Monday, March 31, 2008

Back in the DPRK

Not what you’d normally expect from a British tabloid, but today’s U.K. Sun has a rare glimpse inside the gulag known as North Korea. Reporter Oliver Harvey and photographer Phil Hannaford recently paid a brief visit to the hermit kingdom, along with members a South Korean tour group. A South Korean firm has been running visits to the DPRK since last December; participants are bused through the DMZ to the city of Kaesong, located just across the border.

While Korea-watchers won’t find anything particularly new or revelatory in Mr. Harvey’s report, it does offer a grim reminder of life in Kim Jong-il’s police state. Members of the tour group were given a list of rules to be observed during their visit—with no exceptions.

Some were predictable; no alcohol and no newspapers or magazines from South Korea. Other regulations underscored the regime’s isolation and xenophobia. Visitors were barred from bringing their cell phones, or cameras with telephoto lenses. Taking pictures of “ordinary” North Koreans was also prohibited, and the tour group was warned against engaging them on such issues as politics, economics or diplomatic relations.

Reading Harvey’s account, one wonders why anyone—including South Koreans in search of long-lost relatives—would bother visiting the DPRK:

Soon we hit Kaesong, once the capital of all Korea and one of the North’s major towns. It was like something from old newsreels.

People either slowly walked or cycled through the streets past grey tower blocks bearing Communist slogans and ramshackle Korean-style slate-roofed houses.

Cars were almost totally absent. Small children gawped and waved.

As we moved through the austere town and out into paddy fields, the paranoia of “Dear Leader” Kim became apparent. At every junction and path with the main road, an armed soldier stood guard. Sometimes local people cowered behind walls as the buses went by.

We then passed through desolate, dry fields and farmsteads next to pine-forested hills. Most of the work in the fields seemed to be done by hand, with the occasional cart pulled by cattle. Despite the apparently barren landscape, we passed a huge gaudy mural of Kim’s dead father, “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, pictured in a field of flowing corn.


When one South Korean tourist took a step off the path a soldier from the North blew a shrill whistle and raised a red flag. The plain-clothes guys came rushing over.

When we took a couple of sneaky wide-angle pictures of our soldier guards we also got the red flag treatment.

On the way back from the falls we finally had a chance. The North Korean goon watching over us went to the front of the bus to sing a folk song on the mic and our South Korean watcher nodded off.

Phil and I immediately began clicking away, capturing bedraggled farm workers, Kim’s ever-present military guards and children playing in dustbowl fields.

In Kaesong we had lunch. It was served in a tourist-only block by pretty, smiling Party-approved waitresses in traditional outfits. Next was a gift shop. Although one pamphlet was entitled US – The Empire Of Terrorism, the only currency accepted was the American greenback.

What the Sun (barely) mentions is that Kaesong is something of a showcase in North Korea (yes, we realize that’s an oxymoron). The region is home for joint-venture factories built by South Korean conglomerates and was once touted by Pyongyang as a special economic zone, similar to those that sprang up in China 20 years ago.

Obviously, if life in Kaesong is that bad, we can only imagine conditions in the DPRK interior. With rare exceptions, foreigners are not permitted to travel there, the regions where millions have died in North Korea’s self-induced famine.

The tabloid’s story was published as Pyongyang engaged in a predictable bit of geopolitical posturing. On Friday, the DPRK fired a salvo of anti-ship missiles into the Yellow Sea, in response to “provocative” comments from a senior South Korean defense official.

Apparently, the ROK general offended the north by suggesting that his nation would launch a pre-emptive strike, if it learned that Pyongyang was planning a nuclear attack. The missile exercise was likely connected to the North Korean military’s annual Winter Training Cycle (WTC), which concludes in late March, but the South Korean’s comments gave the DPRK another excuse for launching the missiles.

Friday’s fusillade served other purposes as well. Some of the anti-ship missiles were fired near the Northern Limit Line, the maritime extension of the DMZ. It’s the same area where North and South Korean fishermen harvest crab, under escort by their respective navies. Efforts at creating a so-called “joint fishing area” have failed and with the spring crab season barely a month away, the missile test was also aimed (figuratively) at the ROK Navy.

Leave No Man Behind

Six years ago this month, Petty Officer Neil Roberts, a U.S. Navy SEAL, fell out of a stricken helicopter during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. According to a Pentagon report, Roberts survived the fall, then held off Al Qaida and Taliban fighters for over 30 minutes, firing a belt-fed machine-gun. The terrorists finally overran Roberts’ position and killed him at close range, after his gun jammed.

Believing that Roberts might still be alive, U.S. special forces mounted two rescue attempts. Six other Americans—including two airmen—died in the fighting that followed. The battle finally ended with the recovery of Roberts’ body, the evacuation of other casualties, and Air Force gunships raking the area with cannon fire.

The effort to rescue Petty Officer Roberts typifies the military credo of “leave no man behind.” It’s the same spirit that motivates the search for those listed as missing in action, a process that continues years (even decades) after they disappear.

That sort of heroic effort is providing closure for two more American families. The remains of Army Staff Sergeant Matt Maupin were recovered in Iraq last week, almost four years after he vanished. Maupin—then a Private First Class—disappeared after his convoy was attacked in Iraq on 9 April 2004. He was subsequently promoted to Sergeant, and later, Staff Sergeant.

Sergeant Maupin, an Army reservist from Batavia, Ohio, was the only American still listed as missing-captured in Iraq. Maupin’s family learned of the recovery on Sunday, with a phone call from President Bush and a visit from an Army general.

Half a world away, a similar search resulted in a final homecoming for Major Robert Woods. The Air Force pilot was shot down in June 1968, while flying a visual reconnaissance mission over South Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province. Woods and his co-pilot, Captain Johnnie C. Cornelius, were reported missing in the crash of their O-2 Skymaster. Their remains were discovered last year and identified by the U.S. military.

"Dad's gift to us is that he is bringing all of our family together again," Woods’ daughter told the Arizona Republic. "All of us are scattered, all went our own ways and have not seen each other for many years. Now I'll be looking forward with mixed emotion to April 9."

Searching for missing service members is costly, time-consuming and frequently frustrating. Thousands of U.S. military personnel remain missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and for the vast majority of those families, there will never be any closure. In many cases, their loved ones disappeared in areas where locating and recovering remains is nearly impossible, or there’s simply no place to begin the search.

Some have even argued that process is too expensive and creates false hopes among relatives of the missing. If you don’t believe us, consider the take of various Yale faculty members on the issue, articulated in a campus newspaper article that followed Operation Anaconda. We’re guessing that none of the professors quoted in that 2002 story have ever served in the military.

In response, we'd say that you can’t put a price tag on final resolution for the families of missing military personnel. Sergeant Maupin, Major Woods and Captain Cornelius went to war with the knowledge that their country would do everything possible to bring them home again. We have the same obligation to all military personnel who remain unaccounted for, with no regard for the expense, or how long it might take.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Change of Heart

A couple of years ago--and with considerable fanfare--the Arab news channel Al-Jazerra--announced its expansion into the U.S. market. It opened a Washington bureau, and unveiled plans for English-language programming, anchored by such well-known "journalists" as David Frost and Dave Marash.

More than a few media types questioned their decision to join Al-Jazerra. Afterall, the Qatar-based network has a reputation as a terrorist mouthpiece, airing Al Qaida audio and video tapes with nary a hint of criticism. But Mr. Marash, a veteran of ABC's Nightline, as well as local news jobs in New York and Washington, D.C., bristled at the suggestion that he was working for a propaganda outlet, one that was consistently critical of U.S. policies in the Middle East. As he told Verne Gay of Newsday (h/t: Newsbusters):

[the] conventional and, dare I say, informed opinion is that the channel is thoroughly respected."

Two years later, Dave Marash has apparently had a change of heart. Thursday, he announced his resignation from Al-Jazerra, saying his departure was "due in part to an anti-American bias at the network." As AP television writer David Bauder reports:

Marash was the highest-profile American TV personality hired when the English language affiliate to Al-Jazeera was started two years ago in an attempt to compete with CNN and the BBC. He said there was a "reflexive adversarial editorial stance" against Americans at Al-Jazeera English.

"Given the global feelings about the Bush administration, it's not surprising," Marash said.

But he found it "became so stereotypical, so reflexive" that he got angry

In response to Marash's resignation, an Al-Jazerra executive offered the usual blather:

Will Stebbins, Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, denied any bias against Americans.

"We certainly evaluate U.S. policy rigorously," he said. "But we do our best to give everyone a fair shout."

