I have over 45 years of public service to my state and country and have spent much of the past seven years back home in Gainesville heavily engaged in public policy as an "active citizen". I will continue to stay engaged, both as a neighborhood leader, and as a monthly contributor to the Gainesville Sun. Visit the "News" section to see a collection of my monthly opinion pieces published in the Sun. Visit the "Issues" section to see other writings.
This is the second opinion piece I have written this year about America's withdrawal from Afghanistan. It explains to the objective reader what President Biden was thinking when he withdrew the troops and how his decision-making was based on the "Powell doctrine", the formula attributed to recently deceased former General Colin Powell for every President to follow before committing troops to combat. I believe that was just as it should be. It will be published in the Gainesville Sun on Sunday, November 7, 2021 and is available online at gainesville.com.
Biden courageously applied “the Powell doctrine” in Afghanistan
Lt Col, USAF (Ret); GS-15, DAC (Ret)
In a guest column published in the Sun last spring, I asked “Should Biden pull our troops out of Afghanistan?”, noting that Donald Trump left him with a “terrible mess which must be resolved immediately”, and that “there are no easy answers, only tough choices”, I further wrote “if we pull out, the least we can do is to help those who want to leave, as well as their families, just as we did for some in Southeast Asia” (Vietnam).
Since then, we have seen a massive, and highly successful, effort by the U.S. military to get over 123,000 persons out of Afghanistan, including nearly every American citizen who wanted to leave, all under extremely fraught conditions, and not without tragic mistakes attributable to bad intelligence and the “fog of war” (which our leaders uncharacteristically “owned”).
We have also seen heavy criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, bitterly calling it “a betrayal” and a “disaster”. Another called Biden’s speech defending his decision to end this 20-year war as the “worst speech” he had ever heard.
In recent hearings before Congress, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman General Mark Milley, grimly testified that their military advice to the President had been to keep a small number of troops in place, about 3,000, in order to prevent the Afghan government from collapsing.
If President Biden had followed that advice, it would have violated Trump’s agreement with the Taliban to pull out all forces by May 1, 2021, which so far had resulted in no more attacks upon the US military, as agreed. As President Biden noted, that would have required a new surge of US and NATO military forces, perhaps as many as 30,000, in order to resume an active war against the Taliban.
So what was he thinking? Simply stated, he was applying “the Powell doctrine”, the notion attributed to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell (later Secretary of State) before the first Gulf War, that the United States must have a clear national security interest, as well as an exit strategy, before it committed young American lives to military conflict overseas.
Based upon his experience as a Major during Vietnam, General Powell laid out eight questions for President George H.W. Bush that any president must answer affirmatively before authorizing military action by the United States:
1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other nonviolent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
President George H.W. Bush heeded that advice. However, after 20 years of “endless war” in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is clear this advice was not followed by his son, President George W. Bush, or even Barack Obama. Under advice from a once respected military leader such as General David Petraeus, the US pivoted to counter-insurgency and nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. We now know the folly of that policy. We now know, as thehill.com opinion contributor Richard J. Pierce, Jr. has recently written, that we should have applied the Powell doctrine 20 years ago.
To Biden, “enough was enough”. We would no longer expend thousands of American lives and vast treasure to prop up a corrupt and cowardly government that did not have the will to fight. This took enormous courage as it went against the “professional military advice” the President had been given, and carried substantial risks, depending upon the ability or willingness of the Afghan government to hold things together long enough for us to get people out.
Instead, “faster than a New York minute”, they shamefully took what cash they could steal and fled. Biden cannot be faulted for that; the blame belongs to those who gave them trillions of aid without adequate oversight. Then there is what President Dwight Eisenhower once called the “military-industrial complex”, which profits handsomely from such conflicts.
One wonders when we will ever learn. We made the same mistakes in Vietnam, got it about right under President George H.W. Bush in the first Gulf War, and then made the same mistakes again in Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush. Trump forced Biden’s hand, leaving him few options, but Biden still got it right.
This Op-Ed, focused on American health care issues, was posted online at gainesville.com today (9-27-2021) and will be printed in the Sun's Issues Section on Sunday, October 3, 2021. It is based upon my life-long experience with the US military health care system, as well as long years spent in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in the service of the United States, watching how others prefer to do health care.
