Friday, March 31, 2006

Army Recruiting: Connecting the Dots

It was inevitable – another case of “not if but when.” Moreover, all the dots were there – they just were not connected to form a picture.

In November 2005, the Government Accountability Office issued GAO-06-134, a report generously entitled “Military Personnel: DOD Needs Action Plan To Address Enlisted Personnel Recruitment and Retention Challenges.”

First some extended background (or you can skip the next four paragraphs if you’re rushed).

In truth, 2005 recruiting results were horrible for all Army components. The active force achieved only 92% of its goal; the Army National Guard reached only 80%, the third straight year the Army Guard has missed its goal – this time by the widest margin. Recruitment for the Army Reserve yielded enough volunteers to achieve 84% of the goal, a drop of 17% from 2004.
Recruiting results for two of the three other services were mixed. Both the Navy Reserve (88%) and Air National Guard (86%) were below their goals, leaving the Marine Corps as the only Service with both (the Corps has no National Guard) components reporting 100% or better.

Retention rates for Army, Marines, an Air Force enlisted personnel ranged from 102.7% of a component’s goal to 137% for Marines inking extensions past the initial re-enlistment period. However, the Navy missed all three categories. The other bit of “good” news was that all service components were under the maximum attrition ceiling set by the Pentagon. Put another way, allowed to lose a certain percentage of individuals, every component could have shed more people without exceeding the allowed number.

What to do to get the numbers up and fill the ranks was a major preoccupation of the Army’s leadership. Obvious monetary inducements that required congressional action – e.g., exempting re-enlistment bonuses from federal income tax if the papers are signed in the war zones – were already in play. Facing the reality of a drawn-out insurgency in Iraq and a revitalized one in Afghanistan, the Army had been authorized to increase signing and re-enlistment bonuses in Fiscal Year 2005. This helped the Army meet its goals for new enlistments in the closing months of FY2005, but it was not enough to compensate for shortfalls in previous months.

One of life’s many maxims about statistics is “figures lie” (the rest of the aphorism is “and liars figure”). The recruiting and retention numbers per se are undoubtedly accurate, but the real story is to what extent will the Army (and other services) go to meet recruiting goals in FY2006? The answers came rapidly as the year began.

The old standby of more money came into play. The Pentagon asked Congress to fund increases reaching $40,000 for qualified new recruits enlisting in certain military specialties and $150,000 for high skilled individuals re-enlisting in critical specialties where people were in short supply. A new $2,500 “finder’s fee” for non-recruiters who bring in a new enlistee was also proposed.

Educational standards were altered to deal with “reality,” as one unidentified “Army official” put it. The Army for years had accepted a maximum of 2% of new enlistees scoring in the bottom quarter (Category IV) on the military’s mental aptitude test. Calling the percentage a “guideline” (which is less than a “standard”), Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey said the service would take 4% Category IV enlistees. Moreover, the service decided to accept a higher percentage of non-high school graduates among new recruits.

Came November and the Army touted its successful recruiting effort for October, the first month of FY2006. There was, however, a hole in the paper where a dot was supposed to be. The Army’s “success” rested on not the expected 4% Category IV baseline – I mean guideline – announced by Harvey but on a real world 12% of October’s recruits scoring in the lowest acceptable educational aptitude level in math, general science, and verbal comprehension.

And the Army’s response when questioned about the 12%? “We’re on track to meet our 4% annual goal.” Obviously, the service is banking on a number of one, two, and three percent months – or it will point to Pentagon “guidelines” that permit 12% or federal law that sets a limit at 20%.

In January 2006 Congress approved the $40,000 enlistment bonus but went to only $90,000 for re-enlistment bonuses. Perhaps sensing trouble in reaching its recruiting numbers, the Army decided to limit the National Guard to its actual numbers (“faces in spaces” ) – 333,000 – rather than its authorized size – 350,000. It also raised the maximum age for new recruits from 35 to 40 years.

All this – plus a goal of 700 new enlistees in December – did indeed keep the Army on track. However, with a total annual target of 80,000, the Army had recruited just 11,500 individuals in three months. With three quarters of FY2006 left beginning January 1, recruiters needed to average 23,167 new enlistments every three months, more than twice the total of the first quarter.

The scale of the challenge can be measured by the fact that November’s total for new recruits was 5,826. Another fact is the Army is betting the farm that it can recruit 38,900 – almost half its goal for the year – in the last quarter. True, summer is lucrative among the just-graduated high school cohort, but one cannot help speculating that the Army hierarchy has a side bet going that the first troops will be on their way home from Iraq by June.

With February came more revelations. The Army was taking in recruits who, under previously enforced “guidelines,” would have been excluded because of their criminal records – including alcohol and drug abuse. The number accepted despite “serious criminal misconduct” that includes robbery and making terrorist threats, rose by a third from 408 in 2004 to 630 in 2005. At virtually the same time, the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals serving in the military was attacked not only for its financial costs – $364 million over the first decade, according to a University of California study – but also for the toll on the individual’s sense of self-worth. This study was at odds with a GAO report, also issued in February, which put monetary costs of replacing the 9,488 individuals discharged for breaking the policy at $190.5 million.

But this month – only this week, actually – came the coup d’grace. The Army modified its policy barring anyone with a tattoo that would not be covered by a military dress uniform (meaning full sleeve-length jacket). Now recruits can have tattoos on hands or neck as long as the design is not “vulgar, profane, indecent, racist or extremist” and does not “extremely degrade military appearance.”

The Army says that relaxing the tattoo “guidelines” opens up opportunities to bring in “highly qualified” individuals who could not enlist under the old rules. But considering that only 14% of all recruits come from major urban areas (which I for one think of in association with tattoo parlors – my misconception, perhaps), one wonders how many are added to the pool of potential recruits.