Al-Jazeera English has been largely unsuccessful in getting U.S. cable or satellite systems to pick it up, except for the municipal cable system in Burlington, Vt., and a small system visible in Toledo and Sandusky, Ohio. But its programming is available on the network's YouTube

We commend Mr. Marash for his decision--we only wonder what took him so long. The idea that Al-Jazerra would give everyone a "fair shout" is as laughable today as it was in 2006. Still, Marash signed the contract, and (in his words) saw network managers reject most of his ideas. Apparently, even the suggestions of a liberal American journalist are inconsistent with Al-Jazerra's editorial policy. And they wonder why U.S. audiences--and cable operators--aren't exactly flocking to their product.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Throw Tony Under the Bus?

Fresh off his “McCarthyism” remarks of last week, former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill “Tony” McPeak gave the Obama campaign another black eye. On Monday, the Weekly Standard quoted McPeak, who serves as Obama’s campaign co-chairman, as saying that “Israel wants peace (but he isn’t sure about the Palestinians).” So far, so good.

Unfortunately for the Obama camp, General McPeak followed that one by observing that that “voters in Miami and New York determine American policy in the Arab world.” Apparently, McPeak didn’t offer any rejoinders about the “international Zionist conspiracy” or similar rot, but the damage had already been done. Even Martin Peretz at The New Republic described McPeak’s comments as “odious.” We’d say Mr. Peretz was being charitable.

The general’s insinuations about the “Jewish lobby” came only days after he accused Bill Clinton of McCarthyism. McPeak was responding to this observation , made by the former President in North Carolina.

"I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country, and people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics."

We’re no fans of Mr. Clinton, but it’s hard to see where his remarks strayed into the territory of Tail Gunner Joe. Still, it was enough to send McPeak running to the microphones, and invoke memories of Senator McCarthy.

"It sounds more like McCarthy," he said. "I was in college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I've had enough of it."

He said that those who know Obama know that he loves America.

"Is this stupid or what?" McPeak asked. "It's a use of language as a disguised insult. We've seen this before. This real clever spin on stuff."

McPeak’s response to the Clinton comment earned him the ire of Democratic leaders. Yet, it wasn’t enough to reduce his role in the Obama campaign. As of Wednesday, he was still serving as a campaign surrogate, speaking on behalf of the candidate in press interviews. That provided a platform for his reprehensible remarks about Jewish voters and their supposed influence on U.S. foreign policy.

Apparently, Mr. Obama and his staff are realizing something the Air Force learned long ago. Tony McPeak is something of a blowhard and totally tone-deaf, convinced that he is right on virtually everything.

To be fair, large egos are not uncommon among fighter pilots, and we’ve met more than a few flag officers (active and retired) with an arrogant, imperious style. But even in those quarters, McPeak is something of a legend.

During his tenure as Chief of Staff, General McPeak managed to antagonize most Air Force personnel, launching pointless (and expensive) pet projects that ranged from new uniforms to composite units that blended multiple aircraft types into a single wing. The GAO estimated that McPeak’s reorganization experiment cost at least $5 billion, with no appreciable savings in efficiency or performance. Yet, despite intense grumbling from the ranks (and "knock it off calls" from a few General officers), McPeak pressed on with his experiment. Many were quickly reversed after he retired, and McPeak remains the most unpopular Chief in Air Force history.

The same traits that made General McPeak so reviled by airmen are now becoming evident on the campaign trail. Michael Goldfard at the Weekly Standard summed it up well. Given Obama’s lack of a substantive record, he will be judged, to some degree, by the company he keeps. And, for the moment, General McPeak and his comments are reflecting badly on the candidate. That makes us wonder: given the Senator’s willingness to throw friends and family “under the bus,” how long will it take Tony McPeak to join that crowd?

Wal-Mart to the Rescue

A hat tip to Colby Cosh of Canada’s National Post, for (once again) highlighting one of the few success stories in the response to Hurricane Katrina.


That’s right; the same big-box retailer that Democratic politicians love to hate was actually one of the most effective organizations to respond to the storm. While FEMA fumbled through its initial response, Wal-Mart was delivering thousands of truckloads of needed supplies, providing a life-line for battered communities and their residents. Some local leaders in Louisiana and Mississippi believe residents actually owe their lives to Wal-Mart, not the federal government.

Mr. Cosh’s conclusions are based on a new study, authored by economics professor Steven Horwitz of St. Lawrence University of New York, and recently published by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. Analyzing the response to the storm, Dr. Horwitz found that Wal-Mart (and other large retailers) were far more flexible (and adept) in meeting the challenge of Katrina.

As Horwitz discovered, Wal-Mart and building supply chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s began mobilizing for the storm well in advance. Wal-Mart’s emergency operations center started preparing for Katrina prior to the storm’s landfall in Florida, days before it struck the northern Gulf Coast. Home Depot made similar preparations, pre-positioning supplies in areas threatened by the storm. Contrast that to the ineptitude of state and local officials in Louisiana, who were still debating a proposed evacuation order--two days before the hurricane arrived.

While political leaders fiddled, Wal-Mart had 45 truckloads of water, generators and other needed items waiting at its distribution center in Brookhaven, Mississippi, only two hours from the coast. As soon as the hurricane passed, the trucks were on the road. In many locations, Wal-Mart tractor-trailers were the first “relief convoys” encountered by storm survivors.

Horwitz also notes that Wal-Mart granted wide latitude to its local and regional managers in providing disaster aid. In one Louisiana town, an employee drove a forklift through the door of his Wal-Mart store, to obtain bottled water for a local nursing home. Another outlet became a temporary barracks for police officers whose homes had been flooded by the storm.

But perhaps the best example of Wal-Mart’s empowerment policy occurred in Waveland, Mississippi, a community that was heavily damaged by the hurricane. Unable to reach her superiors, assistant store manager Jessica Lewis decided to run a bulldozer through her store, collect essential supplies that weren’t water-damaged. The supplies were then stacked in the parking lot and given away to local residents. Ms. Lewis also broke into the store’s pharmacy locker to supply critical drugs to a local hospital.

While Wal-Mart’s efforts were largely ignored by the media, they weren’t lost on local residents or political leaders. In an interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” just days after the storm, Jefferson Parrish President Aaron Broussard noted that Wal-Mart had delivered three truckloads of bottled water, only to be turned back by FEMA bureaucrats.

He also quoted the area’s colorful sheriff Harry Lee who observed, “[if] the American government had responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn’t be in this crisis. The mayor of Kenner, Louisiana credited the company’s deliveries of food and water in preventing the widespread looting that occurred in New Orleans and other locations.

From Horwitz’s perspective, the lesson of Wal-Mart and its Katrina response is abundantly clear. He believes future disaster relief operations should be de-centralized, with a far greater role for private sector responses. With their superior supply-chain management, delegation of authority and willingness to take risks in a competitive market, the big-box retailers can rapidly move large quantities of supplies to affected areas and improvise when necessary, adjusting to meet changing needs or particular local requirements.

By comparison, government organizations like FEMA are highly centralized and hide-bound, encumbered by layers of bureaucracy and red tape. Not only did FEMA rebuff offers of assistance from Wal-Mart and other retailers, it also rejected volunteer doctors, fearing potential liability issues. Against that backdrop, is it any wonder that Wal-Mart beat the feds to New Orleans?

In fairness, Dr. Horwitz observes that one federal agency was effective in the aftermath of Katrina. The men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard rescued more than 24,000 people in less than two weeks and assisted in the evacuation of 9,000 from hospitals and nursing homes damaged from the storm.

Why did the Coast Guard succeed when so many federal agencies failed? With its streamlined organizational structure, strong institutional culture, knowledge of the local area and empowerment of junior personnel, the Coast Guard had more in common with Wal-Mart than its parent bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security. Not surprisingly, Horwitz believes the Coast Guard and FEMA should be removed from DHS, a proposal we heartily endorse.

Almost three years after Katrina, the central Gulf Coast is still rebuilding, and the federal government’s failures have become the stuff of legend. Yet, relatively few Americans know about Wal-Mart’s role in saving lives and helping thousands of victims in Katrina’s aftermath. As Mr. Cosh notes, that doesn’t exactly fit the media stereotype of Wal-Mart:

We are told that the company thinks of its store management as a collection of cheap, brainwash-able replacement parts; that its homogenizing culture makes it incapable of serving local communities; that a sparrow cannot fall in Wal-Mart parking lot without orders from Arkansas; that the chain puts profits over people.

So, it’s little surprise that the American press has largely ignored the Horwitz study, which was posted more than a week ago. U.S. readers who want to learn more about Wal-Mart’s response to the Katrina disaster must go to the Mercatus Center website. Or a Canadian newspaper.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You First

Preparing for next weekend's meeting between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian officials are making a familiar demand: scrap missile defense.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow's position today, in a conversation with reporters. While admitting that Russia is studying recent proposals on missile defense--offered by American officials earlier this month--Lavrov said the best solution would be for the U.S. to cancel its program.

We are convinced that the best way to assuage Russia's concerns ... will be to abandon such plans and turn to a truly collective project," Lavrov told reporters.

