Wednesday, June 29, 2005

POTUS Speech Roundup

A few bits of note from the "blogosphere".

David Adesnik liveblogged it over at Oxblog
.

James Joyner has a roundup of opinion. He notes that there has actually been rather low levels of response online - something that in my view is not a good sign and suggests that the prevailing response is indeed "heard it all before". He also suggests that of those who have responded, the prevailing view is largely positive. I'm not convinced and in fact from what I can tell my own response was probably rather more positive than the average. My emerging impression is that by far the two largest constituencies are either a) those who think that it was a load of old guff or b) those who had hoped for a real straight-talking, cards-on-the-table address and and don't really think he pulled it off.

Donald Sensing gave it "no better than a B and maybe a B-minus". He also notes that the President did a good job of demolishing the argument for a timetable for withdrawal.

The Armchair Generalist didn't like it. I think he'll take no offence if I suggest that it would have had to have been pretty shit hot for him to have felt otherwise.

The Cunning Realist
thought if pretty much miffed of fish.

Roger Simon thought it was "okay" and argues that we need a rather more frequent schedule of talks on the matter. He may be right, but only if they can work on the quality. At the time of writing he was much taken up with the matter of attending a dinner for Frank Gaffney. All messages of sympathy should be sent to his email address.

Norm thinks the Guardian should get a grip. A seemingly obvious message that nevertheless demands frequent restatement and constant vigilance. Good stuff.

Andrew Sullivan sees it as an important statement of determination but argues that a) there was nothing new and b) it was "alarmingly short on persuasiveness". He also thinks he sensed panic.

The people at Powerline, of course, rate it simply fabulous. But let's face it - and here's a key reason why "Blog of the Year" or not, they're always going to have very limited value as far as I'm concerned - the President could have come flouncing on stage in a fez and a leopard-skin posing pouch and sung "It's a hard-knock life" while hitting pieces of fruit of ever increasing size with a large mallet and Powerline would have boosted it as the most statesmanlike speech of the season, fit to warm the heart of all but those who Hate America.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Phil Carter reporting for duty...

Most readers will already be aware of this, but Phil Carter has received his reserve call-up and will be shipping out to Iraq.

I've actually known about this since Saturday but given that Phil hadn't mentioned it on his site at that point I didn't feel it was particularly appropriate to say anything. Now he has openly done so I'll just take this opportunity to wish him the very best of luck and to say that I for one am certain that if anyone is eminently suited by character to be an effective counterinsurgent it's Phil. I'm sure all readers would join in in wishing him a safe and prompt return.

Says what he likes and likes what he bloody well says...

I'm going to be sticking a couple of extra sites onto the links section over the next few days. Do take a shufti.

One of the sites I'm going to add is the Yorkshire Ranter. It's a bit overtly political (to the Left - and highly critical of the whole Iraq project and much of the GWoT in general) and he's from Yorkshire, which compounds the fact because that means he Knows What He Likes, but there's a string of very high quality posts, a number of which hit niche areas that you really won't see elsewhere.

Notable among these are this superb must-read piece with scans from a British WW2 military handbook on how to operate among the natives in Tunisia, this Iraq piece which draws on three stories that had passed me by until I found them on his site and this positive response (in contrast to my sceptical one) regarding Phil's post on the dearth of Arab-language training in the US armed forces.

Do check them out.

Oh, he also thinks the Home Office should be put in the bin. I feel an emotional twang at this as I rather like the fact that we've got a "Home Office" as opposed to some ghastly Interior Ministry or whatnot. That said, the idea of shunting a few sinecured, nanny-statist, meddling civil servants out on their arses does appeal. And he's right that they do have roughly three ideas between them and they're all crap.

I feel like Chicken Tonight...

Christopher Hitchens has an interesting article on the notion of "Chicken Hawks" and whatnot.

It's a somewhat uneven article. I think he's far too fast to pour scorn onto people like Andrew Bacevich, whose "The New American Militarism" is a very interesting, tightly-argued and non-strident treatment that makes persuasive arguments that there is something increasingly disfunctional in the field of civil-military relations.

On the other hand, he makes a very important point regarding civilian control of the armed forces that far too many opposition-minded people are missing - a lavish irony given that much of it is coming from the Left. Similarly with intelligence.

It is, of course, one thing for a politician to "dissemble" or to misrepresent or to outright lie. But ultimately there's something sterile about the extent to which civil servants' (in uniform of out) opinions are used to second guess the judgements of elected representatives. Of course, there's nothing wrong with this up to a point: I do it myself - up to a point. But the extent it's increasingly being used - including by the BBC - on any variety of issues you'd be forgiven for wondering aloud why we actually bother having elected representatives in the first place, since seemingly their job is merely to provide a front for decisions already made by civil servants.

A good example - admittedly non-military - was on display in tonight's edition of Newsnight regarding the narrow victory of the government in the Commons on the issue of ID cards (Full disclosure: I oppose the introduction of ID cards on principle). David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, was being interviewed on the matter (the Tories oppose ID cards) by Martha Kearney and she leapt upon him (verbally) with the apparent knock-out point that, "The police and the security services are both very strongly in favour. How can you answer that?"

To which the only reasonable response (which Davis didn't give, presumably through a desire not to be seen to turn puce of face and froth at the mouth, which is what i'd have done) is, "Because in a liberal democracy it's not the job of the police to make - let alone demand - policy. Nor is it their job to make judgement calls regarding the very delicate calibration of civil liberties in this country. And you and your colleagues would be the first to start screaming to the rafters if we suddenly turned around tomorrow and announced that from now on it would be."

Honestly, it drives me mental.


But yes, a rather uneven column in my view, although James Joyner (who's a very sensible chap) approves pretty unequivocally.

As I speak...

I'm rummaging through the "blogosphere" (so-called) for reactions to the POTUS speech and I happened upon this new post at Belgravia Dispatch (based on an article by a former Reagan administration official) that, I'm cock-a-hoop to say, very solidly backs up what I was just saying, re: troop numbers:

You keep saying that you are giving our generals all the troops they want. With all respect, sir, this couldn’t possibly be true. In the history of the world there has never been a general who thought he had enough troops. If your generals are telling you they have all the troops they want to finish the job in Iraq, either the generals are idiots – or they have gotten the word that asking for more troops will end their careers. Sit down with your generals privately – just you and them -- and find out how many troops they really think they need. If they still insist they don’t want more troops on the ground in Iraq, then get yourself a new bunch of generals.


Haha. When I'm good, I'm... well... fairly good.

President's Speech

I've just watched the President's speech on TV.I suppose I may as well offer some initial reactions.

