Thursday, October 7, 2004

Inching towards justice
The Justice Department filed its first brief "on the merits" in the matter of the Guantanamo detainees seeking a writ of habeas corpus from the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. Lyle Denniston scoops me with this excellent report on the brief over at SCOTUSblog. There's not a lot I can add to the analysis, for now, because I'm jamming on a couple of other projects. But I will say that I'm not surprised to see the government fighting so hard in the courts to retain its powers with respect to the continued detention of prisoners.

To some extent, I think the government should have the power to detain prisoners of war. I do believe that the taking of battlefield prisoners comes part and parcel with the power to wage war — if you can kill the enemy, it stands to reason that you can give him quarter by taking him prisoner. If that's all the Gitmo operation was — a well-secured EPW facility — I'd probably be agitating in favor of the Bush administration. But it's not; Gitmo has become the symbol of so many wrong things in our war on terrorism. To many in the U.S. and abroad, it has become a black hole for the same liberal democratic principles the White House says we're fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it's not clear that we've achieved much for our efforts there. According to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Martin Lucenti, as quoted in the Financial Times and re-reported in the Washington Post:
"Of the 550 [detainees] that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries," Lucenti was quoted as saying in the British newspaper. "Most of these guys weren't fighting. They were running. Even if somebody has been found to be an enemy combatant, many of them will be released because they will be of low intelligence value and low threat status."
We have sacrificed quite a bit of our national prestige at Gitmo, only to learn now that we did it for guys that weren't even "the worst of the worst", to use the SecDef's expression. I'm not so sure our operations at Gitmo were worth the price.

Update I: Brig. Gen. Lucenti said yesterday that he was misquoted and quoted out of context by the FT reporter, according to the Post. The FT reporter denies that. I'm inclined to believe the FT reporter, because there have been other reports along these lines in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, to the effect that the Gitmo detainees had less than ultra-valuable intelligence, and represented something far short of Al Qaeda's elite ranks.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Homeland security, British style
No, I'm not talking about Austin Powers. I'm talking about MI-5, the directorate for domestic intelligence work in Britain that's the subject of this article in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required), that makes an interesting case for copying some of MI-5's institutions and tactics here in the states for application to our homeland security endeavour... err... endeavor. According to Scot Paltrow of the Journal:
... Formally called the Security Service, the secretive agency is responsible for gathering domestic intelligence -- that is, spying at home to protect the country from terrorist violence, foreign spies and other threats to national security.

In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and scathing reviews of U.S. intelligence-gathering, some security experts have held out MI5 as a model for the U.S. Not bound by strict rules of evidence required for law-enforcement agencies to make cases that would stand up in court, MI5 can focus on infiltration and intelligence gathering. It can thus concentrate on preventing potential mayhem rather than gathering evidence after the fact.

Honing its skills in its long battle with the Irish Republican Army, MI5 has proved strong in areas where U.S. intelligence has struggled: developing human sources able to infiltrate terrorist organizations, winning cooperation from moderate elements in Muslim communities and sharing information more effectively with other agencies.

A close look at MI5 pieced together from court records, accounts of former MI5 operatives, security experts and press accounts shows how attractive the MI5 model can be. Since a 1994 bombing of the Israeli embassy in London, no Islamic terrorist plot in the United Kingdom has been successful, and MI5 has detected and stopped several. But it also shows that MI5's reputation for effectiveness comes at a price -- a loss of civil liberties and surrender of authority to the government -- that may be steeper than Americans want to pay.

MI5 has used tactics that many in the U.S. likely would consider gross invasions of privacy -- including wiretaps and other forms of surveillance of people even if there is no specific evidence that a crime has occurred. And, in the name of fighting terrorism, MI5 has committed transgressions over the years that one judge found included collusion in murder.

