Tag Archives: war

The New American Way of War

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New American Way of War

A Syrian-bound Tomahawk missile is launched from the destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea on April 14. (Photo: U.S. Navy / Kallysta Castillo)

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

“The elastic authorizations for the use of military force that Congress passed in the wake of 9/11 have been stretched by the last three administrations from continent to continent to justify military strikes in at least eight nations.

An apathetic American public and a spineless Congress have joined in a de facto alliance that increasingly allows U.S. presidents to go to war when and where they want.”

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“Threats of sustained further operations against Syria are just seen by most Americans as part of this permanent background noise of conflict,” says David Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general who commanded all U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. “These signals of greater action have provoked almost no interest from the citizenry, and frankly not much more from Congress.”

But it is part of the same package: the U.S. is now a nation waging war on auto-pilot, which—given the tenor of the times—means the U.S. will be engaged in conflict indefinitely, spending hundreds of billions of dollars it doesn’t have, without reflection or deliberation.

To highlight their preferred hands-off approach, senators proposed a retooled perpetual authorization for the use of military force their first day back at work following the Syrian attack. “A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate [April 16] would give the president sweeping authority to wage endless war anywhere in the world with limited congressional intervention,” The American Conservative reported. “In short, it’s a rubber stamp for the global war on terror.”

“Terror,” of course, has become the cudgel to beat the U.S. public into a cowering pile of protoplasm. Americans seem unable to put the terror threat in perspective, and then act accordingly. “If the past 17 years have taught us anything, it’s that far from being an existential menace, in most cases terrorism is a manageable threat,” argue Gene Healy and John Glaser of the Cato Institute in the New York Times. “Since Sept. 11, an American’s chance of being killed in the United States by a terrorist is about one in 40 million.”

Beyond the odds is history, which hints that the Syrian strike was illegal. The Supreme Court declared in 1862 that a president “has no power to initiate or declare a war.” But that notion has slowly eroded since World War II, and all but collapsed since 9/11. “By anyone’s definition, a nation that launches war on the word of one man is not, in any real sense, a republic any more,” Garrett Epps, a constitutional legal scholar at the University of Baltimore, wrote for The Atlantic. “In the long run, allowing the president to become an autocrat with sole control of war and peace is likely to prove fatal to the republic.”

http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/military-industrial-circus/2018/the-new-american-way-of-war.html

 

 

 

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How Does A Combat Vet Feel When Hearing A Civilian Say, “We Shouldn’t Be Over There, We Should Worry About Ourselves”?

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Rose Covered Glasses”  

“The civilian must accept his or her role in the issue. Elected representatives appropriate money and approve U.S. activities in other countries.

Solders go where they are ordered by their commander. If the civilian wishes change, then change can be at hand if the elected official is contacted and a strong input from the citizenry makes the demand heard.”

Quora Veterans Opinions on Today’s Warfare

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“FOREIGN POLICY”

“Asking warriors to do everything poses great dangers for our country — and the military. Our armed services have become the one-stop shop for America’s policymakers.

Here’s the vicious circle in which we’ve trapped ourselves: As we face novel security threats from novel quarters — emanating from nonstate terrorist networks, from cyberspace, and from the impact of poverty, genocide, or political repression, for instance — we’ve gotten into the habit of viewing every new threat through the lens of “war,” thus asking our military to take on an ever-expanding range of nontraditional tasks.

But viewing more and more threats as “war” brings more and more spheres of human activity into the ambit of the law of war, with its greater tolerance of secrecy, violence, and coercion — and its reduced protections for basic rights.”

15 Years Later, Iraq Vets In Congress Worry Lawmakers Learned Little From The War

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Senator Tammy Duckworth

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, arrives for a vote at the Capitol on Jan. 24, 2018. On Tuesday, the 15-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Duckworth said she worries that Congress still doesn’t take its role overseeing military operations seriously enough. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“There is an understanding on both sides of the aisle that Congress is failing,” Duckworth said. “(Our troops) keep redeploying and redeploying and redeploying. Now they’re in Afghanistan, now they’re in Iraq, now they’re in Africa, now they’re in Syria.

“They keep showing up and we’re not doing our jobs. We’re too afraid to have this discussion, and turning it all over to the executive branch. We did it under President Obama and we’re doing it under the present administration. And that’s not acceptable.”


“Fifteen years after the start of the Iraq war, Sen. Tammy Duckworth is worried that Congress didn’t learn anything from the controversial conflict.

“We just added Niger as a combat zone for combat pay. We’re talking about troops in Syria permanently,” said Duckworth, D-Illinois, who lost both legs while serving as an Army National Guard helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2004.

“That to me is a very dangerous position to be in. I don’t feel like overall Congress has learned a lesson, and I think most people would just rather keep their head down and not have a vote.”

Duckworth and fellow Iraq war veteran Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., spoke to reporters on the anniversary of the start of that conflict Tuesday to again push for a new authorization for the use of military force for a host of current overseas military missions.

The justifications for military intervention in the Middle East, Africa and other conflict zones still rely on the war powers granted by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. For years, Duckworth and Gallego (along with other Democrats and Republicans) have argued in favor of an updated, more limited military force authorization measure, but a compromise remains elusive.

Earlier in the day, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said his panel will mark up a new authorization proposal on April 19.

“When we go into new countries, when we take on new groups, the Senate would have the ability to weigh in on those issues,” he said during a floor speech. “So I just would like to say to the body and those who are looking in, we are not shying away from this debate.”

But Duckworth and Gallego said lawmakers largely have avoided those difficult conversations on military roles and responsibilities, allowing the White House to make those decisions largely unchecked.

“We’re seeing a military that is expected to engage long-term on multiple fronts. We’re seeing a military that has not been funded in terms of readiness,” Duckworth said. “And we’re adding what we’re expecting them to do.

“We’re talking about Africa. We’re talking about Korea. If we want to have the military engage in a 15-year commitment on three fronts … let’s have that conversation.”

Gallego said he believes that after nearly 18 years of continuous military operations overseas, lawmakers have “a better understanding of how military adventurism can go wrong,” and the strain that puts on military families.

“But we’re not doing anything about it,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds. We don’t have to take a tough vote, and the military gets to do what they want because the operate under this old authorization. Democrats are just as responsible for this as Republicans.”

Both lawmakers said they were encouraged by increased debate in the House last year pushing for a new war authorization, but said the work is still moving too slow. They’re hopeful that as more young combat veterans enter Congress (42 current lawmakers served in the Iraq and Afghanistan War era) those issues will take more prominence.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2018/03/21/15-years-later-iraq-vets-in-congress-worry-lawmakers-learned-little-from-the-war/

 

 

War Making Decisions – Power And The Price We Pay

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How We Have Granted War Making Decision Power and the Price We Have Paid

‘THE ATLANTIC”  From “The Iraq War and the Inevitability of Ignorance” By  James Fallows

“The U.S. is destined to keep overlearning the lessons of the last conflict.

The value of tragic imagination remains: for leaders considering war or peace, for the media in stoking or questioning pro-war fever, for the 99 percent of the public in considering the causes for which the military 1 percent will be asked to kill, and die.”


“There’s a specific reason it is so hard to be president—in normal circumstances—and why most incumbents look decades older when they leave the job than when they began. The reason is that the only choices normal presidents get to make are the impossible ones—decisions that are not simply very close calls on the merits, but that are guaranteed to lead to tragedy and bitterness whichever way they go.

Take Barack Obama’s famed choice not to back up his “red line” promise in Syria, which was a focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Obama Doctrine” Atlantic cover story two years ago. The option Obama chose—not intervening in Syria—meant death and suffering for countless thousands of people. The option he rejected—intervening—would have meant death and suffering for countless thousands of the same people or others. Agree or disagree on the outcome, any such decision is intellectually demanding and morally draining. Normal presidents have to make them, one after another, all day long. (Why don’t they get any easier choices? Because someone else has made all of those before they get to the president.) Obama’s decision to approve the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound turned out to be a tactical and political success. When he made it, he had to weigh the possibility that it could end in world-publicized failure—like Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue of American hostages in Iran, which ended in chaos, and which Carter later contended was what sealed his fate in his re-election run.

