With a, “What fresh h311 is this?” sigh, I plowed in to it none the less. I really didn’t have a choice. You see, I have a history with both, it was like visiting an old friend who you parted ways with right after high school.
Back in my late teen years in my slow and painful transition from a maybe-left to I-guess-I'm-right, I read both The Atlantic and National Review. Every issue. Cover to cover. I had since before I could drive. They were helpful in my decision that my primary concern was individual liberty – and the ultimate home for that was not in the left that gave birth to a whole fetid stew of stateism from Communism and National Socialism to just plain Nordic nannystateism. While the left were apologists for the jackboots of the communist left simply because they thought they were taking shortcuts, the right only apologized for the jackboot of the right because it was better than the jackboot of the left and the knowledge that – as history has shown to be true in places such as Chile – freedom is much easier to regain from temporary anti-communist juntas than it is from the long term plans of the blood soaked communists as in Cuba. It was an accommodation I was willing to make. So, thanks The Atlantic and your fellow travelers – in a fashion.
I also have to give a bit of thanks to James Fallows. In what was probably the first appearance of what would become my alter ego, “CDR Salamander,” I used his then new 1981 article “M-16: A Bureaucratic Horror Story” (only good place to find it is in this book, National Defense), as the basis for a high school paper for a debate/critical writing course (yes, I went to one of those schools). For the record, I was on his side … and still am concerning most of the military procurement problems we have, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
In spite of my bias going in, something strange came to mind as I started reading Fallows's long article, I found myself agreeing with some of his very valid points. Not shocking really, he is a smart and well meaning man who has soaked in these issues for a long time.
Did I mention the article is long? It almost seems like he pulled a card and the folks at The Atlantic let him run wide and loose. Loose it is. The title is only one small part of it. This isn't just about the American military, though that is much of the substance of the article.
Instead, this is an almost bloggeristic misanthropic rage against the four winds, an unburdening of frustration in part against a beast that has been tormenting him for the better part of 40 years, and in general a review of the national security infrastructure's well known and still unaddressed shortcomings. Again, part of which I agree with him on.
Because of the the clickbait title, the author, and the substance, the article got a lot of interest to start the week, so I think it is time to invest some time in it.
In my review, I will comment some on his ideas, some of his style, and in a fashion, about the man himself. In running wide and loose, he has let some of himself bleed out more than usual. Not in a bad way, but in an interesting way. It might be seen in some ways as a nostalgic Baby Boomer picking his belly button about the things which stubbornly continue to vex him, while throwing some generational baggage on younger generations - and there is some of that here - but that would be a shallow interpretation. With the epiphany that, in a small but memorable part, it was Fallows who helped start the writing of your humble blogg'r yet learning to drive, I at least owe him that.
There is a lot to consider here – so let’s plow in.
This is going to be a long one, as I am going to give myself a wide and loose range to match his, so empty the bladder and top off the coffee.
Let's start with a great blog ... errr ... article opening;
The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.Fair warning, he never really defines well what he means in his opening sentence, even though he tries in the body, I think. Nice conceptual idea, but he fails the follow through on how he would define "seriously" in this context.
Next are a few code words; note the use of "chickenhawk," an old school mid-00's moonbat clickbait word - the national security equivalent of "tea bagger." Usually not used by serious people in serious work, but by people who are intentionally trying to be insulting and to pick a fight. Smart move by Fallows, at it will raise the defensive barriers by all the "right" people ... and therefor encourage them to keep reading while getting a nod of approval from his preferred audience of Huffington Post readers, I guess. What he does do, and this is a shame as the topic deserves something better, is to raise a hint of a shadow of his old bugbear since the end of the first Nixon Administration, the draft (more on that later).
Next you have "careless spending." This is a tease, as most of this is just recycled arguments we all know about the amount of money we spend on DOD and what on ... and for Fallows, that means getting his F-35 plushy out and beating it hard with the wiffleball bat.
"Strategic Folly" opens his review of how Obergruppenführer Wolfowitz, Darth Cheney, and Bushitler brought about the heartbreak of psoriasis because they refused to turn over the national security apparatus to the editorial board of The Atlantic and the Department of Homeland Security to Katrina vanden Heuvel's knitting circle over at The Nation.
