Permissible Arms

It’s kind of like “political anteater”

Posted in us military by Karaka on 19 May 2010

This is possibly my favorite headline ever: West Point cadets invent Statue of Liberty evacuation device.

On May 5, a team of civil and mechanical engineering majors visited the Statue of Liberty for a live demonstration of their capstone project, a device which makes evacuating casualties inside the national monument safer and faster. The statue’s unique double-helix staircase, 146 steps from pedestal to crown, offers visitors an amazing view of New York City.

But from a first-responder perspective, the cramped and narrow space becomes a challenge when assisting the sick or injured back to ground level. That challenge was passed onto the cadets, all of whom will be graduating May 22, to design and build a better evacuation system.

Allow me to reiterate. Statue of Liberty Evacuation Device. The words, they are like baffling, delightful music to my ears.


What would a T.E. Lawrence Doctrine be?

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us military, us politics by Karaka on 4 December 2009

Diplopundit tipped me off to Alexander Wolf’s new paper in SSQ, U.S. Interventions Abroad: A Renaissance of the Powell Doctrine?, in a post written before Obama’s West Point speech. Wolf addresses policies of doctrinal change, and in particular the possible return of the Powell Doctrine. From the paper:

[T]he Powell Doctrine begins with the interest-based decision to intervene and formulates an operational catalogue of criteria for the “proper” execution of military intervention. Accordingly, the military should only be put to use when:

(1) The national interest requires it;

(2) The number of troops employed corresponds with the mission they are to execute;

(3) The mission is clearly defined, both politically and militarily;

(4) The size, composition, and disposition of the troops is constantly being reevaluated;

(5) The operation has the support of both the Congress and the American people; and

(6) There is a clear exit strategy.

The Doctrine, as it holds, is meant to hold off the possibility of mission creep–which struck a note for me, as Michael Cohen updated his Afghanistan Mission Creep series on Monday as well, before the speech. Michael said:

Going forward, it’s critical that progressives (and others!) hold the Administration’s feet to the fire on the strategy being announced tonight. I think a few things will be key: how closely is the Administration adhering to its own benchmarks denoting success, is there progress on getting the Pakistanis to crack down on Afghan Taliban safe havens, are there signs that Karzai is not only tackling corruption but devoting resources to a counter-insurgency fight and the performance of the Afghan military. Without significant progress on these fronts it’s hard to see the President’s strategy bearing fruit in Afghanistan.

I wonder: is the fear of Mission Creep assuaged with this renewed conception of the Powell Doctrine? Because during the West Point speech, Obama quite clearly laid out most of those points.

1. He made the case point by point that the national interest requires it. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat.

2. The number of troops–forty thousand, with the newly announced addition of 7000 more from NATO is commensurate with McChrystal’s request, and reports have it that both McChrystal and Petraeus were satisfied that what Obama authorized would suffice to execute the mission.

3. That mission was defined in March, and reiterated again this week: Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.

4. This remains to be seen, but in one sense it seems like the transition deadline of 2011 would promote force review.

5. While initial signs point to Congressional favor waning and American public opinion diminishing (at least, for the moment), my personal opinion is that there is sufficient national will to meet this escalation, but it is a very precarious will. Things will depend as much on whether the climate bill eclipses public attention sufficiently to distract punditry–I mean, the news–away from Afghanistan as whether Operation Cobra’s Anger (which I can’t help but say in a movie announcer’s voice) is immediately successful at producing quantifiable, soundbyte-worthy results.

6. But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow
us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the
transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
Which, as we have discussed, is both clear and muddy. But it’s definitely an exit strategy.

Is this just an executive expression of logical thought? Or is the Powell Doctrine back en vogue? And if this is an iteration of the Powell Doctrine, perhaps it assuages some fears of mission creep. (But don’t stop writing critiques, Michael! Holding the administration accountable is one of the most important things going forward. )


Edited to add: Mis-typed the author of the paper’s name as Andrew when it was Alexander; corrected now. Apologies.

As the crow flies

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us military, us politics by Karaka on 2 December 2009

Bruce might be right that Fred Kaplan over at Slate goes somewhat overboard in his assessment of Obama’s speech, but I have to say, I thought this was worth pulling out of Kaplan’s article:

The issue that has caused the most controversy is his statement that our troops will begin to come home in July 2011.

