Author Archives: securenation

U.S. Military Experiments with Yoga to Cure Our Most Preventable National Security Issue

Army YogaThe U.S. Military recently recruited the talents of Tony Horton, the creator of P90X, in order to confront increasing obesity among our fighting men and women.  The growing obesity problem in the United States has become a national security issue.  While the nation stands in the midst of a global “war on terror,” America finds itself too fat to fight.

In 2008 only the state of Colorado had an adult obesity rate below 20%.  Of the 49 states with adult obesity above 20% thirty-two were above 25% and six were above 30%.   These statistics translate into the startling assessment that one in five Americans age 18-34 is obese. In addition, 27 percent of 18 to 24 year olds are too overweight to join the military.

This disturbing trend has had a predictable impact on the military where the obesity rate has doubled since 2003. According to the January 2009 edition of the DoD’s Medial Surveillance Monthly Report the number of troops diagnosed as overweight or obese is twice what is was at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Tony Horton has suggested the military include yoga in traditional fitness training.  Horton stated that “the days of pushups, sit ups, and long runs in the military are over.” Instead of the usual routine that most soldiers have grown too accustomed to over the years, Horton has suggested yoga because of its ability to lubricate joints and utilize push up or other postures which magnify strength exercises.

The military should be commended for taking proactive steps to address obesity within the ranks and insulate the force from the growing disease of obesity.  However, more drastic measures may be required.  The disturbing statistics demonstrate that the routine morning PT consisting often of hundreds of “side-straddle hops,” and “release runs” is not keeping soldiers in shape.  Too often the military has adhered to the strict rule that physical training must be on a field and in a group.  Many a young military officer will tell you about trips to the gym after PT or after the work day to maintain the level of fitness their rank requires.  The obesity problem and Horton’s statements suggest that physical training must be tailored to keep soldiers fit and lean, instead of focusing on an arbitrary test of the number of pushups or sit ups that can be completed in a two-minute period.

Unless the military changes its thinking we will find ourselves booby-trapped by our own gluttony.

Posted on 25 Jul 2010



GEN PetraeusWall Street Journal does a little chicken-egg on what Petraeus has managed in the last few weeks and what was McChrystal’s work. Basically counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism, though it appears to be a fine, and disputed line. The upshot is WSJ reports a re-tooling is underway with greater emphasis on counterinsurgency, while the White House still wants to hold to its … cough ( political) hawk ptooie, excuse me … troop withdrawal deadline. WSJ figures Petraeus may manage to slow that a little, but not substantially delay halt or reverse. I thought this part was interesting:

Some in the White House advocate a pared-down approach that requires fewer troops and greater emphasis on drone attacks on insurgent leaders. These officials would like to see an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“Who’s that?” That is, sounds like that’s who that is.

During the Iraq surge, Gen. Petraeus proved adept at parrying suggestions for a rapid withdrawal and won time to show his strategy could work.

Since then, of course, the surrender enthusiasts got voted into the White House. Makes it more challenging. Especially when they see their political interest, which is to say their primary strategic goal, lying mainly in exit, not success.

People close to Gen. Petraeus said he is unlikely to try to persuade the Obama administration to back off its promise to begin drawing down troops in July 2011. But they do expect him to privately push for troops to be removed slowly, along a timetable that keeps a large force in Afghanistan.
“I think Gen. Petraeus will talk again about putting more time on the Washington clock,” said Peter Mansoor, who served as Gen. Petraeus’s executive officer in Iraq and is now a professor at the Ohio State University. “I think we have more time than we think in Afghanistan.”
An effective counterinsurgency strategy can take years, and it remains unclear whether Gen. Petraeus’ approach will work in Afghanistan, where volatile tribal politics, a lack of infrastructure and rudimentary local security forces pose significant challenges.

I don’t know. The first challenge is to make it work in a Democratic White House, where volatile partisan politics, a lack of experience and an at-best rudimentary grasp of security issues …. If anyone can, it’s Petraeus. Obama’s default choice to squelch military insubrdination, a sort of military bigfoot who may have the ability to prevent him and the rest of the current civilian leadership from losing this thing.

NYT, meanwhile, notes that the deadline strategy is a bit of a “double-edged sword.” Goes on to note that confidence is failing, pols and allies shuffling for the door, but fails to connect the dots. A deadline strategy is less of a double edged-sword than a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the leader of the free world has indicated he doesn’t particularly give a damn whether we win this thing or not, why should anyone else?

In other Afghan news:

NYT: Six Afghan police officers beheaded.

AFP: Women in northern Afghanistan retreat behind the veil in fear of Taliban revival.

