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Esquire's The Politics Blog: Obama's Middle East Speech Text, Decoded Line-by-Line

Expectations couldn't have been lower for President Obama's Middle East speech on Thursday, and yet it was a work of "realist" beauty that recognized: a) how little influence America actually has over these types of events, and b) where we stand at the beginning of what is likely to be a long process of political upheaval and — hopefully — economic reform that addresses the underlying issues driving the entire region. Yes, Obama took a pass on Palestine and Israel (his historic referencing of Israel's pre-'67 borders is the Mideast equivalent of a "world without nuclear weapons"), but he's got several touch points in the coming days (the Netanyahu meeting, another speech, Netanyahu's speech to Congress) with which to address that, so this was more of a broad-strokes laying out as to what America stands for, and what it's willing to do amidst its current fiscal realities. And — again — it was a great mix of stated idealism, expressed in long-haul terms, and political pragmatism that recognizes the here-and-now realities that must temper any sense of America coming to anybody else's immediate rescue.

Obama's was a well-crafted message — one that reassured both the world and Americans that this administration knows its limits and its responsibilities to history. It was, in a word, presidential.

And now, so you don't have to sit through it again, a little deconstruction of the most compelling sections excerpted (from the prepared remarks) at length....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


WPR's The New Rules: Four Options for Redefining the Long War

There is a profound sense of completion to be found in America's elimination of Osama bin Laden, and the circumstances surrounding his death certainly fit this frontier nation's historical habit of mounting major military operations to capture or kill super-empowered bad actors. Operation Geronimo, like most notable U.S. overseas interventions of the past quarter-century, boiled down to eliminating the one man we absolutely felt we needed to get to declare victory. Now we have the opportunity to redefine this "long war" to America's most immediate advantage. I spot four basic options, each with their own attractions and distractions.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


CoreGap 11.12 Released - At the Time of his Demise, OBL was OBE


Wikistrat has released edition 11.12 of the CoreGap Bulletin.

This CoreGap edition features, among others:

  • Terra Incognita 11.12 - At the Time of his Demise, OBL was OBE
  • Bin Laden Killing Comes at Pivotal Moment in US Operations in Afghanistan
  • Pakistan’s Longtime Duplicity Comes to Fore with Bin Laden Operation
  • Latest Census in China Triggers Fears of Demographic Decline
  • African Development Bank Group Details Rise of Middle Class There

And much more...

The entire bulletin is available for subscribers. Over the upcoming week we will release analysis from the bulletin to our free Geopolitical Analysis section of the Wikistrat website, first being "Terra Incognita - At the Time of his Demise, OBL was OBE"

It would seem that reports of Osama Bin Laden’s leadership of al-Qaeda these past few years were greatly exaggerated.  By the time the equally shadowy SEAL Team 6 put that bullet through his brain, the great man was living in a million-dollar “cave” whose primary purpose was to keep him decidedly off grid – out of reach and out of touch.  But Osama Bin Laden was overtaken by events a long time ago.

Globalization was more concept than reality a decade ago. “Rising” China? The muffled sound of a train gaining speed in the distance.  One could imagine globalization’s easy reversal thanks to the right bomb exploded in the right place at the right time. Vladimir Lenin, the most pragmatic of revolutionaries, referred to such wishful thinking as “left-wing deviationism – an infantile disorder.” Bin Laden had it bad. 

Pulling off one of the greatest lucky shots in history (both barrels, mind you), Bin Laden sent the West spinning into an orgy of new rules, wild spending, and poorly thought-out postwars (the initial takedowns were works of real artistry). Proving beyond all doubt that we live in a world in which super-empowered individuals can engineer vertical shocks of the highest order, he nonetheless succumbed to the most prosaic of horizontal scenarios – the methodical manhunt that only a vast national security bureaucracy can mount. “Operation Geronimo” was aptly named:  the mythical warrior reduced to a legend’s lonely death.

Read the full piece here

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To say that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy plate is full right now is a vast understatement, and it couldn’t come at a worse time for a leader who needs to revive his own economy before trying to resuscitate others (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt, South Sudan, Ivory Coast – eventually Libya?). Faced with the reality that America’s huge debt overhang condemns it to sub-par growth for many years, Washington enters a lengthy period of “intervention fatigue” that – like everything else, according to the Democrats – can still be blamed on George W. Bush.

