August 31, 2009
It’s time to listen to South America’s proposals.
Decriminalization is set to become a dominate issue in the next decade as the global drug trade spreads, but the trend isn’t new. In 2001 Portugal decriminalized the personal consumption of marijuana, methamphetamine, heroine, and cocaine after years of European experimentation with drug laws. The program is being hailed a success, as profiled by Time and The Economist, and cited by South American countries as a model. South American states claim they have firsthand experience that harsh drug laws fail to eliminate drug production, crime, or use, and are seeking to reframe the debate.
Brazil, hoping to alleviate a swelling prison population, has softened its laws on possession a number of times with a continual progression towards liberalization. Analysts at the time believed other countries wouldn’t be follow because of US pressure against decriminalization, and they were partially right. In 2006 Mexico passed a decriminalizing bill only for then-Mexican President Vicente Fox, a supporter, to veto it after blow-back from the Bush administration. Decriminalization went against America’s “tough on crime” policy.
But America hasn’t deterred Uruguay, Peru, and Colombia from relaxing their drugs laws on possession. South American countries have become disenchanted with America's policy of prohibition and are seeking to upend the status quo. Pressure from the last decade exploded in February when three ex-heads of state - Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and César Gaviria of Colombia - denounced America’s War on Drugs and called not just for a new approach, but a new way of thinking.
“We need to break the taboo that’s blocking an honest debate,” said Cardoso. “Numerous scientific studies show that the damage caused by marijuana is similar to that of alcohol or tobacco.”
His critique enjoined South America with Europe’s concern that America is pursing an ideological rather than pragmatic policy. Specifically they want to decouple the War on Drugs, a worldwide phenomena, from America’s own moral values. Cesar Gaviria, citing an October report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showing drug reduction in Colombia as incomplete, complained, “It makes no sense to continue a policy on moral grounds without getting the desired results. Obama, being a pragmatist, should recognize these failures.”
Clearly South America is looking for a new direction from President Obama, one that shifts the burden from the consumer to society. Europe too wants him to push drug use into the public health sphere and turn incarceration into rehabilitation and economic opportunity. Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Global Drug Policy Program at the Open Society Institute, cites East Europe as an overwhelming failure in the War on Drugs. Like South America’s leaders, she too believes the War on Drugs has become an ideology, not strategy.
They’d like to transfer the focus from military and security operations to social and economic reform. Military and law enforcement is the dominant expenditure in most wars. The Mérida Initiative (Plan Mexico) allocates roughly two thirds of $1.6 billion to security and law enforcement. Plan Colombia similarly poured $4.9 billion into the Colombian military and National Police and 1.3 billion into social programs. The result is improving security but marginal decreases in production and usage. Whether coincidence or a sign of the times, Mexico finally passed its legislation two weeks ago to decriminalized the major drugs.
Only five days later Argentina's Supreme Court legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Not everyone is in favor of decriminalization. Colombia's Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez has warned of the a new type of trafficking, micro-trafficking, that evolves around drug laws. He said decriminalization is used, “as a mechanism for distribution.” Drug dealers sell unlimited quantities of "personal" doses, which can then be trafficked indiscreetly. A similar pattern has been reported in decriminalized states like Chile, but is simply more proof that drugs are an inevitable part of society.
The basic tenet of decriminalization is that prohibition cannot be enforced, therefore societies should seek to manage drug use. Personal consumption in low levels may be tolerated. Non-violent offenders go to rehab or counseling, not jail. To prevent HIV more extreme measures may be taken, like in Portugal and Switzerland, to provide safe environments for heroin use. South America’s trio went advocated legalization of Marijuana under the theory that the process has to start somewhere.
America for its part appears willing to reexamine its War on Drugs. Decriminalization is more talked about than ever during an economic crisis full of budget deficits. That Mexico’s violence has continued to rise helps the cause. New York Governor David Paterson finally overturned the notorious Rockefeller laws, the enemy of a thousand rappers, and will now send offenders to treatment instead of prison. These are signs of a fluid debate.
President Obama must ensure he gets behind the wave, not stand in front of it. He stands to benefit greatly if he does so.
He’s likely to win support in America. Keep in mind that he’s only opening the debate, not deciding it. The point is to hold a discourse in society instead issuing one-sided proclamations from the government. Americans, heavy drug users themselves, are open to alternative solutions to alleviate the justice system and protect privacy. President Obama would win many allies if a restructured drug treatment policy cut costs, upheld rights, and lowered overall demand.
He’d gain a similar boost from South Americans and Europeans if he switched the debate from morality (subjective) to science (objective); the War on Drugs has emulated 17th century astronomy and the Church. A receptive ear would help expand US military operations, which look more palatable accompanied with social programs equal to those operations. Colombia is news today, but Peru and Bolivia aren't far behind. They may need help too.
By observing the trends in South America and Europe, President Obama has an opportunity to help people overcome drug addiction and combat the War on Drugs more effectively. He shouldn’t just say no.
August 29, 2009
“I've seen the public opinion polls saying that a majority of Americans don't support the effort at all,” Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen told the American Legion convention in Louisville. “I say, good. Let's have that debate, let's have that discussion. Let's take a good, hard look at this fight we're in, what we're doing and why. I'd rather see us, as a nation, argue about the war - struggling to get it right - than ignore it.”
Mr. Mullen is being disingenuous by lauding an illusionary discourse after America already held its debate on Afghanistan. President Obama pledged to finish “the good war” with extra combat brigades and he’s doing exactly as advertised. America may debate the Afghan war in the coming months, but the debate is irrelevant because Obama decided to escalate the war before he was elected.
A true debate cannot exist with only one side. Since President Obama and Admiral Mullen favor escalation, withdrawing from Afghanistan must be examined. At present, withdrawal is considered “retreat,” “loser talk,” “defeatism,” "Defeatocrats," or “running with our tail between our legs.” America must redefine withdrawal not just to open a real debate, but to increase America’s chances of success in Afghanistan.
That withdrawal equates to defeat is a myth dispelled by Iraq. Success is elusive and difficult to ascertain until Iraq undergoes several democratic transitions, polices its state, and grows its economy beyond the oil sector. By no means is Iraq safe or blossoming, but it’s holding together enough for America to relinquish authority. Iraq’s enigmatic future hasn’t stopped America from withdrawing nor have the many enemies it will leave behind.
After Hiroshima was bombed the Japanese deliberated surrender while preparing for an invasion. Only after Nagasaki, when their will to resist was broken, did they admit defeat. Given that Americans will primarily be fighting guerrillas for the next 50 years, they should delve into a guerrilla’s head. Mao Zedong said defeat is a state of mind, one the Taliban is unlikely to know - and neither should Americans. Americans must rid themselves of the notion that withdrawal means defeat. This mindset is defeat.
If America withdraws its combat brigades from Afghanistan and continue its war with other methods, this cannot be termed defeat.
Many American, Afghan, and Pakistani officials admit that political reconciliation with the Taliban's Pashtun base is crucial to an exit strategy, yet they refuse to negotiate with Mullah Omar, the CEO. Such refusal is akin to rejecting all negotiations with the Taliban and entails a pure military solution, contrary to the political solution American officials often advertise. Winning over low level, “moderate,” or even second tier leaders won’t dent the Taliban’s political leadership. Omar is still the key to the door.
To actually reach a political agreement with him, as President Karzai advocates, requires an American withdrawal.
Assume for theoretical purposes that President Obama orders a phased withdrawal. Mullah Omar enters into negotiations with the Afghan government and American officials, during which his relationship with al-Qaeda is terminated in exchange for political appointments. Omar has stated that he has no reason to attack America without an occupation, meaning he has less use for Osama bin Laden. America is the true bond between the two, not religion. Remove the bond and perhaps the link will weaken to the point of exploitation.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged that beyond combat years Afghanistan needs 30 years of development or more, necessitating thousands of American and foreign civilian contractors. Instead of American protection, Afghanistan’s own security forces must assume the role. The army and police need a vast increase in funds despite the recent boost in attention; plenty of resources would free up if America withdrew its main force and allocated the capital to training Afghans. America’s military focus would then redouble counter-terrorism beyond Afghanistan’s borders and funnel excess funds into Afghan reconstruction. Reparations may also be a possibility to make amends.
Withdrawal is no sure thing, but neither is occupation. America is so absorbed with saving face that it’s endangering its military. Withdrawal isn’t automatic defeat, but a means of preserving a fighting force and redeploying resources. Defeat is failing to militarily eliminate the Taliban - a mission America seems to be pursuing despite Admiral Mullen conceding is improbable.
Octopus Mountain accepts Admiral Mullen's challenge and looks forward to debating options for Afghanistan. Name the time and place. We'll be there.
