March 1, 2023

Remembering ‘Where We Were’ on 9/11

Defense Policy Media Group and are proud to sponsor the development and launch of the ‘Where We Were‘ project - a new online initiative to enable the public to record and share the inherently moving and inspirational stories of where they were on September 11th, 2001, how they found out about the attacks, their reactions to the tragedies, and other memories and recollections they have of that fateful day.

Every year on the anniversary of the attacks, ordinary people all over America and all over the world reflect on the events of that extraordinary day. Each story is moving and deeply personal. Whether the individual was a second grade student in a classroom in New York City, a teacher in a sixth grade classroom in Georgia, a news producer at a small station in Louisiana, or already serving in uniform halfway across the world, we never seem to tire of hearing about others’ 9/11 experiences - nor of sharing our own.

September 11th, 2001 was not only a date that continues to live in infamy in the minds and lives of those who were both near to and far from the tragedies that day, but it is also a day that is permanently seared upon the psyche of humanity as a turning point in how we collectively view and administer the modern world around us.

The world changed forever that day, and as a result we all vividly remember where we were when that historic change occurred.

In the days leading up to the anniversary of 9/11 this year, and in perpetuity thereafter, ordinary people can now come together and share with one another their extraordinary stories. The act of sharing itself continues to be therapeutic, as is hearing the personal testimony of others and realizing we were not alone in our shock, grief, and anger that day and in the days, weeks, and months that followed. And we are not alone now as we continue to look back and remember.

We will never forget -

The Biggest Battle Ahead

When Congress returns to Washington in September, the political establishment will be sharply focused on the looming battle over the federal budget. In all likelihood, no consensus will be found and a continuing resolution will be required to continue funding the government.

As part of this year’s budget battle, some conservatives are drawing a line in the sand and suggesting that the government may not be funded at all unless the president’s signature first-term policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare), is defunded. While this outcome is unlikely, the fight over this issue among Republicans is sure to be fierce.

But a potentially greater battle is brewing over proposals to address the sexual assault crisis within the military. The battle lines have been drawn by proponents of the leading reform proposals, and much like their own political campaigns, outside groups are stepping forward to throw the punches while the politicians stick to civil but vigorous public debate.

With the estimated number of incidents of unwanted sexual contact within the military climbing back up to over 26,000 last year, lawmakers and advocates have grown impatient with senior defense leaders. After 25 years of promises of reform, commitments to crack down, and continuous refrains of “zero tolerance,” the problem appears to be continuing unabated at best, and possibly worsening.

High profile incidents involving the very personnel charged with preventing sexual assault in some branches and on some installations allegedly committing sexual assaults themselves have incensed lawmakers, advocates, and the public and underscored the Pentagon’s inability to get the crisis under control. Now, Congress is stepping in to mandate more fundamental reforms, and there is decreasing patience and tolerance for the Pentagon’s pleas for the more aggressive reform factions within Congress to slow their roll.

Everyone in Congress seems to agree that the status quo of the military’s sexual assault policy is not cutting it anymore, but that is where widespread agreement ends. Where to go next and how to go about reforming the way the military deals with and prosecutes sexual assault cases is where the real battle begins.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) crafted and introduced a bold proposal, the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), that would take all crimes for which the punishment could be more than one year in confinement and that are not specifically military in nature, and  transfer the disposition authority for those crimes (i.e., the decision of whether to send the case to trial) to a cadre of professional military prosecutors. This would effectively remove from both the victim’s and the alleged perpetrator’s chain of command the ability and responsibility to decide whether a reported case of sexual assault - or any other serious crime - is prosecuted.

Senator Gillibrand, whose proposal is supported by a coalition of victim advocacy groups as well as a few veterans organizations (full disclosure: IAVA, the organization for which I work, is a proponent of the MJIA), asserts that her proposal solves one of the main problems that many victims say keep them from reporting sexual assaults committed against them - their fear that the chain of command responsible for deciding whether to prosecute the case will find a way to rationalize not moving the case forward. In other words, they are reluctant to report and experience potential blowback (harassment, retaliation, ostracization, career obstruction, etc.) if nothing may be done in the end anyway.

