Feb 29

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

Two updates in two weeks, and we still have more articles harvested from the fields of the Internet that update our old ideas:

Oh, Iraq!

Oh, Iraq, will the question of your civil-war-ness ever be conclusively answered? Between 55 and 60 people were killed in bombings across Iraq last Thursday. Yes, we can compare the violence to the peak of 2007-2008, and say, “My, how it has dropped.” However, Iraq remains fantastically violent, something most Americans cannot comprehend. See “The Other Things That Happened Two Weeks Ago” for our previous thoughts on the topic, most of which still apply.
   
Of course, when Iraqi violence spikes, so does the (much needed) debate over its meaning. The general consensus between Thomas Ricks, Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq and Michael Knights of The Washington Institute is that Iraq is more violent than Afghanistan, just not for US troops. Joel Wing, though, believes that Iraq is not heading towards a civil war. Michael Knights believes the opposite.
   
On Violence, however, predicts nothing. Especially when it comes to violence, which may or may not indicate whether Iraq enters a civil war. Michael C does tend to agree, though, with Joel Brinkley, writing in Politico, that the most important features of the post-America Iraq are simmering sectarian tensions and a budding police state.
   
(As an added benefit, US news outlets continue to refer to “Al Qaeda in Iraq” as part of the Islamic State of Iraq, who took credit for the bombings. Michael C wrote about his issues with the confusion around using the phrase “al Qaeda” in, “Getting Orwellian: Al Qaeda in Iraq”.)
   
Finally, some conservatives still want troops in Iraq. (Shaking my head.) Seriously guys?

Update to “A New International Criminal Court”

The Piece de Resistance: A New International Criminal Court” might be the best idea Michael C ever created. In full disclosure, he isn’t the first person to link the ICC to terrorism. A quick google search reveals several journal articles or blogs on that topic. The ICC itself is vague on whether its mandate covers terrorism. The one key difference, though, is that we believe--since the U.S. is no longer a signatory to that treaty (the U.S. had signed on, then withdrew their signature)--that we need a completely new organization with gobs of funding from the U.S.

Stationing More Troops Abroad?

In “Trimming the Overseas Military Budget”, we argued that instead of stationing more troops abroad, our government should station less. In a severe recession, we shouldn’t funnel millions of dollars overseas to support Europe and other countries, especially since the U.S. doesn’t really need troops stationed overseas from a strategic standpoint.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration, in a show of strength in their “pivot to Asia”, has decided to station more marines in Australia. On the one hand, at least we aren’t sending more troops to fight the Russians; on the other, we don’t need any marines in Australia. If the Pentagon truly cared about trimming their budget, they would dramatically decrease the number of troops stationed abroad.

A Discovery on International Relations Liberalism

I cannot in good faith call this an update, since the original article and book came out seven years ago. Nevertheless, while researching another topic, I stumbled upon this article by Ian Bremmer in The Washington Post called “The World is J-Curved”. In short, getting to an open-democratic society from a closed-totalitarian one is chaotic. In other words, when democratizing a totalitarian nation expect bloodshed and violence. This article seems even more relevant now than it was in 2005, especially considering the Arab Spring.

Updates and Discoveries on Intelligence is Evidence

In our post, “Why Intel Goes Bad: We Want Bad Intel”, I identified “shaken baby syndrome” as another instance of the justice department over-zealously prosecuting innocent people relying on faulty evidence. Last November, the Supreme Court refused to rule on this important issue, and basically sent a grandmother back to prison for a crime she probably didn’t commit.
   
Next, we have two more examples of “Intelligence Gone Bad” in regards to terrorism. Both cases took place in Pakistan and show the limits of intelligence collection in that lawless region. First, in an example of a discovery not an update, I found this Jane Mayer article that describes the search for and execution of Baitullah Mehsud. It required fourteen months, countless strikes, and over two hundred non-Baitullah Mehsud dead people to finally get the right guy.
   
The next case of “Intelligence Gone Bad” is that of Tariq Aziz in Pakistan. After meeting with human rights groups outside of Waziristan, Tariq pledged to bring back proof that US drone strikes kill civilians. A few weeks later, a drone strike killed him.

MolleIndustria is Back At It Again

Last year, we published a review of MolleIndustria’s Oiligarchy for the video game journal Kill Screen. (The original post seems to have disappeared, and we’re trying to find it.) In short, my review went like this: this game is propaganda, propaganda is bad, thus the game is bad.

