National Security

State of Terror

Why Obama should blacklist Pakistan -- not just the Haqqanis.

In September 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, astonished the American public when he declared at a congressional hearing that the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani was a "virtual arm" of Pakistan's top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Pakistanis were surprised, as Mullen had been one of the most outspoken defenders of Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies and their efforts to combat Islamist terrorists within Pakistan. Since Mullen's head-turning testimony, pressure has continued to mount on the Obama administration, forcing it take a stronger position on Pakistan's intransigent support for one of the most lethal organizations killing Americans and allied forces in Afghanistan.

On Sept. 7, after considerable hemming and hawing, the Obama administration finally announced it would designate the so-called Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization. The call was long overdue. Members of the Haqqani network move back and forth between Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency (and other localities) as well as the Paktiya, Paktika, and Khost provinces of Afghanistan. The network provides sanctuary, manpower, weapons, financing, and other amenities to several other terrorist and insurgent networks such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and al Qaeda, among others. Its financial assets are vast and derive from numerous illicit and licit activities spanning South Asia and the Middle East. The Haqqani network is behind some of the most devastating and complex attacks against United States, NATO, and Afghan forces. U.S. officials hold it responsible for the 2008 assault on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, last September's attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters employing rocket-propelled grenades, assassination attempts against President Hamid Karzai and other leaders, as well as numerous kidnappings.

The Obama administration touted its decision to list the Haqqanis as an important step in being able to go after the vast resources of the network -- never mind that the move was taken under considerable congressional pressure.

Why the long wait? Listing the Haqqanis was always considered sensitive because Pakistan views the network as one of its few reliable assets to shape Afghanistan in desirable directions, including restraining India's influence and physical presence. Given the tenterhooks upon which U.S.-Pakistan relations have hung over the last two years, critics of the decision will argue it amounts to further provocation for little payoff. Moreover, some in the U.S. State Department thought that the Haqqani network deserved a seat at the negotiating table even if doing so served no other purpose than placating Pakistan, according my discussions with an array of U.S. officials. Others feared that declaring the Haqqanis a foreign terrorist organization would lead to greater insistence from Congress and other quarters to label Pakistan itself a state that supports terrorism -- a club populated by Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. For this reason, the administration went to great lengths to clarify that this move does not pave the way for putting Pakistan on that inauspicious list.

And that was a huge blunder. Unfortunately, if the administration believed that designating the Haqqani network would have any hope of mobilizing Pakistanis to abandon its jihad habit, categorically removing the threat of a State Department designation from the table vitiated any such potential. Pakistan's response will likely be to double down.

There can be no doubt that Pakistan's unrelenting support for the Afghan Taliban and allied militant organizations, of which the Haqqani network is just one of many, has made any kind of victory -- however defined -- elusive if not unobtainable for the United States and its allies. The crux of the matter: The United States and Pakistan have fundamentally divergent strategic interests in Afghanistan. America's allies, such as India, are Pakistan's enemies, while Pakistan's allies, such as the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, are America's enemies. Unfortunately, Pakistan's ongoing support for these groups has become an altogether easy hook on which the Americans and their allies have hung their failures in Afghanistan.

But even if Pakistan were not actively undermining U.S. and allied efforts in Afghanistan, would the country be any more stable than it was on Sept. 10, 2001? The United States and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan have stumbled from one strategic disaster to another. The delusional belief in population-centric counterinsurgency is simply the latest chimera that plagued international efforts to bring Afghans a modicum of peace and security. The various national missions strewn across Afghanistan under the ISAF banner have been a disjointed disaster; more like a militarized version of Epcot Center than a cohesive effort. Some of the best development projects these national partners have undertaken have been restricted to their own bases and provisional reconstruction teams (PRTs). One of my most memorable moments during a 2009 visit to Afghanistan occurred at a German PRT, notable for its perfectly paved and LED-lit sidewalks, sleeping quarters equipped with duvets and duvet covers and individually heated commodes. That was surprising enough -- but nothing prepared me for the sight of a scantily clad German rollerblading about the perfectly groomed pavement of the PRT. Needless to say, none of this development was in evidence outside the PRT.