Guardian: International aid conference underwhelms a jaded Afghan blogosphere.

This one’s interesting. AP:

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban denounced this week’s international conference on Afghanistan’s future, saying the “vague and terrible agenda” shows that the U.S. and its allies intend to abandon the country and blame their ultimate defeat on the Afghan government.

In a statement posted in English on their website, the Taliban said the conference showed that the U.S. “has lost the initiatives and is unable to resolve Afghanistan issue.” The statement was distributed to news organizations by the SITE Intelligence Group that monitors extremist communications.
“Whatever actions are taken in this regard have already been doomed to a failure,” the statement said. “It is evident from the vague and terrible agenda of the conference … that America and the international community intend to pull out of Afghanistan” and blame “all the coming destruction’s, humiliation and defeat on Kabul puppet regime,” meaning the Karzai administration.

Hate to agree with the Taliban on anything, but they might have a point. It almost looks like remarkable clarity of thought on the part of the AP, but rather than any re-tooling to question the Obama admin’s commitment to Afghanistan, they’re just parroting the Islamic extremist line, per normal. (Notable lack of any references to the Taliban’s “deeply unpopular” insurgency, its rising death toll, or its responsibility for thousands of civilian deaths, the kind of boilerplate usually bolted onto any war-related statements the AP takes issue with. After noting a Taliban success in divierting some flights, the article does get around to a BTW mention of some deaths, attributing some beheadings to non-specific insurgents, and the rest of the violence to NATO actions.)

Posted on 24 Jul 2010
Crossposted on

Photo: flickr/soldiermediacenter

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Command Assumed

For all the wrong reasons, and entirely by accident, President Obama may have finally committed himself to victory in Afghanistan.

It has been a particularly bizarre time in these strange wars in which we have been engaged this past decade, as fissures between our political, diplomatic and military branches were widened into a gaping crisis by a recent Rolling Stone article. But the crisis as well as the fissures, contrary to popular misconception, were the result of the president’s failure of leadership, not Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s.

By engaging in an extended period of dithering, allowing subordinates and outside parties to excessively and publicly meddle and influence the process, and by finally settling on a three-quarter meadure with a deadline for purely political reasons, the president demonstated that he was not serious about the war in Afghanistan, nor was he in charge there. When he finally, after all that, allowed a pop-culture magazine’s hit piece to dictate his actions … responding by firing his general rather than exerting some leadership by bringing his fractious factions together, cracking heads and getting them all onside … the president inadvertantly committed himself to victory, or at least defaulted to it, appointing the one man who carries more political weight than he does, someone who is committed to winning and has done so before in the face of great military odds and political opposition.

By naming David Petraeus as the theater commander in Afghanistan, Obama effectively ceded control of the war that he had been unwilling to seize control of himself.

So, thanks to a colossally poor exercise in presidential wartime leadership, the soldiers who are fighting and dying to prevent Afghanistan from becoming not just a base of terrorist operations but a major victory for Islamic extremism, now face an improved prospect for success, with deft, experienced, unquestioned command. Barack Obama has, by accident, created circumstances under which the war might not ony be winnable, but under which there is little he can do with any political credibility to prevent a win.

But don’t just take my word for it. Historian Richard F. Miller, a former combat embed in Iraq and Afghanistan and a scholar of battlefield oratory who has studied the speeches of both Obama and Petraeus … among others dating well back into antiquity … parses the general’s July 4 speech in Kabul. In Assumption on the Fourth of July, Miller concludes that Petraeus has signalled he doesn’t intend to lose this one.

Miller’s scholarly works on war words include his new release, FIGHTING WORDS: Persuasive Strategies for War and Politics and In Words and Deeds: Battle Speeches in History. Previously, Miller, scathingly, on Obama’s Afghan surge speech.

Posted on 7 Jul 2010
Crossposted on

Photo: flickr/isafmedia

What Defense Acquisition can learn from Apple

MilSpace on the iPhone

Why do people love apple?  Why do they line up around the block days in advance to buy an iPhone? Why is there a dating site set up exclusively for apple users to date other apple users?  Is there something I’m missing?  Since when does a personal computer preference say to someone of the opposite sex, “hey, I’m the one for you”? Even the military is falling in love with the company.  The Army is in talks with Apple to employ a number of its products for warfighting applications and recently launched a contest to encouraging development of military apps. Efforts by the military to better adopt mobile technologies, including Apple technologies, have been covered on this blog and elsewhere. By embracing commercial technologies, is the DoD taking advantage of a innovative opportunity or admitting that in some domains, Defense Acquisition just can’t get the job done as well?

