Monday, December 12, 2011

Doubly Dumb

Several years ago I was visiting the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks and my host invited me to have lunch with a war college student who was a senior officer in the Mexican military. He laid out the status of the Mexican drug war at the time. Then, the drug war in Mexico was nowhere “on my radar.” Since then I have followed it closely as it has become more intense and far reaching and U.S. civilian law enforcement and military have become more involved on both sides of the border. The U.S. press has also expanded its coverage. The effects of these drug wars in Mexico on overall violent deaths, official corruption, reluctance to invest, and civilian and military enforcements costs have been huge and are growing. Mexico is at the brink of being a failed narco state on our shared southern border of almost 2,000 miles; a compelling threat to our national security. To allow this to happen when there is a partial solution available to the U.S. would be dumb. If this same solution to the Mexican drug crisis would also help solve the U.S. budget deficit problem and we didn’t do it would also be dumb. Thus you have doubly dumb.

The action I allude to above is to legalize marijuana in the United States thus weakening the drug cartels by taking this revenue stream and tax marijuana in the U.S. as we do alcohol and tobacco; two equally pernicious but socially acceptable and heavily taxed vices. I am not suggesting that marijuana is “good” or “helpful.” I am suggesting that there are two good reasons for taking this action that substitutes being pragmatic and smart for being doubly dumb and hypocritical.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Arab Spring-Israeli Winter

The Middle East appears to be going through two seasons at the same time. On one hand we have the Arab Spring where citizens have risen up, or are rising up to challenge dictators and repressive governments in the name of democracy, freedom, transparency and dignity. The movement has generally been supported by Western nations including the United States even though the movements ultimate outcomes or, in many cases, its leaders are unknown. On the other hand, we see an Israeli Winter, where Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East and, as a result, increasingly paranoid (which some may argue is justified).

This paranoia has lead to an alarming development in Israeli politics and public opinion. Recent reports in the Israeli press indicate the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are working to convince other member of the cabinet and Israeli security officials that Israel must launch a preemptive strike on Iran‘s nuclear program. Israel has taken such actions in the past. In 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed an unfinished nuclear reactor in Iraq, destroying that country’s nuclear program. And in 2007 Israeli warplanes destroyed a site in Syria that the U.N. nuclear watchdog deemed a secretly built nuclear reactor. Neither country retaliated against these acts of aggression. As to public opinion., the Dialog polling institute recently reported that 41% of the Israeli public said they would support an attack and 37% would oppose an attack (with a 4.6% margin of error).

I believe it is wishful thinking to believe that Iran would not respond militarily to an Israeli attack and that the exchange might not lead to a wider war, perhaps involving most, if not all, of the Middle East. If this were to occur, there is no reason to believe that the U.S. would not be drawn into the war. Given the current readiness of the U.S. military after ten years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the state of the world economy, and the current U.S. budget deficit and debt, a total war in the Middle East is the last thing America can afford…in terms of blood and treasure. Someone at the White House should call Prime Minister Netanyahu and tell him in the most unambiguous terms as possible that attacking Iran’s suspected nuclear sites is not acceptable and if he chooses to do so nevertheless he and his country are on their own in dealing with the consequences. The U.S. can no longer afford to be a dog being wagged by its tail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Leaving Iraq

I am constantly aware of the danger of crossing over from skeptic to cynic as an observer of American national security affairs. Nevertheless I am astonished by the reaction last week to President Obama’s announcement that U.S. troops will leave Iraq after eight years of war, over 4,400 U.S. lives, and more than a trillion dollars spent. My astonishment exists at the political, the strategic and the individual level.

Political opponents of President Obama such as Mitt Romney, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others are criticizing him for executing a status of force agreement negotiated by George W. Bush, who the last I looked, is a fellow Republican. Bush negotiated this agreement before leaving office and Obama never repudiated it. In fact Obama is doing exactly what many Americans say they would like to have elected officials do; fulfill campaign promises. Candidate Obama said he would get us out of Iraq in a first term and never compromised that promise. (I, too, wish he had delivered on some others).

