What About Syria? (Part Two)

What a difference 72 hours makes.  In many respects nothing fundamentally changed, but like so many complicated issues, this one got even more complicated.

I doubt anyone, especially Prime Minister David Cameron, expected the British Parliament to vote against action in Syria.  In my view, this was an internal political move rather than a repudiation of the alliance with the United States or an acceptance of the Syrian use of chemical weapons.  They have been, and still are, mad as hell about the United Kingdom’s involvement in Iraq, and the way that it was sold to them, and they”aren’t going to take it anymore.”  I doubt that Thursday’s vote is the final word from the British about their involvement or lack of involvement.  As further information becomes available to them and to the world about what occurred in Syria (and may occur again) it would not surprise me to see them come on board in the end.

I am surprised by President Obama’s statement today (Saturday).  I have not yet had the opportunity to fully digest it.  None-the-less I find it confusing for him to say that the United States is going to take military action against Bashar’s regime — and my interpretation of his words is that we are definitely going to take action — but then seemingly leave it up to a vote by the Congress.  It is all backwards.  If even only for appearances sake, he should make the case for military action, rally Congress for support and an open-ended resolution to use “all necessary means” and then announce a strike or other military action.  And oh by the way, he has now given the appearance of providing Congress veto power over his already announced decision to take military action.

While I understand that there is not necessarily a definitive timeline to act, the traditional statement that works best in these circumstances is something along the lines of the United States “will take action at a time and place of our choosing.”  President Obama left me with the impression that “we’ll get around to it.”  To me, if the case is as compelling as it increasingly appears to be, and ten days have already elapsed, then I don’t see why he is waiting for Congress to return to Washington at the regularly scheduled time (9 September) to get going on this.  Call them back to Washington now and get on with it.

Of course I may be reading more into this than is there.  Perhaps consultations will be sufficient and he won’t wait until they return to Washington to have a debate and a vote on the issue.  Additionally, waiting another ten days (or more) may have the side benefit of giving the Administration time to continue to build its case for action and to bring more international support to the equation.  So, maybe there is some method to the madness, but I still wonder if the President is getting very good advice on how to put this all together for the country’s consideration.

On top of all that, as was demonstrated in the United Kingdom, there remains a very deep distrust of “evidence” of WMD and its persuasiveness for taking action.  Personally, I do not see this as being the same — either in scale or in terms of what has happened — as the events in Iraq leading to Gulf War II under President George W. Bush.  I think that by invading Iraq we took our eye off the ball (Afghanistan) and went after Saddam because that Administration thought they saw an opportunity to get rid of him “easily.”  Nothing in warfare is as easy as it looks.  Regardless, those events, and the justification for going to war in that case, have poisoned the well this time around.  No one wants to get fooled again.  However, I believe that this time around what we see is what we get — Bashar’s regime used chemical weapons, probably Sarin gas, against its own population and killed approximately 1400 people.  He may well do it again.

As I noted in my previous post on 28 August, I still do not have a clear idea of what the President intends to accomplish with a military strike.  I support a strike.  Like it or not future deterrence depends on demonstrating a willingness and capability to act as we say we will act.  I am not a war monger.  I have serious reservations about any military action and very great concerns about what will come of this particular action.  Once underway, there is always the chance for things to go awry.  But in this case I believe it is important to do something that demonstrably holds Syrian leaders accountable, I just do not yet understand what the President has in mind that accomplishes that goal.

Many current and former military leaders are expressing serious concerns over the use of force in Syria.  Primarily, this is because there is still no full explanation of what we want to accomplish and, as I’ve said before, what is it exactly that we want to see as a result of the military action.  In my view, we probably cannot do much more than degrade the WMD capability of Syria and also send a message to those responsible that their personal well-being is in danger if it happens again.  I think the critics fear both what happens if we take “too much” action and equally fear what happens if we take “too little” action.  As with Goldilocks, we need to get his one “just right.”

