Friday, June 03, 2005

Shaq--Who knew?

As a die-hard Knicks fan in the early 90's (there will be a serious run-off when it comes to naming my first son--Frank V or Oakley Nolan), it was my sworn duty to despise Shaquille O'Neal from the second he entered the NBA. It was not hard to root against the man-child early on: he seemed to lack respect for the older players in the league (see: PA-trick Ewing), he relied on his size more than his skill and he was just so damn good. Over the course of his career, which I can't say I have followed more closely than most NBA stars, I have grown--grudgingly--to like Shaq. He makes his teammates better, he is as graceful an athlete as you can get for a 7'1", 330 pound behemoth, he is one of the smartest players in the league, and he has far more respect for the game and the greats than my 13-year-old self was aware of. Check out this article from espn.com. Not to sound too much like Rick Reilly, but Shaq really is one of the good guys.

It's Friday here in our nation's capital, so while Eric and I will surely be verbal-blogging all weekend, posting will be light-to-non-existent for yours truly.

--Frank

Recruiting and Retention

Congress recently passed an $82 billion supplemental budget to finance the continued fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. The U.S. military and its supporting contractors are making technological advances in weaponry, transportation and communication at a rate rarely seen in history. Support for the military among the general public, despite a divided view of the war in Iraq, is arguably stronger than at any time in the last half century. The average U.S. soldier is more adequately armed and protected than perhaps any warfighter in history. But the largest problem facing the United States military today trumps the long list of positives.

Recruiting is at a virtual standstill and retention rates among active duty soldiers are falling tremendously. They have the money, they have the support, but they don't have the manpower. Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard Myers, recently testified to Congress that the current deployment of soldiers to Iraq and elsewhere could potentially limit the effectiveness of the U.S. military in future confrontations. Despite his assertion that we would eventually be victorious in any potential war, a total vote of confidence this is not.

It would be reactionary to claim that the military (particularly the Army and Marine Corps) is in crisis mode, but it is obvious to the most casual observer that a some new ideas to reverse the trend in recruiting and retention need to be proffered.

A number of factors are at play in the recruiting dropoff. Resistance from parents, a strengthening economy and the potential of serving in a combat zone have all contributed to the dismal statistics. Meanwhile, as the Wall Street Journal reports, standards for new enlistees and current servicemen have been lowered in order to increase the raw number of personnel. This is a practice that Phil Carter and Owen West over at Slate rightly see as a counterproductive solution.

(T)hese are not soldiers who field commanders want to retain. One lieutenant colonel currently commanding a civil-affairs battalion said these troops were the ones "who eat up my time and cause my hair to gray prematurely." A former infantry officer said he could "not recall a single soldier chaptered for the reasons identified ... that I would have wanted to deploy with."

This new retention directive represents a regression by the Army, from the vaunted all-volunteer force of today back in the direction of the all-volunteer force of the 1970s, when drug use, race riots, and AWOL incidents were common among all services. The Marine Corps Historical Branch traces its own severe spiral to "the end of the draft and the pressure of keeping up the size of the Marine Corps. In the process, a number of society's misfits had been recruited." By 1975, the corps had so decayed that newly appointed Commandant Lewis Wilson sought permission from Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to implement a radical personnel proposal: Push the authority to discharge unworthy Marines down to the battalion level. Under the "expeditious discharge program," commanders quickly cut 6,000 undesirables, sending a message that reverberated throughout the military, paving the way for the subsequent military performance surge credited to President Reagan.
Now the Army intends to reverse the policy, implying that battalion commanders are not able to weigh the needs of the total force against those of their units. By the time a soldier reaches the discharge point, the officers above him have already invested a great deal of rehabilitative effort. Forcing units to keep these troops—and indeed, to take them to war—puts a very heavy rock in the rucksack of any field commander who must now balance managing these subpar performers with his mission and the needs of his unit.
It may seem counterintuitive, but perhaps a raise in standards would be positively reflected in recruiting numbers. At the very least this practice would increase the productivity and effectiveness among current forces. It is essential for the military to set its sites on increased retention rates, particularly among the officer and specialized forces ranks.

