Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back to the START

New START was confirmed by a large majority vote in the U.S. Senate in December, 2010 and is now valid between the United States and Russia.

As a former U.S. Army nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons specialist I was always skeptical of the assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. After I hit ground in Iraq in April, 2003, it soon became clear he didn’t have any. The U.S. searched the entire country for months trying to find them, but to this day nothing more than a few dusty chlorine gas mortars have ever turned up in Iraq. The rest is history.

Having gone to war in Iraq over ‘possible’ weapons of mass destruction, why would we dither, delay, or play politics with a treaty that would allow us to continue a responsible, voluntary inspection regime with a partner state that we know for a fact, with certainty, has nuclear arms, lots of them, and is simply waiting for the U.S. Senate to sign on the dotted line? Ask the Senate GOP leadership.

The old START (STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was negotiated and signed in the early nineties under President George H.W. Bush, based on earlier treaties agreed by President Ronald Reagan. The treaty served the U.S. well through the era of instability at the end of the Cold War and the New START would simply continue what was already a good idea. It has served us well for the last two decades and, if passed, would continue to today. It would reduce nuclear stockpiles by one third on both sides, still leaving America with more than enough firepower to defend itself. It would responsibly allow mutual transparency and allow us to monitor Russia’s nuclear weapons and material.

In addition to the original concerns START was designed to address, more modern concerns may be added to the list of reasons New START must be passed now, not later. Nuclear proliferation is a tremendous concern today, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reducing stockpiles means less nukes and nuclear material that could fall into the hands of unstable states or groups. Fewer nuclear weapons, less nuclear material, and better control makes us all safer.

North Korea and Pakistan have already acquired nuclear weapons through the back door and Iran is certainly trying to. The black-market smuggling ring led by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan shows there is a hot market worldwide for nuclear technology. For an entire year already America has been unable to account for all of Russia’s nuclear material and there are certainly buyers out there who will stop at nothing to acquire it. New START would close the loophole. Not doing so is like crossing our fingers and hoping nothing happens.

Nuclear terrorism is the ultimate threat to United States and its allies. Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have already stated they are attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. They’re not alone. Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Hamas would also jump at the chance. Hollywood never stops thinking up movie plots involving a nuke smuggled into America. If they can think of it, so can terrorists and extremists. For these reasons the U.S. military is also urging the passage of New START. Keeping nuclear weapons and material out of the hands of terrorists is a top national security priority. Not signing New START would be reckless and leave us vulnerable to attack.

The Senate Republican leadership opposes passing the treaty because of politics. They are more concerned with opposing President Obama than they are keeping America safe. There is bipartisan support for the treaty and it would and certainly should be ratified, if only the GOP leadership would put politics aside and put our security first. START was entered into between two states that possessed the nuclear arms to ensure they would mutually destroy one another in a nuclear attack. ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ kept America and the USSR at a standstill. Today, unstable states and terrorist groups are not so inclined. Extremists and terrorists are unconcerned about the destruction a nuclear attack would create on both sides and many are already fully prepared to die for their cause.

GOP opposition to New START is outdated, out of touch, and disastrously dangerous. The treaty needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate as soon as possible so that we can jointly and responsibly reduce and monitor nuclear weapons and material, prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and put our security first. New START needs to be signed by the Senate now. We don’t need more politics. It’s the right thing to do for our national security and that cannot wait.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Saving Fuel in Road Transport Saves Troops' Lives Downrange

On 15 November, 2010 at Chicago, IL I testified at a public hearing before an EPA/NHTSA panel regarding the first ever proposal to institute fuel efficiency and emissions standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles/engines. These are my official remarks to the panel.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today on the first-ever proposal to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas pollution from our nation’s commercial trucks.

My name is Chris Miller and I am a self-proclaimed ‘climate hawk’. I served almost nine years in the U.S. Army as a military WMD specialist, including two combat tours in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003 and 2005. In 2004 I was wounded in a suicide truck bombing for which I received a Purple Heart. I am a Combat Action Badge Recipient and 5-time Army Commendation Medal winner. I was a convoy security leader and a military advisor to a new Iraqi Army battalion. I am an energy security advocate for Operation Free and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.

I come here today not as a truck driver or technology expert or climate change specialist, but as a veteran who has seen first hand the dangerous relationship between our nation’s addiction to oil and our national security.

In 2006, my second tour in Baghdad and part of ‘the surge’, I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of a new weapon being employed by the insurgency there: EFPs. EFPs are Explosive Formed Projectiles that can penetrate up to three inches of solid steel, including the armor on our humvees and tanks. My brigade and our Iraqi allies lost several soldiers to these devices. They are so powerful they are even capable of seriously damaging a ‘Buffalo’, a special anti-IED military vehicle specifically designed to withstand very large explosions.

EFPs are not a device that an amateur can devise and implement. You can’t find them on the internet or in books at the library. They are very complex weapons. EFPs require a degree of training and expertise that only a military explosives expert has. These are not just rigged up artillery shells or mortars. They have an effect similar to an enormous cannon blast at point-blank range. I witnessed a device where a lawn mower blade was used as a penetrator and it travelled almost through the entire humvee, with deadly results for the men inside.

We know today that the Iranian government is responsible for the creation and use of these devices against our troops in Iraq with devastating consequences. Iraqi insurgents have received money, equipment, and training from the Iranian military and intelligence services and they continue to today.

Every military or insurgent force requires beans and bullets to sustain itself. I’m sorry to say that the United States is currently a great source of income for the Iranian government and the insurgency. The money we spend on oil is being used to hurt and kill our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in large number and to fund terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Every time the price of oil goes up by one dollar, Iran gets another 1.5 billion dollars to use against us. The connection between our oil addiction and the enemy couldn’t be clearer. We need to break that connection by breaking our addiction.

The scope of our addiction is extensive. The US consumes nearly 19 million barrels of oil a day, which is nearly a quarter of the oil consumed in the entire world, and more than all EU nations combined. Over half of the oil we use each day is imported from foreign countries, many of which do not like us. And more than 70 percent of the oil we consume is used for transportation.

The rate at which we consume oil helps our enemies at the same time it is threatening us. Just ask former CIA director Jim Woosley. ““Except for our own Civil War, this is the only war that we have fought where we are paying for both sides. We pay Saudi Arabia $160 billion for its oil, and $3 or $4 billion of that goes to the Wahhabis, who teach children to hate. We are paying for these terrorists with our SUVs.”

And we are not just addicted to oil at home. I can attest first hand that our military is also addicted to oil. It takes billions of gallons to run the military on the ground abroad. And that oil comes from foreign nations that don’t like us. If one of these unfriendly leaders ends oil exports to us, our military will be unable to function effectively.

So how do we break our addiction to oil? We start at home. We ask Americans to create technologies that can take our trucks farther on one gallon of gasoline. We look to industry leaders like Fed Ex who have already put hundreds of efficient hybrid trucks on the roads. And we ask our Government to implement programs that require deployment of these cleaner and more efficient vehicles on a nationwide scale.

Will the policy being considered here today, alone, break our addiction to oil? No. But reducing our oil consumption by 500 million barrels as this program is estimated to do, is a vitally important step. By 2030, this rule alone would reduce daily oil use by enough to offset all of the oil we imported this year from Iraq. And together with similar policies underway to address fuel consumption and greenhouse gases from passenger vehicles, our nation could save enough oil to offset more than all of the oil we import from the entire Middle East by 2025.

As retired General and 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps P.X. Kelley and Frederick W. Smith, Chairman, President, and CEO of FedEx Corporation said together in a letter to President Obama, “Simply put, energy security cannot be improved without addressing oil dependence, and oil dependence cannot be meaningfully reduced without addressing transportation.”

You may hear testimony today about the challenges involved in meeting the proposed standards. You may hear its going to be a hard road or a slippery slope. What you should keep in mind is that there are tougher battles out there. This may be a tough battle, but it’s not as tough as what our troops are up against.

The benefits are wide spread. I’ve already mentioned the benefits to national security and our troops. But what about the $74,000 that a trucker could save over the life of a truck. And the $41 billion in savings to American families.

Manufacturers are helping our nation by producing vehicles that reduce our dependence on oil and save American lives abroad. More than 150 U.S. companies are already employing a variety of trucks that make fuel and pollution reductions far beyond the requirements of the proposal being considered today. And individual truck owners who buy cleaner vehicles will save money at the pump that will pay for the upgrade in only a few years. It’s time that these more fuel-efficient vehicles become the norm.

I even hope that American ingenuity will not only succeed in providing cleaner commercial trucks for US roads, but that the same technology can be used to make our military vehicles more efficient and less dependent on oil.

