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November 17, 2007

Petraeus & Future Military Leaders
Posted by Shawn Brimley

In a highly unusual display of influence, General David Petraeus has been called back to Washington to chair the promotion board that selects new Army Brigadier Generals.  The Washington Post carried the story on the front-page today.  It’s an interesting and encouraging sign that Secretary Gates and others at the highest levels are attempting to ensure that the next generation of senior leaders possess the type of acumen and understanding of irregular warfare that will help future policymakers make better strategic decisions.

The Army is a highly traditional institution and its culture has been extremely resistant to the type of changes that Gates seems to be pushing.  In a speech to the Association of the U.S. Army last month, Gates told the crowd that he found it “hard to conceive any country challenging the United States directly on the ground – at least for some years to come.”  In the conflicts of the future, Gates argued that “success will be less a matter of imposing one’s will and more a function of shaping behavior – of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between.”

The type of top-cover Gates seems to be providing for reformers within the Army is a good sign, but the risk is that it may be too little, too late. Readers might recall the controversy generated by the bold article that Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Yingling penned in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal, where he criticized the Army’s senior leadership for repeating the mistakes of the Vietnam era, including a failure throughout the 1990s to “envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly.” Yingling pleaded for action, arguing that “We still have time to select as our generals those who possess the intelligence to visualize future conflicts and the moral courage to advise civilian policymakers on the preparations needed for our security.”  Clearly, Gates seems to have heard and heeded the call.

For Democrats, it is important to listen closely as well. If the next President is a Democrat, he or she will inherit a military that is exhausted, bitter in many ways toward civilians many in uniform see as having led their soldiers and Marines into a quagmire, and in a state of confusion regarding their role in a future that seems as uncertain and as unpredictable as the last time they returned from the Iraqi desert.  It is vital that the next cadre of civilian leaders be aware of those in uniform who have the experience and the wisdom to lead the military and to provide the type of military advice the next president will surely need – the future may depend on it.

November 16, 2007

Lawless Oil
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

One common element of the "bottom up" approach and the Gelb-Biden Federalism approach is that both believe that without an agreement on equitable distribution of oil resources, these plans won't work.  The basic problem is that because the oil is all in the Shi'a South and the Kurdish North, the Sunnis would never agree to any kind of settlement that did not allow them to share in Iraq's wealth.  So this latest news about oil in Iraq should be a bit disturbing

While the national government has continued to dither the Kurdish regional government has gone ahead and started to sign agreements with foreign oil companies to develop their reserves.  They now have 15 different production sharing agreements to develop oil in Northern Iraq. Now, the Iraqi central government is threatening to blackball any company who signs a deal with the Kurds.  That's not a very credible threat.  Oil that sits under a war zone is much less valuable than oil that is below a stable and growing economy.

The likelihood here is that the Kurds are going to continue developing their oil and create a new defacto status quo.  Once this happens a national oil deal will likely be dead and with it the chance for any kind of sustained national political reconciliation along the federalist line.  In fact a number of people who I've talked to have worked these issues and sat it on negotiations believe that the train many have already left the station.

The Worst Answer of Last Night's Debate
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I like Chris Dodd. I think he brings something to the table, and I was happy to hear him get fired up on education last night. Which is why it saddens me that Dodd also gave what was, in my view, the worst answer of last night's debate. I haven't seen anyone pick up on it yet, unfortunately. Here's what Dodd said:

Be careful what you wish for. If there were totally free elections in many of the countries we're talking about today, the Islamic Jihad or the Islamic Brotherhood would win 85 percent of the vote. That's not a great outcome for us at this point either.

Where to begin. First of all, Islamic Jihad doesn't participate in elections, and never has. They're a terrorist group with no interest in politics. Dodd apparently isn't aware of this pretty basic fact. Second, there is no group that goes by the name "Islamic Brotherhood." It's called the "Muslim Brotherhood." Maybe I'm being a bit nitpicky, but it's a bit worrying that someone who's spent three decades in Congress doesn't even know the correct name of the most influential opposition movement in the Middle East today, one that spans not one but several countries, including Egypt and Jordan, two of our closest regional allies. Thirdly, this is the first time I've ever heard someone predict that the Brotherhood would win 85% in free elections. This number is so wildly off the mark that Dodd may as well have picked the number out of a hat. Conservative estimates are 20-25%. The most they could probably get is 40-45% of the vote, and even that's pushing it.

