Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Political Gain On The Backs Of Patriots

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

So Glenn Reynolds links a report about the Obama administration outing the double agent who informed us of the new type of underwear bomb.  He continues, “The leaks not only scuttled the mission but put the life of the asset in jeopardy. Even CIA officials, joining their MI5 and MI6 counterparts, were describing the leaks as ‘despicable,’ attributing them to the Obama administration.”

I continue to call for the use of explosive trace detection portals rather than ridiculous, groping searches of persons.  But aside from that complaint, while this double agent was doing patriotic duty for British intelligence, for which we are the beneficiary, how is this outing any more morally reprehensible than the current administration riding the backs of American patriots to score political points?

Consider quadruple amputee Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills and what he will endure for the remainder of his life.  Or consider the visit that had to be made to the family of the most recent Marine who was gunned down by the horrible, terrible, loathsome ANA.  Isn’t it morally reprehensible to do this to American patriots for a campaign we have no intention of winning?

This appears to be a pattern of behavior for an administration which sees lovers of America as mere fodder for its next political campaign.

Does the U.S. Have A Moral Duty to Fix Afghanistan (or anywhere else)?

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 4 months ago

In an article for National Review Online, Patrick Brennan illuminates the thinking of General David McKiernan, commander of ISAF in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.

To the extent that Brennan accurately reflects McKiernan’s thinking and, more importantly, that McKiernan is at all representative of widely-held views in the U.S. military,  it goes a long way to explaining the seeming paralysis of U.S. force projection in Afghanistan and globally.

Fundamentally, Gen. McKiernan is a true believer in what seems to be called the Pottery Barn Rule of U.S. power projection:

In my conversation with him in his Boston office, General McKiernan demonstrates a vast knowledge of the problems of Afghanistan, as well as a keen concern for the fate of the country and NATO’s mission there. “In my experience with many different operations in the military over the years, when you intervene on the ground in a country, ‘breaking the china’ in that country and changing the regional status quo, you then own the problem,” he says. The U.S. is therefore obligated, at the very least, to live up to the commitments it has made to Afghanistan’s civil and military leaders, including fulfilling the new strategic partnership by allocating sufficient funds, which will become a year-to-year concern. A military intervention such as the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 inevitably means the obliteration of a country’s existing political order, as chaotic or oppressive as that might be. Without a continuing commitment to restore some semblance of order and stability to Afghanistan, McKiernan argues, we will fail in our moral duty and abandon our strategic interests.

At the conclusion of the article, Brennan sums up Gen. McKiernan’s thinking:

The U.S. was right to invade Afghanistan in order to exact revenge against al-Qaeda and eliminate the region’s terrorist havens. But McKiernan has seen the catastrophic side effects of that invasion, and they represent something of a geopolitical sin. With a more targeted, locally nuanced, and efficient strategy as penance, the United States can help the Afghan government construct and enforce some degree of order, General McKiernan believes. If we do not do so, we abandon our moral commitment to repair Afghanistan, and we will leave a gapingly insecure region that would remain fertile ground for international terrorism.

Pardon the gag reflex.  There is much else in the article that is deserving of comment and it is worth reading.  For example, Gen. McKiernan seems to recognize that Afghanistan is not a nation state in any true sense of the word but is, instead, a collection of different tribes, ethnicities and sects.   His takeaway from this fact, however, is to double down on the formation and training of a national army and police force that can someday, somehow hold the centrifugal differences of the country together.   As illogical as this seems, it is necessitated by the “you break it, you own it” philosophy embraced by McKiernan and others.

So this seems to me to be the fundamental debate for American foreign policy, not only for Afghanistan but for the next ten to twenty years as we face no lack of failing or failed states that become incubators for Militant Islam: what, if any, obligation does the U.S. have to another country or people when the U.S. uses military force in exercise of its national interests?

First let’s clarify some of General McKiernan’s muddled thinking.

According to his moral universe, when a nation “breaks the china” by intervening with force of arms to somehow change the status quo of another nation or region then the intervenor “own[s] the problem” and incurs a “moral duty” to “restore some semblance of order and stability…”   In the case of Afghanistan, this is nonsense.   The status quo of Afghanistan’s “political order” in September 2001 was, as the General himself describes, “chaotic” and “oppressive.”  By his own theory, then, the U.S. need only ensure that Afghanistan ends up no more chaotic or oppressive than it was pre-invasion.  The 2001 invasion alone made a vast improvement upon the existing political order by eliminating a pariah regime that gladly hosted international terrorists and imposed a cruel authoritarianism on its population.   If the U.S. had walked out of Afghanistan in January 2002, the situation in Afghanistan would have been vastly improved with the Northern Alliance in control of most of the country.