So far the President has said that Bashar crossed a red line and that we therefore need to do something about it.  That is a political statement that does not translate to military action.  The arm-chair strategists are nervous because they don’t know what is that the President wants — “what do you want us to do?”  I say this only a bit  facetiously, but let me  give you an example.

In the lead up to Gulf War I, President George H. W. Bush said following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that “this will not stand.”  Got it.  As military planners, it was necessary to take that statement and put it into concrete terms that the forces that had to go out and do something could understand and work towards.  In this case it would “not stand” because the goal was to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait and restore the legitimate government (the one that existed before the invasion) of Kuwait.  It was not to over throw Saddam or occupy Iraq or bring democracy to Iraq or a number of other unrelated actions.  It was a clear and precise formula for what needed to be done and everyone could clearly understand what things would look like when it was over.

It is easy to pick targets and talk weapon systems and the like.  Some people consider it fun and others make a lot of money talking about it on TV.  That stuff is relatively easy for those in the know but it has no relevancy to the bigger picture.  What is important is the mission and the end state.  Figure that out and the tacticians and military commanders on the scene know what targets to hit with what weapons.  Let the professionals do their job.   But to do it well, they need to know what we want it to look like in the end.

It does not appear to me that the hard stuff has yet been addressed.  I hope I am wrong, but we are still waiting to hear what the end state should be.  How do we know when we are finished?

I am also sure that Congress, which apparently cannot take anything seriously during its five week vacation that takes precedence over the well-being of the country, will make it even muddier.

Let’s get on with it.

What About Syria?

Even a casual look at the news over the last few days reveals that the United States is about to undertake a military action against the Syrian regime in response to the Syrian’s near certain use of chemical weapons against its own population.

The opinion pieces and talking heads on TV, many of whom are former military officers or Defense Department civilian leaders, are full of cautions about embarking upon a military action without fulling understanding what the results might be.  They are right to be cautious.  Unfortunately, the United States is in a no-win situation.  We cannot draw a clear “red line” that we would respond harshly should Bashar Al-Assad or his regime order the use of chemical weapons, or as they are commonly called, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and not do so.  In order to credibly issue other such warnings in the future we must take action now.  Deterrence is totally dependent on the credibility of a nation’s stated reaction to the act to be deterred.  Every so often, nations need to act in order to show that their threatened response has credibility — that they actually can and will do what they say.  On the other hand, there is no desire for a long-term United States military involvement there, yet the situation is going to become a significant long-term problem for the United States should we act.

I am guessing that the Obama Administration drew the red line over Syrian use of WMD to show that they were concerned with developments in that country and that we would not ignore what happens there.  By taking a moral stand we could demonstrate that we actually cared what happens there.  I do not think that the Obama Administration believed that Bashar would actually use them.  After all, large-scale use of chemical weapons has not been done since the end of World War I.  When nearly the entire world agrees that such use is beyond the realm of warfare, we need to take action.  The question then becomes, what kind of action and how does it end?

The two most similar situations from the not too distant past are Operation Desert Fox against Iraq in December 1998 and the NATO involvement in Kosovo which began in March 1999.  Both are instructive for what did and did not happen.  In 1998, the United States and the United Kingdom began four days of Tomahawk missile strikes and bombing attacks from naval and air forces.  The action was in response to Saddam’s refusal to comply with United Nations resolutions concerning WMD in Iraq.  The Kosovo action was also a combination of NATO missile and air attacks to stop atrocities being carried out by Yugoslav troops against Kosovo civilians and fighters.  After over three months of the air operation, the Yugoslavs agreed to withdraw and to allow NATO troops under United Nations auspices to enter the country as peacekeepers.

There are elements in both operations that reflect the current situation.  In Iraq we thought we were dealing with WMD.  In Kosovo we were dealing with mass killings and atrocities against civilians.  Both exist in the current Syrian situation, but the context is totally different.

