Commentary Magazine


Topic: Max Boot

Interview with Max Boot

On Tuesday afternoon, Max Boot sat down with contentions to discuss his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, the controversial National Intelligence Estimate, and the progress being made in Iraq. Included is a brief tour of the Harold Pratt House, occupied by the Council on Foreign Relations.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-3ZJ6rkTi8[/youtube]

On Tuesday afternoon, Max Boot sat down with contentions to discuss his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, the controversial National Intelligence Estimate, and the progress being made in Iraq. Included is a brief tour of the Harold Pratt House, occupied by the Council on Foreign Relations.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-3ZJ6rkTi8[/youtube]

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Is the NIE Part of a Plot to Undermine President Bush?

Writing about the new National Intelligence Estimate reporting that Iran’s nuclear program came to a halt in 2003, Norman Podhoretz entertains “dark suspicions” that the intelligence community, “which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.”

The purpose, he speculates

is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations. As the intelligence community must know, if he were to do so, it would be as a last resort, only after it had become undeniable that neither negotiations nor sanctions could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and only after being convinced that it was very close to succeeding.

Mimicking the language of the NIE itself, Podhoretz concludes by noting that he offers “these assessments and judgments with no more than ‘moderate confidence.’”

Could Podhoretz be right?

He is certainly right that a long series of leaks have emanated from the intelligence community, many of them clearly designed to undermine or embarrass the Bush administration. Some of these leaks appear to have come from ranking officials.

Could the same thing be true of an NIE? An NIE is the intelligence community’s “most
authoritative written judgments on national security issues.” Here is the official explanation of how these are produced:

NIEs are typically requested by senior civilian and military policymakers, Congressional leaders and at times are initiated by the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Before a NIE is drafted, the relevant NIO [National Intelligence Officer] is responsible for producing a concept paper or terms of reference (TOR) and circulates it throughout the Intelligence Community for comment. The TOR defines the key estimative questions, determines drafting responsibilities, and sets the drafting and publication schedule. One or more IC analysts are usually assigned to produce the initial text. The NIC then meets to critique the draft before it is circulated to the broader IC. Representatives from the relevant IC agencies meet to hone and coordinate line-by-line the full text of the NIE. Working with their Agencies, reps also assign the level of confidence they have in each key judgment. IC reps discuss the quality of sources with collectors, and the National Clandestine Service vets the sources used to ensure the draft does not include any that have been recalled or otherwise seriously questioned. All NIEs are reviewed by National Intelligence Board, which is chaired by the DNI and is composed of the heads of relevant IC agencies. Once approved by the NIB, NIEs are briefed to the President and senior policymakers. The whole process of producing NIEs normally takes at least several months.

As we know all too well, NIEs have been strikingly wrong in the past; the “slam-dunk” assessment issued on the eve of the second Gulf war that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was built on a remarkably thin body of evidence, much of which turned out be false. The 2005 assessment warning of Iran’s active nuclear program, the intelligence community is now telling us, was also wrong.

But being mistaken, even disastrously mistaken, is one thing: producing an NIE with the naked purpose of undermining a President and foreclosing a policy option is another. Could this happen? It seems highly unlikely if for no other reason then that sixteen different government agencies are involved in the production of such documents, and the classified evidence on which NIEs are based is available for inspection and debate by senior policymakers.

There are significant ambiguities in this NIE, and as Max Boot rightly points out, it still leaves ample reason to worry about Iranian nuclear ambitions. But in the current climate of skepticism about the competence of the CIA and other intelligence bodies, the idea that intelligence officials engaged in a coordinated effort to cook the evidence seems impossible to credit. Even if there was a shared desire among all sixteen agencies to do such a thing (which seems implausible on its face) pulling off such a caper would be a hugely difficult task, and almost certainly beyond the capacity even of America’s most ingenious spies — assuming we even have any ingenious spies.

Although I remain as worried as Norman Podhoretz about the dangers posed by an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and though there is ample reason to wonder about the quality of U.S. intelligence, I would still have to put “low confidence” in his dark suspicions.

Writing about the new National Intelligence Estimate reporting that Iran’s nuclear program came to a halt in 2003, Norman Podhoretz entertains “dark suspicions” that the intelligence community, “which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.”

The purpose, he speculates

is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations. As the intelligence community must know, if he were to do so, it would be as a last resort, only after it had become undeniable that neither negotiations nor sanctions could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and only after being convinced that it was very close to succeeding.

Mimicking the language of the NIE itself, Podhoretz concludes by noting that he offers “these assessments and judgments with no more than ‘moderate confidence.’”

Could Podhoretz be right?

He is certainly right that a long series of leaks have emanated from the intelligence community, many of them clearly designed to undermine or embarrass the Bush administration. Some of these leaks appear to have come from ranking officials.

Could the same thing be true of an NIE? An NIE is the intelligence community’s “most
authoritative written judgments on national security issues.” Here is the official explanation of how these are produced:

NIEs are typically requested by senior civilian and military policymakers, Congressional leaders and at times are initiated by the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Before a NIE is drafted, the relevant NIO [National Intelligence Officer] is responsible for producing a concept paper or terms of reference (TOR) and circulates it throughout the Intelligence Community for comment. The TOR defines the key estimative questions, determines drafting responsibilities, and sets the drafting and publication schedule. One or more IC analysts are usually assigned to produce the initial text. The NIC then meets to critique the draft before it is circulated to the broader IC. Representatives from the relevant IC agencies meet to hone and coordinate line-by-line the full text of the NIE. Working with their Agencies, reps also assign the level of confidence they have in each key judgment. IC reps discuss the quality of sources with collectors, and the National Clandestine Service vets the sources used to ensure the draft does not include any that have been recalled or otherwise seriously questioned. All NIEs are reviewed by National Intelligence Board, which is chaired by the DNI and is composed of the heads of relevant IC agencies. Once approved by the NIB, NIEs are briefed to the President and senior policymakers. The whole process of producing NIEs normally takes at least several months.

As we know all too well, NIEs have been strikingly wrong in the past; the “slam-dunk” assessment issued on the eve of the second Gulf war that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was built on a remarkably thin body of evidence, much of which turned out be false. The 2005 assessment warning of Iran’s active nuclear program, the intelligence community is now telling us, was also wrong.

But being mistaken, even disastrously mistaken, is one thing: producing an NIE with the naked purpose of undermining a President and foreclosing a policy option is another. Could this happen? It seems highly unlikely if for no other reason then that sixteen different government agencies are involved in the production of such documents, and the classified evidence on which NIEs are based is available for inspection and debate by senior policymakers.

There are significant ambiguities in this NIE, and as Max Boot rightly points out, it still leaves ample reason to worry about Iranian nuclear ambitions. But in the current climate of skepticism about the competence of the CIA and other intelligence bodies, the idea that intelligence officials engaged in a coordinated effort to cook the evidence seems impossible to credit. Even if there was a shared desire among all sixteen agencies to do such a thing (which seems implausible on its face) pulling off such a caper would be a hugely difficult task, and almost certainly beyond the capacity even of America’s most ingenious spies — assuming we even have any ingenious spies.

Although I remain as worried as Norman Podhoretz about the dangers posed by an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and though there is ample reason to wonder about the quality of U.S. intelligence, I would still have to put “low confidence” in his dark suspicions.