Senator Gillibrand’s legislation is opposed by senior defense leaders, who would prefer to see that disposition authority stay within the chain of command. Instead, the Pentagon is supporting an alternative legislative proposal sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) that would keep this decision point within the chain of command but add automatic higher level review, up to and including the secretary of the service concerned, in cases where a Staff Judge Advocate recommends prosecution of a sexual assault case but the commander refuses to send the case to court-marital.

This proposal is also championed by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a former civilian prosecutor. Senator McCaskill is known for being tough on the Defense Department for its failures to adequately address the sexual assault epidemic, and she is the only member of the Senate to have actually prosecuted sexual assault cases herself. She believes, however, that taking disposition authority out of the chain of command would actually result in fewer prosecutions of sexual assault and, therefore, continue to reinforce victims’ perception that perpetrators are not being brought to justice.

In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed that under the current chain of command-dominated system, the Army had prosecuted 49 cases of sexual assault within the last two years that civilian prosecutors had declined to prosecute. Marine Corps commanders had referred another 28 cases to court-martial that civilian prosecutors passed on trying.

This, supporters of Senator Levin’s proposal argue, demonstrates why keeping disposition authority within the chain of command is important. Professional prosecutors, including military prosecutors, make decisions about whether to send a case to trial or court-martial based on factors such as the weighing of evidence, the likelihood of conviction, and the interests of the government. Commanders, however, may opt to send a “he said, she said” case to trial to let a judge or jury explore and decide the facts more thoroughly, or just to send a message throughout his or her unit that the military is serious about combatting sexual assault.

Supporters of Senator Gillibrand’s proposal still maintain that higher-level review of cases in which commanders decline to prosecute is not enough to restore victims’ faith and trust in the system and encourage them to come forward and report these types of crimes in greater numbers. They also fear that the intense focus on sexual assault from above could result in perpetrators going free because of undue command influence, an unfortunate dilemma that has already started to appear as an issue in some ongoing cases. This uniquely military objection to a conviction or sentence might have been avoided in these cases by having an independent military prosecutor decide whether to send them to trial.

With the stakes so high and the issue politically ripe this year, the battle over the best structural reform solution is heating up. Just before the August recess, Senator Gillibrand announced that she now has seven Republicans on board with supporting her proposal. She has even managed to win over the likes of Tea Party conservatives like Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), in addition to more traditional conservative Republicans such as David Vitter (R-LA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

This sets up a unique showdown for the Senate going into the post-recess period. By November, the massive defense spending and policy bill through which one of these proposals will likely pass is expected to move on the floor of both chambers.

However, unlike most other battles that break along party lines, or the upcoming battle over whether to shut down the government if ObamaCare is defunded, which is set to split only the Republican caucus, the battle over how to restore trust in the military justice system among sexual assault survivors and their advocates and ensure that perpetrators are adequately and fairly prosecuted is set to split both parties and forge new bipartisan alliances behind competing proposals.

Fortunately for reform advocates, change in some form is virtually guaranteed and the status quo is all but dead. But the true measure of success will be the objective numbers reported the following year. Will there continue to be such a huge divide between the estimated incidents of unwanted sexual contact and victim reports of those incidents? Or will future battles over more fundamental reforms be necessary to finally get this problem under control?

U.S. Military Needs a Stronger Sexual Assault Policy

In June 2006, in order to conform to the mandate of the 2005 National Defense Authorization Act, the Office of the Secretary of Defense issued an instruction to the Pentagon’s Inspector General to develop a policy to oversee sexual assault investigations in the military. In a report issued last month, five years after this official instruction, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the DOD IG “has not performed these responsibilities.”

The GAO reports that the DOD IG “believes it has other, higher priorities.” Yet ensuring that our troops are able to serve in a safe environment must be a primary goal of our military leadership. Therefore, it is the height of irresponsibility for DOD not to have a strong policy to combat sexual assault in the military.

Sexual assault in the military disproportionately affects servicewomen. One in three women who serve in the military is a victim of sexual assault during her service. Sexual assault in the military is not a new problem now, nor was it a new problem in 2006. But as women join the military in greater numbers and take on increasingly central roles in U.S. operations, the issue has become more and more pressing.

