Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CIA's Climate Change Center

For those of you still in doubt about the link between national security and climate change - natural security as some have dubbed it - the Central Intelligence Agency, not best known for cutting edge innovation, has opened a new Center on Climate Change and National Security. It seems to be mostly to predict when and where natural disasters or natural resource shortages will cause instability, but it's a start.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Thinkers Needed for Afghanistan

Let me get this straight: what we're doing in Afghanistan is not working; the President has been presented with options, basically double down or go for a minimalist approach; the leading commander in Afghanistan says we could be there for 100 years and still fail; we're promising continued support for Karzai even though the main problem is that Afghanistan's central government is corrupt, incompetent, and generally refuses to pull any weight; and the main argument for adding additional troops is that we tried the alternative (a "counter terrorism" approach) under Bush and it didn't work. Really? Only two options exist? The President is right to think about this one long and hard.
Where are the real alternative ideas? Better yet, where are the alternative thinkers, preferably someone under 50 who has actually been on the ground in Afghanistan without a huge protective escort. Gates, Jones, Petraeus, McChrystal, Holbrooke, Clinton, Riedel... all over 50. Is it any wonder that all of their reviews said basically the same thing -- Afghanistan is critical, but we can still win -- without offering a real strategy or real solutions?
Give me someone really outside the box. How about we make Joshua Foust think of solutions instead of criticizing others. Let's get Fred Kaplan in the room. Why isn't someone asking Katherine Tiedemann for new ideas? Ask Craig Mullaney what he would do. Maybe Greg Mortenson could add an outsider's opinion of what to do. For all the talk about how the Obama Administration is full of young go-getters his Afghanistan team is full of old retreads with the same old ideas. I'm far from the first person to say we aren't fighting an eight-year war in Afghanistan, we're fighting a one-year war eight times in a row. You think going back to the same ideas is going to break that cycle?
Fighting in Afghanistan will die down in a few weeks, as it does every winter. That gives us the luxury of a real debate for new ideas. We don't need another strategic review, we need a real strategy, and we should include new thinkers and new ideas in the debate.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Worse Decision Making: Redskins or the Afghanistan Team?

The Washington Post headline this morning blared out: "McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure;'" I wished they had used the headline from below the fold (about the Redskins): "First and Unsure of the Goal."
It was inevitable that General McChrystal's classified review of the situation in Afghanistan would be leaked. It was almost as inevitable that the review, as Joshua Foust put it, contains "absolutely nothing new." The most disturbing aspect of the review is that it talks about the "counterinsurgency strategy." Our commander in Afghanistan thinks that counterinsurgency IS the strategy. Shouldn't that be a red flag? McChrystal's expertise is supposedly thinking unconventionally, but his review is extremely inside the (counterinsurgency) box in its thinking: more troops, more resources, more time, full speed ahead.
At last week's excellent Foreign Policy and New America Foundation event "Covering Afghanistan:A Conversation On How It Looks From the Ground" Steve Coll expressed optimism that President Obama's team was taking a full and deep assessment of the strategic rationale for being in Afghanistan (look for my question and his answer near the end of the video). I'm still more skeptical that new thinking will emerge, though I'm slightly more hopeful after reading the Post's other article today. The key quote is:
The president, one adviser said, is "taking a very deliberate, rational approach, starting at the top" of what he called a "logic chain" that begins with setting objectives, followed by determining a methodology to achieve them. Only when the first two steps are completed, he said, can the third step -- a determination of resources -- be taken.
And he should work in that order. It's good to hear that starting to happen, although perhaps it would have been nice to start the process four or five "strategic reviews" ago, or during the transition, or in 2002. It remains to be seen who has a plan to score a touchdown first, the national security team or the Redskins. Better late than never?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Overstating my Power? bin Laden, You're On Notice!

