Monday, September 27, 2004

Electioneering in a combat zone
Is Florida really the best example to strive for in planning the upcoming Iraqi election?
"My belief is that elections will occur in the vast majority of the country," General Abizaid said. "I can't predict 100 percent that all areas will be available for complete, free, fair and peaceful elections. I assume that there will be certain areas of the country that will have to be fought over in order to have the elections take place."

* * *
"If I recall," he said, "looking back at our own election four years ago, it wasn't perfect either."

-- Gen. John Abizaid, CENTCOM Commander, on Meet The Press
I wrote last week on the need to hold full elections in Iraq that do their absolute best to enfranchise the entire country. I've listened to the arguments of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Gen. Abizaid to try and find a good way to hold partial elections without undermining the long-term stability of Iraq. I've also read about how a coalition of Iraqi political parties may coalesce in the election to provide a "super-majority", thus bolstering its legitimacy. And yet, I remain unconvinced that this is a good idea. It's one thing to strive for full and fair elections, but to miss the mark due to the exigencies of the moment. It's quite another to set the bar so low at the outset, accepting imperfect elections as a matter of policy. I think this move, along with the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the de-Baathification of the Iraqi government agencies, will go down as one of the great strategic blunders of our occupation if we continue down this road.

Harvard President and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has a famous quote: "In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car." The quip is meant to make a point about ownership and stakeholding, and how people generally invest their resources in things they own. The same is true, in a sense, of Iraq. We must get as many Iraqis as possible to invest in the future of their nation, either by service in the security forces, by joining the Iraqi economy, or by participating in the democratic process. As these Iraqis gradually invest themselves in Iraqi civil society, they will take ownership of it, and resist any insurgency that seeks to tear apart their society. Over time, that is the formula for long-term stability in Iraq. Free and fair elections which are secured so that 100% of the country may participate are an important milestone on the way to this civil society.
Admin note
Intel Dump will slow down this week to accomodate my work on a few article projects. And as a more general matter, this site will adjust to a fall schedule to reflect the hours I keep at the firm. Law school was fun, and it allowed me to do a lot of writing, but all good things must eventually come to an end. Instead of frequent posts, I will try to write a few times a week on the subjects I feel deserve the most attention.

Thanks for your readership, and for your support.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Al Qaeda 4.0?
Sunday's Los Angeles Times has an outstanding article on the evolution of Al Qaeda since Sept. 11 — to borrow Peter Bergen's typology, its upgrade from the organization that hit us to Al Qaeda 4.0. (See note one and two from my archives on previous iterations of the global terror network.) By and large, the terror organization has evolved in response to U.S. actions out of a desire to survive and perpetuate its ideology and mission. The result is a network which is far more dispersed, loosely connected, and survivable than the one in Sept. 2001 — and one which will probably be harder for us to dismantle.
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda was a loosely organized network, but core leaders exercised considerable control over its operations. Since the loss of its base in Afghanistan and many of those leaders, the organization has dispersed its operatives and reemerged as a lethal ideological movement.

Osama bin Laden might now serve more as an inspirational figure than a CEO, and the war in Iraq is helping focus militants' anger, according to dozens of interviews in recent weeks on several continents. European and moderate Islamic countries have become targets. And instead of undergoing lengthy training at camps in Afghanistan, recruits have been quickly indoctrinated at home and deployed on attacks.

The United States remains a target, but counter-terrorism officials and experts are alarmed by Al Qaeda's switch from spectacular attacks that require years of planning to smaller, more numerous strikes on softer targets that can be carried out swiftly with little money or outside help.

The impact of these smaller attacks can be enormous. Bombings in Casablanca in May 2003 shook Morocco's budding democracy, leading to mass arrests and claims of abuse. The bombing of four commuter trains in Madrid in March contributed to the ouster of Spain's government and the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq.

Officials say the terrorist movement has benefited from the rapid spread of radical Islam's message among potential recruits worldwide who are motivated by Al Qaeda's anti-Western doctrine, the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the insurgency in Iraq.

The Iraq war, which President Bush says is necessary to build a safer world, has emerged as a new front in the battle against terrorism and a rallying point for a seemingly endless supply of young extremists willing to die wherever they wage jihad, or holy war.

Intelligence and counter-terrorism officials said Iraq also was replacing Afghanistan and the Russian republic of Chechnya as the premier location for on-the-job training for the next phase of violence against the West and Arab regimes.

