Friday, March 30, 2007

Looking Toward Resolving Israel-Palestine

If Capitol Hill were a college campus, the current congressional hiatus would be called spring break. Regardless, like college students throughout the U.S. at this time, many Members are traveling: some returning to the districts and states to meet with and listen to constituents, others going overseas on official fact-finding trips (some of which are more accurately labeled boondoggles or junkets).

Undoubtedly, a number of those traveling abroad will end up in Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and perhaps Kuwait (the latter being the region’s transit point for getting into Iraq), with fewer going to Afghanistan. Don’t look for “codels” (congressional delegations) visiting Palestinian leaders or going to long-time allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or other countries and emirates on the Arabian peninsula.

Not after the just-completed two-day Arab League summit in Riyadh where the U.S. was roundly criticized by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah for what the king termed the “illegal foreign occupation” of Iraq.

Media accounts portrayed Washington as surprised by the king’s characterization, with administration spokespersons noting that the multinational force in Iraq has a mandate from the UN and is in Iraq at the “request” of the Iraqi government. While true, these circumstances are “after the fact” of the original invasion and occupation of Iraq which were done without UN authorization and for reasons that many countries believe the Bush administration knew or should have known were not true – as post-invasion events proved.

That the Bush administration expressed surprise is itself a surprise, given that the White House has been encouraging the Saudis to become more open in their diplomacy. Apparently, Bush and his advisors thought the king would dutifully press Washington’s viewpoint, forgetting Lord Acton’s admonition that nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests.

In fact, the king’s remarks were but the latest in a series of cautionary signals the White House failed to note. For example, with the U.S. unwilling or unable to dampen factional fighting in the Gaza strip between supporters of Palestinian President Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh, the Saudis brokered not only a general cessation in the fighting but pushed both leaders to form a “unity government.” The reaction from Washington and Tel Aviv was completely negative as both regard Hamas as a terror organization. In fact, Washington and Tel Aviv toughened already punitive sanctions against Palestinians in an effort to force the resignation or dismissal of the Hamas-dominated government elected by Palestinians in 2006. This action was exactly contrary to Saudi Arabia’s call for the U.S. and Israel to reduce if not remove all sanctions.

Other substantive divisions have also become public. Washington has avoided contacts with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad while King Abdullah invited the Iranian to visit Saudi Arabia. The king also has been open to discussions with another “terror” organization, Hezbollah, about the future role of the organization in Lebanese politics and Lebanon’s relations with Israel.

Saudi displeasure even spilled into ceremonial events. The Bush administration’s blatant effort to overturn Hamas’ election success through increased sanctions undoubtedly played into King Abdullah’s refusal to attend a formal White House state dinner in his honor planned for mid-April. Administration spokespersons denied such an event was scheduled – probably true technically as the king apparently was thoughtful enough to decline before the date was entered into the president’s calendar of events.

While the continuing violence in Iraq was a significant topic of the March summit, the main business before the League was to reassert the organization’s united backing of a five year old Saudi-devised formula to move toward settlement of the Israeli-Palestine standoff. That plan offered Israel unconditional recognition by all 22 members of the Arab League in exchange for Israel returning to its pre-1967 war borders, accepting the designation of East Jerusalem as the capitol of the Palestinian state, and recognizing the “right of return” of Palestinians to homes inside Israel proper (March 29, 2007 The Guardian (UK),,2045033,00.html).

Tel Aviv has taken note of the renewed offer, but wants the League to make changes to the offer, particularly on the right of return and the total return of captured territory. The League has countered with a call for Israel to accept the plan and then negotiate the changes it wants.

Don’t hold your breath expecting a quick deal.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Isn't Science Wonderful?

In October 2004, the British medical journal Lancet published a study based on extensive interviews with Iraqis that the researchers then extrapolated to determine that in the first months after the U.S.-led invasion, some 100,000 excess deaths occurred among the civilian population. At the time, this was well above any other count and was dismissed as outlandish.

Two years later, the same journal published the findings of a much more extensive survey and similar extrapolation. This time, the total excess deaths – those over what would be expected in a country not at war – since the invasion in March 2003 was estimated at 655,000. Moreover, of this total, the study estimated 601,000 deaths were from violence.

This time Washington and London were quite derisive in their dismissal of the findings. Well, now London has reversed course. The chief science advisor to the British Ministry of Defence has states that the methodology employed in the study is “robust” and “close to best practices.”

One gets the impression the chief science advisor found he could replicate the process and get similar results.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cluster Munitions -- Do They "Hinder" Commanders?

I have noted before (February 23) the resolve of at least 46 countries who met in Oslo, Norway in February to draw up an international treaty to ban cluster munitions, an indiscriminate weapon that, like land mines, are victim-activated.

As with the final treaty banning anti-personnel land mines, the prospect of a treaty banning all cluster munitions is opposed by the Bush administration on the basis that it would unduly limit the flexibility of battlefield commanders. Never mind that as recently as 2003, a “lessons learned” after action report on the efficacy of fire support provided to the 3rd Infantry Division categorized cluster munitions as “losers” and “a Cold War relic” especially unfit “for use in urban areas.”

In any evaluation of whether a particular weapon is “appropriate,” it’s helpful to note the purpose for and, when available, the history of a weapon’s development. Cluster bombs were originally designed to attack large enemy formations in the open or in static, camouflaged positions (e.g., a tree line). Instead of repeatedly risking pilots and aircraft to enemy ground fire or to surface-to-air missiles, commanders would be able to achieve the same effect with one or two planes dropping one cluster bomb each. (Depending on the type of munition and the delivery system, the footprint of one cluster munition can be as large as one square kilometer or about 250 acres).

On August 1, 2006, Senators Patrick Leahy (VT), Arlen Specter (PA), Byron Dorgan (ND), and Tom Harkin (IA) introduced S.3768, the bi-partisan “Victim-Activated Landmine Abolition Act of 2006” that, had it become law, would have prohibited the Federal Government from procuring “victim-activated land mines or any other weapon designed to be victim activated in any circumstance.” Although only land mines were specifically identified by type, the bill’s language could be broadly interpreted as including cluster munitions should the Pentagon be so inclined.

