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Archive for April, 2009

The First 100 Days and Threats in the Age of Obama

Thursday, April 30th, 2009


Threats in the Age of Obama


Michael Tanji.


Dan tdaxp, Christopher Albon, Matt Armstrong, Matthew Burton, Molly Cernicek, Christopher Corpora, Shane Deichman, Adam Elkus, Matt Devost, Bob Gourley, Art Hutchinson, Tom Karako, Carolyn Leddy, Samuel Liles, Adrian Martin, Gunnar Peterson, Cheryl Rofer, Mark Safranski, Steve Schippert, Tim Stevens, and Shlok Vaidya

President Barack Obama has hit the 100 day mark which has become a traditional (if unfairly high) bar for measuring a new President of the United States during his “honeymoon” period, ever since the historic “first hundred days” of President Franklin Roosevelt, that ushered in the New Deal. At the time, the United States and the world was on the precipice of financial implosion and the Congress effectively permitted Roosevelt to rule by decree, ratifying his crisis management by passing 15 bills of such sweeping scope that the relationship of the Federal government to the states and the American people was changed forever.

The United States and the world is again in the grip of a great economic crisis, though not quite of the magnitude of the Great Depression, it can be said that only a few presidents in the last century – FDR, Truman, Nixon and Reagan – inherited a similar number of gravely serious problems from their predecessor as did Barack Obama. I was part of the collection of authors of Threats in the Age of Obama above who attempted to discern the major challenges the new administration would face. As a group, we spanned the political spectrum and fields of expertise, many having or had governmental, military or academic backgrounds or significant projects in the private sector and if something united us, it was the 21st century would require new approaches than did the Cold War.

The publisher of Nimble Books, W. F. Zimmerman  suggested that the authors take a moment today and asses what we each got right, what we got wrong and what has surprised us regarding Barack Obama’s first 100 days and where we think we are headed.

This request puts me in an odd position because having the last chapter in the book, I opted for a deep futurist perspective to try to cover the “first one hundred years” of Obama with an essay entitled “A Grand Strategy for a Networked Civilization“. Here is an excerpt:

….The difference between leaders today and those in the past – not only past centuries but as recently as the Cold War – is a certain loss of perspective as to longitudinal scale and societal fundamentals. American politicians think primarily in terms of the present, mentally cycling with the nightly news or   the upcoming elections, which gives more weight to superficial, tactical, objectives than they deserve, and waste time, resources and opportunities.  Not only has the political will to make long term, strategic investments in the national interest faded, it is questionable as to the degree to which they are even considered.  The current economic crisis requires action, naturally, but if the incoming Obama administration wishes to make their mark on history, they should give at least as much thought to 2100 as they do to 2010.

….Moral legitimacy of the state, the nature of the homeland it governs and the political economy that satisfies the needs of the people are the fundamentals of strategic calculation; the longer the time frame to be considered, the more that getting the fundamentals right matters.

It is premature for me, given the nature of my chapter, to make a hard and fast judgment yet about where I went right or wrong. I will say that the Obama administration does seem to be taking “moral legitimacy” seriously, as they understand it from their political perspective. Many of President Obama’s gestures in foreign policy, agree or disagree with them, have been designed to recalibrate the global opinion of America’s moral standing as a world leader without costing too much in terms of concessions or cash.

Changing Bush administration policy on Gitmo, “harsh interrogations” and “no negotiations” with adversarial states is an intentional signal that the Obama administration has a different diplomatic posture. On the other hand, the Obama administration has refused to formally sign onto infinitely expensive, utopian, schemes such as Gordon Brown’s “global new deal”. Unlike the Clinton White House in its early days, the administration has also cleverly avoided trying to hand its conservative opponents an outrageous “bright red line” issue like “Gays in the Military” or “Whitewater”, around which Republican activists could galvanize public support and media attention.

