Monthly Archives: March 2011

Defence Ministers Discuss Cooperation in Montenegro


At a meeting of the South East European Co-operation Process, SEECP, in Montenegro’s seaside resort of Budva, Sutanovac stressed that Serbia has a significant role in promoting that cooperation

He warned that, “despite the evident improvement of the regional spirit and cooperation, we should not close our eyes to obvious problems.”

“In addition to the unresolved status of Kosovo-Metohija, the region is also burdened with issues of insufficiently developed economies and high unemployment rates,” Sutanovac pointed out.

According to the minister, additional areas of concern include high levels of corruption, organised crime, trafficking in people, narcotics, weapons and body parts and failures to resolve issues of return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.

“The unsatisfactory quality of life is what should concern us politicians the most, because we are here primarily for the benefit of citizens,” he stressed.

The SEECP meeting brought together the defence ministers of member states from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.

Sutanovac noted that the entire region was committed to membership in the European Union and that “regional cooperation is a key segment of the EU’s policy towards the Western Balkans, since the EU itself came into being through the development of regional cooperation.”

He said that “in 2011 we have results which clearly show that there is no alternative to resolving disputes and problems through cooperation.”

“If we take the example of Serbia, only in terms of bilateral relations in the field of defense until and including 2010, we see that it has established contractual relations with all the countries in the region, except Albania, but this is something Serbia will work on in the foreseeable future,” he added.

During the gathering in Budva, the Serbian defense minister held bilateral meetings with his colleagues from Montenegro, Boro Vucinic, from Turkey, Mehmet Gonul and Albania, Arben Imami.

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Filed under balkans, economy, Kosovo, NATO, security cooperation, South East Europe

Fiscal Jeopardy: The strategic risks of U.S. debt and how to avoid them


Excerpt from Armed Forces Journal
“Perhaps the most underappreciated effect of diminished fiscal space is a reduced capacity for response to future unknowns. The extension of federal government resources to underwrite risk in wider areas of the U.S. economy signals the possibility for greater commitments in the future and further limits response capacity. The magnitude of resources and associated contingent liabilities committed to stabilize the financial sector and avert a larger downturn dwarf the size of the nation’s 2010 defense spending of $664 billion. Whether such interventions are an appropriate use of federal resources will be a subject of debate for some time. However, the precedent signals a broader role for the federal government in private markets and an interpretation of national security that transcends physical threats to the U.S. In the present fiscal stance, federal budgets bound by mandatory spending and saddled with onerous debt service lack the flexibility to reprogram resources on a massive scale in response to a changed security landscape. The appearance of a new peer competitor, natural disasters resulting from unexpected climate change, or renewed financial crisis among state and local governments would represent significant challenges for the U.S. government.”

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Ex-Pentagon Adviser Says US Should Cut Afghan Aid


Reading the Wall Street Journal recently I was struck with a reported
estimate that if our budget deficits were not restrained and the
national debt reduced, we would soon as a nation reach $900 Billion in
interests payments annually. Considering that ~25% of the national debt
is owned by foreign entities ($1.1 Trillion by the Chinese) I am
concerned that we are not only risking our financial future but perhaps
funding our National Insecurity. Our debt payments on interests alone
may just fund the development of a “near-per” or “peer” competitor.

It is striking to me to consider that the Army, on a budget in 2001
nearly a quarter to a third of the size of today we were able to topple
TWO nation states within the span of two years. Yet today, on the
precipice of ending those two wars, we can’t think to reduce the size of
the defense budget? Irrational.

As a veteran of the Iraq War (U.S. Army, 1st Infantry Division, OIF II)
and a current Army civilian, I understand the potential second and third
order effects of this suggestion, specifically, that my friends are
still engaged in this nation’s wars and the possible personnel cuts
necessary. Yet I would like to echo the following from the March 2011
Armed Forces Journal:

What really matters
Defense spending doesn’t equate to national security
BY GENE MYERS
Much of what I am about to discuss here may be unpopular with many in the defense community. But there comes a time when one reaches an intellectual critical mass, when silence is more harmful than professional risk and when, in this case, issues from different disciplines — national security, economics, education, politics — gel into an overheated mass that demands release.

I am a retired Air Force officer and longtime government contractor — often less than affectionately referred to as a “Beltway bandit.” As such, I am familiar with the intricacies of national-level political governance but can claim no more expertise in the subject than the average concerned citizen with a reasonably good education. But that’s the point: As a concerned citizen, I have every bit the same right to comment on the decisions our leaders must make as the politicians and pundits do — and I intend to step out of my expected role as a conservative champion of “defense rights” to do so.

