Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Off to D.C.
The Bolton Watch
Suzanne Nossel at Democracy Arsenal offers an early assessment of John Bolton's work at the United Nations. Reed Hundt, writing at TPM Cafe, says Bolton's ultimate aim is the destruction of the United Nations.
(Via Political Animal.)
The Sources of Bush's Foreign Policy
Friday, August 26, 2005
The Beginning of the Bolton Era . . .
. . . and the end of diplomacy. That, at least, is what Steve Clemons (citing Anne Penketh) sees in this post at Talking Points Memo.
Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and author of The Washington Note, follows Bolton more closely than Bolton's moustache does. He reported yesterday that Bolton is in the process of gutting the draft document for the Millennium Summit in September, apparently without the approval of his superiors at the State Department. In other words, it sounds like we're already witnessing Bolton's widely reported inability to play nicely with others or even stay in the yard where the adults can watch him.
So now I face a very practical problem as I prepare my syllabus for the International Organizations and Law course that I begin teaching next week: Should I include the usual information about the United Nations or should I assume that Bolton will have dismantled the institution by the time I get to that point in the semester?
More Lethal than War
In a comment on this recent post, Elizabeth Obenchain wrote:
Though an intellectually complex and bureaucratically complicated endeavor, I think that the threat of global pandemics such as avian flu or BSE, similar to environmental degradation, deserves to be examined within the scope of "national" security. These non-traditional threats are not only dangerous and destructive as single entities; they are by nature inter-related with the causes of failed states, which, as many of your recent posts would argue, are fast becoming the breeding grounds for fundamental global insecurity in the traditional sense.
I absolutely agree. Of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (and here I allude to the highly figurative portrayals of War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death rather than to a premillennial interpretation of the passage in the sixth chapter of Revelation where the imagery appears), Pestilence has always been more destructive than War.
In his History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides describes an epidemic in 430-29 BC that killed a quarter of the Athenian army. In 1351, the Vatican put the number of bubonic plague deaths in Europe since 1347 at 23,840,000, or roughly a third of the continent's population. When the Spanish explorer Cortez reached the New World in 1519, there were an estimated 30,000,000 Amerindians in Central Mexico. Fifty years later--largely as a consequence of the smallpox virus brought by the Spaniards--the indigenous population of the region was only 3,000,000. Finally, the Spanish influenza that swept the world in 1918-19 killed approximately 100,000,000 people--six times the number that died in World War I and almost twice as many as died in World War II, the deadliest conflict in human history. (Incidentally, these examples are drawn from Chapter 6 of the forthcoming Seeking Security in an Insecure World. Dan Caldwell and I argue--as Elizabeth did--that disease is a prime example of why we need to widen the security agenda.)
How to widen the security agenda without making the term "security" meaningless is, of course, a problem. The term is important (and not to be abused) because attaching it to a social problem typically insures that lots of money will be thrown at the issue. Where infectious disease is concerned, I have no problem "securitizing" the issue. After all, every single day, 8,000 people die of HIV/AIDS. In many countries, HIV/AIDS deaths have significant impacts on education, health care, and even national security. Both President Clinton (in April 2000) and Secretary of State Powell (during his confirmation hearings) have called HIV/AIDS a "national security threat," so perhaps we're almost there when it comes to widening the security agenda to its proper dimensions.
This is, frankly, a topic that I have neglected on this blog. I'll try to say more about it in the coming weeks.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
You wouldn't know it if you got your news from Pat Robertson's CBN.com, but Robertson has apologized for his comment on Monday advocating the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The apology came after Robertson told his television audience that his meaning had been misinterpreted on Monday.
To their credit, many evangelicals condemned Robertson's original comments. The World Evangelical Alliance stated, "Robertson does not speak for evangelical Christians. We believe in justice and the protection of human rights of all people, including the life of President Chávez."
Incidentally, Executive Order 12333, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981, states, "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." This federal ban on assassination remains in effect, although CIA director Porter Goss, during his confirmation hearings earlier this year, expressed his belief that it does not apply to terrorists.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
"Take Him Out"?
Fortunately, the U.S. State Department has taken a tough stand, calling the comments "inappropriate." (Yes, you may have detected some sarcasm.) But why aren't conservative Christians lining up to repudiate what Pat Robertson said yesterday?