Strategically, some people believe and would like to have others believe that the U.S. now has and will have more influence in Iraq than Iran has. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently on Meet the Press, “No one should miscalculate America’s resolve and commitment to helping support the Iraqi democracy” and “We have paid too high a price to give Iraqis the chance. And I hope that Iran and no one else miscalculate that.” The fact is that Iran and Iraq are closely aligned by geography, religion, language, trade and a debt owed to Iran by current Iraqi leaders who lived in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Muctada al Sadar, a radical cleric who is an Iranian proxy, is the power broker who kept the head of Iraq, Nuri al Maliki, in place. Furthermore the rational for keeping a U.S. military presence in Iraq, protecting Iraqi airspace, stabilizing its borders, and being an intelligence resource do not pass any rational test of demonstrated U.S. capability or intent.

Finally, I have had a number of conversations with my friends, neighbors and acquaintances who feel strongly that the withdrawal is a mistake. The irony of their position is that it not only lacks facts but more importantly the lack of commitment or investment. None of them served in the military and none of them have children or grandchildren who are serving in the military. So when I ask them if they are willing to pay a quarterly war tax to finance the Iraq war or have their children and/or grandchildren drafted to serve in Iraq, all say NO thus identifying themselves a chicken hawks at worst or uninformed limited liability patriots at best.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


One thing that every U.S. official, military and civilian, who has responsibility for Afghanistan agrees upon is that the eradication of the poppy crop in Afghanistan is critical to defeating the Taliban and establishing some form of stable, democratic, central government there. The United Nations drug control agency reported earlier this week that the amount of land sown with poppies increased by 7% this year. It was the second consecutive year that poppy cultivation rose. This rise has occurred despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the U.S. government to disrupt opium smuggling operations and the insurgent networks that profit from them.

Afghan economic realities trump American aspirations and “magical thinking”. We are trying to convince Afghan farmers who have cultivated poppies for generations to grow wheat, pomegranates and saffron instead of poppies which can yield more than $4000 per acre. Do the math. What would you grow? Because of rising prices and higher production the value of the opium produced in Afghanistan is set to more than double this year to $1.4 billion equal to 9% of Afghanistan’s GDP and approximately equal to the government’s annual tax revenues. The majority of that $1.4 billion will flow to the Taliban and Afghan warlords.

After several years of asking the question, “What does success (winning) in Afghanistan look like?” without anything resembling a good answer, I may be a step closer by identifying failure.

Friday, September 30, 2011

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is officially over!

Click on the link above to see my interview regarding "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Difficult Questions

Late last week I made what may have been a mistake over a cup of coffee by asking a Palestinian friend of mine what he thought of the attacks on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier in the week (13 September). He quickly told me that he was not supportive of the attacks and was deeply concerned with the ongoing Middle East violence. He said that he was also concerned about American actions in the area and reporting in the American press and asked me three questions along those lines.

First, he asked why it is that when we “take out” a Taliban or Al Qaida leader we say we weaken these organizations but we systematically take out our own leaders when we rotate units and leaders back to the U.S. and do not acknowledge any degradation of effectiveness in the war zone. Second, he asked why the U.S. press and pentagon characterize the successful attacks last week as an indication that Afghan forces are unable to provide for their own defense without U.S. help and ignore the fact that they were unable to do so WITH U.S. help. Might the U.S. presence as an occupying force motivate the attacks? Finally, he found Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s characterization of the action of suicide bombers in the attack as “cowardly” ironic. He asked if this characterization implied that firing a missile from a drone from 7000 miles away was any more heroic. He then offered me a “bonus” question and asked why it was that the U.S. supported the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Egypt but not in Bahrain, the West Bank or Gaza.

I did not have good answers to any of these troubling questions. The only consolation from the conversation was that he bought the coffee.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Insecurity Through Obesity

I know that this is a blog focused on national security and military affairs so you may be asking what obesity has to do with national security…read on. National security has many sources in addition to military capabilities. Among the additional sources are diplomacy, education, intellectual property, culture and economic strength. Last year all of Washington was engaged in the health care debate but not one elected or appointed officer or pundit pointed out that fully one third of the American people were clinically obese. Obesity leads to diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory ailments, some forms of cancer and skeletal infirmities, all of which contribute to the 17% plus of GDP we spend on health care in America. Some analysts have said that eliminating obesity in America would reduce health care expenses by 3-4% of GDP, a bigger reduction than all the elements of the legislation that ultimately passed Congress. Yet no one said a word about obesity.

