When Wikileaks released those thousands of documents about Afghanistan I thought the real lesson to be learned was that we were still classifying way too much stuff.
I’m glad to see I’ve got some additional company now. Stratfor has come to a similar conclusion after reviewing the Iraq document dump.
By saying there are very few true secrets in the cache of documents released by WikiLeaks, we mean things that would cause serious damage to national security…However, it is important to understand up front that something that causes embarrassment and discomfort to a particular administration or agency does not necessarily damage national security.
Only 204 of the 391,832 documents were classified at the confidential level, while 379,565 of them were classified at the secret level. This demonstrates the propensity of the U.S. government culture to classify documents at the highest possible classification rather than at the lowest level really required to protect that information. In this culture, higher is better.
There are so many problems resulting from over-classification that it’s hard to even know where to begin describing them all. I suspect one of the least discussed is the erosion of respect for the whole classification system. When the mundane is classified then you’re practically begging individuals to take the system in their hands and release information as they see fit.
This American Life has a great episode about life in Iraq today that’s worthy of an hour of your time. I’m probably a bit biased and susceptible to confirmation bias but it really does reinforce the idea that while the Surge was successful at making Iraq look stable enough for us to get the hell out of there without looking like complete incompetents, the prospect of a stable Iraq is still very far from certain.
Stand out moments for me:
- The two Iraqis who describes Americans as ‘using Iraqis like tissues’. In other words, totally disposable. Very moving.
- The description of a scene where a leader of the Sons of Iraq is brought to a meeting with a group of Americans. The very Americans, it turns out, who had tortured him for information three years earlier. And what do these shining examples of the intelligence community say? ‘Hey, the past is past. We’re friends now, right?’ The whole incident is so shot through with incompetence and hubris it boggles the mind.
- The former ‘Son of Iraq’ so esteemed for his efforts and accomplishments by the military that even the CENTCOM commander (Gen. Petraeus) and other senior military officials recommended he be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. He was, of course, denied from immigrating to the U.S. and had to pay a smuggler $50,000 to sneak him into Sweden where he now lives.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a new narrative since the NYTimes had a story recently about the Sons of Iraq fleeing that group to re-join the insurgency.
…hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
…even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.
Yes, mission accomplished.
There’s a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson school that sounds pretty good:
“The Politics and Psychology of Intelligence: Iraq and Other Wars”
October 07, 2010 4:30 p.m.– 6:00 p.m.
Location: Robertson Hall Bowl 016
If I can make it there, find me and I’ll buy you a beer. The code phrase is: ‘Shiloh sent me’
UPDATE: Yeah, it might help if I could tell the 6th from the 7th. Not sure if I can make it tomorrow but if I can, the deal is still on.
From the NY Times (via Ricks)
An Iraqi reality television program broadcast during Ramadan has been planting fake bombs in celebrities’ cars, having an Iraqi army checkpoint find them and terrifying the celebrities into thinking that they are headed for maximum security prison.
Yeah…Well, call me a stick in the mud but I’m not sure I get the humor here. I guess it might appeal to a certain demographic (unemployed torturers? eds.) but really, how far would you take this thing?
Can’t we just send them reruns of Jersey Shore or would that violate the Geneva Conventions?
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Modern wars may resist definitions of ‘victory’ of ‘defeat’ and they’ll also resist terms like ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ but today was a long overdue milestone with the official withdrawal of the last combat brigade from Iraq. I’m hoping history refers to this as the ‘Money Pit War’ or perhaps the ‘Distraction War’ (Any other suggestions out there?) but I’m sure it’ll follow the trend of amazingly unimaginative names we’ve been giving conflicts for the past 100 years or so and have some sort of B-movie quality like ‘Gulf War 2’ (Gulf War 3D by James Cameron coming next summer!).
Seven years and five months after the U.S.-led invasion, the last American combat brigade was leaving Iraq, well ahead of President Barack Obama’s Aug. 31 deadline for ending U.S. combat operations there.
And so, what do we have to show for our efforts in Iraq? Well, Saddam and his thuggish regime are gone, that’s a positive. Violence continues (admittedly, not at the pace of 2004-2007 but levels that are high by anyone’s standards) and five months after an election, there’s still no Iraqi government in place (those would be negatives).
