Small Wars Journal

02/15/2021 News & Commentary - National Security

Mon, 02/15/2021 - 12:07pm

News and Commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and Published by Riley Murray.

 

1.  Analysis | With impeachment over, 9/11 probe leaders lend weight to calls for an independent commission to investigate Capitol attack

2. No, covering Trump was not like landing at Omaha Beach

3. Bitcoin’s rise reflects America’s decline

4. Biden has no good options on Afghanistan with deadline for troop withdrawal looming

5. Short-Term Action Items for Lloyd Austin’s Pentagon

6. Rebuilding the State Department from the Ground Up

7. The Taliban Close In on Afghan Cities, Pushing the Country to the Brink

8. COVID conspiracy shows vast reach of Chinese disinformation

9. The agency founded because of 9/11 shifts to face the threat of domestic terrorism

10. Microsoft President Says Cyberattack Blamed On Russian Hackers Was 'Most Sophisticated' Ever

11. Forget Self-Driving Cars—the Pentagon Wants Autonomous Ships, Choppers and Jets

12. 'It's Going To Be Hard': A New West Point Leader On Confronting Extremism In Military

13. Collaboration or Chaos: Two Futures for Artificial Intelligence and US National Security

14. Iconic Connecticut gun maker Colt sold to Czech company

15. What was the actual impact of Russian information operations on US elections?

16. A New Conservatism: Freeing the Right From Free-Market Orthodoxy

17. US Defense Department to Create Big Picture China Task Force

18. Chinese professor: There were no ancient western civilizations, just modern fakes made to demean China

19. 'They're unrecognizable': One woman reflects on losing her parents to QAnon

20. QAnon was enabled in part by former military and intelligence professionals "gone wild." 

 

1.  Analysis | With impeachment over, 9/11 probe leaders lend weight to calls for an independent commission to investigate Capitol attack

The Washington Post · February 13, 2021

After watching the impeachment trial It is clear to me that we need a thorough investigation of January 6th.  Obviously, it was not as lethal as 9-11 but the attack on our democracy and our nation was much more dangerous and damaging (though our recovery from this can and will make our federal democratic republic stronger). As Kean and Hamilton note the American people need to know the truth and the details about what happened January 6th and why. There needs to be an objective telling of the story.

 

2. No, covering Trump was not like landing at Omaha Beach

taskandpurpose.com · by Jeff Schogol · February 14, 2021

A fascinating editorial by my friend Jeff Schogol. He pulls no punches on his fellow journalists.

Excerpts:

Being deployed to war zones involves millions of miseries that most civilians will never understand, including being absent during family emergencies; constantly being exposed to toxic substances that can cause crippling diseases; and sharing latrines with men who have simply forgotten their initial potty training. (Bro: Your aim wasn’t just off; it missed the target by miles.)

So, with all due respect to Mr. Nazaryan: If you really want to experience the thrill of taking an enemy beach, it’s not too late to join the Marines. They will give you all the crayons you could possibly eat.

 

3. Bitcoin’s rise reflects America’s decline

Financial Times · by Rana Foroohar · February 14, 2021

Excerpts:

Will cryptocurrency become the new gold — a hedge against a changing world? Will the Big Tech consensus prove more powerful than either the Washington consensus or the Beijing consensus? Perhaps. But it’s also possible that sovereign states will move to regulate this existential threat. In the US, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already raised the issue of future cryptocurrency regulation.

None of this makes me want to buy bitcoin. But I also don’t see it as a normal bubble. It was unclear at the beginning of the 20th century which of the hundreds of automakers would win the race to replace the horse and buggy. Now, who knows whether bitcoin, ethereum, or diem, or some yet-to-be-invented digital currency will win out long term. For now, the bitcoin boom may best be viewed as a canary in the coal mine.

 

4.  Biden has no good options on Afghanistan with deadline for troop withdrawal looming

CNN · by Oren Liebermann, Zachary Cohen and Kylie Atwood

Excerpts:

An agreement between the Taliban and the US, signed by the Trump administration, committed the US to withdraw the final 2,500 troops by May, down from 13,000 one year ago. The Biden administration is looking for room to maneuver within the language of the agreement, but as the Taliban continues to carry out violent attacks and targeted killings, the US is left with few -- if any -- good options. One US official familiar with the internal discussions went so far as to call Biden's choices a "s*** sandwich."

...

Instead, the White House has received dozens of well-articulated and informed opinions that all have merit but do not offer a clear path forward that accomplishes all the administration's policy objectives, the official added.

"Most all of the policy options available are not optimal, shall we say," said Bradley Bowman, senior director for the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

 

5. Short-Term Action Items for Lloyd Austin’s Pentagon

warontherocks.com · by Christopher Dougherty · February 15, 2021

The short list:

Dealing with the Elephants in the Room (COVID and extremism, et al.)

Budget, Budget, Budget

Issue a “Skinny” National Defense Strategy Update and Guidance Documents

Reinvigorate Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy

Reach Out to the American People

I expect Colin Kahl will "reinvigorate" USD(P). I am particularly interested in the "skinny" NDS. I think the NDS and its irregular warfare annex are good and important documents and the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. While the National Security Strategy has been removed from the White House web site, the NDS remains on the Pentagon web site and still in effect.

 

6. Rebuilding the State Department from the Ground Up

The National Interest · by Robert D. Kaplan · February 14, 2021

Excerpt:

Having studied the foreign service for several years in the course of writing a biography of a State Department humanitarian, I can attest that what makes a good foreign service officer is sometimes not that much different from what makes a good newspaper correspondent: a willingness to escape from the embassy and explore beyond the capital city; to explore alone so as not to be influenced by groupthink; to listen for hours to people in the field without asking leading questions; to employ anxious foresight, that is to know the worst about a place so as to warn policymakers about avoidable bad outcomes; and most of all to avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good since policymaking is often a world of tough choices. In other words, it takes a highly unusual individual to become a successful foreign service officer. And that is the way it always should be. If we compromise on innate talent, the quality of the foreign service will suffer, no matter how much money is thrown at it.

 

7. The Taliban Close In on Afghan Cities, Pushing the Country to the Brink

The New York Times · by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Taimoor Shah · February 15, 2021

The dilemma:

The Taliban’s brazen offensive has put the Biden administration into a dangerous political bind. Under the deal struck by President Donald J. Trump with the Taliban last year, all foreign troops — including the remaining 2,500 American service members who support Afghanistan’s beleaguered army and security forces — are scheduled to withdraw by May 1, leaving the country in an especially precarious state.

If the Biden administration honors the withdrawal date, officials and analysts fear the Taliban could overwhelm what’s left of the Afghan security forces and take control of major cities like Kandahar in a push for a complete military victory or a broad surrender by the Afghan government in the ongoing peace negotiations.

But if the United States delays its withdrawal deadline, as a congressionally appointed panel recommended on Feb. 3, the Taliban would most likely consider the 2020 deal with the United States void, which could lead to renewed attacks on American and NATO troops, and potentially draw the United States deeper into the war to defend Afghan forces, whom the Taliban could still retaliate vigorously against.

 

8. COVID conspiracy shows vast reach of Chinese disinformation

foxnews.com · by Associated Press

Pretty bold statement:

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told AP it resolutely opposes spreading conspiracy theories. "We have not done it before and will not do it in the future," the ministry said in a statement. "False information is the common enemy of mankind, and China has always opposed the creation and spread of false information."

Again, admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter accusations. ​

 

9. The agency founded because of 9/11 shifts to face the threat of domestic terrorism

The Washington Post – by Nick Miroff - February 14, 2021

Excerpts:

For years leading up to El Paso, the Department of Homeland Security — created to prevent another 9/11 — had been under growing pressure to do more to address domestic extremism. Within seven weeks of the El Paso massacre, McAleenan released a plan for “countering terrorism and targeted violence” that amounted to a road map for the department’s pivot from foreign threats to homegrown ones. It was the first time DHS had identified the extent of the danger posed by domestic violent extremists and white supremacists.

