Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bugs Bunny "What A Maroon!" Award V

This time around the highly coveted What A Maroon! Award goes to both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The Award is presented to these two Deep Thinking exponents of High Minded, Lofty Thinking Global Institutions for their joint decision not only to submit a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the state of human rights in the US to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) but to include in the UPR a specific reference condemning the State of Arizona's affront known as SB 1070.

The UPR presented by the administration to the UNHRC last week is totally unremarkable in most respects. Much of it is a hosanna onto the American history of pushing the limits of human rights which is both relatively accurate and totally justified. A second chorus of praise centers on the Obama administration and, (cue the trumpets) the president himself as totally dedicated to yet further perfection of human rights defined in the broadest conceivable sense within the US.

So far, so good. Propaganda on behalf of the US is never out of line--provided it is based on reality. And, propaganda on behalf of a politician and his "Team" are a normal part of government. If the grandiose proponents of the multi-cultural, moral equivalence, post-modern view of the universe now occupying the Oval and the big office in Foggy Bottom had limited themselves to business-as-usual hyperbole, the UPR would have slipped by unnoticed and fallen into the Great Tomb of Official Documents quite unmourned.

But, no, the Dynamic Duo had to go a bridge or two too far. They felt an obligation to set up the progressive folks of the Obama administration in sharp contrast with and in legal opposition to the benighted, pitchfork and torch waving xenophobic racists of Arizona. This gratuitous insult may play well with the self-appointed hoi oligoi of both coasts, but it does so at the general expense of the US.

The UNHRC is the epitome of hypocrisy. As the successor to the terminally discredited UN Commission on Human Rights it would have been legitimate to posit a radical break with the past. But, as the UN General Assembly is predicated upon the one-nation, one-vote concept, that was not to be. And, indeed, never should have been hoped for.

As anyone well oriented in time and place knows, the UNHRC is a comprised of forty-seven members elected by majority vote of the 192 countries represented in the UN General Assembly. When the criteria for election were being drafted, the US plumped for requiring the human rights records of contenders to be evaluated. This sensible proposition was defeated. No surprise in that.

As a result, the entity, the UNHRC as currently constituted which will review, comment upon, and make recommendations concerning the UPR includes states notable for their suppression or even rejection of basic human rights. Among others, China, Cuba, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia will have the authority to evaluate the American record in human rights and offer suggestions for improvement or chastisement as they see fit.

There is another country in the roster with a special interest in immigration matters as such obtain to the US generally and Arizona in specific. That country (drum roll, please) is Mexico.

Mexico's record in human rights generally is, shall we say, checkered. With regard to immigration policy specifically, the right word is duplicitous.

The dichotomy between the moaning, groaning, bitching, and whining coming from the politicians and media of Mexico over the horrid behavior of the Yanquis on the one hand the True Tails Of Terror And Murder inflicted by Mexicans on illegal immigrants from south of their border has reached a vividness that at least some courageous Mexicans are challenging the myth. The real deal in Mexico is finally leaking around the false image of victimization painted by self-serving politicians, self-interested public intellectuals, and hyper-ambitious advocates.

The mass murder of seventy-two "migrants" (to use the favorite Mexican term for illegal aliens) by criminal smugglers of human beings last week in Tamaulipas exposed the charade in all its grotesque ignominy. The blossom of gore exposed by a wounded survivor of the mass murder stands atop the bloody peak of a mountain of kidnappings, robberies, murders, and general shaking down of people of all ages and both sexes who seek to transit Mexico en route to the Land Of The Big BX.

In the six months between September 2008 and February 2009, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission documented 9,758 identified kidnappings which yielded an average of 2,500 USD per victim. Unfortunately, there was no break down between kidnappings executed by police officers or other officials as contrasted with the informal acts of criminals. Nonetheless, the Mexican Human Rights Commission specifically holds the central government as well as those of the states responsible for the offenses.

Ironically the Mexican federal government whose representative on the UNHRC will soon sit in judgement of the US received a chastening letter from the same body for the sins of both commission and omission which resulted in harm to aliens from Central and South America. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Presumably, both Mr Obama and Ms Clinton had access to information regarding the actual situation in Mexico. It is also to be presumed that both knew the general anti-American stance within the UNHRC. One might be so bold as to assume that both understood and understand how the UPR can and will provide ammunition aplenty for those governments which seek to harm the interests of the US.

In their defense, both Mr Obama and Ms Clinton undoubtedly believe that the openness of the US to the scrutiny and criticism of hostile or guilty states offsets completely any anti-American commentary which will ensue. That may be true, but the realities of global politics require that countries which live in glass houses not invite the throwing of stones.

In this case, the President and his Secretary of State have not only invited the heaving of rocks at Uncle Sam's residence, they have passed out the stones gratis.

For that they merit the What A Maroon! Award.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Sudan, The Next In Line

Sudan has been collapsing for years now. The country has been hit by two, count them, two, defensive insurgencies. One involved the primarily Christian and animist South which has sought for decades to free itself from the remote, predominately Arab Muslim North. The other is the ongoing morass called "Darfur."

Both have been expensive in lives lost. Both have been inconclusive to date. Both, but more importantly the one in the South, are on the brink of renewal.

At the same time the central government, the Muslim one in Khartoum under the unpleasant leadership of a born-again proponent of violent political Islam, Omar al-Bashir, is not given to compromise with US policy requirements. Nor is the indicted war criminal inclined to renounce violence either "official" or through the use of informal mechanisms resembling the pogroms of Imperial Russia.

Khartoum has much at stake. The territorial integrity of Africa's largest country is at risk, quite explicit risk given the referendum scheduled under the 2005 truce deal brokered by the Bush/Cheney administration. Also at great risk is the future of the oil rich land surrounding the city of Abyei and extending into the South.

The referendum on the status of the South is currently scheduled for January 2011. A second vote is to be held on the Abyei question. There is no doubt but the Black African population of the South will vote for independence. Not surprisingly the Arab Muslim North will take the opposite position.

A vote for succession in highest probability will restart the southern insurgency. It will be every bit as bloody and destructive as the the twenty-one years of fighting which ended with the truce. Too much is in play to allow either side to settle for much less than a total victory, a victory which will give the winner all or the vast majority of the cash flow from the extensive oil deposits.

Even without the enormous cash cow mooing away under the sands of the South, the legacy of the first round of insurgency as well as the generations of antipathy which preceded 1984 would be enough to assure an internal war viewed by both North and South as a total war of national survival. The long-standing animus held by Arab Muslim for African Christian or animist is returned measure for measure. That enough insures any future war will be fought without any restraint.

The passions both North and South are deep, hot, and sufficient to power Sudan into a condition tantamount to Somalia. That potential is more than enough to bring many a night without sleep to the Deep Thinkers responsible for US policy in the area.

The policies adopted and actions taken by outside powers have done nothing to facilitate a negotiated end to the brewing war. The indictment of Bashir by the International Criminal Court was notably ill-considered. This action provided instant support for Bashir by the majority of African states whose collective political leadership has come to conclude (with some justice) that the ICC singles out African rulers for unique attention. At the same time the indictment provided the Organization of the Islamic Conference and even the Arab League to rally around Bashir's flag.

No matter how distasteful any governmental figure in any member state of these several organizations might find Bashir and his government, the identity politics so central to each group demands solidarity in the face of "Western" threat. Beyond providing a diplomatic prop for the odious Omar, the support given him by these three international entities constitute a potent antidote to foreign pressure on Khartoum.

Not that the outsiders have much more potential pressure points at their disposal. As all American policy makers holding a brief for Sudan must recognize full well, Sudan is under sanctions equivalent to those applied to Iran or North Korea. This means there ain't a whole lot of options for those who believe against all odds in the efficacy of sanctions.

The only set of divisions rivaling those in Sudan are the splits in the Heavyweight Strategists of Team Obama. While Mr Obama has been concerned with the important matters such as where to take the next family vacation and Ms Clinton worried over how to pin the human rights violator's tail on the UN Human Rights Council donkey, the Sudan policy questions have been handed over to the bench.

The polar opposites on the bench are Susan Rice, the UN Ambassador, and J. Scott Gration, Mr Obama's Special Envoy. These two can agree on only one basic premise: Sudan is a mess and likely to get worse.

The opposing views of Ms Rice and Mr Gration were painted over last October when the administration after months of gestation and labor delivered itself of a non-policy policy. Depending upon whether or not the Sudanese government(s) met or did not meet specified milestones, the defaulter(s) would either be rewarded or punished.

"Duh" doesn't adequately cover the rational response to this monumental effort in diplomatic genius.

Ms Rice has been possessed of a deep, visceral distaste for the Bashir regime since she personally witnessed some of the consequences of Khartoum's version of counterinsurgency in Darfur. There can be little doubt but she favors "punishment," preferably of the sort awarded to Saddam Hussein.

Mr Gration for reasons which he has not articulated in a convincing way advocates a policy of "rewards." He is all for providing incentives to Khartoum. The nature of the incentives as well as the intended results are less than clear.

In the field Joe Biden has been doing what passes for heavy lifting. He has met with Silva Kiir the Honcho of All Honchos in South Sudan. Mr Kiir is all in favor of (a) peace, (b) independence and (c) the US doing "something." Joe I-Am-Too-An-Adult Biden also achieved a breakthrough of world historical importance in that he gained the support of Egypt for the referendum.

