Friday, August 13, 2010

In Memoriam

I regret to inform you that our friend and colleague Dan Smith succumbed to heart failure Monday, August 9, 2010.

Dan came to FCNL from The Center for Defense Information in 2002 to be our first Senior Fellow on Military Affairs. Dan was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He completed a distinguished military career -- one that began with the U.S. war in Vietnam and concluded with the first U.S. Gulf War in Iraq -- at the rank of colonel. Defense intelligence was his specialty. Dan would have been 67 on August 15.

Dan loved working for FCNL, and he made a perfect fit with us. He exercised a deep respect for the force of truth, which he sought through careful research and fact finding. What he found, he posted on this blog, which he named "The Quakers' Colonel." He enjoyed the incongruity of that name, although it confounded some who wanted a simpler world with clear boundaries.

He knew the power of love to transform individuals and the world, and he sought to align himself and his work with that power which takes away the occasion of all war.

Judith Smith, Dan's wife, called to let me know that Dan had slipped away peacefully. Judith had one simple request. Could FCNL keep Dan's blog up where she could visit it for a while? Of course we will, and we invite readers of "The Quakers' Colonel" to leave Judith and Dan's family condolence messages in the comments section.

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

DoD 2011 Budget

Yesterday President Obama released his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2011 to Congress and the public.
Even before arriving on Capitol Hill it had come under heavy fire from many Members who oppose the Administration’s $3.1 trillion blueprint. The thrust of this submission focuses on domestic affairs, spurring the formation of new or the expansion of existing small businesses that traditionally are regarded as the crucible for creating jobs and expanding the economy.

Once again, this budget proposal exempts the Department of Defense (DoD) from virtually any restraints on discretionary spending. The DoD request for FY2011 is $708.3 billion. Of this total, $548.9 billion will go toward maintaining the “institutional structure” – e.g., pay and housing for military personnel and families; training; posts, ports, and bases; developing and buying equipment such as helicopters and attack aerial drones. This is a $18.1 billion increase from this year’s $530.8 spending on the “institutional” military.

The Pentagon is asking for $159.3 billion for “operations” – the conduct of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – for fiscal year 2011 which begins October 1, 2010. This would be slightly less than the $162.6 billion being consumed this fiscal year – and that assumes that Congress will approve the Pentagon’s share ($33 billion) of the pending 2010 supplemental legislation to deploy 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Of perhaps more interest today was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revelation that he had replaced the officer in charge of fielding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and was withholding performance bonuses of $614 million to the plane’s builder Lockheed Martin.

This was the second year in a row that Gates took on the military aircraft builders. Last year he ended the F-22 production at 182 planes despite intense lobbying by the Air Force and its congressional and industry backers. At more than $350 million per copy the Pentagon simply could not afford any more. The F-35 has a prospective project cost overrun of $16 billion, but the fact that eight other countries have invested in the program gives the F-35 a degree of immunity to cancellation.

In conjunction with the budget, the Pentagon submitted the latest Quadrennial Defense Review which addresses future strategies. The Pentagon’s long-standing position that it has to be able to fight and win two conventional wars simultaneously now calls for a structure and strategy that would enable the application of varying levels of military power against countries and groups who oppose U.S. interests around the globe. What is puzzling is how this is different from what the armed forces do today: conduct conventional if limited warfare against hostile countries and groups.

One other mission that is also getting more attention is military aid in the wake of devastating natural disasters. The question is how much this or future administrations will be willing to commit not for war but for responding to the effects of national disasters.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Haiti Five Years Ago

The following editorial on Haiti and its future was written October 2004. While it may seem as if not much has happened between then and now, the country had in fact slowly been pulling itself up from the violence and economic despair that constitute Haiti's history from the start. I will try to get a 2010 commentary out this week.

When Turn About Isn’t Fair Play

Perry in Japan; Dewey at Manila Bay; the China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion) – the West met the East “over there.”

