Gringo Lost

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Archive for September 2009

The children who died for their country.

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This week is a tremendously historical week for Mexico.  Not only is today particularly important because it is the day that Mexicans began their long-fight for independence from Spain, but this week in 1847 also marks the anniversary of the US occupation in Mexico City.

Beginning in early September, the occupation was intended to break the Mexican people’s will to fight against US territorial acquisitions north of the Rio Grande.  But, the inherently violent and imperialistic intervention has tormented the Mexican psyche ever since.

One legend that encapsulates Mexican resentment and pride is the legend of the Niños Héroes (Children Heroes). As the story goes, young teenage cadets stationed in the presidents castle at Chapultapec Park were being overrun by American marines.   Instead of giving up, these teenagers fought to the death as the Americans stormed the castle.  When all were dead or caputured and the end had come, one child refused to surrender but instead wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leaped to his death from the castle balcony, nearly 40 feet from the ground.

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To commemorate fallen marines from the battle of Chapultapec, the US marine corps has decorated their dress uniform pants with a red line along the side that signifies the loss of American marines during the battle.

Happy Independence Day, Mexico!

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Today, or more accurately midnight tonight, will mark the 199th year that Miguel Hidalgo began Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain.  A Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo marched under the banner of the Lady of Guadalupe; leading 50,000 men into the capital Mexico City.  Unfortunately, Hidalgo was repelled back and later executed.  But his fateful march has inspired Mexicans ever since, and to this day he is still known as the “Father of Mexico.”

MiguelHidalgo

Written by gringolost

September 15, 2009 at 12:01 am

The Utility of Force: War Amongst the People

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Rupert Smith contends in Utility of Force that great powers are less likely to resort to confrontation to resolve international disputes because of the nuclear deterrent.  Instead conflict in the current era of security will be dominated by asymmetrical threats from non-state actors.  Thus, the new paradigm of international conflict involves the actions used by great powers to counter threats from non-state actors.  These actions include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and interventions to secure national or allied interests.

This new paradigm is described by Smith in part III, “War Amongst the People”.  In this section, Smith breaks down six basic trends that make up the new paradigm (list copied from the book):

  1. The ends for which we fight are changing from the hard objectives that decide a political outcome to those of establishing conditions in which the outcome may be decided.
  2. We fight amongst the people, not on the battlefield.
  3. Our conflicts tend to be timeless, even unending.
  4. We fight so as to preserve the force rather than risking all to gain the objective
  5. On each occasion new uses are found for old weapons and organizations which are the products of industrial war.
  6. The sides are mostly non-state, comprising some form of multi-national grouping against some non-state party or parties.

Based on point one, governments must employ force to establish “conceptual space” where statecraft (diplomacy, political pressure, economic incentives, etc) can be used to gain political objectives.

In regards to points two through four, the fact that governments are forced to fight “amongst the people” and endure “timeless” conflicts means that force must be employed in a way that does not break support of the Clausewitzian triangle of the population, government, and military.  The realities of lengthy operations mean that governments must fight to “preserve the force” by avoiding the “body bag” effect that casualties have on reducing public support.  Consequently, the media is a necessary tool for decision makers because theirs is the primary conduit where information can be tailored and dispensed.

For point five, Smith makes the observation that the most destructive weapons of today’s conflicts are being used in ways that they were not originally intended.  Smith’s examples include the use of machetes by Rwandan Hutus to systematically kill Tutsis, suicide bombers to conduct precision attacks, and the proliferation of small arms to rebel groups.  I would add one adaption of the American machinery was the placement of missile systems on different types of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Lastly, governments send their forces on operations to preserve and advance interests within non-state formulations of conflict.  To conduct these operations governments must form groupings of multi-national partners that often reduce the group’s objectives to the lowest common denominator.  This is a result of varying degrees of material, legal and political support from each member of the group.  Thus, point six is a reflection of the need to marry the objectives of coalition partners.  This point is particularly important for international missions conducted by organizations such as the UN and NATO.

Moving forward

Smith follows this explanation of the “war amongst the people” paradigm with a chapter titled Direction: Setting the Purpose for the Use of Force. In this chapter, he lays a cursory outline of what policy-makers could do to prepare for this next phase of conflict.  However, Smith doesn’t offer much insofar as suggestions other than saying there needs to be a “revolution in our thinking” that realizes both the military and political are more intertwined than ever. This revolution entails an overhaul of the institutions and thought-processes that guide conceptions of war.

