Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bob Gates

Jim Mattis: New Head of Central Command

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

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It’s Obama’s War

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

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A Rare Glimpse of Ground Truth

There are two points to make about the New York Times story concerning the “secret” Bob Gates memo on Iran strategy. One is that Gates forwarded the memo in January. That was about the time it was becoming clear that we were losing accountability on the amount of refined uranium in Iran – and that our certainty about the amount of enriched uranium could be in question as well.

Iran increased indigenous uranium mining dramatically in late 2008 and continued at a rapid pace throughout 2009. The mining activities are not inspected by IAEA. Nor has there been a reported influx of new material to the processing sites that are inspected. There is a growing amount of uranium unaccounted for. Over the past 15 months, Iran has also acquired enough low-enriched uranium to produce a weapon and has proceeded to higher-level enrichment. Iranian’s regime reported success last week with enriching a fresh batch of uranium to 20 percent purity.

The situation has changed since Obama took office, and that puts Gates’s concern in an informative light. Military plans that would have been suitable for the conditions of late 2008 are outdated now. We are not as certain today of where all the refined or enriched uranium is. Moreover, because Iran has made substantial progress during this period, it’s now more important than it was two years ago to strike key research facilities in and around heavily populated Tehran. We can’t be sure today of effectively interdicting the weapons program by hitting only the uranium-processing sites. With the passage of time, the importance of hitting other targets – targets for which the political cost of a strike is much higher – has increased. Unfortunately, as Gates’s comments imply, the activities that would cue us at these sites are also less visible and more ambiguous than at the uranium-processing sites. We will be less certain when significant events have started or culminated at them.

Pundits are looking for a political motive behind the timing of this leak, but my sense about it is different. This is the second thing worth noting about the New York Times story: its absence of apparent spin. There is no subtle attempt to discredit Gates, to question his motive for the memo, or even to help the leaker(s) drive home a policy point. It’s a very different “leak story,” in other words, from previous ones about Obama’s policy in Afghanistan or Bush’s policy in the war on terror.

It’s almost as if the New York Times, itself, has run out of spin: as if it isn’t sure what it wants readers to think about this. That is as heartening, in its way, as the article is evidence that Secretary Gates recognizes how our military planning has fallen behind the pace of events. The piece gives us a glimpse – rare for the mainstream media – of ground truth about a policy situation. And what it shows us is a “bounded” problem: one for which there are pragmatic, relevant options. If Obama chooses to ignore Gates’s warning, even the New York Times may decline to cooperate in spinning that feckless course.

There are two points to make about the New York Times story concerning the “secret” Bob Gates memo on Iran strategy. One is that Gates forwarded the memo in January. That was about the time it was becoming clear that we were losing accountability on the amount of refined uranium in Iran – and that our certainty about the amount of enriched uranium could be in question as well.

Iran increased indigenous uranium mining dramatically in late 2008 and continued at a rapid pace throughout 2009. The mining activities are not inspected by IAEA. Nor has there been a reported influx of new material to the processing sites that are inspected. There is a growing amount of uranium unaccounted for. Over the past 15 months, Iran has also acquired enough low-enriched uranium to produce a weapon and has proceeded to higher-level enrichment. Iranian’s regime reported success last week with enriching a fresh batch of uranium to 20 percent purity.

The situation has changed since Obama took office, and that puts Gates’s concern in an informative light. Military plans that would have been suitable for the conditions of late 2008 are outdated now. We are not as certain today of where all the refined or enriched uranium is. Moreover, because Iran has made substantial progress during this period, it’s now more important than it was two years ago to strike key research facilities in and around heavily populated Tehran. We can’t be sure today of effectively interdicting the weapons program by hitting only the uranium-processing sites. With the passage of time, the importance of hitting other targets – targets for which the political cost of a strike is much higher – has increased. Unfortunately, as Gates’s comments imply, the activities that would cue us at these sites are also less visible and more ambiguous than at the uranium-processing sites. We will be less certain when significant events have started or culminated at them.

Pundits are looking for a political motive behind the timing of this leak, but my sense about it is different. This is the second thing worth noting about the New York Times story: its absence of apparent spin. There is no subtle attempt to discredit Gates, to question his motive for the memo, or even to help the leaker(s) drive home a policy point. It’s a very different “leak story,” in other words, from previous ones about Obama’s policy in Afghanistan or Bush’s policy in the war on terror.

It’s almost as if the New York Times, itself, has run out of spin: as if it isn’t sure what it wants readers to think about this. That is as heartening, in its way, as the article is evidence that Secretary Gates recognizes how our military planning has fallen behind the pace of events. The piece gives us a glimpse – rare for the mainstream media – of ground truth about a policy situation. And what it shows us is a “bounded” problem: one for which there are pragmatic, relevant options. If Obama chooses to ignore Gates’s warning, even the New York Times may decline to cooperate in spinning that feckless course.

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Hopeful Signs on U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord — Finally

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? A Reasonable Compromise

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

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Fresh Buzz: Reintegration

A new political theme is slipping the surly bonds of caution this week, as negotiators prepare to converge on London for the upcoming conference on Afghanistan. Suddenly the word “reintegration” is on every tongue, and conferees affirm portentously that the solution in Afghanistan “must be political.” Lest the meaning of that be missed, Sweden’s venerable Carl Bildt offers this clarification: “There is no military solution.”

This is a straw man, of course; no one says there is a “military solution” for unifying and pacifying Afghanistan. But Defense Secretary Bob Gates and General Stanley McChrystal have been clear in the last week that military operations must be one of the tools used to achieve the long-term solution. The candidates for reintegration into Afghanistan’s polity are the Taliban, and among them are factions that have shown no sign at any time of being amenable to consensual negotiation or compromise. They attack civilians and military forces alike in their campaign to destabilize the central government in Kabul.

The Taliban’s record in the past month forms a striking contrast with the pace of reintegration being proposed in political circles. After killing nearly 100 people at a volleyball match in Pakistan and assassinating CIA agents at a base in Afghanistan, the Taliban killed 20 in a market bombing in central Afghanistan and killed seven and wounded 71 in coordinated attacks in downtown Kabul. These tallies don’t reflect smaller incidents in the AfPak theater during the same period, but they are in line with the UN’s report that 2009 was the Taliban’s bloodiest year since the regime change in 2001. Hamid Karzai’s reintegration policy for the Taliban has naturally been endorsed by President Obama and our NATO allies, but there is no evidence as yet — not even a photo op — of any material reciprocation from the insurgents.

