Only four riders in history have won five Tours — Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil. (Only Indurain won 5 straight victories.) To call this feat Herculean would both minimize the difficulty of the tour, and give Hercules too much credit. Lance's victory today can be described as nothing less than superhuman — a reminder that supermen do walk among us mere mortals. In my book, Lance earned his place today among the most elite athletes of modern history — men and women like Jim Thorpe, Mark Spitz and 23-time Ironman triathlon winner Paula Newby-Fraser.
Of course, Lance's victory today cannot be remembered as simply a victory over the other riders in the Tour. To get here, Lance Armstrong fought a terribly difficult personal battle with testicular cancer that nearly took his life. He fought back from that deadly disease, and then fought back into the top ranks of cycling to win 6 consecutive tours. No person has ever accomplished this athletic feat, let alone a man who has stood at death's doorstep. Lance's victory today should serve as inspiration to all of us that there is no such word as impossible — that hope is a method. Check out philip carter about military and intelligence analysis if you are interested in the subject.
In our daily lives, I believe we can all learn something from Lance's victory today. It should inspire us to see opportunity in adversity, and to challenge ourselves to ever higher aspirations even when the odds seem stacked up against us. Of course, we are not all supermen like Lance. But by emulating his will to live and his passion for excellence, we can all become super in our own ways.
I'll be on "bar exam blogging sabbatical" until the end of next week, so I wanted to recommend a few other sites to check out in my absence.
- Thanks to Laura Rozen for pointing out the weblog run by journalist and author Douglas Farah. Doug authored the book Blood From Stones, which is a brilliant look at the financial systems which have fueled global terror networks in the past decade. I'm adding this site to my list of 'blogs to read.
- The July/August issue of The Washington Monthly has a few great articles that I recommend checking out:
Christina Larson on the insanity of relocating the Olympics every four years. If you are interested in sports and staying in shape, have a look at a keto supplements results chart before you decide on taking any.
Tony Mauro on how a young lawyer became Washington's best Supreme Court litigator (discussing the ascendancy of Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog and Goldstein & Howe)
Gordon Silverstein on Lawrence Lessig's big mistake
- An extremely interesting discussion of the conspiracy charge against Ken Lay which appears over at the Crime & Federalism blog
- For an excellent analysis of the Iraqi court system, check out this note by Dagger JAG -- an active-duty Army JAG officer now serving with the 1st Infantry Division (M) in Iraq.
- Patrick Belton's rebuttal of an asinine critique of weblogs that ran last week on the Los Angeles Times' op-ed page.
- Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell have a new draft paper titled "The Power and Politics of Blogs" that's available for reading and comment.
- James Joyner's comments over at Outside the Beltway are always worth a read, but I liked his note on the Anniston Star (which I read while stationed at Fort McClellan, AL) and the decision by some newspapers to drop the Doonesbury comic strip.
- Lance Armstrong dominated the L'Alpe d'Huez time trial today, and many observers think he has sealed his 6th consecutive Tour De France victory. Stay tuned to the coverage of this amazing athletic event between now and its finish in Paris next week.
And last but certainly not least...
- The definitive source for all things relating to the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory has been Noah Shachtman's DefenseTech for some time. But in the last week, he has done a great job of staying on top of the classified leak story which has led to that lab's temporary shutdown. (Start here and scroll down) Continue to check out Noah's site for more developments on this front, and other areas at the intersection of defense policy and technology.
Post : I highly recommend a trip to your local bookstore to purchase the The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The report, which was released today, was simultaneously published in paperback and distributed to bookstores around the country. (At least, it's available here in Manhattan.) If you can't get a copy near you, Amazon.Com has copies too. For what it's worth, this is the first thing I plan to read after the bar exam on the plane ride home, whether I'm hungover or not.
Welcome ploggers! Amazon.Com has listed this weblog as one of its 15 "best and most popular blogs" to go along with its new "Plog" (personalized weblog) service for Amazon.Com users. I've been a devoted Amazon.Com customer since my year in Korea with the Army, and I remain a devoted customer of their site today. I think the Plog is a great use of the weblog concept to keep customers informed of new books and products, and am thrilled to be one of the sites chosen to represent what blogging (or plogging) is all about.
Diana Henriques has a brilliantly researched and written piece on the insurance and investment companies that prey on young American servicemembers on U.S. military bases in today's New York Times. Believe it or not, most of these sales pitches come during officially-sanctioned "classes" on financial readiness. But due to lax oversight and predatory tendencies on the part of the companies, these classes transform into high-pressure sales pitches. The soldiers often sign up for these financial services with something less than meaningful and informed consent, because the presence of these classes on the official training schedule stamps them with the command's imprimatur — and young soldiers are often reticent to question their command on issues like this. Here's a short excerpt from the lengthy piece:
A six-month examination by The New York Times, drawing on military and court records and interviews with dozens of industry executives and servicemen and women, has found that several financial services companies or their agents are using questionable tactics on military bases to sell insurance and investments that may not fit the needs of people in uniform.
Insurance agents have made misleading pitches to "captive" audiences like the ones at Fort Benning. They have posed as counselors on veterans benefits and independent financial advisers. And they have solicited soldiers in their barracks or while they were on duty, violations of Defense Department regulations.
The Pentagon has been aware of practices like these since the Vietnam War; investigations have even cited specific companies and agents. But because of industry lobbying, Congressional pressure, weak enforcement and the Pentagon's ineffective oversight, almost no action has been taken to sanction those responsible or to better protect those who are vulnerable, The Times has found.
And the problem has only intensified since the beginning of the Iraq war, say military employees who monitor insurance agents. With the death toll rising in Iraq, interest in insurance among the troops has surged, making the war a selling opportunity for many agents, they said.
The military market includes hundreds of thousands of men and women, many of them young and financially unsophisticated, all of them trained to trust leadership, obey orders and show loyalty to comrades.
To reach the buyers, many companies have used their military connections to lend credibility to their sales efforts, recruiting heavily from among retired or former military people for their corporate boards and sales forces. The advisory board at one company, First Command Financial Planning in Fort Worth, includes Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the retired commander in chief of the United States Central Command.
Many financial experts say the products sold are often ill-suited for the military people who buy them. Like Specialist Stachler, almost all service members purchase low-cost insurance through the military, and, like him, 94 percent carry the maximum coverage of $250,000, the Defense Department says. But agents are nevertheless selling these men and women policies that have steep premiums for relatively small amounts of coverage.
Analysis: Some of the companies which give these classes do an excellent job of providing information in an objective and non-pressuring manner. They do so because they want to build good will, which they believe will help build long-term business relationships and profits. But others are less scrupulous. I actually attended a couple of these classes as a young ROTC cadet and 2nd Lieutenant. Fortunately, I had friends and family who were smart enough about investments to remind me of the old adage: caveat emptor. I didn't fall prey to any of the less scrupulous pitches I got, and I tried to pass this maxim onto my soldiers as well, so they could avoid becoming victims.
If you visit any military town in America, whether it's Killeen, TX, or Columbus, GA, or Fayetteville, NC, you're bound to see a slew of predatory businesses that exist for no other purpose than to take a share of soldiers' hard-earned money. Pawn shops, used car dealers, electronic stores, paycheck lending shops, clothes stores, etc. — they usually form a strip of stores outside the main gate of any military base that has a large number of young soldiers. I really don't fault these businesses — they're simply responding to market demand. Soldiers have disposable income, and young soldiers often want to burn a hole in their pocket. These businesses may seem predatory or parasitic at times, but the same could be said for almost any business that responds to demand (e.g. bankruptcy lawyers in a down economy.)
