By Lt. Cdr. David Forman, US Navy
Best Defense guest correspondent
Before President Obama's national security team started their analysis in 2009 that eventually led to the current rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, then-Senator Jim Webb experienced a peculiar event. It was so peculiar that it now helps shape his argument that we need another type of rebalance: one that returns the legislative and executive branches to actual co-equal partners in government.
In December of 2008, Sen. Webb entered a soundproof room to review the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would shape our long-term relations with Iraq. Though not actually classified, the White House controlled the document as though it was. According to the logbook he signed to enter the room, Sen. Webb was the first member of the legislative branch to review it. The irony of "secretly" reviewing a document that should have been written or thoroughly debated by Congress was not lost on such an experienced public servant.
In his recent article, "Congressional Abdication," in The National Interest, Webb draws attention to three main events he believes indicate Congress is not fulfilling the full range of its responsibilities, including Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as it pertains to use of the military. First, as mentioned above, the Congress did not play any meaningful role in the development of the SFA agreement with Iraq. Though not an official treaty, the agreement was a unique display of exclusive executive-branch negotiations. Second, and most alarming to Webb, is that the Congress played no part in debating or approving combat operations in Libya in March 2011, a previously unprecedented type of military intervention. And last, the Congress was kept in the dark until the president was ready to sign the strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan in May 2012.
To be clear, Webb's remarks at a recent session at the officers of The National Interest began with, "I'm not on a crusade." He is not trying to throw stones in the Congressional arena now that he is on the sidelines. Webb's goal is to provide an honest and insightful assessment of the current imbalance between the two branches.
After the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in 2001, the president was understandably afforded great leeway to act. No elected official wanted to be seen as unpatriotic in the aftermath of such a penetrating and deadly assault on American territory. However, the complexity and diversity of pursuant foreign policy issues combined with the perpetual need to fundraise has prevented Congress from digging deep into foreign policy issues and recovering the ground it patriotically sacrificed in 2001.
The path to rebalancing is not easy or entirely clear, but recognition by the president and the Congress, the media, and the American people is a necessary first step. Congressional approval may seem like a nuisance in the pace of today's political developments, but it is also vitally important. Not only does this process adhere to our laws, it also shows the resolve of the American government and the nation it represents.
Though the eventual solution will take time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a natural focal point to help restore legislative balance to executive branch involvement in foreign policy. The framework for Congressional involvement and genuine oversight still exists, but its members must duly exercise this capability. With American involvement in Afghanistan winding down, issues with North Korea and Iran are most likely front-runners of opportunity for the Congress to reassert its constitutional authorities and work as a co-equal partner to steer our nation through a myriad of upcoming foreign-policy decisions.
LCDR David Forman, USN, is a senior military fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The views presented here are his own and do not represent those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.
But declining by the day. No, that hearing last week didn't reflect well on the U.S. Senate. But he didn't do well in it, either. He didn't appear that interested in the job.
He has the votes, but not much else. His big problem is that no one much wants him running the Pentagon. Congressional Republicans consider him a traitor. Congressional Democrats see him as anti-gay and anti-abortion, undercutting their support for him. And Northeastern Democrats (and some others) worry about his stance on Israel. Democratic support in the Senate appears more dutiful than passionate.
That said, I don't think that a Hagel exit would hurt President Obama much. SecDef nominees have blown up on the launch pad before: Remember John Tower (picked by the first President Bush) and Bobby Inman (picked by President Clinton to replace Les Aspin)? Interestingly, both were succeeded as nominees by men who went on to be very successful stewards of the military establishment: Dick Cheney and William Perry. Calling Michèle Flournoy?
The prospect of a Hagel regime at DOD is a real problem now because the next SecDef will need to do two things: Work with Congress to reduce the defense budget thoughtfully, and work with the military to re-shape the military to make it relevant to future conflict. At the moment, Hagel appears to lack the political capital to do the former, as well as the intellectual appetite to do the latter.
Bottom line: Every business day that the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn't vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, I think the likelihood of Hagel becoming defense secretary declines by about 2 percent.
