Apr 29

Our media have lost all serious interest, to the extent that they ever had any.  And it takes the US embassy in Ottawa to point out that our opposition politicians have not taken the work of the mission itself seriously either (I’m not sure the government has been all that much better–see this earlier post elsewhere, “Afstan to the back burner“).  Damn good diplomatic reporters those Americans, as many others have noted including Andrew Potter in this Maclean’s blog post:

You mean the Americans pay attention?

Glen McGregor… is trolling through today’s [Aprikl 28] Wikileaks dump of cables from US missions in Canada. He’s crowdsourcing the job and is collecting the best of them. My contribution is this cable from the US embassy in December 2009, reporting on the presentation of the sixth quarterly report to parliament on the mission in Afghanistan [text here]. >From the cable’s summary (my emphases):

Signature development projects move forward, and border security dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan is expanding, with Canadian facilitation. The media and Parliament, however, remain more obsessed with allegations that the government ignored credible reports of abuse of Afghan detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces in 2006 to Afghan authorities (ref c), and largely ignored the mostly discouraging news in this latest report. End summary.

The concluding remarks are rather astute as well:

While the media covered the December 10 release by Minister Day, virtually all of the questioning related instead to the on-going controversy over the treatment of prisoners handed over to Afghan security forces by Canadian soldiers and what the government knew when…

The three opposition parties are united in seeking to embarrass the government over this issue and have vowed to call into session the Special Committee on Afghanistan even during the holiday recess (which began December 10), but have indicated no interest in debating the actual Canadian mission in Afghanistan and the successes – or failures – of Canada’s role as documented in the quarterly reports.

Moral outrage trumps all for the opposition.  Which relates to this previous post by Jack Granatstein on an earlier WikiLeak on Canada:

Alice in Wonderland is right

The purloined WikiLeaks cables have caused a sensation all over the world, and Canada has been no exception. The former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Jim Judd, told a senior visiting US State Department official in July 2008 that Canadians had an “Alice in Wonderland world view,” suffered from “knee-jerk anti-Americanism,” and would fall into “paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty” at the drop of a hat. Judd had much more to say, but these comments are worth consideration…

Also relevant:

A Tale of Two Commons

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 29

Serious foreign policy sure is hard; if only such accounts of Canadian policy making were available.  Excerpts from an article in the New Yorker:

One of [Thomas] Donilon’s [the national-security adviser] overriding beliefs, which Obama adopted as his own, was that America needed to rebuild its reputation, extricate itself from the Middle East and Afghanistan, and turn its attention toward Asia and China’s unchecked influence in the region. America was “overweighted” in the former and “underweighted” in the latter, Donilon told me. “We’ve been on a little bit of a Middle East detour over the course of the last ten years,” Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said. “And our future will be dominated utterly and fundamentally by developments in Asia and the Pacific region.”.

“The project of the first two years has been to effectively deal with the legacy issues that we inherited, particularly the Iraq war, the Afghan war, and the war against Al Qaeda, while rebalancing our resources and our posture in the world,” Benjamin Rhodes, one of Obama’s deputy national-security advisers, said. “If you were to boil it all down to a bumper sticker, it’s ‘Wind down these two wars, reëstablish American standing and leadership in the world, and focus on a broader set of priorities, from Asia and the global economy to a nuclear-nonproliferation regime.’ ”.

In the end, Obama made a decision about Afghanistan that was at odds with his own goal of rebalancing toward Asia and the Pacific. “The U.S. has been on a greater Middle East detour largely of its own choosing through a war of choice in Iraq and what became a war of choice in 2009 in Afghanistan,” [Richard] Haass [president of the Council on Foreign Relations] said. “Afghanistan is entirely inconsistent with the focus of time and resources on Asia. If your goal is to reorient or refocus or rebalance U.S. policy, the Administration’s commitment to so doing is at the moment more rhetorical than actual.”.

One suggestion that came up in interviews with Obama’s current and former foreign-policy advisers was that the Administration’s policy debates sometimes broke down along gender lines. The realists who view foreign policy as a great chess game—and who want to focus on China and India—are usually men. The idealists, who talk about democracy and human rights, are often women. (White House officials told me that this critique is outlandish.).

[The following seems remarkably prescient, someone really on the ball.] On August 12, 2010, Obama sent a five-page memorandum called “Political Reform in the Middle East and North Africa” to Vice-President Joseph Biden, Clinton, Gates, Donilon, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other senior members of his foreign-policy team…The memo began with a stark conclusion about trends in the region.

