28 November 2015

The Soldier Vote

The Soldier Vote tells the story of how American citizens in the armed forces gained the right to vote while away from home. Beginning with the American Revolution, through the Civil War, and World War II, the ability for deployed military personnel to cast a ballot in elections was difficult and often vociferously resisted by politicians of both political parties. Finally, during the Cold War, Congress managed to pass the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). 

That Act, along with further improvements in the early twenty-first century, began to make it easier for military personnel and American citizens living abroad to participate in elections at home. Using newly obtained data about the military voter, The Soldier Vote challenges some widely held views about the nature of the military vote and how service personnel vote.
The Soldier Vote fills a key gap in our knowledge of the workings of American democracy. Both historical and contemporary, it examines the changing and imperfect fit between a national army and voting laws that are largely shaped by the states. There is much of value here for anyone wishing to know more about the political rights, views, and participation of the men and women in our uniformed services.”    Alexander Keyssar, Stirling Professor of History and Social Policy, Harvard University, and author of The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States
"This is a thoughtful study of the American military's experience with voting. I learned a great deal from it, and anyone seeking to understand this important dimension of civil-military relations will find this an invaluable reference."   Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Duke University
Author of Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations

The Soldier Vote is available from most booksellers.
ISBN: 978-1137519191

Barnes & Noble
Blackwell (UK)

12 November 2015

Should soldiers’ votes get counted? That’s not as easy as you’d think.

My recent post in the Monkey Cage Blog (Washington Post) about military and overseas voting is available here. I was asked to write it in time to be posted on Veterans Day, an honor for me. I hope you get a chance to read it. My own writing was made even better by the wonderful editors at The Monkey Cage. I do appreciate that and have learned from the experience.

My book, The Soldier Vote, is discussed in the post.

09 June 2015

I Have Cancer

This afternoon I learned that I have cancer. After several tests to figure out what was going on with my left kidney, my urologist conducted a Ureteroscopy and discovered a tumor in my left ureter.

He was quite sure that it was cancerous -  transitional cell -  and needed to come out. He will probably also take the left kidney.

I lean more at an appointment on Tuesday.

Damn. I don't need this, but it is what it is and we will deal with it.

08 June 2015

Presidents, Congress, and Armies

The men who wrote the Constitution of the United States were fearful of large standing armies, legislatures that had too much power, and perhaps most of all, a powerful executive who might be able to wage war on his own authority.  All were objects of concern because of the dangers each posed to liberal democracy and a free citizenry.

While it is often impossible to “gauge accurately the intent of the Framers,”  it is nevertheless important to understand the motivations and concerns of the writers with respect to the appropriate relationship between civil and military authority.

The Federalist Papers provide a helpful view of how they understood the relationship between civil authority, as represented by the executive branch and the legislature, and military authority.

Hamilton and Madison thus had two major concerns: (1) the detrimental effect on liberty and democracy of a large standing army and (2) the ability of an unchecked legislature or executive to take the country to war precipitously.

These concerns drove American military policy for the first century and a half of the country’s existence.  Until the 1950s, the maintenance of a large military force by the United States was an exceptional circumstance and was restricted to times of war.  Following every war up to and including World War II, the military was quickly demobilized and reduced to near pre-war levels.

However, following the re-mobilization required by the Korean War, the U.S. decided, for the first time in its history, to maintain a large standing army in peacetime.

American attitudes toward its military force have varied widely. Before the Civil War, with the exception of some Generals, soldiers were generally not seen as major players in American politics. Sailors were never seen as important. The Civil War brought out a surge of support for soldiers getting to vote, but that quickly died out upon the southern surrender at Appomattox. 

Another surge of interest occurred during World War II. As was the case during the Civil War, partisan politics drove that surge. Republicans hoping for soldier support for Lincoln were behind most of the soldier vote legislation in the 1860s. Democrats hoping for soldier support for FDR were behind the legislation during World War II. As with the Civil War, once the war ended, so did support for soldier voting.

It was only with the decision to maintain a large standing army in peacetime during the Cold War did political support for members of the military, and American citizens living overseas being able to vote easily in elections. Progress has been made, but problems remain. 

The Soldier Vote by Donald S. Inbody will be published by Palgrave/Macmillan in November 2015.

