Friday, August 6, 2004

50 pages in...
... to retired Gen. Tommy Franks' new book American Soldier. So far, it's a pretty good read. I enjoy all the personal backstory that's in the book, about Gen. Franks' upbringing in Oklahoma and Midland, Texas. Suffice to say, he was a bit of a troublemaker as a kid, and he didn't just coast through school on his way to becoming an Army officer. And, I get the sense that he developed his keen ability to use profanity (e.g. the famous Doug Feith comment) at an early age. I look forward to the rest of the book, and to comparing it with the other recent book authored by a CINC who ran a major regional war -- Wes Clark's Waging Modern War. We'll see how they stack up against each other after I'm done.
The overstretched U.S. Army, part XVIII
In case you missed it, John Hendren reported in Friday's L.A. Times that the Army announced plans to augment its recruiting detachments with 1,000 sergeants and bump up enlistment bonuses in order to bolster its efforts to bring in new soldiers in the coming years. The Army is on track to exceed its FY2004 goal of 77,000 recruits, but it is taking these steps to both meet additional demand for new troops and counter potential problems with recruitment as the result of an extended war in Iraq and on terrorism.

For now, the Army appears to have found the right mix of money and other incentives to bring in enough voluntary enlistees to man its force. (The Army Reserve and National Guard have had difficulty.) And, for the most part, Iraq has not resulted in a mass exodus of active-duty personnel, so there has not been a retention drain on the service. So for now, the all-volunteer model is working. If the Pentagon (and the Army in particular) continues to adjust its recruiting efforts to take supply and demand into account, with measures like those reported in this story, then I think the military might weather this war in decent shape. But it's still early to tell.
"Dishonest and Dishonorable"
That's how Sen. John McCain described the new anti-Kerry attack ad, being launched by a group that calls themselves "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth". According to the Washington Post:
A GOP firm based in Alexandria — Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm — produced the spot, which began airing Thursday in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The ad is part of a broader effort to discredit Kerry's war service that includes a new book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry." While the book will not be released until later this month, it was ranked first in sales Thursday on

The general counsel for the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee sent television stations a letter asking them not to run the ad because it is "an inflammatory, outrageous lie" by people purporting to have served with Kerry.

In an interview with the Associated Press, McCain called the ad "dishonest and dishonorable." Asked if the White House was behind it, McCain said: "I hope not, but I don't know. But I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad."

Soon after, White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to do so and instead criticized the financing of the ad, saying the president "deplores all the unregulated soft-money activity." McClellan said the Bush campaign had nothing to do with the ad or the group behind it. "We have not and we will not question Kerry's service in Vietnam," he said. McClellan used the opportunity to call on Kerry to join Bush in demanding that all soft-money groups quit running ads. The overwhelming majority of such ads have targeted Bush, often harshly. Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Kerry will not ask the groups to stop their advertising.
Some backstory is relevant here. In 2000, in the midst of a tight primary election, then-Gov. Bush attacked Sen. McCain in the South Carolina primary with similar tactics. The Bush campaign never claimed responsibility for those tactics, and it maintained a veneer of plausible deniability in case there was blowback. But the picture was clear to most observers — the Bush campaign had taken the gloves off in its fight against McCain, and it was going to stop at nothing to smear his character and win. Here's a brief description of what happened in South Carolina, from an admittedly pro-McCain writer:
There's no doubt that McCain's 19 percent victory over Bush in New Hampshire caused a panic rethink strategy in the Bush team. Their response was to drop the "compassionate conservative" that had failed Bush in New Hampshire and wage a nonstop barrage of negative attacks to kill the messenger McCain. Nothing was too low to rule out. The nadir moment occurred February 3rd when a smiling Bush stood in front of television cameras as a fringe Vietnam veteran, Thomas Burch, denounced McCain as a POW who "came home and forgot us." Governor Bush knows Burch well. The same Thomas Burch had accused President Bush of abandoning veterans during his administration, but alas, all old wounds must have been healed in time to neutralize McCain's war hero factor. Push polling by Bush activists was standard fare and leaflets distributed by Bush allies described McCain as "pro-abortion" and "the fag candidate" (because McCain was the only Republican presidential candidate to meet with the gay Republican men's group, Log Cabin Republicans). One particularly offensive missive distributed via the Internet and to the press was from the Christian Fundamentalist Bob Jones University, where Bush had staked his Christian conservative claim one day after the NH Primary. A professor named Richard Hand wrote that McCain "chose to sire children without marriage," among other hallucinations.

McCain fought back (much like a sailboat might take on a battleship) with a regrettable political ad in which he accused Governor Bush of using campaign tactics that were "twisting the truth like Clinton." Clinton is the Anti-Christ to conservative Republicans in South Carolina and Bush was able to use the Clinton comparison to his full advantage throughout the campaign. By the weekend of the primary vote, more South Carolinians blamed McCain for going negative than they did Bush, despite the fact that McCain pulled all broadcast political advertisements critical of Governor George Bush in the last week of the campaign and promised that "I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land." (McCain pulled his ads after hearing the story of Donna Duren, who told McCain at a February 10th Spartanburg Town Hall Meeting that her 14-year-old son, who considers McCain his hero, had been push polled and told that McCain was a "liar, cheat, and a fraud.")
Sen. McCain has had no love for the Bush White House — in particular, Karl Rove — since this event. No love whatsoever. The White House has tried to patch things over with Sen. McCain, by holding a public event with him a Washington state military base a while back, and by making private and public overtures towards him. The Bush camp has said it would make McCain a public part of its 2004 campaign, and it certainly was happy when McCain said he would not bolt the GOP to run as Kerry's VP. But there remains a tense and difficult relationship between President Bush and Sen. McCain to this day.

So, with that context laid, it's easy to see why Sen. McCain objects so strongly to this attack ad. First, he knows a smear tactic when he sees it — and this is clearly a smear tactic. Second, he recognizes the exact modus opperandi of the Bush camp when it comes to disparaging part of a war hero's character. The military's hardly a monolithic organization, and you can always find someone in the service who didn't like one of his brothers in arms. And third, Sen. McCain clearly objects to the way this attack ad is being run as an end-run around the McCain-Feingold campaign financing law.

To some extent, Sen. John Kerry has placed his war record and the character of service into question — thus inviting attacks on it. A prosecutor might say that he has "opened the door" to these kinds of character assaults. Maybe. Sen. Kerry had to know that something like this was coming, because there are plenty of activist Vietnam Vet groups that don't like the Democrats. Nonetheless, the edge of this ad is particularly sharp, and I think it goes much further than a mere character attack. It attacks the service of all veterans, and particularly, of all veterans who promote their service as a qualification for public office. It also pits veteran against veteran in a nasty internecine way that does nothing for the American electorate.