“Progress toward political reform and openness in the Middle East and North Africa lags behind other regions and has, in some cases, stalled,” the President wrote. He noted that even the more liberal countries were cracking down on public gatherings, the press, and political opposition groups. But something was stirring. There was “evidence of growing citizen discontent with the region’s regimes,” he wrote. It was likely that “if present trends continue,” allies there would “opt for repression rather than reform to manage domestic dissent.”

Obama’s analysis showed a desire to balance interests and ideals. The goals of reform and democracy were couched in the language of U.S. interests rather than the sharp moral language that statesmen often use in public…

Read on…and towards the conclusion:

On March 17th, I interviewed Clinton in Tunis…she now made it clear that the Obama Administration had made a decision. It was well known that she favored intervention, but she was frank about the difficulty in making such decisions. “I get up every morning and I look around the world,” she said. “People are being killed in Côte d’Ivoire, they’re being killed in the Eastern Congo, they’re being oppressed and abused all over the world by dictators and really unsavory characters. So we could be intervening all over the place. But that is not a—what is the standard? Is the standard, you know, a leader who won’t leave office in Ivory Coast and is killing his own people? Gee, that sounds familiar. So part of it is having to make tough choices and wanting to help the international community accept responsibility.”..

Gradually, it became clear that the U.S. was serious. Clinton spoke with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who had previously told her that Russia would “never never” support even a no-fly zone. The Russians agreed to abstain. Without the cover of the Russians, the Chinese almost never veto Security Council resolutions. The vote, on March 17th, was 10–0, with five abstentions…

This spring, Obama officials often expressed impatience with questions about theory or about the elusive quest for an Obama doctrine. One senior Administration official reminded me what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said when asked what was likely to set the course of his government: “Events, dear boy, events.”..

Or, as another Harold put it (so it is said), “A week in politics is a long time.”  Perhaps doctrines and events do not make best bedpersons.

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 28

An interesting angle to today’s shake-up at the top of the American national security structure:1) Petraeus would helm an increasingly militarized CIA

Gen. David H. Petraeus has served as commander in two wars launched by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. If confirmed as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Petraeus would effectively take command of a third — in Pakistan.

Petraeus’s nomination comes at a time when the CIA functions, more than ever in its history, as an extension of the nation’s lethal military force.

CIA teams operate alongside U.S. special operations forces in conflict zones from Afghanistan to Yemen. The agency has also built up a substantial paramilitary capability of its own. But perhaps most significantly, the agency is in the midst of what amounts to a sustained bombing campaign over Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones…

2) Obama’s Pentagon and C.I.A. Picks Show Shift in How U.S. Fights

President Obama’s decision to send an intelligence chief to the Pentagon and a four-star general to the Central Intelligence Agency is the latest evidence of a significant shift over the past decade in how the United States fights its battles — the blurring of lines between soldiers and spies in secret American missions abroad…

 As C.I.A. director, Mr. Panetta hastened the transformation of the spy agency into a paramilitary organization, overseeing a sharp escalation of the C.I.A.’s bombing campaign in Pakistan using armed drone aircraft, and an increase in the number of secret bases and covert operatives in remote parts of Afghanistan. 

General Petraeus, meanwhile, has aggressively pushed the military deeper into the C.I.A.’s turf, using Special Operations troops and private security contractors to conduct secret intelligence missions. As commander of the United States Central Command in September 2009, he also signed a classified order authorizing American Special Operations troops to collect intelligence in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and other places outside of traditional war zones. 

The result is that American military and intelligence operatives are at times virtually indistinguishable from each other as they carry out classified operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. Some members of Congress have complained that this new way of war allows for scant debate about the scope and scale of military operations. In fact, the American spy and military agencies operate in such secrecy now that it is often hard to come by specific information about the American role in major missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya and Yemen…

An quick assessment from Tom Ricks at his “Best Defense” blog for Foreign Policy:

Supposedly tomorrow [April 28] is the day when all the personnel changes at the top of the national security establishment will be rolled out. To me, the question is: What does President Obama think he is gaining from these moves?

Defense Secretary Panetta: Yes, another alumnus of Congress. Ugh. But Panetta has a reputation of handling the CIA well, and that is not an easy job, as the place has the nasty rep of either undermining or capturing its outsider chiefs. I think this move signals that Obama plans to take the defense budget way down, and that Panetta’s expected job will be to hold the place together and sell the spending cuts to the few remaining hawks in Congress.   

CIA Director Petraeus: Honestly, I am a bit puzzled by this. Smart, hard-working, etc. But why this man for this job at this time, especially at a time when there is already reason to worry about the militarization of our foreign policy and diplomacy? Well, it gets him out of Afghanistan. Cynics think it also keeps him from being critical during next year’s presidential campaign, but I actually don’t think Petraeus has political ambitions, or even much of a desire to participate in electoral politics.