Operation Desert Fox was never intended to be an extended operation.  The stated intent was to degrade Iraq’s ability to produce and use WMD.  The United States never set out to totally eliminate any and all stockpiles or production facilities.

The air operation in Kosovo was intended to be of a similar nature — a short duration operation to convince Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw.  He and his cohorts turned out to be much tougher than expected as it took him over three months to get the message.  Most analysts feel that the air operation would have continued indefinitely if the threat of placing NATO forces on the ground in Kosovo had not been made.  British Prime Minister Tony Blair was at the forefront of publicly pushing for a ground operation and Milosevic finally caught on that he could not last forever.

In Syria we have a totally different situation.  In 1998 Saddam was not using WMD against his own population like Bashar is now doing.  In Kosovo Milosevic was in essence leading an external force into Kosovo and it was possible to withdraw to allow for peacekeepers to enter.  There are no external forces to withdraw from Syria — they are caught in a civil war.  No credible leader is pushing for putting troops into that country.  So what happens now in Syria?

Every military planner knows that no military action should go forward without a clear understanding of the mission.  A mission statement must clearly answer the “who, what, where and when” questions of the action.  However, most importantly, it also answers the “why” and provides the desired end state.  We are going to go in and blow things up and kill people — so why do that and what should it look like when we are finished?   The crafting of the mission is crucial to success but not easily accomplished.  Everything else stems from this including the analysis of alternative courses of action.  It’s impossible to know what to do if you don’t know why you are doing it.  We should expect the President to articulate this for the nation just prior to or coincident with the beginning of hostilities.  There are signs this may happen soon.

When choosing a course of action one must ask several questions relating to the mission.   Is it suitable (does it accomplish the goal)?  Is it feasible (are the resources available sufficient)? Is it acceptable (is the level of risk involved worth the payoff)?  Is it consistent (is it in keeping with our core values and objectives)?  We need to know that all aspects of the situation have been thoroughly reviewed.

Finally, planners must have alternative courses of action ready to go — a “Plan B” if you will.  Nothing is certain in life and it is even less certain in warfare.  Planners can project what will happen but cannot be certain that the opponent will react as expected.  They must have alternatives ready to go and have thoroughly thought through the “next step” or the mission will not be accomplished.

So what will do in Syria?  Perhaps a more important question is what should we do in Syria?  My honest answer is “I don’t know.”  Unfortunately, that is not an acceptable answer.

My guess is that the mission will be similar to Operation Desert Fox in 1998 against Iraq.  The goal will be to degrade the ability of the Syrian forces to use chemical weapons again in the future.  They will not be able to prevent future use, they will only be able to make it harder for them to do so and also to make it “personal.”  We will not threaten to put troops into Syria as was done in Kosovo because that is a step too far for both the will of the nation and our national interests.  Therefore the plan will not be  for a long-term campaign, but rather a limited action with limited objectives.  In other words, to send a message that certain actions in Syria are unacceptable (and perhaps just as importantly, send a message to other bad actors in the world that we will act as promised if they cross the line).  Whether or not Bashar gets the message is a different question and we may let loose the dogs of war without really knowing what will happen in the end.  An unsettling situation to say the least.

Here is the rough outline of what I think will happen.  There will be a limited air operation involving Tomahawk missiles and aircraft from the United States, United Kingdom and some other token NATO involvement including some Turkish and French forces.  All of the media attention is on the ships and submarines in the Mediterranean but there will be larger air forces launched from Cyprus and Incirlik Turkey among other places.  I would expect token involvement from Arab states — probably a few aircraft from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The planners will expect the operation to last 3-5 days and then they will  re-group to assess whether their goals were met.  The operation will begin at night, perhaps as early as this Friday night — a weekend night in the Arab world — in the hopes of tactical surprise and also limiting civilian casualties.  The exact timing may depend on whether or not the United Nations observers currently in country are gone.  They will not hit the chemical weapons storage sites.  They will try to take out the means of delivering those weapons such as launchers and command and control sites.  They will not target Bashar or his family but it is likely that they will target key military commanders that oversaw the use of the weapons.  I am sure that we have fairly good intelligence as to who those people are at the senior tactical levels of command and we will send a “this one’s for you” type message that things will get very bad for any other military leaders that decide to use such weapons.

