Democracy Arsenal

February 14, 2007


Military grants waivers to felons, while dismissing gays
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From today's NYT, an example of true policy irrationality:

The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 in 2006 from 4,918 in 2003, Department of Defense records show.

Meanwhile, the military continues to dismiss highly qualified personnel (including Arabic and Farsi linguists) because they're... gasp... homosexual.

Continue reading "Military grants waivers to felons, while dismissing gays" »

February 07, 2007


How to Hide, c. 2007: Velcro & Pixels
Posted by Rosa Brooks

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Malcolm's soldiers disguise their assault on Castle Dunsinane by holding tree branches from Burnham Wood over their heads. (They thus fulfil the prophesy: "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him.")

In the high tech era of modern combat, disguising yourself as a tree won't cut it anymore, and the Army has responded with by replacing the old fatigues and BDUs with new "Army Combat Uniforms." The new uniforms replace the old green/brown splotches with grayish digital pixels, which means that when a soldier in a new Army Combat Uniform stands directly in front of a large computer screen, you won't be able to see him.

No, really. Apparently it works in the desert, too.

The new ACU also replaces archaic medieval devices such as "buttons" with velcro. My question: what happens when some poor soldier is in a situation where being quiet is really important? Hunkered down, outnumbered, hoping to wait out the enemy patrols and make it back to safety.... But, he desperately needs to get at something that is IN HIS POCKET or under his shirt... and there is no way to do this without a LOUD velcro-ripping noise, which gives away his position!

Okay. I am certain that the best and brightest military minds are aware of this issue and it is not actually a problem. Right? Right?

(Learn more about the ACUs and see lots of pictures at


February 05, 2007

Defense, Intelligence, Iraq, Middle East, Potpourri, Terrorism

Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Edward Luttwak of CSIS has a piece in this month's Harper's called "Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice." Luttwak begins with a critical analysis of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24 DRAFT, written by David Petraeus, among others, then moves on apply this to Iraq. He concludes that the new counterinsrgency manual's "prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principles and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents...."

Read it (it's not available online-- you'll have to buy the magazine! Sorry).

January 25, 2007


In Defense of "Mercenaries"
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Remember that old movie "Escape from New York?" the one where the city has become a large prison populated by violent and depraved criminals. A story  that fell between the cracks of the State of the Union--two downed Blackwater helicopters, five Americans dead--made me remember the images from that film. No escape, not by land, not by air, not by sea.

Some news reports speculate that four of the five were shot on the ground. Ugh and sigh. I know it is hard for some people to feel outrage or grief over the death of private military contractors--an attitude that I often find is supported by perverse logic and misplaced anger about our own government's dysfunction. The bottom line is that the privatization of US National Security  is a trend that has been ongoing for years. It was a conversation that Congress forgot to have during the heady government-hatin hoe down that passed for a legislature for the past decade. So here we are. The Post reported that there are  some 100,000 contractors in Iraq alone, including 25,000 private security contractors.

This exceeds the number of all coalition forces combined, and is only 40,000 less than the  number of U.S. troops in Iraq.  It is a virtual army of largely unregulated individuals working on behalf of U.S. national interests.  From strategic weapons systems as the B-2 stealth bomber and Global Hawk to running ROTC programs, the military has been colonized by corporations. This is all legitimate business created by our own government--though the billions of dollars disappeared by contractors In Iraq make Abramoff look like Little Bo Peep.

Handing over public tasks to the free market without a thorough discussion about what are essential government responsibilities is the hallmark of the era that just ended.  The new Congress has set out an ambitious agenda of contract oversight.  But a much larger
conversation needs to happen at the same time.  Now is the chance for Democrats to put forward a governing philosophy that will provide a backdrop for all policy decision making: One that believes in the value of a public sector that genuinely serves a common good.

Private military companies--like many other efficiencies introduced into government--are here to stay.  They arose in the 1990's to meet a demand for manpower in peacekeeping type missions. Whenever this type of military capacity need came up during the last decade, entire rooms full of Congressmen would come down with the Cold War vapors.  The subject was soon redirected back to gold plated commie-killin pet projects and peacekeeping was left to hang in the wind. 

Its still happening today.  Even now when all the commies are watching American Idol.

