1. Jane Mayer's lengthy article in the New Yorker on the National Security Agency should be required reading within defense policy circles because it raises so many good questions about domestic spying, classification, and how we prosecute leakers. I like Mayer's reporting a lot, as I've made clear in the past, so I'll only pause to take issue with one thing in her article: I have a tough time having any degree of sympathy for those who leak classified information -- even when that information exposes a problem in or abuses of the system. And I think Mayer intends for us to pity her protagonist, who is being prosecuted for feeding information to a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. (The protagonist claims none of the information he leaked was classified, though it was cut-and-pasted from SECRET documents.) I found myself nodding along with the guy who told Mayer, "To his credit, he tried to raise these issues, and, to an extent, they were dealt with. But who died and left him in charge?" Exactly right: the system breaks down when every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane gets to decide what gets released to the media and what does not. Unsurprisingly, journalists have a more sympathetic view toward those people who feed them scoops than do those whose jobs and lives are made harder by their colleagues leaking information.
2. Egypt: Why Are the Churches Burning? by Yasmine El-Rashidi in the New York Review of Books.
3. Kim Dozier on the Osama bin Laden raid. Kim is much admired within the special operations community, and her excellent sources and contacts inform this great article, which incorporates inside information (and leaks) without compromising OPSEC ...
4. ... but John Kenney gets the real scoop on the raid, interviewing several SEALs and printing their testimonies.
5. Confessions of a Vulcan: Dov Zakheim explains how the Bush Administration screwed up Afghanistan.
6. Finally, the Modern Library has re-issued Shelby Foote's Civil War Trilogy with a series of introductory essays. The first essay, by Jon Meacham, correctly places Foote within a very specific social and literary context in central Mississippi in the early 20th Century and notes the influence of the salon of William Alexander Percy. My scarily erudite paternal grandfather, actually, grew up in the exact same time and place, and it was a crazy one: on the one hand, it was in some ways a Third World country, yet on the other hand, it managed to produce a ridiculously disproportionate number of the Twentieth Century's men of letters. (And women, of course, because you can't forget Eudora!) Having only read the section on the Gettysburg Campaign previously, I started the first volume of the series last night and had trouble putting it down.
This week's revelations about Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute have ignited a lively debate over the influence Mortenson did or did not have over U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and operations. I made the case, in the Daily Beast, that the influence Mortenson had on operations in Afghanistan should not be overstated and that what influence he did have remains largely positive.
But two keen observers of the U.S. military, Yochi Dreazen and Greg Jaffe, former colleagues at the Wall Street Journal and now at the National Journal and Washington Post respectively, imply that L'Affair Mortenson is a huge black eye for the U.S. military and that Mortenson's writings did, in fact, have a big impact on U.S. strategy and operations.
Gulliver at Ink Spots has a typically great post on Greg's curious choice of choosing a paean to Mortenson written by two officers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division -- widely regarded since this damning Sean Naylor report as about the least Three-Cups-of-Tea-ing-est unit in Afghanistan -- to illustrate how the U.S. Army had bought into a version of counterinsurgency all about being nice to people so you don't have to shoot them. (Some soldiers in this unit apparently did not get the memo.)
But Carl Prine, long a skeptic of both Mortenson as well as the happy-happy feel-good school of counterinsurgency, wrote the post that had me thinking the most about this. Carl gets his usual 0/10 score for collegiality ("the bloviating New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and his vaguely retarded cubicle mate Nicholas D. Kristof," etc.) but a solid 10/10 for pointing toward a little known RAND publication from the Vietnam Era that arguably explains what the U.S. military is doing in Afghanistan better than anything in Mortenson's fables.
The Leites & Wolf study Carl mentions very much anticipated the later work of Stathis Kalyvas and falls into what I would call the "control" school of counterinsurgency. Carl, a careful student of counterinsurgency theory and a veteran himself, understands what Iraq and Afghanistan has taught a lot of us and especially many officers in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps: gratitude theory is bulls***.
