Monday, September 20, 2004

Corrections count more than news IV
Pentagon public affairs office chooses to chide media in its Early Bird briefing

A favorite subject of mine recently has been the Pentagon's daily "Early Bird" brief, which provides full-text versions (in accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107) of news articles for DoD users, registered press, and others within the federal government. I've written on it here, here, and here. At some point, the Pentagon decided to put "Corrections" at the top of its main news page -- which is the news digest read by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld every morning as he rides to work in his Lincoln Navigator, among other decisionmakers. The gist of my complaint has been that this deemphasizes the stories that are actually news, transmits the subtle message that the Pentagon cares more about "the story" and "the spin" than news, and is just plain silly.

Well, today's Early Bird certainly illustrates the point that this editorial judgment is silly. Check out the juxtaposition of articles and decide for yourself what's more important:
1. Correction
(Concord (NH) Monitor)...The Concord Monitor
A story in Wednesday's Monitor said incorrectly that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had taken President Bush's place at a NASCAR event in Virginia at the last minute. According to a Pentagon spokesman, Rumsfeld's appearance had been planned for months.
2. Effort To Train New Iraqi Army Is Facing Delays
(New York Times)...Eric Schmitt
Three months into its new mission, the military command in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces has fewer than half of its permanent headquarters personnel in place, despite having one of the highest-priority roles in Iraq.

3. Iraq Leader Will Face Doubts On Visit To U.S.
(Los Angeles Times)...Paul Richter
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will visit the United States this week in an effort to convince Americans that his country is on the path to stability, even as GOP leaders in Congress expressed growing concern Sunday about the upsurge of violence in Iraq and the ability of the government to deal with it.

4. Allawi: Violence Won't Halt Iraq Vote
(USA Today)...Barbara Slavin
Despite mounting violence in his country, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Sunday that Iraqi forces, backed by American troops, would retake rebel-held territory to allow elections to proceed on schedule next year.

5. Iran Is Helping Insurgents In Iraq, U.S. Officials Say
(New York Times)...Thom Shanker and Steven R. Weisman
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have raised sharp complaints in recent days that Iran is providing support for the insurgency in Iraq, expressing concerns over what they say are Iran's attempt to shape Iraq's future.

6. Classic Guerrilla War Forming In Iraq
(Christian Science Monitor)...Brad Knickerbocker
...To many experts, the conflict in Iraq has entered a new phase that resembles a classic guerrilla war with US forces now involved in counterinsurgency. And despite the lack of ideological cohesion among insurgent groups, history suggests that it could take as long as a decade to defeat them.

7. China's Ex-Leader Quits Post In Military
(Washington Post)...Edward Cody
Former president Jiang Zemin resigned Sunday as the head of China's military, turning the job over to his successor as president and Communist Party leader, Hu Jintao, and completing the orderly transfer of power to a younger generation.
C'mon... you just can't tell me that this correction is more important than all the top stories which come after it. For one thing, this is a political detail -- the only reasons why it would matter that the SecDef stood in for the POTUS are political reasons. Second, there's just no good argument for the importance of this correction -- it's inane, and probably important to a handful of people in the Pentagon and White House alone. Granted, I don't think that many Early Bird readers are so unsophisticated that they will let this stupid story placement alter their morning newsreading. But still... it's a little silly.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

A formula for disaster
That's the essence of this report from Tom Ricks of the Washington Post about a South Carolina Army National Guard battalion stuck at Fort Dix, N.J., en route to combat duty in Iraq. The battalion has been under disciplinary lockdown for a series of incidents starting a couple of weeks ago, and it looks to be in pretty poor shape for the hazards of a place like Iraq.
The trouble began Labor Day weekend, when 13 members of the 1st Battalion of the 178th Field Artillery Regiment went AWOL, mainly to see their families again before shipping out. Then there was an ugly confrontation between members of the battalion's Alpha and Charlie batteries — the term artillery units use instead of "companies" — that threatened to turn into a brawl involving three dozen soldiers, and required the base police to intervene.

That prompted a barracks inspection that uncovered alcohol, resulting in the lockdown that kept soldiers in their rooms except for drills, barred even from stepping outside for a smoke, a restriction that continued with some exceptions until Sunday's scheduled deployment.

