04 September 2015

Should the West Partition Iraq?

Some people still cling to the belief that a formal partition of Iraq into three states — sometimes referred to as Shiastan, Sunnistan, and Kurdistan — would cure the chaos the United States created when it invaded Iraq in the Spring of 2003.  
Partition is a simple idea that grabs the imagination. But the nation-building wannabes inside the beltway have a poor track record when it comes to creating designer nations in the Middle East. 
Attached herewith is an exchange between Ambassador Edward Peck and the historian William R. Polk.  Together, they explain succinctly why the principle of parsimony does not hold when it comes to Iraq: there is no Occam’s Razor to cut through the mess we created in Iraq.  Moreover, as Polk suggests, the destructive effects accompanying partition will continue the spillover into Syria and Turkey.  And while Lebanon is not mentioned, what affects Syria affects Lebanon and the Palestinian question.
(Each has graciously given me permission to distribute their exchange. Explanatory Note, The following text refers to the adherents of Shia sect of Islam as ‘Shia.’  Technically, ‘Shia’ is an adjective, but it is used as a noun in most American writings.  The corresponding noun is ‘Shii.’  but the noun form is used rarely; so avoid any confusion, this paper adopts the convention of using the term “Shia” as if it were both a noun and an adjective.)
Chuck Spinney
On 31 August 2015, Ambassador Edward Peck wrote
Note: Ambassador Edward Peck is a retired foreign service officer who specialized in the Arab world between 1956 and 1989, with many postings abroad as well as in Washington. Overseas, he was Chief of Mission in Iraq and Mauritania, and an Embassy Officer in Sweden, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt.  In Washington, he served as Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism at the Reagan White House; at State, Deputy Coordinator for Global Covert Intelligence Programs; Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Director, Egyptian Affairs; Liaison Officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon  Shortly after 9-11, he argued against the invasion of Iraq in a CNN Crossfire Interview (8 October 2001), asking "when you take out Saddam Hussein, what happens after that? And we don’t have a clue. Nobody knows, but it's probably going to be bad. A lot of people are going to be very upset, because our role in this world does not include deciding who rules Iraq.” [transcript].   
Those who understood in realistic terms what the 'nation' of Iraq really was could have predicted with confidence exactly what would happen if Saddam was removed.  Many tried, but were ignored by those who were absolutely certain they knew better or did not really care about the results.   The first group did not want to be proven right, but was.  The second group was totally wrong, and the already massive, widespread, disastrous consequences of their actions will probably have to be cataloged by historians.
In the meantime, some still believe that the ongoing catastrophe can be resolved by a simplistic step: Partition. The history of that process in Africa, India/Pakistan, Sudan, former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Israel/Palestine, Ireland, provides compelling evidence of how partition works in the real world.  They have often been very bloody, residual tensions always remain and in many cases intensify. Some people managed to get across the frontiers alive; far more died or became refugees.  Moreover, in the least disastrous cases of partition and population exchange, only two groups were involved, and that condition does not apply to Iraq, in spades.
There is talk of a Shiastan, Sunnistan and Kurdistan.  Forget for a moment Turkey's multiple, uncompromising declarations, and current underlining actions, that there will never be a Kurdistan, and consider where people who are not viewed or accepted as members of those three groups will go.  There are several, some of them large, and the Big Three have already victimized them: Yazidi, Mandean, Shabak, Turkmen, Jewish, Christian, and more. Where will they go, how will they get there, and what will happen to those who manage to get to wherever they are displaced?
By definition, the multiple, complicated, dangerous and bloody problems in the Middle East do not lend themselves to simple solutions.  Even if the three-way partition of Iraq had any chance of meaningful success, wherever the new borders are will be subject to the reactions of those on the inside as well as those in other countries where similar populations and problems exist and will persist.
The point of this dissertation is that what's-her-name's box has been opened, and the lid thrown away.  As much as it's needed, and wanted, there is no workable short-term solution available.  The current tragic situation benefits no one, and is very likely to get much worse before it gets any better.  I profoundly hope I am wrong.

