Friday, December 7, 2012

My Encounter With Paula Broadwell, Where Nothing Happened

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I went to the Marines Memorial Club on May 9, 2012 to hear from the author of All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.  Book tours are a fun way to meet semi-important people.  I didn't look closely at the book's cover, so I missed the chance to note that the biographer had a ghostwriter.  That should have been red flag number one that the book, its primary author, its subject, and its promotional tour were all contrived to one degree or another.  Analysts like yours truly can't afford too many oversights like that.

Paula Broadwell was immediately noticeable.  I did get the chance to briefly talk with her about her background in the military.  I mentioned my interests in foreign policy and she nodded approvingly.  She then turned her attention to others in the room who were going to prep her for her talk.  No flirting took place at all.

I didn't take notes during her talk, which was just as well because there wasn't much of substance to remember.  She giggled like a schoolgirl when she mentioned the CIA's drone program.  I didn't ask anything during the Q&A at the end because I didn't see any further mystery about her biographical subject that needed to be revealed.  Boy, was I ever ignorant of what was left unsaid, like whether "All In" was some snarky inside joke between author and subject about what they were really doing.  The whole tone of her talk painted David Petraeus in saintly terms, so much so that I was turned off from ever reading her book.  The term "hagiography" kept popping into my head, like so many uncritical "lives of the saints" stories I recall from the catechism of my youth.  One could be excused for thinking The Greatest General Of Our Time (TM) had no flaws besides the tendency to work too hard, which is the one most important flaw that job interview candidates are told to mention to a hiring manager.

The talk ended and I briefly watched Ms. Broadwell interact with her audience before I left.  I stated in my title that "nothing happened" and I truly mean nothing happened in her entire talk that warranted attention.  The whole show left me with the impression that David Petraeus wanted this woman polishing his image in the public's mind to "shape the battlespace" for something else.  Only time will tell whether that something else is a campaign for elected office.

The revelation of l'affaire Petraeus puts her sales pitch into its proper context.  Ambitious people have their courtiers and hangers-on.  Ms. Broadwell reminded me of every single mid-ranking female executive I encountered while working for large investment firms.  They all exuded feminine appeal from every pore and leveraged this persona to get everything their hearts desired.  Performing special favors for a powerful mentor is just another rung on the way up the ladder.

I am at least relieved to note that this sad affair was not a penetration by a foreign intelligence service or an attempt at blackmail (although obviously some form of "penetration" took place, heh heh).  Whatever notoriety Mr. Petraeus and Ms. Broadwell have earned will be completely forgiven by 2016 should either of them enter politics.  Their carefully constructed personas as dynamic, virile, all-American forces of nature will survive and thrive in whatever narrative awaits the national stage.  It is a stage, after all, and Americans expect their favorite performers to make repeat appearances.  The show must go on.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Haiku of OSINT for 09/28/12

Gaza coastal gas
Tentative exploration
Hamas won't agree

Monday, February 20, 2012

Commentary On USSOUTHCOM Commander's MMA Lecture, January 2012

I've gotta hand it to the Marines Memorial Club.  They bring in the heavy hitters all the time.  Gen. Douglas Fraser, USAF, commander of U.S. Southern Command, lectured there on January 24, 2012 and I attended to hear firsthand about what Uncle Sam is doing south of the border.  My subjective observations are in italics below.

The general's slides weren't working but to military types that's no big deal.  Military leaders march on, with or without PowerPoint.  You can get the rundown of the command's area on the site.  One factoid that jumped out at me was that the U.S. is the world's second largest Spanish-speaking country.  Ay carumba!  Unchecked illegal immigration will eventually force the U.S. into an identity crisis.  Citizens need to know the facts about how current immigration policy is unlike anything in American history.  

The general's overview of Central and South American economics sounded like a textbook description of fourth-generation warfare reaching maturity, except there is no textbook for this subject.  Latin America's healthy commodity trade with China helped it weather the global economic downturn.  Ah ha, the U.S. national security state is noticing Chinese strategic penetration in the Western Hemisphere.  That's why it's imperative for the U.S. to conclude free trade agreements with our southern partners, to ring-fence their markets from further Chinese influence.  We really need to re-energize the FTAA.  The general mentioned that a large, informal economy flourishes with rampant poverty and unemployment, and than criminal organizations operate with impunity thanks to weak governance.  Such weakness now apparently includes U.S. institutions, with Mexican drug cartels penetrating U.S. cities.  This is a perfect description of System D, with an amoral edge.  Note what I said about unchecked immigration above.  Failure to enforce existing immigration laws breeds contempt for legal systems in general.  This breakdown in governance in Latin America is not inevitable in the U.S but the hour is getting late for a counter-effort. 