Apparently expressing my frustration that we have yet to catch or kill a given terrorist is enough to get said terrorist killed. Do the world's terrorist-hunting teams all read Smart Influence and get motivated when they see me write about their prey? First I expressed my frustration that we had shot at Baitullah Mehsud repeatedly without hitting him and lo and behold we hit him. Last week Jamie Morgan's guest post talked about the right and wrong ways to fight Noordin M. Top's terrorist group in Indonesia; I'm pretty sure killing Top is part of the right way!
So who's left? Lots of people, for sure, but for now, Osama bin Laden, you're on notice (copyright Stephen Colbert)! I'm officially sick of our inability to capture or kill you. Can't we just look where they are sending his record label checks from his new Auto-Tuned album?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Recycled Afghanistan Stories and Ideas

I haven't written much not because I had nothing to say, but rather to avoid getting caught up in the tornado of voices, especially on Afghanistan. The news all seems recycled, and so do the ideas.
  • Afghanistan is corrupt and the election was likely stolen. We knew that was the case, and we knew the elections would probably be stolen.
  • Both Fareed Zakaria and Fred Kaplan had the same brilliant idea that we should simply throw money at the problem by bribing everyone and their brother in Afghanistan.
  • Paul Pillar sums up the "safe haven" debate nicely, but it's nothing I, or others didn't say.
  • Another smart, young officer, Joseph Kerns Goodwin, returned from Afghanistan to tell us how bad the situation is on the ground, which we will likely ignore.
  • A draft of the metrics was released today, and while it appears to be thoughtful and contain a list of good things to measure, it lacks any actual numbers. Don't worry, apparently Afghanistan is like kindergarten, we can keep trying as many reviews and metrics as it takes to get it right. For as long as I've waited for the metrics you might think they would get me excited, but nope, nothing.
  • The COIN crowd keeps arguing that COIN is awesome and the solution to everything and ignoring the lack of a strategy that COIN is supposed to help implement. They are even having a big COIN conference to talk about how important COIN is. Fun! (would they seem even nerdier if we called them numismatists?)
  • Even Osama bin Ladin's message seemed phoned in. "Death to America and Israel, blah blah blah." (although at least one blogger has promised to Auto-Tune the tape; maybe that can spice it up.)
Is it the economy? Is there a down market for ideas right now? Even I feel repetitive: Pakistan is not going to collapse despite the heavy-handed Pakistani military; we need an actual strategy in Afghanistan; we need to work on our smart power; etc, etc.
I'm all for recycling, but this is ridiculous. Wake me up when you're ready to have a non-circular debate.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wrong Answer for Indonesian Terror

Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Jamie Morgan. The views expressed are her own.

Indonesian officials announced a plan to tighten anti-terrorist laws, which would allow the government to detain suspects for up to two years. The government claims this will allow them to get more in line with the laws of Western nations. (Are two year detention allowances standard in Western nations now?) Additionally, several of the senior-level government Ministers are seeking an amendment to a terrorism investigation law that would allow non-police forces, including the Indonesian Military (TNI), to conduct anti-terror investigations.

All of this is disconcerting for two reasons. First, we are talking about a country that just emerged from a brutal dictatorship 11 years ago. The military was the major instrument of former President Suharto to control the population during his rule, and expanding the military’s powers such a short time after his fall does not send a good message to the population, nor is it a good idea for the fledgling democracy.

Second, and possibly more importantly for the rest of the world, expanding the amount of time the Indonesian government can legally hold terrorism suspects without charge is not going to do anything for its fight against Noordin M. Top’s terrorist group. It actually might harm it. The government needs to focus on identifying the root causes of support for Top’s group among certain areas of the Indonesian population, rather than inflame public opinion against it. The International Crisis Group reports that support among the local population, and even among the less militant terrorist group Jemmah Islamiyah (JI), is not high for Top’s extremist faction. However, if Top’s faction is allowed to continue to infiltrate Islamic boarding schools, it will continue to find the few supporters it needs to plan operations like the July 17 hotel bombing in Jakarta.

