Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Six Step Program for Avoiding War

November 11, 2014, 6:00 a.m.

Introduction: Given that (a) those addicted to various substances or behaviors seem to benefit from 12-step programs, (b) the seeming addiction to war of many of our politicians, and (c) their disinclination to read or otherwise undertake anything that will take a lot of time, I have cut their work in half by offering this six-step program for treating their war addiction.

Be sure to look at Sam Osborne's powerful comment at the end of this blog essay; and if you're interested, click on "Notes From Which This Column Was Drawn," and "Links to Samples of Prior Writing on Terrorism and War."

Now, here's today's [November 11] column:

Six Step Program for Avoiding War
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 11, 2014, p. A7

It’s too late to challenge President Obama’s recent doubling of U.S. troops in Iraq.

But it may be the right time to rethink America’s approach to war.

The Pew Research Center’s Andrew Kohut reports “the public feels little responsibility and inclination to deal with international problems that are not seen as direct threats to the national interest.”

Yet too many of our Washington politicians are like the small boy with a hammer who thinks everything he encounters needs pounding. Spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined, war becomes their first, rather than last, resort.

This approach to foreign policy consumes trillions of taxpayers’ dollars, billions in rebuilding costs, creates millions of homeless refugees, kills hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, wounds and kills thousands of American soldiers, and decreases our national security by increasing Islamic State’s recruitment of angry terrorists from 80 countries.

America won World War II in four years. Our current wars last three times as long with nothing yet approaching “Mission Accomplished.”

The computer in the 1983 movie War Games, in its countdown to “Global Thermonuclear War,” finally concludes that, like tic-tac-toe, “The only winning move is not to play.”

Can’t we learn, in a dozen years, what that computer figured out in a dozen seconds? The best, and sometimes only, way to win a war is to avoid it.

Here’s a six step program for doing that.

Citizen Involvement. Consider a draft, and other World War II-style citizen sacrifice. It’s not only a winning strategy; increased citizen involvement is a more democratic strategy. Potential Viet Nam War draftees were the backbone of that war’s citizen protest. After 9/11, we were told to “go shopping.” Today less than 1 percent of us fight wars about which the rest of us know little and care less, compared with the 16 million who went into WWII.

Pay-As-You-Go. Stop putting the cost of wars on a credit card left to our grandchildren. A supplementary war tax would focus citizen and congressional attention on the financial realities of war, while reducing national debt.

Accountability. Make every senator and congressperson cast a recorded vote, yes or no, before starting or escalating wars — as our constitution envisioned.

UN Force. When our national interests aren’t involved, shift responsibility for humanitarian military interventions to a United Nations rapid deployment force.

Discussion.Authorization for the human genome project mandated review of its ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI). War involves more than military considerations. It deserves mass media giving voice to America’s best independent minds, and public discussion of the ethical, legal, social, cultural, economic, medical, international relations and many other issues raised by war.

Check list. There are also military issues. Military leaders, more than politicians, wisely insist on answers before committing troops. We should, too.

What’s the problem, or challenge? What’s our goal? Is it sufficiently important, clearly defined, and understood? Why will military force contribute to, rather than impede, its accomplishment? What possibly more effective non-military alternatives are there?

What are the benefits and costs, gains and losses, risks and rewards? What will it require in troops, materiel, lives, and treasure? How long will it take? Are the American people and their congress supportive? How about the local population where we’ll be fighting? Do we know their language, culture, history, tribal and social structure? What are the metrics for evaluating if we’re “successful”? What, then, is our exit strategy? After we leave, will things be better than now, the same, or become progressively worse?

Sometimes, regretfully, war may be the only choice. But the thesis of this six-step program is that, if we were to follow it, we would be less likely to leap into ill-considered, unwinnable, counterproductive military actions, and more likely to succeed in those that cannot be avoided.
As U.S. Maritime Administrator, Nicholas Johnson was involved in providing sealift for the Vietnam War.


