Commentary Magazine


Topic: admiral

Cravenness Unlimited

Arlen Specter is never one to get hung up on principles. Or demonstrate that he has any. In his new quest to out-liberal the liberal Democratic competition in his newfound party’s primary, he’s come out against the Afghanistan surge. Yes, the president wanted Specter on “his side,” and this is what it looks like. The pleasant surprise is his opponent, as Politico reports:

[Rep. Joe] Sestak, Specter’s more progressive-minded opponent, supports the surge however — and he has come out guns blazing, deriding Specter in an interview with POLITICO this week as a flip-flopper for “vot[ing] for the war in Iraq — and now he’s against a troop increase.”

“Sestak has routinely argued that Specter is not a real Democrat and his roots with the Republican Party run deep. He can add now the argument that Specter really has no principles here, and is just opposing the war surge for votes,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

Sestak is a retired admiral who’s chosen not to run from the president on this one: “President Obama has presented a plan that will allow us to finally complete a mission that is as indispensable today as it was eight years ago: the elimination of the Al Qaeda terrorists who struck us on 9/11,” he declared. I suspect Sestak will suffer not at all from his position and gain some support from many former GOP voters who may have changed party registration in 2008. If so, it will be a lesson that politicians — the president included — should do the right thing and trust the voters to reward those who advocate smart national-security policy.

Arlen Specter is never one to get hung up on principles. Or demonstrate that he has any. In his new quest to out-liberal the liberal Democratic competition in his newfound party’s primary, he’s come out against the Afghanistan surge. Yes, the president wanted Specter on “his side,” and this is what it looks like. The pleasant surprise is his opponent, as Politico reports:

[Rep. Joe] Sestak, Specter’s more progressive-minded opponent, supports the surge however — and he has come out guns blazing, deriding Specter in an interview with POLITICO this week as a flip-flopper for “vot[ing] for the war in Iraq — and now he’s against a troop increase.”

“Sestak has routinely argued that Specter is not a real Democrat and his roots with the Republican Party run deep. He can add now the argument that Specter really has no principles here, and is just opposing the war surge for votes,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

Sestak is a retired admiral who’s chosen not to run from the president on this one: “President Obama has presented a plan that will allow us to finally complete a mission that is as indispensable today as it was eight years ago: the elimination of the Al Qaeda terrorists who struck us on 9/11,” he declared. I suspect Sestak will suffer not at all from his position and gain some support from many former GOP voters who may have changed party registration in 2008. If so, it will be a lesson that politicians — the president included — should do the right thing and trust the voters to reward those who advocate smart national-security policy.

Read Less

They Have to Win Anyway

Writing before Tuesday’s speech Rich Lowry observed:

In Obama’s long review, the fanciful suppositions of the war’s skeptics were systematically knocked down: No, the war couldn’t be waged from afar with drones and Special Forces; no, the Taliban couldn’t be considered a relatively harmless force; no, Afghanistan couldn’t slide into chaos without further destabilizing Pakistan.

The professionals, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and Admiral Mullen, all lined up in favor of some form of the surge. Obama was left without any plausible reason to heed his deepest instincts.

Consequently, he finds himself in rough alignment with all the same hated people who conceived, executed, and supported the Iraq surge, and against the people who opposed it — and elected him.

And so we are embarked on a surge with a reluctant and obviously conflicted commander in chief. The essential policy, with a bit of unnecessary chiseling on the number of troops, is not far off the mark. But part of war strategy is stagecraft and convincing the enemies that they are on the losing side of history. Would the sheiks in Anbar have risked plenty for a “surge… but…” strategy in Iraq? Would al Qaeda’s recruits have dried up there had George W. Bush announced a commencement date for withdrawal in January 2007? We don’t know, and Bush declined to make his own job more difficult by fuzzing up his message. Obama couldn’t resist the urge to do just that.

We may prevail despite the president’s inner turmoil and half-hearted rhetoric. We may win despite the doubts he sowed about our willingness to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to prevail. All Americans should pray that we will, for the president got one thing right:

The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.

In other words, it is not a fight amenable to off ramps and limited patience. It’s not going to be won trying to mollify the netroots because in doing so we would project equivocation and irresoluteness. Our military is the finest in the world, and given the resources and direction to accomplish a mission, there is a very good chance we will prevail. But our troops should have a commander in chief who makes their task easier and helps them in the task of undermining and intimidating the enemy. They don’t but will have to win anyway.

Writing before Tuesday’s speech Rich Lowry observed:

In Obama’s long review, the fanciful suppositions of the war’s skeptics were systematically knocked down: No, the war couldn’t be waged from afar with drones and Special Forces; no, the Taliban couldn’t be considered a relatively harmless force; no, Afghanistan couldn’t slide into chaos without further destabilizing Pakistan.

The professionals, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and Admiral Mullen, all lined up in favor of some form of the surge. Obama was left without any plausible reason to heed his deepest instincts.

Consequently, he finds himself in rough alignment with all the same hated people who conceived, executed, and supported the Iraq surge, and against the people who opposed it — and elected him.

And so we are embarked on a surge with a reluctant and obviously conflicted commander in chief. The essential policy, with a bit of unnecessary chiseling on the number of troops, is not far off the mark. But part of war strategy is stagecraft and convincing the enemies that they are on the losing side of history. Would the sheiks in Anbar have risked plenty for a “surge… but…” strategy in Iraq? Would al Qaeda’s recruits have dried up there had George W. Bush announced a commencement date for withdrawal in January 2007? We don’t know, and Bush declined to make his own job more difficult by fuzzing up his message. Obama couldn’t resist the urge to do just that.

We may prevail despite the president’s inner turmoil and half-hearted rhetoric. We may win despite the doubts he sowed about our willingness to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to prevail. All Americans should pray that we will, for the president got one thing right:

The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.

In other words, it is not a fight amenable to off ramps and limited patience. It’s not going to be won trying to mollify the netroots because in doing so we would project equivocation and irresoluteness. Our military is the finest in the world, and given the resources and direction to accomplish a mission, there is a very good chance we will prevail. But our troops should have a commander in chief who makes their task easier and helps them in the task of undermining and intimidating the enemy. They don’t but will have to win anyway.

Read Less

Obama Finally Resolute on Afghanistan?

As President Obama prepares to deliver his West Point address tonight, most indications are positive — surprisingly so, given the public hand-wringing from the White House that has characterized this debate over the past three months. Barring a last-minute change of heart, the president will announce the dispatch of at least 30,000 troops to Afghanistan along with the expectation that our allies will provide at least 5,000 more. According to this New York Times article, Obama “has decided to expedite the deployment … over the next six months, in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces.” It may not be logistically possible to dispatch 30,000 extra troops by the summer of 2010, but it’s a good sign that Obama is setting this as a goal. It means he is taking to heart the warnings from General McChrystal that “success will require a discrete ‘jump’ to gain the initiative, demonstrate progress in the short term, and secure long-term support.”

The key question now is, how much resolve will Obama signal in the address itself? If he spends too much time talking about “off-ramps” (i.e., situations under which reinforcements might be canceled), “benchmarks” that the Karzai government must meet “or else,” or “exit strategies,” he will undo some of the positive impact of his courageous decision to substantially increase the number of American troops on the ground.

Thus, it is worrisome to read in another Times leak that Obama will announce “that he will begin to transition American forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011″ — a curious message to send while announcing a major increase in our war effort. That gives the troops who will be arriving only a year to get the job done, which may or may not be enough time. A far better time line would be “performance-based,” as it was in the case of the Iraq surge: Obama should announce that the troops will stay as long as necessary to get the job done. Even if he has already settled on a time line for withdrawal, he should keep it quiet, lest he encourage the Taliban to simply wait us out.

