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3:20AM

'Senator's Son' a Good Window into COIN

afghanistan_war.jpg

National security types have long noted -- and complained about -- the relative lack of military veterans in Congress, which results in too few experienced votes being cast when the prospect of overseas interventions is raised. I have long noted -- and complained about -- the fact that Congress' most prominent military vets hail from the Vietnam era, which has led many to instinctively reject the necessity and utility of conducting nation-building and counterinsurgency. Clearly, our lengthy interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan will alter this generational equation, but how will the experiences of today's veterans impact their votes in tomorrow's Congress?

Continue reading this week's New Rules column at WPR.

Reader Comments (11)

"National security types have long noted -- and complained about -- the relative lack of military veterans in Congress, which results in too few experienced votes being cast when the prospect of overseas interventions is raised."

A quick google search shows 91 members of the House are veterans (15 combat vets), and 26 Senators (seven combat vets). That's at least double the rate of the general population...
March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthan Hahn
I will be glad when we finally get some younger congressmen/women. New ideas about the world are great things. You speak of the differences between 4th and 5th gen leaders in China. What gen are we here in the US? Do the millenials have the makings of good politicians as opposed to forcing change through green and non-profit jobs/lobbying/petitioning (digital or paper?)?

Can any of them survive the election process with their worlds captured forever in Facespace, Tweetland, and blogomania? I think so, and I hope we get some good smart people with some real field experience into high places.
March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt R.
Tom says:

“What these hyperbolic academics rarely address is the follow-on reality -- namely, which side will actually know how to manage the local environment post-conflict? A trifling detail, I know, but one that will separate the real-deal superpowers from the great-power wannabes in the decades ahead.”

The US will/should be able (with the global recognition and global political capital it is gaining through its competent efforts and intelligent dedication in Iraq and Afghanistan) be able to retain its most respected and most trusted superpower status but only in its soon to be new role as the designated go-to-people for day-to-day preventive and occasional conflict intervention and resolution as global manager of conflict and especially post-conflict system administration and development. The subtext is as always that it is foreseeable that the US won’t/can’t be (with the New Core developing as it is and should be) the strongest economy globally and sole military global Leviathan forever. (All of this is very probable but maybe not as near-inevitable as other of Tom’s insightful projections.)
March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGilbert Garza
I'll echo what Matt has written. As a man approaching his very early 30's I still see little representation for me and mine. One of the things that I have often quoted at dinner tables when the talk turns to China is Toms 4th and 5th gen Chinese leaders to come. I think the problem is worse down here is Oz. While I sometimes decry the glamorize politics of the US , at least you guys make it look sexy and exciting sometimes.
March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Sutton
The argument that only veterans are qualified to vote on war makes sense at first, but its implementation would require each successive generation to get itself in a war for the sake of later being able to make decisions on war. Doesn't seem like the most prudent long-term approach.

Further, as a Marine who served in IZ, I know plenty of guys who have "been there" and still don't know what they're talking about. Lots of selective reinforcement of preexisting notions going around. Having fought in a war could be helpful to many decisionmakers, but it's not a magic pill.
March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJason
The "relative" measure is comparing back to the Cold War, not the general population, especially since we went all-volunteer and the proportion of general population serving dropped significantly.

I should have been more clear on that. Sometimes I cite a trend without explaining it enough, assuming everybody knows the national security debate.

For an example of this trend:

https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=58+Me.+L.+Rev.+135&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=f34d07300d0c2bd76a374298b9d08191

Copyright (c) 2006 University of Maine School of LawMaine Law ReviewESSAY: WHERE HAVE ALL THE SOLDIERS GONE II: MILITARY VETERANS IN CONGRESS AND THE STATE OF CIVIL-MILITARY RELATIONS200658 Me. L. Rev. 135Author

Donald N. Zillman*Excerpt





I.





In a 1997 essay in these pages, I reported on the fact that a declining number of senators and members of the House of Representatives were veterans of military service. 1 At the height of the Vietnam War, roughly 70% of the members of Congress were veterans. 2 By 1991, the Congress that approved the use of force against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm had only slightly more veterans than non-veterans. 3 Three Congresses later, the percentage of veterans had dropped to 32%. 4

The explanation for the decline is almost certainly not that the American voter no longer likes to elect veterans to serve in Congress. On balance, a period of honorable military service is a plus on any candidate's resume. The primary reason for the decline in congressional veterans is the change in the likelihood that a prospective candidate for Congress would have seen military service. Legislators who came of age during World War II were highly likely to have served in America's largest mobilization for foreign war. Legislators who came of age during the early Cold War (including the Korean Conflict) and faced the military draft during a period of shortage of young men of draft age were quite likely to have served in the armed forces. Congressmen who faced the draft during the Vietnam War era (birth dates 1939-1955), however, were three times as likely not to have served in the armed forces as to have served. Lastly, the growing numbers of Congressmen and women ...


So today's total of 117 mil vets in Congress means we're down to 22% (117 of 535). To compare, 70% during the Cold War would equal 374 members today--or more than triple the current total.

In general, you want a highly experienced Congress, not merely one reflective of the general population.
March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Barnett
Thank you for the clarification! I've heard that argument before, and it never made a lick of sense to me, because I was looking at the wrong "relative to X" relationship.
March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthan Hahn
I often don't explain things well enough, assuming the common knowledge of my field is everybody's common knowledge.
March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Barnett
Did not know exactly where to post this but seems related to the article. Took a brief look at the U.S. Army and Marine Corps' "Counterinsurgency Field Manual" (.pdf).

Gotta read the whole thing but looks suspiciously similar to Police work.Especially the bits about use of force, which is a huge and ongoing training issue in law enforcement (LE). One of the primary things LE gets sued over.

During the early stages of the Iraq conflict I was in contact with folks there serving in various roles. The LE community provided a lot of advice, tactics, gear and training to those in Iraq. One theme that kept re occurring is that units with working cops in them by and large had fewer casualties and incidents when kicking in doors and finding bad guys. Doing the things COIN spells out.

Back to use of force, probably the essence of COIN. How LE uses force (arresting people most of the time over killing them) and how the Military uses force (Killing people and blowing things up over arresting them) are diametrically opposed.

Now to tie it up....My Dad born 1942 has a hard time understanding why we are not "winning" in Iraq / Afghanistan. I have explained many times that it just doesn't work that way. Winning to his generation is crushing the enemy utterly and imposing our system. Winning in the context of COIN (later generations) is to put a lid on it and get the populace to get along their way and minimize the killing and mayhem. Lots of generational and world view issues.

Matt hang in there. The gospel according to Barnett (and others like him) is starting to take hold. You will see (soon I hope) persons getting elected that "get it" more often than not. It's not just Congress where we need good elected officials...local / state government is in desperate need of those that "get it" too.
March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark
What I call SysAdmin and what a lot in the community call COIN, a whole lot of other people recognize instantly as community policing.

It's just community policing in a frontier environment. Less Rudy Giuliani and more Wyatt Earp.

But you're on the right track.
March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Barnett
Restore ROTCs at Ivy League universities ASAP and you'll get smart young veterans in government.
March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric Chen

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