The U.S. doesn't have an MI5 to do domestic spying. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is limited to collecting foreign intelligence, leaving responsibility for domestic intelligence with the crime fighters at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But now the U.S. is taking steps to beef up domestic intelligence.
Analysis: I'm working on a related article right now, so I won't share all my thoughts on the subject at this moment. But I think it's useful to at least consider the import of some of these tactics to the U.S. -- if only to discard the ideas because of our Constitutional tradition. We're engaged in a tough fight, and we should be open to good ideas like the ones developed by our British allies. Our Constitution -- a living, breathing document -- may evolve with the times to allow some of these measures to be used in the states. Or, perhaps, the Supreme Court will strike them down. But we risk a lot if we say "no" immediately to anything that smacks of an invasion of privacy, without considering the greater good that such a tactic may bring and weighing the legal calculus of that tactic. I cherish our nation's principles, such as our civil rights and civil liberties. But I cherish our nation's existence even more. And the key, as Michael Ignatieff writes persuasively in his book The Lesser Evil, is to find a policy course of action that preserves our nation at the cost of as few of our liberties as possible. That's easier said than done. But if we choose that as our guiding light, and we develop systems and institutions to keep us on the right track, then I think we'll do alright in the long run.
Reason to worry?
The Los Angeles Times and others reported yesterday afternoon and in today's papers on the announcements by U.S. officials and the Chiron corporation that there would be a massive shortage of flu vaccine this year -- as much as 1/2 the supply would not be available due to manufacturing and product safety concerns. The move has Health & Human Services and CDC officials scrambling, both to acquire more vaccine and to devise a plan to ration the vaccine available from other vendors. It's unclear yet whether the 2004 flu season will be a big one, like years past. But the conventional medical wisdom still is to get your shot if you fall within certain risk categories.

What are the security implications of this??? What should we be doing to ensure vaccine safety and security against external threats? What monitoring systems should we have in place to detect a flu epidemic -- which by most estimates would kill many times more Americans than died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. What deterrence and prevention measures are being taken? And what is the contingency plan to deal with a flu outbreak should it occur? These are all important questions, and some of the answers may have to remain quiet in order to be effective. Nonetheless, I really hope someone in the federal government is thinking along these lines right now. Our world is just too dangerous not to.
Pentagon announces agreement to withdraw 1/3 of U.S. troops from Korea
The Defense Department announced this morning in a carefully crafted press release that it had reached an agreement with the government of South Korea to permanently pull 12,500 U.S. troops off the Korean peninsula between now and 2008. Currently, approximately 37,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Korea, although the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, comprising roughly 5,000 soldiers, has been deployed from Korea to Iraq.

The timetable for this move will start with the permanent restationing of that BCT this year — they will not go back to Korea after their Iraq tour. In subsequent years, the U.S. will pull additional chunks of forces out. In addition to the redeployment of U.S. forces to the states, the agreement includes provisions to restation U.S. forces within South Korea — bringing the vaunted 2nd Infantry Division down from its bases just south of the DMZ to a consolidated base well south of Seoul where it can live and train outside of North Korean artillery range. Additionally:
This agreement also includes the transfer of certain missions from U.S. forces to Korean forces, such as South Korean forces taking over security at the joint security area in the demilitarized zone, and the transfer of responsibility for rear area chemical decontamination to a special South Korean unit.

During the second phase, 2005-2006, the United States will redeploy a total of 5,000 troops (3,000 in 2005, 2,000 in 2006), comprising combat units, combat support and combat service support units, units associated with mission transfer areas, and other support personnel.

In the third and final phase, 2007-2008, the United States will redeploy 2,500 troops consisting primarily of support units and personnel.

As part of the agreement, the United States will maintain a multiple launch rocket system battalion and associated counter-fire assets on the peninsula, and initiate a review of U.S. Forces Korea pre-positioned equipment and make adjustments as appropriate.