At the midpoint of FY2006, about the only thing that’s clear is that the Army has a monumental challenge and will need help in connecting all the dots if it is to reach its goal of 80,000 new recruits this year.

One way to go is to reduce the demand for troops by undertaking permanent reductions in foreign military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. This should be followed by resizing the forces for the expected future threats while simultaneously strengthening non-military, multi-lateral channels for resolving conflict before it becomes armed conflict.

Alternatively, the Army could consult one of the more prominent pointillists down the street at Matt’s tattoo parlor.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bush at Freedom House, Haney with "The Unit"

On March 29th, President Bush spoke – really repeated recent speeches – on Iraq, energy, and the march of democracy and freedom.

What he didn’t discuss was any timetable even to begin withdrawing forces from Iraq.

On the other hand, he stayed for questions which touched on Iraq, energy dependence, democracy and freedom, Lebanon, Palestine-Israel, Japan-U.S. relations, and immigration.

He even “waxed philosophical,” forcefully reiterating his belief that deep in the soul of every person is a yearning for individual freedom, free societies, and free market economies. He reaffirmed that the driving force behind his foreign policy is his personal belief that it is America’s mission to encourage freedom’s spread. Yet he ducked a question about free elections in Egypt.

When asked about backsliding by President Putin of Russia, Bush spoke of his remonstrations with Putin. At the same time, he reminded his listeners that Russia and the U.S. must work together in multilateral fora to accomplish mutual goals. Similarly, noting that China’s President Hu will soon be in Washington, Bush commented that when freedom is involved – as with Tibet – he is quite candid about the visits of the Dali Lama to the White House.

Syria and Iran came up primarily in terms of non-interference in Iraq’s evolution as a free society. Syria was excoriated for not controlling its borders and for continuing to back terrorist organizations opposed to Israel. Iran was also condemned for supporting terror organizations, but its main sin remains its nuclear program. On this point, while not divulging substantive content, Bush disclosed that the President of the Security Council (in March 2006, Argentina, a non-permanent member) would be sending a letter to Tehran. Clearly, this is less than the White House wanted, but it was undoubtedly the limit right now on what Moscow and Beijing would accept.

There is, however, the question of how much the U.S. public is ready to accept from an administration and a White House that call for other countries to open their processes and decisions to the scrutiny of the global community while, at the same time, it hides and classifies so much of what it does that it is opaque.

And its not just the liberals, progressive, independents, and Democrats who are demanding more transparency from this White House. In a March 26 Daily News (Los Angeles) interview, retired Command Sergeant Major Eric Haney, a charter member of the U.S Delta Force and author of the book on which the television series “The Unit” is based, blasted the entire Iraq enterprise.

“Utter debacle.”

“Bush may well have started the third world war>

“[O]ur credibility is utterly zero.”

“Our military is completely consumed….The harm that has been done is irreparable”

“It’s [torture] about vengeance, it’s about revenge, or it’s about cover-up….It’s an act of cowardice.”

Finally, “Their [the current U.S. administration] lies are coming home to roost now, and it’s gonna fall apart….We’re seeing this current house of cards start to flutter away.”

Is it pure coincidence that one very prominent“card” – the president’s chief of staff Andrew Card – announced his resignation on March 28th?

(To see the Haney comments in full, go to )

This is a Clash of Cultures

Last Friday (March 28), Le Monde reported part of the proceedings of a conference in France that analyzed the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review from the perspective of how U.S. declared strategy might affect French strategic planning.

One paper drew particular notice. Written by Colonel Gilles Rouby, a French infantry officer, the paper examined the role and behavior of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Rouby essentially laid the blame for the failure of the U.S.-led coalition to subdue (or even preclude the beginnings of) any possible post-combat near-civil-war mayhem to the inability of U.S. soldiers to recognize when and under what conditions to switch from bullets to bread to begin the process of winning hearts and minds.

Drawing on a recent article in “Military Review” by British Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster that was critical of U.S. tactics in Iraq, Rouby zeros in on one tenet of what is known as the “Powell doctrine” (for General Colin Powell who, during his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, promulgated a series of conditions for initiating and fighting wars). That rule states that the use of overwhelming force is the proper course when confronting an avowed enemy. Rouby contends that this training is hard to turn on and off at will, inevitably costing many lost opportunities to begin building trust among a population after “combat” ends.

Rouby traces the propensity of the U.S. military to be heavy-handed to the emphasis on the “warrior ethos” that is constantly stressed from the moment a volunteer enters boot camp. In so framing the issue and then contrasting the U.S. soldier’s creed with the French soldier’s equivalent, Rouby moves the discussion from the operational and even the training arena back into the cultural – and not just the military’s culture but the national culture.

The U.S. Army’s creed says, in part: “I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people o the United States…..I am…proficient in my warrior tasks…I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am the guardian…of the American way of life”

The completely different tone of the French Army’s creed could hardly be greater:
“Master of my power, I respect the enemy and watch out to spare civilians. I obey orders, with respect for the laws, the customs of war, and international conventions.... I am open to the world and to society and respect diversity.”

In 1993, as part of the Center or Defense Information’s “America’s Defense Monitor” television series on PBS, I wrote a program – “The Military and Society” – that examined the mutual interpenetration of U.S. cultural in general and military culture. I think much of what was said 13 years ago remains valid as the following excerpts reveal.

“From our earliest fiction, war has been celebrated as central to our national development.”