"In Iraq, a problem has been created that didn't exist there before," said Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere of France, dean of Europe's anti-terrorism investigators. "The events in Iraq have had a profound impact on the entirety of the jihad movement."
Political Analysis: If the Democrats could exploit this, it could have profound implications for the 2004 election. The most fundamental question is this: Has the Bush administration made us more or less secure since Sept 11? A subsidiary question is: Has the war in Iraq made us more likely, as likely, or less likely to be attacked by terrorists? To win in November, the Democrats must turn this election into a referendum on the Bush White House's national security policies — on everything from the war against Al Qaeda to the war in Iraq and the bumbling efforts of the Department of Homeland Security. It must do so with simple messages like this — the rhetorical equivalent of the old refrain about whether you're better off today than you are four year ago. And the Democrats must find a way to communicate points made in articles like this — that in fact, America may be less secure today because of its missteps in the war on terrorism. And when you screw up as badly as this administration has screwed up on so many fronts, you simply don't get to keep your job. That's something that the average American can wrap his or her head around, and I think it's the way the Dems need to package their pitch to win in November.

Why isn't the Kerry team doing this? Who knows. Perhaps it's his penchant for nuance, honed during years of elite schooling and years in the Senate. Perhaps it's the desire to leave wiggle room for policies after the election, should he be elected. Perhaps it's that these issues really are complicated, and it's hard to simplify them into terms that are black and white. Nonetheless, the Kerry team must realize two things. (1) Politics is the art of the possible — if you don't win the election, nothing is possible. (2) The Bush White House is extremely good at simplifying (perhaps oversimplifying) these things for the public into matters of right/wrong and good/evil. Nuance simply won't cut it in response to these positions.

In all honesty, I'm not sure what would've avoided this result. The Bush White House should be commended for its initial push into Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime and excise as much of Al Qaeda as possible. However, we soon dropped the ball there, by outsourcing much of the Tora Bora and Shah-i-Kot fights to the Afghans, and much of the Al Qaeda hunt to the Pakistanis. More importantly, we shifted key intelligence and special operations assets from Afghanistan to Iraq (there are only so many Arabic-speaking SF teams in the Army) to support the largest SF deployment in Iraq since Vietnam. We also shifted the main effort of Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations from Afghanistan to Iraq. I'm not sure that an all-out, 100% push by all these units would have netted Osama Bin Laden, anymore than I'm sure that the U.S. could have prevented 9/11. But at the strategic level, resourcing decisions like these are the way that top leaders get to affect results on the ground. In this election, I think we ought to scrutinize the contemporary wartime record of this President, and make this election a referendum on that record.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Telling the truth can be tough business
The trade journal Government Executive has a great profile of ret. Army Col. Charles Krohn, who recently stepped down as deputy chief of public affairs for the Army in a rather ugly encounter with his political bosses in the Pentagon. I've interviewed Mr. Krohn a couple of times, and I always found him to be a straight shooter — especially when dealing with stories the Army would prefer to not see in the magazine. His priority was always getting the story told accurately, and I respect that a great deal. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), Mr. Krohn's bosses did not appreciate his penchant for truthtelling as much as I did.
Iconic leadership
When I think of wartime political leadership, I sometimes think of the famous picture of Ike and Churchill walking among the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division before their jump into Normandy on D-Day. Ike was Supreme Allied Commander, not President, then, of course. But he was in effect the Allies' military proconsul, and his joint visit with Prime Minister Churchill was exactly the right move at that moment in history. I'm not sure what it meant to those paratroopers to hear their orders from the boss personally, but I think it must've made a difference.

Yesterday, President Bush borrowed a page out of Ike's playbook to visit a planeload of reservists en route to Iraq in Bangor, Maine. Of course, this move was driven as much by election-year politics as a desire to pump up the troops' morale. But regardless, I still think it was a great thing to do.
President Bush, after a campaign appearance in Bangor, held his plane on the tarmac when he heard an MD-11 carrying 292 Army reservists and National Guard members was about to refuel here. For the troops, grimly heading toward an 18-to-24-month assignment in Iraq, it was a welcome lift. For Bush, who has been accusing his Democratic presidential opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry, of demoralizing the troops in Iraq by criticizing the war effort, it was a chance to demonstrate his devotion to the troops.

"May God bless you all," the commander in chief said over the plane's public address system. "May God keep you safe." As he worked his way up and down the plane's aisles, posing for photographs, signing autographs and shaking hands, the happily surprised troops called out to him.

