Happy Memorial Day

Posted May 31, 2010 by Bobby Wilkes
Categories: Leadership

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In honor of those who lost their lives while serving our country, I would like to share President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery:

Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.

I was thinking this morning that across the country children and their parents will be going to the town parade and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to remember.

Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid, and passionate lives. There are the greats of the military: Bull Halsey and the Admirals Leahy, father and son; Black Jack Pershing; and the GI’s general, Omar Bradley. Great men all, military men. But there are others here known for other things.

Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper’s son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, “I know we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.” Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives, and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, “Wait a minute and I’ll let you speak to them.” [Laughter]

Michael Smith is here, and Dick Scobee, both of the space shuttle Challenger. Their courage wasn’t wild, but thoughtful, the mature and measured courage of career professionals who took prudent risks for great reward—in their case, to advance the sum total of knowledge in the world. They’re only the latest to rest here; they join other great explorers with names like Grissom and Chaffee.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on “Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.” Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: “At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.”

All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins. Not far from here is the statue of the three servicemen—the three fighting boys of Vietnam. It, too, has majesty and more. Perhaps you’ve seen it—three rough boys walking together, looking ahead with a steady gaze. There’s something wounded about them, a kind of resigned toughness. But there’s an unexpected tenderness, too. At first you don’t really notice, but then you see it. The three are touching each other, as if they’re supporting each other, helping each other on.

I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they’re still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam—boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.

That, of course, is the lesson of this century, a lesson learned in the Sudetenland, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Cambodia. If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. And that’s all I wanted to say. The rest of my contribution is to leave this great place to its peace, a peace it has earned.

Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.


A Crack in the Stoic’s Armor by Nancy Sherman

Posted May 31, 2010 by Bobby Wilkes
Categories: Politics

Tags: , , ,

In a remarkably prescient moment in September, 1965, James B. Stockdale, then a senior Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, muttered to himself as he parachuted into enemy hands, “Five years down there at least, I’m leaving behind the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.” As a departing graduate student at Stanford, Stockdale received a gift of Epictetus’s famous “Enchiridion,” a 1st-century Stoic handbook. The text looked esoteric, but in his long nights aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, he found himself memorizing its content. Little did he know then that Stoic tonics would become his salvation for seven and a half years as the senior prisoner of war, held under brutal conditions by the North Vietnamese at Hoa Lo prison, the Hanoi Hilton.

Epictetus, who was a slave around the time of Nero, wrote: “Our thoughts are up to us, and our impulses, desires, and aversions — in short, whatever is our doing … Of things that are outside your control, say they are nothing to you.”

With these words, Stockdale drew a stripe between what he could and could not control. But he never lost the sense that what he could control was what mattered most and that his survival, even when tortured and in solitary confinement for four years, required constant refortification of his will.

Stockdale’s resilience is legendary in the military. And it remains a living example, too, for philosophers, of how you might put into practice ancient Stoic consolations. But for many in the military, taking up Stoic armor comes at a heavy cost.

In the military, even those who have never laid eyes on a page of Epictetus, still live as if they have. To suck it up is to move beyond grieving and keep fighting.

The Stoic doctrine is essentially about reducing vulnerability. And it starts off where Aristotle leaves off. Aristotle insists that happiness depends to some degree on chance and prosperity. Though the primary component of happiness is virtue — and that, a matter of one’s own discipline and effort — realizing virtue in the world goes beyond one’s effort. Actions that succeed and relationships that endure and are reciprocal depend upon more than one’s own goodness. For the Stoics, this makes happiness far too dicey a matter. And so in their revision, virtue, and virtue alone, is sufficient for happiness. Virtue itself becomes purified, based on reason only, and shorn of ordinary emotions, like fear and grief that cling to objects beyond our control.

In the military, even those who have never laid eyes on a page of Epictetus, still live as if they have. To suck it up is to move beyond grieving and keep fighting; it is to stare death down in a death-saturated place; it is to face one more deployment after two or three or four already. It is hard to imagine a popular philosophy better suited to deprivation and constant subjection to stressors.

And yet in the more than 30 interviews I conducted with soldiers who have returned from the long current wars, what I heard was the wish to let go of the Stoic armor. They wanted to feel and process the loss. They wanted to register the complex inner moral landscape of war by finding some measure of empathy with their own emotions. One retired Army major put it flatly to me, “I’ve been sucking it up for 25 years, and I’m tired of it.” For some, like this officer, the war after the war is unrelenting. It is about psychological trauma and multiple suicide attempts, exacerbated by his own sense of shame in not being the Stoic warrior that he thought he could and should be. He went to war to prove himself, but came home emasculated.

