The Best Defense

No missile defense in Eastern Europe

The Obama people are throwing the Russians a bone and cancelling the Bush Administration move to put missle defense systems in Poland the Czech Republic. I hope this is part  of a deal or understanding that the Russians will help us out more on containing Iran.

This is, by the way, good news for the U.S. Navy, which now will have to plan on deploying anti-missile ships to the Black Sea, where they could try to intercept rockets the Iranians might be stupid enough to shoot northwestward toward Europe. Ah, "the Black Sea fleet" -- that has a nice ring to it. Turkey is also a nice place for liberty ports. There are lots of interesting and relatively inexpensive towns in Turkey, especially on its Mediterranean coast, which Americans never seem to have discovered. And the larger message for political leaders is a reminder that sea-based systems are less subject to political pressures than are land-based systems -- another plus for the Navy. 

Tambako the Jaguar/flickr

The Best Defense

Afghanistan: Who’s stupid now?

Stories like this from the Associated Press drive me nuts. The Afghan army is "hard to train." Why? Because the soldiers are illiterate. Pop quiz: How many of the Spartans at Thermopalye were literate? One reason armies have had officers is to ensure that for every 100 or so soldiers, there  is someone who can decipher a map and read orders.

U.S. Maj. Gen. Richard Formica, who is in charge of training both soldiers and police, says the high illiteracy rate is not a "show-stopper."

However, he added that illiteracy "particularly becomes a challenge for those recruits that we want to advance to become noncommissioned officers, because the higher you get in rank and responsibility, the more expectation there is that you can read and write at some basic level."

... To overcome the problem for the Afghan army, a private company, Pulau Electronics of Orlando, Fla., has been hired to run a program that aims to make 50 percent of the troops "functionally literate," within the first year of the program.

"The target is for them to be able to write their name and their weapon's serial number," said Joe Meglan, 39, of Savannah, Ga., who works for Pulau.

The average private soldier in Afghanistan does not need to be literate. Nor does he need diversity training, by the way. (FWIW, he probably has a lot more liberated attitude toward gays than does the average Marine recruit.)

He only needs the sort of literacy classes described in the AP article if his American trainers lack the imagination and historical knowledge to train him to be an Afghan, instead of an imitation American, soldier. If we are going to make any progress in dealing with failed states, we are going to have to learn to train across cultures. I mean, Gurkhas became one of the most feared entities in the British military establishment.

I suspect that Americans tend to think people who are illiterate are stupid. They are not, especially in a country like Afghanistan. 

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images