Unlike many people with backgrounds similar to mine, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the U.S. defense budget cannot be exempt from the cuts that are now so necessary to national well-being. Although I agree with my colleagues that national security is the most vital task of the federal government, I also submit that there is far more involved in providing that security than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, ships, planes and tanks. Let me make the point even more bluntly: Blind adherence to the mantra of defense establishment supremacy in national budgetary policy will not provide future security.

Yes, I am very aware that we are still immersed in a war in Afghanistan and a large support operation in Iraq, as well as increasingly threatened by surging Chinese military capabilities and a paranoid and belligerent North Korea. Then there is Iran. And the new uncertainties raised by events in Tunisia and Egypt. But the nation has allowed itself to get into such lamentable economic, educational and political condition that we have no choice but to urgently address many problems, probably simultaneously. The future of our nation’s general well-being and security demands it.

If those in uniform are not well enough educated to accomplish the increasingly complex technical tasks asked of them; if our industry is no longer capable of producing the tools needed for defense in a technology-dependent environment at an affordable cost; if the national budget is so unbalanced that our credit goes into the sewer and confidence is lost in the U.S.’s ability to effectively manage its affairs; if our political leaders are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs; then national security will surely suffer, and no one need fire a shot.

THE POLITICS OF CYNICISM

How did we get to the point where we elect our representatives based on who is the most, or least, cynical? Vitriol and fear have replaced debate and respect for an intelligent electorate. We now often vote for the lesser of two evils. I realize that, in many ways, I’m preaching to the choir; more experienced and learned people than I have lamented the same issues, especially lately. NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw observed in a Jan. 24 Time magazine article that “most of the country believes” the political dialogue has gone “critical mass.” The nation’s “political class across the spectrum … spend an awful lot of time finding ways to attack each other that have very little to do with the common welfare of the country.”

True enough. But let me throw another log on the fire. How do we think international respect for this nation and its form of government is affected by such shameful public displays, and what effect does that have on our security? The U.S. portrays itself to the world as the champion of freedom and democratic rule backed by moral strength and military might to be used when necessary. I would suggest that publicly displayed contempt for our highest ideals of open civil debate and government of and for the people by our elected leaders will not win many allies. I suspect it is not surprising that I see a cynical, untrusting political cadre playing a major role in perpetrating the other deficiencies outlined here, from failing education to industrial incapacity and pending bankruptcy. Many observers see a glimmer of bipartisan light in the aftermath of the bloody Tucson attack. We must hope that to be the case because, without bipartisan and truly enlightened legislative action, the nation will continue our precipitous decline. Make no mistake, the United States of America is in decline.

EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS

Security is a complex thing. Economics is no longer a choice between guns or butter. In the defense arena, long gone are the days when a new soldier could receive a few weeks’ training, be issued a rifle and sent out to do the nation’s business. The modern soldier must deal with increasingly complex weapons, communications and data systems. An education system that produces one of the lowest national literacy and science ratings in the developed world cannot long maintain a high-tech military. The notion that, since we have a population pool of around 310 million to fill the ranks and we still attract some of the brightest minds from overseas, we will always have sufficient talent for our needs is bankrupt and downright dangerous. The truth is that as each generation has produced lower education expectations, there will be a time, and it will be soon, when we cannot meet the demands of both the public and private sectors. And those who think we can continue to lure the brightest prodigies of rapidly advancing nations such as India, South Korea and others to a “brighter future” in a declining American industrial and technological market are dead wrong, especially as U.S. companies move overseas. There is no choice but to buttress a failing American education system, and that will cost money and require the expenditure of political capital that seems increasingly hard to come by. Further discouraging news: The Pentagon says that today — not in some distant scenario of doom, but today — “75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don’t even qualify to take [the basic military entrance] test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.” And even worse, “23 percent of recent high school graduates [who do take the test] don’t get the minimum score … to join any branch of the military.” That’s not just disturbing; it’s embarrassing.

LOOMING BANKRUPTCY

Alarm bells should be ringing. The nation is more than $14 trillion in debt and a great deal of that debt is held by a nation that may not be our friendly neighborhood banker. Bottom line: This must be fixed. So-called financial experts say it’s not the problem that many of us think. We can just grow our economy out of debt. I’m no financial wizard, but with unemployment approaching 10 percent and many financial institutions and companies afraid to invest in our economy, I don’t see much beyond a fickle stock market to give us solace. Employers have found that in some, or even many, cases people can be replaced by technology more cheaply than providing paychecks. On the face of it, that’s not encouraging for growing jobs. It gets worse. Remembering the earlier discussion of educational failings, how long could it be before we cannot provide the workers and soldiers trained to keep this spiraling technological demand fed with qualified specialists Industry and defense will face the same problem. Competition between them may become fierce, pushing the huge defense personnel costs even higher. As for the security apparatus itself, for a while now, those of us who participate in the public defense debates have mostly agreed that our security is as much dependent on a robust diplomatic and financial aid structure as boots-on-the-ground military presence, and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has offered funds from defense coffers to improve State Department funding. There just isn’t enough money to go around.

