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August 16, 2004
Paranoia and Politics

Allegations of fraud using electronic voting machines in Venezuela. That's just what I mean about those machines. Even if they're entirely honest and never tampered with, they don't allow for transparent vote-counting or recounting and there's no independent way to verify the results. They're just a bad, bad idea.

This is lame. The Democrats and the Republicans get together and agree on how the debates are going to be run. We should all be scared because...because...well, it's hard to say.

Because the country's two major parties are running the debates between their candidates, you see. (No, it's not that no one else could run debates. Of course they can. Provide an audience and some publicity and you're good to go.)

Color me un-paranoid about that one.

I'm too busy being paranoid about systematic efforts to intimidate voters. (If that's what's really happening. Unlike some, I don't automatically equate police activity with harassment...but I'm starting to learn that there are some segments of the population to whom that's pretty much what it means, and that they have good reason to feel that way.)

I also really get aggravated about stories like this. "Out of Spotlight, Bush Overhauls U.S. Regulations" This is the kind of thing that qualifies as "dangerous," in my eyes.

Some leaders of advocacy groups argue that the public preoccupation with war and terrorism has allowed the administration to push through changes that otherwise would have provoked an outcry. Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, says he does not think the administration could have succeeded in rewriting so many environmental rules, for example, if the public's attention had not been focused on national security issues.

Oh, I don't know. There are a lot of people in this country who care very deeply about environmental rules. Maybe it the media was doing a better job of reporting these things as they happen, we'd be hearing some of that outcry?

I'm still pondering that troop withdrawal thing. It may be time we did a certain amount of rearranging of where we have troops stationed and I can see that. And yet, there seems to be less to the story than the headlines make it appear.

The withdrawal is likely to take several years and will not start in the near future, Rumsfeld told reporters on his flight back to the US after a trip to Europe and Asia.

Are we just starting to talk about it early so everyone gets used to the idea? Maybe not.

John McKay says we first floated the idea last year and at that time it was marketed as a punitive move to "punish" the countries that wouldn't join our Coalition of the Willing To Invade Iraq and Kill A Lot Of People Who Aren't Doing Anything To Us.

And yet, I know a lot of diplomatic maneuvering goes on behind the scenes between countries. (Well, it used to. It's hard to say if there's anything that subtle happening under the Bush Administration's watch.)

I look at the troop withdrawal from South Korea, remember the recent spate of fussing over North Korea when we called them evil and (probably) nearly incited their psychotic leader to start WWIII, and I wonder if there isn't quite a lot more to this than we know?

More broadly, what do "the terrorists" want? Maybe more of us should be considering that question?

You can't blame the faltering public education system here. You can't even entirely blame the candidates, who always prefer garish caricatures of the enemy to detailed portraits. But you can blame the press. In the rare cases when al Qaeda's motives are characterized, the U.S. press has been content to portray "the terrorists" as a vague, "shadowy" amalgamation of "jihadis" whose horrific plots are fueled mainly by hatred for American freedoms and by whatever charities and dope pushers the Justice Department has fingered this week. The truth, as usual, is more complex, though the effort needed to explain al Qaeda is surely deserved. By default, Osama bin Laden is a major player in the election, but we know more about P. Diddy's struggle to get out the vote than we know about what drives bin Laden or what his goals are.

That's rather the sort of thing I'm always hoping to read.

Except that I distrust our media so thoroughly that I don't know if I'd believe them if they did try to explain a complicated issue to me. On the other hand there's the internet and access to media from all over the world along with privately written opinions as well, which combination does seem to give people with the time and energy to spend a good, global view of most issues.

(To those interested, I'd like to say that my cold is much better. When my roommate suggested that people who feel unwell can, you know, take medicine, I started getting better within a day. Odd how that sort of things works, isn't it? Medicine. What a concept.)

Posted by AnneZook at 01:38 PM


The machines in Venezuela have a paper trail, by design, it was a requirement before they were purchased. Jimmy Carter verified the result, but they won't left us use the Carter Center in Florida.

The only problem I have with troops repositioning is that it is part of a "plan" created by Rumsfeld. So far, Rumsfeld's plans do seem to have worked as anticipated.

Posted by: Bryan at August 16, 2004 05:59 PM

The last sentence should read: ...Rumsfeld's plans do not seem...

Sorry about that.

Posted by: Bryan at August 16, 2004 06:01 PM

I find the idea of a major troop redeployment interesting just because it's such a huge logistical problem.

I share your concern about the Rumsfeld's consistenly bad record, but after all, he'll be gone after November :) and maybe someone more reliable can make sure it's done correctly.

Posted by: Anne at August 16, 2004 08:52 PM

I happen to know a little about this troop movement.

