Monday, May 29, 2017

A Good Time To Remember The Sacrifices

Amid the Trump controversies, especially those involving the American role in the world and what Trump is doing to diminish American leadership, this Memorial Day may have a bit more meaning.  The rise of Nazis in the US, the threats to civilian control of the military, the involvement of Russians in the US election all make this Memorial Day resonate more.  Maybe it is because I finally made it to Arlington last summer, but I feel this Memorial Day a bit more than ever despite not being in the US.  So, here's some pictures from that quick trip through (I wish I had more time that day):

Caveats Go Hollywood

A few years ago, I got contacted out of the blue by the people who produce Brad Pitt movies.  They were working on a movie about the US effort in Afghanistan, had found an article David Auerswald and I had written. They were looking for interesting material to supplement the stuff they were using from Michael Hasting's work on General McChrystal, and so I ended up having a phone conversation with a producer while he was driving around Los Angeles.

So, I had been eager to see War Machine, the Netflix movie that just dropped this weekend.  Lo and behold, within five minutes, there's a junior officer talking about alliance politics, using a line I had said in many talked (see the slide) about countries not being willing to fight at night or in the snow.

The way the officer sound it sounded exactly the way I talked about it in numerous presentations.  So, I think I conveyed it that way while on the phone.  They could have gotten the line from the book (see to the right), but not the article that they originally mentioned.

Anyhow, I was mighty pleased to see our work appear in a movie.  Not sure it counts as either a citation or policy relevance, but I will take it.

Regarding the movie itself, it tries to have it both ways: tell the McChrystal story and be a fictional take.  So, there is some confusion about what really happened.  For instance, in the movie, Obama blows off McMahon (Brad Pitt as McChyrstal) in Copenhagen.  From what I remember, they did meet and chat there.  For my interests, I was more annoyed by a line later in the movie as McMahon was trying to get more contributions from Europeans (force generation is begging!)--that the Germans would contribute but that their contribution would be restricted to base.  Alas, as Dave and I found and wrote about, this ain't true--the Germans actually made their troops more flexible--able to engage in offensive operations--in 2009 (around the time McChyrstal was doing this stuff) because their parliamentarians had realized that the restrictions had made the German troops targets.

So, I am pleased to see our stuff in a film and that force generation be depicted pretty well, but, of course, the movie took liberties, which is to be expected.  Anyhow, that is my brush with Hollywood until my daughter graduates and starts making movies there.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Thinking About Teen Groot

If you have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2, then, well, too bad.  But as I was chatting with Mrs. Spew about how HR McMaster may be the Rocket Racoon to Trump as Baby Groot in the bomb training scene (it was in the trailers).  I seem to remember a political cartoon illustrating this. This is all I could find:

Anyhow, this led to thinking about the next movie and the idea of Teen Groot really hit us.  I have already imagined the conversation:

Teen Groot:  "I am Groot!"
Rocket: "Yes, you have to come with us."
Teen Groot:  "I am Groot!"
Rocket: "No, you can't just stay at home and play videogames!"
Teen Groot:  "I am Groot!"
Rocket: "Yes, it is embarrassing for you to be seen with us."
Teen Groot:  "I am Groot!"
Rocket: "No, we are not going to let you drive."
Teen Groot:  "I am Groot!"
Rocket: "No, you can't just hang out with your friends tonight."
Teen Groot:  "I am Groot!"
and on and on.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What Trump Costs NATO

