IPS Blog

Afghanistan by the Book — THE Book, That Is

It’s no secret that the Obama administration has struggled from the beginning to find a coherent narrative to support the Afghan war it inherited. Or to craft an even remotely coherent strategy. (Other than how to shift the blame when the whole thing implodes.)

But now that General David Petraeus is assuming command, hearts seem suddenly light. There is a sense – or at least a claim – that new leadership in the field will somehow transform an otherwise bleak and worsening situation. This sense is shared across party lines, and it appears likely that Petraeus will be unanimously confirmed in his new role by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It seems appropriate, therefore, to reread Gen. Petraeus’ seminal work, Field Manual 3-24, to get a sense of how he might undertake this transformation. (FM 3-24 is the counterinsurgency guide for the US military. Along with FM 3-24.2, Tactics In Counterinsurgency, it details what every US soldier, from private to four-star is supposed to know about COIN.)

If Afghanistan is, in fact, a COIN engagement – and we must assume POTUS believes it is, since he has nominated a man perceived to be America’s foremost COIN expert to lead it – then he should be using the best available COIN guidelines to assess it. Presumably that would be FM 3-24, so I’ve taken the liberty of extracting key points to use as metrics. The number and italicized sections below are lifted directly from FM 3-24. The snarky (excuse me, I mean insightful) commentary is mine.

1-4. Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government’s rule.

Er . . . then actually having a functioning ‘Host Nation’ government is a necessary precondition for success?

1-10. For the reasons just mentioned, maintaining security in an unstable environment requires vast resources, whether host nation, U.S., or multinational.

You mean vast, as in hundreds of thousands of troops, similar numbers of development personnel and the cash to fund it all?

1-30. Protracted conflicts favor insurgents, and no approach makes better use of that asymmetry than the protracted popular war.

Nine years and counting. Might be a good time to ask which team has the deeper bench.

1-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.

Oh. Whoops.

1-116. Six possible indicators of legitimacy that can be used to analyze threats to stability include the following:

  • The ability to provide security for the populace (including protection from internal and external threats).
  • Selection of leaders at a frequency and in a manner considered just and fair by a substantial majority of the populace.
  • A high level of popular participation in or support for political processes.
  • A culturally acceptable level of corruption.
  • A culturally acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development.
  • A high level of regime acceptance by major social institutions.

How many points do you get for ‘none of the above’?

1-121. Unity of effort must be present at every echelon of a COIN operation.

Ah, man, even the VP, those weenies over at State and the National Security Advisor?

1-131. The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the civilian populace.

Right. Remind me how many of those provinces were rated as ‘fully secure’ in the April 2010 review? As I recall, the exact number was, umm . . . is zero a number?

1-134. Insurgencies are protracted by nature. Thus, COIN operations always demand considerable expenditures of time and resources.

Roger that. Just so long as the pull date is before the next election.

Well, shucks. Color me cynical.

In the wildland fire biz we used a quick and dirty little algorithm called TREAT to decide whether to fight or flee. I think it might apply here, too.

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Experience
  • Attitude
  • Training

The rule was, if you had any three or more, it was a good decision to stand and fight. Any fewer, and it was time to remove your crews from danger.

Using that for AfPak, I’d give the US about 1.2. Pretty good on attitude, fair on training (for that specific environment), way short of time, resources and experience.

The US cannot commit to the 10 to 20 year time frame (starting today!) that is likely necessary to actually succeed. Nor can it come close to putting the necessary number of troops in the field. (Estimated at over 1.4 million with the classic troop density of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 population. Yeah, you can count the locals, but at this point, the ANA and ANP are so bad they would have to be subtracted from the total, not added.) And – key point – in terms of experience, the US has yet to win a classical counterinsurgency fight. (Sorry, Iraq doesn’t count. It wasn’t true COIN, and the US did not win. For an explanation, see Fourth Generation Warfare in a Fifth Generation Conflict.)

Bottom line? Time to run.

Excuse me. I mean ‘strategically redeploy’.

