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

     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.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Academic Fraud
     On Juy24 the New York Times published a lengthy article reporting that Montana Senator John Walsh plagiarized a paper he wrote while a student at the US Army War College in 2007 while serving in the National Guard.  The Times reported that "About a third of his paper consists of material either identical to or extremely similar to passages in other sources, such as Carnegie or Harvard papers.  and is presented without attribution.  Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes, but uses other authors' exact-or almost exact- language without quotation marks"
     The paper was required for graduation and graduation from a war college is a requirement for promotion to general officer.  Senator Walsh was promoted to general officer rank after graduation and holds that rank now in retired status.  Plagiarism is thoroughly described in the  War College's Handbook and the faculty constantly reminds students of the requirements for academic integrity.  The Times article further reports that the War College's "current student handbook "states that plagiarism will result in disenrollment and that discoveries of academic violations have led to degrees being rescinded and names being scraped off the bronze plaques honoring graduates on campus."
     It will be interesting to see how the Army handles this situation.  If Senator, or Major General, Walsh is found guilty of plagiarism his degree should be withdrawn and, therefore, his promotion to general officer revoked since he failed to meet the promotion criteria.  Colonel Paul Yingling wrote several years ago that "a private who lost his rifle was punished more than a general who lost his part of a war".  Will institutional cowardice and political pressures be the response to academic fraud?

Monday, July 21, 2014

     I find the recent reporting by the American media on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 interesting in that it fails to report a similar incident as background.  On July 3, 1988 the US Navy ship Vincennes shot down a civilian Iranian airliner in Iranian airspace killing 290 passengers, 66 of whom were children.  Iranian Air Flight 655 was a regularly scheduled flight on its normal route and was struck by an American missile while climbing.  The Iranian aircraft was three times the size of a combat aircraft and was "misidentified" by the Vincennes state of the art electronic equipment operated by highly trained Navy professionals.
     Two wrongs do not make a right.  In this case only two tragedies.  But, "fair and balanced" reporting would provide perspective to the American public.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hiding the Cost
     If you are an American taxpayer who believes that the Pentagon budget of more than $500 billion per year is too big (it is larger than that of the next ten nations in the world combined) then I have a data point that may make you feel even more uncomfortable.  The Pentagon budget, I would argue, is understated by at least $150 billion per year because it does not include the Veterans Administration budget.  The cost of the VA would not exist but for the activities of the Pentagon.  It is also likely that the VA budget will rise at a faster rate than either the Pentagon budget or the overall federal budget over the next ten years.  Militarism is very expensive therefore its supporters work to obscure its total cost.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

     I find it ironic that the Congress of the United States is planning to sue the executive branch of the government for "failure to enforce the law and executive overreach".  The irony is that Congress has, for decades, abdicated to the president the power to go to war.....perhaps the most important decision that any nation makes.
     Article one, Section eight of the Constitution states that "Congress shall have the power to...declare War".  The last time they did so was June 5, 1942.  Every significant military operation initiated by the United States since then (Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, and Iraq) has been initiated without a constitutionally based declaration of war as provided for by the Founding Fathers.  Rigorous debate and an unambiguous vote by each member of Congress on a declaration of war may reduce our current tendency to go to war and our steady march toward militarism.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Military Capability
     One of the interesting, but uncomfortable, questions not being asked by politicians, pundits, and the Pentagon as we wring our hands over the current crisis in Iraq is  how the Iraqi military that "experts" deemed capable of defending Iraq has failed so miserably.  The Pentagon spent billions of dollars and years training and equipping the Iraqi military.  In the first meaningful test of its effectiveness it's folding like a cheap tent with almost two full divisions deserting, American supplied equipment falling into enemy hands, and some Iraqi cities being surrendered without a fight.
     It appears that the misjudgments, lies, and absence of accountability that led us into Iraq in 2003 continued through our departure in 2011....4400 lives and three trillion dollars later