Equally disappointing has been the Afghan government, with its own dogged dedication to remaining a narcokleptocracy. For all the hopes placed on him over the years, here is the stark reality: President Karzai has squandered some 11 years and billions of dollars. Had he shown commitment to better governance, less corruption, and greater transparency, his country may have registered gains that could be sustainable. The most recent "news" about corruption strangling the extraction of national resources serves as only the latest reminder of Karzai's impotence and incompetence.

Pakistan certainly hasn't helped in Afghanistan, but the United States must be clear-eyed about the sources of failure. There is plenty of culpability to go around, and the Haqqanis are only part of a much larger story of disorganization, missed opportunities, and intractable obstacles.

None of which, by the way, gets Pakistan off the hook. After thoroughly accepting its military and political failures in Afghanistan, the United States must also recognize that its haphazard policies toward Pakistan are an enduring part of the problem. For all the buzz about "AfPak," neither the Bush administration nor the Obama team has ever successfully integrated its Pakistan strategy with its Afghanistan strategy. Under Bush, Pakistan continued to partake of U.S. funds as a bona fide partner in the global "war on terror" while continuing to support an array of Islamist terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network, and various insurgent groups such as the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistanis have long exploited these inconsistencies in U.S. policy to advance their own interests -- by noting, for instance, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conceded in the fall of 2011 that the United States was meeting with the Haqqani network. She defended the engagements by explaining that the United States saw no contradiction in fighting while talking. Pakistan could clearly justify its own inaction in light of America's discordant policy towards the group. And it did.

Why the discord? Part of the U.S. government -- particularly in some quarters of the the military and intelligence communities -- has long supported designating the group as a foreign terrorist organization. However, others, particularly within the U.S. State Department, demurred from doing so, fearing that it would compromise any sort of negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Why these officials believed that the Haqqani network had anything to offer is somewhat beyond comprehension. Unlike Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is a political actor, the Haqqani network is a provider of violence and little more. The Haqqanis do not offer vote banks. They have not established any reputation for providing much-needed social services. Keeping them in the game therefore amounts to little more than pandering to Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies in the hopes of persuading Pakistan to be a part of some solution to Afghanistan rather than a continued hindrance.

Now that the Haqqani network has been designated, this interagency bickering has been ostensibly silenced. As Heritage Foundation scholar Lisa Curtis correctly noted, this action will enable the U.S. government to enlist more cooperation from other foreign governments and put greater pressure on the network's ability to raise funds in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere. It would also give some hope to Afghans who have looked warily at the various terrorists, insurgents, and warlords seeking to gain control over their country without offering anything positive in return.

Let's be clear: Designating the Haqqani network was a welcome, if belated, move. The problem is that Pakistan's military and intelligence agency has paid no price for continuing to support the very organizations that the United States recognizes as its enemies. After the mistaken U.S. killing of 24 Pakistani troops in November 2011 and Pakistan's subsequent decision to close the ground supply routes to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials watched warily as the United States learned to make do without them. Cutting the cord to Pakistan and thus freeing them to wage their war in Afghanistan, U.S. officials began imagining even bolder steps to punish Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies for continuing to use militant proxies in the region -- many of whom are killing Americans with weapons subsidized by the American taxpayer.

All of which explains why Pakistan eventually backed down. Notably, the Pakistanis did not get a higher price per vehicle, and they got no more apology than they had received in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. What was achieved by this was important: Pakistan could reinsert itself into the game, remain relevant to U.S. interests, and stave off any further aggressive U.S. action.

