Tag Archives: Iraq

WMD in Iraq: What I Wrote; Ten Years Later

Here is the column I wrote about WMD in Iraq before the 2003 war:

A Hazy Target; Before going to war over weapons of mass destruction, shouldn’t we be sure Iraq has them?

Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 9, 2003, Part M, Page 1

William M. Arkin

For all their differences, proponents and opponents of war with Iraq agree on one thing: The paramount threat posed by Saddam Hussein is his possession of chemical and biological weapons.

“The one respect that we think most about and worry most about is an enemy with weapons of mass destruction,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said last month. Opponents of war with Iraq have much the same view.

Administration leaders argue that only war can smoke out Hussein’s hidden biochemical capabilities. Doves argue that we must rely on inspections because attacking Hussein could provoke him to use chemical or biological weapons; if Israel were hit, they warn, the result could be nuclear war. By different routes, the two sides arrive at an almost obsessive focus on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons.

Each side has practical as well as principled reasons for doing so. For the administration, equating chemical and biological weapons with nuclear weapons — and warning that, sooner or later, Iraq’s weapons will find their way into terrorists’ hands — has become a way of making the case that war with Iraq is essential to protecting American lives at home.

For those who oppose the U.S. position, treating chemical and biological weapons as weapons of mass destruction akin to nuclear weapons justifies diplomacy and brinkmanship because of the seeming horrendous consequences of failure.

The question is whether these weapons in fact form a foundation sufficient to support all the weight being placed on it.

Instructively, the one place where policy is not being driven by the focus on chemical and biological weapons is inside the American armed forces.

For one thing, while not dismissing the seriousness of chemical and biological warfare, most field commanders are reasonably confident they can handle any such attacks Hussein can mount. For another, they understand all too well the mass destruction a full-scale war might inflict.

Moreover, most know that, after nearly four months of renewed weapons inspections by the United Nations and the most intensive effort in the history of the U.S. intelligence community, American analysts and war planners are far from certain that chemical and biological weapons even exist in Iraq’s arsenal today.

Incredible as it may seem, given all the talk by the administration — including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s discourse last week about continuing Iraqi deception — there is simply no hard intelligence of any such Iraqi weapons.

There is not a single confirmed biological or chemical target on their lists, Air Force officers working on the war plan say.

No one doubts that Iraq has consistently lied and cheated about its proscribed arms capabilities. This is a country that has used chemical weapons against Iran and against its own population, a country that fired missiles at Israel and its Arab neighbors in 1991.

And the rundown of Iraqi weapons that remain incompletely accounted for since the 1991 Gulf War is daunting: 6,500 bombs filled with chemical agents, 400 bombs filled with biological agents, 31,500 chemical munitions, 550 artillery shells loaded with mustard gas, 8,500 liters of anthrax.

Moreover, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency analysts believe that Hussein’s forces could launch two types of short-range missiles, rockets or artillery that are capable of carrying chemical agents. The analysts say Iraqi aircraft or unmanned drones could mount sprayers to disperse chemicals or biological agents.

Analysts also think it possible for Iraqi commandos to penetrate coalition lines with small quantities of these weapons.

And U.S. intelligence has received reports that Special Republican Guard units, as well as secret police and security services charged with defending the regime, have been given bio-chem protective gear. President Bush, in his Feb. 8 radio address, said the administration had intelligence “that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons.”

“We cannot rule out of course that Saddam might try in some kind of desperation to use chemical or biological weapons,” National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, echoing the administration line.

Yet, in fact, there is as much uncertainty as certainty about Iraq’s capabilities, as well as about the military effectiveness of any 11th-hour resort to chemical and biological weapons. So much of what the U.S. believes is based upon Iraq’s history, not knowledge of current conditions.

Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said as much when he told Congress last month that U.S. beliefs were “based on … past patterns and availability … that he will in fact employ them.”

But the thinking that lies behind such statements when made by military professionals is quite different from that underlying the pronouncements of Rice and Wolfowitz.

When Maj. Gen. John Doesburg, the Army’s top biological and chemical defense commander, says the United States must assume Hussein thinks “it’s OK to use chemical agents, because he’s done it,” the general is simply engaging in the kind of worst-case thinking that professional soldiers are trained to do.

