Comments: Things I Ponder


If we take as the starting point for discussion, an "average life expectancy" of 77.2 year, then what we're talking about is asking people who have no other resources to cut their "golden years" from 10 to 9. And that's the average, which means a substantial number of people will die before age 77.2, which no doubt includes a disproportionate percentage of the poor and disadvantaged.

Anne- recall that when Social Security was developed, life expectancy was shorter and thus so was the retirement age; however, the average age of workers entering the labor force was also younger (around 15) than today. Given the age today (looking at BLS numbers I'd estimate it to be around 20-21), raising the retirement age to reflect greater longevity also ensures balance in the number of years we expect the "average" laborer to work. Perhaps we as a society want a goal to reduce that figure, but raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 to 67 merely keeps pace with the notion we are entering the work force (full time, on average) later as well.

from your link - Recently in Vancouver, former United States Marine Sgt. Jimmy Massey addressed a small crowd and clearly described human rights violations and direct violations of Geneva conventions in Iraq. He talked about how the military taught recruits to hate another culture and did not give them the tools to appreciate or understand adequately those who they were being sent to kill and to liberate.

This is from an article over a year ago:

Soldiers endure lethal training and a crash course in Arab culture at JRTC before tours in Iraq

By Christopher Prawdzik

"Assalamu alaikum" is Arabic for "peace be with you."

If a U.S. soldier must enter a house in Iraq, it's the first thing that should come out of his mouth.

"Once [soldiers] start learning those few words and communicate with [Iraqis] as they walk into the towns, it really helps break that barrier," said Ali Al-Arashi, a cultural adviser at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) here, where many U.S. troops undergo final preparations before deploying to Iraq.

"Greetings are part of breaking the psychological barrier between you as a soldier occupying a country or helping the locals in Iraq."

Breaking that barrier has become critical to U.S. soldiers gaining and maintaining the trust of Iraqis while combating a persistent insurgency in some regions. This is what troops in Iraq have passed on to those training follow-on forces. It's one part of an evolving training manual being taught at places like JRTC.

The comparisons with Vietnam are so problematic - but many folks who simply oppose war, or this war, can't get beyond body counts or very simplistic analysis in wanting to associate OIF with Vietnam in order to pick up the negative baggage that comes along with the label.

When interests of states and non-state actors collide, there will be conflict. Conflict takes many forms and war should be the one of the last measures taken. I think a better comparison is right after World War II and how the US formulated its grand strategy to deal with the Soviet Union. I went back to read Keenan's Long Telegram which became the basis for NSC-68 and compare it to the 2002 US National Security Strategy.

I believe people, like Wall Street analysts looking only a quarterly numbers for companies, tend to get short-sided - are we winning? What does "victory" look like? The movements in Saudi Arabia and Egypt toward some voting reforms (yes, minor but look at how long our own history shows in terms of making progress in the area of civil rights); elections in Palestine; and pressure on Syria finally to begin some withdrawal in Lebanon probably wouldn't have resulted without OIF. The war has not diminished, but increased US influence in the region.

But that aside, in the end, war (application of force) is not sufficient to bring about victory. There is far more to be done in the realms of other components of power - diplomacy, economic, and information.

I like this line from Keenan: We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past. I'm concerned about some aspects such as the detainee situation at GITMO or overreach in terms of domestic liberties that forget we have to achieve victory while retaining our essence as a nation (like your quote from Franklin on your blog).

As Keenan also wrote: Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue… Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow

I think the Administration would do well to update that thought in a 21st century version if we are indeed in a global conflict with extremists.

Posted by Col Steve at March 9, 2005 12:42 AM

Col Steve -

Once again, I'm not ignoring you (or at least only temporarily). I've been thinking about this comment for the last 24 hours and have quite a few thoughts....

Posted by Anne at March 10, 2005 01:28 PM

Social Security

In my view, Col Steve, it isn't good enough to try to keep pace with where we were fifty or sixty years ago. We need to improve things.

That brings up a lot of more complicated issues, I know, around what constitutes "improvement."

Iraq

Honestly? I believe that most soldiers in Iraq are truly committed to making contact, protecting civilians, and truly improving the lives of Iraqis. I really do. But not everyone. And even those who want to do right, need good leadership to point them the right direction when things get crazy and confusing. When I diss the way things are being handled in Iraq, I keep both of those ideas in mind.

The comparisons with Vietnam are so problematic

Such comparisons are problematic, and I know it. I thought for a long time about that link, but in the context I was using it, I think the comparison was valid. A messy war, a strong insurgency, an "alien" environment where anyone and anything could turn against the soldiers, and things like that.

I suppose it's arguable that all wars are like that to some extent...so every war is 'like Vietnam'. As I've said again and again, war brutalizes those who fight it (and others). Which makes it, I think absolutely vital that we not fight a war where our priorities are confused, where the outcome desired is not clear or reasonably achievable, and where the soldiers themselves are not able to distinguish between the right thing to do and the wrong one.

