White phosphorus: who knew what and why? did they care?

What do people hear when the news says the "the Pentagon now admits using white phosphorus despite earlier denials"? It sounds a lot like the United States Armed Forces lied. What the public hears, both foreign and domestic, is another cover-up. Critical to the real story, especially this one, is who really said what and what is the "Pentagon".

An analysis on the BBC News website (16 Nov 05) used that exact phrase (emphasis mine):

The Pentagon’s admissiondespite earlier denials – that US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja last year is more than a public relations issue – it has opened up a debate about the use of this weapon in modern warfare.

The admission contradicted a statement this week from the new and clearly under-briefed US ambassador in London Robert Holmes Tuttle that US forces "do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons".

From a news story on the BBC News website the same day (16 Nov 05) (emphasis mine):

The US has now admitted using white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja last year, after earlier denying it.

In both of these, just two samples among a huge number of news stories and blogs on the subject, switch between military and civilian personnel without care or knowledge.

The Eccentric Star Public Diplomacy blog has an excellent list of news stories on this and some very good analysis about conflicting information within the "monolithic", per foreign audiences, US government. The foreign press and public do not discern a difference between military and civilian in the United States because either a) the military elites are the civilian elites or b) military statements come through civilian channels either implicity or explicitly. In the US, the fraying civil-military relationship pushed the military to make its own statements.

As is the case for the last several years, the civilian leadership disregarded input from the military leadership, likely not even asking about before responding. The Administration’s demonstrated distrust and lack of faith in the military tears at the foundational civil-military relationship on which democracy is built. This situation, if one simply scratches the surface, is indicative of the friction between civil and military leaderships.

The evidence used by the military and the media to show the "US Government" know of the use of "Willie Pete" is a journal article, "The Fight for Fallujah". The public relations "issue" created by the civilian leadership failing to properly research the question led to the negative reaction by the world press and global public. This could have been diffused earlier by establishing credibility and emphasizing the miscommunication.

Rarely included in the news or blogs is a quote by Pentagon spokesman, Lt Col Barry Venable, stating "earlier denials had been based on "poor information"". The public relations problem is mostly because the Administration does not forcefully move to correct the misinformation or, more importantly, lend credibility to the reason why the improper denial was advanced in the first place.

Are we safer?

This article requires little additional commentary, although much could be said to explain & reinforce the commissions statements. From FT.com (14 Nov 05) US – 9/11 body attacks White House:

The US commission that investigated the attacks of September 11 2001 warned on Monday that the government was failing to move quickly to isolate terrorist groups and discourage weapons proliferation.

The report gives failing grades of “insufficient progress”, “minimal
progress” and “unfulfilled” on US efforts to prevent terrorists from
acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD), better defining the US
message to the Muslim world, and establishing clear standards for
terrorist detention among all members of the US-led coalition fighting
the war on terror.

The status report called on President George W. Bush to “maintain a
sense of urgency” in making non-proliferation, securing nuclear
material and preventing terrorists from acquiring WMD his top national
security priority, as well as demanding that Congress provide the
necessary resources for the effort.

58 percent question his integrity

From the WashingtonPost: Bush’s Popularity Reaches New Low.

58 percent in poll question his integrity.

Currently 39 percent approve of the job he is doing as president, while 60 percent disapprove of his performance in office — the highest level of disapproval ever recorded for Bush in Post-ABC polls.

Examining the Bush Administration’s record in military security policy reveals a key marker of democracy is derisively dismissed. Outsourcing of key military, and hence political, missions in the “Global War on Terror” to private military forces is corrosive to effective and practical political leadership, ownership, and management that are not lost on the military elites.