More to follow as I put my thoughts together.

Update: Okay, I've had a 4-mile run, some work, and some time reading Tommy Franks' new book. My thoughts are clear. Here are a few more reasons why I think Sen. McCain is right -- this ad is dishonest and despicable.

1. The truth is out there, but not in this ad. Combat literature is replete with examples of just how narrow someone's field of vision is when they're under fire. Suffice to say, two guys fighting in the same infantry company might see an entirely different war -- or at least experience it entirely differently, as a function of the way war warps the mind. These guys aren't recounting specific facts in the anti-Kerry ad -- they're reciting opinions, based on observations more than 30 years, refracted through their own mind and biases. Their statements simply don't carry any indicia of reliability or credibility, besides the fact that they were there.

2. The ad may not even be true. As Kevin Drum and others point out, there has been a slew of retractions by men featured in the anti-Kerry ad. This makes me think that the Swift Boat Vets used some nefarious tactics to con their brethren into enlisting in this effort. To me, the recanting by a few casts doubt on the statements by the rest. I think that more of these men will think better of their statements by the time this thing blows over.

3. Presidents in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Let me say up front that I do not believe for a second that this is unconnected to the Bush campaign. If they wanted to turn this off, they would do so. They have chosen not do so. Assuming there is some connection here, the President has lobbed the first salvo in what promises to be a very bloody fight. And let's be honest here folks -- when it comes to military service, this President simply doesn't have that much ammo to fight with. Sen. Kerry may not want to fight dirty, but I'll bet that people are telling him that he has to go on the offensive right now. And I am sure there are plenty of "independent" Democrats willing to produce a video airing the details of Bush war record. Hell, there are probably a few rich Democrats in Hollywood who'd buy the airtime too. I've got one word for the Bush campaign on this one: blowback. This ad is going to have a lot of it.

4. Dirty tricks don't always work. In the history of political communication, there are some famous examples of where an attack ad simply raised awareness of a candidate. Now, you'd have to live on Mars to not know that Sen. Kerry fought in Vietnam. But this ad may do even more to help raise American awareness of Sen. Kerry's war record. And if people take the time to find out about it, or if the Kerry campaign responds with positive ads about his war record, then these negative ads could simply help the Kerry campaign promote an issue that ultimately (I think) works to their favor.

5. The media play is going to be bad. There aren't a lot of sophisticated pundits who are going to fall for this. And to the extent that media organizations act as opinion leaders for the United States, it does not help the Bush campaign to alienate them so soon in the campaign. Again, I think this ad it going to blow up in the Bush campaign's faces. But we'll see.
Prisoners' Dilemma II
Earlier this week in Slate, I opined that the Justice Department (on behalf of the Bush administration and Pentagon) was resorting to scorched earth tactics to deny, delay and obstruct the Supreme Court's rulings in Rasul/Al-Odah and Hamdi from being implemented. I wrote:
In its Rasul decision, the Supreme Court recognized the Gitmo detainees' right to file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. But the high court never said this had to be a meaningful right to habeas corpus, nor did it define the practical parameters of such a right. Issues like the right to counsel and the proper location for habeas corpus suits were left to the imagination. Not surprisingly, the administration has seized on this ambiguity to resume its post-9/11 legal offensive in the courts. The essence of the legal strategy is to litigate every single procedural and technical issue to the full extent of the law, using the vast resources of the Justice Department to delay judicial action as long as possible. The implicit purpose is clear: to delay justice so that detainees can be held and squeezed for intelligence.

The Justice Department's lawyers make no attempt to hide this legal strategy. In footnote 14 of their filing before the federal district court in Washington, D.C., in Al-Odah v. United States, the administration's lawyers explicitly reserve the right to litigate niggling procedural issues, such as whether this is the proper defendant in a habeas corpus action, and the proper location for such suits. There is some irony here, because those are the two grounds the Supreme Court used to kick back the lawsuit by Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held as an enemy combatant in South Carolina. Even though the Justice Department lost in the other two terrorism cases before the Supreme Court, it now hopes to use the same procedural tactics it used to defeat Padilla's claim to avoid petitions for habeas corpus from detainees at Guantanamo. The strategy appears the same: deny every right, and fight every claim, for as long as possible, so that interrogations and intelligence collection at Gitmo can continue unimpeded by legal process.
Yesterday afternoon, over at SCOTUSBlog (the best one-stop shopping source for Supreme Court news on the web), Lyle Denniston wrote that the Justice Department was taking this a step further. Not only was it signaling its intent to attack the holdings of Rasul and frustrate their implementation — it was asking the court to do so explicitly. Here's what Mr. Denniston has to say:
In a filing yesterday in 13 habeas cases pending before eight U.S. District judges, the government urged those judges to gather in a "joint case management conference" to develop a way to coordinate decisions on the legal issues that are raised in the habeas pleas. Although U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last month refused to consolidate the cases, the department proposes an alternative approach - "coordinated consideration of legal issues." It asked for expedited consideration of that suggestion.

The filing says that the 13 petitions, which were filed on behalf of nearly 60 individual detainees, raise "a number of important common questions of law."
Paraphrased, here are the common questions it lists:
1. Do the detainees have any constitutional right to the aid of a lawyer in their habeas cases?
2. Does the government have the authority to monitor lawyer-client discussions to protect national security?
3. Do the detainees have any constitutional right to due process?
4. May the detainees challenge their detention under treaties or international law?
5. Must the habeas cases be postponed until the Pentagon finishes its new round of proceedings (before Combatant Status Review Tribunals) to make "fresh determinations":of whether to continue detaining the foreign nationals?
6. Should the habeas judges defer to the rulings by those tribunals?

The government has made clear it will ask the judges to answer "No" to questions 1, 3 and 4, and "yes" to questions 2, 5 and 6. In a filing last week in one of the cases (Al Odah v. U.S., docket 2cv828, the case on remand from the Supreme Court), the government telegraphed its sweeping challenge to the habeas petitions, arguing that the detainees have no constitutional rights, and are entitled to no relief. But the new filing made in all three cases - particularly its references to "common questions" 5 and 6 — makes it clearer than it had been that the Pentagon's internal review tribunals are the government's chosen method for dealing with these captives, to the point of nearly extinguishing the habeas pleas.
I think I understand my disbelief now — I must suffer from the same character defect that many other veterans suffer from. You see, when I was on active duty, and I got an order I didn't like, I would sometimes ask questions or probe my superior before moving out to execute it. But in the end, I saluted, did an about-face, and then did my damned best to take ownership of the order and implement it to the best of my abilities. In the military, that's called "followership", and it's a very important skill. Who knew that DOJ would have such a followership problem, or that DOJ lawyers would be such rebels? It certainly runs counter to stereotype.