Gen. Fraser's understanding of how drug cartels operate is more nuanced than the Hollywood portrayals of huge, monolithic crime families.  The cartels rely on microenterprises in "networks of networks" that enable innovations.  This sounds like entrepreneurs operating hackerspaces, an innovation we can expect from a System D economy.  I wonder if microfinance would be useful as a way to either grow non-drug alternative economic structures, or to track small/medium enterprises that freelance in support of the narcotic trade.  What does their supply chain look like?

The general took questions from the audience.  A very politely phrased question on whether legalization of drugs would be a viable policy drew an equally polite answer from the general.  He endorsed a healthy political debate over legalization's merits but cautioned us to consider secondary effects.  Criminal networks will still resort to extortion and kidnapping if they lose drug revenue.  We should also consider the public health effects of spending more money on addiction treatment and the hidden costs of absenteeism if we remove drug use from law enforcement's purview.  The U.S. abandoned its prohibition of alcohol, but cocaine and methamphetamine are not the same things as booze.  If we must start somewhere with an experiment, perhaps marijuana is the best candidate.  Some variants of the hemp plant have multiple commercial uses, as the U.S. Government knew quite well in World War II.  

Iran is gaining influence in the Americas with diplomatic outreach and funding for Shiite centers.  Their strategic aim is to circumvent sanctions.  This is not a strategic breakout until Iran has control of some kind of living system in the Western Hemisphere, like a logistics source (i.e., a port where it can resupply warships).  Iran will have a hard time avoiding sanctions if its currency is unacceptable as payment.  The financial squeeze the U.S. is putting on Iran now bites hard.  Hezbollah has penetrated Latin America.  This terrorist network is implicated in the drug trade.  The Lebanese expatriate community in Latin America, particularly Mexico, merits monitoring.  

China's role is growing beyond seeking dependable commodity supplies.  Its sales of military aircraft, radar, and personal protective equipment to Latin countries is dramatically rising.  There's a wealth of information - no pun intended - on China's deals in Latin America.  National security studies of this influence are old news and often buried in archives.  We need to know a lot more about the viability of the living system China is building in our hemisphere.  The Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia is a network of influence and intelligence reporting that has always been loyal to its motherland.  Identifying and monitoring a similar Chinese diaspora in Latin America should be a valid intelligence mission for the U.S.  The oddity of Latin America and China specialists collaborating ought to become less odd.  The U.S. has never repudiated the Monroe Doctrine.  It is a policy precedent we can use under the right circumstances.  

Gen. Fraser was most concerned about Haiti due to its urgent needs and said the U.S. drawdown will free up military units for USSOUTHCOM missions.  That is optimistic given the Pentagon's announced force cuts for the next five years.  U.S. missions in Latin America will be limited by budgets.  Concern over Haiti's recovery is valid because the U.S. drawdown may not leave enough force structure for a return mission there.  The general closed with references to local development of water and other resources that can build community capacity.  Economic development with stronger governance will IMHO just enable more fertile growth of those narcotic microenterprises he mentioned earlier.  Perhaps the U.S. should seed System D with agents and entities it controls if we can't field conventional forces down there.  That would be an open-source COIN technique worth mastering.  

I'm now a little smarter (and a lot more curious) about Latin America thanks to Gen. Fraser.  I look forward to hearing from his successor at the Marines Memorial Club.  The hits just keep on coming.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Iraq Potential Unity Diminished But Not Destroyed

Strategy Page is raising an alarm about the Iraqi political system careening off its democratic rails.  I am not so alarmed.  Violence is normal in the Arab world and the use of terror attacks, extralegal threats, and intimidation should not surprise Western observers.  Iraq will never clone a Western political process no matter how much advice the United States provides.  Iraqi self-governance will retain facets of brutality that are ingrained in Arab political culture.  