As the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom looms, Pakistan's commitment to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network has likely intensified rather than diminished. In part, this is because Pakistan believes its strategic interests have been jeopardized, not secured. Pakistan believes that India has exploited the U.S. security umbrella and is poised to harm Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.  While Americans and certainly Indians dismiss these claims, they remain bedrock truth for Pakistan -- diplomatic niceties, financial allurements, and conventional weapons have done little to persuade Pakistan to change course.

If the United States does want Pakistan's military and intelligence agency to change course, the United States needs to change course as well. Designating the Haqqani network -- like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other Pakistan-based terror groups -- should pave the way for public discussions about declaring Pakistan to be a state that supports terrorism. After all, surely Pakistan's support for terrorism exceeds that of Cuba and Iran, two of the four countries so designated?

The logical and empirical case for listing Pakistan is strong; what about the diplomatic one? Taking the threat of action off the table signaled to Pakistan that the United States is still not serious about the nature of the threat that Pakistan poses. Why would any of Pakistan's men in khaki take this latest designation seriously? Why would they expect that this designation would be any different from that of the other numerous Pakistani groups so designated -- i.e., quickly ignored? The answer is simple: They won't.

The United States needs to either take its counterterrorism goals seriously or stop harping about them. Continuing to berate the Pakistanis for supporting these groups while enabling their ability to do so only erodes U.S. credibility further.

Of course, one of the principal reasons not to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism is that it is virtually impossible to get off that list. It also punishes the elected civilian government, which has no control over Pakistan's jihad policies even if it objects to them. The United States needs to find a way to be selective in its punitive actions -- there should be a clear path forward with identified and verifiable steps that Pakistan can take to rehabilitate itself over time. Efforts to designate Pakistan as a state that sponsors terrorism must lay out key milestones that would enable it to remove this pariah status should it choose to, and offer inducements for doing so.

The United States must also think more creatively about sanctioning individuals rather than entire organizations, much less the entire country. The United States should consider creative ways to pursue specific individuals for whom there is credible evidence of material support to designated groups. This could include U.S. Department of Treasury moves against personal financial resources, coordinated visa restrictions among the United States and European partners, and coordinated actions through Interpol that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of the individuals in question. All that might make the Pakistani ISI finally sit up and take notice.

Alternatively, the United States can pat itself on the back for finally having the courage to simply state the obvious: that the Haqqani network is a terrorist group that kills Americans. And keep flying home those body bags -- also paid for by the U.S. taxpayer.




Was the U.S. Navy really better in 1917?

During a Republican presidential debate in January, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney claimed that the U.S. Navy is now "smaller than any time since 1917." And so it is, in raw numerical terms. The fleet stood at 245 vessels just before Congress passed the Naval Act of 1916, launching a major expansion in case the nation entered World War I. The navy upped its total to 342 ships by 1917. The Naval Act signified a strategic decision of considerable gravity - it marked the moment when the United States resolved to transform its regional navy into a global navy without peer.

If the fleet expanded in 1916, it contracted after 1991. After approaching 600 ships during the 1980s defense buildup, the post-Cold War fleet has dwindled to about half that total. The fleet bottomed out at 278 vessels in 2007, and has hovered just over the 280 mark since. The Naval Register lists 286 ships at present. Navy leaders favor an inventory of "about 300" vessels, leaving the navy well shy of the 1917 figure.

So Governor Romney was right on the facts, if perhaps a trifle casual with them. But was his implication -- that the navy is getting too small to perform its missions -- equally correct? That's the more interesting and relevant question for anyone interested in American victory at sea. Alas, there's no pat way to answer it.

Which 300 Ships?

Despite its heavy scientific-technical character, calculating sea power is an inexact science. There is no consensus method by which to measure naval might. Counting numbers of hulls can mislead, while factoring in the operational, strategic, and even political context surrounding seafaring endeavors is paramount. Let's start with an obvious question: which 300-odd ships comprise the U.S. Navy at any instant?