The idea that you can build schools, pave roads, provide electricity and thereby earn the loyalty of the population does not stand up to reality. Smarter scholars than me (.pdf) have demonstrated that most aid and development projects had no effect whatsoever on levels of violence in Iraq in 2007, and other scholars have claimed aid and development money in Afghanistan has actually worsened the conflict.
Where U.S. and allied officers, diplomats, and development specialists persist in thinking they can earn collaboration through the provision of services, counterinsurgency operations are fated for heartbreak. Winning "hearts and minds" does not mean what it is widely assumed to mean but rather what it actually says in FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency:
“Hearts” means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. “Minds” means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts.
Hearts and minds is about power and control. And if you actually study the way the U.S. military went about its counterinsurgency operations in Iraq in 2007 and continues to go about them in Afghanistan, it's less about doing good works and more about both killing the enemy and establishing control measures over the population. This kind of counterinsurgency is not as fun to talk about with non-governmental organizations or aid workers (Mike Miklaucic being an exception), but it works better than the softer, kinder alternatives.
For those who have been regularly reading this blog and noting the way my own thoughts have evolved since 2007, none of this will be new. For those who bought into counterinsurgency thinking it was any less brutal than conventional war, though, this might come as a rude awakening.
I have to add one more thing, which is really important: just because the counterinsurgent does not derive much of a benefit from providing social services does not mean the insurgent does not either. I spent about two years studying the way in which Hizballah used non-kinetic means (such as information operations, and the provision of essential services to a constituency) to affect battlefield outcomes in the 1990s and in 2006, and Eli Berman has written a great book that makes a strong case that insurgent organizations that provide social services actually fight better at the tactical level. As with counterinsurgency theory, it all comes back to economics: by providing social services to a constituency, you raise the defection constraints on fighters: if fighters are dependent on an organization to provide for their families, they are less likely to cut and run when they are in a support-by-fire position.
One more important thing to note: I am not trying to argue that U.S. or allied military units should never provide services to a population or rely on non-kinetic means. Not at all. Counterinsurgency is very much a kind of anti-war: the enemy is the conflict itself, because what a counterinsurgent is trying to do is provide space for a political process to play itself out. That means addressing drivers of conflict. Some of these "drivers of conflict" may have to be shot and killed. Some, though, you might not be able to address through 5.56mm ball and 7.62mm 4x1. But the counterinsurgent should not feel a need to address every grievance out there.
Example: the population doesn't have a school. Now ask yourself: is the absence of a school driving the conflict? If no, then who cares? If yes ... build a damn school. (And please, don't wait for CAI to do it for you!)
Longtime contributor to the blog Erin "Charlie" Simpson is back with a guest post for the ages...
Instead of going line by line through MAJ Thiel’s SWJ paper (which I characterized on the Twitters as “horrible, terrible stats work”), I’d like to offer some general guidelines for policy-relevant, conflict research. As Ex will tell you, I am not an Iraq expert. But I know a little bit about COIN and another bit about quantitative research.
1) Big Claims require Big Methods. I’m not one to argue that sophisticated statistics can answer all of our research and policy questions. But if you want to wade in on one of the biggest (conflict) policy debates of the last 10 years, you best bring a lot of stats firepower. Correlations among yearly, national data won’t cut it. There are people who do this for a living: Ivy League professors, Army ORSAs, DIA analysts, DARPA geeks, think-tank types. And they do it with care and sophistication. Learn from them, understand the data and model choices they make, and realize the complexity and contingency of the problem at hand. We cannot adjudicate these complicated causal claims with descriptive statistics.
2) Avoid Sigacts. Sigacts suck. I’m sorry. But they do. They are a function of our presence. More troops (outside of more bases) leads to more sigacts? <sarcasm>You don’t say!</sarcasm> Sigacts are as much a measure of our presence as they are of violence.* (There are also a ton of non-violent sigacts reported. So make sure you knock out those key leader engagements and non-battle injuries before you run your analysis.)
