Tag: american military

Obama’s Power Problem, and Ours

I have an op-ed in Politico today that explores what I call President Obama’s power problem, a common theme in my work (my book is now in a Kindle edition!).

Simply stated, when a country has more military power than it needs to defend itself and its core interests, it will expand its definition of “the national interest.” This will, in turn, lead it to intervene militarily in places and disputes that have no connection to the country’s security. That certainly has been the pattern for the United States for at least the last two decades. The problem is nicely encapsulated in the famous exchange between Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, which Powell recounted in his memoir.

Madeleine Albright, our ambassador to the UN, asked me in frustration “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” I thought I would have an aneurysm. American GIs were not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board.

This brings us to Libya, and to a new group of people who likely said something similar to Mike Mullen and Bob Gates. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s disagreements with Gates were on public display last Sunday, but reports of a whisper campaign within the administration, in which Clinton and her advisers were frustrated by President Obama’s unwillingness to deploy the U.S. military on yet another mission, have been flying around for weeks.

In the end, the Valkyries got their war. Clinton’s advice, along with that of Samantha Power and Susan Rice, who have all loudly called for U.S. military intervention in the past, convinced President Obama to override Gates and Mullen’s objections, and to launch what Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman aptly characterized yesterday as “just the most muddled definition of an operation probably in U.S. military history.” Anne-Marie Slaughter, who recently returned to Princeton after a stint at State’s policy planning staff, was sniping from the sidelines.  Pressure from our European allies, especially France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron in the UK, also appears to have been decisive.

This is not so unique a set of circumstance, however, as I discussed with Cato Audio’s Caleb Brown a few days ago. Near the end of the interview, I focused on the particular challenges that confront the leader of a country whose military capabilities seem almost limitless:

I agree that it is difficult, it is very difficult, for the President of the United States to resist the impulse to intervene when he has people, many people, calling on him to do something. But it’s precisely because we have so much power, and because the temptation to use it is almost overwhelming, that a president has to have extraordinary discipline and say: “No. I was elected by the people of the United States to protect them, to keep this country safe and security, and if a mission does not advance those ends I will not do it.”

That is not the counsel of despair, and the counsel of inaction. On the contrary, there are many other countries, especially those in Libya’s immediate neighborhood, that have both a compelling  national security rationale and a moral rationale [to intervene]. And it’s precisely the combination of those factors that we, the United States, should have encouraged in the past, and we could have encouraged in this particular case. Instead, other countries waited for the United States to act,…

Caleb Brown, Cato Audio: And just the possibility the U.S. will act probably puts a lot of countries on the sideline…

Me: That’s correct…. Because of the expectation that the United States will act, it causes other people to wait it out. And sometimes, tragically, they wait it out too long. Because, again, the United States does not always intervene. There are a number of cases where we have not. And I fear that we have set up a system where, if the United States doesn’t act, nothing gets done, and I don’t think that’s the right approach. I think there are alternatives that will use other countries’ legitimate security interests to advance humanitarian ends.

You can listen to the whole clip here.

House Bill Repeals DADT the Right Way

The House passed a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) yesterday, and it appears that the Senate will take up the measure sometime next week. Good.

DADT should end. I’ve said so, and debated the issue with repeal opponent Stuart Koehl (posts 1, 2, 3, and 4). Most servicemembers I know (appropriate disclaimer here) already have a mindset of Don’t Ask, Don’t Care, and its time for official policy to catch up.

We should note that a legislative effort is the right way to change the current policy. DADT is based on a law – 10 U.S.C. § 654 – enacted with the FY1994 National Defense Authorization Act.

Some have argued (and here, and here) that President Obama could stop enforcing DADT by executive order. The President does have control over enlisted separations under 10 U.S.C. § 12305 and officer separations under 10 U.S.C. § 123. But, as Gene Healy noted in a recent column, “it would be kinda cool if our representatives got to vote on [policies] before they became the law of the land.” More than kinda cool, it would comply with the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority “To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.”

The repeal legislation also deals with the legal and policy questions that are implicated with DADT repeal. This is important in a couple of ways. First, the policy change is phased in over time, giving the services time to adjust policies.

Second, as I said at this event, the sexual offenses in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) are a mess that Congress needs to untangle along with repeal. Article 125 of the UCMJ criminalizes all sodomy – heterosexual, homosexual, consensual, or otherwise. As this article points out, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces’ decision in United States v. Marcum wounded Article 125 in the wake of Lawrence v. Texas, but did not kill it. The definition of “sexual intercourse” in the UCMJ only includes sex between a man and a woman, so the offenses of adultery, prostitution, and patronizing a prostitute under Article 134 of the UCMJ don’t apply when committed in a homosexual manner. The UCMJ should adopt a uniform standard - criminalize sexual behavior that is prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the armed forces, period. The DOD Report takes this into account (see pp. 138-39) and Congress and the military will have a chance to sort things out as repeal is under way.