“Our nation was born, sustained and expanded in warfare. In 200 years, we’ve had at least 12 major wars; on the average, a war every 16 years. [This suggests]… that war is not an aberration in American history. [Rather] …it is something essential in American history; that is, a kind of defining element. To study American history, in many ways, is a study of warfare. “

Between 1945-1992 – essentially the entire Cold War period – Hollywood “made over 280 films about World War II, 60 films about Korea, 50 films about Vietnam -- almost 450 films about war just since the end of World War II.”

To convince the U.S. public that nuclear weapons made the Cold War a fight to the finish, “political leaders needed powerful images that would move Americans. The myth of the frontier and the West held these images. The way the myth works is to restrict the actors’ sense of available options. ‘A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.’ That’s what the myth says to you. It says that there’s only two choices, kill or be killed. If you approach a situation of conflict in those terms, you’ve already eliminated the possibility of negotiations you’ve eliminated the possibility of compromise.”

“The mass media mediate. They construct visions of reality. We are much more likely to believe a media message when we have nothing else to compare it to, when we have no other source of information on that subject, and when the message is repeated. The result of this largely one-sided presentation of war for the post-World War II generation was that Westerns and war films became part of their self-image.”

“We tend to regard certain kinds of responses as valid or heroic responses. And the movie image of the hero picking up the six-gun or the machine gun and just blazing away and shooting everything that moves has so often been presented to us as a valid tactic for dealing with a movie situation that it’s not surprising that something like that would influence the behavior of soldiers in combat.”

That all tracked psychologically as long as the fundamental “core competency” of the military was to fight and win. But now the Army has declared that it “will do windows” – that is, engage in nation building – and do so on the basis that winning the struggle for hearts and minds after major combat “ends” is a core competency equal in importance to warfighting

Sounds like the Pentagon – or at least the ground force – is heading into a long-term psychological storm that will have repercussions on the general society for decades. In the more immediate future, the dilemma is how to modify attitudes and actions so that U.S. forces can be withdrawn from Iraq with minimum loss of life all around.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Lonely Courage of a Patriot

“It's a daunting challenge – as we are finding out on a
daily basis – to establish an independent judiciary that
would be able to apply the rule of law ... in societies
that have not known such force for generations, if at all.
But the rule of law is a cathedral that we have to build,
brick by painstaking brick.”
Chief Justice John Roberts
Reagan Library, March 8, 2006

Cambodia, China, Ecuador, Thailand, the countries of the former Soviet empire – these are the “societies” Chief Justice Roberts named. However, with Afghanistan and Iraq at war with themselves and with “foreign jihadists,” anyone reading the daily press ought to automatically add the U.S. to the list – and ahead of these two factionalized countries.

I do concede the categorization is not quite the same. Today’s challenge for the United States is not “establishing” but maintaining and even protecting the independence of the judicial process and those constituting the judicial establishment. For the judiciary is under attack, figuratively and physically.

What is worrisome is that the House of Representatives, led (until recently) by Tom DeLay, is a major source of the attacks against the judiciary. For example, in March 2003, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was a “profession of religious belief, namely a belief in monotheism,” right-wing ideologues were outraged. Delay told reporters that it was time for Congress “to limit the jurisdiction of the judicial branch” or impeach judges whose rulings do not conform to the prevailing (i.e., his) ideology.

This was not DeLay’s first frontal assault on the federal bench. Saying that “judges needed to be intimidated,” Delay introduced legislation in 1997 that would have set term limits on federal judges and restricted judicial latitude in death penalty cases. Claiming “intensive research” into the “attitudes” of many jurists, he published a list of “activist” judges – which again translates into those whose rulings deviate from DeLay’s views.

Impeachment of judges, like impeachment of the president or vice-president, is a remedy for gross abuse of office, not for “rectifying” disagreements of law. Tom DeLay would also leave it to Congress to decide on an ad hoc basis when a ruling was grounds to initiate impeachment proceedings. Similarly, the right’s other “remedy” – elections of federal jurists for set terms as is the case with nearly 90 percent of state judges – would undercut judicial independence, not least because of the difficulty in defining “constituencies” and the distractions of campaigning and fund-raising..

What is more worrisome is the apparent laissez faire attitude of the U.S. public to these rhetorical threats to judicial independence and co-equal status with the legislative and executive branches. One of the perceived injustices leading to the Revolutionary War was the lack of redress for inequities in the law as applied and enforced in Britain and in the colonies. Moreover, unlike the House and, to a lesser extent, the Senate, courts operating according to the rule of law ought to be insulated from popular pressure and the “threat of threats” when issuing an unpopular ruling.

We too often forget (if we ever knew) that the “rule of law” as an operational facet of the social contract between ruler and subject emerged only in the 17th century. Indeed, the British monarchy’s “Star Chamber” (akin in its secrecy to our Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts) was only abolished in 1641 during the reign of Charles I – and precisely because it was viewed by Parliament as enforcing the monarch’s high-handed rule.

What is most worrisome is how fast and how far we have moved away from what Chief Justice Roberts called the “cathedral” – the rule of law – since 9/11. Congress and the White House continue to play the national security “fear” card even as they dismantle the cathedral of the rule of law. And the public is so intimidated by “not if but when” rhetoric that the majority stand by even as the cathedral’s bricks are used to build the very road down which Congress and the White House are hi-jacking our civil, civic, and political rights in the name of “security.”

A little more than a year ago, events moved with tragic consequences from the rhetorical to actual attacks. When the final court ruling in the Terri Schiavo “right to die” case was announced, Tom DeLay pronounced that “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.” While the Schiavo jurists have not become targets, Fate nonetheless stepped in, converting words to deeds. First, in Illinois, the husband and mother of Federal Judge Joan Lefkow were murdered in the Lefkow home by unknown assailants. Although no direct link could be made with a strongly racist group against whom Judge Lefkow ruled in a 2002 case, the killings were applauded by white supremacists. Then, in Georgia just a few days later, State Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and others in his courtroom were killed after a prisoner seized a deputy’s gun.

