Tag: Bush Doctrine

Iraq's Chemical Arsenal: Justification for War?

Yesterday, a student asked me about the recent news reports indicating that Iraq did, in fact, have “weapons of mass destruction” back in 2002 and 2003 when the U.S. was attempting to justify a “preemptive” war. The New York Times reported that American soldiers were injured in the past decade by chemically-armed munitions found in Iraq.

Already, a slew of articles in the media have debunked the claim that this vindicates George W. Bush and his Iraq misadventure. This Washington Post piece is perhaps the best since it primarily quotes Bush administration claims from the pre-war period.

The Times piece certainly does not try to claim that Bush is vindicated:

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The Robama Doctrine


Mitt Romney is back in the news with more than a little schadenfreude, talking about how he would be better not only to deal with sequestration but also with Iran.  Or so he claims.  But had he become president, it would have been interesting to see the Romney Doctrine in action—a foreign policy lodestar distinctly different from the Obama Doctrine.

Normally foreign policy experts talk in terms of grand strategies—sets of guiding principles for an administration’s foreign policy—but occasionally in the world of ideas a particular set of strategic principles gets defined as a doctrine.  Here, for example, is something I published a couple of elections ago on the Palin Doctrine.

But in reality there is no clear process by which this occurs, nor any specific criteria that a certain set of principles must meet to get deemed a “doctrine.”  A general rule of thumb holds that a leader’s strategic outlook must be a sizable departure from his or her predecessors’ and internally consistent.  Once someone in the media uses a term like “the Bush Doctrine,” thereafter a tipping point may be reached in the public sphere when, voila, the world has a new doctrine on its hands.

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Libya: R2P or Regime Change?

On CNN this Saturday morning, the day after the United Nations Security Council voted for Resolution 1973 (2011) to authorize a “no-fly zone” in Libya, the debate has centered around whether or not the United States and its allies want regime change in Libya. After all, a few days ago President Obama said “It’s time for Qaddafi to go.” Similarly, British Prime Minister David Cameron has declared: “It is almost impossible to envisage a future for Libya that includes him. Gaddafi must go, he has no legitimacy.”

Yet, to me, this seems like a very odd and unhelpful framing of the situation.

Certainly, opponents of the no fly zone want to frame the debate around regime change in order to question the legitimacy of the intervention. For instance, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies asserts that “it’s widely understood that a no-fly zone is most often the first step towards broader military engagement.” However, I would challenge that view. The U.S. for many years helped enforce a no-fly zone in Iraq that was eventually controversial and certainly was not the key stepping stone that legitimized war in Iraq. The Bush administration likely would have pursued war on Iraq even without a no fly zone. And much of the world opposed the war in Iraq precisely because it violated international norms about the use of force.

Bennis also worries about the authorization of “all necessary measures..to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” She sees this as a virtual blank check for broader military intervention, though she overlooks the last clause. Contrast this provision to the much broader language in UNSC Resolution 678 (1990), which authorized the Persian Gulf war:

Authorizes Member States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait, unless Iraq on or before 15 January 1991 fully implements, as set forth in paragraph 1 above, the above-mentioned resolutions, to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.

The more recent Resolution focuses narrowly on protecting civilians, not the far broader goal of restoring international peace and security. That goal seemingly required ground troops in Kuwait since that is where Saddam Hussein’s forces had gone.

Bennis blames the US for the inclusion of the “all necessary measures” language, as America worried that a simple no fly zone really would not protect civilians on the ground. She overlooks the fact that this is a completely valid point. The no fly zone in southern Iraq after the Persian Gulf war concluded did not stop Saddam Hussein from slaughtering civilians. In this case, simply keeping Libyan government planes out of the air might not protect any civilians. The new resolution authorizes air strikes against tanks or other government ground forces that would otherwise attack civilians.

Put differently, this is more like Kosovo 1998 than Iraq 2003. In that successful application of military force, NATO intervened with air power, but the UNSC did not pass a supporting resolution. Presumably, UN cooperation this time will help assure limits on enforcement actions. That’s hardly a blank check.

