Tag Archives: drone diplomacy

The Center of Gravity in Afghanistan

Official U.S. military strategy highlights the idea proposed by Clausewitz that a nation should focus its efforts against an enemy’s “center of gravity,” the Schwerpunkt. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, the focus has always been too narrowly drawn toward military matters when the real weakness was always the inept and corrupt Afghan government.

This explains why the U.S. has won every battle and still lost the war in that far away country.

Whenever the U.S. loses a guerrilla war – first Vietnam and then Iraq – there is an intellectual debate over the nature of “The American Way of War” and whether it is a model that leads to success in wars against popularly based armed forces. Critics like Antulio Echevarria II, a retired officer and Director of Research at the U.S. Army War College, say that there is an “American way of battle” – hit the enemy fiercely with overwhelming firepower – and not an American way of war because our military victories have not translated into strategic successes.

Dr. Echevarria says that “The new American way of war appears to have misidentified the center of gravity in each of these campaigns [Afghanistan and Iraq], placing more emphasis on destroying enemy forces than securing population centers and critical infrastructure and maintaining order.” Here we can return to Clausewitz and the marvelous trinity. For Clausewitz, war is a wrestling match – a dynamic contest that features multiple points of contact and develops over time. In this situation, the center of gravity “is created by the interaction between the wrestlers and changes as they alter their relationship.”

To be more concrete, in any guerrilla war, where the U.S. is intervening to defend a local government from a rival political organization, the center of gravity, the dynamic point of interaction between the U.S. and the guerrilla army, is the native government . In Afghanistan (and in Iraq and Vietnam) the U.S. military focused on killing members of the guerrilla army while the government it was protecting was alienating and exploiting the population – driving them into the arms of the rebellion.

There are no written accounts of the Afghan government under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai that do not include the words incompetent and corrupt. For example, in the fall of 2010 there was a run on the Kabul Bank when the bank’s chairman, Sherkhan Farnood acknowledged to NBC that the bank had invested $160 million of the bank’s $1.3 billion in assets into luxury villas and two residential towers in Dubai. The villas were located in Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island that juts out into the Persian Gulf in the shape of a giant palm tree – you must see it. During the interview Farnood confirmed that the homes were acquired in his name and were used by the bank’s major shareholders, included President Karzai’s brother and the brother of Vice President Muhammed Fahim. When he was asked why the homes were purchased in his name, Farnood replied… “it was easier” to do it that way.

Every other matter of governance in the country is done in the same spirit. With little popular support, Karzai has been dependent since the beginning on local warlords – who control key economic assets and heavily armed militias – in every part of the country. Unconcerned about local governance once the war was “over” and the Taliban was defeated; the Bush administration propped up our shaky ally, allowing the enemy to regroup and begin a classic guerrilla war. Obama’s surge in 2009 did nothing to change the Afghan government and his escalation of the war merely slowed the Taliban’s rising influence.

The First Mistake in Afghanistan

Clausewitz studied the guerrilla war waged in Spain against Napoleon and decided that resistance by an aroused population could prove decisive in war, even if the national army was defeated. The Bush Administration failed to prepare for a long war in Afghanistan because it did not understand how the native population would react to an American occupation.

Seeking an easy victory in Afghanistan, Bush and Cheney did not consider the consequences of fighting an enemy who possessed the will to fight a protracted war.

Humiliated by Napoleon’s defeat of the Prussian army at Jena in 1806, Carl von Clausewitz watched with fascination as guerrilla soldiers in Spain harassed and frustrated thousands of French soldiers. His patriotic passions then boiled over in the spring of 1812, when Napoleon intimidated Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm into sending a corps of Prussian troops to participate in the Emperor’s invasion of Russia. Clausewitz resigned his commission in the Prussian army and became an officer in the Czar Alexander’s army.

Before leaving he wrote Bekenntnisdenkschrift, roughly meaning “statement of belief.” In it he declared that Napoleon meant to occupy the German nation and the King and his court were fools to cooperate with the country’s real enemy. He then laid out an alternative plan of resistance based on the Prussian army breaking up into small units combined with a general arming of the patriotic citizenry. Clausewitz and the State. In Russia, he had a front row view of Napoleon’s disastrous campaign. Russian generals avoided decisive battles, drew the Emperor deep into an armed, hostile countryside, and then successfully counter-attacked.

Later, Clausewitz wrote in his seminal work On War “As we shall show, defense is a stronger form of fighting than attack.” Clausewitz in the 21st Century. In the modern era, when whole nations are mobilized to go to war, no attacker can achieve a decisive victory with “a single, short blow…Even when great strength has been expended on the first decision and the balance has been badly upset, equilibrium can be restored… The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.”

