Friday, December 30, 2011

Octupy to March In Pasadena Rose Parade

 Octupy participants practice at Pasadena's Singer Park in preparation for 
  their appearance in the world-famous Pasadena New Year's Rose Parade. 
Photo credit: gpfoto

The at least 160 or so Occupy camps around the country may be abandoned and the thousands of Occupants dispersed hither and yon (to the no doubt immense relief of the financial 1% being protested against), perhaps even forgotten by distracted Americans as they party in the New Year, but the Occupy movement is not taking a winter's nap.

If America and the estimated 425 million worldwide viewers stay glued to their wide screens come Monday morning, many will be in for a rude shock as they observe a rough and tumble, ever-eager crew of pissed-off citizens bringing Occupy Wall Street and its call for economic justice back front and center to the world's attention.

Pasadena police have issued permits for Occupy the Rose Parade.Org to camp (no tents, sleeping bags only) in Pasadena's Singer Park the Sunday night before the parade in order to allow the Octopy members an early start and time to strategically position themselves in the traditional after parade.

Peter Thottam, an Octupy spokeperson, has said that hundreds - and hopefully thousands - of Occupiers from all over the country have indicated that they will be joining the people-powered octopus float and its entourage, which  includes a giant copy of the United States Constitution as well as at least a minimum of 75 to 250 local activists with props, signs and in various costumes.

Sadly, although invited, the local Tea Party has declined to join forces with Octupy to participate. Michael Alexander, president and founder of TEAPAC, a Pasadena-based tea party group, claims his members were outraged that Occupy would try to "politicize" the Rose Parade.

It may be winter, but Occupy is not hibernating and the work goes on.

Happy New Year, everyone.

(Update: The post has been updated to reflect the fact that Octupy is the unofficial name of the  Occupy the Rose Parade group, as well as the official name of the handmade 70-foot-long octopus float.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Michael Moore - Where do we go from here?

Michael Moore reports:
his past weekend I participated in a four-hour meeting of Occupy Wall Street activists whose job it is to come up with the vision and goals of the movement. It was attended by 40+ people and the discussion was both inspiring and invigorating. Here is what we ended up proposing as the movement's "vision statement" to the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street:
We Envision: [1] a truly free, democratic, and just society; [2] where we, the people, come together and solve our problems by consensus; [3] where people are encouraged to take personal and collective responsibility and participate in decision making; [4] where we learn to live in harmony and embrace principles of toleration and respect for diversity and the differing views of others; [5] where we secure the civil and human rights of all from violation by tyrannical forces and unjust governments; [6] where political and economic institutions work to benefit all, not just the privileged few; [7] where we provide full and free education to everyone, not merely to get jobs but to grow and flourish as human beings; [8] where we value human needs over monetary gain, to ensure decent standards of living without which effective democracy is impossible; [9] where we work together to protect the global environment to ensure that future generations will have safe and clean air, water and food supplies, and will be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of nature that past generations have enjoyed.
The next step will be to develop a specific list of goals and demands. As one of the millions of people who are participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement, I would like to respectfully offer my suggestions of what we can all get behind now to wrestle the control of our country out of the hands of the 1% and place it squarely with the 99% majority.
Here is what I will propose to the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street:
10 Things We Want
A Proposal for Occupy Wall Street
Submitted by Michael Moore 

1. Eradicate the Bush tax cuts for the rich and institute new taxes on the wealthiest Americans and on corporations, including a tax on all trading on Wall Street (where they currently pay 0%). 

2. Assess a penalty tax on any corporation that moves American jobs to other countries when that company is already making profits in America. Our jobs are the most important national treasure and they cannot be removed from the country simply because someone wants to make more money. 

3. Require that all Americans pay the same Social Security tax on all of their earnings (normally, the middle class pays about 6% of their income to Social Security; someone making $1 million a year pays about 0.6% (or 90% less than the average person). This law would simply make the rich pay what everyone else pays. 

4. Reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, placing serious regulations on how business is conducted by Wall Street and the banks. 

5. Investigate the Crash of 2008, and bring to justice those who committed any crimes. 

6. Reorder our nation's spending priorities (including the ending of all foreign wars and their cost of over $2 billion a week). This will re-open libraries, reinstate band and art and civics classes in our schools, fix our roads and bridges and infrastructure, wire the entire country for 21st century internet, and support scientific research that improves our lives. 

7. Join the rest of the free world and create a single-payer, free and universal health care system that covers all Americans all of the time. 

8. Immediately reduce carbon emissions that are destroying the planet and discover ways to live without the oil that will be depleted and gone by the end of this century. 

9. Require corporations with more than 10,000 employees to restructure their board of directors so that 50% of its members are elected by the company’s workers. We can never have a real democracy as long as most people have no say in what happens at the place they spend most of their time: their job. (For any U.S. businesspeople freaking out at this idea because you think workers can't run a successful company: Germany has a law like this and it has helped to make Germany the world’s leading manufacturing exporter.) 

10. We, the people, must pass three constitutional amendments that will go a long way toward fixing the core problems we now have. These include:
a) A constitutional amendment that fixes our broken electoral system by 1) completely removing campaign contributions from the political process; 2) requiring all elections to be publicly financed; 3) moving election day to the weekend to increase voter turnout; 4) making all Americans registered voters at the moment of their birth; 5) banning computerized voting and requiring that all elections take place on paper ballots. 

b) A constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and do not have the constitutional rights of citizens. This amendment should also state that the interests of the general public and society must always come before the interests of corporations. 

c) A constitutional amendment that will act as a "second bill of rights" as proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt: that every American has a human right to employment, to health care, to a free and full education, to breathe clean air, drink clean water and eat safe food, and to be cared for with dignity and respect in their old age.
Let me know what you think. Occupy Wall Street enjoys the support of millions. It is a movement that cannot be stopped. Become part of it by sharing your thoughts with me or online (at Get involved in (or start!) your own local Occupy movement. Make some noise. You don't have to pitch a tent in lower Manhattan to be an Occupier. You are one just by saying you are. This movement has no singular leader or spokesperson; every participant is a leader in their neighborhood, their school, their place of work. Each of you is a spokesperson to those whom you encounter. There are no dues to pay, no permission to seek in order to create an action.
We are but ten weeks old, yet we have already changed the national conversation. This is our moment, the one we've been hoping for, waiting for. If it's going to happen it has to happen now. Don't sit this one out. This is the real deal. This is it.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!
Cross-posted from Open Mike Blog

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Financial Rat Indicted

Breaking news from the Financial Times: Financial Rat Indicted
"Rajat Gupta, the former head of McKinsey [Group hedge fund], will face criminal charges as soon as Wednesday for allegedly passing Goldman Sachs earnings data to Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund manager, while serving on the bank’s board, people familiar with the matter say."
The aforementioned Raj Rajaratam was convicted earlier for the same deal and is now sitting in jail, serving a ten year sentence for his part in this insider trading scenario. The case is strong, as apparently the FBI/SEC had been wiretapping these sleazeballs for some time.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy LA brings RESULTS

Citizens gather together at a strategy meeting at Occupy LA
Photo credit: gpfoto

BAM. Occupy LA brings results, by ghod!

