Tag: Iraq (page 2 of 6)

Gender, Violence and Digital Emergence

One of the most unsettling findings of our media and radicalisation research was the way in which the suffering of certain individual women is turned into a cause by radical Islamic groups that leads to violence by men in those women’s names. The availability of digital media, combined with a certain doctrinal entrepreneurialism by those using religion to justify political violence, has resulted in the widespread dissemination of amateur video clips depicting a specific woman’s plight and calling for reprisals. If you want to understand the link between online propaganda and offline action, it appears that representations of women’s bodies and their “honour” are often central. My project colleagues and I document two such cases in a research article published this week.

Dua Khalil Aswad, an Iraqi teenage girl of the Yazidi faith, was stoned to death on 7 April 2007 by a Yazidi mob consisting of tens of men, mostly her relatives, for eloping and spending the night with a Muslim man. Her death was recorded on a mobile cameraphone by a bystander and circulated on the internet. It was eventually picked up by NGOs and international media, where the killing was framed in terms of human rights abuses. However, the clip was also identified by so-called ‘mujahideen’ in Iraq, namely Al-Qaeda in Iraq and affiliated groups. They claimed Dua was killed because she converted to Islam. They argued her killing demonstrated how non-Islamic faiths violate human rights (they know how to call upon human rights discourse too), and that this warranted the mujahideen bringing their own kind of justice to Dua’s killers. Between April and September 2007 a series of high-profile retaliatory attacks saw the individual and collective killing of hundreds of Yazidis and the wounding and displacement of more. One of the jihadist groups involved in these attacks, Ansar Al-Sunna, posted a video justifying their violence. Dua’s death was woven into a longer strategic narrative perpetuated by jihadists concerning a war between Islam and other faiths.

Three years later, in 2010, we found considerable religious tension in Egypt and the Arab world stemming from several cases of young female Coptic Christians in Egypt who had allegedly converted to Islam and were forced by the Coptic Church, with the aid of the former Mubarak security forces, to return to Christianity. The alleged plight of these women became the subject of media debates, street demonstrations and protests by Muslims and counter-efforts by Copts in Egypt, inflammatory editorials, online speculation, and finally, violence against innocent people. One of the most prominent episodes occurred in July 2010. Camilia Shehata, a female Copt Christian in Egypt, disappeared, and allegedly converted to Islam. She then returned under the shelter of the Coptic Church and released various videos to explain her case. Her story was amplified by Christian and Muslim groups alike, but subsequent attacks in her name occurred in Iraq rather than Egypt. Al-Qaeda in Iraq took hostages in a Baghdad church in October 2010 and announced on YouTube:

Through the directions of the Ministry of War of the Islamic State of Iraq, and in defence of our weak and oppressed, imprisoned Muslim sisters in the Muslim land of Egypt, and after detailed choices and planning, a small group of jealous Mujahideen, beloved servants of Allah, launched an offensive against a filthy center of Shirk [the Church] which Christians in Iraq have for so long taken as a place from which to wage their war and plot against Islam. By Allah’s Grace, we were able to capture those who had gathered there and take control over all entrances.

The Mujahideen of the Islamic State of Iraq give the Christian Church of Egypt 48 hours to clarify the condition of our Muslim sisters imprisoned in the churches of Egypt, and to free them all without exception, and that they announce this through the media which must reach the Mujahideen within the given time period.

The Iraqi government chose to attack the hostage-takers rather than negotiate. The hostage-takers detonated their suicide bombs in the church and 53 people died.

These events confirm one thing we know: terrorist groups can derive asymmetrical benefit from digital media, since content from individual lives and incidents can be rapidly reframed to bolster longstanding narratives such as the notion of a clash between Islam and other religions. But what struck us as particularly significant was the degree of contingency involved. The line from the initial acts to the eventual victims and the way in which events are incorporated into others’ narratives seems chaotic, escaping the control of the initial actors. The economy of exchange through media is irregular: digital footage may emerge today, in a year or never, and it may emerge anywhere to anyone. The concept of agency becomes complicated. The span of things done ‘by’ Al-Qaeda is beyond its control. Is distributed agency something new, only made possible by digital connectivity, or have social and religious movements always depended upon – and hoped for – a degree of contingent taking-up of their cause?

While we cannot know why the Yazidi man with a digital camera recorded the stoning of Dua (or why he recorded others recording it with their cameras), the increasing recording of everyday life certainly produces more material for political and religious exploitation. As we have seen, this allowed Al-Qaeda to instantly reframe a woman’s life as a “sister’s” life to shame men into action. If the killing of Neda Soltan during the Iranian election protests in 2009 represented one face of today’s mix of gender, violence and digital emergence, the cases of Dua and Camilla show another.

Cross-posted from the journal Global Policy

The Selling of the Iraq War: Case Study of Presidential Persuasion?

This week, a number of high-profile journalists and bloggers are engaged in a debate about presidential persuasion. Among other examples, they have been discussing the George W. Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war — leading political scientists at the The Monkey Cage to weigh in with data and useful analysis.

Much of the discussion about the Iraq war centers around this chart, which details the contours of support for the war based on party identification.

I left the following in comments, but wanted to add key links:

The Bush administration really starting selling war in late August and early September 2002, so prior data is not especially relevant to the question of presidential persuasion.  Andrew Card was quoted in the NYT the 1st week of September 2002: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” In August, Card formed the White House Iraq Group and on the 26th of that month, Cheney spoke to the VFW. From that time until war began in March 2003, Republican support for war increased by over 5% despite a starting position at nearly 80% — and despite open skepticism expressed in the NYT & WSJ by Bush I stalwarts James Baker & Brent Scowcroft. At the same time, Independent support for war remained flat at about 60%, and Democratic support remained between 45-50%. I’m pretty sure Gallup polling from the last 25 years showed 2003 as the nadir for Democratic party ID, meaning that at least some ex-Democrats were suddenly telling pollsters they were pro-war Independents or Republicans.

Some elites may well have become skeptical over time, but media coverage of the case for war was decidedly uncritical and newspaper op-ed pages were overwhelmingly pro-war, especially after the Colin Powell presentation at the UNSC.

In any case, the selling of the Iraq war was remarkable and fairly unique, so we should be careful generalizing from it.

Politics, Intelligence, and Academic Analysis

Writing in Foreign Policy, Paul Pillar makes the case that most so-called “intelligence failures” stem from bad leadership rather than problems with the US intelligence community. He touches upon a number of cases, but Iraq looms large:

Had Bush read the intelligence community’s report, he would have seen his administration’s case for invasion stood on its head. The intelligence officials concluded that Saddam was unlikely to use any weapons of mass destruction against the United States or give them to terrorists — unless the United States invaded Iraq and tried to overthrow his regime. The intelligence community did not believe, as the president claimed, that the Iraqi regime was an ally of al Qaeda, and it correctly foresaw any attempt to establish democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq as a hard, messy slog.

