Posted at 5:26 PM ET, 04/23/2009

Phil Carter's Status Update

As you may have guessed from this blog's hibernation over the past few months, I have taken an indefinite leave of absence from writing to pursue other professional projects.

I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to blog on national security for The Washington Post, and to engage in discussions with you -- my readers -- over the six years that I have been writing Intel Dump. Thank you all for your readership and support.

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Posted at 4:56 PM ET, 09/29/2008

Is It the Economy (Again), Stupid?

By Janine Davidson

Erin was right in her prediction that the economic crisis would squeeze out much of the foreign policy discussion in Friday night's presidential debate. And given today's events, the economy will no doubt continue to dominate campaign discussions.

But are we headed for a repeat of 1992, when Bill Clinton's motto -- "it's the economy, stupid" -- turned out to be the key to the election? When incumbent President George H.W. Bush found that the first Iraq war couldn't help him to a win?

Although the stars seem to be aligning that way, we shouldn't write off national security as a major campaign issue just yet. Sure, as a national security scholar, I'm a bit biased about the importance of these issues. But it's not 1992 all over again. And here's why.

Back then, the Gulf War was hardly considered an existential threat to the United States. The U.S. was strong and well-respected abroad, and we hadn't experienced a major terrorist attack on our soil.

Today, the threat of terrorism hangs over the American political and emotional psyche, meaning soccer moms can become "security moms" in an instant.

At the same time, the details of the economic crisis are difficult to understand, and the two presidential candidates seem to have similar positions on what to do about it.

So, while economic issues may seem all-important and all-consuming, the candidates would be wise to keep national security on the other front burner. Given the nature of the global economy and the importance of energy security, they should make the intellectual links between economic and foreign policy issues -- and, most importantly, articulate them clearly to the American people.

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Posted at 5:36 PM ET, 09/26/2008

The Greatest Threat?

By Clint Douglas

As Erin wrote, it's not clear how much foreign policy the candidates will talk about tonight. When they do get around to debating their differing visions of America's place in the world, however, they'll likely be confronted by the perennial question: "What is the greatest threat to America's national security?"

It's not a very good question. It traditionally lends itself to sweeping generalizations that are light on specifics and concrete policy proposals. But how the candidates grapple with an answer will shed some much needed light on what will be their national security priorities for the next four years.

What would my answer be? Pakistan.

Pakistan's parlous state constitutes a direct threat to the United States, and more so than any other country or individual terrorist group. In its 60-year history, Pakistan has rarely functioned as a state, regardless of who happened to control the reigns of power. The civilians have ruled just as poorly as the military.

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Posted at 3:48 PM ET, 09/26/2008

So Much for the Foreign Policy Election

By Erin Simpson

Well, after last minute "will-he-or-won't-he" drama, it looks like we're gonna have ourselves a debate tonight. But will it focus on foreign policy (the agreed upon topic) or instead the bailout and this week's market histrionics? That seems like anybody's guess. And while my professional interests are generally confined to counter-insurgency and related military matters, I don't think the candidates are going to get any points in the David Galula drinking game tonight. Here's what I'll be looking for in the debate:

1) An understanding that the financial crisis and resulting bailouts do not exist in a vacuum. They affect the candidates' options for both foreign and domestic policy. We can save the latter discussion for the next debate. Tonight, I want to hear how these recent events may affect Pentagon procurement, planned "plus-ups" for the Army and Marine Corps, and other international commitments.

2) Reflection on the escalation and regionalization of the war in Afghanistan. Instead of "by, with and through" Afghans, we are increasingly fighting "near, over and against" Pakistanis in the tribal areas. This week brings reports of shots fired by Pakistani troops on US helicopters; the last several weeks have seen increased raids across the Pakistani border by US troops. How do these conditions on the ground fit into the candidates' Afghan strategy? How does the Pakistan question fit into the discussion of a "surge" for Afghanistan? And how would they balance the risks of possibly destabilizing the Pakistani government vs. allowing a sanctuary for Taliban fighters in the tribal areas?

3) Plans for improving civilian capacity, especially State and USAID. Are the candidates on board with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in asking for more funds for the Department of State? I'm interested in two things here: 1) an understanding that foreign policy is more than just military deployments, and 2) a realization that, thanks to Jesse Helms, we spent most of the 1990s gutting State and USAID, and now we're paying the price. We don't just need more soldiers and Marines, we need more diplomats and development officers. (And we need enough of them to allow for mid-career training rotations.)

