Monday, November 30, 2015

why move to Colorado?

I'm proud to be a third-generation native of Denver, but I don't know for sure why my ancestors first moved there. With one exception: my maternal great grandparents moved from New Jersey in 1891 seeking a dry climate after my great grandfather doctor caught pneumonia treating patients during the blizzard of 1888.

My mother's father was born in Omaha in 1896 while his Swedish immigrant parents were on their way to Denver, where there already was a Swedish community. Why they left Sweden and why they picked Denver, I don't know.

My father's father moved from a farm outside Detroit around 1888 and his mother moved from Michigan City, Indiana around 1902. One of her sisters was already living and working in Denver. They settled and married and prospered.

This weekend, I was reading an article that offered a possible explanation for their migration -- the lure of economic opportunity. I hadn't realize how rich the west was toward the end of the 19th century, but it turns out that Colorado was the third richest state in terms of per capita income in 1880 and 1890 and fifth highest in 1900. Colorado's population more than doubled between 1880 and 1890 and grew another 30% in the following decade.  Much of this wealth came from gold and silver mining, of course, but the numbers suggest a booming economy that was widely shared.

Obviously much migration to and within the United States was driven by economic factors -- leaving declining areas and moving to growing ones. That's the best explanation I have so far for my own ancestors.

European warning signs

The "Europe whole and free" that emerged after the cold war is in danger. The single currency for many of its members, the Euro, is exacerbating the economic troubles of the poorer states. The checkpoint-free travel of the Schengen agreement has exacerbated the problems of coping with the surge of refugees from Syria and other Arab regions. The migrant crisis itself has fueled the rise of right-wing, anti-immigrant parties that could well gain significant power in elections in the coming months.

Since so much of European governance is done by consensus or unanimity, the coming to power of these once fringe parties could destroy Europe as a geopolitical power. Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post points to what has already happened in Poland.
It’s been just two weeks since Beata Szydlo, a mild-mannered parliamentarian from the right-wing Law and Justice party, was sworn in as the country’s prime minister. During that time, the administration nominally under her control has installed a new chief of the secret security services who was previously convicted of abuse of power for prosecuting political opponents, replaced five members of the Constitutional Court in order to avoid challenges to that first appointment, and named as defense minister an outspoken anti-Semite.
The trend lines are clear and ominous. European leaders have to get their act together and solve these most pressing problems before the whole system unravels.

Woodrow Wilson reconsidered

Princeton University is reconsidering the legacy of its former president as well as America's, Woodrow Wilson. I think we all should do likewise.  As readers here know, I have a much more negative view of Wilson than I did in earlier years. While I have specific complaints about some of his foreign policy, especially his mishandling of the Versailles treaty consideration by the Senate, I was also deeply troubled by his racism, something overlooked by most of the writers I had read over the years.

The Princeton demonstrations have made us all more aware of Wilson's bigotry and denial of rights and opportunities to black Americans. One writer describes a heated encounter between Wilson and some black leaders.

The most thorough account of his re-segregation of the executive branch appears to be in this excellent book by Eric Yellin, Racism in the Nation's Service. Here is his balanced judgment:

In public memory, Woodrow Wilson stands alone at the center of this story. While Wilson strongly supported segregation, there is no evidence that he oversaw its implementation or ensured consistency through a clear directive. Wilson was an aloof and shadowy chief executive when it came to personnel management, even in the area of racial discrimination. Instead, it was the men Wilson appointed to run his government who threaded white supremacy into the federal bureaucracy....The result was a more complex regime with a larger cast of characters. Wilson’s most remarkable role came after the dirty work was well underway, when he blessed the marriage of progressive politics and state-sponsored racism as necessary for good government.
That analysis persuades me that Princeton and we here in Washington can continue to honor Wilson for his praiseworthy accomplishments even while bearing in mind his objectionable views and actions. Hardly any  one is all saint or all sinner; we can weigh virtues and vices before rendering judgment.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

what do the generals say?

A frequent refrain from many politicians, when asked what to do about a vexing foreign problem, is to do what the generals recommend.  Well, listen to two of them.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, said this yesterday:
“If we went there[to fight ISIL], is there any doubt in your mind, if we got a force together on the Syrian border and we drove into Raqqa, we would beat them into the ground like tent pegs?” Neller asked, again to shouts of “oorah.”