Think about it. A fleet made up of 300 Coast Guard-like combatants suitable for policing the waters off North America would clearly be a less formidable, more defensive-minded creature than a 300-ship fleet heavy on aircraft carriers, guided-missile cruisers, destroyers, and other high-end vessels carrying enough offensive punch to wrest command of the sea from adversaries and project power onto distant shores.

The mix of ships and capabilities determines the navy's aggregate combat strength. And that mix is changing. For example, multi-mission frigates commissioned during the Cold War are being retired and replaced by single-mission Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs). While the LCS has its virtues, it is no frigate.

Changing out highly versatile ships for lightly armed successors will attenuate the fleet's battle capacity over time, even as fielding these relatively inexpensive platforms boosts the number of hulls in the water. That may delight those using Romney's measurement standard - brute numbers - but the fact remains the navy is substituting part of its combat power for quantity. Let's not succumb to bean-counting: Tracking trends in the makeup of the fleet, not just raw numbers of ships, is a must.

A Ship's a Fool to Fight a Fort...But the U.S. Navy Has No Choice

War is a political act in which the combatants deploy forces to uphold their goals. The winner prevails by defeating his adversary outright, convincing the loser the costs of victory are too high, or showing him he cannot win. So when the United States fights a regional adversary, it pits its available combat strength against that adversary's power to resist Washington's demands.

Accordingly, a prospective opponent's fighting strength constitutes another key determinant of U.S. maritime success. Military power is a relative -- not an absolute -- thing.

But aren't our ships far more capable than their predecessors from 1916? Sure. They have gee-whiz sensors, longer reach, and precision striking power. But this observation, though true, borders on trivial. American ships have improved. So has adversaries' capacity to oppose them. Consequently, it is far from clear that the tactical environment is more benign today than it was in 1916.

Strategists must evaluate the military balance by a sliding standard, judging not just the U.S. Navy's capacity to amass power but an adversary's capacity to mount resistance at the scene of combat. And if the United States is fighting along remote shores -- as it will be -- an opponent can hurl an array of land-based assets into the fray. Comparing fleets while disregarding shore-based implements of sea power paints a false picture of how a contest could unfold.

Ship for ship, the U.S. Navy remains "a navy second to none," to use a phrase popular a century ago. But it must expect adversaries to oppose U.S. operations with every tool in their toolkits, not just their high-end fleets. Foreign militaries can increasingly project power from land out to sea. Consequently, our navy has to measure itself not just against opponents' inventories of ships, ship-borne aircraft, and weaponry, but against their armies and air forces.

Admiral Horatio Nelson, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar -- the 1805 battle where a British fleet overcame a superior Franco-Spanish fleet, winning command of European waters -- once quipped that "a ship's a fool to fight a fort." But in his day, the seaward reach of a fort's artillery was measured in hundreds of yards, not hundreds of miles. Guns could deny access only to small sea areas. That left naval commanders plenty of room for maneuver, allowing them to detour beyond gunnery range. The age of Nelson, however, had nothing on today's long-range, precision-guided anti-ship weapons.

Think of an adversary's land territory as an unsinkable aircraft carrier and missile firing platform, and you have the right perspective on the problem. Regional powers can dish out punishment from land. One high-profile system is the world's first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), a weapon operated by China's Second Artillery Corps - the army's missile force. The ASBM is part of a family of land-based weapons that can strike at moving ships up to 2,000 kilometers offshore, according to Pentagon estimates (see page 31). The U.S. Navy has to cope with such threats -- or cede crucial offshore waters and skies to its rivals.

Home-Field Advantage

Take a sports metaphor -- the NCAA and NFL seasons are underway, after all. The U.S. fleet outclasses potential opponents on a ship-for-ship basis, just as Alabama outclassed Michigan on a neutral field last Saturday. But all games are away games for the U.S. Navy. It operates off other nations' coasts, at the end of long resupply lines. And the home-field advantage can decide the outcome, just as surely in naval warfare as in football.