Local independent television and former PBS affiliate KCET reports:

"Other than general statements of support, City Council members did not debate the merits of Occupy LA's goals or the main crux of the resolution, which supports "the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights" of the protestors, hundreds of them who are camping outside city hall (and vow to through December). Rather, the council focused on the other part of the resolution: logistics of hearing a responsible banking measure that was introduced over a year ago by Council member Richard Alarcon.

"That measure seeks to divest city money from banks not cooperating with foreclosure prevention efforts and instead flow money into banks reinvesting in the community. Billions of dollars invested in banks could be affected. It will be discussed on or by November 21st by the city's Finance and Budget Committee, with a preliminary discussion at a City Council meeting that same week."

All you banksters: Suck. On. This.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The War of the Royalists vs. Everybody Else

During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt reminded the American people of the existance of the economic royalist class, how they unworthily captured control of the democratic process, and if we are to remain a free people, we must fight back. Do not doubt that it is truly a war of one narrow class who would be masters of the world against the larger other, that of the greater body of people who would be free.

"For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities...-all undreamed of by the fathers—the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service. There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small business men and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit...

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction...

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for...

In this world of ours in other lands, there are some people, who, in times past, have lived and fought for freedom, and seem to have grown too weary to carry on the fight...

I believe in my heart that only our success can stir their ancient hope. They begin to know that here in America we are waging a great and successful war. It is...a war for the survival of democracy...

I am enlisted for the duration of the war."

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, June 27, 1936

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy

By George Friedman

Classical political economists like Adam Smith or David Ricardo never used the term “economy” by itself. They always used the term “political economy.” For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics. The two fields are certainly different but they are also intimately linked. The use of the term “economy” by itself did not begin until the late 19th century. Smith understood that while an efficient market would emerge from individual choices, those choices were framed by the political system in which they were made, just as the political system was shaped by economic realities. For classical economists, the political and economic systems were intertwined, each dependent on the other for its existence.

The current economic crisis is best understood as a crisis of political economy. Moreover, it has to be understood as a global crisis enveloping the United States, Europe and China that has different details but one overriding theme: the relationship between the political order and economic life. On a global scale, or at least for most of the world’s major economies, there is a crisis of political economy. Let’s consider how it evolved.

Origin of the Crisis

As we all know, the origin of the current financial crisis was the subprime mortgage meltdown in the United States. To be more precise, it originated in a financial system generating paper assets whose value depended on the price of housing. It assumed that the price of homes would always rise and, at the very least, if the price fluctuated the value of the paper could still be determined. Neither proved to be true. The price of housing declined and, worse, the value of the paper assets became indeterminate. This placed the entire American financial system in a state of gridlock and the crisis spilled over into Europe, where many financial institutions had purchased the paper as well.

From the standpoint of economics, this was essentially a financial crisis: who made or lost money and how much. From the standpoint of political economy it raised a different question: the legitimacy of the financial elite. Think of a national system as a series of subsystems — political, economic, military and so on. Then think of the economic system as being divisible into subsystems — various corporate verticals with their own elites, with one of the verticals being the financial system. Obviously, this oversimplifies the situation, but I’m doing that to make a point. One of the systems, the financial system, failed, and this failure was due to decisions made by the financial elite. This created a massive political problem centered not so much on confidence in any particular financial instrument but on the competence and honesty of the financial elite itself. A sense emerged that the financial elite was either stupid or dishonest or both. The idea was that the financial elite had violated all principles of fiduciary, social and moral responsibility in seeking its own personal gain at the expense of society as a whole.

Fair or not, this perception created a massive political crisis. This was the true systemic crisis, compared to which the crisis of the financial institutions was trivial. The question was whether the political system was capable not merely of fixing the crisis but also of holding the perpetrators responsible. Alternatively, if the financial crisis did not involve criminality, how could the political system not have created laws to render such actions criminal? Was the political elite in collusion with the financial elite?

There was a crisis of confidence in the financial system and a crisis of confidence in the political system. The U.S. government’s actions in September 2008 were designed first to deal with the failures of the financial system. Many expected this would be followed by dealing with the failures of the financial elite, but this is perceived not to have happened. Indeed, the perception is that having spent large sums of money to stabilize the financial system, the political elite allowed the financial elite to manage the system to its benefit.

This generated the second crisis — the crisis of the political elite. The Tea Party movement emerged in part as critics of the political elite, focusing on the measures taken to stabilize the system and arguing that it had created a new financial crisis, this time in excessive sovereign debt. The Tea Party’s perception was extreme, but the idea was that the political elite had solved the financial problem both by generating massive debt and by accumulating excessive state power. Its argument was that the political elite used the financial crisis to dramatically increase the power of the state (health care reform was the poster child for this) while mismanaging the financial system through excessive sovereign debt.

The Crisis in Europe

The sovereign debt question also created both a financial crisis and then a political crisis in Europe. While the American financial crisis certainly affected Europe, the European political crisis was deepened by the resulting recession. There had long been a minority in Europe who felt that the European Union had been constructed either to support the financial elite at the expense of the broader population or to strengthen Northern Europe, particularly France and Germany, at the expense of the periphery — or both. What had been a minority view was strengthened by the recession.

The European crisis paralleled the American crisis in that financial institutions were bailed out. But the deeper crisis was that Europe did not act as a single unit to deal with all European banks but instead worked on a national basis, with each nation focused on its own banks and the European Central Bank seeming to favor Northern Europe in general and Germany in particular. This became the theme particularly when the recession generated disproportionate crises in peripheral countries like Greece.

There are two narratives to the story. One is the German version, which has become the common explanation. It holds that Greece wound up in a sovereign debt crisis because of the irresponsibility of the Greek government in maintaining social welfare programs in excess of what it could fund, and now the Greeks were expecting others, particularly the Germans, to bail them out.

The Greek narrative, which is less noted, was that the Germans rigged the European Union in their favor. Germany is the world’s third-largest exporter, after China and the United States (and closing rapidly on the No. 2 spot). By forming a free trade zone, the Germans created captive markets for their goods. During the prosperity of the first 20 years or so, this was hidden beneath general growth. But once a crisis hit, the inability of Greece to devalue its money — which, as the euro, was controlled by the European Central Bank — and the ability of Germany to continue exporting without any ability of Greece to control those exports exacerbated Greece’s recession, leading to a sovereign debt crisis. Moreover, the regulations generated by Brussels so enhanced the German position that Greece was helpless.

