Category Archives: National Security

Why Is H.R. McMaster Pleading For More War?

The National Interest

May 12, 2019

Retired Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster contends that support for the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, which is now in its eighteenth year, is being undermined by a “defeatist narrative that’s inaccurate, and doesn’t reflect what’s at stake.” Instead, Americans should see the fight as an “insurance policy” against the collapse of a friendly Afghan government and its replacement by enemies of the United States.

Before becoming President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, McMaster was perhaps best known in policy circles for his 1999 book Dereliction of Duty, a sharp critique of American political and military leaders during the Vietnam War, arguing that it “lost in Washington . . . even before the first American units were deployed.”

Ironically, McMaster is resurrecting two tropes from that era which sustained an unwinnable fight and then shifted blame for our failure: the domino and stabbed-in-the-back theories.

McMaster pleads, “If you think about the importance of the mission in Afghanistan, to protect what is fundamentally a transformed society, from the enemies that we’re facing—the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies — it is a cost that is sustainable.” Moreover, he warns, “They’re trying to establish these emirates. And then stitch these emirates together into a caliphate in which they force people to live under their brutal regime and then export terror to attack their near enemies, Arab states, Israel, and the far enemies, Europe and the United States.”

The echoes of the domino theory are unmistakable in both the dire inevitability and the absurdity of the predicted cataclysm.

In January 1951, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Dean Ruskdeclared, “It is generally acknowledged that if Indochina were to fall . . . Burma and Thailand would follow suit almost immediately. Thereafter, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Indonesia, India, and the others to remain outside the Soviet-dominated Asian Bloc.”

On April 7, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower formalized the theory and give it a name. Asked to comment on “the strategic importance of Indochina for the free world,” the president pointed to the  “possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world” and the “broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle.”

He explained, “You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”

How profound?

“But when we come to the possible sequence of events, the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following, now you begin to talk about areas that no only multiply the disadvantages that you would suffer through the loss of materials, sources of materials, but now you are talking about millions and millions of people.”

Oh, it gets worse: “It turns the so-called island defensive chain of Japan, Formosa, of the Philippines and to the southward; it moves in to threaten Australia and New Zealand. It takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area or Japan, in turn, will have only one place in the world to go—that is, toward the Communist areas in order to live. So, the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world.”

While those dire warnings seemed plausible to many in those scary early days of the Cold War, they were widely rejected by experts well before the escalation of the American war effort and seem positively absurd in hindsight. Despite a handful of revisionists who argue that America’s losing effort in Vietnam somehow staunched the spread of communism to the region, most see the individual nation-states as independent actors minimally influenced by events in Indochina.

We can’t, of course, know with certainty what will happen in the aftermath of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. But we do know that Al Qaeda doesn’t need Afghanistan. After being routed there by the initial American invasion in 2001, they reconstituted in Yemen and elsewhere, albeit in a much less centralized, effective form. And the notion that the return of Taliban control over Kabul would engender a global caliphate is more fanciful than Australian going communist in the wake of defeat in Indochina.

Additionally, McMaster’s claim that the American public’s disillusionment with what is now easily the longest war effort in the country’s history is caused by some vague “defeatist narrative” harkens to the excuses made by American military leaders four decades ago.

In 1968, U.S. Marine Col. William R. Corson warned that “an American version of the German ‘stab in the back’ myth is being actively promoted by the hawks on Vietnam.” They were quite successful. It became received wisdom in military circles “that if only Johnson would allow his generals to prosecute the war with sufficient brutality—mining the Haiphong Harbor, destroying the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia—it could be won.”

More than that, though, was the sense that “the military mission had been compromised, even betrayed, by weak-kneed liberalism in Congress and seditious radicalism on college campuses.” Widespread but almost certainly mythological stories of troops returning home from war only to be spat upon and called baby killers “provided reassuring confirmation that had it not been for those duplicitous fifth-columnists, the Vietnamese would have never beaten us.”

Few serious scholars now believe that the war in Vietnam was winnable. The same is true—and has been for quite some time—of Afghanistan. And, indeed, despite the a majority of the American public thinking the war not worth fighting for more than a decade, we have continued muddling along.

To his credit, McMaster concedes that “Afghanistan is not going to become Switzerland. It’s just not.” Instead, he contends, “It can be Afghanistan, and it can be an Afghanistan like it was in the ’70s or like it was during this really short but brutal period of rule under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001.”

But, eighteen years in, there’s little evidence, indeed, that we are anywhere near close to achieving even that modest goal.

The historian Ronald Spector, reviewing McMaster’s book contemporaneously for the New York Times, charged that his “preoccupation with the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations and their decisions displays some of the same ethnocentrism, the same assumption of American omnipotence, for which McMaster pillories the leaders of that era. It largely leaves out of account the ideas, plans and actions of the Vietnamese.”Revisiting the book upon McMaster’s elevation to National Security Advisor, he noted that “American GIs in Vietnam, including this author, usually saw the South Vietnamese government and army as incompetent and ineffective. As an historian, I would still argue that they were corrupt and ineffective, crippled by nepotism and unable to unite.”

Despite so much scholarship since, Spector laments, “the Vietnam War, as viewed by Americans, remains primarily an American story. The culprits are still to be found in the White House and the Pentagon and, depending on your political stance, among the anti-war left of the 1960s. The victims are the American soldiers sent to fight and die in an unnecessary and futile war. Yet more than forty years after the fall of Saigon, Americans are beginning to acknowledge that the Vietnamese had something to do with it.”

Surely, the same is true of the Afghans? No matter how much the American military, its political leadership, and the public they both serve may want to turn Afghanistan into Sweden or even just 1970s Afghanistan, it’s not really up to us.

Additionally, while all we have is a single report of the speech, it appears that McMaster brought out the tired chicken hawk trope that was so popular among neoconservatives during the early days of the conflict. He told of watching a recent town hall in which “A young student stood up and said ‘all I’ve known my whole life is war.’” McMaster observed, “Now, he’s never been to war, but he’s been subjected, I think, to this narrative of war-weariness.”

It’s problematic, indeed, to suggest that citizens who haven’t served in the war shouldn’t be concerned about it. It’s doubtless true that a tiny percentage of them have deployed to combat. But one would hope that they view those being sent to fight and die in that war as fellow citizens whose lives should be risked only in service of the most worthy—and achievable—goals.

Original article

The Pentagon Is Flubbing Its Pitch to Silicon Valley

James Joyner and Matthew Bernius

Defense One

 May 1, 2019

Gen. Joseph Dunford says American tech companies that do business with China hamper “U.S. ability to maintain a competitive military advantage and all that goes with it.”

