National Security Experts


Joseph J. Collins

Biography provided by participant

Joseph J. Collins is currently a professor of strategy at the National War College in Washington, D.C. From 2001 to 2004, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations and very active in plans and policy for the war Afghanistan, as well as in the initial planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom. A retired Army Colonel, he is a veteran of over a decade's service in the Pentagon, and has taught at West Point, Georgetown, and Columbia universities.

Recent Responses

June 11, 2012 06:26 PM

The law is clear. Leaking sensitive, classified information is a crime, and it should be. Lives are at stake, and the security of the United States hangs in the balance. But just as the law is clear, so are the rules of Washington strategic communications. The ship of state leaks from the bridge. Senior officials leak and leak often to blow their own horn or to sell Administration policies. Bureaucrats leak to thwart rivals or brag about their power. Whistleblowers leak to deal with their angst and their self-righteousness. Reporters --- damn their enquiring minds --- link leaks lasciviously, often creating stories that backfire on the original leakers. Publish one leak and the government may be after you, but publish a thousand, and you are Bob Woodward. Every reporter knows this, and each jealously guards his or her contacts.

The leak cure may be worse than the leak disease. Presidents have often resorted to lettin

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March 5, 2012 07:37 PM

The President is walking a delicate tightrope. On the one hand, he does not want to encourage bellicosity, but on the other, he wants to signal that all options are on the table. He is --- according to the NY Times --- under severe pressure from the Israel lobby. At the same time, my bubbas, the Republicans, are falling all over themselves to be phoney tough and make the President look like some sort of wuss. (I don't accept the Israeli claim that Iran is irrational or erratic. I find no proof that they are anything worse than vile and crazy as a fox.)

At the end of 2008, I wrote in the Armed Forces Journal against bombing Iran and in favor of diplomacy, sanctions, and if necessary, containment. I argued that an attack would give this dying regime a new lease on life and cause the young to rally to the Mullahs. Sadly, the containment option has been mocked and spit on by both sides in the issue, even though it may be the best course of action to deal with a nuclear Iran. Deterrence will work between the militarily superior Israel and the Mullahocracy in Tehran.

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February 7, 2012 08:05 AM

The United States and ISAF should not end the combat mission in Afghanistan, but they should put Afghan combat forces in the lead, nationwide, 24/7, as soon as possible. ISAF combat units would then devolve to having "advise and assist" as their first mission, with direct combat as a backup. This has the advantage of thickening advisory efforts with Afghan forces at this time and avoiding the shock of the departure of units in 2014. For now, this new scheme would give SOF forces the following missions: direct action, advising Afghan SOF units, advising Afghan local police. Conventional forces, while maintaing strike force reserves, should move mainly to advising Afghan conventional units. In any arrangement, advice and assistance would to Afghan forces in the field would be increased, and the profile of foreign forces lowered.

If this war is to be won, Afghans will have to do it, and they will have to do it long-term. Lost among this issue of near term troop usage priorities is the issue of what to do after 2014. Before the Chicago summit, we should be m

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January 23, 2012 07:43 PM

Many observers, and surely the President, think that in the short to mid-term, the State of the Union is improving. The economy is picking up, unemployment seems to be getting better, the market is up, the Iraq war is over, Afghanistan is talking peace, and Iran is feeling the heat. The tea party is fading and the "occupy" movement has descended into unwashed irrelevance. Even Chrysler set sales records. Adding to the President's handsome smile, the Republicans are playing out the Romney Dog and the Gingrich cat. At the same time, Obama breaks fundraising records and, in Chicago, the campaign version of Delta Force is getting ready to cross the line of departure, armed with rocks already thrown by its opponents.

This may all be enough to reelect our often ineffective chief executive, but our country is in deep structural doodoo. Our economy has produced a set of long-term unemployed, and far too many of them are young veterans. Income inequality, propelled by the vagaries of the knowledge economy and the greed of the upper classes, is shrinking the middle c

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August 29, 2011 07:11 PM

Okay, give the home team its due: NATO took out el-Qaddafi on humanitarian grounds, and they did get the Europeans to sort of lead in supporting the fractious rebels. This is, however, a very small success on an initial task. The crisis is not over. It is not yet the beginning of the end, or even the end of the beginning. Most of the hard work lies ahead. Call it reconstruction and stabilization, stability operations, or nation-building. Someone will have to do it. Somebody's boots will have to be on the ground.

