Tag Archives: Ash Carter
“All Hell Breaking Loose – The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change” by Michael T. Klare
237 pages plus notes (69 pages) and index, 2019.
I had some difficulty reading this book, despite my very strong interest in the topic. The author, for good reasons, relies heavily on government generated reports full of acronyms and unfamiliar terminology. Maybe this is why to me, the writing seemed “flat” and dull. I was determined to read it anyway. It took me around 6 weeks. I need to return to the last chapter, “Going Green – The Pentagon as Change Agent”. I’m glad I persevered.
All Hell Breaking Loose is organized around increasing severity of military challenges, moving from humanitarian emergencies, which the military is excellently equipped (and quite willing) to handle, through three more categories of conflict (unstable states, global shocks and, most dangerous of all, great power clashes) up to domestic climate disasters and climate change threat to US military facilities. I had trouble focusing until I got to domestic climate disasters. Then I was reading about Hurricane Sandy and other storms that menaced ME and the people and places I love.
To me, the message about the future presented by this book can be summarized by one word – HARDSHIP. It will be difficult to live in a changed and changing world. Setting priorities will be challenging. Providing for human needs will be complicated. The only thing that will become easier is exploiting the resources of the far north, and already the Great Powers are bristling uneasily in the Arctic.
Complicating our understanding of the impacts of climate change is the fact that other things are changing at the same time. Two of the big things are globalization and urbanization. Globalization means America’s concept of “our interests” reaches further than before. How close are we to saying that “everything” that happens “everywhere” is America’s business?
I’m also trying to figure out how to factor in demography, the study of population, and the concept of a “demographic transition” that may be a one way street. See Empty Planet, which I wrote about on August 15, 2019. Another book I need to go back to! Recent news articles analyze the demographic transition in Japan and China.
All Hell Breaking Loose provides valuable perspective on the American military and its role in our culture. As an institution, it seems to me to be more far sighted than some other institutions, like our legislative system with its emphasis on the election cycle. Klare describes what he calls the “military’s strategic predicament”. Their job (described above as winning “great power clashes”) is to protect the US against foreign enemies by use of arms. What will happen when “too much” of the military is occupied with humanitarian emergencies and propping up failed states? What will happen when a concatenation of disasters prevents response to a serious military threat?
This book was published in 2019 but doesn’t take into account the changes associated with the Trump presidency. Klare points out that the military has not backed off from dealing with climate change – they have simply changed their language, referring now to “extreme events”. How long will they be able to stay on this course?
Recent news articles detail a meeting held on July 20, 2017 at which US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and other high officials attempted to tutor President Trump on the role of the military in foreign affairs. (See Washington Post, January 17, 2020.) The attempt failed. Trump angrily called the country’s highest military officers “dopes and babies”. “You’re all losers”, he told the generals. The meeting so shocked the participants that they agreed not to discuss it publicly, but (inevitably) information was ultimately released.
I wonder what would have happened if the meeting had been organized by Ash Carter, whose book I reviewed (twice) on November 11, 2019. I was impressed by Carter’s description of how he “managed” the announcement that all military restrictions by gender on positions and job titles were at an end. Could he have found a way to speak so that Trump would listen? I wonder what he would have recommended to the high officials who failed in “educating” the President?
As usual, I looked up author Michael Klare. He’s an emeritus professor at Hampshire College in Massachusetts who has written an impressive number of books and articles. Neither his Wikipedia entry or his Hampshire College website is particularly up to date. He writes for The Nation and other periodicals. He’s covered a topic I’m interested in, the issue of undeclared wars. Before All Hell Breaking Loose, he published The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources in 2012.
I recommend this book and this author to those seeking insight into our current dilemmas, both political and environmental.
“Inside the Five-Sided Box – Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon” by Ash Carter, PART 2. Reflections, and a RANT.
I spent so long reading this book (5 weeks?) that I forgot my INITIAL reaction… I was browsing around, uncertain if this was a “start at the beginning and read every page” book for me. I ran into something that almost caused me to throw the book across the room.
I turned to the last chapter, entitled “The Troops Deserve the Truth”, and turned to the next to last section, “Addressing the Consequences”. Carter describes his heart rending visits to injured soldiers, and ends with this:
The head of medicine at BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center) once told me that when he first arrived…he would try to provice precise answers to questions like, “Will I be able to run again?…to hunt?…to surf?” But now, he told me, he’d witnessed so many instances of fearless courage and odds-defying recoveries that he simply answers, “You will if you want to.”
This makes me furious. If an injured person doesn’t heal, does that mean he or she didn’t want it enough? Really? Would you have said this to FDR?
Stricken by polio is 1921, the 32nd President of the United States had every advantage in his battle to walk again – strength, (overall) health, the best available medical care and rehabilitation, determination, and, yes, hope. But he didn’t walk.
My frame of reference on this terrible subject is based on personal experience with brain injury. I watched a family member claw his way back after a severe head injury. Recovery after a brain injury is never certain.
