Monday, October 27, 2003

Baghdad attacks portend a new Iraqi guerilla campaign
Recent strikes indicate an evolution in terrorist tactics, techniques and procedures

Guerillas launched a coordinated series of attacks around Baghdad today, killing at least 34 and wounding hundreds, using suicide bombings as their modus opperandi. (See also this WP article on the attacks) The attacks targeted the International Committee of the Red Cross and 4 Baghdad police stations -- symbols of international intervention and the U.S.-sponsored regime respectively. The effect on the capital, according to the New York Times, was to plunge the city into chaos. Officials think that a "new element" might be to blame for today's series of attacks.
The attacks took place between 8:30 and 10:15 a.m. local time, leading American and Iraqi officials to believe that they were part of a highly coordinated operation. There was a strong suspicion that foreigners were involved, and American and Iraqi officials referred to a "new element" being responsible for the bombings.

The officials differentiated between today's attacks and one on Sunday against a highly guarded hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was staying. The Sunday attack was attributed to loyalists to the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.
Today's attacks come on the heels of a coordinated rocket attack on the Al Rasheed hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying. An American Army colonel was killed in that attack, though Mr. Wolfowitz escaped unscathed. As the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports, this attack represents an evolution from the previous six months of guerilla attacks, both in terms of its sophistication and the level of the risk the attackers took to get so close to a high-value target.
The attack on the U.S.-run Al Rasheed hotel, which sits in a vast "green zone" of Baghdad that is off-limits to ordinary Iraqis, marks a shift in the guerrillas' tactics. Rather than just hit-and-run ambushes, they are using more standoff weapons such as mortars, rockets and remote-controlled explosive devices that allow resistance fighters to strike without being hit in return.

Until recently, these rocket and mortar attacks -- including one on Al Rasheed in September -- usually failed to hit their targets. But, in the past few days, the guerrillas managed to inflict dozens of casualties, several of them fatal, by shelling U.S. bases in the cities of Samarra, Baquba and Balad, and by hitting a power station in Baghdad.

This ability to hit even the most protected U.S. targets raises new questions about how the American-led coalition can pacify Iraq. There are now as many as 35 anticoalition attacks a day, most in Baghdad and Sunni areas to its west and the north. In addition, guerrillas regularly kill Iraqis who help the coalition -- including the chief of police in the southern Amarah province, who was gunned down this past weekend.
* * *
Al Rasheed was hit on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, which is usually a period of increased religious feelings in the Muslim world. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander for Iraq, said last week he expected an increase in violence during this period. He said the guerrilla attacks appeared to be growing more technically sophisticated and more centrally directed.

In the first months after the war, Iraqi militants would try to ambush U.S. convoys with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire -- a tactic that usually led to immediate U.S. response and ended in the capture or killing of the attackers. Recently, the guerrillas switched to placing remote-detonated roadside bombs, usually made of rigged artillery shells -- a tactic successfully used against Israeli troops by Lebanon's Hezbollah militia in the 1990s. These bombs, disguised in crates of vegetables, bicycle baskets or buried in potholes, are hard to spot -- and often pierce through the soldiers' Humvees.

"The systems that they are putting together now are much more sophisticated -- the supposition is that they are bringing in trainers from abroad," says Maj. George Rosser, operations officer for a Florida National Guard battalion that has to deal with roadside bombs almost every night in the western city of Ramadi. "They've backed off from ambushes, from direct confrontation, because they can't stand up against our troops."
Analysis: It's far too early to know -- in the absence of a communique' from these groups -- who is responsible for both attacks. However, I think that both attacks represent a paradigm shift in the nature of the guerilla war we face in Iraq, as the Wall Street Journal alludes to in its report. These two attacks are markedly more sophisticated than the hit-and-run guerilla tactics used thus far. Here's how:

- The attacks today were time-coordinated so that they would happen with near simultaneity. That's a significant tactical evolution because a) it's tough to do, and b) it means they're sophisticated enough to know that simultaneous attacks work because your enemy doesn't have time to raise his guard after the first attack. (Attacks in series rarely work because the first one always raises everyone's guard)

- The attacks today employed suicide bombers, something not frequently seen in Iraq. Part of this owes to the lack of religious fervor on the part of the Iraqi insurgents -- they simply don't believe in their cause the way that Palestinian insurgents do. But with the exception of some Fedayeen attacks during the war, we have not seen suicide bombings en masse in Iraq. That trend may be changing.

- Today's attacks also were precisely targeted at "soft" symbolic targets of the continuing U.S. occupation. Rather than attack the CPA headquarters itself or other hard targets, they chose to attack the softer Red Cross and Iraqi police stations. These sites have a lot of symbolic value, because of the role that each organization plays in post-war Iraq. I think this is a pretty sophisticated targeting decision.

The trend is clear: We are seeing the outbreak of a truly 4th Generation War in Iraq, which pits American-led forces against a loose-knit network of guerillas with increasingly sophisticated tactics, techniques and procedures. If I had to guess, these tactics are being heavily influenced by both Al Qaeda and Ansar Al-Islam (see this LA Times article on Ansar Al-Islam by Esther Schrader), as well as other international terror groups, and there are probably a number of veteran terrorists directing the action from behind the scenes now. The only viable course of action at this point is to seize the offensive -- to gather intelligence, launch raids, and disrupt the terrorist cells before they can strike again. Undoubtedly, our enemies are planning to strike again.

Study reports success in treating Gulf War II casualties

Dave Moniz reports today in USA Today on a military analysis of casualties in Iraq that shows that wounded soldiers are twice as likely to survive their wounds than in previous conflicts. The military physicians conducting the study cite a number of factors, including:
* Wounded troops see surgeons and trauma specialists much more quickly. In Iraq, mobile surgical teams travel with combat units and can begin operating on severely wounded troops in minutes.

* Most troops in Iraq have protective Kevlar body armor that covers vital organs and can repel shrapnel and small-caliber bullets.

* Medics and other first-aid specialists carry blood supplies with them into battle so they can immediately stabilize patients who in previous wars might have bled to death before reaching a field hospital.