European leaders nevertheless show signs of favoring reintegration measures like the ones outlined by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. In light of the Taliban’s unrelieved recalcitrance, adopting this list unilaterally would clearly be getting ahead of ourselves. It’s too early to talk about removing Taliban members from terror lists, or limiting Karzai’s latitude with a UN mandate for him to sit down with the insurgents. Gates and McChrystal have spoken consistently of using a multi-pronged approach, including military operations, to create the conditions for productive diplomacy — and those conditions don’t exist yet. Comments from both men have made it clear that their position has not changed, even though the media is portraying their endorsement of eventual negotiations somewhat misleadingly, as if they might be ready to dispense with the inconvenient labor of shaping conditions beforehand.

We haven’t heard much from Obama on this. We can hope that he concurs with his defense leadership, although there have been troubling indications of divergence in the definitions being used by the White House and the Pentagon. The Taliban are not even pretending to be potential negotiators; they’re giving the international coalition no excuse for deceiving itself about their intentions or openness to compromise. Obama should exercise the coalition leadership necessary to keep the effort in Afghanistan on track, and not let it lose its way in imprudent shortcuts.

A new political theme is slipping the surly bonds of caution this week, as negotiators prepare to converge on London for the upcoming conference on Afghanistan. Suddenly the word “reintegration” is on every tongue, and conferees affirm portentously that the solution in Afghanistan “must be political.” Lest the meaning of that be missed, Sweden’s venerable Carl Bildt offers this clarification: “There is no military solution.”

This is a straw man, of course; no one says there is a “military solution” for unifying and pacifying Afghanistan. But Defense Secretary Bob Gates and General Stanley McChrystal have been clear in the last week that military operations must be one of the tools used to achieve the long-term solution. The candidates for reintegration into Afghanistan’s polity are the Taliban, and among them are factions that have shown no sign at any time of being amenable to consensual negotiation or compromise. They attack civilians and military forces alike in their campaign to destabilize the central government in Kabul.

The Taliban’s record in the past month forms a striking contrast with the pace of reintegration being proposed in political circles. After killing nearly 100 people at a volleyball match in Pakistan and assassinating CIA agents at a base in Afghanistan, the Taliban killed 20 in a market bombing in central Afghanistan and killed seven and wounded 71 in coordinated attacks in downtown Kabul. These tallies don’t reflect smaller incidents in the AfPak theater during the same period, but they are in line with the UN’s report that 2009 was the Taliban’s bloodiest year since the regime change in 2001. Hamid Karzai’s reintegration policy for the Taliban has naturally been endorsed by President Obama and our NATO allies, but there is no evidence as yet — not even a photo op — of any material reciprocation from the insurgents.

European leaders nevertheless show signs of favoring reintegration measures like the ones outlined by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. In light of the Taliban’s unrelieved recalcitrance, adopting this list unilaterally would clearly be getting ahead of ourselves. It’s too early to talk about removing Taliban members from terror lists, or limiting Karzai’s latitude with a UN mandate for him to sit down with the insurgents. Gates and McChrystal have spoken consistently of using a multi-pronged approach, including military operations, to create the conditions for productive diplomacy — and those conditions don’t exist yet. Comments from both men have made it clear that their position has not changed, even though the media is portraying their endorsement of eventual negotiations somewhat misleadingly, as if they might be ready to dispense with the inconvenient labor of shaping conditions beforehand.

We haven’t heard much from Obama on this. We can hope that he concurs with his defense leadership, although there have been troubling indications of divergence in the definitions being used by the White House and the Pentagon. The Taliban are not even pretending to be potential negotiators; they’re giving the international coalition no excuse for deceiving itself about their intentions or openness to compromise. Obama should exercise the coalition leadership necessary to keep the effort in Afghanistan on track, and not let it lose its way in imprudent shortcuts.

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Obama’s Afghan Incoherence

Amid the (much justified) focus on the administration’s mishandling of the underwear-bomber, this Washington Post article, which appeared the day after Christmas, hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It focuses on the administration’s mishandling of Afghanistan. Reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran reveals a deep disconnect between certain politicos in the White House, on the one hand, and, on the other, the military and Defense Department, regarding what exactly our policy toward Afghanistan is. The West Point address was supposed to settle all that, but it only added to the confusion. Chandrasekaran writes:

Members of Obama’s war cabinet disagree over the meaning of his pledge to begin drawing down forces in July 2011 and whether the mission has been narrowed from a proposal advanced by McChrystal in his August assessment of the war. The disagreements have opened a fault line between a desire for an early exit among several senior officials at the White House and a conviction among military commanders that victory is still achievable on their terms.

The most obvious confusion surrounds the 2011 deadline that was opposed by Generals McChrystal and Petraeus as well as by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates but was pushed by Vice President Joe Biden and the president himself. Both supporters and opponents are rushing to put their spin on the policy:

Gates, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Sunday after the speech, said that perhaps only “some handful or some small number” would be withdrawn. Biden, during his MSNBC appearance last week, said a chart showing an increase in U.S. deployments this year would be “coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Both men can’t be right. The only one who knows for sure which is correct is Obama himself and he isn’t saying, perhaps because he is leaving his options open. But by putting the deadline out there at all, the president is fostering the view among our friends and allies in the region that we’re on the way out. Only he can refute that impression, and to date he hasn’t. That, in turn, makes it much harder for the troops to get the job done.

Then there is the confusion over exactly what our troops are doing. Apparently some White House officials think that they have circumscribed the troops’ mission so that McChrystal won’t be doing full-spectrum counterinsurgency — which is the only way to win (a word the president refuses to use). The article notes that Biden told MSNBC: “The strategy has fundamentally changed. This is not a COIN strategy.” But McChrystal is still planning to carry out a counterinsurgency in the east and south — and rightly so.

Which leaves the entire world wondering what exactly we’re up to. The Post account includes this telling quote:

“Is the surge a way of helping us leave more quickly, or is the timeline a way to help win support for the surge?” asked a senior Democratic staff member in Congress. “Which is the strategy and which is the head-fake? Nobody knows.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.

Amid the (much justified) focus on the administration’s mishandling of the underwear-bomber, this Washington Post article, which appeared the day after Christmas, hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It focuses on the administration’s mishandling of Afghanistan. Reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran reveals a deep disconnect between certain politicos in the White House, on the one hand, and, on the other, the military and Defense Department, regarding what exactly our policy toward Afghanistan is. The West Point address was supposed to settle all that, but it only added to the confusion. Chandrasekaran writes:

Members of Obama’s war cabinet disagree over the meaning of his pledge to begin drawing down forces in July 2011 and whether the mission has been narrowed from a proposal advanced by McChrystal in his August assessment of the war. The disagreements have opened a fault line between a desire for an early exit among several senior officials at the White House and a conviction among military commanders that victory is still achievable on their terms.

