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An On V Update to Old Ideas: Drone Strikes, Iran and Lexicography

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

One quick note before today’s update. Next week, On Violence will celebrate its simultaneous third anniversary and 500th post, so yay us! On to the update:

Update to Drone Strikes

While the US continues to conduct drone in Pakistan--which we believe exacerbates the problem of extremism--the Wall Street Journal reports that new rules from the Obama administration restrict the CIA’s unilateral ability to launch strikes. Another AP story claims that the Taliban routinely exaggerates civilian casualties. This CNN article backs up that claim, while also arguing that the CIA might just be running out of targets. While I hope that is the case, when it comes to investigating or researching a topic shrouded in “Top Secrecy”, I have my doubts we will ever know the truth.

And as we were editing this post today, President Obama’s top counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, talked at length about drone strikes, officially acknowledging their existence. We have a lot more to say on his speech, Attorney General Holder’s speech and drone strikes in general in the coming year.

On the academic side of things, this article on Kings of War makes an excellent case that “signature strikes”--drone strikes conducted because a target acts like an militant--flies in the face of Just War theory. A great read, along with excellent insight into under-reported “signature targeting”. The key question we must ask is, if we conduct drone strikes of targets whose names we don’t even know, how can we really be sure they are terrorists? How is that “just war theory”?

Another article on the Small Wars Journal, “Why COIN Principles Don’t Fly With Drones”, explains the drawbacks of drone strikes in Pakistan. It got flack for using the acronym “COIN” in the title, but I enjoyed it.

As an added benefit, a commenter on “Why COIN Principles Don’t Fly With Drones” perfectly exemplified the old “war is war”-ior shoulder shrug when it comes to civilian casualties, writing:

“Civilian casualties will always be a part of war. A terrible part? Yes. A completely preventable part? No. Especially when we run into a conflict with a non-conventional enemy that uses civilians as camouflage.”

Updates on Iran

Overall the odds for war have dropped...slightly. According to the betting market Intrade, the odds of war with Iran have lowered to 5.5%, a drop of 2.5% since we started writing on Iran. On the Atlantic’s more academic (and renamed) Iran War Dial, the odds of war with Iran have dropped to 42%, primarily because of renewed diplomatic talks and the promise to hold more talks. Also, former Senator and current Nebraskan Democratic candidate for Senate Bob Kerrey (Medal of Honor winner as well) has come out vigorously against war with Iran, the most prominent candidate for elected office to oppose war with Iran (I believe).
   
The best article I have seen since our Iran articles is the Foreign Affairs article “Botching the Bomb” that says that Iran probably won’t ever be able to make a bomb or a whole set of bombs because... it’s Iran. To prove the article’s point, autocratic North Korea failed to launch another rocket. In short, democratic-capitalist states with well-developed political systems have a built in advantage when it comes to innovation. This clashes a bit with my perspective of the IRGC as an innovative force which embraces asymmetric and unconventional warfare, but it explains another reason why we don’t need a war with Iran.
   
Thomas J. Bounomo’s Small Wars Journal article “Changing Iran’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of its Nuclear Program” provides a unique solution to the crisis. He says the U.S. should offer Iran reduced-cost green technology. This would provide Iran with an alternative energy source instead of nuclear power and a sign of goodwill.

An Update to On V’s Lexicography

A long time back, I wrote a post encouraging myself and others to use the phrase “foreign policy” as opposed to “national security”. While debates over nomenclature can get tedious--especially when it comes to defining war--the terms do matter. International relations refers to states. Foreign policy differs from foreign affairs because one refers to policies/laws/regulations/decisions and the other to everything. Most importantly, not everything that occurs overseas falls in the category of “security”, especially when it comes to government agencies. The overuse of “security” has led to a Department of Defense budget of around 750 billion dollars, and a State Department budget of 50 billion. That’s unbalanced.

We haven’t been doing this, as we re-discovered recently. We’ll rededicate ourselves to using foreign policy and foreign affairs as much as possible, and avoiding national security when possible.

An Attack on Cultural Sensitivity

If our posts on Gratitude Theory and Cultural Sensitivity haven’t made the point clear enough, we believe too many of our soldiers still don’t get the need for cultural empathy and respect. To prove our point, two soldiers, both enraged by the Afghan response to the burning of Korans by American soldiers, spoke out on two blogs we regularly read. In the first, “Medium Rare: Some Thoughts From an Afghan War Vet on the Koran Burning Riots” the author argues for shooting into crowds of unarmed civilians. I cannot think of a better way to gain support. (Sarcasm.)

In the second, “The Downside of Cultural Sensitivity”, Tony Barrett claims that cultural sensitivity training denigrated the U.S. culture. I totally disagree, and this article testifies to a way of thinking most soldiers hold, “our way or the highway.”