Gen. Allen commanding in Afghanistan: As a general, a lot of very Petraeus-like characteristics-cerebral, innovative, open to new approaches– but without the political clout Petraeus carries on Capitol Hill. A bonus here, but not one I am sure the White House recognizes: Also, as a Marine, Allen is likely to be skeptical of Army support structure, and will likely be comfortable with an austere infrastructure during the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan [see also second comment at this post] . 

Mr. Gates off to Texas: A great defense secretary, but a bit of an embarrassment to the president given his clear opposition to intervening in Libya, as well as his skepticism about deeper defense cuts [see “Obama Going After the US Defence Budget and “…Zinger from SecDef“].   

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 28

Further to this post,

Fighter Comparison

the big Euros win, Boeing’s Super Hornet and Saab’s Gripen lose out, along with Russians:

India shortlists Rafale, Eurofighter for jet deal

India has shortlisted Dassault’s Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon for a $12 billion dollar fighter jet deal, cutting out US bidders from one of the largest military contracts of recent years.

The US embassy in New Delhi confirmed Thursday that Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet had both been ruled out of the running for India’s planned purchase of 126 multi-role combat aircraft.

Ambassador Timothy Roemer, who announced separately Thursday that he was resigning his post for personal reasons, said the US government was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

The long-delayed fighter jet deal has seen fierce competition between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Sweden’s Saab AB, France’s Dassault Aviation, a European consortium with its Eurofighter Typhoon and the Russian makers of the MiG 35.

It was also the object of intense lobbying during visits to India last year by US President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“It is confirmed Eurofighter and Rafale have been selected and the remaining four are off,” a senior Indian defence ministry official told AFP…

Comment at Aviation Week and Space Technology’sAres” blog:

There are certainly a fair number of surprises in India’s decision to shortlist only the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale in the MMRCA fighter competition to build at least 126 aircraft to replace the MiG-21.

That Rafale and Typhoon have made the cut is perhaps no surprise, Indian officials have long indicated they liked how the two aircraft performed and have shown a preference for the so called big twins.

More surprising, though, is that only two aircraft made the cut. The guessing game had been the final round would still include three or four platforms.

The Indian decision is a clear setback for Washington. The U.S. administration had heavily lobbied India on behalf of the F/A-18 and F-16. It offered technology transfer to an extensive scale. While Pakistan’s use of the F-16 made an F-16I downselect a long-shot, not seeing either of the U.S. contenders at least in the final round may be a political signal from New Delhi.

The decision, of course, does not mean the U.S. is entirely out of the Indian fighter market. As before, there remains speculation India may yet opt for the F/A-18E/F for a future carrier-borne strike mission.

The decision is clearly excellent news for Paris and London (although the India campaign has been nominally led by Germany, British officials have more than done their part to bolster the effort) and their stated desire to more robustly support defense exports at a time of declining spending back home.





Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 27

Given current polls the subject may be of much greater interest than one had thought.  Here is a summary by the strongly anti-combat military Ceasefire.ca, the pet project of the Rideau Institute’s Steve Staples (more here):

The NDP document, Giving Your Family a Break, contains only a short section on foreign and defence policy. Key points include promises to bring Canadian troops home from Afghanistan; to draft a new Defence White Paper; to “review” major defence projects, including the F-35; to maintain “current planned levels” of military spending; and to focus Canada’s military on three main priorities: “defending Canada; providing support for peacemaking, peace-building and peacekeeping around the world; and assisting people facing natural catastrophes, including floods, earthquakes, forest fires and other emergencies, both at home and abroad”.

Like the other parties in the last parliament, the NDP supported Canadian participation in the intervention in Libya, a position that some peaceniks will support and others will oppose…’

Odd that disaster relief would be one of CF’s top three priorities–that is if it is to remain a serious military organization.  It should also be noted that forest fire fighting is almost completely a provincial responsibility.

Previous posts:

The Conservative Platform on Defence
The Liberal Platform on Defence

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 27

How sad, how true:

Where Parliament isn’t a joke

The UK Parliament spent half an hour today debating the prison break from Sarposa prison in Kandahar [more here]. Alistair Burt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, took fourteen questions from Labour and Conservative MPs on topics including how it happened, to how it might affect the political negotiations with the Taliban, and the impact it will have on morale of UK soldiers in Afghanistan.

