Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States Army

RE: The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

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Let Us Not Praise Pro-Terrorist Newspapers

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

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SPECIAL JANUARY PREVIEW: The WikiLeaks War on America

The indefinable international organization known as WikiLeaks was relatively unknown between its setting up in 2006 and the April 2010 premiere it staged at the National Press Club in Washington of the “Collateral Murder” video—a selection of stolen and decrypted gun-camera footage that purportedly shows the unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists by the crew of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter. Skillfully edited and promoted, and widely accepted by the mainstream media as proof of a U.S. war crime, the video won WikiLeaks fame and praise around the world and made its founder, a 39-year-old Australian named Julian Assange, an international celebrity.

To finish reading this SPECIAL PREVIEW from the JANUARY 2011 issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

To ensure you never miss an issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

The indefinable international organization known as WikiLeaks was relatively unknown between its setting up in 2006 and the April 2010 premiere it staged at the National Press Club in Washington of the “Collateral Murder” video—a selection of stolen and decrypted gun-camera footage that purportedly shows the unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists by the crew of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter. Skillfully edited and promoted, and widely accepted by the mainstream media as proof of a U.S. war crime, the video won WikiLeaks fame and praise around the world and made its founder, a 39-year-old Australian named Julian Assange, an international celebrity.

To finish reading this SPECIAL PREVIEW from the JANUARY 2011 issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

To ensure you never miss an issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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How the U.S. Military Polices Its Own Ranks

Anyone who follows the U.S. Army, or the war in Afghanistan, cannot fail to be horrified by reports of atrocities committed by a few soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in southern Afghanistan. If news accounts are accurate, a few soldiers decided to randomly kill Afghan civilians for sport. “Military documents allege that five members of the unit staged a total of three murders in Kandahar province between January and May,” the Washington Post writes, adding, “Members of the platoon have been charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones.”

Awful as they are, these atrocities sound mild by comparison with countless other war crimes. Hundreds of Vietnamese were killed in the My Lai massacre. Even greater numbers of Algerians were randomly gunned down by French forces during the Algerian War of Independence in retaliation for grisly attacks on French civilians. The Russians in Afghanistan made a practice of targeting the civilian population — for example, by distributing booby-trapped toys. This is no way meant to be a defense of a few sick soldiers who deserve to have the book thrown at them if half of what is alleged is true. But some sense of perspective is necessary insofar as the Taliban and others will no doubt exploit this case to paint all American soldiers as murderers and torturers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the conduct of U.S. forces is exemplary by any standard. Their respect for human rights and the laws of war is equaled by few, if any other, military forces thrown into the maelstrom of a vicious insurgency.

Clearly there was a big problem in the 5th Stryker Brigade — something that I saw for myself when I visited the unit last year in the field. I had no inkling of such murderous abuses but the brigade seemed to be off-track in terms of their tactical doctrine, concentrating on hunting down insurgents rather than on winning the trust of the people, and relying too much on high-tech gadgetry. In doctrinal terms, they were pursuing “counterguerrilla” rather than “counterinsurgent” operations.

But there has been no suggestion that the brigade’s leadership, or the army in general, countenanced anything like these abuses. In fact, as usual with such excesses, it was military investigators who uncovered the wrongdoing. Perhaps, as the account by the Washington Post suggests, the military did not respond fast enough to alarms raised by a soldier’s father; if so, that situation needs to be corrected. But once military investigators get on the track of incidents like these, they are normally relentless in building a prosecution — so much so that, sometimes, innocent soldiers get put in the dock. That, too, is to be regretted. But, in general, the U.S. armed forces take such misconduct with the seriousness it deserves — something that cannot be said of all, or even most, militaries, the Israel Defense Forces being a rare exception. Of course, neither the U.S. armed forces nor the IDF can expect any thanks for their scrupulousness about observing human rights; predictably, they get pilloried as monsters while far more monstrous forces (including the enemies they fight, whether the Taliban or Hezbollah) get a pass in global news coverage.

Anyone who follows the U.S. Army, or the war in Afghanistan, cannot fail to be horrified by reports of atrocities committed by a few soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in southern Afghanistan. If news accounts are accurate, a few soldiers decided to randomly kill Afghan civilians for sport. “Military documents allege that five members of the unit staged a total of three murders in Kandahar province between January and May,” the Washington Post writes, adding, “Members of the platoon have been charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones.”

Awful as they are, these atrocities sound mild by comparison with countless other war crimes. Hundreds of Vietnamese were killed in the My Lai massacre. Even greater numbers of Algerians were randomly gunned down by French forces during the Algerian War of Independence in retaliation for grisly attacks on French civilians. The Russians in Afghanistan made a practice of targeting the civilian population — for example, by distributing booby-trapped toys. This is no way meant to be a defense of a few sick soldiers who deserve to have the book thrown at them if half of what is alleged is true. But some sense of perspective is necessary insofar as the Taliban and others will no doubt exploit this case to paint all American soldiers as murderers and torturers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the conduct of U.S. forces is exemplary by any standard. Their respect for human rights and the laws of war is equaled by few, if any other, military forces thrown into the maelstrom of a vicious insurgency.

