Showing posts with label Policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Policy. Show all posts

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gunboat Diplomacy Prevails in Syria

RED SEA (Sept. 13, 2013) Ensign Timothy McDaniel prepares to anchor a ladder from the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) to a rigid-hull inflatable boat during a visit from leadership of the guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729). Mason is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rob Aylward/Released)
Some pictures are worth a thousand words. This particular picture is worth more than a few thousand. But you have to combine the picture above with this picture to understand what it means.

These two pictures combined tell us something important: The President of the United States never intended to conduct military strikes against Syria in response to the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21st. He was bluffing. The President was never playing chess, but he was never playing checkers either; President Obama was playing poker.

In early August, well before the chemical weapons incident on August 21st in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, USS Georgia (SSGN 729) was conducting a crew swap in Diego Garcia. When the chemical weapons attack occurred in Syria, the guided missile submarine was back to sea underway for normal training and qualifications that typically occur right after the change out between blue/gold crews. As things heated up in Syria, the prevailing assumption at the time was that USS Georgia (SSGN 729) was likely sprinting around Africa on her way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The US Navy operates four Ohio class nuclear powered guided missile submarines that are, by any definition, the most powerful arsenals of stealth conventional warfare strike capabilities on the planet. Capable of launching over 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles, these incredible weapons of war are simultaneously one of the most difficult weapons in the US military to detect and from a range of over 900 miles away can launch over 300,000 pounds of explosives in about 6 minutes and hit a fixed target with precision no larger than 2 meters in diameter. As converted nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, these enormous submarines - the size of World War II aircraft carriers - are extremely fast and extremely stealthy. By rounding the Cape of Good Horn a SSGN could depart Diego Garcia, circumvent Africa, and arrive off Cyprus in less than two weeks, and nobody in the world today besides us is postured to see the submarine coming.

Over the past few months, the Navy has been operating two SSGNs at sea ever since USS Flordia (SSGN 728) returned to Kings Bay, Ga in early July. USS Ohio (SSGN 726) has been at sea somewhere in the Pacific, while USS Michigan (SSGN 727) has been at home port over the late summer. That basically meant the only SSGN available for Syria was USS Georgia (SSGN 729), and the prevailing assumption in open source was that the submarines has been operating off the coast of Syria.

Apparently not.

The Invisible Arsenal Ship

In the news leading up to potential US strikes against Syria, a lot of reporting focused on the assembly of three, four, or five US destroyers operating at sea west of Cyprus. It is absolutely correct that these ships would have launched Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria had a strike been ordered by the President, but they would likely not have fired the first shots. From an operational perspective, the US Navy has been facing a physics problem in regards to strikes against Syria, a physics problem that still exists today.

You can do this on pen and paper, or perhaps even design it out using a simulator like Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations, but consider a moment the physics of a naval strike against Syria by the US Navy that would have met the politically stated goals of meaningful action as put forth by the Obama administration when they were drumming up the likelihood of a military strike against Syria.

First, there can be no casualties or attrition, so all operations conducted must be done with prejudice in favor of protecting man and material. Second, target precision is critical to political success, so excess collateral damage would be avoided at all cost. Third, not only must targets be hit accurately, but quantity of force must be evident to make a political statement. Finally, military forces must conduct the strike while minimizing the potential for counterstrike.

This combination of factors meant several things. First, military analysts knew the US destroyers near Cyprus would need to participate in the strike, because their payload of Tomahawk cruise missiles would be required to add to the quantity of force necessary to make a political statement. However, to avoid counter attack by Syrian military forces, this combination of factors also informs us that the US destroyers would need to remain relatively near Cyprus for air defense purposes, meaning the destroyers would likely be positioned more than 300 nautical miles west of Damascus somewhere south or southwest of Cyprus. That makes the flight time of Tomahawk missiles to targets in Syria around 25-35 minutes depending upon flight path - longer if the flight path avoids Lebanon - which is plenty of time for Syria to put up an organized resistance against the cruise missile strike. It is a better than an average bet the Russians would know within seconds when the US destroyers launched their Tomahawks, giving them plenty of time to tip off the Syrians.

That is why the USS Georgia (SSGN 729) is so important to a small military campaign like the one that was being discussed for Syria. By design, the submarine can approach within a few miles of the Syrian coast by stealth, completely undetectable by Syria (and likely undetectable by all but one of the Russian warships offshore), and shower multiple targets with multiple cruise missiles in minutes that would actually be measured in seconds. In the first 10 minutes, a single US Navy SSGN like USS Georgia (SSGN 729) can, by design, put every ship of the Syrian Navy at the pier out of commission, destroy every fixed military radar on the Syrian coast, and put cruise missiles on every military runway south and west of Hamah. Having a SSGN on hand for a strike against Syria is the difference between the military of Syria having 120-600 seconds to defend the nation, and between 1500-2100 seconds to defend the nation. When communications are jammed, radars are going offline for no apparent reason, and the Russians start screaming "incoming" on the radio channels heard all over the region, the chaos created by a single SSGN can send a conscripted Army into panic.

Having a SSGN off Syria is, in my mind, the prerequisite for the American way of war when applied to the proposed Syrian military strike. Everyone assumed the SSGN was there. I wouldn't be surprised if even the Russians assumed the SSGN was there. What the picture at the top of this post tells us is that since the crew swap, USS Georgia (SSGN 729) has stayed in 5th Fleet, and has not at any time since the August 21 chemical attack been in the Mediterranean Sea. That means only two things, the President of the United States was bluffing on military strikes all along, and the decline of the US Navy is so astute right now the 6th Fleet is an empty shell and was never prepared for the war it was being asked to conduct.

In hindsight, it looks to me the political play in Syria was always a bluff, and yes we should also now admit to ourselves the 6th Fleet is an empty shell unprepared for even a strike against Syria.

Russian Chess vs Obama's Poker

Nothing about US political moves made any sense or conformed to any pattern, unless we evaluate what has happened in hindsight. President Obama has launched the United States into military operations in four different countries since becoming President, and his administration only announced one of those military operations ahead of time. When the US began conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, the Obama administration didn't tell anyone. The same is true for Yemen and Somalia. During the entire first term of his Presidency, when the Obama administration wanted  the opinion of Congress on the clandestine drone wars the administration was conducting, they basically told Congress what their opinion would be. They never asked, at least publicly. Libya was a different case, it was more a matter of supporting European allies than launching a new military campaign. The President never fully committed the US military to Libya in any way other than supporting allied objectives, and the results of Benghazi on 9/11/12 make it painfully obvious how little the US military was focused on Libya once military actions against Gaddafi concluded.

If the Obama administration is committed to using military force as a policy in dealing with another nation, history tells us they will not tell anyone about it until it has already happened.

Which is what makes the rhetoric regarding a strike against Syria curious. Not only did the US make it clear we intended to use military force, but Secretary of State John Kerry - America's top diplomat - was the primary warmonger in the press regarding the use of military force before the evidence supporting the use of military force was ever actually made public. That never made any sense to me at the time, but it makes sense in hindsight if diplomacy was always the political objective. In truth, military action of any kind never made any sense, because a combined cruise missile and airstrike by the US military supported by almost no allies, except France, was never likely to achieve a meaningful outcome, either tactically or strategically.

Even more odd, the President only went to Congress on Syria after Mr. Cameron was thoroughly defeated by the UK Parliament on the issue.

So in the moments before the diplomatic breakthrough with Russia, the United States had neither an aircraft carrier nor a SSGN in the Mediterranean Sea, meaning the United States was not positioned to attack Syria and was essentially conducting very loud, very threatening gunboat diplomacy with a very small force of US destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea. The President was trying very hard to get allies, like the UK, very serious about taking military action in Syria. That does make sense, because the UK actually has an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea. The President was even approaching Congress to impress upon the world his resolve for conducting a military strike against Syria.

Checkmate and a Pair of Deuces

Assuming the draft text of the UN resolution related to Syrian chemical weapons is the final wording in the resolution, and given the facts of the situation both in theater operationally and the political situation the President found himself in, the primary conclusion from recent events is that gunboat diplomacy worked, and worked quite well in fact.

