Permissible Arms

DoD is ruining education!

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, us congress, us defense by Abbie on 5 August 2010

Thanks to Karaka for letting me guest post again!

I usually keep quiet when those with experience start debating military and foreign policy issues on blogs and elsewhere online. These issues interest me terribly, but I don’t suffer from any illusions that I know half as much as the people I choose to follow on Twitter on these matters. But on the issue of guns vs. butter–or more specifically in this post, guns vs. schoolbooks–I have an informed opinion that goes something like this: Please stop blaming war spending for diminishing the federal investment in education spending. Recent efforts to secure much-needed aid for educator job retention has reignited a long-suffering debate about funding priorities that has me banging my head against the wall.

I represent educators before Congress. Yes, I’m a lobbyist. My colleagues and I enjoy advocating on one of the few “nonpartisan” issues in Congress, if such a thing exists. We have our fair share of dramatic debates, but when it gets down to brass tacks legislators generally agree that education is a good thing. This is similar, I believe, to the widely held post-Vietnam idea in Congress that we must support the troops, regardless of personal feelings about war or defense policy.

Tough times call for tough measures and all federal agencies are preparing for Congress to allot them smaller budgets to complete their work. This includes the Department of Education. But nothing demonstrates the state of our poor economy to many Americans more than this: Even the (discretionary) federal funding juggernaut more commonly known as the Department of Defense is cutting back.

Secretary Gates has gone to great lengths to implore Congress to do away with spending of programs he calls “excess” or “poorly performing” in an effort to streamline DoD. He’s even gone so far as to call for the President’s veto of any appropriations bills that include funding for six projects he opposes (see page one of his June testimony here). He’s also called on his staff to shrink the department’s annual budget by more than $100 billion over five years. (To learn more about why, read the recent CBO report detailing DoD’s ballooning expenses, or the excellent report by Robert Haddick at Foreign Policy.)

Despite these and other efforts, my education colleagues—who I respect and work passionately along side in our efforts to expand the federal investment in education—continue to make the baseless argument that DoD is to blame for shrinking funds for federal education programs. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve suffered through one of my colleagues’ angry diatribes against spending on “the wars” or “DoD” or “the military” I probably wouldn’t be sweating my student loans payment this month. The argument simply doesn’t stand up.

To suggest that funding for any non-DoD program hangs on the funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is naive and shows extreme ignorance of the federal appropriations process. Anyone ever heard of mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare? Let me assure you that these programs are having an impact on available monies legislators have to play with.

Please, let’s have reasoned debate about the benefits of war, the implications of war, even the morality of war. I find myself questioning our efforts “over there” at times, too. But let’s not suggest funding these wars is depriving states of federal education aid. Legislators choose whether or not to appropriate funds. They make choices. Legislators choose to prioritize funding and programs.

Congress has the responsibility to fund defense and education fairly and appropriately. It’s not an either/or debate. The federal government needs to do both better. Let’s face it, they need to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars, generally.

I’m hardly the first to point out the deterioration of reasoned debate and policy development in America. When Congress is involved, there is always plenty of finger pointing to go around. But on this issue, surely we can rise above and realize one priority (national defense) does not undercut the other priority (educating the nation’s youth).

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Cutting defense spending, for reals? (Updated)

Posted in us congress, us defense, us military, us politics by Abbie on 1 July 2010

Hi all. Karaka has graciously invited me to post links and observations while she enjoys some time off. I promise not to rant too much since she called me “delightful.” Well played, KP.

Cmd Salamander has an interesting thread going on a proposal from U.S. Representative Barney Frank and others about a “Strategy of Restraint” for federal defense spending (h/t Starbuck). Federal budgets and appropriations are my thing–it’s part of my day job–and I’ve learned over the years to take proposals like this one with a grain of salt. I doubt this proposal, like so many that have come before it, will come to fruition.

But, for the first time since I began working in DC, I’m hearing serious discussion on Capitol Hill–and perhaps more importantly, from DoD–about making real cuts to federal defense funding in the FY11 budget and beyond. To save face, I’m blatantly ignoring the Emergency Supplemental currently being debated on the Hill that would provide funding for Afghanistan, among other things. For those who don’t obsess over the ridiculousness of the federal budget and appropriations process like I do, “emergency” funds fall outside the confines of the congressional budget. (That is to say, when Congress has passed a budget, unlike this year.)

Here’s my point: Is it simply a reaction to the economy that is allowing Congress to willingly gut-check the American purse on defense spending during a midterm election year…while we’re at war? Of course not. But what does it mean for DoD, State, etc. and their efforts domestically and internationally in the coming years?

It’s fair to note that DoD is by no means a solitary target. In fact, President Obama’s FY11 budget request calls for a spending freeze in all non-security discretionary spending. It was Secretary Gates who insisted his Department find considerable savings over the next five years.

Gates said he wants contracts scrutinized more closely for inefficiencies and unneeded overhead. He said the savings could be shifted to support U.S. troops around the globe. Pentagon officials said they’re looking for annual savings in the $400 billion spent on goods and services.

I believe all federal agencies can and should do a better job of using taxpayer dollars responsibly. But this shift in congressional rhetoric on defense spending from both sides of the aisle–albeit stronger on the left–strikes me as telling. Election outcomes aside, where should DoD focus their spending and where should they cut?

As always, Small Wars Journal has some fascinating debate about defense spending and politics generally in their threads. Check it out! (And, as this blog’s host has suggested, send them some money while you’re at it. They’re good people!)

Update: Robert Haddick has authored an excellent article entitled “The Pentagon’s entitlement spending problem” that touches much more saliently than I could ever hope to on some of the issues DoD’s budget is facing now and will continue to face in the future. Well worth the read.

