Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pacifism Doesn't Always Work Out So Well

I can respect the desire to be a pacifist, but pacifism combined with freedom is a luxury afforded only to those protected by sufficient military might to prevent the weak from being preyed upon by the strong. Generally, pacifism is most often associated with subjugation because the natural tendency of men and nations is to contest for power and resources. Steven LeBlanc writes in his book Constant Battles about how man has fought since our species has been on the planet. There has never been an era in history not marked by near constant warfare. The only thing that keeps men and nations from warring is sufficient bounty for all. The best mechanism for insuring bounty for all is a democratic government that allows entrepreneurial rights and protects people’s property and individual rights.

Democracies fight more wars because their economic power gives them a presence in places far from their own region and allows them to project military power. So, when a local despot oppresses threatens a democracy’s interests, or the democracy’s people, the democracy has to respond because frankly, the people of the democracy, the voters, want it. Think back to President Bush standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center when he said: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon," The crowd roared its approval, and the President enjoyed his highest approval ratings. Why? Because the people of America wanted to strike back and Bush, the politician, was going to do exactly what the voters wanted. This aggressive pursuit of despots across the world has been a trait of modern democracies. America destroyed the Barbary pirates off the coast of Libya in the early 1800’s, allied European democracies crushed the Chinese “Boxer Rebellion,” America destroyed the Spanish in Cuba at the turn of the 20th century and Australia ended the slaughter of innocents in East Timor at the turn of the 21st century. In each case I just sited, a democracy responded with overwhelming force to relatively minor provocations. Why? Because, such actions were popular.

Now, would pacifism have been a better policy? I think the answer to that question depends on what you value. If you value the preservation of life above all, and the absence of suffering brought on by injuries caused by weapons, then yes, pacifism is the best policy. But if you care about liberty and freedom in addition to safety, it is hard to see how pacifism delivers those things. A tyrant will take all that a pacifist state has and enslave the people. Peace will reign, but at a cost that is unacceptable to free people. The people in democracies will see injustice somewhere in the world, and demand their governments stop it.

Is trying to create a democracy the best policy after deposing a despot? Perhaps not, but Winston Churchill addressed this question directly in a speech to the House of Commons in 1947: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

For those who love peace, as we all do, an imperfect democracy is preferable to a stable dictatorship. Perhaps the most compelling justification for this statement is one that is more germane to this class. Democracies establish mechanisms to safeguard rights and which reward the peaceful resolution of differences. When two democracies have a conflict, both sides can send negotiators to the table to resolve differences, even if the negotiations take years. The US and Canada periodically meet to resolve differences over fishing areas along their maritime boundaries. Never a shot is fired. On the other hand, the North and South Korean navies are in a constant state of readiness during the blue crab harvest, often firing on each other because there is no mechanism for a peaceful resolution of this problem. South Korea and Japan, a couple of democracies, also have joint fishing areas that are mutually patrolled with no rancor. Democracies can resolve problems because both sides are predisposed to utilized civilized resolution mechanisms. Democracies do not have a similar luxury when there is a dispute with a despot.

Speaking of Japan and South Korea; they stand as testimony to the successes that are possible when one country imposes democracy on another.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Why Negotiation Doesn't Work

In “Preventive Statecraft: A Realist Strategy”, Bruce Jentleson wrote that: "In all the cases in the Carnegie Commission Study I led there were specific and identifiable opportunities to limit, if not prevent, conflicts." “Preventative Statecraft,” a chapter written by Dr Jentleson in the book Turbulent Peace, was published in 2001. The study Dr Jentleson referenced was published 4 years earlier in the book: Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Seized: Preventative Diplomacy in the Post Cold War World. Although Jentleson seems definitive in
his later assessment of the judgments from Opportunities Missed, the text of the study itself reveals some nuances.

