Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category

On Dec. 18, 2008, Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service wrote, “The bombs that severely damaged the Golden Mosque in this city on the Tigris River almost destroyed the foundations of the nation, but the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”

Jim Garamone and I were traveling with ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during one of his battlefield circulation tours, at the time. As the Chairman’s Executive Assistant, I had the distinct privilege of accompanying him all over the world. The places I went and the things I saw left an indelible mark in my memory. This place was no exception.

The Golden Mosque is a Holy Shi’a Shrine in the city of Samarra on the Tigris River in Salahuddin province.

GoldenMosquebeforeIn February 2006, the Golden Dome of the Mosque was destroyed in a bombing perpetrated by the affiliates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi’s brutal tactics were intended to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and the attack on this holy site precipitated a near civil war leaving scores of dead behind and the city of Samarra in ruins.

General Stan McChrystal, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command, tells the story of the hunt for and eventual killing of Zarqawi in June 2006, by U.S. Special Forces in his book, My Share of the Task. Zarqawi was public enemy number one and for good reason. With his downfall and the simultaneous Sunni Awakening in neighboring Al-Anbar Province, the reconstruction of Samarra and the Golden Mosque was undertaken.

Realizing the importance of this place and the special role that U.S. Forces played in the restoration of the rule of law which enabled reconstruction, ADM Mullen decided to pay a visit to Samarra, this time with 60 Minutes and reporter David Martin and his cameraman in tow.

CaslenWe arrived that morning in a Mine Resistant Ambush Penetrant (MRAP) vehicle on the outskirts of town and were escorted by Major General Bob Caslen, Commander of the 25th Infantry Division charged with the responsibility for security in the region. It was a long walk up a straight road to the Golden Mosque and ADM Mullen relished to opportunity to see the city and speak to some of the Iraqi inhabitants about their lives in this war ravaged region. As we walked up the street in full body armor and Kevlar helmets, ADM Mullen felt a little awkward when compared to the residents of Samarra staring at us from both sides of the street. It was an unfortunate necessity to ensure the safety of the senior U.S. military officer on active duty.

Our plan was to walk through the market in Samarra, in broad daylight, in order to take in the sense of the reconstruction. As I looked down the side streets at several intersections we passed, I could see the fields of fire and incredible damage that the war had inflicted on this little town. That said, the market section was teeming with merchants and locals alike. In a word, it was “vibrant.” Shops were full of merchandise–clothing, kids toys, spices, poultry, meat, eggs–and the smells of street vendors cooking foodstuffs of all variety filled the air. Despite the remnants of war, to me, it seemed that the city was very much alive and well.

MerchantWith my friend John Tigmo, NCIS agent and senior member of ADM Mullen’s security detail at his side, the Chairman felt unconstrained and undeterred when he stopped to talk with normal Iraqis in the street. Surrounded by soldiers, he ordered them to stand aside as he went over to talk with some Iraqi children. A father with his son came over to thank Admiral Mullen. I don’t think he had any idea who the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was, but it was clear he was someone important and ultimately a party to the restoration of order in this city. I remember one man, wearing a long black dishdasha who worked his way in to talk to AMD Mullen through his interpreter. This man was a merchant and he was not shy. He unloaded on the Chairman about the lack of reliable electricity, poor city services and unhealthy water and sewage systems near his shop. The Chairman listened carefully to the complaints and said, “Do you know this man? He is Major General Bob Caslen and he is in charge of this region.” He then asked MG Caslen to give the merchant his contact information. Then he asked the merchant for his name. The man wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to the Chairman. ADM Mullen said, “I will see Prime Minister Maliki tonight in Bagdad and I will tell him of our conversation and give him your name.” As always, the Chairman was true to his word.

SamarraMayorAs we continued our walk up the street, someone said, “The Mayor may come out to receive you as we get closer to the Golden Mosque.” We were told that the Mayor was a former Iraqi Air Force pilot, in the Sadaam Hussein-era, who left the service to run for mayor. He was forced to evacuate after the bombing and the ensuing civil unrest, but returned to regain the confidence of the people and be reelected as Mayor of Samarra. Sure enough, after a few more paces up the street, Mayor Mahmood Khalef Ahmed appeared, looking very dapper in a fitted blue suit, blue tie and characteristic aviator sun glasses. It had to be over a hundred degrees outside and we were drenched but the mayor wasn’t even breaking a sweat. He accompanied the Chairman the rest of the way up the street to the Mosque and regaled him with stories of the war and the reconstruction of Samarra. The mayor had high hopes for his city and it showed in his enthusiasm. He looked forward to the day when thousands of pilgrims would return to Samarra to appreciate the Golden Mosque as we had.