On 1 Sep 2015, William R. Polk’s response
[William R. Polk, is a prominent historian specializing in the Islamic world and guerrilla warfare and is well known to most readers on this list.  His bio can be found on his website and several  of his essays are posted on this page of the Blaster blog.]
Thank you for your note of warning.
I have written about many of the factors relating to the partition issue in the book I did with George McGovern on how to get Out of Iraq (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), my book Understanding Iraq  (New York: HarperCollins, 2005 & 2006), and in my Open Letter to the President in the Nation (19 October 2009). 
As you point out, positions on the issue of Iraq were both fixed and simplistic.  To the best of my knowledge, there never has been any informed or open-minded discussion.  
You point, briefly, at the problems that would be involved in what some commentators advocate, partition.  But advocacy for imposed partition remains in the public eye. After all, it seems, at least at first sight, so logical:  Iraq is a mess, the Iraqis don’t get along and the country is “artificial.”
So now, let me comment on the proposal for partition:
Before the American invasion, partition would have been much more difficult than it became.  That is because the populations of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra were mixed.  When I lived there in the 1950s, my neighbors were Sunnis, Shias, Christians, even one Jew and both Arabs and Kurds.  Today, after the horrible episodes of ethnic and religious/ethnic “cleansing,” neighborhoods are practically homogeneous. Minorities have been driven out or murdered.   However, that is not the end of the story:  villages and towns, each of which may today be homogenous, are juxtaposed to others nearby that are at least religiously different.  So, any plan to divide Iraq would have to carry even further the displacement of populations.  
 And, the populations don’t fit exactly in the “natural” and historical devisions.  The Sunnis, still a powerful group in Iraqi society, would have no city:  Not much is left of Falluja and it was never a great center;  Basra and Baghdad are today Shia (Karbala always had been);  and Mosul is racially, religiously and culturally complex.  The Sunni Arabs and even the Turkomans would not be able to live easily or even securely  in Kirkuk.  So, as I see it, division is a recipe for further pain and suffering.  That is point number 1.
Point number 2 is that the splitting up of Iraq would be to create a new “Balkans."  There would be considerable potential for war among the three states.  Not only would the populations have deep and bitter memories of one another, but the states would vary greatly in current wealth and potential wealth. Whatever area is assigned to the Sunnis probably has little actual wealth, although there is considerable potential for oil production north and west of Mosul.  The Kurds are relatively well off in terms of oil and water.  Oil is still flowing, and Kurdistan has a lot of water for agriculture.  The Iraqi Kurdish population is relatively unified (despite linguistic and other divisions from their Kurdish “brothers” just beyond the current frontiers).  The Shias would have the bulk of the resources.  The potential for oil in the south is enormous  and, for what it’s worth, the Shias have access to the sea.  So, I suggest that it is predictable that there will be ample grounds for friction and much of it.  That, I would argue, is neither in the interest of the “Iraqis” as a whole or any part of them.  Partition certainly is not, as some have argued, a recipe for peace and stability.  So, it should not be seen to be in our interest either.
Peripheral to this point are several external issues:
They begin with, it is a virtual certainty that Iraqi Kurdistan would be unable to stay out of the affairs and aspirations of Iranian, Syrian and, above all, Turkish Kurdish areas.  So, unless or until a complete “Kurdistan” is created, partial measures will almost certainly produce continual  friction  among themselves, their non-Kurdish neighbors  and with Turkey. 
The relationship of Shia “Iraq,” that is Basra and Baghdad provinces, to Iran raises a number of issues including potential friction with Saudi Arabia and even with little but rich Kuwait, both of which have long feared Iran and would probably seek to “destabilize” the Shia alliance. There is a long history of wars over this issue during Ottoman and Safavid times.  Even if they have long since been forgotten, the issues that caused them remain.
The Sunni Arab area is already under attack by the Islamic State. If it were set adrift, no one could predict what would happen.  In fear of its richer Shia and Kurdish areas, it might willingly join the Sunni Arab Islamic State, or it might fight a desperate war to keep separate.  Either way, peace will be elusive and even more people will be harmed.  
Point number 3 is that arrogating the right to set up, divide or reform other states is a policy that we (under President Wilson in the build-up to the Paris Peace Conference) and Britain (under Winston Churchill as Colonial Secretary in 1920) did that was bitterly resented by those on whom they operated.  Perhaps inevitably, if ironically, it was both premature (in that it was effected before conditions for its “success” did not yet exist)  and too late (in that the events it was meant to head off had already transpired).  Something like that policy has been resurrected and made more politically correct by being renamed “nation building” and/or “regime  change.”   Under whatever name,  it is still, it seems to me, exactly what America should not be doing.   I believe it is morally wrong.  But even if one sets aside our proclaimed national principles, it is unwise.  We are not smart enough, and today we are not liked enough to have our policies accepted without threats or force or vast amounts of money.  President Wilson could get away with it; we cannot.  Going down that road leads only to unending hostility.
If, on the contrary, without our overt or covert involvement, moves toward some sort of a federation of Iraq are made by some plausible collection of local authorities, we should still look carefully and soberly at it.  What seems wise or even clever at the moment may look very different a short time later.  If to the best of our judgment, it seems to be based on self-evident logic and has sufficient local support, we  (but  preferably not unilaterally) should consider what we  might do to assuage the pain and, perhaps, to grease the points of friction.  But, to the maximum extent the Congress will allow us to do, we should stay in the background.  That is, we should  support the UN in carrying out the task of “peace seeking” and then of “peace keeping.”  We should remind ourselves constantly that even if we did them for the best of motives, our ventures into running other people’s societies have ended badly.  (The title, though not the text, of Peter van Buren’s book catches the theme, We Meant Well.)  Arguably, and I fear rightly, we didn’t often even mean “well" except for what at the moment seemed to us to be in our own short-term interests, or we could not think of anything else to do.  Where are there examples of moves toward what I have called “affordable world security?”  Quick fixes instead of  finding lasting solutions describes much of our venture in world affairs over the last generation.   Therefore, I think we need to be as cautious as possible, so that our government employees do not blunder into what seems at least to them a clever move.  
To try to avoid leaping before looking, Churchill (for all of his faults and the myopia of his brand of imperialism) had the bright idea at the end of World War I of getting together all of the main ‘players,’  even including some of the natives, to discuss what should be done, in British imperial interests, of course.  Is it beyond our wit to do something similar to examine carefully and responsibly Iraqi interests, safety and peace today?