01 June 2015

The Soldier Vote: War, Politics, and the Ballot in America

The Soldier Vote tells the story of how American citizens in the armed forces gained the right to vote while away from home. Beginning with the American Revolution, through the Civil War, and World War II, the ability for deployed military personnel to cast a ballot in elections was difficult and often vociferously resisted by politicians of both political parties. Finally, during the Cold War, Congress managed to pass the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). 

That Act, along with further improvements in the early twenty-first century, began to make it easier for military personnel and American citizens living abroad to participate in elections at home. Using newly obtained data about the military voter, The Soldier Vote challenges some widely held views about the nature of the military vote and how service personnel vote.

The Soldier Vote will be available in November 2015 from most booksellers.
ISBN: 978-1137519191


Blackwell (UK)

Bookfinder (Search)

14 September 2014

Afghanistan, Iraq, and the American Withdrawal

I gave these remarks over two years ago. I thought it time to bring them back and see if they still ring true. I think they do.

Remarks for Great Decisions -  Foreign Policy Association, 8 March 2012
Bulverde, Texas

Dr. Donald S. Inbody
Captain, United States Navy (Ret.)

Thank you for the kind invitation to speak with you this evening.  Afghanistan has been at the core of American foreign and military policy for a long time, now, and it appears that it will remain so for the near future. Its position in American national security interests seems to be all out of proportion to its lack of economic, diplomatic, and military capabilities.  So, this evening I want to discuss this apparent paradox and invite your commentary.

Afghanistan has never been a nation-state the way we think of that term. Being a nation-state would imply some sort of unity.  That unity might be in the form of a similar culture or historical background, a strong central governing system, or a pervasive ethnic identity.  We have none of that.  Indeed, Afghanistan has been a traditional tribal society for as long as we have records.  However, it is untrue to say that there has never been a power political power in the region.
Afghanistan comprises about 250,000 square miles of territory and has a population of about 30 million.  The geography is made up of mountainous regions, arid deserts, few cities or towns, and has a sparsely maintained road system.  It has a Gross Domestic Product of about $18 billion with a GDP per capita of under $1,000.  
The average age in Afghanistan is 18.  Compare that to the average age in the United States which is 36.
As you can see from the slide, the people of Afghanistan are comprised of at least 9 different ethnic and linguistic groups.  The majority, mostly living in the south of the country, are Pashtun, the group from which the traditional leaders of Afghanistan have come. Indeed, the current President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, pictured here, is a Pashtun.  This tribe considers itself to be the natural leaders in the region. 
What has made the country so violent and difficult to govern are the other tribes that do not consider the Pashtuns as the natural leaders and, indeed, often view them as oppressors.  For example, the Hazara, who live in the central highlands of Afghanistan, speak a completely different language and have a distinctly Mongol or Chinese appearance, have been the object of suppression for a very long time.  Only their relative isolation in the mountains have kept them safe.

The Mix of tribes in the northern half of the country, often referred to as “The Northern Alliance,” are essentially the non-Pashtun tribes who have banded together in opposition.  Prior to 9/11, Afghanistan was essentially involved in a civil war between the Pashtuns, backed by the Pakistanis, and the northern tribes, backed by India.  That dynamic has not markedly changed and drives politics in south Asia, complicating any negotiations.
"Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to defeat its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future."  (President Barack Obama, West Point, December 1, 2009)
So, just what are we doing in Afghanistan and what is American policy there?  President Obama, essentially repeating the policy of the Bush administration, stated that we were there “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida.”  Note that he combined Afghanistan and Pakistan in his statement.  That is not an oversight or an overstatement.  Understanding Afghanistan requires understanding Pakistan to a great extent.  More on that later.

By January2002, just four months after the events of 9/11, there were about 4,100 American troops in Afghanistan.  Most of those troops were in Khandahar, in the south.  By the end of that year there were about 10,000 troops deployed and by the end of 2004, over 20,000 troops were assigned to Afghanistan.  With the growing violence in 2007 and 2008, President Obama surged the American presence to over 60,000 troops and then again in 2010 to nearly 100,000.

According to announcements by the President and the Department of Defense, some 30,000 troops will leave Afghanistan by September of this year, reaching about 68,000.  Official policy says that the number will continue to decrease at a steady pace after that, but no specific numbers have been released.  General John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, has publically said that he wants the number to remain steady at 68,000 through the end of 2013.

