2003 October 22 Wednesday
Rumsfeld Asks: Are We Winning Or Losing The Global War On Terror?

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has written a memo to his top folks Gen. Richard Myers, Paul Wolfowitz, Gen. Pete Pace, and Douglas Feith asking them are we winning or losing the global war on terror? (another copy available here)

Have we fashioned the right mix of rewards, amnesty, protection and confidence in the US?

Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with the global war on terror?

Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.

Rumsfeld says they lack the metrics to even know whether the number of terrorists or the size of the threat posed by terrorists is going up or down. How could such metrics be fashioned? Is it difficult to track enrollment in madrassas? Even if that could be done it would seem difficult to track the curricula of those schools to discover whether the curricula are becoming better or worse on average from the standpoint of American and more broadly Western interests. Even harder it seems would be to track the number of people in terrorist training camps or deployed as sleepers or operatives in various countries. How do you measure people who try to blend in?

As for our costs versus the costs for the terrorists: asymmetric warfare really does favor terrorists. The biggest technique the US could try to bring to bear to counter the advantages the terrorists have would be massive information collection. But initiatives such as Total Information Awareness have run up against considerable domestic political opposition. Tighter border control also faces considerable opposition both by general pro-immigrationists and by Muslim groups and diplomats who don't want tougher criteria appled to Muslim applicants for visitation and residency. It is not clear that there exists a politically feasible strategy for countering the advantages enjoyed by the terrorists on the domestic front.

On the international front what should be done? Are madrassas really a big source of terrorists? Could US aid pull a signficant number of students out of madrassa schools in, say, Pakistan? At what yearly cost and with what effect on the total number of terrorists? Are government schools in Saudi Arabia a bigger source of terrorists? What can be done about Saudi Arabia short of invasion?

Rumsfeld is pushing this memo into the public debate.

Three members of Congress who met with Rumsfeld Wednesday morning said the defense secretary gave them copies of the memo and discussed it with them.

"He's asking the tough questions we all need to be asking," said Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas.

The American political debate has lost sight of a difficult problem as it has drifted more and more toward partisan politics as usual as the 2004 elections approach. This seems like a pretty astute move on Rumsfeld's part.

The United States lacks a grand strategy to deal with the twin threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. As Henry Sokolski argues in Taking Proliferation Seriously the international rules and norms governing nuclear power and proliferation are in need of major changes and yet neither the Bush Administration nor its critics in the Democratic Party (which is more of a domestic issues-only party) is making an argument for those changes.

As part of the Grand Strategy that the US doesn't currently have the US also needs an aggressive energy research program to obsolesce fossil fuels.

Update: Turns out that Rumsfeld didn't want his memo released.

"If I wanted it published, I would have written it as a press release, which I didn't," Rumsfeld said after a closed-door meeting with senators on Capitol Hill.

Well, it is great that it was released. We get to hear a more critical internal view of how the war against terrorists is going.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 October 22 04:08 PM  Terrorists Western Response

M. Simon said at November 6, 2003 7:59 AM:

There is no likely path for the end of fossil fuels that does not have extensive R&D already in place. Fuel cells, wind turbines, and solar cells all get a lot of $$$$ from companies for research. Fuel cells - get $$$ because of pent up demand. Wind and solar because they are already viable commercial technologies.

Fuel cells at the current rate of technological advance will be produced in small quantities for portable applications such as lap tops and cell phones in 2005. It will take as long as 10 to 20 years to bring the costs down to automotive levels.

The problem is not R&D. It is commercial deployment. For that it is necessary to bring the costs down. For wind a cost reduction of 30% or so will do the job. To get there standard turbine size needs to go from the present 1.5 MW peak to 3 or 6 MW peak. It will take 2 to 4 years to reach this goal.

For solar cells the costs must decline by a factor of 10 to 50. This will take about 10 to 15 years.

For fuel cells the costs must decline by a factor of 100 to 200. It will take 10 to 20 years.

Expedited R&D will not change the time scales by more than a few years.

Like it or not we will need to win the war while these developments take place.

If we needed just a few hundred fuel cells to win the war a Manhattan type project might be in order. If a few million vehicles would do the job putting the industries involved on a war footing might help. What we are talking about though is 100 million vehicles for the US of A alone. Not to mention 50 million homes. And offices.

Rebuilding the whole energy structure of the US of A is more like a twenty year project at best. No decision made today about production will be of any use 20 years hence. The system has to evolve.

Randall Parker said at November 6, 2003 8:54 AM:

M. Simon, We are not going to win the war in 10 to 15 years. Our struggle against the Islamic terrorists is going to go on as long as the Cold War lasted, if not longer. We ought to tip the balance in our favor in a lot more ways than we are currently doing.

The biggest mistake of the Bush Administration is that it is responded to the terrorist threat as if it is a short term problem and is not pursuing enough long term advantages. Your argument is similar to the argument that one shouldn't bother planting fruit trees today because they won't produce fruit for many years.

Expedited Research and Development: The amount currently going into university solar research as funded by the US government is around $30 million give or take 5 million (it fluctuates but is not much). Most of what gets spent on solar is to subsidize deployments and test production lines. But the refinement of current processes is not going to get us where we need to go. Refined silicon is too expensive and will remain so. What we need are lower costs starting materials.

The two promising factors with regard to solar are the venture capital start-ups and the general research that is being done in nanotechnology. Eventually research done in nanotech for other purposes will be able to be used to make solar cells more cheaply.

A Manhattan Project ought to be done to do research, not to produce a small numner of costly items.

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