*And as we know, COIN isn’t just about violence (if you’re a Kalyvas person, you know violence has a non-monotonic relationship with control such that low-violence doesn’t always mean good things). So, sigacts are a bad measure of violence and violence is an unreliable measure of stability or “progress” or whatever. But that’s a slightly different debate.
What I'm trying to say here is: Moneyball that shit and find the COIN version of on-base percentage or WHIP.
3) Correlation is not causation. We all know this. But did you also know that low correlation does not preclude findings of causation? Two variables may appear to have a low correlation – until you control for various background conditions. Sometimes this can be tested with jury-rigged chi-square analysis (stratifying one of the variables of interest into various segments -- for example, divvying up Iraqi provinces by #’s of battalions present in 2006 and seeing if there are statistically different levels of violence in 2007). But the only real way to determine which variable among many has a causal effect is with something like regression analysis – correlation won’t cut it.
4) Model specification matters. Ok, so now you want to run some regressions? Which kind? For most conflict data, you won’t want ordinary least squares (OLS). In the parlance of our time, you’ll need to consider the underlying “data generating process.” How do the data come to be observed, and which models’ statistical assumptions best match that process? In general conflict researchers should evaluate various time series, time series-cross sectional, and count models (ie, Poisson) for their work.
5) Level of analysis matters more. How do you plan to aggregate your data? In many instances conflict researchers will want to look at how violence changes across time and space. Global investigations of violence (think Correlates of War or Fearon-Laitin style research) will look at the country-year. That is, annual level national data. This data is usually pre-collected and easy to work with. But if you’re focusing on Iraq or Afghanistan, you need subnational data. And while these wars are long, 5-10 years doesn’t generate enough data points for a useful time series. The more dynamic the conflict, the more detailed you want the data. So you need to dig down to province-month or district-week. (In Afghanistan, sigacts are relatively stable at the district-week level. If you’ve got some data or computing horsepower, you can even carve up the whole country into 10kmX10km grid and go from there.) Unfortunately, that means your other variables need to be measured at the same level, which can be tricky. But them’s the rules.
6) Regression has limitations, too. If you’re doing some sort of “policy evaluation” chances are we didn’t randomly assign the policy “treatment.” What does that mean? That means we probably spent development money in the most violent areas. Or established joint-security stations in safe areas first. Or otherwise implemented a policy based on the very thing you’re trying to study. From a causal inference perspective, that’s a humdinger. One set of solutions is to “match” or pair districts based on their “propensity for treatment,” which can deal with some of the non-random assignment problems. (See Gary King’s paper on health policy evaluation in Mexico for a good example.) There is a lot of good work that needs to be done in the realm of conflict research. Let’s figure out how to do it well.
(Those interested on the academic side may want to get involved in the Minerva-grant funded Empirical Studies of Conflict project run by Jake Shapiro, Eli Berman, Joe Felter and Radha Iyengar. Otherwise, talk to me about cool kids at Caerus Associates.)
From Abu Muqawama: check out Mike Few in SWJ while you're at it. Also, there is a good conversation on Twitter between @drewconway, @charlie_simpson, @abumuqawama, @chrisalbon, @jay_ulfelder and others on this post.
1. Francs-tireurs et Centurions. Les ambiguïtés de l'héritage contre-insurrectionnel français by Etienne de Durand. I will read anything Etienne publishes, but this survey of the French counterinsurgency legacy has especially piqued my interest -- for obvious reasons.
2. Jon Krakauer's exposé of Greg Mortenson. I published my own thoughts about how Greg Mortenson's work has and has not affected U.S. strategy and operations in Afghanistan in the Daily Beast, but I am enjoying Krakauer's article thus far. It's pretty devastating, though when I finish it I will read Mortenson's response.
WASHINGTON — An inquiry by the Defense Department inspector general into a magazine profile that resulted in the abrupt, forced retirement of Gen.has cleared the general, his military aides and civilian advisers of all wrongdoing.
