Friday, October 28, 2005

A Grim Milestone and the Battle of Perceptions

This week, on the day that the Iraqi constitution passed, we reached 2,000 casualties.


The U.S. military announced the death of an American soldier wounded in Iraq on Tuesday, bringing to 2,000 the number of American service members killed since the war started in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

A Pentagon announcement Tuesday said Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander*** Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas, was wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and died in San Antonio, Texas, last weekend. Earlier Tuesday, the military announced the deaths of two Marines in fighting with insurgents last week in a village west of Baghdad.

The reaction in some quarters of the blogosphere was predictable although some were more balanced.

All this happened the day after the insurgents staged a “made for TV event” by detonating car bombs outside hotels that house journalists in Baghdad. The blasts were caught on camera, and the images dominated the news cycle until the 2,000 dead mark was hit. The passage of the Iraqi Constitution was forced into the background, and any positive reports about the passage were qualified with statements about the deteriorating security situation.

Again, reaction to the situation has been predicable, and polling numbers show that support for the war is down, way down. But, are things as bad as they seem?

The following slides are from the The Brookings Institution's latest Iraq Index and an Iraqi Opinion Survey conducted in July by the International Republican Institute. The numbers in Iraqi Opinion survey are a bit dated, but they still seem to be a fairly good representation of what Iraqis think.

Here is the data:

Slides 1-2: US casualties are getting lower. There have been
spikes in fatalities, but the number of US wounded indicates that the US casualty rate is down. Of course, this could just mean that the insurgents are going after different targets.

Slide 3: Casualties on Iraqi Police and Security forces appear to be slightly declining as well.

Slides 4-6: There has been a spike in bombings and civilian casualties in the month leading up to the constitutional referendum, but up until then, the numbers were trending down.

Slides 7-8: In July, even as the security situation was slightly improving, Iraqis main concern was security, and many appeared to believe that their country was moving in the wrong direction. The spike in attacks may off-set any positive feeling generated by the passage of the constitution.

However, Slide 9 reveals that Iraqi remain optimistic about the future--at least for now.

Analysis: What does it all mean? Despite the 2,000 dead mark, things are incrementally getting better in Iraq, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Things are bad but slowly getting better. Iraqis still believe in their own future, but the insurgents retain the power to influence the perceptions of the Iraqi, US, and international populations.

In the US, people are not seeing real progress or positive “metrics” on the situation. I shouldn’t have to tease data out of think-tank reports in order to make an argument about our successes. This is information that our government should be talking about with a loud voice. We need a better way to address these issues than the same old rhetoric about “staying the course” and endless invocations of 9-11. There has been much discussion about the lack of a US strategy in Iraq. Do we lack an effective strategy or do we lack an effective method of communicating it? Ditto for communicating with the international community.

In Iraq, public perception is important to victory. If Iraqi optimism can be bludgeoned out of them, the insurgents can still win. So it’s a matter of continuing to try and shape public perception in Iraq. The bad guys are good at it so we need to be just as effective. Time will tell who is better, but the insurgents have the cultural home field advantage.

Some bloggers and pundits have said that 2,000 is just an arbitrary number not to be emphasized. But, the “grim milestone” has impact both emotionally and rationally. Emotionally 2,000 dead Americans looks like failure. Without effectively communicating what those 2,000 lives have purchased with their sacrifice, Americans will loose their will to fight. You can blame whoever you want for this, but its reality.

Rationally 2,000 dead means the insurgents are still very much in the fight. They still have the freedom to act. They still have the initiative and some measure of support within the Iraqi population. They believe that they can drive us out of Iraq if they can kill enough of us, and they might be right. A true indicator of success will be if we can go an extended period of time without a loss of life. That will allow us to break the insurgent’s gory dominance of the news cycle, but sadly we’re still a considerable distance from that goal.

***Note: SGT Alexander, as far as I know, is not related to me

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The National Intelligence Strategy

The Director of National Intelligence has just released the National Intelligence Strategy for 2005. You can download the full 32 page document here. I’m going to take a look at it, and I might blog more about it. But, for now, here is what the press release says:

The Director of National Intelligence today released the National Intelligence Strategy for the United States of America, a publication that establishes the strategic objectives for the Intelligence Community.