Which narrative is true is not the point. The point is that Europe is facing two political crises generated by economics. One crisis is similar to the American one, which is the belief that Europe’s political elite protected the financial elite. The other is a distinctly European one, a regional crisis in which parts of Europe have come to distrust each other rather vocally. This could become an existential crisis for the European Union.

The Crisis in China

The American and European crises struck hard at China, which, as the world’s largest export economy, is a hostage to external demand, particularly from the United States and Europe. When the United States and Europe went into recession, the Chinese government faced an unemployment crisis. If factories closed, workers would be unemployed, and unemployment in China could lead to massive social instability. The Chinese government had two responses. The first was to keep factories going by encouraging price reductions to the point where profit margins on exports evaporated. The second was to provide unprecedented amounts of credit to enterprises facing default on debts in order to keep them in business.

The strategy worked, of course, but only at the cost of substantial inflation. This led to a second crisis, where workers faced the contraction of already small incomes. The response was to increase incomes, which in turn increased the cost of goods exported once again, making China’s wage rates less competitive, for example, than Mexico’s.

China had previously encouraged entrepreneurs. This was easy when Europe and the United States were booming. Now, the rational move by entrepreneurs was to go offshore or lay off workers, or both. The Chinese government couldn’t afford this, so it began to intrude more and more into the economy. The political elite sought to stabilize the situation — and their own positions — by increasing controls on the financial and other corporate elites.

In different ways, that is what happened in all three places — the United States, Europe and China — at least as first steps. In the United States, the first impulse was to regulate the financial sector, stimulate the economy and increase control over sectors of the economy. In Europe, where there were already substantial controls over the economy, the political elite started to parse how those controls would work and who would benefit more. In China, where the political elite always retained implicit power over the economy, that power was increased. In all three cases, the first impulse was to use political controls.

In all three, this generated resistance. In the United States, the Tea Party was simply the most active and effective manifestation of that resistance. It went beyond them. In Europe, the resistance came from anti-Europeanists (and anti-immigration forces that blamed the European Union’s open border policies for uncontrolled immigration). It also came from political elites of countries like Ireland who were confronting the political elites of other countries. In China, the resistance has come from those being hurt by inflation, both consumers and business interests whose exports are less competitive and profitable.

Not every significant economy is caught in this crisis. Russia went through this crisis years ago and had already tilted toward the political elite’s control over the economy. Brazil and India have not experienced the extremes of China, but then they haven’t had the extreme growth rates of China. But when the United States, Europe and China go into a crisis of this sort, it can reasonably be said that the center of gravity of the world’s economy and most of its military power is in crisis. It is not a trivial moment.

Crisis does not mean collapse. The United States has substantial political legitimacy to draw on. Europe has less but its constituent nations are strong. China’s Communist Party is a formidable entity but it is no longer dealing with a financial crisis. It is dealing with a political crisis over the manner in which the political elite has managed the financial crisis. It is this political crisis that is most dangerous, because as the political elite weakens it loses the ability to manage and control other elites.

It is vital to understand that this is not an ideological challenge. Left-wingers opposing globalization and right-wingers opposing immigration are engaged in the same process — challenging the legitimacy of the elites. Nor is it simply a class issue. The challenge emanates from many areas. The challengers are not yet the majority, but they are not so far away from it as to be discounted. The real problem is that, while the challenge to the elites goes on, the profound differences in the challengers make an alternative political elite difficult to imagine.

The Crisis of Legitimacy

This, then, is the third crisis that can emerge: that the elites become delegitimized and all that there is to replace them is a deeply divided and hostile force, united in hostility to the elites but without any coherent ideology of its own. In the United States this would lead to paralysis. In Europe it would lead to a devolution to the nation-state. In China it would lead to regional fragmentation and conflict.

These are all extreme outcomes and there are many arrestors. But we cannot understand what is going on without understanding two things. The first is that the political economic crisis, if not global, is at least widespread, and uprisings elsewhere have their own roots but are linked in some ways to this crisis. The second is that the crisis is an economic problem that has triggered a political problem, which in turn is making the economic problem worse.

The followers of Adam Smith may believe in an autonomous economic sphere disengaged from politics, but Adam Smith was far more subtle. That’s why he called his greatest book the Wealth of Nations. It was about wealth, but it was also about nations. It was a work of political economy that teaches us a great deal about the moment we are in.


Reprinted with permission of : STRATFOR

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

U.S. and Pakistan: Afghan Strategies

U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Newman, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, watches the sunrise after a dismounted patrol mission near Forward Operating Base Baylough, Zabul, Afghanistan, March 19, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini/Released)U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Newman, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion,
4th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, watches the sunrise after a dismounted patrol mission
near Forward Operating Base Baylough, Zabul, Afghanistan, March 19, 2009.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini/Released)

By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama will give a speech on Afghanistan on June 22. Whatever he says, it is becoming apparent that the United States is exploring ways to accelerate the drawdown of its forces in the country. It is also clear that U.S. relations with Pakistan are deteriorating to a point where cooperation — whatever level there was — is breaking down. These are two intimately related issues. Any withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly an accelerated one, will leave a power vacuum in Afghanistan that the Kabul government will not be able to fill. Afghanistan is Pakistan’s back door, and its evolution is a matter of fundamental interest to Pakistan. A U.S. withdrawal means an Afghanistan intertwined with and influenced by Pakistan. Therefore, the current dynamic with Pakistan challenges any withdrawal plan.

There may be some in the U.S. military who believe that the United States might prevail in Afghanistan, but they are few in number. The champion of this view, Gen. David Petraeus, has been relieved of his command of forces in Afghanistan and promoted (or kicked upstairs) to become director of the CIA. The conventional definition of victory has been the creation of a strong government in Kabul controlling an army and police force able to protect the regime and ultimately impose its will throughout Afghanistan. With President Hamid Karzai increasingly uncooperative with the United States, the likelihood of this outcome is evaporating. Karzai realizes his American protection will be withdrawn and understands that the Americans will blame him for any negative outcomes of the withdrawal because of his inability or unwillingness to control corruption.

Defining Success in Afghanistan

There is a prior definition of success that shaped the Bush administration’s approach to Afghanistan in its early phases. The goal here was the disruption of al Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan and the prevention of further attacks on the United States from Afghanistan. This definition did not envisage the emergence of a stable and democratic Afghanistan free of corruption and able to control its territory. It was more modest and, in many ways, it was achieved in 2001-2002. Its defect, of course, was that the disruption of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, while useful, did not address the evolution of al Qaeda in other countries. In particular, it did not deal with the movement of al Qaeda operatives to Pakistan, nor did it address the Taliban, which were not defeated in 2001-2002 but simply declined combat on American terms, re-emerging as a viable insurgency when the United States became bogged down in Iraq.