In fact, it is arguable that the U.S. only started to destroy the status quo of Afghanistan when it began meddling in its internal, political affairs with arrogant notions of 21st Century democracy and centralized government.  The problem, then, is not that the U.S. created a mess in Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban in October 2001, but that the U.S. stayed after toppling the Taliban in order to somehow save the Afghans from their own backward and stunted culture.   This was the “geopolitical sin” if Gen. McKiernan must find one.

What of General McKiernan’s larger premise, that the U.S. cannot intervene militarily without incurring a “moral commitment to repair” that nation?

This is a fundamentally flawed and mistaken view of U.S. power projection.  Originally espoused by General Colin Powell in 2002, Powell claims to have advised President Bush that any invasion of Iraq would be akin to breaking a dish and thereby taking ownership.  The so-called Pottery Barn school of  thought to which McKiernan subscribes assumes the existence of an unbroken Dish prior to U.S. involvement.  This is simply a fiction and a dangerous one at that.

Iraq was already in pieces under Saddam Hussein when the U.S. invaded in March 2003.   Once the Dictator and his police state were dismembered, the “dish” was already in infinitely better shape than its pre-invasion condition.   The U.S. would have been perfectly justified from a moral point of view in packing up and heading home at that point.   So, too, with Afghanistan: the “dish” was in far better shape after the removal of Al Qaeda bases and the Taliban than it was pre-invasion.

The Pottery Barn doctrine simply does not pertain to the exercise of U.S. military intervention at any point in U.S. history.   I cannot think of a single instance where the metaphorical dish was not already broken when the U.S. intervened.  If someone wants to argue about Nazi intervention in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and France, that is a different matter.   The U.S. is not an imperial power that topples healthy, functioning nation states and the application of the Pottery Barn doctrine to the U.S. may say far more about how people like Colin Powell and David McKiernan view U.S. power projection than it does about the actual world as we have it now.

American leadership needs to forcefully and decisively reject this wrong-headed notion of moral commitments to fix other nations.  It is not and has never been about moral commitments.  It is ever, only about the U.S. national interest.  That is the only way to rationally debate both the decision to intervene militarily and the decision, once intervention occurs, of how and when to leave.  This is not to say that our national interest does not align with notions of morality.  Very often it does and morality certainly forms a part of defining what the “national interest” is in the first place.   But evaluating policies, tactics and strategy from a moral viewpoint rather than the national interest leads to all kinds of fuzzy thinking and misguided efforts.   Afghanistan is, perhaps, the textbook example of these hazards.

To give but a few examples:  what is the U.S. national interest in pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into road, school, hospital and other construction in Afghanistan?  It certainly is a nice thing to do, a moral thing to do.  But how, precisely, does this make America more secure?  In a predominating culture that is so alien (indeed hostile one could say) to American values, the idea of changing that culture with billions in aid money can only be driven by a moralistic– an almost missionary– zeal that simply has no place in American foreign policy.   The national interest is solely concerned with ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a threat to American security again.   That was the only reason we invaded in 2001 (contrary to Gen. McKiernan’s idea of “revenge”).  There are many ways that this fundamental, U.S. interest could be achieved without any resort whatsoever to changing Afghan culture.

To look at another example briefly, consider Syria.

From the moralistic, Pottery Barn approach, intervening in Syria is a case of balancing the suffering of the Syrian people under the Dictator Assad with the unavoidable suffering of the people after a military intervention (whether that is invasion, air strikes, covert support for rebels, etc…).   This is why the Obama Administration and much of U.S. punditry is tied up in knots over Syria: there is no, clear way to evaluate human suffering in this manner.   (Anyone who doubts this need only look at Libya where, again, the scales of suffering seemed to tilt in favor of ousting Qaddafi only to find, now, that the increasing lawlessness and rise of Militant Islamists is beginning to make Qaddafi look rather tame by comparison).

Instead of playing these sorts of moral games, U.S. leadership should be looking at Syria from our own interests.   This clarifies things immediately.   Syria under Assad is an enemy of the U.S. and moves in lockstep with arch-enemy Iran.   This is a very, very broken dish (to use their parlance).  Toppling Assad by itself does not worsen the dish and is certainly in the U.S. national interest as it enhances our security immensely.