Still we oversimplify grossly if we view all returning warriors through the lens of pathology and post-traumatic stress. Many soldiers wrestle with what they have seen and done in uniform, even when their conflicts don’t rise to the level of acute or chronic psychological trauma. And they feel guilt and shame even when they do no wrong by war’s best standards. Some anguish about having interrogated detainees not by torture, but the proper way, by slowly and deliberately building intimacy only in order to exploit it. Others feel shame for going to war with a sense of revenge and for then feeling its venom well up when a sniper guns down their buddy and their own survival depends on the raw desire for payback. They worry that their triumph in coming home alive is a betrayal of battle buddies who didn’t make it. And then once home, they worry that their real family is back on the battlefield, and they feel guilt for what feels like a misplaced intimacy.

These feelings of guilt and shame are ubiquitous in war. They are not just responses to committing atrocities or war crimes. They are the feelings good soldiers bear, in part as testament to their moral humanity. And they are feelings critical to shaping soldiers’ future lives as civilians. Yet these are feelings blocked off by idealized notions of Stoic purity and strength that leave little room for moral conflict and its painful residue.

One of the more compelling stories I heard was from a former Army interrogator who had been at Abu Ghraib as part of the “clean-up” act, a year after the torture scandal. This young interrogator had not engaged in torture or “enhanced” interrogation techniques: He did not subject detainees to waterboarding, or prolonged stress positions, or extreme sleep or sensory deprivation. Still, what he did do did not sit well with his civilian sensibilities. In one incident that especially bothered him, he showed a resistant detainee who had been stonewalling him a disturbing picture of a family member who had just been killed by a rival insurgent group in a bombing. The detainee broke down and after months of silence, finally started to talk. After the session, the interrogator walked out of the cell and chuckled to himself: “That finally got him to talk.” That crowing at getting another to become so vulnerable felt morally repulsive to him now.

He offered a striking analogy for what it felt like to be the interrogator he once was: Entering the interrogation cell was a bit like going into a mass with Gregorian chants sung in Latin: It takes place, he said, “in a different universe.” “War, too, takes place in a different time and space.” In essence, he was describing dissociation, or for the Stoics, what amounts to detachment from certain objects so they cannot affect you. Yet for this young interrogator detachment was not ultimately a viable solution: “I know I am the same person who was doing those things. And that’s what tears at your soul.”

Cicero, a great translator and transmitter of the earliest Greek Stoic texts, records a similar inner struggle. After the loss of his daughter Tullia in childbirth, he turned to Stoicism to assuage his grief. But ultimately he could not accept its terms: “It is not within our power to forget or gloss over circumstances which we believe to be evil…They tear at us, buffet us, goad us, scorch us, stifle us — and you tell us to forget about them?”

Put in the context of today’s wars, this could just as easily be a soldier’s narrative about the need to put on Stoic armor and the need to take it off.

Nancy Sherman is University Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown and has served as the first Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy. She is the author of five books, including her most recent, “The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds and Souls of Our Soldiers.”

Iran: From Hostage Crisis to the Bomb?

