Monday, August 18, 2003
Intermission -- Intel Dump will begin regular news coverage again on Thursday or Friday of this week. In the interim, please stop by my friends and supporters on my blogroll. Thanks.
Friday, August 15, 2003
Update to Pentagon plans to reduce combat pay
Top DoD official says the plans were misconstrued, and pay will not drop
Undersecretary of Defense David Chu gave a press conference yesterday explaining this reversal a little further. In Dr. Chu's words, this isn't actually a reversal at all -- the original story was wrong. The Pentagon never intended to cut "total compensation" for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, it intended to shift around different kinds of pay to more selectively target those actually in a combat zone -- as opposed to those in support of a combat operation in Qatar. Here's an excerpt from the press conference:
Q: Just to be clear, there was never any intention on the part of the Defense Department to even look at eliminating these increases. Is that correct?Earlier in the press conference, Dr. Chu described the legislative and legal differences between what was being reported, and what was being done by the Pentagon:
Chu: No, no, no, no. I don't mean to be a technocrat here, but we have plenty of authority that we think is frankly better suited to the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan to maintain that compensation at the level it now stands without this power. And what we're saying in this document is we don't need this authority. What Congress really would do if they extend this is actually pay it to a lot of people who aren't in Iraq and Afghanistan.Okay, I understand now... Congress has created an "entitlement", for lack of a better word, that authorizes certain troops to certain pay under certain conditions. The Pentagon thinks those conditions are overly broad, and would rather use other kinds of pay with other conditions to pay our troops in harm's way. The current model probably authorizes Family Separation Pay for anyone on any deployment -- whether in harm's way or not. And the current danger pay may include folks in Qatar, Kuwait, and elsewhere. The Pentagon's position is that it cannot afford to pay those folks not actually in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The defense authorization/appropriations process is one of the most over-legislated, hyper-technical areas of the policy process imaginable. The annual National Defense Authorization Act is the largest piece of legislation considered by Congress, and it can run into the hundreds of pages. Often times, small provisions are inserted that may or may not mesh with the rest of the defense budget, the priorities of the President, or the priorities of Congress. But since it's part of this bill, it's the law of the land and it must be implemented somehow by the Pentagon. It's a policy nightmare.
Bottom Line: If we take Dr. Chu at his word, the "total compensation" for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will not drop -- it will change. Instead of receiving $225 and $250 for "imminent danger pay" and "family separation pay" respectively, soldiers may now receive $475 in some other special-purpose category. However, there will undoubtedly be friction in this process, and some soldiers will fall through the cracks. Some of this pay may lag, or hiccup, since the defense pay system is quite large and complex. It remains to be seen whether "total compensation" will actually stay the same, notwithstanding the comments by Dr. Chu. More to follow...
Using government plastic to buy... well... plastic
Defense Week, a Pentagon trade journal, reports that a Marine Corps staff sergeant was convicted in June of using her official DoD credit card to buy, among other things, a breast augmentation.
Staff Sergeant Sherry Pierre, an active duty Marine who worked for Marine Forces Reserve headquarters command in New Orleans, used her Pentagon plastic to rack up $129,709 in goods, services and upgrades to her physique, a command spokesman confirmed.Analysis: This really is the tip of the iceberg where credit card abuse in DoD is concerned. There are two categories of cards which have been heavily abused by DoD employees --
(1) Government credit cards where the individual can purchase goods and services in Uncle Sam's name, subject to a long list of regulations;
(2) Government-backed travel credit cards, where the individual can charge travel expenses to bridge the gap between the dates of travel and the date of reimbursement.
Staff Sergeant Pierre's case falls in category (1) -- she used Uncle Sam's credit card to buy personal stuff, and charged those things to the taxpayers. This is a clear-cut case of larceny, and I think the service made the right decision to prosecute her. Luckily for us taxpayers, these cases are fairly infrequent, because there are a number of management controls on these government cards -- controls which unfortunately broke down in this case.
The tougher cases fall into category (2), and these are much more common. Military personnel often legitimately use their cards, only to have problems on the back end when they seek reimbursement. That can put them into arrears. The more disturbing problem is the heavy use of these cards by military personnel for personal charges totally unrelated to official travel. I can remember anecdotes from Fort Hood, Texas, where soldiers were caught using the card at strip clubs, car dealerships, hotels in Austin, and other unauthorized uses. At one point, I think a statistical analysis showed that 80% of all government travel-card transactions were done within a 25-mile radius of the installation. Clearly, those cards were not being used for travel.
The good news is that the Pentagon has really cracked down on this problem. Some would say the Pentagon is being too Draconian here, but I'm inclined to think this is one area where the system needs to be tough. The Defense Department has an enormous budget, and it owes the American people no small measure of fiscal responsibility.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
After taking heavy artillery fire from critics for its decision to downwardly adjust its family separation and imminent danger pay for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon abruptly reversed course today -- saying it would maintain such pay "at least at the current levels." Here's what the Pentagon press release had to say:
IMMEDIATE RELEASEThe administration's official stance on this issue was that the two forms of special pay cost too much to maintain over the long haul. I imagine this was doubly true because the Pentagon has had to keep more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than it expected, to deal with problematic situations in both nations. According to Ed Epstein of the San Francisco Chronicle:
The Defense Department supports the cuts, saying its budget can't sustain the higher payments amid a host of other priorities.Analysis: Despite its $380 billion budget, the Pentagon does have to contend with finite resources. It must choose between using its money for personnel, equipment, research, and other areas. In theory, the money from this special pay could be transferred to one of the SecDef's other priorities -- missile defense, for example. But is that really more important that this special pay? I don't think so. I suppose if you had to choose between extra body armor for soldiers in Iraq and special pay for them, you might have a tough decision. But clearly, there is enough largesse in this year's Pentagon budget to spare the money to pay our sons and daughters in harm's way.
When faced with recalcitrant bureaucrats who simply wanted to buy gadgets, the late-Col. John Boyd used to thunder "People, ideas, and hardware -- in that order!" at his audiences. Col. Boyd was onto something. Or as Gen. Creighton Abrams (creator of the all-volunteer force) said: "People are not in the Army, they are the Army." It's time we recognized this basic truth, and put our money into our most important military asset: America's sons and daughters in uniform.
The case of Faith Fippinger
With a name like that, you'd think I was decribing a law school exam hypothetical. Unfortunately, I'm not. The U.S. government is currently seeking to fine Ms. Fippinger under various Treasury and State Department regulations governing sanctions against pre-war Iraq. Ms. Fippinger went to Iraq before the war to act as a "human shield" against American military action.