“This strategy is a statement of our fundamental values, highest priorities and orientation toward the future, but it is an action document as well,” said John D. Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence. “For U.S. national intelligence, the time for change is now.”

The document sets forth the framework for a more unified, coordinated and effective Intelligence Community and was written in consultation with the relevant departments. Its publication coincides with the six-month anniversary of the establishment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Outlining the document’s two types of strategic objectives – mission and enterprise – the strategy recognizes each Intelligence Community member’s strengths and competencies.

“At its core, this National Intelligence Strategy capitalizes on the extraordinary talents and patriotism of America’s diverse intelligence professionals, those serving today and those joining us tomorrow,” Negroponte said. “It relies on our nation’s tradition of teamwork and technological innovation to integrate the work of our distinct components into collaborative success.”

The National Intelligence Strategy will guide Intelligence Community policy, planning, collection, analysis, operations, programming, acquisition, budgeting, and execution. These activities will be overseen by the ODNI, but implemented through an integrated Intelligence Community effort to capitalize on the comparative advantages of constituent organizations.

Fiscal Year 2008 Planning, Programming, and Performance Guidance will reflect the mission and enterprise objectives. Ongoing program and budget activities for Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007 will adjust to these objectives to the maximum extent possible.

Mission Objectives
As detailed in this strategy, mission objectives relate to those efforts to predict, penetrate, and pre-empt threats to our national security and assist all who make and implement U.S. national security policy, fight our wars, protect our nation, and enforce our laws. Missions objectives outlined in the National Intelligence Strategy are:

  • Defeat terrorists at home and abroad by disarming their operational capabilities, and seizing the initiative from them by promoting the growth of freedom and democracy.

  • Prevent and counter the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

  • Bolster the growth of democracy and sustain peaceful democratic states.

  • Develop innovative ways to penetrate and analyze the most difficult targets.

  • Anticipate developments of strategic concern and identify opportunities as well as vulnerabilities for decision-makers.
Enterprise Objectives
Enterprise objectives relate to our ability to transform faster than threats emerge, protect what needs to be protected, and perform our duties according to the law. Enterprise objectives in the National Intelligence Strategy are:

  • Build an integrated intelligence capability to address threats to the homeland, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

  • Strengthen analytic expertise, methods, and practices; tap expertise wherever it resides; and, explore alternative analytic views.

  • Rebalance, integrate, and optimize collection capabilities to meet current and future customer and analytic priorities.

  • Attract, engage, and unify an innovative and results-focused Intelligence Community workforce.

  • Ensure that Intelligence Community members and customers can access the intelligence they need when they need it.

  • Establish new and strengthen existing foreign intelligence relationships to help us meet global security challenges.

  • Create clear, uniform security practices and rules that allow us to work together, protect our nation’s secrets, and enable aggressive counterintelligence activities.

  • Exploit path-breaking scientific and research advances that will enable us to maintain and extend our intelligence advantages against emerging threats.

  • Learn from our successes and mistakes to anticipate and be ready for new challenges.
  • Eliminate redundancy and programs that add little or no value and re-direct savings to existing and emerging national security priorities.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

You Aren't Reading This...

The Stars and Stripes has an interesting article about military blogging and OPSEC rules.

Key grafs:
WASHINGTON — Army officials this week issued new warnings to soldiers about posting personal stories from combat zones on the Internet and taking photos at overseas bases, saying those actions could jeopardize troops’ security.

The list of prohibited activities includes taking photos of Defense Department facilities, posting any official Defense Department information and releasing information detailing job responsibilities.

“Whether it is a family Web page or a personal blog, safety and security measures must be strictly observed,” the message said. “Sensitive DOD information must not be divulged to the public at large for national security reasons.”


Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the goal isn’t to prevent soldiers from writing about their time in a combat zone, and said he knew of no discussions considering shutting down blog sites or banning the use of personal cameras.

But Boyce said soldiers need to know that simply taking photos could threaten operational security.

“We’re just re-emphasizing the danger here,” he said. “We have warned soldiers to please be extremely careful of any photography, especially street scenes, because they could be useful to the enemy.”

Boyce said shots of the aftermath of insurgent attacks or roadside bombs are especially dangerous, because insurgents could use them to gauge the effectiveness of their attacks.