I think there was a general consensus floating around that the President needed to pull an absolute blinder with this one and really get it right with some serious straight talk.

I took notes on the speech as it went on and based on that, here are my initial thoughts:

1) Troop numbers - same old, same old. "If I'm told by my commanders on the ground, they are perfectly happy etc..." I don't like this and I think it represents one of three things i) it's a lie ii) the ground commanders do want more troops but are worried that saying so will cost them their jobs/promotion or iii) the ground commanders don't actually want more troops because they don't understand the importance of a strategy based around population control. None of the three options are particularly appetising.

2) New ideas for conducting operations. The idea of embedding small cadres of NCOs and officers with Iraqi units to live with them, train with them, work with them strikes me as a good idea and too long in coming. It seems reminiscent of the Marines' CAP programme in Vietnam and British practice elsewhere and hopefully that's close to what it will be though unfortunately I'm not sure it really focuses on the territorial/civil side the way the CAP programme did so I'm holding my breath on this one. But grounds to be positive, I feel.

3) Libya as an example of the positive effects of Iraq - disingenuous. So much for giving it straight.

4) No timetable for withdrawal - I thought the President had this absolutely bang on. He touched all the bases and put his argument forward in a convincing way. Excellent.

5) He focused very much on the positives of staying. My personal view is that this needed to be a straight talk speech and that that needed to manifest itself less in whimsical gushing about the rather intangible and theoretical benefits of staying and more in a hard-nosed indication of the very concrete negative implications of leaving.

6) I've written "Blah, blah, blah - messianic" here, but that's very much a matter of personal taste.

7) The President called for sacrifice - but not much. Support the troops, send letters, fly the flag. Well, alrighty. But we've heard this before. And there was no serious call to broader sacrifice, no real plea for public service or national mobilisation. The message was very much - just Support The Troops and everything will be ok and you've done your bit and can just carry on as usual. In fairness, one of the points I've made elsewhere is that things are now so far advanced that a challenging, fairly demanding speech by the President may simply result in the people at home going "Oh my God! What the hell have you got us into?! This wasn't part of the bargain!!!" with predictably dire consequences. So I can see why the powers that be may have decided to soft-pedal. I still feel this may well have been a missed opportunity.

8) I still feel there's too much faulty history being worked into the mix, but that's a whole other issue.


Overall I thought it was a bit of a game of two halves. At times the President hit it dead on and got it very right and all credit to him. But overall there was just a bit too much of it that was singing from the same old hymn sheet and I'm not sure this really was the "telling it straight in order to stick at it" speech that many of us had been hoping for.

If I had to make a prediction I'd say - the President will see a positive spike in his ratings and in support for the war. For about a month. Then it'll be back to the usual routine.

I hope I'm wrong.

Anyway, these are very much spur-of-the-moment reactions. No guarentee that I won't wake up tomorrow and think "Oh God, what was I thinking".

Conversations with History - New Stuff

I haven't had a chance to watch either yet, but I suspect that this and this will be well worth your while.

Cordesman on Iraq

Anthony Cordesman has a report based on a recent visit to Iraq up at the CSIS website (PDF).

There is also a very good audio presentation and Q&A session available on the main site itself - well worth a listen.


I strongly recommend taking the time to go over Cordesman's findings. They strike me as balanced and plausible and his judgement calls regarding specific actions to take seem to me to be both practical and prudent. Very worthwhile stuff.

Dear John...

Gregory Djerejian dissects some really quite rancid advice from John Kerry re: Iraq.

The notion that we should be setting a timetable for withdrawal seems to be coming up with increasing frequency and might be developing into something of a "narrative" for the Democratic opposition (with exceptions such as Joe Biden) in the USA. I really hope they don't go down that route because I've yet to be convinced that it's other than a rotten idea.

This isn't the first time such an idea has been put forward, whether in a provocative and worthwhile (the only problem with it bieng that it's wrong) way by Michael O'Hanlon or in a markedly less helpful and markedly less coherent way by the Liberal Democrats, Robin Cook and some Tories prior to the last British election.

Pat historical analogies are often dangerous, but it is very difficult not to consider the example of Aden 1967, where a previously moderately successful (though hardly exemplary) COIN effort hit the rocks the instant the British government made its announcement of withdrawal from committments East of Suez come what may and regardless of conditions on the ground. Overnight, the insurgents were sent the message that they only needed to hold on as a force in being for a few months and they would effectively win by default. Additionally, natives working for the COIN effort got a stark message regarding which way the wind was blowing. It no longer made any sense to risk their wellbeing helping the authorities. Intelligence sources dried up almost instantaneously and the network supporting intel-led COIN operations crumbled. On top of that, in a manner similar to Vietnam, suddenly nobody wanted to be the last person to die fighting a campaign that the government back home had already openly given up on carrying to any conclusion. Once you start openly setting rigid timetables for withdrawal, Coalition forces might just as well get onto the first planes back home the next morning for all the good they'll do from that point.

"Eeeeeh, eez a publique 'oliday! Ponh!"

On a not directly related note, Gregory also flags up the French contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq, which can only be described as shockingly miserly, even allowing for the bad blood that exists between France and the US (which isn't stopping them working together in Africa and other places of coinciding interest). It's a real slap in the face to the new Iraqi government - the equivalent of a multi-millionaire encountering a destitute man seeking money for a life-saving operation and pronouncing to sundry passers-by, "Ah but of course I'll contribute! Let nobody say that I don't do my bit for the needy and less well off!" only in order to press fifty pence into his palm before admonishing him not to spend it all at once and stalking away.

Shelby Foote Dead

What it says on the tin. Apparently he was well into his 80s.

I never read his books - I'm generally rather underread on the matter of the American Civil War beyond various analytical texts looking at the development of warfare generally during the period - so I honestly don't know whether they were any good or not. I know a lot of people swore by them. That said, an equally large number of people swore AT them, so... who knows? Certainly he was a prominent figure, however, and his passing is worth noting.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Fail Safe

Surprisingly, former defence secretary Michael Portillo had an article in the Sunday Times last week arguing that the United Kingdom should abandon its nuclear capability when Trident comes to the edn of its shelf life. There's a counter argument here that was also published in the Times.

I like Michael Portillo a lot, but I think his argument is flawed. That said, I think the linked-to counterargument is flawed too, in spite of giving the reader some warmed-over Keith Payne and Colin Gray. I think Oliver Kamm chooses a very poor case study in the Falklands War, in which - even allowing for the fact that for the Argentine junta it was more or less a war for regime survival - the notion of a hypothetical nuclear-armed Argentine regime launching a nuclear strike on the UK, either tactically or "strategically" is on the face of it simply not plausible.