Nevertheless, despite that disturbing detail, it sounds as if it will be a policy that all those who see the need to prevail in this important war effort can and should support. I will, of course, stay tuned for the speech itself and report back with an initial reaction once I’ve had a chance to hear the president’s words. But I imagine that the nuances won’t become apparent until a few days after the administration has performed its background briefings and Secretary of Defense Gates, the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mullen, and other key leaders have testified on Capitol Hill.

As President Obama prepares to deliver his West Point address tonight, most indications are positive — surprisingly so, given the public hand-wringing from the White House that has characterized this debate over the past three months. Barring a last-minute change of heart, the president will announce the dispatch of at least 30,000 troops to Afghanistan along with the expectation that our allies will provide at least 5,000 more. According to this New York Times article, Obama “has decided to expedite the deployment … over the next six months, in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces.” It may not be logistically possible to dispatch 30,000 extra troops by the summer of 2010, but it’s a good sign that Obama is setting this as a goal. It means he is taking to heart the warnings from General McChrystal that “success will require a discrete ‘jump’ to gain the initiative, demonstrate progress in the short term, and secure long-term support.”

The key question now is, how much resolve will Obama signal in the address itself? If he spends too much time talking about “off-ramps” (i.e., situations under which reinforcements might be canceled), “benchmarks” that the Karzai government must meet “or else,” or “exit strategies,” he will undo some of the positive impact of his courageous decision to substantially increase the number of American troops on the ground.

Thus, it is worrisome to read in another Times leak that Obama will announce “that he will begin to transition American forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011″ — a curious message to send while announcing a major increase in our war effort. That gives the troops who will be arriving only a year to get the job done, which may or may not be enough time. A far better time line would be “performance-based,” as it was in the case of the Iraq surge: Obama should announce that the troops will stay as long as necessary to get the job done. Even if he has already settled on a time line for withdrawal, he should keep it quiet, lest he encourage the Taliban to simply wait us out.

Nevertheless, despite that disturbing detail, it sounds as if it will be a policy that all those who see the need to prevail in this important war effort can and should support. I will, of course, stay tuned for the speech itself and report back with an initial reaction once I’ve had a chance to hear the president’s words. But I imagine that the nuances won’t become apparent until a few days after the administration has performed its background briefings and Secretary of Defense Gates, the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mullen, and other key leaders have testified on Capitol Hill.

Read Less

Cynical Specter Runs to the Left on Afghanistan

How cynical is Arlen Specter? I know. That is sort of like asking how deep the ocean is or how high the moon. But sometimes, following the twists and turns of the five-term turncoat senator’s position on the issues can take the breath away from even those most used to his shenanigans. Take Afghanistan. Once a supporter of both the war in Iraq and the one in Afghanistan, the newly minted Democrat from Pennsylvania no longer sees the fight against the Taliban “as central to our national security” as Tim Fernholz reports in his blog at the American Prospect.

Specter switched parties because he knew he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Pat Toomey, former congressman, in a Republican primary next year. But because he is now facing a significant challenge for his new party’s nomination from longtime Iraq war opponent Congressman Joe Sestak, Specter has decided to go the former Navy admiral one better and come out against the war in Afghanistan. Cynical liberals spent the 2006 and 2008 campaigns saying that they opposed the war in Iraq because it took troops and effort away from the “good” war in Afghanistan, but those same people want to bug out of the latter conflict now that Obama is safely elected and they don’t have to pretend to take the war against Islamist terror seriously. Specter’s willingness to change positions on a dime outstrips even that record. He not only backed Bush (who saved Specter’s hide by backing him in a tight primary race against Toomey in 2004) but also enthusiastically backed both wars. But that didn’t stop him in a conference call with reporters this week from blasting Sestak for the congressman’s support of the request for more troops to bolster the allied effort in Afghanistan.

So give Sestak points for sincerity because, apparently unlike our president, he was actually telling the truth when he said in previous election years that he wanted to divert resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. The only question here is whether Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania will fall for Specter’s incredible anti-war makeover. The latest (Oct. 28) Franklin & Marshall poll of the Democratic primary shows the incumbent senator with a 30-18 percent lead over Sestak. Specter has a big lead in money raised (according to Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, Specter has $8.7 million in the bank while Sestak has $4.7 million and Toomey, just $1.8 million). But given the enormous imbalance in name recognition between the two, such numbers can hardly comfort Specter. Interestingly, the same survey shows a Toomey-Sestak matchup next November as a 28-20 Toomey advantage, while Specter leads Toomey in a general election rematch of the 2004 GOP primary by only 33-31.

No matter how you slice it, the mendacious Specter’s prospects look a bit shaky; as do the Democrats’ chances of holding onto this seat in an otherwise increasingly blue Pennsylvania.

How cynical is Arlen Specter? I know. That is sort of like asking how deep the ocean is or how high the moon. But sometimes, following the twists and turns of the five-term turncoat senator’s position on the issues can take the breath away from even those most used to his shenanigans. Take Afghanistan. Once a supporter of both the war in Iraq and the one in Afghanistan, the newly minted Democrat from Pennsylvania no longer sees the fight against the Taliban “as central to our national security” as Tim Fernholz reports in his blog at the American Prospect.

Specter switched parties because he knew he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Pat Toomey, former congressman, in a Republican primary next year. But because he is now facing a significant challenge for his new party’s nomination from longtime Iraq war opponent Congressman Joe Sestak, Specter has decided to go the former Navy admiral one better and come out against the war in Afghanistan. Cynical liberals spent the 2006 and 2008 campaigns saying that they opposed the war in Iraq because it took troops and effort away from the “good” war in Afghanistan, but those same people want to bug out of the latter conflict now that Obama is safely elected and they don’t have to pretend to take the war against Islamist terror seriously. Specter’s willingness to change positions on a dime outstrips even that record. He not only backed Bush (who saved Specter’s hide by backing him in a tight primary race against Toomey in 2004) but also enthusiastically backed both wars. But that didn’t stop him in a conference call with reporters this week from blasting Sestak for the congressman’s support of the request for more troops to bolster the allied effort in Afghanistan.

So give Sestak points for sincerity because, apparently unlike our president, he was actually telling the truth when he said in previous election years that he wanted to divert resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. The only question here is whether Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania will fall for Specter’s incredible anti-war makeover. The latest (Oct. 28) Franklin & Marshall poll of the Democratic primary shows the incumbent senator with a 30-18 percent lead over Sestak. Specter has a big lead in money raised (according to Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, Specter has $8.7 million in the bank while Sestak has $4.7 million and Toomey, just $1.8 million). But given the enormous imbalance in name recognition between the two, such numbers can hardly comfort Specter. Interestingly, the same survey shows a Toomey-Sestak matchup next November as a 28-20 Toomey advantage, while Specter leads Toomey in a general election rematch of the 2004 GOP primary by only 33-31.

No matter how you slice it, the mendacious Specter’s prospects look a bit shaky; as do the Democrats’ chances of holding onto this seat in an otherwise increasingly blue Pennsylvania.

Read Less

Bob Gates on Dissent

If you’re wondering why Admiral Fox Fallon had to step down as Commander of Central Command, it’s worth reading the speech that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates delivered at West Point on April 21. Gates never once mentioned Fallon’s name, but the testy admiral’s shadow loomed over his remarks on the role of dissent within the military chain of command.

He urged the cadets to tell the truth, even if it hurts: “if as an officer–listen to me very carefully–if as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice.” But he also argued that, after an officer has had a chance to vent his disagreement, he must still carry out his orders, whether he likes them or not. In this regard, Gates cited the canonic example of George C. Marshall.

