My Danger Room story today was actively distressing to report:
As recently as January 2009, the FBI thought its agents ought to know the following crucial information about Muslims:
- They engage in a “circumcision ritual”
- More than 9,000 of them are in the U.S. military
- Their religion “transforms [a] country’s culture into 7th-century Arabian ways.”
And this was what the FBI considered “recommended reading” about Islam:
- A much-criticized tome, The Arab Mind, that one reviewer called “a collection of outrageously broad — and often suspect — generalizations“
- A book by one of Norwegian terrorist suspect Anders Behring Breivik’s favorite anti-Muslim authors.
Seriously. Click through to the PowerPoint briefing I published. You'll notice that a great deal of its information is about religious practice and other constitutionally protected, totally legal behavior. And about that reading list, I like the quote Farhana Khera from Muslim Advocates gave me: "It's like asking law enforcement to learn 'the facts' about the African American experience by reading a book by the grand wizard of the KKK."
“It’s absolutely possible to have an open, democratic, inclusive society, and at the same time have security measures and not be naive,” he said.
Now let's see what he does to make that be more than a pleasant bromide.
The Washington Post notes the emerging consensus of John Brennan, Leon Panetta and others in the counterterrorism community: al-Qaida is on the brink of defeat. "If you mean that we have rendered them largely incapable of catastrophic attacks against the homeland, then I think Panetta is exactly right," a 'senior U.S. counterterrorism official' told Greg Miller. But would we even know how to react if victory stared us in the face?
I submit that the path Brennan and Panetta are charting is one of lower-scale perpetual war in the name of a consolidated victory. Read the White House counterterrorism strategy: it's about proliferating drone strikes and commando raids to bottle up and degrade al-Qaida offshoots where they arise. It depends on consolidating the apparatus of surveillance that the Obama administration has inherited and expanded from his predecessor. It combines all that with a cautious drawdown of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And it entails no expiration point.
There is a very understandable logic here. Rapid unspooling of the war risks unraveling its gains. "Success" in a war like this is something an abstract concept, which is the main reason that conceiving of it as a war is problematic. And drawing down the wars is still a major strategic decision. Everyone understood there would be no conventional point at which it ends. So far, "success" cashes out to "keep fighting." The White House plan suggests that in the future, "consolidating victory" will also mean "keep fighting." That remains the politically safe position for everyone in Washington.
But that speaks to the essential point. Victory against al-Qaida isn't just a battlefield circumstance, an argument won in Tahrir Square or a missile aimed at an al-Shabaab commander. It's a conscious strategic decision taken by politicians to say: the costs of this campaign are vastly out of proportion to the actual threat posed by al-Qaida, and so it is time to drive those costs down into something proportional. That is what victory actually is: terrorism as a managable threat, not to be dealt with through a perpetual global war. Once we harden some domestic targets, maximize the 'Americanness' of U.S. Muslims, bolster the defensive capabilities of key foreign allies -- their populations more than their security apparat -- then we can slow down the drone strikes responsibly, replace them with ISR orbits and do some strikes and roundups as necessary, harassing al-Qaida's residual capability to regenerate itself. The 9/11 era ends on our terms.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has some valuable suggestions here. I think they can go further. I want the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act gone. No extensions, no excuses, no blanket targeting of American communications or metadata.
These are difficult political choices. They require making a sustained case to the public that it's what victory looks like, and why it's better than the alternatives. They require standing up to an argument that al-Qaida's "ideology" -- it's really just a conspiracy theory -- motivations and capabilities are no different than those of other terror groups; or even Islam itself. Those arguments, if you haven't noticed, are stronger now. In the wake of 9/11 there were no widespread protests against mosques in Tennessee or a political apparatus that brought idiotic fears of "sharia law" before state legislatures. The war on terrorism, domestically, is entering a decadent phase of kulturkampf. There's reason to believe that trend will accelerate as the actual threat from al-Qaida recedes, since it bears no resemblance to the threat itself that isn't pretextual, an outlet for non-Muslim people's anxieties.
Who will choose victory?
Weeks ago, the Senate Armed Services Committee unexpectedly recommended terminating the Navy's experimental Free Electron Laser, the most powerful laser weapon the military has ever developed. When placed aboard a ship and it generates a megawatt's worth of power, the FEL, as it's known, will be able to burn through 20 feet of steel per second. It won't be ready for maybe a decade. The Senate thinks it's not worth the trouble. FEL has engineering difficulties, and generating the onboard power to fire the thing is a big challenge.