The best case for maintaining our nuclear capability - aside from the fact that, rationally or not, it does boost our standing in the international arena - is quite simply that, first of all it is relatively cheap in the long term and second that the nature of defence planning requires a long view to be taken.

The renewal of the British nuclear capability will require a very significant one off payment. However, decommissioning the capability will also involve a significant one off payment - albeit one of a smaller scale. We need to recognise the fact that we are facing a major-league lump sum expenditure one way or another whether we like it or not. There is a limt to the extent to which scrapping our nukes will save us money in the short term.

That said, the danger exists that the powers that be will seek to take the opportunity to indulge in the development and acquisition of various "next generation" capabilities and technological bells and whistles. This would be a major mistake and the cost increases and time drag involved in going down such a route might well erode the current broadly positive consensus that exists regarding renewal among the two major British political parties and the Liberal Democrats.We should look to sustain, not enhance our capability and must not be enticed into trying to do more.

Once the short term costs are out of the way, sustaining the capability is actually a relatively low cost prospect - a matter of 3-4 per cent of the UK defence budget. This gets us a lot of bang for our buck.

The common response to this is that we don't face a foe against which our nukes are a viable deterrent. This may or may not be true but the point is that in defence procurement we must plan not merely for today but for the day after the day after tomorrow. It is hardly an exact science but scrapping our nuclear capability does not involve accepting the reality of today - it involves taking a bet on what the world situation will be like one or two decades down the line. For the sake of a small fraction of our defence budget this is not a bet I personally would like to take.This prudent stance should be equally acceptable to advocates of "expeditionary" and non-expeditionary defence policies alike.

The Project

There's an article on the current internal conflict in the EU in the Times today that is so upbeat it's borderline masturbatory.

I'd love to think it was all true. Colour me sceptical though.There's been a lot of briefing coming out of the FCO recently and I think some of this coverage is a little bit credulous, in spite of the positive coverage in the foreign press. As the article tacitly acknowledges at the end, we've been here before, when we were informed that a tide of British-led reform was all set to sweep the continent. Didn't happen.

And on a final note, does anyone seriously think that the notion of a "Rome-London Axis" is anything but an enormous, steaming pile of tripe? One of my key stances over the past few years was that the Anglo-Spanish-Italian internal EU alliance was a house built on sand and it gave me a substantial amount of bitter satisfaction when I proved to be correct.

Quotation of the day

"I think I just threw up in my mouth."



- Ross Douthat

The popcorn you are eating has been pissed in. Film at 11.

By now it's unlikely that anyone will not have come across the news regarding the Iranian election results.


It's a pretty queer result. I'm not sure what explains it, to be honest, though various things spring to mind as possibilities.

1) The version being offered by the Beeb, Reuters etc is that "it was the economy, stupid."

2) In spite of the pleas of their leaders, the reformists were simply not prepared to come out and vote for Rafsanjani, even to prevent a greased-up fascist monkey-boy taking over the shop - no French-style "Better a crook than a fascist" manoeuvring here.

3) It was a straight up fiddle on the part of the powers that be.

4) The reformist pro-Western movement within Iraq either a) has been oversold by exile groups with their own agenda to credulous Westerners who believe it because it's what they want to here or b) is only part of a more complicated situation in which there is a significant but largely silent demographic group [possibly a rural/urban split] that is anti-reform and has previously received insufficient acknowledgment in Western calculations.

I really don't know.


Roger Simon has been rather strident for my tastes over the past months but I think his irritation here is justified:

The New York Times seems to accept that Iran had a real election and that the "reform movement" was actually a reform movement, not another branch of the Mullachcracy. I don't know the extent that they are incorrect (there are nuances, of course), but not to explore this strong possibility--and that the entire election was a charade--strikes me as the sloppiest of reporting... and almost willfully shallow.


The turnout was rather low - especially in comparison with the first round. But in spite of having gone over things like the Iraq election with a fine toothcomb (reasonably enough) very few print media sources seem to be prepared to entertain the notion that a) the election was, in fact, broadly seen as illegitimate by a large swathe of the public or that b) the whole thing may actually have been a gigantic setup. Instead it seems to be pretty much a given that it was perfectly legitimate and representative. This is annoying, may well not be justified and, if not justified, does a disservice to the people within Iran who feel screwed over and oppressed by their government. Greater breadth would have been more balanced, more useful and more professional.

On the other side of the fence, the Counterterrorism Blog is pretty solidly of the view that my Option 4 is closest to the mark:

From the same crowd who promised us Iraqis dancing in the street and welcoming us as liberators, another cornerstone of the neocon delusional reality has crashed back to earth. I refer of course to Iran's election yesterday, which provided a relatively unknown hardline fundamentalist a decisive victory with over 60% of the vote. Last Monday I appeared with Daniel Pipes on the MSNBC show, "CONNECTED". Pipes described Iran as a place where most of the people are pro-US. Pipes and other neo-con luminaries, such as Michael Ledeen, have pushed the nonsense that Iran is filled with a bunch of neo-westerners eager to throw off the shackles of Islamic extremism. Whoops! Yesterday's election confirms that the force of Islamic fundamentalism remains very strong in Iran.


I think there may be a greater or lesser degree of truth in this. That said, it fails to take into account the collapse in turnout and it seems to me there remains a large number of questions that need answering before formulating anything concrete..

UPDATE: Daniel Nexon also wonders what the heck is going on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Curse of Sisyphus

Interesting Iraq piece at the Christian Science Monitor that is worth a careful read. The key theme is clearly uncertainty, as indeed it has been for the past two years. Not only is the divining of a set of metrics for success startlingly difficult, the sheer number of areas where experts, both in uniform and out, disagree - often violently - is astonishing. In fact, two years into the insurgency, even the nature and composition of the enemy being faced is hotly disputed - not an encouraging sign given the key role sound intelligence plays in quashing an insurgency.

Anyway, there's quote and counter-quote from experts of varying calibre. But the money paragraph is this one:

US commanders and soldiers in Iraq frequently complain they don't have the manpower to deal anything resembling a decisive blow. Soldiers operating in tough Iraqi provinces like Anbar say they feel as if they're watering the desert: They can win any neighborhood or mid-sized city they care to and make it "bloom" for as long as they're present in strength, but their efforts wither when they inevitably leave and move on to the next engagement.


In order to be successful, Coalition forces need to Clear and Hold. It is widely perceived that the US Army "doesn't get it" and is fixated on sweeping, mobile Search and Destroy missions. There is something to this, but it is clear that in fact a lot of people in uniform on the ground do get it (the US Army not being a monolithic entity) but that other aspects, such as force structure, mean that even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. This is where the debate over troop numbers comes in and where it gradually becomes apparent just why counterinsurgency operations are so very manpower-intensive.