Those are factual problems. What's worse, though, is the broader point Dodd is trying to make: We shouldn't encourage free and fair elections in the Middle East, because it won't be good for our interests. Sound familiar? Be careful what you wish for. Someone should have pushed Dodd and asked him if five decades of supporting brutal Arab dictators has been in our interest.

Lastly, Dodd does something which I find really annoying. Republicans tend to do it quite a bit, but Democrats occasionally fall into the trap as well. This is the habit of listing all Islamist groups as part of one monolithic threat and failing to make the any distinctions. To refer to Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood in the same sentence is mindboggling. The former is a fringe terrorist organization that has a relatively small following in Gaza. The latter is the strongest opposition party in Egypt with perhaps millions of members, supporters, and sympathizers. It is a group which renounced violence in the 1970s and has since committed itself to working within the democratic process. It currently has 88 members in parliament, by far the largest opposition bloc.

It's really quite amazing, but in two short sentences, Dodd managed to get so many things wrong, and displayed a lack of even the most basic understanding about what is arguably the most important region in the world. Can we please have a president who understands the Middle East and the Muslim world?

Katulis responds to Kahl
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The latest (And final) installment of an excellent debate

Bush's shame on Iraqi refugees
Posted by Max Bergmann

Fred Kaplan calls out Bush on his failure to let more Iraqi asylum seekers

To save face—his face—Bush appears willing to sacrifice those Iraqis who served his cause at great risk and without whom American soldiers, diplomats, and aid workers would have wandered even more cluelessly in the dark. That is the deepest shame.

Questions from the "Audience"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I'm all with Matt.  So many stupid questions from Wolf Blitzer.    The most irritating part for me was the questions from the "audience."  They were actually good questions, but then Suzanne Malveaux would just take them and twist them into the same old tired recycled gibberish. 

FRANK PERCONTE: ...So my question to you is, assuming you are elected, the day after you take the oath of office, what message will you offer the whole country, to unite all of us behind you, so that you can see us through this period of transition that we're in? (Applause.)

MS. MALVEAUX: I'd like to refer that to Senator Obama.

Senator Obama, you said on a TV interview just this past weekend, you didn't believe that Senator Clinton was able to unite this country. Why do you believe she can't?

SEN. OBAMA: No, that's not what I said. What I said was I thought I could do it better. That's why I'm running for president. (Applause.) If I didn't think I could do it better then I wouldn't be running for president, because the stakes are too high, just as we heard.

Just like that a question about how would you unite the country becomes a question about attacking another candidate.  If you are going to go through the charade of having "questions from the audience," you should let them ask the questions.

Biden Talks Pakistan at Democratic Debate
Posted by Ari Melber

Thursday's Democratic presidential debate in Nevada got lots of attention for the fighting between the candidates.  But Joe Biden also managed to make several important points about US foreign policy, particularly towards Pakistan. 

I think he outlined the most specific foreign policy agenda of the evening, advocating a reduction of Pakistan's military funding to force fair elections, and a new focus on eliciting support of the Pakistani middle class to counter militant extremism.   He declared that he was the only candidate "on stage" to offer a regional plan since President Musharraf declared martial law, referring to a New Hampshire address last week, and stressed that unlike Obama and Clinton, he had actually voted to cut funding for the controversial Guantanamo prison. 

Then he showed voters his commitment to confront the Bush Doctrine, recounting how he "personally" warned the President that an attack on Iran without congressional authorization would lead to impeachment.

Continue reading "Biden Talks Pakistan at Democratic Debate" »

November 15, 2007

State of our Army
Posted by Shawn Brimley

I'll be watching intently as Army Secretary Pete Geren and Army Chief of Staff General George Casey testify today before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the health of the Army.