Such companies, the Joint Chiefs chairman added, “are automatically going to be required to have a cell of the Communist Party in that company. And that is going to lead to that intellectual property from that company finding its way to the Chinese military. It is a distinction without a difference between the Chinese Communist Party, the government, and the Chinese military.”

This follows Frank Hoffman’s warning about Silicon Valley “techno-moralists” whose objection to supplying the U.S. military “could appreciably harm U.S. security interests” and “puts more Americans in danger” when it “restricts the Defense Department from developing capabilities that could enhance U.S. weapons systems by making them more accurate and better at defending the country and its allies.”

These appeals, alas, are likely to fall on deaf ears. If Pentagon leaders are going to persuade tech executives to listen, they’re going to have to do some listening of their own first.

Although many of the foundational technologies of Silicon Valley grew out of projects funded by the Defense Department, American tech culture has long been anti-militarist and globalist. In his classic history From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner  cites figures like Stewart Brand who, by the mid-1970s, came to see computers as tools for countercultural transformation. Meshing concepts drawn from cybernetics (itself a project rooted in Defense research) and communalism, Brand and his collaborators argued that digital technologies and information subvert and transcend existing power structures (and the governments and organizations that had constructed them), bringing all citizens of the world closer together. This belief in the revolutionary and unifying power of technology can be found in everything from Apple’s famed 1984 Superbowl ad, to any given issue of Wired magazine, to the way that Mark Zuckerberg talks about Facebook today.

Furthermore, as Greg Ferenstein argues in The Age of Optimists, the culture is inherently post-nationalist. It is “based on a rather extreme idealism about human nature, society, and the future” and “reject[s] the notion that there are inherent conflicts of interests between citizens, the government, corporations or other nations.” At the same time, “They are highly, highly, collectivist. They believe that every single person has a positive obligation to society and the government can help people or coerce people or incentive into making a unique contribution.”

This culture of techno-utopianism stands in stark contrast to the culture of American manufacturing industry. A recent episode of the New York Times podcast “The Daily” examined the way Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and various other U.S.-based tech companies are treating the current controversies, and contrasted it with Dow Chemical’s reaction to protests over their production of napalm for the American war effort in Vietnam. Despite waves of demonstrations organized by the Students for Democratic Society, the company continued to produce the controversial incendiary for years because it felt a patriotic duty.

As reporter Kevin Rose documents, this was a financial disasterfor Dow. The firm’s “reputation plummeted,” its “recruiting ability suffered,” and “its marketing department was forced to embark on a long and expensive campaign to win back the public’s trust.” In the end, “the $5 million napalm contract most likely cost Dow Chemical billions of dollars. And it was the kind of unforced error that could have been avoided if company executives had listened to early signs of opposition, done some risk analysis and changed course.”

But the company had been caught in the crossfire of change. Dow’s executives almost certainly served in uniform during World War II or Korea. And it was unusual, indeed, to question the American government’s rightness in conducting a war. But by the time Dow ceased producing napalm in 1969, the country had turned against the war. And the combination of repeated lies from the political and military leadership about America’s progress in Vietnam and the overlapping Watergate scandal turned the country much more cynical, perhaps permanently.

That attitudinal change has not been evenly spread. In Gallup’s 18 years of polling on how proud Americans are to be American, only 47 percent were “extremely proud” in 2018 compared to a peak of 70 percent in 2003. Those feelings break down in ways one might expect by political party, race, sex, and political ideology. But most significant for our discussion here is that college graduates have consistently been less patriotic by this measure than non-graduates. In 2018, only 39 percent of those with a degree felt “extremely proud” compared to 52 percent of those without.

While there’s no direct polling on this matter for those in Silicon Valley, the trend is almost certainly starker there. Surveys have shown us for decades that tech executives are quite politically liberal, albeit rather libertarian on regulatory issues. But it’s becoming clearer how much more progressive their workers are than the bosses. In the Gallup poll cited previously, a mere 23 percent of liberals were “extremely proud” to be American—compared to 46 percent of moderates and 65 percent of conservatives. Extrapolating from ideology and education, then, we can reasonably conjecture that a minuscule percentage of high-tech workers feel a strong affinity for America.

These surveys may well be masking deeper divides. As Nathaniel Rakich and Dhrumil Mehta argue at FiveThirtyEight,

It could just be that Republicans are more comfortable with the most obvious manifestations of patriotism these days. Public displays of patriotism often assume a pro-military dimension (sometimes purposefully and tactically so), which may be more likely to appeal to Republicans (other polls show they are generally more hawkish than Democrats). Singing “God Bless America” and military flyovers at sporting events also first came into fashion in the years immediately following 9/11, when rallying around the flag coincided with rallying around a Republican president. By contrast, funding AmeriCorps or paying taxes probably aren’t the first things many people think of when they think of patriotism, but lots of Democrats would argue they should be.

Rakich and Mehta cite as evidence a July 2018 YouGov pollshowing stark partisan differences of what counts as “patriotic.” Not surprisingly, Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to view as patriotic such actions as refusing to serve in a war they oppose or burning the American flag in protest.

There’s another reason why the tech sector is less likely to be flag-waving: it’s based in America but quite global. According to one survey, “40 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants” and the rate is even higher for technology companies. A recent study of 87 privately held American start-ups valued at $1 billion or more which discovered that “more than half of them were founded by one or more people from outside the United States. And 71 percent of them employed immigrants in crucial executive roles.” Anecdotally, “One of Google’s founders is an immigrant from Russia, and its current chief executive is an immigrant from India. Microsoft’s chief executive is also from India. eBay and Yahoo were started by immigrants. Facebook’s largest subsidiaries, Instagram and WhatsApp, were both co-founded by immigrants. Apple was started by a child of immigrants.” Further, “at least 57 percent of workers in STEM jobs with a bachelor’s degree or higher were born outside the US.”

While Silicon Valley is an outlier in many regards, elites who don’t work in the national security ecosystem are increasingly divorced from it. One has to be over 50 to remember the days of military conscription, which ended in 1973, and of Social Security age to have been subject to it. For all but a handful of younger Americans, fighting wars is something other people do. They may well honor that service in the breach; but it’s hardly surprising that they want no part in the violence inherent in the enterprise.

Ironically, the best approach for sparking action in Silicon Valley may be to take a page from its counterculture roots and appeal to the humanitarian rather than the jingoistic front. Framing China as an enemy military will be less effective than a techno-moralist argument that the Chinese government will abuse these tools to surveil and oppress their people. The last thing the leaders or creatives want is to become tools of “the Man,” whether he sits in Washington or Beijing. 