Like Afghanistan in December 1979 and Iraq in April 2003, we can afford a moment of being dizzy with success. Then, quickly, someone has to be the adult and start to talk about the way ahead. It would be wonderful if Arabs could take the lead, but I am not holding my breath. The UN would say to NATO: after you, sir, you started it. Uncle Sam "led from the rear" on phase one, an easy task, but he will find that the Euros will only do a small percentage of the expensive stability operations that need to be done NOW. Wait a few months, and NAT

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August 9, 2011 09:59 AM

A good organization can identify all of its key interests and resolve discrepancies between all of its interests or goals. The Tea Party wing of American politics --- the Washington Post months ago said that 30 percent of Tea Party people self-identify as democrats --- has not identified all of its important interests and so runs the risk of deficit demagoguery and inadvertently proposing harm to national defense. This is not a huge problem because there are countervailing economic problems, like unemployment, which will balance the urge to savage the national budget. The leaders of the Republican Party will not defense go down the tube. If they were tempted to, democrats like SEN Jack Reed of Rhode Island will hold them in check. The President and his staff will help. They have generally done well on defense issues and on the war in Afghanistan.

At this moment in the life of our country, on the heels of a great market correction, we all need to exhale. We are nowhere near as dumb as S&P made us out to be, nor is our debt to GDP ratio outlandish or un-fixabl

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June 27, 2011 01:23 PM

The President's troop withdrawal was not daring, but prudent. It was more aggressive than Mullen and Petraeus (and Joe Collins) desired, but it still leaves at the end of 2012 twice the number of US troops in country than when Obama became President. The President's decision makes military, economic, and political sense.

Militarily, the surge is succeeding, not only in breaking enemy formations and leadership cohorts, but more importantly, in improving afghan army and police units. The Afghan Natl Secty Forces (ANSF) now number 300,000 and are building to 352K. This is ten times the number of hardcore Taliban. We now can afford to send home some of our troops. As of this month, the ANSF will assume security lead in 7 geographic areas that contain about a quarter of Afghanistan's population. The military risk associated with the scheduled pullout is prudent, and reversible if there are unforseen setbacks.

Economically, the down sizing returns money to the Treasury and begins to scale our 110 billion dollar (2011) Afghan commitment to more realistic proportion

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May 2, 2011 06:40 AM

The new national security team --- or at least the part that has been announced --- is excellent. Panetta is the right man to lead the Department of Defense in the downturn. He is not a Pentagon insider, but he knows the general terrain and showed great skill in getting a grip on the Agency. He participated in the Afghanistan review, and is up to his eyeballs in Afghan operations. General Dave Petraeus is excited about his new posting and has the breadth of experience to know that the Agency is not the Army. CIA operators in training can expect some tough training runs when Petraeus visits the farm.

I met Ryan Crocker in Kabul when he and his wife, Christine, also a former Foreign Service Officer were sent with a mini-staff to reopen the Kabul embassy. He is the Chuck Norris of diplomats. He will improve relations with Karzai and increase the wattage of our diplomatic and development teams in Kabul. There are nearly 1200 USG civilians there now, and the power and influence of the Chief of Mission will grow as the military recedes over the next few year. He is

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April 19, 2011 07:51 PM

I have addressed the issue of cuts in the latest edition of Armed Forces Journal. My fellow bloggers have hit many of the good points. We can achieve these savings and keep a viable defense force. We need commonsense and prudence. As Syd Freedberg mentioned above, we need to be careful not to cut the things we really need. Good institutional training and education is cheap and produces a quality force. Be careful about lumping it with "overhead." We need also to invest in new things (long range strike aerial platforms) that we desperately need. Let's stop the madness on the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35). The "triplication" of stealth fighter bombers in 3 versions is ridiculous. Higher up the tree, we need to go after military entitlements. Our retiree health care needs higher premiums and our 20 year retirement system is dysfunctional, incredibly expensive, and needlessly damages the national interest. It also fails to reward the

