Saturday, December 31, 2011

Defense Law Signed

The stupid elements of this law would ultimately be rendered unconstitutionally obsolete if applied inappropriately. The Supreme Court will not allow american citizens to be held without trial indefinitely. The Roberts Court has been robust in recent case law re-this area.The sanctions targeted against Iranian financial infrastructure are from my perspective, welcome ones.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Iran and the Straits of Hormuz

Iran could shut down the straits of hormuz for a short period (a matter of perhaps 12 hours). However, beyond that time frame, the Iranian military would be unable to contest control of the straits with the US military. The US could (and would) simply isolate and destroy the Iranian assets in the area while applying an escalating force dynamic to deter continued Iranian aggression. Thus for Iran, while a short term spike in the oil markets would be possible, this action would come at substantial cost.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Iraq Crisis

Iraq is on the edge. Maliki must try and a find a way to get al-Iraqiya back into the political process. Al-Sadr is attempting to manipulate the space that this situation is providing. Iraq needs a cross-sectarian, stable government that respects all of it's citizens. This will take time. But wilfully ignoring Iraq's sunnis will only fuel the extremism that Iran and Al Qa'ida seek to enshrine.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baghdad Attacks

The attacks in Baghdad are a reminder of the work still to be done in securing that country. It is likely that the Islamic State of Iraq (Al Qa'ida in Iraq spin off) are responsible. The degree of systematic, co-ordinated violence is a hallmark of their operational strategy. The Iraqi government must pursue reconciliation alongside security operations. If Maliki does otherwise, he will risk further separation between Iraq's various sectarian groups. An outcome which is almost certainly the political intention of today's terrible attacks and an outcome that will risk a return to the violence of 2006.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

US-UK Intelligence Co-operation

Two Sides of a COIN. Examining the growing discrepancy between US and UK Counter-Terrorism rooted Intelligence Operations.

Tom Rogan
It is true that there exists significant consensus in terms of the political strategy that underpins both UK and US counter terrorism efforts. The two states share agreement on the need to address root recruiting factors for Sunni Islamist extremist groups – a lack of empowerment (especially for young men), weak education and institutions, a failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, absent legitimised governance etc. The ‘Arab Spring’ has helped coalesce this position beyond the stigma of the 2003 ‘neo-conservative’ ideology. This consensus being stated, there also exists a real variance of tactical methodology in UK-US counter-terrorism efforts.
For the United States, even under President Obama, counter-terrorism continues to function under an overarching ‘war’ mentality. While Obama has moved the American strategic narrative away from the notion of a ‘war on terror’ (as much for domestic reasons as for foreign policy ones), for the United States, highly kinetic attrition warfare coupled with aggressive intelligence collection efforts remains key.

For the UK however, the patient accumulation of intelligence takes precedence under a European conceived ‘rule of law’ based approach; an approach favoring traditional police investigation and criminal prosecution over more aggressive foreign action. Successive senior leaders of both the UK Security Service (MI5) and the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) have often stated their profound discomfort with the notion of targeted killing and extraordinary rendition. Simultaneously, the United States continues to show a willingness to conduct intelligence operations that are inconceivable under a UK reading of international law. As former CIA Director, Michael Hayden stated to the BBC in regard to drone strikes, ‘This is a war, this is action against opposing armed enemy force. This is an inherent right of America to self-defence… [it is the CIA’s obligation] to take this war to this enemy wherever they may be.’ This isn't a partisan issue for the United States. Indeed, the frequency of predator drone strikes has increased dramatically under Obama.
In the later stages of Al Qa’ida’s failed 2006 Trans-Atlantic Plot, tensions over counter-terrorism tactics played out loudly in UK-US discussions over when and how the suspects (and Pakistan based cell controllers) were to be neutralized. A number of relationships between senior US-UK intelligence officials were badly damaged in this affair.
Interestingly, while President Obama is highly regarded by a cross-partisan consensus of UK politicians, CIA activities are regarded by the same officials with deep unease (even though these actions proceed under Presidential authorisation). It is not solely the UK Government that holds this view; British news outlets publish frequent ‘horror’ stories on the treatment of terrorist suspects at the hands of American intelligence officials.
Further exemplifying this discomfort with the perceived ‘American approach’, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently announced an inquiry into allegations that UK intelligence officers were complicit in the purported mistreatment of terrorist suspects held by Gaddafi’s regime at the request of the US Government. This inquiry is the second such investigation that Cameron’s Conservative Government has ordered in response to accusations made against UK intelligence services. Conversely, the Obama Administration has been able (and has decided) to remain relatively quiet on the issue. While UK services are facing ever increasing attention and condemnation, the domestic American preference towards US intelligence efforts is very different. This preference being- that operations should be left to proceed with relative freedom and secrecy (prosecution of intelligence leaks being an area on which the Obama Administration has been as, if not more robust, than the Bush Administration).
Although significant, these tensions should not be taken out of context. Material intelligence sharing between the UK and US, especially with regards to signal intelligence, remains abundant and even symbiotic. UK-US ties in this area are ingrained and formal. However, in the context of operational disagreements, co-operation between UK and US clandestine/covert action officers is now extraordinarily politically sensitive. When it comes to sensitive joint operations, the UK and the US are now forced to ensure that their co-operation is compatible with two sets of ever evolving and very different rules. For each state, the advantages of highly skilled officers working together on a mission of shared importance, must now be balanced against the risk of undesired front page news stories and/or formal inquiries.
The questions now being asked in Washington and Whitehall will be along the following lines.

