Sunday, May 21, 2017

Oprah and Alliance Politics

I have been too busy transcribing notes from super helpful interviews in Brazil to blog much about the shenanigans in the US.  But Trump's giving away of Israeli intel to the Russians has me thinking about Oprah, Dr. Phil and other relationship advisers.

One of the things that most struck me way back when and continues to do so when I talk to military folks is how often they sound like Oprah.  Combat requires more than just training to shoot one's weapon--it requires trust that the people alongside of you as well as those dropping bombs or shelling the beach will do as expected.  That much of war comes down to relationships and especially alliance warfare. 

If you don't trust your allies, if you have a lousy relationship, people will get killed unnecessarily and it might even prevent allies from going into the field with you.  The best example of this from Afghanistan is from the first prison break in Kandahar (alas, we have to specify which one):
In 2008, there was a massive prison break, so the Afghan military ordered reinforcements.  The units mentored by the French moved towards Kandahar but without the mentors.  The French troops that were observing, mentoring, liaisoning (called OMLT's or omelets) the Afghans had to wait as they needed permission to leave their sector.  That phone call went all the way to the top, to President Sarkozy.  He did say yes, but while that process played out, the Afghan unit was needed.  So, the Canadian commander found some US Marines and plugged them into the Afghan unit.  That unit went into battle and broke, fleeing.  The next day, the same unit was reassembled and given their French mentors, and it succeeded.  Why the different outcomes?  Because the Afghans did not trust the mentors they did not know but did trust the mentors they did know.
When it comes to intel, trust is huge.  It really cannot be overstated--allies will only share intel if they think that their pals will not reveal the info.... especially if revealing it might give away how the intel was collected.  One can lose not just one spy but the entire network of spies (or an entire form of intel collection) if the info gets out.  Famously, the British did not prepare for the bombing of Conventry despite it being the home of many families of those breaking German codes... because doing so might have revealed that the British had broken the German codes (well, maybe).

That Trump would give away intel to the Russians was very predictable.  I am sure I tweeted about it, but I can't see to find any of my blogposts mentioning it.  One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist or even focus on Trump's love of the Russians.  No, one just has to understand that Trump is thoroughly unqualified and has no self-control.  He matkes me look discreet.  So, yeah, predictable.

I wondered in the fall whether allies would give Russia-related intel to the US with Trump as president. It turns out all that sharing any intel with Russia is problematic.  My guess is that the allies, including the other members of the Five Eyes (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), will be far more cautious. 

Is this a problem?  Ironically, not really.  Having less intelligence to make decisions is only important if one uses intel to make decisions.  Since that is not the way of the Trump administration, the harm will be minimal in the short term.  However, in the long term, the damage is severe.  When future Presidents make intelligence-based decisions, will they have all that could be available?  I am not sure, as trust, once broken, takes a while to re-build.  Or so Oprah tells me. 

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