Meanwhile, an entire infrastructure has developed to support private security services. Take a look at these bios .  These are not mercenaries. In my ideal world, they would be public servants, but our government has pared down its personnel by the thousands over the past two decades.  Now the institutional memory for many of today's most important issues...conflict resolution, peace ops, post conflict stabilization--reside in the private sector. It doesn't have to stay this way, however.

Continue reading "In Defense of "Mercenaries"" »

January 12, 2007


The Burden of Proof
Posted by David Shorr

Above all cautionary lessons, you'd think the Iraq debacle has demonstrated the folly of resorting to military force without first gaining the upper hand of political legitimacy, establishing the existence of the threat, and clarifying, through serious planning, how armed force will achieve your objectives. You'd think that this searing experience would make clear that prudence in the resort to force is different from willingness to use force.

After Iraq, surely our political discourse is mature enough that people no longer have to prove their national security credentials by pointing toward where they would use force, and thereby falling into the same sloppy strategic reasoning that got us into Iraq in the first place. We have learned that to be hesitant to use force is simply to respect its destructive bluntness as an instrument and wait until the proper moment.

Surely the burden of political proof has shifted toward those with an itchy trigger finger. That IS the popular wisdom of November's anti-Iraq War elctoral mandate, right? From the looks of Jeffrey Goldberg's article in the new New Yorker, apparently not.

The article compares and contrasts the Democratic presidential frontrunners' foreign policy views. Maybe some of the quotes from the candidates are interesting, I don't know. Frankly I'm having trouble seeing past Goldberg's retrograde premise. He is still asking "do they have the stomach," [a paraphrase, not a quote] when he should be asking "do they have the judgment."

Just one example to show how flimsy this is: "Polls also show that a sizable minority of Democrats now feel that the war in Afghanistan was a mistake--thirty five per cent." [That one is a quote.] Is this serious political analysis? Just what does this sizable minority indicate?

Can we please have a serious debate? Please?

November 08, 2006


Brave New... White House?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So let me get this straight:

the man who doesn't read polls, "stays the course," and just last week pledged the Rumsfeld would be "with him to the end," removed his Defense Secretary before the election tallies are even final? (it seemed clear from the news conference Q and A that the decision was made before the elections... i wonder whether the coordinated military newspaper editorials calling for Rumsfeld's removal were the final nail?)

the man who has hardly had any use for first Bush Administration loyalists replaces Don Rumsfeld with his father's CIA director?

ok, is it just me or is it odd to put in as head of DoD someone who appears not to have served in the military -- which, given his age, would mean he avoided the draft??  UPDATE:  Marc Grinberg says Gates did serve two years giving intel briefings to ICBM crews:  more here.  I still wish he had more recent military experience...

and read the text of Bush's 1pm news conference and tell me if bits of it don't sound directly cribbed from the Bill Clinton playbook?  (And, White House speechwriters, that joke about giving Nancy Pelosi names of decorators for her new drapes:  not funny.  Better do some remedial work on interacting with women professionals.  Fast.)

It really is a new world.

November 02, 2006


Speaking of Apologies: Neo-Cons and the Army
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Yesterday's over the top White House rumpus over Senator Kerry's flubbed line  about troops in Iraq is truly ridiculous. It was a dorky mistake but in no way merits a new swiftboating of Democrats.  The calls for apology coming from left and right alike are, well, they are just silly.  The idea that any variety of lip service will somehow "support" our troops--after what we've done to them--is laughable.  Kerry is a conservative fist-magnet and conservatives are desperate to change the subject from our real problems the week prior to the election. Problems like the fact that our fine military institution has lowered standards to meet recruitment goals, is now accepting 42 year olds and mediocre high schoolers and that this is causing the decay of the entire institution.  (did I mention the ranks of the Army being infested with white supremists?)  Lots of things to apologize for. Bad jokes not among them. That the media even covered this gaffe is pathetic.

How about a collective apology from civilians for not paying attention-- throughout the 1990's-- to what our military has been doing? Like implementing the majority of our post Cold War foreign policy, from building girls schools, to AIDs prevention to (horrors!) peacekeeping and peacebuilding around the world. How about an apology for not ever devising a truly new grand strategy when the Soviet Union fell apart? Now we have an Army that doesn't have enough down to Earth items like body armour or Farsi speakers but continues to be the organizational home for that space-weenie fantasy missile defense?

Only this year did the military put forward a new counter insurgency doctrine  Only last November, did the DoD come out with a directive  stating that stability support is as important as combat in today's missions.