Pentagon investigators said they were unable to confirm the events as reported in the June 2010 article in Rolling Stone, and the inquiry’s final review challenged the accuracy of the profile of General McChrystal, who was the top commander in Afghanistan. ...
“Not all of the events at issue occurred as reported in the article,” the inspector general’s review stated. “In some instances, we found no witness who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported. In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article.” ...
The Pentagon inspector general’s team had invited Mr. Hastings to meet with investigators to provide his views. He declined, and pointed to previous statements and the article, according to the inquiry. Mr. Bates provided some clarifying information in an e-mail, the investigative report stated.
In looking at specific incidents reported in the article, Pentagon investigators found contradictory or inconclusive information on the statement disparaging the vice president.
Let's take bets on the page number of the Times in which this article will run? A16? And while we're taking bets, what are the odds, between this investigation and the now discredited article on Gen. Caldwell, that Rolling Stone will conduct its own internal investigation into these stories?
The crime was horrific, and the mob outside the jail was angry. They had gathered before and demanded the death of the man inside, but a conservative cleric, who ran a religious school for boys, had appeared and told them all to go home and repent before God. Because the men in the mob were all religious and obeyed this particular cleric, they went home as he had ordered. When the crowd returned a few days later, though, while that cleric was away preaching elsewhere, they fought their way past the guards and found the man for whom they were looking. The man was from a minority group in the area, and though he was actually innocent of the crime of which he had been accused, that did not stop the violent mob from beating him horribly, tying a rope around his neck and throwing him off a bridge while hundreds cheered.
The year was 1906, and the place was my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The name of the man killed was Ed Johnsen, a black man who had been accused of the brutal rape of a white woman, Nevada Taylor. (The conservative cleric? Well, that madrasa he founded has produced several U.S. senators, governors, businessmen and one dyspeptic defense policy blogger.) The details of the lynching of Ed Johnsen are fascinating because they resulted in local officials being held in contempt of the Supreme Court of the United States, which had been reviewing the case, and raised all kinds of issues relating to federal supremacy in addition to those of race and prejudice in the American South.
The reason I mention the story, though, is because it popped into my head when I read my friends Dion and Maria’s account of what had happened in Mazar-e Sharif a few days ago when several innocent United Nations workers were brutally murdered because some fundamentalist crank in Florida thought it would be a hot idea to videotape himself burning a Quran. It was not that long ago, we should remind ourselves going into a discussion of what happened in northern Afghanistan and why, when the ugly kinds of mob scenes we saw in Mazar might have also happened in the United States. (The last lynching of an innocent black man of which I am aware took place in the American South in 1981.)
In my many travels through the Islamic world, there is both widespread admiration for the freedom of political speech we enjoy here in the United States as well as incomprehension regarding the freedom of religious speech we enjoy. It’s all well and good to be able to denounce the president, but why on Earth do we Americans allow people to speak ill of Jesus Christ, or the Virgin Mary, or Muhammad? If “freedom of speech” means watching some artist immerse a crucifix in urine or defecate on the Bible, no thanks. Because in the Islamic world (as well as in the region of the United States where I grew up), God isn’t some abstract idea, and Jesus and Muhammad were real prophets of God who should be venerated. A common refrain I hear, whether in Afghanistan or in the Arabic-speaking world, is that we Americans should have reasonable limits on what we can say and do regarding religious speech. And there is genuine incomprehension as to why we Americans would let a wing-nut like Terry Jones walk free? How could we allow him to do the things he does? He is obviously evil and is stirring up trouble, so why does the U.S. government not put him in jail? (This is often asked in the nations of Europe, too, which often have restrictions on “hate speech.”)
As a practicing, believing Christian, I honestly understand the frustration. I too am disgusted by cheap artistic stunts that denigrate the religious traditions of others and also rabble-rousing “pastors” who burn the Quran and think they are doing the Lord’s will. But as an American Christian, I am comfortable talking about how the United States was founded and why we all agree, in our social contract with one another, to not establish any laws that constrict one’s freedom to worship. We are a nation founded by the political and religious dissidents of Mother Europe, and we reject the ways the tired old nations of that continent forced us to worship in a certain way, or denied our right to free political speech and assembly.
