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."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Shock and Audit" MJ Report on Defense Budget

The Defense Dept. never ceases to amaze. After roughly 7 hours of tense discussion on defense budgetary priorities (tense b/c I had the gall to question whether the actual goal of defense spending was to preserve human life, in which case it has on most counts been a miserable failure) I come across this Mother Jones gem. Even after an afternoon spent delving into future budget predictions that basically have us burning excess defense articles for fuel after the entire country goes bankrupt and we've descended into anarchy, this stuff is still shocking.

Like that the cost overruns in our defense budget exceed China's total defense budget by a factor of three - that's right, all the myriad discrepancies between what Lockheed tells us that plane will cost and what it actually ends up charging us all amounts to three times China's total defense budget!! And yes, nice try, but that is an accurate figure - China analysts believe this to be a reliable indicator of their activity - not that I could say the same for our auditors, since the "black budget" and the VA budget and lots of other little budgetary pieces never make it into our official defense budget anyway. Our defense spending, on the other hand, comes in at around $850 billion. That's about the size of four medium-sized country GDPs (like Israel+Norway+Denmark+Chile).

And, official projections for the F-35 (those are the projections that usually understate actual costs by about 20% or so) put those program costs at over $1 trillion - about the size of the national deficit. So, I hope we can dismantle some of these planes and distill some of their constituent elements for basics like food and fuel . . . . cause if we keep letting pathological organizations and defense contractors make all the budget decisions we're halfway to hell in an aircraft carrier.

MEP article on Syria and Financial Crisis

Better link to MEP article . . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Workshop Intriques: Weapons Espionage

Saw Issandr Al-Amrani's recent post about the JPost article on Egyptian military's purchase of Russian air defense systems. Since the Russians are unlikely to accept anything less than hard currency from the Egyptians for payment it begs the question of where Egypt would get the money for such a purchase, the price of which would undoutedly be very high since the S-400 is presumed to be the best air defense system available.

Well, the logical answer is that they would use US military aid (the Foreign Military Financing Funds that the Egyptians still get every year as an incentive for signing the Camp David Accords in 1979). But, would the US sign on to Egyptian purchases of Russian weaponry, given that there is some built in expectation that the Egyptians would use that money to purchase US defense material and at the very least would not buy material from the Russians?

A possibility I never considered (although now it seems entirely logical) is that the Americans would actually support such an Egyptian-Russian transaction on the premise that the Egyptians would give the Americans a few of the SAMs so they could use them in field tests (as opposed to having to resort to simulations and other computer generated tests. This would be especially beneficial to the US given that many of the countries that have bought these Russian weapons are those likely to be engaged in confrontation with the US in the future.

A former air force guy told me this is pretty common practice, but still something I didn't consider before, and introduces interesting motivations and mechanisms to questions/discussions of patterns of arms sales and military assistance.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Syrian reaction to success of Hariri/Future Party

This response sounds pretty reasonable to me (basically the Syrians concede that even if the pro-Syrian opposition would have won much of the world would have isolated the new Lebanese regime - a fact driven home even more by the fallout after the re-election of Ahmadinijad and Biden's statements during his earlier visit to Lebanon).

Nonetheless, the fact that the elections were peaceful and there were no (to my knowledge) accusations of Syrian interference, this might be a good time to step us talks between the US and Syria. Granted, not interfering was probably in the interests of the Syrian regime, which is embroiled in it's own domestic problems ranging from managing Iraqi refugees to riding out the economic downturn. But it's still another step by Damascus in a long series (not reacting to either the Israeli bombing of a supposed nuclear facility last year or the US cross-border bombing raid, intelligence sharing in the wake of 9-11 (yes, snubbed by the Bush Administration), etc.)

These steps seem to me to garner (at the absolute least) the end of US economic sanctions, which are completely meaningless and only serve to symbolically isolate the regime, in addition to the end of US efforts to bock Syria's ascension to the WTO.

I would say that even the most reserved regime would be losing patience with US efforts to isolate the country, and that Syria may be looking for an opportunity to demonstrate it's regional importance (and opportunities abound: Iran, Iraq, Palestine, etc.). This would be a sad reversal of the current trajectory. One can only hope that Mitchell et al are cooking up something to take to Damascus in the near future . . . .

Dubai reigns in real estate oligarchs

An FT article on the merger of several partially state-owned real estate development firms in Dubai says the move is a "decision to merge the real estate entities . . . to break down the business empires of his [Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum] lieutenants." One can only hope that Sheikh Issa [real estate developer and part-time torture connoisseur] gets his comeuppance as part of this deal. It's a distant second to the jail term he should be serving, but it's probably all that one could hope for in a country run by a monarchy.

50 Individuals in India control 20% of country's GDP

I think this is probably the highest concentration of wealth on the globe; FT has the story here.