Monday, May 26

Observing Memorial Day

I think holidays are tricky to observe. Memorial Day is one of the harder ones for me. I was thinking of linking to some appropriate remembrances around the web. But then I had another idea.

I'm currently reading The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. I ran into by chance at our local library. I recommend it highly. It helps to communicate the message of the report, condensing the report-language and using simple imagery.

My biggest takeaway so far is that we still have not addressed some of the most crying needs pointed out by the 9/11 Commission. I'm not interested in second-guessing events before 9/11, but learning from it and adapting after it should be imperative.

First, we have not adequately addressed the bureaucratic snarls that prevented the discovery of the 9/11 conspiracy. The Intelligence Community is still largely separated and we still have legislative problems of oversight and accountability, including lack of accountability for enacting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission!

Second, we began two wars in the wake of 9/11 that we should see through to the best possible conclusions. I have often criticized the Bush Administration for its conduct of those wars. We need clear goals for combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and a comprehensive strategic vision for the Middle East and beyond.

At a minimum, we should be sure troops in these conflicts have what they need to do their jobs. It seems hard to imagine the Iron Triangle (Congress, the Pentagon, and Industry) diverting money from monster technological systems to counter-insurgency resources. Here are some systems that could be cut back:
  • Virginia-class submarine production (slotted at two per year, at least 2.3B$/boat)
  • new aircraft carriers (first of class will cost at least 8B$, not including 5B$ R&D)
  • the FUBARed Littoral Combat Ship and new DDG-1000 destroyer (at least 2.3B$/ship)
  • the F-22 (at least 361M$/plane) and F-35 (at least 83M$/plane) fighters and the Next Generation Bomber
  • the Army's Future Combat Systems proposed upgrade
This is to say nothing of the overall dysfunction of military procurement, the tendency to try to cram in everything and the kitchen sink, specifying technologies that haven't been proven yet and they end up costing more than budgeted.

(The solution to this whole problem (which will most likely never happen) is to incrementally-upgrade systems that already work for as long as reasonably possible. This has worked quite well with the A-10, Apache, Chinook, Super Hornet and aircraft carriers. All of these systems remain very good at what they do, certainly as good or better than similar systems from any other country.

I'm less clear, so far, on how to economically change platforms once that becomes necessary, but, as I've just written above, it's not necessary yet for most of our systems.)

Another major problem with military procurement is that we keep starving the force that is fighting now and buying systems for a future war that will likely never materialize. Tom Barnett calls this 'Buying one force and operating another.' We need to hedge against future major conflicts, including with China. However, it's almost a crime to bet so much money on countering possible future threats while running current combat operations without all of the resources they need. This should include taking better care of troops who deploy to combat, including whatever care they need when they come home and money toward further education. It is unconscionable to buy more of the gold-plated systems listed above and not provide for troops and their families.

Ok, that became a rant, which I did not intend. But that's alright. In case it's not clear by now, my thesis is that one good way for us to observe Memorial Day is to honor those who have given their lives in the aftermath of 9/11, and in previous wars, by making these sensible (though difficult) fixes to our national defensive posture. I hope I'm not too cynical when I say I don't have much expectation that this will happen. I do have a little hope that we can continue to make progress and at least do better than we have done.
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