The new UN resolution will correct a mistake made by the Obama administration, it does not issue a new invisible ink red line regarding the use of military force related to Syrian chemical weapons. The Obama administration, and by extension the United States, has been soundly defeated by the gunboat diplomacy of Russia. President Obama has been allowed to save face with a meaningless UN resolution that has no teeth at all, but given the circumstances the President was never in a position to expect more than this. The President's domestic policy agenda that has, in part, manifested in the form of sequestration of the Department of Defense, ultimately prevented the United States military from ever being able to assemble the necessary military force to achieve a meaningful tactical or strategic objective through military force in Syria, so the President never held anything better than a pair of deuces, and ultimately President Obama had little choice but to play the cards the President was dealt. I have to say, I think the President is getting more than I originally expected out of a pair of deuces.

As I have noted previously on the blog, the Russian naval force off Syria creates significant tactical and operational problems for the United States for using military force effectively in Syria. A launch of cruise missiles by destroyers at 300 nautical miles will be detected within seconds by the Russian naval force, and Syria will have nearly a half hour to defend against cruise missiles which really are not advanced enough to defeat a dedicated defense. The presence of the Russian Navy offshore makes the use of a SSGN close to Syria very dangerous, because within seconds of the first launch, there is nothing preventing Russia from telling the Syrian military exactly where the SSGN is. It is unclear if Syria could effectively detect much less successfully attack the US submarine, but the risk of successful detection and attack is significantly higher with the assistance of Russia.

On multiple occasions the Russians publicly admitted that they were sharing intelligence information with the military leadership in Syria. If Putin followed through and did exactly what they said they were going to do, and gave intelligence regarding the location of a US Navy submarine to Syria, and by some chance Syria was able to successfully sink a US submarine, President Obama would be politically sunk. There is a zero percent chance that the United States would go to war with Russia over Syria, no matter how extensive and compelling the evidence was that Russia had helped Syria cause the loss of life of a US submarine crew.

The forward presence of Russian naval forces in defense of Russian national interests has served for two years as a deterrence for military operations against Syria by Western powers, and in order for those conditions to change, a very large and capable multinational alliance with intent to use military force would need to be established for purposes of shifting the political risk balance of involvement against Russia. That very large and capable multinational alliance does not exist today.

I do not know what the political fall out will be. Whether the UN resolution on Syrian chemical weapons passes or not, the US still lacks a policy for how to deal with Syria. If we assume President Obama was always bluffing, and I do make that assumption, it would not appear he ever told Mr. Cameron. My sense is President Obama does not see Mr. Cameron as the same strong ally and friend that President Bush saw in Tony Blair. It is unclear if there will be a fallout between the two men, but the President never needs to reveal he was bluffing with a pair of deuces, even if it is obvious to anyone paying attention.

The inexperience of the Obama administration has been fully exposed by President Putin, and yet, I'm not sure the Russians knew that USS Georgia (SSGN 729) was not in the Mediterranean Sea. Putin could have guessed President Obama was bluffing about military strikes, but the fact that Russia was who ultimately reached out diplomatically suggests to me Putin was never truly convinced President Obama was bluffing. That is probably the smart move, after all, President Obama takes a very liberal approach when it comes to using US military force.

Finally, it is apparent to me that at some point very early on after the August 21st incident the President realized he was going to take a hit if he didn't conduct military strikes, and yet it is clear the President recognized that conducting military strikes against Assad was counter to US interests. Whether one assumes the President was bluffing or not, what we have learned is that President Obama ultimately chose to take a course of action in foreign policy that would serve US interests, regardless of the political consequences to him personally. The recent coalition of extremist forces in Syria among the rebel groups makes clear that until the moderate rebel organization is stronger, it is counter to US National Security interests for the Assad government to fall, even if that is a desired outcome.

Gunboat diplomacy was very effective for President Obama in avoiding an outright political disaster, and gunboat diplomacy ultimately, in my opinion, allowed Russia to achieve their strategic objectives through deterrence by protecting Syria from overt military intervention by western nations.

I have no idea if the Obama administration realizes that gunboat diplomacy, and naval diplomacy in general, is an effective way to conduct foreign policy in defense of national interests in the 21st century. It is unclear to me if the President even understands how gunboat diplomacy was so influential in this specific case. I assume nothing with this President anymore because one thing is very clear in the wake of the last month of foreign policy, the President's current national security team is inexperienced, lacks skill in the planning involved with statecraft, lacks the ability to develop long term strategic plans, and is prone to make mistakes. The President's national security team is populated with reactionaries, not visionaries.

I do, however, believe that President Putin understands very well the value of gunboat diplomacy and how it has helped Russia achieve a political victory with Syria. It is no accident Russia is now sending their Pacific Fleet flagship to the Gulf of Aden. This Russian naval deployment to the Middle East isn't about fighting pirates, it is about preparing the battlespace for the next round of political chess with the United States.

Chess > Poker.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

If It's Not "War," It Sounds Like Checkers


In his book On War, General Carl von Clausewitz explains that war "is controlled by its political object," which "will set its course, prescribe the scale of means and effort which is required, and makes its influence felt throughout down to the smallest operational detail." Over the last two days, John Kerry has insisted that "President Obama is not asking America to go to war." He even goes so far as to suggest that he, General Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel "know the difference between going to war and what President Obama is requesting now."

Over the last two days John Kerry has made a terrible case for war against Syria to Congress. While seeking action by Congress under the War Powers act, John Kerry has argued forcefully that all definitions of war by experts of warfare throughout history are wrong, and his definition is right. Ryan Evans at War on the Rocks captured the moment when Kerry jumped the shark.
Later, a frustrated Kerry revealed the real logic behind his position: public opinion. He noted that no Americans wanted to go to war with Syria and insisted the White House was of the same mind. “We don’t want to go to war in Syria either!” he exclaimed.  “It’s not what we’re here to ask. The President is not asking you to go to war…He’s simply saying we need to take an action that can degrade the capacity of a man who has been willing to kill his own people by breaking a nearly hundred year-old prohibition [against chemical weapons].”

Then, turning to Dempsey, Kerry asked, “General, do you want to speak to that?”

Dempsey responded, “No, not really, Secretary, thank you for offering.” Why? Because General Dempsey knew that was nonsense.

Words matter, and when they are not allowed to matter in policy, we are not being honest with ourselves. Over the last two days John Kerry described the political object with Syria as "to deter, disrupt, prevent, and degrade the potential for, future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction" by the Assad regime in Syria. The Obama administration has apparently convinced itself that a Desert Fox Part II action in Syria will produce the desired result, apparently ignoring that Desert Fox was in part what led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I do not know any serious expert who believes the Obama administrations military approach to Syria will achieve a positive political object for the US.

The Obama administrations national security leadership, in Congressional testimony, is promoting a delusion regarding the act of war, and is incapable of admitting they are about to start a war. Most troubling, they are intentionally dismissing consequences and the gravity of such action under the assumption that military superiority translates to strategic success. The United States does not have a strategy that political leaders can articulate publicly on Syria, nor is the Obama administrations national security leadership publicly seeking meaningful military objectives of consequence to conditions in Syria. The United States does not have a coalition of support to provide legitimacy for military action, a coalition that protects the US from escalation or retaliation. John Kerry, in front of Congress, described those who believe it unwise for the US to inject our nation into another nations civil war uninvited, as armchair isolationists. No one knew for certain the intelligence cited by Colin Powell was wrong in 2003. Every human being educated on the definition of war knows John Kerry is wrong in 2013, and no one credible on the topic of war will ever be able to argue otherwise.

The arrogance of the Obama administration's national security team is a parade of red flags right through the halls of Congress. Secretary Kerry actually argues that if Assad is "arrogant" enough to defend himself that the US and our allies have ways to make him regret that decision, apparently without going to war. The arrogance of John Kerry implies the question to Congress, what could possibly go wrong? With no political policy or strategy that can be articulated publicly, no military objective of consequence, no coalition of consequence or authority, and by taking action that injects our nation into another nations civil war uninvited - my question is, how does this possibly end well?