The burden, in my opinion, rests on military leaders to teach their soldiers how to avoid the predators and parasites out there seeking to steal their money. Granted, training a unit for combat is already a 24/7 job, so there's not a lot of time left to run Financial Ed 101. But good officers and NCOs find time anyway, because it's part of taking care of soldiers (and their families). Thus, in Ms. Henriques' story, I single out the businesses for their fair share of the blame. But I also single out the leadership at Fort Benning and other bases for their blame too. The military leaders at those locations allowed these abuses to happen, and that's just not good leadership. If you have any videos and are currently looking for the best video converter, make sure you only get one that has all the required functions.
Update I: The second half of Ms. Henriques story lays much of the blame for this fiasco at the feet of the Defense Department and Congress. Both have aided the financial and insurance industry to some extent in their solicitation efforts on U.S. military bases, and so both deserve some blame for the abuses committed by these companies.
This is a disappointing story to me, but not a surprising one. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines simply don't have an organized constituency on The Hill the way that the financial industry does. Oh sure, there's the Association of the U.S. Army and the various other service and veterans organizations. But they don't really stand for issues like this -- they typically weigh in on matters of materiel and force structure, or retirement/veterans benefits. Present-day servicemembers rely on the Pentagon to serve as their advocate in Congress. And when the Defense Department puts its priorities elsewhere -- whether we're talking about body armor, new barracks or security from predatory insurance companies -- there isn't another loud voice to speak up for soldiers on Capitol Hill.
Update II: One of my readers wrote to let me know of a November 2002 story by Tom Lauricella in the Wall Street Journal describing many of the same problems as the NYT mini-series by Ms. Henriques. This has been an issue for some time. Yet, the powers that be on the Potomac have done very little to cure this problem, leaving it instead to officers and sergeants at the lowest levels to act with no official policies from Washington. Suffice to say, it's very hard as a young captain in command of a company to bar an insurance company from talking to your soldiers when you don't have a policy from Washington to provide covering fire.
Admin note: The California bar exam is 8 days away. To ensure that I pass the first time, I'm devoting most of my time to studying for that exam. Frankly, I'm too fried after studying to write intelligently on anything, so it's probably best that I abstain from blogging. In my absence, please continue to check out my colleagues on my blog roll. See you in a week or so... when I recover from both the bar and my post-bar hangover.
U.S. Army emerges more combat ready from the crucible of combat in Iraq
The Washington Monthly has posted my new article on the Army, and how it has been affected by the war on terrorism. Clearly, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have stretched the Army. But contrary to conventional wisdom, I think the net effect of these wars may prove to be positive. Metaphorically, it's as if the Army went to the gym to do a hard workout — it's sore right now, and in need of some rest, but the Army has emerged from these wars stronger than when it began. Here's a brief excerpt from the story, available on the TWM website:
Since September 11, the U.S. military has expended an enormous amount of spirit, blood, and treasure on battlefields halfway around the world. In Iraq and Afghanistan, 979 of our soldiers have been killed; and another 5,600 wounded. More than a quarter of a million young men and women have been exposed to the horrors of combat. The abuses at Abu Ghraib have damaged America's moral credibility, and that of our armed forces, around the world, hampering our ability to win hearts and minds in the war on terrorism. The Bush administration's foreign policy decisions have been expensive both in dollars--$149 billion in taxpayer money to date, with billions more yet to be spent--and in material, having all but depleted the Pentagon's stocks of pre-positioned vehicles, equipment, and ordnance. Our enormous commitment of resources to Iraq has emboldened our enemies, including North Korea, and has forced us to neglect other crisis spots such as Haiti and the Sudan. And it has pushed American soldiers to the breaking point. Even when our commitment in Iraq ends, it will be several years before our forces have recovered enough to take on a military venture of similar size.
But the stresses of war--and in particular the aftermath of defeat or failure--have historically spurred the most profound and lasting revolutions in military affairs. During World War II, Gen. George Patton used the Army's trouncing at the Kasserine Pass as an excuse to whip our poorly-disciplined, poorly-trained, and poorly-led forces into shape. Out of the ashes of defeat in Vietnam, a cadre of officers, including Colin Powell and Anthony Zinni, turned a dispirited draft force into a volunteer body that became the most powerful military the world had ever seen. And only after the debacle of Desert One--the failed 1980 Delta Force raid to rescue American hostages from Iran--did the military get serious about special operations and joint warfare.
Today, the pattern appears set to repeat itself. Though we don't yet know whether historians will judge the second Gulf War to have been a victory or a defeat--America decisively won the battle of tanks and artillery, but has yet to win the peace--the searing experience of Iraq is already inspiring the U.S. military to reshape itself for the better.
One area of combat-related development deserves special emphasis: the impact of the war on American military officers, and particularly on those officers serving at the junior levels as lieutenants and captains in Iraq. LTC (ret.) Leonard Wong has a new monograph titled "Developing Adaptive Leaders: The Crucible Experience of Operation Iraqi Freedom". Dr. Wong's analysis parallels my own, although he goes into much more detail about precisely how the combat experience in Iraq is building better officers to lead the Army of tomorrow. Here's his summary and conclusion:
This monograph examines the Operation IRAQI FREEDOM environment and concludes that the complexity, unpredictability, and ambiguity of postwar Iraq is producing a cohort of innovative, confident, and adaptable junior officers. Lieutenants and captains are learning to make decisions in chaotic conditions and to be mentally agile in executing counterinsurgency and nation-building operations simultaneously. As a result, the Army will soon have a cohort of company grade officers who are accustomed to operating independently, taking the initiative, and adapting to changes. The author warns that the Army must now acknowledge and encourage this newly developed adaptability in our junior officers or risk stifling the innovation critically needed in the Army's future leaders.
* * *
Today's junior officers are not afraid to lead in ambiguous conditions. They can execute a mission with minimal guidance. They are an incredibly valuable resource to a transforming Army that has desired and sought adaptive capacity in its leaders. The crucible of OIF has delivered to the Army a cohort of adaptive leaders. The challenge for the Army is to encourage and leverage this priceless potential.
The full report is available on the Army War College website, and you can download a copy in PDF format from my server.
A candid assessment of why our post-war planning was so poor
In testimony yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee, three distinguished and retired Army officers held forth on why American planning for post-war Iraq was so poor. ONe specific exchange, between retired Gen. Jack Keane and ranking Democrat Rep. Ike Skelton, was especially noteworthy. Gen. Keane admitted both the negligence of the Pentagon to plan effectively -- and the damage, in terms of American lives, this negligence has caused. In my opinion, this testimony is the most sweeping admission yet regarding the negligent post-war planning process. In terms of candor, it certainly ranks up there with ret. Gen. Eric Shinseki's farewell comments ("Beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division army.") Lisa Burgess reports on the exchange today in Stars & Stripes:
"When I look back on it myself, having participated and contributed to [the war planning], one of the things that happened to us ... is many of us got seduced by the Iraqi exiles in terms of what the outcome would be" after the war, Keane said.
"'We're all going to be treated as liberators,'" interjected Rep. Ike Skelton, the committee's ranking minority member.
"That's correct," Keane replied. "So therefore the intellectual capital to prepare ourselves properly for an insurgency was not there."
* * *
Keane did not criticize operations in war on Wednesday. But he was frank in his assessment of what he said was lack of planning for the war's aftermath.