A special category of impossible decision, which I was introduced to in the two years I worked for Jimmy Carter in the White House and have borne in mind ever since, turns on the inevitability of ignorance. To be clear, I don’t mean “stupidity.” People in the government and military are overall smarter than press portrayals might suggest. Instead I mean really registering the uncomfortable fact that you cannot know enough about the big choices you are going to make, before you have to make them.Sometimes that is because of deadline rush: The clock is ticking, and you have to act now. (To give a famous example: In 1980 U.S. radar erroneously indicated that the Soviets had launched a nuclear-missile attack, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, had to decide at 3 a.m. whether to wake the president to consider retaliation. Before the world was rushed toward possible nuclear obliteration, the warning was revealed as a false alarm before Brzezinski could place the call.) Most of the time it is because the important variables are simply unknowable, and a president or other decision-maker has to go on judgment, experience, hunch.This point sounds obvious, because we deal with its analogues in daily-life decisions big and small. No one who decides to get married can know what his or her spouse will be like 20 years in the future, or whether the partners will grow closer together or further apart. Taking a job—or offering one—is based at least as much on hope as on firm knowledge. You make an investment, you buy a house, you plan a vacation knowing that you can’t possibly foresee all the pitfalls or opportunities.

But this routine truism takes on life-or-death consequences in the choices that presidents must make, as commander in chief and as head of U.S. diplomatic and strategic efforts. The question of deciding about the unknowable looms large in my mind, as I think back 15 years to the run-up to the Iraq war, and think ahead to future such choices future presidents will weigh.

* * *

There’s a long list of books I wish presidents would have read before coming to office—before, because normal presidents barely have time to think once they get there. To give one example from my imagined list: the late David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace is for me a useful starting point for thinking about strains within the modern Middle East. The book argues, in essence, that the way the Ottoman Empire was carved up at the end of World War I essentially set the stage for conflicts in the region ever since. In that way it is a strategic counterpart to John Maynard Keynes’s famous The Economic Consequences of the Peace, written just after the conclusion of the Versailles agreements, which argues that the brutal economic terms dealt out to the defeated Germans practically guaranteed future trouble there.

Also high up on my “wish they’d read” list is Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makersby two Harvard professors (and one-time mentors of mine), Ernest May and Richard Neustadt. In this book, May and Neustadt reverse the chestnut attributed to an earlier Harvard professor, George Santayana, that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Instead they caution against over-remembering, or imagining that a choice faced now can ever be exactly like one faced before.

The most famous and frightening example is Lyndon Johnson’s, involving Vietnam. Johnson “learned” so thoroughly the error of Neville Chamberlain, and others who tried to appease (rather than confront) the Nazis, that he thought the only risk in Vietnam was in delaying before confronting communists there. A complication in Johnson’s case, as this book and all other accounts of Vietnam make clear, is that he was worried both about the reality of waiting too long to draw a line against Communist expansion, and perhaps even more about appearing to be weak and Chamberlain-like.

Because of the disaster Johnson’s decisions caused—the disaster for Vietnam, for its neighbors, for tens of thousands of Americans, all as vividly depicted in last year’s Ken Burns / Lynn Novick documentary—most American politicians, regardless of party, “learned” to avoid entanglement in Asian-jungle guerrilla wars. Thus in the late 1970s, as the post-Vietnam war Khmer Rouge genocide slaughtered millions of people in Cambodia, the U.S. kept its distance. It had given up the international moral standing, and had nothing like the internal political stomach, to go right back into another war in the neighborhood where it had so recently met defeat.

From its Vietnam trauma, the United States also codified a crass political lesson that Richard Nixon had applied during the war. Just before Nixon took office, American troop levels in Vietnam were steadily on the way up, as were weekly death tolls, and monthly draft calls. The death-and-draft combination was the trigger for domestic protests. Callously but accurately, Nixon believed that he could drain the will to the protest if he ended the draft calls. Thus began the shift to the volunteer army—and what I called, in an Atlantic cover story three years ago, the “Chickenhawk Nation” phenomenon, in which the country is always at war but the vast majority of Americans are spared direct cost or exposure. (From the invasion of Iraq 15 years ago until now, the total number of Americans who served at any point in Iraq or Afghanistan comes to just 1 percent of the U.S. population.)

May and Neustadt had a modest, practical ambition for their advice to study history, but to study it cautiously. “Marginal improvement in performance is worth seeking,” they wrote. “Indeed, we doubt that there is any other kind. Decisions come one at a time, and we would be satisfied to see a slight upturn in the average. This might produce much more improvement [than big dramatic changes] measured by results.”

My expectation is more modest still: I fear but expect that the U.S. is fated to lurch from one over-“learning” to its opposite, and continue making a steadily shifting range of errors.

The decision to invade Iraq was itself clearly one of those. The elder George Bush fought a quick and victorious war to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991. But he stopped short of continuing the war into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power—and so his son learned from that “failure” that he had to finish the job of eliminating Saddam. (As did a group of the younger George Bush’s most influential advisors: Dick Cheney, who had been secretary of defense during the original Gulf war, and returned as George W. Bush’s vice president. Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the first time around, and secretary of state the second. Paul Wolfowitz was undersecretary of defense during the first war, and deputy secretary of defense during the second. And so on.)

Two of the writers who were most eloquent in making their case for the war—Christopher Hitchens, who then wrote for the Atlantic among other places, and Michael Kelly, who was then our editor-in-chief—based much of their case on the evils Saddam Hussein had gotten away with after the original Gulf War. (Hitchens died of cancer in 2011; Kelly was killed in Iraq, as an embedded reporter in the war’s early stage.) Then Barack Obama, who had become president in large part because he opposed the Iraq war — which gave him his opening against the vastly better known and more experienced Hillary Clinton—  learned from Iraq about the dangers of intervention in Syria. And on through whatever cycles the future holds.

Is there escape from the cycles? In a fundamental sense, of course not, no. But I’ll offer the “lesson” I learned—50 years ago, in a classroom with Professor May; 40 years ago, when I watched Jimmy Carter weigh his choices; 15 years ago, in warning about the risks of invading Iraq. It involves a cast of mind, and a type of imagination.As the Bush administration moved onto a war footing soon after the 9/11 attacks, no one could know the future risks and opportunities. But, at the suggestion of my friend and then-editor Cullen Murphy, I began reporting on what the range of possibilities might be. Starting in the spring of 2002, when the Bush team was supposedly still months away from a decision about the war, it was clear to us that the choice had been made. I interviewed dozens of historians, military planners, specialists in post-war occupations, and people from the region to try to foresee the likely pitfalls.The result, which was in our November, 2002 issue (and which we put online three months earlier, in hopes of affecting the debate) was called “The Fifty-First State?” Its central argument was: The “war” part of the undertaking would be the easy part, and deceptively so. The hard part would begin when U.S. troops had reached Baghdad and the statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down—and would last for months, and years, and decades, all of which should be taken into consideration in weighing the choice for war.

It conceivably might have gone better in Iraq, and very well could have, if not for a series of disastrously arrogant and incompetent mistakes by members of the Bush team. I won’t go into details here: I laid them out in several articles, including thisthis, and this, and eventually a book. But the premise of most people I interviewed before the war, who mostly had either a military background or extensive experience in the Middle East, was that this would be very hard, and would hold a myriad of bad surprises, and was almost certain to go worse than its proponents were saying. Therefore, they said, the United States should do everything possible to avoid invading unless it had absolutely no choice. Wars should be only of necessity. This would be folly, they said, and a war of choice.

The way I thought of the difference between those confidently urging on the war, and those carefully cautioning against it, was: cast of mind. The majority of people I spoke with expressed a bias against military actions that could never be undone, and whose consequences could last for generations. I also thought of it as a capacity for tragic imagination, of envisioning what could go wrong as vividly as one might dream of what could go right. (“Mission Accomplished!”)

Any cast of mind has its biases and blind spots. But I’m impressed, in thinking about the history I have lived through and the histories I have read, by how frequently people with personal experience of war have been cautious about launching future wars. This does not make them pacifists: Harry Truman, infantry veteran of World War I, decided to drop the atomic bomb. But Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, Colin Powell (in most of his career other than the Iraq-war salesmanship at the United Nations)—these were former commanding generals, cautious about committing troops to war. They had a tragic imagination of where that could lead and what it might mean.

What lesson do we end with? Inevitably any of them from the past will mismatch our future choices. The reasons not to invade Iraq 15 years ago are different from the risks to consider in launching a strike on North Korea or on Iran, or provoking China in some dispute in the East China Sea.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/iraq-war-anniversary-fifty-first-state/555986/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. Fallows has won the National Magazine Award for his 2002 story “Iraq: The Fifty-First State?” warning about the consequences of invading Iraq; he has been a finalist four other times. He has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction for his book National Defense and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne (2012). 

