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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Why Did the U.S Allow Massive Waste, Fraud and Abuse in Iraq?

Please click on image to enlarge
 By Ken Larson in Response to a Question  by  Gwydion Madawc Williams on Quora
 Quora Question


Two Major reasons:

1. The motives of the U.S. and International Military Industrial Complexes, USAID and other western USAID counterparts in fostering continued warfare during this period, netting billions in sales of weapons to the war fighters and massive construction and redevelopment dollars for international companies who often operated fraudulently and fostered waste, looting and lack of funds control.

It is common knowledge that many of these corporations spend more each year in lobbying costs than they pay in taxes and pass exorbitant overhead and executive pay cost on to the tax payer in sales, thus financing their operating personnel riches while remaining marginally profitable to their stockholders.

I watched this from the inside of many of these companies for 36 years. Here is my dissertation on that subject. You can read it on line at:


Here is an example of how the lobbying and behind the scenes string pulling worked:


2. The complete lack of cultural understanding between U.S. and Western decision makers and the middle east cultures they were trying to "Assist" by nation building.

The only real understanding that existed during the period was in the person of General Schwarzkopf who spent much of his youth in the Middle East with his father who was an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He was fascinated by the Arab culture, commended their respect and like Eisenhower led a coalition during the Gulf War. 

He then astutely recommend no occupation of Iraq, went home and stayed out of government.

Norman, like Ike, knew the power of the MIC and he wanted no part of it.
The U.S Tax payer has funded billions in USAID and construction projects in Iraq and wasted the money due to a lack of cultural understanding, fraud and abuse. POGO documents many:


There is history repeating itself here - much like Vietnam the above two factors are deeply at play with the lack of astute learning in our government as we look back over our shoulder.
We must come to the understanding, like a recent highly respected war veteran and West Point Instructor has, that military victory is dead.

“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”

“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish."


Frank Spinney is an expert on the MIC. He spent the same time I did on the inside of the Pentagon while I worked Industry. You may find his interviews informative.



At the risk of pounding my personal perspective drum, I have hope by these remarks are of some assistance to you.


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Defense Officials Approve Expanded Veterans Online Shopping Benefit




Defense Officials Approve Expanded Veterans Online Shopping Benefit


vets-on-line-px
Image:  Stars and Stipes.com
“MILITARY TIMES”

“Honorably discharged veterans could be able to shop online at military exchange websites as early as Veterans Day, barring any objections from Congress.

The change in Defense Department policy would open up online exchange shopping privileges to about 18 million more people. It won’t apply to shopping at brick-and-mortar exchange stores.

A defense official confirmed a letter announcing the change was signed Wednesday by Peter Levine, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Copies were sent to lawmakers on four House and Senate committees, and if no objections are raised within 30 days, officials with Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Navy Exchange Service Command expect to be able to implement the new benefit by mid-November.

The change requires no taxpayer dollars; the expected increase in exchange profits would bring in more money for programs in the military community. DoD officials determined that a change in law was not required to extend the benefit, but notified Congress of their intent to change policy.

AAFES and NEX now have online shopping sites that are open to all eligible military exchange shoppers regardless of service branch – www.shopmyexchange.com andwww.mynavyexchange.com, respectively. Those eligible are limited to active duty, Guard and reserve members and retirees, along with dependent family members, and 100 percent disabled veterans (and certain others). But most of those who leave the military before retirement – about 90 percent of veterans – aren’t eligible to shop at exchanges.

Pentagon officials have been deliberating whether to extend the benefit for nearly three years.  In 2014, AAFES CEO Tom Shull said he proposed the idea as a way to give “a modest benefit to honor the service” of those who left the military before retirement age. He noted that among this group are many veterans with four, five or more combat deployments in the post-9/11 era.

Retirees won’t be the only beneficiaries, according to an internal DoD document: Expanding the online customer base will strengthen the exchanges’ online business to better serve the customers, and the expansion is expected to “conservatively double the exchanges’ online presence,” thus yielding better prices for customers and more competitive merchandise.

Exchanges sell items at a discount, without a sales tax, and any profits after operating costs are either returned to the services’ morale, welfare and recreation programs, or used for construction and other improvements to stores.

Thus, officials expect the expanded benefit will also help shore up the financial situation of morale and recreation activities, which have been under budget pressures. Exchange officials project between $18 million to $72 million in extra profits each year when the program is fully implemented and matured. Based on the exchanges’ current dividend policies, the extra profits will add about $9 million to $36 million in dividends to installation morale, welfare and recreation programs. Generally, half of exchanges’ profits go to MWR and half go to improve facilities.