From a policy perspective, I agree with the U.S. government's sanctions against pre-war Iraq, and think this method of enforcement is proper. However, as Julie Hilden points out in today's FindLaw column, there are some serious First Amendment issues to contend with:
Before packing her bag for prison, Fippinger should visit a lawyer. Her lawyer should then move to have the charges against her dismissed, among other reasons, because they violate the First Amendment. The government's treatment of Fippinger may well outrage a judge enough to grant that motion.So what do I think? I think there's a balance to be struck here, and that courts are pretty good at weighing individual rights against governmental interests in cases such as this one. Ultimately, I think Ms. Fippinger will lose because of the tremendous deference accorded the executive branch by the judicial branch in matters of foreign policy and national security. But this will be a close call.
Torts, cigarettes and french fries
Slate's brilliant legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick has a great essayon the new wave of litigation over fast food. I think Ms. Lithwick has one of America's finest legal minds, and she's certainly one of the legal journalists in the business. This piece, like her others, is worth a read. Here's her conclusion:
The best solution doubtless lies someplace between the absurd extremes. As Ben Kelly points out in today's Washington Post, Big Food will likely survive just by moderating its behavior, posting warnings, and taking it easy on peddling their junk to the kiddies. But we may want to keep an eye on the John Banzhafs of the world, who have observed that their next target may well be "Big Milk"—full of saturated fats and cholesterol and not nearly as healthy as those moustache commercials would suggest.
DARPA -- an American version of Hogwarts school for wizards?
The Los Angeles Times has a great Column One piece on DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has taken fire recently for its Total Information Awareness and Policy Analysis Market programs. In the piece, Charles Piller looks at some of the great successes -- and great failures -- of the Pentagon agency.
Over the years, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on a variety of projects, from telepathic spies and jungle-tromping robotic elephants, to its most recent fiasco - FutureMAP, an online futures market designed to predict assassinations and bombings by encouraging investor speculation in such crimes.The whole article is worth a read. Besides inventing the Internet (originally called "ARPANet"), DARPA has had a hand in a number of other key innovations in American society. The article details some of those, as well as the the current debate over TIA and other programs.
For more on DARPA and its newest project to digitize the human body, see this Wired article by Noah Shachtman.
Prof. Krugman: "Critics, do your homework!"
Critic to Prof. Krugman: Quotation does not necessarily equal fact-checking
In response to my criticisms and those of others, Princeton economist Paul Krugman has posted a page on his personal website citing two letters from Stars & Stripes and a Financial Times article to back up his position on heat casualties in Iraq. As a young law student at UCLA, I'm flattered and surprised that a Princeton professor would take the time to do this. But since he did, I think it's only fair for me to "do my homework" and respond to Prof. Krugman, who doesn't appear to have done his homework.
1. The Water Issue
Prof. Krugman starts by quoting two letters -- one from PFC John Bendetti of the 220th MP Company (Colorado National Guard) and one from SPC Jason K. Sapp in Kuwait. PFC Bendetti's letter contains the part about receiving two 1.5 liter bottles of water per day:
Due to more attacks on convoys, more items are becoming rare. Two examples are mail and bottled water. Our mail has been reduced to two times a week. Due to a lack of bottled water, each soldier has been limited to two 1.5 liter bottles a day. We’ve had two soldiers drop out due to heat-related injuries.There's a lot in here. First, I should say that PFC Bendetti's gripes are legitimate, in the sense that mail and food and water are things that a soldier should care about. (Whether he should write Stars & Stripes with them instead of using his chain-of-command is another matter) That said, mail twice a week in a combat zone is not unreasonable -- it's 1/3 of the delivery rate in the United States. The critical metric for mail is not frequency of delivery, but how long it takes for mail to get to the soldier and get home from the soldier. In those areas, the military has made great improvements since April, largely by consolidating delivery and shifting resources to other parts of the postal chain. Prof. Krugman, as an economist, could have written a great column on the way the military postal system works, and some of the infrastructural/systems issues therein.
PFC Bendetti mentions that he only gets two 1.5 liter bottles of water a day. Again, I don't dispute this fact -- I've seen it in Pentagon press briefings, and I've talked to Army logisticians who say this is true. But what he doesn't say is that his unit also has a supply of unbottled water -- "tap" water if you will. I stand by my original contention, because I've fact-checked it, that a soldier will die in a desert environment on 3 liters/water a day. (The same is true in a cold weather environment, actually) I've led soldiers in the frozen hills of Korea and in the hot Mojave Desert, and I know how much water it takes to keep them alive under body armor and full battle rattle. 3 liters/day would result in a lot more than 2 heat casualties in one MP company -- it would result in a dead MP company.
Prof. Krugman should have fact-checked this quote by calling someone at Princeton -- say another professor at Princeton -- to ask if it's even possible to survive on 3 liters/day. Or he could've picked up the phone to call a New York Times staffer who's knowledgeable on such matters, like C.J. Chivers, a former Marine who now writes for the paper. He could've even called the Princeton Army ROTC department, and talked to an active duty officer or NCO there with experience surviving in the desert. (The Princeton Army ROTC cadre includes at least two Desert Storm veterans)
I know, I know... I'm a hard a** because I think soldiers should drink water from their "water buffaloes" instead of from a plastic bottle. Heaven forbid soldiers should drink "tap" water instead of bottled water. But this boils down to a simple matter of military logistics. PFC Bendetti suggests that the Air Force somehow fly in the requisite number of water bottles for the occupation force. A grand idea, to be sure, but one that's unsupportable. America has a finite amount of "strategic lift", which includes all the big aircraft which can move men and materiel around the world. Water, at 8 pounds/gallon, is very heavy; bottled water is very bulky; it's incredibly inefficient to move it by air. That's why the Army has "reverse osmosis water purification units", or "ROWPUs", and other means for producing water in the field. Granted, the water doesn't taste as good as Evian, but it's still water and it will still keep you alive in the desert.
We'd all love to drink bottled water, but until the French decide to donate Evian by the pallet and the airlift to get it to Iraq, that's not going to be a viable option. Once again, Prof. Krugman could have checked this fact by calling up a logistics expert -- either in the military or in a company like FedEx. But he failed to do so, because it made his column sound better to include this factoid about bottled water.
2. Mobilization of reservists
The second letter, from SPC Jason Sapp, blasts everyone in his chain of command from lieutenant colonels on up to the National Command Authority. SPC Sapp doesn't identify himself, but it looks like he's a reservist stuck in Kuwait as part of a unit mobilization. He's clearly bitter about the mobilization.