BTW, an article that ran last week about the Army budget deserves major attention. Seems it has been muffled because of its lousy timing.(meaning elections) In short, Republican appointee, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England has given a figure for the Army budget that is $17.8 billion dollars short of the amount Army leaders say is required to execute its part of the current military strategy. Read the whole article here. . Progressives, check out the new organizations out there that are breaking down the notion of "strong" on defense. Look who gets the F grade  when defense issues focus on human resources.  And jump on this NOW.  The neo-cons are onto it. In his convenient revision of recent history, Joshua Muravchik  at AEI makes one important coherent point about the importance of human resources in the military. That we've focussed on technology at the expense of human beings.

A lame joke is so nothing compared to this strategic blindness. The Iraq war is a mess, yes. Afghanistan's woes a missed opportunity...but our current leadership has put our very military institution in peril.  Who is going to apologize for this?

September 21, 2006


Moment of Truth: Missile Defense or Stopping Genocide
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Every once in awhile, those of us who follow defense issues here in Washington will catch a dreamy glimpse of pre-9/11 days in wonkdom. Back then, optimistic progressive types, though bummed by the election results, were beginning to find some hopeful ways to co-exist with the Bush Administration. One of those Hobbits-in-the-Shire flashes came to me last week when I saw that the House Democrats backed up with an official request a statement that Secretary Rumsfeld made while visiting the missile defense interceptor site in Alaska in August. He asked for an "end to end" test of missile defense. That means a comprehensive and realistic test of a limited system. 100 billion dollars into this system, the tests thus far don't approximate any realistic scenario. (you wouldn't know how much skepticism is deserved by reading, um, just about any major newspaper after a "successful test") In contrast, you would think that true shock and awe might result for the decades of accumulated failures of the single most expensive weapons program in our budget.

Back in 2000, I felt conflicted by our new Sec Def. I did not view him as a neo-con, but, rather, as a corporate conservative who would knock some heads together in the defense establishment and finally purge the most egregious Cold War leftovers. As a bona fide conservative, Rumsfeld could pry some of those gold-plated barnacles off of our defense budget and persuade the defense industry and Congress to get on with post Cold War priorities. Sadly, 9/11 derailed those possibilities.

Which is why the House Democrats throwing down the glove about realistic testing is important. As we move past the half trillion mark in defense spending, perhaps their request will begin the vital discussion about tradeoffs within the defense budget. Maybe now we can move past that old political trap of "guns versus butter" and get on with the "guns versus guns" debate. In budget item terms, this is the fight over military resources dedicated to technology versus human beings. Maybe, with counter insurgency's comeback and the recognition that all the techno gadgets in the world can't find a political solution for Iraq--the human resources issues within the military will get a boost.

This reality does not make the defense industry happy, however.

Continue reading "Moment of Truth: Missile Defense or Stopping Genocide" »

August 22, 2006


No Marines to Send
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Almost a year ago, I attended a conference at which several senior retired Marines said that we would soon see evident in the Marine Corps the same kind of stress and strain that has been much-talked about in the regular Army.

In fact, the talk about "straining the Army to the breaking point" died down for a while this spring, when troop levels were quietly declining.  Now, of course, that trend has stopped.  And guess what?

The Marine Corps announced today that it is short 1200 active-duty forces over the next twelve months and will begin its own involuntary recalls.  The specific problem seems to be that Marines who have served their active duty commitment, and were formerly quite reliable about volunteering when needed, have become steadily less reliable over the last two years.  It's worth emphasizing that this affects only Marines who volunteered to serve four years of non-active duty in an Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) instead of the regular Reserves.

The head of the Marines' manpower mobilization planning said that President Bush has authorized this "until the GWOT is over with."  Just in case you were wondering.

August 02, 2006


Security Assistance and Reconstruction: Who Is Going to be in Charge?
Posted by Gordon Adams

The U.S. response to the attacks of 9-11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taxed the military and the U.S. foreign policy community in a variety of new ways. In many respects, the existing institutions of government were ill-prepared for these challenges, which has meant a constant process of ad hoc invention throughout the executive branch. If the U.S. is going to continue to do the post-conflict job, after Iraq and Afghanistan, it is going to be increasingly important to figure out who is responsible for it. The answer is not clear today, and the Congress, in its new defense legislation, is hedging its bets.

Continue reading "Security Assistance and Reconstruction: Who Is Going to be in Charge?" »

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