"There were very few people who actually envisioned, honestly, before the war what we are dealing with now after the regime went down," Keane said.
"We did not see [the insurgency] coming, and we were not properly prepared to deal with it."
* * *
Skelton said that he did "not want to belabor the point, but there were a lot of young folks who paid the price for that lack of foresight."
"Yes, sir," Keane replied.
Analysis: This is nothing less than a full admission of neglect when it comes to post-war planning. The result is all too clear: botched post-war planning led to frustrated post-war execution, which has meant an extended stay in Iraq coupled with a protracted counter-insurgency effort. A friend who was present for the hearing relayed a visual of exactly how Gen. Keane described the amount of "intellectual capital" poured into the post-war planning process:
"General Keane said if this represents the intellectual effort spent on planning the war - and held his hands apart about a foot - then this represents the intellectual effort behind the post war planning - and pinched his fingers together."
I'll reserve comment for now because I'm busy with some bar studying that has to get done today. But I think this testimony bolsters the assertions that many people have been making for some time. First, that senior White House and Defense Department officials assumed a tremendous amount of risk with respect to post-war planning, resources and execution. Second, that they devoted entirely too much thought to how that risk might play out, and third, that too few resources were staged in order to mitigate that risk. More to follow...
More contractual irregularities emerge for interrogation arrangements
The Wall Street Journal (subion required) carries a report today regarding some unconventional means used to procure interrogation services for Guantanamo Bay. Rather than simply setting up a contract under the Army's auspices for the provision of linguistic support, the Pentagon instead bought these services under a GSA contract and later an Interior Department contract, raising questions about these agreements' propriety.
According to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. General Services Administration concluded that the Army violated contracting rules in late 2002 when it awarded the interrogation work at Guantanamo using a contract intended for procuring computers and information-technology services.
"This is an anomaly, and it wasn't supposed to happen," said Mary Alice Johnson, a GSA spokeswoman. "You can't run interrogation services through an IT contract."
GSA officials terminated the contract in February, but the Southern Command, which administers the Guantanamo base, revived the work almost immediately by turning it over to an existing engineering-services contract that Lockheed had with the U.S. Interior Department.
* * *
Fred Quimby, an Interior Department spokesman, said the agency plans to honor all the interrogation work under way, but none of it will be renewed once the contract term expires. The original Guantanamo contract was for one year with four possible one-year extensions.
Because the Pentagon has other ways of securing such services, Mr. Quimby said, the Interior Department issued a policy last month that bars use of these contracts to pay for interrogators, human intelligence gathering, translators and associated expenses. He said the Pentagon had justified using unrelated contracts because "there was an urgency" to secure the services. "They had all of these al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners and they needed to interrogate them," he said.
The WSJ article goes onto say that the Pentagon is implementing a series of new procedures this week to ensure better accountability and transparency in its contracting processes. The trade journal GovExec.Com reported in a related story on Tuesday that senior DoD and GSA officials had announced a "new zero-tolerance policy" for these kinds of contractual irregularities.
The Pentagon's chief procurement executive, Deidre Lee, joined GSA Administrator Stephen Perry in announcing a joint initiative called Get It Right, which they said would address significant deficiencies in government contracting, many of which have been exposed by an ongoing investigation of GSA contracting as well as reports of misuse of contracts for military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
Addressing a capacity crowd in an auditorium at GSA headquarters, and via a Web broadcast viewed by GSA and Defense employees nationwide, Lee and Perry said instances of improper contracting constituted a tiny portion of their organization's overall activities. Both acknowledged that corners had been cut and procedures hadn't been followed in some cases, but they said their plan, which will require agency employees and contracting officers to be more circumspect about how contracts are awarded, would correct those problems.
"We're striving here to achieve a zero-deficiency environment," Perry said. "No exceptions, no excuses."
My problem with all of this is that the government has set the conditions for contractual irregularities, and now it's acting as if the contractors themselves are to blame. It's no secret that government contractors are out to make money — of course they are!!! They're rational economic actors, who usually have shareholders demanding profits. It's a no-brainer that these companies will do what they can to maximize profits, especially if the only thing they have to do is take a contract that's offered to them. I hardly blame Lockheed-Martin or CACI for accepting these contracts from government procurement officials. If there's any blame here, it belongs to the acquisition officials for creating such a permissive atmosphere that would allow such contractual irregularities to occur and to flourish.
There are a number of remedies available should the government find bad conduct on the part of the contractors. But so far as I can tell, such bad conduct is the exception, and not the rule. Most of the reconstruction contractors in Iraq are doing the best they can given the security situation there, and most of the other contractors (e.g. KBR with its military logistics contract known as LOGCAP) are doing a decent job too, notwithstanding some accounting issues that tend to appear in wartime where unforeseen costs are the norm. However, I don't think that's really the issue here. The issue here is that the government — DoD, GSA, etc — has to get its house in order. The rules simply aren't clear for contractors in a war zone, and in the absence of clear guidance, some contractors are running amok. The root problem though is the lack of guidance. The government has the power and the obligation to issue clear guidance — in the form of regulations and contractual language — to these contractors. By and large, these contractors want clear guidance, because it will allow them to predict their risks and costs with reasonable certainty.
So when I hear government acquisition officials blaming contractors for contractual irregularities, I instantly get suspicious. At common law, there was a doctrine known as contra preferendum, which holds that errors and ambiguities in contractual language will be strictly construed against the drafter. This doctrine lives on today as one of many maxims for contractual interpretation. In the government contracting context, this means that such errors are to be construed against the government. Acquisition officials, not contractors, hold the power to do the right thing here. It's time they used it.
Interior Department spokesman Frank Quimby said yesterday that the department will redo the contract on a sole source basis because interrogators are already on the job and the contract will expire in January. The General Services Administration determined that the contract had been improperly awarded twice before.
The department will not renew the contract once it expires, Quimby said. "This is not really what Interior's mission is really about," he said. "We're going to get out of the interrogation business."
* * *
Southern Command is awaiting the Pentagon's guidance on how to proceed after the contract expires, Duany said. "Our understanding is that we have not broken any laws or regulations," he said. "We just looked at the most expeditious way to meet the requirements and do our share in the war on terror and to contribute to intelligence gathering."
USA Today reports today on a disturbing issue that I noted back during the California recall election last fall — a sizable number of U.S. citizens are deployed overseas in a combat zone now, and there are inadequate measures in place to ensure their votes get counted. The crux of the problem is that most absentee voting systems do not take into account the mail delays of combat deployment, thus ballots are late to soldiers and later still to the polls. This is compounded by the fact that many soldiers don't register for absentee ballots before deployment, and that it's often too late to do so once the sample ballot comes in the mail. Plus, as USA Today reports, there are some other issues as well:
*A $22 million pilot program to develop an Internet voting system for Americans deployed overseas was scrapped after the Pentagon concluded it would be vulnerable to hackers intent on tampering with elections.
*The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress formerly known as the General Accounting Office, found that the system used to collect and deliver mail in Iraq, including absentee ballots, suffers from long delays and other problems.
*The Pentagon's inspector general found that a Defense Department program to ease voting by Americans overseas, including deployed troops, continues to be given low priority by field commanders. Surprise visits to 10 foreign sites found seven programs ineffective and three only partially effective. Nearly three of every five troops surveyed said they did not know their voting assistance officer.
*A Pentagon agency charged with helping servicemembers and other Americans abroad vote is more than two months late in providing information for a report by the Election Assistance Commission on how states are doing and how they can improve. "I would like to have seen it out much earlier," says Paul DeGregorio, a member of the commission, which was created to help solve voting problems.
