Category Archives: Strategic studies

‘Survival’ and how we think about war

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, of which I’ve been a
member for some 20 years, is this year celebrating its 50th
birthday.  To mark the occasion they’ve published a special
issue
of their quarterly journal Survival,
under the title “The Bush Years and Beyond.”  It is a generally
excellent edition, by a short and informative account by British
strategic-studies grandee Michael
Howard
of the history of the IISS.  Of special note there:
that back in 1958, the IISS was founded to provide a specifically
British kind of counterpart to pre-existing US think-tanks like the
Rand Corporation; and that the British Council of Churches was one of
the organizations that– moved by the ethical concerns some of its
leaders had over the whole question of Britain’s nuclear arsenal–
participated in founding the IISS

Since 1958, the IIS has changed in many ways.  It has tried hard
to become much more international, even if with only mixed success. And
it has become far less concerned with the big ethical/philosophical
questions around nuclear war and warfare in genera, and far more in
thrall to the big defense contractors who are well represented in the
membership, and far less connected to any religious bodies or
individuals. (Regarding Quakers, I know of only one other apart from
myself  who is an IISS member. And I confess that I am unaware if
any other members of IISS bring  any specifically religious
sensibility to their engagement with it, though doubtless there are
some who do.)

Be those broader fact as they may be, there are a number of excellent
articles in this anniversary edition of Survival.  Far and away the
most thought-provoking, in my view, is “Strategy and the Limitation of
War”, by Hew Strachan of All
Souls College, Oxford.  Strachan’s article is an excellent and
much-needed exploration of how
specialists, policymakers, and commentators think about different forms
of war
.  He notes that the way wars are described almost
inevitably frame the way that we think about them.  He notes, in
particular, that the rhetoric that members of the Bush administration
have generated about the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) and about this
being a “long war” is at one and the same time:

(1) actually unknowable, since no-one
knows the length of a war going in (though I would add that inasmuch as
people enter a “long war” mindset, the use of the term from the get-go
might itself act as a powerfully self-fulfilling prophecy); and

(2) an intellectually slovenly and in practice very counter-productive
way of aggregating under the “long war/GWOT” rubric situations,
clashes, and armed confrontations that in reality often have little to
do with each other.

Strachan is particularly percipient when he describes how the legacies
of the “total war” thinking of the Cold War shaped the way that most
western strategic theorists approached the challenges posed by the
attacks of September 11, 2001. He writes:

Continue reading

Iraq vs. Afghanistan in the US election

Helene Cooper had a good analytical article in today’s NYT, looking at the differing views on the “winnability” of Iraq held by, on the one hand, presumptive Republican candidate John McCain and on the other, both the Democratic front-runners, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Cooper writes,

    All three say they believe that Afghanistan is an important security threat that needs to be addressed. But the Republican, John McCain, suggests that Iraq remains America’s bugaboo of security threats, while the two Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, appear to have moved on to Afghanistan. Both of them argue that focusing on Iraq gets in the way of a more serious threat in Afghanistan.

Attentive JWN readers will know that I am for a US troop withdrawal from Iraq that is speedy, orderly, and total. I hold this position on grounds of principle, given the patently illegitimate nature of the US invasion of Iraq and the inescapably repressive and harmful nature of rule by foreign military occupation whenever it occurs. But in addition, I believe that the continued US occupation of Iraq harms the interests of the US citizenry in a number of significant ways, not least by swallowing up huge amounts of (borrowed) financial resources that have already impoverished our country and will continue to impoverish it for some generations to come.
It is also true that the continued US troop presence in Iraq diverts attention and resources from the situation in Afghanistan, a place where for various historic reasons the US has a strong continuing obligation to help (at the very least) to help to rebuild the country. Afghanistan was a key battlefield in the US confrontation against the Soviets in the 1980s; and since 2001 it has been a key battlefield in the US confrontation against Al-Qaeda.
However, the exact nature of this obligation needs to be unpacked further. Most importantly, I believe the US needs to work with the United Nations, with Muslim countries, and with Afghanistan’s close big-power neighbors China and Russia to maximize the investment that is made in rebuilding Afghanistan’s society on a sound basis. Part of that effort might involve a continuing non-Afghan security presence in the country. But surely that presence should be provided by a specifically UN force, under the direct leadership of the UN, rather than coming from that old– and distinctly “Atlanticist”– Cold War relic, NATO.
But I can certainly agree with Clinton and Obama that the attempt to continue to maintain a large US troop presence in Iraq diverts attention and resources from the obligation the US has in Afghanistan– and indeed, in many other places, too, including here at home within the good ol’ USA.
Helene Cooper writes this about McCain:

    Senator McCain, the likely Republican nominee, makes a de facto argument that Iraq and Afghanistan are two sides of the same coin. “Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will withdraw our forces from Iraq based on an arbitrary timetable designed for the sake of political expediency and which recklessly ignores the profound human calamity and dire threats to our security that would ensue,” Mr. McCain said in a Feb. 7 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
    Distilled to its simplest form, Mr. McCain’s argument is that withdrawing from Iraq would make Americans less safe in the long run, because a withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda, put American interests at risk in the Middle East, and make an already volatile region less safe.

Backing up McCain’s argument that the US should not consider withdrawing from either Iraq or Afghanistan– but using a slightly different form of argumentation– is Anthony Cordesman, the long-time Middle East strategic guru at the Center for International Studies. Cordesman had an op-ed titled “Two winnable wars” in today’s WaPo.
Cordesman doesn’t actually sketch out, in the way McCain did, any specific scenario of dire consequences if the US should decide to withdraw from either Iraq or Afghanistan. He seems to simply assume that we all know that withdrawal would connote defeat. His main argument, instead, is that with the right kinds of US policies both these wars are winnable. Having recently returned from visits to both countries, he starts his piece with this bold assertion:

    No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won.