Time's Battleland: "Right out of John Boyd's strategy: disconnect, isolate & disempower your enemy"


Osama Desmond:  I am big!  It's the jihad that got small.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Insensitive yes, but Geronimo reference is historically apt

From the AP on Yahoo news:

WASHINGTON – The top staffer for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is objecting to the U.S. military's use of the code name "Geronimo" for Osama bin Laden during the raid that killed the al-Qaida leader.

Geronimo was an Apache leader in the 19th century who spent many years fighting the Mexican and U.S. armies until his surrender in 1886.

Loretta Tuell, staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said Tuesday it was inappropriate to link Geronimo, whom she called "one of the greatest Native American heroes," with one of the most hated enemies of the United States.

"These inappropriate uses of Native American icons and cultures are prevalent throughout our society, and the impacts to Native and non-Native children are devastating," Tuell said.

This is what I said in Esquire's The Politics Blog yesterday:

It's become a drones-without-borders world, befitting the frontier-integrating age we live in. Think of the American West after the Civil War and how we spent years hunting down all the Native American "insurgents" who popped up over the decades. Bin Laden goes down just like a Crazy Horse or Geronimo — a grubby end to a mythical warrior figure. But the larger process goes on, even as the Chinese drive most of of globalization's advance in that part of the world. But, yes, we'll keep hunting them down. That's what bureaucracies do, and that's why the lone-wolf resistance always loses in the end.

I saw comments that indicated that people were offended by my Crazy Horse reference.  The Senate staffer takes similar umbrage at the US military referencing Geronimo.

Yes, now, we cast these figures in better lights, but at the time they were considered blood-thirsty killers who preyed on Americans, which, of course, they were and did - whatever the post-dated nobility of their motives.

But my larger point, and I think the military's larger point, is the similarity of the process.  The US military hunted Geronimo for many years.  With Crazy Horse, it was a sad and grubby end to a warrior's life, getting shot while surrendering at a US government post (I've been to the historical site).

In their time, these guys were magnificent insurgents who brutally murdered in a fashion designed to incite terror.  They were fighting for their way of life - and they doomed in the same way that Bin Laden was.  The process of frontier integration was too powerful and too vast and they could not adjust.  Back then it was the westward expansion of the US - a microcosm of today's globalization expansion.


The Politics Blog: "Life After the Bin Laden Kill: What Now?"


You can take down the wanted posters and run through the streets all you want, but the Osama bin Laden assassination leaves many essential questions unanswered. From Pakistan to China and the Pentagon to the 2012 polls, here's where we stand.

  • So who runs Al Qaeda next?
  • Will Al Qaeda retaliate?
  • Isn't Pakistan is the real battleground — not Afghanistan?
  • Is the Great Hunt finally over?
  • Did Obama just get tough on terror for 2012?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


Same problem, same prescription

LAT op-ed by Congressman Mike Honda, Dem from CA, by way of Chris Ridlon.

Great logic:

Given the comparatively weak Afghanistan team, and the fact that the Iraq inspector general's office is due to close in 2012 despite 50,000 troops and 80,000 defense contractors still operating in Iraq, we need a better form of oversight. Iraq and Afghanistan — and every other U.S. "contingency operation" involving billions of taxpayer dollars — should be under the watchful eye of a permanent, independent Office for Contingency Operations, with its own special inspector general. Rather than a piecemeal and reactive approach to the oversight of billions of dollars in these situations, we need a dedicated shop run by a proven investigator who can report to the National Security Council, and the Defense and State departments, without being cowed by political pressure.

We cannot afford to continue overseas relief and reconstruction efforts in an ad-hoc fashion, spending billions of taxpayer dollars under "emergency" pretexts with too few conditions and too little coordination, transparency, oversight and evaluation. It weakens our economic and national security.

You need a Department of Everything Else because the current approach simply wastes too much money and too much opportunity - and too many lives.

You can say we won't do any more of these, but you're kidding yourself. This is basically all that's left. We either do it or withdraw from the field, because fantasies of terrorists wielding loose nukes or rampaging pirates taking over globalization are silly.  There as two rogue regimes that want protection from U.S. invasion and believe nukes will buy them that (duh), and then there's the now rather symmetricized counter-terror effort spread across 75 states (SOF and drones and other nasty bits), and then there are the issues of failed states.  We can likewise fantasize about months-long bombing campaigns the width and breadth of China - that don't trigger nuclear war - but then we're into the serious nonsense.