Canadians will notice a few curious things about the exchanges. First, the Afghan file is actually one that relates to Burt’s assigned portfolio — something rather unheard of in Ottawa. More oddly still, at no point did Burt accuse the opposition members of disloyalty to the troops or to the UK, nor did he take the occasion to bray like a donkey about how everything his government had done on the file was noble and pure, while everything the previous government had done was villainous and incompetent. Instead, Burt frequently thanked the opposition member for the question, and even — get this — agreed on occasion with the point the opposition member was making…

One is almost tempted to say of our Commons, “In the name of God, go!”

For more evidence, important Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs, two of whom should know a lot better, provide video exemplars of how our politicians, er, discuss serious defence issues - in this case the F-35 (and do see the second comment here).  Contrast that with what a committee of British MPs can accomplish respecting the UK’s acquisition of the Eurofighter Typhoon, more on that subject here.  Lessons, should any of our MPs pay attention?  Hah.

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 26

It sure looks like the Pentagon’s F-35 program chief knows what he’s talking about regarding the F-35’s operational and support costs:  “the service chiefs look at the wedge for estimated costs and it makes their knees weak.”

DND is now starting to concede that the aircraft’s cost projections are not necessarily proceeding to the department’s advantage:

F-35 service costs may be more than double Ottawa’s estimate

National Defence says it’s been told the unit price of the F-35 stealth fighter will be higher than the $75-million it planned for, but the military insisted late Monday it can still deliver the program on budget.

The Pentagon, in a recent report to the U.S. Congress [I think this GAO report is in fact what the reporter had in mind], outlined a laundry list of cost increases in the $382-billion (U.S.) development of the advanced fighter-bomber.

“Canada is not a recipient of the report, however, as an international partner in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project, we have been advised that it forecasts an increase in production costs for the JSF Program,” said a written statement released to The Canadian Press.

“Once we have an opportunity to see the details of the report, we will be able to assess how it may impact the cost of Canadian production aircraft.”

The statement downplayed the impending price hike, saying “a degree of cost variation is envisaged in any program” and defence bureaucrats had built a contingency into the estimated $9-billion purchase price.

For weeks, the Harper government has insisted it will pay around $75-million for each F-35 and furiously rejected criticism from the Parliamentary budget officer, who estimated in March that the sticker price for the radar-evading plane would be more like $148-million apiece [see here, here and here]…

The acknowledgment of the price change came as another American report suggested the cost of operating the jets could be billions of dollars more than expected.

An estimate by a Pentagon cost-analysis unit projects it will cost $915-billion to keep the U.S. fleet of 2,443 jets flying for 30 years.

The document, leaked to Bloomberg in Washington [see here], forecasts a lifetime maintenance bill of roughly $375-million per aircraft.

Alan Williams, a former senior Canadian defence official, says the costs would be comparable for the 65 planes the Conservative government intends to purchase, starting in 2017.

Using the Pentagon numbers, the 65 planes would cost more than $24-billion to maintain over 30 years, well above Canadian government estimates…

Much of the debate in Canada over the highly computerized planes has centred the eye-popping purchase price and only passing attention has been paid to long-term maintenance and service, which the Conservatives have projected at no more than $7 billion over 20 years…

Meanwhile, the “latest news” at this DND F-35 webpage is from last October.  Hmm.

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 25

From the Pentagon:

F-35 effort stabilizes, but may still be late

Overall, the F-35 Lightning II program is making progress, but much more needs to be done before the tri-service effort can be considered truly back on track, Vice Adm. David Venlet, the program’s manager, told reporters Thursday.

Venlet said that flight testing has begun to pick up as of the beginning of the year. As well, the program’s ability to manufacture aircraft is beginning to stabilize.

Still, the admiral reiterated other senior Pentagon officials’ warning this year that the initial operational capability might slip past the planned 2016 date for the Air Force and Navy versions of the stealthy fifth-generation fighter jet.

“Our [Technical Baseline Review] schedule now shows development test completing in ’16. Realistically, I don’t see it being in ’16 for Air Force and Navy,” he said.

But Venlet said he deferred to the service chiefs about exactly when the aircraft would be declared operational [see Update near start here for USAF].

This year and next year, the program must demonstrate that costs are under control, with the first order of business to determine the actual cost of the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Four contract aircraft, he said.

From an opinion piece at an Aviation Week and Space Technology blog:

Meet The New Boss, Not The Same As The Old Boss

Venlet added, this is the new plan “which is drastically unlike the old plan”, which, he said bluntly, “was declared to have failed” at the time of last year’s Nunn-McCurdy breach. Venlet is not about to declare victory. The program, he says, “comes forward without a record to generate confidence.”..

