Democracy Arsenal

December 20, 2007


Who is Sending Militants to Iraq? Hint, Initials are SA
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Late last year, the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point received over 600 records from the Special Operations Command. This information about foreign fighters entering Iraq via Syria is known as the Sinjar Records, and was captured in the far North of Iraq near Syria. West Point authors Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter have taken the first step in analyzing the data dump from this cache in the report "Al Qaida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq"

The biographical information is jaw dropping in its banality: demographic clues like militant age ranging from 16-54, home phone numbers, job listings from doctors, engineers, students and teachers to massage therapist (!) hometowns in Morocco, Libya and Saudi Arabia. To truly understand the meaning of asymmetric threat is how many filled in the description of "role" as "suicide bomber".

This initial analysis reveals that Saudis made up the largest contingent of foreign fighters entering Iraq. (um, thanks again you guys!) Libyans were second (first if measured in percapita terms) and Syrians a distant third. In fact, after reading the report, Syria seems more like an opportunistic and thuggish travel agent than anything else.

The report highlights some key distinctions that organizations like TRACC have long pointed out, that criminal networks have different motivations, some are led by greed and others by blind ideology. Further, that detecting, monitoring, and probing the nexus of transnational criminal and terrorist operations can provide opportunities to disrupt global criminal activities and pre-empt terrorist operations. So we might be able to pick off the greedy ones and get some good information from them to boot; that the religious fundamentalists linked with Al Qaida can't deliver the practical needs of disgruntled citizens (like Iraqis) and one possible strategic advantage for us is to step in and fill the vacuum in basic services and human security when disllusionment sets in; that dealing with supply chain management is an important part of thwarting violent jihadists--because countries like Libya gladly ship their heavy breathing militants to Iraq just to get rid of them at home. So, we should be working with those countries and cooperating to the extent possible to help them address internal violence and promote rule of law (note: preventive and cooperative aid, including fresh and different kinds of security assistance is a huge albeit unheralded trend in policy circles in the DC defense wonk world..) The other striking result was the prevalence of students, and groups of students from the same hometowns...meaning that they are likely recruited together.

Per my earlier post on the defense budget. To me, this report is just another sign that we need to put everything on the budget table and do a thorough vetting of ends and means for our national security. (The House Armed Services Committee is requiring the armed services to do a roles and missions review this coming year, which is a good start, but don't expect revolutionary change to come from within the Pentagon) Civilians, are you listening? Anybody?....Anybody?

December 18, 2007


How High is Up? The Defense Budget gets even crazier
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

For those of you concerned about the state of US security--levees that don't collapse, for example, or bridges that don't fall into the Mississippi river, sit down before you see these numbers.

Last week, both houses of Congress approved the conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585. The bill includes $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy. The bill also authorizes $189.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This funding is NOT counted as part of the $506.9 billion.

Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation has an itemized description of what's in the budget.

The amount of Cold War lard is truly astonishing, especially given the fact that the military itself is hollering from the hilltops that it can't be responsible for all of our national security needs and that today's problems just don't have military (read "Cold War weapons systems") answers.

Keep in mind, today's defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the "Reagan Era" buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average

In fact, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the annual defense budget - not including the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - has gone up 34%. Including war costs, defense spending has gone up 86% since 2001.

Even the venerable Council on Foreign Relations has thrown down the glove on defense spending. Check out this very nice piece by Richard Betts in this month's Foreign Affairs. Oh, and even the director of the Congressional Budget Office is commenting on defense spending. (so much for stodgy bureaucracy, this guy has his own blog!!!) He has a good comment up, but I've had enough business school classes to know that all of this means that we are in deep financial trouble when it comes to security finances-- and just digging ourselves deeper.

November 18, 2007


DOD's Pakistan Aid Spells Trouble
Posted by Gordon Adams

I have been warning for some time that authority over our national security policies and programs was slipping away from the foreign policy part of the executive branch and being absorbed in the Pentagon, while Congress stood by and ignored the trend.  Iraq and Afghanistan and counter-terror operations have exacerbated this problem.  Today, the DOD "foreign assistance" programs for Pakistan are in trouble, and it is no surprise.

Continue reading "DOD's Pakistan Aid Spells Trouble" »

April 27, 2007


If you want to save the professional military, read this article.
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

One of the best overviews of civil-military relations I've ever seen is at this siteState Department site on Principles of Democracy. Read that for a primer, and then read theoriginal article in Armed Forces Journal that Heather points out below. This is a very, very important statement and will hopefully lead to a ground-breaking discussion about the need for a new grand strategy, including the role of the mililtary in national security since the end of the Cold War. The most memorable line? "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war"

April 11, 2007


Why Grow the Army?
Posted by Gordon Adams

What do Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, Bill Richardson, and Gen. Pete Schoomaker, among others, have in common?  They all think the U.S. military is on the verge of breaking and the solution is to make it bigger.  Yet, none of them have told us why it should grow.  Every one of them has put the expansion cart ahead of the strategic horse.

There is no compelling reason to expand the land forces of the United States; in fact, there may be reasons to make them smaller.  Our national security is not facing and existential risk today, and making sure it does not tomorrow will require a different mix of capabilities, one that relies as much on our statecraft, policing, assistance, and intelligence as it does on our land forces.