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April 11, 2011 07:05 PM

Mr Gates has done a great job. On a number of bad issues, he has turned a sow's ear into a respectable cloth purse. He has been tough on the brass, and he has postured the department for the deep cuts to come, while successfully managing two wars

The next Secretary needs to be smart, know the building, be able to work the Congress, and be a prudent realist. Much of any SECDEF's day --- my direct observation goes back to Cap --- is spent with the President, the principals or key aides talking about the foreign aspects of national security policy. In recent years, when the fur flies, it is the SECDEF's sound bites that lead the evening news. Issues of war and peace will outrank even the pressing resource issues of the "next era."

The good news is that there are any number of great candidates to take Mr. Gates's job. John Hamre, Ash Carter, Secretary Mabus, et al., what's not to like? The chosen one among them will have one disadvantage that Gates did not. He followed Mr. Rumsfeld, whose popularity was low, to be kind. Whoever comes in after Gates wi

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January 31, 2011 02:04 PM

It is too early to tell what will happen in Egypt. If we assume the Ralph Peters is right and that "the Shah always falls," Egypt will soon be in a post-Mubarak era. However, one can imagine various futures. Perhaps a caretaker government might provide a soft landing. In a rosey scenario, a new government might then lead in the direction of democracy and economic growth. More likely, there will be a three way tug of war among Western-oriented modernists, the rump of the Mubarak government, and the Muslim brotherhood and other, more radical elements. The sad news is that there is very little civil society to help modulate this crisis. The Muslim Brotherhood and the national security services will doubtlessly play important roles. Both will be modulated to some degree by Egyptian nationalism and exceptionalism. A weak Egyptian government will have a hard time taking tough measures against the Palestinians, which Mubarak was able to do on occasion.

The United States should support democracy, urge the new government to support its peace treaty with Israel,

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December 6, 2010 02:24 PM

Congress should act to terminate the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy. This is the opinion of the President, the SECDEF, the CJCS and some of the Chiefs. It is also the opinion of 70 percent of the Armed Forces, and this old soldier, who spent a decade in infantry and armored forces before wandering into the wussy world of policy and strategy.

Is anyone surprised that ending DADT is not popular among Marines and soldiers in the combat arms? Those units --- the land where mother is only half a word --- depend on massive doses of testosterone. Anything that appears to interfere with the manufacture and distribution of testosterone and hetero-macho behavior is to be shunned, avoided, or condemned. Of course, this doesn't exclude homosexuals, many of whom fit right in to the bonding and buddy behaviors that characterize the life of combat soldiers. A surprising number of combat arms personnel admitted to knowing one or more homosexuals in their units.

Two facts soften the impact of this change for combat arms soldiers and marines: 1) Most grunts and tred heads

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November 2, 2010 09:32 AM

I left the house this morning with "huge turnout" predictions in my ear. In NOVA, at 7 AM, it was just me and the poll workers.

This election is likely to see the GOP taking the House and coming close in the Senate, which in truth, can't be controlled decisively unless you have 60 votes. The voters clearly see national security issues as second fiddle. Even the war in Afghanistan is not issue, perhaps because the President does not want to annoy his base and the Republicans essentially like what the President has done. The people have "no skin in the game." They dislike the policy in Afghanistan, but don't see it as a showstopper. There is no intensity to their dislike. An anti-war demonstration today couldn't draw a 1,000 people.

The next two years may go in one of two channels. On the dark side, it could produce two years of acrimony and gridlock. Pres. Obama, like Truman in '48, can then run against a do nothing Congress. On a lighter side, we should remember that Reagan and Clinton both did their best work with a divided Congress.

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October 12, 2010 07:34 AM

The departure of General Jones as National Security Adviser marks the departure of serious military experience from the top rungs of the White House leadership. It also marks the advent of a more unified Obama NSC team inside the White House. Jones added gravitas to the unknowns that Obama brought to the top posts at NSC. He also was well known internationally. Secy Clinton no longer has to worry about NSC officials doing high level diplomacy. That option does not exist.