As we approached the Golden Mosque, I was stunned by its beauty. As non-Muslims, we were not allowed inside and instead, viewed the reconstruction from the roof of an abandoned apartment building next door. While on the roof, we heard the story of the Twelfth or “hidden” Imam. It was in this place where Imam al-Mahdi went into concealment, known as the Minor Occultation in Islam. Twelver Shi’a Muslims believe that one day, the Mahdi will re-emerge with Isa or Jesus Christ to complete their mission of bringing peace to the world. Wow, that was a powerful story… so powerful that while listening, the 60 Minutes cameraman focused only on Admiral Mullen, MG Caslen and David Martin and forgot to pan around to get the Golden Dome in the background. This created a little consternation with the producer reviewing the raw footage on the way home, but somehow 60 Minutes recovered the image as the camera’s digital field of view was much wider than that seen through the lens of the videographer.

That was six years ago and fortunately, the images in my mind and those that you see in this Blog were preserved by the venerable Combat Cameraman, Petty Officer First Class Chad McNeely, always with and out front of Chairman Mullen on his many trips overseas.

GoldenMosqueafterNow fast forward to the present day. As I watch the events unfold on the ground in Iraq I harken back to the many visits I made to this country and Jim Garamone’s opening sentence of his byline on 18 December 2006: “…the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”

The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Strike Group was positioned forward and ready at the time that this crisis unfolded. Her presence gives the President and our national leaders options, but as we have heard recounted time and again on the news, the best option is for a political solution by Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish leaders on the ground in Iraq.



Please join us today on Midrats at 5pm Eastern (U.S. EDT) for Episode 233: Global Combat Fleet Development With Eric Wertheim:

From the USA, Europe, Russia, to the South China Sea, nations continue to signal where their priories are by what type of fleet they are building.

What capabilities are they expanding, and what capabilities are they letting drift away?

To discuss this and more for the full hour will be returning guest Eric Wertheim.

Eric is a defense consultant, columnist and author specializing in naval and maritime issues. He was named to the helm of the internationally acknowledged, one volume Naval Institute reference Combat Fleets of the World in 2002.

Join us live at 5pm or pick the show up later by clicking here.



BergdahlLike most Americans, I have followed the repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl with interest and no small amount of incredulity. The unfolding of these events is both painful and bizarre. I’m perhaps a step closer to this story than most in that as a former special operator, I have conducted POW recovery operations. I’ve spoken with special operators who took to the field in previous attempts to recover Bergdahl. I also live in Idaho about fifteen miles from the Bergdahl home. It might be helpful to look at these events on four levels.

On purely humanitarian considerations, it’s good that a young soldier is now free from the physical and mental trauma of captivity, and that his parents finally know that he is safe and being afforded the best medical attention in the world. And I’ve watched his hometown of Hailey, Idaho rejoice at his release. All good.

On a tactical and strategic level, our nation paid a very steep price for the release of this soldier. The five senior Taliban operatives that were set free to gain Bergdahl’s freedom are very dangerous men. They are zealots who are loyal to their cause, and will most certainly return to the fight and seek to kill other Americans. And not just Americans. A great many Afghans–members of the Afghan National Army, local security and police forces that we have trained, tribesmen, and tribal entities–stood with us against the Taliban. What happens to them? We understand that these freed Taliban leaders are to be held in check by Qatar authorities for a year. We also know that in a year’s time, we will significantly draw down our forces in Afghanistan–but not all. Those who remain will be at a significantly higher risk. And again, what about those loyal Afghans who at our urging, opposed the Taliban? I fear that in setting free these five hardcore Taliban leaders, we have released a plague that will descend on those Afghans who stood with us. It could result in a pogrom directed against our former allies and their families, and their blood will be on our hands. Furthermore, what message does this send to other nations around the world who look to us for help in dealing with extremist and al-Qaeda-inspired insurgencies? Not good at all, in fact a very dangerous precedent.

On a legal and political level, it would seem that the administration overstepped its authority in bypassing Congress and perhaps may have actually broken the law. And I felt our President used two very concerned and vulnerable parents improperly by pushing them into the national spotlight. This is highly emotional ground, and to put them in the middle of what was sure to become a most controversial issue was both insensitive and unprecedented. Bowe’s parents get a free pass on this one–they want their boy back. But for the President to use them as top cover for political reasons; definitely not good and bordering on unconscionable.