Well, MolleIndustria just released a game about drone strikes. Expect a review soon.

Feb 28

On February 17th, al Qaeda tried, once again, to strike at America. Armed with a suicide vest and an automatic weapon, Amine El Khalifi--a sworn al Qaeda operative--planned to kills dozens of Americans in cold blooded murder, terrorism by any definition.
   
Worse yet, Amine El Khalifi worked for the most active and sophisticated al Qaeda franchise. The only branch of al Qaeda that can actively recruit terrorists to target America on our own soil. A branch with an active web presence that trains, supplies, and motivates its members.

It’s name? Al Qaeda, FBI.

Despite their supposedly robust web presence, most wannabe terrorists can never contact the real al Qaeda--or a real affiliate--instead, they end up contacting undercover FBI agents. What I call “al Qaeda FBI” then sends an undercover agent to “train” the wannabe, provide him with “explosives” and, in several cases, motivate him. At the extremes, this means pushing and encouraging the “terrorist” to conduct a terror attack even after he expresses doubts.

I could describe each individual case where this occurs, or I could just point you to Professor John Mueller’s excellent breakdown of terrorism cases in the US, which includes mostly wannabombers who never worked with al Qaeda, and exclusively worked for al Qaeda FBI; wannabes like Antonio Martinez, Khalid Abudl Latif, Mohamed Osman Mohamed, Farooqe Ahmed, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi and more.

I don’t want terrorists attacking America. I also appreciate the work of FBI agents intercepting terrorists. That said, I have several problems with the extensive involvement of “al Qaeda FBI” in promoting terrorism:

1. Is this entrapment? Because entrapment isn’t constitutional. Several respected journalists have shown how the FBI doesn’t just intercept plots, it helps create them. Personally, I don’t like the government creating crimes that wouldn’t have existed in the first place. Read these two articles to get a great perspective on this, particularly the Mother Jones article by Trevor Aaronson, “The Informants”.

2. We get the narrative all wrong. Though it goes mostly unsaid by reporters, pundits and politicians, al Qaeda isn’t very good at what they do. Instead of telling the public a good news story--look at silly Al Qaeda, they can’t recruit anyone--advocates for increased national security spending use these cases to frighten the public. But look again; these wanna-bombers can’t ever get to the real al Qaeda. If the supposedly super-effective jihadist websites were so super effective, how come they don’t warn followers about al Qaeda FBI? If al Qaeda has so many men ready to sacrifice themselves for Allah, why don’t they?

Nothing exemplifies this stunning impotence better than the fact that al Qaeda cannot gain a foothold on American soil. Instead of reveling in this, instead of relegating al Qaeda to an after-thought of history, the media--with the cooperation of the FBI and Justice Department--continue to stoke al Qaeda’s reputation with press releases about each of their foiled “attacks”. The executive branch especially loves this narrative. As President Obama constantly reminds the public, Al Qaeda remains ready and able to strike America.

3. Where have all the lone wolves gone? The number of lone wolf terrorists in America is tiny, microscopic, infinitesimal. You have a better chance of winning the lottery (which happens at least twice a week in almost every state) than knowing a lone wolf terrorist. Excluding all the al Qaeda FBI cases, there are less than a handful of serious attempted terror attacks (Fort Hood Shooting, Time Square Bomber and Underwear Bomber). Listen to Charles Kurzman on To The Best of Our Knowledge to hear specific numbers on this issue.

(Finally, rhetoric point: don’t wolves hunt in packs? How many actual lone wolves are there?)

4. With so few lone wolves, does al Qaeda have a single branch in the US? It is like the proverbial tree in the forest, “If al Qaeda has a branch in the United States, but it doesn’t ever launch or plan on launching a terror attack, does it have a branch in the U.S.?”

Consider that the FBI doesn’t use undercover agents to infiltrate terrorist networks in the U.S. Instead, in case after case, the FBI agents act as the senior leadership. Unlike drug cartels or organized crime, which cause way more violence in the US, the FBI has nothing to infiltrate.

So what? News coverage implies that “al Qaeda” is effective, or at least operating. Facts don’t bear this out. Which means we probably over-reacted when it comes to counter-terrorism spending. The extreme approaches to counter-terrorism--the NYPD spending binge, the super-surveillance, the vast Top Secret America--pale in usefulness to some undercover FBI guys monitoring jihadi websites.