Not that Egypt hauls much freight in Khartoum. (What freight Cairo might haul is contained in the escalating dispute between Egypt and Sudan over water, the all-important water of the Nile.)

China hauls beaucoup more freight with Bashir (and Kiir.) Chinese influence in the two Sudans is predicated upon Chinese national interest. Specifically, the same interest which has occasioned Beijing's large position in Iran--the need for secure, long term oil supplies preferably at below world market prices.

The president apparently understands China's pivotal position in each of the two Sudans. He raised the issue of the referendum in his bilateral meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao. Their meeting was polite and the Troll From Beijing noncommittal. It was rather the same as the conversations the two men have had regarding Iran.

No matter how events play out in Sudan, the Trolls have covered their bets. Also it can be assumed the Chinese will throw decisive weight behind the contender providing the better deal.

Mr Obama also attended a meeting between his National Security Advisor, Gen. James Jones USMC (ret), and former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who has been designated as the main man for implementing the results of the referendum. (Of course, for Mr Mbeki to be a player, the referendum must come to pass and the results not attended by overwhelming violence, but it seems Mr Obama is a perpetual optimist.)

It's a bit of a poser. The US and other Western countries have very little left in the sanctions area. The US and other Western countries have very little if any influence. While the subject of inducements is open, the only one likely to have a positive impact on Khartoum would be a quashing of the ICC indictment with guarantees it would not be reissued at some convenient future date.

This option would not prove popular with many countries of the EU where the abstract of "justice" has more potency than the avoidance of one more spectacle of African blood letting. (It probably would be no more popular with the American president considering his touching faith in equal justice under law in the international arena.)

There is no realistic way the administration might hope to play a "China card" as Beijing has no compelling reason to play a constructive role in the situation. Their interests are already covered, and the Trolls of Beijing have a well-founded belief in the competence of their intelligence and foreign services to know the right moment to make a move and the right move to make.

In principle one option is left by apparent default. This would be the Rice-favored Adventure in Regime Change. Real world constraints of a self-evident nature confine this option to the realm of the hypothetical.

In any even the administration has about a month, maybe two at a stretch, if there is going to be even a remote chance of the independence referendum being held early next year. Forget January. But, unless the Southerners have a firm belief the referendum will take place before the long, hot days of summer, the insurgency may start without delay.

A policy must be in place before the votes are counted here if there are going to be any votes to count in Sudan. Then, unless the policy can (a) defang Bashir, (b) assure with credible guarantees Southern independence, (c) demarcate the border in an agreeable way, (d) divide oil revenues in a way seen by both North and South as equitable, (e) provide a way to prevent the Darfur conflict from spreading, and (f) create an effective way to police and neutralize the border between North and South, the war will crank back up anyway.

Then, Sudan will become a blood soaked geographical expression rather resembling Somalia on a far grander scale. At this point al-Qaeda and other proponents of violent political Islam can genuflect deeply, bounce their foreheads on the mosque floor, and give heartfelt thanks to a most merciful and compassionate Allah for providing a new and improved base in their effort to bring "peace to the "House of War."

Ain't that a wonderful picture?

ADMIN NOTE: The Geek invites, welcomes and will post all on topic comments. Due to spam comments he has been forced to take defensive measures. He apologizes for any frustration which may ensue.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Obama: The War Time Leader(?) And His Learning Curve

Continuing its record as a leading sycophant for the Nice Young Smiley Guy From Chicago, the NYT spewed hosannas on Mr Obama's steep learning curve as a war time president struggling with two inherited wars, the new peripherals consequent upon them, and his deep felt belief that the US and We the People need to be "transformed" in our domestic, quotidian lives. There should be no shock in the Geek's response, "What planet are you guys living on?"

The Geek brings several decades of beavering through the foreign policy archives (at least those so far declassified) of every post-World War II president from Truman through Clinton. This means he brings the vicarious experience of administrations covering the totality of the Cold War as well as the hot excrescences of Korea, Vietnam, assorted proxy conflicts, and interventions, both overt and covert of lesser sort around the world. This establishes a fair baseline for evaluating the conduct of war and foreign policy generally over the past nineteen months by Barack Obama and his "team."

The hot wash can be expressed quickly and accurately by two words: "inept" and "naive." One can add other terms, but to do so would be an exercise in redundancy.

It is tempting to compare Mr Obama with Bill Clinton as both men not only had zero experience with the US military, its defining culture, its world view, its imperatives, its strengths and weaknesses of doctrine or war fighting generally. Both men were notably uncomfortable in the presence of military personnel. Both projected a sense of defensiveness in the face of senior military commanders. Both men had tidy, lawyerly minds for whom the inherent messiness and unpredictability of war constituted anathema.

However the comparison would be unfair to both men so the temptation for comparison will be avoided with one exception. Mr Clinton obviously learned nothing during his eight years as Commander-in-Chief while Mr Obama apparently has learned very little in his nineteen months occupying the Oval.

This implies there is still hope for Mr Obama--if he experiences a learning curve in the future far, far steeper than the one shown to date.

A few considerations which escaped the strategic analysts of the NYT require attention.

One of the two wars "inherited" by Mr Obama had already been "won" as much as any such war can be said to by the day he took office. The much maligned "surge" pushed by George W. Bush accompanied by dramatic and positive changes in the tactics and operational doctrine employed in Iraq reduced the multi-party insurgency in Iraq to a level where it was thinkable to turn over security responsibilities to the Iraqis.

As some personnel on the ground argued at the time, by early 2009 the US combat forces had done all they reasonably could expect to do. Beyond that it was self-evident that the emerging political consensus headed and epitomized by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, focused on nationalism and national sovereignty. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with its date certain for the ending of US combat operations as well as one requiring the removal of all US forces was a key goal for Maliki and his supporters.

Given the political dynamics on the ground as well as the reduced level of violence, the only realistic option for the US was the withdrawal of combat units. As should of been expected, senior US commanders wanted a longer draw down period than did the civilians in Washington (or Baghdad) so the Obama "compromise" of nineteen months was the best of many proposed de-escalation timeframes.

No one in the outgoing Bush administration and certainly not holdover SecDef Gates expected the aftermath of the SOFA and consequent draw down would be a period of peace, love, and flower power in Iraq. The anticipated political stasis and uptick in insurgent violence has been no more than what any observer well oriented as to time and place would have predicted.

The best any intervenor can hope for in an insurgent environment is to produce a social, political, and security context in which the indigenous actors can have a reasonable expectation of engaging in conflict resolution. Any historian of insurgency well recognizes the vast gulf between hostilities termination and conflict resolution. This historian would also grant that history demonstrates convincingly that outside forces can bring about hostilities termination--provided no one expects such to occur in any formal way--but has a very, very limited capacity to influence the lengthy political process of conflict resolution.

The takeaway from the American endgame in Iraq is simple. Mr Obama needed to do nothing but allow the dynamics established by his predecessor to play themselves out. And, that is all he did.

Of far greater importance is a question. What lessons (if any) did Mr Obama learn from the experience in Iraq and then apply to his other "inherited" war?

The most critical piece of context in evaluating Mr Obama's "leadership" on the Afghanistan war is the simple fact that the US had been using a counterproductive set of strategic and operational procedures since the fatal day when the Bush/Cheney administration opted to go for the gold of "nation-building" rather than to limit American efforts to the narrow goal of destroying al-Qaeda and its host, Taliban.

In addition to the intellectual bankruptcy of American strategy and operational doctrine, the war was fought with too few resources. Making this dismal reality even darker was the composition of the deployed forces--too many were conventional in nature and too few specialists in the requirements of interventionary war and its sub-set, counterterrorism.

The long, long period of Obama dithering over "whether Afghanistan" a year ago resulted finally in a decision to commit more troops. The dilemma of Afghanistan, particularly the problem of regaining the initiative from the resurgent Taliban and its cohorts, could not be solved merely by putting more combat boots on the ground.

In addition to more troops, particularly troops of the right training, organization, equipment, and doctrine, a new set of operational and tactical concepts were needed. So also was a specific statement of goal with an attendant definition of success (or victory, if you prefer a blunter but not more accurate term) and, so as to assure resources were correctly and effectively orchestrated, a theory of victory which took into proper account the nature of the human terrain of the Afghan population as well as the weaknesses of the insurgents.

Mr Obama did approve more troops, less than the number sought by the in-country commanders but more, a lot more, than desired by the "progressive" base on which Mr Obama's ambitious domestic agenda depended. The force augmentation was wrapped in some new operational and tactical concepts which focused on protecting Afghan civilians while carrying the war offensively to the insurgents in their strongholds.

The new approach along with the first reinforcements brought encouraging results. The number of enemy initiated contacts decreased. The number of friendly force initiated ones increased. An indication of the success of the new concepts was seen as well in the Taliban's increasing use of indiscriminate attacks on soft, civilian targets.

Still, without a clear statement of goal, the war effort in Afghanistan will continue to drift. Unless the US explicitly rejects the ill-considered notion of creating a modern, western-style nation-state in Afghanistan, there is minimal chance at best that Washington and Kabul will be able to sing from the same sheet of music.

Any government in Kabul whether headed by Hamid Karzai or some other figure will be resistant to the max on such issues as anti-corruption, an independent, non-Islamic judicial system, transparency in government--or efficiency for that matter. The Afghan political leader who places the abstract of "nation-state" above the reality of family, clan, tribe, or province does not exist, or, if he does, will not gain power.