“What does he plan to do? I have no idea,” Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, Army program officer for chemical and biological defense, said at a Pentagon news conference last month.

Military leaders like Doesburg and Reeves do not mean to suggest that chemical and biological weapons are the battlefield equivalent of nuclear weapons. And they certainly do not mean to suggest such weapons are so uniquely horrific that they should drive the nation’s policy decisions — either toward or away from war.

Among other things, using chemical and biological weapons effectively is so difficult that this alone has always been considered a major impediment for Iraq. The weapons are unpredictable. Weather conditions are a major factor. Chemical and biological agents also have to avoid exposure to heat, light or severe cold.

When U.N. weapons inspectors were in Iraq during the 1990s, they found it had turned toward unmanned ground vehicles and sprayers as platforms for delivering chemical and biological weapons because Iraqi engineers could not master the technology for delivering such weapons in missiles or artillery shells; loaded into the warheads, the chemical and biological material was usually incinerated when the warhead exploded.

Moreover, “it takes a lot of chemicals to have a significant effect on the battlefield,” Doesburg told Bloomberg News. “We don’t suspect he has the stockpile.”

According to war planners, three aspects of U.S. military strategy are specifically related to preventing the use of such weapons once open hostilities begin.

First, initiating the use of force across all fronts, with simultaneous air and ground operations, will communicate what Wolfowitz calls “the inevitability” of Hussein’s demise. “No one wants to be the last one to die for Saddam Hussein,” he said.

Second, the war plan itself favors smaller and more highly dispersed formations to limit exposure to the kinds of brute-force chemical attacks that occurred in Iraq’s war with Iran.

Third, early air and special operations assaults, particularly in western Iraq, will seek to disrupt any potential attacks on Israel.

Despite so little hard evidence of Iraq’s capabilities, U.S. troops have been vaccinated, trained, equipped and dressed to prepare for chemical and biological war. For military units, all this is no more than prudent planning.

For the rest of us, we must take care that apprehension about weapons of mass destruction — whether generated from hawks or from doves — does not become a substitute for thinking through the justification to go to war, a decision that could have consequences for years to come.

There have been recent reports that U.S. Marines in Kuwait were literally using “sentinel” chickens to aid in the early detection of chemical and biological weapons.

“I just have to tell you from personal experience,” said Reeves, “having had a great-uncle with a chicken farm, chickens are spectacularly nervous animals. They will literally worry themselves to death.”

Exactly.

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End the All-Volunteer Force? End the Stranglehold of the National Security Elite!

Tom Ricks is a keen observer of the military, but his op-ed proposing to scrap the all-volunteer military, no matter how clever his reasoning, is dead wrong.

“Our relatively small and highly adept military has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war — and to ignore the consequences,” Ricks argues.

If we had a draft, Ricks says, public opinion might have prevented us from going to war in Iraq, and if we returned to conscription, “the people” would again be reconnected with the armed services.

Captive inside the Beltway and surrounded by military friends and colleagues and national security wonks, I can imagine that the world looks this way to my old friend Ricks; but he is wrong about the military, wrong about Iraq, wrong about the people, and wrong about the solution.

The military – our military – doesn’t need a draft, and the notion that hundreds of thousands of young men and women being drafted would help or that they would be drafted so that we can create a coherent national security policy, repair our broken political systems and end a new class structure in our society, is ludicrous.

First, technology has forever changed the face of war.   Boots, and boots on the ground, might be a central component for demonstrating some kind of tangible political commitment behind all of our impetuous military interventions, but increasing the quantity of people available in uniform has little to do with the central military task: Which is defending the United States and vanquishing our enemies.  Quantity isn’t needed to fight terrorism, and quantity wouldn’t even be needed to ‘defeat’ a China, at least not vast quantities of infantrymen.  (And if it ever came to the point where a Nazi Germany or peer competitor military power arose to threaten us, mobilizing the nation to support the fight would be a piece of cake).

No, the truth of the matter is that warfare is indeed easier to wage today because of the shift from the industrial to the information age, and even in wars like Afghanistan and Iraq where we make fruitless and desperate attempts to create heroism and a sense of chivalry through manpower-intensive force deployments, most of that manpower is superfluous to the actual fighting, and the number who are truly at risk in combat, even within military ranks, is incredibly small.