In the five years since the Office of the Secretary of Defense ordered that the Pentagon develop a policy on sexual assault investigations, almost 15,000 active-duty servicemembers have reported being the victims of a sexual assault. The Department of Defense estimates that 80% of sexual assaults in the military go unreported, so the true number may be as high as 75,000. The problem has been compounded by the military justice system. In the past five years, only 8% of the reported cases have been prosecuted—meaning only 1.6% of the more likely number of cases that have actually occurred have led to a prosecution.

The Department of Defense has done little to address the problem of sexual assault within the ranks, enhance the safety of the women and men who serve, or bring the perpetrators to justice. In addition to reporting mechanisms and legal services, sexual assault survivors need access to support services and treatment. While DOD created the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) after the passage of the 2005 NDAA, Anuradha Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Servicewomen’s Action Network (SWAN), has criticized the military for understaffing and ignoring this “tiny” department, which, she notes, “is not even headed by a military officer.”

The GAO report also cites a number of more specific problems in the way the Department of Defense deals with the crime of sexual assault. As mandated in the 2005 NDAA, the DOD IG has two major responsibilities on this issue: developing a military-wide policy for investigating sexual assaults and monitoring the investigations undertaken by the services. According to the GAO report, the DOD IG has failed to perform either of these tasks.

Among the problems that result from this inaction at the level of the Secretary of Defense and his staff are the inconsistencies within and among services in the investigations of assaults. The GAO found that the Army, Navy, and Air Force had different policies and procedures in six out of nine areas related to sexual assault investigation, making it impossible to hold commanders to a clear, universal standard. The report further found “no evidence” that the DOD IG conducted oversight of any of the 2,594 investigations of alleged sexual assault reported in 2010. By not conducting oversight on these investigations, the Department of Defense has no way of knowing if the services are performing them well.

And reports of individual victims show that the services are not performing these investigations well. The low prosecution figures—8% compared to 40% in the civilian world—tell only part of the story. Ignoring survivors’ accounts, laughing them off, or even reporting them for lying or adultery can have devastating effects on servicemembers’ health and careers. Issuing “non-judicial punishments” (or no punishments at all) to perpetrators often forces survivors to continue working in the same office as their attackers, causing further psychological harm and opening the door to repeated assaults.

Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA) has introduced legislation that would enhance the legal rights and protections of servicemembers who have been victims of sexual assault. This legislation, known as the STRONG Act, would provide sexual assault survivors with access to a lawyer, ensure confidentiality with victim advocates, and grant base transfer requests. It would further require the creation of high-level positions at DOD and in all of the services to coordinate and oversee sexual assault investigations. As the recent GAO report demonstrates, there is an urgent need for the Department of Defense to live up to its obligations under existing legislation. Passage of the STRONG Act would underscore this need and would demonstrate that the country will not accept the continued mistreatment of our men and women in uniform.

West Point’s class of 2011 included 225 women, the highest number of female cadets in a single class since women were first allowed to attend the U.S. Military Academy in 1976. Current statistics suggest that 75 of these servicewomen will likely be victims of sexual assault during their time in the military. Those numbers are unacceptable, and the Secretary of Defense must do everything he can to protect those who serve from betrayal, assault, and abuse. He has no more important responsibility.

What’s Wrong and What’s Right With the War Colleges

A cascade of withering criticism has recently been leveled at the war colleges- those venerable institutions that represent the pinnacle of the hierarchy of professional military education. Each service maintains a war college or equivalent designed to prepare lieutenant colonels and colonels for the highest levels of responsibility, and while they have different cultures in many respects they also share some common attributes and challenges. It seems that there is some “piling on” in progress or perhaps there is some emerging consensus about what’s wrong with the war colleges, even if there isn’t that much agreement as to what should be done about it.

The most widely read and vitriolic criticism came from a series of Foreign blogs by former Washington Post writer Thomas Ricks. Ricks actually called for closure of the war colleges calling them both expensive and second-rate. Some within the system tended to ignore Ricks because of his bombastic style or the fact that he had little actual experience with the institutions he was lambasting. Others suspected the articles were payback for when the Army War College allegedly blackballed him during the Bush administration as too controversial due to his opposition of the Iraq War.  Hyperbole aside, Ricks made some good points that we are likely to see again as defense spending decreases and tough decisions are made about where to get most bang out of a much smaller budget.