In case you weren't watching "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcast Network yesterday, Robertson said the following about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez:
"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."
"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."
Predictably, Venezuela has reacted angrily. Robertson's comments make the United States look bad and they complicate diplomatic efforts to keep Venezuela's oil flowing to the United States rather than to China. (In 2004, Venezuela--at 1.3 million barrels per day--was the fourth leading supplier of U.S. crude oil imports.) But worse, Robert's comments make Christianity look bad. The failure of those in the Religious Right to repudiate Robertson's remarks lends further support to the view that their concerns are ideological rather than religious.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Why would a state founded on human rights principles and ostensibly committed to the promotion of those principles around the world engage in serious and sustained assaults on the lives and dignity of scores, if not hundreds, of persons under its direct control? To put it more directly, why has the United States resorted to torture?
There are a number of very simple explanations, but most are wrong. “It was just a few bad apples.” “Training of certain military police units was inadequate.” Worst of all: “Americans may have used certain ‘harsh interrogation’ techniques, but there was no torture.” In reality, Americans tortured detainees in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, and elsewhere for a number of complex and confusing reasons. The psychology and, more importantly, the values of individuals certainly played a role. How else can we understand why Spec. Charles Graner acted sadistically at Abu Ghraib while Spec. Joseph Darby was appalled by what he witnessed? But looking at the role of individuals obscures the more important matter of policy. Torture was American policy.
The Bush Administration’s disdain for international law established a permissive context for the violation of American obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, but the more immediate reason torture was sanctioned was Massuisme.
To understand Massuisme we must do what former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke recommended to colleagues seeking to understand the challenge posed by post-9/11 terrorism. We must look to the French experience in Algeria. (To be more specific, Clarke advised his colleagues to view Gillo Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers.)
During Algeria’s struggle for independence from France, Algerian nationalists engaged in a brutal campaign of terrorism while French counterterrorist policy employed torture widely against suspected terrorists. The French public was generally ignorant of the use of torture until 1958 when Henri Alleg published The Question, in which he described his own torture at the hands of the French police and paratroopers. The book, with a preface written by Jean-Paul Sartre, was banned and confiscated. It was the first time the French government had engaged in such draconian censorship since the eighteenth century. Nonetheless, copies smuggled into France from abroad ensured that The Question would become for France what two CDs containing digital photos from Abu Ghraib would be for the United States: the occasion for an exercise in national soul-searching.
France’s Gen. Jacques Massu defended the use of torture in the Algerian war in a 1971 apologia entitled La Vraie Bataille d’Alger. His argument, that torture was necessary under the particular circumstances of the war, that French torturers in Algeria were merely doing what the state required in a crisis, gave rise to the neologism, Massuisme. While no one in a country that felt compelled to rename French fries in retaliation for France’s criticism of American policy in the war on terror would ever use the term, it is Massuisme that most cogently describes the principal American rationale for torture or the use of degrading treatment to “soften up” prisoners for interrogation.
Massuisme does not assert that torture is legal; it argues instead that torture is a matter of national security. However much we might oppose torture under ordinary circumstances and however much we might find our use of torture regrettable, our ability to defeat terrorism requires that we engage in it. Or so goes the argument.
Those who have established the policy would prefer not to admit (much less debate) their belief that torture is necessary. They would prefer to have us believe that no torture has occurred, that everything has been legal, or at least that any crimes that may have occurred have been aberrations. What we have in the present circumstance, therefore, is Massuisme without Jacques Massu’s courage—a measure of courage that at least permitted the French to engage in an honest debate about torture and necessity (albeit a decade after the end of the Algerian war).
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it is a poor guide to ethical behavior. William Pitt noted over two centuries ago that “necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants.”
If Americans are going to continue rejecting all things French, Massuisme--the argument for torture based on necessity--should be the next thing to go.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Rethinking Security . . . and Geese
In the 1950s, a flock of geese detected by the radar installations in northern Canada that were part of the Distant Early Warning system was momentarily mistaken for a group of Soviet bombers on their way to attack the United States. We may need to think once again about the impact of geese on our national security as Tom Toles points out in a recent cartoon for the Washington Post.