Pillar’s discussion of proliferation is a little more nuanced. He writes:

The intelligence community was raising no alarms about the subject when the Bush administration came into office; indeed, the 2001 edition of the community’s comprehensive statement on worldwide threats did not even mention the possibility of Iraqi nuclear weapons or any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons. The administration did not request the (ultimately flawed) October 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraqi unconventional weapons programs that was central to the official case for invasion — Democrats in Congress did, and only six senators and a handful of representatives bothered to look at it before voting on the war, according to staff members who kept custody of the copies. Neither Bush nor Condoleezza Rice, then his national security advisor, read the entire estimate at the time, and in any case the public relations rollout of the war was already under way before the document was written.

I can’t speak to all of these claims, but the evidence seems pretty overwhelming that “intelligence failures” — understood as erroneous conclusions produced by the intelligence community in which Bush administration pressure played no role — cannot be blamed for the catastrophic decision to invade Iraq.

This discussion provides a nice pivot to something that’s bothered me for quite some time. Robert Jervis wrote a scholarly book on intelligence failures that, inter alia, places responsibility for the WMD-debacle on the CIA. In response to a negative review in the New York Review of Books, Jervis wrote:

Powers’s other point is that the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence, Jami Miscik, threatened to resign unless the White House stopped pressuring her. But her complaints were about the CIA’s refusal to affirm links between Saddam and terrorism, not about its WMD findings, which was the topic of my analysis. This is a key point. If politicization explained intelligence assessments, we would find them converging with administration preferences. But on Iraq and terrorism, they never did.

This line of reasoning strikes me as a classic “academic logic” blunder, one that I’m surprised that Jervis, as a former scholar-in-residence at the CIA, would make. Bureaucrats and officials pick their fights; they are much more likely to fall on their swords (or threaten to) over battles they believe they can win than over battles they see as losers. Whatever the truth of the matter, Miscik’s behavior is in no way inconsistent with the claim that politicization drove intelligence analysts to overstate the threat of Iraqi unconventional-weapons proliferation.

The Iraq surge: vindicated then exposed?

We haven’t got all the details, but promptly after the departure of US combat troops the Iraqi Prime Minister is feuding badly with Sunni political figures, and a bomb blast suggests that Iraq may be escalating into more sectarian conflict.

If so, what does this say about the surge? On one hand, the relatively quiet withdrawal of American troops on Tuesday vindicated one objective of the surge: to create more stable conditions to that America could pull out quietly without it being humiliated and without the kind of chaotic flight to the exits that would polarize its society.

On the other hand, the major declared objective of the surge launched by President Bush II in 2006-7 was to depress levels of violence, secure the population and thereby create critical space in which there could be political progress and reconciliation.

Advocates of enlightened counterinsurgency and muscular state-building argued that Iraq vindicated their position. They argued that the combination of more troops and more restraint played a major role in depressing the levels of violence and giving Iraq a breathing space to recover from the communal bloodletting it suffered in the post-invasion years.

But if Iraq descends again into the traumatic violence of 2005-6, we must acknowledge that this approach had its limits. It bought time and got the issue off the front pages – no small thing for a superpower that has seen presidencies destroyed in the past by protracted small wars – but a new civil war of sorts would suggest that the surge did not achieve its most profound objective.

Its not actually obvious, historically, that gentler, more sophisticated ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns necessarily work, if we define success as marginalising insurgencies while leaving behind a strong state that governs in the interests of the departing occupier.

Successful counterinsurgency campaigns in the past relied on favourable geopolitical conditions and some pretty unsentimental techniques. Forced population resettlements, virtual concentration camps (albeit with well-run facilities), indiscriminate bombings, bribery on a massive scale, proxy violence, etc. Which is precisely one reason why I am uneasy with our countries doing this kind of campaign, given the dark price victory has often exacted.

In some ways, the Petraeus revolution mixed the fluffy, appealing liberal versions of hearts and minds (cultural literacy, heroic restraint, a population-centric view that you can’t kill your way out) with some hard-nosed methods, such as walling off warring communities, putting potential insurgents on the payroll, and sustaining a round-the-clock kill and capture programme.

And yet, car bombs are going off and there are new rumours of war.

Alternatively, there is the line being peddled that America should not have left. Making Iraq an indefinite commitment would be mightily expensive. And by shouldering this burden well into the future, it would come at other costs, putting the US in the eye of whatever storms were coming in the future.

Ultimately, Iraq showed in a brutal way how limited American power is. If the surge only bought some time and space, and postponed another round of internal conflict (possibly metastasizing into a wider regional one), then policymakers should not conclude that perpetual armed nation-building works if only we get our methods right. Ultimately, COIN just isn’t a venture that we should fatalistically accept as part of our strategic future.

Contrary to the late Christopher Hitchens, endless war is not only a bad idea. It is beyond America’s limited strength. And compared to its costs, its dividends, at least in this case, may be slight indeed.

Cross posted at Offshore Balancer.

Keeping Up With The International Criminal Court: The Realization of Judicial Intervention

The International Criminal Court would “wither and die” was once the prediction of John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN. It seems that is not the case. There has been a dizzying amount of activity surrounding the Court lately, much of which underscores that judicial intervention is becoming a mainstay of conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Undoubtedly, the ICC will be the hot topic at your department’s holiday party ;) Here’s your cheat sheet so you can nerd out with everyone else. If you get stuck, just wryly remark that it depends on sovereignty, or complementarity, or selectivity. That’s always gold in international justice.

LIBYA: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (and maybe al-Senussi?) was captured and the jockeying for who gets to conduct his trial began. Ocampo suggested on his recent visit to Tripoli that the Libyan court system might be capable of conducting a fair trial and that the ICC would provide assistance, not competition. But it’s not up to Ocampo. ICC judges will determine whether the Libyan court system is up to snuff. If a Libyan court does try Saif  this is an opportunity for the ICC to affect positive complementarity and help rebuild the rule of law in Libya. But there are valid concerns that Libya courts are not ready so soon into the post-authoritarian transition and after decades in which the courts were an instrument of repression. Louise Arbour, head of the International Crisis Group and former prosecutors at the ICTY and ICTR, explains the tensions of complementarity in this case and why international justice is often a measure of last resort.

SYRIA: The UN Human Rights Council has found that crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, and disappearances, have been perpetrated by Syrian security and military forces and that the death toll is at least 4,000. UNHCR chief, Navi Pillay, is urging the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC. But the UNHCR’s December 2nd resolution condemning the violence did not explicitly ask for such a referral. Certainly a UNSC referral is warranted and would counter criticisms that judicial interventions are politicized and selective. But China and Russia would veto it so that’s a non-starter.


MEXICO: Human rights activists have petitioned the ICC to investigate and determine whether crimes against humanity have been committed in the context of the state’s “war on drugs.” Specifically, the petition alleges that President Calderon, a top drug cartel boss, and political and security officials are responsible for the murder, torture, and kidnapping of hundreds of civilians in a war that has killed 45,000. It will take a while before the ICC prosecutors can determine if the case meets the “sufficient gravity” criteria and if the crimes were “systemic” and “systemic” to warrant charges of crimes against humanity. Mexico is a State Party to the Rome Statute but the government immediately rejected the accusations and insists that the rule of law is respected and upheld in Mexico. Calderon has called the accusations “slander” and the government issued a statement saying “it categorically rejects that security policy could be considered an international crime.”