 

 

 

The Scam Artist Who Sold Fake Armored Trucks to U.S. Army

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Fake Trucks

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THE DAILY BEAST

“THE DAILY BEAST”

“Whyte’s fraud is symptomatic of rushed, desperate weapons-purchases that were common during the Pentagon’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. 

Years after the Iraq occupation morphed into a wider U.S. intervention targeting Islamic State militants, the Pentagon still doesn’t know exactly what it’s spending its money on.”


“Sometime in the summer of 2006, John Ventimiglia, a plant foreman for Canada-based Armet Armored Vehicles, visited the company’s Ontario factory to inspect several Kestrel armored trucks that Armet was assembling for the U.S. military in Iraq.

Ventimiglia was horrified by what he saw, according to court documents. The vehicles lacked the floor armor that the military had specified. Instead of special, blast-resistant mineplate, workers had installed fragile plywood planks. It was also apparent that workers were using sandbox-style play sand in the vehicles’ construction—although Ventimiglia wasn’t sure why.

Ventimiglia emailed his coworker Frank Skinner, who then approached the FBI. Nearly 12 years later, this past week, a U.S. district court sentencedArmet CEO William Whyte to five years in prison for supplying fake armored vehicles to the U.S. military during the height of the American-led occupation of Iraq. Seventy-two-year-old Whyte, of Ontario, must also pay back the U.S. government for the trucks.

“Evidence at trial demonstrated that Whyte executed a scheme to defraud the United States by providing armored gun trucks that were deliberately under-armored,” the Justice Department stated.

But the military’s contracting problems aren’t unique to Iraq.

In 2011, the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan reported that contractors had cheated the Pentagon out of $31 billion since 2001 (PDF). In one 2007 case, two South Carolina sisters—co-owners of a small parts-supplier—were found guilty of billing the Pentagon $20 million for hardware that was worth a fraction of that.

“Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals out there who will take advantage of a wartime emergency, even one involving the lives and safety of our troops, to pad their own pockets,” Dan Grazier, a former Marine who is currently an analyst with the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C., told The Daily Beast.

In Iraq, an escalating insurgency motivated many of the most flawed purchases. From mid-2005 to mid-2006, roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices killed around 40 Americans per month in Iraq. Starting in 2006, the Defense Department spent $50 billion buying no fewer than 24,000 up-armored vehicles.

So-called Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected trucks, or MRAPs—built by major defense contractors—accounted for most of the new vehicles. But the crash effort drew in small companies too, some of which assembled less-complex armored trucks for hauling Iraqi and coalition officials around Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Armet Armored Vehicles was one of those smaller companies. The Ontario-based company, which also operated a factory in Danville, Virginia, specialized in adding armor to SUVs and building ambulances and police vehicles. The company provided vehicles for Fast Five, the 2011 installment in the Fast and Furious film franchise.

In March 2006 the Defense Department hired Armet to build Kestrel armored trucks based on the chassis of a Ford F550 pickup. The price: around $200,000 per truck, including shipping. All told, Armet stood to earn $4 million.

The first four Kestrels were due in Baghdad 45 days after Whyte signed the contract in mid-March 2006. The rest, by the end of July. “Here we go, the first 20 Kestrels for Baghdad,” Whyte emailed his staff, according to court documents. “The only problems that I see is the chassis and FINANCE!”

Whyte was correct that it would be problematic to finance what was, for Armet, a substantial boost in production. The company fell behind. Unable to build the trucks on time and to spec, Whyte essentially faked them—replacing some government-mandated floor armor with plywood and leaving gaps in the protection on other parts of the vehicles.

“He knew he couldn’t meet the deadline,” Frank Skinner, who in 2006 oversaw Armet’s Danville factory said of Whyte during the latter’s two-month trial in in the U.S. District Court for the western district of Virginia beginning in June 2015. The first two Kestrels arrived in Baghdad at least two months late. Around the same time, Skinner secretly contacted the FBI about Whyte’s fraud.

While building faulty trucks and delivering them late, Whyte hounded military officials to pay Armet in advance for future vehicles. The military refused most of the requests. “You need to stop using progress payments for an excuse for your inability to deliver these vehicles against any type of credible timeline,” Cmdr. Tommy Neville, a contracting officer in Baghdad, wrote to Whyte.

“We miscalculated and were deluded when we believed that money was forthcoming,” Whyte wrote to another military official in October 2006. Years later, federal prosecutors would allege that Whyte repainted some of the Kestrels he had built for, but not yet shipped to, the U.S. military and instead sold them to the Nigerian government—because the Nigerians offered a higher price. A judge threw out that complaint for a lack of evidence.

In March 2008, the Pentagon rejected the seventh gun truck that Armet had shipped to Iraq and canceled the contract. By then the military had paid Armet around $2 million for six trucks it could not use. The Justice Department indicted Whyte in July 2012 and issued a warrant for his arrest the same day.

“None of the armored gun trucks delivered by Armet and Whyte met the ballistic and blast protection requirements of the contracts, despite the defendant’s claims that the vehicles met the standards,” the FBI stated. “Armet and Whyte knew that each of the six armored gun trucks failed to meet the required standards, that they were defective, and that they would not protect the officials they were intended to protect.”

Whyte fled to Canada to avoid prosecution. Armet shut its doors. Canadian authorities extradited the former CEO after a three-year legal battle. On Oct. 9, a jury unanimously found Whyte guilty on three counts of major fraud against the United States, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of criminal false claims.

Five months later on Feb. 20, Judge Jackson Kiser sentenced Whyte to spend 70 months in prison—and to pay back the $2 million his company received for the fake armored vehicles.

For the Pentagon, the underlying problem likely persists. In January 2017, the Government Accountability Office estimated that, as recently as 2016, as much as 5 percent of all federal payments to individuals and contractors were “improper” and resulted in $144 billion in waste in that year alone (PDF).

But that calculation didn’t take into account military contracts, owing to “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that have prevented its financial statements from being auditable,” the GAOexplained. In late 2017 Congress finally passed a law requiring the Defense Department to conduct a full audit starting in 2018.

In the meantime, it’s unclear how many other William Whytes are out there, cheating American servicemembers and taxpayers. “This is just one of the many reasons why we need to have effective oversight of the DoD acquisition process,” Grazier said.”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-scam-artist-who-sold-fake-armored-trucks-to-us-army

 

Guide For Generals Coming To The Pentagon – Get To Know Your Civilian Staff Experts

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“WAR ON THE ROCKS” By Nina Wagner

“The Defense Department’s civilians have the knowledge, care, and professional responsibility to question the military when necessary.

Understanding civilian contributions can prepare military leaders to serve the department’s senior leaders alongside civilian colleagues, to focus their collective energy towards the security challenges facing the United States, and to fulfill the moral obligation of defense leaders to provide clear guidance to the troops.”


“I believe it’s a moral obligation for leaders to lay out clearly to the subordinates in the Department of Defense what it is we expect of them.”
-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis

As a child who followed her parents in the military to life and schools in three countries, and as an Air Force member whose life was affected by serving overseas, my affiliation to the Department of Defense feels personal, like part of my core.

I now work in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) as a civilian. It is an unusual job. Supporting the department’s senior civilian leaders as they make decisions of national consequence and issue guidance affecting U.S. troops is a distinct privilege. The moral obligation Mattis referred to is the same feeling that motivates most civilian defense officials to develop the best possible advice for the department’s senior leaders.

Military contributions to the defense mission are well studied. It can be harder to find an explanation of the department’s minority population — civilians — especially at the headquarters level. A defense-specific study of policymakers can be useful to those working at the Pentagon, especially military leaders interfacing with national political leaders for the first time.

Most of the secretary of defense’s staff are civilians — either political appointees specific to an administration or career civil servants. In addition to the secretary and the deputy secretary of defense, Senate-confirmed political leaders appointed into the department are key to “civilian control of the military.” OSD does include some military detailees, especially in offices focused on internal department processes.

OSD staff participate in governance processes essential to U.S. democracy, absorb all expertise relevant to defense issues, and shield the military from domestic politics. Working in OSD requires a different mentality and skills from serving in the military, as military detailees to the organization can attest. The mission and team-focused culture can feel similar, but the proximity to political power requires a fluidity and sensitivity to variables that are less immediate for military members. Military members benefit from, and contribute to, a collective reputation of competence. Civilians tend to be more individualized experts, assembled into different groupings as department leaders require.

