Thursday, November 28, 2013

     If the negotiations between the US and Afgan president Karzi over US troop levels after 2014 were being conducted under NFL rules, Karzi would be flagged for taunting.  The US has spent billions of dollars and more than 2,200 US service members lives to prop up a corrupt, ineffective, and unreliable Afgan government led by Karzi for the past decade.  To have the US pander to his changing terms of agreement on a world stage is an embarrassment and yet another reason to leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Training vs. learning
     If the United States can negotiate acceptable terms under which American forces can remain in Afghanistan after 2014 the mission of those forces would be to engage high value terrorist targets, gather intelligence, and train the Afhan military.  The first two have merit but training Afghan forces gives me pause for two reasons.  First, the Afghan government is fighting an insurgency.  The US has never defeated an insurgent force....Viet Nam and Iraq being examples.  Second, we have been training Afghan forces for twelve years at great expense.  We train American recruits in four to six months.  Are the Afghans hopeless students or are we ineffective trainers?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

     On several occasions I have written that we should exit Afghanistan immediately.  Here is yet another reason.  The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment recently reported that it will cost the US $2.1 million per year for each soldier deployed in Afghanistan in 2014.  From 2008-2013 the per soldier cost was $1.3 million per year.  In Iraq, the cost per soldier high point was $400,000 in 2005.  The US troop level in Afghanistan in 2014 is expected to be about 40,000.  You can do the math:  it's staggering.  At this rate, a debt burdened United States will spend billions to perpetuate an unwinnable war.  Why?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Exceptionalism II
     In my last posting I wrote about "American Exceptionalism"  in the eyes of our European allies.  It occurs to me that the Chinese (not necessarily a US ally) may also have some thoughts about exceptionalism.  Those thoughts may be influenced by Sun Tsu, who wrote The Art of War some 2500 years ago.  In the book he writes "to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.  In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good."  The recently "resolved" US government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis may reinforce Sun Tsu's advice.....just let them go.  Let them be dysfunctional, divided, and wedded to deficit spending and we will prevail without effort. 
     The modern day commentator, Rev. Al Sharpton, offers an updated interpretation of Sun Tsu;s counsel to the Chinese, "If your enemy is about to commit suicide, walk away.  Don't turn a suicide into a messy homicide",  The result is the same with no risk or cost to you.

Friday, October 4, 2013

     I just returned from a two week trip to Ireland and England and found that I was unable to post anything to this blog while there.  However, I had the opportunity to conduct a totally unscientific survey regarding the idea of "American Exceptionalism" while there through spirited discussions with the "natives" and my fellow American travelers and reading the European press.  The views of the two groups differed in two ways.  First, the Europeans thought that the idea of "American Exceptionalism" was a dangerous fantasy while the Americans believed in it.  Second, the Europeans could give pretty cogent reasons as to why they believed as they did; the Americans could not.  And this was before the current US government shutdown.
     Again, nothing scientific but interesting nonetheless