What surprised and pleased me is the degree to which the Obama administration has lined up their national security positions behind the leadership of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, embracing the “military reform” and “COIN” factions as their own. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is trying to step up the role of the State Department in shaping policy; this is a long term necessity but State isn’t up to the task without a major cultural and organizational overhaul. If Clinton does not invest the effort early, she will be a “road show Secretary” without the supporting cast to be a success. The NSC, by contrast, is being reorganized to maximize presidential control, perhaps to the point of going overboard with micromanagement, if the Somali pirate incident is a representative example. The only senior figure in the administration who seems both out of political step and out of her depth is the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.

What worries me, naturally, is the political economy aspect and the profound centralization of power over the economy being ushered in by Obama,  that is accumulating in the hands of very few people as the response to the economic crisis. The inevitable ripple effect, if such a concentration of power were to become the new status quo, would be one of stasis and stagnation. A globalized economy is too complex an “ecosystem” for top-down, ad hoc, hierarchical management to be an efficient or adaptive response. A re-focus on the fundamentals of new growth and not just legacy dinosaurs is in order.

Strangling OSINT, Weakening Defense, Censoring Criticism: The Pentagon

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009


William Lind has a new post up at Defense and The National Interest that addresses the issue of the IT restrictions on the use of the internet by military personnel. This topic has been touched on previous by others such as at the SWC, SWJ Blog, Haft of the Spear, Hidden Unities and many milbloggers, intel and cyberwonks but previously, IT policy varied across services and from command to command. That appears to be changing – for the worse.

On War #302: Blinders

At the height of the Cold War, a U.S. army corps commander in Europe asked for information on his Soviet opposite, the commander of the corps facing him across the inter-German border. All the U.S. intelligence agencies, working with classified material, came up with very little. He then took his question to Chris Donnelly, who had a small Soviet military research institute at Sandhurst. That institute worked solely from open source, i.e. unclassified material. It sent the American general a stack of reports six inches high, with articles by his Soviet counterpart, articles about him, descriptions of exercises he had played in, etc.

What was true during the Cold War is even more true now, in the face of Fourth Generation war. As we have witnessed in the hunt for Osama, our satellite-photo-addicted intel shops can’t tell us much. But there is a vast amount of 4GW material available open-source: websites by and about our opponents, works by civilian academics, material from think-tanks, reports from businessmen who travel in areas we are interested in – the pile is almost bottomless. Every American soldier with access to a computer can find almost anything he needs. Much of it is both more accurate and more useful than what filters down through the military intelligence chain.

Or at least he could. In recent months, more and more American officers have told me that when they attempt to access the websites they need, they find access is blocked on DOD computers. Is al Qaeda doing this in a dastardly attempt to blind American combat units?
Sadly, no. DOD is doing it. Someone in DOD is putting blinders on American troops.

I do not know who is behind this particular bit of idiocy. It may be the security trolls. They always like to restrict access to information, because doing so increases their bureaucratic power. One argument points to them, namely an assertion that the other side may obtain useful information by seeing what we are looking for. That is like arguing that our troops should be given no ammunition lest muzzle flashes give away their positions in a fire-fight.

But the fact that websites of American organizations whose views differ from DOD’s are also blocked points elsewhere. It suggests political involvement. Why, for example, is access to the website of the Center for Defense Information blocked? CDI is located in Washington, not the Hindu Kush. Its work includes the new book on military reform America’s Defense Meltdown, which has garnered quite a bit of attention at Quantico.

The goal of the website blockers, it seems, is to cut American military men off from any views except those of DOD itself. In other words, the blockaders want to create a closed system. John Boyd had quite a bit to say about closed systems, and it wasn’t favorable.

Read the rest here

What is disturbing to me is that Lind indicates that the previous policy, which left IT restrictions up to commanders, seems to be coalescing behind one of systemic, tight, restrictions on access for all uniformed personnel to all kinds of blogs or websites that do not jeopardize information security. Or may even be useful to the conduct of their mission. The previous excuse by DoD bureaucrats was “conserving bandwidth” but it’s hard to see how esoteric sites like the Center for Defense Information or some university PDF on Islamist madrassas in Pakistan clog up a combatant command’s skinny pipes.

Intel and cyber experts in the readership are cordially invited to weigh in here.


Professor Sam Liles offered up this manifesto on cyberthreats and cybersecurity.


Fabius Maximus, Ubi war and Wings Over Iraq took a similar view ( Wings though, added “Curse you Zenpundit!”).


