Democracy Arsenal

« May 2011 | Main | July 2011 »

June 16, 2011

Curbing “Unwarranted Influence”
Posted by Jacob Stokes

F-35Fellow DA’er Heather Hurlburt has a piece out in the new issue of the journal Democracy entitled, “Peace Is Our Profession.” It reviews James Ledbetter’s “Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex” and William Hartung’s “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.”

In it, she lays out state-of-play on the defense budget conversation:

“The most audacious proposals to cut U.S. government spending, such as Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan announced in early April, pass off reductions in the rate of increase in Pentagon spending as spending cuts. While conservative and center-left budget hawks circulate plans and counterplans to save money on domestic entitlement spending, and debate the value and necessity of spending on everything from Head Start to foreign assistance to family planning, there is simply no serious debate on our military spending. The discussion and promulgation of options is left to a small group of libertarian, left, and left-er critics whose proposals are greeted with resounding silence.”

Then, after brief explanations of the books’ narrative arcs and main themes, Hurlburt looks at the way forward and offers a small but seemingly effective first step:

"U.S. military spending has been cut significantly three times in the last 60 years—after World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. Each time, these authors suggest, the military-industrial complex has roared back stronger, and fundamental problems of efficiency and effectiveness have not been addressed. What attempts at reform have worked? Can they be repeated?

And perhaps the most important question, which both authors edge right up to but do not quite address: Is it possible to imagine a defense sector that operated differently? And, if so, what would be the policy steps to move toward creating it? Do other countries with technologically advanced weapons industries and militaries succeed in managing this process better? 

…The French National Assembly can vote up or down only on the overall military budget, not on specific programs or weapons systems. It is worth noting here that President Obama’s deficit reduction commission floated the idea of a non-partisan commission to make recommendations on 'terminating major weapons systems' that could be accepted by Congress with only an up-or-down vote, like the highly successful base-reduction commission of decades past—a suggestion that has been met with resounding silence from all sides."

Hurlburt is right about that final idea. Before we even discuss changing mission sets and choosing between competing priorities, as Secretary Gates has suggested, we first need to fix our procurement process so that – at the very least – the Pentagon and Congress can work together to build what Pentagon leaders say we need. In that spirit, Lawrence Korb of CAP and I published an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun yesterday calling for a “weapons BRAC." Here’s the basic thesis:

“A similar process should be adopted for weapons systems — we'll call it a ‘weapons BRAC.’ Instituting such a process would produce several benefits. First, it would provide the right incentive for Congress to fund systems that military and national security experts say the country needs, instead of pet projects favored by influential members of Congress.

A weapons BRAC would also increase pressure on defense contractors to provide more accurate cost estimates, meet project deadlines and achieve performance standards, lest they be recommended for termination in the commission's report.”

Read the whole Democracy piece here and the rest of Baltimore Sun op-ed here. Because as Hurlburt writes, “the need for a change – for our economy, for the health of twenty-first century society, and indeed, for the military itself – has never been greater.”

Photo Credit: F-35B, via Lockheed Martin Flickr Account

June 15, 2011

The Isolationism Canard
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at Foreign Policy I have a new article looking at the emerging fault lines on foreign policy in the 2012 election - and surprisingly enough they seem to suggest that there may be a new wave of national security realism sweeping the ranks of Republican presidential aspirants

Republican realism made an unexpected comeback at the debate as the GOP field sought to offer an alternative to President Barack Obama's military escalations amid growing public concerns about the costs of U.S. global leadership. If anyone three years ago had predicted that this would be the emerging division on foreign policy for Obama's reelection campaign they would have been laughed out of the room.

Are we seeing a newly realist Republican Party? Or is this a momentary search for political opportunity? Only time will tell, but if Monday's debate is any indication, the fault lines for Campaign 2012 might not be as predictable as once imagined.

You can read the whole thing here. But interestingly Jeff Zeleny at the New York Times had a similar take this morning noting that the "hawkish consensus on national security that has dominated Republican foreign policy for the last decade is giving way to a more nuanced view."