Local defenders in the Western Pacific or Persian Gulf boast land-based weaponry such as missile-toting fighter jets, diesel submarines, and stealth patrol craft, not to mention anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles. When it comes to the latter, some can strike hundreds of miles away. Within their effective firing range from shore, these systems -- many of them wielded not by navies but by ground or air forces -- comprise a major component of sea power. That's what Chinese strategists call "using the land to control the sea."

To continue with the football analogy, venturing into a coastal state's nearby seas and skies is something like arming 100,000 bloodthirsty home-team fans with big rocks and letting them pelt the visiting team when its buses arrive in the parking lot, during pregame warm-ups, and throughout the game -- including timeouts and halftime. The home team, of course, wouldn't deign to provide the visitors with a locker room to take refuge in this scenario.

You'd have to like the Wolverines' chances under such auspicious conditions, regardless of whether they put the biggest, most skilled, or best-coached team on the field. Land forces with seaward reach are regional defenders' Twelfth Man -- and then some.

TR or Wilson?

We can use two long-ago presidents to put a face on the strategic options confronting Americans. Theodore Roosevelt is justly renowned as a supporter of naval power, but Roosevelt and kindred naval boosters such as Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge favored a one-ocean fleet. They wanted a navy able to defend the greater Caribbean Sea against all comers, while also protecting the United States' maritime lifeline to the Philippine Islands.

TR, Mahan, and Lodge were content to field a "fleet second to none but that of Great Britain," or, as historian George T. Davis puts it, "a navy of second rank." They feared what would happen if the battle fleet were divided between the East and West coasts. Each detachment would be too weak to overcome rivals like Imperial Japan or Germany. On his last day as president, in fact, TR beseeched successor William Howard Taft not to partition the fleet. A one-ocean navy could be stationed on either coast as circumstances warranted, and could (with some delay and risk) shift to the other coast should unforeseen threats materialize.

It fell to Woodrow Wilson to push through a shipbuilding program designed to make the U.S. Navy, in his words, "incomparably the greatest navy in the world." After early skepticism about U.S. involvement in Europe's Great War, Wilson was stung by the sinking of the Lusitania and other affronts. He became an overnight convert to the cause of naval preparedness, vowing to vanquish not just German militarism on land but British militarism on the high seas. Indeed, in late 1918 he threatened British Prime Minister David Lloyd George with a naval arms race "to see who will have the larger navy, you or we?"

Wilson entertained political aims of breathtaking sweep - namely, transforming the world order --and knew he might have to back his policies with overwhelming, not just regional, force. The postwar naval arms accords limited the U.S. Navy to the same size as Britain's Royal Navy. All the same, the agreements certified that it would be a navy second to none.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as Wilson's assistant secretary of the navy, carried the "navy second to none" principle to its logical conclusion by helping push through a "two-ocean navy" in 1940. In effect, Congress ordered a second complete navy built to wage war against Germany and Japan. That navy has ruled the waves ever since.

Will it keep doing so? Admiral J.C. Wylie observes that funding decisions are strategic decisions. Whether they realize it or not, that is, lawmakers shape and sometimes constrain strategy by the weaponry, platforms, and manpower to which they allocate taxpayer dollars. One suspects this is what Romney was getting at -- the notion that inadequate navy budgets will unacceptably drive down the fleet's size -- when he cited 1917 as a break point in American maritime history.

On that point, Romney is on to something. Sparse shipbuilding funds could translate into a smaller fleet over time, fettering policymakers' options in future crises. If so, faraway opponents' Twelfth Man could keep a diminished U.S. Navy off the field, or drive up the costs of taking the field to unbearable heights, deterring U.S. involvement altogether. So which will it be -- the one-ocean navy of TR, or the navy second to none of Wilson and FDR? It's an election year: let the maritime-strategy debate begin.

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark R. Alvarez/U.S. Navy via Getty Images