Use your mentality.  Walk up to reality.


Good instinct, bad linkage on Iran-Afghanistan

Ignatius piece in WAPO that starts out promisingly:

Iran is signaling that it wants to join regional efforts to stabilize Afghanistan -- presenting President Obama with an interesting diplomatic opportunity. He had solicited just such help from Tehran last month, but the administration has not yet responded to the Iranian feelers.

And then replays past mistakes:

U.S. policy is still in flux, but the administration appears ready for a limited dialogue with Iran about Afghanistan, perhaps conducted through the two countries' embassies in Kabul. This position has not been communicated to the Iranians, in part because Washington is waiting to see whether Iran will return soon to negotiations about its nuclear program with the "P-5 plus 1" group.

Thus we see yet again what our mania with nukes costs us in the Long War.  Sadder still, but telegraphing our conditions in such a rote fashion, we cede all initiative and put Tehran in the driver's seat on both scores.



9/15 trumps 9/11

Great piece by Gideon Rachman, a regular FT columnist who sometimes stretches too hard to make his overarching points but drives this one home deftly.

The symmetry of imagery here is haunting:  ten years ago the WTC towers collapse (9/11) and two years ago Lehman Brothers collapses (9/15).

The first event reveals, in sequence, the limits of US military power, but the second quickly exposes the relative economic decline of the US vis-a-vis rising China.

On many levels, I find the need to designate forever-marking tipping points to be a bit much.  America discovered the limits of its Leviathan force in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now builds something very different. Is any other great power out there moving further down that curve than we are? Hardly. China chases our Leviathan's tale in a fabulous waste of force structure that does nothing to actually address its strategic shortfall globally (which is growing at a magnificent rate).

Does 9/15 signal the permanent eclipsing of the US by China? Depends on how you view the long-term prospects of each. China's debts are massive, if hidden, and their demographics bottom out this year, as old people stack up from here on out and the economy loses 100m workers by 2050 (we add 35m and remain remarkably young by comparison).  A lot of experts are sticking with their linear projections of China's advance, but I see a large number of very painful and destabilizing (for single-party rule, that is) transformations laying in wait.  America's necessary transformations, by comparison, will be both faster and easier to swallow.

But I do buy, in a general sense, Rachman's notion that the economic restructuring of the world dramatically trumps the downshifting of violence represented by 9/11 (from nation-states to mere non-state actors), so I admire the piece.


Why negotiating with the Taliban will backfire

Images of the stoning of a woman found here

NYT story on why we won't be able to stomach the prospective deal:

The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped, according to Afghan officials and a witness.

The punishment was carried out by hundreds of the victims’ neighbors in a village in northern Kunduz Province, according to Nadir Khan, 40, a local farmer and Taliban sympathizer, who was interviewed by telephone. Even family members were involved, both in the stoning and in tricking the couple into returning after they had fled.

Mr. Khan said that as a Taliban mullah prepared to read the judgment of a religious court, the lovers, a 25-year-old man named Khayyam and a 19-year-old woman named Siddiqa, defiantly confessed in public to their relationship. “They said, ‘We love each other no matter what happens,’ ” Mr. Khan said.

The executions were the latest in a series of cases where the Taliban have imposed their harsh version of Shariah law for social crimes, reminiscent of their behavior during their decade of ruling the country. In recent years, Taliban officials have sought to play down their bloody punishments of the past, as they concentrated on building up popular support.

“We see it as a sign of a new confidence on the part of the Taliban in the application of their rules, like they did in the ’90s,” said Nader Nadery, a senior commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. “We do see it as a trend. They’re showing more strength in recent months, not just in attacks, but including their own way of implementing laws, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings.”

The stoning deaths, along with similarly brazen attacks in northern Afghanistan, were also a sign of growing Taliban strength in parts of the country where, until recently, they had been weak or absent. In their home regions in southern Afghanistan, Mr. Nadery said, the Taliban have already been cracking down.

“We’ve seen a big increase in intimidation of women and more strict rules on women,” he said.