The very best the US and its allies can hope for is an Afghan government which does not harbor, support, facilitate, or assist in any way proponents of violent political Islam. This was all we could have expected when the first bombs fell or the first made-in-the-USA boots hit the Afghan soil.

It is all we can expect now, hundreds of lives and billions of bucks later. The sooner the Smiley Guy in the Oval understands that this limited outcome is dictated by the nature of the human terrain in Afghanistan and adjusts both our public goal and concomitant definition of success, the better for us--and Afghanistan.

It will not matter how many more Americans and other foreigners die in Afghanistan. It will not matter how much more we spend. It will not matter how much we hector, implore, threaten, or cajole. The basic human reality of the Afghan population is found in a couple of simple, easy to grasp concepts.

Afghans want peace. They really don't care who provides it, government, Taliban, whoever, as long as peace comes to any and all valleys, villages, and cities.

Afghans are traditional, tribal, Muslim, and self-organizing. They are not Westerners. They have no historically informed central identity--although any and every Afghan political figure will invoke the totem of nationalism when necessary or merely convenient. They have no historically evolved idea of a separation between faith and government. They are not people with a historically derived need to look to a central authority, either political or judicial, for protection against the harms to which life is heir.

Our interest in Afghanistan as in Yemen, Somalia, or other collapsing states, starts and ends with the assurance that none will become the safety zones from which adherents of violent political Islam can mount attacks upon us or our allies. It is just that simple, blunt, and brutal.

Each and every of the venues where violent political Islam may take firm root are like Afghanistan in that each has leaders who invoke nationalism as a defense against domestic political opposition. Each and every venue is like Afghanistan in other salient ways as well. Each is traditional, tribal, Muslim, and self-organizing. None are even as "Western" as Iraq.

It is in its "Western" features that Iraq is the odd man out in recent or current experience. But, even there, nationalism is waved as a sovereign remedy against domestic opposition. And, even in Iraq, basic loyalties are oriented toward family, clan, tribe, language, and variety of Islam. Not even Iraq has the same semi-abstract concept of nation-state as permeates the West.

The single greatest lesson not yet learned by Mr Obama is the rest of the world is not like the US. (Arguably not even the US in the flesh is like the US as an image in Mr Obama's mind.) Other people in other countries do not celebrate a national identity above all others. Other people in other countries do not have a great faith in the capacity or will of a central government to solve problems, heal hurts, protect against all harm, or address all inequalities.

While any people in any country are quite willing to take free money, free gifts from the US or any other country rich, generous, and naive enough to give, this is not an anodyne for belief systems which facilitate or accept violent political Islam. Addressing poverty, social, and political inequalities or marginalization, ending misogyny, ending arbitrary justice, are all laudable in and of themselves. But, doing any or all of these will not assure violent political Islam will not take root.

This leads to the second greatest lesson not yet learned by Mr Obama. The US and other civilized countries are faced by a threat from violent political Islam. While there may be other proximate causes for attacks on the US such as this country's support of Israel, the basic reality remains--violent political Islam sees the US as the main enemy and will bend every effort toward attacking, weakening and, should Allah will, forcing the US back to the confines of its own borders.

These are the largest unlearned lessons. There are others, smaller perhaps but still important.

So, what has Mr Obama learned? He has learned that he can ride another man's decisions to success. He has learned he can fire a general with all the right stuff needed to fight the war in Afghanistan successfully. And, perhaps most important, he has learned the NYT will continue to sing his praises no matter how undeserved.

ADMIN NOTE: The Geek invites, welcomes, and will post all on topic comments. Because he has been in receipt of spam comments he has had to take defensive measures. He apologizes in advance for any frustration.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Well, It's (Almost) Palaver With North Korea Time

Reportedly the Deep Thinkers of the Obama Foreign Policy Team are giving serious consideration to opening some sort of (to use the fashionable term) dialog with North Korea. This wouldn't be done instantly but rather would occur after some more pressure is placed upon the Hermit Kingdom of the North.

Since the incremental approach employed to date has been notably lacking in success, it seems only logical that some more incrementalism be used. Then, after a bit, the US would graciously consent to enter into some sort of conversation about something other than the only issue which matters, the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear weapon development and procurement program.


Rationality is the curse of the thinking class. Members of this august group are convinced that diplomacy is a supremely rational, ultimately logical endeavor. They are sincere believers in the proposition that coercion can be calibrated with a degree of precision such as to please the most exacting of experimental physicists. They are also blessed with a faith holding that all countries, all governments, share an identical calculus of rationality so every government will see and understand coercive measures in an identical manner and respond in a predictable way.

Diplomats of the US have had these touching articles of belief for generations now. Our faith in both gradualism and the identity of rationality has been proven wrong again and again, yet, with childlike certainty we use the same magic time after time.

Before we got involved in the shooting part of World War II, Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, sought to use a carefully calibrated escalation of gradual economic sanctions to compel Imperial Japan to adjust its expansionist foreign policy in China to American policy requirements. Starting with a ban on the export of chopsticks (yes, kids, we were the OPEC of disposable eating utensils of this nature way back then) and proceeding by increments until a freezing of Japanese assets along with a total ban on the export of refined petroleum products was imposed in the summer of 1941, the US sought to coerce Japan into disgorging its conquests in China and abiding with American policy for the region.

The result of this carefully thought out exercise in rational pressure was the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and Singapore. Most folks call this the start of WW II in the Pacific.

Twenty-five years later McGeorge Bundy, LBJ's National Security Advisor, used a calibrated campaign of rational coercion on North Vietnam. The Air Force called it Operation Rolling Thunder while Mr Bundy called it "progressive squeeze and talk." The idea was the US would increase the amount of "punishment" inflicted on North Vietnam for a bit and then would stop, stand back and inquire of Hanoi, "Are you ready to talk yet?"

As LBJ feared, the North Vietnamese matched us escalation for escalation. Each increase in bombing was followed by an increase of North Vietnamese presence in the war in the South. Each pause or hint of a pause was ignored by Hanoi particularly as the Northern leadership discovered that their population had the political will to resist and that bombing caused loathing of those who dropped the bombs not those who refused to talk.

As had been the case with the non-lethal coercion of twenty-five years earlier, the lethal sort engaged in by the ever-so-rational McGeorge Bundy proved to be an expensive and quite counterproductive failure. Of course, we didn't learn the limits of rational gradualism. Nor did we realize that not all governments have the same calculus of rationality or the same view of coercion.

After all we tried the same incremental approaches with respect to Panama in the late 1980s and Iraq in the aftermath of the Kuwait War. In both cases we finally concluded that there was no viable option other than waging aggressive, regime change oriented war.

The US in common with all democracies is very reluctant to go to war. Pace, progressives and other folks of the Left, but the US is quite loath to seek war, even to accept it as a viable, least-worst option. Other advanced, democratic countries see life in the same way with the result that there exists a conspiracy of diplomatic rationality.

The "conspiracy" seeks first, last, and always to employ non-lethal coercive mechanisms to persuade governments to come to the negotiating table and bargain in good faith to reach a compromise on some policy feature or another. Matters become more complicated when the members of the "conspiracy" attempt to reach agreement on the means and extent of any contemplated exercise in coercion by consensus.

The demand for consensus requires all parties to delicately balance domestic interests with foreign policy needs and interests. It also requires an equally difficult balance between short-term interests and those of a long-term nature.

Rendering effective consensus impossible is the necessity of involving countries which are either or both authoritarian and intensely self-interested. To put the matter short and sour, the necessity of achieving a consensus based understanding about coercive means and their extent with countries such as China or Russia makes the imposition of effective coercion impossible.

Even among democratic countries with more or less free enterprise economies, the need for consensus acts to insure that any and all coercive mechanisms are incremental in both design and implementation. This means in turn that the target country has ample time and warning to take measures intended to nullify the coercive intent.

The result is self-evident with respect to both Iran and North Korea. Consensus based incremental coercion be it diplomatic or economic in orientation may retard an obnoxious policy, impair an objectionable course of action, but it will not have significant effect. It will not end the policy or course of action which called the coercion into application.

Diplomatic coercion (aka "isolation") or economic coercion (aka "sanctions") must be applied swiftly and at the maximum rather than the minimum end of the scale if it is to be effective. More disturbingly to those who worship at the alter of "peace" in the temple of the "global community," diplomatic and economic coercion must reside ultimately on the credible will and capacity to employ military force in support of policy.

Coercive diplomacy in all its many forms is the effort to create an artificial coincidence of national interest. The target state seeks to end the coercion; the country or countries inflicting the coercion seek an end to a specific policy or course of action. Herein resides the coinciding national interests.

The US has violated most if not all the rules seen historically for the use of coercion in its policy toward North Korea over the past two decades. Any and all diplomatic and economic coercion has been applied through consensus approved incrementalism. As a result the effects in terms of altering North Korean behavior have been nil. The role played by China over the years has been instrumental in assuring the failure to date.

As the role of China is most unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, there is no reason to conclude any new coercion will prove effective. Even the unexpectedly muscular posture adopted by the US in its naval and military exercises with South Korea have not served to convince the Trolls of Beijing to adopt a more favorable (from the American perspective) stance.

Since South Korea has too much at risk, the use of military force is not a realistic option. In its occasional moments of lucidity, the Hermits of Pyongyang undoubtedly understand this. They also know that North Korea is too important as a physical and political buffer for China to allow the Pyongyang regime to go down the tubes.