Monday, September 16, 2013

Russia's Interests
     As much of the world now sees the Syrian civil war through a lens focused on the diplomatic process to have Assad surrender control of his chemical weapons we should note one important fact: Assad's surrender of his chemical weapons may prolong the war as he and Russia may be seen by many as rational actors who caused US military action to be averted.  Russia's strategic national interests in Syria are arguably greater than those of the US on four counts.  First, Russia has a naval port in Syria giving it access to the Mediterranean Sea which would be lost if Assad falls.  Second, if Assad falls he is likely to be succeeded by a radical, unstable, Islamist state on Russia's doorstep which could destabilize parts of Western Russia with large Muslim populations.  Third, the likely successor government to Assad (radical and Islamist) might control the chemical weapons in question and direct them against nearby Russian targets.  Finally, the Assad government in Syria has a long-standing alliance with Russia just as the US does with Israel, Taiwan, and South Korea.  If Russia were to abandon Syria it harms their credibility and status as a nation..
     A longer look through the above referenced lens may indicate that the idea of American Exceptionalism is being confronted by a discomfiting reality.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ignoring Egypt
     The current American obsession with Syria, a country one-quarter the size of Egypt, might cause some to think that all is well in Egypt.  No doubt, the Syrian civil war is a mess and the use of chemical weapons is a concern.  As we focus on Syria we forget that Egypt is currently ruled by an illegitimate military regime as the result of a bloodless military coup that ousted the first democratically elected president of Egypt and then threw him in prison.  The illegitimate regime has also imprisoned thousands of Islamists, killed peaceful protesters (children among them), and closed opposition news outlets.  Nonetheless we continue to deny that a coup occurred, give the illegitimate government billions in financial aid while our debt climbs, and continue to count Egypt as our ally.
     Magical thinking is required to believe that the United States has a coherent foreign policy in the Middle East.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Few Thoughts
     Several thoughts occur to me as I watch the emotionally fueled political/diplomatic theatre to decide whether the United States should involve itself in the Syrian civil war.  Syria; a country where the US has no apparent vital national security interest.  Syria; a country that has taken no military action against the US.
1.  At the receiving end of "precision, surgical, limited shots across the bow", missiles look like acts of war.
2.  In Iraq and Afganistan the US has had difficulty finding the "exit ramps".  Now we have turned 180 degrees in that we are finding difficulty finding the "entrance ramp" to Syria which leads me to believe that finding the "exit ramp" there may be even more difficult.
3.  Pundits are saying that the American people are "war weary" despite the fact that less than one percent of the military age population has served in the military.  Some gave all.  Most gave nothing.
4.  Most analysts believe that even the most limited strike against Syria would cost at least one billion dollars.  At the same time we are cutting funding for school lunch programs and Head Start for disadvantaged American schoolchildren and ignoring a crumbling domestic infrastructure.  We are a nation with a sixteen trillion dollar debt.
5.  Winston Churchill, a man who knew a bit about war, wrote in 1950 that "War is mainly a catalogue of blunders".  Given the catalogue of strategic, political, and diplomatic blunders evident even before we enter this one, why would we believe that the prosecution and outcomes will be good?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Beating Wardrums
     No matter what the facts are regarding use of chemical weapons in Syria it appears that the United States is about to exercise military force based on emotion, frustration, and presidential ego.  The emotion comes from the images of victims of chemical weapons offered by the media.  The frustration comes from the fact that we have so little influence in a civil war where the main players are authoritarian governments, religious zealots, and terrorists (including Al Quaida).  The presidential ego is driven by ill advised references to "red lines" and prodding from both the political left and right.
     A more rigorous framework for making the decision to go to war (surgical strikes are an act of war just as collateral damage is death) would be the Weinberger Doctrine developed by former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger.  The doctrine states that the United States would only go to war under five preconditions: the use of force would be restricted to matters of vital national interest; political and military objectives would be specific and achievable; the public and Congress would support the war; we would fight to win; and force would be the last resort.
     You can judge for yourself how possible military action by the US stacks up against the Weinberger Doctrine.  You can also speculate as to the response.  To think that Syria and its allies (Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah) would not respond reminds me of being told before we invaded Iraq that the war would be short, we would be greeted as liberators, and Iraqi oil would pay for the war.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Our Un-Volunteer Military
     Since 1973 the United States has had what is known as an All-Volunteer military.  I have suggested that it is really a mercenary military made up predominantly of poor kids and patriots from the third and fourth socioeconomic quintiles of our population: the first quintile is AWOL.  Recruits who often receive substantial bonuses for joining are tested and trained to perform military tasks.  They sign a contract and take an oath.  The contract specifies that they will serve for a certain period of time......unless....unless they choose not to.  Unless they choose to become deserters.
     Desertion is a serious crime, punishable by death in a "time of war".  Private Eddie Slovik was executed for desertion in 1945.  Most Americans are surprised to learn that we have deserters from our All-Volunteer Force and the Pentagon would rather not discuss the issue.  Nevertheless, desertion rates for the army have ranged from a high of 3949 in 2000 and 4800 in 2007 to a recent low of 1083 last year.  From 1997 to 2012 desertion rates per 1000 servicemembers are approximately 6.91 for the army, 0.13 for the air force, 5.88 for the navy, and 8.31 for the Marine Corps.  In aggregate these rates represent five to nine thousand volunteers "un-volunteering" and becoming deserters every year.  Most of that time we were a nation at war.
     There are both financial and moral implications to this reality.  It costs a lot of money to recruit, train, feed, house, and clothe a servicemember. most analysts place this cost at a minimum of $100,000 in the first year to develop this recruit into an asset,  At that rate the army wrote off $480 million of taxpayer assets in 2007.  To make matters worse, the army continues to pay some soldiers who are AWOL and deserters.  A recent Army Audit Agency report (July 13.2013) states "Between January 2010 and July 2012, the army made over 9,000 payments to absentee soldiers totaling $16 million".  Desertion rates in the other branches create similar problems.
     The moral implications of desertion are more troubling than the financial.  Notwithstanding the military's claim to being highly disciplined, its response to desertions is ineffective at best and hypocritical at worst.  Despite the fact that the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows deserters to be court martialed and conviction could result in execution, the military chooses to simply drop deserters from its rolls; the corporate equivalent of writing off an asset.  Even in the rare cases when the military threatens court martial the deserter can request "discharge in lie of court martial" which is uniformly granted with a meaningless (in our society) other than honorable discharge.  The penalty for desertion from the National Guard or reserve is even more feckless; they don't even call it desertion.  It is called "unsatisfactory participation".  This systematic failure by the military to enforce standards and protect its assets causes those servicemembers who do uphold their obligations to lose respect for and trust in their superiors and the institution.  Policy and bureaucracy take the easy way out and morale, cohesion, discipline, and trust suffer.
     When we choose to make failure inconsequential, we invite it because failure is the path of least resistance.. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Failure
     One of the fundamental rules of a successful blog is to post often and consistently.  I admit that recently I have failed to do so.  I apologize for the failure.  The reason (not an excuse) is that I have been writing a book which will be published in the next thirty days.  The title of the book is Skin in the Game: Poor Kids and Patriots.  It questions whether the All-Volunteer Force is working and whether it will work in the future.  The book outlines an alternative to the All-Volunteer Force which provides sufficient manpower to support our national security, closes the civil-military gap, and saves the American taxpayer $75 billion per year.  The alternative also allows us to render moot the question "what if we had a war and no one showed up on our side?"  Going forward I intend to post entries to this blog at least twice per week.
     I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Army Times which was published in the 19 August 2013 edition:

When "Chain" Fails
     I find the debate regarding UCMJ authority over sexual assault cases in the military ironic.  The argument advance by the uniformed service chiefs that the "chain of command" can fix the problem asks the American people and Congress to ignore that they and their predecessors have failed to fix the problem for at least the past twenty years.  The Tailhook scandal happened in 1991, Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1995, and the Air Force Academy scandal in 2003.  Their argument is further weakened by the fact that, in many cases, members of the "chain of command" served as enablers or perpetrators of sexual assault.
     Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to give independent military prosecutors, rather than commanders, the power to decide which sexual assault crimes to try would correct a long-standing weakness in the military justice system that discourages victims from reporting attacks resulting in low prosecution rates.  The current system under the stewardship of the "chain of command" has failed not only victims and their families but also the institution.  For decades we have heard sanctimonious statements about zero tolerance and innovative programs only to have sexual violence in our military increase.  This ongoing failure to fix the problem adversely affects the readiness and capability of our Army as soldiers lose trust in those who have the responsibility to lead them.  High-quality women are less inclined to enlist or reenlist in an institution that systematically fails them.
     Rather than asking Congress to allow the "chain of command" to retain the UCMJ authority over sexual assault cases, senior uniformed bureaucrats might consider asking for forgiveness from the thousands of victims of sexual violence that the "chain of command" has failed to serve.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Interpreting Egypt

Yesterday's Sunday morning talk shows were particularly interesting as US government officials and pundits employed twisted talk and tortured logic to call the ousting of the first democratically elected president of Egypt anything other than a coup.  Webster's dictionary defines a coup as "a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics".  President Morsi was elected by more than 51% of the voters, his party won the parliamentary elections, and the constitution he championed was supported by 64% of the voters.  After just one year in office he was ousted because he was unable to effectively unite a fractured nation after decades of authoritarian (and US supported) rule.  Most observers would agree that Morsi was not having great success in dealing with Egypt's problems.

The US government's response to these events have significant implications with few good options.  First, the US is required by law to suspend the $1.5 billion in annual aid to the Egyptian military as a result of the coup thus reducing US influence in Egyptian affairs even more.  Second, it makes reconciliation and negotiation with the Afgan Taliban more difficult as we ask them to lay down their arms and join the Afgan political process.  The Taliban's lesson from Egypt is that if they do so successfully the US may mount or condone a coup.  Is Karzi in Afganistan any more effective or inclusive than Morsi in Egypt in terms of governing?  Finally, the twisted talk and tortured logic may resonate with the American public but it sounds like hypocrisy to much of the Arab world.......the US supports emerging democracy in other countries only if they elect candidates we support.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Last month I wrote about the CIA giving Afghan President Karzai large sums of cash on a regular basis for a long time.  Both the CIA and the Karzai government acknowledged these payments and the CIA said they would continue.  You may have thought that someone in the U.S. government, perhaps the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would look into this.  Well, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), the ranking member, has sent three written requests (May 2, May 14 and June 13) to the White House seeking information about the payments.  The White House has not yet replied to any of his three written requests for information.

In his letters, Corker states “I write again to request an explanation of the incoherent United States policy in Afghanistan made evident by the claims of cash payments to President Karzai.  Regarding reducing corruption, he goes on to say “I am deeply concerned that these alleged cash payments undermine these efforts and enhance corruption in Afghanistan.  Even if these alleged payments may have short-term value for the United States from a national security or intelligence perspective, they may be severely counterproductive in the long run.”

Given the responsibilities and authority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this seems like a reasonable request.  The problem could be that there is no “good” answer.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Learning Disabled

While more than 60,000 American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq falls further into sectarian chaos, President Obama has decided to  militarily involve the United States in a civil war in Syria.  His rationale rests on Syrian civilian casualties and refugees, his longstanding statements that Assad “must go,” and the use of chemical weapons by Assad.  He is also seeking to offset the support to Assad provided by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah and bring a balance to the battlefield.