Now that I'm (almost) a member of the legal profession, I see the Supreme Court as like the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When they issue an order, I might question it a little bit, but pretty soon I'm going to salute, turn on my heel, and execute it. That's just the way I see these things. If I'm a private litigator and they issue a damages ruling; even if I don't like it, I'm going to follow it the next day. Similarly, if I'm in public practice, and they do something that doesn't jibe with my policies, I'm going to change my policies. That's just the way the system works — it is the duty of the court to say what the law is. Period. Full stop.

The Justice Department lawyers may have some good arguments here, and they may need to get judicial guidance before going forward. In an ideal world, I think the Supreme Court should have issued a detailed opinion (like the one it did in Miranda v. Arizona) to answer all of these procedural questions now being raised. But it didn't — the majority opinions in Hamdi and Rasul punted many of the important decisions down the street to the D.C. Circuit and U.S. District Court for D.C. — and punted some all the way across the Potomac to the Pentagon. But, there comes a point at which you just have to salute, turn around, and execute the mission as assigned. I think we're pretty close to there, and these tactics are starting to look like legal mechanisms for delay and obstruction. But that's just my opinion.
Paying the price for free speech in uniform
Two stories have run in the past few weeks — the latest on Monday in the Los Angeles Times — about junior U.S. military officers who spoke out in some way on the war in Iraq, and who are now paying the price. (Also see this 8/5 LAT editorial on the matter.) Neither has been charged criminally, and neither likely will be. But both have been subject to administrative and career-ending sanctions of varying degrees, and both have become object lessons to the rest of the military.

The first officer is Army Capt. Oscar Estrada, an Army civil affairs officer and law student at the University of Michigan. He penned a column for the Washington Post a few weeks ago which was highly critical of the U.S. mission in Iraq, and cast serious doubt over whether U.S. forces could ever win Iraqi hearts and minds. Here is a brief excerpt from his essay:
We're told by senior officers that most Iraqis are being influenced by "bad guys" and their anti-coalition messages. The latest acronym for these bad guys is AIF, which stands for Anti-Iraqi Forces. The fact that most AIF members are Iraqi is neatly ignored as we try to win the goodwill of the "good" Iraqis.

One day last week we rolled into the town of Zaghniyah to win some of the local hearts and minds. In a country where most people are unemployed, we offer the townspeople $1 for every bag of trash they can collect. Our "docs" — medics, assistants and physicians — set up shop in the local health clinic and we try to "engage local leadership." But most of the local leaders, we are told, are not there. Those people who do speak with us do so only to catalogue their concerns — chiefly unemployment and lack of electricity and water. It's the day after the swearing-in of Iraq's new interim government, and so I explain that their concerns have to be presented to their Governing Council, and that we can fund projects only through that council. An old man waves me off and tells me that they know the Americans control everything and will do so as long as they are here. The rest of the men nod in agreement.

As the day wears on, every ray of sun seems to add weight to my Kevlar helmet and body armor. I am at a loss as to why our efforts aren't recognized or appreciated. But then, as I look at the children collecting trash and the main road clogged with military vehicles, as I watch one of our docs try to help a woman carrying a gaunt and sickly baby in her arms, and as I listen to an old sheik struggle with our demands that he hold American-style town meetings, I realize that Iraqis may see our help as something else. I see how paying them to collect trash may be demeaning and remote from their hopes for prosperity in a new Iraq. I see our good faith efforts to provide medical care lead to disappointment and resentment when we have neither the medicine nor the equipment to cure or heal many ailments. And I see how our efforts to introduce representative democracy can lead to frustration.
Suffice to say, Capt. Estrada's command did not take too kindly to this article. He was hauled into his brigade commander's office, chewed out to the point where he lost a few inches of his backside, accused of "aiding the enemy", and eventually fired. The Army Times (subscription required) describes the repercussions of the article for Capt. Estrada in his unit:
Within days of publication, Estrada was accused of "aiding the enemy,"
lost his job, lost a planned two-week rest and recuperation trip back home, lost his wedding date as a result and was reassigned to a remote, less important duty station.

* * * Col. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of the 1st Infantry Division's
3rd Brigade Combat Team, which Estrada's unit fell under, the article
amounted to "aiding the enemy."

The colonel called Estrada into his office for questioning and scolding three times within a week.

"I decided that if he felt so negatively, that he could not be capable
of accomplishing the goals we have set in this AO," Pittard told Army
Times in a telephone interview. "From reading the article and talking to
his peers, I have discovered he is a mean, mean guy, who is selfish and
doesn't appear to care about his soldiers."

Pittard was initially angry and disappointed, but he didn't decide to transfer Estrada until other "captain peers" privately expressed anger over the article. Pittard said the officers complained the article was "rife with terrible inaccuracies," failed to recognize successes and focused exclusively on problems - without offering any solutions.
Of course, Capt. Estrada is not the only officer to question the strategic, operational and tactical situation in Iraq. He's merely the one who did so in the most unconventional way — by writing an article under his own name. He's also a very junior officer in the military hierarchy, notwithstanding his years of service in the State Department as a foreign service officer. So the powers that be punished him for speaking out above his paygrade. Other officers have spoken out in questioning ways, such as Lt. Gen. William Wallace's famous comment during the war that the enemy was a bit different than the one he had wargamed against. More recently, a few senior officers spoke out in this WP article by Tom Ricks. But the Army has allowed their speech with nothing like the retribution aimed at Capt. Estrada.

The second junior officer to fall into hot water with the brass is Marine Corps First Lieutenant Josh Rushing, who served as a public affairs officer at CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar during the war. In that assignment, he drew the less-than-stellar job of escorting around some filmmakers doing a documentary on Al-Jazeera's coverage of the war, and how it differed from U.S. opinion (spin?) on the war. According to Mark Mazzetti of the LA Times, this was all fine and dandy until LT Rushing started to speak out with his own voice.
Rushing, a Central Command spokesman assigned to escort the documentary makers during their time in Qatar, is among the film's most sympathetic characters, portrayed as a thoughtful young man moved over time by the grim reality of war.