Indeed, as CNN analysts pointed out, the U.S., France and NATO partners know that the Arab partners in the military intervention — reportedly Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — likely do not support external intervention to pursue regime change in Libya. Likewise, the 1991 enforcement action against Iraq did not include regime change exactly because the Arab member-states would have opposed it.

Moreover, President Obama himself has already said that U.S. intervention in Libya will be quite limited, which likely makes any regime change something that will be left up to competing forces within Libya.

I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal — specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.

Could that be any clearer?

In the discussion I heard, some CNN announcers strongly implied that French President Sarkozy supports regime change. For evidence of this, they offered Sarkozy’s call for fairly direct intervention in support of the Libyan rebels:

“Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gadhafi against the population of Benghazi,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking after an international, top-level meeting in Paris over the Libyan crisis.

“As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town,” he said. “As of now, our aircraft are prepared to intervene against tanks.”

Yet, this framing completely distorts the facts. Sarkozy explicitly does not advocate regime change:

“We are determined to take all necessary action, including military consistent with UN Security Council resolution 1973 to ensure compliance with all its requirements, ” Mr Sarkozy said.

He said the aim of intervention was not regime change but to “allow the Libyan people to choose their own destiny”.

“We are protecting the population from the murderous madness of the regime.”

That too seems fairly clear.

I think this entire discussion would be more useful if the U.S. and international media framed the debate around the Responsibility to Protect. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon certainly used this framework:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government,” he said.

Though Obama did not use the R2P phrase, his speech about the latest UN action also largely used this frame.

Our decisions have been driven by Qaddafi’s refusal to respect the rights of his people, and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians. It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it. We are coordinating closely with them. And this is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law.

The problem critics share, I suspect, is that the Bush administration often used humanitarian claims to justify its intervention in Iraq. R2P was not completely undermined by their rhetoric, but the recent experience does make some members of the the international community and many policy analysts skeptical of great power claims about R2P or humanitarian intervention.

Ultimately, I think some skepticism is healthy and will help assure the limits of the authorized intervention. Perhaps this would be a good time to recall the Blair Doctrine, if that is still helpful post-Iraq. UK PM Tony Blair specifically argued that this kind of international intervention might occasionally be necessary — but it should be strictly limited by something like just war principles.

First, are we sure of our case? War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress; but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators. Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, as we have in the case of Kosovo. Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake? Fourth, are we prepared for the long term? In the past we talked too much of exit strategies. But having made a commitment we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over; better to stay with moderate numbers of troops than return for repeat performances with large numbers. And finally, do we have national interests involved? The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that this is taking place in such a combustible part of Europe.

Blair was calling for workable international action. “If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation,” he argued, “then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.”

I think that’s the case here. It would have been better if the states could have crafted a truly unanimous resolution, rather than one that led some key states to abstain. Nonetheless, the UNSC has authorized a limited form of humanitarian intervention into Libya in hopes of preventing government slaughter of civilians.

Similar timely action in Rwanda might have saved at least 100,000 lives — if not several times that many.

If the operational aims broaden or the implementation is bungled, then reluctant supporters like me are certainly free to demand fealty to promised limits.


Drip, drip, drip

I do not own a copy of the George W. Bush memoirs, but I have been following the bits and pieces that appear in my newspaper. I’m going to try to blog about a few of the most important items, especially as they pertain to my past blogging and/or research interests.

For example, the former President confirms that Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2002. This has long been a matter of discussion on the Duck.

Even more interesting, Bush says he rejected Israel’s request that the US bomb the facility. Given Bush’s “preemptive” war policy, Israel may have viewed this as a perfectly reasonable favor. Apparently, however, the CIA “had only ‘low confidence’ that Syria had a nuclear weapons program,” though they had “high confidence” that Syria had built the reactor — thanks to North Korea.

What this means is that the Bush Doctrine did have limits after all!

Then again, perhaps it is more accurate to say that Israel simply implemented US policy:

“Prime Minister Olmert’s execution of the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the Lebanon war,” Bush writes. “The bombing demonstrated Israel’s willingness to act alone. Prime Minister Olmert hadn’t asked for a green light, and I hadn’t given one. He had done what was necessary to protect Israel.”

I’ll try to examine additional tidbits soon.


