Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Take me back to . . . . when I could talk about the Soviets"

Edward Luttwack has an interesting piece in Foreign Policy this month . . . interesting given his Cold War-era publication record. A quick summary so that you don't have to read his collected works yourself: "We're not spending enough money to arm against the Soviets - close all the schools; close all the hospitals; conscript all the males over age 15 and melt down the statue of liberty - we could use the extra copper for munitions."

Luttwack's new article (ironically) argues that the U.S. should adopt a more restrained form of empire - one fashioned on the Byzantine model. He chooses Byzantium over Rome, characterizing the latter as a system based on "ruthless expansion, domination and total war," which he insists bears no resemblance to the U.S. All this without batting a rhetorical eyelash. Does he lack the imagination to picture what "expansion, domination and total war" would resemble in the post-Enlightenment period? Are Alexander's adventures in India really so different from those of Kermit Roosevelt in Iran? Maybe Bush didn't play the fiddle during Hurricane Katrina but the comparisons I've read of Rome and the US have been relatively convincing . . .

Luttwack's 1982 article "Why we need more waste, fraud and mismanagement in the Pentagon" basically bemoaned the 'micro-managers' in the defense community who were arguing that current levels of defense spending might become unsustainable and eventually pose a security risk (which of course is exactly what brought down the Soviets). One might argue (very convincingly) that the over-production of defense materiel by the superpowers contributed to many of the security challenges in the world today. These include the obvious - the black market weapons trade, nuclear proliferation, civil conflicts in the developing world, etc.

But I would argue this over-production also created private industry defense giants, whose mad scramble for self-preservation in the post-Cold War environment of budgetary restraint drove them to offload deadly weapons on oppressive regimes like a drug dealer handing out crack samples. These unscrupulous practices have created a globe of militarized states with regimes so paranoid they threaten to drag their neighbors into major conflict on a fairly regular basis. Had Luttwack gotten his way in 1982 Lichtenstein would probably have invaded Belgium and perusing Orwell's classics would be like curling up with a Jane Austen novel.

Long story short - Luttwack now seems to be arguing for restraint (the sort of traditional realist kind: carry a big stick - preferably one with a nuclear warhead attached to it).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Top Ten Ways to Convince Muslims the US is on a Crusade

An unbelievable piece from Chris Rodda at the Huffington Post. Below is just #9 - read the whole post here:

9. Have top U.S. military officers appear in a video showing just how Christian the Pentagon is

In addition to inadvertently providing propaganda material to our enemies, public endorsements of Christianity by U.S. military leaders can also cause concern among our Muslim allies.

When Air Force Maj. Gen. Pete Sutton decided in 2004 to appear in uniform at the Pentagon in the Campus Crusade for Christ Christian Embassy promotional video, a video full of government officials and high ranking military officers saying things like "we're the aroma of Jesus Christ," he probably didn't give any thought to the potential ramifications of publicly endorsing this fundamentalist religious organization. But, not long after appearing in this video, Sutton was assigned to the U.S. European Command, Ankara, Turkey, as Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation. Here's what happened, according to the Department of Defense Inspector General's report on the Christian Embassy video investigation.

"Maj Gen Sutton testified that while in Turkey in his current duty position, his Turkish driver approached him with an article in the Turkish newspaper 'Sabah.' That article featured a photograph of Maj Gen Sutton in uniform and described him as a member of a radical fundamentalist sect. The article in the online edition of Sabah also included still photographs taken from the Christian Embassy video. Maj Gen Sutton's duties in Ankara included establishing good relations with his counterparts on the Turkish General Staff. Maj Gen Sutton testified that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim nation, with religious matters being kept strictly separate from matters of state. He said that when the article was published in Sabah, it caused his Turkish counterparts concern and a number of Turkish general officers asked him to explain his participation in the video."

In addition to the Christian Embassy video, MRFF has uncovered a slew of other videos of uniformed military personnel endorsing fundamentalist Christian organizations and military ministries, many of which have missions that include proselytizing Muslims. These videos are easily found on the internet, providing plenty of potential propaganda material for recruiting by extremists.

Read more at:

Saudi Businessmen and Global Warming . . .

The FT has been really great at covering this long-running Saudi billionaire's feud. Today's article points out just how ridiculous these families really are. In addition to being generally despicable they're also clearly a major source of global warming - is someone saving them a seat at the UN Climate Change Summit?

Here's an excerpt.

"The High Court eased the order to allow the embattled billionaire $4m spending money a year after a colourful hearing in which Mr Sanea rejected fraud allegations and outlined living expenses including a private zoo and utility bills of $800,000 a month."

"He spends $800,000 on electricity, gas, telephone, water and satellite bills every month," Mr Beazley told the judge."

How about not ordering so much pay-per-view porn? There's a start . . .
Here's the whole article.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My article on negotiations with Israel

Beyond Muscle: Using Financial Leverage for Middle East Peace

In late August, the U.S. and Israeli governments appeared to have settled on a grand strategy to advance Middle East peace, one that traded a tougher U.S. stance on Iran for freezing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. But subsequent reports on plans for additional Israeli settlement construction and announcements by Tehran outlining its terms for talks at a September 9th, meeting of the P5+1 (that's the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) working group, indicate that the specific details of a bargain are still far from settled.