Original article 

Social Media Attacks on Trump Could Put America’s Security at Risk

The National Interest

August 24, 2018

Retired Adm. Bill McRaven, who became a household name after special operators under his command killed Osama bin Laden, is once again in the spotlight. In a terse August 16 op-ed for the Washington Post, he castigated President Donald Trump for revoking the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan the previous day in a fit of partisan pique after repeated criticisms of his policies.

Later that evening, thirteen other former senior national-security figures from both political parties signed an open letter stating their opinion that “the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.” They added, “this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials. As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech—even when that right has been used to criticize us—that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national-security concerns and not political views.” Other open letters followed, with some 175 formers signing.

It is too early to know whether these statements will have any impact on the national debate. Thus far, opinions on Trump have been decidedly inelastic, seemingly impervious to evidence. To the extent that McRaven and the others change minds, however, it will come not only because of their impressive contributions in service to the nation but because they have kept their powder dry, weighing in only on egregious violations of the norms of our Constitutional system, and are not seen as partisan actors.

Sadly, this has not been the case with Brennan himself. While I fully concur that Trump’s revocation of his security clearance is outrageous and sets a dangerous precedent, even many of his defenders have distanced themselves from his actions since leaving government service.

He retired from his post as CIA director on the day Trump took office. Within months, he became a famous Twitter troll, expertly leveraging his reputation and the social media platform to tweak Trump while drawing attention to himself. On his first day of tweeting, he opined, “Trump Admin threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in UN to oppose US position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous. Shows @realDonaldTrump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone—qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats.” While I concur in that opinion, it’s simply that: a view on a matter of foreign affairs outside the scope of Brennan’s expertise as an intelligence professional and some snide armchair psychiatry.

He’s issued forty-nine tweets since, the lion’s share of which have been aimed at the president. Almost none of them had any but an indirect bearing on the intelligence community or the national security of the country. He’s weighed in against Trump policies ranging from immigration to trade to veterans’ affairs to alliance policy to the Iran deal to gun control.

Mostly, though, he’s attacked

Trump’s character. Brennan told us that Trump “continues to demonstrate daily that he is a deeply flawed person.” He frequently retweeted Trump with personal messages such as “your self adoration is disgraceful,” “your unprincipled and unethical behavior as well as your incompetence are seriously damaging our Nation,” “You are to governance & politics what Bernie Madoff was to the stock market & investment advice,” “History inevitably will regard Trump as one of the most disastrous figures of the 21st century,” “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history,” and “It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity. Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president, nor what it takes to be a good, decent, & honest person.”

Most famously, perhaps, he declared, “Your kakistocracy is collapsing after its lamentable journey” and “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.” And, in a complete lack of self-awareness, he stated, “It never ceases to amaze me how successful you have been making yourself so small, petty, and banal with your tweets.”

My complaint with Brennan isn’t with his contempt for Trump or his policy views. I was a Never Trump guy from the moment he came down the golden escalator, long before there was an open letter or a hashtag. With a quibble here and there, I agree with Brennan on just about all these issues. Nor am I too highfalutin for Twitter trolling. I enjoy immensely, for example, Dan Drezner’s toddler-in-chief thread, 432 examples strong as of this writing. But, because of who he is, the volume and tone of Brennan’s commentary is inappropriate.

Drezner is a serious scholar, a tenured full professor at a top-tier public policy school with numerous academic press books to his name. That’s not incompatible with nearly two decades of being a wiseass on blogs and Twitter because he’s a one-man brand. Brennan, by contrast, continues to represent the CIA and intelligence community and is making their job harder.

Brennan’s caustic and frequently juvenile attacks on Trump are simply beneath the dignity of the office he so recently held. People like Brennan, McRaven, and the thirteen signatories of the open letter linked in the introduction continue to serve as elder statesmen and owe it to the nation to be prudent in their public commentary.

Since retiring from the Navy, the only time we’ve heard from McRaven was when he was counseling young Americans to make their beds first thing every morning. His speaking out so forcefully on Brennan’s security clearance is powerful precisely because he’s stayed above the fray until now.

Beyond issues of propriety, Brennan’s half-cocked tweets are harmful in that they contribute to the absurd notion that there’s a Deep State out to get Trump. The intelligence community writ large and the CIA in particular are seen by many Trump supporters as particularly suspect, in that they’ve been insistent that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election.

While it’s likely true that the hard-core Trump fans are going to believe that no matter what, Brennan makes it easy for Trump and his allies to cast the CIA as partisan. While it’s obvious to me that he’s intending to speak only for himself, the general public will naturally see him as the spokesman for CIA officers who are unable to voice their opinions because of the nature of their oath.

General Michael V. Hayden, himself a former CIA Director, and James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, who were among the thirteen signatories of the open letter defending Brennan. They, too, have been an outspoken critic of Trump. But they have mostly confined their public comments on the President to intelligence matters, including Hayden’s March 2017 New York Times op-ed “Donald Trump Is Undermining Intelligence Gathering” and Clapper’s book and frequent commentary on the Russian operations against the U.S. electoral system. While this distinction hasn’t stopped the president from lumping them in with Brennan, their remaining in their professional lane makes their commentary decidedly less political. That Hayden last served under President George W. Bush and has been retired almost a decade also makes it much less likely that he’s seen as speaking for the agency.

Given that McRaven, Hayden and David Petraeus (another signatory to the aforementioned letter, signing in his capacity as a former CIA Director) are retired flag or general officers, it’s worth a word about civil-military relations. While it’s harmful, for reasons that I’ve laid out, for former civilian intelligence officials like Brennan and Clapper to become part of the political fray, we’ve long held military officers to a different standard. Soldiers, after all, have guns and tanks. The loyalty of those in uniform to lawful orders from civilian policymakers, and especially the commander-in-chief, must be sacrosanct.

While many fiercely argue that, once retired, officers become mere civilians, entitled to unfettered free-speech rights like the rest of us, many of us disagree. As I argued in a commentary two years ago this month, it undermines the public’s confidence in the military as a profession when retired officers, especially those of high rank and recent service, become mired in partisan politics.

Where precisely one draws the line is unclear, but I’ve suggested, as a starting point, that “the distinction that holds for active duty officers and, to a lesser extent, civilian employees of the Defense Department between partisan politicking and issue advocacy.” It’s clearly wildly inappropriate for retired generals and admirals to endorse or oppose the re-election of officials they’ve recently served or worked alongside, as Bill Crowe did in 1992. It’s murkier but still highly frowned upon to endorse candidates for partisan office, like John Allen and Mike Flynn did in 2016.

It’s not only permissible but “likely valuable for retired officers to weigh in on public debates on controversial issues, like gender integration or proposed military action, where it would be inappropriate or difficult for serving generals to weigh in where their civilian masters have spoken.” Certainly, things like the propriety of revocation of security clearances for reasons unrelated to trustworthiness or the integrity of the Russia investigation fall within that ambit.