You’re going to hear a lot of numbers today, but I want you to write these numbers down for me right now. We’re going to do what we call in the Army ‘beer math’. Write down one above the other: 12. 365,000. 4. 12 is the number of men that I personally have known who have given their lives on the battlefield in Iraq. Men that I knew and were in my unit. 365,000 was the usual number of American troops serving in Iraq before the drawdown. 4 people is generally the size of an American family. As one soldier, I knew 12 soldiers that were killed. Multiply 12 by 365,000 and you get 4,320,000. That’s 4.3 million soldiers’ lives affected by this issue. Multiply that by a family of 4 and you get 17,280,000. That is 17.2 million American soldiers and their families lives affected directly by this issue.

Another number you should remember is 24. According to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, every 24th military convoy downrange results in the death of a U.S. servicemember. I led missions every day in Baghdad, many of which included hauling fuel for our unit to operate. Up to 80% of the loads of some convoys are fuel. More efficient vehicles mean less fuel needed, which means less of our troops being killed. That means more of them get to go home.

The technology to improve vehicle fuel efficiency is available. Cleaner vehicles more than pay for themselves in lower fuel costs. And the cleaner trucks required by this rule will reduce our oil addiction, improve our national security and, above all, save American lives. I don’t understand what we’re waiting for?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Same Old 'Song and Dance' Leads to Trouble

In Iraq you learn not to use the same route too often because the enemy will use it as an ambush point. A man sitting in a cave in the remotest corner of the world could very easily predict the general ‘route’ of the GOP response to a terror attack on America. Once you know the general thrust it becomes easy to develop a plan to respond to the response. Muhammad Ali called it the “Rope-a-dope”. When they think they have you where they want you, you actually have them exactly where you want them: ten years in Afghanistan, seven years in Iraq, five thousand American soldiers dead, and billions of dollars spent. The most important goal: bring terrorism into the lives of average Americans in order to affect the political process by creating internal turmoil. Mission accomplished.

Since 9/11, Republicans have tried hard to build the myth they are strong on terrorism and national security issues. The positions that conservatives take regarding our national security are out-dated and predictable, especially in a world where the enemy doesn’t play by old rules. These ideas will get you ambushed. What America needs is fresh thinking on national security, not the same old Republican song and dance.

Republicans say “I’d rather fight them over there than over here.” They would rather have it that way too; it’s much easier to fight us on their home turf than for them to continually plan terror attacks that take years to put in place and are often discovered at their genesis.

I can’t claim to speak for all veterans, but I know enough who agree our response to 9/11 with a GOP administration at the helm was not well planned or executed. It was based upon assumptions made from experience that didn’t apply to the Middle East and the military maxim that every Army Private knows “hope for the best, but plan for the worst” wasn’t followed. The grounds for the Iraq war were non-existent and the opportunity for success in Afghanistan was missed when focus was diverted from it.

This is not a strong showing from a Republican party that claims to be strong against terrorism and national security. Now that the war in Iraq is winding down and General Petraeus has the pieces in place to be successful in Afghanistan, America needs to give its commanders and troops the chance to succeed.

If we have learned anything over the last decade it is that it takes more than “Manoeuvre warfare” to win. It takes building trust and relationships and understanding that you cannot guarantee security for citizens from inside fortress walls. It means using restraint of force and building local security capacity. In Afghanistan, you control only the ground you’re standing on and you can’t do that from Kabul. We have also come to understand that we cannot see Afghanistan and Pakistan as two separate problems, but we do have two different relationships with their governments.

Besides projecting our strength overseas, a progressive view addresses our weaknesses. In the past weeks there have been multiple attacks in Pakistan against NATO fuel convoys. The Taliban have latched on to the strategy of the Iraq insurgency: catch the tiger by his tail. One in twenty-four military convoys end with the death of one of our troops. Up to 80% of the load of those convoys is fuel. America’s dependence on oil is a strategic liability, but one being addressed by a forward-thinking military that’s slashing dependence on oil.

That liability for our troops is also a strategic liability for America at home. We send billions of U.S. dollars to the Middle East for oil and some of it invariably ends up in the hands of those that support terrorism. The average American inadvertently contributes every time they buy gas. There is agreement in all camps that the issue must be addressed along with responding to conflicts accelerated by climate change, such as the Pakistan floods where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are offering aid to victims America isn’t reaching and ‘winning hearts and minds’ away from us.

America has learned much in the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan and it will take continued fresh, forward thinking to secure victory there, not the same old song and dance and Cold War thinking offered by Republicans. America wins when it changes its strategy to address a changing world. Going back to the recycled ideas of the GOP and predictable conservative policies would be a strategic mistake.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Military-Opportunity Complex

This post originally appeared on on 13 October, 2010

This post is the fifth in a series about the Progressive Military

I knew my entire life that I was going to join the military at 18. There was never a time where I can recall I thought anything else. It wasn’t pushed on me; it was just something I always understood. My father and several of my uncles are Vietnam vets, my cousin is a Gulf War vet, and my grandfather and his brothers were in World War II. Iraq is my own particular war. In my family, we serve in the military. Many other American families share the same story.

I was always good academically and very active in school activities. As my high school graduation approached people would ask me or my parents where I was going to college and what I was going to do. Doctor? Lawyer? Architect? The answer was no, he’s shipping off to be a Private in the U.S. Army. The looks were telling. Someone even offered ‘there’s other ways to pay for college, you know.’

For many there are not. I served with guys in the Army who will tell you that if they hadn’t joined they would be in the poorhouse, in jail, or dead in some alleyway. My father was a tough Chicago kid who volunteered at the height of the Vietnam War because he wanted better than sketchy factory jobs. He got it. After ‘Nam, he used the GI Bill to get a degree and a job. He just retired after thirty years of looking out for abused kids with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The opportunity the military gives has paid dividends not only for my father, but for me and my family, not to mention the thousands of kids my dad helped over the years.

Thirty years after him and at exactly the same place, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, I started my military career. I could look out of my barracks window and see across the drill square the same building he had lived in. They shaved my head, gave me a uniform, and a job with a steady paycheck, medical and dental care, a retirement system, and other benefits. I grew up in rural southern Illinois, where the unemployment rate today ranges between 9 and14 percent. A lot of people I grew up with haven’t fared as well, even some of those that went to college.

I had to work hard for it, but I did it, me and over 26 million other American veterans, many of whom might not have otherwise had such opportunities. Today, communities around military posts are more prosperous than industrial cities, tech centers, and college towns. The opportunities granted by military service help Americans of all kinds; studies have found military communities are among the least segregated in the country.

The military not only put money in our pockets, but it has given us work experience we couldn’t get elsewhere. Only around 15 percent of our troops are actually ‘trigger-pullers’; over half work in technical and medical fields and another third work in administration and logistics. These military jobs more often than not have a direct equivalent in the civilian market. It’s no secret that military life creates disciplined, principled, and dedicated workers, an asset to any employer or a good basis for starting a business.

Almost a quarter of Americans have a college degree today and the increasing demand for and availability of degrees to the larger population owes much to the GI Bill. Since 1944, it has helped over 21 million veterans join the educated workforce. The Post 9-11 GI Bill will help hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans not only get an education, but help pay their cost of living while doing so, something the GI Bill hasn’t done since the 1980’s. It has been touted as part of the economic recovery program by providing the opportunity for many former troops to qualify for better jobs than the currently scarce entry level positions available to those that have only a high school diploma. This is especially important while unemployment among young veterans is estimated at 21 percent. If you can’t find a job, at least you can go to school.

I didn’t join the military just to go to college or for the opportunities. There are many that did and there’s nothing wrong with that. They have earned the thanks of the nation. The GI Bill is a progressive policy that does just that for Americans that might not otherwise have had the opportunity. Serving in the military gives many Americans the chance they need for a career or a good start in life. As for me, I have decided to study law in the end. Without the opportunity the military has given to me and to my family, I would not have been able to. Millions of other Americans share the same story.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When National Security Means Energy Independence

This post originally appeared on on 12 October, 2010.

This post is the fourth in a series about the Progressive Military

The smell that will always take me and many other vets back to the old Army days is diesel exhaust fumes. When you spend many years of your life rolling around the muddy trails of military training areas in 5-ton trucks or the bumpy roads of Iraq and Afghanistan in armored Humvees, the smell brings on instant nostalgia. It is my hope, and the hope of many senior military leaders, that our next generation of servicemembers won’t know that smell because they won’t be using oil.

There is widespread agreement by institutions on all sides of the political spectrum that energy independence, security, and planning for the repercussions of climate change must be addressed. Former CIA director James Woolsey has called this “the first war since the Civil War that America has funded both sides.” However there is still opposition, mostly from the GOP Congressional minority, to taking real comprehensive steps. Their opposition to a comprehensive energy and climate bill, such as the American Power Act, has stifled momentum on the issue. Too many in Congress want to ensure nothing get done on the issue for quite a while.

