November 22, 2016

Possible Secretary of Defense nominee Jim Mattis - finally, a wartime consigliere

President-elect Trump and General James Mattis, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret) 

President-elect Trump may soon nominate James "Mad Dog" Mattis to be the next Secretary of Defense. Mattis is a 66-year old retired U.S. Marine Corps general who has served multiple combat tours - including the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq - in a variety of command positions, including the 7th Marine Regiment, the 1st Marine Division, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, U.S. Joint Forces Command and finally the United States Central Command.

General Mattis retired in May 2013. Current law requires that there be a seven-year window between military service and assuming duties as the Secretary of Defense. It is possible for Congress to waive that requirement - it was last done in 1950 for General of the Army George Marshall.

General Mattis has a stellar reputation in the U.S. defense community, often being cited as one of the premier military leaders and thinkers of his generation. As evidenced by his plain and often colorful remarks about the nature of warfare and the role of the armed forces in national policy, he may be a controversial selection to some of those on the Democratic side of the aisle.

If nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by the Senate - as I expect to happen - he will be a stark contrast to current Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Secretary Carter has gotten high marks for his management of the Department of Defense and the armed forces, but he has been unable to convince President Obama to make needed policy changes in the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr. Carter was named to his current position after the Administration forced out Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in late 2014. I wrote an article then, The new Secretary of Defense - we need a "wartime consigliere."

In that piece, I said, "What we need, to paraphrase Michael Corleone in the movie The Godfather, is a wartime consigliere. The Secretary of Defense is not merely an administrator, but an active participant in the command and control of military operations. Since the passage of the Goldwater–Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, the military chain of command goes directly from the President/Commander in Chief to the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commander."

I still think that we need a wartime consigliere. We need a wartime leader to guide the President in the redirection of the war in Afghanistan, the defeat of ISIS, and to direct and oversee the rebuilding of the American military after eight years of atrophy.

Secretary Carter, from all accounts, has been a successful bureaucrat and manager. He has served with distinction in a variety of positions in the Department of Defense, as well as experienced in academia and consulting.

However, Mr. Carter is not a wartime consigliere. If nominated and confirmed, General Mattis will be.

November 19, 2016

Is Mike Pompeo the best choice to lead the CIA?

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo (right) to become the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Is he the best choice for this key position?

The CIA is more than an intelligence collection, analysis and production agency, although that is its primary role. In addition to managing the National Clandestine Service's intelligence operations, it is the lead organization of the United States government authorized to conduct covert operations.

Covert operations are among the most sensitive operations of the country. According to Executive Order 12333 issued by President Ronald Reagan, covert action is defined as special activities, both political and military, that the US Government could legally deny. These include assistance to groups attempting regime change in countries hostile to the United States - Syria comes to mind. The agency also conducts lethal operations ("targeted killing") against designated terrorist leaders - Anwar al-Awlaki is an example.

Directing and leading the CIA is a demanding job requiring experience and expertise in foreign policy, military operations and intelligence collection. Has the Agency always been led by directors with such credentials? Obviously not - usually the directors have had one, maybe two of these skill sets, but it is difficult to find someone with all three.

Unfortunately, at times, the director's sole "qualification" was being a political favorite of the president.

First, let me say that Congressman Pompeo has an outstanding record. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), served as an armored cavalry officer in the U.S. Army, earned a law degree from Harvard University, practiced law for a short period of time, and started or managed several successful businesses in the energy and aviation industries.

As a member of the House of Representatives since being elected in 2010, he has served on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (including the subcommittee on the CIA), and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. He also was a member of the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.

Based on public records, I don't see any intelligence or foreign policy experience during his time in the military, as a lawyer or private industry. Although he has served on the House committee that oversees the intelligence community, that in and of itself does not translate to intelligence experience.

The Congressman's military experience as a armored cavalry officer will serve him well, but his experience with military intelligence was probably limited to receiving tactical or operational level intelligence reports from the military intelligence company assigned to his armored cavalry regiment. As a captain, his exposure was at a fairly low level and likely at the Secret level - in other words, no access to highly classified material or special access programs.

President-elect Trump, as with previous presidents, should have the Cabinet members, advisers and agency chiefs that he believes will provide him the best advice and leadership. He obviously has faith and trust in Congressman Pompeo to serve as his CIA director.

That said, I cannot help thinking that there are more qualified individuals from the armed forces and Defense Department, the intelligence community or the foreign policy ranks that have more applicable experience to lead this vital organization.