Operational costs: Venlet was asked about projections for O&S, particularly in the light of the fact that it was Navair under his command that developed, and supplied to Congress, a set of very scary O&S costs, much higher than current aircraft. Far from disavowing those estimates, Venlet noted that “the service chiefs look at the wedge for estimated costs and it makes their knees weak.” [This is what DND was saying last October: “As for the JSF life cycle costs, remember that our current fleet of CF-18s costs money today to keep them running. The money we are anticipating paying for the in-service costs of the F-35 will be of the same magnitude; training a pilot is training a pilot, a litre of fuel is a litre of fuel, runway repairs are runway repairs, etc.”] 

(If anyone, anywhere, has heard that kind of language from a program manager before, please let me know.)
Venlet has launched a “TBR-like activity” on sustainment. (TBR, the technical baseline review, was the effort last year that threw the previous production and test plans in the trashcan.)..

As for the Netherlands, some hithering and yonning:

The Dutch Lower House has approved the purchase of a second Joint Strike fighter test plane.

The government proposal was approved by a majority consisting of the conservative VVD, Christian democrat CDA, Freedom Party and Orthodox SGP.

The news comes days after the cabinet announced a one billion euro cut in the defence budget. The two JSFs together cost 270 million euros.

The decision paves the way for the purchase of a series of JSF planes, but Defence Minister Hans Hillen and Economic Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen stressed that a final decision on a new jet fighter would be taken by the next cabinet.

The opposition, however, says the purchase of a second test plane means the Netherlands is now committed to buying the Joint Strike Fighter as a replacement for its fleet of aging F-16s.

Minister Hillen said the Netherlands could still withdraw from the JSF project, even though this would cost about 270 million euros, the same amount the Netherlands will have to pay for the two test JSF planes and to join the JSF pilot training programme.

[More on the Dutch: “Netherlands: Big Defence Cuts“]

Meanwhile, about an F-35 competitor:

Boeing says that the Super Hornet improvement package quietly rolled out at Farnborough last year [see here], and manifest in mock-up modifications attached to an F/A-18E at this week’s 500th-aircraft rollout, is aimed at international customers. And it has the inoffensive name of “International Roadmap Options” — it’s not the Ultra Hornet, Silent Hornet or (heavens, no) the Block 3.

(Someone asked Navy program manager Capt Mark Darrah in St Louis about comparisons with the F-35. He almost physically recoiled and refused point-blank to comment. I half expected him to pull out a crucifix and a squirt-gun and spray his questioner with holy water. Sensible guy.)

Boeing’s stated strategic goal — to stretch Super Hornet/Growler production to 1,000 aircraft — is also not aggressive. The program is already close to 700 aircraft, including 41 additional Navy aircraft announced earlier this year to mitigate the effect of JSF delays. Campaigns and expressions of interest in countries that are not on the JSF list — India [more here], Brazil and the Middle East — could reach that figure…

The Super Hornet is already formally pitched against the JSF in Denmark and it looks as though things are headed the same way in Japan [see here]. Chadwick calls the aircraft a “low risk, low cost, known-time offering worldwide” and Boeing officials Wednesday repeatedly observed that Super Hornets are all being delivered “on cost and ahead of schedule” — a not-so-subtle reference to delays and overruns that might possibly afflict other programs…

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Apr 25


-    Australian prime minister Julia Gillard visits Beijing (until April 27). She will meet President Hu Jintao and her counterpart Wen Jiabao for trade talks.

-    World Malaria Day. World Health Organisation is launching further initiatives in pursuit of its goal of eradicating deaths from the disease by 2015.


-    Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister to visit Denmark for talks with his counterpart Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

-    United Nations Security Council to receive a report by the International Criminal Court on Libya.


-    The three-day World Economic Forum on Latin America in Rio de Janeiro considers the region’s vast economic resources, and how infrastructure, environmental policies and security need to be improved to fulfill its growth potential.


-    Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton takes place at Westminster Abbey, London. 

-    Transparency International launches its annual Global Corruption Report in Dhaka, Bangladesh with a focus on corruption risks in tackling climate change.

Apr 21

From a post by BruceR. at Flit:

The tragic loss of war correspondent Tim “Restrepo” Hetherington in Misrata, Libya has hit hard. We were close in age, and I really liked his work.

I never really wrote a post about Restrepo, which I finally saw long after I left the theatres. (I agreed with basically everything Pat Lang wrote here.) I think it caught the basic humanity of the American soldiers in the Korengal, but also the utter futility of everything they did…Just by letting soldiers tell their own stories, he ended up with as strong an anti-Afghanistan polemic as has ever aired…

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger