Monday, March 31, 2008

The Militarized Society Exposed

“What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?”
The Riddle of the Sphinx

A necessary aspect of armies – or even of a military style police force – is that they carry weapons. Even in Great Britain, except for the local “Bobbie” on the beat, it seems as if more and more special police armed units are being created to fight criminal enterprises. Meeting the need for compact, powerful pistols and other small arms is a vast industry, one that, in the United States, started in the three decades prior to the U.S. Civil War.

So it was no great surprise, seven years after the U.S. defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan and five years after Saddam Hussein’s army dissolved in Iraq, to find in the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 110-181) some congressional action to procure small arms to help rebuild the armies of these countries. The relevant Section is 892 of P.L. 110-181 titled “Competition for Procurement of Small Arms Supplied to Iraq and Afghanistan.” This section specifies that the procurement of small arms of less than .50 caliber cannot be sole source. Specifically, it enjoins the Secretary of Defense to ensure that the competition is “full and open,” that no U.S. manufacturer is excluded, and that no “product” manufactured in the United States is excluded even if the parent company is incorporated or has its base of operations in another country.

What was surprising was Section 882 of the same public law. This section is titled “Authority to License Certain Military Designations and Likenesses of Weapons Systems to Toy and Hobby Manufacturers.”

That’s right: the Secretary of the Army, Navy, or Air Force, under a new subsection, is empowered to “license trademarks, service marks, certification marks, and collective marks owned or controlled by the Secretary relating to military designations and likenesses of military weapons systems to any qualifying company upon receipt of a request from the company.”

For the real small arms mentioned in Section 892, the Secretary of the Army (who oversees the procurement of all small arms for the entire U.S. military) is obliged only to ensure that the competitive process is observed – i.e., that no company is excluded arbitrarily. When it comes to toys and hobbies, however, the Service Secretaries are enjoined to make sure that each company “qualifies.” Specifically, each company must be a “United States company,” be a toy or hobby manufacturer, and meet other criteria set by the Secretary of Defense. Unfortunately, nowhere is there a clue as to what these other criteria might be, which leaves open the possibility that one toy or hobby company might end up being unduly favored – just like in the real world.

Had the section ended there, one could envision the Defense Department making some money for the treasury from the licensing process, which would have been a turn-about from its usual multi-billion dollar annual appropriation. Alas, it is not fated to be.

Subsection (3) provides that “the fee for a license under this subsection shall not exceed by more than a nominal amount the amount needed to recover all costs of the Department of Defense in processing the request for the license and supplying the license.” (Of course, if your annual appropriation is more than half a trillion dollars and with “nominal” a relative term, the possibilities are legion – one or more of which would involve Senator Everett Dirksen’s definition of “real money.)

Also strange is the last subsection of Section 882. It gives the Secretary of Defense a deadline of 180 days from the date the legislation becomes law to implement Section 882. It suggests that someone is going to leave government service and go into a new line of figures and toy weapons, perhaps based on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars,

Consider also the following: toys are for children; real weapons are for real soldiers and real armies and real wars; and hobbies are often taken up when work no longer absorbs most of a person’s time.

Sections 882 and 892 of P. L. 110-181 address the three stages of life in terms of a military context of weaponry – infant, adult, old age. These three stages also constitute the answer to the riddle of the Sphinx. And when Oedipus provided the correct answer, the sphinx destroyed itself – an apt metaphor for the fate that awaits all militarized societies, no matter how powerful.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pulling Triggers in Iraq

“If there were no Americans, there would be no fighting.”
Abu Mustafa al-Thahabi, Senior Mahdi Army leader

Is Basra this week an example of the tenor (or the terror?) of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s response to the “rule” of electoral politics as this has unfolded in most countries in the Middle East? That is, instead of the western “one person-one vote” formulation that so often had become “one person-one-vote-one time,” has al-Maliki decided to try “one person-one bullet-one time” – or a close equivalent ?

Perhaps the chief question is why go after the Mahdi Army in Basra now? And right behind that is another: why did al-Maliki travel to Basra in public view when he has always been careful not to be prominent when events in which he was a prime mover were uncertain and his hand might be detected – much like the “Wizard of Oz” behind the curtain.

Remember that next month U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker and the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, will be appearing before committees in both Houses of Congress to report on events in Iraq. They undoubtedly will informally transmit President Bush’s decision on whether to take a “summer pause” in further troop withdrawals after the last “surge” brigade combat team leaves Iraq.

By moving against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in Basra, the prime minister may believe he is in a win-win configuration. If the police forces and the Iraqi “Army” divisions – largely non-Mahdi Army Shi’a militiamen who were “integrated” into the reconstituted national army created by the occupation forces – succeed in driving out al-Sadr’s forces, al-Maliki’s Dawa party and its allies will gain control of Iraq’s second largest city and solidify its hold on the chief export route for oil – and make it more difficult for al-Sadr’s allies in parliament to monitor the profits from oil sales that are suppose to rebuild Iraq.

A further ramification, should al-Sadr’s organization in the south be severely compromised, is that Dawa and a smaller allied group, the Fadilha party, would face less opposition in controlling any “regional” government created from the nine southern provinces as allowed by the Iraqi constitution.

