Wednesday, December 31, 2014

     Many writers have noted the ever widening civil-military gap; the disconnect between the American people and their military.  Less than one percent of Americans have served in our long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The gap is reflected on Capital Hill.  The 114th Congress that will be seated in January will have the smallest percentage of military veterans since before WWII.  Only eighteen percent of the House members are veterans.  In 1977 it was seventy nine percent.  In the Senate twenty percent are military veterans.  Even more remarkable is the fact that the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and his two predecessors are not military veterans; an unprecedented succession.
     I would suggest that America's decision to exempt all citizens from an obligation to protect their freedoms and liberties through military service may explain this trend.  The All-Volunteer Force is the single biggest cause of the civil-military gap.

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

     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

     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"?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Strategic questions
     As I continue to think about President Obama's address to the nation last Wednesday regarding ISIS, three questions keep coming to mind.  First, an NBC poll found that a majority of Americans(62%) favor his plan.  But an even larger majority of Americans (68%) are skeptical as to whether it will succeed.  Why would a rational person support a plan that they are not confident will succeed?  Second, the president said that US military involvement will be limited to air strikes and training and equipping Iraqi ground forces and the Free Syrian US "boots on the ground".  This is the same Iraqi army that we trained from 2004 to 2011 only to have it desert and leave behind its weapons and equipment at first contact with ISIS....two full brigades deserted.  ISIS is now driving around Iraq and Syria in US Humvees given to the Iraqi army which subsequently abandoned them on the battlefield.  As for no US "boots on the ground", I suppose that the special ops soldiers and "advisers" are wearing sandals or sneakers.  Why would a rational person believe that either one of these "armies" is capable of successful military ground operations in the foreseeable future without invoking magical thinking?  Third, how much will this cost and how will we pay for it?  Has everyone inside the Beltway forgotten that America is seventeen trillion dollars in debt and continues to run a budget deficit?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Military Justice?
     Earlier this year Congress chose to retain authority for the investigation and prosecution of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the military within the military "chain of command".  Uniformed military bureaucrats convinced Congress that they could fix the problem.  In fact, the problem goes back to the 1991 Tailhook scandal and has only gotten worse since then.  Members of the "chain of command" have been perpetuators and enablers of sexual violence in the military for decades.
     On August 27 the Associated Press reported that an Army Major General, Michael Harrison, had "failed to properly investigate sexual assault and other allegations against a colonel on his staff and be retired at one-star rank".  The allegations go back to March 2013.  When enablers of sexual violence in the military are the principal administrators of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the system is broken and unjust.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Afgan Dysfunction
     Gaza, the Ukraine, ISIS, and China's flexing in the South China Sea are consuming the reporting capacity of the American media and the attention span of the American people.  But the average American might be surprised to know that his country is still deeply involved in a war in Afghanistan that after 2341 US service members killed and 17,674 wounded is not going well.  We still have 30,700 troops there costing several billion dollars per month.  We are slated to leave Afghanistan at the end of this year and our primary mission is to train an Afgan army and national police force that can defend the country.  We have been training these forces for twelve years.  The forces will cost six to eight billion dollars per year to maintain. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan's GDP is twenty Billion dollars per year.  Whom do you think will pay for the force, and for how long?
     Given the military and financial scenario above, it would be comforting to think that the internal politics and governance of Afghanistan were going well.  In fact, these aspects of the Afgan reality may be more alarming than the military/financial mess.  Afghanistan's presidential elections were held on 5 April 2014 with no candidate receiving a majority of the votes.  Abdullah Abdullah received the most votes.  A run-off between he and Ashraf Ghani was held on 14 June,  Ghani was ahead in the vote count when both candidates claimed fraud and the run-off vote is now being audited,  As a result, negotiations regarding a US presence there after 2014 are suspended.  This months long delay has caused some Afgan "leaders" to propose an "interim government", essentially a coup, backed by the Afgan army, national police, and intelligence corps.  This may be the best bad alternative for a country not yet ready for Jeffersonian democracy, but a crushing failure for American foreign policy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