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The Anti-Immigration-Isolationism Connection

Mark Krikorian, the leading theorist of immigration restriction in America, offers a surprising, but honest, implicit ackowledgement of how much his own vision of a walled-off America primarily under threat from border-crossing immigrants comports with the isolationist foreign policy of George McGovern in the headline of this item attacking our own Max Boot on National Review’s The Corner.

“Come Home, America,” is Krikorian’s headline.

“Come Home, America” was McGovern’s campaign slogan in 1972.

Mark Krikorian, the leading theorist of immigration restriction in America, offers a surprising, but honest, implicit ackowledgement of how much his own vision of a walled-off America primarily under threat from border-crossing immigrants comports with the isolationist foreign policy of George McGovern in the headline of this item attacking our own Max Boot on National Review’s The Corner.

“Come Home, America,” is Krikorian’s headline.

“Come Home, America” was McGovern’s campaign slogan in 1972.

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The Truth Will Out

We can now declare it official: the general perception of the Iraq war is changing, including among the mainstream media.

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an editorial that began:

The evidence is now overwhelming that the “surge” of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there has been an enormous improvement since January. U.S. commanders report that al Qaeda has been cleared from large areas it once controlled and that its remaining forces in Iraq are reeling. Markets in Baghdad are reopening, and the curfew is being eased; the huge refugee flow out of the country has begun to reverse itself. Credit for these achievements belongs in large part to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, who took on a tremendously challenging new counterterrorism strategy and made it work; to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of that strategy; and to President Bush, for making the decision to launch the surge against the advice of most of Congress and the country’s foreign policy elite.

On the front page of today’s New York Times, we read this:

The American military said Sunday that the weekly number of attacks in Iraq had fallen to the lowest level since just before the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, an event commonly used as a benchmark for the country’s worst spasm of bloodletting after the American invasion nearly five years ago. Data released at a news conference in Baghdad showed that attacks had declined to the lowest level since January 2006. It is the third week in a row that attacks have been at this reduced level. The statistics on attack trends have long been a standard measure that the American military has used to assess violence in Iraq. Because the data have been gathered for years and are deemed generally reliable they allow analysts to identify trends…. “These trends are stunning in military terms and beyond the predictions of most proponents of the surge last winter,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, referring to President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. “Nobody knows if the trends are durable in the absence of national reconciliation and in the face of major U.S. troop drawdowns in 2008.”

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We can now declare it official: the general perception of the Iraq war is changing, including among the mainstream media.

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an editorial that began:

The evidence is now overwhelming that the “surge” of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there has been an enormous improvement since January. U.S. commanders report that al Qaeda has been cleared from large areas it once controlled and that its remaining forces in Iraq are reeling. Markets in Baghdad are reopening, and the curfew is being eased; the huge refugee flow out of the country has begun to reverse itself. Credit for these achievements belongs in large part to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, who took on a tremendously challenging new counterterrorism strategy and made it work; to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of that strategy; and to President Bush, for making the decision to launch the surge against the advice of most of Congress and the country’s foreign policy elite.

On the front page of today’s New York Times, we read this:

The American military said Sunday that the weekly number of attacks in Iraq had fallen to the lowest level since just before the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, an event commonly used as a benchmark for the country’s worst spasm of bloodletting after the American invasion nearly five years ago. Data released at a news conference in Baghdad showed that attacks had declined to the lowest level since January 2006. It is the third week in a row that attacks have been at this reduced level. The statistics on attack trends have long been a standard measure that the American military has used to assess violence in Iraq. Because the data have been gathered for years and are deemed generally reliable they allow analysts to identify trends…. “These trends are stunning in military terms and beyond the predictions of most proponents of the surge last winter,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, referring to President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. “Nobody knows if the trends are durable in the absence of national reconciliation and in the face of major U.S. troop drawdowns in 2008.”

And Newsweek’s foreign correspondent Rod Nordland reports:

For someone who has returned periodically to Baghdad during these past four and a half years of war, there has been one constant: it only gets worse. The faces change, the units rotate, the victims vary, but it has always gotten worse…. For the first time, however, returning to Baghdad after an absence of four months, I can actually say that things do seem to have gotten better, and in ways that may even be durable…. Al Qaeda in Iraq is starting to look like a spent force, especially in Baghdad. The civil war is in the midst of a huge, though nervous, pause. Most Shiite militias are honoring a truce. Iran appears to have stopped shipping deadly arms to Iraqi militants. The indigenous Sunni insurgency has declared for the Americans across broad swaths of the country, especially in the capital. Emerging from our bunkers into the Red Zone, I see the results everywhere.

Each of these stories has important caveats: it’s far too early to celebrate, things can still get worse, Iraq is still a violent and fragile society, and the political opportunity created by the surge has yet to be taken advantage of by Iraq’s central government as eventually it must be if the country is to become stable. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that the military success in Iraq has the dimensions of a sea-change, and that, in turn, is having positive, radiating effects, as Max Boot noted earlier today.

What lessons can we draw from what we have seen during this remarkable year?

First, the changes in our military strategy clearly were necessary and should have come sooner. Second, President Bush deserves credit for having endorsed the surge in the face of ferocious opposition from Democrats and deep skepticism from Republicans. The President was almost alone in taking his stand—one now vindicated by events. Third, those who months ago declared that the surge was a failure and that Iraq was irredeemably lost were wrong and in some cases reckless in what they said. Fourth, change—sometimes for good and sometimes for ill—can happen faster than we think. Fifth, what we are seeing unfold in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus and his team, may well rank as among the most extraordinary military turnabouts in our history. The U.S. military, given the right strategy, is performing tasks that were thought to be nearly impossible. And sixth, the MSM, which has been skeptical (for some good reasons) about reporting good news from Iraq, is now doing just that, and it deserves credit for doing so.

It will be interesting to see if public opinion shifts in light of these developments. My sense is that the country remains deeply weary of the war, which will never be popular, and that there will be a considerable lag time before public opinion shifts in any significant way, if at all. But if progress continues the public will probably, with reservations, stick with the war until we achieve a decent outcome.

The other effect of the progress in Iraq is that it may not be nearly as potent a political weapon for Democrats as they thought six months ago. The facts on the ground have changed dramatically—and so may the politics of the war. Leading Democrats massively have mishandled their approach to this conflict. Almost every week, it seems, they position themselves as champions of a premature withdrawal, despite the awful geopolitical and human cost that would follow in its wake. These Democrats speak as if the events of the last year never happened. But blessedly they have—and more and more people realize they have. Even in Iraq, the truth will out.

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Max Boot in the Times

contentions contributor Max Boot has an excellent piece in today’s New York Times, applauding the State Department’s decision to send—will they or nill they—50 foreign service officers to Iraq. But Boot thinks more is required: a strategic reconfiguration of State to achieve greater regional and situational specialization and put more boots on the ground globally, the creation of a civilian reserve corps to help buttress humanitarian interventions, and the creation of what he calls a “federal constabulary force” to aid international policing efforts. (He also heartily seconds Lt. Col. John Nagl’s proposal to create an advisory corps within the military, an idea he’s written about enthusiastically on contentions.)

contentions contributor Max Boot has an excellent piece in today’s New York Times, applauding the State Department’s decision to send—will they or nill they—50 foreign service officers to Iraq. But Boot thinks more is required: a strategic reconfiguration of State to achieve greater regional and situational specialization and put more boots on the ground globally, the creation of a civilian reserve corps to help buttress humanitarian interventions, and the creation of what he calls a “federal constabulary force” to aid international policing efforts. (He also heartily seconds Lt. Col. John Nagl’s proposal to create an advisory corps within the military, an idea he’s written about enthusiastically on contentions.)