Despite Congressional impasse, the military is looking at the issue from top to bottom and pushing forward. The Army is investigating using the safflower as a biofuel and began its Fuel Efficiency Demonstrator (FED) program to develop new vehicle technologies in response to battlefield calls for the need to reduce the number of dangerous convoys that use and transport fuel. The effort doesn’t extend solely to vehicles and equipment; it also extends to the power grids on it installations at home and downrange.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, strongly committed to the issue, has promised that the Navy and Marine Corps will get less than half of its power from fossil fuels within ten years. As far as new energy and combat power are concerned, the electric hybrid ship USS Makin Island and the hybrid-fueled FA-18 “Green Hornet” fighter jet have already made their maiden voyages. The Navy is also committed to making all of their installations energy self-sufficient by 2020.

Not to be outdone, the Air Force has developed an A-10 “Thunderbolt”, a ground attack aircraft, that also runs on a biofuels mixture and plans to test at least three other aircraft models this year. This is a significant development as the Air Force is the military’s top energy consumer. On the ground, Langley Air Force Base has installed a geothermal energy system as part of the Air Force goal to reduce its energy consumption 20% by 2020.

The Pentagon has begun to “wargame” the consequences of climate change that the military may be called upon to address. As resources become scarce, it may lead to conflicts on several continents. U.S. bases may be threatened by rising sea levels. It may also lead to conflict between allies and destabilize stable states and further ruin already shaky ones. It is also no secret that American dependence on oil from unstable regions leaves us vulnerable every time there is a hiccup in the supply caused by unrest or terror attacks.

There may be continued debate as whether we have already or will reach “peak oil”, whether the alarms raised about “foreign” oil are an overreaction, or, most of all, whether climate change is actually happening at all. The U.S. military doesn’t seem to be willing to take the chance that these things aren’t or won’t happen. In the words of energy security advocate and retired Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan, “We never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

If Congress and the American people trust the military to keep them safe, hopefully they will trust the military on energy independence and climate change. General Anthony C. Zinni, retired U.S. CENTCOM commander, has said, “We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today . . . or we will pay the price later in military terms and that will involve human lives.”

Government-Run Healthcare

This post originally appeared on on 11 October, 2010

This post is the third in a series about the Progressive Military

The wounds from the healthcare debate in America are still fresh. There are many in the GOP Congressional minority that would see the healthcare bill repealed, and there has been much scare-mongering about a government-run healthcare system – that patients will be lost in the bureaucracy, they’ll lose control over their health decisions, the quality of care will suffer, and the costs will be tremendous.

If the Veterans Administration healthcare system is an example, those fears are overblown. The military’s government-run healthcare system is not just good in the field, it’s good at home as well and shows that government can do healthcare.

I was a customer of 100% government-run healthcare for eight years. I visited the emergency room, received all my shots and checkups, got my wisdom teeth pulled, and received my prescribed medication all without being killed or turned away by some bureaucrat. I received the same level of care everywhere, whether in Missouri, Washington, Germany, or Iraq. And not just me, my family as well. I’m not alone. There are over 1.4 million Americans on active duty in the U.S. military. If you include their family members, retirees, and those receiving Veterans Administration benefits, the number swells to over 9 million Americans already actively receiving government healthcare.

Active duty troops and their families use the 532 active military medical facilities nationwide and enroll in TRICARE, which is the military’s government-run healthcare system. Reservists called to active duty over 30 days are covered as well. For retirees, TRICARE fills the gap for what Medicare doesn’t cover. CHAMPVA gives the same coverage to family members of disabled or deceased service members no longer serving and gives them access to Veterans Administration hospitals. The Veterans Administration system (VA) coverage has changed from serving only troops with service-connected disabilities to serving all veterans based upon need. There are over 24 million Americans eligible for VA medical benefits at over 1000 facilities nationwide, 9 million of which are over 65.

It’s a well-known fact that the traumas caused on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan lead, by necessity, to innovations in trauma care. As an Iraq war veteran, I saw this in action personally with our combat medics, especially when they patched me up after suicide car-bomber hit my vehicle head-on. The military health system also develops medical technology, techniques, and procedures that can be used in the civilian world.

The Army’s National Trauma Institute, in cooperation with several universities, collects data from wounded soldiers to identify what can be done to improve their first-response treatment and will help not only on the battlefield, but in civilian hospitals as well. The military is making an exemplary push to digitize medical records in order to make them easier to search through and transfer between locations, not to mention saving money. This idea was picked up in the new healthcare legislation.

The uniformity of the military medical system also pays dividends in health safety against epidemics and pandemics, as exhibited by the fast and nearly-comprehensive immunization rate of soldiers against H1N1. Achieving such rates quickly among the civilian population would be improbable. I and many other soldiers are also vaccinated against diseases many in the civilian population are not anymore, namely small pox and anthrax. Our troops also get the flu shot at the beginning of every flu season. The military was the first to test the effectiveness of flu nasal-spray vaccinations compared with shots to reduce the use and cost of needles. This is done not just for their health, but also to save the system from having to pay more money for sick sailors and airmen later.

The military is devoted to preventing disease, illness, and injury not only because it they take troops off the field, but they also cost the system money. The U.S. Army Public Health Command and similar organizations in the other services are devoted exclusively to this mission.

If you contrast a system that has an interest in seeing that you to stay healthy because it saves them (the government) money with a system that makes money when you are sick, (insurance companies, HMOs) one can see that a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A similar government system implemented nationwide would save people money, improve their health, and save lives. If universal government-run healthcare is good enough for the troops, it’s good enough for us all.

It’s true the system is not perfect. There have been scandals surrounding military healthcare, such as the living conditions for recovering troops at Walter Reed Medical Center and veterans groups (some of which I am a member of) constantly push for improvements to the VA system. But in general the quality of military healthcare is very good, and proof that government-run healthcare can indeed work.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Military and Innovation

This post originally appeared on on 8 October, 2010.

This post is the second in a series about the Progressive Military

My buddy Jon Gensler is smart. Way too smart. Besides being a West Point grad and serving as an Army battle Captain in Iraq, he has also found the time to take on a joint M.A. from Harvard and MIT. He’s like a mad scientist that instead of working on killer robot chickens, works on solutions to our energy problems. I just like to hear him talk about projects that a generation ago would have been on Buck Rogers or Lost In Space. He didn’t come from some science fiction convention though; he spent the summer at the DoE’s ARPA-E. The good news is he’s not alone.

ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy, is the Department of Energy’s vehicle for focusing on spurring new, ‘outside-the-box’ energy ideas. Among them are programs to develop long-life, low cost batteries for electric vehicles, to harness microorganisms to produce liquid fuels without petroleum or biomass, and ‘carbon capture’ technologies that will prevent carbon monoxide from coal plants entering the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

What makes ARPA-E different is that it is focused on taking large research risks that may have big payoffs while keeping an eye on real prospects of success. ARPA-E just received its first $400 million budget as part of the Recovery Act in 2009. It isn’t the only such agency and the model isn’t actually a new one.

ARPA-E is based on DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was created 52 years ago in response to the Russian launch of Sputnik. What began as a space and nuclear technology research agency later turned to counterinsurgency technologies in Vietnam is now an organization dedicated to the research and development of innovations that give the U.S. military an edge on the battlefield today. DARPA research led to guided missiles, stealth technology, and the unmanned aerial drones now in use worldwide.

DARPA and ARPA-E are praised as models that are ‘lean’ on bureaucracy and focus on high-risk, high-reward ideas within a relatively small budget. What is also interesting about them is that they highlight the fact that the military and the government can drive innovation. This pays dividends not only for our energy needs and national security, but for our economy as a whole, since the private sector tends to build on these innovations

Many claim to have invented the internet, but ARPAnet was the true beginning of today’s World Wide Web. DARPA also invented GPS and speech translation technology, among others innovations the use of which have generated billions of dollars in profits for private firms in America and worldwide. Imagine a day at the office without the internet or shipping and logistics without GPS. The ideas that ARPA-E is currently working on have as much potential to make just as large an impact.

Today many private firms are not willing to take research and development risks, especially in our current economic state. While others cut, DARPA has continued to innovate no matter the political or economic climate using the same model since my father was born. The breakthroughs expected at ARPA-E are coming at a time when many companies are drastically cutting their R&D budgets. Through fat and lean years for America, the DARPA model has been a successful example of the military and the government driving innovation, and all on a ‘shoestring’ budget of less than $500 million annually.

‘Thinking outside the box’ has become a motto in American business. No matter how much out-of-box thinking the private sector does, it is still limited by the ‘box’ of profit. DARPA and ARPA-E are able to think outside of even this box. Their motto is more akin to the British Commandos: ‘Who Dares, Wins’. It is important for the government to continue to fund such programs because it can do so independent of the economic climate. DARPA and ARPA-E show that government can spur innovation in a lean, streamlined, and cost-efficient manner, can think ‘outside the box’, and can spur economic growth in the private sector while giving our troops an edge in the fight.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What's Progressive About the U.S. Military?