Analysis: First of all, it's helpful to understand a few of the ways in which military votes can go uncounted:
1. Mail forwarding. A lot of soldiers simply don't change addresses when they go on deployment; they simply file a forwarding order and have their mail forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service and the Army to their destination. When this happens, mail can be delayed by anywhere from one to two weeks. Thus, if a soldier gets a sample ballot 1-2 months before an election, and has to return it 1 month before the election in order to get a one-time absentee ballot, the mail forwarding process can frustrate that.
2. Mail delays. Whether or not the soldier changes his/her address, there will be delays in the mail pipeline. These delays range from a week (for those who work in HQ in Baghdad) to much longer for a soldier in the field at the platoon or company level. The delays exist on the receiving and sending end, depending on when/how the mail hits various gates in the pipeline. A letter or ballot that misses the First Sergeant's run to battalion might languish for 2-3 days before the next mail run, or have the same thing happen at battalion or brigade level. This adds friction to the process, and inevitably means that soldiers will miss deadlines for timely absentee voting.
3. Postage. It sounds silly, but it's not. While overseas, soldiers usually get free postage for letters back to the states. Unfortunately, this means that a postmark doesn't always get affixed to a military ballot, and thus local voting officials sometimes refuse to accept military ballots that come in right around (or after) the deadline. I think this problem has been fixed by the armed forces, who now date-stamp mail, but I'm not sure. I've gotten mail from Iraq that did not have an official time/date postmark on it, so this could still be a problem.
Cumulatively, all of these problems can add up to thousands of military ballots that go uncounted. The U.S. has not had this many soldiers deployed to a war zone during an election since Vietnam, and it does not have the infrastructure in place to support voting by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. This could become a major problem unless rapid measures are taken to fix it.
The conventional wisdom used to be that the military votes Republican, and thus, you'd expect the GOP to be all over this problem. But as Ben Wallace-Wells discusses in this Washington Monthly article, I'm not so sure that's still the case. Today's military is very diverse, especially in its enlisted ranks, and minority voters tend to vote Democrat. I would say, based on my experience, that the officer corps is more conservative than society at large. But I think that the war in Iraq and the conduct of the war on terrorism generally may make a lot of military officers (not to mention enlisted personnel) question their commitment to the GOP. So, it's not clear how these military voter issues will affect the outcome of the election. I think much will depend on micro-variations, such as the ability of troops from a specific state (e.g. Ohio) to get their votes in to be counted.
Of course, we shouldn't just be concerned with electoral outcomes here. We ought to be concerned about our fighting men and women getting their votes counted — that matters more than the outcome itself. It would truly be perverse to send our military to fight overseas, ostensibly to install democracy in Iraq, but to deny them their basic democratic right to vote at home. I don't think for a moment that anyone is intentionally denying the military's right to vote here. But I do think this is disenfranchisement by dereliction — or at the very least by negligence. And that's just inexcusable. Our soldiers deserve better, and I think it's outrageous that we haven't seen more action on this front from DOJ's voting rights section or from the Pentagon.
Update - The Army takes action: I was very heartened to see the Army post this press release regarding actions it's taking to ensure military votes get counted this year. From the looks of this release, these actions have been in the works for a while. I'm glad the USA Today story spurred the Army to publicize these efforts.
USPS employees will contact 3,000 county election officials all over the country to coordinate mailing of overseas absentee ballots. Once the blank local ballots are printed, they will be sent by local post offices via overnight Express Mail to San Francisco, Miami and New York, the three military gateways.
USPS will mail successive groups of ballots to military gateways daily and will determine the number of ballots per location at the gateways. Then the ballots will be sorted by destination and placed in containers specially marked for visibility and priority.
DoD's Military Postal System will then give the ballots priority handling for delivery overseas, will ensure they receive a proper, legible postmark upon return, and will place them in easily identifiable containers. The ballots will then receive priority processing for delivery back to county election officials.
It's no secret that war means big business for defense contractors -- particularly the ones who provide instrumentalities of warfare like bullets, armor, bombs and missiles. According to the trade journal Manufacturing & Technology News, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been particularly big business for American small-arms ammunition manufacturers.
... Surging use of ammo due to training requirements and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has caused demand for small caliber ammo to skyrocket by more than 400 percent over the past four years.
As a result, the U.S. has turned to Israel and Britain to make up for the shortfall in U.S production.
In 2000, total production of small ammo rounds (5.56 mm used in the M-16, 7.62 mm and .50 caliber rounds) from government-owned, contractor-operated factories was 350 million rounds per year.
Demand is now 1.3 billion rounds per year and the Army expects demand to grow to between 1.5 billion and 1.7 billion rounds per year. The Army wants production capacity in place to surge to 2 billion rounds of small ammo per year. Stepped up military and training operations throughout the world "are consuming large quantities of small caliber ammunition and are putting a strain on the associated industrial base," Army Maj. General Buford Blount and Brig. Gen. Paul Izzo said in a joint statement to the House Armed Services Committee on June 24.
Total rounds consumed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq between the invasion in March 2003 and May 2004 were 74 million. Consumption in Iraq is now averaging around 5.5-million rounds per month. In Afghanistan, 21 million rounds of small ammo were fired from October 2001 to May 2004.
The article goes on to say that the government's major producer of small-arms ammo cannot keep up with the increased demand, even though it has increased its output from 350 million rounds/year in 1999 to 1.2 billion rounds in 2003. Consequently, the Army has looked to foreign sources -- including the Israeli and British military defense industry -- to bridge its ammunition shortfalls. The Pentagon and Congress have worked had to add capacity to the domestic plant at Lake City, but not in time to meet demand so far. It's unclear how long this boom will last for the bullet business, and how long it will retake to rebuild American stockpiles of ammunition for training and future contingencies. But this is definitely one logistical indicator to keep our eye on.
Peter Landesman has a good write-up in the Sunday NYT Magazine on the impending criminal trial of Saddam Hussein, and what its particulars will mean for the citizens of Iraq. This is something I've written on too, but I haven't seen many articles which delve into the political and social issues which will be raised by the trial. This articles does that, and does a good job of it.
Clearly, I spoke too soon on July 6 when I lauded the DoD for moving corrections and letters back to the bottom of its Early Bird brief. This morning, I opened the Early Bird to see that corrections and letters had returned to the top of the webpage — above top stories, above Iraq news, above everything else. Here is what the page looks like for those of you without E-Bird access [each headline has a link to an electronic, full-text version of the story]:
1. US Doesn't Practice Torture — (Letter)
(Boston Globe)...Eric Ruff
SENATOR PATRICK Leahy's June 28 op-ed article ("There is no justification for torture") falsely accuses the government of actively working to circumvent laws banning torture. To respond to just such distortions, the administration recently made the unprecedented decision to declassify and publicly disclose memoranda on interrogations to put these absurd charges to rest.
(New York Times)...New York Times
An article yesterday about the destruction of some payroll records of National Guard members, including President Bush, misstated the record of White House acknowledgment of the loss. The White House indeed took note of the missing information last February when it released hundreds of pages of Mr. Bush's military files. In a briefing paper for reporters on Feb. 10, summarizing those files, it noted that payroll records for the third quarter of 1972 had been lost when they were transferred to microfiche.
3. Report Says CIA Distorted Iraq Data
(Washington Post)...Dana Priest
In the only comprehensive assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction released to the public before the war, the CIA exaggerated and distorted the evidence it had given Congress just days earlier, according to the Senate intelligence committee's report released last week.