The battalion's rough-and-tumble experience at a base just off the New Jersey Turnpike reflects many of the biggest challenges, strains and stresses confronting the Guard and Reserve soldiers increasingly relied on to fight a war 7,000 miles away.

This Guard unit was put on an accelerated training schedule — giving the soldiers about 36 hours of leave over the past two months — because the Army needs to get fresh troops to Iraq, and there are not enough active-duty or "regular" troops to go around. Preparation has been especially intense because the Army is short-handed on military police units, so these artillerymen are being quickly re-trained to provide desperately needed security for convoys. And to fully man the unit, scores of soldiers were pulled in from different Guard outfits, some voluntarily, some on orders.

As members of the unit looked toward their tour, some said they were angry, or reluctant to go, or both. Many more are bone-tired. Overall, some of them fear, the unit lacks strong cohesion — the glue that holds units together in combat.

* * *
A series of high-level decisions at the Pentagon has come together to make life tough for soldiers and commanders in this battalion and others. The decisions include the Bush administration's reluctance to sharply increase the size of the U.S. Army. Instead, the Pentagon is relying on the National Guard and Reserves, which provide 40 percent of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Also, the top brass has concluded that more military police are needed as security deteriorates and the violent insurgency flares in ways that were not predicted by Pentagon planners.

These soldiers will be based in northern Kuwait and will escort supply convoys into Iraq. That is some of the toughest duty on this mission, with every trip through the hot desert bringing the possibility of being hit by roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and sniper fire.
Analysis: Sending this unit into harm's way under these conditions would be tantamount to negligence and dereliction of duty — or worse. This is a formula for disaster. A unit without cohesion and good leadership will crumble under the strain of combat, and the daily strain of operations in Iraq. Worse yet, this unit lacks the fundamental discipline to do the right thing in a complex operational environment like Iraq, where the undisciplined actions of one Private First Class (see, e.g., Lynndie England) could have a strategic impact on the world. Discipline is absolutely essential for a unit like this, where live bullets and shifting rules of engagement make every decisions a critical one.

Moreover, a unit that lacks this kind of basic discipline will be more likely to suffer casualties in combat. Check out this excerpt:
Except for a brief spell during Labor Day weekend, soldiers have been confined to post and prevented from wearing civilian clothes when off duty. The lockdown was loosened to allow soldiers out of the barracks in off hours to go to the PX, the gym and a few other places, if they sign out and move in groups.
So... do you think this unit's soldiers are going to have the discipline to wear their body armor and carry their weapons 24/7 in Iraq if they can't stomach wearing their military uniforms 24/7 at Fort Dix? I doubt it. And in an environment like Iraq, where the next mortar round may come in at anytime, this unit will pay in blood for its lack of discipline.

If I were on the Army staff evaluating this unit, I would recommend against sending it for the mean time. I would then fire most of the company and battalion leadership, and either break this unit up into fillers for other Guard units, or reconstitute this unit with a new base of leadership. That may be difficult to do given the National Guard status of this unit, and the fact that everyone is home grown. But that may, in fact, be the problem here. Until now, no external eyes looked at this unit, and these problems were allowed to fester over time. Clearly, this unit cannot meet the standard, and cannot be expected to perform well in Iraq. We need to fix this unit before we send it, and then we need to fix the larger systems in the Army Reserve and National Guard that let a unit get this bad.
Will blogs ever supplant the news?
Not likely, in my opinion. But Ben Wasserstein has a good essay in today's LA Times Sunday Opinion section on why bloggers had such a big impact on the Killian memo story (something I've studiously avoided like a case of leishmaniasis). The best part of the argument is this: the Killian/Rather story was tailor-made to bloggers, and particularly ideological ones, so it makes sense that this medium had a big impact on the story:
For a number of reasons, the CBS memos were the blogosphere's perfect target: If any news story was going to be broken by bloggers, it was this. As with the Lott affair, "breaking" this story meant pointing attention to something that aired on television. (Lott's comments were broadcast on C-SPAN.) It was commentary on a news story, not a news story of its own. Leaving the house or making phone calls was not part of getting the scoop.