I just finished reading the transcript of last week's hearing on the confirmation of former Sen. Charles Hagel to be defense secretary. The question in the headline is what I asked myself as I read it.
I heard a lot on Friday about what a poor job Sen. Hagel did in his confirmation hearings to be secretary of defense. So I sat down with the transcript over the weekend. I was surprised. I've spent many hours covering confirmation hearings, but I never have seen as much bullying as there was in this hearing. The opening thug was Sen. Inhofe (which I expected -- he's always struck me as mean-spirited), but I was surprised to see other Republican senators kicking their former Republican colleague in the shins so hard.
Here's John McCain badgering his erstwhile buddy:
Senator MCCAIN. ...Even as late as August 29th, 2011, in an interview -- 2011, in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, "I disagreed with President Obama, his decision to surge in Iraq as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq." Do you stand by those comments, Senator Hagel?
Senator HAGEL. Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them.
Senator MCCAIN. Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?
Senator HAGEL. Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to support that out.
Senator MCCAIN. The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.
Senator HAGEL. I will explain why I made those comments.
Senator MCCAIN. I want to know if you were right or wrong. That is a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
Senator HAGEL. The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit--
Senator MCCAIN. Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that "The surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Where you correct or incorrect, yes or no?
Senator HAGEL. My reference to the surge being the most dangerous--
Senator MCCAIN. Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That is a pretty straightforward question. I would like an answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.
Senator MCCAIN. Well, let the record show that you refuse to answer that question. Now, please go ahead.
Senator HAGEL. Well, if you would like me to explain why--
Senator MCCAIN. Well, I actually would like an answer, yes or no.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no. I think it is far more complicated that, as I have already said.
Tom again: FWIW, Hagel later got in the point that his comment was that "our war in Iraq was the most fundamental bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam." I think that assessment is correct.
(Senator Chambliss then took a moment to abuse the English language: "We were always able to dialogue, and it never impacted our friendship.")
Then Lindsay Graham waded in.
Senator GRAHAM. ...You said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I am not an Israeli senator. I am a U.S. Senator. This pressure makes us do dumb things at times." You have said the Jewish lobby should not have been -- that term shouldn't have been used. It should have been some other term. Name one person, in your opinion, who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the U.S. Senate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, first--
Senator GRAHAM. Name one.
Senator HAGEL. I don't know.
Senator GRAHAM. Well, why would you say it?
Senator HAGEL. I didn't have in mind a specific--
Senator GRAHAM. First, do you agree it is a provocative statement? That I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said.
Name one dumb thing we have been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby.
Senator HAGEL. I have already stated that I regret the terminology I used.
Senator GRAHAM. But you said back then it makes us do dumb things. You can't name one Senator intimidated. Now give me one example of the dumb things that we are pressured to do up here.
Senator HAGEL. We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel. That is what I was referring to.
Senator GRAHAM. So give me an example of where we have been intimidated by the Israeli/Jewish lobby to do something dumb regarding the Mideast, Israel, or anywhere else.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I can't give you an example.
Next to throw some punches was David Vitter:
Senator VITTER. In general, at that time under the Clinton administration, do you think that they were going ‘‘way too far toward Israel in the Middle East peace process"?
Senator HAGEL. No, I don't, because I was very supportive of what the President did at the end of his term in December-January, December 2000, January of 2001. As a matter of fact, I recount that episode in my book, when I was in Israel.
Senator VITTER. Just to clarify, that's the sort of flip-flop I'm talking about, because that's what you said then and you're changing your mind now.
Senator HAGEL. Senator, that's not a flip-flop. I don't recall everything I've said in the last 20 years or 25 years. if I could go back and change some of it, I would. But that still doesn't discount the support that I've always given Israel and continue to give Israel.
Near the end of the day's verbal beating, Senator Manchin said, "Sir, I feel like I want to apologize for some of the tone and demeanor today." That was good of him.
You all know I was not that much of a Hagel fan before. But now I feel more inclined to support him, if only to take a stand against the incivility shown by Senators Inhofe, McCain, Graham, and Vitter, the SASC's own "gang of four."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
I cannot remember another modern administration that pulled almost all its top national security officials from the Congress. Right now we have former members of Congress as the secretary of defense, secretary of state, president, and vice president. They are advised by a national security advisor and deputy national security advisor with backgrounds as Capitol Hill staffers. And now the president is said to be considering replacing the current people at State and Defense with two other senators -- John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.