The policy effects of this change are, of course, unknown. It may make for an improvement, but it also may make for a tougher task for Gates and Mullen on defense issues. It may well lead to a faster decision cycle in the White House, but they will now be more prone to groupthink. Clearly, this change is likely to favor deeper and faster cuts in our troop strength in Afghanistan. While Jones did not always favor the Pentagon approach, he ensured that they had their day in court. Donilon, according to Woodward, is a Biden ally and the VP's approach to Afghanistan may well win out in July 2011. In any cas

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October 11, 2010 04:18 PM

Neither sabre rattling nor sabre cuts will work on Iran. The Iranian nuclear program is not stoppable by sanction or military action. Sanctions are too weak and military efforts are likely to be technically ineffective and politically dysfunctional. Iran has real political divisions and striking them militarily will be the only thing that could reunify this troubled state. All this is disappointing, but the tale can have a very happy ending. A nuclear Iran will drive Arab states closer to the United States, which should take the opportunity posed by an Iranian nuclear explosion to put all of its allies and friends under its nuclear umbrella. If Iran believes that a nuclear strike on Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq will be treated as an attack on the United States, it will think twice or more ... which is what all nuclear powers do. Iran is dangerous, but they are not stupid. In the end, we can't stop Iran from going nuclear, but we can deter its use of a nuclear weapon. Iran is unlikely to give a nuclear device to a terrorist movement, esp. a sunni group like Al Qaeda. Like most nu

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August 5, 2010 04:16 PM

I found the study to be thoughtful and certainly more interesting than the QDR. That said, many of its recommendations on fixing national security planning and the "whole of govt" approach to complex operations have been made by me, the Proj. on National Secty. Reform, and probably half the members of the National Journal's expert team. It is remarkable how much talk we have had about such "reforms" and how little has been done. If it were not for contractors, we would never fill the civilian billets in Iraq and Afghanistan. State and USAID are still budgetary midgets. The contribution of the rest of the Executive Branch depts. barely count for a bucket of warm spit in the nation building game.

Over here at NDU this week, we have had a huge gathering of interagency experts on the concept of developing the interagency National Security Professional, an idea first proposed in 2006, started up in DoD, mentioned in QDR 2006, Executive Order-ed in 2007, and handed over to OPM where it is, I was told, still being studied. Perhaps, we are not serio

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July 19, 2010 07:42 PM

Will the new security initiative in Afghanistan be like the Anbar miracle? Not really. History doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes, the pundits say. It certainly never repeats itself cross culturally. Islam is the only thing from Arabia that the Afghans appreciate, and even that appreciation is looked down on by Islamists from the Gulf. The situation in Anbar and the many realities of Afghanistan are certainly a strained pairing.

The new community policing issue had a long gestation. It first came up in 2003, and it later reappeared when Ron Neumann was Ambassador. The Afghans have pushed it or kept it from happening. The US camp has been split from the get go. This version of the "militia thing" was two years in the making. If properly tied into the Police system and with good allied mentorship, it has a decent chance of working. The 64 dollar question here is this: if the Afghan National Police are having a hard time supervising and managing their own force, will they have the managerial wherewithal to carry out this new task? Only with

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June 24, 2010 08:21 PM

If our efforts in Afghanistan were a song, they would be the old 1950s favorite: "Something's Gotta Give." A number of important factors suggest significant change is in the offing. War weariness, budget deficits, Karzai's' problems, interagency squabbles, all exist alongside Taliban restlessness. Our European allies are soon to be out of the combat business altogether. We can't make the Taliban quit, and they can't win as long as we are there.