"That's my president, hooah!" shouted Sgt. Wanda Dabbs, 22, a member of the 230th Area Support Group, a Guard unit from Tennessee. Others seconded her cheer.

Bush's impromptu visit with the departing soldiers came with some risk. It could remind the American public that more and more reservists and Guard members are being removed from their workplaces and sent on dangerous assignments in an increasingly bloody Iraq.

But the president's aides saw an opportunity to underscore the point Bush had made at his campaign rally here, in front of an airport hangar and an enormous American flag suspended by two cranes.

* * *
Most of the soldiers, dressed in desert camouflage fatigues, had cameras ready to take snapshots of Bush. The president, who donned a tie and suit jacket after his political rally, offered gentle smiles and words such as "I'm proud of you" and "thank you."

* * *
Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Dailey, a FedEx worker normally, was asked if the boisterous reception meant these were all Bush supporters. "We're commander-in-chief supporters," he clarified, and pointed out: "It ain't every day you land somewhere and the president gets on your plane."
Good... but not good enough. Visits like this, and President Bush's Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad, are exactly what he ought to be doing -- all the time. And from what I read, President Bush actually does a fair amount of this stuff, with regular visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and regular stops at military bases whenever he's campaigning around the country.

However, I don't think showing up to "grip and grin" is good enough. These troops, and their families, deserve to see their political leaders and to hear from them why they are going into harm's way. I doubt that President Bush went that far in his comments, but he should. Our raison d'etre has changed several times in Iraq, but presumably, we still have one. These men and women deserve to hear more than presidential platitudes and election year speeches about good and evil -- they deserve to know exactly why they're putting their lives on the line.
Ready or not... here the Iraqi elections come
President Bush, Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi, and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld announced yesterday in separate comments that they had lowered the bar for success in Iraq — and that partial or "imperfect" elections would be held in January, even if the entire country could not vote. In testimony yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee (thanks to ML for the heads up), Rumsfeld said it was more important to have elections on time than to have elections where everyone could vote:
"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," Rumsfeld said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

"Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet," he said.
According to the Washington Post, Prime Minister Allawi and President Bush said almost the same thing in their comments yesterday. Partial elections were better than no elections, and postponing the elections would be tantamount to handing the insurgents victory.
With the elections now seen as the barometer of Iraq's transition to democracy, the United States and Iraq appear to have decided that an imperfect poll would be better than delaying it because of an insurgency that has claimed control of key cities and provincial capitals in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.

In a speech before a joint meeting of Congress, Allawi conceded that the elections "may not be perfect, may not be the best elections that Iraq will ever hold" and "won't be the end of the journey toward democracy." But he vowed that Iraq would proceed on schedule in defiance of both skeptics and insurgents.

* * *
The timing of the elections has recently become a focal point, with U.N. officials suggesting last week that they should be delayed if the insurgency — flaring violence by a combination of loyalists to former president Saddam Hussein, foreign fighters and Muslim extremists allied with Abu Musab Zarqawi — prevents a fair nationwide vote.
Analysis: Imagine the following hypothetical: California and Florida were swept up by sectarian and gang violence. At the same time, their voting apparati were determined by various agencies to be notoriously unreliable. It became clear that any vote in these two states would be greatly influenced by violence, and that the results would be unreliable at best. Setting aside the Constitution for a moment, the powers that be decided to hold the 2004 election anyway — but to the exclusion of votes from California and Florida. The rest of the country constituted enough of a quorum for these powerful people — who needs those pesky Californian and Floridian votes anyway?

So you're a Californian or a Floridian — how do you feel? I'd feel pissed, personally. I'd also feel incredibly disenfranchised, and I sure as heck wouldn't support the new government or believe in its legitimacy.

That's about what will happen if this plan goes forward in Iraq. As I read it, the Iraqi government (with U.S. support) has plans to hold the election to the exclusion of Fallujah, Ramadi and other insurgent sanctuaries. They may allow those people to exit those areas to vote elsewhere, but it appears that no one thinks polling places in those locations can be secured. In the short term, this may look like an attractive solution. But in the long run, I think it's a formula for disaster. It will only increase the anti-government sentiment among the ordinary populations in those areas — Iraqis who don't like the U.S. presence, but don't work (yet) with the insurgents. It will undermine the legitimacy of the next Iraqi government, which already carries the taint of having been installed by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. And it will play into the hands of sectarian leaders who say that the current Iraqi government wants to disproportionately disenfranchise certain groups in Iraq.

