The Baroque Incentives Of A President Addicted To Dealing Death

Overtly covert wars and drone assassinations happen because Obama and his unremarkable White House national security staff want them. Obama’s fulsome embrace of tactical expediency only accelerates degeneration of American strategic thinking into compartmentalized, impulsive, unconnected random spasms of violence.

Ignatius repackages known struggles within the U.S. Islamabad embassy over who controls U.S. drone war in Pakistan, the ambassador or CIA? (Ignatius adds a morsel that St. David Petraeus is cross).

Drone War, Obama
Bureaucratically, ambassadorial struggles for policy control are not unprecedented. State overall has been fending off encroachment on ambassadorial authority for a long time. Rummy pushed DoD assassination teams into embassies who expressly were exempt from ambassadorial oversight. Earlier, even Commerce and FBI drove wedges. Managing an embassy now is far more demanding for any ambassador than just 20 years ago. Without the drones.

In Pakistan’s case, the ambassador’s attempt to control policy predestined to fail. He didn’t understand Obama court political realities. Obama faces domestic gridlock. (Much of it his own doing). Foreign policy and especially ‘covert’ action are his release. The ambassador really contested Obama’s authority and the one sphere of presidential positive feedback.

Foreign policy as mentioned here recently is the preferred refuge for domestically stymied presidents. CIA, CTC and DoD covert militarism cater to Obama’s frustration and proclivity for judging others. They tease and often deliver instant gratification: ‘results’ (aka death), action, baseball cards, full motion video and alleged secrecy. Approving who lives or dies? Doesn’t get any judgier.

Per the NYT it requires a veritable death bureaucracy, faceless GS and super grades, to feed the Addict-In-Chief. The death apparatchiks routinely offer candidates like discussing draft picks in ‘Moneyball’. The rot is deep. Think about this the next time someone suggests watching ‘Conspiracy’. Obama insists on bringing the Cesarian thumbs up/down into the Oval Office. Is it really noble sacrifice to control the otherwise out-of-control system? Then why the leaks bragging about it all?

It’s a compartmentalized program, except spread very far and with direct presidential patronage. The secrecy, insularity and reward mechanisms (presidential approval, a ‘good kill’) create an alternate reality, smug, aloof and at odds with those not read in (let alone ‘Consensual Reality’).

Into this disposal, the ambassador in Pakistan stuck his hand. Others control the switch. Only a poor poker player challenges Obama to abandon his one area of seeming control and instant kicks for what? Prolix cables back to Foggy Bottom? More complexity and frustration with brown people far away?

State’s failure in Pakistan is part of a wider pattern. Lack of strategic coherence is in some ways unavoidable. Institutions of all types erode and dissolve into digital ADD across American society. Tactical impulsiveness commands media, corporations and individuals. Why should foreign policy be any different? Compartmentalized thinking and operations are perfectly suited for a fractured age.

Crafting and implementing enduring, strategically rational architectures perhaps was easier under the old monoculture. No one can deny contemporary American inability to govern domestically. Still, it’s not that we are powerless even so. The root enabler of American imbalance abroad — and Obama’s personal mechanism of death — are the budgets we craft here at home. DoD and the Community must be pared down from their wartime extravagances. Eliminating the gross resource imbalance at least makes a more coordinated, recalibrated strategic posture likely. And State restored to a modestly functioning role.

One unanswered question is would Weberian bureaucratic logic compel any president in these circumstances to pursue similar activities — regardless of character?

All we know is this president isn’t interested in trying to find out.

Panetta And DoD Plain As Plain Can Be On Syria

Is it better the second time around? Leon Panetta and CJCS Dempsey again warn Congress about American intervention in Syria. Substantively and atmospherically, words now echo those of Bob Gates and Admiral Mullen over Libya. Recall Messrs. Gates and Mullen explained that a Libyan ‘no-fly zone’ would be tantamount to a full scale military assault and the post-Khaddafi scenario not thought through.

Predictably,McCain and a die hard group of Neocons push mindless bellicosity. More important politically are liberal pundits and policy advocates calling for sanctuary zones, special forces, drones, military assistance to regime opponents, etc. These voices, more than Neocons by all accounts, persuaded Obama to overrule Gates and Mullen and strike Libya.

