Category Archives: Featured

A Month Later, DADT Survey Participation Lags

On August 12th, the Navy Times, which has been closely covering the DADT survey sent out to 400,000 service members last month, reported that only a quarter of the troops returned the survey in advance of the August 15th deadline, leading Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to issue a statement pleading with troops, “If you have not yet responded, please participate. Your response will help us assess the impact of a change in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law”.  In light of the low response level for such a seemingly controversial and time-sensitive issue, it begs the question, why are troops not responding to a survey that could help smooth or derail the path towards DADT reform?

One factor is simple and straightforward: time. Simply, people are busy, and a long and relatively repetitive survey that requires them to think back to their past experiences with gay service members does not fit easily into a busy schedule.  It is quite easy, for someone who does not have strong feelings on this issue, to consciously choose to leave the “voting” up to others.

That leads to the other main reason that comes to my mind: passion.  Policy makers assumed that because they are required by their constituents to have a passionate view on DADT, that everyone has a passionate view on the issue.  The truth is that many Americans have no clear view on this issue, and service members are no different.  One can feel that being gay is wrong, but still be respectful enough of our founding principles to accept an unpleasant (to them) reality.

Much of the debate so far has revolved around the impact of gays on unit cohesion under high stress, enclosed environments or combat situations, where unit cohesion is of great importance. In those cases, much like the decision to add women to submarines, caution is warranted, so long as it does not serve to obstruct progress. It is understandable that service members in those settings might have a strong opinion on this issue.  But many service members don’t serve in those types of situations. They may be shore side administrative staff, vehicle maintenance crew, or, like myself, a public affairs specialist. These issues just don’t have the same affect on mission readiness for them, which I believe has contributed to the surprisingly low level of participation on a survey that has been impossible to avoid about during the last month.

I was not invited to complete the survey, though I read a copy of it in July, but I do feel very strongly that DADT needs to be reformed. The survey itself was an imperfect creation, clearly created by a committee. Yet, given the issue and the stakes, the survey did a very passable job of allowing the respondent to come to their own conclusions, and not be led along a certain ideological path.  The one serious concern I have is the line of questioning that asked respondents to share their opinions on how others in their unit felt about gays.  In court, this would be thrown out in a second, and with good reason.  If I was, say, a raging homophobe, it would be in my best interest to claim that my entire unit was disgusted by the presence of a gay service member.  Or I could state the opposite if I personally had no issues with gay soldiers.  The survey would have been best presented by focusing solely on the direct knowledge and beliefs of the respondent.

As a Navy reservist, I did submit comments through the voluntary website created for all service members and their families to share their thoughts., which has notably received 67,000 short responses.  While I echoed the most mainstream arguments about civil and human rights, I focused my comments on a point that has received little mention in the media coverage: what happens when a civilian joins or serves alongside a military where gays don’t “exist”.   As a reservist, I have a civilian life.  In that civilian life, I encounter gay men and women on a daily basis.  Growing up in urban coastal cities, I grew up around gay men and women, and saw friends come out as they discovered their true proclivities.  To me, while it differed from my own experiences and preferences, it was a normal part of my life.

We talk of the shock service members will face if gays are suddenly able to be open about their sexuality (which I doubt will be as severe as critics predict; they overestimate human ability to hide one’s true nature from one’s closest acquaintances. My personal belief is that every gay service member has unit members who know or think they know the truth), but what about the shock currently faced by the millions of men and women who straddle the civilian and military worlds, and who know that there are second-class citizens on one side of that divide?  It is extraordinarily difficult for me to accept that putting on a uniform makes gays suddenly disappear from the world.

Ultimately it is in the best interests of the nation and of the military to allow gays to serve openly in the military, without threat of disgrace or need for disguise.  And I believe that the low response rate to the survey, which I read as indicating a lower level of passion about this issue than otherwise assumed, only reinforces the argument that the repeal of DADT will have a minimal negative impact on general unit cohesion and readiness, and that the majority of the men and women in uniform already understand that, despite their personal beliefs about homosexuality.

