Friday, May 30, 2014

The impact of ISR on "multilateral partnerships"

The President's speech at West Point on Wednesday should have been a no-brainer.  A military audience, by regulation, can't express negativity to elected leaders so it was a very safe environment for Obama to trout out his international vision for the remaining days of his presidency.  But alas, our for the President this was not to be the case.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been called up out of the bullpen to pitch since the leading pitcher has failed to strike out his critics (sorry, it is baseball season and the analogy was just too easy).

First up, Gen Dempsey had to reassure allies in the Middle East that the US was not politically exhausted even though the US has already announced troop withdrawals for Afghanistan after 13 years.  He tried to persuade his audience that its because al-Qaeda was a "shadow of its former self" as reasons for the drawdown.  But then he does right on to say that al-Qaeda has adapted and now they are a threat elsewhere.  Given that logic, should the troops then be sent "elsewhere" to deal with al-Qaeda if the US truly isn't exhausted?

While Dempsey was trying to calm fears in the United Arab Emirates, our allies in Asia and Europe were also less than impressed with President Obama's speech.  Since Dempsey can't be at two places at once, he sent in his own relief pitcher Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Besides reiterating America’s “iron-clad” commitment to the European Phased Adaptive Approach — designed to stop a handful of Iranian missiles, not hundreds of Russian ones — the admiral also put in good words for Japan, South Korea, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. (Breaking Defense).  Basically pulling out of Afghanistan (and Iraq previously) doesn't mean we are going to let Iran off the hook.

But in order to do so, the Gulf nations have to share information that would allow that type of missile defense system to be created need to thwart Iran.  The first problem is the lack of trust amongst the Gulf nations.  Just getting the various reps from those countries to sit down has proven impossible.  The second problem is once they do and asked for US technology, the Washington political system slows things down to a crawl.

A similar situation exists in Asia, who feels especially slighted by the President's speech on Wednesday which made no mention of them.  To keep North Korea at bay, the US needs its partners in Asia to work together which perhaps shows a bias on the part of Washington.  President Obama, and to be fair other US Presidents as well, tend to treat Asia with a broad bush.  To them, it is easier to think of Asia as one amalgamation of culture.  This simplistic view misses the long history of war and exploitation amongst countries such as China and Japan.

Japan, now our biggest Pacific ally, was once our enemy when the Japanese Empire threatened to take over the entire Pacific Rim.  Amongst many atrocities, Japan invaded Korea and cut down all its trees for the Imperial Army.  But we need Japan and South Korea to forget about all of that nasty stuff that happened during the war and pretend like they trust each other long enough to keep North Korea in check.  At best Japan and South Korea are indifferent to one another.  Sharing intelligence between the two nations is difficult at best.  Now with Japan squabbling with China over islands to the north, it is becoming even more difficult to get South Korea to believe Imperial Japan is not start to arise from the ashes.

The gap in trust amongst our Middle Eastern and Pacific allies is reflective of the gap between Obama's promise to do more to more to assist our partners in fighting al-Qaeda.  That promise means the US will have to increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts, which is going to be damn near impossible since Obama has cut funding for ISR.  Those same partners that Obama wants to build partnerships with depend, no expect, to provide the ISR resources need for dealing with al-Qaeda or Iran and North Korea.

"Decisions already made in the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget request will cut available ISR. In particular, the Air Force justified decisions to reduce its medium-altitude long-endurance ISR (MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers) in order to prepare for future wars (namely, the growing threat of anti-access environments). Should budget pressures continue, the Air Force has threatened deeper cuts in these systems, along with reductions in high-altitude long-endurance RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40—the very aircraft that is supposed to fill the shoes of the U-2, which the Air Force also decided to retire in this budget."--Defense One

Let's not forget that we are not just lacking what is needed for the known, but we are also lacking ISR resources for the new areas of responsibility such as Africa;

"Gen. David Rodriguez at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), who in March told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had only 11 percent of his ISRneeds met. Whether Mali, Somalia, the regional hunt for Joseph Kony, or missing schoolgirls in Nigeria, the need forISR to find “needles in the haystack” is significant on the continent. In AFRICOM’s area of responsibility, ISR has been a key part of U.S. counterterrorism support efforts Obama cited as models in this next phase of the war, such as support to French-led efforts in the trans-Sahel."--Defense One

President Obama's father is African, not African-American.  The distinction is none of his father's ancestors were ever slaves in the US. It should also mean that Africa was a priority for President Obama which it has not.  When he finally did become involved, it was due to a faction of al-Qaeda which his previous Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) would not designate as a terrorist group.  The current Secretary of State, John Kerry, had to step in to try to mitigate the damage.

"When Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced early this month that the Obama administration was rushing a team of experts to help Nigerian officials rescue 276 abducted schoolgirls, the hope in Washington was that Nigerians would react with gratitude and energetic cooperation."--Reuters

The first chance to step in and aid, not invade, a sovereign African nation and you can guess what is going to happen.

"Instead, the U.S. assistance mission here — cloaked in secrecy and producing only vague hints of progress after six weeks of joint efforts to find and free the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants — has produced a more ambivalent and critical response.

One reason is the strong patriotic pride among citizens of this independent, oil-rich nation with a large professional security force that President Goodluck Jonathan said Thursday he had ordered to carry out a “full-scale operation” against the militants. While there is appreciation for the U.S. help, there is also resentment of what some Ni­ger­ian commentators call “neocolonial” meddling."--Reuters

"Neocolonial meddling" that might be the best term for how US foreign policy is viewed by Nigeria and other nations.    Meddling, not assisting or aiding.  And now we can't even offer our ISR resources a token for meddling.

p.s. As I was composing this, it was announced the Shinseki resigned.  Almost immediately afterwards Press Secretary Jay Carney announced his retirement.  Shinseki resignation is of course more symbolic than meaningful since the Veterans Administration didn't break overnight.  It also means that it will take many years to fix and most likely it will be left to the next administration to deal with in a meaningful way.  Carney's resignation is overdue.  Typically press secretaries leave after the first term in office if the President is re-elected.  He overstayed his welcome.

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