But then Zeleny goes a step too far, "The evolution also highlights a renewed streak of isolationism among Republicans, which has been influenced by the rise of the Tea Party movement and a growing sense that the United States can no longer afford to intervene in clashes everywhere."

Now to be sure Ron Paul is definitely an isolationist, but that word simply cannot accurately be used to describe any of the other Republicans seeking the presidency.  To characterize the view that the US "can no longer afford to intervene in clashes everywhere" or that interests should take precedence over values in national security decision-making as "isolationism" is not only wrong, it's borderline mendacious.

Mitt Romney's talk about bringing troops out of Afghanistan "as soon as we possibly can" is not altogether different from the position taken by President Obama. Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain saying that the Libya war is not actually in the "vital national interest" of the United States is not isolationism - it's actually, sort of correct. These are completely reasonable policy positions to take; and they are firmly within a realist tradition in American foreign policy. In addition, it should be noted that Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum adopted a relatively expansive view of American power and Pawlenty, in particular, rejected Ron Paul's argument that attacking terrorist targets is not in the national security interests of the United States.

Indeed, it's even more out of kilter to argue that the American people are moving in an isolationist direction. Recent polling suggests that while most Americans would rather see the US play a minor, rather than leading role in global affairs a majority (50%) wants to see the US play a major, but not leading role. That's not a turn toward isolationism; in fact, it might be more accurately described as a turn against the DC consensus that views American interests and global capabilities as practically limitless.

To this point, it's worth looking at the recent survey results of voter attitudes about foreign policy from the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. It shows that voters continue to want to see the United States play an active role in global affairs, "exert strong leadership in world affairs" and maintain "superior power worldwide." However, at the same time, they would prefer more selective engagement, a lighter U.S. military footprint, and more support for multilateral institutions to share the burden of managing global affairs. 

Again, there is nothing isolationist about these views; indeed they seem more reasonable about US power and capabilities than much of what passes for foreign policy thinking in Washington.

Ignoring the Obvious: When Pondering Engaging in Armed Conflict, We Look Past the Basics
Posted by Eric Martin

MisrataTo state a seemingly obvious point, and one that requires no great revelatory insight or spark of genius to concoct, wars and other armed conflicts are unpredictable, lead to unintended consequences and usually exceed expected parameters in terms of duration, cost and scope.  Make this rather pedestrian observation aloud in informed company, however, and expect to be met with rolled eyes and the gentle pats of condescending assurance: "Yes, yes, everybody knows this already."

Yet this truism has reached that bizarre stage of being so widely known, so accepted, so hum-drum as to be frequently disregarded when making policy - particularly, policy that involves the initiation of (or intervention in) armed conflict.

The NATO intervention in Libya is only the most recent example.  This exchange between Elliot Abrams and Micah Zenko provides an instance of the unbridled optimism that pervaded the pro-intervention camp. Abrams, who was by no means the most effusive pollyana, prescribed the following:

So how do we achieve that goal of getting Qaddafi out? We use a combination of means, which may include UN resolutions, Arab League and other Arab and Muslim actions, sanctions, freezes of his oil income, recognition of an alternative government, meetings with opposition leaders, broadcasting against the regime, and on to more forceful actions. These could include arming the opposition and/or preventing Qaddafi from using the military strength he retains to win this civil war. Preventing him from using air power is a possible part of the mix, and that might be achieved from NATO air bases in Italy or ships in the Mediterranean.

Such steps would constitute military intervention despite the fact that no American or NATO soldier would set foot in Libya. [emphasis added]

Despite what everybody knows is the unwieldy, unruly, unpredictable nature of armed conflict (and with what are certainly superfluous daily reminders emanating from Iraq and Afghanistan), proponents of intervention were unabashed in their rosy predictions.  They were almost entirely remiss in acknowledging the possibility, nay likelihood, that this effort would morph into something much larger, more time consuming, more expensive than advertised, and take on other unknown, and unwanted, permutations.  

Predictably, things aren't going as planned (they rarely do, but you knew that already).  A campaign that was slated to last "days not weeks" has entered its third month, with no end to Qaddafi's regime in sight (Note: the Libya mission has already exceeded the duration of NATO's operations in Kosovo). 