 President Obama has just stepped onto a slippery slope with a military and diplomatic quagmire at its bottom.  There is no evidence that his decision is part of a regional grand strategy  or that we have identified the ways and means that will achieve an (as yet unidentified) end.  This is a civil war and both sides have contributed to the 90,000 deaths and Mr. Assad retains the support of a significant portion of the Syrian population.  Further U.S. involvement morphs this civil war into a proxy war between the U.S., Europe, and Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah on the other.  The latter group has significantly greater national interests in Syria than the former.  Furthermore, this alignment makes Russian support of U.S. efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program more unlikely and reduces Israel’s security.  Finally, arming the rebels has the effect of prolonging and  intensifying the fighting and makes a diplomatic or political solution less likely.

 President Obama and his advisors have stepped into this dark, slippery slope by ignoring both history and current reality.   Our history in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Egypt and Libya says that we have not been very successful bending outcomes to support our interests.  And the current reality is that we are a debtor nation reducing funding for Head Start and cancer research while now deciding to spend scarce dollars in support of an unstructured rebel force in Syria without any end state having been identified.  When reacting is substituted for strategic thinking learning suffers. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

News Gets Worse From Afghanistan

Just when the American people might have thought that they already had experienced the limits of poor judgment and arrogance in our endless and expensive occupation of Afghanistan, the bar was raised, according to the New York Times article “Karzai says CIA will keep cash coming” in Sunday’s Dispatch.

The American and Afghan governments admit that the CIA has given Afghan president Hamid Karzai bags of cash every month for years amounting to tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. All the while, the U.S. government has criticized the Afghan government for corruption. This is the same U.S. government that is struggling with a huge budget deficit and cutting funds to Head Start and cancer research.

The Afghan war already has claimed the lives of 2,138 American service members and cost $1 trillion. Must what remains of American moral authority join lives and treasure lost in Afghanistan, the “Graveyard of Empires”? In my professional judgment, there is no vital national security interest nor the prospect for a win in Afghanistan for the United States.

We should exit Afghanistan as soon as possible, thus conserving blood, treasure and moral authority.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Writers Didn’t Walk in Soldiers’ Boots

The following is an oped published in the Columbus Dispatch on February 9, 2013.
I respond to the three syndicated columns published (Gail Collins, Jan 25; Linda Chavez, Jan 26; and Kathleen Parker, Jan 29) after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s announcement that he was lifting the rule barring women from serving in combat. 
I have reviewed the biographies of the three columnists and found no indication that any of them served in the military.

Nonetheless, each of them wrote unabashedly about the effect women in combat would have on unit cohesion, readiness and combat effectiveness.
This is the intellectual equivalent of prostitutes receiving technical advice from nuns.  It also reflects a reality that most Americans view the military in general and the way it is manned in particular through a lens of fear, apathy, ignorance and guilt. 

American women have served in combat since the Civil War. The fact that most women do not have the upper body strength or endurance of most men is not a sufficient reason to deny all women the opportunity to serve in combat, if they meet standards and volunteer.
Second, women’s career advancement in the military is limited by the fact that they are excluded from the combat arms.  Third, women serve with distinction in combat-support and combat-service-support functions today and the pregnancy red  herring raised by the writers is not an issue that precludes their service in these critical functions; there is no reason to believe it will be more or less an issue in the combat arms.

Finally, women make up 14 percent of our military today.  In 1973 when the draft ended, it was 2 percent.
Without the participation of women, the all-volunteer-force concept is dead. Women deserve the equality of opportunity that comes from eliminating the combat-exclusion rule.

Panetta’s announcement only moves the issue from the theoretical to the operational.  In the meantime, we may be wise to let informed professionals frame the issues and propose a way forward rather than have uninformed dilettantes add confusion and hyperbole.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Great Choice

I am not particularly big on making predictions but I will predict that Chuck Hagel will go down in history as one of the best Secretaries of Defense of modern times.  He has the right mix of confidence, experience, intellect, and commitment to tackle the tough issues facing the Pentagon.  Principal among those issues is reducing military spending, withdrawing from Afghanistan, reducing the size of the force, and creating administrative discipline in the military bureaucracy.  He will not suffer fools and will not be intimidated or politically undercut by the general and flag officer priesthood of the Pentagon and he will give the Commander in Chief honest advice....whether he wants it or not.  The fact that he is a twice wounded enlisted veteran of the Vietnam war gives him credibility with the troops that few of his "chicken hawk"detractors can match.  If he is confirmed there will be exciting times at the five sided Puzzle Palace across the Potomac.