Panetta and Dempsey explain what you, Dear Reader, have been saying for some time. Sanctuary spaces, no-fly zones or other calls face sophisticated Syrian air defenses, a 600,000 strong army, targets commingled, and solid officer corps tribal loyalties. Logistics even for a drone footprint let alone special forces non-trivial if not out right complicated.

Panetta could have channeled Gates when testifying:

The fundamental issue that is before us is whether or not the United States will go in and act unilaterally in that part of the world, and engage in another war in the Muslim world unilaterally. Or whether or not we will work with others in determining what action we take.

He mentioned that DoD is now preparing specific scenarios and planning.

[Read more…]

Still Smells Like A Strategic Disaster . . . Can You Check?

As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength.

American media has to put Obama’s nonsense into a cognitive frame they understand: who’s up, who’s down. Thus the bogus attention paid to Petraeus vs. Biden. This was classic Boy King Goldilocks. Withdrawing the surge troops (assuming it happens) still leaves 70,000 in a strategic black hole. One of the most comical moments tonight was to behold Gergen’s phlegmatic outrage that Obama did not do everything Petraeus told him.


Unlike Gergen, Zakaria etc. you wouldn’t be surprised that we thought the speech merely modest if not mediocre. Its trumphalism hollow to even the most casual observer. What to make of such absurdities as “We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength? Many cynics might opine that the Boy King began misleading with “Good evening”, but, as Richard Cheney once said, we are not one of them.

The alleged goals and victory conditions enunciated again tonight – a cohesive national Afghan government, a reliable Afghan military, a non-corrupt police, etc. are not only wholly historically anomalous and thus beyond our means, but nothing can be achieved by kinetic violence. Whether one campaign season, two campaign seasons or a dozen.

In that sense, Obama’s cynical Goldilock’s solution is imposition of crass political calculation in the face of strategic insanity. Whether he pulls 10,000 now, leaves them, or pulls any other fraction of 100,000. Leaving a large American army in Afghanistan further exposes U.S. logistics to an increasingly hostile Pakistan. And that’s the rub.

The only feasible ‘victory’ outcome in Afghanistan as enunciated by the Boy King requires not only combat in Afghanistan. Pakistan must be eliminated as sanctuary and sponsor. A joint occupation of “Afpak” is beyond U.S. means and even imagination. But it does mean that prosecuting the ‘war’ in Afghanistan is even more strategically bankrupt than the Southeast Asian unpleasantness.

For a while Pakistan thought it would emerge the ultimate winner together with its proxies seeking control of Afghanistan for strategic depth (if no longer branded ‘Taliban’). Until recently, that is. The arrest of a brigadier and the naval base raid merely the latest signs of a burgeoning who whom.

For the U.S., Obama in Afghanistan presents a double irony. The first? LBJ et al. were actually more sincere in their mistakes than this crowd. The second? The first passes unrecognized.

A Tiny Flicker Of . . . Hope . . . ?

As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn’t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.

Obama on ’60 Minutes’ (May 8, 2011)

Maybe Bismarck really was right after all. Although, to be fair, once again the Goldilocks process is revealed. The options before him were: (a) stand-off kinetic force; (b) boots on the ground; or (c) wait for more data to increase confidence percentage. He chose (b). (Thank goodness – ed.)

[Read more…]

We Just Came To Bomb Hello*

Kinda like this thing but there’s something you should know
we just came to bomb hello

*(revised Azure Sky video edit)


These are dangerous times even without hype. For the first time since 1918, Waltz’ structural architecture of systemic international anarchy (defined not as ‘chaos’ but competitive positioning limited only by viable international means) puts forth a vacating chair. The Continent anticipated and feared the coming American century. The foundations of this entire blog have roots there.

We Americans, blissfully withdrawn in our own continent, focusing on accumulating capital, largely unaware of the tired Lion’s increasingly feeble efforts to maintain its seat. Wilson thusly delivered a double blow — demonstrating the Empire’s implausibility then failing to deliver American power to the systemic framework. Now it is our turn to look back at our ‘Diamond Jubilee’ (you’re welcome to nominate your own candidate) aware that the chair, to which we had become so accustomed to that it felt a very part of us, is wobbling.

