Permissible Arms

Back to Reality

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 9 August 2010

Adam Weinsten has some good thought on Brad Manning over at Attackerman today. Also at ZIA, some of the data culled from the leak is graphically represented. I still think it’s a grey area, whether to utilize the information or not, but still interesting to see.

As I blogged at Attackerman this morning, Secretary Gates announced today some big cutbacks in the defense department budget–including the closing of JFCOM, which General Odierno was recently nominated to head. According to the Secdef, Odierno knew and was supportive of the decision (of course, he would have to be so publicly) but I wonder where he–and the many defense contractors who will be made redundant very soon–will eventually go.

Matt Gallagher at Kerplunk opined as to why the US needs to return to the draft.

Which brings me back to the Draft. I’ve become more and more convinced that a healthy republic needs conscription to keep it healthy and honest. The gulf discussed isn’t anyone’s fault, an unforeseen byproduct of the all-volunteer force – but this gulf must be filled, unless we’re intent on recreating Legions loyal to their commanders over country. (An extreme example. We’re nowhere near there. Yet.) The Draft would be controversial, debated, and very likely protested. All good things in a properly functioning people’s government. Meanwhile, the benefits of such would be twofold:

1) The citizenry would actually hold their political leaders accountable, as they’re supposed to. Apathy being a republic/democracy’s worst enemy is not a new understanding, but it remains a poignant one…

2) Wars would become a collective undertaking by the nation as a whole, rather than an isolated segment of the population. This would prove beneficial to both society and to the military. The number of sons and daughters involved would greatly increase, thus increasing personal connections and a sense of engagement, thus increasing product output.

I shrunk this down a little, to avoid reproducing his post, but I will note that I’ve had a discussion about a draft with a friend of mine several times, and we were both a little surprised to discover that the both of us–liberal Portlanders that we are–support the draft. And not solely a military draft, but a civilian draft as well. The idea being that you gave a year, two years, in service to your country either in defense or administration. We never fully worked out the weedy parts of it, but I still find it an interesting idea, analogous to Americorps or the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Worth reading, even if (especially if) you disagree. You can also catch Matt on CSPAN Books here.

I wish I’d caught this live, but the New America Foundation hosted a roundtable on civilian casualties in Afghanistan last week.

Using recently declassified data from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Jacob Shapiro and a team of academic researchers have produced the first detailed analysis of the link between civilian casualties and violence directed against ISAF troops.

I’m about halfway through, and hopefully I’ll be able to watch the rest this week if work is even slightly more placid than it has been.

MoI’s post on organized crime in Iraq struck some real chords. The U.S. invasion in 2003 removed all restrictions upon Iraq’s gangs. First, before the U.S. attack Saddam released 30,000-100,000 criminals in October 2002. Second, the Americans invaded without enough troops to secure the country. Then the government collapsed, followed by the economy falling apart. Finally the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi military. All of those factors together emboldened gangs, and the anarchic situation that Iraq found itself in created powerful incentives towards lawlessness to make a living.

Josh Keating and Mike Few ask What’s the Difference Between Combat and Noncombat Troops? in the FP Explainer; see Mike’s extended thoughts at SW Council. (That totally looks like Star Wars Council, doesn’t it?) I’m working on a brain dump, but life as I know is has still not fully returned to peaceable normal. But I have high hopes for tomorrow.

“Protocol droid fluent in 6 mil languages discharged for violating DADT.”

Posted in afghanistan, pakistan, usaid by Karaka on 28 July 2010

Without a doubt, the most entertaining thing on the internet right now is the #wookieeleaks (or #wookieleaks) hashtag on twitter. Marc Ambinder has collected some of the best here, but my favorites are the ones about the Death Star. There’s some seriously clever humour in there for those who, like me, dovetail as Star Wars nerds and national security geeks. Of which there are more than I ever thought existed.

Naheed Mustafa has another dispatch up at Registan that I’ve finally had a change to read, and like the rest of her series it balances being both moving and informative.