Here is an Op-ED regarding the reluctance of local State Attorney's to investigate and prosecute cases involving political corruption in their own circuit. Posted online on August 31, 2021; to be published in the Gainesville Sun's Issues Section on September 4, 2021.
This Op-Ed addresses the still unfulfilled need to protect the independence of the FBI Director and the various agency inspectors general as they continue their work to ensure accountability for official misconduct. We can't wait until the next election to get this done. Now available online at gainesville.com, it will be published in the Issues Section of the Gainesville Sun on August 1, 2021.
This opinion piece was published by the Gainesville Sun on July 4, 2021 (online on July 2nd).
What does it mean to be a “patriot”?
Lt Col, USAF (Ret); GS-15, DAC (Ret)
As we celebrate this Fourth of July, it is more important than ever to consider what it means to be a patriot. In this deeply polarized nation, altogether too many people believe that if they “wrap themselves in the American flag”, that demonstrates their love for this country and its values. It has always made me uncomfortable to hear anyone describe themselves as a “super patriot” (especially if they haven’t served) when in reality, it often seemed they were ignorant of the nation’s core values. Simply “flying the flag” is not enough to tell me that someone is a true American patriot.
Recently, one writer wrote:
“The country has a variety of citizens and each and every citizen contributes or makes (the country) what it is at present. Some of the citizens are highly conscious of their actions and wish to change the country for the better, a few are those who are too busy dealing with their own lives and seldom think about where the country is going, and the rest are – well, just there, doing almost nothing for the country.”
The writer further said:
“A patriotic citizen is more or less like the conscious citizen, he/she wants to know what is happening in the country and they show their love by wanting to change the bad things about the country. A patriotic citizen will look at the bigger picture and give up his/her individual interests for the interest of the country.”
What country do you suppose the writer was talking about? Not America, but India. The writer, “Nandini”, posted this in a blog called indianyouth.net. However, the description could fit any democratic country where citizen participation is valued, including the United States.
Others observe that in a democracy, we must distinguish between “patriotism” and “nationalism”. In an essay at www.studymode.com, a writer says:
“Nationalism means to give more importance to unity by way of a cultural background, including language and heritage. Patriotism pertains to the love for a nation, with more emphasis on values and beliefs. When talking about nationalism and patriotism, one cannot avoid the famous quotation by George Orwell, who said that nationalism is ‘the worst enemy of peace’. According to him, nationalism is a feeling that one’s country is superior to another in all respects, while patriotism is merely a feeling of admiration for a way of life. These concepts show that patriotism is passive by nature and nationalism can be a little aggressive. Patriotism is based on affection and nationalism is rooted in rivalry and resentment. One can say that nationalism is militant by nature and patriotism is based on peace.”
Confederate soldiers fighting in the American civil war surely believed they were patriots, although seeking to preserve slavery as a way of life. In the 20th century, soldiers in Germany and Italy surely believed they were patriots, even in support of an oppressive ideology and fascist, autocratic governments.
Americans who stormed the national Capitol on January 6, 2021 also believed they were patriots seeking to right a perceived injustice and “save the country”. They have told us so on national television. In court, several now admit they were duped by the “big lie” and blind loyalty to an autocratic leader.
All were caught up in movements that conflicted with basic democratic values. In the last two examples, these “patriots” were blindly following leaders seeking to preserve, extend, and enlarge their personal wealth and power, much like a cult leader.
Every soldier wants to believe the cause they are fighting for is just. That basic truth is essential to unit morale and “esprit de corps”. This is especially true today of those who served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the carnage that ensued and the unimaginable economic cost and human tragedies that have been documented. There is nothing more demoralizing to an army than the slow realization that their sacrifice, and those of their friends who didn’t come home, was likely in vain, or even unjust.
In contrast, Americans who fought in the Korean War often feel their sacrifice was worth it when they visit, as South Korea today enjoys a vibrant economy and a successful democracy. The same is true of those who fought against fascism in World War II. In short, the core values of democracy were worth fighting for.
It cannot be “my country, right or wrong”. True patriotism in our democracy demands an informed citizenry that understands and supports the core values enshrined in the United States Constitution.