This post originally appeared of Progressive Fix on 7 October, 2010.

This post is the first in a series about the Progressive Military

It has now been nine years since the 9/11 attacks, and since that day the average American has heard an awful lot about the military. We are fighting extremism worldwide and still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet many progressives remain uncomfortable with the military, often assuming that it is a conservative organization because political conservatives are so eager to identify themselves with our troops.

This is a series about how the military is a more progressive organization than many people give it credit for. It will help progressives better appreciate the many ways that the U.S. Military operates and accomplishes progressive goals. It is also aimed at conservatives who implicitly trust the military and might see issues like climate change, healthcare, economic opportunity and energy policy as vital issues.

The military is a more progressive organization than many give it credit for and it is my hope in this series of articles to do just that.

Despite the daily attention to military issues, it is striking to me how little those who never served in the military know about it. After I was already in the Army a few years, my father, who retired after 23 years of military service, met a friend of mine. He told him that I was at Fort Lewis and went up to Seattle on weekends. He was surprised and asked, ‘you mean they let them out?’

Since 1975 only around one percent of the population has worn the uniform. Many have family members or friends who served, but this only gives them a bit more than the basic knowledge the majority of Americans have. For most, opinions and attitudes toward the military are developed by the news media, TV shows, and movies. Many of our elected leaders, despite their claims to the contrary, have little more knowledge than the general population and surprisingly few of them have served themselves though they make very important decisions involving the military every day. Though others have claimed it falsely, there are only four Iraq war veterans in Congress.

This, however, doesn’t seem to keep them from claiming to speak for the military. The debate about the Iraq ‘surge’ and the debate about the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2008 election prompted many on the right to claim ‘you can’t support the troops without supporting the war.’ I served in Iraq and Kuwait during these debates. I didn’t support the war in Iraq, but I fought as hard as I could in it every day, receiving a Purple Heart in a suicide bombing. I served with others who did support it and did the same. Servicemembers do their duty no matter their personal opinion. Anyone claiming to presume that they know what servicemembers believe doesn’t understand the concept of duty.

And yet, the recent debate on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ centered on conservatives claiming troops don’t want to worry about sharing their ‘foxhole’ with a homosexual. Our troops haven’t dug ‘foxholes’ in quite a while. This comment exhibits an opinion based on the stereotypical swaggering, macho draftee of Hollywood films. The truth is our all-volunteer military today is made of service members that see themselves as military professionals. They have an opinion about the matter, but once the decision has been made they accept it and won’t be distracted, especially in combat, by such trivial matters as the sexual orientation of their squadmate. This professionalism was previously exhibited when the military desegregated, despite opposition. Sixty years later, troops of all colors and genders serve well beside one another.

A closer look at the policies and culture of the U.S. military today shows that it is more progressive than many traditionally think. There are many lessons progressives can draw on from today’s military, and conservatives’ trust of the military on national security issues should translate to trust on other issues.

The military healthcare system shows that government can do big healthcare well and efficiently; it leads the way on addressing energy independence, efficiency, and the repercussions of climate change; despite its size and controversies, it has shown real commitment to providing economic opportunity; and it has an culture of innovation and learning, among other examples. It is my hope in this series of articles to point out where the military is exhibiting progressive thinking and what lessons we can draw from the military.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Personal Reflections on My Years in Iraq

We pulled our convoy onto what used to be a small airstrip downtown that was now the site of the Grand Saddam Mosque: what would have been the largest mosque in the world and where Saddam wanted to be buried when he died of natural causes one day in his distant future. Things change. This would be the place we would spend 12 of the next 15 months. We lined our trucks up and settled in for the first real sleep we had in two days. Standing on top of the 5-ton truck I was sleeping in, I tuned my world band radio to BBC. President Bush had made a speech from an aircraft carrier underneath a banner that said 'Mission Accomplished' and he said 'major hostilities' had ended. Somebody said 'Good. Then what are we doing here?' That was our first night in Baghdad, Iraq.

Fifteen months, one extension, and many stop-losses later, with 10 brothers dead and twice that number injured, including myself, we drove back down the same road we had come up. The country hadn't changed any, but we had all changed. Not many people can point to the exact time period they went from being a kid to being a man. For me, and a lot guys, that happened on the roads and in the streets of Iraq in 2003.

We made it home in August 2004. Two months before I had climbed out of a blown out truck lightly injured after a suicide bomber struck us. Now I was with my wife again. We had been married for 18 months and I had been there for 3 months of it. We made it through and are still married today; a lot of other people didn't make it. A lot of people drank themselves to sleep at night and took out their aggressions on their family. The efforts the military made were too little, too late for some and in a culture where admitting weakness is frowned upon no one asks for help. I had nightmares and felt on edge most of the time. I gained twenty pounds and smoked like a chimney. We went back to 0630 PT, formations, and field training.

Fifteen months later we went back again. We stayed in Kuwait for a much longer time and there were rumors we weren't going up. Then there was talk of a 'Surge' and we went north. We flew in this time. We lived in trailers instead of a blown out office building like last time. There was electricity and A/C. Burger King even. That was a change. What hadn't changed were the streets outside. In fact they had gotten worse. I ended up attached to a small team that advised an Iraqi army battalion in western Baghdad. The streets were empty. The shops were closed. The gasoline lines were long. The Shi'ia-Sunni conflict was at fever pitch and there were no walls then.

I answered a call one night from a unit in our sector; they had found seven bodies and eight heads wrapped in a tarp and needed us to come out. There was a sniper in our sector who was shooting guys in the head. We caught his driver and spotter, but he slipped away. Iraqi soldiers were being abducted from their homes when someone discovered their identity. The police were coming to homes and killing people or extorting money. Iranian intelligence operatives were training insurgents how to build shaped charges to penetrate our armor. We lost three guys, one, a good friend of mine, was killed on his last mission two days before we went home. I was already supposed to be out of the Army when that happened, but they kept me an additional 6 months 'for the convenience of the government.'

I left active duty in 2007 and did one more year in the reserves. Fortunately, I had it in my contract that I couldn't go again so soon. Other guys weren't so lucky. The Army said when you switched from active duty to reserves, your 'deployment clock' went to zero. Some guys who hadn't been home 90 days had to worry about going again so soon. I left the Army in 2008, but worked for two years as a contractor in Kuwait. Friends of mine that stayed have since gone for third tours or on to Afghanistan. Some have been injured; some have been killed.

I still have this recurring dream. Sometimes, I don't have to be asleep; the memory just comes back on its own. As I stood on the bank of the Tigris River, I watched two young Iraqi boys, maybe 7 or 8 years old, one with a rolled up piece of newspaper and the other with a plastic cup of gasoline in an alley way. They crept up on a scrawny, mangy stray dog asleep in the shade. They threw the gasoline on him and lit it on fire and ran back down the alley, watching and laughing as it yelped and started and fell down and burned. They laughed as it shriveled up there like burnt paper. These were children that did this to a ragged animal. Kids play with dogs, they don't set them on fire.

Since 9/11/01 I haven't lived in America. I just moved back in January, 2010. I have lived in Germany, Iraq, and Kuwait. Since then, I've seen a lot of bumper stickers and flags and tshirts and hear a lot of talk about supporting the troops. People do thank me when they hear I was over there. Most of the time they want to tell me a story about somebody they know who is or was there too. But if I tell them too much about my story they get a little edgy and make excuses to go. I don't tell it now unless I have to. The war makes people uncomfortable. The real one, not the war the politicians talk about as some brave crusade far away that the brave troopers signed up to.

The real war means people you know die and get hurt. That makes people uncomfortable. I signed up for the Army right after high school knowing full well that this could happen one day. My grandfather, several uncles, my father, and my cousin have all served. I trusted the judgment of the American people and our leaders that they wouldn't send us to war unless there was a damn good reason. We didn't talk enough about this war. Talking about war makes people uncomfortable. No matter how many tshirts you wear or bumper stickers you put on or flags you wave, it won't assuage that uncomfortable feeling. Just because soldiers sign up voluntarily, it doesn't mean they sign up or volunteer for everything.

In my personal reflection, in my corner of the world, I know we haven't achieved anything from the war in Iraq. People, Iraqis and Americans, have died or been seriously injured. Lives, marriages, careers have been ruined. Soldiers bear physical scars you can see and mental ones you cannot. As the last 'combat' troops left Iraq on 19 August 2010, I was teary eyed. I thought to myself this must be what it felt like for the Vietnam guys when Saigon fell.