Military leaders who overlook civilian policy contributions to the department risk increasing the gap between the American public and the military. They are also more likely to plan military activities misaligned from the nation’s political objectives. Conversely, I’ve seen that when civilian and military leaders understand each other’s contributions toward the common defense mission, the department is more effective in applying the U.S. military toward the nation’s political ends. Military members who learn from civilian colleagues during a Pentagon tour are better leaders in their next command. They can explain the political context and department-level strategy behind military operations to the troops.

Van Jackson has artfully described typical constellations within the national security community. When I worked in uniform, I had only a vague idea that these entities and the processes they oversaw existed.

After working in OSD for nearly ten years, I have a better appreciation for defense civilians and the policymaking art that they practice. Here are the main roles I have seen policy-focused civilians play:

Public servant. Like their military counterparts, civilians swear an oath to the U.S. constitution. Policymaking occurs within a living ecosystem whose players evolve with each election cycle (sometimes more frequently as political appointees leave and are replaced). Who the American public votes into the presidency matters. That president’s policy priorities and leadership team — and the civil servants poised to serve that team — enable the U.S. government to shift toward new policy directions away from the weighty inertia of the status quo. Civilians and their belief in this cycle are essential to the exercise of American democracy.

Strategist. Civilians contribute broad, defense-relevant expertise to senior leaders who need to view the military objectively as one instrument of national power. In most cases, the military is likely to be just one part of a broader U.S., and potentially international, effort to address a specific security challenge. Civilian expertise is needed to orient the military strategically within a broader U.S. government and global context. The regular rotation of political appointees into OSD brings fresh intellectual capital into the department. Of course, a lot of department leaders think strategically and issue strategic guidance. Specifying what constitutes a strategy and the relationship among defense-related strategies can help provide clear direction to the troops.

Connector. Civilians’ relationships with interagency colleagues, congressional staff, international actors, and experts outside government are important to the department’s ability to relate to external entities — especially given that military staff rotate into the Pentagon for shorter-duration assignments. Most allied governments have a strong desire for political alignment before committing their militaries to combined operations. One of my prior bosses in OSD brought decades-long relationships of trust with European counterparts, which enabled him to work effectively with allies to develop a unified NATO response to Russian aggression.

A military colleague once noted that it was hard to know a civilian’s qualifications, relative to a military member whose uniform provides a visual snapshot of rank, career field, and operational experience. Civilians do not undergo the standardized training and career paths that service members do. However, their varied academic and professional experiences help the department relate to other actors in the messy political reality outside it. Civilians’ more flexible role within the department’s hierarchical organizational structure can allow them to speak and operate in multiple environments more easily than a uniformed counterpart.

Translator. Career civilians can ease interactions and navigate cultural differences between political and military leaders. They can help political leaders refine policy objectives to reflect the military’s capabilities and limitations, and they can help the military understand political leaders’ guidance. Sometimes this may involve pressing military counterparts for options that meet leaders’ intentions, especially within supportable resource levels. This function is increasingly important as fewer U.S. political leaders are veterans with prior military experience. I’ve been the lone civilian in a conference room filled with military officers planning future operations. It was my responsibility to remind them of the secretary’s priorities and of political realities — the U.S. military’s incomparable scope and scale can make it hard to remember the need to focus resources where political leaders want them most.

Civilians, often with military counterparts, also represent the department’s policies to interagency and foreign policymakers. The civilian usually addresses policy objectives and political considerations, while the military member tends to explain resources required and how military activity will achieve the objectives. When the United States created an international coalition to fight ISIL, for instance, civilian and military leaders held parallel consultations with foreign counterparts along these lines.

Aggregator. OSD staff ensure that the department’s senior leaders have coherent analysis and relevant options to make decisions. Civilians aggregate the political, military, financial, legislative, and/or acquisition considerations necessary to achieve a desired effect. They are not experts in every area, but they wrangle all the relevant components to contribute toward a department-wide goal. A decision to invest — or disinvest — in base infrastructure is an example of complex, politically-sensitive decision-making facilitated by OSD’s framing of options. Civilian expertise in non-military considerations related to a base’s value is a critical complement to the military’s assessment. In addition, bureaucratically, only the secretary or deputy secretary’s staff can convene all the relevant department components to study whether to propose a domestic Base Realignment and Closure round or adjustments to overseas bases.

Based on this aggregate picture, OSD staff regularly recommend priorities to the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and other Senate-confirmed leadership. Civilians often help assess requests for use of military resources, specifically helping to evaluate the possible tradeoffs in current and future readiness that might result. Career civilians are particularly sensitive to political leaders’ expectations for long-term thinking about competing force employment priorities and for guidance that maintains the health of the force. Civilians also help the department’s leaders connect policy objectives to specific investments — or reject proposals misaligned with leadership priorities.

Buffer. Part of the American public’s respect for the uniformed military stems from a perception that they are above the political fray. Military members are expected to do whatever the nation needs, as interpreted and directed by political leaders. The secretary of defense and other appointees in the department allow the military to maintain that distance by representing the department’s political positions and equities to external audiences.

During internal debate, OSD civilians are at their best when they ask political leaders the hard questions that would be tougher for someone in uniform to ask: Why are we sending forces? What is the intended effect? Is that effect likely, given the international and domestic political context? Do you accept the associated risks?

Advocate. Once senior leaders make decisions, civilian policy staff become the department’s champion to external audiences. Civilians ask Congress for authorities and resources by painting the policy narrative for why the Defense Department needs them (it certainly helps to have a uniformed counterpart join this outreach). When both civilian and military leaders testify on the Hill, Congress expects them to address their respective responsibilities related to the topic. OSD staff also represent the department’s policy views to the White House and partner agencies, especially if Congress has authorized “dual-key” resources that require cooperation with the Department of State. While working on Afghanistan policy, I would alternate between policy advocacy and implementation roles. I talked with congressional staff about the department’s need for specific authorizations and also conferred with U.S. forces in Afghanistan about how they were executing programs enabled by those authorizations.

Conscience. This one is the hardest to discuss but it’s the heart of OSD civilian contributions to the department’s well-being. The average American has no connection to anyone serving in the U.S. military. Few Americans write their congressional representatives asking why the military is operating in a foreign country. The American public’s disengagement, coupled with veneration, can prevent the military from being held accountable for its failures. Moreover, as resource advocates and troop leaders, military leaders with current command responsibility may have a hard time admitting to failure — or objectives being impossible. This dynamic can complicate the department’s ability to assess progress and adjust course. Of course, political leaders can find self-reflection and change challenging as well.

If military actions are not having the predicted effect, if resources are not aligned with leadership priorities, if a military leader is proposing options a political leader has rejected, or if any military activity has political or strategic effects, a civilian from OSD will likely come knocking. When that happens, it helps if civilian and military colleagues already understand and trust each other. When a secretary of defense receives options from OSD, he or she can be confident that staff have examined the issue at hand through a policy lens.

***

Each iteration of politically appointed leaders chooses how to use civilian and military advisors. Mattis’ decisions on how to use OSD will affect the staff capacity available to a future Secretary. Leaders who know the team they inherit can use it to magnify their influence.

The secretary of defense’s relatively small, mostly civilian staff contingent helps the department be thoughtful and deliberate about how more than two million active duty and reserve forces are employed. ”

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR]

Nina Wagner is a senior strategy advisor in the Department of Defense. She has previously worked within OSD on Afghanistan, U.S. force posture abroad, and alliance relationships. As a Presidential Management Fellow, she worked in several components of the Departments of Defense and State, including the Joint Staff and U.S. Embassy Kabul. She comes from a family with multiple current and former members of the U.S. military.

https://warontherocks.com/2018/02/guide-generals-coming-pentagon-getting-know-civilian-colleagues/

 

 

 

New Year’s Irresolution: Peering into 2018

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Miliary Industrial Circus

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”

“The U.S. has been the world’s biggest arms seller since 1990, and the global weapons trade is now at its highest level since the Cold War’s end. “It turns out the U.S. is the top weapons supplier to the least-democratic countries,” says Micah Zenko, a national-security analyst at Chatham House, after reviewing the data.

One thing has remained pretty constant, in fact, since World War II: the U.S. military—in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq—has failed to win, at a cost of trillions of dollars and nearly 100,000 American lives.

“The ‘Buy American’ plan that calls for U.S. military attachés and diplomats to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the U.S. weapons industry,” the Reuters newswire reported Jan. 8. “The initiative, which will encompass everything from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, is expected to be launched as early as February.”


