Friday, April 18, 2014

The US Needs to Re-discover the Concept of Strategy

There are various definitions of strategy. Basically what I mean here is expressed by a simplified example from Homer. The ten unsuccessful years of the Greek seige of Troy was carried out by force driven by notions of being led by heros/exceptionalism resulting in failure. Compare that to the subsequent Trojan Horse strategy which is far more than a simple ruse. The Greeks are able to turn the Trojan’s own belief system/narrative against them, and the horse is taken into the city to strategic effect. Had the Greeks been able to conquer Troy with force and notions of exceptionalism alone, then strategy would have been unnecessary, but since they were not, strategy became a necessity.
Lets consider strategy as a complex concept of at least three distinct aspects: the first is political context and contingency; the second is dialogue supported by a coherent strategic narrative; and the third is the combined application of various sources of power to achieve an effect greater than the sum of those sources, that is strategic effect. If we combine these three aspects we can conceptualize a test of opposing wills interacting over time applying various moral and material resources within a specific political context. The environment they operate in is one of uncertainty, violence and danger adding to the friction of the entire sequence. The goal is imposing one’s will over that of the enemy, but for the whole complex interaction to be coherent, certain criteria have to be met. Is the political purpose attainable by military means? Are other forms of power more appropriate? Is the purpose worth the possible cost? Who is the enemy exactly? A modern state? A tribe? An ideology?
Following Clausewitz, war belongs to political relations, so the enemy is by nature a political one, representing a political community. What is the nature of this political community, is it cohesive or fragmented to the point that it is the foreign presence which actually calls it into being? Dialogue is the interaction of both sides, but narrative includes all audiences involved including the home front, the enemy population and neutral political communities. One can see here how the moral and material cohesion of the two or more political communities influences the number of audiences we are dealing with.
Back in the day, the end of the Cold War and the First Gulf War of 1990-91, we as political/military institutions in the US understood what strategy was and what it could do. The resolution of the Cold War was all about strategy, and we can see how all three of the main aspects were dealt with adequately in both that confrontation and in the First Gulf War. All the self-delusional blather post 1990 of how "we won the Cold War" missed the most important point of all. By using strategy and focusing on other sources of Western power, military force was unnecessary, would in fact have been a strategic failure had in been used in Europe. The First Gulf War illustrates this as well. Viewed as a failure by the Cheneyites (exclusive focus on force and US exceptionalism), the war actually illustrates a clear strategic success for the US given the three aspects of strategy. That US policy after the war was a failure is a separate issue.
So based on our conceptual model, we can deduce that strategy requires a clear and specific political context, you cannot have a strategy to simply remain the only superpower on earth, or engage against methods such as terrorism or extremism. All of these are simply too abstract to be engaged in any way by strategy since the political contexts are too broad or nonexistent. How could the lone superpower prepare against any conceivable challenge from any rising political community, let alone engage a method of violence, strategically?
Re-discovering strategy allows us to look more critically at both our recent wars in terms of political context. What was the political purpose which we expected to achieve by especially military means in Afghanistan and Iraq? It seems to have been to remake both the Afghan and Iraqi political identities, since only that would have assured the success of the new governments we wished to impose.
From this perspective, not only Afghanistan and Iraq, but also more recent possible US military action regarding Syria, Iran or in support of the current Ukrainian government are all astrategic. None of them are coherent in any of the three aspects I have introduced.
To illustrate this, let’s quickly consider Iraq. Iraq was initially portrayed as a looming threat. Operations commenced in 2002, although for some reason US and coalition air activity over Iraq was uniquely not considered military action. In the following spring, the country was quickly overrun, but the political purpose of imposing a new Iraqi political identity (as symbolized by the white, blue and yellow flag they were expected to adopt) was quite radical requirring sustained and extensive US moral and material support. An Iraqi resistance movement quickly spread with the US leadership caught by surprise. No strategy went into the planning of this campaign, instead it was based on a preference on organized violence linked with ideological assumptions regarding the market system as well as US exceptionalism.
What we have experienced since 9/11 is not strategy, but the collapse of strategy as a coherent concept in US policy formulation producing a series of astrategic spasoms involving organized violence but to no US strategic effect. Instead we only have the aftereffects, the knock off of the corruption of these events contributing to a dissolution of US political standing in the world.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Unaffordable Care Act


Many think President Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provided a medical salvation to a large proportion of the 47 million heretofore uninsured non-elderly Americans. In fact, it has compelled perhaps 1.6% more people to buy insurance in 2014 than were insured in 2013.

