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Monday, May 01, 2017

Wars to Keep the Military Industry in Demand

Image: Batr.org


The defense industry in America has utilized the threat of war and self-fulfilling prophesies to promote engagements by our country in several countries over the last 15 years. They pay more in lobbying costs each year than they pay in taxes.

There have been two major factors in the U.S. approach to undeclared warfare:

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.




Saturday, April 01, 2017

What Mark Thompson Has Learned Covering the Military for 40 Years

Image:  “Otherwords.org”

“Scant public interest yields ceaseless wars to nowhere”

“Straus Military Reform Project – Center for Defense Information at POGO”

“It turns out that my spending four years on an amusement-park midway trying to separate marks from their money was basic training for the nearly 40 years I spent reporting on the U.S. military.

Both involve suckers and suckees. One just costs a lot more money, and could risk the future of United States instead of a teddy bear.

But after 15 years of covering U.S. defense for daily newspapers in Washington, and 23 more for Time magazine until last December, it’s time to share what I’ve learned. I’m gratified that the good folks at the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight, through their Straus Military Reform Project, are providing me this weekly soapbox to comment on what I’ve come to see as the military-industrial circus.

As ringmaster, I can only say: Boy, are we being taken to the cleaners. And it’s not so much about money as it is about value. Too much of today’s U.S. fighting forces look like it came from Tiffany’s, with Walmart accounting for much of the rest. There’s too little Costco, or Amazon Prime.

There was a chance, however slight, that President Trump would blaze a new trail on U.S. national security. Instead, he has simply doubled down.

We have let the Pentagon become the engine of its own status quo.

For too long, the two political parties have had Pavlovian responses when it comes to funding the U.S. military (and make no mistake about it: military funding has trumped military strategy for decades). Democrats have long favored shrinking military spending as a share of the federal budget, while Republicans yearn for the days when it accounted for a huge chunk of U.S. government spending. Neither is the right approach. Instead of seeing the Pentagon as the way to defend against all threats, there needs to be a fresh, long-overdue accounting of what the real threats are, and which of those are best addressed by military means.

The Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which is supposed to do just that every four years, has become an engine of the status quo. The Pentagon today is little more than a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated in large measure to its growth and preservation. 

Congress is a willing accomplice, refusing to shutter unneeded military bases due to the job losses they’d mean back home. The nuclear triad remains a persistent Cold War relic (even former defense secretary Bill Perry wants to scrap it), with backers of subs, bombers and ICBMs embracing one another against their real threat: a hard-nosed calculus on the continuing wisdom of maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

Unfortunately, it’s getting worse as partisan enmity grows. It’s quaint to recall the early congressional hearings I covered (Where have you gone, Barry Goldwater?), when lawmakers would solemnly declare that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The political opposition’s reactions to Jimmy Carter’s failed raid to rescue U.S. hostages held in Iran in 1980 that killed eight U.S. troops, and to the loss of 241 U.S. troops on Ronald Reagan’s peacekeeping mission in Beirut in 1983, was tempered.

But such grim events have been replaced Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi and Donald Trump’s Jan. 29 special-ops raid in Yemen. Rancid rancor by both sides cheapens the sacrifice of the five Americans who died. It only adds a confusing welter of new rules designed to ensure they aren’t repeated. 

Yet mistakes are a part of every military operation, and an unwillingness to acknowledge that fact, and act accordingly, leads to pol-mil paralysis. It’s amazing that the deaths of Glen Doherty, William “Ryan” Owens, Sean Smith, Chris Stevens and Tyrone Woods seem to have generated more acrimony and second-guessing than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which 6,908 U.S. troops have died.

There is today a fundamental disconnect between the nation and its wars. We saw it in President Obama’s persistent leeriness when it came to the use of military force, and his successor’s preoccupation with spending and symbolism instead of strategy. In his speech to Congress Feb. 28, Trump mentioned the heroism of Navy SEAL Owens, but didn’t say where he died (Yemen). Nor did he mention Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, where nearly 15,000 U.S. troops are fighting what Trump boldly declared is “radical Islamic terrorism.”

But he did declare he is seeking “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” His $54 billion boost would represent a 10% hike, and push the Pentagon spending, already well beyond the Cold War average used to keep the now-defunct Soviet Union at bay—even higher.

“We are going to have very soon the finest equipment in the world,” Trump said from the deck of the yet-to-be-commissioned carrier Gerald R. Ford on Thursday in Hampton, Va. “We’re going to start winning again.” What’s surprising is Trump’s apparent ignorance that the U.S. military has had, pound-for-pound, the world’s finest weapons since World War II. What’s stunning is his apparent belief that better weapons lead inevitably to victory. There is a long list of foes that knows better.

It’s long past time for a tough look at what U.S. taxpayers are getting for the $2 billion they spend on their military and veterans every day. It would have been great if Trump had been willing to scrub the Pentagon budget and reshape it for the 21st Century. But the U.S. has been unwilling to do that ever since the Cold War ended more than 25 years ago. Instead, it simply shrunk its existing military, then turned on a cash gusher following 9/11.

I know many veterans who are angered that their sacrifice, and that of buddies no longer around, have been squandered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I recall flying secretly into Baghdad in December 2003 with then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The bantam SecDef declared on that trip that the U.S. military had taken the “right approach” in training Iraqi troops, and that they were fighting “well and professionally.”

 Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the fifth man to hold that job since Rumsfeld, declared in Baghdad that the U.S. training of the Iraqi military is “developing very well.” His visit, like Rumsfeld’s 14 years earlier, wasn’t announced in advance.

Even as Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, tries to chart a path forward in Iraq, it’s worth remembering that he earned his spurs 26 years ago as a captain in a tank battle with Iraqi forces.

If we’re going to spend—few would call it an investment—$5 trillion fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria, and Yemen), don’t we, as Americans, deserve a better return?
The problem is that the disconnect between the nation and its wars (and war-fighters) also includes us:
  • Our representatives in Congress prefer not to get their hands bloodied in combat, so they avoid declaring war. They prefer to subcontract it out to the White House, and we let them get away with it.
  • Through the Pentagon, we have subcontracted combat out to an all-volunteer force. Only about 1% of the nation has fought in its wars since 9/11. We praise their courage even as we thank God we have no real skin in the game.
  • In turn, the uniformed military services have hired half their fighting forces from the ranks of private, for-profit contractors, who handle the critical support missions that used to be done by soldiers. The ruse conveniently lets the White House keep an artificially-low ceiling on the number of troops in harm’s way. We like those lower numbers.
  • Finally, we have contracted out paying for much of the wars’ costs to our children, and grandchildren. We are using their money to fight our wars. They’ll be thanking us in 2050, for sure.
Until and unless Americans take responsibility for the wars being waged in their name, and the weapons being bought to wage them, this slow bleeding of U.S. blood and treasure will continue. “We have met the enemy,” another Pogo once said, “and he is us.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/03/military-industrial-circus-national-security-column.html
mark-thompson-230
2By: Mark Thompson, National Security Analyst
Mark Thompson Profile
Mark Thompson writes for the Center for Defense Information at POGO.

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.