Thursday, November 4, 2004

Military tribunal at Gitmo delayed
The AP reports that the first military commissioned to be convened since WWII by the United States has issued a continuance in its first case -- that of Australian David Hicks. The tribunal's judges have been besieged by a barrage of motions from the military defense attorneys detailed to the case, in addition to requests for more time to conduct pre-trial discovery. Rather than push forward in haste, it appears the tribunal will move a bit more slowly, especially now that the election has passed and so too the need to appear aggressive on this issue. More to follow...

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

A new day for America
Congratulations to President Bush and his political team for winning a hard-fought victory against Sen. Kerry and the Democrats. I'm not smart enough on political issues to opine intelligently on the election result. 2004 was a memorable election for a number of reasons, and it will likely be remembered for increasing turnout because of the monumental issues at stake. However, I do think it's important to put this behind us and get back to the work of the nation.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Get out and vote!
Democracy is not a spectator sport — it only works with the full political engagement and political participation of the people. An uncountable number of political science, judicial and economic theories hinge on the assumption that the people will participate in the election and choose optimal outcomes based on the information available. It's up to us to make the system work by doing just that — leraning all we can, and then expressing our preferences through the democratic system.

Post Script I: I live in a very blue voting precinct in Santa Monica, California. So I was not surprised to see a crowd at the polls this morning when I went to vote, since this election seems to have mobilized many on the left. In any event, I was pretty stoked to cast the first vote at my polling place this morning. Now the waiting begins.

Post Script II: This may be an extremely unscientific measure of voter turnout. But if L.A. traffic between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles is any indicator, enough people are voting this morning so as to reduce the length of my commute by 1/3. Granted, our votes probably won't impact the outcome of the presidential election. But there are a number of important initiatives on the California ballot, so I think people turned out in droves here to vote.

Monday, November 1, 2004

Are we winning? How do we know?
The reporters at Newsweek and the Washington Post produced a pair of articles over the weekend which ask some really tough questions about America's continuing fight in Iraq — and the most essential question of all: who's winning? The Newsweek writers lay out a pretty good case for the argument that the Iraqi insurgents are prevailing:
... the truth is, neither [U.S. political] party is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq—which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, NEWSWEEK has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out. "Things are getting really bad," a senior Iraqi official in interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government told NEWSWEEK last week. "The initiative is in [the insurgents'] hands right now. This approach of being lenient and accommodating has really backfired. They see this as weakness."

A year ago the insurgents were relegated to sabotaging power and gas lines hundreds of miles outside Baghdad. Today they are moving into once safe neighborhoods in the heart of the capital, choking off what remains of "normal" Iraqi society like a creeping jungle. And they are increasingly brazen. At one point in Ramadi last week, while U.S. soldiers were negotiating with the mayor (who declared himself governor after the appointed governor fled), two insurgents rode by shooting AK-47s—from bicycles. Now even Baghdad's Green Zone, the four-square-mile U.S. compound cordoned off by blast walls and barbed wire, is under nearly daily assault by gunmen, mortars and even suicide bombers.

Everyone is vulnerable. One evening two weeks ago a group of employees was leaving by bus from the Iraq Hunting Club, a green-lawned retreat once occupied by Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon's former favorite exile leader. Only one man survived to tell what happened: gunmen in a passing car fired on the bus, forcing it off the road. The attackers took a heavy machine gun out of the trunk and shot up the bus some more. Then they approached with Kalashnikovs and casually finished off the wounded. The sole witness lived only because he was under a corpse. A similar massacre on Oct. 20 along the highway to Baghdad airport, again on a mini-bus, killed six women and one man, Iraqi Airways employees on their way to work. The same day, ambushers murdered two women secretaries and a male official who worked in the office of Iraqi interim President Ghazi al-Yawar.