Since 2014, AAFES officials have been working toward the goal of preparing for an expanded customer base, including revamping and relaunching their website. One issue will be verifying eligibility: The Defense Manpower Data Center serves as the sole source for verification of military customers and has electronic records that could verify about 87 percent of veterans.

Veterans not in the system will be able to update their files. Initial DMDC setup costs of about $500,000 will be reimbursed by AAFES, according to an internal document.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/defense-officials-approve-expanded-veterans-online-shopping-benefit

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Government Fraud Recovery Bounces Back in 2016


THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”
 
“It is  a substantial increase over last year’s total.

A large number of recoveries came from contract fraud cases involving some of Uncle Sam’s most prominent suppliers of goods and services.

The Justice Department announced on Wednesday it had recovered for taxpayers more than $4.7 billion through settlements and judgments from False Claims Act cases in fiscal year 2016. According to the announcement, it is the third highest annual recovery in False Claims Act history. It is also a substantial increase over last year’s total.

Of the $4.7 billion recovered, $2.5 billion came from health care fraud cases. An additional $1.7 billion came from settlements and judgments in cases alleging false claims in connection with federally insured residential mortgages.
  • Boeing: $18 million to settle allegations that it overcharged the US Air Force for aircraft maintenance services at Boeing’s Long Beach, California, depot. (In 2014, Boeing paid $23 million for allegedly overcharging maintenance work at its depot in San Antonio, Texas.)
  • Centerra Services International: $7.4 million to resolve a lawsuit accusing the company of overbilling the Army for firefighting services in the Middle East
  • Computer Sciences Corporation: $1.35 million for billing the Defense Information Systems Agency for subcontract workers who lacked the required security clearances
  • Deloitte Consulting LLP: $11.38 million to resolve overbilling claims on a General Services Administration contract
  • DRS Technical Services: $1 million to settle charges that employees billed the Army for hours they did not work
  • L-3 Communications: $25.6 million to settle claims of selling the government defective weapon sights
  • Lockheed Martin: $5 million for allegedly misleading federal and state regulators about noncompliance with environmental regulations at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky
  • SRA International: $1.1 million for alleged false billing on military contracts
  • United Technologies: $11 million in penalties, interest, and disgorgement of profits for overcharging the Air Force for jet engines in the 1980s
  • URS Corporation: $9 million to settle allegations that a subsidiary defrauded the government into awarding it construction contracts that it was not eligible to receive. In a different case, URS paid $580,000 for allegedly overbilling labor rates on a bridge reconstruction project.
The False Claims Act is the government’s primary tool to redress fraud in the areas of health care, defense and national security, food safety and inspection, federally insured loans and mortgages, highway funds, small business contracts, agricultural subsidies, disaster assistance, and import tariffs.

In 1986, Congress strengthened the Act by increasing incentives for whistleblowers to come forward with allegations of fraud. Most false claims actions are filed by whistleblowers in qui tam lawsuits. Since 1986, the government has recovered slightly over $53 billion, awarding more than $6.3 billion of that to the whistleblowers who filed the lawsuits—often at great risk to their careers.

On the same day the Justice Department announced its annual fraud recoveries, it also announced it had collected nearly $15.4 billion in civil and criminal cases in FY 2016, one-third less than last year’s total. This amount includes recoveries in all civil and criminal enforcement cases (including those involving the False Claims Act), fines imposed on individuals and corporations for violations of federal financial, health, safety, civil rights, and environmental laws, and collected debts owed to the federal government.

How will the False Claims Act fare under the Trump administration? At least one expert foresees very little change.

Taxpayers Against Fraud acting president Patrick Burns recently observed that Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), President-elect Trump’s choice for Attorney General, “has never winked at companies that harm American workers and consumers” and “understand[s] the value of whistleblowers and whistleblower laws when it comes to fighting corporate theft and crony capitalism.” He noted that Sessions has supported strengthening the False Claims Act and has a good relationship with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the law’s key champion in the Senate.

Burns’ prediction gives us hope that active enforcement of the False Claims Act—and billions of dollars in annual recoveries—will continue for years to come.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/12/federal-fraud-recoveries-fy-2016.html

Thursday, December 01, 2016

How Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Keep America Strong

Image:  Nerdwallet.com

“MILITARY TIMES”

“Veterans are 45 percent more likely than non-veterans to start a small business.
Today, veterans own 2.52 million small businesses — nearly 1 in every 10 — while employing 6 million Americans and generating $1.14 trillion in receipts.

Veteran-owned small businesses have always been a pillar of America’s economy, but they are in a generational decline.

More than 1.1 million veteran business owners are over the age of 65, and in 2014, only 4.5 percent of Post-9/11 veterans started a business,   according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When considering that nearly half of World War II veterans and 40 percent of Korean War veterans started businesses, the differences are stark.