The degree of concern for the continued independence of the judiciary from both psychological and physical assault prompted public warnings from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and recently retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Ginsburg said she and O’Connor had been targeted with death threats on a right-wing internet site that – ironically – called on its subscribers to be more than “armchair patriots.” O’Connor, for her part, warned her listeners that “We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary.”

(As a matter of record, Title 18 U.S.C. §115 (a)(1)(B) makes it a felony for anyone to “threaten[s] to assault…. or murder, a United States judge… with intent to retaliate …. on account of the performance of official duties…” )

At stake for both Ginsburg and O’Connor is a foundational principle of British-American jurisprudence: judicial immunity from any liability stemming from decisions in the cases a judge hears. And their concern is well-founded. This November, South Dakotans will vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment creating a new independent forum or “branch” of government empowered to bring legal charges against any judge whose rulings do not accord with the Constitution or the people’s will – interpreted, of course, by those selected as “reviewers.” Under the proposal, three “misrulings” and the jurist can be sacked. In addition, apparently to discourage any last minute judicial boldness, a judge facing dismissal may also lose half of her retirement.

By now the meaning of “The Lonely Courage of a Patriot” ought to be apparent. The phrase is Ronald Reagan’s from a 1981 White House gathering of lawyers and jurists, as recalled by Chief Justice Roberts. Each main word is indispensable.
- “Lonely” – something we all experience – is the condition of “lacking companions or companionship.”
- “Courage” – something we all like to think we possess – means “the quality of spirit that enables one to face danger or pain without showing fear.”
- “Patriot” – something we all claim to be – is defined as “one who loves and defends her or his country.”

If those are the words, the image is a composite represented by Nathan Hale, Tom Paine, Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, Chief Joseph, Elizabeth Blackwell, Black Elk, Jeanette Rankin, Rosa Parks, and all who identify with any one of those named. Putting it all in context, the phrase lauds jurists who refuse to be swayed by the public clamor or political pressures of the hour as they interpret and apply the Constitution, weigh the intentions and words behind and in the statutes enacted by law-makers, and review the executive’s actions in enforcing the laws equitably.

Outside of Supreme Court justices, most jurists are not well-known. Most may prefer such semi-anonymity. Yet the judicial branch must be transparent in its work, for other than a citizenry aroused by the excesses or the abuse of power by the legislative or executive branches, the courts are the arbiters of power in our society. In this role, those who sit on the Supreme Court are the final, thin black line protecting and defending individual rights and freedoms against an overbearing government.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Good, Ugly, and Not So Good

Yesterday (March 23) seemed a bit brighter than normal. Not sun-shiny but hopeful.

For once, there was good news that everyone could agree was good: British and U.S. troops found and freed the three remaining members of a four-person Christian Peace Team kidnapped last November 26. (Unfortunately, the fourth member, U.S citizen Tom Fox, was killed by his captors about a week ago.)

The second piece of good news involved the Pentagon’s National Defense University, which held a day-long symposium on “Resourcing Stability Operations and Reconstruction – Past, Present, and Future.” Part of the proceedings was a historical review of the number of instances the federal government – which is to say the military – has been involved in stability and reconstruction before the 1990s and early 2000s. Most people, if asked, might recall the Union Army’s presence in the former Confederate States in the period called Reconstruction (1865-1878). Few would cite the Mexican-American War as the first time U.S. field commanders were confronted with the necessity to perform aspects of what today is known as “nation building.”

This historical review also served to highlight one ugly truth that surfaced virtually every time the U.S. tried fighting and nation building at the same time: a foreign force cannot fight an insurgency and build a nation simultaneously.

Other salient points that emerged from the historical record or that one or more current practitioners of stability and reconstruction (or construction) operations stressed during a discussion panel included:

– there is no template for building peace; it cannot be done “by the numbers,” which is a fundamental reason why the military is not the agency to be in overall control of these efforts.

– a safe and secure environment is essential.

– empower people by (re)establishing rule of law and reforming the economic sector. After these areas are addressed, hold elections.

– reconstruction plans must be acceptable to local populations, local leaders, and the international community (including donor countries and financial institutions.)

– before starting work on the plan, think through to the objectives. One cannot just accept the “mission” and start planning.

– coordination is very important, but more important is the requirement to have someone in charge.

– individuals who are likely to be administrators of the post-conflict peace should be embedded in the war-fighting phase.

– less government does not automatically mean more effective government.

Trying to salvage a bad plan is an ugly undertaking compared to crafting a good plan in the beginning. Getting the good plan involves three “types” of people.

First are the geographic experts, what the military calls “foreign area officers.” These are individuals who live and immerse themselves in a society, who understand the peoples, languages, internal (country) and regional histories, cultures, interactions (usually war and trade) with other cultures, and sensitivities. Obviously, much time is needed to attain this expertise, and for years there may well be zero return on investing in developing and maintaining a “stable” of experts. But when they are needed, they can be priceless.

Unfortunately, at least in the military, these often are the ones the military doesn’t promote, thereby forcing them out of service.

Second are the process experts, those who understand how institutions of government (e.g., rule of law/juridical sector) ought to function, the structural impediments, and the infrastructure needs and vulnerabilities. A key attribute for process experts is flexibility; they should not be so wedded to “the” way to be unable to modify process to conform to local conditions.

Third is the group in charge – usually politicians who make and implement policies and programs that shape the nation’s course.