The most obvious confusion surrounds the 2011 deadline that was opposed by Generals McChrystal and Petraeus as well as by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates but was pushed by Vice President Joe Biden and the president himself. Both supporters and opponents are rushing to put their spin on the policy:

Gates, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Sunday after the speech, said that perhaps only “some handful or some small number” would be withdrawn. Biden, during his MSNBC appearance last week, said a chart showing an increase in U.S. deployments this year would be “coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Both men can’t be right. The only one who knows for sure which is correct is Obama himself and he isn’t saying, perhaps because he is leaving his options open. But by putting the deadline out there at all, the president is fostering the view among our friends and allies in the region that we’re on the way out. Only he can refute that impression, and to date he hasn’t. That, in turn, makes it much harder for the troops to get the job done.

Then there is the confusion over exactly what our troops are doing. Apparently some White House officials think that they have circumscribed the troops’ mission so that McChrystal won’t be doing full-spectrum counterinsurgency — which is the only way to win (a word the president refuses to use). The article notes that Biden told MSNBC: “The strategy has fundamentally changed. This is not a COIN strategy.” But McChrystal is still planning to carry out a counterinsurgency in the east and south — and rightly so.

Which leaves the entire world wondering what exactly we’re up to. The Post account includes this telling quote:

“Is the surge a way of helping us leave more quickly, or is the timeline a way to help win support for the surge?” asked a senior Democratic staff member in Congress. “Which is the strategy and which is the head-fake? Nobody knows.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.

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The Indispensible Senator

There is little doubt these days that Sen. Joe Lieberman is the most important man in the U.S. Senate. In a must-read Wall Street Journal interview he explains his objections to the public option and to ObamaCare more generally. As to the former, he observes:

It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can’t afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?. . . It doesn’t help one poor person get insurance who doesn’t have it now. It doesn’t compel one insurance company to provide insurance to somebody who has an illness. And . . . it doesn’t do anything to reduce the cost of insurance.

But it’s not just the public option. He’s not buying the supposed deficit neutrality of the Democrats’ scheme. He’s not buying that the Medicare cuts are for real or that the current bill will control costs. It sure sounds as though he’s going to vote to filibuster the sort of bill moving through the Senate. In short, Lieberman may be the only man, or at least the most resolute one, standing in the way of an atrocious government takeover of health care.

And on Afghanistan, Lieberman addresses concerns about the 18-month deadline to which many conservatives have objected:

But after probing Defense Secretary Bob Gates in a Senate hearing this week, he’s now more confident. “[Gates] compared it to the so-called ‘overwatch,’ which is really what we did in Iraq. As we felt the Iraqis were prepared to take over in certain areas, we pulled back but we didn’t pull out.” Mr. Lieberman believes this “pull back” is what begins in July 2011, and also felt he got assurances that it would start only in “uncontested” areas—and that there is no deadline for when all 30,000 troops must leave.

He cautions, however, that it’s up to the president to rally the country.

On these and other topics — Iran, the KSM trial, and the Patriot Act — Lieberman is once again front and center, arguing for a robust response to the threats America faces and opposing his Democratic former colleagues. One can argue it is only because the Senate generally depends on 60, not 51 votes, that Lieberman has such extraordinary and unique influence. But in truth, Lieberman has that influence because of the serious arguments he presents, his lack of political cant, and the moral clarity he brings to the debate. He has become the indispensable senator.

There is little doubt these days that Sen. Joe Lieberman is the most important man in the U.S. Senate. In a must-read Wall Street Journal interview he explains his objections to the public option and to ObamaCare more generally. As to the former, he observes:

It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can’t afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?. . . It doesn’t help one poor person get insurance who doesn’t have it now. It doesn’t compel one insurance company to provide insurance to somebody who has an illness. And . . . it doesn’t do anything to reduce the cost of insurance.

But it’s not just the public option. He’s not buying the supposed deficit neutrality of the Democrats’ scheme. He’s not buying that the Medicare cuts are for real or that the current bill will control costs. It sure sounds as though he’s going to vote to filibuster the sort of bill moving through the Senate. In short, Lieberman may be the only man, or at least the most resolute one, standing in the way of an atrocious government takeover of health care.

And on Afghanistan, Lieberman addresses concerns about the 18-month deadline to which many conservatives have objected:

But after probing Defense Secretary Bob Gates in a Senate hearing this week, he’s now more confident. “[Gates] compared it to the so-called ‘overwatch,’ which is really what we did in Iraq. As we felt the Iraqis were prepared to take over in certain areas, we pulled back but we didn’t pull out.” Mr. Lieberman believes this “pull back” is what begins in July 2011, and also felt he got assurances that it would start only in “uncontested” areas—and that there is no deadline for when all 30,000 troops must leave.

He cautions, however, that it’s up to the president to rally the country.

On these and other topics — Iran, the KSM trial, and the Patriot Act — Lieberman is once again front and center, arguing for a robust response to the threats America faces and opposing his Democratic former colleagues. One can argue it is only because the Senate generally depends on 60, not 51 votes, that Lieberman has such extraordinary and unique influence. But in truth, Lieberman has that influence because of the serious arguments he presents, his lack of political cant, and the moral clarity he brings to the debate. He has become the indispensable senator.

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They Have to Win Anyway

Writing before Tuesday’s speech Rich Lowry observed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing before Tuesday’s speech Rich Lowry observed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gates on Low-Intensity Warfare

As the Iraq War has gone on and on, serious doubts have been raised within the military about whether we are becoming overly focused on low-intensity warfare. Many officers fret that skills at conventional warfighting are deteriorating, and this is cited by some as cause to pull more forces out of Iraq faster. Defense Secretary Bob Gates offered a trenchant rebuttal to those critics in a speech today at a Heritage Foundation event in Colorado.

He rightly warned against “a tendency towards what might be called “Next-War-itis–the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict.” While the military has to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios, he noted that “it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms–ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank–for some time to come.”

On the other hand, the threat from unconventional forces of the kind we’re facing in Afghanistan and Iraq is real, and it’s not going away. “The implication, particularly for America’s ground forces,” he continued, “means we must institutionalize the lessons learned and capabilities honed from the ongoing conflicts….What we must guard against is the kind of backsliding that has occurred in the past, where if nature takes it course, these kinds of capabilities –that is counter-insurgency–tend to wither on the vine.”

He closed with a powerful point that military critics of the war effort need to come to terms with: “The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater–to that institution, as well as to our country–if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.”