The Bush Administration made the mistake of viewing the Taliban as merely a government and believed that the loss of formal ruling powers would lead to a break-up after their military defeat in late 2001. However, the Taliban is really a movement, the principal representative of the Pashtun people.

A quick look at a map shows that their tribal area includes about one-third of Afghanistan, the southeastern region, and a similar size area in Pakistan’s southwestern region. It is estimated that there are about 50 million Pashtuns in all. The Afghan Pashtuns are the most populous ethnic group in their country while Pakistani Pashtuns are a distinct minority in theirs. The tribe has lived in this region since around 1,000 BCE; that is, long before Rome was founded or the golden age in Greece. To act as if this organization would simply disappear after a military defeat was the height of folly.

Drone Wars U.S.A.

We know a lot more about the Obama drone warfare program after a month of revelations and the whole discussion is making me a little nervous.

Unbelievably, the drone wars are coming home.

My uneasy month began in early February, when the Department of Justice released a white paper that provides the legal rationale for using drones to kill U.S. citizens overseas who are suspected of aiding terrorists. Contrary to the general impression that President Obama reviews important targets for drone strikes, the white paper says that an “informed, high level official” of the U.S. government can determine if an individual may, at some time in the future, plan and/or carry out a terrorist attack. That official can, acting alone, authorize a drone strike on that individual. The white paper claims this power does not violate the Fifth Amendment, which says U.S. citizens cannot be deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

This is yet another step in the growing threat to our civil liberties.

Then, in response to a question by Republican Senator Ted Cruz at a March 6 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. tried to avoid saying whether he thought it would be unconstitutional for the U.S. military to use a drone to kill an American citizen “sitting in a café” in the United States. When Holder finally stopped talking in circles and admitted it would not be constitutional, Cruz said he was glad to finally get a clear answer and added that he would introduce a bill barring the use of drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil. Holder responded that the bill might be an unconstitutional intrusion on presidential power.

How has it come to pass that Senators and the Attorney General are publically debating the constitutionality of using drone strikes against Americans who have offended the government?

Once again, wars of empire in far-off lands are generating dangerous consequences back home. It is a theme repeated throughout history. In my book, I show how, when the Roman Republic conquered other nations, the strains of governing hostile peoples and the unintended consequences of ill-gotten new wealth eventually created turmoil and then civil war.

Now, as if following the lead of the federal government, local and state police departments are starting to use drones to keep an eye out for crime and other subversive activities.

At the core of this threat is our lazy willingness to let the U.S. government become more and more dependent on drone strikes as its primary foreign policy tool. We pretend to believe that these strikes are precise attacks on dangerous terrorists and ignore mounting evidence that large numbers of innocent civilians are being randomly killed by these not so surgical explosions. We turn our back on questions about justice and war and suddenly the debate is over whether to shoot at us.

The question of who is the enemy is a slippery slope when you are stuck in a never-ending war against “enemies of the state.” Once you begin the slide, you never know where you might end up.

Hugo Chavez’s Death is an Historic Opportunity

Hugo Chavez’s legacy is still unwritten.  History shows that reformers have long lasting impact when they leave behind successors who can protect and build on the changes they sponsored.

President Chavez was not perfect.

His fourteen years of rule were marked by administrative confusion, wasteful spending, and an erratic personal style.  However, all of these failings were overshadowed by his consistent attempts to make life better for the average person and to shift power away from a parasitic aristocracy and give it to the vast majority of Venezuelans.

Since Chavez became president in 1999, the percentage of people living in poverty in Venezuela has fallen from 50% to 27% and the CIA World Factbook admits that “social investment has led to better living standards, including increased school enrollment, a substantial reduction in infant and child mortality, and greater access to potable water and sanitation.”

With his death comes an opportunity for new people with new talents and ideas to solidify these gains, continue to build popular participation in government, and improve any reform programs that are poorly managed.  The opposition party, Table of Democratic Unity, representing the social and economic elites who used to run Venezuela for themselves, is a distinct minority party now.  Its presidential candidate lost to Chavez by a wide margin in last fall’s elections, while Chavez-endorsed candidates were elected governors in 20 of the country’s 23 states.

Julius Caesar squandered his legacy as a leader of the reforming populares group by choosing as his lieutenant and successor the brutal thug Marc Anthony – a man incapable of rallying the common people (in spite of what Shakespeare wrote) or of peacefully participating in the Roman Republic’s electoral system.  Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy was enhanced when Harry Truman’s victory in 1948 solidified the New Deal Coalition.

Now, Hugo Chavez’s successors in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, a coalition of populist groups he brought together in 2007, must choose between working together to continue the reform movement or splitting apart to follow their own small ambitions.  President Chavez’s legacy hangs in the balance.