But don't think it's a laughing matter. While Mike Davis has always had an eye for the apocalyptic (he's the author of Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster), he generally knows what he's talking about. His recent description of the threat that avian flu poses is sobering.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Weak States, Failed States, and Collapsed States
[In Tuesday's post concerning the void that would be left by the onset of an "Iraq syndrome" in American foreign policy, I noted the security threat posed by weak states, failed states, and collapsed states. The following excerpt (with footnotes removed) from Seeking Security in an Insecure World, soon to be published by Rowman & Littlefield, provides some additional perspective on the threat posed by weak states.]
One of the problems with the traditional approach to the understanding of states and security is that the dramatic differences among states have often been underappreciated. The false assumption that states are all fundamentally the same, at least with respect to their security interests, was especially prevalent during the Cold War, when the overwhelming majority of students of security studies focused on the United States, the Soviet Union, and their allies. Not surprisingly, given this focus, it appeared that states were principally concerned with external threats to their territorial and political integrity. To put it differently, national security required a capability to deter or defend against a military assault or espionage aimed at a coup d’état.
Because states vary widely in size, military might, political stability, and, perhaps most importantly, coherence (that is, literally, their ability to stick together), their security interests diverge in ways that the traditional understanding of national security fails to capture. The "ethnocentric obsession with external threats to state security" overlooks the fact that weak states are often concerned primarily with internal threats that commonly attend the creation and development of new states. Sir Michael Howard wrote over a decade ago that "the problems of the twenty-first century will not be those of traditional power confrontations. They are more likely to arise out of the integration, or disintegration, of states themselves, and affect all actors on the world scene irrespective of ideology." He could have said the same of the problems of the late twentieth century. Indeed, the historical record since 1945 suggests that security threats (understood narrowly as the threat of war and its effects) have been particularly significant in the developing world, where war has attended the creation and consolidation of new states (as in Pakistan, Vietnam, Algeria, and East Timor, to name but a few examples). Far more fighting occurred in the world of weak states in the last half of the twentieth century than in the world of the strong states, and most of that fighting took the form of intrastate conflict rather than interstate conflict.
Weak states are problematic for a number of reasons. First, they fail to provide the basic security that states are supposed to offer their citizens. They fail, in other words, to offer a respite from the "state of nature," in which, according to Hobbes' famous description, "the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." As a consequence, there may be little protection against crime (including violent crime), little opportunity for education, little economic opportunity, and little access to health care.
Second, by failing to protect their citizens or to offer assistance with basic needs, weak states may burden their neighbors with refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2003 there were 9,672,000 refugees in the world. Stateless persons, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers brought the total to 17,084,100 "persons of concern." Remarkably, that total was the lowest in a decade. The three largest "producers" of refugee populations in 2003 were Afghanistan, Sudan, and Burundi.
Third, by failing to extend the rule of law over all of their territories, weak states may provide safe havens for terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, international fugitives, and other actors that are a menace to international society. This problem in particular has turned a key assumption of national security on its head.
For most of the history of the modern states system, national security has required assessing and responding to the threat--defined as a product of capabilities and intentions to do harm--posed by the strongest states in the system. The balance-of-power approach to security assumes that, for their own protection, states will arm themselves and form alliances in order to meet the threats posed by powerful potential enemies. Since the end of the Cold War, however, national security has required that strong states deal with passive threats posed by the weakest states in the system.
Today, with its Cold War rival Russia in decline and with the People’s Republic of China the only potential contender for superpower status, the United States stands unchallenged, the world’s only hyperpower. The Persian Gulf War of 1991 demonstrated clearly the superiority of the American military over what was, at the time, thought to be a formidable Iraqi army. Events during the remainder of the 1990s, however, indicated that the U.S. military might not be capable of dealing as well with weak states as with strong states.
In country after country during the 1990s, the United States was confronted with humanitarian disasters that created pressure (in part as a consequence of media coverage and the public opinion it generated) for intervention. A more active post–Cold War UN Security Council both encouraged and assisted the interventionist impulse, with mixed results, in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and elsewhere. During his eight years in office, President Clinton was alternately criticized for doing too little--for failing to stop genocide in Rwanda, for example--and for doing too much--for conducting "foreign policy as social work."
