Military Malaise

Drone Pilots

Defense Secretary Bob Gates is frustrated. He sees trouble in the military everywhere he turns and yet he is relatively powerless to overcome the inertia. Problem 1the Generals want to fight the last war–the one against the Soviet Union.

In his speeches here and at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Mr. Gates made clear his belief that the military must focus on unconventional, irregular and terrorist threats — a view that challenges procurement plans of the Air Force and Army that continue to devote vast resources to expensive weapons designed for traditional adversaries.

“Asymmetrical conflict will be dominant for decades,” he said. “Training and procurement has to focus on that reality.”

But the Air Force is filled with fighter jocks who don’t want to be piloting drones over Afghanistan from an easy chair outside of Las Vegas, so they just ignore Gates.

“I’ve been wrestling for months to get more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets into the theater,” he said. “Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it’s been like pulling teeth.”

Problem 2recruitment. The Army and the Marines granted 861 felony waivers last year to new recruits. The Army accepted two men convicted of “terroristic threats including bomb threats”, a convicted child molester and 70 convicted burglars. This cannot be good for the trust that must exist for soldiers under fire.

Problem 3Veteran’s mental health care. The incidence of suicide attempts among former Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is growing.

“More than 600,000 veterans are waiting, on average, more than six months for disability benefits,” said Mr. Sullivan, who worked at the department monitoring benefits.

Experts agree that veterans are more likely, perhaps twice as much, to commit suicide as people who have never served in the military. Meanwhile, a study released last week by the RAND Corporation estimates that roughly one in five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which heightens the risk of suicide.

Its very clear that the next President is going to have to rebuild our military from the bottom-up. The rash and uninformed votes of John McCain and Hillary Clinton led us to the precipice that Bob Gates now stares over. Only one candidate, Barack Obama understood the consequences and on October 2, 2002 he laid them out starkly.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.



This entry was posted in Barack Obama, Defense Policy, Foreign Policy, Iraq War, Politics, Surveillance, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Military Malaise

  1. Morgan Warstler says:

    According to Al-Qaeda, Barrack was dead wrong about the last part:

    “Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri criticised Muslims for failing to support Islamist insurgencies in Iraq and elsewhere in a new audiotape posted Tuesday on the Internet.

    Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant also blasted Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas over their reported readiness to consider a peace deal with Israel.

    “I call upon the Muslim nation to fear Allah’s question (at judgement day) about its failure to support its brothers of the Mujahedeen (holy Warriors), and (urge it) not to withhold men and money, which is the mainstay of a war,” he said.

    He also used the two-and-a-half hour message to urge Muslims to join militant groups, mainly in Iraq, where he claimed that the insurgency against the Iraqi government and the US-led coalition forces is bearing fruit.

    “I urge all Muslims to hurry to the battlefields of Jihad (holy war), especially in Iraq,” Zawahiri said in the message, the second in a two-part series to answer about 100 questions put to him via online militant forums.

    “The situation in Iraq heralds an imminent victory of Islam and the defeat of the crusaders and those who stand under their flag,” he said.

    Turning his ire on Hamas, he said the Palestinian group’s reported willingness to hold a referendum on any peace deal with Israel flew in the face of Sharia, or Islamic, law.

    “How can they put a matter that violates Sharia to a referendum?” he added.

    Former US president Jimmy Carter said on Monday that Hamas told him it would recognise Israel’s right to live in peace if a deal is reached and approved by a Palestinian vote.”

    The worst impulses of the Arab world?

    Obama shouldn’t have a such a low opinion of Arabs (see above).

    The CLEAR rationale was: OIL. We all knew it. Why aren’t we in Darfur? Somalia? My god, please stop saying it wasn’t CLEAR. It wasn’t cloudy. Jon, I gave you a ton of Iraq Oil law info… will you please now admit, we had a plan and we are sticking to it?

    Look, the part he was right about:

    “I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”

    That was true! But it doesn’t sound anything like:

    “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

    Obama, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

  2. Dan says:

    One of the most painful conversations I ever had with my stepson was when he told me, “If you think about it, we want to put serial killers into the army. Because they’re not afraid to kill people.”

    I was flabbergasted by this, but now it appears that the army is coming around to his way of thinking.

    Jon, if Obama is elected, what do you think he’ll do about Iraq? Do you think he’ll begin a large drawdown with the objective of getting us out? I have to say that I’m doubtful. I think the decision has been made somewhere in the real government, the one we don’t vote for, that we’re there for good.

  3. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan-Jack Kennedy would not have launched a preemptive war. Here is an excerpt from Kennedy’s June 10, 1963 speech at American University:

    What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by 11 of the Allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.

  4. Morgan Warstler says:

    “Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions – on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace, no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process, a way of solving problems.

    With such a peace there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor; it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. . . .”

    Excuse me, but he lays there directly the justification for invasion. Lack of Muslim tolerance. Also, failure of many nations to work together (see the UN). All of that is reason to assume there is no peace.