31 August 2015

One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear:

Why It Is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
by FRANKLIN SPINNEY, Counterpunch, AUGUST 31, 2015
[Clarification: this posting updates the Blaster page entitled Criteria of a Sensible Grand Strategy.  A shorter version appeared the Unz Review, 20 August 2015]

The contemporary theory and practice of grand strategy by the United States can be summarized in the sound byte uttered in 2001 by President George W. Bush shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists.”
Bush did not invent this conception of grand strategy. His sound byte was simply a variation of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s triumphalist theory that America had become the world’s “essential power” with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that Bush’s  assertion of unilateral prerogative blew back on itself to create all sorts of problems at home and abroad. It is also clear that, notwithstanding the blowback, his coercive grand strategic outlook became more entrenched and ossified during the Presidential tenure of Barack Obama. This is evident in Obama’s unilateral escalation of drone attacks; his fatally flawed Afghan Surge decision ([1] & [2]); the foreign and domestic spying by the NSA, which included tapping the cell phones of close allies like German Prime Minister Angela Merkel; his administration’s aggressive meddling in Ukraine, together with the demonization of Vladimir Putin that is now well on the way to starting an unnecessary new cold war with Russia; and Mr. Obama’s so-called strategic pivot to the East China Sea to contain China.
Surely, the art of grand strategy is more subtle than a bipartisan theory of coercive diplomacy grounded on an assertion of a unilateral military prerogative.  Surely, there is  more to the art of grand strategy than the notion of coercion embodied in the question Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s posed to General Colin Powell during a debate over whether or not to intervene in the Balkans,“What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