Clearly there was a big problem in the 5th Stryker Brigade — something that I saw for myself when I visited the unit last year in the field. I had no inkling of such murderous abuses but the brigade seemed to be off-track in terms of their tactical doctrine, concentrating on hunting down insurgents rather than on winning the trust of the people, and relying too much on high-tech gadgetry. In doctrinal terms, they were pursuing “counterguerrilla” rather than “counterinsurgent” operations.

But there has been no suggestion that the brigade’s leadership, or the army in general, countenanced anything like these abuses. In fact, as usual with such excesses, it was military investigators who uncovered the wrongdoing. Perhaps, as the account by the Washington Post suggests, the military did not respond fast enough to alarms raised by a soldier’s father; if so, that situation needs to be corrected. But once military investigators get on the track of incidents like these, they are normally relentless in building a prosecution — so much so that, sometimes, innocent soldiers get put in the dock. That, too, is to be regretted. But, in general, the U.S. armed forces take such misconduct with the seriousness it deserves — something that cannot be said of all, or even most, militaries, the Israel Defense Forces being a rare exception. Of course, neither the U.S. armed forces nor the IDF can expect any thanks for their scrupulousness about observing human rights; predictably, they get pilloried as monsters while far more monstrous forces (including the enemies they fight, whether the Taliban or Hezbollah) get a pass in global news coverage.

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The War Over COIN

In certain U.S. military circles, there has been a backlash against “COIN”– the acronym for counterinsurgency operations. This is a strategy for fighting guerrillas and terrorists, which has evolved over centuries and was last a focus of U.S. military study in the Vietnam War. Then in the 1970s it was discarded in a mental rubbish bin, only to be revived and updated midway through the Iraq War, when it became apparent that conventional, firepower-intensive ways of war were not going to defeat elusive insurgents. The key moment was the publication at the end of 2007 of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual — the first manual on the subject produced for the general forces in decades. Shortly after it came out, one of its authors, General David Petraeus, was dispatched to Iraq to oversee the surge. The rest, as they say, is history.

Iraq seems to have validated many of the tenets of COIN theory, and Petraeus is now applying them to Afghanistan. A good summary of current COIN thinking can be found in Petraeus’s “Counterinsurgency Guidance,” which advises his troopers, inter alia, to “secure and serve the population,” “live among the people,” and “consult and build relationships.” All this sounds like common sense except that it runs counter to conventional military thinking, which calls for large forces to sweep through insurgent areas, killing lots of bad guys in the hope of defeating the insurgency. COIN theory is centered not on merely killing bad guys but on identifying them, which can only be done with the help of the populace.

No matter how many times these lessons are validated in battle, they have their critics in the conventional military, who argue that today the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, in particular, have put too much emphasis on COIN and not enough on conventional missions such as armored warfare or amphibious landings. They fret that by getting ready for COIN — a particularly thankless and difficult task — the military will be asked to do more of it, and they don’t think that’s in our national interest.

Nadia Schadlow, a leading security scholar and a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation (which, full disclosure, has provided some funding for my work), has now penned a compelling critique of the anti-COIN arguments in the Armed Forces Journal. The whole essay is well worth reading.

Schadlow argues that guerrilla warfare and terrorism are “recurring” forms of warfare and to prepare for them is the best way to ensure that adversaries will be deterred from attacking us. She also counters the argument that the army has become too COIN-centric, writing that “the Army’s overall approach over the past several years has been to build and train a force capable of fighting across the full spectrum of operations.”

She concludes:

The current COIN doctrine emerged as a corrective to the American tendency to take an engineering or technological approach to war, one that divorces war from its enduring human, psychological and political nature. COIN doctrine, therefore, fills an important gap by identifying operational and tactical requirements that are a part of war — particularly those wars that involve insurgents who are fighting to undermine legitimate governments and establish control over populations or territory.

This is a debate well worth having; no military force should subscribe exclusively to one worldview or orthodoxy. But in the continuing debate over COIN doctrine, count me on Schadlow’s side — we’d better get ready for these types of conflicts because guerrillas and terrorists aren’t going away.

In certain U.S. military circles, there has been a backlash against “COIN”– the acronym for counterinsurgency operations. This is a strategy for fighting guerrillas and terrorists, which has evolved over centuries and was last a focus of U.S. military study in the Vietnam War. Then in the 1970s it was discarded in a mental rubbish bin, only to be revived and updated midway through the Iraq War, when it became apparent that conventional, firepower-intensive ways of war were not going to defeat elusive insurgents. The key moment was the publication at the end of 2007 of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual — the first manual on the subject produced for the general forces in decades. Shortly after it came out, one of its authors, General David Petraeus, was dispatched to Iraq to oversee the surge. The rest, as they say, is history.

Iraq seems to have validated many of the tenets of COIN theory, and Petraeus is now applying them to Afghanistan. A good summary of current COIN thinking can be found in Petraeus’s “Counterinsurgency Guidance,” which advises his troopers, inter alia, to “secure and serve the population,” “live among the people,” and “consult and build relationships.” All this sounds like common sense except that it runs counter to conventional military thinking, which calls for large forces to sweep through insurgent areas, killing lots of bad guys in the hope of defeating the insurgency. COIN theory is centered not on merely killing bad guys but on identifying them, which can only be done with the help of the populace.