To some extent, the U.S. has plans on the shelf to mitigate this issue and to secure the country during the January '05 election. The Post reports that U.S. CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid sees a need for more troops, but has not settled on a course of action to procure those troops:
"I think we will need more troops than we currently have to secure the elections process in Iraq that will probably take place in the end of January," Abizaid said after a closed-door briefing with legislators about the state of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, he added, "it is our belief that those troops will be Iraqi troops." Also, he said, there may be more international troops.

So, Abizaid concluded, "I don't foresee a need for more American troops, but we can't discount it." There are 135,000 U.S. service members in Iraq.
However, that may not be the whole story. Greg Jaffe and Greg Hitt report in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that the Pentagon has already decided to deploy more U.S. troops, and to run its next troop rotation in such a way as to keep a larger number of U.S. troops on the ground during the elections.
Pentagon plans call for a temporary increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq early next year that would coincide with elections there in January and could be used to bolster the newly elected Iraqi government.

The personnel surge, part of a long-planned force rotation, will occur from January to April as new units rotate into the country and those finishing their tours prepare to return home. An Army official said as many as three additional Army brigades — about 15,000 troops — could be in Iraq around the time of the elections and thereafter. Plans call for the U.S. to return to the current level of 138,000 troops by the end of April.

* * *
The temporary increase in U.S. troops could allow commanders to assign more soldiers to guard polling places, protect convoys and ensure that major highways and other supply routes stay open in the event the insurgents plan a large offensive.
Update I: Dick Armitage, #2 at the State Department, said Friday that partial elections were not an option for Iraq, according to the AP. This opens a schism between the Pentagon and State Department on the issue, although it seems clear that Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi sides with Rumsfeld on this issue based on his comments yesterday. Personally, I think Armitage has it right, because flaws in the election will create long-term problems for any government elected as a result. However, this may be the least worst option in a very bad place.

More to follow...

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The legal story of the century
Forget O.J. Forget Michael Jackson. Regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on, Bush v. Gore has absolutely got to be the biggest legal case in recent history, by just about any yardstick. A number of law clerks from that term of the Supreme Court, apparently disillusioned with what happened in that case, have come forward to tell their story to Vanity Fair. The articles — part one and part two — are available over at SCOTUSblog with the permission of the magazine. They make for very, very interesting reading.
National Guard recruiting to fall short
The AP reports that the National Guard will miss its fiscal year 2004 recruiting target by about 9 per cent, bringing in 51,000 recruits — 5,000 shy of its 56,000 target. In part, new recruits are more reticent to join because of the current risk of being deployed overseas. But the larger problem is in attracting active-duty soldiers to part-time (yeah right!) service after they're discharged, because this has traditionally been a major source of recruits for the Guard and reserves.
Blum said he sees two main reasons why the Guard is attracting fewer soldiers from the active-duty force — a pool of recruits that in some states accounts for half of the total new Guard members in a given year.

One reason is that the active-duty Army is prohibiting soldiers in units that are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or are preparing to deploy there, from leaving the service, even if their enlistment term is up. Thus the number who might consider moving into the Guard has shrunk temporarily.

The other reason, Blum said, is that active-duty soldiers are aware that a growing number of Guard units are being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus they figure there is little to be gained, in terms of reduced personal risk, by switching from active duty to the Guard.

"If you want to get away from active duty and you don't want to take a chance that you're going to deploy that quickly again," Blum said, "then you probably are going to make a clean break for a while and not join the Guard or Reserve, and so we are suffering.
Analysis: For as long as the Iraq mission goes on, this is going to be a real problem. If you're an active-duty soldier and you decide to get out of the Army, the last thing you want to do is be called out of civilian life with some reserve unit to go back to Iraq — the reason you probably left in the first place. Better to stay in and go as an active-duty soldier, because it's much smoother and easier that way and you're more likely to have better equipment, training and resources for the deployment. Over time, if this trend continues, the National Guard will slowly shrink, because it cannot make its recruiting targets (given current spending on enlistment incentives) without a steady flow of recruits from the active-duty force. Moreover, the Guard's quality will suffer, because it depends on an influx of mid-level officers and enlisted personnel with active-duty experience to maintain professionalism within the ranks. An article by Elaine Grossman in Inside the Pentagon (subscription required) makes this point too:
"Current and projected force structure will not sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments," according to a briefing the co-chairs of a Defense Science Board "summer study" presented to Rumsfeld and several of his top lieutenants on Aug. 31. There are "inadequate total numbers" of U.S. troops for the job and a "lack of long-term endurance," states the briefing, reviewed by Inside the Pentagon.