Recent revelations connecting Top’s group and various extremist groups in the Middle East and South Asia make all of this even more alarming. Unfortunately, given the lack of general media attention on this issue, I am not hopeful for improvement anytime soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Afghanistan Genie: Wish Three

The war in Afghanistan is a funny thing. Who ever thought that Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Friedman, George Will, and Cindy Sheehan would all agree on something? For that matter, who thought that a band of neocons including Sarah Palin and I would basically agree?
But at a time when our presence in Afghanistan is being compared to everything from Vietnam to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (ignoring the many obvious differences) hope and optimism can spring from the most unlikely places. We were all waiting on General McChrystal's strategic review, which apparently will not be released publicly. But Laura Rozen, in her job over at Politico, unearthed a gem dated August 10th entitled "United States Government Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign for Support to Afghanistan." Wow. Why didn't THIS receive more publicity? A coordinated approach from McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Eikenberry, what a concept. The plan seems very well thought out, I'm highly impressed. I challenge anyone to read the plan and not be more optimistic than they were before. It leans very heavily on counterinsurgency theory, but it doesn't make the mistake so many Beltway think tankers do of equating COIN with actual strategy.
You may recall that I first wished we would actually hit Baitullah Mehsud with a Predator drone strike after so many tries, and with my second wish asked for actual metrics for success in Afghanistan (and Pakistan). Well guess what? The "Integrated Civ-Mil Campaign" plan contains metrics! Not the National Security Council's metrics, set to be delivered to Congress by September 24th, but pretty good ones. The loquacious Spencer Ackerman has a very nice write up of the metrics.
So what should I wish for with my third wish? A job on the National Security Council? Fifteen minutes alone in a room with Holbrooke to try to talk sense to him? Those seem in the realm of possibility; my other option--magically having the personnel for an actual "civilian surge"--does not.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Post Op-Eds on Afghanistan

As the debate over Afghanistan heats up inside the Beltway and around the country the Washington Post has had four significant op-eds on Afghanistan this week, two terrible, one merely repetitive, and one very good.
Let's start with the good. Everyone should read former Senator Chuck Hagel's piece from today, in which he argues that,
Our greatest threats today come from the regions left behind after World War II. Addressing these threats will require a foreign policy underpinned by engagement -- in other words, active diplomacy but not appeasement. We need a clearly defined strategy that accounts for the interconnectedness and the shared interests of all nations. Every great threat to the United States -- whether economic, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, health pandemics, environmental degradation, energy, or water and food shortages -- also threatens our global partners and rivals. Accordingly, we cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only "winning" or "losing." Iraq and Afghanistan are not America's to win or lose. Win what? We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates.
Meanwhile David Ignatius' column yesterday was virtually identical to any number of stories from February, March, and April on the President deciding between counterinsurgency and counter terrorism options, the only difference being the substitution of McChrystal for McKiernan. That's not Ignatius' fault, it is simply a good indicator that we are still treading water in Afghanistan.
George Will's column arguing for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, on the other hand, was as bad as Hagel's was good. Will should stick to decrying the decline of our entire society because we wear jeans. Will has already been savaged by left and right alike (my favorite comment was from Joshua Foust, "George Will waits for a Democrat to get in the White House before calling Afghanistan unwinnable. Classy."), so I'll just say that Will appears to be arguing for Bill Clinton's foreign policy: lob a few cruise missiles in based on inadequate intelligence. Did Will support that policy at the time? How well did it work?
On Monday Anthony Cordesman, a smart guy and a member of McChrystal's review team, argued that while we can't win in Afghanistan in the next three months, we can lose in that time frame, if enough resources are not devoted to the cause. That makes sense; we do almost certainly need additional resources. But then he bizarrely goes on to argue that we shouldn't worry about strategy, simply about tactics. That's the opinion of the "Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy?" A strategy is exactly what we need, and what we have been lacking. If we don't know what we are trying to achieve--based, as General Zinni said, on a strategic vision for the country--we will just continue treading water and making the same mistakes in Afghanistan.
I'm glad we're finally having a debate about Afghanistan. I wish it was a more educated one in which people argued honestly and about the same set of issues, primarily our strategic goals overall and in Afghanistan. And I hope President Obama and his team are listening and preparing to make actual decisions, not "middle grounds," before it is too late.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said, to Talk of Many Things

