Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 26, 2007

Andrew Sullivan’s Tortured Logic

In an article I wrote for today’s Daily Standard, I took note of the problem posed by so called “ticking time bombs” for absolutist critics of the use of torture in the war against terrorism.

It seems that even those most vociferously opposed to the use of torture seem to permit an exception in cases in which a terrorist incident might be imminent, for example, if the authorities know that a terrorist hid a nuclear weapon somewhere in New York City and they had 24 hours to beat it out of him.

Andrew Sullivan, one of the shrillest critics of harsh methods of interrogation in the war on terrorism, has a solution to the ethical quandary here.  As I wrote in the Standard, he would permit torture in such a case, but only if we “know–not just suspect–but know that a detainee knows where [the nuclear device] is” (Sullivan’s emphasis). But Sullivan calls this a “one in ten million, never-happened-in-human-history, infinitesimal chance” scenario. What is more, he still believes that the officials who engage in and/or authorize torture in such an incident should be convicted of war crimes (although he allows that if their decision “were retroactively seen as the correct judgment, their sentence might be commuted”). In other words, if he is making an exception, it is narrow to the vanishing point.

A reader by the name of SDB has written me with a brilliant dissection of Sullivan’s position and the moral cowardice entailed in it:

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In an article I wrote for today’s Daily Standard, I took note of the problem posed by so called “ticking time bombs” for absolutist critics of the use of torture in the war against terrorism.

It seems that even those most vociferously opposed to the use of torture seem to permit an exception in cases in which a terrorist incident might be imminent, for example, if the authorities know that a terrorist hid a nuclear weapon somewhere in New York City and they had 24 hours to beat it out of him.

Andrew Sullivan, one of the shrillest critics of harsh methods of interrogation in the war on terrorism, has a solution to the ethical quandary here.  As I wrote in the Standard, he would permit torture in such a case, but only if we “know–not just suspect–but know that a detainee knows where [the nuclear device] is” (Sullivan’s emphasis). But Sullivan calls this a “one in ten million, never-happened-in-human-history, infinitesimal chance” scenario. What is more, he still believes that the officials who engage in and/or authorize torture in such an incident should be convicted of war crimes (although he allows that if their decision “were retroactively seen as the correct judgment, their sentence might be commuted”). In other words, if he is making an exception, it is narrow to the vanishing point.

A reader by the name of SDB has written me with a brilliant dissection of Sullivan’s position and the moral cowardice entailed in it:

Sullivan’s approach seems to want to make the best of both worlds in dealing with interrogation policy. But his approach is not so much an objection to use of harsh interrogation techniques as an ethically surreptitious ticket to use them in rare cases.

This solution is morally suspect, on Kantian grounds, in that it tacitly endorses using people of good will merely as tools for the production of both international amity, and national security. It not only uses them, but intentionally dehumanizes them in order to make that use palatable. The very act of putting them on trial makes them exiles from the moral community, a special class of scapegoat.

Sullivan’s approach says to the employees of the intelligence community, on the one hand, that we expect them to use these techniques when they deem it necessary (make sure there really is a ticking time bomb on their hands using guidelines that we will not codify for fear of giving the impression that we legally and morally approve use of these techniques). On the other hand, it also says that we expect them to be willing to sacrifice or risk their good names and freedom in so doing, or at the very least, that we expect them to endure a sort of scapegoating for doing so, not only by their own country, through its legal system, but by the international community.

This approach, quite frankly, would be inexcusable moral cowardice. We should have the moral courage either to legally allow interrogations of the kind we have been discussing, or absolutely and in no uncertain terms divest ourselves from them. There should be no ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ encouragement of torture while we also at the same time and with much fanfare declare to the world that we are morally set against such practices. This does smack of disingenuous grandstanding.

Neither should we fall prey to the easy and comforting fiction that these sorts of scenarios and this sort of compromise (if we can call it such) just allows us to act in those rare circumstances in which we must make use of bad people for good ends. To assume that only “bad” people will use the coercive methods in ticking-time-bomb scenarios, and that we are thereby excused in letting them hang out to dry as we put them on trial, and then that by convicting and pardoning them we can acknowledge and make use of their supposed moral depravity while at the same time exhibiting our moral enlightenment and rectitude to the world, is, to say the least, an ethicist’s attempt at squaring a circle, and evidence of a baroque moral preciousness that is worthy of condemnation.