It is NATO day here at the Semi-Spew, and I thought I would mention one dynamic that has gone overlooked.  It starts with a basic reality of NATO: when there is a mission, countries are not obligated to hand over military units for the effort.  Instead, what happens is this (see chapter two of Dave and Steve's book), as one officer told us that "force generation is begging:"
  1. The officers at the NATO military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, along with the relevant regional command come up with a spreadsheet.  Yes, an excel spreadsheet called the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements.  The CJSOR is a list of all of the different things that are needed from military police units to infantry battalions to airport logistics units and on and on.  It gets very specific.  A key point to keep in mind--the CJSOR for the Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia was incomplete in 2001 when I was on the Joint Staff--six years after the mission started in a rather safe place.  Anyway, coming up with the requirements is first step
  2. This HQ has a force generation conference where representatives of each NATO country and even some partners attend and volunteer for various assignments.  This may provide the bulk of the forces needed.  However, it is never sufficient.
  3. So, the senior officers at NATO HQ in Mons start calling up their equivalents in NATO countries and ask for more contributions.
  4. When that falls short, things move up so the Deputy Supreme Commander of Europe [DSACEUR] starts calling around to the highest military officers in NATO countries.
  5. When that falls short, SACEUR and the Secretary General calls the heads of the respective militaries and their ministers of defense.
  6. When that falls short, the President of the United States calls his counterparts and cajoles, leans, persuades, etc.
A complication in all of this: each NATO country has its own decision process for deploying troops, some requiring votes in parliament, some not.  But most of these countries have coalition governments, and all of the leaders have domestic audiences to worry about.  So, they need to sell the mission, and if it is a US initiative (most of the time), then the mission becomes easier or harder to sell depending on who the US President is.  Afghanistan got harder to sell after Iraq in 2003.  It got easier to sell when George W. Bush, unpopular in Europe/Canada, got replaced by Barak Obama who was and remains very popular (see any pictures of the event in Berlin today?). 

So after being chastised by Trump today, how many of these leaders would try to sell a NATO mission to their publics who revile Donald Trump?  How many of these leaders can sell a NATO mission to their parties and to other parties now?  Damned few, I would think.

So Much Wrong, Trump at NATO

We should not be surprised about Trump's NATO performance, but we can be appalled.
The context is that Trump is supposed to be commemorating a  9/11 memorial at the new NATO headquarters.  This is a moment to celebrate how NATO came together to defend the US and aid in the aftermath of the attack. NATO was always designed and expected to cement the American commitment to defend Canada and Europe.  Not the other way around, and yet damn near every ally showed up and helped.  First by sending NATO planes over American cities to prevent another attack (New Year's Eve, Super Bowl, etc).  Then by sending troops to America's war in Afghanistan, where they, the non-American NATO countries held the fort while the US went off on its ill-conceived distraction of a war in Iraq that we will be paying for many generations..  NATO allies had more troops in Afghanistan for much of the mission and bore much of the costs.  And yet on this day, Trump ignores that and focuses on what?

Trump focuses on NATO as protection racket or country club--the video above once again indicates that Trump believes the US is owed for past European and Canadian underspending. This is not how it works.  But he is deliberately ignorant--choosing not to learn that NATO's 2% guideline is exactly that--a guideline, not a rule, not a law.  NATO countries did commit to aspire to reach 2% by 2024. It ain't 2024 yet as much as we wish it to be.

And, yes, Trump didn't even say words he didn't believe--that the US is committed to the defense of NATO countries.  There was an expectation that he would say some nice words about Article V, but he dropped that part of the text.  It is revealing, of course, that he couldn't even summon a lie for the moment, but it would have been as meaningful as his pledges to pay his contractors or to respect his marriage(s).

The only thing Trump is really good at is undermining my productivity. So much for grant-writing this morning. FFS

Intel Sharing Basics

I am not an intel person--I have excellent colleagues who are: Stephanie Carvin, Alex Wilner and Jeremy Littlewood.  But I do remember seeing heaps of classified materials and hearing lots of complaining about intel sharing 15 or so years ago during my year in the Pentagon.  So, here's what I remember.