Now, East – in the form of the Peoples Republic of China – seems about to meet the West in the persons of Louis-Jodel Chamberlain and Jackson Joanis. Should this particular meeting actually happen, it will be different from the previous East-West encounters in one important detail: it will happen “over here,” specifically, in the Carribean – more specifically, in Haiti. It will come about because the unforeseen and unintended consequences of earlier decisions are finally emerging to upset the calculations of policymakers.

The Knowns and the Almost Forgotten

With Iraq and the U.S. election cycle dominating headlines, Haiti all but fell off the front pages until Hurricane Jeanne struck, killing more than 1,550 (with another 900 unaccounted for and presumed dead), 300,000 left homeless, and food, water and shelter in desperately short supply. For all the misery it has and is causing, however, Jeanne is not at the root of Haiti’s latest problems in the way Chamberlain and Joanis are. In February 2000, these two and their followers seemed on the verge of seizing control of Haiti when the U.S. stepped in and “induced” a regime change. Economic activity plunged, rebuilding only slowly until devasted again by natural disaster.

Moreover, the country remains factionalized and heavily armed despite the presence of a
UN peacekeeping mission numbering 3,000. UN commanders report armed clashes as people fight over distribution of relief supplies. And while overt combat is rare, many observers suspect that the more organized armed factions are merely standing back, wiating until closer to the elections to re-engage – violently.

In short, Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s chaotic if impoverished and smaller counterpart to Afghanistan and Iraq, just over seven months following the still-murky swirl of events that saw 300 Haitians die and President Jean Bertrand Aristide depart Port-au-Prince on a U.S. aircraft that finally depositied him in the Central African Republic.

Chamberlain, a notorious paramilitary leader, was one of two prominent anti-Aristide leaders with pretensions to the Haitian presidency. But advanced elements of a UN authorized, U.S.-led foreign military “coaltion of the willing” were already at the presidential palace when the rebel forces arrived, thwarting an indiginous coup.

The 3,000 strong intervention force had one overriding goal: to provide enough stability for the new interim government to allow it to restore economic activity, reconstitute the police and justice systems, and prepare for elections in November 2005 that will bring a new government to power in February 2006. But time ran out. In late June, U.S. forces departed Haiti, handing peacekeeping duties to the UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) led by Brazil. Washington, battered by Iraq, was pleased to escape with no fatalities.

The Unintended

Since then, there has been good and bad news. A provisional administration was formed to govern the island and prepare for elections. In June, flooding killed an estimated 1,300 people and rendered thouands homeless. In July, a donors’ conference pledged $1.09 billion in “new money” to revitalize Haiti’s economy. But the original goals of the intervention remain unachieved.

- Stability: Without a fair and open judicial structure, political stability is problematic if not impossible. On August 16, Chamberlain and Joanis were acquitted in the 1993 assassination of a pro-Aristide supporter. The trial, labelled a “sham” by human rights activists – only one of eight prosecution witnesses appeared, and he pleaded ignorance about the allegations of murder – was so controversial that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States sent a fact-finding mission to Haiti to determine if the judicial system is biased against Aristide supporters, whether the armed “chimeres” or members of his political party (Lavalas).

- Economic revitalization: While the favored few, as always, are better off economically, the vast majority of people in this most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere still are suffering reprecussions from February’s political collapse and from the rampant crime and violence that the police seem unable to control. Even before Hurricane Jeanne, the UN reported that 1.2 million Haitians relied on outside food assistance.

- Preparing for elections: The Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, which is charged with getting Haitians registered, providing voter identity cards, and creating a voter data base in preparing for the 2005 ballot, received nine million dollars in late August. The money was “left over” from a U.S. contribution to a 2000-2001 UN mission to Haiti.

- Physical security: With the country still divided and awash with weapons, factions of “demobilized” soldiers that contributed to the destabilization that precipitated Aristide’s downfall marched into two towns, Gonaives and Petit Goaves, confronting and arresting police and demanding that the Haitian army be reconstituted. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has demanded that all factions disarm by mid-September, a demand neither he nor the UN peacekeepers could enforce. The reason MINUSTAH cannot disarm the factions is a lack of resources: of the 6,700 military and 1,622 police authorized by the UN Security Council for MINUSTAH, only 2,750 troops and 365 police had arrived by the end of August. Some 750 troops from this force are helping distribute food and water to Gonaives and other areas hit hard by Jeanne.