* * *
At the Aug. 31 Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld is said to have immediately embraced the panel's central recommendation, the creation of standing forces to plan and help implement the government's end-to-end crisis response for a half-dozen hot spots around the globe (ITP, Sept. 2, p1). The finding was strongly influenced by the Bush administration's failure to adequately prepare for post-conflict stability and reconstruction in Iraq, despite more than a year of combat planning, review participants told ITP on condition of not being named.
Keep your eye on this one — especially next year if we remain committed to Iraq at our current level. There may be a train wreck ahead.
Terrorism as theater
RAND terrorism expert Brian Jenkins described terrorism as theater nearly three decades ago, and there really hasn't been a better description since then for the gruesome tactics employed by groups like Al Qaeda and Tawhid and Jihad. An interesting article in today's edition of USA Today looks at this issue, and describes the way that terror groups use their victims as props in their deadly productions:
... the tactic isn't aimed just at Americans. "This is good business for the insurgents and the terrorists," says Jessica Stern, a lecturer at Harvard University who studies terrorism. "It's extraordinarily horrifying. And when you think about how repulsed people feel about one death, when it's a beheading, you know the impact is much higher."

The beheadings mark a radical departure from the style of kidnappings in Lebanon in the 1980s, when Islamic militants used Western hostages as bargaining chips for political aims, but kept them alive. Now, captives in the hands of al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, America's top target in Iraq, have become flesh and blood props in a psychological war to rid Iraq of "infidels."

Increasingly, terrorists see no limitations to their violence, Stern says. "Terrorists in the past seemed, ironically, to face a certain kind of moral and political constraint. They wouldn't sink this low," she says. "Their desire (now), I believe, is to make us feel fearful and extremely distressed."

"These beheadings are an example, par excellence, of the principle of the `theater of terror,' " says Gabriel Weimann, an expert on Islam at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace. "There is a set script, players, even props ... an escalation of horror."

Beheading has been used to punish and terrorize for thousands of years, but the ubiquity of the Internet has suddenly made it terrifyingly intimate. What TV networks decline to broadcast because it is too graphic is widely available on Web sites, amplifying the insurgents' deliberately horrifying message.

The debate is only beginning among those who monitor public opinion on whether these killings will enrage people or dampen support for the war.

"To the extent that it does jolt American opinion and tells them that the (Iraq) mission is in decline, then, yes, it would constitute a success (for insurgents)," says Richard Eichenberg, who studies public opinion at Tufts University.

Certainly the brutal killings have caught America's attention. Web browsers are flooding the Internet in search of the video and news about the beheading of Armstrong, the American contractor taken hostage last week with Hensley and a Briton, Kenneth Bigley, who was apparently the only one of the three who remained alive Wednesday night.

* * *
Bob Yosco, a Marine who did two tours of duty in Vietnam, didn't think the video showing the beheading of Armstrong would affect him. He was wrong.

"I was shaken to the core," says Yosco, 54, a chemist from Manhattan. "Wantonly doing that to a human being who is drugged and struggling and screaming — that I have never seen before. I didn't sleep very well that night."
Analysis: It's hard to underestimate the impact of these images. I think of myself as a pretty tough-minded person too, but I was shaken by one of the beheading videos when I watched it. There is something deeply disturbing about watching a human being dismembered and killed in this fashion. Hundreds of U.S. civilians and soldiers have died in Iraq, many in excruciatingly painful ways. Thousands more have been injured by bullets, improvised explosive devices, and other tools of death. But those deaths do not capture the consciousness the way that these do.

It's unclear how these kidnappings and beheadings will affect U.S. policy in Iraq. Clearly, they will deter some (if not many) from signing up to work in Iraq as civilian contractors. I do not think they will deter many from joining the U.S. military, although I think that U.S. soldiers will take every precaution possible and fight to the death in order to avoid capture. But on the grand level, I simply don't see these acts achieving their purpose. We have lost more than a thousand lives in Iraq so far, and though there is a great deal of opposition to the war, few are saying that the cost per se is reason to get out. A few kidnappings and gruesome killings, however they may affect us mentally, will not likely do what 1,000 U.S. military fatalities could not.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Security first; reconstruction second
James Dobbins, the former envoy for the Clinton and Bush administrations on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo and Somalia, has a great op-ed in today's New York Times on the way the U.S. occupation of Iraq should have proceeded. Of course, this is an old subject, and one that Mr. Dobbins has written on before. But it deserves repeating now, because of the festering security problems in Iraq and the current debate over whether to reallocate funds to security from reconstruction projects. According to Mr. Dobbins:
The object of nation-building is to return power to a competent, responsible and representative local government as soon as possible.