The announced policy today is that Afghanistan will take over primary responsibility for security by 2014.  Some here in the United States have interpreted that statement as we will have withdrawn by then, but that does not appear to be true.  The DOD has already begun talking about establishing “Joint Facilities” in Afghanistan and that some level of American military presence will remain after 2014.

So, it appear that American policy with respect to troop levels in Afghanistan is to draw down to about 68,000 by the end of the summer and to continue a slower paced drawdown in the months following that.  However, there is no clear policy for after 2014.  And that is the heart of the Afghanistan dilemma.

We often hear complaints about the lack of support for Americans by Afghans.  One that was making the rounds recently in numerous forwarded emails was a well-written article in the Armed Forces Journal by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis.  His critique is hard-hitting and points out one of the principal problems we face in Afghanistan – the Afghan people don’t want to cooperate.

To understand that we must look at some recent history of the region.  Remember that if you are an Afghan under the age of 40, you have only known war.  Simply stated, that means that the overwhelming majority of the population of Afghanistan, at least three quarters, has never known anything but war.  They have seen the Russians and the Americans come into their country, make promises, and then leave.  Anyone who made deals with either the Americans or the Russians found themselves at least isolated if not actually killed for their efforts.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, remaining there for the next decade.  Their intervention was in response to civil unrest and a desire to stabilize the government, supporting a pro-communist administration.  After ten years of warfare, they were unable to overcome the Mujaheddin – largely backed by American military aid.  You do remember Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and his famous “Charlie Wilson’s War” where he campaigned for and largely succeeded in providing arms to the Afghans fighting against the Russians.  However, once the Soviets left Afghanistan, the promised made by Charlie and the Americans were largely ignored, leaving those who relied on those promises high and dry.  They remember that today and are reluctant to get too close or to rely too greatly on American promises of support.

Upon the withdrawal of the Soviet military in 1989, the preexisting civil strife broke out into full-fledged civil war, lasting until the American intervention in 2001.  The basis of that civil war remains today and underlies the instability of the Afghan government and their inability to provide for their own national security.

Afghan policy rests on American policy.  Our policy is pretty clear for the next year or so, but is unclear beyond 2014.  So, if you are an Afghan trying to decide whether or not you are going to trust an American, not knowing if that American is going to be around in a year will have serious impact on the decision.  When your decision can literally mean a life or death decision for not only you but your family, you will tend to be reticent about getting too close to Americans. 

Without a firm American policy beyond 2014, it is essentially impossible for the Afghans to have a firm policy.  Remember, Afghanistan borders Pakistan and Iran, two countries with a great national interest in what goes on in the region, perhaps far more interested than even the United States and certainly going to actually be in the region long after the United States departs. 

So, where is the United States after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq?   We have largely broken up Al-Qaeda.  The relentless attacks, most of which were secret “black” operations, have essentially weakened the organization developed by Osama bin Laden to the point of near irrelevance.  American and allied intelligence operations world-wide are much more robust than they were ten years ago and all serious terrorist attempts at violence have been either disrupted or stopped.  The attacks that have occurred are largely those by amateurs with little training, as sign that the “professional” terrorist operations are either completely broken up or have been so disrupted that they are unable to operate.

Afghanistan is, as has been true for centuries, led by a Pashtun dominated government opposed by an alliance of non-Pashtun tribes, none of whom believe that a central government in Kabul will adequately represent their needs.  Afghanistan will remain unstable in the foreseeable future.

Saddam Hussein has been removed from power in Iraq and replaced by a reasonably democratic regime.  It is unlikely that Iraq will pose a threat to any country in the region in the foreseeable future.  However, Iraq will clearly be unstable for some time to come.

It has already cost us about $4 trillion.  The price will undoubtedly continue to climb if we include the costs of long-term promises and engagement in the region, not to speak of the costs of caring for those injured in the war.  To date, nearly 33,000 U.S. service members have been wounded by combat action.  The time, effort, and expense of treatment for those injuries will be part of the American budget for decades to come.

Pakistan remains a problem.  Any solution in the region must necessarily include Pakistan. The Taliban base themselves in the western tribal regions of Pakistan and are the targets of American drone attacks.  Those drone attacks are the cause of tension between the Americans and the Pakistanis.  Providing bases for those drones will drive American basing in Afghanistan even after we have largely left the region.