Most countries complained about the US not sharing enough intelligence, not that the US was being too generous with it.  People are most familiar with the basic classification scheme:
  • Classified--broad category of secret stuff
  • Confidential--least restrictive form of classified material.
  • Secret--more restricted than confidential
  • Top Secret--a much narrower category--starting to get into the stuff that, if released, can significantly harm the national interest.  By letting our adversaries know what we know and how we collect it
  • Code-word, compartmentalized. This is need to know stuff--that the only people who are in on a specific operation or information source are those who need to know.  I was cleared for Top Secret but not code word.  I never needed to be read into any code word secret stuff.  From what I could figure out, this was really two main categories--special operations and stuff gathered via NSA signals intelligence.
Documents of all classifications (well, all those that I saw) could come with other markers:
  • NOFORN: that the information is not to be shared with any foreign actors, even the most trusted.  Stuff on terrorism might go here.
  • UKONLY (or something like that): info could be shared only with UK.  I assume there is a FIVEEYES label for sharing with only UK/Canada/Australia/NZ, but I didn't see any of that. Probably because I was on the Balkans desk, which meant that the next classification was
  • NATOONLY (or something like that): information that could go out to NATO allies.  Yes, this system means that there is stuff the US didn't share with anyone, some it shared with the UK but not the rest of NATO and some they shared with NATO members.
  • SFOR or KFOR ONLY: information that would go out to all countries participating in the NATO-led mission, including non-NATO countries like Sweden, Finland, and ..... Russia.  Not a whole lot of super-secret stuff under this label.
Trump has now taught American allies that the US can't be trusted.  It has always been the case that countries had to worry about sharing intel with countries who might be penetrated by spies.  Nobody has avoided that problem--not the US with Aldrich Ames and one of the Hansen brothers, not the UK with Kim Philby and the others, not Canada with its own spy problems, etc (actually, I have no idea about Australia and New Zealand).  Not to mention Snowden, Manning, etc.  But that is different from the leaks during into a raging river of secrets going directly from the President to the primary adversary and now the Manchester leaks.

So, countries are, predictably, reacting, by sharing less.  Which means that more puzzles will have missing pieces, which increases the likelihood that an attack is not prevented.  Trump's big mouth and the leaks pouring out of the intel community are going to do real damage.  Yet more unforced errors, something that this government does so very well.

Trump and Article V

Lots of reports today about Europeans hoping that Trump "endorses Article V."  What does this mean?  Damned if I know.  Sure, I know what Article V is: an attack on one member will be treated as an attack on all .... and each will respond as each deems necessary.  There is no automaticity to Article V.  The alliance must reach consensus that an attack has happened--and there is no guarantee of that (does a cyber-attack count? Does an attack on Turkey count?).  And then countries can choose to give a lot or a little or nothing to the fight.  The second part is the topic of the Dave and Steve NATO book.

As I have written before, Trump as President challenges NATO in two key ways: that the US could block consensus after an attack so that NATO can't invoke article; or the US lets the alliance invoke article V but then the US commits nothing or little to the allied response.

And this is the thing: whatever Trump says today is meaningless.  How so?  Trump himself has said he stands by nothing he says.  His word is not his bond.  He has no credibility.  He likes to tell people want they want to hear when he is with them, and then backtracks later on.  His Uncertainty Engine operates in high gear when it comes to these visits and to making commitments.

I get it that the Europeans want some assurance that Trump is not as awful as they think he is.  Guess what?  He is.  He may say that the US will defend its allies, but how does anyone know that he would follow through?  Especially when he keeps getting NATO wrong--that the burden sharing problem is not of money owed to the US but of money that countries need to spend on their own armed forces.

So, I guess I will be tweeting repeatedly today that the focus on Trump uttering the magic words is about as misplaced as one can imagine.  Or maybe I will just be yelling FFS at my computer.

Explaining "Dumb Politics"

I am quoted today by one of my very favorite Canadian journalists, Murray Brewster, as saying that the discussion of the Iraq mission is going to "lead to dumb politics."  I am not sure my meaning came across, so let me explain.

The story is how one of two Canadian intel gathering planes--the Auroras--is being withdrawn from Iraq.  The story is being presented by Murray and others as a "quiet" move by the Liberal government. This is really a nothing-burger of a story.  The CAF have deployed these two planes for 2.5 years or so, and they have been most useful in identifying targets for the air strikes and perhaps the ground campaign.  Canada will keep operating the other Aurora and a refueling plane.  The Liberal government updated the website that shows what Canada has in this fight, so it is not hiding it.  It just ain't out trumpeting it either.  Given all of the other stuff going on--NAFTA at risk, Boeing vs. Bombardier over subsidies, Trump's impact on Canada and on NATO, North Korea, Manchester--this really is not much of a story.

However, it feeds the bad politics machine.  The Conservatives, who have done their fair share of cutting and running from major allied efforts (leaving Kandahar in 2011, withdrawing from the NATO AWACS program, etc), now have some fodder that goes with the storyline that the Liberals don't want to do the Iraq mission and are weaseling out.