“Ugly” arises when the third type has an agenda that they are determined to implement and, to preclude dissenting voices or other opposition, exclude the area and process experts.

A final point.

While the venue was a military post, none of the speakers and panelists in the two sessions was on active duty. But all either had been in the military or participated in post-Cold War stability and reconstruction efforts as process or area experts. The audience consisted of a mix of active duty officers, government civilians, retirees from military and civilian agencies, academics, and contractors.

Based on the comments, questions and answers, my clear impression is that no one in that auditorium was willing to support the administration’s “stay the course” line.

It does give pause to consider what some believe to be the ugly fact about Iraq, the generals didn’t want war but the civilians did. If true, “that ain’t good.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Justice Under the Gun

“Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule
to live by, common to everyone of that society.”
John Locke

The latest news from Iraq ought to be quite disturbing to the Bush administration.

Not since February 2004 has there been such a large, coordinated, sustained, deadly, and – from the insurgent’s perspective – successful attack. Twenty-five months ago in Fallujah, 15 policemen were killed in a raid that freed 70 prisoners. This Tuesday, March 21, in Muqdadiya, which is northeast of Baghdad, as many as 200 fighters destroyed a police station, killing 18 policemen and freeing 33 prisoners – all of whom, according to the provincial governor, are insurgents.

Piecing together various news reports on the assault and its aftermath, what jumps out is the sheer audacity of the attack.

The size of the assault force – 200 men – equals a reinforced company in the U.S. army – a potent combat unit when trained and provided clear objectives, as these attackers seem to have been.

- It was staged in the early morning hours, meaning the attackers assembled during the night without being detected by coalition forces that are supposed “to rule the night” by virtue of night vision devices.

- Fighting lasted for an hour. Discipline, time elapsed, and size of the attacking force suggests this encounter was planned and possibly led by a professional military person.

- The attackers stood their ground even when U.S. combat helicopters arrived on the scene. News reports indicated that the insurgents anticipated they would have to confront this development. Although no helicopters were shot down, some were struck by insurgent machine gun fire.

- As part of their “preparation of the battlefield,” the insurgents cut telephone wires running from the area to curtail communications and planted improvised explosive devices along likely land routes a relief column would use.

Two policemen were killed elsewhere the same day, while four were slain the day before and four the day after – 32 (at least) in three days.

So is this the start of a concentrated offensive aimed at Iraq’s fledgling judicial system?

It may be premature to make a sweeping judgment, but the Bush administration would be derelict not to consider the possibility. Nothing would undermine democratic governance – even of a semi-theocratic nature – faster than the perception that the rule of law has completely broken down.

Law – universal and uniform – is the glue that holds society together and allows it to operate on an orderly basis. Members of such a society are able to rely on pre-ordained, permanent rules of general conduct that set parameters for interactions among individuals and between individuals and the power institutions of government – of which the police is one.

Of course, another possibility is that most of the prisoners (and attackers) were one religious sect (Sunni) and the police were the other (Shi’ite). In a society as divided and fragile as Iraq, the power institutions can all too quickly come under suspicion with or without evidence of malfeasance. And with ample evidence that death squads comprised of police personnel have committed many sectarian murders in the last month, Muqdadiya may represent preemptive action by one community to avoid another mass murder.

Either way, justice is literally under the gun.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Protecting Both Rears -- Simultaneously

One of my favorite movie comedies is “The Hallelujah Trail” filmed in 1965 and starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasence, and Brian Keith. It’s a side-splitting saga of the vicissitudes of moving a wagon train of liquor across the western plains to Denver before the onslaught of a predicted (“dogs are shaggy as never before”; “beaver are feeding ravenously”) terribly harsh winter that will render the mountain passes impassable.

In one memorable scene, a dismounted cavalry patrol believes it is receiving rifle fire on its position from opposing directions. Unable to change position, the officer in charge follows – but doubles – the standard operating procedure by ordering his men to “protect BOTH rears – simultaneously!”

While humorous in the movie theater, taking fire from opposite directions in a real life combat theater indicates big trouble – i.e., you are or will soon be surrounded. But this, first metaphorically and then actually, may well be part of the future for U.S. units in Iraq.

Go back to December 2001. Sixty-five civilians were killed when U.S. warplanes bombed a convoy heading for Kabul. U.S. military spokespersons said the planes had come under fire from the convoy which, the Pentagon said, carried al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Local Afghan villagers countered that the convoy carried tribal elders on their way to the inauguration of Hamid Karzai. Later the same month, 62 Afghans (the UN’s count) attending a wedding celebration died when U.S. aircraft bombed a compound where guests were sleeping.

In both cases, the Pentagon said its planes were in the area because of intelligence tips. Pentagon critics suggest the military was duped by one Afghan faction or tribe into being the executioner of a rival faction’s leadership.

Wedding celebrations in Iraq have also come under air attack. In May 2004, 40 Iraqis died in a strike on a house located just five miles from the Iraq-Syria border. Video turned over to U.S. news media clearly show a wedding celebration before the bombing while on-site news video show destroyed tents, musical instruments, and other items that were also in the pre-bombing tapes.

Today’s Houston Chronicle carries a story of two more incidents in which U.S. forces in Iraq stand accused of killing civilians. Only these episodes don’t involve airplanes. In both, U.S. ground forces are accused of willfully killing civilians – 15 near Haditha in western Iraq last November after a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Marine, and 11 near Balad in the center of the country. In Haditha, there is video tape said to have been shot immediately after the killings last November.

It is the Balad case that adds something new. Local police, not the camera’s eye, is the basis for the claim that U.S. troops killed civilians. And these police are not hiding in the shadows of anonymity; they signed their report.

So what’s the big deal?