Preemption News

Search the current White House website for the phrase “Bush Doctrine” and “no results” are returned. However, as I’ve previously argued, that does not mean the Obama administration has abandoned the Bush view of “preemption” (which was really a rebranding of preventive war).

This week, the Pentagon has announced a new cyber-spin on “preemptive war”:

The Pentagon is contemplating an aggressive approach to defending its computer systems that includes pre-emptive actions such as knocking out parts of an adversary’s computer network overseas – but it is still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally.

The Washington Post reports that the Department is developing a range of weapons capabilities, including tools that would allow “attack and exploitation of adversary information systems” and that can “deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade and destroy” information and information systems, according to Defense Department budget documents.

General Keith Alexander, who leads the Pentagon’s new Cyber Command is quoted as saying “We have to have offensive capabilities, to, in real time, shut down somebody trying to attack us.” These attacks are more than just hypothetical, as detailed in the September/October 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs.

The Post article mentions clearly legal defensive measures the Pentagon could employ when it anticipates attacks — firewalls, password protection, etc. Plus, the U.S. could try to resolve potential disputes without force, with diplomacy perhaps. And, of course, General Alexander implies a retaliatory attack, which would presumably be legal.

But the notion of striking first seems to have been engrained in the defense community’s culture over this past decade.

Luckily, at least some bureaucrats within the administration still recall the illegality of preventive attacks:

Government lawyers and some officials question whether the Pentagon could take such action without violating international law or other countries’ sovereignty.

Apparently, the U.S. has already engaged in questionable cyber-preemptive attack:

The military’s dismantling in 2008 of a Saudi Web site that U.S. officials suspected of facilitating suicide bombers in Iraq also inadvertently disrupted more than 300 servers in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Texas, for example, and the Obama administration put a moratorium on such network warfare actions until clear rules could be established.

The CIA, by the way, is apparently upset that the Pentagon’s strikes would bound to be covert — and that domain belongs to CIA. Turf war!


Iran’s setbacks: Buying time?

According to Gary Samore, Iran’s nuclear enrichment program has had some important recent setbacks. The AP, last week:

Setbacks in Iran’s uranium enrichment program have significantly delayed its progress toward building a nuclear weapon, President Barack Obama’s top nuclear adviser said Tuesday.

…On Iran’s enrichment program, Samore said that Tehran had been set back by problems with its centrifuges and by disclosure of an enrichment plant near Qom that the United States alleges was part of a secret nuclear program.

Samore said that because of the setbacks, “the nuclear clock is not ticking as quickly as some had feared.”

Samore’s lengthy title is “Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism.” So he should know, right?

Samore seems to be saying that this threat is not yet technologically imminent. The statement is not quite as precise as the 2005 NIE, which reportedly said that Iran’s nuclear bomb was at least a decade away, but it’s still good news.

The comments seem to be directed at Iran hawks, of course, and also at the policy wonks who have recently been upset by Iran developments. For example, in a February blog post, my go-to source for proliferation information Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, emphasized the very bad news in Iran’s just-announced plans to enrich uranium to 20%.

If Iran enriches a significant amount of U235 to 20 percent — and that’s a stated goal right now, not yet an actual achievement — then Iran would be able to “top off” the enrichment [at] a small, clandestine facility like the one revealed near Qom.

In a comment to the Lewis post, Yale Simkin simplified the problem for those of us without a lot of nuclear physics:

Imagine a bowl with 1,000 ping-pong balls in it. 993 of the balls are green. 7 of the balls are red. The balls are at “0.7% Red Enrichment.”

Now imagine reaching in the bowl and pulling out unwanted green balls. You are doing “separative work”. You will be leaving the red balls in the bowl.

Remove 840 green balls, a long and tedious job. Now you have 153 green balls and 7 red balls.

You are now at “4.4% Red Enrichment”

Last step. This time remove only 152 green balls.

This leaves 7 red balls and 1 green ball or an “88% Red Enrichment.”

So note: It took EIGHT-FIVE percent of the work to go from 0.7% to 4.4%!

That is why “Peaceful” enrichment is a fraud…

What other wonks have been worried about Iran policy?

