Yesterday, on a cold, rainy Sunday morning, I sat and re-read this part of Ambassador Power's Friday speech advocating U.S. intervention in Syria. I couldn't put my finger on it, but this passage, which is the end of her talk, really irked me:
The American people elect leaders to exercise judgment, and there have been times in our history when presidents have taken hard decisions to use force that were not initially popular, because they believed our interests demanded it. From 1992, when the Bosnian genocide started, till 1995, when President Clinton launched the air strikes that stopped the war, public opinion consistently opposed military action there. Even after we succeeded in ending the war and negotiating a peace settlement, the House of Representatives, reflecting public opinion, voted against deploying American troops to a NATO peacekeeping mission.
... If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear, and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised. The alternative is to give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience, outrages that will eventually compel us to use force anyway down the line, at far greater risk and cost to our own citizens. If the last century teaches us anything, it is this.
Earlier in the speech, she says Americans are "ambivalent" about the situation. I don't think they are. Yes, they think Syria is a problem, but they don't think it is their problem.
So I went off to cook up a vat of vegetable curry. Finally I realized what was bothering me: Power's stance is profoundly undemocratic. The American system is founded on the belief that the people do indeed know what is best for them. So I conclude that Power's argument is itself yet another reason not to intervene in Syria -- if we have to erode our system to do it, it certainly is not worth it.
By April Labaro
Best Defense bureau of Afghan political affairs
What exactly is Afghanistan transitioning to in 2014? This question is central in the ongoing (and going) debate about "Afghanistan 2014," which has given everyone involved a case of "'transition fatigue," according to Professor Ali J. Jalali.
Jalali, a former interior minister of Afghanistan, gave a lecture recently at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies about his personal assessment of the upcoming transition in Afghanistan. When it comes down to it, he believes that the best that anyone can hope for is the survival of the regime.
To ensure that outcome, Jalali outlined three key areas that should be addressed during the transition:
Jalali summed up his points by concluding that "the snapshots are bad, but the video is different." In other words, this transition through 2014 and beyond is fragile and riddled with serious doubt and potential breaking points. But with a strong national agenda and the regime's publicly confirmed political will, it is possible for Afghanistan to hold a free and fair election and transition to a stable and secure state. Time seems to be on the side of the government for now, but we can't afford to forget that, as Jalali put it, if the Afghan people don't win, everyone will lose.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Democracies, from France at the end of the eighteenth century to the United States in the middle of the twentieth, have failed to live up to the expectations of eighteenth-century liberal thinkers. On the contrary they have repeatedly displayed a bellicose passion reminiscent of the worst years of the Wars of Religion....The doctrine that peoples if left to themselves are naturally peaceable, like its converse that they are naturally belligerent, begs far more questions than it answers.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
By Emma Sky
Best Defense bureau chief, Iraq
The famous Iraqi sociologist, Ali Wardi, wrote about the dual personalities of Iraqis. For many of us who served in Iraq, this is something we also seem to have developed.
I spent the weekend in Texas, staying with American friends I served with in Iraq. Although we had not seen each other in years, conversation came easily. Our shared experiences away at war had created life-long bonds. We reminisced about our time together -- the sense of purpose, the camaraderie, our small victories. We laughed. We drank. We ate unhealthy fast food. We gossiped about people we knew. Together, we visited the memorial at Fort Hood to pay our respects to the 450 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division killed in Iraq.
But all weekend I also surfed the Internet for news and chatted with Iraqi friends. Iraq is spiraling out of control. Following the arrests in December of the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, Sunnis took to the streets, revealing their widespread sense of alienation in the new Iraq and demanding the end of what they consider a government policy to marginalize them. As with other protests in the Arab world, they were initially driven by legitimate grievances. But against the backdrop of provincial elections, little was done to address the concerns of the protestors -- despite calls to do so from the top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani. Politicians instead exploited the demonstrations for electoral gains. President Maliki took the opportunity to distract attention away from the lack of services and rampant corruption, presenting himself as the defender of the Shia, in the face of Sunni regional powers intent on overthrowing Shia regimes -- Syria first, then Iraq. Sunni politicians, for their part, sought to benefit from the demonstrations to rail against government oppression to gain support for their own electoral campaigns.