The Obama administration is taking greater risk with Syria than their calculations suggest, and I truly believe the potential for a significant strategic defeat like nothing seen in at least a century is greater than the potential for success. The entire gambit by the Obama administration rests upon the starting assumption that Syria will do nothing and give the Obama administration exactly what they want. The other starting assumption is that Iran won't get involved or their involvement will be inconsequencial to our political objective. The problem with the first assumption is that John Kerry all but admitted in testimony over two days that while military strikes are not intended to achieve regime change, US policy is to build a working relationship over time with rebels for the intent of regime change. The problem with the second assumption is that Iran historically gets involved, and the chaos they created for Israel in 2006 and the chaos Iran created in Iraq and Afghanistan last decade was extremely effective in countering US political objectives. The starting assumption should be Assad will resist, because he should be well aware long term US policy is regime change, and that Iran will not only get involved but has a history of doing so successfully.


If the Obama administration takes authorization from Congress and moves directly towards military action against Syria, the lack of a coalition is a significant condition that increases the strategic risk to the United States. Iran and Syria will recognize that this may be the only opportunity they will ever have to take on the United States without a broader coalition of support, and as such see this as their best opportunity to strike. In stepping through Red Team's calculations, consider how exposed the US truly is.
1) The United States has no coalition, so a targeted, direct strike against the United States in "self defense" significantly limits the degree to which the international community will respond in support of the US. The UK vote highlights that politically, the rest of the world does not stand with a belligerent United States in a unilateral military action.

2) The United States is strategically and politically exposed and military forces throughout the region are spread thin. There are no troops in Iraq. Sequestration has significantly degraded the capacity of the US military across the entire Department of Defense towards fielding an effective reserve. Political cover by Russia and China will be available to Syria after the the US attacks.

3) Military objectives by Blue Team are not well defined, while military objectives by Red Team are well defined. All evidence suggests the leadership of the United States does not take seriously the threat of counterstrike. Russia has openly stated they will provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to help Syria, and that presumably would also be for support of military action in counterstrike.

4) Successful counterstrike against the United States will be celebrated regionally, resulting in significant restrictions of movement within the region by US military forces and a collapse of US political credibility broadly. Local pressure can be exploited by red team on regional military installations to restrict movement of US assets in the region.

When I take the red team perspective of action unfolding in the Middle East, if I am Iran and Syria supported by Russia, my calculation is that I may never have a better opportunity to change the regional security conditions and balance of power in the Middle East than the opportunity being presented in this situation unfolding. By throwing every military asset possible in attack of the surface action group of 4 destroyers in the Mederterranian Sea, and throwing the entire armed forces of Iran against the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group off the coast of Pakistan, the entire US policy for the Middle East would be dead in the water if Iran and Syrian attacks were to be successful. As red team, I would attack these targets specifically because they are sovereign US targets and don't inherently escalate tensions by giving any other nation a reason to join in.

Oh, you honestly believe - like John Kerry does - that the US would muster the military and muster allies around the world, and would start World War III in response to a tactical defeat at sea? Think again. The simple fact is the world would immediately stand in shock, and there is no evidence anywhere suggesting the Obama administration handles pressure well. The Middle East would explode in celebration of a public US tactical defeat, leaving the Nimitz Strike Group south of the Suez unable to cross north to help. Hu Jinping would shit a Great Wall when facing the possibility of a major war across the sea lines of communication throughout the Middle East, and would be with Russia in the UNSC within 24 hours shouting for a cease fire. Iran would immediately make clear that with the first sign of a US counterattack against Iran, Iran would unload their ballistic missiles into US bases across Afghanistan and potentially leverage other resources to broaden the conflict regionally.

Is Europe going to seriously come to the aid of a belligerent US who got smacked for attacking another nation without a coalition, any legitimate alliance, or a UNSC resolution? The NATO alliance clause doesn't protect the US under the scenario unfolding in Syria. Remember, gas prices across the world will triple - or more, in the first 24 hours on the threat of escalation, so the gravity of the situation will hit the wallet of an happy American population as well.  Where is the support for the US coming from? If you think the US has a reserve force ready to deploy in the US, you don't understand the impact of sequestration on the US military at all. It would take the US weeks, and in some cases months, to mobilize military forces in response to a major escalation. Does anyone honestly believe Asian nations are going to rise up and help the US after our military adventurism that went wrong? If the US Navy takes attrition across the Middle East and the Med, how does one think France - our only real coalition partner right now - will react? When bad ideas lead to things going badly, people don't take great risk in support of the foolish losers.

This isn't some impossible scenario, Syria does have the military capability to defeat 1 surface action group of 4 destroyers if committed to that tactical action, and Iran does have the capability to destroy a single Carrier Strike Group in a surprise attack less than 300 miles off the coast of Iran.

A successful counterstrike leaves the US with no one to turn to except Israel, whose assistance could send the entire region into chaos.

So if I am red team, if Obama goes from Congress directly to war, I attack. The Obama administration is playing a game of checkers, and it is impossible to suggest the absence of policy, strategy, objective, and coalition by the Obama administration is akin to a game of chess. If the enemy plays chess in response, we're screwed. At that point it would come down to US military forces winning tactical battles despite bad strategy to avoid humiliating strategic defeat, which honestly somewhat describes US policy for the last decade across the Middle East.

The Obama administration needs to go from Congress directly to the United Nations Security Council, and not directly to war. The Obama administration needs to build an international coalition to protect the United States from blowback, because without a coalition the US is strategically exposed giving a rare opportunity to Iran to take advantage of our isolation. With the worlds attention focused on Syria regarding chemical weapons, Syria is effectively deterred from using chemical weapons right now while the diplomatic process unfolds. The United States is effectively implementing the political object as laid out by John Kerry before Congress as long as the world's attention on Syria chemical weapons remains evident, so nothing is lost by the US committing to the long road of diplomacy as long as it is public and actively engaged.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

With Great State Power Comes Greater Need for Oversight Responsibility

Please recognize this post as an informal, free form flow of incomplete thoughts as a I step through several ideas that have been swirling in my brain lately. I am very much interested in your thoughts, opinions, criticisms, and resources of note that can help me mentally step through some of the issues raised for discussion below.

I recently read an article written by former Secretary of the Navy, former Senator from Virginia Jim Webb titled Congressional Abdication published this month in the National Interest. It is the best published article I have read this year, because I frequently find myself pondering much of what it says. I have no intention on quoting from the article, because I believe that if you click the link and begin reading the article - you will find yourself compelled to read it all. It is an article I believe everyone should read, and give serious consideration to the content.

We are in a very strange place in America today, particularly politically. In my opinion the establishment of the Republican party is frequently not very conservative, and the establishment of the Democratic party is frequently not very liberal. Partisan loyalty to the establishments is still very high, but the loyalty of partisans has become emotional, not intellectual, as the problems continue to mount with neither side willing to compromise - largely for political purposes - towards any actual solutions to any of the current challenges that all need legitimate solutions. My sense is the President is poised to step up to the very real challenges facing America, and as he does so he will become much less popular in the eyes of everyone for doing the things that must be done.

Sequestration happened. I told you - 22 months ago - it would. Very few people believed it would. The DoD is still operating under the rules of the Continuing Resolution, although hopefully that will change very soon. The result of sequestration + the CR means operations and maintenance will be sacrificed to the sacred cow of the defense infrastructure - the defense industry. It is how the two laws work together. For the Navy that means they must park ships at the pier to pay contracts that cannot be canceled. It is very easy to get all /Facepalm about how horribly managed all of this has been for the DoD, but I find myself in agreement with the argument that three and four star Generals and Flag Officers are basically political appointments to the executive branch these days, so why should we expect them to act any different than exactly that? In the end I believe sequestration and the continuing resolution are applying legitimate and correct intentions in the worst possible way. The US is in trouble, but only because all strategies in the Department of Defense today are for purposes of domestic politics, not international politics. The history of the world tells us that our nation will take a hit for taking our eyes off the ball in the hubris that we are a superpower and too big to fail, and fixing what amounts to small (in context) budget problems doesn't solve this problem.