Just as in the previously discussed operations, Russia will voice its objections in the strongest possible terms, perhaps even threatening some kind of retaliation.  Just as in those previous operations, in the end they will be unable to influence the events or prevent them from happening.

There are some serious unknowns to me that I hope the planners and decision makers have a handle on.  Foremost among those is whether or not Bashar thinks that his end is near and that he has nothing to lose — thus ordering ever more extensive use of the chemical weapons.  This is where the success of the initial strikes will be critical in eliminating the means to deliver those weapons and whether the message gets through to subordinate commanders that their own health and well-being is in jeopardy from us if they follow those orders.  Word of further defections by senior leaders in the regime will be a good measure of effectiveness as to whether the “message” hit home.

In the end, the United States and western powers must do something or our future credibility in such matters is seriously undermined.  A quick, short duration attack focused on disrupting the Syrian military’s use of WMD in the future seems to be the best short-term approach.  Only after that will we know what the future holds for Syria.

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Not all new ideas are good ideas.

Some new ideas, of course, are good ideas, and some we don’t know whether or not they work until they are tried, but there are also definitely bad ideas that get implemented and then never go away.  I am sure that Pandora thought it was a good idea to open that box, and then it was too late.

I am not entirely sure which category the addition of ethanol to gasoline (commonly called gasohol) falls into, but I think it is probably in the “nice try, but no” category.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it is not clear to me that the technology to produce it is as efficient as once believed.  To meet the demand for the amounts of ethanol required produces negative impacts such as less corn for food and animal feed and the conversion of farm land now growing other crops into corn.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 implemented the requirement to mix ethanol into gasoline produced in the United States.  This was further expanded through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  What was once a voluntary program became a mandatory one.  The 2007 Act created subsidies for producing ethanol and banned the importation of ethanol from outside the US.  Two groups that are very happy with this new windfall are the large agribusiness companies and the lobbyists that pushed to have the law enacted.  As a result, it is a matter of faith for members of Congress from the farm states that this is a crucial element to our national security.   This notion is re-enforced every few years by candidates for President that have to make their way through the Iowa caucuses.

To meet the sudden demand for ethanol, corn was the easiest and most logical source.  Ethanol is alcohol, something well-known for a very long time by those using corn in their stills to make a little “home-brew”.  When mixed with gasoline it can provide an alternative fuel that reduces US consumption of oil.  Currently, most gasoline sold in the US is 10% ethanol although in some areas it can be as high as 15%.   (There are a few remaining sources of pure gasoline, but they are few and far between.)  Many new vehicles can use “flex fuel” or a blend of up to 85% ethanol (E85) resulting in more demand for the product.

The original idea was a good one — the search for alternative fuels to lessen American dependence on oil, especially oil from politically unreliable sources.  In fact, ethanol can be made from a variety of other plants (the next two most used sources are sugar cane and sorghum), but so far alternative bio-mass sources do not provide the same yield, which is part of the problem.  With the establishment of corn as the primary source and a near monopoly, there is less incentive for research and development for alternative sources.  Although touted as a renewable energy source, it is doubtful that large-scale use of bio-mass fuel is currently economically feasible.  Some day — but not yet.  For the long haul, there needs to be much more diversity if we are serious about developing large quantities of fuel from plants.  As new sources of oil, and especially natural gas, are discovered in the US, there is even less incentive to develop alternatives.  Yet ethanol from corn continues to be subsidized.

Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to the use of gasohol and sourcing it primarily from corn.  However, the benefits expected are so far turning out to be much less than they were originally thought to be.