There are thousands of soldiers in Kuwait who were never supposed to be here. My unit was told that we weren’t supposed to be here. We were told by a lieutenant colonel on our second day in country that we were supposed to demobilize and return home. We asked if we could return. He laughed and said, “No. We got you here. Now we will find something for you.” As with tens of hundreds of other units, we were without a mission. How do readers think our morale was as of day two in country, let alone all the other units that sat here waiting for a job but never got one? Like us, they are still waiting for a way home.Griping about mobilization is a reservist's pastime, and it's something that is to be expected. (The words "mobilization" and "demobilize" are reservist terms; active duty guys speak of "deployments" and "redeployments") In all fairness to SPC Sapp, I agree that the mobilization plan for reservists has been somewhat disjointed. Initially, as I wrote in The Washington Monthly, the Pentagon intended to fight this war with a lighter, faster, 21st Century force that had less boots on the ground. Part of this was that the Pentagon did not want to call up large numbers of reservists, for political and practical reasons. After the post-war situation deteriorated, this calculus changed, and the Pentagon changed its planned force structure in Iraq. The new force included a lot more troop units than previously expected, and that affected the number of reservists who could be demobilized, as well as the number of troops who could be redeployed. This is the reason why 3ID was held in country for so long.
Mobilization is a stressful experience; it tears reservists away from their families, jobs and communities. But it's also something which is foreseeable, particularly since the 1990s when reservists have increasingly borne the brunt of missions from Bosnia to Afghanistan -- and now Iraq. I sympathize with SPC Sapp, but I think his complaints are disingenuous. He signed up for the reserves; he received the benefits of reserve service; his nation called him when it needed him. If he's in Kuwait, he doesn't have it that bad compared to my friends who are in Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul, and elsewhere in Iraq.
3. Military contracting
Finally, Prof. Krugman cites an article from Financial Times, which itself cites an article by David Wood of the Newhouse News Service. (Give Mr. Wood some credit -- his Pentagon beat reporting has been exceptional over the last several months.) This article is supposed to stand for the proposition that privatization of military functions is bad, and that it's indicative of a larger, more dangerous trend towards privatization in the Bush Administration. Generalization is what great columnists love to do -- to paint large, sweeping themes with small facts. Unfortunately for Prof. Krugman, his foundation lacks adequate support, and thus it falters.
Here's an except from the FT story:
But the growing dependence on such private sector support concerns some military experts. Part of the problem is that contractors are not subject to military discipline and could walk off the job if they felt like it. The only thing the military could do would be to sue the contractor later on - the last thing on the mind of a commander on the battlefield.This is interesting stuff... and that's why I flagged Mr. Wood's story in early August when it ran. (Maybe Prof. Krugman's reading Intel Dump...) But it still appears that Prof. Krugman is drawing the wrong conclusions from LTG Mahan's statement and the problems we're having with military contractors. Much of this owes to a misunderstanding of the way that government contracts work, and the clauses that these contracts probably had.
As a matter of federal law, most clauses in a government contract are set by the Federal Acquisitions Regulation -- the "FAR". (Each agency has its own subset of regulations, such as the "DFAR" for the DoD) These clauses are incorporated into any government contract, and they're non-negotiable. The government usually gets to choose which clauses it puts into a contract ahead of time, and that is the contract which is put out for bids. The contract then becomes a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for the government contractor.
This is informed speculation on my part, based on interviews I've done with several people in the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID. (I try to fact-check, not just quote) But I think these contracts for post-war services were developed in early 2003 during the planning phase of the war, when senior Pentagon officials thought we'd be greeted as liberators. All of their time-phased troop deployment plans and operations plans included the assumption that the post-war situation would rapidly stabilize, and that security would not be a continuing problem. That assumption was probably built into these contracts as well, such that the contractors did not get coverage for things like security costs, added insurance costs, etc.
We know now that those assumptions were flawed; a guerilla war continues in Iraq to this day. This presents government contractors with a choice. They can perform the contract under the new conditions, and subsequently make a claim against the government for a constructive "change" in the contract. Let's assume they try to make the claim before they perform, and the government says no. Then the contractor can decide between losing money in contractual damages, and getting its employees shot up in Iraq and losing money on insurance costs and security costs. What would any rational corporation do? Prof. Krugman could have written a brilliant piece on the economic calculus of a government contractor, and how rational choices are made in this situation. But he didn't. He ignored these details of government contract law and corporate decisionmaking to paint the corporations as the villain. That's sloppy reporting, as far as I'm concerned.
Bottom Line: I respect Prof. Krugman; I even have one of his books ("Pop Internationalism") on my bookshelf. But I think that he should stick to what he knows when he writes, because it's clear that he's too far afield here. Prof. Krugman could have written a brilliant piece analyzing any aspect of this situation from his perspective as an economist -- and I probably would have linked to it with praise. Instead, I think he was forced by the NYT editorial board to stretch himself beyond his expertise, and it shows.
Coda: While running with my dog Peet on the beach this morning, I clarified my thoughts a little. Prof. Krugman and I are actually in agreement about one thing: privatization of military functions can be problematic. LTG Mahan's comments about contractors going to war have a great deal of merit, and I think it's fair to say that the decision to outsource certain military functions carries a great deal of strategic, operational and tactical risk. However, I don't think you can arrive at that conclusion merely from the points that Prof. Krugman cites. I think you really need to dig into the contingency contracts from Iraq, find if/where they broke down, and buid an argument based on the facts.
Ultimately, I think most of the problems trace back to poor planning -- which resulted in poorly drafted contracts based on flawed assumptions. Consequently, I would put the burden on the Pentagon's planners -- not the contractors. These contractors had very little leverage in the negotiations because of the way the FAR works. And to borrow a term from economics, these contractors faced an "information asymmetry" -- the Pentagon simply knew more about the situation on the ground in Iraq than they did.
The Pentagon could have drafted contracts with cost provisions and contingency provisions to cover the eventualities which did occur -- namely the deteriorating security situation after 9 Apr 03 -- but they didn't. The contractors made the only rational business choice they could be expected to make.