Last week, the Iraqi Army entered Hawija, near Kirkuk, to arrest people accused of attacking Iraqi Security Forces. In the ensuing violence, 200 people were killed. There are reports of desertions from the Iraqi Army. Kurds have moved peshmerga into positions in the disputed territories. Tribes are forming militias to protect themselves from the Iraqi Army. Five Iraqi soldiers were killed in Anbar -- and the province has been put under curfew. Ten satellite channels, including al-Jazeera, have been banned, accused of spreading sectarianism. Bombs exploded in Shia towns. The speaker of parliament called for the government to resign and for early elections.
By seeking to eliminate his Sunni rivals, Maliki has removed the wedge that the U.S. military drove between Sunni extremists and the Sunni mainstream during the Surge, at such great cost. There is a growing sense that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are merging into one, with Shia regimes, backed by Iran, battling against Sunnis, including al Qaeda elements. We may be witnessing the breakdown of the post-WW I settlement and the nation-states established under the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Many Iraqis still cannot fathom how the United States could lose interest in Iraq and simply walk away after so much investment. They explain it in terms of conspiracy theories: a "secret agreement" between the United States and Iran; a "deal" between Biden and Maliki to divide up Iraq.
Will our legacy from the Iraq war be a regional power struggle ignited by the resurgence of Iran, the contagion of sectarianism into Syria, the horrific violence of jihadist groups? Is this in our national interest? Can we not do more to make Iraq a more positive influence in its neighborhood?
As the situation deteriorates, I wonder, will the United States proactively develop, articulate, and adopt strategies to engender a better balance of power in the region -- or reactively respond to the inevitable fallout with tactical measures.
Emma Sky is a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute. She served in Iraq 2003-2004 as the governorate coordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 2007-2010 as the political advisor to General Odierno.
Lady Emma Sky
By Col. Margaret Cope, USAF (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
After serving 30 years in the Air Force, I am passionate about our country providing the opportunity for young men and women to serve. Since the draft ended, the American public has become disconnected from the men and women in the military.
Even our former secretary of defense Robert Gates stated that our citizens view our wars as an "abstraction" that does not affect them personally. After 9/11 our country missed an enormous opportunity to engage the citizenry, particularly folks in the 18-26 age range who are beginning their adult lives and have the ability to contribute the rest of their lives.
Our country has a democratic form of government, which by definition is a participatory government, not a spectator government. All citizens must be engaged or we risk losing our democracy. Our founding fathers believed all would participate as stated by George Washington, "It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it."
Currently less than 1 percent of Americans serve in our military. The rest of the population -- 99 percent, for the most part -- is unaware of the military. Although other forms of national service exist, with the budget constraints, now is the time to consolidate and provide more structured, safer, and meaningful opportunities.
My concept of the national service framework is comprehensive and bold; it's not for those who like small steps and fear transformative, big ideas. National Service will be voluntary and must include the military -- the most committed, professional, well-trained example of national service.
This framework is based on voluntary participation and provides a menu of opportunities for citizens between the ages of 18-26 to serve. All volunteers will serve a minimum of two years and will receive lodging, uniforms, healthcare and food allowances, stipends, and upon completion of their term of service, numerous government incentives tied to performance, to include at least an education debt reduction or an education allowance similar to the GI Bill and other options to support the national service mission, its culture. Libertarians who don't want to serve would be ineligible for some government incentives including student loans, to be given upon completion of the term of service.
National Service will be the umbrella organization for the entire enterprise with the pillars being: the military, which would include recruitment, orientation training, and upon completion of service, the same national service benefits along with military benefits; the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) organizations including Americorps, VISTA, Equal Justice Works, Teach for America, and Children's Corps; the Peace Corps; a revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps; a medical corps; a legal corps (move Equal Justice Works from CNCS); an administrative corps; a cybersecurity corps; and others. All of these functions could support our military and serve on military reservations.