The positive impact of burning gasohol rather than pure gasoline may be over-stated when taking into account its production and delivery costs.  For example, ethanol is hygroscopic (absorbs water) which cannot be totally eliminated.  Therefore it cannot be transported long distances via pipelines (goes by truck) and causes corrosion and water slugs in fuel lines of engines not operated often (such as boat motors, lawn mowers and other small engines).  One must also take into account the farm equipment, fertilizers, trucks, production plants and other sources using energy to grow and harvest the corn and then to  generate ethanol.

Vehicles get less gas mileage with ethanol.  In most cases it is about a 3-4% reduction in a 10% ethanol/gasoline mix and up to 30% with E85.  This means we are filling our tank more often, costing more in a tight economy.

With the advent of the mandates to supply ethanol in our gas supply, and the subsequent decreased availability for food and feed, the price of a bushel of corn has increased significantly.  This increases the cost of everything from Frosted Flakes to beef.

The original idea was a good one and it was a noble and valid experiment.  Now, however, it appears to have become a cash cow for agribusiness and those that support it.  Most small farmers, of which there are actually very few left,  do not much benefit because they cannot produce the mass quantities required.

The basic idea of using bio-mass as an alternative renewable fuel source continues to have great promise but it is not yet really commercially feasible.  To be a truly effective alternative fuel source, which we will need in the years ahead despite our currently expanding fossil fuel sources, more research and development is needed.

In the meantime, remove the subsidies for the production of ethanol and the requirement that 10% or more of our gasoline must be made of ethanol.  The industry will catch up and we’ll have a more sustainable path to the future.

I’m Sorry, But….

On the front page of today’s Washington Post (print edition), there is an article on Army PFC Bradley Manning, who was just convicted of releasing hundreds of thousands of classified documents damaging to the United States, revealing that he suffers from gender dysphoria.  In other words, he wishes to live the rest of his life as a woman and is concerned that he may not get the desired treatment in the jail at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Right next to the article on the front page is a picture of an honor guard carrying the remains of Army Master Sergeant George Bannar Jr. upon their arrival at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.  Master Sergeant Bannar was killed during his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Whether or not PFC Manning is sincere in his desire to become a woman, I cannot say.  It may well be the case.

However, I do know this.  There is no moral equivalency between the alleged suffering that PFC Manning or his family may be going through and that of Master Sergeant Bannar’s family.

I’m sorry, but I hope that we do not hear anything more about PFC Manning.

Looking For The Greater Good

I really enjoy sports.   Every four years, or more accurately since 1994 every two years, I enjoy the Olympics.  Although the Summer Olympics are my favorite, there are many winter sports for which I have a high level of interest in the competition and I marvel at the determination of the athletes to press on through demanding conditions and tough competition.  I just have to watch.

The next Winter Olympic games will begin on 6 February 2014 in Sochi, Russia, a city of approximately 400,000 people on the Black Sea.  From the original announcement of the city’s selection as the host, controversy has surrounded the decision to have the games at that location.  In the beginning, there was significant skepticism that the appropriate infrastructure could be built to support the needs of the athletes, fans, media and countless others descending on the city for the games.  Of course, there was also a small matter of sufficiently winter-like conditions necessary to hold outdoor competitions such as the skiing and sliding events.  To many people’s satisfaction, these obstacles seem to have been overcome, although no one will know for certain until the games actually begin.

Recently, the Sochi Games have become the focus of political protest with significant pressure for the United States (and other countries) to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Some of the calls for boycotting these games in Russia come from concerns about the lack of Russian willingness to cooperate with the United States in curtailing the fighting in Syria (Russia is a main supplier of arms to the regime of Bashar-al-Assad), Iran (no help from Russia in curtailing their nuclear ambitions) and other trouble spots around the world.  More recently, President Putin’s decision to allow Edward Snowden, the individual that secretly stole highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA), to stay in Russia was clearly done to embarrass the United States.  However, the most pressure for a boycott is the result of a June 2013 law passed by the Russian Parliament and signed into law by Putin that makes it illegal to “promote” homosexuality to minors (whatever that means, and that’s part of the problem as it is not at all clear how the Russian authorities will enforce that law).  The Russians have provided mixed signals as to what the new law could mean to non-Russians traveling to/from/and in Sochi and the possible arrest or deportation of those expressing disagreement with the Russian law.  Understanding that the Olympics are non-political, the reality is that the games are often used to gain attention for a cause or to protest injustice — usually in subtle ways, but it still occurs.