After that opening, I was not expecting to find anything of interest to ponder, and as a result by the 5th paragraph I had to stop and re-read, as he brought up a legitimate topic that I have discussed here (and recently with Carl Forsling over at Midrats), the overbearing "we support the troops" vibe one can get in some parts of the civilian world. [Program note. Another strange overlap with Fallows - a lot of the people he quotes and mentions have been guests on Midrats. I'll point that out as we move along. I really need to get him on as a guest to close the loop]. I also started to notice as I went along that in what I thought would be a series of ossified arguments like I have read for decades in The Atlantic, that there were actually some new ideas creeping in through the scar tissue of older battles and pet quibbles that seemed to prevent him from actually breaking some new ground. Let's continue;
(the American public discuss the military with) Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions,Oh, stop. Really? I'll agree with the first part, but no public skepticism? Plenty at The Atlantic, NYT, WaPo, and even wee blogs like this. Good googly moogly man, what institution, prior to the mob attack on college men, are a regular topic of the SJW cadre as a culture of rape? Every time a CO is relieved ... etc. If half the attention was given to the IRS, BATF, and FBI perhaps he might have a point. But ... really. After such promise, he returns to type.
Do I need to mention that Fallows - a former Carter speech writer, remember - is partisan? Well,
I’m not aware of any midterm race for the House or Senate in which matters of war and peace—as opposed to immigration, Obamacare, voting rights, tax rates, the Ebola scare—were first-tier campaign issues on either side, except for the metaphorical “war on women” and “war on coal.”Oh, come on! 2002?
"I turn on television and the Dow is down thousands of points from its peak and there's more economic uncertainty, and I keep expecting it to benefit the Democrats in individual races, but it just hasn't," says Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "I'm not prepared to say it can't or won't, but it certainly hasn't, and there's no reason to think that it will."2006?
Instead, the possibility of war with Iraq dominates the national headlines while the few competitive congressional races are focused on a dozen different issues.
Why aren't economic troubles doing more to boost Democrats?
For one thing, the continuing war on terrorism and the prospective attack on Iraq have helped shape the landscape
September provided some breathing room for beleaguered Republicans. President Bush went on the offensive over terrorism, using the fifth anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to make the case that he and his party were more resolute in fighting terrorism than the Democrats.Ummm, no.
In a blow to the administration, Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, returned from a trip to Iraq sounding more pessimistic than he had ever been and warning that, unless the Iraqis got the situation under control soon, the United States should review its policies and consider all options for changing course.
After that failed point, Fallows returned to a regular topic, one that requires a little historical review to fully understand in the context of the article he wrote.
Fallows has written much about this, but Michael S. Foley in his book, Confronting the War Machine, summarizes best;
A few years after the war ended, Fallows, a Harvard graduate and today a high-profile journalist and former editor for U.S. News & World Report, wrote about the sense of guilt he felt for evading the draft. On the day of his pre-induction physical, Fallows and all of the other registrants from Harvard and Cambridge arrived at the Boston Army Base with letters from doctors and psychiatrists that would keep them from being drafted. In the weeks leading up to the physical, Fallows dropped his weight to 120 pounds, making him virtually useless to the army. Meanwhile, as the Harvard men were being processed, a busload of strapping working-class kids from Chelsea arrived. Fallows quickly realized that they knew nothing about draft loopholes. On that day, the middle-class kids escaped the draft as the Chelsea boys went off to serve in the army.I think he is underestimating the Chelsea boys. They knew the loopholes, they just had a bit more of a sense of duty perhaps.
Back to Fallows;
At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.That was an exceptional moment in time - we just got through with a World War for goodness sake. That percentage was an unusual moment in time, not unlike the post Civil War era where so many had served.
Today, are we not the norm? Is 1950 to 2014 what 1870 was to 1914? In 1914, four years before our entry to WWI, we had an army of 98,000 men, backed up by the 27,000 National Guard troops. That was in a national population of 99.1 million. That is with 125,000 ground forces, 0.126% under arms. In 2014, we have 317 million citizens, we have an army of 541,291 with an additional 358,200 in the National Guard and 205,000 Army Reserve. That is 1,104,491 ground forces comprising 0.348% of the population, a little under three times larger than a century ago as a percentage of the population. That is just the Army. Do the math with the USN, USMC, USCG and the numbers balloon even more. Do we want or can afford to have even more under arms? I doubt that would be supported by The Atlantic. No, there are other reasons.
Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.We did, thank you very much.
If I recall correctly, from day 1, the call was to keep it small and to get out as early as you can. The enemy had a vote, so it took longer to get smaller, but we got there. In a representative republic, you cannot force a levee on the people while at the same time saying you won't be needing them. The argument is self-contradictory. In any event, our nation has always felt uneasy with a large standing army, and rightfully so.
Though he comes back to the topic, for now Fallows leaves us hanging and wanders in to the next room where he goes on pining away at the post-WWII familiarity with the military in popular culture as if that is supposed to be the norm, but even there makes a statement that just isn't in line with the reality we live in.