Obviously, obesity affects national security because its cost weakens us economically. Devoting 3-4% of GDP to obesity related health care costs takes money away from education, infrastructure, and research initiatives that strengthen the economy. It also takes money away from military budgets as the Pentagon competes for dollars in a resources scarce environment. This tradeoff is also seen within the defense establishment as the Veteran’s Administration mission is made more complex and expensive as they treat patients who have not only service related injuries and illnesses but also obesity related conditions. Treating our Agent Orange victims is less complicated and more successful if the victim is not obese.

In the future, the American trend toward obesity among our young people will impact the ability to man the All Volunteer Force. More and more potential recruits will be unable to meet minimum height / weight standards for induction, causing the military to lower standards, raise enlistment bonuses, reduce the size of the force or take some other measure in response to the effect obesity will have on recruiting and manning the force.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Politically Correct but Deficient

Last month I was invited to a briefing in Washington by a panel of four senior Pentagon officials lead by Paul D. Patrick, Deputy Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. The subject of the briefing was the much anticipated “Comprehensive Review of the Future of the Reserve Component.” The Review was commissioned by the authors’ superiors and provides a politically and bureaucratically correct answer to those superiors and avoids uncomfortable truths present in the real world outside the Pentagon. In addition it fails to note a number of uncomfortable truths within the Reserve Components. Finally, it fails to include input or interests of two key stakeholders, families and civilian employers.

The authors acknowledge that there was no intellectually honest framework that drove the review such as the Military Decision Making Process or the Ends = Ways + Means model. Thus allowing or ensuring that gaps in analysis would exist and facilitating the presence of confirmation bias and the absence of the inputs and interests of big constituencies
critical to the long term success of the Reserve Components. The review’s Executive Summary states that “Since September 11, 2001, the Reserve Component has convincingly confirmed that it can also provide substantial operational capability – capability that effectively enhances the quality of life of DOD’s Active forces by reducing stress…” This statement seems to ignore the stress on Reserve Component service members and their families and employers as evidenced by high suicide and divorce rates, PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, and civilian career interruptions and civilian job loss. It also fails to address the impact repeated deployments has on the retention of high potential Reserve Component officers and senior NCOs. The review also fails to address a host of leadership issues within the Reserve Components such as high failure rates (or failure to take) on physical fitness tests, failure to meet height/weight standards, turnover and attrition, and turbulence due to reorganization and unit relocations.

I asked five questions at the end of the brief. The first four were answered poorly and the fifth, the briefers didn’t even try to answer. That fifth question was “If a rational decision maker/manager in a civilian organization had the choice to promote or hire among two candidates who were equally qualified but one of the two would be lost to him because of deployment as a Reserve Component service member one out of every five years, which of the two would the rational decision maker choose?” I think the answer is obvious and uncomfortable for the purpose of the review.

One closing point…the Pentagon admits that the review cost the American taxpayer more than two and one half million dollars.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Who will pay?

One of the critical elements of the strategy for Afghanistan laid out by President Obama last week is that the United States will train and equip an Afghan army and national police force that can defend and secure Afghanistan after 2014, thus allowing U.S. forces to leave. To date, this effort has been marginally successful as it is faced with corruption, desertions, illiteracy, and Taliban infiltration. Assuming, optimistically, that this Afghan force can be established, its annual payroll will be around $11 billion per year. The total tax revenue of the Afghan government is approximately $1.5-2.0 billion per year…a $9.0 billion shortfall. While the U.S. is laying off policemen, firefighters, paramedics and teachers in its own cities and considering reductions to U.S. service members and retirees pay and benefits to reduce the defense budget, who do you think will be paying this $9.0 billion to Afghan soldiers and national police into perpetuity? The argument will be “We spent all that money to create the police and military force. We can’t just walk away from it now.” Perhaps NOW is the time to ask this $9.0 billion question.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Careerism on Steroids

Recently outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made a number of public comments regarding reducing the defense budget. He has already cut a number of weapons programs and proposed the reduction or elimination of more. He has also suggested strongly that changes should be made in personnel programs for current or retired service members and their families in medical benefits, pay, and retirement (for current active service members). All of his recommendations require congressional and or executive branch approvals to achieve savings to reduce the budget deficit.

