Monday, January 19, 2015

Who Owns These "Boots on the Ground"?
     Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby announced last week that approximately 1,000 American service members would soon be deploying to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar to train "moderate" Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS.  He said that the training will begin in the early spring and that if training goes well, trainees will return to fight in Syria by the end of the year.  He added that 15,000 trained Syrian rebels will be required to reclaim parts of eastern Syria now controlled by ISIS and that about 5,000 can be trained per year.
     He did not address three points that I believe are important.  First, who will pay these "moderate" rebels during their training and upon their return to the Syrian battlefield?  Second, does this cohort of fighters represent an extra-governmental militia or is this militia part of the US military: what is its status under international law and the Geneva Conventions?  Third, is this militia subject to the Geneva Convention and is the US responsible for the militia's actions under the Geneva Conventions?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Our "Not-Enough" Volunteer Military
     Air Force spokesman Ray Alves recently confirmed that Gen. Herbert Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, recently wrote to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh that "ACC believes that we are about to see a perfect storm of increased demand, accessions reductions, and outflow increases that will damage readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 (Predator drone) enterprise for years to come".  Gen. Carlisle added, "I am extremely concerned".  The combination of increased demand for drone sorties, not enough "volunteers" to operate them, and an exodus of qualified operators from the service is creating a 'perfect storm" that jeopardizes one of the cornerstones of the US "global war on terrorism".
     Although it is remarkable that this military occupational specialty would be the one that raises "extreme concern" to our All-Volunteer Force given the operator's working conditions and low personal risk, the Air Force response is equally remarkable.  Col. Alves indicated that monetary bonuses (bribes) would be the most likely response.  Is ours, in fact, an All-Volunteer Force if we have to bribe someone to join it?  Is the All-Volunteer Force model fair, efficient, and sustainable? 

Friday, January 2, 2015

     In the twilight of thirteen consecutive years of war in which less than one percent of Americans have served, a number of national security luminaries have lamented the widening civil-military gap and the rise of American militarism.  Among those recently expressing these concerns are James Fallows, Dr. Andrew Bacevich, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and Gen. Stanley McCrystal.  All of them clearly identify the risks to national security and our country's social fabric that these trends present.  The writers identify the sacrifices that of those who serve thoroughly and compassionately: suicides, multiple deployments, PTSD, homelessness, etc..  These sacrifices were aggravated by an All-Volunteer Force concept that exempts every American citizen from any obligation to protect and defend the security and liberties to which they all lay claim. 
     What concerns me about these writers is their shared rejection of military conscription as a remedy to the widening civil-military gap and rising militarism in America.  The All-Volunteer Force makes it too easy for limited liability patriots, chicken hawks, and a disengaged citizenry, none of whom have "skin in the game", to go to war.  These writers all argue that military conscription is a "political non-starter".  By buying into this argument these writers are surrendering to a discredited political elite the moral high ground in what should be an important national dialogue.  In 1783 George Washington wrote that "it may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government, owes not only a portion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it".

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

     Many writers have noted the ever widening civil-military gap; the disconnect between the American people and their military.  Less than one percent of Americans have served in our long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The gap is reflected on Capital Hill.  The 114th Congress that will be seated in January will have the smallest percentage of military veterans since before WWII.  Only eighteen percent of the House members are veterans.  In 1977 it was seventy nine percent.  In the Senate twenty percent are military veterans.  Even more remarkable is the fact that the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and his two predecessors are not military veterans; an unprecedented succession.
     I would suggest that America's decision to exempt all citizens from an obligation to protect their freedoms and liberties through military service may explain this trend.  The All-Volunteer Force is the single biggest cause of the civil-military gap.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Troubling Bumper Crop
     The success of the United States in establishing a sustainable democracy in Afghanistan depends not only upon military actions but also on an Afghan government free of corruption and a strong economy.  Last month the United Nations issued a report stating that Afghan opium cultivation increased by seven percent over 2013 and opium production increased by seventeen percent.  This increase followed a forty nine percent increase in 2013....the highest levels since the fall of the Taliban government in 2002.  In the late 1990's the Taliban government completely eradicated opium cultivation in Afghanistan.  Despite a US goal to eradicate opium production it has increased exponentially since our occupation.  Now the Taliban both tax and participate in opium production.  Opium production represents approximately twenty percent of Afghan GDP and recently three judges quietly released from prison an Afghan drug kingpin who was serving a twenty year sentence.
     The report represents another data point in engaging the question.....why are we still spending American blood and treasure in Afghanistan?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

     In my book "Skin in the Game...Poor Kids and Patriots" I ask whether the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) is working and will work in the future based on fairness, efficiency, and sustainability.  Emerging arithmetic is helping to answer the question.  Major General Allen Batschelet, commander of the US Army Recruiting Command, was quoted in the Army Times, stating "We are finding fewer and fewer people who are qualified to serve" as a result of obesity.  Elevated high school dropout rates and adolescent asthma also reduce the pool of those who qualify.  Today fewer than 3 in 10 Americans in the prime recruiting age group meet the recruiting standards.  By the year 2020 that ratio may fall to 2 of 10.
     The Army alone needs to recruit about 80,000 new people each year.  The other services also have recruiting requirements.  Each year about four million Americans reach the age of eighteen.  The "propensity to serve" in the military (those willing) is about 8% and has declined over the past decade.  Here's where the arithmetic gets interesting.  If 30% of the recruiting pool is able to serve and 8% is willing to serve that means that 2.4% of the pool is both willing AND able to serve; 2.4% of four million is 96,000 available to all the branches of the military.  Demand exceeds supply under current conditions and the AVF is unsustainable.  If either the "propensity to serve" (willing) or those qualified (able) falls, the arithmetic gets worse.
     Now may be a good time to ask if the All-Volunteer Force will work in the future.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Budget blinders
     The Obama administration requested that Congress appropriate an additional $5.6 billion on Nov. 10 to finance the fight against ISIS.  This is in addition to the $59 billion already in the 2015 defense budget for "Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)".  In 2014 more than $30 billion of the $80 billion in this account was spent for things totally unrelated to winding down the Afgan war.  Congress has not asked for an accounting of what the $30 billion was spent on but does know that the Pentagon uses the account to circumvent congressionally imposed spending caps on the Pentagon.  The OCO account is not subject to the spending caps.  This became evident when the Pentagon asked Congress a few weeks ago if it could use OCO funds to support the troubled F-35 fighter program.  The F-35 is not yet certified for combat so can have no impact on the Afgan war or ISIS in 2015.  The House Defense Appropriations Committee denied the request.  If the Pentagon could take money out of the existing $59 billion OCO budget for the troubled F-35 why does it need $5.6 billion more to fight ISIS?  Might it be because the fear of ISIS is easier to sell than the troubled and controversial F-35 and the Pentagon sees another way to get more funding?  The Pentagon's bureaucratic error was asking for permission rather than forgiveness.
     Congress did the right thing by denying the request but should ask some tough questions of the Pentagon as a follow up......unless they don't want to acknowledge that the military-industrial-congressional complex is still alive and well.