No matter how many times these lessons are validated in battle, they have their critics in the conventional military, who argue that today the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, in particular, have put too much emphasis on COIN and not enough on conventional missions such as armored warfare or amphibious landings. They fret that by getting ready for COIN — a particularly thankless and difficult task — the military will be asked to do more of it, and they don’t think that’s in our national interest.

Nadia Schadlow, a leading security scholar and a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation (which, full disclosure, has provided some funding for my work), has now penned a compelling critique of the anti-COIN arguments in the Armed Forces Journal. The whole essay is well worth reading.

Schadlow argues that guerrilla warfare and terrorism are “recurring” forms of warfare and to prepare for them is the best way to ensure that adversaries will be deterred from attacking us. She also counters the argument that the army has become too COIN-centric, writing that “the Army’s overall approach over the past several years has been to build and train a force capable of fighting across the full spectrum of operations.”

She concludes:

The current COIN doctrine emerged as a corrective to the American tendency to take an engineering or technological approach to war, one that divorces war from its enduring human, psychological and political nature. COIN doctrine, therefore, fills an important gap by identifying operational and tactical requirements that are a part of war — particularly those wars that involve insurgents who are fighting to undermine legitimate governments and establish control over populations or territory.

This is a debate well worth having; no military force should subscribe exclusively to one worldview or orthodoxy. But in the continuing debate over COIN doctrine, count me on Schadlow’s side — we’d better get ready for these types of conflicts because guerrillas and terrorists aren’t going away.

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Petraeus on Afghanistan

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

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Defending Our Afghanistan Policy

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

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Hype and Reality over Rules of Engagement

Having recently returned from more than two weeks in Afghanistan, I was struck by how overblown the whole debate over “Rules of Engagement” has become. Back home, bloggers are becoming apoplectic, claiming that, as one website put it, “Obama’s Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Costing Our Troops Lives.” From such hyperbolic reporting, you would think that American soldiers and Marines are routinely being killed in firefights that they might have won had they been able to summon air or artillery support. Not so. The biggest killer of our troops is IEDs, which no amount of bombing can stop. In fact, too much expenditure of firepower can make it harder for our troops to uncover these deadly booby traps, because it alienates the population — the prime source of intelligence.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has just released an interesting paper on the effects of civilian casualties. It is written by four social scientists, one of them a U.S. Army colonel (Joe Felter) currently serving in Afghanistan. Through a careful study of collateral-damage incidents, they determined that every coalition-caused civilian death results in “6 additional violent incidents in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks.” In other words, being too indiscriminate in the application of firepower creates more enemies than our operations can remove. Which is precisely why General Stanley McChrystal — not President Obama — instituted tight limits on the use of force.

His restrictions have been in part responsible for a decline in American air strikes and in Afghan civilian deaths. As CNN notes: “Civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces ‘reduced considerably’ to 210 during the period [the first half of the year] because of restrictions imposed on the use of airstrikes. … Deaths in airstrikes dropped by more than 50 percent to 94.” That means, in effect, that U.S. troops created fewer enemies for themselves than they have in the past.

The risks incurred by U.S. troops under this policy are somewhat ameliorated by the fact that their numbers have tripled over the past year. That means they can win more fights without having to call in air support. But there is no doubt that the tight restrictions on air strikes have somewhat increased the risks faced by ground forces, even though McChrystal always made it plain that troops have a right and a duty to act in self-defense.

This has resulted in a handful of highly publicized cases, recycled many times in news accounts, in which troops complain that they were prevented from calling in badly needed air strikes. It appears likely that McChrystal’s broad directives, while well-intentioned, were interpreted too bureaucratically and too narrowly by some units. That is something that General David Petraeus and his operational commander, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, are now studying to determine whether adjustments are necessary.

But don’t expect Petraeus to declare Afghanistan a free-fire zone. Nor should he. He is mindful, as McChrystal was, that the Soviets killed more than a million Afghans in the 1980s and still lost the war. The “kill them all” approach to counterinsurgency seldom if ever works, and it is certainly not an option for the armed forces of a liberal superpower that must operate under the glare of media scrutiny. Our armed forces must strike a delicate balance between aggressively hunting insurgents and sparing the population among whom the insurgents hide. That is hard to do, and it requires tremendous discipline and fortitude on the part of the troops, but it is the only way to win a war like this one.

Having recently returned from more than two weeks in Afghanistan, I was struck by how overblown the whole debate over “Rules of Engagement” has become. Back home, bloggers are becoming apoplectic, claiming that, as one website put it, “Obama’s Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Costing Our Troops Lives.” From such hyperbolic reporting, you would think that American soldiers and Marines are routinely being killed in firefights that they might have won had they been able to summon air or artillery support. Not so. The biggest killer of our troops is IEDs, which no amount of bombing can stop. In fact, too much expenditure of firepower can make it harder for our troops to uncover these deadly booby traps, because it alienates the population — the prime source of intelligence.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has just released an interesting paper on the effects of civilian casualties. It is written by four social scientists, one of them a U.S. Army colonel (Joe Felter) currently serving in Afghanistan. Through a careful study of collateral-damage incidents, they determined that every coalition-caused civilian death results in “6 additional violent incidents in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks.” In other words, being too indiscriminate in the application of firepower creates more enemies than our operations can remove. Which is precisely why General Stanley McChrystal — not President Obama — instituted tight limits on the use of force.

