Permissible Arms

Friday Errata (I wonder when Gaga will become muzak?)

Posted in afghanistan, japan, kyrgyzstan, united states by Karaka on 18 June 2010

A couple of links for this astonishingly un-rainy Friday morning:

It still feels like a weirdly slow news day, though.

Left, Right, and Dead Bloody On

Posted in united states, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 11 June 2010

Shamelessly cribbing from Starbuck (and Ink Spots), the trailer for Restrepo has been released. Restrepo is the film made by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger alongside Junger’s book War (link again to my review at SWJ which has collected some interesting commentary). The film will be showing at the Human Rights Watch film festival, which began yesterday in New York City. The trailer is absolutely arresting; I’ll be keeping my eye out to see if it shows up here on the left coast. Camp Victory, Afghanistan, will also be shown. I encourage you to go if you can.

I still have a few pages of notes from the CNAS conference yesterday, but I haven’t had a chance to sort them out yet. More forthcoming. In the meantime, read Michael Cohen’s piece in TNR, and Exum and Spencer’s responses. I like that Exum responds with the theory and Spencer responds with the practical outline.

The World, Viewed from a Hotel Basement

I’m hoping to write more on CNAS’s fourth annual conference tomorrow, when my entire day doesn’t get devoted to live-tweeting the event! To read through the day, check out the #CNAS2010 tag on Twitter. But here’s a couple of my particular notes from the day.

Karaka Pend karakapend

Tellis: Mutual suspicions between Pak & Ind over Afgh continue unabated. #CNAS2010 The existential battleground is emplaced in Afgh today.

Karaka Pend karakapend

Okay, Richard Fontaine wins points for addressing Madam President. #CNAS2010

Karaka Pend karakapend

Fontaine “…Accepting that a US presence in South Asia has become the new normal.” #CNAS2010

Karaka Pend karakapend

India is unwilling to push Iran to the point where they might lose a potential ally; but India doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. #CNAS2010

Karaka Pendkarakapend

Flournoy: We are still trying to face 21st century challenges with Cold War systems and projects. #CNAS2010

Karaka Pend karakapend

Flournoy: “We cannot keep spending more and more to get less and less.” #CNAS2010 as with everything, money talks.

Karaka Pend karakapend

Fick: Rule #4 for future questions: No quoting TS Eliot! #CNAS2010

Karaka Pend karakapend

Flournoy: “We have never resourced State to build an expeditionary civilian capacity.” #CNAS2010 There is not enough “word” in the world.

Karaka Pend karakapend

Sanger: You tend to view the engagement strategy through the most challenging country…it’s only interesting if it’s difficult. #CNAS2010

Karaka Pend karakapend

Cronin: We have a growing mismatch between our means and needs. #CNAS2010

There’s more at the hashtag, but that gives you a good idea of how the day went. I think overall it was a very strong series of panels, asking difficult questions and providing something of a roadmap towards answering them. We’re still left with a lot of uncertainty in a many different directions–how do we build up a civilian reconstruction program that we’ve never funded or incentivized, how do you balance talking to repressive regimes with the less accessible citizens of repressive nations, what will our conflict environment look like in the next several decades and how should we incorporate lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan–but I think it lived up to its playbill slogan of “Shaping the Agenda.”

More tomorrow.

CNAS 2010 Conference

Posted in united states, us defense by Karaka on 10 June 2010

I’ll be tuning into CNAS 2010 Conference all day, and will probably blog on it later. I’m live-tweeting it over at my Twitter account, and you can watch it stream live here.

Tagged with: ,

Reach the highest ground

Posted in united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 3 May 2010

My home state is under water right now, and there’s nothing like fielding panicked emails from family members over the weekend when you’re 2500 miles away. Thankfully the flooding hasn’t spread south enough to endanger my particular mountaintop, but seriously, I never want to see Tennessee in the news again.

I mentioned last week that I’d watched the CNAS webcast of their panel on Natural Security, and they’ve now put the panel online. I can’t seem to embed it because wordpress hates me, but you can watch it here. If you have some time, it was a good and interesting panel.

Also, Rage Company (and the iPad) has reached $650. Sweet. There’s still three days to bid; all proceeds go to Soldier’s Angels.

Perfect power

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense by Karaka on 29 April 2010

Yesterday I spent my lunch “break,” or perhaps my lunch-identified semi-working time, watching the webcast of CNAS’s panel on Natural Security: Navigating the Future Global Environment. The panel was moderated by David Kilcullen, whose new book I am eager to get my hands on, and covered a wide range of topics relating to energy security, climate change, and the interaction of the two with military emplacement, shifting foreign policy, and economic necessity. Whoever works the CNAS twitter and smart dude Herb Carmen both live-tweeted the event, as did I, to some extent. (I work in the energy industry, and national security is the thing I spend my not-working time engaged in, so it’s the intersection of two things I’m keen on.)