Everyone needs a myth; it’s the only way to sleep at night. But behind the myths in Afghanistan, the warriors from then and from now are just broken men, continuously looking for opportunities to perpetuate their own hype and stay relevant because without the fight, what are they? Behind the myth, ordinary people are profoundly weary and untrusting. They relive their worst moments nightly each time they close their eyes.

Mosharraf Zaidi’s piece last week on Hilary Clinton, Pakistan, and foreign aid that I found compelling. The comments section of his site is a little wily, but his work is always worth your time to read.

Perhaps now Pakistanis can better understand the frustration of the John Kerrys, the Hillary Clintons and the Richard Holbrookes of the earth. Top US policymakers have fought for over two years to win the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Since then, two things have kept that money from flowing into Pakistan. The first is Mr Holbrooke’s decision to dispense with the Clintonian (Bill, not Hill) model of US aid disbursement through large contracting firms that Americans often refer to as Beltway Bandits. That decision, while long overdue, was rushed and was made in the wrong country, at the wrong time. American development assistance, which is not routed solely through USAID, but often through half a dozen different US departments (or ministries), has been in desperate need of an overhaul for years. But to attempt to reform the instrument of aid delivery in Pakistan, at the climax of Obama’s war in Afghanistan, has been a disastrous decision. The American international aid community is so removed and so distant from the mainstream of western assistance thinking (spearheaded by the OECD and captured in the Paris Declaration) that it doesn’t quite know how to deal with large sums of money without the Beltway Bandits. This has meant that the Kerry-Lugar money has been parked in Washington DC, with a clear destination, but no vehicle to take it there.

Top pick of the week, though, goes to David Wood writing on women in Afghanistan (a recurring topic of mine and one of immense interest).

In Afghanistan, where women have traditionally been treated as shut-ins and worse, 29 Afghan women are taking a daring step: They are the first volunteers to undergo training to serve in the all-male Afghan national army.

Two American women, Rebekah Martinez and Jennifer Marcos, are among a cadre of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants spending six months away from their families to train the Afghan women here.

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, reportedly has issued new orders for his Taliban fighters to begin again targeting women cooperating with Americans or helping their own government. Assassinations, suicide bombing and IED attacks may follow, on the women — and on their families.

One of the basic premises of my understanding of “reasons to stay in Afghanistan” ten years into this thing unequivocally has to do with women. Well, people in general, but women specifically. The quality of life for women in Afghanistan–not exactly of stellar height right now–plummeted under the Taliban and would do so, without a doubt, once again should ISAF retreat. Of the many obligations I believe the United States to possess towards Afghanistan, the quality of life of women there carries great weight for me.

And now I’m done.

Posted in afghanistan, intelligence, united states, us military, us politics by Karaka on 27 July 2010

Shorter Fred Kaplan: “Hi n00bs. Welcome to the war in Afghanistan.”

Best section:

By contrast, there’s very little in the raw WikiLeaks documents—at least among those reprinted in the Times and the Guardian—that is at all inconsistent with official U.S. and NATO statements about the war in Afghanistan. President Obama and various allied leaders, as well as their top aides and commanders, have acknowledged and decried all of these nightmares—civilian casualties, corruption, Pakistani collusion, and more—openly and repeatedly.

These problems were, in fact, the main reasons behind the new strategy that Obama put in place in December 2009—after the period covered by all of the WikiLeaks documents, which date from 2004-09.

Yes. Thank you. See also Exum in the NYT.

And now I don’t really want to talk about this any more.

Document Dumping

Posted in afghanistan, intelligence, united states, us military by Karaka on 26 July 2010

Brian Platt at Canada-Afghanistan Blog has it by the nose:

A targeted leak, meant to disseminate information that needs to be brought to public attention, is one thing. Militaries all over the world have a sordid history of covering up scandals. There is certainly a time and a place for whistle-blowing.