He does, however, immediately qualify that statement (and cover his own rear end) by adding, “They are also clearly wars that can still be lost.”
He then provides the useful service of spelling out what it is that in his view constitutes victory:

    Meaningful victory can come only if tactical military victories end in ideological and political victories and in successful governance and development. Dollars are as important as bullets, and so are political accommodation, effective government services and clear demonstrations that there is a future that does not need to be built on Islamist extremism.

This is actually a pretty good definition, though Cordesman and I might– or might not– differ on what constitutes “Islamist extremism.” Where I differ from him, however, is in his view that it should be the US that “leads” (i.e. controls) the effort to bring good governance to the two countries.
After six years of US dominance of the government and security system in Afghanistan and nearly five years of US occupation of Iraq, have we seen anything about either of these situations that encourages us to think that US is able to bring good governance to either country?
No.
If you go to the CSIS website, you can see a PDF of a 48-piece slide presentation that Cordesman presented on Feb. 13, as a way of reporting on his most recent trip to Iraq. The slides look to have been prepared mainly by the US military themselves. I found slides #3, 35, and 41-46 to be the most informative. In slide 41, he states baldly that the US military needs a further “half decade” to be able to sort out all the many current challenges in Iraq, many of which are, as the following slides clearly demonstrate, very political challenges, within Iraq’s political system. (And therefore, imho, no legitimate concern of any foreigners, anyway.)
The various points of “positive achievement” listed in Cordesman’s slides make a stark contrast with what we read yesterday in Nir Rosen’s much more grounded reporting of what’s been happening in Iraq during the surge. (Do you think Cordesman ever got out of the Green Zone? He gives no indication whatsoever that he did.) And on the news pages of today’s WaPo, there’s a fascinating article by Joshua Partlow, reporting on the big problems the US military and its local, “Iraqi Security Force” allies have been facing in the large northern city of Mosul.
Don’t be misled by the inappropriately optimistic headline the piece bears.
Partlow writes this:

    With just 2,000 American soldiers to patrol a city of 1.8 million people — the Iraqi Sunni insurgency’s most formidable urban stronghold — the U.S. military strategy in Mosul relies to an unprecedented degree on the Iraqi security forces. U.S. military officials here say there will be nothing like the “surge” of thousands of American troops that helped ease the fighting in Baghdad and no major effort to search for insurgents block by block. Instead, they are betting that 18,200 Iraqi soldiers and police can shoulder the load against the kaleidoscope of insurgent groups fighting in the city.
    “We see the Iraqi security forces, more and more, take the lead and take the fight to the enemy,” said Maj. Adam Boyd, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s intelligence officer. “You do see a capability that we have not seen before.”
    In recent months, three Iraqi army battalions have returned to Mosul from deployments in Baghdad. The Interior Ministry has approved 2,000 additional police recruits for the city, and a new Iraqi operations command is coordinating the efforts of the Iraqi security forces.
    But some Iraqi soldiers say they have neither the manpower nor the equipment to defeat the insurgency in Mosul, where violence has increased over the past six months. As of mid-February, there were 80 attacks a week, a quarter of which killed or wounded people.
    Mosul’s ethnic composition poses unique challenges for the Iraqi security forces. Sunni Arabs constitute four-fifths of the population, and there is little of the sectarian violence that has caused so much bloodshed elsewhere in the country. But many residents are openly hostile to the Iraqi army forces, whose leadership in Mosul is predominantly Kurdish, viewing them as a force for Kurdish encroachment.
    … The distrust among local residents limits the Iraqi soldiers’ ability to collect intelligence about the insurgents they are fighting. The thousands of armed Sunnis who aligned with American soldiers and provided so much information about the group al-Qaeda in Iraq in other parts of the country have failed to materialize in Mosul. Dosky said taking control of the city would require at least two new Iraqi army divisions.
    “The people, especially inside of Mosul, they don’t like the new government,” he said. “Very few of them have joined the army or police. They don’t help us with information.”
    Many of the Kurdish soldiers don’t speak Arabic, and some denigrate the Sunni Arab population in the city for supporting insurgents. “Kurd good. Arab no good,” Sgt. Tayeeb Abdul Rahaman, an Iraqi soldier, said repeatedly in his limited English. “Anybody who doesn’t like the army are terrorists,” added Sgt. Major Mohammed Sharif.

(Which reminds me: I would love to know how many of the Kurdish fighters who were supposedly integrated into the Iraqi Army have gone AWOL in order to go and defend the Kurdish region against the current Turkish invasion?)
Finally, the most ambitious and probably the most important piece of war reporting in today’s papers comes from the NYT’s Elizabeth Rubin, writing a long piece in the Sunday Magazine section about a lengthy embed she did in Afghanistan in October/November, with the US Army Airborne Brigade Combat Team in a remote valley in the northeastern province of Kunar.
Rubin’s piece is a must-read. It certainly shows the huge amount of stress the US soldiers there are operating under. She focuses most closely on the efforts being made by 26-year-old Capt. Dan Kearney, the officer in charge of a small, fairly isolated outpost called the Korengal Outpost.
Rubin writes this:

    LAST AUTUMN, after five months of grueling foot patrols up and down the mountains, after fruitless encounters with elders who smiled in the morning and were host to insurgents in the evening and after losing friends to enemy fire, Captain Kearney’s men could relate to the sullen, jittery rage of their predecessors in the 10th Mountain Division. Many wondered what they were doing out there at all.
    Kearney refused to entertain that thought. He would tell his visitors, whether generals or reconstruction teams, that his campaign plan was clear, if modest: “It’s World War II Pacific-island hopping, turning one village at a time.” Over five months, he had gained about 400 yards of terrain. When some generals and colonels had flown in for a quick tour, and Kearney was showing them the lay of the land, one officer said to another, as Kearney later recalled it, “I don’t know why we’re even out here.” Another officer jumped in to talk up the logic of the operation. Kearney told me he thought: Sort your stuff out before you come out here. My boys are sucking it up and dying. . . . For besides being lord of the valley, he had another role to play — motivator, disciplinarian and confidant to his soldiers. “It’s like being in charge of a soap opera,” he told me. “I feel like Dr. Phil with guns.”
    One full-moon night I was sitting outside a sandbag-reinforced hut with Kearney when a young sergeant stepped out hauling the garbage. He looked around at the illuminated mountains, the dust, the rocks, the garbage bin. The monkeys were screeching. “I hate this country!” he shouted. Then he smiled and walked back into the hut. “He’s on medication,” Kearney said quietly to me.
    Then another soldier walked by and shouted, “Hey, I’m with you, sir!” and Kearney said to me, “Prozac. Serious P.T.S.D. from last tour.” Another one popped out of the HQ cursing and muttering. “Medicated,” Kearney said. “Last tour, if you didn’t give him information, he’d burn down your house. He killed so many people. He’s checked out.”
    As I went to get some hot chocolate in the dining tent, the peaceful night was shattered by mortars, rockets and machine-gun fire banging and bursting around us. It was a coordinated attack on all the fire bases. It didn’t take long to understand why so many soldiers were taking antidepressants. The soldiers were on a 15-month tour that included just 18 days off. Many of them were “stop-lossed,” meaning their contracts were extended because the army is stretched so thin. You are not allowed to refuse these extensions. And they felt eclipsed by Iraq. As Sgt. Erick Gallardo put it: “We don’t get supplies, assets. We scrounge for everything and live a lot more rugged. But we know the war is here. We got unfinished business.”

Her article has a number of other riveting passages in it, including close-up accounts of a number of battles. In one of them a couple of Kearney’s men command are killed. You also get a fairly vivid picture of the huge destructive capabilities of the airpower that these soldiers are able to call in– and of the high casualties among Afghan civilians that result from this.
Bottom line: I think it is highly irresponsible– not to mention just plain wrong– for Tony Cordesman to write, “No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won.” I very much doubt that Nir Rosen, Joshua Partlow, Elizabeth Rubin, or numerous other extremely courageous reporters who have been out on the front-lines would agree with that judgment. (Actually, I know that Nir doesn’t.)
The US military is already stretched very thinly indeed between these two wars: almost to breaking point. And the costs of the two wars– in blood, treasure, and opportunities for human betterment willfully foregone– continue to mount at a truly alarming rate. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have given support to increasing the total size of the US military (which will further increase costs). They have also promised to draw down the US troop presence in Iraq considerably, as a way of freeing up additional troops to send to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the US cannot undertake a large-scale drawdown of troops from Iraq without considerable help from the international community. Specifically, it cannot do this without being able to reach an agreement on this matter– and probably a number of other matters– with Iran. And to win such an agreement it needs to draw in all the other major players in the region (as Baker and Hamilton understood); and it needs the help of the rest of the UN Security Council, too.
And if there is to be a successful socioeconomic and political stabilization in Afghanistan– which is the definition that both John McCain and I give of “winning” there– then the whole of the international community, and not just its “Atlantic” component, will similarly need to be engaged.
I’d love to hear the Democratic candidates talk a lot more about the important choices and tradeoffs involved in these two battlefields. Our country desperately needs a new– and far more intentionally “inclusive”– approach to resolving thorny security problems in distant places. Maintaining the old myths of “America’s role of global leadership” or the US as the “indispensable nation” just doesn’t fit the reality of the world’s situation any more.

2008: The year of ‘Human Security’?

Happy New Year, readers one and all!
My chief hope for 2008 is that we can persuade a decisive proportion of people around the world– but especially here in the United States– that looking at security as something that militaries can bring about is to fundamentally misunderstand the age we live in.
If the experiences of the US’s technologically bloated military in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 4-6 years, and the experience of Israel’s military in Lebanon in 2006 can teach us anything it is that military superiority and prowess is no longer on its own a guarantor that a state can win and significant strategic gains in other countries. There are a number of reasons why this is so; we can discuss them all at some point. But one of the main reasons why military power does not suffice is that it neglects– and indeed, it also directly undercuts– the main component of security in the 21st century, that is, the security of actual human persons.
Back in the 1990s many theorists around the world ( though sadly few in the United States) started to sketch out a whole new theory of security that went by the name of “human security”. At that point, the US military was still training and planning according to a slightly updated variant of the doctrine it had followed for the 45 years of the Cold War, and indeed for many decades prior to that, too. Rumsfeld tried to “reform” or even “revolutionize” that doctrine– and according to all the accounts he was eager to use the invasion of Iraq to “prove” the effectiveness of the relatively light and mobile hi-tech forces he favored.
But he was still operating according to the idea that guns and steel were what would be decisive– either directly or through the completely debilitating “shock and awe” they were able to induce in the targeted populations. That was Dan Halutz’s idea in Lebanon in 2006, too.
It didn’t work, for any of them. (And nor, in Lebanon, had that approach worked for the Israelis when they tried earlier variants of it in 1982, 1993, or 1996, either.)
So in 2008, let’s all of us come back to this powerful idea of human security. It is the idea that my country will be more secure if the citizens of other countries near and far also feel secure– secure, that is, in what counts to us all, as humans. And conversely, that if citizens of other countries feel insecure, that will make my country more insecure, too.
Here, from the UNDP’s Human Development Report of 1994 is a pretty good introduction to the idea of human security:

    The idea of human security, though simple, is likely to revolutionize society in the 21st century. A consideration of the basic concept of human security must focus on four of its essential characteristics:
    • Human security is a universal concern. It is relevant to people everywhere, in rich nations and poor…
    • The components of human security are interdependent. When the security of people is endangered anywhere in the world, all nations are likely to get involved…
    • Human security is easier to ensure through early prevention than later intervention. It is less costly to meet these needs upstream rather than downstream…
    • Human security is people-centred. It is concerned with how people live and breathe in a society, how freely they exercise their many choices, how much access they have to market and social opportunities—and whether they live in conflict or in peace…