Not so conventional

Posted in afghanistan, japan, united states by Karaka on 4 November 2009

Nightwatch fronts Japan’s new aid package:

A draft of a foreign aid package indicates that Japan might give Afghanistan about $4 billion in civilian aid over five years beginning in 2010, Kyodo reported 3 November. The aid package, which would be implemented through the Japan International Cooperation Agency and international organizations such as the U.N. Development Program, would include assistance in vocational training for former Taliban fighters, development of Afghanistan’s farmland and a project to construct a new city north of Kabul. Japan would also help build schools, train teachers and pay for police officers.

Japanese Cabinet members are expected to decide on the outline of the aid package soon, perhaps by 5 November, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. The Democratic Party coalition government is willing to provide non-lethal assistance to Afghanistan, but will not extend the naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean when it expires on 15 January 2010.

During this Watch, Kyodo reported Defense Minister Kitazawa said the government is considering sending Self Defense Force liaison officers to Kabul to work with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The new government is comfortable with this arrangement because (ISAF) was approved by a UN resolution. The Self Defense Force officers also will have an opportunity to work with NATO which leads the ISAF.

It’s a shift within the nation consonant with the party-politic shift earlier this year, and acts as a soft-power way to assert separation from the previous administration’s policies while still providing support and ally with NATO in Afghanistan. Actually, despite not being a military or military support action, this could prove to be generally more beneficial to Afghanistan (if not necessarily NATO & the ANA) given the gaping need for international civilian assistance in development projects. Interesting, will keep watching.

I’ll admit I was surprised that Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the runoff election set for this month. It seemed somewhat abrupt after the eight-week long deliberation that lead to the announcement of the runoff. There’s a lot of commentary flying about Abdullah being Tajik, Karzai being Pushtun, calls of corruption and questions about international credibility (not to mention a couple pointed asides at the Obama administration for taking too much time to deliberate).

TNR has probably my pick for best analysis of what the f*ck just happened, saying:

Abdullah’s candidacy was always a long shot. The prospect of an Abdullah presidency may have seemed attractive to some Western observers, impressed by his soft Italian leather jackets, sharp suits, fluent English, and polished manners. But to many Afghans, he is anathema, still the face and the voice of the Northern Alliance. Even during the recent election campaign, Abdullah traded heavily on his mujaheddin past: Election posters showed a young Abdullah side-by-side with Massoud in the Panjshir Valley, brave soldiers repelling the Soviet invader. An Abdullah victory would very likely have provoked a major backlash in the Pashtun south, where Massoud and his cohorts are almost universally reviled.

Karzai was the overwhelming favorite from the beginning. Given the ethnic and political realities of Afghanistan, Karzai the Pashtun was destined to triumph over Abdullah the Panjsheri Tajik, regardless of the latter’s claim to a Pashtun father with roots in Kandahar. But by depriving Karzai of a chance to redeem himself with a strong showing in a second round, Abdullah has ensured that the stigma of the August elections will shadow Karzai for the length of his presidency.

Steve Coll also offers insight:

Many lesser politicians would have handled themselves less responsibly than Abdullah in such circumstances. He has ample reason to resent Karzai; he was forced from Karzai’s cabinet a few years back in less than happy circumstances, only to have Karzai or his team try to steal the presidential election—unnecessarily, and thuggishly. No doubt this personal history had some influence on Abdullah’s decision to foil the satisfaction of an outright Karzai election victory by employing complaints about fraud to withdraw from participation. But a better explanation lies in an analysis of Abdullah’s interests and current negotiating position. He has long sought constitutional reforms to strengthen parliament over the presidency. He is almost certainly interested in rejoining the government, with some of his allies, if the deal is attractive enough. He retains ambitions and wishes to remain a viable national figure in a post-Karzai Afghanistan. He will be in a stronger position to negotiate toward all of these goals by adopting the posture he announced yesterday than he would have been if he had participated in the runoff and been defeated.

As the sense of a decision made starts to settle in Afghanistan, it seems imperative that Obama must announce the conclusions of his month-long tactical review. If he offers a deviation from the strategy he laid out in March, that too changes the game, at least on the ISAF side. Whether he announces his conclusions before his trip to Japan is still up in the air, but it is not some taunt of “dithering” that concerns me. It is that the result of his review will have an immediate effect, on our goals, on our morale, and on quelling this level of uncertainty inherent in our presence in Afghanistan right now.

Also, I am very impatient, and I want to know already.

A war of necessity, nine years in

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us politics by Karaka on 19 October 2009

I was listening to a CSIS podcast while I was getting my lunch; it was a press briefing from July where Anthony Cordesman (who served on Gen. McChrystal’s Strategic Assessment Group this year) gave his own views on Afghanistan. [You can listen there, download the mp3, or search for “CSIS” on iTunes.]

It was too short, as pretty much every single CSIS podcast is–they seem to only give soundbites–but he said something that stood out to me:

In fact, seven years after we entered the war, one of the most striking things about Afghanistan is how many people are still acting like this was the first year in Afghanistan.

It rings rather true, doesn’t it? On the civilian side, anyway, which is what Cordesman seemed to be arguing at the time. As we go into the ninth year of our engagement in this war, and the president is still reviewing his methodology even as we assume that he retains the same strategy, one has to wonder: is this, in one sense, the first year of the war in Afghanistan? Not to engage in sophistry, but the first post 9/11 offensive in Afghanistan was 7 October 2001; eighteen months later, on 20 March 2003, was the invasion of Iraq. If you take Tom Rick’s account to be true, the preparation for that invasion actually began barely a month after our movement in Afghanistan:

Formal Pentagon consideration of how to attack Iraq began in November 2001, just after the fall of Kabul. By early December, Army General Tommy R. Franks, the career artilleryman who had succeeded Zinni as the head of the Central Command, was shuttling between his headquarters, located in Tampa, Florida, and Washington, D.C., reviewing planning for an invasion of Iraq. “There was a sense of urgency to get a conceptual plan in front of the president,” recalled Air Force Major General Victor Renuart, who held the key job of director of operations for the Central Command, and who accompanied Franks to most of his Washington meetings.