Additionally, I concur with RAND scholar and Bombshell co-host Radha Iyengar Plumb that McRaven and the signers of the open letter spoke out in “reaction to abuse of political power in a national security context” and that this is mere “defending institutional norms” vice partisan politics. While taking on a sitting president is inherently political, as nonpracticing professionals their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies—foreign and domestic—remains in force.

Original article 

‘Bloody Nose’ Strike Illegal but Unstoppable


February 9, 2018

Eighteen Democratic Senators have reportedly signed a letter to President Trump informing him they are “deeply concerned about the potential consequences of a preemptive military strike on North Korea and the risks of miscalculation and retaliation.” Further, they assert, “without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority.”

They are certainly right. Under the provisions of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, “The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” While it has never been tested in court, there’s little question that this framing is Constitutionally sound. (The subsequent provisions giving Congress the power to force the president to cease hostilities after 60/90 days are much more contested.)

The problem, alas, is that there’s simply nothing the Senate, or the Congress as a whole, can do to stop the President from acting as he sees fit. The House could certainly impeach him after the fact for overstepping his legal authority and, subsequent to that, the Senate could punish him by removing him from office. But the strike itself would be a fait accompli—as would the almost certain international war that would follow.

The Constitution famously set forth, as Edward S. Corwin put it over fifty years ago, an “invitation to struggle” over foreign policy and military affairs. Article I gives Congress the power to declare war, control of defense appropriations, and all manner of authority to regulate the armed forces. Article II makes the President commander-in-chief. In theory, the legislature is much more powerful in peacetime and the advantage shifts to the executive when the nation is at war. The reality is not that simple.

The mere existence of a standing force gives the President enormous leverage. Teddy Roosevelt recognized this more than a century ago. In his memoirs, he described a standoff with Congress over sailing the Navy into the Pacific:

The head of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs announced that the fleet should not and could not go because Congress would refuse to appropriate the money—he being from an Eastern seaboard State. However, I announced in response that I had enough money to take the fleet around to the Pacific anyhow, that the fleet would certainly go, and that if Congress did not choose to appropriate enough money to get the fleet back, why, it would stay in the Pacific. There was no further difficulty about the money.

Roosevelt understood that, while Congress certainly had the power to withhold funds, it would have been politically impossible for them to do so. Realistically, then, a President’s action with a force-in-being is limited mostly by the political fallout that ensues, not the approval of Congress.

Historically, the size of the force was itself a powerful constraint. While the United States has maintained a sizable Navy for the last century and a half, the Army was typically a garrison force until Congress declared war and provided the authority and money to build it up. That tradition ceased with the advent of the Korean War in 1950. While the nation continued buildups for war and drawdowns after, the exigencies of the Cold War and the desired for continued global hegemony in its aftermath have kept the “peacetime” force massive by global standards. This has significantly enhanced the freedom of maneuver of the commander-in-chief.

The existence of nuclear forces complicates matters even more. The deterrence strategy of the Cold War depended on the President be able to order a massive retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union in short order. It was simply not feasible to involve Congress in the decision, given the exigencies of time. While the Cold War has been over more than a quarter-century, few questioned the notion that the commander-in-chief should retain that power until Trump assumed that post and began routinely issuing provocations via his Twitter account.

Hearings this past November before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aimed at rethinking this policy. Senator Chris Murphy, a signatory to Monday’s letter, declared at the time, “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests.”

Alas, witnesses including the sitting and former commanders of US nuclear forces, former national security officials, and scholars were unanimous that there was little that could be done by Congress to prevent such a strike. While lawyers could advise the president against the action and civilian and uniformed professionals are duty-bound to refuse to follow orders they deem illegal or immoral, the entire system is predicated on swift obedience to the duly elected commander-in-chief. A President hell-bent on launching missiles would simply fire people until he got to ones who would carry out the order.

The bottom line is that absent radical disarmament on a scale that no serious analyst is calling for, the major restraint on a President’s war powers rests with his or her character and good judgment. The public ought to seriously weigh whether they trust a candidate to make life-and-death decisions before entrusting them with such awesome responsibilities. Failing that, the Constitution provides the extreme options of removal via the aforementioned impeachment process and the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Both of those are extreme options, however, that would undermine faith in our democracy if undertaken in other than the most exigent circumstances. Otherwise, we must wait until the next election and hope the public chooses more wisely—and that the commander-in-chief does not start World War III in the meantime.

Original article 

The New National Defense Strategy: Everything is a Priority

The National Interest

February 2, 2018

Lost to all but the most committed security wonks in the midst of the government shutdown debacle was the unveiling by Secretary Jim Mattis of a new National Defense Strategy. At first blush, it’s a bold declaration of the Trump administration’s priorities. In reality, there’s little new here—least of all a real strategy.

This is the first National Defense Strategy in nearly a decade. The last was published under the signature of Bob Gates in June 2008, during the latter days of the Bush administration. There was, however, a document published in January 2012 known in national-security circles, if not its cover page, as the Defense Strategic Guidance, which had a similar remit.

The most remarked-upon aspect of the new NDS is its declaration that “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers.” But this isn’t really that remarkable. While it’s true that the 2008 NDS declares, “For the foreseeable future, this environment will be defined by a global struggle against a violent extremist ideology that seeks to overturn the international state system,” that’s hardly shocking given that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in full swing. But even that document conceded, in the very next sentence, “Beyond this transnational struggle, we face other threats, including a variety of irregular challenges, the quest by rogue states for nuclear weapons, and the rising military power of other states.” Literally all of those remain, if in different sequence, in the 2018 version.

Similarly, the 2012 DSG mentions all the same threats. Most significantly, it takes increased notice of China’s rise, announcing the so-called “Asia Pivot.” It does, however, highlight the chief strategic blind spot of the Obama administration in its declaration “our engagement with Russia remains important, and we will continue to build a closer relationship in areas of mutual interest and encourage it to be a contributor across a broad range of issues.” That’s the only mention of Russia in the document, outshone in its wrongheadedness only by the president’s snide quip to Mitt Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

Regardless, while the Defense Department has devoted enormous resources to fighting violent extremism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, planning for war with near-peer adversaries has always been front and center—especially at the level of the service departments (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines), which are responsible for organizing, training, and equipping our armed forces. F-35 fighters and Ford-class carriers weren’t bought with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State in mind.

Earlier this week, Tom Spoehr rightly observes, “To have real-world value, a defense strategy must establish priorities. That requires making tough choices.” But I couldn’t disagree more with his assessment that “in this document those choices are made.” Yes, as Spoehr notes, there’s the aforementioned declaration that China and Russia pose the “central challenge.” But there’s nothing in either the document or the actions in the first year of the Trump administration to indicate that lesser challenges will receive any less attention than they have in the recent past.