Even taking the rosier figure of 5.4% of the number of previously uninsured, this is hardly a success story.

Moreover, having insurance coverage is not the same thing as being able to pay for actual healthcare. To risk stating the obvious: Beyond paying one's insurance premiums, one must then pay for the actual medical care one seeks. It should seem obvious that many of the people who failed to buy health insurance failed because the cost of seeing a doctor was beyond their purview.

The big story, however, is the "ugliness of spirit" (to quote Paul Krugman from his "Health Care Nightmare") in the United States which the ACA has revealed. Over half of our State's governor's are rejecting additional Medicaid coverage, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott being one. Odd considering our not-compassionate conservative Governor Rick Scott made his money in the legally contentious, once-largest for-profit health care company in the U.S. (Columbia/HCA); one would think he had a heart for such issues.

From Krugman's piece:

The health economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the principal architects of health reform — and normally a very mild-mannered guy — recently summed it up: The Medicaid-rejection states “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.” Indeed.
Florida CHAIN, a group lobbying for "increasing the access to affordable quality healthcare, published an informative piece on what the legislators "hope you don't read and remember." From that brief round-up is this on the "spite tax":

  • $500 million: A conservative estimate of the “spite tax” that Floridians will pay in 2014 – i.e., the amount of STATE taxes and fees that Floridians must redundantly pay to block access to what they already paid for with federal taxes

How Obamacare has played out in Florida is that the Medicare - Medicaid population can no longer access medical care from the same doctors they had previously seen. Bottom line: doctors are unwilling to accept the 80% remuneration from Medicare when they will not have access to the 20% previously covered by Medicaid. (Meanwhile, many of those accepting full Medicare reimbursement grow rich from providing often unnecessary procedures or prescribing unnecessary or unproven medications hawked by their friends representing the interests of Big Pharma.)

What is the linkage between Obamacare and the refusal of doctors to accept patient who are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid?

Whatever the linkage, signs were in place in doctor's offices in 2012 stating that should the healthcare act pass, they would no longer be treating their patients who were dual Medicare + Medicaid recipients. These are the patients who will neither be able to afford the ACA coverage nor the medical care itself -- our neediest citizens who should be protected by such governmental programs.

The best parsing of the 1,163 pages of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (HR3590) and the 337 pages of the “Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010″ (HR4872)—known collectively as the Affordable Care Act— can be found at this post on Dr. Lickerman's blog. A liberal M.D., he explains clearly why the Act will not be a boon to the average health insurance customer.

There is no need to compress his compression, but this is an example:

"Consumers currently have almost no ability to “vote with their feet. Thus, no competitive pressure exists to motivate insurance companies to lower their premiums at all (remember, just because there are multiple plans on the exchanges doesn’t mean they’re being offered by as many companies)."

The insurance companies grow rich, the doctors grow rich, and the poor go without care. A Federal mandate that people buy health insurance ≠ being able to afford health care.

Medicare patients who also qualify for Medicaid are being turned away from their doctors in Florida -- is this how Obama's vision was supposed to play out?

We need a new law that requires all doctors to honor Medicaid patients (bureaucracy rules.) If Congress would provide this legislation, then then Mr. Obama should use his flanking policy by issuing an Executive Order. If a doctor accepts Medicare, he should be required by law to provide care to Medicaid patients. To do otherwise is simple money-grubbing.

Ranger will bet the farm that our leadership class does not have a problem finding premium health care, paid for with our tax dollars.

Addendum: Yesterday's press covered the death of young Florida mother Charlene Dill who collapsed at one of her three jobs for want of healthcare for her documented heart condition. She fell into the "Medicaid Gap" because she lived in a state which would not expand Medicaid coverage. Her case is not an isolated one.

--Jim and Lisa

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar.]