Each of the opportunities for intervention during the 1990s--those that were seized and those that were avoided--had at its core a state in which the most basic functions of government--establishing a minimal public order and providing basic services--had broken down. The problem for strong states in the post–Cold War world had become weak states, not the threat posed by other strong states. It was exemplified in one form or another by Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire. In fact, the problem arose so often that some felt a new taxonomy--dividing cases among the categories of "weak states," "failed states,"and "collapsed states"--was required. It was the phenomenon of the failed state and its implications that more than any other transformed post–Cold War optimism about the triumph of democracy and the "end of history" into pessimism about "the coming anarchy."
Robert Kaplan, one of the most influential pessimists, described the problem in a bleak account, published originally in 1994, of the situation in West Africa. "Even in the quiet zones [of Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone] none of the governments except the Ivory Coast's maintains the schools, bridges, roads, and police forces in a manner necessary for fundamental sovereignty." It was not just West Africa, though, because Kaplan regarded the region as a microcosm of a much broader phenomenon:
West Africa is becoming a symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real “strategic” danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism.
For those who live in (or near) failed states, "national security" must seem an ironic concept since the state is, whether directly or indirectly, the very cause of insecurity. Rather than providing protection against anarchy, failed states permit and sometimes even abet society’s slide into the Hobbesian state of nature. Wars for control of territory or resources (such as the diamond mines of Sierra Leone) or for ethnic advantage or revenge are both common and extraordinarily devastating. An estimated eight million people, primarily civilians, have been killed in failed-state conflicts since the end of the Cold War. Another four million people have been driven from their homes by such conflicts. Tens, or perhaps even hundreds, of millions more have been affected in other profound ways, especially by the denial of basic needs such as food, shelter, and health care.
For the United States, the security issue related to failed states moved from the margins to the center as a consequence of 9/11. Two failed states, Sudan and Afghanistan, hosted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda training facilities in the years prior to 9/11. The American experience in another failed state, Somalia, in the October 1993 battle of Mogadishu (recounted in Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down) was read by bin Laden as an example (along with Vietnam, Lebanon, and Afghanistan) of the ability of insurgents in a weak state to drive out a superpower. In short, failed states, once a cause of debates in the United States over the nation's moral responsibilities and the proper configuration of the military, became a central concern, due to the platform they provided for the operation of Al Qaeda and, potentially, other transnational terrorist organizations. The first major operation of the "global war on terrorism," consequently, was the war to overthrow the Taliban regime that had hosted bin Laden in Afghanistan. And lest there be any doubt about Afghanistan's status as a failed state in the fall of 2001, Barry Bearak indicated the true situation with this memorable line in a New York Times story on the possibility of war there: "If there are Americans clamoring to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age, they ought to know that this nation does not have so far to go. This is a post-apocalyptic place of felled cities, parched land and downtrodden people."
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
A Strategic Intelligence Officer's Perspective
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
The Consequences of Failure (cont.)
There are several points that need to be added to my last post. The first point was suggested by this excerpt from the first presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush back in October 2000 (and posted recently by Ben Young):
MODERATOR: New question. How would you go about as president deciding when it was in the national interest to use U.S. force, generally?
BUSH: Well, if it's in our vital national interest, and that means whether our territory is threatened or people could be harmed, whether or not the alliances are--our defense alliances are threatened, whether or not our friends in the Middle East are threatened. That would be a time to seriously consider the use of force. Secondly, whether or not the mission was clear. Whether or not it was a clear understanding as to what the mission would be. Thirdly, whether or not we were prepared and trained to win. Whether or not our forces were of high morale and high standing and well-equipped. And finally, whether or not there was an exit strategy. I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in my approach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders.
Except for omitting Gen. Colin Powell's point about needing the support of the American people before committing American military force abroad, Bush's response followed the guidelines articulated in the Powell Doctrine. Powell and the Powell Doctrine were both casualties of the American invasion of Iraq. The argument in my last post was that failure in Iraq may well bring back not only the Powell Doctrine but the kind of skepticism about nation-building that Bush expressed so strongly before 9/11 when he and his advisors were following an "ABC" ("Anything But Clinton") foreign policy. (For what it's worth, Bush's approval rating currently stands at 42 percent; at the same point in his presidency, Clinton's approval rating was at 61 percent.) In fact, it seems almost certain that all serious presidential candidates in 2008 will be forced by events in Iraq to make statements very similar to the one Bush made about the use of force in the October 2000 debate.