Such a practice is in essence a pathetic case of: encouraging “others do the dirty work,” blaming them for doing so, condemning their character for doing so, making vain attempts at absolving ourselves from responsibility, and reaping the benefits of their acts. It allows “us” to emerge morally unscathed, while the scapegoats take on our sin of cowardice in the guise of a legal prosecution.

Too precious. Too precious. If we are going to admit that there are times that require use of water boarding and other techniques, we should be grown up about it, codify use, create a responsible professional cadre for the purpose and dispense with moral duplicity and prevarication.

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Check out the Spectator

There are some great doings at the website of what I like to think of as a sister publication to COMMENTARY across the pond: the Spectator. The oldest magazine in the English-speaking world, the Spectator—or “Speccie” as it is lovingly called—represents the best opinion journalism regarding all things British, particularly politics and culture.

In addition to the Coffee House, the magazine’s staff blog, London Times contributors Stephen Pollard and Clive Davis contribute must-read daily musings. Plus, there’s the excellent Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan (reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY by Daniel Johnson), whose blog has just joined the Spectator website.

There are some great doings at the website of what I like to think of as a sister publication to COMMENTARY across the pond: the Spectator. The oldest magazine in the English-speaking world, the Spectator—or “Speccie” as it is lovingly called—represents the best opinion journalism regarding all things British, particularly politics and culture.

In addition to the Coffee House, the magazine’s staff blog, London Times contributors Stephen Pollard and Clive Davis contribute must-read daily musings. Plus, there’s the excellent Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan (reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY by Daniel Johnson), whose blog has just joined the Spectator website.

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The Primakov Triangle?

On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, and India met in Harbin, where they pledged “to strengthen trilateral pragmatic cooperation.” According to People’s Daily, the self-described mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, it was the seventh such meeting of the foreign ministers of the three countries, and the first to be held in China. Will these three giants of Eurasia now finally form “the Primakov Triangle” to counter the United States?

In 1998, Yevgeny Primakov, then Russian prime minister, proposed that the trio form a “strategic triangle” to balance against Washington. At the time, the idea had great appeal in Moscow but little in Beijing. New Delhi was, not surprisingly, lukewarm. Today, the Russians remain enthusiastic and the Chinese are mostly supportive of the triangle. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic are drawing closer to each other on a range of issues as they find common ground. In recent years, these two overly large autocracies have signaled the end of the Sino-Soviet split by inking a strategic partnership arrangement and, more substantively, a comprehensive treaty, signed in 2001. The State Department at the time dismissed the pact as a mere expression of friendship—what else could American diplomats say in the circumstances?—but it has all the markings of the beginning of a long-term alliance. In any event, the world’s two largest authoritarian states have been busy in recent years establishing military ties, reinvigorating trade, and settling border disputes.

But what about the third side of the triangle? Despite happy talk in Beijing and New Delhi and growing trade ties, there seems to be no substantial progress toward reconciliation. There are still-unsettled border disputes—talks are now in their third decade—and a host of strategic issues continue to separate the two. China is still not in favor of awarding to India a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. And even though the proposed nuclear deal between India and the United States appears to be falling apart, New Delhi and Washington quietly are strengthening cooperation across the board.

India undoubtedly will remain nonaligned, which means that it will always talk to the bad boys residing on the Asian landmass. Just because China is adept at turning out press releases, however, does not mean that New Delhi will agree to become part of any alliance, axis, or triangle. America shares ideals with India—and there are fewer issues today to divide them. That gives Washington an advantage in one of the most crucial strategic contests of this decade.

On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, and India met in Harbin, where they pledged “to strengthen trilateral pragmatic cooperation.” According to People’s Daily, the self-described mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, it was the seventh such meeting of the foreign ministers of the three countries, and the first to be held in China. Will these three giants of Eurasia now finally form “the Primakov Triangle” to counter the United States?

In 1998, Yevgeny Primakov, then Russian prime minister, proposed that the trio form a “strategic triangle” to balance against Washington. At the time, the idea had great appeal in Moscow but little in Beijing. New Delhi was, not surprisingly, lukewarm. Today, the Russians remain enthusiastic and the Chinese are mostly supportive of the triangle. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic are drawing closer to each other on a range of issues as they find common ground. In recent years, these two overly large autocracies have signaled the end of the Sino-Soviet split by inking a strategic partnership arrangement and, more substantively, a comprehensive treaty, signed in 2001. The State Department at the time dismissed the pact as a mere expression of friendship—what else could American diplomats say in the circumstances?—but it has all the markings of the beginning of a long-term alliance. In any event, the world’s two largest authoritarian states have been busy in recent years establishing military ties, reinvigorating trade, and settling border disputes.