August 28, 2009
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez naturally dominates the headlines, but his legitimate concerns and confusing theories make him difficult to read. To many he appears insane, a walking contradiction who rails against the American empire while cashing its oil checks. But he's buying Russian MiGs and submarines with those checks. He criticizes Colombia for destabilizing the region when allegations point to him as a FARC supporter, yet called for FARC’s demilitarization in 2008, declaring, “The guerrilla war is history... At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place.”
Chavez wasn't the only one to vent his rage; his crew has equal doubts. Bolivian President Evo Morales raised a declaration rejecting the deal, telling the summit, “As long as there are uniformed foreigners in a South American country, it's difficult for us to think there can be peace.” Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa stared down Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and warned, “You are not going to be able to control the Americans.”
Brazil and Chile raised further skepticism by demanding US guarantees that troops and hardware will only be used for combating drug production and FARC rebels. While their concerns are moderate, they establish further points of reference to examine the defense agreement. Argentina President Cristina Fernadez de Kirchner expressed the need to discuss the matter with President Obama, which Uribe rejected but President Obama should consider. South America wants and needs clarity.
Obama has tried to spread his message, telling Hispanic reporters several weeks ago, “We have had a security agreement with Colombia for many years now. We have updated that agreement. We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia.” This is what South Americans need to hear - often. What they don’t need to hear is, “There have been those in the region who have been trying to play this up as part of a traditional anti-Yankee rhetoric.”
For all of Chavez’s antics and alignment against America, he isn’t alone in his misgivings. America can’t afford to alienate Ecuador or Bolivia, quickly becoming the new cocoa factory as Colombia redistributes production. Peru may also need help fighting drug networks. Heavyweights like Brazil and Argentina trust the use of US troops, but equally don’t want them operating freely in the region like the Middle East. America’s dismal track record in Latin America hasn’t faded completely, and its assertiveness may be perceived as competition with an emerging China.
At first Chavez sounds insensible when he threatens, “the US global strategy for domination explains the installation of these bases in Colombia.” But many Muslims are well acquainted with a strategy that put bases in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and secretly operates out of Pakistan. America owns roughly 200 bases worldwide housing around 150,000 troops in 30,000 base structures, according to the 2008 DOD Base Structure Report. America must view the suspicion of imperialism through the eyes of others, not its own interests. Defense has a far horizon and deals of today may “update” into increased US presence in future decades.
South America has managed to keep the footprint light with only a limited number of American facilities in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. It likely wants to preserve the tranquility by keeping the region unspoiled, a preventative strategy.
President Obama must protect America’s model to combat FARC rebels and cocoa plantations even if the methods are flawed. A 2008 GAO report highlighted failures in Plan Colombia to meet drug reduction goals, though security had improved. This seems logical since $4.9 billion went to military assistance and only $1.3 billion to social and economic programs. Obama must heed South America's call to reexamine the war on drugs and consider alternative methods, but the military will always have its place.
Joint operations with the host government, at its invitation, is America's best option to militarily strike against drug producers, traffickers, and their cartel bosses. Keeping US troops low and under the authority of host governments minimizes anti-American sentiment, which Latin and South America are vulnerable to. President Obama must acknowledge, respect, and work with South American suspicions, not blow them off.
Chavez is just one of his opponents.
August 27, 2009
Hakeemullah presents himself as the younger face of the Taliban, the media-savvy side. To this end he put on a show for the journalists, whipping around in an American Humvee then challenging them to a gun-shooting competition. After they tired of this exercise, odd as it must have been, Hakeemullah unloaded a few rounds of an AK-47 and fired an RPG, his "favorite toy." Such displays of force are necessary in Taliban land, but one must assume such shows have ended now with his promotion, if he wants to stay alive.
If Baitullah was located by a Predator, Hakeemullah will have no chance with his past behavior. "While Baitullah was introvert and media-shy, the former is extrovert and media-savvy," reports Shah Sherazi. Hakeemullah is likely smart enough to understand the threat, but changing character is never easy. By all accounts Hakeemullah is at the violent end of the spectrum, outlandish and bold, skilled and daring. These ingredients make for a short life.
Yet the question lingers, as it did with Baitullah, whether Hakeemullah's death would be a blow or boon to the Taliban. His personality plays right into the hands of Waliur Rehman, who essentially became deputy of the TTP when he assumed control of Waziristan; Fariq Mohammed possibly become Rehman's deputy. Rehman, in his 40's, is described as more mature and reserved than the 28 year-old Hakeemullah. While bravado has its place in Taliban recruiting, Rehman's personality is more conducive to staying alive.
Considering that Rehman challenged Hakeemullah for TTP chief, it stands to reason that he wouldn't mind seeing Hakeemullah disappear in a Hellfire missile. Hakeemullah's fighting strength over three provinces, which he primarily built, cannot be underestimated, but Rehman would likely demonstrate the same control with additional leadership qualities. The cards have already lined up for the next Predator strike, Hakeemullah has been replaced before his death.
The US apparently agrees that Rehman is the bigger threat. Today he was targeted by a drone.
But in the end does it matter who leads the TTP? "We are Al Qaeda’s friends as both us the Taliban and the Arab fighters have shown our allegiance to Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Omar of Afghanistan," proclaimed Hakeemullah. Despite the occasional power struggle, the Taliban are ultimately united in their resistance to America.
Instead of denying, refuting, agreeing, or talking about Fayyad's plan in any way, it's being killed by silence. A clever tactic in today's hyper-media.
Hopefully the added attention will shed light on Somalia's latest insurgency.
Hibzul Islam is the alleged formation of four militant groups - Hassan Aweys' ARS-Eritrea, Jabhatul Islamya ("Islamic Front"), Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki's Mu'askar Ras Kamboni (Ras Kamboni Brigade), and Muaskar Anole. All groups had taken part in the insurgency against Ethiopian troops since 2006, but the four groups didn't unite until 2009. Ali Yassin Mohamed, a Swedish-Somali, travelled to Mogadishu in January to found Hizbul Islam and quickly aligned with al-Shabab.
It seems possible that Mohamed had been recruited or inspired by Fuad Mohamed Qalaf, another Swedish-Somali and senior leader in al-Shabab. Qalaf had sought Swedish asylum in 1992, steadily recruiting potential members before returning to Somalia in 2004. These men capitalized on Swedish neutrality as it loses meaning in the age of globalization. Any state is a potential host for diaspora from conflict zones, including those intending to return to battle.
Despite its recent formation, Hizbul Islam seems to be operating up to speed. The name change and organizational shakeup were official measures, but the groups were already operating together and show signs of complete integration. Aside from jointly kidnapping the two Frenchmen, al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam are fighting under the same command structure. Commander Bare Adan Khooje of al-Shabab told Reuters, "We had agreed to join all our forces and take orders from one command. The number of Hizbul Islam fighters (who) joined us are in the hundreds."
Judging by their recent operations and alliances, al-Shabab appears to be gearing up for a major offensive in 2010.
August 26, 2009
Though Fayyad informed American and Israeli officials beforehand, his bombshell still rocked London, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet with American and British officials. Fayyad announced from the West Bank, “The Palestinian government is struggling determinedly against a hostile occupation regime in order to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two year... This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly.”
Fayyad’s “proactive” mindset is sorely needed in Palestine. While Fatah officials have been able to dictate the time of negotiation, refusing to meet until settlements are frozen, Israel remains in control of the terms - a united Jerusalem complete with settlement growth, no or limited right of return for refugees, demilitarization, and recognition of a “Jewish State.” Palestine is incapable of altering these positions so long as it refuses to negotiate and reaching a compromise in final status talks is unlikely, given the fundamental nature of the issues. But threatening to pursue a state without Israel’s input is Palestine’s best hope of restoring the balance of power to a two-state solution.
“It is empowering to even think that way,” trumpeted a visibly energetic Fayyad.
Success is unlikely to come directly from the details of Fayyad’s 65-page plan; Israel, already aggravated by Fatah's convention, is seething. Fayyad's vision of Palestine includes an autonomous security force, independent public services, lenient tax laws to attract foreign investment, and infrastructure projects in the West Bank and Gaza. For the latter to be possible, he called for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Even more controversially, Fayyad claimed East Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of Palestine” along with its historical sites in the Old City. The Ha’aretz bluntly if accurately observed Fayyad’s plan is “not so much a blueprint as a wish-list.”
Yet Fayyad was the perfect, perhaps only man who could deliver this speech. He’s the antithesis of extremism - Western educated, American approved, and lionized by Thomas Friedman. Denouncing him is infinitely harder than Islamic militants. Language like a “hostile occupation” appeals to right-wing elements, but is far more impressionable coming from Fayyad than Hamas. And Fayyad’s criticism stings too when he declares, “The state of Palestine would respect human rights and all its citizens would be equal.”