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Europe’s Choice

Despite European worries about an imminent U.S. attack on Iran—issuing largely from people who fear the U.S. more than nuclearized mullahs—a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is, according to CentCom head William Fallon, not in the offing. (Max Boot’s criticism of Fallon can be found here). Nonetheless, the pressure is mounting from the U.S. on Europe to put its money where its mouth is: One cannot be against a military solution and also oppose more sanctions, as the EU generally does. That position, in practice, supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And Europe has held that position for some time, culminating in the decision, a month ago, by the EU-27 foreign ministers, not to endorse France’s proposal—pushed by its FM, Bernard Kouchner—to adopt broader EU sanctions against Iran. Opposition largely came from countries such as Austria, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, which all have thriving commercial relations with Iran.

Since then, there’s been a slight change for the better. Pressure from the U.S. (along with a change of mood in some European capitals) has been brought to bear on European companies. Thanks to Berlin’s recent decision to endorse a tougher approach, Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner and Kommerz banks, and Siemens have pulled out of any new business dealings in Iran. So far, so good, but it’s not enough. It would behoove those Europeans most worried about military strikes against Iran to show more courage and willingness to sacrifice a contract or two for the sake of peace. If, as Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi recently said, a military solution is to be opposed because it would further “destabilize the region,” then Prodi, as the prime minister of Iran’s first trading partner, might wish to instruct his foreign minister to endorse France’s view: support broader sanctions—the only alternative to war.

Despite European worries about an imminent U.S. attack on Iran—issuing largely from people who fear the U.S. more than nuclearized mullahs—a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is, according to CentCom head William Fallon, not in the offing. (Max Boot’s criticism of Fallon can be found here). Nonetheless, the pressure is mounting from the U.S. on Europe to put its money where its mouth is: One cannot be against a military solution and also oppose more sanctions, as the EU generally does. That position, in practice, supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And Europe has held that position for some time, culminating in the decision, a month ago, by the EU-27 foreign ministers, not to endorse France’s proposal—pushed by its FM, Bernard Kouchner—to adopt broader EU sanctions against Iran. Opposition largely came from countries such as Austria, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, which all have thriving commercial relations with Iran.

Since then, there’s been a slight change for the better. Pressure from the U.S. (along with a change of mood in some European capitals) has been brought to bear on European companies. Thanks to Berlin’s recent decision to endorse a tougher approach, Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner and Kommerz banks, and Siemens have pulled out of any new business dealings in Iran. So far, so good, but it’s not enough. It would behoove those Europeans most worried about military strikes against Iran to show more courage and willingness to sacrifice a contract or two for the sake of peace. If, as Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi recently said, a military solution is to be opposed because it would further “destabilize the region,” then Prodi, as the prime minister of Iran’s first trading partner, might wish to instruct his foreign minister to endorse France’s view: support broader sanctions—the only alternative to war.

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Musharraf and the Tragedy of American Policy

In what is being described as “a second coup,” Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf threw his country into more turmoil on Saturday. He suspended the constitution, imposed a state of emergency, called out the army, and rounded up hundreds of opponents. As the Washington Post noted, the general has decided to shoot his way out of an eight-month crisis surrounding his increasingly unpopular rule. “I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,” the former commando said. In reality, what he could not allow is the judiciary to invalidate last month’s election in which he won another term as president. That’s why Musharraf, among his other acts, rounded up lawyers and purged the Supreme Court.

In response, Washington cranked up the word machine. There were the perfunctory calls for a return to democracy from our Secretary of State, but the most telling comment came from Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. “Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror,” he said. Of course. Condoleezza Rice threatened to cut aid to Islamabad, but she also noted that “some of the assistance that has been going to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission.” To make a long story short, Musharraf, when he hears such ambiguous statements from the American capital, evidently believes he can do what he wants. Washington, he knows, is terrified by instability in his country.

It is, however, the general who is causing instability in Pakistan, and his efforts to fight Islamic fanatics are less than impressive. Yet American policymakers seem to think there is no alternative to him. “The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf,” said Condoleezza Rice yesterday. This, however, is news to the world. For decades, Washington has been held hostage to the series of miscreants who have misruled Pakistan. To support them, successive administrations in the America capital always opted for short-term compromises. Those compromises were always intended to solve the problem of the day, but unfortunately they have, over the long term, made the situation in that country worse.

People complain about the predominance of idealism in American foreign policy. Yet the events now unfolding in Islamabad once again show the failure of realism. It’s evident that cynical bargains meant to protect America are producing a disaster—possibly of historic proportions. The tragedy of our policy is that policymakers have been afraid that true democracy in Pakistan would result in the election of Islamic militants. Yet from all we know, free elections would produce moderate leaders. Max Boot wrote about this in July, and the New York Times does so today.

In what is being described as “a second coup,” Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf threw his country into more turmoil on Saturday. He suspended the constitution, imposed a state of emergency, called out the army, and rounded up hundreds of opponents. As the Washington Post noted, the general has decided to shoot his way out of an eight-month crisis surrounding his increasingly unpopular rule. “I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,” the former commando said. In reality, what he could not allow is the judiciary to invalidate last month’s election in which he won another term as president. That’s why Musharraf, among his other acts, rounded up lawyers and purged the Supreme Court.

In response, Washington cranked up the word machine. There were the perfunctory calls for a return to democracy from our Secretary of State, but the most telling comment came from Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. “Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror,” he said. Of course. Condoleezza Rice threatened to cut aid to Islamabad, but she also noted that “some of the assistance that has been going to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission.” To make a long story short, Musharraf, when he hears such ambiguous statements from the American capital, evidently believes he can do what he wants. Washington, he knows, is terrified by instability in his country.

It is, however, the general who is causing instability in Pakistan, and his efforts to fight Islamic fanatics are less than impressive. Yet American policymakers seem to think there is no alternative to him. “The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf,” said Condoleezza Rice yesterday. This, however, is news to the world. For decades, Washington has been held hostage to the series of miscreants who have misruled Pakistan. To support them, successive administrations in the America capital always opted for short-term compromises. Those compromises were always intended to solve the problem of the day, but unfortunately they have, over the long term, made the situation in that country worse.

People complain about the predominance of idealism in American foreign policy. Yet the events now unfolding in Islamabad once again show the failure of realism. It’s evident that cynical bargains meant to protect America are producing a disaster—possibly of historic proportions. The tragedy of our policy is that policymakers have been afraid that true democracy in Pakistan would result in the election of Islamic militants. Yet from all we know, free elections would produce moderate leaders. Max Boot wrote about this in July, and the New York Times does so today.

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Is Max Boot Wrong, or Very Wrong?

Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

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Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

One such grope is Max’s reference to a Financial Times story about a 2005 attack against the London offices of the Japanese bank, Sumitomo. That episode lends support to my view and casts skepticism on Max’s skepticism about my skepticism. A key phrase in Max’s telling of that story is that the thieves “almost managed” to carry out their plot. A somewhat different way of describing that same outcome is that they didn’t manage to carry it out.

How did Scotland Yard get wise to the cyber-thieves? They were uncovered when bells and whistles sounded after they tried to transfer funds electronically to an account in Israel. In other words, Sumitomo’s cyber-security kicked in. Perhaps Sumitomo subscribes to McAfee’s “Total Protection, 12-in-1″ anti-virus and firewall software available for only $59.95 a year. Perhaps they paid much more to some smart programmers to build far fancier and more effective programs to guard against intrusion and theft. Whatever they have in place, the Pentagon needs to buy a version of it as well, and make sure that that it is kept regularly updated. It worked for Sumitomo.