This is an exciting time for the future of equality in the armed forces – women and minorities are putting on one, two, three and even four stars; women will soon begin serving on a trial basis on SSBNs; the Navy continues to beat Army in football (no, that’s not equality, that’s just a happy fact); and we may soon take the next big step toward creating a military that mirrors civil society in its equal treatment of all citizens.

Posted on 15 Aug 2010

Photo: af.mil

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Needs of the Nation: ROTC at Columbia University and the Quadrennial Defense Review, Part II

Part I: Capabilities and Capacity introduced Columbia University in New York City as the ideal partner for ROTC to produce officers with the capabilities and capacity called for in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Needs of the Nation is quilted entirely from QDR text to provide a contextual basis for the partnership, while the links match QDR-identified needs to Columbia sources to further illustrate the investment potential of Columbia ROTC for the nation:

The Secretary has directed that investments be increased in certain capabilities that have been in consistently high demand and have proven to be key enablers of tactical and operational success. (pp 20-21) The Department will work to ensure that all its educational institutions are resourced and staffed with the right mix of civilian and military experts who can help prepare the next generation of leaders. (p 54)

America’s men and women in uniform constitute the Department’s most important resource. (QDR p 49) Our recruiting efforts are long term investments that can yield generational gains. (p 51)  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 Department must continue developing innovative programs to attract qualified young men and women into the Armed Forces. (p xii)

Many of our authorities and structures assume a neat divide between defense, diplomacy, and development that simply does not exist. (p 74) A series of powerful cross-cutting trends, made more complex by the ongoing economic crisis, threatens to complicate international relations and make the exercise of U.S. statecraft more difficult. The rising demand for resources, rapid urbanization of littoral regions, the effects of climate change, the emergence of new strains of disease, and profound cultural and demographic tensions in several regions are just some of the trends whose complex interplay may spark or exacerbate future conflicts. (p 7) Although many efforts to protect the United States are led by other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the role of the Department of Defense in defending the nation against direct attack and in providing support to civil authorities, potentially in response to a very significant or even catastrophic event, has steadily gained prominence. (p 18) Perhaps more than ever before, the United States requires joint military forces able to function and succeed across a wide geographic and operational spectrum. Moreover, military forces must be capable of working effectively with a range of civilian and international partners. (p 7)

Our enemies are adaptive and will develop systems and tactics that exploit our vulnerabilities. (pp 20-21) The Department will continue to work to ensure that America’s cadre of commissioned and noncommissioned officers are prepared for the full range of complex missions that the future security environment will likely demand. Too often, a focus on weapons acquisition programs and overall force structure crowd out needed attention concerning how the Military Departments generate, train, and sustain their leaders. As part of our commitment to ensure that tomorrow’s leaders are prepared for the difficult missions they will be asked to execute, DoD will place special emphasis on stability operations, counterinsurgency, and building partner capacity skill sets in its professional military education and career development policies. (p 54)

Examples of DoD efforts in this area include: Building expertise in foreign language, regional, and cultural skills. We will continue our emphasis on enhancing these skills in general purpose force officers during pre-accession training. Given the inherent link between language and cultural expertise and mission success, this area requires continued focus. (p 54) Operating in partnership with host nation security forces and among local populations puts a premium on foreign language skills and regional and cultural knowledge. Today’s operating environment demands a much greater degree of language and regional expertise requiring years, not weeks, of training and education, as well as a greater understanding of the factors that drive social change. (p 30)

Preventing conflict, stabilizing crises, and building security sector capacity are essential elements of America’s national security approach. (p 75) Stability operations, largescale counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations are not niche challenges or the responsibility of a single Military Department, but rather require a portfolio of capabilities as well as sufficient capacity from across America’s Armed Forces and other departments and agencies. Nor are these types of operations a transitory or anomalous phenomenon in the security landscape. (pp 20-21)