Granted, Apple makes cool consumer electronics in contrast with the complex warplanes and ground systems of the Defense industry.  But the next frontier in technology will be driven by software, networks, and mobile devices, and the Defense industry would be foolish to not leverage existing consumer capabilities for military applications.  If Defense Acquisition is going to learn how to make these future products successfully, it might as well emulate the best in the business. Here are a few quick thoughts on why Apple has been successful in its latest endeavors and the lessons Defense Acquisition can take from those successes.

(1) User Interface is Paramount

The iPad was not the first tablet pc.  It wasn’t even Apple’s first attempt to build a tablet.  Yet, sales of the iPad reached 1 million sold in just 28 days and increased to 3 million after 80 days.  The iPad succeeded where previous tablets had failed due to its focus on user interface.  The concept for the iPad had been around for nearly a decade before Steve Jobs decided it was ready from a user interface point of view.  He knew that a truly revolutionary tablet couldn’t just have a functional keyboard; it had to have a keyboard that could be good enough to replace a traditional keyboard.  It couldn’t simply be light and flat; it had to be so light that users wouldn’t mind holding it for extended periods of time.

User interface also applies to system of systems that compose Apple’s products.  The individual devices are great on their own, but what really keeps and holds customers is an understanding that different Apple products are expected to simply work well with each other.  It doesn’t matter if the user is a teenager trying to make absolutely sure she can get to her latest Miley tracks no matter whether she’s at home, in the minivan, or at school (tsk.) or if the user is a professional photographer using Apple products to manage complex, data-sensitive workflows.  It just has to work.

What can Defense Acquisition Do?
– Support early human factors engineering and human systems integration (see chapter 6), disciplines meant to ensure the people of a system are considered when the systems is being developed.

– Focus less on technical requirements and more on detailed use cases that take into account actual human characteristics and limitations.  Require test and evaluation to use actual humans in prototype systems; avoid simulations where feasible.

– Invest in better web/software interface design.  Has anyone tried updating their TSP enrollment on MyPay?  It’s lots of fun.

(2) It’s About the Software

As a quick glance at the latest technology marketing quickly shows, the competition between mobile devices is not just about hardware – it’s about the apps. Even before iPhone and iPad, Apple distinguished itself from other computer companies by consistently producing great interfaces in its operating systems and by offering simple but powerful programs guaranteed to work with their base platforms.

Apple has made some difficult decisions in the past, most notably with regard to their exclusion of multitasking in earlier iPhone models and more recently barring flash from the iPad.  If sales are any measure, then these decisions were wise.  Apple understood that it was better to offer customers a product guaranteed to function to the high standards of their other products than to try to cram in too many capabilities.

What can Defense Acquisition Do?
– Restrict requirements creep.  If a platform was badly planned from the beginning, kill it and forge a new path rather than band-aid hopeless technology.

– Develop more in-house software competency.  The Army’s Apps 4 Army Challenge is a great idea, but why isn’t there a permanent pool of software geniuses ready to build great software for the military?  DoD is finally getting the message that it needs to recruit crack coders to combat cybersecurity threats, but those same capabilities are needed to build more benign software for weapons and information systems.

(3) Connect Management and Leadership

Managers keeps the cogs of an organization turning; they make sure people get paid, disputes are resolved, and discipline is levied.  Leaders, on the other hand, inspire change through vision.  Apple CEO Steve Jobs gets leadership.  He is as comfortable speaking in broad, glowing terms about a new product as he is answering personal emails about technical details at 2AM in the morning. His vision permeates his company and his products (or as Simon Sinek explains, Apple employees all start off by answering “why?” before they get to the “what?” and “how?” of products).  Of course, Steve Jobs the man is not Apple; he is only the current incarnation of what the company represents.  But from that company, consumers can continually expect consistent products, delivered on time and up to the standards it sets for itself.

What can Defense Acquisition Do?

– Establish a program manager earlier during development.  Program managers are given overall responsibility for programs’ cost, schedule, and budget.  They are supposed to make critical design decisions, but they don’t take over programs until after most important requirements are set.  This structure disconnects program managers from the “why” of their programs and incentivizes them to manage only, not to lead.  Program managers should at the very least be given a seat at the table during pre-acquisition phases of development.

What Else?

Defense Secretary Gates has been repeatedly applauded for his efforts to reform Defense Acquisition.  But then again, didn’t Secretaries RumsfeldCohen, and Perry all try their hands at “reform”?  Change defines leadership, so maybe continuous attempts at reform reflect constant improvement.  But in the technology sector, Apple seems to consistently represent as close to a sure thing as has been seen in consumer electronics.  Are the two industries too different to compare, or might there be principles that apply to both?