One might think that what the defense secretary is saying is simply common sense–except that it runs counter to the view of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who was very much in thrall to “Next War-itis.” On this matter, as on so many others, Gates has been a welcome and refreshing change.

As the Iraq War has gone on and on, serious doubts have been raised within the military about whether we are becoming overly focused on low-intensity warfare. Many officers fret that skills at conventional warfighting are deteriorating, and this is cited by some as cause to pull more forces out of Iraq faster. Defense Secretary Bob Gates offered a trenchant rebuttal to those critics in a speech today at a Heritage Foundation event in Colorado.

He rightly warned against “a tendency towards what might be called “Next-War-itis–the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict.” While the military has to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios, he noted that “it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms–ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank–for some time to come.”

On the other hand, the threat from unconventional forces of the kind we’re facing in Afghanistan and Iraq is real, and it’s not going away. “The implication, particularly for America’s ground forces,” he continued, “means we must institutionalize the lessons learned and capabilities honed from the ongoing conflicts….What we must guard against is the kind of backsliding that has occurred in the past, where if nature takes it course, these kinds of capabilities –that is counter-insurgency–tend to wither on the vine.”

He closed with a powerful point that military critics of the war effort need to come to terms with: “The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater–to that institution, as well as to our country–if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.”

One might think that what the defense secretary is saying is simply common sense–except that it runs counter to the view of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who was very much in thrall to “Next War-itis.” On this matter, as on so many others, Gates has been a welcome and refreshing change.

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Bob Gates on Dissent

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

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

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

He went on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He went on:

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

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

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

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

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Smart Drawdowns

Sometimes I despair of this administration. After three and a half years of fumbling, the president in late 2006 finally made a courageous if overdue decision to send more troops to Iraq. The payoff has been impressive: The war effort was rescued from the brink of defeat. Now the withdrawal of the surge brigades is underway, and no one knows what will happen when the number of U.S. troops goes back to roughly the pre-surge level of 140,000 by mid-July. At the same time thousands of detainees are being released from American custody, and tensions continue between the Iraqi government and neighborhood volunteers—the Concerned Local Citizens.

The only responsible stance in such a situation is to go slow on troop drawdowns. General Petraeus has recommended a pause and evaluation before resuming the withdrawals. But certain sectors of the administration and the military seem determined to accelerate the pace of withdrawals no matter what. On Friday a “senior White House official”—presumably National Security Adviser Steve Hadley or possibly his deputy, Doug Lute—told reports that, as the Wall Street Journal story has it, “the temporary halt in troop reductions set to begin in July would likely last only four to six weeks, and further withdrawals would almost certainly occur in 2008.” This same article quotes aides to Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying “troop withdrawals could resume this fall and continue at the pace of one brigade — about 3,500-4,500 troops — a month, pushing overall troop levels down to roughly 115,000 by the end of the year, the lowest level since the invasion.”

Why does anyone in the administration think it’s helpful to raise expectations that U.S. troop levels could fall so dramatically by the end of the year? It can’t be for domestic political reasons, surely. The president isn’t standing for reelection, and the Republican nominee, John McCain, has been the most stalwart defender of the surge. In any case, in the past we’ve seen that what has hurt public support for the war effort and the Republican Party is not the total troop levels but the perception that our troops weren’t winning. Now our troops are winning, but a too-sudden withdrawal could jeopardize that progress.

I fully understand and sympathize with the imperative to drawdown. General George Casey, the army chief of staff, is right to warn of the strain on the force. The sacrifices of our fighting men and women have been beyond praise, and everyone wishes we could bring as many of them home as soon as possible. But few soldiers I have spoken to want to come home prematurely if it means leaving the mission undone. And make no mistake: that is the risk we run.

It’s quite possible that it may be prudent to resume a drawdown in the fall. But why speculate about that now? It can only encourage our enemies to wait us out and doubt our resolve. At least that has been the effect in the past of such leaks about troop drawdowns which seemed to emanate every other month from the Rumsfeld Department of Defense.

Sometimes I despair of this administration. After three and a half years of fumbling, the president in late 2006 finally made a courageous if overdue decision to send more troops to Iraq. The payoff has been impressive: The war effort was rescued from the brink of defeat. Now the withdrawal of the surge brigades is underway, and no one knows what will happen when the number of U.S. troops goes back to roughly the pre-surge level of 140,000 by mid-July. At the same time thousands of detainees are being released from American custody, and tensions continue between the Iraqi government and neighborhood volunteers—the Concerned Local Citizens.

The only responsible stance in such a situation is to go slow on troop drawdowns. General Petraeus has recommended a pause and evaluation before resuming the withdrawals. But certain sectors of the administration and the military seem determined to accelerate the pace of withdrawals no matter what. On Friday a “senior White House official”—presumably National Security Adviser Steve Hadley or possibly his deputy, Doug Lute—told reports that, as the Wall Street Journal story has it, “the temporary halt in troop reductions set to begin in July would likely last only four to six weeks, and further withdrawals would almost certainly occur in 2008.” This same article quotes aides to Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying “troop withdrawals could resume this fall and continue at the pace of one brigade — about 3,500-4,500 troops — a month, pushing overall troop levels down to roughly 115,000 by the end of the year, the lowest level since the invasion.”

Why does anyone in the administration think it’s helpful to raise expectations that U.S. troop levels could fall so dramatically by the end of the year? It can’t be for domestic political reasons, surely. The president isn’t standing for reelection, and the Republican nominee, John McCain, has been the most stalwart defender of the surge. In any case, in the past we’ve seen that what has hurt public support for the war effort and the Republican Party is not the total troop levels but the perception that our troops weren’t winning. Now our troops are winning, but a too-sudden withdrawal could jeopardize that progress.

I fully understand and sympathize with the imperative to drawdown. General George Casey, the army chief of staff, is right to warn of the strain on the force. The sacrifices of our fighting men and women have been beyond praise, and everyone wishes we could bring as many of them home as soon as possible. But few soldiers I have spoken to want to come home prematurely if it means leaving the mission undone. And make no mistake: that is the risk we run.

It’s quite possible that it may be prudent to resume a drawdown in the fall. But why speculate about that now? It can only encourage our enemies to wait us out and doubt our resolve. At least that has been the effect in the past of such leaks about troop drawdowns which seemed to emanate every other month from the Rumsfeld Department of Defense.

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Jacoby and the Path to Citizenship

He doesn’t get the attention that he deserves because he doesn’t work for one of the big Washington or New York publications, but Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe is one of America’s best conservative columnists. Therefore it is significant that in his column today he endorses an idea I’ve been pushing for a while: letting volunteers without Green Cards or American citizenship sign up to serve in our armed forces.