Samples of Nicholas Johnson's Prior Writing on Terrorism and War

"Why Unwinnable 'Wars' Are 'Stupid Stuff;' Add 'Impossible to Win' to Objections to War With ISIS," September 23, 2014;

"Is U.S. Response Strengthening ISIS? Playing Into the Terrorists' Hands," September 19, 2014;

" Why Iowans Should Care About Iraq War III; Why Do We Accept Words Like 'Islam,' 'State,' and 'Caliphate'?" September 16, 2014;

"Is War the Best Answer?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2014, p. A7; embedded in " Whatever the Question, Is War the Best Answer?" September 10, 2014;

"Syria: Moral Imperatives and Rational Analyses; Spotting the Issues," September 4, 2013;

"Thinking About War -- Before Starting One," March 20, 2013;

"Terrorism, War, 9/11 and Looking Within," September 10, 2011;

"War in Libya, the Unanswered Questions," March 23, 2011;

"America Needs a War Tax," February 9, 2010;

"There is No War in Afghanistan," December 4, 2009;

"Republicans' Practical Joke; President's Unwinnable War," September 11, 2009;

"The Next Step: Theories of Terrorism," October 7, 2006;

The Limits of Empire II: The Assassination Policy," September 25, 2006

"Don't Like to Say 'I told you so,' but . . .," September 24, 2006;

"The Limits of Empire," September 24, 2006;

"General Semantics, Terrorism and War," Fordham University, New York City, September 8, 2006;

"Experts Say We're Losing War on Terror," July 9, 2006;

"Worthwhile 7-Minute Listen: War on Terror," July 8, 2006;

"Perspective on Military Murder and the Mission at Hand," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 2, 2006;

"Murder in Iraq," June 23, 2006;

"War in Iraq: The Military Objections," International Law Talks: War With Iraq, University of Iowa College of Law, February 27, 2003;

"Ten Questions for Bush Before War," The Daily Iowan, February 4, 2003, p. A6;

Nicholas Johnson, "Capitalists Can Help U.S. Avert War with Iraq," Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sunday Insight, October 6, 2002, p. A11;

Nicholas Johnson, "On Iraq, Tell the Rest of the Story," Iowa City Gazette, October 2, 2002, p. A4;

Nicholas Johnson, "Let's not get between Iraq and a hard place," Omaha World-Herald, August 13, 2002 (and as published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen and as submitted to both);

Nicholas Johnson, "Search for Better Response Than War; Don't Reward the Terrorists, but Understand Their Interests," Des Moines Sunday Register Opinion/Iowa View, June 30, 2002, p. OP3;

Nicholas Johnson, "Rethinking Terrorism," National Lawyers Guild Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, March 2, 2002.

Additional Commentary: Notes From Which the Above Column Was Drawn

Introduction and Spoiler Alert:

I'm about to give away the ending to the 1983 movie, "War Games." So if you haven't seen it during the past 31 years, but still have it on your list, you might want to skip this introduction.

The story involves the introduction -- and then the removal -- of human infallibility in a system for launching nuclear missiles. The solution is to "take the humans out of the loop," substituting a supercomputer which, once it has been fed all relevant available data and run it through various war game scenarios, will make the final decision to launch. The computer is called "WOPR," for "War Operation Plan Response."

A young, 1980s computer geek with no evil intent, using techniques similar to those I used 'round about that time, connects with it, thinking it to be a repository of video games. Stymied when a password is required, I would stop; he does not, and his research ultimately uncovers the "backdoor" password. Like many mainframes at the time, it contains a list of simple, conventional games -- such as tic-tac-toe and chess. But it also has the serious war game scenarios. Ultimately, our young fellow decides to play "Global Thermonuclear War" and the countdown begins.

When WOPR starts breaking the launch codes on the ICBM missiles the young man, now at NORAD Headquarters surrounded by some very anxious military officers, gets WOPR to play tic-tac-toe, hoping the computer will thereby learn the principle of unwinnable games -- which it does, just in the nick of time.

WOPR speaks: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."
-- Computer's conclusion about the war game "Global Thermonuclear War," from movie "War Games" (1983).