Accordingly, the U.S. Armed Forces will continue to require capabilities to create a secure environment in fragile states in support of local authorities and, if necessary, to support civil authorities in providing essential government services, restoring emergency infrastructure, and supplying humanitarian relief. (pp 20-21) The Department recognizes that in order to ensure that enhancements developed among security forces are sustained, the supporting institutions in partner nations must also function effectively. This ministerial training mission is being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan today by military officers, contractors, and members of the Department’s Civilian Expeditionary Workforce. (p 30) Ineffective governance can create areas that terrorists and insurgents can exploit. Circumstances are ripe for violent ideologies to spread among a population when governments struggle to provide basic services, justice and security, or the conditions for economic opportunity. Civil affairs forces address these threats by serving as the vanguard of DoD’s support to U.S. government efforts to assist partner governments in the fields of rule of law, economic stability, governance, public health and welfare, infrastructure, and public education and information. Because of their linguistic and cultural skills, civil affairs personnel often serve as liaisons to reduce friction between our military forces and the civilian population. (p 17) Efforts that use smaller numbers of U.S. forces and emphasize host-nation leadership are generally preferable to large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns. (p 28)

DoD is also growing its cadre of cyber experts to protect and defend its information networks and is investing in and developing the latest technologies to enable our forces to operate in cyberspace under a wide range of conditions, including in contested and degraded environments. (p 38)

The wars we are fighting today and assessments of the future security environment together demand that the United States retain and enhance a whole-of-government capability to succeed in large-scale counterinsurgency, stability, and counterterrorism operations in environments ranging from densely populated urban areas and mega-cities, to remote mountains, deserts, jungles, and littoral regions. In some cases, it may be in the U.S. interest to help strengthen weak states, including those facing homegrown insurgencies and transnational terrorist and criminal networks or those that have been weakened by humanitarian disasters. Moreover, there are few cases in which the U.S. Armed Forces would engage in sustained largescale combat operations without the associated need to assist in the transition to just and stable governance. (pp 20-21)

In addition to ongoing conflicts, the United States faces a complex and uncertain security landscape in which the pace of change continues to accelerate. Not since the fall of the Soviet Union or the end of World War II has the international terrain been affected by such far reaching and consequential shifts. The rise of new powers, the growing influence of non-state actors, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and other destructive enabling technologies, and a series of enduring and emerging trends pose profound challenges to international order. (p 5)

The challenges facing the United States are immense, but so are the opportunities. (p 97) As noted above, in this dynamic security environment U.S. forces must continue to adapt. America’s Armed Forces have a long history of devising creative solutions to new challenges and this spirit of innovation will be essential as we further evolve and rebalance the force in the years to come. (p 47)

———–

In conclusion, the Secretary of Defense has made clear: in the complex and evolving security environment, America needs to produce military leaders able to adapt on a full spectrum. Columbia hosts other innovative cross-cutting programs, such as the Earth Institute, that rely upon the special reach and multi-dimensional resources of a global flagship university in a world city. ROTC at Columbia is a rare opportunity to create a partnership that rises to the needs of the nation with an evolutionary officer program that draws upon everything Columbia University in New York City has to offer.

* See Part I: Capabilities and Capacity.

Posted on 14 Aug 2010

Photo: defense.gov/qdr

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A Response To Nicholas Kristof; We are still at war, let’s fight together.

The one of the Military's Provincial Reconstruction Teams at work building a school in Afghanistan

The one of the U.S. Military's Provincial Reconstruction Teams at work building a school in Afghanistan

In a recent editorial for the N.Y. Times Nicholas Kristof plays upon his fiddle a familiar tune; building schools is better for peace than firing missiles.  In the abstract this theme is undoubtedly true.  Collectively we know that education is the key to a better, safer world.  It is not a question of whether building schools is better for peace then firing missiles, the question is actually whether building schools is better for peace in Afghanistan.

Kristof cites a recent report from the Congressional Research Service that states that the war in Afghanistan will cost more than any other war in our nation’s history aside from WWII.  He also cites the recently leaked military documents, which incidentally and sadly may cost both American and Afghan lives, for support that the military strategy is a “mess.” Additionally, according to Kristof, for the cost of one soldier “we could start to build about 20 schools there.” And, interestingly, Kristof states that education has been far better at neutralizing extremism than military power.

