Ambassador Crocker Speaks on Middle East Issues After Leaving State Dept.
On September 17, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, appearing in his first public event since his tour in Kabul. A small audience was given special insight into arguably the most experienced living U.S. Ambassador with assignments in the Middle East. Ambassador Crocker has served in Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and, most recently, Afghanistan. Having returned to civilian life, Crocker often stated to the audience that he was now a “free” man. As such, the audience was privileged to have this opportunity to hear from someone who has spent nearly 40 years abroad and could speak candidly and honestly about situations on the ground and the relationships between states in the region.
This article was written by two Fall 2011 Fellows in PSA’s Congressional Fellowship Program. All CFP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Fellows that were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
For the vast majority of Americans, watching the last American boot leave Iraqi soil is nothing short of good riddance. The numbers have become seared in Americans minds: Nearly nine years. Nearly a trillion dollars spent. Nearly 35,000 US soldiers wounded. Nearly 4,500 US soldiers dead.
The long-term effect of the Iraq War is pretty obvious—a national sentiment for retrenchment—a streak of isolationism that is being espoused by both sides of the political spectrum. It’s hard not to watch Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry warn against “military adventurism” without comparing him to his predecessor.
But despite the desire to go inward, the simple fact is that if there was any hope for the US to go on the sidelines, that’s changed forever with the onset of the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring has reminded the world of the danger of failed states. With long-time dictators losing power, militant Salafists (not solely Al Qaeda) are looking to fill the vacuum.
But the Arab Spring also comes with a new challenge—a new type of interventionism.
Col Bryan Bearden, USAF, is an instructor of National Security, Joint Warfare and Leadership and Ethics at the Marine Corps War College.
A subdued but respectful ceremony marked the end of combat operations in Iraq. A flag was rolled and encased, and speeches respectful of the fallen and hopeful for the future were made. Signs of friendship between the two countries were left in the hearts of both peoples and policies are in place to continue non-military support to a continually developing democracy in Iraq. A joyous America will see her military members return celebrating a job well done and remembering those who paid the ultimate price.
This is in stark contrast to the images scared into the American psyche of a helicopter rising from the roof of the embassy in Saigon in April of 1975, an event that most recognize as the end of a terrible chapter in America’s history.
William S. Cohen, former Secretary of Defense under Clinton and PSA Advisory Board member, recently wrote an opinion article in Politico discussing the use of drones in modern warfare. Cohen has always supported bipartisan action on issues of national security and as a member of Congress (R-Maine) took a nonpartisan stance on security policy. Since leaving the pentagon, Cohen has penned numerous articles and books and even appeared on the Daily Show. In his most recent article, Cohen focuses on the critical role drones have played in Afghanistan and their place at the center of counter-insurgency vs. counter-terrorism debate.
Among the many issues that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta must ponder in the coming months will likely be whether to recommend shifting U.S. strategy in Afghanistan from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism.
Some critics argue that our current policy of deploying large numbers of ground troops puts more of our men and women at risk for questionable gain and even encourages more Afghans to join the Taliban, fighting against what they claim is an invasion force. Yet the recent gains in clearing out Taliban strongholds and helping to build schools, medical facilities and other civic institutions argue, instead, for staying the course for several more years.
“Virtually all serious observers of national security affairs now recognize the current structure of the national security system militates against unified problem-solving when the problem is a multiagency issue. The question is what to do about it.”
Counter-proliferation, counterinsurgency, food security, energy policy – all examples of complex and multifaceted issues that increasingly dominate America’s security priorities and starkly highlight the chronic limitations of the U.S. national security structure. The Project on National Security Reform and others stress the critical need for a Goldwater-Nichols Act of national security to take on the colossal and outdated bureaucracy built around the security challenges of the post WWII period. (more…)
Can you hear that grinding noise? That’s the sound of an overused, overextended military breaking down. We seem to spend a lot of our time deliberately avoiding our gaze from obvious trouble signs. But for those who care to observe reality the warning signs are plentiful.
Consider just a few news reports in the past week.
New York Times
September 30, 2010
Four Suicides In A Week Take A Toll On Fort Hood
By James C. McKinley Jr.
HOUSTON — Four veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan died this week from what appeared to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds atFort Hood in central Texas, raising the toll of soldiers who died here at their own hands to a record level and alarming Army commanders.
So far this year, Army officials have confirmed that 14 soldiers at Fort Hood have committed suicide. Six others are believed to have taken their own lives but a final determination has yet to be made. The highest number of suicides at Fort Hood occurred in 2008, when 14 soldiers killed themselves, said Christopher Haug, a military spokesman.
