5 February 2016

** Creeping Incrementalism: U.S. Forces and Strategy in Iraq and Syria from 2011 to 2016: An Update

FEB 1, 2016 

Please note: This commentary has been updated to reflect a new briefing by a Department of Defense spokesman.

In November 2015, the Burke Chair issued a detailed report on the history of fighting in Iraq and Syria entitled Creeping Incrementalism: U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Syria from 2011 to 2015 . In the months that have followed, the United States has continued this process of creeping incrementalism in building up its forces in Iraq and Syria and its efforts to degrade and dislodge ISIS from its ability to act as proto-state.
Still Creeping, Still Incrementalism, and Still no Coherent Strategy

The United States and its allies have made some gains in the process, and the U.S. led coalition now provides substantial amounts of airpower in attacks on ISIS and in support of Iraqi, Kurdish, and Arab rebel forces. In broad terms, however, the United States has still reacted slowly to the threat posed by ISIS and the internal division with Iraq and Syria, and made only low levels of incremental increases in its forces.

International Fleet Review 2016: Foreign Policy by other means?

By Admiral Arun Prakash
04 Feb , 2016

India’s first citizen, President Pranab Mukherjee, will be accorded a rare honor by the Indian Navy (IN), on Saturday, February 6. Embarked on the, white-painted, Presidential Yacht, Mukherjee, who is also the Supreme Commander of India’s armed forces, will review a fleet of nearly 100 warships, submarines and merchantmen, anchored, in neat columns off Vishakhapatnam harbour. As he passes each ship, its crew will doff their caps and render the traditional ‘three-cheers’ (the Hindi version is ‘teen jai’). Amongst those paying this mark of respect will be ships and sailors from many foreign navies, while overhead, aircraft of the navy’s Fleet Air Arm flies past in formation. 

The fleet review’s provenance is, essentially, British and it was instituted in the 15th century to enable the monarch to formally inspect his/her navy and to convey to friends and adversaries, alike, its readiness for war. Subsequently, reviews were also held to celebrate coronations or other royal occasions. The sheltered Spithead anchorage off Portsmouth has been the traditional venue for reviews in the UK; and it was here, on July 18, 1914, that 250 warships of the Royal Navy, which enabled ‘Britannia to rule the waves’, assembled for a review by King George V. At a time when war-clouds were building up across Europe, Spithead had actually cloaked a timely mobilization of the Royal Navy, from which ships sailed to participate in operations against Germany.

More Parliamentary Panel Rebuke – This Time Warships

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch
03 Feb , 2016

More rebuke has been heaped on the government by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – this time because of delay in construction of warships. Considering CAG audit on warship construction for period 1998-2009, the PAC has noted that despite warship-building being complex and time-consuming, the extent to which Indian projects were delayed and the “scale of under-estimation reveals a deeper malaise”; problems ranging from long delays in ship-building and slippages in deliveries to poor cost estimations and lack of adequate infrastructural facilities.

Slamming huge cost and time overruns in indigenous construction of warships, the PAC wants government to revamp management of these projects and take punitive action against officials responsible for delays…

Saudi-Iran conflict: India needs to safeguard its interests

By Meenakshi Sood
03 Feb , 2016

The execution of Shia religious scholar Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia set in motion a series of unfortunate events that have the potential to deepen instability in the volatile Middle East, and whose reverberations will be felt throughout the world. 

Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic ties with Iran after an attack on its embassy in Tehran, and has been prodding its allies to do the same. The recent flair-up in the adversarial relations between the two archrivals comes at a time when the region, wracked by perennial conflict, is in need of Tehran and Riyadh to play a stabilizing role. This, however, seems unlikely as both are engaged in a power struggle for regional hegemony, which overlaps with the age-old tussle between Shias and Sunnis.

The present situation in the region presents a diplomatic dilemma for India which has maintained good relations with both the countries. India can no longer rely on the security umbrella provided by the West and will have to adopt a more proactive approach to the region. What will that entail? Will New Delhi have to pick sides and, in the process, isolate some of its old friends? Indian foreign policy is entering an unchartered territory where its diplomatic acumen will have to pass its most difficult test so far.