And finally there is the issue of Sergeant Bergdahl’s actions that may have led to his capture. One has only to turn on the TV to see the multiple allegations of impropriety. It’s a circus; it’s not pretty and does us all a disservice. Yet, one fact is clear to me. When he fell into Taliban hands, they knew the value of their find, and they exploited it masterfully to their own ends. As for the Sergeant’s actions, he needs to be treated, rehabilitated, afforded counsel, and awarded a court martial. If he is exonerated, then he should be afforded the respect and deference this nation extends to its warriors who, in the course of honorable service to their country, endure captivity. If his actions violated his oath as an American Soldier and the implied obligations our soldiers have for one another, then he needs to be held fully accountable. This is neither good nor bad, but it is responsible and just.



seacontrol2Your monthly East Atlantic edition of Sea Control brings you Alex Clarke with a panel on the state of NATO’s defense spending in the UK and Continental Europe, and whether this spending is sufficient to face our modern threats.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 36 (East Atlantic): NATO Defense Spending

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So far in 2014, the big lesson is what people have known for centuries; in Eurasia you cannot ignore Russia. The cliché is accurate, Russia is never as weak or as strong as she seems.

What do the developments so far mean not just for Ukraine, but for all the former Soviet Republics, slumbering Western Europe and Russia’s near abroad?


To discuss this and more, for the full hour we will have returning guest Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.


Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here



seacontrolemblemNatalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, brings us our first monthly ASPI partnership podcast, Sea Control: Asia-Pacific. This week, she discusses Australian submarine choices and strategy with ASPI members Rosslyn Turner and Dr.Mark Thompson.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 30 – ASPI Sub Conference

Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and five stars!



Please join us on Sunday at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 222: USS PONCE (AFSB(I)-15) Lessons with CAPT Jon N. Rodgers, USN

As with most concepts and good ideas, you really don’t know what you need and how you need to do it until you put Sailors to task and head to sea.

The idea of an Afloat Forward Staging Base has, in a variety of forms, been a regular part of naval operations arguably for centuries under different names and with different equipment.

What about the 21st Century? More than just a story about the use and utility of the AFSB concept, the story of the USS PONCE is larger than that – it also has a lot to say about how one can quickly turn an old LPD around for a new mission, and how you can blend together the different but complementary cultures of the US Navy Sailors and the Military Sealift Command civilian mariners.

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Captain Jon N. Rodgers, USN, former Commanding Officer of the USS PONCE AFSB(I)-15.

Either join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here.



I’m sure my invitation to this got -um- lost in the mail, but if, like me, you find that you were unable to attend this 24-26 March 2014 U.S. Naval War College Symposium on “Maritime Security, Seapower, and Trade,” then I can recommend that you follow that link to learn about the symposium and then visit the working papers link for some interesting reading.

Some of the usual suspects were there, Claude Berube, B. J. Armstrong and Dr. Martin Murphy – but there are many others who names presently may not be known to you, but whose papers will both inform and raise new questions for you to ponder.

The symposium goal:

To make sense of the relationship among maritime security, seapower, and trade, the EMC Chair will convene a symposium that brings experts from industry, the policy community, and the sea services. Participants will reflect on the importance of classic maritime thought and how changes in the shipping industry, trade patterns, and non-state use of the oceans impact future naval operations. The implications are important for understanding the types of missions combatant commanders will execute and the types of equipment and training the Navy must provide to support these missions. Keynote speakers will address the diplomatic and operational considerations of maritime cooperation.

Sure would like a webcast of these things . . . but without that, go read and enjoy.



seacontrolemblemProfessor Anthony Clark Arend joins us to discuss International law. We discuss some basic definitions, and their influence on international actors, using the lens of Crimea and the Chinese ADIZ. I also learn later that my mic input has been the crummy laptop mic all month, explaining all my audio quality frustrations. Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and five stars!

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 27- International Law, China, and Crimea



seacontrolemblemSea Control will be adding two monthly segments to its lineup: Sea Control Europe/Britain and Sea Control Asia-Pacific. We are joined by Natalie Sambhi of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Alexander Clarke of the Phoenix Think Tank. Today’s episode is a conversation with Nat and Alex about their backgrounds, their organizations, and their plans for their monthly series.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 26 New Podcast Series Party

We are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remeber to subscribe, leave a comment and a 5-star rating.



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