Wednesday, July 12, 2017
My father called me at 3:39 this morning with news that my grandfather had passed away. He was a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday. This is a picture I took when I visited last December. His health had been on a long decline for a while, so it's one of those things that I knew was going to happen sooner or later. When I saw the area code of the incoming call, I pretty much guessed what it was about. Among the things that he would often ask me about is when I would get promoted to major. I think he was proud of me.
Friday, July 07, 2017
Three things happened last year that I would not have guessed:
- Donald Trump won the election,
- Army beat Navy, and
- The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
Thursday, July 06, 2017
Oh man, you've got to love news like this. As part of an Independence Day tradition for the past 29 years, National Public Radio has read the full text of the Declaration of Independence on the air. Well, this year, it also did something new: Tweeting it, in 113 consecutive posts. And some folks on the Internet lost their minds, thinking NPR was advocating insurrection and spreading anti-Trump propaganda. The following are Twitter comments from the Boston Globe's article:[Source] "Seriously, this is the dumbest idea I have ever seen on twitter," one user said after NPR had only gotten as far as the Declaration’s dateline. "Literally no one is going to read 5000 tweets about this trash." "So, NPR is calling for revolution. Interesting way to condone the violence while trying to sound "patriotic". Your implications are clear," wrote another. "Propaganda is that all you know how? Try supporting a man who wants to do something about the Injustice in this country," wrote a third. This is particular gem, given that the British were much less sympathetic to the institution of slavery than whites in the American South. For people to protest against the country's founding document some 241 years after it was signed is an amazing irony, but I can understand the reaction. I remember reading the full text of the DoI back in 2008, back when I was in Army Officer Candidate School. To me, it sounded like something the Iraqis would could have written to George W. Bush. Here are a few passages that seemed relevant to me back in 2008:
- "He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within." (Bremer's dissolution of the Iraqi military and state, followed by the establishment of the Provisional Authority)
- "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance." (Green Zone)
- "For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:" (the oil embargo)
- "For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:" and "For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences" (extra-judiciary rendition)
- And my favorite: "He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation," and "For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:" (And yet, Blackwater continued to operate with impunity)
With North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile on the 4th of July, great ideas are being floated on how to deal with them. The president made the situation sound particularly urgent with his comments that "The North Korean regime is causing tremendous problems and is something that has to be dealt with, and probably dealt with rapidly.” Conservative Pat Buchanan discussed the repercussions of a few of these options in his column "An America First Korea Policy." [Source] He rightly identifies that North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear weapon has become more urgent since the end of the Hussein and Qaddafi regimes in Iraq and Libya, respectively. And he understands that there are no "good" options on the matter. Unless we somehow physically stop North Korea, they may soon have a nuclear warhead-tipped ballistic missile that can reach Seattle. With its new president in place, the South Korean strategy is to engage the North, something Buchanan concedes is its sovereign right, given that they would are the ones who would suffer most from any conflict. (It's up to this point that I completely agree with everything Buchanan is saying.) But given the divergence in approaches between the U.S. and South Korea, Buchanan believes we need to break with South Korean and pursue an "America First" approach. It's at this point that Buchanan then goes off the deep end with three points:
- We should dissolve the mutual security treaty with South Korea so that WE get the freedom to decide whether we'll participate in any new Korean war. To him, there's no sense in sticking with an Eisenhower-era agreement. He then uses Lord Salisbury's quote, “The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcass of dead policies,” to justify the shift.
- He recommends that the South pursue its own nuclear deterrent, if it wants to prevent an attack by the North. To him, there's no sense in involving us in any North-South nuclear war. As he puts it, "No vital U.S. interest requires us, in perpetuity, to be willing to go to war to defend South Korea, especially if that war entails the risk of a nuclear attack on U.S. troops or the American homeland."
- He asks the irrelevant question, "If the United States did not have a mutual security pact that obligates us to defend South Korea against a nuclear-armed North, would President Trump be seeking to negotiate such a treaty?"