As an estimated 200,000 service members transition from the military every year, the Small Business Administration knows how imperative it is to connect service members, veterans and military spouses with the tools and resources they need to become business owners — and what the nation risks losing if they don’t.

Starting a successful small business is a tough mission. It requires tenacity, discipline and adaptability — all character traits found in a veteran, alongside many other skills. But being your own boss doesn’t mean going it alone.

Transitioning service members and veterans need ready access to business assistance services, resource networks, capital and market opportunities to ensure success. Empowering and regenerating America’s veteran entrepreneurs is one way to help reverse our declining trends in entrepreneurship while also facilitating the economic revitalization of small towns and rural America.

The SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development works to formulate, implement and promote policies and programs that equip members of the military community with counseling, training and education, as well as access to capital to start their own businesses and assist them with contracting opportunities. 

Since 2013, 50,000 transitioning service members and military spouses have participated in the Boots to Business program as part of the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program. B2B provided — for the first time since World War II — a strong, visible pipeline of potential veteran business owners.

Boots to Business provides free entrepreneurship training in more than 200 military installations and military communities. Graduates of these programs are 53 percent more likely to start a business, and 91 percent are still in business after a year, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Resources like the Veterans Business Outreach Centers provide entrepreneurial development, counseling and mentoring, and referrals for eligible members of the military community. The Service-Disabled Entrepreneurship Development Training Program supports organizations that deliver entrepreneurship training to service-disabled veterans, and the Veterans Institute for Procurement is an accelerator-like program that focuses on procurement.

In addition to the resources listed above, female veterans, active duty, and military spouses can also access resources through Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-WISE.

Surveys of Post 9/11-era veterans show as many as 25 percent would like to own a business after leaving service. However, lack of seed capital can be a challenge. There are no grants for veteran-owned businesses, traditional SBA lending programs are not for new businesses and the SBA’s micro-lending intermediaries do not focus on veterans, leaving veteran entrepreneurs more likely than nonveterans to rely on personal savings and credit cards to fund their businesses.

Seeking to bridge the seed capital gap, Congress proposed the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition, or VET, Act of 2016. It proposes an SBA program that would evaluate the use of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits as seed capital for starting a new business, similar to the World War II era-GI Bill, connecting B2B and other technical assistance programs to GI Bill grants by leveraging existing SBA infrastructure and administration.

The SBA activates the entrepreneurial potential of military and veteran entrepreneurs. Recognized through the SBA’s annual celebration during National Veterans Small Business Week and beyond, generations of these brave women and men have answered the call to start their own small businesses. The Post-9/11 era of veterans represents the next great generation to continue this legacy of success.”

Veteran Owned Small Business Keeps America Strong 







Tuesday, November 01, 2016

For Veterans Day - Wanted: More Veterans in Congress to Break Gridlock


“DOD BUZZ”

“A retired two-star general has come up with a new explanation for what’s wrong with Congress – Not enough veterans in the House and Senate.
 
“Veterans would instinctively understand when mutual sacrifice was necessary to achieve a common goal”

“I really do believe that,” said retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, who has a unique perspective on the ways and mores of Capitol Hill from his 24 years as a staffer with former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat and an iconic figure on defense issues as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The temptation would be to pass off Punaro’s analysis as yet another insider’s gripe-fest, but he has made the case at length in his book “On War And Politics: The Battlefield Inside Washington’s Beltway” (Naval Institute Press).

“Today’s so-called ‘leaders’ are fully aware of the problems that need solving. They just don’t seem to have the courage to make the hard choices — not if it means they may lose votes or campaign contributions,” Punaro said. “I believe it’s because most of today’s bureaucrats and elected officials have never faced a real battle or had to risk their very lives in a shared effort.”

He pointed to statistics showing that “in 1981, when we could still compromise, 64 percent of the members of Congress were veterans. In 2015, only 18 percent had served.”
Veterans would instinctively understand “when mutual sacrifice was necessary to achieve a common goal,” Punaro said, but compromise has become a dirty word in the how-do-I-avoid-a-primary era of gridlock, government shutdowns, and perennial failures to pass a defense budget.

In his book, and in a phone interview, Punaro said the decline in the number of veterans in Congress could be traced directly to the scrapping of the draft and the introduction of the all-volunteer force, which he continues to support — with reservations.

In 1970, as protests against the Vietnam War rattled the nation, President Richard Nixon issued an executive order creating a 15-member Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, led by former Defense Secretary Thomas Gates, “to develop a comprehensive plan for eliminating conscription and moving toward an all-volunteer armed force.”