It may well be that the United States will not even have the option of engaging in nation-building or even humanitarian intervention in the post-Iraq period. Tony Judt wrote recently ("The New World Order," The New York Review of Books, June 15, 2005, 18):
One implication of the shadow falling across the American republic is that the brief era of consensual international intervention is already closing. This has nothing to do with the contradictions or paradoxes of humanitarian undertakings. It is the consequence of the discrediting of the United States. Hard as it may be for Americans to grasp, much of the world no longer sees the U.S. as a force for good. It does the wrong things and has the wrong friends.
Whether a new "Iraq Syndrome" makes addressing the problems caused by weak states, failed states, and collapsed states (the problem is sufficiently widespread to invite efforts to distinguish degrees of corruption, rapacity, and futility) merely inexpedient from a domestic political standpoint or impossible from the standpoint of foreign policy, the impact on national (and international) security could be very damaging. One of the lessons of 9/11--and, before that, the East African embassy bombings and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing--is that failed states are a threat to security. Not only do they fail to protect their own citizens, thereby creating the conditions in which terrorism and ethnic conflict breed, they become hosts for terrorist training camps and other forms of lawlessness. Sometimes failed states welcome terrorists to come and stay awhile (Osama bin Laden built roads and other infrastructure in Sudan and Afghanistan during al Qaeda's sojourns there), but more often their inability to extend the rule of law throughout their territories constitutes a passive invitation for terrorists, drug traffickers, rebel forces, slave traders, and even modern-day pirates to set up shop.
It would be nice to think that the United Nations would be able to fill any void left by a United States left in the throes of an "Iraq Syndrome." After all, the U.N. has been able to bring peace and stability to places as diverse as El Salvador, Mozambique, and East Timor. But the U.N.'s ability to substitute for the United States as a nation-building presence in the world may depend on the true intentions of the Bush Administration and new U.N. ambassador John Bolton toward the organization. Many continue to believe that Bolton's true intent is to try and eviscerate the U.N. That, in combination with an American rejection of all forms of great power responsibility, would leave the world a very insecure place.
Monday, August 15, 2005
The Consequences of Failure
The Iraqis are having difficulty overcoming their differences. The deadline for producing a new constitution passed today without a completed draft. The New York Times described the situation this way:
The Iraqi political process descended toward paralysis on Monday, when leaders failed to meet the deadline for completing the new constitution and voted to give themselves another week to resolve fundamental disagreements over the future and identity of this fractious land.
Several of the leaders said the disagreements, revolving around Islam, oil and the distribution of political power, grew sharper and more numerous as the day dragged on. Some said they were pessimistic that such vast differences could be resolved at all, much less in seven days.
"The differences are huge, and there is not enough determination from the political leaders to solve the problems," said Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni leader in the negotiations. "Almost 50 percent of the constitution is not finished yet."
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported the following on Saturday:
The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.
The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.
"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
What would be the implications of a four-year-long (at a minimum) military operation that failed to pacify Iraq and establish a stable democracy? It is an important question not so much for the Bush Administration, which is already running out of the time and political capital necessary to reshape the world according to its neoconservative vision, as for future administrations that will have different visions but will nonetheless be saddled with the legacy of Bush's failures.
Comparisons with Vietnam now seem inescapable. Frank Rich yesterday compared the percentage of Americans who approve George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War at present (34 percent) with the percentage who approved Lyndon Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War in March 1968 (32 percent). In both instances, the United States military seemed incapable of countering a determined insurgency. But there are some striking differences between Iraq and Vietnam. The technological gap between the United States and its adversary is even greater today than it was in 1968. Today the United States accounts for half of all the world’s military spending. There was a military rival in the 1960s (the Soviet Union) and many other states, including the People’s Republic of China, that were playing in the same league. North Vietnam had the support of America's biggest military rivals. No one today is making a case that the military situation in Iraq would be significantly different if only we could stop the flow of supplies into the country from outside. Clearly there are sources of outside support for the Iraqi insurgency, but none that can make a significant difference against a military force that has no rivals on earth.
Vietnam proved that military superiority is no guarantee of victory; Iraq seems to be proving that overwhelming military superiority is no guarantee of victory. Consequently, we seem destined to go through another period in which our political leadership and, perhaps more importantly, our military leadership will question the utility of military force. At the same time, America's adversaries will be confirmed in their belief that asymmetric warfare--smart, low-tech forms of terrorism or guerilla warfare--can work.