We Need Military Might and the Willingness to Use It

Especially given that introduction, it is important to make clear from the outset what this blog essay, this six step program, is not advocating.

It is not advocating that the United States abolish the Department of Defense, withdraw from the world, and hope for the best. The use of military force is sometimes the only realistic option. And to be prepared to bring about a satisfactory end to such actions requires human and other resources both suitable and adequate for the task.

This raises questions regarding the amount and cost of adequate preparedness -- whether, for example, our security requires we spend more on military preparedness than the rest of the world combined -- but the answers to those questions are outside the scope of this essay.

However, We Also Need to Do a Better Job of Evaluating When to Use Military Force

The U.S. got in, and out, of World War II in four years. It has more recently spent a dozen or more years supporting American troops in 150 countries, including fighting five seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. The cost is variously estimated at some $3 trillion dollars, especially when those estimates include the often-lifetime of medical costs for wounded veterans, and the rebuilding of nations we have helped to destroy. Thousands of American military lives have been lost, hundreds of thousands of civilians, and there is significant evidence that our presence has only increased the recruiting of terrorists.

The President has said our country should not do "stupid stuff." But some of these military operations have been "stupid stuff" -- notwithstanding the military's willingness to follow orders with professional skill and discipline.

The thesis of this essay is that our national security could be provided more economically, efficiently, and effectively if we were to follow some procedures that have been successfully used in the past, are grounded in our Constitution, laws, and history, and have been advocated by well educated and experienced military leaders.

The fact that these proposals have precedent and rational basis does not mean they are not controversial -- especially among those who benefit financially from Defense Department contracts, or are ideologically committed to war as a first, rather than a last resort, and support the idea of so-called "preemptive wars," or other arguably unnecessary military operations.

Executive Summary

We begin with a summary of the six steps, following which each will receive more detail and explanation.

(1) Sacrifice. During World War II virtually every American made a sacrifice of some kind toward fighting that war -- men, women, young children and seniors. That's not only a winning strategy, it's also a democratic strategy that increases popular support for the effort.

(2) Payment. There was wartime debt during World War II, but income taxes plus the sale of "war bonds" meant there was proportionally less war-related debt than now. The cost of the war was not simply put on a credit card and left to grandchildren and future generations. Nor can we finance a war with tax cuts for the wealthy -- however popular the effort may be with politicians' major donors.

(3) Authorization. The Constitution provides that "The Congress shall have power . . . to declare War . . .." (Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 11). Congress has acted, in the form of the War Powers Resolution, 50 U.S.C. Sec. 1541, et seq, that provides, among other things, that any president-initiated military action must be halted after 60 days if the Congress has not approved it. (There can also be what is called a congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).) This third step is simply the proposal that these requirements be followed with greater formality, requiring every member of Congress to cast a vote, yes or no.

(4) UN Force. Every effort should be made to create a United Nations Rapid Deployment Force with sufficient equipment and personnel to deal effectively with genocide, displaced persons, and other human rights violations when military action is required and authorized under the UN Charter -- rather than making the only realistic options either doing nothing, or unilateral intervention by the United States.

(5) Broad Discussion. Once military action is contemplated, the focus of our media, government and public discussions seems to narrow to military considerations, such as "boots on the ground" (or not), high-tech aircraft and other equipment, damage from our bombing runs, and strategic and tactical considerations. It would help slow and sharpen our approach if we would bring to bear a full range of academic and others' informed analysis of considerations other than military -- both before war, and as an evaluation after a war of lessons learned. Analogies for this approach might be environmental impact statements, or the authorization for the human genome project requiring an ongoing review of the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) it raises.

(6) Check List. The "law of the instrument," first expressed by Abraham Kaplan, is "Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding." So it is with military power. That some challenges can be successfully resolved with military force does not mean that all can be. In addition to the broad discussion, there is a shorter checklist of considerations and questions before going to war, sometimes called "the Powell doctrine."