American culture was sufficiently at ease with the military to make fun of it, a stance now hard to imagine outside the military itself.Where do I start? Stripes? DuffleBlog? My blog? Enlisted? The Men Who Stare At Goats? Battleship? (No, wait, the military made fun of that, not the other way around. Nevermind.) I've made my point, I think.
I would agree with him here, Hollywood has been intentionally ignoring much of this generation's fighting - except until very recently with American Sniper, and Lone Survivor. Before then, we only had the anti-war smear jobs like In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss. Do those movies fit this description?
But while cumulatively these dramas highlight the damage that open-ended warfare has done—on the battlefield and elsewhere, to warriors and civilians alike, in the short term but also through long-term blowback—they lack the comfortable closeness with the military that would allow them to question its competence as they would any other institution’s.That is simply false. As someone who had to face the false narrative about veterans in the job market because of the smear job movies out there when I left active duty in 2009 - people are quite comfortable assuming all the negative stereotypes out there. Thank goodness it isn't as bad as the smear job the press and popular culture did to veterans in the 1970s - something Fallows knows plenty about.
Oh, we're still waiting for Harrison Ford to play General Mattis in, The Battle for Fallujah. No, I'm not making that up.
We depart that room and return to the main one;
Among older Baby Boomers, those born before 1955, at least three-quarters have had an immediate family member—sibling, parent, spouse, child—who served in uniform. Of Americans born since 1980, the Millennials, about one in three is closely related to anyone with military experience.He states that as if it is a bad thing. It isn't. It is a great gift that we have not had a global war that required mass conscription.
If he is fighting an ongoing guilt about being a draft dodger, then perhaps he should try another way to get over it as opposed to trying to weigh down younger generations with a prescription he avoided taking when it was his time. Perhaps he should contact a man I greatly respect, fellow writer Pat Conroy. Someone who is working out some Vietnam Era issues himself, and leave the younger generation alone.
We're cool with this, honestly.
Let me speak as a Generation X officer; we in no way wanted to spend the post-911 world with a bunch of millennial draftees trying to fight a poorly designed and led CONOPS. The senior Baby Boomer leadership was a challenge enough.
It was at this point that I started to find some common ground again.
The people at the stadium feel good about what they’ve done to show their support for the troops. From the troops’ point of view, the spectacle looks different. “There’s something harsh in his fellow Americans, avid, ecstatic, a burning that comes of the deepest need,” the narrator says of Billy Lynn’s thoughts. “That’s his sense of it, they all need something from him, this pack of half-rich lawyers, dentists, soccer moms, and corporate VPs, they’re all gnashing for a piece of a barely grown grunt making $14,800 a year.” Fountain’s novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2012, but it did not dent mainstream awareness enough to make anyone self-conscious about continuing the “salute to the heroes” gestures that do more for the civilian public’s self-esteem than for the troops’.Spot on, but not as fully in alignment with how I see it. For me, much of the frustration has to do with the general ignorance of the war, its geography, history, and trajectory by the general public. Ultimately, it is the individual citizen who is to blame for this ignorance - but those who control the main arteries of communication and education share the blame as well.
Who controls the education, news programming, and entertainment industries in the USA? Yes my dear James - it is the left.
With the leftist in the media only focused on their own petty partisan political purposes, or just the horse race inside the DC beltway, there was never any depth of effort to make sure there was a constant message of "why" we were at war. That would be hard and uncomfortable, so instead let's interview Code Pink and International A.N.S.W.E.R.
So, just when I was warming to Fallows's points, his home at The Atlantic came back to infect his writing.
I. Chickenhawk NationOK. I'll jump ahead, because he never does. Let's roll back in time, say mid-2008. At that time, we had stabilized IRQ long enough that at least in our staffs, we knew if we kept on track, we could wind down and eventually move well in to the background. Perfect? No, but good enough to call it a "win" by late 2008.
what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military. Outsiders treat it both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules. The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now. A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness.
In AFG, we saw this as a way to match the growing Taliban fighters without further stressing the force, and create the space to Shape-Clear-Hold-Build and start transitioning district by district to the ANSF. That was one "win" and one "we'll see" by the end of 2008.
Then democracy happened.
So, interestingly, when did, calendar wise, we get to loosing? Who was the Commander in Chief when we went from green to red overnight and from yellow to the edge of red? Hmmmm ... again, uncomfortable questions not asked by Fallows, and it cheapens his work.