Furthermore, conservatives, especially the blogging kind, had fulminated all day about the latest slew of old-media stories about Bush's Guard service even as "60 Minutes" hyped its story. A skeptical right-wing audience was ready to pounce on whatever Rather threw at them. Even before the piece aired, for example, the Republican National Committee's website posted a heavily linked-to "Research Briefing" about the segment's interview subject: "Who is Ben Barnes? A Deep-Pocketed Kerry Partisan Who Can't Keep His Stories Straight."

Also, CBS posted images of the memos on its website, as did many other news organizations. The story's primary sources were right there on the Internet. Although font experts weighed in with sometimes helpful, sometimes contradictory assertions about the documents' credibility, no one could dispute one of the bloggers' greatest pieces of circumstantial evidence against the memos: the discovery that retyping the memos using Times New Roman font and default formatting in Microsoft Word produced a nearly identical document. Pretty suspicious for something supposedly typed 30 years ago.

In short, the CBS story was broadcast into bloggers' living rooms at a time when a subset of the blogosphere was waiting for it, and was primed to rip holes in it. The primary evidence was posted on the Internet. And the most persuasive investigative technique was a word processing program.
Right. The fact that this story had so much to do with documents and computers — and so little to do with President Bush's actual service record — made it a better target for bloggers to take on. The biggest weakness of the blog medium is that it does not (typically) involve a lot of primary reporting. With few notable exceptions, most bloggers take the reporting of other sources and comment on it. I know of few bloggers who actually report on stories, call sources, run down information, etc. — skills which are the very core of what journalism is all about. Thus, the story about the Killian memos was perfect, because it was not about what some person said, or what events occurred, but rather, about whether particular documents (available online) were real. Given the self-selection of bloggers as a computer-savvy segment of the population, it only makes sense that you'd see bloggers pounce on this story, as an instance where their relative expertise mattered.

However, I think we should recognize one very important caveat about blogging and influence. Even the best 'blogs net only a fraction of the American public as readers, and typically that includes only the most wired section of America. The real influence of blogs stems from the fact that the media reads them — and often uses them for analysis and story ideas. This is especially true of the elite blogs run by journalists, such as Doug Farah or Josh Marshall. We are deluding ourselves if we think our blogs are themselves having a direct impact — they're not. Instead, we have an indirect effect by pushing the media and certain opinion leaders, who in turn push the wider American public.

I tend to think there's nothing all that revolutionary about a blog. To me, it represents a streaming oped of sorts, but one that's accessible to anyone because of the low entry barriers. In the old days, ideas and commentary would spread via the oped pages and letter pages of newspapers, among other things. Now, they spread much faster and easier. But on the other hand, there's also a lot more drek out there to sift through. To have any influence at all, I think a successful blog must make itself a consistent source of good information — it must provide value to the reader. It really is a true marketplace of ideas. This story played to blogs' strengths, but there's no guarantee the next big story will. To have an impact over the long run, blogs must continue to provide value to their readers, whatever the story is.

Update I: The Washington Post has a good story in Sunday's paper about the whole mess too.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Supersizing America's Army
Michael O'Hanlon, the noted military scholar at the Brookings Institution, has a pretty good article in the Autumn 2004 issue of Parameters, the Army War College's journal, titled "The Need to Increase the Size of the Deployable Army". I agree with much of what's written, although I don't have time right now to write a full response. I think the analysis is sound, and I recommend the piece to anyone interested in the post-Iraq future of the U.S. military as an institution.
A dangerous world
The Financial Times of London carries a disturbing report today about some speculation in Washington that the U.S. might be preparing to undertake a military campaign against Iran to preempt or prevent it from developing a nuclear capability.
Analysts close to the administration say military options are under consideration, but have not reached a level of seriousness that indicate the US is preparing actual action.

When asked, senior officials repeat that President George W. Bush is removing no option from the table - but that he believes the issue can be solved by diplomatic means.

Diplomacy yesterday appeared stalled.

The US and its European allies on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency continued to wrangle over the wording of a resolution on Iran which insists it has no intention of using its advanced civilian programme to make a bomb.

Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neo-conservative think-tank, says that with "enough intelligence and spadework", the US could "do a good job" of slowing Iran's programme for a while.

* * *
But it adds that the absence of significant numbers of US stealth aircraft, early warning aircraft and other assets in the region indicate that the US is not actively considering air strike options at the moment.
Analysis: Hopefully, these reports are being greatly exaggerated by overzealous think-tankers and policy wonks who have had their head in the sand for the past two years. Fortunately, there are no concrete developments (such as the redeployment of airpower) to indicate that the Pentagon is seriously preparing for an assault on Iran. Nonetheless, the rhetoric is enough to worry me -- especially that from Mr. Schmitt at PNAC. How exactly does he think we could do this? What exactly is he prepared to do? And on what intelligence is he basing this proposed course of action? We've been down this road before. This is the kind of talk we heard before Iraq too -- doomsdayesque estimates of the threat, dire predictions of the consequences if we did not attack, minimal consideration of the aftermath, et cetera. I'm more than a little reticent to rush down this tunnel again without one heck of a flashlight to see where all the pitfalls lie.
1/3 of IRR applies for exemption from callup
Jane McHugh reports in the Army Times (subscription required) that roughly one third of the Army's individual ready reservists called for duty in Iraq have submitted applications for an excuse from service. It's unknown how many of these applications have been approved.
... 1,085 of the IRR members have submitted forms providing "justification" for why they can't show up, Masters said. The exemption process is done through paperwork, and a special board of officers examines each soldier's request. Final approval for an exemption comes from through the Human Resources Command, he said.

IRR soldiers who disagree with HRC findings can appeal to the adjutant general of the Army, he said. Those who don't show up within seven days of their reporting date are considered AWOL, and then later, deserters. Figures for AWOL were not available.
Analysis: A friend in the Army's human resources command told me that the Army had plans to call up roughly 30% more reservists than it needed because of anticipated problems with the callup of those who had been mustered out of service long ago. The reasoning went that many would have medical problems and other issues that precluded them from future active duty service. I'm not sure exactly what the figures are right now, but my instincts tell me that the Army probably underestimated this figure, because it hasn't done an involuntary IRR callup like this in some time. It's unlikely that many of these IRR excuses will be approved. But my sense is that we can expect more IRR callups in the future, as the Army struggles to fill its active-duty and reserve units to MTOE strength for successive rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Finding the right recipe for death
Adam Liptak has a rather macabre article in today's New York Times discussing some problems with the lethal injection cocktail being used by the state of Kentucky to execute prisoners. Lawyers for inmates on death row are challenging the mixture on the basis of an executed prisoner's autopsy, among other things, which shows that his lethal mix was not administered properly, and that he likely suffered a great deal in his final moments.
Now, as two other Kentucky inmates face execution, their lawyers say those numbers prove that Mr. Harper was tortured to death. They say that the drug meant to make him unconscious did not work, meaning the other two drugs subjected him to suffocation and searing pain while he was wide awake but unable to move or speak. In a suit filed in Circuit Court here in August, they have asked a judge to halt their clients' executions as cruel and unusual punishment.

Opponents of the death penalty have filed challenges to the three-chemical combination used in Kentucky and about 30 other states in recent years. But those cases were based on speculation about the drugs' effects, and judges have dismissed many of them on procedural grounds or because medical experts assured them that the first drug was certain to produce unconsciousness and perhaps be lethal itself.

The information in the Harper autopsy and in similar data from two other states radically changes the debate over the humanity of the standard lethal injection chemicals, lawyers for the inmates here say. What had before been only a theoretical concern, they contend, turns out to be provable fact.

David Smith, an assistant attorney general, declined to comment on the suit. The state has not yet filed a response in court.

There is no serious dispute that the first drug, if administered properly, should be adequate to render inmates unconscious for hours.

"If we have a working I.V. and the right drugs are given in the right order, I can absolutely guarantee that there is no suffering," said Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Massachusetts and an expert in the effects of drugs. "The recipe itself is medically absolutely sound."