But should the core of al -Sadr’s military in Basra hold out, and they show no signs of collapsing after three days of fighting, the best that al-Maliki can hope for in the inevitable negotiations is a return to the status quo ante.

Less favorably, he might be forced to make concessions such as ceding control of larger sections of Basra to al-Sadr’s forces. But such set-backs, should they occur, could be recovered in Washington with Crocker-Petraeus pleading the case. To wit: the fighting in Basra and Baghdad, where U.S. occupation troops in armored vehicles rolled into three districts of Sadr City hunting for any and all Iraqis responsible for or with knowledge of the recent “steel rain” of mortars and artillery shells on the Green Zone, is proof that the occupation forces led by the U.S. cannot leave anytime soon. To go now or even in 2009 would imperil Iraq’s future.

Despite all the news reports and all the images of death and destruction from last week’s combat in Iraq, along comes President Bush assuring the U.S. public that great progress has, is, and will continue to be made in Iraq. The fighting, according to Bush, is a clear sign of the growing confidence of Iraq’s politicians and government officials that they will soon be able to undertake on their own the reconstitution, reconstruction, and revitalization of Iraq as a single country.

By the way, just ignore the 140,000 U.S. troops behind the curtain over there; they have nothing to do with what is happening in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Resurging Surge in Violence in Iraq?

Consider the following events that have happened, are happening, and may happen – and ask yourself if they spell added danger?

January 10, 2007: President Bush, appearing on national television, confirmed “leaks” of a “surge” in the number of BCTs and logistics units in or supporting the U.S.-led coalition.

February 2007: the first “surge” BCT completes deployment into the Baghdad area.

April 2007: Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who also controls the largest and arguably the deadliest sectarian militia in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, announces a unilateral cease fire and instructs his followers not to resist U.S. raids.

Summer 2007: Fatalities begin to fall and continue downward into the third month of 2008.

December 2007: A non-surge BCT and a Marine Corps combat battalion leave Iraq and are replaced not by U.S. units but by Iraqis.

January 2008: The first of the five “surge” BCTs redeploys from Iraq, with the remaining four scheduled to redeploy by the end of June 2008. At that point, total U.S. forces in or supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom will be about 140,000.

February 2008: The U.S. enters discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on a “non-treaty” agreement governing the conduct of U.S. forces in Iraq (a “Status of Forces Agreement”) effective January 1, 2009 when the UN mandate authorizing the presence of foreign troops in Iraq expires.

March 2008: In quick succession come the fifth anniversary of the coalition’s invasion of Iraq, the 4,000th U.S. fatality in Iraq, and a major two-prong effort by Iraqi security forces, directed by al-Maliki, to regain control of Basra and its oil exporting facilities and to reduce even further the violence and fatalities in Baghdad and Basra.

April 2008: Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus testify before Congress and are expected to recommend a six-week “pause” to assess the security conditions before taking additional reductions.

Autumn 2008: Iraqi elections for province-level officials are set for October. To win, al-Maliki must be able to point to a society secure from militia dominance and violence – which might explain his unusual appearance in embattled Basra. Beyond physical security, al-Maliki has to start providing essential government services to the majority of the population on an extended and reliable basis. And he must convey the impression that the entire society is benefitting equitably from Iraq’s oil wealth.

And then comes November and the U.S. general election. While the identity of the Democratic Party candidate is still undecided, there is little that will change about foreign policy in general and the conduct of the Iraq war in particular.

So the question of the day: Do the strikes by Iraqi security forces, concentrated as they are against al-Sadr’s Mahdi militia in Basra even though it is far from controlling the city given the plethora of militias, criminal syndicates, and thieves, and Baghdad’s Sadr City constitute a preemptive power play against a most potent rival in the October elections?

Al-Maliki may have grown uneasy over the “positive tone” of recent remarks by some U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington about al-Sadr’s efforts to burnish his political credentials. Although under pressure from restive elements in the Mahdi militia to abandon the unilateral ceasefire, Sadr renewed it, probably anticipating he could outwait the U.S. drawdown of forces at least through 2008.

Mahdi militiamen are defending themselves. Should Sadr fail to get the Iraqi security forces to stop the offensive against his followers, they may simply ignore his calls for restraint and plunge the two cities into chaos – triggering direct U.S. intervention and rekindling the sectarian fighting and targeting of coalition forces.

Monday, March 24, 2008

4,000 Dead -- and Still Counting the Costs

If the question was “will she live or die,” for at least 4,000 men and women volunteers in the U.S. military in the last five years and four days, the answer, sadly, was “die.”

The Basic Facts

The details, other than specific identity of the 4,000th fatality, are:

Time: 10:00 p.m.
Date: March 23, 2008.
Place: Baghdad
Context: Vehicle patrol
Event: Detonation of a homemade (improvised) explosive
device aimed at the passing U.S. patrol
Outcome: Four U.S. soldiers killed
Significance: Puts U.S. deaths to date in the Iraq war at 4,000
and the March toll at 27 with 8 days left in the

The Burden of the Veterans Administration

Through March 1, 2008, the Pentagon lists 29,320 U.S. soldiers as wounded. This is a wounded-in-action-to-fatality ratio of 13.6-to-1, a stunning survival rate when compared to statistics from wars fought as recently as half a century ago. Even counting only the wounded who required medical air evacuation from the combat zone, the equivalent ratio in Iraq is 4.3-to-1. Another 31,325 service members required medical air evacuation from the theatre for illness or non-hostile injuries. All such evacuees, when discharged from active duty, remain eligible for continued medical treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics for all “service-related” medical conditions that were not resolved when the service member left active duty.