For the US, ''what risk does our intelligence sharing with the UK pose, in terms of our own operations being compromised in future UK public inquiries?'' 

For the UK, ''what risk of our officers being implicated for future ‘wrong doing’ alongside US officers?''
Implicitly or explicitly, politics will now weigh heavily at the calculating core of sensitive tactical decisions. This adds a new, uncertain dimension to a long-time and highly successful intelligence relationship.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


As the US formally end its combat mission in Iraq, the US Military can be proud of what it has accomplished. Iraq is a democracy with a cross-sectarian government. It's economy is growing slowly but surely. Iraqi journalists have unprecedented (but still insufficient) freedom. These successes are real and important.

 Although Prime Minister Maliki is showing concerning strands of authoritarianism, the Iraqi people are now the masters of their own futures. They must work to balance their government as a force that serves all their citizens equally. However, America can do little to solve domestic political disagreements in Iraq, these resolutions must come from Iraqis themselves.

In the immediate aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, coalition authorities made a number of extremely poor decisions. The over-zealous de-Baathfication campaign made hundreds of thousands of soldiers, teachers and other civil servants unemployed. The counter-terrorism focus of the US Military towards dealing with insurgents, also made opportunities for political reconciliation nearly impossible in a zero sum game. Alongside these failings and in the context of poor Iraqi government leadership, between the summer of 2003 and late 2006, many young Iraqi men joined opposing insurgent groups like Al Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) and the Jaish al Mahdi. The violence that these organisations inflicted on the Iraqi people and on coalition forces was horrific and relentless. The violence destroyed any tangible opportunity for political reconciliation, literally driving communities apart and leading some to suggest that Iraq would become the Somalia of the Middle East.

In early 2007, the US responded with 'the surge'. This new strategy lead to a dramatic increase in US force deployments to Iraq and focused on the internalisation into US Military doctrine of a counter-insurgency strategy. This new approach allowed American forces to set up joint security stations in Iraqi population centers, in so providing a more consistent measure of security, a closer level of co-operation and trust and a greater opportunity to support civil reconstruction/society efforts. US Military operations were now focused on acheiving specific political goals as much as they were on capturing or killing insurgents. Coupled with this new approach, was an extremely aggressive US counter-terrorism strategy that inflicted unsustainable losses on irreconcilable terrorist leaders from groups like AQI. Further, the US Military enlisted tens of thousands of unemployed  (or previously insurgent employed) Iraqi men to form local security teams to provide a crucial, lasting and indigenous effort to rid their communities of terrorist groups. The cumulative effect of these strategic changes was massive. Violence declined by an extraordinary amount and as a measure of social stability returned, so did a measure of political stability. This fragile but valuable position is where Iraq finds itself today. The US should continue to provide meaningful support for Iraq's military and exert constant but respectful pressure on Iraq's government to adopt a more cross-sectarian approach to its governance of the country. Whatever one thinks of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, the US Military has shown resolve, intellect, flexibility and courage.

America's armed forces can be proud of what they have achieved and how they went about achieving it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gingrich strikes again

 Gingrich's statements that he believes clemency for convicted traitor and spy, Jonathan Pollard, is probably a good idea, are wrong. Treason is about as serious a crime that you can commit. Pollard should die in jail. Israel is one of America's closest friends. But on this issue (a rare concession on my part!), Joe Biden is absolutely right.

This is not exactly helpful either.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Some good photos from Ashura in Beirut yesterday. Hezbollah has major problems. They are stuck with escalating tensions vis-a-vis Israel and Iran, their support for Assad is hugely destructive to the emancipation narrative that supposedly underpins their organisation and they also have to deal with unwanted attention from the Hariri investigation. As I have previously noted, as Assad approaches his ultimate fall from power, Hezbollah will likely distance themselves from his regime. Hezbollah is playing a long game which requires the appearance at least of cross-sectarian legitimacy. Innocent people being killed by regime forces does not coalesce well with this agenda.

Football Thugs in the Netherlands.

Football thugs ruining everyone's game. So, so pathetic. Love it when the guy is pushed off the fence though!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Night Raids - Afghanistan

The ongoing night raids by US special forces in Afghanistan are necessary, proportionate and effective. They allow a clinical (albeit not perfect) application of force against identified individuals. Individuals who are playing critical roles in supporting the insurgency; constructing IEDs, organising local Taliban groups and facilitating flows of support from Pakistan and elsewhere into the country. Stopping these raids would allow the Taliban and their allies to consolidate power again and would risk undoing the substantial coalition success that has been achieved over the last year. Hopefully the US can find some measure of compromise with the Karzai government. Perhaps offering to partner more Afghan forces with US forces on these missions.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


I'm an Everton fan, but I am happy for Chelsea and their manager for their victory over Newcastle today. It was deserved.