     This blog posting is not meant to be an apology for the Obama administration's reaction to events around the world.  That said, I have been watching world events and national security decisions closely for two or three decades.  In that time I have never seen a more complex set of problems with so few good options available.  Threats are diverse and often ill-defined with almost all options riddled with downsides and potential unintended consequences.  As always, the enemy has a vote.  But in many cases we're not exactly sure who the enemy is. 
     The United States is not only war weary but also financially challenged, diplomatically weakened, and politically gridlocked.  Policing the world may have to give way to these realities.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Academic Fraud
     On Juy24 the New York Times published a lengthy article reporting that Montana Senator John Walsh plagiarized a paper he wrote while a student at the US Army War College in 2007 while serving in the National Guard.  The Times reported that "About a third of his paper consists of material either identical to or extremely similar to passages in other sources, such as Carnegie or Harvard papers.  and is presented without attribution.  Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes, but uses other authors' exact-or almost exact- language without quotation marks"
     The paper was required for graduation and graduation from a war college is a requirement for promotion to general officer.  Senator Walsh was promoted to general officer rank after graduation and holds that rank now in retired status.  Plagiarism is thoroughly described in the  War College's Handbook and the faculty constantly reminds students of the requirements for academic integrity.  The Times article further reports that the War College's "current student handbook "states that plagiarism will result in disenrollment and that discoveries of academic violations have led to degrees being rescinded and names being scraped off the bronze plaques honoring graduates on campus."
     It will be interesting to see how the Army handles this situation.  If Senator, or Major General, Walsh is found guilty of plagiarism his degree should be withdrawn and, therefore, his promotion to general officer revoked since he failed to meet the promotion criteria.  Colonel Paul Yingling wrote several years ago that "a private who lost his rifle was punished more than a general who lost his part of a war".  Will institutional cowardice and political pressures be the response to academic fraud?

Monday, July 21, 2014

     I find the recent reporting by the American media on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 interesting in that it fails to report a similar incident as background.  On July 3, 1988 the US Navy ship Vincennes shot down a civilian Iranian airliner in Iranian airspace killing 290 passengers, 66 of whom were children.  Iranian Air Flight 655 was a regularly scheduled flight on its normal route and was struck by an American missile while climbing.  The Iranian aircraft was three times the size of a combat aircraft and was "misidentified" by the Vincennes state of the art electronic equipment operated by highly trained Navy professionals.
     Two wrongs do not make a right.  In this case only two tragedies.  But, "fair and balanced" reporting would provide perspective to the American public.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hiding the Cost
     If you are an American taxpayer who believes that the Pentagon budget of more than $500 billion per year is too big (it is larger than that of the next ten nations in the world combined) then I have a data point that may make you feel even more uncomfortable.  The Pentagon budget, I would argue, is understated by at least $150 billion per year because it does not include the Veterans Administration budget.  The cost of the VA would not exist but for the activities of the Pentagon.  It is also likely that the VA budget will rise at a faster rate than either the Pentagon budget or the overall federal budget over the next ten years.  Militarism is very expensive therefore its supporters work to obscure its total cost.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

     I find it ironic that the Congress of the United States is planning to sue the executive branch of the government for "failure to enforce the law and executive overreach".  The irony is that Congress has, for decades, abdicated to the president the power to go to war.....perhaps the most important decision that any nation makes.
     Article one, Section eight of the Constitution states that "Congress shall have the power to...declare War".  The last time they did so was June 5, 1942.  Every significant military operation initiated by the United States since then (Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, and Iraq) has been initiated without a constitutionally based declaration of war as provided for by the Founding Fathers.  Rigorous debate and an unambiguous vote by each member of Congress on a declaration of war may reduce our current tendency to go to war and our steady march toward militarism.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Military Capability
     One of the interesting, but uncomfortable, questions not being asked by politicians, pundits, and the Pentagon as we wring our hands over the current crisis in Iraq is  how the Iraqi military that "experts" deemed capable of defending Iraq has failed so miserably.  The Pentagon spent billions of dollars and years training and equipping the Iraqi military.  In the first meaningful test of its effectiveness it's folding like a cheap tent with almost two full divisions deserting, American supplied equipment falling into enemy hands, and some Iraqi cities being surrendered without a fight.
     It appears that the misjudgments, lies, and absence of accountability that led us into Iraq in 2003 continued through our departure in 2011....4400 lives and three trillion dollars later

