Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

Marine mess

There is, many think (and I agree with them), no greater fighting force these days than the US Marine Corps. Their bravery and ferocity are legendary. They have had a reputation of that for years, and while there have been a few groups who have been in the same category (in particular I think of the French Foreign Legion), none have remained atop the pyramid for as long as the Marines.

But I have to wonder about them.  About their mindset, their leadership, their ability to take care of their own. ESPECIALLY about the latter. Too much has come out in the past few years that shows they have lost their inner values and core beliefs. They’ve lost the corps, the unique mental aspect that differentiates them from other forces.

Camp Lejeune.  Storied home of Marine Corps basic training. For over thirty years the drinking water of the base was contaminated with a variety of toxic, cancerous chemicals.  Not only were the Marines in training exposed to it, so were the families living on base. Young families with children. For thirty-five years.  Even after it was known, it took years and years for it to be acknowledged; approval for funding for medical benefits didn’t occur until ….2017.

US Naval Academy.  Storied home of the best and brightest officers in training for the Navy and the Marine Corps. Duty, Honor, Country.  A Marine instructor pleads guilty to both obstruction of justice by lying to investigators, and encouraging another officer to lie.  His lie involved a sexual misconduct case with two female midshipmen that occurred while he was an instructor and ranking officer to them. So much for duty or honor.

Marines United. Sharing pictures (clothed and naked) and personal information on fellow female Marines, on Marine wives, on Marine girlfriends on Facebook, and since the story broke on dark web sites.  Violating the corps again, by violating fellow Marines.

And these aren’t the only cases, just the most recent.  Look back at the blood-pinning scandal of the late 1990’s. Look at the issues of rape within the Corps and where they are stationed (particularly Japan and Okinawa). Is there a thread here?  Yes. It is the callous disregard for the lives, the welfare, the well-being of others in the Corps itself as well as outside of it.  It is a failure of character and leadership that originates in the very heart of the training centers for Marine personnel and officers.

I value the Marines combat ability, their skills on the battle field, their superiority over our enemies.  But that can’t come at the cost of losing the character and humanity for which we are fighting.  Once again, and too often, Marine generals and leadership say this doesn’t reflect the Corps, that things will be changed.

The lack of change that occurs reflects, sadly, yet another failure of Marine leadership.

General Concern

As I have watched the unfolding of the selection of various Cabinet and high-ranking officials in the new administration, I find I have a General concern about three of them.

Three generals have been selected so far, and more could be tapped.  In general principle, I do not have an issue with the selection of military officers for Cabinet and other positions.  But I have concerns with aspects of these three.

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The selection of Lt. General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor concerns me, on a couple of fronts.  First, his anti-Muslim views are too broad and run the risk of isolating the US from the world Islamic community.  I get that we are fighting radical Islam, and that the failure of the current administration to use that term has galled a number of people. Still, there are millions of Muslims that are not radical, not terrorist, not beyond the pale of our connecting.  It doesn’t appear that LTG Flynn has that nuance in his view, and that is a concern.  Second, his experience with Islam has been as a warfighter, which may not transition well to dealing with the diplomatic aspects of national security.  And then there are issues of managerial style, handling of classified information, and a tendency to alt-right positions.

The selection of General John Kelly for DHS is also disconcerting.  The DHS is a disparate, civilian, law-enforcement focused agency with a bad morale problem.  While a highly successful Marine Corps general, Kelly is a combat commander.  How that skill set will mesh with an organization that includes the US Secret Service, TSA, ICE, CBP,and FEMA, among others, will be challenging.  An individual with law enforcement experience would seem to be a more logical choice, or even a head of a multinational conglomerate where diplomacy and politics help make an organization operate.

The selection of a Warrior Monk to run the Pentagon would, at first blush, seem to be a smart option.  General James Mattis is a highly successful, highly regarded (almost worshiped) combat general with a reputation as a great leader and great thinker.  The role of Secretary of Defense should, however, be a civilian in order to provide the proper checks and balances on military authority, to ensure the realization of civilian control over military matters.  And least any think that clash doesn’t happen, remember Truman dropping McArthur because the general forgot that it was the President who made decisions.