Agni-5: A True Game Changer

By Navneet Bhushan
03 Feb , 2016

The fourth Agni-5 test is scheduled to be conducted during the month of February 2016. This will be the second canister launch. Agni-5 will be ready for induction after few more tests – especially the test of its multiple independent targeting re-entry vehicles (MIRV) capability.

The ability to carry 1-1.5 tons warhead over 5000+ kilometers range is definitely another feature of the missile that puts it in a different category than whatever missiles India has.

Although, its induction and deployment is some years ahead, it already has produced interesting reactions in media worldwide. The key discussion has been about its range – whether it is 5000 km or 8000 km and above. Whether it should be truly called an ICBM? Also, about the multiple independent targeting re-entry vehicles (MIRV) capability to have 3-10 different warheads that it can carry. Indeed it is a major feature and technology that will catapult India to a very small set of nations with this capability. The ability to carry 1-1.5 tons warhead over 5000+ kilometers range is definitely another feature of the missile that puts it in a different category than whatever missiles India has. A 500 Kg payload can give the earlier missiles ability to carry nuclear warheads with 20KT yield, or something similar to what was exploded above Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With three times the payload, India now has the capability, in theory at least, to carry higher yield say 150KT to 1 MT yield nuclear warheads to distance above 5000 km. This gives India a real counterforce capability if our doctrine and strategy chose that option.

Deteriorating Security Situation in Afghanistan

By EN Rammohan
04 Feb , 2016

When the Taliban attacked Kunduz and captured the town for a short period, this author had written a paper on the debacle in Kunduz that concluded that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating. The United Nation’s forces reoccupied Kunduz, more as a result of the Taliban withdrawing from Kunduz, after they had proved their point that they could capture it. The condition in Afghanistan is steadily deteriorating.

An year after NATO concluded its combat mission in Afghanistan it retained 13,000 odd soldiers to train, advice and assist Afghan forces who were to take the lead in fighting the Taliban. The United States contributed half of the foreign troops, with an additional 3000 deployed on Counter Terrorism operations. A year has since passed and the results do not look good at all.

The situation as of today

India-Pakistan: Unsettling Comparisons

February 2, 2016: Despite a massive 18 month long campaign against Islamic terrorist hideouts along the Afghan border the Pakistani military cannot reduce the incidence of Islamic terror attacks below about half their “normal” (since 2003) level. Back in 2003 there were 189 terrorist related deaths in Pakistan. That rose to 863 in 2004 and kept going until it peaked at 11,700 in 2009. Increased efforts by security forces steadily reduced that 5,300 in 2013. Public pressure led to the major offensive in the northwest against North Waziristan in mid-2014 which spread to adjacent border areas but not the major Islamic terrorist sanctuaries in the southwest (Quetta) or the northeast (Kashmir). In 2015 there were 3,682 deaths, most of them Islamic terrorists killed in the offensive. But Islamic terrorist attacks only fell by about half. The offensive in the northwest is to continue to the end of 2016 and there is general agreement that it was not enough. The military is under growing pressure to shut down all Islamic terrorists in the country. Many military officers resist that because they believe, for religious or economic reasons that some Islamic terrorists must still be protected (so they can attack India and Afghanistan.) It is getting harder and harder to defend that position. America, India and Afghanistan are leading that effort and Pakistani government denials no longer work at all. 

Mapping the Spread of the ISIS Plague

By Dan De LuceC.K. Hickey
February 2, 2016
Source Link

The Islamic State keeps morphing, and the United States and its allies are struggling to keep up.
From bombings in Jakarta and Istanbul to attacks on oil facilities in Libya, the Islamic State is rapidly expanding its operations far beyond its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Washington — initially reluctant for political reasons to acknowledge the group’s growing reach — is scrambling to keep up.
President Barack Obama, who took office promising to reduce America’s military involvement in the Middle East, is weighing sending more U.S. troops to Iraq to bolster the fight against the Islamic State and is poised to open a new front against the militant group in Libya.
The shifts come amid signs that the Islamic State is on the move in North Africa and is working to spread its terrorist network across the continent and into Asia. Outside Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has declared “provinces,” or wilayat, for its self-declared “caliphate” in nine other countries: Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Russia.

