Friday, October 31, 2003

Wes Clark on America's empire

The November issue of the Washington Monthly features this article from retired-Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who is trying to posture himself as an alternative to the current foreign policy being pursued by the Bush White House. The article is essentially an excerpt from Clark's new book, and it offers some insight into the foreign policy that Clark would adopt if he moved into 1600 Penn. Ave.
We need to see ourselves and the world around us in sharp relief--and use that vision to inform better our policies. Simply put, the United States needs a new strategy for the 21st century--a broader, more comprehensive, and less unilateralist approach abroad, coupled with greater attention to a sound economy at home, and sensible long-range policies. The Bush administration's strategy of preemption, published in the 2002 National Security Strategy, was focused against Iraq. At home, the formula of the supply-siders--tax cuts for the wealthy to feed trickle-down economics--has about run its course. It is time for America to return to the basic concepts that ensured its unprecedented prosperity and security and to adapt from these a new strategy that can better serve our needs today.

The first of these basic principles should be inclusiveness. The United States represents evolutionary values of human dignity and the worth of the individual-ideals that have steadily swept across Europe and into much of the rest of the world. We have been proselytizers, advocating our values, assisting states abroad, encouraging emerging young leaders to study and visit the United States. During the Cold War we were careful to reach across the Iron Curtain. And when the Cold War ended, we worked hard to encourage the enlargement of democracy around the world. We should be seeking allies and friends around the world.

Second, we should be working to strengthen and use international institutions, beginning with the United Nations and NATO. Such institutions can provide vital support to American diplomacy, bringing in others to share the burdens and risks that we would otherwise have to carry alone. The United Nations especially can contribute legitimacy to U.S. purposes and actions. International law is of little significance to most Americans, but it carries heavy weight abroad. Both the United Nations and NATO need refinement, particularly the United Nations--but these refinements can be made only through American constructive leadership, for we are the lone superpower, with the resources and incentives to do so.

And finally, we must place in proper perspective the role of the armed forces in our overall strategy. We should ensure that they retain the edge over any potential adversary and continue to modernize them to deal with foreseeable contingencies, including the possible need to preempt any threat to the United States. We always have the right of self-defense, including inherently the right to strike preemptively. But force must be used only as a last resort--and then multilaterally if possible.

Operating on these three principles, we should repair our trans-Atlantic relationships. When the United States and Europe stand together, they represent roughly half the world's gross domestic product and three of the five permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. These are the countries that are most politically and culturally aligned with the United States. We are the major investors in each other's economies. We should turn upside down nineteenth-century Britain's view that Britain had no permanent friends, only permanent interests. In the West, we must have permanent friends and allies and then work to ensure that our interests converge.

Using this trans-Atlantic alliance as our base, we should then work to resolve our security challenges--the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, the continuing threat from al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. We should be working with allies to help settle disputes between India and Pakistan and within the Middle East that could explode into deadly conflict. And we should be pressing through the United Nations and offering assistance to ease the ongoing conflicts in Africa.
Good words; hard to implement. I like Wes Clark's view of the world, and his view of where America should fit into the world. I think that we ought to enlist other nations and international organizations in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terror networks, because the only way to defeat a terror network is to build a stronger network of our own. However, I also recognize that saying these things and doing them are two different things. It will be exceedingly hard for President Clark to implement his vision -- harder even that it would be if he were General Clark again. A lot of fence mending must be done before we can start down this multilateralist road. If Wes Clark wants to make this vision seem realistic, I think he has to articulate the "how" instead of just the "what" for his view of the world and America's place in it.

Lawmakers push for better body armor -- and the Pentagon responds

Lisa Burgess reports in Stars & Stripes today that 33 members of Congress have sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee requesting that the Pentagon be directed to buy better body armor and other gear for soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, 33 House members, led by Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., sent House appropriators a letter that emphasized the need to supply all deployed troops with the Defense Department's new Interceptor flak vests, as well as provide adequate immunizations, drinking water and even sundries such as toothpaste.

"It is an outrage that servicemembers, deployed in the Global War on Terrorism, do not receive adequate personal hygiene products and drinking water," the letter said. "Servicemembers have told us they lack personal items like razors, shaving cream, toothpaste, etc. Congress needs to provide these items to America's soldiers and not rely on families to continually send their loved ones these necessities."
* * *
Many members of Congress have expressed anger over Defense Department estimates that more than 40,000 troops, most notably Reserve and National Guard combat support units, were not outfitted with the new "Interceptor" body armor before deploying to Iraq.

Instead, the troops are wearing Vietnam-era "flak jackets," designed to stop fragmentation but not larger caliber rifle rounds, or Kevlar vests without the ceramic inserts that prevent high-caliber ammunition from penetrating.

Some soldiers told members of the House Appropriations Committee that they were spending as much as $650 out of pocket to buy their own Interceptor Body Armor vests and protective insert plates.

DOD officials have said that the manufacturer of the new vests is producing the armor as rapidly as possible, and that the new vests are priority shipped to the Middle East.
In response to this story, and to widespread criticism over the Interceptor body vest procurement problem, the Pentagon released a statement today that it was doing all it could to get the body armor to Iraq as quickly as possible.
The Army and Marines are rushing to get enough body armor into Iraq and Afghanistan by December for everyone who needs it, as fast as it comes off the assembly line.

"Body armor is saving lives," Army Brig. Gen. James R. Moran emphasized. "There have been dozens and dozens of instances where body armor has saved lives of individual soldiers. We're producing that as quickly as we possibly can."
* * *
Getting body armor to combat zones by December is part of the Army's "rapid fielding initiative," Moran said. He said the initiative, which treats soldiers as part of the system, is saving soldiers' lives, improving the quality of their lives and improving their combat effectiveness. "And we're doing it immediately," the general noted.
Analysis What we have here is a lot of "too little, too late" on both sides. The push by the 33 Democratic legislators comes as Congress has given its blessing to the President's $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan, and also near the end of the FY2004 defense appropriations process. In other words, the push may be too late. I have learned that at least one member of Congress tried to amend the President's $87 billion request in the House to add funding for body armor, but that rider was rejected on procedural grounds. At this point, I'm not sure what can be done, given the fact that Congress has signed off on this bill and the President seems sure to sign it.