While China—and especially Russia—are called out much more vociferously than in the previous two defense strategies and termed “principal priorities for the Department,” they’re also termed “long-term strategic competitions,” language very similar to those of the 2008 and 2012 documents. As to the lesser threats, “Concurrently, the Department will sustain its efforts to deter and counter rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, defeat terrorist threats to the United States, and consolidate our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource-sustainable approach.” Granting that one wouldn’t expect an unclassified, public-facing document to tell adversaries that they’re not a priority, it’s hard to read “sustain,” “defeat,” and “consolidate” as some sort of cutback.

Indeed, as Christopher Preble details elsewhere, aside from the standard lip service about bureaucratic efficiency (and yet another call for a Base Realignment and Closure process that Congress has signaled time and again it has no stomach for) there’s no concession anywhere in the document that there will be any prioritization at all. Indeed, it’s a veritable Christmas wish list. It declares that a “backlog of deferred readiness, procurement, and modernization requirements has grown in the last decade and a half and can no longer be ignored.” Accordingly, Mattis envisions that the 2019–2023 budget requests will call for “accelerating our modernization programs and devoting additional resources in a sustained effort to solidify our competitive advantage” across the entire spectrum of conflict. Among the highlights of the envisioned spending spree: “modernize the nuclear triad,” “investments in resilience, reconstitution, and operations to assure our space capabilities,” “invest in cyber defense, resilience, and the continued integration of cyber capabilities into the full spectrum of military operations,” “developing resilient, survivable, federated networks and information ecosystems from the tactical level up to strategic planning,” “layered missile defenses and disruptive capabilities for both theater missile threats and North Korean ballistic missile threats,” and “invest broadly in military application of autonomy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, including rapid application of commercial breakthroughs, to gain competitive military advantages.” That’s just a sampling from one section of the wish list.

While the above assessment sounds harsh, it’s not really a criticism of Mattis or the NDS. In point of fact, everything being asked for here is perfectly in line with not only President Trump’s recent National Security Strategy (which I wrote about last month) but the last several strategy documents, including those of the Obama administration (of which I was also quite critical).

If the United States wishes to have global hegemony, then it needs to do precisely what Mattis is asking for. Being able to deter and, if it comes to it, defeat major powers like China and Russia while at the same time constraining rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea, as well as non-state actors like the Islamic State and Boko Haram, and while maintaining access to the global commons of sea, space and cyberspace, is going to require that the United States spend a whole lot more money than it’s already spending. There is little evidence, however, that there is the political will to implement massive tax hikes or cut funding elsewhere in the budget in order to achieve that goal.

Original article

Who Suffers the Most from Government Shutdowns?

The National Interest

January 23, 2018

he federal government shutdown of 2018—or, at least, the first one—ended with only one workday missed. To the extent ordinary citizens noticed at all, they likely think it was no big deal. This is especially true with regards to the impact on the U.S. military, who they’ve been steadily assured went right on working, without so much as having to endure the hardship of missing the weekend’s NFL playoff games. In fact, however, millions of man-hours of productivity have been lost from this continuing crisis, with a real impact on readiness.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issued a memorandum at the onset of the shutdown declaring, “We will continue to execute daily operations around the world—ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.” While that absolutely happened—and would have continued for quite some time even in an extended shutdown—that’s not all his department does on a daily basis.

While current operations continue, many training and support activities cease—especially those that require travel. Military students at resident courses, including the one where I teach, are allowed to remain in place to continue their studies, but their civilian faculty are sent home. Ongoing field exercises are typically suspended, with personnel required to return to home station. And, depending on which pots of money they’re paid from, students at nonresident schools are often sent home mid-course, only to have to come back at a later date.

At my own institution, which has a roughly even mix of military and civilian faculty, we were able to weather the 2013 shutdown with only modest inconvenience. While we were in the middle of a block of instruction taught by civilian PhDs, we were able to slide lessons taught by lieutenant colonels and commanders to the left.

This go-around, we happen to be in an elective period, and because we have several outside faculty teaching, adjusting the schedule was impractical. Had the shutdown continued another day, the classes designed and normally taught by the furloughed PhDs would have been picked up mid-term by colonels and lieutenant colonels with twenty-four hours to prepare. It was likely the best out of a set of really bad options, but it would have not only been a suboptimal outcome for the students—themselves majors and lieutenant commanders deserving of the best education we can provide—and put the new instructors in an incredibly awkward position, but it would have taken up valuable preparation time for upcoming classes and exercises led by those same officers.

Additionally, while the military students would have remained in the course, their interagency civilian colleagues were furloughed for the duration. During the 2013 shutdown, which lasted sixteen days, this meant that not only were students from the CIA, State Department, and other agencies missing a significant chunk of the curriculum, but the military students were missing the invaluable perspective that they’re in the room to provide. And, because they’re staffed almost exclusively by civilians, the library and similar critical support facilities were closed, as were all manner of base programs and services for the troops and their families.

As I noted in this space after the October 2013 shutdown, the best estimates are that it costs between $2 billion and $4 billion to prepare for a government shutdown and the same amount to get back up and running. And, while this was the first actual shutdown since then, there have been more than a dozen near-shutdowns in the interim, as we continue to fund the government by continuing resolutions, often mere weeks at a time, and play a constant game of chicken with the debt ceiling.

Beyond the financial cost, of course, there is the impact on morale. DoD civilians constantly worry about being furloughed and whether the next paycheck is coming—including right before Christmas this past year. Then-SecretaryChuck Hagel declared “we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty.” If anything, it’s gotten worse, given the frequency of the brinkmanship.

Perhaps worse than the uncertainty is the constant reminder that we’re less valued. While we’ve finally gotten rid of the insulting “essential” vs. “nonessential” label, opting for the more sterile “exempt” and “nonexempt,” the fact remains that the vast majority of the civilian workforce is considered expendable while every single uniformed member of our armed forces is considered mission-critical—even though they’re frequently doing the identical job.

The flip side of that is that, as Mattis declared in his memo, “active forces will stay at their posts adapting their training to achieve the least negative impact on our readiness to fight.” For the duration of the shutdown—and, again, this one was thankfully short—our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen pull double duty, doing their own jobs while trying to cover for the furloughed civilians.

This is a great cost to the nation and its armed forces for no obvious gain. Historically, Congress has always authorized and the president always signed off on back pay for employees furloughed during a shutdown, so we’re actually paying people not to work. Like the debt ceiling, wherein Congress periodically has to authorize borrowing the money it has already voted to spend or else put the nation in peril, it’s an absurdity that needs to end.