One program that he could cut with the stroke of his pen is the Pentagon’s Senior Mentors Program. While we are considering cutting benefits to enlisted soldiers (active and retired) and their families the Senior Mentors Program has more than 150 retired three and four star admirals and generals being paid up to $179,000 per year (up to $440 per hour) while also collecting full retirement benefits of up to $220,000 per year. In addition, each of these “mentors” are permitted to be on the payroll of a defense contractor; a conflict of interest waiting to happen as they spy and advocate for their defense contractor employers.

Secretary Gates should terminate this program that facilitates these war profiteers masquerading as mentors before the Pentagon experiences an embarrassment at best and a scandal at worst.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Get Out Now

All U.S. troops are required to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 in accordance with a formal agreement between the two countries. The agreement further stipulates that the Iraqi government can request that troops remain after 2011 and the U.S. will consider that request subject to negotiations and further agreements. Currently there are 47,000 American troops remaining in Iraq. Recent comments by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other senior U.S. national security officials and several elected officials have clearly indicated that they would welcome such a request from the Iraqi government and would prefer that it came soon. American officials advocating a presence after 2011 cite three Iraqi areas of need where the U.S. could help; protection of Iraqi airspace, intelligence capabilities, and border security.

American officials contend that the Iraqi government cannot protect its airspace. They identify three threats; Turkish incursions to attack Kurdish rebel enclaves in Kurdistan, Israeli over flights to spy on Iran, and Iranian violations of Iraqi airspace. Turkey and Israel are U.S. allies and Iran is an Iraqi ally. Is it reasonable to think that U.S. warplanes patrolling Iraqi airspace would shoot down aircraft from any of these countries without creating significant problems for the U.S. and / or Iraq? The second reason, intelligence capabilities, is suspect going back to Saddam’s phantom WMD, the U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army, and the fact that few American intelligence officers even speak the language. Finally, the justification regarding border security is made manifestly suspect by the gross failure of the U.S. government to secure its own southern border.

Staying in Iraq means that we would be spending blood and treasure to support a Maliki government that has concentrated power at the expense of a fragile democracy. Last year’s inconclusive election had Prime Minister Maliki and Ayad Allawi basically tied and only four months ago Maliki was able to form a government because Muktada Al Sader, the radical cleric and head of the Maudi army joined Maliki’s effort to form a government. Maliki is beholden to a “king maker” who the U.S. wanted to arrest and try several years ago. Al Sader vehemently objects to foreign forces in Iraq. Maliki has still not filled the positions of defense minister and interior minister in his cabinet so he holds these critical positions himself. Several months ago Iraq’s highest court, at Maliki’s request, ruled that only the Prime Minister (Maliki) or his cabinet, not members of Parliament, could propose legislation. The same court later added to his power grab by agreeing to let him take control of three formerly independent agencies that run the central bank, conduct elections, and investigate corruptions.

The question of remaining in Iraq after 2011 may be debated at the same time that the U.S. considers its debt and budget deficit crisis. Since invading and occupying Iraq in 2003 the U.S. has lost more than 4,400 service members and spent two TRILLION dollars (all borrowed to be repaid with interest). Recently, Iraq received a 25% increase in GDP while we Americans are paying almost four dollars for a gallon of gasoline. Iraq now pumps 2.7 million barrels of oil per day (up from 1.9 million when we invaded). As the price of a barrel of oil moved from $85 to $110 Iraq receives an additional $67,500,000 per DAY; and an additional $24.6 billion per year. There seems to be something out of balance here.

Going forward, Iraq seems like a bad bet to me. We should honor the current agreement and leave.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Veterans Beware

As a result of huge federal government debt and ongoing budget deficits, the Pentagon budget is coming under real scrutiny for the first time in years if not decades. Most Americans accept the Pentagon spending out of guilt, ignorance, fear, and limited liability patriotism. Defense contractors and assorted beltway bandits defend it out of greed. Politicians support it out of fear, greed and ambition. Veterans support it out of genuine patriotism, pride, and a loyalty to their service. I would suggest that veterans take a close, objective, look at their support of Pentagon spending.

