Archive for the ‘Military’ category

Only Took A Decade

April 1, 2014

This:

The Pentagon says there were no U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in March — the first zero-fatality month there since January 2007.

To put that into further context: this is the first month without U.S. combat deaths since March, 2003 — almost eleven full years. [via]

I won’t repeat the line that’s echoing in my head — the one John Kerry said of a different conflict.  But I’m thinking it.

Grandreview

 

One more thing:  US casualties do not write the whole story.  Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly free of conflict.  As we listen to the usual suspects talk war at every turn of events, it’s not a bad thing to think about the last time we listened to their advice.

But I’m not going to go too far down that road in this post either.  This is a moment to be glad no one got the news this month, to hope that record will continue, and to spare a thought for all those who received that awful word over the last decade and more.

Image:  Matthew Brady, Grand Review of the Armies1865. Thought of using this image, but couldn’t bring myself to do so.  NSF those who’ve lost folks — or maybe any of us.

A Reminder: What the Hagel Farce Was Actually About – Outsourced to Peter Beinart

February 27, 2013

I don’t generally link to the Daily Beast (for many and various reasons) but led by Bruce Bartlett’s twitterizing, I got to Peter Beinart’s clear, succinct description of what was really at stake in the Hagel nonsense:

The right’s core problem with Hagel wasn’t his alleged anti-Semitism. From Jerry Falwell to Glenn Beck to Rupert Murdoch, conservatives have overlooked far more egregiously anti-Jewish statements when their purveyors subscribed to a hawkish foreign-policy line. The right’s core problem with Hagel was that he had challenged the Bush doctrine. Against a Republican foreign-policy class that generally minimizes the dangers of war with Iran, Hagel had insisted that the lesson of Iraq is that preventive wars are dangerous, uncontrollable things. “Once you start,” he warned in 2010, “you’d better be prepared to find 100,000 troops.”

Sweerts,_Michael_-_Soldiers_Playing_Dice_-_c._1655

The point isn’t that Hagel “favors” containment and deterrence. Like virtually everyone else, he’d much rather Iran not get a bomb. But by reminding Americans of the potential costs of preventive war, Hagel was implying that containment and deterrence might be preferable. He was suggesting that if the U.S. can’t stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons short of war, it should make the same tradeoff that Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy made when they allowed the Soviet Union and China to get the bomb. This horrifies hawks for two reasons. First, some of them, echoing Benjamin Netanyahu, claim Iran represents an existential threat to Israel. But were that their sole concern, they’d pay more attention to the near-consensus view among top Israeli security professionals that although Iran poses a threat, it does not pose an existential one, in large measure because Iran’s regime, while vile, is rational when it comes to preserving its own existence.

The second reason hawks find Hagel’s view so frightening is that it concedes the limits of American power. Although Bush said that after 9/11 the United States no longer could afford to rely on the deterrence and containment of hostile states, what he really meant was that the U.S. no longer needed to rely on deterrence and containment, because it was now strong enough to prevent nuclear proliferation via force. For many hawks, conceding that the U.S. can’t do that means conceding American decline.

Beinart goes on to point out the absurdity of the neo-con fear that acknowledging the fact of limits to power equals American decline.* That’s another way of saying (a) read the whole thing and (b) there is a very depressing realization (familiar to readers of this blog) that sinks in should yo do so:  Beinart has achieved here nothing more than a well-stated penetrating glimpse of the obvious.

Or to put it another way: if America is in fact in decline then the cause isn’t that some of our leaders have noticed that the capacity to blow up any building anywhere in the world is not the same thing as exercising power to an end beyond rubble.  Rather, it is that so many in our media and political elites can’t or won’t.

*The concept of imperial or superpower decline is tricky.  Are we in decline if we continue to grow in wealth and capability, but other nations do so with enough vigor to approach levels that in the unique circumstances of the post-World War II decades we could occupy on our own?  Britain, shorn of empire, is wealthier, more equal, more comfortable now that it has ever been for the great bulk of its citizens, for all that Cameron and Osborne are trying to undo some of that.  Are we impoverished if we advance into a world in which the Chinese middle class, still a small proportion of that country, may soon achieve economic status equal to our own?

As I say, tricky.  One more thing, though. Such caveats to the threnody of decline do not in themselves mean that we cannot in fact propel ourselves into an actual, unmistakable loss of power, influence and so much relative economic standing that the conditions of national autonomy and agency the US now possesses will erode.  Could happen; may be happening.  But not because Chuck Hagel thinks it makes sense to ask first what one gets out of sending 100,000 American troops to the far side of the world.

Image: Michael Sweerts, Soldiers Playing Dicec.1655.

Every Day in Every Way We Are Getting Better and Better

August 14, 2012

Remember the Gaypocalypse that swept away US military capability once the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell allowed the pink hordes to overrun our defenses?

Me either.

Hence, this fine news (via GOS):

Army reserve officer Tammy Smith calls her recent promotion to brigadier general exciting and humbling, saying it gives her a chance to be a leader in advancing Army values and excellence.

What she glosses over is that along with the promotion she is also publicly acknowledging her sexuality for the first time, making her the first general officer to come out as gay while still serving. It comes less than a year after the end of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.

“All of those facts are irrelevant,” she said. “I don’t think I need to be focused on that. What is relevant is upholding Army values and the responsibility this carries.”

But Smith’s pinning ceremony on Friday marks an important milestone for gay rights advocates, giving the movement its most senior public military figure. She has already been assigned as deputy chief at the Office of the Chief at the Army Reserve, and spent much of 2011 serving in Afghanistan.