We already have procedures in place to expedite the citizenship process for permanent residents in uniform. But Jacoby argues that

the ability to earn American citizenship through military service needn’t be limited to legal immigrants. Among the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States are an estimated 750,000 young men and women of military age, many of whom would welcome the opportunity to become US citizens in return for serving in the armed forces.

Expanding the recruitment pool to include them would make it easier for the military to build up its ranks without having to lower its standards. And what better way for illegal immigrants to come “out of the shadows” and assimilate fully into American life than by wearing their adopted country’s uniform in wartime?

Going further, he endorses an idea that Mike O’Hanlon and I have put forward of “opening military service not just to immigrants already here but to would-be immigrants elsewhere.”

This is an idea that raises predictable hackles from nativists, but as we’ve seen in this campaign season, the anti-immigrant lobby, while vocal and well-organized, hardly speaks for a majority of Republicans, much less a majority of Americans–or else John McCain, their bête noire, would never have won the Republican nomination.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has it within his power with the stroke of a pen to waive the Green Card requirement for enlistment. He should do it now. Otherwise the army in particular will have a hard time attracting all the high-quality volunteers that it needs, not only to fill today’s force but also the larger force we need to build for the future.

He doesn’t get the attention that he deserves because he doesn’t work for one of the big Washington or New York publications, but Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe is one of America’s best conservative columnists. Therefore it is significant that in his column today he endorses an idea I’ve been pushing for a while: letting volunteers without Green Cards or American citizenship sign up to serve in our armed forces.

We already have procedures in place to expedite the citizenship process for permanent residents in uniform. But Jacoby argues that

the ability to earn American citizenship through military service needn’t be limited to legal immigrants. Among the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States are an estimated 750,000 young men and women of military age, many of whom would welcome the opportunity to become US citizens in return for serving in the armed forces.

Expanding the recruitment pool to include them would make it easier for the military to build up its ranks without having to lower its standards. And what better way for illegal immigrants to come “out of the shadows” and assimilate fully into American life than by wearing their adopted country’s uniform in wartime?

Going further, he endorses an idea that Mike O’Hanlon and I have put forward of “opening military service not just to immigrants already here but to would-be immigrants elsewhere.”

This is an idea that raises predictable hackles from nativists, but as we’ve seen in this campaign season, the anti-immigrant lobby, while vocal and well-organized, hardly speaks for a majority of Republicans, much less a majority of Americans–or else John McCain, their bête noire, would never have won the Republican nomination.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has it within his power with the stroke of a pen to waive the Green Card requirement for enlistment. He should do it now. Otherwise the army in particular will have a hard time attracting all the high-quality volunteers that it needs, not only to fill today’s force but also the larger force we need to build for the future.

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Gates on Iraq

Two documents seized from Al Qaeda in Iraq members and released by coalition forces reveal that the world’s most deadly terrorist organization has fallen on hard times. As summed up in this news story:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an ‘extraordinary crisis’. Last year’s mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military ‘created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight’. The terrorist group’s security structure suffered ‘total collapse’.

While down, Al Qaeda is hardly out. Its terrorists continue to perpetrate atrocities such as employing women with Down’s syndrome as unwitting suicide bombers. Gruesome stories like that serve as a powerful reminder of the need to continue fighting and fighting hard. Taking too many American troops out of Iraq too fast could allow these monsters to get back on their feet, so it is good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is endorsing a pause on further withdrawals after our troop levels go down to 15 Brigade Combat Teams (from the current 19) by the end of July.

After meeting with General David Petraeus, who favors such a pause, Gates said:

I think the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense. I must say that in my own thinking I have been . . . heading in that direction as well.

In the past Gates has talked about reducing troop levels even more later this year, so it’s comforting to hear that he seems to be backing off. The only worrisome aspect of his comment is the modifier “brief” before the phrase “period of consolidation.” It may well turn out that to continue making progress in Iraq we may need to keep 15 BCT’s in Iraq (about 140,000 troops) for a considerable period. Gates would do well to prepare the public for that possibility.

Two documents seized from Al Qaeda in Iraq members and released by coalition forces reveal that the world’s most deadly terrorist organization has fallen on hard times. As summed up in this news story:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an ‘extraordinary crisis’. Last year’s mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military ‘created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight’. The terrorist group’s security structure suffered ‘total collapse’.

While down, Al Qaeda is hardly out. Its terrorists continue to perpetrate atrocities such as employing women with Down’s syndrome as unwitting suicide bombers. Gruesome stories like that serve as a powerful reminder of the need to continue fighting and fighting hard. Taking too many American troops out of Iraq too fast could allow these monsters to get back on their feet, so it is good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is endorsing a pause on further withdrawals after our troop levels go down to 15 Brigade Combat Teams (from the current 19) by the end of July.

After meeting with General David Petraeus, who favors such a pause, Gates said:

I think the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense. I must say that in my own thinking I have been . . . heading in that direction as well.

In the past Gates has talked about reducing troop levels even more later this year, so it’s comforting to hear that he seems to be backing off. The only worrisome aspect of his comment is the modifier “brief” before the phrase “period of consolidation.” It may well turn out that to continue making progress in Iraq we may need to keep 15 BCT’s in Iraq (about 140,000 troops) for a considerable period. Gates would do well to prepare the public for that possibility.

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Gates in Munich

I just got back from the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of defense officials and policy wonks from both sides of the Atlantic. This year’s meeting lacked the drama of last year, when Vladimir Putin delivered a blistering anti-Western harangue. This year, senior Russian representative Sergey Ivanov, the first deputy prime minister, struck a more low-key note in his address. Instead of delivering threats, he mostly bragged about how rich Russia has become (“during the last 9 years the gross domestic product in Russia has increased by 80 per cent”), though even this mainly economic address carried an implicit geopolitical message—that the West would have to accommodate a newly powerful Russia.

But it is impossible for Russian officials at an international gathering to remain on their best behavior for long—especially when their supreme leader is so determined to foment conflict between Russia and the West in order to justify the rule of an increasingly repressive Kremlin clique. Thus the best exchange occurred when Aleksey Ostrovsky, chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, put the following “question”—more like a challenge—to Defense Secretary Bob Gates:

At present the entire world faces the threat of terrorism which emanates primarily from Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization. Don’t you think that in the first place this organization for its appearance and the serious threat of terrorism we witness today, it is the fault of the leadership of your country and of your security services in the 1970’s and the 80’s of the last century, when for American money, with the active political support the Afghan mujahedin were fighting the Soviet troops who tried to support peace and order in that country. And after that when the Soviet troops left, for all intents and purposes, people who have been created by you were idle.