At this point it would be helpful if I offered a solution. But I don't think I've got one. If you don't have the troops to conduct an integrated programme of clear and hold operations, developing a slowly spreading area of "White Zones" then the only real solution is to get more men on the ground. If geting more men on the ground means coming up with something like the draft, you begin to see the emergence of a serious means/ends disconnect whereby the effort, resource mobilisation and domestic and military upheaval required to sustain a successful strategy rapidly outstrip the ends being pursued in what is, and must be, essentially a limited (though important and high-stakes) conflict. If the troops simply aren't there to conduct a proper COIN campaign ("More men?! Where am I supposed to get them? Perhaps you expect me to make them!", as Napoleon is supposed to have raged at an aide requesting reinforcements as the French positions caved in at Waterloo) you're getting pretty close to a Catch-22 situation.

Which in practice is probably why we've got what we're seeing now - a frantic attempt to get enough indigenous units online to make up for the manpower shortfall.



(Thanks to David Chasteen for the heads up elsewhere, re: this article)




Storm in a teacup 2

Over at the Belgravia Despatch, there's a good roundup of recent posts that effectively take the same position on Durbin that I did. I'm relieved to see some of the explicitly GOP-supporting folks at Red State take a very similar line.

John Cole, whose post is well worth quoting at length:

I find it perfectly reasonable that individuals such as BlackFive, Greyhawk, and Lt. Smash might find Durbin's remarks offensive, because any comparison that allows an inference that our troops are on the level with the odious Khmer Rouge and Nazis is rife with opportunities to create a great deal of offense ... [excerpts speech and FBI testimony] Are Durbin's remarks really that offensive? Do you honestly hear descriptions like that and think to yourself- "Gee, American troops do that all the time." Of course you don't, and I don't either. I think of some third world dictator, some tin-pot despot who brutalizes not only his enemy but his own people. Someone like, for example, Saddam Hussein. Or Pol Pot. And that was Durbin's point- not that we are Nazis, but that we are better than Nazis by an order of magnitude, and that such acts of abuse, while rare, are beneath us. What should offend you is not what Durbin said, but the possibility that what Durbin said regarding the abuse may be accurate -even if it happened only once. And spare me the false bravado and the tough-guy attitudes about how this doesn't sound so tough, and they deserve what they get. I am all in favor of stern measures and tough interrogation practices, but there are lines that should not be crossed. If your attitude is that because some evil people killed 3,000 people on 9/11, we have the moral high ground and are thus free to do as we please, including chaining people in a fetal position and forcing them to wallow in their own urine and feces, you might as well stop reading now because we aren't going to agree on anything. We have the right to to detain these people, we have the right to interrogate these people, and we, in the future, have a right to try them for their crimes and punish them appropriately. But we also have an obligation to ourselves and to the rest of the world to treat these detainees humanely, lawfully, and in accordance to the history of decency that I proudly associate with the United States. To do otherwise is to stain our dignity and our honor, as well as our reputation and good standing in the world. I am happy that we do our best to take care of these detainees, and I am very glad that we do treat them well the vast majority of the time. That doesn't mean that I am willing to just dismiss observations from FBI agents as 'nonsense,' and it doesn't mean that I believe the key to long-term success in Iraq and in the larger War on Terror is through petty partisan games like calls for censure and "I Love Gitmo" propaganda campaigns

That is the voice of a true conservative and patriot talking, in my view. Heartening to read.

Also, Josh Trevino (formerly known as Tacitus):

The substance is, distressingly enough, there. Specifically, the Senator cites some appalling abuse as witnessed by an FBI agent. While it is fashionable in certain crowds to shrug at these things on the grounds that the victims are all terrorists anyway, the affected apathy leaves some assumptions unexamined. Those assumptions are: first, that the abuse as reported was as bad as it got; second, that the victims are all terrorists. Both assumptions are false. We know that dozens of prisoners have died in American custody, with a shameful proportion being probable homicides. We also know that many prisoners have been released from Camp X-Ray, apparently not terrorists after all

Now, two caveats here: no one, to my knowledge, has died at Camp X-Ray; and the specific techniques witnessed by Durbin's FBI source were, I am fairly sure, accepted US military interrogation tactics as long as twenty years ago. These are mitigating facts if you fixate on rhetoric in a vacuum, studiously ignore the constellation of American prisons other than Guantanamo, and pretend that rap music, shackles and uncomfortable air temperature is the extent of the problem. Knowing that on the next news cycle Durbin will be yesterday's news and our wartime prisons will remain a current affair, what would an adult do?


Again, I find nothing with which to disagree and am pleased to find my comments on Gitmo in general and Durbin in particular echoed.

Finally, John Cole skewers PowerLine's breathless reaction. The PowerLine post itself is a glittering model of pomposity and all too representative:

I called Senator Dick Durbin's office this morning at ... and, after being on hold for a while, laid out the reasons why I think Durbin should resign from the Senate ... We'd be interested to hear from others how their calls to Durbin's office are received.

Well I can only say that if I was the person receiving that particular call, the reception would probably be along the lines of "Stick it up your arse". But then that's why I'd never be elected to public office.

Except possibly in Russia.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Heart of Darkness 2

Interesting roundup of some of the issues discussed here at the Counterterrorism Blog.

Quack

Non-French Foreign Legion

Max Boot gives his ideas for an American version of the French Foreign Legion another airing. Phil Carter has some excellent commentary up.

I wrote about this when he first came up with the idea and I think there may be something in it in some form rather removed from exactly what Boot is proposing - though I think Britain even more than the US should look carefully at something like it. So I won't restate my comments here.

Apart from the fact that he still seems fixed, apparently with a straight face, on the notion of calling it "The Freedom Legion" and that if it was actually called that, I expect blood to spontaneously erupt, as though propelled by a high-pressure hose, from every orifice in my body.

UPDATE: Somebody has asked me why I an so sceptical regarding the name "Freedom Legion", the assumption apparently being that I am impugning American motives. Not so. I suppose this showcases one of the differences between British and American conservatives. As a Brit I associate names that ostantatiously parade something's creamy goodness as being inherently suspect. The same way that a country with "People's" or "Democratic" in the name is likely to be anything but. I think this suspicion is grounded in Burke and runs from the French Revolution to modern communist states, via early 20th century fascism. To an American, "Freedom Legion" may well evoke the image of...er... a legion concerned with Freedom. To most Brits - and certainly to me - it sounds at best toe-curlingly embarassing, at worst vaguely like some sort of paramilitary street gang of the sort continental Europeans with Ideas and Theories like to come up with shortly before it becomes necessary for us to go over there and give them a bloody good kicking. The substance is completely different, of course. But you're not going to make me believe other than that it's an absolutely ghastly name, any more than you're going to convince me that the current Labour government's passion for naming all its funny little projects and fancies "The People's something-or-other" is something other than a load of old historically-deaf nonsense.