Information Warfare: Chinese Navy Tests Its New Networking Tech

January 16, 2016: In late 2015 a Chinese military journal published an article describing a naval exercise earlier in the year that featured Chinese warships at sea practicing the use of their networking (between ships, aircraft, satellites and land stations). American naval intelligence probably already knows about this because Chinese naval training exercises are regularly monitored by American and allied ships, subs, aircraft and satellites that can collect the electronic signals employed (by radio, sonar, radar, jammers and such) for later analysis. The networking the Chinese were using makes possible instant sharing of digital sensor information like radar, sonar and other electronic sensors.

The Chinese newspaper account made mention of Cyber War, jamming and networking between ships. These are all naval technologies and techniques the United States and Western navies have been developing since the Cold War period and the Chinese were well aware of that. Now the Chinese have these capabilities and the news articles, while intended to make Chinese feel better about their new navy, also warned that all these communications and sensor technologies were vulnerable to eavesdropping, jamming and spoofing (various forms of deception).

The news article was also a warning to foreign nations that China has a modern navy, in terms of capabilities as well as vulnerabilities. The media coverage also made it clear that the Chinese were willing to spend the money necessary to keep these ships at sea to practice with these new technologies until the crews and commanders were competent in using the new gear.

China aims to Bolster Strategic Supremacy through Space

By Radhakrishna Rao
04 Feb , 2016

For well over two decades now, China’s pragmatic political leadership, as part of the long term vision of positioning this most populous nation on the earth, as the global military supremo, has been laying an increasing emphasis on outer space for giving a formidable edge to its defence forces. In keeping with the time tested military doctrine of harnessing the strides in space technology for supporting the defensive and offensive capabilities of PLA(People’s Liberation Army), China has also initiated a complex process of creating a 50,000 strong space force under the overall command of Central Military Commission.

…Rick Fisher, a Chinese military affairs specialist, another major mission of this space force would be “to achieve control of low earth orbit in order to defeat US on earth.”

Facing Economic Headwinds, China Predicts Slower Growth in 2016

February 04, 2016

One of China’s top economic officials has projected a GDP growth rate of between 6.5 and 7 percent for 2016. Xu Shaoshi, the head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, made the announcement at a briefing in Beijing, according to Reuters.

This year’s projection follows the trend of lowering growth expectations as China transitions to what its leaders call a “new normal” of slower, but higher quality growth. In 2014, the GDP growth target was set at 7.5 percent; it dropped to 7 percent in 2015 and now could dip as low at 6.5 percent. However, the low end of this year’s range seems to be a rather hard floor for China’s GDP growth. President Xi Jinping has pointed out that China must grow its GDP by an average of at least 6.5 percent per year or it will miss the Party’s stated goal of doubling 2010 GDP levels by 2020. That means China’s leader won’t want to lower their target below 6.5 percent in 2017 — unless growth widely exceeds expectations this year.

Strangle China’s Economy: America’s Ultimate Trump Card?

February 1, 2016 

Winston Churchill once famously remarked that Bolshevism must be “strangled in its crib.” In that same spirit, should the United States now seek to strangle China’s economy as a means of deterring its aggression?

In fact, “strangling China” is a theme I encountered frequently while interviewing experts for my book and documentary film Crouching Tiger. For example, National Defense University’s T.X. Hammes sees such strangulation as the core concept of his strategy of Offshore Control. As Hammes has argued right on the pages of the National Interest:

“China’s imports and exports add up to more than 50 percent of its GDP. A depression, not recession, is often defined as an economic downturn of 10 percent or more. Since the Communist Party’s legitimacy is based on economic growth, major reductions in China’s imports and exports will create major pressure for a solution. Worse, from China’s point of view, is that U.S. control of the seas outside the first island chain means the world economy will begin to rebuild. The longer China maintains the conflict, the harder it will be to recover lost trade relationships. It is hard to see how Chinese leaders will simply ignore this kind of economic damage.”