In 1940, he noted, “Marshall believed that rearming America should come first. Roosevelt overruled Marshall and others, and came down on what most historians believe is the correct decision–to do what was necessary to keep England alive.”

He went on:

The significant thing is what did not happen next. There was a powerful domestic constituency for Marshall’s position among a whole host of newspapers and congressmen and lobbies, and yet Marshall did not exploit and use them. There were no overtures to friendly congressional committee chairmen, no leaks to sympathetic reporters, no ghostwritten editorials in newspapers, no coalition-building with advocacy groups. Marshall and his colleagues made the policy work and kept England alive.

Fallon undoubtedly met Gates’s directive “to provide blunt and candid advice always.” But, unlike Marshall, he fell short on two other measures laid out by the defense secretary: “to keep disagreements private” and “to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.”

Fallon was all too public in his differences with regard to administration policy on Iraq, Iran, and the broader Middle East. His downfall came shortly after he bared his thoughts to Thomas P.M. Barnett in Esquire magazine.

Beyond Fallon’s fate, the rules that Gates laid out seem like a very sensible distillation of the proper relationship between officers and their civilian superiors. In some respects the most noteworthy theme he struck was not that dissent can sometimes go too far but that he believes dissent and debate is healthy and should be encouraged–attitudes that, rightly or wrongly, were not seen as hallmarks of Donald Rumsfeld’s days at the Pentagon.

If you’re wondering why Admiral Fox Fallon had to step down as Commander of Central Command, it’s worth reading the speech that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates delivered at West Point on April 21. Gates never once mentioned Fallon’s name, but the testy admiral’s shadow loomed over his remarks on the role of dissent within the military chain of command.

He urged the cadets to tell the truth, even if it hurts: “if as an officer–listen to me very carefully–if as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice.” But he also argued that, after an officer has had a chance to vent his disagreement, he must still carry out his orders, whether he likes them or not. In this regard, Gates cited the canonic example of George C. Marshall.

In 1940, he noted, “Marshall believed that rearming America should come first. Roosevelt overruled Marshall and others, and came down on what most historians believe is the correct decision–to do what was necessary to keep England alive.”

He went on:

The significant thing is what did not happen next. There was a powerful domestic constituency for Marshall’s position among a whole host of newspapers and congressmen and lobbies, and yet Marshall did not exploit and use them. There were no overtures to friendly congressional committee chairmen, no leaks to sympathetic reporters, no ghostwritten editorials in newspapers, no coalition-building with advocacy groups. Marshall and his colleagues made the policy work and kept England alive.

Fallon undoubtedly met Gates’s directive “to provide blunt and candid advice always.” But, unlike Marshall, he fell short on two other measures laid out by the defense secretary: “to keep disagreements private” and “to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.”

Fallon was all too public in his differences with regard to administration policy on Iraq, Iran, and the broader Middle East. His downfall came shortly after he bared his thoughts to Thomas P.M. Barnett in Esquire magazine.

Beyond Fallon’s fate, the rules that Gates laid out seem like a very sensible distillation of the proper relationship between officers and their civilian superiors. In some respects the most noteworthy theme he struck was not that dissent can sometimes go too far but that he believes dissent and debate is healthy and should be encouraged–attitudes that, rightly or wrongly, were not seen as hallmarks of Donald Rumsfeld’s days at the Pentagon.

Read Less

Iran in Iraq: Why Do Sabers Now Rattle?

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

Read Less

Rhetoric and Action on Iran

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

Read Less

Good News for Iraq

The Bush administration has had more than its share of disastrous personnel moves. You might call it “Brownie Syndrome,” after Michael Brown, the FEMA chief who had to resign after Hurricane Katrina. A number of these missteps–the short-lived appointment of Admiral Fox Fallon to head Central Command and the long-lived appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to head the Department of Defense–have concerned the armed forces. So it was with some surprise (and a big gulp of relief) that I read the news that General David Petraeus is being sent to Central Command and General Ray Odierno is heading to Baghdad as his replacement at the head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNFI).

Odierno spent the year from early 2007 to early 2008 working closely with Petraeus to supervise the implementation of the surge. They were by far the most successful team of commanders we have had in Iraq–potentially the Grant/Sherman or Eisenhower/Patton of this long conflict. Yet there was a strong impetus back in DC to break up the winning combination–as seen in Odierno’s rotation home earlier this year and in persistent rumors that Petraeus would be sent to NATO. That is something I warned against in a January post, in which I suggested that a better move would be to send Petraeus to Centcom and Odierno to MNFI. But, based on his track record, I knew I could not necessarily count on the President doing the right thing. Now he has. That gives us a chance to build on the initial success of the surge in the challenging months that lie ahead.

Of course, whether or not Petraeus and Odierno will have a free hand to implement their best military advice will depend on the outcome of the November election. The Democratic candidates seem determined to pull troops out of the country based more on domestic political considerations than on the long-term prospects of success in the war effort.

The Bush administration has had more than its share of disastrous personnel moves. You might call it “Brownie Syndrome,” after Michael Brown, the FEMA chief who had to resign after Hurricane Katrina. A number of these missteps–the short-lived appointment of Admiral Fox Fallon to head Central Command and the long-lived appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to head the Department of Defense–have concerned the armed forces. So it was with some surprise (and a big gulp of relief) that I read the news that General David Petraeus is being sent to Central Command and General Ray Odierno is heading to Baghdad as his replacement at the head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNFI).

Odierno spent the year from early 2007 to early 2008 working closely with Petraeus to supervise the implementation of the surge. They were by far the most successful team of commanders we have had in Iraq–potentially the Grant/Sherman or Eisenhower/Patton of this long conflict. Yet there was a strong impetus back in DC to break up the winning combination–as seen in Odierno’s rotation home earlier this year and in persistent rumors that Petraeus would be sent to NATO. That is something I warned against in a January post, in which I suggested that a better move would be to send Petraeus to Centcom and Odierno to MNFI. But, based on his track record, I knew I could not necessarily count on the President doing the right thing. Now he has. That gives us a chance to build on the initial success of the surge in the challenging months that lie ahead.

Of course, whether or not Petraeus and Odierno will have a free hand to implement their best military advice will depend on the outcome of the November election. The Democratic candidates seem determined to pull troops out of the country based more on domestic political considerations than on the long-term prospects of success in the war effort.

Read Less

Boosting Navy Bandwidth

I recall a few years ago visiting an Aegis cruiser, one of the most advanced warships in the world. In its Combat Information Center, sailors can track dozens of targets and coordinate an entire battle group. So it was more than a little jarring to see that the computers that run everything showed glowing green text on black screens. I didn’t realize there were any pre-Windows computers still around. Yet here they were.

Obviously the armed forces need to do a better job of keeping up with new technology—but that’s not so easy to do given loooong procurement cycles and the demands of security and reliability. Vice Admiral Mark Edwards, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communications Networks, addresses that very challenge in the new issue of the Naval Institute’s invaluable magazine, Proceedings. He notes a shocking statistic:

The two-way communication bandwidth of a single Blackberry is three times greater than the bandwidth of the entire Arleigh Burke [-class, Aegis guided-missile] destroyer. Looked at another way, the Navy’s most modern in-service multi-mission warship has only five percent of the bandwidth we have in our home Internet connection.

The problem is that the Navy is not keeping up with Silicon Valley:

As computing capabilities continue to grow exponentially, the costs of computers, servers, storage, and software are coming down. Across the commercial industry worldwide, IT budgets are actually declining as capacity goes up. But in the Navy, the opposite is taking place . . . . Moreover, every system we field takes nearly seven years to reach the Fleet. By the time it gets to the people who need it, it is already out of date. There is no agility or flexibility in our IT.