What else can Defense Acquisition learn from others’ successes?  Leave your ideas in the comments.

Posted on 6 Jul 2010


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ROTC in New York City: An Untapped Resource

John Renehan writes in the Washington Post today about the need for more ROTC programs across the country. In light of Harvard’s policies on access to military recruiters, brought up during Senate hearings for the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Renehan notes an increasing dearth of opportunities for military officer training, particularly in the Northeast. This raises an important point. The long-standing contention surrounding the presence of ROTC on university campuses has not been limited merely to a select number of Ivy League institutions, though they have often been the most prominent and vocal in opposing the program. Moreover, they are not solely to blame. As this WSJ data shows, the military has been slowly but surely reducing its presence in the urban Northeast in favor of institutions in the South and Midwest. Despite having a population comparable to that of entire states, for example, the resources afforded to New York City for officer training and recruitment appear paltry when compared to its corollaries in other parts of the country. The city deserves better. Here are just a few reasons why:

• New York City has a population of over 8 million people. There are over 605,000 college and graduate students going to school in New York City, the largest university student population of any city in the United States. Yet the city boasts a mere 30 to 40 ROTC graduates each year.

• New York “is the nation’s largest importer of college students.” That is, of students who leave their home state to attend college, more leave for New York than any other place in the country.

• With over 8 million residents, New York City has a greater population than either the state of Virginia or North Carolina.  While both Virginia and North Carolina maintain twelve Army ROTC programs each, however, New York City hosts only two, both of which are granted the same resources and personnel as every other ROTC program in the country despite the enormous differences in population for which they are responsible.

Map of ROTC programs in New York City (green, blue, and white) and their proximity to other colleges and universities.

• Both ROTC Programs are located a significant distance away from the areas most concentrated in colleges and universities and are not easily accessible via subway, a fact that can be problematic given that the vast majority of students in the city do not own cars.

• The Air Force hosts a single ROTC program at Manhattan College in the Bronx. It is the most easily accessible via subway, though the commute is still significant for students attending school in any of the other five boroughs, particularly Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

• The Navy ROTC program, on the other hand, is located beneath the Throggs Neck Bridge and is almost completely inaccessible via public transportation. Moreover, enrollment in the program is strictly limited to students attending SUNY Maritime Academy, Fordham University, or Molloy College. Thus, out of the 600,000+ university students in New York City the Navy is limited to selecting from a collective population of less than 20,000.

• Nearly 60% of Manhattan residents are college graduates, more than twice the national average. Though the 23 SqMi island is host to over 1.6 million people and 40 colleges and universities alone, not a single school in the borough of Manhattan has an ROTC program.

• Neither is there an ROTC program in Brooklyn, which as CPT Steve Trynosky noted in 2006 is “home to a diverse population about the size of Mississippi, which has five Army ROTC units despite a much lower per capita college attendance. In 2005, two of the top five ZIP codes for Army enlistments were in Brooklyn, yet there are no commissioning opportunities in the borough. Could one imagine no ROTC programs for the population of Mississippi?”

• The City University of New York (CUNY) is the third largest public university system in the nation, ranking behind only California State and the State University of New York systems, though all of its campuses reside within a single city rather than an entire state. It provides post-secondary higher education in all five boroughs of New York.

• The CUNY system has over 450,000 students and confers nearly 3 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-Americans in the United States. Gen. Colin Powell graduated from the ROTC program at City College, CUNY’s flagship campus. Yet today there is not a single ROTC program at any CUNY school.

• New York City also has a vast array of private universities, including Columbia University, the fifth oldest institution of higher education in the country, and New York University, the nation’s largest private, non-profit university. Yet neither university hosts a program nor do they graduate more than a handful of military officers per year.

• The recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) emphasizes the need to ensure that “officers are prepared for the full range of complex missions that the future security environment will likely demand” and that the DoD is committed to “building expertise in foreign language, regional, and cultural skills,” and “enhancing these skills in general purpose force officers during pre-accession training.” As Eric Chen noted in a previous Secure Nation post, New York City offers a breadth of resources in these areas that are unmatched elsewhere in the country. Take, for example, the latent talent and skill sets offered by the astoundingly diverse population of Queens, a New York City borough in which 138 different languages are spoken every day. West Point’s Social Sciences Department routinely takes their cadets on trips to nearby Jersey City to immerse them in the city’s large and vibrant muslim community. But why stop at immersing cadets in a cultural center when one can also recruit from it? Jersey City is just a five minute subway ride from the middle of Manhattan, but the closest Army ROTC program is located miles away at Seton Hall University. Mr. Chen goes on to note that Columbia University is particularly well suited to meet the needs espoused within the QDR, an argument which is supported by the high quality of the school’s top-ranked programs in Asian languages, anthropology, and sociology.