As negotiations on Israeli settlements commence in this environment of uncertainty, the Obama administration will need all the bargaining chips it can marshal. The key is to find a form of leverage that is costly enough to impact Israeli behavior without threatening their security and is also relatively cheap for the administration to apply. Defense "offsets" — incentives granted by private companies to facilitate the purchase of military goods — satisfy all these conditions, and may be especially effective in the struggle for Middle East peace.

Like most industrialized nations, U.S. defense manufacturers routinely grant offsets to purchasing governments, usually in the form of agreements to co-produce specific weapons or invest in commercial enterprises. It has long been U.S. practice not to allow offsets on products and services purchased with U.S. military assistance funds — except when it comes to Egypt and Israel. The billions of dollars in additional defense assistance that Israel has secured through this legislative loophole may prove to be a significant source of leverage in the Middle East peace process.

For example, Israel is hoping to pen a deal for $20 billion worth of U.S.-built F-35s that could include offsets of nearly $10 billion — that's in accordance with Israeli policy requiring offsets of 48% of the overall contract value. These offsets would accrue mostly to the Israeli defense department, possibly via agreements that Lockheed Martin would purchase Israeli-built computer components for the assembled planes. Israeli press reports suggest the offset provisions are holding up the deal, signaling Israel's continued pursuit of offsets even in its most strategic procurement decisions. These funds represent a significant tool the Obama administration should use to press Israel on the settlement issue.

There is precedent for trying security assistance to Israeli settlement policy. In the 1990s Congress frequently reduced multi-billion dollar loan guarantee programs by the amount the Israeli government spent on settlements in the occupied territories. This logic applies to offsets as well, since they may indirectly finance projects that support settlements by providing Israel with financial flexibility to commit additional resources to build more settlements or by funneling the profits from offsets into acquiring controversial crowd-control devices and other materials that many countries (including the United States) refuse to export to Israel.

Egypt's offset history may also represent a bargaining chip in negotiations with Israel. Although official Egyptian policy is not to request offsets from the U.S., partly due to major cost overruns and inefficiencies in previous offset agreements, industry trade groups such as Epicos report that Egyptian authorities regularly demand "discounts" and "concessions." If Israeli offsets are threatened, officials may demand that similar reforms be implemented with regard to Egyptian procurement processes, hoping to make the process too politically costly for the United States to implement.

This presents the administration with a win-win situation. Slashing offsets does not restrict the principle funds promised to Israel after Camp David, and it represents a reform to the defense procurement process that would prevent the controversial transfer of U.S. defense jobs to the Israeli defense sector. If the Israelis express willingness to move on the settlement issue rather than forego offset benefits, a more viable peace strategy will result. If, on the other hand, the Israelis will not revise their settlement policy, the United States can simply end these subsidies to their defense industry. Under this latter scenario the U.S. would also restrain "concessions" granted to the Egyptian defense establishment, in keeping with the equilibrium established under Camp David. The Egyptian military is a powerful political player implicated in a wide spectrum of abuses — weakening their institutional power would hardly be a difficult sell.

The U.S. has important and legally binding relationships with both Israel and Egypt. Offsets, however, are neither mandated by treaties nor are they justifiable on security or economic grounds. Israel's acute desire to obtain the F-35 and its refusal to accept settlement restrictions gives the U.S. significant space for negotiation that might not emerge again in the foreseeable future. In the normally labyrinthine world of Middle East politics, obscure contract details may in fact provide a clear source of leverage in the struggle to secure progress toward peace.

Shana Marshall is a PhD. student at the University of Maryland and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Taliban issue little blue book "Code of Conduct"

"The Taliban in Afghanistan has issued a book laying down a code of conduct for its fighters.

Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the book which further indicates that Mullah Omar, the movement's leader, wants to centralise its operations.

The book, with 13 chapters and 67 articles, lays out what one of the most secretive organisations in the world today, can and cannot do.

It talks of limiting suicide attacks, avoiding civilian casualties and winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the local civilian population."

It doesn't outline Mao's three levels of warfare - but aside from that it's essentially the same "hearts and minds" content that we see in the COIN manuals of most Western countries.

Al Jazeera has the whole story here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Italy, wedding bouquet throw crashes plane

A Western cultural corollary to the gun fire that usually follows similar ceremonies in 'traditional' societies. Maybe brides should just start firing pistols instead. Article here.

New Info on (no longer) secret CIA program

NYTimes has story, "CIA had plan to assassinate Al-Qaeda leaders."