Associated Statistics

On the same day that U.S. fatalities reached 4,000, another 60 Iraqis (at least) were killed in a series of rocket and mortar attacks, including 13 mortar rounds targeting the “Green Zone,” suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, and ambushes. Total Iraqi dead for March, with eight days left in the month, are at least 646.

British fatalities are 175 and all other coalition partners combined have suffered 133 fatalities. So far this year, 95 of the reported 96 coalition fatalities have been U.S. soldiers. (The non-U.S fatality is British.)

Coalition forces passed a milestone of their own when the four U.S. soldiers died March 23. Of the total fatalities in the Iraq theatre – 4,308 – 3,501 have been killed in combat.

Another Abu Ghraib in the offing?

As sobering as the death toll is, of more concern us a reported jump in the number of Iraqis being detained by U.S. forces as a result of improved information from Iraqis emboldened by the success of the “surge.” Unfortunately, it also appears that U.S. troops now in Iraq are no better trained in prisoner of war and Geneva Convention rules and protections. This neglectful oversight is reminiscent of conditions (extreme overcrowding) and practices (long detentions without review of the accusations) that contributed to the events of Abu Ghraib.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday March 21

No post today. Back Monday

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Doleful Fifth

Five years – half a decade – of combat in Iraq started in earnest on this date in 2003.

That, at any rate is how Washington sees the situation. But I seem to recall that western combat aircraft – mostly U.S., a number of British, and for a while some French – had been flying over the northern and southern thirds of Iraq almost from the end of hostilities of the first Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in February 1991.

During those 12 years the western air forces had zero fatalities. How many Iraqis, whether soldiers manning tactical radar and missile defense sites or Iraqi civilians in the wrong place during a fly-over – were killed by munitions launched by the allied aircraft will never be known. (Nor will the deaths caused by the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq ever be more than general estimates.)

Today the current President Bush spoke at the Pentagon on the “progress” and the current conditions in Iraq. It was in tone remarkably aggressive and defiant – a challenge as ill-advised as his “bring ‘em on” remark of July 2003. Needless to say, the audience was sympathetic – at least to judge from the occasional applause.

That this would not be an apology of any kind was apparent from the outset of the speech, In answer to his own rhetorical questions (attributed to the public), Bush affirmed his decision for war as something the U.S. had to do, as a war that could and had to be won, and that it was worth the cost.

As in the past, Bush’s assertions have no evidentiary backing or substance to them. Yes, the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his sons has been broken, but only to be replaced by the tyranny of sectarian and ethnic warfare whose end point, if any, is lost in the mists of future time.

Bush also declared that with Saddam gone, the world is better and the U.S. is safer. Again, the assertion assumes that whatever the U.S.-led coalition has done in and to Iraq and Iraqis has been less evil than what Saddam might have done. I suggest that this is another highly biased “western” viewpoint intended to soothe the public’s conscience. Psychologically, if one is doomed to suffer, most people would choose someone they know or with whom there is a connection over a complete stranger who might well be unassuagable

Conversely, the president has never spoken truer words than these: “The battle in Iraq has been longer and harder and more costly than we anticipated.” Since March 19, 2003, 3,990 U.S. military personnel fighting or supporting the fighting forces assigned to Operation Iraqi Freedom have lost their lives. Fatalities from coalition countries have reached 308. Since January 2005, Iraq security force losses are reported to be more than 8,000 while civilian dead from the same starting date are put at 40,000. (One UK organization estimates Iraqi civilian fatalities since the war began total 89,000). Iraqi deaths for March are 538 with nearly two weeks still to go in the month. The latest update from the Pentagon lists 29, 314 U.S. soldiers wounded.

In January 2003 the Pentagon said the war would cost $50-60 billion but that reconstruction of the country would be financed by oil sales by a liberated Iraq. The Congressional Research Service’s latest estimate of war costs is an order of magnitude greater – $526 billion – and that does not count the estimated $172 billion in the 2009 Defense appropriations request and supplemental appropriations bill.

The cost of long-term rehabilitation and medical costs for wounded U.S. veterans is nearly $600 billion. The added interest on the debt for putting the war on credit is another $600 billion, and the Pentagon says it will need nearly $300 billion to rebuild.

Only World War II has cost more in national treasure than the Iraq war.

Yet, according to Bush, “The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary, and it is just. And with your courage, the battle in Iraq will end in victory.”

The public doesn’t by it. In the latest surveys, 66% of respondents continue to oppose the war and 61% say additional troop withdrawals should begin within months of the inauguration of the new president.

Bush’s other claim is that the surge in 2007 worked: fatalities are down for all groups; Baghdad is calmer; al-Anbar province is quieter; al-Qaeda has had to retreat to Mosul, where coalition and Iraqi forces will bring them to heel. In fact, Bush insisted that the “Surge has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the war on terror.”