Unfortunately, the anti-gay law is not a hold-over from the litany of restrictive legislation passed under the Soviet regimes.  It was just passed and approved this summer.  It does, however, reflect a long-standing Russian bias against gays and lesbians and a general lack of concern by the government over human rights in that country.  Even a cursory review of events in Russia over the last few years reveals a troubling pattern of abuse of its own citizens in a variety of ways.

Which brings us back around to calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics to protest Russian human rights abuses and specifically, their strident anti-gay laws.

To this writer, a boycott would be wrong.  The United States, and other western nations under pressure to boycott the games, should participate to the fullest.  Many commentators have likened the current situation to the 1980 boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow by the United States and a few other countries.  That protest was in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.  The boycott did not change anything other than to crush the hopes and dreams of the US Olympians that had trained for years for this one opportunity and did not get to compete.

Am I saying that sports are more important than human rights, national security or other serious problems in the world?  No.  I just think that more can be accomplished by participating and sharing our way of life and respect for every individual than can be accomplished by staying home.

Other controversial venues for the Olympics were Beijing in 2008 and Berlin in 1936.  It was hoped that the need for Chinese authorities to clean up their own act regarding human rights in China while the world beat a path to their door would have a lasting impact.  The 1936 Olympics demonstrated the myth of the Aryan race as a master race embodied by the Nazi Party.  Most famously, Jesse Owens showed that Hitler’s propaganda was false.

There is a larger question that is continually debated in our national security circles as it regards various states around the world.  Is it better to isolate a nation or to engage it in order to change or shape their policies and actions?  While no single answer ever solved a foreign policy challenge, in general, engagement is superior to isolation.  I think that as the old saying goes, “it’s hard to keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen the lights of the big city.”  Exposure to our way of life, values and the benefits that accrue from them is the best way to combat human rights abuses.  This is especially true where everyday American youth — our athletes — can interact with their counterparts and not incidentally circumvent the propaganda machines and an inhibited Russian  press.

Whether we go to the Olympics or not, there may be no short or medium term change in Russian policy or the outlook of the Russian people on homosexuality.  But it is still worth the effort.  This past Sunday the 2013 World Championship in Track and Field was completed in Moscow.  During that competition there were several subtle, but unmistakable, protests of the Russian stance on homosexuality.  People got the message.

I agree with the many people who support our participating ranging from President Obama to former Olympic champion Greg Louganis.  The greater good will be served through our athletes’ presence in Sochi.  The best way to debunk the myths and stereotypes is to demonstrate how false such beliefs actually are — and that can only be done in person and through our actions.

Go to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Political Decisions Have Real Impacts

Whether or not one believes that the sequestration is good for the country, I suspect that many people don’t get much past the political arguments to see that it has real impacts.

One area that is feeling the full force of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that brought us the current budget sequestration, or across the board spending cuts, is the United States Armed Forces.  This was brought home once again this week with the announcement that the USS Miami (SSN-775), a nuclear attack submarine, will be scrapped rather than repaired following an arson fire while in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery Maine.  The reason given for this decision is, basically, the fact that there just is not enough money in the Navy’s budget to make the repairs.  More accurately, if they spent the money to fix it, there would be insufficient funds available to do needed repairs to a significant number of other ships, many of which have already had their planned maintenance deferred past the normal limits because of the shortage of funds.