Americans admire the military as they do no other institution. Through the past two decades, respect for the courts, the schools, the press, Congress, organized religion, Big Business, and virtually every other institution in modern life has plummeted. The one exception is the military. Confidence in the military shot up after 9/11 and has stayed very high. In a Gallup poll last summer, three-quarters of the public expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military. About one-third had comparable confidence in the medical system, and only 7 percent in Congress.I've seen this complaint quite a bit from the left. It smacks of resentment. What should be a positive is taken as a negative simply because the positive vibe happens to be towards those in uniform. You know, the ones that Fallows thought were too stupid to starve themselves to avoid doing their duty.
Yes, it is that obvious.
What would be an interesting discussion would be not so much why the military is so high, but why everything else is so low. As a small "r" republican, I don't like a military that is too popular relative to other institutions, but instead of dragging it down, how about an effort to pull a few other sections of our culture up? I know building is harder than tearing down, but it is more constructive.
Speaking of constructive, without noting too much that he likes to wax Democrat apples (this is The Atlantic), but he brings in some good observations from others;
Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War. ... He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades. “America was very disconnected. We were proud to serve, but we knew it was a little group of people doing the country’s work.”Especially in the northeast and coastal California that is true, you know, Fallows's fields of leftist glory.
Hey, speaking of the northeast, Fallows puts out this graphic and misses a huge point;
If you spend most of your time, and select as your peer group, those from the bluest of blue, rich as rich areas in the Boston to DC, and LA to San Francisco corridors then sure, you are not going to run in to many people who serve. If, however, you live in some of the more red areas in flyover country, there are plenty of Blue Star and Gold Star family members, neighbors, and friends.
It is striking how rare accountability has been for our modern wars. Hillary Clinton paid a price for her vote to authorize the Iraq War, since that is what gave the barely known Barack Obama an opening to run against her in 2008. George W. Bush, who, like most ex-presidents, has grown more popular the longer he’s been out of office, would perhaps be playing a more visible role in public and political life if not for the overhang of Iraq. But those two are the exceptions. Most other public figures, from Dick Cheney and Colin Powell on down, have put Iraq behind them. In part this is because of the Obama administration’s decision from the start to “look forward, not back” about why things had gone so badly wrong with America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But such willed amnesia would have been harder if more Americans had felt affected by the wars’ outcome. For our generals, our politicians, and most of our citizenry, there is almost no accountability or personal consequence for military failure. This is a dangerous development—and one whose dangers multiply the longer it persists.Back to The Atlantic form, a serious piece cannot hold in its partisanship. OK, fine. No mention of Reid politicizing the war in readiness for the '04 election, the (D) clamor for war as much as the (R), the Obama zero-option in IRQ that blew up in his face and gave birth to the Islamic State as we know it today.
Houston, we have another temporal anamoly;
Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.No. Define your timeline and thinking. In 2009, or 2011, or 2014? Ultimately it does not matter, and the game is not over, but you need to define the place and time of your comment - as the facts are different.
In the course of the game, if you change quarterbacks and the playbook and go from win to tie to losing, then shouldn't you at least define when that change took place, why the change was made, and who made it?
At a place in time, we had achieved some to most of our revised goals, but then we lost them. The interesting and important question is to ask, "how" and my favorite word in the English language, "why".
Here, I'll help. The answer is, as usual, leadership both uniformed and civilian. He can't bring himself to say it, he just can't.
We abandoned the Iraqi forces as ordered by Obama against his best military advice. He chose poorly and got us to where we are today in IRQ, where what was once the crown jewel of our success, Sunni Iraq, is now the center mass of the Islamic State's presence in that 1/3 of that star-crossed nation.
Fallows then makes a point I can agree and disagree with him on,
Today, you hear judgments like that frequently from within the military and occasionally from politicians—but only in private. It’s not the way we talk in public about our heroes anymore, with the result that accountability for the career military has been much sketchier than during our previous wars. William S. Lind is a military historian who in the 1990s helped develop the concept of “Fourth Generation War,” or struggles against the insurgents, terrorists, or other “nonstate” groups that refuse to form ranks and fight like conventional armies. He wrote recently:First of all, let's talk about William S. Lind. We had him on Midrats recently, you can listen to it here.
The most curious thing about our four defeats in Fourth Generation War—Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—is the utter silence in the American officer corps. Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers … Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change. Just more money, please.During and after even successful American wars, and certainly after the standoff in Korea and the defeat in Vietnam, the professional military’s leadership and judgment were considered fair game for criticism. Grant saved the Union; McClellan seemed almost to sabotage it—and he was only one of the Union generals Lincoln had to move out of the way. Something similar was true in wars through Vietnam. Some leaders were good; others were bad. Now, for purposes of public discussion, they’re all heroes. In our past decade’s wars, as Thomas Ricks wrote in this magazine in 2012, “hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” This, he said, was not only a radical break from American tradition but also “an important factor in the failure” of our recent wars.