* The war in Iraq has been characterized by guerrilla attacks and not by traditional battles involving tanks, aerial bombs and casualty-producing heavy artillery fire.
Analysis: This is probably one of the biggest military success stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision to push forward surgical teams up to the front line was a calculated risk on the part of military medical planners, but it appears to have paid off. These teams did not become casualties themselves, and they were at the right time and place to provide critical trauma care to soldiers. Similarly, most of the soldiers and Marines who fought their way into Iraq had new Kevlar body armor, which made a tremendous difference in preventing fatal thoracic wounds. What will be interesting now is to see how these 'lessons learned' filter back via reverse osmosis to the civilian medical community. A recent study showed that the medical knowledge gained during the Vietnam War by military physicians found its way back into civilian trauma centers during the 1970s and 1980s, and actually had a statistically significant impact on the number of murders in America because it lowered the fatality rate for violent wounds that otherwise would have resulted in death.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Twice the citizen or second-class soldiers? Or both?

An op-ed of mine ran today in the Sunday @Issues section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I comment on the situation at Fort Stewart, GA, where hundreds of reservists now wait for medical care and administrative processing before they can be released from active duty. But instead of purely siding with the reservists or criticizing their complaints, I try to generalize from this incident to make a larger argument about the role of today's reservist -- and the lack of resources he/she has to fulfill that role.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, America mobilized its reserves in a way that hadn't been seen since Korea. At home and abroad, reservists performed missions that active soldiers couldn't (such as guarding airports) and supported the active force in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Since Sept. 11, no fewer than 40,000 reservists have been on active duty at any given time, both for homeland security missions and combat operations overseas. Today, the Defense Department has 168,915 reservists on active duty in support of the war on terrorism. Senior officials have made it clear that the military could not function without the support of the reserves.

Yet, America's reserves have never achieved full equality with their active-duty counterparts. The reservists marooned at Fort Stewart -- as well as their reserve brethren around the world -- have long suffered from a lack of resources. America gives less to its reserve forces at every step -- recruiting, training, deployment, equipment, manning, medical care, even veterans' benefits. In the Army Reserve and National Guard, the nation gets a bargain -- trained soldiers with civilian experience who can be called at a moment's notice, but paid for only one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.

Even in Iraq, reservists had to make do with less than their active-duty counterparts. Reserve units typically stand last in line for new equipment, behind active-duty Army units and the Marines. National Guard and Army Reserve units deployed to Iraq with radios older than many of their soldiers -- radios that could not talk securely with the active-duty units they worked with.

Many reserve units drove into Iraq with cargo trucks that were more than 30 years old. Reservists were also last in line to receive the military's new "Interceptor" body armor, specially designed to stop bullets from an AK-47.

Some units, such as Florida's 53rd Infantry Brigade, were designated as enhanced readiness units and given better training, equipment and resources. But they were the exception.

Friday, October 24, 2003

INTEL DUMP on weekend break. I will be disconnecting this weekend from both my news feed and my laptop. Please come back on Monday for new analysis and commentary.

Bankrupting terrorism
Federal prosecutors charge key figures in anti-terrorism case

Glenn Simpson reports today in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about the case of Abdur Rahman Alamoudi, who federal officials believe is at the center of a global financial web stretching from the U.S. to the Middle East, and which has put millions of dollars in terrorist coffers over the last several years. Alamoudi is currently charged with 18 counts of money laundering and tax, immigration and customs-fraud crimes, related mostly to illegal dealings with Libya. But federal officials believe, according to Mr. Simpson, that he is responsible for much more than these crimes. Alamoudi's lawyers deny the allegations.
Investigators have laid out the network's intricacy and geographic breadth in recent court filings related to a terror-finance investigation of a Virginia-based group of charities and businesses. Thursday, they indicted a key figure they say is linked to Hamas and al Qaeda.

The funds flowed from Saudi Arabia and Europe to the U.S. -- possibly to help make the money look legitimate -- and then through a maze of Virginia entities and back to Europe and the Middle East, authorities say. The money went through secretive Swiss banks and Isle of Man trusts and ended up in suspect hands, including a charity founded by an alleged Tunisian terrorist and a group implicated in the plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, court documents say.

At the network's center is Abdur Rahman Alamoudi, a Muslim-American activist who was indicted Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. on money laundering and tax, immigration and customs-fraud charges. The 18-count indictment isn't directly related to the Virginia probe, focusing mostly on alleged illegal dealings with Libya.
* * *
The authorities have been investigating Mr. Alamoudi and his associates since late 2001. The probe seemed to make little headway until June, when Mr. Alamoudi was detained at London's Heathrow Airport for carrying $340,000 provided by Libyan agents. He was arrested when he returned to Virginia and indicted Thursday on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Libya.

Prosecutors say the Virginia network's money trail, involving millions of dollars, begins in Saudi Arabia. Over $550,000 came from Mr. Alamoudi's five brothers in Saudi Arabia. The funds originated in accounts at al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp. of Riyadh, which is controlled by the al-Rajhi family, and the National Commercial Bank of Jeddah, which the bin Mahfouz family controlled for a time. Both families and banks are defendants in the Sept. 11 suit and are under scrutiny by U.S. investigators.
Notes: This is the latest in a long series of excellent articles from Mr. Simpson in the Wall Street Journal on the subject of terrorist financing (see here, here, here, here and here). The articles have unveiled an incredibly sophisticated web of financiers, banks, commercial businesses, and individuals who have come together around the world to contribute to the international Islamic jihad by giving it the means to move money around the world. Arguably, these men have done as much to promote terrorism as those who ran the training camps in Afghanistan, or procured the explosives for bombs in Africa. Without these financial networks, Al Qaeda could not operate its global terror network; it could not project its power beyond the sands of Afghanistan and the Arabian peninsula. These financiers give Al Qaeda its global reach, and have supported its operations from Chechnya to Sudan to America.

It has taken U.S. prosecutors some time to unravel this network, but they appear to be doing so -- one terror cell at a time. This is painstaking, tedious work, and it may be years before we see a major reduction in Al Qaeda's operational capabilities as a result of these efforts. But these efforts' importance cannot be understated. Starving Al Qaeda of cash is one of the most important tasks in America's war on terrorism.

It's also a task that's very hard to measure. In his now-infamous memo, SecDef Rumsfeld wrote that "we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." The financial war on terror is one area where lack such metrics to measure progress. Sure, we can easily measure our progress in terms of assets frozen or successful prosecutions. But those metrics don't necessarily tell us how much operational capability we've stripped from Al Qaeda, at least not without knowing the total assets that Al Qaeda has on hand. Moreover, it's very difficult to count our successes in this way because Al Qaeda's resources are not exactly finite. As long as they are able to raise money (or make it as profit on legitimate business ventures), we will have to continue this aspect of the fight.