Wait a minute. I thought diversity was a good thing! How about some people with backgrounds in academia (such as William Perry, who was a fine secretary of defense, or George Shultz), corporate America (such as David Packard), Wall Street (see Robert Lovett), the law (Edwin Stanton, Henry Stimson, Caspar Weinberger), career-track federal service (Robert Gates), or the military (George Marshall or Colin Powell)? How about people who have actually run something (members of Congress don't run anything but their offices).
President Obama's nightmare is said to be following in the tracks of LBJ -- that is, having a great domestic agenda undercut by backing into war. But he might pay more attention to JFK, who had a narrow team of advisors who thought they were smarter than everyone else. I think Obama is unnecessarily creating a vulnerability -- that is, why voluntarily wear blinders by getting people largely experienced in one relatively small aspect of the world? There is a reason that diversity is not just right but also smart practice. You'd think Obama would understand that.
In my nearly two decades of covering the defense establishment, I never really looked at the Army Corps of Engineers. It is like a separate entity.
I regretted that neglect when I read a story in this morning's Washington Post about a scheme involving two Corps program managers and people at a private company that prosecutors are calling "one of the most brazen bribery and corruption schemes in the history of federal contracting." The Post continues: "they bought millions of dollars worth of BMWs, Rolex and Cartier watches, flat-screen televisions, first-class airline tickets and investment properties across the globe."
The story ended on this dismaying note: "Press officers of the Corps of Engineers did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment." The Corps needs to make dealing with this scandal priority no. 1 -- especially in a budget environment where any entity that is not clearly contributing greatly faces the prospect of being eliminated.
Justice William Douglas once suggested that every federal agency should have a sunset provision -- that is, it ceases to exist after, say, 10 years, unless the Congress renewed it. I think it may be time to re-visit that thought.
Meanwhile, in other legal proceedings, a Coast Guard chief warrant officer was convicted of, among other things, malingering. I can't remember seeing that charged before.
I've decided to start a new running series on this blog, about how the defense budget will be cut. I am doing this because I suspect that slashing Pentagon spending will be a major running story in the coming years, perhaps even dominating the national security discussion.
For those of you keeping score at home, consider this item the other day the first installment in this new series.
The 13 new Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are holding a dinner you can attend for a suggested contribution of just $5,000, reports Bloomberg's Roxana Tiron. (I'd like but I can't find the story on-line -- it was forwarded to me by a pissed-off senior official at the Pentagon.) Didn't say how much extra it costs to blow smoke with the freshmen politicos.
Ms. Tiron obtained an invitation to the event sent out by Buck -- or is that "Bucks"?--McKeon, the new chairman of HASC. Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told Tiron that, "This is a command audience, par for the course for anyone who wants to have influence with this committee and show favor for particular members."
The well-read Ike Skelton, who recently retired as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, dropped by CNAS earlier this week for a chicken salad and a talk about what was on his mind. During his 34 years in Congress, the Trumanesque Democrat paid a lot of attention to professional military education, so I was struck by his criticism -- unsolicited -- of the armed services' senior colleges.
"I have a concern that the war colleges need to sharpen their pencils in education, as opposed to training," he said. He especially worries, he added, about whether the military's strategic thinkers were being detected, groomed, and protected. "My question to the commandants of the war colleges is this: How many students that you are graduating this year could sit down and have a serious discussion with George C. Marshall? The last time I asked that question, the answer was 'three or four.' The challenge is recognizing who they are." He also said he thought the war colleges should be more rigorous, "just as difficult as any law school in the nation." Anyone who lately has dropped by the golf course at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, knows that that would raise the bar considerably.
Some of his other thoughts:
--"You may see a real donnybrook" in the Congress over the defense budget, especially, he said, especially as the inclinations of the House and Senate seem to be diverging.
--The fallout from Egypt?: "The big winner in all this is going to be Iran." (I didn't get a chance to ask him to say more about that prediction.)