Among our political leaders and political appointees, very few men and women stand out as unique voices with a core set of beliefs and a willingness to stand up for them. When they do - we know who they are, and even when we disagree with them we love them for being genuine. This is exactly why so many in this community and the US Navy have so much admiration and respect for men like Admiral John Harvey and Undersecretary Bob Work, and why Bob Work in particular has stood out as one of the singularly most unique government officials in the Navy community in many decades. Undersecretary Work advocated the same positions he had before his appointment, and I assure you his positions will remain consistent when he moves into his new position over at CNAS. My observation is very few people agree with him on everything, particularly his positions on the Littoral Combat Ship, but disagreement with his positions does not diminish how he earns respect among his critics for engaging them in respectful public debate on the merits of any specific issue, and most critically - the debate is always a discussion of substance.

The ability to sustain a focused debate on the substance of an issue was probably why I was easily distracted by Rand Paul's activity on the Senate floor last night. I know nothing about Rand Paul except that I know of his father, and I never agreed with his father much on political issues. It is easy to dismiss the absurdity of drawing a line in the sand on the issue of drones killing American citizens on American soil, because that would never happen, right? Common sense screams - "of course not!"

And yet Eric Holder would not commit the Obama administration to that position, the implication of his intentional omission being that "yes, drones may indeed one day kill American citizens on US soil." You may not think this is even possible, but this is a legitimate civil liberties issue and as many smart people have pointed out (example here), the administration cannot easily stand with Rand Paul on this issue, because there are legal issues regarding the use of drones in targeted strikes around the world that extend well beyond American soil that have not been sorted out legally, and there are lawsuits already out there regarding American citizens killed by drones in other countries that the Administration must tread very cautiously because of.

For me, that is really where this issue Rand Paul raises comes into play, and impacts many of the issues we discuss here on Information Dissemination. Rand Paul vs Eric Holder on drones isn't something any of us can simply dismiss as a silly political trick or an argument over a hypothetical issue, because the issue is very much legitimate. A few things to think about...

The rise of prominence in using drones to execute US Foreign Policy and US National Security Policy is a bigger issue than the limited but important aspect of drones Rand Paul championed yesterday on the Senate floor. The single biggest drone issue, in my opinion, is that drones have lowered the threshold for use of force. It is why the CIA is now operating drones for targeted killing, and why the USAF has basically restructured itself over the last decade to support this activity as needed globally. It is why the US does not fly manned military aircraft into Pakistan to kill Al Qaeda - the people in Pakistan would be outraged if we did - but those same Pakistani citizens don't seem to care when we send an armed unmanned flying computer into Pakistan and kill a bad guy. This oddly acceptable condition has allowed the Obama administration to fly drones and kill people in Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan over the last four years, with an unknown level of approval or consent. AFRICOM is setting up a drone base as we speak, and it is a safe bet we will be killing people with drones in Africa in the near future. South America - you are almost certainly next.

Drones have lowered the political risk and raised the political reward of using lethal force and done so at a lower cost to the US taxpayer. In my opinion, the use of armed drones globally represents a natural and expected 21st century asymmetrical evolution of military power in our dealing with non-state actors that distributed towards smaller footprints after we engaged with overwhelming conventional military force. I see the US use of drones as a completely understandable military capability evolution. Like any new adaptation of State power that changes the rules of any battlefield in our favor, there are new considerations for using this new State power that must be addressed to insure rules of the road for others who also develop the same State power capability.

The Obama administration is reshaping the United States National Security Strategy around remotely piloted drone strike capabilities, offensive cyber capabilities, and special operations capabilities. This basically shifts the liberal use of US military power (that is very common in American history) towards three precision strike capabilities on a global scale that - legitimately - can create unforeseen collateral damage. To take it a step further, none of these capabilities have easily recognized legal frameworks because they operate outside the normal rulesets that would otherwise govern the use of lethal military power.

For example, armed drones have killed Americans - now under two consecutive Presidents. There are lawsuits in the name of dead Americans that cite the US Constitution regarding judicial process, because in the end the precision strike capability - in this case drones - ultimately killed American citizens without due process under the law. It is not even clear if the Americans were the target or not - but in the case of Anwar al-Aulaqi all indications are he was the target. Like the vast majority of Americans (according to the polls anyway) the inner Patton in me thinks the guy deserved his fate, but as an American wanting to protect my own civil liberties I certainly would appreciate if our political leaders would step out and clearly define the rule set for use of force with this global precision strike capability so that I know the law protects me and my family from the use of such State power. It is hard for me to imagine any American likewise wouldn't appreciate similar such protections under the law - particularly on US soil as Rand Paul articulates.

Another example - Cyber. The collateral damage from STUXNET has been enormous. With a weaponized cyber capability that probably was developed by the government of the United States, if we examine purely from a monetary standpoint this cyber smart bomb called STUXNET did more collateral damage than any single military strike since we dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The lack of lethality for using such a weapon makes the use of these cyber smart weapons highly attractive to political leaders, but what protections do American businesses have against these kind of State power precision payload military grade capabilities that also have huge collateral damage implications? Even more to the point, what happens when military grade smart worm does actually kill people? There is no legal framework in this country, much less on an international scale, to govern use of such weapons, and yet when examined on a financial scale this military grade weaponized cyber capability is only comparable to the use of a nuclear weapon. The political leadership of this country is waiting for people to die before they take this very serious issue specific to emerging National Security Policy seriously.

Finally, have you seen Zero Dark Thirty? It's a fictional movie, but it's a good frame of reference. Have you read about the Osama bin Laden raid, the various books and articles of substance? Lets just review what happened generically. The United States sent a military unit into a foreign country for purposes of a precision strike on a facility right next to a major military installation. What would have happened if the Pakistani Army rolled up during that action with the tactical approach of shooting first and asking questions later? The other guy gets a vote, so what if our special forces folks were immediately attacked by the Pakistan Army and never given an option to surrender? Would the folks in the White House listened intently as all members of the special operations unit were killed, or would they have allowed the unit to call in air support and defend themselves? A special forces unit has the capability, and in most situations has the higher level military support, to rain hell and fire on anyone within their sights. A very legitimate different outcome that night could have been the US military killing a thousand soldiers of the Pakistani Army in what was supposed to be a clandestine precision strike inside another country.

Under any legal apparatus governed by the US Constitution, if the US would have started a war with Pakistan because of that action, it would have been a violation of every intent outlined in the US Constitution regarding the use of military force in starting a war, and under the law would have been legitimate basis for articles of impeachment for the President who - in this American citizens opinion - was doing the right thing by going after Osama bin Laden. But that's the key issue - our small special forces teams are supported by a US conventional military infrastructure of precision strike capabilities that outmatches everything else in the world. Some of our smallest special operations forces have the firepower and capability equivalent to the entire military of some nations at their fingertip. There is nothing new about special forces, but there is a lot of new about featuring special forces operations as a primary instrument of State power. Do the old rules that govern use of military force apply sufficiently to global precision strike capabilities of platoon sized forces with brigade level firepower at their fingertips? Do we need new rule sets for the emerging predominance of special forces operations in our global military taskings? Will America have to wait for Murphy's Law to kick us between the legs before Congress decides to rethink how the emerging predominance of special forces operations influences existing laws regarding the use of military force globally? When these guys come home from Afghanistan, they are not going to be sent home to sit on the couch - they will be used, everywhere else.

Has Congress sufficiently thought through this? With the nations mature long range strike network from air and sea, a special forces unit today can leverage the firepower of at least a battalion sized unit 20 years ago, but we never sent units with battalion levels of firepower around the world on quick strike missions 20 years ago. Emerging policy is to send special forces around the world on quick strike missions for the next 20 years, and my gut tells me our political leaders haven't stepped through this mentally yet.