So the next time the FBI and Justice Department make an arrest, let’s celebrate it for what it is, another successful attack planned and executed by al Qaeda FBI. Let’s celebrate Al Qaeda’s continued impotence.

Feb 24

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

Since we took so long between updates--before yesterday’s post, we posted our last update in the beginning of December--we have quite a few updates to get through, so we decided to keep the fun rolling along with another On V update today:

Update to “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”

Of all the guest posts and op-eds Eric C and I have written, my op-ed “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay” for the Washington Post created by far the most controversy. Since we have no plans to start a political action committee dedicated to reforming the pay system, and the military tends to move as slow as molasses and never against the troops, we expected it to end there.

However (and huge hat tip to former “Helldiver” Jesse Murphree for the notice), it looks like the military (and by extension, the Obama administration) has changed the rules of who qualifies for Imminent Danger Pay.

The change is simple: imminent danger pay is now prorated by day, not month. This means--as we specifically spelled out in our op-ed and repeated by the Air Force Times--that people who visit a war zone for two days--on the last day of one month and the first day of another, like Generals visiting for Change of Command ceremonies--only receive two days worth of Imminent Danger Pay, not two months--something like 15 dollars versus 450.

So two issues remain. First, some conservative blogs blame Obama for screwing the troops. He isn’t. He is simply eliminating a loophole to prevent soldiers--especially flag officers--from gaming the system and screwing the taxpayer, which conservatives should love. It is also unclear who made this change; did General Dempsey propose it? Some finance officer? The secretary of defense? Or did President Obama do it himself, because he routinely goes through the Pentagon budget line by line searching for ways to screw soldiers? We don’t know.

Second, this doesn’t solve all of the military’s issues with pay, including how many different countries qualify as “war zones”, the fact that the “combat zone tax exclusion” is still given out by month, the fact that sailors and airmen not deployed to war zones can collect the same benefits as those soldiers deployed on the ground, and the fact that soldiers who bear the brunt of the fighting still deserve plenty more.

Despite the need to change more, I cannot believe that we might have played a role in this. The Air Force Times, for example, uses almost my exact analogy to justify the change. Expect us to follow up on this issue.
   
Inanities and Hyperbole in the Defense Department Budget Fight, continued...

In every On V update so far, we have provided some links about the defense department’s struggle to keep every single dollar of its budget intact. Today we will limit it to three good articles on the topic:

1. Chuck Spinney’s article on the F-35 is brilliant. The plane--in as simple words as possible--is a waste of money.

2. This is an even handed take on the subject by the NY Times.

3. This Todd Purdum article in Vanity Fair bemoans the growth of Top Secret America and the Military Industrial complex through George F. Kennan’s eyes. A great read.

Video Games Aren’t Violent?

A long time back, close friend Will M. guest posted about the link between violent video games and school shootings. Will quoted an expert in psychology and killing, Lt. Col. David Grossman, whose wildly influential books On Killing and On Combat influenced my thinking on this subject for years.

However, a recent EconomistSpecial report on video games” took issue with this very premise. In general, the link between video games and violence just hasn’t been shown in any scientifically rigorous way--ie experiments.

Update to Criminals and Counter-Insurgents

Any long time reader can tell that Michael C generally finds more in common between counter-insurgency wars and crime than between conventional inter-state wars and counter-insurgencies. On this, read this blog post by Mike Few, which shows the cooperation of the city of Salinas and students at the Naval Post Graduate School to help fight crime. It sure seems like crime and COIN are related.

Also, listen to this Fresh Air interview with David Kennedy called “Don’t Shoot”. David Kennedy’s approach to stopping inner-city crime seems awfully familiar to population-centric counter-insurgency too.

Wanat Stays in the News

Besides being the best topic for a war movie, Wanat had a profound effect on both authors of this blog because it occurred in Michael C’s battalion right before he returned to Italy. In the larger world, it remains insanely controversial (as pointed out by Derek in the comment’s section of that post.). But I believe Mark Bowden did a fairly even handed description of the larger issues with the battle of Wanat in his piece for Vanity Fair. (Full disclosure: I remain close to the leaders in that battalion, particularly Colonel Ostlund.)

Update to Kill Company

In the first few months of On V’s existence, we wrote about a brigade run amok in Iraq, punctuated by a company that earned the moniker “Kill Company”, in part for killing civilians. The leader of the Rakkasans--third brigade of the 101st Airborne Division--Colonel Michael D. Steele of Black Hawk Down fame, ended up becoming a case study in unethical leadership.

