Ukraine crisis reveals need to push ahead with military downsizing

James_Carroll.jpg (3105 bytes)James Carroll
The Boston Globe, March 10, 2014

Barely two weeks ago, the United States seemed on the verge of a historic shift. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent the first signal: “Pentagon plans to shrink Army to pre-World War II level,” a New York Times headline in late February read. Hagel’s announcement included a potent symbol of the change: the complete elimination of the Air Force’s prized A-10 attack aircraft, which was developed — tellingly — in the 1970s to counter a Soviet ground assault against western Europe. Nearly a quarter-century after the USSR collapsed, the Cold War thaw would finally reach the Pentagon.

The defense budget that President Obama sent to Congress last week was to send a second signal of transformation. The proposed figure of $496 billion for defense is gargantuan, but still represents a massive drop from the more than $600 billion appropriated in 2013. War costs account for a chunk of that decrease, but Hagel acknowledged a new era in which “America’s dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted.” More to the point, the budget plan begins to recognize that there are significant constraints, both moral and practical, on the use of American military power. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, “America must move off a permanent war footing.”

 Whether Congress will go along now is anyone’s guess. Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula has stiffened resistance among Republican hawks. “What kind of message are we sending,” asked John McCain, “when we’re slashing our military?” Yet this crisis won’t be resolved by American military force, and it can’t be; as Vladimir Putin well knows, the United States isn’t about to go to war with a nuclear-armed Russia over this predominantly Russian-speaking area of Ukraine. Nevertheless, the episode has ignited in Washington an all too familiar reaction of bluster and threat. But war?

 Politically, no president wants to be seen as retreating from the high military purpose that, for two generations, has structured the economy of the United States as well as its identity. Yet, in the mundane business of postwar reorganization after Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as of reckoning with fiscal constraints imposed by Congress, Obama had been quietly doing just that before the Ukraine crisis. His budget does not trumpet any surrender of military ambition, but a profound shift is nevertheless embedded in those numbers.

Gone from the administration’s new budget is any illusion that America can simultaneously fight two wars in different regions of the globe — the end of a proud boast that epitomized the post-9/11 hypermobilization. That ambition, of course, went sorely unfulfilled in the two adjacent wars that actually presented themselves.

Despite the taboo against acknowledging any limits to America’s military capacity, such limits are real — even for justified humanitarian intervention, especially when the U.S. acts alone. Its military exists only to defend the security of the nation, and violent projection of power can be justified only by imminent threat. Preventive war, that is, no longer forms part of American martial doctrine. The lesson of the Iraq and Afghanistan misadventures is that coercion of other peoples, short of wholesale destruction, does not succeed. And wholesale destruction is immoral.

Obama cannot describe his adjustments as strategic retreat, especially now, with Republicans ready to pounce. But here is the irony: the dangerous situation in Ukraine proves the wisdom of the basic course Obama has set. No one, not even gun-happy McCain or other war-party honchos, wants a military response to Russia’s action. The irrelevance of the Pentagon’s Cold War calibrations — like the U.S. nuclear arsenal itself — has never been clearer.

The time has come for a new American grand strategy. If it were fully articulated, as opposed to merely implied in budget numbers, it would begin by acknowledging that the United States no longer claims unipolar supremacy and understands itself as part of a multilateral order. It is fully committed to international norms of self-defense, the very norms it now accuses Russia of violating.

The Washington-led global response to Moscow — firm diplomacy and economic pressure — makes the point better than any speech about a new global order. Despite current strains, a possible future is opening even now: War does not work. The world is learning that, including the United States. For political reasons, the president must take the turn toward that future without fanfare. Yet the turn is being made.

James Carroll is Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University in Boston, author of ten novels and seven works of non-fiction, and a columnist for the Globe. His op-ed was reprinted in PeaceMeal, March/April 2014.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Sexism part of military academy culture, report says

Students at the U.S. military academies often believe they have to put up with sexist and offensive behavior, according to a Pentagon report released January 10, reflecting a culture of disrespect that permeates the schools and their sports teams and fuels reports of sexual harassment and assaults. The report notes that alcohol is often a factor in sexual assaults and urges military leaders to do more to restrict liquor sales and drinking.

