17 September, 2009

History Matters: Obama's Diplomatic Ineptitude

Today the White House briefing room released a press report on American missile architecture in Europe. The portion of the report pertaining to this post reads as follows:

Throughout all four phases, the United States also will be testing and updating a range of approaches for improving our sensors for missile defense.  The new distributed interceptor and sensor architecture also does not require a single, large, fixed European radar that was to be located in the Czech Republic; this approach also uses different interceptor technology than the previous program, removing the need for a single field of 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland.  Therefore, the Secretary of Defense recommended that the United States no longer plan to move forward with that architecture.
The Czech Republic and Poland, as close, strategic and steadfast Allies of the United States, will be central to our continued consultations with NATO Allies on our defense against the growing ballistic missile threat.

I believe that this decision was wise on the part of the Obama administration. The proposed missile defense architecture put considerable strain on U.S.-Russian relations and, being too small to counter Russian barrages and unable to knock down Iranian middle-ranged missiles, would have had little utility in the event of a nuclear conflict. Its purpose was never greater than a show of solidarity between the United States and the peoples of Eastern Europe.

Such shows of solidarity are not worth their billion-dollar price tag.

Given the missile shield's relative uselessness, it makes sense to scrap it. But, it makes no sense at all to scrap the missile shield the way Obama administration has chosen to do so.

The date of Obama's announcement (and the writing of this post) is September 17th, 2009. 70 years to this very day, in the morning dawn of September 17th, 1939, the Red Army invaded Poland. The Seven Soviet field armies sent over the Polish border quickly overwhelmed the 20 Polish battalions guarding Poland's eastern front. The invasion removed Poland from the Second World War; Poles were to live 40 years under Moscow's rule before they were able to regain full autonomy.

On the 70th anniversary of the day  Russian troops began the subjugation of Poland, the President of the United States tells the Poles that they can no longer count on the United States to help protect them from Russian missile attacks.

This can be called nothing but diplomatic ineptitude. It would have been quite simple for Obama to announce this change in two weeks time. It would have been quite simple for Obama to announce this change in five days time.

Obama did not do this. With the timing of his actions he belittled an ally of America. This is not acceptable behavior for any President, much less one who has humiliated our Eastern European allies before.  Many have claimed that Obama's ascesion to the Presidency was a return of effective diplomacy. I have yet to see anything of the sort from our young leader.

11 September, 2009


Tomorrow I shall be moving from my current home in Minnesota to the state of Hawaii. It could be a while before I have proper access to the internet and the time to write up a new post. I ask my readers not to expect anything new over the next week or so.

I will be back with a new post as soon as I can.

08 September, 2009

Notes From All Over 8/09/2009

Bob Herbert. New York Times. 24 August 2009.
Bob Herbert writes a disquieting Jeremiad against the American people for allowing their best men to have their limbs and faces torn off without giving a damn. By far the best opinion editorial I have read this year from the New York Times.

(H/T to Where is Sam Damon.)

Eight Years On
Ryan Crocker. Newsweek. 5 September 2009.

Ryan Crocker, one of the best Ambassadors this nation has seen, redeems Newsweek with a five page essay he wrote  for the magazine. Providing us with an overview of his career, Crocker manages to hand out critical insights on diplomacy, U.S. foreign policy, and the Middle East on every single page. To put it simply: This guy knows what he is talking about.

(H/T to Robert Haddick at Small Wars Journal.)

Washington's Afghan Brawl.
Thomas Rid. Kings of War. 2 September 2009.

Rid forces us to face some of the constraints NATO forces face in Afghanistan. Money quote:
The question is what follows from these assumptions? A complex cost-benefit calculus, I would say. A nasty one. There are costs and benefits attached to trying harder — and there are costs and benefits attached to stop trying harder. And at some point somebody will have to make the decision to start a withdrawal. That much is safe to say. The question is: when do the net costs of trying to solve the problem outweigh the net benefits of trying to solve the problem? The answer cannot be a yes or no. Only a: then. Of course that doesn’t mean that a timetable should be communicated publicly — but the calculation should be clear, or at least clearer. Words like “winning” and “victory” have no place in this debate, even if the street is shouting for it.

Read the whole thing.

That Three Legged Stool of American Foreign Policy. 
"Diplopundit." Diplopundit. 6 September 2009.

Diplopundit deftly pokes holes in the idea of the "3 D's" of American statecraft, noting that the largest tool in American foreign policy are the excess of contractors used in place of government personnel. 
NASA Satellites Unlock Secret to Northern India's Vanishing Water

NASA Newsroom.12 August 2009.

The water supply of Punjab and Haryana is being used up at a simply unsustainable rate. Unless there is vast improvements in water usage and agricultural practices, New Delhi could very well run dry within a few decades.

The World Health Orginization: A Primer
"Revere". Effect Measure. 2009.

Impressive group of posts from the folks over at Effect Measure. The structure and workings of the WHO are detailed, as well as a few astute musings on what happens when you mix the Westphalian system with microbes who care little for political borders.

Accidental Wars
Shannon Love. Chicago Boyz. 3 September 2009.