Mr. Kristof is not wrong for believing that education is critical and must be an integral part of our strategy for success in Afghanistan.  The problem with his point of view is that he does not accurately depict the brutal reality facing both the Afghan population and the U.S. military.  Kristof should consider a more narrow focus on those actual realities including the fact that many schools have no doubt survived the Taliban due to military provided security.

Surely Kristof has met women like Aisha, an Afghan woman who had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban? And for what egregious offense did Aisha receive this punishment? Because she attempted to escape the abuse of family members.   Will these members of the Taliban enroll in school? And will this happen before or after they read their autographed copies of Three Cups of Tea? How long will the education plan take to affect a burqa wearing suicide bomber such as the one on June 11, 2010 who killed two civilians and wounded another 16?

Perhaps the worst part of Kristof’s view of Afghanistan is his rather uninformed depiction of America’s fighting men and women.  Many members of the media with experience embedded with NATO forces would tell you that today’s soldier is a true “renaissance man,” or woman.  The primary skill set of most soldiers is focused on warfighting, but our nation’s current mission has required much more.  Soldiers are taking out the enemy while at the same time providing humanitarian relief, meeting with town and tribal councils, and directing civil reconstruction projects.  It is up to the Afghanistan people to use this blanket of security and stability to form political gains and reconciliation.  The military cannot do this for them, but neither can simply building schools.

Kristof actually gives no evidence in support of his claims. In what situation analogous to Afghanistan, is it true that education has neutralized extremism better than military power? Our nation, despite the economy, is generally business as usual and this makes it easy for us to forget that we are at war.  We are at war with two enemies; one who killed thousands of Americans, lest we forget, and the other who gave those murderers safe haven.  Because the average American civilian has gone back to business as usual, does not mean the enemy has.

Even a cursory glance will leave you empty handed in finding a comparable situation where education has been successful as a unilateral strategy while leaving military assistance on the shelf.  We need only look to Umar Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who attempted to blow up a U.S. passenger plane on Christmas Day 2009.  The 23 year old came from a privileged background and studied at a boarding school prior to his enrollment at University College London.  What aboutKhalid Sheik Mohammed whose time at studying engineering in North Carolina “almost certainly helped propel him on his path to become a terrorist” according to the CIA.  Or the fact that we know that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from middle class and educated backgrounds.  It seems that it is not a lack of education that is our problem.

When the evil of fascism and racist extremism gripped our world during World War II, should the Allies have redirected our D-Day budget to the building of schools on the cost of France?  Was there a shortage of schools throughout Europe that allowed ignorance to rule the day?  Education is a wonderful and helpful tool to enriching lives and changing attitudes, but when a certain evil of this world rises up we must meet it with our intelligence, our material, and when appropriate our military.

Mr. Kristof says that his “hunch” is that CARE is doing more to bring peace to Afghanistan than Mr. Obama’s surge of troops.  But what are the statistics on stability in the areas where these schools are located? Are attacks by the Taliban and Al Qaeda down in those areas?  If there was a decline in violence was it in the absence of security? This blanket transformation of areas within Afghanistan must have surely led to a wholesale emigration of Afghans to these areas, and how are these schools coping with the surge?

I must wonder whether Kristof is aware of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) working to improve the lives of the Afghan population every day.  There are an almost 30 PRTs established by 18 national governments operating in Afghanistan.   PRTs are commanded by a military officer, usually a Lieutenant Colonel or equivalent and typically include representatives from the Departments of State, Agriculture, Justice, and Defense, as well as the United States Agency for International Development.  The PRT in the Zabul region of Afghanistan completed more than 65 projects over the course of a ten month period from 2009-2010.  These projects totaled more than $40 million and addressed medical education, road reconstruction, and quality of life issues.  In the Helmand province the PRT reopened 40 schools since December 2008 and actually built four of the schools.  Additionally, as of January 2010 pupil enrollment in the Helmand province increased 34% among females and figures showed a total enrollment of 83,995 students.    All totaled there are 103 schools open in Helmand, and in 2007 there were only 47.  The gains and accomplishments by PRTs are the result of years of work to reach out to the Afghan population.  As far back as 2004 military civil affairs soldiers from PRT Tarin Kowt worked as the “connection between U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and the people.” This early PRT worked to provide supplies and funds for agriculture, education, and construction.  The sacrifice and work of the American soldier to provide solid and sustainable improvement to the education and economic situation of the Afghan people must not be ignored.  Moreover, I have a hunch that these soldiers are doing quite good at bringing peace to Afghanistan.