That said, I'm not sure what else can be done. The Pentagon jump-started the procurement of this body armor a few months ago, and there appears to be no feasible way at this point to make the production lines move any faster. At this point, December 2003 may be the best that our military-industrial complex can do in terms of a delivery date for these pieces of equipment, and soldiers couldn't even buy these items faster if they wanted to with a personal credit card.

What's left to be done? I think we're kidding ourselves if we think that Iraq will be the last battle fought by our military for some time, or that we will leave Iraq anytime soon. The Interceptor body armor should be fielded to every American soldier and Marine -- active and reserve -- as soon as possible. We ought to make the fielding of critical soldier equipment a priority. It was tragic to send men and women into combat without this gear this time. We will be derelict if we do it again.

Update: National Journal's Congress AM Daily reports that 103 members of Congress have called on the House Armed Services Commitee chairman to hold hearings on the Pentagon's failure to field Interceptor body armor before the war in Iraq.
In the letter to Hunter, Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) and the others noted service members' complaints that only some soldiers serving in Iraq have been issued the highest quality "Interceptor" body armor -- Kevlar bulletproof vests with removable ceramic inserts. Other soldiers have been killed when Vietnam-era "flak jackets" failed to stop enemy bullets.

The letter also cited reports that parents of soldiers have been purchasing ceramic plates for the Interceptor vests and sending them to their sons and daughters overseas.

Federal judges harder to predict on sentencing than lawmakers say

Jess Bravin and Gary Fields reported in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about a really interesting draft study by the General Accounting Office on sentencing decisions by federal judges. The study belies much recent criticism of federal judges -- that they are too lenient across the board; that they always "downwardly depart" from the sentencing guidelines; that they bend the law where they think the facts warrant it. This new GAO study punctures at least one of those critiques, and hints at a much more complex picture of the federal bench.
Government researchers did find wide disparities in sentencing across the country's 12 regional judicial circuits. In drug cases, for example, district judges in San Francisco's Ninth Circuit were 19 times as likely to mete out sentences below the guidelines of the U.S. Sentencing Commission -- to make what are called "downward departures" -- as those in the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Va., an unpublished draft study by the General Accounting Office shows.

Those figures are adjusted to control for differences among cases and to exclude cases in which the government sought leniency because the defendant pleaded guilty and provided it with "substantial assistance."

But the two reports paint a different picture from the one legislators offered when Congress passed a law in April to restrict judges' latitude. The GAO, Congress's oversight arm, found that of 175,000 federal criminal sentences given nationwide from fiscal 1999 through fiscal 2001, 17% were downward departures. A separate study released this week by the Sentencing Commission itself, looking at fiscal 2001, found that about 11% of criminal sentences given by federal judges fell below the guidelines.

Both reports found rates substantially above the 5.8% reported for 1991 -- but below the 18.1% for 2001 that was cited during the congressional debate over whether lawmakers should tighten the sentencing rules.
* * *
But researchers cautioned that even though the Ninth Circuit is widely considered the country's most liberal, and the Fourth its most conservative, the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Because the Ninth Circuit includes the Mexican border states of Arizona and California, it has a disproportionate number of alien defendants, who often receive lighter sentences so they can be deported more quickly. The highest such departure rates were found in San Diego's Southern District of California, with 70% of 5,300 drug cases. Nationwide, noncitizens were twice as likely as citizens to receive lighter sentences, at 24% of cases.

The GAO also found considerable differences based on the defendant's race and the type of drug offense. Nationwide, 28% of 21,700 marijuana defendants received lighter sentences, while only 8% of 14,600 crack defendants did. Hispanic defendants were most likely to receive leniency -- 23% of 29,800 defendants did -- while blacks were least likely, at 8% of 20,400 defendants. The rate for white and "other" defendants was 13%.
Analysis: It's funny how numbers can go against conventional wisdom sometimes. A few outspoken judges have created the perception that all judges are willing to bend the rules for defendants -- and that appears to not be the case. The response to this perception has been quite Draconian. The Justice Department now wants to track all judges who downwardly depart from the sentencing guidelines. The federal judiciary has had to deal with this issue while trying to get more resources with which to hear cases and clear its backlog. Hopefully this data makes the debate a little bit more intelligent -- and honest.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Start of military tribunals said to be 'imminent'

Col. Frederic L. Borch III, the prosecutor appointed by the Pentagon to lead the military tribunal effort, announced today to an American Bar Association meeting that the start of these trials was "imminent, soon". It has been nearly 2 years since President Bush authorized these tribunals in his 13 Nov 01 executive order, and some have predicted that the trials would never actually happen. Today's speech belies that prediction, and indicates that these proceedings may be just around the corner.
"I think it's safe to say that our start is imminent, soon," said Col. Frederic L. Borch III, who oversees nine prosecutors in a Pentagon office set up to handle the upcoming trials. Borch, speaking to an American Bar Association gathering, would not be more specific.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Michael Shavers later said there are numerous steps preceding the start of a trial, and nothing will happen immediately.

"We are weeks if not months away," Shavers said.

Plans have been in the works for such trials for nearly two years, but the White House has given no date for the first tribunal, nor specified who would be tried or where. Lawyers working with the Pentagon predict the first tribunal will take place at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military is holding several hundred foreign prisoners picked up in the hunt for terrorists after Sept. 11, 2001.

The trial, when it comes, will mark the first time since World War II that the United States has put wartime prisoners on trial in such a proceeding.
Analysis: Why start now? I think the administration wants to fight the perception that the men detained at Guantanamo Bay are languishing there in perpetuity -- with no legal process whatsoever. These military tribunals represent a relatively low risk way to give the detainees some legal process and dispute that perception. Notwithstanding the procedural criticisms of these tribunals, they will represent more legal process than the detainees have gotten so far. The White House may be able to spin this as a magnanimous act -- something that goes above the requirements of the Geneva Convention.