But this was a senseless leak, an act of pure treason. A democratic country with an all-volunteer military operating in the field has a legitimate reason to keep action reports classified. To dump almost 100,000 reports into the public detailing what your fellow soldiers are doing is not principled, it’s dangerous and foolhardy, and I hope that everyone responsible for sending these reports to Wikileaks gets locked up for a long, long time.

The Taliban can now go online and read the secret files of the NATO soldiers allied against them. If you want a scandal, there it is.

And as Josh Foust put it at CJR:

You don’t need access to specialized knowledge of the war, or the histories of either country, or insight into the inner workings of the intelligence community to understand these things—you can learn it watching CNN.

Which brings us back to Assange, who seems to lack any sort of insight into the war or where it’s being fought; he just has his own ideology, which involves exposing secrets he thinks are immoral to keep. (There are secrets Assange will not leak onto the Internet—the identities of his sources, for example.) Just clicking at random in the Wikileaks War Diary reveals the names of Afghan sources you hope will not be targeted as a result of this leak: Simon Hermes, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; Mohammed Moubin, who met with the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction team in 2006; Gul Said, who was assisting the PRT near the American Base at Bagram. On and on it goes, name after name of “collaborators” with the U.S. military, name after name of people whose lives are now in direct danger.

The New Yorker had an in-depth profile of Julian Assange last month that provided insight into WL, its founder, and the agenda behind it all. On reading it, I understood more of what drives WL and Assange to release the information turned over to him–not that it makes me agree with that decision at all–but after yesterday’s document release, I’m more inclined to charge Assange with an egoistic drive for publishing these files more than any adherence to a vision or a belief system about making information public in order to drive a resulting agenda.

WL didn’t get the reaction it/he wanted from the publication of the ’07 civilian casualty video. So it upped the ante with these documents to press for action, or at least response, to the Afghan war in the manner Assange and his community view it. I don’t think they’ve ever thought of themselves as something other than an agenda-driven organization, and that agenda includes making public classified information and documents as well as presenting those documents with some editorialization to make them as damning as possible.

Paul McCleary correctly stated that “What the #wikileaks docs describe is war. People are only shocked because they hadn’t paid attention before — but this is how war looks.” That’s the traction that will come out of this. Shock, for the first half of this week’s newscycle, and then retreat from daily thought. Because the important things, about the ISI, about heat-seeking missiles, about civilian casualties, were largely either already known or inferred. And the only real thrust WL has is the scandal of the leak itself–but scandals have expiry dates. This won’t change policy, it won’t force ISAF’s hand, it won’t do anything in the long run but get WL name and Julian Assange’s picture in the papers for a brief moment in time.

The vision fails.

Wikileaks, Making Headlines Again

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 26 July 2010

In what will be news to no one who reads this blog, Wikileaks dumped 92k documents on the world at large related to the war in Afghanistan. Most of the initial commentary I’ve seen has less to do with the content of the documents–which isn’t really shocking or surprising to anyone who even lightly follows the war–and more to do with the ethical/practical results of a watershed leak. Is this, more than the previous Wikileaks story, a germinal moment in the development of new media? Or is it merely opportunism?

The best analysis I’ve read thus far (given that this just happened yesterday) comes from John McCreary’s Nightwatch, which I encourage you to read in its entirety as it’s a veteran intelligence analyst’s take on the information leaked, the interpretation of the documents from other sources, and an intelligence angle on the manner in which the information should be interpreted.

In today’s reports the new outlets did not reach the obvious conclusion that the increased use of manpads against US helicopters might have contributed to McChrystal’s decision to limit tactical air support because aircraft losses were mounting, mimicking the Soviet experience. In other words, the deaths of innocent Afghan civilians might have been less significant than the rising losses of US airframes. That possibility needs follow-up research.

92,201 reports are not the same as 92,201 facts. In the NightWatch/KGS materials on Intelligence as Evidence the central theme is that every field report must be subjected to six foundation tests and two argument tests, after a filtering process that identifies it as having potential value. None of the news outlets did any of that difficult, tedious work.