At no point is he shown doubting the justness of the U.S. effort in Iraq, yet the film documents a budding friendship between Rushing and Al Jazeera reporter Hassan Ibrahim, and moments on camera when Rushing is wrestling with the film's central themes: war, bias and the Arab world's most powerful media outlet.

The Marine's role in the film turned him into a minor celebrity among the art-house-cinema crowd. But the candid comments he made in the documentary and in interviews after its release ran afoul of his superiors in the Marine Corps, which he now plans to leave.

On camera midway through the film, Rushing spoke of being disturbed that footage Al Jazeera, an Arabic-language satellite television channel, broadcast of civilian Iraqi casualties had not affected him as much as images shown the following night of dead American soldiers.

"It upset me on a profound level that I wasn't bothered as much the night before," Rushing said. "It makes me hate war. But it doesn't make me believe we can live in a world without war yet."

* * *
For their part, Marine officials said their problem was not with what Rushing said in the film, but with comments he made after the film was released and received international attention. Some suggested he did not understand his role as an officer.

"He did a few interviews that indicated he might not know what his lane is," said Lt. Col. Stephen Kay, deputy director of Marine Corps public affairs at the Pentagon. "He was way too far in the opinion realm."
I've read LT Rushing's statements, and I think they may run a bit contrary to what is being said by Pentagon public affairs officers. To the extent that LT Rushing is a military public affairs officer, he has to speak the party line. Here, I think he may have been suckered a bit into speaking his mind, and he is now being punished for that. It's unfortunate, because from what I've read, LT Rushing's comments seem to be quite well-informed and well thought out.

But the real irony is this: LT Rushing's comments may be more of what it takes to win Arab hearts & minds than the what the flaks are spouting anyway. Through his own initiative, LT Rushing may have done more to build bridges to the Arab world by showing that not all military officers think alike, and that U.S. military officers can be quite intelligent when it comes to appraising the conduct of their own country's foreign policy. Clearly, Al-Jazeera and the Arab street are not going for the spin that's coming out of the Pentagon and the White House. But they might be interested in opinions like those of Capt. Estrada and LT Rushing — and they might even be swayed by them. So even if these comments represent a challenge to the military hierarchy, the best response might be for the military to embrace them, and to co-opt them as part of their message to win Arab hearts & minds.

The law is well settled on these officers' First Amendment rights — the military may enact regulations to restrict their speech, particularly in connection with a war effort. However, my point is not so much a legal one as an operational one. Just because the government can restrict free speech in the ranks doesn't necessarily mean that it should. In these two officers' cases, we don't see an attempted mutiny nor do we see a direct challenge to the war effort. Instead, I see honest feedback about the war effort that the Pentagon would be wise to consider. "Group think" can be a very dangerous phenomenon in militaries, and it becomes worse when the top echelons of command insulate themselves from those on the ground, with their boots in the mud. Even if the folks in Washington don't like what LT Rushing and CPT Estrada have to say, they ought to at least listen to them.

Update I: I composed this note earlier this week, and held it to see if it might be publishable material. In the interim, the LA Times ran an excellent editorial making some of the points above, and more.

Update II: An officer who worked with both COL Pittard and CPT Johnson wrote me to offer another side of the story. According to this officer, "Knowing Ty Johnson, I found it hard to believe that he supported his soldiers shooting anything in sight. He's tightly disciplined, and expects the same from his men. Also, COL Pittard plays fair, and allows his subordinates to disagree. Smart guy, he came to us from a Harvard fellowship, and when he was a major, he carried the football for President Clinton." If that's true, then CPT Estrada may be in trouble more for not going through channels (thus demonstrating some disloyalty) than for what he actually said.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

America's reserves play a shell game to make ends meet
Greg Jaffe has an excellent article on the front-page of today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) describing the bureaucratic and management gymnastics the National Guard is going through to accomplish its missions in the post-9/11 world. Without a doubt, the war in Iraq has stretched the Guard, resulting in the cannibalization of units for personnel and equipment. After deployment, some of the units are experiencing retention rate as low as 25-50%. Mr. Jaffe relays the story of one MP company in North Carolina that's reeling from two post-9/11 deployments in 3 years.
Six months ago, the company's 109 soldiers were greeted as heroes when they returned from Iraq. A column of police cars, sirens blaring, escorted them from the airport to a welcome-home parade. Businesses closed. The whistle at the local paper mill shrieked to announce their arrival.

But on this July morning, only 52 soldiers showed up for roll call. Four were AWOL, or absent without leave. About 30 had decided to get out of the Guard for good. Another 26, who had been temporarily assigned to the company to beef it up before combat, had returned to their regular units.

"After the second deployment, a lot of soldiers just said [forget] it," says Capt. James Payne, the unit's commander and an executive at Carolinas Healthcare System, a local nonprofit. "The overwhelming feeling is that they are tired. They have just had enough."

The 211th's dwindling ranks point to a larger manpower challenge for the U.S. military, as its presence in Iraq drags on with no clear end in sight. More broadly, it shows the difficulty of waging military campaigns on multiple fronts, as the Bush administration has committed to do in its war on terrorism.

* * *
The big question facing the Pentagon is how many reserve soldiers will choose, like the departed members of the 211th, to leave the service following their yearlong deployments. Top Guard officials say they are concerned but don't foresee a long-term problem based on current retention numbers.

The first large group of part-time forces shipped to Iraq for 12-month tours began trickling home several months ago. Under an Army policy known as "stop loss," soldiers can't leave the Guard during a deployment or for their first 90 days back in the U.S., even if their enlistment contracts expire. The policy is designed to ensure that units remain intact when they are most needed. But now the time for departures is arriving, as the three-month waiting period runs out for many soldiers.

The National Guard says it's losing about 17% of its force annually, a number within its target of a 15% to 18% attrition rate. But Guard officials concede that the numbers are skewed by the many deployed troops who are temporarily prohibited from leaving the service under the stop-loss policy.