Not since the Revolutionary War has America had an all-volunteer Army at war for so long.  Since 9/11, the Army has done all that has been asked of it, and they are under strain and at risk.

Many thousands of soldiers have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan three or more times, over twenty thousand from the Army’s ranks have been wounded, and over 2,400 have been killed. Their sacrifice on behalf of the nation is humbling.

When they testify today, the top issue will surely be one of readiness - the only units ready for duty are those about to deploy or already in Afghanistan or Iraq.  This means that America has no strategic reserve, no ability to use ground forces to respond to another contingency, no real ability to support civil authorities after another Katrina-like disaster, and the list goes on.  The National Guard and Reserve units who have historically played such a role are now referred to as an "operational reserve," and they are under a level of strain that is unsustainable as well.

In his previous appearance before Congress in late September, Casey said that the Army would be "unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies." Translation: we're running on fumes. 

It's not an all bad news story, the Army has met its recruiting and retention goals - which is a tribute to the willingness of everyday Americans to join up in wartime.  But even here there is a mixed picture, as the Army has been forced to lower recruiting standards - now allowing older, fatter, and in some cases folks with minor criminal records into the Army. Retaining key mid-ranks has become difficult as well. The canary in the coalmine may be West Point graduates: 46% of the class of 2001 and 58% of the class of 2002 left after their 5-year obligation, the lowest retention percentages since 1977.

People should be paying attention to the state of our ground forces, and I hope today's hearing gets some media attention.   

Some good news out of Africa
Posted by Max Bergmann

A new report from the World Bank indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa's

economy grew by 5.4 percent in 2005 and 2006, faster than the economies of many developed countries and similar to those of developing nations other than India and China.

Breaking News: Sunnis and Shi'a in Iraq Don't Trust Each Other
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It turns out that simply dealing with local militias and having no plan for how to actually integrate that into a national strategy is a problem.  It also turns out that the Shi'a central government is afraid of all the Sunnis that the U.S. is arming.  This was the obvious problem in the "bottom up" approach from the very beginning and some of us have been saying it for months.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

...The year-long progress in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq could carry a downside. Maj. Mark Brady, who works on reconciliation issues, noted that a Sunni leader told him: "As soon as we finish with al-Qaeda, we start with the Shiite extremists."

November 14, 2007

Back to the Future?
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Nice to be here and thanks for having me.

Did anyone else find Fred Thompson's speech at the Citadel yesterday a little bizarre?  Thompson advocated for a "million man ground force" dramatically larger than the current size of both the Army and Marine Corps.

Apparently, the ground forces it took to confront the Soviet Union were too small for today's "war on terrorism."

I find it amazing that Thompson's proposal for an Army of 775,000 soldiers is exactly where we were in 1989, and a Marine Corps of 225,000 is 28,000 larger than at the end of the Cold War!

One would think that with the Soviet Union gone and the prospect of global conventional war all but eliminated, that the Republican presidential candidates can do better than one-upping each other on the size of the military.  Rather than posture over the size of a future military, perhaps Thompson and Co. can spend some time developing a strategy for the military we have today - one that is stuck in the middle of a civil war in the heart of the Middle East.

I think everyone can agree with Thompson that "we have asked too few troops to do too much for too long," but instead of reinforcing error perhaps we might think about bringing some of them home?  Being strong on defense is important for Democrats, but being smart on national security is vital.

Shawn Brimley Guest Blogging
Posted by The Editors

We wanted to introduce Shawn Brimley, who will be doing some guest blogging on Democracy Arsenal.

Shawn is the Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he works on a wide range of national security issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, defense strategy development, and force structure issues. Prior to joining CNAS, he was a Research Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Shawn has published articles in Foreign Policy, Democracy, Joint Force Quarterly, Parameters, Armed Forces Journal, and several newspapers. He is the co-author of a June 2007 report titled Phased Transition: A Responsible Way Forward and Out of Iraq. He also co-authored a study of Cold War-era U.S. strategic planning for Princeton  University ’s Project on National Security. Shawn holds a B.A. in history, and two graduate degrees in Security Studies.

