Permissible Arms

Warning: General Speaking on the Record

Posted in afghanistan, us military by Karaka on 21 June 2010

Hoo boy. The last thing you want coming out in the Monday evening news cycle is a luscious story of betrayal, gossip, and insubordination to fuel the rest of the week’s news and commentary, but you can’t always get what you want:

Tensions between General Stanley McChrystal and the White House are on full display in an unflattering profile in Rolling Stone of the commander of US and NATO forces in the Afghan war.

McChrystal jokes sarcastically about preparing to answer a question referring to Vice President Joe Biden, known as a skeptic of the commander’s war strategy.

“‘Are you asking about Vice President Biden?’ McChrystal says with a laugh. ‘Who’s that?'” the article quotes him as saying.

“‘Biden?’ suggests a top adviser. ‘Did you say: Bite Me?'”

McChrystal tells the magazine that he felt “betrayed” by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in a White House debate over war strategy last year.

Referring to a leaked internal memo from Eikenberry that questioned McChrystal’s request for more troops, the commander suggested the ambassador had tried to protect himself for history’s sake.

“I like Karl, I’ve known him for years, but they’d never said anything like that to us before,” McChrystal tells the magazine.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, “I told you so.'” [AP]

Yowch. Why on earth would you be that candid with Rolling Stone, of all ridiculous magazines? Of any magazine, really, but it’s not like RS doesn’t have a tradition of publishing controversial material. This is like a silver platter of controversy.

Furthermore, why would be anyone in such a delicate position of authority be so incautious halfway through a time-sensitive mission with vast political consequences? It almost seems unrealistic, if the White House, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen hadn’t rung up McChrystal shortly after the story broke on the wire, according to Marc Ambinder.

Who needs a flotilla or an oil spill when you have political brushfire like this jeopardizing the war effort?

ETA: And in a lightning fast walkback, McChrystal has issued his apology (h/t Danger Room).

I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard. I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.

But sir, if you have poor judgment with a stupid magazine profile, how on earth can there be great confidence in your leadership of this war? I’m inclined to favor actions, not words, but we’re struggling a little with those, too.


It’s funnier in the original Pashto.

This morning kind of sucked. I spilled coffee on myself and my books not once, but twice; missed my bus this morning; and spent the first hour putting out work-related brushfires. I guess everyone has to have a bad hump day now and again, but did mine have to involve ruining all the papers, books, and magazines in my bag?

Linkdump time. Danger Room’s interview with Admiral Mike Mullen was great, but I was way too taken with the confession that Adm. Mullen actually does tweet over at @thejointstaff. Oh, Twitter. You are a Chinese curse.

Stratfor’s security brief this week is on the relationships of India, the US, and Pakistan to Afghanistan, which I weirdly feel like I scooped (even though I clearly didn’t). To wit:

Ultimately, with long experience bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States was inherently wary of becoming involved in Afghanistan. In recent years, it has become all too clear how distant the prospect of a stable Afghanistan is. A tribal-ethnic balance of power overseen by Pakistan is another matter entirely, however. The great irony is that such a success could make the region look remarkably like it did on Sept. 10, 2001…The Indians are concerned that with American underwriting, the Pakistanis not only may be about to re-emerge as a major check on Indian ambitions, but in a form eerily familiar to the sort of state-militant partnership that so effectively limited Indian power in the past. They are right.

From At War, “Military Disputes Taliban on Korangal Valley Outpost:”

The absence of the Americans from the valley has made the area somewhat less secure, according to local people and the Afghan army. That would be in line with American expectations about the impact of their withdrawal. The American military had expected there might be some decline in security, but also thought it was possible that without the presence of the Americans to provoke the insular Korangalis, the area eventually would become calmer. That has not seemed to be the case — at least not yet.

“People are trapped in Korangal because of repeated fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban,” said Major Turab.

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann have recently published an Almanac of al-Qaeda over at Foreign Policy, which details the rise of the organization and a fascinating data dump with some rockin’ graphs. One of the best contemporary briefings on the subject, I think, from two trusted authors.

Gunslinger over at Ink Spots posted a criticism of Michael O’Hanlon’s article on non-lethal weapons (NLW) that I found clearheaded and compellingly argued. There’s some good discussion in the comments too.