The issue of sexual assaults, from unwanted sexual contact to rape, has gripped the military in the last year after a series of high-profile cases involving academy students up to generals. The annual report on sexual assaults at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., points to scandals involving sports teams at all three academies during the last school year as examples of the problems.

Defense officials said students view crude behavior and harassment as an almost accepted experience at the academies and that victims feel peer pressure not to report incidents. Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, director of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention program, said the Pentagon is telling academy leaders that they have to find ways to address the problems of retaliation and get more victims to come forward.

Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., the superintendent at West Point, said the challenge is finding ways to train and encourage cadets to have the moral courage to stand up and report such conduct when they see it. “This is all about leadership,” Caslen said. “Every one of these men and women are going to be in charge of organizations that are mixed gender, and they’re going to be responsible for the command climate of their organization.”

– edited from The Associated Press, January 11, 2014
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2014

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Air Force’s sex-abuse prevention honcho charged with sexual battery
Sexual assault a growing epidemic in U.S. military

The Air Force officer in charge of its sexual-assault prevention program, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, 41, was arrested for groping a woman in a parking lot in Arlington, Va., just after midnight Sunday, May 5. The incident happened when a drunken Krusinski allegedly approached the woman and grabbed her breasts and buttocks, according to a police report. Police said the woman fought off her assailant, and scratches could be seen on Krusinski’s face in his mug shot. He was charged with sexual battery.

Krusinski was removed from his position as head of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office pending an investigation, the Air Force said. His arrest came as the U.S. military grapples with a growing epidemic of sexual assaults in its ranks. A troubling new Pentagon report released two days later estimates that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year. The report shows that the number of sexual assaults actually reported by members of the military rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012. But a survey of personnel who were not required to reveal their identities showed the number of service members actually assaulted could be as many as 26,000, but they never reported the incidents. That number is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.

The report says that of the 1.4 million active duty personnel, 6.1 percent of active duty women — or 12,100 — say they experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, a sharp increase over the 8,600 who said that in 2010. For men, the number increased from 10,700 to 13,900. A majority of the offenders were military members or Defense Department civilians or contractors.

The statistics highlight the dismal results that military leaders have achieved in their drive to change the macho culture within the ranks, even as the services redoubled efforts to launch new programs to assist the victims, encourage reporting and increase commanders’ vigilance.

In a grim assessment, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military “may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need.”

Sen. Patty Murray (Dem.-Wash.) said, “When our best and our brightest put on a uniform and join the United States Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding that they will sacrifice much in the name of defending our country and its people. However, it’s unconscionable to think that entertaining unwanted sexual contact from within the ranks is now part of that equation.”

Members of Congress are putting together legislation to strip military officers of the authority to overturn convictions for serious offenses such as sexual assault. The measure stems from congressional outrage over an Air Force officer’s decision to reverse a jury verdict of guilty in a sexual assault case.

– edited from NBC News and The Associated Press
PeaceMeal, May/June 2013

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Drinking, drugs more common for kids with deployed military parent

Teens and preteens with a parent deployed in the military may be more likely to binge-drink or misuse prescription drugs, according to a new study. Previous studies have found that with a parent’s multiple deployments come higher levels of depression and more thoughts of suicide among children. But the new study is the first to focus on alcohol and drug use, said senior author Stephan Arndt.

“What was sort of surprising to me was that I had expected those effects for high school (students), but we saw it in sixth-graders too,” said Arndt, a psychiatry researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Arndt and his colleagues analyzed statewide survey data from Iowa students in 2010, when 1.2 million American children had a parent in the active-duty military. They compared data from 1,700 kids of deployed parents and 57,000 kids from nonmilitary families, including sixth-, eighth- and 11th-graders.

Twelve percent of sixth-graders with a deployed parent had tried alcohol, and 7 percent had consumed five or more drinks in one sitting, compared with 4 and 2 percent of children of nonmilitary parents, respectively. Among 11th-graders, 29 percent of military children had binge-drank in the past month and 15 percent had smoked pot, compared with 22 percent and 10 percent of nonmilitary kids.

– edited from Reuters, April 3, 2013
PeaceMeal, May/June 2013

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Pentagon has plenty room to cut

Since sequestration forced a $42-billion cut to the Pentagon’s budget, reassurances of U.S. military superiority have replaced dire warnings that the United States would become “a second-rate power.” No surprise there since the U.S. military budget almost doubled between 2001 and 2011, and the Pentagon is still getting as much funding as the militaries of the next 16 countries combined.