The Pentagon must stop the proliferation of its private army. Today there are as many as 30,000 private military contractors serving in traditional military billets. They are paid up to five times as much as soldiers performing the same duties. Encouraging the privatization of soldiers when there is a severe shortage of riflemen is circular reasoning. While the Army and Marines struggle to increase their infantry ranks, the DoD is paying private companies lucrative contracts to act as personnel brokers. Where do these firms find the recruits? The military. So the government is paying hefty finders' fees to locate quality soldiers it recruited in the first place. Far from being castoffs, they are among America's best, mostly senior soldiers lured by pay and flexibility. They belong in the ranks of the Army and the USMC, not the NYSE.
This is the most striking argument of all. As a government contractor with the military, I can attest to the accuracy of these statements. It is common for highly ranked and capable servicemen to retire from the military in favor of a contracting job. There is no feasible reason that the Army or Marine Corps could not match those offers by scaling back the amount of work done by private firms.

There are several broad-based campaigns being implemented to drive up numbers among enlisted soldiers, including a sped-up naturalization process and targeting niche audiences. While the Defense Department would be remiss to minimize the recruiting struggles as they stand, the first reaction should be to hang on to the best soldiers that are already serving. Increased retention could solve dual purposes. Indeed, what greater incentive for a potential recruit than a service that expects the best, provides the best and does the most to hang onto its current people?

--Frank

Is The New York Times a liberal newspaper? Well, not exactly.

It is no secret that conservatives love to hate The New York Times. Under seemingly constant attack since the Jayson Blair scandal, the paper's credibility has taken a huge hit in the past few years. A lot of the criticism seems to be, more than anything else, part of a calculated political agenda from the Right.

The central substantive critique offered by more mainstream critics, however, is that the Times writers are predominantly liberal and therefore their reporting and writing is (consciously or unconsciously) slanted by a liberal bias.

I recently watched a panel where Bill Keller, the Times' Executive Editor, was asked whether he thought such a bias existed. He replied that there is probably a bias among reporters, but that it is much more of an urban, secular bias. I think that's a pretty solid insight. Though much has been made of the red/blue state divide, the reality is that liberals and democrats are well-represented in most areas of most states across the country, and their views about the military and religion are diverse. But in urban areas, where members of the military and the fervently religious are few and far between, an enormous disconnect exists. And because the writers of the Times largely reflect the values and worldview of urban secularists, they produce awkwardly framed articles during a time of increased prominence in coverage of the military and religion in American life.

Exhibit A: Today's article, Growing Problem for Military Recruits: Parents.

The gist of the story is that the military is getting more aggressive with their recruiting tactics - which are aimed at defenseless children - and parents are trying to fight back.

Mothers and fathers around the country said they were terrified that their children would have to be killed - or kill - in a war that many see as unnecessary and without end. Around the dinner table, many parents said, they are discouraging their children from serving. At schools, they are insisting that recruiters be kept away, incensed at the access that they have to adolescents easily dazzled by incentive packages and flashy equipment.


Where is the balance here? Some parents are insisting that recruiters be kept away, but surely there must be some who encourage their children to join the military?

And the recruiters tactics are made to sound insidious, dazzling children with their incentive packages and flashy equipment. Is this different from how other companies might recruit for positions? Isn't it reasonable for the military to aggressively advertise its most attractive features? The article does not put forth any evidence that the military is in any way being dishonest about the sacrifice one makes when one enlists (which is not to say that it doesn't happen). But how is this recruiting behavior different from any other American organization - it only is, of course, if you believe the military is inherently evil.

So although the Garfield P.T.S.A. voted last month to ban military recruiters from the school and its 1,600 students, the Seattle school district could not sign on to the idea without losing at least $15 million in federal education funds. "The parents have chosen to take a stand, but we still have to comply with No Child Left Behind," said Peter Daniels, communications director for the district. In Whittier, a city of 85,000 10 miles southeast of East Los Angeles, about a dozen families last September accused the district of failing to properly advise parents that they had the right to deny recruiters access to their children's personal information.