I do, however, wish Congressman Pompeo the best in his new position.

Disclosure: During my career as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, I had several assignments to the CIA.

November 14, 2016

The fall of Kabul - 15 years later

Kabul under Northern Alliance attack - November 2001

On November 14, 2001, the Afghan capital city of Kabul fell to the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance after a short but intense battle. The Northern Alliance was supported primarily by U.S. airpower controlled by American special operations troops and paramilitary officers of the CIA.

Fifteen years later, what have we accomplished?

Let's remember why the United States invaded Afghanistan. Following the al-Qa'idah attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the Taliban government of Afghanistan was given the opportunity to respond to a request (actually, it was a demand) to turn over al-Qa'idah leader Usamah bin Ladin to American authorities for trial.

The Taliban, citing the tribal code known as pashtunwali, refused, claiming that bin Ladin had been granted sanctuary in Afghanistan and turning him over to a foreign power would be a violation of their honor.

In response, President George Bush authorized the invasion of Afghanistan, pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) passed by the Congress on September 14, 2001 - the President signed it into law four days later. The law authorized the President to employ the armed forces of the United States against those responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as any entity who harbored said persons or groups.

By refusing to turn over Usamah bin Ladin to the United States, the Taliban met the criteria of the authorization. On October 7, 2001, American forces began the campaign known as Operation Enduring Freedom by dropping bombs and firing cruise missiles against Taliban military and communications facilities, as well as al-Qa'idah training camps in the areas of Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat.

It was the beginning of the longest war in American history.

On November 14, the capital fell. The Taliban was forced from power, and al-Qa'idah fell back towards the Pakistan border.

In the battle of Tora Bora - December 6 to December 17 - the United States relied on local Afghan allies, including the Northern Alliance, to arrange the "modalities" of bin Ladin's capture or surrender. I remember wondering who made that fateful, ill-advised decision - you cannot outsource your fighting. There were additional American troops available, but the U.S. military commander did not commit them to the fight. Big mistake.

The result was predictable. Whether tribal loyalties came into play, or money changed hands, or some other deal was struck, Usamah bin Ladin escaped across the border into the Pashtun-controlled tribal area of Pakistan. This event should have been a warning about any long term commitment to the Afghans.

At this point, the American military mission in Afghanistan was essentially complete, only partially accomplished, but complete. Al-Qa'idah no longer had a base of training and operations in Afghanistan, but they merely changed venues. They initially moved to Pakistan - who has been virtually no help - then to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Africa, and even to Syria where they were the predecessor of the so-called and self-proclaimed Islamic State.

It was not until 2011 that justice was finally delivered to Usamah bin Ladin, then living in relative safety in Pakistan. Yet, for ten years preceding that raid, American forces were involved in a civil war in Afghanistan. Even after the killing of bin Ladin, American forces remain in Afghanistan. After 15 years, we have lost almost 2400 troops killed and over 20,000 wounded. Although the cost is pegged at over $700 billion, the actual costs when long-term medical and disability bills are included is much higher.

What have we accomplished in Afghanistan since the Battle of Tora Bora that justifies the blood and treasure? It depends on who you ask, but since this is my article, I'll answer.

What was the mission? Get al-Qa'idah and bin Ladin - once that was accomplished, the effort should have focused on the remnants of al-Qa'idah, not propping up the Karzai government, what most of us knew was going to a futile effort at creating a representative form of government. We are not very good at this.

So now we have been there for 15 years, and have accomplished what? The Afghan military is incapable of quelling the violence, the Taliban is on the ascent, and we insist that our "advise and assist" mission is still viable.

Solution? I guess we first need to define the goals. If it is to defeat the Taliban, say so and deploy enough troops to get it done (I am not advocating that). If it is an inclusive political settlement, get that process moving.

What we are doing now is not working.

Not much. Why not? Because have never really defined a mission beyond 2001. Why are we there? To defeat and expel al-Qa'idah from the country? That was accomplished years ago. To defeat the Taliban? The Taliban does not pose a threat to the United States.

Naysayers will counter that the Taliban will allow al-Qa'idah to return and re-establish training bases, and later mount operations against the United States and/or its allies. I think we have demonstrated that we are capable of devastating the country - again - if the Taliban is stupid enough to allow that to happen.

In simple terms, tell the Taliban - or whichever corrupt warlord eventually seizes power in arguably the most corrupt country on the planet - that if al-Qa'idah comes back to Afghanistan, so does American military power.

And we won’t be coming to nation-build….