- As he recognizes in his own article, South Korea is the one pursuing the more dovish policy, not us. The United States is not at risk of getting "dragged into" a nuclear war with North Korea because of the South. I don't know where he gets this idea from.
- As he recognizes in his own article, North Korea is pursuing a nuclear deterrent because of the U.S., not the South. For all its rhetoric against the South, the North has no real beef with the South right now. Its first priority is to protect its existence; as far as I can tell, its second is to get U.S. troops off the peninsula.
- The Lord Salisbury quote goes both ways. Why are we continuing the same toothless denuclearization policies that have failed in the past? Why do we continue to think China holds the real key to the problem? And why do we continue to think only of military solutions as our only possible solutions? Those are the real policy carcasses right there.
- If we're going to play ball with North Korea -- whether to win, lose, or make a deal -- let's first ask ourselves what they want. As Buchanan points out in the first part, our very recent record of invading uncooperative countries means survival is probably number one. And given the whole Korean War legacy thing, reunification of the peninsula would be a long-term, eventual second. But Buchanan's recommendations seem to stem from a belief that North Korea wants Nuclear War For the Hell of It. And that's just plain stupid.
- As Buchanan puts it, "No vital U.S. interest requires us, in perpetuity, to be willing to go to war to defend South Korea, especially if that war entails the risk of a nuclear attack on U.S. troops or the American homeland." That may sound like an "America First" policy, but in really it's just a coward's rationale for running from a problem. If Pat Buchanan can't find a vital interest in dealing with North Korea, then I wonder what he considers a vital interest. Isn't "continuance of the international system that we built and benefit from" decent enough? What about "stable international business ties"? No? Then how about "the continued faith of our allies that we stand together against threats to American values such as freedom, democracy, and human dignity"?
- Well, if you don't care about those things, then how about this vital interest, Pat? --Our right, as a country, TO HOLD A MAN CARD!?! How is it we stood up to the Soviet Union, in the defense of the free world, and in the shadow of mutual nuclear annihilation, for 45 years, but fold in the face of a ruined, Third World country's dictator because he *might* be nuclear capable soon? The notion itself is embarrassing.
- Regardless of the previous point, if Buchanan's solution to the North Korea threat is to abandon South Korea to its fate and pull troops out of the country (there'd be no reason to be there, if not to defend it), then we might as well at least negotiate something for it. After all, we negotiated with North Vietnam to attain a peace before we abandoned South Vietnam, so why not do the same again? If our withdrawal isn't EXACTLY what North Korea wants, we should probably identify that now, because Buchanan seems to want to give them everything they want in exchange for absolutely nothing.
- Buchanan's last point, that we shouldn't bother protecting South Korea now because we wouldn't if we weren't already committed is equally ridiculous. Consider this: a Louisiana resident bought his home, and some time afterward a hurricane struck. The man walked away from his property and defaulted on his mortgage, reasoning that if he wasn't already committed to it, he wouldn't be wanting to buy it now anyway. Does that make any sense? As Buchanan ended his own column, "The question answers itself."
Tuesday, July 04, 2017
The president promised a commission to look into his allegation that there was rampant voter fraud in the 2016 election -- so much that he was denied a victory in the popular vote. To that end, vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity Kris Kobach sent a letter to all 50 states last Wednesday requesting "a bevy of voter data," including "registrants' full names, addresses, dates of birth, political parties, the last four digits of their social security numbers, a list of the elections they voted in since 2006, information on any felony convictions, information on whether they were registered to vote in other states, their military status, and whether they lived overseas." [Source] If that list seems a bit intrusive of the federal government, rest assured that "we're not asking for it if it's not publicly available." Well, that's a relief. But just in case, 44 states are refusing to give certain voter information. In response, the president on July 1st tweeted, "Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?" Well, call it a refusal to hand over personally identifiable information (what the Army likes to call PII), but I'm perfectly OK with that. In fact, I'd be more alarmed if my state *didn't* try to hide my PII. At its core, the president's investigation committee is an effort to interfere with states' electoral processes, but for what end, I'm not sure. As Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe succinctly put it, "At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump's alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression." While I'm not particularly opposed to a federal effort to "tidy up the books" across the nation, I don't think the best way to begin the conversation with is with the president's racially charged suspicion that only the other side is guilty.