Reversal of Boykin
NRO pulls editorial calling for general's resignation or termination

In a strange turnaround, the editors of the National Review have withdrawn their editorial calling for LTG William "Jerry" Boykin's resignation. The editors say this editorial was never meant to run, and that a production error allowed the paragraph to appear on their website.
A draft editorial paragraph was prepared, stating the position that Boykin should be fired; at just about the last minute, we decided to withhold judgment--to see how the investigation into the general's behavior proceeded, and to reach a conclusion then.

Because of a production error, that paragraph--the one calling for Boykin's head--went to the printer. And thus appears in the magazine. We removed it from our html edition, but about the "hard copy edition," we could do nothing.
This explanation seems odd to me, given the time lapse between this editorial's appearance yesterday morning and today's retraction at 2:24 p.m. East Coast time. To me, the more likely explanation is that the NR editors felt out-of-step with the White House, and decided to correct the initial thoughts much like a weblog author would upon further introspection. But I'll let you be the judge.

Total Information Awareness lives on

Noah Shachtman reports today in Wired that members of Congress continue to debate ways to conduct "data mining" and "non-obvious relationship analysis" ("NORA") in ways that won't compromise Americans' civil liberities. Earlier this year, civil liberty concerns helped torpedo the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program, which was envisioned as a massive data collection and analysis project that could fuse data from private and public sources. Despite the end of that project, the debate continues over the use of these systems, largely because their potential -- for use and abuse -- is so great.
"When somebody buys a ticket on Delta Airlines in Munich, Germany, if there's any potential for (that person to have) a suspicious background, I want bells and whistles to go off on that computer," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told the group of 25 or so policy makers assembled in the Russell Senate Office Building's third floor by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank. But Congress "won't allow (intelligence) agencies" to "truly gather information on people's personal lives."

Nice words. But as Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, notes, "none of us really have the answer" for how to put them into action.
* * *
For example, the panel's moderator, Daniel Gallington, a longtime Justice and Defense Department official turned Potomac research fellow, floated a seemingly innocuous idea: that information legally collected by the FBI, CIA and local law enforcers should be combined and made searchable. Since 9/11, information sharing has become a mantra among these groups, after all.

But even this close-to-clichéd notion was met with resistance. A "global database" could be much harder to correct than a mosaic of distributed information centers, noted Peter Raven-Hansen, a professor of national security law at George Washington University. A single misspelling could associate an innocent person with suspicious activities, marking that person as a potential enemy of the state for a lifetime.
Our basic challenge is this: how can we fight terrorism within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution? Every aspect of the war on terrorism raises difficult Constitutional questions which reveal a basic tension between the means we might like to adopt (such as universal surveillance) and the principles we've sworn ourselves to (like the 4th Amendment proscription on unreasonable searches and seizures). These tensions cannot easily be resolved.

I happen to think we're at a good balancing point now, and that most (though not all) of our means have been carefully thought out to preserve Americans' constitutional rights. Material support prosecutions have not chilled speech the way some thought. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has not been abused since the USA PATRIOT Act's passage to snoop on average Americans who have no connection to terrorism or foreign intelligence. Sec. 215 of the PATRIOT Act has not been used to gather library records or other information, largely because it's not as effective as other means at the Justice Department's disposal. At the end of the day, our nation's government has somehow managed to balance liberty with security. Vigorous advocacy by civil rights groups and cool heads at senior levels have made this happen.

Total Information Awareness -- and projects like it -- raise difficult questions because they are such a radical departure from the types of things that lawyers and scholars have looked at over the years. Surveillance tactics today represent more of an incremental change than a revolutionary one, and it's not that hard to apply legal precedent (such as Kyllo v. United States) to determine how these technologies should be dealt with under the Constitution. Similarly, material support prosecutions aren't that much of a departure from historic prosecutions of organized crime. They're an evolution of the concept that you go after the little fish first in order to get the big fish.

But TIA and its progeny are different, because they represent such a total departure from the means of criminal enforcement. These new technologies don't easily fit the rules on the books, and indeed, we don't even understand these technologies' implications enough to write new rules yet. Maybe the best thing would be to have a few lawyers in DARPA who can say "Hey, wait a minute" every time a scientist has a good idea like TIA. The scientists probably wouldn't like that very much. But a few good lawyers might help DARPA think through the legal and policy implications of its futuristic programs before they're torpedoed by people who are frightened by those implications.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Thoughts on the Rumsfeld memo and metrics of success

I've had a little more time to digest the "Rumsfeld memo" which was first made public by a USA Today story on Wednesday. (See also this LA Times story from today on the matter) As I said earlier, I think this memo represents a healthy dose of skepticism, optimism, and realism about America's war on terrorism. But one paragraph in particular struck me as quite insightful:
Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?
What are metrics? I'm no engineer, but I learned last year in a business-school seminar that "metrics" is a fancy word for "measurements" that matter to management. A metric can be something like number of customers who enter a retail store on a given day. Or in the terrorism context, it can be some other indicator, such as number of Al Qaeda members in custody.

As Sec. Rumsfeld points out, the problem is this: If you choose the wrong metrics, your execution will invariably orient on those metrics and produce unintended results.

A great case-in-point is the Army Physical Fitness Test. It's the Army's chosen metric of fitness. It has become the end-all/be-all of fitness for most of the Army. Does it measure true fitness? Not really. Does it measure combat readiness? Not really. Does it measure job performance? Not really. But it's the metric, nonetheless. (The Army chose this PT test of pushups, situps and a 2-mile run largely because of standardization, ease of administration, and the fact that it's a pretty good -- albeit not perfect -- indicator of basic physical fitness.) Army platoons and companies have oriented on this test as their basic metric of success in the area of physical fitness, creating PT programs and remedial PT programs and incentive programs focused on improving performance under this metric. They have done so to the exclusion of other kinds of fitness which are arguably more related to combat, such as the ability to road march long distances or carry a wounded buddy. Indeed, I've seen units cut things like road marches out of their PT program in order to focus on pushups, situps and the 2-mile run. I think this is a case where the metric of success (the APFT) has become more important than the mission (improving fitness and combat readiness), and that the tail is now wagging the dog.