Galrahn says Bill Lind does not understand the legitimate cybersecurity aspect that causes blogs and websites to be blocked and then offers some practical advice to the blocked bloggers (such as myself):

….but I’d bet at least 5 shots of Canadian Whiskey (I’m a Crown Royal fan until summer gets here) that the problem that triggered his rant doesn’t originate in the DoD or any government entity, rather the private sector.

But I will say this. There are several legitimate reasons why websites, blogs, and other forms of social media sites on the web are blocked. If your website or blog is blocked, please understand you can do something about it besides whine.

Use Feedburner, or some other form of syndication software to distribute your content, including by email. Organizations including the military may block Blogger but typically they do not block syndication service sites because from an IT perspective, syndication services like Feedburner is a better way to manage bandwidth for larger enterprises. If an organization is blocking syndication sites too, then your organization has a very strict IT policy, BUT if your favorite websites are distributing content by email, problem solved

I used Feedburner previously with my old blogger site when Feedburner was in beta but when it was purchased or absorbed by Google, that account went dormant. I think I will ressurect it and then look into Galrahn’s other suggestions.

Early Announcement: Xenophon’s Anabasis Roundtable

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

After his skilled moderation of The Clausewitz Roundtable, my friend Lexington Green has announced a new roundtable at Chicago Boyz for Fall of 2009 that will be dedicated to Xenophon’s  The Anabasis of Cyrus.

For those interested in participating in this roundtable, leave a note here in the comments for Lex or over at Chicago Boyz.

Recommended Reading

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Very busy week and we are hosting my nephew this weekend, so this may be short:

Top Billing!  James V. DeLong’s  The Coming of the Fourth American Republic ( hat tip to Barnabus and Pundita)

Probably the most provocative analytical political piece of the past month. Reminds me slightly of an internal version of The Shield of Achilles.

Global GuerillasPAKISTAN AND OPEN SOURCE WARFARE and JOURNAL: An Open Source Counter-insurgency for Pakistan?

John estimates Pakistan’s chances and finds them to be slim. Good back and forth with Dr. Chet Richards on How afraid should we be? in addition.

MountainRunnerGuest Post: How to win the GWOT – or whatever it’s called today

Matt Armstrong turns over his blog to some former NSC staff members, Mark Pfeifle and Jonathan Thompson.

WIREDArmy Looks to Keep Troops Forever Young

I could use some of this anti-aging elixir this morning! 🙂

Scientific AmericanHow Room Designs Affect Your Work and Mood

The neuroscience implies that the average workspace design for offices and schools promotes a feeling of jet lag and depression. LOL! How true.

Proceeedings – “The Overstated Threat” by Commander John Patch, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

The pirates 15 minutes of fame should be over, according to Patch.

The Jamestown FoundationIngushetia is Still Burning

In case you feel a need for an update for the troubles of Russo-Transcaucasian backwater.

 The Annual Edge Question 2009 – “What will change everything?… What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?

That’s it!



Announcing the Tournament of Home Offices!

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Ok, things are quiet here because I am overdue on a chapter for Nimble Books on Fifth Generation Warfare, edited by Dan of tdaxp. I am also currently brain dead from work and other responsibilities, so I thought it might be time for something that was both viral and almost completely pointless. 🙂

First, there was Thomas P.M. Barnett:

Then there was Dave Dilegge:


And then there’s me:


I propose a “Tournament of Home Offices” where those tagged must reveal the heart of their tiny blogging empire and in turn, tag 5-7 fellow bloggers to participate in this time-wasting charade, as well as linking back to the person who tagged them originally.  Only one photo counts as an entry but additional pics may be posted. A winning home office is recognized by informal consensus and the winner receives as a prize absolutely nothing. Multiple winners may be possible and, most likely, are expected as the tournament progresses. Spouses are free to enter their blogger without their prior permission in the interest of general mockery.

I hereby tag the following:

Lexington Green

Michael Tanji

Dave Schuler

Shane Deichman

Tom Wade

Dan of tdaxp

Tim Stevens

And now a bonus pic from a bookshelf….

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