Such confusions allow those bad elements who are inclined to "go bad" to do so, confuse the other soldiers until they can never tell when they might make a misstep, and lead to war crimes. (Maybe my problem is that I can never foreget that there will be a day when these soldiers are home, looking at their mothers and fathers and spouses and children and remembering what they've done....)

All the more reason why solders, if they must fight, are entitled to better leadership at the higher levels than reports make it appear that they're getting.

The movements in Saudi Arabia and Egypt toward some voting reforms (yes, minor but look at how long our own history shows in terms of making progress in the area of civil rights); elections in Palestine; and pressure on Syria finally to begin some withdrawal in Lebanon probably wouldn't have resulted without OIF. The war has not diminished, but increased US influence in the region.

I disagree that our "influence" has increased or, at the least, I think our "influence" is now a matter of the fear we cause. I deeply regret that this is how my country looks to that part of the world - like an entity they must fear, lest we imagine some slight, invade their territory, and kill a hundred thousand or more of their citizens.

In any case, the "seeds" of more democratic governments were planted in the Middle East many years ago and have been germinating ever since. The Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq may or may not prove to advance such movements, but it didn't "cause" it. Democracy isn't a house plant. You can't "bring" it and drop it off that casually. Were the Bush Administration's actions the only "democratic influence" on the Middle East, well...we wouldn't be seeing much action at the moment. And any action we were seeing would be cosmetic, designed to appease us.

I like this line from Keenan: We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past.

Really, very interesting.

I googled "Keenan" but didn't see anyone I thought might be the person you're quoting, and yet, I know I should know who this is.

(My apologies...ten hour days don't leave me much brain.)

Posted by Anne at March 10, 2005 07:06 PM

Anne-

Try this - original text.

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/documents/episode-1/kennan.htm

In any case, the "seeds" of more democratic governments were planted in the Middle East many years ago and have been germinating ever since

I think we disagree about whether US influence is on the rise, but I agree with you on this - I don't think the changes are solely due to recent events. There have been many factors contributing to the decline of secular fascism in the region (although extreme religious ideology still has a hold) - but I'm pretty sure that, not so much the war, but our willingness to remain despite the costs (in life, resources, and opinion) has made a difference and increased our influence. Of course, all Presidents take credit more than they deserve for postive things that happen on their watch and often take the blame (rightly or wrongly) for negative things.

it isn't good enough to try to keep pace with where we were fifty or sixty years ago. We need to improve things.

Well, as I mentioned, we as a society might want as a goal to reduce the overall time the "average" worker is in the labor pool until retirement. However, I don't think it's unreasonable, given advances in life expectancy and quality of life, to ask people who are entering the work force later and later to work a few years beyond the retirement age set 70 (and updated rarely) years ago - especially given the demographics.

I do think in scanning the myriad of "reform" proposals there are common sense methods to keep the positive aspects of Social Security, shore it up, and introduce a method to move more (not all) of the responsibility on individuals without imposing burdensome short-run costs. Unfortunately, I don't see either party playing nice enough to take the best elements of proposals on both sides of the aisle.

I wasn't a big fan of the link in the Vietnam comparison, but agree that even from my own experiences (and Panama, GW 1, Bosnia, and Afghanistan (although I've only been a visitor there), war is ugly and brutal.

But conflict and instability are inherent features in the world. Warfare has been a human response to those conditions throughout history. I think the nature of warfare is fundamentally unchanging - organized force for political or ideological ends, but since war is at heart a human affair, the character of war changes as society, institutions, and technology changes. Even since Vietnam, I would argue for the US military this is quite true.

Yes, there is still the fog of war and the complex rules of engagement we have (due to the changing character) puts a premium on leadership, education, and training. But the article provides one anecdote as representative of the entire conflict - which is far from reality. We have far better trained, educated, and culturally aware leaders and troops than ever - and we're continuing to invest more and more in that (and this is despite a larger societal problem that we don't emphasis language, culture, geography, etc. as much as we should in the education system). We're holding people accountable for incidents we never would have before (yes, there is perhaps more scrutiny, but the US military was investigating AG well before the story broke).

That's not to say that this administration and senior leaders shouldn't be taken to task for failing to understand properly the implications if their planning assumptions were wrong (about the duration of the campaign, response of the people, mix of forces needed) or the necessity to issue faster and clearer guidance on big issues (appropriate interrogation techniques for one) - although speed of decision-making is not a hallmark of this administration. Some of the problems such as a State Department that can not conduct operations such as the CPA (which should have been a state department led organization - they are just getting around now to forming a prototype for the future) or the state of the reserves go back more than a decade across administrations and congress controlled by both parties.

Maybe my problem is that I can never foreget that there will be a day when these soldiers are home, looking at their mothers and fathers and spouses and children and remembering what they've done....)

True..but I'm also very encouraged that there will be a generation of young men and women who are forging a character with their experiences that will make the private and public (government, NGO, non-profits, etc.) sectors better serve the nation and its people.


Posted by Col Steve at March 11, 2005 11:11 AM