With President Obama due to reveal his own peace plan, Fayyad’s announcement is as much an attack against Israel as Obama, a warning not to soften on settlements, refugees, or Jerusalem, and the consequences if he does. Fayyad rejected Netanyahu’s attempt to compromise on settlements, though this didn’t stop a US official from saying, “We stated right from the outset what we want regarding the settlements, and we are getting close to getting this from Israel.”
But close won't be good enough for Palestinians. Back in London Netanyahu advocated natural growth - “normal life” - for settlements and refused any infringement of sovereignty in Jerusalem. Having previously squashed the right of return, Netanyahu demanded, “a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes Israel. Recognition is the pillar of peace.”
These precise statements have bred Fayyad’s plan, which is basically the opposite of Israel's plan. Palestinians are willing to recognize the State of Israel, but not at the cost of their own state. Fayyad may not secure any of his policies outright, but their very existence puts unrelenting pressure on Israel to loosen its grip on the peace process. Finally the Palestinians are in command. Israel and America won’t like losing control, but Fayyad’s proposal will ultimately advance a two-state solution. Competition is good for innovation.
Fayyad’s explicit demands shouldn’t be underestimated either. His declaration is the latest attempt by Fatah to reassert itself and regain the power lost during its split with Hamas. Palestinians clearly distrust Israel to bargain fairly and have decided to grab what they can, believing such a strategy merely mimics Israel. Fayyad’s unilateral path to statehood is the hardest ball Palestinians have played and more powerful than any military resistance. If the situation remains frozen, Palestinians are increasingly likely to fulfill their threats.
Israel must realize it has more to gain in negotiations and everything to lose in Fayyad’s strategy. This is the essence of a preemptive strike.
August 25, 2009
Trial and Errors
Conflict in the Niger Delta will never end with a counterinsurgency like Nigeria’s, possibly the world’s worst.
This last May Nigeria, exhausted by guerrilla attacks on its sprawling pipeline network, launched its largest military operation in a decade. The operation, planned for months according to officials, solidifies the government’s refusal to negotiate with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) or its satellites.
Tales from the conflict zone are disheartening. Journalist and humanitarian aid groups haven’t just been barred from the region; they believe it’s too risky to enter.
“Nigeria is at a crossroads,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insipidly declared during her visit in August. The truth is that Nigeria has stalled at a crossroads for half a century. Oil turned the Niger Delta into a militarized nightmare tangled with antiquated pipelines, mangroves, and gunboats - a guerrilla’s dream. Strife between the government and the people, allegedly supported by oil corporations, has devastated hopes of reconciliation.
The government must overcome decades of distrust to successfully end the conflict, but military operations aren’t the answer.
30 years passed before Nigeria started attracting international scrutiny. Violence, as is often the case, was the only means of gaining attention. In 1992 the Ogoni people, one of the Delta’s many peoples, began protesting Shell Oil, the major operator in the region, after the government repeatedly defaulted on its promises of development. The campaign ended in high profile executions and alleged massacres of villages.
No plan to distribute oil revenues to local communities was developed or implemented.
The Ijaw Youth Council initiated Operation Climate Change in 1999 and once again the government responded with force. Youth Council leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari then founded Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) in 2004. The Nigerian government responded with force but failed to eliminate the group or its justification for war.
Around this time MEND began coalescing with the goal of uniting all Delta militant groups. Force has compounded the conflict, a singular trial resulting in multiple errors, and the latest offensive will end in similar failure. MEND is stronger than ever.
Nigeria will remain frozen until the government aborts the use of force and focuses on political reform, social development, and environmental protection. Though GDP is growing at 6%, 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty line; an estimated $100 billion in oil revenue has disappeared into private bank accounts. Clinton admitted to “a failure of government at the federal, state and local level,” while praising the government’s latest strategy.
She must have been referring to an amnesty program and campaigns to reform corruption and the election system, because she ignored a question about the ongoing military operations. Her silence speaks volumes about America’s position regarding Nigeria considering the human rights violations starting to surface.
President Obama apparently approves of Nigeria’s military operations. If this theory is false, why not oppose them? Historical evidence suggests military operations will only inflame the conflict.
Why America refuses to crack down on Nigeria is a mystery (profit and necessity), but the answer remains visible - an oil embargo linked to concrete social development, jointly monitored by America, Nigeria, and the Delta peoples. At fifth place, Nigeria is a small cog of America’s oil imports at roughly 10%. However America is the primary exporter for Nigeria at 44%.
As the insurgency tears into 2009, imports will actually increase over 2008. Few alternative conclusions are available - America and the international community are enabling the Niger Delta conflict. President Obama lambasted America’s policy of importing oil from dictatorships and failed states during his campaign, but apparently that was just talk.
Insurgency in Nigeria represents a distinct challenge in fourth-generation warfare. Recourse for a militancy, born by irresponsible corporations partnering with corrupt governments, is in short supply. Without outside pressure, Nigeria and its oil cabal will continue to marginalize the Niger Delta under the disguise of limited reparations. An embargo would devastate Nigeria’s economy, but but the government doesn't provide very well for its people anyway.
MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo lamented, “The charade witnessed in Bayelsa is not an indication of success but that of failure considering that the energy put into that event could have been better used in deliberating on the root issues.”
It’s not surprising that the government opposes negotiations. MEND and its allies, for all the skepticism of their loose organizational structure, have the leverage: sufficient popular support, a legitimate if militarized mission, and an influx of guns funded by black-market oil.
MEND stands to gain by negotiating or not negotiating. It could legitimately secure billions from the government to develop their land, and if the government fails to deliver social development, can return to waging a profitable guerrilla war.
MEND and its allies cannot be defeated on the battlefield. If Nigeria is learning this lesson the hard way, America must teach it.
August 24, 2009
All or Nothing
His speech last week to the Veterans of Foreign Wars reverberated across the international press and at home. Though meager, at least a debate has been kindled over what exactly the Afghan war is. “This is a war of necessity,” Obama assured the crowd in Phoenix. “Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.”
Rising body-counts, international criticism, and falling poll numbers - no wonder Obama resorted to invoking 9/11. Forced to defend his surge to a skeptical public, Obama was coerced into casting his fate with Afghanistan’s election. It was his final prayer. Though an inspiring sight, the election unquestionably fell below his expectations. Sensing disappointment over low turnout and fraud, neither he nor his officials hesitated to declare success. Without a legitimate election, Obama has no basis to request more troops and money. Only 24% of Americans approve of another deployment.
As the election process now heads toward chaos, Americans, Europeans, and Muslims are increasingly asking whether Afghanistan is a war of choice or necessity. However this is an irrelevant debate. Having already committed, what Obama plans to do takes precedence.
Feeling the heat, Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen was deployed to quell concerns. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" and CNN’s “State of the Union, Mullen claims, “We're not at a point yet where he's [General McChrystal] made any decisions about asking for additional troops.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones have similarly downplayed troop requests and levels, yet Obama officials are the only ones doing so.
A WSJ report cited several officials in General McChrystal's 60-day review that “expect him to ultimately request as many as 10,000 more troops.” A CNN report suggested a similar figure and included the same details of pressure in the White House, while speculation has run as high as 40,000, which sounds closest to the truth. Admiral Mullen spent a large part of his interviews highlighting the Taliban’s growing lethality and sophistication, and admitted Afghanistan is “serious and it is deteriorating.”
If Afghanistan is still destabilizing, if the Taliban is getting stronger, if American and NATO troops were unable to secure large chunks of territory on election days, how will America be able to maintain flat troop levels? Here lies the true heart of debate, not whether the war is necessary or not. “This is the war we're in,” sighed Admiral Mullen.
Now America must choose to go all - to commit fully to war - or figure out an exit strategy.
“I think there are great pressures on General McChrystal to reduce those estimates," said Senator John McCain in an interview this weekend. “I don't think it's necessarily from the president. I think it's from the people around him and others that I think don't want to see a significant increase in our troops' presence there.”
McCain, a supporter of the war, was nice to buoy Obama, but he reveals the dangerous mindset circulating in the White House. Obama is engaging in political warfare because he’s unsure of military tactics and strategy. He’s watching his poll numbers fall as he loses confidence over health care. Iraq is unnerving people. Another troop deployment to Afghanistan could tip momentum against him and bring the war back to the forefront, where it could damage his domestic ambitions. Obama is trying to fight a measured, limited war, searching for a medium to continue it while maintaining popularity. His strategy is fatally flawed.
Obama must decide whether to commit totally or withdraw. He has no hope in Afghanistan if he isn’t ready to levy potentially 20-40,000 new troops, a trillion dollars for development, and commit upwards of 10, 20, or even 40 years. America needs more troops - either send them or pull out. Instead of hiding or using officials to deny the latest report, Obama must be upfront with the American people, not just Congress. Spell out every troop, every dollar. Mullen and McChrystal constantly cite 18 months as the window Afghanistan must improve by. They must also explain what the plan is if, after 18 months, the Taliban is still growing and collaborating with al-Qaeda.