In short, repeal is the right thing to do, and passing this law is the right way to do it.

Divided Government on Afghanistan

The Obama administration apparently plans to issue a positive Pentagon review of the war in Afghanistan.  Alas, this assessment evidently is not shared by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Reports the New York Times:

As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports’ executive summaries.

Obviously, any predictions about the future course of the Afghan war should be taken with a couple shakers of salt.  However, the fact that the U.S. remains at war nine years after intervening suggests that pessimism is the most realistic perspective. 

That certainly was the reaction of Malou Innocent and me after visiting Afghanistan earlier this year.  Even if the military has figured out the best strategy for fighting the Taliban, there is no competent and honest Afghan partner to replace the Taliban.  The Karzai government is as likely to impede as aid Washington’s efforts.  The U.S. cannot afford to sacrifice more lives and money in what has devolved into yet another attempt at nation-building that fails to advance Amerca’s security.

Our ‘Reassured’ Allies

Justin Logan beat me to the punch, but Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal’s op-ed in the Washington Post warrants more than just one comment. Kagan and Blumenthal fret that the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic reassurance” is sure to fail. Aimed at encouraging Russia and China, especially, to cooperate with the United States in dealing with a number of common threats, the two predict that the policy will succeed only in making “American allies nervous.”

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Not that we should go around making our allies nervous just for the heck of it, but I worry that our allies have grown, well, too comfortable with the current state of affairs in which American taxpayers and American troops bear a disproportionate share of the costs of securing global peace and prosperity.

And who can blame them? From the perspective of our allies in East Asia (chiefly the Japanese and the South Koreans), and for the Europeans tucked safely within NATO, getting the Americans to pay the costs, and assume the risks, associated with policing the world is a pretty good gig.

The same Robert Kagan made this point explicitly, if somewhat crudely, in his book Of Paradise and Power, when he cast the United States in the heroic role as sheriff, while our wealthy allies were portrayed as cowardly, sniveling townspeople, or, worse, saloon keepers who benefited from the protection of the Americans while selling booze to the bad guys.

foto_high_noon_gary_cooper

For at least two decades, we have adopted a strategy designed to comfort our allies. Our goal has been to discourage them from taking prudent steps to defend themselves. Many Americans are beginning to appreciate just how short-sighted this policy was, and is. Such military capabilities might have proved useful in Afghanistan, for example, and they might ultimately serve a purpose in checking Russian and Chinese ambitions, which would be particularly important if these two countries prove as aggressive as Kagan and Blumenthal claim.

Instead, we have a group of militarily weak and comfortable allies who spend a fraction of what Americans spend on defense, and who can muster political will with respect to foreign policy only when it entails criticizing the United States for not doing enough. In other words, we are reaping what we sowed.

But don’t take my word for it. Vassilis Kaskarelis, the Greek ambassador to the United States, bluntly explained the disconnect between what we want our allies to do, and what they are willing to do. As reported by the Washington Times:

NATO members’ reluctance to assume a larger role in Afghanistan is partly the legacy of U.S. military protection, which allowed Europeans to stress social programs over defense for decades, the Greek ambassador to the United States said.

“For 40 years, you have a system [of] not bothering about military, security and stability expenses,” [Mr.] Kaskarelis told editors and reporters of The Washington Times. “Because these issues were handled by the United States after World War II … everybody was happy.”

[…]

Mr. Kaskarelis said…that most European governments support the war in Afghanistan but lack the military infrastructure to contribute as equal partners.

“They don’t have the capabilities, because in the last 50 years, the U.S. offered an umbrella in terms of military, security and stability,” he said. “You had the phenomenon [in which] most of the successful European economies – countries like France, Germany, the Scandinavians – channeled all the funds they had on social issues, health care, pensions, you name it.”

Mr. Kaskarelis noted that this system grew out of the wreckage of World War II and that without U.S. aid, his own country “wouldn’t exist today” as an independent, democratic state. But to readjust is difficult, he said.

“Can you imagine how a government can sell such … an idea to its general public without having a revolution? They cover the expense of the hospital, but to say, ‘We won’t cover 100 percent of your medical expenses, we will start covering 80 percent, because the other 20 percent [will be used] to upgrade our military capabilities to be used in NATO and Afghanistan. Can you imagine this?”