Finally, all three are veterans of the long war in southern Asia.  The military, and indeed the government, tends to focus on getting the last war right and learning the lessons from it, and not so much learning how to prepare for the next one.  While we need to end this conflict and prepare to solve the accompanying mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, we also need to be prepared for the cyberwar that is coming, for dealing with the next generation of warfare and challenges.  None, including Flynn, are heavily focused on cyber. Or Russia.  Or China.  And if these leaders aren’t focused on these areas, how will they be able to advise their newly elected boss?

Time will tell.

 

 

D + 15….. we’ve forgotten

I’ve driven the section of the Washington Beltway from Legion Bridge up to I-95 many times, at all hours of the day and many hours of the night; I’m always amazed at how packed it is during the day, how wall to wall it is at rush hour, and how crowded it is even at 2am.

That day, I drove the whole route from Northern Virginia to Howard County at 75 mph, with no more than four or five cars in sight at any time in both directions; overhead, in that unforgettable blue sky, was the distinctive crack and boom of supersonic fighter jets patrolling.

Never forget.

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It’s a good slogan. But we have. We have already forgotten.  What we have forgotten are the indelible lessons of that day. We have forgotten that we are one nation, that we can come together despite politics, despite race, despite religion, despite economics, to help one another. We have forgotten what it is like to care for one another, to help one another, to support one another. We have forgotten the resiliency of our spirit as a people. Instead, we focus on hating those that did this. We focus on disparaging those who disagree with us. We focus on us, ourselves, our needs, our opinions, our voice.  We have forgotten “us”, remember only “me”.

 

Over the years, I have developed belated admiration for a couple of pairs of lessor known people in the story. First up are Secretary Mineta and the FAA Command Center who ordered all aircraft down immediately, and closed US airspace. Going out on that kind of unanticipated limb of authority takes audacity….or fear. We aren’t talking about the President, or any elected official.  We’re talking an appointee and a civil servant.  Either way, it was a gutsy call.

The other pair is Col. Marc Sasseville and Lt. Heather Penny. Scrambled from Andrews AFB, their mission was to protect the Washington, DC with their F-16s. Unfortunately, they had no weapons. Amazing as it is now to comprehend, there were no jets on hot standby with armaments. They got the planes up, but they did not have functioning weapons on board. What they had was only their skill and their intention. They would have had to use their planes as aerial kamikazes. Up they went none the less.

My admiration also extends to the now somewhat better known story of the town of Gander, Newfoundland. A town of 10,000 that suddenly had 10,000 visitors in the form of planes that were forced to land due to closed US airspace. A town that opened doors and opened homes and took people in, embracing them and connecting with them. O Canada.

I wonder what D +30 will show, what will be remembered, what will be missed. I hope we don’t forget anymore.

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A Modest Proposal….for Foreign Policy

The world has become such a scary place.  There are so many issues and challenges in the world these days., and there are so many people screaming solutions about this problem or that. The threat of ISIS.  Climate change.  Refugees in Europe.  A nuclear Iran.  Economic lethargy. Lack of education, lack of jobs, lack of political leadership and will.

It struck me the other day as I was thinking about history,and pondering the world and the issues in it that perhaps there was a modest proposal that, much like Johnathan Swift did, like Hercules and the Gordian Knot, could cut through a variety of issues and solve many in a cohesive way.

The start of the solution would be to launch a massive nuclear strike against the Mideast… yes, the whole of the Middle East!!  Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, the whole lot.  Such a strike would eliminate several issues at once and provide some wonderful solutions to our most challenging and perplexing problems!

First, rather than spending money to refurbish our aging nuclear weapons, we could just use them and then build entirely new ones!  Think of the efficiency of it!! The new ones would require building a lot of infrastructure, as our current enrichment and fabrication facilities have grown dilapidated and antiquated.  This would be a tremendous boon in jobs program in this country, both for manufacturing the infrastructure upgrades as well as uranium mining.  Jobs! Yes, jobs!  Lots and lots of jobs!!

On top of that, this would give education a widespread boost because we would need new scientists to run the plants, as well as trained craftsmen to make the equipment in them.  The entire educational process boosted with a single stroke! Of course, we’d need to import a lot of trained scientists because we’ve let our academic science programs deteriorate, but this would be a short term need, or just bring the retired technicians and scientists out of retirement to do the work….which would eliminate the problems with Social Security funding!