“So we’re in Raqqa and they’re all dead or captured or killed or wounded, and we’re standing in Raqqa and we’re like, ‘Now what?’ So before we go do that I think its fair we ask our political leadership ... when we’re done, what’s next?”

“Rebuilding, sir,” a Marine shouted from the audience.
“I don’t want to rebuild anything in Syria,” Neller answered. “I’ve been to this movie once before. It was called Iraq. I’ve been to this movie and it didn’t end the way we wanted it to end.”

Retired General David Petraeus warned against sending U.S. ground troops into the fight.
Earlier in the interview, Petraeus urged against keeping American boots on the ground as "not sustainable."

"I would not at this point," Petraeus said. "Again, you need to have a hold force that has legitimacy in the eyes of people that has to be Sunni Arab forces."
Asked whether it should be American forces, Petraeus said, "it should not be."
Wise and valid points, in my view. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

not quite a declaration of war by the UN

Words matter to diplomats and lawyers. So when the UN Security Council voted unanimously to condemn the terrorist actions by ISIL and others in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere policymakers pondered the careful wording.

UNSC Resolution 2249 says, in a key paragraph:

5.   Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;
A bit wordy,sure, touching many bases as required by a compromise document that all members could support. And as such it can be cited by the French, the British, the Americans,and the Russians if they want to conduct air strikes against ISIL.

But it's also important to realize what's missing from this tough-sounding document. The key omission is any mention of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the section authorizing the use of force in the name of the international community. That was a bridge too far for several UNSC members, especially those who felt that the U.S and NATO went too far under the Libya resolution [UNSC 1973] in 2011. That measure said:
Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,
1 Demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end
to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians;...
6.Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians;
The UN words are helpful but still limited.

winter of our discontent

Winter is four weeks away, but the mood of discontent has arrived already. A Pew survey finds shockingly high distrust of the U.S. government and anger over its activities. Only 19% of respondents say they trust the government most or all of the time. Republicans are more unhappy than Democrats, often by wide margins, but both groups feel that "their side" loses more often than it wins in politics.

The Pew survey was concluded in early October. No doubt the numbers are even worse now. A new poll by CBS News tapped into voter anger over President Obama and his policies toward ISIL and Syrian refugees. Americans doubt that the president has a clear plan for dealing with ISIL; half don't want to admit any Syrian refugees; and half now favor sending U.S. ground troops into battle.

Even though Obama is right morally, he has a significant political problem. The new American sense of fear is real and has to be dealt with. Instead of trying to defend his earlier remarks about ISIL being a "JV team" that was "contained" the day before the Paris attacks, he should admit his errors and give a new assessment. Instead of dismissing out of hand congressional efforts to limit a possible threat from Syrian refugees, he should work with members to fashion a more limited but still helpful measures to reduce the threat.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

how does this end?

The Wall Street Journal has a good roundup of various and conflicting views on what to do about the so-called Islamic State. Perhaps the most significant passage is this:
For military planners, destroying the terrorist group’s headquarters and crippling its fighting force is a relatively simple assignment, say strategists: It would require some 40,000 troops, air support and two months of fighting.

The problem is what do to after taking responsibility for won territory. With the recent experience of Afghanistan and Iraq, that is a job no Western leader wants.
There are of course military measures that could kill many of the ISIL fighters and lay waste to the territory they now hold. That is the easy part. The hard part, and the part that matters, is what happens next.

The American-led coalition took down Saddam Hussein's government but failed to replace it with an effective and sustainable regime. We did not want to "occupy" Iraq, and the successor government was unable to unify the nation. Iraq remains divided by ethnic, tribal, regional, and sectarian differences. There are unresolved disputes over the division of oil revenues and the degree of local autonomy for the Kurds.

Similarly with the suggested anti-ISIL coalition. Destroying ISIL is every member's secondary goal. The Turks care more about fighting Kurds. The Russians care more about keeping Assad in power. The Iranians care more about maintaining their links to Hezbollah in Lebanon and strengthening their influence in Iraq. The French care more about demonstrating their great power status and reducing the flow of migrants into Europe. And, truth be told, we Americans care more about ending viral videos of beheadings and standing up to Iran and Russia than building a new entity where ISIL now reigns.

The many critics ritually say, "We need a strategy." Any good strategy has to deal with more than the destruction of ISIL and offer an acceptable and achievable way for things to end up.