In a country like Iraq where the governmental structure has collapsed, the first priority is to establish public security. Second is to begin rebuilding the local structures for governance. Third is to create an environment in which basic commerce can occur - where people can buy and sell goods and services and get paid in a stable currency. Fourth is to promote political reforms, stimulate the growth of civil society, build political parties and a free press, prepare for elections and organize representative government. Fifth, and last, is improving roads, bridges, electricity, water, telephones and the rest.

* * *
The administration's plan to shift aid from large construction projects to security, employment and social reform is welcome, not simply because it deals with the deteriorating security situation, but because it better helps the nation become secure and democratic. A secure and democratic Iraq will have no difficulty persuading others to help it rebuild.
Analysis: This last point deserves a lot of emphasis, even if it's somewhat academic given the current security debate. In the long-term, Iraq will need to attract foreign-direct investment and other forms of economic engagement if it is to sustain its population and blossom as a country. Oil will play some role in ensuring that Europe comes to do business with Iraq, but not as big of a role as you might think. The country must also pursue other kinds of economic development, such as improvements in the manufacturing and services sector. Ironically, the Hussein regime may have postured Iraq well to pursue such policies, because of its Baath government which provided a certain level of social services and infrastructure for the nation despite the billions it pocketed or spent on weaponry. At this point, the critical task must be to secure the country. Relief workers, engineers, diplomats, businessmen and professionals must all feel that they can do business in Iraq without losing their lives. Once we establish such a secure environment, then I believe the other pieces will fall into place, and Iraq may eventually flourish as one of the leading nations in the Middle East. It's an optimistic view, but one I'd like to see us work towards.

Update: Obviously, this op-ed is about a year or two too late to make a difference. The unfortunate fact is that we bollixed up the post-war situation in Iraq, to the point where the post-war choas may eventually coalesce into an actual war again. However, Mr. Dobbins has been saying this for a long time; he wrote a book for RAND on the subject, and advised people in the Bush administration on the subject before the Iraq invasion. So while there's a temptation to file this under "too little, too late", I think that'd be mistaken.
Fighting wars with cultural intelligence
Greg Jaffe has an outstanding article on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) detailing the experiences of Army Capt. Nicholas Ayers, who recently redeployed from a year of duty in the violent Sunni triangle north and west of Baghdad. The piece makes a point that I made more generally in "The Crucible" -- that junior officers and sergeants are improvising and adapting the most effective tactics of the war in Iraq, and that the keys to success are empowering junior leaders and building a learning Army organization that can rapidly incorporate 'lessons learned' from combat into the way it does things for the future. Here's a short excerpt from Mr. Jaffe's article:
RAMADI, Iraq -- In the space of four minutes in May, two Humvees in Capt. Nicholas Ayers's unit were hit by roadside bombs. In the chaos, one vehicle was left alone as soldiers, injured and under fire, took cover in a school and radioed for help.

By the time Capt. Ayers arrived on the scene, Iraqis had looted the Humvee's machine gun and high-tech gun sights. Losing equipment to the enemy is a mistake that can ruin an officer's career. Standard Army practice holds that the area should be searched immediately.

Instead, Capt. Ayers, 29 years old, took a risk. He went to the village sheik's house. As a sign of respect, he said, he wouldn't search the village. But he gave the local leader 48 hours to find and return the equipment. "If we don't get the equipment back, I am going to come back with my men and tear apart every house in this village," he recalls saying. If the gear was returned, he promised to reduce patrols in the area.

The gamble ran counter to Capt. Ayers's training, which states that the longer troops wait to search an area, the less chance they'll find what they are looking for. His bosses told him he had made a huge blunder. Two days later, though, the sheik returned every scrap of looted equipment to the Army. Later, he would pay a heavy price for that move.

"I was floored," Capt. Ayers says. "The incident made me rethink the tactics I was using, my relationship with the local sheiks. It made me rethink just about everything."

Fighting the volatile, growing insurgency in Iraq is putting increased responsibility on younger, lower-ranking officers, who are learning through improvisation and error. For the Army, the heavy reliance on officers such as Capt. Ayers is a significant change. As the war in Iraq has turned into a far different kind of battle than the Army expected, it is triggering major shifts in how the service uses and equips soldiers and remaking its historically rigid and hierarchical command structure.