--He is deeply concerned by a lack of understanding between the military and American society. "Those who protect us are psychologically divorced from those who are being protected."
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Little-known anecdote: In the fall of 1966, when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara spoke at Harvard, he found himself surrounded by hundreds of angry protestors. He taunted them a bit about how he was tougher than them, and then, fearing for his safety, he relates in his book In Retrospect, (255-56) he took to the heating tunnels underneath Quincy House, where his guide through the subterranean maze was one Barney Frank, then a Harvard undergraduate. With Frank's aid, McNamara made safely to his next appointment, with a Professor Henry Kissinger.
The odd thing is I don't know who remains angrier with McNamara now: veterans of the anti-war left, or the soldiers he sent to fight in Vietnam while believing the war was unwinnable. Everybody hates Bob.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
My CNAS colleague Connor O'Brien recently wandered over to the W Hotel to see what congressional Republicans have up their sleeves. He wandered back with this report.
By Connor O'Brien
Best Defense Capitol Hill deputy bureau chief
The other day I went to see what Rep. Buck McKeon, the presumptive next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, might have to say about things will change on his watch.
The California Republican was a bit coy. The theme of his talk at the Foreign Policy Initiative's 2010 Forum was leadership. He quoted Gen. Omar Bradley, saying that, "Leadership is intangible, and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it." HASC, as he sees it, needs to restore leadership where President Obama and congressional Democrats have failed. This includes setting a timeline for drawing down troops in Afghanistan, losing focus on Iraq, cutting missile defense programs, and mishandling the War on Terror.
Mr. McKeon committed to working in a bipartisan manner and promised that HASC would not wade into partisan "gotcha" oversight, but the verbs he used in describing his agenda were telling, as he vowed to "expose," "expedite," "challenge," and "focus," among other things. But he made few concrete statements about anything outside of the normal oversight power that is given to any congressional committee, other than calling wartime cuts in defense spending "a red line for me and a red line for all Americans." Mr. McKeon even acknowledged that his committee's ability to call Gen. David Petraeus to testify on Afghanistan could be limited by the executive branch. "Well, we can ask," McKeon said, "But as I said, we only have one commander in chief, and if he commands Gen. Petraeus to be busy doing something else, he may not show up."
Leadership is intangible, but the final outcome of defense policy is not. Republicans are no doubt committed to strengthening national defense through expanding the budget, exposing poor practices in the defense bureaucracy, and making a long-term military commitment in Afghanistan, but his committee's ability to change the status quo remains to be seen. The same was true of the 110th Congress, where a Democratic majority elected on an anti-war platform ultimately failed to end the Iraq War. With a Democratic Senate and, if necessary, a presidential veto standing in the way, Mr. McKeon and House Republicans have their work cut out for themselves. Still unresolved is the stance newly elected deficit-hawk Republicans will take on defense spending, a divide Sen. John McCain predicted earlier in the day at the FPI hoedown.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
There seems to be a rebellion brewing in the VFW against its old-school PAC, which has shunned a lot of tea partiers while endorsing Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. VFW's leadership says in a red-faced statement, "We are requesting the chairman and the directors of the Political Action Committee immediately rescind their endorsement actions."
"These members of the board of the PAC look like they rode with Pershing," one critic tells the enterprising Adam Weinstein. On the other hand, they may just be pragmatically acting in the long-term interests of vets, instead of going all romantic and panting after the latest thing.
Here's a piece by John "Eating Soup" Nagl, one of my bosses at CNAS. Even if he weren't my boss, I'd agree with this comment.
I can hear some of you grumbling, "Oh, no, once you have openly gay soldiers, next thing you know, the Republican party will be running witches for the Senate!" I got news for you.