Last month, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker released a memo to unit commanders telling them to take the issue more seriously.

“The enemy aggressively ‘reads’ our open source and continues to exploit such information for use against our forces,” he wrote. “Some soldiers continue to post sensitive information to Internet Web sites and blogs. … Such OPSEC violations needlessly place lives at risk and degrade the effectiveness of our operations.”

Comment: Roger, got it. But, I wonder how much of this is about OPSEC and how much is about public relations. One blogger put it like this:

Course, they're attempting to control the flow of information, to control perceptions. There seems to be some other subterfuge, trying to smoke us out, shut us down, but you know what? It's a big-ass Internet... and my grasp of language is disproportionate to my ambition. Bottom line is, basically if you ain't passing out Teddy Bears or soccer balls to war orphans, DOD doesn't want to hear about it.
My take on it isn't quite that extreme, but it makes you wonder. I haven't seen too many of what I would consider OPSEC violations on military blogs. I've seen some good taste violations and some things written that would flat out piss me off if the blogger was in my chain of command. But, I don't think anyone has crossed the line into giving away too much that the enemy could exploit. It is a "big-ass" internet, and there is plenty OSINT (open-source intelligence) for the bad guys to collect. Most of it has nothing to do with bloggers.

I wonder if OPSEC is the Trojan horse that DOD will use to shut down more blogs with "objectionable" (read anti-war/military/administration) content. There have been warnings about this as well.

Unless they clearly cross OPSEC lines or spew genuinely offensive content, I think this would be a huge mistake to start shutting down blogs or making diluting them so they all read like DOD press releases. The American public remains largely disconnect from its armed forces, and military blogging provides unique perspective on what its like to serve in wartime. I'm willing to accept some pissed off E-4 ranting about how bad the Army sucks in order for people like me, MAJ K, and Phil Carter to keep getting our ideas out there...not that my ideas or writings are anywhere near as good as theirs. But hell, CENTCOM public affairs keeps pinging me and other bloggers to post links to them and their information so somebody has to think we're doing okay.

Plus, if we're going to start policing content, then is anyone going to say anything about the extreme political partisanship that is evident on many military blogs? In my (not humble) opinion, some of what my fellow military bloggers have to say about the people that they have sworn to protect is incredibly offensive. When I write, I am mindful of OPSEC and the military ideal of political neutrality. I have a political point of view, but I am very careful in how I share it. (Note: Go ahead and flame me for writing that. But, I wonder what the milbog content would have been like during the racial integration of the military or the civil rights movement. At the time espousing racially biased rhetoric would have been perfectly within social norms, but beyond the pale by today's standards. Think about it.)

I hope that these new policies don't mean the beginning of the end the end for military blogging or force it below the radar. I post under my own name because I take ownership of what I write. There is some risk in this. I accept it. I rather quit blogging than be anonymous or "factory approved".

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Another Person to Add to the "Friends in Iraq" List


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Can Afghanistan Sustain Democracy?

I have been meaning to post about the recent parliamentary elections in Afghanistan for a while, but I got busy with Hurricanes.

The good news is that the elections went off with a minimum of violence, and the votes are still being counted with the final tally expected in mid-October. The Taliban and its ilk proved unable to disrupt the elections as they had threatened. There have been allegations of corruption and fraud, and fears that too many unreformed Jihadis will gain power. But, regardless of the flaws, this is a step in the right direction.

The only question is how long can Afghanistan keep it up?

The elections were a huge financial and logistical challenge which Afghanistan could not have done by itself. The total cost was upwards of $149 million dollars, and it required 1,247 donkeys, 300 horses, 24 camels, 1,200 trucks, 9 helicopters, and 39 transport planes to get ballots to the 26,250 polling stations around the country. There were also almost 3,000 external election monitors to insure fairness. All of this was provided or paid for by the US and international community.

According to the Asian Development Bank ***, Afghanistan’s GDP (excluding opium production) for 2004 was estimated at $5.4 billion. So, the election cost represents about 2.76% of the country’s GPD, and 24% of the government’s $609 million operating budget (2004 estimate). Scheduled at every five years, parliamentary elections will be a recurring expense. On top of this, Afghanistan is still a pauper nation, and its government depends on handouts from the international community in order to function. Free elections in Afghanistan are dependent on the continued generosity of the outside world.

