Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ideals Versus Interests

This week the Obama administration will engage in a review of its Afghanistan strategy which will include an update of the war effort and initiatives going forward. This review has been shaped by agreements made last month with NATO military ministers which would have the United States engaged in Afghanistan through 2014. Afghanistan is already America’s longest war and 2014 marks the date when “conditions based” withdrawals can begin. We should expect some definition of what a “win” in Afghanistan is. We should also expect clear, unambiguous, quantifiable, statements of the “conditions” that will allow withdrawal. Neither is likely to result from the strategy review. Nor will we be told what vital American interests are being protected or preserved in this corrupt, failed nation state. The American people will accept this bureaucratic babble because they are not engaged.

America is not engaged first of all because the war is being fought by less than one percent of the American people at tragic cost to our service members and their families; multiple deployments, high divorce rates, PTSD, prescription and illegal drug abuse, alcoholism, spousal abuse, or suicide crisis, and more than 1,300 deaths. This one percent is made up overwhelmingly of poor kids and patriots from the third and fourth row economic quintiles of our population. And the first quintiles, the well off and well connected are AWOL. A military draft would engage the American people in the longest of their wars.

Secondly, the American people are not engaged because someone else’s money is paying for the war (largely China) at the rate of more than six billion dollars per month. All of it to be repaid in the future with interest. One hundred million American taxpayers would become engaged if each month they received a “war tax” notice from the IRS demanding the immediate payment of their share, sixty dollars.

After nine years this war goes on with no first order questions being asked, no challenges being raised and no outrage being expressed. When the blood and treasure of others is being spent it is easy to have ideals triumph over interests.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Was Missing?

America just completed a highly contentious mid-term election that brought about debate on a broad range of issues facing the nation. Many of those issues were technical and specific while others were philosophical and ideological. These elections also showed an unusually large number of examples of person attacks and venom among the candidates. But there were several things not discussed, a “Hound of the Baskervilles” aspect, that concerned me. Principal among these were two aspects of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first aspect is that these wars are being fought by less than one percent of the U.S. citizens with devastating effects on American service members and their families. In addition to the more than 5,000 casualties and 40,000 serious injuries to our service members we have a military dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, a record divorce rate, rampant use of prescription drugs, lowered enlistment standards, and a suicide crisis. As Americans go about their everyday business and participate in this election the patriotic saying “all gave some, some gave all” morphs into myth or perhaps a lie and gives way to a new reality that “some gave all, most gave nothing, not a bloody thing.”

The second issue absent from the political dialogue is the cost of these wars, especially in light of the fact that deficits, the national debt, and government spending were issues central to most races. It seems as though the national defense cabal has convinced the American people that defense spending is “off the table” in budget debates while social security, Medicare/Medicaid , education, health care, energy independence and infrastructure are fair game. We spend more on defense in the United States than the next ten countries in the world combined and borrow most of it (a significant portion from China) and all of it will have to be repaid with interest. So while we secure and rebuild Baghdad and Kabul, Cleveland and Kalamazoo crumble. Specifically, as an example, we spend $6 billion a month on these wars while the total funding for three years for the Race to the Top, the centerpiece of education reform in the United States, is $4.3 billion; a 50 to 1 ratio. It may be time to put some other things “on the table”, while we still have a table.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Audit Casts Bad Light On Board, Military

[Letter to the Editor, Columbus Dispatch, October 21st, 2010]

As a retired senior military officer, I was angered and embarrassed by the results of the audit of the Franklin County Veterans Service Commission (Dispatch article, Oct. 1). I am angered because deserving veterans and their families are being poorly served or not being served at all — one in six Franklin County veterans goes to other counties for services.

I am embarrassed because the audit results reflect negatively on the U.S. military.

At best, the results reflect incompetence and self-serving on the part of the executive director and the board members, resulting in a loss of confidence by taxpayers, commission employees and, most important, veterans and their families in Franklin County.

