Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The GOP vs. the U.S. Military: Part Four - Wars of Emergency vs Wars of Policy

Last time, we pondered the ghost at the banquet. A scandal that few seem able or willing to discuss. The plummeting combat readiness of the United States Army, Marines and Reserves. Their steeply declining ability -- trapped and worn down in a faraway desert -- to meet any military challenge that might suddenly confront the nation, in dangerous times. (Or return to Part 1 of this series.)

So relentless and systematic has been the Bush Administration’s demolition of U.S. military readiness that one might even give in to temptation and imagine this along the lines of a lurid thriller novel, wherein this destructive process did not arise out of dogmatism and blithering incompetence, but something else. Something even more odious and deliberate.

But let’s not give into that temptation here. There’s too much on our plate that is blatant and irrefutable. So we’ll concentrate, this time, on fundamentals. Like how any sensible leadership ought to use armed force in dangerous times.

What follows may seem cynical and hard-headed to some liberals, while striking a neoconservative as idealistic. In fact, it is neither. Alas, these points may be too subtle for dogmatists of either left or right to grasp. So, once again, I’ll be talking to the harried middle.

Those who believe that pragmatism and idealism can -- and should -- coincide in a complex world.

* Does anybody remember -- “last resort”?

Almost any member of the U.S. Officer Corps, serving or retired, will recite a nostrum about how often he or she has prayed not to go to war. For the diplomats and politicians -- (and yes, covert operatives) -- to find alternative solutions to any given problem or crisis, short of using brute military force.

Yes, the services have a principal task, to make themselves ready for every conceivable variety of conflict. Indeed, that readiness is viewed as the ultimate deterrent to war. But, in the George Marshall tradition, it is deemed rash and immature to rush violent action -- if for no other reason, because wars are always costly and messy, and seldom go according to plan.

Go ask an officer... any military officer... and see if they use the phrase ”last resort.”

(Those that have gone according to plan -- e.g. the Balkans intervention and the Afghanistan campaign, succeeded because they hewed closely to what was ironically called the “Powell Doctrine” -- a policy of applying overwhelming force with surgical precision, maintaining clear goals, coordination with local allies, and a plan for the aftermath, along with close teamwork between diplomats, warriors, politicians and a well-informed people... a doctrine that, was diametrically and weirdly betrayed during the tenure of Secretary of State Colin Powell.)

So, what ever happened to “last resort?” When all but one of the leading Republican presidential candidates declare that they would rush to use torture, dispatch bombers, and trade away civil liberties, faster and more harshly than the others, should not even a cynic or practitioner of realpolitik pause and wonder? When they all speak of a “permanent state of emergency,” shouldn’t even rational conservatives ask a simple question:

“What kind of a decent, mature or prudent person speaks of torture and war without, at minimum, applying those two words? Last resort?”

Such is the madness that our professionals must deal with, today. Especially in the military, where the resort to war has been treated with cavalier carelessness by meddlesome politicians, to a degree that beggars our memory of Vietnam.

Which brings us to a subtle but important point about the use (or misuse) of America’s varied armed forces.

* Wars of Emergency vs Wars of Policy: Either way, we’re betrayed

Elsewhere I distinguish between two kinds of foreign intervention: Wars of Emergency vs Wars of Policy. Those that are like “emergency room” operations and others that more resemble “elective surgery.”

Our rush into Iraq was initially justified entirely on the first of these models, stoked by an appeal to fear and imminent danger. But when weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi terror links proved chimerical, the administration’s rhetoric flipped like a switch to the other genre of justification. That we should pour all available resources into a utopian exercise in nation building, planting democracy in the rockiest of ground, as a matter of (ill-considered, hubristic, impractical and profoundly immature) national policy.

Forgive the parenthetical remark. Because, for just a moment, we need to put aside whether a particular “elective policy endeavor” is sensible and well-planned, or venial and moronic. However good or bad a policy-based act of power projection may be, there would appear to be several basic “don’ts” when it comes to a political war -- or an intervention that’s “elective surgery.”

1) Don’t send in the reserves. They are -- by law, tradition, and common sense, reserved for the protection of our communities and homeland. Brief use of the National Guard overseas, in bona fide emergencies? Sure. But it is rash -- bordering on criminal -- for the Commander in Chief to use citizen militia as tools of optional foreign policy.

Whether or not a President’s policy is sensible, if he cannot achieve the nation’s policy aims with the field army at his command, he should ask for a bigger field army.

(Note to Congress. Try focusing on the Guard. Push a bill limiting their overseas stints to six months, then dare a filibuster! Even Red Staters will rouse and start wondering.)

2) In “elective surgery” wars, you might use elite, fast-reaction troops, sparingly, committing them for a brief time, perhaps for their ability to shock and overwhelm. Only then, the elite shock troops -- e.g. airborne and Marines -- should be withdrawn again, to concentrate on readiness for either an emergency or some more important policy endeavor.

Retraining such units for extended constabulary duty is beyond stupid. It is a pure waste.

3) Even regular Army divisions should not be spent wantonly on policy-based conflict. The old nostrum of being prepared to win two major regional wars at once may be obsolete. But the underlying wisdom is not. Those who assure us otherwise bear the steepest burden of proof.