He popped into the news recently, supporting Herman Cain for presidential campaign. Enough said.

Update to Offensive and Security Operations

While researching a different post, I stumbled upon this Command and General Staff College thesis paper that argues for a middle ground between “population-centric” and “enemy-centric” counter-insurgency. It sounds a lot like my argument for having offensive, defensive and security operations going on simultaneously.

Feb 23

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

Before we begin the updates, I would like to congratulate Eric C on a life-changing award he received in December. Time magazine bestowed Eric C with their esteemed “Time Person of the Year” award. This is our fourth win between the two of us. (Michael C has previously won for “The American Fighting Man” and “You”, while Eric C has now won for “You” and “The Protester”.)

It’s been a while since we’ve done an “On V Update to Old Ideas”, so this will be the first of two updates this week, with a third coming shortly:

David Kahneman is Everywhere

Since our last update, one of our posts went “milblog/foreign affairs” viral. “Getting Rid of The Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency” garnered responses ranging from the enthusiastic and thought provoking to the dismissive. In a few weeks, we will launch round two of “On Violence Criticizing Gratitude Theory and the Army’s Lack of Cultural Empathy,” where we will respond to our critics. We tend to avoid immediately responding to blog posts because that leads to a downward spiral of post, counter-post, counter-counter-post and counter-counter-counter-post and readers just sigh.

Daniel Kahneman, whose evidence we cited, meanwhile, seems to be everywhere from Vanity Fair to Kings of War to Fareed Zakaria GPS. Hearing and reading him in multiple other media sources, all we can say is our entirely uncontroversial banality stands: warfare is as influenced by emotion as it is by rational thinking. Now, if only we can get the military theorists and strategists to start using that idea in modeling and doctrine...

Update to Hating Other People’s Soldiers

Mike Few summed up in one paragraph--in his ForeignPolicy.com article, “This isn’t the COIN you’re looking for”--our three posts on “Everyone Hates Everyone Else’s Soldiers”, “Who Watches the Watchmen?” and “From the On V 2048 Archives”:

“2. Generally speaking, people view foreign armies as occupiers.  The populace's reaction to attempts at winning hearts and minds is often taken to be support, but in reality, these reactions show deference, perceived legitimacy, and temporary respect whose impact is fleeting and fluid.”

Well put, Mike F.

Update to Officers Avoiding Punishment

In Eric C’s post on the final scene in A Few Good Men, he wrote, “Our military punishes enlisted soldiers, and excuses officers. The higher up an officer, the less likely he/she is to get punished.” To prove our point, Time’s “Battleland” blog reports that the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Cowpens, Holly Graf, who was relieved for “cruelty”, still retired with an honorable discharge. Just a shame.
   
Statistics, Damned Statistics and Anecdotes: Disgruntled Veteran Edition

Last spring, we wrote that the proper conclusion to Twain’s pithy aphorism, “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”, should read, “lies, damned lies and anecdotes.” We particularly singled out terrorism and firearms as debates marred by anecdotes.  

Well, friend of the blog Alex Horton linked to an article on the Gunpowder and Lead blog which made this exact point about disgruntled veterans. Essentially, the media portrays violent veterans as “crazy” or “PTSD riddled”, and the population assumes this applies to all veterans. In our words, society substitutes an anecdote--the stray, violent veteran--for the statistic--which shows that veterans are not that violent compared to the population.
   
Updates to Wikileaks and Top Secret America

Instead of moving towards a better, less secretive system, the government--especially the intelligence community--continues to cling to its over-classification. Here are the latest examples of the hypocritical and nonsensical system of classification at work:

1. According to On the Media, the CIA tried to censor retired FBI agent Ali Soufan’s book because it contained classified information. The New York Times was able to find every redaction already revealed online.

2. Out of curiosity, the ACLU asked the State Department, via FOIA request, for cables that Wikileaks had already leaked. Instead of simply handing over the documents, the State Department redacted large portions. Now anyone can go find out exactly what the State Department wants kept secret, and what they don’t--essentially giving other governments and intelligence agencies a road map to what the government considers valuable.

3. Finally, the new Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal film that will tell the story of the Osama bin Laden raid has been plagued by accusations from republican lawmakers that the Obama administration leaked confidential information to the filmmakers. Will the Obama administration drag the leaker through hell like Thomas Drake? (They won’t, and we wrote about that here.)     