Questioning the utility of force is not a bad thing when neocons are in power dreaming of new ways to expand the American empire. It is a bad thing, however, when those with a more enlightened view of great power responsibility are at the helm.
What will be largely forgotten after the neocons depart the scene are the lessons of the brief interwar period--between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Global War on Terror--when we learned that the judicious application of military force could in fact save lives and establish some measure of stability in failed states and in those states determined to fail. UN intervention--supported by the United States up until the October 1993 battle in Mogadishu--saved tens of thousands of lives in Somalia. Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the under-sized UN force in Rwanda, believes that intervention there in 1994 could have prevented the slaughter of 800,000 to a million people. President Clinton's apology to the Rwandans later in the decade, however problematic it may have been, indicates that he, too, believed intervention could have prevented genocide. And in 1999, military intervention in Kosovo probably did avert a genocide.
It is good that the doctrine of preventive war will soon be thrown on the scrap pile. It is not so good that other, more benign, ideas about the use of military force may end up in the same place.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Don't Call Them Mercenaries
Daniel Bergner has an excellent article in this week's New York Times Magazine on the use of "private security companies" in Iraq. Because the military is stretched so thin in Iraq, tens of thousands of private contractors working for scores of different companies (not all of them American) have been hired to protect civilian authorities, American firms engaged in reconstruction projects, and even military bases. Companies that didn't even exist two or three years ago have U.S. Government contracts worth tens of millions of dollars a year. Recently retired members of U.S. Special Operations Forces have returned to Iraq with companies such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy to protect Halliburton's logistics operations or key installations in Baghdad's Green Zone. And they're earning four or five times as much money as private contractors as they did while in uniform. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon has had to institute a system of bonus pay to try to stem the flow of highly trained and experienced soldiers from the military to the privatized military industry.
While the Pentagon knows how many Americans are serving in Iraq in the military and how many casualties there have been, no data is kept concerning private security companies. Their employees are engaged in firefights and their convoys are attacked by improvised explosive devices and car bombs, but no one seems to know how many have been killed--or how many Iraqis they have killed. It is an unregulated industry that, in spite of some good reporting and some excellent scholarship by P.W. Singer and Deborah Avant, still generally operates under the radar.
The implications for the future of national security are potentially quite dramatic. It's a topic to which I will return soon.
Back from a Break
After a two-week break from blogging, I'm back. (Note to Dave: I'm sorry I didn't get back to it in time to get you up to speed for the reunion. Of course, there's a year's worth of old stuff here that you could have used.)
For what it's worth, I hope to spend more time in the coming weeks writing about some of the tectonic shifts occurring in international politics. I'm convinced that we're on the cusp of some important changes in our understanding of sovereignty, security, human rights, and more. I'll try to elaborate in some longer, less news-driven posts, so stay tuned.
Monday, August 01, 2005
King Fahd and King Crude
King Fahd has died. He was the fifth member of Saudi Arabia's Al Saud family to sit on the throne since the country's unification in 1932 under King Abdul Aziz al Saud. His brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, has succeeded Fahd as expected.
In spite of the fact that Abdullah has effectively ruled Saudi Arabia in King Fahd's place since 1995 when Fahd suffered a stroke, oil traders were unnerved by the news of Fahd's death. Crude oil futures hit a record $62.30 a barrel in trading today before settling at $61.55.
Saudi Arabia has the world's largest proven oil reserves--over 260 billion barrels--and, with production at 10.5-11.0 million barrels per day, is the world's top producer. Roughly 80 percent of the Kingdom's revenues come from oil. In spite of its incredible oil wealth, however, Saudi Arabia is, politically, one of the eighteen states that the human rights organization Freedom House considers "the worst of the worst." It also has a 30 percent unemployment rate, serious problems with corruption, and a large population of fundamentalist Muslims. It is a volatile mix, which accounts for the unease that oil traders feel even in the face of a long-expected and (so far) orderly political transition.
Here's a little something to think about the next time you fill the tank of your SUV: without the Saudis, those of us in the United States could easily be paying over $5.00 per gallon. Our nation's economic health is dependent on the stability of a medieval monarchy. Thank goodness the energy bill Congress just passed will reduce our dependence on imported oil. (Not really. We'll go from 58 percent imported oil today to 68 percent imported oil in 2025.)