The Unforeseen

And this is where China comes into the picture. For the first time, Beijing is set to participate in a UN peacekeeping mission by contributing an organized security unit – in this instance, 125-130 riot police.

What makes this move so interesting is that Haiti is one of only 26 countries worldwide that maintains formal diplomatic relations with Beijing’s “renegade” island-province of Taiwan. Many in Washington who support Taiwan’s independent stance as an evolving democracy see Beijing’s action as another inroad to the hegemonic 19th century “Monroe Doctrine” reoriented to the East.

The Chinese have made other “incursions” in the hemisphere.

-Chinese companies already have commercial footholds on both ends of the Panama Canal (Panama is another country that has formal ties with Taiwan) and is reportedly seeking other economic bases near “choke points.”

-Washington alleges that China secretly sent intelligence operatives and other military personnel to Venezuela, ostensibly to assist President Hugo Chavez against his political foes. China and Cuba collaborate on intelligence matters.

-The Organization of American States recently granted China observer status, and Beijing is planning a Caribbean-China forum to promote economic and trade cooperation.

As much as Washington might be uneasy about this first ever Chinese unit deployment in support of UN peacekeeping, it points to the reality of a China taking initial steps in assuming a truly global role in the 21st century. Already, Beijing is affecting world oil markets as its energy demands mushroom. It is also facilitating the six-party discussions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program that involve past and present superpowers.

In the 19th century, Euro-centric U.S. apologists of imperialism “traced” the gradual shift of dominant empires from east to west to explain and justify U.S. expansion. As flawed as this theory was (and is), their vision seems a reality today as the U.S. stands alone militarily and still dominates world economics. But if history is any guide, this unipolar dominance cannot last. Whether empire moves west – to the real East – or some other direction, move it will.

That movement will be resisted regardless of who runs Washington. The danger in this is two-fold: resistance will be military and thus destructively unproductive, or it will persist for so long that most if not all possibilities for a cooperative “soft landing” will be lost. The result will be, as the 2003 Nobelist, John Michael Coetzee of South Africa noted about earlier imperial realms in slow decline, a U.S. bedeviled by one consuming thought: “How not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama at West Point

December at West Point in the early mid-1960s. Normally at that time of year, I can remember the air was bitterly cold as invariably a northern wind whipped down the Hudson River, often blowing snow across the parade ground and into the shivering corps of cadets. No time was lost under such conditions once the roster was reported the formation broke as everyone sought shelter from the numbing freeze.

West Point cadets were not the first to endure such foul conditions. Two centuries earlier, Americans revolutionaries, often poorly provisioned, occupied a series of fortifications overlooking the two 90 degree turns in the river at West Point. George Washington, the commander of the Continental army, and his generals knew that as long as they controlled the river at this point, the British could not sail their vessels any further up the Hudson and thus severe New England from the rest of the colonies.

Last night, December 1, 2009, a new commander-in-chief talked to the cadets at West Point – many of whom will be going in 2011 to a cold and wintery place – to the nation, and to the world. The subject was mainly about the country and the people of Afghanistan, about a part of the world with the most rugged geography imaginable, about a people that live in small groups with little central governance beyond the clan or tribal level. For 30 years the status quo was civil war or insurrection against foreign occupation and the imposition of a draconian regime following a brutal civil war.

President Obama’s message was simple: the rulers of Afghanistan lived by a code of beliefs that most countries and cultures reject as misguided.

These so-called “Taliban” sectarians gave sanctuary to fundamental extremists to plan mass murder and then, after 3,000 innocent people died September 11, 2001, refused to surrender the conspirators to either an international judicial institution or to a third country to be tried in a court of law. This justified the United States to invade Afghanistan, to eject the rulers who defied the world, and leave the various power centers that survived the U.S. action to their own devices with little assistance to reconstitute a functioning nation-state.