The House and the Senate need to wake up and step up, because the growth of executive power since 9/11 has gone unchecked and is in dire need of a balance. Rand Paul may be focused on the details of civil liberties, and it is as good a place to start as any in my opinion, but the framework for 21st century National Security Policy is being established by the Obama administration - built on top of the Bush administrations eight years of very interventionist policies - that predominately feature means of very new, very capable State powers that lack rule sets, and drones is only one small piece of it.

I am generally supportive of the direction the Obama administration is taking with drones, cyber, and special forces instead of leveraging the large US Army approach of the Bush administration, but I see some serious issues with the policy that I believe needs a much healthier dose of oversight than what I - as an American citizen - has seen to date. I also believe the critical foundation of naval power - offshore, near but not intrusive State power, is being undervalued as a non-intrusive and diplomatically capable element of State power in emerging policy, and I believe it is with credible, present naval power the United States needs not always lead with the precision strike while still being able to leverage the potential use of it as a form of deterrence.

Without some serious oversight and consideration that includes alternatives to precision strike, this National Security Policy framework being developed by the Obama administration - that I generally agree with btw - is ripe for exploitation by future administrations if Congress doesn't get in there soon to address many of the very legitimate issues and shortcomings in each approach.

The Founding Fathers had it right all along. The nation maintains a Navy and the ability to raise an Army when needed. That framework works well within the construct of President Obama's National Security Policy that leverages drones, cyber, and special forces, and within that construct the Navy adds a very legitimate, very important, very enormous diplomatic wrapper of sea based military power around America's very lethal and capable precision strike capabilities. I see it as Sea Power in support of State Power, and not just State power in the context of precision strike, but State power in the context of the State Department and other elements of State power throughout the US government. In the abstract; drones, cyber, and special forces can be used in almost exactly the same way, but as asymmetrical alternatives to, a large Army invasion by the United States of another country - with the outcome of a state level war possible, after all we are - either figuratively or literally - bombing another country from the air with drones, destroying the economy of another nation with cyber, or putting boots on the ground for military operations with special operations forces. While I acknowledge it is legitimately my bias, I see sea power as a historical military framework that helps buffer an alternative to check and balance the emerging 21st century models for the liberal use of politically convenient, emerging State power military force options.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Budget Thoughts

I don't really want to get too deep into the budget discussion yet because a memo (PDF) and a PowerPoint (PDF) isn't exactly a plan. I have only a few initial thoughts.

The memo and the PowerPoint were both written with the expectation they would leak to the media. This sets the expectation moving forward that everything will unfold in public.

The CNOs PowerPoint that breaks out State by State impact is written like one would write a highly political document. All indications are the Navy put the document together, but it very much looks like the White House is coordinating everything. Whether this is a good or bad thing is subject to interpretation.

The evil here is not sequestration, it is the Continuing Resolution. Even if OSD canceled the Joint Strike Fighter tomorrow, the Navy could not move money around from that program to any other budget to make up for any specific budget shortfalls, because the Continuing Resolution that is the current budget the Navy is operating under prevents exactly that type of big decision making or movement of money around the budget. The CR is probably written that way so that no politicians pet project gets canceled. The Continuing Resolution is the posterchild of bad governance.

Both political parties own sequestration, but in my opinion Democrats own more of it than Republicans since Democrats have not yet produced a single alternative to sequestration. Sequestration has not happened yet though, so right now Democrats simply own something that may or may not happen.

Both political parties own the Continuing Resolution, but in my opinion Republicans own more of it than Democrats and as of right now it is the current law. While it is true the Senate has not passed a budget in the lifetime of every child that will enter kindergarten this fall, the details of the Continuing Resolution have not been an important issue for Republicans who have been dead set in protecting industry interests over DoD interests. There are opinions out there that the Continuing Resolution is another example of how weak the leadership of Buck McKeon is as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and he has basically thrown the DoD off the boat in support of the House leaders priorities. It was noteworthy Defense News didn't name Buck McKeon to the top 100 individuals in Defense.

Either way, the Continuing Resolution prevents the services from preparing for sequestration because it prevents any significant movement of money inside the budget. The worst case scenario is a year long Continuing Resolution, and if combined with sequestration the damage will be much more significant than just sequestration.

All we can really say with certainty is that the Republican Party has changed over the last four years, and the CR and sequestration have revealed for anyone paying attention that the Republican Party is no longer the political party that represents the DoD as has traditionally been the case in American politics, although with the Continuing Resolution written as is today, the Republicans party is still very much the political party of the defense industry.

Regardless of the partisan politics, it is going to be a very difficult year for defense. A smaller budget for defense is not a bad thing by itself, indeed I believe the DoD budget is too high and taxpayer money is wasted today in defense spending absent strategy. It is my opinion the clear and present danger to the defense of the United States is not less money for defense, but poor governance by elected officials in the management of less money for defense.

As of right now, poor governance by elected officials in the management of less money for defense is exactly what is going on with the Continuing Resolution, and regardless of who folks believe is to blame politically, both political parties own some responsibility and deserve criticism for the way the DoD budget is being managed. It will be interesting to see how things unfold over the next several weeks, because with the White House apparently involved in the response process by the DoD, it could get pretty ugly.... indeed very politically ugly particularly when it becomes time for new political appointments and the administration likely has fewer extremely smart and well respected non-partisan experts carrying their water.

I have a theory that because Bob Work has been Undersecretary of the Navy that both the Obama Administration and the Navy has avoided a lot of public criticism from the greater naval community, which unlike the public think tank communities of the other services (particularly Army) who think tactically and primarily in terms of money/programs, naval thinkers tend to think about big picture strategy and foreign policy and historically have written criticisms that can come off the press with politically damaging blows to the confidence in political leaders (indeed George Bush took several hits from 2005-2008 from the naval centric community that were so devastating they land on John McCain as a second order of effect). Everything I am seeing from Obama's second term appears to be right out of the Jimmy Carter playbook for DoD management, starting with a politico heavy appointment list absent any truly respected defense expertise. History says that kind of poor governance will catch up with the Democratic Party in 2016.

I tend to believe that when Bob Work leaves in May(ish) (and I believe the absence of Hillary Clinton at Department of State will result in a similar effect), not too long after it is going to get ugly as the really smart people start to unload on the Foreign Policy and Defense establishment after holding fire for four years, and I won't be surprised at all if it is through those broadsides that a Republican Party foreign policy is reborn over the next 4 years. It really surprises me the Obama administration doesn't intend to appoint Bob Work to be SECNAV, because usually those guys are pretty smart about keeping the their opponents off guard. It is my opinion the Navy has been living in 4 years of the Bob Work Effect, which has basically provided a buffer effect from the really sharp criticisms from nearly every serious defense person in DC regardless of political affiliation. My sense is the Ray Mabus Effect is simply not going to get it done for the Administration, and in all likelihood neither will the Chuck Hagel Effect or the John Kerry Effect.

Now think about the future of defense - a bunch of politico type appointments with very few highly respected experts or elder statesmen, a year long continuing resolution, sequestration or budget cuts of similar size, and the current partisan political environment. I'm thinking the next four years are going to look and sound like a train wreck in slow motion for the DoD.

And yet I am still glass half full...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gray Matter for Gray Hulls: The Intellectual Software Powering the U.S. Navy’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance

East Asia
The following guest post is by Gabe Collins. Gabe Collins is the co-founder of China SignPost and a former commodity investment analyst and research fellow in the US Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute.

The Naval War College is poised to play a pivotal role in America’s Asia-Pacific refocusing. Here are the programs and professionals that the Navy will draw on.

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert recently penned “Sea Change,” a landmark article for Foreign Policy that explains America’s rebalancing toward Asia. Building the Admiral’s Sailing Directions (PDF), Posture Statement (PDF), Navigation Plan (PDF), and Position Report (PDF), it represents his definitive public statement on what the U.S. Navy is doing to support the Asia-Pacific Rebalance.