Daniel Hughes published a chapter, “Professors in the Colonels’ World” in a 2010 book entitled Military Culture and Education edited by Douglas Higbee that examined the divide between military and academic cultures. His depiction of the Air War College pointed out a nasty strain of anti-intellectualism, ultra conservativism, Christian nationalism and a largely disinterested student body. While some might reject the observations of an outsider like Ricks, Hughes served for eighteen years at the Air War College providing an insider view, albeit from the perspective of an underappreciated academic imbedded in military culture.  Some might be inclined to dismiss him as a disgruntled former employee.

Then comes “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Why Military Education Must Change” an AOL Defense contribution by Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College and lecturer at Harvard who also taught at the Air War College as a contemporary of Hughes. She agreed with much of his criticisms and expanded on the military officer/academic divide. She disagreed with Ricks about closing the War Colleges, calling instead for actions to mend the system driven by senior leaders that truly value graduate education.

Much less widely circulated, but particularly insightful from a systemic perspective, was an article published in Proceedings Magazine by Robert Scales, retired two-star general and former commandant of the Army War College. He did not address the war colleges specifically, except for noting that the average age of attendees has increased from 41 to 45 making an expensive educational experience more of a preparation for retirement than a platform for leadership at higher levels. He lamented the possibility that the military is becoming “too busy to learn.” He decried the wane of experienced officers as instructors in the system of professional military education and suggested that a bias for action over learning and organizational malaise in the schools have made them an “intellectual backwater.” His solution is to change the military’s reward system to elevate soldier scholars rather than denigrate them. He advocates a return to the day when uniformed officers rather than civilian instructors and contractors are assigned to the schoolhouse to teach, not because their careers are dead-ended, but as career enhancing assignments on the way to even higher levels of responsibility.

Finally, from the Small Wars Journal, Army War College faculty member and retired Colonel Charles Allen contributed “Redress of Professional Military Education: The Clarion Call.” He identified several issues that support some of the themes that arose in Scales’ article, specifically the possibility that officers are serving in key positions without sufficient educational preparation. He also observed some troubling shifts in the demographics of those attending the Army War College.  An increasing number of officers are deferring attendance. Allen points out that over the last five years 50 percent of those initially selected will choose to defer attendance leading him to assert that it is becoming more important to be selected for senior level schooling than to actually attend. Combat arms officers are apparently going elsewhere, perhaps to fellowship programs or joint service colleges that are viewed as more career enhancing.

I’d like to think that I have a perspective that contributes to this discussion. I attended the Army War College as a student, and stepped off of a promising career track as a military police officer to complete a doctoral degree and then return as a faculty member where I served the last six years of a twenty-seven year career. I was a faculty member and course director with one foot in the academic world and another deeply implanted in the military warrior culture. I eventually left the military and the Army War College to pursue an academic career, and that is where I happily remain as a tenured faculty member at a respected doctoral degree granting institution where I will soon assume duties as Associate Dean. Having observed both sides of the street, I’d like to register some observations.

My time as a student at the Army War College resulted in an intellectual awakening. Before attending I was so busy doing things like commanding a battalion that I had little time to reflect on larger issues affecting my profession. Reflection is the essential bridge between experience and learning. The Army War College gave me opportunities to delve deeply into national security issues and other aspects of my profession that I never would have had in a civilian academic institution. Comparing war colleges to traditional civilian graduate institutions is an “apples to oranges” exercise. The very best graduate program at a top tier university would, in many respects, be a poor substitute for what should happen at the war colleges. The model for the War Colleges is much more akin to that of a professional school (e.g., law or medicine) where sophisticated craft knowledge is blended to a lesser degree with disciplinary forays more common to where I now teach. I loved my time at the Army War College both as a student and a teacher. The adult learning model, seminar method, use of case studies contextually appropriate to a unique group of experienced practitioners, and the many opportunities to engage in no holds barred professional discussions with a parade of flag officers and civilian officials are bright spots that should not be underestimated for their positive impact on future senior military leaders. It is important to have a place where military officers can delve deeply into the nuances of their profession, and most importantly plumb the tensions, intricacies, and limitations of operating a large standing military in a democracy. If done properly that very process can serve as an important protection of the republic. Uninformed and undereducated officers who control vast amounts of military power can fall, or be led, to serious mischief.