We all gave so much physically, mentally, emotionally in that place. Some guys gave more. Some gave all they had. You can't take that away from them. The country called and we answered. That's what we're supposed to do and we did it. Right now, I don't feel that we can say that anything was accomplished by it. It wasn't a failing on our part; it was a failing on the part of our highest elected leadership. Those responsible will never bear any of the true burden. They don't see all the faces that I see when I go to sleep at night like thousands of my brothers and sisters. Maybe history will one day show that despite the odds we made a difference in Iraq for the Iraqi people. History takes a long time to write itself.

If you told me that we could travel back in time and prevent the war from ever happening, would I do it? Yes, I absolutely would. But if you told me that we could travel back and change things so I wouldn't have to go, I absolutely wouldn't. It was the most terrible time in my life so far, but I wouldn't miss it. It made me who I am. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I know that I am not against war. War is sometimes the only answer. It wouldn't matter if I was against it. War is. It was here waiting for us and it will still be waiting for whatever comes after we are gone. Someday this war will simply be another thread in the long story of war, the individual strings not mattering as much as the whole. But if there is some greater story out there that tells there is some purpose to it all, we all played our part in it. But what that part was only we ourselves know. Others may not know your story, but you know it and we all must eventually come to answer to ourselves.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How the Military is Leading the Way on Energy Security

This post originally appeared on Progressive Fix ( on 11 August, 2010.

As a U.S. Army veteran I am used to dealing with the military, an organization that, by necessity, takes swift and decisive action when necessary, despite the fact that many see it as a conservative organization that is resistant and slow to change. In Washington, I am becoming used to dealing with another organization that is much more conservative and even more resistant and slower: the United States Senate. I am proud to say that the U.S. military is once again taking decisive action on energy independence and security, as well as addressing the military repercussions of climate change. The military is taking action where the United States Congress will not.

On July 27 I attended the White House Forum on Energy Security along with a group of veterans from Operation Free, a nationwide coalition of military veterans from all eras and ranging from Privates and Airmen to Generals and Admirals – all of whom support the goal of energy independence, security, and addressing the national security repercussions of climate change.

We have collectively been touring and speaking throughout the country and in Washington, D.C. in support of breaking our dependence on largely foreign oil and pushing Congress to take real steps toward a comprehensive clean energy climate plan. We have come to support the American Power Act developed through a bipartisan effort by Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham with Senator Joseph Lieberman and cooperation from the White House.

July 27 was supposed to be the day that the Senate finally took real action on the issue we have all been working hard for over the past year. It didn’t happen. As we all got on airplanes throughout the country in high spirits, something was happening on Capitol Hill: nothing.

By the time we hit ground in Washington, D.C. we learned that everything had changed. The Senate didn’t have the sixty votes needed to proceed to an up-or-down vote on the bill. We went to the Hill again to meet with fence-sitting Senators and their staff. The opinion we encountered there was disappointing, but not surprising: we need to do something about the issues of energy security, energy independence, and climate change, but we’re not going to do anything now.

Some, echoing Republican sentiment, said the issue hadn’t been discussed enough yet, that the Senate process of debate and hearings needs to be completed, that it would force them to choose ‘winners and losers’ and they are not ready to do that.

Hadn’t been discussed enough? We’ve been talking about energy security and independence since the 1970s. Other countries are taking action while we are being left behind. The CIA includes repercussions of climate change and our dependence on foreign fossil energy in its assessments. The State Department does as well.

Now the U.S. military is taking serious steps to address the issue. It devoted an entire section of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report (p. 84) to responding to climate change issues. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has expressed a clear vision of a force independent of fossil fuels. The military is taking action by reducing the use of fossil fuels, researching the use of alternative sources, and increasing the efficiency of its energy use, whether on battlefield outposts in Afghanistan or home installations in Texas. Speakers from each branch of the U.S. military have discussed similar opinions, expressing that action on this issue shouldn’t be taken for political reasons, but for security reasons. The money we pay for oil goes to regimes opposed to our interests. The cost of procuring, transporting, and securing that fuel is extreme, in dollars and to the lives of our troops.

This contrasts greatly with the attitude of too many Senators, who continue to choose politics over security. The U.S. Congress trusts the military and veterans on other security issues. Energy independence, energy security, and planning for the possible consequences of climate change are national security issues. The military is taking action, even if Congress won’t. If they’ll listen on other national security issues, let’s hope they’ll trust the military when it comes to a comprehensive clean energy climate plan that makes us energy independent.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

How to Win the Next War: 2010 Model

An outside force taking control of a region or state, whether by force or by outstaying an initial welcome, will eventually come to be seen by the people of that state or region as an illegitimate occupier. The original 13 colonies came to see England as illegitimate, despite sharing the same ethnic, cultural, and linguistic background. We can’t claim to have even this much in our favor in current conflicts. It happened here; it happens everywhere. In my firsthand experience of the initial occupation of Baghdad in 2003, the citizenry were wary, but generally welcoming of us. “Thanks for coming. When are you leaving?” was always the question. IED’s weren’t even a concern at that point, mostly random potshots from teenage thrill-seekers and criminals or angry ‘Fedayeen Saddama’. Within six months, we were deep into an insurgency we hadn’t prepared for. One year on, things were so bad we were extended another three months, a period of time in which my unit lost eight more soldiers and I earned a Purple Heart myself. We earned a return trip to Baghdad in 2005/6 for the ‘surge’ and we are still there today.

There is no country in the world that has ever invaded another and held on to that ground permanently without eradicating the local populace or nearly eradicating them and integrating the remainder. There are even examples of the ‘invader’ being absorbed into the culture of those they subjugated (i.e., the barbarian conquerors of Rome). Annihilation is not one of the options on the table as a policy for America in future. That requires no further explanation.

One thing, among others, that America has been more successful at than any other modern nation in the last fifty years is the deployment and use of fast, overwhelming military force. This much is certain from the first Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem comes when we decide to stay. This is also certain from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. What is there to be learned from this?

Occupation of another state or region never works in the long term; it costs too much blood and treasure and is not in keeping with the values, policies, and principles America holds and wants others to believe it holds to defeat those ideologically opposed to us. Despite all that we have learned in our counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, these lessons are only of limited application elsewhere. You could not apply the same template within the broader Middle East, let alone in other regions of the world. What we have been successful at and what we should do to secure victory in the future is to get there, get in, get it done, and get out.

It has been said that amateurs do strategy; experts do logistics. America is unrivaled in the world in its expertise in projecting its power anywhere on the globe. Our troops even get to eat at Burger King when they come off a patrol. We’re good at logistics and that’s what gets us there. There is hardly another state in the world today which the American military could not invade and defeat in every sense of the word inside of three months. We are very good at this too. Our problem comes where we don’t get out while the getting is good.

The policy to pursue going forward is one akin to what has been called ‘punitive incursion’. The idea, put simply, is go in, ‘punish’ the bad guys with military destruction, then leave with a warning that we’ll be back if threatened again. And then actually do it again and again if they don’t straighten up. It would begin with a mass troop build up, which also serves as a warning and gives space for diplomacy to work, then lightning invasion with ‘major hostilities’ ceasing inside of a couple weeks, days even. From that point, we ‘facilitate’, not create, the formation of a caretaker government with a leadership council formed from all relevant groups of the local populace. We make a fair monetary assessment of the damage we caused in the invasion and hostilities and set aside funds for it. The United States maintains total control over the country in the beginning and gradually cedes more and more power to this interim government and slowly feeds the identified funds to that government. We occupy and control all key strategic points in the cities and countryside. The United States, its allies, and the international community provide humanitarian aid, but we do not venture out into the weeds to give it. At six months, this government has total control of the country once again, it has funds to operate, and the U.S. military is completely withdrawn or close to it. This model, rather simply outlined, allows us to avoid many of the problems we have faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first and most obvious is that it takes our troops out of harms way quicker and before an organized insurgency can form and before our adversaries elsewhere in the region and world can begin to support an insurgency in a proxy war, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s been said that it’s better to fight our enemy over there, than to fight them here. It is better and easier for the enemy as well. Instead of having to plan secretly and extensively for years to strike against America and cause few casualties and little physical damage, plots which are usually uncovered at their genesis or along the way, all our enemy has to do now is wait for a U.S. patrol to come by and pull the trigger or funnel money, supplies, and expertise to people that do. It costs them very little, while we spend billions to fight and sustain ourselves over there far from home. No matter our military or technological advantage, we’re fighting on their home turf and this enemy doesn’t wear uniforms. It has taken us years to understand them, their culture, and to find enough people to even speak their language.