Supreme Court Rules Against Crime-Fighting

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that defined the Second Amendment as the right to keep handguns in homes is ironic. This case, McDonald vs. Chicago, comes from the city with one of the highest gun crime and murder rates in the country, driven by a growing gang violence problem. Coming on the tail of a week in which nine Chicago residents were murdered and 20 injured in gang-related shootouts, broader access to handguns seems injurious, if not downright diabolical. Chicago police recovered or confiscated 7,234 guns in the first 10 months of last year when the ban was effective, a number they estimate accounts for one gun per every 14 of the estimated active gang members in the Chicago metropolitan area. Police no longer have the right to confiscate any of those that are legally attained handguns. As a Chicago native, I know I feel safer already.

As William A. Collins notes in his recent OtherWords column “Gotta Get Me a Gun,” handguns are particularly devastating to families, where children can and do stumble upon Daddy’s “hidden” cabinet, or where caustic marital flare-ups become lethal. Mayor Daley has promised more laws making the purchase of guns more difficult in their jurisdiction. Best of luck to him and the Chicago PD. It’s a tough task to fight escalating violence in already crime-ridden cities when our federal government shoots our local governments in the foot.

From the Frontlines: June 28, 2010

SCOTUS is on a roll today, between its significantly harmful gun ban ruling and a rejection of a lower-court ruling that tobacco companies violated racketeering laws by selling a product they knew was harmful.

Oil can’t rain from the sky, finds MoJo’s Kate Sheppard, addressing a viral video that’s been making the rounds in the last week. But “there’s a bigger concern than oil visibly raining from the sky; it’s the toxins you can’t see.”

Our Global Economy director, Sarah Anderson, spoke at the US Social Forum about how street heat can continue to strengthen Wall Street reform.

The Tides blog has a great post about how media misinformation impacts the entire progressive agenda, and how you can cut through the noise and stay responsibly informed.

Will the BP oil disaster lead to a new economy in the Gulf? The Institute for Southern Studies, writing from the area, explores the possibilities.

The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss writes that Israel’s weakening of the Gaza blockade is an important first step, although he remains skeptical about how far it will help peace talks. Our own Phyllis Bennis agrees, applauding Turkey and civil society for providing an example to other international actors.

Supreme Court Misfires on Second Amendment Ruling

US Supreme Court buildingCongratulations, NRA voters, you may now hunt from the safety of your living room window with your handgun anywhere in America. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling today that defined the Second Amendment as the right to keep handguns in homes is a dangerous misinterpretation.

The irony of this case, McDonald vs. Chicago, is that it comes from the city with one of the highest gun crime and murder rates in the country, driven by a growing gang violence problem. Coming on the tail of a week in which nine Chicago residents were murdered and 20 injured in gang-related shootouts, broader access to handguns seems injurious, if not downright diabolical. Chicago police recovered or confiscated 7,234 guns in the first 10 months of last year when the ban was effective, a number they estimate accounts for one gun per every 14 of the estimated active gang members in the Chicago metropolitan area. After today, police no longer have the right to confiscate any of those that are legally attained handguns. As a Chicago native, I know I feel safer already.

I am not going to argue the less handguns equals less gun crime equation; Fox News has trumpeted that the numbers tell the opposite story since the repeal of the DC gun ban two years ago. It is true that DC’s crime rate dropped by 25 percent initially after handguns were legalized. But that figure has since crept back up as people have realized a proliferation of guns doesn’t mean more security.

As William Collins notes in his column “Gotta Get Me a Gun,” handguns are particularly devastating to families, where children can and do stumble upon Daddy’s “hidden” cabinet, or where caustic marital flare-ups become lethal. Someone should tell Justice Alito that with this increase in “self-defense” we’re also going to need an increase in child-safety regulations, marital protection laws, and neighborhood watch programs for the local 10 year-old trigger-happy video-gamers who now have broader handgun access.

In the meantime, Daley and the Chicago political machine have promised more laws making the purchase of guns more difficult in their jurisdiction. Best of luck to him and the Chicago PD. It is a tough task to fight escalating violence in already crime-ridden cities when our federal government shoots our local governments in the foot.