The Carnegie Study looked at 10 different conflicts around the world, some conflicts inside borders, some across borders. Jentleson and his group looked at conflicts in the former Soviet Union, the Baltics, the former Yugoslavia, Africa and in Korea. Although Jentleson is correct to assert that every study showed points early in the conflict where aggressive diplomacy could conceivably have had some effect, in every case, with the exception of the remarkable success in the Baltics, 1) the timing of those points was not as clear to those in the conflicts as it was to researchers after the fact. There are two other issues to note about Jentleson’s points: 2) In other hot spots, the only time to intervene in the conflict, is before the conflict has actually occurred. 3) Often, successful intervention in a conflict sometimes only postpones a conflict until later, essentially “kicking the can down the road.”

Regarding point 1, the Carnegie researchers of the 90’s Congo conflict noted that “As is perhaps common in regard to this topic, there was plenty of early warning of this crisis, and yet it took everyone by surprise.” (Pg 268) This observation also relates to last week’s discussion about foretelling conflicts. Indicators that are crystal clear in retrospect seem somewhat more ambiguous when a policy maker has to use those indistinct indications of potential conflict to determine his policy. Another difficulty facing policy makers who are trying to determine a future course of action to deter a conflict is that those policy makers must shift from appearing tough to finding some way to reach common ground for negotiating. Such a change has a way of undermining a leader’s authority because negotiating requires giving something up. The negotiating paradox is that in order to get what you want, you have to give some of what you have. Many times, followers are loathe to give anything to a traditional rival, so leaders proceed along such a course at considerable risk. Nonetheless, negotiators strive for the time when circumstances will allow bold participants, with the help of mediators, to reach an agreement to prevent conflict. Jentleson calls this time during a crisis when intervention would do the most good, the “ripe” time. The problem is seeing ripeness as it is occurring, vice after the fact when it is too late.

Related to this is a second component of Jentleson’s analysis that dovetails with Chester Crocker’s observation in the discussion question. Crocker argues that the best time to negotiate a settlement is before the bullets start to fly. Jentleson explicitly endorses this point of view on page 331 of Opportunities Missed. “Jacob Bercovitch and Jeffrey Langley, in their study of 97 disputes of various types involving 364 separate mediation attempts, found a declining success rate for mediation as fatalities increased. Roy Licklider goes further, arguing that once civil wars get going a military victory tends to be a more stable “solution” than a negotiated settlement.” Jentleson calls the idea that once a conflict reaches certain level of violence, that “the Rubicon has been crossed” referring to the river north of Rome that no Roman General was allowed to cross with his army, lest rebellion be declared and one or the other side was successful. When the level of violence “crosses the Rubicon,” there is little hope that negotiation will work until one side is defeated, or both are exhausted.

Both Jentleson and Crocker are right on in their assessments. It is best to negotiate when both sides are cool, rather than during the heat of battle. But this time we face a conundrum similar in kind if not degree to the problem of picking the ripest moment of a crisis to attempt negotiations: if there is not yet really a problem nor a shooting war, what incentive is there for anyone to spend the time and effort to meaningfully negotiate? Some negotiators call the process of negotiating prior to “ripeness” as “negotiating for negotiation sake.” Jentleson points up another danger of this strategy, on page 337, a danger which is of failing to give full attention or concern to the process. The danger of failing to fully engage in negotiation is that it displays a lack of commitment and a lack of political that looks a lot like weakness that another side will attempt to exploit and perhaps precipitate a crisis.

Regarding point 3), often times, the successes in negotiating peace only postpone a conflict until later. The classic example occurred in the Congo where a peace treaty in 1994 prevented a wider conflict, but also allowed some of the actors to strengthen their positions and others to lose cohesiveness and become independent and uncontrollable. In 1997, tensions escalated again and were unable to be negotiated away. All sides decided to use their strengthened positions to fight it out. As Jentleson himself says on page 330, “prevention is more difficult when the interests of major domestic actors are served more by perpetuation and intensification of the conflict than its resolution.”