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cheneyism: The Dominate Ideology in US Policy/Politics Today

Todd E Pierce has a very important article up at Unz Review . . . which was republished from Consortium News. The comments on both sites are worth reading.
"Cheneyism" is an accurate term and describes much of our current US political reality. In fact with this concept, much of our recent history becomes comprehensible.
As I have mentioned before, there are additional knock-on effects that are not so obvious at first. For instance, from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective, for a country/political community to act strategically there has to be a political context, a potential opponent against which the country/political community orientates. This opposition in turn has a specific context and capabilities which allow for contingent actions/reactions to take place over time. With Defense Planning Guidance or "DPG" this ended. No longer was there a specific opponent in mind, the context became global with even former allies in line to become potential adversaries. Defense planning (and procurement) went from threat assessment to capabilities enhancement which is essentially limitless . . .
Instead of containing the Soviet Union, with DPG the goal was the unlimited maintenance of global dominance, which from a strategic theory perspective is incoherent since the scope is simply too broad and complex to plan for in any realistic way, not to mention beyond the material and moral means the US possesses. So, we see strategy giving way to notions of US exceptionalism and the proclivity to see the use of force (in various forms) as the preferred means in international relations. This explains why the US today has lost the ability to act strategically and has been acting astrategically since at least 9/11.
This maintenance of global dominance in turn required the demolition of much of the international structure that the US had so carefully constructed after World War II, since the assumption (although not always followed) was that the US was first among equals; thus alliance relationships have decayed and shared values have been replaced by narrow interests of "allies" often operating at cross purposes . . .
Notice too the mention of Carl Schmitt. On the Torture as Stalking Horse thread I used a quote from Schmitt to introduce his concept of "sovereignty". This consists of the ability to identify the enemy of the political community in question and wage war against that enemy. Cheneyism and its followers have been doing that since 9/11 and in fact much of what they have done has been in the name of "keeping us safe" from a projected "existential threat", which is what the Global War on Terror or current War on Extremeism has been all about. Both are struggles against abstractions or methods (as in terrorism) not against a specific political community at all.
Cheneyism operates according to a politics of subversion and obfuscation. Nothing is as it seems, publicly stated policy goals are formulated for propaganda effect, while the actual goals remain hidden, unstated, even deniable. Much of what is going on in the world today follows in tow of this political approach with countries in the thrall of Cheneyism taking on many of its political characteristics. This fascistic ideology is perhaps best seen as a malignant social/political virus.
This all has also had a serious knock-on effect on our national intelligence collection, in that the purpose of that collection has become providing the justification for actions already decided upon, rather than accurately reporting on foreign relations/conditions.
Finally, the notion of US exceptionalism, upon which Cheneyism rests, assumes that the US cannot actually be defeated militarily. "We can only beat ourselves" or rather the people lose interest in carrying on "their fight". For this reason, domestic information operations become a military necessity, the main stream press becomes essentially a "ministry of truth" and elements of a police state are systematically put in place to restrain and punish an ungrateful populace . . . who are purposely kept unaware, but also assumed unworthy or even hostile to the attainment of the maximum plan. Exceptionalism thus applies not to Americans as a political community, but to the Cheneyite elite who guide and control the state unaccountable in any meaningful way.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spot on predictions in 1970

In the late 60's, it was difficult for Aviators to advance beyond O-5, as the demands of Viet Nam and the Training Base precluded assignments in our Basic Branch that were necessary for advancement.  Being an Aviator was just a special skill identifier for officers in the various Branches.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, in 1969, CSA William Westmoreland decided that a shortfall in O-6 Aviators should be "cured" not by special instructions to promotion boards to advance highly qualified Aviators based in OERs and responsibility levels in lieu of "Branch Material" assignment, but to put 70 Colonels through Flight School.  Within the established Aviation community, we quietly referred to these Colonels as "Change of Life" or "Manopause" Aviators.  Some were quite good, and some were a farce.  I was an Instructor at Ft Wolters at the time, and chosen to instruct some of these Colonels.  Fortunately, the four assigned to me (two at a time) were first rate, and were very valuable mentors for learning the ins and outs of the rarefied air of DA and Army policy.  The second pair (both WWII, Korea and VN combat vets) were students when Nixon sent his Special Message to Congress on Draft Reform.

Shortly after the above message, after giving the two Colonels a Saturday morning tour of the maintenance facilities and fleet management operations for the School (we operated some 1,300 helicopters), one Colonel put on a barbeque for our families.  While gathered around the fire, beers in hand, the three of us began to discuss the President's plan.

Both COLs saw it as our "marching orders", and while they expressed their views on the future impact of an AVF, neither was judgmental.  Rather, they were looking at what they saw that leaders in the future would have to contend with.  Of course, none of us could predict the future conflicts our nation would be involved in, and most assuredly not the past 11 years.

First off, one COL addressed the magnitude of the opening round of increase in pay and benefits Nixon put on the table to be able to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of troops.  He predicted that the day would come when force structure will be significantly limited by personnel costs versus strategic needs. He also predicted that increasing pay would begin to cause an erosion in benefits, due to 1) the pay being seen as sufficient for the troops to do without subsidized benefits and 2) the burgeoning personnel costs of the AVF.