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Retired scientist Dr. Strangelove coming out of retirement to assist in the educational process

Second, it would eliminate lots and lots of threats, like ISIS, refugees and nuclear Iran.  The wide geographical area held by ISIS would require a lot of weapons, but we have a lot and it would only mean we’d need to make even more from our new plants (see above)!!! Smart, very smart!  Despite their location, the Iranian facilities in Ishahan, Natanz, Bushehr, and the rest could be taken out and forever end the possibility of a nuclear armed Iranian theocracy.  Yes, in both cases there might be millions and millions of people lost, cities destroyed, the birthplace of civilization reduced to glass….but what’s that in comparison to relative calm and stability that would result!

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The debate on anthropomorphic climate change would be rendered totally moot!  The amount of debris in the atmosphere, the change in albedo, the increase in clouds would all eliminate any doubt.  And the great thing is that whether the planet got colder or warmer, we would be able to rely on our own sources of coal and gas to keep us comfortable!!

Another great point….No more foreign oil! Drill baby drill!! We’d be back as Number 1 again.  That pipeline the Canadians want to build through the country? It’d be greenlighted so fast it would make their heads spin.  More jobs!  Good jobs! Appalachia could come back with their coal reserves that we could sell to the rest of the world so the countries that would still talk to us could stay warm.  With all that coal and oil being burned, it wouldn’t even be necessary to install expensive pollution control devices, because what we’d be putting into the atmosphere would be minimal compared to results of thousands of nuclear weapons going off!   Solar never was very good, and with the increased debris and cloud cover no one would ever talk about it again!

We could even use this as an opportunity to win new friends in the world!  Imagine how happy Russia would be to be able to use nuclear weapons in the Caucasus’, or China against the far western provinces!  We could even finally become real friends with India by helping them eliminate Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Think how much better the BRIC countries relationship would be with us!! (Okay, Brazil isn’t getting anything out of this, but they’re not a real issue anyway).

All of this could eliminate the refugee problem as well!  First, by eliminating the population centers, it decreases tremendously the number of people escaping war.  There’d be no more war!!  Yes, there’d be a lot of radiation, but that’s a good reason to keep people out of your borders anyway.  The ones that are already out we won’t have to deal with because the rising sea levels brought about by climate change and melting of the polar ice caps would flood out the refugee hotbeds in Europe!  Staging grounds in the Mediterranean would disappear!  Yes, it might mean losing a lot of small friendly countries like England, Holland, Denmark, Greece, Belgium,  but again, you have to think of the greater benefit of the actions!  We’d lose some prime land in New York and Miami as well (New Orleans would certainly disappear) but there are some savvy real estate moguls who  could certainly help build new cities along the new coast!  And that would bring more jobs! Even enough jobs for the immigrants already here to turn them into productive members of society!

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Of course,there would be nay-sayers and losers who would boo-hoo over the cost.  Lost art, culture, civilization, cities, countries, millions and millions and millions of people.  Our own identity, some would argue, would also be lost but those would be the few who don’t remember their history of Manifest Destiny, or how we managed the native population here.  It would still leave us with figuring out what to do with the southern border of the country, but we could certainly use a new radioactive waste disposal area.

So many issues, so many problems solved with a single game-changing concept!!  It’s such a great idea I’m surprised no one has come up with it before!!

Really?

Satire.  Farce.  Gross stupidity.  The point of this is….I’m not sure.   Swift’s point was to lampoon the ideas and the society by putting out a concept that was so abhorrent that no one would take it seriously. I’m tired of people espousing simple solutions (bomb ISIS, bomb Iran, send troops to Syria) or just dismissing the problem (climate change, refugees, societal change) when these are all highly complex and interwoven problems.  There are no simple solutions.  I repeat, there are no simple solutions, only lingering problems and new problems.  Let’s pick one case in point –bombing Iran.  Bombing Iran to eliminate the nuclear facilities brings a ground war (in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, in Israel, somewhere there) with a fairly well-developed country that has a history of asymmetrical thinking and a distinctly non-Western thought process. It’s a war a long ways away, in a challenging climate, with no friends around.  It would be a war that we would have to win by annihilation lest we leave an embittered, implacable enemy behind like a crop of weeds waiting to sprout in the soil, and you can’t kill all the seeds, ever.  It would ruin relationships with West and East, as we assume the bully mantle…only without the people, resources and resolution to fight the fight for as long as the fight is needed.  And, as always, with no thought of an exit strategy or how we fill the void we leave behind.