* * *
... the level of sodium thiopental found in Mr. Harper's body tells a different story, lawyers for the Kentucky inmates say. Using standards submitted by a prosecution expert in other cases, lawyers for the death row inmates here say there is a 67 percent to 100 percent chance that Mr. Harper was conscious while he suffocated and felt the pain caused by the third drug, potassium chloride, which stopped his heart. The varying numbers are based on the three different blood samples.
Comment: The story notes that physicians are barred from participating in Kentucky executions, presumably because of the state's medical ethics rules. I'm not sure whether this ban also applies to other trained medical personnel, such as registered nurses and nurse anesthetists. But if this problem truly owes to careless work by the state prison system, you'd think it'd be quite easy to fix.

This may sound cold, but I'm not overly sympathetic to death row defendants, especially after having participated (albeit tangentially) in one capital case where the defendants brutally murdered a young Texas couple on Fort Hood's property. However, I caveat my support for capital punishment with the requirement that it be done properly -- that justice be administered fairly; that every fact be inquired into; that the prisoner be adequately represented by counsel; and that the execution be done consistently with the U.S. Constitution. Right now, we have a fallible system in many ways, especially when it comes to the differing ways that juries evaluate capital cases. But there's no excuse for this sort of failure, which can be fixed quite easily by the state.
Changing things at Abu Ghraib
The New York Times reports this morning on the recent changes made by the Army at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqi detainees continue to be held just outside of Baghdad. The old cellblocks, where the abuses took place, have been given back to the Iraqi authorities. Detainees now live in tent complexes, euphemistically called "Camp Liberty" and "Camp Redemption". (Isn't that a little like the old Russian newspaper names Pravda and Izvestiya, for "truth" and "news" respectively? The old saying went that there was no news in Pravda and no truth in Izvestiya. I wonder just how much Liberty and Redemption exist at these two places in the desert.)

From what I read in this story, there are two significant changes. First, all interrogation plans must now be vetted by a JAG attorney, presumably schooled in the laws of armed conflict. Second, the notoriously deficient Army Reserve chain of command has been replaced by a high-speed active-duty MP chain of command, led by Col. David Quantock — a fast burner in the MP community who I knew by reputation. Of these, I think the second change is most significant, because good order and discipline are essential to running a prison. If the guards and intel personnel aren't well led and well disciplined, you're bound to see problems.

Will this be enough? Maybe. We probably won't ever erase the stain of Abu Ghraib from our national image in the Middle East — certainly not from the minds of Iraqis. But we've also got to move forward, and we can't just abandon detention operations altogether. As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is now. It's about time we planted the right seeds at Abu Ghraib.
5765, and still going strong
My faith started its celebration of the New Year last night, marking the 5,765th year on the Jewish calendar. I'm more secular than most, so I won't be taking much of a break to commemorate this holiday (partly because I have too much work to do right now). But it's worth stopping to reflect for a moment on how a civilization or faith can survive for this long.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Killing the dreaded rule against perpetuities
Ask any lawyer or law student about the "rule against perpetuities" and you're sure to get a groan — or worse. The ancient rule handed from English common law has befuddled law students (and probably a few property law professors too) for centuries. And now, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), it may be on its way out in a number of states who want to enable families to pass wealth from generation to generation. According to the Journal:
Ultra-affluent families have long used labyrinthine networks of trusts to protect and build their assets for future generations. The Rockefeller family's roughly 140 living descendants are worth billions, in part because of the seven trusts set up in 1934 with $102 million by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the oil baron's son. The family now uses more than 100 trusts, including numerous charitable trusts, to manage its money.

Until recently, though, even the Rockefellers couldn't use dynasty trusts, as they were illegal in most states. Trusts were often subject to the "Rule Against Perpetuities," which effectively limited trust terms to about 90 to 120 years.