With the February 2007 Oslo meeting approaching, the White House stance hardened against any treaty that specifically sought to ban cluster munitions. Expecting such intransigence, the Senate again in the 110th Congress took the lead – this time proposing legislation that mandated curbs specifically on cluster munition production, stockpiling, transfer, or use by the United States. Senators Dianne Feinstein (CA), Patrick Leahy (VT), Barbara Mikulski (MD), and Bernie Sanders (VT) introduced S.594, the “Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007,” on February 14, 2007 (S. 594). Although the proposed bill does not apply to every type of cluster munition – it prohibits expenditures for the use, sale, and transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 percent – or in every circumstance – it bans the use by U.S. forces of cluster munitions in or near civilian populated areas – it effectively proscribes all uses as the united States does not have stocks of cluster munitions with such a low failure rate.

While the Bush administration’s penchant for asserting that Congress is trying to micro-manage or is “curtailing the flexibility of field commanders” whenever it seems on the verge of exercising its legislative responsibility for oversight is nothing more than a canard, a fair question is concerns how and two what extent would a nearly-complete ban on cluster munitions affect strategy and tactics.

The answer requires distinguishing between “conventional” and counterinsurgency warfare.

Looking at conventional warfare tactics with a near-total ban in place, a ground commander with no cluster munitions to destroy enemy formations before the close-in land battle starts would have to rely on the volume of “conventional” indirect and close air fire support and on the direct fire from tank guns. In terms of land force capabilities, U.S. M-I tank crews are generally better trained, their tanks easily outrange all equivalent armored vehicles and anti-tank weapons used by other armies, can fire on the move as accurately as when stopped, and fire at least as rapidly as non-U.S. armored vehicles.

Strategically in conventional war scenarios, the overall effect also is minimal because, in the aftermath of the first (1991) and second Gulf Wars (March – May 2003), no actual or potential opponent will field a conventional force to oppose a similar U.S. force in “symmetrical” combat. In the event that such a force would be mustered against the U.S. or a U.S.-led coalition, American generals would avoid combat in built-up areas because such engagements tend to involve high attrition rates – particularly for the “outside” force.

Looking at the effects in counter-insurgencies of a near-total ban on cluster munitions as regards battlefield tactics, the ban would, if anything, help the effort of U.S. commanders. Since counter-insurgency is an effort to win hearts and minds, a commander who even considers a resort to cluster munitions in a built-up area (where insurgent meets counter-insurgent in the contest to control or at least influence the population’s allegiance) has already lost the battle and probably the “war.”

Strategically, insurgents do not mass in numerically significant groups large enough to present a target array that justifies as the “weapon of choice” a cluster munition – whether in open terrain or in built-up areas. IF an insurgency gets to the point that enemy forces are massing in 50, 75, or greater strength and doing so in a way that U.S. forces can easily detect, either the enemy has overestimated his capabilities or the U.S. and any coalition partners should be making exit plans.

As of February 14, 2007, the same date as the introduction of S. 594, the UN Mine Action Coordination Center (UNMACC) directing the clean-up of unexploded cluster bomblets in South Lebanon as a result of last summer’s Israeli-Hezbollah 33 day war, had identified 847 cluster bomb strike locations that had contaminated 34 million square meters. Since August 14, 2006 ceasefire, UNMACC reports 216 civilian and demining casualties in southern Lebanon –30 deaths and 186 injuries.

Be assured, there will be more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Overload in Iraq

If you decided to see one Shakespearean play every day, you would need 37 days to get through the canon – that is, if you didn’t first overdose on the Bard’s 34,896 lines (an average of 943 per play).

Fortunately, for the faint-hearted, there is an alternative: a performance by the RSC that requires about 2 to 2½ hours to “do” them all. Here the RSC is not the Royal Shakespeare Company but the Reduced Shakespeare Company, three actors who have “condensed” Shakespeare to “fit” that amount of time. (They have also reduced the world’s “Great Books” and “U.S. History” into two more two-hour presentations.)

I was reminded of the RSC (the reduced company, not the royal one) by reports in two prominent U.S. dailies today, the Washington Post (“GAO Faults U.S. Military Over Munitions In Iraq” and the Los Angeles Times (“GAO Looks At Gaps in Iraq Arms Security”,1,5483452.story?ctrack=1&cset=true) about a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on an old subject – the lack of control of Saddam’s conventional ammunition dumps in the initial weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)..

Specifically, the report (“Applying Lessons Learned Concerning the Need for Security over Conventional Munitions Storage Sites to Future Operations Planning”) zeroes in on the inability of the U.S. and its allies, after four years in the country, to identify where these dumps are and provide a realistic estimate of how many tons remain (original guesses ran from 600,000 to a million tons). More germane, given the pressure U.S. ground forces are under and the prevalence of deaths and serious injuries from improvised explosive devices whose components come from unsecured munitions dumps, is the report’s all too common conclusion that trying to overthrow Saddam “on the cheap” with insufficient numbers of “boots on the ground” allowed the wholesale looting of not only government buildings but also weapons arsenals.

What’s the connection between the RSC and OIF? The RSC performance is agile, light (as in lighthearted), and sharp, yet has such enormous scope for improvising (which is done well) that you can see it, say, at the start and the very end of a two week run and have seen two unique performances. One emerges with a “Shakespearean” sense about the world – albeit with fewer cents after paying for tickets.

A key element for the RSC is audience reaction – what is “working” during each performance that can be exploited to keep the pace going in a continually reinforcing give and take. Similarly, military planners and field commanders constantly evaluate the movements of enemy forces as the latter react to friendly forces implementing their battle plans.”