After a decade of constant war, our military still hasn’t adjusted to the new realities, though pockets of elite organizations – special operations and tactical ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] have.  Even in the case of ground forces, brigade-sized combat organizations (augmented by airpower) are so more lethal, flexible, and powerful than divisions of old.  We just don’t need as many people to generate combat power.

Need of course has to be defined by our national security policies and purpose, and here is where we have the greatest crisis.  A national security class – mostly civilian and corporate, mostly in and around Washington – has taken over American foreign policy making and they decide national interest on the basis of self-interest and global experimentation and damaged political psyches.  It is romantic to imagine that a flood of “people” into this closed world could reform the system, but that’s all it is.  Certainly the draft-dodging Dick Cheney’s and Bill Clinton’s will continue to rise to the top, so the burden will fall to the people while the power will remain as is.

Even in the case of the 2003 Iraq war, I’m unconvinced that the absence of an all-volunteer force would have changed things.  The intelligence community failed, the presidency stumbled, Congress abstained; the news media, the international community, Baghdad,  the U.N., all played a tired and predictable role, but the “people” could have and would probably have been just as easily manipulated with images of mushroom clouds had there been a draft.

Fighting seemingly cost-free wars began with Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990’s, even with the first Gulf War.  Iraq in 2003 wasn’t that much of an anomaly, no matter how costly it ended up for those in uniform.  They should be the ones who are angriest, the ones fighting the most for political change, not for a draft.  Again, I think in order to create heroism in our society, in order to honor military service, there is a tendency to objectify a lazy and indifferent civilian class – those who went shopping, in Ricks’ characterization – but this is the equivalent of blaming all of the failed mortgage holders and investors rather than the bankers and money-elite for the 2008 financial meltdown.  Frankly, our society needs more “soft” and less “hard” when it comes to national security.

The solution to our perpetual war-making and our foolish military-first foreign policy and our muscle-bound-tone-deaf war against terrorism isn’t conscription.  Citizen participation is needed, that’s for sure, but avenues for citizen participation in veteran care, homeland security, cyber defense, first response, and emergency management have been hijacked and militarized since 9/11 in such a way that more involvement just means more national security making, which ultimately leads us down the same dead end.

Ten air forces meet in Bahrain to do what?

Front page Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News today: The largest air exercise since 1988, involving 10 nations — Bahrain, the United States, plus Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan?

Is there so much surplus military money to throw around that now that the Iraq war is over, these large exercises are coming back with a vengeance?  Or is there some desire to send messages to countries like Iran that everyone’s ready?

And where’s Iraq in this?  Some Arab spring, eh?

[Note: Updated April 9, 2012:  The exercise is called “Initial Link.”]

Gulf Daily News frontpage, Sunday, April 8, 2012.

Iran: A Closer Look at Internal Look

The New York Times scoop on the recently concluded “Internal Look” military exercise involving war with Iran seems another alarm bell signaling imminent war, while also at the same time constituting an intentional leak to communicate caution both to Israel and the administration.  According to The Times, the exercise, which included an Israeli first strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, escalated to a regional war between Iran and the United States.

No one needs a sophisticated exercise to come to this conclusion, so the real questions are: Why the leak?  What was Internal Look really trying to practice?  And most important, what did The New York Times miss in its reporting?

Some background: Internal Look is a biennial (held every other year), unilateral Central Command (USCENTCOM) battle staff exercise.  Unilateral meaning it is a U.S. exercise; battle staff exercise meaning it is a computer assisted command post exercise to train headquarters and components staffs in doctrine and procedures pertaining to a major Middle East war.

Over the years, Internal Look has been CENTCOM’s number one training priority and its primary mission rehearsal for theater level conflicts.

From Internal Look 90 (1990) through 02, the exercise focused almost exclusively on Iraq.  Internal Look 90 was the first exercise to supplant a Cold War scenario involving a Soviet invasion of Iran scenario.  In December 1989, the JCS authorized CENTCOM to shift the geographic focus of the upcoming game from defense of Iran to defense of Saudi Arabia.