The purpose of the surge was to relieve pressure on Iraqi politicians so that they could institute needed reforms, propel reconciliation, and break the political logjam that has existed from the opening days of the parliament. None of that has happened, and now that the “surge” is in the process of ebbing, casualties among the Iraqis are rising again.

This is victory?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Billions Over Budget,Years Behind Schedule

In addition to Ground Hog Day (February 2nd), early February of each year includes Budget Day (B-Day). A moveable feast (within limits), B-day sees the official public release by the White House of its proposed spending plan and anticipated revenue stream for the next fiscal year (which starts October 1st of the same calendar year as Budget Day).

Now this is but the opening gambit, a blueprint for essentially one year’s worth of proposed cash expenditures plus whatever amount has to be added to the debt because revenues don’t cover spending (or, as has been the case throughout the current president’s entire term in office, “supplemental” appropriations bills in the hundreds of billions of dollars have been used to skirt budget caps legislated by Congress.

Something else has happen each year: the federal budget has been moving more and more toward a bifurcated document roughly equal in value. On one side is the Department of Defense budget plus other military-related activities (chiefly in the Departments of Energy and State). On the other are all other activities of the federal government that are not mandatory under previous legislation (principally Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security).

The Defense Department also prepares on an annual basis a “Selective Acquisition Report (S.A.R.), along with quarterly updates, to Congress on the status of expenditures and adherence to the timelines for manufacturing and fielding of a weapons platform (e.g., heavy bomber or Navy frigate). Since 1983, under the Nunn-McCurdy amendment to the 1982 Defense Authorization Act, any program whose cost estimate has increased by 25 percent from its original baseline is to be terminated.

How can the ordinary citizen learn if the law is being followed? One way is to attend budget hearings in late February and March. Another is to try to find a transcript on-line. Third, pick up some of the defense-trade weekly publications. These frequently have capsule updates of weapons status or even a half to a full page story.

For example, the March 17th print edition of Defense News had the following information:

The original estimated cost of 21 VH-71 helicopters for use by the president and the White House was $6.8 billion. The current estimate is $11.2 billion, up 61 percent caused by a dispute between the White House and the Air Force on handling the program.

Contracts for the Navy’s first two Zumwalt-class destroyers (DDG 1000) were let last month. The Navy estimates each of the first two ships will cost $3.3 Billion; outside experts say each will run closer to $5 billion. The original plan was to buy at least 30 of these destroyers as part of the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan to reach 313 ships.

But the money to build seven DDG 1000s – the current number the Navy has settled on – and build other ships to meet the 313 goal simply doesn’t exist. Last month Navy officials said they could do both if they get $15.6 billion on average each year for the next six years ($93.6 billion). But last week the Congressional Budget Office told Congress the Navy would require $21 billion on average for the next six years ($126 billion) and $25 billion on average over the 30 year planning horizon.

Another major acquisition, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is in trouble. In the last year, according to the Government Accountability Office, acquisition costs have increased $23 billion. Moreover, auditors have found that the original estimates of program costs were underbid to the tune of $38 billion. Add another $6.8 billion to develop an alternative engine to power the plane and suddenly the cost has gone up $67.8 billion. With anticipated time delays in development more than double what they were a year ago (12 to 27 months), the program almost certainly will exceed the current estimate of $337 billion for 2,458 airframes which itself is a 45 percent cost overrun of the baseline cost prediction of the program

The point of all this is that when we finally pull our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department will be coming with hat in hand to Congress for at least as much money as it gets today in order to “rebuild” the armed forces back to what they were before the war. But will not the end of hostilities also provide a window of opportunity to press for a “bottoms-up” hard look at the Pentagon’s structure and determine not to rebuild what we had in 2001 but redesign the military by redefining its missions and, as the Army has just done, to bring its “core competencies” into line with the needs

But if this idea is to even have a chance, the agitation has to start now. March 19th, the fifth anniversary of George Bush's war, is quite apt.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ashbrook et al on Fallon

Once again sensationalized domestic news has shielded the Bush administration from embarrassing questions and congressional probes about a singular event affecting foreign policy: the unexpected resignation of U.S Central Command Commander Admiral William “Fox” Fallon. That, of course, has not stopped the columnists and the opinion molders from weighing in either supporting or attacking the Admiral and, in the process, missing the fundamental principles involved.

Admiral Fallon, at least according to those who know and work with him, is by temperament quite able to defend himself against all criticism. Equally, I suspect he is quite capable of exuding the polished demeanor one would expect from an experienced diplomat, given his years as Commander Pacific Command and Commander Central Command. I never met or worked for Admiral Fallon, so I leave to those who do know him to address how he integrated these facets with the rest of his personality.

More important are the constitutional and other principles and military traditions that came into play over the past weeks leading to Fallon’s request for early retirement. A good starting point for unraveling the knot that ties all the strands together is the second hour of Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” for March 13th, “The Admiral, The White House, and the Pentagon.” It can be accessed on National Public Radio’s web site at

Ashbrook assembled five guests – a journalist, a former National Security Advisor, a retired ambassador, and two retired generals, Volney Warner, who commanded Readiness Command, the forerunner of today’s Central Command, and William Nash, who led the first U.S. division into Bosnia-Herzegovina under the UN mandate to quell the violence and chaos that had engulfed the country from the day it declared itself independent from the disintegrating Yugoslav Republic.