KENYA: A Kenyan high court judge issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir of Sudan. The Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists (and NGO) filed the request. Bashir has visited several States Parties to the Rome Statute, including Kenya in August, and was not arrested – a violation of States Parties’ obligations. The recent ruling prompted the Sudanese government to expel the Kenyan Ambassador and prompted criticisms that this was a political move by the ICJ to put pressure on the Kenyan government to cooperate with the “Ocampo Six” cases before the ICC. This is partially a score for Rome Statute compliance, but the Kenyan government plans to appeal the ruling. One very interesting aspect of the ICC-Kenya situation is the prominence of civil society actors pushing for accountability, and the growing rift with political elites.

COTE D’IVOIRE: The ICC unsealed an arrest warrant for former President Laurent Gbagbo on November 29th and he was promptly transferred from his house arrest to The Hague. This is the first head of state to appear before the Court as Gaddafi met a different kind of “justice” and Bashir is still enjoying his impunity. Gbagbo is accused of being an indirect co-perpetrator of crimes against humanity, committed in the context of Cote d’Ivoire’s post-election violence from December 2010-April 2011. Rival and current President Alassane Ouattara has long welcomed the ICC’s involvement and wants Gbagbo tried internationally. But the arrest still seemed sudden and dramatic – shocking Gbagbo’s supporters who were hoping for an amnesty-for-peace type deal. Gbagbo made his first appearance before the ICC judges today (Dec 5) and judges will announce on June 18, 2012 if the case will proceed to trial.

There are two things to watch for. First, the timing of the arrest appears political as Cote d’Ivoire has parliamentary elections coming up on December 11th and Gbagbo supporters have pledged to boycott the vote. Second, the arrest is stirring up accusations of victor’s justice. The ICC indicates that investigations are ongoing, that there will be more charges, and both sides are being investigated. But locally there’s pessimism that crimes committed on behalf or at the best of Ouattara’s forces will be prosecuted.

SUDAN: An arrest warrant was requested of ICC judges by the Chief Prosecutor on December 2nd for Sudan’s Defence Minister, Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. At the time of the alleged crimes (August 2033-March 2003) Hussein was Interior Minister and representative in Darfur. Hussein is closely connected to two of the ICC’s other targets – Bashir and Harun. The request for an arrest warrant comes at a time when the crimes and victims in Darfur have fallen off the world’s radar and for a situation in which the Court has made the least progress.

And in a bizarre revelation, Time magazine reports that the ICC’s evidence against Hussein is partly derived from data from the Satellite Sentinal Project – the brain child of the celeb badvocacy efforts of George Clooney and John Prendergast of the Enough Project. See this NPR article for why the satellite project, Clooney, and Prendergast, are a little ridiculous.

CHIEF PROSECUTOR: Ocampo’s term is almost up (we’ll all miss the eyebrows and swagger) and, to no one’s surprise and much acclaim, Fatou Bensouda will be chosen as the new Chief Prosecutor of the ICC. (To be confirmed at the next meeting of the Assembly of States Parties on December 12th). Currently the Deputy Prosecutor, Bensouda comes from the Gambia and worked at the ICTR. It’s hoped that her leadership will mend ties between the Court and African political elites and the African Union. There’s also the expectation that the Court and its prosecutorial strategy will be more victim-focused.

And lastly, in the best possible example of make-believe international justice, a Malaysian tribunal “reached a unanimous verdict that found George W. Bush and Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.” The verdict obviously doesn’t have much effect beyond shame and blame, but the tribunal will communicate its findings to the ICC and give a little wink/nudge to states to exercise their universal jurisdiction muscles.

Comprehending Gingrich

Newt Gingrich

Born Newton Leroy McPherson, the man now simply known as “Newt Gingrich” has been surging in the latest opinion polls asking Republican voters to identify their preferred presidential candidate. He also recently won the endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader, which 538’s Nate Silver finds to be important in the early New Hampshire primary:

This analysis finds that The Union Leader’s endorsement has been highly statistically significant in helping to explain the voting results. Consistent with the simpler averaging method that we used before, it pegs the endorsement as having roughly an 11-percentage-point impact.

Academic readers of this blog may well know that Gingrich, as one scholar described him, is “a card-carrying member of the overeducated elite….Gingrich holds the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Modern European History from Tulane University in New Orleans.” He had a tenure-track job at West Georgia College in the 1970s, though he was denied tenure and took up politics full-time.

Today, someone put Gingrich’s dissertation on the internet. Feel free to bookmark and read later the former House Speaker’s lengthy take on “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960.” Since I don’t have time in the near-term to read this tome myself, I’m dependent upon the prior work of Laura Seay, a young scholar now at Morehouse College, who actually reviewed this work in 2009:

I finally sucked it up and headed to the basement microfilm room in the library to read Gingrich’s dissertation. (When I say “read” here, I mean, of course, that I skimmed through until I found something interesting.)

Seay reports quite a bit of detail about Gingrich’s dissertation on her blog post. I won’t spoil too much of her review (read it yourself), but the take home point is relatively important:

The whole thing is kind of a glorified white man’s burden take on colonial policy that was almost certainly out of vogue in the early 1970’s.

I mention this point because I’m reminded of something ridiculous candidate Gingrich said about Barack Obama in September 2010 to National Review Online:

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

Now that we know about Gingrich’s early work as an historian, I ask the following questions:

What if Gingrich is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Belgian, pro-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? What if that is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior?

For related discussion, see this on Libya, this on Iran, and this on the latest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc.

Liar, hypocrite or partisan hack?

Dick Cheney’s memoir apparently verifies an interesting political point from George W. Bush’s memoir. Last November, I noted that the former President claimed that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had approached him in 2006 prior to the congressional elections in order to urge withdrawal of some US troops from Iraq. This might save the Republican majority, argued the Majority Leader, even though McConnell was publicly taking the position that the US should remain in Iraq for vital security reasons. After the election, of course, Bush famously increased the US deployment in Iraq (“the surge”).

A local columnist in Louisville has identified a key passage in Cheney’s memoir that apparently confirms Bush’s account, based on the former Veep’s recollection of a July 2007 dinner he hosted (p. 462):

Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked over to me. Mitch had been one of the most concerned of the Republicans. He was up for reelection and had suggested to the president that he needed to begin a withdrawal in order to avoid massive defection of Republican senators.

As my original post noted, McConnell’s opposing public and private positions certainly make him look bad.

Was he lying when he said US troops were vital for security? Was he simply acting as a hypocrit? Or, and you can feel free to pick more than one choice, was he overtly expressing his partisan preferences in each situation, regardless of the security implications?