From Russia with Love: Counter-Terrorism Blinds the U.S. in Intelligence

We’ve written before about the intelligence/espionage threat we face from China, but we neglected another global competitor. This conversation on The Economist’s website shows that we should worry about Russia just as much. Like China, Russia didn’t completely over-react to 9/11. And it could have. (Remember, Chechnya.) Instead, as it has since the 1950s, it continues to train spies and deploy them to the U.S. to steal state secrets. Man, counter-terrorism is such a waste of money.

President Obama Won’t Start an ICC for Terrorists

Plenty of ink was spilled over Attorney General Eric Holder’s (non) statement about the U.S. government targeting American civilians abroad. Our takeaway? Obama doesn’t plan to start a new ICC anytime soon.

Updates to the Hideous Monster I Call the Pentagon Budget
   
Around the business world last year, you couldn’t swing a dead wampa rat without hitting someone reading, reviewing or commenting on Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacs. Having left the military, I, Michael C, don’t know if the biography made the same impact on the Pentagon. I mean, if the Pentagon ran Apple, the iPad 1’s release date would be next year, would run around 2,000 dollars a unit, and probably would have every input cable imaginable--something Jobs specifically abhorred.

Yet the pearl of government efficiency, the largest section of the discretionary budget, is again begging for more money and more expensive weapons to win wars that aren’t/weren’t named Afghanistan or Iraq.

Here’s a rundown on the good articles:

The Supper House” from “Battleland” describes the Senate’s enabling of the Pentagon.

The F-35 Budget Disaster” updates us on the ongoing woes of the Air Forces’ premiere fighter.
   
The circle graph we showed on “What Do I Think of Iran’s Military?” was part of this graph released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Will the 55 Billion Bomber Program Fly?” we mentioned a few weeks back describes the impending train wreck which will become the Air Force’s next long range bomber.

Finally, this F-22 update shows how we have to throw more money at this program. By our records, the Air Force has failed on three consecutive manned aircraft. 0 for 3 baby.

three comments

What you mean to say about innovation is that Iran lacks it monetarily and technologically, making the construction of a nuclear weapon highly unlikely. What Iran has by means of innovation is that they would exercise what strategy/tactics would have the greatest chance of inflicting casualties on the U.S. military. Every country is innovative in its own way. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of Gratitude Theory and Cultural Sensitivity. Without it, anything that even remotely looks like success coming out of Afghanistan would be impossible. It is unfortunate that most American are ignorant of that truth.


Red China, Soviet Russia and Pak Army/ISI ruled Pakistan have all developed the bomb. None can be accurately described as democratic-capitalist states. I wouldn’t count on Iran not being able to make a working bomb because they have an odd political system.

If Gratitude Theory and Cultural Sensitivity will do the trick, great. I prefer saying that being courteous and considerate is going to get you farther when dealing with people whenever and wherever you go. The concept of gentlemanly behavior is easier to grasp and explain in my opinion. People tend to tune out when presented with talk of Theory etc., but they do understand and listen when you talk of admirable, gentlemanly behavior, because they all know and probably admire people who act like that. From there it is a short step to suggesting you can be admired also if you act that way and maybe even a shorter step to to suggesting that you are more inclined to be respected if you act that way and therefore less likely to get blown up. Of course, it helps if leadership acts like that and squashes oafs too.

And finally, F-22s are deploying to the UAE.

F-22s are quite expensive, but each new iteration of advancing fighter technology is. There is no real getting around that. If you don’t have a performer, you’re dead. Performance costs. You can let things get out of hand of course, like the F-35, but if you don’t have it, you give up control of the air. We haven’t lost control of the air since 1943 and we have no clue about how to fight without it. You want control of the air, a large part of that is having a better machine, and that will cost.


@Carl- I think the larger point is that Iran could make a nuclear weapon, but like North Korea, they will have trouble creating missiles or an entire inventory. I wouldn’t ever advise anyone to bank on Iran failing, but it was the most interesting take I have read.

To be clear, I don’t like the term “gratitude theory”, and I feel you one “cultural sensitivity.” I think gratitude theory was created to make a strawman. There is no paper or manual arguing that if we build enough schools people will love us. David Kilcullen mentioned the phrase once, and was repeated ad nauseum. I like your description better saying “gentlemanly behavior”, but I doubt that will catch on.

And I saw the F-22s are going to UAE. Don’t get me wrong, I want the U.S. to maintain superiority of the air. But when our defense industry relies on two aerospace companies who profit like crazy, I just kind of doubt the F-22 has to cost as much as it does. I also don’t like super-high performing machines that can’t stay in the air. Reliability is a very important factor for me when it comes to equipment. So we need a balance of high performance and reliability and cost. Right now, I think we are way too skewed in one direction.