The early signs from units that have returned and are free to leave are mixed. ...
Analysis: In many ways, the war in Iraq has been a readiness boon to the reserves. It has forced them to get serious about their combat missions and their combat readiness, because nothing sharpens one's attention more than the imminent prospect of combat. However, the strains on the force have also been very real, especially in those units which have been "double tapped" for duty since 9/11. Experts say that a unit can sustain about 1 deployment every 4-5 years, and indeed, that regular deployments like that are healthy because they exercise all of a unit's functions and help maintain readiness. But back-to-back combat deployments are tough for any unit to manage, active-duty or reserve. And so I'm not surprised to see the 211th MP Company feeling the pain. With good leaders, resources and good support from higher HQ, it may eventually rebuild itself. But it will take time to do so.
Old soldiers never die... they just make political speeches
Eliot Cohen, an expert on civil-military relations (and author of Supreme Command : Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime), has an oped in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that takes aim at the retired generals now helping Sen. John Kerry and President Bush make their runs for office. Suffice to say, there are very large issues raised by the mere presence of a general on the podium -- questions about civilian control of the military, the proper relationship of the military to politics, and of the military to the people. Mr. Cohen thinks it's improper for these high-ranking veterans to take such a public stand:
... By serving as props for presidential candidates the retired generals put at risk the confidence that citizens and officials alike place in the political neutrality of the armed forces. They have every legal and constitutional right to behave this way, of course, as they have every right to make second careers as pole dancers in Vegas. But in so doing they diminish American politics, and damage the national defense.

Out of a 1.4 million-person military, the U.S. has fewer than a thousand generals and admirals on active duty; it is an elite group of men and women who have risen to the top of a remarkably meritocratic system. Once they retire they deserve, and usually receive, a degree of deference and opportunity unmatched by those in other professions. They may wear civvies but continue to go by their military titles (unlike, say, sergeants and captains, who revert to Mr. or Ms. the day after they doff the uniform), and they find a warm welcome in boardrooms and TV studios. When the country is at war, they get a respectful hearing on strategy and tactics. Informally they exert a great deal of influence on today's military, filled as it is with their former subordinates and protégés. They appear prominently in the web of consultancies, advisory panels, Congressional hearings and defense contractors that makes up the informal defense establishment. They carry weight because of their experience, and the expectation that they speak with the voice of disinterested patriotism.

In a way, then, generals never retire. When they become openly political, endorsing one candidate or denouncing another, they create the notion that the military is a constituency -- the unfortunate word reportedly used by the late Secretary of Defense Les Aspin -- rather than a neutral instrument of policy.
He's got a point... On the other hand, these veterans have a significant amount of experience and credibility on national security issues that matter a great deal in this election. So I'm reticent to say they should be silenced. For one thing, I don't think we're at risk of a military coup d'etat in the United States. If there is a risk at all, it's that political decisionmaking has become too divorced from military realities. In support of that point, I offer the evidence of bad post-war planning that failed to take military advice into account, and the increasing gap between America's elites and the military as stated most recently by NYT columnist David Brooks. If anything, we need more veterans in politics, not less, particularly as this population dwindles due to the advent of the all-volunteer force.

Moreover, there's a tremendous asymmetry here that the presence of a few retired generals and veterans can help balance. In his run as an incument, President Bush gets to use all the tools and images of state for his benefit. He gets to fly on Air Force One; to take photos with the troops; to visit foreign leaders; and generally do all those things that a President normally does. He also has a monopoly on intelligence and information from America's national security community, something which no informal brief to Sen. Kerry can change. (Sen. Kerry does not get the PDB -- he gets a version of it.) National security issues matter a great deal right now, and there is a cogent argument that the Bush administration has bollixed them up. I think it's only fair that the Kerry campaign should be allowed to muster a few generals, admirals and security experts to make that case to the American people.
Band of Sisters
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall see this day and live old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispin's:'

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in their mouths as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

King Henry V: St. Crispin's Day Speech, Pre-Battle of Agincourt, from Henry V, by William Shakespeare

This week's Marine Corps Times reports on a "band of sisters" — borrowing the phrase (with a change) from this Shakespeare passage, and the famous book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose — who are earning their combat pay while attached to Marine Corps infantry units in Iraq. Although barred from serving in infantry positions per se, these women (who dub themselves "Team Lioness") are going out on patrol, carrying a rifle, and taking the fight to the enemy. They are proving their mettle under fire, and once again proving the wisdom of the Marine Corps ethos that every Marine (regardless of gender and job title) is a rifleman first.
Women are serving throughout the war zone, but the soldiers in this band of sisters are unique. They're joining male Marines and soldiers on offensive ops, taking part in raids, security patrols and vehicle checkpoints.

The women are not walking point or leading infantry squads in the assault, but their secondary role is no less important to the success or failure of a mission here. They accompany the infantrymen to conduct body searches of Iraqi women, allowing U.S. forces to hunt for insurgents while not offending the citizens they seek to win over.

These women are helping to win the peace in this still restive city, but the significance of what they're doing goes beyond the war zone. By joining men on the offense, they are blurring the traditional lines that have kept women in combat-support roles and out of harm's way.

But in the counter-insurgency fight now being waged in Iraq, a war with no front lines and no traditional "rear," just about anywhere outside the wire qualifies as "harm's way." And the women here are in the thick of it.

Take Morgan. She's considered the best squad automatic weapon gunner in her battalion. She can kill the bad guy — and has — and has accompanied a unit during a 21-mile foot patrol in full combat gear on a day when temperatures pushed above 100 degrees.

When the bullets fly, she runs — toward the fight.
In December 2002, I wrote "War Dames" for the Washington Monthly on this subject, anticipating some of what would happen as a result of policy changes during the 1990s which pushed women further and further towards the front lines. It's no stretch today to say that women serve — and serve well — on every piece of the battlefield. And though they're still barred from serving as infantrymen, tankers, artillerymen and special forces soldiers, women often accompany, precede or fight alongside those kinds of units even though they're not combat troops per se. The ultimate verdict on the wisdom of putting women on the front lines, I wrote, would depend on how well they did:
No one is quite sure how Americans will respond if significant numbers of women are killed in Iraq. "The real issue is, if greater numbers of women get captured, how will the country react?" asks Donnelly. "We would have to desensitize the entire nation to violence against women. Endorsement of women in combat means an endorsement of violence against women at the hands of the enemy." Perhaps. But even when women have died in combat, the public hasn't questioned their reasons for being there. The nature of public grief for soldiers like Marine Corps Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, a radio operator who was the first female military casualty in the war against Afghanistan, may indicate that Americans will accept female casualties if they believe in the cause they're fighting for.

In the end, what will really determine public reaction is how well women perform their jobs under fire. On the ground in Afghanistan, women did not participate in the main actions of Operation Anaconda. But since the fighting died down, female MPs have gone out on long infantry patrols with the 82nd Airborne Division, and by most indications perform-ed well. To be fair, they have not seen combat, and haven't performed the most physically demanding tasks the military has to offer. But women have covered 10 to 20 miles of very hard country per day carrying loads of up to 75 pounds, all while living in close quarters with male infantry.