To use a bad legal pun, I think the jury's still out on the tribunals. I've read the procedural rules created by the Pentagon and compared them to both the Manual for Courts Martial and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The differences are major, but the tribunals still have the potential to be fair proceedings for the men detained at Guantanamo. I'm not convinced yet that the tribunals will be the kangaroo courts that some have made them out to be. I guess I have faith in the career military lawyers who will staff the tribunals and sit as members of the jury, and their ability to do the right thing. Maybe that's overly optimistic. But at least we're giving these detainees some legal process. It remains to be seen how just that process will be.

Two U.S. soldiers killed in attack on M1A2 tank
Enemy tactics appear very similar to those in Israeli-Palestine conflict

The AP reports on a roadside bomb that struck and seriously disabled one of the Army's M1A2 tanks from the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 4th Infantry Division -- killing two soldiers. The attack was the first to successfully knock out an M1 since the end of major combat operations on May 1, and only the third destructive hit on an M1 during the war.
The Abrams tank was disabled when it was struck by a land mine or a roadside bomb Tuesday night during a patrol near Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division. A third crewman was evacuated to a U.S. hospital in Germany, she said.

It was the first M1 Abrams main battle tank destroyed since the end of major combat May 1, military officials said. During the active combat phase, several of the 68-ton vehicles the mainstay of the U.S. Army's armored forces were disabled in combat.
Analysis: The M1A2 weighs more than 70 tons, and is the most advanced and heavily armored combat vehicle in history. They are considered virtually impregnable to attack from anything but another tank or sophisticated anti-tank missile (like the Hellfire). I imagine the Army is extremely concerned right now about this new development, because the majority of its vehicles in Iraq are not as well protected as the M1 tank or M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicle. Indeed, the Army is currently deploying its new "Stryker" brigade to Iraq, composed of lightly-armored wheeled vehicles which were partially developed with an eye towards peacekeeping operations. If the Iraqi guerillas now have a way to take out the M1 tank, that's a very serious development.

There's another interesting angle here that was noted by an officer who participates in a military list-serv I belong to. That's the similarity between this M1 hit and the 15 Oct 03 attack which killed three Americans in the Gaza Strip. In that attack, a huge bomb exploded in the roadway under a U.S. diplomatic convoy of heavily armed and armored vehicles. Compare the TTPs used in Gaza to those used in Iraq:
The attack occurred at about 10:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m. EDT) Wednesday, five hours after the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for building a controversial fence around the
West Bank, and as Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip continued a six-day-old operation to destroy cross-border tunnels. Eight Palestinians have been killed and more than 230 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in that operation.

The bomb detonated as the convoy was about 11/2 miles inside the Gaza Strip from the Erez crossing at the Israeli border. They were driving along the pockmarked, partially blacktopped road that runs the length of the Gaza Strip and is frequently used by foreigners -- diplomats, aid workers, journalists and others -- as well as by local Palestinians.

According to witnesses and U.S. Embassy officials, a Palestinian security team led the convoy in one car, the American security guards occupied the second vehicle, at least two U.S. diplomats were in the third, and another Palestinian police car brought up the rear.
* * *
U.S. officials said the vehicle had armor plating on its roof and sides, but said they did not know whether the vehicle was equipped with armor on its underside to protect against land mines. Israeli officials estimated that
the bomb, which was buried in the hardpan roadbed, might have weighed more than 100 pounds.

A smaller bomb planted on another road in the northern Gaza Strip exploded under an Israeli military all-terrain vehicle Wednesday morning, injuring three soldiers, according to an Israeli military spokesman. The spokesman said the two incidents were not believed to be related.

Homemade bombs concocted from petroleum products, sugar, cosmetics, shampoo and varying amounts of TNT are commonly used by militants in the Gaza Strip. The explosives are frequently planted in potholes or beneath roadbeds on
routes used by Israeli military vehicles and have been used to blow up 50-ton tanks as well as lighter vehicles.

Some of the explosives are detonated on impact when a vehicle rolls over them; others are more sophisticated and are set off by remote control. A gray cable hanging into the crater left by Wednesday's attack on the U.S. vehicle suggested that the bomb might have been ignited by remote control from a nearby concrete hut.
This is pure speculation, but I think these two sets of tactics are pretty similar. The U.S. suspects right now that foreign elements are behind many of the attacks in Iraq, and that they are having a significant influence on domestic Iraqi guerillas. Even if they're not actually conducting the attacks, I think it's very likely these foreigners are providing training and expertise to the Iraqis in the art of urban combat and insurgency. To some extent, these foreign guerillas may also be passing along their doctrine from places like the Gaza Strip and West Bank, where guerillas and terrorists have learned how to defeat sophisticated Israeli security schemes and achieve deadly results. This is a very dangerous development. More to follow.

Embedded report from the 3rd ACR

Nir Rosen of the Asia Times is one of the last reporters to remain 'embedded' with a unit in Iraq. Asia Times publishes this series from Rosen which offers some vivid reports from the field with the soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Overall, I think the series paints a pretty good picture of what's going on over there with this unit. Here's an excerpt from the first article of the series:
AL-QAIM, western Iraq - "This is the wild wild west," says Captain Chris Alfeiri, holding a fly swatter while relaxing in between missions. A 30-year-old native of Boston, Alfeiri is one of about 1,000 soldiers from the 1st Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), based in Fort Carson of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and currently stationed in al-Qaim, at the western edge of Anbar province, bordering on Syria.

It is a dusty, arid and lawless region, with large towns by the Euphrates River, which snakes into Iraq from Syria. Americans are attacked on a daily basis by a recalcitrant community that used to shoot at the Iraqi army as well, and every night they can hear mysterious fire fights occurring inside the towns as tribes, gangs and smugglers battle over turf.

The 3rd ACR has converted an abandoned train station into home and called it Tiger Forward Operating Base. There is a cafeteria, or chow hall with a Pueblo motif painted on its walls, serving three different hot meals a day, from bacon and pancakes to pasta and Asian-flavored chicken with vegetables. There are TOCs, or tactical operation centers, pronounced "tok". There are barracks, where soldiers have small gyms, watch satellite TV and compete in board games like Risk, seeking world domination, or football video games on Sony Play Station. There is a detainment center for prisoners, and even a recreation center with wireless Internet and "morale phones" to call home.