The election also exposed a fault line in Afghani society. Illiteracy is so pandemic that candidates were identified by symbols or pictures. The ballot for Kabul was reported to be seven pages long. Many voters were also confused as to who they were voting for.

The literacy rate begs the question as to whether or not Afghanis are an informed enough electorate to make the kind of choices that we expect in Western-style democracies. Or will voting blocs fracture around ethnic and tribal lines?

And the elections are bringing something new to Afghani society: political campaigns. Candidates were officially limited to spending $15,000 (aprox. 641,550 Afghanis, a lot of money) on their campaigns, but how long will it take, if it hasn’t already, before “soft money” creeps into the Afghani electoral system?

Afghanistan is a cross-roads of competing ideologies and interests. Iran, India, Pakistan, China, the other ‘stans, the US, and the international community all have different ideas of what Afghanistan should look like politically. And don’t forget the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s continuing influence. They have money too. And opium production adds another estimated $2.8 billion a year to the Afghani economy so narco-trafficers represent a powerful “lobby” as well. How will these interests influence future elections, and are the Afghani people politically savvy enough to understand what is happening? And is the US smart enough diplomatically to prevent outside influence from interfering with its desired endstate for Afghanistan?

Democracy is beginning to take root in Afghanistan, but its hold in tenuous at best. The US needs to get beyond the backslapping, congratulatory phase of this struggle and start focusing on what it will take to sustain democracy in Afghanistan. We tend to by myopic on issues like this, and without a long-term agreed upon strategy for continued democratization, we will eventually fail. How long until the politicians decide that it is too expensive to bankroll Afghani elections while we area paying for other long-term expenses like the rebuilding of New Orleans?

There are some key issues that need to be addressed in any plan.

First is the long term financial support and economic development of Afghanistan. Afghanistan doesn’t need to live paycheck to paycheck on international aid. Perhaps we need to establish some kind of trust with the goal of financing Afghani elections for at least a generation. This needs to be coupled with economic development that weans Afghanistan off foreign aid.

Second, the long-term education level of the people needs to be addressed. The coalition is already doing great work by building schools, but we need to insure that we help create and educated, media savvy middle class as well. This means more things like university exchange programs or perhaps even an American University in Kabul. Another part of this is helping create a media system that is independent of tribal and ethnic lines.

And finally, the US people and our political leaders need to understand what’s at stake and the burdens that we signed ourselves up for by invading Afghanistan. Collin Powell’s “Pottery Barn” rule remains in effect. The political winds of this country may blow right or left, but that does not need to impact Afghanistan’s long-term stability.

***Note: Estimates of the AFG GDP vary greatly, and I’m no economist. The CIA fact book has the GDP at $21.5 billion. The Asian Development Bank’s figures seemed to be more in line with other estimates so I went with their numbers. I am fully prepared to be “fisked” by all you financial gurus out there.

Cross-posted at Intel Dump.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hurricane Wrap-up

Things have returned to normal here. Texas is very much in the fight with recovery efforts, but I'm out of the Hurricane business for now. Overall, I'd give the state a C+. We got the job done, but we need improvement in certain areas.

I'm busy catching up on other stuff so posting will be light for a couple days. Here are some "action" pics from our end of the disaster. I'm just glad that they are not pics of my pecan trees blown down after tropical force winds hit Austin.

Yours truly in the EOC. (Note: I air brushed out my agency logo on the shirt and the badge on my hip. Security.)

The EOC in action. Lots of money went into this facility, and it paid off.

Whiteboard in action. This was from when we were trying to figure out how to get people who did not have cars back to their hometowns. I'm left-handed, and my handwriting sucks. That's actually the reason I "like" powerpoint. I can actually read what I write. This leaves me going "huh?"

EOC disaster supplies. Who bought all the sprite? No caffeine so it's useless. That will be sitting outside my office for months.

Life in the EOC is bad for you. I didn't gain any weight though. We've got an APFT coming up in NOV and I want to smoke 2LT B's bags. Have to show these twenty years olds who's boss.