Simply this: as more and more Iraqi police and army units assume control of what the Pentagon likes to call “battle space,” they may be less reticent about criticizing U.S. practices that kill or endanger Iraqi civilians. It is not inconceivable that Iraqi security forces will cross swords with U.S. forces – even though the Iraqis are woefully outgunned.

Only one or two such incidents might be enough to galvanize Iraqi politicians to pluck up their courage and unite around a demand for jurisdiction over any soldier accused of willfully killing civilians or – when the U.S. refuses – a demand for U.S. troops to leave Iraq altogether.

In short, U.S. forces in Iraq are in danger of slipping into a twilight zone in which security forces may unite with nationalist insurgents against foreign troops. Quite candidly, there are simply not enough soldiers and Marines and coalition soldiers to protect all the rears that would be exposed – simultaneously.

Monday, March 20, 2006

How Do You Say Deja vu the Third Time Over?

There was no way to avoid it this weekend, the beginning of the fourth year of war and occupation of Iraq by the (now) 27-member coalition led by the U.S. In both print and in interviews, top Bush administration figures rhetorically stood shoulder to shoulder: progress continues to be made in Iraq.

It clearly was the echo of three years of the oft-repeated promise by President Bush that America would stand proudly beside all those who aspired for freedom and liberty wherever individuals of such vision emerged.

However, this all-American love-fest struck a sour note when former interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, told the British Broadcasting Corporation: “We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.”

So too, apparently, does General George Casey Jr., the senior military officer in Iraq, who told CNN: “We’re a long way from civil war.”

At issue, it seems, is the definition of “civil war.” While neither a deity nor a general, I would offer the following two options are “a war between different sections or parties of the same country or nation” or, more simply, “a war between factions in and of the same country.”

These definitions don’t seem satisfactory because they fail to define “war.” This used to be a considered “a contest between nations or states carried on by force.” With the 20th century propensity for initiating armed combat without a formal declaration of war, something broader might be better – e.g., “a condition of belligerency maintained by force.”

Putting it all together, “civil war” might be defined as “a condition of armed belligerency between two or more sections or factions with roots in and of the same country.”

That is what we have in Iraq. But, as the frequently quoted but unidentified military expert, F. W. Robertson said, “Men will ever distinguish war from mere bloodshed.”

Friday, March 17, 2006

Got a Second? The Iraq Invasion Anniversary

With little fanfare – well actually none insofar as I could tell – Representative Joseph Knollenberg (MI) introduced House Resolution 698 on February 28. The bottom line – the “Resolved” paragraph – reads:

“That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that all Americans should participate in a moment of silence to reflect upon the service and sacrifice of members of the United States Armed Forces both at home and abroad.”

The date and the time recommended in HRES 698 for the moment of silence is 12:00 noon on March 26, which would be designated “National Support the Troops Day.”

On March 2, 12 other Members of the Michigan House delegation – Republicans and Democrats – signed on as co-sponsors.

The measure rested in committee until March 14 when Virginia’s Thelma Drake signed on as a co-sponsor and, under a suspension of House rules, brought the proposal before the whole House. The resolution was considered and passed by the House on a voice vote in 18 minutes.

I don’t know any American who doesn’t “support the troops.” Sometimes the support is quite concrete, sometimes quite discreet, sometimes completely internalized. “Support” can be anything from visiting deployed troops (e.g., executive branch or congressional delegations) to keeping equipment and supplies (food, water, other necessities, and “extras”) moving to visiting those in hospitals to writing letters and emails to “holding in the light” all who are in danger to simply wanting the fighting to end and for everyone to return home safely.

While I understand the intent of HRES 698, I wonder what happened to HRES 698 ½ and HRES 698 ¾, those “resolutions” that ought to say, respectively:

“Resolved: That it is the sense of the House of Representatives
that all Americans should participate in a moment of silence to
reflect upon the sacrifices and hardships of the Iraqi people.”

“Resolved: That it is the sense of the House of Representatives
that all Americans should participate in a moment of silence to
reflect upon the service and sacrifice of allied military personnel.”

I also wonder why only a moment? In Britain, I have witnessed ceremonies honoring past and present armed forces personnel where five minutes were spent in silent remembrance – that’s minutes, not seconds.

Surely the U.S. public can spare a minute this Sunday (March 19) and another minute the next (March 26) to reflect on the wars and on all those touched by the wars:

-the estimated 400,000-500,000 who have served in the Persian Gulf war zones – an average of .0003-.0002 seconds of thought about each person; or

-the 30,000 to 80,000 Iraqi dead – an average of .004-.0015 seconds of thought about each; or

-the more than 20,000 U.S. injured or wounded – an average of .006 seconds per; or

-the nearly 2,600 U.S. military dead – an average of .046 seconds; or

-the 280 coalition military dead – an average of .428.

Compared to what the President asked of the country – go shopping – 120 seconds is not much of a sacrifice.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Guess Who's in the 'Hood?

Have you ever been in a mood to be alone and had someone unexpectedly drop in on you – and stay awhile?

That’s what happened to the people in southern Salahuddin province in the vicinity of Samarra, which itself is about 55 miles from Baghdad.

What happened

Early on March 16 (surprisingly not on March 15, the Ides of March), “Operation Swarmer” dropped in on what was described as a developing insurgent base of operations. “Swarmer” is the code-name for the combined U.S.-Iraqi air assault-ground force attack on suspected insurgent weapons caches and bomb-makers reportedly living in the area. According to Pentagon news releases and other reporting, this attack is the largest air-assault operation since the end of “major combat” associated with the original 2003 invasion. Iraqi and U.S. troops numbered 850 and 650, respectively. Some 200 ground vehicles and 50 combat and support helicopters were used. The Pentagon said no ordnance was fired by the helicopters, and there was no indication that fixed-wing aircraft participated.