A larger question looms about the wisdom of contracting our certain military functions in the first place (a question which Tapped raised yesterday). Outsourcing certain support functions -- such as mail service, food service, tank repair, etc -- is risky, because contractors aren't soldiers and you can't order them into combat on pain of criminal punishment. On the other hand, it can be more cost-effective to outsource these functions, largely because of the institutional costs inherent in training, equipping, leading and maintaining soldiers and military units. At the end of the day, America has a finite amount of money it can afford to spend on defense, even if that finite amount reaches nearly $400 billion. We can't afford to internalize every defense function -- from mail service to depot-level tank repair. Privatizing certain functions enables the military to focus its resources on the critical functions which must be done by "green suiters". If we can make our trigger-pullers more effective, more efficient, or more lethal by privatizing certain support functions, then the risk of privatization may be justified. (For more on the calculus of defense spending, see this book by Michael O'Hanlon and Military Readiness: Concepts, Choices, Consequences, by Richard Betts.)
In theory, that's the way it's supposed to work. It's possible that the system may have broken down at some points, but I think the general wisdom of privatization has been proven over time in Gulf War I, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Now we just need to make it work better in Iraq.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
As if Korea wasn't tense enough . . .
The English-language Korea Times reports today that American and South Korean officials are in disagreement about how and when to move the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division to new locations south of Seoul. 2ID currently sits astride the main corridors of advance from the DMZ to Seoul, as a "tripwire" to deter any North Korean attack on the Seoul. Earlier this year, American and South Korean officials agreed to a strategic redeployment of the 2nd Infantry Division, as a step to free up real estate in near the DMZ and to make 2ID less vulnerable to a North Korean first strike. Now, there's a row over how to make that happen.
"The U.S. expressed its hope that the construction of new camps will be finished by 2008 during the bilateral military consultations in Hawaii last month," ministry spokesman Hwang Young-soo said. "It was an expression of their wishful thinking," Hwang said.And in other news, the Korea Times and New York Times both report on an incident that's sure to inflame the Korean public. An American military officer has been arrested by Korean authorities on suspicion of murder after he was caught dumping a woman's body off a bridge near Seoul.
Police said they had placed the 45-year-old U.S. Army major under arrest after he was caught throwing a vinyl bag containing the body of his wife off the Yeongjong Grand Bridge into the Yellow Sea at 3:40 a.m. The 4.4 km-bridge links Seoul to Yeongjong Island, where Incheon International Airport is located.Analysis: We have a very delicate relationship with our South Korean allies, and these two stories are not going to help matters. It's pretty hot over there right now, and when college students return to their campuses, I imagine we'll see another wave of protests across the country. To an extent, that's to be expected, and it's a good thing. Protesting is almost the national sport in Korea, and it's a great way to let off steam for a vibrant young democracy. If, however, sustained protests go on for a while, they could start to affect the way South Korean politicians act on these issues, which may further complicate regional security issues.
Operation Ivy Lightning... or OIL
Dana Milbank, the Washington Post's White House reporter, has a tongue-in-cheek piece this morning about the latest campaign in Iraq to root out insurgents. This one is named "Operation Ivy Lightning," and is spearheaded by my old unit the 4th Infantry Division.
Yesterday, U.S. Central Command issued a news release announcing lightning raids in the remote towns of Ain Lalin and Quara Tapa "to isolate and capture noncompliant forces." The name of the mission: Operation Ivy Lightning. Or, if you prefer the acronym: OIL.Brief History: The Roman numeral "IV" was used for the division a long time ago, and the division picked up the moniker "the Ivy division" during WWI. Today, 4ID soldiers wear a patch with 4 ivy leaves pointing north/south/east/west on their shoulder.
Today's 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) also calls itself the "Ironhorse" division, in a not-too-subtle reference to the armored vehicles it rides on into battle. The division plans team (of which I was a member) names every operations plan using a convention that incorporates either Ivy or Ironhorse into the name -- e.g. Operation Ironhorse Venture or Operation Ivy Lightning. Unfortunately, this means that every 4ID operation that ends in "L" will result in the acronym "OIL".
Bonus: There is actually an art and science to the naming of operations. For more on this subject, see this article in Parameters, the Army War College quarterly.
Rumsfeld's priorities for the military
Joe Katzman has a great note at Winds of Change discussing SecDef Rumsfeld's priorities for the military -- as briefed to the Army's new class of 1-star generals at their indoctrination and training seminar. The list looks like most doctrinal statements -- broad, sweeping, vague language that doesn't necessarily mean one thing or another. Joe does a good job of explaining each of Rumsfeld's priorities though -- example:
1. Successfully Pursue the Global War on TerrorismThe whole thing's worth a read, and I imagine we'll see more on this subject in the near future. More to follow...
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
A cartoonist with a sense of humor
Daryl Cagle, who for some time has run Slate's political cartoon section, has a weblog. From what I see so far, it's great -- Cagle's weblog belongs at the top of every reader's list for morning news & views.
No stranger to controversy, Daryl Cagle reprints this letter and rebuttal cartoon from LA Times cartoonist Michael Ramirez. The new cartoon is a response to a previous cartoon from Mr. Ramirez which caricatured President Bush as the victim in a famous Vietnam War photo of a public execution. Following a visit by the Secret Service, Mr. Ramirez had this to say:
"The controversy over this cartoon is ridiculous. As political cartoonists, we are supposed to push the envelope to try to engage the reader in debate. I intentionally chose to use a disturbing image to convey a very salient point. President Bush is the target of a political assassination because of sixteen words which he uttered in the State of the Union speech that were, by the way, accurate. The cartoon was obviously not meant to encourage violence but was a reference to a famous photograph from the Vietnam era. There is a parallel between the politicization of the Vietnam war and the deconstruction of the success and the politicization of the current Iraq war. That photograph is one of the most powerful images from the Vietnam era . It was perceived as an a unjust act in an war mired in politics. Metaphorically, there are people currently engaged in the political assassination of our president. Those with political motivations are using the uranium story to attack the president. The photo is a very disturbing image. The editorial cartoon is meant to be a disturbing image. But the current manifestation of attacks on the president driven by political ambition rather than fact is far more disturbing then my cartoon. "You really have to see the cartoon that Mr. Ramirez penned to go with this letter...
Another 3ID brigade comes home
The Associated Press reports that the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, has returned home to Fort Stewart, Georgia.
The last of the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team landed at Hunter Army Airfield to turn in their weapons and the rest of their combat gear before being released to their families. Only the division's 1st Brigade remains in Iraq, and it is scheduled to begin heading home in the next few weeks.
One veteran's battle for disability benefits
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a brilliant article this morning on the case of Jason Stiffler, an Army soldier who was seriously injured in Afghanistan. Following his fall from a watchtower, Stiffler went through several hospitals and medical evaluations before being given a partial disability by the Army -- good for $731 a month. Stiffler appealed that adjudication, but ran headlong into an Army and VA bureaucracy seemingly designed to frustrate veterans.