Doing Less With Less - Unethical Book Plug, No. 3,185

Paul Robinson of Hull University, who is one of our readers and can (very) occasionally be found lurking in the comments boxes has a new short book coming out that might well be of interest.

The title, "Doing Less with Less", tells the story. Paul has been a long standing critic of the development of an "expeditionary" defence policy for the UK and believes that assumptions that defence spending should stay more or less fixed or should rise are badly misplaced. I've mischaracterised Paul's views in the past so I'm wary of providing sweeping generalisations of his views, but I think it's fair to say that he takes the broad stance that extensive intervention abroad causes as many or more problems than it solves. He also takes the view - supported by a number of IR scholars - that, contrary to popular perception, the world is actually a lot safer now than it was a decade ago.

Anyway, it should prove to be an interesting read, especially if you want something challenging and provocative. I know that we've got some British lefties who read this too and given that a number of them advocate reduced defence spending I'd strongly recommend they put their copies of Chomsky and Pilger to one side (preferably the side of the toilet where you'd normally keep the loo roll) and get hold of a copy of this.

It's also already received a very positive reception from Jeremy Black, which is invariably a good sign.

It's going to be available from both amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, so if you're in the mood for something to either challenge or reinforce your prejudices, do check it out.

Storm in a teacup

I'm aware that a significant chunk of the readership of this site is US military, serving or retired, and therefore I am wary of saying this, but I feel obliged to simply because the commentariat coverage of this issue has been so heavily one-sided.

The rumpus over Senator Durbin's comments on the Senate floor represents an enormous storm in a teacup and most of those who are blustering hardest are intellectually dishonest hypocrites of the most flagrant variety.

I have taken the time to read Senator Durbin's comments in full. I don't agree with all, or even a majority of them. Much of it is boilerplate. And a straight The US Army = Nazis equation would have been ludicrous, offensive and wildly inaccurate.

This is not, however, what the Senator said. The Senator asserted that a dispassionate observer, reading FBI testimony on interrogation methods in Gitmo (captives forced into foetal positions for periods of up to 24-hours, under extremes of heat and sometimes noise, until they are left wallowing in their own shit and piss and in at least one case having torn out their own hair) without further context would assume, if asked to guess where such methods had been carried out, that it had taken place in an authoritarian or totalitarian regime such as Cambodia, Nazi Germany etc.

This is - unless somebody would care to claim that actually they'd assume that this sort of thing is characteristic of the USA - factually accurate. I wouldn't actually go for the Nazi thing, but I would, if not for the mention of rap music, assume that it was a description of conditions in, say, Iran, North Korea, Burma or Saddam Hussein's Iraq.*

I repeat - factually accurate.

Now, you can argue that this was undiplomatic and represented a very poor choice of words. I might even agree with you. What rankles, however, is the hypocrisy of many of Durbin's critics.

Conservative commentary on this sort of issue has often carried with it two themes:

1) It actually doesn't matter what we say or do because they hate us anyway.

2) Although stuff like Abu Ghraib is damaging, what is most damaging is the continual and excessive exposure it has been given by the "mainstream media".


And yet:

1) The same people who argue that we (generally meaning the present administration and its backers in the print news media) can say and do pretty much what we want because "they" hate us anyway and who leapt to the defence of people like General Boykin who stood, in uniform, and announced that Islam was a false religion are now claiming that a factually accurate statement by a Democratic senator in what SHOULD have been an obscure speech on the senate floor (of which more later) is serving to destroy the US war effort and will lead to deaths of US servicemen abroad and increased recruitment for terrorism.

Please!

And:

2) The same people who argued that, yes, Abu Ghraib was jolly nasty but it was made so much worse by the fact that unpatriotic journos gave it so much newspaper coverage, thus drawing it out far longer than its natural shelf life and giving it ever more exposure in foreign climbs are now milking the Durbin situation for all its worth, providing a constant deluge of comment pieces all with the aim of not merely getting an apology but now setting up official censure and making damn sure that it doesn't go away.

Please!

I don't know whether these people are actively and unapologetically a bunch of dishonest hacks or whether they are so self-deluded, dogmatic and lacking in personal awareness that they just can't see the gaping inconsistencies in their positions but it makes me want to emit vomit.

*This does not mean - and, in spite of what some people would like you to believe, Durbin has never made such a claim, his remarks have been taken out of context to an astonishing degree that I can only assume started off deliberate and has become self-reinforcing - that the USA or US servicemen are somehow the equivalent of Nazis

Monday, June 13, 2005

That noise the audience on Ricki Lake makes when Ricki says something that could charitably be described as spunky and assertive about weight loss...

I've thought it many times in the past and I'll say it now - Thank God for Gregory Djerejian.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Heart of Darkness

Douglas Farah has commentary regarding this NY Times article (free registration required) detailing the increasing incidence of Africans being found among the ranks of foreign insurgents and AQ operatives.

Although this article is seen as showcasing something new - and indeed the growth in upfront African presence is new - Africa has been in the frame as a potential hotspot among those who consider these things for a while (though, as Douglas notes, the powers that be have perhaps been somewhat behind the curve on this issue.

The key area of concern, and one which the authorities have been addressing in the form of moves such as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, consists of the belt of territory bordering the Maghreb thatstretches from Mauritania to Somalia. These states all have a number of things in common; porous borders, weak central governments and large and restive Muslim minorities. Not only might they provide a fertile recruitment ground, they could also represent easy geographical point of retreat and retrenchment should successful developments in the Middle East require radical and AQ-affiliated elements to relocate.

On top of this, the expansion of Islamic madrassas is a growing problem in almost all parts of Africa. In the absence of reliable or affordable public education systems, a vacuum exists which Islamic activists are all too happy to fill. Radical Islamic madrassas, subsidised by wealthy Arab donors are increasingly the only form of education available to dirt poor Africans and even in areas with no particular Muslim presence, African families are increasingly inclined to see them as a way out for their children. Even when relatviely benign there is little doubt that they spread conversion - and they are frequently not benign. In addition, in the more closed nations with relatively little by way of civil society or free political activity, local youth can often turn to them as a possible political outlet, which is outright dangerous.