4) Whether a projection of force is an emergency operation or an elective enforcement of national policy -- truthful evaluation of short and long term costs is essential. If the nation must sacrifice its warriors, its treasury, its international goodwill and peace of mind, then we should be called upon to mobilize, as our ancestors did, rich and poor, to willingly pay whatever must be paid. If convinced, millions would step up to enlist. And the rich would, as in times past, come forward to offer billions.

That neither thing has happened -- that our forces are being ground down while American youths and moguls hold back -- demonstrates how little enthusiasm either of these vital sectors have for the policy itself.

5) Finally, do not break faith with the troops. Using extraordinary measures and coercion to maintain an army in the field is not consistent with an elective, policy-based intervention. These extraordinary measures include “stop loss” retention of servicemembers who are finishing their enlistments, or keeping men and women stationed in hellish places for more than a year without a break. Such measures constitute a creeping and dishonest form of conscription, or impressment.

Again, if it is an “emergency” -- and the neocons keep saying so -- then stop treating this as elective surgery. As a political program of nation-building that should be funded and staffed by peacetime means. Choose one justification or the other!

If this is a policy-war, then achieve your goals efficiently, without theft, crony-deals, deficit spending, torture, stop-loss betrayals, and ruined readiness.

But if it is a true emergency, then have the guts to step up and do what Lincoln did. What Wilson and Roosevelt did.

Ask us to give up butter for guns, till it’s over.

Ask for volunteers.

Ask for a draft.

--Next: Let The Excuses Roll!

or return to Part 1 of this series


David Brin said...

Feel free to help my ratings at:

Michael Vassar said...

I don't know what you were thinking in this blog post. Drafts are grossly obsolete technology, from a military standpoint AND a gross violation of civil liberties and basic freedom from a political standpoint. Legally, any plausible reading of the 13th amendment bans them, as they are involuntary servitude. Milton Friedman was not a dogmatic libertarian, and did, after all, invent income tax withholding, but like anyone who should claim to be even a small l libertarian, he opposed the draft categorically. The US has nukes. We can't *be* conquered. In this context, what does "a true emergency" even mean?

David Brin said...

Actually, my remark was a "put up or shut up" to the Bushite claim of an emergency.

Where you and I do part company, is that I believe all young adults should face a choice of ways to put in a brief stint of public service. No more than six months and in a vast array of eclectic ways. But many would slide into basic military training...

... and hundreds of thousands would like it at least enough to add another year and enter the Reserves. We'd then have all the surge capacity... for REAL emergencies... that we'd ever need and millions who at least know how to do first aid, carry the injured, and put their backs into restoring a ravaged city.

Yes, yes. Big L libertarians would call this "coercion". I call it a part of an explicit social contract. Any 18 year old can evade it simply by leaving. My version of libertarianism is pragmatic. I want a civilization in which any kid gets all the protein and education we can cram into him or her, so that he or she can then - if desired - shout bullshit! into our faces and try to back it up with heaps of evidence and reasoned argument.

EXACTLY as you are about to do, in response to this missive of mine. And you are welcome to! Just remember all the protein and education, friend. You didn't get it by riding the open range.

Anonymous said...


All the protein you can cram into an 18 year old???

Ick, I keep getting these images of Larry Craig and Mark Foley in my head, I am sure they would sign up for the job but I would not 18 year old men to have to do that for our country.

Alex Tolley said...

"I believe all young adults should face a choice of ways to put in a brief stint of public service. No more than six months and in a vast array of eclectic ways."

"I call it a part of an explicit social contract. Any 18 year old can evade it simply by leaving."

What "explicit social contract"? Leaving to where to evade the 6 months service?

And what if public service was to be in productive, non-military work. That would undermine your desired result of a vast, [semi-trained?] army reserve.

Switzerland and Israel retain a military service model like this. Fortunately the Swiss have never had to use it. The Israelis do it because they have been in a hot/cold war since the nation's founding in 1948 and may need it for their periodic hot wars.

Anonymous said...


To respond to what has come before...

"michael", you do have a point in reference to the 13 Amendment, but a) we can be "conquered", in as much as we can be harmed by the actions of extra-national groups (i.e. terrorists, nation-states, rouge multinational corporations {I know, but wait for it...}) in ways that are as good as conquest, as far as changing our behaviors and how we relate to other groups. and b)to answer your question:
dirty bombs,
"liberated" nuclear weapons,
organized, coordinated terrorist attacks

A draft, in modern times, is a bad idea simply because modern warfare is WAY too complicated for the vast majority of U.S. (or most other countries) citizens to just "walk into", and isn't practical for just that reason, regardless of the legality or morality of the government in power. (And no, I didn't manage to type that last with a straight face...)

"occam's comic" err... yuck! NOT that kind...

"atolley", the "explicit social contract" is a reference to the "social contract" which is the basis of all governments (see
Social_contract for further discussion) or at least Mr. Brin's idea of what such a contract should entail. As far as where to go, why not Canada? That's where people went to evade the Vietnam draft, hmm? If you read Mr. Brin's reply to "michael", then you will see that he doesn't require the service to be military, just that a lot of people would choose military training, over say 6 months teaching at an inner-city high school, or duty as a volunteer firefighter, adult literacy teacher, etc. And even
if they didn't enlist in military training, just having a body of people who are trained in the basics of what to do in an emergency makes the emergency less than what it could have been.