Throughout much of Iraq, but especially in the Sunni Triangle at the heart of the country, U.S. troops are unable to control streets and highways, towns and cities. And allied Iraqi troops are simply not numerous, well trained or trustworthy enough. Attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces are now in the range of 100 a day; casualties among Iraqis are far greater. More than 900 policemen have been killed in the past year, according to the Ministry of the Interior. The Iraqi media have been targeted, too: in just the past three weeks, assassins have killed two Iraqi journalists, both female TV personalities. On Saturday, a car bomb detonated near Al Arabiya TV in Baghdad, killing seven.

Most overseas attention has focused on the 160 or so foreigners who have been kidnapped, many of them representatives of Coalition countries. But militants and criminal gangs have also kidnapped thousands of Iraqis, most of them held for ransom. As a result, Iraqi elites are fleeing by the thousands, many to neighboring Jordan. "Iraq is there for the bandits now. Anyone with the financial ability to do so has left," says Amer Farhan, who departed last summer with his father, Sadeq, a factory owner, and all of their family.

The insurgents clearly have a strategy to isolate the Americans—from their Coalition partners, and also from ordinary Iraqis. They know that both Bush's and Kerry's plans for success depend on putting Iraqi forces in place, and they've stepped up their campaign to sabotage that effort. On Oct. 23, insurgents managed to capture 49 Iraqi soldiers heading home for leave in three buses. The homebound soldiers had just finished their basic training at the U.S.-run center at Kirkush; they were traveling unarmed. The insurgents shot them all dead, execution style. Two days later, 11 Iraqi National Guardsmen were captured, and masked jihadists posted a videotape showing them being executed.
But on the other hand, according to Bradley Graham and Walter Pincus in Sunday's Washington Post, things may soon reach a "tipping point" where U.S.-led forces can prevail — or at least get out of Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials say they have a plan, which if it succeeds, will drive a wedge between the insurgents and the general Iraqi population. But, as the Post reports, the plan also carries with it significant risk.
The new Pentagon plan, devised over the summer, centers on enticing more Sunnis into the political process while targeting the Islamic extremist groups for elimination. It depends heavily on building up Iraqi security forces more successfully than in the past year and breaking the bureaucratic logjams that have stymied flows of reconstruction aid into formerly rebel-held cities such as Samarra to win over civilian populations.

"The aim is to drive a wedge between the Sunni Arab rejectionists and the incorrigibles," said one senior official involved in policymaking on Iraq. "Many in the rejectionist group feel disenfranchised and are being intimidated. They need to be relieved of that yoke and engaged, while the extremists need to be isolated, captured or killed."

U.S. forces face substantial obstacles in bringing their plan to fruition. Commanders have identified 22 cities and towns in Iraq that must be brought under the control of the Iraqi government before nationwide elections, scheduled for January, can be held. The status of those cities is being assessed periodically by U.S. military commanders, based on a matrix that rates the insurgent threat in the area, the readiness of local Iraqi security forces and the functioning of local government services.

Since the start of the holy month of Ramadan two weeks ago, insurgent attacks against Iraqis and U.S. and coalition forces have risen more than 25 percent, to about 80 a day. Pentagon figures show that about 80 percent of the attacks have been concentrated in four of Iraq's 18 provinces: Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninawa, all areas heavily populated by Sunnis.

Moreover, the notion that the use of military force against some insurgent groups can be balanced with political and economic enticements aimed at others is a risky one, say experts on Iraq inside and outside the government. They warned in interviews that U.S. firefights and aircraft attacks have themselves fed the insurgency, turning the relatives of slain militants and civilians into new insurgents.