At worst, they represent criminality and malfeasance. Given this gross dereliction of duty by the executive director and the board of directors, I strongly call on them to act honorably and resign immediately.

U.S. Army, retired

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mission Impossible

If one looks closely at the stream of current developments in Iraq and Afghanistan and projects realistically into the future, the outlook on these fronts in the U.S. “Global War on Terrorism” does not look encouraging. These are the two main and most visible battlegrounds the U.S. has chosen to pursue with stable democracies, strong allies, and a message to other countries (allied and enemy) about the strategic goals we have established.

In Iraq, it appears that an eight-month long political battle for the Prime Minister post will be resolved because Mustada Al Sudr (described by most U.S. sources as a “radical anti-American cleric”) has chosen to support Nauri Al Malaki. Sadr is the same man U.S. forces labeled an insurgent in 2006 and sought to arrest or kill. In response, he went into self-imposed exile… in Iran. He also ordered his Maudi army to stand down while the U.S. “surge” played out and the U.S. “bought” 100,000 fighters called the Sunni Awakening. It is reasonable to think that politics is universal and Sadr will get something big from Malaki. Sadr will be only the most visible among a host of Iraqi politicians aligned with and indebted to Iran. Despite the expenditure of 4,400 U.S. lives, more that $1 trillion and significant diplomatic capital, no one should be surprised if five years from now Iraq allies itself more closely with Iran than America.

There is little encouraging news coming out of Afghanistan at the tactical, operational, or strategic levels. Casualties among U.S. and NATO forces are rising rapidly. The highly touted offensive in Marja is a failure at worst and a draw at best and the Kandahar offensive is stillborn. Finally, Afghan President Karzi is pursuing peace talks with the Taliban, much to the dismay of the U.S. Pakistan is an uncertain U.S. ally with huge internal problems exacerbated recently by devastating floods and a feckless government response. Rumors circulate that the military is again considering a coup and that former strongman Musharoff (now in exile) is considering a political comeback. The U.S.-Pakistan “alliance” is strained by the intrusion of sovereign Pakistan territory by NATO forces and civilian deaths by U.S. attacks and Pakistan’s decision to close off supply routes into Afghanistan in response. A final source of stress between the two is Pakistan’s support or tolerance of the Taliban and the Haquanni network along its western border. There is no American success in Afghanistan without Pakistan sharing U.S. goals and perspectives and that is not the case today. As I have written previously, there are only two questions in Afghanistan: Do you want to lose big or do you want to lose small? And do you want to lose sooner or do you want to lose later?

Spin doctors at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon will burn the midnight oil convincing themselves and the American people that Iraq and Afghanistan represent Mission Accomplished.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why the GOP Should Repeal DADT

by Bret Stephens, WALLSTREET JOURNAL, 21 Sep 10

“Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years.” The line is a bit of satire from the Onion. But it came to mind after Lady Gaga released a video last week urging Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or DADT. “We’re asking you to do your job, to protect the Constitution,” says the 24-year-old professor of jurisprudence.

Great. Maybe now that Harry Reid plans to bring repeal to a vote as part of the 2011 Defense bill, advocates can enlist Marilyn Manson to make a personal approach to Senate Republicans James Inhofe and Jim DeMint. That should win them over.

For a more sober view of the subject, turn to Dennis Laich, a self-described “old, bald, straight guy.” Mr. Laich has none of the glamour of Lady Gaga, but on this subject he has one valuable credential: He retired from the U.S. Army in 2006 after a 35-year career in the reserves that began in field artillery, included tours of duty in Honduras, Germany, the Netherland, Kuwait and Iraq, and culminated in a command position at Ft. Devens as a Major General. Unlike Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman who has also expressed reservations about the policy, he has no liberal political masters to please. But he still thinks DADT is nuts.