The United States will continue the $11 billion investment in enhancing U.S. capabilities on the peninsula and in the region to strengthen its mutual deterrent with South Korea. Additionally, the transformation of U.S. Army units in Korea will continue and will lead to a significant overall increase in combat capability.
Analysis: If I'm reading this right, the U.S. is planning to pull the entire 2nd Infantry Division out of South Korea, and to replace it with a rotation of combat units from the states, much like U.S. units now rotate through Bosnia and Kosovo for 6-month tours. That has a number of advantages, from a unit-cohesion and effectiveness standpoint — the individual replacement system in Korea, and the one-year hardship tour there, are anything but efficient and good for unit cohesion. It's probably also good for the Army, which can use this move to continue its transition from a "forward-deployed" mindset to an "expeditionary" mindset.

However, this still represents a major departure in U.S. strategic policy on the Korean peninsula. For 51 years, U.S. troops have stood as a human tripwire between the DMZ and Seoul — a blood wager by this country for peace. By removing the 2nd ID from Korea, and by transitioning the Joint Security Area responsibilities to the South Koreans, we remove this presence in this critical part of South Korea. I have no doubt, given my year there, that the Republic of Korea (ROK) military can defend its own country. But the very presence of U.S. combat troops there, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our ROK allies in harm's way, had an impact that should be recognized. And I'm not sure yet how this policy shift will affect that strategic and political calculus.

Moreover, it's not clear that this plan is the best idea if we think North Korea is likely to collapse anytime soon. In that event, there will be a massive humanitarian effort of a kind not seen since the end of World War II, and it would be good for the U.S. to have more troops on the ground to participate in that action. Of course, we can let Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and South Korean troops take the lead there — but doing so would cede a great deal of leadership and strategic influence to those other countries, and that may not be the best idea either. (Don't get me wrong — we should work with them, but I don't know that we want to let China take over.)

We'll see how the details of this plan get carried out, and how the Pentagon plans to mitigate its troop withdrawals with other measures such as "transformation" of U.S. military capabilities. My sense is that you can't simply replace ground troops with JDAMs and call it even based on the amount of steel you can put on target — ground troops add a measure of flexibility and capability that you just don't get with technological enhancements or airpower.

More to follow...

Update I: The Washington Post agrees with this assessment, and reports that the South Korean government has serious reservations about the wisdom of this plan at this juncture.
The pullout -- unveiled earlier this year as part of the Pentagon's plan to make U.S. troops stationed abroad more mobile for deployment to global hot spots -- marks one of the most significant reductions in U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula in decades. However, South Korean officials, whose military was scheduled to pick up the slack, complained that the massive withdrawal was being planned too quickly and that they needed more time to take over the missions now run by U.S. forces. They also said a rapid withdrawal could generate a "security gap" with North Korea.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Bremer: "We never had enough troops on the ground"
Tuesday's Washington Post carries what may be the ultimate October surprise of the 2004 election — the statement by former-U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer that he lacked the troops and resources he needed to foster a secure and stabile environment in Iraq immediately after the fall of the Hussein regime. Of course, this will come as no surprise to people who have articles like this one and this one. But the statement, coming now at the height of the presidential election and from such a high-ranking source, is bound to start a firestom. According to Robin Wright and Tom Ricks of The Post:
The former U.S. official who governed Iraq after the invasion said yesterday that the United States made two major mistakes: not deploying enough troops in Iraq and then not containing the violence and looting immediately after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, administrator for the U.S.-led occupation government until the handover of political power on June 28, said he still supports the decision to intervene in Iraq but said a lack of adequate forces hampered the occupation and efforts to end the looting early on.

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," he said yesterday in a speech at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. "We never had enough troops on the ground."

Bremer's comments were striking because they echoed contentions of many administration critics, including Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, who argue that the U.S. government failed to plan adequately to maintain security in Iraq after the invasion. Bremer has generally defended the U.S. approach in Iraq but in recent weeks has begun to criticize the administration for tactical and policy shortfalls.