But what about the third side of the triangle? Despite happy talk in Beijing and New Delhi and growing trade ties, there seems to be no substantial progress toward reconciliation. There are still-unsettled border disputes—talks are now in their third decade—and a host of strategic issues continue to separate the two. China is still not in favor of awarding to India a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. And even though the proposed nuclear deal between India and the United States appears to be falling apart, New Delhi and Washington quietly are strengthening cooperation across the board.

India undoubtedly will remain nonaligned, which means that it will always talk to the bad boys residing on the Asian landmass. Just because China is adept at turning out press releases, however, does not mean that New Delhi will agree to become part of any alliance, axis, or triangle. America shares ideals with India—and there are fewer issues today to divide them. That gives Washington an advantage in one of the most crucial strategic contests of this decade.

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A Response to Charles Kesler

Charles Kesler is editor of one of the most intellectually impressive publications in America, the Claremont Review of Books, and he is also among the most intelligent skeptics of the Iraq war and our effort to bring democracy to that traumatized land. In his “From the Editor’s Desk” essay in the current issue of his review (Fall 2007), Kesler writes mostly about liberalism. But he also writes this:

[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.

Let me address these points in order.

Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know? One thing we can say, to the point that it is now beyond dispute even by Democrats, is that the surge bought us much more than time. It has made Iraq a far calmer and safer nation.

We learned from Lt. General Ray Odierno’s press briefing earlier this week that attack levels have been on a downward trend since June and are at their lowest levels since January; that IED attacks have been reduced by 60 percent in the last four months, with a notable decrease in lethality; and that in a change from the past, this year Iraqis celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) in parks, restaurants, and streets due to decreased violence.

Col. Michael Garrett, also earlier this week, reported “measurable progress” in the Kalsu region southwest of Baghdad. Attacks have declined since March and are now at the lowest levels since the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment thirteen months ago. And for good measure, on October 17, Sunni and Shiite leaders from the southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Jihad and al-Furat signed an important reconciliation agreement.

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Charles Kesler is editor of one of the most intellectually impressive publications in America, the Claremont Review of Books, and he is also among the most intelligent skeptics of the Iraq war and our effort to bring democracy to that traumatized land. In his “From the Editor’s Desk” essay in the current issue of his review (Fall 2007), Kesler writes mostly about liberalism. But he also writes this:

[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.

Let me address these points in order.

Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know? One thing we can say, to the point that it is now beyond dispute even by Democrats, is that the surge bought us much more than time. It has made Iraq a far calmer and safer nation.

We learned from Lt. General Ray Odierno’s press briefing earlier this week that attack levels have been on a downward trend since June and are at their lowest levels since January; that IED attacks have been reduced by 60 percent in the last four months, with a notable decrease in lethality; and that in a change from the past, this year Iraqis celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) in parks, restaurants, and streets due to decreased violence.

Col. Michael Garrett, also earlier this week, reported “measurable progress” in the Kalsu region southwest of Baghdad. Attacks have declined since March and are now at the lowest levels since the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment thirteen months ago. And for good measure, on October 17, Sunni and Shiite leaders from the southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Jihad and al-Furat signed an important reconciliation agreement.

This doesn’t mean Iraq is a calm and safe country, nor does it mean that ultimately we will succeed. But it does mean that progress on (a) the security side and (b) bottom-up reconciliation has been astonishing, happening more quickly and spreading more widely than almost anyone thought possible at the beginning of the year. This is not a sufficient condition for success in Iraq, but it is a necessary one. The notion that the surge has bought only time is simply wrong.

Professor Kesler then asks, “What comes after the surge?” Here are some possibilities. The surge may buy time that will allow the Iraqi Security Forces to build up so they are better able to handle a host of security challenges. It may make those challenges far more manageable than they would otherwise be, meaning the chance for success will improve. And it might well allow for bottom-up, top-down, and center-out reconciliation to take place.

If Kesler had asked “What comes after the surge?” last year, one answer would have been, “The Anbar Awakening,” which is spreading far beyond Anbar, and the massive Sunni rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq. The surge didn’t create these encouraging developments, but it has assisted them mightily. It’s also worth adding that Kesler probably did not anticipate either one.