Both Fallows and Lind are wrong on this point, there are plenty of voices out there calling for reform, all you have to do is look both online and off. They can be found in traditional publications like Proceedings, and legion online in blogs like this, and other places like Small Wars Journal and CIMSEC.
Even in uniform, there are a few voices out there even at the highest levels like Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, USA. You have to make the effort to consume information in a modern context. You have to go to it, it won't come to you. If you are getting your information and opinion in 2014 the same way you did in 1995, then you are not getting the full picture.
There are, as "CAC-13" experienced recently after publishing here, many in the military leadership who will bring out the long knives for you if you paint outside the lines or think for yourself - but to say there are no voices is just not an accurate statement.
Sigh. Just when I thought we were going to spend more time here, we jumped into another temporal shift to old talking points that seem pulled out from a decade ago. Nothing wrong with that - I do it all the time - but really?
Partly this change has come because the public, at its safe remove, doesn’t insist on accountability. Partly it is because legislators and even presidents recognize the sizable risks and limited payoffs of taking on the career military. When recent presidents have relieved officers of command, they have usually done so over allegations of sexual or financial misconduct, or other issues of personal discipline. These include the cases of the two famous four-star generals who resigned rather than waiting for President Obama to dismiss them: Stanley A. McChrystal, as the commander in Afghanistan, and David Petraeus in his post-Centcom role as the head of the CIA. The exception proving the rule occurred a dozen years ago, when a senior civilian official directly challenged a four-star general on his military competence. In congressional testimony just before the Iraq War, General Eric Shinseki, then the Army’s chief of staff, said that many more troops might be necessary to successfully occupy Iraq than plans were allowing for—only to be ridiculed in public by Paul Wolfowitz, then Shinseki’s superior as the deputy secretary of defense, who said views like Shinseki’s were “outlandish” and “wildly off the mark.” Wolfowitz and his superior, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ostentatiously marginalized Shinseki from that point on.Who is this "public" he refers to? In a nation this large, it has to be the elected representatives of the people and everyone's watchdog, the press. That would be a good discussion, but pointing the finger at "the people" is assigning blame to everybody and nobody at the same time. He makes a valid critique, but in his construct, there is nothing to be done with it.
Now we are jerked back to the hobby horse;
And yet however much Americans “support” and “respect” their troops, they are not involved with them, and that disengagement inevitably leads to dangerous decisions the public barely notices. “My concern is this growing disconnect between the American people and our military,” retired Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and whose mid-career academic stint was at Harvard Business School), told me recently. The military is “professional and capable,” he said, “but I would sacrifice some of that excellence and readiness to make sure that we stay close to the American people. Fewer and fewer people know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.”Just stop. Enough of the parade of confirmation bias. Perhaps in your peer group and self-selecting social circle there are not enough of a connection to the military, but that is your problem, not one that is a national crisis. Our nation has been through periods with much less of a percentage having a connection and has been just fine, thank you.
Hey, I'd love for more people from my socio-economic group nation-wide to have served - I first called for it over a decade ago when I was pushing back against a call for the draft then (NB: Nate Fick's NYT OP-ED is still required reading on the topic), but you know what - in my part of the country we do serve. I graduated from a school about as good as MSNBC's Touré, and 3% of my class served in the military (not 3% of males). We're good down here, even with those who much was given. Heal thyself and thy culture. As for Mike Mullen, well - yea, I'll let URR cover that in comments.
... and then,
II. Chickenhawk EconomyI'm not going to spend a lot of time here, but again, he makes some good points. Much of it reads like warmed over anti-F-35, pro-A-10, procurement nightmare of the week, and shoddy and unsustainable personnel policy blog posts (some that I agree with), but we do need to focus a bit. For instance,
America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors. This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops (see “Gun Trouble,” by Robert H. Scales, in this issue).That Scales article if first rate. Do read it. It reminds me a bit of my first date with Fallows over three decades ago.
We are going to have to have a bit of whiplash again, going back to when I mentioned McMaster. Fallows brings out another good point, but does not flesh it out. Shame.