INDUSTRIAL CRISIS

It seems to be a rare major defense contract that is completed on cost and on time. Deciding who is responsible here is not easy. To start with, competition among defense system contractors has been all but eliminated by mergers and takeovers. The captains of the few remaining major defense companies point to the government (mainly the services and Congress) as the reason for spiraling costs and tardy production as requirements repeatedly change, production runs are extended and political pork is served across the country. On the other hand, government representatives maintain that since there is so little competition, companies aren’t as careful as they should be in their bids, or maybe are more ardently serving their financial interests. In such instances, they would have the government between the classic rock and a hard place: Pay increasing costs and tolerate broken schedules or don’t get the products. I suspect that if one could actually determine ground truth here, it would surely be some combination of both positions. As a result, defense and congressional leaders must often accept less than ideal defense programs at staggering costs, but I strongly believe they also share the blame. The defense dollars that are available are buying less security, and we face the very real possibility, and I would suggest necessity, of major funding cuts.

Then there is the need to repair our disintegrating national infrastructure. Our roads are dilapidated, many bridges are dangerously weakened by age and our electrical grid is out of date and increasingly inefficient. By itself, this is a budget-busting task.

I realize that what I have said here is not news to many readers, but awareness is not remedy. Our defense challenges are indeed daunting. Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza at the American Enterprise Institute recently commented on the obvious challenge posed by China’s potent armaments program, noting that “a serious U.S. response is not on the horizon. Instead we are hollowing out our air, naval and Marine forces at a time when we should be reinforcing and modernizing them, so as to reassure allies that we will maintain the capability to deter Chinese aggression and defeat Chinese forces should they attack.”

I do not challenge or doubt either the good intentions or accuracy of their remarks. But our defenses are likely to remain hollow unless we muster the bipartisan political wherewithal to seriously address all components of our nation’s security.

The more pressing issue is: Do we continue heavy defense spending in the face of so many other challenges that already are hobbling the nation’s ability to defend itself?

As a nation, I fear we are racing to mediocrity — or worse. We face massive problems that, if not ignored, have surely been inadequately addressed. We most often want to tackle our problems in isolation, dealing with them one at a time. But defense, as an element of national security, is not a different concern than our national debt, industrial strength, educational shortcomings or acrimonious political environment. All the elements are not just mutually supporting, they are synergistic. We must address them that way. For at least the near term, that may require continuing the defense cuts already begun by Gates — a worrisome prospect in the current international environment, but due to our own mistakes, probably necessary.

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Filed under capacity building, economy, international development, NATO, security cooperation

Defense spending doesn’t equate to national security


What really matters
Defense spending doesn’t equate to national security
BY GENE MYERS
Much of what I am about to discuss here may be unpopular with many in the defense community. But there comes a time when one reaches an intellectual critical mass, when silence is more harmful than professional risk and when, in this case, issues from different disciplines — national security, economics, education, politics — gel into an overheated mass that demands release.

I am a retired Air Force officer and longtime government contractor — often less than affectionately referred to as a “Beltway bandit.” As such, I am familiar with the intricacies of national-level political governance but can claim no more expertise in the subject than the average concerned citizen with a reasonably good education. But that’s the point: As a concerned citizen, I have every bit the same right to comment on the decisions our leaders must make as the politicians and pundits do — and I intend to step out of my expected role as a conservative champion of “defense rights” to do so.

Unlike many people with backgrounds similar to mine, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the U.S. defense budget cannot be exempt from the cuts that are now so necessary to national well-being. Although I agree with my colleagues that national security is the most vital task of the federal government, I also submit that there is far more involved in providing that security than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, ships, planes and tanks. Let me make the point even more bluntly: Blind adherence to the mantra of defense establishment supremacy in national budgetary policy will not provide future security.

Yes, I am very aware that we are still immersed in a war in Afghanistan and a large support operation in Iraq, as well as increasingly threatened by surging Chinese military capabilities and a paranoid and belligerent North Korea. Then there is Iran. And the new uncertainties raised by events in Tunisia and Egypt. But the nation has allowed itself to get into such lamentable economic, educational and political condition that we have no choice but to urgently address many problems, probably simultaneously. The future of our nation’s general well-being and security demands it.