Most of my colleagues at the Army War College were completely dedicated to their students and focused on teaching in a way that is not often seen in civilian institutions. Having established my credentials as a fan of the war colleges, and certainly as one who benefited from my association with them, I must point out some weaknesses as well. You can put me in the camp of those who suggest that modification rather shuttering is the answer.

There is indeed friction in the dual civilian and military nature of the faculty and staff at the war colleges. Hughes and Johnson-Freese have made that case better than I could. Both groups and the hybrid military officer/academic that I represent bring something valuable to the table. By far and away the best instructor that I had as a student was a civilian faculty member. He was a scholar with deep pedagogical expertise in the humanities who never served a day in uniform. He might have started with little credibility with the military members of our seminar, but he earned it quickly because he was an outstanding thinker and teacher. I’ll also point out that he did not stay at the Army War College. Attracting and retaining that kind of professor can be difficult in a system where there is no tenure and where the pay scale fails to take into account variation across disciplines. The pay scale might be generous for a history professor, but that is not so much the case for other fields like management or information technology. Having served in both systems I also have to say that professors in the system of professional military education just aren’t treated that well in comparison to those in the civil sphere. In terms of pay and benefits, discretionary time, developmental opportunities, support for research, the ability to consult, and the license to pursue one’s own agenda, civilian academe wins over the war college hands down.  I’m sure that varies by individual experience; I will only speak for my own.

It is much easier to attract to the war colleges a form of second tier-academic; the kind that teaches well but fails the tenure review because they lack a record of meaningful scholarship. After all, the War Colleges aren’t much interested in research or scholarship either. They often have a department such as the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute loaded with authors that crank out insightful opinion pieces and geo-political essays, but few teaching faculty members are supported, encouraged, or rewarded for engaging in the kind of scholarly work that would be expected as terms of employment at most colleges and universities. Before my former colleagues take me off of their Christmas card list I want to be clear that I am not saying that all civilian professors at the war colleges are second-tier. Many are first rate in their own right. I’m just saying that in a competitive market for academic talent, the war colleges don’t have that much to compete with. Neither are the War Colleges places for the kind of young, bright, but inexperienced academics that would be valued at any of the high-prestige research universities.  Despite their brilliance and methodological skills, they have significant hurdles connecting with and earning the respect of the seasoned leaders they find in their classrooms. It is the rare twenty-something assistant professor that will prosper at a war college, but the same can be said for executive development programs at other institutions of higher learning.

I must disagree with General Scales on the desirability of repopulating the system of professional military education with uniformed officers at the senior service college level unless they have both a credible professional and academic background, and that means more than a single tour on the faculty at an undergraduate service academy. I too would like to see the services value teaching in the system of professional military education as he suggests, but military officers who comprise much of the faculty, at least at the Air and Army War Colleges, simply do not have enough time on station to really get good at teaching. We used to quip that you merely survive the first year as a faculty member, begin to become competent at the second, and when you are finally comfortable in the seminar room it is time to move. The experience of military faculty members is respected, and they have instant credibility with the students, but experience and good teaching do not always go hand in hand.

A central problem with staffing the war colleges stems from the fact that the colleges have little control of who the services assign there as military faculty members. The personnel system seems to believe that any old colonel can do it, but examples to the contrary abound. Assignments are made for a host of reasons that do not relate to one’s ability or even interest in teaching. I remember one particularly egregious case where the Air Force sent an officer to teach at the Army War College who suffered from a noticeable speech impediment.

Retired officers are a mixed bag. They are often completely dedicated to the institution and bring a lifetime of experience, but without a deep underlying reservoir of disciplinary knowledge and a strong desire to stay connected and contribute to it, they can get a bit stale. They rarely leave voluntarily and the administration rewards their loyalty, if not their contributions, by renewing their contracts. Their experiences have a shelf life that begins to expire on the date of retirement.  They can usually be counted on to run a good seminar, but few contribute much in terms of scholarship as measured by the usual indicators of research and publication.  It would be interesting to know how many in this category have ever attended an academic conference outside of those hosted by the Department of Defense, something that is apparently acceptable to the administration. They can be powerfully resistant to change as they wait out the “temporary help,” a reference to military personnel on three-year assignments that includes the most senior administrators of the institution.