The biggest advantage will be that we won’t be essentially responsible for the millions of inhabitants of that country. When you break it, you own it. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and decided to stay, we became instantly responsible for all that happens or doesn’t happen there. An old man dies of a heart attack, an event that occurs millions of times daily worldwide, and the U.S. is responsible for not providing adequate medical care and facilities. We may not like it, but that is how the people there see it. If we don’t stick around and don’t try to rebuild a nation, we won’t be held responsible for the consequences of failing to do so. The idea that America, an outside nation, as strong as it is, can come in by force and build a safe and secure nation, a condition that in most cases never existed there before, is simply arrogant and na├»ve. Failed states are somewhat like having a dumb child; he’s dumb but he’s our child and we still love him. Any outside force that takes control of another state or region, no matter how enlightened or well-intentioned, will eventually come to be seen and resented as an occupier.

Another advantage comes in quickly returning power to an interim caretaker government formed from members of all relevant national groups. The longer we wait to return power and responsibility to that country itself, the more we ‘own’ the problem and become invested in solving it. The longer we keep control the longer we remain the scapegoat for all cases of failure. To run a system you must learn how it works. The larger the system, the longer it takes. On a national scale, it takes years to learn how to get a system to work efficiently. Some would say our own system in America doesn’t run efficiently. In the meantime, the local population blames you because the electricity doesn’t work, the water and sewage don’t run, and the trash isn’t getting picked up. In America, this causes politicians and officials to lose their jobs. In Afghanistan and Iraq especially, the failure of public services in the cities was blamed on America, though their failure was precipitated by insurgent action. Saddam kept the lights on and the trash off the streets, but America can’t? The sooner we give control back to that country, the sooner they become responsible for coming up with local, sustainable solutions to local problems. We can certainly offer help and expertise where necessary, but they must ask for it.

One of the age-old problems scientists face when observing experiments is whether the fact the experiment is being observed changes the result itself. It’s true in this policy instance. It doesn’t matter how well thought out, planned, or executed a program is in Iraq or Afghanistan, the fact that the U.S. is involved at all ‘taints’ it and it becomes a handle for the opposition to grab onto. The populace may not oppose these programs, but saying they do actively support them is a stretch, though this is also affected by fear of insurgent reprisal. In Baghdad we had to give garbage trucks armed escorts to do their jobs. If the public works and services and their functioning had been turned over to an Iraqi government by an America on its way out the door, the insurgency would not have grasped onto interfering with them as a way to oppose America and its ‘puppet’ government and the local populace would not have blamed America for its deteriorating living conditions. It can be argued that an Iraqi government may not have been able to get services restarted on their own, but it must be said that we did not get it done quickly nor do much better ourselves.

The plight of those affected by war must always be considered. The dead, injured, displaced, homeless, sick, and hungry are always a result. When you invade a country, you create these problems and a country such as America must do something about them or look like a hypocrite. One cannot purport to stand for all the good things in the world and then leave the civilian victims of a military situation one created to fend for themselves. But there is a great difference between giving immediate aid to those affected and rebuilding the lives of the people of an entire country. We should follow the philosophy of feeding a man a fish, not teaching him how to fish. Feed those we can, treat those we can, help where we can, and otherwise do no harm. We should not venture out from our posts to do so. If we go about knocking on doors and telling people we’re going to fix things, we’d better do it. We are now seen in Iraq and Afghanistan as people who do not keep our promises. To actually do so requires a much larger commitment than America is willing or can afford to pay. We should not promise what we cannot deliver, otherwise we’ll be held to book when we fail to do so. That’s how it works in America when our leaders fail and that is how it works everywhere else. Do not promise more than you can deliver.

This is also where multinational organizations, our allies not or less willing to use military force, and our own public and private aid mechanisms come in. We give technical and humanitarian aid and assistance from the outside, not from the inside. We give them as much as they ask for and allow. Using international and multinational non-governmental organizations, such as the United Nations, lends legitimacy to the effort. So does asking for and receiving assistance from our allies that because of their domestic political, social, or constitutional constraints cannot or will not intervene militarily. It makes it everybody’s ‘problem’, not just ours. It places the impetus on the leaders of that country to lead, not just follow the U.S.’s recommendations as we occupy their palaces. We do not wait until after the invasion to start talking about this. We decide to go to war, let everyone know beforehand that it’s going to be messy, we’re going to need help cleaning up afterwards, and helping that nation to rebuild itself is in everyone’s interest, not to mention it’s just the right thing to do.

It is the conventional wisdom today that the way to victory is through winning ‘hearts and minds.’ Machiavelli said that if you are loved and respected, you can always lose that love and respect; if you are hated or feared, you don’t have that to lose and you may always later gain love and respect. America is certainly not the black hat, however our focus on trying to make friends of enemies has led us astray. It is not necessary for everyone to love us, we just need them not to oppose us or just stay out of the way. There is a difference. The longer we maintain a physical, active presence in the Middle East in countries that we have taken by force the more responsible we become for all that goes on there and the more we begin to look as if we have permanent empirical ambitions there. Next year will make a decade in Afghanistan and eight years in Iraq. This is bad because that is the line our opponents have been cranking out for decades now. We’re no better than the Soviets and we want to impose our ideology over theirs and will do so through the use of force. Our argument that we can make their lives better is also failing because, simply put, we’re not. We’ve simply exchanged one set of problems for another.

‘Hearts and minds’ can be won without being there. In fact, they’re won easier from afar because we won’t make the deadly mistakes we make in occupation. We were very successful at convincing people behind the Iron Curtain that the American way offered a much better life than what they had. We did it with our culture, our values, and our ideas. It’s hard to knock down someone’s door wearing a Kevlar and carrying an M4 rifle and tell them you’ll be better off on our side. Every time a seemingly innocent person is shot on a checkpoint or killed in an airstrike we defeat our message, unavoidable, necessary or accidental though it may be. Every time someone cannot make it to work or a student cannot go to school because there is a cordon and search of their neighborhood, we destroy a lot or at least a little of the good will we worked so very hard to build. Easy to be hated, hard to be loved. We shouldn’t seek to win ‘hearts and minds’; we should simply seek not to turn ‘hearts and minds’ against us. They don’t have to love us, just don’t hate us. There has been much debate as to whether or not we have actually created more terrorists in the war on terror. If you kill someone’s family member, especially in the Middle East, it doesn’t matter how strong a justification you had for it they are not going to accept it. This is a legacy which we will have to work hard to face down in future generations. Though this does not mean the effected will always become terrorists, it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll like us more than the other guys.

There have been many ‘nation-building’ parallels drawn between Iraq and Afghanistan and Germany and Japan. This is comparing apples and bowling balls. Japan and especially Germany were both very developed nations before World War II and benefitted greatly from not only the reconstruction assistance of the U.S., but also the new era free of empires colliding over resources, colonies, and spheres of influence. These were countries that were developed enough to have colonies of their own before the war. Iraq and especially Afghanistan were not that far along. We are not ‘reconstructing’ nations, we are building completely new ones out of the ashes of an old order that was cobbled together at the end of World War II and survived through the Cold War. Just as the counterinsurgency lessons we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be applied as a template, our nation-building lessons from Germany and Japan cannot be applied there as a template either.

What is the template or the historical comparison that can be drawn upon to show that this new approach will work? The first Gulf War saw us do essentially the same thing up to the point where we stopped before sacking Baghdad. To put it simply, the concerns of having to occupy and reconstruct Iraq were more than George H.W. Bush and Colin Powell wanted to deal with so they stopped short of taking Baghdad after militarily victory. Another example used is the 19th century British expeditions into Afghanistan where they too easily defeated the Afghans initially, but once they set up in occupation faced continual raids on their encampments and logistical columns. Col. T.E. Lawrence of Arabia put the ancient guerilla raiding techniques used by the Bedouin to great effect against the modern Turkish army during World War I. The Russian adventure into Afghanistan shows that continuous, extensive, and brutally-suppressive military action doesn’t work either. The U.S.’s more enlightened approach at occupation has had just as little success. None of these are examples of this model working, but they show that other approaches have not worked. It does, however, show the potential for success is there if we are able to avoid the pitfalls of an occupation fighting an organized insurgency.

Another issue to address is the cost. There are varying estimates of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that range from the billions up to the trillions. Regardless of which figure you accept, it must be conceded that it has cost us a great deal of money. Every day we move thousands of tons of fuel, food, and ammunition by planes, trains, and automobiles across the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East to get to our troops and civilians there. No matter your view of whether America should withdraw or stay, it is a fact that the longer we are there the more it is going to cost us. Besides the costs of feeding, fueling, and arming our troops, we have also paid billions out to contractors and spend billions on trailers, generators, air conditioners, buildings, and other equipment which we will not be bringing back with us when we do leave. In my time there I certainly appreciated air conditioners and refrigerators filled with cold water more than anything. The PX was good as well. However, I would have enjoyed it a great deal more if we would have came, took care of our military business, and left quickly before we had the need to build entire small towns of our own to live in. I would have also appreciated it if I didn’t have to go back a second time to fight an established insurgency supported by money, equipment, and expertise from our regional opponents. It isn’t the actual fighting that costs so much (though it isn’t cheap either), it’s the logistical sustainment. For every combat trooper, there are three to four support troops working to sustain the fight. Even these support troops have been pulled into the fight and long, slow-moving logistical convoys have become the main target for IEDs. There is no other way to get our troops, supplies, and equipment into the theatre besides float, fly, and drive them in.

