Friday, April 27, 2007

Gordon Smith Files

Gordon Smith voted to approve a military spending bill that included a schedule for withdrawing troops. The vote was essentially party line, with Hagel being the only other cross over.

Impact: The bill is likely to be vetoed by the president, so it is just another round in a long negotiation. However none of the New England Republicans supported it, I'd guess there was a lot of pressure to tie this up. Had McCain voted and Hagel and Smith stayed in line the bill would not have passed. So long as the bill was stuck in congress Bush could hold to a maximalist line. As soon as he signs a veto he's on record denying funds to troops, and the maximalist line becomes unsustainable. In short troops will likely come home sooner then they would had the vote failed.

Guts: I'd give this 7 out of 10. Going against party is offset by the prospects of a 2008 re-election campaign, and the fact that the bill included funding for a subsidy program that greatly benefits rural (and Red) Oregon. Seems like a good example of putting the interests of voters ahead of party, and doing the right thing at the same time.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Review Excerpt: Fog of War

Some thoughts on Every War Must End.

I've heard the fog of war in reference to bureaucratic screw-ups, or as an excuse for friendly fire and other tactical mishaps. Here Ikle uses it to refer to the uncertainty at the top.

Strategic decisions have to incorporate a ton of data: friendly and enemy troop strength, reserves, and the potential for outside parties to intervene. Obviously a great deal of this information is unknown, it must be estimated based on a variety of sources. That layer of interpretation is the true fog, data interpretation follows self reinforcing assumptions. If we are tired they must be tired because ultimately we must win, therefore we will win. This ties in with the tendency for politicians to be to aggressive (if they lose a war they lose office- whether they leave their country intact or in ruins). Tyrants are actually more likely to make rational decisions about ending war then democracies, assuming the tyrant stays in power. Saddam Hussein in the first gulf war provides an apt demonstration.

Ikle makes the point that relatively little attention is paid to big picture strategy. When Rumsfeld talked to himself about whether we were creating more terrorists then we destroyed, that was taken as exceptional. Actually it was a very rational and very rarely asked question: Are we achieving our objectives?

I wonder how they process and present decision making information within the military? Any better then an insurance company?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Recommended Podcast

After Words: Ali Allawi Interviewed by Roland Flamini
Broadcast by C-Span

Ali Allawi has published a commentary on Iraq, the first I've seen by an Iraqi. I've seen him featured as a speaker on other podcasts, but found the C-Span interview the most informative. The key points I heard were
- Many people including exile groups thought Iraq had a strong secular middle class. That was true pre 1981, but was no longer so in 2003.

- Not only did America not have a plan when it invaded Iraq, it did not have a plan even when it put in place the CPA. The CPA had no clear mission statement but had tons of resources and authority. Hence the meandering through 2004. [Side Note: the unwillingness or inability of the President to provide meaningful direction to American occupation forces is still in evidence today as they search for a 'war czar']

- A with drawl of American forces would not make a significant difference. In areas of mixed ethnicity fighting would continue, in areas of ethnic homogeneity there would be no fighting. That is essentially the current situation.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

New Book Review

I finished reading a book by Andrew Bacevich on the plane coming home from Chicago, you can see my thoughts on it here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Is Fred Ikle a neocon?

I guess the reason Ikle goes easy on neocons in the new preface to Every War Must End is that he's one of them, or a least buddies. He was one of the original signatories to the Project for a New American Century statement of principles. PNAC was the premier organization of neocons during the Clinton years, with members including Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and William Kristol.

The organization is most well known for writing a letter to President Clinton in 1998 urging the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Many signatories to that letter went on to serve in the Bush II administration where they had the power to put deed to word. Perhaps most interesting, Ikle did not sign off on the 1998 letter. Did he support the invasion of Iraq? Does he still run in neocon circles?

I'm going to have to reread the new preface, slowly.

I initially thought the 1991 re-issue was to congratulate Powell for following doctrine in Gulf I and the 2005 to chastize the Bush regime for failing to do so. Now it looks like the 1991 issue was a warning to Powell that the job in Iraq wasn't done, and the 2005 issue is a mea-culpa.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

All Wars Must End

I was sufficiently interested in Ikle's book, Every War Must End, that I picked up a copy at the library. It's a short work, about 130 pages long. The book was initially published in 1971, revised editions were put out for the Gulf War in 1991 and Gulf War II in 2005.

I was surprised how lenient the author was in discussing Gulf War II in the new preface. Powell consciously followed Ikle's work in managing the first Gulf War, and neocons consciously ignored it(and Powell) in managing the second. On the first page where I expect to see Bush and Rumsfeld being dragged over coals, there is instead a discussion of the difficulty of applying lessons learned in previous wars.

I think you get a sense of where the author's head is by comparing the first lines of the revised prefaces.
1991: "Wars transform the future."
2005: "History is a cruel tutor."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fred Ikle

After Words 3/24/2007
Broadcast by C-Span

An interview of Fred Ikle about his most recent book, Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations. The theme of the book is that the government has failed to put in place useful contingency plans for events such as a nuclear bomb, biological weapon, etc. In both cases the impact of an event could be substantially mitigated by having a contingency plan in place. For biological weapons, this would cover the mass production and distribution of appropriate vaccines. For nuclear weapons, this would cover coordination with other nations on response and doctrine. Ikle fears that a nuclear detonation could cause a world war much like an assassination set off WWI.

The problem as Fred sees it is an incompetent civil service, too many people following the letter of bureaucratic code and not getting anything done. Example: Part of the reason there are so few Arabic translators is that many translators have spent time in the Middle East, either as students or visiting family. To get a security clearance someone from the FBI has to go to the country visited to investigate what was done, who the person talked to etc. Consequently, the vetting process can take years.

Ikle cites the confirmation process as the biggest roadblock to bringing in qualified people at the top. I think that is only partly right. A bigger problem is the lack of incentives. Government (if not corrupt) does not pay well. The primary motivation of good civil servants has been a sense of duty, people felt proud of their service to their fellow citizens. Nowadays high level positions are reserved for people loyal to the President personally, there is no sense of pride or responsibility independent of politics. That discourages the most duty-minded from seeking government work, and precludes their selection for high level positions. The current scandal over federal attorney firings is a prime example.

Ikle has written at least one other highly influential work, Every War Must End back in 1971. Sadly that is as relevant today as it was then.

Ikle touches on budgeting priorities, but I think Stephen Flynn has a more complete analysis on this topic.