It's hard for me to understand why Americans would be so adamently opposed to the military recruiting in their schools. Whatever you think of our current engagement in Iraq, it is simply a largely urban, secular assumption that the military is so evil that it should not even be allowed to recruit high-school age children. And this assumption is embedded in the reporting of the story. If this story were instead about, for example, parents "taking a stand" to ban organizations that were tolerant of homosexuality, would the reporter let the phrasing go unchallenged as he does here?
Unlike Mr. Terrazas, Ms. Rogers, 37, of High Falls in the upper Hudson Valley, had not thought much about the war before she began speaking out in her school district...When her son, Jonah, said he was thinking of sitting out a gym class that was to be led by National Guard recruiters, Ms. Rogers, who works part time as a clerk at the local motor vehicles office and receives public assistance, said she told him not to be "a rebel without a cause." "In this world," she recalled telling him, "we need a strong military." But then she heard from her son that the class was mandatory, and that recruiters were handing out free T-shirts and key chains - "Like, 'Hey, let's join the military. It's fun,' " she said.

I'm not sure why the military should not be allowed to hand out t-shirts or keychains, or why they shouldn't be able to promote military service as a worthwhile endeavour. Few jobs in this world are "fun," and if parents are unhappy with this false impression that their children received, they should educate them. But banning recruiters altogether makes no sense.
On May 24, at the first school board meeting since the gym class, she read aloud from a recruiting handbook that advised recruiters on ways to gain maximum access to schools, including offering doughnuts. A high school senior, Katie Coalla, 18, stood up at one point and tearfully defended the recruiters, receiving applause from the crowd of about 70, but Ms. Rogers persisted. "Pulling in this need for heartstrings patriotic support is clouding the issue," she said. "The point is not whether I support the troops. It's about whether a well-organized propaganda machine should be targeted at children and enforced by the schools."
It's only a "propaganda machine" if you don't believe in the cause it advocates. Again, no balance here. Imagine if, instead, this article quoted a white supremacist bemoaning the "propaganda machine" of the Godless left. And the supremacist lived in a town where they had recently voted to ban recruiters from organizations that endorse affirmative action policies. Would there have been more balance? Perhaps a few quotes from a truly dissenting citizen?

I love the New York Times. It's the best newspaper in the country, and I couldn't live without it. But its urban, secular bias - confirmed even by its executive editor - is undeniable.
-- Eric

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bolton Comes Unglued

I happen to agree with a lot of John Bolton's views on Foreign Policy -- and I do agree that the ambassador to the U.N. should be tough-minded and relatively assertive -- but this video of him condemning the United Nations is a portrait of someone who is simply unfit to be a diplomat in any capacity.
-- Eric

Developments in ... Guess where?

Bloggers are not the only ones picking up on the rapidly developing events in Uzbekistan. Christopher Hitchens writes on the subject today in Slate.

I was not born yesterday or even the day before, and I can see perfectly well what is being implied here. How can America claim to be the protector of new liberties in Muslim lands if it acquiesces in Karimovism?
Indeed. Further, while there are rumors intimating that extremist elements were behind the Andijon uprising, the U.S. needs to verify these statements before lending them any credence. These rumors are, after all, being pushed by Karimov, Putin and Hu--three men whose words need be taken with a grain of salt.

Karimov is not morally equivalent to the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. He has not invaded neighboring states, or committed genocide, or subverted the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or hosted international gangsters. However, the fact remains that he is a nasty tyrant, and that American policy has come to adopt a position that post-Soviet states should be helped to overcome post-Soviet dictatorial malaise. The record here, in Georgia and Ukraine and Kyrgizstan and (soon, one hopes) Belarus, is not too discreditable. The president has changed the lazy manner in which he used to greet the appalling Vladimir Putin and has quite rightly criticized the post-Yalta settlement and its ancestry in the Hitler-Stalin pact. The defensible elements of this policy succeed only in making Uzbekistan an even more conspicuous and ugly exception. And one ought never to forget Chechnya, where the West in general has been amazingly supine in the face of Russian depredations.
As Hitchens points out, our relationship with Uzbekistan has been complicated by the growing number of newly formed democracies in the region and the precedent we have set by our policy in dealing with those states. Furthermore, Russia's support (and China's to a lesser degree) of the Karimov regime has put the onus on the Bush administration to pick a side. To the point, the role that the Bush administration plays here could impact future relations with Putin's Russia on on larger scale. Despite the slight gestures of friendship displayed between Putin and Bush last month that Bush will likely side against Putin. It would not be surprising for a diplomatic confrontation to occur on the issue of Uzbekistan's present and future.

