The Military Still Isn't Handling Sexual Assault Right

The Buzz

Stooped with my hands on my knees, I took a few deep breaths, headphones still piping music into my ears. I’d sprinted the last few blocks of my evening run and managed to log a few miles more than last week. Only a couple blocks from home at 18th and R, I took a moment to admire the light, feeling proud of what I’d accomplished. Out of nowhere two hands came from behind me and grabbed my behind, clawing down at the band of my shorts. My elbows jerked back and hit whomever it was in the ribs so hard it sent a shooting pain down my hands. A young Hispanic guy about my height let go and sprinted ahead of me, turning to smile over his shoulder. The shock was suffocating. Without thinking, I tore after him. My knees, soft and gummy after running for an hour already. I couldn’t keep up. I chased him for four blocks, before it become clear he would win. I stopped short, wheezing hard and every part of me burning.

That was four years ago. Was it wrong? Of course. Am I alone? Hardly. A twenty-three-year-old woman testified Tuesday that Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force’s then chief of sexual-assault prevention, molested her outside an Arlington restaurant in May, then taunted her about it:

‘I feel someone come up behind me—their chest is to my back, and they firmly grab my rear end as they’re walking by, and they ask me if I like it,’ said the woman, who broke down in tears during her testimony in Arlington County Circuit Court.

On Wednesday, Krusinski was acquitted of the assault and battery charges. His lawyers successfully argued that the fact that the victim apparently gave “inconsistent testimony” regarding how many times she hit Lt Col Krusinski in retaliation for his unwanted groping introduced some reasonable doubt into the case. A server from the bar near the alleged assault testified that she too was groped by Krusinski that night, along with one of her coworkers.

Krusinski has been assigned to another position in the wake of these events. Yet Lt Col Krusinski is far more than a larger symbol of the forces’ now well-chronicled rape epidemic. He is also represents a much more narrow and insidious problem of the new “leaders” the military has appointed to deal with sexual-assault cases allegedly perpetrating the very acts they are appointed to prevent. See additional instances of this pernicious pattern here and here.

According to the Washington Post, a recent Pentagon summary found that “reports of sexual assault in the military increased 46 percent to 3,553 reports this fiscal year, a spike Defense Department officials portrayed as a sign that victims now feel more comfortable coming forward.” More people coming forward isn’t bad, but truly, what good is it if there is still no successful command structure in place to address such crimes? Would you report your sexual assault to a chief who you know assaults? It’s a legitimate question.

It’s welcome news that the U.S. Senate is now pushing to overhaul how DoD handles the reporting of sexual-assault cases. But even so the institution of an “independent team of military prosecutors” that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is proposing may be insufficient for the scope of this problem. It’s statistically clear that despite the military’s repeated claims of “zero tolerance” for sexual assault, many abusers are rewarded for their actions while victims are washed out of the military with “personality disorders” and other invented ailments. It’s also clear that many members of the military who are specially appointed to deal with combating these crimes cannot adequately be trusted to do so. Putting seven of these appointees on a team does not seem to solve that problem. James Kitfield has extensively documented “a command climate that tends to cast suspicion and blame on victims.” The groupthink command climate will likely only be reinforced rather than checked in this type of group.

If one were in want of an objective group to rule on instances of theft, he wouldn’t pick from a pool with a blatant stealing problem. The military’s appointment of sexual-assault officers who violate the very nature of the positions they hold indicates a malignant cancer at the highest level. A civilian oversight committee entirely unrelated to the military is necessary to ensure a more neutral and objective environment for reporting such assaults.

TopicsState of the Military RegionsUnited States

How Not to Show Decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind

Paul Pillar

The role that foreign views play in policy debate in Washington and especially on Capitol Hill has taken some strange forms lately, and none stranger than with the hot topic of the Iranian nuclear program. What an irony to hear American neocons saying “Merci!” and “Vive La France!” after the French foreign minister suddenly added demands to, and thus spiked or at least delayed, a tentative preliminary agreement with the Iranians that was on the verge of being inked. Was it really that long ago that the same neocons were deriding France as one of the countries of old Europe that could not see the wisdom of launching that most ambitious, and most disastrous, of all neocon projects: the Iraq War? Remember eating freedom fries with your burgers? Remember how the war-makers in the Bush administration told France and other major allies and every other member of the United Nations that did not support the war to shove it, and then hooked the poodle Blair up to his leash and went to war anyway? One might be tempted to chalk up the different handling of France ten years ago and today to a change in French views. Governments themselves change, after all. But it was the rightist government of Jacques Chirac that was in power when the neocons started their war in Iraq. Today the French president is a socialist. Not the direction of turnaround one would expect.