Monday, June 16, 2014

Uncomfortable questions
     The broad public attention being focused on the military service of Sgt. Bowe Burgdahl  may raise some uncomfortable questions for the Pentagon.  I noted in a previous blog entry that if Sgt. Bergdahl is charged with desertion, the Army may have to explain why it has more than 3,500 deserters per year over the past twelve years and does nothing to recover or punish those deserters.  The policy brings into question the leadership abilities and discipline of the service.  Additionally, it brings into question the financial stewardship of the Army as each soldier who deserts represents a substantial investment in training and recruitment costs.
     The Army may also have to explain why it would enlist a person in 2008 who just two years earlier was discharged from the Coast Guard, reportedly for "psychological reasons".  In 2008, at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army experienced severe recruiting difficulties and lowered enlistment standards.  Waivers were granted to enlistees in unprecedented numbers for criminal histories and behavioral and medical problems that should have disqualified them from service.  The decision to compromise standards was made at the highest levels of the Pentagon.
     Finally, Sgt. Bergdahl left his post on at least one other occasion before the incident that led to his capture.  There is no record of his having been disciplined for doing non-judicial action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  The Army just may have to explain why.  The answer may reflect a broader perspective of discipline in the Army as Courts Martial fell 30% from 2004 to 2013 and bad conduct discharges fell more than 20%.  Choosing bad soldiers over no soldiers is not without consequences.
     Army policies and institutional failures may have contributed to Sgt. Bergdahl's circumstances and need to be considered as pundits, politicians, and uniformed military bureaucrats judge not only Sgt. Bergdahl but also themselves while a nation of limited liability patriots looks on.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Politicizing patriotism
     Before politicians and pundits become completely overwhelmed by righteous indignation and ignorance regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl and the circumstances under which he became a prisoner of the Taliban they may want to consider several facts.  First, he volunteered to serve his country and go into Harm's Way putting his life at risk.  He willingly did what 99% of Americans decline to do....serve their country.  Limited liability patriots should think hard about judging someone willing to do what they decline to do.
     Second, if Sgt. Bergdahl is charged with desertion he will be joining tens of thousands of soldiers who have deserted since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started...yes...tens of thousands.  Department of Defense data show that from 1997 to 2004 an average of 3348 soldiers deserted each year (6.33 per thousand)  and an average of 1440 Marines deserted in that time frame (8.31 per thousand).  In 2001 the Army had 4597 deserters.  In 2007 4698 soldiers deserted.  As shocking as these numbers are, what may be even more shocking is the Army's response....which is basically nothing.  There is no specific effort, organization, or budget to locate and "bring them in".  In November of 2007 CBS News reported that "Despite the continued increase in desertions, however, and Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year shows that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they get.  Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less than honorable discharges."  In fact, in the few cases where deserters are referred for court-martial, the accused is allowed to request "discharge in lieu of court-martial" and accepts an "other than honorable conditions administrative discharge".  If the Army decides to charge Sgt. Bergdahl with desertion it will place itself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why it has chosen to ignore similar conduct among more than 3000 soldiers every year; inconsistency at best, politically motivated hypocrisy at worst.
     Finally, we do not know the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture, his state of mind at the time, or his purpose in leaving the outpost to which he was assigned in Afghanistan.  We do know, though, that tens of thousands of service members returning from Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and social adjustment problems.  We also know that politicians, pundits, and the public are troubled by these problems and the VA's failures in addressing them.  It could well be that Sgt. Bergdahl suffered from some of these same problems for which we express such compassion among returned veterans while he was still in combat and before he could be placed on a fictitious waiting list at the VA