“Not sure how you spent your holidays—happily, I hope—but I spent a fair amount of mine poring through a stocking full of reports about the state of our national defense. First there was President Trump’s initial National Security Strategy, which basically said that the $700 billion we’re spending each year on the U.S. military isn’t enough. Then I zipped through a new study from the Rand Corp. that said all it would take is another $30 billion or so annually to get the U.S. military on the right track. After those bodice-rippers, I cozied up with the State Department’s latest World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfer report, which shows the U.S. is increasingly the Amazon.com for world’s weapons buyers, and has some amazing facts you won’t find elsewhere.

Here (start breathing through your scuba gear now!) at the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information, it’s our goal to push for a “significantly” cheaper, but smarter, U.S. military. And as a new year dawns—as well as the first full calendar year of a new administration—it’s a good time to see where we’re headed. Frankly, it’s important to stop flying blind. We have been on automatic pilot since the end of the Cold War with nothing but record levels of defense spending and only military draws, at best, to show for it. One thing has remained pretty constant, in fact, since World War II: the U.S. military—in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq—has failed to win, at a cost of trillions of dollars and nearly 100,000 American lives.

Is this what national defense is supposed to be buying?

Defense spending, of course, is like a telescope, with its size dependent on which end you’re looking into. It has represented a shrinking share of the national economy and the federal budget for decades. Pentagon plutocrats insist that it’s being short-changed and that more money is needed. Pentagon paupers, on the other hand, note that U.S. is now spending more annually than it did during an average Cold War’s year, when we were eyeballing the Soviet Union with nuclear notions in our noggins.

So, will anything change in 2018? Don’t bet on it, based on the evidence so far. In Trump’s Dec. 18 release of his National Security Strategy, he pretty much lumped his predecessors together with foreign foes. The 55-page text contained the usual platitudes puréed by the U.S. national-security establishment (“peace through strength” appears eight times). But the president’s remarks accompanying its release were jarring, coming from the commander-in-chief.

Even though many in the national-security community had been privately complaining for years of the Obama administration’s kid-glove approach in handling foreign affairs, it was startling to hear Trump lash out at his predecessors as “they” rather than “we”—as in Americans. “Our leaders engaged in nation-building abroad, while they failed to build up and replenish our nation at home,” Trump said. “They undercut and shortchanged our men and women in uniform with inadequate resources, unstable funding, and unclear missions.”

Thankfully, the actual document itself was considerably more measured. “The National Security Strategy is a stunning repudiation of Trump, and Trump’s speech was a stunning repudiation of the National Security Strategy,” global strategist Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution noted in the Atlantic.

But, Trump went on, things will be different from here on out. “We are once again investing in our defense—almost $700 billion, a record, this coming year,” he said. “We are demanding extraordinary strength, which will hopefully lead to long and extraordinary peace.” (Psst—Mr. President: if money were the key to victory, we would have prevailed in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq).

The Rand study pulled a 180 on Trump, pointing out that more money doesn’t guarantee more winning. “Assessments in this report will show that U.S. forces could, under plausible assumptions, lose the next war they are called upon to fight, despite the United States outspending China on military forces by a ratio of 2.7:1 and Russia by 6:1,” noted the report, published on the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s title was right out of the let’s-be-afraid playbook: “U.S. Military Capabilities and Forces for a Dangerous World.” You’d hardly know that the U.S. military is the envy of the world, unparalleled in its reach and power.

But to win tomorrow, the U.S. military needs new investment priorities—detecting enemy forces, destroying enemy air defenses, more protection against enemy missiles (leading an outsider to wonder: just what has the Pentagon been up to all these years?)—at the top of Rand’s list. Shifting spending to pay for them while maintaining the U.S. military’s current size, the research outfit says, can only happen “by increasing defense spending by $20 billion to $40 billion per year on a sustained basis.” Well, we give Rand credit for noting there isn’t a linear relationship between military spending and military success.

Finally, the U.S. also is doing its best to share its high-cost, low-payoff war-fighting ways with the rest of the planet. Let’s face it: the U.S. has a split personality when it comes to weaponry. It has long pushed arms-control pacts and nonproliferation treaties to keep a cap on the nuclear genie, while its Second Amendment embraces a “don’t tread on me” ethos when it comes to individual gun ownership. The government embraces that latter approach when it comes to selling U.S.-made weaponry overseas.

Such salesmanship didn’t begin with Trump. The U.S. has been the world’s biggest arms seller since 1990, and the global weapons trade is now at its highest level since the Cold War’s end, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported last year. U.S. overseas arms sales reached $42 billion during the last fiscal year (ending Sept. 30), a 24% increase over the $34 billion sold in the prior 12 months.

“This positive sales trend isn’t surprising as the United States is the global provider of choice for Security Cooperation,” Army Lieut. Gen. Charles Hooper, chief of the weapons-selling Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said shortly after Thanksgiving. “We deliver not only the most effective defense systems to our partners, but we also ensure a ‘Total Package’ approach that includes the provision of training, maintenance, and sustainment, to support full spectrum capability for our partners.” (Can someone at the Pentagon please call a halt to this Trump-like Random Capitalization That Makes No Sense?)

The State Department’s latest congressionally-mandated World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers report (tasty acronym: WMEAT), strives to come up with apples-to-apples measurements for the fruit-cocktail arms bazaar. Between 2005 and 2015, it concluded that the world increased its spending on military forces (excluding inflation) by about a third, from roughly $1.6 trillion to $2.2 trillion annually. Highlighting the growing role played by high-tech weaponry, the cost per troop over the same decade jumped by about 40%. International arms sales jumped by 66% over the decade. In fact, American weapons exports cut the the nation’s trade deficit by about 20%, the State Department’s calculations show.

But the U.S. needs to be aware of its buyers. “It turns out the U.S. is the top weapons supplier to the least-democratic countries,” says Micah Zenko, a national-security analyst at Chatham House, after reviewing the data.

But all geopolitics is local, according to William Hartung, an arms-sale scholar at the Center for International Policy. “Sales of F-15s to Qatar and F-18s to Kuwait help extend their production lines at Boeing plants in the St. Louis area; sales of M-1 tanks to Saudi Arabia help keep General Dynamics lines in Ohio and Michigan up and running; and sales of F-16s to any number of countries keep the Lockheed Martin F-16 line open,” he says. “The U.S. dominates the global arms trade, and arms exports have a significant domestic political impact.”

It’s hard to believe, but the U.S. may become an even more ardent arms peddler. “The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new `Buy American’ plan that calls for U.S. military attachés and diplomats to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the U.S. weapons industry,” the Reuters newswire reported Jan. 8. “The initiative, which will encompass everything from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, is expected to be launched as early as February.”

For those not sated by all this holiday reading, there’s more on the way: the Pentagon will unveil its National Defense Strategy Jan. 19, followed by its nuclear-posture and ballistic-missile-defense reviews in February. No surprises there, either: they’re expected to call for new and smarter (and possibly more) nuclear weapons, as well as shields to defend against them.

All this offers plenty of grist as we launch our second year of this weekly Military Industrial Circus column. We look forward to reporting on the fits and starts of the U.S. military as it struggles to gain its footing in the 21st Century, and appreciate you coming along for the ride.”

Hard Lessons from America’s Longest Wars

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lessons longest wars“BREAKING DEFENSE”  By James Kitfield

“American troops have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for so long that the public doesn’t even celebrate their victories or mourn their defeats any more.

When U.S.-backed forces this year recaptured the twin capitals of the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria hardly anyone in America noticed.

When reports noted earlier this year that a resurgent Taliban had regained control of roughly 40 percent of Afghanistan that warranted only passing mention in the American media.”

________________________________________________________________________________

“There’s an old axiom that democracies, with their fickle political winds and short attention spans, are just not well suited for long wars. With the post-9/11 fight against violent Islamist extremists already well into its second decade, with no end in sight, it’s little wonder that many Americans believe the longest wars in U.S. history have been costly mistakes.

James Kitfield, who’s won more Gerald Ford Defense Reporting awards than anyone else (3)

Despite their unpopularity in a war-weary America, the post-9/11 wars looks very different to the men and women who have been in the middle of the fight. Not necessarily better, but more complex and nuanced than the narrative of an endless and futile slog against an unfathomable foe. U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have learned and adapted constantly during a decade-and-a-half of fighting this “global war on terrorists,” as have our determined and adaptive enemies. After covering those wars, I spent recent years interviewing many of the top U.S. leaders in this long conflict in an effort to capture those lessons for my book, “Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War” (Basic Books, 2016). Among their many insights the following lessons stand out.