OIF unfolded as agile, light (in size), and swift-moving, but also as an unpredictable and relatively risky traditional set-piece campaign. Washington’s apparent lack of alternatives, once it became clear (as happened well before the invasion started) that Ankara would not allow U.S. ground forces to traverse Turkey to create a “northern front” against Saddam’s forces, should have raised alarms about the underlying rigidity of the war plan. It had few if any “branches” – well-thought out alternatives that could be quickly implemented if the overall campaign did not unfold as predicted – both the combat and the logistics aspects. In short, there was little scope for give and take.

Less than two weeks into the invasion, there were signs that a number of the assumptions of the coalition war plan were wrong. Significantly, the “resistance” was evaporating, which meant there would be minimal help from Iraq’s security forces to impose and maintain order in the country once “major combat” ended. The politicians in Washington and the generals in the field may call it a different name, but for the troops and for Iraqi civilians trying to live in a society awash in guns, combat continues.

So with an unknown but substantial pile of Soviet/Warsaw Pact weapons and ammunition left over from Saddam’s era, what has the administration decided to do? Of course – send in U.S. arms and ammunition, $3 billion worth. This will allow the Iraqi army to retire and stockpile the Soviet gear – probably at minimally secure sites.

It is a form of manic madness – like seeing all of Shakespeare in two hours.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Unraveling "Support for the Troops

On March 19, the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, President Bush asked the American public for patience and “the courage and resolve” to see the war through to victory.

Mr. Bush also called on Congress to evince its continuing support of the troops in the field by rapidly passing legislation that provides all the war funds in the administration’s supplemental appropriations request and does so with no deadlines or other conditions or restrictions.

In fact, after a full four years of growing fatalities, growing numbers of wounded – physically and psychologically – and a continuous diversion to warfare of monetary and other resources not only over the past four years but for untold years in the future to “recapitalize” the force, the public has been more than patient and more tolerant than warranted in light of the unfolding events that constitute this ill-conceived and mismanaged misadventure. Remarkably, few in the public arena or the media even remarked on the fact that with this war anniversary, Iraq becomes the longest armed conflict in our history save for the Vietnam War and the War of Independence.

To their credit, growing numbers of Americans are responding to the president’s entreaty for courage and resolve. Only the public’s resolve is to end the war, not continue it; to bring the troops home, not send more; to support the troops by honoring their sacrifices, not ordering them to make more, unwarranted sacrifices and risk more lives.

Now it is Congress’s turn to show courage and resolve by accepting the responsibility given it last November to change the direction and the mix of policy tools employed in U.S. engagement with the government and people of Iraq and with Iraq’s neighbors.

In particular, Congress must firmly and finally reject the long-standing rhetorical and political blackmail by pro-war factions who equate “supporting troops in the field” with complete freedom of action for the president as commander-in-chief. It is precisely in time of war that the powers of Congress to “raise armies” and “maintain navies” requires full congressional engagement with the president through its power to direct or limit funds, limit the scope and duration of the use of military force, and specify and enable the executive to undertake diplomatic and economic initiatives that speed the cessation of hostilities and facilitate the redeployment of the nation’s armed forces.

Since the rise of the national security state after World War II, “supporting the troops” has become a veritable mantra whose mindless repetition disguises Congress’ abdication of its ongoing responsibility to defend the rights of the public in times of strife, to ensure that “troops in the field” are not sent into battle without proper training and proper equipment and proper leadership – including leadership that recognizes when armed conflict can no longer contribute to the resolution of a dispute.

In short, for Congress to “support the troops” in time of war it must insist on conditions that minimize the risk to our armed forces (and those from other nations) committed to restoring international mores and rebalancing power relationships when all other possibilities for resolving breaches of international law have failed. The underlying end game for Congress’ “supporting the troops” is enabling them to employ the least degree of destruction in reaching the defined political-diplomatic objective. This demands continuous oversight and action to minimize war’s effects and duration, as Congress did in Lebanon in the 1980s and in Kosovo in the 1990s.

Over the last four years, military men and women have shown courage and resolve. Military families have shown courage and resolve. The American people have shown courage and resolve.

Now it is Congress’ turn.


Monday, March 19, 2007

The Curtain Falls

It may well have been conceived as a war against Saddam Hussein when, on March 19th – March 20th in Baghdad – 2003, George Bush, without any imminent, credible threat to the United States, launched the country into a preemptive war of choice against Iraq. The fact that the first strike, intended to decapitate the most senior circles of Saddam’s government, killed and wounded only civilians, signaled that this war would be about something beyond Saddam.

Six weeks later, on May 1st, 2003, Bush flew onto a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast of California and proclaimed that “major combat” in Iraq had ended. Not coincidentally, on the same day, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made an identical declaration with reference to Afghanistan. No one seemed to remark about the fact that U.S. forces had been on the offensive in Afghanistan for nearly 19 months – since October 7th, 2001 – against a less organized, ill-disciplined, and less well-armed “army” – and a regime arguably just as hated as Saddam’s.

It probably was a simple oversight – one of Rumsfeld’s “things” that just happen in “messy” democracies.

In light of all the double-talk, denials, corrections, corruption, waste – to which must be added the administration’s self-serving misuse of intelligence, its resultant and inevitable strategic gullibility and repetitive abilitye tactiisjudgments – one can only stand in awe (or perhaps be “shocked and awed”) by the resiliency of the Republic and its ability to survive the predations of politicians and still stand in any recognizable form.

March 15th, four days ago (as noted elsewhere), I attended a one-day symposium at the National Defense University in Washington on the subject of Rethinking and Resourcing the “Long War.” Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, presented the Pentagon’s and the administration’s viewpoint. Henry seemed to characterize 20th century wars as “limited” in that discreet periods of active combat – together with 45 years of strong military preparedness – defeated attempts to impose political and economic tyranny. In the 21st century, the United States will be involved in a multi-generational struggle of variable intensity that will require new and ever-adaptable tools to defeat “cultural totalitarianism.” As in the last century, so in this one, the U.S. has no option but to fight.