What the U.S. says

Administration and military spokespersons were at pains to point out that a majority of the ground forces used in the attack were Iraqi and that most of the intelligence on which the operation is based came from Iraqi sources. One of the long-standing goals of the Pentagon has been to “stand up” enough trained Iraqi units so that U.S. troops are less visible (and thereby less disruptive) to ordinary Iraqis. After the first day of what is expected to be a multi-day operation, 41 individuals had been arrested; no fatalities on either side were reported.

Evaluating the Situation and the Reports

For months the pledge has been that as Iraqi forces “stand up” U.S. forces will “stand down.” But that means units that are able to operate on their own, from start (contingency planning) to finish (implementing the approved war plan). The Pentagon conceded earlier this year that no Iraqi unit can stand entirely on its own; all need logistics help, compatible communication systems, and good leaders, etc.

“Standing down” is intended to reduce the visible and disruptive presence of foreign soldiers in the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis. Launching an air assault with 50 helicopters doesn’t seem a good choice for lowering force visibility. That is accomplished by moving foreign troops away from urban areas and in getting better control of Iraq’s borders. The Iraqi air force has a few fixed wing planes but no combat helicopters. This signals again that most Iraqi units will continue to function only with significant support from U.S. forces.

Samarra, site of the Shi’ite Golden Mosque destroyed February 22, has been a target of U.S. forces at least three times. It is chiefly Sunni and therefore viewed with suspicion by Shi’ites and the occupation authorities. Moreover, despite no Iraqi “government” or White House statement as a source, some media outlets are specifically pointing the finger at Sunnis for the mosque’s destruction.

Because intelligence can be perishable, it sometimes requires immediate action. However, an operation this large is not just cobbled together at the last moment. It must have been in the planning stage for some time, which means it didn’t have to go today.

What’s wrong with today?

Commanders in the field and politicians in the U.S. keep saying that there is no military solution in Iraq. Yet a major high-visibility military operation starts the same day a major political event occurs: the new Iraqi parliament finally holds its first session. In 40 minutes, the parliament is sworn in – and immediately becomes so divisive that it adjourns indefinitely.

Yesterday, the Pentagon revealed that a U.S. battalion stationed in Kuwait was ordered to Baghdad as part of a general increase of security forces around the city. Called “Operation Scales of Justice,” the movement of 800 U.S. soldiers and 3,700 additional Iraqi troops to Baghdad is intended to preclude a new “spike” in insurgent attacks on pilgrims and residents. But it also raises, temporarily, U.S. troop visibility.

Also yesterday in Ishaqi, north of Baghdad, an air attack destroyed a house from which a suspected terror “facilitator” was said to be operating. The U.S. command said four civilians were killed and the suspect captured. Local police said 13 civilians died – two men and 11 women and children. Ground forces participating in this strike were air-lifted in by helicopters -- another instance where U.S. troops were very visible.

And all this comes two days after a wire service (Reuters) revealed that the U.S. dropped missiles and bombs on more Iraqi cities during October 2005-February 2006 than in the same 5 month period a year earlier, and U.S. aircraft made 50 percent more attacks in the same 2005-2006 timeframe than in the comparable 2004-2005 period.

In the U.S., it is easy to forget that Iraq is a largely tribal society. When a house is bombed or a family member killed, those who survive go to stay with relatives who sometimes reside in “pacified” areas. Events get retold, and in the retelling new resentment and a “need” for revenge get created.

And we wonder why, after three years, the insurgency remains so strong?

New National Security Strategy

The White House is to release its first update of the 2002 NSS later today. The tripartite Axis of Evil has been expanded to seven countries, even after removing Iraq. With that many countries named, the new NSS is neither a strategy nor an axis. More on this later.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The U.S. Air Force Staying in Iraq

Yesterday (March 14), U.S. Central Command commander General John Abizaid told a House of Representatives committee that the U.S. may want to keep troops and bases in Iraq to help "moderates" and protect oil facilities.

This morning, Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne, who was one of my roommates at West Point in the 1960s, reinforced Abizaid's remarks. Noting that Bagram air base in Afghanistan is 90 minutes from Tikrit, Mike observed that in today's world of integrated air-ground military operations, taking this long to respond to a request for close air support (CAS) for a ground unit is completely unacceptable. In fact, he quipped, if air force planes haven't arrived within 10 minutes of a CAS request, the army thinks its radios are broken.

So what do we have?

If any ground force units are left in Iraq, the U.S. air force will have at least one base of its own. The likely choice is Balad, located about mid-way between Baghdad and Tikrit, which is even now taking on the appearance of a permanent (or "enduring" base).

Even if all U.S. troop units are withdrawn, the air force may keep a squadron or two at Balad -- just in case the diplomats and Marine Guards at the embassy come under fire from extremists. And since these may be in Iraq for some time, so will the USAF.

The deck, so to speak, is being stacked higher and higher against those advocating no permanent bases and no U.S. troops left in Iraq. To find out more and what you can do to support our troops by getting them all back home, go to and click on Iraq.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pandora's Box

If you are ever fortunate enough to live in a community that sponsors a visit by Iraqis who actually live and work in Iraq, don’t miss the opportunity to hear them describe what life is like for them.

Not all of them live in the battle zones that are currently in the news. But all of them live in a place – one hesitates to call it a country except that it does have internationally recognized borders – where electricity is on for as little as one hour a day, clean water may be available only from communal spigots, the health care system has either collapsed or is overrun by war casualties, and where violence can come with little or no warning from passing military convoys, Iraqi military or police raids, rampaging sectarian militias, or silently from the air.