But starting in the late 1990s, a number of states moved to relax their trust term limits. Now, at least 18 states and jurisdictions — including Delaware, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia and the District of Columbia — allow trusts to last forever. And several states that impose term limits allow much longer durations. Wyoming and Utah, for instance, permit trusts to last 1,000 years, while Florida lets them carry on for 360 years.
The response from the American legal community has been quite predictable:
One potential drawback is that a dynasty trust could lead to nasty family disputes as the number of heirs multiplies over time. "Litigators are salivating" as dynasty trusts grow in popularity, says John Scroggin, an estate attorney in Roswell, Ga. Further down the line, in 500 years, a trust set up by a couple with two children could have a staggering 3.4 million beneficiaries clamoring for funds, according to several dynasty-trust analyses. [Emphasis added]
Of course they are! Legislative changes like this are like full employment acts for lawyers. This rule doesn't just affect trusts — it also affects real estate conveyances, wills, and other areas of the law where the RAP has played a role until now. Moreover, the fact that there are now significant jurisdictional differences between states adds a massive amount of complexity to the whole matter. I can foresee all kinds of litigation over this, especially over the conflicts of laws between state rules on this subject. Kind of makes me wish I'd paid more attention in property law... this could be a growth area.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Not your father's National Guard
Today's Guard fights more than its forefathers from a generation ago, but without the training or equipment of its active-duty brethren

Tom Bowman has a good report in today's Baltimore Sun on the changes to the Army National Guard which have occurred since the Vietnam War, transforming it from a place to avoid deployment into a place where you will deploy overseas. The distinction between yesterday's Guard and today's Guard has been brought into focus by attacks on the military service record of President Bush, who served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. The issue of National Guard overstretch has also been raised by continuing Guard deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Gitmo, and elsewhere. Suffice to say, the phrase "weekend warriors" has become a bit anachronistic.
Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — some 51,500 soldiers and airmen — are members of the National Guard. Those numbers are expected to rise with the next rotation of troops. Only 7,000 Guard soldiers deployed to Vietnam, a tiny percentage of the more than 2 million U.S. troops who served there.

Moreover, the National Guard has been thrust to the fore in the presidential campaign, with charges by Kerry that the "stop-loss" policy that prevents Army soldiers, including Guard troops, from leaving right before or after deployment overseas amounts to a "backdoor draft." There also are allegations that Bush failed to fulfill his duties as a member of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

Unlike Vietnam, when the draft provided a steady stream of soldiers, today's all-volunteer force and smaller active-duty Army — coupled with the Sept. 11 attacks — means the Guard is playing a more demanding role at home and abroad than it has since World War II.

* * *
During the Vietnam War, the National Guard was seen by many as a haven from the draft and the jungles of Southeast Asia. Some questions being raised now about Bush, such as the alleged use of family connections to get into the Guard, dogged 1988 Republican vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle, who served in the Indiana Guard during Vietnam.

Bush, who is to speak today at the association's annual convention in Las Vegas, has tried to borrow the mantle of the current Guard soldier, many of whom are patrolling in hazardous alleyways of urban Iraq, when discussing his service as a stateside fighter pilot. "I would be careful not to denigrate the Guard," Bush said this year. "There are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq."
Analysis: I will leave the election issues to someone else, except to say that you can't really compare the President's service in the Guard in the 1960s with anyone's service in the Guard today. A fundamental change in the force occurred after the Vietnam War, where the military adopted something known as the "total force concept" in connection with its new "all volunteer force". As I wrote in Oct. 2003, this radically changed the way the Guard and reserves would be used for future wars:
The story starts with Vietnam. In that war, reservists largely stayed home, due in part to political calculations by the White House that it could not afford to mobilize thousands of reservists from every corner of America. After the Vietnam War ended, America's generals restructured the military in such a way that would require the president to mobilize the reserves for any major conflict.

Army Gen. Creighton W. Abrams played a key role in crafting this "total force" concept, wherein key support units were placed in the reserves that active-duty combat units would need for any major war. The idea was that no president could again wage an unpopular war, because a future war would require reserve mobilization, and that would require popular support.

The system worked fairly well during the Cold War, when everyone in the active and reserve force trained for the big war with the Soviet Union. After the Berlin Wall fell and the first Gulf War ended, things changed. America's military transitioned from a "forward-deployed" force focused on the Soviet Union to an expeditionary force that deployed to small trouble spots around the world.