4) Iraq. I'm actually much not interested in either candidate's plans for withdrawal from Iraq. (There's not a lot of daylight between them, when it comes down to it.) And I'm not interested in hearing them parse whether the surge "worked." What I want to see is just how far Iraq has fallen off the radar. Six months ago, this was going to be a foreign policy election. Now we're barely going to get a foreign policy debate... and I doubt what we do get will center on Iraq.

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Posted at 11:02 AM ET, 09/26/2008

Thou Shalt Not

By Robert Bateman

Back in late 1991, my battalion deployed to the Sinai Desert as a part of the Multinational Force and Observers. This force, consisting of military forces from eleven different nations, stands on the border between Egypt and Israel and ensures that both sides are adhering to the terms of the Camp David Accords. The mission is to "Observe, Report, and Verify" any violations or potential violations. It is an appropriate application of military resources, but it is also boring. Extremely boring.

During that six-month tour in the desert, I had a lot of time on my hands. We all did. But I did learn a few things over the course of the deployment. I learned, for example, about chief warrant officers, two of which deployed with us.

Warrant officers are a special breed in the United States military. Technically they are officers, but instead of a having commissions granted by Congress, they have a "warrant" issued by the secretary of their respective military service or by the president. They are specialists in particular skills and generally older than many other ranks, which contributes to a certain self-confidence. Also, as soldiers who stand somewhat apart from both the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps and the Regular Officer Corps, they tend to be a little more outspoken than your average bear.

I was reminded of this when Phil Carter's favorite Air Force lawyer, Major Gen. Charles Dunlap, got a faceful of buckshot from Chief Warrant Officer John Robinson of the United States Army in yesterday's Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Robinson apparently took some exception to MG Dunlap's op-ed last week in the same paper. Dunlap essentially contended that in Afghanistan/Pakistan: Airpower is the solution. Robinson comes back at him, on full auto, suggesting that a "better way is probably something other than the way that just resulted in the deaths of between five and 90 Afghan civilians." Take a look at both essays. Don't be drinking coffee when you do. Computer screens are expensive.

Oh, and another lesson I learned on that long-ago deployment? Thou shalt not, ever, under any circumstances, play poker for money with a warrant officer.

(P.S. Mom and Dad, I promise I'll get you your house back. Someday.)

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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 09/25/2008

LPC Marksmanship*

By Robert Bateman

The United States Army seems to have a nearly limitless capacity to screw things up by the numbers. We do a lot of things well, even under the most trying conditions imaginable. But it might be fair to say that just behind our ability to shoot the enemy ranks our skill at shooting ourselves in the foot. And even when our mistakes are honest and minor, they seem to find their way into the news.

A reader recently sent me a link to a Columbia Journalism Review story about two photos that had been retracted by the Associated Press. Each photo showed one of two sergeants recently killed in Iraq in what appears to have been a case of fragging by a subordinate. The problem, noted by an alert editor at a newspaper in Texas, was that except for the faces and the nametags, the two images were completely identical. They had been Photoshopped. And since the AP had gotten the photos from an Army public affairs officer at Fort Stewart, Georgia, it appeared the Army was at fault.

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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 09/24/2008

What's Wrong With Weak States?

By Janine Davidson

Tom Johnson and M. Chris Mason have an excellent short piece, "All
Counterinsurgency Is Local
," in the latest Atlantic magazine.

They critique the NATO counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan for its ill-conceived emphasis on strengthening national-level governance and its disregard for the smaller districts, where the real center of gravity is for Afghan society.

Politically and strategically, the most important level of governance in Afghanistan is neither national nor regional nor provincial. Afghan identity is rooted in the woleswali: the districts within each province that are typically home to a single clan or tribe. Historically, unrest has always bubbled up from this stratum-whether against Alexander, the Victorian British, or the Soviet Union. Yet the woleswali are last, not first, in U.S. military and political strategy.

This is a simple, yet not-so-obvious observation. Despite headlines that emphasize military operations and chasing bad guys in Afghanistan and Iraq, at the end of the day counterinsurgency is about armed competition for governance. Thus, good counterinsurgency strategy should focus at the level of society where governance takes place.