Everything is a Gordian Knot. It’d be useful if we started thinking about all the threads and considering their impacts. Then maybe we could find a real solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…who remembers still.

Her phrase in the text exchange brought me up short. “You are one of the few who remembers still”. I was shocked. The few?  Not all, or even most? I was surprised to be in that category.  Are we really like that? Do we suffer from such hyperactivity that something an event fades so relatively quickly?  It there that much “moving along” with life?

I remember the day way too clearly. I had seen her at church and we talked about what we had heard on the news, about the concern she had. I had even blogged about it (in my old blog), and had just gotten done with that when I received the email she sent to her network of friends:

“I’m driving to Dover in the early morning to receive his remains”.

He had died in Kabul the day before, one of over 1800 service men and women killed in combat since that war started (with more dying in non-combat events).  I knew her more than him. I had prayed for him; I grieved for her.

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Her comment about one of the few who remembers still reminded me that while we think of those who have given all, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that their families are STILL giving their all and that they have been permanently changed and affected.  Our involvement anymore moves at the speed of electrons – a Tweet, Facebook update, a Tumblr post –and then we’re gone, moving on to the next item, the next issue, the next, the next the next….

I wonder what of ourselves and of society we lose in this breakneck pace of events that prevents thoughtful reflection.  It’s not just that life passes like telephone poles on an old country road, it’s that our engagement, retention, contemplation, processing of it passes as quickly.  The death of a good father, soldier, warrior of kindness.   The tragic picture of a small boy on a Turkish beach. Oops, blinked.  Too late.  Off the screen….literally and figuratively… and with that, gone from our minds.  That which is thoughtfully considered, evaluated, reflected upon will mold us, deepen us, change us.   Maybe what we need to do is stop, think, process, reflect, remember.  Maybe it will add some needed richness to our lives, and our society.

 

 

 

The Drillmaster

I’m not sure why, but the past year or two has seen me read more books on the American Revolution than any other historical topic (and probably more than I’ve ever read in total).  I had the opportunity the previous  fall to give a presentation at a conference in Valley Forge, and went through the National Park there.  As a souvenir, I got a book about an aspect of the events there that seemed potentially interesting.  I managed to score massively on that random selection!    The book was the fairly easy read titled “The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army” by Paul Lockhart.   I realized from the title that it would be about Baron Von Steuben, but other than his nickname, I knew nothing about him.

The book left me with two major realizations.  The first was about the Baron and his role in the revolutionary war.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that without his skill and abilities (as well as another that I will discuss in a different blog, Gen. Nathaniel Greene), there is a great chance that the war would have been won by the British.  The total lack of drill, discipline, and martial abilities that the ragamuffins of Valley forge suffered from was nearly fatal before that winter, and would have certainly been so in the spring campaigns had it not been for the Baron’s intervention.  In an incredibly short period of time he turned a mob into a military unit, and by the end of the war won the accolades of the French that there was no finer force in Europe…including the British.  The speed at which the Baron worked his miracle, and the immediacy of the positive results on the battlefield, were amazing.

The second major point was the re-enforcing of the realization, gained from the previous books on George Washington,  that the Revolution was a very near-run thing, and that our winning it was truly a series of unforeseen miracles strung together.  This was true for the entire Revolution and how it played out, and seems to be highlighted in the history of nearly every major actor and event.   Just looking at it from Steuben’s perspective:  he almost wasn’t given a commission to come over and help the cause; his time in Valley Forge was incredibly short, and had he arrived a month later, might have been for naught; Gen. Charles Lee’s blundering defeat at Monmouth would have been catastrophic had Steuben not been close enough to rally troops; that without his work in Charlottesville the British might have destroyed enough of the American army to avoid the defeat at Yorktown that effectively ended the war.