As far as your last paragraph, well go read a book called "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, especially his explanation of why the turkey is surprised the day before Thanksgiving... I may be reading more into your paragraph than you wrote, but it sounds to me like you are implying that the U.S. has no need of such a "military service model" such as Switzerland and Israel have because we don't have the problems or advantages they have. My point is that we don't have them currently, and there is no telling what the future truly holds - who would have thought on 9/10/2001 what 9/12/2001 would be like?

Now, onto the actual article.

"Last Resort"? Brilliant, but it assumes that the reasons for the war in Iraq are those stated by the U.S. government, those stated by the opponents of the current U.S. regime, or those from the left- and right-wing conspiracy theorists (God bless 'em). They aren't, obviously, as every time each group attacks the other, the country, in large part, goes "ho, hum". What we really need is an in depth examination of why we really went to war, not from a "Blue vs. Red State" point of view, but from a mob psychology standpoint.

I agree, the Bush administration is - either through incompetence or deliberate maliciousness - undermining our country's ability to properly defend itself in the event of an actual attack.

And also, this "Hollywood War" stuff has got to end, now. If we are at war, then let's be at WAR. If you are going to decide to harm someone else (either individually or nation-to-nation), in any way, for any reason, it should hurt and require sacrifice. If the war in Iraq is so important, then we should be eager to make sacrifices to ensure not only our victory, but our commitment to such an endeavor. If not, well, we aren't fulfilling our duties as citizens of the U.S., and we deserve the mess we get.

As far as the rest of your post, well, I agree for the most part with what you've said. I'm still not convinced of your underlying point - i.e. "... that the number one accomplishment of the Bush Administration has been the partial-destruction of the United States military." - but I am heartily willing to concede you have hit the nail on the head in this post and gave a clear and concise list of what an armed conflict with another country should (and shouldn't) entail. Thank you.

"permanent state of emergency"? Um, isn't that a contradiction in terms < g > ?

"Forgive the parenthetical remark." Ok, I will, but such snarks, deserved or not, detract from the substance of your argument. Try to resist the temptation... and yes, I know it's hard...

The "note to Congress"? Have you ever considered actually sending this to any of the Democrats in Congress? The problem the Dems have is a lack of coordination in their attacks on the War in Iraq (WiI) and their desire to find a "magic bullet" argument to end the war. They should take a page from FDR's book and try lots of different arguments, to find the ones that stick in the public's mind, just as FDR tried everything he could think of to fight the Depression in the 1930's.

(Aside: Anyone else notice if you abbreviate what everyone calls the current conflict, you get the name of a video game system? < heh >)

And finally, your points:
1)... by Jove, I thought that's what "Reserve" meant, too...

2) Point granted exactly as is...

3) No troops in any conflict should be spent wantonly, for any reason. Period. I thought this was a given for any military - am I wrong?

4)Isn't this an axiom of not only warfare, but of any situation requiring decisions of any type? If you don't have accurate intel, you will fail at almost anything you try to do..

5) Ok, obviously you don't screw with the people in charge of defending you, unless you're an idiot... or suicidal. But I just had a thought, why hasn't anyone caught by the "stop loss" policy sued the government for the violation of their 13th Amendment rights? I'm just saying...

As far as your last 4 paragraphs, YES, YES, YES! Bring it on! Maybe a little fire under everyone's toes will get things sorted out... One can only hope.

That's my 2 cents... what about you?

learner said...

Most of the readers here are interested and probably active in trying to change the policies that this administration has forced on the American people. However a majority of the citizens do not directly see a link to their lives. Even though that is not true, it is what they perceive. Until most of America feels like they have skin in the game they will not really be active in the processes. This is a democracy so we must get all of America involved in the hard decisions necessary. IMO the best way to do this will be to address everyone's pocketbook first and then make everyone's decision a personal commitment. The question is how to do this.

First the pocketbook issue. Indirectly we are all beginning to feel the effects of the financial cost of this war. The mortgage market crash, oil prices and the record low dollar, all can be said to be partially the result of the unprecedented deficit spending that the war has created. Of course there are other causes such as weather, growing demand in China and elsewhere, etc and so the direct linkage is not made The bottom line is we can not fight a war while cutting taxes. If we are to continue this war we must start raising taxes to pay for it. I think the Democrats should become fiscal conservatives and demand that this happen or pull the plug on funds. If the American people decide the war is necessary they must be told that it will cost them directly through tax increases.

Second we must increase the ground force structure substantially if we are to continue at anything near these troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a free market economy this means one of two things, we either have to entice civilians to enlist with big dollars(supply and demand), probably doubling the existing salary structure or we institute a draft. We do not have the money to do the former so we must ask the American people to approve a new draft primarily for ground forces. As you have pointed out so well, failing a draft so that the force structure can be increased we will see the ground forces overtaxed by the continuing return tours to combat and a failure to maintain even the present force levels due to officer resignations(see the last USMA class retention numbers) and lowered reenlistment rates. These are beginning to become a problem. Most professional soldiers already have two combat tours and are facing a third very soon. Once the volunteer army shrinks the Reserves and National Guard will begin to see their third tours. If we do not institute a draft and we stay in Iraq as the President has outlined, at the end of the next President's term, regardless of who it is, the volunteer military will be a shambles and we will have no choice but to leave. The American people need to be told this and asked to approve a draft or tell their representatives to terminate the war. Being subject to a draft or having your children or grandchildren possibly drafted would make the decision to support this war very personal.