PLA reforms: Toward winning 'informationised local wars'

3 February 2016 

At the turn of the year, and officially launched by President Xi Jinping at this beginning of the week, China announced a series of major comprehensive reforms for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that will likely shape China's military modernisation trajectory for the next decade.

The underlying rationale for the overhaul is to redefine the roles, missions and authorities of the PLA services, consolidate Party control over the nearly autonomous military branches, and ultimately attain new levels of combat effectiveness conceptualised under a new set of military guidelines of fighting and winning 'local wars under informationised conditions.'

The first wave of official announcements included changes in the organisational force structure, starting at the highest echelons of command. Specifically, the creation of a new command structure; a joint staff under the Central Military Commission that integrated the previous four general departments. The CMC will now manage the PLA through the Joint Staff Department comprised of fifteen departments, commissions and offices.

America and China: It’s Complicated

February 3, 2016

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the Heritage Foundation’s forthcoming Solutions 2016, a recently released policy handbook for federal candidates.

“It’s complicated.” That vague Facebook relationship status indicator very much applies to the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

American decision-makers must balance necessary cooperation with increasingly intense competition. They must reconcile the benefits of America’s enormous economic relationship with China with the demands of maintaining the alliances, partnerships, and forward-deployed military needed to offset China’s increasingly strident bid to displace the United States as the Asia–Pacific’s preeminent power. The effort to draw China into the global trading system, while upholding the principle of “Freedom of the Seas” in waters now claimed by China, is perhaps emblematic of the difficult nature of this relationship.

China: The Golden Chains Weaken

January 31, 2016: For most of 2015 the biggest threat from China was economic. The Chinese economy was behaving unpredictably and that was a concern for most of the world because China now has the second largest economy on the planet. But because of mismanagement and corruption the Chinese economy was slowing down. That was obvious because China has become one of the largest customers for raw materials, manufactured goods and much else. Those orders were shrinking and many of the foreign suppliers were in trouble. Naturally people (inside and outside China) wanted to know what was going on and, not for the first time, it was noticed that the official economic statistics did not add up. In part this was because the government was still using a lot of communist era economic measuring techniques invented in the Soviet Union. The Soviets measured the economy mainly by counting production (of manufactured goods, raw materials, food) and not much else. This method gave a very inaccurate view of economic performance and was one reason why the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. China never completely got rid of all these flawed .communist era methods. They got away with this because since the 1980s their communist command economy has replaced with a free market model and the resulting growth has been spectacular. 

More ISIS Attacks in Indonesia Likely Amid Leadership Rivalry: New Report

February 04, 2016

More terror attacks in Indonesia are likely as Islamic State (IS) leaders battle for influence, a new report by an influential Jakarta-based group has found.

As Indonesia recovers from the deadly attacks which rocked Jakarta on the morning of January 14, a trio of Indonesians based with ISIS in Syria are competing to encourage and fund their contacts in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to undertake attacks, while some groups in Indonesia simultaneously act on their own without direction from the Middle East, the report released by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) on February 2 concluded. The competition among these groups, the report argues, is likely to fuel violence in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

“More terrorist attacks in Indonesia are likely as local ISIS leaders compete at home and abroad to establish their supremacy,” the report argues.

Chemical Wonders Joost Hiltermann

Harvard, 640 pp, £29.95, November 2015, ISBN 978 0 674 08863 4 

Predicting what will start a war, and when, is an unrewarding business. Long-term trends (‘causes’) are often clear enough, but not the proximate causes, or triggers. We can assess the comparative significance of competition for resources, hunger for power, the nature of political systems, the psychology of leaders. What precipitates a conflict, though, may be a sudden, unforeseen event: an accident, misreading or miscalculation, or a temperamental leader’s flash of hubris. Often, of course, it is a combination of such things. Yet there is nothing inevitable about the outbreak of conflict. (Bear in mind when I say this that I work for an NGO that operates on the premise that conflicts can be prevented.)