And so far, as in the Gulf, the worst predictions have not come true--no reports of mass pregnancies or other issues have come to light in Afghanistan. "I'm learning what grunts do, [and] they learn what I do. As MPs, we search people and look for weapons ... I never thought we would be walking for hours or be on the front," MP Sgt. Nicola Hall told a reporter in Afghanistan after the mission. "[The 82nd Airborne soldiers] have been nothing but respectful to us; as long as you walk, carry your own weight and don't whine, you're respected."

Indeed, if mixed-gender units perform as they have in the California desert--and in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan--it would strengthen the integrationist trend in several ways. The least likely possibility would be the elimination of all rules barring women from full combat service, from special forces to light infantry. But even if this were to happen, surveys suggest that only a small number of women would apply. And only a fraction of those who do would have the physical ability and fortitude to make it through, say, the crucible of Army ranger school, from which a majority of qualified men wash out before graduation.

The second, and more likely, possibility is that certain combat jobs currently off-limits to women would be opened. For instance, women can currently serve in Patriot air-defense units, but not in short-range air-defense or offensive artillery units closer to the front--even though the skill levels are virtually the same. Female soldiers frequently win the Army's highest awards for marksmanship and even participate on the U.S. Olympic marksmanship team--but outside the MPs cannot be snipers. If Saddam's Baathist regime falls to U.S. forces that include women, these kinds of job limitations may collapse, too.
Nearly all indicators point to the success of women in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it's only a matter of time before we see the complete integration of women in the ranks, now that they've proved their abilities to the men in the military under fire.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

A grand strategy for American exceptionalism
Tonight, I attended a book talk given by former Sen. Gary Hart (yes, that one) at the Barnes & Noble at 82nd and Broadway in Manhattan. He pitched his new book The Fourth Power: A Grand Strategy for the United States in the Twenty-First Century by way of a lecture on American empire and his view of what America's "grand strategy" ought to be. I'm not sure that I fully understand what a grand strategy is, but I was able to take some notes on what Sen. Hart had to say.

The essence of his book is quite simple. America's grand strategy rests on three pillars of power — political, economic and military power — which are unmatched in the world today. Sen. Hart would add a fourth form of power (hence the title of the book): American principles and values, such as those embodied in our Constitution. With these four forms of power, Sen. Hart argues that we should pursue a grand strategy aimed at three goals:
1. Achieving security; and
2. Expansion of opportunity, economic and otherwise; and
3. Promotion of liberal democracy.
It sounds kind of catchy, and I admire its elegant simplicity. But to me, I couldn't help but think of how this grand strategy would play elsewhere in the world. It sounded like little more than a rehashed version of American exceptionalism — that we should use our values and norms to reshape the world in our image, because our way is right. Our way may well be right, but the rest of the world doesn't think so — at least not yet. And so, this grand strategy shares the same flaw as all others which aim to leverage Western ideals and liberal democracy as a source of power. To many in the world, liberalism and democracy things appear threatening, and worthy of violent opposition.

I asked Sen. Hart about this during the Q&A; which followed his talk, and his response was basically that America should walk softly while carrying a big stick. In other words, he emphasized the use of soft power (to borrow Joseph Nye's phrase) in the pursuit of America's grand strategy, in contrast to the Bush administration's use of hard power (read: military might). Instead of imposing liberal democracy, as this administration has done in Iraq, Sen. Hart would advocate the gentle nudge towards liberal democracy. Maybe... but I'm not sure you can reconcile this grand strategy's emphasis on liberal Western values with the ideals held dear by our enemies and friends around the world. It's been a long time since I read Sam Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations", but I still think there's a valid point to be made that we must take foreign civilizations and their values into account when crafting our grand strategy. I must've had a deeply skeptical look on my face, because he asked me why I still looked unconvinced. I shrugged my shoulders and said I just wanted to hear his take on the point.

I don't claim to know what America's grand strategy ought to be. And I thought Sen. Hart made some excellent points, such as the need to divorce ourselves from Middle Eastern oil and make a responsible energy policy part of America's grand strategy (not to mention our national security strategy). In any case, his book should stir up some good debate, hopefully in time for this election.

Update I: I solicited Robert Tagorda's expert thoughts on this subject, because he's a lot smarter where issues of grand strategy are concerned than me. He points out some similar deficiencies in Sen. Hart's argument, but here's the kicker: "If Hart wants to criticize the Bush administration, he might be better-served pointing out how it's fallen short of living up to its grand strategy." I hadn't thought of that, but it's certainly a good point.
Prisoner's dilemma
In this new Slate article, I take a hard look at the the Bush administration's recent maneuvers with respect to detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. Suffice to say, I do not think the Justice Department and Pentagon are doing the right thing, and I think this continuing pattern of conduct is going to leave us with even blacker eyes than we have now. Here's a brief excerpt:
In the first two years after Sept. 11, whenever its terrorism or detention policies were challenged in the courts, the Bush administration waged a scorched-earth legal campaign in its own defense. Justice Department lawyers routinely deployed an arsenal of procedural motions and legal delay tactics to keep the federal courts from ever hearing a terrorism case on the merits. When the Supreme Court stepped in last June with the last word on the legality of such wartime practices, observers (including me) had a right to hope that the administration would cease its foot-dragging and finally conform its policies to the demands of the justices and the rule of law.

The Bush administration dashed that hope last month with a series of actions concerning detainees from the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. In a court filing on Friday, the administration announced its intention to deny Guantanamo Bay detainees full access to counsel to prepare their habeas corpus petitions and signaled that it would resume its relentless legal tactics to fight the detainees in the courts on a host of procedural issues. The administration also started to move forward with two sets of legal proceedings — Combatant Status Review Tribunals and military commissions — to adjudicate the status of Gitmo detainees. These hearings purport to benefit the detainees, but may, in fact, end up hurting more than helping them. And in a separate but related development, the Army finally released its much-awaited investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Not surprisingly, it laid the blame on a few bad apples, rather than any systemic problems in the military—and exempted the top ranks of the Army and Pentagon from any legal or moral culpability.

Although these events concern different legal issue and different sets of detainees, they share a common denominator: a legal strategy to keep the rule of law out of the war on terrorism by whatever procedural, legal, or administrative means are available.
Update: In the spirit of equal time, I want to link to a letter in today's Washington Post from Acting SecArmy Les Brownlee about the Army Inspector General report that I criticize in this article. He makes a point which I think deserves emphasis:
"The inspector general did exactly what I directed him to do: He conducted a broad analysis of the Army's policies, practices and procedures on internment, enemy prisoners of war and detention. I directed this inspection on Feb. 10, because reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were emerging. I wanted to determine whether such abuse might be taking place elsewhere and, if so, whether it was the result of a systemwide fault or failure.