Let me be candid about my own position. I remain quite suspicious that Admiral Fallon was “encouraged” by someone quite senior in the administration (perhaps in the Vice-President’s office?) – and perhaps “warned” by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (also an admiral) or others on the Joint Staff that the President was displeased by some of his statements – to step down. I seem to recall that when Fallon was selected as Commander Pacific Command there was grumbling among the anti-Beijing crowd in Washington that he would on a day-to-day basis press diplomacy and cooperative endeavors with the Chinese much further than his predecessor, Admiral Timothy Fargo.

One point that I found most interesting as the two generals and Ashbrook discussed what had happened was the different “strategic horizons” of Naval and Army officers. This put me in mind immediately of the distinction in Article I of the Constitution which assigns to Congress the power and the duty to “raise an army and to maintain a navy.”

Growing up I can remember still that teachers, commentators, and even historians attributed the distinction in the “action” by Congress to the experience of the colonists when the British determined to station a “standing army” in the more “rebellious” communities in New England and New York and quarter the troops in the civilian communities. While this did happen, it struck me that this was an example of the type of “lowered” horizon that Army officers and civilians who do not travel widely would more likely have than a naval officer.

The alternative or complimentary explanation for the War of Rebellion focuses on the fact that a number of the prominent supporters of the War were either merchants or ship owners whose economic fortunes depended on their ability to trade with the rest of the world – a “right” that they alleged that Parliament and the king were circumscribing. So having removed these impediments by government, they were interested in having the new federal government aid their economic endeavors by requiring a “standing Navy” (augmented by privateers with letters of marquis) to counter pirates and maintain access to sea lanes.

This focus on economics is also a “limited horizon,” but less so than the first.

And that brings me to the point. While it is too much to assert that the Framers were engaging in “Grand Strategy” when they directed that Congress maintain a navy, the fact that Europe lay only 3,000 miles and not 8,000 miles from the Atlantic coastline permitted the Framers to envision the benefits beyond those arising from simple trade that would accrue if American diplomats could call upon U.S. warships as symbols of the presence of a new nation on the world scene as well as for patrolling the high seas.

Was this, in fact, the model for the diplomat-warrior (originally, the only military presence in U.S. embassies were naval attaches) which, sometime after WWII, became inverted to the warrior-diplomat, the “pro-consul”? Fallon, despite his uniform, in practical terms was modeling the diplomat-warrior, which I suspect rankled other senior officers and administration civilians. Add to that the fact that Congress has abdicated its position as a co-equal branch of government, and someone like Fallon is left with two options should he disagree with policy: work to change the orders he receives or go public and resign/retire.

In our presidential system, once elected, the president remains commander-in-chief with his appointees in control of the military until the next general election. The only recourse available to stop a president running amok before the next ballot is impeachment. But a Congress that has abdicated its responsibilities will not impeach – leaving the ordinary citizen to suffer as many as 48 months through the folly that we call war.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Native American Affairs: One Step Back?

March has always seemed to me to be a month of transition. It is the month in which we move from winter to spring in the northern hemisphere. Shakespeare immortalized the fifteenth day of the month – the Ides of March – as the day Caesar was murdered, touching off the wars that eventually changed Rome from a republic to an empire. In the Christian calendar, Easter – a transitional event – can fall in March – this year it is March 23rd. And of course every person who can lay claim to Irish ancestry as well as the multitudes that are Irish for a day observe March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day.

This year, March 31st is a transition day of another sort. It is the last day that the states can apply for a temporary waiver, good through the end of 2009, to the “Real ID” law passed by Congress in 2005 in one of its post-9/11 “security spasms.”

The good news is that all but four states – Montana, Maine, New Hampshire, and South Carolina – have applied for or already have waivers in hand. The justification for delaying implementation of the program is the sheer complexity of designing a system capable of finding, recognizing, and processing a plethora of official and unofficial documents and affidavits that in prior years were “good enough” for states to issue driver’s licenses or identity cards. The 2005 law further requires states to design the cards so that they can be read by officials in all states and by federal bureaucrats.

Already the effects of this legislation, approved as an amendment to the 2005 Iraq war supplemental spending bill, are being felt in communities across the country as state bureaucracies that receive and distribute federal funds spend money and time on administrative re-design rather than on client needs. Moreover, the states cannot be sure that what they are designing won’t be overturned by regulations from federal agencies and departments such as Homeland Security (for air travel) or Health and Human Services (Medicaid).

The irony of this madness to be “100 percent” secure from an act of terror or to ensure illegal immigrants do not access social services is nowhere more explicit than when Native Americans – arguably the only non-immigrant part of the population – are involved. Within the last week, two different publications have highlighted the degree of discrimination already suffered by Native Americans who do not possess the “right credentials” for entering federal buildings, for air travel, or to receive health care payments through Medicaid.