On top of that, “It’s also worth noting that most of the rest of the money that the world spends on defense is spent by countries that are allies and friends o the United States,” Defense Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter said in April.

Six prominent research centers from across the political spectrum have recommended significant reductions in Pentagon spending over the next decade, with the average cut at $510 billion.

– edited from McClatchy Newspapers, May 22, 2013
PeaceMeal, May/June, 2013

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All-volunteer military may desensitize United States to war

WASHINGTON — A recent Gallup poll showed that, despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a much smaller percentage of those who’ve reached military age since Sept. 11, 2001, have served than in previous decades. Part of it is simple demographics. While the U.S. population has grown since the draft ended in 1973, the military has shrunk. But this all-volunteer force appears to be passing from generation to generation, bringing up the worrying notion that the United States is developing a warrior class.

“The declining veteran population is one of our concerns, since there are fewer young adults in American society who are exposed to military service,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman. “While the armed forces continue to be largely representative of the country as a whole, nearly four decades of an all-volunteer force have shaped who is most likely to serve and from where.”

January 2013 marks 40 years since the United States ended the military draft. Statistics are rare, but a Department of Defense 2011 Status of Forces survey indicated that 57 percent of active troops today are the children of current or former active or reserve members of the armed forces. Moreover, the military relies heavily on volunteers from a limited geographic area — the South and Midwest. Current trends might lead to an even narrower pool of volunteers.

The fear among some military leaders, politicians and experts begins with the belief that as fewer segments of society have family or friends in uniform, others become desensitized to the risks and stresses of military service. The feared risks range from a reluctance to fully support those who serve to an almost cavalier willingness to wage war, reasoning, “That’s what they signed up for.”

Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, has spent decades voicing such fears. He’s one of the few politicians around who still yearn for a draft. Inhofe thinks that military service makes better citizens. The broader the base of volunteers, he said, the better. Even in a conservative state such as Oklahoma, Tulsa residents — more distant from military bases than other parts of the state are — express less interest in Afghanistan and other defense issues than those who interact more often with the military, he said.

Before Jerry Majetich volunteered for the Marines and then the Army, there were five older brothers who had enlisted and a mother who had served as an Army nurse in Korea. His family background shaped former Staff Sgt. Majetich before a roadside bomb in Baghdad burned and tore him apart and 62 operations put him back together. He is now 42, a single father and investment firm vice president in Jacksonville, Florida. Despite his torment since the 2005 blast, that history is part of what moved his 21-year-old son to consider leaving college to pursue a military career, and his 17-year-old daughter to join her high school Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

“Despite everything, I believe in military service,” he said. Still, he can’t help but wonder whether national defense shouldn’t have a broader base of support. “Do people understand the sacrifices?” he asked. “Do they understand the toll combat, long deployments, not to mention injuries and death, take on a person, a family? Do they understand that my 17-year-old daughter has more memories of me in recovery than before the injury? No, they don’t. Not at all.”

Military and civilian officials see some positives in the smaller recruiting pool. The children of service members enlist understanding the job. They often were raised around the military and aren’t shocked by the culture, the level of expectations or long deployments.

The concept of a warrior class isn’t new, nor is it unique to the United States. Europe had knights and vassals; Japan had its samurai; the Aztecs had warrior nobility. Israel, with nearly 8 million people, avoids this by having everyone serve. That wouldn’t work in the U.S., with a population of 310 million and a military of 1.5 million. Besides, military leaders widely prefer a volunteer force — one that’s committed to learning and staying on the job — to a conscripted one that can’t wait to muster out.

Still, Michael O’Hanlon, a defense policy expert at the Brookings Institution, a research center based in Washington DC, worries that whole segments of the population won’t even consider military service in the coming decades. When that happens, do those serving lose political clout? “A broader base of volunteers helps ensure we don’t stop paying attention,” he said.

Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said the current picture of the military might have been inevitable. Some people gravitate toward the military while others head to a variety of civilian jobs. “A lot of people think this current system is a great deal, and that includes both those who chose to serve and those who chose not to,” he said.