Back in February, the Leveretts argued that the Obama administration was dithering recklessly in the ongoing negotiations:

…the Obama Administration and its European partners have effectively rejected these Iranian positions—precisely because accepting them would mean that the Obama Administration would not have a year or more to sort through what it is prepared to do regarding the prospective substance of U.S.-Iranian engagement. Instead, the Administration would have to make strategic choices and develop real positions on important issues much sooner than it had contemplated. And, rather than do that, the Obama Administration is moving to embrace the same counterproductive and feckless policies aimed at isolating and pressing Tehran that the George W. Bush Administration employed.

I too have expressed fears that the Obama policy looks too much like the Bush Doctrine in the right light.

Sixteen months into this administration, the U.S. should clearly work “faster, please” to achieve results in the Iran negotiations. Election-year promises about bargaining without preconditions are beginning to fade from memory even as blustering threats are occasionally made public. The so-called “Zombie fuel swap” proposal may not be a sufficient solution.

In any event, this latest news is perhaps a sign that the world has more time to work out a reasonable compromise.


New Nuclear Posture

Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense presented its latest Nuclear Posture Review Report. I haven’t had a chance to read the entire document yet, but media reports have focused on a new policy declaration that is of great interest to states and scholars alike.

The statement garnering the greatest attention is included in the “Executive Summary” of the NPR (p. viii):

The United States will continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.

To that end, the United States is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing “negative security assurance” by declaring that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

Essentially, the U.S. is reversing longstanding nuclear policy by promising merely to employ “devastating conventional military response” against threats it previously used nuclear weapons to deter: potential chemical or biological weapons (CBW) attacks against the U.S. or its allies. The document makes this explicit, noting that even though the U.S. had abandoned its own CBW programs, it “reserved the right to employ nuclear weapons to deter CBW attack on the United States and its allies and partners.”

Among scholars, this development is interesting because it potentially contributes to strengthening a norm (or perhaps tradition or taboo) of non-use of nuclear weapons. As McGill’s T.V. Paul argues in the book that I just linked, the U.S. refusal to preclude the threat of nuclear retaliation against states using CBW had long weakened the tradition — to the dismay of non-nuclear weapons states everywhere. In fact, during the last decade other nuclear-armed states had followed the U.S. lead and weakened prior non-use pledges in the face of CBW threats in the post-9/11 era.

By excluding the threat of nuclear retaliation against CBW attack, the U.S. is now potentially strengthening the tradition (or norm or taboo) and could serve as a role model for other states that emulated its more threatening previous posture.

Non-nuclear weapons states are likely to be pleased by the new U.S. declaratory strategy since many of them have been arguing since the 1960s for these kinds of “negative security assurances.” It was a point of contention even in the original NPT debates.

Before anyone gets too excited about the U.S. announcement, it should be noted that Iran and North Korea are excluded from the U.S. promise. These states, now apparently called “outliers” rather than “rogue states” by the U.S., have now been explicitly warned that they could still suffer a nuclear blow if they used CBW against the U.S. or its allies.

Indeed, even as the NPR reduced the number of nuclear threats the U.S. is making, Defense Secretary Robert Gates also arguably increased them. By isolating and highlighting the “outliers,” the U.S. is essentially trying to leverage a nuclear threat for counterproliferation purposes:

“If there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is that if you’re going to play by the rules, if you’re going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain obligations to you. But if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you,” said the secretary of defense.

Still, Gates called the use of nuclear weapons a “last resort.”

This statement amounts to a renewal of the Bush Doctrine, linking the potential first use of military force — in this case nuclear weapons — to counterproliferation aims. As Phil McCauley and I recently warned, the fears about biological weapons proliferation are sufficiently strong that they render the current taboo against their use illogical by classic arms control standards as they increase the risk of war.

The U.S. needs to couple the new policy with active efforts to strengthen the chemical and biological arms control and disarmament regimes as well. It was the U.S. after all, that blocked the negotiated verification protocol to the Biological Weapons convention just months after the 9/11 attacks.


Biological Weapons

A few years ago, a mid-career biochemist enrolled in my master’s level international relations course because he was burned out of working in academic and commercial settings in his field. He wanted to apply his background in biological sciences to his new interest in security politics. The 2001 anthrax attacks, in particular, had influenced his thinking.