Alfeiri's diminutive chin, small eyes, soft cheeks and shaved head give him a friendly baby-faced look incongruous with his role as a combat officer who served in Bosnia for a year, an experience that helped prepare him for dealing with conflict in an alien culture, as does his marriage to a former fellow journalism student from Honduras, whose family he often visits in their country. His men operate every day from the western-most base in Iraq. His 130 soldiers, known as Bandit troop, conduct border surveillance operations, raids, checkpoints and help reconstruct the towns in the region.

Every night his men roll out of Tiger X Ray, the call sign for their base, and a convoy of tanks and Humvees proceeds to the border, driving off the hardball, as they call the road, in order to avoid improvised explosive devices, IEDs. They stop at a test fire range, and make sure their heavy weapons work, the radio announces that their call sign, White 1, is at Red Con One (or Readiness Condition One, meaning everything works) and they head into the black moonscape.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The myth of the Republican military voting bloc

Benjamin Wallace-Wells deconstructs this myth in next month's issue of the Washington Monthly, and argues that the GOP ought not take military votes for granted in 2004. This well-reported and written story chronicles the recent political history of the military, from George C. Marshall to the present day, and paints the picture today of a military that's increasingly disenchanted with the current White House.
The effect of all of this, says Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and professor of political science at Boston University, is that "the soldier vote and the pro-military vote are in play." In 2004, says Feaver, the military sociologist at Duke, "there is the potential for these forces which have always pushed towards the Republicans to be neutralized, or even pushing towards the Democrats."

If these frustrations spill over into politics in the next election, they could profoundly shift the structural underpinnings of the current nearly 50-50 American split. This country has 1.4 million active duty soldiers, and 1.2 million reserves. It also has 26.4 million veterans, nearly 13 percent of the nation's adult population. Politicians and activists involved in veterans affairs take it as a truism that a defining feature of veterans' politics is their perception of how the active military is being treated, and used. Subtle shifts in the way that massive population votes could obviously have far-reaching impacts in national politics.

A reassignment of less than two-hundredths of 1 percent in the military vote to the Democrats from the Republicans in Florida in 2000 would have moved that state to the Democratic column, and a similar shift of less than 5 percent in the veteran vote alone would have given Arkansas, Nevada, and New Hampshire's electoral votes to Gore, not Bush. And Pennsylvania and Ohio, expected to be crucial swing states in the next presidential election, each have more than a million veteran voters.

But the military and veterans' communities don't simply deliver their own votes. All over America, voters look to the military as a sort of weathervane--an institution whose values civilians trust and want politicians to support. This is particularly true of working-class white swing voters, many of whom have a soldier in their family or know someone who does. The attachment to the military is even more potent among certain occupations-police, firefighters, engineers--whose ranks are heavily represented in the reserves. The policemen, firemen, and engineers who stay at home look across the room each day at the empty desks of their colleagues fighting in the Iraqi theater. They check email each day for personal dispatches from the front lines. They drop off food for the left-behind families.

Then there are those who are not personally connected to the military, but for whom honor of the military and the military's opinion acts as a moral barometer, revealing which politicians have the right values and which don't. The military is a deeply trusted and honored institution in American life-far more important than the media, politicians, or teachers. To respect the military doesn't simply require the sort of offhand pieties that liberal politicians frequently toss at it, but a deeply felt sense of belonging, a sense that the military embodies values which most of the country believes in. Treatment of the military consequently acts as an indicator for tens of millions of Americans who aren't enlisted of how seriously a party, administration, or politician takes the nation's security, and how competent he is to defend it. Political scientists call these people national security voters. "[They] are not so minutely interested in issues like health care for the military or how many reserves are in Iraq at one time," said Feaver. "These people rely heavily on general impressions of whether a particular politician or administration is good for the military or bad for the military. What should really worry the Republicans is the potential for all of these problems you hear about to add up to an impression for the national security voter that the Republicans may not be so good for the military."
Analysis: I've never thought the military really lived up to its stereotype when it came to politics. The conventional wisdom is that America's military is one of the last bastions of American conservatism. I do think that America's military officer corps is somewhat more conservative than society at large, but I think that it's largely become a professional class that is too diverse to effectively be pigeonholed that way. Moreover, the enlisted corps of the military is most certainly not conservative -- it's far too diverse in race and socio-economic terms. On balance, I'd say that the military leans slightly to the right of center, but it's no John Birch society. Military voters could vote for John McCain or George Bush -- or they could vote for Wes Clark or Bill Clinton.

(Quick personal vignette: I went into the military as a conservative and came out as a moderate/liberal. I attribute this change to the experience of living and working with such a diverse group of soldiers, especially the ones I was privileged to lead. Most of my enlisted soldiers came from working-class backgrounds, and their perspective was one that I had nto been exposed to while growing up in Southern California. Charlie Moskos and others have written that one of the best things about the draft was their exposure to other American kids, and social interaction and educatin that flowed from that. I think the same dynamic occurs in an all-volunteer force, except that only the volunteers are lucky enough to take advantage of it.)

In 2004, there are lots of issues in play which matter to national security voters. I divide these issues into two main categories:
1. Issues of national security per se, such as how to best fight the war on terrorism.
2. Issues which affect national security voters personally, such as how to equip the military and whether to give them a pay raise or certain benefits.

The Bush White House is vulnerable on both sets of military issues. The criticisms for the first set of issues are widely known. It will not be hard for the eventual Democratic nominee to make an argument against the White House on Iraq, on progress against terrorism, or any other front. The truth is that this is a very difficult war, and that smart people can disagree both over our progress and our direction in this war. That leaves a lot of room for disagreement. My hope is that the Democratic candidate offers a positive vision instead of merely attacking the President on this issue.