Friday, November 20, 2015

first they came for the Muslims...

The government will have a little list so there'll none of them be missed.

Pending deportation -- or more serious punishment -- they can be kept in well-guarded holiday camps.

Is this America?

Haven't these self-proclaimed defenders of the Constitution even re-read  the First Amendment?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

misleading cyber metaphors

Every now and then, I come across something that is mind-stretching and truly exciting to ponder. This week, that was my reaction to an article by RAND scholar Martin Libicki, "Cyberspace is Not a Warfighting Domain." I have long admired Libicki's intellectual creativity and used to have him speak to my class at the National War College on Military Innovation for Future Wars.

In this article, he warns against letting the metaphor of cyberspace as a "domain" like air, sea, land, and space limit and misdirect our thinking about cyber warfare. He notes, for example, that the U.S. military has rushed to create a cyber command but hasn't done the same for the radio-frequency spectrum. Isn't it just as important?

Calling cyberspace a "domain," he argues, leads the military to fall back on familiar concepts from the existing domains -- dominance, defense, retaliation, and so forth.

Thinking of cyberspace as a warfighting domain tends to convert the problems associated with operating in cyberspace—creating useful effects in your adversaries’ systems and preventing the same from being done to you—into a warfighting mold shaped by the four older domains. This shifts the focus of thought from the creation and prevention of specific effects to broader warfighting concepts, such as control, maneuver, and superiority. This approach emphasizes the normal attributes of military operations, such as mass, speed, synchronization, fires, command-and-control, and hierarchy, at the expense of other ways, such as engineering, as a way of creating or preventing effects. ...
More broadly, the emphasis on defending the domain puts the information assurance cart before the mission assurance horse. ...
In a sense, if defensive cyberwar is largely a question of engineering systems to make them resistant to attacks, then offensive cyberwar is reverse-engineering target systems to understand how they may be vulnerable to attacks. All this dynamism further argues against trying to force-fit cyber operations into any mold, not the least of which is domain dominance.
He is especially telling when contrasting the typical military organization with what we need for cyber operations.
 Finally, focusing on cyberspace as a domain suggests that cyber warriors be organized the same as warriors in other domains. Using/Implementing a division of authority in which the enlisted greatly outnumber officers (typically by more than four-to-one) implies converting cyber warfare into a set of operations in which most elements can be broken down into routines and taught to people who are well-trained but not extensively educated. The wiser alternative is to determine what skill mix the domain requires, then recruit and train appropriately without worrying too much about whether the resulting hierarchy characterizes what are understood to be warfare domains.
Think about these ideas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

what would the generals do?

According to a report in Politico, senior U.S. military leaders are dubious of getting involved in a major war against ISIL. They don't doubt our capability to do kinetic damage, but they question our ability to control the aftermath. Obliterating ISIL doesn't solve the Shia/Sunni/Kurd clashes in Iraq, or the civil war in Syria -- or the ISIL-linked or -inspired forces in Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.

What's more, the Iraqis don't want a large U.S. fighting force back in their territory.

I'm sure some military planners can provide options for civilian leaders; they never say they can't do anything useful. But whatever they may suggest still has to be put in the context of what else? what next?

the American way

With politicians of all stripes now pandering to public fears of admitting Syrian refugees, it's worth remembering that American history is filled with such reactions. The Know Nothing Party in the mid-19th century opposed immigration, especially of Catholics. Congress outlawed Chinese immigration in the 1880s. The draconian 1924 immigration act drastically limited immigration of Jews and people from southern Europe.

And in the year before Nazi Germany launched World War II, Americans wanted to keep Jewish refugees away from our shores. As the Post usefully reminds us today,  2/3 of respondents to a Gallup Poll in July 1938 opposed taking in refugees from Germany and Austria.Six months later, 61% opposed even taking in 10,000 refugee children, mostly Jewish.

A more humane response is urged by former Ambassador Ryan Crocker:
When I served as ambassador to Iraq, I witnessed how the slow pace of processing left Iraqi refugees—including many who worked for the U.S. military—stranded in danger. Some died waiting for visas. That’s why the Obama administration should commit to resettling 100,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.
This is not an unmanageable security risk to U.S. citizens, as the governors and others have alleged. The U.S.’s vigorous screening process involves vetting from multiple security agencies. Refugees are also interviewed abroad by officers from the Department of Homeland Security before they are approved for resettlement. No population entering the U.S. is more closely examined than refugees.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

coalition of the willing?