His restrictions have been in part responsible for a decline in American air strikes and in Afghan civilian deaths. As CNN notes: “Civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces ‘reduced considerably’ to 210 during the period [the first half of the year] because of restrictions imposed on the use of airstrikes. … Deaths in airstrikes dropped by more than 50 percent to 94.” That means, in effect, that U.S. troops created fewer enemies for themselves than they have in the past.

The risks incurred by U.S. troops under this policy are somewhat ameliorated by the fact that their numbers have tripled over the past year. That means they can win more fights without having to call in air support. But there is no doubt that the tight restrictions on air strikes have somewhat increased the risks faced by ground forces, even though McChrystal always made it plain that troops have a right and a duty to act in self-defense.

This has resulted in a handful of highly publicized cases, recycled many times in news accounts, in which troops complain that they were prevented from calling in badly needed air strikes. It appears likely that McChrystal’s broad directives, while well-intentioned, were interpreted too bureaucratically and too narrowly by some units. That is something that General David Petraeus and his operational commander, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, are now studying to determine whether adjustments are necessary.

But don’t expect Petraeus to declare Afghanistan a free-fire zone. Nor should he. He is mindful, as McChrystal was, that the Soviets killed more than a million Afghans in the 1980s and still lost the war. The “kill them all” approach to counterinsurgency seldom if ever works, and it is certainly not an option for the armed forces of a liberal superpower that must operate under the glare of media scrutiny. Our armed forces must strike a delicate balance between aggressively hunting insurgents and sparing the population among whom the insurgents hide. That is hard to do, and it requires tremendous discipline and fortitude on the part of the troops, but it is the only way to win a war like this one.

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RE: Did Chuck DeVore Exaggerate His Military Service?

Both DeVore and his press aide contacted me, quite exercised about my post regarding his military service. I imagine the Los Angeles Times is getting the same treatment. DeVore e-mails:

I actually have the micro-cassette recording of Lebanon. You can hear multiple bursts of automatic weapons fire with the Israeli officer finally saying “OK, we are done” and then ordering the  press off the hill. Zelnick stayed to complete his report, BTW, much to the discomfort of his cameraman.

But the issue of proximity, of course, is what is in question.

His press aide complains: “But it’s a he-said, she-said exercise — not even close to ‘Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gun fire fantasy.’ It’s a shame you’d participate in tearing down the only pro-Israel candidate in this race or [in] either party.”

First, Clinton chose to confess her erroneous recollection, or that too would have been a she-said, they-said incident. Second, a candidate’s pro- or anti-Israel leanings are irrelevant to an issue of character. I frankly don’t care whether Richard Blumenthal is the next John Bolton; he’s unfit to serve. Third, Carly Fiorina is solidly pro-Israel and has repeatedly criticized Obama’s Israel policy and his approach to Iran. She is warmly received and embraced by California Jewish Republicans. Readers will assess just how credible the DeVore team is.

On the radio appearance, his aide says that he introduced himself as a reservist. Yes, but the statement was about his present status. In the debate, he also says things like: “Well, as I mentioned before, I am the sole candidate on either side of the aisle with military experience. I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. army.” Hmm. Wouldn’t the average person think he meant “regular Army” in that capacity? And in a response to a question on Mirandizing terrorists, DeVore says: “Well, this is a very critical question. I am looking at my U.S. Army Military I.D. card and at the bottom it says Geneva Conventions I.D. Card. On the back it indicates that I am Geneva Conventions Category Four. Which is a field grade officer out of anything that means that if I am captured by Geneva Conventions signatory, I can’t be forced to do physical work and of course Enlisted people will laugh at that. The point though is that I am the only candidate out of both my Republican opponents and Barbara Boxer whose actually studied the law of war and knows the Geneva Convention because we have to study it as someone going though the Command General Staff College in the U.S. Army.” I think the average listener would conclude this is evidence of service in the regular Army.

Well, you have the account of the candidate and of a well-respected (by liberals and conservative alike) press reporter. And there is a transcript of the debate. Voters will have to decide whether DeVore was exaggerating his service. Maybe he should hold a press conference and let the media ask all the questions they like.

Both DeVore and his press aide contacted me, quite exercised about my post regarding his military service. I imagine the Los Angeles Times is getting the same treatment. DeVore e-mails:

I actually have the micro-cassette recording of Lebanon. You can hear multiple bursts of automatic weapons fire with the Israeli officer finally saying “OK, we are done” and then ordering the  press off the hill. Zelnick stayed to complete his report, BTW, much to the discomfort of his cameraman.

But the issue of proximity, of course, is what is in question.

His press aide complains: “But it’s a he-said, she-said exercise — not even close to ‘Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gun fire fantasy.’ It’s a shame you’d participate in tearing down the only pro-Israel candidate in this race or [in] either party.”

