John McCain’s performance on This Week was impressive and noteworthy for several reasons. First, he articulated the Iraq counterargument to the Democrats: they were wrong on the surge and the potential for political progress, and retreat will spell chaos. Had the election been last year, it is doubtful that would be a winning argument. But should conditions on the ground continue to improve, the Democrats insistence that nothing has changed and all is lost becomes untenable and McCain’s foresight becomes more evident. Second, McCain clearly has a less unilateral view of the presidency than does George Bush. He has no problem, he says, bringing a treaty which provides for military bases in Iraq to the Congress for approval. Likewise he would bring a request for authorization of force against Iran, if one is needed, to Congress (except in case of emergency). This is perhaps to be expected from a man who has spent decades in the Senate, but is also indicative of someone confident in his abilities to persuade and cajole. In any event, it is not unreasonable to conclude that corralling Congressional support for foreign policy undertakings is, in his view, the more desirable course. Finally, to the delight of fiscal conservatives he issued a “read my lips, no new taxes” promise. He never tries to hide his passion for spending restraint, but he has made clear he has no intention of blurring the differences on this issue between himself and his Democratic opponent.
Posts For: February 17, 2008
What is the future of war? In this report, Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine colonel and one of our most incisive strategic analysts, argues that we are seeing the “rise of hybrid wars” that blur the boundaries between conventional and unconventional conflict. The prototype, he argues, was Hezbollah’s war against Israel in the summer of 2006, in which this terrorist group skillfully fought the Israeli Defense Forces to a standstill by combining missiles and small unit tactics with information operations.
There is good cause to worry that the American armed forces may be as unready as the IDF for this type of foe. To reorient our military for the challenges ahead will require a recognition that conventional combat skills, while hardly obsolete, will no longer suffice. Apparently the new version of the Army’s Field Manual 3.0 (“Operations”), last updated in 2001, reaches precisely that conclusion. According to this New York Times article, the new FM 3.0 states:
Army doctrine now equally weights tasks dealing with the population — stability or civil support — with those related to offensive and defensive operations. Winning battles and engagements is important but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important to success.
That’s a huge change in military thinking. If that doctrine had been in place in 2003 we might have avoided some of the mistakes that were made in Iraq during the occupation’s early days.
To make those words a reality will require putting more emphasis in, among other areas, training foreign militaries. That’s a mission that has not won much favor with military bureaucracies in the past; in Iraq, our military commanders tried initially to assign contractors to the training role. Special Operations Command, in particular, has traditionally focused on “direct action” missions—i.e., rappelling out of helicopters and kicking in doors—at the expense of “foreign internal defense”—i.e., working with indigenous allies. Some critics, including yours truly, have criticized this focus as misguided. Now, according to the Washington Times, SOCOM is starting to get the message: It is expanding its focus on advisory work.
That’s good to hear, but obviously much more needs to be done before we have truly reoriented a Cold War military for the challenges of the Long War. Retired Army Colonel Bob Killebrew provides some other valuable ideas for how to empower advisers in this article in the Armed Forces Journal.
Literary entrepreneur Dave Eggers laments that his home state of California voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Super Tuesday Democratic primary.
With Mr. Obama’s newness comes a certain element of chance, and Mr. McCain, though he leans ever more doctrinaire, is still erratic enough that on the Internet he can be found singing — to a classic Beach Boys tune, mind you — about bombing yet another sovereign nation.
Eggers’s defense of Iraqi or Iranian “sovereignty” is made in passing, but it is one of the more obnoxious ticks of the Left. It is part of a Democratic Party tradition that goes back at least as far to Henry Wallace, up through George McGovern and to the supporters of Barack Obama today. This is the “Hands Off [fill in the rogue state]” crowd, which always sees America as the root of international instability and promises that if only we “engage” our enemies and “restrain” our warlike impulses, the world will be a more peaceful place. It is this world-view that places such stock in the wondrous “sovereignty” of a theocratic, terror-state like the Islamic Republic.
Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not have sovereignty for the international community to violate. He had committed genocide, repeatedly, against his own people. He stood in defiance of 17 Security Council Resolutions regarding his weapons of mass destruction programs. He had illegally invaded his neighbors on two occasions and provided assistance to terrorists around the world. All of these actions warranted intervention according to the very international legal mandates that liberal internationalists so revere and that the supposedly reckless neo-cons denigrate at every turn.
Iran has a similar rap sheet. Neither Hussein-era Iraq nor present-day Iran — authoritarian states that do not rule by popular consent and flout international law as a matter of routine — is “yet another sovereign nation” alongside Canada, Hungary, or Botswana. To presume otherwise represents a grave and a deeply pernicious mode of thinking, yet it is one shared now amongst the Democratic base and its presumed nominee.
I am an unrestrained dog lover and never miss a Westminster Dog Show. This got me thinking that John McCain is the Uno of the 2008 presidential race — not fancy, not elegant and certainly not emotionally aloof, but down to earth and entirely comfortable in his own coat, er, skin. He does occasionally howl at the wrong time, but you could live with him comfortably for 8 years. There are more elegant choices and, goodness knows, there are tougher candidates (you can figure out who is who), but there is something endearing about him. I agree with Michael Kinsley that his nomination might be the ultimate political dirty trick, and the GOP may have found a crowd pleaser. Well, at least he was best in group.