My humble advice to Mr. Kristof would be to spend a week with our nation’s soldiers.  Speak with their commanders, speak with the grunts.  Focus less on the words of the elite in Washington and whilst you roll up your sleeves looking at the schools built by Greg Mortenson, roll up your sleeves and look at the work done by the U.S. military.  When you finish please write an op-ed describing what you saw, and this time around I would bet you will have a more balanced and realistic depiction of the military’s role in Afghanistan.  A needed depiction of our countrymen’s struggle to provide assistance.  The women and men of the military are not aliens from another galaxy or robots constructed by the government.  They are people just like you, from places like Yamhill, Oregon, and they are in Afghanistan doing the best they can, in a bad situation, because their President asked them to.

Posted on 3 Aug 2010

Photo: nato.int

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Float like a starfish, sting like a spider

Army Starfish Program

“The Army’s Starfish Program” seeks to promote decentralization as yet another tool to counter decentralized and networked threats.

The day someone becomes CEO of a large corporation, it is classic to warn them about the dangers of hierarchy by saying “yesterday was the last day that anyone will tell you what is actually going on in the company”.  Conventional thinking is that the military is even more hierarchical.  In reality, however, it is impressive how the Army is at the cutting edge of non-hierarchical thinking.

A good example comes from an article in POLITICO about the book “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations”.

The title is based on the contrasting biology of spiders, which die when their heads are chopped off, and starfish, which can multiply when any given piece is severed — a trait the book’s authors posit is shared by decentralized entities ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to Al Qaeda to Wikipedia.
“This book is about what happens when there’s no one in charge,” write the authors of “The Starfish and the Spider,” Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. “It’s about what happens when there’s no hierarchy. You’d think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.”
What caught my eye about the article was that Brafman was asked about his political ideology, but declined to discuss that because “he is doing consulting work with the U.S. Army trying to help it “become more starfish-like.”

A New York Times article describes another way the military is exploring non-hierarchical thinking, by working with Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea“.  Word of Mortenson’s book spread among military wives, including one who sent the book to her husband, LTC Christopher Kolenda.  Kolenda read about Mortenson’s private initiative that built more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, mostly for girls, and he and Mortenson began cooperating.  Soon, Deborah Mullen and Holly Petraeus were urging their husbands to read the book.

As Colonel Kolenda tells it, Mr. Mortenson and his Afghan partner on the ground, Wakil Karimi, became the American high command’s primary conduits for reaching out to elders outside the “Kabul bubble”.
The military has found ways to avoid being like the CEO who doesn’t know what is going on.  But they have been careful to ensure that flattening the hierarchy of collecting information doesn’t compromise the hierarchy of command.  Gen. David Petraeus stressed this theme in an April 2009 talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“You have to be careful   . . .   it is great to flatten [the organization] for information, but there does need to be a hierarchy when it comes to people pushing recommendations up, pushing policy decisions up . . . you can’t shove aside a subordinate organization and just take it over.
He also described the importance of taking initiative, citing a sign he saw at an outpost:
In the absence of guidance or orders, figure out what they should have been and execute aggressively!”
When I first met Petraeus in 2006 at an MIT ROTC event, he told me how impressed he was with some of the ROTC graduates who had served with him.  He described how he would give out his card to those who particularly impressed him, urging them to email him if they had something interesting to tell him.  What is even more impressive than this flattening of the information hierarchy is the way he does so, conveying the impression that he has 5 different ideas as to what is important, and making people feel comfortable bouncing a 6th off him, even if they think he’ll disagree.
It is impressive how the military is learning to have a flat information hierarchy, and doing so without compromising the hierarchy of command.  Boxer Muhammad Ali might sum it up as “float like a starfish, sting like a spider”.