Hitchens continues:

It has always to be remembered that such regimes will not last forever, and that one day we will be asked, by their former subjects, what we were doing while they were unable to speak for themselves. Better to have the answer ready now and to consider American influence in a country as the occasion for leverage rather than as the occasion for awkward silence.

This idealism is what drives many of Bush's foreign policy supporters. I have a hard time arguing against this point myself, particularly if that support translates to a friendly and profitable relationship years down the road.

UPDATE: After a safety warning earlier today, all U.S. citizens have been told to leave Uzbekistan within the next eight days.

UPDATE 2: An article on the subject in TIME.

--Frank

Sands of Empire

Congressional Quarterly editor and political journalist Robert Merry is set to release a new book titled "Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition." As Bob Novak points out, this book should provide ammo for the,

...increasing numbers of conservatives deeply concerned by U.S. military intervention in Iraq. They voted for and admire President Bush, but were profoundly disturbed by his second inaugural address pledging to spread democracy worldwide.... This is no anti-Bush political screed seeking Democratic gain and Republican loss in Iraq's casualty lists. Merry over the years has been an objective journalist but considers himself a conservative and is said by friends to be a Republican who voted for Bush. What worries Merry is that Bush mixes the moralism of Woodrow Wilson and the exceptionalism of Theodore Roosevelt to produce fatal U.S. global ambitions.
It is not surprising that many Republicans are beginning to question the Iraq war specifically and the GWOT generally. Conservatives have traditionally placed themselves in the 'realist' camp of foreign policy, a camp home to Kissinger, Nixon and Bush I more so than to the current President. Indeed, the aggressive push for democracy around the world for the sake of ideals and not for the sake of American security is what many realists have found troubling. According to reviews and public relations material, Merry rejects this shift in U.S. policy as unrealistic and potentially disastrous. The argument between cyclical history and progressive history remains at the center of the debate among policy experts and historians around the world. "Sands of Empire" stands as an emphatic vote for the growing number of Republican realists opposed to the Bush doctrine.

From the book jacket:

From the first president Bush to Clinton to the second Bush presidency, the United States has compromised its global leadership, endangered its security, and failed to meet the standard of justified intervention, Merry suggests. The country must reset its global strategies to protect its interests and the West's, to maintain stability in strategic areas, and to fight radical threats, with arms if necessary. For anything less than these necessities, American blood should remain in American veins.

As Exit145 has not yet received an advanced copy of "Sands of Empire" from the publisher (lost in the mail??), we will hold off on providing a full, potentially scathing, analysis of the book just yet. However, the highlighted sentences above do not go along way to convince this observer of anything. How are our 'interests and the the West's' defined? What qualifies as a strategic area? When is it 'necessary' to take up arms? And is there a formula to determine when 'American blood should remain in American veins'? Expect a review, or at least an answer to the questions posed here, soon after "Sands" drops.

--Frank

NJ Politics--Is it Even Worth It?

It seems that the Republican nomination for Governor of New Jersey is all but locked up with Doug Forrester increasing his poll lead to double digits a week before the primary election. Despite the rampant corruption and sky-high taxes that have become associated with the powerful state Democratic party, voters are likely to make an also-ran of Forrester when he faces Sen. John Corzine in the general election. Corzine's probable election will undoubtedly be funded by his own personal wealth and should allow the state government to continue its trend toward high tax rates, fiscal irresponsibility, poorly distributed public funds and deteriorating public schools. And you wonder why some of us choose to move out of the Garden State...

--Frank

Eric is the Source for this Post

This Bob Woodward story on Deep Throat provides a behind-the-scenes account of how the most exceptional Washington story was researched and reported.

There has been lot of speculation in the blogosphere that in our current media climate the anonymous nature of the source of the Watergate story would have rendered it unpublishable, or at least called into question the source's motives.

Woodward states:
With a story as enticing, complex, competitive and fast-breaking as Watergate, there was little tendency or time to consider the motives of our sources. What was important was whether the information checked out and whether it was true.