In a Sept. 17 speech at DePauw University, Bremer said he frequently raised the issue within the administration and "should have been even more insistent" when his advice was spurned because the situation in Iraq might be different today. "The single most important change — the one thing that would have improved the situation — would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the occupation, Bremer said, according to the Banner-Graphic in Greencastle, Ind.
Who are you going to believe — me or your lyin' eyes? In an effort to control the damage after these statements became public, Mr. Bremer backpedaled with this statement:
"I believe that we currently have sufficient troop levels in Iraq," he said in an e-mailed statement. He said all references in recent speeches to troop levels related to the situation when he arrived in Baghdad in May 2003 — "and when I believed we needed either more coalition troops or Iraqi security forces to address the looting."
Sorry Mr. Bremer — you had it right the first time. And don't worry about the backlash — you're in good company. I'm just glad you had the intellectual honesty to say what so many smart folks have been saying for nearly a year and a half: that we did a spectacular job of winning major combat operations, but failed to put the troops on the ground to secure the peace. This failure, driven in large part by bad judgment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (see, e.g., the decision to rewrite the Army's TPFDD and deployment orders before the war), continues to impede the ability of U.S. forces to establish a secure environment in Iraq.

Unfortunately, this is anything but a new lesson. As Amb. James Dobbins writes in his RAND study "America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq", we have learned this lesson over and over again during the small and large wars of the 20th Century — in Nazi Germany, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Winning the war is one thing; winning the peace is quite another. It quite often requires more troops and resources to effectively secure the peace than to win the war. Technology can only do so much to help win the peace. As ret. Col. T.R. Fehrenbach wrote in his seminal book on the Korean War:
"You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life. But if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud."
It's not altogether clear how many U.S. troops we would've had to commit to Iraq in order to secure that nation. Even if we had marched in the 4th Infantry Division from the north via Turkey to steamroll the Sunni Triangle, and put 500,000+ troops on the ground, I think we would likely still face an insurgency from the former regime loyalists and jihadists bent we face today. But I believe that we would've reached the tipping point far earlier in our fight against the insurgency, by providing sufficient security to enable reconstruction projects to go forward, thus improving the lives of enough Iraqis so as to remove much popular support from the insurgency. We'll never be able to prove this assertion, unfortunately, because you only get one shot to make history. But given my experience, my research and my writing in this area, I remain convinced that things would be a heck of a lot better if we'd listened to the advice of men like Gen. Shinseki and Amb. Dobbins before the war.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Want a meaningful deployment capability for the U.S. military?
Maybe it's time to consider buying more aircraft then — ugly, lumbering workhorses like the C-5 and C-17, not sexy, sleek aircraft like the F-22 and JSF.

This article in the Air Force Magazine, the semi-official journal of the Air Force establishment run by the Air Force Association, makes the point that U.S. military airlift capacity is stretched to its absolute limit right now by combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This leaves very little capability with which to airlift anything else — for humanitarian ops in the Sudan, or contingency operations in East Asia, for example. It also hinders our ability to rapidly reinforce and resupply forces we have on the ground now in Afghanistan and Iraq, as we might have to do this winter for elections in both countries. Here's a brief excerpt from the piece:
The airlift operation that has sup-ported US forces in Southwest Asia over the past three years now ranks among the most extensive in history. Taken together, the efforts in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom can be put in the same general class as US airlifts to Berlin (1948-49), Israel (1973), and the Persian Gulf (1990-91). And Air Mobility Command leaders expect no letup for at least another 18 months.

At the same time, the Air Force faces an acute airlift shortfall. The capability of the fleet used in the 2003 Iraq War was well short of requirement; the gap was at least 10 million ton miles per day. Today, AMC leaders say, the gap is wider—at least 15 MTM/D, perhaps 22 MTM/D.

A series of analyses and inspections now being performed will help set the nation's true airlift requirement and possibly pave the way for what may have to be a large new investment in transports.

"Our folks, across the mobility fleet and AMC, have been at an incredibly high, record-setting pace," said Gen. John W. Handy, the commander of both AMC and US Transportation Command. "We've never seen the sorties that we're generating right now."