I have spent a significant part of this essay focusing on the faculty of the war colleges because as any administrator in higher educations knows, it is the faculty that makes the institution. Despite the inordinate amount of time and effort spent on the curriculum including tedious lists of competencies stemming from Joint Professional Military Education accreditation requirements, the quality of the war colleges rests squarely on the faculty. Great faculty members can overcome a mediocre curriculum but a mediocre faculty will surely fail to implement even a great curriculum. If the services spent as much time on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest faculty members as they do tinkering with the curriculum we would have a much better system of professional military education. I will reserve my final comments for students and administrators of the war colleges.

The war colleges may be the only institutions of higher learning that have such paltry control over who attends them. Boards comprised of officers from the field select attendees who have not necessarily expressed any interest at all in attending. No writing samples are required and there’s no graduate record exam or any other testing considered for admission. The criteria for selection are largely based on manner of performance in key positions. Selected officers then have the option of declining or deferring attendance, and many do as Allen’s research attests. Some attend merely because they see it as an opportunity to reconnect with their families or get in shape. As a faculty member we used to quip about students who were obviously there under “an athletic scholarship.“ Yes, there are a number of students attending the war colleges who should not be there, and who really do not want to be there.  They want the block checked for their next assignment and promotion. They can skate through, meeting minimal requirements, contributing to a form of ignorance on fire by waxing philosophical in seminar dialogue without conducting assigned reading, and enjoy the myriad social experiences that take place beyond the classroom. There is very little in place to prevent such freeloading. I will also say, however, that everything necessary for a truly mind expanding experience is there for the taking.  What the students get out of the program is directly commensurate with what they put in.

Because I focus on leadership in my teaching and scholarship, it will not surprise any that I believe leadership to be an important variable in the quality of professional military education. The services have made both inspired and miserable choices in selecting those who serve as chief executives of their war colleges. Selection for two stars or more is not sufficient qualification on its own to serve as a college president, even a war college. Neither should it be a consolation prize for those who are not selected for combat command. As a positive and rare exemplar consider Major General Gregg Martin, who served as both a student and faculty member at the Army War College before assuming duties as commandant. I will say the same about other lesser administrative roles as well. Successful completion of brigade, ship, or squadron command does not inherently qualify a person to be a deputy commandant, chief of staff, provost, dean, or department chair. Such key positions of influence require an understanding of the kind of tensions that Hughes and Johnson-Freese identify and demonstrated ability in academic settings. They should be deeply attuned and dedicated to the primary purpose of the institutions they lead.

The war colleges really should be, and indeed could be, intellectual centers of excellence with a mix of the best and brightest military and civilian faculty members. They have the potential to serve as incubators of big and even disruptive ideas fueled by cutting edge research on important and relevant questions and dedicated to preparing high potential senior military officers for the great challenges of our age. In return for the investment of national treasure that goes into operating the war colleges, the American people and indeed the service members who will serve under their graduates deserve far better than mediocre.

Dr. George E. Reed served for 27 years as an Army officer, including six years as the Director of Command and Leadership Studies at the United States Army War College.

The Search for a Cohesive U.S. Policy in the Arab World

The United States looses its credibility among global citizens when it carves out vastly different policies to guide its reactions to remarkably similar situations in the various nation-states of the Middle East. While the goal of “winning hearts and minds” is at the forefront of U.S. military and diplomatic strategy these days, there is a dangerous disconnect between that strategic goal and the tactics actually employed in dealing with the various governments of in the Middle Eastern region. And those differences in tactics combine to constitute a serious strategic error for U.S. interest in the region and around the globe.

