Saturday, October 11, 2014

Whose boots?
     The United States has committed to "disrupt, degrade, and destroy" ISIS in Iraq and Syria by employing air strikes and using local ground forces (the Free Syrian Army and the Iraqi army).  The Free Syrian Army will be trained in Saudi Arabia by US forces.  It is currently a myth.  Two divisions of the Iraqi army, after having been trained and equipped by the US at a cost in the billions of dollars, laid down its arms and equipment and deserted at first contact with ISIS several months ago.  They refused to fight.  Most military analysts believe that an air campaign by the US and its "allies" will fail to "disrupt, degrade, and destroy" ISIS.  These same analysts believe that to accomplish the mission, US "boots on the ground" will be required.
     If US boots are on the ground in Iraq and Syria, whose boots will they be?  It is safe to assume that they will not be worn by the children and grandchildren of the politicians, pundits, and executives of Washington and Wall Street.  They will be worn by poor kids and patriots from the third and fourth socio-economic quintiles of our country and the first socio-economic quintile will continue to be AWOL in defending the nation.  Three hundred and thirty million Americans lay claim to rights, liberties, and security that not a single one of them is obligated to protect.  We have fought two wars for the past twelve years in which less than one half of one percent of the American people have had "skin in the game" with devastating consequences for those who have served and their families: PTSD, traumatic brain injury, unemployment, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.
     If we decide to commit US "boots on the ground" in a long, expensive war against ISIS we should do two things as part of the process.  First, we should execute a lottery-based draft of both men and women without exemptions or deferrals of all 18-24 year olds who meet current enlistment standards.  Second, we should impose a war surtax such that every American taxpayer receives a quarterly bill from the IRS for their share of the cost of the war, thereby not adding to our $17 national debt.  Having "skin in the game" will cause limited liability patriots and chicken hawks to think twice about committing more American blood and treasure to another war in the Middle East.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Conceding Moral High Ground
     It may be surprising to learn that China, Iran, Russia, and the United States are in agreement on an important national security policy.  They are united on the opposite side of an issue that 162 other nations have agreed upon.  The issue is the 1997 Ottowa Treaty banning the use of anti-personnel land mines.  Land mines do not discriminate between non-combatants and innocent civilians, often killing or seriously injuring innocents long after hostilities have officially ended.  The Pentagon argues that the land mines are needed to defend the DMZ in Korea.  Logic argues that the United States should sign the treaty and isolate China, Iran, and Russia on the issue. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Policy on a Slippery Slope
     The Department of Defense announced last week a new policy that will allow illegal immigrants living in the United States to enlist in the US armed forces and be eligible for an accelerated path to US citizenship as a result.  The program, Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI), will recruit illegal immigrants who came to the United States with their parents before the age of sixteen.  The program is capped at 1,500 recruits per year.
     On one hand, this initiative can be viewed as an initiative by the Obama administration to ease pressure on immigrants and shore up its political support from the immigrant community.  On the other hand, it can be viewed as a pernicious means to shore up recruiting into a stressed All-Volunteer Force.  The reality is that the  US military is knowingly enlisting felons into its ranks because, to some extent, as Charles Moskos (a respected sociologist at Northwestern University) wrote in 1988, "we can't get enough middle class kids to die for their country.  This is the next step". 
     One might ask, "is the All-Volunteer Force working and will it work in the future"?  An alternative question is, "what if we had a war and no one showed up on our side"?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Strategic questions
     As I continue to think about President Obama's address to the nation last Wednesday regarding ISIS, three questions keep coming to mind.  First, an NBC poll found that a majority of Americans(62%) favor his plan.  But an even larger majority of Americans (68%) are skeptical as to whether it will succeed.  Why would a rational person support a plan that they are not confident will succeed?  Second, the president said that US military involvement will be limited to air strikes and training and equipping Iraqi ground forces and the Free Syrian Army.....no US "boots on the ground".  This is the same Iraqi army that we trained from 2004 to 2011 only to have it desert and leave behind its weapons and equipment at first contact with ISIS....two full brigades deserted.  ISIS is now driving around Iraq and Syria in US Humvees given to the Iraqi army which subsequently abandoned them on the battlefield.  As for no US "boots on the ground", I suppose that the special ops soldiers and "advisers" are wearing sandals or sneakers.  Why would a rational person believe that either one of these "armies" is capable of successful military ground operations in the foreseeable future without invoking magical thinking?  Third, how much will this cost and how will we pay for it?  Has everyone inside the Beltway forgotten that America is seventeen trillion dollars in debt and continues to run a budget deficit?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Military Justice?
     Earlier this year Congress chose to retain authority for the investigation and prosecution of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the military within the military "chain of command".  Uniformed military bureaucrats convinced Congress that they could fix the problem.  In fact, the problem goes back to the 1991 Tailhook scandal and has only gotten worse since then.  Members of the "chain of command" have been perpetuators and enablers of sexual violence in the military for decades.
     On August 27 the Associated Press reported that an Army Major General, Michael Harrison, had "failed to properly investigate sexual assault and other allegations against a colonel on his staff and be retired at one-star rank".  The allegations go back to March 2013.  When enablers of sexual violence in the military are the principal administrators of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the system is broken and unjust.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Afgan Dysfunction
     Gaza, the Ukraine, ISIS, and China's flexing in the South China Sea are consuming the reporting capacity of the American media and the attention span of the American people.  But the average American might be surprised to know that his country is still deeply involved in a war in Afghanistan that after 2341 US service members killed and 17,674 wounded is not going well.  We still have 30,700 troops there costing several billion dollars per month.  We are slated to leave Afghanistan at the end of this year and our primary mission is to train an Afgan army and national police force that can defend the country.  We have been training these forces for twelve years.  The forces will cost six to eight billion dollars per year to maintain. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan's GDP is twenty Billion dollars per year.  Whom do you think will pay for the force, and for how long?
     Given the military and financial scenario above, it would be comforting to think that the internal politics and governance of Afghanistan were going well.  In fact, these aspects of the Afgan reality may be more alarming than the military/financial mess.  Afghanistan's presidential elections were held on 5 April 2014 with no candidate receiving a majority of the votes.  Abdullah Abdullah received the most votes.  A run-off between he and Ashraf Ghani was held on 14 June,  Ghani was ahead in the vote count when both candidates claimed fraud and the run-off vote is now being audited,  As a result, negotiations regarding a US presence there after 2014 are suspended.  This months long delay has caused some Afgan "leaders" to propose an "interim government", essentially a coup, backed by the Afgan army, national police, and intelligence corps.  This may be the best bad alternative for a country not yet ready for Jeffersonian democracy, but a crushing failure for American foreign policy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reality
     This blog posting is not meant to be an apology for the Obama administration's reaction to events around the world.  That said, I have been watching world events and national security decisions closely for two or three decades.  In that time I have never seen a more complex set of problems with so few good options available.  Threats are diverse and often ill-defined with almost all options riddled with downsides and potential unintended consequences.  As always, the enemy has a vote.  But in many cases we're not exactly sure who the enemy is. 
     The United States is not only war weary but also financially challenged, diplomatically weakened, and politically gridlocked.  Policing the world may have to give way to these realities.