It's hardly some "election year" politics. It's been in the works even before Bush was elected, but given Clinton was a lame duck by that point and everyone knew Cohen was gone after the election even if Gore won. So, like a lot of major initiatives that have lots of ricebowls that would be broken, there was hardly any incentive to do much on it pre- Jan 01.

When Rumsfeld came in, the intent was seen more as a cost saving device (it was the early intent of DR and Wolfowitz to CUT the Army - good thing those plans did not get implemented). The military force (you can check out demographics at the UnderSecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness homepage) has become more married - and that means larger "family" costs (personnel moves involve more weight, need to have DoD schools, etc.). Additionally, married with children military personnel bring a different set of "issues" such as the spouse wanting a career, some school stability for the kids, etc..and those become drivers for retention, especially among mid-career folks. A lot of assignments to Korea and other overseas places were 1 to 2 year unaccompanied which became harder to find "volunteers" for when your workforce have spouses and kids who don't want dad or mom to leave for "peacetime" assignments overseas..

Now, add on top of that the costs of maintaining facilities and making payments to the host nation (for training damages, etc.), especially in a country (Germany) that has its own military capability and post 91 a lack of immediate threats on its borders.

While it's true that being based forward in some cases is an advantage in projecting power, but that also depends on having the capability to move those forces and have ready/trained forces to move. The concept is instead of having 30K soldiers in units with varying states of readiness (under an individual replacement system), the Army will move the whole 30K back to the US, stand up stabilized units (in one location formed as a cohesive team that stays together for an extended period). At certain intervals when the unit is trained up, it gets rotated to some place (maybe Korea, maybe Eastern Europe, etc) without families to facilities that don't need as much infrastructure and can continue to train while being ready to deploy rapidly on short notice. The benefit for the soldiers is their family can stay in one place in the US for longer periods (5-6 years) and the time away is predictable and shorter (say 6 months every 3 years) - barring an actual contingency.

Part of the problem in getting this done was it required a complete overhaul of the human resource system (not easy, doubly so in a government bureaucracy, triply so in an organization that has a cultural that resists changes). It also had the potential to shake up some ricebowls (break up major organization that could mean loss of general officer positions; the Army had a fixed number of soldiers in Germany so moving them out could mean a reduction in the size - no longer an issue now but was in 00-01). The host nations would lose some income so the towns/cities around major US bases were putting pressure on their leaders to resist. Finally (but the list is much longer), you have to have the space back in the US to accept as well as the resources to move everything (it is a big logistical problem, but you don't have to move all the equipment if you connect the dots right)..

And smack in the middle of all this is the Congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure process that Congress has been putting off (politics!)...there is one scheduled for next year but talk in Congress of delaying..this action puts pressure on Congress to hold a BRAC round because it would look stupid to close a post that DoD is announcing it's moving troops back to from overseas..so Congress probably will be forced to hold a BRAC in 2005 especially since there are now cities/towns in the US that stand to gain income..and it also puts momentum (because they'll start shifting resources and people in the 05 budget) in place to make it hard for Kerry to undo..and we have to pay off the host nation countries while getting the other nations lined up to accept our rotational units...

To cut to the chase, this is long overdue..the simple point is why should we continue basing and resourcing paradigms established to fight the Warsaw Pact when our strategy and security environment has changed significantly?

I find it ironic that Wes Clark is critical of this when he talked about a similiar initiative when he was on active duty as the Pentagon's top strategist..

Posted by: Col Steve at August 17, 2004 01:22 AM

Col. Steve: Two quick comments. First, it would be really nice if the administration presented this as 'long standing policy' rather than 'look at the neat new ideas we have': that's election-year politics.

Second as an historian, is the ricebowl metaphor something that's particular to you, or is it common among other military personnel? And during which of our Asian wars, do you think, did it become a common usage?

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at August 17, 2004 01:52 AM

I hadn't read the press releases that much so if that's how it came out, then I agree with you..I only saw the pundit comments.

The "ricebowl" methaphor is quite common in Pentagon/military speak..I'm unaware of its origin, but it's used to talk about organizational and personal interests and tends to have a negative connotation.

bureaucracies tend to protect their “rice bowls.”

When I was stationed at Schofield, I recall having to remember (and now forgotten) my unit's history in the Boxer Rebellion (oops, the China Relief Expedition)..that would be my guess..but would think you might have a lot better insight.

Posted by: Col Steve at August 17, 2004 01:24 PM

Well, there've been so many Asian wars in the last century; I was thinking Korea or Vietnam, but there's something to be said for China as a possible source.

Maybe it's a Hawaiian thing, though, Asian metaphors being pretty common, and I just haven't run across it in my relatively academic circles yet.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at August 17, 2004 04:18 PM