Know Thine Enemy

China’s legendary military strategist Sun Tzu cautioned: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” Yet from the beginning of these long wars U.S. officials have been slow to grasp the ideology, motivations and strategies of our enemies. The resulting miscalculations have cost the nation dearly.

President George W. Bush infamously saw a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which just didn’t exist. We invaded in 2003 and created a self-fulfilling prophecy. President Barack Obama wrongly believed the killing of Osama bin Laden and many of his top lieutenants spelled the end of Al Qaeda, leading him to prematurely withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and to underestimate ISIS as the Junior Varsity team of terror. For his part President Donald Trump routinely reacts to new terror attacks with calls to build a border wall and ban immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of jihadi attacks are conducted by Americans or legal immigrants.

Congress also seems dangerously disengaged from the nature of the war it authorized so long ago. Many lawmakers reacted with incredulous questions when four U.S. Special Forces soldiers died in Niger. What were U.S. troops even doing in that African nation, some of them wondered publicly? Of course, U.S. forces have been killing terrorists and helping to combat Islamist extremist groups and Al Qaeda affiliates in Africa for many years. It’s a familiar list: Al Shabab in Somalia; Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen; Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the Sahel region; and Boca Haram in Nigeria. Perhaps too few lawmakers read newspapers or watch TV news.

Then there have been the seemingly inexplicable decisions by senior American policymakers. A cursory understanding of Iraq’s sectarian dynamic should have stopped Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer from his disastrous early decisions to disband the regular Iraqi Army and launch an aggressive “de-Baathification” campaign. That single act is believed by many to have driven Sunni officers and troops into the hands of Al Qaeda in Iraq, where they swam in a swamp of Sunni grievance. The resulting terrorist insurgency took the better part of a decade to subdue.

“The single biggest lesson we should have learned is that before you invade a country, you need to really understand in a very granular and nuanced way what is going on inside that country,” retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former leader of the Iraqi and Afghan counterinsurgency campaigns and former director of the CIA, told me in an interview. As the former commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the Iraq invasion, Petraeus remembers being given “Iraqi experts” who couldn’t tell him if the towns he was entering were majority Sunni or Shiite, or where the ethnic border lines were on a map: “Which means they didn’t know anything.”

Then we did it again. We withdrew in 2011 and ISIS simply repeated the cycle, forming its own alliance with former Baathist military officers and stoking Sunni grievances against Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“By 2009-2010 we had essentially crushed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and we had a competing narrative to what the extremists were offering ideologically, which was a more inclusive government in Baghdad and a region moving in a positive direction,” said retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who led Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in defeating AQI and killing its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and later commanded all U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan. “Then the ‘Arab Spring’ started and you had all this instability spread throughout the region, and [leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi and ISIS adapted to those conditions and filled that vacuum. As a consequence ISIS became something like Al Qaeda 3.0.”

Al Qaeda Is An Ideology First, Not A Group

Knowing your enemy means understanding his core motivations and goals. After U.S. counterterrorism forces killed Bin Laden and nearly all of his chief lieutenants in the 2010 – 2011 timeframe, President Obama plausibly argued that “core Al Qaeda” as it existed at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks had been decimated. But the bond that truly unites core Al Qaeda with its far-flung affiliates and other Sunni extremist groups is not like a regular army’s bonds of patriotism, discipline and training. They are bound by a transnational ideology, Salafi jihadism. Salafis are fundamentalists who interpret the Quran literally and believe the only true Islam is a mythic version they say was practiced in the days of the Prophet Mohammed and his acolytes in the 7th century. They believe it is their duty to impose this medieval version of Islam on “apostates” and “non-believers,” by extreme violence if necessary.

ISIS = Al Qaeda 3.0

In the Darwinian selection process of the terror strikes survivors get stronger as they learn and adapt. So it was with al-Baghdadi, the former chief of foreign fighter operations for Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the most lethal of the many affiliates that constitute “Al Qaeda 2.O.” After the 2011 Arab Spring protests and the Syrian regime’s iron-fisted response to a sectarian civil war, al-Baghdadi realized that the same ratlines that AQI had used to funnel foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq to fight the U.S. military could be reversed, sending AQI’s Sunni jihadists the other way to carve a sanctuary out of the rotting corpse of Syria.

Baghdadi had served prison time in a U.S. detention center, where he formed bonds and alliances with a network of former senior Baathist military officers in Saddam Hussein’s army. In 2013-2014, Baghdadi and his jihadists launched a series of daring prison breaks in Iraq to free them. Working together, they launched ISIS’ lightning offensive in the summer of 2014, stunning the world when they overran numerous Iraqi Army divisions and captured roughly a third of both Syria and Iraq, bringing ISIS’ terrorist army to the outskirts of Baghdad. What looked like a military offensive by a ragtag army of ISIS irregulars was actually the result of an unprecedented alliance between Salafi jihadists and former Sunni Baathist military officers whose networks reached deep into corrupted Iraqi Security Forces.

Under al-Baghdadi’s leadership ISIS is certainly an innovative organization. Understanding that it would resonate powerfully in Salafi ideology, Baghdadi proclaimed an Islamic caliphate, and declared himself its caliph, or ruler, attracting an unprecedented 40,000 foreign fighters from across the globe to ISIS’ black banner. Adopting Bin Laden’s strategy of attacking the West as a path towards greater legitimacy in the terror pantheon, he formed an “external affairs unit” that was behind terrorist “spectaculars” in Paris and Brussels. Many former Al Qaeda affiliates switched their allegiance to ISIS.

“The Paris attack was a nightmare, and of particular concern because of the direct connectivity between ISIS and the perpetrators. It had all the hallmarks of a centrally planned, organized and directed attack involving top ISIS leadership,” Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), told me in a recent interview. The Paris and Belgium attacks were proof that as long as ISIS enjoyed sanctuary from which to recruit and plan attacks on the West, it would remain a mortal threat.

“Safe haven is always high on the list of a terrorist organization’s sources of strength, and ISIS exercising state-like dominion over much of the territory of Iraq and Syria, with all its economic and energy resources, was in many ways the ultimate safe haven. That was incredibly dangerous from a counterterrorism perspective,” he said. “Combine that with ISIS’ unique ability to attract fighters from outside Iraq and Syria, which was far beyond anything Al Qaeda ever aspired to, and suddenly we were dealing with a mass terrorist movement.”

It Takes a Network to Defeat a Network

At their pinnacles, Al Qaeda and ISIS acted not as discrete terrorist organizations but as central command for a globe-spanning terrorist insurgency, with both groups funneling fighters, resources and “lessons learned” among a far-flung network of affiliates that stretched across an arc of instability from Southwest Asia all the way to North Africa.

Under the pioneering leadership of Gen. McChrystal, JSOC (the secretive war-fighting subcomponent of U.S. Special Operations Command), adapted by incubating its own network-centric model of military operations. That model relied on an unprecedented synergy that developed in the war zones between Special Operations Forces, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and conventional military forces. The model of operations that McChrystal helped pioneer was most closely associated in the public mind with drone strikes and the relentless counterterrorism raids such as Operation Neptune Spear, which brought Osama bin Laden to justice. At its hot core, this new, network-centric style of warfare is predicated on hunting individual terrorists and other extremists who hid in the dark corners of the world, and in plain sight as well.

The intense battle rhythm behind that new style of warfare was unlike anything that had come before it. JSOC’s multiagency joint task forces and intelligence fusion centers combined the skills of disparate national and international players into a unified, mission-focused whole. The streamlined operations enabled by the network greatly condensed the traditional military-targeting cycle of “find, fix and finish” by constantly incorporating intelligence “exploitation and analysis,” creating what the counterterrorism community called an “F3EA” style of operations. Within that operational model the once bright lines between intelligence gathering and operational targeting disappeared.

The synergies required of that new style of operations explained major reorganizations of the Central Intelligence and Defense Intelligence agencies, the emergence of the National Counterterrorism Center as a major, multiagency coordinating node in the network, and the National Security Agency’s (NSA) storage of vast amounts of electronic metadata in search of “patterns of life” among terrorists and their networks. JSOC’s mantra “it takes a network to defeat a network” became the rallying cry of a man-hunting juggernaut that McChrystal described to me as “the Amazon.com of counterterrorism.”

“The epiphany for me came as we were studying Al Qaeda operations and realized that it didn’t act like a typical hierarchal terrorist organization, with ponderous, top-down execution. It moved so fast that we were constantly asking ourselves, ‘How did they do that?’” McChrystal recalled. After that it became all about building a globe-spanning U.S. counterterrorism network along with allies, he said, and connecting far-flung military, intelligence and law enforcement entities together focused on a common contextual understanding of the threat, and on winning this one fight.