In contrast, classic counterinsurgency theory, combined with the U.S. emphasis on democratization and mirror imaging, has led to a conflation of counterinsurgency with nation-building. The thinking goes that we need to help countries govern, by which we mean develop the capacity to carry out their obligations -- both internally with respect to their citizens and internationally with respect to other nations. The intervening force (us) can't leave until local systems are able to take on these key tasks of governance and resist further subversion and rebellions. Ideally, we'd like to leave behind a nation-state with which we can sustain diplomatic relations. Thus, we identify governance from the perspective of the Westphalian international system and a Weberian bureaucratic structure.

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Posted at 9:14 AM ET, 09/23/2008

A Crisis of Competence

By Shawn Brimley

Like many of you, I've spent the last week trying to wrap my mind around the woe on Wall Street, and how it will affect those of us on Main Street. I watched all the Sunday talk shows and read the press accounts, but I remain confused. Like a drooling idiot, I've watched my portfolio take a hit, and while I am not persuaded by my financial advisor's advice to do nothing, that's exactly what I'm doing. I fancy myself a decent national security analyst, but on this stuff I am, well, incompetent. There - I said it. I guess my dreams of being SEC Chairman are over!

But seriously, it seems to me that the dramatic erosion of investor confidence stems from a profound crisis in national competence. We all share some collective blame here: for allowing sub-prime lending practices to get out of hand, for continuing to consume far more as a nation than is responsible or reasonable, and for not demanding that our elected members of Congress ask tough questions and refuse to "go along" with the crowd. In fact, we've done the opposite. We have embraced easy money, we've elevated unsustainable consumption to the standing of a moral value, and we've sidelined politicians who've dared to stand in the way.

But the largest share of blame should go to those who fancy themselves in charge - to the Bush administration - for feigning competence, inflating expectations, for ignoring evidence to the contrary, and for blaming everyone else but themselves when things go bad.

Sound familiar? It should. The basic flawed economic assumptions that have brought our markets to their collective knees are similar, in scale and scope, to those that have plagued America's foreign policy.

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Posted at 5:45 PM ET, 09/19/2008

Green on Green

By Robert Bateman

A recent article in The Post highlighted an interesting dustup between the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Apparently the Pentagon is considered the country's biggest polluter, with polluted military sites accounting for 10 percent of Superfund sites. Granted, some of those posts have been abandoned since 1919. But the EPA wants them cleaned up, and the Pentagon is on the hook. Fair enough.

The question is how to make that happen. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Wayne Arny told a Senate panel last week that some of the EPA's cleanup plans were "excessive" and that the Pentagon wanted to do its own thing. Sen. Barabara Boxer (D-Calif.) countered: "I don't want the EPA making decisions on war strategy, and I don't want you making decisions on environmental cleanup, because you have an interest in the easiest way out."

I'm not a big fan of Boxer. She has said some pretty stupid things with regards to issues of national security and the military. But one must give props when props are due. And in this case, she's right.

Now, of course, it's incumbent upon her and her peers to provide the Pentagon with sufficient funds to actually do that clean-up in accordance with the Superfund efforts. The current allocation of $30 million across 129 sites? Positively pathetic.

In other words, people can't have it both ways. Me, I'm for the clean up. I hope that Congress will be as well, and I expect Sen. Boxer to lead the charge for more reality-based funding.

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Posted at 5:18 PM ET, 09/19/2008

The Rains Fail

By Clint Douglas

Today's New York Times contains a particularly disturbing piece about the drought in Afghanistan and the looming certainty of widespread famine throughout the country this winter. Given the more attention grabbing and violent headlines coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, I doubt that this unwelcome news will receive the urgent attention that it deserves. However, if we fail to ensure that the Afghans don't starve this winter, then the resulting chaos will doom our efforts there.

I deployed in Afghanistan in the winter of 2003, when the country was still relatively quiet. The Taliban were licking their wounds and the overwhelming superiority of American arms was fresh in the collective memory of the population. My first two months were spent in Kabul and I was afforded the opportunity to talk to many Afghans from varying ethnic backgrounds. When prodded about what had turned out to be a surprisingly fragile Taliban rule, they would offer varying assessments about its weakness, but all of them, in one circuitous way or another, would mention the drought.

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