The second set of issues -- those which affect military voters personally -- will also be viable issues in the 2004 election. Some of these will flow directly from Iraq, and will include criticism over the administration's decision to put Americans in harm's way there in the first place, as well as criticism over specific problems in Iraq like the failure to equip all soldiers with the latest body armor. So too will the overstretching of America's reserves, which will probably result in a large exodus of reservists as they redeploy in 2004 from a year in Iraq. The Democrats will also hammer the White House over the "concurrent receipt" issue which affects veterans benefits, as well as military pay issues. The recent incident at Fort Stewart may also provide grist for the Democratic machine. All of these issues can (and probably will) be used by the Democrats to pull away military voters to the Democratic party.

Who stands to gain the most here? That should be obvious -- Wesley K. Clark. Of all the Democratic candidates, Wes Clark stands in a league all his own for his ability to exploit these issues. Moreover, I think he even stands above President Bush for his personal credibility on these issues. John Kerry may also be able to run with these issues, but not as well as Mr. Clark. It's still too early to handicap the Democratic race, and I'd be a fool to bet now on Dean or Clark or Kerry. Of course, lots can happen between now and Nov. 2004; these issues may not have the same resonance then as they do now. More to follow...

Army announces plans to retain, expand Peacekeeping Institute

After almost eliminating its Peacekeeping Institute at the Army War College several months ago, the Army announced today that it would retain and expand the center, which has become something of an policy-oriented think tank within the Army on operations other than war. The decision to close came as part of a larger headquarters realignment proposal for the Army, but was quickly criticized as short-sighted by many inside and outside the Army. In hindsight, the move appears particularly daft, given the Army's extensive commitment to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The institute will be renamed the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) to encompass the revised charter.

The original PKI charter and structure are being adjusted to meet the future needs of the U.S. Army and the U.S. military across a broad range of peacekeeping and stability operations. Current planning calls for the new organization to have 13 Army positions and a distinguished visiting professor. The PKSOI will have an operating budget of between $1.3 to 1.5 million.

The PKSOI mission will be to study the strategic implications of stability operations; support senior Army leaders in understanding and dealing with the implications of stability operations; and study the impact of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations on the Army's conduct of peacekeeping and stability operations. PKSOI will also be required to understand current foreign militaries' objectives and doctrine on stability operations; contribute to evolving stability operations doctrine; and to help educate the next generation of Army strategic leaders on stability operations.
Analysis: This is good news for at least two reasons. First, this institute does a great job of collecting knowledge on peacekeeping and educating the military about that knowledge. In a profession where mistakes cost lives, the effort to spread 'lessons learned' from previous missions is incredibly important, and the PKI did a good job of this. Second, this is good news because it shows that the Defense Department is willing to listen to criticism and react to it. I'm sure there were some egos bruised in the process, but at the end of the day, the Pentagon came around and kept the PKI open. It's amazing what can get done when you emphasize solving problems over winning bureaucratic battles.

A bloody view of the war

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a superb article on its front page today by Yaroslav Trofimov on the 21st Combat Support Hospital, and how that organization's personnel see the war. The Army's medical community has historically been less hooah about combat operations. Medical personnel tend to see themselves as healers first and warriors second, and they are the ones who must deal with the human cost of war. This article tells their story, and shares their perspective of the war.
While attention focuses on the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq -- 115 by enemy fire since Mr. Bush announced the end of major combat on May 1 -- the military doesn't generally publicize the more-frequent incidents in which soldiers are wounded. According to a tally kept by the U.S. Central Command, as of 7 p.m. on Oct. 27, the U.S. military had sustained a total of 1,737 nonlethal casualties from hostile action in Iraq, including 1,186 since May 1.

The toll includes American casualties in the rocket attack on Baghdad's Al Rasheed hotel on Sunday, and U.S. military police killed and wounded in suicide bombings that devastated four Iraqi police stations across Baghdad the following day. October has been the bloodiest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since the occupation began.

Advances in medical care and bulletproof vests allow more soldiers to survive the kind of injuries that would have killed them in past conflicts. But the recent switch by Iraqi insurgents to powerful roadside bombs as their main offensive weapon has raised the number and severity of wounds even for those with high-tech protection. These bombs are usually rigged artillery shells that, hidden in vegetable crates, bicycle baskets or simple debris, can be detonated close to their target and shower it with shrapnel.

"Since May, the number and the rate of casualties has increased," says Col. Doug Liening, commander of the 21st Combat Support Hospital, which also operates a facility in the northern city of Mosul. "People in the United States do not appreciate what's going on here." In peacetime, the 21st Combat Support Hospital is based at Fort Hood, Texas, as are many of its personnel currently in Balad.

For many doctors and nurses, the daily gore makes it hard to sleep at night. "It's like a horror movie," says Capt. Nancy Emma, 49, a nurse for 16 years who worked on Sgt. Bartels in the emergency room. "I served in a trauma unit, I saw death in the face -- but nothing like here. And those who live, you've got to wonder how they are going to make it back in the States."

After the emergency room, Sgt. Bartels was wheeled into the operating room. His buddy Sgt. Myers, who received shrapnel wounds in his right arm and face, called his family back in Kansas as he waited to be treated. The two sergeants, reservists attached to the Fourth Infantry Division, were driving from a meeting at the town of Baqouba's agriculture ministry office. They accompanied a civil-affairs officer, Capt. John Teal, who was filling in for their usual captain, on leave in the U.S.

Sgt. Myers asked nurses what happened to Capt. Teal. No one could muster the courage to tell the sergeant the captain was dead, instantly killed by the roadside bomb that went through their unarmored Humvee.
Analysis: I have two reactions to this story, and they're at odds with each other. The first is to wonder whether reporting on casualties is really a good idea. Such reporting tends to demoralize the American public, and to embolden our adversaries as a result. Also, an emphasis on casualty reporting translates through the democratic process into public pressure to reduce casualties, which translates through the chain of command to pressure on commanders to minimize risk in their operations. That pressure reduces operational effectiveness, because commanders alter their plans to maximize force protection instead of mission accomplishment. I think that's a very dangerous thing, and that ultimately, it can lead to mission failure.