I took a strategic planning class at UCLA's business school last year, and our group project was to pick a company doing poorly and turn it around with a strategy built on metrics. My small group (1 Disney exec, a consultant, and me) picked AOL, and we built a strategy focused on leveraging AOL-Time Warner's tremendous content and the "pipes" of AOL to deliver that content to the customer. We chose a set of objectives in each operational area of the firm -- Innovation, Customer Targeting, Operational Effectiveness -- and aggregate performance metrics to measure our success for each objective. Each of these was fed, in turn, by granular metrics from AOL's subordinates. Ultimately, they fed up to the 5-10 key metrics that we recommended the AOL CEO watch on a daily basis. (Who knows if the strategy would have worked or not?) But the point of the class was that you can't emphasize these metrics enough, and that your strategy would become a function of your metrics if you didn't think them through well enough. When you tell your subordinates that their performance will be measured by certain indicators, it's only natural for them to focus on these indicators and work to do well by those -- even if there is dissonance between those indicators and your stated mission. (See also Bureacracy by James Q. Wilson for a great explanation of how incentives and organizations work in public agencies)

In Iraq and Afghanistan, we have allowed certain metrics to become accepted measures of our success or failure by default, including:

- Capture or death of Osama and Saddam
- Number of U.S. KIA + U.S. non-battle casualties
- Number of enemy high-value KIA/captured (the Iraqi deck of cards)
- Number of IED events/week in Iraq
- Total amount spent on Iraq and Afghanistan

I would submit to you that these are the wrong metrics, and that we have let them become the default metrics in the absence of a clear strategy from the White House and Pentagon. These metrics don't measure our success so much as our commitment in terms of spirit, blood and treasure. (Isn't that a book title?) Over time, our strategy will reorient towards these metrics. Our commanders will reduce their operational risk in order to minimize the risk of casualties. Our commanders may not spend money on certain things because they don't think it's worth the political fight with their higher HQ. And so it
goes. At the end of the day, our official metrics of success read more like a Harper's Index column than a serious set of policy metrics. They measure the wrong things, and they drive commanders to do things at the strategic, operational and tactical levels that don't necessarily mesh with our national strategy.

In my book, the only metric that matters in America's war on terror is this one:

- # of terrorist attacks on U.S. persons or interests at home and abroad.

The closer we get that measurement to zero, the closer we get to victory. Every other measurement of success and every other strategy ought to feed up to this aggregate metric. I think the metrics put forward recently by the White House and Pentagon (e.g. # of schools built in Iraq) are irrelevant to this all-important metric of success. At best, you can make an attenuated argument that winning hearts and minds of Iraqis with schools will help to reduce the recruitment pool for international jihad, but that's a really big stretch. There are other aggregate and granular metrics which do matter, such as # of terrorists in U.S. custody, money frozen through anti-terrorism financial investigations, number of suspected terrorists denied entry visas, etc.

But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we never see another attack on America again. That's how we ought to measure success. Deep down, I think Don Rumsfeld knows this, and he's puzzled about how to construct aggregate and granular metrics that measure progress towards this ultimate goal. Thankfully, he's supported by some incredibly smart people in the Pentagon, and he can call in support from other agencies such as State, Treasury, Justice, DHS and the CIA to help unpack this problem. Defining success in this war won't be easy. But it's still important that we try.

Liberals and conservatives agree: Boykin should go

I could probably count the number of times The American Prospect and The National Review have agreed on one hand if I actually took the time to research that statistic. Yet, both the left and right appear to agree on one thing: LTG William "Jerry" Boykin's conduct was wrong, and he ought to be removed from his position as Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Ironically, the National Review goes even further than TAPPED, the American Prospect's weblog, in comparing Boykin to MacArthur as "manifestly insubordinate". Here's what the NR editors have to say in their Nov. 10 editorial:
During the Korean War, Douglas MacArthur wanted to attack Manchuria, and he let that be known to everyone who would listen. That was not U.S. policy, however, and President Truman promptly sacked the great man. During the Cold War — in fact often pretty hot — NATO general Edwin Walker was instructing his troops in the theorems of the John Birch Society. That the U.S. government was 60 percent under Communist control was not the view of the Kennedy administration, and Walker was gone. Flash forward to today. A three-star general, William "Jerry" Boykin, has been lecturing, in public and in uniform, to the effect that we are in a war with Islam, than whose god his God is bigger, that this is a war against Satan, of whom he has a photograph in the sky above Mogadishu. President Bush has made it national policy that we are not in a war with global Islam. Furthermore, it is hardly good for the morale of troops to understand that their commander is a wacko who goes around photographing Satan zooming overhead. General Boykin is manifestly insubordinate, and should be sacked. Yesterday.
What's going on here? I can only guess. I think the left sees Boykin's conduct as problematic for a multitude of reasons -- legal, moral, political, intellectual. The right sees Boykin as a problem child for much more pragmatic reasons. The suggestion that America's fight against terrorism is a religious crusade could do serious damage to America's war on terrorism, both at home and abroad. Always quick to recognize a political liability, I think the right is now trying to do damage control here. I stand by original prediction though. LTG Boykin will not be sacked. This old warrior will resign before he lets his actions affect the mission or his nation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The 'ground truth' on morale in Iraq

Stars & Stripes has an outstanding series of articles available on its website that ran over the last seven days detailing its survey of morale among soldiers in Iraq. The survey earned a great deal of criticism and praise when it appeared last week. Critics seized on its superficiality and lack of scientific methodology; supporters argued that it did a better job than anything thus far at gauging morale in Iraq. (I fell in the latter camp) Now, Stars & Stripes gives us a series of stories aimed at explaning the survey in more depth. Here's a sample of the stories available:
Day 1: The troops speak
Voices on the ground: Stars and Stripes surveys troops on morale in Iraq

Stripes reporters visited nearly 50 camps in Iraq to gauge sentiment

Day 2: What defines morale

Many servicemembers filling out questionnaire call morale low, but leaders say the job is getting done

The many definitions of troop morale

Day 5: The evolving mission

Is the mission clear: Evolving goals mean unusual roles for servicemembers in Iraq

Day 7: A better outlook

What will spell success? Leadership, rotations seen as ultimately more important than comforts.

Troops' wish list: Straight talk from commanders, better phone and e-mail access.