– edited from McClatchy Newspapers, December 31, 2012
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Governments fall short in fighting defense corruption

BRUSSELS – More than two-thirds of countries, including many of the world’s largest arms traders, have inadequate safeguards to prevent corruption in their defense sectors, according to a survey by an anti-corruption watchdog released in January. Germany and Australia are the only countries out of 82 surveyed by Transparency International U.K. with strong anti-corruption mechanisms in defense.

The 82 countries surveyed account for 94 per cent of global military expenditure in 2011, worth $1.6 trillion, while the global cost of corruption in the defense sector is estimated to be at least $20 billion a year. The survey rated governments by criteria such as the strength of parliamentary oversight of defense policy and the standards expected of defense firms.

Mark Pyman, director of the Defense and Security Program at Transparency International U.K. said, “The idea that it is somehow acceptable that there should be corruption in defense because it has always been so is just an outrageous suggestion.” Corruption was dangerous, he added, because troops “may well have equipment that doesn’t work” and it was wasteful.

Fifty-seven of the countries, almost 70 percent, had poor controls against corruption. They included two-thirds of the largest arms importers in the survey and half of the biggest arms exporters. China, Russia and Israel, all leading arms exporters, were considered to be at high risk of corruption in their defense sectors. Among top arms importers, India, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey were in the high-risk category.

Countries classed as being at “very high risk” of corruption include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. France, Spain, Italy and Poland were in the moderate-risk group, while the United States, Britain, Sweden and South Korea were among countries judged to be at low risk.

Europe has been swept by high-profile cases of alleged corruption in defense deals in recent years. European aerospace and defense group EADS is facing investigations in Austria, Britain and Germany and has launched an external review of its anti-corruption rules.

The survey looked not only at the potential for corruption in defense contracts, but also at the risk of abuse of defense budgets. Pyman said a “shocking” result of the survey was that in half of the countries surveyed, the defense budget was either not public or it contained no breakdown of defense spending. Only 12 percent of countries surveyed had “highly effective” parliamentary scrutiny of defense policy and only a handful protected whistleblowers who reported defense corruption.

– edited from Reuters, January 28, 2013
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2013

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Military kids initiative launched by Mmes. Obama and Biden

WASHINGTON, DC — Madeline Stevens knows what it’s like to be a military brat. “The first week of school, it’s really hard,” said Stevens, a 17-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., who has moved eight times with her naval aviator father and attended 10 different schools. “You sit by yourself at lunch, you try and make friends in classes. When you’re younger it’s easier because, you know, you just share crayons, and you’re new best friends.”

But in high school Stevens said she’s had to integrate herself into sports and clubs to make friends, many of whom already have known each other most of their lives. The shuffle also has been a strain academically.

Moving can be tough for any child, but it can be even harder for children of military families, who, like Stevens, may relocate more frequently. They must leave friends behind and get acclimated to new schools that may have a different curriculum than the one they left behind.

And the emotional impact of having a deployed parent can also include worry and anxiety, said Mary Ann Rafoth, dean of Robert Morris University’s School of Education and Social Sciences. “Most of us go through each day not realizing that we’re a nation at war. But those kids do,” she said. “They often feel like they’re carrying that burden alone.”

However, educators often don’t have the tools to help military children cope. A new initiative launched in October by first lady Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, is designed to better prepare educators instructing military-connected children. “Operation: Educate the Educator” already has a commitment from more than 100 colleges offering teaching degrees.

The Obama administration has partnered with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Military Child Education Coalition to help military children as they face social, emotional and learning challenges in the classroom while having an active-duty parent. The colleges that have signed on have agreed to incorporate information about military children in the training curriculums for student teachers, push faculty and student teachers to do research on military children, and require student teachers to work with military children as part of their final clinical experience or internship.

There are nearly 2 million students whose parents are either on active duty, members of the National Guard or Reserves, or military veterans, according to the Military Child Education Coalition. Students often move six to nine times during their preschool through high school education. More than 80 percent of the 1.1 million-plus K-12 students attend public schools.

Biden said she was moved by a story of a little girl who burst into tears when “Ave Maria” played at her school’s Christmas program because the song had also been played at the funeral of her father, who died in Iraq. “It was so shocking to me that that teacher really was unaware that this girl had a daddy who was in the military,” she said. “We have to make sure that we can identify the military children and that we can do things to celebrate military families.”