"The purpose of the inspector general's assessment was not to investigate specific crimes or to determine individual culpability. It was to examine whether the Army had in place the proper procedures, policies and doctrine, which, if followed, would ensure that our soldiers were conducting detainee operations in accordance with appropriate standards. As a result of the report, the Army is developing and executing a comprehensive plan to implement reforms and to provide for oversight of detainee operations."
But that's precisely my point -- the report does not do a good job of identifying system failures and other external factors which the Army could fix to mitigate the risk of a few bad apples. The report explicitly blames Abu Ghraib on a few junior ranking soldiers, and that's just not right. Even if the orders to use "intensive interrogation" did not come from the top (and I believe they did), there were still a myriad of systems which failed here, from command checks in the 372d MP Company to the command climate set by the top generals in Baghdad. If the Army is pursuing systemic fixes to prevent another Abu Ghraib, I think that's great. But for the good of the Army and the good of the country, Secretary Brownlee ought to tell us what they are!
Army changes its homework assignments for soldiers
In a press release which I missed last month due to my bar exam crunch, the Army announced a major change to its professional reading list. In reality, there are 4 lists — 1 for cadets, junior soldiers and NCOs; 1 for junior officers; 1 for mid-level officers; and 1 for senior officers. These lists are hardly the only professional reading lists in the military — there are similar lists in many units, and on many installations. Nonetheless, they are important because they illustrate the intellectual orthodoxy of the Army, by listing those books which have been stamped with the imprimatur of the Chief of Staff of the Army.

There are some notable changes in the new set of lists put out by current Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, as compared to the "old" list published by ret. Gen. Eric Shinseki. Below is a brief comparison of the "old" and "new" lists, with changes highlighted in parentheses where applicable. (I would have put these in a table for side-by-side comparison, but my blog software would not cooperate.)

"Old" List 1 - cadets, soldiers and junior NCOs
1. We were Soldiers Once...And Young by LTG (Ret.) Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway (no change)
2. Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose (no change)
3. The Long Gray Line by Rick Atkinson (deleted)
4. America's First Battles, 1776-1965 by Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft (moved to List 2)
5. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (deleted)
6. This Kind of War by T.R. Fehrenbach (deleted)
7. 225 Years of Service: The U.S. Army, 1775-2000 by David W. Hogan Jr. (deleted)
8. The Face of Battle by John Keegan (no change)
9. Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer (deleted)
10. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (deleted)
"New" List 1 - cadets, soldiers and junior NCOs
1. The Constitution of the United States (added)
2. Centuries of Service: The U.S. Army 1775-2004 by David W. Hogan, Jr. (added)
3. The Face of Battle by John Keegan (no change)
4. For the Common Defense by Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski (moved from old List 2)
5. Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose (no change)
6. We were Soldiers Once...And Young by LTG (Ret.) Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway (no change)
7. If You Survive: From Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge to the End of World War II, One American Officer's Riveting True Story by George Wilson (added)
8. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific by Eric M.Bergerud (added)
9. Closing With the Enemy by Michael D. Doubler (added)
10. Patton : Genius for War, A by Carlo D'Este (added)
11. In the Company of Heroes: A True Story by Michael J. Durant (added)
Analysis of List 1: These are some major changes to the Army's intellectual orthodoxy. "Once an Eagle" is a remarkable fiction book on the pitfalls of military careerism, and it was particularly apt for the post-Vietnam generation of officers who lacked the crucible of combat (with a few exceptions) for their development and promotion. "This Kind of War" is the definitive book on the Korean War, and its lessons for tough mountain warfare still hold true today. "Killer Angels", the book which inspired the movie "Gettysburg", offered an outstanding look into the pivotal battle of the Civil War, notwithstanding the fact that it was a fictional account. I'm a bit surprised by the addition of Michael Durant's account of Mogadishu too, especially because it has been added instead of Mark Bowden's "Black Hawk Down" — a book which nearly every military officer has read, but that appears nowhere on this list.

"Old" list 2 - company grade officers and company cadre NCOs
1. Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose (deleted)
2. The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I by Edward M. Coffman (no change)
3. Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations by Samuel P. Huntington (moved to new List 3)
4. Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War by Robert H. Scales Jr. (deleted)
5. Company Commander by Charles B. MacDonald (no change)
6. Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command by S.L.A. Marshall (deleted)
7. For the Common Defense by Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski (moved to new List 1)
8. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War by Gerald F. Linderman
9. George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century by Mark A. Stoler (moved to new List 3)
10. Buffalo Soldiers (The Black Sabre Chronicles) by Tom Willard
"New" list 2 - company grade officers, warrant officers, and company cadre NCOs
1. America's First Battles, 1776-1965 by Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft (moved from List 1)
2. Personal Memoirs: Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant (added)
3. The Philippine War, 1899-1902 by Brian McAllister Linn (added)
4. The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I by Edward M. Coffman (no change)
5. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 Rick Atkinson (added; Atkinson's book on West Point was deleted)
6. Company Commander by Charles B. MacDonald (no change)
7. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950 by Roy E. Appleman (moved from old List 3)
8. Leadership: The Warrior's Art by Christopher Kolenda (added)
9. American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam by Peter S. Kindsvatter (added)
10. The Challenge of Command: Reading for Military Excellence by Roger Nye (added)
11. The New Face of War: How War Will Be Fought in the 21st Century by Bruce Berkowitz (added) (see also my review from The Washington Monthly)
Analysis of List 2: The biggest deletion to me is the removal of "Slam" Marshall's "Men Against Fire", a classic book on the effects of combat on the human mind. There is no replacement on the new list, and that leaves a big hole as far as I'm concerned. Company-grade officers and NCOs ought to know something about combat stress and the ways that combat affects the mind. There are more recent books on the subject which could have been added, such as David Grossman's On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and Richard Holmes' Acts of War: Behavior of Men in Battle.

I was not surprised to see Rick Atkinson's book added to the list here — it did win the Pulitzer Prize after all. It did surprise me to see Bruce Berkowitz' book added to this list, as opposed to the lists for mid-level or senior officers, especially to the exclusion of books like "Black Hawk Down", "Thunder Run", and other more recent books having to do with the kinds of problems faced by company-grade leaders on the ground. I also expected to see something from the MBA school of literature, like "Good to Great" or "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done". When it comes down to it, company commanders, platoon leaders and NCOs spend a lot of their time grappling with basic leadership and management dilemmas — especially human resources issues. I'd expect to see a bit more of this literature represented.