While the events in Tunisia and Egypt happened so fast that it was honestly rather impractical for the U.S. to even consider intervening one way or another, by the time the crisis in Libya came around the Obama administration publicly adopted a policy of intervention in the domestic conflict based on the stated rationale that the people of Libya, largely peaceful protesters and demonstrators, needed protection from their own ruthless, fratricidal government. Yet when largely peaceful protests and demonstrations in Bahrain resulted in an equally vicious response from the Bahraini government, the “policy” of intervening in a domestic Arab conflict when the government turned violent against its own citizen demonstrators was quickly abandoned.

Likewise in Syria, when the Syrian people began boldly standing up to the brutal regime of Bashar al-Asad, the Syrian government began a systematic campaign of violence against the largely peaceful Syrian protesters and demonstrators. While American-backed military action against Libya rages on, under the stated policy rationale of protecting peaceful protesters and demonstrators from their fratricidal government, not one ounce of military might has even been threatened against the Bahraini or Syrian governments as a result of their similar domestic slaughters. Those governments continue to be given carte blanche by the Obama administration to violently subdue peaceful calls for democracy while Libya is being pummeled for the exact same offense.

I am not a fan of restraint when it comes to stopping the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators, and I believe that if we were going to intervene in Libya then it should have been much more decisive and, by now, conclusive. But I am also not a fan of a weak and inconsistent foreign policy in the Arab world and, frankly, an application of foreign policy that weakens our standing among Arabs in the long term. I am not arguing here in favor of intervention or non-intervention, but rather a consistent intervention policy that serves U.S. interests and yields long-term global goodwill toward the U.S. and the American people.

What good will it be to the U.S. in the end to finally help rid the Middle Eastern region of brutal and repressive regimes, only to still be resented by the people of those nations we helped because of our reluctance to do so in the beginning when it counted?

Reflections on Memorial Day

Today we should honor the many service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to their country. Memorial Day isn’t about a day off, cook outs, swimming, or the official start of summer; it’s about memory of and dedication to our fallen soldiers and their families.

Often we do not observe the day as it should be observed - a day where we remember our loved ones and our friends who have given their lives in service. I want to ask those reading this to please join me and my family as we thank and remember our service members - past, present, and future - for the sacrifices they are making, have made, and will make for us all. May the children growing up today also remember the past, appreciate the present, and plan for the future.

Former President Bill Clinton issued a presidential memorandum in 2000 asking Americans to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. So at 3pm your time, please stop and reflect on the sacrifices made on behalf of our nation. From the troops who fought during the American Revolution to the service memmbers fighting today’s wars, I’ll have a moment of silence today for those who those who paid the ultimate price and their families. I’ll also have a moment of silence for anyone who may still be missing in action or a prisoner of war.

I will not forget, and I will not let my children forget - rest assured that your commitment to the United States and the U.S. military will always be remembered and greatly appreciated.

Libya, Ghadafi, and the Concept of Policy

Much ado has been made lately about the U.S. “policy” toward Libya. But policy is an overarching concept, and it is intended to be applied categorically across the board. The notion of a foreign policy towards one particular country is a bit like saying we have a national tax policy for one individual American.

Policy should not be idiosyncratic. If the United States has a policy of intervening to stop genocide, then it should intervene to stop every genocide, or have a good explanation why it is not stopping a particular genocide if it is its policy to do so. Likewise, a U.S. policy of preventing foreign governments from murdering its citizens should result in U.S. action anywhere a government acts to commit murder against its own citizens.

This is ostensibly the policy basis of U.S. actions against Libya. The Libyan government was bombing and otherwise murdering its own citizens in an attempt to halt a rebellion and insurgency, and President Obama and NATO elected to intervene to stop it based on an alleged policy. If this is truly U.S. policy, however, then we should see similar interventions elsewhere. Surely Libya is not the only government to threaten or bomb its own citizens.

No one would deny that North Korea, for example, has one of the most brutal regimes it he world. The North Korean government is known to murder its citizens who try to escape into China, hoard donated food supplies while its people starve, and even operate concentration camps within the country for political prisoners and their families.

Murder of civilians, starving citizens, concentration camps… aren’t these all policy reasons we have used to justify foreign interventions before? Indeed. So why have we not put a no-fly zone over North Korea? Or Sudan? The Sudanese government is widely known to have supported genocide against its own citizens in Darfur by arming regional militias. So why were U.S. or NATO or any coalition’s fighter jets not taking out strategic targets in Sudan?