Despite all the attention we pay to Iraq and Afghanistan, and regardless of our future level of effort in those countries, the state that dominates the region, now, is Iran.  Note where it sits geographically.  It borders on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  It lies on the north of the Persian Gulf and dominates the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20% of all the world’s oil, and over one third of all sea-borne oil passes.  Recent issues with nuclear power and the potential for nuclear weapons have begun to dominate American politics.

Now, why should we care about all this? 

Let’s examine the nuclear issue alone.
  • Iran clearly has a nuclear development program.
  • Their public announcements say it is only for nuclear energy – the production of electricity.
  • Most intelligence assessments are reasonably sure that Iran is planning on developing nuclear weapons.
  • Public announcements from Iran have threatened Israel. Israel takes such announcements seriously.
  • Israel will not sit still for a nuclear-armed Iran.
  • Unless they can be sure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, they will probably take measures to destroy the Iranian capability, i.e., they will attack Iran.
  • Regardless of American involvement in any such attacks, Iran will assume that we are involved.
  • The United States will defend Israel from any attacks by outside forces.
  • Many in the region will assume that the United States is involved.
  • American security will be decreased and the need to increase military spending will rise.
In my view, we can’t afford the expense, monetarily or otherwise, therefore we must take all efforts to reduce the conflict between iran and Israel.  The problem is I don’t have a good answer about how to do that, but international pressure on Iran is the only way to make that happen and much of that pressure must come from Russia and China.

So, what do I believe the take-awaysought to be from the discussion this evening?  First, that the threat by Al Qaeda, while not gone, is minimal and manageable.  Second, that Iraq will remain unstable for decades to come, but will be unlikely to fall under the type of authoritarian rule we saw under Saddam Hussein.  Third, Afghanistan will remain unstable in the foreseeable future and the likelihood of the government being able to provide security throughout the country is low.  Fourth, that solutions to instability in Pakistan is the critical piece in the puzzle to finding stability in Afghanistan.  And fifth, Iran is the future flash point and the country to which we need to be paying close attention.

I thank you for your invitation to talk and for your kind attention this evening.  I am ready to respond to your questions and engage in any conversation about this fascinating and important topic.

Don Inbody also published this essay at http://civmilblog.com

06 September 2014

"Thank You For Your Service

I hear this a lot. I appreciate it, but it always seems perfunctory. I never doubt that the person who says it means it, but, like Wes Moore, I now that they really don't understand what it was that I did for a living for so long.

Like Wes, I did not join the Navy to go to war. I did not join the Navy to fight or to kill people. I learned how to do all those things, though. I learned it well. I even learned how to lead Sailors and Marines into war and how to give them orders that might get them hurt or killed.

The Navy was hard work. The Navy was fun work. The Navy was rewarding work. The Navy taught me lots of things about people, both good and bad.

"Thank you for your service" is a phrase I began hearing shortly after 9/11. I appreciated the thought. Like Wes's experience, I wanted to talk about my experience. I wanted to share what I learned about the world and what I learned about people. But, they did not want to hear that. They didn't have time. It was like "How are you?" and not really wanting to know. It was perfunctory.

If you want to really thank someone for their service, perhaps you need to know that many of our military men and women carry wounds that will stay with them for life. Missing body parts. Missing memories. Missing friends. Missing relationships.

Those military people don't want your sympathy. They want you to understand them, what they did, and why they did it. It does not matter whether what they were asked to do is something you agree with. They responded their country's call. They responded to your call. They responded to our call. We owe them something for doing that and while a simple "thank your for your service" is perhaps better than nothing, it is insufficient.

This country will be paying for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Somalia, and Syria, and...) for decades to come. We will be paying for the injuries for a long time. With the draw down from the wars interest in supporting the Veterans Administration will decline. Interest in supporting the plethora of charities that support our Wounded Warriors will decline. The interest of our elected officials in such things will decline as the interest of the public declines.

So, do you really want to thank them for their service?

Then, don't forget them. When you see a veteran of the wars - and not just the recent ones, but all of them - sit down and talk to them. If they will let you, ask them what they did. Ask them what they learned. Ask them why they valued their service. Ask them what they think about their comrades in arms.

We who spent time in the military have a conceit. We don't think anyone without such experience can ever really understand us. We don't think that those without military service really know what defending the nation is all about. You can break through that, though, with patient conversation with those one or two veterans of war that you probably know. 

Don't offer sympathy. Offer an ear. And, if you are really serious, listen and don't forget.