Congratulations to General Smith, and to the institution that has made this civil rights step pass so smoothly that this news is mostly an afterthought.

Also:

Stars and Stripes interviewed Smith last summer before the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal was finalized. Speaking under a pseudonym, she said she had no plans to come out to her colleagues, but was looking forward to the relief of knowing that her career wouldn’t be threatened if she was found out.

“Finally my partner and I will be able to go out and have drinks together without worrying,” she said then.

Imagine! The nerve of those gay folks! Presuming to hope for a stress-free evening with one’s family. Clearly the reckoning must be upon us.

Image:  Jan Steen, Tavern Gardenc. 1660

Less Than Meets The Eye — Cyber War edition

June 5, 2011

A couple of days ago John wrote about the seemingly new doctrine of armed response to acts of cyber sabotage.  I’m broadly with him on the badness of expanding without limit the range of events that we would treat as an act of war.  But I think there is much less new here than it seems — and perhaps that lack of novel insight is more of the problem than the risks inherent in treating cyber attacks as a potential casus belli.

First of all, there is a significant trail behind this latest Pentagon statement.  A major milestone came with the publication of Presidential Decision Directive 63 in 1998 — a document coming from the Clinton White House/National Security Council.  The directive calls for a series of measures aimed at minimizing our vulnerability and enhancing our ability to respond to cyber attacks — response in this case meaning fixing the damage to critical systems to minimize pain, suffering, and economic and/or military damage.  But the notion that a digital attack is a form of warfare is already present, part of US official doctrine all the way back in the last century:

Because of our military strength, future enemies, whether nations, groups or individuals, may seek to harm us in non- traditional ways including attacks within the United States. Because our economy is increasingly reliant upon interdependent and cyber-supported infrastructures, non-traditional attacks on our infrastructure and information systems may be capable of significantly harming both our military power and our economy.

And of course, this is true.  As the WSJ article to which John linked recounts, the Stuxnet virus that seems to have done significant damage to Iran’s nuclear effort struck at a sovereign nation’s economic and perhaps military capacity in a pretty direct way.

Had the authors of Stuxnet managed to set off a bomb in the centrifuge room, that would have been obviously an act of violence, one of war.  That the cyber path permitted the same damage to be done less messily does not alter its tactical significance, at least not in any obvious way.  If the Pentagon is moving to formalize the logic implied by Clinton-era perceptions of cyber threat — well, there are changes here, but I’m not sure they are as groundbreaking as the WSJ article made it seem.

That is:  the reality behind the digital metaphor of infection is one of the facts of life in a networked world.  The realms of the virtual and the physical are now deeply interconnected, and disruption of the cyber networks can (and has) produced real consequences in our material circumstances.  I don’t see it as a huge stretch to suggest that a cyber attack could cause the deaths of people, and that a response using other weapons that also kill people might be appropriate, if (and only if) you can reliably connect the original attack to the folks you want to target.

Which is the real problem with this not-so-new posture, a twisty little bit you can find by burrowing a little deeper into the WSJ piece:

Pentagon officials believe the most-sophisticated computer attacks require the resources of a government. For instance, the weapons used in a major technological assault, such as taking down a power grid, would likely have been developed with state support, Pentagon officials say.

Well, maybe.  But I read this and come back to where I think John was heading in his piece:  if a network attack by a cyber-al-Qaeda goads us into pounding the next Iraq stand-in, then we are back to what got us into our current predicament in the first place.

To which depressing thought, I’ve three reactions.

First:  it is a good thing that our government is taking cyber crime/war seriously.  Given how increasingly dependent we are on a complicated and variously vulnerable digital infrastructure,  it would be the height of folly to think that our networks are of no interest to potential adversaries.

Second: its an assumption not in any evidence I’ve seen these adversaries will be conventional states, to be deterred or defeated by conventional means.

The idea that cyber skills are uniquely the province of nations, or that digital assaults require the same kinds of concentration of resources needed to field actual armies is as unsupported as the notion that no band of committed nothing-to-losers couldn’t strike at major civilian targets in the United States.

So if in fact the focus of this new cyber command is mostly committed to state actors, I don’t feel much more secure for its existence.  Worse — if our only options in response to cyber attacks are ordinary military strikes on conventional physical targets we’ll be right back in the sad old game of shooting at the wrong people with the wrong weapons…which is no damn good at all.

Third:  It’s not in the piece, and though I’ve been following some of the writing about cyber security popping up lately, I’m hardly expert.  But I do worry about what I see as at least a potential trap in the way we might be imagining cyber threats.  A lot of conventional, garden variety digital security is based around the idea of building a fence around a vulnerable system — that’s the idea of a firewall that keeps malware and intruders out of yours and my personal computer, or the systems to which we attach in the course of our working day.

I’m hoping that’s not how the new cyber-command — or rather, its superiors in the chain of command — are thinking.  If the concept of cyber-security being developed by the national security folks is based some kind of digital Maginot Line,  an über firewall designed to keep the bad guys out, then we may well be fighting the last war.  Because, as we’ve seen with major security breaches in commercial networks, the real vulnerability happens when someone gets past a security wall, whether by clever hacking from without, or old fashioned human treachery from within.  If the folks directing our national cyber defence are Fulda Gap types, people with a strategic sense born of classic war-fighting approaches, then we’re in for trouble.

Early days, but my own web paranoia is peaking, and I have a deep urge to encrypt everything down to my cat Tikka’s 313131122’s name.

Images: Giovanni Batista Tiepolo, tentatively identified as the victory of Gaius Marius over Teutonic tribes in 101 B.C.E., c. 1725-1729

 


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