"Do something!" That's the ritual response to problems, now seen as the necessary response to the Paris attacks. Presidential candidates are rushing to outbid their rivals with the toughest proposal. And the President took a grilling from the press over his reluctance to send in a large contingent of ground troops.

Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal, a serious and respected journalist in my view, wants a large western military force to go after ISIL. But as he ticks off the options, it's evident that they contain more sure problems than likelihood of success.
there are several possible paths:
A force organized and helped by NATO, consisting of troops from the region aided by Western air power, intelligence and advisers. The problem is that this option would smack of Western colonialism, and would exclude Russia, which can and should be part of the solution in Syria.
A force organized under U.N. auspices. That would provide a politically acceptable international cover, and show a united international and not merely Western stand against Islamic State. But U.N. politics are always tricky.
An ad hoc international “coalition of the willing,” much like the one formed by President George W. Bush to fight Iraq. It could be formed by U.S., French and even Russian leadership, drawing in all concerned nations and providing funding and a support system for local forces.
Sure, but...  Doug Ollivant, who has a lot of experience in Iraq, points out:
At the same time, the United States and Iraq find themselves confronting a dilemma. Policymakers in both countries insist that more must be done against ISIL. And yet there is no appetite in either U.S. or Iraqi politics (outside some very small pockets) for the deployment of U.S. troops, and plans that propose such do not pass the political feasibility test. While a U.S. audience will be very familiar with its own “war fatigue,” they may not be aware that years of U.S. occupation have made national sovereignty a very touchy subject in Iraqi politics. Even the recent joint U.S./Kurdish commando raid on Hawija was quickly condemned by factions both supportive and critical of the current Iraqi government. If the actions of a mere 30 U.S. commandos cross a political threshold, we can only imagine the political response to a larger contingent. Deployment of U.S. troops has no constituency in either the United States or Iraq — and it appears that any military benefit such a deployment might provide in the short term would be more than outweighed by its political costs over the long term. Looking back on our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, one might think this is a lesson people should have learned by now.
And as Eugene Robinson notes in the Post, the west has been much better at creating power vacuums in the Middle East than at filling them.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

tipping point on war

Even before the terrorist attacks in Paris, American public opinion was moving steadily in favor of military action against ISIL, even if it meant large numbers of U.S. ground troops.

As this compendium of polling results shows, support for sending group troops to Iraq to fight ISIL in June of 2014 was low -- 30% in an ABC poll, 19% in one for CBS, compared to 77% and 65% opposed. Americans were more willing, however, to use drones [56%] and manned airstrikes [43%].

By October, support for airstrikes surged to over 70% and support for ground troops climbed to 40%.

By March, 2015, support for ground troops almost equaled those opposed, 47% to 49%. In the following months, more and more Americans voiced support for military action including U.S. ground troops: 52%-41% in August and a stunning 58%-38% in October.

I think the beheadings of hostages by ISIL has tipped American opinion into this warlike mode. The first widely reported actions were in late summer 2014, with mass killings in November, December, February,and April. Americans are disgusted by these atrocities, troubled about the chaos in the Middle East, and fearful that jihadi violence may return to our homeland. The President and Congress have a permissive consensus for military action if they wish.

responding to the Paris attacks

Although first reports can be misleading and even quite wrong, it looks as if the terror attacks on Paris were done in the name of and possibly under the control of the so-called Islamic State or ISIL. If so, attacks against ISIL are fully justified.

The outpouring of solidarity with France and sympathy for the victims is similar to the worldwide reaction to the 9/11 attacks. At that time, NATO ministers for the first time invoked article 5 of its founding treaty, the section that obligates all members to respond to an attack on one. As we later learned, that action was take for symbolic and emotional reasons, not as a calculated response nor as part of a military strategy.

As Secretary General Lord Robertson recounted:
We knew that something fundamental had happened and that for the world a new chapter had opened. For us round that table, at the seat of the world’s most successful defence alliance, the sincere sympathy and solidarity expressed with the people of the US was overlaid with thoughts of what all this meant for our organisation and for wider global security.

In the margins of the meeting, my officials led by Assistant Secretary General Edgar Buckley and Private Office Director Jon Day, were already working on what we must urgently do in the face of this attack. One of the most momentous options considered was whether this assault on the US meant invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – the self-defence clause. An attack on one state to be considered as an attack on all then 19 NATO countries.