Yes I know Libertarians out there will jump up and down. But there is a price to pay for living in the United States, for having your security and personal freedoms assured. Freedom isn't free.(yes I know it is so trite.)As you have pointed out many times David our world is getting more dangerous by the hour with real bio and nano weapons just around the corner for very low cost. The costs of containing those threats is going to be enormous. Diplomacy is the best and least expensive way to do this but ... Unless the American people step up and demand a change Cowboys like our present administration will continue the expensive and ineffective approach of trying to use the "Big Stick".

David Brin said...

thomaswilliam thanks and welcome to the discussion.

Actually. I did offer “A Modest To-Do List for the New Democratic Congress”

Alas, I have since learned that politicians, in their contempt for the masses, appear to believe passionately in a nostruym that “voters don’t care about Process Issues. In other words, you can’t stir them by attacking the GOP’s methods, secrecy, dismantling of science, attacks on the civil service, graft, gerrymandering, Diebold vote fraud and so on, since these are about the PROCESS of government and that bores average folk.

If you look at my list of suggestions, most of them do deal with process issues! Because I believe when those are dealt with, our government will then function again and policy debates will sort themselves out among reasonable delegates to an honest democracy. Mea culpa for caring about processes!

(Funny thing. Gingrich’s CONTRACT WITH AMERICA was largely about process issues and it led to the neocon uprising and the dems downfall, in 1994. Here’s a process issue. What if the pollsters telling dems “no process issues” are frauds themselves?)

Alas, this means that we are back to... health care. “Bread and butter issues” that poll out as important -- but that have NO potential for tearing apart the opposition’s Big Tent Coalition. Only reinforcing party loyalties. And if a dem becomes elected in 08 by a slender 3% margin, that is a loss for all of us. Only a 15% or greater margin will give the neocons a repudiation that could end culture war.

Sorry lerner. Culture war runs so deep that even a deep recession and a dozen more gopper sex scandals will only help by making a few more million Republican voters stay home on election day. (Unless Hillary is the dem candidate. Then all of them will vote, even through an ice age.)

What we need is for those millions to get so mad that they vote democratic! That can only happen if they see that the PROCESS was rigged to betray, rob and enslave them.

Finally, I see nothing wrong with a Slim Draft I described. It is essentially one college semester, spent doing environmental work or ghetto headstart or peace corps... or doing six months of tough, “outward bound” style pre-military training. Frankly, it sounds like fun and I bet millions will agree.

Moreover, even those who don’t slide from that intro into further reserve training will be extremely valuable. because a vast pool will exist of young men and women who need a MUCH SHORTER RAMP TIME in order to be useful in a crisis. Who have at least the basics to help their cities deal with some crisis... or to serve as cannon fodder if ever a time came when free citizens felt that sacrifice worth making.

Finally, during that six months, they could be aptitude tested and then given subsidized hobbies! You you enjoyed a week driving a Bradley, and tested high enough, why not supply you with a subsidized “Fighting Bradley” game with realistic controls. (Or “Defense Hacker!” or “Logistics Larry!” or “Communications Connie!”. And then invite you back for another week next year.

Make no mistake, while I praise the Officer Corps and call them the Bushites’ top victims, I nevertheless see faults, too. In their never-satisfied quest for ultimate professionalism, they have forgotten that citizen soldiers have ALWAYS had to step in, throughout our history. We should not arrange things to make that impossible. We should be setting things up so that it can happen smoothly and quickly, if ever a need arises.

And it will.

Alex Tolley said...

Not sure if the following validates this 4 part thread or suggests that it almost too late to do anything.

While I think of our times as much like Rome transitioning from a republic to a dictatorship, we can see many elements of the transition to nazism in interwar Germany. Certainly we appear to be drifting into a situation without much protest, with a compliant press and government facilitating.

If that is true, then the idea of converting ostriches won't work because the representatives in government won't do anything. I hope I'm wrong and all the current Democratic inaction is part of a political calculation for 2008, but I wouldn't bet on it.

'A Coup Has Occurred'

By Daniel Ellsberg
September 26, 2007 (Text of a speech delivered September 20, 2007)

Editor's Note: Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War, offered insights into the looming war with Iran and the loss of liberty in the United States at an American University symposium on Sept. 20.

Below is an edited transcript of Ellsberg's remarkable speech:

I think nothing has higher priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police state.

If there's another 9/11 under this regime … it means that they switch on full extent all the apparatus of a police state that has been patiently constructed, largely secretly at first but eventually leaked out and known and accepted by the Democratic people in Congress, by the Republicans and so forth.

Will there be anything left for NSA to increase its surveillance of us? … They may be to the limit of their technical capability now, or they may not. But if they're not now they will be after another 9/11.

And I would say after the Iranian retaliation to an American attack on Iran, you will then see an increased attack on Iran – an escalation – which will be also accompanied by a total suppression of dissent in this country, including detention camps.