First, Clinton chose to confess her erroneous recollection, or that too would have been a she-said, they-said incident. Second, a candidate’s pro- or anti-Israel leanings are irrelevant to an issue of character. I frankly don’t care whether Richard Blumenthal is the next John Bolton; he’s unfit to serve. Third, Carly Fiorina is solidly pro-Israel and has repeatedly criticized Obama’s Israel policy and his approach to Iran. She is warmly received and embraced by California Jewish Republicans. Readers will assess just how credible the DeVore team is.

On the radio appearance, his aide says that he introduced himself as a reservist. Yes, but the statement was about his present status. In the debate, he also says things like: “Well, as I mentioned before, I am the sole candidate on either side of the aisle with military experience. I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. army.” Hmm. Wouldn’t the average person think he meant “regular Army” in that capacity? And in a response to a question on Mirandizing terrorists, DeVore says: “Well, this is a very critical question. I am looking at my U.S. Army Military I.D. card and at the bottom it says Geneva Conventions I.D. Card. On the back it indicates that I am Geneva Conventions Category Four. Which is a field grade officer out of anything that means that if I am captured by Geneva Conventions signatory, I can’t be forced to do physical work and of course Enlisted people will laugh at that. The point though is that I am the only candidate out of both my Republican opponents and Barbara Boxer whose actually studied the law of war and knows the Geneva Convention because we have to study it as someone going though the Command General Staff College in the U.S. Army.” I think the average listener would conclude this is evidence of service in the regular Army.

Well, you have the account of the candidate and of a well-respected (by liberals and conservative alike) press reporter. And there is a transcript of the debate. Voters will have to decide whether DeVore was exaggerating his service. Maybe he should hold a press conference and let the media ask all the questions they like.

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Did Chuck DeVore Exaggerate His Military Service?

I think we’re going to see a flurry of stories on what politicians said about their military service. Howard Dean says the New York Times story on Richard Blumenthal was a “hatchet” job, but if a candidate’s lies about his military service aren’t fair game, I don’t know what is.

The Los Angeles Times has a biographical story on Chuck DeVore, currently running third in the California Senate race. This is not in the league of Richard Blumenthal; it’s more Hillary Clinton–style puffery:

Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program.

What does the Times have? In a radio debate, he said he was the only candidate who’d served in the military: “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. The Times acknowledges that his campaign literature refers to him as a “lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.” And DeVore argues that it is technically correct to say he is “in the Army” since the reserves are part of the Army. OK, I sort of buy that — but he certainly must have known that the listening audience would have thought he meant the regular Army. This is dicier:

He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.

Now we’re into the territory of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gunfire fantasy. The Times tracks down former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick (not a partisan liberal by any means) to debunk DeVore’s story.

This is not as damning as Blumenthal’s repeated and direct lies, but it doesn’t help his cause. DeVore is a solid conservative with a firm pro-Israel position who hasn’t gotten much traction in the race. He shouldn’t have puffed up his military background to try to distinguish himself. Conservatives often surge late in Republican primaries, but this may well hold down his level of support among conservatives who have spent the better part of a week pointing out that there are few things lower than misleading voters about your military record.

I think we’re going to see a flurry of stories on what politicians said about their military service. Howard Dean says the New York Times story on Richard Blumenthal was a “hatchet” job, but if a candidate’s lies about his military service aren’t fair game, I don’t know what is.

The Los Angeles Times has a biographical story on Chuck DeVore, currently running third in the California Senate race. This is not in the league of Richard Blumenthal; it’s more Hillary Clinton–style puffery:

Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program.

What does the Times have? In a radio debate, he said he was the only candidate who’d served in the military: “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. The Times acknowledges that his campaign literature refers to him as a “lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.” And DeVore argues that it is technically correct to say he is “in the Army” since the reserves are part of the Army. OK, I sort of buy that — but he certainly must have known that the listening audience would have thought he meant the regular Army. This is dicier:

He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.

Now we’re into the territory of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gunfire fantasy. The Times tracks down former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick (not a partisan liberal by any means) to debunk DeVore’s story.

This is not as damning as Blumenthal’s repeated and direct lies, but it doesn’t help his cause. DeVore is a solid conservative with a firm pro-Israel position who hasn’t gotten much traction in the race. He shouldn’t have puffed up his military background to try to distinguish himself. Conservatives often surge late in Republican primaries, but this may well hold down his level of support among conservatives who have spent the better part of a week pointing out that there are few things lower than misleading voters about your military record.

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Not the Most Transparent Administration Ever: The Fort Hood Stonewall

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, the chair and ranking minority leader on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have been stymied in their effort to investigate the Fort Hood terrorist attack. They’ve been forced to now subpoena the records they are seeking, for it seems that the administration adamantly refuses to have anyone look over its shoulder. The senators take to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to argue:

The rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2009 — after which U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan was charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder — has been reviewed by the administration and its group of handpicked outsiders, who were all formerly with either the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice. But the administration continues to withhold much of the crucial information from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which we are chairman and ranking member.

This is just not good enough for the American people. There are too many questions that still demand answers. Whatever mistakes were made in the run-up to the Fort Hood shootings need to be uncovered, and an independent, bipartisan congressional investigation is the best way to do it.