It is quite legitimate for the Hermits of the North to conclude they can ignore the huffings and puffings of the US with impunity. Similarly, they can ignore any sweet words, mellow mood music, or blandishments Washington might say, play, or offer.

In short, the US has nothing to talk about with Pyongyang. We should save our effort. With respect to coercion, well, there is more we can do to make life unpleasant for the Hermits--if we are willing to inflict further misery on the population generally. Of course, that sort of thing would be anathema to the current administration.

The takeaway is simple and unpleasant for Uncle Sam's ego. The Pissants of Pyongyang can and will go their own way without the let or hindrance of the US. They will continue to be an annoying and potentially quite dangerous annoyance, but there is nothing the US can do about it realistically.

Sure, it is a diplomatic bramble but there is no choice beyond getting a grip on it.

ADMIN NOTE: The Geek invites, welcomes and will post all on topic comments but due to a recent spate of spam comments he has taken defensive measures. He apologizes for all frustration which may accrue.

Is It Back To The Generals Time For Pakistan?

The massive flooding in Pakistan is, to use a hoary Britishism, "a bit of a poser." Over ten percent of the population has been directly hit by the water. The indirect effects have ranged over the entire country.

Throughout it all, the government has behaved as if clueless. The president chose to go to the UK during the onslaught of the slow motion catastrophe. Other senior officials have acted as if "let them eat cake" was the government motto. The ponderous, notoriously inefficient bureaucracies have responded to the demands of the crisis with the alacrity of a tranquilized snail. At all levels, the government wallahs have demonstrated a capacity for being out of touch with the realities faced by the hordes of dispossessed. Simultaneously, the legions of wallahs have exhibited they lack even the pretense of being in control of the situation.

Before the floods Pakistan was staggering along the ragged edge of failing as a state. Having shown a continuous unwillingness or inability to handle the Frankenstein monster created by the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the civilian government of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani appeared to be heading down the tubes of a Taliban takeover. The lurching progress of the several highly touted but substantially inconclusive "offensives" undertaken by the Army did nothing to restore confidence in the longevity of the government.

Then came the floods.

Pakistan is no stranger to floods. The Indus river and its tributaries had been tamed only in small part by ambitious flood control projects underwritten in large measure by American money and engineering talent decades ago. Much of the progress made possible by these earlier excursions in civil engineering have been offset in recent years by deforestation along the upper reaches of the Indus watershed.

Pakistani and foreign observers alike prognosticated that the deforestation coupled with changes in population patterns and agriculture along with an apparent indifference on the part of both civilian and military governments to the risks assured that someday in the not distant future the granddaddy of all floods would make "Surf's Up!" the word of the day for the millions living along and dependent upon the Indus.

Despite the knowledge, the experience, and the warnings, the government of Pakistan was totally unready when the inevitable happened. If any segment of the government at any level had any plans for dealing with a monster flood as the monsoon rains fell, they must have borne the same relationship to reality as did the emergency plans of BP for handling an oil spill.

As the water heavy clouds of the monsoon parked themselves over the high country of Pakistan, the government made no preparations for the drearily predictable consequences of a lot of rain falling on deforested steep mountain sides plentifully provided with drainage channels--all of which ended at the Indus River. No emergency supplies were prepositioned. No first responders were given warning orders. No precautionary evacuations were ordered. There was a whole lot of nothing done on the part of the civilian government.

As the catastrophe unfolded with the horrid slowness of a Greek tragedy, the Islamabad government limited its first response (and its second response, third response and so on ad infinitum) to the default demand for foreign origin money. Rather than making even the slightest effort to take charge and move out on the disaster's consequences, the elected leadership of Pakistan simply shouted, "Send us money! Send us supplies! Send us helicopters! Send us! Send us!"

The outside world, the world of "infidels," did respond. Money was sent. Emergency supplies of all sorts were sent. Military assets such as helicopters, medical units, water purification plants were deployed. The US, the UK, other Western countries responded quickly, effectively, and generously.

Not only Western governments but Western based NGOs came in force. Whether official or non-governmental these outside agencies saved lives, housed the shelterless, provided food, water, medical assistance. Prodigies were undertaken so broken lives could start the process of recovery.

Even Pakistan's Official Main Enemy, India, sent money. Of course, the Pakistani government could not directly receive the tainted Indian rupees, instead requiring the foul five million dollars be furnished via the cleansing hands of the UN.

Pakistani Taliban and other groups favoring violent political Islam also responded to the demands of the emergency quickly, effectively, and generously. When not threatening Western aid groups or killing "infidel" aid workers, the Mighty Men of the Koran did provide food, shelter, medical attention along with propaganda materials to the refugees.

One indigenous entity stood out in the chaos of flood and refugees. The Pakistani army demonstrated that it, unlike the government, was not only willing but both ready and able to provide direct, real assistance to the displaced and dispossessed. The men and machines of the Pakistani Army and Air Force have shown a genuine capacity in rescue and relief work which was lacking in combat operations against Taliban.

The Army has increased its luster, its perceived legitimacy, in the estimate of Pakistani civilians generally, not simply those in the disaster zone. As the government's star has fallen, that of the military has risen.

It is not surprising that the first major call for the Army to take back its governing role has come in recent days. Altaf Hussain, the head of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), has called upon Pakistan's "patriotic generals" to oust the "corrupt politicians." The MQM is not some sort of minor league outfit and Altaf Hussain is not a fringe orator.

He may be in exile at the moment but the government depends upon the twenty-five parliamentarians who are members of MQM to stay in power. This means MQM can choose to force a vote of no-confidence. At this point the government would fall and political chaos might ensue. Not a pretty thought.

Considering that the Army has run Pakistan for more than half of its sixty-three years of independent existence, the call for the "patriotic generals" to take on the task one more time must be taken seriously. The civilian government has given even its most ardent supporters reason for pause.

In large measure the characterization of the civilian politicians as "corrupt" is well supported by the record over its term in power. Corruption, inefficiency, duplicity, arrogance, are all justifiable accusations. The paralysis exhibited by the Zardari/Gilani government has shredded whatever credibility it may have possessed. The lack of effective response by the government has erased any functional legitimacy it may have held only a month ago.

In Pakistan a civilian government has no particular existential legitimacy. The absence of a strong history of civilian government precludes existential legitimacy. This means that the civilian government to survive can depend only on functional legitimacy--the perceived capacity and will of the government to address effectively the needs and fears of its citizens.

At the moment the civilian government has no perceived functional legitimacy in the estimate of the vast majority of Pakistanis. This reality opens a couple of unpleasant (from the US perspective at least) doors.

One of these leads directly to another military coup. The US is opposed to this. In Pakistan as in the world generally, the US supports civilian democratic rule as the best alternative. Current US declaratory policy is to reject any support for a military junta in Islamabad. There is reason to believe the Army is not in a hurry to leave the barracks and return to the presidential palace only two years after relinquishing power to elected civilians.

Then, there is the second door. That door opens on a very unpleasant, highly unstable scene of political chaos. Neither MQM nor any other party has a good chance of gaining a majority in any somewhat fair election. A party with a plurality would still have to form a coalition in order to govern. This task would not be simple and straightforward. Pakistan is not the UK. Neither is it Australia. In those countries the formation of a coalition might be difficult but it is certainly not impossible.

In Pakistan the word "impossible" comes to mind quickly. The basis for this conclusion is easy to find. In Pakistan today the electoral process like that of the Fourth French Republic leads rapidly to unstable coalitions of improvised nature forcing unlikely bedmates to make quick deals and easy promises. The result is a series of broken promises, dead on arrival deals and collapsed coalitions.

The political dynamic of revolving door governments would benefit only Taliban and similar advocates of political Islam. The deals and counter-deals, promises made lightly and broken easily, a parade of minority governments, would destabilize Pakistan, ruin American policy ambitions in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and highly probably bring Taliban to power.

Faced with chaos it is improbable in the extreme that the Obama administration would continue its blind faith in the virtues of civilian government and "democratic" elections. It is even more improbable that the Pakistani military would stay true to its recently discovered faith in civilian supremacy.

Given the second door, the first does not look so unattractive. Perhaps the least-worst world is one where the Pakistani Army shrugs its collective shoulders and takes over one more time and the US accepts the accomplished feat. Now or in the very near future would be the least-worst time for the armed forces of Pakistan and the "progressives" of Washington to take a firm grip on the realities since the best time to ride the wave is when the tide is rising.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting The Hell Out Of Dodge--Or Kabul

In a perfect world an outside power supporting a host government threatened by insurgency would find itself in complete agreement with the host. On matters ranging from tactics and operations to governance, reform and power sharing with the insurgents, there would be a total meeting of the minds between the heavy hitters inside the Beltway and the local politicos and generals.

The problem comes in that the world is far from perfect. Nothing shows the vast gulf between the perfect universe of theory and the messy complications of reality better than the evolving relations between the US and Afghanistan, between the rhetoric of "nation-building" and the realties of not-losing a war.

When the neocon ninny Deep Thinkers of the Bush/Cheney administration rejected the doable option of a punitive expedition in which the sole goal would be the killing or capturing of the maximum number of al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders (and followers) in a minimum time, it embarked on a mission impossible. Instead of going in, killing the bad guys and getting out, leaving any idiocy of nation-building to the High Minded folks at the UN, the Bush/Cheney crowd decided to engage in the most silly of efforts--creating a modern, western style nation-state from the sow's ear of Afghanistan.

