Thursday, May 26, 2016

Examining America’s Role in the World


The world is currently characterized by an unusually large number of unstable and volatile situations. The current high levels of instability are rooted in four broad trends:

  • The first is the systematic breakdown of state authority in the Arab Middle East.
  • The second broad trend we face is the reemergence of great power competition
  • A third current source of global volatility is the global reaction to profound economic and political transitions taking place in China.
  • The last trend is the geopolitical impact of sustained low oil prices since mid-2014.

The idea that America is in decline does not stand up to a rigorous analysis of our national balance sheet of strategic assets and liabilities. The truth is that no nation can match our comprehensive set of enduring strengths—a resilient, strong, and diverse economy; bountiful resources, both human and material; a unique global network of alliances; unmatched military strength; a powerful culture of entrepreneurship and innovation; best-in-class universities and research institutions; a dynamic demographic future (unique among the great powers); a promising energy future; a well-established legal system; and a long and powerful record of international leadership.

The next president must work to address four primary challenges in order to bolster our security and national well-being:

  • The principal national security challenge for any nation is to maintain its economic growth and vitality.
  • The overall terrorist threat has evolved and metastasized, and we have entered a new and dangerous phase.
  • The nation’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks has become one of the most pressing challenges confronting our government, our economy, and the American public.
  • Finally, the next president should build on 44's efforts to enhance stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Battle of Fallujah Part III

Iraqi forces have begun their assault on Islamic State in Fallujah, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said late Sunday, an operation that aims to evict the extremists from one of their last major territorial holdings in Iraq.

The operation follows months of planning and preparation in coordination with a U.S.-led military coalition that is backing Iraqi forces with airstrikes.

Iraqi forces have long had the city surrounded, but a major buildup of forces became evident in recent days as Shiite militias working alongside the Iraqi army moved military equipment to the area and officials suggested an operation was imminent.

Before the start of operations Sunday, the Iraqi government appealed to residents of Fallujah to prepare to leave, even urging them to raise white flags at their houses if they couldn’t.

The military’s Joint Operations Command said that civilian families would be allowed to leave the city through designated safe passages, though it didn’t specify how departures from the city would be arranged.

The Iraqi army, counterterrorism forces, police, tribal fighters and Shiite militias were taking part in the operation, according to the military.

Eissa al-Issawi, the exiled mayor of Fallujah, said Islamic State militants were retreating from the outskirts to the center of the city Sunday as the operation drew nearer

Civilians inside were eager for any relief from isolation, 74-year-old resident Mohessen Hossam said. Many people have died of starvation in the city since Iraqi forces imposed a blockade last year, residents have said, although the precise toll is impossible to measure.

If successful, the recapture of Fallujah would leave Mosul as Islamic State’s only major foothold in Iraq. Iraqi forces have long been gearing up for Mosul’s recapture, which is expected to be complex in part because of its size: Mosul has a population of around 1 million, about three times the size of Fallujah’s before Islamic State took the city.

Despite its smaller size, the Fallujah battle isn’t expected to be easy. The city is inhabited mostly by Sunni Muslims, many of whom resent any incursion by Iran-backed Shiite militias that form a significant part of the force fighting for control. To avoid triggering sectarian bloodshed, Shiite militias aren’t expected to be part of the forces that retake the city center.

Nonetheless, Ibrahim al-Jumaili, a Fallujah native who left three months ago and is now living just outside the city, said he had spoken to people inside Sunday who were concerned about being targeted by Shiite militias.

Fallujah has also been a difficult objective for invading armies before, including for the U.S., which took it in 2004 and held it for two years before handing control to the Iraqi government. The city became a focal point for Sunni discord after a Shiite-led government took power in Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion.

Islamic State took control of Fallujah in December 2013, making it one of the group’s first big territorial gains, preceding its establishment of a base in Raqqa in Syria. Mosul only fell under its control in summer 2014.

As Iraqi forces turned the tide since last year, Islamic State has switched tactics, focusing more on terrorist attacks in populated areas than it had previously. A wave of Islamic State attacks in and near Baghdad earlier this month—most of them suicide bombings—killed almost 200 people.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Drones Gone Wild!

The recent vaporization of Taliban leader Mullah Mansur brings up a quiz or two...

Mansur’s potential death provides a real-world, real-time ability to test two hypotheses about the policy of killing terrorist leaders. These are based upon the objectives of the strike, according to the Pentagon press release, as well as subsequent statements by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Hypothesis one: Mansur’s death will reduce Taliban attacks and fatalities against Afghanistan national security forces, U.S. and coalition troops, and Afghan civilians.

Hypothesis two: Mansur’s replacement will be more likely to participate in the long-stalled peace and reconciliation negotiations with the Afghan government.

There has been a tremendous amount of social science research on these challenging policy puzzles. These policy-evaluative publications have reached somewhat conflicting conclusions, and are often contested by U.S. military and intelligence staffers who I speak with. However, those staffers never publish their research findings for public scrutiny, and are unable—given they would be referring to classified information—to clearly articulate their problems with the existing research.