Mr. Stiffler's story shows the human toll when critical benefits judgments are delayed, and the confusion veterans and their families often feel when they're forced to confront bureaucracy. It also illustrates some of the flaws in the $60.4 billion veterans agency, and how those problems could prove overwhelming as veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq start to enter the VA's rolls.Thoughts... I can sympathize with Mr. Stiffler, as a veteran who has gone through the VA process to seek a disability rating. (I have a 10% disability for leg injuries sustained on active duty) The process is Byzantine, and I can only imagine how it treats lower-ranking soldiers who don't have the legal or bureaucratic experience that I do. In fact, I sought my VA rating at the same time I took Administrative Law at UCLA, and I found that knowledge to be invaluable in dealing with the VA. There's something wrong with a VA system that takes a law degree to navigate.
VA Secretary Principi is doing a good job of pushing the VA to become more responsive to the veterans who need the care the most. His proposal to shift resources to lower-income and service-disabled veterans -- to the detriment of higher-income, non-disabled veterans -- is the right thing to do. Secretary Principi has also pushed an aggressive program of privatization to purchase more medical resources for each dollar of VA funding, and I think that's also the right thing to do.
The VA's mission is clear: it must be ready to deal with the bow wave of veterans about to leave the service after fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Historical data suggests that the majority of those who have fought in these wars will not reenlist at the end of their enlistments, and that hundreds of thousands of combat veterans will soon reenter the civilian world. Many will leave the service with injuries from combat, or conditions that merit a VA disability rating. The VA must be ready to serve these men and women when they come home.
Krugman: Privatization partly to blame for American problems in Iraq?
NYT columnist/economist takes on the Pentagon, but his ducks aren't all in a row
Paul Krugman takes the Bush Administration and Pentagon to task in his New York Times column today. Some of this is certainly justified, but Krugman takes some license with the facts to make the ultimate argument that privatizing certain military functions has led to problems for the military in Iraq. Here's his basic argument:
The U.S. military has always had superb logistics. What happened? The answer is a mix of penny-pinching and privatization ? which makes our soldiers' discomfort a symptom of something more general.Analysis: Krugman's first mistake is to rely too heavily on the reporting of Col. David Hackworth. I respect Col. Hackworth a great deal, both for his military record and his criticisms of Washington. But Col. Hackworth has a particular agenda that includes a lot of stuff that Paul Krugman probably doesn't know about -- or doesn't agree with. Moreover, Hack's criticisms provoke such a visceral reaction in the Pentagon that anything citing him will immediately be rejected by the Pentagon establishment. Even if this was a more accurate piece, its citation to Col. Hackworth would diminish its credibility in the halls of the Pentagon. Citing authority with that effect can be risky.
History also matters. Military history is conspicuously absent from Krugman's column. In the realm of military affairs, history matters a great deal because you rarely want to advocate for things that haven't been done successfully before under fire. In fact, privatization has been used with some success by various nations at various times in the world. "Mercenary" armies are one example, though an unsavory one. Another example could be the way industry was co-opted in the mass mobilization efforts of WWI and WWII. There is a fuzzy line between contracting out for services from industry, and simply enlisting industry in the cause. Krugman fails to account for this gray area.
Here are some other points that leaped out at me while reading Krugman's piece:
1. Krugman starts his column with a description of American woe in Iraq -- based on the griping of a soldier about food.
A few days ago I talked to a soldier just back from Iraq. He'd been in a relatively calm area; his main complaint was about food. Four months after the fall of Baghdad, his unit was still eating the dreaded M.R.E.'s: meals ready to eat. When Italian troops moved into the area, their food was "way more realistic" ? and American troops were soon trading whatever they could for some of that Italian food.This should bring a smile to any veteran's face, because it's a time-honored tradition in the Army to gripe about food. In fact, they taught us as new lieutenants that your soldiers probably had a real problem if they weren't griping about their food, and that such gripes about Army chow were a sign of good morale. Frankly, I'm not a fan of eating MREs for 4 weeks straight, let alone 4 months. But I'm not too concerned when I see this gripe in the news... in the pantheon of Army b*tching, it's pretty low.
2. Krugman cites to some letters on Hack's website, including one where soldiers complain about water supplies.
One writer reported that in his unit, "each soldier is limited to two 1.5-liter bottles a day," and that inadequate water rations were leading to "heat casualties." An American soldier died of heat stroke on Saturday; are poor supply and living conditions one reason why U.S. troops in Iraq are suffering such a high rate of noncombat deaths?This is a flat-out false statement. The truth is, according to Sergeant Major of the Army Jack Tilley during a recent press conference in Iraq, that soldiers are being issued two 1.5 liter plastic bottles of water today in addition to their regular water supply, which is provided in 500-gallon "water buffaloes" and other means. In fact, the planning factor for a soldier in a desert environment is something like 10 gallons of water per day -- plus between 10-50 pounds of ice per day (Note: a lot of this ice goes to food preparation and bulk water cooling, not directly to the soldier). A significant portion of the logistical effort goes to pushing this "Class I" supply forward to soldiers in the field, and distributing it. The physiology of this is obvious. If soldiers in Iraq were being forced to live on 3 liters/day, they would die.
Clearly, there is other water out there. Some soldiers are simply whining because they can't get an unlimited supply of Evian bottles, the way they did in Gulf War I when the Saudis footed the bill and the American supply lines weren't set up yet. I say: "Tough". Get your water in bulk from the water buffalo, fill your CamelBak, and deal with it.
A note on CamelBaks: I could write a book on this subject, from my active duty experience in the desert, but I won't. Suffice to say, the CamelBak is the best tool for hydration available, and every soldier should have one -- but doesn't yet. The Army has not procured these for every soldier in every unit. Many units have taken the initiative to spend their own funds on a commercial purchase, and many more soldiers (like me) have bought their own. Personally, I would buy enough CamelBaks to had one to every soldier in CENTCOM. Krugman could have written a great column (like this one) on the private gadgets that soldiers have bought for themselves because the military failed to buy them.
