Monday, September 28, 2009

Iran Tests Missiles

On Sunday, Iran's Revolutionary Guard tested three short-range missiles, with a range of 90-120 miles. Today, Iran tested its Shahab-3 and Sajjil rockets, which have a range of up to 1,240 miles. Analysts claim that these latest missiles could threaten both Israel and US forces in the Gulf. In fact, a Revolutionary Guard official has stated, “Iranian missiles are able to target any place that threatens Iran."

As we discussed in class, one of the reasons that negotiated settlements aren't available between rational actors is because countries often misrepresent their capabilities. With the first direct talks between the U.S. and Iran set for Thursday in Geneva, it could very well be that Iran is trying to appear more capable than it really is. However, last week we were given an example of how Iran also conceals its capabilities when Iran revealed to the world that it had a second plant for uranimum enrichment. Accurate intelligence on the true capabilities of Iran would provide greater insight into Iran's intentions and is necessary for the proper development of a US security strategy against Iran.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Turning Point in Afghanistan?

There is presently a total lack of policy direction in Afghanistan. Congress is focused almost entirely on healthcare and President Obama has so much on his plate right now that he seems to be sidetracked when it comes to putting together the administration’s policy for Afghanistan. We are at a critical point in the War in Afghanistan and no one seems to know what the official policy is. On the one had General McChrystal has called for more troops in order to run a counterinsurgency campaign that would better secure the population. This is a strategy advocated in “The Accidental Guerrilla” by David Kilcullen and other counterinsurgency experts. The Karzai government has also made the case for additional troops. On the other hand Vice President Biden has been vocally opposed to a troop increase, even calling for troop reductions. He wants to focus on small Special Forces and aerial attacks in order to kill the bad guys. For many, this seems to be an easier alternative to troop increases- but it would not be effective. The ongoing drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan have surely killed terrorists; however, they create a lot more collateral damage than soldiers on the ground. This raiding mentality contributes to the accidental guerrilla problem that Kilcullen writes about. The only way to really win in Afghanistan is by securing the population from the Taliban and Al Qaeda by having troops on the ground in the local communities.

The U.S. has had eight years to figure out the best counterinsurgency strategy, but it could be too late to implement it. Troop levels were kept low in order to wage war in Iraq and now that additional troops are needed for a surge in Afghanistan it is questionable whether that will happen. According to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, our NATO allies have much lower public opinion for troop increases than the U.S. does. Only a third of Americans want to reduce or withdraw troops; that number is over fifty percent in the other major NATO countries. Our NATO allies are in a holding pattern waiting for a coherent U.S. policy on Afghanistan. They would jump at the chance to reduce their presence in Afghanistan if the U.S. did so as well. If a troop increase is going to happen, it needs to happen now under U.S. leadership. If we do not give McChrystal what he needs then we are risking leaving Afghanistan even worse than we found it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Iran Admits to Having a Secret, Underground Nuclear Facility

So let’s talk about Iran. On Monday Iran admitted that it has a secret, underground uranium enrichment facility at Natanz (pretty cool, right?). The timeline for events in the past week seems to be:

(1) Iran admitting to the IAEA that it has been building an enrichment facility for several years (though it isn’t clear if all of the equipment is installed or if the plant has actually been “turned on”),

(2) Shock and outrage in the international community that Iran would do such a thing,

(3) President Obama and other leaders of the G-20 (which is meeting today) condemned Iran for their illegal facility and demanding that international inspectors be allowed access. Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown both echoed Obama’s statements and even Dmitri Medvedev made some noises to that affect (though Medvedev’s tone was a quite a bit more conciliatory).

What’s interesting about all this is not the fact the United States has known about the facility for years (the internet is abuzz with such chatter and debates about who knew what and when), but that the United States is not saying that Iran has to be a nuclear free country. President Obama has even said that Iran has the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The peaceful use of nuclear energy has been in the US’s rhetoric for a long time, but the fact that the President is using this language right now, right after Iran admitted to having the facility and right before dialogue on the subject begins next week, makes it sound like the US is warming up a little bit to the notion of an Iranian nuclear program. Granted, the US still wants lots of multinational inspectors and restrictions so that the facility can only refine uranium up to 5% (weapons grade nuclear programs require 90%), but still the US is inching closer to conciliation.