“The biggest epiphany of all was that once we connected all these nodes and the network was working, I didn’t have to make a lot of big decisions,” he said. “The network learns and it knows what to do! Through the wisdom of the crowd, the network adapted organically and figured out the right strategy.”

Counterterrorism vs. Counterinsurgency

Four times in this long war U.S. military commanders have confronted a dangerous tipping point where a campaign of terrorism transforms into a much larger and more widely-supported insurgency powerful enough to compete with government forces for control of territory: Iraq in 2006-7; Afghanistan in 2009-10; and Iraq and Afghanistan again in 2014-2017. At that point a strictly counterterrorism campaign of targeted strikes on terrorist leaders becomes ineffective in countering a determined and dug-in insurgency. A more  manpower intensive counterinsurgency campaign is required to clear enemy-held ground, hold it to protect the local population, and build governance as a means to win the populace to the government’s side.

Disagreements about the efficacy of counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency strategies, both between military and civilian leaders and among the military fraternity itself, led to some of the costliest mistakes of the post-9/11 wars. U.S. commanders and their civilian masters in Iraq 2003-2005 were slow to even recognize the insurgency there until it was almost too late. Disagreements over a counterterrorism versus a counterinsurgency strategy between the White House and McChrystal’s team in Afghanistan in 2009 eroded critical trust between them, ultimately leading to McChrystal’s dismissal. If the Iraqi government does not rebuild and project governance into the recaptured Sunni majority city of Mosul, then its recent victory there against ISIS is also likely to prove temporary.

Petraeus, who replaced McChrystal in Afghanistan after leading the successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, understood the mission as keeping the country from once again becoming an Al Qaeda sanctuary, which required halting the momentum of the Taliban insurgency, and accelerating the training of Afghan security forces so they could defend their own country.

“And you can’t do that with a counterterrorism strategy of man-hunting alone! You can hunt men all day long, but if you don’t clear territory and hold it, then the enemy is just going to keep regenerating,” Petraeus told me in our interview for Twilight Warriors. “So anyone who believed we could win in Afghanistan with counterterrorism operations alone was mistaken. There is no foundation for that idea whatsoever.”

https://breakingdefense.com/2017/12/hard-lessons-from-americas-longest-wars/0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America’s Military-Industrial Addiction

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Addition to MIC

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

“ZERO HEDGE”

“If Americans generally don’t support wars or engagement in the world, why do they seem to reflexively support massive military budgets?

The military and the vast economic network it feeds presents a “complex” issue that involves millions of self-interested Americans in much the way Eisenhower predicted, but few are willing to truly forsake.”

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“Polls show that Americans are tired of endless wars in faraway lands, but many cheer President Trump’s showering money on the Pentagon and its contractors, a paradox that President Eisenhower foresaw…

The Military-Industrial Complex has loomed over America ever since President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of its growing influence during his prescient farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961. The Vietnam War followed shortly thereafter, and its bloody consequences cemented the image of the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) as a faceless cadre of profit-seeking warmongers who’ve wrested control of the foreign policy. That was certainly borne out by the war’s utter senselessness … and by tales of profiteering by well-connected contractors like Brown & Root.

Over five decades, four major wars and a dozen-odd interventions later, we often talk about the Military-Industrial Complex as if we’re referring to a nefarious, flag-draped Death Star floating just beyond the reach of helpless Americans who’d generally prefer that war was not, as the great Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler aptly put it, little more than a money-making “racket.”

The feeling of powerlessness that the MIC engenders in “average Americans” makes a lot of sense if you just follow the money coming out of Capitol Hill. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) tabulated all “defense-related spending” for both 2017 and 2018, and it hit nearly $1.1 trillion for each of the two years. The “defense-related” part is important because the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a.k.a. the defense budget, doesn’t fully account for all the various forms of national security spending that gets peppered around a half-dozen agencies.

It’s a phenomenon that noted Pentagon watchdog William Hartung has tracked for years. He recently dissected it into “no less than 10 categories of national security spending.” Amazingly only one of those is the actual Pentagon budget. The others include spending on wars, on homeland security, on military aid, on intelligence, on nukes, on recruitment, on veterans, on interest payments and on “other defense” — which includes “a number of flows of defense-related funding that go to agencies other than the Pentagon.”

Perhaps most amazingly, Hartung noted in TomDisptach that the inflation-adjusted “base” defense budgets of the last couple years is “higher than at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s massive buildup of the 1980s and is now nearing the post-World War II funding peak.” And that’s just the “base” budget, meaning the roughly $600 billion “defense-only” portion of the overall package. Like POGO, Hartung puts an annual price tag of nearly $1.1 trillion on the whole enchilada of military-related spending.

The MIC’s ‘Swamp Creatures’

To secure their share of this grandiloquent banquet, the defense industry’s lobbyists stampede Capitol Hill like well-heeled wildebeest, each jockeying for a plum position at the trough. This year, a robust collection of 208 defense companies spent $93,937,493 to deploy 728 “reported” lobbyists (apparently some go unreported) to feed this year’s trumped-up, $700 billion defense-only budget, according to OpenSecrets.org. Last year they spent $128,845,198 to secure their profitable pieces of the government pie.

And this reliable yearly harvest, along with the revolving doors connecting defense contractors with Capitol Hill, K Street and the Pentagon, is why so many critics blame the masters of war behind the MIC for turning war into a cash machine.

But the cash machine is not confined to the Beltway. There are ATM branches around the country. Much in the way it lavishes Congress with lobbying largesse, the defense industry works hand-in-glove with the Pentagon to spread the appropriations around the nation. This “spread the wealth” strategy may be equally as important as the “inside the Beltway” lobbying that garners so much of our attention and disdain.

Just go to U.S. Department of Defense’s contract announcement webpage on any weekday to get a good sense of the “contracts valued at $7 million or more” that are “announced each business day at 5 p.m.” A recent survey of these “awards” found the usual suspects like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. The MIC was well-represented. But many millions of dollars were also “won” by companies most Americans have never heard of … like this sampling from one day at the end of October:

  • Longbow LLC, Orlando Florida, got $183,474,414 for radar electronic units with the stipulation that work will be performed in Orlando, Florida.
  • Gradkell Systems Inc., Huntsville, Alabama, got $75,000,000 for systems operations and maintenance at Fort Belvoir, Virginia
  • Dawson Federal Inc., San Antonio, Texas; and A&H-Ambica JV LLC, Livonia, Michigan; and Frontier Services Inc., Kansas City, Missouri, will share a $45,000,000 for repair and alternations for land ports of entry in North Dakota and Minnesota.
  • TRAX International Corp., Las Vegas, Nevada, got a $9,203,652 contract modification for non-personal test support services that will be performed in Yuma, Arizona, and Fort Greely, Alaska,
  • Railroad Construction Co. Inc., Paterson, New Jersey, got a $9,344,963 contract modification for base operations support services to be performed in Colts Neck, New Jersey.
  • Belleville Shoe Co., Belleville, Illinois, got $63,973,889 for hot-weather combat boots that will be made in Illinois.
  • American Apparel Inc., Selma, Alabama, got $48,411,186 for combat utility uniforms that will be made in Alabama.
  • National Industries for the Blind, Alexandria, Virginia, got a $12,884,595 contract modification to make and advanced combat helmet pad suspension system. The “locations of performance” are Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Sharing the Largesse

Clearly, the DoD is large enough, and smart enough, to award contracts to companies throughout the 50 states. Yes, it is a function of the sheer size or, more forebodingly, the utter “pervasiveness” of the military in American life. But it is also a strategy. And it’s a tactic readily apparent in a contract recently awarded to Raytheon.

On Oct. 31, 2017, they got a $29,455,672 contract modification for missions systems equipment; computing environment hardware; and software research, test and development. The modification stipulates that the work will spread around the country to “Portsmouth, Rhode Island (46 percent); Tewksbury, Massachusetts (36 percent); Marlboro, Massachusetts (6 percent); Port Hueneme, California (5 percent); San Diego, California (4 percent); and Bath, Maine (3 percent).”

Frankly, it’s a brilliant move that began in the Cold War. The more Congressional districts that got defense dollars, the more votes the defense budget was likely to receive on Capitol Hill. Over time, it evolved into its own underlying rationale for the budget.