In practice this meant the US and its feckless allies jumped into the morass of Afghan politics of both the armed and unarmed sort. The transformation of American forces from a role of punishment and vengeance to one of counterinsurgency in support of our chosen government in Afghanistan assured that the US would lose influence over the actions, policies, and rhetoric of the Kabul government.

We had traveled that road before. In South Vietnam the decision by the Johnson administration to use air and later ground combat forces in direct action against the insurgent Viet Cong and their presumed sponsors in North Vietnam effectively told the Saigon government that the US was fighting a war of its own choosing for its own goals. The subtext was simply that the regime in power on any given day could ignore American advice, guidance, demands, and threats with impunity as the US had no choice but to ride the tiger it had mounted until it could dismount safely on the day of victory.

No matter how much American politicians and military commanders may blather about "partnering" with the Afghan government and military, the reality from Afghan eyes is that the US and the other foreigners are fighting a war which they must win for their own reasons. As a consequence the locals can stand back, do the minimum, and ignore (or, politely, simply pay no attention to) the demands, advice, counsel, and threats coming from time to time from Washington.

The only way to avoid this emasculation is to possess a credible capacity to decommit from the "joint" effort against the insurgents. The only way to assure that advice, guidance, and demands will not be met with silence at best and noisy rejection more commonly is having the believable political will to pull the troops out and cut losses.

Not until the final months of the war between South Vietnam and both the insurgents and the North did the US have a capacity to get the hell out of Saigon. Only then, confronted with the "date certain" actions of the Democrats in Congress did the South Vietnamese government and military start functioning effectively and efficiently. But, by then, it was too late.

The conundrum for the US has been that of creating a credible capacity to decommit from the Karzai government so as to gain the leverage necessary to reduce the probability of losing while not simultaneously encouraging the Taliban. We have not solved this conundrum. At least we have not solved it in an effective way.

There are (no surprise here) correct and incorrect ways to maintain a credible capacity to leave without benefiting the enemy at the same time. That means the Obama administration had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right.

The tragedy is that they got it wrong.

The right way to create or maintain a believable capacity to end interventionary support for an insurgency threatened host government is the setting of specific, mission, and context relevant milestones. These milestones should focus on two broad areas: the capacity and will of the local forces to enter into effective combat against the insurgents; the capacity and will of the government to expand its perceived functional legitimacy in the estimate of the uncommitted majority of the population. A third set of milestones would be of value. These should measure the will and ability of the government to settle for operational dominance rather than unquestioned authority over the insurgents.

The difficulty for Americans in the use of these types of milestones resides in the difficulties of assessing achievement. The most critical milestones are subjective. They deal with political will. They focus on perceptions. Very few are susceptible to the mathematical measurements so loved by bureaucrats both in and out of uniform. Being admittedly imprecise, these milestones are open to interpretation, inspire uncertainty, and allow a very large error bar.

Nonetheless, an examination of both armed domestic political turbulence and the role of outsiders shows these forms of assessment provide the best guide as to the progress made by the host in meeting both the military and perception challenges presented by insurgents. In short, sloppy and uncertain as these features might be, they are the most reliable way to assess when and how the outsider might leave with goals achieved.

The use of milestones which focus sharply, even solely, on the host government's will and ability to provide security, enhance its perceived legitimacy, and share power assures that the war will remained "owned" by the host regime and not the outside supporters. The host government is reminded constantly of two critical truths. The war is its sole property. The outsider will leave if the government does not meet the milestones.

The second crucial truth allows the intervenor to leave at a time and in a way of its own choosing. Should the host regime meet the milestones, the consequent success in countering the insurgency allows the intervenor to leave with a light heart, a happy smile, and a "mission accomplished!" banner held high. Should the host regime fail to meet the milestones, then the intervenor must leave before defeat is too apparent. No smiles this time, but rather the grim certainty that the host government was responsible for and owns the failure.

So much for the correct way. Now for the incorrect way, also known as the Obama Way.

In this simple, emotionally satisfying, politically expedient approach, the president of the United States simply announces a "date certain" on which the withdrawal of American troops will commence. The president's "progressive" political base (this is the group who sincerely believes the US has never been in a war which it did not deserve to lose) will cheer. The opposition will shake their collective heads in disbelief.

Other stakeholders will respond in their own unique fashions.

The host government will respond with shock, frustration, and bitterness. At least one senior US commander will dissent publicly, asserting the "date certain" will encourage the opposition by giving them hope that hanging on for a little bit longer will result in victory.

The dissent is well founded, even if Taliban has not yet taken a specific open stance. The weight of evidence shows the insurgents have a great degree of both patience and unexhausted political will.

At this point it is worth recalling two ground truths about insurgency. At root insurgency is a contest of political wills and not military forces per se. Secondly, the side with the greater ability to take casualties and expend time will be the side which wins.

Those two points are in explicit play with the Obama Pronouncement. No matter what qualifiers may be introduced later, the governing reality is the "date certain." Once announced, that date will encourage the insurgents to believe that there is a light visible from their end of the tunnel. On the other side there is a belief that unless the war has been won, absolutely and without any chance of mistake, by that "date certain," it will be lost beyond any shadow of a doubt. The "date certain" becomes by its very existence a form of self-fulfilling prophecy.

For ideological reasons the Bush/Cheney administration condemned the US and its allies to an expedition without realistic goal. Now Mr Obama, again for ideological reasons alone, has compounded the felonious blunder by waving the white flag.

The last time a president waved the banner of surrender it was on 31 March 1968 when LBJ walked away from his war on national television. It took several more years and tens of thousands of American deaths for his act of capitulation to involve the entire country, but this was akin to the time lag between the infection and consequent death.

Mr Obama probably did not intend to announce a forthcoming American defeat. Quite the contrary, he was most likely trying ineptly to give the American public a reason to hope the war in Afghanistan would come to an end if only we could hang on for a little while longer.

But, as the old cliche has it, "the road to hell (or defeat) is paved with good intentions." Good intentions are not enough to ensure success; they are more than enough to ensure defeat.

ADMIT NOTE: The Geek invites, welcomes and will post all on-topic comments. But having been hit with spam comments defensive measures have been instituted. The Geek apologizes for any frustration.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Kind Of War Will We Be Fighting?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently called for an evaluation of the role, mission, and configuration of the Marine Corps. At roughly the same time he suggested the Navy needed to reconsider its needs and, presumably, its role in future wars. While being less direct (in recent weeks) regarding both Army and Air Force, the soon to be outgoing SecDef has clearly questioned the current postures and mission orientation of both services.

The subtext of Dr Gates' push to reconfiguration consists of two questions. What kind(s) of war will the US be fighting in the next couple of decades? What is the current and projected state of play regarding the relative supremacy of offense and defense?

No aspect of human endeavor better fits the Hegelian dialectic then does the relation of offense and defense in warfare. Every new thesis of offense calls an antithesis of defense into existence. And, the new defense summons a synthesis of offense. So the wheel turns.

The celebration of the defense got a boost recently with the widespread and breathless discussion of the new Chinese wonder weapon, a highly accurate anti-ship ballistic missile. The couch potato admirals, not all of whom were Chinese, gleefully decided the new, untested missile would make US naval force projection utterly impossible within a thousand klicks or so of the Chinese landmass.

Any number of pundits who have never heard a shot fired in anger weighed in with a pornographically precise description of just how the new system would neutralize the Nimitz class carriers should any make so bold as to come over to the Chinese half of the Pacific Ocean. The first incoming conventional warhead would "kill" the Nimitz class as a weapons system by wrecking its capacity for air operations. The second would nail the ship's propulsive system turning the monumentally expensive and complex ship into a umpteen thousand ton hulk. Then, missile number three would speedily dispatch the hulk to Davy Jones' locker.

Badda-bing! That's all she wrote. End of the US as the number one maritime power. Might as well surrender to the Trolls of Beijing now and avoid the mess later.

Of course this dystopian view depends upon a number of assumptions--all of them quite questionable.

The first is that the US Navy knows utterly nothing about how to play hide-and-seek in the vast expanses of the ocean. Next, the it's-all-over-with crowd seems to believe that there is no way the US could possibly exploit any of the numerous opportunities to perturb, spoof, spiel, or otherwise degrade the extensive C4ISR system(s) which would be required to support the missile. Finally, the proponents of imminent American naval defeat ignore the demonstrated ABM and ASAT capacities of the Aegis supported Standard missile as well as the improvement curve expected over the next few years.

(Oh, yes, they also failed to note the status of directed energy weapon research, development, and deployment as if that is somehow less relevant than the still far from IOC ready Chinese ship-killer.)

The saga of the Chinese super-weapon or at least its portrayal in assorted American and foreign media should be seen as an excellent illustration of an important ground truth. The Hegelian dialectic, the yin and yang of offense and defense is never a finished process. It is always the big wheel that keeps on moving.

The same is true with respect to amphibious forcible entry. In his assessment of the Marine Corps need for a review of its main missions, Dr Gates contended that the days of storming the beach were over. The secretary averred improvements in anti-ship missile technology assured that an invasion force would have to "away all boats" forty or more miles offshore. This, of course, was an order of magnitude greater distance than required during WW II or, sixty years ago next month, the last great amphibious operation in US history, the one at Inchon, Korea.

To Dr Gates the takeaway was self-evident. The distance, and the time required to transit it would be too great. In the future, large scale operations across a contested beach would be impossible at any acceptable loss rate.

