Friday, May 18, 2007

Early Warning - A National Security Sea Change?

In the Washington Post, William Arkin blogs:

Let me clarify the sea change I identified yesterday in the op-ed by the two generals calling for an end to torture: Beyond the war in Iraq, there are an increasing number of voices, public and private, asking whether we are approaching this "war" against terrorism in the right way, and whether we are organized properly for the future. Congress has directed the Pentagon to shift the focus of special operations away from "direct action" and toward a holistic unconventional warfare model. A prominent senator is broaching the subject of breaking up the Department of Homeland Security.
These calls for new directions go beyond the proposals of the presidential candidates, all of whom support a larger Army and Marine Corps -- even those who support the war in Iraq. Yet ending that war would alleviate the very strain on the armed forces that justifies more troops.

The House Armed Services Committee has directed the military to place more emphasis on unconventional warfare and less on "direct action" missions aimed at individual terrorists. (Thanks to Richard Lardner of the Tampa Tribune for the reporting.)

The committee, in its report on the fiscal 2008 defense budget, proposes a change in legislation that would give greater priority to the indirect mission. The new legislation ranks 12 missions for special operations forces, moving direct action from atop the current list to No. 5. Unconventional warfare, the new top mission, includes the "softer side" of special operations, from training to engaging local populations in the battle for hearts and minds.

Almost four years ago, I wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

Though special operators are known for their regional focus, language skills and maturity, the community is actually divided between "raids, rescue and Rambo" types, that is, those focused on "kinetic kill and direct action," and the "softer" types, who focus on psychological warfare, civil affairs and building popular support.

A retired Air Force special operator and counter-terrorism expert, Col. Wray R. Johnson, says the administration, as well as the Special Operations Command, has clearly focused on the direct-action side at the expense of the softer side in the war on terrorism. "I myself side with the softer side of SOF," Johnson says. "Kill terrorists when and where we find them, but, thinking strategically, we should emphasize ameliorating if not eliminating the conditions that generate support for
the bad guys."

Retired Gen. Wayne Downing, the former commander of all special operations, agrees: "We're knocking them off and interdicting operations, but every day another 10, 15, 20 recruits are coming into the training camps."
No one on the House Committee is suggesting that special operations forces cease their "direct action" operations. The legislative change is merely a reminder to the military that it needs to give equal emphasis to the cultural and indirect approaches.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) told Newsday that the Department of Homeland Security should be dismantled. "I would be for breaking it up and it's something we're going to talk about," said Schumer. "It's a mess. There's no focus, it's a conglomerate and it's too large."

It's rare for the federal government to actually eliminate a department. But more important than just rearranging the organizational blocks should be a thoughtful reexamination of the name and concept of "homeland security."

Everything about the name connotes unilateralism and isolationism. DHS is also a department pushed upon America amid the fear of 9/11. At this point, the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts.

Finally, an exchange in Congress yesterday demonstrates that a lot of reeducation is necessary.

According to National Journal's CongressDailyAM, Gen. Bantz Craddock, commander of U.S. European Command, was arguing on Capitol Hill not just that the Army needed more troops, but that the United States needed to send more forces back to Europe. Craddock says he just does not have enough bodies to fulfill his "cooperative security" responsibilities with NATO nations. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, didn't seem to question the proposition of the need for the United States to have more troops in Europe, nor does he question the notion that more troops are needed overall.

Craddock also took the sly tack of arguing that a shortage of ground forces could result in a greater reliance on airpower and special operations, which he associated with increased civilian casualties, referring to recent incidents in Afghanistan. Not only is Craddock wrong in his assertion that airpower is somehow responsible for the mess in Afghanistan, but he is also wrong that ground forces somehow represent a softer touch in warfare.

I know, I know: I said there was a sea change afoot. But clearly everyone is still protecting their turf and promoting whatever they know best as the solution to our long-term security needs.