Posted May 29, 2010 by Bobby Wilkes
Categories: International Affairs

Tags: , ,

Iran: From Hostage Crisis to the Bomb?
Even Adolf Hitler respected diplomatic immunity.
By WARREN KOZAK Published in The Wall Street Journal and WSJ.com on May 24, 2010
We measure their rhetoric, we monitor their actions both within their borders and abroad, and we wonder: “Once they get it, would they use it?” But perhaps we are asking the wrong question when it comes to Iran’s race to get the bomb.
That question may have been answered 31 years ago in the very first days of the Iranian Revolution. The regime was barely born when it manifested personality traits that clearly told us this was no ordinary group of rulers. The Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran and established the Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979. Seven months later, on Nov. 4, 1979, the Iranians threw out centuries of international diplomatic rules that every other country on earth observes, stormed the American Embassy, and held everyone inside hostage for over a year. What does tossing out diplomatic immunity really mean? Is immunity some quaint old custom or is there a greater message in this act?
Here’s a clue: In the middle of the bloodiest global conflict in human history—World War II—even Adolf Hitler understood and respected the importance of diplomatic immunity. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. rounded up the Germans and Japanese in their embassies in Washington and put them in hotels under guard (including the luxurious Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia). Germany and Japan did the same with our embassy staffs in Berlin and Tokyo (although their hotels were not as deluxe).
The Swiss negotiated an exchange and within six months all embassy personnel on each side were back home. Hitler and Hirohito understood the mutual benefits of this protocol.
This is not to say the Iranians haven’t used diplomatic immunity when it serves their purposes. On July 18, 1994, a powerful car bomb detonated outside the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and wounding 300. Although no one has ever been brought to justice for this terrorist act, Argentine prosecutors laid the blame squarely on Iranian government officials tied to their embassy in Buenos Aires. Ahmad Vahidi, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, is still wanted by Interpol for his alleged participation in that bombing. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reaction to this indictment? He tapped Mr. Vahidi to be Iran’s minister of defense last year.
From the very start we have conducted our diplomacy with Iran as if it were Belgium, and we seem surprised when we get the same dismal results. President Jimmy Carter tried and failed miserably, ending his political career, and every secretary of state since seems unable to accept that the Iranian leaders don’t negotiate like us, they don’t think like us and they certainly don’t like us. Yet we continue.
Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama focused his future foreign policy on engagement with Iran, repeatedly distancing his diplomacy from that of George W. Bush. On May 18, 2008, candidate Obama suggested Iran “doesn’t pose a threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat” and he reminded his audience that “Kennedy talked to Khrushchev, Reagan talked to Gorbachev and Nixon talked to Mao.” Backing up his campaign rhetoric, just two months after his inauguration, President Obama reached out to Iran offering “the promise of a new beginning” to be “grounded in mutual respect.”
That respect has hardly been mutual. Iran’s uranium-enrichment plants continue to hum. Its missiles can now reach Western Europe with longer range vehicles on the way. And when Mr. Ahmadinejad clearly says he envisions a world without Israel, many refuse to take him at his word.
Instead, we are reminded that we feared a Soviet bomb in the 1950s and a Chinese bomb in the 1960s and we survived. We have even learned to live with a nuclear North Korea and Pakistan. And while the Iranians have been killing Americans for decades—243 Marines in Beirut in 1983 along with countless IEDs that have been exported to Iraq—we tend to sweep these issues under the rug.
Even the apocalyptic views of its leaders—who believe and await the return of an imam from the 13th century for the day of judgment for all infidels—are ignored, as are those “Death to America” rallies that have been a constant in Iran from the start of the Revolution.
For all the talk about Israel that comes out of Tehran, few seem to remember that the major focus of Iran’s bile since 1979 has not been the Little Satan (Israel) but the Great Satan (the United States).
All of which leads us to the question we should be asking. What if the Iranians mean what they say?
Mr. Kozak is the author of “LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay” (Regnery, 2009).

Nuclear Posture Review

Posted April 15, 2010 by Bobby Wilkes
Categories: Air Force, International Affairs, Politics

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The prevention of nuclear terrorism and proliferation is at the top of the US policy agenda. With the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, the Nuclear Security Summit and the review of the Non Proliferation Treaty as central elements to a broader approach to deterrence, this Nuclear Posture Review is paving the way for a reduced role for nuclear weapons and eventually, a world without nuclear weapons.

The NPR is an interagency document calling for investments for warhead life extension, credible modernization to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and a continued national nuclear deterrent.

Northern Distribution Network

Posted April 14, 2010 by Bobby Wilkes
Categories: International Affairs, Leadership

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In the Spring of 2008, Taliban insurgents in Pakistan were attempting to choke off NATO’s only ground supply line that runs from the southern port of Karachi north and into Afghanistan. Attacks on ground convoys were becoming a near daily event. The overland route through Pakistan, given the name “Apache,” for obvious reasons, breaks into two points that flow into Afghanistan, at the “Chaman gate,” in the south that goes to Kandahar, and at the “Torkham gate” in the north, also known as the Khyber Pass. That proved to be a very tenuous ground line of communication with all of the eggs in one basket.

The Bush administration was considering doubling the effort in Afghanistan to counter the resurgence in violence. Bush’s policy and strategy review was eventually handed off to the Obama administration with the underpinnings of a comprehensive logistical plan that afforded the Obama administration a new start with Russia and the Central Asia states. This Northern Distribution Network diversified the resupply efforts into Afghanistan, increased European, Russian and Central Asian participation in the support for the effort and secured improved relations throughout that region.

At that time, US relations with Russia were icy and Kyrgyzstan was making noises about access to Manas Air Base. Alternative supply route solutions were a must. Discussions about troop increases in Afghanistan led to the conclusion that the supply routes in Pakistan would be insufficient if the number of forces doubled.

An opportunity to work with South Korean Airlines unfolded that made a lot of sense for the distribution network. The opportunity hinged upon Uzbekistan allowing South Korean Airlines to operate out of Navoi airfield near Taskent. The concept included the South Koreans flying 4 transport aircraft per week into Navoi, transloading the supplies to truck and delivering the supplies overland to Allied forces in Afghanistan. The South Koreans needed cargo to carry and the Allies needed a Northern Distribution Network.