The views of Jentleson and Crocker are certainly not in opposition, and Jentleson and Crocker quote one another and anthologize one another in each other’s books. In fact, Crocker credits Jentleson on page 4 of Taming Intractable Conflicts with some of the “...excellent recent work on conflict causes [that] has prompted the scholar-practitioner community to devote more attention to what third parties should do to prevent the eruption of violence, in new places...” There is not much daylight in the views of the two men. I think both would agree that negotiation can prevent or limit conflicts, but the negotiation has to occur “early, early, early” (Opportunities Missed pg 337). The problem, as we are beginning to see as a trend, is with intelligence being able to tell us definitively that we are at the beginning of a conflict, and when the ripe time is to intervene.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thoughts on Training

Let me say that for the most part, Maj Egland is right on in his prescriptions but I want to address a couple of the points he made. I am an intelligence officer, and in my current job, I draft the standards which are used to create the learning objectives for training, so I know a little bit about Maj Egland’s points #2 and #5. For #2, Maj Egland has diagnosed the wrong problem with training and proposed an inadequate solution to the problem that actually does exist. Maj Egland decries “Cold War era” checklists, and repetitive training to standards but then proposes rebuilding training requirements. What he leaves unsaid is that the rebuilt training requirements will come down to the units in the form of checklists that are written by those who have recently returned from combat. Checklists are not the problem, I think that it is what is contained in the checklists that Maj Egland objects to.

As a standards writer, I hear all the time from the operating forces that training does not meet the conditions under which Marines are expected to operate and that what is being taught is not the best response to stimulus in combat. I listen respectfully, because they have the latest and greatest gouge about what is going on in the War. But what those recently returning from the War must remember is that their experiences are essentially anecdotal and must be weighed against those of other Marines’ (and other soldiers’) experiences to develop a coherent picture of what is happening, and how training should respond. For example, when we were trying to create training for how a convoy should best respond to an improvised explosive device (IED) attack, we had “lessons learned” documents and subject matter experts (SME's) who were all emphatic that the proper response in that situation was to stop in place and deploy; drive the vehicles into a herringbone formation and deploy; drive through the kill zone without speeding all the while returning fire; floor it though the kill zone without returning fire; and other variations of these. The pressure on the standard writers, curriculum developers and trainers was immense because everyone was demanding counter IED training immediately. The then-current training was inadequate and was getting Marines killed. The frustrating fact is that all the various ideas for improving training must be considered, especially when they come from experienced, well intentioned Marines with a sincere interest in doing the best possible thing for Marines and the Marine Corps. The truth about training is that just because some officer thinks that training should be one way does not mean the entire Marine Corps (or Army) concurs. That process of gaining consensus or at least majority approval takes time but can be expedited when there is the will and resources to do so.

But once the SMEs agree on the training standards, and the operating forces have a chance to approve them, the standards are published so that the units can begin training to them, and so, yes, checklists can be created to determine whether the units are performing the tasks required.

Now, reading between the lines, Maj Egland may actually be advocating more free play type exercises that can be subjectively evaluated so that junior enlisted and officers can respond to unexpected situations. Admittedly, that would be the best way to train, but the reality is that such exercises take time to set up and are extremely “resource and manpower intensive.” With the current pace of deployments and the number of Marines and soldiers who must be trained in the burgeoning number of tasks in which they must be proficient, there just is not the luxury to provide as much free-play training as we would like. Hence, the dreaded checklists. If we had more Marines available to construct and conduct training events, we could conduct better training. But given the zero sum game when it comes to personnel available to the schoolhouses and the operating forces, the Army and the Marine Corps has to make the hard choices when it comes to delivering training.