The revelation of Deep Throat's identity has provoked a resurgence of Watergate discussion (and even some Nixon defenders) and provided new context for the current debate about the use of anonymous sources.
-- Eric

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bush Breaks Silence on Andijon

As noted in this Reuters article, Bush has finally directed criticism toward President Karimov of Uzbekistan regarding the May 13th massacre.

"We want to know fully what took place there in Uzbekistan, and that's why we've asked the International Red Cross to go in," Bush told a Rose Garden news conference.

"We expect all our friends -- as well as those who aren't our friends -- to honor human rights and protect minority rights," he added.

It has been coming for some time, so we're happy to see Bush publicly address Karimov. Over at EurasiaNet is a solid piece of analysis by Ariel Cohen on the major policy implications of Uzbekistan.

While the best available option may be to press Karimov to reform, a significant number of Washington analysts believe that the Uzbek president is incapable of changing. This inability to open up Uzbekistan’s political and economic systems is detrimental to US security interests, as Karimov’s continued reliance on force pushes Uzbeks, out of desperation, to resort to violence, and possibly embrace Islamic radicalism. As a result, distaste for Karimov seems to be growing in Washington, and many wouldn’t mind seeing a new leader in Tashkent, provided that stability could be maintained.
That, in a nutshell, is the situation. Bush has a difficult choice to make between the status quo and his oft-quoted and lofty principles. If the last few years have taught us anything about this President, it is that he is not hesitant to take risks. It appears that W. is moving away from Karimov quite definitively.

--Frank

UPDATE: Sergei Luzyanin offers some commentary suggesting that Andijon is likely to be repeated.

UPDATE 2: In an unsurprising move, Tashkent has denied the need for international investigations, but did allow for the possibility of foreign ambassadors to advise an internal review of the Andijon massacres. In an equally unsurprising development, Russia has fully supported President Karimov's unbending stance and has chimed in with rumors of Chechen aid in the uprising on May 13.

Lohan's Grip on Reality

First of all, the new TPMCafe that Eric made reference to earlier today is spectacular. Matt Yglesias has his own corner over there and offers this post.
On vacation in the Outer Banks with various DC-types -- Hill staffers, etc. -- it's become clear to me that the single issue that most engages the passions of the American people is the question of Lindsay Lohan's weight. She's gotten too skinny, you see. Fortunately, two friends of mine working at a prominent policy-analysis shop have started a blog dedicated to this and related issues.
Seems that Yglesias has taken some of our readers. Here's the link to your daily fix--enjoy.

--Frank

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Extremist Grip on Reality

Check out this Internaional Herald Tribune op-ed.
One day, when historians study this first major war of the 21st century, they will scratch their heads in disbelief, wondering how it came to pass that Muslim extremists managed to intimidate moderates of every religion - including Islam - on every continent on earth.

The whole planet, it seems, twisted itself into knots trying to untangle the forces at work behind the retracted Newsweek story about desecration of the Koran. Journalistic practices came under attack, while experts on Islam tried to soothe the less erudite, not quite justifying, but more than thoroughly explaining why desecration of the Holy Book leads to mob rampage and murder in a Muslim society.

No question, insulting any religion is beyond reprehensible. It appears, however, that nothing is more reprehensible than insulting the Muslim religion. And the extremists now decide what constitutes an insult.
And further down:

The views and life choices of moderate Muslims must be respected, as must those of people of all religions, by members of all religions. The demands fall on Muslims, too. And the requirement of standing up against intolerance falls on all governments. Only intolerance is undeserving of tolerance.
Good stuff. The lack of accountability here--not to mention the silence of regional political and religious leaders--is appalling.

--Frank

I Know I Don't Speak the Language, But...

Due to overwhelming popular demand, Exit145 will continue to follow what is happening in Uzbekistan.

As has been widely reported, Sens. McCain, Graham and Sununu were in Tashkent over the weekend to meet with members of the Karimov regime and leading opposition groups. The U.S. delegation was turned down by the government, but used the press conference with the opposition to conduct Senatorial finger-wagging in the direction of Karimov amid fresh reports of disappearances and brutality.