• The number of programs in the city correlates directly with the resources that the military departments grant towards both the recruitment and training of military officers there. As CPT Trynosky again noted “The allocation of ROTC recruiting assets in urban areas is insufficient to serve the large population assigned. Three recruiting officers are expected to canvass the more than 100 colleges and 13 million people in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. Compare this with the 10 recruiters assigned for 4.5 million Alabamans or five for 2.5 million Mississippians.”

• The scarcity of commissioning opportunities in New York City is pronounced. With the scars of September 11th still prominently visible even today, New Yorkers have a distinctly personal stake in the military and its operations overseas. They should be afforded every opportunity to become military officers, and to serve proudly in defense of their city and the nation.

Posted on 4 July, 2010


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LTG Sorenson Discusses Apps For The Army

LTG Jeffrey A. Sorenson, the Department of the Army’s Chief Information Officer speaks about the Apps for the Army contest at the Gov 2.0 Expo:


More Like This, Please

Pentagon reviews the actions of a living soldier for a possible Medal of Honor. Washington Post:

The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.

The soldier, whose nomination must be reviewed by the White House, ran through a wall of enemy fire in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in fall 2007 in an attempt to push back Taliban fighters who were close to overrunning his squad. U.S. military officials said his actions saved the lives of about half a dozen men.

It is possible that the White House could honor the soldier’s heroism with a decoration other than the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor. Nominations for the Medal of Honor typically include detailed accounts from witnesses and can run hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. The review has been conducted so discreetly that the soldier’s family does not know that it has reached the White House, according to U.S. officials who discussed the nomination on the condition of anonymity because a final decision is pending.

Pentagon officials requested that The Washington Post not name the soldier to avoid influencing the White House review. Administration officials declined to comment on the nomination.

Medal of HonorThe not-naming part seems a little gutless. Our admin can’t review courage above and beyond without being swayed by newspapers?

The article goes on to note that all six MOH awards in the Iraq and Afghan wars were posthumous, three for covering grenades with their bodies.* That the Pentagon and White House are willing to countenance the fact that a soldier can show extraordinary courage and live is important not only for the reality it represents but for the message it sends.

Homefront war coverage in our time has focused heavily on death, PTSD, and the poor treatment of soldiers by their own government, while the actual war front coverage has been largely about despair and failure, even when we win. For all the “support the troops,” there has been very little effort to understand and appreciate those who chose this life and have soldiered on through all the setbacks and political vitriol, or to highlight their extraordinary actions and accomplishments. If the White House wants to win the shooting war,** it needs to remember it has a homefront battle that it has been on the wrong side of. Honoring a live American hero, not least one who stood up in selflessly what is now being deemed a failed effort, could be a good start.

Because this American hero fought in what is now a strategically abandoned position. The Post goes out on this note:

There are at least three Medal of Honor nominations, including the one at the White House, working through the system. The three nominees served in sparsely populated valleys in eastern Afghanistan that U.S. troops have abandoned in recent years.

The valleys, which are within 30 miles of each other, are dominated by treacherous, mountainous terrain that frequently allowed enemy fighters to move within close range of U.S. forces before launching their attack. The remote nature of the valleys meant that troops often had to fight for an hour before attack helicopters arrived on the scene to drive back the enemy.

Senior military officials described the fighting in those valleys as some of the toughest since the Korean and Vietnam wars. “It is a very, very challenging fight,” said one military official. “It is sustained lengthy ground combat.”
The relatively large number of potential Medal of Honor nominations emerging from this remote area of Afghanistan also reflected a war strategy that asked U.S. commanders to do too much with too few resources, military analysts said. Frequently troops were overextended in hostile terrain.

“We should be stationing our troops in places where they won’t be earning the Medal of Honor because the population and terrain favor us and we have quick access to air support,” said John Nagl, one of the authors of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense think tank.

Hard to argue with trying to be smart and avoid getting killed. Nagl undoubtedly knows a lot more about warfighting and counterinsurgency than I do. But ways not to earn the Medal of Honor as a strategic and/or tactical principle starts to sound like the other side of that “Courageous Restraint” coin. A kind of “first do no harm” school of warfighting that has led to complaints that troops are being asked not to protect themselves, and to position themselves where they will not be forced to protect themselves. How about stationing our troops in places where they can effectively kill the enemy, cut off the enemy’s movements and supply lines, and protect the population, and giving them the freedom to do those things? If those happen to be places where someone at some point is called on to go beyond, and earns the Medal of Honor, so be it.