Admiral Greenert’s assessment highlights the centrality of the Asia-Pacific region to American interests, but even more importantly, notes the need for the U.S. Navy to “establish greater intellectual focus on Asia-Pacific security challenges” and to help create the intellectual software that will enable Washington to employ its military hardware to maximum effect in the region. Having Navy institutions play a leading role in formulating Asia-Pacific strategy makes sense given the region’s maritime geography and manifold commercial and military maritime security challenges.

As a part of rebalancing, the Admiral notes  that “[the U.S. is] refocusing attention on the Asia-Pacific in developing and deploying our intellectual talent.” He cites The Naval War College as “the nation’s premier academic center on the region,” with strong and growing programs on Asian security. Illustrating the comprehensiveness of the Navy’s commitment to Asia-focused strategic thought, Greenert adds that the Naval Postgraduate School has also “expanded its programs devoted to developing political and technical expertise relevant to the Asia-Pacific.” The Admiral highlights a core strength of the Navy’s thought centers—their focus on continually developing human capital and actionable operational concepts that can be sent right back out to the fleet, pointing out that “we [the Navy] continue to carefully screen and send our most talented people to operate and command ships and squadrons in the Asia-Pacific.” 

This top-level recognition of the need to focus on intellectual software is refreshing given that the subject typically receives far less attention than the hardware end of naval activities (i.e. ships, planes, missiles). It is also important because as the U.S. and China move forward with their “frenemies” relationship that mixes cooperative and competitive aspects, it will be vital for Washington to base its actions in the Asia-Pacific area on a firm, comprehensive, and forward-looking intellectual foundation.

Among bastions of naval strategic thought in the U.S, the Naval War College is singularly well-positioned to play a leading role in formulating the foundations of American naval power in the Asia-Pacific. Having furnished critical inputs (PDF) to support the formulation of the latest U.S. maritime strategy (PDF) —the first endorsed by the chiefs of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard—the College is already making substantial contributions to U.S. strategy regarding how to grapple with China’s rising maritime power, as well as the evolving roles of India and U.S. allies such as Japan in a dynamic and strategically-vital part of the world. To understand and how Newport will continue shaping policy in coming years, it is necessary to consider its three major Asia-Pacific programs and the individuals that lead them.

First is the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Founded in 2006 by Dr. Lyle Goldstein and led by current director Prof. Peter Dutton, a retired naval flight officer and judge advocate who enjoys considerable policy influence (PDF) through his research on Chinese maritime strategic and legal perspectives, CMSI aims to enhance the U.S. Navy’s understanding of the maritime implications of China’s rise. CMSI draws on the work of both dedicated researcher professors and affiliated teaching faculty who are able to read and analyze Chinese-language original source materials from the Institute’s library, which offers the most specialized collection of China-related military maritime publications outside of Greater China. In 2008, CMSI was praised by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a model for conducting open source research on China’s military.

CMSI draws on these unique resources to offer multidimensional research capabilities covering a range of issues including China’s naval policy and development, civil-military relations, civil maritime organizations, territorial and maritime claims disputes and associated legal positions, defense science, technology, and industry, aerospace dimensions of naval operations, seaborne energy security, and maritime relations with the U.S. and other nations. In addition to developing and curating its library, CMSI holds an annual conference, publishes the China Maritime Studies monograph series, and hosts regular guest speakers.

Second is the Asia-Pacific Studies Group (APSG). Established by Dr. Jonathan Pollack, now a senior fellow in Foreign Policy and acting director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and led by current chairman Dr. Terence Roehrig—like Pollack, a recognized expert on Korean peninsula affairs —the APSG focuses on policy and strategy issues concerning the entire Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and Russia. APSG’s research serves the needs of the Navy, U.S. Pacific Command, and other elements of the U.S. Government responsible for formulating policy, strategy, and planning related to Asia and the Pacific. In addition, at the Naval War College, APSG performs vital outreach and academic functions by hosting guest speakers and seminars and offering course for students.

Third is the John A. van Buren Chair for Asia-Pacific Studies, endowed in 2010 with a generous grant through the Naval War College Foundation. Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, the inaugural recipient of the chairmanship, is a leading analyst of Chinese maritime power and has authored multiple books and numerous scholarly articles on the subject.

Supported by the Naval War College leadership and the chairs of their respective departments, the heads of these programs work closely with a wide range of faculty members whose teaching, research, and scenario evaluation covers a full range of regional issues, as well as relevant strategic and cross-cutting functional specialties. A critical mass of faculty, for instance, conduct research using original Chinese-language sources; at no other institution outside of Greater China is such a substantial group of Chinese language-capable professors devoted to military maritime matters. Students participate directly in these activities, contributing important operational and technical insights and applying their knowledge in the fleet and its various support organizations following their time in Newport.

The U.S. Navy has a long and storied history of constructive engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. The rapid settlement and growth of the Western U.S. in the post-Civil War period, coupled with the subsequent statehood of Alaska and Hawaii as well as the affiliation of Guam and other U.S. Pacific territories—which together confer on the U.S. the largest territorial waters and claimable Exclusive Economic Zone of any nation, has bound the U.S. national interest inextricably to economic and security events in the Asia-Pacific.

This bond continues to animate Washington’s foreign policy to this day. Indeed, as Admiral Greenert points out, “The importance of the Asia-Pacific, and the Navy’s attention to it, is not new. Five of our seven treaty allies are in the region, as well as six of the world’s top 20 economies. We have maintained an active and robust presence in the Asia-Pacific for more than 70 years and built deep and enduring relationships with allies and partners there.”

Continuing to build on that powerful legacy will require new approaches as the world becomes increasingly Asia-centric and the need for naval presence and engagement becomes more acute. Research and analysis from the Navy’s bases of Asian studies excellence in Newport, as well as Monterrey and Annapolis, will help lay the intellectual foundation of these approaches and the strategies and policies that result. As the U.S. prepares to continue its indispensable role in the world’s most dynamic region, watch for contributions from its critical centers of naval thought.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Open Letter to America Regarding Chuck Hagel

AP Photo
Informed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Gulf War in 1991, the management of the Soviet breakup throughout the 1990s, the attacks on 9/11, the rise of China in the 21st century, the global war waged by religious extremists, and the economic shifts around the world unfolding today; the United States has sustained a global garrison of military force and forward deployed naval power supported by military superiority in the air and space in an all encompassing National Security Strategy towards "shaping" the global environment, sanctioning and punishing bad regional actors, and responding globally to transnational threats. This National Security Strategy of global maintenance and peace enforcement since the end of the cold war has almost exclusively been executed by the military forces of the United States, and only in select cases over the last half century has it been augmented sufficiently by other elements of national power via diplomacy and treasury sanctions.

As a result, since May of 1989 the United States has been at war for about the same number of months the United States has been at peace, and we can only find peaceful months by not counting military operations in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Philippines, and other military enforced foreign policies like the sustained No-Fly Zone over Iraq in the 1990s.

For almost a quarter of a century, military forces have been engaged in indefinitely sustained global military operations requiring an unprecedented deployment and operational tempo straining every level of the Department of Defense. As the nation added two wars in the Middle East and Southwest Asia over the last decade while sustaining our military garrisons across Europe, Korea, and Japan, the cost of sustaining the National Security Policy and National Defense Strategy that has barely changed since the end of the cold war has become untenable as the nations economic problems have finally caught up to us.

With the withdrawal of military forces from the theaters of war in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and with the economic challenges having slowly piled up to the point that politicians are left with no good options in fixing the nations financial situation, the time has come for the nation to adopt a new more sustainable National Security Policy and National Defense Strategy better suited to the demands of changing global economic and geopolitical conditions and affordable under the new financial realities of a nation straining to fund a government that spends far more money than tax revenues can support.

It is against this backdrop - in this critical strategic moment in our nations history - as a nation still fighting a war in Afghanistan with no definitive political victory conditions, and at a time when our nations most important economic partner China is engaged in a relentless cyber espionage campaign against us in the pursuit of stealing our most advanced technologies, the Democratic President of the United States Barack Obama has appointed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be the Secretary of Defense to usher in the most important strategic realignment of the United States Department of Defense since the end of the cold war.