We keep organized religion out of government, to protect the integrity of the government, and we keep the government out of organized worship, to protect a man’s freedom to worship God – or not worship God – as he pleases.
This is who we are as America. This is our DNA. Yesterday, I argued that we had some tough questions to ask about how much blood and treasure we should spend to promote the rights of women in Afghanistan. That’s an honest question we have to ask ourselves because our values balance against and compete with our security interests and other priorities. But with respect to Terry Jones, we have to defend his right to burn the Quran to the last one of us, no matter how foolish he is and no matter how much havoc he creates.
If opportunist clerics want to inflame a crowd in Afghanistan because one idiot out of 300+ million Americans does something grotesque and stupid, fine. In the YouTube era, there is nothing the U.S. government can do to prevent such gross provocations aside from denounce them ex post facto, and we are all, as global citizens, adjusting to this new reality where a speech act in the state of Florida can lead to a massacre in Balkh Province. But when the first U.S. soldier in Afghanistan dies because of the actions of Terry Jones, we can take comfort in that fact that he or she will not have died in vain. He or she will have died defending the very document he or she swore to protect in the first place.
Kathleen Parker had an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday lamenting the fact that women's rights are not a priority for the United States and its allies in Afghanistan:
Women, and by extension children, suffer what too many have come to accept as “collateral damage” in theaters of war. We hate it, of course, but what can one do? It isn’t in our strategic interest to save the women and children of the world. Or, as an anonymous senior White House official recently told The Post:
“Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, no stranger to the importance of advancing women’s rights, promptly repudiated the comment. Even so, the anonymous spokesman’s opinion, though inartfully expressed, is hardly isolated.
I generally like Kathleen Parker's commentary, but this is the worst kind of op-ed because it completely misses the heart of the debate and leads the reader to believe the key question is something that it is not. There is not, despite what you might think, some group of anti-feminist activists out there in the Obama Administration who do not think the empowerment of women is a good thing. No one is running around arguing that promoting the rights of women is something the United States should not be doing. The real debate is over how much of a priority the promotion of women's issues should be when compared with competing priorities.
Here's a hypothetical: What if Mullah Omar, speaking for all the insurgents of Afghanistan, presented a peace deal tomorrow in which he offered to lay down all the arms of Afghanistan's insurgent groups and renounce al-Qaeda on one condition: that girls in southern Afghanistan would not be allowed to attend school. What should the president do? Should he accept the offer, allowing the war in Afghanistan to end? Or should he say, no, we will stay in Afghanistan and continue to lose American and allied lives and spend billions of dollars each year because we cannot accept an Afghanistan in which women are not allowed to attend school?
My intent here is to demonstrate that it is not a matter of believing the rights of women matter or not. The question is, How much are the rights of women worth to you? Are you willing to accept added cost in terms of blood and treasure?
Parker, apparently, is:
Women are not collateral damage in the fight for security. They are not pet rocks in a rucksack, nor are they sidebars to the main story. They are the story — and should be the core of our foreign policy strategy in Afghanistan as elsewhere.
Okay, that's just crazy talk. I'm just going to assume Parker could not think of a better way to end her op-ed and so hastily wrote a powerful conclusion making a really big claim that I do not think she is prepared to back up. Does Parker really think the empowerment of women should be the core of our strategy in Afghanistan and elsewhere? Should the rights of women trump the security interests that led us to war in the first place? Is she willing to go to war, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, over gender equality?
I sure hope not. But as Americans, it's true that we do care about the empowerment of women, and we do believe that a society in which women enjoy something approaching equal opportunities is a more stable and successful society. The question is, how much blood and treasure are we willing to spend to realize such a society -- not in the United States, mind, but in a Central Asian state in which we have struggled to understand the norms and culture despite almost 10 years of occupation?* I would have been more interested to read an op-ed by Kathleen Parker in which she answered that question.