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to be tough on Egypt AND Israel

The JPost has an opinion article from last week that suggests the Obama Administration is being too easy on Egypt (I won't even address the author's suggestion that the Administration is being tough on Israel, which is patently false and a ludicrous suggestion). But, the idea that the US should be tougher on Egypt is a valid one, and since the only way to do this is by withholding military assistance funds, this would necessitate cutting back assistance to Israel as well. The Camp David Accords locked in US military aid to Israel and Egypt at a ratio of 3:2, and if we could legitimate changing one, it would take us a long way in legitimating a change in the other as well.

The JPost author suggests this ratio may not reflect actual aid to both countries, indicating that the amount Egypt receives may be larger and what Israel receives may be less. Although he is probably correct in magnitude he is incorrect in direction. Israel probably receives about twice as much in actual dollars as the ratio suggests. This is because (in contrast to other countries that receive FMF - foreign military financing funds) Israel is allowed to demand 'offsets' of its spending on military procurement - offsets that frequently exceed 100% of the actual contract value. The US Bureau of Industry and Security sites more than $2 billion in offsets from US contractors alone between 1993 and 2006 (although their information comes from reports submitted by the contractors - not exactly what I would consider an objective source of reliable information). I'd estimate it at about twice that much - since the 7 or so prime contractors that provide about 80% of US offsets have an interest in minimizing the appearance of their overall impact, both on the domestic US defense supplier base and on upsetting political equilibria in conflict zones. Much of these offsets are fed into Israel's domestic defense capability either through coproduction, licensing agreements or technology transfers.

If we started adding this into the Camp David ratio we could probably withold some FMF from both Israel AND Egypt - now that's being tough.

Britain halts some arms exports to Israel in response to Gaza conflict

. . . . . yeah, like 5 out of almost 200 contracts: not exactly a penalty. Times Online has the story here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Apparently the shelf-life of American Exceptionalism is . . . . really long

In the interest of full disclosure, I never read Gelb's "Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy". From the reviews/excerpts such as this one in the NY Review of Books, it's the standard dose of ahistorical American Exceptionalism pumped up with some pro-intervention 'cooperative security' niceties. The proposals reflect the fact that Gelb once had access to official military and intelligence information (the sort that imbues its readers with the false sense of supremacy that has led so many policy-makers to intervene in conflicts they think can be easily won - roughly the idea that all the world's problems not only resemble nails but that we have stockpiles of such technologically advanced hammers that we cannot possibly fail).

The author picks out some good phrases, such as:

"Gelb thinks that Obama is situated to deliver an impressive display of war that adds heft to diplomacy, and of diplomacy that reconciles us to war. The reason Obama can do this is that "to Arabs and Iranians, America is still number one."

One assumes of course, that Gelb wrote this when the wars (both in Afghanistan and Iraq) were both going well - although I can never remember a time when conditions in both were concurrently improving. Although the Iraq War (by most accounts) seems to be improving, the situation in Afghanistan certainly has not. If anything, Obama is in a position to deliver the rather hopeless message that most observers already understand, mainly that US diplomacy has suffered significantly b/c its war-fighting ability has been proven ineffective in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus there's nothing with which to back-up that diplomacy.

Not to mention Gelb's rather baseless observation that "to Arabs and Iranians, America is still number one." We may indeed still act as if we're number one, which will fool most of the people most of the time, but other players are stepping into the small vacuums that are popping up throughout the globe (most notably the efforts of countries like Qatar (in Lebanon), Syria (between Turkey and Armenia) and others in presenting themselves as alternatives to US-allied peace brokers Egypt and Saudi Arabia).

Gelb's book is Ikenberry-esque in that he too cautions against the US tendency for isolationism (esp. after periods of such spectacular foreign policy failures). But the review follows up its examination of the book with some excerpts from Gelb's previous rhetoric on US foreign policy, which make his claims to 'common sense' incredibly suspect:

"In a discussion moderated by Senator Daniel P. Moynihan some twenty-five years ago, Leslie Gelb said with a genial irony that covert wars brought no real impairment of democracy: "The fact of the matter is that almost any covert operation that might be considered controversial is going to be debated publicly." This was said when the US was supplying arms to the contra rebels in Nicaragua, and mining the harbors of that country; the facts had lately come to public view, but the facts were not discussed until discovered by accident. The same held true with the American policy on torture under Bush and Cheney, which spread from Guantánamo to prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gelb, in 1984, was challenged by Morton Halperin:

The critical moment for debating a military intervention is before it begins. Clearly, once you help people start a war there are weighty arguments in favor of continuing to support them.

Senator Moynihan also disagreed with Gelb:

I suggest that in the United States we openly discuss a very limited number of such operations, that the far greater portion are not discussed, but are hermetically sealed.

Moynihan plainly thought this a bad thing for constitutional democracy.

Gelb had the last word, in a way; but it was a puzzling last word: "I disagree," he said, with

the proposition that we ought not to interfere in the internal politics of other societies. I believe that is exactly what foreign policy is. All foreign policy is the extension of one's internal policies into the internal politics of another nation.

The subject was, to repeat, the arming of the contras in Nicaragua, but it was also the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The comment sheds considerable light as well on Gelb's eagerness to continue pressure in the Middle East in the form of military and covert operations."