While the imposition of the No-Fly-Zone by NATO forces completely neutralized the Libyan regime's airpower (limited as it was), stagnation on the battlefield has led NATO to shift tactics.  NATO is now targeting regime leaders, as well as military equipment and assets, with greater frequency. However, these looser rules of engagement are in possible violation of the UNSC resolution under whose imprimatur the mission is being carried out.  Apparently, the utility of that authorization didn't survive long past first contact with the enemy.

In addition, Great Britain and France have begun deploying attack helicopters in theater, a weapons platform that allows for more precision targetting and, more importantly, eases the burden on each nation's rapidly dwindling stockpiles of JDAMs.  These nations were amongst the most vocal proponents of military intervention, but their capacity to engage in any type of protracted conflict using these guided munitions was extremely limited.

It's almost as if they assumed that this war would be neat, by-the-book and short, and made policy based on those expectations despite war's notoriously uncooperative nature.  Daniel Byman and Matthew Waxman had an interesting piece in Foreign Policy a couple of weeks back that discusses, in greater detail, some of the reasons why these types of conflicts tend to drag on and lead to unsatisfying outcomes.  

But if everybody knows that armed conflicts exhibit these tendencies generally speaking, shouldn't the presumption tilt heavily against those that forecast a cakewalk - even absent the specifics provided by the likes of Byman and Waxman?

To be clear, Qaddafi could be ousted tomorrow. However, the next phase of the conflict could be even more taxing on participating NATO members. Despite the fraught nature of the post-Qaddafi aftermath, there don't seem to be clearly thought out plans for which organizations and groups (rebel and foreign) will be participating in that transition period and under what rules.

But who needs contingency plans to cover various less-than-ideal possible outcomes? These things tend to sort themselves out, right?

(Photo Credit: Ben Wedeman, CNN)

June 14, 2011

A Sensible Way Forward for the US in Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today in the Los Angeles Times, fellow DA blogger Michael Hanna and I have a new piece on Afghanistan the lays out the need for the Obama Administration to adopt a viable political strategy for Afghanistan - and one that operates in concert with our ongoing military strategy:

As President Obama's July deadline to begin drawing down troops from Afghanistan approaches, the debate in Washington is focused almost exclusively on how rapidly the U.S. military presence should be reduced. But the emphasis on troop levels ignores the more important question of what the administration's political strategy should be for ending the war.

There is no question that the U.S. must leave Afghanistan eventually. But withdrawal must be done in a way that prevents chaos and ensures that America's interests in the region are protected. Current U.S. military tactics, however, are often operating at cross-purposes to the establishment of an effective political strategy for ending the war — a political strategy that to date has been poorly constructed.

Supporters of the current approach argue that the military campaign is putting increased pressure on the Taliban, and that with just a little more force, we can push insurgents to the negotiating table. But this is a dubious assumption, and the U.S. does not have the luxury to see if it's correct.

Although the Taliban presence has lessened in certain areas of the country, its members still enjoy protection in havens across the border in Pakistan. It remains a resilient fighting force able to launch sophisticated military operations, and the predatory behavior of the Afghan government continues to push a steady stream of recruits into the arms of the insurgency. Meanwhile, the Afghan army and police are nowhere near ready to independently take over security responsibilities.

Each of these strategic impediments means that the military's recent gains on the battlefield are simply not sustainable. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus has noted that the situation in Afghanistan cannot be resolved by military might alone. Yet the U.S. military remains committed to a policy that relies far too heavily on the stick rather than on the carrot.

Even though the administration has reportedly initiated secret, serious high-level contacts with representatives of the Taliban and has touted nuanced shifts in diplomatic language (such as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's February speech that seemed to discard preconditions for negotiations with the Taliban), far less consideration has been given to how the United States can encourage a shift in the Taliban's perceptions and behavior. For too long the U.S. has acted as if force is the only effective means for communicating with the Taliban.