The mission creep from denying Afghan bases to al Qaeda to the transformation of Afghan society had many roots and was well under way during the Bush administration, but the immediate origin of the current strategy was the attempt to transfer the lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan. The surge in Iraq, and the important political settlement with Sunni insurgents that brought them into the American fold, reduced the insurgency. It remains to be seen whether it will produce a stable Iraq not hostile to American interests. The ultimate Iraq strategy was a political settlement framed by an increase in forces, and its long-term success was never clear. The Obama administration was prepared to repeat the attempt in Afghanistan, at least by using Iraq as a template if not applying exactly the same tactics.

However, the United States found that the Taliban were less inclined to negotiate with the United States, and certainly not on the favorable terms of the Iraqi insurgents, simply because they believed they would win in the long run and did not face the dangers that the Sunni insurgents did. The military operations that framed the search for a political solution turned out to be a frame without a painting. In Iraq, it is not clear that the Petraeus strategy actually achieved a satisfactory political outcome, and its application to Afghanistan does not seem, as yet, to have drawn the Taliban into the political process in the way that incorporating the Sunnis made Iraq appear at least minimally successful.

As we pointed out after the death of Osama bin Laden, his demise, coupled with the transfer of Petraeus out of Afghanistan, offered two opportunities. The first was a return to the prior definition of success in Afghanistan, in which the goal was the disruption of al Qaeda. Second, the departure of Petraeus and his staff also removed the ideology of counterinsurgency, in which social transformation was seen as the means toward a practical and radical transformation of Afghanistan. These two events opened the door to the redefinition of the U.S. goal and the ability to claim mission accomplished for the earlier, more modest end, thereby building the basis for terminating the war.

The central battle was in the United States military, divided between conventional warfighters and counter-insurgents. Counterinsurgency draws its roots from theories of social development in emerging countries going back to the 1950s. It argues that victory in these sorts of wars depends on social and political mobilization and that the purpose of the military battle is to create a space to build a state and nation capable of defending itself.

The conventional understanding of war is that its purpose is to defeat the enemy military. It presents a more limited and focused view of military power. This faction, bitterly opposed to Petraeus’ view of what was happening in Afghanistan, saw the war in terms of defeating the Taliban as a military force. In the view of this faction, defeating the Taliban was impossible with the force available and unlikely even with a more substantial force. There were two reasons for this. First, the Taliban comprised a light infantry force with a superior intelligence capability and the ability to withdraw from untenable operations (such as the battle for Helmand province) and re-engage on more favorable terms elsewhere. Second, sanctuaries in Pakistan allowed the Taliban to withdraw to safety and reconstitute themselves, thereby making their defeat in detail impossible. The option of invading Pakistan remained, but the idea of invading a country of 180 million people with some fraction of the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan was militarily unsupportable. Indeed, no force the United States could field would be in a position to compel Pakistan to conform to American wishes.

The alternative on the American side is a more conventional definition of war in which the primary purpose of the U.S. military in Afghanistan is to create a framework for special operations forces to disrupt al Qaeda in Afghanistan and potentially Pakistan, not to attempt to either defeat the Taliban strategically or transform Afghanistan politically and culturally. With the death of bin Laden, an argument can be made — at least for political purposes — that al Qaeda has been disrupted enough that the conventional military framework in Afghanistan is no longer needed. If al Qaeda revives in Afghanistan, then covert operations can be considered. The problem with al Qaeda is that it does not require any single country to regenerate. It is a global guerrilla force.

Asymmetry in U.S. and Pakistani Interests

The United States can choose to leave Afghanistan without suffering strategic disaster. Pakistan cannot leave Pakistan. It therefore cannot leave its border with Afghanistan nor can it evade the reality that Pakistani ethnic groups — particularly the Pashtun, which straddle the border and form the heart of the Taliban phenomenon — live on the Afghan side of the border as well. Therefore, while Afghanistan is a piece of American global strategy and not its whole, Afghanistan is central to Pakistan’s national strategy. This asymmetry in U.S. and Pakistani interests is now the central issue.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan joined with the United States to defeat the Soviets. Saudi Arabia provided money and recruits, the Pakistanis provided training facilities and intelligence and the United States provided trainers and other support. For Pakistan, the Soviet invasion was a matter of fundamental national interest. Facing a hostile India supported by the Soviets and a Soviet presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan was threatened on two fronts. Therefore, deep involvement with the jihadists in Afghanistan was essential to Pakistan because the jihadists tied down the Soviets. This was also beneficial to the United States.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States became indifferent to Afghanistan’s future. Pakistan could not be indifferent. It remained deeply involved with the Islamist forces that had defeated the Soviets and would govern Afghanistan, and it helped facilitate the emergence of the Taliban as the dominant force in the country. The United States was quite content with this in the 1990s and accepted the fact that Pakistani intelligence had become intertwined not only with the forces that fought the Soviets but also with the Taliban, who, with Pakistani support, won the civil war that followed the Soviet defeat.

Intelligence organizations are as influenced by their clients as their clients are controlled by them. Consider anti-Castro Cubans in the 1960s and 1970s and their beginning as CIA assets and their end as major influencers of U.S. policy toward Cuba. The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) became entwined with its clients. As the influence of the Taliban and Islamist elements increased in Afghanistan, the sentiment spread to Pakistan, where a massive Islamist movement developed with influence in the government and intelligence services.

Sept. 11, 2001, posed a profound threat to Pakistan. On one side, Pakistan faced a United States in a state of crisis, demanding Pakistani support against both al Qaeda and the Taliban. On the other side Pakistan had a massive Islamist movement hostile to the United States and intelligence services that had, for a generation, been intimately linked to Afghan Islamists, first with whole-hearted U.S. support, then with its benign indifference. The American demands involved shredding close relationships in Afghanistan, supporting an American occupation in Afghanistan and therefore facing internal resistance and threats in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistani solution was the only one it could come up with to placate both the United States and the forces in Pakistan that did not want to cooperate with the United States. The Pakistanis lied. To be more precise and fair, they did as much as they could for the United States without completely destabilizing Pakistan while making it appear that they were being far more cooperative with the Americans and far less cooperative with their public. As in any such strategy, the ISI and Islamabad found themselves engaged in a massive balancing act.

U.S. and Pakistani national interests widely diverged. The United States wanted to disrupt al Qaeda regardless of the cost. The Pakistanis wanted to avoid the collapse of their regime at any cost. These were not compatible goals. At the same time, the United States and Pakistan needed each other. The United States could not possibly operate in Afghanistan without some Pakistani support, ranging from the use of Karachi and the Karachi-Khyber and Karachi-Chaman lines of supply to at least some collaboration on intelligence sharing, at least on al Qaeda. The Pakistanis badly needed American support against India. If the United States simply became pro-Indian, the Pakistani position would be in severe jeopardy.

The United States was always aware of the limits of Pakistani assistance. The United States accepted this publicly because it made Pakistan appear to be an ally at a time when the United States was under attack for unilateralism. It accepted it privately as well because it did not want to see Pakistan destabilize. The Pakistanis were aware of the limits of American tolerance, so a game was played out.