I could write quite a lot about why I judge that being attentive to, for example, the human security and wellbeing of the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan would do more to contain and finally incapacitate the threat from Al-Qaeda than the present, highly militarized US policies in those two countries… Or why, for Israelis, being attentive to the human security and wellbeing of all of their neighbors would do more to build the real security of Israelis inside Israel than the present policies of quite inhumane collective punishment, oppression, and territorial aggrandizement… Or why, for Americans, pulling our troops out of Iraq and being attentive to the human security and wellbeing of Iraq’s sorely war-shattered citizens is the best way to serve everyone’s longterm security interests… In fact, I am sure that over the year ahead I will (continue to) make all these arguments!
But for now, since it is almost midnight here in Virginia, I shall simply leave you all with the idea that human security is a concept whose power and relevance are surely evident to more people today than ever before.
So Happy New Year! May 2008 be a year in which all human communities can become more secure– and also one in which more of us than ever before can come to understand that human interdependence really is at the foundation of everyone’s security.

“Winnability” in Iraq and Afghanistan: what does it mean?

For some time now (and certainly, long before last Thursday’s killing of Benazir Bhutto), I’ve been intending to write a post here about the concept of “winnability”, as it applies to the US-led COTW’s campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan. What does it mean to “win” in either country? How could we define it? How could it be achieved? In general, though, I’ve been moving much closer to the view that neither of these campaigns are actually “winnable” in the ways and the political frameworks within which they are currently being waged. I’m increasingly of the view that, if these campaigns are to be “won”, then they simply cannot be won under US leadership, for a number of different reasons.
We could give a first approximation of “winning” in either country as comprising the restoration of calm throughout all or nearly all of the country and and the emergence and consolidation of the key elements of good governance there. That’s a pretty minimalist definition, though it is one in which I have tried to keep the interests of the citizens of the two countries front and center, which is where they need to be.
But who could say, after the experience of six years of a US-led COTW running an occupation in Afghanistan, and 4.5 years of the US-led COTW occupying Iraq, that continued US “leadership” of of these occupation/pacification efforts could in any way be a formula for “winning” in these terms?
I’m not writing this as a “self-hating American”. I just think that the US (a) is too militarized and violence-prone as a society for most of its leaders even to know how to start thinking about winning a complex politico-military campaign in today’s unprecedentedly interconnected world; (b) lacks the political vision, administrative capabilities, political commitment, and– last but not least–troop numbers to be able to win either of these campaigns, let alone both of them together; (c) lacks the global political legitimacy that would be required to mobilize other countries to contribute meaningfully to these campaigns under its leadership; and (d) lacks the political legitimacy within, specifically, the world Muslim community to be able to lead a winning pacification campaign either of these two majority-Muslim countries.
Some further questions arise. First of all, if not the US, then who?
Answer: the United Nations, with all its flaws… But at least, regarding the global legitimacy question, the UN is infinitely preferable to the US. Real UN leadership of the pacification/nation-building campaign is the only way forward I see in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Second: might not the US be able to win one or both of these campaigns under some different, post-Bush president? I don’t think so. Bill Richardson, Ron Paul, and Dennis Kucinich have all vowed they will pull the US troops out of Iraq. That is an excellent start to reframing the US’s engagement with the world. But then, what about Afghanistan?
Even with the best will in the world, and most visionary kinds of policies emanating from both the next administration and the next Congress, I still don’t see that in January 2009 any US President can re-tool the whole way the country’s foreign policy and particularly its military works within the required time-frame. Despite the recent surface innovations introduced in some parts of Iraq by Gen. Petraeus with his new COIN manual, the vast bulk of the US military– and many of its NATO allies– remain focused on very heavy use of lethal weapons– the “bludgeoning” approach that seeks to bring about either the complete obliteration or the complete submission of “the enemy.”
But as the Israelis discovered in Lebanon in 1993, 1996, and 2006, that is a highly anachronistic view of warfare.
The US-led COTW forces are learning that in Iraq and Afghanistan every single day, too. But there’s not much, really, that they can do about it. You can’t change the whole way the US interacts with the rest of the world and the way the 1.4-million-person US military has been trained and indoctrinated for several generations now, within just a few months.
The chronically war-burdened peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan need a new, non-militarized– and preferably also intentionally anti-military– concept. And they need a new decision-making framework within which it will be pursued. Real national independence would be a good starting-point for that framework. But insofar as the societies involved may still be unable to reach internal agreement on the particular political form of that independence, there would be an important role for the UN in helping to mediate the negotiations required to reach that formula; in delivering vital services, including public security, for each country until its national government can take over; and in providing other forms of support to these war-stressed countries. The UN played a generally helpful role in helping midwife the great waves of decolonization that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. And now, a UN that is potentially a lot more capable than it was then could play a similar role in both these countries today.
(It goes without saying that this should be a UN that is truly an equal effort of all the powers on the Security Council– and not just a face-saving facade for the US-UK condominium, as it was in Iraq in the 1990s.)
But truly, I still can’t see a US-led COTW “winning” in either Iraq or Afghanistan…