Troops in Iraq find comfort in keeping mind occupied, body strong.
This is must-read reporting. The Stars & Stripes reporting team does a remarkable job in these stories of remaining relatively objective, and balancing soldier comments with objective analysis from seasoned veterans. They also appear to report the survey results without an evident bias for or against the policy of the mission. This may not be pure sociology; it may not be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal. But I think it's darn good reporting, and I recommend every article in this series.

USA Today publishes leaked Rumsfeld memo
Text shows critical thinking and self-examination within the Pentagon

The story du jour comes from USA Today, which reports today on a leaked memo from SecDef Don Rumsfeld to his top staff. This memo appears more self-critical and introspective than anything I've yet seen from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The memo questions America's progress in the war on terrorism, its focus, its metrics of success, among other things. Here's an excerpt from the text of the memo:
October 16, 2003

TO: Gen. Dick Myers
Paul Wolfowitz
Gen. Pete Pace
Doug Feith

FROM: Donald Rumsfeld

SUBJECT: Global War on Terrorism

The questions I posed to combatant commanders this week were: Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror? Is DoD changing fast enough to deal with the new 21st century security environment? Can a big institution change fast enough? Is the USG changing fast enough?

DoD has been organized, trained and equipped to fight big armies, navies and air forces. It is not possible to change DoD fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror; an alternative might be to try to fashion a new institution, either within DoD or elsewhere — one that seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies on this key problem.

With respect to global terrorism, the record since Septermber 11th seems to be:

- We are having mixed results with Al Qaida, although we have put considerable pressure on them — nonetheless, a great many remain at large.

- USG has made reasonable progress in capturing or killing the top 55 Iraqis.

- USG has made somewhat slower progress tracking down the Taliban — Omar, Hekmatyar, etc.

- With respect to the Ansar Al-Islam, we are just getting started.
Have we fashioned the right mix of rewards, amnesty, protection and confidence in the US?

Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with the global war on terror?

Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.

Do we need a new organization?
Analysis: I tend to agree with what Glenn Reynolds and Virginia Postrel have said on this subject. (The downside of living on the West Coast is that I read the news when everyone else is hitting their mid-morning stride) Sure, this leak is bad for operational security reasons -- it offers our enemies a glimpse into the upper echelons of Pentagon decisionmaking. But the truly insidious effect of this leak is to chill future introspection and self-examination.

At the lowest levels of the Defense Department, platoons and companies conduct "after action reviews" afte training exercises to determine how to do each mission better the next time. These AARs have ground rules -- no thin skins, no grudges, etc. What happens in the AAR stays in the AAR, just like the Las Vegas saying. This is done to promote honesty, candor, and self-examination, because it's been proven that tough, candid AARs can identify lessons in training that will save lives in combat. The same is true on a strategic level within the Pentagon. If our top Pentagon decisionmakers can't engage in this kind of introspection without leaks, then they may not have as good of a decisionmaking process. We all suffer as a result.

I have been one of the Secretary's most strident critics on occasion, critiquing the Phase IV (post-war occupation) planning and a variety of other policies from the E-Ring. In this case, I think some praise is in order. This is precisely the kind of thinking I want from a chief executive in the Pentagon -- unconventional, questioning, thoughtful, and precise. This kind of thinking, if followed up by good planning, resources and command emphasis, can lead to real change. As the SecDef points out, we currently face an incredibly agile, innovative and dynamic adversary in Al Qaeda. We can't win if we fight him in the same old way that defeated Germany in WWII -- we must ourselves become agile, innovative and adaptive. The SecDef's memo shows us that we're moving in the right direction, or at least that we're thinking of moving in the right direction.

Coda: I wouldn't be surprised to see Eliot Cohen's hand behind this memo. His book Supreme Command lays out four historic cases of civilian leadership over the military. Cohen concludes his book with an argument for an aggressive, managerial, questioning style of civilian leadership of the military. The SecDef appears to have adopted Mr. Cohen's prescriptions, with some minor stylistic changes. Not that this is a bad thing... The Pentagon is the largest bureaucracy in the world, and it takes a firm hand to manage it effectively. I'd rather have Don Rumsfeld's strong hand on the rudder than that of a Ken Lay-style CEO who focuses on external relations while letting Skilling & Fastow run the ship aground. (See Jeffrey Toobin's excellent story in the New Yorker for the details of this analogy)

Do wounded soldiers really have to pay for their own food?

Stop the Bleating takes on this urban legend and debunks it quite effectively. A news story has been making the rounds that soldiers wounded in Iraq have had to pay for their own meals at the hospital -- and that they've been upset when the hospital took away their Basic Allowance for Subsistence in return for covering their meals.
"WASHINGTON — Sgt. Brandon Erickson, 22, had just finished the third of five surgeries on his amputated right arm when he awoke at 6 a.m. to find a private in his room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (search) with paperwork ready for him to sign.

'She said, "This is a paper that says you have to pay $8.10 a day for your food." I went off the deep end,' said Erickson, a North Dakota National Guardsman who was injured in Iraq in July when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cargo truck he was riding in.

Erickson, still groggy from surgery, refused to sign anything. The sergeant from the 957th Multi-Role Engineer Company (search) had just arrived back in the United States the night before, six days after the attack occurred.

'It didn't seem right that he would be fighting for our country and lose a limb for our country, and have to pay for his meals,' said his mom, Ruth Vogel, a Maryland resident."
Matt at Stop the Bleating explains why this is bunk:
Servicemembers receive a "subsistence allowance" with their paychecks. This money is not part of their base pay--it is an allowance for a specific purpose. That specific purpose is the purchase of meals. (Thus, "subsistence.") Now, under peacetime conditions many servicemembers will eat many of their meals on the local economy. By living frugally, they can often eat for less than their subsistence allowance, which can mean a little extra money in the bank at the end of the pay period. To those who manage to pull this off, I offer kudos. Good for them! But it doesn't change the fact that this money has one purpose and one purpose only: buying food for the servicemember. It's not there for car payments, rent, CDs, new games for the PS2, or "bling bling." Many servicemembers forget this simple fact, and come to consider their subsistence allowance as part of their pay--and a part to which they're entitled, no matter what!

Now, when servicemembers go to the field for training (and, I must presume, when they go into places like Afghanistan and Iraq, to put their training to use), they no longer have the option of subsisting on the local economy; they eat what the government provides. But since the government is providing them with meals--meals that is has already paid the servicemembers to purchase--it rightly expects them to pay for those meals. Why should they get both money for meals, and free meals?! They shouldn't, of course--but I've seen Marines become extremely indignant at having to fork over some of their subsistence allowance for MREs after field ops.