Earlier this month, the U.S. secretaries of state and defense visited Moscow with new proposals that would allow Russia to closely monitor the prospective missile defense sites.

Lavrov previously has said the proposals reflect the U.S. recognition of Russia's concerns but that Moscow needs to study them in details before replying.

Mr. Bush will likely hear similar complaints--and arguments--in his meeting with Mr. Putin. The out-going Russian president has long opposed U.S. missile defense programs, claiming that they are "destabilizing" and jeopardize Moscow's strategic nuclear deterrent.

In a rare concession last summer, Putin suggested that the U.S. use a radar station in Azerbaijan to track incoming missiles. Washington has promised to consider the offer, but has stated it cannot replace planned facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.

We're not sure what counter-counter offers--if any--will be offered by Mr. Bush during meetings with his Russian counterparts. But, as a negotiating ploy, he could throw down the gauntlet to his hosts, and link any decrease in U.S. defenses to similar cuts in Russia's missile defense ring around Moscow. The answer he receives could be quite revealing.

The Russians don't exactly advertise it, but they've long had a limited ballistic missile defense system. Work on the defensive shield, which is deployed around Moscow, began in the early 1960s. Permissible under the ABM treaty (which allowed one defensive site per country) the Russian system became operational in 1971, and has remained in service ever since. It was upgraded in the mid-1990s and provides a limited defense against strategic attack, or a strike by a rogue nation. The United States mothballed its only ABM site (in North Dakota) during the mid-1970s.

Operating the system for almost 40 years has been a rather expensive proposition, but successive generations of Russian leaders considered it a worthwhile investment. They spent even more money on upgrading a system after the Cold War--a time both Moscow and Washington were reducing their strategic arsenals.

As we've observed before, Russia prefers to have it both ways when it comes to missile defense. Mr. Putin and his successor are quite happy to have a limited ABM system around their capital, in the event it might be needed. But, when it comes to missile defenses in eastern Europe--systems that might (someday) threaten Moscow's nuclear missiles--well, that's a different story.

With the global missile threat growing--and BMD systems now reaching maturity--it's doubtful that Mr. Bush will offer new concessions in his talks with the Russians. And that strikes us as the right position. Left unchecked, rogue nations that now possess medium-range missiles could have ICBMs within a decade, giving them the capability to strike the United States (and before that) our allies in Europe.

In that threat environment, a limited BMD deployment in eastern Europe makes eminent sense. Additionally, the U.S. has expressed its willingness to let the Russians join the venture, an offer Moscow has, so far, rejected. Full cooperation on a defensive measure doesn't exactly fit in Moscow's plans, particularly when Russia needs a nuclear "deterrent" for leverage with its neighbors--and it's already a member of the missile defense club.

Today's Reading Assignment

From Commentary magazine, via, "Anatomy of the Surge," by Duke University Professor Peter D. Feaver. During a two-year leave of absence from his teaching post, Professor Feaver served as a strategic planning expert for the National Security Council, and worked extensively on Iraq policy issues. He witnessed the folly of our early efforts, and the subsequent success of the troop surge. As Feaver writes:

Over the past 16 months, the United States has altered its trajectory in Iraq. We are no longer headed toward a catastrophic defeat and may be on the path to a remarkable victory. As a result, the next president, Democrat or Republican, may well find it easier to adopt the broad contours of this administration's current strategy than to jeopardize progress by changing course abruptly.


I witnessed the shift firsthand. For two years, from June 2005 to July 2007, I left my teaching position at Duke to join the National Security Council staff as a special adviser for strategic planning, and in that capacity I worked closely on Iraq policy. By the middle of 2005, it was painfully obvious to everyone involved that the only decisive outcome that could be achieved during President Bush's tenure was the triumph of our enemies, America's withdrawal, and Iraq's descent into a hellish chaos as yet undreamed of.

The challenge, therefore, was to develop and implement a workable strategy that could be handed over to Mr. Bush's successor. Although important progress could be made on that strategy during Mr. Bush's watch, ultimately it would be carried through by the next president. This was the reality behind the course followed by the administration in 2005-06, and it remains the reality behind the new and different course the administration has been following since 2007.


Next month, the military leader of the surge, Gen. David Petraeus, and America's chief diplomat in Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, will present their second report to Congress on the surge and its effects. Prudent and circumspect men, they will surely not advance bold claims on behalf of the policy the United States has been following under their leadership. But I expect they will speak more optimistically about the future than many thought possible eighteen months ago. Their testimony will demonstrate that, at last, the United States has a sustainable strategy for Iraq with a reasonable chance of success, and one that George W. Bush will be able to turn over with confidence to the next incumbent of the White House.

How we got here is a story in itself.

Read the whole thing. It's a fascinating, insider's account of how we arrived at the surge strategy, in a rather indirect manner. Early efforts to stand-up Iraqi security units and send them into key Baghdad neighborhoods foundered; domestic criticism of the war effort intensified, and the White House was unable to offer its alternative when the Baker-Hamilton report was released in December, 2006. By the time the administration formally proposed the troop "surge" in early, the political climate, Professor Feaver observes, was "frosty." Dr. Feaver is obviously a master of understatement.

Still, President Bush elected to press on with his strategy, and the surge has produced a dramatic turn-around in the security situation in Iraq. As for the future, Feaver offers this cautionary assessment:

>The evidence of the past 16 months is that the American people are likely to support, or at least tolerate, a reduction in American numbers gradual enough to preserve the gains of the surge. A President McCain, for example, would probably have no trouble taking advantage of this sustainable strategy and bringing our mission in Iraq to the most successful end achievable.

What of a President Barack Obama or a President Hillary Clinton? If one were to attempt an answer to this question from the two candidates' words and conduct during the long primary season, one would have reason to conclude that both, in promising a rapid "end" to the war with an equally rapid withdrawal of American forces, are bound and determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of at least partial victory.

National security experts advising Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton would be well-advised to heed Professor Feaver's warning. Even at this juncture, it's not too late for politicians to lose the war in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stolen Valor, Southern Style

Every month seems to bring a new case of "Stolen Valor"--military honors falsely claimed by veterans, or in some cases, by individuals who never served in the armed forces.

One of the latest incidents was discovered in Mississippi, where a pair of veterans are accused of altering their military records, identifying themselves as recipients of the Purple Heart. Their apparent motive? No-cost license plates that never expire, and prominently display the decoration. As the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports:

Federal investigators on Tuesday arrested two Mississippi men who allegedly falsely represented themselves as Purple Heart recipients in order to obtain free vehicle license plates.

John Wayne Lebo, 57, of Tylertown and Christopher Billeaud, 52, of Biloxi are suspected of altering their "official military discharge papers to reflect awards and medals (they) did not receive," according records filed in federal court.


According to court papers, officers with the U.S. Air Force Office of Investigations went to the Billeaud home in April 2007, after they discovered he was claiming to be a chief master sergeant, although he retired as a master sergeant.

One of the officers noticed that a vehicle parked at his home had a Purple Heart license plate. During the interview, the officer asked Billeaud if he received a Purple Heart and he told the officer no, court records show.


Lebo served with the U.S. Army from 1967-69 as a firearm instructor.

According to court papers, along with fraudulently claiming a Purple Heart, Lebo altered his discharge papers to show he had received a Silver Star, Airborne Medal and Sharpshooter. He first obtained a Purple Heart License plate in 1999.

Lebo's alleged phony discharge papers were discovered after an investigator compared his original forms with the ones he used in Walthall County in order to obtain the Purple Heart license plate.

Both men declined to speak with the Clarion-Ledger. But Billeaud's wife told the paper that her husband her husband "has been recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the head of Keesler Air Force Base hospital as receiving a Purple Heart but not by the U.S. Air Force."

And there's the rub. We're guessing that Billeaud's "recognition" was based on the altered military records. If the Air Force has no documentation of the Purple Heart, it's quite likely that Sergeant Billeaud never earned one.

There appears to be little dispute that Billeaud suffered a service-related injury. Deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, Billeaud was hurt when sandbags collapsed on him during a Scud attack. But (apparently) the injury did not qualify as a combat wound, a requirement for award of the Purple Heart.

There is no indication that Lebo was ever injured or wounded during his service with the U.S. Army.

Thanks to the Stolen Valor Act, falsely claiming military honors or awards is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine. There have been a number of successful prosecutions in recent years.

Ironically, the national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart is also a Mississippian. And, as you might expect, retired Colonel Henry Cook III of Diamondhead is angry with the phonies--and their false claims of valor. As he told the Jackson paper:

"We' get outraged by these wannabe's as we call them," Cook said. "It's something that is puzzling to me, but you'll be surprised how widespread it is."

Cook said people falsify claim to have Purple Hearts and other war medals to get the benefits, and some do it for the glory of the valor.