It's a little hard for me to distinguish the two contingencies; they could come together. Another 9/11 or an Iranian attack in which Iran's reaction against Israel, against our shipping, against our troops in Iraq above all, possibly in this country, will justify the full panoply of measures that have been prepared now, legitimized, and to some extent written into law. …

This is an unusual gang, even for Republicans. [But] I think that the successors to this regime are not likely to roll back the assault on the Constitution. They will take advantage of it, they will exploit it.

Will Hillary Clinton as president decide to turn off NSA after the last five years of illegal surveillance? Will she deprive her administration her ability to protect United States citizens from possible terrorism by blinding herself and deafening herself to all that NSA can provide? I don't think so.

Unless this somehow, by a change in our political climate, of a radical change, unless this gets rolled back in the next year or two before a new administration comes in – and there's no move to do this at this point – unless that happens I don't see it happening under the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic.

The Next Coup

Let me simplify this and not just to be rhetorical: A coup has occurred. I woke up the other day realizing, coming out of sleep, that a coup has occurred. It's not just a question that a coup lies ahead with the next 9/11. That's the next coup, that completes the first.

The last five years have seen a steady assault on every fundamental of our Constitution, … what the rest of the world looked at for the last 200 years as a model and experiment to the rest of the world – in checks and balances, limited government, Bill of Rights, individual rights protected from majority infringement by the Congress, an independent judiciary, the possibility of impeachment.

There have been violations of these principles by many presidents before. Most of the specific things that Bush has done in the way of illegal surveillance and other matters were done under my boss Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War: the use of CIA, FBI, NSA against Americans.

I could go through a list going back before this century to Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War, and before that the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 18th century. I think that none of those presidents were in fact what I would call quite precisely the current administration: domestic enemies of the Constitution.

I think that none of these presidents with all their violations, which were impeachable had they been found out at the time and in nearly every case their violations were not found out until they were out of office so we didn't have the exact challenge that we have today.

That was true with the first term of Nixon and certainly of Johnson, Kennedy and others. They were impeachable, they weren't found out in time, but I think it was not their intention to in the crisis situations that they felt justified their actions, to change our form of government.

It is increasingly clear with each new book and each new leak that comes out, that Richard Cheney and his now chief of staff David Addington have had precisely that in mind since at least the early 70s. Not just since 1992, not since 2001, but have believed in Executive government, single-branch government under an Executive president – elected or not – with unrestrained powers. They did not believe in restraint.

When I say this I'm not saying they are traitors. I don't think they have in mind allegiance to some foreign power or have a desire to help a foreign power. I believe they have in their own minds a love of this country and what they think is best for this country – but what they think is best is directly and consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and Constitution thought.

They believe we need a different kind of government now, an Executive government essentially, rule by decree, which is what we're getting with signing statements. Signing statements are talked about as line-item vetoes which is one [way] of describing them which are unconstitutional in themselves, but in other ways are just saying the president says "I decide what I enforce. I decide what the law is. I legislate."

It's [the same] with the military commissions, courts that are under the entire control of the Executive Branch, essentially of the president. A concentration of legislative, judicial, and executive powers in one branch, which is precisely what the Founders meant to avert, and tried to avert and did avert to the best of their ability in the Constitution.

Founders Had It Right

Now I'm appealing to that as a crisis right now not just because it is a break in tradition but because I believe in my heart and from my experience that on this point the Founders had it right.

It's not just "our way of doing things" – it was a crucial perception on the corruption of power to anybody including Americans. On procedures and institutions that might possibly keep that power under control because the alternative was what we have just seen, wars like Vietnam, wars like Iraq, wars like the one coming.

That brings me to the second point. This Executive Branch, under specifically Bush and Cheney, despite opposition from most of the rest of the branch, even of the cabinet, clearly intends a war against Iran which even by imperialist standards, standards in other words which were accepted not only by nearly everyone in the Executive Branch but most of the leaders in Congress. The interests of the empire, the need for hegemony, our right to control and our need to control the oil of the Middle East and many other places. That is consensual in our establishment. …

But even by those standards, an attack on Iran is insane. And I say that quietly, I don't mean it to be heard as rhetoric. Of course it's not only aggression and a violation of international law, a supreme international crime, but it is by imperial standards, insane in terms of the consequences.

Does that make it impossible? No, it obviously doesn't, it doesn't even make it unlikely.

That is because two things come together that with the acceptance for various reasons of the Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and the public and the media, we have freed the White House – the president and the vice president – from virtually any restraint by Congress, courts, media, public, whatever.

And on the other hand, the people who have this unrestrained power are crazy. Not entirely, but they have crazy beliefs.

And the question is what then, what can we do about this? We are heading towards an insane operation. It is not certain. It is likely. … I want to try to be realistic myself here, to encourage us to do what we must do, what is needed to be done with the full recognition of the reality. Nothing is impossible.

What I'm talking about in the way of a police state, in the way of an attack on Iran is not certain. Nothing is certain, actually. However, I think it is probable, more likely than not, that in the next 15, 16 months of this administration we will see an attack on Iran. Probably. Whatever we do.

And … we will not succeed in moving Congress probably, and Congress probably will not stop the president from doing this. And that's where we're heading. That's a very ugly, ugly prospect.