4. Wars Causing Shortage Of Officers
(Washington Times)...Rowan Scarborough
The Army's commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq are draining infantry officers from combat-ready companies and battalions elsewhere in the world, according to an internal memo.
5. Army Unit Leaves Behind A Crushed Foe, Calmer City
(Philadelphia Inquirer)...Ken Dilanian
...In Karbala on Friday few residents spoke warmly of the Americans, but nearly all express contentment with the outcome of the battle. The streets are teeming with commerce, the shrines are open, and Sadr's men are nowhere to be seen. Shopkeepers credit the Iraqi police with maintaining order. To be sure, many residents have already rewritten history. Some said Sadr's forces were peaceful, while others said it was locals, not the Americans, who pushed them out. No one is happy about the street battles, killing what residents estimated were 50 civilians.
6. Nations Slow To Deliver Iraq Aid
(Los Angeles Times)...Paul Richter
Amid continuing efforts by the Bush administration to build international support for its mission in Iraq, countries have provided only a small fraction of the reconstruction aid they promised at a conference nine months ago.
7. Strikes On Iraqi Oil, Electricity Seen As Inside Job
(Washington Times)...Associated Press
Saboteurs attacking Iraq's oil and electricity infrastructure appear to be employees working in the industry or others acting on inside information, reconstruction officials said yesterday.
8. Afghan President Describes Militias As The Top Threat
(New York Times)...Carlotta Gall and David Rohde
President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that Afghanistan's private militias had become the country's greatest danger — greater than the Taliban insurgency — and that new action was required to disarm them.
9. 3 Americans Are Killed And 4 Are Injured In Attacks In Iraq
(New York Times)...Ian Fisher
Three American soldiers were killed Sunday in attacks here, two by a roadside bomb near Samarra, a hard-line Sunni Muslim city north of Baghdad where insurgents made a major attack on American forces last week.
[And so on, for 43 stories...]
Analysis: Now, you just can't tell me that these two corrections and letters are more important to a DoD decisionmaker (or ordinary reader like me) than the top stories which fall beneath it, or any of the other 43 stories in the main Early Bird. (Several dozen more stories are clipped each day for the Early Bird supplement, which also has corrections at the top of the page now.) If a news editor make this kind of editorial decision, he/she would be laughed out of the profession. It's not so much an issue of convention or custom that defines the front page — it's about what's most important, about what the reader typically wants to see on a front page, and about what message the newspaper wants to send with the content of its front page. The decision gets a little more complicated in the online format (see, e.g., Slate), but it's still basically the same decision.
It's possible that the Defense Department wants to send the message that media mistakes are the most important story, and thus they deserve placement over everything else. After all, the press typically places their mistakes on A1, such as the pre-war intelligence gaffes, failure to put enough troops in Iraq, et cetera. Why not highlight the media's mistakes too? It only seems fair.
There are at least three flaws in that reasoning:
1. This argument fails to take into account the importance of the "top stories", and why they're important to Early Bird readers. Early Bird readers do not read this to get the government's opinion on stuff; they read it to learn what's going on in the world, so they can be more informed (and hopefully make better decisions as a result). I imagine that most of these readers don't read the corrections anyway, because they're simply interested in the headline news and what is really going on in the world.
[Note: I have no idea how the Pentagon's public affairs staff puts together the Early Bird — whether it's through wire services, Google's news service, or what. And I don't know how they choose their top stories versus their supplement stories. I do think they do an excellent job though. For whatever it's worth, this online resource has become the news brief of choice for the executive branch agencies that have access to it.]
2. Placing corrections at the top of the page sends the perverse message that the Defense Department cares more about perceptions in the media — and things that need correcting — than it cares about the top stories themselves. If the Pentagon has become that obsessed with spin, instead of with real world events, something is seriously wrong with the Pentagon's senior leadership. Regardless of what Karl Rove and others may think, the world actually runs on its own without opinion polling. Real world events, like the killings in Sudan or the continuing problems in Haiti, take place despite whether the New York Times properly characterizes the president's military record. And so, I think it sends entirely the wrong message to DoD readers when the department puts these corrections above the top stories.
3. Politicians' mistakes are simply more important than the mistakes in the media. This is sort of a self-deprecating note, but I think it's very true. When a politician makes a mistake, it can kill hundreds (or thousands) and cost billions of dollars. When a journalist makes a mistake, even a major one, that newspaper is likely to call him out on it immediately and report the truth quickly too. But generally, in the giant echo chamber that is the news world, news mistakes don't make that big of a difference (unless they're huge) because there's enough other news to tell the truth, and because most news mistakes tend to be about really minor technical stuff like names and places. (Check out any corrections box on A2 and you'll see what I mean.) Now, I don't want to minimize the responsibility of the media to tell the story accurately — it's a sacred trust, and media truthtelling can have a major impact on public opinion. But when you balance politicians' mistakes against media mistakes, I think you have to conclude that media mistakes simply aren't as important.
The bottom line: The Pentagon should stop obsessing over newspaper corrections, and it should move these back to the bottom of the Early Bird where they belong. It simply doesn't make sense to have them at the top, and it sends a dreadful message about priorities within the top ranks of the Pentagon.
7/13 Update: Tuesday's Early Bird contained no letters or corrections, so I don't know if this policy changed or not. But the Early Bird supplement continued to run corrections at the top of the page. We'll see if this trend continues.
7/19 Update: Corrections no longer appear at the top of the Early Bird. Both the main briefing and the supplement have letters, opinion and editorial content at the bottom of the webpage, with Top Stories at the top.
Airlines struggle to deal with new business environment
However, NYT article misses critical points with respect to terrorism and security
Sunday's NYT business page had an excellent article on the airline industry, and specifically, how the big airlines have struggled to change their "spoke and hub" model to compete with the small airlines like Jet Blue and Southwest. It goes without saying that the small airlines (which typically fly very profitable routes like L.A. to San Francisco or L.A. to New York) are beating the pants off the big guys right now, in terms of profitability. And so the article talks a lot about how the airlines are struggling to come to grips with this fact, and struggling to change their business models to keep up.
In a year when beleaguered carriers hoped they would bounce back into prosperity after a deep slump brought on by the Sept. 11 attacks, they are instead facing a market that may have changed more fundamentally than at any time since the industry was deregulated in 1978. As a result, even the biggest companies may have to remake themselves radically, quickly and permanently, or face extinction.
The predominant business model since deregulation - based on wide availability of service, supported by customers willing to pay a premium for convenience - is being buried by low-fare airlines that pick and choose their destinations and continually pare costs and ticket prices.
"This industry is transforming itself in front of our very eyes," said Patricia A. Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 100,000 workers at several airlines. The changes being forced on the industry today are as far-reaching as those unleashed when President Jimmy Carter pushed through deregulation a generation ago, she said, adding, "This is Round 2."
Some executives say that if airlines simply trim costs, they can withstand the onslaught as they did in previous slumps. But others say that the industry cannot just shrink this time, and that it must reshape itself, abandoning assumptions about consumers and labor contracts.
For example, the hub-and-spoke system, which funnels passengers from smaller cities to major ones, was embraced by most big airlines after deregulation. It may be on the endangered-species list, though, at least as the primary means of moving people around the country. And, analysts and executives say, airlines are likely to evolve from one-size-fits-all megacompanies into more specialized players that carefully aim at specific niches - international business travelers, for example, or Florida vacation bargain hunters.