We face the same obstacles in analysing what will bring a war to an end, and how long it will take – or, to put it differently, what would persuade the warring parties to seek to reach peace. Take the war in Syria. Its participants blundered into it, responding to each provocation by their adversaries with an escalation of their own, so that gradually a local popular protest turned into a civil war wrapped up in a regional power struggle folded into a confrontation between superpowers that so far has cost more than a quarter of a million lives and displaced almost 11 million Syrians – about half the population – within and outside the country’s borders. How will it end? How can it be ended, when the participants themselves show no sign of being ready to end it?

Preventing a Middle Eastern Gordian Knot

February 3, 2016

The crescendo of ever more shocking and destabilizing events from the Middle East, taken individually, can hide the underlying trends that are pushing this region into a potential cataclysm. The longer we ignore the Middle East, the more frequently regional actors will take matters into their own hands, confront each other in conflictual situations, and become committed enemies. This makes it almost impossible for us to build meaningful working alliances and find partners without an ax to grind against each other when the time comes for Washington to engage in the Middle East.

Most recently, these underlying trends are becoming more visible with the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr by Saudi authorities, then in the subsequent attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and finally in the breaking of relations between Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states with Iran. Interaction effects among these individual events generate conceivable scenarios ranging from a major Russian military presence to a Shia–Sunni regional conflagration.

America's Golden Opportunity in Myanmar

February 5, 2016

On Monday, a sea of orange-clad parliamentarians from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party swept into Myanmar’s Lower House, many taking their seats for the first time. After six decades of military rule, this was a momentous achievement for the democracy icon and a cause for much celebration around the world. Yet, Myanmar remains a long way from its transition to liberal democracy.

Just two months prior, Chaw Sandi Tun, an activist in Myanmar, was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. Her crime? A Facebook post which observed that the color scheme of the Myanmar military’s new uniforms matched those of Suu Kyi’s traditional longyi skirt. Tun’s arrest, and those of other activists and journalists, are sobering reminders that when the NLD establishes its new government in March, Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, will retain considerable power.

National Security Agency Plans Major Reorganization

The National Security Agency, the largest electronic spy agency in the world, is undertaking a major reorganization, merging its offensive and defensive organizations in the hope of making them more adept at facing the digital threats of the 21st century, according to current and former officials.

In place of the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates, the organizations that historically have spied on foreign targets and defended classified networks against spying, the NSA is creating a Directorate of Operations that combines the operational elements of each.

“This traditional approach we have where we created these two cylinders of excellence and then built walls of granite between them really is not the way for us to do business,” said agency Director Michael S. Rogers, hinting at the reorganization — dubbed NSA21 — that is expected to be publicly rolled out this week.

“We’ve gotta be flat,” he told an audience at the Atlantic Council last month. “We’ve gotta be agile.”

Some lawmakers who have been briefed on the broad parameters consider restructuring a smart thing to do because an increasing amount of intelligence and threat activity is coursing through global computer networks.

The War in Ukraine Is Back—So Why Won’t Anyone Say So?

Violence in East Ukraine is spiking, but Western pols are silent. 

Russia’s dirty war in Ukraine is far from frozen, and despite the deteriorating situation, the West appears keen to turn a blind eye.

While the fighting in southeast Ukraine has rumbled on incessantly throughout the winter, inducing conflict fatigue and a drop in media coverage, the last weeks have seen a marked spike in the number of attacks.

Ukrainian officials are reporting up to 71 attacks a day, with most of the fighting concentrated around the separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as the countryside east of the Azov port city of Mariupol.

Both sides accuse each other of daily using heavy mortars, which were supposed to have been withdrawn in accordance over a year ago in accordance with the first Minsk agreement.