It is the thesis of this six step program that, if we were to follow it, we would be less likely to leap into ill-considered, counter productive military actions, and more likely to succeed in those that cannot be avoided.


Feeling burned by Iraq and Afghanistan and burdened by domestic concerns, the public feels little responsibility and inclination to deal with international problems that are not seen as direct threats to the national interest.

-— Andrew Kohut, Founding Director, Pew Research Center, “American International Engagement on the Rocks,” Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, July 11, 2013
Many Americans in and out of government, holding diverse political and ideological positions, are concerned about our current military adventure in Iraq and Syria –- not to mention the American soldiers stationed in an additional 150 countries.

There are very serious constitutional and other legal issues regarding the President’s authority to conduct these military efforts -- however those questions ultimately may be resolved by scholars, legislators, and judges.

It’s true of our current adventures involving the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Does the President have the legal authority? With mounting domestic needs, should we be spending more trillions abroad? Is our presence increasing, rather than decreasing, the recruitment of terrorists and the likelihood of attacks on our homeland? Is there any end in sight? Even from a military perspective, how can we “degrade and destroy” an enemy on the ground with planes in the air?

Above all, what is our process for going to war? What should it be? How can a public, skeptical about the wisdom of more wars, insure that military adventures will only be undertaken as a very last resort?

Few if any of us would want to forbid any wars ever, regardless of the circumstance. Nor would we want to tie the hands of the President or Congress, for example, by requiring a referendum in which a majority of American voters approve each military response to a genuine threat to our national security.

But there may be more that we can do to slow what often appears to be a knee-jerk shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach to international challenges.

(1) Sacrifice.

Among those inclined to war as a first resort, the primary lesson learned from our Viet Nam adventure is that drafting unwilling young men and women for battle tends to create popular opposition to war.

The story is told of the farmer who bought a mule from his neighbor, having been assured that the mule was obedient and would respond to spoken commands. When the buyer discovered this was not the case, he called his neighbor who drove over in his pickup truck. When the buyer told the mule to move forward, left, and right, and got no response, the seller fetched a two-by-four from the back of his truck and proceeded to give the mule a sharp blow to the head. The mule then did what the seller told him. He explained to the buyer, "You see, he'll do what you tell him, it's just that first you have to get his attention."

A draft gets the public's attention; a war fought with volunteers does not.

During World War II everyone sacrificed. The 1940 population was 132 million; of that number 16 million went to war. Today, with a population of 320 million, 2 million have served in Afghanistan or Iraq -- less than one percent. During World War II those at home worked at building weapons of war, served in hospitals, lived with rationed (or unavailable) food, fuel and other products formerly available in abundance. Children were recruited for recycling efforts, and asked to buy war bonds -- one dime at a time. After the 9/11 attacks no one was forced to go to war, nor was there an imposition of any sacrifice on those remaining at home. Indeed, rather than rationing, President George Bush suggested the most appropriate citizen response to the attacks was that we "go shopping."

When there is no obvious cost of war, those citizens who are not apathetic can be caught up in the government propaganda and media drumbeat in support of war. And when citizens don't care, neither do their elected representatives. If war is to be taken seriously, thought about deeply before it is undertaken, and reviewed in detail after it is concluded, imposing some sacrifice -- through a draft or other forms of compulsory service -- can be a way of getting the public's attention, the kind of useful brake on precipitous action a true democracy requires.

(2) The Powell Doctrine

The use of force should be restricted to occasions where it can do some good and where the good will outweigh the loss of lives and other costs that will surely ensue.

-- General Colin Powell

* What is the problem or challenge believed to require U.S. attention?

* What, specifically, is the goal to be achieved?

* Is that objective important, clearly defined and understood?

* Have all other non-military alternatives been tried and failed?

* What are the reasons for believing military force will contribute to, rather than impede, the accomplishment of the objective?

* What are the benefits and costs of military action, the gains and losses, risks and rewards?

* What will it require in troops, materiel, lives and treasure to achieve the objective?

* How long will it take to attain the objective?