Finally, Professor Kesler urges the GOP to “separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war” and conservatives “to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq.”

But of course the administration does not have a “stand-pat” policy; the Petraeus strategy is a significant break with the Rumsfeld-Sanchez-Abizaid-Casey strategy that preceded it. We have, in fact, reasoned our way to an improved policy on Iraq. It has taken more time that any of us wished, but it is bearing good fruit. And now, in the wake of such substantial progress in Iraq, it would be reckless and unwise (and perhaps even un-conservative) to change.

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Torture Logic

Earlier in the week, I expressed some reservations about David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey’s piece in the Wall Street Journal  in defense of the harsh techniques employed by the Bush administration in interrogating al Qaeda terrorists. Although I am in sympathy with Rivkin and Casey’s purpose, which is to defend methods now being employed to protect us from a second and more terrible September 11, I don’t think the case they made for such methods was particularly convincing.

But are there some instances in which almost everyone would agree that torture is an imperative? That’s a question I explore in today’s Daily Standard, the webzine of the Weekly Standard.

Earlier in the week, I expressed some reservations about David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey’s piece in the Wall Street Journal  in defense of the harsh techniques employed by the Bush administration in interrogating al Qaeda terrorists. Although I am in sympathy with Rivkin and Casey’s purpose, which is to defend methods now being employed to protect us from a second and more terrible September 11, I don’t think the case they made for such methods was particularly convincing.

But are there some instances in which almost everyone would agree that torture is an imperative? That’s a question I explore in today’s Daily Standard, the webzine of the Weekly Standard.

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After Expressionism

After expressionism comes minimalism. Whether or not this is always the case, it is so in museum design, where flamboyant gesture is now out and modesty and circumspection in. New York’s forthcoming New Museum of Contemporary Art, set to open on December 1 at 235 Bowery, confirms the trend with a remarkable essay in neo-minimalism.

A decade ago, the fashionable museum was a strutting and swaggering thing, a jagged scribble in titanium (Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) or a St. Vitus’s dance of geometry (Richard Meier’s Getty Museum in Los Angeles), or a jaunty hybrid of a racing yacht and space shuttle (Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum). But at a time when all are shouting, one must whisper to get attention.

The trend toward reticence began in 2004 with the remodeling of the Museum of Modern Art in New York by Yoshio Taniguchi. The museum was massively enlarged but without any assertive monumental impression whatsoever; it offers virtually no arresting architectural forms or shapes, no structural acrobatics, and in fact no visual architecture at all other than the wall planes that define its spaces. Much the same approach characterizes the new New Museum of Contemporary Art, now nearly finished. It is the first major work here by the Japanese firm SANAA (the name under which Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa practice).

The building, which is now nearly complete, looks like a stack of seven white boxes, piled loosely atop one another to break up what would otherwise be a monolithic tower. Its walls are sheathed in galvanized zinc-plated steel and are windowless (light filters in from above where the stories do not precisely align). In an interview several years ago, SANAA stressed what they called the “reticent” nature of their building: “the galleries will be neutral in character, with white walls, exposed ceilings, and concrete floors.” Buildings, they insisted, should be “open and communicative, not bastions.”

It is remarkable that American museums, aspiring to ego-free buildings, have had to turn to Japan to find their architects, not only Taniguchi and SANAA but also Tadao Ando, designer of the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth. But then again, when has self-effacement ever been a strong suit in American architecture?

After expressionism comes minimalism. Whether or not this is always the case, it is so in museum design, where flamboyant gesture is now out and modesty and circumspection in. New York’s forthcoming New Museum of Contemporary Art, set to open on December 1 at 235 Bowery, confirms the trend with a remarkable essay in neo-minimalism.

A decade ago, the fashionable museum was a strutting and swaggering thing, a jagged scribble in titanium (Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) or a St. Vitus’s dance of geometry (Richard Meier’s Getty Museum in Los Angeles), or a jaunty hybrid of a racing yacht and space shuttle (Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum). But at a time when all are shouting, one must whisper to get attention.

The trend toward reticence began in 2004 with the remodeling of the Museum of Modern Art in New York by Yoshio Taniguchi. The museum was massively enlarged but without any assertive monumental impression whatsoever; it offers virtually no arresting architectural forms or shapes, no structural acrobatics, and in fact no visual architecture at all other than the wall planes that define its spaces. Much the same approach characterizes the new New Museum of Contemporary Art, now nearly finished. It is the first major work here by the Japanese firm SANAA (the name under which Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa practice).