From page 32 of Fiasco.

I suspect there is a general consensus that ISAF in Afghanistan is under-resourced, in personnel, treasure, and Western public interest. (Please tell me if you disagree.) And we can put that lack of resources, I think, at the feet of the Iraq invasion. And now as we begin to draw down troops in Iraq and our attention has turned back to oh-hey-that-other-war-we’re-fighting in Afghanistan, we find that meeting the goals of our strategy, meeting the metrics of that strategy, requires a little more consideration.

Are we, not only state personnel, not only the White House, but we as a public, we as a blogging community, we as journalists and military folk and Americans–are we treating this as if it’s the first year of the war in Afghanistan? Because it sort of seems like we are.

And then I had to take a little reality break

Posted in us military, us politics by Karaka on 13 October 2009

President Obama spoke before the Human Rights Council on Saturday, reaffirming his committment to ending DADT:

“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country,” Mr Obama said. “We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage.”

Mr Obama did not give a timetable for repeal of the policy, passed by Congress in 1993, under which thousands of service members have been discharged.The US president has repeatedly pledged to tackle issues important to the gay community. But he has faced criticism for what many in the gay community see as lack of action on his promises. Mr Obama asked the audience to trust his administration.

“I appreciate that many of you don’t believe progress has come fast enough. Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach,” he said.

This was followed Sunday by an unrelated march in Washington in support of gay rights:

Impatient and discouraged by what they see as a certain detachment by President Obama on their issues, gay rights supporters took to the streets Sunday in the largest demonstration for gay rights here in nearly a decade. The rally was primarily the undertaking of a new generation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocates who have grown disillusioned with the movement’s leadership.

Known as Stonewall 2.0 or the Prop. 8 Generation (a reference to the galvanizing effect that the repeal of California’s same-sex marriage law had on many young people), these activists, in their 20s and 30s, are at odds with advocates urging patience as Mr. Obama grapples with other pieces of his domestic agenda like the health care overhaul and the economic recovery.

And this occurred just as Voices of Honor concluded last week in California:

According to Nicholson, the toll “don’t ask, don’t tell” has taken on the U.S. military is far greater than the estimated 13,000 servicemembers actually discharged under the policy “either because they admitted being Gay or Lesbian, were ‘outed’ or were caught having ‘homosexual acts.’ We also estimate that about 3,000 people leave the service every year” because they no longer wish to hold down a job that forces them to lie about who they are as a condition of continued employment. Nicholson also said that probably even more language and intelligence specialists are being forced out than official figures would indicate, because “’linguist’ is a specialized field and a liot of people who know languages aren’t qualified as ‘linguists’ — including me.”

Nicholson said he was a “human intelligence coordinator” in the Army until 2002, when he was discharged after being “outed” by someone in his unit. “I tried to contain the information,” he said, “but once it got to command, they decided to rout me out quickly.” Not everybody is pushed out as fast as he was, he added; enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is left largely up to commanders in the field, and as a result implementation varies widely. “There are many people serving openly today,” he said — thanks to superior officers being willing to leave them alone — “and you don’t find the underlying rationale, the alleged threat to unit cohesion, morale and combat readiness, has come to pass.”

and Joseph Rocha’s op-ed in the WP:

However, I chose to put service above my personal life. My understanding of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was that if I kept quiet about my sexuality and didn’t break any rules, I would face no punishment. I was wrong.

Once I joined the Navy, I was tormented by my chief and fellow sailors, physically and emotionally, for being gay. The irony of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is that it protects bigots and punishes gays who comply. Now, after a Youth Radio investigation of the abuses I suffered, the chief of naval operations ordered a thorough study of how the Navy handled the situation and is currently reviewing the document. I’m hopeful that the case will be reopened and top leadership finally held accountable for the lives they have ruined.

and an AP article indicating that women are more likely to be discharged under DADT than men:

Pentagon officials won’t speculate why women in uniform are more likely to be discharged from the armed services under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but critics of the policy say that new figures reflect deep-seated sexism in the armed forces.

Government statistics show that more than 619 men and women were discharged last year because of their sexual orientation. Of those, one-third were women — even though they account for 15 percent of all active-duty and reserve members.

and Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has stated he will hold a hearing on DADT this fall:

Congress is set to hold hearings as early as this month on the controversial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military, according to a centrist Democratic congresswoman. Should they take place, the hearings would be the first on the provision opposed by many Democratic lawmakers as unjust and antiquated.

“I think we’ll have one this fall. And I’m looking forward to trying to have one for the Armed Services Committee probably in October or November,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has long opposed the provision, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.

I think DADT is stupid, and I’ve been involved in a couple discussions hither and yon around the fair internet about it since Levin announced the probable hearing and Obama was slated to speak before the HRC. It’s a little remarkable how many times I’ve been told by purportedly straight people, civilians and servicemembers, that gay people should just shut and serve; but I think much of the above linked material, from reputable sources, indicates that serving isn’t that easy when discrimination is pervasive. My rubric is this: if a straight person can come to work and talk about Suzie Rottencrotch from last libo; if a straight person can come to work and talk about their wife or husband, praising or bitching about them; if a straight person can come to work and not have to censor their own personal lives for fear of losing their jobs; then the question of whether silence equals service is irrelevant, because by not talking about those things, a queer servicemember isolates and identifies him/herself as much as if they talked about it.