Sadly CNAS hasn’t made the panel, or the introductory remarks by presidential adviser Carol Browner, available online yet, and I’m not sure they will; though I hope they do, because it was a very good panel. RADM Phillip Cullom, Bob Kaplan, and Christine Parthemore all spoke knowledgeably on the subject, and it generated some interesting thoughts for me personally. The event was held in conjunction with a report released last week from CNAS called Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces (available as a PDF from that link) which I haven’t had the opportunity to read yet.

Anyway, links aside, there were a couple of points I wanted to note.

1. Energy efficiency. Without a doubt–not a single one, and I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean I have exactly zero doubts about this–energy efficiency is the single greatest tool the United States and other industrialized nations has to combat the economic realities of finite resources. The West is very much a culture of waste–we dispose rather than recycle or reuse, we expect to consume more than we actually do and waste the rest, and we do not take simple measures to counter that waste. It’s possible to implement policies and practices that can counter this without a great deal of upheaval; it’s simply a matter of implementing them.

On a small scale, it’s things like sealing buildings to prevent unnecessary overproduction of interior climates. On a large scale, it’s something like “sending a nugget on a second run before bringing him for tanking,” to paraphrase RADM Cullom. Fundamentally we don’t understand our resources–all of them, not merely petrol–as finite or limited, because you can always purchase another one of whatever it is you have. But if there’s anything the economic recession has taught this generation, it’s that we cannot be a nation solely based on economic consumption.

2. Changes in foreign policy. Bob Kaplan made one of the strongest points on the panel, I think, when he outlined the correlation between China’s sweeping population growth, the subsequent need for expanded economic resources, and the shifts to a more aggressive foreign policy mandate from that nation’s diplomatic corps. I think we tend to underestimate or overshadow the driving economic needs of states as precursors to action in favor of rhetoric about political ambitions or historical ties. A nation can be driven to desperation if it needs to resource its people, and if the world’s balance of power can tip because of salt or oil, it certainly can tip because of overpopulation.

3. Infrastructure. I think it was David Kilcullen, with support from Christine Pathemore, who started talking about establishing infrastructure in Afghanistan (both for FOBs and other military emplacements, and also for local villages and towns). Afghanistan is not an industrialized nation, but there is a very strong point to be made that a nation does not necessarily require state-wide industrialization to make basic energy needs available to its populace and governance. A power grid essentially refers to points in a locale that see the distribution and transmission of electricity; such a grid can operate over vast spaces (like North America) or in small populations (several communities in Coromandel, NZ, where I volunteered at the kiwi sanctuary, operated on small self-sustaining power grids in this fashion; it also happens frequently in rural Alaskan communities). The infrastructure can be relative to the size and needs of the population, and generally speaking it’s possible to provide basic services on small independent grids without getting too far into the weeds of industrial planning and building.

Of course, there was plenty more discussed than just the above points. Unfortunately the webcast went out for a bit and I missed the majority of the q&a period. I wanted to ask a question about the use of renewables (particularly wind and solar) in the generation of power on small independent power grids, but I wasn’t sure if someone else had brought it up in the time that I missed. And also, what do I say? “Question from Karaka, from the Blogosphere. You may have heard of us from the Army.”

Anyway, if I were writing a paper it would be about the use of small-build power grids and renewable energy generators to provide basic electrical services to remote communities in Afghanistan. But I should probably leave that to the experts.

Stalemate In Perpetua

Posted in afghanistan, isaf by Karaka on 14 October 2009

Yesterday–and it’s still technically yesterday!–Spencer Ackerman posted about AJ Rossmiller’s new column in TNR. I said this in reply to Spencer’s post:

You know, I read this post over my morning coffee, Rossmiller’s over my bagel, and this guest post over at Ricks on the second cup of coffee; and after a couple hours digesting it, I’m still on the damn fence.

I agree in principle with what you’re saying here, but I guess I’m just not entirely convinced that reconciliation will actually, necessarily work in the interests of US national security or in the interests of the Afghan citizenry. It’s a way to get out faster; but I’m not sure it’s the best way to leave.

And Spencer asked me to pull it apart a little more, so I took the thought to my pub and over a pint of Open Bridge Brown I sorted it out a bit.

So, we’re talking about the political reconciliation of the Afghan Taliban with the current established Afghan government. My inclination is to think that such a reconciliation is not the best course of action. I came up with four reasons why.

ONE. ISAF is already present in Afghanistan. If McCrystal’s Assessment is adopted to reaching US/NATO goals in AFG, forces will probably be present in country for at least four to five years more. It seems credible that civilian forces working to reduce corruption in the established government would be a better alternative to inviting our declared enemy into a legitimate role in the government it purports to hate and rebel against; reconciliation only works if there is power-sharing, and there is no indication that the AFG Taliban are interested in sharing power at all.

TWO. Prior to 2009, ISAF was fighting (to the best of my knowledge) a counterterrorism campaign in AFG. I don’t think we can accurately predict the martial outcome of COIN in country, since it hasn’t been practiced to full effect yet; and if COIN proves more effective at fighting the Taliban, political reconciliation becomes less attractive and perhaps less necessary. I don’t see an effective argument suing for reconciliation before COIN has taken a stab at reducing the insurgent threat. Though, I have seen the argument for reconciliation made as a pretext to withdrawing sooner rather than later, and that reaffirms my original statement that it’s a way to get out faster, but not necessarily better.