Having spent more than $310 billion, lost 927 troops in “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and now about to add an additional 30,000 U.S. soldiers for another 18 months before considering any withdrawal (but sure to add to the fatalities), does the president’s announcement make anyone more secure either in their values or their belief in the inviolability of human dignity?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Moyers' Journal

Bill Moyers' weekly Public Broadcast System (PBS) hour long Journal last Friday (November 20th) was an interesting retrospective by Moyers of the critical 1964-1965 discussions among members of the informal “war cabinet” President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) assembled to advise him how to continue the U.S. presence in South Vietnam without wrecking the Great Society.

The choice and format of that episode of the Journal was predictable. In the 1960s, Moyers was not caught in the maelstrom generated by the Pentagon as his forte dealt with the domestic plans and proposals for legislative action that were to launch the “Great Society.” But it was not long before those developing Johnson’s “Great Society” became acutely aware of the havoc that South Vietnam could inflict on Johnson’s domestic agenda.

Skip over the next 45 years to November 2009. The U.S. is at war again – this time fighting not three countries (North Vietnam, Cambodia, the People's Republic of China) but a loosely knitted, multi-faceted ideological-based sub-national movements or groups operating in three (or more) countries ((Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan) hoping to implement their vision of a future paradise. Other countries oppose these groups but do not relish being engaged in a civil dispute. Their stance and the indecision of the White House on what to do becomes the basis of Moyers critique -- one that is rooted in his history as a well-known and respected commentator on U.S. foreign and domestic issues.

Forty-five years is akin to two generations. In the 1960s – the time during which Moyers served in the White House – international relations centered on fusing the idea of human dignity with the practice of individual rights leading to civil liberties for all against the traditional concentration of economic production and the exercise of social, cultural, and psychological power to control the observance of mores that are strictly enforced.

What Moyers remembered about the 1960s was virtually what he was seeing reproduced in the 2000s, to include the past ten months of the Obama administration. Last week’s glance backward rises from a brooding sense that the present commander-in-chief is confronting a set of foreboding circumstances that could torpedo his domestic agenda as Vietnam did the Great Society. Just as Johnson searched in vain for the formula to escape the Vietnam quagmire, Obama has been unable to garner public support for a pragmatic drawdown (not an increase) of forces. Soldiers are not trained to act as police. Neither do they understand the pillars of culture, customs, taboos, and principles of governance which are the bases of a foreign civilization.

If Vietnam was Johnson’s failure, Obama faces a similar dilemma with Afghanistan. Missing at the heart of this war is a rational and lucid statement of why U.S. military forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and an equally rational and lucid statement as to why in November 2009 the United States is about to add a further 34,000 troops to the same country.

It is not too much to insist that Johnson’s inability to break the Cold War mentality that dominated Congress and many “advisors” immobilized the national security decision-making mechanism throughout his presidency. This Tuesday at West Point Obama will have his turn.

So will Moyers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Having or Making an Argument

I received an e-mail yesterday in which my correspondent mentioned a book written ten years ago by Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics at Washington’s Georgetown University. Titled The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words, Professor Tannen focused on the decline she had observed in the quality – that is, the tenor – of verbal and written exchanges between prominent persons who are charged (or in some cases simply usurp) with responsibility for maintaining dialogue necessary for society’s to function.

At virtually the same time, a second e-mail – one whose origin was totally unrelated to the first but whose content was similar surfaced. This second e-mail was the transcript of a November 3, 2009 interview by BBC’s “Hardtalk” of Noam Chomsky, a well-known international linguist who is also a prominent voice in the development and application of modern political science philosophy.

Tannen was not the first to address the rise of incivility in rhetorical settings. But her critique starts with the observation that societies risk the collapse of their culture and governing values when the art of reason and reasonableness in discourse are discarded. Prominent in this calculus is the role played by competing elites – the “pillars of society” – and their factions, one of which will emerge with sufficient support from the public to assume control of the levers of economic, cultural, and military power. “Winning” might bespeak public approval to implement policies and programs favored by the successful faction. But winning may also induce the successful faction to reject any and all input from the defeated opposition, thereby undercutting efforts to reconstitute effective consideration of ongoing problems.