Limited warfare won’t bring peace to Afghanistan. Surgery is still necessary, not just recovery and rehabilitation. President Obama may truly be undecided on his strategy, but victory is lost if it depends on popularity.
August 22, 2009
Ambiguity is dangerous in counterinsurgencies, where Blackwater and other PMCs are most likely to find themselves in the coming decades.
Blackwater recently took a one-two punch from the New York Times. First broke the news that Blackwater assembles and loads Hellfire missiles onto Predator drones in Pakistan, a task outsourced by the CIA. Blackwater guards also provide security to both secret air-bases in Shamsi, Pakistan and Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Then, several months after CIA director Leon E. Panetta cancelled a secret assassination project against al-Qaeda, CIA officials admitted contracting Blackwater in 2004, “to begin collecting information on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leaders, carry out surveillance and train for possible missions.”
Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist long on the trail of Blackwater, said the recent allegations warrant “deep investigation.”
“The idea that you would have a private company headed by a man [Erik Prince the former head of Blackwater] who was a major bankroller of President Bush's campaign, potentially on the payroll for his company to provide hit-men to the Bush administration is quite an explosive allegation,” he said. “The Bush administration clearly used private contractors as a way of circumventing congressional oversight over these very sensitive US operations on the battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Americans are inclined to agree with an investigation after tales of Blackwater in Iraq. Pakistanis should perk their ears as well; aside from recent revelations, Blackwater has reportedly been contracted for America's new super-embassy in Karachi. Still, a greater challenge lies in focusing beyond real and potential wrong-doing. Blackwater is one of many PMCs, merely the highest profiled. As such, it can be used as the beach head for examining the process.
The bulk of concentration must be applied to reviewing the fundamental use of PMCs, divided into four areas: cost and capabilities of PMCs, accountability, defining a mercenary, and interpreting their legal status.
Convenience always comes with a price. A 2007 House oversight committee found the average Blackwater employee costs $440,000 annually, six times the cost of a US soldier. And though capable of protecting American officials and loading missiles onto drones, another House report released last June questioned the PMC effectiveness in training foreign security forces and building projects. Blackwater and other PMCs mostly do good work, but the odds of error and miscommunication increase with a code of conduct operating outside the uniform methods of the American military.
One mistake can ignite an insurgency.
Accountability came to overshadow performance after several high-profile incidents in Iraq. The 2007 House committee concluded, “Even in cases involving the death of Iraqis, it appears that the State Department’s primary response was to ask Blackwater to make monetary payments to ‘put the matter behind us,’ rather than to insist upon accountability or to investigate Blackwater personnel for potential criminal liability.”
This strategy runs contrary to counterinsurgency, where consideration, sympathy, and respect for the local population must be exercised at all times. The House passed a law subjecting all PMCs to prosecution by U.S. courts, a necessary step to demonstrating accountability in American warfare. However, ambiguity remained after the White House opposed the bill. Foreign countries, such as Iraq, will likely end up drawing the red line instead. Afghanistan may be next, where PMCs have been repeatedly criticized by the government.
Thus America must proactively establish explicit laws for governing PMCs on foreign soil so as to maintain their capabilities. Delaying forfeits the initiative to the host state, who could ban them outright.
But America must clarify the definition of a mercenary before an earnest debate can begin. Erik Prince, Blackwater's CEO, objects to the term to “mercenaries,” instead opting for “loyal Americans.” Mercenaries aren’t inherently wrong. While some desert in a flash to the highest bidder, others are loyal to the hand that feeds them. Blackwater is loyal to the US government, not just because of fat paychecks but because many Blackwater agents are former soldiers, or FBI and CIA agents.
Still, when you’re air-dropping out of your own CASA C-212’s in Afghanistan, hovering above Baghdad in your own MD 500 helicopters with flak jackets, machine guns, wired headsets and no American flag, or being paid a billion dollars for “security,” you’re a mercenary. A mercenary and a PMC, if there is any true difference, must be concretely defined so as to apply regulation.
America needs a new law dedicated solely to the use of mercenaries and their various forms. Legality is currently being decided by the Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893, which outlawed private security companies from breaking strike lines. The US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals expanded this law in 1977 to ban the government’s use of mercenary and quasi-military forces. However, Comptroller General Elmer B. Staats reinterpreted an exemption in 1978 for “guard and protective services,” opening the door for Blackwater.
What then is Blackwater and the rest of PMCs? Are they mercenaries, quasi-military forces, or simple private security? What is their role in combat? How much does loading bombs differ from dropping them? Are PMCs static, or like Blackwater’s history suggests, does private security inevitably merge with a soldier’s duty? America must not delay the debate - private military contracting is a wave of the future.
America must do everything possible to prevent rogue waves.
August 21, 2009
Somali government says it's taken town from Islamist fighters, blared a CNN headline. Abdulkadir Mohamed Osman, communication director for President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, claimed, "Bulo Burde is now under the control of government forces after our forces overran a stiff resistance at the entrance bridge of the town by Al Shabaab fighters."
The rest of the article descends into a profile on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It's easier to sell the Somali government when it appears to be winning, and this appears to be CNN's strategy. The report says Bulo Burde is 155 miles southeast of Mogadishu, which would be in the Indian Ocean. It also admits, "Despite the announcement, residents said heavy fighting continued Thursday and the town is still divided between pro-government forces and Al Shabaab fighters."
This alternate account is in line with an Al Jazeera report, which puts Bulo Burde 100 miles north of Mogadishu, similar to an AP report. Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim, an al-Shabab commander, taunted, "They attacked us this morning with a large army, but they sheepishly retreated and many of their fighters are strewn in the street now."
Bulo Burde is probably divided rather than controlled by the Somali government; considering al-Shabab had original control of the town, it likely remains in control. But even if Bulo Barde had fallen, al-Shabab launched its own offensive on Balad Wayne, a town near the Ethiopian border. Here too we find propaganda. Al-Shabab claims Ethiopian troops entered the city while Ali Mohamed Gedi, a government spokesman, denied the allegation. Regardless, al-Shabab is reportedly in control of the town now.
These towns are far from Mogadishu. Clinton's only sell is how powerful al-Shabab is becoming, not the success of the Somali government. National Geographic doesn't lie.
August 20, 2009
Election Day of Reckoning
Taliban attacks were nothing special after threats of "surprises," but it managed to undermine the election and America's hope of improving on George Bush's. President Karzai listed 73 attacks in 16 provinces that killed 26 Afghans - 8 Afghan soldiers, 9 police officers and 9 civilians - and wounded 28 Afghan soldiers. Abdul Rahim Wardak, the defense minister, recorded 135 incidents overall.
The Taliban may have never intended to truly disrupt the vote, only prove the impotence of Afghan and American security. America has become fond of linking rising casualties and insurgent attacks to its own surge, but clearly the Taliban is increasing its operations too. This thought seems to have avoided Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Pakistan, who gloated, "On the basis of what we’ve seen so far, it seems clear that the Taliban utterly failed to disrupt these elections."
The New York Times observed, "American officials were quick to declare the poll a success - worth the expanding commitment of troops and money to an increasingly unpopular and corruption-plagued government."
Taliban officials eagerly mock America for deploying additional troops to the region. One spokesman pointed out that 8,000 of the 17,000 troops have gone into one province - Helmand - when the Taliban operates in 20 provinces. By the Afghan government's own estimate, the Taliban holds 17 provinces, a figure that correlates to the number of provinces attacked today. Though 95% of polling stations were opened, the Taliban has successfully demonstrated its capabilities across the country with high-security NATO targets in Kabul and rural voter intimidation. Yesterday 6 American soldiers were killed in three provinces.
Many Afghans cast their vote freely today, a brave act in itself, but this isn't the election President Obama wanted. The message has been sent - America still can't guarantee security in Afghanistan with its newest deployments. One more piece of evidence that Obama will call for more troops, try as he will to run from reality.
6:00 PM EST: Abdullah Abdullah is looking confident, telling reporters that low turn out in southern Afghanistan, "will not be at a level that would question the legitimacy of the election."
"Whatever it [the result] is, we will accept it."
President Karzai failed to match Dr. Abdullah's forcefulness, telling a press conference, "Let’s see what the turnout was. They came out and voted. That’s good, that’s good."
As for President Obama, he too missed the Taliban's strategy. The election is old news: "We had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban's efforts to disrupt it. We have to focus on finishing the job in Afghanistan but it is going to take some time."
Bruce Riedel, Obama's lead adviser on Pakistan, apparently drew bad cop duties.
"We are going to need an understanding from whoever the new president is that Afghanistan is going to rise to the occasion," he said. "We have now put roughly 70,000 American soldiers into this war, we are committing billions of dollars in new assistance. We are living up to our end of the deal to resource the war properly."