The answer, he argues, is to switch from “closed” to “open” IT architecture. That is, to end the current practice of buying from “only a few vendors who build highly integrated systems—where the software and hardware are tightly coupled and where interoperability between two or more systems is gained only by building costly middleware.” Instead, “[w]e have to . . . separate our data, hardware, and applications. We need a network architecture that is agile and can be upgraded rapidly. It must be flexible, with the ability to accommodate the expected exponential increase in demand.”

Easier said than done. The idea of an “open” architecture based on commonly available software runs counter to a long-standing military mentality. I am glad to see that Admiral Edwards is implementing reforms in the Navy, but I suspect it will be a long, costly process that is sure to be resisted by more than a few bureaucrats.

And, of course, these problems aren’t limited to the Navy. All of the armed forces rely for the most part on highly specialized, one-of-a-kind computer systems that take far too long and cost far too much to field. Addressing this problem will be crucial for maintaining America’s military edge in the 21st century. For as the Economist put it (in a line quoted by Edwards): “If Napoleon’s armies marched on their stomachs, American ones march on bandwidth.”

I recall a few years ago visiting an Aegis cruiser, one of the most advanced warships in the world. In its Combat Information Center, sailors can track dozens of targets and coordinate an entire battle group. So it was more than a little jarring to see that the computers that run everything showed glowing green text on black screens. I didn’t realize there were any pre-Windows computers still around. Yet here they were.

Obviously the armed forces need to do a better job of keeping up with new technology—but that’s not so easy to do given loooong procurement cycles and the demands of security and reliability. Vice Admiral Mark Edwards, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communications Networks, addresses that very challenge in the new issue of the Naval Institute’s invaluable magazine, Proceedings. He notes a shocking statistic:

The two-way communication bandwidth of a single Blackberry is three times greater than the bandwidth of the entire Arleigh Burke [-class, Aegis guided-missile] destroyer. Looked at another way, the Navy’s most modern in-service multi-mission warship has only five percent of the bandwidth we have in our home Internet connection.

The problem is that the Navy is not keeping up with Silicon Valley:

As computing capabilities continue to grow exponentially, the costs of computers, servers, storage, and software are coming down. Across the commercial industry worldwide, IT budgets are actually declining as capacity goes up. But in the Navy, the opposite is taking place . . . . Moreover, every system we field takes nearly seven years to reach the Fleet. By the time it gets to the people who need it, it is already out of date. There is no agility or flexibility in our IT.

The answer, he argues, is to switch from “closed” to “open” IT architecture. That is, to end the current practice of buying from “only a few vendors who build highly integrated systems—where the software and hardware are tightly coupled and where interoperability between two or more systems is gained only by building costly middleware.” Instead, “[w]e have to . . . separate our data, hardware, and applications. We need a network architecture that is agile and can be upgraded rapidly. It must be flexible, with the ability to accommodate the expected exponential increase in demand.”

Easier said than done. The idea of an “open” architecture based on commonly available software runs counter to a long-standing military mentality. I am glad to see that Admiral Edwards is implementing reforms in the Navy, but I suspect it will be a long, costly process that is sure to be resisted by more than a few bureaucrats.

And, of course, these problems aren’t limited to the Navy. All of the armed forces rely for the most part on highly specialized, one-of-a-kind computer systems that take far too long and cost far too much to field. Addressing this problem will be crucial for maintaining America’s military edge in the 21st century. For as the Economist put it (in a line quoted by Edwards): “If Napoleon’s armies marched on their stomachs, American ones march on bandwidth.”

Read Less

Even More About the Goofball

Why was Admiral William “Fox” Fallon forced into retirement? Mark Perry, a director of Conflicts Forum, offers his take in Asia Times. He points like others have to Thomas Barnett’s Esquire profile, which he says “has to rank as one of the most embarrassing portraits of an American officer in US military history. Both for Barnett, as well as for Fallon.”

One problem is Barnett’s style. Perry describes it as being in “pseudo Tombstone style — a kind of vague signaling that this is just-between-us tough guys talk – Barnett presents a military commander who is constantly on the go, trailing exhausted aides who never rest (oh, what a man he is!): Fallon doesn’t get angry (he gets ‘pissed off’); he doesn’t have a father (he has an ‘old man’); he doesn’t spend time (he does a ‘stint’); he doesn’t walk (he ‘sidles’); and he doesn’t talk, ‘he speaks in measured koans’.”

But it is not such lather alone that is the problem. Writes Perry,

[he's] boorish and, very often, it’s just plain wrong. Thus, Barnett: “If, in the dying light of the [George W] Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon.”

Well, actually, yes — and no. The decision to go to war will come down to one man, but his name won’t be Fox Fallon, it will be George W. Bush. More accurately, the constitution of the United States places foreign policy in the hands of the president as the commander-in-chief and the decision for declaring war is in the hands of the U.S. Congress. Fallon’s role in all of this, as I am sure he must know, is to obey orders and to keep his mouth shut, a point that was undoubtedly made plain to him by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the immediate aftermath of the publication of this article. And, we might imagine, Gates put his objections to the article in the following terms: “Fox, just what in the hell do you think you were doing talking to Thomas Barrett?”

If that’s the question Gates posed, it was the right one. Given that Barnett is a well-known goofball, why exactly did Admiral Fallon collaborate with him? Selecting this particular journalist to write a puff-job about himself suggests that Fallon was not merely insubordinate but something of a goofball himself.

Why was Admiral William “Fox” Fallon forced into retirement? Mark Perry, a director of Conflicts Forum, offers his take in Asia Times. He points like others have to Thomas Barnett’s Esquire profile, which he says “has to rank as one of the most embarrassing portraits of an American officer in US military history. Both for Barnett, as well as for Fallon.”

One problem is Barnett’s style. Perry describes it as being in “pseudo Tombstone style — a kind of vague signaling that this is just-between-us tough guys talk – Barnett presents a military commander who is constantly on the go, trailing exhausted aides who never rest (oh, what a man he is!): Fallon doesn’t get angry (he gets ‘pissed off’); he doesn’t have a father (he has an ‘old man’); he doesn’t spend time (he does a ‘stint’); he doesn’t walk (he ‘sidles’); and he doesn’t talk, ‘he speaks in measured koans’.”

But it is not such lather alone that is the problem. Writes Perry,

[he's] boorish and, very often, it’s just plain wrong. Thus, Barnett: “If, in the dying light of the [George W] Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon.”

Well, actually, yes — and no. The decision to go to war will come down to one man, but his name won’t be Fox Fallon, it will be George W. Bush. More accurately, the constitution of the United States places foreign policy in the hands of the president as the commander-in-chief and the decision for declaring war is in the hands of the U.S. Congress. Fallon’s role in all of this, as I am sure he must know, is to obey orders and to keep his mouth shut, a point that was undoubtedly made plain to him by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the immediate aftermath of the publication of this article. And, we might imagine, Gates put his objections to the article in the following terms: “Fox, just what in the hell do you think you were doing talking to Thomas Barrett?”

If that’s the question Gates posed, it was the right one. Given that Barnett is a well-known goofball, why exactly did Admiral Fallon collaborate with him? Selecting this particular journalist to write a puff-job about himself suggests that Fallon was not merely insubordinate but something of a goofball himself.

Read Less

More About the Goofball

Yesterday I wrote about Thomas P. M. Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile of Admiral Willam Fallon, head of Centcom, who resigned following the article’s publication. I have long known that Barnett is a goofball, but it turns out that I didn’t know the half of it.

