This is what happens when you elevate counter-terrorism to the status of grand strategy. The LA Times is reporting that Somalia, once inhospitable to Al Qaeda, may turn out to be the next front. Some clans and Islamic militias are radicalizing and foreign fighters are trickling in. Somalia is a great (although relatively unknown) example of how an obsession with counter-terrorism is wrecking American foreign policy. After Somalia was unified by the Islamic Courts Union, we backed Ethiopia's invasion because some Al Qaeda members were embedded within the ICU. Unfortunately, we forgot that Ethiopia was Somalia's traditional enemy and got suckered into giving our legitimacy to another country's power play. Ethiopia's increasingly brutal occupation and American airstrikes in Somalia are slowly creating the conditions for Al Qaeda to gain a foothold, as the conflict takes on the tenor of a holy war against the American-backed Ethiopians.



Via Matt Zeitlin, a critical commentary by Refugees International chairman Joel Charny on US aid being airlifted into Georgia under humanitarian auspices. Charny alleges that it is a militarization of aid and something done better by the UN. He misses the point. I doubt the the real purpose of the exercise is to aid Georgian civilians (although it is a pleasant benefit). Rather, it seems that such a venture provides a signal of US support for Georgia and potentially creates a kind of military tripwire to forestall greater Russian intervention. Coming at the same time as the deployment of missile defense systems in Poland, the humanitarian aid delivery is part of a multi-pronged pushback against Russia.


General James Mattis of the Marine Corps has slammed Effects-Based Operations (EBO). His critique is persuasive, though blaming Israel's 2006 defeat on EBO is a bit unfair (bad grand strategy is the culprit). EBO is a method of campaign planning that relies on harnessing full elements of national power to achieve strategic effects. It is derived from Air Force theorist John Warden's theory that the enemy can be considered an organic system that can be overloaded through the targeting of certain critical nodes (psychological, command and control, industrial, etc). EBO takes it a step further by attempting to create causality through kinetic and nonkinetic effects, which create a cascading reaction among the enemy's system.

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This report by Felix Chang of the Foreign Policy Research Institute is an interesting synopsis of Russia's military response on a purely military, rather than political, level. Another source of information is this post on Ares about the Russians' joint operations progress. Clearly, it is remarkable how Russia marshalled all elements of national power so quickly, and the Russian military does move with a purpose and discipline that erases all shameful memory of demoralized soldiers selling their weapons for drugs in 1995 Chechnya.

Yet it is questionable, at most, how much one can extrapolate from one quick war against a small country that Russia clearly outclassed. Additionally, there were reports of sloppy logistics management and Georgia managed to shoot down a number of Russian planes. Rampant looting, pillage, and rape in Georgia by Russian soldiers and South Ossetian irregulars is also a troubling sign that the discipline problems present in the wars of the 90's may still linger. Finally, while it may be tempting to compare Russia's application of elements of national power (political stagecraft, joint operations, public affairs) to America, it is worth remembering that rulers of authoritarian states (which is what Russia most certainly is right now) can easily bend the will of the nation to their whims.

If anything, Putin's largest achievement has been reinvigorating the morale, cohesiveness, and discipline of Russia's armed forces. This mirrors the newly invigorated Russian society, flush with almost xenophobic nationalism and petro-dollars. Yet, as the Asia Times' Spengler points out, this spurt may be temporary as Russia still has serious socio-economic fault lines (most notably a rapidly shrinking population). Should those faults suddenly erupt, Russia's armed forces may suffer like they did after the Soviet collapse.


Editor's Note: Events are quickly changing on the ground in Iraq. An agreement has been signed between the US and Iraqi governments certifying a withdrawal by 2011, or so it seems. Meanwhile, Sunni-Shiia strife is beginning to turn violent again as Sunni politicians are targeted and the Sunni militias are once again being marginalized by the government. Of course, debate on Iraq is still ongoing among both candidates and their think-tank surrogates. As there is an increasing consensus on the need for withdrawal, the debate has shifted to the nature of future American interaction with Iraq. Charles Knight, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, has emailed me an interesting criticism of the "conditional engagement" model favored by centrist think-tanks. Mr. Knight's piece is reprinted below.

This is the first of what hopefully will be a good series of guest posts on Rethinking Security. If you have something to say about security, email me with a post (2,000 words maximum) and a short biography at Any viewpoint is welcome, as long as it cogently argued and fair.

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The Washington Independent reports that defense contractors are using the Georgia conflict as a means of selling weapons systems designed for conventional conflict, Edward Luttwak writes in the Sunday Telegraph that Georgia has "blown away soft power," and (as I mentioned before) Pat Lang uses the opportunity to make fun of 4th Generation Warfare. This will most likely also re-start the conventional vs. COIN debate going on in the military. And COIN detractors do have something to chew on–Charles Dunlap Jr., the tireless airpower advocate, is bound to pick up on the role that Russian air superiority played in routing Georgian forces and destroying Georgian industrial infrastructure. Others may focus on how little good the counterinsurgency training given to Georgia (and the light infantry formations that resulted) did against massed Russian armor and mechanized infantry.

Granted, the outcome was stacked against Georgia from the beginning either way. Even if Georgia had employed asymmetric tactics against Russia (blowing up Russian lines of supply and communications or targeting oil refineries) Putin was likely to respond the way he did in Chechnya–raze the whole place to the ground. So what does Georgia mean in terms of future war (and future Pentagon contracts)?

First, I think it is necessary to dispense with the notion that COIN and conventional warfare is an "either-or" proposition. In Georgia, we saw compound warfare (irregulars w/ conventional forces), a tactic that confounded Napoleon in the Peninsular War. Frank Hoffman's "Hybrid Wars," discussed in detail here, is an update of sorts on this strategic principle. Both conventional and irregular skills are going to be needed. How to integrate both without creating a faulty, one-size-fits all force (see "Army After Next" for a discussion of how this went wrong) is a legitimate (and difficult) question.

Additionally, talk about force structure and training seems wholly divorced from a conception of American grand strategy. The armed forces must support and carry out American strategic aims. Granted, the enemy gets a vote, as the hoary cliche goes. We don't want to build a force that will be wholly useless on a modern battlefield. But the kind of force that we are building should be based on what is necessary to support broader political goals, and the choice of those goals are important. Military thinkers such as Brian McAllister Linn and Colin S. Gray emphasize again and again that Americans excel at creating doctrines and strategies that are hermetically isolated from larger political, economic, and social factors. From the Jomini-loving luminaries of the post-civil war period (Dennis Hart Mahan and Henry Halleck of 19th century West Point) to the Blade Runner dreams of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) there is a belief that conflict can be navigated with scientific principles separate from larger, messy, and above all human intangibles.

We still don't have a good idea of what we want our grand strategy to be. If we do, its counter-terrorism (a tactical and operational doctrine) transposed to the level of grand strategy. And without a strong view of what we want to accomplish in the future, our national security decisions will be decided by institutional pressures or interest groups. This is why the current election is so important–for better or worse, Barack Obama and John McCain offer two compelling (and radically different) views about America's place in the world in a time of great epochal change in all dimensions (political, social, military, technological, economic). As the old knight said in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the last good Indiana Jones movie) choose wisely.