This sophisticated understanding of information flows is a real asset, and it will not be surprising if many in the next generation of CEOs are chosen from people who have absorbed these lessons.  Many will have learned the lessons best in the military.  The United States may become more like Israel, where prospective employers care as much about what you did in the military as what you did in university.

Posted on 2 Aug 2010

Photo: army.mil

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Military Regulations Shouldn’t Stop at the Golden Arches’ Front Door

Recently I wrote on the U.S. military’s experimentation with “non-traditional” exercise plans in order to stem the tide of rising obesity within the ranks.  However, many have suggested that changes in fitness programs are only half the battle, and that what the military sorely needs is to stop supplying soldiers with nutritionally deficient meal options.
Most people are well aware that the military is an excellent option for those looking to serve their country and learn leadership in a demanding and structured environment.  Most people are unaware that the military is also the obvious option for those looking to serve their bodies with high calorie and fat laden meal choices.
Take for example, the variety of meal options available to members of the U.S. Army and Air Force.  The Army & Air Force Exchange Service or AAFES, an agency of the Department of Defense, operates the Post Exchange or PX which carries department store type goods and merchandise for soldiers and airmen.  AAFES has signed franchise contracts with such meal providers as A&W Restaurants, Burger King, McDonalds, Cinnabon, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut just to name a few.   Fort Hood, Texas is one of our nation’s largest military posts, and it’s “Mega Food Court,” boasts the following; Charley’s Steakery, Captain D’s, Burger King, and Baskin Robbins.   If a soldier can’t make his way to the Mega Food Court there are several Burger King and Charley’s Steakery locations throughout the post.  There’s also an Einstein Bagel located at Fort Hood for those soldiers who would like to keep their caloric meal intake for one meal to below 700 calories.  This type of disparity in menu options is seemingly uniform throughout the military.  The main PX at Fort Stewart, GA offers its own Cinnabon, as well as a Robin Hood, Anthony’s Pizza, Taco John’s, and Charley’s Steakery.  In other locations on post soldiers can dine at a Godfather’s Pizza, Popeye’s, or Burger King.
What alternatives to soldiers have? Well there is the dependable dining facility.  Army regulations mandate that these facilities “apply nutrition principles” and “provide both healthy choices and highly acceptable food items” for each meal.  Specifically, the facilities must include choices from each food group from the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, and the caloric value of each menu item must be posted in order to promote healthy food choices.
Military members could choose these healthier options instead of the junk food prevalent on military posts and bases worldwide, but they often choose not too for a few reasons.  For one, dining facilities are open only at traditional meal times; breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even then only for ninety minutes.  Due to work and other responsibilities many soldiers are inevitably going to miss these times.  Second, most soldiers did not grow up eating food in a dining facility type atmosphere and would rather sit in the restaurant style setting they are accustomed to versus the “head-count”  and predetermined meal setting from basic training.  Military life is regimented and soldiers will often opt for any break from the routine.
The military can solve this problem by continuing its commitment to nutrition in dining facilities, and at the same contracting with companies that provide meal options that do not devastate waist lines.  Compare the caloric content and meals offered by Burger King, McDonalds, and Charley’s Steakery with offerings from Panera Bread, Jason’s Deli, Au Bon Pain, and Chipotle.   Are these companies not willing to operate on military installations, or are we not asking them?
These changes must occur if the military is going to deal with its growing obesity problem.  Soldiers may complain about the loss of fatty food, but the military should treat this issue no different than any other dealing with health and safety.  The military, and to a larger extent the Department of Defense, regulates every detail of a soldiers life and this should include the vendors allowed to operate in the soldier’s “neighborhood.”
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Petraeus takes command and the dust settles, now what was McChrystal thinking?