Robert Morris University, located in Moon Township, Pa., near Pittsburgh, serves a large community of military children with the nearby Air Force Reserve base. All education majors at Robert Morris attend weekly seminars to discuss the challenges of student teaching with their school faculty. Starting this semester, one of the sessions is devoted to discussing the needs of children with parents in the military who are deployed, state-side or veterans.

Rafoth, who will lead the session, said the constant moving can cause “holes in instruction,” rather than cognitive issues for the student. “This especially happens with math instruction because math curricula vary place to place, and it’s possible you can go around and never get fractions because those are taught in a discrete place in the curriculum,” she said. “Then, boy, are you up a creek when you meet algebra.”

– edited from The Associated Press, October 3, 2012
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2012

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How the United States plans to end the sovereignty of other nations

Tom_Engelhardt.jpg (3488 bytes)Tom Engelhardt

Make no mistake: we’re entering a new world of military planning. Admittedly, the latest proposed Pentagon budget manages to preserve just about every costly weapon system from the good old days when MiGs still roamed the skies. Still, the cuts that will change the American way of war are already in the works. They may mean little monetarily but will make a big difference in imperial terms. A new way of preserving the embattled idea of an American planet is coming clear, and it will offer a direct challenge to the sovereignty of other nations.

Fortified American mega-bases, like our latest “embassies” the size of citadels, aren’t going away soon. The Pentagon is negotiating for a long-term agreement in post- withdrawal Iraq that might include getting some of its former base space back.

But even though the U.S. military continues to drag along its old weaponry and global-basing ideas, it still is heading offshore. There will be no more land wars on the Eurasian continent. Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on the Navy and the Air Force to face China in southern Asia, where the American military position can be strengthened without more giant bases or monster embassies.

For Washington, “offshore” means the world’s boundary-less waters and skies. It means being repositioned in international waters beyond the limit of national sovereignty around the globe. This change will officially re-brand the planet as an American free-fire zone, unchaining Washington from the limits that national borders once imposed. New ways to cross borders and new technology for doing it without permission are clearly in the planning stages, and U.S. forces are being reconfigured accordingly.

Think of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a model for what’s to come. It was an operation cloaked in secrecy. There was no consultation with the “ally” on whose territory the raid was to occur. It involved combat by an elite special operations unit backed by drones and other high-tech weaponry and supported by the CIA. A national boundary was crossed without permission or any declaration of hostilities. The objective was “terrorism,” the perfect global will-o’-the-wisp around which to plan an offshore military future.

All the elements of this emerging formula for retaining planetary dominance have received plenty of publicity, but the degree to which they combine to assault traditional concepts of national sovereignty has been given little attention.

Since November 2002, when a Hellfire missile from a CIA- operated Predator drone turned a car with six alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen into ash, robotic aircraft have led the way in this border-crossing, air-space-penetrating assault. The U.S. now has 60 drone bases across the planet. Increasingly, the long-range reach of our drone program means that those robotic planes can penetrate just about any nation’s air space. It matters little whether that country houses them itself. In Pakistan, which just forced the CIA to remove its drones from Shamsi Air Base, CIA drone strikes in that country’s tribal borderlands continue, presumably from bases in Afghanistan. Recently Pres. Obama offered a full-throated public defense of them.

Drones are, relatively speaking, cheap to produce. They can fly long distances across almost any border with no danger whatsoever to their remote human pilots. They can stay aloft for extended periods of time, allowing for surveillance and strikes anywhere. By nature, they are border-busting weapons. And when drones are capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carrier decks, they will literally be offshore with respect to all borders, but capable of crossing any.

Already American drones regularly cross borders with mayhem in mind in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Because of a drone downed in Iran, we know that the U.S. also has been flying surveillance missions in that country’s airspace, as they are in Iraq..

Along with skies filled with increasing numbers of drones goes a rise in U.S. special operations forces. They, too, are almost by definition boundary-busting outfits. Now, in a sense, the American president has his own private military. Formerly modest-sized units, elite special operations forces have grown into a force of 60,000, a secret military slated for further expansion. In 2011 special operations units were in 120 nations, almost two-thirds of the countries on Earth.

