With America’s military withdrawal from Iraq and Ben Rhodes’s recent explanation of a plan to draw down US forces in the Gulf to a 1990 level, in combination with the revolts against the autocratic regimes the United States has thrown in its lot with, a major rethinking of America’s security posture in the Middle East seems to be in the making.
Toby Jones, whose previous article in the Atlantic I wrote about here, has another piece arguing that the US needs to militarily withdraw from the entire Persian Gulf, and asserts that this will both give the United States more leverage, stabilize the region, and reduce threats to the United States. Jones argues that the Gulf is less important than it previously has been to energy security:
The world today is awash in oil and natural gas. Protecting the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to global markets is far less necessary than it once was. Over the past generation, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the other oil producers in the region have grown accustomed to bloated national budgets and expensive state-run, cradle-to-grave welfare services, which means that there is greater pressure on them to sell oil than to horde it.
It is true that oil sources outside the Gulf are growing in importance, and I agree that more US resources should be directed towards ensuring their development and reliability. However, the concern here is not about the Persian Gulf states “hoarding” oil, but using military force or the threat of it to drive up prices, deter Western interference with their internal affairs, or, in the extreme case, seize fields to monopolize supply. The desire is less about buying or selling than controlling and manipulating. Though exploration and global recession have mediated some of the problems of high oil prices, the likely future increase in oil demand from growing countries may change this happy state of affairs. Continue reading
In statecraft, there are:
- truths: Oahu is an island.
- assumptions: Oahu is an island. Pearl Harbor is a good naval anchorage.
- theories: Oahu is an island. Pearl Harbor is a good naval anchorage. Ships based at Pearl Harbor can sortie into the western Pacific at will and block attacks into the eastern Pacific.
- hypotheses: Oahu is an island. Pearl Harbor is a good naval anchorage. Ships based at Pearl Harbor can sortie into the western Pacific at will and block attacks into the eastern Pacific. Basing the U.S. Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor instead of San Diego is close enough to deter Japan but far away enough to keep it safe from Japanese attack.
- guesses: Oahu is an island. Pearl Harbor is a good naval anchorage. Ships based at Pearl Harbor can sortie into the western Pacific at will and block attacks into the eastern Pacific. Basing the U.S. Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor instead of San Diego is close enough to deter Japan but far away enough to keep it safe from Japanese attack. The Japanese lack the competence, will, or capability to attack Pearl Harbor with planes launched from carriers.
These are all examples of faith. Eventually, they all end up reduced to fable. But each flavor of faith or fable differs in the rigor of ritualized attention it demanda, the fallout triggered when it is followed or ignored, and the lessons it aspires to teach listeners and true believers. The biggest risk in statecraft is mistaking one kind of faith or fable for another and acting on that mistaken notion. Acting on a guess that you’ve mistaken for truth when the truth is that it is only a guess reveals the mismatch between hard truth and hazy guess. It’s the impact of these mismatches that separates the harmful from the harmless and the tolerable from the inevitably fatal.
Earlier this month, a pump burned out mysteriously at a water plant in Springfield, Illinois. Log data traced the problem back several months to a command from an IP address in Russia that forced the pump to turn on and off repeatedly until it broke. When this news was leaked to the media from a cyber expert convinced that we were under attack by Russian hackers, a media frenzy ensued that made it all the way to Congress. On MSNBC, Rep. Jim Langevin, the founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, lamented our state of preparedness and called the attack, allegedly the first against the United States with a kinetic effect, yet another “wakeup call.” The weakness of American supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems was referenced by an anonymous hacker on PasteBin, which some in the press believed to be a confession. The worst fears of cybersecurity experts had been confirmed, foreign hackers could cause damage to US critical infrastructure through the internet.
Except that wasn’t what happened in Illinois, which highlights the difficulty of forensics and attribution in cyberspace. The DHS and FBI, who were investigating the alleged attacks, denied from the beginning that there was any proof of intrusion on the SCADA logs and recently concluded the investigation, releasing the results. The failure was due to a faulty command inputted by a contractor several months ago who accessed the system remotely while travelling through Russia on personal business. Over time, his mistake caused greater and greater errors until, several months later, the pump failed. While, as the source who initially leaked the suspicious information noted to defend his claims, there is no proof that the water plant wasn’t hacked, it seems very unlikely given corroborating evidence of the mistake. Continue reading