The plan got little attention or support from the White House, and even though DHS began speaking more directly about domestic threats, the effort made little difference on Jan. 6, when the department was one of several federal agencies caught flat-footed. Since the attack on the Capitol, calls have intensified for DHS to emphatically turn its attention inward and do more to protect Americans from other Americans.

The Jan. 6 attack has left many lawmakers, and especially Democrats, insisting domestic terrorism has eclipsed the threat from foreign actors such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. DHS and its agencies are responsible for securing the country’s borders, ports, transportation and cyber systems, generally leaving the monitoring of extremist groups and terrorism investigations to the FBI. But DHS and its agencies have nearly eight times as many employees as the FBI, and calls for the department to play a more muscular role in combating domestic extremism have policymakers looking at new ways to enlist its resources.

The proposals have revived some of the civil liberties concerns that arose after the creation of the department as a large, internal security bureaucracy with a broad mandate. And the possibility of the department scrutinizing Americans has added to the unease, because providing homeland security is less controversial when the threats are foreign.

 

10.  Microsoft President Says Cyberattack Blamed On Russian Hackers Was 'Most Sophisticated' Ever

rferl.org

Excerpts:

The software giant had previously acknowledged that like U.S. government agencies and other firms, it had downloaded updates of network management software made by the company SolarWinds that the hackers had targeted. The compromised software provided hackers a backdoor into government and company networks.

Microsoft said at the time that the hacking operation was carried out by a “very sophisticated nation-state actor” and said companies and businesses affected were in several other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.

 

11. Forget Self-Driving Cars—the Pentagon Wants Autonomous Ships, Choppers and Jets

WSJ · by Andy Pasztor

And, of course, more opportunities for hacking. We also should not believe that these autonomous things will reduce manpower requirements. They will still have to be maintained and they will have to be defended against hacks, and the information they provide will still have to be analyzed by humans.

My Command Sergeant Major and I once visited the USS Rentz and the command master chief gave us a tour of this modern warship which incorporated many automated functions which reduced the necessary manpower as a few sailors could monitor the screens of the computers that were running the ship. But he lamented the lack of manpower he had and while the sailors had great technical skills to manage the automated functions, they did not have enough sailors to do the basic maintenance of simply cleaning up in the engine room. No one has automated those manual tasks and the command master chief said with the reduction in manpower the sailors had to divert more time to maintenance than running the automated systems. I may be wrong as this is now more than a dozen years ago but that is what I recall.

 

12. 'It's Going To Be Hard': A New West Point Leader On Confronting Extremism In Military

NPR · by James Doubek · February 13, 2021

Yes, it will be. But it will take enlightened leadership to do so. And it is something we have to do and we have to do it right or we risk breaking the military.

 

13. Collaboration or Chaos: Two Futures for Artificial Intelligence and US National Security

mwi.usma.edu · by Bilva Chandra · February 15, 2021

Excerpt: Artificial intelligence is both a thrilling beacon of modernization for the government, and an area of promising growth for private firms. Neither can afford to silo themselves, as a lack of collaboration will hinder both US national security interests and opportunities for private-sector innovation. The labyrinthine threat environment of unyielding US adversarial interests and the need for ethical AI frameworks both require cooperation; without it, we are doomed to chaos.

 

14.  Iconic Connecticut gun maker Colt sold to Czech company

stamfordadvocate.com · by Alexander Soule · February 12, 2021

I grew up not far from here. I always remember that blue doom as we drove past it on our way to Springfield, MA to visit family.

 

15.  What was the actual impact of Russian information operations on US elections?

davetroy.medium.com · by Dave Troy · February 14, 2021

Excerpts:

But when asked, “Did Russia’s IRA operations have an effect on the 2016 election?”, Mr. Rid made an argument I’d heard him make before: “There is no particular evidence that the IRA operations had an effect on the outcome of the 2016 election. And the fact that so many people think they did is giving Russia too much credit, and only makes them more successful.”