To claim that DADT enables gay servicemembers to serve is patently false, as the 13,000 people who have been discharged can attest; to claim that enforcing a code of dishonesty and silence somehow maintains the integrity of the service itself is a logical fallacy; and to claim that such a code of silence somehow protects queer servicemembers from being identified as queer and frequently subsequently incurring their dismissal from the service comes from a wholly entitled point of view that ignores reality.

That being said, it looks like this matter has come to the forefront whether the “time is now” or not.

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Friday Errata

Linkdump of what I’m reading over the weekend:

How to Measure the War by Jason Campbell, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro:

The news is not all bad, however. With the help of outside donors, the Afghan government has made great strides in providing increased access to basic health care, with 82 percent of the population now living in districts that have a basic package of health care programs, up considerably from 9 percent in 2003. This metric is of limited value for truly sick individuals, who probably still cannot access health care in many cases. But it has translated into significant improvements in the rate of vaccinations as well as infant and child mortality rates. Though literacy rates continue to linger at less than 30 percent, more than 6 million children currently attend over 9,000 schools. Gender equity is improving as 2 million of the students are girls and 40,000 of the 142,000 teachers are women. This represents a marked improvement over the Taliban years. Finally, telephone usage has increased dramatically to an estimated 7 million Afghans, up from just 1 million in 2002.

Course Correction by Ganesh Sitaraman:

The project underway at Camp Julien aims to help the United States and its allies succeed where King Amanullah, the Russians, and even the mujahedin failed. Julien is home to the Counterinsurgency Training Center–Afghanistan, where U.S. and coalition forces are trying to teach themselves and Afghans how to fight a different kind of war. For one week each month, 130 students descend on Julien to learn about counterinsurgency. Attendees come from every possible background: U.S. and coalition troops of all ranks, ages, and nationalities; State Department and USAID personnel; Afghan soldiers and police; members of NGOs; contractors; Army anthropologists. (I was there in July as part of my research on law in situations of counterinsurgency.)

The Missing Debate in Afghanistan by Peggy Noonan:

It is strange—it is more than strange, and will confound the historians of the future—that Gen. McChrystal has not been asked to testify before Congress about Afghanistan, about what the facts are on the ground, what is doable, what is desirable, how the war can be continued, and how it can end. He—and others, including experienced members of the military past and present, and foreign-policy professionals—should be called forth to talk to the country in the clearest terms under questioning from our elected representatives.

Before the surge in Iraq, we had the Petraeus hearings, which were nothing if not informative, and helped form consensus. Two generations earlier, we had the Fulbright hearings on Vietnam, which were in their way the first formal, if deeply and inevitably contentious, airing of what was at stake there and what our position was.

Why are we not doing this now? Why are we treating Afghanistan almost like an afterthought, interesting and important but not as urgent a question as health care?

Robert Gates: Solidly in the Middle of the Afghan Strategy Storm by David Wood:

Today, that hard work is paying off as even some congressional Democrats, skeptical of McChrystal’s proposed plan for Afghanistan, are suggesting they wait until they’ve heard what Gates thinks. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has criticized the McChrystal proposal as too troop-heavy. Congress at some point ought to hear directly from McChrystal and Petraeus, Levin said last Sunday. “But above them all is a secretary of defense. We ought to focus on what will Secretary Gates’ recommendation be to the president . . . we ought to listen to the secretary of defense when he makes up his mind.”

If Tehran Gets the Bomb: How Iranian nukes would reshape the Middle East by Lee Smith:

If Iran gets the bomb, other regional powers will pursue nuclear programs—if they are not already doing so. Inevitably in a region as volatile as this, there will be a few small-scale nuclear catastrophes, probably rulers targeting their own people. Saddam gassed the Kurds and slaughtered the Shiites, Hafez Assad massacred the Sunnis of Hama, and mass graves throughout the region testify to the willingness of Arab rulers to kill their own people—in their hands, a nuclear weapon is merely an upgrade in repressive technology. Still, it’s extremely unlikely the regimes will use these weapons against their regional rivals. Remember, the main reason these states support nonstate terror groups is to deter one another and thus avoid all-out war.

Ingushetia’s cycle of violence by Dom Rotheroe:

It is a complaint we hear all over Ingushetia, that there is no law or justice. In a society in which blood vendettas are part of a man’s honour, young male relatives of the deceased have to seek their own justice.

They head into the hills to get a gun and take revenge. And while with the extremists, their ideology may shift accordingly. Some may become suicide bombers, of which the North Caucasus has seen a resurgence this summer, culminating in an attack on Ingushetia’s main police station in August which killed 21 and injured more than 100 more.

My most poignant memory of the Albakov family is of Batyr’s younger brother, Beslan. Beslan’s rejects blood revenge and wants legal justice for his brother, a justice he knows will never come. He also knows that the security forces will suspect him of seeking revenge and therefore may come for him at any time.

His quietly desperate face is the face of Ingushetia today, trapped between the rock and hard place of the militants and the authorities who seem intent on feeding the ever-growing cycle of violence.

In defence of our fellow human.

Posted in us military, us politics by Karaka on 5 October 2009

In this edition of Joint Force Quarterly, USAF Colonel Om Prakash’s award-winning article The Efficacy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell doesn’t mince words when he argues that DADT should be repealed. NPR has an article that pretty much sums up why I think it’s important (aside from the obvious):

Belkin says, though there may be more, he can recall only one other military publication that has printed a strong pro-repeal article: a 2003 piece written by Belkin himself for Parameters, the U.S. Army War College quarterly. In addition, he can recall only one other active duty officer, besides Prakash, to air pro-repeal views publicly: a 2005 opinion piece written for the Army Times by an active-duty lieutenant colonel at West Point.