Would You Trust a Country That Named Its First Nuke Test ‘Smiling Buddha’?

Smiling BuddhaOne sure route for a state to be slapped with the label “rogue ” is to develop nuclear weapons but shun the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Pakistan refused to sign while North Korea signed but withdrew. Israel dodged the NPT by refusing to acknowledge it even developed nuclear weapons. We’ll leave Iran out of the equation because, despite constantly testing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s limits, it doesn’t seem to have completed the process.

But, like Israel, another state developed nuclear weapons before the NPT (though without refusing to acknowledging them), and refrained from signing the treaty. In fact, the case could be made that it’s more of a rogue than any of the other states. Oddly, it’s the state with a reputation for being the most spiritual in the world since it’s the birthplace of both Hinduism and Buddhism — India, of course. Yet it (or its rulers and policymakers at the time) were seemingly out of touch with said spiritualism to such an extent that in 1974 they code-named India’s first nuclear test the Smiling Buddha. They even scheduled it for the day on which the Buddha’s birth is celebrated in India. This was only the start.

The founder of the Military Space Transparency Project, Matthew Hoey writes:

In 1998 U.S. sanctions were placed upon the country in response to more nuclear tests. When the Bush Administration lifted the aforementioned sanctions against India in the wake of . . . September 11, 2001, and then progressively loosened export and commerce laws against India, it ignored [India’s refusal to sign not only the NPT, but] the Proliferation Security Initiative . . . the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty . . . or the Missile Technology Control Regime.

[In 2008] the United States approached the Nuclear Suppliers Group . . . to grant a waiver to India to commence civilian nuclear trade. … The implementation of this waiver makes India the only known country with nuclear weapons which is not a party to the Non Proliferation Treaty . . . but is still allowed to carry out nuclear commerce with the rest of the world. [Emphasis added.]

It’s bad enough that the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group made India their pet rogue. But, Hoey writes, “It is also highly unlikely that India will subscribe to the treaty to Prevent an Arms Race in Outer Space.” Even worse, “Indian military officials have set a target date to deploy an ambitious anti-satellite system. … for electronic or physical destruction of satellites . . . by 2015.”

In conclusion, Hoey writes, “At a time when the international spotlight seems trained on North Korea and Iran, a growing tolerance for India’s belligerence in building its nuclear and missile capabilities appears to shield it from similar scrutiny.”

Why the tolerance? As Andrew Lichterman and M.V. Ramana write in Beyond Arms Control (2010, Critical Will), “. . . the nuclear deal is part of a broader set of [U.S.-Indian] agreements [which] US-based multinationals are . . . hoping to use . . . as a wedge to further open India to foreign investment and sales.”

In the end, just more reasons that the Non-Aligned Nation movement (to which India supposedly belongs) can’t take the nuclear powers seriously about disarmament.

The Lineup: Week of June 28-July 4, 2010

Here’s what you’ll find in this week’s OtherWords editorial package, which features a Donald Kaul column on Rep. Joe Barton’s foot-in-mouth problem and a Martha Burk op-ed about a potential threat to Social Security. The cartoon accompanies the op-ed by Philip Mattera about BP’s weak corporate ethics. You can get it all in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Who Should Pay for the Crisis? / Sarah Anderson
  2. It’s Time for Israel to End the Gaza Siege / Bayann Hamid
  3. Leaving Granny Behind / Martha Burk
  4. Corporate Social Irresponsibility / Philip Mattera
  5. Joe Barton’s Honest Mistake / Donald Kaul
  6. GM Crashes Chevy / Jim Hightower
  7. Want a Job? Good Luck / William A. Collins
  8. BP’s Ethics / Khalil Bendib

Are Nuclear Weapons ‘Realists’ Afraid to Confront Reality?