Yes, there are manifold dangers in the cyber-realm. One problem flows from the fact that approximately half of the U.S. population is of below average intelligence. This helps to explain why some 1.78 million Americans have fallen victim to fake emails encouraging them to disclose personal banking information. The ensuing losses total more than $1 billion to date. But bankers and the programmers they hire are decidely not of below average intelligence. That is a major reason why electronic robberies of corporate coffers remain exceedingly rare.

This is not to say that the Pentagon should not be on guard. It should certainly be wary of purchasing software applications written by starving North Korean programmers toiling in front of Soviet-era workstations with Kalashnikovs pointed at their heads. And it also should be on guard against denial-of-service attacks of the kind Russia launched against Estonia earlier this year. But when Max cites that episode and concludes that “the U.S. is just as vulnerable to such an attack,” for the first time since I met Max a decade ago, I suddenly began to doubt his command of Estonian.

Silicon Valley is located in California not in Tallinn. Microsoft is located in Seattle not in Tartu. The GDP of Estonia last year was $26.8 billion. The market value of Lehman Brothers last year—one Fortune 500 corporation alone—was $38 billion. Is the mighty U.S. truly just as vulnerable to cyber-attack as mouse-sized Estonia? The U.S. may face dangers in the realm of malicious software and from hacking, but we also clearly face dangers from those who would exaggerate those dangers.

Max Boot is a good friend but I am afraid that there are only two ways that this bitter dispute can be settled. The first is that he and I face off in a duel. The second is that just before sundown on Sunday he should admit that he has been doing some groping in the dark. I will simultaneously make the same admission.

Before either of us reaches any firm conclusions about the Pentagon’s software problems, it would behoove us both to hear from computer experts in the financial industry—not just from those who are captives of our military-industrial-computer complex—about our real vulnerabilities and about the most cost-efficient way to address them.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #4: The Danish Affair

An entry here entitled Michael Scheuer: Innocent Until Proven Guilty seems to have rattled the former CIA official’s cage. He has posted three separate comments in reply.

Herewith some comments about his comments.

In his 2004 book, Imperial Hubris, Scheuer made a point of stressing how vital it was for CIA analysts like himself always to “check the checkables”—a phrase he used incessantly in that volume. In writing about Imperial Hubris in COMMENTARY, I noted then that he himself had a very hard time with the checkables, not least in the realm of spelling. L. Paul Bremer III was rendered in the book as Paul Bremmer, General Curtis LeMay as General Lemay, the foreign-policy analysts Edward Luttwak and Adam Garfinkle as Lutwack and Garfinckle, etc.

In his comments posted here on Connecting the Dots, Scheuer still has trouble with the same class of checkables. And, along with misspellings, he does some far more noteworthy things.

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An entry here entitled Michael Scheuer: Innocent Until Proven Guilty seems to have rattled the former CIA official’s cage. He has posted three separate comments in reply.

Herewith some comments about his comments.

In his 2004 book, Imperial Hubris, Scheuer made a point of stressing how vital it was for CIA analysts like himself always to “check the checkables”—a phrase he used incessantly in that volume. In writing about Imperial Hubris in COMMENTARY, I noted then that he himself had a very hard time with the checkables, not least in the realm of spelling. L. Paul Bremer III was rendered in the book as Paul Bremmer, General Curtis LeMay as General Lemay, the foreign-policy analysts Edward Luttwak and Adam Garfinkle as Lutwack and Garfinckle, etc.

In his comments posted here on Connecting the Dots, Scheuer still has trouble with the same class of checkables. And, along with misspellings, he does some far more noteworthy things.

Thus, in one of his three replies, Scheuer suggests that I am disloyal to the United States: “only a small part of Mr. Scheonfeld [sic]…may be American.” He suggests that, along with me, Norman Podhoretz, Max Boot, James Woolsley [sic], someone simply identified as “Pipes” (Richard or Daniel?), and someone simply identified as “Horowitz,” have pushed the United States into wasting American “treasure” and getting our “soldier-children killed in fighting other peoples’ wars, especially other peoples’ religious wars.”

Presumably, in referring to “religious wars,” Scheuer has in mind, as so often in the past, Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors. But my post had nothing to do with Israel. Nor were the names Podhoretz, Boot, Woolsey, Pipes, or Horowitz mentioned in it. The imputation that these individuals, including a former director of the CIA, are disloyal to the United States is naked bigotry (although I cannot of course defend “Horowitz” from Scheuer’s accusation, since I do not know who he is). 

I was writing not about religious wars but about Scheuer’s disclosure of information to the Danish newspaper Politiken concerning the extraordinary rendition to Egypt in 1995 of a terrorist plotter by the name of Abu Talal. Scheuer does comment on that episode, but in a way completely irrelevant to my charges. He says:

The CIA’s rendition program—which I helped author, and then managed for almost four years—continues to be the U.S. government’s single most successful, perhaps only sucessful [sic] counterterrorism program, and Americans are very much safer with the likes of Abu Talal off the street.

But the issue is not whether extraordinary renditions were successful, or whether Americans are safer because of them. I will stipulate for the sake of argument that he is right about both those things.

I was raising a different issue, concerning the U.S. laws governing leaks, and I raised five questions about whether the Politiken story indicates that these laws may have been broken:

1. Is the story accurate?

2. Assuming it is accurate, was the information about the rendition of Abu Talal classified?

3. Assuming it was classified, and that Scheuer was the primary source, did he have the CIA’s permission to talk about it?

4. Assuming he was the primary source and he did not have CIA permission, and that the two preceding questions are answered in the affirmative, was a crime committed here?

5. If the elements of a crime are in place, will be there an investigation? And is anyone at the CIA or the Department of Justice or in Congress paying attention?

It is notable that in his three responses, Scheuer does not address or answer even one of these five questions.

The CIA does things in secret for a number of very good reasons. One of them is to accomplish U.S. security objectives without creating political firestorms in friendly countries. But a firestorm has now been ignited in Denmark as a result of Scheuer’s leak.

All the opposition parties in the Danish parliament are demanding an investigation into whether the authorities cooperated with the CIA in the extradition. Amnesty International has joined the choir: “It should be clarified whether Denmark indirectly participated in the CIA’s prisoner program and therefore in the violation of human rights,” says Lars Norman Jorgensen, who heads the organization’s Danish branch.

Meanwhile, even as the Danish foreign minister, Per Stig Moller, is denying that he was ever informed that “any unlawful acts” had taken place on Danish territory, Michael Scheuer has been pouring more fuel on the fire. He has told Politiken that the Danish intelligence agency, the DSIS, must have known about the rendition program; he says, “I can’t imagine any situation where we would not have told Denmark this.”

In short, not only does Scheuer appear to be the source of a damaging leak, he appears to be intent on maximizing the damage.

Here are some more dots that I’m still trying to connect:

CIA officers have been indicted in Italy for taking part in extraordinary renditions there. Will Denmark now initiate a similar legal process?

How does Scheuer’s activity differ from the deliberate leaking of classified information by the renegade CIA agent Philip Agee, whose passport was revoked in 1979 and is now a fugitive living in Cuba?