By their nature, special operations forces work in the shadows: as hunter-killer teams, night raiders, and border-crossers. They function in close conjunction with drones and, as the regular Army slowly withdraws from its giant garrisons in places like Europe, they are preparing to operate in a new world of stripped-down bases called “lily pads” — jumping-off points for pouncing onto their prey.

Increasingly, American war itself will enter those shadows, where crossings of every sort of border, domestic as well as foreign, are likely to take place with little accountability to anyone except the president and the national security complex.

And don’t forget the Navy. It already operates 11 aircraft carrier task forces offshore, none of which are to be cut. These are, effectively, massively armed American bases at sea. To these, the Navy is adding smaller “bases” right now. For instance, it’s retrofitting an old amphibious transport docking ship bound for the Persian Gulf either as a Navy Seal commando “mothership” or as a “lily pad” for counter-mine helicopters and patrol craft.

From lily pads to aircraft carriers, advanced drones to special operations teams, it’s offshore and into the shadows for U.S. military policy. While the United States is economically in decline, it remains the sole military superpower on the planet. No other country pours anywhere near as much money into its military and its national security establishment, or is likely to do so in the foreseeable future. As in the old TV show, the United States has gun, will travel.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s, where this article was posted on February 5, 2012, and reprinted in PeaceMeal, March/April 2012. His latest book is “The United States of Fear” (Haymarket Books, 2011).

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Military doublespeak: How jargon turns gore into glory

For centuries before George Orwell coined the word “doublespeak” to convey the flavor of government-sponsored linguistic deception, soldiers have used language to mask the horror of war. Military jargon has always specialized in turning gore into glory. Many modern conflicts have also focused on sports metaphors that, as many critics have noted, trivialize war.

Doublespeak is not lying, nor is it merely sloppy language. It is the intentional use of euphemisms, synonyms, jargon and vagueness which pretends to communicate but really does not, or implies the opposite of what it would appear to communicate.

The Persian Gulf War provided “superb examples of doublespeak that managed to turn carnage into something cold and drained of emotion,” comments a case study published by the Association for Media Literacy in Toronto. For example:

assets = bombs and other weapons of war

collateral damage = civilian deaths during bombing raids

denying the enemy = bombing military targets in the hearts of cities

enhanced interrogation techniques = torture by official representatives of the United States of America

incontinent ordnance = mistaken shelling of one’s own troops

insurgents = foreigners who resent having their country invaded or occupied

laying down a carpet = saturation bombing

surgical strike = so-called “precision” bombing

House boosts military budget in time of austerity

Money for the Pentagon and the nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is proving largely immune from the budget- cutting that’s slamming other government agencies in the rush to bring down the deficit. On a 336-87 vote July 8, the Republican-controlled House overwhelmingly backed a $649-billion defense spending bill that boosts the Defense Depart-ment budget by $17 billion. The strong bipartisan embrace of the measure came as White House and congressional negotiators face an August 2 deadline on agreeing to trillions of dollars in federal spending cuts and raising the borrowing limit so the U.S. does not default on debt payments.

While House Republican leaders agreed to slash billions from the proposed budgets for other agencies, hitting food aid for low-income women, health research, energy efficiency and much more, the military budget is the only one that would see a double-digit increase in its account beginning October 1. Concerns about undermining national security, cutting military dollars at a time of war, and losing defense jobs back home trumped fiscal discipline in the House. Only 12 Republicans and 75 Democrats opposed the overall bill.

“House Republicans demonstrated responsible leadership that sets priorities and does not jeopardize our national security interests and our nation’s ongoing military efforts,” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, said in a statement. But Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, scoffed at the suggestion that “everything is on the table” in budget negotiations between the Obama administration and congressional leaders. “The military budget is not on the table,” he said. “The military is at the table, and it is eating everybody else’s lunch.”

The bill would provide $530 billion to the Pentagon and $119 billion to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would provide a 1.6-percent increase in pay and buy various warships, aircraft and weapons, including a C-17 cargo plane that the Pentagon did not request, but is good news for the Boeing production line in Long Beach, Calif.

During three days of debate, the House easily turned back several efforts to cut military spending, including amendments by Frank on the Democratic side and tea party-backed freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. Frank’s amendment to cut $8.5 billion failed on a 244-181 vote July 7. Mulvaney’s amendment to set the Pentagon budget at current levels failed 290-135.