The time is ripe for some diplomacy: the missile programs in Eastern Europe have been scrapped so Russia might actually help this time, and the US refrained from excessively harsh rhetoric during the Iranian election scandal so Ahmadinejad and his government are still willing to come to the table. The US has made quite a few sacrifices for these talks, lets hope they go somewhere.

Are we there yet?

With the release of General McChrystal’s report, asking for 50,000 more pairs of boots in Afghanistan, the somewhat forgotten, back-burnered war has come back to the front pages. However, it seems that the American people disagree with McChrystal: a recent USA Today/Gallup poll reported that about half of Americans (give or take 4%) oppose a troop surge in Afghanistan. This comes as a dramatic shift in opinion, as almost 65% of Americans supported upping our numbers in the country earlier this year. As a campaign promise made by both Senator McCain and President Obama in the 2008 election, I absolutely expected a rise in troops and support of such a move. Although I’m certain every American would be positively ecstatic to wash his or her hands of continued conflict in the Middle East (are we there yet?)something has to be done to “fix” the Afghan problem, at least for now. Unfortunately, the long-awaited elections did not go as smoothly as planned (or hoped), leaving increased stability and an independently functioning democracy in the dust for the time being.

It seems the best option, and what is proposed in amalgam by Republicans and Democrats alike, is a surge en masse: troops, aid, you name it. If it is well planned (the eternal problem) with a concrete vision (another obvious barrier to success in any operation and one emphasized by Senator John Kerry – something I actually agree with the man on), such an all-encompassing surge could work (and should work). If all components of the surge are sent in and a concrete expectation and plan are set, significant change will hopefully be in sight.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To Nuke or Not to Nuke…

To continue class discussion a bit, I wanted to advocate an idea that was introduced in the scenario of China bombing Sydney. The idea was brought up that the U.S. should carry out a nuclear strike on a comparable city (or cities) in China. I did not introduce the idea, but I think that this would be the way to go.

The first and probably the most obvious reason being that there should be some sort of punitive response on behalf of Sydney. After all, they did just lose over 4 million people. I don’t see much difference regarding where the bomb comes from (U.S., Japan or Australia) since the U.S. would be the source of it anyway, and the Chinese would recognize us as the culprits regardless.

The second reason to bomb a city rather than a strictly military facility is that it would make the Chinese government much more accountable to its people. I realize that this sounds callus, but I believe that the Chinese government would be more reluctant to continue the game of retaliation if it lost citizens (and would continue to do so) and not just military personnel. I also realize that this would be a HUGE gamble, since it could quite possibly lead to a nuclear holocaust, but I believe that if the U.S. demonstrated that it was willing to retaliate in this manor, that it would be a sufficient deterrent.

The third reason to intervene on the behalf of Australia (and Taiwan as well) is that if we decided not to do anything, then the idea of allies becomes nullified. The U.S. would become a global pariah. Militaristically, we would only be able to act unilaterally because we would not be able to count on the loyalty of our allies, and understandably so.

This strategy would allow the U.S. to honor its responsibilities, punish China for its actions, and hopefully prevent further nuclear strikes on U.S. allies. Ideally, Taiwan could then go about its day and become independent. But this is 2012 we’re talking about here, so maybe we’re all doomed anyway…

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No Boom For You

There have been plenty of responses to Obama’s decision to change the 2006 Missile Defense plans in Eastern Europe. The Russians are happy, the Poles and Czechs aren’t (the rest of the Euros are), and the NeoCons are well… On Thursday Gates and Obama announced their decision to cancel building both the radar system in the Czech Republic and the long-range interceptors in Poland. Putin and Medvedev want to take credit for a win, renigging on their own plans for short range missiles pointed west. Of course Obama and Gates are quick to explain Russian posturing had nothing to do with the changes in policy. For them the changes come from both a mixture of new intelligence and, what Obama might view as, another fixing of leftovers from Bush.

According to the new intelligence, Iranian development is still far off potential ICBM capabilities but increasingly developing middle and short range technologies. In response the new plan will downgrade the land-based radar and (untested) long-range interceptors to off-shore detectors and proven middle-to-short range interceptor technology, with phased plans for expansion to land-based defenses through, potentially, 2020.