As to point #5, Maj Egland is correct that more intelligence sharing and analysis is better than less. The limiting factor in reporting actionable intelligence up the chain is the fact that so much of the effort involved in questioning bad guys and potential sources of intelligence is the ridiculous amount of paperwork that must accompany each detainee or report that is sent to the rear. The problem actually starts at the top of the chain of command. The current buzz word for intelligence collection is “tactical questioning.” The Department of Defense has mandated that all the services train to and execute tactical questioning so that Marines and soldiers at the front line ask the right questions to elicit actionable intelligence in order to immediately press the fight. It sounds great, but if you look at the actual directive that came down from DOD, Number 3115.09 DoD Intelligence Interrogations, Detainee Debriefings, and Tactical Questioning, ¾ of it is concerned with respecting the rights of detainees and ensuring questioning follows applicable laws for those questioned! How much consideration is due to terrorists or foreign nationals in a war zone? It is a ridiculous document, but all the requirements contained in it complicate and lengthen questioning training. Additionally, Theater commanders have directed that questioning and detaining of suspects must conform to Iraqi law, and be under the review of Iraqi magistrates. So, a lot of man-hours that would otherwise be used to hunt and kill terrorists or doing link analysis on small bit of intelligence, is instead wasted with completing chain of custody documents and compiling multiple witness statements in order to ensure that detained bad guys are not sprung on technicalities. Ironically, even with all the time and effort given over to satisfy Iraqi requirements at the expense of intelligence analysis, the vast majority of detained Iraqis are released without prejudice. This colossal waste of time detracts from the intelligence mission to the detriment of the overall mission.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

To Lileks

After having read your stuff for a couple of years and I enjoy that you bring so much nostalgia to light. In the past, I have also appreciated your take on current events as well, you seem like a pretty clear headed observer of what is going on around you. That being said, I have to say that I have been terribly disappointed by your performance during the run up to the election. 3 points. For weeks, Hugh Hewitt and Powerline have been banging on the STRIB for ignoring the disgusting past of Keith Ellison, the ridiculous attacks on Fine, and the generally dishonest and biased reporting during the election season. Even Mark Steyn weighed in. These are your guys! Yet in the midst of all the angst about what is going on at your employer, angst I know you were aware of, you said nothing. That brings me to point 2.

The day before the election, you finally write something about the candidate who is soon to be your congressman. Yes, coming out like you did on the even of the election was welcome, but at the same time, I wonder why you did not publish such a thing a few weeks before? Why did you not publish a Screed? The most important issue of our time, confronting virulent versions of Islam, a representative of which is being elected to Congress as YOUR congressman, and the most you can do is one feeble Bleat the day before the election? I have to say, I was very disappointed.

For the third point, I was going to write a paragraph here wondering at your motives, but on second thought, I don’t think I will. I will ask you though, are you doing all you can to counter the threat of our age? Or have you chosen to surround yourself in things, ignoring what is happening around you and hoping that whatever bad that is going to happen will happen to your daughter, sometime after you are dead?

Get back in the fight James, we need you. Semper fi

Where next?

“[V]ery few of the new manifestations in war can be ascribed to new inventions or new departures in ideas. They result mainly from the transformation of society and new social conditions”. Dr Gray, in the reading contained in the packet "How Has War Changed Since the End of the Cold War?", quotes this passage from Clauswitz to make the point that that war, the effort to impart one’s will on another by force, would not change. Those fighting, the reasons they fight, the constraints under which they fight, will change, but the conflict would remain recognizable to observers from one era to the next. That being said, the types of conflicts that the world community will be facing in this era, while not new under the sun, will certainly be unlike anything that the current generation of world leaders will have experienced.

