Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Yet Another Imperial Outpost in Pakistan

Visit an American embassy almost anywhere in the world and it is likely to be a large, hulking, ugly fortress.  Both size and security are dictated by the U.S. government’s seeming attempt to be dictatress of the world.  Following the biblical principle that God is aware whenever a sparrow falls to earth, Washington wants to be consulted whenever a country adjusts a local education ordinance.

Very often the U.S. government keeps busy propping up unpopular regimes and intervening in internal political disputes.  As a result, Americans are targeted by demonstrators and terrorists alike.  Our embassies need to be large to accommodate all of the officials who are busy micro-managing the local society and fortified to protect those same officials.

The result isn’t particularly good for America’s image.  And it is expensive. 

Consider the taxpayer tab for new and expanded facilities in Pakistan.  Reports the Christian Science Monitor:

The US is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, US officials said Wednesday.

The White House has asked Congress for – and seems likely to receive – $736 million to build a new US embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for US government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital.

The scale of the projects rivals the giant US Embassy in Baghdad, which was completed last year after construction delays at a cost of $740 million.

Senior State Department officials said the expanded diplomatic presence is needed to replace overcrowded, dilapidated and unsafe facilities and to support a “surge” of civilian officials into Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Other major projects are planned for Kabul, Afghanistan; and for the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Peshawar. In Peshawar, the US government is negotiating the purchase of a five-star hotel that would house a new US consulate.

U.S. policy towards Pakistan has been roughly 60 years of incompetence, mistakes, bad judgment, ignorance, inadequate moral conscience, wasted aid, counterproductive actions, and utter failure.  But Washington continues to try to fix Pakistan.  It seems like time for U.S. officials to learn from their experience.

Biden’s Situational Sovereignty

Vice President Biden was on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos yesterday talking about Israel bombing Iran:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?

BIDEN: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

The vice president made this point three times.

I suppose it would have been tangential to point out that Biden’s view of sovereignty has not always been so robust. Or that he is effectively renouncing the international laws of war, which dictate what self-defense allows.  But Stephanopoulos might have at least acknowledged the irony of this particular exchange. Iran, the country being bombed in his question, is also a sovereign nation. Biden’s needlessly universal principle – U.S. deference in the face of a sovereign nation’s determination that it is in danger – would protect its right to build nuclear weapons. 

Biden is being overly broad to obscure the fact that he’s granting Israel special rights, of course. But it’s still worth pointing out that it’s a bad principle, if “not dictating” means never saying “bad idea.” When considering war, the opinions of other nations are generally worth knowing. Some of our European friends argued in 2002 that invading Iraq would not enhance our security, after all. Useful advice! Offering our opinions is perfectly consistent with a policy of military restraint.

The problem here goes beyond the principle though. We give Israel all sorts of aid. The F-16s and F-15s carrying out the bulk of the attack would be U.S.-made. They might pass through Iraqi airspace that the U.S. effectively controls. Historical U.S. support for Israel means that people around the world reasonably hold Americans responsible for what Israel does to Iran. Sooner or later, probably sooner, an Israeli attack on Iran would be likely to produce blowback, diplomatic or otherwise, that would damage us. Given that, our position should be that attacks on Iran are unacceptable, and would cost Israel our support.

For analysis on Israel’s ability to disable Iran’s nuclear programs, read Whitney Raas and Austin’s Long’s work.

A Terrorist We Should Have Prosecuted

Andy McCarthy makes a good point over at The Corner about Laith al-Khazali, a member of a Shiite militant group responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq. Al-Khazali has been released, allegedly as part of negotiations with terrorists holding British hostages. Senators Sessions and Kyl have questioned this action in a letter to President Obama.

McCarthy lays out the facts on al-Khazali here. Al-Khazali participated in a sophisticated attack on American troops in Karbala. The militants wore American uniforms and took American soldiers hostage. After leaving the site of the attack, the militants executed their prisoners.

Though I have disagreed with McCarthy on other issues, he makes a valid point here.

Al-Khazali is guilty of honest-to-goodness war crimes.

Wearing an enemy’s uniform for infiltration is permissible. Wearing an enemy’s uniform while shooting at them is perfidy, a prosecutable war crime.

Otto Skorzeny, head Nazi commando, was acquitted of perfidy after World War II. Skorzeny’s men had infiltrated American lines during the Battle of the Bulge while wearing American uniforms. They avoided firing at American troops while in our uniforms, though in two instances fired at American troops in self-defense. British commando Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas testified for the defense, saying that he had infiltrated German lines in a German uniform. W. Hays Parks provides an excellent discussion of special operations soldiers’ use of non-standard uniform and the legal boundaries of this issue here. Al-Khazali crossed the line by wearing an American uniform while firing at our soldiers.