(H/T Charles Zakaib)

Actually, I can “imagine” a time when other countries are responsible for their own defense. Indeed, I wrote a book on the subject. Maybe I’ll send Amb. Kaskarelis a copy? And while I’m at it, perhaps Messrs. Kagan and Blumenthal should get one too?

The Strategic Corporal

Retired Generals Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar have an op-ed over at the Miami Herald making some important arguments against using “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Krulak served as Commandant of the Marine Corps and Hoar served as CENTCOM Commander. CENTCOM is short for Central Command, the regional military command responsible for the Middle East.

Krulak and Hoar endorse the Interrogation Task Force’s recommendation that all future detainee interrogations be conducted within the guidelines in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation. In doing so, they make a point that may be difficult to see unless you have been a leader in the military: condoning torture, or any mistreatment of prisoners, erodes discipline in a military organization.

Rules about the humane treatment of prisoners exist precisely to deter those in the field from taking matters into their own hands. They protect our nation’s honor.

To argue that honorable conduct is only required against an honorable enemy degrades the Americans who must carry out the orders. As military professionals, we know that complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. Moral equivocation about abuse at the top of the chain of command travels through the ranks at warp speed.

Krulak is no stranger to this topic. In a 1999 article, The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War, Krulak highlighted the difficulty of deploying to low-intensity conflicts and the challenges that enlisted Marines (and soldiers) will face. In a single conflict, a unit could be engaged in humanitarian aid on one block, quelling a riot on the next, and fighting pitched urban combat on the third. Small units led by a corporal may have to take on captain-sized problems. Krulak stressed the importance of leadership and character at the lowest level so that when an officer is not present, low-level leaders will act with the necessary initiative and decision-making skills. The cornerstone for all of this is character.

Honor, courage, and commitment become more than mere words. Those precious virtues, in fact, become the defining aspect of each Marine. This emphasis on character remains the bedrock upon which everything else is built. The active sustainment of character in every Marine is a fundamental institutional competency – and for good reason.

Torture apologists may be found aplenty inside the Beltway, but those who have worn the uniform know better.

The Crystal Ball

Some comforting news regarding the Obama administration’s approach to the war in Afghanistan:

Among the alternatives being presented to Mr. Obama is Mr. Biden’s suggestion to revamp the strategy altogether. Instead of increasing troops, officials said, Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.

I’m an analyst, not a fortune teller, so anyone’s guess is as good as mine as far what course Obama will choose to take in Afghanistan. I will say, however, that I will not be surprised if the president decides to send more troops. For once I actually hope that he listens to Biden.

Some Early Thoughts on Obama’s Speech

I listened live to the president’s Cairo speech this morning on my ride into work. I know that it will be parsed and dissected. Passages will be taken out of context, and sentences twisted beyond recognition. At times, it sounded like a state of the union address, with a litany of promises intended to appeal to particular interest groups.

That said, I thought the president hit the essential points without overpromising. He did not ignore that which divides the United States from the world at large, and many Muslims in particular, nor was he afraid to address squarely the lies and distortions – including the implication that 9/11 never happened, or was not the product of al Qaeda – that have made the situation worse than it should be. He stressed the common interests that should draw people to support U.S. policies rather than oppose them: these include our opposition to the use of violence against innocents; our support for democracy and self-government; and our hostility toward racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. All good.

Two particular comments jumped out at me (the speech text can be found here):

1. The president clearly stated his goals for the U.S. military presence in Iraq. He pledged to “honor our agreement with Iraq’s democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July,” “the removal of our combat brigades by next August,” and “to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012.”

This might not seem like much. As noted, it is the established policy of the U.S. government and the Iraqi government under the status of forces agreement. Some recent comments by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, however, implied that U.S. troops might remain in Iraq for a decade. I’m glad that the president cleared up the confusion.

2. President Obama wisely connected U.S. policy in the 21st century to its founding principles from the earliest days to remind his audience – or perhaps to teach them for the very first time – that the United States was not now, nor ever has been, at war with Islam, or with any other religion. George Washington affirmed the importance of religious equality in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. President Obama quoted John Adams, who saw no reason why the United States could not enjoy good relations with Morocco, the first country to recognize the United States. When signing the Treaty of Tripoli, Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

But the president also drew on the Founders to convey a broader message. They believed that the new nation should advance human rights and the cause of liberty by its example, not by military force. Some of our recent leaders seem to have forgotten that, and a few pundits have actually scorned the suggestion. The president wisely cast his lot with the earlier generation, quoting Thomas Jefferson who said “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

It is a good quote. I use it in my book, too.