America’s descent into a state of perpetual war ought to suggest it is time to rethink our approach to grand strategy.
* * *
So, how do we define grand strategy?  More to the point of this essay, what considerations make up  a constructive grand strategy?
The late American strategist, Col John R. Boyd (USAF Ret – see bio) evolved five criteria for synthesizing and evaluating a nation’s grand strategy. Boyd’s brilliant theories of conflict are contained in his collections of briefings entitled a Discourse on Winning and Losing, which can be downloaded at his link. Here, I will briefly introduce the reader to what I will call Boyd’s criteria for shaping a sensible grand strategy.
Boyd argued that any country should shape the domestic policies, foreign policies, and military strategies used to pursue its national goals (our national goal can be found in the Preamble to the Constitution) in a way that a nation’s decisions and actions work to:
  • Strengthen that nation’s resolve and increase its political cohesion or solidarity;
  • Drain away the resolve of its adversaries and weaken their internal cohesion;
  • Reinforce the commitments of its allies to its cause and make them empathetic to its success;
  • Attract the uncommitted to its cause or makes them empathetic to its success;
  • And most importantly, end conflicts on favorable terms that do not sow the seeds of future conflicts.
These common sense criteria should not be thought of as a checklist, but as being general guidelines for evaluating the wisdom of specific policies or actions — say, for example, of President Bush’s response to 9-11 or President Obama’s meddling in Ukraine (which I will leave to the reader for evaluation).
Obviously, it is difficult to construct policies that conform to or reinforce all these criteria at the same time. This challenge is particularly difficult in the case of the unilateral military strategies and the coercive foreign policies so popular with the foreign policy elites on both sides of the political aisle in the United States. Military operations and political coercion are usually destructive in the short term, and their destructive strategic effects can be in natural tension with the aims of grand strategy, which should be constructive over the long term. History is littered with failures to reconcile the natural tension between military strategy and grand strategy.
Moreover, the more powerful a country becomes, the harder it is to combine these often conflicting criteria into a sensible grand strategy. The possession of overwhelming power breeds hubris and arrogance that tempts leaders to use their power coercively and excessively. But lording over or dictating one’s will to others breeds lasting resentment. Thus, paradoxically, the possession of overwhelming power increases the danger of going astray grand strategically over the long term.
That danger becomes particularly acute and difficult to control when aggressive external actions, policies, and rhetoric are used to prop up or increase internal cohesion for domestic political reasons, such as the goal of winning an election. Very often, the effects of military strategies or coercive foreign policies that are perceived as to be useful in terms of strengthening domestic political cohesion backfire at the grand-strategic level, because they strengthen our adversaries’ will to resist, push our allies into a neutral or even an adversarial corner, and/or drive away the uncommitted … which, taken together, can set the stage for growing isolation and continuing conflict, which eventually blows back on itself to erode cohesion at home.
Case Study: Wilhelmine Germany, 1914
The German invasion of France through neutral Belgium in 1914 provides a classic example of how a policy shaped by inwardly focused strategic considerations (in this case, Germany’s well-founded fear of isolation and a two-front war) can induce a well-trained, professional strategic leadership elite into perpetrating a grand-strategic blunder on a colossal scale for the most “rational” of reasons.
Germany was not trying to conquer and permanently occupy Belgium or France at the beginning of World War I. But in the ten years leading up to WWI, the German general staff became obsessed with the idea that it was strategically necessary to attack and defeat the French army very quickly in order to knock France out of the coming war, before France’s Russian ally could mobilize in the East. Germany’s operational-level problem was that the Franco-German frontier was heavily fortified, so the German military leadership convinced itself of the strategic need to avoid these fortifications by invading small neutral Belgium, which had much weaker defenses.
While the German plan was grounded in logical military considerations (i.e., it appeared to be the quickest way to penetrate  French defenses), the German obsession with military strategy blinded its military planners and the Kaiser to the grand-strategic implications of such an invasion, especially if that invasion failed to produce a quick, clean victory.
Germany’s military strategists understood that violating Belgian neutrality would likely bring Great Britain into the war.
But they did not appreciate how the civilized world would react to their invasion of a small neutral country, whose independence and neutrality had been guaranteed since 1839 by the Treaty of London (whose signatories included the German Confederation led by Prussia)  — a treaty the German Empire recognized when it absorbed Prussia’s treaty obligations.  In 1914, the German Foreign Minister (who had no say in shaping the German army’s determination of the invasion strategy) arrogantly dismissed the likelihood of Britain’s entry into the war by characterizing the Treaty of London as a “scrap of paper.”
In the event, the Treaty of London turned out to be more than a scrap of paper.  The German invasion of neutral  Belgium and then France brought Britain into the war and enraged the civilized world. Then, the German invasion was stopped at the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914), only one month after they invaded Belgium.  The Marne established the conditions for a lengthy stalemate and a bloody war of attrition. The spillage of blood increased the determination of each side to prevail. More importantly, at the grand strategic level of conflict, the Germans effectively handed the British a propaganda windfall that the Brits milked brilliantly for the rest of the war.
Over the next four years, the British successfully constructed an image of Germany as a force of unmitigated evil (which was not the case at the beginning of World War I). The successful propaganda operation was reinforced by continued grand-strategic blundering on the part of German leadership (e.g., the Zimmermann Telegram, unrestricted submarine warfare, etc.). These self-inflicted wounds served to morally isolate Germany at the decisive grand strategic level of the war. (See my essay The M&M Strategy for a general description of Boyd’s powerful theory of moral isolation, which applies to any form of conflict.)
Germany’s moral isolation also created a psychological asymmetry that increased the freedom of action of her adversaries: to wit, the British were able to avoid criticism, while they conducted a ruthless blockade of Germany that resulted in far greater indiscriminate death and suffering to civilians than the damage and death caused by Germany’s submarines. Indeed, in an ominous foreshadowing of US policy in Iraq in the 1990s, the propagandized sense that Germany was an unmitigated evil became so effective that Britain was able to maintain its murderous blockade of Germany (particularly the restriction on food imports) after the 11 November 1918 armistice, until July 1919, without any outcry by its allies or neutral countries. [1]
Even America, with its large German population and widespread anti-British sentiment (something now forgotten), rejected its long tradition of neutrality and  joined Germany’s enemies and thereby provided the injection of enough fresh troops and resources to break the stalemate and make the German defeat inevitable
No doubt the British grand strategic success in isolating Germany morally during the war also worked to fuel the arrogance that led to the excessively vindictive terms imposed on Germany at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. That these onerous terms ‘ended’ the conflict on terms that helped to sow the seeds of future conflict is now self evident. By deviating from the criteria of sensible grand strategy in victory, Britain, together with the connivance of Italy and France and President Wilson’s inability or refusal to impose moderation in the peace terms, inadvertently helped to pave the way for the emergence of a truly pathological state in the form of Nazi Germany.
It is revealing that today, American politicians and war mongers love to raise the specter of Hitler and Munich but never refer to the cause of Hitler’s rise to power — the Vengeance of Versailles.
Today, a hundred and one years later, the world is still paying a price for Germany’s grand-strategic blunder in 1914 and the Allies ruthless exploitation of that blunder in at the Versailles Peace Conference — the problems in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Russian heartland, and the Caucasus, to name a few, have roots reaching back to destruction of world order that flowed from the invasion of 1914, the vengeance of 1919, and the violent aftermath of that vengeance.
So, the important lesson of this German case study is this: It is very dangerous to allow military strategy to trump grand strategy.
Whenever a great power fails to adequately consider the criteria shaping a sensible grand strategy, painful unintended consequences can metastasize and then linger for a very long time.
* * *
Today America’s central foreign policy problem and the problem of American militarism can be simply stated: Military strategy is trumping grand strategy.
The result is not only a state of perpetual war, but as the emerging Ukraine and China policies show, it is one of an expanding confrontation that can lead to even more war and more blowback.
That, in a nut shell, is why it is time to do a grand-strategic evaluation of the coercive unilateralism that is evident in America’s ever-mutating war on terror, its meddling in Ukraine, and its so-called strategic pivot into China’s backyard to threaten China’s exceeding vulnerable sea lines of communication and “contain” China, whatever that means.
The time is ripe for a substantive political debate on a real issue.
The Presidential campaign will move into high gear on the day after Labor Day.  But as it now stands, the American people are about to inundated with speeches and debating points over why it is time to rebuild America’s defenses, with most of the candidates beating their breasts in an effort to out-tough each other.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if at least one candidate stopped beating his or her breasts and spoke thoughtfully to the importance of moving our country onto a pathway away from blind militarism toward a more sensible grand strategy.
Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen; in America, as elsewhere, all foreign policy is local in the sense that it is shaped by domestic politics.  And in our country, too many people in the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex on both sides of aisle are becoming rich and powerful by feeding off America’s self-referencing politics of unilateralism, fear, and perpetual war.
[1] Note the ominous parallel of Britain’s WWI blockading policy to US sanctions policy in Iraq in during the Bush and Clinton Administrations: Painting Saddam Hussein as an unmitigated evil after he invaded Kuwait freed up US “strategists” to persuade the world to impose sanctions on Iraq from August 1990 until May 2003.  No one knows how many innocent Iraqis died from the combined effects of the  blockade and Saddam’s ruthless countermoves, but estimates made in mortality studies now run from 500,000 to a million.  Asked in May 1996 about these deaths by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright infamously replied: “we think the price is worth it.” Nevertheless, her claim that these deaths being “worth it,”  did not prevent the United States from using false claims to justify an unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.