On the other hand, I think it's important to recognize the cost of war and to weight that cost against our raison d'etre. This cost has been quite high. As a vignette, a friend of mine told me that she has sent replacement uniforms to her physician friends in the 4th Infantry Division to replace blood-soaked uniforms that they could no longer wear. I can't even imagine such carnage, and I've worked in a Los Angeles-area emergency room before. These medical personnel see the cost every day, and I think they bear a difficult burden in explaning the "why" behind the injuries to soldiers when they come out of anesthesia. I support the mission in Iraq, however, I think I'd be hard-pressed to explain that every day to wounded soldiers the way these doctors have to.

Army battalion commander faces assault charges in Iraq

The Washington Times reports this morning on an interesting legal vignette from the 4th Infantry Division, where LTC Allen B. West stands charged of assaulting an Iraqi prisoner in order to gain information in connection with an attack on his unit. These charges are remarkable because LTC West was an artillery battalion commander at the time of the incident. It's rare that a senior officer would take such a direct role in prisoner interrogation, and that the Army would prosecute such a senior officer. But in this case, the 4th Infantry Division's Staff Judge Advocate has recommended that LTC West either be allowed to "RILO" (Resign In Lieu Of court martial) or be court-martialed for his conduct.
An informant reported that there was an assassination plot against Col. West, an artillery officer working with the local governing council in Saba al Boor. On Aug. 16, guerrillas attacked members of the colonel's unit who were on their way to Saba al Boor.

An informant told the soldiers that one person involved in the attack was a town policeman. Col. West sent two sergeants to detain the policeman, who was placed in a detention center near the Taji air base. The interrogators had no luck at first, so Col. West decided to take over the questioning.

"I asked for soldiers to accompany me and told them we had to gather information and that it could get ugly," Col. West said in his e-mail.

He said his soldiers "physically aggress[ed]" the prisoner. A subsequent investigation resulted in nonjudicial punishment for them in the form of fines.

After the physical "aggress" failed, Col. West says he brandished his pistol.

"I did use my 9 mm weapon to threaten him and fired it twice. Once I fired into the weapons clearing barrel outside the facility alone, and the next time I did it while having his head close to the barrel. I fired away from him. I stood in between the firing and his person.

"I admit that what I did was not right but it was done with the concern of the safety of my soldiers and myself."

Col. West said he informed his superior of his actions. The incident lay dormant until the Army conducted an overall command-climate investigation of the brigade. The investigation turned up the interrogation technique, and Col. West was charged with one count of aggravated assault.

Col. West said the gunshots spurred the Iraqi to provide the location of the planned sniper attack and the names of three guerrilla fighters.

Col. West says the 4th Infantry's staff judge advocate, the unit's prosecutor, is offering him two choices: resign short of gaining retirement benefits or face court-martial.
Analysis: This story is interesting on a lot of levels. First, there's the question of effectiveness, and whether LTC West's use of his M9 pistol was effective in interrogating this prisoner. It appers that it was. Second, I think we have to balance that short-term effectiveness against any long-term consequences that flow from these kinds of interrogation tactics. In this case, the firing of two 9mm rounds near the prisoner was clearly coercion in a psychological sense, but I'm not sure whether it really crossed the line into torture. Remember, this is combat, not police work, and the rules are different. I'm not sure whether this incident will really have the kind of long-term consequences the Army is concerned about. Indeed, this kind of interrogation may be necessary to get information that can save American and Iraqi lives.

On another level, this story is interesting because it reveals American attitudes towards misconduct in the ranks. Generally speaking, the Army takes a dim view of this stuff, whether it's done by an Army MP private or an artillery colonel. Indeed, the colonel will usually be treated more harshly, both because of his experience and the command responsibility he bears. Truly, the buck stops in this case with LTC West, and he will be held responsible for anything done in his command. If one of his lieutenants had done this, LTC West probably wouldn't be facing charges now. But he surely would face some administrative action -- possibly the end of his career -- for the incident.

Finally, this story is interesting because it reveals the kind of stress our soldiers and commanders are under in Iraq. I bet that if you asked LTC West last year whether he'd do this, he'd have responded "no". Senior officers in the American Army tend to be very well educated about the laws of war, at least in comparison to our NATO allies and our enemies. If you gave him a hypothetical like this, he probably would have said he'd call in the brigade's counter-intel/HUMINT teams to do the interrogation. But the exigencies of the situation often make people do things they wouldn't ordinarily do. Clearly, LTC West and his unit are under a great deal of stress right now, or else this incident would not have happened.

I'm conflicted about whether these charges are justified or not. LTC West has the ultimate responsibility as commander to protect his unit, and a little bit of "smacky face" (to borrow Jess Bravin's quote from the WSJ) may be justified in this kind of situation. The line between coercion and torture is a very difficult one to draw, and I'm not sure this was the wrong thing to do in this situation. If this case goes to a court martial, LTC West may be able to make that case to a military jury of his peers.

Coda: Want to know how the Washington Times got this story? Easy. Guy Taylor, the writer, was embedded with 4th Infantry Division for some time during their ramp-up at Fort Hood and their subsequent deployment to Iraq. I imagine he made a number of contacts during that time, and built relationships among the officers in the division. I think this will be an unintended payoff of the embedding program for both the media and the public over the next several years. These bonds will probably continue over the years, especially as journalists cultivate relationships with officers on their way up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Army takes intel AAR off the web

Over the weekend, Tom Ricks reported in the Washington Post about an "after action review" conducted by officers from the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center that was critical of American military intel ops in Iraq. Among other things, this report highlighted key areas where American units were not given the intel resources to do their job.
The Army critique of U.S. intelligence efforts in Iraq is especially noteworthy, because the Bush administration and senior military commanders have maintained for months that more U.S. troops are not needed in Iraq, and that what is needed, instead, is better intelligence. The report discloses, for example, that the intelligence teams already operating in Iraq have been far less productive than the Army expected them to be. The 69 "tactical human intelligence teams" operating in the country at the time of the study, at the beginning of the summer, should have been producing "at least" 120 reports a day, but instead were delivering an average total of 30, it states. It attributes that apparent underperformance to "the lack of guidance and focus" from the intelligence office overseeing the teams' work.