Barring a potential plea deal, Billeaud and Lebo will face trial later this year. As part-time residents of the Magnolia State, we rather doubt that a Mississippi jury will buy any explantation about their phony Purple Heart claims.


ADDENDUM: The case of Xavier Alvarez is also heading to court. You may remember Mr. Alvarez as the California water board member who not only lied about being a retired Marine, but also claimed to be a Medal of Honor recipient. Alvarez is expected to go on trial next month, and the incident
recently attracted the attention of The New York Times
. Readers will note that the Times couches Alvarez's deception as a mere slip of the lip. In fact, he made the claim on several occasions, resulting in the filing of federal charges.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Continuing Battle Over UAVs

A recent Los Angeles Times article details the latest skirmish in the Pentagon's internal battle over UAVs. According to the paper, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the Air Force to put virtually all of its UAVs into combat, supporting operations in Iraq in Afghanistan. However, the service is warning that an expanded drone presence could cripple squadrons that are already over-stressed:

Pressure from the Defense secretary in recent months has nearly doubled the number of Predators available to help hunt insurgents and find roadside bombs in Iraq. But it has forced air commanders into a scramble for crews that officers said could hurt morale and harm the long-term viability of the Predator program.

Some officers said pressure from Gates resulted in one plan that could have taken the Air Force down a path similar to the German Luftwaffe, which cut back training in World War II to get more pilots in the air.

"That was the end of their air force," said Col. Chris Chambliss, commander of the Air Force's Predator wing. The Air Force plan, presented to the military leadership in January, eventually was scaled back.

The surge in drone flights is Gates' latest push for short-term measures to win the Iraq war that will have long-term implications for the U.S. military. In recent months, Gates has campaigned to increase the size of the Army and to ship new, heavily armored troop transporters, known as MRAPs, to Iraq.


The Army has argued that more overhead drones will save troops' lives, a position largely adopted by Gates. But the Air Force has complained that simply demanding more, with no end in sight, would severely strain the service -- just as repeated deployments of ground soldiers has strained the Army.

At the SecDef's direction, the number of continuous UAV missions, or orbits, has increased from 12 to 22--and Gates would like to push that total even higher. But the Air Force claims its Predator and Reaper squadrons are already at the breaking point, and would be hard-pressed to sustain another increase in operations.

At one point, the Times reports, Secretary Gates was pressing for as many as 36 orbits over Afghanistan and Iraq--a plan that would have halted training of new Predator crews. The so-called "All In" plan would have kept some pilots in drone squadrons for years, well beyond the end of their scheduled tours.

Under the current "surge" some pilots are spending two additional years in UAV assignments, a move that has serious implications for their careers--and the Air Force as a whole. There are no "career" UAV pilots in the USAF; flying a Predator or Reaper is the equivalent of a special duty or "broadening" assignment, spent "outside" their normal aircraft system.

As you might expect, fighter and bomber pilots who've been flying a UAV for the past 2-4 years are anxious to return to the aircraft they were originally trained to fly. After being out of those cockpits for years, they're at a disadvantage in comparison to their peers--fighter and bomber jocks who remained in their primary aircraft. Those latter pilots--who have logged hundreds of additional flying hours--have already qualified for such positions as multi-ship flight leads, package commanders and flight commanders, based on their added experience. That gives them a leg up for more important operational jobs, not to mention promotions.

But, it's a bit of a stretch in comparing the training woes of UAV units to the German Luftwaffe of World War II. The German Air Force was forced to curtail training for a simple reason; it was attempting to support a multi-front war--and defend the homeland against an onslaught of Allied bombers and their fighter escorts. To support that requirement, the Germans needed every qualified pilot an operational cockpit and, quite predictably, training suffered. That's one reason that "new" Luftwaffe pilots in the waning days of World War II entered combat with only a few hours of flight training. Most proved easy meat for their more experienced--and better trained--Allied counterparts.

So, any resemblance between today's U.S. Air Force and the Luftwaffe of 1945 is purely coincidental. However, the UAV Wing Commander who made that comparison (Col Chambliss) is right about one thing: you can't halt or curtail your training program without serious, long-term consequences. That's why the Air Force would be well-advised to "bite the bullet" and create a separate UAV training unit, apart from the wing at Creech. Forming that type of organization would reduce pressure on the operational wing, and go a long way towards establishing drones as a legitimate career path for professional aviators.

As a part of that process, the service also needs to answer an essential question: is it really necessary for UAV "drivers" to be fully rated pilots? Under the current system, that means that every new Predator or Reaper jock has to complete undergraduate pilot training (UPT), and upgrade training for their particular type of aircraft before they master the UAV. That represents an investment of more than one year (and over $1 million), plus the cost of the drone training program--for pilots who will serve only one tour in a UAV squadron.

The answer seems obvious: create a specialized cadre of operators who will fly drones for extended periods--perhaps their entire career. And, taking a page from the Army playbook, most of the "operators" could be warrant officers. That would require the Air Force to restore those grades, but it would (largely) eliminate concerns about career advancement or time out of a "primary" cockpit, while ensuring that drone units had experienced aviators to fill line positions. Utilizing this approach, UAV units would still be led by commissioned pilots who advanced through the ranks, but had previous experience with a drone system.

But if the Air Force must modify its approach to training (and manning) UAV squadrons, then the Army--and DoD leadership--must also change their mindset. Obviously, platforms like Predator and Reaper bring a new dimension to the battlefield, and their combination of persistance surveillance (and limited strike capabilities) have saved American lives. But experience also shows that not all ground operations require UAV support.

In fact, one of the missions cited in the Times article--the hunt for IEDs--has proven to be a poor fit for drone units and their supporting intelligence systems. In a speech last summer, the former Commander of the Air Force's Air Combat Command observed that Predator units had found relatively few IEDs, despite years of trying. During his address, General Ron Keys suggested that UAVs might be better used for other missions. In hindsight, Keys' remarks were clearly an early response to the planned increase in drone missions. Obviously, ground commanders (and Mr. Gates) disagree with the general's conclusions.

For the time being, it appears that the Air Force, the SecDef and drone "customers" have reached some sort of accomodation. There are no current plans to implement the "All In" strategy, and USAF UAV squadrons can support the current effort--at some cost in terms of crew training and rotation. But the long-term answer remains elusive. Ground commanders and senior DoD leaders want overhead surveillance on a grand scale--something that isn't practical, given the numbers of drone and crews available.

At the same time, the Air Force wants a more limited UAV presence, allowing it to stay in the fight, with less impact on pilot training and rotation. But, given the demands of the current conflict--and the wishes of key Defense Department officials--that isn't realistic, either. Instead, what's needed is a realistic strategy for manning, training and employment of UAV units.

The notion that you need a fully-trained pilot to fly a drone by remote control is absurd--as is the idea of 36 continuous UAV orbits over the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. To ensure a proper level of support, the Air Force, its ground "customers" and representatives of the SecDef need to develop innovative solutions, ensuring that drone squadrons have enough pilots--and Army and Marine units receive the suveillance they need.

As a part of that effort, defense planners must also consider another, vital link in the UAV chain, namely the Distributed Common Ground Systems (DCGS) that process and disseminate information collected by Predator and Reaper sensors. Despite a recent DCGS "building boom" among Air National Guard units, the number of these systems remains relatively small. Limits on UAV ops are also a product of DCGS availability, manning and training. Any discussion about a viable plan for UAVs must address the DCGS aspect as well. We saw no mention of that element in the Times' story, an omission that we find both curious and troubling.

ADDENDUM: It's also obvious that Army demands for increased surveillance and control are nothing but a ploy for its own, expanded UAV program. While we have no quarrel with more drones for the Army (and other services), we think the rapid expansion of those units restates the case for UAV executive agent for DoD--with the Air Force the most logical candidate--and the need for standardization between DCGS units already in operation, and those being planned by the other services.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Two and Only

Bob and Ray (or, in this case, Ray Goulding and Bob Elliott) in a promotional photo for Monitor, the NBC radio program that showcased their genius in the 1950s. The woman in the middle is Tedi Thurman, a.k.a. "Miss Monitor," the sultry-voiced model who read weather forecasts on the program (Wikipedia)

Scott Johnson of Powerline reminds us that Thursday marked the anniversary of the birth of Ray Goulding, who, in his words, was “responsible for one-half of the hilarity” of Bob and Ray, one of the greatest radio (and comedy) teams of all time.

Mr. Goulding passed away in 1990; his partner, Bob Elliot is now retired. But the merriment they created lives on, in recordings from their countless radio shows, TV appearances and even the occasional foray into theater.

Virtually anything was fodder for their gentle satire. They relentlessly lampooned the media through such memorable characters as inept reporter Wally Ballou, whose opening transmission was inevitably cut off (-ally Ballou here!); dim-witted sportscasters Biff Burns and Johnny Braddock; home economics expert Mary Margaret McGoon (who offered recipes for ginger ale salad and “mock turkey”), and Arthur Sturdley, a take-off on media titan Arthur Godfrey.