It almost sounds as if Ostrovsky has been reading Noam Chomsky. He’s repeating, after all, a favorite talking point of the Western left—that Al Qaeda is an American creation. He does however add a uniquely Russian spin with his defense of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which he claims was designed “to support peace and order in that country.”

Gates is more mild-mannered than his predecessor, Don Rumsfeld, but he did not back down from this ludicrous challenge. His answer is worth quoting because it was an effective refutation of a canard that has gotten widespread support:

Well, with respect to the first question and the responsibility of the United States for a revived variety of ills, it reminded me of my old days in the CIA when people thought that not a leaf fell around the world without CIA knowing about it or being responsible for it. With respect to the threat from Al Qaeda and the notion that it is the fault of the U.S., I think we have a bit of a chicken and egg problem here. My own view is the threat from Al Qaeda began with the Soviet invasion of a sovereign state in December 1979, a state that up to that point had not represented a threat to anybody in the world, except to a certain extent its own people because of its weakness and poverty. It was the Soviet invasion that in fact created the holy warriors, the mujahedin, determined to take on the Soviet military. The United States does not shrink from responsibility for providing them with the tools and the weapons and whatever they needed in order to expel a foreign invader. That same kind of religious fervor that helped create the mujahedin and helped expel the Soviet Union in subsequent years was distorted and certain extremists among the mujahedin became stronger, and we have the problem we have. So I would say if the United States, if we bear a particular responsibility for the role of the mujahedin and Al Qaeda growing up in Afghanistan, it had more to do with our abandonment with the country in 1989 rather than our assistance to it in 1979. And I think that most Americans think that we erred in turning our backs on Afghanistan after the Soviets left.

Good job, Mr. Secretary!

I just got back from the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of defense officials and policy wonks from both sides of the Atlantic. This year’s meeting lacked the drama of last year, when Vladimir Putin delivered a blistering anti-Western harangue. This year, senior Russian representative Sergey Ivanov, the first deputy prime minister, struck a more low-key note in his address. Instead of delivering threats, he mostly bragged about how rich Russia has become (“during the last 9 years the gross domestic product in Russia has increased by 80 per cent”), though even this mainly economic address carried an implicit geopolitical message—that the West would have to accommodate a newly powerful Russia.

But it is impossible for Russian officials at an international gathering to remain on their best behavior for long—especially when their supreme leader is so determined to foment conflict between Russia and the West in order to justify the rule of an increasingly repressive Kremlin clique. Thus the best exchange occurred when Aleksey Ostrovsky, chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, put the following “question”—more like a challenge—to Defense Secretary Bob Gates:

At present the entire world faces the threat of terrorism which emanates primarily from Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization. Don’t you think that in the first place this organization for its appearance and the serious threat of terrorism we witness today, it is the fault of the leadership of your country and of your security services in the 1970’s and the 80’s of the last century, when for American money, with the active political support the Afghan mujahedin were fighting the Soviet troops who tried to support peace and order in that country. And after that when the Soviet troops left, for all intents and purposes, people who have been created by you were idle.

It almost sounds as if Ostrovsky has been reading Noam Chomsky. He’s repeating, after all, a favorite talking point of the Western left—that Al Qaeda is an American creation. He does however add a uniquely Russian spin with his defense of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which he claims was designed “to support peace and order in that country.”

Gates is more mild-mannered than his predecessor, Don Rumsfeld, but he did not back down from this ludicrous challenge. His answer is worth quoting because it was an effective refutation of a canard that has gotten widespread support:

Well, with respect to the first question and the responsibility of the United States for a revived variety of ills, it reminded me of my old days in the CIA when people thought that not a leaf fell around the world without CIA knowing about it or being responsible for it. With respect to the threat from Al Qaeda and the notion that it is the fault of the U.S., I think we have a bit of a chicken and egg problem here. My own view is the threat from Al Qaeda began with the Soviet invasion of a sovereign state in December 1979, a state that up to that point had not represented a threat to anybody in the world, except to a certain extent its own people because of its weakness and poverty. It was the Soviet invasion that in fact created the holy warriors, the mujahedin, determined to take on the Soviet military. The United States does not shrink from responsibility for providing them with the tools and the weapons and whatever they needed in order to expel a foreign invader. That same kind of religious fervor that helped create the mujahedin and helped expel the Soviet Union in subsequent years was distorted and certain extremists among the mujahedin became stronger, and we have the problem we have. So I would say if the United States, if we bear a particular responsibility for the role of the mujahedin and Al Qaeda growing up in Afghanistan, it had more to do with our abandonment with the country in 1989 rather than our assistance to it in 1979. And I think that most Americans think that we erred in turning our backs on Afghanistan after the Soviets left.

Good job, Mr. Secretary!

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NATO on the Edge

The increasingly worrisome situation in Afghanistan is of concern not only for what it portends about the future of that country but also the future of NATO which is in charge of pacifying that country. This is NATO’s first “out of area” mission, and by all accounts it is not going all that well. Tensions are rising among members of the alliance, as seen in the furor in Germany last week after Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked Germany to send its troops where the action is—down south. If NATO fails in Afghanistan, the alliance will not survive, at least not as a credible military force.

A useful new report (“Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership”) addresses this issue. It arrives under the imprimatur of five distinguished retired generals: Klaus Naumann, former chief of the German defense staff and former chairman of the NATO military committee; John Shalikashvili, former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lord Inge, former chief of the British defense staff; Jacque Lanxade, former chief of the French defense staff; and Henk van den Breemen, former chief of the Dutch defense staff. They write that NATO interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Afghanistan have revealed “structural problems” that still have not been addressed, namely “the absence of a properly defined political objective, the absence of an integrated and allied strategy to achieve that objective, and the absence of capabilities to implement the strategy.”

“In addition,” they write, “nations have commonly imposed too many national caveats on use of their forces. There exists an unwillingness on the part of nations to transfer authority to the operational commander once in the theatre of operations. Finally, there is a tendency for nations not to resource operations effectively– in terms of both personnel and materiel – which serves to undermine the one factor that preoccupies the military circles of NATO nations today: sustainability.”

Coming from such NATO stalwarts, those are strong words indeed. To address these shortcomings, the retired brass propose some common-sense reforms. For starters, “NATO should abandon the consensus principle at all levels below the NATO Council, and introduce at the committee and working-group levels a majority voting rule. This would enable NATO to take quick decisions in crises, when minutes matter.” A second change they call for is that “only those nations that contribute to a mission – that is, military forces in a military operation – should have the right to a say in the process of the operations.” A third needed change is “the abolition of the system of national caveats, as far as this is possible.”