Further to that, I also think that COIN’s effectiveness could take more than one aspect, namely the reintegration of insurgents into Afghan citizenry, eroding the influence and existing political power of the Taliban, and/or a wide swathe of insurgent deaths. Even one of those things would have the effect of lessening Taliban presence and control and strengthening the central government’s legitimacy.

THREE. I don’t take the Taliban’s public claims seriously. Propaganda always means something other than what is being stated. To take the Taliban at its public word could be foolish–given last week’s bogus claim of harmlessness, it seems apparent that the Taliban’s greatest hope is getting the foreigners to leave what they consider to be their territory. They have every reason to lie or obfuscate to reach that goal.

Taking CNAS intern Kyle Flynn’s comments on Peter Bergen’s senate testimony into account (primarily because it is very recent and also something I touched on in my original response) and the Oral History of the Taliban (also recent), there is no factual reason to believe that the AFG Taliban wouldn’t re-establish their regime if given the opportunity and use that power to provide al-Qaeda with another launching pad.

The argument that al-Qaeda does not necessarily need Afghanistan to accomplish its goals is both accurate and well-heeded; but it sure does make it easier on them. Furthermore, if the US continues to have a presence in South/Central Asia–which the events of the last 18 years indicates it will–it is a matter of US influence and security to have in place a government in line with whatever democratic views we attempted to import there.

The Taliban don’t exactly fit that bill, and should they be reconciled with the current AFG government, it seems probable that they would exploit the control of the 200 districts they currently hold into a grab for political power. It would likely introduce another government, one sourced by Islamic extremism. And that’s not good for US interests even without al-Qaeda’s involvement, given the proximity of AFG to Pakistan, Iran, and India (all nuclear states).

FOUR. Probably the point most important to me, personally, is the relationship of the Taliban to the people it professes to represent and govern. The following is copied from Women Against Shariah, at the most cursory level. (That is a heartbreaking blog to read.)

* Shariah: an all-encompassing and in-transmutable system of Islamic jurisprudence, found in the Koran and the Sunnah, that covers all aspect of life, including daily routines, hygiene, familial roles and responsibilities, social order and conduct, directives on relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims, religious obligations, financial dealings and many other facets of living.

* Ird: the sexual purity of a woman that confers honor to her husband, family and community. Ird is based on the traditional standards of behavior set forth in the shariah code and includes subservience to male relatives, modest dress which could include veiling and the covering of the body, and restricted movement outside of the home. The loss of a woman’s ird confers shame upon her family and can result in ostracism by the community, economic damage, political consequences and the loss of self esteem.

* Zina: the Koranic word for sexual relations outside of marriage. Under shariah law, Zina is punished by lashings, imprisonment or stoning to death.

* Honor Killing: a murder, usually of a female, committed to restore the social and political standing of a family or community when it is believed that the victim has violated traditional behavioral expectations. Such violations can include improper covering of the body, appearing in public without a male relative chaperone, talking to an unrelated male, or exhibiting independence in thought and action. An honor killing can also be based on hearsay or gossip that is perceived as damaging to a woman’s relatives.

* Forced Marriage: a marriage that is conducted without the consent of one or both parties in which duress is a factor. Such duress can include violence or physical intimidation, psychological abuse, blackmailing, kidnapping, or threats of imprisonment or institutional confinement.

Now, there are several stripes of what WAS refers to as militant islam, but I think it’s common knowledge that the Taliban have a fairly strict interpretation of Shariah. To me, turning political power over to men who will use their power to oppress half the population is sufficient reason in and of itself to remain until the population is secured. I don’t want my heart to bleed all over this post, but it is a fundamental problem for me to consider political reconciliation with a group of people who will clearly and unabashedly utilize that power to enact and further systemic oppression of women. And given the Taliban’s grave presence in Afghanistan currently, it would arguably be a lot of political power.

That oppression, too, has the trickle down effect on Afghan children, and the various other minorities within Afghanistan.

One of the recurring arguments I have about political-ethnic divides within Afghanistan relates to the notion that because Pashtuns are the great majority in country they should be taken seriously and, I interpret, be a large political power because of their numbers–about 42% of the population. But what I find troubling about the argument from majority is that the proposed majority almost inevitably uses that power to oppress or eradicate the minorities which (seem to) threaten that power.

I find it hard to distinguish a compelling argument that suggests political reconciliation with the Taliban would not be a problem for the overall security of the Afghan people.

So, I stand by my original, more tenuous claim–political reconciliation may be the fastest way for ISAF to get out of Afghanistan, but I don’t think it’s the best. Not when it leaves several problems both in terms of US security, Afghan security, and problems both immediately and in the long-term.

That was more hawkish than I’d anticipated it being.

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