Farah criticises programmes such as the Pan-Sahel Initiative as being focused too much on the military side of things and for possibly lending support to armed forces with little respect for human rights or reasonable standards of behaviour. Concern is no doubt warranted up to a point and attempts to strengthen indigenous capabilities through military training should not simply turn into carte blanche for outright repression. He is also entirely correct to note that an holistic approach is necessary and Western responses should be very much tailored to specific situations on the ground and local contexts. All that said, we live in a time of stretch and overstretch and the undesirability of large and overt footprints and in this case something, while imperfect, is almost certainly better than nothing. In order to be successful, the USA simply cannot directly handle everything. There is also a European angle, in that both France and Britain maintain interests in Africa and they - the French especially, but also us - are unlikely to welcome extensive American meddling and deployments in areas which we generally see as one of the few parts of the world where there is still some latitude to operate something approaching an independent policy. So far all signs point to the US recognising this - behind the headlines and bluster, there has been fairly extensive Franco-American co-operation in this area - but it is a potential area of friction. If possible - which it won't always be - solutions should probably be African first, British/French second and American last, if absolutely nobody else can get off their backsides.

Upheaval

As I said earlier today, a couple of changes are coming up. Since we rather tentatively started this site over the Christmas period, Mark hasn't really found the impetus or the enthusiasm for it - which is pretty understandable as this is meant to be a pleasure, not a chore and he's holding down a Very Important Job - and is stepping down indefinitely. Hopefully I'll pry a guest post or two out of him at some point in the future or perhaps he'll find himself in the mood again in which case, huzzah!

As well as a departure there's also an arrival (as soon as I can figure out the procedeure behind it, which I can't remember any more) in the form of Terry Daly. Terry is a retired Reserves Lieutenant Colonel in military intelligence who did grassroots, village-level counterinsurgency work in Vietnam and has done postgrad study in military history. He's a leading advocate of The Galula Book and he's probably forgotten more about COIN than I'm ever going to know. I can say from experience that he knows what he likes - this is lent an extra degree of weight by the fact, in my opinion at least, that he's usually right.

So there you have it. These changes will come into effect as soon as I've done sufficient grappling with the Blogger mechanics.

My hovercraft is full of eels...

Phil Carter laments the, er, lamentably slow going in evidence with regards to the US armed forces getting their act together as far as post-9/11 language requirements are concerned.

There's no denying it's a frustrating state of affairs and I think even with the benefit of hindsight Phil is right to argue that arses were not got in gear anything like fast enough..

But:

Or, can someone explain why the U.S. didn't instantaneously require students at the three service academies (West Point, Annapolis and Air Force) to learn Arabic plus another foreign language? Or why this wasn't made part of the standard curriculum for new sergeants and lieutenants going through professional military education courses?



I'll give it a go.

There are only so many hours in the day and professional officer education has a lot of trouble fitting in what it does already. The problem with Arabic, as Phil notes, is that it is a ferociously difficult language for Westerners (especially native English-speakers) to learn. I personally feel that it is a reasonable judgement call for people who have a zero-sum alotment of time slots to allocate to make the judgment that the down sides of spending that time trying to learn Arabic outweigh the probable benefits.

  • By the officer candidate age, many potential officers' language-learning skills will have ossified to the extent that they simply can't hack it.
  • Full immersion not being a possibility (at minimum 1 year intensive learning plus 1 year "in country" to emerge non-fluent), it may be felt that language lessons for non-specialists will not being notably greater returns than "just in time" handy tourist phrasebook style cramming pre-deployment.
  • Unless the US plans to undertake other large-scale COIN ops a la Iraq in the Middle East, Arabic language skills are likely to be vital (as opposed to desirable) largely for a trained cadre of specialists, rather than all officers.
  • It involves ploughing significant resources into an area that many planners (rightly or wrongly) may believe will become a relative sideshow with the rise of China.
  • Given the desirability of small group learning for a complex foreign language (12 people per group maximum) there may simply not be the teaching capability available in the first place. Rectifying this will take time and speeding the process up may involve bringing in native-speakers of less than proven loyalty and discretion.
None of this is to say that the development of large numbers of Arabic-speakers in the US Army would not be a Good Thing. It's merely to say that the fact that it hasn't happened is not necessarily (or, not only) a sign of foot dragging on the part of the higher ups.

There is little doubt in my mind that the US armed forces would do well to send more of their promising junior officers on attachment to foreign climbs to learn the lingo and the culture. They already do this up to a point (Hi, Chris) but expanding it would clearly be no bad thing. The inclusion of some form of regional studies component in officr education would also be welcome. That said there is arguably no real prospect of the US Army being able to deploy the sort of basic language and cultural grounding available to, say, the British in the imperial period. Indian Army officers were generally both culturally sharp and either bilingual or multilingual (Urdu and, in some cases, Goorkhali). But this came from the fact that they effectively lived their entire professional lives in the countries in which they were based (and not behind conrete and razor wire). Young Brits signing up for the Indian Army (and, incidentally, you had to perform better to be posted to an Indian regiment than a British one) recognised that they might well not see the home country again in years, decades even. India (albiet often [but not always] a somewhat rarified, privileged, narrow version of it) became their life. This sort of immersion is simply not available to US Army officers and would almost certainly be considered undesirable to most even were it available.

Arms and The Man

I'm going to be posting a couple of thing up later tonight including the announcment of some changes, but right now I'm about to pop out and do some food shopping.

However, this caught my eye.

Read it all.

Money quotes:

The Right to Bear Arms is the only reliable way to prevent genocide in the modern world.

...

Arm Zimbabwe's opposition. Now.


But read it all.

I need to digest this. I may have something to say on it later, I may not. What I will do, however, is invite readers to discuss the matter in the comments box. Or if that doesn't appeal, email me and if you aren't mental (not that any of our readers are) I'll try to post some responses up on the site.

To start the ball rolling my gut response is; provocative idea, but no cigar. But as I say I really need to think about it and perhaps come up with something more detailed.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A means to an end

Red Chinese Crack Down On Blogs

This is an interesting and unwelcome development. That said, it should hardly come as a surprise. The PRC already employs a startlingly large number of people (I don't have the figures to hand [from Shambaugh, my copy of which is in London] but unless my memory was way off we're talking a 5 figure number) simply to moniter internet traffic 24 hours a day, at home and abroad, often trawling websites manually.

That said, were I in charge of the security services of a paranoid authoritarian regime, I think I might be more inclined to play it softly softly and lure undesirables into elaborate sting operations. But ho hum.

Huh 2: Huh Boogaloo

You know someone is a good writer


Writes Josh Chafetz

when he can make a piece about sperm donation interesting.