If those in uniform are not well enough educated to accomplish the increasingly complex technical tasks asked of them; if our industry is no longer capable of producing the tools needed for defense in a technology-dependent environment at an affordable cost; if the national budget is so unbalanced that our credit goes into the sewer and confidence is lost in the U.S.’s ability to effectively manage its affairs; if our political leaders are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs; then national security will surely suffer, and no one need fire a shot.

THE POLITICS OF CYNICISM

How did we get to the point where we elect our representatives based on who is the most, or least, cynical? Vitriol and fear have replaced debate and respect for an intelligent electorate. We now often vote for the lesser of two evils. I realize that, in many ways, I’m preaching to the choir; more experienced and learned people than I have lamented the same issues, especially lately. NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw observed in a Jan. 24 Time magazine article that “most of the country believes” the political dialogue has gone “critical mass.” The nation’s “political class across the spectrum … spend an awful lot of time finding ways to attack each other that have very little to do with the common welfare of the country.”

True enough. But let me throw another log on the fire. How do we think international respect for this nation and its form of government is affected by such shameful public displays, and what effect does that have on our security? The U.S. portrays itself to the world as the champion of freedom and democratic rule backed by moral strength and military might to be used when necessary. I would suggest that publicly displayed contempt for our highest ideals of open civil debate and government of and for the people by our elected leaders will not win many allies. I suspect it is not surprising that I see a cynical, untrusting political cadre playing a major role in perpetrating the other deficiencies outlined here, from failing education to industrial incapacity and pending bankruptcy. Many observers see a glimmer of bipartisan light in the aftermath of the bloody Tucson attack. We must hope that to be the case because, without bipartisan and truly enlightened legislative action, the nation will continue our precipitous decline. Make no mistake, the United States of America is in decline.

EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS

Security is a complex thing. Economics is no longer a choice between guns or butter. In the defense arena, long gone are the days when a new soldier could receive a few weeks’ training, be issued a rifle and sent out to do the nation’s business. The modern soldier must deal with increasingly complex weapons, communications and data systems. An education system that produces one of the lowest national literacy and science ratings in the developed world cannot long maintain a high-tech military. The notion that, since we have a population pool of around 310 million to fill the ranks and we still attract some of the brightest minds from overseas, we will always have sufficient talent for our needs is bankrupt and downright dangerous. The truth is that as each generation has produced lower education expectations, there will be a time, and it will be soon, when we cannot meet the demands of both the public and private sectors. And those who think we can continue to lure the brightest prodigies of rapidly advancing nations such as India, South Korea and others to a “brighter future” in a declining American industrial and technological market are dead wrong, especially as U.S. companies move overseas. There is no choice but to buttress a failing American education system, and that will cost money and require the expenditure of political capital that seems increasingly hard to come by. Further discouraging news: The Pentagon says that today — not in some distant scenario of doom, but today — “75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don’t even qualify to take [the basic military entrance] test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.” And even worse, “23 percent of recent high school graduates [who do take the test] don’t get the minimum score … to join any branch of the military.” That’s not just disturbing; it’s embarrassing.

LOOMING BANKRUPTCY

Alarm bells should be ringing. The nation is more than $14 trillion in debt and a great deal of that debt is held by a nation that may not be our friendly neighborhood banker. Bottom line: This must be fixed. So-called financial experts say it’s not the problem that many of us think. We can just grow our economy out of debt. I’m no financial wizard, but with unemployment approaching 10 percent and many financial institutions and companies afraid to invest in our economy, I don’t see much beyond a fickle stock market to give us solace. Employers have found that in some, or even many, cases people can be replaced by technology more cheaply than providing paychecks. On the face of it, that’s not encouraging for growing jobs. It gets worse. Remembering the earlier discussion of educational failings, how long could it be before we cannot provide the workers and soldiers trained to keep this spiraling technological demand fed with qualified specialists Industry and defense will face the same problem. Competition between them may become fierce, pushing the huge defense personnel costs even higher. As for the security apparatus itself, for a while now, those of us who participate in the public defense debates have mostly agreed that our security is as much dependent on a robust diplomatic and financial aid structure as boots-on-the-ground military presence, and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has offered funds from defense coffers to improve State Department funding. There just isn’t enough money to go around.

INDUSTRIAL CRISIS

It seems to be a rare major defense contract that is completed on cost and on time. Deciding who is responsible here is not easy. To start with, competition among defense system contractors has been all but eliminated by mergers and takeovers. The captains of the few remaining major defense companies point to the government (mainly the services and Congress) as the reason for spiraling costs and tardy production as requirements repeatedly change, production runs are extended and political pork is served across the country. On the other hand, government representatives maintain that since there is so little competition, companies aren’t as careful as they should be in their bids, or maybe are more ardently serving their financial interests. In such instances, they would have the government between the classic rock and a hard place: Pay increasing costs and tolerate broken schedules or don’t get the products. I suspect that if one could actually determine ground truth here, it would surely be some combination of both positions. As a result, defense and congressional leaders must often accept less than ideal defense programs at staggering costs, but I strongly believe they also share the blame. The defense dollars that are available are buying less security, and we face the very real possibility, and I would suggest necessity, of major funding cuts.