Nixon directed the commission to study the various aspects of an all-volunteer force, such as pay, recruitment incentives, benefits and selection standards. The all-volunteer force went into effect over the objections of much of the Pentagon’s leadership, who feared the impact on recruitment.

“A lot of people were skeptical about replacing the draft,” which happened in 1973, “but I wasn’t in their ranks. I’d seen firsthand what it did to both our country and men who never should have been put behind a trigger,” Punaro said.

But by the late 1970s, the all-volunteer force was on the verge of collapse as the services could not meet recruiting and retention goals and costs were ballooning far beyond original estimates.

Nunn put together hearings detailing the problems and calling on the Defense Department to boost standards and increase pay and benefits to attract recruits. The bottom line — “The quality of the force was more important to him [Nunn] than the price tag,” Punaro said.

“Today, the AVF is again unsustainable from the standpoint of fully-burdened life-cycle costs. DoD spends more than half of its budget supporting people,” Puinaro said, but he remained a supporter of the AVF. “I’m amused when some people label me as a critic of the AVF. I’m still a supporter of the concept but our force as it stands today is no longer sustainable in the long-term,” he said.

Punaro wrote that “The Gates commission foresaw this circumstance, stating in 1970 that a volunteer force would not be sustainable unless lawmakers eliminated the 20-year cliff retirement, reformed the ‘up or out’ promotion system, and changed the pay and compensation from a simple time-in-grade to a skill and performance-based system. None of these recommendations were adopted and reforms in those areas are long overdue.”

While praising individual Pentagon leaders, such as current Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Punaro’s book said the institution itself could be as hidebound as Congress when it came to reform. Sometimes, head fakes were required to get anything done.
Punaro cited the 1986 passage of the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act reforming the structure and responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs Chairman, the service chiefs and the Combatant Commanders with the goal of improving joint operations.

To get the bill passed, Nunn and Sen Barry Goldwater “fought every single civilian and military leader,” including then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Punaro said. “From my early days as a staffer, I knew that the Pentagon always overreacted to reform efforts, so we included fake provisions in our proposal to keep them diverted in their response.”
“One was to get rid of the Joint Chiefs of Staff entirely. We obviously had no desire to actually do this but while the Pentagon was busy pummeling our straw man, we were gathering votes for the real elements of change, like unifying the Joint Chiefs through a more powerful chairman and vice chairman.”

The book goes on to detail other legislative battles won and lost but frequently returns to the lessons learned by 2nd Lt. Punaro in Vietnam as leader of 1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

The book is dedicated to Corp. Roy Lee Hammonds, who was from another platoon in Lima Company but raced to rescue Punaro when he was wounded in an ambush on Jan. 4, 1970.

“Someone had come after me,” Punaro wrote. “Incredibly brave. Incredibly risky. I grabbed his flak jacket and yelled ‘Let’s go. Let’s go.’ No answer. My hand came back covered with blood. An unfamiliar pale, long face fell back. I didn’t know him. ‘I can’t move,’ I yelled, but he didn’t’ respond. Just lay there on top of me, jerking as the bullets hammered his flak jacket.”

“I didn’t know what had caused Corp. Roy Lee Hammonds, 21, of Waxahachie, Texas, to come to my rescue. He’d been in country since Feb. 25, 1969, and was within weeks of going home.”

Aboard the medevac helicopter, “in the last fading golden light, I looked out over the rolling hills of the battle-scarred country we were leaving and laid a protective arm over Roy’s body.”

“He died saving my life,” Punaro said over the phone. In writing the book, “I wanted to tell the story of those Marines and what they did,” of their dedication to a mission and to each other. “The second thing was – I was becoming increasingly concerned, watching the deterioration of the executive and legislative process to where we weren’t solving anything.”
What was needed, he said, was finding a way to imbue in current members of the House and Senate that same commitment to a cause greater than themselves that is ingrained in those who serve in the military.

“The best advocates for the military are our troops,” and members need to spend more time with them, Punaro said. “I think if we could get more people in Congress to spend less time politicking and more time learning about what’s going on in the military that would take the place of some of the experience” gained by actually being in the ranks.

“If you haven’t been there, it’s hard to explain to somebody who’s never served in the military, never knew anybody who ever served in the military, what our military goes through.”

In his foreword to the book, former Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican who was once Punaro’s boss as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gently warned him to expect some blowback from those who might be offended by Punaro’s characterizations.
Warner said Punaro should give himself the same advice he gave his platoon in Vietnam: “Every man must now put on his flak jacket, zip it up, for the incoming will soon be targeting down on us.”

Wanted: More Veterans in Congress to Break Gridlock

Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Real Versus Perceived Power Of The U.S. Presidency


A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: 

Those of us in the Military Veteran Community, as well as those among us who have worked for years with the federal government, have become concerned in recent years about the public view of the Office of the President.  