Mapping and the will to power

Today I was looking at this map on Wikipedia:
Image:Unified Command map s.jpg
(You can click on the map for a larger version of it. Or click here for an even better (5 MB) version.)
At one level, this map is not remarkable at all. It was produced in, I think, 2002, by the US military’s National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and it simply shows the way the various “regional commands” of the US military divide the world up amongst themselves for the purposes of their planning and operations. Thus, it shows the areas that come under “Pacific Command”, “Central Command”, and so on.
For an update, you can go to this little (also clickable) pair of maps:
Image:USAFRICOM United States Africa Command Map Draft .jpg
On it, you can see how the DOD is thinking of allocating the responsibility for most of Africa to a brand-new “Africa Command”, and what that command’s borders will be. (H’mm. I wonder if they had a big tussle among them, there in the Pentagon, over who “wins” control over Egypt? According to that latter map, it stays with Centcom, while Sudan and the whole Horn of Africa including Kenya get wrestled out of Centcom’s hands and allocated to the new Africom…)
At another level, though, these maps are completely outrageous and mindblowing!
Who in China do you think ever gave “permission” to the Pentagon to put the whole of their country squarely under the letters “USPACOM”? Who in Brazil or Peru gave permission for their countries to fall under the letters “USSOUTHCOM”?
Russia, you will see, has been restored not to its full former red glory– but it has been shaded in the delicate pink of USEUCOM. Reminds me of the old days, growing up in England, when so many of the old maps in our country also had a huge number of the world’s countries tinted pink, for “British Empire.”
Ah, talking of pink for British Empire, let’s look at this little (clickable) map:

It’s a reproduction of “Africa 1892” from something called Gardiner’s Atlas.
Quite a lot more complex than the “UASAFRICOM” map, you’ll notice. But the same land-mass. And descendants of the very same poor-bloody-Africans are still living there in that same terrain that’s getting divided up among outside powers with no-one seriously asking their permission.
Back in the 1880s and 1890s, it wasn’t the different branches of the US military who, arguing among themselves for bigger budgets and more flying space, had laid those lines on distant parts of the world as they laid claim to them. Instead, it was the “concert” of European powers who at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 daintily tinted huge parts of Africa pink (for Britain) and others grey (for France), orange (Germany), yellow (Portugal), or whatever.
Note that Congo (though not “French” Congo) was described on Gardiner’s map as “Congo Free State”, and marked a sort of aqua color denoting “independent.” Belgium’s King Leopold II must have been falling about laughing to see how he’d hoodwinked ’em all! Because he was at that very time running the whole darn country as his own, personal rubber-extraction plantation, and in the course of that inflicting genocidal mega-deaths on the country’s people…
Anyway, I guess my larger point is this. Mapping places and indeed other loci of knowledge is very frequently an essential concomitant to, or precursor of, the exercise of raw power.
Back in the 1980s, when I was doing graduate studies in strategic affairs at the University of Maryland, it was always kind of taken for granted that the US had somehow gotten into a position where it “had to” manage all these cumbersome strategic alliances with other powers around the globe… in its quest to “keep the international peace”.
Nowadays, though, I think its is either outrageous or hilariously funny, the idea that this one tiny country with less than 5% of the world’s people should even imagine it has the right to paint the colors of its various different “strategic commands” all over other everyone else’s countries around the world! One thing this situation certainly is not, is “natural”. It is in every way extremely un-natural, not to mention inherently unstable.
As a pacifist, too, I’d like to make the argument that this situation of the US pushing its military bases ways out beyond our own borders and into so many other different countries around the world, and George W. Bush asserting that the US has the right to use military force unilaterally and “preventively” wherever it pleases, are both manifestations of the reductio ad absurdum of the whole theory of “legitimate self-defense.”
Enough already! There really is a better way to assure the security and wellbeing of our citizenry than continuing with this arrogance and folly.