*Oh, and has anyone stopped to ask Afghan women what it is that they want? Should it matter?
I have a very busy few days of work ahead of me in which blogging will be light, but in addition to my analysis of the president's speech last night, do read this Rolling Stone article on the murders of civilians in Afghanistan by U.S. troops. Josh Foust has criticized the article as "war porn," and maybe what he writes about how Rolling Stone sensationalizes the horrors of war has some merit.* (Lord knows, I have been critical of the articles Rolling Stone has run on Afghanistan in the past.) But the readership of this blog is hardly representative of the U.S. public as a whole and has a lot of combat journalists and military readers, both retired and active-duty, who have a practiced ear for what rings true and what seems incomplete in accounts of combat, so I trust your ability to separate the wheat from the chaff here.
In my opinion, this article should be required reading for officers and non-commissioned officers because of the questions it raises with respect to discipline, command climate, and the professionalism of our armed forces. I was in real, physical discomfort reading this article. I mean, it was really, really difficult to read. And at the end of rugby practice last night, another Afghanistan veteran came up to me unprompted and asked me if I had read the article -- because he too had been sickened reading it. I hope as many soldiers and officers as possible read this article and discuss it with their peers and subordinates, because there are no easy explanations for what went wrong in this Stryker platoon but lots of tough questions units deploying to or currently serving in Afghanistan should be asking themselves based on what happened.
*Unlike Josh, I actually think writer Mark Boal did a pretty solid job here. Nothing in his narrative jumped out at me as egregiously unfair -- unlike this. So I have a tough time lumping this story in with earlier Rolling Stone hit pieces, and even if the magazine has an anti-war agenda in the stories it selects and promotes, I credit Boal for writing a compelling account that may titilate Americans who have no experience in Afghanistan but provides an important conversation piece for those of us who have.
UPDATE: Let me just add two things. First, if you are a general reader with no experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, rest assured that the platoon featured in this article is not, in fact, representative of U.S. combat units. Second, I googled the author of the article and discovered he wrote The Hurt Locker. That movie is often criticized by veterans of Iraq as being ridiculously unrealistic at times, but I certainly do not think it was unsympathetic to the stress under which soldiers often find themselves in combat. Again, I think this article should provoke some good and necessary conversations among soldiers and officers serving in or about to serve in Afghanistan.
We all learned different lessons from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. One lesson I learned was that you should always robustly plan for stabilization and reconstruction operations to follow the conclusion of major combat operations. But with that lesson in mind and being fully aware of the costs associated with properly resourced, comprehensive stablization operations, another lesson I learned is that you should be very, very cautious about intervening in the first place.*
To avert the worst, we must work with the nascent opposition government, the National Transitional Council, to develop a plan for a post-Qaddafi state. It is also vitally important that Western special forces, Arab soldiers or both begin arming and training the rebel fighters. They must be able to not only help toss out Colonel Qaddafi but also maintain law and order in the new Libya.
Like such other post-conflict states as Kosovo and East Timor, post-Qaddafi Libya will most likely need an international peacekeeping force. This should be organized under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO and the Arab League — a step that will require amending the Security Council resolution, which forbids a “foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”
Max and I have agreed more than we have disagreed about what to do in Afghanistan and Iraq after the United States and its allies intervened in both places.** But there is no way the U.S. Congress will authorize or fund the kind of comprehensive stabilization operations about which Max is writing here. (To say nothing of the United Nations, the Arab League, or many other NATO member states.) He and others who have advocated on behalf of military intervention in Libya should have known this prior to the intervention.
*Although I have a lot of tactical, operational, and theoretical lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that might interest readers of this blog, at the end of the day, my personal lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan boil down to the following: "Well, this has been hard, bloody, painful and expensive. Let us think very hard before ever doing it again."
**I did not support going to war in the latter on strategic grounds, but since I was a lowly 1st lieutenant at the time, I kept my mouth shut. Which is a hard thing for me to do.