I don’t necessarily have definitive answers to these questions, and I actually do support military intervention against Libya (and would have against Sudan). Rather, my role here has been to try to bring some clarity to an often misappropriated term - policy. It can really serve to delegitimize U.S. actions and intentions if we misuse that concept, as we do so frequently. Claiming that we are intervening in Libya because we have a “policy” of military intervention when a government is murdering its citizens leads many to question why we are not intervening in other areas when other governments murder their citizens. And those questions are legitimate ones.

Instead, we should be honest with the world, and with ourselves. We are intervening in Libya because Ghadafi is a nuisance and we believe the world - and Libya - would be better off without him in power.

Military Sexual Assault Not an “After School Special” Issue

Servicemember-on-servicemember sexual assault is becoming an increasingly public problem for the Department of Defense, and as more light is shed onto this once-taboo topic, the inadequacies of military leaders’ responses to this visceral problem are coming into sharper focus.

Every year I try to make it to the Army Soldier Show. Surprisingly, many people who have served in the Army have not even heard of this great touring event, and there really is not a comparable institution in the other service branches. But for those who know the Soldier Show, you know it’s a great experience with some of the Army’s finest talent singing chart-topping hits from the past year - often better than the original artists.

The production value of the Soldier Show seems to improve every year, and in 2010 it even included the broadcast of high-quality, mid-show commercials from the show’s inter-Army sponsor on gigantic screens on either side the stage. But in contrast to the show, the commercials left much to be desired. The production value and creative talent on display in these commercials were impressive, but like so many public relations campaigns these commercials left me shaking my head and wondering who on Earth thought this campaign would be a good fit for the audience being targeted.

Back then, I simply thought, “Pick your battles, right?” Now, however, I’m compelled to speak up. Why the change? The courtesy reinforcement of a bad idea indicates a more fundamental problem!

This afternoon, Susan Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice, delivered prepared remarks to the Army’s annual Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) Summit. Though the remarks contained platitudes that we’ve all heard and would expect, one thing stuck out for me.

About halfway through her speech, Carbon said, “I was so pleased to learn about the Army’s I. A.M STRONG campaign (Intervene.Act.Motivate) – this effort can go a long way to educate soldiers on the crime of sexual assault and how to intervene responsibly to help prevent sexual assaults from occurring.”

Then a little jingle popped into my head, prompted by her words -  “Intervene, Act, Moooootivate… Intervene, Act, Moooootivate.” The jingle was the same one from that commercial I had seen the previous year several times during the Army Soldiers Show.

But just as few would agree that all publicity is good publicity, my vivid memories of this commercial are by no means a credit to its creators or those who approved its use. Despite the seriousness of the topic, and my unquestionable sensitivity to this issue, the commercial elicited automatic mental mocking and eye-rolls due to its absurdity.

As I said earlier, the issue is not with the production value, which was high, or with the artist involved, as he was certainly talented. The real problem was that an entire team somewhere high up in the Army’s hierarchy must have signed off on this “campaign,” but the campaign looked and felt more like a clip from an After School Special than a serious message for the men and women of America’s armed forces.

This sort of campaign - a catchy pop-rap song with edgy graphics - would be perfect for a modern middle school audience, or perhaps even high school freshmen and sophomores, but it’s wholly inappropriate and ineffective for adults, many of whom have seen and experienced the carnage of war. The campaign concept is simply a joke for the intended target audience, and this type of mistake tends to do more harm than good because it elicits widespread mocking of the message.

Sometimes those involved in the creative process get invested in an idea or get stuck on a certain track, and they fail to see that the track is headed in the wrong direction. That’s not a reflection of the quality of the final product or of how hard those involved have worked. But working hard and having a fantastic final product simply aren’t good enough. You have to work smart too, and the final product has to be the right product for the target audience.

This is a message and an issue that needs all the help it can get right now. The problem is growing worse and many are still in denial about the true extent of the problem. The men and women of the armed forces don’t need out-of-touch bureaucrats (both civilian and active duty) creating and reinforcing not only unhelpful campaigns, but ones that actually worsen the problem by unintentionally making a mockery of it.