* * *
... Air Force mobility forces, even as they carry out the resupply of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, continue to support other theater combatant commanders who have their own exercises, redeployments, and contingencies to cope with.

It all adds up to an airlift fleet that is too small to carry the load and personnel who cannot maintain a breakneck pace forever.

* * *
It was in 2000 that the Pentagon carried out its latest major assessment of US airlift capability. Mobility Requirements Study 2005 attempted to look five years out and determine what level of lift the nation would require at that time.

It concluded that the fulfillment of US military needs required a fleet that could generate 54.5 million ton miles per day of airlift. (A ton mile is a basic unit of measurement that equals movement of one cargo ton a distance of one mile.) At the time, the Air Force had only about 44 MTM/D of capability, or about 18 percent short of the need.

The situation has only gotten worse. ...
Is Samarra the 'Tipping point'?
Will the joint U.S.-Iraqi effort in Samarra give Iraqi forces a necessary shot in the arm? Will this small victory confer momentum on the effort to reconstitute Iraqi security forces?

Last week, I was quite pessimistic about Iraq. Notwithstanding the op-ed in last Sunday's Washington Post by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus touting the progress of Iraqification, I was pretty sure we were going to pull out without leaving an effective security force in our wake — in other words, that we were headed towards failure. The indicators appeared paint a picture of a nation slipping back towards war, and a resumption of major combat operations.

Now, I'm not so sure. According to this New York Times report on the battle of Samarra, the U.S. and Iraqis won a clear victory there. Now, it can be argued that the insurgents simply melted away to fight another day. But one can't sustain an insurgency indefinitely that way, and they gave up one of their key sanctuaries which enables them to conduct guerilla operations against the U.S. According to the Times, Samarra now appears firmly in the hands of the U.S., or at least, as secure as the rest of the country.
With the city in hand, American commanders said they were beginning the second phase of the operation, turning over the city to the Iraqi police and military forces the same way they took it - one neighborhood at a time.

American and Iraqi officials said the most difficult challenge was ahead, in re-establishing governmental authority and holding off what is certain to be a new round of attacks from guerrillas who melted away before the surging armies.

The Americans said they had killed at least 125 insurgents, but if the past is any guide, more are likely to be lying in wait. American commanders have long said that they could retake the cities of the so-called Sunni Triangle with ease but that the difficulty lies in transferring the cities to Iraqi security forces that have less training. Until the Samarra attack, Iraqi troops had not done well in combat against insurgents.

For that reason, more than 2,000 of the soldiers in the 5,000-member force that attacked Samarra are Iraqi, and many of them will be staying on after the Americans leave. The local government will come in behind them.

But on Sunday, with the city mostly quiet, the American and Iraqi forces celebrated an early success.

"I guess it's about over," said Lt. Col. David Hubner, commander of one of the four American battalions that joined two Iraqi battalions in the battle.
Analysis: While I share Lt. Col. Hubner's enthusiasm, I wouldn't necessarily have steaks and beer on the objective just yet. There remains a lot of work to be done in Iraq. And while certain people — particularly in the Pentagon and the pro-war parts of Washington — will seize on this victory as a sign of future success, I would exercise a bit more caution. Fallujah and Ramadi will be tougher nuts to crack, and it's unclear whether this approach will work there as well.

However, there may be a more important trend to discern from this victory — something which transcends the tactical or operational importance of any individual city. This is the first time the Iraqi forces have participated in a major engagement and done reasonably well. They didn't run away from the sound of the guns, as they did earlier as they were loading up to go to Fallujah. They didn't break under fire. And while I have been told they fought for fairly limited objectives in fairly limited circumstances, they still did well. Granted, we're only talking about two battalions here — roughly 1,000 - 2,000 soldiers. But this little victory could be what turns the tide for Iraqification, because it will show the capabilities of the Iraqis when they're well-trained, well-led, and employed correctly.