Writing about the law is a common phenomenon at military colleges, Belkin says. Prakash wrote his essay while a student at the National War College. In 2005, a West Point student won the school’s senior thesis competition with a piece that argued that the ban violates military values.

“What’s different about this is that it was published in an official military journal, and it’s pretty important that he would speak publicly,” Belkin says.

As any activist knows, the most powerful voices for change come not from those who the change affects directly, but from those within the institutions perpetuating discrimination and inequality. I read the article over the weekend, and considering that Obama stated repeatedly during his campaign that the repeal of DADT would be an issue for him (though I’m not one to take campaign problems particularly seriously), this seems to be an article with judicious timing.

I encourage you to read it yourself, if only because it seems likely to be pull-quoted a lot when/if this debate ramps up next year. But here’s some of the grafs I found particularly enlightening.

Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Servicemembers under the law.

The NPR article above ups that to thirteen thousand, with an estimated 65,000 gay/lesbian servicemembers [over time, I assume]. That, for some context, is just under four brigades dismissed, using the upper personnel limit. In raw numbers, a bit wasteful.

In a report released in February 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated the financial impact to be at least $190.5 million for the previous ten years of DADT policy. However, a University of California Blue Ribbon Commission, that included former Secretary of Defense William Perry questioned the report’s methodology. The commission faulted the GAO for not including recruiting and separation costs that brought the 10-year estimate to $363 million. Also worth noting is that these figures do not account for the additional opportunity costs of high-profile, prized specialties such as Arabic speakers.

See above re: wasteful.

This leads to the conclusion that integration of open homosexuals might degrade social cohesion because of the lack of homogeneity; however, the effects can be mitigated with leadership and will further dissipate with familiarity. More importantly, task cohesion should not be affected and is in fact the determinant in group success. Given that homosexuals who currently serve do so at great personal expense and professional risk, RAND interviews suggest such individuals are deeply committed to the military’s core values, professional teamwork, physical stamina, loyalty, and selfless service–all key descriptors of task cohesion.

Do so at great personal expense…such individuals are deeply committed to the military’s core values. In my view, the crux of this argument reflects the identity of personhood. Homosexuals are people, first, just like heterosexuals are people first. According this basic acknowledgment of personhood is an essential step to the framing of the discussion. Thus, gay equality rights are human rights, and the denial of service in our military is the denial of a human right we grant our citizens, from which you can infer that gay citizens are not believed to be citizens at all. “Liberty and justice for all” extends beyond mere characteristics, and the essential personhood of humans; the commitment of some individuals to a service that requires their compromised integrity speaks, I think, to the value placed on that service, and the humanity inherent in those individuals.

Those opposed to lifting the ban point out that the living conditions of the military would at times make it impossible to guarantee privacy throughout the spectrum of sexual orientation. But would such measures actually be necessary? Considering that estimates put 65,000 as the number of homosexuals serving in the military, would revealing their identities lead to a collapse of moral and discipline?…Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and former Army platoon leader, illustrates an additional point: “Just like in the general population, there is a generational shift within the military. The average 18-year-old has been around gay people, has seen gay people in popular culture, and they’re not this boogeyman in the same way they were to Pete Pace’s generation.”

Brief snarky aside: I mean, how many of them voted for Adam Lambert on American Idol, after all? (Snarky aside concluded.) Look, sixteen years ago you could have tenuously made the argument that gay people didn’t exist because you had never met someone who was gay. Now, given that Mary Cheney is as thrust into the public eye as Ellen DeGeneres, those arguments become impossible to support. As people who are queer come into positions of power, or at least as their family members do, the invisibility of homosexuality in our culture is eroded, and discrimination becomes less supportable. As Nate Silver calculated earlier this year, “By 2016, only a handful of states in the Deep South would vote to ban gay marriage, with Mississippi being the last one to come around in 2024.” It’s not that far away, and we are moving ever closer to the integration of these civil rights.

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

And additionally, as the US services have interacted with other NATO troops, it has been proven as a corollary that American troops can serve alongside troops whose countries have lifted the ban, which presumably included gay servicemen and women.

In an attempt to allow homosexual Servicemembers to serve quietly, a law was created that forces a compromise in integrity, conflicts with the American creed of “equality for all,” places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve.

A succint thesis, one I think Prakash defended successfully.

Based on the research, it is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.

I would stand up and clap, but it can’t be textually rendered. Anyway, give the whole article a read. It seems likely that it will be referenced in the inevitably forthcoming debate–after all, Senator Harry Reid has asked Obama to address this issue last month, and Senator Carl Levin stated he would have a Senate hearing on the matter in October. I suspect the Obama administration would like to bump this out to 2010, but they may not have a choice in the matter.

The applicability of the martial.

Posted in afghanistan, us politics by Karaka on 2 October 2009

Rory Stewart is an interesting guy–former officer in the British Army, officer in the Foreign Office, author of several books and now the Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School; not to mention the Executive Director of the Afghan arts non-profit Turquoise Mountain. I mentioned his August essay in the London Review of Books, The Irresistible Illusion, several weeks ago and recently caught his interview on the Bill Moyers Journal. You can watch the video here or download the audio of the interview through iTunes. I’ll embed the video tomorrow; I have trouble with getting WP to play nicely with things other than youtube.