It’s become oddly jejune to muse about international theory. First it was Japan (remember when Summers glommed onto that one in *1990*?). A hard case of the unipolar flu has given way to seeing nothing but China. In spite of Friedman, belatedly we Americans are beginning to realize that BRICs are not just for houses (How’s that for parody? Think it a one off? Here comes another.) We keep one hand trying to steady our chair with almost a trillion dollars a year invested in (usually recognized) negative returns through militarization in all its various guises. The other hand? Why, it’s in front of our faces, frantically searching for something secure to hold on to. (See? No sweat).

Quick, Think Fast

Some argue this moment poses risk but also presents opportunity. The Obama Administration’s merely tinkering with the momentum of the 2001-2008 disaster frustrates. These American Great Jump Aheaders urge us to see the de-stabilized Waltzian international order as Kobe Bryant looks down court on a fast break: reacting to what just passed (the old-bi-polar comfort and the briefly hellish uni-polar fever). The analogy is that the U.S. naturally reacts to reality now but seeks to shape fluid events. No excessive dwelling on the last play. (Forgive the sports metaphors. We rarely use them).

Some conversations are fanciful. Most seem unsound. Some might have strategic merit if ever we Americans reconcile national interest with ideals. And it’s not at all clear that a nominal constitutional republic premised on separation of powers will have the wherewithal to think let alone act with the necessary alacrity.

[Read more…]

“One possible future. From your point of view… I don’t know tech stuff.”

Welcome to another Stiftung Comic, this ‘ish, “NATO STRIKES!”

The Secret Behind Sarkozy’s Mania To Attack Libya

The comic issue begins with the fateful decision to bomb Libya. . .


Obama declares his firm decision that he will bomb and attack Libya, but no boots will ever touch Libyan soil. The U.S. military follows its orders to the letter . . .


But even the best military plans go awry . . .

Listening To Admiral Mullen Tonight It’s Worse Than Thought

Admiral Mullen is a supple intellect and adroit interpersonal politician in marked contrast to his two hapless, unlamented predecessors. He effortlessly maintains zero daylight between him and the Commander in Chief while still sending oblique messaging. We saw more nuance in him being up close than guessed before reluctantly accepting tonight’s invitation.

The Whisper Of Spread Spectrum

As Mullen recited the Administration line several points seeped through in interstitial spread spectrum whisper. First, it’s clear (to the Stiftung, at least) Mullen remains unenthused about the State/White House slap-dash ‘winging it’ decision-making. He is aligned with his boss, although Gates did the patented Washington-two-step earlier on the Hill, assuring that ‘all alternatives were *exhaustively* examined’. (Clever phrasing).

[Read more…]

U.S. Wages A Clueless War Over Libya

[After finally unlocking WH:] “Mission creep? No one *ever* utters those words. Tell Carney to use ‘saving more lives’ if he wants to keep the job.”

Even as other nations begin taking a larger role in the international air assault mission in Libya, the Pentagon is considering adding Air Force gunships and other attack aircraft that are better suited for tangling with Libyan ground forces in contested urban areas like Misrata, a senior Pentagon official said Friday.

Gortney [JCS staff director], however, said there has been no reduction in the number of American planes participating. In fact, he said the Pentagon was considering bringing in side-firing AC-130 gunships, helicopters and armed drone aircraft that could challenge Libyan ground forces that threaten civilians in cities like Misrata. The U.S. has avoided attacking in cities thus far out of fear that civilians could be killed or injured. AC-130 gunships, which operate at night at low altitude, can attack with unusual precision.>

Meanwhile, this is what we fight for:

As the transition to NATO command and control of the military operation proceeds, the administration has still not made a decision about recognizing the Benghazi-based Libyan opposition council as the legitimate government of the country. The U.S. closed its embassy in Tripoli in February but has not broken diplomatic relations with the Gadhafi regime.

Gene Cretz, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who has been reaching out to opposition figures, said the administration was still not entirely certain about the identities and intentions of the transitional council, although he said they had made positive statements about their goals and plans to respect human rights.

“I think they’re off to a good start,” he told reporters at the State Department. “That’s not to say that we know everything about them; we don’t. We have to be very careful about who might be included in the future and how they go about forming a government, if in fact they have that opportunity.”

Muammar Don’t Surf . . . Sir!