The strength of the general’s case is that it’s not about “rights,” gay or otherwise, much less whatever Lady Gaga happens to think is in the Constitution. It’s about the interests of the military itself, starting with its values. “If you talk to most theologians, ethicists or philosophers, they’ll tell you there are two kinds of lies, of commission or omission,” he says. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell represents a lie of omission that is inconsistent with the values of a military organization that presents itself as values-based.”

The values argument isn’t the half of it. Since DADT came into force in 1993, some 14,000 service members have been discharged under the policy-the equivalent of an entire division of war fighters. Investigating and processing each case has its costs; so does recruiting and training each replacement. How much? A 2006 commission organized by UCLA;s Palm Center and led by former Defense Secretary William Perry put the total cost of each discharge at $42,835, meaning the policy has now cost the U.S. taxpayer around $600 million.

That’s not pocket change, especially for a military scrounging for savings. It’s also no small matter at a time when the military’s recruitment standards for age, education, physical fitness and moral standards have been steadily declining. In the last two years alone the Army and Marines have granted an unprecedented number of “moral waivers” to recruits with previous felony convictions.

The result, Mr. Laich acidly notes, is that “we would rather have in our military middle-aged, overweight, undereducated felons than fully qualified, experienced patriots who happen to have a sexual orientation that some people find troublesome.”

Nor does it help that DADT has given top universities a handy alibi to exclude ROTC from their campuses, and the students at those schools a reason not to serve. Would lifting DADT increase recruitment at schools like Harvard and Yale? Probably only at the margins. But it would help end the poisonous estrangement, with all its larger political consequences, between America’s military and our intellectual elites.

But what about the argument that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military would harm recruitment, morale and unit cohesion? Mr. Laich doesn’t buy it. Existing military regulations strictly prohibiting or regulating sexual conduct would still apply, and violators would continue to be punished. NATO militaries, as well as Israel’s, have integrated gay service members without issue. And similar arguments to the ones being made now against repealing DADT were made when African Americans, and later women, were integrated into the army.

“Five years from now we’ll look back at this and say, what was all the fuss?” he says. “These young soldiers, sailors and Marines come from a society where gays and lesbians are readily accepted and work with them and go to school with them.”

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that there are an estimated 48,000 homosexuals on active duty or the reserves, many of them in critical occupations, many with distinguished service records. If they pose any risk at all to America’s security, it its, paradoxically, because DADT institutionalizes dishonesty, puts them at risk of blackmail, and forces fellow war fighters who may know about their orientation to make an invidious choice between comradeship and the law. That’s no way to run a military.

Republican senators are now bellyaching that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to jam the repeal amendment into a bill they have no real choice but to vote for. They should be silently thanking him. He’s giving them the chance to do the right thing while blaming the Democrats for it. It’s a GOP twofer, plus a vote they’ll someday be proud of.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Military “Leaders”

The sanctimonious rhetoric consistently offered up/about “lacking care of the troops and their families” is being exposed as hollow for thousands of those service members. Lawmakers and veteran advocates criticized Defense Department Officials last week for continued questions surrounding personality disorder discharges by DOD, a practice critics say allows the military to avoid paying for some war injuries by blaming problems instead on pre-existing medical conditions. In 2009, the military discharged more than 2000 patriotic service members for conditions DOD says were lingering from before their enlistment. Every one of these service members underwent a pre-enlistment physical and found to be fit for services.

Troops who are found to have pre-existing medical conditions or mental disorders that would make them unsuitable for continued military service can be dismissed from the service, denied long term veteran’s medical care and even forced to repay their enlistment signing bonus even if they’ve already served in combat and sustained injuries there.

As the Defense budget comes under increasing pressure, bureaucrats and bean counters have found a cost cutting practice at the expense of those who willingly served and sacrificed. Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner, D-California, frustrated by DOD and VA actions, stated “This begs the question of how many soldiers have to commit suicide, go bankrupt, and end up homeless before real action is taken to remedy this problem?”