If we build up overwhelming force, press the attack fast, hard, and all at once, set the international aid community, ourselves, and our allies to work on the humanitarian situation immediately, turn power over to local authority quickly, and leave before an insurgency can develop on its own or with the help of outside actors, we can avoid many of the problems all other previous empires, states, or nations have faced in occupying another state or region. It will allow us to defeat our enemies militarily and decisively without allowing them to bleed us slowly and determine where and how the fight will go.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Military IS a Progressive Organization

A strong military is the cornerstone of any nation's national security strategy, especially this nation.  There are many political leaders today that believe they know what the US military is, what it needs, and how the organization runs.  The average citizen of either political persuasion also believes they know what the military is about.  The more time I spend in Washington DC, the more I come to believe some of our leaders haven't got a clue, but it won't prevent them from claiming so.  I unfortunately must also say the same of the average citizen, whether Democrat or Republican, because they have no other way of knowing and must take their word for it.  As a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, I meet many people that assume I must be a conservative.  Many progressives I meet assume the same.  A soldier who fights on the frontlines with a gun in his hands must be a conservative, right?  Progressives don't support military action and don't sign up, right?  The military is a conservative organization, right?  Wrong.  The United States Military is a modern professional organisation that quite often takes the lead on implementing progressive policies.  Our military is in fact a progressive organization.

The United States Military has had universal healthcare for all of its uniformed and civilian employees, active or retired, for decades now.  The Veterans Administration, despite its often arduous and sometimes unjust processes, has also shown that government can run healthcare on a massive scale without disaster ensuing.  On issues of health and medicine, the military often leads the way.  One example among others, the military was the first to begin introducing the use of inhalant vaccinations as opposed to the old one needle per person approach, thus saving millions of dollars per year on medical supplies.  That is progressive.

There is no organization that has made more progress or can show more visible, tangible results on equality issues than the military.  The proportion of minorities and women in positions of leadership is higher than in any other organization.  The military, theoretically, trains the entire force on issues of equal opportunity, discrimination, and sexual harassment every six months.  There are continuing problems with race and sexual assault, but commitment to addressing them is engrained.  The issue of homosexuality in the military has more to do with the attitude of the civilian populace than with military readiness itself.  The current generation of soldiers will include more female combat veterans than any other, despite the issue of women in combat arms jobs.  That's progressive.

Joining the military is the best opportunity for many in this country to transcend the lower class.  With only a high school diploma, the lowest private may and probably will become a senior noncommissioned officer.  The pay is the same for every person at every rank regardless of race, orientation or gender.  Pay is raised annually for all ranks and increases as the years in service and rank increase.  The pay is also based upon the number of dependants a servicemember has and where they are stationed based upon the cost of living there.  Servicemembers have affordable life insurance for themselves and their dependants.  They are also given the option to take part in an optional deferred compensation scheme, make monthly allotments from their paycheck to buy bonds, or take part in a special deployment saving scheme.  A servicemember may retire after 20 years of service.  The pay and financial benefits of all servicemembers is reviewed annually and increased as necessary to keep pace with the cost of living and inflation.  That is progressive.

The military has made such a strong commitment to the safety of its servicemembers that it has reached the point of good-natured ridicule from them.  The military takes the view that it cannot afford to loose troops to accidents caused by unsafe equipment, behavior, or working conditions, despite the fact that serving in or training for combat is inherently dangerous.  The military takes serious action and has had great success in identifying, addressing, and solving safety issues and has saved lives for it.  Employee safety is not a luxury, but a necessity.  That is progressive.

Despite its commitment to tradition, rules, regulations, customs, and courtesies, the military is quick to learn from its mistakes and adapt to new and changing situations.  The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show this.  If the military were an organization that simply stuck to an age old formula it would not succeed.  Our military leaders have had to learn to solve or dissolve very complex situations with the potential to explode into violence with non-military means, a job they were never trained to do.  They have had to use the entire toolkit of diplomacy: democracy, law, dialogue, aid and development assistance, and even community or social work in addition to the use of military force.  That is progressive.

The idea that the US Military is a conservative bastion is a falsehood.  Equally as false is the idea that progressives don't serve and don't know how to use force.  The military is committed to remaining a living, evolving force that addresses and solves problems as they arise, not sticking to doctrine when the doctrine itself has been proven false.  If you think you know the military and the troops serving in it, you better think again.  The military IS a progressive organization.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Israel: With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

There is no piece of ground anywhere in this world that has seen more blood spilled upon it than that hotly contested strip of land that today comprises two of the most divisive states in the world: Israel and Palestine.  There is no more tightly interwoven web of intermingled conflicts and interests.  America sits squarely in the center of this web and we have a history there of either snatching victory from the jaws of defeat or just the opposite.

The United States has been, is, and should be the guarantor of the continued existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.  We made the existence of Israel possible when President Truman made America the first major nation to recognize it.  He felt, and was correct in doing so, that America and the world owed it to the Jewish people after the program of extinction that was perpetrated and allowed by fellow developed nations (not just the Nazis) to give them a state they could call their own.  The U.S. has a responsibility to guarantee the continued existence of the state of Israel.  After what the Jewish people have been through and what they continue to go through, surrounded on all sides by nations that call for their extinction, they have earned our respect.

HOWEVER (a big however), in standing surety for Israel's continued existence, the U.S. has also acquired a collateral responsibility to ensure that Israel acts as a nation worthy of its protection, lest it become too much of a liability.  How can a country that was recognized as a nation in the wake of a racial genocide that included some of the most horrible scenes of human cruelty ever perpetrate comparable acts against another people themselves?  How long can that same nation ignore what are clearly fair and equitable agreements they have agreed to themselves (ie, stop expansion of settlements)?  How long can that nation disrespect America, the very country that first allowed its existence and stands to guarantee it continues to exist?  America takes very big hits in the Middle East due to its continued support of Israel, a region it very badly needs to win support in.

As if things weren't bad enough, add in Turkey, another key U.S. ally and NATO member, also home to military bases vital to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.  Compare that with the vital resources and the admirable audacity of the Israeli intelligence.  Then throw in Arab nations the U.S. also needs as allies in the fight against terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The U.S. is in the middle of more than just a blockade; we are in the middle of a stand off that puts us between countries that we have responsibilities to and whose friendship we badly need.

The question is where should the line be drawn?  Israel will continue to exist and the U.S. will and should continue to guarantee that.  But there is no such thing as a one sided agreement.  As soon as one side doesn't uphold its end, the other may well terminate it.  Israel is an independent sovereign state, but the U.S. bears a large burden in consideration and should receive a requisite amount of influence.  When the burden that we bear as America shifts too far out of balance with the influence we have over Israel, it is time to demand Israel act.  If they do not, then we can fairly withdraw our support (which we shouldn't) or take action such as economic sanctions or a 'pause' on cooperation until the balance is struck again. 

Right now, Israel and Mr. Netanyahu have tipped the scales in the wrong direction.  It started with questionable acts during the most recent Gaza action, continued with ignoring its agreement obligations on the very day Vice President Biden arrived there, and continues with the rash, ill-explained action against an 'aid flotilla.'  The U.S. needs to tell Israel very clearly that they must show they will act in good faith to uphold their agreements and act like a country that deserves support, not as an oppressive rogue or loose cannon.  Their actions are quickly becoming indefensible and too heavy a burden for America to bear.  They must take action or we should take action.  The U.S. will and should continue to support Israel, but Israel must act like a nation that is worthy of that support from America.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

North Korea: Do Crazy People Know They're Crazy?

You don't have to be an area expert to know that the guy running North Korea is a nutcase.  It is conventional wisdom that the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il is a few tacos short of a value pack.  He wears the glasses and generalissimo outfit that is the uniform of wacko, egomaniacal despots everywhere.  Everyone held their breath a couple months back when he made a trip to the hospital after a stroke, praying he would or wouldn't come out alright.

And now the North torpedoes a South Korean military vessel.  The results are in and it's pretty clear cut: they did it.  So, what happened?  I can imagine a scenario in which an ill- or mis-informed North Korean vessel was under the impression or was told that a South Korean vessel had passed into their waters.  Maybe it had, maybe it hadn't.  It may be that the order came all the way from the 'Dear Leader' or was given by the vessel's commander alone.  The point is this: we'll never know.  Just like in the Tonkin Gulf that triggered a huge escalation of the Vietnam War over four decades ago.