Changes in the Russian Army’s Order of Battle

February 3, 2016

Russia Downsizes And Updates Its Playbook

Russia recently announced that it was moving ten more brigades to its western borders. While this is seen as a threatening move by East European nations it is much less of a threat than in the past. That’s because the Russian army has been falling apart since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. After that came fifteen years of practically no new equipment and a vast downsizing. The Cold War force of 175 divisions dwindled to 25, plus 21 independent brigades (equivalent to another 5 divisions). These divisions were, for the most part, very under strength and poorly equipped. By 2006, the Russian army was smaller than the American army and much less capable. 

The fearsome “Red Army” of the Cold War period died out in the 1990s and was replaced by not much. This can be seen clearly during recent Russian operations against Ukraine. For the operations in and near Ukraine the Russians was able to bring in about twenty percent of their combat brigades, usually the most effective (Spetsnaz and airborne) and experienced (ones recently in the Caucasus) brigades. The dozen or so brigades sent to the borders of eastern Ukraine, or into eastern Ukraine itself represented the best Russia had as the rest of the army is still crippled by inexperience and shortages of personnel and equipment. Russia is still trying to replace obsolete and worn out Cold War era weapons and equipment. 

Ukraine Power Grid Attack Is Wake Up Call; US Not Ready

By John Quigg 
January 29, 2016 

A blizzard slams the East Coast and the lights go out. Then they stay off. Is it an attack? How do we figure out who’s behind it? What do we do in retaliation? These are all questions that need answering since what looks like the first successful cyber attack on an entire nation’s power grid. Ukraine says that Russia shut down part of their electric grid. While no US official has yet confirmed that Russia is behind the attack, no one denies that a successful multi-pronged attack on parts of a country’s electric grid were successful.

So who is in charge when it happens here?

The power outages and untouched piles of snow still blocking the side streets of the nation’s capital underscore the misery unleashed when emergencies overwhelm disaster response capabilities. Add a cyber-attack to the mix and what is normally a major irritant begins to endanger lives and damage an economy.

National Power Grids Increasingly Targeted in Cyber Attacks

2nd February, 2016 

WASHINGTON - Ukraine's electric power grid is once again under cyberattack, just one month after a similar incident successfully brought down portions of the system and left millions in the dark. Worse, researchers studying the attacks say the malware believed responsible - a new version of the so-called BlackEnergy bug - has likely spread to numerous European power grids and is poised to infect many more.

The attacks and spreading malware have left cybersecurity analysts scrambling to determine not only which systems are at greatest risk, but who might be responsible.

"We need to assume it's already being deployed around Europe," says Udi Shamir, co-founder and chief security officer for the cybersecurity firm SentinelOne. "This is cyber-warfare; we need to wake up and see that this is war."

Shamir and his team recently completed a total reverse engineering of the new BlackEnergy3 bug - a technique often used by analysts to learn how bugs work, and possibly who wrote it.

Carter spotlights cyber, tech priorities in 2017 budget

Amber Corrin
February 2, 2016 

“Taking the long view” as the Defense Department undergoes a broad strategic rebalance to confront an array of challenges, Defense Secretary Ash Carter emphasized the technological edge as a major theme in the fiscal 2017 budget and accompanying strategy.

Speaking in Washington Feb. 2, Carter gave a preview of the forthcoming $583 billion Pentagon budget, noting that in “a new strategic era” the budget must reflect competing military priorities and operations, current and future.

“Today’s security environment is dramatically different than the one we’ve been engaged with for the last 25 years, and it requires new ways of thinking and new ways of acting,” Carter said. “We know we’ll have to deal with them across all domains—and not just the usual air, land and sea, but also particularly in the areas of cyber, space and electronic warfare, where our reliance on technology has given us great strengths but also led to vulnerabilities that adversaries are eager to exploit.”

The Espionage Economy

January 22, 2016 

Ricardo Martinelli resides in a condo at the Atlantis, a luxury high-rise on Florida’s Biscayne Bay made famous by the TV series Miami Vice. A hefty, white-haired billionaire, Martinelli, 63, was viewed just a few years ago as one of Latin America’s most popular leaders: From 2009 until 2014, he was president of Panama. But now, though he’s living in high style, Martinelli is a fugitive from justice.