The ironies associated with this occasion are many. Three in particular stand out.

There is the irony of the calendar: March 15, made infamous in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is the Ides of March, the date in 44 BCE when a cabal of Roman senators attacked and killed Caesar to “save the republic” from Caesar’s alleged ambition.

Similarly, “saving the U.S. homeland and public” from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, even though no verifiable images of these weapons had ever been provided, served as the original primary justification for George Bush’s assault on Iraq 2,047 years and four days after Caesar’s death (ignoring the changes of the Julian and Gregorian calendars).

There is the irony of “preventive violence.” In February 44 BCE, Marc Antony three times publicly offered Caesar the imperial crown. Three times Caesar declined – however insincerely – the crown. That the Senators proceeded with the assassination clearly identifies the execution as a preventive act justified as necessary to end the drift to dictatorship and the end of the 465 year old republic. Yet among the many factors contributing to the decline of the republic, the Senate itself stood second only to the power of the field legions.

In the 21st century, the Charter of the United Nations stands as the definitive legal basis for what is and is not a preventive war. Every one of the sequence of justifications for war that emerged from the White House between 2003-2005 were illegal (preventive ).

The third irony is Secretary Ryan Henry’s characterization of 21st century U.S. wars as struggles against “cultural totalitarianism.” It is exactly the same justification used by those who fight the U.S. The difference lies in the expanded meaning of culture and its “exercise.” Washington proclaims the struggle as one to preserve the rights of each individual to choose among various behavioral patterns and preferences as long as these do not unduly infringe on the choices available to others. Those labeled “cultural totalitarians” see such laissez faire notions as undermining their “right” to be free of the cacophony of temptations that threaten their sense of identity and place within the universal order – even if this channels human freedom into constricted channels.

In the 17 years after Caesar’s assassination, the remaining vestiges of the Roman republic continued to erode as first the assassins died and then the victors (notably Marc Antony and Octavius Caesar) fought each other. By 31 BCE Octavius was the power center in Rome; four years more and the republic effectively was no more. What a group of Senators thought to prevent in 44 BCE had come to pass. Octavius became Emperor Augustus Caesar, ruling until his death in 14 CE.

In 2001, George Bush declared the “global war on terror” and vowed to do whatever was necessary to preserve the republic and the American way of life. To this end, he launched an attack on Afghanistan and then on Iraq. And as Octavius had undermined the Roman republic by consolidating power within the “imperium,” Bush systematically set about undermining the U.S. Constitution’s balance of power by with his theory of the wartime “unitary presidency” as “commander-in-chief.”

Caesar ruled for 41 years.

Be thankful for term limits.

The Numbers at the start of Year 5:

U.S. Dead: 3,217 – more than 2 dead each day on average
UK Dead: 134
Other Coalition Fatalities: 124
Iraqi Security since January 2005: 4,994
Iraqi civilians since January 2005: 26,283

U.S. Wounded: 23,417
U.S. missing: 2

Friday, March 16, 2007

Honor and Honorable

Yesterday was the Ides of March. Anyone who has studied Latin or even looked at a list of Shakespeare’s plays will automatically word associate these words with Julius Caesar. There is first the historical figure whose murder in the Senate in 44 BCE for aspiring to become Dictator of Rome had the unintended consequence of doing exactly what the conspirators – Brutus, Cassius, and all the other “honorable men” – thought they were preventing.

And how do we know that the conspirators were “honorable”? Shakespeare tells us – or rather he has Marc Antony first praise the men of “honor” who saw a potential dictator in “great Caesar” and acted to preserve the people’s republic. In a eulogy that many once memorized, patiently, slowly, Marc Antony turns the semi-hostile, restive crowd against the poorly organized conspirators, who are forced to flee and eventually are defeated by the combined armies of Antony and Augustus.

While a longer reflection will be forthcoming on the subject of “honor” and what is honorable and not honorable, the coincidence of the Ides of March, Caesar and Marc Antony, and remarks by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about immorality warrant some comment.

As a noun, “honor has a dozen definitions in the on-line dictionary. But one must read down to the eighth entry to find the definition that goes to the self-generated interior set of principles by which we each judge and calibrate our relationship to the broader society. Put another way, to be honorable is to possess a “state of being” we are not afraid to reveal to others, to possess a psychic “comfort zone” with our existence.

The key to remaining “honorable” in one’s dealings with life has two elements. The first is to recognize that the principles that underpin your sense of what is honorable are not going to be replicated by the person sanding or sitting next o you. By extension, it also means that the most one can claim is that your principles are best for you and hers are best for her. There is no objective scale for comparing and deciding that my sense of Honor is superior or inferior to yours.

Second, as a function of human nature and analysis, the sense of that within that is “honorable” must be evolving and becoming nuanced in response to accumulated experiences. Failure to allow for peripheral modifications – especially if psychic energy is concentrated on actively suppressing changes that would help maintain a correlation between inner and outer perceptions – undermines an important aspect of self-recognition or, colloquially speaking, let’s us look at our reflection in a mirror every morning.

This brings me to the main theme, one found in Shakespeare but first attributed to Socrates: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

As it so happened on this Ides of March, newspaper op-ed pages were still printing letters decrying remarks made three days earlier during a telephone interview given by General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about immoral sexual behavior in the armed forces. Legislation was re-introduced in mid-February in Congress to abolish the Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy. This statute formally allows homosexuals to serve in the U.S. military if they conceal their sexual orientation and refrain from homosexual relations. The policy also forbids commanders from asking about a soldier’s sexual orientation.