Thus, it is only partially accurate to assert the reports provide new insights into how “grim” the war is. Some provide local insights that need to be matched to other reports. Some are fabrications. Many are time sensitive, with no enduring value except as time capsules.

Much more at Nightwatch.

Hammer, Meet Nail

Posted in iraq, us defense, us military by Karaka on 7 June 2010

I’ve resisted posting about the Wikileaks video from last month because I didn’t really have anything intelligent to add. From every angle there’s acceptable criticism–the burden of freedom of information, the creedo of defence secrecy and security, the very real consequences of the soldiers’ actions, cover-up vs. scandal. In general, my consideration is that leaking this footage has done more net harm than net good; but now that it exists and is out there, it should be dealt with head-on in inquiry and investigative reporting.

The story took a new turn today as news of the arrest of the leaker became public. From Threat Level:

SPC Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Maryland, was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad, where he was arrested nearly two weeks ago by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. A family member says he’s being held in custody in Kuwait, and has not been formally charged.

Manning was turned in late last month by a former computer hacker with whom he spoke online. In the course of their chats, Manning took credit for leaking a headline-making video of a helicopter attack that Wikileaks posted online in April. The video showed a deadly 2007 U.S. helicopter air strike in Baghdad that claimed the lives of several innocent civilians.

You know, he’s just a kid, but spreading bravado over the internet about what you may or may not have done is not the smartest of moves. Especially if you’re on early discharge. The man he spoke to over chat was the person who turned him in, which is where the story takes another twist:

Lamo has contributed funds to Wikileaks in the past, and says he agonized over the decision to expose Manning — he says he’s frequently contacted by hackers who want to talk about their adventures, and he has never considered reporting anyone before. The supposed diplomatic cable leak, however, made him believe Manning’s actions were genuinely dangerous to U.S. national security.

“I wouldn’t have done this if lives weren’t in danger,” says Lamo, who discussed the details with Wired.com following Manning’s arrest. “He was in a war zone and basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air.”

Someone associated from Wikileaks leaked the leaker? Honestly, Stieg Larsson couldn’t have written it better.

What interests me about this whole story, though, is the perception of Wikileaks as editorializing the video–which is certainly true, given the extensive rendering, researching, and editing that went into the video before its posting–when Wikileaks never explicitly claimed impartiality. Its editors almost always provided commentary alongside the documents they exposed, and they never claimed or aspired to be journalistic. It seems rather that Wikileaks, and its founder Julian Assange, intended only to provide documents so that other journalists might pick them up and review them, investigating on their own to verify the documents’ authenticity. That’s a very different spin on the leak from “Wikileaks is showing journalistic bias!” Of course they’re showing bias. But they’re providing the document for all to review to combat their bias.

The New Yorker this week has an in-depth profile of Assange and Wikileaks which actually may do more harm to Wikileaks’ general credibility given the detailed descriptions of Assange’s haphazard lifestyle. But this paragraph (in the very long, but worthwhile-to-read article) stuck out at me:

After the press conference in Washington, I met Assange in New York, in Bryant Park. He had brought his luggage with him, because he was moving between the apartments of friends of friends. We sat near the fountain, and drank coffee. That week, Assange was scheduled to fly to Berkeley, and then to Italy, but back in Iceland the volcano was erupting again, and his flight to Europe was likely to change. He looked a bit shell-shocked. “It was surprising to me that we were seen as such an impartial arbiter of the truth, which may speak well to what we have done,” he told me. But he also said, “To be completely impartial is to be an idiot. This would mean that we would have to treat the dust in the street the same as the lives of people who have been killed.”

Not journalists, but not an organization without commentary. It doesn’t absolve them of anything–and they hardly want absolution anyhow–but it would be a mistake to attribute some lessening of principle to Wikileaks by producing and commenting on the video. It is exactly within the line of their principle, of which another is to invite verification and criticism of what they publish by providing the data. A more sustaining argument would be, how much editing did the video undergo? What did it look like in its raw form?

But I wonder if those questions ever will–or should–be answered. Or asked.

ETA: For more, see Greyhawk.

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