The report also says that some key intelligence machinery has been misused in Iraq, which raises questions about the high-tech solutions that some at the Pentagon are advocating to improve the U.S. military's performance in Iraq.

Most notably, it is critical of how unmanned aircraft have been used in recent months. At one point, it notes that one such "unmanned aerial vehicle," or UAV, was assigned to find buried aircraft. Also, a major UAV system, the Hunter, was kept idle for 30 days because it had not been assigned an operational frequency on which to operate.

Managers of UAV operations were "overwhelmed" with tasks and were "lucky" to have their aircraft in the right place at the right time, the report says. UAVs fly so slowly, it adds, that they could not get to where they were needed. So, while the planes were employed to try to locate Iraqi fighters attacking U.S. military convoys, "the daily mortar and rocket attacks on bases and convoys became virtually undetectable to the UAVs," the report says.

In another technological issue, the report says that a network that was supposed to link intelligence teams and convey time-sensitive information among them -- as well as permit them to tap into an evolving database -- worked so poorly that it was "nonexistent." The report recommended that, among other things, the teams be provided with satellite telephones -- gear that most news reporters working in Iraq and Afghanistan possess as a matter of course.
Today, the Federation of American Scientists reports that the Army has taken the unclassified report down off the web, though a copy of the report still remains available on the Post's website.
The Army has taken one of its popular web sites offline after the Washington Post reported on a critical account of U.S. intelligence posted on the site.

The web site of the Center for Army Lessons Learned ( was promptly disabled following a Post story about an "unusually blunt" report on the inadequacies of U.S. military intelligence in Iraq.

"We're doing some maintenance" on the site, an Army spokeswoman at Fort Leavenworth told Secrecy News initially. She then acknowledged that the move was prompted by the Post story on October 25.

The web site should be back up by the end of the week, she said, but the report cited in the Post story "will not be available."
Very interesting. For starters, this is not a classified report, so it's odd that they would have this reaction to it. It's possible that it should have been classified, in which case the smart thing would have been to figure that out before it ran on the front page of the Washington Post. At this point, I think the Army is trying to stuff a cat back in the bag that's already taken off down the street.

This secrecy penchant with respect to AARs is also a departure for the Army, which has learned to embrace brutal, candid criticism as a way of increasing learning and spreading knowledge. These assessments are usually quite candid -- and quite bruising. "No thin skins" is a rule of AARs. Typically, these AARs are printed and circulated widely. Naturally, other Army officers want to learn from some other guy's mistakes instead of making his own. My hope is that this report has simply been removed to the "For Official Use Only" part of the CALL website, accessible by any .mil computer or with an AKO password.

However, there were some great kernels of wisdom in this report with implications for the policy process. There are legitimate concerns about whether our commanders have the MI resources they need to get the job done. Indeed, 4ID commander MG Ray Odierno stated in a press conference yesterday that these were legitimate issues:
Q. Dave Fulghum, Aviation Week. Do you give any validity to this October "lessons learned" study out of Fort Leavenworth that says Army intelligence analysts were too few in number and under trained?

GEN. ODIERNO: First, I have not seen the report, so I can't comment.

I know that I have complete confidence in all my intelligence analysts in the division, and I think they've done a very good job of what we've asked them to do.

I can't really comment on the report, because I haven't read it.

My overall assessment is, what the Army needs to do for the future is we need to focus a little bit more on human intelligence and our ability to conduct human intelligence in a quick manner, just because the nature of the battlefield has changed, and I think we've recognized that, really, for the last couple years. We still need to act on that in the Army. And so we need to work towards developing a better HUMINT structure than are already embedded into our units, because we believe that is what will work best against the threat that's out there, and then combining that with the national intelligence that's available and also the other -- SIGINT and other intelligence assets that we have available to us.

So I'm not quite as hard on them as you suggest that the article might have said. Now I'm not going to talk about national-level intelligence, because what I'm talking to you about is division level and below, which is what I've been involved with.
So even if this report should have been kept in military channels, I think that a sanitized version should be released to the public so that we can discuss issues like appropriate resource levels for military intelligence units. These are contentious issues that come up every year in the DoD budget process -- a process through which we spend $400 billion in taxpayer money. We can't allow the Army to develop a monopoly on information that will cripple the debate on the subject. If we're having problems in this critical area, we (the public) need to know about it.

Update: Noah Shachtman at DefenseTech connects this intel AAR's removal to a larger pattern of such acts in the federal government.

Update II: Fred Kaplan takes this issue on in Slate, and criticizes the Army for taking its information down from the public section of the Internet.

Skill & technology laid the foundation for victory in Iraq
Army study discounts the effects of technology alone, as well as jointness, in victory over the Iraqi forces -- luck played a role too

Prof. Stephen Biddle of the Army War College recently presented a study to the House Armed Services Committee on lessons learned from Iraq that concluded that Iraqi ineptitude was key factor in America's victory. Speed, technology and "jointness" could not explain, by themselves, the rapid American victory over Iraqi forces. As Prof. Biddle found in his 1996 study of Gulf War I, the key determinant of victory was the synergistic interaction of American skill with the lack of skill on the Iraqis' part -- magnified by the presence of a severe technology differential.
So both advanced technology and a major skill differential are necessary to explain OIF's low casualties; to explain the failure of scorched earth requires Iraqi cooperation, whether deliberate (in the form of disobedience or lack of intent) or inadvertent (via organizational incapacity). Given Iraqi idiosyncrasies, a major skill differential, and modern technology, the OIF outcome would probably have obtained even without the speed of the Coalition advance or our precision or situation awareness per se; our technology was advanced enough and diverse enough that any of a wide variety of capabilities could have sufficed to punish Iraqi error very harshly. Inter alia, precision and situation awareness might have been sufficient, but neither were necessary as such; speed was probably neither necessary nor sufficient. A major skill differential, by contrast was necessary - as was some source of the modern lethality and protection needed to exploit Iraq's mistakes. Given this, the causal importance of speed, precision and situation awareness has often been overestimated in the public debate on the war; the causal role of the skill differential between ourselves and our enemies has probably been underestimated. And the variety of ways in which technology can exploit that differential has been underestimated in the postwar focus on precision and situation awareness per se.