Good point on the air support, though. At last check, the troops in Afghanistan are getting tired of not being allowed to kill the enemy, and some Afghans aren’t crazy about it, either. It gets people killed when you do that.

On that subject, Gen. Petraeus, while you’re reconsidering the ROE, please reconsider that “courageous restraint” thing. Courage takes many forms, all deserving of recognition, but actively encouraging soldiers and commanders to engage in poor decision-making is a bad idea. Previously re that, The Taliban Cross.

*Not to include USMC Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was deemed to have been likely brain dead when he fell on a grenade. His Navy Cross became an issue, which may be the kind of thing the White House is now trying to avoid by keeping it under wraps, with Washington Post enablance.

** It’s far from certain whether the White House actually does want to win, though as some commentators have noted, by naming Gen. Petraeus to run the war, the president effected handed political control of that decision to the military, apparently, hopefully, defaulting to victory. Gutless and accidental, but hey, if it gets the job done …

Posted on 1 Jul 2010
Crossposted on

Photo: WikimediaCommons

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Capabilities and Capacity: ROTC at Columbia University and the Quadrennial Defense Review

“America’s men and women in uniform constitute the Department’s most important resource. Prevailing in today’s wars while working to prevent future conflict depends on the Department’s ability to create and sustain an all-volunteer force that is trained and resourced to succeed in the wide range of missions we ask them to execute.” (p 49)

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is the Secretary of Defense’s “capstone institutional document” that establishes the “policy and programmatic foundation that will enable the next generation to protect the American people and advance their interests.” (QDR p 97) The QDR’s guidance in reshaping the military responds to the demand “America’s Armed Forces rapidly innovate and adapt—the Department’s institutional base must do the same” (p xiv) in a “complex and uncertain security landscape in which the pace of change continues to accelerate.” (p 5) The QDR is clear that readying the force for the challenge requires “innovative programs to attract qualified young men and women into the Armed Forces” (p xii) and reforming how military leaders are developed.

Columbia University, with its gifted students and rich combination of first-tier university and New York City resources, offers an ideal partner for ROTC to “recruit personnel with specialized skills” (p 51) and “ensure . . . officers are prepared for the full range of complex missions” by “enhancing these skills . . . during pre-accession training.” (p 54) Recognizing officers need greater academic breadth and depth to be “better prepared to assume the responsibilities of waging war, peacekeeping, stabilization, and other critical missions carried out by our military” (H.R. 5136 p 5), the Department of Defense has already responded with the Alternative Commissioned Officer Career Track Pilot Program to facilitate their advanced education. In the same vein, cultivating an officer corps with the capabilities identified by the QDR necessitates the best possible intellectual foundation for military leaders. The Department of Defense, therefore, has a compelling interest to produce officers with greater capacity and a strong academic grounding in the formative pre-accession (cadet) stage of their development. ROTC at Columbia meets that need.

As it does today, much of the weight of future missions will fall on young officers. In the short term, Columbia-educated lieutenants and captains who developed broader capabilities and capacity as cadets will be better equipped to “rapidly innovate and adapt” to unpredictable challenges. Over the long term, their strong academic grounding will lead to commensurately greater acquisition of capabilities and capacity growth over the course of their military careers. The QDR’s forecast of politically sensitive efforts using smaller numbers of both special operations and general purpose forces (QDR pp 28-30) further emphasizes the growing need for individually exceptional officers.

Where the QDR seeks to ensure “educational institutions have the right resources and faculty that can help prepare the next generation of military leaders” (p xiii), Columbia provides “one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields.” (Columbia University mission statement) Where the QDR describes a heightened need for a full spectrum of engineering, scientific, medical, computer, foreign language, regional, cultural, and other skills, Columbia offers excellent programs in all those areas within a full spectrum of world-class academic departments. Beyond the university’s abundant resources for cadets, Columbia “recognizes the importance of its location in New York City and seeks to link its research and teaching to the vast resources of a great metropolis.” (CU mission) For Columbia, ROTC graduates fulfill the university’s expectation of alumni “to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world.” (CU mission)

ROTC will be home at Columbia. Columbia has the largest population of student-veterans in the Ivy League and alumni group Columbia Alliance for ROTC has the express purpose of supporting ROTC at Columbia. Growing calls to restore ROTC on campus have come from students, professors, alumni, campus organizations and publications, and university leaders. After years of dormancy, Columbia is reviving its long military tradition, reminded by the martial memorials spread around campus. Columbia’s famous Core Curriculum, required for College undergraduates, was designed as a classical foundation for officer education. The standard-bearer for Columbia officers is founding father Alexander Hamilton and his lifetime of visionary, innovative leadership in and out of uniform. The Alexander Hamilton Society, the campus group for cadets and officer candidates, invokes his heritage.