Back in 1989, when one East European Soviet satrapy after another was collapsing, Barnett, as I noted yesterday, wrote a fawning article about the “shrewd and farsighted” Nicolae Ceausescu who had just been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist-party congress” and whose “grip on power appears firm.” Two weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu were shot dead, and Barnett had egg — sunnyside up — on his face.

But what I did not know was that a few days after penning “Romanian Domino Stays Upright,” Barnett returned to the scene of the crime with another op-ed in the same newspaper, where he explained “Why Ceausescu Fell.” The beauty of this particular piece was that he failed to say a word about his previous analysis. Just a few weeks after telling readers about Ceausescu’s firm hold on power, here he was going on about the “people’s deep anger over their long history of oppression” and how Romanians became “ready to choose death over Ceausescu.”

This deft intellectual switcheroo evidently helped win Barnett an appointment at the Naval War College, “where he taught and served — in a senior advisory role — with military and civilian leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command, Special Operations Command, and Joint Forces Command.” The quotation comes from Barnett’s autobiographical statement, available on his website, a remarkable piece of self-inflation for someone whose accomplishments, like his analysis of the Romanian revolution, have arguably subtracted more than they’ve added to the sum total of human knowledge.

Another typical example. On his website, www.thomaspmbarnett.com, Barnett exhibits a consistent fascination with what he calls the “apartheid structure” of Israel. As a self-described “prolific blogger,” he has written numerous posts that are variations on the theme of Israel as “pariah state.”

One of them is an analysis of Israel’s laws of citizenship, which Barnett describes as “defined by blood or faith.” The “historical basis for Israel as a state,” he writes, “is to recollect that tribe that got spread all over the planet in centuries past, and it doesn’t get much more racial than that.”

But in the same post, Barnett then pulls a modified, limited Ceausescu:

Now, if I’m wrongly interpreting what it takes to be an Israeli citizen, somebody please correct me and much of this post’s logic will gladly dissolve, but it’s long been my impression that only Jews (defined by blood or faith) are eligible to become full citizens of the state of Israel.

If this proposition is false, and non-Jews can enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there,” continues Barnett,

then I withdraw this post entirely and confess my profound ignorance on this particular subject.

Of course, the readily ascertainable fact is that many Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and even Wiccans live in Israel and enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there.”

What can one say, except to ask why, when writing on a politically delicate subject, does this distinguished goofball disdain to do his research first instead of proudly parading his “profound ignorance”?

Michael Scheuer undoubtedly knows the answer to this question, and so, in his own way, does Eliot Spitzer. Obsessions and compulsions can get one into deep trouble, intellectual and otherwise.

Yesterday I wrote about Thomas P. M. Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile of Admiral Willam Fallon, head of Centcom, who resigned following the article’s publication. I have long known that Barnett is a goofball, but it turns out that I didn’t know the half of it.

Back in 1989, when one East European Soviet satrapy after another was collapsing, Barnett, as I noted yesterday, wrote a fawning article about the “shrewd and farsighted” Nicolae Ceausescu who had just been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist-party congress” and whose “grip on power appears firm.” Two weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu were shot dead, and Barnett had egg — sunnyside up — on his face.

But what I did not know was that a few days after penning “Romanian Domino Stays Upright,” Barnett returned to the scene of the crime with another op-ed in the same newspaper, where he explained “Why Ceausescu Fell.” The beauty of this particular piece was that he failed to say a word about his previous analysis. Just a few weeks after telling readers about Ceausescu’s firm hold on power, here he was going on about the “people’s deep anger over their long history of oppression” and how Romanians became “ready to choose death over Ceausescu.”

This deft intellectual switcheroo evidently helped win Barnett an appointment at the Naval War College, “where he taught and served — in a senior advisory role — with military and civilian leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command, Special Operations Command, and Joint Forces Command.” The quotation comes from Barnett’s autobiographical statement, available on his website, a remarkable piece of self-inflation for someone whose accomplishments, like his analysis of the Romanian revolution, have arguably subtracted more than they’ve added to the sum total of human knowledge.

Another typical example. On his website, www.thomaspmbarnett.com, Barnett exhibits a consistent fascination with what he calls the “apartheid structure” of Israel. As a self-described “prolific blogger,” he has written numerous posts that are variations on the theme of Israel as “pariah state.”

One of them is an analysis of Israel’s laws of citizenship, which Barnett describes as “defined by blood or faith.” The “historical basis for Israel as a state,” he writes, “is to recollect that tribe that got spread all over the planet in centuries past, and it doesn’t get much more racial than that.”

But in the same post, Barnett then pulls a modified, limited Ceausescu:

Now, if I’m wrongly interpreting what it takes to be an Israeli citizen, somebody please correct me and much of this post’s logic will gladly dissolve, but it’s long been my impression that only Jews (defined by blood or faith) are eligible to become full citizens of the state of Israel.

If this proposition is false, and non-Jews can enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there,” continues Barnett,

then I withdraw this post entirely and confess my profound ignorance on this particular subject.

Of course, the readily ascertainable fact is that many Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and even Wiccans live in Israel and enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there.”

What can one say, except to ask why, when writing on a politically delicate subject, does this distinguished goofball disdain to do his research first instead of proudly parading his “profound ignorance”?

Michael Scheuer undoubtedly knows the answer to this question, and so, in his own way, does Eliot Spitzer. Obsessions and compulsions can get one into deep trouble, intellectual and otherwise.

Read Less

Who is Thomas P. M. Barnett?

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.’” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.’” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

Read Less

Farewell, Fox Fallon

Today’s Los Angeles Times carries an article by me on the resignation of Admiral Fox Fallon from Central Command. In it I applaud his departure. Fallon was on the wrong side of so many issues–from opposing the surge in Iraq to making public statements that made it more difficult to maintain pressure on Iran. But his departure also raises a broader issue that I didn’t have room to address in the article: When is it appropriate for military commanders to break ranks with their civilian overseers?

This has been a hot issue for years. A decade ago, one of the most capable officers in the entire army, H.R. McMaster, published a best-selling book, Dereliction of Duty, which took the Joint Chiefs of Staff to task for not quitting in protest because President Johnson supposedly ignored their best military advice about the Vietnam War. More recently, a group of retired general officers came out against the Iraq War and against Donald Rumsfeld when he was still Secretary of Defense. Many in the military have suggested there should have been more protest and, if necessary, resignations among the senior ranks to protest the misguided decisions made by the Bush administration about the Iraq War.

There is little doubt that senior officers should have ample opportunity to engage in debate and dissent–in private. The President and secretary of defense should hear a wide variety of views before making a decision. But it’s another matter altogether when senior officers go public with their disagreements, especially when disagreeing with policy decisions that have already been made by their civilian superiors. That is an untenable situation, and–as with George McClellan, Douglas MacArthur, and now Fox Fallon–there is no choice but for such general officers to resign.

A further distinction should be made. Military officers are experts in how to wage war, not when to wage it. Their advice is most needed when it comes to tactics and operations, not for building grand strategy. Bush and Rumsfeld would have been well advised to pay closer attention in 2003 to the misgivings of generals such as Eric Shinseki, who warned that a larger force would be required in Iraq. And today the administration should certainly listen to Fallon or other officers about which military options, if any, are viable in the event of war with Iran.

But that’s a different matter from Fallon publicly carping that the U.S. should make nice with Iran and not threaten the mullahs with military action. Those decisions are above his pay grade, and while he should get a say in internal deliberations, his views should not necessarily be translated into policy.

Even when it comes to tactics and operations, generals shouldn’t necessarily carry the day. Fallon, after all, was wrong in opposing the surge. If the President had followed his advice we would not now be winning the war in Iraq. The trick, from the standpoint of a commander in chief, is to listen to a wide variety of views and not to defer automatically to the military hierarchy. Some officers will necessarily be unhappy with the final decisions if they run contrary to their own views. But once the President issues a directive, it is the job of the armed forces to salute and march out–not to mouth off to Esquire. If any officer can’t in good conscience carry out his orders, he has only one option left: to resign. And that’s just what Fallon did.