III. Chickenhawk PoliticsYea ... it is getting that old.
Jim Webb is a decorated Vietnam veteran, an author, a former Democratic senator, and a likely presidential candidate. Seven years ago in his book A Time to Fight, he wrote that the career military was turning into a “don’t break my rice bowl” culture, referring to an Asian phrase roughly comparable to making sure everyone gets a piece of the pie. Webb meant that ambitious officers notice how many of their mentors and predecessors move after retirement into board positions, consultancies, or operational roles with defense contractors. (Pensions now exceed preretirement pay for some very senior officers; for instance, a four-star general or admiral with 40 years of service can receive a pension of more than $237,000 a year, even if his maximum salary on active duty was $180,000.)Yes, the food trough we cover here. We have common ground, I get excited, and then, letdown. This is worth more time ... but he moves on too fast to ... yes ... his boogyman from four decades ago,
Webb says it would defy human nature if knowledge of the post-service prospects did not affect the way some high-ranking officers behave while in uniform, including “protecting the rice bowl” of military budgets and cultivating connections with their predecessors and their postretirement businesses. “There have always been some officers who went on to contracting jobs,” Webb, who grew up in an Air Force family, told me recently. “What’s new is the scale of the phenomenon, and its impact on the highest ranks of the military.”
“It is no secret that in subtle ways, many of these top leaders begin positioning themselves for their second-career employment during their final military assignments,” Webb wrote in A Time to Fight. The result, he said, is a “seamless interplay” of corporate and military interests “that threatens the integrity of defense procurement, of controversial personnel issues such as the huge ‘quasi-military’ structure [of contractors, like Blackwater and Halliburton] that has evolved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and inevitably of the balance within our national security process itself.” I heard assessments like this from many of the men and women I spoke with. The harshest ones came not from people who mistrusted the military but from those who, like Webb, had devoted much of their lives to it.
A man who worked for decades overseeing Pentagon contracts told me this past summer, “The system is based on lies and self-interest, purely toward the end of keeping money moving.” What kept the system running, he said, was that “the services get their budgets, the contractors get their deals, the congressmen get jobs in their districts, and no one who’s not part of the deal bothers to find out what is going on.”
If more members of Congress or the business and media elite had had children in uniform, the United States would probably not have gone to war in Iraq.What a tired phrase. So, what are you/we going to do about it? Unless you are going to drag out people's children at the point of a gun to serve - something leftists in other nations are rather good at - then how do you do that? Simple, you have to change the culture. Are the elite and their institutions of higher learning encouraging their children to serve now any more than 40 years ago? If not, then shut up. Clean up your own house then get back to us.
If you won't do it, don't expect the government to. That is, of course, unless you are trolling the entire nation daring your government to do exactly that. If they do, then those on the left can once again puff themselves up with self-importance and protest against the "fascist state" forcing their special snowflakes to serve in some horrible war for-oil supporting a bloody imperialist venture created by the Bushitler McHaliburtons! Quick! Get the big puppets and patchouli oil!
Apologies here, I know the intellectual whiplash is bad, but I'm not the one weaving this knot. We're back to the topic of speaking out, and a very good point. Not by Fallows, but by Seth Moulton;
Seth Moulton, a few days after his victory in last fall’s congressional race, said that the overall quality and morale of people in the military has dramatically improved since the days of a conscript force. “But it’s become populated, especially at the highest ranks, by careerists, people who have gotten where they are by checking all the boxes and not taking risks,” he told me. “Some of the finest officers I knew were lieutenants who knew they were getting out, so weren’t afraid to make the right decision. I know an awful lot of senior officers who are very afraid to make a tough choice because they’re worried how it will look on their fitness report.” This may sound like a complaint about life in any big organization, but it’s something more. There’s no rival Army or Marine Corps you can switch to for a new start. There’s almost no surmounting an error or a black mark on the fitness or evaluation reports that are the basis for promotions.And another whiplash about the voluntary military, by another Midrats alumni you can listen to here,
“They know what they are signing up for,” Nagl said of today’s troops. “They are proud to do it, and in exchange they expect a reasonable living, and pensions and health care if they are hurt or fall sick. The American public is completely willing to let this professional class of volunteers serve where they should, for wise purpose. This gives the president much greater freedom of action to make decisions in the national interest, with troops who will salute sharply and do what needs to be done.”Nagl is correct, and Fallows - don't get me wrong I'm not beating up on him - is just suffering from more confirmation bias.
I like and respect Nagl, but I completely disagree. As we’ve seen, public inattention to the military, born of having no direct interest in what happens to it, has allowed both strategic and institutional problems to fester.
... and we return to Mike Mullen, someone who just spent too much time doing something somewhere;
Mike Mullen thinks that one way to reengage Americans with the military is to shrink the active-duty force, a process already under way. “The next time we go to war,” he said, “the American people should have to say yes. And that would mean that half a million people who weren’t planning to do this would have to be involved in some way. They would have to be inconvenienced. That would bring America in. America hasn’t been in these previous wars. And we are paying dearly for that.”I'm just going to leave that there and let you pull that logic train for yourself.
The ahistorical nature of it all. The complete disregard of the lessons of history, the horrid advice. Why? Only he can answer, but again - I'll let URR speculate on that in comments, I wouldn't want to take away from his fun.