I’m all for positivity, both in patient and supporters, but reality can get in your way.
Today my Facebook feed, which was heavy on Veteran’s Day posts and links, brought me to an article in New York magazine about Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger injured in October of 2009, ten years ago. His life has been irreparably changed. His parents act as his full time caregivers. He has seizures and balance problems and suffers from disinhibition, which means his judgement is impaired. He has PTSD. He self medicates with alcohol and is emotionally unstable.
The official, widely publicized and well intentioned story of “slow, steady progress” has unraveled. Cory Remsburg is at high risk for suicide and dementia. He still cannot accomplish routine hygiene unassisted.
Is any of this because he “didn’t want to”? The fact that Cory Remsburg is hanging onto life, and regards himself as a “work in progress” is a great tribute to HIM. He deserves respect, and the dismissive remark about “wanting to” quoted above is unfair and unkind.
The rest of Ash Carter’s book seems to be thoughtful and nuanced, but I hope he doesn’t mean what he said on page 418.
End of RANT.
“Inside the Five-Sided Box – Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon” by Ash Carter
434 pages, published 2019. Includes notes and index.
Today is Veterans Day, a good time to think about the American armed forces, the Pentagon, and the military veterans among our friends and family.
Why did I choose this book from the recent arrivals shelf? And why did I keep reading, given its length and density?
- First, I thought of it as an opportunity to understand war and militarism, facets of American life and culture which disturb me terribly. I am deeply opposed to war, and can only gain from understanding it better.
- Second, I’m a citizen and a taxpayer, so the Pentagon acts in my name and spends my tax dollar. Again, I want to know what’s going on.
- Finally, I’m curious about leadership. It’s a term so freely bandied about. Who is a good leader? How should leaders be selected? Trained? Deployed? I feel that I’ve witnessed and experienced both good and bad leadership, but sometimes I’m not sure who belongs in which category. I have only attempted leadership in very small settings…what’s it like in the major leagues?
As Secretary of Defense (2015 to 2017) under President Obama, Carter presided over the world’s largest organization, the United States of America Department of Defense. The Pentagon oversees both the armed forces and all the civilians that support them, and also provides advice to the President about all aspects of national security.
At Yale University, Carter studied physics and medieval history. The connection between physics and military science (in the nuclear age) is fairly obvious, but what about medieval history? Carter said he was simply following his own curiosity when he studied it, but he feels that it explains how Europe worked its way through the creation of “civilization”, finding ways so its population could live in relative comfort and order.
Carter is a clear and careful (and prolific) writer , and this is a thoughtful book. Carter divides leadership into two categories.
- One, which he calls “reinforcement”, is finding the best in your underlings and supporting them with training, encouragement and responsibility.
- The second, more challenging aspect is leading an organization in a new direction which is unfamiliar and unpopular. Consider the following:
Carter will be remembered as the Secretary of Defense who opened all military jobs to all service members, female as well as male.
- First, he did his homework. He argues strenuously that his decision was based on data, research and the overwhelming importance military preparedness, NOT on political correctness or a desire for social experimentation.
- He developed extensive plans for implementation of the new policy before it was announced, attempting to consider every possible problem and concern that could be raised.
- He was open about the fact that the Marine Corps had wanted to maintain “male only” status for certain certain jobs, but asserted his larger responsibility to the President to chart the best possible course for the military.
- Ultimately, his announcement was crafted and timed to minimize unproductive “second guessing”.
The process isn’t finished, but Carter set it onto a clear path.
Carter placed a high value on oral, written and media based communication, giving it an entire chapter in his book. He discusses “message” and “story” and the value of consistent repetition. He has used social media to communicate with American soldiers, and poses for selfies with soldiers in combat zones.
In his chapter about the defeat of ISIS, Carter uses a very obscure word, “deconfliction”. He uses it to describe our interactions with Russia during the fight against ISIS. Russia was not an ally, hence we were not “cooperating” with them. But both sides knew it was important to prevent accidental armed contact from leading to hostilities between the US and Russia. Hence, “deconfliction” provided patterns of unofficial communication to meet that goal. The word can be found at dictionary.com and its first reported use is listed as 1970. (Upon first reading, I thought Carter made it up!)
Carter makes clear the high value he places on diplomacy, including what he calls “coercive diplomacy”. It’s the “carrot and stick” approach, with high stakes. He feels that President Trump should have refused to meet the North Korean President Kim Jong-un until North Korea took very substantial, verifiable steps toward de-nuclearization. Kim Jong-un was “rewarded” without making any measurable change in support of American interests. Carter recognizes the high value of symbolic gestures, like a visit from the President of the United States.
Speaking about current unstable geopolitical “hot spots”, Carter says the US will never invade and occupy Iran, as it would be ungovernable. He does not say the same about North Korea, though he states that war in the Korean peninsula would bring calamitous suffering to our South Korean allies.
This book is well worth reading. Even re-reading, but right now I’m looking for something lighter.