3. Next, Krugman tries to link military cost-cutting to homeland security cost-cutting, to make a more general argument about the Bush Administration. Once again, his argument falls flat:
Military corner-cutting is part of a broader picture of penny-wise-pound-foolish government. When it comes to tax cuts or subsidies to powerful interest groups, money is no object. But elsewhere, including homeland security, small-government ideology reigns. The Bush administration has been unwilling to spend enough on any aspect of homeland security, whether it's providing firefighters and police officers with radios or protecting the nation's ports.Not quite. The Bush Administration has poured money into the new Department of Homeland Security, and has given quite a bit of money to local fire/police departments for things like chemical-protective gear. But structurally, our domestic anti-terrorism effort is structurally impaired by the fact that it depends on state/local funding, not federal funding, and most state/local governments are strapped right now. (See, e.g., my home state of California) This is an unintended consequence of the 10th Amendment, which reserves general powers to the states. Nearly all of America's anti-terrorism capacity -- save the FBI and CIA -- resides at the state/local level. Krugman, as an economist, ought to understand these structural issues and be able to explain precisely why domestic security goes underfunded. Instead, he simply blames the Bush Administration's penchant for privatization -- something which I think is inaccurate and unfair.
4. Going back to Iraq, Krugman says the military's contracts in Iraq have been a failure. He writes:
The U.S. military has shifted many tasks traditionally performed by soldiers into the hands of such private contractors as Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary. The Iraq war and its aftermath gave this privatized system its first major test in combat ? and the system failed.Interestingly, he cites to the same article from Newhouse News Service that I wrote about here and here. First, Krugman's wrong that this is the first major performance by contractors in a battle zone. Civilian contractors played an enormous role in the first Gulf War, sparking a great deal of argument in the policy and academic sector over the wisdom of privatization. (Legal scholars also debated the Geneva Convention implications of this trend) Second, contractors like Kellogg Brown & Root have followed the U.S. military for some time, such as to places like Bosnia and Kosovo. They've done a good job in those places, often with similar dangers (e.g. landmines), and they know the operational environment. Krugman fails again to understand the details of the problem here, which largely are a matter of government contracts law. (See this note) No business is going to take a contract where the costs outweigh the benefits. In government contracts law, there are ways to shift the risk and extra costs (such as insurance) to the government, but those weren't done in Iraq initially because of faulty assumptions by the government about the post-war situation. The contractors in question made a business decision to back away from contracts they thought were too risky. But ultimately, it's the government that bears the responsibility to build a contract (since the clauses are all imputed as a matter of law with little negotiation) that works for both parties. Once again, Krugman ought to know this as an economist, or at least pick up the phone to call a government contracts lawyer who can explain it to him.
Bottom Line: Krugman's column adds little to the debate over America's endeavor in Iraq. I could spend more time picking his column apart, but I won't because I think you get my general point. There are problems in Iraq, most of which trace back to poor planning before the war that was predicated on bad assumptions about the post-war situation. But those problems are steadily being fixed, and we are steadily making progress. As an economist, Krugman could provide great insight into the Iraqi economy and its failings, rather than going out on a limb to write about military affairs. This column falls flat because he doesn't provide the detailed analysis necessary to connect each of these issues to the problems in Iraq.
Update: I've been tapped as a member of the "Krugman Truth Squad" by Donald Luskin in his National Review Online column. I try to avoid taking political sides, as NRO does, but I'm flattered by the quotes nonetheless. Mr. Luskin has an interesting column, summing up some of the other authors (such as Robert Musil) who criticized Prof. Krugman's column on privatization. It's worth a read.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
WSJ: Guilty pleas expected in first military tribunals
Jess Bravin reports in Monday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that 2 British citizens and an Australian citizen are expected to plead guilty before a military tribunal in order to avoid harsh punishment -- possibly including the death penalty. The three men are currently being held as "unlawful enemy combatants" in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and have been put on a short list of 6 individuals who are under consideration for the tribunals. Pleas are being hashed out for these three between the U.S., British and Australian governments. Two other defendants are expected to face adversarial tribunals in the near future.
British subjects Feroz Abassi and Moazzam Begg and Australian David Hicks are among six prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba that President Bush decided last month could be prosecuted before the tribunals. The three, currently subject to indefinite detention as unlawful enemy combatants, have been providing information to intelligence agents, and officials say they wish to reward the prisoners with a clear resolution of their futures.Analysis: Mr. Bravin's article has a lot of other good stuff. Unfortunately, I can't reproduce the full text here because of copyright laws. I highly recommend buying the Monday issue of The Journal, or waiting until Tuesday to read the post-scoop story in the NY Times or Washington Post. This is a big story, and one that should hit the American Bar Association's annual meeting in San Francisco with a tremendous "thud".
On the merits... It's not clear whether justice is being served here. On the one hand, taking prisoners and trying them for war crimes is an accepted part of war. On the other, we have not scrupulously followed the law with respect to these prisoners (See Art. V, Third Geneva Convention, requiring a "competent tribunal" to determine the status of any prisoner). And there are legitimate legal questions as to whether the President has the authority to order military tribunals under his 13 Nov 01 order. These tribunals will live under a cloud as long as these questions linger.
The Economist ran a strongly worded editorial last month excoriating the Bush Administration for its use of military tribunals. Such trials diminish the moral and political capital that the U.S. enjoys in the world, and diminish the values that stand in stark opposition to our enemies. I'm not sure what the right outcome should be here, since I'm not privy to the actual facts of these cases. But I think The Economist raises valid concerns about the fallout from our choice to use military tribunals. We should weigh this step with a great deal of caution.
Friday, August 08, 2003
Soldiers who criticized SecDef get "a good talk"
In a sign that our junior leaders know how to lead their soldiers, the Washington Post reports today that soldiers who spoke out in the media against various political leaders have received no formal discipline -- but a stern lecture from their senior sergeants instead.
"Those soldiers were not formally disciplined per se," said a senior Army officer in Washington who declined to be named. Instead, the soldiers received "a good talk" from senior noncommissioned officers who "reinforced their obligations as soldiers to respect their military and civilian chain of command," the officer added.Sounds about right to me. Senior NCOs are the "backbone of the Army", and the good ones have more informal authority than their officers could ever dream of. A stern talk from a senior Command Sergeant Major -- even to a lieutenant or captain -- can be extremely effective. I am impressed by the discipline of the chain-of-command to, not to do anything formal which might be seen as retaliation against these soldiers. This was the right course of action, and I imagine these soldiers will keep their thoughts to themselves and their mates in the future.
DoD IG: Soldiers may encourage foreign trade in sex slaves
The Los Angeles Times reports in a pithy 2-paragraph wire-service piece that a new Pentagon report blames American soldiers for the continued sex slavery trade in South Korea. The report comes from the Pentagon's Inspector General, who is responsible for internal investigations in the Defense Department.