Democrats will try to make a scandal out of Fallon’s departure. But in fact it shows the system of civilian control of our armed forces working as intended. That is something any future President, Democrat or Republican, should be grateful for.

Today’s Los Angeles Times carries an article by me on the resignation of Admiral Fox Fallon from Central Command. In it I applaud his departure. Fallon was on the wrong side of so many issues–from opposing the surge in Iraq to making public statements that made it more difficult to maintain pressure on Iran. But his departure also raises a broader issue that I didn’t have room to address in the article: When is it appropriate for military commanders to break ranks with their civilian overseers?

This has been a hot issue for years. A decade ago, one of the most capable officers in the entire army, H.R. McMaster, published a best-selling book, Dereliction of Duty, which took the Joint Chiefs of Staff to task for not quitting in protest because President Johnson supposedly ignored their best military advice about the Vietnam War. More recently, a group of retired general officers came out against the Iraq War and against Donald Rumsfeld when he was still Secretary of Defense. Many in the military have suggested there should have been more protest and, if necessary, resignations among the senior ranks to protest the misguided decisions made by the Bush administration about the Iraq War.

There is little doubt that senior officers should have ample opportunity to engage in debate and dissent–in private. The President and secretary of defense should hear a wide variety of views before making a decision. But it’s another matter altogether when senior officers go public with their disagreements, especially when disagreeing with policy decisions that have already been made by their civilian superiors. That is an untenable situation, and–as with George McClellan, Douglas MacArthur, and now Fox Fallon–there is no choice but for such general officers to resign.

A further distinction should be made. Military officers are experts in how to wage war, not when to wage it. Their advice is most needed when it comes to tactics and operations, not for building grand strategy. Bush and Rumsfeld would have been well advised to pay closer attention in 2003 to the misgivings of generals such as Eric Shinseki, who warned that a larger force would be required in Iraq. And today the administration should certainly listen to Fallon or other officers about which military options, if any, are viable in the event of war with Iran.

But that’s a different matter from Fallon publicly carping that the U.S. should make nice with Iran and not threaten the mullahs with military action. Those decisions are above his pay grade, and while he should get a say in internal deliberations, his views should not necessarily be translated into policy.

Even when it comes to tactics and operations, generals shouldn’t necessarily carry the day. Fallon, after all, was wrong in opposing the surge. If the President had followed his advice we would not now be winning the war in Iraq. The trick, from the standpoint of a commander in chief, is to listen to a wide variety of views and not to defer automatically to the military hierarchy. Some officers will necessarily be unhappy with the final decisions if they run contrary to their own views. But once the President issues a directive, it is the job of the armed forces to salute and march out–not to mouth off to Esquire. If any officer can’t in good conscience carry out his orders, he has only one option left: to resign. And that’s just what Fallon did.

Democrats will try to make a scandal out of Fallon’s departure. But in fact it shows the system of civilian control of our armed forces working as intended. That is something any future President, Democrat or Republican, should be grateful for.

Read Less

McCain Gets Some Help

John McCain has begun vigorously engaging Barack Obama on the subject of Obama’s proposed immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. As reported by abcnews.com, he got a major assist yesterday from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who stated that:

[a] rapid of withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a “chaotic situation” and would “turnaround the gains we have achieved, and struggled to achieve, and turn them around overnight. Admiral Mullen’s comments came in a response to a question about what the Joint Chiefs are doing to prepare for a new president, given that two of the candidates have called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. “We need to be prepared across the board for what a new president will bring,” Mullen said. “I do worry about a rapid withdrawal. . . [that would] turn around the gains we have achieved and struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight.” Asked to define a “rapid withdrawal,” Mullen said, “a withdrawal that would be so fast that it would leave us in a chaotic situation and the gains we have achieved would be lost.” That said, Mullen added: “When a new president comes in, I will get my orders and I will carry them out.”

Obama would certainly like to talk in the general election about the initial decision to go to war, which has been a winning issue in his primary fight with Hillary Clinton. In light of polling which shows a lopsided majority of Americans believe that the war was a mistake or not worth the cost, this seems a smart tactic. McCain intends to cast this, in essence, as crying over spilt milk. As he put it “That’s history, that’s the past. . . . What we should be talking about is what we are going to do now.”

Indeed the “what do we do now” issue was much discussed in the last presidential election year. Back then, when Colin Powell subscribed to the “pottery barn” analogy (you break it, you pay for it), he was widely praised. Democrats had no problem when John Kerry said this in the 2004 presidential debate:

Yes, we have to be steadfast and resolved, and I am. And I will succeed for those troops, now that we’re there. We have to succeed. We can’t leave a failed Iraq. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Osama bin Laden. It was. Now, we can succeed.

For Obama and much of the Democratic base, that was then and this is now. Meanwhile, McCain hopes that the adage that “elections are about the future and not the past” holds true here.

John McCain has begun vigorously engaging Barack Obama on the subject of Obama’s proposed immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. As reported by abcnews.com, he got a major assist yesterday from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who stated that:

[a] rapid of withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a “chaotic situation” and would “turnaround the gains we have achieved, and struggled to achieve, and turn them around overnight. Admiral Mullen’s comments came in a response to a question about what the Joint Chiefs are doing to prepare for a new president, given that two of the candidates have called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. “We need to be prepared across the board for what a new president will bring,” Mullen said. “I do worry about a rapid withdrawal. . . [that would] turn around the gains we have achieved and struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight.” Asked to define a “rapid withdrawal,” Mullen said, “a withdrawal that would be so fast that it would leave us in a chaotic situation and the gains we have achieved would be lost.” That said, Mullen added: “When a new president comes in, I will get my orders and I will carry them out.”

Obama would certainly like to talk in the general election about the initial decision to go to war, which has been a winning issue in his primary fight with Hillary Clinton. In light of polling which shows a lopsided majority of Americans believe that the war was a mistake or not worth the cost, this seems a smart tactic. McCain intends to cast this, in essence, as crying over spilt milk. As he put it “That’s history, that’s the past. . . . What we should be talking about is what we are going to do now.”

Indeed the “what do we do now” issue was much discussed in the last presidential election year. Back then, when Colin Powell subscribed to the “pottery barn” analogy (you break it, you pay for it), he was widely praised. Democrats had no problem when John Kerry said this in the 2004 presidential debate:

Yes, we have to be steadfast and resolved, and I am. And I will succeed for those troops, now that we’re there. We have to succeed. We can’t leave a failed Iraq. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Osama bin Laden. It was. Now, we can succeed.

For Obama and much of the Democratic base, that was then and this is now. Meanwhile, McCain hopes that the adage that “elections are about the future and not the past” holds true here.

Read Less

Petraeus to NATO? A Bad Idea.

Would it have made sense to replace Eisenhower in early 1945 or Grant in early 1865? Only someone who thinks the answer to those questions is “yes” would be in favor of replacing David Petraeus as the senior commander in Iraq anytime soon. Yet, according to this New York Times article, there is serious consideration being given to sending him to NATO as Supreme Allied Commander later this year

I just got back from eleven days in Iraq and was greatly impressed by the turnaround wrought by U.S. forces in the past year. Streets that were once war zones are seeing a semblance of normality returning, yet much work remains to be done. The accomplishments of the past year are due of course to much hard work by American and Iraqi forces, but ordinary troops have been fighting hard for years without making much progress because they lacked good direction at the top.