The Endgame in Afghanistan

That game is now breaking down, not because the United States raided Pakistan and killed bin Laden but because it is becoming apparent to Pakistan that the United States will, sooner or later, be dramatically drawing down its forces in Afghanistan. This drawdown creates three facts. First, Pakistan will be facing the future on its western border with Afghanistan without an American force to support it. Pakistan does not want to alienate the Taliban, and not just for ideological reasons. It also expects the Taliban to govern Afghanistan in due course. India aside, Pakistan needs to maintain its ties to the Taliban in order to maintain its influence in Afghanistan and guard its western flank. Being cooperative with the United States is less important. Second, Pakistan is aware that as the United States draws down, it will need Pakistan to cover its withdrawal strategically. Afghanistan is not Iraq, and as the U.S. force draws down, it will be in greater danger. The U.S. needs Pakistani influence. Finally, there will be a negotiation with the Taliban, and elements of Pakistan, particularly the ISI, will be the intermediary.

The Pakistanis are preparing for the American drawdown. Publicly, it is important for them to appear as independent and even hostile to the Americans as possible in order to maintain their domestic credibility. Up to now, they have appeared to various factions in Pakistan as American lackeys. If the United States is leaving, the Pakistanis can’t afford to appear that way anymore. There are genuine issues separating the two countries, but in the end, the show is as important as the issues. U.S. accusations that the government has not cooperated with the United States in fighting Islamists are exactly what the Pakistani establishment needs in order to move to the next phase. Publicly arresting CIA sources who aided the United States in capturing bin Laden also enhances this new image.

From the American point of view, the war in Afghanistan — and elsewhere — has not been a failure. There have been no more attacks on the United States on the order of 9/11, and that has not been for al Qaeda’s lack of trying. U.S. intelligence and security services, fumbling in the early days, achieved a remarkable success, and that was aided by the massive disruption of al Qaeda by U.S. military operations. The measure of military success is simple. If the enemy was unable to strike, the military effort was a success. Obviously, there is no guarantee that al Qaeda will not regenerate or that another group will not emerge, but a continued presence in Afghanistan at this point doesn’t affect that. This is particularly true as franchise operations like the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula begin to overtake the old apex leadership in terms of both operational innovation in transnational efforts and the ideological underpinnings of those attacks.

In the end, the United States will leave Afghanistan (with the possible exception of some residual special operations forces). Pakistan will draw Afghanistan back into its sphere of influence. Pakistan will need American support against India (since China does not have the force needed to support Pakistan over the Himalayas nor the navy to protect Pakistan’s coast). The United States will need Pakistan to do the basic work of preventing an intercontinental al Qaeda from forming again. Reflecting on the past 10 years, Pakistan will see that as being in its national interest. The United States will use Pakistan to balance India while retaining close ties to India.

A play will be acted out like the New Zealand Haka, with both sides making terrible sounds and frightening gestures at each other. But now that the counter-insurgency concept is being discarded, from all indications, and a fresh military analysis is under way, the script is being rewritten and we can begin to see the end shaping up. The United States is furious at Pakistan for its willingness to protect American enemies. Pakistan is furious at the United States for conducting attacks on its sovereign territory. In the end it doesn’t matter. They need each other. In the affairs of nations, like and dislike are not meaningful categories, and bullying and treachery are not blocks to cooperation. The two countries need each other more than they need to punish each other. Great friendships among nations are built on less.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

U.S. - Pakistani Relations - Now What?

Marines assemble for night-ops Photo Credit/USMC

By George Friedman

The past week has been filled with announcements and speculations on how Osama bin Laden was killed and on Washington’s source of intelligence. After any operation of this sort, the world is filled with speculation on sources and methods by people who don’t know, and silence or dissembling by those who do.

Obfuscating on how intelligence was developed and on the specifics of how an operation was carried out is an essential part of covert operations. The precise process must be distorted to confuse opponents regarding how things actually played out; otherwise, the enemy learns lessons and adjusts. Ideally, the enemy learns the wrong lessons, and its adjustments wind up further weakening it. Operational disinformation is the final, critical phase of covert operations. So as interesting as it is to speculate on just how the United States located bin Laden and on exactly how the attack took place, it is ultimately not a fruitful discussion. Moreover, it does not focus on the truly important question, namely, the future of U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Posturing Versus a Genuine Breach

It is not inconceivable that Pakistan aided the United States in identifying and capturing Osama bin Laden, but it is unlikely. This is because the operation saw the already-tremendous tensions between the two countries worsen rather than improve. The Obama administration let it be known that it saw Pakistan as either incompetent or duplicitous and that it deliberately withheld plans for the operation from the Pakistanis. For their part, the Pakistanis made it clear that further operations of this sort on Pakistani territory could see an irreconcilable breach between the two countries. The attitudes of the governments profoundly affected the views of politicians and the public, attitudes that will be difficult to erase.

Posturing designed to hide Pakistani cooperation would be designed to cover operational details, not to lead to significant breaches between countries. The relationship between the United States and Pakistan ultimately is far more important than the details of how Osama bin Laden was captured, but both sides have created a tense atmosphere that they will find difficult to contain. One would not sacrifice strategic relationships for the sake of operational security. Therefore, we have to assume that the tension is real and revolves around the different goals of Pakistan and the United States.

A break between the United States and Pakistan holds significance for both sides. For Pakistan, it means the loss of an ally that could help Pakistan fend off its much larger neighbor to the east, India. For the United States, it means the loss of an ally in the war in Afghanistan. Whether the rupture ultimately occurs, of course, depends on how deep the tension goes. And that depends on what the tension is over, i.e., whether the tension ultimately merits the strategic rift. It also is a question of which side is sacrificing the most. It is therefore important to understand the geopolitics of U.S.-Pakistani relations beyond the question of who knew what about bin Laden.

From Cold to Jihadist War

U.S. strategy in the Cold War included a religious component, namely, using religion to generate tension within the Communist bloc. This could be seen in the Jewish resistance in the Soviet Union, in Roman Catholic resistance in Poland and, of course, in Muslim resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it took the form of using religious Islamist militias to wage a guerrilla war against Soviet occupation. A three-part alliance involving the Saudis, the Americans and the Pakistanis fought the Soviets. The Pakistanis had the closest relationships with the Afghan resistance due to ethnic and historical bonds, and the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had built close ties with the Afghans.

As frequently happens, the lines of influence ran both ways. The ISI did not simply control Islamist militants, but instead many within the ISI came under the influence of radical Islamist ideology. This reached the extent that the ISI became a center of radical Islamism, not so much on an institutional level as on a personal level: The case officers, as the phrase goes, went native. As long as the U.S. strategy remained to align with radical Islamism against the Soviets, this did not pose a major problem. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the United States lost interest in the future of Afghanistan, managing the conclusion of the war fell to the Afghans and to the Pakistanis through the ISI. In the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States played a trivial role. It was the ISI in alliance with the Taliban — a coalition of Afghan and international Islamist fighters who had been supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — that shaped the future of Afghanistan.