In a nation that projects trillion dollar budgets over the next several years, how do you justify $7 million per year to sponsor a car on the NASCAR circuit? How do you justify more than $27 million per year to fund the DOD Senior Mentors program (AKA ”careerism on steroids”), which pays retired three and four stars $440 per hour up to $179,000 per year while receiving their full retirement benefits and being on the payroll of a defense contractor? How do you justify the fact that the U.S. defense budget is larger than the defense budgets of the next ten countries combined? How do you rationalize the fact that we are spending $6 billion per month in Afghanistan while we allocate $4.3 billion over four years to fund the Race to the Top, the U.S. government’s signature program to fix the nation’s broken public education system?

My difficulty in answering the questions above turns toward embarrassment as a veteran in light of the fact that the Defense Department is the only major federal government agency whose books are in such disarray that it cannot stand a financial audit. I am not talking about passing the audit; just undergoing one. DOD officials had committed to being able to undergo the audit by fiscal year 2000 but now say it will be 8-10 years before they will be able to do so. DOD officials cannot tell government auditors where more than $700 billion is spent each year. David M. Walker, former comptroller general of the United States has said, “I came to the conclusion that we have built the best fighting forces in the world at a very high cost and with a huge amount of waste. And the nation’s defense strategy is not as comprehensive, integrated, and future focused as it needs to be.”

There is much good that comes from a strong national defense. Informed, objective, patriotic, veterans must take the lead in imposing national thought, discipline and accountability into defense spending. Otherwise, greed, fear, ambition and limited liability patriotism will prevail in weakening national defenses.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lessons From Egypt

Recent events in Egypt are indeed historic. They can be viewed through a host of lenses. Among them; the Egyptian people, President Mubarak, the Egyptian military, autocratic rulers in the Middle East and their citizens, terrorist groups like Al Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood and Western governments. I will focus here on the lens through which the United States government and its national security apparatus has viewed the events at a strategic level and what its implications might be in the future.

First, the events over these eighteen days showcased the clash between U.S. interests and espoused ideals. We attempted to straddle the fence between supporting the justified aspirations of millions of suppressed Egyptians and our own interests in the stability of a long time ally in the region. We knew that whatever position we took had secondary effects in other allied countries in the region led by dictators of suppressed populations. Ideals won out in the end, driven by events fortuitous for the U.S. but we lost some moral authority in the process. It is interesting that the Bush Administration’s “freedom and democracy” agenda in the Middle East is playing out but with a strategy and driving force they never considered. In both Iraq and Egypt dictators were toppled with two differences, one, we liked one of the two dictators and two, one of the actions did not cost the U.S. anything in blood or treasure. And as to final outcomes in the two, I would suggest that Iran is more likely to dominate Iraq’s future policies than the Muslim Brotherhood is to dominate Egyptian politics.

Second, these events illustrate a model or theory of these democratization processes. These types of events fall on a continuum from aspiration, to persuasion, to coercion. The American Revolutions, the Solidarity Movement in Poland, and now the Tunisian and Egyptian movement fall into the aspiration category. Energy and determination came from the people. Persuasion is the least often experienced of the three, but may have been dominant in South Africa and Northern Ireland in our lifetimes. Finally, we have democracy through coercion, best exemplified in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. continues to spend blood and treasure, democracy is foreign, and strong internal cultural, ethnic, and historic forces work against it. Clearly, democracy generated from the aspiration end of the continuum is preferable.

A final observation at the strategic level regards the effect these events may have on the “global war on terrorism” that the U.S. has been fighting for almost ten years at a cost of almost 6,000 lives and two trillion dollars to this point. Al Qaida has identified the overthrow of Mubarak as a primary goal since at least 1996. He has been overthrown and there is no hint of Al Qaida influences or involvement. Tunisia has gone the same route and several other Middle East dictators have taken steps to eliminate or reduce the grievances that Al Qaida has used to justify its movement and motivate its adherents. These aspiration and persuasive democracy movements reduce the market for what Al Qaida has to sell and reduced its effectiveness and brand. Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian issue, and overall U.S. Middle East policy are still potential rally cries for Al Qaida but its market for mayhem has contracted greatly. It remains to be seen whether America can take advantage of these developments in its “war on terrorism.” Watch closely.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Our Heads In The Sand

Last week I was in Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to hear James Woolsey, former CIA Director, deliver a speech to a selected military audience. I have heard dozens of speeches by people with his background; all smart, articulate, and well informed. Woolsey brought these unique features to his speech…passion and candor. Usually these guys are dull and politically correct.