Then there is the need to repair our disintegrating national infrastructure. Our roads are dilapidated, many bridges are dangerously weakened by age and our electrical grid is out of date and increasingly inefficient. By itself, this is a budget-busting task.

I realize that what I have said here is not news to many readers, but awareness is not remedy. Our defense challenges are indeed daunting. Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza at the American Enterprise Institute recently commented on the obvious challenge posed by China’s potent armaments program, noting that “a serious U.S. response is not on the horizon. Instead we are hollowing out our air, naval and Marine forces at a time when we should be reinforcing and modernizing them, so as to reassure allies that we will maintain the capability to deter Chinese aggression and defeat Chinese forces should they attack.”

I do not challenge or doubt either the good intentions or accuracy of their remarks. But our defenses are likely to remain hollow unless we muster the bipartisan political wherewithal to seriously address all components of our nation’s security.

The more pressing issue is: Do we continue heavy defense spending in the face of so many other challenges that already are hobbling the nation’s ability to defend itself?

As a nation, I fear we are racing to mediocrity — or worse. We face massive problems that, if not ignored, have surely been inadequately addressed. We most often want to tackle our problems in isolation, dealing with them one at a time. But defense, as an element of national security, is not a different concern than our national debt, industrial strength, educational shortcomings or acrimonious political environment. All the elements are not just mutually supporting, they are synergistic. We must address them that way. For at least the near term, that may require continuing the defense cuts already begun by Gates — a worrisome prospect in the current international environment, but due to our own mistakes, probably necessary.

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Filed under national security

Expert: Defense must be cut to avoid crisis


Expert: Defense must be cut to avoid crisis

By Rick Maze – Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Mar 8, 2011 11:53:35 EST

The U.S. won’t be able to avoid a crippling debt crisis as long as Congress refuses to include defense spending, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the mix of program cuts to reduce federal spending, the co-chairman of the presidential debt commission said Tuesday.

“We want to keep the country safe and secure, but I don’t think the country can afford to spend more on national defense than the next 14 countries combined,” said Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration and co-chairman of the last year’s presidential Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

“I know these cuts are probably difficult, but this is not a decision we can postpone. … We have to act, and have to act now,” Bowles testified before the Senate Budget Committee.

Bowles predicted the U.S. will face a financial crisis in “two years, maybe a little less, maybe a little more,” when it runs out of the ability to borrow money.

“I think it will come before two years,” said former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., the commission’s other co-chairman.

The Senate Budget Committee is responsible for coming up with a 2012 budget plan. There is some willingness on the panel to attempt dramatic budget changes, although it is not clear whether they are ready to make large cuts in defense spending.

“I believe we need to seize this opportunity,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the budget committee chairman. “Make no mistake, we are at a critical juncture.”

The debt commission did not make formal recommendations, but the majority of commissioners — five Democrats, 5 Republicans and one independent — voted for a plan that called for defense spending to be cut through 2015 by the same percentage as any cut in non-defense discretionary spending.

Additionally, commissioners also voted for cuts in federal retirement programs, including military retired pay, by stopping payment of cost-of-living adjustments to retirees until they are age 62.

Bowles acknowledged Congress is talking about budget cuts, but said it is on a scale too small to make a difference. On the pending 2011 budget, House Republicans have proposed a $60 billion reduction while Senate Republicans are talking about $6 billion in cuts. Neither plan amounts to enough to resolve the debt crisis, he said.

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In Arab Revolts, A Boon For Al-Qaeda


Now I know this isn’t the focus of this article so bear with me. However, I ask myself why do I cringe at his comment “Facebook-obsessed, Twitter-addled West?” It’s because I know facebook might not provide value to the time I waste there…no I don’t tweet. I also recall a cyberspace publication I reviewed for my day job citing the “twitter revolution” in Iraq as evidence of the power of social networking media. The opposite was true in Iran, only westerners were using twitter…not the Iranians. So it may be true that in America, we might be mobilized to tweet or like in support/opposition of a social movement, but I don’t think we’ll take to the streets in the same capacity of the current “revolutionaries.”

Washington Post
March 6, 2011
Pg. B1

In Arab Revolts, A Boon For Al-Qaeda

Bin Laden biographer on the new Middle East’s old dangers

By Michael Scheuer

The rush in the West to proclaim the advance of democracy in the Arab world has led to the propagation of an ill-conceived and dangerous corollary: that the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa also mark the irrelevance of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups.