But the Navy wants it for a simple strategic reason: missiles have gotten way cheaper over the last decade and ships have gotten more expensive. Burning missiles out of the sky with lasers would be a gamechanger -- perhaps even "the end of the dominance of the missile," Adm. Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, told me in May.
Now check out what my Danger Room colleague David Axe is reporting:
Beijing has a brutally simple — if risky — plan to compensate for this relative [military] weakness: buy missiles. And then, buy more of them. All kinds of missiles: short-range and long-range; land-based, air-launched and sea-launched; ballistic and cruise; guided and “dumb.”
Today, the PLA possesses as many as 2,000 non-nuclear ballistic and cruise missiles, according to Chinese Aerospace Power. This “growing arsenal of increasingly accurate and lethal conventional ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles has rapidly emerged as a cornerstone of PLA warfighting capability,” Mark Stokes and Ian Easton wrote. For every category of weaponry where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lags behind the Pentagon, there’s a Chinese missile to help make up the difference.
A big-ass laser that burns missiles out of the sky is a cost-effective way of blunting that one asset, which would likely compel some strategic reconsiderations by the PLA. The Senate panel feels that it's better to channel the money from FEL into other Navy laser programs, and it's got a point: back in April, for the first time in history, a solid-state laser disabled an outboard motor on a watercraft through choppy seas and a distance of a mile.
But that should give confidence that the laser barons at the Office of Naval Research know what they're doing with FEL. Other lasers aren't as powerful: the new laser cannon/machine gun mashup does 10 kilowatts, which can give you a suntan. The PLA probably isn't sweating those.
This is why Joshua Foust should not goad a reporter as thorough as Eli Lake: he's going to come back on you with a U.S. intelligence report pinning a September 2010 bombing near the U.S. embassy in Georgia on Russian military intelligence. That's the Lake Effect. You get wetted up.
But Josh doesn't come across remotely as bad from this as the Russian intel service does. That blast went off without causing a scratch on anyone. That means it was either designed to be an impotent tantrum -- but not real willingness to provoke the U.S. -- or it was totally incompetent. Even so, the Russians need to explain themselves, not issue rote, bullshit denials.
You've heard about Stereogum's Is This It tribute record by now. I'll spare you the long of it: the only song that matters -- like the only song that matters on the original record* (#shotsfired [see what I'm about to do]) -- is Heems from Das Racist covering "New York City Cops." Too angry to come up with a tight rhyme structure, he goes through a list of the NYPD's most infamous recent civilian casualties instead, with the barest sample from the original Strokes chorus making a guest appearance. If you wanted to be all rock-critical about it, you could note that the seeming apathy in Heems' voice not only conveys the exhaustion wrought from seeing the same sad story unspool uncorrected again and again, but mirrors Julian Casablancas' own.
I'm having trouble downloading it right now for some persistent, frustrating reason, so check it out at Stereogum.
*And they took it off the record because of 9/11! Sleigh Bells could lend every song they ever write to more T-Mobile commercials and it wouldn't be as much of a sellout move as that.
And on second thought, "Barely Legal" is undeniable.
You and I might think that a $400 billion cut to defense over 12 years is manageable when considered against the backdrop of a $670 billion budget request currently before Congress for a single year. (Caveat: you can't fairly give the military less money while ordering it to do wayyyy more around the world, from Libya to Japan to come-what-else.) But you will surely be surprised to know the vice chiefs of the services do not see it that way.
None of the four-stars explicitly rebuked the Pentagon budget plan. But they made it clear they’re not fans of lowered budgets. “We would have some challenges taking those cuts,” Dunford said. Chiarelli confessed the Army brass “don’t totally understand” how they’re going to make do with less money. Breedlove bemoaned the decades-old tankers and bombers the Air Force flies and contrasted them with the rapid pace of Chinese military modernization: “They put the money to whatever they decide to do, and that scares me.”
Update, 10:20, July 27: Very smart analysis by Galrahn.
Gizmodo's Sam Biddle:
Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman, perhaps literally the bravest person on the internet, has uploaded the entire graphical massacre for public viewing, if you hate yourself.
A bit like being the most emotionally stable person in the sanitarium, but still. Sam, when next you're in DC and you want a beer, I gotchoo.