That, I am quite sure, is what has been happening with the wounded. They've been asked to fork over some of their subsistence allowance to pay for the meals they're eating.
Bravo Zulu to Matt to pointing this out. Just another example of how soldier gripes can spin the media because the media doesn't know enough about the military to understand what's really going on. (See, e.g., Paul Krugman's column several weeks ago about soldiers getting only 3 liters of water/day in Iraq). As I said then, "quotation does not necessarily equal fact-checking." You've got to ask the hard questions when you get a gripe like this to make sure the soldier isn't mistaken about what the system is actually doing -- something that's more common than you'd think. This phenomenon is not limited to news outlets on the left or the right -- this story has gotten the most airplay from Fox News. C'mon guys... take the time to interview some grizzled old soldier on stories like this so you can get the story right. Don't just air the gripe without taking the time to check it out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A game of chess on the DMZ

Chris Cooper had an extremely good article in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that laid out some of the strategic and operational considerations behind America's plan to realign its military presence in Korea. The Pentagon has plans underway to move the 2nd Infantry Division south from its current "tripwire" posture near the DMZ, to consolidated bases south of Seoul. At the same time, the U.S. plans to move its headquarters out of downtown Seoul to a more rural and secure location in the central part of the country.

In one sense, the move represents a de-escalation from the situation today where U.S. and North Korean units sit on a hair trigger across the DMZ from one another. But as Chris Cooper explains, the move can also be seen as an escalation of tensions, and the precursor to a pre-emptive strike by the U.S. on North Korea.
In the first major redeployment of American troops in South Korea since the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War, the U.S. plans to roll up 19 camps scattered in and along the Korean demilitarized zone and relocate them to a pair of large bases south of Seoul. The Pentagon says the restructuring will allow it to reduce its 37,000-strong force; a State Department official who has seen the plan says the force reduction could total more than 10,000.

Anywhere else, such a move would appear likely to lessen tensions. Instead, North Korea brands the plan an "arms buildup" and a prelude to an invasion. Already courting a crisis by threatening to detonate a nuclear bomb, North Korea promises to protect itself.

President Bush, attending a regional economic summit in Bangkok, Thailand, said Sunday that the U.S. is prepared to offer North Korea specific security assurances if it will dismantle its nuclear program. But rather than respond to the overture, Pyongyang Monday test-fired a surface-to-ship missile into the waters separating the peninsula from Japan. (See related article.)

South Korean officials oppose the pullback plan as well, U.S. officials say. The South Koreans fear a force reduction would roil their financial markets, disrupt the country's fragile economy and require an increase in Seoul's defense budget. They also are increasingly unwilling to antagonize North Korea, and don't want to do anything seen as emboldening the Bush administration's hawkish tendencies.

The confusion over U.S. intentions lies in the nature of the troops it plans to pull back. Since the Korean War ended, American and South Korean troops have arrayed themselves along the border region between the North and South to serve as a "tripwire" -- an early warning of a North Korean invasion. The 19 camps between Seoul and the border house about 15,000 U.S. tripwire troops.

Because many of these troops likely would die in a surprise attack by North Korea, their presence serves to assure both sides that the U.S. would be fully committed if war broke out.
* * *
Pyongyang sees the plan as a strategic move to get American troops out of the North's artillery range, making it easier for the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive attack and disrupting the current military balance.

"They think we're clearing the decks so we can roll to Pyongyang with impunity," says Jack Pritchard, until recently the State Department's envoy to the region. Mr. Pritchard says the Pentagon understands the threat implicit in its plan, and while he doesn't believe it is a prelude to war, "I don't think they care what North Korea believes."

Indeed, some hawks in the Bush administration privately see the move as expanding its military options by separating the U.S. and South Korean forces and unwinding the joint structure of the current configuration. "If we were to discuss the need to perform pre-emptive strikes on North Korea, under the current configuration, we'd need South Korean approval," said one such administration hawk. "Under the new configuration, we wouldn't need that approval so much."
Analysis: A lot has been made of the President's statement that the U.S. has "no intention of invading North Korea". (Query: was the word 'invading' chosen over 'attacking' to preserve the option of a pre-emptive airstrike?) Presumably, this statement was offered as a carrot to induce North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program. I think this pledge moves the ball forward in negotiations with North Korea, and hopefully, that it will de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. The sooner we can re-engage the North Koreans with diplomacy, economic contacts, and trade, the better.

I agree with the Pentagon plan. I think we need to move our soldiers off the DMZ both to make them more efficient and to make them more survivable in the event of a North Korean attack. But also think this is an extraordinarily complex situation. Our moves in Korea will have repercussions for the South Korean political and economic situation that need to be mitigated. The secondary and tertiary consequences of our moves in Korea could affect the rest of East Asia -- China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and others. Our forward-deployed 2nd Infantry Division is not just a "tripwire" to give early warning; it's what has maintained an uneasy peace for more than 50 years. We should be very careful about giving up this posture.

Were LTG Boykin's comments on Islam unlawful?

Much has been made thus far of LTG William Boykin's comments on Islam, and his fitness for service as the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. Eugene Volokh provides a great analysis of this issue from his perspective as a Constitutional Law scholar. The question presented is whether the government can punish such speech -- which is arguably both political and religious expression -- within the bounds of the First Amendment. Eugene thinks the government can.
Between these three doctrines, I'm pretty sure the President could dismiss Gen. Boykin on the spot with no constitutional problems: His speech may well have substantially interfered with the government's mission -- and courts tend to defer considerably to the government's judgment about such interference -- but more importantly, he's a very high level official, and a member of the military. (Even if you think that Gen. Boykin's speech did not substantially interfere with the government's mission, the high-level official point and the military point, especially put together, should be conclusive.) And the President, or other government higher-ups, can impose discipline or restrictions short of dismissal as well.

What about the fact that the speech is religious? That shouldn't generally change the analysis, I think. As a general matter (subject to complications that I set aside here), the Free Exercise Clause comes into play only when the government punishes people precisely because their conduct was religious. Presumably any government punishment (if there will be such punishment here) would have equally applied if the general's statements were political rather than religious, or delivered in a nonreligious place rather than in a church. The Free Exercise Clause thus wouldn't be in play.