There were commercials for imaginary sponsors; Monongahela Metal Foundry (“Casting steel ingots with the housewife in mind”) and The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel, “makers of all sorts of stuff, made out of everything.” The imaginary spots typically aired during parodies of other radio shows; one of their soap opera take-offs (Mary Backstage, Noble Wife) was actually better known than the program it spoofed.

Bob and Ray got their start at Boston radio station WHDH in the late 1940s; they eventually relocated moved to New York City, working in both radio and TV. One of their longest-running (and best-known) gigs was on NBC’s Monitor, the brain-child of legendary programmer Pat Weaver, who was trying to save network radio against the tsunami called television. There was a touch of irony in Weaver's mission. As the creator of the Today and Tonight programs, Weaver helped create the template for network TV, which had siphoned off much of the radio audience by the mid-1950s.

Weaver envisioned Monitor as a "kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria,” encompassing everything from news, commentary and interviews, to popular music, cultural events, and yes, humor. Monitor became a staple of NBC radio’s weekend programming for 20 years, generating a huge audience and tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue.

But Weaver and his producers also understood the perils of live radio. On occasion, remote broadcasts suffered technical glitches; guests failed to show up, or the show simply needed a little shot in the arm. As a safety net, NBC hired Bob and Ray, who spent most of their weekends in Radio Central, the elaborate broadcast complex created for Monitor. With minimal notice, they would go on the air, performing one of their classic skits, or masterfully ad-libbing a bit until the next segment was ready to air.

Bob and Ray quickly became one of the show's most popular features. They received a Peabody Award for their work in 1956, one of only three won by Monitor during its long run. As their citation noted:

They deal primarily in satire, that rare and precious commodity. Their aim is deadly; their level is high; and their material is fresh, original, imaginative, and terribly funny. In any year, radio listeners would have reason to be grateful to this team, but especially so in the arid twelve months just past when, by reason of their unrelenting excellence, “Bob and Ray” have stood as the lone magnificent palm tree in a vast and dreary desert. In recognition of these facts, the George Foster Peabody Award for outstanding radio entertainment goes to “Bob and Ray.”

Fifty years later, the duo’s timeless comedy remains fresh and sharp. Communications professor Dennis Hart has one of their many Monitor appearances on his tribute site for the program. He also has an audio snippet from Hugh Downs, one of the many hosts who worked with Bob and Ray. Incidentally, Professor Hart has written a pair of terrific books on Monitor and its personalities; both are recommended reads for anyone interested in the last, great program of commercial network radio.

Happily, the work of Bob and Ray also lives on, through XM Satellite Radio and an exhaustive discography, available through their website. The site also offers a free listen to some of their classic routines, including the famous "Komodo Dragon" skit. In that bit, Bob plays an expert on the giant reptile, interviewed by an inept reporter (Ray), whose questions repeat what Elliott has already discussed.

They were--and are--American originals, The Two and Only.

ADDENDUM: Bob and Ray weren't the only comedic teams employed by Monitor. Mike Nichols and Elaine May provided routines for several years, but unlike Bob and Ray, they preferred to work on tape. At least one account suggests that recording sessions for Nichols and May were marathon affairs; it wasn't unusual for the duo to tape 13-14 bits, but only one or two ultimately proved airworthy. That was quite a contrast to Bob and Ray, who typically worked live, and often without a script, filling time and entertaining--brillantly--on Monitor.

Also, an early happy birthday to Mr. Elliott, who turns 85 next week.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Off Message

Intelligence analysts are still mulling over the latest audio message from Osama bin Laden, looking for hidden meaning and messages in the terror leader's diatribe.

We've never claimed to fully understand bin Laden, and his most recent speech struck us as a bit strange. On the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, the Al Qaida chieftain ignored that subject altogether, concentrating instead on the recent republication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed, by newspapers in Denmark.

The cartoons, which touched off a firestorm of controversy (and violence) when first published in 2006, were reprinted again last month. So far, the reaction from Muslims in Europe--and elsewhere--has been comparatively mild, at least by the standards of two years ago. Still, bin Laden threatened Europeans with a new "reckoning" for their misdeeds. As the AP reports:

Wednesday's audiotape from bin Laden was posted on a militant Web site that has carried al-Qaida statements in the past and bore the logo of the extremist group's media wing Al-Sahab.

"The response will be what you see and not what you hear and let our mothers bereave us if we do not make victorious our messenger of God," said a voice believed to be bin Laden's, without specifying what action would be taken.

He said the cartoons "came in the framework of a new Crusade in which the Pope of the Vatican has played a large, lengthy role," according to a transcript released by the SITE Institute, a U.S. group that monitors terror messages.

"You went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquette's of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings," he said. "This is the greater and more serious tragedy, and reckoning for it will be more severe."

So, why did bin Laden ignore Iraq in favor of a "recycled" crisis? A few answers come to mind.

First, things are hardly going Al Qaida's way in Iraq. Since the troop surge began, Al Qaida and its local allies have suffered a series of staggering defeats, losing territory, support and influence. With the terror group Iraqi affiliate now a shadow of its former self, bin Laden can hardly chortle about the "defeats" being inflicted on the "crusaders."

And, as Rusty at the Jawa Report observes, there's the very real possibility that the latest bin Laden tape is simply a recycled product:

There is literally no doubt in my mind now. This is an old audio, probably from 2006, of bin Laden. As Sahab must have been embarrassed that they had nothing to offer the world on this the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, so they hurriedly released an old audio they had lying around. The fact that there was no accompanying banner is evidence that they threw this together last minute.

If Jawa's analysis is correct, that raises another question, namely why was Al Qaida's normally- astute propaganda arm unable to offer any new audio or video on the anniversary of the Iraq War? For starters, it is possible (as Jawa proposes) that bin Laden is now dead--although there's no compelling evidence to confirm that assertion.

A better explanation might be that the Al Qaida leader has moved deeper into the mountains of Waziristan, making it more difficult for his propaganda arm to create new products. Such a relocation would be in response to recent air strikes in the region that have killed several top Taliban officials.

Indeed, those attacks may have eliminated key figures in As Sabah, including Adam Gadahn, the American traitor who (in recent years) has played an increasingly important role in Al Qaida's propaganda machine. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Gadahn died in a 29 January airstrike on a terrorist safe house in Waziristan. But there is a problem with that theory, as the Long War Journal observed last month:

Al Qaeda would have capitalized on Gadahn's death, given his unique status as an American member of al Qaeda. "I would imagine that if Gadahn got knocked off they would have announced his death just as quickly as they did [Abu Laith al Libi's death]," said Nick Grace, who closely tracks al Qaeda's propaganda and activity at jihadi forums. "Having an American become a martyr would be a propaganda coup for them and I imagine that ultimately Gadahn will be more useful for al Qaeda dead than alive."

Grace noted that Gadahn plays a leading role in al Qaeda's propaganda apparatus. "He has a leading voice within As Sahab's management," Grace said. Gadahn has taken over a significant role in As Sahab since the summer of 2006, and the propaganda has become more "sophisticated" since Gadahn's direction.

But signs of Gadahn's absence have been seen with the latest release of the Yazid video, said Grace. Files were not properly uploaded in the correct sequence. "Since taking the reins of as-Sahab, Gadahn instituted standards and practices that have been closely followed over the past year," Grace noted. "This is the first technical mistake that I have seen them make since the events back in September 2007," when the Osama bin Laden videotape was improperly handled.

Al Qaida's odd reaction to the five-year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom may led more credence to reports of Gadahn's death. Some of the terror group's propaganda efforts have grown clumsy in recent months, lacking their past focus on U.S. audiences and themes. That may indicate Al Qaida's highest-ranking American may no longer control the media show, because he became "one with the cosmos" a few weeks back.

And that would be welcome news, indeed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Question of the Day

Did Boeing commit (another) strategic error in the KC-X competition, by not offering a tanker version of its 787 Dreamliner? Stephen Trimble considers that possibility, at

The US military acquisition community always SAY they want best value, but what they really want is best performance. Best value is a conveniently loose term that can be fudged to justify any decision.

That's why I wonder if Boeing botched the bid by failing to offer a tanker version of the 787.

Yes, it would mean the USAF might have to wait a few more years for production slots to become available. Yes, the all-composite fuselage would present some engineering challenges to make it a tanker. Yes, it would be more costly than a KC-30B proposal.

But, with hindsight, you have to wonder how a Boeing bid anchored on a KC-787 proposal would have turned out.

Remember that the 787 is just larger than the A330-200, but not quite so large as the 777F. Remember, too, that the 787 was designed to knock the A330-200 out of the commercial market, and it is by all accounts a formidable machine on paper (once Boeing works out the costly bugs in its production system).