Civ-Mil Relations in the 21st Century–Back to the Past

2011 has already energized much thought and scholarship about contentious politics, R2P, the efficacy of force, and, zombies. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya (and the other countries in the region) are also bringing civil-military relations back into fashion.  When we speak of civ-mil relations, we can think of:

  • The most classic question: who guards the guardians (Janowitz, Huntington, Finer) ?  Will the army support the government and perhaps shoot at the citizens?  Will the army join the revolt? Or will it splinter?  How do governments coup-proof (Quinlivan)?
  • This developed into a second stream of research: how do stable democracies manage their militariesAvant, Feaver, Zegart and others have considered the problem of how civilian authorities deploy force, purchase equipment and develop doctrine when the folks with the guns have significant advantages in understanding the issues and the facts on the ground. 

The focus here is on the second–the balance of decision-making between civilians and uniformed personnel.  Peter Feaver was blasted yesterday by Tom Ricks, former Washington post military correspondent, author and blogger at foreignpolicy.com, in reaction to Feaver’s new piece in International Security.  Feaver served on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council at the time of the surge, and he has written this piece to apply his scholarly  work to this experience and vice versa.  The article is essentially about who gets credit for the surge and a consideration of the big question in this area: who should make the big decisions?  The elected civilians or the uniformed experts?

‘The “professional supremacists” argue that the primary problem for civil-military relations in wartime is ensuring the military an adequate voice and keeping civilians from micromanaging and mismanaging matters. “Civilian supremacists,” in contrast, argue that the primary problem is ensuring that well-informed civilian strategic guidance is authoritatively directing key decisions, even when the military disagrees with that direction.’ (Feaver 89-90)

Feaver argues that the surge decision does not fall into either camp.  Ricks takes issue with Feaver for giving too much credit to Bush and his people and not enough to elements of the military (Generals Petreaus and Odierno).  This debate reanimates the question of how much civilian involvement is correct.

While my work of late (with David Auerswald) has been on the why–why do countries manage their military operations as they have in Afghanistan (revised version appearing in International Studies Quarterly in 2012)–the normative question of how much involvement is appropriate cannot be avoided.  I have always believed that war was too important to be left to the Generals.  Clausewitz’s dictum that war is politics by other means has many implications, including that politicians do not suspend their responsibilities when the fighting starts as the strategies and tactics of the battles have implications beyond the battlefield.  I was also influenced by Eliot Cohen’s book Supreme Command, which documented how Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion intervened significantly in military planning, making a huge difference in the success of their respective war efforts.

I received a fellowship that put me on the US Joint Staff’s Directorate of Strategic Planning and Policy (J-5)* on the Bosnia desk from September 2001 to August 2002, which provoked a crisis of confidence in my own views on these matters.  I worked on a daily basis with people directly under Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and found myself developing a great deal of contempt for the civilians that were imposing their will on the military.  Sure, part of this was identification with the uniformed folks around me, but most of it was watching a SecDef who was unwilling to listen to the advice of the military and being blind to the consequences.  He viewed the military as having been empowered by the Clinton Administration (indeed, the military folks expressed much nostalgia for that bygone era).  Long before the invasion of Iraq, I witnessed Rumsfeld’s efforts to ask questions until the respondent submitted to his will.  I was on the receiving end of the same snowflake (memo from Rumsfeld needing an immediate response) three times because the responses the first two times did not produce the desired answer (nor did the third).

After my year on the Joint Staff, I got to watch from afar Rumsfeld micromanage the invasion of Iraq into the failure of postwar planning.**  So, I began to feel as if war was too important to be left to the civilians.  My beliefs were also shaken by Cohen’s involvement in the Bush Administration as a cheerleader for the war and his role on the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee.  It seems like Cohen’s work was being applied too much–that the civilians thought they had all of the answers and even chose leading military officials according to how, ahem, supple they were (that would be Generals Myers and Pace, Bush’s Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).

So, where do I stand now?  Surely, war is still too important to be left to the Generals.  But it is now much clearer that the battles are too complicated to be left to the folks back home.  The advent of technology means that leaders in their offices can monitor the efforts of corporals and privates on the ground, but they should not.  Yes, there is now the strategic private or corporal: a low level grunt who can cause the entire mission to collapse because of a single bad decision (think Canada in Somalia in 1993 more so than Gitmo or Abu Ghraib).  But the tactical President or Prime Minister is even more likely to cause problems since they lack the expertise and attention to command every single unit in the field.  Rumsfeld cutting the numbers of military police units being sent to Iraq in 2003 stands out here.  Civilians should be choosing the strategies–COIN or not; invading Africa in 1942 or not; surging or not; but how these are carried out on the ground should remain in the military’s hands.

More importantly, we need to recognize that there is no perfect formula because the civilians are imperfect and the military leaders are imperfect. It is easy to pick on Rumsfeld, who was probably the worst Secretary of Defense in American history.  Churchill, who is often seen as the epitome of the wartime leader, thought that the Balkans were the soft underbelly of Europe and had a pretty mixed track record overall.  There is a tendency to conflate strong with smart (the strong state debate in the 1980s)–that strong civilian leadership will make the right choices.

The funny thing about hanging out with the military folks for a year is that I developed an appreciation not just that individuals matter, but that trust and relationships matter when it comes to war.  The key is not so much having a perfect division of labor between President, SecDef, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and operational commanders, but that they have good relationships with each other.  The decision-makers need listen to the advice, even especially if they do not want to hear it.  They do not have to follow it, but they ought to take it seriously.  The military needs to give its unvarnished views so that the President and SecDef can make informed decisions.

This may all seem obvious, but the debate between Feaver and Ricks suggests otherwise.  The quest for the perfect mix of professional and civilian supremacism is a chimera.  Feaver is probably wrong in giving heaps of credit to the Bush Administration, but he is right that better policy is likely to emerge when the focus is on the policy and less on one side or the other dominating the process.

* J-5 was run for much of my time by General George Casey, who later became a major player in Iraq and in the Feaver article.
** Feaver, in a footnote, argues that Rummy paid attention to the invasion and not the post-war planning, and correlates an attentive Rummy with success and an inattentive one with failure.  There are so many things wrong with this assertion that I had to address it here.

A Truth Commission for Iraq

Back in 2003, the name Ricardo Sanchez appeared in several posts on my personal blog. At the time, the now-retired General was “the top U.S. military official in Iraq.”

Over the years, Sanchez provided honest and forthright assessments of the Iraq war. Even though I didn’t always agree with his analysis of what should be done, I respected his contributions to the political debate. Lately, he’s been pushing a “truth commission” for Iraq and I think that the U.S. should pursue something like that to document the course of the Iraq war.

Sanchez’s evolving views of the Iraq war are worth outlining.

In October 2003, Sanchez pointed out that violence in Iraq was increasing, despite political figures at home bragging about improved life without Saddam Hussein. In November of that year, Sanchez used the word “war” to describe the post-“mission accomplished” environment in Iraq.