What if the government does punish the general more precisely because his speech was religious? Or what about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that does require the government to give special exemptions to religious believers even from generally applicable rules that don't single out religion? It's a long story, but I think that even these theories would fail because of the government's conclusion (if the government so concludes) that the speech seriously harmed the government's mission, and even more so because he's a high-ranking official and a member of the military.

Two last items. First, it's possible that courts would simply refuse to intrude into decisions about the President firing a general; but my analysis relates to whether the President's actions are constitutional under existing law, not the sometimes different question of whether courts would step in to decide the question. Second, I strongly suspect that Gen. Boykin would in any event not sue over any dismissal or other discipline.
Analysis: As my transcripts readily show, I'm no First Amendment scholar. However, I am familiar with several federal and military regulations that would seem to proscribe the conduct by LTG Boykin in this case. I will reserve my analysis at this point, because I'm still developing some of my arguments. But if you're interested, I recommend comparing LTG Boykin's conduct to the rules found in the following places (also see the DoD Standards of Conduct Office for more information on DoD ethics rules):
Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations
Sec. 2635.702. Endorsements.
Sec. 2635.803. Prior approval for outside employment and activities.
Sec. 2635.807 Teaching, speaking and writing.

Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations
Sec. 3601.108 Disclaimer for speeches and writings devoted to agency

Department of Defense, Joint Ethics Regulation 5500-7R, Sec. 3-307. Policy & Security Reviews.

Army Regulation 600-20 (Army Command Policy)
4-12. Extremist organizations and activities.
4-17. Standards of conduct.
5-3. Political activities.
5-6. Accommodating religious practices.

Army Regulation 670-1. (Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia)
1-10. When the wear of the Army uniform is required or prohibited
I would argue that LTG Boykin's comments violate at least some -- if not all -- of these regulatory authorities. As an active-duty officer, LTG Boykin is bound to follow federal and military regulations. If he violates these regulations, he can be prosecuted under Art. 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for failing to follow a lawful order.

I support the principle of free speech and I support the Constitutional rights of our servicemembers. However, there are other principles in the Constitution as well, including that of civilian control of the military. We don't let our generals speak openly on political, social, religious and other hot-button issues for good reason. (Note to Gen. Clark: beware the implications of this issue for your campaign) We also don't condone outside speaking by military officers in uniform, also for good reason. Setting aside the morality or correctness of LTG Boykin's comments, the legality of his conduct seems to be fairly cut and dry to me. LTG Boykin should not be allowed to break the rules.

Update: The AP reports that LTG Boykin has requested an investigation by the Army or DoD inspector general of his remarks. Such an investigation will likely look into the regulatory issues discussed above, and issue a report as to whether any further action needs to be taken.

Update II: Sen. John Warner and Sen. Carl Levin, respectively the chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have also requested an investigation into LTG Boykin's comments. More importantly, they have called for the temporary reassignment of LTG Boykin from his position as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Intelligence). (The LA Times confirms this report, and adds that the SASC investigation request was sent on Friday)

Prediction: LTG Boykin will step aside voluntarily, and offer to resign before any major investigation gets going. He's an old soldier who would rather be remembered for his exemplary career than this last gaffe. And most of all, he won't want his p.r. blunder to affect the Pentagon or its ability to fight the war on terror.

30+ soldiers miss flights from R&R; back to Iraq

The Washington Post reports today that more than 30 soldiers have missed their flights back to Iraq after being granted two weeks of leave. Some have requested extensions for extenuating circumstances, but at least two have expressed a desire to avoid returning to the combat zone. The Pentagon has not labeled any of them AWOL yet, but it has said it will investigate each case.
A week after return flights began, 28 soldiers had not made it to Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the journey back to Iraq, said Air Force Maj. Mike Escudie, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa. Six others did not make yesterday evening's flight out of BWI for unknown reasons, said Lt. Col. Robert Hagen, an Army spokesman.

Escudie said "a small number" have been granted emergency extensions by military commanders because of extenuating circumstances, including deaths in the family. Military officials could not say how many presented valid reasons or how many had failed to contact authorities.
* * *
Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center in Silver Spring, said the absences "demonstrates there is a morale problem." Robinson said he had been contacted by two soldiers home on leave who do not want to return to their units

One of the soldiers, a National Guardsman from Florida, missed his scheduled flight back to Iraq three days ago, Robinson said. "I told him he needs to get his [rear end] back to Iraq," Robinson said.
* * *
"We had the same problem in Vietnam," said retired Marine officer Gary Solis, who commanded a company in Vietnam and later wrote a history on military law during that war.

Solis, of Alexandria, said the combination of "Australian women and Australian beer" kept several of his Marines from returning from leave on time.

The leave program from Iraq, which unlike in Vietnam is bringing soldiers home to the continental United States to reunite with their families, may make it even more difficult for soldiers to return, Solis said.

"It's a lonely thing to do, but then that's the soldier's duty," he said.
Analysis: Everyone knew this would happen. It was an explicit risk of this R&R; program, and I'm sure the commanders on the ground in Iraq accepted this risk as an acceptable tradeoff for the boost in morale that R&R; would bring. Indeed, I'm sure that the JAG officers in CENTCOM and CFLCC developed contingency plans for how they would enforce Art. 86 (Absent Without Leave) in the event these soldiers did not come home.

That said, these soldiers must be dealt with strictly. Each may have some compelling personal reason to avoid the return flight to Iraq. But their buddies do not have the luxury of such excuses; they must soldier on without their absent comrade, shouldering more of the burden with each day he or she is missing. That's wrong, and these soldiers cannot be allowed to hurt their buddies that way. The Ranger Creed, which I consider to be one of the best expressions of the warrior ethos, says it like this:
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. One-hundred-percent and then some.

Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
The cornerstone of military justice is that it punishes acts which are prejudicial to good order and discipline -- those acts which undermine unit cohesion. I can think of few acts which undermine unit cohesion more than shirking your duty to return to your buddies in combat. Every AWOL soldier will have his or her own special story, and I trust their commanders will take that into account. But the bigger picture is the effect of these selfish acts on the unit they left behind.

Army to investigate reservist treatment at Fort Stewart

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that an Army investigation has been launched into allegations of poor treatment by reservists back from Iraq -- but now waiting for medical treatment at Fort Stewart, Georgia. These reservists appear to have complained quite loudly about poor medical care, substandard living conditions, and other problems with their extended stay on active duty. Pentagon officials and members of Congress appear to have answered the call.
An advance investigative team from the Pentagon arrived Monday to begin interviewing officials and reservists with complaints about their treatment, an Army spokesman said.