Fighting must continue, but talking and engagement are even more urgent. Although recent exploratory talks with credible Taliban leaders represent an encouraging breakthrough, these openings could be for naught if the military campaign is not waged in concert with this political initiative.

Read the whole thing here

June 10, 2011

How NATO is Like A Boyfriend/Girlfriend That Won't Commit
Posted by Michael Cohen

Images So you ever know those couples where one of the two really wants to get married, settle down and have kids and the other one just refuses to commit and is evasive about the future of the relationship . . . I think this is a good descriptor of the US-NATO alliance today.

Allow me to explain. Yesterday in Brussels, Bob Gates gave a rather incendiary set of remarks that basically attacked NATO allies for not holding up their end of the military bargain in the alliance.

In the past, I’ve worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance between members who specialize in ‘soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks and those conducting the ‘hard’ combat missions -- between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership, be they security guarantees or headquarters billets, but don’t want to share the risks and the costs,” the secretary said.

This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable.

According to Gates, our NATO allies are not willing to increase defense spending for their militaries, are not willing to commit their troops to long-term military conflicts like Afghanistan and Libya and are putting a significant burden for these fights on the United States. 

The thing is he's right. But then again we've known for years that Europe's commitment to defense spending and to foreign wars was shaky at best. We've known that they perceive their national interests and global commitments in less fulsome terms than the United States does. Indeed, Gates actually said this yesterday, "I am the latest in a string of U.S. defense secretaries who have urged allies privately and publicly, often with exasperation, to meet agreed-upon NATO benchmarks for defense spending."

So here's my question - why don't we take a hint? Instead of browbeating Europeans into doing something they don't want to do, why not fold their obvious reluctance to be a better ally into US national security decision-making? 

For example, if we know that non-US NATO countries have demonstrated little stomach for the fight in Afghanistan, that they are itching to drawdown their foreign military commitments and they lack the resources and capabilities to be an effective US war-fighting partner . . . why then did we launch a war in Libya based on an assumption of steadfast and committed NATO support?

It can't be a huge surprise to Gates or any US leader that NATO commitment to the war there was constricted? So why are we blaming them for not coming through (no matter how legitimate a critique it might be) and not blaming ourselves for assuming that this commitment actually existed? We had a similar scenario in 2009 when the initial McChrystal review assumed a level of NATO support for the mission in Afghanistan that likely didn't exist? 

So to come back to my analogy, NATO, like a commitment-phobic mate. They've gotten used to the relationship and they're not really interested in taking the next step no matter how much their significant other tries to get them to do it. They want the alliance to exist on their narrow terms.

I would humbly note that US policymakers, no matter how fair their criticism of NATO allies might be, should probably accept the fact that NATO countries are uncertain and wavering allies for long-term military commitments. And instead of publicly attacking those countries for not doing what we want them to do . . . take for granted that US cajoling isn't going to change this and respond accordingly. It might actually lead to the conclusion that NATO, as the cornerstone of our global security alliances has, perhaps, outlived its usefulness or is being asked to do evolve in ways (like fight non-European wars) that it isn't capable of doing.

So our choice is either break-up or accept the status quo; but the assumption that NATO is going to change . . . it simply isn't going to happen.

June 08, 2011

George Kennan’s Advice on Afghanistan
Posted by Jacob Stokes

KennanAs President Obama decides the size of the July 2011 troop drawdown, he’ll need to take a step back and think big-picture strategy. He'll need to balance the realities of the conflict, as well as America’s current posture, with American priorities worldwide and at home. In short, he’ll have to ask: Is the current strategy for battling transnational terrorism and ensuring stability in South Asia achieving our goals at a reasonable cost?

My colleague Michael Cohen has written eloquently about the need for more big-picture strategic thinking in American government. So I thought I’d look back at what George Kennan, legendary State Department director of policy planning and author the containment strategy that won the Cold War, might have advised. Nicholas Thompson’s outstanding “The Hawk and The Dove” pulls some thoughts that Kennan had on the Vietnam war which apply here: 

On prolonging a conflict to prevent a blow to American prestige, Kennan said: “There is more respect to be won in the opinion of this world by resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives.”