No, this history had nothing to do with anyone's wisdom or substantive views. Both a decade ago and today, the neocons have just been using France as a convenient prop and support for debating points, or ignoring it to the extent it was not otherwise convenient. This gets to the first couple of rules about showing appropriate respect for opinions from abroad. One is not to use people as props. Another is to be consistent in one's own thought, policies, and behavior, as if foreign opinion really were having a constructive impact on one's own thinking. The neocons here are showing consistency in one respect; people who never met a U.S. war they didn't like were responsible for starting one war ten years ago, and are now pushing policies toward another Middle Easern state that increase the chance of another war. But of course there is not any consistency in the attitude toward European allies.

Showing a decent respect to the opinions of mankind, including mankind overseas, does not mean bowing to the views of any particular slice of mankind. The writers of the Declaration of Independence who used that phrase about respect to opinions were explaining, after all, why they were spelling out their reasons for committing a revolutionary act. They were not submitting to any foreigner's view as to whether to commit that act. The interests of one's own nation need to come first. A modern clarion statement of that principle, with regard to the same issue about Iran and nuclear matters, comes today from Tom Friedman, who reminds us:

We, America, are not just hired lawyers negotiating a deal for Israel and the Sunni Gulf Arabs, which they alone get the final say on. We, America, have our own interests in not only seeing Iran’s nuclear weapons capability curtailed, but in ending the 34-year-old Iran-U.S. cold war, which has harmed our interests and those of our Israeli and Arab friends.

That should be obvious. It should go without saying. But a major chunk of the American body politic is acting today directly contrary to that principle. They use some states as props; they act as lawyers for other states.

Note that the Declaration of Independence refers to the opinions of mankind, not the rhetoric or agendas of foreign governments. Here, too, a principle of showing appropriate respect for opinion is being violated. Even those American politicians who show no shame or compunction about acting as lawyers for a foreign state, Israel, make the further mistake of equating the interests of that state with the rhetoric and agenda of that state's current government. On the matter of Iran and its nuclear program, as on some other important issues, the pronouncements of Benjamin Netanyahu definitely should not be equated with the interests of Israel. Knowledgeable and patriotic Israelis have a very different view about what approach on this matter would be good for Israel. Looking beyond Netanyahu's short-sighted strategy of unending conflict and hostility, an improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations would be very much in Israel's long-term interests, in addition certainly to the interests of the United States.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has been exhibiting all of these patterns in perhaps the most extreme form of any member of Congress, to the point of being a caricature of such things. He was in exceptional form following a supposedly classified briefing on Wednesday for senators from Secretary of State Kerry, Vice President Biden, and Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who has been the lead negotiator on Iran. Kirk compared the Obama administration to Neville Chamberlain and, while Kirk is doing everything he can to overturn a diplomatic process designed to prevent both a war and an Iranian nuclear weapon, he said “Today is the day I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East.”

The briefing was “fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” So a United States senator was calling the U.S. secretary of state and the vice president liars because of what a foreign government had told him.

Kirk wasn't finished. He berated “Wendy” because her “record on North Korea is a total failure and embarrassment to her service.” Such a blast ignores the history of U.S. handling of the North Korean issue, in which the administration that came after the one in which Sherman earlier served effectively abandoned a negotiated agreement and returned to diplomacy only after the North Koreans had tested a couple of nuclear devices. But as long as previous records on other issues are being dug up—and what certain foreign governments are saying is being invoked—Kirk would be advised to review the record of his favorite foreign prime minister regarding the Iraq War, for which Netanyahu was a vocal cheerleader, spewing assertions that turned out to be badly mistaken and misguided.

The approach followed by Kirk, and others in less fulsome and extreme form, is not only failing to show decent respect in the spirit of the founders; it is an approach that deserves no respect itself. To the extent it comes to determine policy it endangers respect for the United States.

Image: Flickr/Daniel X. O'Neil. CC BY 2.0.