Pace affirmed his support of the current policy under which homosexuals are serving in the U.S. military – estimates run as high as high as 65,000 in uniform. He then went on to give his personal view that any sexual intimacy not between husband and wife and male-female – whether heterosexual or homosexual – is immoral behavior. Furthermore, the military cannot be seen to tolerate or in any fashion condone such behavior

Pace’s statements about his personal beliefs quickly overshadowed the question of whether current policy should be changed. Since “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” began in 1993, nearly 11,000 service members have been administratively discharged for affirming their homosexuality.
Cynical Pentagon critics note that in the policy’s first few years, on average more than 1,000 men and women were discharged each year for “coming out” or “being outed.” The number removed from military service for this reason was a bit higher than in 2001 when more than 1,200 were discharged. But since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the annual number has fallen to a little more than 610. The stress on troops from repeated tours of duty, the inability of the Army National Guard and Reserves to meet recruitment goals, and projections of officer shortages in coming years, all are cited as the reason for the fall in administrative discharges for “immoral” conduct.

Slightly less cynical critics point where the Chairman’s mixing of public policy and personal stance inevitably leads:

-tolerating – knowing of but not doing anything to halt – sexual misconduct – is tantamount to condoning such behavior and undercuts good order and discipline

-those who condone immoral acts by refusing to punish immorality are somehow tainted by their refusal to act – with the implications that they too, should be disciplined if not also discharged;

-discharging all who engage in immoral acts or passively condone such acts will achieve – given human nature – a variation on the old Army recruiting slogan: “A Marine Corps of One.”

The Chairman is entitled to his personal views as they are an integral part of his sense of “honor” and of being honorable. Unfortunately, when the society in which he is a prominent public official has chosen to expand its acceptance of behaviors by redefining or refining general notions of “the honorable” that exceed his ability to assimilate with his principles, he should decline to offer his own view until he leaves public life.

It is most unfortunate that the question of what constitutes honor and how one develops a sense of the honorable has been conflated by the public’s ambivalence toward all things sexual. At root the challenge is to find current sources of and storage space for those value patterns that define the primary collective and individual parameters that undergird “honor.”

As the Brits say in a related context, “Be upstanding!”

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bliss versus Ignorance

In the PBS series The Power of Myth, renown American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) tells host Bill Moyers : “I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Now this formula doesn’t mean doing whatever one wants. Neither does it justify abdicating one’s responsibility to act responsibly – i.e., “I was just following orders.”
At root, Campbell’s “bliss” evolves from the search for what, among society’s (and life’s) many needs, so absolutely absorbs one’s psychic energy and attention as to inspire the sense of having reached one’s greatest potential when engaged in that selected activity.

In the civic life of these United States today one can find much passion still, but it is the destructive passion of anger, the polar opposite of Campbell’s energetic, creative bliss.
Memory, of course, is selective, but in the 20 years since Campbell died the anger seems to have increased exponentially and in reaction to the failure of elected and selected officials to create and nurture and inspire a positive public spirit.

And apparently, this failure is detectible at the very top – at least in the view of Mayan priests at a archeological site Guatemala that President Bush visited during his just completed to six South and Central American countries. In what Campbell would readily recognize and appreciate, the priests announced they would have to cleanse the former sacred temple grounds of “bad spirits” following Bush’s visit so their ancestors could “rest in peace.” As one Guatemalan put it:

“That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture.”

Meanwhile, back in Washington, anger is growing over an ever-widening array of revelations involving officials who, most charitably, could be described as “out of the loop” and uncharitably as willfully deceiving Congress and the public – and then attempting to excuse themselves from any responsibility for providing false statements by claiming ignorance about what occurs within their department or agency.

The Army’s Surgeon General, LTG Kevin Kiley, plead no knowledge about conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center despite having commanded the hospital three years earlier and still occupying a house on the hospital grounds. Moreover, when the problems first surfaced, he tried to minimize them, then rejected calls for his resignation, suggesting he would be the best person to undertake corrective measures because he was most familiar with the shortfalls. In stark contrast, MGEN Weightman, the commander at the time the story broke (and who had been at Walter Reed for just 6 months), apologized up-front to the wounded soldiers, their families, and to the country for not moving more quickly to correct deficiencies.

The Walter Reed scandal was soon followed by revelations that the FBI had underreported to Congress by 20 percent the use of “national security letters” to obtain telecommunications records. This too was put down to lack of information – that is, ignorance – on the part of Director Robert Mueller. But when the individual whose organization can demand private account histories without the knowledge of the affected subscribers doesn’t know how often his agency has used this authority, on what basis can the people trust that these and other “powers” of government will not be further abused?

Of course, one can always go to the Attorney General (AG), Alberto Gonzales, the person who is supposedly the people’s chief lawyer. (Remember, the president has his own White House legal counsel.) With the current AG, however, once again ignorance is called on as the operative defense for lying to Congress about who was and was not involved in the decision to fire eight U.S. prosecutors. (Such is the famous “Sergeant Schultz defense” – “I Know Nothing!” – named for its originating character in the 1960s television series Hogan’s Heroes.)

Campbell’s bliss is the intersection of myth, symbols, rituals, and life as natural expressions of and windows on the transcendent. The Bush administration’s bliss – or bias – lies at the intersection of a Grimm’s fairy tale, deliberate deception, fear, and secrecy that are so convoluted as to be opaque, thereby effectively severing government policies from programs and interdicting corrective feedback. It is a wonder that more officials aren’t “blissfully” ignorant of the realities of the daily lives of millions of the general public.

Perhaps PBS ought to re-run the Power of Myth. Better yet, PBS might mail a DVD of the series to every cabinet secretary, undersecretary, head and deputy of independent government agencies, and every military flag officer (general or admiral).

And on the cover of the DVD ought to be placed in large script the following quote from Campbell:

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are – if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Iraq War Supplemental: A Message or a Mood?

The Iraq War Supplemental: A Message or a Mood?

“I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold.”
2LT Clifton Cates, July 19, 1918, 2nd Battle of the Marne

Few outside the military – in fact few outside the Marine Corps – would recognize this quotation or that the author of the message later became the 19th Commandant.

Yet at this point in time, it seems to capture the state of play on Capitol Hill and the White House as Congress finally concentrates its attention on the president’s 2007 Emergency War Supplemental Appropriations request for approximately $100 billion.