Below are selected excerpts from a classic article by George Friedman, prior to the 2012 National Election. It is our hope that the content will continue bringing reality to American citizen expectations on the eve of the 2016 election. 

STRATFOR GEOPOLITICAL WEEKLY 

"The American presidency is designed to disappoint. 

What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him or her.

Each candidate must promise things that are beyond their power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him. 

So candidates promise great, transformative programs.  Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers' point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.
Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president's power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president's power, just as the country's founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time — and this is the main paradox of American political culture — the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance.
The president has somewhat more authority in foreign policy, but only marginally so. He is trapped by public opinion, congressional intrusion, and above all, by the realities of geopolitics. Thus, while during his 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush argued vehemently against nation-building, once in office, he did just that (with precisely the consequences he had warned of on the campaign trail). And regardless of how he modeled his foreign policy during his first campaign, the 9/11 attacks defined his presidency. 
Similarly, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to redefine America's relationship with both Europe and the Islamic world. Neither happened. It has been widely and properly noted how little Obama's foreign policy in action has differed from George W. Bush's. It was not that Obama didn't intend to have a different foreign policy, but simply that what the president wants and what actually happens are very different things.
The power often ascribed to the U.S. presidency is overblown. But even so, people — including leaders — all over the world still take that power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening. The thought that no one can control something as vast and complex as a country or the world is a frightening thought. Conspiracy theories offer this comfort, too, since they assume that while evil may govern the world, at least the world is governed. There is, of course, an alternative viewpoint, namely that while no one actually is in charge, the world is still predictable as long as you understand the impersonal forces guiding it. This is an uncomfortable and unacceptable notion to those who would make a difference in the world. For such people, the presidential race — like political disputes the world over — is of great significance.
Ultimately, the president does not have the power to transform U.S. foreign policy. Instead, American interests, the structure of the world and the limits of power determine foreign policy.
In the broadest sense, current U.S. foreign policy has been in place for about a century. During that period, the United States has sought to balance and rebalance the international system to contain potential threats in the Eastern Hemisphere, which has been torn by wars. The Western Hemisphere in general, and North America in particular, has not. No president could afford to risk allowing conflict to come to North America.
At one level, presidents do count: The strategy they pursue keeping the Western Hemisphere conflict-free matters. During World War I, the United States intervened after the Germans began to threaten Atlantic sea-lanes and just weeks after the fall of the czar. At this point in the war, the European system seemed about to become unbalanced, with the Germans coming to dominate it. In World War II, the United States followed a similar strategy, allowing the system in both Europe and Asia to become unbalanced before intervening. This was called isolationism, but that is a simplistic description of the strategy of relying on the balance of power to correct itself and only intervening as a last resort.
During the Cold War, the United States adopted the reverse strategy of actively maintaining the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere via a process of continual intervention. It should be remembered that American deaths in the Cold War were just under 100,000 (including Vietnam, Korea and lesser conflicts) versus about 116,000 U.S. deaths in World War I, showing that far from being cold, the Cold War was a violent struggle. 
The decision to maintain active balancing was a response to a perceived policy failure in World War II. The argument was that prior intervention would have prevented the collapse of the European balance, perhaps blocked Japanese adventurism, and ultimately resulted in fewer deaths than the 400,000 the United States suffered in that conflict. A consensus emerged from World War II that an "internationalist" stance of active balancing was superior to allowing nature to take its course in the hope that the system would balance itself. The Cold War was fought on this strategy.
Between 1948 and the Vietnam War, the consensus held. During the Vietnam era, however, a viewpoint emerged in the Democratic Party that the strategy of active balancing actually destabilized the Eastern Hemisphere, causing unnecessary conflict and thereby alienating other countries. This viewpoint maintained that active balancing increased the likelihood of conflict, caused anti-American coalitions to form, and most important, overstated the risk of an unbalanced system and the consequences of imbalance. Vietnam was held up as an example of excessive balancing.
The counterargument was that while active balancing might generate some conflicts, World War I and World War II showed the consequences of allowing the balance of power to take its course. This viewpoint maintained that failing to engage in active and even violent balancing with the Soviet Union would increase the possibility of conflict on the worst terms possible for the United States. Thus, even in the case of Vietnam, active balancing prevented worse outcomes. The argument between those who want the international system to balance itself and the argument of those who want the United States to actively manage the balance has raged ever since George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in 1972.
If we carefully examine Obama's statements during the 2008 campaign and his efforts once in office, we see that he has tried to move U.S. foreign policy away from active balancing in favor of allowing regional balances of power to maintain themselves. He did not move suddenly into this policy, as many of his supporters expected he would. Instead, he eased into it, simultaneously increasing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan while disengaging in other areas to the extent that the U.S. political system and global processes would allow.
Obama's efforts to transition away from active balancing of the system have been seen in Europe, where he has made little attempt to stabilize the economic situation, and in the Far East, where apart from limited military repositioning there have been few changes. Syria also highlights his movement toward the strategy of relying on regional balances. The survival of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime would unbalance the region, creating a significant Iranian sphere of influence. Obama's strategy has been not to intervene beyond providing limited covert support to the opposition, but rather to allow the regional balance to deal with the problem. Obama has expected the Saudis and Turks to block the Iranians by undermining al Assad, not because the United States asks them to do so but because it is in their interest to do so.
Obama's perspective draws on that of the critics of the Cold War strategy of active balancing, who maintained that without a major Eurasian power threatening hemispheric hegemony, U.S. intervention is more likely to generate anti-American coalitions and precisely the kind of threat the United States feared when it decided to actively balance. In other words, Obama does not believe that the lessons learned from World War I and World War II apply to the current global system, and that as in Syria, the global power should leave managing the regional balance to local powers.
As I have argued from the outset, the American presidency is institutionally weak despite its enormous prestige. It is limited constitutionally, politically and ultimately by the actions of others. Had Japan not attacked the United States, it is unclear that Franklin Roosevelt would have had the freedom to do what he did. Had al Qaeda not attacked on 9/11, I suspect that George W. Bush's presidency would have been dramatically different.
The world shapes U.S. foreign policy. The more active the world, the fewer choices presidents have and the smaller those choices are. Obama has sought to create a space where the United States can disengage from active balancing. Doing so falls within his constitutional powers, and thus far has been politically possible, too. But whether the international system would allow him to continue along this path should he be re-elected is open to question. Jimmy Carter had a similar vision, but the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan wrecked it. George W. Bush saw his opposition to nation-building wrecked by 9/11 and had his presidency crushed under the weight of the main thing he wanted to avoid.
Presidents make history, but not on their own terms. They are constrained and harried on all sides by reality. In selecting a president, it is important to remember that candidates will say what they need to say to be elected, but even when they say what they mean, they will not necessarily be able to pursue their goals. The choice to do so simply isn't up to them. There are two fairly clear foreign policy outlooks in this election. The degree to which the winner matters, however, is unclear, though knowing the inclinations of presidential candidates regardless of their ability to pursue them has some value.
In the end, though, the U.S. presidency was designed to limit the president's ability to rule. He can at most guide, and frequently he cannot even do that. Putting the presidency in perspective allows us to keep our debates in perspective as well."