TopicsCongressDomestic PoliticsPublic OpinionGreat PowersNuclear Proliferation RegionsIsraelIranFranceIraqUnited StatesNorth Korea

Our Scarce Veterans

Paul Pillar

As the nation uses the occasion of Veterans Day to express appreciation to its military veterans, we should reflect on another reason to cherish our veterans all the more: that there are so few of them, and their numbers are shrinking. As a proportion of the total U.S. population the ranks of veterans have been thinning for more than four decades, from 13.7 percent in 1970 to about 7 percent as of the most recent census in 2010, and almost certainly less than that now. This trend cannot help but have significant effects on prevailing American attitudes about many things. These especially include, but are not limited to, matters of war, peace, and national security.

The effects are especially felt through the veteran or non-veteran status of political leaders. Here the corresponding trend is even more marked than for the general population. Thirty-five years ago 77 percent of members of Congress had served in the military. Today the proportion of members, in both the House and the Senate, who are military veterans is 20 percent. This decline has at least three consequences.

The most obvious one is that most of the people who most conspicuously pronounce on, and who vote on, matters involving the possible use of military force have no direct experience with such use. This does not mean veterans have uniform views on such matters; looking at the postures of the members of Congress who have served in the military suggests that they do not. But it does mean that the complications and unforeseen practical consequences of employing force, which often have turned out to be the most important facet of such employment, probably are insufficiently understood or appreciated.

A second consequence is a broader loss of perspective regarding what is or is not important, what does or does not pose grave threats to the national interest, and what is or is not worth fighting for, not just military but politically. In the hyper-partisan atmosphere that now prevails on Capitol Hill, it has become normal to hear members on one side of the aisle denounce those on the other side as the greatest threat the republic has ever faced. We probably would be hearing less of that sort of thing if more members had served their country in a capacity in which they had faced real and serious threats from outside the republic.

A third effect is to diminish a sense of shared effort on behalf of the nation, and of appreciation of how some of the greatest things this country has accomplished, and could accomplish in the future, involve an organized collective effort on a national basis. That sense is inherent to service in the military but is necessary in many other areas, including in domestic and economic policy. Its diminution has made us all the more a nation of self-centered individuals focused narrowly on pursuing individual fortune or fame, and insufficiently aware of the common efforts needed to maintain the conditions that make that pursuit possible.

Clear implications do not follow from any of this regarding the best way to structure military service. Some have used similar observations to argue for reinstatement of conscription, but such arguments are offset by practical considerations regarding effectiveness of the force and by the unfairness of what is in effect forced labor obtained at below-market rates. It is a reason, however, not just to honor our veterans but to wish we had more of them.

TopicsCongressDomestic PoliticsDefenseState of the Military RegionsUnited States

Good and Bad Reasons to Cut Defense

The Buzz

Could the much-maligned cuts to defense spending actually be a good thing for American strategy? That’s the case that historian Melvyn Leffler makes in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. Responding to those who argue that past retrenchments have left the military ill prepared to respond to future dangers and stress the need to avoid doing the same today, Leffler argues that these fears are overblown. In his words:

Contrary to such conventional wisdom, the consequences of past U.S. defense cuts were not bad. In fact, a look at five such periods over the past century—following World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War—shows that austerity can be useful in forcing Washington to think strategically, something it rarely does when times are flush.

The argument, in a nutshell, is that when the government is operating under constrained resources, it is forced to make more difficult choices and prioritize more effectively, leading to better strategy. It has a certain intuitive plausibility to it, but the examples he presents don’t really seem to support it.

Take the most infamous one—the U.S. military drawdown after World War I, which is often held to have left Washington unready for World War II as the fighting broke out in Europe and Asia. Not so, says Leffler. Rather, “When a second global war did come, the paucity of the resources on hand actually forced U.S. policymakers to make tough but smart strategic choices.” Thus, led by Harold Stark, then chief of naval operations, the U.S. government embraced a threat assessment that judged that the “principal threat to U.S. security was German power.” It allocated resources accordingly, focusing first on helping the United Kingdom to avoid defeat at Germany’s hands while simultaneously building up its own military power and “using diplomacy to avoid war with Japan.”

No doubt this approach has been vindicated by history. Yet while Leffler says that it was “a combination of austerity and crisis [that] helped forge a core strategic concept,” it seems abundantly clear that the crisis alone was the real driver. After all, defense spending had been comparably low for the two previous decades, but that didn’t mean that officials were doing particularly deep strategic planning before 1940. Indeed, as Leffler notes, during that time they embraced a “flawed threat perception” that downplayed the danger from Germany and Japan. The result was that, on the eve of war, the United States had only the sixteenth-largest military in the world. The crisis was grave enough that it would have certainly prompted some kind of rethinking no matter what shape the military was in at the time, but Leffler never gives us any concrete reason to think that the lack of military resources was a net asset for Franklin Roosevelt and his team. U.S. planners succeeded in spite of the resource limitations they faced—not because of them.