What is the Justice Department doing about the disclosure? I predict that the incoming Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, will prove far more energetic in investigating and prosecuting leaks than was the feckless Alberto Gonzalez. I hope I’m right.

What does Scheuer have to say about any of this? I predict that, at this point, he will answer with either a telling silence or with even more telling and more irrelevant evasions.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

 

 

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Dream A Little DREAM

I’ve blogged before about an excellent bill called the DREAM Act (the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). As I noted previously:

This legislation would create a fast-track toward citizenship for a select group of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the U.S. before age 16, have no criminal record, graduate from high school, and then complete two years either in the military or in college.

This would not only offer a welcome path toward citizenship for many promising young people but also might ease some of the recruitment problems that Army has been facing of late.

This win-win idea, which has broad bipartisan support, was a casualty of the implosion of the immigration bill in June, but it is being revived. This week, as noted in this article, it may be attached to the defense authorization bill. This prospect has the xenophobic Right in a predictable lather. See, for instance, this post on the anti-immigrant web site Vdare, started, ironically enough, by an immigrant (Peter Brimelow, who came to the U.S. by way of Britain and Canada). In typically overwrought language, a Vdare blogger writes (underneath the headline “Treason Lobby’s DREAM Act”) that the DREAM Act “fits with the ideals of many neoconservatives like Max Boot who have called for an illegal alien legion.

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I’ve blogged before about an excellent bill called the DREAM Act (the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). As I noted previously:

This legislation would create a fast-track toward citizenship for a select group of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the U.S. before age 16, have no criminal record, graduate from high school, and then complete two years either in the military or in college.

This would not only offer a welcome path toward citizenship for many promising young people but also might ease some of the recruitment problems that Army has been facing of late.

This win-win idea, which has broad bipartisan support, was a casualty of the implosion of the immigration bill in June, but it is being revived. This week, as noted in this article, it may be attached to the defense authorization bill. This prospect has the xenophobic Right in a predictable lather. See, for instance, this post on the anti-immigrant web site Vdare, started, ironically enough, by an immigrant (Peter Brimelow, who came to the U.S. by way of Britain and Canada). In typically overwrought language, a Vdare blogger writes (underneath the headline “Treason Lobby’s DREAM Act”) that the DREAM Act “fits with the ideals of many neoconservatives like Max Boot who have called for an illegal alien legion.

To set the record straight: what I’ve called for is for the U.S. military to recruit non-citizens who would earn citizenship by a term of service. The easiest way to do this is to integrate them into existing units. (We already have lots of non-citizens serving but they have to have a Green Card before they can enlist—a pointless restriction that closes the door to many high-quality potential recruits.) The DREAM Act is merely a small step in this direction since it would only allow service for a limited number of men and women who are already here. I would open up recruitment to those who are not yet here but want to come here.

I have also suggested that we might want to have a Freedom Legion modeled on the French Foreign Legion, whose enlisted ranks would be composed entirely of foreigners but which would be led by American officers and NCOs. Such a Freedom Legion could be very useful for integrating the sort of language and linguistic skills lacking in our military, and it could be used for longterm garrison duty in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Needless to say it would not be composed of “illegal aliens”, since, by definition, those who serve for this country would receive citizenship.

I have yet to hear a persuasive argument against this idea. Most of the negative reactions are little more than emotional responses along the lines of “we don’t want to entrust our defense to mercenaries.” And yet that’s what we’re doing today in places like Iraq where, due to a lack of uniformed manpower, we rely so heavily on security contractors like Blackwater and Triple Canopy. The Freedom Legion would be much more accountable and more useful because it would be part of the regular military chain of command. And its soldiers wouldn’t be any more “mercenary” than countless foreigners—such as the Marquis de Lafayette in the Revolutionary War or the Union Army’s German Division in the Civil War—who have fought for America in the past.

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Moving away from MoveOn.org

Below, Max Boot writes of the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org’s slanderous attack on General David Petraeus in yesterday’s New York Times, essentially accusing him of treason, which Boot rightly notes “will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is ‘anti-military.’”

Of course, legislators are entirely justified in criticizing General Petraeus’s assessment of the war. Civilian control of the military is a basic feature of any genuine democracy. Senator Clinton demonstrated this sort of constructive criticism yesterday when she told General Petraeus, “If this hearing were being held three years ago, I would have a much higher degree of optimism. It has nothing to do with the loyalty, the warrior skills, and the leadership of our men and women in uniform.” Her frustration is with the Bush administration, not with the individuals of the armed services. Which is how it should be.

The Bush administration’s diplomacy and war management, however, is a subject wholly separate from General Petraeus’s personal integrity or character. This is a distinction that the slanderers at MoveOn.org willingly ignore, in their desire to conflate General Petraeus’s motives with the allegedly nefarious motives of the Bush administration.

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Below, Max Boot writes of the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org’s slanderous attack on General David Petraeus in yesterday’s New York Times, essentially accusing him of treason, which Boot rightly notes “will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is ‘anti-military.’”

Of course, legislators are entirely justified in criticizing General Petraeus’s assessment of the war. Civilian control of the military is a basic feature of any genuine democracy. Senator Clinton demonstrated this sort of constructive criticism yesterday when she told General Petraeus, “If this hearing were being held three years ago, I would have a much higher degree of optimism. It has nothing to do with the loyalty, the warrior skills, and the leadership of our men and women in uniform.” Her frustration is with the Bush administration, not with the individuals of the armed services. Which is how it should be.

The Bush administration’s diplomacy and war management, however, is a subject wholly separate from General Petraeus’s personal integrity or character. This is a distinction that the slanderers at MoveOn.org willingly ignore, in their desire to conflate General Petraeus’s motives with the allegedly nefarious motives of the Bush administration.

But rather than following Senator Clinton’s lead, increasing segments of the Democratic congress—not just its activist base—are instead taking the cheapest possible shots against one of the most lauded generals in the field. Prior to yesterday’s testimony, an unnamed Democratic Senator told a reporter, “No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV. . . . The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us.” And, save for Senators Biden and Lieberman, no prominent Democrats have renounced MoveOn’s disgusting advertisement.

The important question is: where does the Democratic Party—which was not always so enraged by the sight of a man in uniform—stand on this slander? At yesterday’s hearing, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen began her remarks by stating, “I offer my colleagues the opportunity to use this hearing to distance themselves from the despicable ad that was published today calling into question the patriotism of General Petraeus.” From off-screen, someone shouted “Point of order! No one has to distance themselves from something they weren’t associated with.” The Associated Press reports that it was Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii.

Mr. Abercrombie in particular may not need to apologize, but the same cannot be said for his superiors. As a story in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine makes clear, MoveOn.org is closely tied to senior Democrats on the Hill, through a subsidiary group, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (A.A.E.I), which was founded shortly after last November’s congressional election. A.A.E.I’s leader Tom Matzzie, according to the Times, “communicates on a near-daily basis” with the “offices of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.” A.A.E.I “coordinates extensively with Democrats on Capitol Hill. Matzzie himself meets with Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, ‘maybe once a month,’ he says, adding that he talks to their staffs ‘once a day, or at least a couple times a week.’ (Senior Democratic aides sometimes even join A.A.E.I’s conference calls.)”

Perhaps the reason why more Democrats have not spoken out against MoveOn.org’s slander against General Petraeus is that they are complicit in disseminating it.

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Boot Interview

Last week we sat down for an interview with Max Boot, a regular contributor to this blog and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Boot talks about “How Not to Get Out of Iraq” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), General Petraeus’s September report, the war in Iraq, and more.