While the popularity rating is more interesting to the media, it is the sub-headline of "58% question his integrity" that is more important. It has already been said that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have done more damage to our military than any enemy could possibly do. Between Wolfowitz overruling military commanders on force sizing for Iraq (Pentagon Contradicts General on Iraq Occupation Force’s Size) and delays in providing equipment (body armor, up-armored vehicles) and stop-loss orders, the ability to replenish our forces is diminishing. This hits on three sides: recruiting the grunts, the officer corp morale, and the breadth of the population with direct relations with members of the military. More later…

My state is big

From the department "Did they really say that?" comes this well-thought out statement from Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes:

"My state of Texas is very big. So you can imagine my surprise to learn that your country, Indonesia, is three times bigger than my big state of Texas."

Delivering the Good Word

Special Operations Command is looking to compete with Kinko’s. Well, not really, they are looking for a

deployable print production center will allow PSYOP forces to produce print products in forward operating locations, meaning the system must be sustainable outside of garrison environmental conditions.

In other words, a portable print center capable of providing literature wherever PSYOPS / Special Forces are operating. Text and images would be received through an existing PSYOPS system or hard media.

Interesting potential for public diplomacy deep in denied media territory. I wonder if this could be used for remote libraries and learning centers? Or even helping media outlets get started?

Clash of Common Sense

Richard Clarke’s recent commentary in The Atlantic is a must read today. It’s opening paragraph:

Imagine if, in advance of Hurricane Katrina,thousands of trucks had been waiting with water and ice and medicine
and other supplies. Imagine if 4,000 National Guardsmen and an equal
number of emergency aid workers from around the country had been moved
into place, and five million meals had been ready to serve. Imagine if
scores of mobile satellite-communications stations had been prepared to
move in instantly, ensuring that rescuers could talk to one another.
Imagine if all this had been managed by a federal-and-state task force
that not only directed the government response but also helped
coordinate the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other outside groups.

One doesn’t have to imagine because, as Clarke points out, this was the scenario before Hurricane Francis just before the last election. Preside Bush even handed out water to the evacuees compared with resting comfortably at his ranch this time not to be disturbed with minor business when Brownie was doing such a great job.

Hurricane Katrina has highlighted the abject failure in protecting the United States from any type of mass destruction of disruption. Proactive measures and plans have failed to materialize. Talk about Department of Defense "quarantines" and replacing FEMA are short-sighted and miss the point of accountability and functionality.

So, why are we still no further along the path than we were before? I offer the following open letter to try to frame the discussion on the "GWOT" (Global War on Terror), which, unless portrayed and understood properly, cannot be "won" or stopped and we cannot be "victorous". Actual terrorism has increased substantially, even when Condi suppresses the yearly report from State.

Mr. President,

Your Administration is apparently relying on over simplified and historically disengaged arguments, brushing aside the realities of an increasingly complex and interconnected world. The new "rollback" theory, modeled on the Us vs Them of the Cold War and Samuel Huntington’s "Clash" thesis fails from the start. Huntington’s irrelevant arguments of "civilizational" cleavages have no place in the contemporary world of instant communication and decreased state autonomy. Providing a convenient launching pad for other “cognitive misers” who also fail to contextualize  inputs into the present, the emotionally congruent images are framed for popular acceptance and not practical problem solving. This is a disingenuous ignorance of reality that simultaneously masks the real threats and viable solutions. Ultimately setting the stage for a self-fulfilling prophecy of failing American foreign policy initiatives. How is Iraq today? Are there four score or 1 Iraqi battalions?

Huntington uses a map analogy to form a convenient, simple, and seemingly appropriate view the world, but it is inherently problematic.

While acknowledging the complexity of the world, he argues for a highly simplified construct resulting in an overly simplified black and white world. This “map”, without tributaries, junctions, and landmarks, is better for travel from one big city to the next since “we do not need and may find confusing a map…in which the major highways are lost in a complex mass of secondary roads”.  By excluding alternative routes and the often not-so-small geographic and political details significant to the location and personality of the “big city”, your Administration has clearly failed to undertake a comprehensive review of all relevant facts and options. Through an ignorance of history, politics, societies, and religions seeks to re-invent the black and white schema of the Cold War into what is not the “first time in history [that] global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational”, as Huntington states. The "enemy" is not as broad as you argue, nor are the divisions as deep. They are not diametrically opposed to our "way of life" but are opposed to our actions.