The work on that and on NATO’s wider response was to go on overnight. Then, in the early morning, there were conversations with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

I insisted that Article 5 was relevant and was the ultimate act of solidarity with the people of the US. What had the self-defence clause meant if it was not valid at this dramatic moment of aggression?
President Hollande has called the Paris attacks an "act of war." NATO may choose once again to invoke article 5, at least for reasons of solidarity with France. But the substantive response has to be deeper and broader, and not necessarily by  military forces under NATO command. Defeating ISIL requires coalition action in Syria and Iraq, including substantial Arab involvement, as well as security and intelligence cooperation against terrorist threats already embedded in member countries. Those details matter more than the symbolism.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

lethal cyber weapons

Here we go. Nextgov reports that a half-billion dollar contract is being offered for the development of lethal cyber weapons. I have long been troubled by the U.S. government's over emphasis on offensive cyber capability when our greatest needs are for stronger defenses. While the numbers are classified, there have been various reports that the federal government spends 3 or 4 times as much on offense as defense.

At a Council on Foreign Relations conference yesterday, I asked the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, what the right ratio should be. Here's the exchange:
Q: Charlie Stevenson, SAIS. Chairman McCaul said that we’re better at cyber offense than defense. There have been reports that the federal government spends three or four times as much on cyber offense as defense. What’s the right ratio?
MCCAUL: Well, you know, that’s a—our offensive capability is vitally important to the defense of the nation. We have used it in the past and it’s very effective. It’s a very dangerous world. Russia’s in Syria now, and it’s very complicated. So we need those tools. I wouldn’t say I’d take away from that, but I think we need to—it’s not a ratio, but we need to bring up our defensive capability to our offensive capability. And right now, it’s not there.
I understand his reluctance to cut back on offensive cyber programs, but I worry that the imbalance also reflects a mindset that offense can deter if we just have enough. That was the military mindset regarding nuclear weapons and it could weaken our cyber defenses if we carry this too far.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

two cheers for democracy

Please forgive me for appropriating the title of a book of essays by E.M. Forster, but it expresses my views on the recent budget deal just signed into law by President Obama.

The cheers are merited because our often gridlocked government in Washington finally did something necessary and worthwhile -- rescuing the national debt from political hostage status until 2017 and providing higher spending caps for both domestic and defense spending for two years. It was a Compromise, that judicious blending of ideas from competing sides that is so necessary for our political system but so hard to achieve in these days of hyperpartisanship.

The cheers a limited, however, because this deal leaves much still to be done: the actual appropriations; unfinished legislation on highways, immigration, the ExIm Bank, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and so forth. One speaker of the House sacrificed his career to enable this initial agreement. It remains to be seen whether his successor will show a profile in courage.

By the way, it also wouldn't hurt if Congress would reclaim the war power it often talks about but rarely acts on by voting something approving or forbidding U.S. military actions in Syria.

Woodrow Wilson in retrospect

As a schoolboy, I saw Woodrow Wilson as a tragic figure -- a brilliant man, with a progressive spirit, who failed to obtain support for the peace treaty that might have prevented World War II.  When I learned more about him and his presidency, however, his luster diminished in my view. He was very stubborn and determined to have his own way. He was an autocrat as president of Princeton, and he refused to accept conditions relating to the Versailles Treaty that might have allowed its ratification.

Most damaging of all was my discovery of his virulent racism. I've just been reading an engaging and informative new book, Washington: A History of Our National City, by retired professor Tom Lewis. He notes that Wilson imposed Jim Crow segregation practices on the Federal Government soon after taking office. Jobs that had traditionally gone to blacks, went to whites only. Blacks working in the Post Office and Treasury were moved into separate offices, forced to eat in separate dining rooms and drink from separate water fountains, and denied white subordinates.

Things were even worse after the war ended. "[R]eturning black soldiers found Washington to be a mre segregated city than the one they had left. Federal departments ... refused to consider blacks who had scored well on their civil service examinations... The Metropolitan Police Department turned down blacks for positions; the fire department so effectively kept blacks from promotion that the District commissioner in charge of public safety had to create an all-black brigade in an attempt to ensure a modicum of fair treatment."

Wilson shares the blame with white supremacist members of Congress, of course. But he set a terrible example that makes me think much less of him.