STRATFOR Geopolitical Weekly-July 31, 2012 By George Friedman



George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs. He is the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, an online publication that analyzes and forecasts the course of global events. Prior to founding Geopolitical Futures, Friedman was chairman of Stratfor, the private intelligence publishing and consulting firm he founded in 1996.


Thursday, September 01, 2016

How the Pentagon Became Walmart

Photo:  Getty Images


“FOREIGN POLICY”
“Asking warriors to do everything poses great dangers for our country — and the military.
Our armed services have become the one-stop shop for America’s policymakers.
Here’s the vicious circle in which we’ve trapped ourselves: As we face novel security threats from novel quarters — emanating from nonstate terrorist networks, from cyberspace, and from the impact of poverty, genocide, or political repression, for instance — we’ve gotten into the habit of viewing every new threat through the lens of “war,” thus asking our military to take on an ever-expanding range of nontraditional tasks. But viewing more and more threats as “war” brings more and more spheres of human activity into the ambit of the law of war, with its greater tolerance of secrecy, violence, and coercion — and its reduced protections for basic rights.
Meanwhile, asking the military to take on more and more new tasks requires higher military budgets, forcing us to look for savings elsewhere, so we freeze or cut spending on civilian diplomacy and development programs. As budget cuts cripple civilian agencies, their capabilities dwindle, and we look to the military to pick up the slack, further expanding its role.
“If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The old adage applies here as well. If your only functioning government institution is the military, everything looks like a war, and “war rules” appear to apply everywhere, displacing peacetime laws and norms. When everything looks like war, everything looks like a military mission, displacing civilian institutions and undermining their credibility while overloading the military.
More is at stake than most of us realize. Recall Shakespeare’s Henry V:
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage 
In war, we expect warriors to act in ways that would be immoral and illegal in peacetime. But when the boundaries around war and the military expand and blur, we lose our ability to determine which actions should be praised and which should be condemned.
For precisely this reason, humans have sought throughout history to draw sharp lines between war and peace — and between the role of the warrior and the role of the civilian. Until less than a century ago, for instance, most Western societies maintained that wars should be formally declared, take place upon clearly delineated battlefields, and be fought by uniformed soldiers operating within specialized, hierarchical military organizations. In different societies and earlier times, humans developed other rituals to delineate war’s boundaries, from war drums and war sorcery to war paint and complex initiation rites for warriors.
Like a thousand other human tribes before us, we modern Americans also engage in elaborate rituals to distinguish between warriors and civilians: Our soldiers shear off their hair, display special symbols on their chests, engage in carefully choreographed drill ceremonies, and name their weapons for fearsome spirits and totem animals (the Hornet, the Black Hawk, the Reaper). And despite the changes ushered in by the 9/11 attacks, most of us view war as a distinct and separate sphere, one that shouldn’t intrude into our everyday world of offices, shopping malls, schools, and soccer games. Likewise, we relegate war to the military, a distinct social institution that we simultaneously lionize and ignore. War, we like to think, is an easily recognizable exception to the normal state of affairs and the military an institution that can be easily, if tautologically, defined by its specialized, war-related functions.
But in a world rife with transnational terrorist networks, cyberwarriors, and disruptive nonstate actors, this is no longer true. Our traditional categories — war and peace, military and civilian — are becoming almost useless.
In a cyberwar or a war on terrorism, there can be no boundaries in time or space: We can’t point to the battlefield on a map or articulate circumstances in which such a war might end. We’re no longer sure what counts as a weapon, either: A hijacked passenger plane? A line of computer code? We can’t even define the enemy: Though the United States has been dropping bombs in Syria for almost two years, for instance, no one seems sure if our enemy is a terrorist organization, an insurgent group, a loose-knit collection of individuals, a Russian or Iranian proxy army, or perhaps just chaos itself.
We’ve also lost any coherent basis for distinguishing between combatants and civilians: Is a Chinese hacker a combatant? What about a financier for Somalia’s al-Shabab, or a Pakistani teen who shares extremist propaganda on Facebook, or a Russian engineer paid by the Islamic State to maintain captured Syrian oil fields?
When there’s a war, the law of war applies, and states and their agents have great latitude in using lethal force and other forms of coercion. Peacetime law is the opposite, emphasizing individual rights, due process, and accountability.
When we lose the ability to draw clear, consistent distinctions between war and not-war, we lose any principled basis for making the most vital decisions a democracy can make: Which matters, if any, should be beyond the scope of judicial review? When can a government have “secret laws”? When can the state monitor its citizens’ phone calls and email? Who can be imprisoned and with what degree, if any, of due process? Where, when, and against whom can lethal force be used? Should we consider U.S. drone strikes in Yemen or Libya the lawful wartime targeting of enemy combatants or nothing more than simple murder?
