This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
As during past transitions from wartime to peacetime, today’s military and civilian leaders are in a position to reassess mistakes made over the last decade and develop new policies to avoid them in future conflicts. Among the most important of these is the introduction of a comprehensive strategy to address the devastating impact that mental health issues have had on our force.
One of the most striking statistics from the U.S. war in Vietnam doesn’t concern Vietnam at all, but its neighbor, Laos. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped over 2.5 million tons of ordnance on Laos. This works out to the equivalent of one B-52 load of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. The sheer tonnage of explosives dropped on Laos makes the tiny, land-locked nation the most heavily-bombed country in history, with half a ton of bombs dropped for every inhabitant.
This dubious distinction carries a terrible legacy. According to U.S. estimates, approximately 30% of ordnance dropped over Laos failed to detonate upon impact. This unexploded ordnance, or UXO, remains scattered and buried throughout an area that covers one third of the country. In the past five decades over 50,000 Laotians – a fifth of them children – have been killed or maimed by American UXO. Currently, around 300 Laotians needlessly die every year from accidents involving UXO. Particularly deadly have been cluster bombs, which consist of sub-munitions that scatter over a wide area and are notorious for causing indiscriminate civilian casualties. Experts estimate that of the 260 million cluster bombs, or “bomblets” American forces dropped on Laos, 80 million remain unexploded. (more…)
As you all know, the crisis in Burma is transforming from a natural disaster to a humanitarian catastrophe due to the xenophobia, incompetence, and malevolence of the Burmese government. With every day that passes, the situation of the up to tow million Burmese people affected by this crisis, almost three quarters of whom have reportedly not received any assistance, is becoming ever more precarious. It is clear that the time has come for bold international action. My colleague, Brian Vogt, wrote an excellent piece detailing one strategy for getting aid through to those who need it earlier this week. Brian is quite right to warn that we must not to allow our disgust for the Burmese junta lead us to political posturing rather than decisive action.
Although the Chinese government stated last week that they did not think it appropriate for the Burma crisis to be brought to the UN Security Council, it is becoming increasingly clear that stronger action by the UN and the international community will be required to break this deadly impasse. French Prime Minister Bernard Kouchner was among the first to call for aid drops in Burma, even against the wishes of the Burmese regime. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is now calling for a UN summit on aid to Burma. The United States must continue to take a lead in these efforts, and to build international consensus around a more aggressive assistance agenda with the greatest amount of international legitimacy possible. Clearly, food and aid drops will not be enough as water-borne diseases begin to take their toll over the coming days, particularly on the young and the elderly. Specifically, the United States can actively support the provision of assistance under chapter 7 of the UN Charter, as was done for Somalia and other recent humanitarian crises.
Iraq and veterans care continued to be the topics de jour this weekend. Consider THIS WEEK on ABC:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: President Bush may be traveling through Latin America, but his focus is still on Iraq. He asked Congress yesterday to fund more than 4,000 new troops on top of the 21,500 he asked for in January. Democrats in Congress say it’s time to start bringing troops home. And we’re joined this morning by one of them, Senator James Webb of Virginia.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So is the president going to get this request?
WEBB: Well, you know, as long as he has the authority as commander-in-chief to conduct the war, he’s going to be able to control a lot of these sorts of things. I don’t think people are going to go against him in terms of cutting back the appropriations for more troops.
So, Congress will pressure the White House to bring the troops home by giving it the funding it requests. Brilliant! Sen. Webb then clarified how a timetable is anything but. (more…)
The fallout from the Washington Post expose of scandalous conditions at Walter Reed for patients in the outpatient system continues to grow. For Democrats it looks to be the gift that keeps on giving. After all, for sheer irony it doesn’t get much better than this; an administration which tars all critics of its Iraq policies as anti-American lefties who don’t support the troops has presided over a military health care system which has failed to do just that.
Consider what Sen. Joe ‘stay the course” Lieberman, (D-CT) said on MEET THE PRESS:
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN I’m afraid, Bob, that it’s the tip of the iceberg. And I think ultimately we’re going to look back and say that that extraordinary Washington Post investigative series which drew all of our attention because of the mold on the wall and the rodents on the floor at that one Building 18 at Walter Reed, did something much larger. You can fix the wall and get rid of the rodents. But what that series has uncovered, I believe, is that we are not keeping the moral responsibility we have for the men and women who are fighting for us in the war on terrorism, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. We never have made the national commitment commensurate with going to war to give our soldiers the best medical care they can receive from the battlefield to back home. In fact, we are giving them the best possible care on the battlefield and in a lot of the inpatient services at places like Walter Reed. But there’s too much paperwork. And the Veterans Administration, when the handoff from the Department of Defense to the VA occurs, the VA is just overwhelmed an not giving the kind of first-rate treatment to our veterans when they get home that they need, including particularly those who are suffering from posttraumatic stress syndrome, psychiatric effects of war, and traumatic brain injury.
Are things going to get worse? Count on it. The reason is that the numbers are larger than we think, as this excerpt illustrates: (more…)
Chris Preble’s post last week on the Washington Post series about wounded U.S. soldiers lost in the outpatient wilderness at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has also caused me to dwell on this all too painful cost of war.
Like Chris I too am a Navy veteran, albeit back towards the end of the Vietnam War, and though I saw no combat, am all too familiar with the shabby way wounded veterans can be treated. Those who don’t remember the way it was for Vietnam veterans should go rent a copy of Born on the Fourth of July .
Though I touched on this in a January post I think it is worth revisiting. (more…)
[Julie Fischer of the Henry L. Stimson Center is guest blogging for Victoria Holt, who is currently on vacation.]
The current conflagration in the Middle East has understandably diverted attention from less conspicuous security issues. In quieter times, the re-emergence of a truly stateless enemy of civilized nations – potentially pandemic influenza – in Southeast Asia might have attracted a headline or two. Less than a year ago, President Bush identified pandemic influenza as a serious threat to national security demanding billions of dollars and real international collaboration. Avian influenza joined HIV as the second disease to acquire its own U.S. ambassador.
After the H5N1 strain of avian influenza moved from Southeast Asia into Europe in late 2005 without the catastrophic plague presaged in 24-hour non-news coverage, experts deployed by the U.S. and the World Health Organization to avian influenza hotspots settled down to a Herculean task: building capacity to detect and contain emerging disease threats in regions hobbled by desperately uneven resources. Their relative anonymity brings respite from the political pressures that shape U.S. efforts to confront the 20th century’s great failure of disease surveillance, the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the realistic fear that their fledgling disease-fighting programs will starve if an outbreak stubbornly refuses to hew to election-driven deadlines. (more…)
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.