Permissible Arms

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.

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.


Tuesday Errata

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, iran, iraq, israel, united states, us military, us politics by Karaka on 29 September 2009

It is, god help me for saying this, a quiet day. The President is scampering off to Denmark, weapons inspectors are being invited to Iran, and autumn has chosen to assert its presence over my city with the fickleness of a middle schooler. Rain, sun, rain, grim rainless clouds, rain again, and then sun.

A couple links have kept me entertained despite a complete lack of movement on the military-political issues of the day. First off, Andrew Bentley (who seems to be a civilian contractor for KBR) posted a nifty guide at Instructables: How to Grow Flowers on a Military Base in Iraq. The more you know.

KOW has some thoughts on the inter-related goals of COIN tactics and humanitarian aid:

What is particularly disliked by parties who claim to represent humanitarian ideals is aid conditionality–using aid as a carrot either based on ‘good behaviour’ or to encourage such good behaviour. This is a contradiction of ‘humanitarian principles’ which state the aid should be given on the basis of need, rather than political appropriateness.

Obviously, in terms of COIN, there is an immediate desire to achieve a certain effect, to reward certain behaviour, not necessarily to act according to more lofty principles.

I’m in the process of nailing down my thoughts, because this topic in particular is one of great interest to me. But initially my response is that, whatever your politics are, food should not be used as a weapon, though it can be used as a tool. Cooperation is not dependent upon hunger–a starving person will strike out just as a fed person will–but by employing a methodology that relies on compliance to receive the most basic of human needs, we run far closer to being prison guards than partners.

Still working on that.

Ricks makes a false comparison of Bush 43 to Obama that’s raising some interesting critique in the comments section. I agree that it doesn’t necessarily instill great confidence in me that the Obama administration issued the results of its review of Afghanistan, requested a document that would indicate what was needed to accomplish what was laid out in that March review, and then finds itself reviewing again based on the results of that document. But at the same time, I agree with Ricks–I’d rather he be reviewing than baldly making choices with no critique.

Coming at the same question from a different angle, Stratfor’s George Friedman published his review of Obama and current foreign policy. And Informed Comment has a guest post from Haggai Ram on Israel and Iran that’s worth your time.

Finally, I’m keeping my eye on the SWJ thread on the Army Capstone comment. Still haven’t had time to review my annotations, but I hope to get to that tonight. There’s never any shortage of reading, that’s certain.

If we spend this much time parsing the announcement, how much time will we spend parsing the talks?

Posted in iran by Karaka on 15 September 2009

Stratfor has a very interesting take on opening talks with Iran, and I’ll venture to say one of the more unique ones. It certainly shouldn’t be discounted.

We are reminded of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis only in this sense: We get the sense that everyone is misreading everyone else. In the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Americans didn’t believe the Soviets would take the risks they did and the Soviets didn’t believe the Americans would react as they did. In this case, the Iranians believe the United States will play its old game and control the Israelis. Washington doesn’t really understand that Netanyahu may see this as the decisive moment. And the Russians believe Netanyahu will be controlled by an Obama afraid of an even broader conflict than he already has on his hands.

It brings together the three areas of international policy that the Obama administration has become embroiled in over the summer: Russia, Israel, and Iran. Framing this negotiation in a push-pull between the three seems quite cogent; I’m still thinking through the implications.

Relatedly, Middle East Report has some in-depth analysis of Ahmadinejad’s promotion of nuclear energy:

According to Kayhan Barzegar of Tehran’s Center for Strategic Research, Iran’s nuclear conduct had two important messages for the outside world. It suggested that Iranian leaders think strategically because they would not be browbeaten into relinquishing treaty rights at a time when the international community was highly sympathetic to international law-based arguments, due to the illegality of the US invasion of Iraq. And the fact that the leaders spoke with one voice across the well-known reformist-conservative spectrum indicated that Iran’s decision making was based on institutional interaction among the office of the supreme leader, the office of the president, the defense and intelligence apparatus, and, occasionally, the parliament. To be sure, a degree of difference in preferred diplomatic style was apparent in the Iranian press, with the hardliners more angrily defiant of international pressure. But hardliners, centrists and reformists generally adhered to the same sine qua non: Iran would not back down on its “right” to enrichment and it would use the nuclear program to improve the country’s regional standing. Such, not coincidentally, was the position of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his fellow opposition candidates during the 2009 presidential campaign.

This picks up on some of the things I talked about earlier, namely the concept of haq (rights) and how it is mixed up with the political nationalism in the public form of Ahmadinejad. In this international stage, it’s all about framing the discussion, and I think the Security Council Six (plus Germany) won’t make any actual progress without understanding that Iranians will refuse to give up this, that they view as a states-rights issue.

Whether the West likes it or not, there’s a lot at stake that will probably not get resolved. And even if Iran is no closer to a functioning nuclear programme than it was in 2002, the international public claim of having one, working towards one, clearly goes a long way towards establishing Iran’s legitimacy as an opposition to the West more pervasively than any other offensive move it could make. Something’s gotta give, and I’m not sure it’s going to be them doin’ the giving.

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