“Al Qaeda Sees History Fly By,” declared the New York Times. “Uprisings Put al Qaeda on Sidelines,” asserted the Wall Street Journal. And Western politicians, academics and even intelligence specialists appear to agree that, with peaceful and pro-democratic change afoot in the Middle East, the world has moved beyond al-Qaeda, leaving Osama bin Laden writhing in the dust.

If only that were true. Since bin Laden declared war against the United States in 1996, al-Qaeda’s main goals have included the destruction of the Arab world’s tyrannies and of Israel. The events of recent weeks only move al-Qaeda closer to those objectives.

Today, the dictatorships of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt are gone. Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh is little more than the mayor of his capital city of Sanaa. And Col. Moammar Gaddafi may be on his way out in Libya, unless some knee-jerk U.S.-led intervention saves him by refocusing Libyan and other North African Islamists on what they consider an infidel threat greater than Gaddafi.

As for Israel, the fall of Mubarak – and the unsealing of Egypt’s border with Gaza – pose a security disaster equal to the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Israel’s two anti-Islamist shields to the east and to the west are now history.

All of this amounts to an enormous strategic step forward for al-Qaeda. That these victories have come with virtually no investment of manpower or money by the terrorist network, and with self-defeating applause from the Facebook-obsessed, Twitter-addled West, only makes them all the sweeter for bin Laden.

Peering into the future, the autocrats’ probable successors likewise offer abundant good news for al-Qaeda and kindred groups. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and any other nation with a U.S.-supported tyranny that sinks in the weeks and months ahead, the role of Islamist groups will become larger – and over time perhaps dominant – if only because the populations in play are almost entirely Muslim and because Islamist groups have the most effective nationwide infrastructures to replace the old guard. And most do and will receive funding, openly or covertly, from always generous donors in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Sunni gulf states.

Each new regime is likely to host a more open, religion-friendly environment for speech, assembly and press freedoms than did Mubarak and his ilk. So it will be easier for media-savvy Islamist groups – whether peaceful or militant – to proselytize, publish and foment without immediate threat of arrest and incarceration. Indeed, Washington and its Western allies will dogmatically urge the new governments to maintain such freedoms, even as the Islamists capitalize on them.

The Islamists will follow the formulas for gaining power and then governing that are detailed in the Koran and the Sunnah, the prophet Muhammad’s sayings and traditions. Western experts have long failed to recognize these documents as Islam’s equivalent to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. In Egypt, for example, governance based on them would be far more familiar, comfortable and culturally appropriate than anything opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei and his followers could offer.

The blessing of the Arab revolts for al-Qaeda and its allies also can be seen in the opening of prisons across Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. In Egypt alone, the news media are reporting that at least 17,000 prisoners have been freed. Many of those released are not thieves and murderers, but Islamist firebrands that the regimes had jailed to protect their internal security – at times even at the request and with the funding of Washington and its allies. Indeed, many were incarcerated as a result of quiet cooperation between Western and Arab intelligence services; their release is a major setback for these efforts.

So al-Qaeda and like-minded groups are now being replenished by a steady flow of pious, veteran mujaheddin, each of whom will never forget that U.S. and other Western funds helped keep them jailed by Arab tyrants.

The revolts also mean that the United States and its Western allies must take on a far greater share of the counterterrorism operations that they previously conducted with the help of Arab regimes. The days of Mubarak, Saleh, Gaddafi and Ben Ali doing the dirty work for American, European and Israeli counterterrorism efforts are over. Soon it will be U.S. and Western special forces and intelligence services that will be ordered to capture or kill militants in Muslim lands – individuals that our tyrannical friends used to dispose of for us.

How tragic that in the war being waged against the United States by al-Qaeda and its allies precisely because of Washington’s relentless intervention in the Islamic world, the U.S. government will now be forced to intervene even more – or sit on the sidelines and watch al-Qaeda build or expand bases from which to threaten U.S. security.

Of course, open and vociferous participation by Islamists in the demonstrations in Cairo, Tunis, Tripoli and elsewhere would have earned a lethal and Western-supported response from Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi. So al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups simply used a talent that long ago atrophied in the West – the ability to keep their mouths shut. As usual, the West wrongly concluded that silence connotes not strategy, but impotence and irrelevance.

Bin Laden and his peers are counting on the fact that the uprisings’ secular, pro-democracy Facebookers and tweeters – so beloved of reality-averse Western journalists and politicians – are a thin veneer across a deeply pious Arab world. They are confident that these revolts are not about democratic change but about who, in societies where peaceful transfers of power are rare, will fill the vacuum left by the dictators and consolidate power. These men also know that the answer to that question will ultimately come out of the barrel of a Kalashnikov, of which they have many, along with the old tyrants’ weapons stockpiles, on which they are now feasting.