The video can be seen here.

Last week we sat down for an interview with Max Boot, a regular contributor to this blog and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Boot talks about “How Not to Get Out of Iraq” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), General Petraeus’s September report, the war in Iraq, and more.

The video can be seen here.

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A-Rod Nation

Max Boot, contentions contributor, told us on Saturday that his unfulfilled passion is sports writing. So is mine.

In his post he revealed his devotion to an inferior sport, football. I, on the other hand, follow the national pastime. Max might disagree about the relative merits of our two sports, but he has to admit that this past Saturday, the baseball news was far more interesting than whatever may have happened in the gridiron world.

Saturday night, in my old hometown of San Diego, Barry Bonds launched a 91-mile-an-hour fastball into the left-center stands of Petco Park. By doing so, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants tied Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs, the most hallowed mark in American sport. As he rounded the bases, fans booed and held up uncomplimentary signs. The commissioner of baseball, in the stands at the time, stood grim-faced with his hands in his pockets.

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Max Boot, contentions contributor, told us on Saturday that his unfulfilled passion is sports writing. So is mine.

In his post he revealed his devotion to an inferior sport, football. I, on the other hand, follow the national pastime. Max might disagree about the relative merits of our two sports, but he has to admit that this past Saturday, the baseball news was far more interesting than whatever may have happened in the gridiron world.

Saturday night, in my old hometown of San Diego, Barry Bonds launched a 91-mile-an-hour fastball into the left-center stands of Petco Park. By doing so, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants tied Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs, the most hallowed mark in American sport. As he rounded the bases, fans booed and held up uncomplimentary signs. The commissioner of baseball, in the stands at the time, stood grim-faced with his hands in his pockets.

The unenthusiastic crowd reaction was both predictable and understandable. Allegations of steroid use have dogged the slugger. Barry Bonds will never outlive the perception that he cheated his way into the record book, and except in the Bay Area, he is considered an embarrassment to baseball.

Because this is contentions, let me put Bonds’s disgrace into broader perspective. On the same day that Bonds tied Aaron, A-Rod, sometimes known as Alex Rodriguez, became the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 homers. When the Yankee third baseman breaks Bonds’s mark—some say he will even surpass 800 home runs—he will help rub out the stain of steroid use that has tainted his sport. In these times when many think our global position is in decline, let’s not forget that America’s greatest attribute is not its strength, but its capacity for self-renewal. We are a nation of A-Rods.

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Weekend Reading

This week the United States is engaging in its first direct talks with North Korea in over five years—apparently, according to the New York Times, to “persuade” the North Koreans to fulfill their part of February’s “initial actions.” This plainly dubious agreement was exposed at the time on contentions by both Max Boot and Joshua Muravchik, and yesterday by Gordon Chang.

According to the Times, The State Department says that the direct talks are meant only to “speed up” the inception of multilateral talks. But is it a surprise that the North Korean government must be “persuaded” actually to abide by its commitments?

North Korea has been a large subject for COMMENTARY. For this weekend’s reading we offer a few of our best recent articles on the topic.

A Korean Solution?
Arthur Waldron – June 2005

Our Game with North Korea
Arthur Waldron – February 2004

Facing up to North Korea
Joshua Muravchik – March 2003

This week the United States is engaging in its first direct talks with North Korea in over five years—apparently, according to the New York Times, to “persuade” the North Koreans to fulfill their part of February’s “initial actions.” This plainly dubious agreement was exposed at the time on contentions by both Max Boot and Joshua Muravchik, and yesterday by Gordon Chang.

According to the Times, The State Department says that the direct talks are meant only to “speed up” the inception of multilateral talks. But is it a surprise that the North Korean government must be “persuaded” actually to abide by its commitments?

North Korea has been a large subject for COMMENTARY. For this weekend’s reading we offer a few of our best recent articles on the topic.

A Korean Solution?
Arthur Waldron – June 2005

Our Game with North Korea
Arthur Waldron – February 2004

Facing up to North Korea
Joshua Muravchik – March 2003

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Max Boot Wins the 2007 Breindel Award

Congratulations to contentions’ own Max Boot, journalist and senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Max received the Eric Breindel Award for Opinion Journalism, one of the biggest in the industry, last night. Max’s writings on war, military history, and security issues have garnered him a worldwide reputation, and we’re proud to have him as a blogger.

Congratulations to contentions’ own Max Boot, journalist and senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Max received the Eric Breindel Award for Opinion Journalism, one of the biggest in the industry, last night. Max’s writings on war, military history, and security issues have garnered him a worldwide reputation, and we’re proud to have him as a blogger.

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A Reply to Max Boot

Editor’s Note: Read Max Boot’s post here, and Herman’s original article here.

At one level Max is perfectly right: every war is sui generis and comparisons between them are bound to distort or ignore important differences. Iraq in 2007 is not Algeria in 1957, or even Vietnam in 1967. Yet the sequence of shifts in tactics in combating a terrorist insurgency, and the interplay between the military and political fronts, seem to me strikingly similar. Hence my article, and hence the lessons to be learned from how the French managed to win on the battlefield but lose at home.

All the same, I think Max may be over-stressing some of the differences between Iraq and Algeria. For starters, I’m not sure whether describing the FLN guerrillas of the 1950′s as “nationalists” or “secularists” in contrast to today’s al Qaeda makes sense. In fact, our recent experience with al Qaeda figures like Zarqawi sheds a lot of light on what made men like Ben Bella and Boumedienne and Belkacem Krim really tick. Essentially, they were power-hungry nihilists willing to use any ideological excuse in order to pull down the existing order and grab power for themselves and their followers. In the 1940′s, they looked to Jerusalem’s Mufti and the Nazis for inspiration; in the 50′s, they mouthed pan-Arabist slogans in order to get support from Egypt and Tunisia. Yet once in power, the different factions within the FLN turned on each other; and the ultimate winner, Boumedienne, proceeded to declare Algeria an Islamic state and to punish women for not wearing the veil!

Nor was the FLN any less inchoate or disorganized than today’s Iraqi insurgency, especially in Algeria’s rural areas, where Galula had to develop his tactics. It certainly followed the same pattern, with the murder of moderates and with a handful of committed terrorists using family and clan connections to intimidate an entire village or neighborhood into supporting (or at least acquiescing to) their attacks on government forces.

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Editor’s Note: Read Max Boot’s post here, and Herman’s original article here.

At one level Max is perfectly right: every war is sui generis and comparisons between them are bound to distort or ignore important differences. Iraq in 2007 is not Algeria in 1957, or even Vietnam in 1967. Yet the sequence of shifts in tactics in combating a terrorist insurgency, and the interplay between the military and political fronts, seem to me strikingly similar. Hence my article, and hence the lessons to be learned from how the French managed to win on the battlefield but lose at home.

All the same, I think Max may be over-stressing some of the differences between Iraq and Algeria. For starters, I’m not sure whether describing the FLN guerrillas of the 1950′s as “nationalists” or “secularists” in contrast to today’s al Qaeda makes sense. In fact, our recent experience with al Qaeda figures like Zarqawi sheds a lot of light on what made men like Ben Bella and Boumedienne and Belkacem Krim really tick. Essentially, they were power-hungry nihilists willing to use any ideological excuse in order to pull down the existing order and grab power for themselves and their followers. In the 1940′s, they looked to Jerusalem’s Mufti and the Nazis for inspiration; in the 50′s, they mouthed pan-Arabist slogans in order to get support from Egypt and Tunisia. Yet once in power, the different factions within the FLN turned on each other; and the ultimate winner, Boumedienne, proceeded to declare Algeria an Islamic state and to punish women for not wearing the veil!

