Saturday, August 30, 2003

A few recommendations...

I'll be away from my laptop until Monday evening, so I thought I would recommend a few weblogs which have caught my eye in the last few weeks. Enjoy!

War and Piece -- War and Piece is written by Laura Rozen, a journalist who reports on national security and foreign policy issues from Washington, D.C.

Jusiper -- a center-left weblog that looks like an edgier version of TAPPED and the Washington Monthly. Good reporting and analysis from the left side of the aisle; I suspect this will be a really good site to watch for the 2004 election.

Darren Kaplan -- Thoughts on foreign policy and other issues from an attorney who lives in New York.

Priorities & Frivolities -- a great site run by a soon-to-be student at Harvard's Kennedy School. Sometimes it covers baseball; mostly it covers politics. -- A great weblog on all the administrative law and federal agency stuff that wonks like me find really interesting. This is about the nuts & bolts of government, and it's really good.

AFA Scandal: Winds of Change has a good collection on the sexual assault scandal which continues to unfold at the U.S. Air Force Academy. It appears that Gen. John Rosa, the new USAFA commanding general, is making an effort to clean house. Whether he can make a dent on the entrenched culture there remains to be seen. (Thanks to Oxblog for the tip)

A legal obligation to police Iraq?

Eugene Volokh comments on a blog post arguing that America has a legal obligation to police Iraq under the Geneva Convention, and that our failure to protect Iraqis from other Iraqis may amount to a war crime. This argument could give rise to some sort of legal recourse against American authorities for "letting" Friday's car bombing happen in Najaf.

I agree with Eugene's analysis under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, as well as his distinction between negative and positive obligations. We certainly have an obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and to abstain from killing non-combatants to the extent that's military practicable. However, whether we have an affirmative obligation to protect Iraqis is really a moot point. As Eugene points out, we have compelling political and military reasons for stabilizing the situation there, and those interests are what will control U.S. behavior in Iraq.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Car bomb kills leading Muslim cleric and at least 90 other persons in Iraq

The New York Times reports (along with nearly every media organization) that a major car bomb exploded today in Najaf, killing more than 90 persons. One of the fatalities was Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, a relatively moderate Shiite cleric who had shown some willingness to work with American officials in recent weeks and months.
The explosion occurred moments after the Shiite leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, had left the site, which houses the tomb of Imam Ali and is considered the holiest shrine in Shiite Islam.

Ayatollah al-Hakim was an important Shiite ally of the American occupying force and his death will likely undermine the coalition's efforts to build stability in Iraq.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, which also injured at least 140 people, according to a doctor running the emergency room a the city's teaching hospital.

American officials, speaking about previous violence in Najaf, have said that attacks that harm Shiites are probably the work of other Shiites, while attacks aimed directly at the coalition forces or intended to foment anger toward the coalition are probably the work of Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein.
Quick Analysis: Like the UN car bombing, this is pure terrorism. It is violence with a political purpose, intended for an audience beyond the victims. The purpose here is to intimidate the Americans and Iraqis, and to contribute to a larger sense of bedlam that might force us to abandon our Iraqi endeavor. The question for our side is: will we let it?

Thursday, August 28, 2003

ROTC enrollment on the rise

The Washington Post reports that college students across America are joining the military's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in increasingly larger numbers than before. In percentage terms, these increases are even outpacing recruiting for enlisting personnel, which have hovered just above recruiting target numbers for the last few years.
Across the state and country, other colleges have reported increased interest and enrollment in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Last academic year, Army ROTC enrollment at Maryland colleges and universities went up 20 percent, from 466 the year before to 560. The numbers nationwide grew 3 percent, from 29,818 to 30,824, during the same time.

Cadet Wayne Logan, 18, believes the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had something to do with the increases. He recently signed up for ROTC this fall at Bowie State.

"It was kind of a wake-up call that we're not untouchable," said Logan, who lives in the District. "Everybody can't be a doctor, and somebody needs to protect the United States."
* * *
Recruiters point to other reasons their ranks have grown, namely a bigger push to recruit, new tools such as the Internet and e-mail, a bad economy and better financial incentives.

"My sense was that the events validated a choice that many of the people had already made to join ROTC," said Paul Kotakis, national spokesman for the Army ROTC.

Ann Easterling, spokeswoman for the Air Force ROTC, agreed. Last academic year, the Air Force experienced a 22 percent increase, from 14,308 cadets the previous year to 17,513. The Navy's program grew slightly during that time, from 5,831 to 6,068, a 4 percent increase.
Analysis: I think this a great thing. Military service is not for everyone, but I believe that every American ought to serve his or her nation in some way -- whether in the military, foreign service, Peace Corps, as a school teacher, or in some other needed capacity. I joined the military because I felt it was the best opportunity for me to serve, mature, and lead a diverse group of Americans -- and the military kept its end of the bargain for me.

I think there are at least three trends at work here. The confluence of these factors -- more than any one alone -- has led to this surge in ROTC enrollment.

1. The Economy. Like it or not, the American economy is still not doing well. Recruiters still come to campus to recruit new B.A. and B.S. holders, but not in the same numbers they did in the late 1990s -- and certainly not with the same lucrative offers. ROTC offers a steady job with decent pay and great benefits after college. I don't think you can discount this lure for the military, particularly among working class and middle class students.

1.a. The Economy II - College Costs. The cost of higher education has risen dramatically in the last 10-15 years, particularly at public institutions that used to be relatively inexpensive (or even free) for in-state residents. Much of this owes to the counter-cyclical nature of state budgets, which are tied to income and consumption taxes that do poorly in bad economic times, and squeeze state services like higher education. (See this Wall Street Journal article on the trend in California) In a bad economy, college fees rise as administrators try to balance their budgets on the backs of students. Parents can't afford to offset these increases as they could in a good economy, forcing a student to either work or borrow money. An ROTC scholarship looks awfully attractive to a college student in this predicament.

2. The War on Terrorism. I think it's safe to say that the Sept. 11 attacks made many Americans look inside themselves to their own patriotism, and led many to look for ways to express that patriotism. The military has benefitted in some small measure from this. Recruiting numbers have not skyrocketed as they did in December 1941, but they have gone up. Some of this may owe to economic factors in the larger population, but I think these ROTC students are joining for more than just financial reasons. I've given a class to UCLA's Army ROTC seniors during the last 2 years, and my impression is that they're going out into the force with a purpose -- not just a bottom-line mentality.

3. Worldwide Deployments - Relevance and Opportunities. At a more practical level, the war on terrorism has given the military new relevance and new opportunities. For a young lieutenant (or ensign) just graduated from college, this means real opportunities to serve abroad in harm's way where the nation depends on him or her to get the job done. That's a far cry from the peacetime military, which often revolves around paperwork, PowerPoint, and chickensh*t. The prospects for a new military officer are far more exciting today than they were for me in 1997, notwithstanding the Balkans mission then. I think this has a positive effect on recruiting as well.

Bottom Line: The all volunteer force can only work when successive generations of American men and women make the choice to enter the military -- to personall step into the breach and place themselves in harm's way. In particular, our military depends on young citizens graduating from college to make this choice -- forgoing possible riches in the private sector for a few years while they serve their nation. Unfortunately, the burden of service (as officers and enlisted personnel) has mostly been borne by America's working and middle class. This article didn't discuss the equitable issues of military service, and the current distribution of ROTC students by socioeconomic class. But this is certainly a concern of mine, and something I hope to see reported in the future.