    I dunno, with his psyche (the kind of guy who felt he needed to prove he wasn’t a wimp), he’d probably be protecting our oil interests, and saying it was a just war for other reaons.

  5. Nikc says:

    There sure is a lack of muslim tolerance in your government.

  6. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan- You are such a buzzkill.

  7. AKA The Hammer says:

    I am curious – Morgan, do you know the difference between a Shite and Sunni Muslim?

    Which is Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri? Most of Iraq? Iran? Syria? Saudi Arabia?

    Within the Shia, what are the main factions? where are they located? Who runs them?

    These are not trivial questions – they are some of the keys to the mid-east right now. I doubt there are more than a handful of people in this administration who have a clue as to the answers to those questions, and yet chose to pursue a war there. Barrack was right – its a dumb war.

    Unfortunately, wars, dumb or not kill and maim real people…

  8. Pete Wolf says:

    Morgan – I feel I have to take to task your reasons (a la Kennedy) under which the invasion of Iraq would be justified:-

    1) Muslim intolerance is not a reason for specifically invading Iraq. For all its other flaws, Iraq was one of the few secular states in the middle east. You may be able to argue that the oppression of the Shiite and/or Kurdish populations constituted significant intolerance on the part of the dominant Sunni group, but I think it would be hard to argue that this intolerance rose above the threshold for justifying the use of military force (even more so when there is not even the hint of a plan at how to IMPROVE ethnic tensions). That there must indeed be such a threshold is obvious, as otherwise we’d be invading Poland for its government’s intolerance toward homosexuals, or any in which some form of intolerance was practiced (which would be about all of them).

    2) The second reason is far more obscure: that some how failure of nations to work together (principally in the UN) justifies the invasion of Iraq specifically. What you might be trying to argue here, is that the inability of the UN to come to some agreement as to action on Iraq justified the use of unilateral force. I think this argument is wrong, but it is at least in form a good one. However, what you can’t argue, with respect to Kennedy’s position, is that the disagreement among the nations of the UN in principle justifies the invasion of Iraq, as this kind of strife among nations is not the kind which Kennedy is talking about. Again, you might then want to argue that Iraq’s own uncooperativeness with respect to other nations justifies the use of force against it. However, I again doubt that this uncooperativeness reaches the threshold for justifying military force on its own, as there are far worse examples which haven’t warranted it.

  9. Morgan Warstler says:

    Sorry Pete, I was just trying to be a buzzkill. To shoot down the loft speech and remind that JFK took abrupt actions based on politics, based on how he himself would be perceived. His election was bought and paid for, a silver spoon door prize. His clan has devolved into a circus of freaks, murderers, rapists, retards – certainly no better (and maybe no worse) than any other power mad political family – proven their real mettle has never moved past the legacy of Joe. So, excuse me if when one is quoted as being somewhat akin to Ghandi, I barf my bourbon through my nose.

    With that explained, yes that’s exactly how JFK would have justified it. After 9/11, we weren’t just attacked – a new world was being thrust upon us.

    In the simplest terms, the middle east had until that time, been somewhat akin to our gas stations. Sure many of them were run by a despicable lot, had rap sheets a mile long, but hey, we needed gas. And then suddenly, some of the employees from the biggest gas station had brutally murdered many of our sons and daughters.

    When attacked, we aren’t the types, JFK included, to spend a bunch of time kicking ourselves for speeding into and out of gas stations (we helped build) hurrying in and out, never really bothering to say “hi,” to the attendants. So in this line of thinking, our response wasn’t to just go hunt down and kill Al-Qaeda, it was to secure our own gas station, because hey we still need gas, and obviously many these gas station attendants can’t be trusted.

    Let me say it another way, after 9/11 ANY response our part is a proportionate response, but our strategic interest lies in making sure oil itself cannot be weaponized. Let me say this again: we aren’t against $3-4 gas, we’re against $20 gas.

    Yes the military absolutely has to be altered. Yes we need to have the “systems” guys to come in right after the shock and awe, and I BET that if /when we do this again, we do it much more efficiently. And the fact that we have this knowledge, makes us more of the threat, and probably makes other ME countries (Iran) very wary of poking us with a stick.

    But why Iraq? Because it was a brutal dictatorship, not because he hated dictators, but because when we went in there – there would be no resistance from those being oppressed. And because it was a secular state, there’d be many more people interested in commerce, than in Allah. And because it has the very best gas.

    That’s the kind of country we are, and that’s the kind of country we have always been. Speeches are just narratives, they have little to do the actual course of events.

  10. Harry Pottash says:

    I hate to derail the conversation, but I’m going to try anyway. One of the most interesting bits I saw in this article was problem 1

    “Problem 1–the Generals want to fight the last war–the one against the Soviet Union.”

    It seems to me that this is true, we have an army built for fighting big wars with major powers. Bob Gates seems to think, and John seems to agree, that we need an army geared to fighting the current war.