* * *
The strategy to differentiate between extremist elements who are considered lost causes and those in the Sunni resistance who might be persuaded to drop their opposition was formalized in Pentagon planning documents in August and has been refined several times since, defense officials said. Alluding to the plan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has spoken in recent weeks of methodical attempts by U.S. and Iraqi authorities to reach political accords with resistance groups. Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who took office in June, also has made clear his desire to extend an olive branch to some Sunni militants.
Who will prevail? That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? By and large, I think the policy is set here — we want to continue to fight the insurgents, to take back insurgent strongholds like Ramadi and Fallujah, and to continue developing the Iraqis' own security capabilities. Those policies will likely not change if Sen. Kerry wins on Tuesday, because they represent the best course of action available. Instead, I believe that U.S. success will hinge on our execution of those policies. If we approach this in a ham-handed manner, we will fail. If the Iraqis cut and run as they did at Fallujah last time, or we continue to let Iraqi trainees be killed by the bushel, then we will fail. If our political leaders fail to heed the advice of their generals, or demonstrate sufficient resolve in the face of casualties, as Marine Lt. Gen. Jim Conway says happened last spring, then we will fail. If we aren't excruciatingly careful about targeting sensitive Iraqi sites (i.e. mosques, schools, hospitals, etc.), and if we aren't downright ecclesiastical about following the Geneva Conventions with respect to Iraqi prisoners, then we will fail.

This is not the end game in Iraq — taking back Fallujah and prevailing in the next three months won't necessarily win the war. But this is a crucial time, in which can set the conditions for future success if we do well. To use a sports metaphor, it's like we're in the Tour De France. This is a long race, with lots of stages and pitfalls before you get to ride down the Champs L'Elysees in a yellow jersey. Nonetheless, there are critical stages as you ride around France, like the amazingly steep Alpe D'Huez stage. Right now, we're pedaling up that mountain, and even though we're only halfway through the race, this stage could make or break us. Now is no time to take our eyes off the peloton — or the finish line either.
No more rear areas
One of the biggest lessons to be relearned from Iraq is that there is no safe place on the battlefield for soft-skinned or poorly-trained troops

There were many subtexts to the story of the 343rd Quartermaster Company and its purported refusal to conduct a convoy mission in Iraq. Neela Banerjee and John Kifner reported on one of the most important of these narratives in Saturday's New York Times -- the systemic weaknesses among U.S. Army "rear area" units, which have been systematically exploited by the insurgent enemy in Iraq. The non-contiguous, non-linear, unconventional battlefield has totally destroyed the Army's doctrinal battlefield framework of "deep", "close" and "rear" areas -- and with it, the Army's paradigms for training and equipping units. The story of why today's military logistics units, housed largely in the Army Reserve and National Guard, are so unprepared is a long one, but an important one. Ms. Banerjee and Mr. Kifner provide some of this background.
Under a reorganization of the military after the Vietnam War, support functions were passed from the Army to the Reserve. Historians say the idea was to protect the Army from being sent into another unpopular war because widespread support would be needed to call up the reserves.

In his biography of Gen. Creighton Abrams, "Thunderbolt" (Simon & Schuster, 1992), Lewis Sorley wrote than General Abrams built into the restructuring "a reliance on reserves such that the force could not function without them, and hence could not be deployed without calling them up."

The reliance on the Reserve and National Guard also increased with the shrinking of the active military from roughly 2.1 million at the end of the Persian Gulf war to some 1.4 million today.

But for years, under what is called the Tiered Resourcing System, new equipment went to those most likely to need it - the active Army - while the Reserve and the Guard got the hand-me-downs.

"In addition to personnel shortfalls, most Army Guard units are not provided all the equipment they need for their wartime requirements," said Janet A. St. Laurent of the General Accounting Office in testimony before Congress in April. Ms. St. Laurent noted that many Guard units had radios so old that they could not communicate with newer ones, and trucks so old that the Army lacked spare parts for them.

Army officials concede that the old approach to training and equipping the Guard and Reserve did not prepare them for the new realities of Iraq. Progress appears to have been made in providing modern body armor and some other equipment, families and soldiers say.

The Army says it is on schedule to armor all its Humvees in Iraq by April 2005, despite the fact that only one factory in the United States puts armor on the vehicles. Moreover, the Guard is developing a plan to heighten the training and preparedness of its soldiers, under which a given unit could expect to be deployed every six years.