While you have made public statements acknowledging the distinction
between "good" and "evil" and "those who want democracy", actions go
further than talking points and audio clips. By allowing any
criminal behavior in our armed forces, including the failure to adhere
to international law (Geneva Conventions Article 4 – protection of
civilians), let alone the prison torture scandals, without swift and
severe punishment is an utter failure and will do more to prevent the
security of "hearts and minds" than most anything else. It was not just
the low level soldiers that participating, nor was it a single National
Guard general. Accountability within your Administration is lacking. The American ideal which you espouse is not in our deeds. We are a better people than your foreign policy makes us out to be.

Prescient of the “West versus East” conflict, the author of the Cold War’s containment theory, George Kennan, warned of the artificiality of the future clash as manufactured by Stalin to sustain and promulgate his absolute rule. Kennan noted Stalin’s assertion that capitalism and socialism could not peacefully coexist did not derive from the population, but strictly from a subset of the population: its leadership. In a political environment dominated by realpolitik with the state center stage in global affairs, it is not surprising that three years later National Security Council Memorandum 68 (NSC-68) firmly cleaved the division between “Us” and “Them” declaring the fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement [calls] for the complete subversion or forcible destruction of the machinery of government and structure of society in the countries of the non-Soviet world and their replacement by an apparatus and structure subservient to and controlled from the Kremlin.

In the present situation, the "scorecard" you want "because [you’re] a baseball fan" is non-sensical. We are not against a monolithic enemy. The enemy may have been more vertically oriented in the past, but we lost our chance to rip the heart out of the beast. The enemy is now a franchise operation with a highly-decentralized control structure. There is no effective leadership to keep track of anymore. The 2005 Bali and London bombings did not need Osama bin Laden. We need to undermine his entire ideological platform to be successful. Our foreign policy is, at present, completely missing this. If this were a Presidential campaign, what would you do? Will you hand out voting forms?


A Proud and Concerned American

Chinese Peace Corps + Energy Exploitation

In the spirit of challenges of securing energy sources and "hearts and minds" comes an article in the People’s Daily Online:

The 12 young volunteers from places such as Beijing, Sichuan and Yunnanwere going to Ethiopia in Africa to begin a six-month service work in
methane exploitation, Chinese-language teaching, physical education,
health care and information technology.

This Chinese Peace Corps is now in competition to win the hearts and minds with a Peace Corps perceived to be co-opted by the Defense Department. The long term goal for China is clearly cultural and technological imperialism as they seek to recreate a multi-polar world.

From the recent UNOCAL take-over attempt by CNOOC to competition for African energy resources, the Ethiopian service project is one of the many subtle salvos a patient China will fire.

Guides to Britain, Iraq (for WWII GIs but also for today)

Before returning from a term at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, a friend gave me a book a great little book: Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942. This was issued to American GIs headed for the to-be-UK and is full of great little bits. Here are but a few of them:

  • "The British have theatres and movies (which they call "cinemas") as we do. But the great place of recreation is the "pub".
  • The English language didn’t spread across the oceans and over the mountains and jungles and swamps of the world because these people were panty-waists.
  • [The] British [are] reserved, not unfriendly.
  • It is always impolite to criticize your hosts; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies.

This is a fun read that is appropriate to anybody traveling there even today. While I was trying to find the equivalent book on the French, which I remember was not as kind as the one above, I found this: A Short Guide to Iraq. Issued by the US War and Navy Departments servicemen (did any women go there?) going to Iraq to defend the oil fields. It is amazing how timeless this book is. You can read the whole thing here.

I never did find the French book, which I did see online two or three years ago. Maybe some French hackers took it offline.