Continue reading "Why Grow the Army?" »

March 28, 2007


"Defense" Spending to Oblivion
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

The Senate today voted to keep the timeline in the Iraq bill. Who would have thought it would come down to the wire in Nebraska?Though the congressional debate is getting most of the attention--as it should--we still need to remember the crazy amount of money we're shoveling out the door to support our "defense". I put that in quotations on purpose...because the level of spending is so high and the debate about it so inadequate, and we are so NOT funding the solutions that will keep us safe in the long run.

Last year a Congressional Research Report put the average per troop costs for Iraq are between $355,000 and $360,000 per individual, per year; this dollar amount has been increasing since 2003. The last report came out this month put the cost of the wars so far at around $752 billion. gulp.

But the public is continually mis-educated about defense spending---so it isn't surprising that many people believe a fallacy: the more we spend on defense, the more security we purchase. Continually, we hear how today's defense budget is just over 4% of GDP...far lower than at any point in recent history. NPR repeated this trope yesterday. But journalists almost always fail to mention how gigantic our economy has grown in comparison to the World War II era. Even worse, They don't place this figure in context. The most important fact for taxpaying citizens is that the defense budget now takes up more than half of all the dollars we have available to spend every year. This year, its at 59% for 08 not including war spending. The amount of dollars is getting smaller and smaller for everything else. Here's a fantastic video on the topic.

There's no end to the lameness of the mainstream coverage. Today the New York Times framed this question

Continue reading ""Defense" Spending to Oblivion" »

March 13, 2007


The Great Budgetary Opportunity
Posted by Gordon Adams

The emergency funding for the Global War on Terror – that $100 b. bill the administration sent Congress in February is growing and mutating before our eyes.  In the House, it is now a $124 b. bill.

As Congress begins to move the fiscal year 2007 emergency supplemental bill for the global war on terror, it is worth observing the game being played between the Hill and the White House.  There is much to be learned.

The budgetary principal seemed clear: emergency bills should be for emergency needs – things that were not anticipated in advance and are urgently needed.

The administration has violated this principle ever since they began asking for emergency money.  Much of the emergency funding has, understandably, supported the war efforts in Afghanistan and, especially Iraq.   But the opportunity could not be resisted. 

Continue reading "The Great Budgetary Opportunity" »

March 12, 2007


Updating Defense Jargon: Center of Gravity
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

It's time for progressive thinkers to jump into the fray of redefining the lexicon of defense. I'm going to throw out jargon here from time to time in an attempt to do this. Center of Gravity is my first try.

Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote last Saturday:

"When geo-strategic military front lines are non-existent, as in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, mass no longer equals victory. The great military thinker Carl von Clausewitz's notion of "decisive battles" as the "center of gravity" of war is simply irrelevant to conflicts that have no visible "center of gravity." and besides that, "Victory" cannot bring peace, simply because there will always be a war after the war."

I have a slightly different take. I do think the concept is still useful, if only as a concept. Even though people on the ground in warzones don't use this jargon, here, too. It's still important to jump into the fray of updating what it means. Center of Gravity is a good example. It has progressive implications, if framed for today's world.

Every military seeks to identify both ours and our enemies sources of power, then protect ours and destroy theirs. During WWII, an identified Center of Gravity would have been a munitions factory and its destruction through bombing a high priority. Today’s definition of CoG is constantly evolving. It includes both culture and society and also how they change over time. In fighting terrorism, for example, the enemy CoG is the network of supporters worldwide who view Bin Laden more sympathetically than they view Americans. In this context, "victory" over the enemy CoG means ending support for terrorists by offering persuasive alternatives . The military takes seriously the effects of others’ perceptions of the USA and understands the importance of legitimacy—or leading by example. Check out the Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa.

The Bush Administration has repeatedly ignored the importance of legitimacy, hence missing the Center of Gravity repeatedly for the past five years. In contrast, General Petraeus, the recently appointed Commander in Iraq, seems to get it comprehensively.

February 21, 2007


Is This the War Boom at Last?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Via Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress, a story about Gulf states looking at the security situation around them and "re-arming for the first time in fifteen years."  Boy, there's progress for you.  US manufacturers, we're told, stand to take the lion's share of the contracts (which is either an interesting commentary on the reality of our ties with Gulf regimes, the amount of concessionary financing we're willing to provide, or the quality of our weaponry -- you decide). 

How ironic that this won't happen fast enough to benefit the Administration in the current political cycle.  If only these governments had known a couple years ago how bad things would get, they could've ordered ahead.  Some key contracts to plants in, say, Ohio really would've been useful last year.

On the other hand, I know anecdotally of at least one Midwest defense-related plant whose local union members passed an anti-war resolution -- against the advice of their national union -- back when the war began.

February 20, 2007


GOP Uses Dems (old) National Security Playbook?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

For years, Democrats have paid careful attention to military benefits and welfare issues to try to blunt the accusation that we hated not just any particular conflict, but the troops themselves. I rubbed my ears several times this morning when my local radio station reported that Michigan REPUBLICANS have introduced a bill to triple the amount of time returning Guard and Reserve soliders can take with their families while still holding on to the right to return to their civilian jobs. Needless to say, the state GOP’s friends in the state Chamber of Commerce are quietly unhappy about this. A question: many public opinion experts have told Democrats that this strategy doesn’t work – that it doesn’t replace a public sense that your party can be a responsible steward of our national security. I’m sure this kind of provision will be a boon for families stretched to breaking by long, repeated deployments… but I don’t see any reason it’ll work better politically for Rs than for Ds.

Continue reading "GOP Uses Dems (old) National Security Playbook?" »

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