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.