On March 8, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats made public their response to the Bush proposal, the “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act. According to the Speaker’s web site, the proposed law “supports the troops,” puts additional funds into veterans health care (including funds to reinvigorate the veterans’ disability process), holds the administration and Baghdad accountable for meeting agreed benchmarks, and requires the president to withdraw all U.S. soldiers and relocate them in the U.S. no later than. August 31, 2008.

This sounded, at the time, like a “plan that was coming together.” Indeed, the Democrats interpreted (and most observers agreed), that the November 2006 election was a rejection of the administration’s failed “hold the course” strategy (as amended). But the Democrats quickly discovered that, despite the November elections, the White House continued to insist that the war in Iraq “could be won” with no more than an “amendment” to the pre-November ballot.

Faced with a White House that seems intent on standing fast, what can congressional advocates – Republican and Democratic – do to end this war?

In the House, progress depends on whether Speaker Pelosi can command enough votes to move the legislation forward. Her difficulty is that not every Democrat plans to accept the proposed legislation – which is still being worked. Thus no one outside a small group surrounding Pelosi has seen the drafts and the exact wording, as this shifts, to entice as many Democrats as possible to vote for the measure as it is finally presented and amended (if at
all). Its fate in the Senate is even more problematical as the Republicans seem bent on supporting whatever the president requests and rejecting any conditions on troop deployments, military strategy, or the funding categories that will receive funds.

What must not be overlooked is a stark reality: the majority of voters may have cast their ballots to alter the political balance in Congress, but they did not vote in sufficient numbers to turn over substantial enough control to the Democrats to guarantee a rapid and clear reversal of the “hold the course” strategy disaster.

In terms of an unambiguous statement of moral principle within the context of political policy, a true change in course from the current administration strategy would require legislation that would terminate ends all funding for war fighting and brings the troops home as rapidly as possible. The reciprocal use of funds would include reconstruction aid and actions that promote negotiation and dialogue between the various militant groups within Iraq and among Iraq and its neighbors.

In the context of moral principles and political policy that can be converted into pragmatic programs, Congress can deflect (but will not reverse) the current war strategy onto a course that will lead to disengagement from direct combat to a phased withdrawal to be completed by a date certain. Moreover, the provision that would allow a continuing presence of U.S. combat troops through the end of 2008 as long as the president certifies that the Iraqi government meets certain benchmarks could be strengthened by requiring that the Commander of the U.S. Central Command (Admiral Fallon) or the coalition commander in Iraq (General Petraeus) appear before the appropriate congressional committees and give their professional military (not political policy line) judgment on whether the Iraqis have reached the benchmarks

Achieving even this much in the first real challenge to the administration’s failed war policy would mark the beginning of the end of this go-it-alone, win-at-any-cost mentality that predominated in the first six years of this administration.

As one media report put it, not only is the war in Iraq about winning hearts and minds one-at-a-time, so too is the struggle to win control over and end the funding that perpetuates the war.

Friday, March 09, 2007

All the Military Medical News Fit to Print

This morning was the first time I have visited a military hospital in the three weeks since the Washington Post’s initial story on the deplorable accommodations endured by Iraq-war medical “out-patients” at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC).

I wasn’t at WRAMC but at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, Maryland. NNMC, located just outside the Maryland-Washington, DC boundary along busy Wisconsin Avenue, is the Navy’s equivalent of WRAMC – but without the latter’s pedigree.

As just about everyone in the country who tunes into a cable news station or one of the many radio or television talk shows knows by now, the scandal has gone well beyond the bricks and mortar issue and beyond WRAMC. Under scrutiny is the whole medical patient administrative processing system beginning with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) decision as to who among the wounded and injured will be kept on active duty and who will be medically discharged. Also under scrutiny is the process – including how to apply for and file appeals of decisions on – of determining disability levels, the level of monthly compensation a veteran will receive. Congress is also examining how DoD and the Veterans Administration (VA) interact (or fail to interact) in aiding the veteran who is transitioning from DoD medical care to the VA system.

What will not be known for a few weeks, at least, is how Congress or the administration will try to “fix” the system – and whether the changes actually help. In terms of DoD, however, the firing of the Secretary of the Army by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the ouster of the hospital’s commanding officer seems to have concentrated the minds of other top brass. So I was a bit amused by a large sign in the foyer of the main NNMC building announcing a seminar of the DoD/VA Medical Disability process. I didn’t read all the fine print, but from what I did read it appeared this would be a “hands on” session involving both the NNMC staff and patients from Iraq and Afghanistan who are being treated at NNMC.

Another indication that the word is out is the content of the Pentagon’s in-house media monitoring service nicknamed the “Early Bird.” This compilation is an unscientific selection by Pentagon public affairs (public relations) personnel from an array of “representative” regionally diverse daily papers and weekly news magazines. The end product, which can contain anywhere from 35 to as many as 60 or to 65 articles from daily and weekly papers and from internet sites from newspapers and on-line news sites that is made available seven days a week to military and DoD civilians. The number of stories over the last seven days discussing hospitals in the DoD and veterans departments as well as the whole disability administrative nightmare, have come to equal and even, on two days (the fifth and the seventh), exceeded the number of articles addressing the wars.

Iraq War - 55
Afghan War - 12
Iraq Reconstruction - 7
WRAMC - 49
Other hospitals and VA issues - 11

“Early Bird” articles on hospital facilities and professional care other than WRAMC or NNMC (Forts Carson and Lewis, Brooke Army Medical Center Fort Sam Houston, and Landstuhl Medical Center at Rhein-Mein Airbase in Germany originated in local papers, indicating that local commanders were acting to try to deflect criticism about the availability and quality of care and the condition of facilities before complaints gain undue credibility.

Two points sure to surface in congressional hearings and the investigations of the special commissions that have been created will be the shortages of nursing staff at DoD and VA hospitals and the lack of money to construct new medical facilities or maintain existing facilities.