Then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz was working on the Defense Department’s 1992-1997 Defense Planning Guidance, a document that made the “central objective” for U.S. regional planning the prevention of a hostile power from gaining control over oil supplies or shipment routes.  The final document, dated 24 January 1990, stated:

“The Secretary has increased the relative priority of Southwest Asia by making explicit that the region ranks above South America and Africa in terms of global wartime priorities and by outlining an initial theater strategy.”

Internal Look 90 thus began as an exercise to test the military’s ability to respond to an incursion by Orange Forces from the north down through Iraq to seize control of Saudi oil fields. Given that Saudi Arabia, unlike Europe had no pre-positioned war stocks, no road network, and no water, logistics planning ended up being the major preoccupation.  The exercise commenced on July 9th, and before it was over on August 4th, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  Though many officers at CENTCOM’s Florida headquarters and at Ft. Bragg, North Caroline could not even pronounce the names of the towns in Saudi Arabia and were still scratching their heads over the problems identified in moving the forces to the area, they never even had the opportunity to remove the maps of Iraq and Saudi Arabia from their map boards when the invasion occurred.

Urban legend has it that Internal Look 90 thus presaged an Iraqi invasion – it did not – but there is no question that it ushered in the Iraq era, or more centrally, the oil era, which is to say, that protection of Middle East oil assets and flows became the priority U.S. military focus in the 1990’s as each subsequent exercise honed the defense of Saudi Arabia and the oil routes scenario.

By the time Internal Look 03 was held in December 2002, the focus was unambiguously a practice implementation of OPLAN 1003V, the war plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Internal Look provided the venue for the Air Force, Marine, Navy, and special operations commands to each examine their plans.   The major outcome of the exercise was the success of the Army commander to convince General Tommy Franks to provide him a minimum of forces to execute what was called the “running start option” for an Iraq war.  The attack would focus on Baghdad command and control as the center of gravity; a simultaneous and synchronized ground attack from multiple directions aimed at isolating the regime within Baghdad and ultimately at striking sites in the city.   The official history talks of a “rolling transition to stability operations and support operations” as ground forces advanced on Baghdad.  The U.S. would be welcome as liberators and the rest would be history.

After 9/11, most high-level CENTCOM exercises, including Internal Look, morphed to operational tasks associated with ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war on terrorism (GWOT).  Mission rehearsal exercises for each new deployment, and each revision of strategy, were called the United Endeavor series. Desert Sailor became the mission rehearsal for the Proliferation Security Initiative Maritime Intercept Operations (PSI-MIO).

All along, CENTCOM commanders pushed for refocusing the exercises for potential future operations, but the reality was that the requirements of real war and even the operational tempo of the staff inhibited such a shift in planning or development.  A new exercise, Internal Advance, was added to focus on lesser contingencies (so-called “tier II” scenarios).

Joint Chiefs of Staff Powerpoint slide from 2011 showing major mission rehearsal exercises and large scale exercises worldwide of the various combatant commands.

The last Internal Look exercise of this series (Internal Look 09) replicated a humanitarian assistance and disaster response scenario; in other words, for all of the grinding of teeth about the Bush administration’s sneaky plans for war with Iran and October surprises, Iran didn’t become the focus until the Obama administration.

So that’s it?  The staff’s time is now freed up to focus on a new “tier I” major war and Iran’s it?  This is the way thing work on the inside; it isn’t that anyone is particularly rooting for a war; it isn’t as if the order has come down (as it did with Bush in 2002) to prepare for an offensive war.  But it is the case that Iran is now the focus of planning and that precipitates changes and revisions and scenarios and deployments all of which build up a greater likelihood of war.  It seems to me that The Times got the story of the war game but missed the story of the war, how the dynamics of an idle planning staff steers the United States ever so slightly in a certain direction.

Iraqi WMD: Nine Years Ago, One of My Proudest Journalism Moments

A Hazy Target: Before going to war over weapons of mass destruction, shouldn’t we be sure Iraq has them?

William M. Arkin

Los Angeles Times, March 09, 2003

 

SOUTH POMFRET, Vt — For all their differences, proponents and opponents of war with Iraq agree on one thing: The paramount threat posed by Saddam Hussein is his possession of chemical and biological weapons.