It’s notoriously difficult to win a debate with nuclear realists over disarmament. Just try pulling the rug of reasoning out from under deterrence or the argument that the smaller the U.S. arsenal becomes, the easier it would make smaller nations to become the military equal of the United States. But in a Washington Post op-ed Sunday, Barry Blechman and Alex Bollfrass of the Stimson Center present a case for the abolition of nuclear weapons strong enough to stop realists — if not hawks — in their tracks.

In the 5 myths about getting rid of the bomb, the author’s list realist objections to nuclear disarmament.

  1. We can’t eliminate nukes because countries would cheat and build them in secret.
  2. Nuclear weapons are a guarantee of security.
  3. As long as there is nuclear energy, there will be nuclear weapons.
  4. If all nations dismantled their nuclear arsenals, a cheater with just a few weapons could rule the world.
  5. Nuclear weapons are the only way to become a global power.

To give you an example of the authors’ logic, read their answer to number four:

We’ve all seen James Bond villains threaten to gain world domination with a single nuclear weapon. But even if an evil despot could secretly build a few bombs, what would he gain? He couldn’t use them to win a war. It would take hundreds of weapons to destroy dispersed armies, as Cold War-era NATO and Soviet plans for nuclear conflict in Europe recognized.

The cheater could try to coerce the rest of the world by threatening a nuclear attack, but even that wouldn’t lead to lasting domination. Other nations could try to destroy the nuclear arsenal preemptively with conventionally armed long-range strikes. If that failed, they could invade with conventional forces, under the protection of air and missile defenses. In a worst-case scenario, the former nuclear powers could rebuild their arsenals in less than a year. The world would be no worse off than it was before disarming.

Today, James Bond-style villains have been replaced by terrorists. If terrorists acquired a nuclear bomb, the results could be catastrophic — but terrorists can’t be deterred with nuclear weapons. This brings us full circle: The only real solution to the threat of nuclear terrorism is to eliminate nuclear weapons, thereby ensuring that they will stay out of the hands of terrorists.

Focal Points readers are urged to read the rest of Bollfrass and Blechman’s op-ed and venture a guess in our comments section as to whether “realists” can be made to understand that, when it comes to nuclear weapons, there may be a reality more real than realism.


G20’s Central Role? As a Lightning Rod

G8The G20 is going to be around for some time. But it will probably be as ineffective as the G8 in stabilizing global capitalism. Probably the main accomplishment of the G8 was to focus attention on itself as some sort of executive committee of global capitalism, the existence of which drew hundreds of thousands of protesters to Genoa in June 2001, an delegitimizing event from which the group never recovered.

The G20, a Clinton era initiative that was rescued from oblivion by Bush II at the beginning of the latest financial crisis and later promoted by Obama to coordinate global capitalism’s response to the crisis is classic cooptation: bring in the big boys from the South like China, India, and Brazil, along with a few others, to give them a strong stake in the current global system. But as they assemble in Toronto, the group is divided, over the extent of financial regulation and over whether or not to continue the stimulus programs that are pushing so many governments to register massive fiscal deficits. Endorsement of minimal financial regulation and an informal agreement to disagree over the stimulus question are likely to be the vapid results of this latest summit of the world’s so-called powerhouse economies. The structural fissures of global capital have become too great to be papered over by this presumptive executive committee.

But hey, the protesters have been given another opportunity to assemble against the ailing system of globalized capitalism, like we were by the London summit in 2008 and the Pittsburgh meeting in September 2009. Nothing beats the G20 meeting as a centralized focus of anti-capitalist protest.

Ironically, this has become the main function of the G8 and G20 meetings: to unite global opinion against an outmoded system of economic organization and advance the process of delegitimizing it. Let’s turn Toronto into another Genoa, but let’s hope this is not the last G20 Summit.

U.S. Men’s World Cup Team Rides a Wave of Jingoism

US fans

Everyone seems to be gushing about the U.S. Men’s World Cup soccer team. Fans are jumping and hugging in streets and bars across the country. Men are actually admitting to shedding tears. And commentators keep talking about what the last-gasp victory over Algeria says about the “national character.”