As Lieberman makes clear, they aren’t seeking to investigate the shooting — it’s the Army they want to investigate. Specifically, the senators are concerned about the lack of attention which the FBI and Defense Department paid to Major Hassan’s radical behavior and to his e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki. As they note, the Bush administration never tried this sort of stonewall. (“There is recent precedent for Congress to interview agents who may be prosecution witnesses. The Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 interviewed FBI agents who were involved in arresting the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, even though they were potential witnesses in that case.”)

It is hard to escape the conclusion that this administration simply doesn’t want to be second-guessed. We’ve already investigated ourselves, they declare. Not good enough. The senators should keep at it. And the administration should be on notice: should one or both of the Senate or House flip to Republican control, there is going to be a renewed appreciation of the importance of Congressional oversight.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, the chair and ranking minority leader on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have been stymied in their effort to investigate the Fort Hood terrorist attack. They’ve been forced to now subpoena the records they are seeking, for it seems that the administration adamantly refuses to have anyone look over its shoulder. The senators take to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to argue:

The rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2009 — after which U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan was charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder — has been reviewed by the administration and its group of handpicked outsiders, who were all formerly with either the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice. But the administration continues to withhold much of the crucial information from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which we are chairman and ranking member.

This is just not good enough for the American people. There are too many questions that still demand answers. Whatever mistakes were made in the run-up to the Fort Hood shootings need to be uncovered, and an independent, bipartisan congressional investigation is the best way to do it.

As Lieberman makes clear, they aren’t seeking to investigate the shooting — it’s the Army they want to investigate. Specifically, the senators are concerned about the lack of attention which the FBI and Defense Department paid to Major Hassan’s radical behavior and to his e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki. As they note, the Bush administration never tried this sort of stonewall. (“There is recent precedent for Congress to interview agents who may be prosecution witnesses. The Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 interviewed FBI agents who were involved in arresting the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, even though they were potential witnesses in that case.”)

It is hard to escape the conclusion that this administration simply doesn’t want to be second-guessed. We’ve already investigated ourselves, they declare. Not good enough. The senators should keep at it. And the administration should be on notice: should one or both of the Senate or House flip to Republican control, there is going to be a renewed appreciation of the importance of Congressional oversight.

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The Innocents Pack for Damascus

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Rules of Engagement Make Sense

Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army officer who now blogs at Abu Muqawama, has a good piece explaining why Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rules of engagement, designed to minimize civilian casualties, make sense. Those rules have been questioned by a few soldiers, parents of soldiers, and, also, right-wing pundits. He points out (as I have in the past) that “Gen. McChrystal had grown convinced that Afghan civilian casualties were taking an immense toll on the NATO mission in Afghanistan.” He explains:

This was not the conclusion of a scholar who had studied war from the comforts of a library, but rather the words of a student-practitioner of combat who had seen everything else in Afghanistan tried and fail. By 2006, when Gen. McChrystal gave up command of the U.S. military’s most elite Special Operations task force, his units were killing the enemy at a cyclical rate — as fast as they possibly could — and it was not making a difference. A friend of mine likes to say that you cannot kill your way to victory in counterinsurgency campaigns, and that is precisely what Gen. McChrystal learned at the helm of the Joint Special Operations Command.

That is something that McChrystal’s critics still do not seem to have learned.

Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army officer who now blogs at Abu Muqawama, has a good piece explaining why Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rules of engagement, designed to minimize civilian casualties, make sense. Those rules have been questioned by a few soldiers, parents of soldiers, and, also, right-wing pundits. He points out (as I have in the past) that “Gen. McChrystal had grown convinced that Afghan civilian casualties were taking an immense toll on the NATO mission in Afghanistan.” He explains:

This was not the conclusion of a scholar who had studied war from the comforts of a library, but rather the words of a student-practitioner of combat who had seen everything else in Afghanistan tried and fail. By 2006, when Gen. McChrystal gave up command of the U.S. military’s most elite Special Operations task force, his units were killing the enemy at a cyclical rate — as fast as they possibly could — and it was not making a difference. A friend of mine likes to say that you cannot kill your way to victory in counterinsurgency campaigns, and that is precisely what Gen. McChrystal learned at the helm of the Joint Special Operations Command.

That is something that McChrystal’s critics still do not seem to have learned.

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Is This Post-Traumatic Cooking Syndrome?

Fox News reports:

The U.S. Army is investigating allegations that soldiers were attempting to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. The ongoing probe began two months ago, Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, told Fox News. The Army is taking the allegations “extremely seriously,” Grey said, but so far, “there is no credible information to support the allegations.” The suspects were part of a Arabic translation program called “09 Lima” and use Arabic as their first language, two sources told Fox News. Another military source said they were Muslim.Grey would not confirm or deny the sources’ information.

Erick Stakelbeck of CBN adds this nugget:

A source with intimate knowledge of the investigation, which is ongoing, told CBN News investigators suspect the “Fort Jackson Five” may have been in contact with the group of five Washington, DC area Muslims that traveled to Pakistan to wage jihad against U.S. troops in December. That group was arrested by Pakistani authorities, also just before Christmas.