This is the most important moment of legitimate strategic defense realignment for America heading into the 21st century, but no one is treating it that way, yet. The New York Times has a passionate defense of Chuck Hagel's credentials regarding the issues of Iran and defending Israel - issues that are decided by the entire National Security cabinet btw, and for good measure The Washington Post, CNN, Foreign Policy, ABC News, TIME, and every celebrity in defense willing to speak up is also passionately defending Chuck Hagel on these important but in context peripheral issues. We even have plenty of commentary regarding Chuck Hagel's incredibly strategic irrelevant political position on homosexuality in the military.

But we have yet to see a single serious word spoken by Chuck Hagel reported by the media as it relates to the magnitude of the job the man has been nominated for.

Commentary

We are in for a whole lot of stupid with the Chuck Hagel nomination process ramping up unless something changes in Washington DC and people suddenly decide to become serious. This is normally about the time where James Joyner at the Atlantic Council would write a very smart article and throw the bullshit flag at the media with a compelling editorial that would get everyone to screw their head back on tight enough to think about the magnitude of the job Chuck Hagel has been nominated for. Unfortunately for America, Chuck Hagel is coming from the Atlantic Council, so we are going to go without the wisdom of James Joyner on this particular nomination.

The partisan think tanks have to date demonstrated the inability to be serious about the Chuck Hagel nomination. AEI is currently featuring an article by Jonah Goldberg on their website with remarkably sophomoric personal attack rhetoric that describes Hagel as "never overburdened with too heavy a reputation for insight, knowledge, or humility." The Heritage Foundation fails to inspire a single intelligent thought among their readers with the headline "Iran Endorses Obama Pick Hagel for U.S. Secretary of Defense." For slightly more informative commentary, which is unfortunately little more than a partisan endorsement rather than an original opinion or serious commentary equal to the magnitude of the nomination, see Hayes Brown over at Think Progress.

It is hard for me to imagine that anyone who is serious or expects to ever be taken seriously regarding issues related to the National Defense of the United States wouldn't have legitimate questions for any nominee for Secretary of Defense at this point in time in American history. Every single person in military service or employee of the Department of Defense is going to be directly impacted professionally to a greater degree by this nomination than any other leadership or policy change within the Department of Defense for the rest of their career.

It is a close competition between Michele Flournoy and Ashton Carter if the evaluation for Secretary of Defense is specific to the most qualified person to assume the Secretary of Defense position at this point in time in American history, so the appointment of Chuck Hagel by President Obama is unquestionably in part due to partisan politics and not singularly about merit. The problem with the appointment by President Obama heavily emphasizing politics is that it raises legitimate questions whether the President himself understands the incredible importance of the nomination as the nation begins a transition towards a new National Defense Strategy that will guide our nation well into the 21st century. We are talking about the realignment of national defense priorities for the worlds only superpower, and when appointing Hagel it doesn't help when the President himself leads by making the issue political partisanship.

The President chose the Republican Chuck Hagel in belief it will be politically easier for a Republican nominee to execute and manage the budgetary and force structure contractions that are coming to the Department of Defense while the Department of Defense realigns towards a sustainable National Defense Strategy executed with a smaller military. Keep in mind, it doesn't matter who the nominee is, whether it is Chuck Hagel, Michele Flournoy, or Ashton Carter - the contraction of the Department of Defense Budget is going to happen this year, and that will result in major changes to the force structure of the United States military. The next Secretary of Defense will be the most important decision maker in the room determining what strategic choices are made and those choices will drive decision making for the future force structure of the United States military heading into the next quarter of the 21st century.

What are Chuck Hagel's priorities when making difficult strategic choices as they relate to the Department of Defense's role in protecting American interests globally? How does Chuck Hagel envision the United States sustaining global assurance to allies and presence in regions of national interest with a contracted Department of Defense budget? What is the role of American military power heading into the next quarter of the 21st century? What is Chuck Hagel's vision for the National Defense Strategy of the United States in the 21st century? How will Chuck Hagel prioritize his strategic choices related to force structure? Given the questions already related to America's interests as they relate to our alliance with Israel, what exactly are the greater ends of US National Defense Strategy including outside the Middle East? Which means should be prioritized to execute towards those ends? How will the DoD execute policy with a smaller budget and different force structure? Contraction will be managed under what guiding principles?

These are only a few of the dozens of important questions that need to be asked by serious people who demand a serious response from any nominee for Secretary of Defense at this moment in time, and yet all we are reading about in the media is Chuck Hagel's position on Israel and Iran, and whether Chuck Hagels views on homosexuality in the military are different today than they were ten years ago.

If Chuck Hagel wants to be Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel needs to step up and start talking like he is the serious person the nation needs right now to take on the serious challenges facing the Department of Defense, or he can continue to dodge uninformed and completely irrelevant questions by the political bitch class of Washington DC and insure his status in American history as the wrong man at the wrong moment. This nomination is Chuck Hagel's to lose, and he is playing right into the political games of his critics. If he keeps talking about the interests of Israel or entertains the focus of his record related to homosexuality, he is going to get an enema from the FOGO crowd who will spade him sideways through his critics the second he tries to be credible in the Pentagon on the very serious issues facing the Department of Defense. By entertaining the irrelevant issues he is being blasted for by his critics, he is slowly becoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure his critics are predicting he will be.

Chuck Hagel either needs to get serious by talking to the media about the serious issues facing the DoD to prove himself to be the right man for job at this moment in time, or move over so serious people like Michele Flournoy or Ashton Carter can step up and wear the big boy pants.

As for his Republican critics, it makes no sense that he would even care what they are saying. I haven't read a single article written by someone described as an Expert working at Heritage or AEI that has prioritized a strategic choice facing the Department of Defense related to force structure to date in the 21st century, so it isn't like Hagel would be going without some important unique insight or advice on upcoming difficult strategic choices by ignoring them completely, unless we describe the calls for "more government spending" for defense in the name of Reagan conservatism as somehow insightful advice.

Chuck Hagel, either step up or step aside. These are serious times, are you the serious leader needed in the Department of Defense in this time of strategic realignment?

If you are, you have my full support.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Strategic Trend of Note

Fracking FAQ: The science and technology behind the natural gas boom.
This is a very interesting article worth reading in full. This part in particular should give us something to think about.
New technologies to access hard-to-reach fuels mean that, in 2012, the United States experienced its largest rise in annual oil output since the middle of the 19th century, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released in December. Shale gas is a fossil fuel trapped inside formations of shale rock. Some of these formations also contain oil.

The expected 760,000 barrel-per-day increase in US crude oil production in 2012 is the largest rise in annual output since the beginning of US commercial oil extraction in 1859, an EIA official said in a statement.

"This is a once in a lifetime thing we are experiencing now," Paul Faeth, a senior fellow with the CNA research organisation, told Al Jazeera. "The chemical industry is moving back to the US [because of cheap gas] and demand will increase because of low prices."

The gas boom has led to about $90bn in new investments in related US industries over the past two years, including steel manufacturing, petrochemicals production and fertiliser fabrication, according to Dow Chemical's calculations.

Since 2005, more than $125bn has been spent on shale extraction, including drilling and purchasing land, by the 50 largest US oil and gas companies, according to a study by Ernst and Young.

High prices over the past decade, the flow of petroleum from east to west, and the gush of money the other way has allowed Russia to re-assert its international clout and Gulf states to build up massive sovereign wealth funds. The shale boom has the potential to derail those trends.

In 2011, members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) earned $1,026bn in net oil export revenue, a 33 percent increase over 2010, the US Energy Information Administration reported in May. If the price of oil drops because of new supplies, or if natural gas starts to eat into demand for traditional crude, oil-rich nations could potentially find themselves significantly less well-off.