Monday, June 2, 2014

Commander in Chief
     As commander in chief the president of the United States is required to make difficult decisions.  The decision to exchange five detainees held for more than ten years at Guantanamo Bay for an American soldier held by the Taliban for five years was the right call.  Critics of the decision argue that these five were really bad actors.  If so, after ten years, why have they not been tried in a court of law or military tribunal?  They also argue that the release was made without Congressional  approval 30 days in advance as required by law but overlook the fact that we went to war in Afghanistan and stayed for thirteen years without a declaration of war by Congress as required by law.  Finally, these critics argue that the five will probably return to terrorist activities.  They probably will.  But it is not as if the Taliban has suspended operations over the past ten years waiting for their return.  These same critics also seem to overlook the fact that 70% of those released from US prisons each year are arrested within three years of release and 50% return to prison in three years.
     It is easy for those who have no "skin in the game" to question the decisions of the commander in chief.  What if it were their son who volunteered to serve his country while most Americans went about their lives as limited liability patriots.  Let the critics make their case personally to the parents of Sgt. Bergdahl.  Politically motivated righteous indignation melts away in the face of the human suffering and sacrifice of a soldier and his family.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

     There is little doubt that the Veterans Affairs Administration may be at a low point of effectiveness and public confidence.  The lack of confidence is justified by huge backlogs and recent allegations of manipulation of scheduling procedures to mask long waits for appointments.  Some of these long waits may have lead to veterans dying while waiting for medical services to which they were entitled.  Incompetence, failure, and internal corruption and cover up create more than enough blame to go around.  Many are calling for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the Director of the VA.
Politics, poor performance, and public opinion may prevail in securing his resignation.
     Firing Shinseki may seem like a reasonable and justified action, but...then what?  Who has the requisite management skills to right the ship and credibility with Congress, the White House, and, most important, veterans and their families?  And, if they met these criteria would they want the job?  I can suggest a prime candidate and two backup candidates.  The prime candidate is Gen. Colin Powell and the backups are former senators Bob Kerry and Jim Webb.  The question is whether any of them would choose to spend the next thirty months of their lives serving their country and their fellow veterans fighting the bureaucratic battle inside the VA.

Friday, May 23, 2014

No Surprise
     The current scandals at the Veterans Administration are alarming and embarrassing, but, unfortunately, not surprising.  We have gone through these past thirteen years of war with less than one percent of our nation's citizens having "skin in the game" and little real inquiry as to why we went to war in the first place and stayed for so long.  Now we are beginning to recognize the cost of such apathy.
     We have a history of treating veterans poorly as most believe the war is over when the last shot is fired or we withdraw.  For veterans a new phase of the war is just beginning.  In 1932 more than 17,000 veterans petitioning for early payment of their promised bonuses from their service in WWI were ejected forcibly from their nation's capital and their possessions burned; two were killed by members of the very Army in which they served.  The Viet Nam war ended in 1975 and from 1977 to 1993 more than 39,000 Agent Orange based claims were filed with the VA and 486 were granted.  Agent Orange causes cancer, and nerve, digestive, respiratory, and skin disorders among service members exposed to the toxic chemical defoliant employed by the US in Viet Nam.  Congress did not respond to this breach of trust with veterans until 1991 when it declared that certain conditions were "presumptive" to Agent Orange.  Finally, after the first Gulf War in 1991 approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 who served in the war were victims of Gulf War Syndrome.  Symptoms of the "syndrome" were fatigue, muscle pain, congestive problems, and skin rashes.  The VA consistently challenged the existence of the service relation and denied claims by veterans of that war.  Seventeen years after the war ended Congress mandated a study and claims were accepted.  For some it was too late.
     Our history of treating veterans poorly is well established and continues today.  It is part of a widening estrangement of citizens from their military driven by the fact that no American citizen is obligated to secure the freedoms, liberties, and security they have come to claim as entitlements.