In October 2007, Sanchez gave a fairly prominent speech that was very critical of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the Iraq war.

From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the Administration’s latest surge strategy, this Administration has failed to employ and — and synchronize its political, economic, and military power. The latest revised strategy is a desperate attempt by the Administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not been able to communicate effectively that reality to the American people.

He continued by adding, “There has been a glaring, unfortunate, display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders.” In his view, too many decisions about the war reflected partisanship rather than the needed cooperation and bipartisanship needed to achieve success.

He criticized, for instance, “inept coalition management” and all-around “failure” by the National Security Council. The speech was a little short on detail, but Sanchez clearly thought that there was plenty of blame to go around. The “greatest failures in this war can be linked to America’s lack of commitment, priority, and moral courage in this war effort.” Specifically, “America must hold all national agencies accountable for developing and executing the political and economic initiatives that will bring about stability, security, political, and economic hope for all Iraqis.”

In his memoir, published a few years ago, Sanchez said that the Bush administration “led America into a strategic blunder of historic proportions.”

Most recently, Sanchez has been calling for a “truth commission” to investigate the torture and other abuses that occurred in Iraq. “If we do not find out what happened,” he says “then we are doomed to repeat it.”

I’ve been thinking about Sanchez’s “truth commission” a great deal lately because of the fact that the Obama administration, pro-war Republicans (not the Ron Paul wing, small as it is) and the Army have together embraced a narrative crediting “the surge” with making Iraq a success story after all. Obama’s own “surge” in Afghanistan commits his administration to the Iraq example. Republicans get to pretend that the Iraq war wasn’t a horrible mistake from the planning stages and the Army saves face and avoids a Vietnam-like diminution of its relevance and credibility.

I’ve blogged about the flaws in this logic previously. Additionally, Andrew Bacevich’s latest book deftly explains why this narrative is inaccurate — though he acknowledges its prominence.

What could correct the narrative? Maybe only Sanchez’s imagined truth commission. Unfortunately, while the UK conducted a war inquiry, I do not expect to see anything like it in the USA.

Three Cheers for Wikileaks

The last few days have seen a fury of debate about Wikileaks’ latest disclosures.   To my mind, Wikileaks’ release of the Iraq and earlier Afghanistan documents is a public service—throwing critical light on the way in which America has pursued its wars at ground level.  


Some have dismissed the documents as nothing “new.”    Of course, it is true that we have had information about the wars, human rights violations, and civilian casualties in everyday stories by the media.  But much of that, among reporters “embedded” by the military, has been carefully screened.  Moreover, what has been written is also of course filtered through the eyes of journalists, with their own biases.  
I think it is extremely useful for the public to have the opportunity to see ordinary soldiers’ day-to-day experience of the wars in any number of incidents that have not in fact received attention.  This in my view makes the information “new”—and clearly worthwhile.   That is why the world’s headlines over the last few days have been full of stories about civilian casualties, torture, and the role of military contractors–based on the Wikileaks disclosures.  
As to the argument that the releases put civilians and soldiers at risk,

I of course believe those risks should be minimized.  It certainly cannot be denied that these documents could put some civilian informants in the two countries “at risk”—or more precisely at greater risk than they have already placed themselves.  And, as Charli Carpenter and others have argued previously, it does seem that Wikileaks might have done more to reduce that risk, particularly in the Afghanistan release.  But it is probably impossible to eliminate the risk of harm—other than not to have released the documents in the first place.  With regard to the actual level of risk from the Afghanistan disclosure, however, we do have some information.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, hardly someone to underestimate the peril, wrote in August that the Pentagon’s “review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure.”   Days ago, CNN also reported that “a senior NATO official in Kabul told [the network] there has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection or to be moved because of the leak.” (h/t Vikash Yadav)

Charli’s older idea that Wikileaks should do targeted document releases of potential war crimes may have some merit–but such an approach would essentially turn Wikileaks into a human rights NGO.  Admittedly, the world could use more of them, particularly in war zones.   But I see no value in Wikileaks transforming itself into something it is not, nor do I see anything wrong with Wikileaks’ continuing the mass data releases that it specializes in, albeit with some enhanced protections that it appears to be implementing already. 
Nor do I have a problem with lack of transparency about the organization’s internal operations—or, if you will, a lack of symmetry with its efforts to illuminate government activities.  Wikileaks, as a private entity, is under no obligation to disclose its internal operations, funding, and decisionmaking, beyond that required by law of other private concerns.  As a matter of organizational strategy, I would argue for Wikileaks to tell more—because failing to do so raises legitimate questions about the group.  But I would not dismiss its activities or discount its disclosures for this reason.  Nor would I focus attention on this side issue, rather than the main one–the information’s substance.
By contrast, democratic governments do have an obligation to disclose information to their citizens, except in rare and particular circumstances.  Yet from the U.S. to South Africa, governments’ knee jerk approach, especially when officials solemnly intone the magic word “security,”  is exactly the opposite–with dire costs to citizens who are paying the bills and soldiers who are doing the dying.
In any case, all of the worry about Wikileaks possibly putting civilians and soldiers at risk must be placed in context.  The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which the U.S. started with so little justification and so little vision, have put millions of civilians and soldiers at actual risk.  Of course, it is far worse than “risk.”  Hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqi civilians have actually died as a result of our wars, with far larger numbers gravely wounded.  Thousands of American soldiers have actually been killed, and tens of thousands have had their lives shattered by injuries.  
The wars have also put our nation as a whole at greater “risk”—although it is critical to realize that the danger to individual Americans and certainly to our “national security” remains small and easily manageable.  Certainly, it does not justify the vast and wasteful expenditures we are making in the “GWOT.”  (This does not even take into account the huge direct and indirect monetary costs of the wars—or the costs in civil liberties eroded.)
A major reason that the Bush administration was able to start these wars was lack of information.  The evidentiary “basis” for them—and certainly against them–was not fully analyzed, the rationale for them not fully debated, and the exit strategies not wisely considered.  In this, many of our key “watchdogs”—journalists, “opposition” politicians, and academics—blindly bought the Bush administration’s line on the “threat.”  More information does not of course mean that misguided politicians will avoid doing stupid things.  Nor does it stop journalists from becoming handmaidens of power. But it probably makes it more difficult for these things to happen.  
In this context, the more information we have today about these misbegotten wars, the better.  In the past, much of what we have had came from government or military sources, with a clear incentive to paint a rosy or incomplete picture.   Journalists often ignored their obligation to be skeptical of officialdom.  A vast “top security” industry has grown up in the wake of these wars, full of private contractors and government employees only too happy to keep information from the public.  Because of the Pentagon’s strategic decision not to report civilian casualties, the human costs to the Iraqi and Afghan people can be found only through third parties.  Through clever accounting practices, the government has been able to hide and postpone payment of the war’s monetary costs.  And because of our volunteer army, the human costs to Americans have been confined to a tiny minority of our population.  
In other words, these wars have been conducted with the American people—who pay their costs and in whose name they were started—very much in the dark.  The mantra from our leaders is, “Trust us.”  And the furious response to the disclosures is to attack Wikileaks and, most pathetically, Julian Assange–for his personal life. 
Wikileaks is fighting against this self-servingly secretive mindset and may help bring these wars to an end sooner.  In that, the group will help our country be stronger, more secure, and more responsible.  I applaud the disclosures! 
I also recommend Steve Walt’s blog and especially Glenn Greenwald’s recent posts which get to the heart of the story:  what Wikileaks is doing; and how it is being attacked by government officials and much of the U.S. (but not foreign) press.