This incident raises further concern about the Army’s whitewash of the Fort Hood incident. Its review of the murder of 13 innocents seemed to go to great lengths to ignore Major Nadal Hasan’s jihadist motivation and the need to focus, specifically, on potential Islamic fundamentalists in its midst who may seek to kill fellow servicemen. We know that the Army had training on the subject before Fort Hood. And we know not much was done. We now know that the Fort Hood report was issued while the poisoning incident investigation was underway. And still the Army sought to soft-pedal the jihadist element.

There is a price to be paid, you see, when we fail to name, identify, understand, and focus on the nature of our enemy. When we dismiss these incidents as the result of some nebulous psychological illness or lump jihadism in with a grab bag of other threats or concerns bearing little relationship to the actual incidents we have experienced, we diffuse our efforts and distract ourselves from the sole task that should occupy our national security apparatus: identifying and destroying jihadists who want to butcher (or poison or blow up) Americans.  That singular focus can come only from the president. Hence, the problem.

Fox News reports:

The U.S. Army is investigating allegations that soldiers were attempting to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. The ongoing probe began two months ago, Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, told Fox News. The Army is taking the allegations “extremely seriously,” Grey said, but so far, “there is no credible information to support the allegations.” The suspects were part of a Arabic translation program called “09 Lima” and use Arabic as their first language, two sources told Fox News. Another military source said they were Muslim.Grey would not confirm or deny the sources’ information.

Erick Stakelbeck of CBN adds this nugget:

A source with intimate knowledge of the investigation, which is ongoing, told CBN News investigators suspect the “Fort Jackson Five” may have been in contact with the group of five Washington, DC area Muslims that traveled to Pakistan to wage jihad against U.S. troops in December. That group was arrested by Pakistani authorities, also just before Christmas.

This incident raises further concern about the Army’s whitewash of the Fort Hood incident. Its review of the murder of 13 innocents seemed to go to great lengths to ignore Major Nadal Hasan’s jihadist motivation and the need to focus, specifically, on potential Islamic fundamentalists in its midst who may seek to kill fellow servicemen. We know that the Army had training on the subject before Fort Hood. And we know not much was done. We now know that the Fort Hood report was issued while the poisoning incident investigation was underway. And still the Army sought to soft-pedal the jihadist element.

There is a price to be paid, you see, when we fail to name, identify, understand, and focus on the nature of our enemy. When we dismiss these incidents as the result of some nebulous psychological illness or lump jihadism in with a grab bag of other threats or concerns bearing little relationship to the actual incidents we have experienced, we diffuse our efforts and distract ourselves from the sole task that should occupy our national security apparatus: identifying and destroying jihadists who want to butcher (or poison or blow up) Americans.  That singular focus can come only from the president. Hence, the problem.

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Ignoring the Obvious

Bill Gertz reports:

Almost two years before the deadly Fort Hood shooting by a radicalized Muslim officer, the U.S. Army was explicitly warned that jihadism — Islamic holy war — was a serious problem and threat to personnel in the U.S., according to participants at a major Army-sponsored conference. The annual Army anti-terrorism conference in Florida in February 2008 included presentations on the threat by counterterrorism specialists Patrick Poole, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers and Terri Wonder. The meeting was organized by the Army’s provost marshal general and included more than 350 force protection and anti-terrorism professionals who came from major Army installations and commands from around the world, according to participants.

We then had three domestic terror attacks. So what happened to the information from the Florida conference? Others are wondering the same thing: “The incidents have raised questions about whether the Army made any effort to ‘operationalize’ the threat warnings from the 2008 conference and develop policies to counter the threats. ‘The answer quite clearly is no,’ Mr. Poole said.”

This is a serious indictment of the Army and raises still more questions about the post-Fort Hood review. As Tom Joscelyn previously wrote, the Fort Hood review seemed to suggest that the system worked. It brushed by what should have been the central concern:

It says nothing of consequence about [Major Nadal] Hasan or how to stop individuals like him in the future. Hasan is not even named in the report, but instead referred to as the “alleged perpetrator.” The report’s authors contend that the sanctity of the criminal investigation into the shooting needs to be upheld. But this is not an excuse for failing to name the attacker. The whole world knows that Major Nidal Malik Hasan did it. . . .

What is relevant is Hasan’s religious and political beliefs. He is a jihadist, although you would never know it by reading the Pentagon’s report. Instead in the report’s “literature review of risk factors for violence,” one comes across this sentence: “Religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor; most fundamentalist groups are not violent, and religious-based violence is not confined to members of fundamentalist groups.”

Both before and after the terrorist incidents, the Army, it appears, has been stubbornly resisting the need to look into the root causes of such incidents and into our enemies’ ideology or to take the necessary steps to change how threats to its personnel should be assessed. This bodes poorly for our ability to prevent future attacks.

Bill Gertz reports:

Almost two years before the deadly Fort Hood shooting by a radicalized Muslim officer, the U.S. Army was explicitly warned that jihadism — Islamic holy war — was a serious problem and threat to personnel in the U.S., according to participants at a major Army-sponsored conference. The annual Army anti-terrorism conference in Florida in February 2008 included presentations on the threat by counterterrorism specialists Patrick Poole, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers and Terri Wonder. The meeting was organized by the Army’s provost marshal general and included more than 350 force protection and anti-terrorism professionals who came from major Army installations and commands from around the world, according to participants.