Nor was the FLN any less inchoate or disorganized than today’s Iraqi insurgency, especially in Algeria’s rural areas, where Galula had to develop his tactics. It certainly followed the same pattern, with the murder of moderates and with a handful of committed terrorists using family and clan connections to intimidate an entire village or neighborhood into supporting (or at least acquiescing to) their attacks on government forces.

At first, the French responded in much the same way as the Americans did in Iraq. They mounted regular patrols to protect their forces and key assets, interspersed with large-scale sweeps to capture weapons and take out the FLN leadership. But they soon discovered, just as the Americans did, that the leadership wasn’t the key to the problem: kill or capture one insurgent leader, and another takes his place. The key was the grassroots support, as Galula (who was Tunisian by descent) himself had said. Assessing the situation in November 1956, he wrote that as long as those who want the war to end and the killing to stop “fear us less than they fear the rebels, they will never dare come out. As long as they avoid a commitment,” he continued, “we shall never succeed in pacifying Algeria.” And that clearly is also the key in pacifying Iraq.

The question is how—and that is the salient issue. Certain facts are plain. The counterinsurgency tactics developed by Galula and his colleagues to do the job in Algeria worked, and they represent the last, best hope for turning things around in Baghdad and Iraq.

Max will be in a better position than I by this time next month to know how successful they will be. But regardless of how the Petraeus offensive (which seems a more accurate term than “surge”) goes, the decisive factor in victory or defeat will be perceptions in Washington. The Bush administration had better stop hoping that positive results alone will silence critics: it hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work this time. As Galula wrote in that same 1956 memo, “Our actions seem to [the insurgents] inspired by our mood of the moment, whereas we ought to impress on them that we are acting according to a well-thought-out plan that leaves them no room for maneuvering.” The Bush people might do worse than to start applying some of the same tactics against the “insurgency” here at home before time runs out on Petraeus, and on the future of Iraq.

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A Reply to Arthur Herman

In his article in the April issue of COMMENTARY, Arthur Herman has provided a valuable service by increasing awareness of David Galula and the French experience in Algeria. I agree with much of what he has to say but feel compelled to register some disagreements as well.

First, a minor peeve: I dislike the breakdown of warfare into four generations—a conceit launched by William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation and picked up by Herman in this article. “4GW” theorists, as they are known in military circles, posit that insurgency has now replaced traditional “maneuver” warfare, just as in World War II maneuver warfare replaced industrial warfare. The reality is considerably more complex: maneuver warfare still exists (an example: the three-week U.S. blitzkrieg to Baghdad in the spring of 2003), and terrorism and guerrilla warfare, though growing in importance, are nothing new—they date back to the dawn of warfare. This isn’t meant to deprecate the importance of low-intensity conflict; rather to suggest that it isn’t new and it isn’t necessarily the sum of all warfare today. (Sir Lawrence Freedman of King’s College, London, has written a good refutation of 4GW theory.)

This is a relatively minor matter of categorization. A more serious flaw with Herman’s article is his presupposition that the U.S. will have the same level of purely military success that the French had in Algeria. Maybe so, but there’s little evidence of that yet. Even with the small successes that General Petraeus has registered with the initial stages of the troop “surge,” Baghdad remains infinitely more dangerous than Algiers ever was. We are not close to military victory in Iraq—certainly not as close as the French were in Algeria in the late 1950′s.

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In his article in the April issue of COMMENTARY, Arthur Herman has provided a valuable service by increasing awareness of David Galula and the French experience in Algeria. I agree with much of what he has to say but feel compelled to register some disagreements as well.

First, a minor peeve: I dislike the breakdown of warfare into four generations—a conceit launched by William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation and picked up by Herman in this article. “4GW” theorists, as they are known in military circles, posit that insurgency has now replaced traditional “maneuver” warfare, just as in World War II maneuver warfare replaced industrial warfare. The reality is considerably more complex: maneuver warfare still exists (an example: the three-week U.S. blitzkrieg to Baghdad in the spring of 2003), and terrorism and guerrilla warfare, though growing in importance, are nothing new—they date back to the dawn of warfare. This isn’t meant to deprecate the importance of low-intensity conflict; rather to suggest that it isn’t new and it isn’t necessarily the sum of all warfare today. (Sir Lawrence Freedman of King’s College, London, has written a good refutation of 4GW theory.)

This is a relatively minor matter of categorization. A more serious flaw with Herman’s article is his presupposition that the U.S. will have the same level of purely military success that the French had in Algeria. Maybe so, but there’s little evidence of that yet. Even with the small successes that General Petraeus has registered with the initial stages of the troop “surge,” Baghdad remains infinitely more dangerous than Algiers ever was. We are not close to military victory in Iraq—certainly not as close as the French were in Algeria in the late 1950′s.

Another problem with Herman’s article is that, though it is based on an Algeria-Iraq comparison, the differences between the FLN and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Iraq are pretty vast. The FLN, as I understand it, was primarily nationalist, not Islamist, in its orientation; if anything its ideology was secular pan-Arabism of the Nasserite variety. Indeed, the heirs of the FLN, who rule Algeria today, put down an Islamist uprising in the 1990′s with great violence.

The FLN was also a classic, tightly directed insurgency in the mode of the Chinese or Vietnamese communists, with a hierarchical leadership and a clear goal–kicking out the French. The Iraq insurgency is much more inchoate and lacks any central organizing principle or leadership, making it harder to deal with. There are numerous Shiite and Sunni factions pursuing their own agendas, which often involve killing one another as well as coalition forces. This complexity is a source of frustration for counterinsurgents—strategies designed to deal with one enemy in Iraq may actually exacerbate tensions with another group. (For instance: empowering Shiites alienates Sunnis.) Whereas the fight in Algeria was purely about the future of foreign rule, the fight in Iraq is much more about which sectarian groups will rule in a future Iraq.

Another difference: the presence of the French settlers in Algeria and the much greater number of French troops in proportion to the population, along with the much longer standing French familiarity with Algeria–all major advantages we don’t enjoy in Iraq. The French deployed some 450,000 of their own troops, along with lots of Arab auxiliaries, to pacify a population of 10 million (of whom one million were pro-French pieds noir). In Iraq the coalition has never had more than 170,000 troops for a population of 26 million—and indigenous soldiers in Iraq have proven less useful than in Algeria.

A final difference worth noting: While there was some coverage of French misdeeds in Algeria, like torture, media coverage was much less intense than in Iraq today. The French approach, which proved effective on the ground, was pretty brutal—more brutal, I think, than what Galula advocated in his book. The result: France won all the battles but lost the war by losing the support of public opinion back home.

I don’t dispute Herman’s conclusion about the central importance of domestic public opinion in this war (or just about any other war, for that matter). I also agree about the importance of applying Galula’s dicta in Iraq—something I’ve advocated in the past. But I would caution against assuming that all we have to do is win hearts and minds back home. To a substantial degree, the trajectory of U.S. public opinion follows the success or lack thereof of our forces in Iraq. If we were having more success on the ground, we’d be getting more support at home. Of course the French experience in Algeria showed that even on-the-ground success may not be enough to win over public opinion if that success is achieved using repugnant methods. Still, showing progress in pacification is necessary, if not sufficient, for keeping public support.