We may never know what drove Gen. Stanley McChrystal to say the things he did to Rolling Stone.  But now that the dust has settled we should closely analyze McChrystal’s misstep for hints or suggestions as to what he was really trying to tell us.
By now everyone knows that McChrystal made the fatal mistake of criticizing the civilian chain of command, and for that President Obama accepted his resignation.  McChrystal clearly erred in sharing that he felt that the President was intimidated by his own generals and implying that the Vice-President didn’t have a handle on the Afghan war, and he undoubtedly knows this.  But were his comments regarding senior civilians not in his chain of command meant as a warning?
Military officers are taught from day one to place the care of the men and women under their command first.  McChrystal’s comments hint of man who personally felt that the civilian apparatus was too broken to adequate address the task at hand.  McChrystal is a smart man, and one who spent his career under the radar.  In this highly unorthodox move he broadcast his frustration publicly and openly. Only the General really knows why, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that he chose to make a statement that things are not going quite right in Afghanistan.  Perhaps he felt his strategy did not receive adequate support at home, or that even the best military and civilian minds are struggling to frame a policy to fit the conditions.
There is no real evidence to support the idea that McChrystal purposely ended his career.  Some have even suggested that he and his staff didn’t realize the comments were on the record.
But because it looks increasingly likely that these comments were on the record, and because of his commitment and sacrifice for the country, I don’t think it is a waste to continue the conversation as to why his career ended the way it did.
Posted on 29 Jul 2010

Photo: army.mil
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Wikileaks leak an opportunity for frank discussion

President Obama is justified in brushing aside the classified war documents posted on Wikileaks as less than a revelation for the nation’s political discussion, while also deploring their boon to the enemy and the increased danger to our soldiers and allies. Most experts who have reviewed the documents agree with the President.

The trove of classified war documents, however, is impossible-to-ignore authoritative evidence. But of what? The implications are open to interpretation, and eager opponents of the Afghanistan mission are already spinning the data to press their case for hasty American and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. For much the same reason that Afghanistan’s opponents tout the leak as game-changing, Wikileaks has given President Obama the opportunity to hold a long-overdue frank discussion with the American people about Afghanistan and the War on Terror.

The President, like his predecessor, has opted to deflect the most disturbing parts of the Afghanistan mission from the American people. Doing so perhaps has protected the mission from reaching a tipping point of popular opposition, but it has also undermined popular understanding of the war and its stakes. As a result, as some war veterans have commented sarcastically, the military has been at war since 9/11, while the country has been at the mall.

In the long run for a long war, an inadequate understanding of the war by the American people cannot sustain the level of national commitment we need to succeed. The media is already reporting growing discontent with Obama’s Afghanistan “Surge”, despite that the execution stage of the President’s strategy has barely begun. It’s time for President Obama to put away the platitudes he inherited from President Bush. Instead, Obama should hold a Melian dialogue with the American people to explain the war’s harsh realities and complexity according to his context as our nation’s leader, so we can deliberately weigh the alternatives as he must. Now that the secrets are in the open, the President can fully make the case that the War on Terror deserves our dogged determination for the foreseeable future because of, not despite, the grim struggle.

A favorite quote of mine from Esquire writer Tom Junod explains the challenge of sustaining America’s will to win at war and the essence of the Wikileaks affair:

The moral certainty that makes war possible is certain only to unleash moral havoc, and moral havoc becomes something the nation has to rise above. We can neither win a war nor save the national soul if all we seek is to remain unsullied–pristine. Anyway, we are well beyond that now. The question is not, and has never been, whether we can fight a war without perpetrating outrages of our own. The question is whether the rightness of the American cause is sufficient not only to justify war but to withstand war’s inevitable outrages. The question is whether–if the cause is right–we are strong enough to make it remain right in the foggy moral battleground of war.

President Bush allowed his narrative of the War on Terror to be drowned out. The Wikileaks leak has given President Obama the opportunity to convince the American people our cause in Afghanistan is still right and we are strong enough to make it remain right in the foggy moral battleground of war.

Posted on 28 Jul 2010

Photo: wikicommons