Unless I'm missing something, sperm donation involves getting the old feller out of hibernation and treating him to a soiree with Madam Palm and her five beauteous daughters*. A lot of people find that pretty interesting. And not one-off Slate article interesting. Deagostini multiple-instalation part work interesting.




*And, if the films of Sean William Scott are to be believed**, rather more.

**Please, God.

DeKlein and Fall

Phil Carter has links and commentary to a Naomi Klein piece.

I don't share Phil's enthusiasm for Ms Klein, who strikes me as a rather dreary, pious, joyless (but presumably not entirely sexless, as people of her ilk must be reproducing like rabbits judging by the frequency with which they pop up on BBC panel shows), knit-your-own-hemp-underwear sort, but a couple of bits did catch my eye. Klein makes references to the film The Battle for Algiers and the French experience in Algeria and draws explicit links between it and the American experience in Iraq.

This struck home to me up to a point, in that one of the key factors that I believe must be avoided in the development of a sustainable strategy for prosecuting the GWoT (or what you will) is the development of a French guerre revolutionaire mindset, which I am convinced would be a negative tipping point at every level - grand strategic to tactical. I do not believe that the people running American policy or the bulk of the US armed forces are afflicted with this rather unfortunate disorder but I do candidly see echoes of it in some of the coverage emerging from sections of the conservative commentariat.

On the other hand I think the broader thread of the argument is guff and is strongly tainted by the ideologically based and empirically barren conceit common among Ms Klein and friends that what happened in Algeria was an inevitability and will happen in all such situations. There is little evidence to support this (though various factors can contribute to it - dehumanisation of the enemy and the population at large, badly trained and led security forces, security forces comprised largely of conscripts etc etc etc). Counterinsurgency operations in Malaya, the Philippines and even French operations in Indo-China were absent of the sort of systematic brutality employed by the French in Algeria. The Algerian case was special largely because of an unfortunate blend of internal intellectual development within a section of the French armed forces, unsuitable force composition, domestic politics and pressures from an implanted colonial population.

The case of Kenya is instructive as a case study in which widespread abuse involving the security forces took place and was then cut out. Kenya is widely acknowledged as the most brutal of Britain's COIN campaigns and the nature of the abuses and miscarriages of injustice have been superbly and rigorously documented by David Anderson. However, abuses - and the tolerance of abuses - by British forces were reversed to a startling extent following the appointment of General George Erskine to command. Abuse, torture and the absence of due process were not only recognised by Erskine as counterproductive in practical terms, they were abhorrent to his professional ethics as a British officer. Although his influence was largely limited to British Army forces (and not the police and colonist forces), the rot was cut out, fast. There was nothing inevitable about the abuse - with sound leadership and a clear sense of purpose and practicality it could be stopped and it overwhelmingly was (and did nothing but good for the counterinsurgency effort). From numerous correspondences with US officers, serving and retired, I am confident - entirely confident - that the US Army has more George Erskines than revolutionary warriors.

Klein argues that there is no popular consent for a Coalition COIN presence in Iraq. This is not implausible at this stage. However, I am as suspicious of Klein's methodology on this matter as I am of the cheery anecdotage regarding various "Hidden Good News Stories" ("The children just flocked round smiling and the bazaars were bustling...") that tend to be the staple of sections of the "blogosphere". Consent in a COIN situation is not fixed and can ebb and flow depending upon how well a campaign is going. The support of the population is conditional and previous positive polls of Iraqi opinion tend to point to the idea that it can be won back, not in the form of love but in the form of a grudging recognition that it's better temporarily with us than without us. The fact that most people in the know are leaning toward the notion that the US can't actually get out fast enough also rather undermines Klein's assertions that it's staying with a gun pressed to the heads of the elected representatives of the Iraqi people.

Huh.

Zu, at Zu's Musings makes an interesting point:

I watched The Dirty Dozen over the weekend and I have one question. How did they think they were going to sneak Jim Brown inside of Germany for a covert mission? I mean, it's not like a giant african-american dude is going to blend in real well amongst the populace.

Bizarrely, this had never occured to me before. And now he points it out, I'm not sure how it hadn't. In fact the more I think about it it's almost as bad as the moment in Jaws: The Revenge when the shark swims into view and you can see underneath it into the hollow insides, wooden support struts and all.

Sweet, Sweet Candy...

After many muttered expletives and much time spent grappling with the controls like a Parkinson's afflicted rabbit trying to figure out how to drive a Harley I have finally discovered how to include images in posts. It would have been helpful if I'd figured this out a few months ago, but hey. Hopefully future posts will be a bit more colourful, sometimes in a useful way.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I really can't think of a non-tasteless post title...

Dan Drezner has a couple of book recommendations on the issue of suicide terrorism, one of which is Robert Pape's "Dying to Win", the title of which pleases me enormously.

I'd add to these two books (neither of which I've had a chance to read yet, though I have read Pape's extended article on suicide terrorism that is closely linked to the book) a heads up for Diego Gambetta (ed.) - Making Sense of Suicide Missions and Ann Marie Oliver & Paul Steinberg - The Road to Martyrs' Square.

Cloak and Dagger

Fascinating. They seem to have uncovered who killed Georgi Markov.

I don't know how well known the case is outside the United Kingdom. It continues to fascinate in Britain, not least because of the unusual method of assassination, which evokes James Bond somewhat (early James Bond, that is, when it used to be good - I'm more of a John Drake man myself but there you go). Everyone knew it was instigated by the Bulgarians, of course, (who seemed, it seems to me at least, to be involved in an amount of wet work rather out of proportion with their size and importance) but it's interesting to have some sort of "closure" on the case and it's interesting to see that in many ways the background to the murder is as colourful as the murder itself.

And the obligatory final, chilling note:

After Zhivkov’s regime collapsed in 1989, a stack of the specially adapted umbrellas was found in the interior ministry.

Loose Umbrellas of Death: The Wave of the Future? Eeek! Somebody call Sam Nunn!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

D+ - Must Try Harder

Via Cliopatra, I find this rather depressing list of the "10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries" by a panel of "conservative scholars and public policy leaders".

Let's see what makes the list shall we:

1) The Communist Manifesto
2) Mein Kampf
3) Quotations from Chairman Mao
4) The Kinsey Report
5) John Dewey - Democracy and Education
6) Das Kapital
7) Betty Friedan - The Feminine Mystique
8) Auguste Comte - The course of Positive Philosophy
9) Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil
10) Keynes - General Theory of Employment etc

Oh dear. Judging by this list I can only conclude that the slow agonising death of the public intellectual is not a phenomenon restricted to the political left. It seems to me that many of the choices on the list are not merely petty but distressingly tone-deaf from an historical perspective. And that's before we even get started on the "Honourable Mentions" list (Darwin, depressing but predictable. Ralph Nader??? John Stuart Mill????!!!!!!??).