But the glaring problem for soldiers and families remains the vulnerability of trucks. In a conventional war there would be a fixed front line and no need for supply trucks to be armored. But in Iraq, there are no clear front lines, and slow-moving truck convoys are prime targets for roadside attacks.

Gen. James E. Chambers, the commander of the 13th Corps Support Command, to which the recalcitrant soldiers who refused the assignment are attached, told a news conference in Baghdad: "In Jim Chambers' s opinion, the most dangerous job in Iraq is driving a truck. It's not if, but when, they will be attacked."

* * *
According to figures compiled by the House Armed Services Committee and previously reported in The Seattle Times, there are plans to produce armor kits for at least 2,806 medium-weight trucks, but as of Sept. 17, only 385 of the kits had been produced and sent to Iraq. Armor kits were also planned for at least 1,600 heavyweight trucks, but as of mid-September just 446 of these kits were in Iraq. The Army is also looking into developing ways to armor truck cabs quickly, and has ordered 700 armored Humvees with special weapons platforms to protect convoys.
Analysis: The Army has been incredibly, painfully, and disappointingly slow to adapt to this new reality. During the late 1990s, I served as a military police lieutenant and captain, and watched the Army struggle to find a new warfighting paradigm that would enable it to fight and win the next war. Its theoreticians developed a "contemporary operational environment" which was supposed to look more like tomorrow's battlefields than the old fight against the Soviet hordes in the Fulda Gap. But this "COE", as it was known", never really amounted to much more than incremental change. Massive "Warfighter" computer exercises, which simulated division and corps-level maneuvers, were still fought in much the same way. And as several high-ranking officers have noted, the Army typically called "EndEx" when U.S. forces secured their objective, without paying any thought to the complex warfighting that must be done next to secure the peace. Some doctrinal changes were made in the late 1990s, but not many.

But one area where change barely happened at all was in the area of equipment. In the Army's first digitized division, used as a test-bed for all sorts of organizational and technological innovations, little thought was given to the way that an asymmetric, noncontiguous, nonlinear battlefield would interact with poorly-armored, poorly-protected, and under-equipped support forces. Despite planner predictions that tomorrow's forces would move farther and faster than any in history (see, e.g., the 3rd ID march on Baghdad), their support units received no additional armor or armament with which to deal with the inevitable bypassed forces, insurgents, or myriad threats they would face as they rushed to keep up with the tanks and infantry.

Now look, you can't armor an entire fuel truck or ammo truck. Putting that much armor would make the truck so heavy that would drive even slower than it does, or drink so much fuel that it wouldn't be worth it to drive it up. But you can build an armor "bathtub" for the crew, and you can put ring mounts on these trucks (many already have them) with .50 caliber machine guns or Mk19 grenade machine guns in order unleash a can of whoopa** on any insurgent who tries to ambush them. And once you've turned every U.S. Army convoy into a bristling hornet's nest of heavy weaponry, with armor bathtubs to protect the crews from all but a direct IED hit, then you have effectively defeated two of the insurgents' best weapons -- the direct-fire ambush and the IED. You may still lose a few trucks and shipments, but you save your crews and you probably kill a few more insurgents too.

If this is so simple, why has the Army not done this yet? I could give you a thousand answers for that one, but the biggest one is this: inertia. The Army's procurement's process work at something slower than glacial pace; federal regulations sharply limit what the Army can do with simplified acquisition authority and off-the-shelf acquisition authority. Every new program must go through a series of tests and procurement hurdles designed to ensure that our warfighters get only the best equipment -- but these obstacles have a downside. Many of the key systems today's soldiers use were thought of during the 1970s, procured during the 1980s, and fielded during the 1990s (with some notable exceptions). So even some really bright planners had looked at Mogadishu and Bosnia and come to these conclusions, it would take the Army a while to turn its procurement ship around to start doing the right thing. On top of the significant inertia problem, you also have a lot of parochialism and institutional conservatism, which complicate any change in the Army -- particularly one which would make support units look and fight more like combat units. And finally, there is a great deal of friction in the process, especially since procurement programs of this size would require Congressional approval.