When we heedlessly expand what we label “war,” we also lose our ability to make sound decisions about which tasks we should assign to the military and which should be left to civilians.
Today, American military personnel operate in nearly every country on Earth — and do nearly every job on the planet. They launch raids and agricultural reform projects, plan airstrikes and small-business development initiatives, train parliamentarians and produce TV soap operas. They patrol for pirates, vaccinate cows, monitor global email communications, and design programs to prevent human trafficking.
Many years ago, when I was in law school, I applied for a management consulting job at McKinsey & Co. During one of the interviews, I was given a hypothetical business scenario: “Imagine you run a small family-owned general store. Business is good, but one day you learn that Walmart is about to open a store a block away. What do you do?”
“Roll over and die,” I said immediately.
The interviewer’s pursed lips suggested that this was the wrong answer, and no doubt a plucky mom-and-pop operation wouldn’t go down without a fight: They’d look for a niche, appeal to neighborhood sentiment, or maybe get artisanal and start serving hand-roasted chicory soy lattes. But we all know the odds would be against them: When Walmart shows up, the writing is on the wall.
Like Walmart, today’s military can marshal vast resources and exploit economies of scale in ways impossible for small mom-and-pop operations. And like Walmart, the tempting one-stop-shopping convenience it offers has a devastating effect on smaller, more traditional enterprises — in this case, the State Department and other U.S. civilian foreign-policy agencies, which are steadily shrinking into irrelevance in our ever-more militarized world. The Pentagon isn’t as good at promoting agricultural or economic reform as the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development — but unlike our civilian government agencies, the Pentagon has millions of employees willing to work insane hours in terrible conditions, and it’s open 24/7.
It’s fashionable to despise Walmart — for its cheap, tawdry goods, for its sheer vastness and mindless ubiquity, and for the human pain we suspect lies at the heart of the enterprise. Most of the time, we prefer not to see it and use zoning laws to exile its big-box stores to the commercial hinterlands away from the center of town. But as much as we resent Walmart, most of us would be hard-pressed to live without it.
As the U.S. military struggles to define its role and mission, it evokes similarly contradictory emotions in the civilian population. Civilian government officials want a military that costs less but provides more, a military that stays deferentially out of strategy discussions but remains eternally available to ride to the rescue. We want a military that will prosecute our ever-expanding wars but never ask us to face the difficult moral and legal questions created by the eroding boundaries between war and peace.
We want a military that can solve every global problem but is content to remain safely quarantined on isolated bases, separated from the rest of us by barbed wire fences, anachronistic rituals, and acres of cultural misunderstanding. Indeed, even as the boundaries around war have blurred and the military’s activities have expanded, the U.S. military itself — as a human institution — has grown more and more sharply delineated from the broader society it is charged with protecting, leaving fewer and fewer civilians with the knowledge or confidence to raise questions about how we define war or how the military operates.
It’s not too late to change all this.
No divine power proclaimed that calling something “war” should free us from the constraints of morality or common sense or that only certain tasks should be the proper province of those wearing uniforms. We came up with the concepts, definitions, laws, and institutions that now trap and confound us — and they’re no more eternal than the rituals and categories used by any of the human tribes that have gone before us.
We don’t have to accept a world full of boundary-less wars that can never end, in which the military has lost any coherent sense of purpose or limits. If the moral and legal ambiguity of U.S.-targeted killings bothers us, or we worry about government secrecy or indefinite detention, we can mandate new checks and balances that transcend the traditional distinctions between war and peace. If we don’t like the simultaneous isolation and Walmartization of our military, we can change the way we recruit, train, deploy, and treat those who serve, change the way we define the military’s role, and reinvigorate our civilian foreign-policy institutions.
After all, few generals actually want to preside over the military’s remorseless Walmartization: They too fear that, in the end, the nation’s over-reliance on an expanding military risks destroying not only the civilian competition but the military itself. They worry that the armed services, under constant pressure to be all things to all people, could eventually find themselves able to offer little of enduring value to anyone.
Ultimately, they fear that the U.S. military could come to resemble a Walmart on the day after a Black Friday sale: stripped almost bare by a society both greedy for what it can provide and resentful of its dominance, with nothing left behind but demoralized employees and some shoddy mass-produced items strewn haphazardly around the aisles.”