In his New York Times column today, Nicholas Kristof praises John McCain for his inability to pander convincingly to the conservative GOP base. “In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste,” Kristof writes. “That’s preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates.” This is an undoubtedly true (and hardly controversial) assessment of McCain, and explains why he will prove to be such a formidable candidate come November.
Yet towards the end of his piece — perhaps realizing that all these good words for a Republican are driving his regular readers crazy — Kristof compares McCain’s repeated insurrections against his own party to … Barack Obama. Kristof writes:
It’s also striking that Barack Obama is leading a Democratic field in which he has been the candidate who is least-scripted and most willing to annoy primary voters, whether in speaking about Reagan’s impact on history or on the suffering of Palestinians.
Has Barack Obama ever taken a stand against the prevailing winds within his own party on a substantive political issue (saying you have friends in red states does not count)? Granted, Obama’s political career is a mere shadow next to John McCain’s decades of experience, but there is still plenty of time for him to have opposed the entrenched thinking of his party on something. Obama never “annoys” primary voters (and, for the record, speaking of the “suffering of Palestinians” hardly “annoys” Democratic primary voters; it delights them); in fact, he does the opposite.
Hillary Clinton, if anyone, is the candidate who continually “annoys” primary voters with her refusal to apologize for her Iraq vote. Obama never offers McCain’s occasional and necessary bitter pill. Obama is, in fact, his party’s candy dispenser. And as for Kristof’s contention that Obama is the “least-scripted” candidate, what distinguishes Obama is that he is the most scripted candidate in recent political history; a candidate whose virtues seem to stem entirely from the speeches he delivers and the rhetorical style with which he delivers them. Indeed, when speaking without a script, he somehow loses his magical aura.
RAND has just come out with an important study of what the U.S. government needs to do to reorient itself for the challenges of waging a global counterinsurgency against Islamist radicals. (For a brief summary, click here.) The abstract lays out the problem succinctly:
“Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed serious shortfalls in the capabilities of the United States to counter insurgency in the Muslim world. Instead of relying predominantly on military occupation, the United States must become more able to bolster the ability of threatened states to win the contest for the support of their people.”
The study has many interesting recommendations for how we can redress existing shortcomings. The bottom line is that the U.S. needs more civilians and more dollars devoted to counterinsurgency. The authors write that “the United States would need to triple its total current deployed USAID staff (of about 1,500) and double its annual foreign-development aid budget (of about $25 billion)” in order to handle major counterinsurgency efforts in two mid-sized countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, while also conducting “smaller-scale preventive efforts” in several other countries.
While rightly stressing a preference for local forces doing the bulk of counterinsurgency work, the RAND study calls for American forces to be better trained and equipped for such missions in places where local assistance can’t be counted on. The study also calls for enhancing efforts at psychological operations and other aspects of information warfare, such as countering jihadist propaganda online. “In Iraq and Afghanistan,” the study finds, “needed information moves too slowly among U.S. military, intelligence, civilian, and allied units. A fixation on information security denies access to local forces and excludes the most valuable source of all, the local population. ”
The study also makes an important recommendation (long pushed by experts such as Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies) for how to reorient American strategic communications efforts: “the United States should discard ‘pro-America’ themes in favor of strengthening the image of local government, while also highlighting growing evidence that jihadists, when in power, fail utterly to provide for the material needs of ordinary people.”
Finally the study also calls for “close consideration” of some possible reorganization plans, such as the formation of a civilian agency to guide counterinsurgency efforts across the government—something I’ve been advocating for a while.
This study is by no means the final word on the subject but it is a serious, in-depth effort that deserves serious consideration from administration officials and lawmakers interested in avoiding “another Iraq.”
Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?
On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”
He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.
His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”
Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.
And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:
President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.
All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.
Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).
There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.
In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.
Until Sarkozy, that is.
John McCain is moving ever closer to the 1191 delegate total needed to secure the nomination. (He picked up some Michigan and Louisiana delegates on Saturday, pushing him over 900.) He has only tentatively begun to attack potential foe Barack Obama, but he did find an issue on which to gain a rhetorical and perhaps tactical advantage. Friday McCain challenged Obama to make good on his promise to accept public campaign financing (Obama’s attachment to privately raised money gives you a sense of the financial upper hand the Democrats potentially will enjoy in November). If Obama declines or comes up with a preposterous counteroffer, his shiny image may get scuffed up. (The Washington Post warns him not to retreat from his prior pledge: “But this kind of backtracking and parsing isn’t what the millions of voters who have been inspired by Mr. Obama are looking for. It’s not benefitting Mr. Obama’s well-earned image as a champion of reform.”) If he accepts, an enormous financial advantage would be erased, as Obama would have to return the large sums he’s raised on his own. Either way, it seems a smart move for McCain.