Surely with his vast experience, Dr Gates knows better. He has both seen enough and, in all probability, studied enough to understand that there is no such critter as a stasis imposed by the unconquerable defense or the irresistible offense.

Being a contemporary of the Geek, the secretary must recall, for example, the confident expressions by experts of high rank and great experience of a belief that the helicopter was too slow, too low flying, too fragile to survive in a combat zone. He should remember the pronouncements to the effect that the Marine's doctrine of "vertical envelopment" would prove impossible at any acceptable loss rate.

The experts were wrong as battlefields from Vietnam to Afghanistan have shown. The great wheel of offense versus defense rolled on. Improvements in one drove improvements in the other. There is no reason to believe this dynamic will suddenly and abruptly change.

History is filled with other examples, very well known examples. The combination of artillery, machine guns, field fortifications, and barbed wire made ground offensives impossible. Sure, until the armored fighting vehicles were developed. The battleship was supreme. Sure, until the airplane and submarine proved otherwise.

Submarines were queens of the sea. You bet. Until effective technologies of detection and engagement were developed. The bomber would get through. Yes, until radar, controlled figher interception, and surface to air missiles arrived on the scene.

Technological lurches in and off themselves are not necessary and sufficient reasons to demand a review and reconfiguration of missions and mission postures. The only truly necessary and sufficient reason for this to occur is found in the nature of the wars most likely to be fought in the next few years, say the next couple of decades.

Way back when, well, at least before 9/11, a faculty member at the National War College challenged the Geek to make one of his (in)famous "fearless predictions." The Geek obliged, opining that the most probable type of war for the US over the next generation or two would be that of an interventionary nature. The kind of war now called "overseas contingency operations."

While the probability of a peer-to-peer conflict with, say, China could not be ruled zero, such was diminishingly small. Rather it was likely to highly likely that the US would find it necessary to involve itself in messy little, frustratingly inconclusive interventions ranging from the punitive to the humanitarian to the stability enhancing to the counterinsurgent. Nasty little wars of policy which would be critical to national and strategic interests but not in themselves existential or total.

To date the prediction has been borne out. Further, there is no reason to see the situation altering in any fundamental fashion for the next two decades. Not even an attack on Iran would result in a total war of national survival for the US. The probability of a peer-to-peer mid- to high-intensity war with China or Russia is no more probable today than it was fifteen years ago. Nor, absent some form of unilateral disarmament is such going to loom larger in the real world over the next two decades.

This global reality does demand a more effective configuration of American forces: Marines, Navy, Army and Air Force. The necessity and desirability of such a reconfiguration has gained greater salience from the experiences of the past ten years. Further stimulus comes from the only partially acknowledged fact that the advocates of violent political Islam have not lost their appetite for armed confrontation with the US and other civilized states nor their ability for horizontal escalation.

The Marine Corps can be employed as an example of the necessary reconfiguration of doctrine, force structure, and posture. It should be recognized that the Marines are quite unlikely to be engaging in amphibious forcible entries in the next few years. This assertion is based not on changes in anti-ship missile technology or the increasing availability of inexpensive, effective anti-ship missiles but rather on the nature of likely wars.

In this context it is necessary to remember that the Marine Corps has a wide, extensive, and highly successful experience with interventionary operations, particularly counterinsurgency. For most of the past one hundred years, the Marines have been more often employed in low intensity interventionary operations than in assaulting heavily defended beaches. To put it in perspective, the USMC spent less than three years seizing beaches during WW II and Korea while Marines fought for six years in South Vietnam and nearly that long in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In South Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan as in the earlier "Banana Wars" of the Twenties and Thirties, the Marine Corps demonstrated the value of its tightly disciplined, flexible, down and forward approach to leadership in counterinsurgency. In all these deployments the Marines demonstrated a very rapid learning curve, a high degree of innovation, and a genuine competence at working with indigenous forces. The Marines have often exasperated higher command with their independence ("hell, the Marines are fighting their own war out there,"), but none have questioned their effectiveness.

In other interventionary operations, the Marine Corps' combination of high discipline, unit coherence, and integrated air and ground capabilities provided the necessary combination of lethality and restraint to accomplish difficult missions. (In this context it is helpful to remember the Marine operation in Lebanon in 1957.)

Had a Marine force been tasked with the neutralization of Somalian warlords in 1993, there would have been no possibility of the mission destroying "Blackhawk down" debacle. The very nature of Marine force posture and doctrine would have prevented the mounting of such a poorly planned and inadequately supported operation as that undertaken by Special Forces personnel at that time. (All that is necessary to keep in mind is that the Marines have organic armor, rotary wing and fixed wing as well as the necessary integrated command, control, and communication capabilities.)

In short, the Marine Corps brings to the table all the features and capacities necessary for short, sharp, constrained lethality operations. For humanitarian relief operations when risk of armed opposition exists, (bare in mind that Pakistani Taliban has threatened attack on relief personnel during the current flood) or a punitive expedition (such as the invasion of Afghanistan should have been) or stability enhancement deployments such as Lebanon in 1957 (or, absent the critical mistakes of mission definition and rules of engagement, Lebanon in 1982), the Marine Corps should be the lead force.

True, leaning on the Corps would violate the totem of "jointness" which has ruled supreme for the past several decades. If Dr Gates is serious he should kick start a review on "joint and combined operations" with a goal of eliminating those which are not genuinely required by the nature of the operation. He knows, (it is flatly impossible that he doesn't) the "joint and combined" fetish is driven not by any real strategic, operational, or tactical requirements but rather by the budgetary process.

And, that, bucko, is a very, very poor way to plan and conduct military operations.

While the Deep Thinkers of the national security community are at it, they might consider the need for reconfiguring the American special and black operations capacities. As events of recent vintage in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and North or Northwest Africa have shown, there is an increasingly blurred line between the operational divisions of CIA and the blacker portions of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Complicating this is a corollary merging of the intelligence collection functions of CIA's HUMINT component and the equivalents in SOCOM.

Blurring, merging, overlapping between black or paramilitary operations and HUMINT collection is both dangerous and counterproductive. Almost as bad is the insensible, unplanned and reactive melding of the Agency's paramilitary or black operations capacities with any similar capacities in SOCOM. Clear lines of command, responsibility and tasking are necessary for effectiveness. So also is common doctrine, shared mindset and world view.

The separation with careful coordination between intelligence collection and operational execution is also utterly essential. As the record of WW II in Europe demonstrates convincingly, a carefully orchestrated and coordinated separation of intelligence and operations is utterly essential. Otherwise the spooks and the black ops types not only step on each others cloaks, but get stabbed with one another's daggers.

There are many other areas where our forces doctrines, structures, orientations and postures can be and should be re-evaluated and reconfigured. Dr Gates is definitely on the side of the angels when he urges such.

However, it is mission critical that any review, any reconfiguration, any structure, posture and doctrine changes be based not on changes in technologies, new turns on the wheel of offense and defense but on a realistic understanding of the nature of the wars we will be fighting in the years to come. To suggest otherwise is to assure an ultimate failure in the process.

The bitch of it all is the failure will not be evident until too many body bags come home in a war not yet fought. And, by then, it is way too late.

ADMIN NOTE: Comments are invited, welcomed and will be posted but due to spam comments the Geek has been forced to take defensive measures. He apologizes for any inconvenience or frustration.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

American Ethics And American War

Frankly the accusations by Amnesty International to the effect that the US has violated international law and the ethics of warfare by its actions in Yemen (see immediately preceding post) rankle the Geek no end. This short take is a personal note to the tender hearted, high minded, lofty thinking, and historically ignorant lawyerly types at Amnesty International as well as other, similarly inclined NGOs and their sympathizers at the UN.

Just over sixty-five years ago President Franklin Roosevelt was briefed on the planned invasion of Iwo Jima. He was told the island was heavily defended by a large, well dug in defensive force with orders to hold until the last man. The goal of the defenders was to inflict a maximum number of casualties on the American forces with the larger intent of weakening American political will so as to allow an end to the war on terms very favorable to the Japanese.

The president was also told that there were no people on the island other than members of the Imperial Japanese armed forces. No civilians. No dragooned Korean laborers. No "comfort women." It was a pure military target with only soldiers, sailors, and airmen present. Killing them was well within the laws of warfare.

Finally, the president was advised that American fatalities would be very high. Higher even than the hectatombs of Tarawa or Peleliu. The US military high command unanimously held that the best means of attack would be standing off and drenching the island with chemical munitions, particularly the most potent one we had in our arsenal, mustard agent. There was no danger of retaliation. The Japanese had no means and the Germans were effectively defeated at this point.

FDR was told bluntly that using chemical weapons would save thousands of American lives and would not cost one Japanese life more than would be the case with a conventional invasion.

Faced with this stark choice the president said, "No." He would not cross the ethical Rubicon of being the first to use chemical weapons in WW II. (This despite the well documented use of both chemical and biological munitions by the Japanese in China.)

The ethically (or morally) based decision of FDR condemned more than six thousand US Marines to death.

The invasion of Iwo Jima constituted a tribute to human courage and endurance which will reflect glory on the Marines and the country which produced them for generations to come as well as the most famed photograph of World War II for Americans. But, there is no doubt that the men who died as well as their families, friends, indeed, the nation as a whole, would have cheerfully exchanged glory for the lives of those who were killed in the black sands of Iwo Jima.