Aside from the fact that Stewart is in some ways a personal role model for me, I find that his assessment of Afghanistan is quite astute. As a man who has served in Iraq as a soldier and walked Afghanistan as a civilian, he has what appears to be an incisive view into the situation as it stands; namely, what Obama will choose to do with the information he has asked for and been giving. Entonces:

I think it would be a political catastrophe for the President to refuse to accede to a request from the man on the ground. Broadly speaking, this is a civilian President. He’s said that he believes in defeating the Taliban. He believes in building a legitimate effective state. There’s a highly respected General on the ground — who’s backed up by Admiral Mullen, who’s backed by General Petraeus — saying we need 40,000 more troops. It would be almost inconceivable, at this stage, for the President to refuse that request.

I’ve mentioned my view that the president shouldn’t have asked for a document he wasn’t prepared to take into full account, and I think that should the administration’s internal review counter McChrystal’s already implemented tactics, it’s going to be pretty rough seas for troops, for US politics, and for the Afghan people.

They may be possible over the long term for Afghans themselves to build a stable state. But it’s probably a project of decades. It needs indigenous leadership, a sort of Afghan Thomas Jefferson, to rebuild its state. It’s not something that foreigners can come in and do from outside. The United States, its allies, are quite good at certain kinds of things — building roads, providing some training to the military, helping to build hospitals and schools. But building a state is a project for a founding father. The same with fighting the Taliban. Again, they have quite a lot of support from villages in the south of Afghanistan. And the Kabul government, as we saw in the last election, just doesn’t have much credibility or support.

A rather depressingly accurate assessment. You can’t nation build from the outside; at most you can offer the tools for a nation to build itself. But perversely, that’s why Karzai is so attractive to NATO governments and the US government in particular–he’s an Afghan figure one can point to as being instrumental in the initial NATO incursion, and secured himself a position of great political power parlayed from that relationship he secured with NATO forces. So he has the thin veneer of being not only legitimate as an Afghan-for-Afghans, but also as a founding member of this new government. Of course, that is shadowplay, and not very good shadowplay; his corruption is widely known, most evidenced in the election. But in terms of keeping up experiences, NATO could do a lot worse than have Karzai running things. And it seems in this the Western world is willing to accept less in hopes of achieving more. To wit, the dismissal of Peter Galbraith when politic was against him.

But most of all, Afghans I think day to day are not actually obsessed with the Taliban. What they’re obsessed with is normal security. By which they mean crime, looting, kidnapping, gangsterism. Most of my colleagues in Afghanistan would be scared to get in a car to go down to Kandahar, not because of the Taliban, but because of the criminal gangs. They’re horrified by their police, which is perceived as very predatory, very corrupt. They’re very skeptical about their government. They’re impatient with how slowly the aid development has come.

I suppose this, then, is where I wonder at the corollary between these clear needs Stewart is describing for the Afghans, and what can be done about it. To some extent, with a presence already in the nation and General McChrystal implementing a change in methodology that will work in serious ways to address those needs, and already has in some cases, I wonder whether Stewart thinks there are other ways to implement the fulfilling of these needs?

I haven’t been shy about advocating my belief that the civilian presence in Afghanistan should be much greater than it is, nor have I ignored the very real security challenges that would accompany such a civilian presence. But while I find it generally heartening from the perspective of Afghan human rights to see the tide of our military turn towards counterinsurgency, I do have real concerns about its effectiveness long term. And not to step off-topic, but Tom Ricks had an anecdote in his blog today that’s germane to this topic.

She nodded and said, “That’s good, because I’m going for three to five years. That’s what McChrystal is asking for.”

Well, I nearly spilled my Trader Joe’s merlot. “Three to five years?” I said. What a far cry, I thought, from 2003, when Bremer’s little GOP beavers would come out to the Green Zone for three to five months, or even a few weeks.

“Yeah,” she said. “That’s what made me interested in taking the job. When I heard that, I said to myself, ‘Hey, this guy is serious.'”

A) I wish I had her job; and B) while I agree with Stewart that realistically the United States can’t make a commitment to remain in Afghanistan for forty years, I think it’s not at all outside the purview of McChrystal’s assessment or the review of Secdef Gates to commit to five-eight years of work and progression, as the reblog illustrates. Claiming withdrawal is a straw man (as too many politians have done, and a position Stewart is not taking); opposing troop increase does not address the real issue, which is strategy in Afghanistan; and while a troop increase is one tool in a larger toolbox that can be used to achieve the needs Stewart outlines and the martial goals McChrystal articulated in his brief, it is not the only thing that must be done to truly achieve stability in Afghanistan.

And stability, in a pragmatic sense, seems that it would look something like this:

And that you can invest 20-30 years in Afghanistan. And if you were lucky, you would make it look a bit like Pakistan. I mean, unless you understand that Pakistan is 20-30 years ahead of Afghanistan, you don’t understand where we’re starting from. And Pakistan is still not an ideal state. But the Pakistan army, the police, the civil service, the financial administration, the education are whole decades ahead of the Afghan. So, our whole model is broken from the beginning. Because you could put all this investment in, you would make Afghanistan look a bit more like Pakistan, but that wouldn’t achieve whatever your national security objectives seem to be.

Stewart is spot on here. But I think the point where Stewart and McChrystal overlap is more or less my own position: that in order to address the basic needs of a starved population, and in order to achieve the security needs of both US national interest and those of Afghan civilians, there must be a greater increase in civilian agencies working to provide the Afghan people themselves with tools to construct their own nation. Not a nation that is de facto controlled by the Taliban; not a nation that is led by a corrupt President buoyed by foreign diplomacy; but a nation that is by the [Afghan] people, for the [Afghan] people that addresses first, hunger, and second, a vote.

Other people golf. I read the milblogosphere.