He fled his country on Jan. 28, 2015, hours before Panama’s Supreme Court announced a corruption investigation into his administration. Among the charges Martinelli faces is political espionage, with a possible prison sentence of 21 years, for illegally eavesdropping on the phones and emails of more than 150 people: Panamanian opposition leaders, journalists, judges, business rivals, cabinet members, U.S. Embassy officials, a Roman Catholic archbishop, and even a woman identified as Martinelli’s mistress.

Information Warfare: The Power Of Misdirection And Confusion

January 29, 2016: Islamic terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) have proved quite adept at manipulating the mass media to their advantage. They use a combination of technical savvy and ancient techniques for changing minds. This efforts went into high gear in the 1990s because, since the 1980s there has been an unprecedented proliferation of news media. First came round-the-clock TV news that was available worldwide. As that continued to spread in the 1990s the Internet appeared and the proliferation of news outlets accelerated. While it was nice to have news round-the-clock and with the help of the Internet, from anywhere on the planet, often in real time, there were some downsides. Major problems were created by the fierce competition for audience. That led to a ruthless approach to presenting the news. It became more important to “attract eyeballs” than reporting the news accurately. That also led to more propaganda as governments and special interest groups found that if their message were packaged the right way lies would be more convincing than the truth. 

All this was more evolution than revolution because starting in the late 19th century a growing number of powerful propaganda methods and techniques for controlling public opinion were developed. Many of these techniques are actually ancient but never before have they been used so intensively, persistently, and in greater variety to such a large audience. This sort of thing goes back a long way. Two thousand years ago the ancient Romans saw schools of rhetoric and oratory as the best place to send bright young men with potential to be leaders. There schools taught the use of rhetoric, logic and persuasion to make a point and convince people. Public speaking (or dictating speeches to a scribe) were the way you got your persuasive ideas into circulation. Some of the techniques those students used are still studied and many of these ancient methods evolved and mutated into modern propaganda and media spin. The schools at Rhodes were, for well-off ancient Romans, sort of a university education because these institutions were, for centuries, excellent at teaching rhetoric and oratory. 


FEBRUARY 3, 2016

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from “‘Death Solves All Problems’: The Authoritarian Model of Counterinsurgency,” in the latest issue of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

Bashar al-Assad should be losing. His regime has slaughtered civilians, turned Syria’s people against one another, politicized the country’s military, maintained a discriminatory political system, and won neither hearts nor minds. Yet he has defied skeptics and still hangs on to power. Nor is Assad the lonely dictator killing his way to victory. Algeria, China, and Egypt are confronting insurgencies and are largely trying to repress their way to success — as they have done in the past. Russia alone has confronted over 20 insurgencies in the last century and has suppressed the vast majority of them successfully. As scholar Yuri Zhukov contends, Russia’s long history suggests “repression works, but not in moderation.” Scholars and policymakers, however, often wrongly assume authoritarian states will fail to defeat insurgents unless they reform and neglect the distinct ways they wage counterinsurgency.


FEBRUARY 3, 2016

The crescendo of ever more shocking and destabilizing events from the Middle East, taken individually, can hide the underlying trends that are pushing this region into a potential cataclysm. The longer we ignore the Middle East, the more frequently regional actors will take matters into their own hands, confront each other in conflictual situations, and become committed enemies. This makes it almost impossible for us to build meaningful working alliances and find partners without an ax to grind against each other when the time comes for Washington to engage in the Middle East.

Most recently, these underlying trends are becoming more visible with the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr by Saudi authorities, then in the subsequent attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and finally in the breaking of relations between Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states with Iran. Interaction effects among these individual events generate conceivable scenarios ranging from a major Russian military presence to a Shia–Sunni regional conflagration.


FEBRUARY 2, 2016

Editor’s Note: This essay is based upon David Betz’s recent book Carnage and Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power (Hurst & Co/Oxford University Press) as well as a lecture he delivered at the Engelsberg Seminarorganized by the Ax:son Johnson Foundation (Sweden).