In May 2002, before the Iraq war, a study commissioned by the Army's top-ranking general concluded "the reality in the Army is that junior officers are seldom given opportunities to be innovative, plan training or to make decisions; fail, learn and try again."

Earlier this summer, the same team, led by retired Lt. Col. Leonard Wong, concluded: "Junior officers have become the experts on the situation in Iraq, not higher headquarters." The fast-moving insurgency is forcing lower-ranking officers, who spend more time in the field, to take a more prominent role.

Sharing Knowledge

Captains are sharing lessons via e-mail and on Web sites such as www Subjects range from dealing with sheiks to teaching a heavy-armor unit, accustomed to fighting inside 70-ton tanks, how to patrol on foot with rifles. Lt. Gen. William Wallace has told superiors that officers returning from Iraq who attend the Army's elite Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., know more about counterinsurgency than their instructors. The change has forced instructors there to shift from traditional lectures to discussion-oriented classes.

"This is entirely a bottom-up war. It is the platoon leaders and company commanders that are fighting it," says Maj. John Nagl, third-in-command of an 850-man battalion based nine miles from Fallujah.
Analysis: The most remarkable thing to me about this is the extent to which Capt. Ayers and his peers developed this situational awareness and understanding on the ground in Iraq -- without formal training or teaching in the states before their deployment. If you've seen Clint Eastwood's classic movie "Heartbreak Ridge", dramatizing the exploits of a USMC Force Recon platoon in Grenada, you'll know the phrase "improvise, adapt and overcome." It's not just a slogan for these guys -- it's a way of life. But Capt. Ayers isn't satisfied with just doing his job -- he also wants to have a lasting impact on the way future U.S. military units do counterinsurgency:
Capt. Ayers, who was recently selected by the Army to teach at West Point, has begun to think about how a young soldier could prepare for what he's been through. Before deploying to Iraq, he and his soldiers fought a giant mock tank battle at the National Training Center. It wasn't helpful.

Instead, he says, "I guess I'd drop soldiers in a foreign high school and give them two days to figure out all the cliques. Who are the cool kids? Who are the geeks?" he says. That would be pretty close to what he has been doing in Iraq, he says, with one big exception: There would also have to be people in the high school trying to kill the soldiers.
It's not clear yet that the Army has fully embraced the sort of institutional change it needs to in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The National Training Center and Joint Readiness Training Center have substantially expanded their curricula for training soldiers on operations other than major combat -- such as by hiring hundreds of additional contractors to act as civilians on the battlefield. All but war may be a simulation, but realistic training still pays big dividends in combat. Still, Capt. Ayers hits on a very important point that ought not be minimized: the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps need do a better job of building cultural intelligence among their officers and sergeants. In major combat ops, it doesn't matter what language the enemy speaks, because your goal is to pound him with artillery and airpower (and direct fire if necessary) in order to seize terrain or defeat the enemy. But I think it's unlikely we're going to fight many more conventional wars. And even if we do, we're still going to have to secure the peace with Iraq-like operations. Some time ago, West Point proposed a program where its cadets would live abroad for a semester, soaking up foreign language and culture while pursuing their professional military development. It's a good start, but more still needs to be done. I don't know if that means rotating soldiers through foreign countries on some sort of military exchange program, or running more exercises like Parntership for Peace in the former Soviet republics. There are lots of good options out there, and though they will cost some money, I think they will serve as valuable investments in the cultural capital and intelligence of our force.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Labor department proposes new regs for reservists' employment
Feds log 3,850 complaints from returning reservists about employment issues

The AP reports that the Labor Department has plans to update the regulations enforcing the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and that the new regs would help reservists return to work more quickly after their mobilization ends. Not much is said about the proposed regs in the story, and I can't find them on the DOL website (although I haven't checked the Fed. Reg. yet). However, the story does report some disturbing news about the scope of the problem:
The Labor Department said it has received 3,850 formal complaints from returning soldiers from Oct. 1, 2001, through Sept. 14 of this year. Before troops were mobilized to Afghanistan and Iraq, the department averaged about 900 formal complaints a year.

Soldiers' complaints were upheld or settled by the department in about a third of cases, while another third were found to have no merit. The remaining cases are inactive or closed, often because the government lost contact with the soldier or the soldier returned to active duty.

