article 32 investigation—the military equivalent of a grand jury that determines whether a case should be referred to courts-martial--the the prosecution alleged that Sharratt and other members of his battalion carried out a revenge-motivated assault on Iraqi civilians that left 24 dead after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine nearby. Sharratt contended that the Iraqi men he confronted were insurgents and at least one was holding an AK-47 rifle when he fired at them.

As reported by breitbart.com.

The hearing officer, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, wrote in a report released by the defense Tuesday that those charges were based on unreliable witness accounts, insupportable forensic evidence and questionable legal theories. He also wrote that the case could have dangerous consequences on the battlefield, where soldiers might hesitate during critical moments when facing an enemy.

"The government version is unsupported by independent evidence," Ware wrote in the 18-page report. "To believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary."

"Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, Lance Corporal Sharratt's actions were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force," Ware wrote.

He said further prosecution of Sharratt could set a "dangerous precedent that ... may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and its mission in Iraq."

"Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy," he said.

The final decision still lies with the commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), Lt. Gen. Jim Mattis, so Sharratt is not quite out of the woods. In addition, the case against the other Marines charged with murder might be stronger than the one against Sharratt—but I doubt it.

But the turn of events makes it clear that Murtha and the members of the press who are predisposed to believe such charges should be ashamed of themselves. Will they apologize if the charges are dropped? Don’t hold your breath. But at least the Hadithah Marines can be thankful that they didn’t play lacrosse.

The Iraq War

Mac Owens

My recent post excerpting a part of John McCain’s Senate speech on the consequences of withdrawing precipitously from Iraq elicited a number of thoughtful comments (in addition to a couple questioning the quality of my education. But as Tony Soprano would say, “whaddaya gonna do?”). The following comment to my earlier post raises what I believe to be the central questions in the debate about Iraq and the greater war against radical Islam:

I accept much of Mac's assessment, specifically that Iraq's neighbors will
become more involved if the US left, that a bloodbath might occur and that
al-Qaeda's aim is to create a caliphate, starting in Iraq.

But I question the civil war versus Jihadi "strategy of chaos" point. In a
Shiite majority country like Iraq, a US pullout will almost certainly mean
civil war and I don't know if a Sunni al-Qaeda type movement could succeed
in implementing its vision in Iraq given that there is a Shiite majority.
Also, there is an existing reluctance of many tribal Sunnis to support

So my question to Mac is: is it possible that a US withdrawal might lead
to the decimation of al-Qaeda in Iraq by the Shiite majority or at least a
civil war that occupies al-Qaeda fighters?

Withdrawing from Iraq will not "solve" any problems. The US is going to
have to deal with Islamofascism for decades to come.

But perhaps it would allow the US to focus its resources on defeating
al-Qaeda in environments more suitable to the American way of war
(symmetrical conflicts with overwhelming force) without allowing the enemy
to define the battlefield?

The assumption here is that the alleged civil war between Sunni and Shia is independent of al Qaeda’s “strategy of chaos” and that insurgencies can be handled “at a distance.”

Before his death, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), made clear his intention to spawn a civil war by attacking the Shia “apostates,’ who to a Sunni Salafist like Zarqawi are as deserving of death as Crusaders and Jews. But beginning in late 2004, the US effort against AQI in al Anbar Province kept Zarqawi off balance.

In late 2004 and continuing well into 2005, the Coalition conducted a campaign—a series of coordinated movements, battles and supporting operations designed to achieve strategic or operational objectives within a military theater—intended to deprive the insurgency of its base in the Sunni Triangle and its "ratlines"—the infiltration routes that run from the Syrian border into the heart of Iraq. The operational concept was "clear and hold."

There were two parts to the operational strategy. On the one hand, no force, conventional or guerrilla, can continue to fight if it is deprived of sanctuary and logistics support. Accordingly, the central goal of the U.S. strategy during this period was to destroy the ratlines following the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. On the other hand, the key to defeating an insurgency is to provide security to the population. The first element of the strategy met with success. But because of insufficient forces, the second part failed.

This campaign began in November 2004 with the takedown of Fallujah. Wresting Fallujah from the jihadis was critically important: Control of the town had given them the infrastructure—human and physical—necessary to maintain a high tempo of attacks against the Iraqi government and coalition forces, especially in Baghdad.

In and of itself, the loss of Fallujah didn’t cause the insurgency to collapse, but it did deprive the rebels of an indispensable sanctuary. Absent such a sanctuary, large terrorist networks cannot easily survive, being reduced to small, hunted bands.

With Fallujah captured, the Coalition continued a high tempo of offensive operations designed to destroy the insurgent infrastructure west and northwest of Fallujah, and so shut down those ratlines. Although successful in many respects, these operations seemed like the "whack-a-mole" arcade game: towns were cleared of insurgents but because of limited manpower, the towns were not held. Insurgents returned as soon as Coalition forces moved on.

