Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tactic or strategy? McCain blows it.

One of the most significant mistakes Senator McCain made in his first debate with Senator Obama was insisting that the “surge” was a “strategy” and “not a tactic”. For someone who prides themselves in military knowledge and whose supposed strength is national security …this was a strategic political error.
While there may be endless debate both within and outside of the military about where a tactic ends and a strategy begins the United States Army Field Manual 3-0 makes the difference recognizably clear. According to Wikipedia the Field Manual offers the ffollowing definition of tactics: "Tactics – (Department Of Defense) 1. The employment of units in combat. 2. The ordered arrangement and maneuver of units in relation to each other and/or to the enemy in order to use their full potentialities. (Army) The employment of units in combat. It includes the ordered arrangement and maneuver of units in relation to each other, the terrain, and the enemy in order to translate potential combat power into victorious battles and engagements. (FM 3-0)."
So, technically a tactic is method --- such as a siege or a surge. A conceptual action used by a military unit to achieve a specific objective. In this case the objective was a decrease in violence -- to allow political progress and meaningful nation reconstruction.
US commanders in Iraq have made it clear that we could not “kill our way to victory”. They say that victory in Iraq will require soft power. A surge of troops alone cannot achieve a sustainable and favorable political end to violence. The surge was a risky but apparently successful tactic -- luckily timed with the ‘Sunni awakening” – that is helping to achieve that goal. And progress in Iraq will hopeful prove an example for other Muslim governments in the region to emulate or to fear.
Military tactics are at once both a science and an art…and, at heart, tactics are a shifting amalgam of psychology, physics, and statistics. Thus, Shock and Awe, Rapid Deployment, Pre-emptive strikes, Sieges and surges are all essentially tactics.
So, what’s going on in Iraq is at best a series of battles designed to achieve a less violent occupation of a foreign country. A country that was mistakenly invaded. An invasion that ultimately fed the ranks of global jihadists and empowered another nation that supposedly sponsors global terrorism. So, Iraq is essentially a battle ground not a war. Just one battle ground in a much larger tactical war against jihadist terrorism. What we are still lacking is a strategic response to terrorism that reserves military power for kinetic needs and uses the tactics of soft power (diplomacy, development and legal justice) to defeat Al Qaeda instead of war. In this greater sense ‘war’ is itself a tactic. A tactic to achieve a political end.
If one defines “strategy” as a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal like "winning” then any strategy to defeat Al Qaeda should not include the concept of war. Strategies should be used to make the problem easier to understand and solve. But viewing the “surge” as a strategy doesn’t make the war on terrorism easier to understand or solve. And if the ‘surge’ mentality of ‘victory’ is applied to Afghanistan, Pakistan and/or Iran…both our economic and national security problems will get progressively worse.
The father of modern strategic study, Carl von Clausewitz, defined military strategy as "the employment of battles to gain the end of war." Making more kinetic battle grounds against terrorism will on sustain this global war. Liddell Hart's definition put less emphasis on battles, defining strategy as "the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy" Arguably, both war experts give the pre-eminence to political aims over military goals, thus ensuring civilian control of the military.
Wikipedia claims “Military strategy is a ‘national defense policy’ implemented by military organizations to pursue desired strategic goals. So even the invasion of Iraq was a initially a tactic. A pre-emptive strike to reduce the threat of a particular type of weapon (WMD) from being used against the United States. While there has been no WMD attack on the US since the invasion and occupation of Iraq that is not evidence that this invasive tactic has succeeded. Our invasion and fumbled occupation actually increased Iran’s regional power and it may well be working to develop nuclear WMD. There is also mounting evidence that the ‘Iraq war’ having inflamed Jihadists globally, may have even accelerated the likelihood of a WMD (biological or nuclear) being used against Americans on or above American soil.
Unfortunately the US never found any WMD that it could claim as a legitimate threat to the United States. Saddam certainly had some at some time…But he may have had enough advance warning to move or effectively hide any WMD stocks he certainly had. Most evidence however suggests Saddam’s WMDs were destroyed earlier and in some cases may have never even existed even when he believed they did. So after failing to find any real WMD the Bush Administration was forced to reframe its use o f military force from a “pre-emptive’ tactic to a more long term strategy for bringing freedom to the Iraqi’s in the form of a western style democracy. Some may even consider this a tactic within the greater context of changing political dynamics for the entire Muslim world. With, of course, the ultimate global strategy of eliminating the roots of Al Qaeda.
Fortunately, a grand strategy for the elimination of terrorism in general is now taken shape. It originated in the Bush Administration with it’s “3-D strategy “ “defense, diplomacy and development” for defeating terrorism. In reality, this ‘strategy’ has actually existed since the terror of war and genocide and particularly the terror of nuclear WMD emerged in the closing months of World War II. That world adopted a new strategy to replace war as a means of solving problems. It was believed the global rule of law that holds the protection of human rights superior to that of nation’s rights could yield a more peaceful world. Unfortunately, the victor nations of WW II were unwilling to give their global creation, the United Nations, any teeth to implement such a preventive strategy. They kept uncontrollable ‘national sovereignty ‘the supreme law of the world. A receipt for future chaos. The chaos threatening our very civilization today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Surge as a Global strategy is delusional