The discrimination may not be overtly targeted at Native Americans, but their large presence among the nation’s poorest and most disadvantaged group effectively translates into practical discrimination. The extent of the problem may come into focus later this year when Medicaid recipients attempt to recertify their eligibility for Medicaid as required on an annual basis. Proof of citizenship and identity will be required, with a valid passport or certificates of naturalization and citizenship as primary documentary evidence. A state driver’s license works only if states had in place at the time the license was issued a requirement that applicants prove both identity and citizenship. Considering that some of the eldest Native Americans may not know where – if anywhere – a record of their birth exists and have neither the energy nor the means to actively pursue documentary evidence, unless additional time and resources are directed at discovery of some record, or additional time waivers are granted, it is quite possible that the overall health of tribal members will deteriorate. And this deterioration could just as easily affect those living in non-tribal urban areas as those actually residing on tribal lands.

At this moment, Native American health care is at a transition point. The United States Senate, on February 26, 2008, passed and sent to the House of Representatives the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) of 2007. Its whole purpose, following a 15 year gap since the last reauthorization expired, is to raise health standards among Native Americans by improving the availability and the quality of health care resources. With the House nearly finished with its version of the proposed legislation, it makes no sense to cut off for purely bureaucratic considerations the current level of health care that has survived the government’s inattention for a decade and a half.

Unfortunately, Congress goes into recess starting Friday, so nothing will transpire before they leave. House leaders ought to push forward the timetable for considering and voting out the IHCIA and sending it to President Bush to sign into law.

Monday, March 10, 2008

China's Military Power

Its official title is “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China: A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act
Fiscal Year 2000.”

It is today’s equivalent of the Reagan-Bush 41 “Soviet Military Power” annual glossy pamphlet published from 1983 to 1991. The cut off for the classified data used in the first pamphlet actually was summer 1981. What became the first edition was a modified top secret briefing for NATO officials given by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

There was, at the time, vocal demands in many NATO countries to cut back on military spending. The first pamphlet was seen as a “block-buster” whose information about Soviet military capabilities – when combined with the “evil empire” moniker as a description of Moscow’s intentions – would quickly nullify any pressure to reduce NATO military spending.

Ironically, once the “razzle-dazzle” of the initial edition subsided, the remaining eight “annuals“ said more about the gaps in the U.S. intelligence community’s understanding about what was happening inside the Soviet Empire than it revealed “new” about the Soviet military posture.

Perhaps it is that lesson from the past that has prompted the Pentagon to include the following “disclaimer” as to why it is still issuing the Chinese Military Power publication – particularly since this year’s copy pulls back from some of the more “alarming” conclusions included in early editions – e.g., the build-up of surface-to-surface missiles on the mainland opposite Taiwan, the appearance of a new submarine, testing new long-range and mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Section 1202, “Annual Report on Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, Public Law 106-65, provides that the Secretary of Defense shall submit a report “on the current and future military strategy of the People’s Republic of China. The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development on the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese grand strategy, security strategy, and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts, through the next 20 years.”

Apparently, the administration and perhaps the Pentagon also has given up on the idea that the U.S. will someday confront a resurgent Russia as the “new” peer adversary and is betting that this position will be assumed by China. Washington’s chief complaint sis the lack of total transparency in Beijing’s military spending and any credible (from the U.S. perspective) explanation for its equipment modernization programs and other policy and procedural changes. Clearly, the objective here is to paint Beijing as the next great enemy.

The Soviets also were accused of concealing their annual expenditures for their military forces. Most countries do, to some extent – and the U.S. is no exception. What has always been puzzling to me is if the vast majority of budget analysts concur that a country is not including or not reporting every dollar it spends for military and intelligence services, what is missing ought to be relatively transparent and thus can be added to any “official” figure.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that not every aspect of the military has a “price-tag.” The level of training, leadership, and innate competence that contribute to success in a non-military endeavor are not completely divorced from the military sphere.

Perhaps it is simply that Washington-based commentators are more oriented toward policy formulation as compared to Pacific Command spokespersons’, but the latter seem less “worried” about China’s “rise.” It comes back to the same “inside-the-beltway” presumption that any other country that dares to spend any significant amount on its military and is not firmly in Washington’s pocket, is planning the demise of the United States.

P.S. One note of clarification. Should you just have to have the complete nine-issue set of the “Soviet Military Balance," you probably won’t find the one for 1991. That issue had been written, reviewed, and was about to go to the printer for a run of some 196,000 copies when the most extraordinary thing happened: Soviet hardliners attempted a coup d’etat against Mikhail Gorbachev. By the time Boris Yeltsin mounted a tank with a Russian (as opposed to a Soviet) flag, the Soviet Empire was effectively history. The 1991 issue, as far as I can tell, never left the Pentagon

Friday, March 07, 2008

Travels With Bob

Travels With Bob:

Can it be only seven months since the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense danced through the Middle East dispensing largess from Uncle Sam’s military marketplace to friends and allies all around the region. Israel, as usual, walked away with the largest piece of the pie – $30 billion with no strings attached. Among the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council netted $20 billion to spend on U.S.- made weapons while Egypt has an additional $13 billion for weapons acquisition.