On whether killing terrorists leaders and lower-level militants reduces violence, Max Abrahms and Phillip Potter assessed that when leaders of militant groups are killed or targeted, lower-level members have to assume tactical responsibility, and they increase the proportion of the group’s violence against civilian targets. Patrick Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi determined, “We find no statistically significant evidence of a positive relationship between drone strikes and terrorism.”  Meanwhile, Vincent Bauer, Keven Ruby, and Robert Pape found that “drone strikes are only marginally effective at reducing militant violence in the short term, and that the effect dissipates over time.”

On leadership targeting and the strength and durability of terrorist groups: In 2009, Jenna Jordan examined 298 leadership targeting incidents from 1945 through 2004, and concluded that “decapitation is not an effective counterterrorism strategy,” and oftentimes prolongs the life of a terrorist group. On the other hand, Bryan C. Price concluded, by analyzing the effect of leadership decapitation on 207 terrorist groups from 1970 to 2008, the killing or capturing leaders significantly increases the mortality rate of the group. In 2014, Jordan reviewed the impact of 109 attacks on Al Qaeda leadership from 2001 to 2011, and did not find a “significant degradation of organizational capacity or a marked disruption in al-Qaida’s activities,” measured in the number of attacks and their lethality.

There is also a CIA “Best Practices in Counterinsurgency” report from July 2009 examined nine cases of high-value targeting and found that five failed outright, two succeeded, and two had mixed results. The report specifically warned: “The Taliban’s military structure blends a top-down command system with an egalitarian Afghan tribal structure that rules by consensus, making the group more able to withstand HVT operations, according to clandestine and U.S. military reporting.”

How might someone determine if hypothesis one has been achieved? United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports on the protection of civilians, which have been produced since 2007. Fortunately, for determining causal effect, UNAMA began releasing its reports bi-annually in 2009, and just last month releasing them quarterly. So, when the third quarter UNAMA report is released in November, look for an increase or decrease in attacks by “anti-government elements,” meaning the Taliban. (It is worth noting that Taliban attacks are decreasing relative to other perpetrators: In 2015, the group was responsible for 62 percent of all civilian fatalities, a decrease from 78 percent in 2013.)

There is also the Global Terrorism Database, which produces its excellent summary of terrorist attacks for all countries by date, perpetrator group, fatalities or casualties, and target type. The 2016 data for Afghanistan will probably be posted online sometime in mid-2017.

There has been no new data for total attacks on U.S. or coalition forces since 2013, but U.S. troop fatalities are constantly updated at the Pentagon’s casualty status website, and military contractors working for the Department of Defense at a Department of Labor website. As for Afghanistan security forces, the Ministries of Defense and Interior apparently prepare an annual total of military fatalities, which has previously been provided to western journalists.

How might one determine if hypothesis two has been achieved? This simply requires determining if Mansur’s replacement, or a council of recognized Taliban leaders, decide to negotiate directly and faithfully with the government of Afghanistan. One member of the government-appointed High Peace Council stated, “Mansour’s death doesn’t necessarily mean that peace is closer than it was yesterday.”
We will soon find out if this is true, and if targeting Taliban leadership succeeds at achieving the objectives as articulated by the administration.

Monday, May 23, 2016

USS Zumwalt


In October, the Navy will commission the Zumwalt in Baltimore. Between now and then, the ship’s crew will use the next four months to train with their new vessel, under the command of no-kidding Captain James Kirk.

From Sam LaGrone of U.S. Naval Institute news:

Zumwalt is the first hull delivered in the $22 billion three-ship class. The second and third ships — Michael Moonsor (DDG-1001) and Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) – are currently under construction at BIW.
The ships are built around a first-ever electric drive system in which the main engines power an electrical grid instead a direct link to the ship’s props allowing more margin to add additional systems to the ships.The ships’ main weapons are twin 155mm BAE Systems Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) designed to fire a specialized rocket assisted guided round to attack land targets – Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP).
The Zumwalt, and the two other ships of its class, are designed to have about half the crew of existing destroyers in the U.S. Navy. Major automation of the ship makes this possible, as does the ship’s tremendous amount of on-board electrical power. In fact, while it’s equipped with missiles and guns now, in the future it could have laser weapons or rail guns.

Assuming, that is, that it doesn’t tip over first. The ship’s unique body shape is known as a “tumblehome” design, and one reason they’re particularly rare is because they sometimes flip over in stormy seas. That hasn’t happened yet, and it’s possible the Zumwalt is better equipped than ships a century ago for rough conditions. Let’s hope it’s smooth sailing until October’s commissioning.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Middle East's Next War

Middle East wars generally don't happen by accident. And since 2006, both Little Satan and Hizb'allah have been prepping for the next round.