This is not to say that speed was a bad idea, or that either precision or situation awareness were unhelpful. Hindsight suggests that the Iraqis would not have torched their oil fields or used WMD with more time, but this was less clear beforehand. A rapid advance made sense given the credible possibility that Saddam might carry out such threats. And both precision and situation awareness were important contributors to the aggregate technological sophistication we needed to exploit the Iraqis' mistakes.

But to say that speed was a sensible choice, or that precision and situation awareness were valuable, is not to find that their role was as important as often claimed. And the difference matters. Views of past wars shape future policies, and views on the relative importance of contributing causes can have serious postwar policy implications.

In particular, underestimating the skill differential's importance could have a variety of dangerous consequences. First, it could lead to an assumption that precision and situation awareness can produce OIF-like results against other opponents with better skills than the Iraqis'. Even with skilled forces of our own, this is a dangerous assumption. In 2003, our technology could operate at near-proving-ground effectiveness against exposed, ill-prepared opponents. Enemies who do a better job of exploiting the natural complexity of the earth's surface for cover and concealment could pose much tougher targets - as we have already seen in the performance of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Our technology's performance is strongly affected by the nature of its targets, and our targets were extremely permissive in OIF. If we overlook this, we could thus exaggerate our technology's potential against better skilled enemies elsewhere.
Analysis: Prof. Biddle's PowerPoint slides do a better job of breaking this down into bite-sized pieces. Basically, he doesn't think that we could have won in Iraq with such a small force if the Iraqis had fought better. Had we fought an enemy as well trained as the "Afghan Arabs" in Al Qaeda, we might have encountered much more difficulty -- particularly in any urban combat operations. (See this study by Prof. Biddle on the war in Afghanistan)

The implications of this study are quite large, as Prof. Biddle points out. On the strategic level, we need to consider how such factors like skill and technology affect the probabilities of success and casualties. At the operational level, we must plan operations that do not hinge so much on our enemy's inability to fight back effectively. And at the tactical level, we must train to fight an enemy better than ourselves -- like the OPFOR at the National Training Center -- to prepare for the day that we face an adversary more capable of opposing us.

Historically, militaries have learned more from their defeats than their victories. Military organizations that win wars historically tend to become complacent, and to adopt false lessons from victorious wars. The danger now is that America's military will think it can easily replicate its success in Iraq, and graft those methods onto future conflicts. We would be wise to not make that mistake.

White House text file disables Internet search engines

Now this is odd... EnBanc reports (by way of the DNC blog) that the White House has put a text file on its home page to preempt external search engines (like Google) from looking inside the White House page for pages in certain folders -- everything from "Disallow: /911/iraq" to "Disallow: /kids/teeball2003/text".

Presumably, this anti-robot device is meant to force people to use the White House's search engine and page links. But in practice, this anti-robot page will act as a smokescreen, because there are lots of people like me who simply Google things like "President Nov. 13 tribunal order" to find the President's 13 Nov 01 military tribunal order (interestingly, it doesn't look like news releases have been delimited in this anti-robot device). I'd like to think that this is just administrative page management by a savvy webmaster in the White House. But I'm not smart enough about HTML to know.

FBI jousts with librarians over Patriot Act

The front page of today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has an interesting article on Sec. 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and the visceral reaction it has provoked from America's librarians. The section allows the FBI to subpoena library records, among other things, and mandates that librarians do not disclose such subpoenas to their patrons. Though never used, the provision has provoked librarians to adopt policies whereby they regularly purge their records in order to safeguard their patrons' privacy. Now, the Journal reports that the FBI has gone on the offensive to try win over librarians' hearts and minds.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Gamely, FBI Special Agent David J. Beyer tried to convince three dozen Kentucky librarians that it is unlikely his agency will ever use the USA Patriot Act to search their stacks and records.

The new antiterrorism law gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation the power to rummage through their computers and patron files, yet "never once in my career" had an investigation led him into a library, Mr. Beyer said. Still, he warned that another terrorist attack is "probable," flashed a slide show of the crumbling World Trade Center to drive home his point and begged the librarians not to destroy any records that might help investigators some day. After all, he asked, "How much protection do you want to give to your patrons, and how much protection do you want to give to your country?"

Martha Jane Proctor, her silver hair combed into stiff spikes, was having none of it. An adviser to the libraries in eight counties in eastern Kentucky's coal-field region, Ms. Proctor pronounced the very notion of a library search "an abomination." And destroy records? "Of course. I tell the [library] directors to do it. That's pretty much my opinion," she declared.

"The only vocal concerns I've ever heard" about the Patriot Act "are from the librarians," Mr. Beyer sighed as he left the Kentucky Library Association's annual convention.

The Patriot Act has generated protests from the left and the right since it passed, almost unanimously, six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But few critics are more stubborn than the librarians, who see it as an assault on such basic civil liberties as reading privacy and intellectual freedom.
Analysis: The record is pretty clear -- the FBI has not used its Sec. 215 authority even once. The reason is that it's far more efficient to use the administrative subpoena powers of the Justice Department to gather information. It's unknown how often the FBI has used these powers to gather information. Presumably, such subpoenas have been used in the DC and New York anthrax cases to find people who have recently studied anthrax and bioterrorism. But that's speculation on my part.

What's the real issue here? It's not Sec. 215 -- that provision hasn't been used at all. The real issue here is trust. Simply put, large blocks of American society (I have no idea whether it's a minority or majority) do not trust the federal government with their civil liberties. This lack of trust enables them to believe the worst about their Justice Department. I happen to think that the Justice Department does mostly good things, and that its career attorneys and agents are some of America's finest public servants. But I often find myself in the minority when I discuss this issue with friends and students. The reality is that many of my colleagues do not trust the Justice Department, or the Bush Administration. And without such trust, these Americans are willing to see nearly anything as an assault on their civil liberties -- almost regardless of factual basis.