These elites comprise the adversarial political ranks (in the U.S. most often limited to two contestants at a time), financiers and corporate CEOs who pay for “”public oriented investigations” by pro-sector “experts,” “committees” and “commissions” to sway the outcome of public policy debates and ultimately votes on society- altering appropriations. A third set of elites is the judiciary and the law, an arena in which litigation has exploded exponentially since 1994 when the Republican Party created and “sold” the “Contract with America.” The fourth category is the unswerving interpretations of fundamental religious doctrine as eternally unchangeable.

The outcome to which Tanner (and Chomsky) point is the collapse of the long-standing distinction between “having” an argument and “making” an argument. Think back to the Federalists Papers in which Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (the principal writers) and others – all well-read – marshaled the pros and cons of the issues that were about to determine whether or not the new constitution would be passed. This was not an attempt to “pick sides” followed by a further attempt to “pick a fight” – physically -- with supporters of the candidate who lost the intellectual competition.

There were, of course, incidents when fisticuffs and even worse violence occurred between supporters of political opponents. Hamilton died from a bullet in a duel in 18064 By 1828 Andrew Jackson presented himself as a plain-spoken man who trusted the people; some called him “King Mob.” The Illinois 1858 senatorial contest between the “Giant Killer,” Stephen Douglas, and the Rail-Splitter, Abraham Lincoln, saw bullying and assaults by supporters after the principals had left the verbal confrontation. The last quarter of the 19th century saw the rapid rise of the newly-influential media moguls more interested in causing controversy by construction and then destroying “balanced arguments” designed to sell more papers and magazines. “Truth” – such as it was -- was not wanted by the media. All they wanted was what added to controversy: never mind exposing the indifference of those whose objective was to get rich or to win reelection to positions in government.

(As to how self-interested politicians can become, today’s Washington Post quotes Rep Kevin Brady (R-TX) as saying to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?”)

In the end, the question is whether “making” an argument has been more useful than “having” an argument to political philosophers intent on peaceful elevation of the rights of men and sustaining human dignity in western nations. For Chomsky, linguistics and radical politics do not necessarily “inform” each other daily, but they “can be traced to Enlightenment (and earlier) concepts of creativity and freedom as being at the core of essential human nature, most clearly revealed in the normal use of language.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day 2009

As the calendar would have it, Veterans’ Day (Armistice Day in Europe) in 2008 fell one week after the U.S. electorate selected the person who would become the nation’s 44th president beginning January 20, 2009.

Together with the electoral success of the Democratic Party in the Senate and House of Representatives, many commentators predicted that the election of Barack Obama would mark a definitive change in the war-driven foreign policies of the soon-to-be-gone administration of George W. Bush.

Indeed, candidate Obama had pledged that among his first actions as president would be to order the Pentagon to curtail offensive operations in Iraq; to initiate the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; to close the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency’s illegal prison at Guantanamo Bay as well as the CIA’s secret “black” prison system in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other “friendly countries”; and to reevaluate the status of the coalition efforts to shore up the government of Afghanistan.

We have come once again to November 11 only to find that, despite promises from the campaign speeches, the reality of these wars is little changed. Obviously, we have a new commander-in-chief, the second time since the Second World War that a president has had no military experience. Conversely, the nation’s war experience stretches for more than nine years, within which soldiers have been deployed three, four, even five times with no end in sight. Not since 1969 has any other president entered the Oval Office with U.S. troops engaged daily in active combat. He may also become the first president since Richard Nixon to undertake a re-escalation of armed conflict on the false premise that the escalation of fatalities inflicted on any country, ethnic group, or sectarian faction will be justified as preserving a “vital U.S. interest.”

Not even the murder of 13 Americans by an Army officer November 5 at Fort Hood seems to have enervated or “touched” the nation’s emotional core. Yet it is this incapacity that has often puzzled me in trying to mobilize public sentiment to oppose the temptation to go to war that seems to pervade decisions by presidents and prime ministers. Obviously, the experience of war can have an effect on the pace of the march to the next war, but after a time going to war to hopefully prevent a future war becomes so illogical that it fails completely the “common sense” test.

And at this juncture, all that remains is to count the cost.