The architect of Obama's strategy sounds a little defensive, and is making no attempt to hide American hegemony. Irritation in the White House, understandable considering the spending has only begun and Americans are losing faith. That's basically all they have left for the war in Afghanistan.
12:00 AM EST: Both candidates are claiming victory. "We believe that he will have over 50 percent," said Seddiq Seddiqi, a Karzai campaign spokesman. "That is what we believe based on our initial findings."
"Initial results show that the president has got a majority," Deen Mohammad told Reuters. "We will not get to a second round. We have got a majority."
"I'm ahead," Dr. Abdullah quickly countered. "Initial results from the provinces show that I have more than 50 percent of the vote."
No waiting for September 3rd. Al Jazeera's Nick Clark reported from Kabul, "The vote counting is finished. Hamid Karzai [the incumbent] is reported to have a majority - that was expected - but the crucial thing is they don't know if he has the 50 per cent he needs to avoid a second, run-off vote."
Al Jazeera correspondent James Bays said, "Karzai and his team have reported they are leading, but Dr Abdullah has said, 'that's rubbish' and said he was well in front. The election commission has said it may be unable to get full results until 3 September but unofficial results could start to come in within 24 hours." Quick counters, little to count, or something else? 2:00 EST 8/22/2009: Dr. Abdullah has changed his optimistic tone and returned to denouncing Karzai. "He uses the state apparatus in order to rig an election," Abdullah said in an interview. "That is something which is not expected. All this happens under his eyes and under his leadership. This is under his leadership that all these things are happening, and all those people which are responsible for this fraud in parts of the country are appointed by him. And I'm sure he has all those reports, so he knows all of this. This should have been stopped and could have been stopped by him." Dr. Abdullah has proposed what could be salvation or ruination for Afghanistan - a coalition party in the event of a runoff. Theoretically Abdullah would combined the support of lesser candidates, promising positions for them in addition to accountability. Many Afghan leaders have grown tired of Karzai and could very likely band together. However, a runoff coupled with situational alliances could further divide the country. Abdullah is hoping for a runoff unlike Karzai, whose chances were imperiled after an estimated 5-20% turnout in southern Afghanistan. Polling officials estimate a turnout between 40 and 50% overall, though interestingly the woman's vote was estimated around 60%.
Al Jazeera correspondent James Bays said, "Karzai and his team have reported they are leading, but Dr Abdullah has said, 'that's rubbish' and said he was well in front. The election commission has said it may be unable to get full results until 3 September but unofficial results could start to come in within 24 hours."
Quick counters, little to count, or something else?
2:00 EST 8/22/2009: Dr. Abdullah has changed his optimistic tone and returned to denouncing Karzai.
"He uses the state apparatus in order to rig an election," Abdullah said in an interview. "That is something which is not expected. All this happens under his eyes and under his leadership. This is under his leadership that all these things are happening, and all those people which are responsible for this fraud in parts of the country are appointed by him. And I'm sure he has all those reports, so he knows all of this. This should have been stopped and could have been stopped by him."
Dr. Abdullah has proposed what could be salvation or ruination for Afghanistan - a coalition party in the event of a runoff. Theoretically Abdullah would combined the support of lesser candidates, promising positions for them in addition to accountability. Many Afghan leaders have grown tired of Karzai and could very likely band together. However, a runoff coupled with situational alliances could further divide the country. Abdullah is hoping for a runoff unlike Karzai, whose chances were imperiled after an estimated 5-20% turnout in southern Afghanistan.
Polling officials estimate a turnout between 40 and 50% overall, though interestingly the woman's vote was estimated around 60%.
August 19, 2009
"I was the deputy leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban," said Mohammed, "and now since Baitullah Mehsud is unable to perform as head of the organization due to health reasons and unable to come on the foreground, I am announcing I am assuming the role of acting chief."
His proclamation appears to be evidence of political infighting, but Mohammed stated this wasn't the case. Though, "Maulvi Waliur Rehman or Hakimullah Mehsud have no authority to appoint a new chief without consulting the Taliban in various areas and neither can the Waziristan Taliban make such decisions," he praised Rehman and Hakimullah as, "capable of carrying out leadership responsibilities, however, a decision like this will only be taken through consultation and consensus."
The shura that sparked an alleged shootout is then one of two options: fictitious or a propaganda act of solidarity. Mohammed also ignored Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the regional commander for North Waziristan, who is supposedly Mehsud's first deputy, or Naib Amir. Regardless, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is far from dead. Richard Holbrooke, America's special ambassador to Pakistan, was in Karachi for briefings on Pakistan's military operations. "We are fighting against the common enemy," he said.
So is the Taliban.
"Even if Baitullah Mehsud is martyred, it will not affect the Taliban movement," Mohammed told the BBC. "Now, when the entire world has its eye on us, our shura will decide our future leader in consultation with all. The congregation of Taliban leaders has 32 members and no important decision can be taken without their consultation."
News of the Taliban's leadership structure and decision process coincided with a Pakistani general's admission that the ground offensive in Waziristan is still months away. America, in the form of Holbrooke, has been pushing for an early green light to the operations. But Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed told reporters that, "Once you feel that the conditions are right... you go in for a ground offensive." At the moment the army lacks "the right kind of equipment."
One wonders whether that equipment might soon appear with an American flag stamped on the side.
For now it appears Pakistan won't press the Taliban too hard; General Ahmed said the operation may even be delayed beyond the upcoming winter. They'll play nice in public, but America and Pakistan likely disagree on the timing. America believes now is the chance to break the Taliban's back while Pakistan is still worried about opening too large a front. Now may be the only opportunity to strike, but a wider war would certainly erupt with the invasion of Waziristan.
If operational plans stay as they are, America and Pakistan will likely lose the initiative to dismantle Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which has a plethora of commanders waiting in the wings. Pakistan evidently believes it can starve the Taliban into fragility, then go in for the death blow. This strategy has yet to work and will allow the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to regroup. Even more, success against Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan hasn't had any impact on Afghanistan, where the Taliban is growing more brazen each day.
The hydra is still growing. Political, economics, and social reform in the FATA is the real strategy for burning off the heads, though reform opens the possibility of secession.
[Update: Hakeemullah Mehsud has reportedly been chosen as chief of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Faqir Mohammed claims so himself.
"The shura has appointed Hakimullah as successor to Baitullah Mehsud," said Mohammed. "The shura earlier had nominated me as the acting chief but now I will be again deputy chief. I shall continue to be ameer (chief) of TTP in Bajaur,
"Now all these talks of differences should end," said Bakht Zada, an aide to Faqir Mohammed. "There have not been any differences ever."
Zada said Faqir Mohammad and Maulana Fazullah, leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammandi (TNSM) were offered the chair, but declined due to their own operations. Mohammed also apparently engaged in disinformation, claiming before that 32 members make up the Taliban shura and now 45. The Nation appears to be lagging. Spying is a more plausible threat to the TTP than infighting.]
August 18, 2009
The Karzai Paradox
The possibilities surrounding Karzai contradict Obama’s goal of stabilizing the region.
US newspapers and think tanks are aglow over the political electricity in Kabul. Afghans are smiling, participating in Afghan Star, and avidly engaging the political process. Were they to taste the fruits of democracy, Taliban autocracy could suddenly appear twelfth century. However, advocates of “democracy promotion” as a means to modernize the Middle East usually leave out how unstable democracy can be, especially new democracies.
Karzai’s margin in the polls assumes he’ll ultimately emerge victorious, most likely after a runoff. His main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, may remain nothing more than a hypothetical, all the more reason to examine his triumph. Judging by his public criticism of Karzai, Dr. Abdullah is President Obama’s silent choice along with dark-horse Dr. Ashraf Ghani, a western-educated financier. Dr. Abdullah appears primed to challenge Karzai and his corrupt government, but would he be an improvement or an earthquake?
Not that Karzai is friends with Mullah Omar, but Dr. Abdullah, as the face of Tajiks and the Northern Alliance, will meet even greater military resistance from the Taliban. Karzai was usable, but Dr. Abdullah is purely an enemy. Karzai left the door open for negotiations while Dr. Abdullah will likely shut it. The odds of political reconciliation among Pashtuns and their militant elements seem a lot slimmer with a Tajik in charge.
The Taliban isn’t his only problem. Corruption in the Karzai government is Dr. Abdullah’s bread and butter issue, but cleansing the system will make a host of new enemies. Pashtuns whose tentative positions are snatched away by an accountable leader won’t see the bigger picture. Dr. Abdullah risks provoking the entire criminal network of Afghanistan with his crusade; admirable yes, but politically and physically perilous. Ousting Karzai is like turning over a boulder - prepare for the bugs.