Editor's Note: the following is a guest post from, Haley Gallagher. The views expressed are her own.
I doubt Lewis Carroll predicted when he published Through the Looking- Glass and What Alice Found There that it would have lessons as applicable today as they were to the late 1800’s. The message that resonated yesterday from Brian Katulis at the Center for American Progress (CAP) was that it’s time to move beyond the rhetorical debate about U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and seize the opportunity to engage in a broad and serious discussion.

CAP hosted an event, “Assessing the Afghan Election” yesterday and had a panel of experts (Jackie Northam, Eric Bjornlund and Brian Katulis) analyze the current situation in Afghanistan as well as suggest recommendations moving forward. Sadly, positive accolades given by the Obama Administration for the success of the elections in Afghanistan on August 20th are not being echoed in other news publications. Turnout was not as high as expected due to various reasons highlighted by the panel including voter intimidation by the Taliban specifically in the South, heightened security, general apathy, and a sense of defeatism that neither candidate was a good option. Ms. Northam informed the audience that there was hope turnout would increase over the course of the day, but this was not the case. She never saw lines of more than 6-8 people coming out to vote in the streets of Kabul, one of the more heavily protected areas.

Mr. Bjornlund, with Democracy International, admitted that the security situation in Afghanistan made the elections very difficult to observe. Additionally, while this was the first time observers joined provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), it was extremely challenging to observe in rural areas. He echoed Ms. Northam’s sentiment that the climate influenced a lack of voter turnout. Furthermore, gauging an accurate percentage of voter turnout is nearly impossible to measure given that the amount of voters is uncertain. While an independent election commission exists to deal with allegations of voter fraud and electoral complaints, there is speculation over what the commission expects to do—or can do— with complaints once they’re registered.

Katulis painted an even grimmer picture stating that we can expect more violence to ensure in the days to come with potential increases in Taliban threats as well as candidates refusing to accept results. However, the time is crucial and the U.S. should seize the moment to engage in a serious policy debate about Afghanistan and determine how to ensure cooperation moving forward. He outlined three points: 1) It’s not too early to think about how to advance power sharing, 2) It’s extremely important for the U.S. to put pressure on Afghan leaders, who emerge from the election, to focus on anti-corruption, counter-narcotics and governance, and 3) The U.S. should be concerned about the lack of clear goals and objectives in Afghanistan.

The U.S. should demand a commitment from Afghan leaders to agree to power-sharing and working from the ground up to uproot the systems that have plagued Afghanistan for years. Moreover, we’ve been hearing the same thing about Afghanistan over the past two years which is endemic of a Groundhog Day effect. Katulis cautioned against using misleading words such as victory, win and success to describe the situation in Afghanistan. He also claimed that he has yet to hear a cogent case for more troops.

Another great point from the panel was that if the U.S. starts to look like an occupation, Afghanistan will reassert its sovereignty. Currently we lack a strong U.S. framework for a strategy in Afghanistan. While General Stanley McChrystal is expected to deliver this soon, there are questions regarding strength of the strategy. We cannot insert a U.S. model into Afghanistan and expect it to be a recipe for success. The U.S. tried before to impose the idea of a strong central government in Afghanistan and given the complexity of the society this will not work. Government must come from the ground up and include all of the right players in order to establish credibility and legitimacy. The dialogue needs to continue on a more serious level before opportunities are lost.