Little victories like this can have a major psychological impact on the force. I'm not sure I would compare this to the Battle of Midway, for the strategic import of the Samarra battle pales in comparison. But it may work in much the same way, by conferring some much-needed momentum on the effort to train Iraqi security forces. According to this report, that effort is still languishing. (Thanks to ML for the link.) But this engagement shows that such forces can do the job, and that's a small step in the right direction.

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Major combat operations resume
The Washington Post reports this morning on the progress of a major U.S. offensive to take Samarra. A brigade combat team from the U.S. military, backed up by roughly 2,000 members of the nascent Iraqi security forces, fought their way into the city. The insurgents are reported to have suffered heavy casualties during the assault. Other reporting from the field indicates the use of a combined-arms offensive — employing ground maneuver forces, artillery and aircraft — to effectuate the assault on Samarra.
The offensive in the city about 65 miles north of Baghdad largely overwhelmed the rebel force during a night and day of occasionally intense fighting. One U.S. soldier was killed, according to military officials, who estimated insurgent fatalities at more than 100. Hospital officials said they had received the bodies of dozens of Iraqis, including women and children, the Reuters news agency reported.

The assault, which began at dusk Thursday, was intended to bring a decisive conclusion to a long-running dispute over who actually runs Samarra, which has a population of 250,000. The police department and city council were co-opted months ago by an insurgency dominated by former members of ousted president Saddam Hussein's government, officials said.

With U.S. armor leading the way for Iraqi forces that secured a sensitive religious shrine and a renowned spiral minaret, the operation was described by Iraqi officials as a model for planned joint operations aimed at putting the interim government in control of several central Iraq cities before national elections promised for January.

"We will spare no effort to clean all Iraqi cities of these criminal gangs," said Qasim Dawood, the government's state minister and national security adviser. "Through these operations, we will open the way not only to reconstruction but also to prepare the general elections to be held as scheduled."

Iraqi and U.S. officials also have vowed to wrest control from insurgents in the Sunni Triangle cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as in Sadr City, the large Shiite Muslim slum on Baghdad's east side. Iraq's deputy prime minister promised this week that, after weeks of largely futile efforts to negotiate political settlements, the trouble spots would be the target of military operations during October.

Senior U.S. commanders had privately predicted such operations would come in November or December because of chronic delays in training and equipping new Iraqi troops, who would follow U.S. forces into each city and assert civil order.
Analysis: The attack on Samarra is one more indicator that major combat operations — of the kind supposedly ceased on 1 May 03 — have resumed. This is no small counter-insurgency operation, nor is it a delicate cordon-and-search operation aimed at finding certain persons or weapons caches. This is a deliberate attack being fought by a brigade-sized element supported by brigade, divisional and joint fires, in conjunction with a coordinated civil-military effort by the Iraqis and U.S. forces. It is, in essence, a major combat operation, according both to U.S. doctrine and common sense.

There are other data points too, which I noted a couple of weeks ago during a rise in the intensity of daily attacks on U.S. forces, and the declaration that certain areas had become a sanctuary for the Iraqi insurgency. Here are some other indicators pointing to the resumption of major combat ops:

- A WSJ story by Greg Jaffe in mid-September pointed to a new level of cooperation and coordination in the Iraqi insurgency attacks. "The insurgents are no longer operating in isolated pockets of their own. They are well-connected and cooperating," according to one Iraqi official. We don't face an opposing army in Iraq. But if you imagine a spectrum with ragtag rebels on one end and an army on the other, the enemy in Iraq is steadily creeping closer and closer towards becoming an organized, professionalized, well-resourced, lethal and effective fighting force.

- The insurgency now controls major swaths of territory — not just hearts and minds, not just city blocks, and not just litttle hideouts. According to the Journal: "The area referred to by U.S. officials as "insurgent enclaves" has grown from a patchwork of cities to include much of al Anbar province, which fans out to the northwest of Baghdad." This is another sign that we're not just dealing with an insurgency anymore — this an enemy bent on owning territory. That implies a much larger ambition than we previously ascribed to our enemy in Iraq. And more importantly, it probably means they're going to stand and fight their ground, instead of "praying and spraying" rounds at US troops.