“The one respect that we think most about and worry most about is an enemy with weapons of mass destruction,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said last month. Opponents of war with Iraq have much the same view.

Administration leaders argue that only war can smoke out Hussein’s hidden biochemical capabilities. Doves argue that we must rely on inspections because attacking Hussein could provoke him to use chemical or biological weapons; if Israel were hit, they warn, the result could be nuclear war. By different routes, the two sides arrive at an almost obsessive focus on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons.

Each side has practical as well as principled reasons for doing so. For the administration, equating chemical and biological weapons with nuclear weapons — and warning that, sooner or later, Iraq’s weapons will find their way into terrorists’ hands — has become a way of making the case that war with Iraq is essential to protecting American lives at home.

For those who oppose the U.S. position, treating chemical and biological weapons as weapons of mass destruction akin to nuclear weapons justifies diplomacy and brinkmanship because of the seeming horrendous consequences of failure.

The question is whether these weapons in fact form a foundation sufficient to support all the weight being placed on it.

Instructively, the one place where policy is not being driven by the focus on chemical and biological weapons is inside the American armed forces.

For one thing, while not dismissing the seriousness of chemical and biological warfare, most field commanders are reasonably confident they can handle any such attacks Hussein can mount. For another, they understand all too well the mass destruction a full-scale war might inflict.

Moreover, most know that, after nearly four months of renewed weapons inspections by the United Nations and the most intensive effort in the history of the U.S. intelligence community, American analysts and war planners are far from certain that chemical and biological weapons even exist in Iraq’s arsenal today.

Incredible as it may seem, given all the talk by the administration — including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s discourse last week about continuing Iraqi deception — there is simply no hard intelligence of any such Iraqi weapons.

There is not a single confirmed biological or chemical target on their lists, Air Force officers working on the war plan say.

No one doubts that Iraq has consistently lied and cheated about its proscribed arms capabilities. This is a country that has used chemical weapons against Iran and against its own population, a country that fired missiles at Israel and its Arab neighbors in 1991.

And the rundown of Iraqi weapons that remain incompletely accounted for since the 1991 Gulf War is daunting: 6,500 bombs filled with chemical agents, 400 bombs filled with biological agents, 31,500 chemical munitions, 550 artillery shells loaded with mustard gas, 8,500 liters of anthrax.

Moreover, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency analysts believe that Hussein’s forces could launch two types of short-range missiles, rockets or artillery that are capable of carrying chemical agents. The analysts say Iraqi aircraft or unmanned drones could mount sprayers to disperse chemicals or biological agents.

Analysts also think it possible for Iraqi commandos to penetrate coalition lines with small quantities of these weapons.

And U.S. intelligence has received reports that Special Republican Guard units, as well as secret police and security services charged with defending the regime, have been given bio-chem protective gear. President Bush, in his Feb. 8 radio address, said the administration had intelligence “that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons.”

“We cannot rule out of course that Saddam might try in some kind of desperation to use chemical or biological weapons,” National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, echoing the administration line.

Yet, in fact, there is as much uncertainty as certainty about Iraq’s capabilities, as well as about the military effectiveness of any 11th-hour resort to chemical and biological weapons. So much of what the U.S. believes is based upon Iraq’s history, not knowledge of current conditions.

Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said as much when he told Congress last month that U.S. beliefs were “based on … past patterns and availability … that he will in fact employ them.”

But the thinking that lies behind such statements when made by military professionals is quite different from that underlying the pronouncements of Rice and Wolfowitz.

When Maj. Gen. John Doesburg, the Army’s top biological and chemical defense commander, says the United States must assume Hussein thinks “it’s OK to use chemical agents, because he’s done it,” the general is simply engaging in the kind of worst-case thinking that professional soldiers are trained to do.

“What does he plan to do? I have no idea,” Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, Army program officer for chemical and biological defense, said at a Pentagon news conference last month.

Military leaders like Doesburg and Reeves do not mean to suggest that chemical and biological weapons are the battlefield equivalent of nuclear weapons. And they certainly do not mean to suggest such weapons are so uniquely horrific that they should drive the nation’s policy decisions — either toward or away from war.