So how are we doing in Iraq? That’s hard to figure out. While opponents of the war have been prone to excessive pessimism, supporters of the war effort—including myself in the past—have been guilty of excessive optimism. A more balanced assessment is needed, which is what I will try to provide in the next few weeks. I’m now heading off to Iraq to spend much of April visiting with coalition forces. I will try to report periodically while I’m there, if I can find time and Internet access.

*Editor’s Note: Arthur Herman will respond to Max Boot’s criticisms tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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How Bad is Robert Gates?

America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

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America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

But Gates was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer yesterday and made a convincing case for national patience with another direction entirely—the current troop surge:

The way I would characterize it is so far, so good. It’s very early. General Petraeus, the commander out there, has said that it’ll probably be summer before we know whether we’re being successful or not. But I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us. They have made the appointments, the troops that they have promised are showing up, they are allowing operations in all neighborhoods, there is very little political interference with military operations. So here, at the very beginning, the commitments that have been made seem to be being kept.

On Face the Nation, Gates was also exceptionally deft in disarming Democratic calls for withdrawal, as called for in a bill before the House of Representatives. His posture here was disarmingly respectful—even as it threw a punch.

I believe everybody involved in this debate is patriotic and looking for the best thing for America. I think most people agree that, across the political spectrum, that leaving Iraq in chaos would be a mistake, a disaster for the United States, and so we’re all wrestling with what’s the best way to bring about a result that serves the long-term interests, not only of the Iraqi people but of the United States. . . . With respect to the specific bill in the House, the concern I have is that if you have specific deadlines and very strict conditions, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve—to achieve their objectives. And frankly, as I read it, the House bill is more about withdrawal, regardless of the circumstances on the ground.

Then there was a side issue that, to judge by the intensity of Schieffer’s questioning, was to CBS not a side issue at all. Last week, General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that homosexual acts are immoral. Gates was pressed hard about this by Schieffer: “a lot of gay people are saying that that is a slur on thousands of people who are serving in the military right now”; and shouldn’t the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy be revised?

Gates got a bit testy answering this, but acquitted himself well:

Look, I’ve got a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, challenges in Iran and North Korea and elsewhere, global war on terror, three budget bills totaling $715 billion. I think I’ve got quite a lot on my plate.

What Gates said about progress in the war on Iraq can be said about him: “So far, so good. It’s very early.”

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D’Souza’s Cynicism

Hard on the heels of Max Boot’s post on the subject, in the March issue of the New Criterion, Scott Johnson has an excellent review-essay on Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home. Johnson examines closely the book’s central idea: that, by allowing what D’Souza calls the “cultural left” to thrive, America brought the ire of Islamists down on its head. It’s a troubling and pernicious argument, and Johnson subjects it to well-deserved and damaging scrutiny. Enjoy.

Hard on the heels of Max Boot’s post on the subject, in the March issue of the New Criterion, Scott Johnson has an excellent review-essay on Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home. Johnson examines closely the book’s central idea: that, by allowing what D’Souza calls the “cultural left” to thrive, America brought the ire of Islamists down on its head. It’s a troubling and pernicious argument, and Johnson subjects it to well-deserved and damaging scrutiny. Enjoy.

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Tough Diplomacy

I agree with Max Boot that the administration’s deal with North Korea sounds like a sell-out. The giveaway was Condi Rice’s pledge of “tough diplomacy.” What in the world is that? And what kind of diplomacy do we usually practice, soft diplomacy? How does that work? “Welcome to the store, Mr. Kim. Help yourself to whatever tickles your fancy. It’s on the house.” Well, if that’s soft diplomacy, how is our recent exercise in “tough diplomacy” any different?

To give the administration its due, the North Korean knot is plenty vexing. Since Pyongyang now has a nuclear bomb, military action becomes dicier than it already was with Seoul in range of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces. We have no economic leverage to speak of, and while no country on earth is a worthier candidate for regime change than North Korea, we have almost no ability to influence its internal politics.

This is one more reason why we must bomb Iran before it completes its nuclear weapon. An internal EU report, leaked to the Financial Times on Tuesday, acknowledges that “the problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.” The “tough sanctions” that the administration talks about are just as spurious as “tough diplomacy.”

“The EU has agreed to pursue sanctions through the United Nations if the Iranians continues [sic] to reject the decisions of the IAEA Board and the UN Security Council,” says the report. The trick to this formulation is that it means the Europeans are prepared only for sanctions adopted by the Security Council, i.e., only sanctions that Russia and China will agree to. But as Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear last week, and Beijing has made clear often, they regard the U.S. as a bigger threat to their ambitions than Iran. They will not cooperate in tightening the vise on Tehran. And even if they did, it is extremely doubtful that Ahmadinejad, Khameini, et. al., will give up their birthright to dominate the Islamic world (or perhaps rule the whole world) for a mess of economic inducements.

I have explained elsewhere why the emptiness of other measures to stop Iran’s bomb and the terrible consequences that would ensue from a nuclear-armed Iran lead to only one conclusion: military action. But here is one more reason. Bombing Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons facilities is one way—perhaps the only way—to turn Pyongyang around. Kim Jong Il would no longer sleep easily worrying about whether his turn was next and might finally agree to trade in his nukes. Now that is what I call tough diplomacy.

I agree with Max Boot that the administration’s deal with North Korea sounds like a sell-out. The giveaway was Condi Rice’s pledge of “tough diplomacy.” What in the world is that? And what kind of diplomacy do we usually practice, soft diplomacy? How does that work? “Welcome to the store, Mr. Kim. Help yourself to whatever tickles your fancy. It’s on the house.” Well, if that’s soft diplomacy, how is our recent exercise in “tough diplomacy” any different?

To give the administration its due, the North Korean knot is plenty vexing. Since Pyongyang now has a nuclear bomb, military action becomes dicier than it already was with Seoul in range of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces. We have no economic leverage to speak of, and while no country on earth is a worthier candidate for regime change than North Korea, we have almost no ability to influence its internal politics.

This is one more reason why we must bomb Iran before it completes its nuclear weapon. An internal EU report, leaked to the Financial Times on Tuesday, acknowledges that “the problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.” The “tough sanctions” that the administration talks about are just as spurious as “tough diplomacy.”

“The EU has agreed to pursue sanctions through the United Nations if the Iranians continues [sic] to reject the decisions of the IAEA Board and the UN Security Council,” says the report. The trick to this formulation is that it means the Europeans are prepared only for sanctions adopted by the Security Council, i.e., only sanctions that Russia and China will agree to. But as Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear last week, and Beijing has made clear often, they regard the U.S. as a bigger threat to their ambitions than Iran. They will not cooperate in tightening the vise on Tehran. And even if they did, it is extremely doubtful that Ahmadinejad, Khameini, et. al., will give up their birthright to dominate the Islamic world (or perhaps rule the whole world) for a mess of economic inducements.

I have explained elsewhere why the emptiness of other measures to stop Iran’s bomb and the terrible consequences that would ensue from a nuclear-armed Iran lead to only one conclusion: military action. But here is one more reason. Bombing Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons facilities is one way—perhaps the only way—to turn Pyongyang around. Kim Jong Il would no longer sleep easily worrying about whether his turn was next and might finally agree to trade in his nukes. Now that is what I call tough diplomacy.

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