Americans Say "engagement" Means Guns, Not Wedding Bells
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

That smacking sound you hear is progressive communicators like me whacking our foreheads all over America.  The UN Foundation's new report on surveys and focus groups carried out jointly by Democratic and Republican pollsters has lots of fascinating nuggets, some big conclusions I completely agree with, and at least one effort to segment the voting public that I don't -- why call a group "new isolationists" if their key concern is international cooperation?  But there are a few nuggets about word choice that everyone who talks about our issues should notice.  Please? First, "international cooperation" polls 16 points higher than "multilateralism" -- because people know what it means.  As the authors say, words matter.  Second, in their words:

Language and messaging that is too narrowly focused on only benefiting the United States or is too focused on our own security does not work well. Voters tend to perceive these concepts as arrogant and a continuation of much of the same. It is not about “engagement” or being more engaged around the world. Voters perceive "engagement"as the U.S. physically being inother parts of the world, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

What I Meant to Say
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It strikes me that my previous post was unfair to Colin Kahl.  He has been studying this issue seriously for four years, has an extensive background in counterinsurgency strategy and of course his views deserve to be heard, debated and not dismissed out of hand simply because he doesn't speak Arabic.  Here's what I should have said.

I have written many times in the past on Democracy Arsenal about my frustration that nobody ever listens to the Arabists (No one did in 2002 and 2003 even though there was pretty much universal skepticism amongst that group regarding the war).  My basic concern is that to get this right we need to include the views of the counter insurgency experts, the military experts and the Arabists.  And I think specifically regarding internal Iraqi politics, the Arabists are the best equipped to answer those questions.  That doesn't mean they should be dictating counterinsurgency and military strategy.  But I do think that the question of Iraqi politics is the big blind spot in the Kahl plan and more broadly in the entire "bottom up" approach that is being pursued by Petraeus.   I think there is almost universal skepticism among the Arabists about whether or not "bottom up" political reconciliation could actually work.  I think they have unique insights into this question.  I think Marc Lynch effectively demonstrated those insights during the debate and I think it is important to note that.   

That doesn't mean that Kahl's views shouldn't be taken seriously and discussed and addressed on the merits. 

November 13, 2007

Regional Experts Vs. Military Experts
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I’ve written before about the divide in expert circles between regional Middle East experts and military experts.  Middle East scholars such as Marc Lynch, Brian Katulis, Steven Simon, Jon Alterman, Juan Cole advocate for a quicker withdrawal because they are much more skeptical about America’s ability to have any influence over the political situation on the ground.  This comes from a greater appreciation for the political complexities in Iraq that can come only from reading first hand the Arab and Iraqi press every day and realizing how little control the United States has over anything that is going on politically inside Iraq. 

It’s further reinforced by a better understanding of the history of the region.  Western powers have for so long been perceived as occupiers and imperialists.  Whether it is the British in Egypt or Iraq, the French in Algeria or American meddling in Iran, Western powers have created a lens of absolute distrust through which the people of the Middle East perceive them.  The founding myths of all of the nations of the Middle East are based on throwing off Western imperialism, just as much as ours are based on George Washington crossing the Delaware.  The regional experts get this in a way that I don’t think military experts do.

We have a perfect example of this problem from the recent Kahl / Katulis / Lynch exchange.  And let me be clear.  I don’t mean to pick on Colin Kahl.  He does good work and I’m sure he’d wipe the floor with Lynch on the question of how to actually physically get troops out of Iraq or how to conquer Iraq in the first place.  But the problem with the whole “bottom up” strategy argument is that military experts are trying to impose a political solution without really understanding the political realities on the ground. 

Continue reading "Regional Experts Vs. Military Experts" »

Father of Aardvark Weighs In
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Marc Lynch weighs in on the Katulis/Kahl debate and I gotta say he gives the single best assessment I've read for why the Anbar strategy is likely doomed to strategic disaster.  The whole post is worth reading but here's my favorite part.