23 June 2015

Flush With Cash, Running on Empty (I)

The High Cost of the Military Technical Revolution

One of the never ending claims made by proponents of the military technical revolution is that emerging complex weapons technologies create more combat power per unit of labor — that we are substituting capital for labor and technology-intensive capital goods are the key America’s competitive advantage, given America’s high cost labor.  This claim is bullshit pumped out by a sound-byte addicted Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex.
For readers who think my rhetoric excessive, consider please the following  series of graphics.  That the revolution in military affairs (RMA) continues with increasing intensity despite such evidence to the contrary, and without substantive critical debate, says a lot about the dominant values in Versailles on the Potomac.
If the claim made by the RMA evangelicals were true, then a percentage reduction in the size of combat forces would be accompanied by a greater percentage savings in defense budgets. But as this table shows, huge reductions in force size (ranging from 56% to 69%) from the spending peak of the Vietnam War (1968) to the spending peak of the so-called Global War on Terror or GWOT (2010) have been accompanied by a 34% increase in the defense budget, after removing the effects of inflation (using DoD deflators which are biased to reduce the size of this disconnect).

Yet, as the next figure shows, compared to Vietnam, the GWOT is a tiny war, when compared in terms of troops deployed or operational tempos (e.g., total attack sorties).

Moreover, despite the GWOT's small size and low operating tempos, the next figure shows that, after removing the effects of inflation, the  GWOT is already by far the second most expensive war in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution — it already exceeds the cost of Viet Nam by a factor of 2, and because the GWOT has mutated into perpetual war, there is no end in sight, and like Viet Nam, there is also no light at the end of the GWOT’s victory tunnel.

The net result of  the economic impact of the ongoing military-technical revolution can be seen in the next figure, which places President Obama’s current budget plan in a historical perspective in both current dollars and two estimates of inflation adjusted dollars (the first assumes that inflation affects the Pentagon in the same way as it effects the entire economy and the second uses the Pentagon’s biased inflation index which conveniently makes current budgets look like a far smaller departure from past budgets):

One would think the end of a Cold War with a nuclear-armed superpower and the massive force structure reductions that have taken place over the long term would have some effect on the pattern of boom-bust Pentagon spending dynamics — but they did not, except to raise both the ceiling of the boom phase and the floor of the bust phase. 
The bottom line should be clear to even the most casual observer:  The claim that the ongoing military-technical revolution reduces costs by substituting capital for labor is fact-free claptrap.  Moreover the hype about this military-technical revolution, which has became ever more hysterical since the mid-to-late 1980s, has been accompanied by a dramatic worsening of the mismatch been promises and reality.

Perhaps the apotheosis of the cost and labor saving dimensions of the military-technical revolution has been the evangelical rhetoric surrounding the use of “labour saving” unmanned airplanes — drones — in the GWOT. I urge readers in denial about my bottom line to carefully study How America Broke Its Drone Force by David Axe in the Daily Beast (attached below for your reading convenience).  Axe describes how the high cost of labor-intensive drone operations has broken the back of the drone force to such a point that it had to cut back operating tempos in the face of the increasing intensity of the offensive campaign waged by ISIS.

Bear in mind, the pathetic misery in the drone force described by Axe coincides with Era IV of the boom bust cycle in the preceding chart of Defense Spending. 

09 June 2015


Long time readers of the Blaster are familiar with strategic theories of Colonel John Boyd (new readers will find a variety of references to them at this link).   I am pleased to announce that Marine Major PJ Tremblay’s thesis, Shaping and Adapting: Unblocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd's OODA Loop, has won the The Colonel F. Brooke Nihart Writing Award for 2015. 

This award is endowed by Colonel and Mrs. F. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret), and presented in honor of the late Colonel Nihart to the Marine infantry officer at Command and Staff College whose Master of Military Studies paper demonstrates the greatest depth of scholarship, clarity and originality.  In my opinion, Major Tremblay has made a significant contribution to the growing corpus of analyses and writings aimed at fleshing out and evolving Colonel Boyd’s ideas.  

Tremblay's thesis was written in partial completion of a masters degree, and I think it  provides an excellent and readable introduction to the use of Boyd's OODA Loop as a frame of reference for examining the tactical level of combat.  Tremblay goes further, however: he introduces general frame of reference for incorporating Colonel Boyd’s ideas more effectively into the Marine Corps education system, from junior to senior levels and from the tactical to the strategic level of combat.  Tremblay actually used Boyd's ideas in both the planning and execution of a stunningly successful tactical assault by a reinforced infantry company in Afghanistan. 