However, I think it's up to us to work to increase that small perhaps – anyway not large – possibility and probability to avert this within the next 15 months, aside from the effort that we have to make for the rest of our lives.

Restoring the Republic

Getting back the constitutional government and improving it will take a long time. And I think if we don't get started now, it won't be started under the next administration.

Getting out of Iraq will take a long time. Averting Iran and averting a further coup in the face of a 9/11, another attack, is for right now, it can't be put off. It will take a kind of political and moral courage of which we have seen very little…

We have a really unusual concentration here and in this audience, of people who have in fact changed their lives, changed their position, lost their friends to a large extent, risked and experienced being called terrible names, "traitor," "weak on terrorism" – names that politicians will do anything to avoid being called.

How do we get more people in the government and in the public at large to change their lives now in a crisis in a critical way? How do we get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for example? What kinds of pressures, what kinds of influences can be brought to bear to get Congress to do their jobs? It isn't just doing their jobs. Getting them to obey their oaths of office.

I took an oath many times, an oath of office as a Marine lieutenant, as an official in the Defense Department, as an official in the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. A number of times I took an oath of office which is the same oath office taken by every member of Congress and every official in the United States and every officer in the United States armed services.

And that oath is not to a Commander in Chief, which is not mentioned. It is not to a fuehrer. It is not even to superior officers. The oath is precisely to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Now that is an oath I violated every day for years in the Defense Department without realizing it when I kept my mouth shut when I knew the public was being lied into a war as they were lied into Iraq, as they are being lied into war in Iran.

I knew that I had the documents that proved it, and I did not put it out then. I was not obeying my oath which I eventually came to do.

I've often said that Lt. Ehren Watada – who still faces trial for refusing to obey orders to deploy to Iraq which he correctly perceives to be an unconstitutional and aggressive war – is the single officer in the United States armed services who is taking seriously in upholding his oath.

The president is clearly violating that oath, of course. Everybody under him who understands what is going on and there are myriad, are violating their oaths. And that's the standard that I think we should be asking of people.

Congressional Courage

On the Democratic side, on the political side, I think we should be demanding of our Democratic leaders in the House and Senate – and frankly of the Republicans – that it is not their highest single absolute priority to be reelected or to maintain a Democratic majority so that Pelosi can still be Speaker of the House and Reid can be in the Senate, or to increase that majority.

I'm not going to say that for politicians they should ignore that, or that they should do something else entirely, or that they should not worry about that.

Of course that will be and should be a major concern of theirs, but they're acting like it's their sole concern. Which is business as usual. "We have a majority, let's not lose it, let's keep it. Let's keep those chairmanships." Exactly what have those chairmanships done for us to save the Constitution in the last couple of years?

I am shocked by the Republicans today that I read in the Washington Post who yesterday threatened a filibuster if we … get back habeas corpus. The ruling out of habeas corpus with the help of the Democrats did not get us back to George the First it got us back to before King John 700 years ago in terms of counter-revolution.

We need some way, and Ann Wright has one way, of sitting in, in Conyers office and getting arrested. Ray McGovern has been getting arrested, pushed out the other day for saying the simple words "swear him in" when it came to testimony.

I think we've got to somehow get home to them [in Congress] that this is the time for them to uphold the oath, to preserve the Constitution, which is worth struggling for in part because it's only with the power that the Constitution gives Congress responding to the public, only with that can we protect the world from mad men in power in the White House who intend an attack on Iran.

And the current generation of American generals and others who realize that this will be a catastrophe have not shown themselves – they might be people who in their past lives risked their bodies and their lives in Vietnam or elsewhere, like [Colin] Powell, and would not risk their career or their relation with the president to the slightest degree.

That has to change. And it's the example of people like those up here who somehow brought home to our representatives that they as humans and as citizens have the power to do likewise and find in themselves the courage to protect this country and protect the world. Thank you.

Daniel Ellsberg is author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers .

David Brin said...

At once, I found Ellsberg’s piece both insightful and appalling.

1) He is right to fear a coming coup. Triigered by a botched attack on Iran, followed by Iranian retaliation on our Iraq forces and Israel? Well, maybe. Another 9/11? Much more probable, in my eyes.

2) Like all administration foes, he both loathes the Bushites and then refuses to even contemplate the potential extremum of their malignity. “When I say this I'm not saying they are traitors. I don't think they have in mind allegiance to some foreign power or have a desire to help a foreign power. I believe they have in their own minds a love of this country and what they think is best for this country – but what they think is best is directly and consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and Constitution thought.”

Um, in fact, I agree that the latter explanation is the most likely one -- even though it definitely does not fit observed facts as well as the alternative explanation, that he dismissed (like everybody else) much too blithely and quickly. Even if it seems too paranoid to be true, the remote possibility that it might be true merits far more serious thought than it has received. From anybody. Anybody at all.

3) Alas, the emphasis in Ellsberg’s speech -- on creeping governmental surveillance, shows the same blithering incomprehension that I have seen, ever since I began talking about Transparency, a decade ago. A total lack of understanding about how information flow works, and how information affects liberty.