Monday, July 03, 2017
Both Stars & Stripes and Army Times recently published stories about an upcoming War College report which concludes that rotating units overseas are more expensive than permanently basing them there. War College professor John Deni's report — titled “Rotational Deployments vs. Forward Stationing” -- examined the cost of unit rotations in Europe and South Korea over several years, finding that the decades-old Department of Defense policy of troop rotations is inefficient, according to Stars and Stripes. I'm glad the issue is being discussed, but to Army logistics officers like me, this comes as no surprise at all. It's only natural that the cost of transporting a unit overseas would be more than simply reassigning personnel to travel there individually. Yet describing individual tours as "more efficient" in terms of government expense completely misses the point. The Army doesn't concern itself with what's efficient. If you wanted an "efficient" Army, you would only have as much Army as is currently necessary to put down revolts, and you'd only enlist people when there's a big war. This is how the U.S. approached things in the 19th Century. However, that's not how standing armies work. Efficiency is a lower priority compared to readiness, redundancy, and "training value." For example, soldiers have to qualify on their weapons once a year, even though most of us never have cause to fire them in combat. You could argue that it's very inefficient, but it's more important to be ready to fight the nation's wars at a moment's notice. Redundancy is also key. At any given point, the Army has many different brigades in varying stages of readiness at any given point. This may be inefficient, but you never know what kind of emergency might come up that would require one brigade to deploy instead of another. Finally, there's "training value" to consider. The Army participates in a number of foreign exercises every year from Europe to Asia. These help build familiarity with U.S. forces, and help maintain a U.S. presence overseas without dropping hundred of millions of dollars into a permanent presence, but they're not very efficient. Because of the reassignment cycle, U.S. soldiers cycle in and out of the participating units almost constantly, limiting the ability of the unit to manage knowledge. But this is immaterial because of the "training value" inherent to simply participating. Money matters aside, rotational units offer a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Rather than rotating soldiers in and out individually, rotational brigades come into the host country completely deployment ready with the full set of skills. And given the way just about everyone stays for entire time, you never have to worry about bringing a "new guy" up to speed. And with the fewer rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan these days, rotational deployments (and exercises like Pacific Pathways) allow the Army to maintain its deployment skills. (This may seem inconsequential, but true power projection is not a universal quality across the world's armies.) On the other hand, rotational units suffer from lower reenlistment rates (no family is allowed to accompany them on the deployment), and they are not as effective in navigating local practices. For example, units in Korea typically have to request clearance before transporting ammunition to firing ranges -- a practice that rotational units must each be reminded if in order to avoid an international incident. The line that struck me most from the Stars & Stripes articles was, "A U.S.-based armored brigade rotating to Europe costs about $1.19 billion compared with $1.05 billion to position that brigade in Germany." On the face of it, that's a mere 13 percent difference, but it makes me question how the terms are defined. Is the $1.19 billion a recurring cost for a single brigade for the typical nine months? And is the $1.05 billion "positioning cost" just a one-time expense? If so, that's a far deeper dimension to the discussion than would initially appear. If it really is just a 13 percent difference, then it's better to focus less on which method of providing front line troops to overseas theaters is more efficient, and look more at the above-mentioned qualitative differences. We logisticians always knew rotational troops would be more expensive; the real question is, "Is it worth it?"
Monday, June 05, 2017
On May 30th, I flew from Honolulu to Seattle as part of my unit's role in Bayonet Focus 16-02. As part of the advance party, my group picked up rental vehicles and drove them to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in preparation for the main body's arrival. In addition, we prepared the equipment for the participating unit to pick up. (I'm not exactly sure what all this stuff does, but the way it was all neatly laid out made me think it was fairly important.) JBLM's a pretty cool location -- within driving distance of a number of interesting places. Mount Rainier, for example, is visible on a clear day. From what I've seen so far, I wouldn't mind being stationed here at some point in the future.