U.S. soldiers visiting South Korean brothels may have encouraged sex slavery because of a lack of understanding about human trafficking, the Defense Department's inspector general reported. Military patrols were sometimes too friendly with bar owners and often didn't report sex slavery because of a misperception that they needed solid evidence, the report said.
That's all that was reported. Having recently served in Korea for a year with the 2nd Infantry Division, I can add a little bit more information.
1. The connection between soldiers and brothels is not a new one, and probably not one that the U.S. or Korean government can do a lot about. The same connection exists in the U.S. near major military bases, and I imagine it does for other nations as well. Without passing moral judgment on this, I think I can say the two things go together as a matter of economics, demographics, and sociology.
2. American soldiers typically serve a one-year, unaccompanied, "hardship" tour in Korea. The overwhelming majority of American soldiers in Korea are male, due to the higher-than-average concentration of combat units in the 2nd Infantry Division, and due to military rules preventing pregnant soldiers from moving to Korea -- and requiring their redeployment before they come due. Speaking as an economist, this means a large customer pool unencumbered by their families, who might normally act as constraints on their behavior.
3. The Korean economy has responded to the U.S. presence in a myriad of ways, from the establishment of bars and restaurants off base, custom tailoring shops, and brothels. The lines between bars, clubs, dance clubs and brothels are quite blurry, and it was never clear to me as a Military Police lieutenant how these businesses were regulated by the Korean authorities. The Koreans nominally outlawed prostitution, and U.S. commanders also issued edicts against the practice. But that's not to say it didn't happen.
4. The real problem here is the way the Korean (there are very few foreign nationals in the Korean club business) club owners staff their establishments. Unfortunately, that's a matter beyond American control (though we can certainly influence the Korean government in this regard). Korean businesses choose various forms of low-wage employment, to include forms of indentured servitude, to staff their businesses. The regulation of this activity falls squarely on the shoulders of the South Korean government. However, the South Korean government has been reticent to regulate these employment practices because of the spillover that might have into other low-wage employment areas, such as manufacturing and agriculture.
5. American forces provide the customer base for these bars. By failing to lock-down soldiers on post, it can be argued that U.S. commanders contribute to their prosperity. But American MPs are charged with the mission of keeping soldiers out of brothels, and with preventing prostitution to the best of their ability. Commanders often discipline soldiers for failing to follow orders, and STD detection often leads to some sort of administrative action against soldiers. More than that, I'm not sure what else can be done.
Bottom Line: The U.S. has a moral obligation to oppose human slavery wherever it can. In pure economic terms, our soldiers contribute to the practice in Korea by providing the demand -- which drives Korean businesses to purchase the supply. I'm not sure what the U.S. can do itself to stop this practice, short of lock-down or redeployment. But we have an awful lot of influence with the South Korean government, and we ought to use that influence to stop this horrible problem.
Update: I asked Mark Kleiman for an economist's thoughts on the problem, and he was kind enough to post them on his weblog. Mark writes about some of the complexities of the matter, particularly with regard to enforcement and its unintended effects on the "legal" prositution trade. Definitely worth a read.
Update II: The Pacific Stars & Stripes reports on the U.S. reaction to this report. Top American officials in Seoul have pledged to take a "hard look" at what's going on with respect to American soldiers and sex slavery in Korea.
Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, 8th Army commander and USFK chief of staff, said in a written statement to Stars and Stripes that the command is encouraged by the inspector general’s “positive response to our aggressive actions so far in addressing these illegal and wholly unacceptable activities.”But at least one Korean official working on the issue was skeptical that any unilateral action by U.S. commanders could make a significant difference.
The reality is, though, the trafficking situation may be beyond USFK capacity to solve, said Yu Yong-nim, head of My Sister’s Place in Uijongbu, a nongovernmental organization that helps women who have been involved in the sex trade. The military presence exacerbates the sex trade problem, but the issue is one that needs to be addressed on a higher level by both the U.S. and South Korean governments, she said.More to follow...
Light Blogging: My laptop hard drive crashed this week. Until it returns from the manufacturer, I will not have my normal 24/7 access to the newswire or the 'net. Intel Dump will resume regular updates as soon as possible. Until then, I will be able to write 3-5 times per week.
In my absence, please continue to visit my friends and supporters, both listed below and on my blogroll:
- The Volokh Conspiracy
- DefenseTech by Noah Shachtman
- Talking Points Memo by Josh Marshall
- Mark Kleiman
- Dynamist by Virginia Postrel
- Winds of Change
- One Hand Clapping
And last but not least, for the best streaming legal news on the web, check out Howard Bashman's How Appealing
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
The LA Times and NY Times websites both carry the banner that Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to run for Governor of California in the Oct. 7 recall election.
My prediction: we're about to be deluged by trite Arnold-related headlines, metaphors, and leads by the media. Who wants to bet that some paper will run the headline tomorrow "Total Recall"? Or that someone will use "terminate" as a verb in their story with respect to Arnold's intentions towards Gray Davis? Or that the phrase "true lies" will be used to describe Arnold's campaign literature? Or that some political cartoonist will borrow the Conan motif for a cartoon? Or that "hasta la vista, baby" will be printed on t-shirts by the Recall Gray Davis crowd?
Update: It appears that Arnold has drawn first blood (trite Stallone action movie reference) by invoking several of his own lines on Jay Leno, according to the LA Times:
The studio audience whooped and cheered after he made the surprise announcement. In the course of his interview with Leno, the popular movie star and former body builder invoked several of the lines that made him famous, including, "Say hasta la vista to Gray Davis," and "When I go to Sacramento, I'm going to pump it up."Ouch... I hope that Mr. Schwarzenegger has a good speechwriter in the wings who can ween him off these lines as quickly as possible -- for the good of California.
Military blood supplies run low -- Pentagon launches blood drive
The Pentagon announced today that it desperately needs more Type O blood to support continued operations in Iraq. The Armed Services Blood Program is currently running a campaign to gather blood donations from service members who meet its donor criteria. The ASBP's situation is complicated by the fact that it only accepts donations from active duty service members, government employees, retirees and military family members. Additionally, DoD policy proscribes blood donations from soldiers who have recently redeployed from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Korea, or any other area where malaria is endemic. In particular, the ASBP says it needs Type O blood.
"Type O donors are the first line of defense for trauma victims. Until a blood type can be verified, Type O blood is used to keep trauma victims alive," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ruth Sylvester, Armed Services Blood Program director. "Once their blood type is determined, type-specific blood is transfused. But without Type O blood available, many patients would never make it until the test results came back."Bottom Line: If you have a DoD affiliation, give blood to help your brothers and sisters in arms. If you don't have a DoD affiliation, you should contact your local Red Cross to give blood there instead. It's one small thing that we can do to help those in need.