But then the offensive stopped as training the Iraqis took center stage in the Coalition’s Iraq strategy. Of course, a well-trained Iraqi force is critical to ultimate success in Iraq. Indeed, as more Iraqi troops became available in 2005, they were able to hold some of the insurgent strongholds in Anbar Province. But this shift was accompanied by the consolidation of American forces in large "megabases" in an attempt to reduce the American "footprint" and move US troops to the "periphery" of the fight.

But the shift to a defensive posture enabled AQI to regain the initiative that had been wrested from them during the al Anbar offensive. One result of AQI’s regained initiative was the bombing of the Grand Mosque in Sammarah, which ignited the sectarian violence that swept Baghdad and environs until the surge began. Unfortunately, the disposition of American forces made it impossible for them to provide the necessary security to the Iraqi population as sectarian violence exploded in Baghdad and elsewhere. That has changed with the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as “surge.” More US troops and improved Iraqi security forces have permitted the coalition to regain the initiative and “hold” areas that have been cleared.

One consequence of the new approach by Gen. Petraeus is that many of the Sunni insurgents, who used to target US troops, have become disgusted with AQI’s brutality and have allied with the Americans and the Iraqi government. The process began in al Anbar but has now spread to other areas. But this did not happen in a vacuum. The Sunni tribes in al Anbar didn’t band together and cooperate with the U.S. and Iraqi forces in the region to fight AQI because the sheiks were strong, but because AQI was strong. But now that the Americans are holding in addition to clearing, the Sunni sheiks in al Anbar and elsewhere have concluded that the Americans are the strongest “tribe.” The Sunni tribes have been and still are too weak to dislodge AQI on their own.

The key to stability in Iraq is security. This is why the current approach has the potential to work if Congress gives it time.

Which brings us to the second issue: trying to fight an insurgency at a distance. In his classic study of the Korean Conflict, "This Kind of War," T.R. Fehrenbach expressed the conventional wisdom on land power’s importance:

You can fly over a land forever; you may bomb it and wipe it clean of life… but if you desire to defend it; protect it; and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did… by putting your young men into the mud.

Of course, this view was called into question in 1991, after the U.S.-led coalition crushed Saddam Hussein’s forces in Desert Storm with what seemed a combination of air power and information technology. Influential observers argued that this proved that a "revolution in military affairs" was underway, with information technology diminishing the importance of land power. Some went so far as to suggest that traditional ground combat had become a thing of the past, that future U.S. military power would be based on precision strikes delivered by air or space assets, perhaps coordinated and directed by a handful of special operations soldiers.

When Donald Rumsfeld became secretary of defense in 2001, the Pentagon embraced a radical understanding of "transformation," aiming at an "information-age military force" that "will be less platform-centric and more network-centric." Unfortunately, as military historian Fred Kagan has observed, Rumsfeld’s understanding of transformation is vague and confused. It is based on false premises and lies at the heart of our problems in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s attitude toward land power illustrates this. Early on, the Secretary actually sought to go far beyond the Army’s plan and reduce the Army’s force structure from a mix of 10 heavy and light active-duty divisions to eight or fewer light divisions. He wanted to move all the Army’s heavy forces—armored and mechanized infantry—to the National Guard. As thinly stretched as our forces are today in Iraq and Afghanistan, imagine how things would be if the Army were 20 percent smaller and lacking in regular heavy forces.

Iraq has revealed several important things:

• Land power remains as crucially important as it was in Fehrenbach’s time. Indeed, for the kinds of war we’re most likely to face in the future, we need a larger Army. A key assumption behind today’s Army force structure is that, when any conventional war ends, U.S. forces will execute an "exit strategy." But Iraq and Afghanistan show otherwise: The United States requires a land force that can not only win conventional wars but also carry out stability operations afterward, engaging in complex, irregular warfare. Realistically, this requires the equivalent of at least two more combat divisions (plus support).

• The "revolution in military affairs" wasn’t as revolutionary as once believed. As Stephen Biddle of the Army War College has argued, today’s battlefield is not qualitatively different from those of the last century but merely far more lethal. To achieve objectives, a military force must reduce its exposure to long-range lethal fire via the use of coordinated fires and maneuver, cover and concealment. This system, which the U.S. military has mastered, damps the effect of technological change and insulates soldiers from the full lethality of their opponents’ weapons. It depends more on leadership, training, morale, and unit cohesion than on technology per se.

