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.