Columbia is New York City’s premiere university, and there would be substantial symbolic value for the military in the return of ROTC to the Columbia campus. Moreover, a ROTC program at Columbia would solve the military’s absence of ROTC within Manhattan, which has poor access to ROTC despite hosting the highest concentration of college students in the country. Near Columbia are Barnard College, a premiere women’s college, and City College, GEN Colin Powell’s alma mater and the flagship CUNY.

The QDR concludes “[t]he challenges facing the United States are immense, but so are the opportunities.” (p 97) With the establishment of a ROTC program at Columbia, the military has the opportunity to form a valuable 21st century partnership with a global flagship institution in New York City.

* Go to Part II: Needs of the Nation.

Posted on 28 Jun 2010


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Korean War, 1950-Present

24th ID in Korea

Tash Force Smith of the 24th Infantry Division arriving at the railway station in Taejon, Korea

Sixty years long as of yesterday. VOA notes ongoing hostilities. Memo to people who think the Afghan war is our longest yet.* It isn’t.

Nor have deaths of soldiers and civilians ended since the 1953 “ceasefire.” The sinking of the South Korean naval vessel is the most recent example. There have also been at least 700 Americans killed by hostile action since 1953 … shot down, killed in cross-DMZ raids and sniping, even hacked to death with axes … and more than 800 in non-hostile incidents, according to the Korean War Educator.

Other ramifications of the acceptance of stalemate and failure to end the war include massive generational trauma on the Korean people, millions of whom remain enslaved, and face deprivation, starvation and torture as a matter of course, while citizens of surrounding nations are regularly menaced by hostile actions that have included abduction and provocative acts such as missile overflights. North Korea also is suspected of supplying missile and nuclear technology to hostile states such as Syria and Iran. Given how astonishingly productive South Korea has become in the shadow of the North Korean threat, you have to wonder what kind of powerhouse a united peninsula might have been. Unfortunately, the degree of psychological and physical injury inflicted on the 24 million Koreans who live in the North is such that it is only fair to assume Korea will remain a wounded animal for decades after the removal of its current murderous regime and any hypothetical reunification.

It’s all worth considering as Americans mull another stalemate and/or quick exit in a considerably less bloody conflict, plus the practicalities of attempting to box in assorted dangerous adversaries, to include state and non-state actors. Nothing just ends. Not without consequences, which can sometimes be long enduring and often quite serious and costly, in both blood and treasure.
Re the actual shooting war, here’s the Korean War wiki, which accurately dates the war June 25 1950-present, and places the dead at roughly 4.5-to-5 million military and civilian, both sides, the U.S. military dead count being 36,516.

* Mournful, politically motivated proclamations of the Afghan War as our longest yet usually fail to note that, for roughly half of the past nine years, it was largely quiet, much like Korea has been for long stretches.

Posted on 26 Jun 2010
Crossposted at

Photo: flickr/soldiermediacenter

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Almost Victorious

Talladega Nights,” reportedly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s favorite, is a crazy fun flick. Unfortunately for McChrystal, the movie he should have paid more attention to was “Almost Famous.”  He might have figured out that what Rolling Stone is all about is stripping people naked and making them appear ridiculous, even while proclaiming there is something noble and uplifting in it all. He might have figured out that, as the rock star in the movie proclaims, Rolling Stone is “The Enemy.” And he might have figured out that, because he isn’t running a rock band, Rolling Stone doesn’t offer the same kind of redemption to a military man, a breed the magazine fundamentally misunderstands and viscerally dislikes. Then he might have figured out that, unlike ”Almost Famous,” where the plane pulls out of its death spin after all the true confessions and the band achieves rock redemption, his plane and all the passengers on it might not. Which is too bad, because there is more at stake here than some rock star’s career. Maybe McChrystal would have thought twice before he allowed Rolling Stone to take control of his war.

UK Telegraph, McChrystal tenders his resignation. But it isn’t over.  ABC’s Political Punch, “McChrystal to Admin Official: ‘I’ve compromised the mission,’” adds, “McChrystal will have a legitimate opportunity to make his case to keep his job, officials said.”

Donnelly and Kristol with some advice to the president: “Don’t waste this crisis.” The likelihood any of those suggestions being taken is not great … particularly the last one:

Most of all, the commander-in-chief must take command.  Barack Obama’s commitment is famously and publicly uncertain.  No one—not his lieutenants, nor his cabinet, nor his generals, nor the American people, nor our allies, nor the Afghans, nor our enemies—can be sure whether the president wants to win the war or just to end the war.