Some of about 600 reservists currently on "medical hold" at Fort Stewart complain that they are being housed in barracks without window screens or air conditioning and have to walk, sometimes on crutches, to outdoor latrines. Some say they have waited weeks or months for appointments with Army doctors.

The reservists claim that regular Army troops with medical problems are being given priority attention at Fort Stewart. The complaints were initially reported by United Press International on Friday.

"Medical hold" is a term the Army uses to describe soldiers with medical problems that need to be evaluated for treatment and possible benefit claims, a complicated process akin to the evaluation procedures for civilian workers' compensation claims, said a Fort Stewart doctor involved in the process.

"A lot of [military] doctors don't want to do this," said Col. John Brooks, a physician and Army reservist at Fort Stewart who serves on the medical boards evaluating the soldiers' conditions. "It's not a popular job. Some soldiers hide injuries because they want to stay soldiers; some overemphasize their problems because they want money; some just aren't clear about what's wrong with them."

Brooks said his office is doing its best to process claims quickly.

But veterans' advocate Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center in Silver Spring, Md., said the treatment of reservists on medical hold at Fort Stewart is unacceptable.

"In essence this is about their benefits in the service of their country," Robinson said. "The government has a duty to restore them to their pre-service condition or to compensate them if that isn't possible and to do it quickly."
Analysis: This is actually something I've seen happen with the redeployment of California Army National Guard soldiers from Operation Noble Eagle (the homeland security mission). Some soldiers wanted to get home right away, so they concealed injuries that might have kept them on medical hold at Fort Carson, CO. When these soldiers sought military medical care back in California, they had to deal with layer upon layer of bureaucracy stacked against them. Ultimately, it took several generals' involvement to get them medical care. A second group of soldiers would inflate minor medical problems into big ones to remain on active duty, either for financial security or in the hopes of receiving a VA disability rating. These soldiers tended to gum up the works, and deprive needy soldiers of scarce medical resources. Suffice to say, my experience showed me that this is a very difficult area to manage, and it takes a lot of commander involvement to get it right.

The case at Fort Stewart is similar, but different in some important ways. As an initial matter, these reservists should not have to live in antiquated WWII barracks while they wait for medical care, nor should they have to wait an inordinate amount of time. If the Army can't accomodate these reservists in a reasonable amount of time, they should be released from active duty and referred to a civilian provider at government expense. Or they can be seen near their home on an outpatient basis. Or they could be maintained on active duty, but seen by a civilian provider on an expedited basis. In any event, there's no reason to keep these guys around for so long.

The Army is right to say here that the needs of those deployed to Iraq right now trump the needs of those already redeployed. Our Army has sent a great deal of its net medical capacity to Iraq, and that leaves a delta between what it can do and what it needs to do here at home. These reservists may have to suck it up a little as a result. But I think the answer is somewhere in the middle, and hopefully this investigation will help both sides come to a reasonable solution.

WSJ: U.S. sails alone to stop weapons proliferation

Carla Robbins has an interesting article on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about U.S. efforts to fight WMD proliferation. Ms. Robbins starts with an anecdote from Dec. 2002, when Spanish soldiers boarded a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean after U.S. intelligence said it had missiles from North Korea bound for Yemen. The Bush Administration eventually ate crow over the affair, once it was determined that the missiles were being shipped lawfully.
MADRID -- By the time the Spanish frigate spotted the unflagged cargo ship in the Indian Ocean last December, the Americans had been tracking it for a month and the Spanish had been racing toward it for four days. But when Spanish Rear Admiral Juan Moreno Susanna ordered the freighter to slow for boarding, it ignored his demand, as well as two salvos of warning shots and a third salvo into its bow.

After a six-hour standoff, Spanish special forces rappelled from a helicopter onto the moving deck while snipers stood by. "The effort was worth it," Adm. Moreno says. Hidden in the ship's hold were 15 North Korean Scud missiles.

Two days later, the U.S. let the freighter sail on. There was no clear legal basis for holding the missiles and their purchaser was Yemen, an ally in the war on terrorism. Frustrated by the outcome, the Bush administration decided to launch a broader initiative to fight weapons proliferation.

But in a hallmark of the way President Bush conducts foreign affairs, it chose not to seek a new United Nations Security Council resolution banning the transport of dangerous weapons. Instead, the U.N.'s host and largest financial contributor created its own coalition of the willing, outside U.N. auspices. The 11 members have agreed to block arms shipments from countries or groups "of proliferation concern" in their territory, waters or air space, or aboard ships flying the members' flags on the high seas.

As the U.N. struggles to redefine its place in global politics, the American initiative underscores a giant hurdle: a profound skepticism by the sole superpower. The U.S. under President Bush has often bypassed the world body, as it did in its decision to invade Iraq. With the occupation there proving far harder than expected, the U.S. did seek -- and win -- U.N. backing for its rebuilding efforts, in hopes of persuading more nations to contribute money or troops. But Washington's antiproliferation move is an end run around the U.N. on just the kind of mission the U.N.'s leaders think it is ideally suited to tackle.
Analysis: The global arms trade is extremely difficult to regulate. It's also an area that lends itself to international cooperation, regulatory regimes, and enforcement. The global arms trade has two Achilles heels -- the need to move large sums of money around the world, and the need to move stuff around the world. International cooperation can go a long way towards attacking each of these weak points.

Oxblog reports from Kabul

A friend of the Oxbloggers has an interesting letter from Kabul, Afghanistan. I hope this becomes a regular feature on Oxblog, because I'm always interested in lucid first-person accounts from places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Here's a sample:
Kabul has sort of an old west feel to it -- a boomtown, and a city of dust. Every surface is covered in the stuff. Dusty wooden scaffolding is hung with dusty posters of the Tajik-Afghan hero and martyr Ahmed Shah Massoud. The trees are all muted shades of green, and in the mornings, the whole sky is a grey-brown haze. Dust-colored mountains shoot up on every side -- some barren, others with an astonishing clutter of mud-brick houses clinging to their steep, craggy slopes. The roads are clogged with yellow taxis and dirty buses, and trucks painted so gaudily that even the dust can't mute them. Some of the trucks were loaded so high with bundles and boxes I can't believe they stayed upright. One pick-up had a camel hog-tied and tossed in the back, its head and neck lolling ridiculously over the side.