The House also rejected an amendment by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D- Oh.) that would have barred funds for the U.S. operation against Libya. The vote was 251-169. The House has sent mixed signals on Obama’s military action against Libya, voting to prohibit weapons and training to rebels looking to oust Moammar Gadhafi, but stopping short of trying to cut off money for American participation in the NATO-led mission.

The overall bill, which must be reconciled with a still-to-be- completed Senate version, is $9 billion less than President Barack Obama sought. The White House has threatened a veto, citing limits in the legislation on the president’s authority to transfer detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and money for defense programs the administration didn’t want.

– edited from The Associated Press, July 8, 2011
PeaceMeal, July/August 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Pentagon to abandon two-war doctrine

The Pentagon is to abandon its longstanding doctrine of always being ready to fight two simultaneous conventional wars. Instead, the focus will shift to a broader range of challenges including terrorism and cyber-security, according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. “We have learned through painful experience that the wars we fight are seldom the wars that we planned,” Mr. Gates said on February 1, as he presented the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review and the 2011 budget plan to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We have, in a sober and clear-eyed way, assessed risk, set priorities, made trade-offs and identified requirements based on plausible real-world threats, scenarios and potential adversaries,” he said, making his boldest call yet for reform of a military force that dwarfs the rest of the world’s.

Warning that U.S. military power faced new limits and constraints, Secretary Gates said that weaponry, tactics and enemies had overtaken the “familiar contingencies that dominated U.S. planning after the Cold War.” The sweeping review of U.S. military strategy must prepare for an “uncertain security landscape” where extremists or “non-state actors” seek missile technology or weapons of mass destruction.

Attempting to allay fears that the abandonment of the two-war doctrine would be too radical, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said planning for future major conflicts with conventional weaponry remained central to the Pentagon’s portfolio. Gates said the military should focus on winning current conflicts, not assumed future ones, and called for more investment in aerial drones, helicopters and special operations forces which, he said, have proved vital in the Afghan war.

The Obama administration is seeking $741 billion in defense spending for 2011, including $75 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Gates underlined his determination to stop the construction of C-17 transport planes because the Air Force had a sufficient quantity, and of an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Last year Congress saved both projects in approving the defense budget. This year Gates pledged to ask President Barack Obama to veto any bill that still included them.

In a surprise move, Gates removed the general in charge of the Joint Strike Fighter program, the department’s largest, and withheld $240 million from the contractor Lockheed Martin after a review warned that the project was going billions over budget.

The Defense Review also made clear that NATO and old allies such as Britain remained as important as ever to U.S. thinking, given the greater need for intelligence sharing in a more complex global environment. It also called for more resources and expertise for dealing with failed states such as Somalia and supporting fragile states such as Yemen, which are ripe for terrorism.

For the first time, the Pentagon identified global warming as a potential trigger of instability and urged the military to renew efforts to reduce its dependence on oil.

– edited from The Telegraph (U.K.), February 2, 2010
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Many young Americans unfit for military

Chalk up another national-security threat — this one looming with each excess pound, failing grade and drug bust affecting young adults. An alarming 75 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 would not qualify for military service today because they are physically unfit, failed to finish high school or have criminal records. So says a new report from an organization of education and military leaders called Mission: Readiness. The report titled “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve” was endorsed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark.

Military recruiters in Kansas City report turning away prospective recruits “in every office, every hour, every day” for reasons including girths too large and credit ratings too low. Increasingly, applicants are disqualified for having asthma or for taking pills for depression or attention disorders. Nearly one-third of all young adults have health issues other than weight that could keep them from serving, according to the report.

As a slumping economy increases interest in military service, more people with obvious deficiencies are contacting recruiters. Some applicants without a high-school diploma can get a waiver to serve if they earn a GED or score high on the military's entrance exam. But such waivers are granted to fewer than 2 percent of applicants. The military doesn’t want recruits who will be hounded by creditors and lawsuits. So, if you’re carrying too much debt, you’re out. Even after signing up, 7 to 15 percent of enlistees return home for not meeting all that basic training demands.

– edited from McClatchy News Service, 13 November 2009
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)