05 June 2015

Cognitive Reality of Strategic Bombing

High Value Targets Exist in the Eye of the Beholder

Few people appreciate that the leadership liquidation strategy of the drone war is merely old wine in a new bottle.  It is a logical extension of the strategic bombing doctrine developed in the 1930s and first executed in WWII.  This doctrine posits that target analysts located far from the scene of action can identify the critical nodes in an adversary’s infrastructure which can then be taken out in a systematic program of precision attacks.  This central premise of strategic thinking has remained unchanged from the identification of ball bearing factories in Germany by the Combined Services Targeting Committee during WWII to the picking of individual terrorists to be killed by precision drone strikes in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), based on the analysis of the “signatures” emitted by these terrorists by the members of President Obama’s NSC kill list panel.  This CIA report will give the reader access to some of the banal considerations the CIA purports to use — or says it should use — in the thought process that identifies and picks the individual “high value targets” — i.e. those individual people who must be liquidated — in its targeted killing strategy.

Yet, the central feature of every strategic bombing campaign is that the number of targets in the master target lists purporting to map these critical nodes always grows wildly once the bombing begins; a phenomenon that suggests the node may not have been so critical to begin with.*  The target proliferation phenomenon has held true regardless of the level of precision in the bombardment. It can be seen in every so-called “strategic" bombing campaign to date, regardless of how the nodes have been defined:  WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I, Kosovo, and Gulf War II, and the GWOT (where the analysis of critical nodes reaches its reductio ad absurdum of indentifying those specific individuals who must be destroyed.)  

Attached below are excerpts from a recent report, Germany's Forgotten Victims, in the Guardian that reminds us of how this mentality can mutate into the blind butchery of carpet bombing, as happened in the case of the RAF’s night bombing of Germany in WWII** 
* One possible theoretical exception might have been the Single Integrated Operational Plan (or SIOP) which laid out the target base and weapons laydown for nuclear strikes on Soviet Union during the Cold War.  By the mid-70s, we had far more nuclear warheads than targets and there was no hope of growing the SIOP target list to the point that it was large enough to absorb all the weapons — consequently there was a lot of unnecessary double and triple targeting of even unimportant targets to use up the available nucs.  Fortunately, this possible exception to the target proliferation rule was never tested.

** The RAF night bombing campaign is certainly one of the three candidates for being the most imprecise, most pointless, and most murderous strategic bombing campaigns ever attempted.  The other contenders being the USAAF fire and atomic bombing of Japanese cities and its fire bombing of North Korea’s cities).

Germany's forgotten victims
Luke Harding explains why a new book on the allied bombing of German cities in the 1940s has created controversy
Luke Harding, Guardian, Wednesday 22 October 2003 20.03 BST
More than half a century on, the allied bombing of Germany's cities during the second world war remains a controversial topic.
On Wednesday, Britain's ambassador to Germany, Sir Peter Torry, travelled to the city of Kassel to mark the 60th anniversary of its destruction by British warplanes. Around 10,000 people died on the night of October 22 1943, when an immense firestorm swept the city. …
…  Last week, one of Germany's most controversial historians, Jörg Friedrich, published a new photo book about the issue. Called Brandstätten, or Fire Sites, it contains some of the most grisly images from the war ever to be published. None of them have been seen before. …
… In his book, Friedrich argues that the RAF's relentless campaign against Germany during the final months of the war served no military purpose. Instead, he says that Winston Churchill's decision to drop more bombs on a shattered Germany between January and May 1945, most of them on small German towns of little strategic value, was a war crime. …
…  Around 600,000 German civilians died during the allies' wartime raids on Germany, including 76,000 German children, Friedrich says. In July 1943, during a single night in Hamburg, 45,000 people perished in a vast firestorm. …
”If you destroy a landscape of 160 cities, most of medieval origin, you do something to the cultural identity of a people. All I do is describe it," he said. …
… His book recognises that Germany initiated the air war in the autumn of 1940, when 14,000 British civilians died in German raids launched from the French and Belgian coasts.
It was only in the summer of 1943 that Britain's air marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris was able to respond. At first, RAF bombers were sent out in daylight to attack military targets, but a loss of aircraft forced a change in tactics.
The RAF began to bomb German cities during the night, an indiscriminate strategy causing huge civilian casualties. The attack on Hamburg, however terrible, could be justified on the grounds that the city was the centre of German submarine production, Friedrich concedes.
But, he argues, other raids on smaller, provincial towns could not. On February 16 1945, British bombers attacked the tiny town of Pforzheim, killing one-third of its 63,000 inhabitants.

In the official British history of the air war, Pforzheim merits only a footnote, despite the epic scale of the slaughter. "The RAF had run out of targets. The raid was most cruel," Friedrich says.

02 June 2015

Meet the New Israeli Government

After lurching to the right to “win” the parliamentary election in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has assembled the fruits of his victory: a new government with the smallest possible majority in Knesset (61 out of 120 seats). Just under half of the new government consists of Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party (30 seats).  The remainder is made up of the vaguely centrist Kulanu party and three fanatical or religious hard right parties (Jewish HomeShas  and United Torah , together with a hydra of competing domestic agendas that are shaping the competition to control the various ministries.  While the members of this coalition are loosely united on  the Palestinian Question (no 2-state solution), the incompatible domestic agendas are a prescription for paralysis, because a threat by even the smallest party to leave the coalition becomes a threat to the government’s existence.