Dr Gray makes another point that is germane to the analysis of characteristics of post Cold War conflict. He says: “Trend spotting is not a good guide to the future.” Another way to put this is that the future is never a straight line from the now. Or to borrow a theory that race car drivers live by: “Aim for the wreck because by the time you get there, it will be gone.” Predicting the future based only on what we see now is probably a fool’s errand, therefore it is necessary to make some guesses based on historical precedent, as well as what we can observe now. Given these caveats about predicting the future, we can say that fanatical Islamists remain on the offensive around the world, seeking to gain the means to carry out “catastrophic terrorism,” in the words of Dr Gray. Militant Islam is expansionist, aggressive, convinced by their ideology that they deserve to rule the world and as yet, undefeated. So long as such an ideology remains viable, its adherents will continue to press the conflict. Iran is attempting to gain a nuclear weapon, and making overt threats toward Israel and has a nihilistic force in Hezbollah that seems willing to endure any sacrifice to inflict casualties. Once they get a nuclear weapon, Islamists will either use it or blackmail the West into submission. Chester Crocker makes the point in Taming Intractable Conflicts, pg 83, that negotiating with individuals driven by religious ideology seems pointless. “The jury is still out on whether conflicts involving religion are inherently more intractable than other conflict, whether religious-ideological issues make it harder for warring elites to compromise without being seen as betraying their principles, and whether religious disputes have a zero-sum quality that other disputes lack.” In other words, there has been no evidence that conflicts born of religious ideology end other than in total victory for one side or the other.

Another characteristic of conflict will likely be some kind of conventional war in Asia. There are a number of historical animosities in Asia that have been tamped down because of variety of reasons but perhaps most notably because of American engagement in North Eastern Asia. Since America must contend with emergent threats in Southwest Asia, regional players in Asia have had more latitude to assert their particular interests, and there are numerous points of friction, any of which could start a conflict. North Korea is aggressively threatening its neighbors is such a way that is forcing South Korea and Japan to respond. Japan’s unfortunate history in Korea causes both North and South to feel threatened by the idea of a resurgent Japan. China’s navy is aggressively patrolling in Taiwanese and Japanese waters and menacing American warships in international waters. China is opening threatening Taiwan with missiles and encroaching on Vietnamese economic exclusion zone in the pursuit of oil and natural gas reserves. With America looking away, similar conditions that prevailed in 1950, any or all of these hot spots looks likely to result in a conventional cross border conflict.

But if we are trying to imagine what the next conflict will be, I imagine that the conflict will spring from what Donald Rumsfeld calls the “unknown unknowns.” Some type conflict will happen, that as of right now, we cannot predict. When it happens, however, the necessity to engage in conflict will seem imperative and inevitable. I can remember in the summer of 2001 being tasked with providing input to a large “10 year way ahead” predictive analysis paper being prepared for CINCPAC. 50+ analysts worked for weeks thinking about this task then providing input to that document. Within 6 weeks, the entire document was shredded as being completely irrelevant to the new facts on the ground.

In the post Cold War era, the characteristics of conflict that we world will face include a war of annihilation against an implacable ideological foe, similar to the conflict of World War II, a conventional cross region war in Asia similar to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the China-Vietnam War, the Rape of Nanking, or the Chinese Civil War, and an unexpected and as of now, unexpected conflict somewhere else in the world that will nonetheless demand international participation.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Webb vs Lieberman

It has puzzled me why the Left was so eager to get rid of Lieberman but so ready to embrace Webb. Don't get me wrong, I understand realpolitik, and the need to accept the good with the bad in some of your politicians in order to get the results you want, but the Democrats seemed ridiculous in their exhuberant defense of Webb. Had they not read his books? Did they not know his record? Sure, he is against the War, but he is against it because he does not think it is being fought ruthlessly enough. I think we can say he is in the "Rubble don't cause trouble" school of thought. Seems hard to reconcile him with the Cindy Sheehan wing of the Democrat party, but I guess since he didn't vote to authorize the War, and since he was running against Allen, well, in that case, Webb is ok. I suspect the the Dems will rue the day they voted in another member of the Lieberman caucus.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Can the US win wars of insurgency?

The short answer these days is probably no, at least, not like we choose to fight them now. We are fighting the insurgents on the ground, using a myriad of techniques: We attempt to kill the ones we can find with direct fire weapons manned by infantrymen. We try to build infrastructure to win civilians over to our side, and to quit supporting the insurgents. We train police to take over their own cities. We train soldiers to independently go out and kill the bad guys. We show great deference to the civilian courts system to establish the rule of law instead of the rule of the strongest man. We defer to local customs. We negotiate where we can. We buy off others when negotiation breaks down. We are trying many different thing, and many of them are working individually, and all together, the plan to defeat the insurgency is working, but (and this is the BIG BUT) the plan is working slowwwwwwwly.