Monday, August 01, 2016

Iraq And The Cost of Geopolitical Hubris

“NEW YORK TIMES”

“These leaders created a false case for invading Iraq and then utterly mismanaged the occupation.

It seems a long time ago, and in a world far, far away, that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, enthusiastically supported by Tony Blair, went to war with Iraq.


Yet now a long and long-overdue British report into Britain’s role in that war, the report of the official and independent Iraq Inquiry Committee led by John Chilcot, has been published, reopening wounds and forcing Mr. Blair back into the limelight to defend why, despite so much evidence and advice against joining in the Bush administration’s misguided enthusiasm for invading Iraq, he chose as prime minister to throw his full support behind America.

Mr. Blair’s message to Mr. Bush at the time — “I will be with you, whatever” — leaps out painfully from the report’s 2.6 million words, proclaiming a blind loyalty that the Iraq war only helped erode, and that seems especially archaic now that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has raised questions about its role in NATO and its place as America’s closest European ally.

Mr. Blair’s critics are no doubt disappointed that in response to the Chilcot report, he has continued to defend his actions. “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it,” he said, which seems willfully blind to the current chaos in Iraq and beyond. But if he would not confess that he erred in his decision, he did acknowledge, “There’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about it.”

His plea for understanding the context in which he made his decision to stand with the United States, the confusion and the need for action after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, seems tragically inadequate and self-serving with so many lives lost — more than 200 Britons, at least 4,500 Americans and more than 150,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians — and so much treasure spent prosecuting a war that was built on falsehoods.

While there have been no consequences for Mr. Blair himself, the political judgment of the British has been decisive, rendering the Iraq war as a defining blot on Mr. Blair’s 10 years in office.

The report should not be read as an indictment only of Mr. Blair’s foolish decision. Though the United States was not the subject of the inquiry, it was the Bush administration that falsely sold and launched the invasion. There has been no comparable, comprehensive official inquiry in Washington by independent investigators into the origin and politics of the fateful decision to go to war. Years have passed, but the public, in the United States and abroad, still yearns for the full truth and deserves an American investigation on the scale of the 9/11 Commission.

Given the partisan divide in Washington, however, it is hard to believe a similar exercise would produce anything even remotely dispassionate or honest.

And yet it is the United States, far more than Britain, that needs to understand how national policy can be hijacked by lies and ideology so that there’s less chance it will happen again.”

Iraq War, Lies 13 Years Later