What can be done now? Well, the Pentagon could get serious about its bolt-on armor packages so that soldiers don't have to make their own armor with sandbags and Iraqi manhole covers. The Army could also step up the pace to lateral transfer more crew-served weaponry into logistical units and turn them into truly combat-capable units. In addition to heavy weapons, these units continue to suffer for sufficient numbers of hand-held GPS units, advanced SINCGARS radios, squad radios, and live-fire combat training prior to deployment. All of these moves could be accomplished via internal Army or Pentagon directives -- no Congressional action required. Sure, a few sacred cows might have to be slaughtered, but as they saying goes, sacred cows make the best hamburger.
Pulling duty in a far-flung place
One company of Marines can teach us a lot about America ought to fight its future wars

David Zucchino, author of the outstanding combat chronicle Thunder Run about the Army's charge into Baghdad, has an excellent dispatch from the Afghan front in Monday's Los Angeles Times. The piece follows a company of Marines along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where it's often hard to discern the line between insurgents and locals just going about their business. Nonetheless, he reports, the Marines there are having some success in their daily endeavors.
The Marines are focused on Taliban fighters and the Pushtun tribesmen who support them. Compared with U.S. forces here two years ago, they operate from a relatively secure foothold.

"The area has improved dramatically over the past two years," said Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the operations commander for coalition forces in Afghanistan, citing better security and support from local police and militias who once fought the Taliban.

U.S. forces certainly have more control here than in Iraq. Where the Iraqi insurgency is deep and broad, support for the Taliban is confined to pockets such as the border region and south-central Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda fighters — mostly Arabs and Chechens — are based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, Olson said. It is mostly Taliban fighters, not foreigners, who receive aid and sanctuary from fellow Pushtuns as they slip back and forth across the porous border — a frontier U.S. troops are not permitted to cross except in certain cases of hot pursuit.

For the Marines of Whiskey Company, maintaining security and beating back the Taliban require regular patrols into the remote mountains, where they face hostile villagers, roadside bombs and rocket attacks.

The troops, from the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, are based at Camp Salerno, a burgeoning military city near Khowst. Two years ago, Salerno was a rough tent camp. Today, it has satellite TV, internet connections, a PX, barbershop and a mess hall that serves hot meals — and steak and lobster on Friday nights.

The Marines encountered the district police chief and sub-governor in Magar, a remote hamlet carved from a mountainside at 7,500 feet. In the mud-and-stone dwelling that serves as the office of the sub-governor, Khanan Mangul, hangs a dusty portrait of interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But Wilkinson had dealt with Mangul before and did not fully trust him.

"The sub-governor is a little wishy-washy," said Wilkinson, older and more self-assured than most lieutenants, having served nearly eight years as a Marine enlisted man. "He tends to blow with the wind."

Wilkinson is wary of being manipulated, and he understands the precarious nature of his mission. In a sense, allegiance to the U.S. also is for sale, wrapped in the fragile promise of a generator or well or four-wheel-drive truck.

"You can't buy an Afghan," he said after listening to the sub-governor. "But you sure as hell can rent one."
Analysis: This last point reminds me of something I read in the outstanding article "Welcome to the Green Zone" by William Langewiesche in this month's Atlantic Monthly. The article describes life in the fortified complex in central Baghdad containing the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority, now the U.S. Embassy, and other U.S. entities. Langewiesche writes about a lot of things in the article -- it's a must-read. But one of the points he makes quite well is how the ideology of the CPA employees there slowly gave way with time to pragmatism. No matter what the field -- law, business development, political reconstruction, humanitarian work -- the daily imperatives of Iraq almost always triumphed over the bright ideas that folks brought with them from the states about how to remake Iraq. And in the process, some good work got done in Iraq, despite some of the best ideas being sent over from Washington.