The characters of the Revolution may be the most incongruous group of victorious leaders the world has ever seen.  The more I read, the more it becomes clear that there is likely no battlefield that has seen so many accidental heroes and surprisingly effective neophytes in one place.  Washington, Steuben, Greene, Knox, Sullivan, Marion, Mifflin, Morgan, Smallwood. All in some way uniquely unqualified to do what they did, and yet they did it.

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Blind men, beating drums

The blind men are out.

They are beating the drums.

They heard rustling in the forest.

They think they heard quail, and are trying to beat them out.

They’ve forgotten that other creatures live in the forest.

They don’t know that the hyenas move to the drums

and the elephants do as well.

Will they flush the quail?  Or be trampled by the elephants?

Or will they just stop drumming?

 

I have heard so much in the past few days about what should be the reaction to the attacks in Paris.  The beat of war drums has come out again.  It is, clearly, the easiest and most natural reaction, driven by the sympathetic nervous system.  Struck by an enemy, the response is to strike back, especially when th e enemy seems like a rabid animal, possessed of an evil jinn.  I get that.  I feel that in a visceral part of me too.

I’m contrasting  those thoughts of mine with what may be my favorite quote by George Santayana “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” For so many reasons this comes to mind

Once again we seem poised to enter a conflict where we do not know our enemy.  Sun Tzu said ” If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

While I might question whether we know ourselves, it is abundantly clear that we don’t know the enemy.  We didn’t when the British Empire invaded Afghanistan in the 1870’s, when Allenby fought the Turks in World War I, when America nearly drowned in the Southeast Asia quagmire.  And we don’t know the enemy now either.  We view the enemy and the battle through Western eyes, when the enemy isn’t western and their strategy is more tribal than military.  We view the strategy and techniques through high-tech eyes, when the enemy is primitive and no-tech.  Can economic sanctions and high level bombing destroy an enemy who embraces and revels in the life and theology of ancient days?

The call from some quarters is to put boots on the ground.  The rationale for doing that is likely sound, since airpower alone will not defeat the radical militants that have risen up.  But once we put troops on the ground….what are we going to do?   How do we leave?  On a helicopter from the roof of an embassy?  In front of a banner that hollowly proclaims Mission Accomplished when it’s not?  We entered Korea with no thought of how we would leave, entered Vietnam with no thought, entered Iraq with no thought, entered Afghanistan with no thought on departure.  Shouldn’t we have at least a clue of how to define success and victory?  Do we really think we can subjugate the area and make it western when it never has been and never will be?

If we put the troops on the ground, has there been any thought of the ripples of that action with other nations?  We found in Korea that there was a line that brought a bigger conflict when China entered.  There is a nontrivial power in the Mid-east that is unlike any other….the Persian, Muslim, Sunni nation of Iran.  Going into their proxy, going into their sphere of influence might weaken them, or it might cause them to deploy militarily, if not against us then perhaps against Israel.   The consequences of an Iranian engagement, in terms of military, economic and political outcomes, are massive.  Much like the end strategy, we need to consider that elephant before listening to the drums.

It seems that we are always fighting the last war, never the next one.  We enter with 20/20 hindsight, using the techniques and skills from the last war instead of seeing what this war will require.  When do we realize that one size doesn’t fit all, that in fact one size fits….one.  Yes, airpower worked somewhat well in Bosnia against military targets, worked very well in Desert Storm against a standing army.  But it’s not worked so well in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Libya, or Yemen against dispersed, low-grade targets.  How well will it work against a primitive, barbaric adversary?

It may be that Anonymous has a better game plan in their cyber attack.  At least it’s a plan that seems more to fit an aspect of the enemy.  The growth of ISIS has not been through military conquest, although some of that has occurred, but by enticing and luring the disenfranchised and marginalized societies through social media.  Antiques are pawned to provide money, using social media.  Oil is sold using social media contacts.  So when do we shut down their access to internet?  When do we close the wells….or take them over?

We have ignored the atrocities of Syria for four years.  We have ignored the bombings in Iraq, in Libya,  the civil war in Yemen, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, Boko Haram.  The bombs that went off in Beirut killing scores the day before Paris…..that no one in the West even noticed.

The drum beats of war continue to sound.  Are we flushing quail that we will consume, or elephants that will trample us?

Not a simple question.  Not an easy question.  But we need to answer it before, rather than after.

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Paris peace sign by Jean Jullien