“These were Americans doing something recognizable,” wrote New York Times soccer columnist George Vecsey, linking the goalscorer, Landon Donovan, and his teammates with iconic athletes Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, “something Americans have seen before.”

“American athletes would never give up,” was the lesson Vecsey drew from the match.

Vecsey and others have likewise read the victory, and the team, as symbols of an idyllic melting pot nation. One blogger, who calls himself the “renegade sportsman,” was particularly effusive:

Call it, perhaps, a protean, republican spirit of inclusion through merit. The pile-up on Donovan after his goal involved Hispanic dudes, white dudes, black dudes—even a Scottish dude. It was a fleshy amalgamation produced by a country that has always been polyglot and multihued.

And then there are the oft-quoted, hazily poetic words of U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (whom I happen to like and hope gets to play more), who is suddenly being compared to Whitman, Dickinson, and Louis Armstrong: “We bring something to the table, the American people as a whole.”

Understandable words from a member of a team that has rarely been taken seriously by the international soccer world. But as exegesis on a nation (that is so often, and so tellingly, mistaken for a hemisphere)? (Then again, I’m sure many Iraqis and Afghans would agree that U.S. Americans bring something to the table.)

The U.S. team is not an allegory for the nation. The team and its victory are not signs of some unique “American character” that we have and that no one else possesses. They are not symbols of an inclusive, meritocratic melting pot nation (which has somehow, magically erased its history of slavery, genocide, and imperial expansion, as well as its present day reality of ongoing racism, war, impoverishment, and inequality).

The team is just that. A team of 23 men and their coaches and trainers who have, despite some nervous moments, done rather well in the first round of the world’s largest sporting event-cum-platform for nationalist dreaming and global capitalism.

The rest is pure mythmaking and nationalist dribble (pardon the pun).

Indeed the World Cup, by its very modus operandi of pitting teams said to represent nations against one another, encourages such mythmaking and nationalist hyperbole. I get caught up in the emotion of the World Cup as much, if not more, than the average “American.” But when the crowd at the stadium, at the bar, in the streets starts chanting “USA! USA! USA!” maybe we should think twice about the seemingly instinctive, but very much conditioned, nationalist ritual we’re participating in.

Maybe at such a moment it might be worth thinking about those like the distraught Algerian goalie, Rais M’Bolhi, who conceded Donovan’s goal, after bravely turning aside everything that had come his way? Who couldn’t feel terrible for him? Was the goal some sign of the Algerian national character?

Before a difficult match against Ghana (and, if the U.S. team is lucky, other difficult match(es) ahead), perhaps it’s worth considering, in a game that inevitably entail wins and losses, why it is that we only see our victories—and never our defeats—as a sign of our national character?

Pavlovian Congress Jumps to Israel’s ‘Self-‘ Defense

Gaza FlotillaPosted as a complement to Stephen Zunes’s Foreign Policy in Focus piece Israel’s Dubious Investigation of Flotilla Attack.

In a letter to President Barack Obama date June 17, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives referred to Israel’s May 31 attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters, which resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and crew and injuries to scores of others, as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.” Similarly, a June 21 Senate lettersigned by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the widely supported effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”

The House letter urged President Obama “to remain steadfast in defense of Israel” in the face of the near-universal international condemnation of this blatant violation of international maritime law and other legal statutes, which the signatories referred to as “a rush to unfairly judge and defend Israel.” The Senate letter condemned the near-unanimous vote of the UN Human Rights Council for what it called “singling out” Israel, even though no other country in recent memory has attacked a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters. Both letters called upon the United States to veto any resolution in the UN Security Council criticizing the Israeli attack.

What is perhaps most disturbing is that many of the key arguments in the letters were misleading and, in some cases, factually inaccurate.

The Israeli government had acknowledged prior to the writing of the letter that the extensive blockade of humanitarian goods was not necessary for their security, but as a means of pressuring the civilian population to end their support for Hamas, which won a majority of legislative seats in the most recent Palestinian election. In addition, the Israeli government announced a significant relaxation of the embargo two days after the letter was written. Despite this, the House letter claimed that the purpose of the blockade was “to stop terrorists from smuggling weapons to kill innocent civilians,” thereby placing this large bipartisan majority of the House even further to the right than Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s rightist coalition.