Additional damage to the military’s ability to adequately meet its mission requirements is exacerbated by a less understood budget trick used by Congress in many instances over the past few years.  Since the Congress cannot agree on Authorization and Appropriations Bills (a budget) in a timely manner, or perhaps not at all in some cases, they pass continuing resolutions that keep spending levels at, or below, those of previous years.  Additionally, the bills normally include very specific limitations and specified uses for the money that is appropriated.  In other words, critics that say the military should know how to manage its finances better do not seem to take into account that Congress severely limits the leadership in the Pentagon (and other federal agencies for that matter) in their ability to move money from one area to another as needed.  They cannot manage their money because in many cases, they are not allowed to do so.

Only when the pain to the individual representatives in our national legislature becomes too much, as happened in April 2013 when reduced manning in air traffic control towers was cut back, will Congress act.  In this case they passed the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 that allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to move funds within the department to eliminate traffic controller furloughs, thus saving themselves from flight delays when trying to leave Washington’s National Airport.  Recently, in some individual cases within the Department of Defense, Congress allowed exceptions to the “no exceptions” legislation, such as allowing the US Air Force to move some funds to begin training aircraft squadrons that would otherwise have been grounded indefinitely.

Outside of the issues that get the most headlines (civilian employee furloughs, cancelled fly-overs at football games) there is an insidious side to the combined impact of sequestration and continuing resolutions.  In addition to the leadership having no idea what their budget numbers may be, and therefore they are unable to enact any kind of meaningful long-range plan, there is also a direct bearing on the men and women in the ranks with a resultant negative impact on morale and motivation.

Traditions “to do more with less” not-with-standing, there is only so much that can be done without the proper support to get it done.  Under the current conditions the military’s leaders are focused on training and equipping those units on the front lines.  But since there are insufficient funds to adequately support the military our nation says it wants, the result is those that have returned from their deployments do not get the same level of training and support.  Put another way, if I work on a ship’s radar — and am a certified expert that takes pride and satisfaction in my work — what is the organization telling me when it says I need to wait six months to get the repair part needed to get my equipment in top operating condition?  Is it saying I’m not important?  My equipment is not important?  My unit is not important?  What happens when there is a contingency and we are told to set sail and I know that my equipment — the piece of the ship that is my responsibility — is not in top operating condition?

On top of that, training exercises are being cut back or eliminated.  What our military men and women can do better than any military in the world comes from practice, practice, and more practice.  When key training is cut, it takes twice as long to regain that skill.  Tanks, airplanes, ships, and other high-tech gear does not operate itself.  People operate the gear, and without the right training the most technologically equipped military cannot use it to its full ability — not to mention that under even benign circumstances, the military is a dangerous profession.  Without consistent use and improvement of aviation, ship-driving and other skills, basic evolutions become ever more dangerous and people are killed or injured needlessly.

With two wars putting incredible stress on our citizens in uniform and their families, why do we want to create a false sense of crisis that only puts more stress and additional unknown problems on top of those that already exist in an inherently dangerous profession?

The budget “crisis” is a false crisis that some in Congress created and use for their own personal political ends.  Patriots?  I think not.  If the mess doesn’t get straightened out soon — and the odds for that are low given that our legislators went home for five weeks without a budget in sight — the impact will create other USS Miami situations and do what our enemies could not — knock powerful units of our Armed Forces out of the battle.

Why Don’t They Print That?

Technology is a good thing — mostly — even if  I don’t always use it.  Remember, I’m still lost in the 90’s.  It seems to me that email may be becoming passé with the advent of texting, Facebook and Twitter.  That’s too bad in some respects.  Although I was not always a big fan of email, it served a purpose of getting information to one or more individuals quickly, precisely and without having to track each one down.  Of course email still serves that purpose, but one thing that it was used for quite a lot has, in my experience, gone away.  Thank goodness.