Mr Roosevelt preserved his moral purity. He, perhaps, protected the ethical integrity of the US. To the president and many others later, during peacetime, with the luxury of considering both ethics and their cost in human lives, the decision was the correct one. And, arguably it was; it did establish a limit during the closing days of a war in which all previous limits had been not only transcended but obliterated.

The Geek has seen no signs that later presidents became any less conscious of ethics as a limiting factor in war. Presidents have made grave mistakes in deciding where and against whom and with what means war must be waged. However, the mistakes have been far more often than not on the side of caution, conservatism, on the side of limiting both the scope of war and the lethality of the means employed.

Get a grip on this, Amnesty: The US is not given to using disproportionate means. It is not given to employing weapons with undue breadth of effect. It is not in the habit of using too much. It is far more common to use too little.

Even though those of Amnesty International love to hate America. Even though they are all members of the Blame America First club, the historical realty, the ground truth, is the US attempts (often without success to be sure) to fight with the least force possible, to kill as few as feasible, to take all due, and many undue precautions to exempt civilians and non-combatants from harm.

Hey, AI, you all may not like it, but that is the nature of history. Get over your chronic inability to see affairs as they actually have been and are.

And, Now, It's Yemen Again

Either or both CIA and the WaPo have determined Yemen is tomorrow's news. Baying along is Amnesty International, once more ever-so-concerned that somehow, someone may be killed by an American munition without benefit of arrest, trial, appeal, and the other features of justice.

American, particularly CIA, neutralization efforts have taken the fun out of being an al-Qaeda heavyweight either in Afghanistan or the FATA of Pakistan. The ever present Predators have proven spectacularly successful at what is politely referred to as "organizational disruption" in both venues. The result, as intended, has been the lowering of both the will and ability of al-Qaeda to mount offensive operations on its own.

One result has been the redirection of al-Qaeda personnel and efforts from direct leadership to behind the scenes training, planning, and advising. The small number of al-Qaeda (fifty to one hundred) remaining in Afghanistan still represent a significant but indirect threat as they use their experience to gin up the locals, to churn out more effective Taliban and Haqqani network tactical commanders, more competent bomb makers, more industrious and able recruiters. In this role al-Qaeda can hope to serve as a potent force multiplier.

Another, equally predictable result of the increased US pressure both on the ground in Afghanistan and in the air over the FATA has been horizontal escalation. The Geek has posted many times on the potentials for geographic spread by al-Qaeda. The most likely venues for such horizontal escalation have been North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. Of these alternatives, the one having the most threat enhancing potential is the last, the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been in existence for well over a decade. Osama bin Laden launched his war against the US and the West from the wide sands of the Peninsula. His motive was the perceived "infidel" occupation of the Peninsula, particularly Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden's goal was and is the forced ejection of the American "infidels" and the local "apostates" from the Kingdom of the Two Mosques. His "declaration of war against the American people" of fifteen or so years ago made both motive and goal explicit.

Yemen has been a preferred center of operations for bin Laden and his organization from its earliest days. The country has been a collection of nations in contest for statehood. Tribal in nature, contentious in politics, feudal in loyalties, divided in all essential respects for the past half century, the barren, impoverished dry mountains and parched deserts of Yemen are inherently ungovernable.

The Yemeni are also given to deep religious enthusiasm, which is not surprising given the economic, social, cultural nature of the place. Insofar as there is a glue which might bind Yemenis together across the chasms of family, clan, tribe, region, relative poverty, or political affiliation, it is found in religion. The Yemeni have taken their Islam hot, black, and strong since the days of the Houthi overthrow.

The message of bin Laden as well as the ascetic personality of the messenger himself have struck a deep and resonate chord with many in Yemen, a chord which resounds all the stronger as Osama is a local boy who has made good, very good. This reality has made Osama bin Laden a very real actor in Yemeni politics since before the suicide bombing of the USS Cole linked Yemen, al-Qaeda, and terrorism at the shoulder and hip.

The government of president Ali Abdullah Saleh has played a very delicate, not to say duplicitous game over the past decade, balancing its precarious hold on what passes for central power domestically with the demands of the US or Saudi Arabia. This means the Saleh regime has tacked violently and unpredictably between apparent cooperation with the US and Saudi Arabia on one course and seeming agreement with the stance of al-Qaeda on the other.

The Yemeni government is not only fighting a recurrent defensive insurgency in the south (Always have to remember that Yemen was two countries for the best part of a half century, and the relation between North Yemen and the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen was not peaceful.) but also a renewed offensive insurgency waged by the recrudescent Houthis in the mountains of the far north. In this setting AQAP has a measure of power far greater than might be expected given its current manpower is in the three to five hundred range.

It is not going too far to assert that AQAP can be the kingmaker, or, to err on the side of accuracy, the regicide if pushed too far by either the Sanaa government or the outsiders. If the Saleh regime were to fall, AQAP has both the will and ability to take over either directly (unlikely) or as the force in the backroom (likely) with the Houthi rebels as the stooges in front.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Yemen is a far better base for a violent political Islam advocacy group than is either Afghanistan or the FATA. Geographically, Yemen is in the center of things, well, the important things that is. It is coterminous with Saudi Arabia. It fronts the Gulf of Aden and the (very) narrow strait connecting the Gulf with the Red Sea and thus the southern approach to the Suez Canal. Right across the way is the failed state of Somalia and the less than stable Eritrea.

That's not a pretty picture.

Equally unpretty is the nature of the terrain of Yemen itself. Most of the place rather resembles a mating of the backside of the moon and the uplands of Hell. It makes the FATA and most of Afghanistan look like Iowa in comparison. This means it is a fine place for a small guerrilla force provided the troops and leaders are well motivated. Equally it makes the physical geography a counterinsurgent's worst nightmare.

The long (1,450 klicks) border with Saudi is unsealable. So is the border with Oman, a country with little credible military capacity. The road network makes that of Afghanistan look like it is covered by an Interstate highway system. (Only ten percent of the seventy thousand klicks of tracks is paved.) You get the picture.

The long and short of reality is simply this: Even if the US had the political will to take on yet one more ground conflict, the physical terrain of Yemen militates against the American way of war, even the "new" one of light, lean, and mean.

Nor is the human terrain any less unpromising. The Yemeni population is as experienced with unending war as that of Afghanistan. If anything, more Yemenis have a direct contact with the physical and psychological realities of protracted and asymmetrical conflict than the folks of Afghanistan. (It is hard to find twelve consecutive months of Yemeni history since 1960 when the bullets were not flying somewhere in the country.)

While Yemen has not had a Taliban of its own, there is a strong current of intense and severe Salifist Islam. Exacerbating the tendency for religiously based true belief is the very young population--the median age is not quite eighteen years. Strong religious identification plus youth equals "extremism."

Nor is the "extremist" propensity modified by the high level of illiteracy (fifty percent for the total population, thirty percent for men) and an equally high level of unemployment. The wealth of the country is highly maldistributed and employment opportunities at home nearly zilch.

Worsening the domestic economic situation is the rapid depletion of the minimal oil reserves of Yemen. The same applies to water. Water has always been scarce (the place is a desert after all), but population growth and urbanization have made the situation far worse. Water is lacking; economic diversification has been a flop; agricultural yields are slipping.

Really looking good, isn't it?

The central government is corrupt, inefficient, filled with cronies, timeservers, inept graduates of pathetic post-secondary educational institutions. The army is no better being poorly equipped, very poorly officered, lacking any real capacities in such features as logistics, transportation, intelligence, heavy weapons, and aviation. Neither army nor government is up to the task of defeating AQAP or the Houthis or the southern insurgents even if political will to do any of these existed in more than fits and starts.

The US has only recently restarted its defensive efforts in Yemen. The Agency's capabilities in country are minimal given the degree of threat. The Predators have been absent for years with the result that when it was necessary to attempt a hit on a senior AQAP command center late last year the only available option was a cruise missile strike. The result was negative to say the least.

The December strike killed forty-one people including a provincial official seeking to negotiate a cease fire and a passel of children. Worse, the raid had no plausible deniability as cluster bomb unit sub-munitions were found and easily identified as American in origin. Leaving aside the issue of covertness, cruise missiles have been proven repeatedly to be a bad choice for this type of mission. They arrive too late, are not subject to terminal maneuver, spread death over too wide an area, inflict too many collateral casualties, and cannot be called off at the last moment should new information make such desirable.

And, the footprint cruise missiles leave invite the rancorous attention of international do-gooder outfits such as Amnesty International . Amnesty International and similar organizations do not have an accurate understanding of the type of war fought by AQAP and others of the violent political Islamic sort. They simply don't get the fact that entities such as AQAP or the original al-Qaeda do not observe tidy geographically defined "war zones."

Nor does Amnesty International and the other high minded, lofty thinking folks of other NGOs or the UN really grok on the reality that the proponents of violent political Islam choose the place, methods, and means of waging their idea of war on the states and peoples who have been declared enemies of Islam. In this dynamic the US and other states who find themselves in the impact zone have no realistic option except to fight the attackers where they are. Responsible, reactive governments have no choice beyond that of using means and munitions which will kill or otherwise neutralize the attackers at the lowest cost in either collateral casualties or third government destabilization.

Predators, ground commands of special forces, covert and clandestine intelligence operators all constitute appropriate, low signature, low footprint means. All are effective in identifying, killing or otherwise removing bad actors from the board, perturbing hostile organizations. All are good ways to do the job at the lowest cost in unwanted and counterproductive "side effects."