And remember that the USAF above all prizes performance when it buys aircraft. One wonders in retrospect if the KC-787 could have been unbeatable, and whether Boeing made a classic strategic error by failing to promise the aircraft's availability for KC-X.

Unfortunately, Boeing's losing bid appeared to be based on a plan to keep the 767 production line open--and that aircraft was no match for the A330 in the tanker role. It appears that a 787 tanker variant was never seriously considered, nor was a 777 version. Indeed, the triple-7's long runway requirements probably eliminated it as a serious contender for the tanker contract.

Also, take a look at a lengthy response to Mr. Trimble's post, from a Boeing employee. He (?) confirms that the company's bungling was the major reason it lost the KC-X competition.

Today's Reading Assignment

Fouad Ajami, writing on the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, at A few points worth pondering:

For our part, we did not always fight this war most wisely and skillfully. It took us a while to get the right commanders and envoys on the scene. We did not have the linguists we needed, for the 1990s had not prepared us for wars of ideology and culture.

Even the bureaucracy itself -- the State Department, CIA -- was full of people who doubted the wisdom of this war and second-guessed it at every turn. Some of the very people dispatched to Baghdad were no friends of this project.

Still, five years on, this endeavor in Iraq is taking hold. The U.S. military was invariably the great corrector. In their stoic acceptance of the mission given them and in the tender mercies they showed Iraqis on a daily basis, our soldiers held out the example of benevolent rule. (In extended travel in and out of Iraq over the last five years, I heard little talk of Abu Ghraib. The people of Iraq understood that Charles Graner and Lynndie England were psychopaths at odds with American military norms.)


So we did not turn Baghdad into a democratic city on a hill, and we learned that the dismantling of Sunni tyranny would leave the Arab world's Shiite stepchildren with primacy in Iraq. A better country has nonetheless risen, midwifed by this American war. It is not a flawless democracy. But compare it to the prison it was under Saddam, the tyranny next door in Damascus and the norms of the region, and we can have a measure of pride in what America has brought forth in Baghdad.

And lastly...

There has been design and skill in recent American endeavors. The Sunnis had all, but wrecked their chances in the new order. The American strategy in the year behind us worked to cushion the Sunni defeat. The U.S. now sustains a large force of "volunteers," the Sons of Iraq, drawn mainly from the Sunni community. This has not met with the approval of the Shiite-led government, but the attempt to create a balance between the two communities has been both deliberate and wise.

In the same vein, American power has given the Kurds protection and a historic chance in a neighborhood that had hitherto snuffed out all their dreams. But a message, too, has been sent to the Kurds. The condition of this protection is a politics of sobriety and a commitment to the federalism of Iraq. We have not re-invented that old, burdened country, but this war is the first chance Iraqis have had to emerge from a history of plunder and despotism.

In the past five years, the passion has drained out of the war's defenders and critics alike. Our soldiers and envoys are there, but the public at home has moved onto other concerns. Still, the public is willing to grant this expedition time, and that's for the good. There is no taste in this country for imperial burdens and acquisitions in distant lands. But Americans also know that the lands and sea lanes of the Persian Gulf are too vital to be left to mayhem and petty tyrants.

Read the whole thing...

Scions of the Surge

Five years after the invasion of Iraq, there are plenty of media commemoratives on the war and its legacy. One of the better accounts can be found in the current issue of Newsweek, , which devotes a cover story to the “Petraeus Generation,” the young officers who have come of age during multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In their lengthy account, writers Evan Thomas and Babak Dehghanpisheh report what those in the military already now: Years of combat experience have transformed the U.S. officer corps, particularly in Army and Marine Corps units that have borne the brunt of fighting in the Middle East.

Noting the recent, dramatic drop in violence in Iraq, Newsweek gives much of the credit to the American commander on the ground, General David Petraeus, and his remarkable combat leaders who have implemented the surge strategy:

But this new way of war needs a new kind of warrior, and it needs tens of thousands of them. Five years into the longest conflict the U.S. military has fought since Vietnam, young officers like Tim Wright have been blooded by multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They've learned, often on their own, operating with unprecedented independence, the intricacies of Muslim cultures. Faced with ineffective central governments, they have acted as mayors, mediators, cops, civil engineers, usually in appalling surroundings. Most recently, and hardest of all, they've had to reach out and ally themselves with men who have tried and often succeeded in killing their own soldiers. Brought up in rigid, flag-waving warrior cultures that taught right from wrong, black from white, they've had to learn to operate amid moral ambiguity, to acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of their enemies.

“You can’t kill your way out of an insurgency,” Petraeus told Newsweek in a recent interview. Reading from updated guidance being prepared for his troops, the general encouraged units to get out of their vehicles and interact with local residents. "Walk … Stop by, don't drive by," he emphasized. The objective, he repeats over and over, is no longer to take a hill or storm a citadel, but to win over the people.

Achieving those objectives falls on the shoulders of men like Tim Wright, an Army Captain and West Point graduate who previously served in Afghanistan. Many of the techniques outlined in the “new” counter-insurgency manual (authored by General Petraeus) were tried out in Afghanistan, where Wright and his battalion commander had success in co-opting local insurgents. "All the stuff in the Petraeus manual, we had kind of figured it out there [in Afghanistan]," Wright told Newsweek. "It was all the stuff we had seen work on the ground."

But there’s more to the troop surge than interacting with local residents, or buying off local warlords—and that’s where the magazine’s cover story fails miserably. Evans and Dehghanpisheh conveniently ignore the various “kinetic” options implemented by General Petraeus and his commanders on the ground . Without last year’s combat operations in Diyala, Baqubah, the Baghdad “belts,” and other locations it would be virtually impossible to win the hearts and minds of the people. And of course, those same operations were led by many of the young men and women who now double as local "mayors, mediators, cops and civil engineers."

The troop surge proved that America was willing to stay the course in Iraq, and expel the terrorists from their remaining strongholds. That, in turn, brought greater cooperation and assistance from the Iraqi people and their local leaders. Once they discovered that U.S. troops weren’t planning to clear an area and leave (as they had in the past), Iraqis began to turn on the insurgents, in ever-increasing numbers.

That doesn’t mitigate the accomplishments of men like Captain Wright. And, General Petraeus’s ideas about “winning over the people” are essential to any successful counter-insurgency operation. But that strategy also recognizes that some will never be won over. And ultimately, they must be eliminated, using the implements of war.

The surge is working not just because of local pacification programs, but because those efforts were supported (read: made possible) by brilliantly-executed combat operations over the past 15 months. Unfortunately, the very real connection between kinetic operations and the "hearts and minds" program is utterly lost on the staff at Newsweek.

Obama’s Search for Inspiration

General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., USAF, 1912-2002 (Air Force photo via Wikipedia)

Barack Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia was filled with the same soaring rhetoric –and hollow liberalism—that have defined his Presidential campaign. Victor Davis Hanson at NRO summed it up well, describing it as "an elegant farce."

“ Obama, the postmodernist, context is everything. We all have eccentric and flamboyant pastors like Wright with whom we disagree. And words, in his case, don’t quite mean what we think; unspoken intent and angst, not voiced hatred, are what matters more.

Rather than account for his relationship with a hate-monger, Obama will enlighten you, as your teacher, why you are either confused or too ill-intended to ask him to disassociate himself from Wright.

The Obama apologia was a “conversation” about moral equivalence. So the Wright hatred must be contextualized and understood in several ways that only the unusually gifted Obama can instruct us about.


“..We are all at times racists and the uniquely qualified Obama is our valuable mirror of that ugliness: Wright may say things like “God d--n America” or “Dirty Word” Israel or “Clarence Colon,” but then it must be balanced by other truths like Obama’s own grandmother who also expresses fear of black males (his grandmother’s private angst is thus of the same magnitude as Wright’s outbursts broadcast to tens of thousands).

We don’t understand Wright’s history and personal narrative. But as someone who grew up in the hate-filled and racist 1960s, it was understandable that he was bound to mature into his present angry anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-white mentality. (As if all blacks did?)

Indeed, Wright does nothing that much different from radio-talk show hosts and those of the Reagan Coalition who thrive on racial resentments. But whereas Wright has cause as a victim, his counterparts are opportunists who play on white fears.

And if we wish to continue to express worries about Obama’s past relationships with Wright — never delineated, never explained in detail — in trite and mean-spirited ways such as replaying the Wright tapes, then we have lost a rare opportunity to follow Obama into a post-racial America.”

Listening to Senator Obama’s speech (and reading the transcript), I wondered if the candidate—or his spiritual advisor—ever heard of General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the first African-American to reach flag rank in the U.S. Air Force.