Of 424,765 military personnel mobilized after Sept. 11, 2001, about 262,152 have returned home, the department said. But Guard and reserve troops are serving extended tours of duty, and thousands of former soldiers are starting to be recalled.
Analysis: So, you've got about a 1.47 % chance of being screwed by your employer in some way that would lead you to complain to the Labor Department if you're mobilized. That sucks. It's not a large number, but it's larger (statistically speaking) than your chance of being killed in action. There are a lot of hard cases in this pool, and I don't want to suggest the employer is at fault in every case. And it's got to be hard for an employer to lose an employee on a moment's notice, as is often the case with reserve mobilizations. Still, these employers should still do the right thing, and I'm less than sympathetic to those who don't.

In a more general sense, I ascribe some blame to the Pentagon and the White House. There is a program run by DoD called "ESGR", for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. But I do not think it's a very effective program; it's basically window dressing for the problem. I think that more needs to be done. One thing might be some sort of tax break for employers with mobilized reservists, in order to provide an economic incentive for employers to take care of their mobilized employees.

Second, I think the White House needs to exercise some real leadership when it comes to the fact that we're at war. President Bush wants to fight this war on the cheap -- while giving tax cuts, announcing new social programs, and calling up only enough reservists to triage the problem in Iraq, not enough to do the job. That's not going to cut it. To win this war, our society will have to make some real sacrifices. Real leadership in the White House would mean preparing the public for those sacrifices, helping them to understand their necessity, and building support for them. We don't have that. I think there's an indirect connection between that failure of leadership and these reservist-employee issues. Simply put, these employers don't feel like they're part of the war effort. They don't want to sacrifice part of their bottom line for the team. Better leadership from the White House might get more employers on board -- it's worth a shot.
New torture allegations surface from Afghanistan
The Los Angeles Times leads with a lengthy and disturbing report from Afghanistan, where U.S. Army Special Forces units are alleged to have tortured an 18-year-old Afghan soldier to death. The case languished for some time, until the Crimes of War project got involved and pushed the Army's criminal investigators to move forward. The stories of abuse sound as bad as anything in Iraq, if not worse because these are so much more clearly linked to the types of interrogation techniques sanctioned by the Pentagon.
The dead soldier, identified as Jamal Naseer, a member of the Afghan Army III Corps, was severely beaten over a span of at least two weeks, according to a report prepared for the Afghan attorney general. A witness described his battered corpse as being "green and black" with bruises.

Alleged American mistreatment of the detainees included repeated beatings, immersion in cold water, electric shocks, being hung upside down and toenails being torn off, according to Afghan investigators and an internal memorandum prepared by a United Nations delegation that interviewed the surviving soldiers.

Some of the Afghan soldiers were beaten to the point that they could not walk or sit, Afghan doctors and other witnesses said.

* * *
The case of the "Gardez 7," as CID officials dubbed it, was filed away as unfounded because investigators had no records, victims' names or witnesses, said Christopher E. Coffey, an Army detective based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Access to the Afghan military report on the death of Naseer was obtained during an independent investigation of prisoner abuse allegations by the Crimes of War Project.

The group was established in 1999 to provide information that could "lead to greater pressure to prevent [war crimes] and to punish those who commit them." It is described on its website as "a collaboration of journalists, lawyers and scholars dedicated to raising public awareness of the laws of war."

Coffey said that with the new information, the CID would pursue charges of murder and of abuse of a person in U.S. custody.

"We're trying to figure out who was running the base," Coffey said. "We don't know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures] ... and each unit acts differently."

Remote bases such as Gardez are usually operated by Special Forces and intelligence agencies and report to special operations commanders. Even representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross are not allowed to visit such bases.

"Gardez is the worst facility — it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan," said Coffey, whose CID group has been assigned to Afghanistan since April 2003.
Analysis: The LA Times story is quite lengthy, because it combines a lot of reporting from the Crimes of War project with the front-page news story. But read it anyway. I have been told that Abu Ghraib is the tip of the iceberg, and to expect additional detainee abuse reports in the coming weeks and months. None of these will look as deviant as the Abu Ghraib abuses, and most will not have pictures. But in many ways, the abuses are worse, because they were orchestrated as a concerted effort to gather intelligence from detainees, and because they were all but officially sanctioned by the U.S. chain of command. I'm not sure when the Pentagon will release these reports; they need to be vetted and cleared by a number of staffs first. But we have not seen the last of this issue, unfortunately. The incident reported in today's LA Times is illustrative of what's to come.