The additions and subtractions to List 3 and List 4 are also interesting, insofar as they affect the professional reading of America's more senior military leaders. There are some surprising additions to these lists too — books that I would've thought too unconventional or out-of-the-box for the Army to officially endorse. For example, List 4 (for senior leaders above the brigade level) includes retired Col. Doug MacGregor's Transformation Under Fire : Revolutionizing How America Fights — an excellent book, but one which contradicts a great deal of military orthodoxy. List 3 includes Rohan Gunaratna's brilliant book Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror — a book that does an outstanding job of explaining the new enemy, but in a way that the senior Pentagon leadership would neither acknowledge nor endorse.

To me, the real question is this: what kind of literature will the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq produce, and how will the Army react to it? Will the Army embrace ideas from the inside and outside, or spurn them?

Coda: My friend at Plastic Gangster reminded me of another serious hole in this reading list: the lack of any books relating to the subject of military ethics. It's not that such literature is non-existent. Indeed, there are volumes upon volumes of scholastic, theological, legal, philsophical and political works on the subject. Much concerns the larger question of "just war" — when a nation or people may go to war. But a significant portion also deals with the law of war — how nations and armies should behave in war. A solid grounding in this literature ought to be mandatory for every American military leader, given the complex ethical situations which occur every day in combat. One need only look to Abu Ghraib to see the result of a force whose leaders lacked a proper educational foundation in the ethics of war, and more specifically, in the laws of armed conflict.

Towards that end, I'd recommend the addition of at least one book to each level of the Army's reading list to deal with military ethics. The most obvious is Michael Walzer's classic Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations. Another possibility could be Mr. Walzer's new book on the subject, Arguing About War, but that may work better for more senior officers and NCOs.

There is a line between vocational reading and professional enrichment reading, and I think this list should stay on the latter side. However, I think this list lacks depth and breadth on many key subjects that matter for today's (and tomorrow's) military officers. Granted, today's officers are probably too busy to engage in much serious professional reading. But today's lieutenants and captains will grow up to be tomorrow's colonels and generals. There's an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is today. A book list may seem like a silly way to build combat power, but it's one tangible way to enrich the minds of America's military officers. On the modern battlefield, intellectual depth and agility translate into combat capability. As the late Col. John Boyd used to say, "Machines don't fight wars, people do — and they use their minds."

Update II: Speaking of John Boyd's ideas, check out the new website put together by Army Maj. Donald Vandergriff, a noted reformer in the ranks whose ideas on transformation and military personnel policy may help the Army make a quantum leap forward in combat effectiveness. And while you're at it, check out Don's two books: The Path to Victory: America's Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs, and Spirit, Blood and Treasure. They are must-reads for anyone interested in the future of America's armed forces.

Monday, August 2, 2004

How high should the blame for Abu Ghraib go?
According to this report by Michael Hirsh and John Barry in Newsweek, all the way to the top of the Pentagon. Since reports of abuse first broke in April 2003, there has been speculation over how high the legal, political and moral culpability would go. Sy Hersh's report in the New Yorker on "Copper Green" -- the official sanctioning of the Abu Ghraib abuses by senior Pentagon leadership -- pointed fingers directly at SecDef Rumself and USD(P) Feith. Now, Newsweek reports that those senior appointed officials may actually take the blame when a Pentagon investigatory commission issues its report on the mess:
In mid-August, the commission that Schlesinger chairs—handpicked by Rumsfeld from members of his own Defense Policy Board—is expected to issue its final report on abuses by U.S. interrogators stemming from the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. NEWSWEEK has learned the Schlesinger panel is leaning toward the view that failures of command and control at the Pentagon helped create the climate in which the abuses occurred.

The four-member commission's report is still being drafted and its final conclusions are not yet definite. But there is strong sentiment to assign some responsibility up the line to senior civilian officials at the Pentagon, including Rumsfeld, several sources close to the discussions say. The Defense secretary is expected to be criticized, either explicitly or implicitly, for failing to provide adequate numbers of properly trained troops for detaining and interrogating captives in Afghanistan and Iraq. His office may also be rebuked for not setting clear interrogation rules and for neglecting to see that guidelines were followed. The commissioners "are taking an unvarnished look at the issue as a whole," said a source close to the commission. "A more extensive look than some people had initially thought they might take."

* * *
Rumsfeld has been widely criticized for paring down the occupation force for Iraq. Until now, however, that criticism has rarely extended to the prison-abuse issue. But some commissioners believe that the 800th Military Police Brigade, which ran the Iraqi prison system, was badly overstretched and not trained well for detention duty. Previously, the brigade's 372nd MP Company—the main culprit in the Abu Ghraib abuses—had served as traffic cops.

Some on the commission also believe that Rumsfeld and senior officials failed early on to set up clear, baseline rules for interrogations—an ethical "stop" sign, in a sense. This opened the way to abuse in an atmosphere in which President George W. Bush and senior officials were demanding that interrogators obtain better intel and were openly questioning the Geneva Conventions. The lack of direction from the top created confusion at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, according to testimony heard by the Schlesinger commission. Documents indicate that interrogation officials often undercut or ignored Army Field Manual 34-52, the standard doctrine setting interrogation guidelines in conformance with Geneva. One example is a classified assessment of Army detention operations in Iraq done in the late summer of 2003—a copy of which was obtained by NEWSWEEK. While the author, the then Gitmo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, refers at one point to "providing a humane environment," he does not mention Geneva protections or the field manual when he recommends that MPs "set conditions" for "successful exploitation of the internees."
Analysis: As many have pointed out so far, I think that the fates of Rumsfeld, Feith and others in the Pentagon will be determined by the political winds that blow this fall. If Karl Rove and his staff determine that it is politically advantageous to sack the SecDef, then the White House will do it. Such a finding may well be in the works, and I don't think that President Bush's storied loyalty would prevent him from firing a top cabinet officer if it was thought this firing would give him a political advantage in the election. Certainly, Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards could hasten this by attacking the Bush administration on its handling of Abu Ghraib and the torture memos. I'm not sure that these issues are particularly salient to the American people. But if the Dems can make the point that these issues have helped the terrorists by helping them to recruit and paint us as the great Satan, and that the White House did nothing to stop these abuses, and in fact encouraged them with a climate of legal ambiguity, then I think there may be a case here. We'll see what happens.