This account is meant to support the view that we ought not fear defense austerity today. However, if one wants to make the case for cutting defense spending now, the best arguments for doing so are those that stem from long-range thinking rather than asserting that the cuts themselves will spur better planning. Such an argument might run like this: The United States is a very secure country. It dominates its own hemisphere. It spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined—and many of those countries are its allies. America has adversaries, but its rival great powers are far less dangerous than those of the past. Thus, there is room to cut the U.S. defense budget to right-size it to the threats it actually faces, while still enabling it to maintain preponderant military strength. The money saved could then be used to accomplish any number of other national priorities.

Whether or not you find this line of thinking persuasive, the point is that it starts with an assessment of what the world and the international threat environment actually look like. It doesn’t start with a budget number and then assume that officials will be able to re-prioritize to figure things out within that constraint. In short, if we’re going to cut our military budget, we should do it in the service of a concrete goal rather than just hope that doing so will spur our future leaders to do better long-range thinking of their own.

TopicsDefenseSecurity RegionsUnited States

Germany's Nazi Past Is Back

Jacob Heilbrunn

It won't go away. It's uncomfortable, clammy, damp, noxious. Two events this past week testified to the lingering hold that memories of Nazism have in modern Germany. The further distant it seems, the more it resurfaces.

The first is the discovery that Adolf Eichmann's superior is apparently buried in a Jewish cemetery in the former East Berlin. East Germany, which prided itself as an "anti-fascist" redoubt facing down the revanchist West Germany, never sought to face up to the Nazi past. Instead, it tried to claim that it had nothing in common with the Nazis. So perhaps it should not be surprising that it never really tried to explore what happened to Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller, who participated in the Wannsee Conference which formally authorized the destruction of European Jewry in January 1942. Now Professor Johannes Tuchel, who heads the German Resistance Center in Berlin, says that Muller's corpse was thrown into a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery in 1945.

The second is another discovery. It's that hundreds of priceless paintings seized by the Nazis, often as "degenerate art,"--Hitler staged an entire exhibition of it in 1939 in Munich, only to discover to his consternation that the public actually flocked to see it out of interest rather than contempt--have been residing for decades in the apartment of the son of a Nazi era art dealer. Art was central to the self-conception of of Hitler. Much of Nazism, as Frederic Spotts has suggested in Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, was a form of stagecraft with Hitler as the impresario of an entire country--the emphasis on Wagner, the torchlight parades, the tours of Weimar, the city of Goethe and Schiller, for German troops, the planned art museum in Linz. The Fuhrer spent much time fussing with his pet architect Albert Speer over their plans for Linz even as the net of doom came ever closer. The failed Viennese painter was convinced that he could purify the German race and conceived of himself as a political artist. Thomas Mann even called him "Brother Hitler."

But the Nazis were also running a criminal enterprise. Looting was a core principle of Nazism. So they stole from the Jews anything they could, down to the gold in their teeth. After the war much of it went missing. Now it appears that the elderly Cornelius Gurlitt had about 1,400 pieces stashed that he had inherited, if that is the appropriate word, from his father. The German government seems to have kept the find secret for over a year until Focus magazine broke the story. So far, the German government is hanging tough in the face of calls to restore the art to the Jewish families or descendants who originally possessed it. Why did it keep mum about the discovery? Protests are mounting inside Germany:

'Transparency and a swift procedure are important here,' Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told German regional newspaper the Passauer Neue Presse.

'We are talking about the stolen inheritance of Jewish collectors, who could now experience delayed justice in (getting) belongings of their families ... returned to their rightful owners,' Graumann said.

Presumably, international pressure will be intense enough to force the German government to back down. Or will it? Germany, the paymaster of Europe, as it is known, is feeling somewhat emboldened these days. Piqued at American spying and proud of its economic prowess, Berlin could remain defiant. For now, it's simply engaging in foot-dragging, which has all along been the German response, by and large, to revelations about Nazi era crimes, at least when it comes to making restitution for them. But the two revelations of the past week are unlikely to be the last ones from a tenebrous era that continues to shadow Germany.

Image: Creative Commons/Wikicommons