With adroit diplomatic moves and hard work on the part of OSD’s Central Asia team, Transportation Command, CENTCOM, and the State Department, the military was able to open up a northern supply route that uses ports, rails, land and overflight for delivery of supplies into Afghanistan.

The initial meeting with USTRANSCOM and South Korean Airlines President led to access in Uzbekistan and enhancement of the initial concept. Following many months of effort and with a lot of diplomatic work, the Uzbek Embassy presented the South Korean Airlines a contract and the State Department a diplomatic note granting access.

Following the initial series of discussions, other countries became interested in the operation. The Latvian Ambassador approached OSD and proposed using Latvian ports and rail to assist with access. Latvian relations with Russia and Uzbekistan ensured the success of this initiative.

In parallel, work continued with EUCOM and State Department to engage the Russians to allow rail access through Russia. That route flows across Europe, then down through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and into Afghanistan. Agreements for access were concluded with Kazakstan and eventually Russia once the Manas issue was resolved. Additional agreements with the Caucus states added an additional supply route increasing access even further.

Currently, a new rail line is under construction running from Uzbekistan, across the old Friendship Bridge, down to Mazar-i-Sharif, where a new airfield is also being built. All sensitive equipment, including weapons, ammunition and MRAPs and the newer, lighter MATVs, and troops, are flown into Afghanistan. Non-lethal equipment and supplies are moved through the Northern Distribution Network.

This very successful effort accommodated the stretch goals for the 100% increase in operations tempo in Afghanistan. It increased supply capability from one to four alternate routes of supply…limiting vulnerabilities and pilfering. The new routes accommodated a doubling of the 735,000 short tons of essential non-lethal equipment and supplies. The early diplomatic initiatives in 2008 enabled the Northern Distribution Network and ensured delivery of critical supplies before reinforcements arrived…and all before the August 31, 2010 deadline.

Nuclear Summit & Iran

Posted April 14, 2010 by Bobby Wilkes
Categories: International Affairs

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The first of many meetings to combat nuclear terrorism is complete. World leaders committed to eliminate or lock down nuclear materials and to finish this task in the next four years.

Noticeably absent from the conference were Iran and North Korea. Heads of State from Israel and the United Kingdom sent a high level representative.

With a very narrow and staged focus, Obama tried to convince African, Latin American, Asian and European nations to agree to deny terrorist groups the access to plutonium and highly enriched uranium. He urged nations to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but stopped short of addressing the most contentious issues such as stopping Pakistani production of weapons-grade plutonium or pressing Israel to admit to its nuclear arsenal.

With a specific warning to Iran, Obama urged China to put meaning to words and consequences to actions. With intent to gain momentum at the United Nations Security Council, he suggested that the resolution must have significant teeth with matching penalties to get the attention of Iranian leadership.

The result of this two day effort is a nonbinding communiqué that merely restates existing policy. A second conference scheduled for two years down the road will review accomplishments. Canada, Mexico and Ukraine committed to eliminating their surplus weapons-grade materials and Russia closed a plutonium reactor used to make weapons-grade fuel. But, there is little new here since many of these proposals are regurgitations’ from agreements signed 10 years ago.

Achieving success on the broader goals remains elusive. Convincing nations that they don’t need nuclear weapons for minimum deterrence will be difficult. Pakistan, India and China continue to manufacture more bomb fuel; North Korea defiantly maintains its 8 to 12 weapons; Russia is worried about America’s nuclear dominance particularly if American missile defense technology is improved and deployed and Iran continues to tout a new generation of centrifuges that will rapidly improve uranium production.

Next up is a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The month long review of the Treaty in New York sets the stage for challenges by Iran and others. Attempts to close loopholes, recast commitment and encourage new signatories hopefully will change the intentions of many nations.

International outreach efforts, however, are met with closed doors in Tehran. The U.S. and its allies worry that Iran is using its nuclear program to also develop atomic weapons. Iran says it only seeks energy-producing reactors. Hawks in the region openly discuss military action. U.S. led efforts coalesce around dialogue and strong U.N. sanctions.

Continued dialogue and increased sanctions appear to be the only options short of the military option. In the meantime, work on nuclear weapons in Iran continues unabated.

In the current contested environment, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is difficult at best. Effective sanctions are not likely as the Chinese will probably limit participation in the oil embargo since they are dependent on Iran for 11% of their oil imports and Russian mistrust of America is on the upsurge. All other sanctions, except maybe banking restrictions, are merely gestures.