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 27 September 2009

David Brooks’ The Afghan Imperative is a strong argument for McChrystal’s assessment of Afghanistan, and while everyone and their dog has blogged a response to this op-ed, I’ll say only that I find it to be a strong case. But this in particular rang true:

Proponents of withdrawal often acknowledge the costs of defeat but argue that the cause is hopeless anyway. On this, let me note a certain pattern. When you interview people who know little about Afghanistan, they describe an anarchic place that is the graveyard of empires. When you interview people who live there or are experts, they think those stereotypes are rubbish. They usually take a hardened but guardedly optimistic view. Read Clare Lockhart’s Sept. 17 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get a sense of the way many knowledgeable people view the situation.

No freakin’ kidding. Something to keep in mind when reading your way through this discussion.

The Washington Post covers Friday’s meeting between McChrystal, Mullen, Petraeus, and Admiral James Starvidis (supreme allied commander of NATO) in Germany. I bet that wasn’t just scotch and cigars.

The NYT has a rundown of the competing voices in Obama’s review of Afghanistan. Good overview of the political situation.

Scott Simon from NPR has a short excerpt on the destructiveness of the Taliban that is well worth reading/listening to.

The Taliban outlawed news, art, music, theater, song, literature, dance, sport, comedy and any religion but theirs. They built a society in which women were captive, dissenters were prisoners and minorities — Buddhists, the Hazara people or gays — were marked for extinction.

And as sort of a corollary, Newsweek has The Taliban’s Oral History of the Afghanistan War, which is long and difficult and strange to read. You should read it anyway.

AP via Newsday covers US forces moving into Afghan city with some amazing photographs.

The Special Forces soldiers spend their days in and around Nili meeting with local leaders, visiting schools and helping the doctors at the province’s two hospitals. Everywhere they go, they bring soccer balls and backpacks for the children and radios and food for the adults. They never give out aid directly, relying instead on the elders or Afghan police.

“These guys have to learn how to do this,” said Capt. Mark, a former enlisted Green Beret and helicopter pilot whose deep blue eyes draw immediate notice among Afghans. “That way when we are gone, the ideals are already in place.” The Special Forces soldiers, who all have thick beards to blend in with Afghan culture, are only identified by their first names under rules for journalists embedded with them.

This is pretty much COIN in action.

I could be reading Shakespeare right now.

Posted in us politics by Karaka on 27 September 2009

I had the dubious pleasure of reading Paul Wolfowitz’s analysis of current foreign policy in the current issue of, well, Foreign Policy. (Link.) I know it came out six weeks ago, but seriously, the gall and idiocy and revision of history that this man is intent on portraying is shocking and abhorrent to me. Some thoughts in response. Warning: long. Warning: Wolfowitz is as hawkish and frustrating now as he was eight years ago.

Unquestionably, what makes realism seem so plausible today is skepticism about the war in Iraq and the belief that it was part of a crusade to “impose” democracy by force. I believe, to the contrary, that the purpose of the war was to remove a threat to national and international security. Whether the Iraq war was right or wrong, it was not about imposing democracy, and the decision to establish a representative government afterward was the most realistic option, compared with the alternatives of installing another dictator or prolonging the U.S. occupation. In Afghanistan, the same choice was made for the same reasons after the Taliban fell, and many realists not only supported that decision, but argued for putting even more effort into “nation-building.” This is not the place to reargue the Iraq war. So let’s stipulate that the issue here is not whether to use military force to promote changes in the nature of states; it’s about whether — and how — to promote such changes peacefully.

First of all, way to be unclear about whether that threat was Saddam Hussein or his mythical arsenal. I should think it’s pretty clear that Wolfowitz has had a hard-on for ousting Hussein from power since the Gulf War, and that Wolfowitz genuinely believes removing him from power was a valid reason for invading the Iraqi nation. Second of all, “the most realistic option” was to propagate a democratic system so fragile that international forces remain on the ground seven years post-invasion to secure an election? Excuse me if I am not convinced by this reasoning. I agree with Wolfowitz that the reason for the invasion was not to promote a democracy; no one in the administration gave a flying expletive for what happened after the Republican Guard was taken down and Saddam Hussein was captured. No, Wolfowitz, nation-building was not the goal. The goal was far more thuggish than that, and to gloss over such reasoning by claiming “this is not the place to reargue the Iraq war” undermines your very thesis, for without the pretext of nation-building there is nothing but schoolyard power plays to explain your pretext for war and invasion seven years ago.

Third of effing all, CAN WE PLEASE STOP COMPARING AFGHANISTAN TO IRAQ. It is a FALSE COMPARISON and you, sir, should know better.

U.S. foreign policy does indeed have multiple goals that must be balanced, but promoting reform is often one of them. Brutal regimes will not behave better if the United States speaks nicely about them. In fact, the perception of U.S. weakness in supporting its friends is a great disadvantage when negotiating with regimes like those in North Korea and Iran that are quick to perceive vulnerability. These states will negotiate — if they do — when they see it in their interest, not because the United States soft-pedals its differences. And eliciting this cooperation requires leverage. For example, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program not because the Bush administration spoke nicely to him, but because he feared American will. Sometimes, the pressure for change that comes from a country’s own people or elites might be the United States’ best source of leverage on such regimes.

You know, “American exceptionalism” is not an excuse for undermining the governments of other countries. The sanctity of “American interests” does not insulate this nation from behaving in accordance with the accepted civility of most of the world’s nations. The United States comes out looking far more like Iran and North Korea in terms of brutish regime when it chooses by will to enter other countries and topple their governments.