Michael Scheuer, chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, is an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University. He is the author of the new biography “Osama bin Laden.”

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GUNMAN TARGETS U.S. SOLDIERS AT FRANKFURT AIRPORT


March 2, 2011

GUNMAN TARGETS U.S. SOLDIERS AT FRANKFURT AIRPORT

Two people were killed and two were injured, at least one critically, in a shooting attack on U.S. military personnel at 3:20 p.m. local time March 3 at Germany’s Frankfurt International Airport. According to breaking news reports, an armed attacker boarded a U.S. military bus idling in front of Terminal 2 and began shooting. The two killed were a U.S. soldier and the driver of the bus, whose nationality is unclear. The perpetrator is alleged to be from Kosovo, of Albanian ethnicity and 21 years old, according to German media sources. According to news reports, the U.S. forces involved in the attack were on their way to Afghanistan.

There have been plots against U.S. military targets in Germany in recent years. The attack fits in the category of “armed jihadist assault” similar to what American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki called for in mid-2010 in jihadist Internet chat rooms. Al-Awlaki had been tied to U.S. Maj. Nidal Hasan, who was charged with the November 2009 Fort Hood shooting.

The attack in Frankfurt appears to have been a soft-target attack. Soft targets are vulnerable to attack due to the absence of adequate security or standoff distance. Areas at airports outside the security check-in points are such targets. STRATFOR has for some time predicted that militants would seek out such targets, especially considering their fixation on airplanes.
The recent bombing at Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow, for example, targeted the international arrivals area where families, friends and drivers awaited travelers emerging from the terminal. Such areas are difficult to secure because doing so would require essentially cordoning off the entire airport.

If reports of the attacker’s ethnicity are true, this would not be the first time ethnic Albanians have joined international jihad. A number of Albanian individuals were part of the Fort Dix plot in the United States in 2007.
U.S. authorities broke up a militant cell in North Carolina that involved an individual of ethnic Albanian origin. In 2009, a U.S. citizen of Albanian descent from Brooklyn, New York, tried to go to Pakistan for militant training. Albanian militants fighting in the Kosovo Liberation Army, however, largely eschewed militant Islam during their fight against Serbia in the late 1990s and in fact allied with NATO against the regime of then-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. Recent jihadist plots, however, indicate that the diaspora in the West has had a considerable number of cases of radicalization.

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Ex-Pentagon Adviser Says US Should Cut Afghan Aid


Washingtonpost.com
March 2, 2011

Ex-Pentagon Adviser Says US Should Cut Afghan Aid

By Bradley Klapper, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — By pumping more than $100 million into a hydropower plant, the United States sought to improve the lives of Afghans and win the hearts and minds of tribesmen and farmers who might otherwise turn to the Taliban insurgency. Instead, a prominent outside Pentagon adviser argues, the bungled boondoggle ended up funding the insurgents while doing little to help the United States end the war and bring troops home.

The story of the Kajaki dam, the largest U.S. aid project in Afghanistan, is emblematic of the U.S. government’s failing approach to development aid in Afghanistan, according to a policy brief by Mark Moyar, a former professor at the Marine Corps University and frequent consultant to U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan and the Mideast.

Development aid “should be slashed immediately,” Moyar concludes. Less money should be accompanied by a narrower focus away from common good programs designed to lift the whole of Afghan society and accompanied by clearer security objectives behind each program, Moyar said.

Moyar’s critique of the U.S. approach to aid and development in the nearly 10-year-old war will appear this week in an online scholarly publication, Small Wars Journal, which is widely read by military officers and academics.

He argues that grand gestures such as the dam have flopped, largely because development spending does little to increase popular support during an insurgency. Half the electricity from the project in the volatile Helmand province goes to Taliban territory, enabling America’s enemies to issue power bills and grow the poppies that finance their insurgency, he says.

The assessment challenges basics of counterinsurgency theory as the spring fighting season in Afghanistan approaches and American commanders claim tactical gains ahead of the planned start of a U.S. withdrawal in July. And it comes amid questions over how the process will play out in provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, where the U.S. has devoted large amounts of money to areas it has struggled to control.

It is written by a well-regarded counterinsurgency theorist who asserts that money and good will – the currency of counterinsurgency – can turn out to be counterproductive. In some ways, it surprisingly echoes Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s sentiment that the volume of U.S. contract cash and development money fuels corruption and delivers as much harm as good when directed to a place where wealth is so scarce without it.