Highlights (and some low points) of my trip

This was another, most amazing trip. I do truly feel blessed to be able to travel so freely in the world and to have a profession that allows me to meet some really intriguing people from all kinds of walks of life, to have large numbers of really thought-provoking experiences– and to have quite a high degree of freedom in choosing where I go and what I do.
One of the main things I valued, being in the Middle East for five or six weeks, was the ability to be so close to Iraq and to talk at first hand to a number of people who are very directly affected by the situation there. Another was the ability to put my finger on the pulse of other big political developments in the region: to meet some Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt (here and here) and talk to large numbers of other people there; and to talk to policymakers and others in both Syria and Jordan.
Then, when I went to London in March, one thing that struck me almost immediately was how much closer London and the rest of Europe are than the US– both geographically and also in other ways, too– to the political developments in both the Middle East and all of Africa. In London, people I talked to would just casually say something like “I might go down to Southern Sudan next week to do a bit of research, though I haven’t made my mind up yet”, or “Oh, I’m sorry I can’t make it to the meeting tomorrow because I’ll be in Beirut, but how about two days after that?” … Whereas from the US, to go to either of those destinations or any place else in the Middle East or Africa requires not just that much longer of a trip but also much, much more advance planning.
My recollection is that the longer advance planning was also there for trips to those places from Europe, back when I was last living in London in 1981. But air transport and other kinds of links have evidently proliferated… So you just feel a lot closer to those places in Europe than you do in the US; and I think that has an effect. Maybe it means it is that much harder for Europeans to view those parts of the world in the purely instrumental, and often fairly exploitative, way that many Americans do? I don’t know.
Anyway, being in Europe also had its own distinct high points for me. Last week, I had the huge pleasure of visiting– at last– the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Bradford University, in Yorkshire. It is the most amazing place, with some 40 fulltime faculty members, and a number of affiliated research centers, including one that deals in detail with issues of peacemaking and peacebuilding in Africa. I spent the best part of the morning on Tuesday with four of the faculty members at the Africa Center– three of them originally African nationals and one originally Portuguese; and all with immense amounts of expertise on the affairs of the continent.
One of the main reasons I’ve been wanting to go to Bradford for so long is because I wanted to meet Paul Rogers, a past Chair of the Department who has thought long, hard, and very creatively about the “big” issues of the structures of global security. Paul writes a weekly assessment of the global security situation for Open Democracy; and he also– in addition to still teaching at Bradford– works with a small conflict-resolution organization called the Oxford Research Group.
He and I spent three hours or so talking in his office there on Wednesday. He has recently published a book (co-authored with two colleagues from ORG) titled Beyond Terror: The Truth about the Real Threats to Our World. We talked quite a lot about some of the big themes from the book. Paul has developed a strong basic analysis of the approach the rich countries of the world have been using until now to try to structure global security. He calls it “the Control Paradigm”. But now, he says, the Control Paradigm is not working; and it needs to be replaced by what he calls the “Sustainable Security Paradigm.”
I think that his critique and prescription are fairly similar to what I have written about here quite a lot, though where he says “Sustainable Security” I have tended to focus more on the need for an approach that actively affirms the core value of human equality… So maybe I would call my approach more one of “Inclusive Security”– hah! there, I just gave it a name, somewhat belatedly…
Anyway, one of the advantages of Paul’s name for his approach, as I see it, is that it creates a strong conceptual link to the idea of sustainable economic development as such…
Regarding development/economic issues, he and his co-authors there place quite a lot of emphasis on rapidly emerging “threat” (if one likes to talk in those terms) posed to all of humanity by large-scale and rapid climate change. And as the global climate does change, it is people in the marginalized, very low-income communities of the world who will suffer the most… Certainly not the world’s “rich ten percent”, who can doubtless find ways to limit the amount they (we) suffer…
But the point is that everyone will be suffering, to some degree or another– whether directly, from the effects of desertification, tidal surges, etc, or indirectly from the mass migrations and other manifestations of mayhem that will soon enough engulf the world… And Paul’s point is that the “rich ten percent” can no longer– even now– address the threats they face purely through application of the old “Control Paradigm.”
On a related note, when I arrived home on Friday, I found on our doormat a copy of this study of the lessons of last summer’s 33-day war against Israel-Lebanon war, produced by Ron Tira for the Israeli institute formerly known as the Jaffee Centre for Security Studies. (What happened regarding the name there, I wonder? Did the Jaffee family suddenly rescind a previous offer of longterm funding? Or maybe, given the often slightly dove-ish nature of the center’s publications, the Jaaffees objected to that instead, and insisted their family’s name be stripped off…)
Anyway, Tira’s work is intriguingly titled The Limitations of Standoff Firepower-Based Operations. But sadly, his main conclusion seems to be a very old-fashioned, “Control Paradigm” one. Namely, that, “At least for the foreseeable future, only the military that plants its flag on the enemy’s hilltop is the victor.”
More on Tira’s work, later. (Perhaps.)
Anyway, I just want to note that the Quaker peace scholar Adam Curle was the main moving force behind creating Bradford’s great Department of Peace Studies, back about 30 years ago. Quakers and Quaker-symps have also established a great Center for Peace and Reconciliation Studies in Coventry, UK, that I was also lucky enough to visit, earlier during my trip.
So anyway, the high points of the trip definitely also included the ability, once again, to experience modern-day societies structured along basically social-democratic lines that work, and work for the most part very well. We spent a day in Lille last weekend with our friend Laurence Mascart, who came over from Belgium to visit us. She has two young children– and from the age of two and a half, there in Belgium, her kids have full-day places in the local, state-funded ecole maternelle (nursery school.) Europeans have nothing of the angst of health-insurance woes that some portions of most US families have. And the motor-car may be popular in many European countries, but it is certainly not “king of the road” in the way that it is in the US. I had the immense pleasure of being a pedestrian in London for five whole weeks, and loved every minute of it. (We only rented a car for Easter weekend, to get down to Dorset with our three fairly cumbersome suitcases.)
And then, there is the support for the arts in all the European countries! In every small town we went to in France there seemed to be a lavish, well-stocked, and entirely state-funded Museum of the Fine Arts. In the UK, even the excellent London Review of Books gets a subsidy from the Arts Council. (H’mm, I see they have another intriguing piece on the Scottish-English Question.)
What a sharp contrast all those aspects of European life pose to life in the highly individualistic, chronically “gummint”-fearing US of A.
But while in Europe I also saw– and chronicled here on JWN, in part– the degree to which the enormous wealth of most West European countries had been built on colonial takings and the unpaid labor of enslaved persons. (Last weekend, in the beautiful “La Piscine” museum in Roubaix, just north of Lille, I was really disturbed to see them openly flaunting one piece in their collection: a large, late 19th-century oil painting of “Slaves for sale”, which portrayed two voluptuous young women, one a nearly completely nude light-skinned person, and the other, more covered, of darker complexion… What are they doing, hanging the piece like that, under that title, with no further commentary, except inviting the viewers to join in the visual rape and objectification of the two women pictured??)
But yes, here’s the bottom line: if the security of the world is to be built on a model that truly values each human person equally, all of us in the rich, control-seeking parts of the world have a lot of changes to make…

Depends what you mean by ‘Honor’…

Blogger Will Bunch had a good post recently analyzing the statement Unca Dick Cheney made recently, namely that,

    “We want to complete the mission [in Iraq], we want to get it done right, and we want to return with honor.”

Bunch quite appropriately recalls the eerily similar use that Richard Nixon made of the same term “honor” in his presidential nomination acceptance speech in August 1968.
Bunch writes,

    For Richard Nixon, “peace with honor” was not synonymous with “peace.”
    It meant “war.” A lot of war.
    Not long after taking office in 1969, Nixon — without authorization from Congress — initiated a secret air campaign against enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia that dropped 2,750,000 short tons of bombs, more than the alllies used during all of World War II. He later undertook a massive bombing campaign of Hanoi and Haiphong, and his efforts didn’t bring much peace on the homefront, culminating in the slaughter of four bystanders during a 1970 protest at Kent State.
    Finally, in January 1973, Nixon declared “peace with honor.”
    There are three things you should know about this.
    1) When Nixon gave that speech at the GOP convention, it had been 1,467 [days] since the alleged incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that triggered the American escalation of the war. When he finally achieved his “peace with honor,” it was another 1,633 days later, so more than half the fighting came after the “peace with honor” promise.
    2) More importantly, from the start of 1969 through the end of the war, some 20,604 American soldiers died in pursuit of “peace with honor,” more than one-third of the total (58,202) for the entire war.
    3) In the end, “peace with honor” didn’t look all that different than “peace” — i.e., if Nixon had merely brought the troops home on Jan. 20, 1969. As we all know, Saigon still fell, in May of 1975.