Rasmussen, NATO’s newly appointed Secretary General, wants to take these moves to the next level, bringing Russia, NATO, and the US into a united front of missile defense against potential threats. Good luck. This is an interesting move for Gates though, and given the upcoming P5+1 talks with Iran this could possibly help water the withered relationships between the US and Russia, but it’s not likely.

The criticism from the NeoCons was weak and only helped support the fear-mongering persona that they are known for. The Poles, wounded and feeling abandoned, will be compensated, and the Czechs will probably just be in the wind.

Overall, it was a good call from Obama and Gates, compensating for asymmetrical plans of defense based on interceptor technology that has not even been tested; PLUS maintaining commitment to Eastern Europeans (even if somewhat disgruntled), keeping a defense against potential threats in Iran and beyond, and opening potential for some multilateral diplomacy.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Unintelligent Intelligence

There have recently been demands for an investigation and prosecution of C.I.A. interrogators who enacted "enhanced interrogation techniques". Former Vice President Dick Cheney kept a low profile from the media while in office, but has recently become more outspoken in defending the administration's policies. While I certainly have my disagreements with the former administration and the policies that were implemented, I find it hard to argue Cheney's main point - there has been no other terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. I think that this is a central topic to U.S. national security and is worth some discussion and debate. I'd like to propose some initial thoughts I have on the subject and welcome comments and disagreements.

First of all, there seems to be an attitude of repulsiveness to the idea that America would torture terrorist. Other Western democracies certainly have participated in such practices in defense of their national interests, why is America held to a different standard? Certainly there can be the argument of whether or not the U.S. SHOULD waterboard, torture, etc. I find it interesting that Americans themselves say "The U.S. does not torture." Do we really think we are that different from most other nations and wouldn't resort to similar tactics to protect our citizens?

Second of all, public opinion seem to be a poor venue for discussing intelligence matters. Isn't that why some of these things are supposed to be classified? Certain aspects are not pretty, but that's why a few, as opposed to all, Americans are privy to the information. I think it erodes the effectiveness of intelligence to be constantly under the scrutiny of the public opinion, which is fickle at best. Immediately following 9/11, there was such a pervasive attitude to do whatever was necessary to prevent this from happening again. But as we approach the eight anniversary, the public opinion pendulum has shifted against such methods. If the U.S. were to suffer another terrorist attack, would the public overlook such enhanced techniques? Indeed, the intelligence officers could be criticized for not doing enough to keep America safe. Personally, it seems like a poor idea to determine intelligence procedures by the ever-changing public opinion.

My third and last point: Why is there an outrage for the torturing of terrorists, but little attention on the innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are killed by military operations. It's becoming far too common to read about the NATO Allies expressing a "sincere apology" for the death of innocent civilians when bombing suspected terrorist sites. To me, it seems embarrassingly hypocritical.

Like I said before, I hope that this is a topic that is fiercely debated because I don't think there are easy answers. I don't like the idea of torturing people at all, but I'm also trying to understand that I have a limited perspective on the situation.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Choice or Necessity – Ongoing Assessment for Obama

While President Obama no doubt embraces safety of the U.S. population as a value worth preserving, he is weighing the marginal value of sending additional troops to Afghanistan against the value of public opinion regarding continued/increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and subsequently his approval rating. The rubric for decision-making in Afghanistan should be much clearer.

In two recent NYTimes articles, Peter Baker identifies this dilemma in conjunction with recent struggles among military advisors and strategists in defining what ultimate success in Afghanistan looks like. With regard to this success, in his August 22nd article Baker quotes Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke as stating, “We’ll know it when we see it.” The apparent struggle highlights a worrisome pattern within U.S. military involvement over the past 6 years. While there are definite motivations for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan—stability until election results are final (as valid or invalid as they may be), maintaining semblance of peace while Pakistan knocks on the door, and preventing Afghan leadership from laying out a welcome mat for terrorists, motivation and strategy are quite different.

Without a formalized strategy containing clearly defined objectives, it will be impossible for U.S. forces to effectively accomplish anything in Afghanistan, or to maintain support for our involvement among the U.S. population. If a definite strategy can be set forth, decisions to send additional troops can be measured objectively against specific strategic needs; the “choice vs. necessity” debate then gives way to a “necessary for success” argument. Congressional leaders and the U.S. population are likely to respond with greater support when a clear vision guides action.