In December 2009, I estimated Iraq's chances for "success" as a unitary state at 60%. I stand by that estimate. Suicide bombings have not yet returned to the epidemic levels at the height of the war. Iraq's generational dynamics are such that a full Sunni-Shiite civil war is unlikely because many survivors of the last Sunni-Shiite conflict, the Iran-Iraq War, are still alive and remember the horror. Only the intervention of Sunni Arab neighbors would upset the balance and they don't trust each other enough to work together (GCC Shield Force notwithstanding).  That Shield Force was able to stabilize Bahrain, a small country, with a short-duration deployment.  It is too small to pose an existential threat to the Iraqi military establishment.  Arab military coalitions are ineffective because Arabs don't trust each other.  Only those Arab forces that acted in concert with a Western sponsor (as in the first Persian Gulf War under US leadership) can operate at even a minimal level of effectiveness.  This means that other Sunni Arab states have little hope of influencing Iraqi politics with a threat of land invasion.  Iraqi Shiites have little appetite for mass expulsions or worse directed against its Sunni minority because they value integration with the world economy after decades of deprivation under UN sanctions.  They will continue to find ways to make life uncomfortable for Sunnis but they value their new investment links with the outside world too much to risk anything more harsh.  

We shouldn't use Anglo-Western standards of normalcy to judge Arab internal stability. There will be more bombings. That does not mean Iraqi self-governance will fail. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

U.S. Calls Iran's Bluff In Strait Of Hormuz

I covered U.S.-Iranian tensions in a recent blog post.  It is obvious that the U.S. has the strategic upper hand and is taking pains to ensure Iran's leadership understands the situation.  Stated concerns over a "rogue Iranian naval officer" doing something unpredictable are probably a red herring to cover the U.S. naval posture.

The U.S. is also taking pains to shape the information battlespace.  Stories about using dolphins to hunt underwater mines show off a capability Iran lacks.  Feel-good stories about saving Iranian seaman hijacked by pirates send a strong message that the Iranian navy can't even safeguard its own commercial traffic.  Analysts enamored with Iran's potential use of Sunburn or other anti-ship missiles ignore the U.S. Navy's Rolling Airframe Missile.  The SeaRAM system is notable for its absence from recent media coverage.  The silence speaks volumes.  Iran should hear the message.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cold Conflict Between U.S. And Iran

Tensions in the Persian Gulf are slightly higher than normal at the moment.  The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is complete and nature abhors a vacuum.  Iran's naval exercises are an effort to buttress the regional influence it has gained in Iraq.

The U.S. is countering Iran with diplomatic and economic actions rather than military confrontation.  U.S. economic sanctions are forcing down the value of Iranian currency, which will immediately hurt the buying power of Iranian consumers.  Iran is fighting back with a hollow threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz and cause an oil price spike.  That would be suicidal for Iran because most of its oil is produced in Khuzestan province and must transit the Strait of Hormuz to get to Asian markets.  The U.S. recognizes Iran's strategic weakness and likely relishes the pain its actions inflict upon Iran as retaliation for the capture of an RQ-170 drone.  Iran presently presents rhetoric and not aggression because it has not yet exhausted its financial reserves.

The CNN news item linked above about the Strait threat briefly mentions the relative percentage of GDP the U.S. and Iran commit to their military budgets.  That is an amateurish analysis.  Relative force arrays and capabilities each side brings to bear in the Strait of Hormuz are much more relevant.  Iran's navy cannot match a U.S. naval carrier battle group in a direct confrontation.  The last direct U.S.-Iranian naval encounter, Operation Praying Mantis, was a limited engagement but ended in a lopsided victory for the U.S.  Iran would thus need to rely upon standoff weapon systems in any effort to neutralize U.S. warships.  Iran may possess some number of Sunburn anti-ship missiles or other similar systems.  It would thus be imperative for U.S. national reconnaissance efforts to locate all of Iran's potential missile launch platforms and designate them as preplanned targets prior to hostilities.  The U.S. has outstanding ISR capabilities; Iran's comparable ISR is questionable, with or without a purloined RQ-170.

The U.S. is a responsible world actor.  Its Navy is professional enough to monitor Iran's declared military exercises from international waters without provoking a reaction.  Iran is not nearly as mature.  Any miscalculation that risks open hostilities is much more likely from Iran, given its economic deprivation and relative weakness, than from the U.S.