"History shows that continued repression of human rights leads to tragedies such as the one that just took place," Senator McCain said. He later added, "When governments repress or oppress their people, sooner or later, if they have no avenue of expressing their desire for freedom, violence takes place."
This is a start, but more needs to be done. The NY Times and Gateway Pundit seem to agree with the position that Exit145 has taken here and here. Transitions Online offers a hard-line approach to the situation: pull out of the military base on the border of Afghanistan, sever ties to the current regime and force Karimov to play by someone else's rules.

Some in the West may feel Uzbekistan’s oil and gas are more important than blood. But they must now be suffering severe doubts about their ability to get their hands on any more gas or oil. On 26 May, Karimov agreed a $600 million oil deal with China, a move that sent a clear political message: China had just gave its wholehearted support to Karimov’s policy.

That decision of Karimov’s merely underlined trends that have been becoming clearer ever since Georgia’s revolution in November 2003: Karimov has been moving away from the West, seeking a rapprochement with Russia, and forging closer ties with China.

Karimov's recent visit to China and the apparent snub of McCain, et al, amount to a virtual line in the sand. It may be time to call his bluff.

Better than unconstructive engagement would be to treat Karimov like his neighbor, Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niazov – as a pariah. The two were always similar; Niazov was simply more clearly eccentric, more colorful, and actively sought out isolation. At Andijan, Karimov has gone beyond anything that Niazov has ever done. Now, Karimov too is seeking isolation from the West. Making Karimov a pariah is therefore also making a virtue of necessity.

The virtues are, firstly, that the onus would be on Karimov to make a new effort to revive the only Western relationship that may still matter to him, the relationship with Washington. Rice has said that "I think Uzbekistan does not want to endure further isolation from the international community”; she should test the notion. Secondly, it would give the United States an opportunity to show that its perceived national interests are not more important than its loudly proclaimed national values. President Bush has given one of his top staffers, Karen Hughes, the task of improving America’s image in the Islamic world. That is a tough sell when the White House seems so reluctant to condemn a crime as heinous as any seen in years. It also ensures a skeptical response when Bush asserts that people across the Caucasus and Central Asia "are demanding their freedom – and they will have it." At present, Central Asians will find it hard to see how they might gain their freedom courtesy of the West; many may instead simply see democracies as hypocrites – and condemn democracy as a result.

That highlights one of the tragedies of Andijan: one of the few things that the West can currently do for ordinary Uzbeks is to draw attention to and condemn the crime in Andijan – and it seems to be squandering that opportunity, an opportunity that is also an obligation.

It does not take a regional expert or Phd. to question the tactics of the Bush administration thus far. If backchannel diplomacy was in effect immediately following the events of May 13, that is clearly no longer the case. As mentioned, sending McCain to the Uzbek capital will begin to draw attention to the situation. Let us hope this is only the beginning of a policy shift away from what had begun to resemble a compliant attitude.

Additional Info: Islam Online has a brief background on Islam's role throughout the history of Uzbekistan while Registan.net has been posting frequently on current developments. Also, it seems that the 'refugee' situation has had some unexpected related effects on civil society in Kazakhstan.

--Frank

1, 2, 3, Be Boring!

Exit145 readers may be put to sleep by the latest slugfest between New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and the recently departed NYT Public Editor, Daniel Okrent.

In other news, TPM Cafe launched today. The cast of the America Abroad blog is incredible. This group of foreign policy heavyweights - the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and an ex NSC speechwriter among them - could perhaps refute the recently overheard assertion that "almost nobody who blogs produces anything halfway worthwhile."
-- Eric

UPDATE: Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards is also guest-blogging there this week.

UPDATE2: Jon Chait takes Okrent to task - "I didn't think Daniel Okrent...could get any more cowardly...but he just did."

Zapatero

The NY Times reports that the Spanish government is planning conciliatory talks with Basque separatist groups in hopes of finally putting an end to the on-again off-again terror campaign that has lasted for nearly 40 years.
Members of the main opposition group in Parliament, the Popular Party, have attacked Mr. Zapatero's proposal as tantamount to appeasing terrorists.
Not the first time, eh Mr. Prime Minister?
--Frank