Perhaps most worrisome were signs of support for the action from mainstream religious authorities in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are not going to change, not when they think time is on their side.  The only way to prevent an outcome we cannot abide--even if just on humanitarian grounds--is to convince them otherwise, and that means creating permanent connectivity between Afghanistan and the outside world that keeps the spotlight on such activity and penalizes for it in a way that makes it cost prohibitive to pursue.

And the ones who will never abide by such change?  Inevitably you hunt these men down and kill them all, with your justification being their sheer evolutionary backwardness.  They want no future in our globalized world and they deserve none.

There are graceful exits out of Afghanistan in the short run, just no shameless ones.


What the Leviathan taketh away, the SysAdmin better provide

Great NYT piece on "shadow war" (the usual term of art when your Leviathan ops--meaning kinetic--are conducted by your special ops guys here and there).  The gist:

At first, the news from Yemen on May 25 sounded like a modest victory in the campaign against terrorists: an airstrike had hit a group suspected of being operatives for Al Qaedain the remote desert of Marib Province, birthplace of the legendary queen of Sheba.

But the strike, it turned out, had also killed the province’s deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, accepted responsibility for the death and paid blood money to the offended tribes.

The strike, though, was not the work of Mr. Saleh’s decrepit Soviet-era air force. It was a secret mission by the United States military, according to American officials, at least the fourth such assault on Al Qaeda in the arid mountains and deserts of Yemen since December.

The attack offered a glimpse of the Obama administration’s shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies. In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.

The White House has intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya. The administration has worked with European allies to dismantle terrorist groups in North Africa, efforts that include a recent French and Mauritanian strike near the border between Mauritania and Mali. And the Pentagon tapped a network of private contractors to gather intelligence about things like militant hide-outs in Pakistan and the location of an American soldier currently in Taliban hands.

While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama, who rose to prominence in part for his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged.

This is why, when I divide up the "kids" between Leviathan and SysAdmin in the brief, I put the SOF triggers pullers with the Leviathan but shove the Unconventional Warfare guys (a misleading label because they're really the hearts-and-minds/milk-mil training crowd) into the SysAdmin pile.  My excuse:  I don't care to explain publicly what the trigger-pullers do--and neither does the USG.

But the larger point:  fine to do the nasty work on the nasty types, but that needs to be publicly balanced with highly transparent SysAdmin efforts, otherwise the shadow war starts to feel like a cynically maintained shadow empire of the "escape-from-New-York" variety--as in, we put a fence around bad countries and enter them at will primarily for the kinetics/killing.  

That is a defense but not a solution.  It's also morally unsustainable.

Obama has shown an amazing toughness on the kinetic side, acting far beyond his words.  But he's also shown a strong desire to "come home" when the SysAdmin stuff--in all its magnificent difficulty and frustrations--drags on to long.  That second instinct, when coupled with the USG's continued lack of strategic imagination regarding new allies and serious regionalization strategies (like in Afghanistan) makes us look still too unilateral and too cynical in our approach.


We'll be in Central Asia for decades

In "The Pentagon's New Map," I told the story about a speech I gave at an defense industry conference at the Reagan building where I ended up being quoted by the press as saying something to the effect of "we'll be in Central Asia for decades, just like in Europe, and some of our bases there will end being as well known to service personnel as Ramstein, the huge Air Force base in Germany."

Well, that quote, as I relate in the book, got me called onto the carpet by some OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) mid-lings who wondered who the hell I was and where did I get off saying stuff like that.  So I gave them the brief and they were cool with the whole thing.

Still, the original press report had Rumsfeld replying that the administration had absolutely no intention of being in Central Asia many years into the future.

Here, I cite a WAPO report of America building a $10m training base for counter-terror ops.

Think it'll still be there, say, 20 years from now?  I would bet on it.

And this is the classic SysAdmin footprint:  not many troops, and those who are there primarily do training of the locals. That's how a networked force operates in an increasingly networked world that features super-empowered individuals. 

More of our "over-reaction" to 9/11?  Not exactly.