The American born clerical advocate of violent political Islam, Anwar al-Awlaki is a declared enemy of the US. He has been directly, substantially, and materially connected to armed attacks on the US. He is an effective recruiter, motivator, trainer, and superintendent of armed attacks on US territory and citizens. He is in Yemen.

In a perfect world it would be possible to convince the Yemeni government to arrest al-Awlaki and extradite him to the US for trial. In this same world, a world where unicorns frolic and lions do recline with lambs, Awlaki could have a full, fair, transparent trial, file appeals endlessly, and finally, perhaps, reside in a not frightfully uncomfortable federal slammer.

In the imperfect world any and all of these are either impossible or very unlikely. Even if the Yemeni government could be motivated to find and arrest the radical cleric, the political realities of the place would demand that Awlaki be tried in Yemen and, if convicted, be jailed there until he either "escaped" or was given amnesty. He would be out of prison and back on the internet faster than a camel can spit.

This means that if the US government, (which is to say the Obama administration) desires to secure the US against further, future harm from Awlaki, it must either apprehend or kill the man. As the probability of quietly arresting Awlaki is slim to none, the option of killing him looms large.

Of course, dispatching ole Anwar with a Hellfire launched from a Predator does constitute, at least in the estimate of Amnesty International and other citizens of Unicorn Land, an "extra-judicial killing." As the Geek is not a lawyer, for which he thanks the mercies of the universe, he is not prepared to dispute the point. He is, however, prepared to assert that a dead Awlaki constitutes little threat to any American.

Coming from Apache ancestry, the Geek is aware of the dangers of a mentality such as that epitomized by the old cliche, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." At the same time he is aware from both personal and vicarious experience that the decision to kill a specific, named enemy is not taken lightly even during a declared war. (Recall that the decision to kill Admiral Yamamoto during WW II as he flew between Japanese bases far from the frontline was made at the highest levels of government after a lengthy debate within the senior circle of the FDR administration.)

There is no reason to believe that the standards, the strictures, or the processes of review are any less stringent today. There is no reason to assume as Amnesty International apparently has that the US government, or its covert service, or its military has stooped to the level of the enemy or has adopted the arrogance without either rules or limits which characterize the way in which Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Taliban, al-Qaeda, or AQAP wage war.

The realties of Yemen, the realities of American political will, the realities of violent political Islam demand that the US use covert or clandestine means to defend our country and its citizens, our allies, and our interests. This means we must do things, use means, employ weapons or methods which some of tender hearts and high minded sentiments find disturbing, even repugnant.

But, these easily offended sensitive souls have to get a firm grip on the situation in Yemen and elsewhere. We are under attack. We cannot fight back using either conventional or tidy, open, and transparent methods. But, we can and must fight effectively without compromising our basic values.

This is what we have been doing. And, must do more of.

ADMIN NOTE: Because Get a Grip has been victimized by spammers it is necessary to take defensive measures including moderation and the anti-spam verification. The Geek apologizes for the inevitable, unavoidable inconvenience.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Once More With Feeling--Let's Talk About Peace

Once more the air is filled with the sound of the cuckoo. That bird is crowing, "Peace! Peace! Give peace a chance." It's calls are echoing around Washington. Reverberating through Israel. The bird's cheerful noise is bouncing through the wadis and souks of Palestine. Resounding across the capitals of at least some Mideast states. And, throbbing amidst the gunfire and IED blasts of Afghanistan.

Fer sure, dudes.

The world has been through the cycle of unwarranted optimism and unmerited depression too often to exhibit the slightest joy over the recent announcement by the Obama administration that it is investing whatever might still linger of its diplomatic and political prestige and influence on hosting the opening round of the latest bout between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The chances of success were in no way enhanced by the belief expressed by senior members of Team Obama that within a year a comprehensive settlement on substantial issues will be achieved.

That rhetoric of faith is akin to the "peace in our time" piety expressed by Neville Chamberlin on his return from the Munich Conference. If the Secretary of State or any one else in the administration really, really believes that, there is a desperate need for a change in medications.

Even if the hard right coalition headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu is ready, willing, and, most importantly, politically able to achieve peace at the cost of pulling thousands of "settlers" out of the disputed territories, there is no reason to conclude the weak, fractured, Palestinian Authority government of Mahmoud Abbas can agree to any formula which settles for less than their maximum demands.

Netanyahu has promised to take any deal reached over the next months to both the Knesset and the Israeli people. Not that he would have any choice. Any agreement will be both at Israel's expense and risk. As the Israelis learned to their sorrow in the wake of evacuating the Gaza Strip, the rest of the world cheers the withdrawal but is terribly unconcerned if the aftermath includes the loss of Israeli lives to the "liberating" rockets and mortar bombs of Palestinian "freedom fighters" and Islamist killers.

The Palestinian Authority is a government in name rather than substance even in the territory which it purportedly rules. Its legitimacy is questionable in the minds of many Palestinians. Of course the PA is under direct, continual, quotidian threats from the very hard line Islamist regime of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Any sign of purported "weakness" on the part of the PA will be seized upon by Hamas and its allies, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran as one more lever with which to pry the Palestinian territory further into the irredentist camp.

The PA has a record of rejecting far better offers than any which can or will be made by the Netanyahu government. In the previous acts of pure rejectionism, the PA has continued the splendid record of diplomatic failure established back in the Thirties by the Arabs of the region and enhanced by the sorry and totally avoidable blunders of Fatah during and after the First and Second Intifadas.

As diplomats the Arabs of Palestine have a history which shows a level of sheer incompetence rivaled only by their success in military operations. The government of Israel is perfectly well aware of the Palestinian capacity for self-inflicted diplomatic defeat and will be prepared to take full advantage of it.

Of course, the PA is counting on the US and the European Union to do the necessary diplomatic heavy lifting. In this the PA is showing a shrewd understanding of the stance of both the Obama administration and the political and opinion molding elites of the EU.

The EU is clearly, if not pro-Palestinian, at least, quite anti-Israel. There is no doubt but the EU elites are fed up with the situation in the Mideast and hold the Israelis solely culpable for the current situation. There is equally little doubt but the EU will lean on Israel in every way possible regardless of reality or even without regard for the interests of the EU member states.

The Europeans have convinced themselves that a two state solution will not only bring in a permanent era of peace, love, and flower power between Israel and its Arab/Muslim neighbors, but will also end the global threat of terrorism and their domestic problems of creeping Islamism. This unicausal model is attractive because it is simple. It is wrong nonetheless.

The Obama administration will undoubtedly put the muscle on Israel. That is all it can do. It--and the US--have no measurable leverage on the governments of the Arab/Muslim states and no genuine credibility with the Arab/Muslim street. All the famed Obama "outreach" program has done is raise and quickly dash expectations among the many who are so ill-informed as to believe the hoary trope, "if the US can put a man on the moon, it can (fill in the blank.")

However there are very real limits on the amount of coercion the Obama administration can use on Israel. These limits are imposed by domestic political considerations which far transcend the purported power of the Israel Lobby or the alleged importance of the "Jewish vote," although neither of these are trivial matters. Poll after poll demonstrates that an overwhelming majority of We the People, particularly those who meet the Rasmussen poll definition of "mainstream," not only support Israel but pin the tail of blame on the Palestinian donkey.

Further limiting the capacity of Mr Obama or his administration to play an effective role in the upcoming direct negotiations is the absence of credibility. If LBJ had a "credibility gap" during the Vietnam War, Obama has a yawning credibility canyon. His word simply cannot be trusted by the government of Israel. To say this limits his capacity to influence affairs is to state the overly obvious.

Over in Afghanistan the Karzai government has acknowledged the self-evident. Karzai personally allowed as how his government is engaged in ongoing conversations of an informal nature with members of Taliban. That admission is scarcely stop-the-presses news.

The Karzai government and the president himself would be criminally negligent as well as suicidally out-to-lunch not to have been talking with representatives of both Taliban and the Haqqani network. Conflict resolution, even hostilities termination, depend upon the achievement of a working agreement with the insurgents. When the shooting stops--or even to facilitate the stopping of the shooting--a power sharing arrangement must be achieved.

Unless an insurgency is focused solely upon the ejection of what is perceived as a foreign political and military presence, the two contestants will have to live together at war's end. Thus it is essential to redefine the conflict in a way that assures neither combatant sees the war as existential in nature.

It is clear that this has been Karzai's goal for some years now. He is a very able politician in the Afghan context. He understands perfectly that the greater the body count, the more inflexible the dividing lines between insurgent and government, the more war weary the uncommitted majority population becomes, the more difficult, even impossible it will be to end the war without one side or the other existentially eliminating the other.

Being both a realist and a powerful nationalist, Karzai has laid down only one key condition regarding who from Taliban and the Haqqani is an acceptable interlocutor. He demands that only those who are not aligned with or dominated by al-Qaeda or other "foreign" entities come to the table--even for the informal conversations which have been underway.

To his credit Mr Karzai has made no grandiose promises. He has put forth no timetable. He sees no specific result eventually coming from the conversations. Once again he is showing both realism and a keen grasp of the potentials of Afghan politics.

Best of all Mr Karzai has kept the Obama White House and administration basically out of the loop. Keeping the current administration at a very long arm's length is probably the best way to assure something positive emerges from the shadows of informal conversations, the talks which happen but never are given more than tacit, offhand mention.

If only the Israelis and Palestinians could do the same--success might crown their efforts.