There is, of course, the question of what sort of government will replace Assad.   Here again the moralists and national interest part ways.   The moralists would say that the U.S. would “own” all of Syria’s problems if it intervened which means, presumably, another 10 or 20 year program of building schools, hospitals roads and civic institutions.   The national interest, at a bare minimum, however, doesn’t really care so much what comes after Assad so long as it is not worse than Assad.  We do not care, for example, if Syria falls into civil war so long as Syria cannot be the cat’s paw for Iran.   It is certainly in the national interest to back rebels that are sympathetic to U.S. values and goals, but if they are at least hostile to Iran and global jihad, that is enough.

In essence then, to the extent that U.S. policies and strategies are guided by the approach espoused by General McKiernan, we will find ourselves a vulnerable paralytic Power unable to intervene in the world where critical U.S. interests are at stake because to do so would automatically obligate us to an endless commitment of fixing the “broken dish.”   In such a world, we leave it to hostile powers all around us to shape things to their liking, one that will be little to our own.

Taliban Are Divided And In Retreat – Or Not

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

The Taliban are divided and in retreat.

Two of the most powerful American officials in Afghanistan have insisted that the Taliban are in retreat with its leadership divided, contradicting claims by senior figures in Washington that the insurgency has actually grown stronger since Barack Obama authorised the surge of forces two years ago.

The remarkably confident assessment by the two officials – General John Allen, the head of international forces in the country, and the US ambassador, Ryan Crocker – comes weeks ahead of a crucial summit in Chicago to set up the blueprint for Nato’s exit path from the long and costly war and organise a support system for Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal.

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“There is pretty clear evidence that the surge has accomplished a great deal,” Gen Allen told The Independent during a visit to Uruzgan province. “It has not been just a surge of military, but a surge of capacity building. The Afghan security forces have made tremendous progress and they are moving into the lead very effectively. They are having tremendous success in the battlefield and this will continue.”

Gen Allen held that many in the insurgent ranks are seeking peace. “They see their leaders safe in Pakistan while they are doing the fighting. We have seen how the process of reintegration is progressing,” he said. “This time last year we had 600 to 700 going home, now this is more than 4,000.”

Or perhaps not.

The office of Kapisa’s governor sits high on a hilltop overlooking the provincial capital, Mahmud Raqi. It has a beautiful view of the river below and the mountains, trees and fields that stretch into the distance.

Beneath the tranquil surface, however, lies a grim truth. Just outside town roadside bombs are planted to target NATO convoys.

This is one of Afghanistan’s forgotten battlegrounds, a place quietly unraveling as Washington debates the future of the war. Behind the calm facade is a strategically vital part of the country with a fragile security situation that shows every sign of worsening.

Kapisa is barely an hour’s drive north of Kabul, yet two of its seven districts have been in insurgent hands for years, according to local residents, politicians and officials. One is Tagab, where the Taliban stop and search vehicles, run a shadow judicial system and stage regular attacks on foreign and Afghan troops.

“The government does not have control there. I am the representative of the people and I cannot go without employing very heavy security,” said Al Haj Khoja Ghulam Mohammed Zamaray, deputy leader of the provincial council.

Conditions are arguably even more extreme in Alasay. A June 2009 US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks described the militants as having “relative freedom of movement well inside putative secure areas” there. With NATO having since left the district, that has not changed. Elders and members of parliament all insist the Taliban walk openly in the local bazaar.

Similar situations can be found across rural Afghanistan, but history shows events in Kapisa are of particular concern. Guerrillas resisting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s traveled here from safe havens in Pakistan, via the provinces of Kunar and Laghman. It put them within striking distance of the Afghan capital and Bagram air base — then an important Russian facility and now a huge US installation — as well as the main highways connecting Kabul to the north and east of the country.

Speaking to GlobalPost, Abdul Jabar Farhad, a former mujahideen commander serving in the security forces, said “it’s the same story today” and the insurgents are now establishing crucial forward positions in Kapisa in preparation for a wider war.

Just to place this in perspective, I know an Army lawyer who is located at a FOB outside of Kandahar helping Afghan authorities to decipher how to detain criminals (when that Afghan authority decided to show up for work that particular day).  My friend isn’t allow to travel outside the FOB unless it is by helicopter.  The insurgents own the roads.