All the business models now being tested, however, share one assumption: lower fares. As a result, all employees, from the pilots to the people who clean the planes and restock the beverage carts, will be pressured to work harder and perhaps work for less. "The economic situation of the industry is a reality," Ms. Friend said. "We can't change that. We have no choice but to try to adapt ourselves to a new business model while preserving as much as we can."
This was a really interesting story -- so interesting, that I actually read it during my breaks from BarBri's MBE review on Sunday. Unfortunately, there is a gaping lacuna in this story. The words "terrorism" and "security" appear nowhere, nor does any discussion of the new passenger decision calculus which is being driven by heightened security, increased friction in air travel, and the increased costs associated with air travel. Simply changing the business model to copy Southwest or JetBlue will not completely make up for this paradigm shift in the airline environment. The airlines have to take these things into account, both on the cost side of their ledger, and on the marketing/business development side of their operations. To put it bluntly, I think that every potential passenger now includes "security" as a decision factor in choosing whether to fly, when to fly, and on what airlines to fly. When another mode of travel will suffice, such as driving or the train, I think that enough passengers now choose airline alternatives so as to impact the airlines' bottom line. (I know I do) It's not so much a result of fear -- I don't think we're at risk of another 9/11-style hijacking. It's simply because I do not want to experience the friction of post-9/11 air travel, specifically, the horrendous bureaucratic pretzel that exists at nearly every TSA security checkpoint I've been through lately. If other passengers are making similar decisions, then airlines no longer can rely on the same steadfast demand they used to, and indeed, must do more to attract passengers than they have in the past.
You don't need to be an economist (or even have taken Econ in college) to know that demand matters for a business. I don't think the airlines are ignoring this fact, but I do think the NY Times made a major mistake in not covering this fact as part of their writeup.
George Friedman, who runs the intelligence firm StratFor, put an excellent analysis up last week on the web regarding the callup of 5,600 individual ready reservists in the Army. I've chosen not to write about this issue, partly for personal reasons and partly not to preempt some articles I've been working on. But I think that Dr. Friedman has nailed the subject right on the head with his analysis, so I wanted to pass it on.
The recall is neither routine, nor what the Army would like to be doing.
First, the reactivated reservists will have been out of the Army for several years. They might not be in appropriate mental or physical condition for a tour in a combat zone — where, according to the Army, most are going to be sent. Since the current plan is to keep them on active duty for no more than a year, there is little time for an extensive conditioning program if the troops are to spend much time in-theater. These are not the forces commanders want to lead if they have a choice.
Second, although this call-up might fix the Army's quantitative problem in the short run, it can wreak havoc in the long run. The volunteer army depends, obviously, on the willingness of people to join. That rests on a large number of variables, one of which is the idea that the volunteer can control his term of service, building it into his or her long-term plans. It has always been understood, in the fine print, that calling up the IRR was possible, and soldiers who are being recalled cannot complain that they did not know — they can complain only that they did not expect it to happen. However, people who have already served and completed their tours — and are busy with careers, children and mortgages — are now going to be sent into combat zones. Their younger siblings, cousins and friends are going to be watching the chaos in their lives and could well decide that, while they would be prepared to serve a given term and even have that term extended during war, giving the Army control over their lives — and those of their families — for years afterward is simply not worth it.
The Army, the Defense Department and the Office of the President are all acutely aware of this problem. Nevertheless, they have chosen to go this route. Given the inherent defects of the choice and its obvious potential cost, they did not make this move frivolously; this was something that was absolutely necessary. That said, the question now is this: How did the U.S. Army get into the position of having to make this choice?
Read the rest — it's got some great analysis. So far, the Army has tried to fix its manpower issues through the temporary addition of "end strength, through "stop loss" for certain specialties and units, and by reorganizing itself to be more efficient. I'm not sure that any of those measures will bridge the manpower gap caused by Iraq. Each successive rotation in Iraq is going to stress this system more, especially if they require 140,000 troops each time. To make that happen, a lot more soldiers are going to get stop-lossed; a lot more reserve units are going to get called up. And in the end, the Army will probably still need an end strength increase like the ones proposed in this year's National Defense Authorization Act versions in the House and Senate. Eventually, the Iraq mission will go away (I hope), and at that point, maybe the Army will need to contract as it did after the first Gulf War. But I'm not so sure about that point either, considering the myriad of threats in the world.
Update I: James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation had a provocative op-ed on this subject in the New York Post over the weekend. He comes to different conclusions than I do -- namely, that the system is working and we don't need an increase in end strength. But, we agree on one thing: today's military isn't structured for the wars of today (and tomorrow), and it needs to reorganize itself both to become more efficient and more effective.
The problem isn't that the military is too small. It's just structured to fight the last war in the last century. The result: Too many troops in the wrong uniform, in the wrong places, trained in the wrong skills to be of much use in the War on Terror.
Yes, our military is overstretched. Washington needs to do something about that. But, many of the ideas being floated by pundits and policymakers are simply wrongheaded. Let's kill some of the dumb ideas first.
Admin note: I'm pretty crunched right now with bar exam study and some other work, so Intel Dump may skip a few days between now and the end of the month. Please continue to stop by on a semi-regular basis until then. Thanks.
Dan Baum has a provocative article in the new issue of the New Yorker (7/15 update: now available online) discussing the impact of the Iraq war on American soldiers' minds. This is a subject that merits a great deal more attention than it's getting, especially in light of the study released last week showing that one in six soldiers suffered from some mental distress upon returning from combat in Iraq. I'll try to post some excerpts from Mr. Baum's article when I can. But for now, I'll try to summarize his main argument. The war in Iraq — particularly the brutal, close-quarters combat where it's hard to distinguish civilian from combatant — is having a tremendous psychological effect on U.S. soldiers. In particular, the act of killing human beings at close range is affecting many of their minds in ways we have seen before, but not for some time. These soldiers are experiencing a variety of problems upon coming home. Unfortunately, the Army does not have the resources or the institutional apparatus to deal with these problems entirely, nor does the Veterans Administration. The problem is compounded by a reticence within the military medical community to acknowledge (and write into doctrine) the psychological effects of killing — because doing so would "pathologize" the very act for which the U.S. military exists.
All in all, I thought Mr. Baum's article was an extremely compelling read, and I highly recommend picking up the new issue of the New Yorker for this article alone. For more on this subject, in the interim, I highly recommend reading of War by Richard Holmes, On Killing by David Grossman, and A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard.
Counterinsurgency has been described as one of the toughest missions that any army can engage in. Its principal challenge is the calibration of force to political objectives -- how much, or how little force, to use in a given situation so as not to alienate the civilian population. Sir Lawrence of Arabia first likened counter-insurgency warfare to "eating soup with a knife", and Army MAJ John Nagl wrote an impressive book on the subject (well read in military circles titled Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife. Today, the U.S. Army and Marines find themselves fighting a "classic guerrilla-type war" in Iraq and Afghanistan, requiring them both to eat soup with a knife and do nation-building at the same time.
Today's Los Angeles Times and Washington Post each have articles on this subject, and the effect of the Operation Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom wars on the American military. (I have an article coming out soon on this subject too, so my comments here will be a little brief.) Mark Mazzetti, who covered the Iraq war as an embed for US News, writes in the LA Times that the U.S. has failed in Iraq because it never quite learned how to do counter-insurgency well there:
WASHINGTON — Almost a year after acknowledging they were facing a well-armed guerrilla war in Iraq, the Pentagon and commanders in the Middle East are being criticized by some top Bush administration officials, military officers and defense experts who accuse the military of failing to develop a coherent, winning strategy against the insurgency.
