Monday, October 31, 2005

Lying your way into War?

According to the New York Times today, the National Security Agency has been keeping secret a report by the agency historian showing that:

that during the Tonkin Gulf episode, which helped precipitate the Vietnam War, N.S.A. officers deliberately distorted critical intelligence to cover up their mistakes, two people familiar with the historian's work say.

The historian's conclusion is the first serious accusation that communications intercepted by the N.S.A., the secretive eavesdropping and code-breaking agency, were falsified so that they made it look as if North Vietnam had attacked American destroyers on Aug. 4, 1964, two days after a previous clash. President Lyndon B. Johnson cited the supposed attack to persuade Congress to authorize broad military action in Vietnam, but most historians have concluded in recent years that there was no second attack.

In other words, the NSA fudged the intelligence, and, as a result of those reports, Johnson asked Congress for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that laid the basis for the Vietnam war.
The obvious/simplistic question is of course did the NSA lie get us into Viet Name--can we just blame the whole mess on a screw-up? Probably not. As the NYT continues,

Mr. Hanyok [NSA Historian] concluded that they had done it not out of any political motive but to cover up earlier errors, and that top N.S.A. and defense officials and Johnson neither knew about nor condoned the deception.
Johnson and Co. didn't make up the Gulf of Tonkin to get us into Vietnam, but they did use this ready-made incident as the political justification for a war that they were already willing to fight. So if it hadn't been the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, it very well else could have been something else later that year or the next.

This raises the delicate question of intelligence and war. Sound familiar?

Now, I don't think that flawed intelligence necessarily gets us into these situations. That would be the easy way out, and in foreign policy, its usually more complicated than that. This and the more recent example both seem instances of opportunism--using and misusing intel to push policy down an already determined political path. However, the flawed intel is certainly implicated--more "accurate" intel might delay that opportunism, if not derail it.

Had the White House listened to Wilson's conclusions and kept the Iraq looking for uranium in Africa line out of the State of the Union, would we have not gone to war with Iraq? Had the National Intelligence Council given more weight to dissenting voices in the estimates on Iraq that emphasized IAEA estimates of Iraq's non-existent WMD program, would we not have gone to war?

Maybe not, but if nothing else, the war would certainly look differently than it does now. Same for Vietnam.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

White Sox in 4. Heck of a sweep, and I must say, quite a world series. Even though the Sox clearly dominated, each of the games was very exciting-- a 14 inning affair, a walk-off homer from a guy who hit none all season, an 8th inning rally off a feared closer. I must admit, even I got into the series and was pulling for the Sox, which might be strange given my latent bitterness that they beat--no swept--my Cleveland Indians in the final three games of the regular season. But, AL Central loyalty wins out, and you have to appreciate how they play.

The other interesting thing, of course, is how many of the IR blogs listed over on the right will get into baseball discussions. I'm on record in predicting the Sox in 5 over at PTJ's course diaries. Drezner and Payne are also big baseball fans too. I even use baseball for teaching my research methods course. The other day, I used the difference between a box score and game recap to get into the differences between statistical analysis and thick description.

And of course tonight I'm doing an on campus debate on baseball-- The Yankees vs. the Rest. I'm the Rest. You'll never guess who's arguing for the Yankees....

So, Open discussion on all

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pay No Attention to the Man Cabal Behind the Curtain

After 5 years of on-message, no-leak discipline from the Bush Administration, especially in regard to foreign policy and national security issues, we finally get a former insider willing to spill the beans and name names.

As reported in today's Washington Post, Col. Larry Wilkerson (Ret) let loose with his criticism of the Bush Administration's management of foreign policy. Wilkerson was former Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff at the State Department, essentially Powell's right-hand-man, so clearly in a position to see the inner workings of the Administration on all key international issues. Wilkerson said, according to the Post article:
"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld," he said. By cutting out the bureaucracy that had to carry out those decisions, "we have courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, and generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina." If there is a nuclear terrorist attack or a major pandemic, Wilkerson continued, "you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that'll take you back to the Declaration of Independence."