The U.S.-Islamist relationship was an alliance of convenience for both sides. It was temporary, and when the Soviets collapsed, Islamist ideology focused on new enemies, the United States chief among them. Anti-Soviet sentiment among radical Islamists soon morphed into anti-American sentiment. This was particularly true after the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait and Desert Storm. The Islamists perceived the U.S. occupation and violation of Saudi territorial integrity as a religious breach. Therefore, at least some elements of international Islamism focused on the United States; al Qaeda was central among these elements. Al Qaeda needed a base of operations after being expelled from Sudan, and Afghanistan provided the most congenial home. In moving to Afghanistan and allying with the Taliban, al Qaeda inevitably was able to greatly expand its links with Pakistan’s ISI, which was itself deeply involved with the Taliban.

After 9/11, Washington demanded that the Pakistanis aid the United States in its war against al Qaeda and the Taliban. For Pakistan, this represented a profound crisis. On the one hand, Pakistan badly needed the United States to support it against what it saw as its existential enemy, India. On the other hand, Islamabad found it difficult to rupture or control the intimate relationships, ideological and personal, that had developed between the ISI and the Taliban, and by extension with al Qaeda to some extent. In Pakistani thinking, breaking with the United States could lead to strategic disaster with India. However, accommodating the United States could lead to unrest, potential civil war and even collapse by energizing elements of the ISI and supporters of Taliban and radical Islamism in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Solution

The Pakistani solution was to appear to be doing everything possible to support the United States in Afghanistan, with a quiet limit on what that support would entail. That limit on support set by Islamabad was largely defined as avoiding actions that would trigger a major uprising in Pakistan that could threaten the regime. Pakistanis were prepared to accept a degree of unrest in supporting the war but not to push things to the point of endangering the regime.

The Pakistanis thus walked a tightrope between demands they provide intelligence on al Qaeda and Taliban activities and permit U.S. operations in Pakistan on one side and the internal consequences of doing so on the other. The Pakistanis’ policy was to accept a degree of unrest to keep the Americans supporting Pakistan against India, but only to a point. So, for example, the government purged the ISI of its overt supporters of radial Islamism, but it did not purge the ISI wholesale nor did it end informal relations between purged intelligence officers and the ISI. Pakistan thus pursued a policy that did everything to appear to be cooperative while not really meeting American demands.

The Americans were, of course, completely aware of the Pakistani limits and did not ultimately object to this arrangement. The United States did not want a coup in Islamabad, nor did it want massive civil unrest. The United States needed Pakistan on whatever terms the Pakistanis could provide help. It needed the supply line through Pakistan from Karachi to the Khyber Pass. And while it might not get complete intelligence from Pakistan, the intelligence it did get was invaluable. Moreover, while the Pakistanis could not close the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, they could limit them and control their operation to some extent. The Americans were as aware as the Pakistanis that the choice was between full and limited cooperation, but could well be between limited and no cooperation, because the government might well not survive full cooperation. The Americans thus took what they could get.

Obviously, this relationship created friction. The Pakistani position was that the United States had helped create this reality in the 1980s and 1990s. The American position was that after 9/11, the price of U.S. support involved the Pakistanis changing their policies. The Pakistanis said there were limits. The Americans agreed, so the fight was about defining the limits.

The Americans felt that the limit was support for al Qaeda. They felt that whatever Pakistan’s relationship with the Afghan Taliban was, support in suppressing al Qaeda, a separate organization, had to be absolute. The Pakistanis agreed in principle but understood that the intelligence on al Qaeda flowed most heavily from those most deeply involved with radical Islamism. In others words, the very people who posed the most substantial danger to Pakistani stability were also the ones with the best intelligence on al Qaeda — and therefore, fulfilling the U.S. demand in principle was desirable. In practice, it proved difficult for Pakistan to carry out.

The Breakpoint and the U.S. Exit From Afghanistan

This proved the breakpoint between the two sides. The Americans accepted the principle of Pakistani duplicity, but drew a line at al Qaeda. The Pakistanis understood American sensibilities but didn’t want to incur the domestic risks of going too far. This psychological breakpoint cracked open on Osama bin Laden, the Holy Grail of American strategy and the third rail of Pakistani policy.

Under normal circumstances, this level of tension of institutionalized duplicity should have blown the U.S.-Pakistani relationship apart, with the United States simply breaking with Pakistan. It did not, and likely will not for a simple geopolitical reason, one that goes back to the 1990s. In the 1990s, when the United States no longer needed to support an intensive covert campaign in Afghanistan, it depended on Pakistan to manage Afghanistan. Pakistan would have done this anyway because it had no choice: Afghanistan was Pakistan’s backdoor, and given tensions with India, Pakistan could not risk instability in its rear. The United States thus did not have to ask Pakistan to take responsibility for Afghanistan.

The United States is now looking for an exit from Afghanistan. Its goal, the creation of a democratic, pro-American Afghanistan able to suppress radical Islamism in its own territory, is unattainable with current forces — and probably unattainable with far larger forces. Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the Afghan strategy, has been nominated to become the head of the CIA. With Petraeus departing from the Afghan theater, the door is open to a redefinition of Afghan strategy. Despite Pentagon doctrines of long wars, the United States is not going to be in a position to engage in endless combat in Afghanistan. There are other issues in the world that must be addressed. With bin Laden’s death, a plausible (if not wholly convincing) argument can be made that the mission in AfPak, as the Pentagon refers to the theater, has been accomplished, and therefore the United States can withdraw.

No withdrawal strategy is conceivable without a viable Pakistan. Ideally, Pakistan would be willing to send forces into Afghanistan to carry out U.S. strategy. This is unlikely, as the Pakistanis don’t share the American concern for Afghan democracy, nor are they prepared to try directly to impose solutions in Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan can’t simply ignore Afghanistan because of its own national security issues, and therefore it will move to stabilize it.

The United States could break with Pakistan and try to handle things on its own in Afghanistan, but the supply line fueling Afghan fighting runs through Pakistan. The alternatives either would see the United States become dependent on Russia — an equally uncertain line of supply — or on the Caspian route, which is insufficient to supply forces. Afghanistan is war at the end of the Earth for the United States, and to fight it, Washington must have Pakistani supply routes.

The United States also needs Pakistan to contain, at least to some extent, Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. The United States is stretched to the limit doing what it is doing in Afghanistan. Opening a new front in Pakistan, a country of 180 million people, is well beyond the capabilities of either forces in Afghanistan or forces in the U.S. reserves. Therefore, a U.S. break with Pakistan threatens the logistical foundation of the war in Afghanistan and poses strategic challenges U.S. forces cannot cope with.