It’s hard to see America today and not feel somewhat disassociated. Not in the twitchy Upper West Side sort of way, but as we all experience when a loved one needs help, cries out for help, yet in the end must be cut off. For that loved one must want to change before help can have meaning.

We must face facts and surrender illusions. Iraq, Bush, the whole tapestry was not the aberration we believed. We mean in the sense of chronic American inability to approach international challenges in pursuit of a concrete strategic outcome. Since 1980 spastic force unleashed by feeling and emotion, doubly irrational, is the norm. 1991 is the exception.

Why? We all know, of course, the coffee table paradigms dusted off 2001-2008 – liberal international humanitarianism, Jacksonian impulses, Neocon cynicism, multi-lateral institutional inertia, etc. Those labels, however, are merely descriptive rather than explanatory. Consider:

Western leaders acknowledged, though, that beyond the immediate United Nations authorization to protect Libyan civilians there was no clear endgame, because it was uncertain that even military strikes will force Colonel Qaddafi from power. Many of the leaders in Paris have called for Colonel Qaddafi to quit, and it may be that military intervention leads to negotiations with the opposition for the colonel and his family to go — or, at the least, buys time for the rebels to regroup. (emphasis added)

Force blindly deployed without clear rationale or strategic political objective. This after the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. We don’t need Graham Allison to grasp that internal U.S. bureaucratic models are only partially helpful. Ultimately organizational process is even less satisfying than the paradigms, supra. Personalities make a difference, true; people are policy. Consider that we arrive at the same outcome despite diverse voices as Bill Clinton, Not-So-Bright, Bill Cohen/Wesley Clark, Cheney, W., Rummy et. al., the Boy King, HRC and retinue.

Details and public rationales (lies) varied. The underlying consistency? U.S. inability to control compulsive shortsighted kinetic twitching.

We’ve discussed here together at length the military’s congenital failure as well. The Army’s fetishization of Wehrmacht operational art and the concomitant inability to formulate doctrine sufficient to achieve strategic victory conditions is just the most recent permutation. Russell Weigley’s magisterial The American Way of War traces the phenomenon back to the Civil War and before. The Air Force is no different. The comparatively tiny Marines stand out uniquely – from the invention of amphibious warfare and island hopping in the 1920s to Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Global Military Reach At The Mercy Of Trending Tweets?

Welcome to the new normal. American fundamental capacity for developing and subsequent implementation of strategic thought is depleted. Too bold? More than that, we submit that those pursuits are actively punished, mocked and disregarded by ‘the market.’ Can anyone who knew Bob Osgood, Nitze, even (ack) Zbig, etc., the CFR and FA when they meant something, doubt it? Max Boot as Senior Fellow? Beinart? Look at Condi’s pathetic NSC. Obama’s not a big step up. ‘Experts’ are only what the chyrons tell us.

Is it their fault? Beginning with cable, satellite and now the Net time as a linear concept simply vanished. Digital is binary, 1s and 0, no in betweens. Strategic thought above all takes time.

Our blind, unthinking embrace of ever-tightening micro news cycles, likes, trending tweets, page views and links is a collective pithing. Policy is necessarily reactive to ephemera of heat, noise and intensity. What would happen if Charlie Sheen took an interest in foreign affairs?

We’re not churning cant blaming the Net. But it does identify our most pressing question: how to cultivate and deploy societal strategic perspectives in this environment? We don’t have a ready answer.

Put it another way – would Nixonger be possible today? Plumbers are a quaint notion when ‘unnamed senior White House officials’, Congress, all of them leak, tweet and call cable producers. A multi-year secret diplomacy climaxed with a covert trip to China via Pakistan, etc. is laughable. Kissinger would be caught by a camera phone and put on TMZ at the get go.

Now add WikiLeaks to that environment with institutional blood vendettas everywhere. The Good Old Days are always rosy in hindsight. The Sovs used to complain that their biggest problem with Americans is they don’t’ know what they want. Similar symptoms under the thumb of three networks, the Grey Lady, AM radio and The Phone Company. Kissinger observed even then government service burned up years of thinking in mere months.

We used to say often over at STSOZ 1.0 the American tragedy might well be we learn how to think about power in fully realized, purposeful terms only when we lose it.