In 1984, at the mid-point of the Reagan era, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger laid out the rudiments of the Weinberger doctrine on the use of force by the United States in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The gist of it:
Wars should be fought only when there is a high degree of public support for them;
Wars should only be fought in the pursuit of interests that are vital to the nation; and
Wars should be fought to win — quickly, decisively, and in a spirit of massive commitment of effort to victory, howsoever defined.

It does not require supernatural abilities to see the grim specter of the Vietnam War animating this set of foreign policy principles. The American defense establishment’s memory of its hellish experience in southeast Asia still gnawed its consciousness at that time — even while, by the mid-1980s, it was beginning to recover its sense of self-belief. A passage from the memoirs of Gen. Tommy Franks, American Soldier, that describes the army of the 1970s, serves well to illustrate the nadir of the mood to which they wished never to return:

Integrity: The Unseen Skill Badge

Posted on January 26, 2016 by powerpointsapper You can tell a lot about someone based on their uniform. Especially in the Army. In fact, we regularly violate the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” dictum. Hell, we stomp that dictum into the dirt and build a fighting position on top of it. When meeting each other, soldiers tend to size the other person up, checking for deployment patches, skill badges (airborne, air assault, pathfinder, etc), tabs (Sapper, Ranger, Special Forces), and combat infantryman/action badges. We then develop profiles in our minds based on the presence (or absence) of these items.

Army skill badges and tabs (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons) Yes, it’s good to know that someone has been to a lot of schools or been in combat. Yes, we should take pride in these items. This is not meant to denigrate the positive aspects of skills badges and tabs. However, while these items show the background of the individual, they do not express the individual’s character as a person. And as leaders, that is what we should be interested in. Nearly 90% (yeah, I made this number up, but it represents the allocation of my time) of being a leader is judging characters and learning how to work with different people. The Army is, after all, a human environment. The drones have not taken over.

A powerful article in ‘Parameters’ questions the direction and leadership of the Army

December 15, 2015 

After years of sleepy indirection, Parameters magazine has roared back to life. This is good news for the Army and for the nation.

Army Maj. Jason Warren argues in the new issue of magazine that the Army’s leadership for decades has been excessively tactical, led all too often by what he calls “centurions.” This has carried a cost, he continues. “In some ways, the battlefield-dominant US Army created by these men has become a more ethical version of the Wehrmacht, which the institution intentionally sought to emulate in the years after WWII. The Army has developed a force capable of winning nearly every firefight, while simultaneously blunting its development of strategic leaders.”

He doesn’t stop there. More specifically, he writes that, “the Army’s painfully obvious inability to achieve national objectives since the Korean War against the likes of the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), the Taliban, Iraqi and Somali insurgents, and the North Vietnamese Army, reveals an institution in need of reform.”

Voice Why haven’t we done the serious thinking we need to do about our recent wars?

A recent article in Parameters is zipping around the Internet. The issue is whether Army officers have sufficient intellectual/educational training to conduct skillful operational campaigns. To determine the answer, the Army and Marines should begin by conducting a dispassionate analysis of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns over the past decade. Both campaigns were miserable failures.

The Army/Marine doctrine for both campaigns stated, “Soldiers and Marines are nation-builders.” The campaign intent was to persuade the people to support their governments rather than insurgents or militias. In neither country was there a culture with the values and roots to engender democracy. Today, Iraq is a broken nation with a Shiite government in Iran’s orbit. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have reclaimed huge chunks of the countryside. Since 2001, more than two dozen three and four star American generals have rotated through those two countries. All claimed progress; none challenged a counterinsurgency doctrine that was a fantasy. After Vietnam, we vowed no more sanctuaries; yet Syria and Pakistan provided vast sanctuaries. We permitted ‘elected’ host nation officials whom we knew to be serpentine to select and promote the officers in their armed forces. In Iraq, we paid the Sunnis to come over to our side — the American side — then we abandoned them. In Afghanistan, we never made serious inroads among the fractious, insular Pashtun tribes submissive to the Taliban zealotry.