Killing enemy soldiers after they are in your custody is also a prosecutable war crime. We prosecuted German soldiers for doing this in the Malmedy Massacre, and have prosecuted our own soldiers for killing prisoners. We have even prosecuted contractors for killing prisoners on the battlefield and during interrogation.

Al-Khazali deserves to be brought to justice. It is a shame we did not provide it.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Moment in Afghanistan

In yesterday’s Washington Post, veteran newsman Bob Woodward recounts a recent meeting between National Security Advisor James Jones and a few dozen Marine officers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province under the command of Marine Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson. 

The subject on everyone’s mind: force levels. Saying that he was “a little light,” Nicholson hinted that he could use more forces, probably thousands more. “We don’t have enough force to go everywhere,” Nicholson said.

Of course he doesn’t. One senior military commander confided, in Woodward’s telling, ”that there would need to be more than 100,000 troops to execute the counterinsurgency strategy of holding areas and towns after clearing out the Taliban insurgents. That is at least 32,000 more than the 68,000 currently authorized.”

So, Nicholson and other commanders were asking: Can we expect to receive additional troops in Afghanistan any time soon?

Jones’s answer: don’t bet on it.

The retired Marine Corps general reminded his audience in Helmand that Obama has approved two increases already. Going beyond merely an endorsement of the outgoing Bush admiministration’s decision to more than double the force in Afghanistan, Obama accepted the recommendation of his advisers to send an additional 17,000, and then shortly thereafter another 4,000.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops,…if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF – which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”

Nicholson and his colonels – all or nearly all veterans of Iraq – seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

Nicholson and his Marines should be concerned. But so should all Americans. The men and women in our military have been given a mission that is highly dependent upon a very large number of troops, and they don’t have a very large number of troops. The clear, hold and build strategy is dangerous and difficult – even when you have the troop levels that the military’s doctrine recommends: 20 troops per 1,000 indigenous population. In a country the size of Afghanistan (with an estimated population of 33 million), that wouldn’t be 100,000 troops, that would be 660,000 troops.

Pacifying all of Afghanistan would be nearly impossible with one half that number of troops. It is foolhardy to even attempt such a mission with less than a sixth that many.

So, what gives? (Or, as the military folks might say, “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot?”)

It is doubtful that anyone in the White House, the Pentagon, or on Capitol Hill honestly believes that 70,000 U.S. troops can turn Afghanistan into a central Asian version of Alabama – or even Algeria, for that matter. They might reasonably object that they aren’t trying to pacify the whole country, but rather the most restive provinces in the south and east. Perhaps barely 10 million people live there (which my calculator says would require a force of 200,000). Besides, they might go on, the 20 per 1,000 figure is just a guideline, just a rule-of-thumb. Some missions have succeeded with fewer than that ratio of troops, just as other missions have failed with troop ratios in excess of 20 : 1,000.

These seem to be nothing more than thin rationalizations. They reflect the fact that the American public would not support an open-ended mission in Afghanistan that would occupy essentially all of our Marine and Army personnel for many years. The “70,000 troops for who knows how long” is a political statement. They are pursuing a strategy shaped by focus groups and polls, rather than by doctrine and common sense.

No, that is not an argument for more troops. It is not an argument for ignoring public sentiment. It is an argument for a different mission.

The public’s growing ambivalence about the war in Afghanistan reflects a well-placed broader skepticism about population-centric counterinsurgency that are heavily dependent upon very large concentrations of troops staying in country for a very long period of time. Americans don’t support such missions, because the benefits don’t outweigh the costs. And they likely never will. They are equally skeptical of COIN’s intellectual cousin, ambitious nation-building projects.

And if I’m right, and if no one actually believes that killing suspected Taliban, destroying fields of poppies, building roads and bridges,  establishing judicial standards and training Afghan police is actually going to work, then, well,….

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

The mission in Afghanistan, especially the troop increases, appear more and more as face-saving gestures. A show of wanting to do something, even if policymakers doubt that it will actually succeed. It is a delaying action, a postponing of the inevitable, a kicking the can down the road.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that a miracle happens. I hope that the Taliban disappears. That Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Mohammed Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and every other bad guy I can name winds up dead on an Afghan battlefield. Tomorrow, preferably. I hope that all Afghans (girls and boys) get an education and earn a decent living. I hope that Hamid Karzai learns how to govern, Afghan judges learn how to judge, and that the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police quickly learn how to defend their own country.

In short, I hope that the people who are crafting our Afghan strategy know something that I don’t.