In the least, an overhaul of the following is necessary:

  • The legal institutions that govern the international security arena.  The current regimes (such as the Geneva Conventions) were formed in the aftermath of WWII and were designed with industrial wars in mind. They need to be re-crafted to address non-state threats.
  • Planning for conflict has to change to reflect new realities of non-traditional conflict.
  • Institutional design must effectively focus the efforts of different agencies across the civil-military spectrum on shared objectives.
  • The media’s role must be included in the planning for conflict.

Now these above recommendations are from Smith, but what from this list is missing?

The “evolution of efficiency” in NFL football

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Here’s an explanation from the Wall Street Journal on why NFL offenses are becoming bigger, faster, and much better at what they do: score touchdowns.

[T]he NFL’s high-speed, high-scoring offenses are a reflection of one of the laws of nature—the tendency of all things to evolve toward efficiency.

Adrian Bejan a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, likens the NFL’s evolution to a river’s effect on its basin. (Stay with us, here.) Over time, a river relentlessly wears away its banks and, as a result, water flows faster and faster toward its mouth. When obstacles fall in its way, say, a tree, or a boulder—or in the case of an NFL offense, beefy linebackers like the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis or the Chicago Bears’ Brian Urlacher—it will figure out how to wear those away, too.

“The game is a flow system, a river basin of bodies that are milling around trying to find the most effective and easiest way to move,” says Prof. Bejan. “Over time you will end up with the right way to play the game, with the patterns that are the most efficient.”

Written by gringolost

September 9, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Football

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Hyper-linking the costs of war in Afghanistan

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Yes, George F. Will it is time to get out of Afghanistan.  As General Patreaus has said, al Qaida is not operating in Afghanistan. And if our principle mission is – and should be – to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” AQ then we can do that mission better by using tactics focused on countering terrorists, instead of diverting attention to fight drug kingpins or battle for “hearts and minds” against an anti-Karzai insurgency.

After all, for how many years can we spend $68 billion in Afghanistan.  If Anthony Cordesman is correct then “victory” is still years to come.  Yet, it has already been more than 8 years of “democracy/state-building“, even though AQ hasn’t re-established a base there since October 2001.  That was some sort of victory; maybe it is the only “victory” we need.

$68 billion is a lot of money but it is not enough to pay for the extra troops that General McChrystal says is needed to achieve “success”.  Interestingly enough, $68 billion is about 100x more than the annual Afghan tax income of $715 million.  Likewise interesting, Afghanistan is broke (surprise!) with a yearly deficit of nearly $2 billion.

But an Afghan budget deficit of $2 billion doesn’t even compare to the record-breaking US federal budget deficit of $1.6 trillion.

But all of this talk about money glosses over a more important aspect of US operations in Afghanistan, namely the extended troop deployments which have left America scarred with war causalities; and have strained families often to the point of break-up.  Potentially endagering national security, these deployments have left our force structure stretched dangerously thin potentially ill-prepared for future conflicts.

To conclude, some other quick tidbits of factual information:

  • Two months ago was the deadliest month for coalition forces; until it was surpassed by last month.
  • When the US expelled AQ from Afghanistan in 2002, the total cost of the war was around $20 billion; eight years later costs are rising with the war budget this year exceeding the first three years of the war by nearly 3x as much.
  • A two-fold increase in Afghanistan’s GDP would make it slightly less than North Korea’s, and comparable to Chad, Kenya, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Zambia.
  • The Horn of Africa, Yemen, and United States are all places more likely to host terrorist threats that endanger US interests more than Afghanistan.

Nuclear stubborn Iran and North Korea

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If you could have a nuclear weapon, would you give it up?

North Korea doesn’t seem like it would.  On September 4th, the bi-polar Pyongyang declared it was in the “last phase” of nuclear enrichment.  Apparently, a North Korean spokesman even added that it was open to either “sanctions or dialogue” when talking about six-party talks.

Meanwhile, Iran is ignoring requests by the International Atomic Energy Association to “re-engage” the UN agency on questions regarding its nuclear program.  Citing a rule within the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran continues to enrich uranium despite many international objections.

Swine flu is coming… And I’m not feeling too well.

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swine flu cartoon

Written by gringolost

September 7, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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