Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

The Specter of ISIS’ Foreign Recruits; Ash Carter’s Listening Tour

by Janine Davidson Friday, February 27, 2015
Spanish civil guards lead a detained man suspected of using social media to recruit people to violent groups like the Islamic State, in Spain's North African enclave Melilla, February 24, 2015. (Jesus Blasco de Avellaneda/Courtesy Reuters)

ISIS made headlines again with the abduction of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria. Across the Iraq border, ISIS pointed its efforts this week towards destroying history, including ancient books and sculptures. However, the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is showing progress; General (ret.) John Allen, special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, commented that half of the ISIS leaders in Iraq have now been targeted and killed. General Allen continued that the goal should be to make this terrorist group inoperable; in his mind, it is unlikely they will ever be completely eradicated.

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ISIS Traces Its Roots to 2003

by Janine Davidson Thursday, February 26, 2015
A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city August 24, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

This week, I had the opportunity to hear my friend Emma Sky speak at the New America Foundation’s first annual Future of War Conference, held here in Washington, DC.  Emma was General Ray Odierno’s political adviser during the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and is one of the smartest people I know (check out her new book about it all, The Unraveling, due to be released soon). Although she was only allotted three short minutes to speak on the panel, her message about the origins of ISIS and the shortfalls in the US strategy were as clear and compelling as they were depressing.

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Prioritize Operations, Ban PowerPoint: Ash Carter Is off to a Good Start

by Janine Davidson Tuesday, February 24, 2015
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (C) holds a regional security meeting at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait February 23, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

On February 17, Ash Carter was formally sworn in as the twenty-fifth Secretary of Defense. Within his first week on the job, he’s wrapped up intensive, fact-finding trips to both Afghanistan and Kuwait. This sends a powerful message about his priorities: although Carter previously distinguished himself as a thoughtful student of Pentagon bureaucracy, budgeting, and acquisitions, in his new role, current opsand getting the strategy rightcome first.

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A Savage Ukrainian Defeat at Debaltseve; What ISIS Really Wants

by Janine Davidson Friday, February 20, 2015
A Ukrainian serviceman who fought in Debaltseve is seen in a bus before leaving for his home, near Artemivsk February 19, 2015. (Gleb Garanich/Courtesy Reuters)

In a breach that may mark the end of an abbreviated ceasefire, fighting resumed in Ukraine over the town of Debaltseve, a strategic location in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian troops endured a terrifying, chaotic retreat from Debaltseve early Wednesday; an estimated 170 casualties occurred during the withdrawal, with even more thought to be captured or missing. The evacuation of Ukrainian forces came just days after the Minsk ceasefire went into effect on Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sympathy, mocking Ukrainian’s inability to defend against, “people who were yesterday working down in the mines or driving tractors.” Leaders in Kiev are now worried that pro-Russian separatists are preparing for a heavy assault on the strategic port of Mariupol, located on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov.

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Engage…or Isolate?

by Robert A. Newson Tuesday, February 17, 2015
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan (R) listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters, prior to their meeting in Beijing April 8, 2014. (Alex Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

Engage or isolate? This is the national security question that will drive the United States’ response to near-peer competitors like China and Russia, destabilizing middle powers like Iran and North Korea, and even the relatively powerless Cuba. Consistent engagement, even with adversary states, is beneficial. It can help avoid miscalculations, improve U.S. ability to clarify intentions, and decipher ambiguous signals. It also can increase understanding of adversary motivations and interests, which facilitates negotiation and potential development of conflict off-ramps. Conversely, isolation can limit adversaries’ options, negatively feed their fears, and wound their pride—obstructing alternative, preferred paths.

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An AUMF at Last; One More Try for Ukrainian Ceasefire; Afghanistan Exit in Flux?

by Janine Davidson Friday, February 13, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama is flanked by Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Secretary of State John Kerry (R) as he delivers a statement on legislation sent to Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State, from the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington February 11, 2015. Obama asked Congress on Wednesday to authorize military force against Islamic State that would bar any large-scale invasion by U.S. ground troops and limit operations to three years. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama, after six months of using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to justify the fight against ISIS, has released his draft for a new, ISIS-specific AUMF. In a public statement on Wednesday, Obama outlined his vision and expectations for the new authorization. Members of Congress have raised criticism on the issues of associated terrorist groups, geographic limits, and the use of ground forces. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA 28) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted that the lack of geographic limitations could allow the President to pursue terrorist groups in North and West Africa. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-IA) attacked the draft for its vague language, asserting that it was, “ambiguous and could leave us in perpetual debate on what the military is authorized to do.” With so much criticism from both parties, the stage is set for a wide-ranging congressional debate. The bill will appear before Congress next week.

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The 2015 Munich Security Conference: Debate Among Allies? Yes. Disunity? No.

by Janine Davidson Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko holds Russian passports to prove the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine as he addresses during the 51st Munich Security Conference at the 'Bayerischer Hof' hotel in Munich February 7, 2015. (Michael Dalder/Courtesy Reuters)

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the fifty-first Munich Security Conference. This annual event provides a high level forum for transatlantic leaders—and increasingly leaders from other parts of the world—to meet and debate major security issues. The sidebar meetings and “bilats,” among the participants are as important as the major plenary sessions, where leaders take the opportunity to express their country’s positions or in many cases propose new approaches to solving problems. Munich is where the major powers annually reaffirm their continued commitment to transatlantic cooperation in service to core Western values: democracy, rule of law, human rights.

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Digging into the Compensation Commission’s Proposals: Great for Troops AND the Pentagon Bottom Line

by Jesse Sloman Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Alphonso Maldon, Jr., chairman of the Department of Defense Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, asks for service members' ideas for improvement aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 25, 2014. (Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System)

Last week, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) released its long-awaited final report, outlining fifteen recommendations for updating military pay and benefits. The Pentagon, Congress, military advocacy organizations, and think tanks are all studying the proposed reforms to determine who stands to gain, who stands to lose, and what their positions will be.

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Ash Carter’s Nomination Hearing: What to Watch For

by Janine Davidson Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Ash Carter, President Obama's nominee to be the next Secretary of Defense, arrives to meet with Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) (not pictured) at Reed's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 22, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

Ash Carter faces the Senate Armed Services Committee today for his confirmation hearing. You can watch it live on CSPAN at 9:30 a.m. EST.

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