The last four years have left me deeply skeptical of any argument which requires either a high degree of sophisticated American micromanagement or a large number of things which have to go right.   Kahl advocates a version of Stephen Biddle's notion of manipulating the sectarian balance of power:   “Sunnis must have enough capabilities to defend their local interests, but not enough to take-over the government.” But think about the degree of precision necessary here – in an environment where we hardly seem to know where the guns are going or who our allies are.    I am skeptical about the applicability of offensive- defensive distinctions ("The creation of viable local security forces with *defensive* capabilities) - any weapon that you can use to fight against al-Qaeda can also be used against a Shia militia (or family).  I don't see how this alleviates the sectarian security dilemma.  The only thing which would do that would be the tight integration of military capability into an institutionalized, centralized security force -  the whole "monopoly on the legitimate use of violence" thing which goes into being a state.   

The Right Wings's $3 trillion fiasco
Posted by Max Bergmann

The Washington Post has an article this morning that lays out the real cost of the war in Iraq at $1.5 trillion, which is almost double the total amount appropriated. As Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs and formerly of the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations explains in the Post story, "The wars will cost a lot more than the appropriated sums, and it's certainly true our children will be paying for this for a long, long time."

The situation only gets worse if you project out the cost of the war. CAP released a study in September that projected out the cost (in appropriations) of staying in Iraq for an an additional ten years. They estimated that it would cost between $493 billion and $915 billion depending on the number of troops on the ground. So if you take the "hidden cost" report with CAP's you are looking at a total cost of war of about $3 trillion or an additional $1.5 trillion.

In other words, that additional $1.5 trillion is really the cost of electing another Republican to the White House.


November 12, 2007

Is Obama's Iran Resolution the Antidote to Kyl-Lieberman?
Posted by Ari Melber

Everyone's talking about how Barack Obama escalated his criticism of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy this weekend, blasting Democrats who try to "look tough" by "talking and acting and voting like George Bush Republicans." Asked about that line on Sunday's Meet the Press, Obama seized on Clinton's vote for the Kyle-Lieberman amendment, a hawkish, non-binding Senate statement on Iran policy, saying it sent the "wrong message" on the region.Instead, Obama is advocating legislation stating that Congress did not grant President Bush the authority to attack Iran, either through the Kyl-Lieberman amendment or "any resolution previously adopted." Putting the brakes on Bush would be good for foreign policy, of course, but this is a dicey legislative strategy.

Obama's Iran resolution aims to check the executive branch in two strokes. First, it purports to define the boundaries of past congressional action. Second, it reiterates the constitutional fact that the president cannot start a war without congressional approval. The first goal is likely to backfire and the second is irrelevant.

Continue reading "Is Obama's Iran Resolution the Antidote to Kyl-Lieberman?" »

Saudi Arabia and the Autocracy-Terrorism Link
Posted by Shadi Hamid

In response to the autocracy-terrorism link that Stephen McInerney and I discuss in our recent TNR article on Saudi Arabia, Michael van der Galien brings up some good points, which I'll try to address in this post:

Could we also say that oppressive regimes exist in [Arab] countries because there are many radicals there? In other words, do extremists force governments to ignore human rights in an attempt to survive by preventing those extremists from taking over? Or both?

While this raises some valid concerns about the direction of causality, it still misses the mark. Western democracies have had to deal with significant terrorist threats (leftist radicals in Europe in the late 60s and 70s, and, more recently, Muslim extremists in 9/11, 7/7, and Madrid) and while this has resulted in civil liberties abuses, it hasn’t led these democracies to morph into dictatorships or to resort to anything approaching full-on repression. In short, the existence of a terrorist threat is not a significant explanatory factor in accounting for the autocratic nature of regimes. And let’s keep in mind that Saudi Arabia was a full-blown dictatorship well before there was a real extremist threat within its borders, making an assertion of reverse causality even more dubious.

The surprising logical fallacy the two authors make: if those terrorists rebelled against the Saudi government, they would stay in Saudi Arabia and they would attack Saudi targets. Instead, they go abroad and strike against other targets.

Well, yes, many of them do stay in Saudi Arabia and attack Saudi targets. There was the 1979 seizure of the grand mosque in Mecca led by Juhayman al-Utaibi. There were the Khobar towers in 1996, the Riyadh Compound bombings in 2003, the Khobar massacre of 2004, to name just a few (for a list of incidents, see here). But Van der Galien is right that many Saudi terrorists do seem to concentrate their efforts elsewhere, but that’s largely because they hold the U.S. responsible for supporting the Saudi regime. Keep in mind that Bin Laden’s main grievance against his own government was that it allowed U.S. troops to be stationed in the holy land. So, in this sense, by targeting the U.S., Bin Laden is also targeting the al-Saud family. The "near enemy" and the "far enemy" are connected, and, in the minds of the terrorists, two sides of the same coin.

Moreover, the argument that I make regarding the tyranny-terror link is not that democracies are less likely to be targets of terror. In fact, the opposite is often true, partly because it’s easier for terrorists to organize in free societies, and partly because democracies are more “responsive” to terrorism (in the sense that Western democracies tend to overreach in reaction to terrorist attacks, which is precisely what al-Qaeda and others wanted in the first place – to drag the U.S. into a civilizational conflict, thereby creating in the mind of sympathetic Muslims a binary between the American invaders and the Islamic revolutionaries. Democracies are also “responsive” to terror from an electoral standpoint, where certain political parties are more likely to win elections because of how the public perceives their approach to national security). But while democracies are often targets of terror, it is autocracies which produce terrorists and provide the most hospital conditions for the rise of extremist ideologies in the first place. This, to me, is the more important issue, if we intend to look for root causes and to attack the problem at its origin (rather than at its target, when it’s too late). Once people become terrorists, it’s difficult to "convert" them back into normal citizens. The goal, then, should be to prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place. And, at least in the Middle Eastern context, terrorists did not become terrorists after they arrived in the U.S.; they became terrorists in their home countries (i.e. the repressive autocracies of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, and so on).

Continue reading "Saudi Arabia and the Autocracy-Terrorism Link" »

November 11, 2007

Kahl and Katulis
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There is an intense debate going on at Abu Aardvark between Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress and Colin Kahl from the Center for New American Security (here, here, here).  I absolutely recommend it to everyone.  This is probably the most representative exchange of the two schools of thought within Democratic foreign policy circles on what we should do on Iraq and it is being argued by two people who were instrumental in coming up with the proposals (Strategic Reset and Phased Transition).  These ideas represent the intellectual backbones for most of the proposals being made by members of Congress and Presidential candidates, much as Fred Kagan’s plan at AEI was the backbone for the President’s surge (Although I do think that even among the VSP community Katulis's proposals are more popular). 

It should come as no surprise that I fall in on the Katulis side and believe that a more immediate withdrawal is necessary.  The problem with Kahl’s plan is that for it to work a tremendous amount would have to go miraculously well.  If it doesn’t we will have wasted more American blood and treasure, still have 60K-80K American troops in Iraq and will not have gotten around to addressing other national priorities.  For Katulis’s plan to work, everything will also have to go miraculously well.  The difference is that if it fails we won’t have American troops in Iraq and will be in a better situation to try and get back to other security priorities such as Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, etc…

There’s also a political question here.  As Barry Posen recently noted, the Center for New American Security proposal for Iraq offers no strategic choice to the American public.  Democratic candidates that flirt with the vague ideas proposed by Kahl are risking making the same mistakes made in 2002 and 2004 on national security – offering hair splitting difference on policy but no real strategic choice or contrast to Republicans.  With the American public’s opposition to the Iraq war at an all-time high, the idea of offering a narrow plan not dissimilar to the policy already being pursued by the Bush administration – one which Kahl admits does not have a high probability of success – is politically tone deaf.

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