That last clause—“as far as this is possible”—hints at the political difficulties of doing what these worthies recommend. There continues to be dogged resistance among most NATO states to actually sending their troops into harm’s way, yet even those states that are not contributing much to the success of a mission want as much say in how it is conducted as those members that are risking their soldiers’ lives. Clearly this is an untenable state of affairs. The question is whether NATO will adopt the reforms suggested in this report or whether it will give up efforts to make itself relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

The increasingly worrisome situation in Afghanistan is of concern not only for what it portends about the future of that country but also the future of NATO which is in charge of pacifying that country. This is NATO’s first “out of area” mission, and by all accounts it is not going all that well. Tensions are rising among members of the alliance, as seen in the furor in Germany last week after Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked Germany to send its troops where the action is—down south. If NATO fails in Afghanistan, the alliance will not survive, at least not as a credible military force.

A useful new report (“Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership”) addresses this issue. It arrives under the imprimatur of five distinguished retired generals: Klaus Naumann, former chief of the German defense staff and former chairman of the NATO military committee; John Shalikashvili, former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lord Inge, former chief of the British defense staff; Jacque Lanxade, former chief of the French defense staff; and Henk van den Breemen, former chief of the Dutch defense staff. They write that NATO interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Afghanistan have revealed “structural problems” that still have not been addressed, namely “the absence of a properly defined political objective, the absence of an integrated and allied strategy to achieve that objective, and the absence of capabilities to implement the strategy.”

“In addition,” they write, “nations have commonly imposed too many national caveats on use of their forces. There exists an unwillingness on the part of nations to transfer authority to the operational commander once in the theatre of operations. Finally, there is a tendency for nations not to resource operations effectively– in terms of both personnel and materiel – which serves to undermine the one factor that preoccupies the military circles of NATO nations today: sustainability.”

Coming from such NATO stalwarts, those are strong words indeed. To address these shortcomings, the retired brass propose some common-sense reforms. For starters, “NATO should abandon the consensus principle at all levels below the NATO Council, and introduce at the committee and working-group levels a majority voting rule. This would enable NATO to take quick decisions in crises, when minutes matter.” A second change they call for is that “only those nations that contribute to a mission – that is, military forces in a military operation – should have the right to a say in the process of the operations.” A third needed change is “the abolition of the system of national caveats, as far as this is possible.”

That last clause—“as far as this is possible”—hints at the political difficulties of doing what these worthies recommend. There continues to be dogged resistance among most NATO states to actually sending their troops into harm’s way, yet even those states that are not contributing much to the success of a mission want as much say in how it is conducted as those members that are risking their soldiers’ lives. Clearly this is an untenable state of affairs. The question is whether NATO will adopt the reforms suggested in this report or whether it will give up efforts to make itself relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

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Our Bases in Europe

To his credit, Bob Gates continues to unravel some of the misguided decisions made by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. His latest decision, as noted in this article, is to stop the drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe.

Rumsfeld was determined to close down or downsize major U.S. bases on the continent that had been in existence for decades, principally in Italy and Germany. He had already reduced the U.S. troop presence to 43,000 from 62,000 two years ago, and he planned further cuts down to 24,000 by the end of next year. Gates has now stopped the exodus, and pledges to maintain U.S. troops at their current level in Europe. This comes on top of his welcome decisions to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps and to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq—both decisions that Rumsfeld should have made years ago.

The impetus for Rumsfeld’s base realignment plan was seemingly logical—the cold war was over and U.S. troops were no longer needed to defend Germany from the Red Army. But in practice what Rumsfeld envisioned didn’t make so much sense—moving most of the troops back to the U.S., and then having small numbers of them rotate for brief periods through new “lily pad” bases established in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and elsewhere, which lacked longterm housing for our forces.

The idea of creating new bases on the new frontiers of freedom makes sense. But moving the bulk of the U.S. troops to permanent bases in “CONUS” (the continental United States) made less sense. The transition would have been a costly one, with new quarters having to be built for the troops and the government having to pick up vast moving costs.

Other costs would have been geopolitical rather than financial: the shift called into question the U.S. commitment to Europe. It also put U.S. forces farther away from future trouble spots in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. (Germany, for all its disagreements with U.S. policy decisions, has never hindered the efficient movement by rail, sea, and air of U.S. troops from its soil to battlefields in the Middle East.)

Finally, there is a cultural cost involved: generations of American soldiers and their families generally have enjoyed living for a few years in Europe, and this has fostered closer trans-Atlantic cultural links. It is hard to see why it is good either for Europeans or Americans to have more troops consolidated on giant, dusty bases in the middle of Texas or other uncongenial spots back home.

To his credit, Bob Gates continues to unravel some of the misguided decisions made by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. His latest decision, as noted in this article, is to stop the drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe.

Rumsfeld was determined to close down or downsize major U.S. bases on the continent that had been in existence for decades, principally in Italy and Germany. He had already reduced the U.S. troop presence to 43,000 from 62,000 two years ago, and he planned further cuts down to 24,000 by the end of next year. Gates has now stopped the exodus, and pledges to maintain U.S. troops at their current level in Europe. This comes on top of his welcome decisions to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps and to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq—both decisions that Rumsfeld should have made years ago.

The impetus for Rumsfeld’s base realignment plan was seemingly logical—the cold war was over and U.S. troops were no longer needed to defend Germany from the Red Army. But in practice what Rumsfeld envisioned didn’t make so much sense—moving most of the troops back to the U.S., and then having small numbers of them rotate for brief periods through new “lily pad” bases established in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and elsewhere, which lacked longterm housing for our forces.

The idea of creating new bases on the new frontiers of freedom makes sense. But moving the bulk of the U.S. troops to permanent bases in “CONUS” (the continental United States) made less sense. The transition would have been a costly one, with new quarters having to be built for the troops and the government having to pick up vast moving costs.

Other costs would have been geopolitical rather than financial: the shift called into question the U.S. commitment to Europe. It also put U.S. forces farther away from future trouble spots in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. (Germany, for all its disagreements with U.S. policy decisions, has never hindered the efficient movement by rail, sea, and air of U.S. troops from its soil to battlefields in the Middle East.)

Finally, there is a cultural cost involved: generations of American soldiers and their families generally have enjoyed living for a few years in Europe, and this has fostered closer trans-Atlantic cultural links. It is hard to see why it is good either for Europeans or Americans to have more troops consolidated on giant, dusty bases in the middle of Texas or other uncongenial spots back home.