General Davis, who passed away on Independence Day 2002, was a product of the hate-filled and racist times that spawned Reverend Wright’s anger. But the obstacles of that era had a far different impact on General Davis; he not only overcame the evils of racism and segregation, he shattered them, opening doors of opportunity and equality for thousands who followed.

Davis grew up the son of an Army officer who felt the sting of racism first-hand. It took the elder Davis 42 years to reach the grade of brigadier general, after decades of back-water jobs as an ROTC instructor and advisor to black national guard units. In the segregated military of the 1920s and 30s, those positions represented the few assignment options for an African-American officer. Yet, the elder Davis persevered.

His son displayed the same tenacity. Entering West Point in 1932, the younger Davis was the only black member of his class. Expecting to be judged on ability and merit, his hopes were quickly dashed. Davis was “shunned” by his white classmates. Few of them spoke to him outside the line of duty. He never had a roommate. He ate his meals alone.

Rather than driving him from the academy (as some of his classmates hoped), the experience pushed Davis to excel. He graduated in 1936, 35th in a class of 276 cadets, and earning the respect of those who had ostracized him.

Davis faced even greater challenges as Commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, and later, the 332nd Fighter Group. First, Davis and his men had to prove their mettle as pilots, and overcome institutionalized racism. Before General Davis earned his pilot’s wings in 1942, Army documents stated that blacks “lacked the ability” to fly combat aircraft.

Once in combat, Davis set exacting standards and fought to keep his unit on the front-lines, refuting claims that his pilots once fled in the face of enemy attacks. Operating from bases in North Africa and Italy, the “Red Tails” compiled one of the greatest combat records of any fighter group during World War II.

Members of the unit shot down 14 German fighters in only two days over the Anzio beach head, and they were among the first to destroy ME-262 jets in combat. Allied bomber units often asked for escort by the 332nd, knowing the group’s reputation for deterring enemy fighter attacks. Davis (then a Colonel) led scores of combat missions himself, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star, among other decorations.

Davis commanded an F-86 wing during the Korean War and eventually reached the grade of Lieutenant General, retiring from active duty in 1970 (he was later advanced to four-star status by President Clinton in 1998). In civilian life, Davis served as public safety director for the city of Cleveland, and as Assistant Secretary of Transportation during the Ford Administration.

Toward the end of his life, Davis produced a remarkable autobiography (General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.: American) detailing his amazing career—and his long struggle against racism. Davis’ recollections are free of bitterness or remorse. Critics would say that’s because General Davis reached the peak of his profession. But in achieving that status, Davis endured offenses far worse than those suffered by Jeremiah Wright or Barack Obama.

Because of those experiences, General Davis understood the dark side of America’s soul. But he also understood a nation that rewards perseverance, hard work and character. Rather than condemning his country with hate speech (or pressing for government paternalism disguised as reform), General Davis fought for—and achieved—lasting change.

He never asked for more than a chance, knowing that his abilities--and those of other African-Americans--would bring down the barriers placed before them. History affirms the validity of Davis' beliefs, and their lasting impact. His achievements in World War II were a major reason that the Air Force was the first of the armed services to fully integrate, blazing a trail followed by the rest of the military and society as a whole.

In the popular vernacular, General Davis wasn't simply "down for the struggle," he was at the forefront of the struggle--and all Americans benefited from his efforts.

In various campaign speeches, Barack Obama has spoken eloquently about the nobility of public service. But we’ve rarely heard him mention the military in that context. Perhaps someone should send the senator a copy of the Davis autobiography. Maybe he would find greater inspiration in the life of General Davis than from the racist rants of Pastor Wright.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


In the Hall of Fame for troubled defense programs, the V-22 Osprey probably deserves its own wing. While the tilt-rotor aircraft is a revolutionary piece of technology, it has been plagued by a long development cycle, punctuated by cost overruns and a series of highly-publicized (and deadly) accidents. The aircraft finally entered combat service in Iraq earlier this year. You may have seen a pair of Ospreys in the background during Senator John McCain's recent visit to Baghdad. Talk about product placement.

Unfortunately, the V-22 program has hit another snag. According to Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week, the Pentagon's program manager dropped a major bombshell during the annual Navy League show; turns out that the aircraft's engines are wearing out faster than anticipated, and the Osprey fleet may need a new power plant at some point in the future.

Fortunately, the Navy already has an engine in mind: the General Electric GE38-1B, under development for the CH-53K helicopter. The GE engine is a derivative of the power plant originally intended for the Osprey. Eventually, the Pentagon settled on a lower-cost alternative, the AE 1107C--the same engines that may need replacement.

On the down side, re-engining portions of the V-22 fleet will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more. And, if the services wind up using both engines, there will be increased expenses for spare parts, maintenance training and other items. So the actual price tag for new engines could easily pass $1 billion, making the Osprey program even more expensive.

At one point in the early 1990s, the V-22 program was on the verge of cancellation. It was saved through the efforts of Congressional supporters, anxious to preserve defense dollars and jobs in their districts. Almost two decades later, it's too late to get rid of the Osprey. The military will muddle through and Congress will find the money to keep the planes flying. In the meantime, we can only wonder how that money might have been better spent, had the V-22 been scrapped all those years ago.

Today's Reading Assignment

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the Air Force's recent tanker contract decision, and the defense "patriots" who have risen in support of Boeing and its losing bid.

As the Journal observes, it's the Pentagon's job to protect taxpayers, not a defense firm that screwed up the original 2004 tanker deal--through its own misconduct. Rebidding the aircraft contract--and the selection process--took another four years to complete. Meanwhile, our tanker fleet isn't getting any younger.

Dozer Speaks

Michael Hoffman of Air Force Times adds another element to the story of “Dozer,” the F-22 pilot who was the subject of a recent operations security (OPSEC) briefing, compiled by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. As we noted in a recent series of recent posts, the AFOSI presentation suggested that Dozer divulged operational and technical details of the fifth-generation fighter, through his comments on a popular internet aviation forum. Yet, our own analysis revealed that virtually all of the information discussed by the pilot was already in the public domain.

As this blog reported last week, the Air Force reached the same conclusion. An OPSEC study by Air Combat Command (ACC) and a security review by an Air Force acquisitions directorate determined that Dozer’s on-line comments did not divulge classified information.

The widely-circulated OPSEC briefing was prepared by the OSI’s detachment at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona after completion of the ACC study and the security review. Members of the Davis-Monthan detachment were not involved in the study or review, and the base has no role in the F-22 program.

In an e-mail exchange with Mr. Hoffman , Dozer said he was unfairly targeted by the briefing, which highlighted his various forum posts and responses to questions by other participants. Dozer, who now serves as commander of an F-22 squadron in Alaska, said he was cautious in posting information about the Air Force’s newest stealth fighter:

I only discussed items that were open source and available to the public,” he said. “It is also why I did not answer many of the questions that were asked because they would have touched on issues that were not appropriate.”

Two Pacific Air Forces officers, who asked to remain anonymous because of the story’s sensitivity, said they were surprised a training tool would use a current commander as an example of inappropriate behavior.

“How is he supposed to ever counsel an airman on OPSEC again?” one officer asked

A better question might be why the briefing was prepared in the first place. An AFOSI spokeswoman told us last week that someone at ACC identified the F-22 incident as a “good example” of on-line security hazards. Members of the Davis-Monthan detachment then prepared their briefing, which was presented to the base Threat Working Group last month.

While the OSI stresses that the unclassified presentation was intended for training purposes only (and not for wider release), those caveats are not listed in the 28-slide briefing. And, while the presentation does not describe Dozer’s on-line activity as an OPSEC violation, it suggests that potential adversaries could have gained valuable information on the F-22 through the internet discussion.

The briefing is also misleading in terms of its suggested scope. On the cover slide, there is a silhouetted F-22, along with the shields of the AFOSI, the FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Inclusion of those shields implies that the other agencies assisted in preparation of the presentation.

In fact, none of those organizations participated in development of the briefing. The OSI says the organizational shields were included because those agencies assist the Air Force in the investigation of cyber-crimes, and participate (as required) in base-level threat working groups, the intended audience for the F-22 presentation.

But we'd guess that’s little consolation for Dozer, whose professional reputation was unfairly maligned in the briefing. In reality, he had been encouraged by Air Force leadership to discuss the F-22, and served as one the program’s most visible representatives.

Before taking command of the Alaska unit, Dozer served as the Air Force’s first F-22 demonstration pilot, showcasing the jet at air shows around the country. He also appeared—with the service’s blessing--in several television documentaries on the jet. During those appearances, his name, rank and status as an F-22 pilot were clearly identified.

Some would say that the OSI owes Dozer an apology, but we say that process ought to begin at ACC. It’s a bit odd that someone on the staff would identify the on-line comments as an example of a security risk—after the same headquarters conducted an OPSEC review that exonerated the F-22 pilot.