His theme was to ask and answer the question “What is the most important thing that the United States could do to enhance its national security?” You might expect him to propose things like improve our intelligence capability, to spend more on the military, or win the war on terrorism. But he did not. He laid out a compelling case that the most important single thing that we can do to enhance national security is to dramatically reduce our dependencies on foreign oil and become energy independent…period. In closing, he pointed out that since 1973 (the OPEC oil embargo) when we first became aware of this vulnerability and its adverse consequences we have become even more dependent on foreign oil and have no national energy strategy to address the crisis. Denial, delusion, and self indulgences are hallmarks of disaster.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Terrorism, Cyber War, or Defense?

On Sunday, January 16, 2011 the New York Times reported at length on the sabotage of equipment critical to the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program. The sabotage was executed through the placement of a “worm” called Stuxnet into the computer programs that control centrifuges to enrich uranium. The article places responsibility for the placement of the “worm” with Israel and the United States with cooperation from Germany. The Israeli and American governments neither admit nor deny that they were responsible. Most Western and Middle Eastern governments applaud the sabotage of the centrifuges.

The facts outlined above beg a question which the New York Times does not address. Was this an act of terrorism directed toward Iran? Was this a first battle in a cyber war against Iran? And, more importantly, will Iran react in-kind against a heavily computer dependent, relatively unprotected American financial, interpersonal, and communication network infrastructure? If Iran succeeded in doing the same to us would we consider it terrorism or cyber warfare?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Institutional Hypocrisy

It is clear that most Americans were disappointed at best and shocked at worst at the videos by Captain Owen Honors, until recently the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The Navy acted quickly this week to relieve him of command and launch an investigation, dealing with the issue at one level.

But questions remain at a deeper level. Some of his supervisors were aware of the offensive videos in 2006 or 2007 and complaints were filed by some sailors in that time frame. Nonetheless, the Navy promoted him and assigned him as the Enterprise commanding officer. But it wasn’t until the issue became public knowledge last week that the institutional Navy sanctimoniously reacted and disciplined Captain Honors.

So which set of cultural norms and standards of discipline and conduct does the institutional Navy adhere to? Why were complaints about the contents of the videos by some offended crew members (as acknowledged on film by Captain Honors) not pursued by those in charge? Where were the Chaplains, JAGs, and Equal Opportunity Officers on board? Does this flip flop of reactions by the Navy indicate a clear disconnect in values between the U.S. military and the people of the nation it protects and serves. Finally, and most fundamentally, does the Navy condone this type of behavior by its “leaders” unless it becomes public knowledge?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remember Osama Bin Laden?

As the 112th Congress convenes in Washington D.C. in January it will consider a number of issues. Among them will be a defense budget of $720 billion plus and a total intelligence budget of a similar amount (the total intelligence budget is classified). The defense budget is greater than the defense budget of the next ten nations in the world combined. Historically, there are few first order questions asked by the members of the house and senate armed services committees or the press regarding those budgets and the pentagon, the defense contractors, and lobbyists usually get what they want absent the first order questions.

Although I would not consider it a first order question, one question that has not been raised recently in a rigorous manner is “Why have you failed to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden? “ The man is 6’6” tall, his photo is splashed around the world, he is on kidney dialysis, there is a reward of $27 million for his capture, and he sends out videos periodically taunting us. How can a “defense/intelligence” establishment explain this failure and what does it tell us about the effectiveness of this establishment after ten years and the level of support other governments in the “war on terror.”

To this point, talking heads at the Pentagon and CIA have recently told us that Bin Laden’s elimination is not important in the “war on terror.” But rest assured of this, if he is killed or captured, these same talking heads will tout it as one of the great national security accomplishments of our time and perhaps roll out a large “Mission Accomplished” banner. In the meantime it’s not important, just keep writing all the checks.