• The equation of "transformation" and "technology" in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon has harmed U.S. security. Military transformation has been shorn of its political and geostrategic context, reduced to nothing more than hitting the right military target independent of any political goal. This approach has some strengths; the U.S. military can identify crucial targets and destroy them with unprecedented accuracy and phenomenally low levels of collateral damage. But it has obscured the real challenge: to design military operations to achieve particular political objectives. After all, wars are not fought for their own purposes but to achieve a desired political outcomes. This blindness to the political objectives of war largely explains the amazing failure to take obvious postwar dangers and problems into account in the development of the Afghan and Iraq military campaigns.

Rumsfel's astrategic understanding of transformation reflected a "business" approach to military affairs. It stressed an economic concept of efficiency at the expense of military and political effectiveness. But war is far more than a mere targeting drill. As Iraq has demonstrated, military success in destroying the "target set" does not translate automatically into achieving the political goals for which the war was fought in the first place.

Accordingly, our strategy requires ground forces oriented not only toward winning wars but also to carrying out "constabulary" missions. Yet the Pentagon’s emphasis on buying high-tech weapons often under-funds the ground forces needed for such missions. Of course, some elements of military transformation will permit ground forces to do more with less, but the kind of war we’re fighting in Iraq today requires larger rather than smaller ground forces. If we’re unwilling to fight these kinds of war, our strategy will fail. But if we fight them without the necessary forces—especially land forces—it will fail as well.

July 13, 2007

Thinking about Iraq: McCain vs. RI's Senators

Mac Owens

I have my disagreements with John McCain regarding immigration and campaign finance, but when it comes to understanding the Iraq War, he—unlike our RI senators—is a real mensch. Here are some excerpts from his speech the other day.

Let us keep in the front of our minds the likely consequences of premature withdrawal from Iraq. Many of my colleagues would like to believe that, should any of the various amendments forcing a withdrawal become law, it would mark the end of this long effort. They are wrong. Should the Congress force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, it would mark a new beginning, the start of a new, more dangerous, and more arduous effort to contain the forces unleashed by our disengagement.

No matter where my colleagues came down in 2003 about the centrality of Iraq to the war on terror, there can simply be no debate that our efforts in Iraq today are critical to the wider struggle against violent Islamic extremism. Already, the terrorists are emboldened, excited that America is talking not about winning in Iraq, but is rather debating when we should lose. Last week, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy chief, said that the United States is merely delaying our “inevitable” defeat in Iraq, and that ‘the Mujahideen of Islam in Iraq of the caliphate and jihad are advancing with steady steps towards victory.’

If we leave Iraq prematurely, jihadists around the world will interpret the withdrawal as their great victory against our great power. Their movement thrives in an atmosphere of perceived victory; we saw this in the surge of men and money flowing to al Qaeda following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. If they defeat the United States in Iraq, they will believe that anything is possible, that history is on their side, that they really can bring their terrible rule to lands the world over. Recall the plan laid out in a letter from Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before his death. That plan is to take shape in four stages: establish a caliphate in Iraq, extend the “jihad wave” to the secular countries neighboring Iraq, clash with Israel — none of which shall commence until the completion of stage one: expel the Americans from Iraq. Mr. President, the terrorists are in this war to win it. The question is: Are we?
As my friend Brent Scowcroft has said recently, "The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. . . If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution." Natan Sharansky has recently written, “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to a bloodbath that would make the current carnage pale by comparison." Should we leave Iraq before there is a basic level of stability, we will invite further Iranian influence at a time when Iranian operatives are already moving weapons, training fighters, providing resources, and helping plan operations to kill American soldiers and damage our efforts to bring stability to Iraq. Iran will comfortably step into the power vacuum left by a U.S. withdrawal, and such an aggrandizement of fundamentalist power has great potential to spark greater Sunni-Shia conflict across the region.

Leaving prematurely would induce Iraq’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Egypt to Israel, Turkey and others, to feel their own security eroding, and may well induce them to act in ways that prompt wider instability. The potential for genocide, wider war, spiraling oil prices, and the perception of strategic American defeat is real, Mr. President, and no vote on this floor will change that. This fight is about Iraq but not about Iraq alone. It is greater than that and more important still, about whether America still has the political courage to fight for victory or whether we will settle for defeat, with all of the terrible things that accompany it. We cannot walk away gracefully from defeat in this war.

Unlike McCain, our senators cannot distinguish between a civil war and a jihadi “strategy of chaos” that targets the will of the American people. They live in a fantasy world in which we can fight an al Qaeda from a distance, much as President Clinton conducted military operations in Bosnia. But there is no immaculate form of warfare, especially when it comes to counterinsurgency. Sen. Whitehouse may have an excuse for advocating such nonsense, since he has no military experience, but Sen. Reed, a graduate of the US Military Academy, doesn’t. He apparently slept through his classes—both at West Point and while on active duty—on counterinsurgency.