If you're a crackpot dictator you aren't going to say a mistake was made.  You're going to say that it was planned, that we meant to do it, and we're feeling great about it.  Case in point: Saddam Hussein.  When asked by his FBI interrogator after his capture why didn't he just say they didn't have WMD's and comply, Saddam said that he couldn't.  He had to let America and Iran think he had them.  He could have saved Iraq and himself a lot of problems, but hey, he's a crackpot dictator.  He thought we were bluffing.  (By the way, in case you didn't know, they never had WMD's after the first Gulf War.)  You cannot count on North Korea acting reasonably in any way, shape, or form to step back from the brink of a civil war with the South that will suck America in as well.  Even now that it seems China may step in to wag it's finger at the North, don't expect any sort of public back down from the North.

To be clear, we would defeat North Korea if it came to military action.  There should be no doubt about that.  The North's soldiers outnumber all soldiers in the South, ours and South Korea's, by something like three to one.  However, our first advantage, as always, is that we have superior soldiers.  The South's military is no pushover either.  We also, as usual, possess the technological advantage.  The biggest difference between us and them: our troops are not starving and actually still believe in their country.  If we were to go to war with North Korea, we would win because North Koreans will stop fighting once it becomes clear the regime has no control over them anymore.  But it would still be an extremely deadly, dirty fight.

The question is: should we?  The answer is no.  If we give North Korea the space, the opportunity to back down without admitting they screwed up and saving face they'll take it and we can avoid a third war in Asia.  As a former soldier, I'm not afraid of a fight, but it has to be worth the lives of many young men and women. Perhaps a time will come to go to war with North Korea: this isn't it.  The 'Dear Leader' will suffer from another stroke or some other health problem soon.  No man lives forever.  We shouldn't sacrifice the lives of our troops or our South Korean allies at the whim of a crackpot dictator.  If we give them a way to stand down, they will take it.  We should only go to war when it is legitimate, necessary, and justified.  Now is not such a time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell': Opposition Argument is an Insult

The debate on the repeal of 'Don't ask, Don't Tell' has reached such heights of ridiculousness that I have come to the point that I feel I have to comment on it here.  I have watched with great interest the hearing in Congress regarding the issue.  Opponents of repeal continue to beat the drum that homosexuality among the troops is a 'readiness' issue.  I have heard it time and time again.  For the uninitiated, 'readiness' includes anything that may prevent an individual servicemember or an entire unit from being prepared to deploy within its timetable to anyplace in the world.  This may include medical issues, lack of required training, equipment or supply shortages of all types, or even the lack of a guardian for children of single soldiers.

The opposition argument holds that open homosexuality in the military will cause our troops to spend more time worrying about if the guy or girl next to them wants to have sex with them instead of focusing on their mission.  As someone who spent almost a decade in military service, including multiple such deployments and two tours in Iraq, this argument is completely without merit and is an absolute insult to our military.

As a soldier, one spends every day training for the possibility of war in any possilble condition in any type of environment.  You spend every day either training yourself for combat or preparing your equipment for combat.  That is what a soldier does: hope for peace, but prepare for war.  Soldiers train to do their jobs in the most austere of conditions under the most stressful of circumstances.  To say that anything will distract an American soldier from their job in combat after they have trained for it for years is an absolute insult to them.  The troops I know will spend all night at the hospital with a shot up buddy and be ready to roll out on patrol again the next morning without being a step off of their game.

I served with guys I knew were homosexuals.  I served with guys I was pretty sure were homosexuals.  I am sure I served with others I had no idea were homosexuals.  The point is this, and I hope that the homosexuals I know will excuse the use of the slanderous words that follow:

        Any man or woman who served this country in the uniform of its military has purchased a share in it which they have paid for in blood, sweat, and tears.  Though homosexuality may make many uncomfortable, someone who has fought alongside their bretheren in combat and shared in their losses and sorrows and even made the ultimate sacrifice has earned the right to continue to wear the uniform of this country.  It is especially unfit for those who have never worn the uniform or fought to tell these brave young men and women that they cannot.  Any man or woman, gay, straight, or otherwise, who served is entitled to do whatever they want because they have earned that right through taking action when others did not.

The most ignorant and ugly form of the argument is that 'hey, I don't want any fags here.'  My answer to this is anyone who will go out and fight, and die, and kill, and sacrifice, and spill their own guts for this country is no 'fag.'  That may not be politically correct but there it is.  If you run into a homosexual who served in the military, you'd better not call him 'fag': you better just call him 'Sir'.  And to the gay and lesbian soldiers I served with, keep on: this country needs you.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How We Think of Terrorism

What does a terrorist or insurgent look like? When asked, most people will respond with a variant of one of the following: 1) the old 'They're Arabs, Muslims' or 2) the politically correct 'They can be anyone of any color of any religion of any sex', etc, etc. Both answers are wrong. We know that not all terrorists are Arabs or Muslims. Even people who make this statement know it is incorrect. However, the politically correct version that 'it can be anyone' is equally, if not more false.

A major but oft-overlooked cause of Terrorism is idleness and unemployment in third world countries where the majority of the population is under thirty years old. That is a severe oversimplification, but a good starting point. If the United States were to descend to the level of a third world country, the young (and some not-so-young) people in our neighborhoods could easily become insurgents or terrorists. Think of a lot of uneducated, unemployed, idle youth and add to it something which they can line up or unite against, such as a foreign invader that supposedly seeks to destroy their way of life. There are many people in this country today who are easily convinced of the same thing already.

Think if you were a young man, had less than a high school diploma, and were un- or underemployed. What would happen if a well-spoken, educated, older man came to you and convinced you America was to blame for these woes and spoke of friendship, brotherhood, equality, justice, revenge, and a little adventure. It would be a chance to make a mark on the world and to gain respect. The only recruting conditions this man needs are disaffected youth, an enemy to rail against, and a program to indoctrinate. This is how much of terrorist activity begins.

Terrorism in our minds these days is inseparably connected with Islam. This is misleading. While the many terror attacks against America and its allies in the last decade have been perpetrated by Muslims, Islam is simply the tool used by a hierarchy of political Islamists to indocrinate the disaffected youth in their countries with the hope of placing them or keeping them and their ideas in power. These political Islamists use a hardline version of the religion to draw a line between themselves as 'true' believers and others as non-believers, a strong argument in the muslim world. Islam is not the reason terrorists exist; it is a tool used to create them. The religion itself could be replaced by some other idea just as powerful. If the same socio-economic conditions existed in America or Europe today, Christianity could be used to the same effect.

Muslims see each other as brothers and find it difficult to work against a fellow Muslim, even if they were born in the U.S. or live or were educated in the west and even where they believe themselves that terrorism is wrong and hurts other Muslims. This is why the West has such troubles finding Arabic speakers willing to work in the military and intelligence communities. Islam is not a religion that preaches terrorism; it is a religion that preaches brotherhood within a community of believers. This fact is turned against the community of believers by Political Islamists using it to keep decent Muslims quiet and turn disaffected youth into a tool to put or keep them in power. There is not a 'clash of civilisations', but simply politicians using rhetoric, suspicion, youth, and anger for political gain. It kind of sounds familiar in the end, doesn't it?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mission Statement

I, like millions of other American men and women, am a veteran of the war in Iraq. I am a Purple Heart recipient for wounds received in 2003/04 from a suicide car bombing attack, among multiple other combat medals. I have served, travelled, lived, and worked for over four years in the Middle East and for another four years in western Europe. I am a progressive Modern National Security Professional and it is my job to advise on how best to secure America's position in the world and improve and further the progress of American society and values. In keeping with this belief, I will offer here from time to time my thoughts on how best to do this.

There are others that write with the same claim and same goals in mind. What makes what I have to say worth reading is that my advice is based not only upon acedemic learning and conversations with people who have 'been there', but also 'boots on the ground' experience in dealing with the subject of National Security on the frontlines as a participant, not just an observer. I am an expert through experience, not just acedemics. Unlike many 'experts', I do things, don't just talk about them. I have experienced and seen first-hand the benefits of good policy and the sad results of bad policy.

Today, we suffer from a frightened, single-sided view of National Security that fails to consider and address the causes of what creates threats to America, acts often irrationally but predictably to such threats, fosters an environment of fear and paranoia around them at home and abroad, and in the end creates instability, defeating their very purpose.

My goal is to change the way we act and think regarding National Security. We must get to the root cause of security threats and minimise or eliminate them. We have to dare to think and act differently as those who are on the side of right do, in a legitimate manner that builds coalitions and strengthens our allies. A nation that will not make a stand stands for nothing and will not stand at all.

We must return to behaving as a nation that is the legitimate leader of a free world, not a scared, suspicious, and angry country. We must stop re-acting to what happens to us and return to acting as the nation that we truly are: one that is based on liberty, freedom, and justice and has the strength and audacity to see that these values are upheld.