Among other things, using chemical and biological weapons effectively is so difficult that this alone has always been considered a major impediment for Iraq. The weapons are unpredictable. Weather conditions are a major factor. Chemical and biological agents also have to avoid exposure to heat, light or severe cold.

When U.N. weapons inspectors were in Iraq during the 1990s, they found it had turned toward unmanned ground vehicles and sprayers as platforms for delivering chemical and biological weapons because Iraqi engineers could not master the technology for delivering such weapons in missiles or artillery shells; loaded into the warheads, the chemical and biological material was usually incinerated when the warhead exploded.

Moreover, “it takes a lot of chemicals to have a significant effect on the battlefield,” Doesburg told Bloomberg News. “We don’t suspect he has the stockpile.”

According to war planners, three aspects of U.S. military strategy are specifically related to preventing the use of such weapons once open hostilities begin.

First, initiating the use of force across all fronts, with simultaneous air and ground operations, will communicate what Wolfowitz calls “the inevitability” of Hussein’s demise. “No one wants to be the last one to die for Saddam Hussein,” he said.

Second, the war plan itself favors smaller and more highly dispersed formations to limit exposure to the kinds of brute-force chemical attacks that occurred in Iraq’s war with Iran.

Third, early air and special operations assaults, particularly in western Iraq, will seek to disrupt any potential attacks on Israel.

Despite so little hard evidence of Iraq’s capabilities, U.S. troops have been vaccinated, trained, equipped and dressed to prepare for chemical and biological war. For military units, all this is no more than prudent planning.

For the rest of us, we must take care that apprehension about weapons of mass destruction — whether generated from hawks or from doves — does not become a substitute for thinking through the justification to go to war, a decision that could have consequences for years to come.

There have been recent reports that U.S. Marines in Kuwait were literally using “sentinel” chickens to aid in the early detection of chemical and biological weapons.

“I just have to tell you from personal experience,” said Reeves, “having had a great-uncle with a chicken farm, chickens are spectacularly nervous animals. They will literally worry themselves to death.”

Exactly.

Jordan is Eager: But For What?

The U.S. and Jordan will hold their largest military exercise ever in May, according to the state-run news agency Petra.

Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force and commander of the Marine component of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is in Amman this week meeting with Jordanian military officials to prepare the 17 nation exercise.  One of those participants will be Iraq, sending its military outside the country for the first time.

The theme of the exercise, officials say, is guerrilla warfare and “strategic threats.”

As one Arab commentator asks: “So who exactly will be this “Eager Lion” target?

“Strategic threats”?  “Guerrilla warfare?”

The first Eager Lion exercise in this series – Eager Lion 11/Infinite Moonlight 11.2 – was held last year from June 11-30, and involved 14 other countries spread operating at six locations inside Jordan.  This exercise also focused, according to CENTCOM, on “irregular warfare, special operations and counterinsurgency.”

But behind the scenes, the Army’s 20th Support Command from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland participated.  The official name of the 20th is Support Command (CBRNE) for chemical biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosives.  The unit was activated in 2004 to consolidate Army WMD response and search capabilities, and in Eager Lion last year, it held biological warfare identification exercises and radiological and nuclear response and civil defense training.

Military exercises happen all the time – check out my list of exercises – and some might just dismiss all of them and this one as well as routine, opportunities for militaries to get together, familiarize themselves with each other, practice basic skills.  But every exercise of this size also includes so-called “strategic” purpose, a scenario that is generally made up to guide decision-making.  Some country is made up – say Irandia, fighting with another made up country, say Israelandia – and they fight a nuclear war, or some external event in say a place like Syria spreads to Jordan.

Just because Iran, Israel, and Syria are in the news right now, and just because WMD are being bandied about doesn’t necessarily mean that this exercise is intended to mimic an actual real world scenario.  After all, if the focus of this year’s exercise is also counter insurgency, one has got to mention the Palestinian population of Jordan or even the Jordanian people themselves, who might just spring into action someday.  What “skills” do you think the U.S. is sharing?