With regard to the latter point, look for legislation reversing the decision of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) – accepted by Congress and the president – to close the densely built WRAMC facility and relocate it to the larger and relatively under-built NNMC. All construction and relocation under the BRAC plan is to be completed by 2011. That may now all be cancelled.

The shortage of trained nursing staff at military facilities is part of a national shortage. The remedy must be national as well. In fact, Congress ought to make the scandal of Walter Reed the basis of a comprehensive examination of how health care is delivered in the United States – civilian as well as military – with an eye toward simplifying procedures and processes while extending health care insurance to everyone person in the country.

If in fact real health care reform can be advanced, some lasting good might yet come from the WRAMC revelations. But don’t bet the farm on it – at least not yet.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Changing Places Changing Faces

Perhaps I haven’t paid sufficient attention recently, but it seems the Bush administration has settled on three ways to answer any critics and any criticism: create a commission to study, discuss, and write a report that hopefully is quickly relegated to the closet shelf; smear the messenger and if possible the message; and fire those who don’t toe the line.

All three options have been in play this week.

Every president appoints what might be termed the “stable of staple advisory or review boards and commissions. These can be statutory groups such as the Social Security Advisory Board. Or they can be “experts” asked to pool their collective knowledge and make recommendations or propose future alternative courses of action. In the Defense arena, this type of long-range study of a particular problem falls to the Defense Science Board and Defense Policy Board.

COMMISSIONS> Then there are the special high profile boards and commissions that Congress will mandate or the White House will rush to create to score a political point (“we care enough, not like those other folks”). These usually are in response to a scandal or a serious lapse in judgment or some other failure that causes a “groundswell: for an investigation.

I have the impression that these types of special enquires are becoming more numerous. This, if true, suggests an administration unexpectedly on the defensive, unsure of where the next problem will emerge to provide new grist for the congressional investigative mill. Moreover, the leaders of these “outside” commissions seem to be more aggressive in pushing for action to implement their remedial recommendations. The White House can always “just say no,” but so long as the Democrats control Congress, they can always hold hearings and issue subpoenas requiring political appointees not covered by “executive privilege” to appear and testify – thereby stringing out the media attention on the original failure.

Such is the latest commission -- President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors -- a nnounced today to be co-chaired by former Kansas Senator Bob Dole and former Clinton administration Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala. They, along with seven more to be named next week, are to examine the Defense Department and Veterans Administration medical facilities, staffing, resources, and administrative policies and procedures for evaluating disability levels and for transitioning back to civilian life individuals wounded or otherwise injured while on active duty. The fact that the commission was announced today but only two of nine commissioners named suggests the “Walter Reed” scandal caught the White House flat—footed.

SMEAR. Coincidentally, the jury in the obstruction of justice trial of L. “Scooter” Libby returned a guilty verdict on four of five charges. Here the “smear the messenger” backfired on the White House. Beyond Ambassador Wilson, however, it now seems that an attempt is underway to undermine Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction who has been highly critical of the way U.S. companies have acted in Iraq and the fraud and waste indemic in reconstruction spending.

FIRING: This tactic was employed in the simultaneous firing of eight federal prosecutors. The administration maintains it was for cause – i.e., poor or substandard performance. Turns out that that claim might be valid in only one case at most. Of course, these gentlemen are political appointees and serve at the president’s pleasure. Still, it would be nice for the administration to not mix SMEAR tactics with what is a blatant act of political retaliation because these prosecutors didn’t go after alleged corruption by members of the “other” party.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"For Want of a Plan B"

This is how the U.S. went to war in Iraq?

Of all the comments that Donald Rumsfeld uttered during his near record run as the longest serving U.S. Secretary of Defense, the most notorious may be – to paraphrase the Secretary of Defense – “you go to, war with the army you have, not the army you want to have.”

Translated, that means that the Bush administration had no alternative strategy when they sent U.S. military forces into Iraq in March 2003.

As it turned out, the forces that fought those first six weeks to reach Baghdad didn’t need a Plan B.

But Iraqis had a Plan A and B. Plan A was inner directed and looked forward to a rapid withdrawal of the liberating coalition forces. Plan B was both inward and outward directed. Should the coalition troops start to take on the trappings of an army of occupation instead of an army of liberation, armed resistance would not only be used to settle interior disputes but would be directed toward the occupation until the foreigners decided to leave.

Over the weekend, the U.S. public learned that, once again, there is no alternative plan for the President’s “surge” strategy putting an additional 21,500 ground forces at renewed risk. That was the “between-the-lines interpretation ascribed by numerous foreign policy and military policy experts to a statement by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, that in effect, "Marines don’t talk about failure. They talk about accomplishing the mission.”

Well, just in lives lost and lives irretrievably changed, the countries of the coalition maintain the records. Iraqis have much less certainty – until the body of a relative gone missing suddenly shows up by the roadside.

On this, the first Monday of March, here are a few – shall we say “Plan A” statistics that were never thought about in 2001-2003 because no one in the administration thought about having a Plan B.

US KIA (Total to Date): 3,174 (Hostile 2,571, Non-hostile 603)
US KIA March 1-4 only : 10 (Hostile 1, Non-hostile 9)
US Wounded: (Total to Date) 23,417
Total Medical Air Evacuated 32,544
(Wounded as of Feb 3, 2007)

UK KIA 133
Other Coalition KIA 124

Iraq Coalition Casualty Count:
Iraqi civilians KIA 2005 to Present: 25, 442
Iraqi security KIA Pre-2005 1,300; 2005 to Present: 4,908
March 1-4, 106 civilians and 31 security personnel.

Iraqi government “official” statistics from April 28, 2005 to February 22, 2006, the date of the attack on the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra
Pre-Feb 2006: 4,397 security personnel and 25,026 Iraqi civilians dead.
Post-Feb 2006: 2,099 security personnel and 18,918 Iraqi civilians dead.

How many more will be killed or wounded “for want of a Plan B”?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Walter Reed -- The Ugly and the Bad

Just about everything to do with Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) seems to be happening in twos these days.