In fairness, we should note that the ACC staff is very large; it’s quite possible that the OPSEC study was conducted by a different directorate than the one that communicated with the OSI detachment at Davis-Monthan.

But there’s also the possibility that the ACC tipster had some knowledge of the original OPSEC study, and misrepresented its findings.

If that was the case—and it’s a very big “if”—then Dozer may have been the target of a personal vendetta. And that’s a matter worth looking into.

Author’s note: In preparing our posts on the F-22 matter, we elected not to publish “Dozer’s” real name. The pilot’s identity had already been established in various websites, articles and on-line forums. In our judgment, reprinting “Dozer’s” name and rank would not add to our coverage. We also believed that Dozer was entitled to the same degree of privacy he sought in making his on-line comments.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Mess at Moody Continues

It’s been a while since we’ve reported on the housing woes at Moody AFB, Georgia. As you’ll recall, the installation was part of a DoD program to “privatize” base housing, which was aimed at saving money and providing better quarters for military personnel and their families.

Back in 2004, the Air Force awarded a contract to American Eagle Communities to build 605 housing units at Moody. The Connecticut-based developer accumulated more than $3 billion in military housing contracts--mostly at Army and Air Force installations—despite the firm’s history of financial problems. American Eagle was supposed to complete the Moody project before the expected arrival of 2,000 additional airmen (and their families) by 2009.

To no one’s surprise (save the Air Force contracting community), American Eagle’s housing projects quickly fell behind schedule and ran into severe financial problems. By early 2006, the developer was in default on the contract. Local contractors never received payment for their work; bond holders for the development grew nervous, and a Georgia judge ordered the project shuttered. To date, American Eagle has produced only four new housing units for Moody AFB.

Making matters worse, the Air Force was apparently lax in its oversight of the failed project. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss criticized the service last week for not taking “decisive action” when the housing effort faltered.

Mr. Chambliss noted that Army and Navy installations had similar problems with American Eagle, but those issues were addressed within months. He said the Air Force didn’t respond to the Moody crisis until last year—almost 18 months after the developer defaulted on its contract. As Air Force Times reports:

Chambliss, who spoke during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services readiness and management support panel Wednesday, said his research indicated American Eagle was in technical default of the contract in March 2006, but the Air Force did not notify anyone that there were problems until the latter part of 2007. He referred to the project as a “disaster.”


William Anderson, assistant Air Force secretary for installations, environment and logistics, noted that bond holders were told about the problems early on, but said he would have to get back to the senators with an exact timeline.

“It appears actions were taken at the appropriate time,” he said.

“I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on that,” Chambliss said. “To allow something like this to happen, where the developer goes 3½ years without performing, accumulates $30 million in debt, and owes $7 million to contractors ... and doesn’t deliver a single home ... seems to me that either the process we have on the part of the Air Force is either defective, or the process was not followed.”

As we’ve noted before, privatized housing effort is but one part of the “out-sourcing” mania that’s gripped DoD since the late 1990s. Under the guise of saving money, the Pentagon has hired contractors to perform services and functions once handled by the military. In some cases, out-sourcing has been a success, but other attempts at privatization have been disastrous.

To be fair, some private housing projects have been a success, particularly in high-cost-of-living areas where young military personnel can’t afford steep rent or mortagage payments. Under those circumstances, privatized housing can be a godsend, allowing troops and their families to live in new quarters, at a cost equal to their monthly housing allowance.

But in terms of living costs, Valdosta, Georgia hardly compare with Southern California, the Washington, D.C. area, or Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In fact, the median home price in Valdosta (located eight miles from Moody) is only $117,000. It would have been far cheaper to provide incentives for incoming airmen to buy a home. Even junior enlisted members can afford the average monthly payment on a $120,000, 30-year mortgage ($719.00 a month).

Instead, the Air Force plowed ahead with the wrong solution in the wrong location, and at the wrong time. At last report, the service was trying to restart its failed housing projects, by attracting new developers and contractors. But that takes time, and there’s no way the Moody project will be ready for the expected influx of newly-assigned airmen.

Instead of throwing more money down the drain, the Air Force (and its members) would be better-served by encouraging home ownership with a buy-back guarantee when the member moves on. A similar program already exists for civil service employees, and there’s no reason that type of approach wouldn’t work at Moody, and other bases where housing privatization has failed, and failed badly.

In the interim, Senator Chambliss—and the taxpayers--deserve a better explanation as to why the Air Force was slow to react when the Moody project went belly up.

The Gold-Plated Helicopter

The VH-71 helicopter. When outfitted for Presidential transport duties, each chopper will cost an estimated $400 million, making them more expensive than Air Force One (Lockheed-Martin photo via The Danger Room).

Today's Washington Post has a disturbing item on the program to build a new fleet of Presidential helicopters. Just how expensive can a squadron of helicopters be? Hang onto your wallets and keep reading.

But first, a bit of history. After 9-11, it was determined that the Commander-in-Chief needed a state-of-the-art chopper, something that could withstand a potential terrorist attack (think advanced MANPADS), while improved range and communications capabilities.

Back in 2002, then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card launched an effort to acquire new aircraft for Marine Helicopter Squadron One, the unit that operates and maintains the presidential choppers. A contract for 28 new helicopters was finally signed in 2005, with an estimated price tag of $28 billion.

The winner of the competition was something of a surprise. While U.S. firms like Sikorsky and McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) had long supplied VIP helicopters for the Defense Department, the contract for the next-generation Marine One was awarded to Lockheed-Martin, which offered an upgraded version of the European EH101. While the company is one of the world’s largest defense contractors, it has no prior experience in the helicopter business.

Undaunted, the Navy and Lockheed-Martin pressed on. You can probably guess what happened next. Since 2005, the projected price for the 28 helicopters has risen steadily. According to the Post, the estimated cost is now $11.6 billion.

That’s $400 million per helicopter. Or, put another way, each new chopper will cost more than the last Boeing 747 outfitted to serve as Air Force One—even when the price of that jet is adjusted for inflation.

For that much money, the President will be getting a veritable airborne Cadillac, offering plush accommodations, protection from a wide array of threats, and allowing him (or her) to manage a crisis from mid-air.

And that’s part of the problem. As a former senior defense official told the Post:

"You don't think of it in terms of what's the cost of the individual helicopter," said Jacques S. Gansler, a former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, who has been asked to review the project for the Defense Science Board. "You think of it as, what do we need to do to protect the president?"

As a result, a vehicle that was supposed to be a modified version of an existing helicopter "grows into an entirely different thing," he said.

The specifications of the new craft remain largely secret, but some details have leaked into trade publications or have been disclosed in congressional briefings. The 64-foot-long helicopters must carry 14 passengers and thousands of pounds of additional equipment while being able to fly farther without refueling than existing Marine One choppers can. They must be able to jam seeking devices, fend off incoming missiles and resist some of the electromagnetic effects of a nuclear blast.

They also must have videoconferencing and encrypted communications gear to allow the president to instantly reach advisers, military officers and foreign leaders. Although the president typically spends only short periods of time aboard the White House helicopters, at times the president can be onboard for longer distances. In a crisis, the White House says, minutes can make a difference, so a president should have the full capacity to act no matter where he or she is. In theory, a commander in chief should even be able to order a nuclear strike from the helicopter.

Someone once observed that “perfection is the enemy of good enough,” and that seems to be the case with the next-generation chopper, dubbed the VH-71. Fact is, the President is rarely aboard the helicopter for more than a few minutes and in a national crisis—the kind that would require him to relocate for survival—the chopper’s function is simple: get the Commander-in-Chief to a secure location, or the airport where a NAOC aircraft is waiting. The notion that a president (or his/her designated successor) would manage a crisis from the helicopter, for a prolonged period, is doubtful at best.

Procuring a squadron of helicopters that can handle the VIP transportation mission—with advanced self-protection capabilities—shouldn’t cost the taxpayers $11 billion. At least one member of Congress (with Sikorsky’s headquarters in her district) is pushing to scrap the EH101, and open the program for re-bidding. We can only guess how much more that would cost, in terms of wasted money and delays in acquiring new helicopters.

We also wonder what impact (if any) the Marine One project will have on the Air Force’s CSAR-X competition. The service is currently weighing proposals for its next-generation search-and-rescue helicopter. One of the contenders is a special ops version of the European chopper (dubbed the US101), and offered by none other than Lockheed-Martin.

You don’t have to be an acquisitions expert to imagine the latest sales pitch going on inside the Pentagon. Select the US101 for the Air Force, the argument goes, and get a lower unit cost for the Marine One program, since both helicopters use the same airframe.

And, the Lockheed-Martin program has some key supporters in Congress, including New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. As you might have guessed, the new Marine One will be assembled at a plant in Oswego, the same facility that would build CSAR helicopters for the Air Force—if Lockheed-Martin wins that contract, too.

Hat Tip: The Danger Room