We then had three domestic terror attacks. So what happened to the information from the Florida conference? Others are wondering the same thing: “The incidents have raised questions about whether the Army made any effort to ‘operationalize’ the threat warnings from the 2008 conference and develop policies to counter the threats. ‘The answer quite clearly is no,’ Mr. Poole said.”

This is a serious indictment of the Army and raises still more questions about the post-Fort Hood review. As Tom Joscelyn previously wrote, the Fort Hood review seemed to suggest that the system worked. It brushed by what should have been the central concern:

It says nothing of consequence about [Major Nadal] Hasan or how to stop individuals like him in the future. Hasan is not even named in the report, but instead referred to as the “alleged perpetrator.” The report’s authors contend that the sanctity of the criminal investigation into the shooting needs to be upheld. But this is not an excuse for failing to name the attacker. The whole world knows that Major Nidal Malik Hasan did it. . . .

What is relevant is Hasan’s religious and political beliefs. He is a jihadist, although you would never know it by reading the Pentagon’s report. Instead in the report’s “literature review of risk factors for violence,” one comes across this sentence: “Religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor; most fundamentalist groups are not violent, and religious-based violence is not confined to members of fundamentalist groups.”

Both before and after the terrorist incidents, the Army, it appears, has been stubbornly resisting the need to look into the root causes of such incidents and into our enemies’ ideology or to take the necessary steps to change how threats to its personnel should be assessed. This bodes poorly for our ability to prevent future attacks.

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The Human-Rights Facade Is Beginning to Crumble

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg's organization, "Cageprisoners"] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg's organization, "Cageprisoners"] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

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Peace in Our Time: Patriots in Poland

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

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Recruitment of Foreigners to Be Welcomed

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

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The Need for Getting Good at Nation Building

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

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Will Obama Confront Critics on the Left?

The Foreign Policy Initiative has put out a handy fact sheet listing and debunking the common arguments against a fully staffed counterinsurgency operation (COIN) in Afghanistan. As FPI explains:

The arguments, when closely considered, expose a default resistance to completing the mission, not a thoughtful dismantling of the pro “surge” case. Below you’ll find a list of the most popular critiques of General Stanley McChrystal’s COIN strategy and resource request, each followed by clear refutations from relevant experts.

The anti-COIN arguments that the fact sheet lays out reminds one, eerily so, of the arguments employed by the Left against the surge in Iraq (the national government is unworthy or inept, the country is too “backward” to sustain a U.S.-led effort, the U.S. Army is stretched too thin, a light footprint will work as well). FPI’s responses to each should be read in full, but the conclusion one comes away with is that the arguments in opposition to COIN are even less compelling this time, in part because we have the experience of Iraq to provide guidance. One of the least effective arguments in opposition to COIN is a circular one: the public isn’t behind this. COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald explains:

Barack Obama has yet to talk about America or its ideals as being worth the fight. It’s no wonder public support for our commitment in Afghanistan is lower today than at any point during the Bush administration. … Since taking office, President Obama has continuously spoken of the United States as a country that “all too often … starts by dictating,” a place that “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” toward allies, where “our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight, [and] all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.” America, in Mr. Obama’s words, “is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.” What kind of dupe would rally behind that place? To make matters worse, while the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan and loose speculation abounded the president went silent on matters of war.

In other words, if the president wants to rally public opinion and debunk the critics of COIN, he can do so, with some effort and determination. But does he? We’ll find out, hopefully soon.

The Foreign Policy Initiative has put out a handy fact sheet listing and debunking the common arguments against a fully staffed counterinsurgency operation (COIN) in Afghanistan. As FPI explains:

The arguments, when closely considered, expose a default resistance to completing the mission, not a thoughtful dismantling of the pro “surge” case. Below you’ll find a list of the most popular critiques of General Stanley McChrystal’s COIN strategy and resource request, each followed by clear refutations from relevant experts.

The anti-COIN arguments that the fact sheet lays out reminds one, eerily so, of the arguments employed by the Left against the surge in Iraq (the national government is unworthy or inept, the country is too “backward” to sustain a U.S.-led effort, the U.S. Army is stretched too thin, a light footprint will work as well). FPI’s responses to each should be read in full, but the conclusion one comes away with is that the arguments in opposition to COIN are even less compelling this time, in part because we have the experience of Iraq to provide guidance. One of the least effective arguments in opposition to COIN is a circular one: the public isn’t behind this. COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald explains:

Barack Obama has yet to talk about America or its ideals as being worth the fight. It’s no wonder public support for our commitment in Afghanistan is lower today than at any point during the Bush administration. … Since taking office, President Obama has continuously spoken of the United States as a country that “all too often … starts by dictating,” a place that “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” toward allies, where “our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight, [and] all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.” America, in Mr. Obama’s words, “is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.” What kind of dupe would rally behind that place? To make matters worse, while the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan and loose speculation abounded the president went silent on matters of war.

In other words, if the president wants to rally public opinion and debunk the critics of COIN, he can do so, with some effort and determination. But does he? We’ll find out, hopefully soon.

Read Less




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