Lying is Getting Tougher, Still

A McClatchy newsreporter accused the Marine Corps of inflating the story of Dakota Meyer, a Medal of Honor recipient, in order to increase his chances of winning that prestigious medal. In full disclosure, my previous unit--the 2nd of the 503rd, the greatest unit in the history of armed combat--was present at the time this event (without me), and my platoon worked in this exact district the previous deployment.

As we have said before, lying (and exaggerating) is getting tougher. That doesn’t mean people will stop trying.

Feb 22

I really like the core idea from last Wednesday’s post, “The Pièce de Résistance”, where I proposed a new, different International Criminal Court. Scratch that--I love that idea. It makes so much sense, and everyone I have ever told described it to agrees.

And yet...I know it will never happen.

So if you want to say, “Michael, you’re unrealistic”, go ahead. That doesn’t mean the ideas don’t make sense--they just don’t jibe with the realities of our political situation. (Then again, I would have said the exact same thing a year ago about fixing the combat pay system...and, well, just wait until Friday.)

If you’ve taken a course on international relations, then you probably read Kenneth M. Waltz’ Man, the State and War, where he analyzes the causes of war from three levels: the individual, the state and the international system. For my solution to America’s foreign policy problems (a new Obama doctrine and a new ICC), it’s that juicy middle layer that kills my ideas; domestic politics hamstring foreign policy. And not hamstring in that conservative political-correctness-keeps-us-from-killing-tons-more-bad-guys way.

No, the American people simply refuse to accept any risk.

But I don’t blame Obama. I don’t really blame Bush either. The problem, in the end, is voters. Presidents (reasonably) want a second term, and they generally don’t want to completely hamstring their party’s re-election chances. So, in the end, the president serves at the behest of the people. The American people--right now--don’t like risk.

And if a president had a terrorist attack take place during their term, they wouldn’t get re-elected. (Well, it’s possible they might get re-elected, but chances are they wouldn’t.) Because of 9/11, every president and future president will fear a terrorist attack more than any other political situation. They believe it will cost them their career and legacy.

Can you blame presidents or politicians for thinking this way? I don’t.

But I do blame the people. Yes, fellow Americans, it’s our/your fault. I blame a populace that follows anecdotes, not statistics. I blame a people--liberals and conservatives alike--who justify torture, rendition and wars, saying ”Oh, after 9/11, we were all scared.” I blame my fellow citizens who condemn a handful of nations as backwards and failing--Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and others--but don’t want want to keep them from failing. I blame Americans who refuse to sacrifice their own lives to make the lives of their own children better.

Read “The Counter-Terrorism Consensus” by Michael A. Cohen in Foreign Policy to see this bipartisanship at work. In political issue after political issue--from Guantanamo to drone strikes--democrats and republicans united behind Obama’s continued (or expanded) Bush-era policies against terrorism. Super-majorities of Americans support drone strikes and detaining people at Guantanamo Bay. The same goes for the Patriot Act; if Americans really want it gone, why won’t congress stop re-authorizing it?

If President Obama changed policy, even if it would set us on a course towards winning the long war, it would create risk. Using drone missiles to eliminate every suspected terrorist works, because it keeps killing more and more people. As long as the U.S. keeps the drone strikes going, we can keep the radical extremists off balance. But we keep creating more terrorists. So America cannot take its foot off the pedal without risking its own casualties.

As a result, “the long war”, “the war on terror” or whatever name it takes, continues on. And politicians are helpless until Americans gain the moral and emotional courage to risk their own lives. Until a generation takes political control that doesn’t have the images of two towers falling seared into their minds, though, this change.

Feb 15

Yesterday, I (Michael C) solved the terrorism problem. Congrats to On Violence!

I wrote that President Obama should announce a new “Obama Doctrine”; a doctrine that would eliminate practices that go against American values, like torture (which President Obama has stopped) and drone strikes (which he hasn’t). I believe President Obama should declare American values--along with the Geneva Convention and U.N. Declaration on Universal Human Rights--the guiding principles of our new foreign policy.

If he did, we could win any current or future wars against terrorism.

Except that...I ignored some huge questions. What do we do with terrorists? Do we kill them in drone strikes? Unlawfully detain them for years? Ignore them? My plan for a new “Obama doctrine” cannot work unless it deals with terrorists currently plotting against America. Fortunately, I have an answer to that conundrum. If President Obama is re-elected, (because no Republican administration will ever go along with this) he should announce a brand new, international organization:

The International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists, and Trans-national Criminals. Or ICCfPTTC.