The old saying was that “Speed kills,” but nowadays, when an American force is fighting an insurgency, the real killer is slowness. Lack of speed doesn’t kill the US soldiers doing the work, in fact, our death rate in Iraq over three years would have made the mothers of Europe and America during World War I weep with joy that so few had to be sacrificed. No, the slowness of the effort kills the will of America to continue to see and hear about American deaths on the TV news. It is not the expense of rebuilding Iraq, or the cost in ordnance to fight the war, it is the steady drip, drip, drip of lost US lives in the glare of television news that has doomed the current US counter insurgency doctrine. The US can go anywhere and do anything so long as what our forces are doing does not involve the loss of American lives or the gratuitous or wanton killing or humiliation.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself, what are US forces doing in Bosnia 10 years on from the initial deployment? What are we doing in the Horn of Africa? What is the Navy doing about piracy and banditry in the Indian Ocean? We are aggressively rooting out terrorists and evildoers, but no one knows because there is not a newspaper that cares. Men die in these missions, “civilians” are killed, but there is nary of peep from the Human Rights Watch. But roust a family who is harboring terrorist weapons in Ramadi and accidentally unveil a woman, and the entire human rights establishment gets the vapors. Why do we hear about human rights “abuses” in Iraq but not a word about bandits in the Straits of Malacca? The answer? The Iraq theatre features safe press access to well-meaning Public Affairs Officers working hard to get out the “true” story, the press’ ability to quiz Iraqi men on the streets about their attitudes toward the US and the easy access to the morgue that allows the lazy reporter to count bodies that showed up over night and write an article about civilian casualties.

So what news viewers in America are faced with is a poisonous mixture of dead American soldiers who are killed while moving between places, seemingly for no reason, since no context is ever given, while civilian bodies pile up in the streets and Iraqis complain. Is it any wonder that the American people have lost patience with the War? If all I knew about the War was what I learned on some news show, I would be fed up too.

Instead, I hear about the legions of schools that are being built, all the children being educated, all the insurgents being hunted down and killed at a ratio of 10 –1 or better, about Iraqi army and police units becoming better trained and proud of their prowess. How every report ends with the hopeful assessment that while things can be up and down, it will work out with more TIME.

But TIME Magazine is working to make sure that time runs out on the Iraq project. Now why would they do that? Well, the body count stories are the easiest to write because it is pretty easy to walk down to the morgue and start counting. Some reporters are gutless, and don’t want to go outside the wire to report anything. Some are stupid and don’t realize how badly they are demoralizing their audience. Some are shrewd and know exactly how badly they are demoralizing their audience. These are just guesses, however as to the causes, but the effect could not be more clear: people fighting the war believe in it, people watching it on TV, don’t, and they just want it to end. So, these people elected the Democrats to help make that happen.
But I will amend that. People don’t care whether it ends or not, they just don’t want to look at it anymore. If people were subjected to stories about all the Marines killed in training accidents and car accidents, I think 70% of Americans would be against training and driving of Marines. But since the press is looking at Iraq, and presenting only one side of the story, the bad side, the dying side, people don’t want to look at it. Figure a way to get it off the TV, and people would no more care about the Iraq situation than they care about Bosnia or Mauritania. But getting Iraq off the TV seems as likely as getting the Israel conflict off the TV.

This brings me back to my original point that given the constraints we have now, we can’t win an insurgency like we are fighting it. Too much TV, distorting too much of the story, making it seem like it can all stop if we just leave them alone in their own country. That point of view may be foolish and shortsighted, but then again, what is most television programming if not foolish and shortsighted?
So what is the answer, if fighting the insurgency can’t be won this way because we don’t have the time. Check back for the next installment, and I will tell you.