On getting native populations to fight for themselves: “if [host populations’] morale is so shaky that without an offensive strategy on our part they are simply going to give up the fight, I do not think they are worth helping anyway. And, as for the question of our having a moral obligation to them, they have had enormous help from us to date. I mean, goodness, they have help in the billions and billions of dollars. How many countries are you going to give such a claim on our resources and on our help? If they cannot really do the trick with this, I feel strongly that the trouble lies somewhere with them and not with us.”

(Photo Credit: Middlebury College)

Tactician, Plan Thyself
Posted by Eric Martin


Given my oft-stated concern about what a potential post-Qaddafi period will look like (would there be purges/an insurgency, would it require a peacekeeping/nation building mission, overseen by which groups/nations, etc.), these paragraphs from a recent New York Times piece on the conflict in Libya stood out:

...Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, returning from a brief visit to the rebel headquarters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, hinted at concern in Western capitals about what might come after the toppling of Colonel Qaddafi. Mr. Hague said he had pressed the rebel leaders to make early progress on a more detailed plan for a post-Qaddafi government that would include sharing power with some of Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalists.

In particular, Mr. Hague said, the rebels should learn from Iraq’s experience, in which a mass purge of former Saddam Hussein loyalists occurred under the American-backed program of “de-Baathification,” and shun any similar undertaking. The reference was to a policy that many analysts believe helped to propel years of insurgency in Iraq by stripping tens of thousands of officials of jobs.[...]

He said Britain was encouraging them “to put more flesh on their proposed transition — to lay out in more detail this coming week what would happen on the day that Qaddafi went, who would be running what, how would a new government be formed in Tripoli?” Pressing the point about Qaddafi loyalists, he said the Benghazi leaders were “learning” from Iraq. “No de-Baathification!” he said, before adding, “They now need to publicize that more effectively, to be able to convince members of the current regime that that is something that would work.”

While it is encouraging to see Hague making these entreaties, it would have been nice had there been a clearer vision of post-Qaddafi Libya prior to commiting military assets to the cause of toppling him. Further, it is not only the rebel groups that should be fleshing out their plans for the post-Qaddafi era: NATO and other regional/multilateral organizations need to come up with their own proposals for which groups/nations will fill which roles during any transition period.

It is also worth noting the lack of leverage that NATO has should the rebels fail to make the progress needed in terms of fleshing out a plan, or, for one reason or another, failing to implement the established way forward.  As the United States can attest - pointing to recent experiences with our putative allies in Iraq and Afghanistan - even lavish amounts of aid, military support and boots on the ground cannot compel local actors to embrace forbearance, forgiveness or respect for human rights.

Ultimately, local factions will place their own grievances, imperatives and interests ahead of the norms and pleas of outside powers - even where those outside powers are their sole and necessary benefactors.

If rebel groups opt to take actions that create or exacerbate insurgencies and other internal conflicts, NATO (or whatever group/nations lead the transition period) will have little choice but to buckle up and go along for the ride. Which would prove extremely costly and time consuming - if not unfamiliar.

(Photo credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Why Obama Should Not Necessarily Be Listening to Gates on Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

David Rothkopf has a provocative piece in Foreign Policy that argues the US should get out of Afghanistan - and get out now. While I'm sympathetic with the general argument I think David gets the specifics wrong - a precipitous withdrawal is not the best play right now either for the US or for Afghanistan. There are more effective ways to safeguard US interests, drawdown the US presence and potentially leave Afghanistan in reasonably stable condition. Afghanistan

But actually I have a quibble with another of his statements; and it has to do with my new best friend Bob Gates and his views on Afghanistan. Here's what Rothkopf says:

It is important to very carefully weigh his statement on Monday that in Afghanistan "we've still got a ways to go and I think we shouldn't let up on the gas too much, at least for the next few months." Clearly, it reflects a belief on his part -- days before his departure from office -- that continued application of U.S. military force at present levels of intensity could speed the movement of the Taliban to the negotiating table and thus make reconciliation talks and potential stability in that country more feasible sooner.