As a nation, we cannot underestimate the importance in a moral democracy to serve. We must engage our greatest resource, our young citizens, to serve others and uphold our democratic principles to attain opportunity and inspire hope.
Margaret Cope, a retired U.S. Air Force logistics colonel, serves on the Executive Committee at the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), consults, and is a former senior advisor at the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR).
I've read a lot of E.B. White, but I'd never before come across his interesting definition of democracy, written in June 1943:
Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.
Col. Paul Yingling, who has written for this blog, and also critiqued the performance of our generals in our recent wars, explained his decision in Sunday's Washington Post: "Especially in a democracy, we ought to respect most those who foster the character traits that make self-government attainable -- parents and teachers, coaches and ministers, poets and protesters. When I hear the Army motto, "This We'll Defend," it's them I have in mind."
He will be missed.
ChildYouth and School Services/U.S. Army/CHILD, YOUTH AND SCHOOL SERVICES/U.S. ARMY
Like I said, I've been reading further afield lately, and am almost finished with Michael Grant's The Rise of the Greeks, which is my idea of fun. Fill in this blank: "Thus in respect of basic equalities, [ ] was the first authentic, thoroughgoing democracy among the Greeks or anywhere in the world, as far as its citizens were concerned." (P. 93, paperback)
The answer is below.
Grant also says that the early Greek philosopher Anaximander was poking around with evolutionary theory, hypothesizing that "higher formers had developed from lower forerunners, so that human beings, at first a kind of fish in the water, had shed their scales on dry land so as to adjust their way of life to this new earthy medium." (P. 162)
So what is the answer? Oddly, Sparta. He also says that Spartan women enjoyed unusual privileges, with property rights, the right to speak freely, and freedom to engage in adulterous affairs, partly "owing to the continuous and urgent need to maintain and increase the Spartan birthrate." (P. 98) I guess this was the Spartan version of "don't ask, don't tell."
No one seemed to notice it, but this comment, made by Sen. Lindsey Graham during Sen. Webb's Sept. 14 hearing on bloat in the general officer corps, is especially interesting because it comes from a conservative South Carolina Republican who is also an Air Force Reserve JAG officer:
SEN. GRAHAM: ...one thing I would say, in my little area of the world, is that a two-star judge advocate general position did not serve us well during Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay discussions. Because there's a real tension, and this is -- goes beyond party politics -- between the office of the general counsel, who serves the secretary of Defense, and each service chief. They're civilians. And the military uniformed lawyer, loyalty lies to their commander.
And we had a very bad problem in the Bush Administration that the Obama Administration, quite frankly, has corrected. The civilian lawyers in the Bush Administration, in my view, shut out military legal advice and tried to make a power grab, saying that the judge advocate general had to clean -- clear their legal advice to their commanders through the civilian office of general counsel. That, to me, was an exercise of control of legal independence.
Is it time for a military journal or law review to step up and do an in-depth look at the Bush Administration vs. the JAGs? (If you know of such an overview and analysis, please let me know.)
My personal theory, based on some interviews I did at the time with JAGs, is that they became the first line of defense against the use of torture and other Bush Administration transgressions because they were "double professionals," heedful of their dual duties both as officers and as lawyers. This made them more likely to refuse to break the law or tell others to do so.
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
I know, we've heard and seen lots of bellyaching about President Obama being caught in the middle on Egypt. But in retrospect, what's not to like? President Obama supported the democratic movement but not so fast that he looked eager to throw overboard a longtime autocratic pal. And it all went down fairly nonviolently, so far. Aside from Frank Wisner going off the reservation in Munich and giving Mubarak a bit wet kiss, pretty well done. This is good change, brought about -- so far -- in a good way.
