Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Military policy challenges for the incoming administration

Tony Cordesman, a conservative but realistic military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has just put out a brief CSIS paper on The New Presidency and the Future of American Military Power 11/05/08. It has some eye-catching points:

He [Obama] must simultaneously deal with a crisis in US-Iraqi relations over the future role of US forces in Iraq, and a recommendation from his military commanders that some 20,000-25,000 more US troops be deployed in Afghanistan. There will be no pause in the terrorist pressure from Al Qa’ida in Iraq, a winter campaign will already be underway in Afghanistan, and the many of the details of an extraordinarily bleak NIE on the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan will almost certainly have become public.

The new President will also inherit massive problems in US defense planning, programming, and budgeting. While Secretary Gates has salvaged something from the Rumsfeld mess, he has not resolved a planning, budget, and management disaster that permeates every aspect of the Department of Defense. There will be an immediate need to compensate for nearly eight years of conceptual strategies decoupled from force plans, and budgets, poorly structured wartime budget supplementals, a grossly mismanaged procurement effort in every military service, and a failure to contain the cost of US defense spending. [my emphasis]
Say what? An "extraordinarily bleak" National Intelligence Estimate on Pakistan and Afghanistan? A "planning, budget, and management disaster" affect every part of the DoD? A "grossly mismanaged procurement effort in every military service"?

Maybe Congress should have spent much less time bowing at the feet of our glorious generals and more time exercising real oversight.

Presumably, this is the NIE to which Cordesman refers: New intelligence report says Pakistan is 'on the edge' by Jonathan Landay and John Walcott, McClatchy Newspapers 10/15/08. Cordesman's paper suggests that even more grim details are contained in the NIE than have been so far reported.

It's worth noting that Juan Cole expressed some real skepticism about the news reports on this NIE in NIE: Pakistan on Brink Informed Comment blog 10/05/08:

The situation in Pakistan for ordinary people is indeed tough. Fuel and wheat prices have skyrocketed.

But all along, a third of the population has had to live on less than a dollar a day and the NIE wasn't so worried about them a few years ago.

But I'm suspicious that all the talk about instability and 'no government' is really a way of saying that US intelligence agencies liked having a military dictatorship there much better than they like having an elected parliamentary regime.

Actually, the Pakistani bureaucracy does a fairly good job for a third world country, and the employees of the bureaucracy at the non-political level don't change with the change of governments. I don't know what they mean by 'no government.' The elected government headed by the Pakistan People's Party has a majority and is not in danger of falling. The new president, Asaf Ali Zardari, is widely thought to be corrupt, but then the impeachment charges prepared against ousted military dictator Pervez Musharraf alleged the same thing of him, so it is hard to see how things have gotten worse in that regard. ...

People who know Pakistan well are more afraid of the right wing elements in the Pakistani military (whom the CIA has long funded and coddled) than they are about an elected civilian government being weak or corrupt.
I certainly hope the new administration doesn't rush into an escalation plan for Afghanistan-Pakistan based on overly alarmist intelligence reports. It's very important to get the intelligence right, a capability than seems to have been badly damaged during the Cheney-Bush years.

Cole also has this analysis of the supposed "Al Qa'ida" threat in Pakistan:

American reports about Pakistan are schizophrenic, because they say the Pakistani army is not fighting the Taliban. But the Pakistani military has chased 300,000 from their homes in Bajaur, one of 7 tribal agencies, and has engaged in firefights with dissident Muslim groups there. I mean, what do the authors of the NIE want?

The Pakistani military admittedly does not attack the Pushtun tribes it is paying to make trouble in southern Afghanistan, but then their activity is abroad and directed from Islamabad. The Mohmands and other tribes in Bajaur have been fighting the Pakistani military, which has hit them hard in retaliation.

The idea that the 3.5 million Pushtuns of the tribal areas could take over a country of 165 million with one of the most professional armies in Asia is just silly.
The New York Times report, Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda by Eric Sshmitt and Mark Mazzetti 11/09/08, adds some more information to the public record about the Pentagon's Special Forces strikes into countries with whom the US is not officially at war.

It confirms that Syria has been one of the targeted countries, although we knew from the raid just a few days ago that this was occurring. The anonymous "American officials" gave cryptic hints about attacks on Iran: "They made clear that there had been no raids into Iran using that authority [a particular "military order" opf 2004], but they suggested that American forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using other classified directives."

Seymour Hersh reported in 2005 on Special Forces operations in Iran, and on the expanded use of Special Forces in secret-war type missions, in The Coming Wars New Yorker 01/24/05:

Rumsfeld will become even more important during the second term. In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld’s responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the Pentagon’s control. The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books - free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen-seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.) "The Pentagon doesn’t feel obligated to report any of this to Congress," the former high-level intelligence official said. “They don’t even call it 'covert ops'—it’s too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it’s ‘black reconnaissance.' They’re not even going to tell the cincs” - the regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. “Everyone is saying, ‘You can’t be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,’ ” the former intelligence official told me. “But they say, ‘We’ve got some lessons learned - not militarily, but how we did it politically. We’re not going to rely on agency pissants.’ No loose ends, and that’s why the C.I.A. is out of there.” [my emphasis]
He did a story this year that included new information on Special Forces operations in Iran, Preparing the Battlefield New Yorker 07/07/08.

Is American journalism still capable of producing Seymour Hershes?

Bob Dreyfuss connects this to the public expansion of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war that came with news of the recent attack on Syria, End of International Law, Part II The Nation 11/10/08. Writing of the Times report, Dreyfuss says:

This is outrageous, and it gives President Obama yet another secret Bush directive to undo at one minute after noon on January 20. He should also make sure to seek out and fire every single lawyer at the Defense Department and Justice Deparment who approved this order.

Once that's done, Obama and his national security team ought to start the process of reining in the sprawling, out-of-control US special forces. The Joint Special Operations Command and the office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations have run amuck, and it's long overdue that they have their wings clipped.
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