And there is always the fact of occupation, of insensitivity to the culture – secular and religious – and ignorance or disregard of cultural mores. Listening to Iraqis describe their encounters (or those of their friends) with coalition soldiers, it seems as if every good gesture by a foreign soldier is counteracted by an offensive one. And psychologically that is how the sequence is remembered – not a “bad” offset by a positive exchange but a “good” negated by a faux pas or worse.

Visit with enough of these ordinary Iraqis still living, working, and trying to raise families in Iraq and three themes emerge. The first is they appreciate Saddam’s removal from power. The second is bewilderment that the world’s strongest economy and strongest military cannot restore and sustain basic community services or subdue violent foreign extremists.

And the third? Well, in early March, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, noted that when regime change happened, the U.S. “opened the Pandora’s box and the question is, what is the way forward?” The box, into which Zeus crammed all the ills of humanity that then flooded over the world when Pandora opened the lid, hid one redemptive virtue: Hope.

It is the answer to Ambassador Khalilzad’s question.

It is the lifeline of every Iraqi.

It is the promise that some future day really will be better.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Brits to Drop Numbers in Iraq

Britain's Defence Minister revealed that at the conclusion of the spring rotation of troops in Iraq the UK will have 800 fewer than at present. This is about a 10 percent drop.

At its height, the UK contribution to the coalition was 46,000. Currently it is about 8,500. UK fatalities in Iraq number 103, exactly one-half of all non-U.S. fatalities. Thirty-four fatalities were from accidents or friendly fire. Another five UK soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

Were the U.S. to drop 10 percent of its current force strength in Iraq, that would be about 13,200 troops. Not a bad idea.

Let's support the troops: start bringing them home.

Don't Forget Darfur

In response to a query by Senator Carl Levin (MI) during her March 9 joint appearance with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of State Rice stated that the administration's FY2006 supplemental request for AU peacekeeping in Darfur ($123 million) is "an appropriate amount." The administration wants a larger, more robust force to take over from the 7,000 African Union troops currently struggling with the peace mission. The Khartoum government does not want a UN intervention force, particularly one with a stronger mandate than the AU troops have. The AU itself just voted to extend its intervention force at its current strength through September, a potential complication to sending a UN force before then.

Like the Senate, the House of Representatives seems to take Darfur peacekeeping more seriously than the administration. Word is that Jerry Lewis (CA) raised the proposed $38.1 million requested for the UN in Darfur under "Contribution to International Peacekeeping Activities" (CIPA) by $60 million at the urging of Frank Wolf (VA). This was followed by Jesse Jackson Jr. (IL) who proposed adding $100 million to the administration's $123 million to support the AU mission and, when (and if) the UN takes over peacekeeping, have any unspent money transfer with the shift in mandate to the UN.

Notice no one is offering troops or equipment, just money. It's the least we can do; it is, after all, genocide.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Taxes: What a Difference 200 years makes

Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary creation, had a problem that was evident from his first appearance. He was addicted, first to the application of reason and logic to his investigative hobby, and second to drugs -- specifically, cocaine, a "seven percent solution" as he tells Dr. Watson in The Sign of Four.

Washington is also addicted. Its drug is tax dollars for the "global war on terror," including Afghanistan and Iraq. But this addiction is six times Holmes'. Overall, in Fiscal Year 2005, 42 percent of your taxes and mine went for war and war preparations.

So how are we doing? The U.S. is about to start the fourth year since President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan remains in turmoil, and with Iraq is costing U.S. taxpayers about $7 billion per month for actual operations. On March 2, a Pentagon spokesperson conceded that "We are not killing them [the insurgents] as fast as they're being created." Meanwhile, U.S. casualties continue to rise.

Beyond the dead and wounded is another stream of red -- red ink. Out of a national debt approaching $8.18 trillion, $3 trillion has been added by the Bush administration. And the Senate is to vote this week to raise the debt ceiling by another $780 billion. Two hundred years ago, with federal revenue entirely dependent on customs duties, the worry for Thomas Jefferson was what to do with the surplus after the debt (about $60 million) was retired. The answer: invest in the country's future -- buy real estate (Louisiana Purchase).

To find out more about what makes up this 42 percent of taxes being spent on war, see

What is "The Quakers' Colonel?"

As an idea, this blog’s genesis springs from a narrative in an as yet unpublished book that describes how an Army draftee and Vietnam war resister and a career soldier and Vietnam veteran became colleagues 30 years after U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam.

Were a stranger to read that unpublished narrative, she might find a few unexpected turns in the “plot,” decisions or actions that propelled one or the other protagonist down one road rather than another. Since the narrative is about life – rather, about lives as they were lived in a particular time and particular place and based on personal and societal beliefs and assumptions – to be authentic it must not only describe the unexpected but also reveal wherever possible the psychology underlying the reaction to changes.

This publication is also a narrative, albeit much narrower than “life.” It chronicles and comments on selected military and military-related events – war, weapons, spending, strategy and tactics, UN and multinational peace operations, the UN structure, military industry, intelligence, veterans – briefings, congressional testimony, speeches, etc. Except when a guest writer is featured, the commentary in the first instance will most often be from the perspective of The Quakers’ Colonel, but readers are invited to add their own perspective as the spirit moves them.

There is one caveat we ask respondants to observe. While policy, programs, and practices are always fair game for commentary by supporters and opponents, we ask you to remember, when writing about any individual, that there is “that which is of God” in each of us.

New commentary will initially be posted three times per week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. As demand and use blossom, additional days will be added.

Join the discussion. Debate the issues. Tell your friends – and your adversaries – that Capitol Hill has a new resident at