The very openness of the Bush administration to entertain – let alone initiate – such costly weapons transfers is a travesty given the shortfalls in funding for sustained developmental needs in the region and around the globe. Such transfers are second only to the massive increases in U.S. military spending in recent years as a significant contributing factor in the upward spiral in global military spending that has again exceeded $1,000,000,000,000 annually. Equally disturbing about last summer’s announcement is the fact that none of the countries eligible for the new equipment had been in a shooting war since January-February 1991, the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein.

(Israelis will insist they are at war with Hamas and other extremists in the Gaza Strip, but the weapons development and procurement of interest to Tel Aviv are not what is useful in the low-technology skirmishes, raids, and ambushes – small arms and short-range rockets – that are the trademark of Hamas militants.)

Following the 1990-1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, the White House was prepared to sell Gulf Cooperation States $20 billion worth of new weaponry. Congressional objections to some items, plus Saudi budget deficits associated with absorbing most of the $60 billion cost of the war with Iraq, reduced the value of the arms deal to $10 billion. Until George Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, nothing further had transpired in the region that posed a new or rising threat to U.S. allies. As for adversaries, a U.S. arms embargo dating back to the Iranian revolution in 1979 had been effective enough to minimize modernizing efforts by Tehran. The collapse of the Soviet state in 1991 similarly limited any major modernizing by Syria.

The second month of 2008 saw the unfolding of the second part of “Travels with BOBl.”
This time the focus was South Asia and the Pacific. And once again, as in the Gulf region, Gates pitched the “Made in the USA” label as a visible commitment by the U.S. to strengthen military relationships with countries in the region.

India, which just finished hosting a major military weapons exposition, is the main target for this latest weapons pitch. New Delhi is in the market for 126 fighter jets and is willing to pay $10.2 billion to remake its air force. The timing of Gates’ two-day visit, with appointments to see both government and opposition party leaders, is no accident as the Indian government is slated to look at the offers from aerospace companies on March 3. Press reports tip Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to win the competition, in part because it secured a one billion dollar contract earlier in the month for six C-130J transports.

But according to military trade and business periodicals, the fighter plane purchase represents only about 10 percent of what India plans to spend on its military in the next five years. Included in the mix of weapons platforms are submarines and at least one air craft carrier. Gates also agreed to “study” the possibility of jointly developing a ballistic missile defense system, something that is sure to set off a reaction in Pakistan and raise eyebrows in Beijing and Moscow. (Moscow is already displeased with the prospect of U.S. missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.)

Without question, Gates’ second stop – Indonesia – was the most controversial of all. Jakarta has been for many years under restrictions imposed by Congress on military cooperation because of human rights violations in East Timor in 1992. Like Turkey, which was also on Gates’ itinerary, Indonesia is predominately Islamic, secular, and increasingly democratic except for its special operations troops and its militarized special police that are believed to operate on separate command lines. Some in the Bush administration undoubtedly see Indonesia as the Asian Turkey, a country that the White House can point to as a close ally when adversaries accuse Washington of being anti-Islamic.

In the wake of Gates’ visit, military relationships may move briskly. The rapid response of the U.S. to the December 2005 tsunami re-established a degree of trust on which the Pentagon hopes to build. For its part, Indonesia’s military will be anxious to modernize or replace its U.S. made equipment, particularly its air assets as these are indispensible for a country consisting of 17,000-plus islands. Although there is no publicly available “wish list” from the Indonesian Ministry of Defense as yet, some in Congress – notably Senator Leahy (VT) – are expected to carefully scrutinize any request from the Pentagon for Indonesia and closely question administration officials as to their plan for vetting the human rights records of units receiving the equipment, as mandated by the “Leahy amendment” (Section 563 PL 106-429.

On his way home, Secretary Gates stopped in Ankara, Turkey to urge the end of the air-ground incursion of Turkish forces into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels. Shortly there afterwards, the 10,000 Turkish ground forces participating in the operation began to withdraw, but some soldiers reportedly remain inside Iraq.

To conclude, about the only piece of new U.S military hardware that doesn’t have a “for sale” sign tucked somewhere – yet – is the F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter. Both Australia and Japan made “non-enquiries” as to the possibility of acquiring the aircraft, but in each case Gates’ was non-committal beyond a promise to look into the possibilities. And in Japan’s case, the outcome may be to sell; Tokyo plans to choose a new fighter in 2008 to replace its fleet of 90 F-4s.

With the Middle East and Asia “sold,” can Latin America be far behind?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Spinning the War -- Again

The March 5th edition of the Wall Street Journal carried a story, demurely buried on Page 13, citing the latest public opinion poll from the non-partisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on the public’s view about the war on terror in general, the Iraq war in particular, and more specifically the public’s percept ion of the success of the 2007 “troop surge”: “The perception that the U.S. troop surge in Iraq has succeeded….” The February poll found that 48 per cent of respondents thought the war in Iraq was “going well” or “fairly well” and 47 percent said that U.S. troops ought to stay in Iraq for now – nearly as many (49 percent) who called for immediate or rapid withdrawal

Also on March 5th, the Houston Chronicle ran a story entitled “Army Unit That Led The Surge Is Heading For Home.” Just days after President George Bush’s January 10, 2007 television address to the nation in which he formally announced that an additional 21,000 U.S. soldiers (the real number was closer to 29,000) would be placed “in harm’s way,” a combat brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Iraq and began operations in Baghdad against rampaging sectarian militias bent on “cleansing” each neighborhood of the minority sect. The first soldier to die on this deployment was killed January24, 2007. Barring additional deaths among the wounded, the last fatality suffered on this brigade deployment occurred February 5th, 2008. Overall, the brigade lost 25 soldiers.