Ralph Luker notes the absence of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a glaring omission. Additionally noteworthy is the absence of any radical Islamic text.

I would also argue, perhaps controversially, that Mein Kampf is rated too highly at 2. Although a disgusting book and widely printed, the ideas and the movement contained within largely predated the book itself and I am sceptical as to quite how much impact the text itself had on the course of history. It perhaps had more impact outside of Germany than within, where I suspect it was destined, like A Brief History of Time or the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to sit unopened on many shelves for the sake of show (it is, among other things, a relentlessly boring book).

Of course, the truly intellectually curious, especially if also a commited bibliophile, would spend the time poring over great historical events in search of obscure texts that have proved the spark for cataclysmic slaughter. I don't have time for that - the spirit is moderately interested but the flesh and bladder are weak - but pretty much off the top of my head, here is my alternative top 10, in order.

1) The Communist Manifesto
2) The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
3) Sayyid Qutb - Milestones
4) Quotations from Chairman Mao
5) Colmar von der Goltz - The Nation in Arms
6) Das Kapital
7) Mein Kampf
8) Erich Maria Remarque - All Quiet on the Western Front
9) Johann Most - The Science of Revolutionary Warfare
10) Che Guevara - Motorcycle Diaries

Honourable mention - Carl von Clausewitz - On War

OK, it's a pretty crappy list and focuses too much on texts that shaped the inter-war period. Still think it's better than what the people who are paid to come up with this stuff came up with. Feel free to make your own suggestions.

Softly softly, catchee monkey...

Very interesting story:

A CIA scheme to sponsor trainee spies secretly through US university courses has caused anger among UK academics.


Yowzer. Well if anything is going to make the US intelligence community change it's mind, it's bitching from academics who aren't American and don't even have anything to do with the US education system. I'll wager Pat Roberts has spent the past few nights lying awake, feverishly wrestling with his conscience. Nice one, lads, you've got the buggers on the run.

Joking apart I can see an upside and a down side to the plan.

On the one hand it seems to me that in many ways this is just what is needed. Not only could it be very useful in terms of sourcing intelligence officers with serious regional knowledge and the skill set that goes along side that, it could also be an interesting pathway to creating a cadre of civilian experts whose skills and knowledge base could be drawn upon at short notice and minimal cost in the event of a region-specific crisis.

On the other hand, it seems to me that ensuring discretion among students participating in the programme is going to be beneficial only if the programme itself is fairly discrete. And judging by the fact that it's already splashed all over the BBC website, it, er, isn't. The programme's critics raise several ethical objections which I frankly don't warm to, but it seems to me that it is a reasonable criticism to suggest that if this programme's existence becomes fairly widely known in foreign climbs then it is, in fact, going to make life a lot harder for students - both those involved in the programme and those not involved - trying to operate abroad, especially in places like the Middle East. It could serve to see access for students cut back. It could also be just plain dangerous.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Call me "Peaches"...

Strange little story:

The hunt is on for an Indian Army brigadier who allegedly betrayed his country for 20,000 rupees, selling battle plans to bankroll his wife's passion for preserving fruit and vegetables.


If you're going to betray your country, I reckon you really ought to do it for the most implausibly whimsical reasons possible. Kudos.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Mac Owens and VDH butt heads over Vietnam. Interesting read.

I'm not putting a dog in this fight.

Fallujah Revisited

The oepration to deny Fallujah to insurgent forces as a refuge, staging ground and planning hub was, to say the least controversial. While it is extremely important not to permit insurgent forces the development of safe havens and no-go areas for security forces, the methods involved raised many eyebrows and not merely within the journalistic community. The generally sparse flow of information from the city since the operation, the general perception that a substantial chunk of the insurgent force slipped the net and the issue of internal displacement coupled with questions over whether or not sufficent preparations were made for housing the displaced population has not been encouraging. To put the displacement into some sort of perspective, Sir Robert Thompson's proposed Strategic Hamlet programme in Vietnam involved estimates by the BRIAM that it would involve the displacement of roughly 100,000 South Vietnamese (to pre-prepared villages with amenities ready to go). The US Army rejected this on the basis that it was too substantial an upheaval - though ironically by the end of the Vietnam War, US Army free-fire methods had resulted in the displacement of ten time that number. In Fallujah, in a single operation the Coalition internally displaced a quarter of the number of people internally displaced during the entire Vietnam War.

However, the bottom line is that we really don't know one way or another how effective the operation has been (though the statistics in terms of attacks seem to suggest it hasn't resulted in a significant trend inour favour) and what the endgame is going to be. This Michael Fumento article at NRO gives a positive take, which presumably benefits from the fact that Fumento has actually spent time on the ground.

Unfortunately, a hell of a lot of it sounds like stuff we've heard far too often in the past:

I also saw thriving markets, stores selling candy and ice cream, and scores of children delighted to see Americans. I did more waving than the beauty queen in the 4th of July parade and the kids squealed with delight when I took their picture.

That's great, it really is. And here's hoping it's representative of a trend. But unfortunately it could have been written - has been written by various different people - at any time since May 2003. I recall reading almost the exact same words with regard to Baghdad at various times during the first 6 months of the Phase IV operations. Assurances that there are vibrant bazaars and children who like having their photos taken are no longer credible measures of progress unfortunately.

Fumento also documents rebuilding of utilities and facilities in Fallujah. Again, this is a story we have heard before; schools, electricity supply, hospitals etc etc etc. In principle it's great and it's exactly the sort of thing that should be happening. Unfortunately, again, these stories tend to run parallel to empirical evidence, in the form of official statistics, that show utilities provision either flatlining or in some cases slumping badly, even below pre-war levels. Maybe Fallujah will now go on to buck the trend, maybe not. Probably worth keeping an eye out for how this progresses over the next few months.

On the other hand the recognition that "hearts and minds" must be a key plank in the COIN strategy and the fact that the Marines are actually staying the hell put once they've cleared their assigned areas (as opposed to in the case of Operation Matador and its ilk, which seem worryingly like old-school Search and Destroy missions) are both positive signs. Also of note (though not mentioned in the Fumento article) is the fact that the authorities have apparently been undertaking a comprehensive, technology-aided census and registry of the Fallujah's inhabitants as they are re-admitted to the city. This is a very good move (I say very good, in reality it's merely an avoidance of the operation being a complete waste of time, but the fact that it's happening shows that somebody among the higher-ups has the right idea) and the only thing to say really is that it should have happened earlier and been more widely applied.