When the insurgents own the roads, we have lost the campaign, regardless of what the other metrics show.  It isn’t for lack of trying, or for lack of capabilities or commitment by the U.S. fighting men.  Ten years of under-resourcing and constantly changing strategy have taken their toll.

Obama didn’t tell the U.S. public everything in his fist-bumping, high-fiving victory lap speech in Afghanistan.

Secret Release Of Taliban Fighters

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

From Fox News:

The US has been secretly releasing captured Taliban fighters from a detention center in Afghanistan in a bid to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the insurgent group, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The “strategic release” program of high-level detainees is designed to give the US a bargaining chip in some areas of Afghanistan where international forces struggle to exercise control, the report said.

Under the risky program, the hardened fighters must promise to give up violence and are threatened with further punishment, but there is nothing to stop them resuming attacks against Afghan and American troops.

“Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” a US official told the Post.

There are two problems with this report.  The second problem is that Taliban fighters are being released.  We all knew that, and this continues a trend set in place months and even years ago.  At one point in time they could be held for 72 hours, and then that was changed to 96 hours, and within a few days many of the fighters captured by the Marines in the Helmand Province were back in the streets of their villages taunting the Marines.

Apparently the trend has been hastened, and that only points to desperation and the looming withdrawal date.  But the first problem is right there in the fourth paragraph of the report.  “Everyone agrees that they … should remain in detention.”  As we have discussed here before, prisons do not work in counterinsurgency.

There you have it.  That’s what we do when the campaign becomes hopeless.  We imprison fighters rather than kill them, and then we release them because we are losing the campaign and want to win good will with the enemy.  One sad part about all of this is that otherwise good men side with a losing strategy.  I just witnessed Major General Bob Scales advocate this strategy on Fox News.

Again.  How sad.  Bring the troops home now.  We have acquiesced to defeat, and it is immoral to keep them there any longer.

Leon Panetta Jumps Off The Deep End

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

Well, I never agreed with his advocacy for troops cutbacks, I don’t like his positions on Iraq or Afghanistan, and I couldn’t have gotten along with Mr. Obama long enough to have every been in his shoes.  But this time Panetta has really jumped off the deep end.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared global warming a national security threat yesterday during a speech before an environmentalist group in Washington, D.C.

“The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security,” Panetta told the Environmental Defense Fund last night. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

I had been wondering about Panetta’s position on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, or the F-22 versus the (what will be ill-fated) F-35, maintaining the same number of carrier groups in the future (which I support – actually, I support increasing the number), and so on.

Instead, we find out that his thoughts as Secretary of Defense are running to anthropogenic global warming and the soon-to-be-manifest disasters.  Sigh.  It’s sort of like finding out that that man down the street with whom you talk from time to time believes that the U.S. destroyed the world trade center, right after aliens kidnapped him and held him hostage for ten years on the planet Lazon II.

Time For Lugar To Go

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

Professor Jacobson has lost the love for Dick Lugar.

I’ve been traveling without a computer this weekend but this story at IndyStar is worth a PDA post, so excuse some formatting issues like no embedded links.

The inclination I’ve had to feel sorry for Dick Lugar that his career may reach an inglorious end is rapidly dissipating. Lugar demonstrates daily why it is time to defeat him.

Lugar still refuses to say he will support Mourdock, still seeks to have non-Republicans decide the Republican primary, and feeds the left-wing narrative that the Tea Party just shouts.

Lugar is insulting and arrogant.

Check out the article.  I never did have any respect for Lugar.  This silly Washington Post commentary by Dana Milbank is a good example why.

For years Dick Lugar has been the leading Senate Republican on foreign policy, shaping post-Cold War strategy, securing sanctions to end South African apartheid and bringing democracy to the Philippines, among other things. His signature achievement, drafted with Democrat Sam Nunn, was the 1992 Nunn-Lugar Act, which has disarmed thousands of Soviet nuclear warheads once aimed at the United States.

Enter Richard Mourdock, a tea party hothead attempting to defeat Lugar in the GOP primary. A cornerstone of his effort to oust Lugar is the six-term senator’s bad habit of bipartisanship — never mind that Lugar’s bipartisanship was in the service of protecting millions of Americans from nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism.

Oh stop it.  Just stop it.  The START treaty (and New START) did nothing of the sort.  Russia had become essentially economically incapable of maintaining their nuclear arsenal, and as a good excuse for cutting back on ours and spending the money on entitlement programs – and even disparaging the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, something that even the DoD says that we need – we pursued a strategy with Russia which allowed them to maintain approximate parity with the U.S. by investing absolutely nothing in their defense.