But then, that was the way Walter Reed seemed to do things.

For example, at age 16, he entered the University of Virginia (UofV). To ease the strain on family finances, Reed persuaded a very dubious UofV medical department to award him an MD degree as soon as he had passed all required undergraduate and medical courses.

To the astonishment of University officials, Reed completed the entire curricula in two years. On July 1, 1869, at age 18, Walter Reed received his first medical degree. After spending the next year at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital Medical School, Reed – now age 19, completed the requirements for his second MD. For whatever reason, although earned, the second degree was not actually awarded until Reed was 21 – two years later.

I am quite familiar with WRAMC both from my years on active duty and now as a military retiree in the Washington, DC area. I use some of the medical clinics at WRAMC. The overwhelming majority of contacts I have with medical personnel are on an “out-patient” basis.

And here, I think, may be – if not the basic problem then a significant contributing element thereto – the root explanation of the differing levels of attention paid to the returned veterans. In sum, I suggest a complete absence of malice by anyone and everyone and a full measure of that never-ending danger: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

In re-reading the two-part (February 18 Washington Post and February 19) report about WRAMC’s handling (or mishandling) of wounded war veterans sent to the hospital, I think that the natural extension of the principle of “leaving no soldier, whether alive or dead, behind,” is not stressed enough. It is unconscionable for government to send soldiers to fight, die, and suffer life-changing wounds without assuring them and then fulfilling that assurance of first class care, rehabilitation, and providing the financial resources for a decent standard of living, consistent with the severity of wounds suffered.

A point might also be made that the description of the squalor in which some wounded veterans lived – notably in the now infamous Building 18 – was a surefire journalistic “hook” to draw the reader into the full story. This is not a criticism but an observation about the power of solid reporting of indisputable facts, reporting that in this case moved from the living conditions – easy to fix when the responsible authorities are put in train – to the more serious implications for the physical and mental recovery of those who become part of the WRAMC “family” upon arrival.

While the medical side of the care provided in the main hospital is not in question, other parts of the total “patient experience” are what failed. By this I mean the administrative, bureaucratic part of the reception, recording, rehabilitation, recuperative and re-assignment process that is suppose to be the enabler, the control center that ensures that patients actually are accounted for, that links them to appropriate clinics and doctors for treatment at the times prescribed, that periodically checks on patients’ well-being (physical, mental, emotional) at other-than-scheduled appointment times, tracks delivery of prescribed drugs, and intervenes, if necessary, when those being released from WRAMC encounter the always complex and sometimes absolutely incomprehensible “military way” of doing things.

When a soldier is in the multi-story main hospital building as a “real” in-patient, most of these medical and medical-support actions are either automatically done or readily accessible to patients. Doctor’s come onto wards; nursing staff is available and checking on patients around the clock; chaplains make daily rounds, a “mobile library” can be encountered in the hallways moving from room to room, and volunteers visit those unable to get out of bed. And then there are the dreaded physical therapy specialists that drive post-injury rehabilitation – and who, when nothing more can or need be done, invariably are deeply appreciated by their former charges for pushing rehabilitation.

What seems to have happened to those not in the main building is as understandable as it is inexcusable. This in-patient support structure – or at least some critical parts of it – didn’t exist or was wholly inadequate in providing services for those in the disconnected housing facilities on the WRAMC grounds or – as in the case of Building 18 – in the facilities outside the gates and across a multi-lane transportation artery into and out of downtown Washington.

Undoubtedly, as the number of casualties mounted – and they did much faster in these wars because improved medical procedures meant more troops survived their wounds – the medical support administrative staffs were too few in number to keep up. (Many positions, it turns out, were “privatized” in 2003 or 2004, reducing the number of federal employees from 600 to 60.) One can almost see the psychological “re-classification” by the contractors of the “out-rider veterans.” That is, only those patients in the main building are “in-patients”; everyone else, including those on and off WRAMC in different buildings and whose permanent homes are not in or near Washington, is an “out-patient.” And once soldiers are perceived to be in this latter population, they by definition do not need close monitoring because they are out-patients – again “by definition” able to navigate both physically and psychologically with little or no direction.

From this point on, it’s all down hill for the wounded troops. Down hill, that is, until the conditions are exposed to the public and the Congress. But then, inexplicably, the Army shoots itself in the foot. Commanders display what the public sees as inexcusable indifference or blame-shifting, troops are reportedly muzzled and threatened with reprisals. Then it becomes apparent that senior noncommissioned officers, officers, and even commanding generals had known of or had been told about the shortcomings in staffing, in the level of services provided to the “out-in-patients” assigned to their care, and in the conditions in which some of the wounded lived and functioned.

And when things reach this point – if not before – it’s time for heads to roll. To date, one Secretary of the Army is gone, 0ne general officer has been relieved, one company grade officer has also lost his position, a sergeant-major and a number of platoon sergeants have been “moved,” and a 120 person medical support unit has been assigned to Walter Reed to get the place straightened out. I am sure that at least one more general will be relived – giving us Walter Reed’s “two” once again.

Unfortunately, many returned wounded veterans are struggling with the same conditions in under-funded and under-staffed army and veterans’ hospitals across the country.

The point of it all? Not only is war in itself horrible, the aftermath of war has its own horrors, many of which last a lifetime.

(Just to add a bit more about Major Walter Reed,” he worked in New York City until joining the Army Medical Corps in 1875. After a not untypical career, he became in 1893 one of the original four professors at the new Army Medical School. Reed had two medical specialties – pathology and bacteriology, and since 1955, WRAMC has been the location of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. But Reed made his mark in an entirely different area: he headed an Army commission that definitively confirmed that the cause of yellow fever, which killed more U.S. soldiers in the Spanish-American War than died in combat, was the mosquito. Reed died in 1902, not knowing his discovery led to effective countermeasures for the laborers who, two years after Reed died, re-commenced construction of the Panama Canal.)