Anne Marlowe has a column over World Affairs Journal that takes a long view of COIN and Afghanistan. I’ve read it a couple times now, and I’m reacting against it for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. I think it has something to do with the claim about the effectiveness of insuring the security of the population over engaging the enemy with arms, and the implication that that isn’t by definition an underlying principle of COIN. Still mulling it over.

David Wood reports on when Iran goes nuclear, confirming my general hapless view on the matter:

Relying on traditional deterrence against a nuclear-armed Iran would be a mistake — that is the cautionary conclusion of a two-year study at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. It saw three problems with trying to deter Iran:

– The regime is split into factions, making it difficult to know whether to deal with clerics or civilians like Ahmadinejad, the military or the ultra-hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.

– Rather than threatening to launch a nuclear attack, a nuclear Iran would likely be more aggressive in backing terrorist attacks or even minor conventional or very low-level nuclear operations against U.S. interests in the region — nuclear sea mines along the Persian Gulf’s oil routes, for example. Such operations would complicate U.S. decisions about whether a nuclear response would be justified.

– Domestic political instability could affect how Iran’s leaders play their nuclear weapons card, making it difficult to predict how they would react in a crisis.

And finally, also at Danger Room, the Army has been reading you! and you! and you! (Okay, maybe not you.)

Every week, the defense contractor MPRI prepares for the brass a “Blogosphere and Social Media Report,” rounding up sites’ posts on military matters. It’s meant to be a single source for top officers to catch up on what’s being said online and in leading social media outlets. Items from about two dozen national security and political blogs are excerpted, and classified as “balanced,” “critical,” or “supportive.” The vast majority of the posts are considered “balanced” — even when they rip the Army a new one.

I downloaded & read the three reports that were made available, and they’re depressingly poorly researched. I dread knowing how much money gets shelled out for these, and levied some further criticism in the post over at SWJ. Since when are HuffPo and World News Daily balanced?

Other people golf. I read the milblogosphere.

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 27 September 2009

David Brooks’ The Afghan Imperative is a strong argument for McChrystal’s assessment of Afghanistan, and while everyone and their dog has blogged a response to this op-ed, I’ll say only that I find it to be a strong case. But this in particular rang true:

Proponents of withdrawal often acknowledge the costs of defeat but argue that the cause is hopeless anyway. On this, let me note a certain pattern. When you interview people who know little about Afghanistan, they describe an anarchic place that is the graveyard of empires. When you interview people who live there or are experts, they think those stereotypes are rubbish. They usually take a hardened but guardedly optimistic view. Read Clare Lockhart’s Sept. 17 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get a sense of the way many knowledgeable people view the situation.

No freakin’ kidding. Something to keep in mind when reading your way through this discussion.

The Washington Post covers Friday’s meeting between McChrystal, Mullen, Petraeus, and Admiral James Starvidis (supreme allied commander of NATO) in Germany. I bet that wasn’t just scotch and cigars.

The NYT has a rundown of the competing voices in Obama’s review of Afghanistan. Good overview of the political situation.

Scott Simon from NPR has a short excerpt on the destructiveness of the Taliban that is well worth reading/listening to.

The Taliban outlawed news, art, music, theater, song, literature, dance, sport, comedy and any religion but theirs. They built a society in which women were captive, dissenters were prisoners and minorities — Buddhists, the Hazara people or gays — were marked for extinction.

And as sort of a corollary, Newsweek has The Taliban’s Oral History of the Afghanistan War, which is long and difficult and strange to read. You should read it anyway.

AP via Newsday covers US forces moving into Afghan city with some amazing photographs.

The Special Forces soldiers spend their days in and around Nili meeting with local leaders, visiting schools and helping the doctors at the province’s two hospitals. Everywhere they go, they bring soccer balls and backpacks for the children and radios and food for the adults. They never give out aid directly, relying instead on the elders or Afghan police.

“These guys have to learn how to do this,” said Capt. Mark, a former enlisted Green Beret and helicopter pilot whose deep blue eyes draw immediate notice among Afghans. “That way when we are gone, the ideals are already in place.” The Special Forces soldiers, who all have thick beards to blend in with Afghan culture, are only identified by their first names under rules for journalists embedded with them.