While I agree with Mr. Rid about those specific facts (there is no particular evidence that IRA’s actions caused President Trump to win the election itself), I don’t think it’s correct to end the discussion there.

Immediately following Mr. Rid’s talk, I tuned into another discussion featuring Maria Snegovaya, Nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, and co-author of a new report on Russian disinformation operations, who was asked essentially the same question: What was the impact of Russia’s operations on the 2016 election?

I found her answer (paraphrased here) to be more nuanced: “Data from our study showed that the operations left the country much more polarized, such that people were specifically more likely to strongly oppose the presidential candidate of the opposite party.”

 

16. A New Conservatism: Freeing the Right From Free-Market Orthodoxy

Foreign Affairs · February 14, 2021

Excerpt: A conservative coalition built around economic priorities such as these, plus a merely nonradical set of cultural concerns, would attract a broad range of voters. It would attract the core of the existing Republican Party, which, as Trump proved, has much less interest in libertarian platitudes than Beltway strategists assumed. It might equally appeal to a large portion of the Democratic Party that is likewise culturally conservative; many Democratic voters aspire not to escape their families and communities or rely on public benefits but rather to be productive contributors in an economy that has a place for them. Unlike the naive fantasies that presume that a centrism halfway between the parties’ existing commitments must surely be ideal, a multiethnic, working-class conservatism could deliver a durable governing majority. It would do so by rediscovering an entirely different set of commitments, one that both parties’ elites have neglected for too long.

 

17.  US Defense Department to Create Big Picture China Task Force

thediplomat.com · by Abhijnan Rej · February 13, 2021

Excerpts:

Interestingly, Ratner noted that the task force’s work will not include recommendations for bureaucratic reorganization inside the Pentagon. He also — when asked whether the United States was looking to deploy land-based intermediate range missiles in Asia – noted that the task force will not focus on specify policy questions. Instead, Ratner emphasized its essentially broad-brush approach, stating that the task force’s goals would be to “surface key challenges, raise big questions, and then identify processes and who in the department are the appropriate folks to get after them.”

On February 10, Austin had briefed Biden about the task force during the president’s visit to the Pentagon for the first time since assuming office. Announcing the task force following the briefing, Biden noted that United States’ approach towards China “will require a whole of government efforts, bipartisan cooperation in Congress and strong alliances and partners.” In a February 7 interview with CBS, Biden described the China-U.S. relationship as one of “extreme competition,” albeit one where conflict need not be inevitable.

 

18. Chinese professor: There were no ancient western civilizations, just modern fakes made to demean China

taiwanenglishnews.com · by Phillip Charlier · February 10, 2021

Well, now I know something I really did not know. This is some very enlightening information (note my sarcasm).

Excerpt:  What all these books have in common is that world history as we know it is merely a Western fabrication. There were no ancient civilizations outside of China. Civilization is a Chinese characteristic, and others only became civilized after coming into contact with China. Therefore, today’s “world civilization” is Chinese in origin, and in nature.

 

19. 'They're unrecognizable': One woman reflects on losing her parents to QAnon

CNN · Story by Richa Naik, CNN Business Video by Richa Naik & Zach Wasser

It is just depressing to read about this QAnon cult.

 

20.  QAnon was enabled in part by former military and intelligence professionals "gone wild." 

And perhaps a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory. I saw this on twitter and could not resist sharing it. Quite a list of "members" and leaders of the cult. (note my sarcasm)

QAnon was enabled in part by former military and intelligence professionals "gone wild." 

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“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

 - George Washington, George Washington's Farewell Address

 

“Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing.”

- Abraham Lincoln

 

“There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It really matters very little whether they are behind the wheel of a truck or running a business or bringing up a family. They teach the truth by living it.” 

- James Garfield (1831–1881)

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