If we were going to pay "competitive"  wages that recruited and retained, the COL said, we would be locked into an ever increasing upward spiral.  When the economy is strong, higher wages will be needed, but when the economy is weak, there would be no way to decrease wages.  Thus, from a "market standpoint", the odds are that DOD would be always paying a premium wage.  And his prediction was pretty much spot on.

We have seen the force structure limits of personnel costs.  Rumsnamara vigorously fought end strength increases to preserve funds for fancy hardware, without regard to the impact it was having on the troops who had to face repetitive tours in hostile fire zones.  And, we are again trimming back end strength to meet funding constraints, while pay increases are suggested to be seriously capped for the next few years.  The payroll tab is just too high.

One benefit which he saw as being "fragile" was our newly received CHAMPUS (1966) which was the very first national program of civilian health care funding for dependents and retirees.  We are all aware of the various proposals floating to shift more of the cost of TRICARE (CHAMPUS' descendant) onto retirees, no less active duty dependents.

Another was retiree pay.  Since 1980, there have a couple of pieces of legislation to try to bring down pension costs, not the least of which was the recent attempt to cap COLA prior to age 62 for currently serving and retired personnel.  Congress has been basically schizoid about pension computation.  Do you reduce the pension tab and hinder retention?  So far, they have been very reluctant to find out.  The one attempt to seriously reduce pension rates, REDUX in 1986, didn't last long, and was made effectively voluntary, drawing few takers.  Another decrease in pension liabilities took place when military pay increases were spread across base pay, meals and quarters allowances, versus solely on base pay.  That took the portion added to allowances out of the pension computation.

While it wasn't a major personnel cost in 1970, Housing Allowances in subsequent years rose dramatically to match the average community rental costs plus insurance and utilities.  This year, they are being scaled back a fair bit.

Additionally, that COL saw various appropriated fund (tax supported) activities being shifted to non-appropriated (no tax support) status as well as commissaries coming under attack.  Again, spot on.

On a "lighter note" he also foresaw base closures for cost savings that would reduce the number of "enjoyable duty stations", no less result in fewer opportunities for "compassionate assignments", thus reducing the "attractiveness" of military service, which would only raise the costs of recruiting and retention.  We have seen several BRAC rounds, and DOD is now pleading with a highly reluctant Congress for more.

After all has been said and done, it has been end strength that has been the major tool in keeping personnel costs and thus DOD costs down, and there are definitely limits to end strength reductions if you wish to have a standing military of any capability.  So, where does DOD go from here?

However, it was the other COL who raised the most interesting notion.  In 1970, junior enlisted and junior officers looking forward to "getting out" was an every day occurrence that had been in place for 25 years.  After all, the draftee or three year enlistee was definitely going to be able to earn more on the outside, as would, most likely, the first tour Lieutenant.  Turn over was a natural course of military life.  Would a well paid AVF result in greater pressure to stay in, both in terms of finances and peer pressure?  What would be the psychological impact of such pressure to stay in on an all volunteer population versus a draft motivated population?  (BTW, it was from these two COLs that I first heard the term "draft motivated military").

It is this last question that intrigues me, as along with the pressures suggested by the COL, another new factor arose, that of long term assignments to the same unit.  In the Army, the same groups have been rotating into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, pretty much together, for 10 years.  Has a notion of "responsibility" to one's comrades pressured Soldiers to remain in service even when they would prefer to do otherwise?  Are the combined uncertainties of civilian life and a sense of loyalty to one's fellow soldiers placing a new stress on AVF troops that wasn't there before?  Added to that is the impact of "Stop Loss" extending ETS dates, making another tour overseas guaranteed for many troops.  Does that further raise the pressure to just "stay in" after returning to CONUS?  Have we effectively created a personnel "meat grinder", and has this "meat grinder" contributed to PTSD rates?  Are there a significant number of troops who feel that there is effectively no "escape" without "turning on their comrades"?

I don't pretend to know the answer to the "stress" questions, but I do think they are in play.  Have we painted ourselves into both a fiscal and psychological stress corner?   Can we attempt to be a "world class military" power without breaking the bank in both fiscal and personnel terms?  Has our love affair with military adventures gone too far?  Is anyone even asking these questions or just accepting unchallenged "givens"?

BTW, the one issue I do not recall being discussed was an increased reliance on women in the military!