The American option might be to support a major crisis between Pakistan and India to compel Pakistan to cooperate with the United States. However, it is not clear that India is prepared to play another round in the U.S. game with Pakistan. Moreover, creating a genuine crisis between India and Pakistan could have two outcomes. The first involves the collapse of Pakistan, which would create an India more powerful than the United States might want. The second and more likely outcome would see the creation of a unity government in Pakistan in which distinctions between secularists, moderate Islamists and radical Islamists would be buried under anti-Indian feeling. Doing all of this to deal with Afghan withdrawal would be excessive, even if India played along, and could well prove disastrous for Washington.

Ultimately, the United States cannot change its policy of the last 10 years. During that time, it has come to accept what support the Pakistanis could give and tolerated what was withheld. U.S. dependence on Pakistan so long as Washington is fighting in Afghanistan is significant; the United States has lived with Pakistan’s multitiered policy for a decade because it had to. Nothing in the capture of bin Laden changes the geopolitical realities. So long as the United States wants to wage — or end — a war in Afghanistan, it must have the support of Pakistan to the extent that Pakistan is prepared to provide it. The option of breaking with Pakistan because on some level it is acting in opposition to American interests does not exist.

This is the ultimate contradiction in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and even the so-called war on terror as a whole. The United States has an absolute opposition to terrorism and has waged a war in Afghanistan on the questionable premise that the tactic of terrorism can be defeated, regardless of source or ideology. Broadly fighting terrorism requires the cooperation of the Muslim world, as U.S. intelligence and power is inherently limited. The Muslim world has an interest in containing terrorism, but not the absolute concern the United States has. Muslim countries are not prepared to destabilize their countries in service to the American imperative. This creates deeper tensions between the United States and the Muslim world and increases the American difficulty in dealing with terrorism — or with Afghanistan.

The United States must either develop the force and intelligence to wage war without any assistance, which is difficult to imagine given the size of the Muslim world and the size of the U.S. military, or it will have to accept half-hearted support and duplicity. Alternatively, it could accept that it will not win in Afghanistan and will not be able simply to eliminate terrorism. These are difficult choices, but the reality of Pakistan drives home that these, in fact, are the choices.

U.S.-Pakistani Relations Beyond Bin Laden is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Are Bin Laden death pictures fakes?

Are the death pictures of Osama Bin Laden fakes?

Not to be a party-pooper, but people are beginning to question the authenticity of the death pictures of Osama Bin Laden that CNN and other news outlets have been using on the web and in broadcasts.

Among others, posters on the infamous prankster site 4chan are claiming to have found the source images for two of the images being touted by CNN as authentic post-kill Bin Laden pix.

Here you go, and caveat emptor.

Bin Laden fake death picture and source

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Never Fight A Land War In Asia

By George Friedman

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking at West Point, said last week that “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.” In saying this, Gates was repeating a dictum laid down by Douglas MacArthur after the Korean War, who urged the United States to avoid land wars in Asia. Given that the United States has fought four major land wars in Asia since World War II — Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq — none of which had ideal outcomes, it is useful to ask three questions: First, why is fighting a land war in Asia a bad idea? Second, why does the United States seem compelled to fight these wars? And third, what is the alternative that protects U.S. interests in Asia without large-scale military land wars?

The Hindrances of Overseas Wars

Let’s begin with the first question, the answer to which is rooted in demographics and space. The population of Iraq is currently about 32 million. Afghanistan has a population of less than 30 million. The U.S. military, all told, consists of about 1.5 million active-duty personnel (plus 980,000 in the reserves), of whom more than 550,000 belong to the Army and about 200,000 are part of the Marine Corps. Given this, it is important to note that the United States strains to deploy about 200,000 troops at any one time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that many of these troops are in support rather than combat roles. The same was true in Vietnam, where the United States was challenged to field a maximum of about 550,000 troops (in a country much more populous than Iraq or Afghanistan) despite conscription and a larger standing army. Indeed, the same problem existed in World War II.

When the United States fights in the Eastern Hemisphere, it fights at great distances, and the greater the distance, the greater the logistical cost. More ships are needed to deliver the same amount of materiel, for example. That absorbs many troops. The logistical cost of fighting at a distance is that it diverts numbers of troops (or requires numbers of civilian personnel) disproportionate to the size of the combat force.

Regardless of the number of troops deployed, the U.S. military is always vastly outnumbered by the populations of the countries to which it is deployed. If parts of these populations resist as light-infantry guerrilla forces or employ terrorist tactics, the enemy rapidly swells to a size that can outnumber U.S. forces, as in Vietnam and Korea. At the same time, the enemy adopts strategies to take advantage of the core weakness of the United States — tactical intelligence. The resistance is fighting at home. It understands the terrain and the culture. The United States is fighting in an alien environment. It is constantly at an intelligence disadvantage. That means that the effectiveness of the native forces is multiplied by excellent intelligence, while the effectiveness of U.S. forces is divided by lack of intelligence.

The United States compensates with technology, from space-based reconnaissance and air power to counter-battery systems and advanced communications. This can make up the deficit but only by massive diversions of manpower from ground-combat operations. Maintaining a helicopter requires dozens of ground-crew personnel. Where the enemy operates with minimal technology multiplied by intelligence, the United States compensates for lack of intelligence with massive technology that further reduces available combat personnel. Between logistics and technological force multipliers, the U.S. “point of the spear” shrinks. If you add the need to train, relieve, rest and recuperate the ground-combat forces, you are left with a small percentage available to fight.

The paradox of this is that American forces will win the engagements but may still lose the war. Having identified the enemy, the United States can overwhelm it with firepower. The problem the United States has is finding the enemy and distinguishing it from the general population. As a result, the United States is well-suited for the initial phases of combat, when the task is to defeat a conventional force. But after the conventional force has been defeated, the resistance can switch to methods difficult for American intelligence to deal with. The enemy can then control the tempo of operations by declining combat where it is at a disadvantage and initiating combat when it chooses.

The example of the capitulation of Germany and Japan in World War II is frequently cited as a model of U.S. forces defeating and pacifying an opposing nation. But the Germans were not defeated primarily by U.S. ground troops. The back of the Wehrmacht was broken by the Soviets on their own soil with the logistical advantages of short supply lines. And, of course, Britain and numerous other countries were involved. It is doubtful that the Germans would have capitulated to the Americans alone. The force the United States deployed was insufficient to defeat Germany. The Germans had no appetite for continuing a resistance against the Russians and saw surrendering to the Americans and British as sanctuary from the Russians. They weren’t going to resist them. As for Japan, it was not ground forces but air power, submarine warfare and atomic bombs that finished them — and the emperor’s willingness to order a surrender. It was not land power that prevented resistance but air and sea power, plus a political compromise by MacArthur in retaining and using the emperor. Had the Japanese emperor been removed, I suspect that the occupation of Japan would have been much more costly. Neither Germany nor Japan are examples in which U.S. land forces compelled capitulation and suppressed resistance.