My line about bad politics was really about the next THING.  That is, the battle over Mosul is almost over, and the Kurds will have far fewer battles to fight.  So, what will the Canadian Special Operations Forces be doing in Iraq next?  Probably nothing, as others have lined up for the next Iraq fight.  Unless Canada wants to deploy the 200 or so SOF into Syria, a super-complicated place, they can either sit on their hands or come home.  I vote for coming home.  The S in SOF means special, which almost always implies few or small.  Which means that these guys tend to operate at a high tempo--they go over someplace to do something, come home, go back, come home, go back, etc.  This pace of effort is hard to sustain and very hard to sustain their sharp edge if they are operating all of the time with little respite.  The best thing for Canadian Special Operations would be to bring these folks home, let them rest, spend time with their families, train and exercise for the next missions whatever they might be.

But what is likely to happen is either the Liberal government will keep them there so that they don't get accused of running out on the mission or they pull them and then the Conservatives accuse them of running out of the mission.  And this is dumb.  It avoids all of the important questions but allows the opposition to accuse the government of being weak.  The important questions here include:
  • If we continue to operate in Iraq, will we be complicit with Iraqi/Iranian war crimes?  Does our presence make such war crimes more or less likely?
  • Winning in Iraq does not mean ISIS is defeated, so what is next?
  • Hint: Syria. What can/should Canada do in Syria?
  • Should Canada return to Afghanistan?
Of course, the super-big question is this: will Canada's political system, including its media, always remain focused on distraction sauce rather than addressing more important issues?  In my book, I give much credit to Murray and other reporters for risking their lives and doing really hard work to get the Afghanistan story right.  But I castigated the media and the parties that focused on the story that allowed them to accuse each other of being war criminals or fellow travelers of the Taliban--detainees.  Which, sorry, is tertiary to the larger issues of how to work with a corrupt government, and whether tying one's efforts to a checklist rather than to.... winning made much sense.

Anyhow, with the next "debate" about what to do in Iraq coming up, all I could see is dumb.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

NATO Summit Ahead: Setting Expectations at Super-Low

The leaders of NATO countries are assembling in Brussels this week, and the likely outcome of the meeting will be a loud "meh."  Meh for the new building, which this summit will celebrate, as it is very costly, took too long, and may not have a bowling alley (the last one is the only thing that is unknown).  The output of the summit itself will also be underwhelming

Why?  Because the US has, dare I say it, not been leading lately.  Yes, so much was written about whether Obama led enough, but that all pales in comparison to Trump's "leadership."  To get stuff done at a NATO summit requires a great deal of work done by a great deal of staff with much coordination.  Because neither the US Department of State nor the US Department of Defense are staffed (unstaffed is a better description than merely understaffed), there are few people who can work the phones, do the messaging, and provide the guidance to the US representatives to push an agenda.

Indeed, it was not that long ago that worstSecState (that's his title) Tillerson planned to blow off the NATO Foreign Ministerial--a key meeting of the members' foreign ministers--that helps to set the agenda for the summit.  And when he did show up, what did Tillerson push?  Insistence that each member come up with a plan to get their defense spending up to 2% of their GDP.  Easy to come up with plans, hard to implement that.  Overseeing implementation is not something that the lazy, ignorant and unstaffed Trump administration is likely to do well, so I have encouraged countries to make up plans and worry about Trump's ire later. 

Anyhow, unlike the Warsaw Summit last year with serious plans to consider (reminder that decisions are not made at summits but the meetings force countries to decide beforehand), there is no big plan at work to be released this week.  Other than Trump's effort to turn NATO into a protection racket, there will be discussion of counter-terrorism.  NATO has done plenty on this file since 9/11: protecting American cities via NATO AWACS planes, having a fleet in the Mediterranean interdict terrorist activities/networks, there's that whole Afghanistan thing, and more.  Does the current Iraq mission need to be a NATO mission? No.  Will countries be willing to make it and/or Syria NATO missions? Probably not.