    That still seems like a mistake to me, the rate of change is just too damn fast, I think we need to start orienting ourselves to fight the _next_ war. I realize that doing that involves trying to see the future, but there are some principals that I think will clearly get dragged into things. (In particular I think the military needs to embrace “fast, cheep and out-of-control” robotics, and get a practical feel for how to deal with massive numbers of very low priority targets.)

    Any other thoughts about what the next war will look like and how we should be ready to fight it?

  11. STS says:

    The internal Pentagon dramas Jon highlights are very important. If the US were a scrappy up-and-comer, we’d be building a military around the problems of intelligence gathering and analysis, small agile forces capable of dealing with all manner of unconventional situations and effective collaboration with allies. Think about how we dealt with what we might consider as a precursor to the war on terror: the First Barbary War. The development of the U.S. Navy owes a lot to the defense priorities posed by sea-borne trade.

    Instead we are saddled with the arsenal of the Pax Americana: a WWII force scaled down by the constraints of an all volunteer force plus a hodge-podge of ad hoc technological upgrades developed during the cold war. A machine with bases dotted all over the globe and a vast dead-weight of bureaucracy and entrenched culture.

    Had there been no 9-11, we might actually have found cause to praise Don Rumsfeld as one of the few people capable of really forcing big cultural changes on the Pentagon. He came in with that kind of agenda, but something funny happened on the way to the forum.

    Take for example the business of going into Iraq with a smaller force than recommended by the joint chiefs. I think in Rumsfeld’s mind, this was a case of him imposing a new vision on the old brass hats because they were stuck in the “Normandy” model of invasion force structure.

    It’s telling that Afghanistan was a CIA-driven project and Bush more or less forced Rumsfeld to take on Iraq. Somewhere in that process, the institutional tribal turf-wars took over and increasingly the “GWOT” (global war on terrror) turned into a big showcase of “all the great things the Pentagon knows how to do” — and with special emphasis on the “stuff the Pentagon knows how to do better than the Department of State“.

    From a very muddled concept: “The War on Terror” flowed a cornucopia of muddled execution.

    Let me recommend Thomas Barnett’s talk again for those who might have missed it on an earlier thread.

  12. Dan says:

    “His election was bought and paid for, a silver spoon door prize.”

    As opposed to LJB, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, King George I, Clinton and King George II, who all won their elections fair and square.

    And as we all know, the Kennedys are the only family that has been in the White House to produce a moron.

  13. pond says:

    ‘The generals want to fight the last war.’

    I would put this example more on the terms of: soldiers want to play with BIG TOYS like aircraft carriers and fighter jets. Jet pilot = cool, Tom Cruise! Drone navigator = uncool unmanly nerd.

    Also: BIG TOYS come with BIG BILLS. The name of the game in procurements is to run up the biggest bill. Whatever kickbacks/corruption/post-service jobs come with the territory will be enhanced by buying missile systems, submarines, etc.

    ‘Felons in the military…can’t be good for trust among soldiers.’

    Not necessarily. A gang-banger, murderer, burglar…that’s badassss, man! Goes quite well, I think with the modern notion that our military is composed of (barbarian-style) ‘warriors’ rather than (more mundane, soon-back-to-civvies) ‘soldiers.’

    Now, child molesters and homosexuals, they would have a problem here. Not trying to equate homosexuals with felons (that was a couple generations ago…and to come?) — I’m just saying that among insecure, nervous, tribal, ill-educated ‘warriors’ any unacceptable sexual deviance would raise hackles and lead to bullying, baiting, and disunity.

    As far as the overall notion that ‘asymmetry will be with us for a long time to come,’ it strikes me that there are still a LOT of neocons in the administration of President Bush, and will be in the admin of President McCain, who want to take down Russia and split it into even smaller pieces; who want to colonize/imperialize central Asian ‘stans so as to complete a ring around China.

    Many generals also want the big fleets with the big bombers so they can cow ‘rogue’ states like Iran by sailing up to the borders, aiming a gazillion dollars worth of weapons at them, and playing brinksmanship until either the regime backs down and does what Washington tells it to, or else John ‘MadBomber’ McCain gets riled, antsy, or pissed off, and gives the go-ahead to fire.

    It’s my personal belief that an agreement arose in 1946-1948 between generals (who didn’t want to retire or lose commands as the military shrank to pre-war levels) and military contractors (who didn’t want to return to the terrors of competitive free markets where they had to earn each sale) to keep the USA on a perpetual war footing. This continues to this day, and as James Madison noted, war always leads to tyranny and dictatorship.

    Finally, it was Donald Rumsfeld who stripped the military down to a ‘lean and light, quick operations’ model. We all saw that fail spectacularly in Iraq, against the very asymmetry mentioned here.

  14. Jon Taplin says:

    Pond- There is a great documentary on the tension you cited called Why We Fight. Well worth seeing.

Leave a Reply