Dr. Abdullah is probably aware of the potential inflammation his victory may cause to Afghanistan’s ethnic divisions. His strategy thus speculates the short term on the long term, hoping good government will trump ethnic tensions and radical Islam. A sound strategy, but only if he lasts the entire five year term. Afghan security forces will lag over the next two years and force America to commit more troops, mushrooming the occupation. Corruption could persist because of obstinate Pashtuns. If he loses support beyond his Tajik base, governing Afghanistan will become impossible.
Dr. Abdullah is high risk, high reward. Is that what President Obama is looking for?
Possibly, if the alternative is high risk, low reward. Hamid Karzai has lost the confidence of Obama, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Pakistanis, and the Taliban. Dr. Abdullah continually questions the veracity of polls showing Karzai ahead. Noting that Karzai’s popularity is far below 50%, Dr. Abdullah is threatening protests if he’s defeated, convinced that Karzai could never win the election outright. Rumors of fraud run wild. Many educated Afghans are staying home, believing the election is a sham. Already a Karzai victory doesn’t look victorious.
Karzai’s lead in the polls is a strike against democracy. Despite his reputation as Afghanistan's biggest problem outside of the Taliban, Karzai has polled as higher than 50% and settled around 45%. With an abundance of fringe candidates and dearth of quality options, those Pashtuns who want to see Karzai replaced are unlikely to jump to Dr. Abdullah’s ship. As one Pakistani analyst put it, “Afghan Pashtuns vote for a winning candidate instead of wasting their ballot by voting for a likely loser.”
American officials should fear the re-election of Karzai, who on top of his track record has proposed several initiatives certain to infringe on Obama.
One attempts to ban American military inspections without authorization from Afghan forces; another seeks to close Bagram prison, the new Guantánamo. Karzai insists on negotiating with high level Taliban figures and enjoys the controversial support of Abdul Rashid Dostum, who just returned from exile in Turkey. His corruption is legendary and a fraudulent vote would obviously be a disaster. Suppose, though, that Afghanistan experiences a clean election, high in turnout and low in violence, that redoubles Karzai’s position.
Unless he performs a miracle, Afghanistan will still be worse off post-election.
President Obama must overlook this ugly reality as he’s forced to laud the democratic process. He’ll have a rougher time explaining war in Afghanistan if democracy creates more problems than it solves.
[Update: Though this article was submitted to and rejected by the New York Times, that didn't stop the NYT from agreeing with its conlusion ten days later.
"Obama administration officials had hoped that the election would show that Afghanistan was moving forward enough to justify more money and troops. If the election produces a government that even Afghanis do not consider legitimate, that task could be impossible."The NYT seems to pride itself with predicting the future after the fact. Octopus Mountain predicts the future before it happens.]
August 17, 2009
Now Save Darfur is supposedly dead according to many of its lead advocates. In June, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof blogged its demise and lamented President Obama’s lack of effort. Randy Newcomb, CEO of Humanity United, reached the same conclusion. Save Darfur may have lost momentum, but President Obama’s support hasn’t necessarily waned. Distraction is a more plausible culprit.
Officials bristle at the notion that the Middle East, Iran, and North Korea have sucked the energy out of his African agenda.
“The Administration is committed to Africa,” Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, told reporters before Secretary Clinton’s recent trip to the region. “The Administration is capable of handling multiple foreign policy issues at one time.”
Reality doesn’t favor him though. Obama has visited Africa, Europe, Russia, Turkey, and Egypt, only stepped a toe into South America, and is still planning for Pakistan. Afghanistan and Iraq are waiting, so are China and India. The consuming economic/health care debate suggests that Obama is distracted not just from Africa but his entire foreign policy. He appointed a stable of envoys because he knew America’s domestic crossroads would devour him.
But non-action is a blessing in disguise for Darfur, where immediate action would’ve been a mistake with so many options to choose from. Chad, the DRC, and the Central African Republic are equal candidates for peacekeeping forces. Somalia needs an active duty force that will never come. Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Kenya are examples of how Africa can spawn a new catastrophe at any moment.
Save Darfur must be careful what it wishes for; “saving” is code for an increased UN peacekeeping force, and possibly NATO or US forces. Given the potential for error, deploying American troops to a failed African state is more roulette than strategy. Still, it stands to reason that President Obama, given his African blood and the lack of US military attention in the region, has one bullet for Africa. While humanitarian aid, economic sanctions, political pressure, and the AU are necessary to relieve suffering, they've fail to resolve the conflict.
That Obama must choose to save one people over another is the unfortunate reality of Africa. Fortunately for Save Darfur activists, Sudan makes the most sense for American military action. Chad and the Congo demand similar attention, but Sudan diverges in one critical aspect: the hourglass in its Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or Naivasha Agreement. An election to decide the union of North and South Sudan is to be held no later than March 2011.
No one predicts the Sudanese government would allow the South, home to the majority of Sudan’s untapped oil reserves, to break away. A government crackdown would exacerbate the political conflict in both Darfur and with the international community. President al-Bashir lashes out when he feels threatened; his reaction to the ICC’s arrest warrant will likely duplicate if the South secedes. A looming deadline, on top of the piling corpses, is why Save Darfur activists are so hungry for action.
They believe now is the only opportunity to stabilize the country before it tears apart and causes another refugee crisis or genocide. Though Obama was correct to delay his initial response, waiting too long tempts ruination.
As of May 31st, 2009, two UN peacekeeping missions - UNAMID and USMIS - have failed to bring lasting security through a combined 21,000 troops and 5,000 police. At four times the size of Afghanistan, Sudan has greater demands. Susan Rice, the UN ambassador and Obama’s leading Darfur hawk, argues the necessity of a larger UN force, which Sudan has rejected. President Obama, and in turn the American people, must accept that military operations are the only hope of "saving" Darfur, of forcing a political solution on Khartoum.
Establishing a more robust peacekeeping force would require the American Air Force at a minimum. Insertion, Rice told PBS in 2006, “would entail the United States, with backing from European partners and hopefully the political support of African governments, bombing Sudanese targets -- air fields, air assets, command and control installations -- that have been instrumental in the perpetration of the genocide.”
“The aim is to get Sudan to cry uncle."
Rice has since softened her position on military intervention, but the reality of Darfur hasn’t changed. More likely, her elevated position muzzled her real opinion. Military means, through increased UN peacekeeping and possibly an American arm, are the only option to make a significant difference in Sudan's attitude. Waiting for “a negotiated political settlement between the government of Sudan and all parties to the conflict,” according to envoy Scott Gration, is futile. Too many resources are being competed over. The Naivasha Agreement is a recipe for destruction, not peace.
President Obama is understandably hesitant about pulling the trigger; Sudan is a potential death trap and the odds of inspiring al-Qaeda-style militants are high. But the time has come to exorcise Somalia's demons or else America will never properly re-engage Africa’s conflict zones. Save Darfur should brace for military operations - they can’t object once Obama fires.
He’ll need support if he shoots himself.
August 16, 2009
The White House has been producing systematic irregularities over the past months and following them leads to the same end. General Stanley McChrystal’s review of the war was supposedly ready a week before Afghanistan's election on August 20th, but its release was delayed because of political concerns. It seems equally logical that the White House was worried of political concerns at home and delayed releasing the pessimistic review, hoping a free and fair election would prevail. It did not.
General McChrystal’s review contained caveats, "laying the groundwork" but eschewing troop requests until the next process of troop-to-task. The many reports that claim the White House opposes more troops opens the possibility that McChrystal refrained under political pressure. Measures employed by the White House and Pentagon are delaying troop requests. Defense spokesman Geoff Morrell told insistent reporters, "We are not there yet. Let's see what Gen. McChrystal comes back and asks for.”
But even the finality of this process won’t bring much clarity to the American people. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that no details of the assessment would be released to the public.
The backdrop to all these oddities has been a consistent denial of additional troops despite all evidence to the contrary - speculation has reached 45,000. President Obama failed to learn after a chaotic health care debate that speculation runs rampant in the absence of his own message, driving down American support for the war. He might be able to counter unpopularity by stepping up and delivering his plan in his own words, but he has yet to do so.
Instead he appears to be engaging in duplicitous politics. Let’s dispense with this notion that the White House is against more troops. It wants more troops, just not at the political cost. There is no real rift between the Pentagon and the White House, only a mirage designed to make Obama look leftist. Then, once he works with the Pentagon he’ll be passed off as a compromiser who listens to his generals. But arguing the necessity of 17,000 troops to stabilize an election that falls flat, then claiming no more are needed, is fallacious.
The sum of these signs add up to one conclusion - that President Obama is fearful of addressing the American people. What exactly does he fear? A draft. Not a draft itself, but the specter of a draft, the slightest allude to a draft, even the thought of a draft. This is Obama’s real enemy and the reason he has been so vigilant in denying rumors and tamping down troop requests. He fears the reaction of the American people. So is his fear and the American people’s justified by the numbers?