Look around you.  Everyone alive knows one, or two, or three or even more men who are alive today, or who have lived and died and been loved by their families and friends, as a consequence of nuclear weapons.  Nothing has contributed more to world peace in the second half of the twentieth century than the existence of nuclear weapons.  Thank God for them.  Their existence has saved untold lives and prevented untold suffering.

Left to Dick Lugar, who wants to cement his reputation (I suppose for his obituary one day to show that he was a good man or something), we wouldn’t have had this wonderful deterrent.

Yea.  It’s time for him to go alright.

Reset With Russia Didn’t Work So Well

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

Remember this visit to Moscow?  Remember this goofy-ass picture?

Perhaps the button has malfunctioned.

Russia’s most senior military officer said Thursday that Moscow would preemptively strike and destroy U.S.-led NATO missile defense sites in Eastern Europe if talks with Washington about the developing system continue to stall.

“A decision to use destructive force preemptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said at an international missile defense conference in Moscow attended by senior U.S. and NATO officials.

The threat comes as talks about the missile defense system, which the U.S. and its allies insist is aimed at Iranian missiles, appear to have stalled.

“We have not been able to find mutually-acceptable solutions at this point and the situation is practically at a dead end,” Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said.

Perhaps a better idea would be a reset in our so-called “smart diplomacy.”

Concerning The TSA, Claymores And Crotches

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

More heartwarming stories from the TSA:

A Defense Department employee was stopped at Newark Airport yesterday after inspectors found inert land mines in her luggage.

Roxan Hatcher, 32, of Union Township, was headed for an early-morning flight to San Francisco with two unarmed Claymore mines she planned to use in a Special Forces training exercise, law-enforcement sources said.

Hatcher, a mechanical engineer at the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County, told cops that a co-worker headed for the same destination had an inert mine in her checked baggage that TSA inspectors did not detect.

Now, it is utterly irrelevant for our consideration that the mines, which were claymores, were “inert.”  The point is that the chosen method for detection missed mines just like it earlier.

As I have pointed out before, if we really cared about security, we would install explosive trace detection portals, just like those in use at the access portals to nuclear power plants in the U.S. (explosives trace materials are sniffed with machines, rather than people being watched with cameras and groped with hands)  This, combined with abolishing the TSA and sending the work to private contractors, would actually benefit security and save money to boot.

But we don’t want that.  We would rather have ignorant goobers gawk at cute figures and have random violations of our fourth amendment rights.  And speaking of ignorant goobers violating our rights, Jeffrey Goldberg gives us this distasteful example of airport security from personal experience.

She entered the machine and struck the humiliating pose one is forced to strike — hands up, as in an armed robbery — and then walked out, when she was asked by a TSA agent, in a voice loud enough for several people to hear, “Are you wearing a sanitary napkin?”

Remember, she’s 79.

My mother-in-law answered, “No. Why do you ask?”
 
The TSA agent responded: “Well, are you wearing anything else down there?”

Yes, “down there.”

She said no, at which point, the friend with whom she was traveling, also a not-young volunteer library advocate, came over and asked if there was a problem.

The TSA agent said, again, in full voice, “There’s an anomaly in the crotch area.”

This is, of course, a painful post for me to write. Like most normal American men, I don’t want to see the words “my mother-in-law” and “crotch area” in the same paragraph. But let me go on anyway.

My mother-in-law said, “As far as I know I don’t have any anomalies in the crotch area.”

The TSA agent told her she would have to go through the scanner again. She demurred, saying she didn’t like the machine very much. The agent told her she could opt for a pat-down. My mother-in-law refused to be frisked, figuring, correctly, that “they were going to pat-down my crotch area. I mean, there wasn’t an anomaly in the chest area.”

So she went through the scanner again. Of course, this time — one minute later — the TSA found no “anomalies,” and she was free to go.

The experience left her flummoxed, however. “What did they think I was, a lady underpants bomber?”

I asked her if she felt  embarrassed by the manner in which the TSA treated her.

“I’m not embarrassed,” she said. “I just think they’re stupid and their machinery is defective and they should learn to whisper when they’re talking about my crotch, or anyone’s crotch.” 

There you have it.  That’s what happens with you cloak a federal jobs program in national security garb.  And statists far and wide are willing to give up their rights and the rights of others under the guise of being safer than we were before.

Prior: More TSA Follies, TSA Category. TSA Ineptitude Category


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