This commentary by veteran Middle East reporter Jonathan Cooke’s paints a collective portrait of the kind of people who are winning the competition of power in Israel’s latest and greatest kludge of a government:  
  • Tzipi Hotovely: Shares oversight of Foreign Ministry - “The basic truth” … [is] … “All the  land is ours.”
  • Dore Gold: Shares oversight of Foreign Ministry - Deeply opposed to Palestinian statehood, close confidant of Netanyahu.
  • Moshe Yaalon: Defense Minister - planned to create separate buses for Jewish settlers and Palestinians (cancelled by Netanyahu); also suggested Israel should follow US example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuke Iran.
  • Sivan Shalom: Minister in charge of talks with Palestinians -- Publicly rejects 2-state solution and advocates aggressive settlement building
  • Eli Ben Dahan: Deputy Defense Minister - leading settler rabbi who has referred to Palestinians as being “sub-human.”
  • Ayelet Shked: Oversees justice system — spoke in genocidal terms against Palestinians in Gaza las summer.
Unlike Netanyahu's previous right wing governments, Cooke notes, the current one has no cosmetic moderate to soften the international image of Israel. 
Cook predicts that President Obama’s policy for dealing with Israel’s lurch to the right — i.e. to orally signal disquiet, while showering Israel with weapons, aid, and political cover in international fora — will continue with the new government.
The good news is that it is hard to imagine the new Israeli government lasting very long.  The bad news is that the new government reflects the deep seated nature of Israel’s lurch to the right, particularly with respect to the Palestinian Question.  Should it fall, the successor government, perhaps with a larger majority packaged as a government of national salvation, may be even more fanatical and self-righteous on the Palestinian Question than this one.  
Moreover, such a development would probably enjoy continued encouragement by the United States, because effete as it is, Obama's Israeli policy will be viewed as being too hard on Israel by all of the leading candidates for President of both parties during the run up to the US election in 2016.

Why Israel’s cabinet will be a headache for the US
Jonathan Cook, The National (UAE), May 28, 2015 
Only a few weeks into Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the intense strain of trying to square its members’ zealotry with Israel’s need to improve its international standing is already starkly evident.
The conundrum was laid out clearly by Tzipi Hotovely, a young political ally of Mr Netanyahu’s recently appointed to oversee the foreign ministry on his behalf.
She called together the country’s chief diplomats last week to cite rabbinical justifications for taking Palestinian land. Her broader message was that Israeli embassies abroad needed to stop worrying about being “smart” and concentrate instead on being “right”.
Urging the country’s envoys into a headlong confrontation with the world community, she told them the “basic truth” was: “All the land is ours. ... continued

20 May 2015

Madison's Farce in the Post Information Era (II)

My previous posting questioned the mass media's hysterical ‘shoot-the-messenger’ response Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster outing of the Obama Administration’s lies about its liquidation of Osama bin Ladin in a long essay in the London Review of Books.  
My main point was,  “In an ideal world, Hersh’s report would trigger more investigative journalism to verify or refute his facts and assertions.”  
Shooting the messenger is what bureaucracies, like those in the Pentagon, the CIA, or the State Department, routinely resort to when faced with information that disputes their party line.  That the popular press is behaving in the same way is truly frightening.
The act of shooting the messenger, and the intimidation that goes along with it, protects those factions in government with a vested interest in the partly line status quo, and is one reason why people at the top of hierarchies become isolated from reality and do dumb things (see Inside the Rat’s Nest for a description of how this kind of isolation operation works in the Pentagon).  Think about how a ‘shoot the messenger mentality’ in the popular media shapes the outlook of people who, to paraphrase Mr. Madison, need to arm themselves  with the knowledge to hold their representatives in government accountable for their government’s actions:  It creates a wilderness of mirrors that disarms the people and is therefore a threat that is aimed at the heart of what is left of the American republic
All is not lost, however.  Attached herewith is an excellent example of how that ideal world might look.  The author, my friend Gareth Porter, who in addition to Hersh is one of the few really good investigative journalists left in Washington, confirms most of Hersh’s report, but he adds a new wrinkle.  
Porter argues that Hersh’s account of the Pakistani “walk in”  who revealed bin Ladin’s hideout is problematic and may itself be a CIA plant of disinformation.
Porter’s analysis, however, does not the change the implications posed by the central question of how the Obama Administration learned of Osama’s location.   And it is a very important question, because it goes to the heart of the justifications for torture and the spying operations of NSA, particularly its meta data tracking capabilities, that have tarnished the US image abroad and are threatening our civil liberties at home. 
In my opinion, Porter reinforces the implications of Hersh’s horror story by digging further into the complexities of the US-Pakistani relationship.  I urge you to carefully read it. 