"You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences," he said, "whether it was a response to Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or the situation in Iraq which still goes unexplained."
A Cabal! Now things get interesting!
What really makes this attack on the Administration significant, telling, and potentially quite damaging is that its not a partisan nor policy critique. Its a management and decision-making style critique of how policy is made and implemented in the Administration from someone supportive of the overall policy goals.

The Great Irony in this (well, there are many, but here's one) might be that back in 2000, everyone said that though Bush might not have any Foreign Policy experience--Wilkerson called Bush "not versed in international relations and not too much interested"-- he would be OK because he had such a great team working for him. Perhaps a Great Team isn't always such a great thing because here you have the Great Team thinking that it knows better than everyone else and taking matters into its own hands, forming a "Cabal" to dominate government policy on issues like Iraq, Terrorism and such. Then, all the pitfalls of small-group decision-making that we study in class kick in. Groupthink, overreliance on your own ideology, cognitive bias, misperception, and Bureaucratic Politics. The Federal Bureaucracy has its own policy making problems, but it also has built-in ways to deal with those problems due to years of experience, oversight, and criticism. Leaders ignore that wisdom at their peril.

It seems that the "Cabal" not just ignored but actively repressed this wisdom and they are now reaping the consequences. At their peril-- and maybe our peril as well.

The Wilkerson remarks were made at the New America Foundation, you can get the entire speech here in podcast or Quicktime movie form.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No so Smart Intelligence...

After 9-11-01, the US intelligence community took a huge chunk of blame and was promptly reformed to better fight the war on terrorism.

According to today's Washington Post, perhaps the real message is be careful what you wish for.

Porter Goss, Bush's handpicked CIA reformer is having a heck of a time changing the agency. Experts are resigning, skilled people are leaving, and key agency staffers are questioning his leadership and his vision. Add to this a downgraded position with a new, yet still undefined boss in the new Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI's office is still defining its job, its mission, and authority over the members of the US intelligence community including the CIA. What is clear, though, is that DCI Goss (and all future DCI's) lost access to the President and therefore authority in the Washington bureaucratic game.

The message here is, I think, quite clear: Bureaucracy moves slowly, and with good reason. The CIA had and still has tremendous expertise and talent. Sure, you can criticize that skill and talent when it fails and fails to adapt, but at the same time, realize you will need all those people, their skills, and abilities to reform the very organization you are criticizing. Government doesn't change overnight. Management is unsexy and difficult. So you wonder why we haven't caught Ossama yet? Well, maybe start with the fact that all the top spies in the CIA have resigned in the past year. Then look at where senior staffers and agency heads have decided to allocate resources.
That should answer most of your questions right there.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

What a fun weekend back in Ohio.
The high point was going to the football game Saturday afternoon. I'll post a picture to make E jealous and to show the rest of you what a stadium packed with 105,000 Buckeye fans looks like. That's a lot of people.
And, the best part, we won 35-24.
There's nothing like Buckeye Football.

Back in the real world, lots happened, like the Iraqi Constitution vote (which may not have gone as well as it seems) and the like.

But what really interests me was not something that happened in this world--instead, it was in outter space. Last week, China launched its second manned mission into space. The two astronauts landed today completing a 5 day mission. The mission was a major milestone for China for a whole host of reasons (some listed here). Aside from the technical wiz-bang, gee neat-o aspects of space flight, what really interests me is the larger reason that China is conducting these flights, especially in contrast to the US space program. Consider the US space program. While NASA might be one of the coolest federal agencies around, it has been severely lacking in mission and direction for years. They presently lack a reliable way to get people and large cargo into orbit, and they are strapped with a space-station program that lacks purpose (sure, "science" but how much real science goes on for that much money?). And then there's the whole go to Mars deal. Where is the vision? Where is the direction? Where is the leadership?