About 46,000 to 50,000 active officers and soldiers work at the base at any given time, making this year’s suicide rate about four times the national average, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at 11.5 deaths per 100,000 people. (more…)
“This is what worries me most,” General Peter W. Chiarelli confided at a September 22, 2010, meeting at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative DC think tank. I had asked a question that I’ve posed to other high ranking generals, admirals, and policymakers with similar results. The Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, and, indeed, the nation is banking on the U.S. military’s operational tempo (the pace of deployments, which has been quite high since 2003) dropping, which should allow dwell time (the period that soldiers and Marines are not deployed) to increase.
The hope that operational tempo will drop, however, rests on at least three key strategic assumptions:
(1) Troop levels in Iraq will remain relatively low, which means that things will not hit the fan in Iraq and require redeployment to the area. Could we really stand by if Iraq implodes?
(2) Troop levels in Afghanistan will begin to come down next year, which means that we will begin to reap the rewards of that surge and can begin withdrawal. Alternatively, we see little payoff for the surge and begin leaving regardless. (more…)
I have been a regular visitor to Iraq since the early 1990’s. Traveling around Iraq the past few weeks, it’s been difficult to find remnants of the optimism (outside the booming Kurdish region) that had been trending upward in the last few years and led to an unusually high voter turnout during elections last March. The increase in violence following the drawdown in our “combat” troops combined with not having a government for half a year has become reminiscent for Iraqis of the uncalm that ushered in previous bouts of civil war.
Six months after the parliamentary elections in Iraq and two weeks since President Obama addressed the nation to declare that the U.S. had “met our responsibility” in Iraq, Vice President Biden landed in Baghdad with a plan to break the political stalemate. Even many of the outspoken anti-American elements greeted the news with a sigh of relief. It is about time. The Americans “did not forget about us like they did Pakistan after the Soviet war,” one prominent Shia told me. I got the feeling that he and his friends would be just as happy being part of an opposition party as that of a ruling coalition as long as a legitimate government assumed the reins – averting another civil war. The formerly occupied are calling for the old occupiers to help facilitate the transition.
The military occupation, by all accounts, had run its course. The surge seemed to work. American troops served more as lucrative targets than effective peacekeepers. The main political plank of all the primary parties dealt with who best to continue the trend toward rule of law and provision of government services following the end of U.S. military rule. (more…)
I just made it through Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchen’s memoir. For those of you unacquainted with Mr. Hitchens, he – and please, never call him “Chris” – is a journalist and political dissident of the first rank who deploys with unequalled deft the English language to challenge tyranny in all its varied guises and disguises. Mr. Hitchens has engaged in spirited struggle against a wide array of ghouls and scoundrels, from Saddam Hussein (for inflicting terror on his own people) to the Ayatollah Khomeini (for issuing a fatwa on Salman Rushdie’s head) to our own Henry Kissinger (for a range of offenses too long to list).
While reading this brilliant memoir, a thought kept haunting me about the way we think about achieving foreign policy goals with military means and methods. We tend to think of these goals as ones that can be achieved scientifically. For example, if you want to dethrone an insipid dictator, you must simply determine what is necessary to remove him. Regime change, then, is a scientific problem that can be addressed with the tools of an amateur’s logic: identify the problem, formulate a strategy, and then execute that strategy carefully. A reasonably clever schoolboy could work it out, we seem to believe.
The problem with this little tradition of ours is not just that the military is not an institution structured to win over the hearts and minds of those who live in a life world far from our own – though this is certainly true. The real bugbear is that many foreign policy objectives are not well suited to being achieved through bloody military campaigns. And it’s not that the military needs to change, far from it; we must stop expecting our soldiers to handle problems best addressed through other means. (more…)
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It has been nearly two months since I last wrote about the health of American military personnel and veterans so let’s look at it again. The news, unfortunately, isn’t any better.
First, let’s look at the past. Today the Los Angeles times reports that researchers have found that soldiers who suffered brain injuries can develop seizures decades — as long as 35 years — after the initial injury. A study published in the journal Neurology found that among a group of 199 Vietnam veterans, about 13% developed post-traumatic epilepsy more than 14 years after they had suffered a penetrating head wound, such as a gunshot injury or shrapnel that entered brain tissue. Penetrating head injuries are generally linked with a higher risk for epilepsy than other types of head injuries, such as concussions.
It is unclear how the study relates to combatants returning from Iraq and Afghanistan today, the authors said. The Vietnam veterans in the study suffered from penetrating brain injuries, which are rarer in soldiers fighting in the current conflicts because helmets have improved. Today, closed-head injuries (where the brain is not penetrated) are more common, in part because of the helmet improvements and partly because of a change in the weaponry used in modern warfare. (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.