To respond with a military strike also has its limitations and follow-on predictable responses. There are difficulties in locating and penetrating deep locations with precision weapons. This requires precise intelligence and effective delivery platforms and weapons. Assessment of effectiveness will always remain a question and determining the length of delays in the nuclear program will be the administration’s nightmare and the pundit’s delight.

Even with a decisive military outcome, Iran can and will respond with many possible options. Its terrorist arm, Hezbollah, can react quickly and decisively. Iran can impose on the stability of Iraq and Afghanistan and can reach into the Persian Gulf to disrupt the international flow of oil. Iranian retribution is real and destabilizing.

Iranian response challenges the Western mindset of rationality. It seems that the Iranian dilemma boxes the international community into accepting Iranian nuclear weapons or accepting the consequences. While dialogue may bring cooperation closer than catastrophe, preparing for the latter remains important.

Trying to change the calculus of a country like Iran when national and regime survival are the core of its concerns is difficult. Even with unprecedented international pressure, the Iranian regime is still able to maintain power over the population and a popular revolution is a distance dream.

Bringing Iran back into the international arena is certainly a worthy objective. Dialogue is important but Iranian defiance should not be tolerated. An Iran with nuclear weapons will do more harm than good. The broader approach of less nuclear weapons is admirable but still leaves nations like Iran short in their desire for minimum nuclear deterrence.

The way ahead is uncertain but one thing is certain, continued engagement and pressure is important. Policy matters and to enable success, America must remain strong. Nuclear posture ambiguity creates uncertainty in the minds of our enemies. A modern US nuclear inventory puts teeth into a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Strong missile defense across all levels improves deterrence. Small US regional presence with quick response capability enhances credibility and is an effective regional counter balance. Coalescing around a goal of preventing terrorism wins allies. Focusing on economic stability and common interests entices compliance. Convincing Iran to take its place as a rational actor on the stage of international actors lessens confrontation and promotes stability.

Reality bites…Democracy Wins

Posted March 20, 2010 by Bobby Wilkes
Categories: Leadership, Politics

Tags: , , , , ,

Good news! Despite unprecedented political rankling, America still stands…perhaps evermore indebted but an intact society.

A majority must be on board…or the very fabric of society is at risk. Fringe elements or the disenfranchised represent warning shots that something is askew.

Many issues that divide our nation are reflected in party politics. Some issues become so divisive that the ability to govern at the national level is limited. The Vietnam War was so divisive that this nation is yet to recover. Iraq and Afghanistan were bubbling to epic proportions. Yet, resistance to the increasing involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan has subsided.

Under the Bush administration, Democrats were loathe to support additional funding or commitment of troops for Iraq and Afghanistan. But when in power, circumstances change for the parties. Has the reality of governing overcome the idealism of campaigning?

Decreased resistance to the war in Afghanistan is a direct result of a change in party leadership in Washington. Isn’t it interesting to see that the once divisive Bush administration anti-terror policies that included warrantless wiretaps, rendition and detention without trial and military tribunals are now a part of the Obama administration lexicon.

I often marvel at the change in power and the subsequent change in policies. While the democratic process is often messy and it alienates a large audience, it does bring forward a national debate that illuminates those toughest of issues. This process is critical to the survival of the very fabric of our society.

When I left office at the Defense Department, we had accomplished a thorough review of Afghanistan and Pakistan with some very comprehensive recommendations, if I say so myself. The results of the review were not implemented but were prepared for the new administration as a point of departure. In hindsight, this was a very wise decision by the previous administration.

Because this nation was embroiled in a heated debate of the efficacy of spending national blood and treasure in far-off lands, it was important for the new administration to take its place in the leadership role. And now with the weight of the White House committed to the war in Afghanistan, America is committed. That is great news for our troops and a huge step from an isolationist approach.

America derives its greatness from the willingness to display it’s messy and sometimes embarrassing kitchen table discussions. National consensus is gained through debate and transparency. America is well served by the transition of power. People are challenged daily and reminded that freedom is fragile and the only way a democracy survives is by the participation of its citizens.

For all its inefficiencies, the democratic process accomplishes its objective. But citizens must move from being spectators to active participants. By all accounts, that’s the way the founding fathers envisioned the process. When properly exercised, vision and acceptance will lead to cohesion in the society.

Yes, reality bites but America is well served by its democratic system. The transition from ideology to governance requires debate understanding and resolve. But in the end, the people win when the fabric of our society is secure. So, enjoy the messiness, celebrate the wisdom of our founding fathers, embrace the change of power and be proud of democracy.