A Quick and No-Doubt Premature Look at WikiLeaks (Iraq Edition)



Just a few initial observations/questions

1. Iraq Body Count is arguing that the documents help provide further information on civilian deaths.  No doubt this will add further impetus for the call for militaries to release information on casualties killed in armed conflict. I wonder, however, if IBC has to walk a fine line here – if they say that the information released provides information on hundreds or thousands of previously unknown incidents, it means that they are effectively saying their own methodology was flawed. On the other hand if they say that it confirms their numbers, then they undermine their own argument for releasing information.[Update: IBC is indeed saying that the documents “contain an estimated 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths.”]

Still, I think they are trying to straddle the middle based on this account here.  They’re saying that they are predominantly getting more details (ie: names) from the reports. However, in my mind, this still doesn’t answer the more important  question as to whether it’s really a good idea to publish the names of victims on a database a) during the middle of a raging civil war b) located in a Western country, controlled by a technically unaccountable NGO, where the families have no input or control over what is stated. (But a blog post for another day…)

2. The documents seem to be making clear that although Iraqi detainee abuse is something that the world has associated with US troops at Abu Ghraib, it was endemic throughout the country and it was largely carried out by Iraqis against other Iraqis. Many of these incidents were reported but so far it seems that in many cases that no further investigation seems to have been carried out.

This is interesting in that it seems (on the surface at this point) to reflect the same controversy as to the handing over of Afghan detainees by Canadian troops to Afghan jails. If you hand over a detainee, you are responsible for his or her treatment under the Geneva Conventions. If US troops were handing over prisoners to the Iraqis, knew they were being abused and then did not investigate, this could be a serious violation of the laws of war. Particularly if this was systematic.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this – what was the logic of not investigating further or sooner?  Some of the immediate explanations (not excuses) I can think of are:
  1. Some of these incidents may have been Iraqis captured not by US troops but by other Iraqis and US soldiers were making observations. If this was the case I’m not sure the law is that clear as to who was responsible – I think it would depend at what point during the occupation that this occurred and who had effective control of the country.
  2. These reflect larger problems with handing over prisoners in conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq which are very much tied up with the problem of trying to hand over sovereignty. Essentially, a military power is trying to force a country to work, and to have an infrastructure (including prisons) as soon as possible. After all, this is what is expected and what the international community was demanding. So taking over prisons is clearly not allowing Iraq to be sovereign, but not acting may have been a violation of the laws of war. Which is it to be? And I’m sure asking the Iraqi insurgents/leaders/prison guards during the insurgency there nicely to stop electrocuting their prisoners was probably not particularly effective.
    This issue of large numbers of detainees located in prisons that do not meet even the most basic international standards in conflicts where Western nations are engaged in an armed conflict (particularly where the state on where it takes place has a de jure sovereignty, but de facto quasi-sovereignty)  has emerged as a major problem over the last decade and should be taken up by international legal scholars and Western states so as to hopefully avoid this problem in the future.

This is just a first take – looking forward to what others have to say.

When Myths Meet Reality in Iraq and Afghanistan

What are America’s prospects in Afghanistan?  Two articles from The New York Times today throw light on the question. 

[America’s Afghanistan] strategy looks a lot like the one that brought General Petraeus success in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. With Iraq engulfed in apocalyptic violence, American field commanders reached out to nationalist-minded guerrilla leaders and found many of them exhausted by war and willing to make peace. About 100,000 Iraqis, many of them insurgents, came on the American payroll. 
The Americans were working both ends of the insurgency. As they made peace with some insurgent leaders, they intensified their efforts to kill the holdouts and fanatics. The violence, beginning in late 2007, dropped precipitously. 
Can the Americans pull off something similar in Afghanistan?
The other article provides a preliminary answer—by undermining the question’s premise. 
Members of United States-allied Awakening Councils have quit or been dismissed from their positions in significant numbers in recent months, prey to an intensive recruitment campaign by the Sunni insurgency, according to government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents. 
Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency. 
The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from Al Qaeda. The exodus has accelerated since Iraq’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have and which appear to have provided Al Qaeda new opportunities to lure back fighters. 
The Awakening members’ switch in loyalties poses a new threat to Iraq’s tenuous social and political balance during the country’s ongoing political crisis and as the United States military prepares to withdraw next year. 
* * *
One Awakening leader in Diyala, Bakr Karkhi, said during an interview that nearly two dozen of his fighters had rejoined Al Qaeda during the past few weeks, a process he said had been occurring throughout Sunni areas of Iraq. Other fighters, he said, had abruptly stopped reporting for duty. “I became suspicious when some of them started making questionable comments, so I expelled them,” he said. “Others left the Awakening on their own and then disappeared from their villages. We found out they were conducting illegal operations and cooperating with armed groups, including Al Qaeda.” 
Sic Transit Pax Petraeus.  The supposed success of the Iraq “surge” is still anything but clear or assured—despite bipartisan acclaim for it here in the U.S.  The eagerness with which Republicans and Democrats embraced the surge was, of course, not based on long-term research or deep insight.  It was simply an easy way to declare a kind of “victory” in a hugely expensive and bloody war entered on false pretenses and without strategic vision.  In that, it was much like George Bush’s declaration of victory in Iraq onboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln back in 2003. 
On the bright side, the myth of the surge has provided short-term cover for a drawdown of American troops—though some 50,000 remain in Iraq.  That is progress of a sort, but leaves the U.S. heavily committed and the Iraqis still incapable of solving their problems on their own.
The Obama/Petraeus strategy in Afghanistan is to forge a similar myth—as a basis for a similarly slow and hugely costly “withdrawal.”  But if neither the Afghan nor Iraqi surges leads to durable peace–due to deep political distrust between the indigenous forces there–then the policies will in fact be failures.  Sadly, the straws in the wind from today’s news point to exactly that–the predictable result when myths meet realities. 

The Osirak Myth (again)

I failed to comment on Jeffrey Goldberg’s September 2010 Atlantic Monthly piece about US or Israeli responses to Iran’s apparent nuclear weapons program. Goldberg has the threat meter set to nearly 10 as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly said this summer that Iran is one to three years away from building a nuclear weapon (p. 60).

A lot has been said and written about this piece, but this claim has not received enough attention (p. 58):

Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean–built reactor in Syria. An attack on Iran, then, would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.

Dan Reiter of Emory, however, has published some work that directly challenges the claim that the Osirak bombing was a success.