Inadequate intelligence, poor assessments of enemy strength, testy relations with U.S. civilian authorities in Baghdad and an inconsistent application of force remain key problems many observers say the military must address before U.S. and Iraqi forces can quell the insurgents.
* * *
Now, after a year of violence and hundreds of U.S. combat deaths, some officials and experts are frustrated that a more effective counterinsurgency plan has not materialized and that the hand-over of power to an interim Iraqi government last week was unlikely to significantly improve the security situation.
* * *
... one of the biggest problems for U.S. military and intelligence officials remains the paucity of hard intelligence about the structure of the insurgency.
For example, when Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked recently during Senate testimony whether the Iraqi insurgency was being coordinated from a central hub, he responded: "The intelligence community, as far as I know, will not ... give you an answer, because they can't give me an answer."
Tom Ricks takes a different tack on this story in today's Washington Post, writing about some of the ways the war has effected change within the U.S. Army.
Fifteen months of combat in Iraq are leaving an imprint on the U.S. military. All the services are changing, but the Army especially is undergoing radical change as a result of the unexpectedly difficult occupation, in which it has suffered nearly 6,000 casualties.
The strain on Army troops, families and equipment has been extensively reported and is likely to intensify as some units head back to Iraq for a second tour. "The war in Iraq is wrecking the Army and the Marine Corps," retired Navy Capt. John Byron asserts in the July issue of Proceedings, the professional journal of Navy officers. "Troop rotations are in shambles and the all-volunteer force is starting to crumble as we extend combat tours and struggle to get enough boots on the ground."
The latest indication of the psychic toll was a recent study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research that found that about 16 percent of soldiers who have served in Iraq are showing signs of combat trauma.
Overall, "this kind of stress causes change -- some of it good, some of it not so good," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a former Army officer who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Indeed, other, less visible changes also are occurring -- and some of them are for the better. A generation of younger Army officers has been seasoned by a year of combat in a harsh and unpredictable environment, for example. And as the Army seeks to adjust to waging a counterinsurgency campaign 7,000 miles away, innovation in how it trains new recruits and structures forces for deployment is now rippling through the service.
"Iraq is accelerating the pace of change in the military -- the Army particularly," said retired Army Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "It is forcing them to look at a lot of things they had pushed off because they were hard to do."
What's the net effect? It's hard to say. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the military in many ways, from personnel to equipment to the number of JDAM bombs in the Air Force inventory. But, I think there's also a very credible argument that these wars have made the military better. The impact of combat experience in the ranks is hard to understate; it really does sharpen the combat readiness of a unit to have so many combat veterans. It's also hard to underestimate the impact of these wars on Army doctrine, because of the awesome extent to which the Center for Army Lessons Learned has gathered after-action reports from the battlefield. The hard question is how long these effects last, and what the long-term effects will be. Ironically, I think that if we pull out of Iraq with something less than a complete victory, the U.S. military may learn and improve more in the long run, because of the historic tendencies of armies to evolve more in response to defeat than to victory. That's not an argument that we should actively seek defeat in order to make our military better. It's simply an analytic point, based on my reading of military history and past revolutions in military affairs. But we'll see -- the jury's still out on how this conflict will end up.
The New York Times' Science Page has an interesting article today on the "Tactical Language Project", being developed as a joint venture between DARPA, the University of Southern California, and the military's Special Operations Command. The USC researchers have built a virtual reality video game of sorts to train soldiers how to engage in conversation overseas; it's designed to provide initial or refresher language training to soldiers right before they deploy. Such a program would make up for a severe deficiency in Arabic language training (and foreign language training generally) which exists now in the ranks, especially if this program were expanded beyond the special operations community to all soldiers heading overseas.
The Tactical Language Project, as it is called, is being developed at U.S.C.'s Center for Research in Technology for Education, in cooperation with the Special Operations Command. From July 12 to 16, real Special Forces soldiers at Fort Bragg in Northern California will test the game and put Sergeant Smith through his paces.
The user plays Sergeant Smith, while the other characters are virtual constructs. Using a laptop, the user speaks for the sergeant, in Arabic, through a microphone headset and controls the character's actions by typing keyboard instructions.
The project is part of a major initiative, financed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, to explore new ways of training troops by making use of the large installed base of existing technology, especially laptops.
"I'd like to be able to send something like this to every soldier stationed in a foreign country," said Dr. Ralph Chatham, the Darpa project manager.
The philosophy is to deliver what Dr. Chatham calls "tactical language," linguistic skills sufficient to the task at hand.
Dr. Lewis Johnson, the director of the Center for Research in Technology for Education, or Carte, said, "The basic assumption is that there's certain situations you need to face - such as establishing a rapport with the people you meet and finding out where the headman lives - and how do you cope effectively with those situations."
No one is going to be able to read Omar Khayyam after this training, but the agency hopes it will enable soldiers to navigate more easily and safely through the Arab world. In its current version, the game teaches Lebanese Arabic. The U.S.C. team is also working on an Iraqi Arabic version. Darpa hopes to have at least some preliminary version to the military by the fall, Dr. Chatham said.
Comments: I actually saw this system on display at DARPA's convention in Anaheim last March; I even tried to talk with a tribal leader in Pashto, with the system coaching me on proper verbal responses and gestures. (You can read more about this project in this Slate dispatch from DARPATech, and also listen to an audio clip of this system in action on NPR.) I think this is a real winner, and it's the kind of system that ought to be purchased en masse by the Pentagon for the construction of language-training facilities at every major military deployment hub. Language skills are absolutely critical to the force, especially in stability and support operations (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan) where success depends on winning hearts and minds, not defeating armies on the battlefield. As I see it, every major base ought to have classrooms full of these systems (which can be run on standard computers with an audio-visual suite), and units should cycle through this program en route to wherever they're going in order to acquire basic language proficiency. Granted, this system won't teach soldiers how to engage in witty discourse or sophisticated conversations, but it will teach them the basics they need before they hit the ground in some foreign country.
Thom Shanker has an excellent article in Sunday's New York Times discussing the structural issues now facing America's military reserves. (Thanks to Dan Drezner for the heads up.) Since Sept. 11, nearly 400,000 American military reservists have been mobilized for duties ranging from homeland security to combat in Iraq. (That number double-counts many who have been called up twice — or more) Mr. Shanker's article relays how the reserves have strained under this load, and some of the proposals for change now on the table.
The system for training, equipping, mobilizing and deploying reservists was not ready for the historic increase in call-ups since the Sept. 11 attacks, officials acknowledged. The Guard and Reserves clocked nearly 63 million duty days last year, a fivefold increase from the 12 million duty days recorded annually in the late 1990's. As of Wednesday, 156,236 citizen-soldiers were on active duty, with the vast majority — 130,912 — from the Army National Guard and Reserves.
That responsibility is expected only to increase. Guard and Reserve members make up approximately 40 percent of the American forces committed in Iraq and Afghanistan today, and Pentagon war planners said this week that the burden assigned to these formerly part-time soldiers is expected to push toward 50 percent in future deployments.
"When you look at the current structure of the Guard and Reserve, I think it's becoming clearer and clearer that it's not sustainable," said Derek B. Stewart, director for military personnel issues at the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress.
"It's very clear that if you're going to sustain the global war on terror, you're going to need to beef up certain specialties," he added, citing in particular military police and intelligence. "And you're going to have to restructure, and definitely take another look at the mix and configuration of what is in the Reserve component and what is in the active component."
Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, which is responsible for more than half a million Army and Air National Guard personnel, was adamant in saying that the Reserves and Guard could sustain the pace and scope required by the current mission.
"We are stretched but we are not broken," General Blum said. "I will tell you that we can sustain this if we do two things: if we give soldiers predictability on when they are going to go and when they are going to come home, and some reasonable predictability on how frequently they will be recalled."
Analysis: I have a related piece in the publication process right now, so I'll withhold comment on some of the issues raised by Mr. Shanker's article. But I will reiterate a point that I made on a military list-serv I subscribe to. There are really two ways of looking at this problem. The first perspective sees the glass as half-empty — it focuses on the ways these strains indicate the system is broken. Partisans on both sides of the aisle have made military overstretch an issue because it tends to support their arguments for a larger military, a smaller foreign policy, or some combination of the two. The essence of this argument is that the Pentagon's emergency measures — such as stop loss orders, mass reserve mobilizations, and now Individual Ready Reserve callups — indicate that the force is stretched to its limit. And thus, we must either add large amounts of manpower to the force, or scale back the missions. Taken to its logical end, this argument sometimes concludes that we need to return to the draft.
On the other hand, there is an argument that the glass is half-full. I talked to several Pentagon policy officials and think-tankers last week about this argument, and I am starting to see its credibility. According to this line of thought, the emergency measures cited above are not so much signs of the force breaking, as they are signs of the force working exactly as intended. That is, we are a nation at war. Our military needs extra personnel now to fight this war, and probably for the next few years. Thus, it has called up reservists and used additional temporary measures to make ends meet. But when the crisis passes (assuming it does), the military reservists will be demobilized, and the military will contract. Yes, there is some hardship for the reservists who are called up. But, this argument continues, better to call up these reservists who accept the risk voluntarily, than to con mass numbers of citizens and compel them to kill or be killed in combat.
Moreover, Pentagon policymakers say (and I agree) that it would be tremendously inefficient and impractical to start a draft when the personnel needs are in the thousands or tens of thousands. A draft, which traces back to Napoleon's levee en masse, is used when you need to mobilize millions of young Americans for battle. If that cataclysmic day comes, then our Selective Service system stands ready (in mothballs) to swing into action. But until then, the Pentagon argument goes, it is far more efficient and effective to use reservists.
Where do I come out? Well, let's stipulate first that effectiveness matters a whole lot more in combat than efficiency. Efficiency matters, because taxpayer dollars are not an infinite resources, and because inefficient programs deprive other DoD programs of money. However, effectiveness matters a lot more, because being effective in combat means coming home alive. That said, the current reserve mobilization system is neither effective nor efficient — although it's a whole lot better than a conion system would be. Our nation needs to get serious about resourcing its reserves if it's going to rely on them as heavily as it has lately. This is a point that I made late last year, while writing about the medical treatment of reservists in Georgia:
America's reserves have never achieved full equality with their active-duty counterparts. The reservists marooned at Fort Stewart — as well as their reserve brethren around the world — have long suffered from a lack of resources. America gives less to its reserve forces at every step — recruiting, training, deployment, equipment, manning, medical care, even veterans' benefits. In the Army Reserve and National Guard, the nation gets a bargain — trained soldiers with civilian experience who can be called at a moment's notice, but paid for only one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.
Even in Iraq, reservists had to make do with less than their active-duty counterparts. Reserve units typically stand last in line for new equipment, behind active-duty Army units and the Marines. National Guard and Army Reserve units deployed to Iraq with radios older than many of their soldiers — radios that could not talk securely with the active-duty units they worked with.
Many reserve units drove into Iraq with cargo trucks that were more than 30 years old. Reservists were also last in line to receive the military's new "Interceptor" body armor, specially designed to stop bullets from an AK-47.
* * *
Winston Churchill once said that reservists were "twice the citizen" because of their dual commitments to civil society and the military. We ask them to lead their lives in the knowledge that they could be called away from home and family on short notice to serve in harm's way. America's military depends on these men and women, and its combat units could not function without them.
Yet, America continues to undercut its reserve units, sending them into combat with equipment intended for other soldiers in other wars. If we expect our reservists to serve as modern-day minutemen, then we must train and equip them as such. We cannot expect them to shoulder as much of the burden as they have if we continue to treat them as second-class soldiers.
That's the bottom line. If we're going to deploy reservists as combat soldiers and expect the same things from them, then we must give them the same resources as their active duty brethren. That means giving them new weapons, new equipment, adequate training money, adequate training ammunition, and good leadership even before we call them up for duty. When we do call them, we must quickly push resources in their direction, especially training resources, to make up for the fact that they only get 39 days a year to train. And above all else, we must ensure that reserve sergeants and officers get the leadership training they need to be able to bring their soldiers home alive. To date, we have not done this, and the results have been deadly for too many of our reservists in Iraq. We have to do this better.
Comments from the Field: Two of my friends who read Intel Dump sent me critical notes this morning regarding this post. Both made extremely good points, and I decided to share one with the rest of my readership. It comes from an active-duty Army infantry officer now serving abroad:
"There is an old saying that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today. We have been told we are in this war for a generation, etc. If so, you have to think beyond next month, next year, next election. That is what the grand strategists (POTUS, SECDEF, CJCS) are supposed to do. You have to anticipate the unknowable and build in your safety net. The current use of the RC is correct, but we have nothing left on the bench after the IRR and I have not detected anything to correct that. POTUS made a massive error in not pushing for a rolling active force structure build up. We are either at war or we are not. We could have met the numbers in enlistments quite easily at least up until last year and probably still today. We should have added 10-12,000 to the UMR of the Army every year starting in FY 2002. 2-3,000 for the USMC. It takes a lot of time today to put a good unit together. We would today have an additional four or five combat brigades available in the active force and another one to three ready next year."
I think that's right. The early decisions to fight this war on the cheap — and to not prepare or mobilize sufficient numbers of reservists in 2001 and 2002 — are a major source of our problems today. Whether you support this war or not, we are at war. It takes soldiers, materiel and money to win a war; this is not a time to downsize the military, skimp on mobilizations, or be handing out tax cuts. To win, I think we all must bear some cost, whether directly through service or indirectly through taxes and the burden of supporting a nation at war. We ought not minimize this burden, because doing so will only prolong the effort.
America's leanest & fastest ambassador to Europe starts his diplomatic tour
The Tour De France kicked off today with a 3.8 mile prologue in Belgium. Five-time winner Lance Armstrong, riding for the U.S. Postal Service team, rode hard to finish 2nd in this pre-tour race. He beat main rivals Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton, who have made it their mission to prevent Armstong from winning an all-time-record 6th consecutive Tour. Of course, the prologue is just that. This Tour -- like most Tours -- will likely be won in the mountainous Alps phases, especially the dreaded Alpe d'Huez. Nonetheless, today marked an impressive start for America's road warrior, and I look forward to seeing him ride into the record books on July 24.
If you're a cycling fan (or fanatic like me), you can follow the tour via MSNBC's Tour De France site, or via the official USPS team page. The USPS page includes written dispatches, as fellow as pics from renowned Tour photographer Graham Watson. Also, check out Lance's personal webpage, which includes information about his cancer foundation and other endeavors. And if you haven't done so already, I highly recommend reading "It's Not About the Bike", Lance's autobiographical account of his struggle with cancer and return to the top of the cycling world.