- Tom Ricks' Sept. 9 report in The Post corroborated the argument with some important indicators that the Iraqi insurgency is becoming more lethal and more sophisticated. The casualty rates (both KIA and WIA) appear to be accelerating. And, the Iraqi insurgency has been steadily increasing the lethality and effectiveness of its tactics since last year. Whereas IEDs used to be haphazardly constructed and hidden in animal carcasses, they are now much more sophisticated and deadly — often constructed from daisy-chained artillery shells with enough explosives to take out an armored vehicle, carefully concealed, and detonated with alarming precision. The Iraqis also appear to have developed a sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability, depending in large part on sympathetic Iraqi citizens and networks of insurgents who observe U.S. actions and then pass intelligence back to the insurgents.

- The New York Times' exclusive report from early September on the National Intelligence Estimate done by the CIA paints a very grim picture of what's going on. My sense is that they're looking at certain indicators — especially the size of the insurgency and presence of multiple warring factions — in order to make a short/long-term prediction of instability for the foreseeable future. "The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms." This estimate describes a nation which is still at a war with itself — and not likely to settle down anytime soon.

- The Post and other media reported on outgoing Marine leader Lt. Gen. James Conway's comments that the Fallujah attack was ill-considered, and once decided on after the gruesome contractor lynching, ill-pursued by political leaders/generals who didn't have the stomach for casualties. This is really the heart of the problem, I think. Our enemy has ratched up the fighting to such a high level of intensity that we not have the political will anymore to fight them as they need to be fought. To beat this insurgency in the near term, we will probably have to respond with the violence that only major combat operations can entail. But that will require an enormous amount of political will — both to inflict casualties and to take them. I just don't think the White House wants to do that, especially with the election looming.

However, I'm not sure that an enormous act of force (such as this op in Samarra) will necessarily pacify the country. The insurgency has developed into a fairly decentralized, dispersed, and amorphous enemy. We may succeed in crushing it in Samarra, and possibly in Fallujah and Ramadi as well. But I don't know that this will end the insurgency. The best long-term answer for the U.S. will probably be to set up the Iraqi forces to take on the insurgency, because they will have the greatest chance of political success against their fellow countrymen. When we open up a can of whoop-a** on Samarra, it breeds resentment. When the Iraqis themselves take ownership of this problem, and crack down on these insurgents, it will not breed the same kind of resentment. We must hasten the day when that kind of engagement will happen, by doing more to build up the Iraqi security forces.

So why does it matter that we're back at war? Well, if you're the type who likes to keep score, it matters. If you're going to judge this president on his wartime record, it matters. This administration, though a series of major miscalculations, has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Our best hope in Iraq is to leave some sort of lasting democratic government there and to set up the Iraqis as best we can to manage their own security mess. But hope is not a method, and this will be a gamble. Nonetheless, I do not see any way for the U.S. to impose order on Iraq, short of committing 2-4 times as many troops as we have there now and imposing absolute U.S.-controlled martial law on the country. And even then, we would continue to bleed slowly from IED attacks and ambushes on a regular basis. There aren't a lot of good options out there — just varying degrees of bad ones. The tough part is picking the least bad option that will not lead to a failed state of Iraq that we must come back to again in 5 or 10 years.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Medal math that doesn't add up
Owen West, a former Marine officer who now trades on Wall Street, writes in Slate about a big problem in the military today: the tendency to award combat medals disproportionately to officers and senior sergeants. He makes a great argument about how the system is broken, and some ways it ought to be fixed:
The current medal gap actually has three dimensions. First, the different services have different criteria for the same medals. Second, support staff are rewarded more generously than are soldiers on the front lines. Third, officers receive medals that are superior to those given to the enlisted ranks.