Rules to restrict what government is allowed to look at or know have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the freedom of citizens. Those rules are fragile, can change in any emergency, can be bypassed (Heinlein said: Privacy laws only make the bugs smaller) and cannot work, even in theory. Elites will see. They always have and always will.

No, our citizen sovereignty and freedom has always depended upon open info flows in the other direction. On our ability to look back. And reducing that citizen power has been far more on the Bush agenda than silly stuff like adjusting rules for wiretaps. The Bushite campaign to vastly increase government secrecy and squelch whistle blowers and intimidate the civil service into silence -- THESE are the threats to our freedom.

And Ellsberg barely mentions them. Dig it. It don’t give a fig whether the NSA listens to my conversations. (They probably are... and reading this message. (Hi guys! Decided to stand up, yet?)

What I care about is a society that is so free and open that the NSA et. al. had better not DO anything to me, at risk of being exposed and held accountable. What I fear is a state in which the civil servants and professionals are so tamed and collared that they’ll do what they are told by the New Masters, without even thinking about their duty to defend us from such enemies.

Anonymous said...

Point by point -

1. The evisceration of the Reserves and Guard ought to enrage states' rights conservatives. Not only has disaster relief in the near term been compromised, but future recruitment is virtually doomed, because where people once joined up expecting to help fight fires or conduct disaster relief, and only deploy abroad in case of an urgent peacekeeping mission or major conflict, now they've got to take into account the probability that the Pentagon will throw them in the line as if they were trained full time soldiers. We haven't begun to experience the fallout from this particular insanity.

My solution? State organized militias units, with signing bonuses and salaries that match or exceed those for the Guard and Reserves. I know some exist already, but they need to be expanded and protected from federal interference.

2. Somehow the budgetary deadlock that gives each service roughly equal proportions of the yearly take needs to get broken, and soon. We have virtually complete air superiority over any likely opponent in the near term. The Air Force needs to be expanding its tanker and transport force, NOT its global strike platforms. The Marines need a massive proportional budgetary increase, as they are constantly underfunded (officers in the 2003 invasion I'm told often gave out their back ceramic armor plates to subordinates because the Army got first dibs on armor) and incredibly effective. And naturally the Navy needs plenty of cash, because our ability to project Marine power and stand by allies relies on the USN and its Carrier Groups. We don't need to spend money to increase the size of the Army, instead it needs money to train in asymmetrical warfare that plays to our modern strengths, not our legacy tendencies towards fielding massive ground forces.

3. Exactly. The Army is, at heart, a deterrent force. Aside from the shock troops of the 101st and 82nd,and perhaps 10th Mountain as well, (jury is still out on Strykers as far as I'm concerned) the Army is ponderous but powerful. When we deploy an Army unit, it takes a while, and demonstrates a tangible commitment to anyone paying attention - ally or enemy. And thats exactly as it should be.

4. I ascribe to Clausewitz's admonition that war is inherently political. It is simply another tool in any state's arsenal, in any of its forms. We need to re-politicize the decision to make war, and take it out of wholly executive hands. Congress must be required, within days of a deployment, to sign off on it, and explicitly re-authorize its continuance with at least 60 votes in the senate in order for it to continue.

Frankly, the idea of millions of young Americans rushing to enlist and the billionaires sending in massive donations seems outmoded. At least on practical terms if not philosophical. While I can see the advantage in a population being forced to sacrifice if there's to be a conflict, I just don't see it happening, or if it does, it is more likely to happen due to manipulation of media much as was seen on 2002. As much of a skeptic as I am, I view set procedural actions at the Congressional level as being far more likely to create good policy than relying on the average citizen.

5. Hear hear. And go beyond merely keeping the faith and getting rid of stop loss. Double the salary and benefits of all personnel, officer and enlisted, give them explicit contractual agreements as to their maximum time deployed (cumulative and in any single instance) and guaranteed rest time at home between deployments. Give them housing equal to that provided in the average college dorm. And provide new soldiers a period of time after training is complete to quit the service or transition to a more suitable role if they find they've made a mistake in their enlistment. You do these things, and you'll attract the best recruits from society and retain them for a career. The force will benefit immensely.

On the subject of a 'Slim Draft'...I firmly believe that the net effect of that sort of program would be to have a bunch of angry youth engaging in fashionable rebellion for the whole time. Kids who want to perform service have ample opportunity to do so already, and those who only do service to bolster college applications are also doing good work without coercive government action. And as for training them up in military tactics in order to have a large, readily mobilized pool in times of crisis - I see an increased danger of embarking on Iraq style 'adventures' if the Pentagon knows that in a jam it'll have a base of mobilization. Frankly, I'd rather there was a military motivated to resist silly combat actions out of a sense of camaraderie than a civilian population motivated to protest the same action because they or loved ones might have to fight.

And finally, on the topic of Ellsberg's speech, I can only express how relieved I am that intelligent, reasonable people are still trying to oppose the imminent attack on Iran. Though I believe I may have an answer, though cynical, to the phenomenon of inept Democratic resistance over the past year.

Simply put, I firmly believe that the dems aren't fighting harder against the current administration's pseudo-imperial tendencies because they've read the electoral writing on the wall, and are merely biding their time until they judge they'll be elected to office, and then that incredible executive power will be theirs. Of course, I think they sorely underestimate the ability of the republicans to mobilize the base on spurious cultural issues and win in '08 - which is exactly what I believe will happen, not even taking into account Diebold shenanigans.