Shannon Love wrote an interesting post on the 'irrational' mindset of autocratic leaders and the impossibility of predicting or negotiating with such. The post sparked off a storm some 40 comments long. The discussion as a whole was quite interesting, prompting me to post several comments throughout its duration.

That is all!

03 September, 2009

Strategic Forum: Yemen 2011

Obama Addresses Nation as Military Offensive in Yemen Begins
Scott Rayman. New York Times. 10 January 2011.

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) — American forces unleashed a punishing air attack Sunday against military targets and Al-Qaeda camps inside Yemen, striking at terrorists blamed for the Black Friday attacks that murdered hundreds of Americans across the American Southwest.

"The perpetrators of these attacks will be brought to justice." said President Obama, in a televised address given as the offensive began halfway around the globe. Speaking from the White House treaty room, President Obama assured Americans that this was not a repeat of past interventions. "America is not a war-hungry nation. We seek no harm to the people of Yemen. Our goal is clear: secure the safety of our servicemen, our countrymen, and our allies by destroying Al Qaeda networks in the region."

The initial strike involved 35 Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched from American ships. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal said 10 bombers and 15 strike aircraft also were involved. The assault came at 11:30 p.m. EDT — nighttime in Yemen.

Obama ordered the attack on Saturday, almost two months after Al Qaeda gunman shot down hundreds during the peak shopping hours of malls in Fresno, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, and El Paso before detonating suicide vests. The second largest terrorist attack on American soil has been blamed on Al Qaeda networks based in Eastern Yemen.

The offensive comes on the heels of weeks of mounting tension between Washington and Sanaa. Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press", U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. officials "have been engaged in dialogue" with the Yemeni government for the last month, but negotiators "have not reached a workable solution." As Sanaa "has refused to take the steps necessary" to dismantle the elements of Al Qaeda within its borders, "American action is now necessary."

Yemen has been racked by war since late 2009 when Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh began large military offensives to rid the country of Houthi separatists, members of Shia tribes in the North of the country. The security situation in Yemen has "slowly deteriorated" since the insurgency began said Lt. Colonel ( Ret.) John Nagl, President of the Center for New American Security and expert on counterinsurgency. "The government in Sanaa simply does not have the operational capacity to fight Houthi insurgents and confront extremist networks like Al Qaeda without U.S. assistance."

Critics have charged the Obama administration of over stretching U.S. military forces. Representatives Lynn Woosley (D-CA), Barbara Wood (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO) released a joint statement this morning condemning the air strikes. "We know the pain Americans are feeling now. Terrorists murdered innocent men and women from our states.... We refuse to make the same mistakes of the past.... We recognize that a continued presence in the United States is detrimental to America's national interest. A three theater war is not sustainable. The only possible result of this campaign is the loss of even more American blood and treasure."
This headline has not yet happened. It is a thought-experiment, written to pose questions that those seeking a secure America must answer.

The terrorist attack described in this piece is one of many that could trigger the events related here. Such an attack need not be the gunning down of Americans as they shop for Black Friday sales, but could be anything from the hijacking of a cruise ship to an attack on an American embassy, military installation, or ship. I do not wish to ask how we will prevent such attacks; it is an issue that has been discussed thoroughly in the Beltway. More worrying is the lack of discussion on an issue just as important to our national security: what shall the American response be if an attack were to succeed.

This post attempts to begin this discussion. If a terror network were to establish itself in a developing country that lacked the resources to destroy the terrorists, what policy options would American statesmen have at their disposal? Would we be able to perform counterterrorism operations with thousand of American troops still engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan?

While Yemen is hardly the only area where a terrorist organization can establish roots, several aspects of the country make it ideal for this scenario. An American intervention in the region to weaken or destroy terrorist networks would place American forces in the midst of an existing conflict that commanders on the ground would have to navigate their way through. Even if operations were guided by a narrow mission when the conflict began, American efforts could easily escalate to unabashed nation-building. In addition, Yemen is a country of geopolitical significance, and is subject to interference from various regional powers.

American policy options will also be constrained by domestic realities. Antiwar sentiment is very much on the rise; it is not unfeasible to think that large sections of the populace would be against a large scale retaliatory campaign. If the security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq deteriorates over the next few years, American tolerance for another war could very well be nonexistent.

The final matter worth considering is how current strategy changes possible policy options one, two, or three years out. For the sake of this experiment I have assumed that American foreign policy will be unchanged up until 2011. This need not be the case. If, for example, the number of American servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq have been reduced by 2011, then American commanders will have a larger pool of resources to use in response to a terror attack.

I encourage my readers to address these questions in the comments or in their own publications. This is a discussion those dedicated to the future of the Republic must have, lest we be blindsided by our enemies.

Resources on the security situation in Yemen:

Yemen: The Middle East's Latchkey Kid.  
Evan Hill. The Majils. 5 September 2009. 

US fears Yemen next staging ground for al-Qaida
Lolita Baltour. Associated Press. 27 August 2009.

Inside Story: Focus on Yemen's Future
Al Jazeera English. 13 August 2009.

Resources on current terrorist safe havens:

Are We Winning? Measuring Progress in the War on Terror: An Interim Update

Bernard Finel. American Security Project. 29 April 2009.