In the past year we have finally found a winning team to direct the war effort: Petraeus as head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, responsible for setting the strategic direction, and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno as head of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, the headquarters responsible for the day to day fight. Odierno is about to leave Iraq along with his entire headquarters staff. That rotation puts in peril some of the recent progress. Moving out Petraeus not long after Odierno leaves would constitute an unacceptable risk.

That doesn’t mean that Petraeus needs to stay in Iraq forever. He’s already logged plenty of time in the war zone, and it would be understandable if he tires of the crushing burden of command. But it would be a waste of the insights that he has accumulated to send him to NATO, where he would be out of the Iraq fight. It would make more sense to send Petraeus to Central Command, replacing the unimpressive Admiral Fox Fallon, and thereby allowing Petraeus to stay involved in the command loop not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan as well. As for his replacement in Iraq, who better than Odierno, after he has a chance to rest and recharge his batteries stateside? That would keep the winning team together.

Would it have made sense to replace Eisenhower in early 1945 or Grant in early 1865? Only someone who thinks the answer to those questions is “yes” would be in favor of replacing David Petraeus as the senior commander in Iraq anytime soon. Yet, according to this New York Times article, there is serious consideration being given to sending him to NATO as Supreme Allied Commander later this year

I just got back from eleven days in Iraq and was greatly impressed by the turnaround wrought by U.S. forces in the past year. Streets that were once war zones are seeing a semblance of normality returning, yet much work remains to be done. The accomplishments of the past year are due of course to much hard work by American and Iraqi forces, but ordinary troops have been fighting hard for years without making much progress because they lacked good direction at the top.

In the past year we have finally found a winning team to direct the war effort: Petraeus as head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, responsible for setting the strategic direction, and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno as head of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, the headquarters responsible for the day to day fight. Odierno is about to leave Iraq along with his entire headquarters staff. That rotation puts in peril some of the recent progress. Moving out Petraeus not long after Odierno leaves would constitute an unacceptable risk.

That doesn’t mean that Petraeus needs to stay in Iraq forever. He’s already logged plenty of time in the war zone, and it would be understandable if he tires of the crushing burden of command. But it would be a waste of the insights that he has accumulated to send him to NATO, where he would be out of the Iraq fight. It would make more sense to send Petraeus to Central Command, replacing the unimpressive Admiral Fox Fallon, and thereby allowing Petraeus to stay involved in the command loop not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan as well. As for his replacement in Iraq, who better than Odierno, after he has a chance to rest and recharge his batteries stateside? That would keep the winning team together.

Read Less

Kitty Hawk Confrontation?

Alarming reports in the Navy Times and the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun state that the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk battle group was confronted by Chinese warships as it transited the Taiwan Strait after being turned away from Hong Kong in November. According to the Navy Times:

The carrier strike group encountered Chinese destroyer Shenzhen and a Song-class sub in the strait on Nov. 23, causing the group to halt and ready for battle, as the Chinese vessels also stopped amid the 28-hour confrontation.

The Yomiuri account gives more detail:

The Kitty Hawk observed the Chinese submarine, and after a U.S. antisubmarine patrol aircraft confirmed the Chinese submarine was keeping pace with the U.S. carrier by reducing speed and stopping, the U.S. vessel launched an aircraft to watch for possible hostile behavior by the Chinese Navy.

The ultimate source of both accounts is the China Times, a respectable Taipei newspaper. The more detailed Chinese language version, written by three reporters, quotes one unidentified authoritative source. and another source for the story, and speculates on the origins and significance of the encounter.

What are we to make of this? If the report is true then we have a very serious problem. Rather than becoming friendly in response to American friendliness, the Chinese are (mis)-reading us as weak and trying to frighten us. But we also have an explanation for the sudden four day trip to Beijing by Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, just completed. The meeting was reportedly amicable, but shed no new light at all on the mysterious closure of Hong Kong last year.

Afterwards, the Admiral had some uncharacteristically feisty words for the Chinese. “We don’t need China’s permission to go through the Taiwan Strait. It is international water. We will exercise our free right of passage whenever and wherever we choose.” If the story is completely false, we have to ask who falsified it and for what reason. The China Times takes a pro-Beijing editorial stance. How this story would help Beijing is difficult to see.

My own reading is this: the story probably has some basis. I say this because it fits into a worrying pattern of increasingly erratic and hostile Chinese behavior towards American forces in Asia. I don’t pretend to know what the origins of this pattern are. But it represents a clear shift and a worrying one–and instead of making nice, we should be paying attention.

Alarming reports in the Navy Times and the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun state that the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk battle group was confronted by Chinese warships as it transited the Taiwan Strait after being turned away from Hong Kong in November. According to the Navy Times:

The carrier strike group encountered Chinese destroyer Shenzhen and a Song-class sub in the strait on Nov. 23, causing the group to halt and ready for battle, as the Chinese vessels also stopped amid the 28-hour confrontation.

The Yomiuri account gives more detail:

The Kitty Hawk observed the Chinese submarine, and after a U.S. antisubmarine patrol aircraft confirmed the Chinese submarine was keeping pace with the U.S. carrier by reducing speed and stopping, the U.S. vessel launched an aircraft to watch for possible hostile behavior by the Chinese Navy.

The ultimate source of both accounts is the China Times, a respectable Taipei newspaper. The more detailed Chinese language version, written by three reporters, quotes one unidentified authoritative source. and another source for the story, and speculates on the origins and significance of the encounter.

What are we to make of this? If the report is true then we have a very serious problem. Rather than becoming friendly in response to American friendliness, the Chinese are (mis)-reading us as weak and trying to frighten us. But we also have an explanation for the sudden four day trip to Beijing by Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, just completed. The meeting was reportedly amicable, but shed no new light at all on the mysterious closure of Hong Kong last year.

Afterwards, the Admiral had some uncharacteristically feisty words for the Chinese. “We don’t need China’s permission to go through the Taiwan Strait. It is international water. We will exercise our free right of passage whenever and wherever we choose.” If the story is completely false, we have to ask who falsified it and for what reason. The China Times takes a pro-Beijing editorial stance. How this story would help Beijing is difficult to see.

My own reading is this: the story probably has some basis. I say this because it fits into a worrying pattern of increasingly erratic and hostile Chinese behavior towards American forces in Asia. I don’t pretend to know what the origins of this pattern are. But it represents a clear shift and a worrying one–and instead of making nice, we should be paying attention.

Read Less

It Was Not A Misunderstanding

Last Wednesday, a White House spokesman said that the Chinese foreign minister had told President Bush it was all a “misunderstanding.” But according to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, the Chinese are saying that their foreign minister “did not tell President Bush on Wednesday that blocking the Thanksgiving Day port visit to Hong Kong by aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was the result of a misunderstanding.”

The incident followed Beijing’s refusal, a few days earlier, to permit two American minesweeping ships permission to take refuge in Hong Kong harbor from a storm.

Whether these incident were misunderstandings or not, the most disconcerting aspect of this affair is not Chinese behavior, which is becoming predictable in its unpredictability, but our government’s puzzled response.

“I’m aware of no hiccups at all in our efforts to increase military-to-military cooperation, exchanges with the Chinese,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. “I think that’s why this incident is so baffling to us, because there was no indication at all prior to the Kitty Hawk being refused entry to the port of Hong Kong that there was any reason or any cause for concern.”

Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, says the Kitty Hawk incident “is not, in our view, conduct that is indicative of a country that understands its obligations as a responsible nation.” True enough.

But why did Admiral Keating have to go on to say that the incidents are “perplexing”?

Why did he have to say “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to work our way around some of these aggravations”?

Why did he have to say (in remarks summarized in the Thai press) that “he does not want to reduce military cooperation with China, but rather to increase dialogue and joint training in order to avoid misunderstandings”?