The death in Syria last week of Mustafa Badriddine, Hezbollah's top operational commander in Syria, automatically and inevitably raised the fear of another confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah. After all, Lebanese media close to Hezbollah had been quick to accuse the Israelis of killing its storied terror operative.
Hezbollah soon suggested that Israel was not, after all, responsible. Instead, it announced that its man was killed by insurgent groups that the Lebanese Shia militia has been fighting in Syria. Yet while we may never find out the exact circumstances of Badriddine's death, and while the potential for a new and deadly war in the Middle East has, for the time being, been averted, the truth is that an Israeli-Lebanese war that could plunge the Middle East into even greater chaos remains a genuine possibility.
On the surface, this might seem a strange time to sound so pessimistic. After all, this July marks the 10th anniversary of the last major Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. And despite significant escalations, the two sides have managed to avoid a sustained large-scale conflict.
Overstretched in Syria, Hezbollah doesn't want a big fight. And even though Russian intervention has backstopped the Bashar al-Assad regime -- Hezbollah's key ally -- the Syrian campaign has been costly and controversial for the Lebanese Shia organization.
In short. Hezbollah can't afford to open up what could prove to be an even more costly second front, and it cannot be certain that Israel might not strike the al-Assad regime, weakening its stake in Syria.
It's also hard to see how Iran, Hezbollah's key political and religious patron and its key arms supplier would benefit from a war now.
Iran is looking to build on the nuclear agreement with the United States and other powers to strengthen its economy and attract foreign investment. And having to rally publicly and loudly to the side of an organization that the Europeans, Americans and Gulf states regard as a terrorist entity wouldn't seem to further Iran's interests.
Since 2006, Israel and its other non-state adversary, Hamas, have engaged in three serious confrontations -- in 2008-2009; 2012; and 2014
In contrast, Israel and Hezbollah have been much more careful and disciplined in dealing with one another. Hezbollah was surprised that Israel was prepared to launch a massive air campaign in response to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers in 2006, while Israel was stunned by Hezbollah's capacity to rain thousands of rockets down on Israel and shut a good portion of the country down for a month.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has expanded its rocket and missile arsenal to 150,000, weapons, according to Israeli officials, including precision-guided systems that would put within range Haifa's heavy industries; the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv; Israel's Parliament; and its nuclear reactors at Dimona.
Indeed, earlier this year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened Haifa's ammonia storage tanks with his missiles, an attack he claimed -- quoting an Israeli official -- could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis.
Clearly, the next war would be potentially devastating for both sides. But that does not mean it can't or won't occur.
For example, Hezbollah is battle hardened, tested and trained in offensive operations in the Syrian civil war. The group is thought by some to be planning incursions across the border with a view to holding territory, even attacking Israeli towns.
And if Hiz'b'Allah plans to change the next war's paradigm, so does Little Satan.
Frustrated with the duration and stalemated outcome of the 2006 Lebanon campaign, the Israelis promise to hit harder and bring the war to a quicker and more decisive end.
How? They won't say. But it would surely involve the massive use of air power against Hezbollah positions, even if they were located in civilian areas, In addition, unlike in 2006, Israel might be more likely to make use of significant numbers of ground forces and elite units, coordinated with air power.
So, while another war between Israel and Hezbollah may not be inevitable, Hezbollah's growing arsenal, combined with its conviction that fighting Israel is part of its identity and legitimacy, means that outright conflict is a genuine possibility. If it comes, it will be devastating -- especially for the civilians on both sides caught in the middle.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2017 War With Russia

Russian T 14 panzers make a wide right turn on cobblestone streets in a small town in Latvia - heading for the Baltic sea.

Russia, in order to escape what she believes to be encirclement by Nato, will seize territory in eastern Ukraine, open up a land corridor to Crimea and invade the Baltic states.

And do it next year in 2017.

Sound crazy?

Hold up!

Former deputy commander of Nato, the former British general Sir Alexander Richard Shirreff predicts it'll happen in a new shocker called 2017 War With Russia: An urgent warning from senior military command

His scenario is specific, naming Latvia as the first of the Baltic countries to be invaded, in May next year.

At the book launch at London’s Royal United Services Institute, he heavily caveated the scenario by saying it was still avoidable provided Nato took the necessary steps to pre-position forces in large enough numbers in the Baltic states. Nato is planning to make a start on just such a move at a Nato summit in Warsaw in July.

Faced with scepticism from journalists at the book launch – the Baltic states, unlike Ukraine, are members of Nato, and Russian action against any of them would in theory trigger a response – Shirreff said history was full of irrational decisions by leaders.

He said Putin could invade the Baltic states and then threaten nuclear action if Nato threatened to intervene.

Shirreff’s warning about the danger posed by Russia is echoed in the foreword by US admiral James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander Europe, who writes: “Under President Putin, Russia has charted a dangerous course that, if it is allowed to continue, may lead inexorably to a clash with Nato. And that will mean a war that could so easily go nuclear.”

Shirreff insists that retention of a nuclear deterrent is essential. “Be under no illusion whatsoever – Russian use of nuclear weapons is hardwired into Moscow’s military strategy,” he writes.

He describes Russia as now the west’s most dangerous adversary and says Putin’s course can only be stopped if the west wakes up to the real possibility of war and takes urgent action.