Critics say that this sends the wrong signal to the Afghan people; that if they think we’re leaving in less than two years, they won’t trust us to protect them in the first place; and that, in any case, the Taliban will simply lie low and “wait us out.”

This complaint misreads the policy. The key word in Obama’s speech was that in July 2011, the United States will “begin” to transfer responsibility for security to the Afghan forces. The pace of this transfer—how quickly we will continue to withdraw and at what point we’ll get out altogether—will be determined by “conditions on the ground.” (Obama may not have underscored this phrase, but in a background press briefing earlier in the day, “senior officials” emphasized it strongly; one predicted that it would be the most misunderstood and misreported part of the speech.)

I’ve read so many analyses and reviews and play-by-plays of Obama’s West Point speech (transcript; White House Fact Sheet) that my head is kind of spinning with thoughts, but the above point is essentially what I thought when I watched the speech. Obama gave just enough definition to the action he was authorizing to appease the elements of his political base who do not want the United States to be at war; similarly, he gave a fair-sized rhetorical space in which to direct a draw-down–which is to say, he built in a way to withdraw and remain simultaneously with no firm commitment to a date or time.

I will say, though, that I agree with Ricks and with the underlying theme of Andrew Sprung’s analysis: this was a pragmatic explanation of a decision thoroughly weighted, and not a patriotic call to arms. It was an assessment, laid out rationally, that offers a conclusion; not a sweeping muddle of vacuity styled as a plan. To my philosopher mind, I thought he did a superb job of reviewing several premises, challenging or reaffirming them, and re-articulating and outlining his strategy in theatre.

But I’ll admit, I hope the State of the Union is a little more rousing. There’s wasn’t much rise and fall in this sucker–which was entirely appropriate.

Obnoxious latin subject line: “officium veneratio terra”

Posted in afghanistan, us military by Karaka on 1 December 2009

Caught the speech. Had some beer. Had a spit-take. Still mulling my thoughts, but find I am mostly satisfied. Maybe it was the challenge to NATO for five thousand additional troops that took three months to work out? Either way, great speech.

Pro patria mori.

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 1 December 2009

This was from a couple weeks ago, but I liked it so much I wanted to repost it. (Liked it in that way you keep pressing a bruise even though you know it’s painful.) Via Christian at GOA, from flickr user agentvladimir.

It popped into my head on reading David Wood’s column, “The Young Americans the United States Is Sending to War.”

The military services enlisted more than 7,000 17-year-olds during the most recent 12-month period for which it has a detailed analysis, fiscal year 2007 (7,558, to be precise). The Pentagon’s total intake of 17- to 20-year-olds was 86,072 — more than half of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines it recruited that year (most of the other half were under age 25). On active duty today in the Army, which does most of the fighting in Afghanistan, are 66,220 soldiers 20 years old and younger, including 1,252 17-year-olds.

They are tough, boisterous and mostly likable. They are offered enormous responsibility, which most of them seize with an eagerness that would catch the attention of anyone who has raised teenagers. I forget sometimes just how young they are. A few years ago, I was lazing in the dust with a bunch of Marines during a break in training. Already combat veterans, they were about to deploy back to Iraq. They’d been practicing getting ambushed and killing the ambushers, and now they were chatting about computer games.

“Hey, did’ja ever get ‘Gears of War?’ ” asked Louis Duran, 19.

“Nah, I was gonna,” said his buddy, Steven Aspling, 20, “but my Mom wouldn’t let me.”

I grew up in the rural mountains of Tennessee, and there–as my father and his brothers’ service attests–the military was frequently the only way out, the only assured source of income, the only way to afford an education. I say was, but I mean is; by the time I graduated high school, three of my close friends had been recruited into different branches, notably the National Guard, the Army, and the Air Force, who were most active in that part of the state. This was after 9/11.

Tonight I’ll listen attentively to what the President has to say, as he stands before well-trained student-cadets who will go on to be well-trained officers. But there is some part of me that thinks about the kids I grew up with, the kids I went to college with, my uncles and my father, and wonders if one death is worth it. That’s my biggest doubt, I suppose. It’s outweighed by the hawkish conclusion I’ve come to, and by my genuine concern for the oppression of half of Afghanistan’s population due to gender. But still, I carry doubt.

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