The next is a long quote of something I don't particularly agree with, but is well worth pondering - mostly because it is from another multiple Midrats alumni you can listen to here (is Fallows a listener?)
The cultural problems arising from an arm’s-length military could be even worse. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., a retired Air Force major general who now teaches at Duke law school, has thought about civic-military relations through much of his professional life. When he was studying at the National Defense University as a young Air Force officer in the early 1990s, just after the first Gulf War, he was a co-winner of the prize for best student essay with an imagined-future work called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.”That last quote has always been true. My WWI veteran grandfather sure felt that way. As a sidenote, having interviewed Dunlap twice, I don't think he would quite be inline with the tone of the paragraph he was quoted in. I don't think he would define his nation as "chickenhawk" or his students at Duke as "hipsters and slackers." Just a thought.
His essay’s premise was cautionary, and was based on the tension between rising adulation for the military and declining trust in most other aspects of government. The more exasperated Americans grew about economic and social problems, the more relieved they were when competent men in uniform, led by General Thomas E. T. Brutus, finally stepped in to take control. Part of the reason for the takeover, Dunlap explained, was that the military had grown so separate from mainstream culture and currents that it viewed the rest of society as a foreign territory to occupy and administer.
Recently I asked Dunlap how the real world of post-2012 America matched his imagined version.
“I think we’re on the cusp of seeing a resurgence of a phenomenon that has always been embedded in the American psyche,” he said. “That is benign antimilitarism,” which would be the other side of the reflexive pro-militarism of recent years. “People don’t appreciate how unprecedented our situation is,” he told me. What is that situation? For the first time in the nation’s history, America has a permanent military establishment large enough to shape our dealings in the world and seriously influence our economy. Yet the Americans in that military, during what Dunlap calls the “maturing years of the volunteer force,” are few enough in number not to seem representative of the country they defend.
“It’s becoming increasingly tribal,” Dunlap says of the at-war force in our chickenhawk nation, “in the sense that more and more people in the military are coming from smaller and smaller groups. It’s become a family tradition, in a way that’s at odds with how we want to think a democracy spreads the burden.”
People within that military tribe can feel both above and below the messy civilian reality of America. Below, in the burdens placed upon them, and the inattention to the lives, limbs, and opportunities they have lost. Above, in being able to withstand hardships that would break their hipster or slacker contemporaries.
As for tribal - let's go back to that picture earlier. It is regional, it is cultural, and it is real. It is not the Scots-Irish and Anglo-Norman martial cultures that will fix the Roundhead and Northern European Social Democrat shyness to the call to muster in times of relative peace. Again, we're fine - you fix yourself and leave us alone.
Alright, time for another turn of the wheel in our 18-point turn. Back to Seth;
In addition to Seth Moulton, this year’s Congress will have more than 20 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, including new Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa. The 17 who are already there, including Democratic Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Tammy Duckworth and Republican Representatives Duncan D. Hunter and Adam Kinzinger, have played an active role in veterans’ policies and in the 2013 debates about intervening in Syria. Gabbard was strongly against it; some of the Republican veterans were for it—but all of them made arguments based on firsthand observation of what had worked and failed. Moulton told me that the main lesson he’ll apply from his four tours in Iraq is the importance of service, of whatever kind. He said that Harvard’s famed chaplain during Moulton’s years as an undergraduate physics student, the late Peter J. Gomes, had convinced him that “it’s not enough to ‘believe’ in service. You should find a way, yourself, to serve.” Barring unimaginable changes, “service” in America will not mean a draft. But Moulton says he will look for ways “to promote a culture where more people want to serve.”Another nice turn, but a failure too. Fallows does not flesh this out. I think this is because of the lack of discipline in this article. In trying to be comprehensive, he has just made a mess out of it - and as a byproduct - so is this review. I'll do my best.
For all the differences in their emphases and conclusions, these young veterans are alike in all taking the military seriously, rather than just revering it. The vast majority of Americans will never share their experiences. But we can learn from that seriousness, and view military policy as deserving at least the attention we give to taxes or schools.
Wait, we're almost done;
What might that mean, in specific? Here is a start. In the private report prepared for President Obama more than three years ago, Gary Hart’s working group laid out prescriptions on a range of operational practices, from the need for smaller, more agile combat units to a shift in the national command structure to a different approach toward preventing nuclear proliferation. Three of the recommendations were about the way the country as a whole should engage with its armed forces. They were:I skipped it earlier, but Fallows was part of Gary Hart's working group that no one really listened to. You can get an overview here. I hate to say it to Fallows, but much of it could have been written by Don Rumsfeld (another Midrats alumni in what is becoming a running gag. You can listen to it here). Just saying.