I fear, however, that the deaths and grievous injuries endured by our military personnel during this interim period, which may run for years or even decades, as we seek “peace with honor” or “a decent interval” (or pick your own favorite Vietnam cliche), will weigh heavily on the consciences of policy makers if, in the end, they have merely burdened these men and women with an impossible task.

Ask Robert McNamara how that feels.

Civil Liberties and President Barack W. Bush?

It’s fair to say that civil liberties and limited government were not high on President George W. Bush’s priorities list.  Indeed, they probably weren’t even on the list.  Candidate Barack Obama promised “change” when he took office, and change we have gotten.  The name of the president is different.

Alas, the policies are much the same.  While it is true that President Obama has not made the same claims of unreviewable monarchical power for the chief executive–an important distinction–he has continued to sacrifice civil liberties for dubious security gains.

Reports the New York Times:

Civil libertarians recently accused President Obama of acting like former President George W. Bush, citing reports about Mr. Obama’s plans to detain terrorism suspects without trials on domestic soil after he closes the Guantánamo prison.

It was only the latest instance in which critics have argued that Mr. Obama has failed to live up to his campaign pledge “to restore our Constitution and the rule of law” and raised a pointed question: Has he, on issues related to fighting terrorism, turned out to be little different from his predecessor?

The answer depends on what it means to act like Mr. Bush.

As they move toward completing a review of their options for dealing with the detainees, Obama administration officials insist that there is a fundamental difference between Mr. Bush’s approach and theirs. While Mr. Bush claimed to wield sweeping powers as commander in chief that allowed him to bypass legal constraints when fighting terrorism, they say, Mr. Obama respects checks and balances by relying on — and obeying — Congressional statutes.

“While the administration is considering a series of options, a range of options, none relies on legal theories that we have the inherent authority to detain people,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said this week in response to questions about the preventive detention report. “And this will not be pursued in that manner.”

But Mr. Obama’s critics say that whether statutory authorization exists for his counterterrorism policies is just a legalistic point. The core problem with Mr. Bush’s approach, they argue, was that it trammeled individual rights. And they say Mr. Obama’s policies have not changed that.

“President Obama may mouth very different rhetoric,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He may have a more complicated process with members of Congress. But in the end, there is no substantive break from the policies of the Bush administration.”

The primary beneficiaries of constitutional liberties are not terrorist suspects, but the rest of us.  The necessary trade-offs are not always easy, but the president and legislators must never forget that it is a free society they are supposed to be defending.

New Government of Honduras Takes a Wrong Turn

Facing mounting international pressure to reinstall a would-be despot, the provisional government of Honduras is taking a very wrong turn by asking the National Assembly to temporarily extend curfew powers and limit basic individual liberties.

The government claims that the measures, which will be in place for 72 hours, are justified to prevent any civil unrest given the imminent return of former president Manuel Zelaya to the country.  However, the provisional authorities are actually undermining the rule of law and constitutional liberties that they claimed to be protecting when removing Zelaya from power last Sunday.

The individual rights and liberties that would be affected: the inviolability of homes, the right to protest peacefully, the guarantee against being held for more than 24 hours without charges, and the freedom to move around the country undisturbed.

These actions are unjustified. By moving to take away civil liberties from Hondurans, the provisional government undercuts its moral standing vis-à-vis the increasingly autocratic rule of Manuel Zelaya it came to replace. Even if these measures are meant to be temporary, history shows that once a government claims emergency powers, it is very hard to completely relinquish them once the “emergency” is gone.

Moreover, these restrictions do little service to the argument of the new Honduran government that Zelaya’s removal was not a military coup d’état. Having the army policing the streets and curbing the free movement of people and their right to protest peacefully gives the impression that the military is in charge and calling the shots.

The Honduran government should scrap these measures and reassure the population that their individual rights and liberties guaranteed under the Honduran constitution will be fully respected.

Calling Secretary Napolitano: Arizona to Reject EDLs

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been all over the map on national ID issues. As governor of Arizona, she signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bush DHS to implement “enhanced driver’s licenses” in her state. These are licenses with long-range RFID chips built into them. But then she turned around and signed legislation barring implementation of the REAL ID Act in Arizona.

Now, having taken federal office, she again favors REAL ID – or at least under its new name: PASS ID. (Her efforts to put distance between REAL ID and PASS ID have not borne fruit.)

In some respects, PASS ID is worse than REAL ID. It would give congressional approval to the “enhanced driver’s license” program – invented by DHS and State Department bureaucrats to do long-range (and potentially surreptitious) identification of people holding this type of card. Back home, the Arizona legislature has just passed a bill to prohibit the state from implementing EDLs.

So the former governor of Arizona, who has both supported and rejected national ID programs, now supports a bill to approve the national ID program her home state rejects. Napolitano seems to be taking the national ID tar baby in a loving embrace.