In the meantime, we’re scheduled to go through this farce again on February 8.

Original article

How Trump’s National Security Strategy Breaks with the Past

The National Interest

December 19, 2017

President Trump unveiled a new National Security Strategy on Monday. Previews of the document, based on leaked drafts and backchannel interviews, had given the impression that it would be a bland continuity of previous administrations’ strategies, with a few sops to Trumpism thrown in to satisfy the boss. A careful reading, however, shows it to be the reverse: a radical departure from the past within a penumbra of stability.

Obama’s February 2015 NSS was an idealist wish list, bordering on constructivism. Trump’s is petulance and solipsism masquerading as realism.

Certainly, there is considerable overlap in the documents; all National Security Strategies to date have centered on protecting the physical and economic security of the American people, with the standard homilies on enduring threats and interests. And the current NSS, like other recent iterations, pays due homage to terrorism and cyber threats.

But this version is starkly different, repeatedly sandwiching Trumpian policy in between platitudes about long-standing American values. Of course we’re not racist—but no immigrants. Of course we love our allies—but they’d better stop freeloading. Of course we support free trade—but only if we come out ahead. Of course we continue to support global institutions—but only insofar as we win.

Trump’s cover letter declares, “The American people elected me to make America great again,” and brags, “During my first year in office, you have witnessed my America First foreign policy in action.” After a long litany of complaints about the ways the country had declined under his predecessor, he promises, “we are charting a new and very different course.”

And, indeed, he is.

Any previous NSS could have contained the sentence, “Americans have long recognized the benefits of an interconnected world, where information and commerce flow freely.” But it’s hard to imagine one that followed that sentence with, “Engaging with the world, however, does not mean the United States should abandon its rights and duties as a sovereign state or compromise its security.” Or one that then continued, “Openness also imposes costs, since adversaries exploit our free and democratic system to harm the United States.”

It’s only natural that the document would begin with the premise that “the United States is safer when Europe is prosperous and stable, and can help defend our shared interests and ideals” and “the United States remains firmly committed to our European allies and partners.” But, in true Trumpian fashion, that’s caveated: “The United States fulfills our defense responsibilities and expects others to do the same. We expect our European allies to increase defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024, with 20 percent of this spending devoted to increasing military capabilities.” None of that is new as a matter of U.S. policy, but it’s unprecedented for it to be so bluntly stated in our capstone strategic statement.

While no one would have been surprised to see the line, “The United States understands the contributions immigrants have made to our Nation throughout its history” in a previous NSS, it seems a departure from the rhetoric and policies of this president. But that nod to our better angels is quickly followed by the caveat that “illegal immigration, however, burdens the economy, hurts American workers, presents public safety risks, and enriches smugglers and other criminals.”

While averring that “the United States will continue to welcome lawful immigrants who do not pose a security threat and whose entry is consistent with the national interest,” the focus is on “enhancing the screening and vetting of travelers, closing dangerous loopholes, revising outdated laws, and eliminating easily exploited vulnerabilities.” It vows to “reform our current immigration system, which, contrary to our national interest and national security, allows for randomized entry and extended-family chain migration.”

Along those lines, the standard declaration that “the United States rejects bigotry and oppression and seeks a future built on our values as one American people” is used to set up the not-so-subtle anti-Islamist line, “We will deny violent ideologies the space to take root.”

There’s doubtless continuity in the line, “For 70 years, the United States has embraced a strategy premised on the belief that leadership of a stable international economic system rooted in American principles of reciprocity, free markets, and free trade served our economic and security interests.” Alas, that assertion serves merely to bolster the complaint that “the United States helped expand the liberal economic trading system to countries that did not share our values” and “espouse free trade rhetoric and exploit its benefits, but only adhere selectively to the rules and agreements.”

Likewise, the standard rhetoric, “Working with our allies and partners, the United States led the creation of a group of financial institutions and other economic forums that established equitable rules and built instruments to stabilize the international economy and remove the points of friction that had contributed to two world wars” is followed by the threat, “But the United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression.”

The document explains that “a world that supports American interests and reflects our values makes America more secure and prosperous.” But that’s immediately followed by the declaration, “We will compete and lead in multilateral organizations” (pick one!) “so that American interests and principles are protected.”

Perhaps the biggest departure from the trend of sandwiching Trumpian policy between odes to classic values is the long tribute to America’s diplomatic corps, “our forward-deployed political capability, advancing and defending America’s interests abroad.” It declares that “diplomacy catalyzes the political, economic, and societal connections that create America’s enduring alignments and that build positive networks of relationships with partners,” “sustains dialogue and fosters areas of cooperation with competitors,” and “reduces the risk of costly miscommunication.”

There is no caveat to that homage, save perhaps a backhanded declaration that “we must upgrade our diplomatic capabilities to compete in the current environment and to embrace a competitive mindset.” But none of the listed reforms speak to ridding the State Department of its most experienced personnel, gutting the hiring of topflight young people, or failing to appoint key senior leaders.

That said, the section on diplomacy is buried in a chapter on “Preserving Peace Through Strength,” which, as one might expect, focuses heavily on the military instrument. The actions of the administration thus far, as well as the longstanding predilections of Congress, leave little doubt where the priority of resourcing will be.

Those who voted for Trump, especially those who took him both seriously and literally, should rejoice in this strategy. Those who did not can perhaps take some small comfort in the fact that these documents seldom have much influence on public policy. Regardless, elections have consequences, and this is undoubtedly a very different strategy than we would have seen had Hillary Clinton’s name been on the signature page.

Original article

Paying Any Price: Starting the Next Chapter of Military Compensation

War on the Rocks

November 18, 2013

Over the last dozen years, America’s volunteer warriors have shouldered the burden of multiple deployments to two combat zones, risking death and permanent injury while enduring long separation from their loved ones. As we shift into a peacetime mindset and cope with budget austerity, we’re looking at ways to save money on defense, including reforming the way we compensate those we send downrange.

Retired Navy Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr. recently criticized the popular discourse on military compensation for under-valuing the sacrifices made by our soldiers.  Harvey is quite right that “we’re not just debating about pay and allowances or commissary benefits or TRICARE fees. We are talking about the future of our All-Volunteer Force, how we will sustain it, and how it will be able to attract the kind of men and women who will repeatedly deploy into harm’s way.”

But that cuts both ways. While the sacrifices borne by those who serve are priceless, pay, allowances, benefits, training, and equipment are not. And, like it or not, the exploding health care and retirement benefits costs for the troopers of today and yesterday are going to make it harder to train, equip, and pay the troopers of tomorrow.