"There will be significant impacts for security and global politics," Faeth said of the shale boom.
The time frame is what makes this interesting.
Thanks largely to fracking, the US is set to overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world's biggest oil producer by 2017, according to a November report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
There are a lot of unknowns with fracking, and there is quite a bit of risk in the technology. I also do not want to minimize nor trivialize the impacts of fracking on the environment either, specifically the relative unknowns as it relates to water supply. Still, if you were the guy suggesting the US could potentially be energy independent of Middle East oil by 2017, you were likely the guy in the room everyone else thought was crazy in 2007. This is a reminder why a decade can be a very long term when discussing major economic and geopolitical shifts.

I think potential energy independence from Middle East exports by 2017 is a pretty big deal, indeed I believe such an achievement would force a significant reevaluation of current strategic posture, particularly in regards to the Middle East. I highly recommend folks read the entire article, particularly down further in the article where a discussion of how this might impact global oil prices and what exports of natural gas from super-tankers originating from the US that can carry LNG might mean.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

100 Most Influencial People in US Defense

By now I am sure most of you have checked out the inaugural 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense list that was compiled by more than two dozen reporters and editors representing the staffs of Gannett Government Media’s publications Defense News, Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times, Armed Forces Journal, and Federal Times. 
I like this idea for several reasons, but the primary reason is because I look forward to seeing how this list changes over time. It is a list, so it isn't exactly something seriously impactful and is obviously a type of popularity contest, but I do believe it can be useful in the future when we look back and see who was at the table when the sausage was made in National Defense.
In my opinion, Gannett got this list 99% right, and I say that because I do not believe Bradley Manning belongs on the list. For everyone on the list but Bradley Manning, Gannett used one definition of Influence, but had to change that definition to include Manning. Other than that one issue, I think Gannett has done a really good job and by ranking folks they have enabled, if so desired, a debate on who should not have been left off the list, who else should not be on the list, and whether the order of the list is accurate.
A few thoughts.

It is noteworthy to Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon is not on the list. I don't know Bob Simmons, but I know of Bob Simmons and I do agree he belongs on the list. I also agree Buck McKeon doesn't belong on the list, as his influence is marginal. I can't explain why, except that I agree with the perception by Gannett that Buck McKeon is more of a figurehead than a leader as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
I would have put Bob Work at 15, Mike Rogers at 25, and Susan Rice at 35. The reason is simple. First, Bob Work has changed the strategy discussion in Washington towards seapower. Second, Mike Rogers may have a prominent position in the House, but he has not exercised his authority to any degree by which we can say there is clear policy influence. Third, Susan Rice has no influence beyond her own community, never has had such influence, and has not demonstrated the charisma she ever will have such influence.
I think the top 10 are spot on accurate.
If we removed Bradley Manning, who would you replace on the list? I note in the "Who didn't make the list" page they list both Doctrine Man and Sailor Bob. I love Doctrine Man, he is great and if you use Facebook and don't follow Doctrine Man, I think you are missing out on something incredibly smart, but in my opinion Sailor Bob was the person who was left off for Bradley Manning.
So to protest the 1% failure rate of Gannett - who did a great job here btw - I have decided to make a Navy Top 50. With help from several Navy officers around the world and the good folks at CIMSEC, I hope to have the list ready for the New Year.
If you have suggestions or wish to comment on the list, the comments are open. Keep it professional, I don't want to spend my day being a conduct cop on the blog.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Insurance Company Funded Private Navy Preparing for Pirate Wars

Private Navy's to fight pirates are coming, and we are starting to see more details.
A private navy costing US$70 million (Dh257m) is being set up to escort merchant ships through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.

It will comprise a fleet of 18 ships, based in Djibouti, and will offer to convoy merchant vessels along the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC).

This is the world's most dangerous shipping lane, between the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. The fleet will be operated by the Convoy Escort Programme (CEP), a British company launched by the international shipping insurers Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) and the Lloyds of London underwriters Ascot.

Full funding will be in place by the end of next month, and the CEP hopes the fleet will be operational by December.

"The shipping industry needs to stand up and be counted," said Angus Campbell, the CEP's chief executive and a former director of Overseas Shipholding Group, the world's second-biggest listed oil tanker company. "The time is now, not in four or five years' time."

Piracy in the region is costing the global economy an estimated US$7 billion a year. For the ship owners alone, every vessel sailing through the waters off Somalia is charged additional insurance premiums of between $50,000 and $80,000.

Ships opting to carry their own armed guards can be charged an additional $18,000 and $60,000 per voyage by security companies.

Although the European Union is spending more than €8m (Dh37.94m) a year to maintain a naval force in the waters - EU NavFor - its warships still cannot provide close support to all merchant vessels.

The CEP, however, offers substantial savings to owners as well as protection from pirate attack. The CEP will buy insurance and use that to cover the ships in its convoys, so owners will no longer need to pay premiums, or hire security.

Instead, they will just pay a flat $30,000 to $40,000 per ship in the convoy.
Read the rest here.

Note the ships of this private Navy will be conducting their mission Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC). The thing is, very few pirate attacks and maybe as few as 2 total hijackings have taken place in the corridor over the past few years, so in some ways this is smoke and mirrors from the insurance industry, and a way for them to sustain the money grab but protect product at the same time.

This sets an interesting precedent in the 21st century. It is past time to start thinking about what the role of private Navy's will be during the next war at sea - because as this demonstrates, the need for private Navy's will always exist and during war time it's a safe bet they absolutely will exist.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Theories and Realities of War

I think this article by Dan Cox over at the Small Wars Journal is an article everyone needs to go read. Read it from beginning to end.

Did you read it yet? Go read the damn article before reading this post any further.

I am going to ask you a serious question, which means if you post an answer in the comments within 5 minutes of being asked the question, your answer probably wasn't considered long enough...

How many different ways are we fooling ourselves? Is counterinsurgency doctrine as fragile as an applied military doctrine as that article suggests? How is it possible counterinsurgency is considered a practical military approach for theater campaign warfighting if as an applied military doctrine in a real war, it can be undone so easily?

If a few burned Korans and the actions of a single mentally unstable individual can set back a theater level military campaign by "months if not years" as suggested by Dan Cox, how sound is the judgment of the civilian and military leaders who pushed this course of action? How sound is the judgement of political leadership who went along with it?

If our nations theater level military strategy in Afghanistan truly is as fragile as Dan Cox suggests, there are many civilian and uniformed military leaders who need to be fired - and yes, it absolutely begins with the President who specifically picked this course of action and advanced it in that military campaign as his first act as Commander in Chief.

Think about the article before responding, because if you discover yourself believing the Koran burning and the rampage of a single individual truly does have the strategic impacts some (like Dan Cox) are suggesting, one only needs to wonder how many lies will be told to salvage the careers of existing civilian and uniformed military leaders who have committed one of the greatest military blunders in post WWII history.

I don't want to believe these events actually matter as much as Dan Cox suggests, because I don't want to believe the nation has this many Generals who supported a theater level war plan in Afghanistan that was truly this fragile. Perhaps I'm too optimistic, or perhaps there is too much overreaction to recent events in Afghanistan.

However, if Afghanistan does unravel by these very limited events, President Obama needs to fire the dozen top military leaders who pushed him for this military approach, and expect he himself could be fired come the next election for the same mistake. If these events are truly as damning as is suggested (and I truly am skeptical these incidents have staying power as strategic setbacks), COIN is a complete failure as an applied military doctrine for any war, ever.

The President is, based on the hype of these incidents, either the fool who picked COIN as the military approach for Afghanistan, or the fool who didn't know better. Regardless, the apparent fragility of COIN in application makes anyone who implements COIN at the theater level look like a fool, and it is a guarantee the American people will be lied to before the magnitude of the COIN mistake is ever admitted, or revealed, publicly.

Bottom line - President Obama isn't pulling out of Afghanistan, at least not this year. And these events aren't that big of a deal, because even if they are - they will get fixed come hell or high water in an election year. As sad as it may or may not be, in an election year soldiers become pawns in the political election. If you believe otherwise, you need to go read up on what was happening in Iraq back in 2004 - it was all flowers and rainbows until the day after the election.

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