By Lt. Col. John Nagl (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
This New York Times piece is by my former student Jonathan Hopkins, who graduated fourth in his West Point class, commanded two companies, served three combat tours and earned three Bronze Stars (including one for valor) -- and recently was expelled from the Army for being homosexual. Jonathan's personal story is compelling; of particular relevance is the fact that his infantry brigade kept him on duty for more than a year after discovering that he was gay, during the administrative process of removing him from service:
"Amid all of that, the unit continued to function and I continued to be respected for the work I did. Many, from both companies I commanded, approached me to say that they didn't care if I was gay -- they thought I was one of the best commanders they'd ever had. And unbeknownst to me, many had guessed I was probably gay all along. Most didn't care about my sexuality. I was accepted by most of them, as was my boyfriend, and I had never been happier in the military. Nothing collapsed, no one stopped talking to me, the Earth spun on its axis, and the unit prepared to fight another day."
He speaks for his peers when he says:
"There are parts of my story in the lives of all of the gay service members who continue to serve in our military -- and there are 65,000, according to the Urban Institute. Their commitment is immense. So dedicated are they to service that they eschew the rights that every other soldier enjoys. Their road is more difficult than most people realize, and we reward their exceptionally dedicated and selfless service by undermining their ability to live a happy, honest, and fulfilling life - all of which would actually make them even better soldiers."
Jonathan is the third combat veteran I personally know who has left the Army under the terms of DADT. Collectively, they represent almost a decade of combat experience, a big handful of Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, service as aide-de-camps to general officers and as platoon leaders and company commanders in combat, and the investment of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds. They have offered blood, sweat, and tears in defense of a nation that discriminates against them for no good reason.
This policy must end.
Most of yesterday's confirmation hearing for General Petraeus was about Republicans picking at the scab on the Afghan war, the Obama deadline for beginning a pullout just over a year from now, and the question it implies: Just how can you win a war when you are telling the enemy you're leaving in a year? Democrats responded by trying to slap a band-aid over the problem.
Sen. McCain zeroed in first:
SEN. MCCAIN: General, at any time during the deliberations that the military shared with the president when he went through the decision-making process, was there a recommendation from you or anyone in the military that we set a date of July 2011?
GEN. PETRAEUS: There was not.
SEN. MCCAIN: There was not by any military person that you know of?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Not that I'm aware of.
Others piled on:
SEN. LEMIEUX: General, you said a moment ago when answering a question from Senator McCain that you were not consulted on the development of a drawdown date.
GEN. PETRAEUS: I was consulted. I think -- let's be very precise if I could. I think it was -- did I -- did we propose it or recommend, or something like that. I mean, we -- there's no question that in the final session, that this was discussed.
SEN. LEMIEUX: But it was not something that you proposed?
GEN. PETRAEUS: -- and agreed it.
SEN. LEMIEUX: Not something you proposed.
GEN. PETRAEUS: That is correct.
SEN. LEMIEUX: And not something, as far as you are aware, that was proposed by any of the other leadership of the military.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Not that I'm aware of.
Here is the problem I have with the Republican approach. Yes, they are right that it is not good to have a war policy the military doesn't like. And I think there is a good argument to be made against the Obama deadline.
That said, just because the military is strongly against an approach doesn't mean the approach is wrong. For example, in World War II, the U.S. military, from Marshall on down, vigorously opposed Operation Torch, the U.S.-led invasion of North Africa. They suspected FDR backed it for base political reasons. Yet in retrospect, the move made good military sense. The U.S. military had a lot to learn and needed to do a couple of these major movements -- Africa and Sicily -- before crossing the Channel. Had they tried to send a force across the Channel in 1942, or even in 1943, I think the landings might have been disastrous and demoralizing. And so the war might have gone on a year or two longer.
Likewise, in military terms, MacArthur might have been right during the Korean War in recommending blockading Chinese ports and bombing Chinese cities. Yet President Truman correctly concluded that the American people had no interest in going to war with China, and that MacArthur was way out of touch with the American people. (Not for the first time, by the way: In 1936, MacArthur and Eisenhower had a huge argument over whether, as MacArthur believed, Landon would crush FDR in that year's presidential election.)
So, while the Afghan deadline makes no sense militarily, it might make sense politically, both for domestic political reasons and in prodding the Afghan government. If you believe, as I do, that the Afghan government is our biggest problem in the war (followed closely by the Pakistani government), then what happens to the Taliban is a secondary issue, and the primary question has to be: How do we get a government in Afghanistan that is not counterproductive and can field reasonably good security forces?