Harvey fears that we’re sending the wrong message to the force that is serving today, signaling “that we are looking for a way out of fulfilling our commitments to them” now that the wars they fought are winding down. Everyone agrees that the current force must be grandfathered and that any compensation changes should apply only to those who join in the future, and the leadership indeed needs to do a better job of reinforcing that message.

But we can’t wish away hard facts.

The cost per active duty service member has skyrocketed, increasing 57 percent in real terms between 2001 and 2012 – or 4.2 percent annually – owing to annual pay raises that far exceeded inflation; improved benefits, such as a major enhancement in the GI Bill to spur recruitment and large retention bonuses for in-demand skill sets; and an explosion in health care costs.

Healthcare costs alone have more than doubled, going from $17.8 billion in 2000 to $49.8 billion in 2010. The CBO projects that, absent major changes, those costs will double again by 2030. CBO’s Carla Tighe Murray estimates we could save “several billion dollars” over the next decade simply by increasing the out-of-pocket expenses paid by military retirees under 65 TRICARE users to levels comparable to the private sector.

Harvey rightly notes that our troops are watching “sequestration take away their training, take away their professional development and take away their opportunities to prepare for the deployments that we will not hesitate to send them on,” and wonders “What are they thinking while we debate whether or not we’re paying them too much?” But these are not separate issues.

Even with a $682 billion annual defense budget, which is more than four times what runner-up China spends, there are limits. And, as we all know, that number is going down. Yet, even amidst the abject stupidity of sequestration, Congress continues to raise uniformed military pay at a rate that is above both inflation and the requests of Pentagon leaders.

Harvey takes offense at the Defense Department’s Reserve Forces Policy Board’s conclusion that “The all-in cost of the all-volunteer force is one of the time-ticking bombs that could explode our defense capabilities if not dealt with responsibly.” But the fact that the fully-burdened cost to the taxpayer for compensating and caring for each service member is $384,622 and rapidly rising is undeniably a real threat to our ability to sustain our current model.

Harvey quite reasonably suggests that “we need to ensure the current members of the armed forces have a voice –  an active voice – in this discussion about their compensation.  What aspects of the current, and very complex, structure of pay, allowances and benefits do they most value and why?” But the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which is charged with recommending reforms, is doing just that and finding that troops do not value in-kind benefits such as retirement pensions nearly as much as they cost the government.

He also argues that “we should view the resources we devote to our men and women in uniform as investments in our future, not simply as costs to be minimized as much as possible.” That’s a vital point to remember. But even valuable assets are subject to cost-benefit analysis.

I agree with Harvey that “our most junior enlisted members must be highly skilled, able to rapidly adapt, and capable of growing into mature leaders” and that “This will not be possible without high-quality young men and women want to enlist and then want to stay in the force.” Nor will it be possible if retiree pensions and healthcare costs continue to escalate and eat away at the resources available for training and equipment for the next generation of warfighters.

Personnel and overhead costs already account for nearly half the defense budget and Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno forecasts that 80 percent will go to compensation by 2023 unless we fix the problem.

Harvey is right to fear taking away benefits that incentivize people to join and make careers of the military. But it absolutely makes sense to explore more cost-effective ways of achieving those goals.

So, for example, military base pay exploded during the last dozen years when two shooting wars made recruiting volunteers more difficult. But these increases impact not only the present, but also reverberate into the future through the retirement system. It may be that lump sum enlistment and retention bonuses would do the job at a fraction of the lifetime cost.  We should almost certainly increase massively the bonus paid to those actually deployed downrange into hostile fire zones, now a paltry $225 a month, rather than pay everyone more simply for taking a theoretical risk. And, yes, we might even need to consider asking people who retire from the military at the beginning of middle age to start a second career to pay a little more for their health benefits.

We’re spending $20 billion a year on pensions for military retirees. To be sure, those who served under the promise of this benefit must be paid. But continuing to offer generous lifeline benefits to young people (as early as 38 years for enlisted personnel and 42 for officers) after twenty years of service is an expensive way to keep our best personnel. The system was put in place in an era when military pay was very low; paying half their small base pay for life was both a necessary enticement to a career of service and relatively affordable. For decades now, our troops have been compensated at a very competitive level and still earn a pension plan found nowhere in the private sector.

Harvey concludes by warning us that “Choices have consequences.” Indeed they do. Continuing down an unsustainable course out of fear of making hard choices will have the consequence of a force less prepared to fight America’s next war.

Original article

The Military and the Shutdown: Assessing the Damage

The National Interest

October 22, 2013

With the government back in business, it’s worth reflecting on the toll the sixteen-day shutdown inflicted on the nation’s defense. While most of the media attention went to relative trivialities like service-academy sports and the closure of war memorials, we wasted enormous resources that could otherwise have gone toward the nation’s security.

Thanks to last-minute action by Congress, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines—along with, after a brief interruption, most of their civilian counterparts—continued to draw salaries and benefits during the crisis.

Their ability to do their jobs, however, was seriously hampered.

Gordon Adams, an expert on defense budgeting at American University, estimates that it costs between $2 billion and $4 billion to prepare for a government shutdown and the same amount to get back up and running. We’ll likely never be able to precisely calculate the costs of the shutdown. But massive amounts of money were being needlessly wasted on a daily basis. DOD comptroller Bob Hale estimated $600 million in “lost productivity”at the Pentagon alone.

Ongoing operations, most notably the war in Afghanistan, were fully funded, but most training and maintenance went on hold owing to “the absence of available appropriations.” And some critical national-security personnel in other agencies, including civilian analysts at our intelligence agencies, were deemed nonessential and thus unable to report for duty.

All travel and temporary-duty assignments had to be approved at or above the combatant-commander level. Not only were troops who had been scheduled to travel to attend military schools unable to do so but, infuriatingly, those already in the middle of training were sent home in most cases. Even those weeks into classes had to return to their home base, wasting the money the taxpayer had already spent on travel, lodging, and subsistence. Further, the taxpayer will have to send them back, paying a second time, now that the government has reopened. In most cases, the students will have to start from scratch. And, of course, the instructors continued to be paid, despite not being able to do any instructing.

All of this was somewhat arbitrary, owing to vagaries of funding categories, different interpretations of very unclear rules, and the situation of individual personnel. So while the NCO Academy at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City sent 155 of its students homemidway through its six-week course, 25 students whose permanent duty station was Tyndall or were in the National Guard, and thus funded by their states, were allowed to continue. (Although, paradoxically, most of our Reserve and National Guard forces were prohibited from attending weekend drills and annual training, as well as active-duty training.)

Because this was uncharted territory, everything was in flux. So, for example, those already on orders for the Army’s Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia were allowed to finish their training and graduate, but those who showed up Tuesday expecting to begin a new class were sent home.