Phil McCauley turned out to be a very bright and capable student and we soon figured out a meaningful way to connect our common interests. After all, I spent much of the past decade thinking and writing about the “Bush Doctrine” of preventive war. Fear of biological weapons (BW) proliferation could potentially trigger American use of force.

Many states are surreptitiously working on BW, meaning that international arms control efforts to limit proliferation are failing — or at least that perception is growing globally. In 2001, the Bush administration almost unilaterally killed a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons treaty. The taboo against BW use, however, has been strengthened in the past decade.

We wrote a paper explaining our concerns about these developments and presented it at the 2008 ISAC/ISSS conference in Vail. Here’s the abstract:

States have constructed an ill-considered and potentially dangerous biological weapons (BW) taboo that rebukes the fundamental logic of arms control. Historically, to prevent war, minimize the costs and risks of arms competition, and curtail the scope and violence of war, states embraced an arms control regime that limited both the acquisition and use of BW. However, efforts to limit BW capabilities have stalled even as prohibitions on their use have been maintained and strengthened. The new regime effectively allows states to retain suspicious capabilities that will be viewed as very threatening by their peers. This approach is particularly troublesome as many states now embrace counterproliferation strategy and the prospect of preventive war. The Obama administration seems to have preserved perilous elements of the so-called “Bush Doctrine.” The international community should redouble efforts to build a more effective and verifiable biological weapons nonproliferation regime to augment the existing taboo against use.

The Illogic of the Biological Weapons Taboo was published this week in the Spring 2010 issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly.

The paper explores Obama administration policy documents and concludes that it has not rejected the Bush Doctrine. As the news story linked above explains, it also decided in December not to reverse the Bush policy on the 2001 Verification Protocol.

Feedback on the paper would be welcome.


RIP: Robert McNamara

Robert McNamara was arguably one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. I summarized the highlights from his CV on my blog a few years ago:

He was a Harvard professor, an executive at Ford Motor Company (the first leader not from the Ford family), Secretary of Defense from 1961-1967, and then President of the World Bank until 1981.

This sentence omits the role McNamara played in World War II, which involved his assignment to the Office of Statistical Control for the Army Air Force. He evaluated the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. B-29 bombers, which ultimately firebombed 67 Japanese cities under the command of General Curtis LeMay. In the Errol Morris documentary “The Fog of War,” McNamara states simply

LeMay said that “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” “And I think he’s right,” says McNamara. “He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals.” . . . “LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side has lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”

McNamara considered himself a war criminal even without taking the Vietnam war into account.

In the early part of this decade, I had dinner with McNamara and some local colleagues after the former Defense Secretary spoke on the Louisville campus. I told him that I was working on the “Bush Doctrine” and he scoffed about America’s priorities. It was far too long ago to quote him, but I recall his noting that the U.S. was hypocritically developing burrowing nuclear weapons to be able to strike underground “WMD” (even chemical and biological weapons) facilities with nuclear weapons.

Also, he pointed out that he had recently traveled to Russia and personally observed WMD facilities guarded by a single man with a sidearm and a rather ordinary looking padlock.

McNamara spent more than a quarter century trying to redeem his past. I’m not sure that he succeeded, but he certainly attempted to do some good in the last 25 years. For example, McNamara was a prominent member of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Perhaps the public service of other talented people will be inspired by the post-government efforts of this man.


Iraq: the light at the end of the tunnel

We’re just a few weeks from the 6th anniversary of the Iraq war — but the end is now clearly in sight. President Obama, earlier today:

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

Even better, as Obama told U.S. troops: “mission [kinda] accomplished.”

We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government – and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life – that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.

In other portions of the speech, Obama described the circumstances that would justify the use of American military power in the future.

He didn’t acknowledge being limited by an “Iraq syndrome,” but he did suggest relative restraint:

as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and provide you with the equipment and support you need to get the job done.

Right now, the White House reportedly says that the US will leave 35 to 50,000 troops in Iraq after combat troops are removed. I haven’t heard just how many private military forces will remain.

Another ambiguity: Obama has not fully renounced the Bush Doctrine.