Dashing Dave Petraeus goes into a complex situation with grace and a footlocker full of skills. He will have to shift from expeditionary counterinsurgency to a top priority on security assistance, balancing firmness with a reconciliation movement that is gaining speed. He needs to build Afghan capacity, keep the pressure on the Taliban, beg for help from the Euros, and restore peace to our team of rivals leading the effort. Only the fact that he brought off the Surge gives me confidence that he is the man for this time and place. Time to build an exit strategy, with an accent on the second word. jjc

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June 16, 2010 07:40 PM

America's alliances are fraying and have been since the end of the Cold War. First, we don't have an existential threat. Our problems today are peanuts compared the threat posed by the Soviet Union and its allies. Second, we don't have the same perception of the threats that do exist. Third, as the magnitude of the threat has subsided, philosophical differences between the USA and its allies have grown more prominent. Europe and Japan both have strong pacifist tendencies. Both are more burdened with welfare spending than the United States. Both Europe and Japan have also had more sluggish economies over the past decade. High taxes and very high welfare spending are sapping them of foreign policy options. [Is there a lesson there, Mr. President?] Fourth, our allies are able to use the free rider chit whenever they want to. There are few penalties for telling the USA, "no thank you." Finally, getting close to the USA can have expensive consequences. The 7 year era of preemption (aka preventive war) was hard on our allies and drove a wedge between them and us

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June 7, 2010 03:53 PM

Israel stepped on it. By boarding the Turkish ferry, our allies were, as they so often are: righteous but heavy-handed and self-defeating. They had a sane objective but were caught looking like a bully and an outlaw state. The Israeli Defense Forces --- the one-note Johnny of Israeli policy --- thought that they were conducting a daring security inspection, but blundered into a Palestinian-directed morality play, an information operation where Israel played the fool. If the Turkish ferry had a band on deck, it would have been playing "Send in the Clowns." To top it off, who owned the ferry? None other thanTurkey, usually a friend of Israel, and most Westerners' favorite Muslim country. Some pundits even asked in mock horror: should NATO invoke Article 5 to protect this NATO member? Even the films of the rowdy passengers beating the "slow roping" commandos couldn't help.

Hamas won, 20 to zip. But it gets worse. There are dozens of new stories about suffering in Gaza, which now has been laid at the feet of the porous blockade. Babies are hu

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June 2, 2010 08:32 PM

The basis for military power is economic power. It is also clear that a runaway budget and trade deficits in a limping economy reflect profligate public policy. To restore our economic base, we must spend less and gather in more revenue. Similarly, we must discipline our appetite for foreign goods and learn to create more exportables. If we don't do this, we will become a demi-hegemon and the world will be a more chaotic and fractious place.

Assuming that we summon the moxie to bite this very big bullet, what in the field of national defense will have to go. One can't tighten the national belt when you are dishing out 700 billion per yr to my bubbas in the Pentagon. Iraq will have to be downsized, and Afghanistan will have to become security assistance-centric, not expeditionary-centric. How long can we continue to spend 80 billion dollars per year on A'stan, a country whose GDP is @ 25 billion dollars per annum?

Dozens of systems must die, starting with the 2d engine for the F35, the USMC's amphibious tractor cadillac, and the carrier version of the F35. M

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May 18, 2010 09:13 PM

A complex issue. I went on at length on this issue in a recent issue of Armed Forces Journal. Here is the link: This must be done with great care. 60 percent of Afghanistan is not Pashtun and does not want to do this. Karzai must lead, and we must deal with the Taliban fm strength. Pakistan must be with us, not against us. Their can be no negotiations over the constitution or power sharing. The Taliban must renounce al qaeda and violence, leaving their arms in Pakistan. This is a tall order and likely requires us to put a "major hurt" on the Taliban ---esp the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura Taliban --- before they are pliable enough to deal with. Objectives are first individuals, second groups, third whole segments of the Taliban. Since HiG was first to come in, there should be a serious effort to pick this low hanging fruit. Hekmatyar is not dedicated to Mullah Omar and can be had. His fighters are the weakest

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May 10, 2010 01:35 PM

The Times Square incident was a close call, an instance of terrorism being defeated by helpful citizens, poor tradecraft, good police work, and a whole lot of luck. Shahzad is the second instance that we have seen recently of radicalized citizens who are moved by circumstances or conscience to commit acts of terror. Counting examples in UK, Spain, etc., there are now dozens of "local boys gone bad" incidents. The new wrinkle here is the fact that Shahzad was trained and partly indoctrinated by the TTP. Neither his indoctrination nor his training seemed to have been very good. The TTP et al are now not only fighting Pakistan, they are trying to get at us. No doubt, they see the drones as a case where the USA started the fight. I for one see this as yet another bit of evidence of common cause between the Taliban of all stripes and Al Qaeda. We should not hesitate to see the TTP as just another fellow traveller of AQ Central and its other associates. We should not hesitate to take out their top leaders in a responsible fashion.

