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

Arithmetic
     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.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unbelievable
     It is clear to anyone who follows national security issues that all senior uniformed bureaucrats, most members of the congressional armed service committees, and all government contractors advocate for the repeal of sequestration, the across the board cuts in military spending.  This is gospel for the military-industrial-congressional complex.  Much of the argument against sequestration focuses on readiness, modernization, and end strength....none of the arguments are based on art work.....paintings.
     Nonetheless, the Army is spending $600,000 to purchase a collection of twenty three WWI paintings by Samuel J. Wolfe.  The Army says that the paintings are "one of a kind historic documents" that are "the only known collection available at this time".  How does purchasing the paintings contribute to readiness, modernization, or end strength.  Test your answer on an Army Captain who can't take his company to the rifle range because the Army has no money for ammunition.....good luck.

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"?