Some years ago, Dan and I worked together with a group of scholars to look at the preventive use of force. In October 2004, Pittsburgh’s Ridgway Center issued Policy Brief 04-2, “The Osiraq Myth and the Track Record of Preventive Military Attacks.”

This is the summary:

The 1981 Israeli aerial striike on Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osiraq is frequently cited as a successful use of preventive military force, and may be used to justify similar attacks in the future. However, closer examination of the Osiraq attack reveals that it did not substantially delay the Iraqi nuclear program, and may have even hastened it. Attempts to replicate the “success” at Osiraq are likely to do even worse, as proliferating states are now routinely dispersing and concealing their nuclear, biological, and chemical programs to decrease their vulnerability to air strikes. Given the poor track record of preventive attacks in controlling the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, American interests will be best served in the future by embracing other tools of counterproliferation.

The brief includes some discussion of the fairly dismal record of preventive attacks. Such strikes, Reiter concludes, “generally fail.”

Later, Dan published a longer report on this topic for the Army War College, as well as the chapter in the book the research group produced together. The book’s Major Findings Summary Sheet concluded: “The 1981 Israeli attack on the Osiraq nuclear reactor, for example, drove the program underground, accelerating Iraq’s drive to develop nuclear weapons.” The book editors published an op-ed on “The Osirak Illusion” as well.

Another Iran data point

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden (who served George W. Bush) said something fairly provocative on CNN in late July — but Fox News trumpeted the story:

Michael Hayden, a CIA chief under President George W. Bush, said that during his tenure “a strike was way down the list of options.” But he tells CNN’s State of the Union that such action now “seems inexorable.”

During the cold war competition with the Soviet Union, Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, was famously quoted as saying, “when we build they build; when we stop, they build.” (It was apparently a paraphrase.)

Conclusion? Nothing worked to stop inexorable Soviet advances in the arms race.

Hayden said much the same about Iran:

“We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward,” he added.

By the way, August 26th will mark the 8th anniversary of Dick Cheney’s speech about Iraq to the VFW. In that address, he kicked off the campaign for war, declaring

The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. And they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago….Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.

Let’s see if September signals louder war drums.

On The Ecology of Human Insurgency

Charli highlighted the recently published work of Sean Gourley in Nature on the patter of frequency and magnitude of attacks in insurgencies, so I wanted to cross-post my critique of this work to initiate a discussion here at Duck.

nature08631-f4.2.jpgThe cover story of this month’s Nature features the work of a team of researchers examining the mathematical properties of insurgency. One of the authors is Sean Gourley, a physicist by training and TED Fellow, and this work represents the culmination of research by Gourley and his co-authors—a body of work that I have been critical of in the past. The article is entitled, “Common ecology quantifies human insurgency,” (gated) and the article attempts to define the underlying dynamics of insurgency in terms of a particular probability distribution; specifically, the power-law distribution, and how this affects the strategy of insurgents.

First, I am very pleased that this research is receiving such a high level of recognition in the scientific community, e.g., Sean tweeted that this article “beat out ‘the new earth’ discovery and the ‘possible cancer cure’ for the cover of nature.” Scholarship on the micro-level dynamics of a conflict is undoubtedly the future of conflict science, and these authors have ambitiously pushed the envelope; collecting an impressive data set spanning both time and conflict geography. Bearing in mind the undeniable value of this work, it is important to note that several claims made by the authors do not seem consistent with the data, or are at least require a dubious suspension of disbelief.

In many ways I reject the primary thrust of the article, which is that because the frequency and magnitude of attacks in an insurgency follows a power-law distribution this somehow illuminates the underlying decision calculus of insurgents. Without belaboring a point that I have made in the past, the observation that conflicts follow a power-law is in no way novel, and I am disappointed that the authors failed to cite though I am encouraged that the authors did cite the seminal work on this subject (thank you for pointing out my errata, Sean). The data measures the lethality and frequency of attacks perpetrated in the Iraq, Afghanistan, Peru and Colombia insurgencies, but the connection between this and the strategy of an insurgent is missing.

The authors’ primary data sources are open media reports on attacks; therefore, their observation simply reveals that open-source reporting on successful insurgent attacks follows a power-law. There are two critical limitations in the data that prevent it from fully answering the questions posited by the authors. First, there is some non-negligible level of left-censoring, i.e., we can never attempt to quantify the attacks that are planned by insurgents and never carried out, or those that are attempted by fail (defective IEDs, incompetent actors, etc.). Although they do not inflict damage, these attacks a clearly byproducts of insurgent strategy, and therefore must be present in a model of this calculus. Second, while the authors claim to overcome selection bias by cross-validating attack observations, this remains a persistent problem. Consider the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan; in the former most of the attacks occurred in heavily populated urban areas, garnering considerable media coverage. In contrast, Afghanistan is largely a rural country, where the level of media scrutiny is considerably lower, meaning that media outlets there are inherently selective in what they report, or most reports are generated by US DoD reporting. How do we handle the absence of attack observations for Afghan villages outside the purview of the mainstream media?

The role of the media is central to the decision model proposed by the authors, which is illustrated in the figure above. Again, however, this presents a logical disconnect. As the figure describes, the authors claim that insurgents are updating their beliefs and strategies based on the information and signals they receive from broadcast news, then deciding whether to execute an attack. For lack of a better term, this is clearly putting the cart before the horse. The media is reporting attacks, as the authors’ data clearly proves; therefore, the insurgents’ decision to attack is creating news, and as such insurgents are gaining no new information from media reports on attacks that they themselves have perpetrated. Rather, the insurgents retain a critical element of private information, and are updating based on the counter-insurgency policies of the state—information they are very likely not receiving from the media. The framework presented here is akin to claiming that in a game of football (American) the offense is updating their strategy in the huddle before ever having seen how the defense lines up. Without question updating, in football both sides are updating strategy constantly, but it is the offense that dictates this tempo, and in an insurgency the insurgents are on offense.

This interplay between an insurgency and the state is what must be the focus of future research on the micro-dynamics of conflict. From the perspective of this research, a more novel track would be to attempt to find an insurgency that does not follow a power-law; but rather a less skewed distributions, such as the log-normal or a properly fit Poisson. Future research may also benefit from examining the distribution of attacks in the immediate or long-term aftermath of a variation in counter-insurgency policy. After addressing some of the limitations described above, such research might begin to identify the factors that contributed to why some counter-insurgency policies shift the attack distribution away from the power-law. The key to any future research; however, is to connect this to the context of the conflict in a meaningful way.

Again, congratulations to Sean and his team, I hope their piece will initiate a productive discussion in both academic and policy arenas on the methods and techniques for studying the micro-dynamics of conflict.

Photo: Nature

Step Aside Blackwater/XE Services…


The “market” seems to be working in some sectors in Iraq and Afghanistan. New private security firms are popping up everywhere. Ten thousand Ugandans have gone to work as security guards in Iraq in the past two years. Now many are looking for work in Afghanistan. From the BBC:

Seth Katerema Mwesigye, an instructor at Watertight, says the money has made him wealthy by Ugandan standards.