If he had been elected president, Joe Biden apparently would have made his opposition quite clear. But Obama perhaps wishes to benefit from ambiguity (a threat that leaves something to chance?) — and that may well be the pragmatic route.


War on Pakistan?

Yesterday, US troops crossed the Pakistan border for the first time — clearly extending the war in Afghanistan into another state. This is from The Washington Post story:

Helicopters carried U.S. and Afghan commandos many miles into Pakistan on Wednesday to stage the first U.S. ground attack against a Taliban target inside the country, Pakistani officials said. At least 20 local people died in the raid, according to the officials.

Pakistan filed a protest and the US military apparently had no comment.

Mohammed Sadiq, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, condemned a “gross violation of Pakistan’s territory” and “a grave provocation.” In a written statement, he said his office lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

“Such actions are counterproductive and certainly do not help our joint efforts to fight terrorism,” Sadiq said. “On the contrary, they undermine the very basis of cooperation and may fuel the fire of hatred and violence that we are trying to extinguish.”

I do not really fault Pakistan for this response. Escalation can be dangerous.

Pakistan representatives say this was not a case of “hot pursuit” and that there is no bilateral agreement allowing such attacks in any case.

This is not the first time that the US has extended the “war on terror” into Pakistan — just the first use of ground forces.

In January 2006, the US launched a missile attack on a small village in Pakistan, reportedly because al Qaeda’s number two man was visiting. He was not hit and Pakistan considered the strike an act of war. I previously argued that the attack was too provocative and unjustified given the information at hand.

Last summer, on the heels of a terror NIE finding that al Qaeda had established a “safe haven” in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, US Homeland Security Director Fran Townsend warned that Pakistan could be attacked under the Bush Doctrine of preemption.

Is the US at war with Pakistan?

Incidentally, John McCain has previously said he would not strike Pakistan — even as other prominent Republicans criticized Barack Obama for threatening Pakistan in various ways.


Global Strike Task Force

Just about anyone who follows American foreign policy understands the predictable early U.S. responses to a global crisis. The Navy is asked to dispatch vessels into nearby seas — thereby signaling American interests, power and resolve. Or so the thinking goes.

These deployments are certainly cheaper than direct involvement in a crisis and rarely lead to any kind of active (hostile) U.S. military operations.

Since 2001, however, the U.S. has developed a Global Strike Task Force (GSTF) that seems to offer a fundamentally new approach to handling crisis. USAF General John Jumper (then the commander, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base) wrote the following in Aerospace Power Journal in 2001:

GSTF is a rapid-reaction, leading-edge, power- projection concept that will deliver massive around-the-clock firepower. It will mass effects early, from longer ranges, and with more precision than our current capabilities and methods of employment; it will give adversaries pause to quit and virtually guarantee air dominance for our CINCs [Commanders in Chief].

GSTF is typically described as “transformational,” which echoes former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s attempts to “transform” the military. Incidentally, Rumfeld’s transformation included moving many military capabilities east, as he saw future hotspots in Asia rather than Europe. Robert Kaplan explains more in his July/August 2008 Atlantic article on “What Rumsfeld Got Right.”

What does GSTF mean in practice?

Here’s a hint: Kaplan says Rumsfeld’s transformation of the military “would help the United States react in expeditionary style to unforeseen emergencies.”

The US Joint Forces Command website somewhat colorfully describes the mission:

At the start of operations, GSTF will…“kick down the door” into denied battlespace.

GlobalSecurity.org has a somewhat longer description of GSTF operations — and goals:

The task force leads with F-22 stealth fighters to clear a path, taking out enemy aircraft and advanced anti-aircraft missile launchers. B-2 stealth bombers follow to destroy assets that threaten U.S. deployments: Scud missile launchers, chemical-weapon bunkers, air and shore defenses, for example. Sea- and air-launched cruise missiles help that effort….

The shock effect of this B-2/F-22 “one-two” punch will be unprecedented. In the first 24 hours of Desert Storm, after six months of buildup, the US launched 1,223 strike sorties, hitting 203 targets. Stealth assets accounted for 40 sorties and 61 targets. With GSTF, four B-2s and 48 F-22s carrying miniature munitions can strike 380 targets in only 52 sorties….

Precision strikes against an enemy’s crucial war-fighting assets in the opening days of a conflict “give him an excuse to quit.”