So I think that a necessary first question should be, what on earth does Cheney mean when he talks about a return with “honor”? Let’s please have no repeat of the same kind of damage, destruction, and dishonor that followed Nixon’s use of that term.
Secondly, long-time JWN readers will be well aware that I’ve always supported the idea that the US troops should be allowed an orderly withdrawal from Iraq– provided a total and speedy withdrawal according to a well-publicized and verifiable timetable is indeed the path ther administration chooses to pursue. To me, it is less important whether the administration chooses to try to describe this withdrawal in some form of slightly sugarcoated terms. (When they withdrew from Beirut in February 1984 they called it a “redeployment offshore.” H’mmm.) The important thing is that it happens, and happens soon.
But please let’s not completely debase (or dishonor) the concept of honor in human affairs by going down the path established in Vietnam by Richard Nixon.
Finally, this time around, given that the Cold War has now completely ended and the world has been moving into a new stage, one of the main things we need to do is ensure that this withdrawal from Iraq is followed by a rational and radical downsizing of the US military and the building of new, much more globally accountable structures of international security in all the various areas of the world through which the Pentagon’s generals still swagger as though they own them.
They don’t.
Any “honor” that I can in US strategic affairs in the coming 20-year period will come from the US realizing it needs to work in good faith with other powers to ensure common security interests around the world, and in working diligently to make that happen.
Otherwise, G-d save us all from the possibility of any further repeat of the crimes of 2003.

Choice time: Iraq or Afghanistan?

This was basically the message that Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt was posing when he spoke to The Daily Mail last week; and he was answering it in favor of Afghanistan, arguing basically that the western nations “should get ourselves out [of Iraq] sometime soon.”
His argumentation was based mainly on operational considerations: Namely the fact that, as he assessed it, the western presence in Iraq “exacerbates the security problems,” whereas

    “There is a clear distinction between our status and position in Iraq and in Afghanistan, which is why I have much more optimism that we can get it right in Afghanistan.”

Dannatt did use a little bit of legal/political argumentation– namely, when he drew a distinction between, as he put it, the western forces having “kicked the door in” in Iraq, and their being in Afghanistan “at the invitation” of Karzai’s government. (He glossed over the door-kicking that did, in fact, occur in Afghanistan in October-November 2001, and the fact that Pres. Karzai, just as much as Pres. Talabani and PM Maliki, was installed under the auspices of the US-led occupation force. No matter.)
But the main thing is that, at an operational level– in terms of the prospects for mission success– Dannatt was arguing for concentrating the efforts of the British military and perhaps also that of the US military in Afghanistan rather than in Iraq.
And once Dannatt had expressed his view in public about the urgency of this situation, Tony Blair was forced to say he “agreed with every word.” (Game, set, and match to Dannatt, I would say.)
Is this discussion also being held in Washington? I very much hope so. I strongly suspect it is already being intensively held at the headquarters of Centcom there in Qatar… But it certainly needs to be held in Washington, too.
What are the strategic implications of this choice that now presents itself with increasing urgency– between Iraq and Afghanistan?
Of course, all of us could readily argue– as some of us did at the time– that this was a choice that should have been confronted and thought through carefully back in early 2002, the time at which Rumsfeld and the President started their planning in earnest for the invasion of Iraq, and for the concomitant diversion of much-needed resources and attention away from the post-invasion stabilization mission in Afghanistan.
But no, they did not confront that issue and that fateful choice back then. So now, four years, many scores of thousands of lost lives, millions of blighted lives, and $335 billion of war spending later, the US leaders, US citizenry, and the world will have to face it very soon now, and on terms very different from those that existed back in 2002.
Iraq vs. Afghanistan. For US strategic planners, this is quite a tough choice.
Is it one that this US government will try to make alone? Is it one that, at this point, any US government can make alone? I strongly suspect not.
I clearly need to write a whole bunch more about this issue in the days ahead. But my first thoughts are these:

    (1) The tasks the US faces in both countries are different. In Iraq, the task can only at this stage be described as being to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the US position. After the collapse of Operation “Forward Together” or whatever this latest debacle was called, catastrophe-avoidance seems to be the best that Washington can hope for. How might it be achieved? At this point, only through entering into speedy discussions with all of Iraq’s neighbors, over a plan for reordering the main strategic features of that immediate region in a way that will allow a speedy and orderly drawdown of the US troop presence inside Iraq…
    In Afghanistan, by contrast, though the strategic position of the NATO forces is pretty stretched and challenged, still there is some hope that, with some reconfiguring of the international troop presence and considerably increased investment of international attention and resources, the country’s situation might yet be stabilized…
    (2) The strategic importance of each country within the world system is distinct. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan and the other “Stans” to the east of it were at the epicenter of the “Great Game” that was played out between the three power centers of British India, Russia, and China. Today, the British no longer rule India, and there have been many other changes in the political/strategic geography of the region. But it is clear that the country remains a locus of intense concern to numerous different powers, including Russia, Iran, Pakistan, India, China, and the other Stans… It is harder to see what NATO’s actual direct interest in Afghanistan is. It strikes me, NATO’s interest (and that of the US) is largely derivative, being focused on the “draining the swamp” aspects of the campaign against border-straddling terrorist groups. That makes NATO’s presence there somewhat “altruistic” rather than being motivated only by crass national self-interest. Altruism is not a bad thing. But surely it would be better to do it much more through economic and political stabilization measures that worked rather than through the present reliance on military measures, which seem not to?
    The strategic importance of Iraq, for many people in the US, can be summed up in three concepts: Oil, Countering Iran, and Protecting Israel. As we now know, when the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq back in 2002-2003, Iraq did not, in fact, form any threat to Israel, at any level, and it still does not today. That leaves Oil, and Iran as issues that we need to talk about. Regarding oil, the US occupation regime in Iraq has done a lousy job of shepherding the reconstruction of the Iraqi oil industry. Indeed, it has left much of Iraq’s oil sector in tatters. The oil sector, Iraq’s people, and the world will be much better off once public security, public order, and orderly government can return to Iraq, and that is quite evidently– based on 42 months of experience now– not going to happen so long as the US occupation continues. Regarding Iran, the two main tasks are, it seems to me, to avoid a catastrophic US-Iran confrontation, and to find a way to restore order and predictability to US-Iranian relations. Discussions over Iraq can be an appropriate lead-in to this.
    (3) The world-political challenge of achieving this retrenchment of the US global empire. We need to be quite clear: the strategic dead-end the US forces face in Iraq today is the result of significant and quite ill-considered imperial over-reach by the Bush administration. So Washington cannot at this point simply make one quick decision: “Okay, we’ll stick with Afghanistan; let’s forget Iraq” (or, more likely in my view, the other way around), implement this, and then get back to business as usual… There are a whole host of reasons why that would be impossible. Anyway, just as with the retrenchment (shedding) of the colonial empires by Britain, France, and other European powers that occurred in the post-WW2 era, so with the retrenchment of the US military empire today, the whole of the political system within this globalized world of ours will have to adapt itself to this shift…