Mr. Bernard I. Finel makes some vital distinctions regarding “our victories…against easy targets” and the future difficulties we will encounter in defeating jihadist terrorists globally. In that light “Victory over Jihadists” (Washington Times, 9-25-08) should be read by anyone making decisions on future components of national security, U.S foreign policy and global counter-terrorism strategies.
As the report from the American Security Project suggests our nation did pick the “easy fruit” in its early victories against Al Qaeda in Iraq and Southeast Asia – And FInel is correct when he concludes it would be a “delusion” if we believe we have “discovered a strategic concept for victory in the concept of ‘the surge’ and a renewed focus on counter-insurgency warfare.”
Mr. Bernard also believes a victory over jihadists in other places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and East Africa (or other places where weak or failing governments fuel terror’s expansion) will take “a fundamentally different approach, including a larger role for the international community and non-military elements of state craft”. But this is where Mr. Finel misses a key element that will also be required to defeat jihadist terrorists. We also need a new and comprehensive approach to development assistance. We need new and sufficient funding as well as a solid commitment of technical and logistical resources to raise the health, education and employment opportunities of would be terrorists ranks wherever they may be. We are now paying former insurgents to police the streets of Iraq to prevent them from killing US soldiers occupying their country. The same tactic will be just as important in every sector (health, education, judicial…) globally.
As other terrorist experts have said, Al Qaeda harbors within itself the seeds of its own destruction. We can fertilize those seeds by following Finel’s initial suggestion along with the launch of a new global Marshall Plan as outlined in House Resolution 1078.
We helped stopped the spread of communism in Europe after World War II with a bold aid initiative. Europe is now beyond war as a strategic tool for solving its problems. Applying a similar strategy to the world in this era of global interdependence will also address a variety of other threats we face including pandemics which may be far more dangerous than a dying breed of jihadists.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

True patriotism

Dear Editor,
Sam Holliday’s “meaning of patriotism” matches that of every other nationalist movement that “served for more than 300 years” giving us Nazi Germany, Communist China, and Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Patriotism in each case was used to promote the narrow national interests of a nation over the well being of humanity and our vital global life support system that we often quaintly refer to as ‘the environment’.
War, greed, religion, poverty, genocide and disease continue to threaten the survival of people and nations alike. If we fail to end the insanity of this ‘country-centric’ view of the world we will get more of the same.
There is nothing wrong with loving one’s country. But, just as one may love a child or parent, that doesn’t mean they are perfect or innocent beyond reproach. Our country has serious problems…and many of them are related to pressures beyond our borders.
I’m far more in love with the ideals that created this great country and it’s form of government than the actions that this nation has delivered by politicians elected by corporate campaign contributions and the selfishness and ignorance of far to many American voters.
The true meaning of patriotism should be reserved for our founding fathers as they wrote the “Declaration of Independence”. It was they who recognized the inalienable rights of all the world’s people to be free of government tyranny anywhere.
They put their lives on the line to establish that ideal on paper and eventually on land when they later wrote a Constitution with a Bill of Rights to firmly establish this experiment on this continent.
They made some lethal mistakes…like legislating that a black person was less than a full human being and failing to recognized females as legitimate voters. But they gave us a form of government were such mistakes could be corrected – with or without armed conflict.
Mr. Holliday’s devolved view of patriotism will eventually lead to the loss of our freedoms, our security and our prosperity. In this interdependent world we will only maintain these American standards of life if we respect the freedom, security and inalienable rights of others we share this planet with.
Patriotism is more than a unremitting allegiance to a piece of land. It is, or at least should be, about an allegiance to the highest of ideals. And for me and a growing number of real Americans there is nothing more sacred than the ideals our founding fathers lived by when they created this great experiment.
For a more detailed view of what a true patriot is see