* Are the American people and their Congress prepared to provide and sustain those resources and pay those costs during that time?

* How will we know if we are ever “successful” in attaining our objective?

* What, then, will be our exit strategy?

* When we leave will the situation we leave behind be better than when we arrived, about the same, or worse?

* Will that situation be consistent with our original mission?

Might have to reconsider imposing a draft.
A pay-as-you-go progressive war tax to cover all costs.
Require mandatory Congressional approval and deadlines (War Powers Act) whenever new war, or war expanded to an additional country or terrorist organization, or mission creep from “training” to “combat.”
Organized national discussion among individuals from range of disciplines. At least a public discussion -- if not a unanimous, or majority, vote approving, the proposed military action -- by a group of the nation’s leaders from a range of academic and professional disciplines from anthropology to zoology. History and culture of the region. Outside party to review war; hard to do within government.
Before and after war require compulsory, satisfactory written answers to the half-dozen or so questions in “the Powell Doctrine” from the Administration and Congress.
At least consultation, if not required approval, by representatives of other countries (e.g., some unit of the United Nations).
Availability of significant United Nations rapid deployment force.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The blood of war always flows red, but the gold gleaned by some that profit from it being fought still shines bright as the sun for the staunch war advocates that keep us ever prepared for war with gizmo-weapons new and replacement of old reliable stuff designed to make might mean right.

Atop it all is the real power of CURRENT times and it is not divinely bequeathed to kings and queens with heads topped by golden crowns, it is the down and dirty pigs that pump and wallow in profit from the black gold that comes from below their controlling stand that sets other feet marching into battle to assure that their profits keep flowing. In the words of comedic paraphrase one of the CURRENT pigs could loony-tune oink: THAT’S OIL FOLKS!

And that CURRENTLY is the real power held over WE THE PEOLE that indentures us into going to war, and leaves us in its aftermath to find comforting excuse in salving our dependency under a thick coat of noble purpose, heroic sacrifice, and breathing bit of fire as stouthearted men and women. But in truth, WE THE PEOPLE as individuals CURRETLY do not in mass have the individual power to be at all independent aside from dreaming of taking off for them-thar hills to live hermetic lives shooting any hordes of interloping survivalists and thus remains left all alone to starve when the supply of canned goods runs out or acid rain kills what there was to forage on.

To end war we need to directly emplace the individual empowerment of people to live better and more personally rewarding lives than they can in the CURRENT conditions of in which an “essential” few hoard power and get other blowing each other to hell. What is needed is new and improved CURRENT times of WE THE PEOPLE being personally empowered.

This can be achieved by taking the nation totally electric on the power of the sun, wind and gravity with such an abundance of electricity that it can be licensed for free individual use; provide economical energy to industrial, business and public facilities; energize low-cost fare and laden high-speed and light rail; and leave a peak plus supply for backup generation when the skies are dark and the wind is still.

But this is but one idea and there are surely folks who that have a better idea on what should be done to create what can exist to make war a part of history that is no longer suffered in some better time that have become CURRENT. So, how about a conference sponsored by the Press Citizen that draws people together to have a better idea of what should and can be that replaces the times of war that are and should not be. After an introduction that covers what we already know, that WAR IS BAD, there will be more time given to what makes it totally unnecessary and impossible to get folks all fired up about a need for war.

Nick Johnson has well described how to best deal with what is and how best to CURRENTLY deal with what we would like to wish away or hold off until another day. As we do so, let’s join together in changing the CURRENT. What better place to start the consideration than in Iowa City that long ago declared itself to be a nuclear free zone---and up to now that has work out just great!

I do not know how to attach it to the above comments, but I have a very old Ding Darling cartoon that fittingly depicts the success of Iowa City and any of us standing alone in an effort to replace war with peace on Earth. It depicts a well scorched man standing alone atop what is left of an atomic-bombed obliterated Earth and calling into a worse-for-wear telephone. “Hello! Hello! If there is anyone left alive, I’d like to unite with ‘em in a world league to outlaw war.”

Comment by Sam Osborne