The Eminently Bloggable Tony Zinni

I wish all speakers at DC think tank events could be as candid, dynamic, and entertaining as General (ret.) Tony Zinni. While his main point (as chronicled by Jamie Morgan, and, oddly enough, The American Conservative, as well as organizer Steve Clemons) was that the U.S. government should go about "civil affairs" or "smart power" in a totally different way, by creating a separate command committed to it (since the military "will get stuck with it anyway"). (Zinni was also promoting his new book.) It would be interesting to get Zinni and O'Hanlon in a room to discuss their visions for civil affairs.
Along the way Zinni touched on quite a few other interesting subjects, including strategy. He agreed with me that we need to actually outline a strategy for Afghanistan, but went further in stating that it should flow from and be consistent with President Obama's National Security Strategy, which has yet to be released. (Apparently an NSS is due within the first 150 days of an administration, which never happens. The Bush Administration's NSS wasn't released until2002; one small section talked about preemption, yet that became the centerpiece of the "Bush Doctrine.") That's certainly true, and a point I hadn't fully considered.
Other "Zinni Zingers:"
  • Zinni wondered what someone would think if they had been put in a coma right after 9/11, woke up yesterday, and you had to explain our response. (I'm paraphrasing here): "We were attacked by al Qaeda. We're in Iraq? And we're in Afghanistan, but fighting the Taliban? Al Qaeda is in Pakistan? We're helping Pakistan, but they're fighting the Taliban too? ...?"
  • "We shouldn't talk about 'smart power' as if we have it."
  • "Special envoys are useless!" (Zinni was the Bush Administration's special envoy to Israel and Palestine).
  • "You know where Osama bin Ladin is? Great! I don't know where bin Ladin is. He's on K Street, he's a lobbyist!"
  • "Shock and awe turned into aw, shucks."
  • "I'm tired of all this 'graveyard of empires' nonsense. The difference is we want to leave Afghanistan, we don't want it as part of an empire."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Aaaaand, We’re Going With the 80% Solution. Again.

Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Jamie Morgan. The views expressed are her own.
“Smart power,” “the 3Ds”: Everyone seems to have an answer to the national security crisis facing our country. How do we realign our governmental infrastructure to address new and non-traditional security threats? General (ret.) Tony Zinni took a good stab at it today with a funny, thoughtful presentation at the New America Foundation. Yet despite a brilliant analysis of the problem, General Zinni stopped short of pushing the 100% solution. And I don’t think one can approach such sweeping problems with 80% solutions.

General Zinni suggested building a Civil Affairs Command, run by DOD, which would house the requisite capabilities for addressing the social, economic, political, and security efforts involved in post-conflict reconstruction.

With all due respect to General Zinni’s analysis and expertise, here are my problems with his proposed solution:

Low likelihood of full State and USAID participation. The likelihood of getting full participation, cooperation, and integration of personnel from State and USAID is unlikely if a new Civil Affairs Command is under DoD. Look at AFRICOM: The Command had the initial goal of upwards of 100 personnel from State, and after nearly a full year since being stood up, it currently houses 4. The reasons State officials cite for this range from a lack of available personnel to not wanting to send personnel over to make a DoD agency look good (this is of course, not the publically given answer). Regardless, State and AID are not going to come running with personnel and resources for a DoD run venture.

Leaves organizational culture issues unaddressed. While many elements of the culture of DoD are valuable and worth carrying into future organizations (such as the tireless determination to plan), some elements of DoD culture* would not be ideal for post-conflict reconstruction (such as the rigid adherence to organizational rules and models). Building a Civil Affairs Command under DoD rather than an inter-agency organization would not build on the positive cultural elements that State and AID have to offer, and would retain some of the organizational modus operandi that hinder it from being truly effective in post-conflict reconstruction.

Just is not the sweeping reform that is needed. Such an organization would not impart the message of sweeping reform among personnel – which is at the heart of the issue. In order for State, AID, and DoD personnel to really begin to consider the security, developmental, and political issues involved in post-conflict reconstruction, they will need to change the way they think and operate on a day-to-day basis. That type of change is hard for people to make. It takes pushing from on top, and pulling from a few determined soles within. Moving a few boxes on the organizational chart is not going to do that.