This brigade is the second of five, along with two Marine Corps combat battalions, expected to be withdrawn by July but not be replaced by a fresh U.S. unit. One of the Marine battalions was withdrawn in December as part of the pre-Christmas reduction of 5,000 promised by Bush in September 2007. Further troop reductions will be signaled in April when the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is to advise the president and answer questions in testimony before Congress.

Once the five combat brigades and the Marine battalions have redeployed, total U.S. troop strength in Iraq will be about 140,000 – some 8,000 over the total in-country before the surge began.

Once again the public is letting the administration get away with spinning the news. In announcing the troop increase. President Bush told the public that the added numbers of U.S. soldiers would give the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “political space” in which to debate and enact laws amending earlier statutes regarding employment of low-level Ba’ath party members, create new arrangements for distribution of revenues from sales of oil, and finalize arrangements for provincial government officials. The “employment” law did more harm than good; agreement on the oil revenue sharing formula was only partially reached; and the Iraqi president vetoed the election law.

That’s zero for three.

The reduction in fatalities among U.S. and coalition forces, the Iraqi military, other Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi civilians in the last five months of 2007 and, for the foreign forces, the first two months of 2008, allowed the White House to assert the surge’s success. But there is no simple cause-effect logic here. The reductions are due to at least three factors: the Mahdi army stand down first ordered by Moqtada Sadr in April 2007 and extended last month to the end of 2008, the increase of U.S. combat units in Iraq, and most significantly, the spread of U.S.-funded Sunni “Awakening Councils” – the informal “neighborhood watch” groups organized by tribal sheiks and paid and armed by U.S. military units. The Shi’a-dominated central government has opposed the formation of the Councils, fearing that the Pentagon is creating another armed militia that will ratchet up violence exponentially in the aftermath of a coalition withdrawal. The math says it all: in a nation of 27 million people, there are approximately 900,000 entitled to carry arms.

And speaking of math, that’s another zero for three.

Monday, March 03, 2008

February Statistics and War as a Growth Industry in Leap Year

(Fnal entry for March 3)

February seemed to be a month when everyone wanted to get into fighting – without seeming to care too much who they were fighting.

Sunni militias that formed under U.S. patronage first in an-Bar and then spread into Sunni-controlled areas elsewhere went on strike after a run-in with U.S. troops supported by aircraft. In the latest instance of friendly fire three Iraqis were killed – raising the total fatalities for this one group to 19 since the beginning of the year.

Iraqi civilian fatalities for February came to 564 and Iraqi security force losses were 110. In both instances, these numbers were up from January. Almost exactly half of the civilian fatalities – 283 – came on four days when suicide bombers struck. Now two entries do not a trend make, but it is of more than passing interest that fatalities are up in the first full month of the redeployment of U.S. “surge” troops

U.S. fatalities were 29, bringing the war’s total for U.S. soldiers lost to 3,973. UK forces lost one soldier in February, raising their total for the war in Iraq to 175 with all other coalition fatalities unchanged at 133.
In terms of the time interval from when U.S. fatalities stood at 3,500 and when that number will hit 4,000, this is at 9 months almost exactly (June 5, 2007). By the end of March the 4,000 meloncholy milestone will be surpassed. This will represent an interval equal or nearly equal to the time period between the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the 500th U.S. fatalitiy, whichwas 9 1/2 months.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai refused the appointment of former British Liberal Party Leader as a “super-envoy” to coordinate better the develo0ment and other assistance from the UN and donors. Reportedly, some in Karzai’s government fear that Ashdown might go off on some tangent such as the reduction in the opium harvest, something every western country has been after Kabul to undertake. In the war with the Taliban, the coalition troops have lost 24 so far this year: 7 U.S. and 7 allied soldiers in January, one U.S. and 6 allied soldiers in February, and three allied soldiers in March..

The Israelis ended their latest ground incursion into Gaza in search of Hamas militiamen and the stores of rockets that are fired almost nightly into southern Israel. News reports say that 110 Palestinians were killed in the fighting against three Israeli soldiers who died. Palestinian President Abbas suspended peace talks with the Israelis even as Secretary of State Rice was flying to the region. I fully expect that the Israelis will point to the destruction of the wall on the Gaza-Egyptian border as the catalyst for the importation of longer-range missiles.

The Turkish Ministry of Defense announced the end of Ankara’s incursion into northern Iraq (Kurdistan) with a ground force estimated at 10,000. Their targets were a series of camps used by the outlawed PKK movement fighting for independence from the Turks and eventually a united Kurdish homeland. Ankara said more than 120 PKK insurgents were killed.

Finally, Ecuador and Venezuela have moved troops closer to their borders with Colombia after Bogotá entered Ecuador in pursuit of a Raul Reyes, the second in command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Reyes was killed by an airstrike.