Yep, I know what you are thinking, “That acronym is terrible.” And it is. But the more important problem is, “Hey, the U.S. hasn’t signed on to the current ICC.” I know that. The Constitution specifies that the Senate may never, under any circumstances, pass an international treaty. (I kid.) Instead Senate republicans refuse to pass any treaty which could possibly limit U.S. sovereignty--with especial concern about the actions of its leaders who, during the last ten years, could be subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. America will never cede its own sovereignty.

The new International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists and Trans-National Criminals (maybe we’ll just call it “The New ICC”) would have nothing to do with the old. Based around either Interpol, or a new “FBI Foreign Branch”, the U.S. would help nations around the world arrest and prosecute irregular/asymmetric/non-state actors that threaten the global order. Intelligence analysts/detectives would develop the cases, then JSOC (or a new, less lethal organization) would arrest the terrorists who continue to plot against the U.S.

Imagine the secondary, tertiary and quartiary effects. We could turn Guantanamo Bay into the full-time prison housing these convicted criminals from around the world. We could end military tribunals and turn the cases over to the new ICC, and we wouldn’t have to worry New Yorkers about trying terrorists in federal courts. We could finally have a place to punish the pirates caught off the coast of Somalia.

And that’s not all! In some countries, tackling organized crime is too much. Think Costa Rica or Mexico or Columbia or Somalia. In those cases, especially with narco-traffickers, the U.S. could now assist under the auspices of an internationally recognized organization. Just like the FBI frequently prosecutes corrupt local and state officials in the U.S., the ICCfPTTC would help states who cannot stop drug cartels on their own.

Finally, the U.S. would have an internationally recognized and ideologically coherent policy. No more violations of human rights and dignity. Further, America could emerge from the black, shadowy world of intelligence, and move into the sunny world of the justice system. Terrorists couldn’t rail against U.S. abuses, because in an internationally recognized system, we wouldn’t have any. Further, the U.S. intelligence system could leverage the investigative powers of every country that signed on, not just the dictatorships who torture suspects for the CIA/JSOC. (Sorry, JSOC folks, “allegedly” torture.)

And countries around the globe would line up for this. Sure, some--like North Korea--wouldn’t, but we could still arrest their narco-traffickers and counterfeiters whenever they leave the country. We could also make membership in the new ICC a requirement for defense funding. (*cough* Pakistan *cough*)

President Obama earned a Noble Peace Prize without any major foreign policy victories for peace. If he could fundamentally re-orient U.S. foreign policy in a liberal direction--classically liberal, not “progressively liberal”--it would do more for his standing in history than anything else. An International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists and Transnational Criminals would accomplish this.

Feb 14

(Last May, I started a series called, “Intelligence is Evidence”, about my views on intelligence, punctuated by examples of “Intelligence Gone Bad”. However, I violated my own rule: I didn’t provide any solutions. This week I correct that mistake. Click here to read the rest of the series.)

In “The Biggest Problem with American Foreign Policy”, (from our “On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Event of the 2011” series) I wrote that, when it comes to the Middle East, the U.S. often fails to have a coherent long-term vision. America supports dictatorships--which costs it respect and cooperation in the long run--to capture terrorists. As a result, a short-term objective (remain safe from terrorism) defeats, in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, our long-term goal (spreading democracy around the world).

How does this relate to “Intelligence is Evidence” and terrorism? Well, we need to change how we use intelligence to prosecute terrorists. We need to acknowledge that we won every single battle in Vietnam, then lost the war. If we kill every terrorist we find, but kill ten innocents with him, the problem of Islamic extremism will continue. We need to think in the long-term: do we kill one terrorist now, or ten terrorists later?

My solution is a brand new, long-term strategy, or dare I say, a “new Obama doctrine.”  (I’m not the first person to call for a “new Obama Doctrine”. A quick Google search reveals dozens of articles on this topic, and, Wikipedia has an entire article on it too.) The problem with all previous, so-called “Obama Doctrines” is they didn’t change much. President Obama stopped “enhanced interrogations”, but that was pretty much done away with anyways. If anything, he stepped up policies from the Bush administration, most specifically drone strikes and the war in Afghanistan.