As veteran journalist William Greider wrote in the Aug. 16, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone, “The entire political system, including liberals as well as conservatives, is held hostage by the politics of defense spending. Even the most well intentioned are captive to it. And this is a fundamental reason why the Pentagon budget is irrationally bloated and why America is mobilizing for war in a time of peace.”

The peace-time mobilization Greider referred to was the Reagan build-up that, as William Hartung noted, is currently being surpassed by America’s “War on Terror” binge. Then, as now … the US was at peace at home, meddling around the world and running up a huge bill in the process. And then, as now … the spending seems unstoppable.

And as an unnamed “arms-control lobbyist” told Grieder, “It’s a fact of life. I don’t see how you can ask members of Congress to vote against their own districts. If I were a member of Congress, I might vote that way, too.”

Essentially, members of Congress act as secondary lobbyists for the defense industry by making sure their constituents have a vested interest in seeing the defense budget is both robust and untouchable. But they are not alone. Because the states also reap what the Pentagon sows … and, in the wake of the massive post-9/11 splurge, they’ve begun quantifying the impact of defense spending on their economies. It helps them make their specific case for keeping the spigot open.

Enter the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which notes, or touts, that the Department of Defense (DoD) “operates more than 420 military installations in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.” Additionally, the NCSL is understandably impressed by a DoD analysis that found the department’s “$408 billion on payroll and contracts in Fiscal Year 2015” translated into “approximately 2.3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).”

And they’ve become a clearinghouse for state governments’ economic impact studies of defense spending. Here’s a sampling of recent data compiled on the NSCL website:

  • In 2015, for example, military installations in North Carolinasupported 578,000 jobs, $34 billion in personal income and $66 billion in gross state product. This amounts to roughly 10 percent of the state’s overall economy.
  • In 2014, Coloradolawmakers appropriated $300,000 in state funds to examine the comprehensive value of military activities across the state’s seven major installations. The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs released its study in May 2015, reporting a total economic impact of $27 billion.
  • Kentuckyhas also taken steps to measure military activity, releasing its fifth study in June 2016. The military spent approximately $12 billion in Kentucky during 2014-15. With 38,700 active duty and civilian employees, military employment exceeds the next largest state employer by more than 21,000 jobs.
  • In Michigan, for example, defense spending in Fiscal Year 2014 supported 105,000 jobs, added more than $9 billion in gross state product and created nearly $10 billion in personal income. A 2016 study sponsored by the Michigan Defense Center presents a statewide strategy to preserve Army and Air National Guard facilities following a future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round as well as to attract new missions. 

Electoral Impact

But that’s not all. According to the DoD study cited above, the biggest recipients of DoD dollars are (in order): Virginia, California, Texas, Maryland and Florida. And among the top 18 host states for military bases, electorally important states like California, Florida and Texas lead the nation.

And that’s the real rub … this has an electoral impact. Because the constituency for defense spending isn’t just the 1 percent percent of Americans who actively serve in the military or 7 percent of Americans who’ve served sometime in their lives, but it is also the millions of Americans who directly or indirectly make a living off of the “defense-related” largesse that passes through the Pentagon like grass through a goose.

It’s a dirty little secret that Donald Trump exploited throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Somehow, he was able to criticize wasting money on foreign wars and the neoconservative interventionism of the Bushes, the neoliberal interventionism of Hillary Clinton, and, at the same time, moan endlessly about the “depleted” military despite “years of record-high spending.” He went on to promise a massive increase in the defense budget, a massive increase in naval construction and a huge nuclear arsenal.

And, much to the approval of many Americans, he’s delivered. A Morning Consult/Politico poll showed increased defense spending was the most popular among a variety of spending priorities presented to voters … even as voters express trepidation about the coming of another war. A pair of NBC News/Survey Monkey polls found that 76 percent of Americans are “worried” the United States “will become engaged in a major war in the next four years” and only 25 percent want America to become “more active” in world affairs.

More to the point, only 20 percent of Americans wanted to increase the troop level in Afghanistan after Trump’s stay-the-course speech in August, but Gallup’s three decade-long tracking poll found that the belief the U.S. spends “too little” on defense is at its highest point (37 percent) since it spiked after 9/11 (41 percent). The previous highpoint was 51 percent in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was elected in no small part on the promise of a major build-up.

He says it when he lords over the sale of weapon systems to foreign powers or he visits a naval shipyard or goes to one of his post-election rallies to proclaim to “We’re building up our military like never before.” Frankly, he’s giving the people what they want. Although they may be war-weary, they’ve not tired of the dispersal system that Greider wrote about during Reagan’s big spree.”

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-12-03/americas-military-industrial-addiction

 

 

 

Why America Loses Every War It Starts

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Why America Loses Every War It Starts

President John F. Kennedy meets with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara at the White House on Oct. 2, 1963.

“DEFENSE ONE” By Harlan Ullman

“Tragically, the U.S. started these wars for reasons that proved wildly wrong, or intervened based on lack of knowledge and understanding that led to failure.

The reasons for failure span generations of leaders and apply equally to both political parties, suggesting that somehow this predilection for failure has become part of the national DNA.”


“Most Americans believe that their military ithe finest in the world, a belief well-founded by several measures. Yet if the U.S.military were a sports team, based on its record in war and when called upon to defend the nation since World War II, it would be ranked in the lowest divisions.

Consider history. The United States won the “big one”: the Cold War. But every time Americans were sent to wars that it started or into combat for reasons that lacked just cause, we lost or failed. Korea was at best a draw, ended not by a peace treaty but a “temporary” truce. Our record in subsequent conflicts was too often no better, and too often worse. Vietnam was an outright and ignominious defeat in which over 58,000 Americans died. George H.W. Bush’s administration deserves great credit in the first Iraq War and in handling the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the Afghanistan intervention begun in 2001 is still going with no end in sight. The Second Iraq War, launched in 2003, was rightly termed a fiasco. Even far smaller interventions — Beirut and Grenada in 1983, Libya in 2011 — failed.

Americans need to know why. Notably, failure was not the fault of the Pentagon. My new bookAnatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Every War It Starts, analyzes and explains why this record of failure has occurred and why these setbacks, if uncorrected, will continue.

Failure begins at the top. Americans elect presidents who, too often, are unprepared, unready and too inexperienced for the responsibilities of arguably the most difficult office in the world. This has led to flawed strategic judgment made worse by an absence of sufficient knowledge and understanding of the conditions in which force is to be used.

President John F. Kennedy tartly observed that there is no school for presidents. Yet both he and his successor Lyndon Johnson became trapped in the Vietnamese quagmire because of poor strategic judgment and a near-total lack of knowledge and understanding of that conflict.

Ronald Reagan wrongly believed he could bankrupt the Soviet Union by engaging in an arms race. Along the way, he blundered into Beirut, which cost the lives of 241 American servicemen blown up in a barracks; and Grenada, where he sought to protect American medical students who were in no danger and to stop the construction of a “Soviet air base” that was in fact a government effort to increase tourism.

It took Bill Clinton 78 days to force Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to stop the killing of Kosovars through a bombing campaign that, if accompanied by the threat of ground forces, might have done the job in hours. George W. Bush invaded Iraq to change the “geostrategic landscape of the greater Middle East” by democratizing the region — and produced arguably the greatest American catastrophe since the Civil War. And Barack Obama touched off civil war in Syria by bombing Benghazi, leading to the death of Muramar Qaddafi and regional violence.

Tragically, the U.S. started these wars for reasons that proved wildly wrong, or intervened based on lack of knowledge and understanding that led to failure. While Donald Trump, fortunately, has not suffered a crisis such as 9/11, his strategic judgment and understanding seem as poor as or even worse than his predecessors’.

To prevent or mitigate future failures, we must discard our 20th-century thinking and adopt a new, brains-based approach to strategic judgments. Deterring the Soviet Union was far different from deterring a Russia that has no intent of attacking NATO or al Qaeda and the Islamic State that lack armies and navies. Moreover, our policymakers must have far greater knowledge and understanding of conditions in which force is to be used. And the focus of policy and strategy must be to affect, influence, and even control the will and perception of friends, foes and enemies.

Unless and until Americans recognize why we fail too often in using force and correct these flaws, the chances of future reverses may not be inevitable. But it is highly likely.”

Dr. Harlan Ullman is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and Visiting Professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.; a Senior Advisor at Washington D.C.’s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security; chairman of two private companies; and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval officer, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led more than 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper.

http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2017/11/why-america-loses-every-war-it-starts/142646/?oref=search_Why%20America%20Loses%20Every%20War%20It%20Starts