The building, which is now nearly complete, looks like a stack of seven white boxes, piled loosely atop one another to break up what would otherwise be a monolithic tower. Its walls are sheathed in galvanized zinc-plated steel and are windowless (light filters in from above where the stories do not precisely align). In an interview several years ago, SANAA stressed what they called the “reticent” nature of their building: “the galleries will be neutral in character, with white walls, exposed ceilings, and concrete floors.” Buildings, they insisted, should be “open and communicative, not bastions.”

It is remarkable that American museums, aspiring to ego-free buildings, have had to turn to Japan to find their architects, not only Taniguchi and SANAA but also Tadao Ando, designer of the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth. But then again, when has self-effacement ever been a strong suit in American architecture?

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Une puissance juive?

I was skeptical, at first, on the question of whether the Sarkozy administration would end up doing much to change the nearly 200-year French ambition of being Europe’s staunchest advocate for Muslim interests in the Middle East (a self-styled puissance musulmane, or Muslim power). Except for the fortuitous few years of Pierre Etienne-Gilbert’s ambassadorship to Israel (1953-1959), France has always hewed to a policy of conspicuous favoritism toward the Arab world at the expense of Jewish interests and Israel (see National Review senior editor David Pryce-Jones’s terrific book Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews).

Amidst France’s embargo of arms shipments to Israel in the run-up to the Six Day War, Charles De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments.” Everyone knows about Jacques Chirac’s love affair with Saddam Hussein, but fewer know that when Hussein expelled Ayatollah Khomeini from Najaf in 1977, France set up Khomeini in a swank Paris compound, complete with international communications equipment that he used to foment the Iranian Revolution. When the Shah fled in 1979, Khomeini arrived in Tehran via a chartered Air France jet.

So it is deeply satisfying to see Sarkozy today taking such a strong public stance against the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that his own country had an important hand in bringing to power. The Jerusalem Post has this report on Ehud Olmert’s visit to Paris this week:

Olmert reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s position regarding Iran’s nuclear program was “identical” to his own. Sarkozy reportedly also told Olmert, regarding the Palestinian demand of a “right of return,” that they cannot demand a state of their own and “part of your country too.” Finally, Sarkozy said that “Israel’s establishment is a miracle and may have been the central event of the 20th century.”

These are really quite astonishing quotes, when you consider that Francois Mitterand’s foreign minister said not very long ago that “my condemnation of Zionism is absolute.” If Sarkozy keeps this up, he’ll find that, after centuries of trying, France will finally have some genuine influence in the Middle East.

I was skeptical, at first, on the question of whether the Sarkozy administration would end up doing much to change the nearly 200-year French ambition of being Europe’s staunchest advocate for Muslim interests in the Middle East (a self-styled puissance musulmane, or Muslim power). Except for the fortuitous few years of Pierre Etienne-Gilbert’s ambassadorship to Israel (1953-1959), France has always hewed to a policy of conspicuous favoritism toward the Arab world at the expense of Jewish interests and Israel (see National Review senior editor David Pryce-Jones’s terrific book Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews).

Amidst France’s embargo of arms shipments to Israel in the run-up to the Six Day War, Charles De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments.” Everyone knows about Jacques Chirac’s love affair with Saddam Hussein, but fewer know that when Hussein expelled Ayatollah Khomeini from Najaf in 1977, France set up Khomeini in a swank Paris compound, complete with international communications equipment that he used to foment the Iranian Revolution. When the Shah fled in 1979, Khomeini arrived in Tehran via a chartered Air France jet.

So it is deeply satisfying to see Sarkozy today taking such a strong public stance against the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that his own country had an important hand in bringing to power. The Jerusalem Post has this report on Ehud Olmert’s visit to Paris this week:

Olmert reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s position regarding Iran’s nuclear program was “identical” to his own. Sarkozy reportedly also told Olmert, regarding the Palestinian demand of a “right of return,” that they cannot demand a state of their own and “part of your country too.” Finally, Sarkozy said that “Israel’s establishment is a miracle and may have been the central event of the 20th century.”

These are really quite astonishing quotes, when you consider that Francois Mitterand’s foreign minister said not very long ago that “my condemnation of Zionism is absolute.” If Sarkozy keeps this up, he’ll find that, after centuries of trying, France will finally have some genuine influence in the Middle East.

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Acknowledging Advisers

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

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