The role of the reserves changed as well. Support units such as military police, civil affairs and logistics now mattered more for missions like Somalia and Haiti than the combat units in the active force. The operational tempo for reservists increased steadily during the 1990s.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, America mobilized its reserves in a way that hadn't been seen since Korea. At home and abroad, reservists performed missions that active soldiers couldn't (such as guarding airports) and supported the active force in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Since Sept. 11, no fewer than 40,000 reservists have been on active duty at any given time, both for homeland security missions and combat operations overseas. Today, the Defense Department has 168,915 reservists on active duty in support of the war on terrorism. Senior officials have made it clear that the military could not function without the support of the reserves.
This is not to impugn the honor of anyone who served in the Guard and reserves during the Vietnam War. My father served in the Army Reserve during the early 1960s as a way to pay for college; it was then, and is now, an honorable way to serve. But you can't compare service then in the Guard with service now, because of the policy changes adopted by the military which made the National Guard an integral part of America's warfighting force.

Moreover, there are much bigger issues at stake than decades-old questions about the president's war record. Our nation has sent its reservists into harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we have not done a good job of preparing them for the hazards there. It took us more than a year to field up-to-date Interceptor body armor to the force. Many of our Guardsmen still shoot, move and communicate with gear that's older than they are. They make do with inadequate pre-deployment training, because the Pentagon continues to delude itself that 39 training days a year is enough to sustain individual and collective proficiency at warfighting. (It's not!) And yet, when our Guardsmen go downrange, they fight the same fight as their active-duty brethren — just with less resources, older equipment, and older soldiers (on the average).

If we are going to send our Guard and reserve units into combat, we owe it to them to set them up for success. That means investing in their short-term readiness, and investing in long-term structural reforms (such as flattening the Guard's bloated headquarters structure and recapitalizing the Guard's aging vehicle fleet) to ensure they're fit to fight. Sending American soldiers into harm's way with anything less than the best is derelict. And unfortunately, that's exactly what we have done.
Pledge drive - support the Washington Monthly
A few years ago, while I was still on active duty, a friend asked me if I was interested in writing an article for the Washington Monthly, where he was presently working as an editor. I had put my writing on hold while in the Army, both for time-management reasons and so as not to offend the powers that be. That article idea -- about an exodus of junior military officers in the late 1990s -- never made it into the Monthly, although it did get published by ret. Col. David Hackworth's site. However, I continued to work with the Monthly, and eventually wrote a cover piece titled "War Dames" for them in December 2002 on the changing role of women in the military. Since then, I have written a few other articles for TWM, including "Faux Pax Americana" on our post-war planning failures in Iraq, and "The Crucible" on the way America's Army has been affected by Iraq. Although I write for a couple of other publications now, I still appreciate the Monthly for giving me my start in journalism after the Army, and look forward to reading it each month when it shows up in my mailbox.

But don't take my word for it -- just look at the magazine's masthead or alumni list for a who's who of political journalism. TWM alumni have gone onto the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time, Slate, The New Republic, and the Atlantic Monthly, just to name a few. Many of today's best journalists cut their teeth at the Monthly under iconoclastic editor Charlie Peters. Despite having a small circulation, the magazine has enormous influence in Washington, particularly among Democrats. This owes to the quality of its articles and its ideas.

If you're not already a subscriber to the Washington Monthly, now's the time to join. Kevin Drum, who writes the Political Animal weblog for the Monthly's site, has kicked off a pledge drive this week. I'd like to join him in that drive, and recommend the magazine as an excellent holiday gift idea. Click here to subscribe!
Book recommendation - 'Arguing About War'
On the plane ride home from Europe, I had the time to finish Michael Walzer's new book Arguing About War. The book contains a series of previously published and new essays on the subject of just war theory -- the subject of Prof. Walzer's landmark book Just and Unjust Wars from a generation ago. Some might say this book is too theoretical, but I found it to be quite well-grounded in history and fact. By no means is the book an encylopedic account of just war theory or the interplay between morality and war. Prof. Walzer presents an argument on just war theory and the way it can be applied to either criticize or justify the actions of states and non-states in the world. I subscribe to this theory, in large part, because I think that we ought to follow norms of justice and morality in war whenever possible -- both because it's the right thing to do, and because it's in our interest. Prof. Walzer does a good job of melding these disparate schools of thought. Whether you're a hard-bitten realist, an internationalist, a liberal, a neo-con, or a post-modernist, I think this book belongs on your shelf.