Monday, September 15, 2008

Osama for Palin!

McCain’s VP pick clearly demonstrates that he would rather win an election than win a war. Osama Bin Ladin must be thrilled. By selecting a right wing Christian, gun gloating, oil loving, foreign policy ignoramus McCain has single handedly ‘reignited our nation’s culture war’. Dividing Americans politically was one of Bin Ladin’s pre-9-11 strategies for defeating us and Palin as VP will boost Osama’s terrorist recruiting powers by putting another ‘crusade’ only a lipstick shade away from being commander in chief. McCain's pick will also nourish our addiction to oil -- the primary source of terror financing. Osama must be smiling.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Global Freedom Coalition doomed to fail

Kim Holmes (Big Idea,Washington Times 9-11-08) nails it when he insists “it is time to think boldly about America’s future” and that “our alliances and international institutions are stuck in the past”. But when he says we need “think about creating ones more fitting to the 21st century” his own thinking remains stuck in a blood drenched past. He still uses a 20th century mindset that holds nation state confederations superior to the protection of inalienable universal human rights.
Even our 18th century founding fathers knew that the confederation of our 13 colonies was inherently flawed. Our confederation of states struggled for almost 100 years with border disputes, currency difficulties and unequal political freedoms. Mr. Holmes proposal for a “Global Freedom Coalition” is just more of the same. The same limited 20th century ‘ideal’ of ‘independent’ nation states that gave us the abysmally weak and ineffective United Nations.
In a world irreversibly interdependent on every aspect of life any confederated alliance or “Global freedom Coalition” as Holmes desires is doomed to catastrophic failures. If just one nation anywhere on earth fails to control an outbreak of the bird flu or some other inevitable outbreak, or the release of weaponized smallpox or a computer virus capable of bringing down the world wide web, or contaminates catastrophically any aspect of our global life support system (oceans, climate, breathable air or croplands) -- no “voluntary” “loose association” will matter a bit. The “common good” of we the world’s people will not be protected. Even a single “border dispute” anywhere in the world could result in the use of nuclear or biological weapons with any ‘freedom coalition” member possessing the freedom to leave it at any time. What’s the value of that?
Mr. Holmes is correct about the failings of the United Nations inability to deal effectively with “the tragedy of Darfur” or “hard problems like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. But the UN was never given the financial capacity, police power, or legislative or judicial means to do much more than talk.
Tragically it has been the Heritage Foundation and other such ‘think tanks’ that lobbied against any UN empowerment. They have clung to the failed 20th century concept that continues to give supreme power to nation states putting ‘national sovereignty’ above globally protecting the already universally approved list of inalienable human rights. This December 10th marks the 60th anniversary of this list - the “ Universal Declaration of Human Rights” -- yet this document still remains just a ‘good idea’ instead of an globally enforceable document like our own Bill of Rights.
Mr. Holmes is correct that “the need for a new global security arrangement …couldn’t be more obvious or timely” and the “desperate” need for a new “international mechanism to coordinate policy”. But the “power of unity” cannot be maximized in a world divided by shifting voluntary interests of loose and voluntary coalitions.
The more workable “Big idea” would be to put world law and the protection of human rights and basic human freedoms above that of world war and the protection of nation state’s freedoms.