The Best Defense

Reflecting on Iraq: Is it a 'syndrome' or rather, perhaps, hard-earned 'wisdom'? And is there a generational break here?

My CNAS colleague Phil Carter, reacting to yesterday's item about how the experience of Iraq is affecting the Obama administration's consideration of intervening in Syria, sent me this thoughtful note:

Iraq has replaced Vietnam as the lens through which we see foreign policy decisions. However, I don't like the term "Iraq syndrome" -- in large part because it suggests there's something wrong, and that this is a condition to be ameliorated or recovered from. Instead, I prefer to think of our national sense of the Iraq war as "Iraq experience" or "Iraq wisdom." We gathered this experience and wisdom the hard way, acquiring it at a cost of trillions of dollars, and tens of thousands of killed or wounded, to say nothing of the cost to the Iraqis. We ought not casually discard this wisdom and experience, or set it aside so that we can once again go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, to use John Quincy Adams' memorable phrase.

Tom again: I think he is right, but I think there also is a generational aspect to this. I think younger people -- and to me, that means anyone under 40 -- are more affected by this than are older people.

One of the great things about CNAS is that we actually have conversations like this. In my experience, not all think tanks do. You can find out more by coming to the annual hoedown on June 12. It is, as we have noted, the Woodstock of wonkery. But with better refreshments.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Best Defense

Air Force benches 17 missile officers, nuclear expert cites malaise in the branch

This isn't the Air Force's week. First, its sexual assault prevention czar earns a negative congressional unit citation for alleged sexual battery. Now the AP's Robert Burns reports that the service sidelined 17 nuclear launch officers essentially for sucking at their jobs.

Which raises the question in my mind: Which is the worse job, being a missile officer these days, or being a sexual harassment officer? And can you imagine being the sexual assault officer in a missile unit in North Dakota?

More seriously, the estimable Burns quotes Bruce Blair, a nuclear weapons expert, as warning that, "The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War's end over 20 years ago....Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force's culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles."

Can you imagine a nuclear attack being launched simply because a unit was so incompetent that someone hit the wrong buttons and codes? No? Well, how about a bomber crew flying across the United States without being aware it was carrying nuclear weapons? (That happened in 2007.)