What I almost never experience anymore is the unsolicited emails from acquaintances that mindlessly pass on “facts,” usually of a political nature, that make no sense or are demonstrably false.  It was so easy to fact check the information through a number of independent, apolitical web sites such as “Snopes” or “Factcheck.org” or others, but apparently vast numbers of people never did (still don’t) bother to do that.  I’m not sure if that’s because they are too lazy, don’t think of it, or because it reinforces some pre-conceived idea or viewpoint.  At any rate, I don’t see much of it anymore, especially because I am not on Facebook or Twitter.  A member of my household is, and she gets plenty of that stuff now from “friends” on Facebook.  I’m sorry that Facebook is now inundated with that mindless stuff, but I’m glad it doesn’t come over the email anymore.

Still, the accuracy of the information has not improved.  I also suspect that if folks checked out the source of the information that they “like” they would be surprised.  It’s a whole lot easier to just click on a button without thinking because the picture is “pretty” or “patriotic” or “cute”  than it is to actually find out where it is originally sourced and more importantly, the organizations that are supported by those “likes.”   Many are down right scary.

In the old email days, much of the junk I would receive would be prefaced with words to the effect that “you won’t see this in the media” or “why don’t they print this” or similar types of refrains.  Usually such complaints have something to do with a positive story about the military, or some other related (although often incorrect) perceived slight to our nation and those that serve.  I was and am baffled as I try to understand what they are complaining about because as a 28 year veteran of the naval service, I am acutely attuned and often seek out articles and national news reports about the military and surrounding policies and am absolutely convinced the stories are there.  Many are positive in nature, or as they used to be called, “human nature” pieces or feel-good pieces.  There are, of course, plenty of hard news stories covering events and policies surrounding the military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the complaints seem to be focused on the fact that there are never any positive stories or reports of the many contributions that military families make to their communities and the like.  I read different newspapers and watch different news stations so that I get different points of view on subjects and sometimes a story is reported in one that does not appear in others, but the stories are there. So I thought that we must be reading different newspapers and watching different television news stations because there are plenty of those kinds of stories out there.  And then it dawned on me, that is exactly what is happening.  They aren’t reading the same newspapers or watching the same news stations that I am, so no wonder they don’t know about them. 

I’ll resist the easy conclusion that people just don’t do much anymore other than get their news from a social media source, although I suspect for some that is probably the case.  I’ll even ignore the likelihood that they don’t read or watch stories that do not confirm their pre-conceived notion of the facts.  Rather, I think it has as much to do with the nature of the traditional media, especially newspapers, as it does with their willingness to look for the information.

When I hear someone say that they “never” see any of these types of stories in their local press, they may be right.  I had the good fortune to take a five-week trip by car from the east coast to the west and back again.  A great trip and a great experience, but that story is for another day.  What I noticed during our travels is that most newspapers from the cities we stopped in and visited are very thin with a lot of local news (nothing wrong with that) and very little national or international news and even less on the types of stories that run regularly in the “name” papers such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and a few others.  Not every big city has a big time newspaper and it becomes increasingly less likely that they are going to give the in-depth reporting of the breadth that papers of record are going to provide.  Unfortunately, those papers are suffering financially and I rue the day that they cease to publish, or worse, in my view, change their editorial policies to become more pop oriented with a primary focus to make money.  In the last few days the venerable Boston Globe and Washington Post  have been sold, for example.  The new owners vow to keep the papers the same and to retain key writers, editors and most importantly, to keep their editorial integrity.  I hope they do.

For those that claim they don’t listen to the “lame stream media” because they are all in collusion and only trust Fox News, I will merely point out that Fox News is part of the largest media conglomerate — In. The. World.  Incidentally, Rupert Murdoch also owns The Wall Street  Journal, so I’m not sure why one is lame and the other is not, to cite only two examples of his world-wide empire. 

The fact remains for the moment, however, that if you get your main source of news from Facebook, Twitter or other social media sources, you just plain are not going to get it all and certainly not in the depth required to understand and assimilate the implications of what you are reading.  Unfortunately, more and more news organizations in our country are going in the same direction.  If an electorate educated on the issues and able to understand the nuances and consequences of our national polices is the best kind of electorate, I’m not sure where we are headed if we only get 140 characters to understand it.