The reality is that despite all of these questions, Eager Lion is also just an exercise, scheduled each year in the late spring/early summer, one that takes a year to prepare, to schedule the units to participate, to agree on all of the rules and complete all of the paperwork, etc., etc.  In some way, however, it is also the making of foreign policies and the subtle steering of the future.

It once was the case, during the days of Saddam that these U.S.-Jordanian exercises were highly secret, proving cover for preparations for U.S. forces to deploy to Jordan in order to fight Iraq (which they did in 2003).  Saddam is gone now, but the neighborhood is ever more complicated.  I wonder what they are cover for now?

Cash Jamboree Continues at the Pentagon

What with President Obama feting Iraqi war veterans at the White House last night, you’d think the war was over.  But over at the war profiteer banquet, it’s still a cash-engorged jamboree, the spigot still delivering Enron-sized billions.

Two weapons developed under emergency circumstances to support the troops for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have done their part in breaking the bank: unmanned drones and counter-improvised explosive devices.  Despite budget pressures and cutbacks though, they just can’t make their own transition to peacetime.  They hide behind the troops, whom everyone is afraid to short-change or put on a spending diet.

One’s gotta ask whether the future threat justifies the activity and the level-of-effort is still required.  Ironically if the answer is yes, perhaps we should be taking much more seriously the long war advocates so lovingly eying the future and licking their chops for more.

The problem in assessing these two weapons is that they are not big identifiable pieces of hardware in a conventional sense, not ships or fighter planes or tanks.  They are more systems (or even processes), demanding pockets of hardware spending, enormous information technology and software spending, communications demands, and various analysis efforts.

Take the effort to counter-IEDs.  In the latest General Accountability Office report Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue, the grotesque billion dollar levels of duplication and waste are handled in that sort of gentile way that the GAO is famous for: not enough life rafts on the Titanic (the audit of the sinking ship approach) or too many entities working on the same efforts, no matter how asinine (the do we need three ray guns to shoot down UFOs approach).

The GAO reminds us, that “The threat of improvised explosive devices (IED) continues to be a major concern in Afghanistan, as well as to other areas throughout the world with over 500 reported IED events per month worldwide outside of Southwest Asia according to Department of Defense (DOD) officials.”  I won’t even go into the definitional shenanigans that go into making up that 500 number, but suffice it to say everything and anything that goes bang in the world is now labeled an IED, inflating the ‘threat’ to the U.S. military.

Congress has appropriated over $18 billion to the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), created in 2006.  Not only are there several “examples of duplication,” the GAO says, but outside of the JIEDDO, the DOD agencies and military services are all spending our money on their own on the problem and no one has full visibility over all of the program or knows how much.  The report says that six different directed energy systems – laser, high-powered microwave – are being developed to neutralize IEDs.  The GAO never says WTF with regard to whether any are really needed, but does say that none have actually been deployed to the war zone, the war profiteers in their third decade of research, attaching their programs to whatever problem of the day justifies more money.  Multiple efforts of duplication are also noted in the development of a ground-based jammer to counter-IEDs.  Despite the fact that the Navy was assigned responsibility to develop the main jammer, the Army went ahead and developed its own, called DUKE, which the GAO says, will cost $1.062 billion when completed and installed.   The situation with some 70 electronic data collection and analysis tools that are being developed for counter-IED intelligence work is just as bad.  Even when the JIEDDO canceled development of one system, the Defense Intelligence Agency decided to continue to fund the same system.

The situation with unmanned aircraft systems is even more chaotic and expensive.  The GAO estimates that the cost of current unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) acquisition programs and related systems will exceed $37.5 billion in fiscal years 2012 through 2016.  While most attention is focused on Predator and its up-powered cousin Reaper, these systems represent only about two percent of the 6,000 plus unmanned systems the services have purchased since 9/11. And like counter-IED work, the money doesn’t just go into the airframes.  The GAO found 29 different sensor types being developed to put on various systems.  In just one case, the GAO found that if the Army and Air Force had joined development for one system that was identical, $1.2 billion could have been saved.

There’s always some reason why common approaches weren’t pursued, why consolidation efforts faltered, why management devices floundered.  Maybe it would be useful for the vets themselves to speak out on this cash-laden travesty, but then, that’s not going to happen when so many go to work for the very companies who make the cash.