On a micro-level, you can see this happening in the Marines of Whiskey Company, 3-6 Marines, who Mr. Zucchino follows in Afghanistan. They are learning to get the job done through a variety of means -- everything on the spectrum from peace to war, from subtle political negotiations to conventional infantry raids. In a sense, this is nothing new -- Gunny Highway hit on it in the movie Heartbreak Ridge with the phrase "improvise, adapt, overcome". But it takes a special kind of organization and command climate to actually make this happen on the ground. Such an organization must include extremely well-trained and professional troops with the discipline to know when to shoot and the skill to always execute the mission. And perhaps more importantly, the organization itself must be disciplined enough not to micro-manage its field units, by issuing them mission-type orders which allow them the flexibility to do the job.

On a macro-level, such units represent the heart and soul of America's combat capability. As Stephen Biddle writes in his brilliant book Military Power, the essence of combat power is not numbers; it is not men, nor materiel, nor technology itself. Instead, it is the synergistic combination of men, machines, warfighting doctrine and skill which combine to form what he calls the "modern system". When this war ends (and I have faith that it will eventually end), we must use 1st. Lt. Wilkinson and Whiskey Company as a model. Future wars will require units even more capable of autonomous, decentralized, full-spectrum warfare where the decisions of one lieutenant can have strategic implications for the world. There have been a number of missteps thus far in the war on terrorism, in my opinion, mostly at the strategic and political level. But there have been some incredibly positive effects too, as I wrote in "The Crucible" this summer for the Washington Monthly. Tomorrow's defense planners ought to look very hard at units like Whiskey Company when they plan future procurement initiatives, future doctrinal innovations, and future institutional changes for the military. On Nov. 3, either the Bush White House will start planning for a second term, or the Kerry team will begin planning for its first. These lessons must be internalized and institutionalized so that they don't have to be painfully relearned the next time.
Trash talkin' from guys who can back it up
Anyone who's spent time in the company of soldiers or Marines -- especially the men of the combat arms -- will probable chuckle a bit at the quotes in this Los Angeles Times dispatch. The comments from the men of 1-8 Marines, poised to strike Fallujah when the word is given, have been stripped of their profanity by the Times' writers and editors. But one can still sense the testosterone-driven enthusiasm of youth, and courage mixing with trepidation, in their comments, even without the colorful patois that normally punctuates every infantryman's speech. Here are a few excerpts:
"I've been waiting for this fight ever since I joined the Marines," said Staff Sgt. Dennis Nash, an 11-year veteran whose platoon has been fine-tuning its skills. "This battle is going to be written about in history books.... The terrorists who want to fight us are in that city, and we're going to get 'em."

* * *
"The terrorists are barking up the wrong tree," said Cpl. Anibal Paz, a 21-year-old from Boston. "They're taking us on and they won't be able to back it up."

The upbeat mood contrasts with the generally spartan conditions here. Many Marines are billeted in bombed-out barracks that once housed fighters from an Iranian exile opposition group sponsored by Hussein. Arabic slogans meant to inspire the Iranians are still scrawled on many walls. Hussein's image stares down in one large room converted to a mess hall.

For many, there is a feeling that an attack would complete a job abandoned in April, when Marines were ordered to cut short an assault on Fallouja.

Commanders downplayed such motivation.

"It doesn't matter what happened in April," said Lt. Col. Gareth Brandl, who commands the 1st Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment. "There's an enemy [in Fallouja], and my men are ready to go in and destroy the enemy."

* * *
"The Marines are motivated," said Gunnery Sgt. Doug Berry, who was helping oversee the drill. "The enemy has been asking for us, and we're ready to give 'em what they asked for."
And this from the 1-star Marine general overseeing the operation:
"We are gearing up to do an operation," said Brig. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, deputy commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Speaking to reporters at a base near Fallouja, Hejlik said: "If we're told to go, we're going to go. And when we go ... it's going to be decisive, and we're going to go in there, and we're going to whack 'em."

Travel hiatus
I apologize for the lack of posts over the last three days; I just got back from a short trip to the East Coast. I'm about to post a few notes I wrote while on the plane from New York back to L.A.