It is very important to keep

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April 5, 2010 09:59 AM

While some in America think that President Karzai is "off his meds," the reality is that he is playing to his domestic constituencies, just as President Obama and Secretary Clinton are playing to theirs. To show our mettle, the President, Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor are talking tough to and about Karzai, poor governance, and corruption, all fair charges; he returns the favor by growling back at us, complaining about interference, occupation, and disrespect. The uninformed and anxious in the West foolishly talk about "getting rid of" Karzai, an elected leader of an allied country. [Perhaps they have forgotten how well such tactics worked out for us with Ngo Din Diem in Vietnam.]

There is a major irony here: amidst all of this sniping, things in Afghanistan are looking up. The surge is kicking in, and, even before that, there was a solid upward tick in Afghan domestic polls. One of the three legs of the Taliban stool, the Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is apparently ready to throw in the towel. Marja goes well, and

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March 22, 2010 02:40 PM

Poor General Petraeus: every time he burps, the mainstream media is there to analyze his diet and, more importantly, to speculate about his appetite!

He has become the "New Powell" with every Postie and People Magazine aspirant trying to analyze his clever maneuvers. Of course, many of the scribes --- like one in the New York Times --- are already speculating that he wants to be the "New Eisenhower." For these prognosticators, Petraeus's lust for power will drive him one day soon to throw his black beret into the political ring. But he'll have to soften his image. Any week now, I fully expect him to take a few weeks off to do "Dancing with the Stars." [Pity the poor dance instructor who will try to match his energy levels!]

So ... more to the point, what happened in this latest installment of "Dave Petraeus Takes Over the World." It seems that he had the incredible cheek to remind his superiors --- through channels, no less, that devious so and so! --- what everybody who has ever changed planes in Dubai knows: our rel

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March 8, 2010 12:01 PM

Updated at 3:07 p.m. on March 9.

Churchill said that "there is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies – And that is to fight without them." While true on its face, the performance of the continental members of the Nato alliance in Afghanistan leads one to wonder whether or not this is still true.

Perhaps the greatest mystery is why Nato, in a fit of exuberance in 2006, decided to take over the entire military mission in Afghanistan. Most Nato nations have participated in operations in Afghanistan, but only the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, France (in very small numbers) and a few Central European nations have actively engaged in combat. The great powers of continental Europe have in effect decided to be present in a war zone, but not to fight. The Germans in particular have made a fetish out of refusing combat and even avoiding the use of the "c" word. They will fight in self defense, but their risk aversion has made many wonder why they are bothering to do what they do. The safe part of northern Afghanistan un

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March 1, 2010 11:02 AM

General McChrystal is following the new COIN doctrine. His focus is on protecting the population, and that is as it should be. Moreover, his new restrictive Rules of Engagement (ROE) are a reaction to the all too frequent killing of Afghan civilians in 2007 and 2008. Our NATO allies, short some of the US firepower and enablers, were great consumers of US airpower over those two years in particular. According to the UN, McChrystal'a ROE have already made a significant, positive impact on the number of ISAF-caused civilian casualties.

We have to be clear, however, about what this means. First, US troops are at greater risk. Our magnificent artillery and air support have been a key to our kinetic power. Instead of sending a munition to do a task, we now have to send troops farther and farther into harm's way. Second, both Afghan and Western public opinion are at stake here. We are doing better with the Afghans, but it might be for naught if we end up having to face congressional or public pressure on operational judgments over rules of engagement. There is alrea

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