There was no mention in the letter than no such weapons were found on board any of the six ships hijacked by the Israelis nor on the previous eight ships the Free Gaza Campaign had sailed or attempted to sail to the Gaza Strip. In addition, even though the ships had been thoroughly inspected by customs officials prior to their disembarkation, the House letter claimed that had the Israelis not hijacked the ships, they would have “sailed unchecked into Gaza.”

Similarly, according to the Senate letter, Israel’s naval blockade was necessary “to keep dangerous goods from entering Gaza by sea” and falsely claimed that the intent of the Israeli blockade was “to protect Israel, while allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.” Particularly striking is the fact that, despite that the International Committee on the Red Cross and a broad consensus of international legal experts recognize that the Israeli blockade of humanitarian goods is illegal, the Senate letter insisted that the blockade “is legal under international law.”

The House letter insisted, despite the fact that several of those killed on the Mavi Marmara were shot at point blank range in the back or the back of the head and a video showing a 19-year old U.S. citizen shot execution style on the ground, that “Israeli forces used necessary force as an act of self-defense and of last resort.” Similarly, the Senate letter refers to the murders of passengers and crew resisting the illegal boarding of their vessel in international waters as a situation where the Israeli raiders were “forced to respond to that attack” when they “arrived” on the ship.

The House letter also claimed that the other ships were “commandeered peacefully and without incident,” even though on the other ships, despite completely nonviolent resistance, passengers were tasered and brutally beaten and were attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets. Similarly, the Senate letter insisted that, in spite of these potentially fatal beatings and other assaults, “Israeli forces were able to safely divert five of the six ships challenging the blockade.”

Even though the Israeli government has never entered Gaza to disperse aid to the people of that territory since the start of the siege years earlier and reputable relief organizations have documented that the Israelis had routinely refused to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, these House members claimed that Israel had offered to “disperse the aid . . . directly to the people of Gaza.” And, despite the fact that the five aid ships that Israel had allowed to dock in Gaza in previous months had distributed their humanitarian cargo directly to those in need, the senators claimed that it would have otherwise gone “into the hands of corrupt Gaza officials.”

Learning what actually transpired in the tragic incident was apparently of little interest to the 87 senators who signed the letter defending the attack. Despite the apparent whitewash forthcoming in the internal Israeli investigation, the senate letter supported Israel’s alleged intention to carry out “a thorough investigation of the incident,” insisting that Israel “has the right to determine how its investigation is conducted.” This comes in spite of a recent public opinion poll shows a clear majority of Americans — including 65 percent of Democrats — favor an international inquiry over allowing Israel alone to investigate the circumstances of the attack .

Ironically, a number of progressive organizations, web sites and list serves have called on the peace and human rights community to support the re- election of some of the very senators who signed this letter, including Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, and Russell Feingold. MoveOn, Council for a Livable World, and other progressive groups with PAC money have been are calling on their members, many of whom are peace and human rights activists, to donate their money to these right-wing Democrats who defend attacking peace and human rights activists and lie about the circumstances to justify it. They have no problems with supporting the re-election of those who lie and mislead their constituents in order to defend illegal actions by allied right-wing governments, even when they kill and injure participants in a humanitarian flotilla on the high seas.

There may be an underlying current of racism at work here. It is unlikely MoveOn, Council for a Livable World and other groups would defend such actions if, for example, if the activists were helping those under siege in Sarajevo in the 1990s or West Berlin in the 1940s, who happened to be white Europeans.

It is important to remember that the majority of Democrats joined in with Republicans in supporting the Salvadoran junta in the early 1980s and the Suharto regime in the 1990s until voters made clear they would withdraw their support from them if they did not change their policy. AIPAC and other right-wing “pro-Israel” groups are only as powerful as the absence of counter-pressure from the peace and human rights community. Letters like these will continue to be supported by most Democrats only as long they know they can get away with it.

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