This is pretty much COIN in action.

Friday Errata.

Posted in islam, us defense, us military by Karaka on 18 September 2009

Spiegel Online International reports a renewed wave of homophobic terrorism sweeping Muslim countries:

Iran is a case in point, where homosexuals have been persecuted on a more or less regular basis since the Islamic revolution. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been in office there has definitely been an increase in this persecution despite the fact that Ahmadinejad never grows tired of emphasizing that there are no homosexuals in his country.

It fucking breaks my heart and pisses me off and this is probably one of about two issues that will get me to curse extensively and profusely without any regard for relative intellectual sophistication. This, as much as anything else, is a human rights violation.


On the other side of my broken heart, AP reports that Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King has been made the new commander of the Army’s Drill Sergeants:

Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King can dress down a burly, battle-hardened sergeant in seconds with a sharp phrase and a withering look, then turn around and tell trainee soldiers to be sure they get seven hours of sleep.

She receives a footnote in the Army News release of the same story, but that’s cool. Whatever. It’s still fucking awesome. (Hey, I already broke my curse barrier, might as well keep the trend. In this post anyway.)


The Joint Chiefs of Staff website released the text of Admiral Mullen’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute:

When I go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the question that gets posed routinely – either implied or asked – is: Are you staying this time, or are you leaving? Because we left both those countries in ways, and the adults who are in those countries right now all remember that. And I don’t know how else to establish a long-term relationship, except it takes time to do that. And in ways we’re just beginning, or we’re digging ourselves out of holes that were established in the last several decades.



Small Wars Journal overviews the release of the new DoD Stability Operations instructions, which I’ll also be reading this weekend. A weekend I am now about to begin. Have a good weekend, blogosphere.

Rex regnant sed non gubernat

Posted in afghanistan, us senate by Karaka on 16 September 2009

Renard Sexton over at FiveThirtyEight offers some numbers analysis of the prospect for a re-count in the Afghanistan election:

More invalidations and ordered recounts are likely on the way, particularly in Baghlan province, where ethnic electoral violence was at its worst on election day. Whether this recount can resurrect the Abdullah campaign is yet to be seen, as between 10 and 15 percent of the total votes are expected to be recounted. Just a few hundred thousand votes changing hands could drop Hamid Karzai’s total beneath the 50 percent plus one requirement for victory.

I doubt anyone in the West has a great confidence in this election process anyway, but should Karzai drop beneath the number for clear victory, it would beg the run-off, which it seems Karzai would win. Either way, things are left up in the air still, and it seems as thought the relative insecurity of this process would give some credence to calls for our continued involvement in Afghanistan. The Guardian reports that procedures are already being put in place for that run-off vote, which would take place in late October. One has to wonder whether Afghanistan will have a recognized new-term President by the end of the year, at this rate.

And of course the stage is still reeling from news of Galbraith and Eide’s differing opinions on how, exactly, the criticism of this process should be handled, I assume publicly. If the UN can’t agree, do we really expect democratic Afghanistan to?

Following Lindsey Graham (+Liberman, +McCain)’s public call for staying the course in Afghanistan yesterday, the WSJ also reports on Admiral Mullen’s address to the Senate Armed Forces Committee this week, which ties interestingly in with a picture of Mullen and Graham talking, presumably before that meeting.

Their support makes it easier for President Barack Obama to approve the plans of Gen. Stanley McChrystal — whom the Obama administration installed as the top American commander in Kabul — when he submits a formal request later this month for as many as 40,000 new troops, in addition to 62,000 now there. “A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces,” Adm. Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It’s very clear to me that we will need more resources.” Afghanistan has been wracked by unrelenting Taliban violence and growing political instability in the aftermath of last month’s disputed presidential election.

It’s rather like all the ducks are getting in a row to push Obama’s hand towards granting McChrystal’s probable request for troop increase. And yes, it does occur to me that the previous sentence is almost entirely weighed in hypothetical.

And whatever your view is, these photos from Slate depicting Ramadan around the world are not to be missing. There are truly some gorgeous images in there. When I was in college, we held a celebration for Eid al-Fitr every fall, and it’s important to me now that I understood better this part of a religious/cultural life I spend so much time educating myself about.

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