I do acknowledge that the lives of the citizens of those countries are often ones led in poverty, fear, and abuse by the regimes that rule them. But we did not enter Afghanistan to liberate its people. We did not invade Iraq to address human rights violations. To claim otherwise is blatantly lying, and to insinuate that a show of American power and strength is valid reasoning for martial foreign policy is foolish, short-sighted, and as brutal as the regimes Wolfowitz claims to abhor. Promoting reform does not mean capturing a nation’s leader on trumped-up crimes. Promoting reform does not mean making up an excuse to enter a nation against that nation’s wishes. And promoting reform sure as hell doesn’t mean assisting in the ousting of the leaders of a nation to institute a democracy from the outside.

I am not naive; the United States has done this and more by the will not only of its President but by the representatives of its people in Congress. But that does not make it right. And past history does not make the argument any more valid today; in truth, it makes the argument less valid. Should we not learn from our mistakes? Must we be doomed to repeat them again, and again?

It is not uncommon to hear realists today arguing that Muslims don’t really want U.S. support for democracy, especially after the Iraq war. And yet, when Obama announced, during his important speech at Cairo University, that he would address democracy, his audience applauded before he could say another word. His three short paragraphs on democracy were interrupted twice more by applause — and then by someone shouting, “Barack Obama, we love you!” to yet more applause. Although the president spoke of “controversy” surrounding the promotion of democracy, his Arab audience welcomed this allegedly controversial subject with enthusiasm.

That a large audience in the heart of the Arab world is so eager to hear the U.S. president champion democracy is an important fact that any realistic foreign policy must consider. The Obama administration’s temptation to distance itself from its predecessor’s policies is understandable, but this shouldn’t mean abandoning the promotion of democratic reform.

Oh, fuck you, Wolfowitz. To claim that the reaction to Obama’s speech in Egypt, whose relationship to the West is at least as strong as its relationship to the Muslim world, is a purposeful obfuscation of the event. Egypt is one of a handful of representative governments in the Arab world, first of all, and while the Bush administration was very public about its dubious view of Egypt’s democracy it is in fact a republic. The fact that Obama received such a strong reaction to the subject of his speech spoke more to the Maṣreyyīn populace’s desire for more transparency and a refinement of their own democratic process than any high-minded pan-Arabic call for democracy across two dozen nations.

The best word for these two paragraphs is “appropriation,” an action which Mr Wolfowitz is very talented at doing.

“Promoting Democracy Is Dangerously Destabilizing.”

Not necessarily. Elections, even flawed ones, can be positive catalysts for change in autocratic states, as we saw in the Marcos case and during the recent events in Iran. It is true that elections are no panacea: The Bush administration was frustrated when terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah gained power through the ballot box. Elections alone don’t automatically produce the institutions needed to protect liberty and foster tolerance. But if there is risk in promoting democratic reform, there is also risk in doing nothing, which hurts America’s reputation as people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.

RECENT EVENTS IN IRAN, AGAIN, DID NOT SERVE AS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE. And Iranians were not wroth at the re-election of Ahmadinejad per se; to borrow Hooman Majd’s argument, they were pissed off that their haq had been screwed around with. And furthermore, the election never addressed the true base of power in Iran, namely the Ayatollahs; so whatever the sweet hell he’s talking about with regards to Iran has no basis in reality.

And OF FLIPPING COURSE the Bush administration was pissed when political groups they considered terrorists ascended to power, but you know what we call that? DEMOCRACY, ASSHOLE. Jesus christ, can we get some definition of terms up in here? [Sorry for the allcaps. Sometimes there is no other way to convey one’s intense feeling on the inter-tubes.]

“As people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.” Oh, please. See above as to why the United States should not simply saunter into a country and oust a government it doesn’t like; and any such action sure as hell has nothing to do with the United States Government’s concern about the human rights of the citizens of other nations. Not to be cynical, but when 13% of the United States own citizenry live in poverty, human rights is not a grave concern for this nation.

The goal should not be revolution, but rather evolutionary change. That’s the best chance for true long-term stability. Most of all, when opportunities for genuine reform open up, as is happening now not only in Iraq and Lebanon but also in Morocco and elsewhere, the United States should give reformers all the support that it can. Of course, the United States will depend on some Arab autocrats to help promote a peaceful settlement of Arab-Israeli issues — issues that constitute another, perhaps even greater, source of anti-Americanism. But the role those leaders play in any peace process will turn on hard calculations of their own self-interest, not the stance the United States takes toward reform.

Does support mean arming reformists or revolutionaries so they can send their country into civil war? Does it mean occupying a country until it pushes out a president despite massive election fraud and personal threats to its citizens? Does it mean using brute strength to depose a nation’s leader? Gee, I wonder what “opportunities for genuine reform” and “support” actually mean! Let’s dance around the words a little more.

And excuse me if I’m being willfully obtuse, but if the author chooses to criticize other nations’ self-interest yet privilege the self-interest of the United States, doesn’t that seem grossly hypocritical? Or are we just supposed to assume that American self-interest is, really and truly, the only self-interest that matters?

“Paul Wolfowitz Is a Utopian.”

No, I’m just being realistic. I’ve been called many things, and utopian is hardly the worst. Ironically, while “utopia” is Greek for “nowhere,” almost everywhere you look today you find people who share a belief in democracy.

Pardon my hysterical laughter. Utopian, noun: an idealistic (but usually impractical) social reformer. Oh, honey, it’s not the impracticalness that concerns me. It’s the blind zealotry, the absence of any understanding of the United States in relation to the rest of the world, the privileging of the United States over all other nations, and the “reform” that amounts to brutal, martial thuggishness in search of ill-defined, unpredictable, awful goals.

I don’t know what world Wolfowitz believes he in living in, but this glimpse at his worldview terrifies the crap out of me.

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