As exemplified by the fact that we are now in danger of allowing Rolling Stone magazine to set war policy.  Speaking of which, given that Rolling Stone is already heavily influencing, if not directing war policy, it is unfortunate that the magazine and its scribbler don’t appear to understand this war. Any of it, start to finish.

The hackneyed analogies of Vietnam defeat and Afghanistan, graveyard of empires, are trotted out early and often. Counterinsurgency is presented to a readership that RS probably rightly assumes is entirely ignorant of the concept, as some novel idea that was only “beta-tested” in Iraq, as if the towering accomplishment there were some minor sideshow. In fact, Hastings’ observations about Afghanistan sound remarkably like the rampant political doom-and-gloom-mongering coming out of Congress and the media re Iraq in the summer of 2007. The Afghan surge prospects are “bleak.” I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of people whose view of history is so skewed they can’t remember the parts they witnessed, and insist on using defeat anaologies that were shown to be meaningless the last time they trotted them out.

As others have noted, the general himself says virtually none of the things that are most damning in the article. With the exception of a mild Biden joke, they are all attributed to unnamed sources and unnamed aides. But McChrystal, in letting RS into his inner circle, gives them a gift. It’s a staff letting off steam that is decribed as “a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, politcal operators and outright maniacs.” Rolling Stone loves people like that, especially when they are loaded. We get to see them tying one on in Paris, basially with lampshades on their heads. RS tuts, apparently having forgotten the motto of one of its own leading lights. Hunter S. Thompson: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” So, we have a gonzo command to fight a gonzo war. Problem?

There are other embarrassingly bad examples of cluelessness. “The Defense Department’s budget is $600 billion a year, while the State Department’s is only $50 billion.” Someone please explain to RS that the State Department doesn’t have any carrier groups, though it benefits greatly from those and other military assets deployed around the globe. That’s the “Big Stick,” not to be confused with the “Speak Softly” part. McChrystal, meanwhile, is declared to have gotten “almost” everything he asked for in his surge. In fact, he got three-quarters, with a deadline and a non-commital comannder in chief plus meddling lesser pols. I’d suggest taking away three-quarters of Hastings’ fee, maybe three-quarters of Rolling Stone’s staff and profits; then let Reader’s Digest and Entertainment Weekly into the RS editorial and publishing offices to make helpful micromanaging policy changes; and see if that feels like “almost” everything RS wanted.

It’s beside the point. In the most fundamental policy aspect of the relationship between the president and the general, there have been no sign of daylight. McChrystal in this article doesn’t complain about the task as his president handed it to him, nor do his aides, whose criticism is leveled at those who have sought to undermine it. He has made the best of a bad deal, going ahead with the kind of determination in less than ideal circumstances we could only hope the commander-in-chief would exhibit in something as critical as national security.

Delving into some actual substance, RS highlights the ROE problems. Here, the article suggests, McChrystal is not only failing to communicate and lead effectively, but his intentions reportedly are being rendered ridiculous somewhere between utterance and executiion. This might have been a more useful area of serious exploration by Rolling Stone. However, Rolling toe isn’t in the business of examining and criticizing the effectiveness of actual policy and strategy. Rolling Stone is in the business of making and breaking stars, and that is what this article is about.

To this end, there is the other rock star in this spectacle. President Obama. McChrystal never actually disparages him in the article, though he and his aides may launch barbs at the bass player, the doo-wap singers and the roadies. McChrystal isn’t the first general to shoot his mouth off … or to preside over a staff that is guilty of making some indiscreet remarks in some unwisely unguarded moments. Many have before. The question is whether this general can still do the job and do it well. The question may also be whether there is something fundamentally wrong with the job as configured, whether the random anonymous jokes and gripes that everyone is exercised about reflect serious problems that need to be addressed.

All that means that Barack Obama will have to be something he has been publicly unwilling to be. A committed, determined and aggressive wartime leader. RS’s own remarks on that make it clear he has impressed exactly no one on that score, even if Rolling Stone doesn’t seem to think winning is possible or particularly important. Hopefully, our president will be presidential enough to figure out that it is important and even winnable, that it is his war and not Rolling Stone’s, and as Donnelly and Kristol suggest, use this crisis to fine-tune it instead of turning it into some kind of bad 1980s hair band’s pyrotechnic spectacle.

Crossposted on

Posted on 23 Jun 2010

Photo: flickr/TheWhiteHouse