For lack of a better source, the Army’s own Counterinsurgency Field Manual must be used as the starting reference. According to section 1-67, “Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 residents in an Area of Operations (AO). Twenty counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective COIN operations; however as with any fixed ratio, such calculations remain very dependent upon the situation.”
Afghanistan has roughly 28,000,000 people spread out over 251,000 square miles. Much of the north is relatively stable, removing it from the equation for the moment. About 12,000,000 Afghans remain over 107,000 square miles in 16 provinces deemed “extreme” or “high risk” by the Afghan government and the UN. These are: Ghazni, Helmand, Kabul, Kandahar, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Orūzgān, Paktia, Paktika, Wardog, and Zabol. The Pashtun population is nearly equivalent to 12,000,000, so even though a portion of the people don't to fall under a Taliban AO it's still a solid figure to rely on. Patches of insecurity in more stable provinces make up the difference.
12,000,000 people requires 240,000 troops to meet the 20/1,000 ratio. With 68,000 US troops, 40,000 from NATO, and an estimated 216,000 Afghan security forces, this ratio is comfortably meet at 320,000. However, the stable north still demands security. At half the country and more than half the population, the north commands a significant portion of Afghan forces. 116,000 should be removed from the equation, leaving 205,000 combined forces for southern Afghanistan. Training and equipment must also be factored in, as Afghan’s security forces are notoriously under-resourced and corrupt; between 25% and 50% could be ineffective.
Thus an estimated 180,000 total counterinsurgents remain, 60,000 below the COIN Field Manual minimum of 20/1,000. As Afghan forces are unlikely to come online in such high numbers, this is the vacuum America must fill in the interim. President Obama plans to expand the Afghan army from 90,000 to 260,000 within five years; dividing 150,000 in half gives a similar figure. 68,000 plus 60,000 is 128,000, about the number in Iraq, a country of lesser size and population but with its own security forces like the Peshmerga.
Assume that America needs another 60,000 troops in Afghanistan to successfully operate; this deployment wouldn’t necessitate a draft. With 68,000 in Afghanistan, 130,000 in Iraq, 85,000 in Europe, and 70,000 in Asia, America deploys almost 350,000 troops overseas while leaving over a million soldiers on active duty at home. They can be trained and shipped without a draft because America won’t need the staggering numbers of Vietnam.
But what if Afghanistan's election pushes the country further into chaos? What if Iraq backslides? What if Somalia demands an invasion after a terrorist attack on American soil? What if Iran goes nuclear? What if Sudan’s government refuses to let the South secede? With the future uncertain and the “War on Terror” far from over, America must keep its powder dry. NATO, if President Obama is lucky, might chip in 10,000 troops so he needs another 50,000. While a draft isn’t imminent, the extra burden will raise the eyebrows of military families. Further contingencies would bring a draft closer to the surface.
Remember it’s not a draft that threatens President Obama's political ambitions, merely the mention of one. More troop deployments, while unlikely to break the military, will cause inevitable friction. Obama has only one remedy - come clean. Address the American people, don’t run or hide. Don’t say you don’t need more troops when you do. Obama said he would be truthful and upfront with the American people in matters of disagreement. We're waiting.
August 15, 2009
The Shadow Army
Back in a serene Pentagon news room, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates contemplates, “Mysteries were those where there were too many variables to predict. And I think that how long U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan is in that area.”
A summer of death suggests America, and to a lesser extent NATO, is waging an endless war with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Not so says Gates. Despite the “mysteries” of Afghanistan, defeating the two groups will take “a couple years” in his estimation. He said so with a straight face, remarkable considering America will likely be combating the Taliban beyond 2015.
The Taliban is gaining strength on both sides of the border. Much has been made of whether Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is fighting over the spoils of Baitullah Mehsud’s empire. After a propaganda firestorm, the deaths of Hakimullah Mehsud and Mufti Waliur Rahman turned out to be fabricated. American officials all the way to National Security Adviser James Jones played up a shootout that never was.
James had told Fox News, “if there's dissension in the ranks and if, in fact, he is - as we think - dead, this is a positive indication that in Pakistan, things are turning for the better.”
And if there’s no dissension?
Eventually the rival Abdullah Mehsud Group (AMG), as anti-American as it is anti-Baitullah, was exposed as the rumormonger, raising eyebrows as to whose word President Obama is using. Separate rumors claim the AMG tipped off Pakistani intelligence officials on Baitullah’s location, information swiftly passed along to America. What seemed a conspiracy turned to reality when a battalion of Taliban smashed into a village of Turkestan Bittani, a AMG commander and source of the rumors.
The ensuing massacre delivered a simple message: we're very organized. Challenge the Taliban and we’ll show up with ranks of fighters to burn your houses down. Pakistani intelligence officials estimated over 300 militants took part in the battle while Bittani put their number closer to 1,000.Though he's undoubtedly exaggerating, the Taliban is exhibiting extraordinary capabilities for a guerrilla movement.
Though the use of large scale formations is uncommon, they're the Taliban's version of shock and awe. These formations aren't meant for the conventional battlefield, but they are evidence of a maturing insurgency. Since it is most vulnerable in large scale formations, the Taliban saves them for special occasions like surprising a US army post, destroying supply trucks, the Sarposa Prison break, or razing the village of a rival commander. The Taliban is a fully functional asymmetric army, able to vanish or erupt, field two soldiers or 200.
More than “a couple years” will be necessary to defeat what the Taliban has become.
The notion of a fracturing Taliban is misleading. The umbrella is so big that occasional infighting is inevitable. Instead of collapsing under its own weight, the wide variety of militants presents America, the keystone, with an unlimited supply of enemies. The Taliban is large enough to sustain damage to several subgroups and continue functioning. In spite of its detractors, the Taliban's swelling ranks and growing sophistication imply that it's coalescing.
Mullah Omar unrolled his strategy in 2008, convincing then-rivals Baitullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and Maulvi Nazir to form Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen - Council of United Mujahedeen - or SIM. The Haqqani Network cemented its crows nest in Paktia province to oversee Waziristan. Beneath these surface movements, Omar revived Lashkar al Zil - the Shadow Army - al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s elite force in the 1990’s. Originally the 055 Brigade, al-Qaeda has taken the lead in reorganizing the Shadow Army, which is exceeding its predecessor and active on both sides of the border.
One Pakistani officer acquainted with their methods said, “Their tactics are mind-boggling and they have defenses that would take us days to build. It does not look as though we are fighting a rag-tag militia; they are fighting like an organized force.”
Mullah Omar’s efforts are paying off as American and NATO casualties break records and US newspapers spread the fear. His whole army is a nebulous crystal. The Taliban is disciplined, tactically evolving, and has the local advantage. It foresees incoming attacks, whether large scale like Obama’s surge or small scale like in Dahaneh. Unlike the Iraqi insurgency, a multitude of competing interests, the Taliban is an ant colony with one direction from above and legions of foot soldiers below.
Secretary Gates said he doesn’t believe General Stanley McChrystal will request more troops in his new assessment, brushing aside reports of more troops while assuring McChrystal is “free to ask for what he needs.” If America truly intends to defeat the Taliban, it’s going to need more of everything - troops, treasure, time, and blood.
Afghanistan might improve in “a couple years” if President Obama is lucky, but he’ll still be chasing shadows when he leaves office.
August 14, 2009
There are two ways of looking at the Gaza War. War itself is hideous, a fact that cannot be lost, and every war experiences human rights violations. Hamas continually provoked Israel with rockets with the intention of luring Israel into the Gaza Strip, seemingly giving the IDF a blank check to act as it wished. The problem appears to stem not from the battle itself, but from Israel mistaking a counterinsurgency for a war.
In regular war the people don't matter as much. Generally the goal is to attain submission, whereas counterinsurgency seeks to gain acceptance. While Israel was justified in acting as it saw fit, Palestinians were also justified in their outrage. The IDF chose to portray the standard aggressor instead of a helping hand to alleviate the suffering of Gazans. Israel seems to believe it can bomb Palestinians out of their political support for Hamas, a tactic that hasn't succeeded.
Israel may have had no choice, but the Gaza War is chasing it to this day. The human rights violations it supposedly committed will likely never be brought to trial, just like the July War in Lebanon, but this fact hardly matters. Counterinsurgency doesn't care where the trial is held, in the Hague or in the court of public opinion. Most Muslims and many non-Muslims have decided that Israel, besieged as it was, committed an array of disturbing acts in Gaza. Demonizing the UN and Human Rights Watch is a thin defense that offends Muslims further.