Petraeus's high school nickname was "Peaches," by the way.
mccun934 / Flickr.com
This is today's comment of the day, written by an officer in response to the lesbian Army officer's discussion, quoted here yesterday, of the pain and stress that "don't ask, don't tell" causes every day:
It forces dishonesty and undermines trust.
You either let them serve openly or not all. Given that many are quietly serving and doing their jobs -- who are any of us to tell them NO?
Back in 2000 when that moron killed his roomie at Fort Campbell because he suspected he was gay, we had to do 100 percent Consideration for Others training. I had to give that stupid fucking class4 times to get 100 percent of my soldiers covered. I hated that -- why? Because it was a big fat waste of time -- time we needed to be spending training for combat. Because everyone learns at some point in time to treat others the way they want to be treated. And some things are none of your f'in business. Even though I hated teaching the obvious to my soldiers I took full advantage.
Indeed, I told everyone of my soldiers that if they did anything to hurt a fellow soldier I would pursue them to the very limits of my capabilities of the UCMJ and maybe beyond it... because more important than anyone's sexuality was our operation as a team. A team of people who had to rely on one another. And none of them were fit to judge one another's behavior in this matter.
End the farce now.
An active-duty Marine captain has a good piece recalling his time at Harvard Law while Elena Kagan was dean there:
If Elena Kagan is "anti-military," she certainly didn't show it. She treated the veterans at Harvard like VIPs, and she was a fervent advocate of our veterans association. She was decidedly against ‘don't ask, don't tell,' but that never affected her treatment of those who had served. I am confident she is looking forward to the upcoming confirmation hearings as an opportunity to engage in some intellectual sparring with members of Congress over her Supreme Court nomination. I would respectfully warn them to do their homework, as she has a reputation for annihilating the unprepared.
In fact, he adds, she had a Marine-like approach to life: "Be tough, show that you care and ensure that everyone below you has plenty of coffee."
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Here's a sensible note from a young Navy submarine officer who says he is writing because he wants people to understand that the obstacle to being openly gay in the military lies in Congress, not in the uniformed military:
The debate may exist in the media, and certainly exists in Congress, but on the ship, if it's talked about at all it with a little bit of confusion about what the big deal is. Don't get me wrong, there is homophobia and there are a few loud, mostly uneducated, mostly very junior, and mostly still well-meaning people who would tell you they think its wrong -- but they're the kind of people who are just saying it because its what they were brought up to say, and even they aren't saying it with much fervor. I can tell you with certainty that if the ban were lifted tomorrow -- no year of preparation -- life would go on exactly as it did before....
Life would go on. Mostly what I heard after Admiral Mullen's declaration was, "it's about time." There is no question if the military is ready -- the military is waiting.
... I just want the press to understand that it is the Congress that needs pushing, not the military, and that excuses such as "senior military officials like the CJCS and SecDef are out of touch with the low-level, young guys on the ground" may be true on many issues, but not this one.
Here's a report from my CNAS colleague Matt Irvine, who trekked up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to hear experts Richard Clarke, Juan Zarate, and Steve Coll tell the House Armed Services Committee what to think about al Qaeda.
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense chief congressional correspondent
What the witnesses delivered was a long-term forecast reading: more of the same. The conflict against al Qaeda and its ideology will not be won when American forces leave Iraq or begin drawdowns in Afghanistan in 2011.
This exchange from a Senate hearing yesterday about how and why the Army dropped the ball on the Fort Hood shooter is worth reading:
Sen. Lieberman: . . . . General Keane, do you -- and obviously this is speculation but the military is most sensitive of any organization I know to any taint or allegation or impression of being discriminatory which is appropriate. Do you think that political correctness may have played some role in the fact that these dots were not connected?
Gen. Keane: Yes, absolutely and also I think a factor here is Hasan's position as an officer and also his position as a psychiatrist contributed to that because of the special category I think someone who's operating as a clinician every day treating patients is in in the military. It's an individual activity versus a group activity which provides considerably more supervision in squads, platoons, companies and the like inside our units.