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Overseeing Contractors

It’s good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have agreed that the armed forces will supervise all security contractors operating in Iraq, including those like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp that guard State Department officials. This is a welcome step toward achieving greater unity of command and making contractors more useful in aiding the overall coalition effort to stabilize Iraq.

Unfortunately, as this New York Times article points out,

the Defense Department has had its own difficulties controlling its nearly 130,000 contractors, who handle a variety of jobs including interrogations of prisoners and transportation of fuel and ammunition. Auditors have uncovered numerous instances of cost overruns, sloppy work, theft, and corruption in the tens of billions of dollars in logistics and reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

The core problem was laid out in July in this Washington Post article:

The Defense Department’s civilian acquisition workforce has shrunk by about 40 percent since the early 1990s and now has about 270,000 employees, according to Pentagon statistics and Government Accountability Office reports. Yet defense spending on service contracts increased 78 percent, to $151 billion, from 1996 to 2006, the reports said.

There are 7.5 million federal contractors, 1.5 million more than in 2002, without a corresponding increase in government officials to oversee them, said Paul C. Light, a public service professor at New York University.

There is nothing wrong with contracting per se, but there needs to be appropriate oversight, which, as these statistics suggest, has been lacking. The problems are compounded in Iraq, where it’s much harder for federal employees to get around, and which therefore gives contractors much greater leeway.

If the Defense Department is serious about overseeing Blackwater and other contractors, it will have to devote serious resources to the effort. As suggested by veteran contractor Malcolm Nance, the military may even have to set up a new Force Protection Command. While the Gates-Rice agreement is a step forward, the real test will be in implementation.

It’s good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have agreed that the armed forces will supervise all security contractors operating in Iraq, including those like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp that guard State Department officials. This is a welcome step toward achieving greater unity of command and making contractors more useful in aiding the overall coalition effort to stabilize Iraq.

Unfortunately, as this New York Times article points out,

the Defense Department has had its own difficulties controlling its nearly 130,000 contractors, who handle a variety of jobs including interrogations of prisoners and transportation of fuel and ammunition. Auditors have uncovered numerous instances of cost overruns, sloppy work, theft, and corruption in the tens of billions of dollars in logistics and reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

The core problem was laid out in July in this Washington Post article:

The Defense Department’s civilian acquisition workforce has shrunk by about 40 percent since the early 1990s and now has about 270,000 employees, according to Pentagon statistics and Government Accountability Office reports. Yet defense spending on service contracts increased 78 percent, to $151 billion, from 1996 to 2006, the reports said.

There are 7.5 million federal contractors, 1.5 million more than in 2002, without a corresponding increase in government officials to oversee them, said Paul C. Light, a public service professor at New York University.

There is nothing wrong with contracting per se, but there needs to be appropriate oversight, which, as these statistics suggest, has been lacking. The problems are compounded in Iraq, where it’s much harder for federal employees to get around, and which therefore gives contractors much greater leeway.

If the Defense Department is serious about overseeing Blackwater and other contractors, it will have to devote serious resources to the effort. As suggested by veteran contractor Malcolm Nance, the military may even have to set up a new Force Protection Command. While the Gates-Rice agreement is a step forward, the real test will be in implementation.

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More Accountability for Contractors

Things aren’t looking good for Blackwater. The company is on the hot seat over the actions of one of its Personal Security Details, which is accused of killing some seventeen civilians in Baghdad on September 17 for no good reason.

Blackwater claims that its personnel acted appropriately in self-defense, but that claim is getting harder to sustain in light of this New York Times article, which recounts interviews with three Kurds who witnessed the whole incident. The Times reports: “The three witnesses, Kurds on a rooftop overlooking the scene, said they had observed no gunfire that could have provoked the shooting by Blackwater guards.”

The accounts of these Kurds carry more weight than do many of the other statements made in recent weeks condemning Blackwater. As the Times notes:

The Kurdish witnesses are important because they had the advantage of an unobstructed view and because, collectively, they observed the shooting at Nisour Square from start to finish, free from the terror and confusion that might have clouded accounts of witnesses at street level. Moreover, because they are pro-American, their accounts have a credibility not always extended to Iraqi Arabs, who have been more hostile to the American presence.

Read More

Things aren’t looking good for Blackwater. The company is on the hot seat over the actions of one of its Personal Security Details, which is accused of killing some seventeen civilians in Baghdad on September 17 for no good reason.

Blackwater claims that its personnel acted appropriately in self-defense, but that claim is getting harder to sustain in light of this New York Times article, which recounts interviews with three Kurds who witnessed the whole incident. The Times reports: “The three witnesses, Kurds on a rooftop overlooking the scene, said they had observed no gunfire that could have provoked the shooting by Blackwater guards.”

The accounts of these Kurds carry more weight than do many of the other statements made in recent weeks condemning Blackwater. As the Times notes:

The Kurdish witnesses are important because they had the advantage of an unobstructed view and because, collectively, they observed the shooting at Nisour Square from start to finish, free from the terror and confusion that might have clouded accounts of witnesses at street level. Moreover, because they are pro-American, their accounts have a credibility not always extended to Iraqi Arabs, who have been more hostile to the American presence.

Of course, we should not jump to any conclusions before the FBI completes its investigation. And even if Blackwater employees acted inappropriately, they would hardly be the first contractors or soldiers guilty of killing civilians in this conflict. In fact, the military is investigating claims that a recent airstrike killed nine children and six women about 75 miles north of Baghdad. (See this article for details.) Such “collateral damage” is inevitable in this kind of conflict fought against a vicious foe that does not wear uniforms and that often uses civilians as human shields. That doesn’t justify possible misconduct on the part of either soldiers or contractors, but it does at least provide context that too often seems missing from news accounts.

Don’t get me wrong. Contractors need to be held accountable for wrong-doing, which they have not been to date. But I am troubled by the willingness of so many to demonize all contractors without suggesting a good alternative. As this Wall Street Journal story notes, say what you will about Blackwater, its services will be hard to replace. With about 1,000 personnel and a number of armored vehicles and armed helicopters, Blackwater is the primary provider of protective services for State Department personnel in the most dangerous parts of the country, including Baghdad. Two other contractors work in safer areas—DynCorp in northern Iraq and Triple Canopy in the south. Either one would be hard-pressed to replace Blackwater tomorrow. The U.S. military could do it, but doesn’t want to, because it needs every soldier it can get on the frontlines.

Throwing all contractors out of the country isn’t terribly practical; even getting rid of Blackwater alone would be tough. A better alternative—as I suggested in this op-ed—is to create more accountability, by putting mercenaries under the direct purview of military commanders. According to the New York Times, that is precisely the direction in which Secretary of Defense Bob Gates wants to go.

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