Seven months after the war, Israeli failure in Gaza is unmistakable. Hamas was neither removed nor weakened and continues to smuggle weapons, while Palestinians view Israel as bloodthirsty and cruel. Allegations of war crimes will hound Israel for the foreseeable future and continue to destroy its image in the eyes of Muslims. Israel's only prize was a temporary ceasefire from Hamas, but this lull will evaporate if peace negotiations continue to stall. The war was ultimately waged for political consumption in Israel, a far cry from counterinsurgency.
Neither war nor peace seems to have a permanent effect in the Holy Land, but given the repercussions for Israel, it had more to lose in going to war than negotiating with the Palestinians. Counterinsurgency in Gaza would be more effectively waged through the pursuit of a two-state solution, the best hope to demilitarize the region. IDF tanks, warplanes, and snipers aren't counterinsurgency, only urban warfare.
August 13, 2009
Naturally Hezbollah took offense and unleashed its own public relations barrage. The next day Netanyahu tried to squelch the story by clarifying, “We do not see anything special up there. There are no winds of war blowing. This is a storm created by the media.”
Maybe his words were intended to be innocent, but the genie is free. If Netanyahu revealed any of his strategy to disarm Hezbollah, he should reconsider the signals he’s sending.
That Israel’s fear of Hezbollah is rising is expected. The resilient organization withstood the blow that Hamas struggled to counter and continued its weapons flow without interruption. Now Iran is closer than ever. Even worse for Israel, Hezbollah has successfully transitioned into a political party with legal representation. Leader Hassan Nasrallah has dug into Lebanon, solidifying Hezbollah as a permanent fixture in the Middle East.
Netanyahu feels disarmament is slipping away. Israeli officials have raised several official complaints, and many unofficial ones, to the UN since he became prime minister. The most recent cause for alarm, an alleged weapons cache discovered by the IDF in July, confirmed the worst to Israel. The UN concurred that Hezbollah had violated Council Resolution 1701 by storing weapons in civilian structures.
“This house was connected to an entire underground network that was built right under the noses of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army,” one IDF officer said. “This is a major violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.”
Hezbollah has unquestionably broken Resolution 1701, which explicitly calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed. Mixing guerrilla tactics with political strategy makes Hezbollah a more potent threat to Israel than Hamas, but the bells of irony toll when Israel protests to the UN after defying it during the Gaza War. Meanwhile the UN’s futility can be observed with each Israeli objection. Over three years have passed since the July War, enough time to assume 1701 is dead.
Instead of wasting energy with the UN, Israel should understand why 1701 failed. Hezbollah has a solid political and social foundation, an undeniable truism. Hezbollah is a manifestation of the Lebanese Shiite people, a shield to those who had none. Israel must accept Hezbollah as a perennial feature in Lebanese politics and society, but Netanyahu is trying vainly to scare people away from Nasrallah.
Israel has adopted the tactic of making people feel the consequences of their political decisions, penalizing those who vote for Hamas or Hezbollah with aerial bombardment and political isolation. This tactic runs contrary to the basic counterinsurgency principle of protecting the populace. Instead of fracturing the Lebanese, Netanyahu is bringing them together.
“The Israeli threats, repeated almost on a daily basis recently, expose the enemy government's tendentious intentions toward Lebanon,” President Michel Suleiman told reporters. “These threats call on us to work seriously to close ranks and speed up the formation of a national unity government.”
Riding the government’s legitimacy, Hezbollah Foreign Relations chief Ammar Mousawi told Al-Manar TV, “There is no doubt that he [Netanyahu] was meant to influence Lebanese politics ahead of the formation of the new government. But the Lebanese people will send out a message that they are stronger than these threats.”
Both Israeli and Hezbollah officials maintain, underneath their war of words, that no one is lining up for battle, but their relations are clearly deteriorating to an unstable level. Netanyahu would likely scoff at the suggestion, but he should try speaking to the Lebanese people in a nicer tone since it is they who legitimize Hezbollah. Supporting the only party that represents you isn't a crime.
Speaking more positively is deceptively realistic. When Netanyahu warns of collective punishment, he merely invigorates Hezbollah’s supporters and drives away independents. Even Hezbollah’s enemies are unlikely to appreciate Israel’s threats. Would it hurt for Netanyahu to try something like, “Israel doesn’t want war with Lebanon. Let us work peacefully to resolve outstanding disputes.”
Israel may not like it, but the road to disarming Hezbollah runs through the Lebanese people. Improve relations with them and maybe they’ll begin to weaken on Hezbollah. Undermine Hezbollah’s reason to exist by proving that Israel isn’t hostile. Apologize for mistakes in the July War, stop making incursions into Shebaa Farms. Be the bigger man. Ultimately Israel and Lebanon must sign a bilateral treaty to demilitarize the region, which will require substantial popular support.
The realist solution is to dissolve Hezbollah’s military wing in the Lebanese National Army. For that to occur, Lebanon needs to be sure that Israel isn’t a threat.
August 12, 2009
While Taliban sentiment is tipping negative, America has received only a minor boost in popularity. Pakistan's “success” in Swat, a highly publicized Kerry-Lugar Bill, and humanitarian aid to IDP’s didn’t seem to win many new friends. Any gift is a Trojan horse. What America gives is often thought to be owed, a late bill rather than generosity. 59% of responders chose America as the greatest threat to Pakistan because of the escalating Afghan war and its effects to the FATA.
It would be nice if Baitullah Mehsud's death, “underscores that Pakistan has been an early Obama Administration foreign-policy success. Only three months ago, the Taliban were marching on Islamabad and U.S. officials were fretting about the lack of Pakistani will to resist Islamist extremism. But the U.S. worked behind the scenes to encourage a counterattack.”
Except the last three months have been as much reality as illusion. Mehsud is a passing vision. The Taliban was never really marching on Islamabad or threatening nuclear weapons. Pakistani officials had some will to resist the Swat unrest, but were opposed by Pakistani public opinion until the Taliban made a few bad YouTube moves. And nothing is more illustrative of why Pakistanis don’t like America than, “U.S. worked behind the scenes to encourage a counterattack.”
Though Obama obviously believes them to be effective, 67% of Pakistanis oppose his 33 drone strikes and counting. Yesterday the Pakistani press was celebrating the death of Mehsud, today not so much.
President Obama isn't succeeding in Pakistan and considering he was supposed to be a breath of fresh air, failing is more accurate. The money he’s allocated, around $7 billion, has not only been delayed by Congress, but is dwarfed by an estimated $35 billion the war has cost Pakistan. Save the aid and leave is the new motto. Obama has gracefully danced around Kashmir while inking arms deals with India, appealing that South Asia isn’t a zero-sum game as India interferes with Pakistan’s nuclear submarines.
But escalating Afghanistan has done the most damage to Obama’s image. Those who claim America must fight believe it has no choice, that withdrawal is defeat. This may be true for America’s national security interests. However, the war is caused not by the Taliban but by al-Qaeda and America's presence - foreigner presence. The idea of putting more into Afghanistan and Pakistan, a region that glorifies self-reliance, is fatally flawed. This strategy is the reason why war exists.
Though President Obama claims to understand Pakistan, he's ignoring all signs from the Pakistani people and many officials, notably Nawaz Sharif, who oppose military build up in Afghanistan. Having already deployed 17,000 fresh troops, General Stanley McChrystal’s review has supposedly requested another 10,000, maybe more. NATO is also calling for more troops and this only covers 2010. If the war protracts beyond a year and a half, a probability, Obama will need more still.
This is not what the Pakistani or Afghan people had in mind. Obama has made his decision and passed the point of return, but did he really have no alternative?
Withdrawing from Afghanistan at this moment seems suicidal. The Taliban would capture large areas of new territory and could capture the whole state again. Ethnic fighting could flair in the north and invite Iran into the theater, while Pakistan’s tribal areas may get the power and itch to break off entirely. Al Qaeda would have a home for life. At first glance America has no choice but to go all in.
Withdrawing is always portrayed without advantage, even though plenty of advantages exist for withdrawing. Consider the message sent if President Obama summoned 10,000 troops home and shifted all focus to humanitarian projects - it would shock the Taliban as it prepared for a predictable military surge. Afghans desperately need additional attention. Obama would at least capture the attention of Mullah Omar and maybe gain some respect, a critical component in this war. The Pakistani people would’ve hailed a troop withdrawal as real proof that America is changing for the better. So would many Americans.
At the minimum Obama should open the debate of withdrawing, not stigmatize it.
Maybe America has no choice. Is this strategy though, or desperation verging on failure? Obama has validated the Taliban cause when he could’ve undermined the ideal of foreign resistance with a reduced presence. Good governance is a prayer with Hamid Karzai still ahead in the Afghan election; apparently the military option is all that’s left. Obama is committing America to another 10 years in Afghanistan with no certainty of victory.
What is 10 years though, when the enemy vows to fight for 100? Sun Tzu wouldn’t call this success.