So there's no doubt in my mind that that was operating here. But in fairness to many of the people who are associating with him, based on what preliminary research I have done and I think what the committee is doing, I think we're going to find very clearly that we do not have specific guidelines on dealing with Jihadist extremism in terms of the obligations of the members of the military to identify a reported and what actions to take and what constitutes Jihadist extremists itself.
So that you take some of this burden away from people by having those guidelines and when you have those guidelines in place you are clearly saying to the institution that this is important to us, we are not going to tolerate this kind of behavior and we want to identify with immediately to try to curb the behavior through counseling and rehabilitation and if necessary separate that individual from the service if it cannot be curbed.
Sen. McCain: I have talked to military officers who have stated that they at least up until now have had a significant reluctance to pursue what may be these indications because of this political correctness environment. Have you heard the same?
Gen. Keane: Well I know it exists, no doubt about it, and what I'm trying to say is is that the way to deal with that -- it shouldn't have to be an act of moral courage on behalf of a soldier to have to report behavior that we should not be tolerating inside our military organizations. It should be an obligation. The way to make that an obligation is provide very specific guidelines through the chain of command as to what their duties are in regards to this issue. That takes this issue -- begins to take this issue off the table because the institution is speaking clearly in terms of what its expectations are and what it will tolerate and what it will not tolerate.
Sen. McCain: And perhaps err on the side of caution instead of erring on the side of correctness.
I think General Keane is pointing to a good way to help soldiers, and help the Army, akin to what Stu Herrington was talking about the other day in this blog.
RoE warning: Look, I know the three people quoted above are not Democratic Party favorites. Even so, I don't want to see a bunch of ad hominem attacks on Keane, McCain and Lieberman. If you want to do that, take it outside to another blog. This is a sensitive, difficult subject. It is easy to rant about this. But that is not what we need. I don't want name calling, I want to think about solutions here, as Keane does. ‘Nuff said?
I've thought for awhile that Robert Gates is the best defense secretary we've ever had, kind of a William Perry but with a killer instinct. I like the determined way he took on the pork barrelers in the fight over the F-22 fighter.
Two of his recent observations only confirm my opinion.
First, from his July 16 speech in Chicago, this warning:
...The president is the eighth president I've worked for, and I do not recall a single time in my entire professional career when I felt that the country faced as complex and, in many respects, dangerous a time as we do now."
I also find the following comment Gates made at a press conference on Monday quite interesting. I hadn't seen this thought expressed this way:
...We're living in a time not only of great change, but also great simultaneity. Many things are happening all at once in many different places; and though we may be tired, we must stay focused."
Not bad for an old Sovietologist.
Update: In this item, the second quotation, about "simultaneity," was not said by Gates, but by Adm. Mike Mullen in the same joint press conference. I apologize for the error.
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Finally, Americans may get the right to carry concealed loaded weapons in National Parks. How did we get so far without this privilege?
The irony is that the National Park Service doesn't even allow kayaks on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. But now we can pack pistols with our picnics.
There's a bill before Congress now to turn six former military bases into emergency shelters. I have a better idea: Turn them into holding tanks for aging baby boomers, especially those whose retirement nest eggs have been evaporating. Several of the bases in the congressional bill appear to be in Florida and California, perfect homes for those formerly golden years.
I am about to get into real inside baseball, so skip this item unless you care about the plumbing of policymaking.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 governs the U.S. military chain of command. It was devised in response to operational problems seen in the botched hostage rescue mission in Iran in 1980 and the screwy U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. There is no question that the act improved the "jointness" of the U.S. military, making the services work better with each other. The Iraq war has subjected the act to its first sustained test. "War is the great auditor of institutions," Corelli Barnett writes in his great history of military leadership in World War I, The Swordbearers.
So, how has the law done? My guess, based on a review of the formulation of strategy in the war is that it has been more of a hindrance than an aid in strategic decision-making. But this question needs a lot more study before any conclusions can be reached. I'd welcome reader suggestions on how to go about this. I think the question is especially important because so many government officials, especially at the Pentagon, talk about a "Goldwater-Nichols Act for the interagency" that would make different departments work with each other as well as the military services have under the act. Before we leap into that, I'd like to know how well this thing has really worked.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.