If the enemy doesn’t take that opportunity, kicking down the door opens the way for the rest of America’s warfighting team.

Back in the early 1980s, defense analysts, especially on the left, used to worry that American creation of a “Rapid Deployment Force” — ostensibly designed to deter Soviet intervention into the Persian Gulf — was dangerous because it would increase the likelihood that the US would use armed troops in crisis situations.

This was still the Vietnam hangover period after all. Historian Andrew Bacevich has said that RDF set “in motion the militarization of US policy that has continued ever since.” Even more traditional defense analysts often preferred a Naval-based force.

In any event, there’s surprisingly little criticism of the GSTF, despite the obvious implications. Oh sure, if one discusses a specific scenario — like Iran — then critics are quick to point out that “the United States is now a first-strike nation.”

Perhaps Rob Farley’s critique of the air force as an institution gets closest to the problem I’m describing:

Moreover, the presence of the Air Force in the high councils of war and peace tends to provide presidents with predictions of quick and easy military victories. Advocates of airpower have been making such cases since the run-up to World War II. Though these prophecies have been proven false time and again, they nevertheless remain attractive to civilian leaders who fear public disillusionment with casualties, and who wish to go to war while resisting the dangers of full military involvement. Airpower advocates offer military power on the cheap; the wars they lay out entail few casualties and many spectacular successes.

Bluntly, America’s global strike air capability might be used prematurely in virtually any crisis scenario. Rumsfeld’s transformation has essentially made striking first part of US military doctrine.


A major lapse in judgment?

We all know that Saakashvili made a major miscalculation when he ordered the assault on South Ossetia. Perhaps someday the public will find out what he was really thinking. Did he think, for examples that, he was acting preemptively?

But if Adrian Bloomfield’s report is correct, then he had better reasons than one might think to misjudge the situation–and the Bush administration has yet another terrible foreign-policy mistake to answer for:

Mr Saakashvilli may also have banked on support from his closest ally, US president George W Bush, whose administration is said to have given tacit support for a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in the believe that the territory could be recaptured within 48 hours.

But as events have unfolded differently, Washington has offered Georgia – one of the largest contributors of troops in Iraq – little more than lukewarm vocal support.

In a demonstration of the fact that Georgia could be abandoned by its chief ally, President Bush warmly embraced Mr Putin at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on Friday.

With the West apparently unwilling to participate in a proxy war with Russia at a time when relations with Moscow are already highly strained, Georgia now faces potential isolation in its conflict with its giant neighbour.

Note, however, Bloomfield’s use of the passive construction? Said by whom? Is this merely the zeitgeist in a Georgia facing a devastating present and an uncertain future, another instance of calculated disinformation, or a reliable indication of what some observers already suspect?


War with Iran?

Dan Plesch, Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies’ Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, and international security consultant Martin Butcher have recently authored and released “Considering a war with Iran: A discussion paper on WMD in the Middle East.” The pre-publication paper was embargoed until August 28 and is dated September 2007. Here is the central finding:

The study concludes that the US has made military preparations to destroy Iran’s WMD, nuclear energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic infrastructure within days, if not hours, of President George Bush giving the order

In other words, given what the US has already been doing for some time, Plesch and Butcher do not think that a major attack on Iran will require much new US preparation for war.

It may not require much public debate either:

The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely.

The ongoing resource quagmire that is the war in Iraq does not preclude American attack. Indeed, the authors conclude that the prospect of war basically depends upon the whim of Bush, Dick Cheney and their White House colleagues:

The United States retains the ability – despite difficulties in Iraq – to undertake major military operations against Iran. Whether the political will exists to follow such a course of action is known only to a few senior figures in the Bush administration.

The authors then offer three conclusions about international life before and after such an attack — and none are particularly optimistic.

First, the reaction in the region:

it is unimaginable that it would not cause far greater spurs to anger than already exist in the region.

Second, such a war would greatly increase the likelihood of regional instability and escalated war.

Their third and final conclusion is that all the parties to the ongoing dispute need to pursue negotiated outcomes — and perhaps a WMD free zone in the Middle East. Virtually no attention is given over to this prospect.

More here.


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