The "escape from New York" approach to failed states

Fareed Zakaria remains in full mea culpa mode over Iraq and Afghanistan.  In this WAPO op-ed (via WPR's Media Roundup), he embraces the notion of putting a fence around failed states and sending in the drones only when absolutely needed:

What to do in Somalia? In a thoughtful report, Bronwyn Bruton of the Council on Foreign Relations makes the case for "constructive disengagement." The idea is to watch the situation carefully for signs of real global terrorism -- which so far are limited. Al-Shabab's "links" with al-Qaeda seem to be mostly rhetoric on both sides. But if they become real and deadly, be willing to strike. This would not be so difficult. Somalia has no mountains or jungles, making it relatively hospitable for counterterrorism operations. Just be careful not to become a player in the country's internal political dynamics. "We have a limited capacity to influence events in Somalia, to influence them positively," says Bruton. "But we have an almost unlimited capacity to make a mess of things."

The horrific cynicism on display here is disheartening, but it reflects Zakaria's odd take on nation-building.  For a guy who crystalized the argument about not trying to bring democracy too early to underdeveloped states, he uses the straw-man about either fast-forwarding political modernization (impossible) or pulling back similarly in Afghanistan.  All I can say in response is, Why must the choice be defined in such binary form?  And why put this down solely to "American imperialism"?  In a world where the "rest" are rising, why is our strategic imagination so limited re: potential allies or alternative nation-building approaches?

It's weird, but Zakaria isn't even staying true to his own ideas and observations.  Watching him embrace this kind of self-defeating thought makes me think he's caved in to the conventional wisdom of this administration.  Here I think his journalism is limiting his analysis, meaning his need to maintain access has put him into pandering mode.

And that's too bad.  His voice is too important to waste on a TV show or even this administration.


WPR's The New Rules: For U.S. After Iraq, History Once Again Awaits


America has entered a new phase in its Iraq operations, one that represents the end of the “lost war” to many, the non-combat continuation of nation-building to others, and a vague sense of a never-ending global security commitment to just about everyone.  Americans, who crave clear definitions of success or failure, aren’t sure what to make of this turning point, especially since for many, their attention has already shifted to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Meanwhile, some pundits sound the alarm with cries of “permanent war,” even though we haven’t officially declared war on anybody since 1943. As for the rest of the planet, humanity currently enjoys the most systematically peaceful period in its recorded history.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


When Petraeus's push comes to Obama's shove

Ahmed Rashid piece in FT.  Naturally, he argues for a negotiated endgame that includes the Taliban.  So Petraeus is seen as a dangerous man:

For weeks there has been a spectre haunting European corridors of power.  That spectre is David Petraeus.  Since he stepped in last month as head of combined US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, many European governments have feared the US general would try and extend the time and scope of the military surge to give US forces a better chance of winning over the Pashtun population in the south and delivering a knock-out blow to the Taliban.

This is exactly what he is signalling . . .

What I hear again and again in many circles:  the realist Petraeus is prepping the political battlefield with the idealist Obama, with the hard news to be delivered after the November election. Suitably chastened by a new GOP House, Petraeus will be a hard man to turn down--without empowering him as a possible 2012 opponent.

I still consider Petraeus more of a 2016 possibility, but I would drop my support for Obama in a heartbeat if this scenario came to pass. 

Don't get me wrong:  I see Obama as the avatar of a slew of philosopher-kings we're likely to elect over the next couple of decades.  I just Petraeus being a more full-up package, with my dream ticket complete with Bloomberg as Veep.

Do I expect Petraeus would do anything to serve his own political interests before that of his command? Absolutely not.  He's not that dumb.

But the Obama White House?  

Hmmm.  It's one thing to seek such power; quite another to lose it.


Brief Reminder: The GWOT meets Kenneth Waltz  

Pretty self-explanatory.  Not sure why it's in B&W.  Think we used it in an Office of Force Transformation pub.

So I expect it's from 2002, because Afghanistan is in there but no Iraq.

GWOT is old Bush-Cheney term:  Global War on Terror (pronounced GEE-wot).  

The Kenneth Waltz reference in the title is due to my use of his three-images perspective (system, state, individual).

TNN = TransNational Networks

SEI = Super-Empowered Individual (Thomas Friedman's term)


Al Shabaab branching out

Although al Qaeda made more than a few threats and feints in the direction of the World Cup in South Africa, prompting all sorts of warnings from friends about my traveling there for the Global Forum, all the group could manage was a soft-target attack in Uganda, not all that far from where I ended up traveling with Vonne a couple of weeks earlier in southern Ethiopia next door.