Even if these “aggravations” truly are “perplexing,” should the stance of the U.S. government be that of a disappointed supplicant expressing bafflement? Or at the very least should we be saying forcefully that China appears increasingly to be playing by different rules than we are, and it’s time to pay attention?

Last Wednesday, a White House spokesman said that the Chinese foreign minister had told President Bush it was all a “misunderstanding.” But according to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, the Chinese are saying that their foreign minister “did not tell President Bush on Wednesday that blocking the Thanksgiving Day port visit to Hong Kong by aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was the result of a misunderstanding.”

The incident followed Beijing’s refusal, a few days earlier, to permit two American minesweeping ships permission to take refuge in Hong Kong harbor from a storm.

Whether these incident were misunderstandings or not, the most disconcerting aspect of this affair is not Chinese behavior, which is becoming predictable in its unpredictability, but our government’s puzzled response.

“I’m aware of no hiccups at all in our efforts to increase military-to-military cooperation, exchanges with the Chinese,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. “I think that’s why this incident is so baffling to us, because there was no indication at all prior to the Kitty Hawk being refused entry to the port of Hong Kong that there was any reason or any cause for concern.”

Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, says the Kitty Hawk incident “is not, in our view, conduct that is indicative of a country that understands its obligations as a responsible nation.” True enough.

But why did Admiral Keating have to go on to say that the incidents are “perplexing”?

Why did he have to say “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to work our way around some of these aggravations”?

Why did he have to say (in remarks summarized in the Thai press) that “he does not want to reduce military cooperation with China, but rather to increase dialogue and joint training in order to avoid misunderstandings”?

Even if these “aggravations” truly are “perplexing,” should the stance of the U.S. government be that of a disappointed supplicant expressing bafflement? Or at the very least should we be saying forcefully that China appears increasingly to be playing by different rules than we are, and it’s time to pay attention?

Read Less

Mixed Message on Iran

I recently spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of American policy wonks and former government officials organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the big subjects of our discussions with Emiratis and Saudis, both in government and out of it, was the looming threat from Iran, which is felt keenly by its Sunni neighbors.

All agreed that Iran is a major menace. There was disagreement about whether military action is warranted; many said they dreaded the prospect of another war, but many others (including senior government officials) said that a prophylactic air strike was better than the alternative—a nuclear Iran dominating the region.

Whatever you think about the desirability of a preemptive strike, one thing is clear: it would be the height of foolishness for the United States to take that option off the table. Only if the mullahs think they face a serious military threat are they likely to slow down their quest for the bomb.

Thus it was puzzling to see Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, telling the Financial Times that, as the headline had it, “U.S. strike on Iran ‘not being prepared.’” The content of the article was a bit more complex: while Fallon was quoted as saying that a strike is not “in the offing,” he continued, “That said, we have to make sure there is no mistake on the part of the Iranians about our resolve in tending to business in the region.”

The Iranians can be forgiven for having grave doubts about U.S. resolve, however, when the senior U.S. military figure in the region is going out of his way to assure them that their threatening actions will not result in American military action.

I recently spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of American policy wonks and former government officials organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the big subjects of our discussions with Emiratis and Saudis, both in government and out of it, was the looming threat from Iran, which is felt keenly by its Sunni neighbors.

All agreed that Iran is a major menace. There was disagreement about whether military action is warranted; many said they dreaded the prospect of another war, but many others (including senior government officials) said that a prophylactic air strike was better than the alternative—a nuclear Iran dominating the region.

Whatever you think about the desirability of a preemptive strike, one thing is clear: it would be the height of foolishness for the United States to take that option off the table. Only if the mullahs think they face a serious military threat are they likely to slow down their quest for the bomb.

Thus it was puzzling to see Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, telling the Financial Times that, as the headline had it, “U.S. strike on Iran ‘not being prepared.’” The content of the article was a bit more complex: while Fallon was quoted as saying that a strike is not “in the offing,” he continued, “That said, we have to make sure there is no mistake on the part of the Iranians about our resolve in tending to business in the region.”

The Iranians can be forgiven for having grave doubts about U.S. resolve, however, when the senior U.S. military figure in the region is going out of his way to assure them that their threatening actions will not result in American military action.

Read Less

Acknowledging Advisers

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

Read Less

More on Mercenaries

Since I have been defending, in recent days, the general idea of using mercenaries—even while calling for greater oversight of what they are actually doing in Iraq—I have often heard from skeptics that it is somehow “un-American” to rely on hired hands to do your fighting. Often cited is the fact that Americans have long hated the Hessians (actually, they came from all over Germany, not just from Hesse-Kassel) hired by the British to fight the American rebellion that began in 1776.

Well, of course, any nation will hate foreign troops who fight particularly hard and even viciously, as the “Hessians” did. But that’s hardly an argument against employing them. Quite the contrary. In fact, the U.S. has a long tradition of celebrated mercenaries. Here is a partial list:

• The privateers who harassed British shipping during both the War of Independence and the War of 1812.

• John Paul Jones, who, after the American Revolution, was an admiral in the Russian navy.

• The Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, two of the most celebrated foreigners who helped the Continental Army fight for independence.

• The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided intelligence for the Union, and personal protection for President Lincoln, during the Civil War.

• Various Native American allies, who provided invaluable help in battles ranging from Jamestown to Wounded Knee.

• The Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of the French air force composed of Americans in World War I.

• Douglas MacArthur, who in the 1930′s, after stepping down as Army chief of staff, became a field marshal in the Philippines armed forces.

• The Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots led by Claire Chennault, who flew on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek in World War II.

• The Eagle Squadron, a unit of the Royal Air Force composed of American pilots in World War II.

• The Montagnards, the tribesmen who were recruited and organized into an armed force by the CIA and Army Special Forces to fight the Communists during the Vietnam War.

Mercenaries all, and yet they are all heroes of American history. Why is it impossible to imagine that mercenaries today could be equally useful, and sometimes even heroic?

 

Since I have been defending, in recent days, the general idea of using mercenaries—even while calling for greater oversight of what they are actually doing in Iraq—I have often heard from skeptics that it is somehow “un-American” to rely on hired hands to do your fighting. Often cited is the fact that Americans have long hated the Hessians (actually, they came from all over Germany, not just from Hesse-Kassel) hired by the British to fight the American rebellion that began in 1776.

Well, of course, any nation will hate foreign troops who fight particularly hard and even viciously, as the “Hessians” did. But that’s hardly an argument against employing them. Quite the contrary. In fact, the U.S. has a long tradition of celebrated mercenaries. Here is a partial list:

• The privateers who harassed British shipping during both the War of Independence and the War of 1812.

• John Paul Jones, who, after the American Revolution, was an admiral in the Russian navy.

• The Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, two of the most celebrated foreigners who helped the Continental Army fight for independence.

• The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided intelligence for the Union, and personal protection for President Lincoln, during the Civil War.

• Various Native American allies, who provided invaluable help in battles ranging from Jamestown to Wounded Knee.

• The Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of the French air force composed of Americans in World War I.

• Douglas MacArthur, who in the 1930′s, after stepping down as Army chief of staff, became a field marshal in the Philippines armed forces.

• The Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots led by Claire Chennault, who flew on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek in World War II.

• The Eagle Squadron, a unit of the Royal Air Force composed of American pilots in World War II.

• The Montagnards, the tribesmen who were recruited and organized into an armed force by the CIA and Army Special Forces to fight the Communists during the Vietnam War.

Mercenaries all, and yet they are all heroes of American history. Why is it impossible to imagine that mercenaries today could be equally useful, and sometimes even heroic?

 

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.