If I were an al Qaeda bigwig, events in Egypt would worry me -- in two weeks, those crowds have brought more change to the Arab world than AQ ever did. And so I would say this is a quiet net plus for the United States.
Meanwhile, a reader asks: For the last 30 years, Egyptian officers have studied at U.S. Army institutions. So, he asks, are they different from the "change resistant" Mubarak/Sadat generation, and if so, how?
Nor did I know that Egypt has a draft. Shanker and Schmitt, the euphonious security duo at the New York Times, noted the other day that, "General Enan commands a conscription army -- drawn by law from all sectors of Egyptian society and therefore tightly knitted with the populace. Every adult male is required to serve."
In 1974, the military became all volunteer. In the 1980s, the Reagan tax cuts began a huge transfer of wealth to the already wealthy, top 1 percent of American society. Normally we don't connect these two events, but with the passage of time, I suspect we may come to see them together as the moment when the wealthy checked out of America and moved into physical and mental gated communities.
I've already talked about how over the last 30 years, the proportion of wealth going to the top 1 percent has gone from 10 percent of annual national income to almost 25 percent, a greater share than in the Roaring '20s. And many of the readers of this blog have contributed thoughts about the All-Volunteer Force, especially how many American parents no longer have a sense of skin in the game.
In a nutshell:
(The chart shows inflation-adjusted percentage increase in after-tax household income for the top 1 percent and the four quintiles, between 1979 and 2005.)
I bring all this up again because when I think about the Tea Party and the broader national mood of anti-incumbency, I suspect it all is part of a growing national distrust and dislike of elites. If Washington is getting whupped today, Wall Street can't be far behind on the hit parade. While I have problems with the Tea Party, I do think it is correct to suspect that the elites are not doing their part. So where I think this winds up is probably a sharp populist backlash, in five or 10 years, when all the national bills really start coming due. Ireland today may be America soon. Get ready for increase in income tax rates. But, as the wealthy will tell you after a few drinks, occupational income is really for the little people. The real game is capital gains taxes, and the rate there is just 15 percent. I suspect it will double sometime down the road.
And while we are at it, let's have a parallel debate about national service, OK?
Bringing back a draft does not mean bringing back the draft we saw in the 1960s. Rather, I think we design a new deal that offer a three-part set of options:
The military option. You do 18 months of military service. The leaders of the armed forces will kick and moan, but these new conscripts could do a lot of work that currently is outsourced: cutting the grass, cooking the food, taking out the trash, painting the barracks. They would receive minimal pay during their terms of service, but good post-service benefits, such as free tuition at any university in America. If the draftees like the military life, and some will, they could at the end of their terms transfer to the professional force, which would continue to receive higher pay and good benefits. (But we'd also raise the retirement age for the professional force to 30 years of service, rather than 20 as it is now. There is no reason to kick healthy 40-year-olds out of the military and then pay them 40 years of retirement pay.)
The civilian service option.Don't want to go military? Not a problem. We have lots of other jobs at hand. You do two years of them -- be a teacher's aide at a troubled inner-city school, clean up the cities, bring meals to elderly shut-ins. We might even think about how this force could help rebuild the American infrastructure, crumbling after 30 years of neglect. These national service people would receive post-service benefits essentially similar to what military types get now, with tuition aid.
The libertarian opt-out. There is a great tradition of libertarianism in this country, and we honor it. Here, you opt out of the military and civilian service options. You do nothing for Uncle Sam. In return, you ask for nothing from him. For the rest of your life, no tuition aid, no federal guarantees on your mortgage, no Medicare. Anything we can take you out of, we will. But the door remains open -- if you decide at age 50 that you were wrong, fine, come in and drive a general around for a couple of years.
One blogger I consistently enjoy is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Recently he discussed the mass northward migration of black Americans, and apologetically ended, "It's not the Civil War -- but it kinda is." TNC, I think is more than "kinda!" Major combat operations ended in 1865, but we lost the peace, and so, I think, Phase IV of the war only ended 99 years later with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.