Start with the variance among the military branches. The Air Force awarded 2,425 Bronze Stars and 21 Silver Stars from March 2002 to August 2004 for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Twenty-seven airmen were killed in combat during that time, making the Air Force's ratio of top-level ground-combat medals to fatalities 91-to-1. (This figure doesn't include medals awarded for airborne bravery.) As of July 31, 2004, the Army had awarded 17,498 Bronze Stars and 133 Silver Stars in Operation Iraqi Freedom, while 636 soldiers have died, an awards ratio of 27-to-1. And the Marine Corps has awarded just 701 Bronze Stars, 12 Silver Stars, and six Navy Crosses (the Navy's second-highest award) for combat in Iraq, while 264 Marines died—a ratio of less than 3-to-1.

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... even in the Marine Corps, known to have few caste barriers, the officers are disproportionately represented among the top award winners. As of Aug. 18, Marine officers had received nine times as many Bronze Stars as the enlisted Marines (225 times as many on a per capita adjusted basis) and 1.2 times as many earned Bronze Stars with Valor (30 times as many on a per capita basis). "I believe that the awards process has always been biased towards officers," says Maj. Gen. Smith. "Part of that can honestly be explained by the 'burdens of command' consideration. ... That said, I must admit that most of the bias is unexplainable."

This skew occurs in part because officers are expected to lead from the front. In the infantry, command-and-control is most effective when it's located in the dangerous battle space where the lead elements are clashing. Indeed, in the Marine divisions, the commanding general often moves with lead companies. Casualty rates reflect these officers' dangerous positions. Removing air units from the equation, officers account for 4 percent of the total Operation Iraqi Freedom force but 8 percent of the fatalities.

Still, some soldiers criticize the preponderance of awards for officers because it encourages politicking and smacks of careerism.
Analysis: I have seen other statistics to corroborate this argument too. In "Thunder Run", the outstanding book by David Zucchino chronicling 3ID's assault on Baghdad, the author reproduces a list of combat awards from the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. Without diminishing anything that unit's officers did, I found it quite surprising that so few enlisted soldiers were represented among Silver Star recipients — but nearly every battalion and company commander was. The same trend continued through the rest of the awards, including Bronze Star with Valor device, and Bronze Star.

Also, there's a second rank issue within the officer and enlisted ranks themselves. For the Silver Star in this brigade, no awards were given to lieutenants, or anyone below the rank of Staff Sergeant. I find that quite surprising, given the exploits that I read about. However, there were lots of Bronze Stars given out to lieutenants, privates, etc. And I imagine there were a number of Army Commendation and Army Achievement medals given out to the most junior enlisted soldiers too.

This pattern replicates the peacetime structure for these awards that you see anytime a soldier "PCS's" between assignments. A junior soldier will usually receive an Army Achievement Medal or Army Commendation (less often), each respectively approved by a Lt. Colonel or full Colonel. A young lieutenant or sergeant will usually receive an Army Commendation. A mid-level officer or non-com will be awarded a Meritorious Service Medal, and senior officers and sergeants might be awarded something higher depending on the character of their service and whether it's a final award for retirement. This scheme usually applied regardless of the soldier's individual performance — something that led many to view these awards as cheap and barely worth the money they cost at AAFES. The command's justification was that these higher awards should reflect the increasing responsibility of higher rank. But when you looked at some of the tremendous contributions made by junior soldiers — like one young Specialist who single-handedly kept the 1st Brigade TOC computer systems running during a digitized NTC rotation — you've got to scratch your head at an argument like that.

I'd only add one last comment, and it comes from my grandfather, a WWII Navy flier. The difference between a Silver Star and the Medal of Honor, in his opinion, were the literacy and political connections of the officer writing the recommendation. There's still a grain of truth in that statement, unfortunately. But today, we also add rank to the mix, perhaps diluting the integrity of the awards system even more. I agree with Mr. West that we need to change it.