Its in China. China's program is well funded and has a lot of direction. China's space program is all about China as a rising great power. Part of this is the good old material capability, power politics thing. One reason that no other country can challenge US military dominance is that the US has a monopoly on the use of space for military means. GPS guides bombs, ships, tanks, and just about everything else the military has. Military communications bounce into space and back to earth. Plus, there is missile defense which relies heavily on space-based assets. And lets not forget the looking and listening--good old fashion spying from satellites the size of school buses. The USSR had been making a bid to challenge, but that died with the Soviet Union, and the Russian Space Program is now a cash-cow for the government and a jobs program, not a real military operation. But China is clearly looking to leverage its growing space capabilities to a military advantage-- maybe not in the short term, but certainly in the medium to long term.

So this nice realist story gets us so far, but there's more-- a more identity based explanation that completes the story.

Why must China send a person into space? The real value of space, from a military perspective, is launching large amounts of stuff up there, keeping it up there, and maybe having it fall down on a particular target. Same reason the USSR scrambled to beat the US to get a person into space and the same reason JFK sent Niel Armstrong (good Ohio boy at that) to the moon. Its what Great Powers do. Its an identity script. Any good techie-engineer will tell you the very limited value of manned space flight. Its a debate NASA is going through right now. Why do it?
Why propose to go to space, to the Moon, to Mars and beyond?
Its what Great Powers--no Superpowers--do.
China wants to be a great power, so China sends a man and then two men into space, just like only the Superpowers have.
China now can begin to lay claim to Super-Power-Hood.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thomas Schelling won (shared actually) the Nobel Prize in Economics, it was announced today.

Schelling is best known for his work on game theory and its application to conflict resolution in the social sciences. Most significantly, I would argue, was his contribution to International Relations. (Huray, a poli sci type won the Nobel!) His most famous works-- The Strategy of Conflict and Arms and Influence-- are about applying the lessons of game theory to worldly problems like crisis negotiations and nuclear deterrence. I am more partial to Micro Motives and Macro Behaviors myself because its slightly more relevant to my research. As he describes it, Schelling writes about strategic bargining-- when your choices depend on the choices of others.

Most important, Schelling's ideas were the basis for the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction and the whole notion that there could be a strategy to nuclear war (without actually using the weapons themselves). Unlike subsequent game theorists, Schelling has an appreciation for the highly contextual and social knowldege necessary to create the rational decision making game theory requires. Much of his writing is about how one actor creates the context in which a certain rationality works--for MAD, the US had to develop it, the US had to convince the Soviets that it worked, and then, by the 1970's, we could sign an ABM treaty institutionalizing MAD as global policy.

One of his more famous illustrations (written for an audience in the late 50's / early 60's):
You have to meet friend, and all you know is that you are to meet in New York city. What do you do, where do you go?

Schelling's brilliant answer developed the idea of Focal Points: You go to Grand Central Station at noon. Why? Its a logical place and time, given an abundant knowldege about New York, its a logical meeting place, its one of the first things that pops into your head. Where would two people in New York meet? Grand Central is one of those land marks everyone knows. Noon-- its a good meeting time.
This is a rational strategy-- given the relevant background knowledge, its the most likely convergence point for two people.
Listen to Schelling describe the way he came up with the idea of Focal Points on a cross country trip with his friends in 1940 here.

So, Huray for Schelling for winning the Nobel Prize and huray for the Nobel committee for selecting such a worthy recipient.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Wednesday night, the Senate voted 90-9 to add an amendment to the Defense Budget that would give stricter guidelines for prisoner interogations.

McCain said:
"We've got to make it clear to the world that American doesn't do it. It's not about prisoners. It's about us," he said.
The 9 who voted against the bill explain themselves here.

What I find interesting about this is that the White House, the 9 Senators, and House Leaders are all claiming a Realpolitik necessity to fight terrorism with all means necessary.
McCain, who as a prisoner of war was tortured in Vietnam, counters with an identity argument.

Which do you think might be more effective in the identity politics of the war on terror?

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