Tony Fisk said...

Since everyone's being weighing in with meaty slabs already, I'll keep my observations brief...

The 'note to Congress' would be better placed after point 5.

I agree that 'National Service' should consist of more than marching around with a backpack and a rifle. Anything involving the running of social infrastructures should be a valid from of service. (I once worked with a Frenchman who had managed to get his doctorate classified as NS. Not sure if it should have been, but I approve of the principle)

Alas, I have since learned that politicians, in their contempt for the masses, appear to believe passionately in a nostruym that “voters don’t care about Process Issues.

Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki to run for (Australian) Senate
(Partly to counter said nostrum). I don't fancy his chances, but wish him luck.

(This snippet was *not* intended as a hint, BTW ;-)

Anonymous said...

For the record, during World War 1, the Supreme Court ruled that conscription did not violate the 13th Amendment. Their ruling on the issue consisted of one paragraph:

"[A]s we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation as the result of a war declared by the great representative body of the people can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude in violation of the prohibitions of the Thirteenth Amendment, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement."

In other words, they said that the draft is constitutional because they want it to be.

David Brin said...

Iagree that ruling is truly a piece of towering sophistry.

I could make an argument for the draft based upon implicit and explicit social contracts, the theoretical underpinning of all Lockean social thought and the basis for the entire thought process behind the Constitution. But that court paragraph is siply a travesty. Thanks for sharing it.

Tony Fisk said...

*squint through waffle filter*
...So decisions of the government, representing the will of the people, cannot be countered by the people?

[A]s we are unable to conceive upon what theory...

...Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
- Walt Whitman

Anonymous said...

An explicit social contract requiring national service?

Hmm - OK, but if we're going to re-negotiate the contract (because that sure isn't in the current US social contract, let alone explicitly so) then throw the doors open and renegotiate it honestly, with a Constitutional Convention.

I'd be more than happy to accept a national service clause, if in return we can ban federal income taxes on individuals, including social security taxes. After all, I'm already working for the Feds about 4 months every year - 6-12 months once in a lifetime would be a real bargain!

Anonymous said...

"Another 9/11" is unlikely - after 6+ years of supposedly building up "Homeland Security" at the expense of the Constitution, the NeoCons know that people would hold them accountable for failing to prevent a domestic attack.

They'll have to arrange for something different this time. This time it'll be "another Pearl Harbor" in the Persian Gulf, where Bush has knowingly placed the Navy at risk:

As with 9/11, they'll deny that anyone could have anticipated the danger or done anything to prevent the disaster, even as they exploit our anger over the loss of our men in uniform and the sudden cut-off of much of Middle-Eastern oil.

Then you'll get your draft, DB - but it'll be a fat draft, combined with a rousing shift to WW2 style War Economy, gas rationing, war bonds, propaganda - the whole 9 yards.

It'll make Hillary's focus on Health Care look foolishly "out of touch with grim new realities". Suddenly Cheney will announce that - to enable continuity of government - he is running for President with Jeb Bush as his running mate. To many, that will seem like the safest course for "an America suddenly at risk".

reason said...

I've often pondered whether such a deal might make sense - no income tax if you work for the government (unpaid) for 30% of the time. Glad you agree.-) Of course you would need to have skills the government needs.

(6 months at a young age just won't cut it I'm afraid.)

P.S. David, I have over a considerable period of time come to agree with on the National Service issue (all youths). I grew up being politicised by the possibility of being sent to serve involuntarily in Vietnam so conscription has a big negative connotation for me.

It would, however, have the huge advantage of taking many young people out of disfunctional homes, of mixing people from all sorts of backgrounds as equals (i.e. anti-elitism) and of exposing many to social ills that they may have been unaware of. 16 year olds seems about the right age to me, they aren't full adults yet, and are used to the compulsion of schooling. It also seems correct to me that the military option is just an option. Like in Germany, there should be a ban on using such conscripts outside of their home country.

It would also undoubtedly allow communities to provide badly needed services that cannot currently be afforded.

Rights come with responsibilities. That is how it should be.

Unknown said...

Twinbeam: Rovean methodology or not, there's no way Cheney would run.

He has no hope of election under any circumstances by which the word election means what we hold it to mean. Nor is he likely to want to stay in office any longer than the end of his term.

Remember, Bush and Cheney are playing a "run out the clock" strategy right now. While it's plausible that they'd try to do something to affect the way people will vote on the next election... neither of them is going to try to be voted for.

That said, I also think you're shortchanging Hillary. For all that the Dems (including her!) have been displaying a remarkable lack of political aptitude, I'm quite certain that if the vast majority of America were to support a war, she would at least be addressing the topic; and not even a Dem would let the charge of "ignoring priorities" stick in the circumstance you describe.

Scott Kohlhaas said...

This was an interesting post!

Would you be willing to spread the word about It's a site dedicated to shattering the myths surrounding the selective slavery system and building mass civil disobedience to stop the draft before it starts!

Our banner on a website, printing and posting the anti-draft flyer or just telling friends would help.


Scott Kohlhaas

PS. When it comes to conscription, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!