My recommendations for a new “Obama Doctrine” boil down to a simple idea: the more accurately America prosecutes the war on terror--in other words, the less innocents our forces/proxies kill--the more likely we are to win that war. In other words, treat intelligence as evidence.

Step 1: Admit this war is a long war. And I don’t mean the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the issue of inter-state terrorism, promoted by extremists (of all stripes). The current administration, and any after it, must admit this fact. They must adopt strategies that present risk for America in the short-term--the way most good plans do--so that it can benefit in the long-term. In other words, admit that we will never actually “win” the war, so we need to adopt behaviors that will have long-term benefits. (Or just admit that it isn’t a war at all, but a criminal problem.)

Step 2: Eliminate policies that keep us safe, but alienate entire populations and radicalize terrorists.

- We need to stop drone strikes that risk any civilian casualties.

- We need to limit night raids to only confirmed enemy, not suspected enemy.

- We need to close Guantanamo Bay prison.

Step 3: Win the ideological war, the most important factor in our struggle against radicalism. Before we can implement all these ideas, we must first re-align our ideology. We must grab and hold the moral high ground. We must become the shining city on a hill our forefather’s believed in--where values always hold more power than our own lives.

Our government--and I will use President Obama--must first declare that killing innocents in war and in counter-terrorism, is always unacceptable. Then, as he has before, President Obama should reiterate that the values of the U.S. constitution are universal values. The founders believed that “all men were created equal”; that includes every citizen of the world. The founders also believed that every person on the globe deserved life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This doesn’t mean we have to give them liberty, but it does mean we cannot take their lives. Finally, President Obama should reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Geneva Conventions, any treaties on the Laws of War, and, most importantly, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

Step 4: Demand that intelligence use the strictest standards possible when it comes to terrorists. Which brings us back “intelligence”. Faulty intelligence is always at fault when the U.S. kills the wrong person/people. Tragedies occur because intelligence professionals overstate their case or fail to do their homework.

Of course, to implement steps one through four, we need one final, radical change. That will come tomorrow, in my favorite idea of this concluding series. If President Obama embraced it, then he would truly have a new Obama doctrine.

Feb 09

In our “Most Thought Provoking Event of 2011” series last January, we again touched on the theme that,“making predictions is tough”. Fortunately, we aren’t the only ones cautioning against this trend. Several pundits--David Weigel, Fareed Zakaria and Nate Silver--held themselves to account for the predictions they had made during the last year by doing “prediction audits”.

This led Michael C to ask Eric C a simple question, “How well do we follow our own advice? Should we run an ‘On Violence Prediction Audit?’”

We decided that we should. Thankfully, most of our “predictions” fall under the category of “vague guesses about the future”. Also few, if any, of our “predictions” have time stamps on them, which could either be a good or bad thing. Here are our limited predictions for the future, in rough chronological order of when we made them:

Prediction: Another Wikileaks will happen. In “The Most Thought Provoking Event of 2010”, Michael C warned that the intelligence community hasn’t solved the core problems that allowed the first Wikileak to happen. In his defense, though, he didn’t predict when either of these events would happen. In fact, this January we doubled down on this idea, saying that the intelligence community still hasn’t reformed enough to prevent another Wikileak.
   
Status: Hasn’t happened yet, but we’re still waiting.

Prediction: Things in Iraq will stay violent. Michael C predicted, in “The Other Thing That Happened Two Weeks Ago”, that violence in Iraq, which claims hundreds of lives every month, will continue. And possibly get worse. He stands by that, especially if the Kurds and Shiites move to split the country apart.

Status: Confirmed. Iraq remains mired in bombings, murders and simmering sectarian tension.

Prediction: “Terrorist hordes will not invade the U.S.

Status: So far, so true.

Prediction: Leaving the Army “will free up [Michael C] to express himself more. (From “Hasta La Vista...Baby”) That actually hasn’t really happened. Michael C guesses that time tempers all ill judgements, and there is little point to saying things he would regret later.

Status: Wrong...so far (with cryptic laugh).

Prediction: Michael C is not optimistic the U.S. will ever embrace an expansive foreign policy that tries to prevent global conflict instead of just reacting to it. Michael C wrote this in, “Brazil Part 1: Do you know what CioPaz is?

Status: Unclear. One one hand, President Obama has (so far) steadfastly avoided going to war with Iran. On the other, the defense budget feels as sacrosanct as ever, while the State Department gets by on peanuts.