He is in a better position than almost anyone to make that judgment given the constant stream of intelligence and feedback he gets from his generals on the ground. That his view is apparently shared by General David Petraeus, America's top commander there, adds credence to it.

I'm sure I'll get in trouble for saying this, but I actually would argue that Bob Gates, a month before his departure from government, is not the best person to make this judgment . . . but one of the worst.

Let's start with the fact that Gates was one of the biggest civilian proponents of the current mission back in the Fall of 2009. We can now say, in retrospect, that his support for the surge was misguided, because for a variety of reasons that original approach which focused on winning Afghan hearts and minds has not worked and has largely been scrapped in favor of an enemy-centric approach that is offering temporary and unsustainable military gains. Moreover, the strategic inputs that were part of the 2009 escalation - Pakistan cooperation on dismantling Afghan safe havens, a civilian surge, Afghan governance reform, security sector improvement etc - simply haven't materialized in the manner that surge proponents predicted. Of course, that this strategy likely wouldn't work should have been obvious then; and it's fair to judge Gates on his over optimistic view of the efficacy of US military power at the time and question whether his judgment should be fully trusted today.

Beyond the issue of Gates' track record, there is another problem: by this point Gates has something of a personal interest in seeing the current US military mission in Afghanistan succeed. He's no longer an impartial observer to the debate; he's one who, at least theoretically, wants to see his judgment in Afghanistan and his support for escalation to be vindicated. This isn't meant as an attack on Gates; but it hardly seems uncontroversial to note that he is likely predisposed to want to see the current mission play out rather than admit "defeat" and begin bringing troops home. 

As for the notion that Gates' view is supported by General Petraeus and thus it has greater credence, this is even more dubious. Who, beyond Gates, has even more desire to see his strategic views on counter-insurgency be vindicated than David Petraeus?  If anyone in the Administration is going to be putting their thumb on the scale and offering a more rosy view of what's happening on the ground it would be him. Of course, we know that Petraeus has offered nothing but optimistic views about the US mission in Afghanistan; views contradicted by non-military observers of the conflict. And these views, of course, which trickle down the chain of command in a deeply hierarchical institution like the US military have practically become cant. Moreover, military views on the success of current operations may actually tell us very little about the larger strategic success, or lack thereof, of the mission.

So if Gates is relying on the judgment of Petraeus and his generals, as Rothkopf suggests, he's likely getting a one-sided view of the conflict. 

This is all part and parcel of a mindset that "failure is not an option" in Afghanistan and that we must continue a military mission until it achieves victory (whatever that overused word actually means). It's what I call "military can do-ism run horribly amok" This is in fact why you have civilian overseers of the military; to ensure that larger strategic and political considerations go into war-making decisions.

So in the end, it's not as if Obama shouldn't listen to Gates or Petraeus about what to do in Afghanistan - but he should take what they say with a big grain of salt and listen to those without a vested interest in the decision about what to do next.

Perhaps convening a 2011 version of the Wise Men would be a smart thing for Obama to consider (and yes, there are wise men about national security who don't live in Washington DC)

June 06, 2011

The Mystery of Bob Gates, aka "America's Best Defense Secretary"
Posted by Michael Cohen

Justin Logan and Ben Friedman have a must read in Foreign Policy about the myth of Bob Gates as America's best defense secretary. It's worth reading the entire piece, but this section really jumped out at me:

The secretary has an uncanny knack for saying things that get him credit for what he will not do, as defense analyst Lawrence Korb has noted. Gates claimed it's crazy to send ground forces in large numbers to Asia or the Middle East after advocating precisely that in Afghanistan. He said that diplomacy is underfunded compared with defense, but wouldn't surrender funds for the State Department . . . He just gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute saying that saving money on defense requires re-examining roles and missions -- two days after giving another speech at the University of Notre Dame claiming that all of the Defense Department's roles and missions are essential.