At once, it's unimpressive and troubling, because it suggests the usual regionalization strategy of somebody looking to internationalize their domestic fight--al Shabaab controls the southern quarter of Somalia but can't seem to expand that control.  One way to overcome such resistance or lack of success is to plunge the country into worse violence as a result of intervening troops.  Another way is to push those troops out, like Uganda's African Union peacekeepers.  By bombing soft targets in Kampala, al Shabaab gets it both ways:  trying to intimidate Uganda into leaving and trying to create enough fear in the West to go back to Somalia.  For now, it's a fat chance on both.

Most of the reporting on these strikes highlights the "new" linkages between al Shabaab and AQ, but they've been there all along, by most expert accounts, in that usual fellow-traveling way.

All this goes back to a long-standing prediction of mine (in all three trilogy books):  as you squeeze AQ with failure in the Persian Gulf, it can go NE into Central Asia or SW into Africa. More regional powers up north willing to fight to stop that than in the south, so the path of least resistance in through the Horn.  

Back to my "Americans Have Landed Piece" logic, this is why we set up Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in the first place, and ultimately, it's why we set up AFRICOM in a strategic flanking maneuver, just like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was set up by China and Russia in a pre-emptive fashion before even 9/11--same geostrategic instinct.

Point of this story being, expect more of the same over time.  Our hope is that we strengthen local security to handle it just well enough, and their hope is a direct fight.


Wikileaks: the transparency standard we inevitably face in the Long War

NYT story on Wikileaks' motives in publishing what the Times is calling "the war logs," which they and several other big mainstream media players were given access to a while back by the organization, leading to the flood of analyzing stories we shall now encounter.

In "Great Powers," I praised Wikileaks for serving as a "wormhole between the two communities--the secret and the unclassified," describing it as "the Radio Free Europe of the surveillance age."  To me, the organization characterizes an emerging standard of transparency in what many call the "long war," and what I refer to as the integration of frontiers as part of globalization's continuing expansion.  It's this emerging transparency standard, sometimes generated by well-meaning friends, other times by insurgents simply looking to brag or recruit others by displaying their deeds, that pushed me to argue, as one of my "grand compromises" between America and the world, that we will eventually pursue an openness WRT to our security efforts around the planet that will mimic what Americans expect from their own police departments--as in, every round accounted for, like the NYPD has done for the last couple of decades.

Why reach for such an amazingly high standard?  Because the ballooning transparency of this networked world will simply demand it--from the bottom up.  Wikileaks is part of that bottom-up demand, and no matter what you think of its motivations, its impact will be viral--and lasting.

This is the inevitable--and painful--evolution we face: the Leviathan can stay in the secret shadows, but the SysAdmin is held to a supremely more difficult standard--behavior so clean that it can assuage shareholders' values, because if it can't, there's no hope of connecting investments by multinational corporations--aka job creation, and jobs are the only exit strategy.

As usual, such arguments are considered by some in the warrior class as complete nonsense--the fantastic attempt to civilize that which is inherently uncivil.  But stepping back from the challenge is simply to admit that we cannot play in this arena, which in my estimation is damn near the whole enchilada going forward. Yes, we can pull back, stock up on our preferred platforms, and dream of getting it on with China over some distant lithium mine.  But that would be holding on to the past instead of moving toward the future.  China will simply disappoint.

So the US military either moves to that impossible standard over time, or it will forced out of the global policing business, only to see all manner of other entities fill that space sub-optimally.  We can either lead or follow.

Because if done well, displaying sufficient progress over time, we will set a profound example that will revolutionize global security. 


WAPO's "Top Secret America"

First chunk of what will clearly be a large series flow of information, and certainly an accompanying book from Dana Priest and William Arkin at the Washington Post.

The general theme is, "Be amazed at how big our secretive defense world is!"  Also, "Look how big it has grown since 9/11!" Finally, "Much of this work is redundant, useless in its overwhelming flow, and no closer to dot-connecting than before 9/11!"

All valid points but all also painfully predictable and well known. So the charges aren't particularly new or revealing, even as the great flow of anecdotes are well designed to make you especially anxious and frustrated.  I would expect tons of air time for the duo, lots of op-eds bemoaning the details revealed, and the usual congressional grumblings.

But not a lot of positive action in reply.