Moyar says aid should focus on short-term security goals, not long-term democratization or infrastructure plans. Money should be used to buy the allegiance of power players, from national decision-makers to tribal authorities, with the immediate goal of co-opting them on U.S. security objectives. He cites the positive changes in Iraq after 2006 when aid began to be channeled to local elites in exchange for their support against al-Qaida and anti-government forces.

In Afghanistan, stronger military forces, national police and provincial governments under the control of Kabul will make security better, but he says they need the support of local and sometimes undesirable partners.

“Afghanistan is a hierarchical society and elites make the decisions,” yet most U.S. aid operations bypass them, said Moyar, who is also author of “A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq.”

The criticism touches on an essential quandary for defenders of the U.S. government’s big-picture – and expensive – plans to build the grass-roots bases for democratic and social change in a country ravaged by conflict and endemic poverty over the past three decades.

Despite spending nearly $23 billion on development and humanitarian aid programs in Afghanistan since 2001, there is no easy way to measure the effectiveness of the effort. Winning hearts and minds doesn’t lend itself to macroeconomic indicators, though U.S. programs have helped deliver education, better health care and other services to tens of thousands of Afghans. Still, desperate poverty and hunger persist.

Supporters of programs to build grass-roots institutions say some of the fruit of that work may not be immediately apparent. They note that democratization and the development of a strong civil society are important to bringing stability to a country where weak governance allowed al-Qaida to establish bases and launch the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. It also can secure a long-term American ally in a region made precarious by Islamic extremism, a potentially nuclear-powered Iran and another fragile state in Pakistan.

Aid efforts face numerous challenges in Afghanistan, such as insecurity and rampant corruption among Afghan officials. Aid efforts haven’t always been helped by a U.S. strategy that until recently gave precedence to fighting over economic development and promoting good governance, even as European allies have tended to see Afghanistan as a long-term charity case more than a war.

The Kajaki dam illustrates some problems that beset aid efforts. Repairs were delayed repeatedly by fighting and the difficulty in securing roads long enough to deliver supplies, and the Taliban has exacted taxes on farmers who use the electricity and cut lines in areas where people support the government. Fuel shortages are common, while costs have ballooned. And to meet an ambitious time frame, the U.S. awarded a no-bid $266 million contract for work on the dam and other projects to an American contractor with a record of cost overruns and missed deadlines, The Associated Press has reported.

Moyar’s report comes during contentious congressional deliberations over the budget and calls by some Republicans for sharp funding cuts for overseas aid programs. He has distributed it so far to key officials of the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan, the Defense Department, the State Department and the Agency for International Development. The report represents Moyar’s independent research and was not commissioned by the military or the government.

It urges a complete overhaul of the approach championed by Gen. David Petraeus and others whom Moyar has advised, which links aid to counterinsurgency efforts on the basis of addressing Afghan grievances. Bringing schools, clinics and other services to Afghans can help people economically and promote peace and stability, this thinking goes, but Moyar describes this as fantasy talk during an armed insurrection. The goals should be far more limited and focus primarily on security, he says.

“We can do all the vaccinations we want, but it doesn’t really change people’s behavior,” he said. “And the Taliban can take credit for our work.”

Still, his call for buying support and channeling efforts through existing power structures is not without its own pitfalls. Nowhere is this probably truer than in Afghanistan, which ranks among the worst countries in the world for public corruption, a scourge that is pervasive from Karzai’s senior government officials all the way down to local levels. And it’s unclear how committed local figures will be to the American and Afghan government cause if the money dries up.

“The corruption issue is indeed tricky,” Moyar said in an interview. He said he was part of an internal U.S. government debate last year over whether to battle or tolerate Afghan corruption. A softer approach seems to have won out, he said. His paper argues that the U.S. should only combat corruption that hampers counterinsurgency efforts – such as kidnapping for ransom or shaking people down at checkpoints – and not economic practices that may be tolerable to many Afghans, however egregious they are to Westerners.

Directing development aid to certain leaders in exchange for counterterrorism support could feed corruption, Moyar concedes, but he insists it wouldn’t lead to the type of predatory practices that drive people to joining the insurgency. Most leaders can be bought because they are not ideological diehards, though it is important to co-opt good leaders who can do the most to help the fight against the Taliban.

In Afghanistan, these individuals may be in short supply. The drawdown in U.S. forces expected later this year will test the strength of U.S. alliances at the local level and development programs designed to bring stability and a better quality of life to Afghans. Many questions remain unanswered over the lasting effects that billions of dollars in American aid will have, especially as areas of the country are transferred to the control of Afghanistan’s government and it takes the lead in the battle for supremacy with the Taliban.

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