Monday, 18 May 2015 00:00 By Gareth Porter, Truthout 
[posted with permission of the author]
Seymour Hersh's story on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has exposed a series of Obama administration claims about the raid, including the lie that it was not intended from the first to kill bin Laden and its fanciful story about Islamic burial of his body at sea. Hersh confirms the fact that the Obama administration - and the CIA - were not truthful in claiming that they learned about bin Laden's whereabouts from a combination of enhanced interrogation techniques and signals intelligence interception of a phone conversation by bin Laden's courier.
But Hersh's account of a Pakistani "walk-in," who tipped off the CIA about bin Laden's location in Abbottabad, corrects one official deception about how the CIA discovered bin Laden's location, only to give credence to a new one.
Hersh's account accepts his source's claim that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI had captured bin Laden in 2006 by buying off some of his tribal allies and that ISI had moved him to the Abbottabad compound under a kind of house arrest. But there are good reasons for doubting the veracity of that claim. Retired Pakistani Brigadier General Shaukat Qadir, who spent months investigating the bin Laden raid and the bin Ladens' relocation to Abbottabad, interviewed a number of people in the neighborhood of the bin Laden compound and found no evidence whatever of any ISI presence in guarding or maintaining surveillance of the compound, such as described by Hersh's source.
This writer published a detailed account of the background of bin Laden's move to Abbottabad at Truthout in May 2012, based on months of painstaking research by Qadir, which showed that it was the result of a political decision by the al-Qaeda shura itself.
Qadir, who has never had any affiliation with ISI, was able to contact Mehsud tribal sources he had known from his service in South Waziristan many years earlier who introduced him to Mehsud tribal couriers for a leading tribal militant allied with al-Qaeda before and after 9/11. He was able to explain why a key al-Qaeda official in charge of relocating bin Laden actually considered Abbottabad, a military cantonment where the Pakistani military academy is located, a better hiding place than a city closer to the northwest Pakistan base area of al-Qaeda.
Qadir also learned that the secrecy of bin Laden's new location was based on the fact that no one outside the al-Qaeda inner circle knew the real identity of bin Laden's courier, who ordered the construction of the compound in 2004. That whole history, which Qadir was able to reconstruct in painstaking detail, belies the story that Hersh's source, the "retired senior intelligence official," told him about bin Laden being held captive by ISI in Abottabad.
The story has provoked pushback from the deputy director of the CIA at the time, as well as from Qadir. Michael Morell, the former deputy director, has called the story "completely false" and added, "No walk-in ever provided any information that was significant in the hunt for Osama bin Laden."
Qadir had picked up the walk-in story - complete with the detail that the Pakistani in question was a retired ISI officer who had been resettled from Pakistan - from American contacts in 2011. In his own book, Operation Geronimo, Qadir comments, "There is no way a Pakistani Brigadier, albeit retired, could receive this kind of money and disappear …"
Qadir also learned from interviewing ISI officials that, by mid-2010, they had become suspicious about the owner of the Abbottabad compound, of a possible terrorism connection, as a result of what began as a routine investigation, although they did not know that bin Laden was there. Five different junior and mid-level ISI officers told Qadir they understood Pakistan's Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW) had decided to forward a request to the CIA for surveillance of the Abbottabad compound in July 2010.
So CTW's provision of that crucial information to the CIA would have occurred just about the time Hersh's source says the walk-in took place.
Hersh's account of the walk-in, offering to tell the CIA where bin Laden was in return for the $25 million reward, is problematic for other reasons. If the walk-in source had been able to provide a reasonably detailed explanation for how he knew bin Laden, was in that compound and had passed a polygraph test, as the source claims, President Obama would certainly have been informed.
But the former senior intelligence official told Hersh that Obama was not informed about the information from the walk-in until October 2010 - two months after the CIA allegedly had gotten the information from the walk-in.
Furthermore both Obama and the "senior intelligence official" who briefed the press on the issue on May 2, 2011, made statements that clearly suggested the information that had helped them was much more indirect than a tip that bin Laden was there. And both indicated that it was a result of Pakistani government cooperation.
The senior intelligence official told reporters that "The Pakistanis ... provided us information attached to [the compound] to help us complete the robust intelligence case that ... eventually carried the day." That is very different from telling the CIA that bin Laden had been taken captive by the ISI and deposited in Abbottabad.
And Obama was explicit about the information coming through Pakistani institutional channels in his remarks on the night of the raid. "It is important here to note," Obama said, "that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound he was hiding in."
No plausible reason can be offered for those remarks, except that ISI's counter-terrorism wing (CTW) actually did provide specific information related to the Abbottabad compound that led the CIA to begin intensive satellite surveillance of the compound.
Finally the story of the "walk-in" and the $25 million reward going to the individual is a story line that serves the interests of some high-ranking CIA officials - including then-CIA Director Leon Panetta - who had come to view ISI as the enemy because of a cluster of conflicts that involved suspicions about its protecting bin Laden, as well as ISI restrictions on CIA spying in Pakistan; the detention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for shooting two Pakistanis; and finally, ISI complaints about US drone strikes. The CIA had increased its unilateral intelligence presence in Pakistan tremendously in 2010-11, and ISI demanded that the increase be rolled back.
In January 2011, CIA operative Raymond Davis had been arrested for killing two Pakistanis who had apparently been tailing him, and the CIA had put intense pressure on the ISI to have him released. Then on March 17, one day after Davis had been released thanks to the intervention of ISI chief Shuja Pasha, the CIA had carried out a drone strike on what was supposedly a gathering of Haqqani network officials, but it actually killed dozens of tribal and sub-tribal elders who had gathered from all over North Waziristan to discuss an economic issue. A former US official later suggested that the strike, which had been opposed by then-Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, had been carried out then because the CIA had been "angry" over the detention of Davis for several weeks.
The Pakistani military had been angered, in turn, by the March 17 drone strike, and Pasha had then gone to Washington in April 2011 with a demand for a Pakistani veto over US drone strikes in the country.

That summer, as tensions with the Pakistani military continued to simmer, someone began talking privately about ISI's complicity in bin Laden's presence in Abbotabad. The story was first published on the blog of R. J. Hillhouse on August 8, 2011, which cited "sources in the intelligence community."