The impact across professional military education was mixed, owing to different staffing cultures and curricular patterns. The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California all but shut down during the week that its civilian faculty was on furlough. Ditto the Naval Academy at Annapolis . Conversely, the Military Academy at West Point and the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, whose faculty are primarily uniformed military, more or less continued operations.

At the Marine Corps Command and Staff College (CSC), where I teach, we simply moved up a block taught by our military faculty when the PhDs were furloughed. Conversely, at one of our Marine Corps University sister schools, students who were in the middle of a major field exercise away from campus had to be brought back home.

But even at CSC, the shutdown has resulted in waste. To begin with, our leadership has devoted untold hours that they would have otherwise spent working to improve the education of the majors and lieutenant commanders in their charge to shutdown-related contingency planning.

While the military officers who are our primary student population continued under a realigned schedule, their CIA and State Department classmates were furloughed and unable to attend school. Not only did this take away from the intellectual capital of our interagency national-security team, but our military students were deprived also of the exposure to the different perspectives of midcareer professionals from outside the armed services.

Faculty members scheduled to present research at conferences during the shutdown were suddenly unable to do so. One of our professors was called back from Australia a day before giving his paper—with the added bonus of a higher cost to the taxpayer for the earlier flight. Not only was this professionally embarrassing and a missed opportunity to engage with colleagues at other institutions, but it was also a colossal waste of money since, in most cases, conference and travel fees were already spent.

The long-term impact on military training and education should be minimal. Civilian faculty at our war and staff colleges and service academies only missed four days, and schedules can be adjusted to make up for lost ground. Presumably, students at TDY schools whose classes were canceled or who were sent home will be rescheduled at a later date. While disruptive, we can recover.

The more lasting issue is that all this wasted money has to come from somewhere. DOD is already scheduled, and reasonably so, to take hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts as we come off a dozen years on a war footing. Another year, or more years, of sequestration appears inevitable. Adding the shutdown on top of that was doubly disruptive.

Adding insult to injury, the taxpayer will eventually be on the hook for back pay for DOD’s furloughed employees. So, to recap: we’ve disrupted hundreds of thousands of lives, ruined weddings and vacations, and degraded the nation’s security without saving any money. Indeed, we’ve wasted countless billions on top of our misery. That’s a high price to pay for, well, nothing.

Original article

Obama’s Goldilocks Syria Plan

The National Interest

September 11, 2013

In a speech to the nation, President Obama warned that if the United States does not launch a punitive strike against Syria, Iran will pursue nuclear weapons, Al Qaeda will try to kill Americans, and bad men will do bad things.

Despite “a brutal civil war” in which more than “a hundred thousand have been killed” and “millions have fled the country,” the president “resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Alas, the “situation profoundly changed” three weeks earlier when “Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.”

Obama explained America must go to war over a thousand dead—after limiting ourselves to “humanitarian support” as 99,000 others were killed over more than two years—because “the civilized world has spent a century working to ban” chemical weapons and that their use is “a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.” The president noted that they can “kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant,” which hardly distinguishes them from other weapons that Assad has used and that, indeed, the United States routinely employs. The difference is that we prioritize minimizing civilian casualties and Assad does not.

The president correctly observed that, “When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory” and proclaimed, “The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.”

The problem with invoking international law here is that, while Assad has likely violated it, so would our enforcement of it through military force without authorization from the United Nations Security Council. To be sure, this would not be the first time we’ve elided that nicety of the UN Charter, which happens to be not only international law but, as a treaty ratified by the Senate, U.S. law as well. But it would be the first time we’ve done so to enforce an international treaty which itself specifies the enforcement mechanism.

The problem with declaring Assad’s use of chemical weapons in a civil war far away “a danger to our security” is that it is sheer and utter nonsense.

The president’s rationale is the most slippery of slippery slopes.

He declared that the use of chemical weapons by a dictator in a civil war, an event which is sadly far from unprecedented, means that United States soldiers would face them on the battlefield, despite the passage of a century since that has happened without an American military strike in support of the principle. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons while getting direct intelligence support from a United States government fully aware he was using them, and yet dared not use them in two subsequent wars against the United States, the second of which had the express purpose of ousting him from power and led to him being hanged. What has changed? The president didn’t say.

The president declared—without evidence or explanation—that chemical weapons might somehow spill over into Turkey, Jordan, and Israel if left unchecked. This, despite later acknowledging in the same speech that “Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise, and our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force.” Additionally, he forthrightly promised that we can target Assad with impunity because “the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military” and that “any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day.”

He claimed that “failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.” Yet Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons since before Assad’s father came to power and will surely continue regardless of what we do in response to the son’s deployment of chemical weapons. Indeed, if anything, military strikes against an ally will only reinforce the need to acquire nuclear weapons as a bulwark against American military action.

Similarly, the president argues that “Al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.” But, of course, Al Qaeda has been targeting innocent civilians for going on two decades now and is on the opposite side of this fight.

Meanwhile, we’re told that “Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.” Not a single word of that is true. Our nation is just as secure as it was three weeks ago, when the latest of the chemical attacks allegedly perpetrated by the Assad regime occurred. We don’t actually lead the world but, to the extent that we’re the most powerful voice among sovereign equals, we’re only weaker now than we were three weeks ago because of hysterical rhetoric emanating from this administration in support of a policy which seems to change by the hour.

Indeed, the president admits in the speech that he put the war on hold to seek approval from Congress because of the “absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security.”

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate noted that he has “spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them.” Which is true if one doesn’t count the massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan, launching a war in Libya, and stepping up of our drone and special operations wars around the globe.

And, so, as important as it is to deter tyrants from using chemical weapons and avoiding the tenuous threats to our security, the president promised that he would not “put American boots on the ground,” “pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan,” or even “pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.” Rather, “This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.” At the same time, lest his audience get the wrong idea, “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”

Additionally, after two years of declaring “Assad must go,” the president told us “I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next.” So, no regime change, just a more-than-pinprick-less-than-Libya strike that would make “Assad—or any other dictator—think twice before using chemical weapons.”

Perhaps we’ll call this one Operation Goldilocks.

Assuming that there’s an operation at all. Oddly, after that long buildup justifying an authorization for war, the president told us he has “asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force” while he pursues the “diplomatic path” created by his secretary of state’s off-the-cuff remark that Assad could avoid the more-than-pinprick-less-than-Libya strike that he so richly deserves if he hands over his chemical weapons. Yet, because a good outcome on that one is by no means certain, he has “ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.”

This is beginning to resemble a Monty Python sketch. Alas, Graham Chapman is no longer with us to interrupt and tell us this is too silly to continue.

Original article