But let’s all think where this might lead. Let’s think of being able to build a world that is more truly based than the present order on the principles of human equality and care for the flourishing of all of God’s children. And let’s place a huge focus on making the transition to this new situation orderly and peaceful. In the timeless words of A.J. Muste: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
That has never been demonstrated more clearly than through the tragic fate of the Bush administration’s attempts to build a “stable and just” world order through the use of military violence.

Patrick Lang: “The Best Defense…”

On 9/11, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia featured a talk by Colonel Patrick Lang – who returned here by reputation as a voice of reason, experience, “independence,” and wit regarding the Middle East. He did not disappoint.
Miller Center lectures are a rather unique phenomena here. First, they are popular. For this one, I arrived five minutes “early” (e.g. very late) – to be escorted to the fourth and last overflow room. Not bad for forums that ordinarily are simulcast on the net. Yet Miller audiences are hardly filled with bright-eyed students; the Miller Center is off the main “grounds” (campus) and students rarely comprise more than a handful amid the throngs. Instead, these sessions draw from the extraordinary community of retired policy professionals who seem to be flocking here to Hoo’ville.
Colonel Lang himself is “retired” from full-time government service, having served with distinction in the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) and then at the highest levels of U.S. Military Intelligence. His training includes a Masters Degree in Middle East studies from Utah, and he served in the mid-1970’s as the first Professor of Arabic at West Point. Today, he combines ongoing consulting and training projects with frequent media appearances, ranging from PBS to CBS to BBC. For more, see his bio and publications highlights, via this link on his blog.
Colonel Lang “sticks out” in Washington for his informed willingness to take on what passes for “received wisdom” regarding the Middle East. His publications include the memorable “Drinking the Koolaid” in Middle East Policy. It’s still an important, sobering read. Quite far afield from Graham Allison’s realist “rational choice” decision-making model, Lang attributes the disastrous decision to invade Iraq to a loss of nerve among policy makers and analysts. Instead of honorably sticking to their convictions, even if it meant “falling on their swords,” career-preserving senior policy makers were more inclined to drink from a Jonestown-like vat of poisonous illusions. “Succumbing to the prevailing group-think” drawn up by the small core of neoconservative “vulcans,” Lang’s former intelligence colleagues “drank the koolaid” and said nothing, leaving them henceforth among the “walking dead” in Washington.
Speaking here on 9/11, Lang’s comments were wide-ranging and stimulating; he didn’t stick narrowly to his talk title on Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah, but he had much to suggest related to all three. I offer a few highlights here:
On Military Options against Iran:
Here Lang summarized his now widely cited National Interest article from earlier this spring. (Issue #83 – no link available). Even though Lang and co-author Larry Johnson seem to accept standard worst-case assessments of Iran’s nuclear aspirations, their article makes a compelling case that there are no “realistic” military options to attack Iran, by land or air, conventional, or exotic. Air assaults, whether by Israel or the US, are a “mirage” – unlikely to succeed for long, while incurring the risks of severe retaliations by Iranian assets.
To Lang, these dangers are obvious. Yet spelling them out serves the purpose of going on record so that neoconservatives in the future cannot claim – as they did with Iraq – that the disaster could not have been foreseen. This time, we’ve been warned.
On the greatest source of conflict within Islam:
If I understood him correctly, Lang was not as concerned about a battle between extremists and political pietists, deeming the “pietists” overwhelmingly still in the ascendant. Instead, Lang’s “bigest concern” for the Muslim world was over the “revolution” in the Shia-Sunni equation. The old order of “Sunnis rule and Shias survive” is now in question. Lang depicted Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear option as the latest extension of a long-forming Shia effort to resist domination from the Sunni realm.
Yet Lang did emphasize that Muslims of all stripes come together in resentment towards Israel — as a direct affront to the well being of the faith. To accept the existence of Israel means having to admit that the Islamic world has been truncated, that part of the “realm of God” had been given back. Hizbullah thus has become widely popular among all Muslims, not just among Shia, for its demonstrated capacity to resist both Zionists and the modern day crusaders.
Iran’s support for Hizbullah:
Lang deems Iran’s support for Lebanon’s Hizbullah as “first and foremost” useful for Iran’s pursuit of respect and leadership within the Islamic world. Yet Iranian financial assistance for Lebanon has shrewdly earned friends among Arab Christians and Sunnis too. In this light, Iran’s low-key strategy has been quite successful; hardly a rat-hole, such “success” draws more support.
On Why Hizbullah beat Israel:

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