TIA becomes a reality... in Florida
The Washington Post reports that Florida , in conjunction with the the federal Department of Homeland Security, has plans to field the "Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange", or "Matrix" program. At its core, this system is a database designed to integrate information from several different sources, correlate it, look for non-obvious relationships, analyze it, and produce intelligence for police and security agencies to use in the war on terrorism.
Organizers said the system, dubbed Matrix, enables investigators to find patterns and links among people and events faster than ever before, combining police records with commercially available collections of personal information about most American adults. It would let authorities, for instance, instantly find the name and address of every brown-haired owner of a red Ford pickup truck in a 20-mile radius of a suspicious event.Put simply, this is a local version of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program. It does almost the same things, except the Matrix does not integrate as much information from as many sources. Matrix also does not tie-in to the intelligence community the way TIA was supposed to. Nonetheless, the concept is the same: to use a large, sophisticated database to sift through large numbers of "indicators" in order to put the dots together for counter-terrorism analysts. I think this is a good system and that the civil liberties risks can be managed. I also think it's a great idea to put this system in the hands of local police where the real anti/counter-terrorism takes place. More to follow...
Update I: Thanks to Instapundit for the link.
Update II: DailyKOS has some interesting comments and predictions on this system, and what may result from its implementation in Florida.
While proponents claim this information is already available to law enforcement, none of it is available correlated. Simply put, the Matrix will combine your credit history, criminal record and address into one, easy to read database and your inclusion has nothing to do with your criminal history. An abusive police officer husband could use this to track and terrorize an ex-spouse as easily as it could track a supposed terrorist. Information could be illegally sold to criminals, detective and other interested parties as well.I think DailyKOS's factual propositions are correct, but I don't agree with his conclusion. Fundamentally, I think the difference is this: there are people who trust the government to use this data, and there are people who don't trust the government to use this data. I've worked in the security community long enough to trust the people who would be invested with this authority, and to trust the institutional mechanisms which would police that use. But I also recognize that many Americans distrust those same individuals and agencies -- often for legitimate reasons. Support for TIA and TIA-like programs usually boils down to a matter of trust -- either you have it or you don't.
Update III: An intelligent reader wrote me to suggest that this Florida program may in fact be a DARPA program in sheep's clothing. I hadn't considered that yet, but it's possible that the Pentagon, DoJ and DHS have decided to farm out TIA to local authorities who could test and prove their concept on a smaller, local level. This does not sidestep any of the legal, ethical, operational or political issues; it merely outsources them to the state/local agencies. But it does reduce the project to a manageable scale, and that's important for operational testing reasons. Testing a TIA-like program in some local setting will also help answer the legal, ethical, practical and operational questions were raised in Washington over TIA.
Bottom Line: I don't know that this is an intentional test of the TIA concept, or if this is connected to DARPA and TIA in anyway. The concepts look similar enough for me to make that leap, but it's still a guess.
Rumsfeld's new Army chief fires several top Army generals
InsideDefense (subscription required) reports (and the San Antonio Express-News confirms) that Gen. Peter Schoomaker has asked several top officers in the Army to step down early in order to make way for his new team. Schoomaker was plucked out of retirement by SecDef Rumsfeld to serve as the Chief of Staff of the Army, and he has been widely seen as someone who will kill a few sacred cows in order to serve the SecDef's the hamburger he wants. This story is the first major indicator of his intentions, and if this story is true, I think it's a pretty bold move.
High-ranking officers asked to leave the service, these sources said, include Lt. Gen. John Caldwell, military deputy to the Army's civilian acquisition director; Lt. Gen. Joseph Cosumano, commanding general of the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command; and Lt. Gen. Dennis Cavin, commanding general of the Army Accessions Command. Caldwell and Cavin have told their staffs they are retiring, but Cosumano has not, Army officials said.Sig Christenson, a veteran Pentagon beat reporter, gives us the Pentagon's response in the San Antonio Express-News:
The Pentagon contended Tuesday that the personnel actions and others apparently in the wings after Gen. Peter Schoomaker took command Friday don't translate into friction between Rumsfeld and senior Army leaders.True . . . but this is still an abnormal spike in the number of retirements for one point in time. I think it's somewhat disingenous to say that it's just part of normal operations, and that there's no animus on display here. In fact, my friends in the Pentagon tell me there is quite a bit of animus at work here, and that these retirements are indeed being forced.
Personally, I think the SecDef ought to come out and say "Yes, I'm asking these generals to retire because I have a new vision for the military and they don't agree with it." I think the average American expects some amount of "housecleaning" by any new executive, whether its the CEO of GE or the Chief of Staff of the Army. It's not illegitimate to say these officers have served their country well, but now the time has come to bring in some new officers with new ideas. This sort of candor about personnel decisions can only help the push for transformation, by making it clear that you either get on board the train for transformation -- or get off at the next stop.
Caveat: These officers did serve their country well, and in all cases, carry a wealth of institutional knowledge. I had the opportunity to meet Gen. Paul Kern while I was in 4ID, and to brief him on FBCB2 and other digital combat systems. He really knows his stuff when it comes to transformation, and I think he's a valuable asset to the Army. In the rush to replace old officers with new ones, we should be careful that we don't cast aside some of our best and brightest simply because they don't agree with us. If that means offering these men positions at the Army War College or some other institution to keep their knowledge on tap, then I think we ought to do those things.
An "embellishment worthy of the New York Times"?
An Air Force lieutenant colonel's letter appears in today's Washington Times to rebut an article which appeared on Aug. 4, 2003, which implied that the Walter Reed Army Medical Center was overflowing with casualties. If the letter author is right (and I imagine he is), this is a pretty bad treatment of the facts. Here's the full text of the letter:
A clear case of embellishment worthy of the New York Times was the article by Jon Ward, "War casualties overflow Walter Reed hospital" (Page 1, Monday).Post Script: If you're wondering how an Air Force physician in San Antonio could keep up with the news in Washington, you're asking a pretty good question. The Defense Department runs a great news service called the "Early Bird", which is open to DoD active, reserve and civilian personnel. The site bills itself as "A daily (duty days) concise compilation of the most current published news articles and commentary concerning the most significant defense and defense-related national security issues. Available by 0515 hrs." It's a great resource -- if you have a DoD affiliation, I highly recommend making the Early Bird your one-stop shop for news.