Prediction: Humans will stop fighting wars. In our series on this topic, “Will humans ever stop fighting wars?”, Eric C, Michael C and a few others answered, “Yes, humanity will stop fighting wars.”

Status: So far, so wrong.
   
Prediction: More memoirs will be revealed as frauds. Since Eric C made this prediction in, “You Broke My Heart, Mortenson” and “Is Lying Getting Tougher?”, no major memoir debunkings have occurred.

Status: True. Just yesterday another military fraud was revealed. The internet allows more people greater ability to fact check backgrounds than ever before.

Prediction: A screen version of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian will probably not get made. Eric C a few years back came up with an amazing cinematic take on Blood Meridian that set the novel in Afghanistan (the way Coppola set Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in Vietnam). But we doubt this film, or even a version true to the novel, will ever get made. Unfortunately.

Status: Confirmed. According to iMDb, a Blood Meridian film will be released in 2015. Yeah, good luck on that; according to Wikipedia, there are no official plans.
   
If any readers think we missed any other On V predictions, please let us know in the comments section and we will update it in the next “On V Update to Old Ideas”.

Feb 07

(Every year, Eric and I like to run a sports-themed post either before or after the Super Bowl. Last year, we wrote about Bill Simmon’s theory on “The Secret" (we’re sure he is a huge follower of OnV and theories of counter-insurgency), relating it to “War is War”. The year before we wrote “The Sports Team from My Area is Superior to the Sports Team from Your Area”. Check them out.)

The last time I went to the doctor to get my blood drawn, something downright bizarre happened. The nurse tied off my arm, made me pump the squishy ball, then inserted the needle into my arm.

She looked up astonished. Instead of red blood, out came blue and gold. Worried, the nurse went to call a doctor, but I stopped her.

“I’m a UCLA Bruin, I f***ing bleed blue and gold.”

Why do I relate my die hard allegiance to UCLA on a blog that ostensibly discusses/debates war and warfare (with some other violence thrown in for good measure)? Because right now I am in the midst of a personal crisis. And that crisis happens to relate to our widely-read/commented-on/fisked post called, “Getting Rid of the Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency.”

I spent the last few months applying to business schools in my native southern California. When it comes to top schools in Los Angeles, there are two: the Anderson school at UCLA and the Marshall school at USC.

As I said in my introduction, I bleed UCLA blue and gold. I love my alma mater. I read everything I can on UCLA athletics, especially basketball. Normally, this isn’t a problem. Except that every good Bruin also hates our crosstown rivals, the USC Trojans, and like I said, USC has one of the best MBA programs in southern California. So when it came time to apply to schools, I applied to USC along with UCLA.

Last week, both schools offered me a spot in their 2014 classes.

This is where rational choice theory, behavioral economics and our post, “Getting Rid of the Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency” come smashing together. I have a tough decision to make, and I’d like to say I will make it purely rationally, guided by metrics and facts alone. But I won’t. I bleed bruin blue and gold.

On the rational side, I will weigh the rankings in magazines, the opinions of experts, the opinions of people in the entertainment industry, and the costs of each school. I will compare each school’s curriculum, and each school’s access to career opportunities. I will make a spreadsheet with pros and cons.

At the same time, I know emotion will play a role. While I was waiting to interview with UCLA, the lobby had a TV that projected, “Welcome Michael Cummings to Anderson!” That was really cool. When I visited USC film school, they had two buildings named “Spielberg Hall” and “Zemekis Hall”. I mean, that’s pretty cool too, isn’t it?

But the biggest factor has nothing to do with rankings, education or cost. It has to do with my desire to remain a dedicated sports fan, the type of sports fan who does “8 claps” with his wife in their living room and knows the words to the UCLA fight song. On some emotional level, I don’t want to give that up.

As we tried to convey in the previous article, the issue is about balance. Human decisions rely on rational explanations and emotional responses. I have an emotional connection to UCLA forged through watching countless games in person and on television, not to mention my memories from four great years at UCLA. To make my decision to attend a graduate school, though, I will try to put that aside, though I never really will.

The “Getting Rid of Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency” post had a simple point, humans act rationally and emotionally. Sports and rooting for sports teams reveals this; so does any study economics or warfare. I have chosen a lifelong allegiance to UCLA, and making a choice about graduate schools has shown me how rational, irrational, emotional, self-interested and unconscious/subconscious that decision was.