Long term stability remains in question. We basically may have just gotten things to a point where we’ll be able to wash out hands of the matter if it all falls apart in a couple of years (see: 1972-1975 – S.E. Asia).
I remain dubious that Iraq will now be a long term fast friend of the U.S. and one has to wonder what, exactly, is our return on investment here. We used up a lot of resources in terms of soft and hard power and what exactly did we get for it? If you look at the situation from an idealist perspective, did we bring about a net decrease in human suffering or a net increase in the livelihood of the people there? I’m just not convinced we did.
Even worse, I don’t think Iraq is going to teach us much. Sure, for awhile we’ll get more isolationist but despite the fall in support for the war over time, I think two factors are going to keep any lessons learned from sinking in to the American psyche:
- You’ve still got a vocal group of people who are going to claim that Iraq was a successful mission that we needed to do. They’re going to push that message hard. Hey, they got Nixon to look like a wise statesman and continue to try to turn Vietnam into a victory.
- I just don’t think the war penetrated into the lives of many Americans. Such a small number of people participated, the conflict was just a bunch of talking heads on TV. Is there any sense among the public that we need to avoid war in the future? That we need to look for alternative ways to address conflict? Given the resurgence of talk about attacking Iran, one assumes not.
And so, I say ‘good riddance’ to Operation Iraqi Freedom. If we aren’t going to learn the lessons from it at least we can stop paying the price of it.
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Abu Maqawama has a most excellent (yet depressing) post restating the assumptions of our campaign in Afghanistan. Here they are, in brief. Read his post to see them in their gloomy and realistic glory.
- “The United States and its allies will devote the time, money, and troops to execute a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan”. Probably False.
- “The United States and its allies have vital interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Probably True.
- “Afghanistan is a binary conflict between the government and the insurgents”.* Certainly False.
- “The provision of social services leads to a reduction of violence”. Mostly false.
- “What we do is what matters”.** Mostly false.
- “Population-centric counterinsurgency is appropriate for Afghanistan”. Mostly true but perhaps false in one key way.
Spencer Ackerman riffs off that and raises a very important point:
…the American public has never debated, in a rigorous and bloodless way, just how proportional it is to confront a network of a few thousand extremists… through a commitment of something upwards of $300 billion to date and roughly 100,000 troops. The damage that extremist network can export is real. But it’s increasingly insubstantial. If Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the perpetrator of the most sophisticated al-Qaeda plot in years, had succeeded, he would have killed an order of magnitude fewer people than on 9/11 — 300 people. Out of a nation of 300 million. And that is ultimately how asymmetrical warfare succeeds: what bin Laden calls “Bleed to Bankruptcy.”
I mean geez…I’m still waiting for the honest debate about our strategy now that the Soviet Union has collapsed.
Here’s a video of David Killcullen talking COIN at Google last year.
Definitely worth watching if you’re interested in the mindset behind our current counterinsurgency policy.
(h/t from Permissible Arms)
I’ve said for awhile now that I’m too close to Afghanistan to make an objective call (or anything that could even be mistaken for one) on the mission there but it’s getting hard to ignore the fact that I don’t really see a good way out of this thing.
Radio Sweden has recently started a new feature called ‘Konflikt’ which is a biweekly podcast which focuses on foreign affairs. I hadn’t really mentioned it before because its first English language forays were only so-so but the current episode is worth a listen.
In this edition of Konflikt in English we look at espionage in refugee communities here, and its effects for those living with the consequences. Hear about the Chinese spy imprisoned in Sweden just last month, the Assyrians living in Södertälje who found their lives detailed in the secret files of the Iraqi Mukharabat secret service, and find out why the current Swedish legislation just isn’t good enough, according to some.
Foreign intelligence services targeting immigrant communities doesn’t get much play in the press but it clearly goes on frequently. I imagine the problem is especially difficult with immigrants who have difficulty assimilating, either through language or cultural differences.
There’s also not to much out there on Säpo, the Swedish Secret Police, and this broadcast gives you a bit of a glimmer in what they do and how they do it.
Kinda makes me think of this….