So, the real focus is not on the usual NATO "deliverables" as there will be no communique that is a long list of what NATO decided.  Instead, the focus is on whether and how Trump blows his temper, gets stuff wrong and alienates allies.  He is supposed to assure the allies of the US commitment to them. But given that these folks have been hard to assure for, um, generations, that Trump spills allies' secrets to the Russians, his campaign is under investigation for colluding with Russia, and Trump has literally said "I don't stand by anything I say," count on this one deliverable not to be delivered.

Thus, expectations are set on super-low. As long as Trump does not piss in his pants or slap anyone, the American media will call him Presidential.  I just hope that the international media gets a chance to ask some tough questions. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Latest Odds with Some Additions

Thanks to joking about proposition bets about Trump, I now get regular updates from a sportsbetting site.  The latest:

  • Trump serves full term?
    • Yes is -200 (1/2, 66.67% implied probability)
  • Trump impeached during first term? 
    • No: -250 (2/5, 71.43% implied probability)
    • Yes: +210 (21/10, 32.26% implied probability)
  • Next Trump appointee fired/to leave job?
    • Sean Spicer: +300 (3/1, 25% implied probability)
    • H.R. McMaster: +450 (9/2, 18.18% implied probability)
    • Steve Bannon: +650 (13/2, 13.33% implied probability)
  • Next Supreme Court nominee? 
    • Thomas Hardiman is currently favored at +300 (3/1, 25% implied probability)
  • Next Senate Confirmed FBI Director? 
    • Joe Lieberman: +250 (5/2, 28.57% implied probability)
    • Richard McFeely: +450 (9/2, 18.18% implied probability)
    • Mike Rogers: +650 (13/2, 13.33% implied probability)
  • Will James Comey testify before Congress by 11:59 PM EDT on June 30, 2017? 
    • Yes: +250 (5/2, 28.57% implied probability)
    • No: -300 (1/3, 75% implied probability)
  Handy footnote:

Note: Not familiar with the betting lingo? A negative number (generally representing the "Favorite") = how much you have to bet to profit $100. A positive number = how much you profit if you bet $

Which would I bet?  The best one here is Comey testifying before the end of June. That seems pretty close to a lock.  The other bets at the website have slightly longer odds for Susan Rice testifying by the end of June and then longer still for Obama by the end of the year. I would pound the No on that last one--would have to bet $600 to win $100.

 If they had the acting FBI head, I'd consider that.  Inertia is a powerful force, especially since McFeely has dropped out.  Against a longer list, the odds of Field (none of the above) getting to be FBI director is +450, which is not bad at all.  

I'd be tempted to bet McMaster simply because he has better odds than Spicey, althouh Spicey has the honor of most non-Trump bets--lots of possibilities for Spicey.  Spicey/McM odds -250/+210, Spicey/Bannon -350/+300, meaning that Spicey is favored to get ousted before either but McM is seen as more likely to be ousted than Bannon.  The longer list has NIkki Haley as second least likely to be ousted next after Pence.  I'd bet on Sessions just because he is the most dangerous and want him to go more than anyone.  Of course, that kind of betting strategy leads to bankruptcy.

There are other propositions at the website, with the odds changing from No +400 that Trump is President at the end of September dropping to -150 by Jan 2021, suggesting that he will not finish his term, but soon, not so much. The odds of resigning are +250 for yes, -300 for no.

Too bad there is no bet on:

  • Next strange object Trump holds with foreign leaders.
  • Which country's history Tillerson gets wrong?  Not on the board since "next one" would get all of the money.
  • How many meetings does Trump miss due to a lack of stamina?  I'd bet the over as long as the over/under line was set at seven or less for this trip.  
  • Hard to measure, but which meeting goes the worst?   I would bet on NATO simply because it is towards the end and requires maximum patience.  
  • TeamStroke.  Nor any 25th Amendment shenanigans.
One thing to keep in mind: the odds are set not just on the likelihood of the outcome but which way the money is going.  As people bet on one side, the casino changes the odds to get folks to bet the other side.  So, when one thinks of these odds, it is not just what is likely but what people beyond the casino see as likely and, in these cases, perhaps want to happen.

If I were Trump, I would put lots of my money on these bets and then make them happen.  Why? Because Trump is greedy and corrupt so firing Nikki Haley would make big bank.