“I was a student at Makerere university, but when I left, I did not have land. When I came back, I bought land and cows. All that money came from Iraq.”

Mr Masiko says that Iraq has proved to be a lucrative opportunity for security firms and their Ugandan recruits.

But he says the company now needs to stay ahead of the increasing competition in the security sector and look for opportunities in new places.

“More companies are coming in and they are ready to recruit for much less than we are offering which is $700 or $1,000 (£600) per month,” he says.

“Also you realise that other countries are coming into the market on the other side.
Originally Kenyans were not doing security work but today, there are more than 500 of them in Iraq and they work for as little as $400 per month.

“So we are facing competition.

“But all eyes are now on Afghanistan. We hope that as it opens we are going to get more business there,” he says.

This is the future that Deborah Avant began warning about nearly a decade ago when she began work on The Market Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security. It’s still the best read on the topic.

…didn’t see this coming….


The first oil contract with the Iraqi government goes to China’s CNPC and they are not hiring local labor. From the BBC: “Left Behind By Iraq’s Oil Rush on why the locals are not getting jobs:

There were hopes too, when the Chinese company first arrived, of an employment bonanza.

“We thought everyone will find a job,” said Zahi, a village elder.

So far, they have taken on just a handful of al-Mazzagh’s residents as guards.

But the CNPC says there is little more they can do for local people.

“We are sorry, but they don’t have skills and they can’t speak English,” says a site manager who agreed to come out to talk to the BBC.

English is a job requirement?

Breakdown of Troop-Contractor Distribution in Iraq and Afghanistan

Today’s Wall Street Journal notes that the number of private military contractors (PMCs) current outnumbers the number of military personnel serving in Afghanistan, and the numbers are extremely close in Iraq:

A few points to make:

  1. The data illustrate that with the troop surge in Afghanistan has come a slight uptick in the number of PMCs, but overall contractors have far outnumbered troops in that theater. What the article does not discuss is the distribution of duties and roles for PMCs and how that may have shifted over the past few years. I’d be interested to see how fallout from various incidents (i.e. Blackwater [Xe]), while not decreasing the number of PMCs, has altered the kinds of tasks contractors are performing
  2. Given the reduced size of the military since the Cold War and current US commitments, there is likely to be (and continue to be) a tight correlation between the number of US personnel and number of PMCs, as many PMCs serve service and logistic roles necessary to support combat personnel. This creates a problem for the Obama administration as it’s stated goal was to reduce reliance on contractors. Unless they alter current structural conditions (i.e. increase size of military and/or reduce commitments abroad) they won’t really have a choice but to continue to rely on PMCs.

via iammilitary

Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Formidable Opponent – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq

This week the Colbert Report is broadcasting from Camp Victory, Iraq as part of a USO tour. Sporting a suit made of cammo, a regulation haircut, and swinging a golf-club Bob Hope style, he has been entertaining the troops, reminding people that there is still a war in Iraq, and offering some rather brilliant and bold meta-satire of the entire operation.

If you haven’t been watching, you really need to. Right now.

Last night he did what I thought was an exceptionally bold and brilliant sketch–a Formidable Opponent (Stephen debating himself) on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Had this bit appeared as a regular segment on the show it would have been funny but unremarkable. Performed live, in front of an audience of hundreds of active-duty military members, at Camp Victory, in Iraq, its genius. Much has been said about DADT, from polling data showing support for its repeal to the role of his new Army Secretary in building support for repealing the policy. By mocking the policy in front of troops–and not just any troops, but those in a very active combat zone–to legitimate applause, he ridicules the policy to the point of rendering it a farce. From Iraq, the arguments that seem so self-important inside the beltway sound so hollow when forced to occupy center stage in front of military personnel who go in harm’s way each and every day.

The entire enterprise is quite brilliant so far. Its quite the feat. He must respect, entertain, and build morale for the troops he’s visiting. He must be funny and produce a show for air that night. And, he is doing all that while still offering a fantastic meta-critique on Iraq policy. That’s hard to pull off in front of a live (and armed) studio audience. Not to mention the cameo’s he’s been able to secure. President Obama ordering General Odierno to give Colbert a haircut. Greetings from John McCain, Bill Clinton, George Bush (the older).

Really, watch both episodes– Monday and Tuesday.

All conventional wisom is not created equal

Jacob Weisberg reminds us that conventional wisdom is often wrong, and then isolates seven instances of “received wisdom” that might prove wrong.

A lot of our premises have turned out to be wrong lately. I’m talking not about evanescent bits of conventional wisdom that have shifted but about overarching assumptions that were widely shared across the political spectrum—big things that experts and nonexperts agreed about—until they were proved false.

For instance, before 1989, virtually all Sovietologists agreed that the USSR was highly stable. Before 2001, few Middle East scholars worried that the United States was vulnerable to a major terrorist attack. Before 2003, everyone from neocon hawks to French lefties agreed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Before 2008, few economists wondered about the fundamental soundness of the American financial system. Popular opinion echoed the expert consensus on each of these points. Those who challenged the groupthink—such as Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik, renegade counterterrorism expert John O’Neill, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, and pessimistic economist Nouriel Roubini—tended to be dismissed as provocateurs, wackos, or (in Ritter’s case) worse.

Some of these examples are pretty darn poor, however.

1. To be blunt, a shitload of people were predicting a major terrorist attack on the United States long before 11 September 2001. I don’t know, of course, about the strange invocation of “Middle East” experts. Maybe Weisberg knows his point wouldn’t withstand scrutiny if it concerned the terrorism scholarly community?

2. Everyone most certainly did not agree that Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.” Most observers thought Hussein had some kind of residual biological or chemical weapons program. But the ability to produce mustard gas is not synonymous with having WMD, and a lot of people knew it.

The Bush Administration’s great con was collapsing any kind of nuclear, biological, or chemical program into the dreaded “WMD threat,” and a great many people simply didn’t buy it. Weisberg should know better than to perpetuate this fraud six years after the fact.

The rest of the article is kind of enh in an I-need-to-write-an-article-and-I-don’t-have-any-good-ideas-right-now way. Examples include:

“Look, Freeman Dyson says that climate change might not be so bad. The models are uncertain and increased CO2 might lead to better growing conditions for plants” …. “Central authority in China might collapse!” …. “There’s this crazy theory that fossil fuels don’t come from fossils, and the chemical reaction even happens in laboratories!”

That sort of thing.

But, as an international-relations scholar, I feel compelled to comment on one: “Ken Waltz says nuclear proliferation might be stabilizing!”

Well, yeah.

Indeed, as my colleague, Matt Kroenig, has pointed out (PDF), many of the states that actively oppose nuclear proliferation do so precisely because they worry that Waltz is right about the deterrent effects of nuclear weapons.

Such states would, shockingly enough, rather not be deterred from engaging in force projection and various other forms of compellence.

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