The problem the United States has in the Eastern Hemisphere is that the size of the force needed to occupy a country initially is much smaller than the force needed to pacify the country. The force available for pacification is much smaller than needed because the force the United States can deploy demographically without committing to total war is simply too small to do the job — and the size needed to do the job is unknown.

U.S. Global Interests

The deeper problem is this: The United States has global interests. While the Soviet Union was the primary focus of the United States during the Cold War, no power threatens to dominate Eurasia now, and therefore no threat justifies the singular focus of the United States. In time of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States must still retain a strategic reserve for other unanticipated contingencies. This further reduces the available force for combat.

Some people argue that the United States is insufficiently ruthless in prosecuting war, as if it would be more successful without political restraints at home. The Soviets and the Nazis, neither noted for gentleness, were unable to destroy the partisans behind German lines or the Yugoslav resistance, in spite of brutal tactics. The guerrilla has built-in advantages in warfare for which brutality cannot compensate.

Given all this, the question is why the United States has gotten involved in wars in Eurasia four times since World War II. In each case it is obvious: for political reasons. In Korea and Vietnam, it was to demonstrate to doubting allies that the United States had the will to resist the Soviets. In Afghanistan, it was to uproot al Qaeda. In Iraq, the reasons are murkier, more complex and less convincing, but the United States ultimately went in, in my opinion, to convince the Islamic world of American will.

The United States has tried to shape events in the Eastern Hemisphere by the direct application of land power. In Korea and Vietnam, it was trying to demonstrate resolve against Soviet and Chinese power. In Afghanistan and Iraq, it was trying to shape the politics of the Muslim world. The goal was understandable but the amount of ground force available was not. In Korea, it resulted in stalemate; in Vietnam, defeat. We await the outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan, but given Gates’ statement, the situation for the United States is not necessarily hopeful.

In each case, the military was given an ambiguous mission. This was because a clear outcome — defeating the enemy — was unattainable. At the same time, there were political interests in each. Having engaged, simply leaving did not seem an option. Therefore, Korea turned into an extended presence in a near-combat posture, Vietnam ended in defeat for the American side, and Iraq and Afghanistan have turned, for the time being, into an uncertain muddle that no reasonable person expects to end with the declared goals of a freed and democratic pair of countries.

Problems of Strategy

There are two problems with American strategy. The first is using the appropriate force for the political mission. This is not a question so much of the force as it is of the mission. The use of military force requires clarity of purpose; otherwise, a coherent strategy cannot emerge. Moreover, it requires an offensive mission. Defensive missions (such as Vietnam and Korea) by definition have no terminal point or any criteria for victory. Given the limited availability of ground combat forces, defensive missions allow the enemy’s level of effort to determine the size of the force inserted, and if the force is insufficient to achieve the mission, the result is indefinite deployment of scarce forces.

Then there are missions with clear goals initially but without an understanding of how to deal with Act II. Iraq suffered from an offensive intention ill suited to the enemy’s response. Having destroyed the conventional forces of Iraq, the United States was unprepared for the Iraqi response, which was guerrilla resistance on a wide scale. The same was true in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency is occupation warfare. It is the need to render a population — rather than an army — unwilling and incapable of resisting. It requires vast resources and large numbers of troops that outstrip the interest. Low-cost counter-insurgency with insufficient forces will always fail. Since the United States uses limited forces because it has to, counterinsurgency is the most dangerous kind of war for the United States. The idea has always been that the people prefer the U.S. occupation to the threats posed by their fellow countrymen and that the United States can protect those who genuinely do prefer the former. That may be the idea, but there is never enough U.S. force available.

Another model for dealing with the problem of shaping political realities can be seen in the Iran-Iraq war. In that war, the United States allowed the mutual distrust of the two countries to eliminate the threats posed by both. When the Iraqis responded by invading Kuwait, the United States responded with a massive counter with very limited ends — the reconquest of Kuwait and the withdrawal of forces. It was a land war in Asia designed to defeat a known and finite enemy army without any attempt at occupation.

The problem with all four wars is that they were not wars in a conventional sense and did not use the military as militaries are supposed to be used. The purpose of a military is to defeat enemy conventional forces. As an army of occupation against a hostile population, military forces are relatively weak. The problem for the United States is that such an army must occupy a country for a long time, and the U.S. military simply lacks the ground forces needed to occupy countries and still be available to deal with other threats.

By having an unclear mission, you have an uncertain terminal point. When does it end? You then wind up with a political problem internationally — having engaged in the war, you have allies inside and outside of the country that have fought with you and taken risks with you. Withdrawal leaves them exposed, and potential allies will be cautious in joining with you in another war. The political costs spiral and the decision to disengage is postponed. The United States winds up in the worst of all worlds. It terminates not on its own but when its position becomes untenable, as in Vietnam. This pyramids the political costs dramatically.

Wars need to be fought with ends that can be achieved by the forces available. Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” I think that is a fundamental misunderstanding of war. You do not engage in war if the army you have is insufficient. When you understand the foundations of American military capability and its limits in Eurasia, Gates’ view on war in the Eastern Hemisphere is far more sound than Rumsfeld’s.

The Diplomatic Alternative

The alternative is diplomacy, not understood as an alternative to war but as another tool in statecraft alongside war. Diplomacy can find the common ground between nations. It can also be used to identify the hostility of nations and use that hostility to insulate the United States by diverting the attention of other nations from challenging the United States. That is what happened during the Iran-Iraq war. It wasn’t pretty, but neither was the alternative.

Diplomacy for the United States is about maintaining the balance of power and using and diverting conflict to manage the international system. Force is the last resort, and when it is used, it must be devastating. The argument I have made, and which I think Gates is asserting, is that at a distance, the United States cannot be devastating in wars dependent on land power. That is the weakest aspect of American international power and the one the United States has resorted to all too often since World War II, with unacceptable results. Using U.S. land power as part of a combined arms strategy is occasionally effective in defeating conventional forces, as it was with North Korea (and not China) but is inadequate to the demands of occupation warfare. It makes too few troops available for success, and it does not know how many troops might be needed.

This is not a policy failure of any particular U.S. president. George W. Bush and Barack Obama have encountered precisely the same problem, which is that the forces that have existed in Eurasia, from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Korea to the Taliban in Afghanistan, have either been too numerous or too agile (or both) for U.S. ground forces to deal with. In any war, the primary goal is not to be defeated. An elective war in which the criteria for success are unclear and for which the amount of land force is insufficient must be avoided. That is Gates’ message. It is the same one MacArthur delivered, and the one Dwight Eisenhower exercised when he refused to intervene in Vietnam on France’s behalf. As with the Monroe Doctrine, it should be elevated to a principle of U.S. foreign policy, not because it is a moral principle but because it is a very practical one.

This article is reprinted by permission of STRATFOR