Two bits caught my eye:

The overload of hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and annual reports is actually counterproductive, say people who receive them. Some policymakers and senior officials don't dare delve into the backup clogging their computers. They rely instead on personal briefers, and those briefers usually rely on their own agency's analysis, re-creating the very problem identified as a main cause of the failure to thwart the attacks: a lack of information-sharing.

This is why briefers ruled before 9/11 and it's why they still rule. The flow of info is too great for the system to handle.  So the "just-tell-me-what-I-need-to-know-right-now" principal relies primarily on whomever does the all-purpose daily or weekly brief.

Second, befitting all "electronic-Pearl-Harbor-is-right-around-the-corner" media flow:

And all the major intelligence agencies and at least two major military commands claim a major role in cyber-warfare, the newest and least-defined frontier.

"Frankly, it hasn't been brought together in a unified approach," CIA Director Panetta said of the many agencies now involved in cyber-warfare.

"Cyber is tremendously difficult" to coordinate, said Benjamin A. Powell, who served as general counsel for three directors of national intelligence until he left the government last year. "Sometimes there was an unfortunate attitude of bring your knives, your guns, your fists and be fully prepared to defend your turf." Why? "Because it's funded, it's hot and it's sexy."

This is why the problem, which existed long before 9/11, gets worse inexorably over time:  the latest crisis du jour becomes simply the newest layer of effort added on top of all the rest (in PNM, this was my explanation for how America's "national security interests" mushroom over time).  Nobody and nothing ever get downgraded or truly eliminated because, once created, they take on a life of their own, with all sorts of bureaucrats and contractors protecting their programs.  My favorite example is missile defense, which is now being touted in op-eds as our great response to North Korea and Iran.  Not exactly how it started out, but heh, you work with what life gives you.

I don't mean to pooh-pooh the piece, which is very good and certainly rare enough in these days of tight budgets in the MSM.  I just find the target too easy and too big, and, as I said above, I don't think this kind of reporting stands much chance of having any real impact because the whole long war mindset regarding transnational terrorism is too strong to crack right now, both for legitimate and illegitimate reasons. Everybody will decry all right, but nothing will be done.  Even with the push to cut defense by untold billions over the next X years, a lot of this stuff will remain sacred.

And that's a shame, but the reporting here is all accurate.  It's too big, too redundant, and too useless to justify the resource diversion.  The investment should be in resilience in the face of bad things happening in this complex world, not intelligence fantastically tasked with preventing bad things from happening in the first place.  There's real money to be made in the former, and way too much to be wasted on the latter.


What a drawdown from "combat operations" really looks like

NYT story on the reality of what a post-drawdown US force presence in Iraq will actually entail.

The August deadline might be seen back home as a milestone in the fulfillment of President Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq, but here it is more complex. American soldiers still find and kill enemy fighters, on their own and in partnership with Iraqi security forces, and will continue to do so after the official end of combat operations. More Americans are certain to die, if significantly fewer than in the height of fighting here.

The withdrawal, which will reduce the number of American troops to 50,000 — from 112,000 earlier this year and close to 165,000 at the height of the surge — is a feat of logistics that has been called the biggest movement of matériel since World War II. It is also an exercise in semantics.

What soldiers today would call combat operations — hunting insurgents, joint raids between Iraqi security forces and United States Special Forces to kill or arrest militants — will be called “stability operations.” Post-reduction, the United States military says the focus will be on advising and training Iraqi soldiers, providing security for civilian reconstruction teams and joint counterterrorism missions.

“In practical terms, nothing will change,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, the top American military spokesman in Iraq. “We are already doing stability operations.” Americans ceased major combat in Iraq long ago, and that has been reflected in the number of casualties. So far this year, 14 soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, and 27 more from accidents, suicides and other noncombat causes, according to

Remember this when you hear similar descriptions re: Afghanistan.  The norm for US interventions of significant size is that we go, we fight, we drawdown, but we stay for the long haul. The key is getting casualties down to very low levels.  Once achieved, the US public will allow ad infinitum, because opponents are no longer able to characterize it as "war."

The experts have it backwards;  the American public has little patience for the Leviathan, therefore its operations must be very short and highly victories, but it has plenty more patience for SysAdmin stuff so long as the commitments are seen as small enough, the casualties low enough, and the value-achieved-for-expenditure seem reasonable.