Appoint a commission to assess the long wars. This commission should undertake a dispassionate effort to learn lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq concerning the nature of irregular, unconventional conflict, command structures, intelligence effectiveness, indigenous cultural factors, training of local forces, and effective combat unit performance. Such a commission will greatly enhance our ability to know when, where, how, and whether to launch future interventions.Barack Obama, busy on other fronts, had no time for this. The rest of us should make time, if we hope to choose our wars more wisely, and win them.
Clarify the decision-making process for use of force. Such critical decisions, currently ad hoc, should instead be made in a systematic way by the appropriate authority or authorities based on the most dependable and persuasive information available and an understanding of our national interests based on 21st-century realities.
Restore the civil-military relationship. The President, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, must explain the role of the soldier to the citizen and the citizen to the soldier. The traditional civil-military relationship is frayed and ill-defined. Our military and defense structures are increasingly remote from the society they protect, and each must be brought back into harmony with the other.
OK, over to me for a bit more. Having read his article twice, I have say that I may disagree with much of Fallows's work, but he is exceptionally well informed and a lot of the "right" people who read and digest his work. He has the influence of an "old bull," and he has earned the right to be listened to. In many places, he has been very close to being right, well ahead of the curve and provided valuable advice. Especially right after 911, he did some solid, thoughtful pieces. This from DEC01 and JAN02 are good examples, and are worth your time to read.
Let me break things down a bit.
1. Fallows needs to get over the draft guilt he's been working on a long time. Enough. You were an arrogant, selfish, physical coward as a youth. You've got a lot of company. You're absolved, so carry on and don't burden younger generations with your generation's sin. From all indications you've led a good life and are a patriotic American doing your best to serve your nation in the way you believe is correct, that is good enough and more than most.
2. We are a representative republic that has no natural need or desire for a large standing army. Neither you nor I would want to live in a republic that used the police power of the state to randomly put its citizens (due to the small numbers needed and that could be afforded, a draft would be far from universal, and an exceptionally arbitrary lottery) under bondage without an existential threat just to make a socio-political point - or as Mike Mullen puts it - force pain on the population by intentionally keeping the nation weak until crisis. Let me be clear; a draft in peace is an anathema to a free society and is tyranny without an existential threat breathing at the door. Full stop.
3. If you don't like professional politicians and their habits, then work for term limits so more people, including perhaps those with military experience, have openings with a realistic opportunity to win a seat.
4. If, rightly in my mind, you find the senior military leadership lacking, then root and branch work to change the system that produced them. Decimate the Beltway bureaucracy and nomenclature of the Department of Defence. Let Goldwater-Nichols go in to the dustbin of history and replace it with a new, modern system that best fits the needs of this century.
5. Lastly, go to Harvard, Columbia, and the other deepest blue parts of the country where those who have gained the most from our nation live and educate their children. Help build a culture there that expects much from the elite, where wearing the uniform is the price they must pay, we expect, and the duty they want, to justify their high position in society. Shame the selfish who, like you in your youth, let others do the work for them - made excuses so others would go in their place. Reward those who, however short in time or modest of service record, chose to add their name to the roster.
Start in the new year. How many people on the staff of The Atlantic are under 30? How many of them have served? Ask those who have not, why haven't they at least joined the Reserves or National Guard? Have the company support their efforts.
There are my five friendly suggestions, I'm here to help.
Now something that I hope is taken as constructive criticism. Fallows needs to get out more. See if you can find the trend;
Moulton enlisted after graduating from Harvard in 2001,I mean, come one! Doesn't anyone in his circle come from a nice land-grant institution or standard issue State university? Anyone east of the Lake Tahoe and South of the Fair Oaks mall?
Colin Powell, who as a lieutenant colonel in his mid-30s was a White House fellow after serving in Vietnam, and David Petraeus, who got his Ph.D. at Princeton as a major 13 years after graduating from West Point.
... Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and whose mid-career academic stint was at Harvard Business School)
...Charles A. Stevenson, ... a former professor at the National War College,
T. X. Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel who has a doctorate in modern history from Oxford, (and a guest on Midrats too)
... Nagl is a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar
We have a wonderfully diverse nation, take some time to get to know it.
Addendum: I knew yesterday that our friend (and yes, Midrats guest) Bryan McGrath wrote about Fallows's article over at ID; but I intentionally avoided even glancing at it. That way, my critique would be "clean" and I wouldn't be tempted to pilfer even subconsciously his pondering. Give it a read. I do find it fun that our titles are roughly the same; Bryan's being the singular, and mine the plural.