This has always been my great confusion about Bob Gates. He brags about defense cuts at the same that defense budgets have continued to expand under his watch. He has done precious little to reform the contracting process that squanders so much in the way of taxpayer dollars; his major cuts in defense programs have actually not amounted to much; his QDR simply reiterated the DC conventional wisdom that American leadership must be preeminent on the global stage and it must be guaranteed by a military that continues to take on more and more responsibilities - many of which should belong to civilian agencies.

I suppose in the constricted world of DC policy debates this is somehow what defines a maverick or an "out-of-the-box thinker" but in reality it's the profile of a guy who, on defense issues, has basically kicked the can down the road. I wrote about this a bit in 2009:

Secretary of Defense Gates caused a buzz in 2007 when he declared the need for a “dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.” But nowhere did he call for the Pentagon to shed any responsibilities. Indeed, in his next breath, Gates made clear “I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense this year.” At the same time, he noted the incongruous sight of “field artillerymen and tankers building schools and mentoring city councils.” Gates remarked that these skills will need to be “institutionalized and retained” in the military.

As Logan and Friedman note the gap between what Gates receives credit for, and what he's actually done is bizarrely wide.

On Afghanistan this story is even worse; for a guy who seemingly has the knowledge to understand that it's a bad idea to send large numbers of ground forces into a Middle Eastern or Asian country . . . he presided over both the Iraq surge and was the biggest civilian proponent in the Obama Administration of expanding the US presence in Afghanistan.

And right now Gates is doubling down on a bad policy by running around Afghanistan telling every reporter in sight that it is not the right time to begin drawing down troops from the fight or even opening political negotiations with the Taliban. He's doing this at the exact moment that the President and his national security advisors are having a debate about whether and how many troops will actually be drawn down from Afghanistan in July. Seems like an odd thing for a Cabinet Secretary to be putting his thumb on the scale in public while the President is trying to make a vital national security decision.

Ask yourself DA reader, can you imagine any other Cabinet Secretary publicly advocating for a position on an issue being debated at that exact moment by the President of the United States? it's almost as if Gates thinks he's a four star general and thus immune from the traditional rules of public comment on presidential decision-making on matters of national security.

But hey he's the greatest defense secretary so perhaps I should just get with the program.

June 02, 2011

The Afghan Troop Number Game
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Soldiers in AfghanistanJuly 2011 has crept up on us, and it’s decision time on Afghanistan. At the end of last year, a number of reports called for a steady slope of reduction in U.S. forces in Afghanistan going into the 2014 timeline for transition to full Afghan lead. There’s has been no reason why those recommendations should have changed since last fall. But along comes this Reuters analysis, following up on a Wall Street Journal analysis last month, which frames removing 10,000 troops over the next year as a drawdown that was “larger than previously expected.”

Well, it may be that. But it’s also much, much smaller than what a number of experts – including some, such as those at the Center for a New American Security, which are seen as closely aligned with Gen. David Petraeus – have argued for. Below, I lay out all the specific recommendations I’ve seen in order from smallest to largest/fastest. (The math on this is variable, so please excuse any errors – journalism school.)

White House (Reuters prediction, not announced of course): "10,000 troops over the next year" 

Military plans via WSJ: “U.S. military officers in Afghanistan have drawn up preliminary proposals to withdraw as many as 5,000 troops from the country in July and as many as 5,000 more by the year's end, the first phase of a U.S. pullout promised by President Barack Obama, officials say.” 

Anthony Cordesman of CSIS: “Anthony Cordesman, a former defense official and military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a drawdown of some 15,000 soldiers over the next year would balance political and military concerns without endangering the overall counter-insurgency campaign. ‘It shows you're serious about reductions. It's the first step in this transition process to 2014,’ he said.” 

CNAS: “Today’s U.S. force levels of 100,000 would draw down by one-third to one half during this phase [by December 2012].” So down to somewhere between 50,000-70,000 by the end of next year, with forces drawing down to 25,000-35,000 going into 2014. (One note on fairness: this recommendation is cavaeted with a note about changing conditions, although I’d say it’d be tough to argue that anything has changed to make the situation any worse than it was in December 2010 when the report was written.)

Continue reading "The Afghan Troop Number Game" »

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use